22 November, 2013

Suspension

For much of this year I have not been able to devote as much time as I should have liked to this blog and I feel it would be best to suspend it while I pursue a couple of other projects.

Thanks to everyone who has read it. I hope to be back in the New Year

Tim

18 November, 2013

Monkey business

The Rev. Paul Flowers, head of the ethical Co-op Bank, has been caught buying crystal meth and cocaine.

The radio sternly reminded us that he had been receiving £130,000 a year from his Co-op members.

What? how much was Bob Diamond on at Barclays? £8 million?

If you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

15 November, 2013

Double standards

There's been a frightful amount of nonsense about David Cameron gong to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Conference. The Prime Ministers of Australia and Canada have stayed away.

Sri Lanka has a poor record on what I suppose we must call 'human rights' and there is little or no freedom of the press.

Awful? Cameron has just been to China, for Heaven's sake, which has a far worse record, stretched over a longer period and inflicted on vastly more people. When he was brown nosing the corrupt, undemocratic cabal which lead that benighted country, did anyone say he ought to have stayed away?

Sri Lanka at least has proper elections.

14 November, 2013

Happy Birthday

It is Prince Charles' 65th birthday today, and he will spend it at the Commonwealth Conference. This event is no less ridiculous than it always was, but given renewed importance as we desperately search for someone other than the bankrupt EU to buy our exports.

It is telling that at the age most people retire, we are still waiting to see if Charles will live long enough to get the job. This blog hopes he does.

12 November, 2013

New flag

The BBC reports that a misprinted Union Flag was flying near the Cenotaph in Manchester
yesterday.

I think it looks rather good. We need a new design if Scotland leaves the UK and this could be it.

07 November, 2013

Camus

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Nobel Prize winning novelist and philosopher Albert Camus. In fact he died in a car crash in 1960.

Whilst most commentators attach the 'Philosophy of the Absurd' to him, he was rather one of the great humanists, a socialist like his one-time friend Sartre, but who argued with Soviet Russia's Labour camps and the enforced starvation in the Ukraine. His argument with Sartre over whether the philosophy of socialism was worth the appalling suffering was one of the great philosophical duels of he 20th century. His analysis of the Manichean undesirability of two Powers, the USA and Russia, in many ways defined the Cold War.

He was only 46 when he died.

Spanish practices

It is reported that 87.8% of Spanish voters have little or no trust in Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

What helps him sleep at night is that 91.3% have little or no trust in his opponent Afredo Perez Rubalcaba.

Sharia money


David Cameron has announced that the Government would issue Sukuk bonds, that is to say debt instruments which comply with Islamic Sharia Law. Interestingly, the number of sukuk issued has fallen dramatically of late, after an influential Imam pronounced many of them invalid. You have to get the terms just right.

What interests me is what happens if there is a dispute: does the UK Government have to submit to foreign religious courts?

That would be an interesting development.

Get away....

The delightfully named Soren Bo Sondergaard, a Danish MEP, has written in a report that some of the EU funds designated for rebuilding the city of l'Aquila after the earthquake in 2009 may have gone to companies with ties to organised crime.

Imagine, Soren! (or is it Bo?). Corruption! In Italy!

Even more surprisingly, Brussels has denied it, not believing that such a thing could happen.

It really does make you wonder.

05 November, 2013

Lies, damned lies....

The CBI has put out a paper saying the benefit to the UK of being in Europe is between 4% and 5% of UK GDP, or between £62 billion and £78 billion.

So that's it, then. Nice and precise, these are the guys who know, question answered.

Unfortunately it's drivel.

The figure was taken from a digest of other figures which are themselves dubious: many decided on what the answer was and set out to prove it.The CBI itself has always been vigorously in favour of the European ideal and not so long ago was telling us we would be tragically left behind if we didn't join the euro. We're not hearing too much of that any more.

And there is no analysis of what would happen if we left: the savings in the contributions we make, the elimination of swathes of bureaucracy, just the stale, idiot assumption that Europeans would no longer buy our goods even though we bought plenty of theirs.

Much of what you read about the European debate is rubbish, but if it comes from the CBI, assume it's 100% wrong.

Calabria

A short holiday in Calabria, one of Italy's wildest regions.

There are some places well worth seeing, though they are far apart.

We managed to avoid getting the car stolen, and were not pickpocketed or mugged.

Then we got back to civilised Rome and found someone had burgled our flat.

28 October, 2013

Lou Reed



There was cool, there was very cool, and then there was Lou Reed, who has died, much too young

RIP

27 October, 2013

Patronising

As I write, it is supposed to be a sensible hour of the morning - 7.30 - but it is 6.30 because the State has decided it should be.

I am not a revolutionary but I could wish, if the people were one day to rise against their masters, that this patronising, bullying measure would be one of the reasons. The State fondly believes that we - you - cannot be trusted to get up a bit earlier in summer and a bit later in winter. It clings to the idea that we cannot organise a Parent-Teacher Association to set the school hours according to the seasons, and that farmers are as stupid as their cows.

To confirm them in this belief they put out all kinds of drivel and lies about improving tourism and road safety which even the most witless of our citizens can surely see through.

Once again, notwithstanding the massive importance of the person making the declaration, the earth will continue to go round the sun in the way it always has, and the same Prime Mover which gave us the planets and the stars has also gifted us - and the animals in the forest - the ability to get up at the right time.

Leave us alone.

24 October, 2013

Bugged

Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, says that it is 'really not on' (congratulations to the translators) for America to bug her personal telephone.

Well. We are not talking about Burkina Faso here. Germany has some of the best electronics companies in the world and if they couldn't protect the Chancellor's 'phone, something has gone badly wrong.

My guess is that this is mock outrage, and that in fact Mutti ('Mummy' as she is called) has given the head of the Foreign Service a roasting he won't forget.

But his job is safe because to fire him would be an admission of incompetence

This stuff is for the proletariat.

Colour coordinating

It appears that a family in Ireland has had their child taken away because it was White and blonde. The family were .... um ....not white, or rather not very White: they were Roma.

What on earth is going on here? It is not as if the police were looking for a specific child and suspected this might be it. They were going round a Roma camp and saw a child which looked out of place. Do they have colour charts? If the parents are approximately No. 14 on your chart (Roma Brown) the child should be between numbers 8 and 13; if it is 7 (White including mild suntan) or less you can take it away.

Is this what is going on? Is this how we live? If so, it isn't working. The whitey child turned out to be the offspring of the browny parents and the police were left ..er.. red faced.

Boy George

We have to remember that in the absence of a fixed retirement age for the monarch (something which would be welcomed by this blog), Prince George is not going to be king until around 2075. He will be a very different monarch for a very different, modern, age, an age where, perhaps, in Andy Warhol's words, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

It seems a mistake, therefore, that he didn't sell pictures of his christening to Hello! magazine.

23 October, 2013

The breadline

This blog sends its commiseraitons to Veronica Lario, former wife of Silvio Berlusconi.

Her alimony cheque has been more than halved. Now she is going to have to live on €1.4 million.

Per month.

Energy prices

There seems to be a reluctance to face reality in Britain over the cost of energy. For years we have been told that the price would go up and up, and now it has, it is somehow a disaster. And not only a disaster but a fiddle. 'We are being cheated', they cry, and it is, of course, the horrid big companies doing the cheating. Trust me, when it comes to fuel prices, big companies are good; you don't want to be buying your energy from some tiny local supplier down the road, like a corner shop. That would cost far more.

Then someone introduced the idea of 'fuel poverty', where people were deemed to be fuel poor if they spent more than 10% of their income on fuel. Instead of pointing out that this is a complete nonsense - some people live in large houses in cold, exposed areas, some live snugly in city flats; some need to be warm, others don't - the BBC and several newspapers have been treating this bogus concept as if it were important..

Next we had David Cameron's wizard scheme to tell the horrid companies to put everyone on the 'best' tariff, thereby reducing the number of different tariffs available and reducing consumer choice which is what keeps energy prices down.

Then we had the astonishing economic illiteracy of Ed Miliband, announcing a price freeze if he won the election. Of course it is quite easy for the Government to announce a price freeze, simply by reducing fuel taxes by the amount the market price had risen. But this wasn't Mili's idea: he wanted to ban the horrid energy companies from increasing prices, even if their cost of fuel goes up. Of course what would happen is they would put up prices on election day, particularly if it looked as if the country were daft enough to vote for Miliband, and they'd put them up again at the end of the freeze period.

After all this swaggering incompetence, all it needed was for some senior political figure to keep the 'debate' going and attack those horrid companies. Step forward Sir John Major, Prime Minister, astonishingly, for more than six years. Now, this was a fairly inglorious moment in our history (remember the Cones Hotline? Back to Basics? Edwina Curry?) and you would have thought that having been such a risible disaster in power he would have had the decency to keep his mouth shut after he had been found out. But no, the man with the blue underpants wants a windfall tax on the horrid companies.

One wouldn't have thought this needed saying, but it obviously does. Energy is a fairly long term business, and the investors need to be fairly sure about future prices and returns. If the government suddenly intervenes with a new, unexpected tax they grow nervous and don't invest because there is an atmosphere of uncertainty. They invest somewhere where the government is more sensible.

Going back to the Miliband Plan, there are a few things people should know. The first is that part of the taxation regime is arbitrarily imposed 'green' taxes. These were popular with the previous government and several were introduced by Ed Miliband when he was Energy Secretary. They were very popular with David Cameron, who also fell for the Global Warming twaddle, although less so now that it has been disproved (the IPCC say Britain is due to get colder). The green taxes amount to around 15% of fuel bills, all based on some fashionable bogus science. They tried to cover up the additional cost by making it illegal for companies to mention them on the bills they send out.

The next thing people should know is that the Miliband freeze could well make things much worse. As stated, the companies will put up their prices to cover the uncertainty, but 2015-17  will be a period of stable or falling energy prices, as the Americans release their vast reserves of shale gas on to the world markets. At best, the Mili-freeze is unlikely to have any impact.

As to the claims that there is no competition, there are six large energy suppliers and I believe this is enough to permit competition to flourish.

I am not, here, appealing for lower energy prices or lower profits. I am appealing for some common sense to be spoken on this subject.

18 October, 2013

The monkey and the manager

Having suggested we ignore bogus racism in football, I was cheered to learn that the England Manager, Roy Hodgson, made a joke to the players during the half-time interval, concerning an astronaut and a monkey.

In the joke the monkey is given a number of tasks to perform in the spaceship and the astronaut asks what there was for hm to do. The reply from ground control is 'feed the monkey'.

In Hodgson's example, the monkey was a player of mixed race with the exotic name of Andros Townshend, who, it was hoped by the racism lobby, would be outraged. But he wasn't.

No one seems to have noticed, except perhaps Mr Townshend, that in a comparison with the joke, it is better to be the monkey than the astronaut.

17 October, 2013

Footballists

What are we to do about racism in football? It is almost a standard question for one of those TV or radio shows where famous people are asked questions by a hand-picked freethinking audience.

You always get the same sort of answer: the VIP loathes racism, there is no place for it in our modern way of life, da-di-da. This is intended more to boost the credentials of the respondent than inform us.

We need to have a good look at this because the nonsense is reaching crescendo level.

Is it difficult for a black man to get a job playing football? No, there are lots of them.

Are they paid less than their white counterparts? No.

Do they, as used to happen in Apartheid South Africa, have to use a different changing room to the whites? No

It is in the crowds that the racism is spotted - people making monkey noises and so on. It is in us, the people, not 'Football'.

And 'Racist' isn't the only '-ist' levelled as an accusation by the New Inquisition. There is a 'clubbist' or regionalist discrimination whereby, horror!, the fans of one team shout insults at the fans of another.

And, strangely enough, the world of football has been surprised to see the fans themselves resenting this interference. In England, fans of Tottenham Hotspur, traditionally called 'Yids' because of the high Jewish element in the area, don't resent it but carry banners calling themselves Yiddos or the Yid Army. In Naples, Italy, where there were cholera outbreaks at the beginning of the twentieth century and this is recalled by the chants of Rome and Milan fans, they now have banners saying 'we are the cholera sufferers'. Morbid, but the point is they don't want to be told what to sing or shout by the do-gooders.

Long may it continue.

The last minute

America has once again come to a deal on raising the borrowing ceiling from its present, scarcely credible, $16 trillion.

Nobody has come out of this well. Obama has looked as if he didn't understand the politics, and his refusal to back down has often looked mulishly stubborn. The Republicans have looked worse: they bleated and made proposals which were obviously not going to be acceptable and now they have lost.

The problem with leaving it until absolutely the last minute before cutting a deal is what you will do next time. Allow a default? Plunge the whole financial system into disarray?

America, and the rest of the world, deserves better than this, from both sides.

09 October, 2013

Pride and timidity

The man who adapted Pride and Prejudice for television tells us that the famous scene where Mr Darcy dives into the lake and emerges in a wet shirt was supposed to be filmed nude, but the actor, Colin Firth, refused because it would show his love handles.

Men will be silently cheered by the news, women may find it's just a bit too much information.

05 October, 2013

Shutdown

If it were Italy, and the Italian government were no longer able to function and to pay its staff, people (myself included) would say that the political class has shown itself unfit to govern.

As it is, it is America in this position. The problem is that the law does not permit the Government to borrow more than $16,699,000,000,000.

But it needs more. A lot more. Perhaps that is what we should be focussing on.

04 October, 2013

Silvio

The Senate committee has voted to evict Silvio Berlusconi after his conviction for tax fraud.

I have enjoyed Silvio's antics over twenty years but of course this is right: you can't be one of the legislators over the taxes of a country if you have been thieving from your fellow citizens.

See, incidentally, my article in The Commentator.

Ralph, Ed and the Mail

The row between Ed Miliband and the Daily Mail over the paper's treatment of his late father Ralph continues, in part because, idiotically, the Mail on Sunday sent an undercover reporter to a family memorial service.

More of the madness comes from Ed Miliband, who seemed to take the view that the Mail had no right to discuss his father, a view seemingly shared by David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The nub of it all is that the Mail said Miliband père hated Britain. One of the questions to be answered is: did he?

Ralph Miliband was a Marxist academic, a man who campaigned in the middle of the twentieth century for a Communist Government. What Miliband wanted for Britain - a country to which he came as a refugee - was no monarchy, no army (except as a political tool) and no independent elections. Miliband certainly hated many or most of the institutions which made up Britain. From those days, I still remember the air raid sirens being tested, and publicity from the Government as to what to do in the event of a Russian attack. And of course it was to Russia that Miliband looked. If he had achieved his aims, Britain would have been subservient to Russia in a Worldwide communist movement.

So I think it is fair to argue that Miliband hated Britain: I'm not sure it is right, that's all. I for example have spent twenty-odd years campaigning against a particular bit of Britain's constitution: that it s a member of the European Union. I want upheaval in this respect. Am I the same? Do I hate Britain?

Here we delve into the subjective: my wanting to leave the EU would not cause any loss of democracy (quite the reverse) and would not kill anybody. Ralph (his first name was Adolphe, by the way) Miliband would have damaged everything a democrat might love about Britain. That is the difference. He hated democracy and Britain was and is a democracy.

Another thing to be considered is Miliband's statement that the Daily Mail should look at its core values. It fills me with horror that a man who wishes to be Prime Minister should speak in this way: I certainly don't want the executive looking at the values of a free press: it would no longer be free. And this is in itself justification of the Mail's story: if Miliband had said 'they can print what they like' it would have been fine. Now, however, he archly asserts that we must consider how newspapers are run.

Lastly, it is the hypocrisy: it has become normal in British politics for the left to comment on David Cameron's privileged upbringing: he was the son of a rather rarified family, his father being a wealthy stockbroker. Miliband himself has made comments about the 'rich boy', clearly implying that Cameron's upbringing has influenced his world-view. It must be equal for Miliband. He grew up also in a rarified atmosphere, the son of a prominent Marxist, and we are entitled to scrutinise that and wonder whether it has influenced his own politics (he has several times said in eulogies for his father that he had been influenced by him).

So the Daily Mail must keep publishing this stuff, whether you like to read it or whether you agree with it or not.

That is what we call a free press.

01 October, 2013

Barnet Conference

It is the UK party conference season, although I am sure you were hoping not to be reminded of it.

As usual no one can remember what they said. We are left with general impressions: Nick Clegg looking so confident that you knew there was something wrong, Ed Miliband longing for the days of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock and...George Osborne's hair.

What on earth is going on here. It looks like a cross between Jeremy Hunt and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.

Clearly they have been going to the same hairdresser and someone should send in an urgent Freedom of Information Act request to find out where it is, although I urge the public to keep the protest within the realms of civil obedience.

I remember arriving in Edinburgh one cold morning badly in need of a haircut. There was one near the office but its prices were incredible: more than I paid in Hampstead or the City. A colleague pointed me towards a more traiditonal barber a few streets away who offered what was known as an Edinburgh Baldie.

The next two or three times I went to a hairdresser he said 'My God! What have they been doing to your hair?'It took about a year to grow it out, and so I fear it will be for these unfortunates.

30 September, 2013

Greece

The Golden Dawn Party has been declared illegal and most of its MPs have been arrested for belonging to an illegal organisation.

Golden Dawn parades itself as a neo-Nazi Group, with Nazi salutes and a swastika-like emblem. As with Hitler's party before he came to power they go in for a fair bit of Street violence and have been linked in the public mind with the death of a socialist rap artist, although there have been no convictions.

I cannot help feeling that the Greek Government are playing this wrong. These organisations crop up in times of economic malaise, usually trying to blame immigrants for the country's troubles. Such a one appeared in Britain in the 1930s and we have seen modest signs of them occasionally thereafter.

The trick is not to take them seriously, to ridicule their uniforms and salutes; they go away when times are better.

Instead, Greece has got martyrs. Golden Dawn scored 7% in the last elections, which is higher than one would wish but, given that no one will have them in a coalition, not electorally dangerous.

And yet 7% of Greeks will be outraged.

No good will come of this. Greece panicked when it should have giggled.

Italy update


The Head of Telecom Italia has resigned, now that the company is believed to be Spanish. The head of Intesa, Italy’s largest bank, has resigned. The finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni has threatened to resign.

The Ministers of Berlusconi’s PdL party have resigned from the Government.

Several senior members of PdL have resigned from the party over the resignation of the others.

Beppe Grillo says he will resign if an election brings back the centre left PD and the centre right PdL but several of his deputies are threatening to resign in order to maintain those two parties in power.

The markets are selling Italian debt.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta will offer himself for a vote of confidence on Wednesday and we shall see what happens.

The last time Italy had a government run by the head of the largest elected party was November 2011. His name was Berlusconi. Angela Merkel got rid of him; perhaps she has some ideas now.

But it will sort itself out. Life goes on as normal.

Remember that the word ‘fiasco’ is Italian.

28 September, 2013

Syria

Finally the UN has produced a unanimous resolution on the chemical weapons in Syria.

If you recall, firstly the West (America, Britain and France) wanted the right to bomb. Then Russian diplomacy took this off the table. Obama, Cameron and Hollande then insisted that the resolution permitted them to bomb if Assad didn't comply.

Now, it does not permit any attack at all (they would need to start again with anther resolution for that) and does not say which side used the weapons (because we don't know).

A victory, and a welcome one, For Messrs Putin and Lavrov.

Democracy

You may recall a couple of years ago the Irish budget appearing in the German newspapers before it had been discussed in the Irish parliament. I thought it outrageous but most Irish seemed to take the view that they were in trouble - and needing support - and you had to put up with some indignity.

Now this is standard practice for the eurozone. Within the next fortnight every eurozone country must send its 2014 budget for approval by the Commissioner, unelected Ollie Rehn. This week it was the turn of once proud, independent France.

Mr Rehn may 'request' changes.

This is just the latest example of how these people are prepared to override national democracy in pursuit of their goal of a Europe free from interference from its people, a Europe run by an unelected elite. We should be glad we are out of this, but we will not be out of the poisonous, undemocratic atmosphere until we leave the EU.

27 September, 2013

Global..er..

Finally the International Panel on Climate Change has produced its report.

It says that there has been no warming these 15 years, although several British 'scientists' (as these bogus professionals like to be known) tried to have that taken out of the report.

And Britain? The forecast is for it to get....colder. Far from the arid desert forecast for the Sussex Downs and cactus growing in Scotland, we are more likely to see frozen rivers.

I have asked before, but could we please now have the overdue apology from Prince Charles (plus an indication that he has made such a fool of himself he will retire into private life), Roger Harrabin of the BBC and the countless newspaper pundits who fell for this.

23 September, 2013

Nearly....

On the subject of the German elections, bad luck to the AfD perty, which wants Germany to leave the EU. It missed the threshold for parliamentary representation by 0.2%

Nobody thought it would do this well, and, as we have seen with UKIP, the more people think a party could do well, the more likely they are to vote for it.

Am I alone?

'Am I alone in recognising....' was how the typical eccentric's letter began, often to the Daily Telegraph and often, it is said, in green ink.

However there is an aspect of our political system which does not seem to me to receive any attention at all. Look at the papers today and you will see that in Germany Angela Merkel has won a decent victory, but not enough to govern on her own. 'Merkel in search of partners', they all say.

So who voted for that? Here we are, after the vote, and the people of Germany don't even know  who she is going to be making overtures to, what kind of a squalid compromise she is going to negotiate, not on behalf of the people, but on her own behalf, betraying their votes to hold on to power.

Of course in Gemany there are mitigating circumstances: their constitution was designed after the war, for very good reasons, to stop heavy majorities which could be misused. And at least the people knew pretty well that Merkel was going to win, and so any coalition would be shaped in her own image.

There is no such excuse in Britain, which does not have a proportional representation system. The trouble was caused by Mr Cameron's incompetence in missing the biggest open goal in political history. Having failed to win, he should then have governed as a minority administration but lack of courage and, I am told, excessive influence from Buckingham Palace, meant that he governs with a minority party, itslf riven between left and right, and that the policies of the Government have never been tested before the electorate. To describe this as democracy is a sham. No, it's a lie.

But we, the people, mysteriously, don't seem to mind.

21 September, 2013

The latest and best

No blogging for a bit - more later - due to other commitments. See my articles in The Commentator about UKIP and Berlusconi. The Commentator is free and excellent and only on the internet.

11 September, 2013

On this day

Today is the 12th anniversary of the attack on the twin Towers in America (I usually think of 9/11 as 9th November because of the different way they write dates); it is the 40th anniversary of Pinochet's coup in Chile and, but for the Grace of God, it would have been the first day of the American, British and French Attacks on Syria.

I'm keeping my head down

Diplomacy Doubles

The Russian team of Putin and Lavrov easily outclassed the Americans Obama and Kelly, the British Cameron and Hague and the French Hollande and whoever to register a remarkable victory.

In the last minute of play the Russians produced a staggering gambit whereby the Syrians hand over their chemical weapons to international control.

Now the Americans can't attack (the plan came out just as Obama was honing his speech to the American people suggesting he does just that), they have to give the Russian plan a go.

Of course the plan won't work - that's the beauty of it. 'International' must mean the UN, which would take a long time to gear up. The last time the UN was in Syria the team was shot at and they don't know who by; it was equally likely to be one side or another. Syria is undergoing a civil war and you can't just ask the protagonists to down weapons. And there will be confusion as regional approvals are not sought, inspectors turned away with a 'sorry, we didn't mean it' the week later (remember Saddam?), lost weaponry (now where did we put that Sarin gas?) and the 'discovery', true or false, that some are in the hands of the rebels, who haven't done a deal to hand them over.

The American and British peoples (Hollande wasn't going to bother to ask the French) are tired of war. Parliament refused Cameron permission to wage one. Then Hague hinted that if things changed there might be another vote. Things changed but not the way Hague wanted: if there were a vote now that there is a chance of mediation, it would go even more horribly against the Government. The Americans will pause.

And Putin will sit back, comforted that the war can continue as normal, just supplying a little more weaponry to make sure his side wins.

10 September, 2013

Gibraltar

Today is Gibraltar Day, where Gibraltarians celebrate the 1967 referendum to remain part of Britain.

Mr Cameron has said that he will never agree to any transfer od sovereignty without the consent of the Gibraltar people.

That's good. Let's leave it at that and let's hope for no sabre-rattling from either side.

09 September, 2013

The BBC and global warming

The BBC predicted that the Arctic would be ice free by 2013.

Today we learn that there is 60% more ice than at this time last year.

It's cooling, like the rest of the planet.

Doubtless the BBC team, I believe it is led by Roger Harrabin, will wish to apologise for causing an unnecessary scare tactic on the back of insufficient and inaccurate data it did not, in any case, understand.

Don't hold your breath, though.

08 September, 2013

Olympics again

Yes, the Olympics have raised their ugly, corrupt head again, this time to decide who will hold the games in 2020.

I could have sworn I heard the BBC announcer connect to our man in Istanbul, who said 'everywhere there are people waving flags, cheering...' and I assumed the games had been awarded to Turkey. But no, they went to Japan. Perhaps they were cheering because they wouldn't have to build useless stadia everywhere and take on mountains of debt.

Meanwhile Japanese professor Yasuo Hazaki suggests that hide-and-seek might be a good sport to include.

That's the stuff: games people actually want to play. Away with the  synchronised diving and dancing horses; hide-and-seek, hopscotch, skipping.

And cricket.

02 September, 2013

David Frost

David Frost has died of a heart attack aged 74, which is young.

He will be remembered, I hope, for the wonderful satire, which characterised the 1960s as much as the clothes and the music, and for the TV interviews, of so many people, which were lessons in the interviewer's craft.

I hope he will not be remembered for 'Through the Keyhole', a programme as crass and trivial as any you could find on TV.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winning poet, has died.

I've read a bit of his work and it struck me as banal, ineffective pay-per-word stuff, like someone who had never written poetry pretending to be a modern poet.

And I can't understand why, born in the United Kingdom to parents who were born in the United Kingdom, he wasn't British.

But he said he was Irish.

01 September, 2013

Greatly exaggerated

It seems that George H Bush, that is to say Bush père, not Dubya, has announced on Twitter the death of Nelson Mandela, even though he is still with us.

I can't work out which I think the sillier, the 41st President or the social medium itself.

Policy making

According to the Telegraph, Downing St admits that David Cameron's wife, Samantha, influences some of his decision making and she was behind getting him to attack Syria.

Good grief.

I mean, good ****ing grief. Is this what we have come to?

31 August, 2013

der, die, das

A new law in Germany enables you to register yourself as Male, Female or 'not telling'.

I suppose this may be normal for a nation where the words for knife, fork and spoon are three different genders, but it does seem odd. I think Germany must be the only nation where this is possible.

30 August, 2013

Useful Idiots

I don't have much time for Ed Miliband, and don't think he is the right man even for his own party, but there is no doubt he has played a blinder on the Syria debate.

First, he said that we should wait a couple of days for the UN Inspectors' report. Cameron had been ready to attack without seeing it. I don't know if you remember this with Iraq a decade ago, but there was never any time for the weapons inspectors; we had to go in now, now now, and Hans Blix was pulled out. I smelled a rat then and I smell one here.

So the debate, no longer being about authorising the Government to unleash tons of sophisticated ordnance on an already terrorised people, was about the principle of our fighting in Syria, and Miliband's Labour Party together with 39 coalition rebels voted it down.

There is much talk of this being a heavy defeat for Cameron, and Nick Robinson, the BBC politics editor, said it showed he was not on top of the foreign policy of his own party. In my opinion he will get over this fairly quickly.

What this has been about is Britain's place in the world. Many of us were getting fed up with the idea that we have to join every war. The spurious logic inflicted on us appears to be that we have to have a huge military because of our international role, and then, given we have a huge military, we have to use it. At the time of the Gulf War the Conservative Opposition, led by Ian Duncan Smith, followed unquestioningly the rather dodgy antics of Tony Blair, taking the attitude that 'if there's a fight, we're up for it'. And it's better if the whole thing is near some oil, have you noticed?

Many people don't want this. We never seem to use our superb military for humanitarian reasons; we didn't intervene in Rwanda, we didn't help Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, a former colony, we didn't stir a muscle when Mugabe was starving his own people in Zimbabwe, another former colony. But anything America decides is strategic and we're sharpening the blades on our bayonets.

Another thing I must mention is that it makes even less sense slavishly following Obama than it did Bush. Dubya genuinely liked and respected us. Obama hates Britain, and as discussed in these pages, has gone out of his way to show it. We would have been nothing more in this adventure than what Lenin called 'useful idiots'.

In my view it is not too much to say that the burden borne on British backs since colonial times has suddenly been lifted, and the British people can look forward this morning to a bright new future as an independently minded nation.

And, remarkably, it is largely due to Ed Miliband.

26 August, 2013

Nice work....

Steve Ballmer, the head of Microsoft, is going to retire.

When he announced the news, Microsoft shares shot up, making him instantly $1 billion richer, for promising not to work.

Syria again

All the signs are that David Cameron is about to embark on an insane military intervention in Syria without the approval of the United Nations.

Many MPs are demanding that Parliament be recalled and this is quite right. Cameron should be allowed to mobilize the military without consultation if the UK is threatened with attack, but that is not the case here.

The effect of a successful intervention in Syria would be to put into power a motley group of rebels some of whom, doubtless, are secular and sensible, others of whom are mad terrorists. Who will that help? The people of Syria? I don't think so.

Obviously every compassionate person will be very sorry that chemical weapons have been used. But that is no reason to compound the problem with Western missiles, which kill just as many people.

Let the MPs be recalled and let them put a stop to this nonsense.

24 August, 2013

Syria

Would you rather die by a chemical weapon or by a machine gun? For myself I'd just rather not die.

It is worth remembering that the business of chemical weapons use being some sort of red line is a construct of Obama who had been talking tough on Syria while unable to back it up.

Now that chemical weapons have been used, and we still don't know by which side, remember, he seems to want to do something. He has let it be known that he is repositioning his Mediterranean Fleet.

For Obama to attack Syria without United Nations' approval, which means without Russian approval, would be utter folly. And on which side would he intervene? This is a civil war between a murderous autocrat and some murderous islamists.

Sometimes it's better to remain silent.

Pulling the rug

Italian factory owner Fabrizio Pedroni sent his employees off on their annual holiday and quietly moved the entire operation to Poland. His business was being strangled by high salaries and low productivity. An employee on €12,000 a year in fact cost €30,000 due to social security and pensions provisions.

'If I had told the unions I intended to transfer production to Poland they would have had my property confiscated.' he said.

This is an all too common tale, which Italy needs to sort out if it is ever to emerge from the economic doldrums.

Incidentally the factory is called Firem.

22 August, 2013

Brave New World

The Snowden affair has been more interesting in the whereabouts of the leaker (who has now successfully sought asylum in Russia, a country which will have giggled at America's peccadilloes) and the more recent story of the Guardian journalist and his partner than in the actual details of the case.

It's probably worth remembering that Edward Snowden, a former operative for the American security services, revealed a comprehensive network of surveillance by the Americans and British (and others) covering private conversations over the phone, email and text.

I can't say I was very surprised about this. We knew years ago that GCHQ  would trawl the airwaves for key words. A computer technician used to send me emails finishing 'bomb, guns, explosion' and so on just to waste their time.

And I can't see that we can get along under the present islamist threat without doing something of this nature. It's not easy to put a limit on one's own rights but I believe I am entitled to know what they are looking at, but not entitled to know how they do it. As regards Mr Snowden, of course, he just released gobs of information without filtering it in accordance with these criteria (perhaps without being able to).

I have tremendous respect for the likes of Mr Snowden, and of course Bradley Manning who has been sentenced to 35 years for releasing fairly low-level information. I have no respect, however, for Mr Snowden's seeking asylum in Russia, as if it were some bastion of openness (glasnost, meaning openness, went out with Yeltsin, and there hadn't been much of it then). I rather think that these people should follow their consciousness if they believe this sort of stuff should be broadcast, but that they should accept the consequences of their actions, as Manning has done.

Then came the affair of the journalist and his partner. It emerged that the partner of a Guardian journalist who had released the Snowden stuff (the Guardian being the organ de choix for this sort of thing) was stopped at Heathrow en route from Berlin to Rio. The partner's name is Miranda, a nice name, although in this case it is the second name of a man rather than the first name of a woman.

Mr Miranda was questioned for nine hours under the Terrorism legislation and the Guardian screamed that this was attacking the innocent partner of a journalist in order to warn him off. If you had gone on holiday at that moment - to Russia, say - that is what you would have believed. However it then emerged that Mr Miranda was travelling on a ticket paid for by the Guardian, which insisted he wasn't a journalist. So what, then, was he? The Security Services thought that he might be in possession of classified information which he had couriered to a film maker in Berlin. It would be illegal to be in possession of such stuff, so they confiscated his laptop. Seems fair.

Then two things came to light. Firstly Miranda was not suspected of terrorism so they say he shouldn't be questioned under the terrorism legislation. There is espionage legislation, which wouldn't have allowed him to be questioned for quite so long. The second is that the police told senior figures in government they were doing this and the government told the CIA.

Funny name Miranda, although I repeat it is the man's surname. 'To be wondered at'.

I don't know if it is relevant, but Bradley Manning has decided to live as a woman, which presumably means he will be getting his own way all the time.

What do I think?

I want our security services intercepting things in order to protect me.

I want to know what they are allowed to intercept, what the rules are and I want to be satisfied that there is some oversight to make sure they don't overstep the mark.

I want whistle blowers to tell me things I don't know in respect of the above, and I want them subsequently to defend themselves in the Court of Public Opinion. I shall be on their side.

I don't want British Police automatically to reach for the terrorist legislation because that is the law which gives them most freedom of movement. Some 140,000 cases have existed over the last two years and without any detailed knowledge that seems excessive. And I want the police disciplined if they misuse these laws.

The Guardian, which also put up a smokescreen about laptops being destroyed by Security Services (also untrue, in that they were destroyed by Guardian staff in order to avoid an expensive legal case) has gone down in my estimation.

Oh brave new world, that hath such people in it
                                      Miranda, The Tempest

21 August, 2013

Consult the omens

I fear I shall never completely understand Football but occasionally one gets little glimpses.

Before their match Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan sacrificed a sheep, whilst their opponents, Glasgow Celtic, did not.

Shakhter 2 : Celtic 0

20 August, 2013

Joy in death

It is reported that Germany is concerned about British plans to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

I can't see that there is anything to celebrate in the outbreak of a war, even a war which we eventually won (at the cost of millions of lives).

Why don't we save up for a jolly great party in 2018, to celebrate the end of the conflict, or, better still, not celebrate it at all.

18 August, 2013

However, Cameron yields

What do you think about Russia? I think most people don't much like the idea. Many of us have grown up with warnings about what to do if they showered some of their many missiles on us. I don't like Putin, who seems a cross between a third world dictator and a Tsar, with enormous powers to wipe out opposition. And I didn't like the communism and don't like the aftermath. There's plenty more.

What the celebrity Stephen Fry (once described to me as 'a stupid person's view of what an intellectual is like') dislikes about Russia is the way they treat homosexuals, although it doesn't seem as bad as some Muslim countries that he never complains about. He wants us not to be allowed to enter the winter Olympics in Russia.

There's nothing wrong with this view or this prioritisation, except that Mr Fry is a celebrity and people, unaccountably, think his views important. For myself, I am not interested in Mr Fry's opinions, be they on Accounting standards, football or agriculture.

But David Cameron agreed to meet Mr Fry to discuss this, in a pub in the East End of London. This is naivety in the extreme. If I wanted to meet Mr Cameron in a pub, would he? Or you? Is his criterion, therefore, for meeting people to hear their views whether they are a celebrity? Is this the way we want government managed?

Cameron, or some very junior aide, should have told Fry that you don't get to exert personal influence on the Prime Minister just because you have been on the telly.

Footer

Oh dear. The football season has started, in the middle of August, if you please. Already we are seeing managers ashen faced with disappointment, men with impenetrable Scots accents celebrating their win, the whole lot united in taking themselves very seriously indeed.

For those who can't stand it, the fifth Ashes test starts on Wednesday, and there is still full five-day coverage on the BBC (even though the metropolitan trendy lefties in the Corporation have been trying to stop it for years). Listen to Aggers and Blowers and tell yourself that football is played in winter, and by some pretty silly people.

17 August, 2013

I yield to no one

I suppose it was inevitable that the test drilling in Sussex by a company involved in fracking would bring out a few 'C' list celebrities - the sort of people Joan Collins said would go to the opening of a root canal - but we are now treated with the views on drilling techniques of the designer Vivienne Westwood.

I yield to no one in my admiration for Ms Westwood's work in bringing modern fashion to the short sighted and colour blind, but she should stick at that. Neither she nor it would appear any of the other protesters know anything about this even though the BBC reports their uninformed opinions uncritically.

15 August, 2013

Egypt

Perhaps because of its size, Egypt seems to have replaced Syria in the consciousness of the West, even though the death toll in Syria is far greater and UN inspectors are going down there to investigate claims that both sides may have used chemical weapons.

Estimates of the Death toll in the latest violence in Cairo and Alexandria vary widely: the Muslim Brotherhood says thousands, the regime some 500. But it is clearly bad. The question before us is similar to that in Syria: what should we do?

The first thing is to call a spade a spade. Calling what is going on 'events' or 'regime change' is to ignore the facts. The elected government was rounded up by the military and replaced with one of their own. the military is funded at least in part by America so this is a Western-funded military coup.

That isn't to say that Mr Morsi hasn't deserved his fate. A coup can be justified if it is for the benefit of the people. Morsi lied in his electoral promises, fiddled the constitutional negotiations to suit his sharia based ideas, and put religious fervour ahead of the welfare of his people. Morsi was Egypt's first attempt at government after its Arab Spring, and it was a botched one.

What can happen now? The Army-backed government must present a new constitution to Egyptians, a secular one permitting all kinds of worship (10% of Egyptians are Christian) and it must conduct open elections on this. All we can do is tell them that we regard the present arrangement as transitional.

09 August, 2013

Discrimination

The American chat show hostess, Oprah Winfrey, says she wanted to look at handbags in a shop in
Zurich and the assistant refused to let her look at a particular one, sayng it was too expensive.

Naturally, she has claimed it was racial discrimination (she is black).

This is to misunderstand completely the nature of Switzerland. The assistant is probably trained to look at the way customers dress, and the girl probably thought Winfrey had previously confined her patronage to charity shops.

The only discrimination you find in Switzerland is against poor people.

They can't stand those.

08 August, 2013

Priceless Publicity

The other thing that has our lefty friends foaming at the mouth is a remark by UKIP MEP Godfrey
Bloom about foreign aid, to the effect that if you give money to 'Bongo Bongo Land' it ends up being spent on sunglasses, Ferraris and fighter jets.

Yesterday a particularly idiotic interview on the Today Programme conducted by Left-wing Jim Naughtie began with 'where is Bongo Bongo Land?' and later suggested that the British Aid Programme had helped eliminate an outbreak of polio in Sudan so it was OK.

Today the Guardian splutters away; Zoe Williams: 'Bigots like Bloom must not be tolerated'.

90% of listeners to the Today Programme, if not Readers of the Guardian Comment Pages, know exactly what is meant by Bongo Bongo Land: a third world country, quite possibly in sub-Saharan Africa. James Naughtie should try to get out more. It is not racist to suggest that, even with the excellent polio eradication programme, some of the money might have been creamed off by some princeling or warlord, nor that he might have enriched himself to the tune of a Ferrari and some sunglasses or indeed some military hardware to help his cause. That's what most people think happens to some (not all ) of the aid programme. And it is not racist to suggest that the aid programme should not be kept so high at a time of financial exigence.

I have met Godfrey Bloom a couple of times. He is blokey, the sort of person you would meet at the golf club, and I remember forming the impression that he was harmless, albeit not as amusing as he thought he was. What has happened here is the lefties taking themselves so seriously that they couldn't spot that Bloom was taking the Mickey, and getting some priceless publicity for his own party.

Predatory

Neil Wilson pleaded guilty to having sex with a child and owning images of child abuse. It is a story regrettably only too common.

But this one is different. During the course of the trial a barrister said the victim, a thirteen year old girl, was predatory and sexually experienced. The judge also described the victim as predatory and said there had been sex but that it had been instigated by her. He gave Wilson a suspended sentence.

Naturally the bien pensant left-wing media are up in arms.

Interestingly the barrister who said this was representing the prosecution. This hs been widely reported but not cmmented on. If a defence barrister thinks he has to attack the victim in order to help his client (this is not a defence, but can be mitigation) it may be regrettable but we cannot stop it, otherwise we are tampering with the law.

But why would the prosecution barrister say this? Unless he thought it, and felt it his duty to say it? And why would the judge repeat it? What if she was, in fact, at 13 years old, sexually experienced and predatory?

One doesn't like to think some things but they must, nevertheless, be thought.

05 August, 2013

Spain & Gibraltar

This year marked the three hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht, under which Spain permanently ceded Gibraltar to Britain (it was following the end of the War of Spanish Succession). At least they can't claim, like Argentina with the Falklands, that they never gave it up.

Now the Spanish are threatening to charge £85 for a border crossing. So a European country is charging for the movement of goods and people but only to one nation - The Portuguese and French get in free of charge.

If this is permitted surely it marks the end of the European Union. Surely?

03 August, 2013

Silvio

I outline the disaster for Silvio Berlusconi in The Commentator.

Any Citizen would surely think he has to disappear from politics. Any lover of the spectacle of Italian politics will miss him.

But he's not quite finished yet.

02 August, 2013

Nice work

The Birth of the Young Prince George has been registered and his mother has described her profession as 'Princess of the United Kingdom'.

Nice work if you can get it, but is she a princess? And if she is, why go by the lesser title of Duchess?

All very mysterious.

31 July, 2013

The Beeb

Is it my imagination or is the BBC Sports department grossly overstaffed?

'And now it's time for Sport. Here's Roger Spode'

'Thanks Derek. And there's some exciting cricket. Here's John Snoad'

'Thanks, Roger. England are to play Australia in the third Test at Old Trafford. Here's Brian Toad'

'Thanks John, and we go over to Jason Wode at the ground. How's the atmosphere Jason?

'Thanks Brian, here's Bill Hoad who's been talking to some of the crowd....'

29 July, 2013

EU threat

The EU, without any consultation with member states, has declared it wants to operate spy drones, surveillance satellites and aircraft, under the control of mad-or-useless Baroness Ashton.

Britain can of course have no part of this, but it is still of concern that there is an undemocratic state on our borders willing to pose this sort of threat. Will we be paying through our taxes for the EU's bureaucrats to spy on us?

We clearly need to try to put a stop to this blatant usurping of power from member states. Ashton can no more be trusted with a drone than any other unelected self-aggrandising leader, such as Kim Jong-un.

28 July, 2013

égalité

Following the riots in French cities against the ban on the burqa, there is a strong political movement to go further and ban the headscarf.

Some people won't be amused.

JJ Cale

I was saddened to hear of the death of JJ Cale, a prolific songwriter and collaborator with just about everyone who matters. He was 74 and still had a lot to give


26 July, 2013

Jagger

Mick Jagger is 70 today and this blog sends its best wishes.

A interesting fact about Jagger is that he once wrote his autobiography but it was deemed too boring and he had to give the advance back.

The Commentator

After a short hiatus the Commentator is back. There's an article from me about Italian austerity and lots of other interesting pieces. Read it. It's free.

The barbecue

Central Italy, July. It had been 35C during the afternoon and by early evening it was just beginning to cool down. There wasn't a breath of wind. I had some lamb steaks marinading in herbs and at such times everything just tells you 'barbecue'.

Perhapas it's that little bit of the caveman in every male - because it's a man thing, isn't it?. It's only a very little bit of caveman in me, and usually well-hidden, but there I was with the raw meat (I hadn't actually killed the lamb, but, you know, I might have done). There's the fire you have laid yourself, the flames dying down to a satisfactory white heat, the fact that you attend to it standing up, looking competent. Yes, there's definitely something about it.

But now, today, I am emerging from the non-barbecue closet. I am coming out. I can't do it.

We usually only have one barbecue a year because it takes me 11 months to forget the personal humiliation of the exercise, but there comes a time, usually in July, when last year's events have been excised from my conscious mind and I'm up and at it. Like a caveman.

Finding the barbecue proved to be an early, confidence building success. It was underneath the strimmer. I brought it out and began the assembly procedure, as complex as the launch preparation for space travel. The pan or holder is round, it fits on to a tripod and the grill fits with a spigot into a hole in the bottom of the pan. But why only three legs? Every time I set it up it fell over on to the side with no leg. My partner, a mere girlie, what View from the Boundary would describe as 'someone of the female persuasion' fixed it. She's an engineer. It was probably something about the angle of incidence or reflection, or something.

Now the top, or business end. It wouldn't come out. The spigot on the grill thingy simply would not come out of the hole in the pan. Whilst for cooking this was how you wanted it, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get the charcoal in, which is, of course, a sine qua non. I pulled and twisted, twisted and pulled. I put it on the ground and, placing my foot on the pan, pulled with all my strength. No joy. I paused for breath. This was getting personal but I knew that the solution lay with brain rather than brawn. Did I tell you I went to Oxford? Holding the handles to the grilly bit, I wedged the circular pan under a stone table and jumped upwards. Some disturbance to the table and an unexpected pain in my right shoulder but no result. Then, perhaps injudiciously I gave the thing a hearty buffet against the trailer to the tractor (I am nothing of not rustic).

I should have told you that underneath the pan there is a sort of metal bar with a knob, for the technical, which regulates how far down the spigot can go and thus the height of the grill off the charcoal. I bent this, or rather the trailer did. So it was that when the girlie engineer, tired of the worsening invective, came to remove the grill and its spigot from the pan (probably something about Newton's third law) and I got the charcoal in, the grill would only descend to several inches off the charcoal. Tant pis. Charcoal, firelighters, matches and the caveman was ready to go.

Evening was descending by now and with it a slight breeze, so I can scarcely be blamed for not being able to light the firelighters. But I persisted and after the better part of a box of long matches I had a merry little blaze going. Of white, petroly things.

Obviously there are two types of charcoal: the regular sort and another which they have made non-inflammable. This was what I was using. So, more firelighters, more of a different type of charcoal, another box of matches and we were off. After the firelighters had expended I could see there was some action here, with the occasional spark illuminating the by now darkened sky. We just had to wait for it to be ready to cook. At least we wouldn't be disturbing the neighbours who would have gone to bed long ago.

I had been nibbling bits of bread to mop up the wine I had been pouring down, and we sat down, tipsy, at what seemed like the following day. And, do you know?, the food wasn't bad.

But I had lost my appetite.

23 July, 2013

Linguistic Correctness

I am indebted to the artist Robert Tilleard for pointing out that it is Brooks's Club of St. James's, not Brooks' Club of St. James'.

Checking with Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926 Edition) I find that leaving the extra 's' off was the early form, but it is only these days (or at least in 1926) done in Poetry and in reverential style. I distinctly remember being taught to leave it off, but then my old Headmaster, Walsham Temple Crewe Maynard, dated from pre-1926.

Incidentally, the spell-checker on the blog allows Brooks' but not Brooks's. But Fowler rules.

I like a bit of pedantry and have accordingly changed the blog title.

What's in a name?

Paul Harrison of Sky News: 'The Duke and Duchess will have had lists of girls' names and boys' names, so they'll have dispensed with the girls' names quite quickly.'

Phew! So it's not going to be called Mildred, then.

What about Eric? We haven't had a King Eric, even though it's an old and distinguished name.

No, Timothy. That's better. It means God fearing which keeps you on the straight and narrow, I can tell you.

Sorry, getting over-babied already. Let's get it over with.

Congrats

Only one item in the news today. Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The Daily Mail, predictably, virtually gives up the entire paper to it whilst the Guardian, perhaps equally predictably, has a Republican button to avoid all discussion of the matter.

I am still trying to find out why Catherine, married to a Prince and now the mother of one, is not a princess.

22 July, 2013

Trouble in the banlieue

The outskirts of Paris and several other French cities are in ferment after some heavy handed police
action against women wearing burqas.

In truth, as this blog pointed out at the time, this is an idiot law. The relationship between individual and state is of course different in France, it must surely jolt some long-relaxed French synapse that the state is now telling you what you can and can't wear.

People feel strongly about this, deeming it, wrongly I understand, part of their religion that women should be covered from head to toe. Westerners regard this as an imposition on Muslim women, but it scarcely helps the woman if, because of the ban, she is not allowed outside by her husband.

When they tried the first prosecution, the indicted woman turned up at the court wearing a burqa and was not allowed in because it was a public building.

Hollande should drop this, and blame it on Sarkozy.

15 July, 2013

Tortoises and hares

Violence continues in Northern Ireland, three days after what they call the 'Glorious Twelfth' (anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690).

Sometimes I think of the people of Northern Ireland as tortoises, creatures which have failed to evolve into the requirements of our times, unfitted to modern life without outside protection. And sometimes I think of them as hares, normal, viable creatures who go crazy only at a certain time of the year.

The present battles with the police (I am not talking about them fighting each other) were because the Protestant contingent wanted to march through a catholic area, an act of pure provocation. They make tribal signs and are aggressive, even to children, hoping to start a fight.

The police rightly banned this, so they are chucking petrol bombs at the people risking their lives to protect them.

I'd ban all marches as incitement to violence, but they claim it's tradition.

It will be the same next year.

Mandela

Congratulations to Nelson Mandela who is due to be discharged from hospital.

I shudder to think what it must be like in a hospital bed, with scores of reporters and cameramen outside waiting for you to die. I can only say it would give me a renewed will to live.

The news sleuths will presumably now depart for the UK to annoy the Duchess of Cambridge, who is due to give birth around now, and Mandela can depart this vale of tears in privacy.

14 July, 2013

Enfants de la Patrie

Today is La Fete Nationale, known as Bastille Day everywhere except France. It used to be that the President would give a sort of State of the Union address but that seems unlikely from Hollande, and indeed his predecessor didn't do it either.

For things are not good. Hollande is the most unpopular president ever, and the stories are that his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the face of weak leadership of his UMP party, may be making a comeback. France is back in recession and the populace seems increasingly unsettled.

In truth I think the problem is that France doesn't know who it is or what it is. Is it a part of the modern world or the old? And, perhaps more important, is it part of Northern Europe or Southern Europe?

The response to globalisation seems to have been to ignore it, but it is not going away. The response to Europe's economic  crisis seems to have been to spend more. Hollande lowered the retirement age when every other country is raising it.

I think a period of national self-examination is needed but that nobody wants it. Things are not that bad and others - the UK - are having difficulty too.

Despite it all, this blog wishes the Grenouilles well

10 July, 2013

Human Rights

The continuing hoo-ha about life sentences is obscuring the real issue.

For myself I am not at all sure that we should be sending people to prison without the hope of parole - I always imagine it might be me - and I don't think we would lose much if, as the European Court of Human Rights says, the sentence had to be reviewed every 25 years.

The big question is this: who do we want making laws in the UK? The Court is staffed by judges from such rights-observing countries as Bulgaria, Turkey, Serbia and Moldova, and they have overruled a decision by the British Parliament.

We don't want this, surely?

2000 today

This is the 2,000th post on my blog. It has received just over 91,000 page views.

Thanks to everyone who has read it
Tim

08 July, 2013

Wimbledon

The nation was so obsessed with the performance of Andy Murray that you could have started a war without registering interest. In fact I am sure I spotted the smiling face of Abu Qatada on Henman Hill, come back for one last freebie.

David Cameron who, despite appearances, is hoping to be re-elected in 2015, predictably said that Murray should be knighted. He is 26 years old, plays tennis all day, has never risked his life for anyone or saved anyone else's life, and is remarkably well paid for such a trivial existence.

The British honours system has been turned into a political plaything, one of the prime examples being the Olympic Games last year. In my view it needs to be cancelled and then re-evaluated. No one should get any kind of honour for doing a paid job well (particularly civil servants who are largely lazy and surplus to requirements). Also excluded should be sportsmen and pop stars (Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard! Please! Bruce Forsyth!).

Mr Murray should be encouraged to continue his glittering, multi-million pound career. Nothing more.

07 July, 2013

Another cold one

30C in southern England today, and it was only about 3 weeks ago that the Met Office was predicting a cool summer.

This blog proved more accurate (see here). Our forecasts are made by looking at what the Met Office has to say and assuming the opposite.

06 July, 2013

Human Rights

What would it take for you to don tight trousers, a stripey T-shirt and a straw hat and punt a narrow
boat full of vulgar Russian tourists along a smelly canal while singing 'O sole mio' for the seventh time that day?

For me it would be a skin full of liquor, I don't mind telling you.

However Venice's gondoliers are to face alcohol and drug tests, following a naked initiation ceremony in the Grand Canal.

Poor blighters. I think I see a human rights case here.

PS when I say alcohol tests following a naked initiation ceremony I don't mean that as a routine there will be a naked initiation ceremony then an alcohol test (although it's scarcely something you'd do sober), I mean there were reports of such an initiation and the do-gooders thought there should be tests.

05 July, 2013

IOR

Not Eey-ore, although it is a bit of a donkey, but the Vatican Bank Istituto per le Opere di Religione. find out what's happening there in my article in The Commentator (it's free).

04 July, 2013

Not many affected

The prime example of a headline affecting most people the least used to be 'Earthquake in Chile, not many dead' but I am sure 'Belgian king abdicates' is up there with the best of them.

Apparently the old boy - he's 79, eight years younger than our Queen - thinks he's too old and infirm to carry on. He will hand over to his son Philippe, Duke of Brabant (which is in Holland).

Actually Albert II remains famous for one thing: the opening paragraph of the European Constitution contains the list of signatories, so the first words of this bogus document are 'His Majesty, King of the Belgians'. How he thought he was helping his subjects by signing it, God knows.

Anyway, happy retirement, Albert. Bring on the next one, who I reckon will be the last monarch of this quite unnecessary country.

Land of the Free

The fourth of July and America celebrates..er..whatever. Oh, getting rid of us Brits.

Sometimes I wonder if they made the right decision. The President failed to achieve any of his targets in his first term and, as soon as he was re-elected, became a lame duck President, which must be some sort of record.

Obama has still not got his troops back home, has not closed Guantanamo Bay and has financed a coup d'état in Egypt, although he is not allowed to refer to it as a coup because that would mean he had to stop the money going to the Egyptian army. In Syria he has refused to rule anything out and refused to rule anything in.

His sole success appears to be stirring up public opinion against Britain in the form of BP. One cannot help thinking the leader of the free world desperately needs a leader itself.

Happy holidays to the Home of the Brave!

02 July, 2013

Number 28

Croatia is the new member of the European Union. It joined Yesterday, 1st July, so it has had a day to get its begging letter written.

Croatia has a population about half that of London, and it is poorer than the average in Europe, so it will be expecting some handouts. In fact I hope all this was sorted a while back because there isn't much left.

Croatia has had an interesting history. It waited 400 years for the Austro-Hungarian Empire to implode, and now after an unpleasant period of ultra-nationalism during WWII followed by the quasi-communism of Tito, and the unpleasant Balkan conflict,  it now wants to hitch its star to another fading, bureaucracy-ridden wagon.

It shouldn't have to wait 400 years for this one to go belly-up, though.

30 June, 2013

The Brussels files

News that the USA has been spying on the European Union has caused widespread concern. Not here: this blog believes the USA has every right to spy on its enemies, and there is no doubt which category the EU is in. It's just that it isn't worth the effort.

Fortunately we have been able to obtain a transcript of some of the intercepted proceedings:

A secret room in Brussels

Jean-Pierre Dampierre (FR): under rien circonstances can the detested Anglo-Sassons be allowed to destroy the European social model

Humphrey Eurobloke (UK): we're Anglo Saxons

Dampierre: France is in solidarity with its European brothers but you have only yourselves to blame

Ent van der Plonke (Netherlands): isn't the social model making our people poorer? Isn't it true we can't afford it?

Gianbattista Bastardo (Italy): Il social cohesion, bravissimo!

Splot Splot (Romania): can we have just a little guarantee for our banking system?

Split Split (Slovenia): and perhaps some more social funds

Heinrich Turdfelde (Ruler): Nein nein! We believe in compromise here in Europe. We will keep the social model and you will all starve!

Fighting breaks out, and the Commission issues an Emergency statement promising to surpass North Korea in economic efficiency by 2025.

Really, the Americans needn't have bothered. 

Egypt

Events in Cairo seem particularly worrying. I think it is a long way from some commentators' suggestions of looming civil war, but the violence seems to have no end in sight at the moment.

What should one think? I don't much like the look of the Muslim Brotherhood and its crony Mr Morsi, who last year issued a declaration preventing anyone from challenging his decrees, if you please. I don't like the regression into Islamism and the loss of women's rights that entails.

At the same time one has to take a step back and remember that Mr Morsi was elected, and only a year ago. Without a doubt, in my mind, the Egyptians have made a mistake and elected the wrong man, but we have plenty of examples of that in the mature democracies (My God, don't we?). Morsi would seem to have more legitimacy than, say David Cameron's coalition, which did not present itself to the electorate and for which no one voted.

Another good example of a Middle Eastern problem we should keep out of (before Cameron and Hollande decide we should invade).

28 June, 2013

Brady

Most people of my age remember the Moors murders in the 1960s. Five children were kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. It was all the more shocking then because no one had ever heard of this sort of thing. Perhaps we're now used to it.

Hindley died ten years ago, and it is said that they opened champagne at the Home Office where they had received regular appeals for her release, having to refuse on grounds of society's revulsion at the crime (any Home Secretary releasing her would have been hounded out of his job).

Ian Brady was declared insane in 1985 and is being held in a mental institution. He is on hunger strike (some evidence denies this) and being fed through a tube. He says he is not insane and wants to be transferred to a normal prison where, it is reported, he believes he would be able to kill himself.

I don't know if Brady is insane. There are some crimes so awful one would have thought you would have had to be insane to commit them and this is surely up for consideration on that ground. They made tape recordings of the tortured children and a chap I knew had spoken to a barrister who had heard the tapes, who said it would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Brady has never disclosed the whereabouts of Keith Bennet's body, although he has confessed to the crime. It is believed he is withholding the information in order to manipulate the proceedings.

The deal I would make is that if he discloses information leading to the recovery of Keith's remains, for which the family have been waiting for half a century, he should be transferred to an ordinary prison and, yes allowed to die of that is what he wants. No remains, no transfer, and until then I believe we have a duty to keep him alive.

Ignorance

The news broke a couple of days ago that 21 British and Irish had been given suspended sentences in Albufeira, southern Portugal, for conducting or witnessing illegal gambling.

The event took place in The Yorkshire Pub, and it was claimed that the gambling was a bingo game, being played for biscuits. There was a report on the matter on the Today programme on BBC Radio, with the guffawing presenters clearly taking the side of the Brits and Irish.

I thought it very silly of 'Today' (I think it was Sarah Montague and Evan Davis, but I may be maligning them).

What had happened was this: Portugal is in very severe economic difficulty and its people are suffering. There is a foreign pub and people, speaking English, playing a foreign game which is illegal. All forms of games of chance in a public place are illegal in Portugal without a licence, which is not much different to Britain, where you also need a licence for singing. The police were not to know, and we still don't know, whether the biscuits won were quietly exchanged for money later on, like chips in a casino.

One of the landlady's complaints was that she had to wait in the police station until the interpreter arrived. She had lived and worked in Portugal for nine years without having the common politeness to learn the Language.

This was a piece of common, ignorant barbarism by mulish, rude people who, as guests in a country, make no effort either to integrate or even understand the feelings of their hosts. It is, alas, all too common here in Italy. As far as I'm concerned they're lucky the sentences were suspended.

25 June, 2013

Mark Harper

It is reported that Mark Harper, the Conservative Immigration Minister, has broken a foot while dancing on a table in Soho.

He says his wife was with him, but she did not break any bones because she is a better dancer.

This blog will be keeping an eye on Mr. Harper, who may well turn out to be the only interesting person in the entire government.

Snowden

In most cases containing the words 'shocking revelations' this blog is on the side of a free press and of openness. I found it important recently, for example, that the world should know the extent to which Britain and America spy on their own citizens, and important to know that the clever British have managed to bug the fibre optic network and even listen to the conversations of international leaders who have come for a conference.

What we do about it is another matter, but it is important to know.

This does not mean that Mr Snowden, for example, should be exonerated. We cannot have a blanket amnesty for anyone who betrays his country; I suppose even Klaus Fuchs' betrayal of our nuclear secrets to Russia could have been described as 'in the public interest'.

No, Mr Snowden must, if arrested by the US, be dealt with by the law. This blog salutes him, however, as being someone prepared to risk his life - or at least life imprisonment - for what he believes in.

One aspect of the story I particularly liked was that it was leaked that Snowden would be on a particular flight from Moscow to Cuba. The world's press booked tickets on the same flight only to find he wasn't on it. As it took off the tannoy announced there would be no alcohol served on the flight.

Just imagine: dozens of journalists on expenses on a long haul flight with no booze. Someone must have a sense of humour.   

24 June, 2013

Silvio's woes

Last week Silvio Berlusconi failed to have struck out a conviction relating to his Mediaset empire which involved a four year conviction for him and a five year ban from public office.

He is appealing a one year sentence for publishing an illegally obtained wiretap and is about to be tried for buying a senator (sic).

Today the Ruby case pronounced a sentence of 7 years' imprisonment (the prosecution had only asked for 6) and a lifetime ban from holding public office.

Another day at the office for Silvio.

Follow the Berlusconi story in more depth in my articles for the excellent Commentator internet magazine.

The NHS 2

Further to my previous post on the NHS, here is a good example of what is wrong.

The Guardian's headline screams 'Doctors vote no confidence in Hunt' (Jeremy Hunt, you will remember, is the Health Secretary. This blog had no confidence in him here.)

When you first read this you think it is awful for the Government. The Doctors, who know things, like how to cure a cold (oh, sorry, no they don't) or what to do about your cancer (send you to a specialist) must surely be right in their judgment.

But no, I'm afraid this is completely irrelevant. Mr Hunt is not answerable to the doctors, nor even to the patients, but to the general public (ie not just people who are ill, but people who might be ill in the future but are nevertheless paying for it all). It is not hard to conceive of a circumstance where the interests of the doctors and the public are at odds with one another (continuation of the NHS in its present form is an obvious example) and so it would serve the interests of the public if Hunt were behaving in such a fashion that the doctors had no confidence in him whatsoever.

Let's drop the politicians from all this and get down to who is doing things, good and bad. There's some good. But plenty of bad.

21 June, 2013

The NHS

I have often written about the disaster that is our National Health Service. I should stress that the problem is not a technical or funding issue but a structural one.

The latest symptom to confront us is that the Care and Quality Commission, the body established to oversee standards in the NHS and to publish any lapses in those standards, has itself been concealing information, covering up a case where several infants died unexpectedly in a hospital the CQC had approved.

Here is one example of where it needs to change: accountability. When questions are asked about what is going on up pops the Health Secretary, a politician. There should be clear managerial lines, visible, and the sole task of the Health Secretary, other than approving the budget, should be to hire and fire those managers. Instead the Health Service has become a political football, the politician expressing shock that things could be like that, but nobody questioning the managers.

And I've said it before and I'll say it again, the public gets what it deserves. Promulgating the nonsense that it is the best in the world just perpetuates the system under which these disasters happen. And the next time you hear someone say 'our NHS' they need to be vilified, publicly and noisily. It is not ours; we pay for it, of course, but it is an organisation run chiefly for the benefit of its employees.

We need to close it down and start again.

20 June, 2013

Who are you?

Boris Johnson
Apparently at the recent G8 summit President Obama three times referred to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer as Jeffrrey (Jeffrey Osborne is a soul singer).

Serves the little blighter right: his name is Gideon, not George, which is instantly recognisable and if he hadn't tried this new one I'm sure the President would have remembered.

The same goes for Robert Johnson, mayor of London

James Gandolfini

Naturally one sympathises with his loved ones on James Gandolfini's death, but we are getting all
kinds of quasi-obituary tosh about him being a great actor.

We bought the DVD of the Sopranos and I listened to him mumbling his way through his lines for about ten minutes. I altered the volume and the tone but for all I could grasp it could have been in Suahili without subtitles.

Perhaps it was good, but I threw it away.

Expect the best

Apparently the Meteorological Office is forecasting years of wet summers for Britain.

Time to invest in the new shades and the Factor 50.

17 June, 2013

On we go

In Istanbul it is said that the Government has put chemical agents in the water cannon.

Perhaps Mr Cameron is going to arm the rebel Turks as well.

16 June, 2013

Txts Dn Gd 4 Rd sfty

Incredible, but usage of the text message in Italy has declined, by 4%, for the first time ever. Italians send nearly 100 billion texts a year, around four texts per person per day. Apparently they are using message apps on smartphones.

Or perhaps they are doing less driving.

Drop the military

Most countries have a national day, when they became independent or the new constitution was
signed or whatever. Britain of course doesn't; the nearest thing we have is the celebration of the Queen's official birthday which took place yesterday (her real birthday was in April).

With it goes the trooping of the colour, soldiers dressed in camp uniforms marching up and down, riding horses and setting off antique cannons.

And I just want to ask: why?

Why do we have to have soldiers at every bloody event - royal weddings, funerals God knows what? Is the military the only thing we have to celebrate? We lost the last two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there nothing else from centuries of culture and industry that is good, that we can be proud of? Why are all the royal family in the military, and not doing useful things in industry or commerce? In the picture even Princess Anne is in uniform (the only one who thinks the same way as me is Andrew who looks like a Swiss hotel manager*).

Let the national celebrations centre on art, music, literature, industry. Let's show the rest of the world that we are not just a military force which conquered most of them but a civilised, modern nation. And let's stop living in the past.

*Nothing wrong with that, of course

A moderate

The election of Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran will be treated by many as good news; he is described as a moderate.

But what does 'moderate' mean, in a country run by raving nutcases? The only people allowed to stand in the election were those approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was quite happy with former President Ahmadinejad's statement that they intended to wipe Israel off the map, which would cause a nuclear holocaust.

And Khamenei is going to be there for a bit. He is a sprightly 74, younger than Berlusconi and a lot younger than our own Queen.

Rouhani may be what we would call a moderate, he may be what Khamenei would call a moderate (no nerve gas to be used in Israel, just a nuclear warhead or two) or he may be playing the long game. The West must treat him according to his deeds: if he says that whilst disagreeing with Israel he has no plans to destroy it and allows full inspection of the nuclear facilities, we should withdraw our sanctions. Until then the Iranian semi-democracy must be taught that aggression does not pay.

PS It is being said that he doctored his CV, and that rather than going to Glasgow University he went to the Polytechnic. Let's hope he is a little more accurate about his country's nuclear capability.

12 June, 2013

The BBC

The Greeks have closed down their public broadcaster ERT because it is too expensive. Oh.

They say it is 'a unique example of extravagant spending and lack of transparency'. OH.

The Greeks pay £43 per head for ERT. Oh?

The Government says that a new broadcaster will emerge, dramatically slimmed down. Ohhhh?

Number of resignations at the BBC after it blew £100m on a useless computer project: 0. Oh.

It all sounds like an attractive idea, doesn't it? A new slimmed down BBC would have its newsgathering operations intact, but have only 1 TV station and 2 radio stations, for which, apart from news, it would commission programmes.

What isn't right about Greece is that it is going off air completely, albeit, they say, for a while. ERT wasn't terribly independent or terribly good but losing the state broadcaster has democratic implications. The Troika, of the IMF, EU and European Commission should immediately move to deny that this was anything to do with them (assuming it was nothing to do with them). Otherwise they will get the blame in Greece.