Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tameside Mafia: James Purnell's Constituents Not Fooled At All

Tameside Mafia: James Purnell's Constituents Not Fooled At All

Lots of pics and letters from local newspapers.


The Super Memory Club

The Super Memory Club

Great article the the NY Times.

Killer fact. Only 1 in 12,000 will live into our nineties without dementia!

How much will it cost to end global warming?

Climate Change Act: Now the world faces its biggest ever bill - Telegraph

One measure of the fantasy world now inhabited by our sad MPs was the mindless way that they nodded through, last October, by 463 votes to three, by far the most expensive piece of legislation ever to go through Parliament. This was the Climate Change Act, obliging the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to reduce Britain's 'carbon emissions' by 2050 to 20 per cent of what they were in 1990 – a target achievable only by shutting down most of the economy.

Such is the zombie state of our MPs that they agreed to this lunatic measure without the Government giving any idea of what this might cost. Only one, Peter Lilley, raised this question, and it was he who, last month, alerted me to the fact that the minister, Ed Miliband, had at last slipped out a figure on his website (without bothering to tell Parliament). The Government's estimate was £404 billion, or £18 billion a year, or £760 per household every year for four decades."

It's kind of weird for the Daily Telegraph to complain about an over concentration on MP's expenses, but this is a fair enough comment by Christopher Booker.

Of course an Act that costs £18 billion a year is important.

But what his figures seem to suggest is that the cost for British people of our part of limiting global warming is around £15 per household per week.

I.e. two bottles of semi-decent wine.

That seems like a bargain to me.

A German Conservative Reveals Something

Breaking Ranks: How To Become an Accidental Conservative - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

In the course of a long virtul Bildungs-roman about his development as a conservative, the writer drops this?

She behaves like one of those English ladies who no longer find anything in life truly shocking, and who continue to babble on when someone next to them misbehaves.

What the hell does this mean? Is it something to do with that weird black and white TV programme Germans watch on New Year's Eve?

Mark Vincent - Opera Singer, Age 15 Wins Australia's Got Talent Singing Hallelujah

The song is just old by now, as is his Nessun Dorma, but the voice is wonderfully full and round.

Pope rejects all of Obama's ambassadors for being pro-choice

Poor Mojo Newswire: Pope rejects all of Obama's ambassadors for being pro-choice

The Vatican has quietly rejected at least three of President Obama's candidates to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See because they support abortion, and the White House might be running out of time to find an acceptable envoy before Mr. Obama travels to Rome in July, when he hopes to meet Pope Benedict XVI.

Italian journalist Massimo Franco, who broke the story about the White House attempts to find a suitable ambassador to the Vatican, said papal advisers told Mr. Obama's aides privately that the candidates failed to meet the Vatican's most basic qualification on the abortion issue.

This stinks. Could Saudi Arabia reject candidates for not conforming to its theocratic rules. Seriously, can it be possible for the pope to insist on a religious test for a US public official?


What is Socialism?

What do we believe and why? is a article and threaded discussion at LabourList.

My take:

Socialism is about using the resources of human reason to allocate the resources and wealth created by industry and agriculture in a more rational and just way than can be achieved through markets.

The goal, of course, is to alleviate and limit human suffering, but only a fool would believe that any social and political system can end all the accidents, bad choices, and sheer misfortune that are part of the human condition.

Matthew Yglesias- Everything is Unpopular

Matthew Yglesias � Everything is Unpopular

...public opinion is pathologically delusional

Interesting article on how public opinion wants it all.


This is another of the poems I have identified in the BBC's current poetry ad campaign.


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

- William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

BBC Poetry Ad Poem II

This is what Shiela Hancock is citing:

Break, break, break

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Who are the Barclay brothers?

Who are the Barclay brothers? | Media | MediaGuardian

Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay may be super-rich proprietors who enjoy a life of secluded luxury, but their fortune is undoubtedly self-made.

Born 10 minutes apart in 1934 of Scottish Catholic parents, they grew up in an unsalubrious part of Shepherds Bush, west London. After leaving school early, the brothers worked as painters and decorators before becoming estate agents.
It wasn't until the 1990s that they moved into newspapers, buying the Scotsman, the European and Sunday Business.

The European, which was previously owned by Robert Maxwell, closed down at a cost of millions, while the other papers have experienced circulation difficulties.

Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil, who works as the Barclays' publisher, could now be in line for a post at the Telegraph, though some sources believe he is unlikely to be given a hands-on management role.

In 2000 the Barclays also had a go at buying the Express titles but were beaten by Richard Desmond, who arranged his own private £125m deal with the then proprietor, Clive Hollick.

The Barclays had agreed to buy out Lord Black's controlling stake in Hollinger, circumventing the auction launched by the Telegraph's immediate owner, Hollinger International.

At a stroke it seemed as if they had pulled off a stunning coup to outwit all their rivals for the Telegraph, including the likes of Desmond and the Daily Mail & General Trust.

But the matter went to court, and Lord Black's attempt to offload his stake was thwarted, leaving the Barclays to join the queue with the other bidders.

As part of the February judgment, Delaware judge Leo Strine accused the Barclays of being "less than fully candid" and said they had "remained silent while Lord Black misled the [Hollinger] International board", remarks that incurred the brothers' wrath, with Sir David branding the criticisms "grossly unfair".

The judge also cast doubt over Sir David's claim that he was too ill to travel to give evidence in the case. This was, said Sir David, "particularly regrettable", as the medical evidence before the court was not challenged by Hollinger International.

The Barclays were not about to give up, though, and hung in for nearly four months after the Delaware setback, as rivals fell by the wayside.

Finally today they learned they had seen off the last remaining bidder, the private equity partnership of 3i and Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

The Barclays are often called "reclusive", though people close to them insist they are gregarious and personable, and merely protective of their privacy.

They live on their own island in the Channel, Brecqhou, where the architect Quinlan Terry built them their own mock-Gothic castle with 3ft-thick granite walls, battlements, two swimming pools and a helicopter pad.

The £60m home allows them to live as tax exiles, and the brothers give their address as c/o Avenue de Grande Bretagne, Monte Carlo.

While they don't tend to rub shoulders with their Channel island neighbours on Sark, they did take the trouble to get the island's 400-year-old inheritance laws changed for the benefit of their children.

They argued successfully that a local law forbidding women from inheriting land if there were male heirs contravened human rights.

The most high profile of the brothers' four children is Sir David's son, Aidan, who acts as an envoy for his father and uncle and as a kind of chief operating officer for their businesses.

He is charged with sorting out their recent acquisitions the Littlewoods retail chain and the GUS mail order business, and will now have another major issue on his plate with the purchase of the Telegraph.

Whether radical change is on the menu is yet to be seen, though some sources close to the Barclays predict they will take things steadily.

As natural conservatives, they are highly unlikely to change its political allegiance or its opposition to the European single currency.

Telegraph Takes Down Nadine's Blog

Iain Dale's Diary: Telegraph Takes Down Nadine's Blog

Iain Dale reports:

Having not gone to bed until 3.30am I have to admit I have been very lazy this morning and only just got up. And what do I find? That the world has gone mad. Dizzy has the scoop that that Telegraph's owners have had Nadine Dorries's blog taken down. I knew it had disappeared last night but assumed it was server capacity. Sadly it was not.

The Barclay brothers have gone crazy!

UPDATE: The Guardian reports the matter, and says it is unprecedented to do such a thing against a sitting MP.

Open Primaries?

Primary colours -Times Online

The Times thinks they are a good idea:

Open primaries are part of the solution. If candidates had to win the support, as individuals, of thousands of local voters, it would increase the quality of MPs, hold them to account and ensure they were more independent.

Open Primaries would mean the end of ministers who sit in the House of Commons or House of Lords.

Why? Because the skills required to get elected are not the same as those required to administer. That's why in the US "political administration" and "elected office" are two only slightly overlapping career tracks.

In the US, "politicians" get dug in at a local level, and use family, union (rarely), business (commonly) and party (occasionally) connections to rise up the electoral level.

"Political administrators", the huge swathe of top and middle level administrators in Federal and State agencies, who trade on ability rather than charisma, climb a different career path.

This system does not give "power to the people" - it gives it to people with the money to campaign. For primaries to work in the US you need a lot of money for local advertising.

I don't think this is in any way better than the UK system. Here, at least, people need a certain level of ability even to get through local party selection committees.

UK Parties are able to define themselves. American parties - where in most states anyone can declare themselves a member of any party, and in some states anyone can vote any party's primaries.

The result is literally tens of thousands of elected idiots, most of whom are not know to their constituents, who do little of what is regarded as "constituency business" here. And who, after all that, often have limited power vis-a-vis the separately elected executive officials.

Sure, we need change. We don't need change from a defective American system.

The Archbishop on the MP Situation

Enough humiliation. We must move on | Rowan Williams - Times Online

The question “What can I get away with without technically breaching the regulations?” is not a good basis for any professional behaviour that has real integrity.

There are all sorts of commentators on the net who have attacked the Archbishop's right to write an article, or just attacked him without reading it.

But I found Rowan William's comments among the most thoughtful expressed so far.

Matthew Parris on All the Fuss

Kick them - but don't kick all the stuffing out | Matthew Parris - Times Online

Britain has gone beserk. I returned on Thursday to find my country in one of its periodic fits of moral horror. At such times, witches have been burnt, monkeys hanged as French spies and Catholics hounded out of office.
Extravagance, genuine mistake, sly acquisitiveness and outright criminal fraud are now jumbled together in the national mind as though there were no moral differences. Judgment has fled. This is the worst possible climate in which to consider root-and-branch reform of our system of representative democracy.

Tom Harris makes similar points.

I agree that would indeed be the worse time to make constitutional changes.

UK laws: made in the UK

UK laws: made in the UK | And another thing...

Tom Harris posted this recently'

UK laws: made in the UK - Thursday, May 14th, 2009

IT’S UNLIKELY that the issue of our membership of the EU will figure prominently as an issue for debate in the run-up to the European Parliament elections on 4 June; I rather suspect other political issues may dominate.

Nevertheless, I’ve been intrigued to read, occasionally, comments on this blog from the wild-eyed tendency insisting that 70 per cent of the UK’s legislation is decided in Europe. As far as I have been able to ascertain, this claim is, in political terms, a huge big pair of stinky pants.

The claim seems to have originated from an article by Roman Herzog, German President from 1994 to 1999, who wrote in German newspaper Die Welt that 84 per cent of legislative acts adopted by the German Bundestag were of EU origin (anyone know the German for “a huge big pair of stinky pants”?).

But the American academic experts on EU affairs, Andrew Moravcsik, and Annette Elisabeth Töller, found that, as a percentage of all (state and federal) German laws, those implementing EU directives were 34.5% in 2005 and 34.6% in 2006. Even on laws adopted by the Bundestag, a further study undertaken by Töller between 1983 and 2005, looking at Bundestag laws with a “European impulse ” (a wider concept than EU directives) produced a figure of 39.1 per cent — less than half the figure claimed by Herzog.

As for the UK, two studies exist: a paper by Edward Page in 1998, which analysed the effects of EU legislation on British law between 1987 and 1997, and a paper by the House of Commons library looking at the period between 1998 and 2005. Both papers take their figures from the statutory instruments passed with references to European legislation, with the library justifying this by asserting that “The vast majority of EC legislation is enacted by statutory instruments under section 2 (2) of the European Communities Act.” Page’s study produced a figure of 15.8 per cent whereas the House of Commons library gave a final figure of 9.1 per cent.

So although the exact figure can’t be calculated, it’s clear that the vast majority of British legislation is drawn up here. In Britain. As it should be.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I wonder at what stage we all get our own URL?

BBC NEWS | Programmes | Who's Watching You? | Camera grid to log number plates

A national network of cameras and computers automatically logging car number plates will be in place within months, the BBC has learned.

Thousands of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras are already operating on Britain's roads.

Police forces across England, Wales and Scotland will soon be able to share the information on one central computer.

Officers say it is a useful tool in fighting crime, but critics say the network is secretive and unregulated.

Kent's Chief Constable, Michael Fuller, commented: 'We've seen an increase of some 40% of arrests since we've been using this technology.

There seems to be absolutely no way to object to this. Labour has put it into effect. There are no statements from the Tories or Lib Dems to oppose it.

The one prominent politician who has opposed the onslaught of the Database state - David Davis - has been sidelined by his own (Tory) Party.

I wonder if, someday, historians in the future, will look back at blog posts like this and laugh at the simplicity or stupidity of the naive idea that people are communities of "self-knowing rights-bearing individuals" who created the "state" to do things that individuals cannot do.

Perhaps it will seem funny to thing that we, as citizens, are not just units owned by the states.

I wonder at what stage we all get our own URL?

Gay Pride Party at the US Baghdad Embassy

Al Kamen - In the Loop: A Gay Pride Party at the Baghdad Embassy -

Change has certainly come to Baghdad. And it appears that includes the U.S. Embassy, where they are holding what the invitation says is the first-ever U.S. Embassy Gay Pride Theme Party next Friday at Baghdaddy's, which is the embassy employee association's pub.

'Come celebrate the start of Summer with color . . . and in costume!' the May 10 invitation says. 'Dress in drag or as a gay icon. All are welcome.' The invitation was attached to what was called an 'All Hands Alerts' e-mail.

An embassy spokesman said by way of explanation: 'This is an event organized and sponsored by a group of employees. Given the lack of places to meet in Baghdad, the embassy allows groups to use its social facilities for events on a first-come, first-served basis.'

The invitation says, 'Prizes will be awarded for two contests: Best Dressed Gay Icon and Best Lip Synch Performance.' Unclear what the prizes are, but don't forget to 'order costume supplies now in time for May 29th,' we're told. 'For more info and costume ideas, check out the next edition of The Tigris Times.'

It's just a pity that local gay Iraqi men face a mob rule in which they have their anuses super-glued, and then are given emetics to make them die.

Conceptual Terrorists Encase Sears Tower In Jell-O | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Conceptual Terrorists Encase Sears Tower In Jell-O | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

CHICAGO—In what is being called the first conceptual terrorist attack on American soil, the landmark Sears Tower was encased in 18 million tons of strawberry gelatin early Monday morning, leaving thousands shocked, angry, and seriously confused.

Authorities called to the scene of the senseless attack said they could do little to control the large crowds of dangerously bewildered citizens, many of whom searched desperately for some semblance of meaning in what had just taken place. As of press time, 11 night security guards were still trapped inside the famous structure, their rescue unlikely until the Jell-O melts.

"My God, it's just awful," said commuter Nick Dawson, one of countless Chicago residents who struggled to comprehend what had occurred. "Why would anyone do something like this?"

Tentative speculation that the dessert enclosure was in fact an act of terrorism was quickly confirmed after a group known only as the Prophet's Collective took credit for the attack in a three-hour-long video that surfaced on the Internet.

"Your outdated ideas of what terrorism is have been challenged," an unidentified, disembodied voice announces following the video's first 45 minutes of random imagery set to minimalist techno music. "It is not your simple bourgeois notion of destructive explosions and weaponized biochemical agents. True terror lies in the futility of human existence.

You know, I used to feel like this until I discovered escitalopram (lexapro for Unitedstatesians).

GOP: A Party for a 24 Year Old Pro-Sex Woman

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Meghan McCain
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

Would she be Tory or Labour in Britain? Or perhaps Lib Dem, since we know Nick Clegg is a 42 year old Pro-Sex Liberal Man.

Archbishop of Canterbury: 'Stop humiliating our MPs.'

Ruth Gledhill - Times Online - WBLG: Archbishop of Canterbury: "Stop humiliating our MPs."

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a stern warning against the 'continuing systematic humiliation of politicians.'

It takes true courage to call for an end to a witch hunt when the dogs are in full cry. Christian Courage is one quality Dr Rowan Williams possesses in full.

In an op-ed article in tomorrow’s Times, Dr Rowan Williams argues forcibly that the point has now been 'adequately made'. He recognises that the issues are 'as grave as they could be' for parliamentary democracy and that action is needed to restore trust. But in an implied rebuke against the continuous drip of stories, he warns: 'The continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy.'

Rowan is right.

Just get out all the remain details. Let us deselect of reselect MPs in each constituency. And MOVE ON.

Some MPs have been pigs. But the Westminster system (perhaps improved by proportional representation) remains the core institution of a country that is, after all, still one of the richest, freeest, and most tolerant in the world.

If you don't believe that, try looking elsewhere.

At the moment, the only people benefitting are the UK version of Oligarchs. The Barclay brothers who own the Daily Telegraph are deeply anti-democratic, and Viscount Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, despite being born in the UK, going to school here, holding a British title, and raising his family here, still manages to get non-domiciled tax status (costing HMRC perhaps as much as MP expenses overclaims) [citing Private Eyes, passim.]

Why Vote Labour Even if You Hate the Labour Government

I was thinking of voting Lib Dem in the European elections, but whadyaknow, Labour goes and sways my heart again.

I am very pro-Europe, so that leaves me only Labour or Liberal as prospects.

The Lib-Dems aren't shifting any votes here in the North-west, and so, apart from anything else, I need to vote the best way to suppress BNP vote. That means Labour here. In some areas it might mean Lib Dem.

[I do realise one vote does not make a lot of difference, but when you vote you have to vote as if it does. Read all of Kant and report back to me if you don't understand why.]

But there is also the fact that I actually believe in Social Democrat (or Democratic Socialist) ideas. I think the European Union is best single force for peace since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. What I dislike is the current set of Labour ministers, and their complete willingness to treat citizens as possessions of the state.

However as a person with AIDs, now largely dependent on the state (after having paid taxes most of my life as a single man, hence the most taxed least serviced), I cannot give up the idea that at some core point the Labour Party is a moral crusade, not a machine for apparatchiks.

In Defence of Nadine Dorries MP - or Let's Take this Slowly

Politically I have little in common with Nadine Dorries MP, and I do think she sometimes misses logical connections, but I am also much less hostile to her than a lot of condescending commentators on the left (who seem shocked a mere *nurse* should be in parliament).

Nadine's comments that seem true to me are:

1. At least until 2005 ACA (Additional Costs Allowance) was regarded as part of salary and its primary purpose was to increase MP's compensation. Turning this into an "expenses" scandal is not an accurate account of the system's history.

2. There continued to be that perception even after 2005, and new MPs such as her (and Malik come to that) asked how to interact with the system and were mislead by the Fees office. I don't think that Fees office officials can be attacked for being deferential to MPs, and what we see here is the persistence and evolution of a never intended system.

3. (What no one will say but Nadine implies) Many MPs would never dream of voluntarily living in their constituency, so any home rented their constitutes an "additional" cost *whatever the other housing arrangements.

4. She is correct about the Daily Telegraph deliberately causing political damage by slowly dripping this story

Question Time last night, and The Guardian over the past two days have been calling for a "change everything now" agenda.

I think many things do need to change in this country, but the change needs to come through some consideration, not through newspaper rabble-rousing, and not through some ludicrous effort to emulate the United States.

Europop Against Homophobia

The song is by Lily Allen (singing it herself here), and is perhaps the best gay lib song since Glad to be Gay.

Moscow Pride Organizers Claim PR Win

GayCityNews - Moscow Pride Organizers Claim PR Win

Good article by Doug Ireland

Violent Suppression of Gathering Fails to Dampen Activist Triumph

For the fourth year in a row, an attempt to have a Moscow Gay Pride March was violently broken up by police on Saturday, May 16, and 40 LGBT activists were arrested. Still, Pride organizers claimed a propaganda victory.

'Our goal was to have the maximum visibility with the minimum damage to activists,' Nicolai Alexeyv, the 33-year-old lawyer who has been the lead organizer of these Moscow Pride events since their inception, told Gay City News by telephone from Moscow. 'By careful planning, we cheated the police, obtained a huge amount of publicity for LGBT rights in Russia, avoided the homophobic thugs who were staging a counter-demonstration, and did so with no serious injury to anyone.'


My suggestion for poetry week.

C.P.Cavafy's poem 'Ithaca', recited by Sir Sean Connery and with music specially composed by Vangelis.

ITHACA [1910, 1911]

As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensasion
touches your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

The Wild Call - One of the Poems in the BBC's Current Poetry Season Ads.


I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

NY Times Suggests the Answer is to Pay MPs More

Editorial - Poor, Poor Parliament -

There is no excuse, of course, for this misuse of public funds. Members do have a legitimate compliant that they are paid too little: less than $100,000 a year, compared with about $170,000 for a member of the United States Congress. Britain’s taxpayers want changes. They want to make Parliament’s doings more open, which is a good thing. They also want to cut out these fat and far too easily abused expense accounts. That’s good too. But they will also have to find a way to pay their representatives a better wage.


An Unpopular View on the Gurkhas

Sir Humphrey would never let his minister be ambushed by Gurkhas | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian

The government's former policy on the Gurkhas was reasonable. They are not British or Commonwealth citizens. They are soldiers of fortune, with less claim to settle in Britain than Commonwealth soldiers who likewise decide to take the Queen's shilling and a career in the British forces. Some 10% of the army is now such a 'foreign legion'. The wages are beyond any imaginable in their own country. That they serve under British officers and for British interests does not give them special moral standing.

Good for Simon Jenkins.

More American Concern with US

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Via Iain Dale

Russia to Edit its History

Medvedev's new Russian othodoxy | Irina Filatova | Comment is free |

All leaders love to interfere with the pursuits of discipline of history: they assume that by doing so they can define the cause of their nations' past. However, the more sophisticated among them have long since understood that historical battles are better left to professionals, if one were to avoid a future hush judgment. Not so in Russia, where President Dmitry Medvedev has just signed a decree creating a commission tasked to counter attempts 'to falsify' history to Russia's detriment.

I don't see that much to worry about here. The study of history is about constantly re-writing the past. It's true some resulting narratives are politically biased but in our world such biases are often challenged.

It's somewhat interesting that Russia's leaders are even interested in history.

Nadine Dorries Makes an Interesting Point

Nadine's Blog

I wonder how many people are aware, that if you are an MP and divorce, the courts base your maintenance payments to your husband/wife/children on a combination of your ACA and your salary.

This is because the ACA is classed as an allowance, not an expense account, and is considered by the court as the property of the MP.

An interesting legal point. One of the confusing facts, which has got us into this mess.

James Purnell Joins the Deselectable MPs list

MPs' expenses: James Purnell and Geoff Hoon avoided tax on home sales - Telegraph

James Purnell was the Minister who attacked people living on £65 per week, has introduced non-proven liar software on callers to the DWP, and who has already been revealed as one of those claiming £200 per month "food allowance" also avoided tax on home sales accord to the Daily Telegraph.

The Cabinet minister saved thousands of pounds after informing the parliamentary authorities that Manchester was his “main” home while the tax authorities considered London to be his “primary” residence. Mr Purnell claimed for a £395 accountant’s bill that included “tax advice provided in October 2004 regarding sale of flat” on parliamentary expenses which are intended to cover the costs of running an MP’s office.
Accountants have compared the behaviour of Mr Purnell and Mr Hoon to that of Miss Blears. The ministers are not accused of breaking the law but their behaviour is unlikely to be regarded as ethical by many voters. Capital gains tax of 40 per cent of profits is usually only avoided when selling a main or family home.

Mr Purnell bought a flat in a central London mansion block in 2000 and a house in his Manchester constituency in June 2002. He told the parliamentary authorities that his main home was in Manchester and claimed the “second home” allowance in London. In October 2004, Mr Purnell sold the London flat. He did not pay capital gains tax on the sale as the property was regarded by HM Revenue and Customs as his “principal” residence. It is not known how much profit Mr Purnell made from the transaction. It appears that Mr Purnell received specialist tax advice over the sale of the property and took advantage of a loophole in the rules. This is available to everyone and allows sellers to claim that a property is a main residence for capital-gains tax purposes provided they lived there less than three years before the sale.

Another Bad Move By Obama

Barack Obama picks Louis Susman for UK ambassador post | World news |

Chicago friend Louis Susman chosen for plum posting despite president's promise to end cronyism in Washington"

A little bit of Chicago's ruthless and combative political machine is soon to descend on the decorous calm of the Court of St James. Despite promising to end cronyism in Washington, Barack Obama is about to appoint one of his home town friends and financial backers to the plum posting of US ambassador to London.

The next ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary will be Louis Susman, a lawyer and financier with little experience of foreign affairs.
London is not the only posting being used to reward political supporters. Other positions in Europe are expected to be filled on the basis of patronage. Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, who campaigned for Obama, is to be the ambassador to Dublin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The NY Times Notices a Kerfuffle in Britain

In Britain, Scandal Flows From Modest Request -

The all-consuming British MPs expenses scandal has scarcely registered in the US news media until now. John Burn's report today does seem to have been notice however - it is listed as the most read international story in the world news section.

At one level, the scandal is a rich tale of politicians exploiting a lax system of expenses to claim a mind-boggling array of benefits. The claims have centered on so-called second-home allowances, which have allowed some members of Parliament to use nearly $40,000 a year in taxpayers’ money to renovate and even sell properties for profit, while others have claimed monthly payments for mortgages that had already been paid off. Still others claimed “necessities” like the clearing of a country house moat, an electrical massage chair and even a Kit Kat bar.

At another level, it is a story of a newspaper, The Telegraph, which broke with a reputation as a stuffy publication favored by retired army colonels and blue-rinsed widows to seize what has turned out to be one of Britain’s greatest scoops. As it has done so, it has stolen a march on its rivals in an overcrowded market where vanishing profits have intensified an already brutal rivalry.

The Church's Hidden Shame?

The church's hidden shame | Mary Kenny | Comment is free |

I have, of course, known gay priests: or priests who certainly had a gay orientation. They have been among the most delightful, funny and cultivated of all. And holy. It is claimed by some that Pope Paul VI was homosexual in orientation: I do not know whether this is true or not, but he certainly was a most thoughtful and sometimes anguished pope. Some of his writings were wonderful. 'Humanae Vitae' – 'On Human Life', which famously didn't endorse artificial birth control in the 1960s, is nevertheless the most poetic document you could read about sexual union.

I have been a Roman Catholic for 30 years now (I became a Catholic aged 18). I too have known scores of priests. And I both knew gay priests who had sex with other adults; along with many others who eventually choose to leave the priesthood and get married.

I was a very cute 19-21 year old, and I went and discussed my sexuality with a number of priests. None of them was anything less than helpful, and none made passes at me.

In later years I have sought through much writing to explain there is a place of LGBT people in Catholicism. See my Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Catholic Handbook.

There clearly have been sexual scandals, but the biggest problem for the celibate clergy, I am sure, is loneliness and alcoholism, not sexual abuse.

Even those who faced these problems that I have known have almost universally worked for the common good.

I protest absolutely all efforts to portray the Catholic clergy as intrinsically abusive or demented.

Playing the Stockmarkets with Pensions

Millions face "impoverished old age" - Telegraph

'Essentially the entire UK pensions system has been based on a bet that equities would always do well enough over the long-term to deliver reliably good pensions.

'The old idea that stock markets can always be relied on to deliver strong returns has left millions facing an impoverished old age.'

So were the wise ones the ones who spent money as it came in?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Subways at Scale

subways at scale

"subway systems of the world, presented on the same scale"

Interesting visuals for geeks.

Quote for the Day

Not a regular feature of this blog, but this is worth noting:

I trust that it was not the same MP who purchased the manure, massage chair and the pornography, because that leaves behind one horrific image.

-Commentator on NY Times article.

If You Have Not Read Proust You are Not an Educated Person

In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth -

The study of the humanities evolved during the 20th century “to focus almost entirely on personal intellectual development,” said Richard M. Freeland, the Massachusetts commissioner of higher education. “But what we haven’t paid a lot of attention to is how students can put those abilities effectively to use in the world. We’ve created a disjunction between the liberal arts and sciences and our role as citizens and professionals.”

Mr. Freeland is part of what he calls a revolutionary movement to close the “chasm in higher education between the liberal arts and sciences and professional programs.” The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently issued a report arguing the humanities should abandon the “old Ivory Tower view of liberal education” and instead emphasize its practical and economic value.

I have been reading a lot of books in recent years that I had bypassed in the pursuit of various "career goals." And that's how I started reading Proust.

He is not that difficult to read, and he (as Edmund White observed) was foremost among those who combined the essay with the autobiographical novel.

Until you read him, you are just paddling.

The Speaker and Dickens

He did the right thing.

I found him a Dickensian character of intense interest. A bit of Mr. Pecksniff mixed with a Jardyne and Jardyne barrister.

But, whatever his errors:

1. Much of the attack on him has been racist and classicist. All those references in the Daily Mail to "Gorbals Mick" are racist, and and classist. Quentin Letts is the worst - a nasty ,little turd.

2. To see people like Fraser Nelson, who in himself represents a sort of Francis Bacon twist of an Etonian Toff attack Speaker Martin was almost disgusting. Nelson can hardly speak his diction is so twisted.

3. And the whole effort has been has been a effort at blame shifting. Plenty of Labour MPs should face deselection, but it is outrageous how the Daily Telegraph has declared as clean people like Nick Clegg and David Cameron who have claimed near maximum allowances simply because they have structured their ACA claims around huge mortgages.

Our man at Bilderberg: Let's salt the slug in 2010

Our man at Bilderberg: Let's salt the slug in 2010 | News |

Charlie Brooker takes on Bilderberg.

Publicity is pure salt to the giant slug of Bilderberg. So I suggest next year we turn up with a few more tubs. If the mainstream press refuses to give proper coverage to this massive annual event, then interested citizens will have to: a people's media. Find the biggest lens you can and join us for Bilderberg 2010. No idea where it's going to be, but there's usually a few days' notice.

What you may ask is Bilderberg?

From Wikipedia:

The Bilderberg Group, Bilderberg conference, or Bilderberg Club is an unofficial, annual, invitation-only conference of around 130 guests, most of whom are persons of influence in the fields of politics, business, and banking. The participants talk about a variety of global issues, economic, military, and political.

Perhaps this is one for the conspiracy theorists.

Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining

Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining - Los Angeles Times

The problem with atheists -- and what makes them such excruciating snoozes -- is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments against God's existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that theologians have made attempting to reconcile, say, God's omniscience with free will or God's goodness with human suffering. Atheists seem to assume that the whole idea of God is a ridiculous absurdity, the 'flying spaghetti monster' of atheists' typically lame jokes. They think that lobbing a few Gaza-style rockets accusing God of failing to create a world more to their liking ('If there's a God, why aren't I rich?' 'If there's a God, why didn't he give me two heads so I could sleep with one head while I get some work done with the other?') will suffice to knock down the entire edifice of belief.

What primarily seems to motivate atheists isn't rationalism but anger -- anger that the world isn't perfect, that someone forced them to go to church as children, that the Bible contains apparent contradictions, that human beings can be hypocrites and commit crimes in the name of faith. The vitriol is extraordinary. Hitchens thinks that "religion spoils everything." Dawkins contends that raising one's offspring in one's religion constitutes child abuse. Harris argues that it "may be ethical to kill people" on the basis of their beliefs. The perennial atheist litigant Michael Newdow sued (unsuccessfully) to bar President Obama from uttering the words "so help me God" when he took his oath of office.

What atheists don't seem to realize is that even for believers, faith is never easy in this world of injustice, pain and delusion. Even for believers, God exists just beyond the scrim of the senses. So, atheists, how about losing the tired sarcasm and boring self-pity and engaging believers seriously?


I agree with commentator I about thoughtful people on both sides. For significant periods of time in my life I have been in the position of "wanting to believe" but not actually being able to. Why "want to"? Not because of any family pressure - my family background is a typically English apathy about religion.

But I have always been interested (i mean from at least when I was 12 years old) about the hows and the whys of human existence. That's why I have always been fascinated with science, why I pursued a career as a historian. But I have equally found "scientism" to be dry and unsatisfying; I have found religious writers in many traditions to show what seemed to me to be deep insight.

Above all, I have come to reject the idea that "truth" consists in affirming verbal statements. I see art, poetry, and human love-in-action as affirming real truths in a way that science cannot.

Moreover, as a historian, I see social science as often interesting, but almost always so flawed, that its claims to be "scientific" in a way similar to physics, chemistry etc, to be spurious.

As a result, I acknowledge myself as member of the Catholic religion, which to me most combines an openness to intellectual inquiry and a willingness to embrace the the idea of physically manifested grace.

I like Dawkins writings on evolutionary biology. I think Hitchens is a blowhard. I have not really engaged with Dennett.

I do not think all atheists are twats, but I do thing much of the new Atheism is twattish.

While I entirely agree that Atheists in US are subject to prejudice, Dawkins and Hitchens at least exist in social bubble where they suffer no problems at all.

And, at the most base level, I think Dawkins, who is supposedly a friend of Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, is a traitor to friendship.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why is the British Blogosphere so Right-Wing?

Tom Harris MP comments on why British bloggers, and blog commentators are overwhelmingly right wing. believes that comments threads on British political blogs are representative of the wider view of the public...

Fair enough comment Tom. Here's my take.

The first widespread internet - i.e. Usenet/Netnews did tend to have a libertarian bent because that is very often an attitude that goes with computer knowledge and a certain sort of nerdiness.

Of course all that changed the day AOL allowed it's (mostly dumb) users on to the net. The moment that happened the net swung right.

Since then, at least in the US, a left-wing blogosphere has grown up in opposition to Bush.

I think part the reason the left is less prominent on the net in the UK is that supposedly a "left" party has been in power, and secondly, left politics in the UK has always tended to be more sectarian than "liberal thought" in the US.

If we get a Tory government, I think a real "net-roots" movement will develop here.

Finally, and I am sure I am prejudiced here, I think political progressives *tend to be* (i.e. not universally) better educated and more inclined to developing systematic thought that those on the right.

This leads to left wing bloggers writing essays rather than blog posts.

On the net, you need to know how to sock it to 'em in a one paragraph sentence...

An Amazing Day in British Constitutional History

I am much less hostile to the Speaker than most people commenting, and while he's not exactly a "scapegoat", I do think a lot of individual MPs, including party leaders, are all to happy to see the focus here shifted on to the Speaker.

Still, the Speaker's performance in the House of Commons was dire. On the one hand he acknowledged that he was making a public statement on TV to the country at large.

And then, amazingly, he started using parliamentary procedure to deny the two things most needed - a statement about his own future, and to debate the motion on confidence in him.

This must have looked awful to any viewer, and will play badly on the news all day.

Who leaked the MPs' expenses disk?

MPs' expenses: how scoop came to light – and why journalists fear a "knock on the door" | Media | The Guardian

That intermediary has been named by the Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday as John Wick, a former major with the SAS who is a director of a private security company, International Security Solutions Limited [ISSL]. He is believed to have been assisted in his endeavours by Henry Gewanter, the American managing director of a PR firm, Positive Profile. Contacted by the Guardian yesterday, Gewanter declined to comment on whether he had been involved.

Finally, some reporting on the back story!

"Two Minute Hate"

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia.

I think there is a class issue with respect to current attacks on Speaker Martin, although I am not claiming that these are the only or prime reason for his problems.

At this stage though, quite a lot of MPs have in interest in the Speaker becoming the focus of public anger.

Gordon Brown seems to have done nothing wrong himself, at least with regard to his expenses expenses, but as leader of the government and the largest party, he is probably being hurt worst.

Even the more politically agile David Cameron and Nick Clegg both have problems with the perceived integrity of their MPs.

There has been so much information released in the past eleven days that a lot of the smaller scandals will fall in prominence. What this crisis really needs, from the viewpoint of party leaders, is a focus of public hate so that someone can be scapegoated.

The Speaker is a useful figure for them all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sustainable Development

The Age of Entitlement is over. Now it is time for the Age of Regulation | Madeleine Bunting | Comment is free | The Guardian is perfectly possible to imagine a way of life with less material wealth that could actually be far more sustaining of human well-being. The problem is that we need politicians brave and bold enough to start taking us down that long road...

There was I reading a perfectly good Guardian when suddenly somebody wrote something clarifyingly true.

Those who really want to understand that it is simply impossible to continue expanding what we now define as "wealth" are advised to read Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive.

This is the kind of story Brown plants against his ministers

MPs' expenses: Hazel Blears is "out of control", Gordon Brown is warned - Telegraph

Cabinet colleagues fear that Hazel Blears will “not wait to be sacked” and may instead resign, aiming a public broadside at the Prime Minister which will further undermine his position.

The Sunday Telegraph has also been told that she has threatened to “bring down” another Cabinet minister with her if she feels she is being forced out.

I'm no fan of Hazel Blears, but this looks like a typical Brown planted story.

Why the British National Party are Racists

This is from the BNP Constitution

1) The British National Party represents the collective National, Environmental, Political, Racial, Folkish, Social, Cultural, Religious and Economic interests of the indigenous Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse folk communities of Britain and those we regard as closely related and ethnically assimilated or assimilable aboriginal members of the European race also resident in Britain. Membership of the BNP is strictly defined within the terms of, and our members also self define themselves within, the legal ambit of a defined 'racial group' this being 'Indigenous Caucasian' and defined 'ethnic groups' emanating from that Race as specified in law in the House of Lords case of Mandla V Dowell Lee (1983) 1 ALL ER 1062, HL.

2) The indigenous British ethnic groups deriving from the class of 'Indigenous Caucasian' consist of members of: i) The Anglo-Saxon Folk Community; ii) The Celtic Scottish Folk Community; iii) The Scots-Northern Irish Folk Community; iv) The Celtic Welsh Folk Community; v) The Celtic Irish Folk Community; vi) The Celtic Cornish Folk Community; vii) The Anglo-Saxon-Celtic Folk Community; viii) The Celtic-Norse Folk Community; ix) The Anglo-Saxon-Norse Folk Community; x) The Anglo-Saxon-Indigenous European Folk Community; xi) Members of these ethnic groups who reside either within or outside Europe but ethnically derive from them.

3) Membership of the party shall be open only to those who are 16 years of age or over and whose ethnic origin is listed within Sub-section 2

Via Stewart Cowan

Retarded Homophobes

Realstreet : I object to my taxes being used to call me a ‘retarded homophobe’

These days, it seems to me that a lot of the biggest and most influential registered charities have a greater interest in promoting our masters’ social engineering agenda than anything else.

I don’t honestly know if the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) does a good or bad job overall, but according to the Daily Mail, “the bulk of its £6million-a-year budget comes from the taxpayer.”

Most of us are now 'retarded homophobes' according to this booklet we helped pay for.

It is disgusting, then, that they should publish a booklet in which a homosexual adopter slanders those critical of homosexuals adopting by calling them “retarded homophobes”.

Hey, this is crap. I am gay and have been active in gay causes since 1982.

I agree that "children are not trophies, they are people". And frankly, perhaps because I am a mummy's boy, I can see the advantage of having a mum. And my stepfather has been a great "Dad" to me.

But life is both *variable* and *imperfect*. I am not prepared to agree that having a married Mum and Dad who love each other and bring you up is the only perfect situation, although I admit it has its attractions.

In real life though, having any responsible adult couple who love and cherish you is more than many people get. And I would argue that a lesbian or gay couple who were responsible, loved you, etc., are better than even your own biological mother and father if they maltreat you.

You are not a homophobe if you have a certain ideal; you are a homophobe if you think that in the real, hard to deal with, world, a Lesbian or Gay couple cannot be the best actually possible parents.

A reason not to live in London

Google searches show 'signs of green shoots of recovery' - Telegraph

'Visit a London wine bar and you find more people paying £9.50 for a glass of champagne.'

War and Resource Competition

FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right: Update from Sierra Leone

In fact, over 40% of civil conflicts in the 20th century had a link to natural resources, often as a contributing cause, by financing arms, or acting as a flashpoint for small-scale conflict that becomes embroiled in larger ethnic, political or economic conflict, which can spiral out of control. In the post-conflict period, extraction of natural resources (mining, timber, firewood forestry, fishing) is often the only livelihood option for returning displaced populations. All too often, unsustainable practices become embedded as the new norm, setting up the conditions for severe resource stress in the future.

As a historian, I am extremely sceptical of arguments based on monocausation. Although I am a medievalist, I have had to teach across a lot of periods and cultures, and my conclusion wrt wars and conflicts is that they are almost all bother over determined and under determined. There is a certain chaos in human affairs which social scientists just do not seem to be able to acknowledge.

Figures such as "40%" can only be made by discarding a lot of actual information to create "all other things not considered" scenarios.

The secret of self-control

Dept. of Science: Don’t!: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

Apparently kids who can delay gratification in looking at a piece of chocolate score 210 points higher on American SAT scores!

There is certainly quite a lot of historical evidence that the widespread introduction of table-manners and other forms of public self-control correlates very well with the massive decline in rates of public violence in the late 17th and 18th centuries in Western Europe.

In England, at least, in the central middle ages (say 1200-1500) the murder and assault rates were magnitudes of levels higher than in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Perhaps there is something to be said for monastic poverty

My Personal Credit Crisis -

If there was anybody who should have avoided the mortgage catastrophe, it was I. As an economics reporter for The New York Times, I have been the paper’s chief eyes and ears on the Federal Reserve for the past six years. I watched Alan Greenspan and his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, at close range. I wrote several early-warning articles in 2004 about the spike in go-go mortgages. Before that, I had a hand in covering the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Russia meltdown in 1998 and the dot-com collapse in 2000. I know a lot about the curveballs that the economy can throw at us.

Worthwhile NYT confession by one of its leading economics writers.

I find, these days, I have housing and utilities, food, the ability to buy second hand books on Amazon, the ability to pay for internet access, and virtually nothing else.

I know that compared to billions this is a luxurious existence, but I think it's a level that (without much effort) our modern technologies could make available to all.

I think the only think extra I would really like would be the ability to buy some *new* academic books.

What Makes Us Happy? - The Atlantic (June 2009)

What Makes Us Happy? - The Atlantic (June 2009)

“They were normal when I picked them,” he told Vaillant in the 1960s. “It must have been the psychiatrists who screwed them up.”

Excellent, and long, article at The Atlantic on what happiness is.

Apparently its love and friends.

True, but those damn serotonin levels can get you even when you love your family and have some friends. When melancholy grabs me, I can just be sitting there, having a normal day, when a sort of physical wave rolls in and makes me just want to lie down and hide.

Michael White : Attack on the Classical Brits

Michael White : Telegraph Blogs

Classical Brit Awards tonight at the Albert Hall - and no, I won't be going because I know what to expect: they'll be the same as they were last year, and the year before (when I did go and left at the interval), and have in fact been for the past decade: two hours of tosh, embarrassment and drivel.

In all the time I've been a music critic I don't think I've ever come across a more wretchedly ill-conceived venture than these. They have no worth, no integrity, no class. And in a real sense they're a fraud on the public.

Fair (enough comments (and Michael is a longstanding friend of mine). But...

There have been truly beautiful voices possessed by singers who could not not have sung through an opera on stage - Mario Lanza is an example.

And its fair to note that Katherine Jenkins seems to be trying to become a Vera Lynn type figure.

Sometimes I admit, Radio 3 is just too daunting, and I put on Classic FM (or WQXR in New York) over the internet.

Or, for something tougher see him in Otello- Dio, Mi Potevi.

Craig Murray - The Breathtaking Hypocrisy of Tory Bloggers

Craig Murray - The Breathtaking Hypocrisy of Tory Bloggers

David Cameron has taken the sensible line and apologised for the tennis lawn greed of his taxpayer funded toffs.

Sadly, the Tory blogs are not on message, and are concentrating on explaining why it is OK for Tory MPs to do precisely the same things that it is wicked for Labour MPs to do. Particularly risible is their rallying around the obnoxious Michael Gove.

There is something to this charge, but I think Murray's post overall reduces to the same sort of vituperation as posters at Guido's blog.