Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The power of sand

While over 2 million people have watched Kseniya Simonova's live sand animation portraying the German occupation of the Ukraine (if you haven't seen it, you should), few have picked up on this work of hers from a week ago.

Kseniya's looking for help:

LARGE REQUEST TO ALL!!! IF YOU HAVE SOME INFORMATION AS TO BE CONNECTED WITH GOOD SPECIALISTS IN THE REGION OF NEUROSURGERY (IN ANY COUNTRY) WRITE HERE, TO THE PAGE. Nika's diagnosis is a coma as a result of Meningoencephalitis. Here is the telefone number of Nika's Mom, Alina Vetchinova 8-066-906-37-00, but unfortunately she doesn't speak English, so write here. Thank you!

There's more comment on the YouTube posting.

The sheer pace of the piece, let alone the content, conveys the desperation she's feeling. It may not help, but please provide your own links to Kseniya's video.

Friday, 12 June 2009

ICC World Twenty20

"I think England's best bet is to bat first AND second."

Rob from Newbury, by text during India v West Indies

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Jack Straw and the Probation Service

Jack Straw 'takes full responsibility' for the failings of the probation service.

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) there's a considerable gap between what you and I might understand by 'takes full responsibility' and what Jack means. David Scott's excellent article in The Guardian.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Can Gordon hang on?

A year or so ago, Gordon looked dead in the water, until he suddenly found himself saved by the global recession (surprising as that might seem). Now though he's obviously in deep trouble, with a considerable minority within the Parliamentary party wanting rid of him.

It's clear he's an electoral liability, and in most respects he has made a terrible Prime Minister, who has consistently made wrong judgement calls and been found out. Some of his ministerial appointments have been of talentless time-servers, presumably on the basis that they wouldn't call his policies into question; our recently departed Home Secretary being a case in point. And as for policies, there's ID cards, Trident, the shameful treatment of the Gurkhas, abolition of the 10p tax rate, and all the others where he appears out of touch with the electorate. Many of the ills of the UK economy are a direct legacy of his years as Chancellor. There's the MPs' expenses fiasco (not of his making admittedly) but he has displayed a singular reluctance to deal decisively over the issue, no doubt fearing too many of his colleagues would have to go. And that issue is particularly a problem for Labour (and Gordon Brown's brand of Labour) since it's a party that claims to stand for fairness and equality, not the accumulation of vast capital assets at the taxpayers' expense by a few MPs. Then there's his communication skills; set against him even the dull Jack Straw`appears positively charismatic. The strongest reason why Gordon should go though is the Damien McBride affair, utterly shameful conduct from a Prime Minister who promised us a Government 'free of spin'.

Set against that are the reasons he might yet stay. The first is that whoever replaces him will face irresistible demands for an election, and right now most MPs realise that they are going to take a terrible hiding - there's a good chance that they'll prefer to hang on simply because things can't get any worse, and might yet turn around. Then there's the economy. I have a feeling that the recession has bottomed out, and that another year might yet see sufficient improvement to limit the scale of Labour losses come the election. And there's a strong sense that the electorate hasn't yet bought into David Cameron's glib soundbites that pass for Tory policies these days.

The other problem Labour face is how they would go about choosing a new leader. They've tried the 'coronation' route, and that's why they've found themselves landed with such a catastrophic incumbent. If they want to find someone of genuine vision, with discernible policies, a contested election is vital. But the party constitution means that would take time, and the party would probably tear itself apart in the process.

One thing's for sure. If the party has lost faith in Brown, he will need to be told quite plainly and in private by a colleague. Clearly a job for Harriet, since she is the one member of the Government whose position in the party has been gained through a genuine election, rather than any form of largesse from Gordon. Since she has been staunch in her support, and repeatedly willing to stick her head above the parapet (unlike her colleagues) in doing so, her advice is all the more likely to be heeded.

My prediction? It's a tight call but I think that Labour will ditch Brown simply because events have acquired such momentum. However, they'll regret doing so when they face the electoral consequences since the party is likely to be decimated and may never recover.

Monday, 1 June 2009

MPs - repaying those expenses.

The public doesn't want MPs just discreetly paying off those excessive claims under cover of darkness, they want to know they're doing it. Thankfully our 'Justice Secretary' has for once come up with the perfect solution:

Tony McNulty, another of the miscreants, is keen to join the queue:


Later in 2002, some months after MI6 sent its advice, the recently arrived British ambassador to Uzbekistan inquired urgently of the Foreign Office what its legal justification was for receiving information from Islamic dissidents who had been boiled alive to produce it. Craig Murray records his astonishment on being recalled to London to be told that the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, had decided that in the ‘War on Terror’ we should, as a matter of policy, use intelligence obtained through torture by foreign intelligence services. A follow-up memo from a Foreign Office legal adviser in March 2003 explained that it was not an offence to do so.

Gareth Peirce, writing on the UK's involvement in torture in this month's LRB.

She's doing a good job...

"She's doing a good job", "she must be left to get on with her work" and other similar platitudes have characterised Gordon Brown's response to the relatively long-running saga of Jacqui Smith's Parliamentary expenses, as if that somehow justifies his failure to hold her to account for her actions. Similarly with Hazel Blears. Of Geoff Hoon's disgusting acquisition of a minor property empire (this is the arsehole who under-equipped our troops for service in Iraq we're talking about here) not a word. Nor on Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. Or Tony McNulty. Or Alastair Darling. Or Jack Straw.

A seat round the cabinet table does not absolve MPs from personal responsibility for their own conduct when it comes to deriving financial benefit via the public purse. Nor does the fact that Gordon Brown long since ceased to have any credible reputation as an effective and honest leader left to damage excuse his woeful inertia over the whole affair, an inertia that has simply handed the moral high ground to David Cameron.

Is it right?

I don't get shocked by much, but I was genuinely surprised by some of the things MPs are entitled to do and claim for. The question in MPs' minds as they submit expenses should not be 'can I get away with this?' Nor even 'how will it look?' Nor even 'is it within the rules?' But is it right?

Alastair Campbell, blogging about the MPs' expenses scandal.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Nadine Dorries, the Daily Telegraph, the Barclay brothers and freedom of speech.

Nadine Dorries' main charm as far as this blog goes is I'm afraid an aesthetic one. I have little sympathy with her political views, and the perception of her as 'wacky' (as leaked from the Cameron inner circle) is not one I was entirely surprised by; it was not that long ago I described her as 'barking'. Nevertheless she has been more vocal than many coming out fighting against the way that the Daily Telegraph has been reporting on MPs' expenses, and suggesting with her inimitable almost surreal hyperbole that the newspaper's proprietors have their own political agenda in all this. She blogged her views (in terms that I find hard to believe anyone could take serious offence at) but has found herself on the receiving end of the attentions of the lawyers for the Telegraph and its owners, who persuaded her hosting company to take her blog down.

Given that the owners of the Daily Telegraph are those well-known supporters of democracy and tax payment Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who not so long ago were demonstrating their commitment to free and fair elections on the island of Sark, some of her comments are less than surprising. And there's a certain irony to be found when a newspaper owned by a couple of tax exiles starts hammering MPs for tax avoidance.

At the moment, Nadine's blog has returned, presumably with a different hosting company, with rather basic graphics and sadly (if I'm allowed to say so) a less flattering photo, but with the contentious post now missing. Nadine's caution this time around is understandable given the legal threats she has received, but as always in the blogosphere such threats simply lend credence and publicity to content that most people would otherwise have taken with a considerable pinch of salt. The post that appears to have caused the Barclay Brothers such grave offence is still easily read from the Google cache (the post in question is that for the 21st May Winners or Losers? also appended below); much of it is the usual bonkers nonsense one normally associates with Nadine of course (she is regarded as a singular bête noire among left-wing bloggers) but what the lawyers seem to have missed here is that hardly anybody takes Nadine Dorries that seriously anyway, so what's all the fuss about? If the Daily Telegraph are happy to dole it out they should be happy to take it too.

There is useful information about the legal shenanigans behind all this over on Dizzy Thinks. Nadine Dorries may spout a lot of nonsense but she is not alone; the Barclay brothers and their legal representatives seem to be doing their best to match her.

Hopefully Nadine will repeat what she has already blogged under Parliamentary privilege when the MPs return on Monday so that these absurd legal threats are neutered in the way they deserve. And the sooner this country gets laws that provide some protection for freedom of speech and political comment outside the Palace of Westminster the better.

This is the post that caused such grievous offence; would you take it that seriously?

Winners or Losers?
Posted Thursday, 21 May 2009 at 17:04

Just park a couple of facts for a moment, which you may not agree with but are factual.
The first is that MPs have always been encouraged, by whatever means possible, to draw down their ACA allowance in full. This is because it was upped in place of an appropriate pay rise.

The rules surrounding the ACA were deliberately sloppy in order to maximise the opportunity that MPs had to draw.
This was always felt to be the safest political method to remunerate MPs, rather than face the media backlash of a pay rise.

Parliament is in chaos. The public are angry. The Telegraph has upped its circulation.
There are 650 members of Parliament. In any walk of life, in whatever profession, you will find people who are dishonest. It will always be thus as long as we are all human!

The Telegraph are uncovering a few cases of fraud, but not enough, so they are more than slightly embellishing some of the stories. I write as a case in point.

Enter the Barclay brothers, the billionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph.
Rumour is that they are fiercely Euro sceptic and do not feel that either of the main parties are Euro sceptic enough. They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP.

A quick online check of the Barclay brothers and their antics on the Island of Sark is enough to give this part of the rumour credence.

Another rumour is that the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction.

These rumours do have some credibility given that this has all erupted during the European Election Campaign and turn out is expected to be high with protest votes, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, or should I say the Barclay brothers.

Now, if this is all a power game executed by the BBs, how would they do that?
It is a fact that these men are no fools and are in fact self-made billionaires.
I would imagine and believe that if any of this is true, they know the British psyche well enough to whip up a mood of public anger, hence the long running revelations in the DT.

Where do I get this from? Well, at heart I am just a cheeky scouser. I like to go into the rooms of the faceless and nameless in Parliament, sit on their desk and ask pertinent questions like: who are you? What do you do? I've made friends with one or two. One in particular I am very fond of. He is a mine of very astute information; and whilst in his office yesterday, we chunnered over the 'what is this all about?' question.

He reckons this is all a power game. That the British public are being worked like puppets by two very powerful men. Whipped up into a frenzy to achieve exactly what they want.

His very poignant words to me were "if any of this conjecture is true, Parliament will become full of racists, fantasists, and has-been celebrities. We will be rendered impotent and may never again regain the authority to withstand the pressure, opinion and whims of the overtly wealthy."

Scary stuff!

Somewhat predictably, and as a direct consequence of all the fuss, Nadine's rather silly post is already widely re-posted, more often than not by bloggers who wouldn't otherwise give her the time of day - Pub Philosopher, Dr Crippen over on NHS Blog Doctor - who gives a particularly good point-by-point rebuttal of Ms Dorries' arguments, Craig Murray (it's posted as a comment), and Mr Eugenides (ditto) among others; not one of these has the slightest sympathy with what Nadine says, only with the fact that she's been on the receiving end of some unpleasant and unnecessary bullying. Similarly here, indeed I think that the allegations about the motives of the Barclay brothers made by Nadine are total rubbish, and that it has been wholly for the good that the Telegraph has exposed so much self-centred financial cynicism and naked greed among those who purport to govern us.

Normal service resumes

Apologies for my long absence. The lack of an internet connection and health problems have been between me and my blog for too long, but no more (hopefully!).

It's normal service on another front too. MPs' expenses, about which I've blogged more than once.....

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Another day, another 'entirely within the rules'

Tony McNulty has rather more in common with our Home Secretary than a passing acquaintance with the hash pipe. A rare facility with money (so badly needed right now) and a sufficient lack of shame when claiming Parliamentary expenses. Let's face it, Tony could cycle in from Harrow, let alone commute.

It doesn't matter whether these spurious claims for expenses are within the rules or not. It wouldn't matter if they were signed off by the Pope or even God himself. They stink, and the same goes for the rotten politicians who claim them.

Mr McNulty has made the point that he was claiming against the cheaper of his two 'homes', and moreover that he recently stopped claiming the allowance at all. With interest rates being so low he can now cover his mortgage payments from his Parliamentary salary, he reassures us by way of explanation. I suppose the gullible might buy that, even if they harbour the faint suspicion that he was primarily motivated by the fear of exposure. The cynical however would rather suspect the opposite. He hadn't realised that Jacqui Smith's success in claiming on her family home (because it brought in more) was allowed, and he was intending to follow her example as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The public interest

Am I alone in suspecting that Jack Straw is not really quite the best person to be offering an entirely objective judgement on whether we should get to see the Cabinet minutes on the meetings that led up to the Iraq invasion?

Still, it's nice to know that he's been keeping on top of his data security brief and practicing what he preaches when it comes to data sharing.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Would you compare Allen Stanford to Nelson Mandela? No, honestly, I jest not...

You'd probably have thought that Giles Clarke and David Collier would have been considering their positions at the ECB given recent events (don't hold your breath though).

One person who should certainly be considering his position is the BBC's 'sports editor', Mihir Bose. This bit of smarmy flannel takes some beating; Mihir's obviously first in line to replace Giles Clarke when that gentleman finally bows to the inevitable.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Unfortunately it is not possible to protect children from the stupidity of their parents, and the parents of both these children seem to have stupidity in abundance, if not worse.

The CPS may have decided that it's not in the 'public interest' to prosecute Alfie (although they don't seem to have even considered prosecuting Chantelle, the older of the two). How about prosecuting the parents? And, for that matter, taking their children into care?

That a predictable section of our media are bent on chucking money at the families in question is not only singularly unedifying but raises the possibility that this echoes the Karen Matthews case where financial gain was the motive all along.

Still plotting

What's new? You read it here first.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

One out, all out?

You'd have thought that the WTA would have long since cancelled the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, given the refusal of a visa to Shahar Peer. Whatever happened to the much vaunted 'player power' that supposedly exists within the professional game? Best not to ask Venus Williams. "All the players support Shahar" she tells us for all the good that's going to do anyone.

Unfortunately Dubai hosts the richest tournament on the circuit, and (when it comes to professional tennis players) money talks.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Delivering best value for the taxpayer

Jacqui Smith has become something of a favourite on this blog what with her inimical skill in raising one's blood pressure with every utterance and all. So one has to acknowledge her selfless commitment to her work where she is prepared to rough it round at her sister's rather than claim a large Parliamentary allowance for some spurious second 'home' like so many of her colleagues would do.

You know that an MP is unashamedly on the make as soon as they start claiming that they've 'broken no rules'. Ms Smith goes down that route adding the (somewhat ironic given the context)comment that her claim is "above board". She goes further though, claiming to have longstanding approval for her highly unconventional domestic arrangements. Well that's what she likes to imply, although the reality is somewhat different, "I have always been very clear with the authorities about the arrangements that I made. I specifically asked whether or not the home where my children live had to be my main home. I received assurances it didn't have."

It doesn't matter whether Ms Smith's allowances claim is within the rules; morally it is utterly corrupt. It is difficult to know why she should need a second home at all given that Redditch is within easy commuting distance of London anyway. It is MPs like our sleazy Home Secretary who lend the most strength to the argument that all MPs allowances should be ended, they're paid more than enough without them. Hopefully the voters of Redditch will take account of the stench of greed Ms Smith trails in her wake come the next election.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Should we join the Euro?

If the'll have us, that is. Yes we should. The current rock-bottom value of sterling makes it all the more sensible, since it would mean that the UK would retain the economic advantage that we already have - our exports are cheap and imports will soon be quite expensive, which is a wonderful basis on which to trade providing we learn to stem our inate preference for imported goods.

We should of course have joined the Euro from day one. Yet again we find ourselves outside a club that one day or another we'll end up joining, almost certainly on considerably less favourable terms given the delay. We'd certainly have been hit less hard by the current recession if we'd been in already.

Politicians from both the major parties have claimed that our economic cycle doesn't coincide with that of Europe, and that is why they are opposed to us joining the Eurozone. Now we can see how wrong they were; never has it been more obvious that our economies coincide with a vengeance.

British jobs for British workers

At best Gordon's ill-chosen pledge showed him to be a Little Englander. At worst, it pandered to the xenophobic tendency of too many of the public and the ugly press that feeds off that. The BNP didn't need Gordon to go recruiting from them and he shouldn't have done so.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Digital switchover

Much as I enjoy John Redwood's blog (I find it quite stimulating, particularly on economic theory) it's a rare day that I agree with him. However, I'm happy to endorse this post 100%.

He could usefully have dwelt on Andy Burnham's plans for libraries while he was about it though.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Good money after bad

It long since ceased to be good money after bad. If our nation has any money left at all (very doubtful) it's a case of good money after good money after good money after good money after bad. And all with not one jot of an effect on the economic recession. More likely it's made it even worse.

How come? Well, mainly because the Government is chucking cash into the hands of institutions that have no incentive to stimulate the economy, but plenty of incentive to reshuffle whatever so-called toxic debt they've found themselves landed with, and writing off the sums they have thrown away investing in fraudulent pyramid financial schemes that have involved them moving vast amounts of money outside the UK. Writing off these major debts leaves balance sheets appearing deceptively healthy and those at the top of the financial heap that is The City creaming off more bonuses. Given the state of the UK economy you can be pretty confident that those bonuses will be heading offshore even as I type this post.

Since the Government is throwing such vast sums into some impenetrable black hole it is clear to everyone outside the UK that as a nation we are well on our way to bankruptcy meaning that whatever money is circulating in the world's financial markets will be giving us as wide a berth as possible, compounding our problems.

£85bn should have been more than enough to fend off the worst of the recession and protect our economy for the long term. But money should have been sent to those who would spend it in a form that obliged them to do so. Businesses are saved by having customers, not by endless state handouts.

So £85bn has been spent destroying the remnants of our economy. And now Gordon and Alistair are supposedly planning to spend more. Where on earth do they think it's going to come from and why do they suppose that they'll be any more successful than they've managed this far?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Those minutes

I'm not going to hold my breath.

Jack Straw again

I'm afraid Jack has scarcely paused for breath after scrabbling around in the dirt hoping to find Cardinal Newman's earthly remains (not that it did him any good). Now it's the Coroners and Justice Bill, presently being debated by Parliament.

Jack Straw is of course the Justice Secretary, whatever that means. Jack's notions of justice are not what you and I think of as justice though. More important to Jack that the Government be spared public embarrassment than that the families of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan get justice. More important that the Government be spared public embarrassment on anything come to that. More important that MPs be spared embarrassment. He tried again a couple of weeks ago.

But there are bits that have been included in with the Justice & Coroners Bill that are not even directly relevant to justice. Data sharing has nothing whatever to do with justice nor for that matter with coroners, so Jack has included clauses that allows the Government to share our personal data with anyone it feels like. In his role as Justice Secretary Jack has responsibility for Freedom of Information; I think he takes this to mean that the Government should be free to do whatever it likes with information about us (unlike us even getting information about them).

I'd like to pick up on one of Jack's other ideas. Ministers who misled Parliament obout the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Make them wear orange bibs emblazoned with 'I LIED ABOUT IRAQ'. That'd be some sort of justice at least.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Barcelona and the Holocaust

Barcelona has cancelled Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies in response to the current situation in Gaza. However terrible some people think Israel's current conduct, it in no way alters the horror of what happened in Nazi Germany where 11 million people died, and Barcelona's decision is an appalling insult to their memory.

The BBC and the aid appeal for Gaza

It is almost beyond comprehension, the BBC's decision not to air an appeal an emergency appeal for Gaza on behalf of our Disaster Emergencies Committee. Almost but not quite since the BBC is indulging in one of those periods of navel-gazing that inevitably follows any crisis such as the recent (fully justified) furore over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. So that's what we get this week, the return of JR on his obscene salary and the refusal to help the citizens of Gaza where £6m would prove of a lot more use.

Thankfully, our other broadcasters have now decided to take a different line.

The ceasefire in Gaza

How quickly the news agenda moves on: Gaza already gone from the headlines and Zimbabwe (where things continue to worsen) all but forgotten.

Many supporters of the Israeli actions complain that those who so vociferously condemn Israel's recent conduct are reluctant to criticise Hamas whose firing of rockets into Israel is what sparked the crisis. Not me, I regard Hamas as an exceptionally unpleasant organisation who disregard all the basic values of human existence when it suits them to do so. But I do have higher expectations of Israel, a country which shares the democratic and broader ideals which mark the post-enlightenment West. However difficult their position, resorting to actions which indiscriminately harm Palestinian civilians simply means they sink into the same moral cesspit already occupied by far too many in the Islamic world.

Israel has the greater problem in that she is a small country surround by neighbours harbouring various degrees of hostility. Should the situation move to all-out war, any victory she achieved would be worth little since it would just harden attitudes among the other Arab nations. While her immediate neighbours may not yet possess nuclear weapons Pakistan certainly does, along with a volatile political landscape and an Islamic population not totally averse to terrorist action.

There is a depressing spiral of blame where each side in the current dispute claim the other is the instigator. It serves no purpose, sooner or later the two sides have to find a solution acceptable to both and that can only be achieved by diplomacy not by bombs.

The West should have been playing a far more prominent role in finding a settlement than it is but its hands are too tied by its dependence on oil sourced from countries with which it would otherwise have no truck politically. Britain and the US have the additional problem of severely tarnished reputations post-Iraq.