Sunday, December 31, 2006

2007 - Year in Review

No posts on here from now until the middle of the next week, so here is my review of the year for next year. Hopefully today's good news in Iraq will mean a better one there at least.

January 1st
Political commentators and MPs expressed befuddlement at a passage in Tony Blair's New Year's Address in which he praised the Romans, in particularly their achievements in the the Year 46BC.

January 2nd
Concern grew at Tony Blair's mental state after he followed up his "Roman" speech by one arguing that "The world could learn a lot from Jupiter.

January 4th
Sources close to the Chancellor let it be known that "Gordon is not going to fall for that one" and that he believed a year is "365 days, and no more".

January 9th
Melanie Phillips wrote a Daily Mail column about social policy in Britain in which she noted the issues are complex and many good people hold differing views on what should be done. Therefore, she added, it is hard to know which policy option is right, and she offered the suggestion that a wide range of views should be canvassed and a consensus emerge. Whatever the outcome no-one should be left out of the process or condemned for their opinions, she concluded.

January 17th
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained 2000 signatures in its first three weeks.

January 31st
The Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society announced the Top Dog Index, an anual ranking of the World's Most Powerful Nations (Unquestionably). The 2006 rankings are 1. United Kingdom (+1), 2. United States (-1), 3. Canada (flat), 4. Australia, 5. Ireland, 6. New Zealand, 7. South Africa, 8. Gibraltar, 9. Pitcairn Islands, 10. Shetland Islands.

February 2nd
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained 1500 signatures in its first three weeks.

February 14th
Melanie Phillips announced she is leaving the Daily Mail in protest at its "narrow-minded and bigoted attitude, in particularly towards Muslims." She also declared it to be "run by a Jewish cabal". She is to take over Robert Fisk's job on The Independent.

March 1st

Nick Cohen announced he is leaving The Observer for 'new pastures'.

March 3rd
Nick Cohen joined the Daily Mail with the tagline - "He hates the Left - do you?". His first column attacks traffic wardens, comprehensive schools and the Olympics.

March 5th
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which got 1,250 signatures in three weeks.

March 27th
Tony Blair announced he has changed the locks on 10 Downing Street as a 'precuation in these troubled times'.

April 9th
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained 1000 signatures in its first three weeks.

April 18th
Baroness Thatcher issued a statement saying she planned to take up an unpaid internship at the Darlington-based Peter Cuthbertson Centre for Free Markets and abandonment of the State Pension.

April 29th
In response to a request from Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson for their signature on a document, Nick Cohen 'denounced the shame-faced appeasement of the British left', Stephen Pollard noted that 'the enemy has shown its face, and it is the British left', and Peter Tatchell declared that 'this day will go down as one of infamy due to the British left'. Islington Friends Meeting House said that they think that sufficed as an affirmation under English contract law to hire the venue out for an evening.

May 5th
Speaking after Labour were reduced to 2 council seats in the local elections, Tony Blair declared he had "one more war in him" and pleaded to be allowed to remain in office. Downing Street later claimed he was misheard and said "one more year".

May 6th
A surprisingly upbeat Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader after ten years as Prime Minister, and made a statement that "there is a great candidate with loads of experience, everyone knows I want him to win, and he will win".

May 7th
A shock in the Labour leadership contest as unknown MP, Anthony Booth, who represents the constituency of Sedgefield, announced he is to challenge the hot favourite, Chancellor, Gordon Brown, for the Labour leadership job. Booth, married to Cherie Blair QC, said he planned to campaign on a platform of opposition to "Brown's War on Iraq" and the Chancellor's "continual debasing reforms of public services".

May 12th
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained 700 signatures in its first three weeks.

June 7th

Britain gained a new Prime Minister, Anthony Booth, as he defeated favourite Gordon Brown by 200 votes. He appointed Brown his Chancellor and promised a 'Cool Brittania'. Peter Mandelson was appointed to the Cabinet.

June 8th
Articles appeared in the newspapers about 'the growing rift between the new Prime Minister and his Chancellor'.

June 17th
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained 500 signatures in its first three weeks.

July 1st
The Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society issued a press release on the 10th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese demanding that Britain - 'unquestionably the second-most powerful nation in the world' - grab it back. They also demanded greater funding for Boeing.

July 12th
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained 250 signatures in its first three weeks.

July 24rd

Scientists revealed that Tim Worstall had now written more words on his blog in 2007 alone than had been written in all of human history up to 1827.

August 13th
Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained just 50 signatures in its first three weeks.

September 1st

The commenters on the Guardian's Comment is Free complained about the standards of the journalist's posts, and demand some kind of registration system to 'keep the loons out'.

September 15th

Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson launched a new Decency project, which gained just 5 signatures in its first three weeks.

September 22nd
Scientists revealed that Tim Worstall had now written more words on his blog in 2007 alone than had been written in all of human history up to 1887.

October 31st
There was puzzlement in the Blogosphere at the lack of a new Decency project from Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson.

November 30th
There were growing concerns over the health of Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson due to his failure to launch a new Decency project for the second month in a row. Supporters began an all-night vigil in front of their computer screens. Peter Tatchell wrote 2,000 words in Comment Is Free declaring his outrage at the lack of condemnation of those responsible for his disappearance.

December 1st
Nick Cohen's column on Melanie Phillips blog failed to appear.

December 3rd
The number of posts on Harry's Place appearing in previous week fell to 767, its lowest in history.

December 7th

Oliver Kamm announced he will not be posting again in December.

December 8th
Oliver Kamm wrote a 3,500 word post on Noam Chomsky's latest book. He then announced he will not be posting again in December.

December 12th
John Lloyd's column in the FT failed to appear. Rumours that it was because he thought it too morally good for the reading public were denied by the FT editor on the grounds that if that reason was allowed the column would never appear.

December 13th
Scientists now believe Tim Worstall has written more words on his blog in 2007 than in recorded history. They say they are checking their models.

December 15th
There were joyous scenes at the news that Alan Johnson and a number of other members of the Decent Left are alive. However neutral bystanders expressed concern at the group's statement that they had taken over a small and remote island in the Atlantic and planned to use it as a base to "make the world Decent", using a new 'Decency Ray', which had the power to destroy the entire planet (in order to save it) in less than five minutes. Hilarious bloggers pointed out that they thought Tony Blair had already done that. Sober heads said that as long as it keeps the group busy and out of their hair, it's OK with them. The plan for "World Decency Domination" gets 2,750 signatures in three weeks.

December 16th

Joyous scenes subside in confusion when it is realised that in fact it is Alan Johnson, the Cabinet Minister and Trade Unionist, who plans to take over the world from an island base, and not Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson, who apparently has just been working on another loyalty oath which has so far gained no signatures.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Callaghan, economic troubles and Nukes

Oliver notes in this post that:

Ford worked with two Prime Ministers, one of them appalling (Harold Wilson) and one, in my minority view, good and underrated (James Callaghan). Wilson - a man of colossal vanity who was convinced he was held in high regard in Washington - wrote to Ford in October 1974 in effect giving an ultimatum that Britain would make defence cuts regardless of the damage to Nato's capabilities. Ford responded with a measured statement of fact, worrying about the effect on US allies and expressing the hope that the US would not be the only power capable of international intervention. When Callaghan sought Ford's assistance in the sterling crisis of 1976 - a long story, much recounted, in which I consider that Callaghan and his Chancellor, Denis Healey, performed with credit and to the lasting benefit of the country - the President immediately offered to help.


New government documents released today (about 20 years too late) appear (at least on the Guardian's reporting) to refine this story - Callaghan might have also made a similar threat:

As telephone transcripts released today show, Callaghan used the questions over Britain's Nato commitment in an attempt to win American and German support to press the IMF to come up with more flexible terms for the loan. He told President Gerald Ford that without an IMF solution "we would be forced into action which would put at risk this country's contribution as an ally and a partner in the western alliance".

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Trident

I'll post a comment I made over at Jamie's:

I'm strangely optimistic about Trident's replacement, or moreover, it not happening. A lot has been made about the lack of controversy over replacing it compared with that of the early 1980s. But there seems also a lack of controversy about scrapping it too. This might reflect general political apathy, or just that the support/opposition for it is spread more evenly across the polical classes.

In the end I think it'll be like ID cards - popular (ish) until the cost is known, and then given a choice of the carriers or the subs they'll go for the carriers.

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Live Blogging - AaroWatch

I've got a lead here on the (briliant) boys at Aaronovitch Watch. I've just watched (in fact it might still be on - it certainly seems like it) a programme celebrating that pretty dull programme, University Challenge. Anyway, as you might imagine, it's terribly self-congratulatory, and given Ian Hislop and Steven Fry are two of the talking-heads (and I've just seen the Private Eye team, Hislop, Wheen, Booker (Brooker?) and the other one - Stars by Simply Red for someone who can come up with worse people to be stuck in a lift with), at times almost unbearable. On the other good hand it had Aaro trying to defend his unfunny stint on the programme, when I think he and his team answered every question with the name of a member of Marx Brothers (he is still going on about it being an attack on the Establishment or something like that, which is interesting from someone who today is one of Britain's most Establishment journalists). The exciting bit, and forgive the bad photographs of my TV screen, is the picture of Aaro as a young man! Here's Old (note he's not wearing some strange Invisible Man mask in real life, I'm not sure where that's come from) and Young Aaro!





ps My god, it is still going on. They're raving about a film version now.

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Cricket

Surely this is a bit over the top?

England coach Duncan Fletcher has come in for criticism throughout the tour over matters of selection and preparation, and Close believes it is now time for him to leave the post.

"I think he is past his sell-by date," he added. "In our day we didn't need coaches. If you played for England you were supposed to be a good player and didn't need coaches."

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Latest Sweepstake News

On the question of how many more words would Oliver Kamm blog more than he said he would in December, the runners and riders were as follows (when OK was on 10,740):

10,740 - Backword Dave
16,000 - Nick
20,000 - Dsquared
22,000 - John Angliss
28,000 - Ross
45,000 - Sahra

As of 9pm on the 28th December, with just three full days to go, the current total is:

15,085.

This means Nick looks highly likely to win, unless Oliver comes up with another 2,916 words.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Alcohol

I have been thinking about wine, and in particularly Australian branded wine, such as the standard UK versions of Jacobs Creek or Wolf Blass. I have decided that these drinks are not wine. I don't mean that in the snobbish sense that our upside-down cousins obviously have not the skill or heritage to make wine, or good wine, as I actually like the stuff very much indeed. I just mean that I think if you crave a glass of red wine, they don't really satisfy you, and perhaps that is because they should be seen as a different type of drink, more akin to a non-fizzy, relatively sophisticated, alcopop. One can, and I do, often crave a glass of this too, in which case a glass of 'wine' wine wouldn't work. But I'm not sure its the same thing (this applies to similar 'wines' from any country).

In fact, I think this might apply to champagne too, and perhaps is in fact how it is viewed. One can really not want a glass of white wine, yet want a glass of Champage - another 'wine' that is mass-produced, quality controlled. On this subject, I really recommend Corney and Barrow's (the shop, not the braying wine bars) Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, which is about 1/3rd the price of Champagne and tastes just as good (Blanc de Blancs means it is made using only white Chardonnay grapes, whereas most standard Champagne also uses red Pinot Noir grapes).

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Blair and the Bee Gees

Surely the news in this story is not that Blair's plane missed a turn on the runway, but that he is spending the festive period with Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees?!

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I am a Real Man!

I now own a cordless power drill.

Christmas Day, 2006, 11:00am

We leave the house, and close the front door which locks behind us.

"Have you got the keys?"
"No, I thought you had them"
"No"
"Oh"
"Where's the spare set?"
"In my other bag in the house"
"Oh"

The only good thing was we had the car keys and the presents. Remarkably (though appparently it is relatively common) there are locksmiths who can turn up within an hour to get you back in. But, sensibly, they do rather charge for it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas

This feels a bit wrong, but I'm trying to get something to work on the computer (which has run out of USB ports) and so I'll take the time to say 'Happy Christmas'.

Tim Worstall - we really are not worthy - is still posting about Paul Krugman. Maybe they celebrate later in Portugal. I'll point out that this post is wrong, at least in England, as Christmas Day is not a shopping day, so there are at most 364 shopping days to go and you could argue about some of those. I hope its not a leap year next year.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

World of Books

Rather amusing piece in the Sunday Times on bad literary goings-on.

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Royal Navy 'face tinpot future'...

...declares Admiral Sir Alan West, as rumours swirl that the MOD is going to scrap the aircraft carrier programme. The problem with the programme, I imagine, is that no-one at the MOD believes it is going to cost the stated cost of £3.7bn or whatever it is.

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Terrorism

'[Islamic terrorism] is a far graver threat in terms of civilians than either the Cold War or the Second World War,'

said Sir Ian Blair, last week. I can't find the entire speech for the context, but on the face of it given around 50,000 civilians died over the Second World War's six years in London alone (43k in first Blitz, more than 7k in 'mini-Blitz', a weekly death toll twice as high as the July 2007 bombings) he's either talking nonsense, or he is referring to atomic weapons. I'm not even sure the mass attacks on aircraft would get you there.

David Irving

Rod Liddle worries that David Irving has been made a 'martyr to free speech' by his imprisonment in Austria. I don't really buy this - a martyr to who? Just the normal Nazis and racists, and perhaps Iranian crackpots. Big deal. He also adds:

But then, this. He was a British subject, arrested abroad and imprisoned for what we might reasonably call a crime of conscience. During his incarceration, his seriously ill wife — she is bed-ridden 90% of the time — and 12-year-old daughter were left to fend for themselves with no income. Irving has been, as he puts it, financially ruined. The British government encouraged prosecution. The campaigning groups — Amnesty, et al — refused to get involved.


As unfortunate as his wife and daughter's situation is, this is not normally seen as the fault of the imprisoning authorities, and given Irving must have known his arrest was possible, seems nothing but his fault.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

2006 Review of Matt T Blog year - Jan to June

Truth be told, not a vintage year. Here's the first half.

January 2006

Nothing, sorry.

February 2006
2nd: Alcohol aides night drivers, declares a 1950s textbook.
5th: Dan's favourite singer, Mick Hucknall, discusses politics.
12th: I transform Tony Blair using a new face-transforming website.

March 2006
8th: I attack an Alice Thompson column as the 'most self pitying' I have ever read.
18th: And then Gerard Baker comes along and beats her.
29th: I take issue with Oliver Kamm's positive obituary for Casper Weinberger, and argue that Iran-Contra negates everything else.

April 2006
12th: "As if I were a black trying to purchase food in a Mississippi diner in 1955" - yes it can only be Carol Gould trying to buy a drink in a London pub.
18th: The Euston Manifesto arrives! I create a handy cut out and keep guide to which project each British Decent has signed up to, and criticise the manifesto on two grounds - first the whinge about a lack of media coverage given many of them are senior people in the media, and second, their criticism of other people for spending more time attacking the domestic left and not enough time helping Iraqis, given this seems exactly what they do. Looking back I think this latter criticism is really why I could never give it a chance - I am still shocked by Nick Cohen, Stephen Pollard and Peter Tatchell's reaction to being asked to 'unite against terror' and I think it says a lot about them (though Tatchell did apologise subsequently for his).
30th: Pollard goes one better, declaring in his Maida Vale Manifesto, which still has less than 10 signatories, that "The mainstream Left has demonstrated clearly which side of the battle to preserve Western civilisation and freedom it is on. The Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy". I ask whether he is calling for the arrest of leading left-wing figures.

May 2006
9th: YouGOV pay me my £50!
17th: In Rome, and I tell the hotel receptionist "Excuse me the phone in our room doesn't work". She replies,"This is Italy. Many things don't work."
30th: I prove President Bush is not as unpopular as the polls suggest.

June 2006
12th: I show that the Serie A is not the goal desert commentators think it is.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The sheer "affrontery" of the disrespectful

From The Sun, August 1997:

Hol family's hate mail

CRIPPLED Carl Bullman has been sent hate mail after taking his family on holiday on the day of Princess Diana's funeral.

A poison pen fiend also accuses him of "affrontery" in cleaning his car the day before the service. The writer called him "thoughtless and ignorant" adding: "Everyone's in mourning. You mock her."

Carl, 39, and wife Tina watched part of the service before setting off with their three children for North Wales. He even pulled over to observe the minute's silence.

Police are quizzing neighbours in Bloxwich, West Mids. Carl said: "The holiday was booked weeks ago. We weren't being disrespectful to Diana. Like everyone we were heartbroken."

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Ashes over

Well the bet didn't quite pay off... At about 7am on Sunday morning it was looking very good, with the odds on England falling to 7-1. Then McGrath got two wickets, and it all looked bad again. The smug feeling of having got 10-1 on England winning is rather deflated when you see you could now get 22-1 and rising. 29.

England lost quite convincly in the end, though not quite as bad as in the first test. Then Australia scored 804 for 11, beating 527 for 20. In the second they got 681 for 14, having beaten 680 for 16, and in the final test they got 771 for 15, to which we could only reply with 565 for 20.

In total the figures are a rather stark 2256/40 plays 1772/54, an average (batting, but reverse it to get bowling) of 56.4 for them, and just 32.8 for us. We were probably unluckier with the umpiring decisions, particularly with Andrew Strauss, but overall you can't escape the conclusion that they played better.

Update: I changed England's 2nd test score and the aggregate score after Simon, in the comments, pointed out that we only lost 16 wickets in the 2nd test. The first innnings was (mistakenly, with hindsight) declared after 6 wickets had fallen.

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The Dome finds a purpose

Diamond Geezer is rightly sceptical of some of the claims, but an entertainment venue was clearly the best option for getting something out of the Dome and if it opens in July 2007 looking more or less like this then it should be a success.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Flash Earth

This is good. It lets you compare all the online satellite image services.

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Royal hagiographies

Sarah Bradford's King George VI is worse than her Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. I'm quite willing to believe he had some qualities - the way in which he rescued the Monarchy after the disasters of the Abdication, an interest in the lives of his subjects that went beyond the vague awareness they existed of George V, his support in wartime for the Prime Minister. But this book seems to imply he had hardly any defects, with a lot of over-the-top puffery ('his Royal memory' - ie he remembered something about a person he'd met before) - and any faults he did have, such as his horrendous temper, are often passed off as amusing Royal quirks.

One particular instance is illustrative. Any royal biography that covers the reign of Edward VIII will tell you that one consequence of his louche lifestyle was that State papers were 'returned marked with rings from cocktail glasses on them'. Bradford introduces this story with what seems to be the usual amount of evidence for it, 'there were stories'. Later, p.489 of the paperback, we learn that George VI showed secret State telegrams from our country's Ambassador to the Foreign Office, to the pro-German King of Greece who of course happened to be his relative. There is no criticism of this behaviour (which in turn raises the issue over whether you ever fully trust your Monarch if they have relations who are foreign heads of state?) - merely a mention that the Foreign Office though it 'bordering on the unconstitutional'.

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BAE shambles

Oliver Kamm says that it has turned Britain into a banana republic.

Over at Tim Worstall's, there is a comment by David Gillies, who argues that without the arms sales to Saudi Arabia that are believed to be behind Tony Blair's intervention, Britain would not be able to build its new aircraft carriers. I can't work out what he means - the deal with the US over the JSF seems more important (though even there we could have bought French plane) - perhaps it's to do with BAE's revenue or something like that.

It's hard to find a good word for the decision, but Tony Blair's biggest fan, Mike (who I sometimes think might be a spoof), has a go in the Harry's Place comments.

An awful lot have tosh has been talked about this decision. As soon as heard about I thought it was great news; it has saved tens of thousands of working class jobs now and in the future, and it would have been a potentially devastating blow in Iraq and the future of the war on terror, all for prosecuting some long gone officials.
Can anyone here justify how they could possibly have been against the decision to drop this far too long running inquiry into a few bribes to Saudi officials, of all people?
Posted by Mike at December 15, 2006 03:18 PM

Friday, December 15, 2006

BAE

However, Lord Goldsmith consulted the prime minister, the defence secretary, foreign secretary, and the intelligence services, and they decided that "the wider public interest" "outweighed the need to maintain the rule of law".


Excellent news. This now means the sale of one of the world's most advanced fighter jets can go ahead to Saudia Arabia, our great regional ally.

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Iraq

Timothy Garton Ash's excellent column on the disaster in the Middle East can be summed up in that stump speech of Al Gore's - all the things that should be going up have gone down and all the things that should be going down have gone up.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Who is Britain's most Stakhanovite blogger?



There's only one way to find out - a ladder*!

Today's contest - Oliver Kamm v Tim Worstall.

The post below noted Oliver Kamm's remarkable 10,740 words in just 7 days, or 1,534 words per day (wpd), but in fact that's a rather pedestrian total compared to Tim Worstall. Tim's managed 34,874 words in December, up to the 15th, or an astonishing 2,324 wpd.

So does Tim Worstall win this round of the Stakhanoviteness 'ladder'? The problem comes from the quotes. Anyone can copy and paste huge reams of text and have a large WPD. If we remove them from Tim's output, it falls to 21,192 words in December, or 1,412 wpd. So perhaps Oliver takes it after all? Well we must do the same with his output - which is not as easy as he doesn't put his quotes in italics - but a rough & ready measure gives us 9,186 words, or 1,312 wpd. So it's Worstall, by a clear 100 wpd.

So who will be Worstall's next challenger on the UK blogging Stakhanoviteness ladder? I've only managed about 3,500, so I am out of their league. Older readers will remember Stephen Dan Buste, who would regularly write posts over a million words long, but he's no longer blogging, or at least using words to do so. Anyone else?

* The UK blogging Stakhanoviteness ladder works in the same way as a squash ladder, in that the winner of the head-to-head then plays the person above them in the 'ladder' and if he wins that he moves up, if he loses he moves down.

Update: The Guardian has 8,229 words in its Saturday comment section (not CiF but the newspaper). Assuming Saturday is represenative, which is quite possibly is not, then we have a new measure. Tim Worstall represents 1/6th a national newspaper (and quite a wordy one), Unity almost a 1/3rd.

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The Master Gambler

All the talk is of Monty, but Harmison got Ponting with a beauty, and the 3rd star - myself - is the talk of Betfair. I'm off to Monte Carlo to break the bank.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sweepstake time

A Simply Red Stars album for the person who most accurately gets the number of words Oliver Kamm will put on his blog in December, the month in which he would he said it 'would not be updated'.

So far the total is 10,740 words by December 13th (and Oliver didn't start until Dec 6th). A linear extrapolation suggests he will reach 38,537 by December 31st, but a much better fit is the expoential curve as noted on the chart, which leads us to the conclusion that 17,643,259 words will be written by the end of the month. This is a remarkable 11 words a second on average, and 68 words a second on New Year's Eve!

So between 10,740 and 17,643,259 (unless Oliver ups his rate in the latter half of the month). Place yer bets!



Update: Dan is desperate to win the Simply Red Stars album, of which he is known to be fond, and has asked for clarification of the rules. Essentially the word count will be what Microsoft Word says it is for all the posts in December, excluding the original which said there would be no posts, but including the dates/headlines/name etc, ie all text. "I don't believe in many things", sang the Great Man, and I don't believe Oliver will change his behaviour to win the CD, but to ensure against blatant cheating he is not allowed to enter.

Update II: The closing date is Monday 18th.

Update III: "The Great Man" referred to in "Update" is me being sarcastic, and refers to Mick Hucknall, not Oliver Kamm. Oliver has much more progressive views on copyright protection and does not think of himself as a communist. In fact remembering how much Hucknall's Guardian article annoyed me, I'm changing the prize to an illegal copy of Simply Red's Stars, not the original (note, it's a notional prize, M'lord).

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Cohen

The most 'underrated' book of 2006. Nick Cohen speaks:

Power and the Idealists, Paul Berman (Soft Skull Press).


There's a shocker. Why?

Barely reviewed, probably because it examined the awkward question of why the radicals of the 1968 generation have become so tolerant of movements of the extreme right.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hair of the dog

One of a million articles in the national press on how to avoid a hangover, or at least reduce its impact.

I dispute this bit:

According to Prof Sir Colin Berry, professor emeritus of pathology at Queen Mary, University of London... "hair of the dog" merely postpones the agony.


It really doesn't. If you are very hungover, and have a few drinks, then go to sleep, you almost always wake up feeling much better than you did the previous morning. The principle is quite simple - you gradually drink less each day. The only risk is failing to do this. But the reason it is not a popular cure is it is obviously only practicable if you are a member of the international leisure class.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Plagiarism

I think the case against Ian McEwan is rather strong, as noted in this Slate article.

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Father Jack...er the Bishop of Southwark, was not mugged

No, it appears it's a story of rather too much Christmas cheer at the Irish embassy.

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Christmas Frenzy of War

You can always rely on Melanie Philips to trump everyone. Her hysterical reply to the Baker report on Iraq declares that the issue for G W Bush "who, until now, has operated through consensus" is now:
In the dying fall of his presidency, does he have the wherewithal to go for broke? On this lonely and frail figure the fate of the free world now depends.
I'm not sure about you but I get nervous when people start advising world leaders, particularly ones who are C-in-Cs of large armed forces to 'go for broke'. I think 'going for broke' is always a bad idea if being broke is a disaster, and as we are talking about the 'fate of the free world' here, I think it would be. Basically she wants him to declare war ('confronted and defeated') on Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

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IDS and Blair's Breakdown Britain

I thought there were a lot of worrying statistics and facts in this IDS piece on current British society (via Chris Dillow) based on a report he is releasing today:

Our report shows that 750,000 more people have incomes below 40% of median income than a decade ago [MT update: Note, I calculate this to be (in 2004/05) £122 per week for a two adult household, £66 per week for a single adult, £180 per week for two adults living with two children, and £124 per week for a single adult living with two children - It'll be interesting to see the Report as you would have thought any access to government benefits would have raised income above these levels - maybe he means pre-benefits? Or students?]


Almost 11m people in Britain today suffer from relationship problems as a result of debt



Last month the prison population reached 80,000 for the first time. In 1993 the number incarcerated was just 45,000.


On the other hand I am less convinced by its view that it is all the current government's fault - most parents after all were born and went to school under Tory governments, and most of the worse trends have been getting worse for quite some time. Furthermore:

Even those who win promotion or salary increases can face marginal tax rates of up to 90%, leaving a large section of society with little incentive to better itself.


This is an oft-repeated statistic and usually you know it is going to lead to the right-wing quackery solution of a 'flat tax' (though IDS is nowhere near that simple, at least in this piece), but I really question how important it is. Chris Dillow again noted that there are two incentives going on - the first to get a job, and the second to get a better paid job. Labour have worried most about the first, and least about the second. This is not necessarily the wrong priority - how many people on below 40% of median income have jobs?

Finally IDS says:

A child from a family in poverty today is less likely to rise to the top of the income scale than a child in 1970.


I've heard this before, and it obviously is not outlandish if - as we know - inequality has risen and social mobility has fallen. But how do they know about children born today?

Nevertheless this report certainly sounds a more useful occupation for IDS than flying to Washington and agreeing with Republicans that Britain needs to increase its defence budget (and in any case that role is now over filled by excitable Blairites). He concludes:

The increasing gap between those in severe long-term poverty and the rest of us has depressing implications for the future health and cohesion of our society.


Update: Here's the report - which a quick glance suggests could be quite informative.

And here's the chart on the issue of poverty. IDS's claim is that the 60% of median income target has been abused, so there's now a larger proportion of people on 62% (say) than on 58%, which helps meet the targets set on poverty reduction. However this has been bought at the expense of more people on 40% (125,000 families with children, apparently). I wonder if the data is accurate enough to arrive at that conclusion, but its certainly thought-provoking. Here's the chart - click for larger version.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

St Bernard Dog

The Sunday Telegraph has a review, a bit late, of 'King's Counsellor: Abdication and War - The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles', aka "Tommy". The opening sentence is funny:

'Without vanity, I can say that my own impersonation of a St Bernard dog was the only histrionic feature of any real merit', writes Sir Alan Lascelles, Private Secretary to King George VI, of an evening of charades with the Royal Family at Balmoral in the late summer of 1942.

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A new breed of super-efficient aircraft - nearly 100mpg!

This is a little unfair as The Times is hardly The Telegraph when it comes to statistical accuracy, and it's obvious what they mean here, but Tim's a very successful blogger and he does lots of this sort of stuff. Mmm, yes I am desperate. Click on the adverts - I have a tornadoed house to rebuild!

Aircraft use an average of four litres of fuel per 100km. But the next generation, including the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787, will use just under three litres per 100km.

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Cook hits century

It's not quite as certain as Stephen Pollard's 'free money' but the possibility of England winning the 3rd test - it's looking good. If Stephen's commentator 'J' is reading this, don't go and put £100 on it, please.

Iraq

Do we stay or do we go? The Sunday Telegraph declares, and gets its two star columnists, Niall Ferguson and Matthew d'Ancona, to 'reach very differing conclusions on the recommendations on the Iraq Study Group'.

They're differing in what they think the recommendation is, but not in what purpose they think it serves, and really what they want to see, which is continued American presence. Niall Ferguson believes it is a bit of media manipulation designed to make the American public think they are withdrawing when in fact they are going to stay in Iraq, but do it better. He thinks this is good. Matthew d'Ancona thinks it is a bit of media manipulation to make theAmerican public think they have won, when in fact they have lost. He thinks this is bad.

Ancona repeats the criticism you hear from people like Christopher Hitchens, that James Baker is the last person anyone, particuarly if they think they are progressive, should listen to on Iraq (note The Dupe is consistent here - he didn't support the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein when James Baker was going around the world advocating it as secretary of state.). There seems to me three obvious replies to this. First, after spending the last four years telling us how wonderful G W Bush - G W Bush - is, the sudden distaste for very right-wing men from Houston might have come a bit late. Second, it's a measure of the scale and scope of the disaster in Iraq that people like Hitchens have helped shat us into that people like James Baker (and the dictators of Iran and Syria) might have to shovel us out of (this Michael Kinsley article is worth reading though) and finally, whilst I don't think much of the plan, it is a least a plan.

This last statement might sound desperate. Dan attacked those who declared 'the status quo is not an option' here (and here) on the effective grounds that the status quo cannot be worse than the status quo, whereas doing something often was, but in this case there really is no status quo other than the empty mantras of 'stay the course' and 'we will prevail' and so it has become far worse than doing nothing. Criticism of the 'realist' school of foreign policy clearly have a lot to go on, but they seem to compare it with a version of neoconservativism that exists only in their heads, and in which the bloody evidence of the last three years has been completely ignored.

There are probably hundreds of better ways to attempt to fix Iraq, but much as David Aaronovitch scorned those who were waiting for the 'Nelson Mandela Peace Corps' to invade the country, I'm afraid the Euston Manifesto Group isn't going to be allowed to suggest one. There are only two on the table - the one from the right-wing Texan with the initials JB or the one from the right-wing Texan with the initials GB - and the latter's hasn't worked.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Value destruction

Two rather unfortunate developments have just knocked value off the house I am buying.

1. It has just been hit by a tornado.

and worse, obviously;

2. The world's media are declaring that it is in Kensal Green, or worse than worse - Harlesden - whereas we are off the view it is Queen's Park.

Of course for a lot of people it has been far worse - one house looks totally destroyed. Remarkably no-one has died, though one man I believe has been taken to hospital.

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London tube update

Diamond Geezer has the good, the bad and probably the ugly about the new plans for air conditioning, longer trains, fewer seats - sorry, greater capacity - and a higher frequency.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Ashes, 3rd Test

England are 9-1 to win. I think that's generous of the bookmakers and have bet accordingly. Please note this is not a tip - my betting record is terrible.

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Trident again

Matthew Parris says: "“Cock your ear to how tentative and apologetic the argument for a new generation of British nuclear missiles is becoming", while Oliver Kamm disagrees: "Not so. The tentativeness comes from opponents of a British nuclear deterrent."

I think Parris has the better of the argument. Oliver writes:
We cannot predict the threats to us in the middle of this century, just as 30 years ago we did not foresee Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands and Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait...Not in all cases, but in some, our independent deterrent may act as a political counterweight, causing a potential aggressor to think again.
Not in all cases, indeed, as it clearly didn't act as a deterrent in the two cases in the paragraph immediately above, and Iraq and Argentina are hardly major powers.

The argument basically is that although there is very little use for Trident at the moment, we cannot foresee military problem. But the examples given here are clearly not helpful, and not just because they didn't involve Polaris/Trident doing any deterring. Oliver argues that in December 1976 the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina was unforseeable. This cannot be true, as there was an 'invasion' of sorts in that month.
In December 1976, 50 Argentinean scientists landed on the island of South Thule, which is part of the Falklands dependency. In 1977 Prime Minister James Callaghan ordered two Royal Navy frigates to make speed for the South Atlantic along with a nuclear submarine. This proved sufficient to make the Argentineans withdraw their 'scientists'.
Even in 1952, thirty years before the Falkands conflict, I'm not sure it was unforseeable. One of the main reasons for keeping a large navy was the need to defend overseas posessions.

It might be more instructive to look at what Trident is useful for, not hope that it will be useful for something that turns up. I think that the argument in favour of Trident above other forms of nuclear deterrent essentially rests on Russia, and possibly China. It is a Cold War piece of military kit, useful only in that it can kill most of another (large) country's population and destroy its cities in retaliation for the same having happened to your own country (and hence it acts as a deterrent).

As such when the government talks of Trident meeting 'unforeseeable' risks it is really, if you believe the government has any motive for it other than ensuring electoral safety, a polite way of talking about the prospect of another Cold War with one of those two nations.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Place your bets

Stephen Pollard:
On that basis, I can claim to have been offered a senior position on the Conservative front bench. A Shadow Cabinet member once said to me that the party really needed people like me and I would make a good Education Secretary.
Which Tory-hating MP was this? I think it might have been Tim Collins.

Carol Gould on why Olympic engineer quit

She has the inside information:

This week the American head of the Olympic planning committee has left in disgust. He probably had to deal with a committee and workforce that waffled, took hours for alcohol-sodden lunches and had long discussions about where they would next take their ‘hols.’ Most of all the jaded London Committee probably put him down at every available opportunity and secretly hoped he would leave.
I bet you didn't know that!

Weird goings-on

Today, for what is the first time in the thousands of walks to the tube station I have made, a complete stranger said 'Good morning' to me as I we were passing in the street*. Furthermore he wasn't - or at least didn't appear to be - in any way mentally ill. Is there something going on?

* I was so shocked I completely failed to reply, thus probably ensuring he won't do it again.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Replacing Trident

On Comment Is Free a commenter suggested today that we only pretend to replace Trident, hence getting the deterrrent capability without spending the tens of billions of pounds. This is an interesting idea, but fails as to make the pretence believed we would have to spend the money on it anyway, unless we can get the US to take part in the subterfuge too, and pretend to give us them for free.

Incidentally I am on my way back from Edinburgh (which is a delightful place, although isn't the new Scottish Parliament building unattractive?) and the press there is full of comment on where the nuclear submarines will be based if Scotland goes its separate ways. It seems to me an obvious solution would be to ask the US if they could be based at King's Bay, which (I think) is where the US's near identical ships are.

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