28 August, 2012

Election fever

Only 10 weeks to go in the US election campaign and can't you feel the excitement? Aren't you awed by the white heat of intelligent debate?


We know who the candidates are but their respective parties don't, and have not yet adopted them. Romney has said Obama has divided the country, Obama has said he is a spoilt rich boy with weird religious beliefs (no, sorry, I made that up). But nothing has really happened.

Obviously both parties are waiting for the valuable endorsement of this blog but it will not be lightly given. We have doubts about Obama, who is clearly anti-British and seems (you can't be sure without rational debate and we haven't had any) to want to spend more money, whereas the US Government is already $14,000,000,000,000 in debt, about $120,000 per household. Doubtless it can easily be paid back and I am worrying about nothing.

Romney is a different matter. In fact he is different to almost everybody. I cannot ignore the fact that he thinks Christ visited America, and that he had his father in law, a convinced atheist, received into the Mormon Church after he had died.

Romney made a disastrous visit to Britain, in which he said we weren't ready for the Olympics (it seems we were); making a speech in the garden of No.10 he said he was pleased to be in the backside of Downing St (memo to Americans: in English English, backside means what you call ass).

Against that, he said he approved of the 'Special Relationship', saying it was an Anglo-Saxon thing, although I am longing to hear him explain this to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. After Britain he went to Israel where his stance against Iran was well to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is early to come to a conclusion: it may turn out that both candidates are mad, in which case this blog will endorse the one that is loopy but harmless.

10 weeks of breakneck excitement lie ahead of us.

27 August, 2012

Weather madness

Whilst Britain has had the wettest summer on record, here we have had the driest. Britain had a month's rain falling in a single day. We had a brief shower yesterday, the first in 3 months, which reduced the temperature from 40C/104F to a balmy 28C/82F.

And we are only 1,000 miles away.

They should have held the Notting Hill Carnival in Umbria and broadcast it to those huge Olympic TV screens.

Party Funding: Cameron gets grubby

It's just a few rumours, a couple of well placed articles by friendly pundits, but it looks to me as if David Cameron, putting his ambition before his country, is about to let us down.

It concerns a boundary review. As a result of us all moving about, it now needs a lot fewer votes to elect a Labour MP (mainly in the towns) than a Conservative one (in the countryside). There has traditionally been a review of the constituencies every few years and it is quite legitimate, indeed in the country's interest, to try to get all the constituencies roughly the same size.

The trouble is that his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, reckon they will lose out and so will only agree if they get their way somewhere else.

Cameron's first act of grubbiness - no, it was an act of sabotage to the British Constitution - was to agree an insane system of electing the House of Lords. This was never going to fly; they proposed using the party list system, where the voters don't choose the candidate, they don't even know who it might be, but the party does. The election is detached from the electorate. Apart from that it would cause a democratic crisis: if the Lords (or Senate) disagreed with the Commons they could each say they had a democratic mandate. Incidentally the only way it would work would be to have adopted the system used in Germany, France, America and everywhere else, that the upper house are regional representatives and not elected on the same mandate as the lower house. For example, Wyoming, with just over half a million inhabitants gets the same number of senators (two) as California, with over 37 million. In Britain we could use the old county boundaries.

Anyway Cameron, who must have known he was promoting an antidemocratic nightmare, was thwarted by a mass rebellion of his own ranks (some politicians, at least, have a conscience).

Anyway, the rumour is that Cameron's next attempt to get his boundary review past his partners is to introduce state funding of parties. This would institutionalise the political parties: they would effectively cease to be arms of the people and become arms of the state. They would merge and demerge, not according to the beliefs of their supporters, but according to how much taxpayers' money they would attract. And it will be plenty: plenty of advisers, weasels, hangers-on and brown nosers, at least for the main parties. Jobs for the boys.

Let's consider here the position of the British National Party, a rather unpleasant group which not only wants to reduce immigration, but send some immigrants home. How would they fare?

The BNP have a fair bit of support round the country, in poor working areas. The first thing is that you wake up one morning to find you are funding these people: or at least the government has earmarked some of your taxes to give to them. A grinning subspecies on the television says that black people have different habits, and they're taking jobs and subsidised housing from white people. You can turn off the TV but you suddenly realise you are giving these offensive morons money to proselytise you with even more of this tosh.

And what can the Government do? Can they say that the funding will only go to nice people? That would mean the State was telling you how to think, telling you that you could only vote for people the State approved of: like the old East Germany. The BNP have a Euro MP and so will attract a fair bit of loot, and when the five or six other racist parties realise they can get some taxpayers' dosh by joining forces with the BNP, they will create a large, unpleasant, discriminatory bloc with more votes and more of your money.

All this Mr Cameron is prepared to sanction in order to achieve his ambition: a handful of grubby votes in return for letting his country go hang. In my opinion he doesn't have the moral character to hold high office.

26 August, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong has died, aged 82.

My own view of astronauts, particularly the early ones, is that although they were test pilots and knew a bit about fear, this was fear of the complete unknown, they conquered it and that's what I call brave.

When Armstrong was alive, however, no one seemed to have a good word about him or his mission. He was supposed to have overruled the original plan in order to be first on the moon himself, when they had intended Buzz Aldrin to be. He was said to be self-righteous and difficult to work with.

As to the mission, it was believed, apart from the nutcases who still think it was filmed in a studio in the Nevada Desert (I met one of these not long ago, so they exist), that the mission was simply a part of the Cold War: that Russia having been first into Space, America had to achieve something visible and remarkable so billions of dollars were blown and astronauts' lives put at risk.

Whatever, it was a remarkable achievement and Neil Armstrong to some extent symbolised the American Century.

25 August, 2012

Cry God for Harry, England and St George

Tony Blair's chief media adviser used to say that if a negative story was on the front pages for ten days it was going to be a disaster.

I doubt the tale of Prince Harry and the strip billiards in Las Vegas will make it to this level, but to be honest I'm a bit surprised it has lasted as long as it has.

'Unmarried army officer in his late twenties parties in his hotel room with both men AND women!'. It's hardly a scoop, is it? Not even a headline.

Harry has a serious job, and had been through enough crap with the Olympics, where it seems his father, brother, grandmother, stepmother, uncles and aunts had declined to take any further part and he found himself representing Head Office and chaperoning his sister-in-law at the Closing Ceremony. He had been posted to America and had a night to let his hair down.

Americans are different, and, for example, unaware that etiquette dictates that when indulging in sex acts with the Royal Family, it is customary not to take photographs and sell them.

So, how have we dealt with this? Peter Oborne, writing the most precious article in the Telegraph I think I have ever read, even by his self-righteous standards, suggested that Harry had let down the monarchy, the country and his brother officers by..er..getting up to a bit of rumpy-pumpy while off-duty. Keith Vaz MP, whose taste for publicity exceeds that of Victoria Beckham, says that the Royal Protection officers (polite term for bodyguards) are there for the protection of the Prince's reputation as well as his safety (now, that's quite enough Tequila, your Royal Highness!), something I suspect to have been made up in front of the microphone, his mouth already open. And finally Prince Charles (more about whom later)is going to have a stern word with him, he has let it be known.

The males of the British Royal Family are not known for keeping their trousers buttoned up and his father led a fairly free life (not just with Camilla Parker Bowles), as did his grandfather, great uncle, great grandfather and many before (George V seems to have been the only faithful one but who knows?). And the difference with these is that they were all directly in line to the throne (the Duke of Edinburgh as consort) and married.

Harry is neither.

As to the British Army, it has rogered its way round every continent of the world and this sort of thing will greatly enhance Harry's status with his men. We're not pretending, are we, that a good officer would not play strip billiards? Please.

Harry does us a sterling service in reminding the world that the House of Windsor contains humans, not just the stuffed frogs who bonk in private and beg the newspapers not to mention it, calling their mistresses 'confidantes'.

As to Prince Charles giving him a talking to, I can only say with the gospel of St Matthew, 'By their fruits shall ye know them'.

As to the Press, one paper regarded the story (with the photos) as sufficiently in the public interest to publish. I think that is a legitimate point of view, although I don't agree with it. Many of them didn't publish because Prince Charles hypocritically begged them not to. That is not good journalism.

Let us now allow this one to drop.

21 August, 2012

A new species

Every so often, it has happened a couple of times this year alone, the world celebrates the discovery of a new species. And in this sense, perhaps only in this sense, we should celebrate the arrival on the world stage of Congressman Todd Akin.

Akin is an anti-abortion campaigner. He caused excitement when asked whether abortion should be permitted in the case of rape. Akin's considered view was that pregnancy wasn't a worry for a woman who had been raped because 'if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down'.

The world waited breathless for this sage to expound on what was and wasn't 'legitimate rape' but his minders have put the jacket on him and taped over his mouth.

But I think it worth considering how a man can have got this far in life (he is 65 with a university degree), much of it in the public eye, be selected by party managers to an important national post and believe that when a woman is raped her body detects this and shuts down the reproductive system.

Are there any more like him?

20 August, 2012

Scott McKenzie R.I.P.

The voice of a generation. This was recorded 45 years ago

19 August, 2012

Julian Assange

There is something which not many people understand about Mr. Assange; that he is not, in fact, important. He is, however, very good at persuading the weak minded, which includes the government of the United Kingdom, that he is.

Now he has been allowed to make a public statement from the balcony of his refuge, an unfortunate habit of Mussolini in his years in power.

"We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America.
"Will it return to and re-affirm the revolutionary values it was founded on?
"Or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark."

How they cheered! Self-important twerp.

As it happens, I am very much in favour of knowing more about how we are governed and Wikileaks has played a (very) small part in that: it showed us, for example, that the US thinks Mr. Cameron is lightweight, not real news. But I don't call this free speech. I call it receiving and passing on stolen property. Because however daft the Americans are to assert their rights over information they had themselves passed to 3 million people (one fifth the population of Ecuador), stolen was what it was.

Britain needs to deflate Mr. Assange by telling the Swedes it has done its best and withdrawing the police force (costing £50,000 a day), the Prime Minister telling the world to lighten up.

Pussy Riot

It is hard to know what to make of the Pussy Riot case, which has drawn such attention all over the world. Perhaps the only conclusion is that too much is being made of it.

The girls are possessed of a sincere dislike of Vladimir Putin, and formed their punk group when he emerged for a third term as president after an election which had been widely criticised.

In February the group performed a heavy metal 'prayer' to the Virgin to rid Russia of Mr. Putin; the performance took place without permission in Moscow Cathedral. Three of the girls were charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.

What would we have done here? There's no doubt it would be an offence to break into St. Paul's Cathedral and perform a noisy blasphemy (although with the wet, progressive British clergy it is by no means certain any effort would have been made to stop them); the sentence? A little harsh but I should have thought a period in jail would have been appropriate.

As a side-show, in a protest about the protest, the former chess champion Gary Kasparov has been arrested for biting a policeman, also a crime in the entire Western world.

So the girls have achieved their aim of maximum publicity (and then some) and the whole world now believes that Putin is an unpleasant dictator who stifles his political opponents.

Job done. Let's move on.

16 August, 2012

Jolly bad luck

Poor Csanad Szegedi, who is a Hungarian member of the European Parliament representing a Far Right party called Jobbik.

For some years now Szegedi has been making fiery anti-semitic speeches but has now found out that he is in fact Jewish. It's the sort of unlucky turn that could befall any nutcase.

Jobbik have asked him to resign his post on the grounds that he was confronted with the information in 2010 but tried to bribe people to keep quiet about it.

Szegedi says 'I think that what counts is not to know who is a pure race Hungarian, the important thing is the way one behaves as a Hungarian.'

I hadn't realised that hypocrisy meant you had to resign as an MEP; presumably we'll be losing quite a few more.

Ecuador at war?

Aside from the knowledge that it lies on the Equator, the only thoughts I have ever had about Ecuador have been that it seems a nice place, home to lots of turtles, which has got to be a good thing. Its constitution is the only one, I think I am correct, which recognises the 'rights of Nature'.

So it seems improbable that it would get into a row, almost a war, with a major military nation whose capital is a 15 hour flight from Guayaquil. But that's what seems to be happening.

The other nation is the United Kingdom.

Our story concerns the extraordinary life of Julian Assange, he of Wikileaks fame.

Assange is an Australian, currently resident in Britain (although both sides to the argument would rather he weren't). He is wanted in the USA for publishing a lot of 'secrets' which had already been disseminated to 3 million people. And he is wanted in Sweden under their extraordinary sexual laws, where unless you are using a condom with a spare in your sock, and have signed a prenuptial agreement, what you get up to with your girlfriend is rape.

He is not, as far as I know, wanted for any crime committed in the UK.

The UK wanted to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden but he, apparently fearing that the Swedes would send him on to the USA, has taken refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Now the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister has said that he has received an official note from Britain saying the host country would storm the Embassy if they didn't release Assange to the Police.

Now I find this hard to believe, even from such a bunch of idiots as the Foreign Office (I have said before that it ought to be closed down in the public interest). But just in case this is what is on their minds, let me say this:

Stop it, you fools. Violating the sovereignty of a friendly nation to get hold of a weak minded self-publicist who didn't buy a condom in Sweden is utter, utter madness.

15 August, 2012


India celebrates 65 years of independence today. I confess I get a frisson of delight when this massive nation votes: a living lesson to its Chinese neighbour.

Here in Italy it is Ferragosto or the Feast of the Assumption and everything closes down, or would do if it weren't already closed because it's August.

Robin El Hood

This blog's Silver Award for Economics goes to Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, mayor of Marinaleda, Andalusia, Spain who has been stealing food from supermarkets.

You see, it's OK because as mayor he has immunity from prosecution.

He says he has been giving the food to the poor, a redistribution of wealth he feels should have been carried out by the government.

I love this.

Unfortunately in Britain the only person immune from prosecution is HM The Queen, but come to think of it she could go into the Bank of England and empty the Treasury's account, handing the money to poor people who have seen their taxes wasted. Go for it Ma'am!


There is a theory in the media that nothing happens in the summer (although the First World War started at the end of July) but while we have been watching the Olympics, little bits of history have been taking place around us.

In Egypt President Mursi seems to have staged a brilliant coup, in retiring the two top generals from the semi-military government and replacing them with two more to his liking.

The problem for us in the West is that it is hard to know in exact terms who stands for what. When I last visited this subject I suggested that the tension between the army (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood government might be a good thing: SCAF seems to be anti-Islamist but hasn't been elected, whereas Mursi's government has been elected but when all is said and done is to one extent or another Islamist.

It seems Mursi's démarche has altered this balance but we don't know how much. Until a parliament is sworn in (the last one was closed down by SCAF) reflecting minority interests such as Copts and women the West would do well to watch, quietly. Egypt seems to be considering major military operations against terrorists in Sinai. It may just be that one faction or another is on our side.

13 August, 2012

Olympics: how was it for you?

Let's begin with 'What was it?'

An obvious answer, do you think? A sporting competition. Citius Altius Fortius?

So why are women competing? Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against women competing but they are not as Fast, High or Strong as men, so what are they doing in a merely sporting contest? And the Paralympics: I mean who goes to see that? Well, they've sold 2 million tickets, and many millions more will watch it on television.

So, not just a sporting contest. It's a spectacle, of course, with its ceremonies, its beach volleyball, its synchronised swimming, but that's not the whole story, either. What are we to make of the opening ceremony or, again, the paralympics? It is said that London was awarded the Olympics because of its central message of promoting sport for everyone. It's a social statement.

So a sporting competition which gets people to watch in the age of short attention span by creating a spectacle and by promoting a quasi-political sense of inclusiveness. They don't tell you that in the publicity.

As to how it went, it was immeasurably better than I thought it would be. I feared disaster, either through terrorism or breakdown. The London transport system can barely cope on an average working day, but it worked well due to the usual travellers being advised to stay at home, a sort of 'Family Hold Back'. I resented the 'Olympics only' or Zil-lane on the roads but in the end the roads were empty and even the hugely important Jacques Rogge tried the Docklands Light Railway.

Of course mass crowds and billions of TV watchers are like a hyperactive baby and have to be entertained constantly. And, incredibly, the British, with a reputation for organisation close to Italy's, coped brilliantly. For a fortnight we were fed a never-ending diet of strange and familiar sports, colourful spectacle and shining happy people, as the song says (the band R.E.M. should have played at the closing ceremony).

I don't think my grumpy cynicism was misplaced, but I am delighted to see I was wrong. Lord Coe (will he now be Earl Coe?) organised the thing brilliantly, with help from massed volunteers and the British Army and Britain this morning can feel very, very pleased with itself.

It's not just the medals, because it isn't just a competition.

12 August, 2012

Olympics Report 6

There are, presumably, not many more medals to be won, since the closing ceremony is tonight.

To balance the opening ceremony, which amounted to a political statement from the metropolitan left-wing elite (people being forced off the land, welcoming immigrants, a health service), the closing ceremony will probably be a celebration of denationalised industries and a show of people buying their council houses from Mrs. Thatcher.

Don't hold your breath, though.

09 August, 2012

Unhappy anniversary

A little gloom, amidst all the euphoria. Today is the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis, when central banks perceived a dramatic fall in confidence and pumped money into the system to counteract it.

Since then it has mutated as a liquidity crisis, a banking crisis, a sovereign debt crisis and a eurozone crisis. Nothing has got better for the ordinary family, nor will it for another year or so.

Now, back to the games....

Olympics Report 5

After an unpromising start, the UK has surged up the medals tables. So often did we hear 'Bronze to Australia, Silver to France, Gold to....Team GB' that I could have been forgiven for thinking that 'Team GB' was the new name of my country; that Her Majesty, invigorated by her first film part, had signed an Order in Council for the new name, while our attention was elsewhere. She hasn't, of course, the good old place remaining the UK, not even Team UK.

I may however change my name to 'Team Tim Hedges' in the hope it makes me fitter.

Incidentally a stranger might also have thought that the National Anthem had changed to the music from 'Chariots of Fire'.

But a great success, nonetheless. Particular congratulations to all those who achieved medals in sports not involving sitting down, our usual comfort zone.

Talk is now turning to the Games' 'legacy': how this will turn young Brits to sport. I may be wrong but in my opinion the effect will be minimal. It is just as likely to turn them to watching TV during the day. More on this later.

06 August, 2012

Democracy nuisance

Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Monti, has been in the news lately, cooking up some new way for the Germans to pay everyone's debts. Here's an interesting little bon mot he let loose in passing:

"If governments allow themselves to be completely bound by the decisions of their parliaments without maintaining some room for manoeuvre in international negotiations, then a break up of Europe will be more likely than closer integration."

Bear in mind that Mr.Monti has not been elected. It reminds me of the Government official in the former East Germany who said 'the people have forfeited the trust of the state'.

Now Mr. Monti is an educated man, but I think he needs to read one more book. Something like 'The idiot's guide to democracy' should serve. It would tell him that governments do indeed need to be bound by the decisions of their parliaments. It's a nuisance, but there it is.

05 August, 2012

The sick list

Greece, yes. Portugal, yes. Ireland, yes. Spain has already had help for its banks and seems likely this weekend to apply for a full bailout and Cyprus has applied for assistance. Now Der Spiegel reports that Slovenia is next on the list (for information it is a country tacked on to the North East of Italy).

That's six countries out of seventeen.

04 August, 2012

The story of Shafilea

Pretty name, pretty girl. Shafilea Ahmed was born in Britain to parents born in Pakistan. She disappeared in 2003.

Today her father and mother have been convicted of her murder. Shafilea wanted to live a western girl's lifestyle with tight jeans, pop music and boyfriends. Her parents sent her to Pakistan, drugging her for the flight, and put her into the marriage process, where a number of grooms are offered. She refused to participate and drank bleach. Her mother at first refused to let her go to hospital. When she came back to England she continued to disobey her parents and they killed her, stuffing plastic bags into her mouth and punching her. They concealed the body and it is only on the evidence of her sister that a prosecution has been brought.

What the Ahmeds did was come to Britain, because life is better there than in Pakistan, accepting the benefits but refusing to accept the duties. They were against integration, wanting a British income and a Pakistani family. This is more than bad manners, it is an insult to their adopted country and a threat to good race relations which have been hard won.

I'd have jailed them just for that. I don't enjoy the noisier side of racism but I do believe that British people have a right to expect immigrants to adapt, or choose not to come.

How you regard family tradition as more important than the life of your child I just don't know.

MATT gets it right

Thanks to the Telegraph's MATT.

See my post 'How we got here' below.

03 August, 2012


Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, is in the doghouse. I don't mean with the European Political Class (our picture shows him troughing at the taxpasyers' expense with Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of bankrupt Spain), but with the markets.

Draghi announced on Wednesday that 'We will do everything within our mandate to support the euro, and, believe me, it will be enough'. There were little coded references in his speech before the ECB meeting to the effect that they would start buying the bonds of Spain and Italy, to keep interest rates down. So, what would he announce and how would the markets react? Thursday was Draghi Day. He announced nothing. Clearly he was either whistling in the dark or trying to bounce the Germans into shelling out without conditions.

Our Saxon cousins were having none of it. Spain and Italy can, if they wish, apply for assistance from the Financial Stability Fund, but there would be conditions attached. After that they might let Draghi buy some bonds but it wasn't certain.

As of the moment, Spain refuses to apply for a bailout, nervous of what conditions would be applied. Mario Monti of Italy who was boasting that there would be a shield keeping Italian bond rates down, is also disappointed.

The European Bond Markets had their worst day on record. Shares collapsed, Spain and Italy are paying more for their debt.

Thanks Mario

How we got here

A perfectly ridiculous post by Julian Huppert MP on the Spectator's Coffee House blog (recommended, btw) tells us much about our economic predicament.

Mr Huppert writes about cycling, currently much in vogue following a successful Olympics, and whilst saying that cycling deaths are surprisingly low, wants us to DO MORE. For those of you who don't understand government-speak this means taking money by force from hard pressed taxpayers and blowing it on some self-satisfying project. 'If we are to make a diference', Huppert smugly opines, 'we need £100 million to be invested annually in our cycling infrastructure....Every city should have a cycling commissioner promoting and advising on cycle safety.'

There is so much wrong with this, and by extension with Mr. Huppert, that it has to be tackled head-on.

First thing, Julian, is we haven't got any money. Remember? The wallet is empty and our debts are far, far too high. Your idea is that having blown billions on the Olympic Games, when something becomes popular we should chuck even more at it. Maybe instead we should instruct our athletes, like the Chinese and Koreans, to lose.

The second thing is that Britain is already struggling under a bloated state, which is stifling enterprise and initiative and you want to make it bigger. There would be more state employees taken on to administer the £100 million, managers, assistants, secretaries, lots of people can make a fairly good living playing with this kind of lolly. Then the commissioners. You don't think, do you, that this can be done without a little help? You must know what these people are like, Julian; there will be assistant cycling commissioners, deputy assistant cycling commissioners, local initiatives with more government employees travelling down to see how they handle this in Ashton-under-Lyne or Penzance.

Stop it, you idiot. Britain has got itself into a bad state by us listening to social democrat nonsense like this. No more. Mr. Huppert, your time is up.

Lastly I cannot help mentioning that whilst cycling has experienced renewed popularity, the people who are actually going out on bikes are people who would otherwise have taken some other exercise. The 'renewed popularity' is largely with overweight Brits sitting on sofas watching Bradley Wiggins on the TV while sipping beer from cans and eating pizzas.

They will probably like your idea.

01 August, 2012


Swiss National Day today.

As well as making watches and chocolate and money, they do this: