Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The worst website in history?

I think I might have found it. Unless its a spoof. I really can't tell.

Here's their post on the French heatwave of August 2003.

So the French are suffering from a heatwave, and this heatwave has killed thousands of America Haters. Big deal. As I see it, there are 61 million to go. Serves them right for going against the United States of America.

Iraq?

The tragic death of hundrends of people in Iraq doesn't even make the homepage of CNN news (American edition). What's odd is not that the equally terrible disaster nearer home in New Orleans takes precedence, that seems the correct decision, but that even their World News link headlines are "Taiwan braces for powerful typhoon; Mugabe tightens power grip; Bid to impeach Arroyo quashed". The International Edition actually leads on it.

ps It's quite plausible the Arabic International Edition doesn't mention New Orleans, but I can't read it. It seems a terribly narrow focus.

Update: It does now.

Tory leadership election

Ken Clarke is to stand for Tory leader against Malcom Rifkind. Oh my god we're back in 1997...

Nope, it's 2005 actually, and if we're lucky we'll get David Davis and David Cameron too. I assume all of the rest of this lot will withdraw.

The things the Children's Encyclopedia says

On Sliding

Sliding is, after running, probably the most natural of all physical exercises for a boy; and it has been said that a boy who in his early days has never enjoyed a good slide is never likely to enjoy any form of manly outdoor exercise

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Time for action

It is suggested that suicide bombers are attracted to their profession by the lure of 72 virgins when they are successful. The Telegraph today tells us that the Swazi king for his birthday was offered 50,000. That is 700 times as many, guaranteed, and he doesn't have to explode himself.

Suicide bombers, move to Swaziland and ingratiate yourself with the court!

Weekend things

The last Monday bank holiday before Easter 2006 has gone, and obviously as one of the movers and shakers of British life I spent it doing interesting things, so I thought I'd share some of them.

Saturday - Walked to library to return some books. It was closed.
Sunday - This is a bit better. Went to the Whitechapel Art Gallery for their "Back to Black" exhibition. Wouldn't go out of my way to see it but it was quite interesting. Then went to a BBQ on the roof terrace of a friend's flat in The Jam Factory, and watched the cricket, which is highly recommended.
Monday - Watched the Notting Hill Carnival from my house. Drank too much.

Update: Wonka Fruity Wobble Drops. Highly recommended. They're slightly weird, in that they are basically jelly-tots (small fruit pastilles with more sugar if you didn't grow up in the UK) covered in milk- or white-chocolate. A combination which sounds horrid, but somehow works.

More Updates: Can't be bothered to do a full post, but today's Daily Mail readers expose I can't bring as it would offend too many people, beginning with a man who felt he neeeded to write into a national newspaper to tell the world he lives in a town called 'Fanny'. Also the Daily Telegraph felt the terrible weather in News Orleans justified a front-page lead contrasting it with our own lovely weather and the phrase 'Wish you were here'.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hard pressed on my right; my left is in retreat. My centre is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking

The case for a flat-tax has become, among its supporters, something more like a religion than a sensible policy proposal. There is nothing intrinsically silly about reducing the complexity of the tax system, but advocates of flat-tax appear to come from only two camps, those who make ludicrous assumptions in order to make the numbers work, or those who simply implore their readers to accept it as a matter of faith.

One example of the former was made by a paper for the Adam Smith Insititute, where a flat tax was said to be a "practical" option as £81bn of public spending cuts could be made just like that. If you're going to start with that assumption any tax reform sounds attractive -- for example I'm going to advocate the "No Sales Tax Tax". This is a clever tax system in which there is no VAT, and its lost revenue is replaced by nothing!

Another was made in the Economist, where it gave the main benefits of a flat tax as being its simplicity in calculating company tax bills, then gave all the practical examples one in which their was a tax-free allowance, removing that simplicity. Today we have an example of the latter, with George Trefgarne in the Telegraph saying,

I would say that, if Germany adopts a flat-tax structure, it could actually be tougher to resist it than to advocate it. Admittedly, there could be difficulties. For instance, how would it work alongside national insurance and corporation tax? In all honesty, I do not know


He does not know how or if it will work, but he knows he supports it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Let's be Lichtenstein

Daniel Hannan argues that the reason Iceland, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Norway are richer than Britain is because they aren't in the EU.

The argument of course fails on the data. In 1970, when Britain wasn't in the EU, Switzerland and Norway were much more richer than Britain, in fact Britain has caught up to some extent. You might as well say its the EU that has done it. Data on Iceland and Lichtenstein is patchy, though on the latter you might as well note Luxembourg is the richest country in the world...and the EU. Hannan also says GDP per capita in those countries is twice that of the EU, which of course is true due to the new East European countries.

Why Diana really died

says the News of the World, followed by the lead paragraph, "FA SEXBOMB Faria Alam has sensationally confessed that ex-lover Sven Goran Eriksson plotted a secret reunion with her just THREE MONTHS ago".



That bloody Swede eh? Gets everywhere.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

July 7th bombs set off manually

The Police have told the Guardian that the bombs on both the 7th of July and the 21st were almost certainly set off manually, suggesting the theory the bombers were dupes, which always seemed fanciful, was wrong [Obviously we have only "senior police officers" as a source here, which has not got a good track record, so we should exercise caution]

This sounds a particularly unpleasant job:

A police source said the aim was to, as near as possible, put the bodies back together to learn "the position they were stood or knelt", when they manually activated the devices which killed them and Londoners in the morning rush hour.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The things Daily Mail readers say!

Mrs Lynda Shaw, W.Sussex

Poem of the Day

Mr Blair says that we Londoners are
So brave and so calm - we don't make a fuss
Then he goes to work in his big armoured car,
And we go to work on the tube and the bus

Mr Blair says that we parents are all
Delighted at how schooling has come up trumps,
But his children go to posh selective schools,
and ours struggle on in their bog-standard dumps.

Mr Blair says that our crime rates are low,
That we shouldn't care what we read in the news,
But when goes out he has minders in tow,
And our kids get mugged for a new pair of shoes.


It goes on, for three more dreary verses. If you're interested go and buy the paper.

Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr has criticised politicians for their "fundamental lack of professionalism" when it comes to communicating with voters.

This is a little rich from a man who wrote a column for a national newspaper repeatedly pretending to be his children's guinea pig, an extract of which is here if you don't believe me.

"no wonder marr has decided to leave country

ho snuffs here agin, filling in for pasty-faced, balding marr, who is off to washington to see tony blair enjoy full diplomatic relations with god's texan... snuffles, he says to me, old feller, you must hie ye to the keyboard. he meanwhile hurriedly packing with harried expression, shovelling himself into disreputable suit, cramming pile of pre-crumpled shirts into leather bag, rummaging for passport, toothbrush, nose-hair clippers, filthy novel secreted in cover of guide to european constitution, then fails to get dollars in time so is drawing pictures of dough-faced american on to swiss francs. don't think that will work."

The things Daily Telegraph readers say!

I really can't decide if this letter should be taken as face value, or whether it is cleverly exposing the idiocy of the 'Moderate Muslims should apologise for the actions of immoderate Muslims' school of thought.

RSPCA should condemn fanatics

Sir - After the bomb explosions in London, many moderate Muslim organisations condemned the Islamist terrorists.

Following the recent activities of the anti-vivisection fanatics (News, August 24) it might be helpful if the RSPCA and other sensible animal welfare groups publicly supported the many scientists who have condemned the criminal activities of these violent anti-vivisectionists.

Sir Philip Goodhart, London W14

Spys and astronauts

There are two rather nice articles in this week's LRB. First a review of the "Guy Liddell Diaries", Britain's premier spymaster of WWII. Much of it seems farcical, such as when three Nazi agents on route from Brest to Le Touquet set the wrong course and ended up in Plymouth, and the arrest of De Gaulle's deputy as a Nazi spy only to find out that it was other members of the Free French who had fabricate the stories as part of a power struggle.

The British also had their moments. Much energy went into exposing and getting sacked the Italian manager of Claridges, because he was Italian, or uncovering Mrs Gertrude Plugge, wife of a Tory MP, for 'going rather far with the Egyptian Ambassador'. Secret trips by Churchilll to meet Roosevelt, or other members of the Cabinet, were so leaked they would appear on German radio before anywhere else.

Otherwise the operation at the time was a success, mainly down to Liddell's 'double-cross' system of turning enemy spys. Nevertheless ultimately its was a failure, for reasons that become clear when you note that Liddell, whose wife had left him to go to America, would often have dinner with Philby, who worked in the office next to him, Blunt, his personal assistant, or Burgess, a close friend and colleague.

Second, a look at the Astronauts who landed on the moon. The rivalry as to who would step on the moon first between Armstrong and Aldrin is amusing in its pettiness, but my favourite bit is a Times article of 1969 titled, 'Put a poet on the Moon'. Absurd as it suggests, though the author, Colin Webb, at least had the grace to say, "I'm not carping [about Armstrong's first words]; a British astronaut would have stuck a flag in and said "I name this moon Elizabeth".

For some reason blogger is not allowing links and I can't be bothered to look at the code. Both can be found at www.lrb.co.uk, but subscribers only.

The answer to everything

Dave Weeden says it all, in this case about Hollywood's misrepresentation, but it could really apply to just about all the world's pressing problems:

I blame liberals. And terrorists. And liberals working with terrorists.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The World is Round

John Gray looks at Thomas Friedman's latest.

"Doziest comment ever", for about two days

Blognor Regis takes me to task for the 'Doziest comment ever':

Matthew Turner, keyboard know-it-all par excellence...what a total prick..it's no wonder he never leaves a link to his own sorry blog when he comments, it'd only encourage people to visit and take the piss.


This was in response to my suggestion that the Police should have apprehended Jean Charles de Menezes, rather than shooting him (made at the time we thought there was a suspicion he could be a suicide bomber). The logic for this was based upon the Israeli forces, who don't, despite what you might read, always shoot to kill in these situations.

Nevertheless like almost everyone else I was jumping to conclusions too early and without enough facts. Clearly there will be times when the Police need to shoot to kill, and I wasn't aware it wasn't one of those times. Must try harder.

Luckily "Blognor Regis", who is obviously an expert in these matters, shows us how bloggers should cover such stories in these situations. Here is his post on the shooting (made a few days later).

World one moron lighter

Callous bastard alert.

Little sympathy for Jean Charles de Menenez here I'm afraid. If you're going to run from TWENTY armed police shouting their warnings then what do you expect?

The worst that can happen is your man boobs will be exposed on 24 hour rolling news like that hapless bloke outside Downing Street endured on Thursday; the worst, well, your brain and skull is going to end up oozing all over an underground train carriage's floor.


So I lose the "Doziest comment ever" title after just a few days! Well I'm not going to give up the know-it-all one without a fight, and at least clearly there's not a lot of competition from "Blognor" for that title.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Who ate all the pies..?

..me, if they come from the Lime Tree Pantry. Picked one of these up at the Daily Telegraph Ideal Home show and just had it for dinner. Highly recommended. If you live outside of the country, you can get them delivered, but the minimum order is five for £25, so you'll need a reasonably large freezer.

Not a fan, then

Former England striker Mark Hateley is not very popular with whoever did his wikipedia entry.

Speccy cheapskates

If you want a spare pair of glasses, or are just fed up with paying rip-off high street prices then I can recommend Glasses Direct. Prices start from £15 including lenses, which is quite remarkable. I actually went for their more expensive ones, as the very cheapest aren't particularly nice (but as a spare pair would be fine) which I'm very pleased with, and they were still only £50. You just need to send them your prescription (or an old pair of glasses), and they arrive about two to three week's later. Apart from the most expensive range you can send them back if you don't like them.

Update: Peter in the comments gives us a guide to how high-street opticians charge.

There's a long-standing urban legend about how opticians charge their customers as much as possible, sometimes cited in economics books as an example of price discrimination:

"That'll be $[x] ....."
Then, if he doesn't flinch:
"... for the lenses ..."
and if he still doesn't flinch:
"... each."

The Sky is Falling In

Last year 1.1% of students at our universities were doing Media Studies. The rate amongst (paying the full cost) non-EU students was 1.0%.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

More golden oldies - Blood from stones

Trying to get a correction out of our two right-wing broadsheet newspapers, the Times and Telegraph, is almost impossible. Unlike The Guardian neither have a corrections column so you are really at the mercy of the Editor.

There have been three occasions over the past 12 months where they have made blatant mistakes (all funnily enough favouring the Conservative Party's position) on issues of tax, and not once has it been possible to get a correction.

In the Times their Business Editor, Patience Wheatcroft took an IFS's report on taxation, and just added on more Council Tax, despite the report expressly stating the opposite. The IFS says she is in error, she admits it, but told me that "there was little point in going back to it". In the Telegraph Boris Johnson took someone's tax bill, and quadrupled it, then wrote that he found it scandalous. His assistant said he still believes the figures he quoted. Last Summer also in the Telegraph we had an article based on an Accountant's report that pretended the average household paid Stamp Duty every year, without the corresponding articles about how rich people must be if they did that. The Editor said he would see that the author of the piece responded to me, but 12 months on it's looking unlikely.

The most miserable thing about these mistakes were that anyone who has a passing acquaintance with our country's economy and public finances would know they were writing rubbish. A depressing example of this can be found on the 'Taxpayer's Alliance' website. In a post titled "How little of £100 you keep" it quotes a tax-minimisation website, saying this:

Of the GBP100 earned, GBP64.31 will have been paid to the government in tax. At the end of the day, all you will have to show for it is GBP35.69 in goods and services. A higher-rate taxpayer will retain a miserly GBP21.69.Oh, and we haven't even taken into consideration the host of taxes on business, employers national insurance contributions, airport taxes, capital gains tax ... and then there's stamp duty, where you hand over thousands just because you decide to move house! Somebody is taking us for a ride.




These people are meant to be experts on tax. They must know that the average rate of tax on a basic rate taxpayer is not 64%. They must know on a higher rate taxpayer it is not 79%. They must know it is particularly not this and then 'the host of other taxes...'. I say they must know because they (naturally) are fond of 'Tax Freedom Day' which doesn't fall in the Autumn. But perhaps they just don't understand what it means?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Coogan baby shock!

Sun says it's not true.

More exams

While we're still flogging this almost dead horse, I'll note that (it's not exactly comparable, for lots of reasons, such as foreign students, an apples of exams to an oranges of students, etc) the proportion of firsts awarded by British universities has risen by 4.2% on average every year since 1994/1995, slightly higher than the 3.9% a year increase in A-grade A-levels.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Exam results II

With GCSE results coming out I thought I'd compare the average points per exam (10 for an A, 8 for a B, etc) in GSCE and A-Levels. The results are quite striking, and probably explain why there is less controversy over GCSE results. The raw data suggests that since 1992 the average A-Level has risen by 2 points, i.e. a whole grade. Whereas the average GCSE had (excluding this year) only risen by about a point, i..e one grade. For those who like this sort of thing, annual "inflation" for the A-Level has been 2.5%, the GCSE only 1.3% (allowing for the A* GSCE, say by giving it 12 points makes only a 0.07 difference in 1994 to a 0.1 difference in 2004).

On the face of it this would support claims the A-level is getting easier, given pupils aren't doing that much better at GSCE then much better at A-levels. There might of course be reasons for this, ranging from the actual (is more money spent on A-level tuition) or probably most likely, there is some statistical quirk I haven't adjusted for (such as fewer pupils being entered, or non-A-level qualifications etc).

The things Sunday Telegraph readers say...

[My italics]

Sir,

English Test cricket is enjoying a welcome return to its former glories, but accompanied by increasingly immoderate behaviour. They hysterical palm-slapping and hugging to celebrate the fall of each wircket is ridiculous. In 1948, when Dick Pollard bowled Don Bradman at Headingley, he showed no reaction at all. ...

Douglas Davies, Glamorgan

Johann Hari...

...is a Chavista. Via Simon.

Michael J Totten

In another argument where Totten bravely takes on and destroys arguments that he's just come up with for that very purpose, we get this gem:

What's my day job? I'm a writer. I've wanted to be a writer since I was six years old, and now I am one.

A new type of suicide bomber

"Sir" Ian Blair

"The key component was that at that time—and for the next 24 hours—I and everybody who advised me believed the person who was shot was a suicide bomber."


This is more remarkable news. Menezes was clearly a new type of suicide bomber, one who looked nothing like any of the suspects & who was not carrying a bomb. This latter fact was aware to me, sitting at my desk, at some during the Friday so Blair must have known this before 24 hours was up. It also seems strange the surveillance team, who did not think Menezes a threat, could not get word to Blair.

The policemen say they did NOT think the 27-year-old electrician was a suicide bomber and they thought he was simply going to be arrested at gunpoint.


Update: The last piece of suspicion over de Menezes might have gone.
It was initially suggested that the flat was connected to the man known as Hussein Osman, who was arrested in Italy. On the Saturday after the shooting, officers raided the flat in a high-profile operation watched by the world's media. As a result, a man, identified only as 'C', was arrested 'on suspicion of the commission, instigation or preparation of acts of terrorism'. But he was released on 30 July with no charge, raising the possibility that the flats had no connection with the bombings.


Update II: The S.Telegraph says something particularly stupid: "Had the man the police followed into Stockell station actually been a suicide bomber, the alternative to killing him would have been letting him detonate a bomb that could have killed scores of people. In that situation, there can be no question of which is the better alternative". Even on this point (which is separate to the question of the indentification of Menezes as a suicide bomber being merely 'you should take a look') it is obvious that by this point (Menezes was under restraint) if he was going to let off a bomb (which must have been particularly slimline) he would have done it already. So in this situation the question to ask would be 'Had the man the police followed into Stockwell station actually been a suicide bomber, why did the police let him go on a crowded bus, walk calmly through a crowded concourse, get on a crowded tube train, all under surveillance?"

In the tabloids

Good grief.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Cricket and wife-beating

Cricket players and ex-players, much like their rugby brethen, tend to be patronising about football players. Much of this is, of course, jealously at the far higher salaries and public profile of even football players. It is also, I suspect, fuelled by social class and education snobbery.

It also leads to a tendency to think their own sport is whiter-than-white. No example can be better than Simon Hughes' column in Friday's Telegraph in which he muses over the increasing popularity of cricket vs football is partly because cricket players are far more accessible, less absurdly paid, live more mormal lives and..."these players...are not prone to wife beating".

Certainly none of the current England team are "prone to wife-beating". But the most high profile wife-beating court case in my lifetime has been Simon Hughes' own colleague, Geoff Boycott, one of the most famous England cricket captains. Here's a handy picture of them together.

Friday night blogging - David Davis, a PM in waiting

The BBC puts it thus:

Mr Davis, a pub regular, said of Mr Francis's actions: "This is a typical 'do as I say, not as I do' approach


What can you say about a politician who gets the description 'a pub regular' after his name? You can say this - vote Davis.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Tebbit

On Islam holding back progress Lord Tebbit said: "The Muslim religion is so unreformed since it was created that nowhere in the Muslim world has there been any real advance in science, or art or literature, or technology in the last 500 years


Hang on. Norman Tebbit doesn't believe there has been any real advance in art of literature in the West in 500 years either.

Will this do?

Ruth Dudley Edwards, biographer of the Economist and various other things, comes out with a classic 'will this do' article on Michael 'the u's superflous' Buerk's comments about the feminisation of society.

....Mr Buerk was upsetting the metropoiltfcan elite...social engineering...end of school games being competitive...nutty EU legislation...health and Safety dogma....useless Blair Babes...longing for Mrs Thatcher...black men lack father figures...how they are laughing at him in Islington and Notting Hill...mostrous regiment of critical women...gay onslaught

What a pile of embarassing crap. I hope (and I think it's safe to assume) they paid her well.

Oh, and in other news World War 3 has started...

The Telegraph in its "Digest" at the bottom of page 1, which is essentially a digest of the news in the paper, tells us that "Submarines, bombers armed with cruise missiles and 10,000 members of Russia's and China's armed forces threw down the gauntlet to the United States".

The things Daily Mail readers say!

For OK.

"I note that the HM Inspectors of Prisons is making a fuss over the fact that some immigrants are forced to sleep on tables or in plastic chairs if obliged to spend one night in an immigrant centre. This lady must have been born yesterday. Otherwise she would remember how, during the war, thousands of us slept under the stairs, or in makeshift bunkers in damp shelters, or on the platforms of the London Underground. Surely one night of discomfort is a small price to pay for freedom from tyranny?"

JH, Frinton Essex

Empty homes are to be seized by Prescott. Will this include numerous spare homes owned himself and other Labour leaders. Meanwhile some of us are homeless through no fault of our own.

YG, Ilford, Essex

Are the Police in the Tyrone the Tiger case completely bonkers? It's hard enough getting around on our motorway system without some nutter closing it down to look for a stuffed toy. There are muggers on the loose, gangs of rapists, banned ayslum seekers driving without tax

[Sorry I'm going to have to take a short break here because I'm laughing too much - MT]

...and insurance, and running people down, terrorists being paid benefits to live here, but never fear, Essex Police are out looking for a stuffed animal. I could tel them where to, oh never mind...

SC, Glasgow, Essex

The things I do for you!

In a re-run of that 1980s condom advert, I had to endure a moment in a busy Notting Hill newsagent where the guy in charge shouted to one of his workers, 'Can you fetch a Telegraph, Times and Daily Mail for this chap here'. They'll be choking on their Bruschetta tonight, I fear.

Anyway, I can report that, as we always knew, the Daily Telegraph was the clear winner. One, possibly two, on the front page, and at least two, possibly four (though there's a hint of gingerness), on p.19. The Times couldn't even find one, whilst the Mail was strangely subdued with just the one. So adding it all up I think we get 6-7 for the Telegraph, 2 for the Times (from yesterday) and 2 for the Mail.

There is, as you might expect, lots of other blogworthy stuff in the Mail, including a Lord Tebbit's views on Asians, St John Stevas's views on Princess Margaret, and an essentially deranged article by Simon 'Smoking cannabis is an attack on society on a par with throwing acid in someone's face' Heffer on British coinage that he has known.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Exam calculator

I've already said I doubt A-levels are getting 'easier' except in a trivial sense, but no-one's listening so I have decided to join the knockers.

Here is a handy ready-reckoner so at parties or BBQs when with people younger than yourself with their six As you can express just how intelligent you are, because when you did A-levels they were harder.

This is how it works. Calculate your A-level points using the old-fashioned method of 10 for an A, 8 for a B, 6 for a C etc. So for example 2 Bs and a C would be 22 points. Then multiply that by the number next to the year in which you took your A-levels. So for example if you took them in 1995 multiply 22 by 1.18, which gives you 26 points, so you can officially upgrade yourself to 2 As and a C, or even an A and 2 Bs.

This should only be used as a rough-and-ready guide for they changed the point system in 2001 making comparisions very difficult. Also of course it assumes pupils have got no better, so is rather Daily Mail. If you took them before 1992 then there wasn't a great deal of improvement so perhaps multiply by 1.4.

Police told not to shoot; lied to pathologist; Blair tried to delay investigation

In what could be desperate arse-covering, the commander of the Police operation that ended in the killing of an innocent Brazilian has said she ordered the Police to detain him alive.

Further revelations are that the Police pathologist was lied to, with the Police telling him:

"He (Jean Charles) was pursued by armed police. He was followed into Stockwell Tube where he vaulted over the ticket barrier. "He ran downstairs on to the train where it appears that he stumbled. The officers then immobilised him and a number of shots were fired."


It appears that the only people who vaulted the barrier were the Police team, who presumably also had bulky jackets on. This might explain some of the eye-witness reports.

The other point of importance is "Sir" Ian Blair's on the day of the shooting, wrote to the Home Office asking to delay the start of an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, saying that a terrorist investigation should take precedence.

Superficially this sounds attractive. A terrorist is dead, a massive manhunt is underway, and an inquiry can only waste time and use up valuable resources. Of course we now know that there is a good reason why inquiries are automatic, and that is because these easy assumptions are often wrong.

The Mirror also reports that Charles Clarke, who comes out of the affair well, is distancing himself from Ian Blair. Good.

Update: Telegraph says Blair might have to go.

This business has the makings of one of the worst blunders in the history of the Metropolitan Police. The IPCC report must tell us whether Sir Ian knowingly allowed his officers to mislead the public. If he did, it is hard to see how he can remain in his post

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A-Levels

As thousands of Britons wait nervously to see which of the Times, Telegraph and Mail can find the largest number of pretty blond 18yr old girls celebrating 5 or 6 A-grade A-levels, the usual debate about the dumbing down of the exam is underway.

This debate is rather tiresome. When I sat my A-Levels in 1993 it was already an annual thing, much like the FA Cup final. In a sense of course the exams have got easier, much like the most other things get easier over time, because people get better at them.

Thus one could even say the increase in the pass rate tells us that children today are much better at passing an A-level than they were 10 years' ago, not that they are that much cleverer. And this even doesn't of course mean that the exams shouldn't be replaced, much like javelins in the 1990s were made harder to throw when athletes were threatening to chuck them out of the ground.

Times' civil war

Matthew Parris asks, in reference to the growing noises from Washington that a pull-out of Iraq is to happen soon:

Well? I am waiting. A number of us are waiting. We were expecting an angry chorus from a particular quarter. So why the silence? You could hear a pin drop. Why don’t they sing out, the armchair warriors of Fleet Street? George W. Bush and his friends are preparing to scuttle Iraq, and nobody’s complaining...David Aaronovitch should be revisiting his liberal scruples in order to brush them manfully aside again and reach for the bayonet.


Aaro has a habit of annoying his colleagues. When he was with the GMG Polly Tonybee reminded him (and the world, to our shame) of his famous comment to the effect that if there no WMD in Iraq he would never believe another word said to him by the US or British governments (a policy that must have had Mrs Aaronovitch and the kids white with fear on a foggy motorway) and for that matter, neither would anyone else.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Don't wear a denim jacket and act lawfully in London

Channel Four news claims from secret documents and photographs that:

* The crucial mistake that ultimately led to his death was made at 9.30am when Jean Charles left his flat in Scotia Road, South London. Surveillance officers wrongly believed he could have been Hussain Osman, one of the prime suspects, or another terrorist suspect.

* Jean Charles De Mene was not carrying any bags, and was wearing a denim jacket, not a bulky winter coat, as had previously been claimed.

* He was behaving normally, and did not vault the barriers, even stopping to pick up a free newspaper.

* CCTV footage, which shows Mr de Menezes entered Stockwell station at a "normal walking pace" and descended slowly on an escalator.

* He started running when we [he?] saw a tube at the platform.

* Police had agreed they would shoot a suspect if he ran.

If all this is true, and although we are not in posession of the full or official facts so far in this tragedy every time we get fuller or more official facts it just gets worse, then it seems that the actual officer who shot Menezes dead was following official procedures based on official intelligence.

The issue now then is what was that intelligence, and what are those procedures? If the intelligence was, as we have been led to believe, that Menezes came out of the same flats as an address one of the bombers had on him, then is that all the procedures need? Plus the fact that he ran for a tube train? And does this mean the 7 or so cases in the two weeks following 7/7 in which the Met nearly shot someone were therefore based on weaker evidence? How soon until it happens again if this is the case?

Let us hope there is more to it than this.

Update: Oh god it gets worse. No photos, no attempt to check the match with the suspects. How can Blair remain in his position?

Update II: Dave points out something I had missed, which is that Menezes was restrained by a surveillance officer before being shot. This therefore might put some of the culpability back on the active officers. The justification would be that they had received a positive ID he was a suicide bomber, and in the moment panicked.

Former Flying Squad commander John O'Connor agrees with me that if true, Sir Iain Blair will be "under pressure to "go".

Finally, this should be a warning to us all, and particularly the news agencies, that eye-witness reports are not to be believed. I think one was of an Asian man in a large winter coat. However, and possibly more troubling, it also means that the Met's statements aren't to be believed in this regard.

I'm back!

The Cotswolds, for those who haven't been, is very nice. Lots of good scenery, quaint villages, classical English pubs, and good local food, with lots of farm shops to buy things to take home. In fact it reminded me (pubs aside) of France, so much so that I ended up driving on the right for about five minutes at one point, luckily not disastrously.

On the negative side, it's not so good for a cycling holiday if you are a part-time cyclist, as it's bloody hilly. The weather is as English holidays tend to have. On the plus side though if you holiday in England you do get to watch the cricket.

Parental hypocrisy

The Telegraph on Sunday was happy about a government U-Turn:

[It] has dropped an outrageous rule that meant that parents had to name a first-choice school before their child sat the 11-plus. This was a devious means of pressuring them into choosing a comprehensive ahead of a grammar school, in case their child failed the entrance examination.


It adds:

The about-turn comes after The Sunday Telegraph highlighted the plight of parents who wanted to send their children to grammar school but instead had to "play safe". Hundreds had to list comprehensives on their admission forms because they feared that if they put grammar schools first and their child failed the selection test, they would be left with a place in a sink school.



In other words what happened was that the child failed the 11-plus, and was made to attend a secondary modern, not one of the comprehensive schools in the area. Admittedly attending a secondary modern is a rather horrible thing to happen at age 11, and will probably forver blight the child's education, and therefore quite likely, life.

Nevertheless how exactly do parents believe their children can go to a selective school, and yet other parent's childrens won't have to go to a secondary modern? How can one believe in an 11-plus and grammar schools, without accepting the consequences if their child fails? Why does the Telegraph call for more grammar schools, when it describes the schools that the majority under such a system will go to as 'sink schools'?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A short break

I'm off to a wedding and then a short holiday in the Cotswolds. A friend has told me they are 'insufferably twee' so if you see nothing here after Tuesday I've died from too much clotted cream and tea.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Holiday Chaos

Both the Telegraph (p.1) and the Mail (p.4) report on the British Airways strike, and particularly the way in which it appears to have prevented pretty young blonde women getting to their holidays.

The Mail, warming to the holiday theme, as an 'affectionate' (in such a way you would hate to see them being nasty) look at the PM's holidays over the last eight years. The running joke is he has enormous amounts of holidays, which is rather ruined by the fact they can only come up with one a year. I wonder how many Mail journalists have fewer holidays than that?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Decadent Britain

Muslims are right that Britain is decadent, a group of Tory MPs have written to the Spectator to pronounce. They do so to agree with this article, which says much the same thing.

Ignoring the merits of the argument, isn't there something a little odd in writing to The Spectator (or even in The Spectator) with this sort of thing? Its (married with children) editor, a prominent Conservative MP, got its deputy-Editor pregnant, who then agreed to abort the baby. Another (married with children) deputy-editor left left his wife for the magazine's receptionist with whom he was having an affair, an affair for which he cut short his honeymoon. She's also now pregnant. Its (married with children) wine-critic had an affairs with its (married) publisher, who was also having affairs with a cabinet minister, and at least one other man. I've probably forgotten the rest but there's even a play about it.

From the archives...

With a continuing dearth of posts on Conservative Commentary I thought I'd repost one I commented on back in April 2003:



This treacherous fifth columnist is not British ... I am not a very religious person. But like Peter Hitchens, I desperately hope there is a hell, despite my high chances of going there. Such a place deserves to exist precisely for people like X. What a divine feat of cosmic justice it would be if this appeasing monster were truly to be made to pay for his evil


and now, as then, the competition is to say who is he referring to. Now, unlike then, I don't know and his archives are buggered up, so it might be tricky.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Lord Howe complains that top Tories are not recognisable enough, which reminds me of a press release I saw a few years ago (but can't find now) which went something like "SIR GEOFFREY HOWE (NOT THE FORMER CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER) JOINS THE BOARD OF XYZ COMPANY". It appears there is a poor man who works in the City who has to go around with {NOT THE FORMER CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER) after his name.

Do you think anyone has signed up for this?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Retail sales again

I noted below that newspapers have problems reporting retail sales data, with the Observer saying "High street sales fall to six-year low", when it meant 'year-on-year growth falls to six year low'.

Actually it could have put 10-year low, as the BBC reports today (with 'Worst July in a Decade', which is not so bad). In any case however they might be over-egging it.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said like-for-like sales were 1.9% lower than in 2004. Total sales, which include new stores, rose 2%


So a 2% increase because in fact they've opened lots of new stores.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nick Cohen again

Apologies for another Nick Cohen post, but I finally realised exactly what it is about him recently that has been so disreputable.

It was this post, called 'Face up to the Truth'. It starts with,

"The instinctive response of a significant portion of the rich world's intelligentsia to the murder of innocents on 11 September was anything but robust" and a few examples later (one a complete fantasy) it goes on to say, "In these bleak days, it's worth remembering what was said after September 2001.", and gives more examples of liberal-lefties trying to explain Al Qaeda terrorism.

The reason this is so bad is Cohen is clearly attempting to create two sides, the liberal-left who excuse or explain anything, and the robust, Decent Left, which stick to their principles and fight fascism, which of course is the side that he is on. But what he fails to remind his readers is that in those 'bleak days' he was clearly on the side he is so viciously attacking. Here's the classic column, which sounds eerily similar, right down to the blame America (he even seems to say that the Kyoto Treaty is a crucial fight against suicide bombers.

That’s why finding out what Cohen said in 2001 is not merely an amusing game. Cohen himself is very keen to dig up quotes from others of that period to attack (even to the point of getting it wrong, as with Stockhausen). He should admit he was saying the same things, at the least.

Even worse than that, Cohen has travelled so far, so fast, that he now attacks people who never held anything like as silly a views as Cohen did in September/October 2001, and of course still don't. He's gone from A to C, and now attacks B for not being there with him.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sunday stuff

Today been to Rye, in Sussex, nr Kent border. Nothing but good things to say about it - lots of nice pubs, teashops, bookshops, antique shops, hills, beach a few miles away etc. Except perhaps the lack of a direct motorway (the M20 goes close though).

Rye, folks, is where it's at.


Annoying headline of the day in the Observer, "High street sales fall to six-year low".

They mean, "year-on-year decline in high street sales worst for six years". It's rather different. Think of it applying to your own salary...

"Stars of CCTV". What a good album. I might become 18 again.

Cricket. England have won only their second competitive test against Australia since 1989, which is Splendid. That they almost lost it is not. But what a great backdrop to the third test. Now, given Vaughan's rather poor performance so far, when will Flintoff be made captain, to ensure he never plays well again?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

More Ancient Nick Cohen

"The Prime Minister gives every appearance of being willing to risk
the lives of British troops in a war he believed should not be fought.
His Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary didn't believe it was
justified either. His generals have warned against it as noisily as
serving officers can. His diplomats and spies have found no excuse for
it. But if and when America tells Britain to send its soldiers into
Iraq, Tony Blair will comply with alacrity. What is there left to say
about such a man?"

ps Christ, here's more of the new Cohen, in which it appears he's fighting a vicious war with himself of three to four years previously.

In fact both these pieces of journalism show what's the problem with Cohen. He lacks any perspective. At all times whatever view isn't his is evil and incomprehensible. Above the Prime Minister is described as 'such a man' because he will wage war against Iraq. Now the 'liberal left' (who we learnt midweek are the natural constituency of Respect, so about 20,000 people), are slammed because they wished to avoid Bush's war against Iraq. Cohen tells us that supporting America if Aghanistan has 'pinned a large target sign on this country' [to Islamic terrorism]; now he attacks anyone who merely holds a much weaker position in this regard.

Robin Cook dead

See here.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pathetic & inarticulate?

Michael 'Darling' Totten, August 2 2005

Bush is famously inarticulate...“War against terrorism” is pathetic and always has been. It’s a cliché now to point out that terrorism is a tactic not an enemy.


Michael 'Not yet Darling' Totten, March 22 2004

A curious thing seems to have happened since Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown in Iraq. America no longer feels like a country at war...the first stage of the war against terrorism is finished.

Details on London bombs of 7/7

According to the New York Police, from information they say is from the British, the bombs used household ingredients and were set off by mobile phones. I don't really understand this last bit, why if this was the case were they suicide bombers (and if it was a mobile phone in the Piccadilly line it would have had to be its timer or something, as signals don't work down there [Update: Whoops didn't read closely enough, yes, it says it was the timer set to 8:50)].

Update II: It appears the New York Police should not have revealed the information. It appears the British public is not ready for it, or something like that.

Even Mark Steyn fans are beginning to get it...

See here. Via Dave.