Monday, January 29, 2007

We told you this would happen

A letter in today's Guardian (in a collection responding to Martin Kettle's review of Nick Cohen's book:

The dimension Martin Kettle entirely ignores is the economic one. Britain now is a profoundly unequal society. However, nationalisation proved in the end to have been a failure in extending democratic advance, and the cooperative movement has never really take off . But without economic democracy political democracy has no muscle.

All power to Alan Johnson as he tries to steer a new course, and Billy Bragg as he tries to gather the scattered remnants of a forgotten national identity. But it will take more than Bragg's exhortation, and Johnson's efforts to ensure that history is properly taught, to revive the ideals which have animated the lives of those of us who still call ourselves socialists.
Wendy Mantle

Does she mean Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson, or Alan Johnson, the Cabinet Minister and Trade Unionist? I'm genuinely not sure - in a way Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson is the more obvious candidate, given I wasn't aware Alan Johnson was trying to steer a new course. But then again he is the Education Minister, at least presumably for a few more weeks until John Reid resigns, and so he would be in a position to 'ensure history is properly taught' (or at least attempt that). But then again Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson is a co-founder (with Nick Cohen) of the Euston Declaration and is a lecturer, so it might be him.

This confusion was easily avoided, and we did say so.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Liberal racism

Most worrying news about "liberals", that most evil section of our society, from the Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society. But there is good news too!

Thankfully, most British people are instinctively repelled by this strain in contemporary liberalism. The Guardian, a publication particularly incapable of making pro-freedom judgments, is losing sales faster than any other newspaper in Britain - some achievement.

Is The Guardian really losing sales faster than any other newspaper? Or is this more of the usual not-letting-facts-get-in-the-way of a Decent argument?

ps This is a better article, about the 'death of idealism'.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I thought, given the snow cover, I would check the tubes are OK. Here is the update. I'm looking forward to hearing the PA announcement at the station as they always go through the lines that aren't working, and then say 'there is a good service on all other London Underground lines' [typo corrected - see comments].


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cohen's book arrives

Nick Cohen's tome has arrived courtesy of Amazon, and I can confirm that the excerpt in The Observer is correct - he does invent a dedication by Azar Nafisi to Paul Wolfowitz. The actual text goes further - it is on the "title page" so he's clearly not referring to the acknowledgement, and he declares it a dedication.

A cryptic dedication on the title page of Reading Lolita in Tehran, a memoir published by Iranian feminist Azar Nafisi in 2003, encapsulated how warped the liberal left had become..Once she would have seen the liberal left as her natural ally - she was fighting for its principles, after all. But Reading Lolita in Tehran was dedicated 'to Paul' [Wolfowitz]

This really raises questions about Cohen's research. Has he actually read the book? It seems highly unlikely that he would have read the book, and independently of Christopher Hitchens, made the same mistake as Hitchens. But then again if he had read the book because he read Christopher Hitchens, surely he would have realised it was not dedicated to "Paul", nor that it was on the "title page"?

Anyway, on his website he is still making the untrue claim. Perhaps the dinner guests were silenced by the audacity of the claim?

Once, when book editors were heaping deserved praise on Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi’s poignant account of educated women suffering under the Iranian mullahs, I managed to silence a literary dinner party for the first and I suspect only time in my life by asking if they realised the ‘Paul’ Nafisi had dedicated her book to was Paul Wolfowitz.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Martin Amis

Still no word on whether his Nasrallah quote was ever quoted by anybody, but in the meantime I can't remember reading this before from him, and I still can't quite believe he did say it - surely there must be some context that is missing?

What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suff­­er­­­ing? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children


Non-Jobs in the Society page of the Guardian

A bit of 2003/2004 is about to leap into 2007 - I'm going to take issue with a Cuthie post. This one, and in particular this question.

Q. Why should these [positions advertised in the Guardian's Society section] positions pay an average salary that is £11,400 more than the average private sector job?

First, let's note there are national statistics, and they say that in 2004 the mean full-time salary in the public sector was £499.5/week and in the private sector, £509/week. Essentially no difference then.

So the £11,400 difference Peter has come up is not due to a diffence in public/private salaries, but a difference in samples (one the Guardian's Society page, and the other the entire country. It's clear it was unlikely that Society was typical of the public sector - the entire TPA extrapolation is for a wage bill of £767m, whereas the entire sector must be (a rough guess) more like £125bn (6mn multiplied by £25,000 pa). It's only slightly more than half a percent.

On the other hand Peter's question was about Society, not the public sector. So then why do these positions in Society pay more than the UK average?

A. Because jobs that are advertised in national newspapers pay more than the average.

Let's give another example. I surveyed last week's Economist for jobs that gave salaries, and came up with average salaries for the private sector of £46k (only three, most of them were too well paid to say), the public sector of £42k (mainly the international public sector), and academia of £41k. These are all higher than average salaries in those areas.

So the sampling method is wrong. It needs to be changed to compare public sector jobs advertised in Society to private sector jobs advertised in Society or other newspapers (whilst they're at it, I suggest that the TPA, if it believes it is going to be around this time next year, just choose a few more months as well as November (say February) or even one week per month, just to be on the safe side).

That jobs advertised in national newspapers aren't average answers the other two questions as well, I would suggest. Particularly if those perks themselves aren't average - taken together they seem a little too much for a £36k job, but not for jobs of around £50k.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ruth Turner

There's been some criticism of the Police arresting Ruth Turner (no relation!) at 6:30am. I don't on the whole think that kind of thing is necessary, though surely a dynamic New Labour person like herself would be up at 5:30am, so it's only like a 8 am start for most of us.

Anyhow it reminded me of similar critism when the Police arrested either Kevin or Ian Maxwell, sons of Robert. So I wondered what they were up to now, and the answer seems to be Not Famous Enough for a Wikipedia Page. This Times article sheds some more light though, at least on Kevin.


Cash for honours

I really am a bit stumped on how serious this all is. In a way it seems almost unbelievable that the Metropolitan Police are hacking (perhaps a loaded term) computers at No.10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister remains in office. That seems so serious, the fact it doesn't seem to be at the level of political crisis yet, suggests to me it is not as bad as it sounds.

I suppose the New Labour defence is no-one has been charged, and if no-one is, then the Police might have a lot of explaining to do. It still seems remarkable, though.


Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen, the famed author of "Why it is Right to be Anti-American" and "Come on you Liberals if you think you are hard enough" has excerpts from his new book, "What's Left - how Liberals lost their way", in today's Observer.

There are only two chapters (or bits of chapters), and they deal with somewhat different themes. The first is essentially 'how the left (or liberal-left) lost its way' and the second is how dealing with Iraqis made Cohen support the war.

On the development of his own views it is a little disappointing. There is a great big gap between the end of the 1990s and 2003, of which very little is mentioned. But this was the time of "Why it is Right to be anti-American", the attacks on liberals for supporting the Afghan war, the attacks on Blair for supporting Bush's Iraq policy. The criticism of America in his first article is based on three things unrelated to Iraq - Kyoto, the anti ICMB treaty and its failure to sign up to the ICC, none of which I think he has changed his mind on. But there's nothing here about that (it could of course be in the other chapters), and also nothing to note that a lot of the criticism he makes of liberals really apply more accurately to himself.

Furthermore Cohen also can't resist his usual tactic of conflating tiny subsections of the left with the left, liberals, and the liberal-left. For example:

why were men and women of the left denying the existence of Serb concentration camps?

On the Iraq war, his criticism is some of the strongest I have seen from him.

The protesters were right to feel that Bush and Blair were manipulating them into war...they were manipulating the evidence..Cook told his special adviser David Mathieson after the meeting that Blair did not know about the detail and didn't seem to want to know either...if democratic leaders are going to take their countries to war, they must be able to level with themselves as well as their electorates...If the Labour party had forced Blair to resign, there would have been a rough justice in his political execution...The war was over soon enough, but the aftermath was a disaster.

and at times he appears to want to say that opposition to the war was justifiable, and even perhaps right, but that it was the failure to support Iraqis since that has been the true betrayal. At other times he seems to think that supporting the war was the only 'moral option'.

Alas, I can't help agreeing with him when he says "All right, you might say, but the reaction to the second Iraq war is not a good enough reason to write a book". A lot of the behaviour he writes about from far-left groups seems indefensible. But it's also atypical of the left, and more so the liberal-left. Most people who opposed the war did so from a strong feeling that it would make things worse. So far, at the very least, it's hard to say that they were wrong. We know at a minimum 150,000 Iraqis have died (and Cohen might profit from asking why so many people on the right and pro-war left seek to downplay or deny this) and probably two or three times more. There's no way those deaths would have been avoided if more liberals or more leftwingers had written columns saying how much they supported Iraqi trade unions.

These observations that there is a small subsection of the left who have lost the plot wouldn't make much of a book (and despite Cohen's denials that there was any anti-Americanism in 1960s Vietnam protests, I suspect he could have written much the same book in 1972). You could make much the same charge against the right if you could be bothered, with hatred of Muslims and demand for oil obviously behind some people's support for the war. For Cohen, however, whose previous position was on the far-left, it's obviously personal. Add to that his bizarre hatred of liberals (maybe because history was kinder to their views than his when he was on the far left, and kinder now he has outflanks them to the right?) and you get this latest tome.

I said, "outflanks them to the right", and I think this is fair due to what I've read in his columns more than in these pieces. Cohen doesn't talk much about his non-foreign policy positions in the two chapters in the Observer, but we get a glimpse when he talks about economics.

Socialism, which provided the definition of what it meant to be on the left from the 1880s to the 1980s, is gone. Disgraced by the communists' atrocities and floored by the success of market-based economies, it no longer exists as a coherent programme for government. Even the modest and humane social democratic systems of Europe are under strain and look dreadfully vulnerable.

This adds to the feeling that its the far-left he is writing about, not the liberal-left or even the soft-left. And maybe it means "Why it is Right to be anti-European" is in the offing?

In any case, though I think this was best left in its Observer and Evening Standard column form, I do want to know what he says in the other chapters, and am pleased to say you can get it for under £8 from Amazon.

Update: Hitchens' review suggests other chapters may have more on Cohen's bizarre reaction to September 11th. It also contains this strange bit:

In one telling example, Cohen cites the work of Iranian feminist Azar Nafisi, who three years ago dedicated her book Reading Lolita in Tehran to Paul Wolfowitz. “By 2003 it was no longer surprising that an Iranian feminist should turn to an American neoconservative,” Cohen writes pointedly, “for where else was she to look for support?”

This is Decency gone circular mad. The populariser of this story is Christopher Hitchens himself, and it isn't true and he knows it isn't true. "Paul", almost certainly Wolfowitz, is mentioned in the acknowledgements, along with lots of other people from 'all sides of the political spectrum'.

UPDATE II: That wasn't Hitchens' fault, but Nick Cohen's. Apparently the last paragraph was formatted in the print edition of the Sunday Times as a boxed excerpt from Cohen's book, and Cohen must have just taken it from a Hitchens' piece without bothering to check the details. I'm not surprised about Cohen, but I'm surprised it got through all of the proof-reading and editing stages, and of course that the Sunday Times itself made no checks (they could have done it on Amazon's Look Inside the Book, if they didn't want to use google).


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Martin Amis

The readers interview in the Independent with Martin Amis is quite funny. Also, and not so funny, it contains this statement:

Well, make the most of being Hizbollah while you can. As its leader, Hasan [sic] Nasrallah, famously advised the West: "We don't want anything from you. We just want to eliminate you."

I can't find any source for this quote on the internet or in UK newspapers since 1991 except Amis himself. The New York Times never mentioned it. I am not in anyway suggesting he has made it up (though he's clearly not telling the truth about it being famous - maybe he means infamous?), it is probably the case that he has just got the quote wrong in some ways (ie say it was destroy not eliminate (it's not though)). Can anyone provide the source?

Update: Ah, maybe Amis has got his leaders wrong. Mark Steyn (yes, I know, this isn't a good source) says "In the words of Hussein Massawi, former leader of Hezbollah: ''We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.'"

Update II: The mystery deepens. Amis has clearly got the wrong person. Only Mark Steyn has quoted Massawi in the UK press over the last four years, but in 2001 this guy quoted him. You'll note that it's not clear now he is advising the West. So anyone find a reference before 2001? And who is this Massawi person - Wikipedia has never heard of him.

Update III: Maybe they mean former Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi (not that similar a name, I admit). He was killed by the Israelis in 1992. But no-one links that quote to him.

Update IV: Chris Brooke suggests, persuasively, that they mean Husayn Al-Musawi, who whilst not a leader of Hezbollah was a 'prominent member'. I can't find any reference online or in the searchable UK news database (or on the NYT) linking him to that quote or a version of it, the nearest I've found so far is "In the future, we will wipe out every trace of Israel in Palestine". I've emailed the academic referred to in Update II to ask what his source was, but so far I have had no reply.

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Friday, January 19, 2007


Yes, 32 today. Like Kate a few years ago, I had a few drinks in Claridges last night, but unlike Kate, it didn't end with Janet Street-Porter... oh I can't bring myself to finish that sentence.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In today's Telegraph

"Cost of Living hits 15-year high", is obviously not correct - they mean the rate of price increases. You could argue the cost of living has hit an all-time high, but that too is not right if you think about it, as we can buy a lot more stuff than we could in 1066. So really, "Cost of Living hits all-time low" is the correct headline, assuming growth wasn't negative last month.

Ian McEwan claims to have found a long-lost brother. I'd say check the acknowledgements carefully.


Hitchens on Iraq

It's fighting talk, but not as we've known it.

He's not happy with the new Bush policy, as the title of the article suggests: "How Bush is blowing our last chance", I think on the grounds that he believes it will undermine his idea (itself not fully thought out, one fears) that the US Army is the 'militia for those who don't have a militia'. He adds: "if the Iraq to which they stick is in fact symbolized by Maliki's surly confessional regime, then the United States is not baby-sitting a civil war so much as deciding to take part in it". He doesn't suggest an alternative proposal.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Impressive futurology

The 1971 Roskill commission on air transport predicted 260m passengers flying from London's airports in 2006. The actual figure in 2005 was 229m. Unfortunately the estimates were steadily lowered over the intervening years as numbers never were as high as the targets - by 1990 the 2000 estimate was down to 130m at the highest.


Life in the year 2000

The Royal Society of Arts helds its biennial competition in 1954 on the theme of "practical aspects of life in the year 2000".

The Times in September of that year reported that the winner, with a prize of £250, equivalent to between £5k and £15k today, wrote about...actually in fact rather sourly they were "unable to make any recommendations" for it. Or for the second prize. The third prize of £50 went to Wing Commander T.R.Cave-Browne-Cave (!) for a "scheme for rooftop roadways" (look, I've found a website about his plans for heating or something). The fourth prize went to C.E.H. Watston, for "a scheme for underground roadways" (there's a clearly a pattern here). F.R. East took fifth prize for "synthetic food".


Very useless facts, no. 12323

When did The Times first mention Britain's most recent Prime Ministers?

Jim Callaghan - January 11th, 1946
Margaret Thatcher - June 29th, 1959
John Major - July 24th, 1970
Tony Blair - March 23rd, 1979

So although it took Jim 30 years from Times' first mention to PM, John 20 years, Maggie just under 20 years, and Tony just 18 years. Gordon meanwhile was there in 1970, so I conclude his career has been a failure.


Iran taking control of Basra

At last another nation has stepped up to the plate and taken on some of our responsibility in Iraq. Maybe this could be the green light for our boys to come home.


Should the BBC pay itself the going rate for adverts?

I don't understand this piece in the Telegraph - or maybe I've missed the joke. The BBC paying itself for advertising wouldn't raise any net income. It would be the equivalent of the Italian village where the only living was made by doing in each's other washing.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Nick Cohen

No, not another link to Nick Cohen's classic piece, "Why it is Right to be anti-American", but instead to one of his whinges:

On the one hand, there am I delivering a ’scathing’ critique of the Left, and on the other, there is the ‘brave’ figure of old Footie offering his long life as a rebuke and reply. Except that What’s Left? is a book suffused with the anti-totalitarian and internationalist values of the democratic Left, of which Michael Foot is a part.I consulted him, quoted him in the chapter on the 1930s and thanked him in the acknowledgements.

If "Why it is Right to be anti-American" gave us some clue about what would be in his latest book, we can go one better with this new nugget of information. Cohen has reviewed a Michael Foot book in the past (no web link, but it was in the Independent on Jan 10th, 1999), "Dr Strangelove, I Presume", and indeeed found himself agreeing with much of it:

To my knowledge Foot, a Labour loyalist, ignored for years the repeated urgings of his friends to stand up against the Blair leadership until the Prime Minister supported the US attacks on Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. The folly of recent Anglo-American foreign policy was too much for him and his anger inspires a book which starts as an oddity and concludes with a convincing synthesis. Gradually, Foot's passion and intellect take hold and by the end you are presented with a picture of the globalisation of the nuclear menace in which the supposedly incompatible forces of fundamentalism and the West mesh together neatly...The UN weapons inspectors in Iraq might have been a model for monitoring world disarmament, but were hopelessly compromised by their subservience to the US and, at American insistence, Israel another breaker of UN and nuclear proliferation resolutions and manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction which receives no punishment, even though fundamentalist not to say lunatic factions are honoured by and represented in its government. It is truly eccentric to see Foot as a silly old man.

This new book from Nick Cohen is going to be a classic.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tesco Express

My blog search facility isn't working, and neither is my camera link, so I can't prove that I demanded this change, or that it has been made. But I'm pleased to say that I drove past two Tesco Express stores today, one in Battersea Rise, and one on Holland Park Road, and both have replaced the garish store front with a nice black (or dark blue?) one, and more importantly, that silly lower case but oversized e of Express has been replaced by a normal sized one. The power of the Blog.


I feel it in my fingers...

yes, the Wets are back! In the spirit of the time, any competition here will from now on not have the prize of Simply Red's Stars album, but instead a download single from the inevitable live album of the Wets' comeback tour.

Update: Katherine in the comments notes that this is not their comeback tour. As she is a World authority on boy bands, I bow to her superior knowledge. I learnt tonight, in celebration of her birthday, that she is to attend six of their comeback concerts, in a Grand Tour of Wales, the Midlands and the North. She has agreed to "live blog" this for my loyal readers.


Slower times

The Times in 1950 carried a story on May 31st about the World Cup which was to being on june 24th:
The dates, but not the grounds, for the finals of the World Cup tournament were announced by the International Federation here. It was decided to wait until Wednesday to allow Portugal time to reply to an invitation to compete before allocating the grounds.

It was the first time British teams had competed, and the qualification was simply the Brtiish championship (all the "Home" nations), 1st place and 2nd place. However Scotland said they would only compete if they won the British championship. They didn't, and didn't.

One thing surprised me - this championship (perhaps because of the World Cup) was played in April, on the same day as full programme of league fixtures. I wonder how popular that would be nowadays?


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Time capsules

Interesting article here about a time capsule in America that was built in 1936, and if all goes to plan will not be opened until 8113. It seems a pretty serious effort, with nitrogen-filled steel casks protecting the documents and scientific instruments, a language-translator if found by non-English speaking people (which no-one can remember how it works). As the article says for how long it will remain unopened is hard to say. It seems to me that as long as people remember it exists year by year it has a good chance of surviving a reasonable time, but if it gets forgotten for a period of time the first people to stumble across it will open it.


Bradman's last innings

As everyone knows Don Bradman ended his test career with an average of 99.96, as he scored zero in his last test innings (at the Oval). I was reading the Times' archive to see how they reported this momentous day and it was a bit of a disappointment.

So with the pavilion standing to their feet, and the English team standing in the middle ready to acclaim him with three cheers, in came Bradman to be bowled out for the second ball he faced.

One reason for the lack of fancare is that it's only the first innings so he can still score 8 or whatever he needs in the second. However England, as is often the case, didn't score enough to make Australia bat a second innings - in particular their 52 all out in the first innings, with a 0 from Crapp, was particularly embarassing.

Wikipedia also says it wasn't known that it was his last test, merely his last test in England. But this seems wrong - the Times article says "Bradman's last test match".


Friends of Nick

Watch our for the (rather amusing, it must be said) plugs for Nick Cohen (the famed author of "why it is right to be anti-American" - it's ONLINE, it's ONLINE!) book from various people. Oliver Kamm mentioned the idea behind it:

I have in front of me a bound typescript of Nick Cohen’s book What’s Left?, to be published in Feb. The author says it’s part of the publisher’s “viral marketing campaign”, whereby – ahem – influential people can go to dinner parties and say “I’ve just read a brilliant book by Nick Cohen”, and thereby make everyone else feel envious and out of the loop for not having a copy. If we are not invited to dinner parties, then Mrs Kamm and I must wander the streets of Hove looking out for dinner parties in strangers’ houses, crash them, and say “we’ve just read a brilliant book by Nick Cohen”.

So I’m writing to let you know that I’ve read a brilliant book by Nick Cohen. It’s called What’s Left?, and it will be published in February. There is a fantastic section on Gerry Healy, which I’m pleased to say I prevailed upon the author to leave in when he was wondering whether to take it out on grounds of its esotericism.

Now John Lloyd in the FT also mentions its "brilliance":

It has not conquered because it still has doughty opponents. One such is journalist Nick Cohen, whose book What’s Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way appears next month. If it does not have a profound effect on the political debate, I will be surprised and disappointed. It is an essay of wide reference and great brilliance...

I don't, btw, doubt that they do think it's brilliant.

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Gerard Baker

So at the risk of finding myself in the dock with him [Tony Blair] when the modern elites have their Nuremberg, let me take issue.

In The Times. Do you think he might take himself a bit too seriously?

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Blair and buggery

Jamie links to a Blair speech in which the Prime Minister warns the Army about cowardice. As Jamie says, Blairs farewell is essentially: "We’ve all let him down in our various ways, and we should all be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves."

Jamie also links to the new searchable online database of Old Baily Trials. He finds the ones involving animal buggery. I found the sad case of George and Basil Blog, who had their gold watch nicked.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

John Reid

How much longer do we have to put up with this useless man? Has he had any Ministerial success - I was going to say when he was Defence Secretary, but thinking about the problems now faced by all our armed forces presumably have something o do with his time there.

Update: At least we won't be seeing him in No.10 - the latest poll shows he's not very popular. "Populus suggest that with Reid as leader people would vote LAB 27%, CON 44%, LDEM 20% - a Conservative landslide victory". [Gordon Brown was 34 - 39)


Kate Middleton

The Daily Mail today has a two page feature, headlined, "Wills' birthday plea over Kate - Leave her alone says prince as paparazzi turn out for royal girlfriend's big day". In it, the paper repeats a statement saying, "The PPC has a very strict guidelines in respect of privacy, harassment and photographing always the Daily Mail will respect the letter and spirit of those rules".

It illustrates this article with three photographs - Miss Middleton walking to her car, Miss Middleton driving in her car, and Miss Middleton getting into her car surrounded by press photographers.


Monday, January 08, 2007

The Things thelondonpaper Readers Say!

The paper asks "What's more important - cheap flights or reducing carbon emissions?"

"Until airlines start doing their bit, I am not going to stop flying on short journeys to Europe"
Sarah Bloch, 23

What does this mean? Leaving aside the non-negligible chance that she has been misquoted, it makes no sense. There is an argument that airlines should be doing more to make their planes use less fuel per passenger, either by packing them fuller or by pressurising Boeing and Airbus to make more efficient planes (it's not a brilliant argument, given airlines presumably want to reduce fuel usage). But how the hell is refusing not to fly on them until they do this going to help? It almost sounds as if she thinks she is punishing them by flying with them.

Kirk Adams, 23, doesn't make a lot more sense: "I would be prepared to help the environment but airports are going to get bigger so there is no point". Surely he means "I am not prepared to help the environment as...". Tracey Dunn, 41, adds "It doesn't make much difference what we think because it is all about money and not the environment".

When will people learn that cheap flights are not compatible with saving the environment and just talking about doing good it is not enough? Anyway in other news I'm considering a holiday in New York because I fancy going for pizza at a place Jackie did recently.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Science Museum

We went to the Science Museum this morning, and their exhibition of the history of computer games. Quite good fun as all are playable, although computer games aren't like films in the sense that old films are often better than new ones - although the old games are fun for a while, their limitations (in terms of graphics, gameplay, etc) are really glaring*. Still, they had a good collection (most of which you can now play on PCs through emulation), including a Bullet Train simulation game, which was novel, if rather limited (accelerate, brake, whoops I've missed the station). They also had the new PS3 and Wii, which both looked rather special, though I didn't dare attempt to muscle the hoards of children out of the way to have a go.

* I tried to explain to a 14-yr old son of a friend of mine how we used to play computer games. It stumbled on his not knowing what a cassette tape was, let alone the idea that it might load for 5 mins and then crash.

Then we had lunch in The Greyhound in Battersea, which was better than your average pub food. By the way the prices in that review are wrong - it's now only £15 for 2 courses and £18 for 3.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tyler Brule

I'd missed this. Tyler Brule has written his last FT column. Our household, for one, is discussing whether there is any point in buying the Weekend FT anymore.


Tim Worstall in talks with the UKIP!

This might be a bloggy first.


Nick Cohen

It's been said many times, but that makes it no less true - he's such a right-wing Islingtonian hack these days, isn't he?

In this week's Evening Standard he notes:

IF I WERE a Romanian or Bulgarian, I would find the European Union's lectures on corruption hard to take. It's not that EU membership shouldn't be a spur for investigating the graft of Balkan politicians, civil servants and judges. But when, for 12 years in a row, the European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the EU's accounts because they cannot account for billions of euros, anticorruption investigations appear as necessary in Brussels as Bucharest.
It's certainly true that the accounts weren't signed off, and it is not a good situation. But this is right-wing hackery because his desire to attack the EU (in the guise of the Commission) has prevented him (though I doubt even his supporters would say that he puts much research into any of his work these days) from making the slightest enquiry into what 'not signing off the accounts' means. As I understand it, the nature of the Commission's position means that it unlikely they will ever be signed off in their entirety (which means they won't be signed off at all), because the Commission cannot control many of the bodies that spend the money (as they are parts of the national governments). The Commission's books, which is what we would call the accounts of a PLC, are seen by the auditors as 'reliable'.


Melanie Phillips

Encouragingly, there are signs that Bush may have now accepted what has long been apparent – that he has been ill-served by his top brass in Iraq.

It's come to this, the embattled C-in-C, who can't even trust his own generals. If only they had shown more backbone, more will. Remarkably it's a post she managed to get through without her favourite word, and in fact the Melanie Philliips Nazi-o-meter is standing only at Four.

The big argument is whether or not to begin a new World War (her words) in the Middle East, apparently, and 'On the outcome of that argument the course of this war — and the fate of the free world — now depends.'* Last week it was President Bush, 'on this lonely and frail figure the fate of the free world now depends.'

* Actually that can't be right - the argument over whether to start a new world war (or she would say, continue to fight the current one) can't be the argument that the course of this war depends. I'm afraid though I can't work out what the argument is she is referring to.


Library Books

I love local libraries as you can get books out you would never buy. This is a warning that I've got "A Prison Diary, by FF 8282" out, so you can expect nothing but amused quotes for the next few weeks (I also got a biography of Brunel, which might not offer so many laughs, and The East End Chronicles, about life in The East End, which from my experience of living there will be positively depressing).


Warne for England?

"England may turn to Aussie Warne - Duncan Fletcher says he would consider asking Shane Warne to help him resurrect England's fortunes".

What an idea. Warne bowling in tandem with Monty. Admittedly he'll be 40 by the time the next Ashes finishes, but that just reminds one of that supposed Bradman quote when asked how he thought he would fare against the (then) current England team, namely that he would "probably average 50 or so". The shocked journalist said, "Don Bradman, against this England attack. Only 50?" "Well, I am 87". The English nationality might be a bit more difficult to square, though.


Friday, January 05, 2007

The Top Dog Index

Despite my predictions, the Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society haven't come up with this yet, so I've made a stab. The idea is twofold - first, to try to justify their famous statement, that Britain was 'unquestionably the world's second most important power', and second, to provide an index for global power comparable to what the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Index does for, er, global competitiveness. So far I've concentated on hard power, ie military spending, but I've also included economic power in that (though not trade yet, which I might include in soft power - you can't expect consistency, I'm afraid).

As I'm pretty sure the World Economic Forum knows, you can just about get any result you want in these things by choosing your inputs, and as importantly, your weightings. I've gone for seven categories - Population, GDP, PPP GDP, Military Spending, No. of troops, Aircraft Carriers, and UN SC permanent membership. Clearly there is some overlap here - GDP for instance with population, but also things like troops and military spending. But hey-ho. The weightings I began with are 18% for population, 30% for GDP, 5% for PPP GDP, 15% for troops, 25% for military spending, 5% for aircraft carriers and 2% for UNSC membership.

Of the seven categories the US scores highest for four categories, China two, and all Permanent Members in one. For each category I take each country's ratio of the highest value, and then multiply it by the weighting. So for GDP, for instance, the US has the highest at $13.26bn, and Lebanon's is $0.022bn, so Lebanon's score is 0.22/13.26 which equals 0.2% of the US level, and then for both the US and Lebanon it is multiplied by the 30% weighting for that category. These are then summed across the categories to give a total score out of 100.

Anyway, drum roll (note the category scores are before weighting...

Top Dog Index
Country Pop. GDP PPP Troops Mil. Ex A/C UN TOTAL
United States 23% 100% 100% 63% 100% 100% 100% 80.58
China 100% 19% 81% 100% 16% 0% 100% 48.77
India 85% 6% 30% 59% 4% 8% 0% 28.82
Russia 11% 7% 13% 46% 28% 8% 100% 21.17
Japan 10% 34% 31% 11% 9% 0% 0% 17.15
United Kingdom 5% 18% 15% 8% 9% 17% 100% 13.31
France 5% 17% 15% 11% 9% 8% 100% 12.95
Germany 6% 22% 20% 13% 7% 0% 0% 12.25
Italy 4% 14% 13% 10% 5% 8% 0% 8.93
Korea 4% 7% 8% 30% 4% 0% 0% 8.65
Brazil 14% 7% 13% 13% 2% 8% 0% 8.18
Pakistan 12% 1% 3% 27% 1% 0% 0% 6.91
Indonesia 17% 3% 8% 14% 0% 0% 0% 6.41
Turkey 6% 3% 5% 23% 2% 0% 0% 6.09
Spain 3% 9% 9% 8% 2% 8% 0% 5.76
Iran 5% 2% 5% 24% 1% 0% 0% 5.68
Mexico 8% 6% 9% 9% 1% 0% 0% 5.31

Pretty damn exciting, eh? Anyway on the current hard-power version of the "Top Dog" index, I'm afraid, at least for the H'S'JS, that the UK is not 2nd, at least not 'unquestionably'. The United States is the clear leader, with 81%, followed by China, 49%, then India, 29%, Russia, 21%, Japan 17%, then us, on a respectable 13%, slightly higher than France and Germany. Italy just pips Korea and Brazil.

Update: In response to Nick's comments, I've changed it about a bit, lowering population, adding a Nuke's column (you can see the weights at the top of the table)

Top Dog Index
Weight 13 30 5 10 25 5 10 2 100.00
Name Pop GDP PPP Troops Mil.Ex A/C Nukes UN Total
United States 23% 100% 100% 63% 100% 100% 100% 100% 86.28
China 100% 19% 81% 100% 16% 0% 100% 100% 48.77
India 85% 6% 30% 59% 4% 8% 100% 0% 31.65
Russia 11% 7% 13% 46% 28% 8% 100% 100% 28.33
United Kingdom 5% 18% 15% 8% 9% 17% 100% 100% 22.66
France 5% 17% 15% 11% 9% 8% 100% 100% 22.13
Japan 10% 34% 31% 11% 9% 0% 0% 0% 16.13
Pakistan 12% 1% 3% 27% 1% 0% 100% 0% 14.95
Israel 1% 1% 1% 7% 2% 0% 100% 0% 11.64
Germany 6% 22% 20% 13% 7% 0% 0% 0% 11.31
Italy 4% 14% 13% 10% 5% 8% 0% 0% 8.20
Korea 4% 7% 8% 30% 4% 0% 0% 0% 6.94
Brazil 14% 7% 13% 13% 2% 8% 0% 0% 6.84
Spain 3% 9% 9% 8% 2% 8% 0% 0% 5.21
Indonesia 17% 3% 8% 14% 0% 0% 0% 0% 4.86
Turkey 6% 3% 5% 23% 2% 0% 0% 0% 4.67
Mexico 8% 6% 9% 9% 1% 0% 0% 0% 4.47

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Royal Navy getting worse by the day

The Daily Telegraph has a story quoting unnamed 'senior officers' saying that the Royal Navy is a shadow of its former self, wouldn't be able to retake the Falklands (or a similar operation) and worse - quelle horreur - it is inferior to the French Navy. The Times had the story last week.

It seems like the bit about the Falkland Islands has been written every week for about 20 years. Similarly, the Telegraph says:

It is likely that they will eventually be sold or scrapped. There are also fears in the Admiralty that two new aircraft carriers, promised in 1998, might never be built.
Meanwhile the French navy, which will be far superior to the Royal Navy after the cuts, will announce before the April presidential elections that a new carrier will be built.

Is it really superior? The budget of the French Navy is pretty much the same as that of the Royal Navy (it's not that easy to make comparisions as defence budgets strip off much of the expenditure into categories such as R&D, or head office) and I don't see why it would be so much better, unless the French public sector is a lot more efficient than the British. My old International Politics teacher at Oxford (who I won't name in case he is now employed by the French Navy, though I think he's at one of our staff colleges) used to say that the French navy was only good for sailing up and down the west coast of Africa. In any case surely if we don't build our carriers, they aren't going to get theirs?

ps This comment piece is somewhat odd. Apparently the naval chiefs keep buying destroyers, and don't realise that we really need carriers, which will be cheaper. Quite why someone who wrote a book about military waste believes the carriers will be built entirely on budget I can't say, particularly as I've seen him before claim they are not value for money.


The Chancellor of that nice checked tablecloth

A colleague asked me what 'Exchequer' meant. I had no idea (actually, I lamely suggested perhaps it was to do with his writing 'cheques'!). Anyway the OED tells us the rather interesting background, which is:

The name originally referred to the table covered with a cloth divided into squares, on which the accounts of the revenue were kept by means of counters.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Daily Mail free add-on

"I wish I'd never met Mum and Dad" is a reasonably interesting article in the Daily Mail about adopted children who find that their birth parents, when they finally meet them, aren't what they were hoping for. One women, called Sophie, does seem to have had a bit of a nightmare given she didn't actually want to meet her birth parents. However on her 18th birthday her real mother decided to get in touch (I think that is the first legally allowed age). Unfortunately the story then descends into class-related disaster, as Sophie, who is into horse-riding and "living a very different - and much more privileged - life" takes issue with her "scruffy & thick-set" father, whose "accent sounded a bit common" and who lived in a small council terrace. It gets worse when she is persuaded to visit the family house on the council estate , as her father starts ringing around the extended family of cousins, brothers, step-sisters etc who all descend on mass.

Apparently, at least according to the Daily Mail, class is often a factor in such relationships, as the parents who give up their children for adoption are often less middle-class than the adopters.


The Things Daily Mail Readers Say!

Let's end this debate. Late on Sunday evening, I started my lawnmower and I finished mowing just after midnight. Thus I achieved the latest mowing of 2006 and the earliest of 2007.

R T, Oxford

Allies must pay up

...what of the millions still owed to us by our World War II Allies...France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece and the double somersault artist, Italy..the Soviet Union...To this day, not one of our 'friends' has repaid a single farthing, and clearly none intends to do so. Norway alone, ever honourable, did repay us. Blair and Brown can easily address this by freezing all of our 'friends' UK assets and by requiring their nationals to pay for all treatments. Russia could supply free gas for, say, 65 years...Instead they have raised taxation to such levels that our own war veterans are becoming homeless.

G G, Kent


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mourhino complains about transfer fees, foreign managers, criticising referees and good looking Portuguese men

Here. Well perhaps not the last few.