Monday, April 29, 2013

Here’s a thing: every week The Doctor saves the world in 45 minutes. No more, no less. Marvellous. And whatever happened to Norries?

Here’s a paradox: when you’re 10, 12, 13 or 15, you watch Doctor Who and it all makes perfect sense. Well, he’s a clever one! you think. Then you don’t watch it for many years - school, college, trying to hustle women into bed and, occasionally, work all get in the way - until a little later in life you start watching it again. And that’s what I did and still do (when I can) with my daughter who is now 16, 17 in August, and my son who is 13, 14 in May.

When they were younger we had a routine on Saturday nights: have supper, then settle down in front of the TV at about 6.30/6.45 to watch ‘the Doctor’ get out of another seemingly impossible situation (he always does, you know). If I were a spy, or an explorer or anything like that, the kind of chap who quite often finds himself in sticky situations, I would most certainly make sure I had a television scriptwriter team, because these guys and gals are incredible: they always find a way out. It’s a mystery to me why the Foreign Office has seconded several of the brightest of them finally to sort out the Israel/Palestine situation or how things can end peacefully in Syria. Anyway, Saturday night was the same, except that my daughter had gone shopping in Truro with the Girl Guides - she’s aiming at her Shopping Badge - and then had to be collected from Bodmin Parkway to be taken straight to her part-time job at the Kings Head in St Kew Highway where she earns a little on the side - actually, rather a lot on the side - as a waitress cum barmaid cum washer-upper cum whatever else they ask her to do.

So she wasn’t there. But I sat down at whenever last Saturday to watch the latest Doctor Who episode and my son sat behind me, ostensibly in front of the computer because he ‘wasn’t interested in watching Doctor Who’. Soon, however, I felt his feet settle on the arm of the sofa behind me and he was as engrossed as I was. I must be honest, but I doubt I would watch on my own, and watching it with young Elsie and young Wesley is not just part of what I like, it’s pretty much the reason for doing it. Anyway, we watched it together.

This week the episode featured, naturally, the Doctor and his new assistant (played by Jenna Louise Coleman, my favourite by far so far and were this not a family blog but one which is, for a change getting a family entry, I would record as unequivocally as possible just how much I should like to give her one, or, being the very definition of a modern man, how much I should enjoy her giving me one. I’ll admit, Freema Agyeman came close, but for me she didn’t convey the raw ‘shag me and shag me now’ desirability of young Jenna Louise.) There were also three black guys, kind of interstellar scrap metal merchants, and - well, it’s funny: I’m not the world’s most obvious liberal, but it still warms the cockles of my heart to see black actors on TV in roles in which they are simply characters not ‘black’ characters. Maybe I’ll explain that in another blog.

Tonight they were just that. Being ‘black’ had fuck all to do with it. Zombies, or what appeared to be zombies, turned up aboard the Tardis - at first there was just one, then a whole gang of them, and were, in fact - I think - the black characters and Jenna Louise - swoon - ‘in the future’ who were burned to a crisp but then, in fact, weren’t at all because the Doctor had ‘turned back time’(he’s a card, that Doctor, and make no mistake, guv). Anyway, it was all sorted within 45 minutes - does the Doctor know he as only 45 minutes to save it all? So Wez and I watch the episode, and at the end of it I turned to Wez and admitted that I didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on and how it was all resolved.

Wez, though, was right on the ball and managed to convey quite succinctly and without being nasty, as only young teens can convey quite succinctly without actually being nasty to us elderly folk just how bloody stupid and slow on the uptake I was. ‘It’s obvious,’ he snorted, and if he didn’t actually snort, he might well have done. Well, obvious to some. Tomorrow, I might get him to explain to me - and even resolve, because I still don’t think it’s been yet done - the Schleswig Holstein Question, because that, too, has me baffled, but I’m pretty sure it’s already pretty obvious to him. All we need is for the Tardis to materialise just outside Lübeck and the Doctor to become firm friends with Bismarck and that’s Syria sorted.

. . .

It would be difficult, not to say odd, to try to explain how I reached this last thought but here’s my question: how many of you know someone called ‘Norrie’? To be fair anyone who had tuned in from the U.S., Russia, Canada, The Emirates, China or other place not yet touched the genius of British imperialism gets a pass. It would not surprise me if you didn’t know what the hell I’m talkng about (quite possibly, not for the first time, either). But folk here in England, Wales, Ireland and - natch - Scotland do not. And to that I shall add anyone tuning in from Canada, New Zealand or that island just to the west of New Zealand (I think it’s called Australia): if you don’t know anyone called ‘Norrie’, or don’t even have a clue about what I’m talking about, your are officially banned from this blog. ‘Norrie’ is a Scottish short form for Norman (as far as I know. Perhaps it’s also a short form on Tyneside and the far North West. But for some reason I find it quite evocative. I personally have only ever once come across someone called Norrie.

He was one of the other guys (of five of us, and I had by far the worst room) who shared a house in Gosforth, Newcastle (pronounced ‘Gossforth’). This was in 1978 when I was working as a reporter for the Journal in Newcastle. Norrie was, if I recall, a salesman/trainee executive for a paint manufacturer, but as that last seems so unlikely, not to say almost gratuitous, I’m quite prepared to accept that I’m quite wrong and won’t in the slightest be offended if you say so. The house was owned by I can’t remember who, but she had, apparently, taken a shine to me, because around Christmas 1978 she returned in high spirits - i.e. three sheets to the wind - from a works Christmas party, came into my room and got quite amorous. A shag was on if I had wanted it, but I didn’t want it, at least not with her. She didn’t take it well. Anyway, that was the first Norrie I’ve personally come across.

Another was the uncle of a former flatmate of mine. His name was Norrie Drummond, and the flatmate was Alan Drummond. Norrie was a young music journalist in the Sixties, but then, by the late Seventies, early Eighties discovered that his bird had flown. He was, according to Alan, a raging woofter (I’ve drunk a little too much port while composing these, my latest words of wisdom to be in any position to pay much attention to our modern politically correct niceties, so all I can do is apologise to raging woofters worldwide if I have offended you). But while he was working (for the South Wales Argus, as I was) in the late Seventies, he was living with a woman, who according to Alan was a dyke (and please accept a similar apology - see above). They were, it would seem, each other’s beards, and in those days, sadly, you still needed a beard. I can’t actually substantiate the claim, although when Norrie once rang and ask for Alan, he was not only very pissed but did sound very camp.

. . .

You’ll find 800 odd words here as I ramble on about why those who want to ‘get rid of politicians’ and ‘get rid of bankers’ aren’t playing with a full deck. How about ‘getting rid of time’? I’ve decided to run two blogs as the same time, but can’t yet work out how to label them.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Germany’s ditch-the-euro Afd more popular than God! Scores 113pc in global survey! Watch out Angela! And the Government finally takes action on the growing epidemic of self-importance

The trouble with surveys is that at one and the same time they can be enormously misleading, highly informative, hugely subjective and generally a jack-of-all trades in that their results can be used in all kinds of ways. If I conducted a survey and found that of 1,000 people who responded a massive 76 per cent of them were in favour of toast being available on the NHS, I might well go ahead and claim: ‘More than three-quarters of all Brits want your GP to make you breakfast’. That would most certainly strike us all as complete nonsense, although, interestingly, if there were a faint - very, very faint, about one in a trillion trillion trillion - chance of that statement, in fact, being true, basing that claim on the results of my survey would still be bollocks, for a great many reasons. The only legitimate conclusion one can draw from the results of my survey is that of 1,000 people questioned by me, 760 were in favour of toast being available, which tells you nothing very much except that 1,000 people were feeling exceptionally bored when I approached the with my clipboard.

Faced with such a bizarre statistic (‘Never in the history of surveys has toast been more popular. World In Action finds out why’) sceptics would most certainly ask all sorts of questions: how were those surveyed chosen? Do they have a vested interest in the making of toast (father’s a baker/mother sells toasters)? Were they drunk at the time? Were they all Brits? How many people approached over and beyond the 1,000 who responded told me (who was conducting the survey) to fuck off and stop wasting their time? There are endless questions, and if you really are interested in the science, practice and protocol of when, where, how and why to conduct surveys, what different kind of surveys can be conducted, for what purpose and what can be done with results thus obtained this blog really isn’t for you.

I’ve been rattling on about surveys and what a load of cack their results can be if we don’t handle them with extreme care because I’ve come across a survey conducted in Germany which makes interesting reading (if you are interested in the things that interest me, that is - when, at work, we get letters from readers who begin by telling us ‘Reading about so and so, I was reminded of an amusing incident that happened...’ you can be absolutely bloody certain that there is nothing at all in what follows that will tickle the funny bone of any reasonably sane man or women in the slightest). It appeared in the Bild, usually trailed as ‘Germany’s Sun’, but, in fact, modeled by its original publisher Axel Springer on what was then the Daily Mirror long before the Sun started up. But calling it ‘Germany’s Sun’ will give you a fair idea of who its readership are. (And Bild is a broadsheet, by the way, not a tabloid, and oddly it works rather well.)

What Bild did was to mimic a general election - one is due in Germany this September - in view of the founding of a new ‘political party’ (though I like to think of it - and, whatever they say, UKIP - as pressure groups). That party is Alternative Für Deutschland, which, broadly, wants an end

Bloody hell! Now look at the kind of thing that’s
appearing from nowhere!

put to all the German taxpayer-funded bailouts for the Med countries (they have started calling them Rotweinländer - red wine countries) and for Germany to return to the D Mark. It is still, however, in favour of Germany remaining in the EU and would even countenance a small eurozone made up of ‘more responsible’ countries. Phonelines were opened at 8am and closed at 6pm and readers were asked to phone in an register who they would vote for if there were a general election.

Here are the results:
  • Union (CDU/CSU): 42pc
  • Alternative für Deutschland (AfD): 19pc
  • SPD: 17pc
  • Bündnis 90/Die Grünen: 7pc
  • FDP: 6pc (Incidentally, the FDP - more or less the Lib Dems in trendier specs - almost always - like the Lib Dems - do badly both in surveys and at elections and it is always touch and go as to whether they will cross the 5pc threshold. They always do, of course, because the Germans can be quite kind and like to help a man when he’s down)
  • Die Linke: 5pc (generally communists who can’t or don’t want to call themselves communists/spotty students who can’t get a shag)
  • Eine andere Partei (Sonstige): 2pc (any other party - Ostfriesenwitz Gemeinschaft/Freibier Gesellen/Die Klo Partei, that kind of thing)
  • Piratenpartei: 2pc (The previous disaffected lot, now superseded by the Afd)
A previous survey had established the the AfD was likely cross the 5pc threshold necessary to win seats in parliament, but Bild’s 19pc for the party - 2pc more than for the SPD, broadly Germany’s Labour Party, is of a different order entirely.

So my first caveats: that 19pc is strictly of all those Bild readers who could be bothered to ring in to take part. So, for example, it does not include those who might have thought the whole exercise something of a gimmick and so did not take part (an obvious point, of course, but still worth explicitly making). Then it would be worth knowing the political and cultural views of those who responded, which, of course, we can’t and don’t. That, too, is relevant. If in a survey of Wogs Out! members a whopping 89pc were in favour of everyone who was not of the purest white skin tones being kicked out of Britain, we wouldn’t be at all surprised and the only worthwhile question to ask is: why were 11pc not in favour? But the survey would tell us absolutely nothing about the general attitude in Britain to immigration over the past 100 years. I don’t mean to get hoity-toity about Bild, but you are unlikely to find its readers discussing the finer points of psephology of a night in the pub.

Is there anything Bild’s survey can tell us. Well, to state the bleeding obvious, more of those readers to took part (see above) say they would vote for the ‘let’s leave the euro’ Afd than would vote for the ‘let’s keep the euro’ Opposition SPD. One might venture to suggest that a head of steam is most certainly building up in Germany over the taxpayer funded bailing out of the red wine countries, but, well, it really is difficult to quantify.

The only sensible observation is the one our politicians always make when they do badly in an opinion poll: ‘Look, as far as I’m concerned the only poll that matters is the one of our electorate on polling day’. Afd is thought to draw its support from across the board, and it is fair to assume that all three main parties - actually, in Germany, it should now be all four as Die Grünen do quite well these days - would see some of their supporters deserting them and expressing their anti-euro frustrations. If more established pollsters come up with results suggesting that AfD support is growing, the most likely effect would be for the CDU/CSU, the SDP and the FDP to consider amending their euro policies accordingly. Whether they would do so, of course, is another matter entirely. Because for all their efficiency, the Germans do have the occasional blind spot.

. . .

The Home Office was in touch late last night and has asked me to perform a public service. And I agreed. It seems there has been some concern in recent months that one John Ward aka The Slog and a self-styled debunker of more or less everything which takes his fancy is in danger of becoming far too self-important. ‘Self-importance’ (which doctors know as loquens bolloccitis) is not, in itself, dangerous and is quite a common affliction. Extreme cases, however, can cause concern

and might need treatment. Symptoms of this condition include a puffed-up chest, a bigger head than normal, a degree of paranoia (which can vary in intensity) and a pronounced choleric temperament, although sufferers are not usually violent. Those afflicted also tend to surround themselves with mirrors and also talk a lot about ‘their sources’, which research has shown are largely delusional.

Knowing my slight acquaintance with Mr Ward and that of late I have had dealings with him, and that I regularly publish a blog on the net, the Home Office has asked me whether I would, on its behalf, agree to carry regular bulletins on the state of Mr Ward’s condition and his blog. I am, of course, only to glad to do so, and if there’s a knighthood in it for me at the end of the day, so much the better.

So I shall do my best to keep an eye on Mr Ward and his witterings on his blog and keep you all posted.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Don't ever think you're clever, ever. Ever.

I don’t think I have self-esteem problems (but nor am I, I hope, conceited) but one ‘moral’ lesson I have tried to teach my children is that ‘there’s always someone cleverer than you. Always’. Others are that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ i.e. you get nowt for nowt, ‘if it sounds too good to be true, you can bet your bottom dollar it is’ and ‘try to keep an open mind’. I know full well that it’s futile and that, like me, they will learn their lessons the hard way, but every parent likes to protect his ‘young ones’ as long as possible, not realising that they are a lot older in many ways than we think.

The lessons above I told them when they really were still young: I always prefaced it by saying that they might not yet know what the bloody hell I was talking about but to remember it anyway. Perhaps it is only me who seems to bump into people who are by far cleverer than me, but these days I try to anticipate and mitigate any disadvantage by trying never to underestimate anyone.

For example, years ago I lived in Milan for five months and one day, while leaving the (I think Loretto) underground station - the system only had two lines in 1973, now it has four - I spotted a small crowd near an exit. I went to see what was going on and found it was the old three-card trick, sometimes the three thimble trick. In this case the chap doing it had three small pieces of wood, one with a stamp on the underside and each had a rubber band around it. I watched for a while.

At one point one guy shouted ‘stop’ (in Italian, of course) and then took my hand and planted it firmly on the piece of wood he reckoned had the stamp on it so that it could not be changed. Then he went through his pockets and bet something like 20,000 lire (which was around £20 I think.) And - of course - he won. And - of course, as I was supposed to by being psychologically involved in it all by having my hand clamped down on the ‘winning’ piece of wood, I thought I could win, too.

I had noticed that the the rubber band around the piece of wood with the stamp on its underside was crooked, whereas the rubber bands on the other two pieces of wood were straight. ‘Easy,’ I thought in the way complete fools think, ‘I’ve sussed it. I don’t have to even try to follow the chap as he shuffles the pieces of wood around to keep an eye on the one with the stamp. All I have to do,’ I thought in that way complete fools think, ‘is look shout stop and then look for the piece of wood on which the rubber band is crooked. And that will be the one.’ Immensely pleased with my cleverness I let the chap shuffle the pieces of wood around, paying no attention at all to which might be the one with the stamp. Then I shouted ‘stop’. And then he said ‘OK, give us your money’.

By the way he said it, the contempt in his voice that another sucker had been hooked, told me that I was just another sucker who thought he was cleverer. Rrealising this, I didn’t wager nearly as much as I planned to wager. I just pulled out 5,000 lire, handed it over, pointed to the piece of wood on which the rubber band was crooked, but I already knew it wasn’t the one. And of course it wasn’t.

The guy didn’t even look at me. I felt about six inches tall. Why did I even bother handing over money? Well, all I can say is that it didn’t occur to me not to, and that I thought I had slightly saved the day by handing over far less than I was going to. But I now realise that had I not, I would probably have been taken to one side, given a good kicking and then had everything of value on me stolen. That’s when I first decided not to underestimate anyone, but of course it takes years to learn such a lesson completely. And I’m not even too sure I have even learnt it yet.

 . . .

This is all a long-winded way of getting round to my SIPP (self-invested pension plan) and the shares I chose for it. Or rather one share.

Until about 2006 my private pension - my pitifully small private pension - was with a completely useless company called Abbey Life. I had taken out the pension with one company, but as is the way of these things, they are sold on, then sold on again, and then again until total no-hopers like Abbey Life are in charge of the money which is supposed to keep the wolf from the door when you are in your dotage. (And, by the way, Mr Ward, I can’t afford to buy and sell gold. Admitting you had ‘sold all your gold’ as you did a week or two ago was a novel way of shooting yourself in the foot, but you carried it off no bother.) I heard about SIPPs and decided I couldn’t do worse than bloody Abbey Life. So I withdrew all the money I had with them I was able to withdraw and opened a SIPP.

That’s when I did a little thinking. This was towards the end of the boom years (a boom wholly based on people borrowing money to spend on the back of ‘ever-rising house prices’ and a feeling of affluence created by China selling a great many goods at ridiculously low prices in order to get a toe-hold in the market), and I felt in my bones that the good times were going to come to an end. They always do (and incidentally, before someone writes me off as a dour pain-in-the arse pessimist the same is true of bad times: they always eventually come to an end). So I asked myself: if times are hard, many business quoted on the stock exchange will do badly and their share price won’t grow. But what kind of business actually does better than it usually does in a downturn. And then it hit me: pawnbrokers do.

I did a little ‘research’ (a hi’falutin word which can mean anything from tracking down the Higgs Bosun to looking up a bus timetable) and found that a pawnbrokers called Albermarle &; Bond were quote on the stock exchange. So I bought in, at about 157p a share. And boy was that good - for which read lucky - timing. Over the next few years they doubled in price and were at over 300p just a few months ago. And all the analysts, or most of them, at least, said ‘strong buy’. Boy did I feel smug. There’s was me a rather clever stock picker. But not quite clever enough. Had I really been clever, I would have sold at 3oop. But I didn’t. They would carry on climbing, I thought.

They didn’t. They started coming down again, inexorably. I kept an eye on the price and kept telling myself that wise investors - yes, I even thought of myself as ‘an investor’ which strictly speaking I was but... Wise investors are in it for the long haul. That’s true enough but no one actually ever know how long a long haul should be. So I held off selling as the prices kept falling, from 250p to 220p and then to 211p.

That’s when I cracked. I was still ahead, so why not. I sold the lot. I then googled news reports on Albermarle &; Bond to find out just why their price had fallen again so much. And the answer was simple. In 2006, when I discovered them and bought shares in the company, there were only three largish pawnbrokers, so they all had a healthy slice of the business. After 2009, when the bad times started, others realised there was good money to be made from the misery of others and pawnbroking outlets sprung up everywhere. So there was less business to go round and Ablermarle & Bond’s profits suffered. Simple, really.

And the price of ABM’s shares at close of business today, April 26, 2013? Fucking 230p. Oh, well, c’est la vie (he said through very gritted teeth).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thin-skinned or what? I am banned from a blog called 'The Slog' for not cheering loudly enough

It is odd how thin-skinned those folk are who like to set themselves up as our conscience but do not necessarily get the universal acclaim to which they think themselves entitled. They get rather uncomfortable when they realise we are not all cheering and that some of us have taken to booing. On such is John Ward, aka The Slog whose blog you can find here and who is a self-styled 'deconstructor of bollocks'. He is, though, not quite as keen on such deconstruction when his own bollocks is at risk.

I've written about him before and there doesn't seem a great deal of sense in repeating what I said. This entry is just to record a reply I've given to a comment Mr Ward left on my most recent comment. I am posting it here because he has now banned me from leaving comments, so you - and anyone else going there - won't find it on his site. He accuses me of having 'multiple IP addresses' (which sounds vaguely sinister though I can't think why) and of being 'a troll'.

This was my reply:

If I have multiple IP addresses it will because I go on the net from here (home, when I am here), work (when I am at work), my stepmother's down the road (when I am at my stepmother's) and my brother's (when I am at my brother's. At each location I use a different laptop/desktop. I am not 'a troll' and nor do I see the enemy around every corner (it was once 'reds under the beds'). I don't think one could get a ciggy paper between my views on the worth of the euro and the EU (although I believe on Britain retaining membership for the simple reason that we have a better chance of influencing the direction it takes in rather than out) and Mr Ward's, but on a great many other matters - what might constitute 'wit', his take on Johnny Foreigner and just how seriously we take ourselves (all those 'sources' - I really can't compete) we are poles apart.

For one thing I hope to God I don't have quite as high opinion of myself and am not quite as self-important as Mr Ward. I wasn't so much 'banned' yesterday as my markedly inoffensive comments being removed without explanation. It seems that like a dog up our street Mr Ward likes to dish it out, but he can't take it. As for my blog, I have two. One here on the Wordpress site which I revived after visitors here clicked on my name to see who I was; and my main blog at which has been running for more than three years and has attracted one or two comments, though not from the usual round of fawning acolytes as here - around ten at the last count, and they don't vary in their rather juvenile appreciation of what appears here.

Whether or not it contains anything of interest is not for me to say. Judge for yourselves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The question on everyone’s lips: did they? (No, not shag – discuss Leveson business! Some people!)

A short, rather ridiculous statement which the Guardian carried, but which I’m sure has appeared elsewhere (i.e. that I saw it in the Guardian is neither here nor there) is a useful jumping off point for commenting on an issue which will roll on and on before anything much is settled. Oh, and legions of well-heeled lawyers will become even better-heeled in the process. The issue is, of course, the Leveson Inquiry. The short, rather ridiculous statement came from an up-and-coming young brief involved in the inquiry who was on Leveson’s payroll (so to speak – she was part of his team). But a bit of background might help (though not of the whole shooting match – if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about and want to know try here (the official site), here (a site which takes a rather more jaundiced view) and here for the details. From here on I’m assuming you do know what I’m writing about.

Leveson had his team of lawyers and all those witnesses giving evidence against our evil press (and in many case urging that all current editors and those with even half a mind to climbing that particular greasy pole should be shot and their bodies buried in lime) also had their briefs. One such lawyer batting for Lord Leveson’s side was Carine Patry Hoskins. Another taking was David Sherborne, the lawyer representing the actor Hugh Grant. (What, I hear you ask, is that the same Hugh Grant picked up by the LA vice squad for hiring Mrs Estella Marie Thompson, who went by the name of Divine Brown, to suck his dick in his car on Hollywood Boulevard? Yes, that’s our lad – it was in all the papers. So guess who isn’t as sweet on our British newspapers as once he might have been? You get just the one guess.

To be fair to Grant it wasn’t the stories about him getting head which upset him but that assorted newspapers had found a way of hacking into a mobile phone to listen to any messages which had been left on them. And Grant’s phone was one the tapped into regularly.) In the broadbrush way these things are described, Patry-Hoskins – a double-barrel name never hurts in Old Blighty, especially if you are making your way in one of ‘the professions’ – and Sherborne were on ‘opposing sides’ and should not have discussed their Inquiry work. And there’s no suggestion they did.

Thing is are now ‘an item’ – ‘going out’, ‘going steady’, ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ – and that has raised several eyebrows as well as led to suggestions that the chances they obeyed the rules and didn’t discuss the Inquiry are not very great. Patry-Hoskins – divorced with one marriage behind her – and Sherborne – divorced with

two marriages behind him (I hope Patry-Hoskins is a sensible gal because one divorce might be misfortune, but two is getting to be a bit of a track record) insist they did not become ‘an item’ until last October, after the Inquiry finished. Alert hacks then discovered that they were, possibly, being a little economical with the truth in that they had been away on holiday, spending time together on the Greek island of Santorini in August.

And now to come to the short, ridiculous statement: Patry-Hoskins insists that at the time they weren’t an item, but (she ‘told friends’) they had gone away to Santorini ‘to discuss the possibility of a relationship’. The question on everyone’s lips is now, of course: but was shagging involved? I mean you don’t have to be in a relationship for a bit of how’s your father, and if you’re going to negotiate – they’re lawyers, remember – the terms of the relationship you are considering having – you’re surely not doing it 24/7. There must have been a bit of downtime and a bit of downtime, a drink or two, no deadlines, loads of sun, relaxing, gorgeous girl, gorgeous guy, well . . . Or am I being just a tad cynical?

On the other hand two intelligent, mature adults might well know how to resist undoubted temptation and behave with the decorum expected of two representatives of Her Majesty’s legal industry. Yeah, right. And if you’re really as anal as having first to ‘discuss the possibility of a relationship’, why go all the bloody way to Santorini? Why not settle for a chat over a few shandies and two packets of cheese n’ onion in the Dog and Duck? If nothing else it would be a lot cheaper. The state of Patry-Hoskins and Sherborne’s relationship was first reported in both the Daily Mail and the Sun and then taken up by other papers. And given that once Leveson had inquired, he then published a 2000-page report which was not much to the press’s liking, it is unsurprising that they have jumped on a ‘possible conflict of interest’ with glee.
Here is an excerpt from a leader in the Daily Mail which gives you some indication of how sanguine they are that it might no longer be business as usual:

 As counsel to the inquiry, Mrs Patry Hoskins was required to be scrupulously impartial. Mr Sherborne’s role was quite the reverse. He was employed by Hugh Grant and other celebrity hacking victims to attack and denigrate newspapers at every opportunity.

Mrs Patry Hoskins had access to confidential information supplied under compulsion by media organisations, cross-examined several of Mr Sherborne’s clients, and helped formulate some of the thinking behind the Leveson report.

Her dealings with Mr Sherborne should have been strictly at arm’s length. Indeed, under Bar Council rules, both lawyers should have informed Leveson of their relationship – which neither did – and at least one should have withdrawn. Frankly, this affair shows how incestuous, self-righteous and hypocritical the legal profession can be.

Along with doctors, they are one of Britain’s last great unreformed institutions – self-policing and impervious to external criticism.

That’ll learn them! There are few things quite as impressive as a newspaper leader in full, fulminating, outraged mode. Magnificent!

. . .

It would be farcical were it not so tragic, but a Somerset businessman made up to £50 million by selling fake bomb, drug and people detectors to Iraq and Afghanistan. They were completely useless. He based them on a novelty – for which read ‘joke’ – item from the U.S. which as marketed as a device for finding lost golf balls. By the sound of it the novelty item was something you would give our golf-playing dad, husband, boyfriend or son for Christmas as a jokey present. The businessman, James McCormick, bought the golf ball finders from the U.S. for $20 each, repackaged them and then sold them to Iraq and Afghanistan for up to £27,000 ($40,000) knowing they are completely useless. He was able to carry on selling them for several years. The very first thing that occurred to me when I read the story on the BBC website was: did it not occur to anyone actually to test them, to hide an IED or drugs and then see whether the device would detect them? Apparently not. Several senior Iraqi officials who knew the devices were bollocks but who were bribed by McCormick to keep quiet have since been jailed. So perhaps – perhaps – the explanation might be that word came from these guys up high to us the new device and everyone thought tests had already been done. But I’m being charitable.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A warm welcome to all Russian visitors (who seem to be increasing in numbers) - Теплый прием всем российским посетителям (кто, кажется, увеличиваются в числах)

Я, кажется, получаем много посетителей из России сегодня, таким образом я думал, что я мог бы поздороваться. Я не знаю то, что привлекает их к моему блогу или какие отдельные записи интересуют их, но они долгожданны, как - все остальные, и они также долгожданны, чтобы сказать их друзьям.

Я сделал их любезность произведения этого на русском языке, но потому что я не говорю на русском языке, я должен был использовать один из онлайн-перевода, теперь доступного, который, наряду со способностью свистеть, чтобы несомненно отличить нас от наших предков, когда они все еще живут в пещерах и понятия не имели, что чеснок улучшает аромат очень многих блюд. Фактически, я думаю, что Вы согласитесь со мной, что это была бы полная ерунда предоставить нашим предкам каменного века сервис онлайн-перевода так не было тогда все еще такой вещи как Интернет, не было таких вещей как портативные компьютеры, настольные компьютеры, таблетки или smartphones, на котором человек каменного века, возможно, был в состоянии получить доступ к Интернету.

О, и использование сервиса онлайн-перевода объяснит, почему то, что Вы читаете, весьма вероятно частично непостижимо. Но все это - длинное, долго, длинный путь от моей причины для того, чтобы писать этот вход, который должен просто сказать: добро пожаловать во все из России.

That for all those of you, like me, who don’t write Russian, let alone speak it, is a message to Russian visitors translated courtesy of the several translation services available on the net. I’m pretty sure it is just so much goobleddgook (Без перевода), but not being a Russian speaker I really don’t know. For all I know it merely says, in a variety of different ways using a variety of different idioms: I agree to download Google Chrome and install it as my default browser. Say what you like about Al Qeada and they might be a load of murderous bastards who don’t have a clue who Rihanna is, but at least they don’t trick you into downloading their bloated software when you’re not looking. (Incidentally, for those who don’t know, this Blogger service is made available for free by Google. It’s not as though I can’t bite the hand that feeds me like the best and rest of them.)

PS I’ve just checked and Без перевода means ‘without translation’ which doesn’t help very much. So for all those who don’t know ‘goobledegook’ is a word we use to mean ‘nonsense (ерунда), bollocks, bullshit etc.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In which our hero demonstrates beyond doubt that we often have far too much time on our hands. And things aren’t looking too bright for one of Mr Putin’s more high-profile critics. My advice? Avoid the tea

This is something I cobbled together after a trip to Spain last year. I rather like it, but that doesn’t mean that you will. Suck it and see, as they say. File under Artsy-fartsy.

. . .

Who is it safe to piss off in Russia and who is it wisest not to? Well, I can’t say who one can rub up the wrong way with no fear of reprisals, but it is becoming ever more obvious that Valdimir Putin, c/o The Kremlin, Moscow, is a lad best kept your side. That seems to be a lesson Chelsea’s very own Roman Abramovich has taken to heart but which Boris Berezovky didn’t.
Another of the money men apparently sailing close to the wind is Alexander Lebedev, who owns London’s Evening Standard, but lives in Moscow. Incidentally, he is always described as a ‘former KGB agent’ but I’ve always felt the word ‘agent’ to be so vague as to be almost meaningless. For most of us it conjures up the image of a highly trained killer who wouldn’t think twice about accepting a drink from you, then screwing your wife, but I understand the reality is rather different, that is to say pretty bloody mundane.
I don’t for a minute doubt that these guys aren’t capable of making a pot of tea with radioactive baloney (or whatever it was they used to kill the guy who ran ten miles every day), but 99pc of their time is spent pouring over lists of holidaymakers arriving in Moscow and St Petersburg and deciding who it might be worth trying to flog a timeshare in a mooted development in Odessa. Maybe that was the kind of ‘agent’ Lebedev was. The only other things I know about him is that he and his son Evegeny have managed to get the Standard back into profit, despite now giving it away, and the Lebedev pere is up on a charge of ‘hooliganism’ for punching someone on life TV. (See – if he’d been a real agent rather than a pen-pusher he would most certainly have karate-chopped the man and found himself on a murder charge.)

One man who has not been doing his very best to keep in Mr Putin’s good books is Alexei Navlany. In fact, he is most definitely a thorn in Mr Putin’s side and he is reckoned to have cost Mr Putin an ‘overwhelming’ majority at the last set of elections. He was also a leading light in the street protests which followed the election and the regular blog he writes also doesn’t win him to many brownie points with the Kremlin – calling them ‘corrupt’ is one of his milder claims.

Mr Navalny now finds himself charged with corruption and has appeared in court in a town called Kirov, which (I read is 550 miles north-east of Moscow), quite some distance for us Brits for whom a 40-mile trip down the road is an unwelcome schlepp. (For the record my weekly commute from Cornwall to London and back is 234 miles each way and I’m glad I have to do it just twice a week. It’s not that bad, but I’m glad it’s not much longer.)

Obviously I am in no position to judge how solid, on the one hand, the case is against Mr Navalny or, on the other, how trumped up the charge is. He is said to have embezzled 16 million roubles from a timber firm for whom he was working as an advisor. He claims the charge is nonsense and one simply trumped up to discredit him. The thinking is that were he charged with some other offence related to his political work, it might seem to obvious and that getting him into clink on a charge of corruption would not only get him out of the way but would also damage his credibility.
Then there’s the matter of a new law which has been based banning those with previous convictions from standing for election. But (and I am obliged to be fair here, despite what I think is more likely than not), all I can do is report what I have read on various news websites. But it does seem – this is my taking off my ‘impartial’ hat – that not being on Mr Putin’s side doesn’t pay many dividends if you happen to live in Russia.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Does Germany now really have an alternative to the standard euro bollocks? Who knows? But a fanfare please for . . .

Well, the die has been cast and it now only remains to be seen whether the much-trailed Alternative für Deutschland will become a political force to be reckoned with or just another nine-day wonder.
 The party is demanding – the Germans tend to ‘demand (‘Wir fordern…’) where we

 rather more diffident Brits might ‘suggest a change in policy’ - that Germany withdraws from the euro and re-introduces the D Mark.
There are related demands but they are all more or less centred on the euro, growing dissatisfaction with handling of the euro crisis and a related unease with the EU. The new party’s website list number of supporters – an impressive list if you are impressed by academic qualifications and academia generally – but they do seem to be almost all men. I counted only three women. Here is a potted list if the party’s demands taken from its website with my translation:

Wir fordern eine geordnete Auflösung des Euro-Währungsgebietes. Deutschland braucht den Euro nicht. Anderen Ländern schadet der Euro. (We demand an ordered dissolution of the eurozone. Germany doesn’t need the euro and it is damaging other countries.)

Wir fordern die Wiedereinführung nationaler Währungen oder die Schaffung kleinerer und stabilerer Währungsverbünde. Die Wiedereinführung der DM darf kein Tabu sein. (We demand the reintroduction of national currencies or the creation of smaller, more stable currency unions. The reintroduction of the D Mark cannot be a taboo subject.)

Wir fordern eine Änderung der Europäischen Verträge, um jedem Staat ein Ausscheiden aus dem Euro zu ermöglichen. Jedes Volk muss demokratisch über seine Währung entscheiden dürfen. (We demand the European treaties are amended to make it possible for every member state to leave the euro. Every nation must be able to make a democratic decision on what its currency should be.)

Wir fordern dass Deutschland dieses Austrittsrecht aus dem Euro erzwingt, indem es weitere Hilfskredite des ESM mit seinem Veto blockiert. (We demand that Germany forces the introduction of the right to leave the euro by blocking further contributions to the European Stability Mechanism.)

Wir fordern daß die Kosten der sogenannten Rettungspolitik nicht vom Steuerzahler getragen werden. Banken, Hedge-Fonds und private Großanleger sind die Nutznießer dieser Politik. Sie müssen zuerst dafür geradestehen. (We demand that the costs of the so-called bailouts are not carried by the taxpayer. Banks, hedge funds and big investors are the beneficiaries and they should be first in line to carry the costs.)

When I last mentioned AfD, I pointed out that in my view it is essentially a rather different organisation to Britain’s own UKIP, but it does pose the same threat to the established parties many of whose traditional supporters might be disenchanted with Germany’s self-imposed role of trying to sort out the euro crisis. And that might well mean protest votes come September when the countries goes to the polls. Certainly, all three parties (who are all staunchly behind Angela Merkel’s policies on solving the euro crisis, one of AfD’s major gripes – what representation do those who don’t agree with Merkel have in parliament? they ask pertinently) do not seem to be underestimating the potential threat posed by Afd.

Patrick Döring the general secretary of Germany’s third party, the FDP, is quoted as saying: ‘I even find it disturbing that a body can be formed which is able to give the impression that Germany could change its currency without damaging the savings and wealth of her citizens just like that. It’s a little more complex.’ One of the CDU’s head honchos in Hesse, Christean Wagner, has said: ‘Leaving the euro, which the AfD is demanding, would be a leap back into the previous millennium. To make leaving the euro the central tenet of your manifesto demonstrates: these are yesterday’s people.’

Döring makes a reasonably good point, but Wagner sounds a little desperate. Even weaker is this from the SDP’s president of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil, who notes that he doesn’t believe the AfD’s stance is ‘very promisng’ and that ‘most people’ knew ‘what Europe and the European Union offered them’.

Where others have warned that the new party will be a refuge for dissidents from both the extreme Right and extreme Left, but AfD seems to be aware of this danger and has insisted that former members of the NDP, the Nationaldemokratishe Partei Deutschlands who would call themselves national socialists if it were not a criminal offence in Germany, will not be allowed to join. To which I can only say: good luck. That pledge is more PR than anything else as rooting out former (or even current) Nazi sympathisers would be a full-time job.

As, of course, would be rooting out left extremists if they thought joining up would in some way prove useful to the cause. The AfD has announced it will put up candidates for September’s election so we can expect a great many dirty tricks as the other three play it safe and resort to skulduggery to neutralise them,  whether or not they pose a real threat. I predict that at least two of the AfD’s candidates will step down because their opponents have revealed tax irregularities in their affairs; one will have his past as a rent boy exposed, will brazen it out, but will eventually give in to party pressure to throw in the towel; one will defect to another party; and one will be exposed by the Spiegel as a BND plant. Or was he? Yes, it will be that kind of murky shenanigans: however much I love them, rather like their national football side, the Germans turn dirty remarkably quickly when the going gets rough.

Another, to my mind relevant, criticism of the Afd – and one which can also be levelled at UKIP – is that its other policies, on transports, say, or health, education, welfare and the rest, don’t seem just ill-defined but non-existent. Getting Germany out of the euro seems to be the alpha and omega of its existence, and in that sense it and UKIP are pressure groups rather than political parties.

As you all know only to well, I am just another internet loudmouth and have absolutely no special knowledge on these matters. Bear that in mind when I say that however much I might applaud the sentiments of AfD, I am sadly inclined to predict that by this time next year it will be a minor footnote in history. But the very existence of the party might lead all three of Germany’s parties to rethink their policies a little if in opinion polls leading up to September’s vote AfD gives a reasonable account of itself. And if that does lead them to treat the whole euro mess with a little more thought and humanity, at least the AfD will have achieved something.

Friday, April 12, 2013

It’s true is it? It’s a fact is it? How do you know? Read it on the web, did you? Well, must be true then, eh? Whales can sing Dixie through their bottoms? Who’d have thought it? On the web was it? Funny what you find out.

I read somewhere recently that when the printing press was invented, those who called the shots were extremely worried that the end of the world was nigh. This was bad news. Their reasoning was that information, disinformation and outright rubbish could now be circulated far more easily and their authority would come under attack.

Well, they are right about the far wider circulation of information, disinformation and outright rubbish, but when and where their authority came under attack cannot simply be put down to the invention of the printing press and the good work done by Mr Gutenburg in Germany and Mr Caxton here in Britain (who, by the way, was not a printer by trade at all but an astute businessman formerly based in Flanders who had his finger in many pies and, broadly, invested in the future of the printing press. That Caxton is now widely credited with ‘inventing’ printing might well demonstrate that the fears of those who thought the invention could possibly lead to the public being misled by disinformation and outright untruths were not necessarily Establishment paranoia).

Those calling the shot were worried, of course, because the feudal way of doing things meant that they, a minority, garnered all the goodies and everyone else was merely required to ask what most recent shots had been called. The Church was a major part of the Establishment, as powerful as, and in some ways arguably even more powerful than, the Court. One reason why they were so much against the Bible being translated from Latin into vulgar tongues was because they were keen to preserve their role as the exclusive interpreter of ‘God’s word’. Making ‘God’s word’ more accessible to ordinary folk was, of course, exactly why the various translators set about their work.

In fact, as almost all sociology bores will confirm - at great length if you give them half a chance, so watch your step - was that the invention of printing was a Good Thing overall. For one thing it made literacy and education possible that were the undoubted prerequisite for  the growth of democracy (defined by many as exploitation of the people by the people). That it also made possible such literary gems as Mein Kampf and the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion is also true, but to mention them is simple adolescent mischief.

That was then and this is now. The world and its prejudices have lived with printing for the best part of 800 years, and it was about time for a change. And that change came along around 15 years ago with the development of the internet. In those heady pioneering days it was still referred to as the ‘information superhighway’, though anyone using that phrase today would be mocked so much he or she would dare not show their face in public for at least a year.

But heady days being heady days and all kinds of nerds and geeks getting overexcited at the prospect of ‘worldwide communication’ - why didn’t they make that claim for radio? - the internet was trailed for a few short years as the key to freedom: there would be no stopping democracy, it was predicted, as information and news would spread across the planet at the speed of light (or electricity, I can’t remember: aren’t they essentially both the same? Something like that) and there would be no stopping it. Tyrants everywhere, the message went out, your days are numbered!

Well, call me an old cynic (or even a handsome cynic, if you like) but it didn’t pan out that way. Repressive states weren’t born yesterday, and governments who are not as keen as some on their folk being able to access everything available on the net are more than able to block access whenever they choose. They have also quickly become adept at monitoring web traffic and utilise algorithms to spot keywords and phrases which might merit a site being scrutinised a more closely.

So if, for example, I were to write something like ‘that Al Qaeda, now there’s a man who knows how to put on a show. His last went like a bomb apparently, and he’s become something of an underground sensation’, the chances are that some bright herbert in GCHQ in Cheltenham will have a little red light blinking furiously on his desk and the message ‘potential terrorist alert, check out, check out!) flashing on his screen. CCHQ software will have picked up on ‘al qaeda’, ‘bomb’, ‘underground’ and ‘GCHQ’ all in the same sentence and decided to take a closer look (or not. I’m not that conceited, but I think you get my drift). And in the grand scheme of things, I’m rather glad they are on the ball. So much for the spread of information enabling democracy to spread.

But what the ‘information superhighway’ is also doing very successfully - apart from making rich pornographers even richer and helping crooks come up with ever more ways of parting fools and their money - is spreading disinformation and outright rubbish. So where before it cost me an arm and a leg to publish and have printed a book outlining my the ‘facts’ that house mice are, in fact, alien beings come to spy on us and prepare the ground for an invasion of super rodents, these days I can publicise that belief at a fraction of the cost merely by posting a website.

Furthermore, it won’t be long before someone else who has long suspected that that is exactly what mice are up to but who lacked the ‘proof’ for his suspicion comes across my website and tells himself - it is, sadly, usually ‘himself’ as most women are too busy buying shoes and chocolate to bother much with the net - ‘ah ha! I knew it! Finally the proof! I knew they were up so something and now someone has shown us exactly what’s going on!’ He might then even copy and paste the text and images on your website to a website he has created, so that now there is not just one website ‘proving’ the existence of evil, subversive alien mice but two! And if two more bods do the same, soon there will be four, then 16 and on it will go until every alien mice conspiracy theorist worldwide will point to the number of websites backing up his suspicion - all carrying the same ‘facts’, of course - and tell his friends: ‘Look, they can’t all be wrong, can they?’

The same thing could - and can - happen with books, of course, and still does, but given that the net demands less of us in the way of paying attention than your average book, and, furthermore, is accessible almost anywhere, it is proving more successful. But the moral is the same: whether it’s something someone has told you, something your read in a newspaper or book, or something you found on the net, use your judgment. If you have no way of knowing just how true it is and how reliable the sources are, withhold judgment. Complete rubbish can also travel at the speed of light.

. . .

All this occurred to me when I was chasing up info about the nation’s favourite paedophile Jimmy Savile and claims he was linked to a paedophile ring which also involved prominent politicians, civil servants, judges and the rest and that they had all closed ranks and were protecting one another (as you would, of course - if one goes, they will all go). I was particularly interested in claims now doing the rounds that Ted Heath as was, one of Britain’s least successful Prime Ministers, was also into little boys and associated with Savile. Most recent, although on radio in Bristol, one bright spark, a barrister called Michael Shrimpton, has claimed that Heath would have young lads delivered to his yacht, have his evil way with them, then have them murdered and thrown overboard. Outlandish claim? Of course, and pretty incredible (as in extremely difficult, if not impossible, to believe rather than in the old hippy ‘far out, man’ sense of ‘incredible’). But Mr Shrimpton is most certainly making that claim. Just google ‘ted heath michael shrimpton’ to find out.

Other prominent names, many mentioned in connection with a gay brothel in Elm House, Rocks Lane, Barnes, include Conservative MP and Thatcher confidant Peter Morrison (now dead), bloody awful pop star, self-styled Christian and ageing Peter Pan Cliff Richard (not yet dead) and former Tory minister and EC commissioner Leon Brittan (not yet dead). Now, I have no way of knowing whether what is claimed about those gentlemen is true, although there now seems little doubt the Morrison was a wrong ‘un. The point is that all three names, as well as several others, are prominently mentioned on any number of website, and anyone visiting such a site might well go away with the firm impression that with so many independent websites all saying the same thing, everything must be true beyond any doubt. But of course it isn’t.

A few months ago, the BBC got itself into a terrible mess by publicly announcing that one Lord McAlpine, a Conservative politician, had been named by one victim of paedophilia as his abuser. Twenty-four hours later came the pofaced retraction: Awfully sorry, chaps, we got that one rather wrong. It wasn’t Lord McAlpine at all, but his cousin. Yet the damage had been done, and to this day someone somewhere searching the net for references to Tory paedophiles will come across the reference to Lord McAlpine being an abuser and believe it to be fact. Dangerous or what?

What is equally worrying is that once you’ve looked up and read through several of these websites, all purporting to be chasing down ‘the truth’, it dawns on you that the widespread practice that all of them is simply to copy and paste what is in one website into your own. Thus the number of ‘sources’ for a ‘fact’ are doubled, quadrupled, multiplied eightfold, then sixteenfold, then on and on in a matter of weeks. And there are plenty of gullible people out there prepared to believe anything about anyone, and the nastier it is, the better. So much for research (and, I’ll add so-called ‘citizen journalism’).

A given ‘fact’ might well be true. There again it might be complete bollocks, but to the anti-paedophile zealot (which to my ears sounds just as phoney as an ‘anti-death zealot’ - is anyone, except paedophiles, actually in favour of paedophilia?) that is not the point: it has appeared on someone’s website as ‘fact’, this guy is on the side of the angels (‘he’s against fucking cunt paedophiles, innit, so he’s got to be right, innit?’) so it’s all done and dusted. The giveaway is that it is almost always word-for-word.

Try it yourself: google, say, “jimmy savile” “paedophile ring” “cabinet minister” and you’ll come across any number of blogs about the subject all cross-referencing to each other and many carrying word for word the same content. You’ll also find many pointing you to the blog published by Nutter-in-Chief David Icke, who, in my view, gives fruitcakes a bad name.

All this is, of course, a long way off discussing what went on at Elm House, various children’s homes in North Wales and the Jersey, Jimmy Savile, a long list of paedophiles and alleged paedophiles and the rest. And as I’ve got nothing new to add, I shan’t discuss it. I also suspect that, in view of some developments - coppers being taken off the case, files going missing, odd inquest verdicts and the like - there is a widespread cover-up, but I have no proof whatsoever. I should make that clear. The point of this entry is to repeat what is all-too-often forgotten: there’s a lot of crap out there on the net and be very careful what you decided to believe.

. . .

Here’s an example of how what is on the net can very often be top-dollar 24-carat bollocks: copy this (from the start of the double inverted commas to the end of the second set) “andrew marr” “tearound tessa”, then paste it into Google (other search engines are available ©BBC) and see what you come up with. You should come up with 3,630 results explaining that ‘Tearound Tessa’ was ‘jocular nickname’ Andrew Marr earned himself when he was working at the Economist ‘because of his enthusiasm for trips to the canteen on behalf of his colleagues.’

Websites giving that explanation include The Tatler (which writes of ‘his keenness to trot back and forth from the canteen’), Blurb Wire (‘Current news and events for high maintenance minds’ - their own rather self-regarding description, I’m so glad I don’t have a high maintenance mind), Topic Hawk and Scoop Web (ooh, ‘scoop’ eh, sounds good!)

Unfortunately, it’s complete crap. Marr never earned himself that nickname, never told anyone he did and, as far as I know, never used to ‘trot back and forth’ to the canteen to get cups of tea for his workmates. How do I know? I know because I made it up. I did so several years ago and added it - mischievously rather than maliciously - to Marr’s Wikipedia entry. And every other website which refers to that particular ‘fact’ merely cribbed it off Wikipedia - ALL of them.

The ‘fact’ that Marr was once nicknamed ‘Tearound Tessa’ will undoubtedly appear in years to come in many an authoritative biography of the man or at least his obit and appreciations by colleagues once he pops his clogs. But its bollocks. I made it

up. And while I’m in confessional mood, don’t ever believe the ‘fact’ that the great and good Simon Heffer ‘once had a brief flirtation with the hard left in his teenage years’. That’s what his Wikipedia entry proclaims as now do also any number of potted biographies of the man. Trouble is it’s not true. I made that one up, too. Ah, there’s the knock at the door. It’s the Wiki police. Farewell, my good readers, and if they allow me the use of a laptop and access to the net in chokey, I pledge to carry on writing this blog. If they don’t - love, peace and kisses to you all.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ain’t no one can hate as well as the Left even when they have no idea what they’re hating. Bring back the Nazis – at least they knew how to march and could organise a real bonfire

Prominent on today’s Daily Mail (page 6, Wednesday, April 10) are a number of comments by various folk who would most certainly regard themselves as ‘on the left’ about the death of Mrs Thatcher. They are all notable for their utterly charmless viciousness. You can find the online version here, but I will reproduce a few examples:

JOEY BARTON: The footballer posted: ‘I'd say RIP Maggie but it wouldn't be true. If heaven exists that old witch won't be there.’ Barton is not known for being the sharpest blade in the box and apart from his football has become known for beating people up.

FRANKIE BOYLE: The comedian tweeted: ‘All that Thatcher achieved was to ensure that people living in Garbage Camps a hundred years from now will think that Hitler was a woman.’ Boyle has been criticised for making fun of a Down’s Syndrome child and other forms of disability.

MARK STEEL: The comedian wrote: 'What a terrible shame – that it wasn't 87 years earlier.' For sheer, brilliant wit I doubt that can be bettered.

ROSS NOBLE: The comedian tweeted: 'Bloody typical that Thatcher dies when I am in  Australia. I hate to miss a good street party.' Noble was four years old when Thatcher was first elected.

DEREK HATTON: The former Liverpool councillor said: 'The issue isn't about whether she is dead. I regret for the sake of millions of people that she was ever born. She promoted a form of greed in business that we've never known before and it's continued ever since. She actually changed the whole face of this country in a way, that you know, people wouldn't have even anticipated. Even her successors got away with murder, literally, for example Blair in Iraq, that they wouldn't have got away with had it not been for what she did. Hatton is now a property developer with interests in Cyprus.

I have never thought of myself as a ‘Thatcher supporter’ as in some ways I find such broadbrush descriptions (‘he admitted that he supported toothpaste’) to be almost meaningless. I have previously outlined why I think as Prime Minister the women undertook what were undoubtedly necessary reforms that, I suspect, would not have been undertaken by any other political leader of the time. Certainly you can disagree with her policies, but any discussion of them deserves to be intelligent, informed and rational. Likening the woman to Hitler as Boyle does is not intelligent, informed or rational.
Perhaps most disturbing is this from an Alex Callinicos, who (I read) is Professor of European Studies at King's College, London, and member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. He says: ‘Murder was Thatcher's business. Sometimes the murder was metaphorical – of industries and communities. It still destroyed people's lives. Sometimes the murder was real. Thatcher over-saw the ongoing dirty war in Ireland.’
His comments invite, off the top of my head, these questions: what would he say about those who promoted the motor car in the early years of the 2oth century and murdered the livery stable and horse trading industries? What would he say about Apple, Microsoft and the rest of have murdered the typewriter and word processor manufacturing industries? How does he feel about the various Asian countries who modernised their economies and began producing steel and other consumer goods more efficiently and cheaper than Britain which led to the demise – OK, if you insist ‘murder’ if you insist – of Britain’s steel and white goods industries?
As for the ‘real murder’, what does the  professor have to say about the IRA bombings in Ireland and England, in  London, Manchester and Armagh, for example? Arguably the bomb attack in Brighton when Thatcher herself was the target – arguably – was ‘legitimate’, but blowing to pieces ordinary folk who were guilty of nothing else but walking past the spot where a bomb was detonated would seem just a tad infra-dig.
These outbursts, I think, have their roots in Britain’s chronic and bizarre ‘them and us’ mentality, which is not just a mere disagreement about how the country should be run but incorporates real, visceral hatred. And as someone who dislikes a great deal, not least hypocrisy, Mr Hatton, but can honestly say he ‘hates’ nothing, I find it incomprehensible.
Here are a few pictures of how some in Britain ‘celebrated’ Thatcher’s death.
Astute political judgment from four young women who were not yet born by the time Thatcher resigned. But to be young is very heaven. Things are always quite simple, rather like political judgment
More intelligent discourse here in the free world.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Look away now if you want just another chorus of what a bitch Maggie was. She wasn’t


It would be perverse to ignore what this morning is the big story here in Britain, but I am neither going to indulge in a round of universal praise nor a rant of unmitigated condemnation. If that’s the kind of thing you want, you’ll find whatever you want elsewhere in spades. In fact, the chances are you’ve already found it, and not doubt what you have read have confirmed your prejudices that Margaret Thatcher – ‘Maggie’, The Iron Lady’’ Mrs T’ – was – delete as applicable – a modern-day saint with miraculous powers the likes of whom we shall not see again for some time / a monumental bitch of a she-devil who murdered children for sport, Both sides are willing to produce ‘proof’ for their view. (Incidentally, it has long been apparent to me that when most folk ‘want proof’, they want nothing of the kind. They merely want someone more articulate than themselves and preferably better known to confirm their prejudices. In that spirit, you’ll find proof galore if you hunt the net just a little to find ‘proof’ that, for example, aliens DO exist, live up are arses and make a mean spag bol if that’s your personal delusion.)

So instead of a hallelujah chorus or a round of kill-the-bitch (rather difficult in Mrs T’s case as life has already got in there first) I should like to remind those of you who are ‘more mature’ i.e. an old fart like me (or inform those of you too young to remember) what was happening in Britain in the late Seventies and what state the country was in. On the radio this morning – which was unsurprisingly wall-to-wall Maggie except for the football and weather forecast – Max Hasting, hack of this parish and once editor of the Daily Telegraph, made the point that ‘Thatcher was of her time. Any given leader can probably only do what they do at a given moment of history’, and I think it is a good point. Take a look at the picture above and reflect on what someone else observed on the radio this morning, that ‘Britain was economically and politically a laughing stock’ in Europe. It was taken in London's Leicester Square at a time when our rubbish collectors went on strike. Why I can't remember - perhaps they wanted more sugar in their tea like the bosses. But what you see above could be seen all over the country. It was not a pretty sight.

The Seventies were for the more developed nations of Western Europe the endgame for an economic model. I specify ‘for the more developed nations’ because countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece were still emerging from dictatorships, in the case of Spain and Portugal, several decades of it, and were still economically several decades behind Britain, France and German. The Japanese were beginning to produce better, more well-equipped cars than Europe and selling them more cheaply (it was the Japanese who began to sell cars with a radio as standard and European and US car makers had reluctantly to follow suit). Coal and steel were being produced and sold more cheaply and white goods were also cheaper to import. By the Seventies the quality of many British goods, almost always those at the bottom end of the market, were of piss-poor quality. The country was also in the grip of rampant inflation.

Faced with these problems, the various governments of the Seventies all opted for the easy way out: paying subsidies. It is the coward’s way out – pay off the blackmailer, which only encourages him to come back for more. It is, of course, far too easy for a blogger writing after the event to criticise: what would we have done given that the collapse of Britain’s heavy industries – coal, steel and car making – would, if not managed properly – have led to massive unemployment. And I really can’t blame the trades unions for some of the things they did: their role was, is and always will be to represent the interests of their members and their members wanted to keep working. Why should they pay the price while ‘the toffs’, who were everyone else but them as far as many were concerned, were able to carry on blithely? Where the unions came unstuck, I think, as that too many of there leaders were rooted in the old ‘let’s create a socialist state’ ideal ‘by taking over the means of production’, and striking and other forms of industrial unrest were their weapons. It was never going to end in sweetness and light and it didn’t, but that is no criticism of Thatcher.

So you might agree or disagree with what she did, but any honest man and woman would be hard put to deny that she was a one-off: she didn’t care whether or not she was popular – which makes her almost unique among politicians – and she was convinced she knew how best to pull the country out of the mess it was in. She went for it and transformed the country. There is much I dislike about the country into which she transformed Britain, not least the way almost everyone seemed to jump on the ‘greed is good’ mantra. But I sincerely believe she was far more nuanced than her public image would suggest. Nor do I believe she was the right-wing harridan of left-wing mythology. So as far I as I am concerned: RIP Margaret Thatcher.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When is printing money not printing money? Never, actually, but there’s bugger all you and I can do about it except choose to believe the bullshit

It’s always good to begin obliquely, so I shall begin this entry with a medical story. One night several years ago, about five years ago, I got up to have a pee. The next thing I remember is coming to leaning against the bath with my wife leaning over me. I had passed out. What made it all just a little more alarming was that two years earlier while using the rowing machine in the gym at work I had a heart attack.
My wife called an ambulance and I was taken to Derriford Hospital in Plymoth 40 miles away. The doctor who examined me had blood tests done, monitored my blood pressure and did various other tests, but could find nothing wrong with me. And my heart was in good condition. What had occurred had nothing to do with my heart. But she was loth to let me go. At about 8am the following morning a colleague turned up and she asked him for his opinion. She explained what had happened - that I had got up during the night to have a pee and had passed out - but that all the tests she had had done revealed that nothing was amiss. He told her what had happened, she told me, and within 30 minutes I was up and dressed and allowed to make my way home.
What had happened? Well, it was something which, the colleague told her, happens quite regularly, but almost always only to men. I had suffered ‘micturition syncope’. Sounds bad, doesn’t it, but actually it is not that bad at all. Translated into the kind of language you and I use and understand, it means ‘fainting while having a pee’.

This is rather a good example of medical men and women using ten words where two would do and possibly only trying to disguise the fact that they don’t really have a clue as to what is going on. Another example is NSU, and infection with which those of you who have ever had to visit ‘Ward 45’ or whatever they call it in your neck of the woods will be familiar. NSU means nothing more than ‘non-specific urethritis’, and that means an a general infection which inflames the urethra and isn’t gonorrhoea (and I don’t mean on of Lear’s daughters).

I’m not suggesting our doctors are rogues, but like most profession they are apt to resort to jargon not just for convenience but partly because it shuts the rest of us out. There are however, rather more dubious reasons to resort to jargon. For example, it was quite some time before I realised that when a company is ‘highly leveraged’ it means it has borrowed a lot of money. But saying Global Undertakings Inc/plc/Ltd is ‘highly leveraged doesn’t sound half as bad as ‘deep in debt’. And, finally to get to the point ‘pursuing a policy of quantitative easing in order to stimulate the economy’ sounds reasonably respectable, admirable even. But were we to be told that our Treasury, the U.S. Fed and, most recently, Japan’s Central

©Paul Zanetti

Bank is ‘printing money’, I don’t think any of us would be half as sanguine. But that is exactly what they are doing.

Mind, it’s all in a good cause - isn’t it? The idea is to ‘stimulate spending’. Again, who would argue with that. Well, savers for one thing, because the rates they are offered when they want to put a bit of money by for their old age are more or less non-existent. As usual, when you ask an ‘expert’ - I do so love ‘experts’, wish I were an ‘expert’ - whether the ‘policy of quantitative easing’ is worth a row of beans the answer you will get will depend solely on which expert you ask. Broadly, the are split down the middle: supporters say, yes, it has helped and the economy is now in better shape than had we not ‘pursued a policy of quantitative easing’.

The others, those who think it is totally daft totally daft to print money, for whatever reason, will tell you the opposite: that it is sheer madness to print money, whatever the reason. So asking for an ‘expert opinion’ gets you absolutely nowhere. I mean you have to know something about the subject in order to choose the right expert, one who might actually know what he or she is talking about, and if you knew something about the subject, you wouldn’t be seeking an ‘expert opinion’ in the first place. Q.E.D.

I must admit that I am aware of taking too simplistic view on this matter, and have been knocking around to find some explanation for quantitative easing which doesn’t involve printing money. To be fair, the various central banks are not actually printing money at all, but they might as well be: they are simply crediting themselves with money out of thin air and using that money to buy up government bonds. But it would be difficult to fool a five-year-old as to what is going on: it is exactly as though they were printing money.

Does it matter? Supporters insist that the economies of developed nations would be even more in the shit had quantitative easing not been adopted, but in truth there is no way we can test that claim. I simply take the view that I am in no position to make a blind bit of difference and never will be, so I might as well take it on the chin. But I do get just a little peeved that at the end of the day it will be the usual people who will carry the can - those at the bottom of the pile. At my age I might not see too much misery, but I do increasingly wonder what the future will hold for my daughter, 17 in August, and my son, 14 in May.

When I was in my 20s, the big problem the country faced was ‘beating inflation’. You went to the shops, bought a pint of milk, went home and by the time you opened carton, it had already gone up in price. Mrs Thatcher - the Saviour of the

Hans Jederman gets ready to go out for a pint of milk

Western World/A She-Devil Incarnate depending upon which prejudiced bastard you are talking to - dealt with inflation, but did it the Hayek way: she let firms fail and a great many people lost their jobs. For that, at the end of the day, is the only real solution.

Trouble is, of course, that if you are one of those paying the price, it’s not a solution you’re going to vote for. Hayek’s old sparring partner Keynes was all for spending our way out of trouble. Yet that means simply more borrowing, which again doesn’t these days seem to be the wisest thing to do. But never mind, the best brains in the land are on the case and have come up with a solution: print more money! But doesn’t that mean stoking inflations? Well, yes sir, it does, and it will be the salvation of the western world. At this point I think it is time to go an lie down. Sometimes there’s a lot to be said for being a simple fellow with a simplistic view of the world and her acorns.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mother Russia? Still misunderstood? Perhaps, but ain’t nothing like doing things as they were always done

I grew up in what was then called the Cold War and everything was simple: we, the West – that was the U.S. Great Britain, France and the rest – were the Good Guys, and the East – the USSR and its various satellite states, as well as those who aligned themselves to it in return for financial support – were the Bad Guys. Looking back, it is all very reminiscent of the ‘cowboy films’ at the time: the Good Guys road white horses, wore the trousers over their boots and worse cool hats, and the Bad Guys road black horses, tucked their trousers into their boots and wore rather sillier hats. And just like the morality conveyed in those cowboy films – Rin Tin Tin, Gene Autry, Annie Oakley, Roy Rogers, The Cisco Kid et al – the Cold War – well, ‘narrative’ is the buzz word at present (and although I don’t want to use it because I don’t like using buzz words, I can’t deny that it has become a very useful word) – was equally as facile. What we did was Good because we were the Good Guys: QED. And what they did was Bad because they were the Bad Guys: again QED. But, oh were life really that simple, as I have since discovered.

This is not the place to retail the various iniquities of which the West is guilty, but a short list of them over the years would include invading Iraq twice (‘because it was there’ as we Brits like to justify many of our escapades) and destabilising countries because it suited our interests (for example, getting rid of the elected government of the Iran and installing the Shah to make sure we could keep our hands on Persian oil). But before the East gets all hoity-toity and self-righteously smug, their list of misdemeanours is equally as unimpressive (invading Hungary and the then Czechoslovakia, and also toppling governments, that kind of thing). Both sides were also not above murder and assassination, although the West insists it never indulged in that kind of thing (which makes taking out that nice Mr Bin Laden rather difficult to explain).

So far, so banal, and what is the chap on about? Well, this morning my brother alerted me to the fact that the Voice of Russia is now available online. It also has a website which you can find here. The Voice of Russia is Russia’s equivalent of the U.S. Voice of America and, quite possibly, our very own BBC World Service (although the Beeb  – ‘Auntie’ to those who really can’t stand the Corporation – vehemently denies any such thing and insists that the World Service is solely there for the betterment of our coloured cousins with the sole objective of saving their souls. Nothing like the – allegedly CIA-funded Voice of America at all, old chap, and if you are inclined to believe such a thing, well, it’s a pretty poor show, if one might be so blunt! I mean what harm can there be in passing on to all and sundry the latest Test cricket scores?) The thought occurred to me, as it increasingly does these days which is admirably summed up by the French phrase ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’. It’s like going back in time.

. . .

I have no idea how Boris Berezovsky’s life ended, but from what I have read the most likely explanation is that he hanged himself. But there is also the poisoning by radiation (worthy of a modenr-day Agatha Christie, that one) of one of his associates, the former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko, which we Brits are blaming on his former employers, the continuing crackdown on anyone who thinks Vladimir Putin is a bad egg and dares say so in public, and a general sense that Russia is reverting to type. How, for example, to explain its support of Syria’s Assad and apparent opposition to the West’s promotion of the ‘rebels’ ?
Actually, that’s a very bad example, but I did introduce it for that very reason. The current Janet and John thinking here in the West is pretty much along the lines of our Cold War analysis and equally as duplicitous. Assad was and is (he’s still alive and kicking) a nasty piece of work. And who can blame his brave people from rising up and attmpting to overthrow him ? First off, the ‘opposition’ in Syria is about as united as a family of Irish topers at a late-night drinking session. None of us really knows who is on whose side, and even if we knew that we still would not know why. But we do know that, for its own reasons, Iran supports Assad and supplying him with men and materiel, and that Saudi Arabia is supporting the ‘opposition’ and is dong the same for them. So what at first blush would seem like a war of liberation in Syria looks rather more like a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance in the area. The same thing is going on in Iraq whose Sunnis and Shi’ites will not get a single night’s peace until Iran and Saudi Arabia call it a day.

The West, which just loves to cover its intriguing with the fig leaf of ‘bringing democracy to the world’ is also supporting the Syrian ‘opposition’ and so, as though by default, Russia has taken up Assad. It also helps that with Assad in charge, Russia would have far more useful access to the Mediterranean (which is also why they want to keep Cyprus in their ambit). So it would seem it is also something of a proxy confrontation – I’ll use that word rather than ‘war’ – between the West and Russia. As I said, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’.

. . .
I would dearly like to visit Russia, and meet its people. I would dearly like to spend more than a tourist week there. I should like to live among them, learn their language and get to know how they tick. As it happens I would also like to do the same with many other nations, not least with our Yankee cousins. My point is that so much of our ‘knowledge’ of countries and their people is nothing of the kind. I can read the Economist and the ‘serious’ newspapers as much as I like. I can listen to From Our Own Correspondent till the cows come home, but nothing would beat going there and making up my own mind.

I’m intrigued by Russia. I intrigued that – apparently – a great many of its people are really not that bothered about whether or not their system is ‘democratic’. As long as things wend their way, as long as they have work and can keep warm, can socialise with as much vodka as is necessary and as long as official life keeps out of their hair, the system is fine by them. Is that true ? I really don’t know and don’t have any way of knowing, but it would be interesting to meet ordinary Russians for myself and find out for myself. There were the days, of course, under the Soviet regime when people such as me were regarded as potential ‘useful idiots’ who could be invited over, wined and dined, shown the sites, perhaps if that was our bag, be introduced to a very pretty Russian woman or two, then returned to our country of origin to spread that word that things aren’t all that bad, if only we could get to understand each other. (The small ads of the New Statesman used to carry adverts for two-week coach trips to Poland which were ridiculously cheap, and I was sometimes tempted to go merely because they cost so little, but was put off buy the thought of spending almost 24 hours stuck in an uncomfortablte seat next to some comrade eulogising about ‘all them corn fields and ballet in the evening’)

I don’t doubt that ordinary Russians have just as skew-whiff a picture of Britain and its people as we do of Russia and her people. Judging from today’s Voice of Russia web front page things aren’t looking too good in Britain at all. Funny that. Especially when we play the same game.

Finally, this is another chance for me to plug one of my You Tube videos. Oddly enough, it is rather pertinent.