30 September 2006

Do you want pizza with that?

I don't know about you but to me this headline conjures up images of a seaside vista covered in small, strangely shaped tins.

There's always plenty of volunteers around when a whale beaches itself. I'll betcha nobody turned out for the anchovies.

Oh the humanity!

First it was New Labour

Now it's the YouTories.

Today's hot political new, in advance of the Tory party conference next weeks, is that the Conservative Party is going to join the You Tube generation. Tory leader David Cameron is to launch his new video blog
http://www.webcameron.org.uk/. And so the American's won't feel left out the site is going to kick off with a broadcast from everyone's favourite ex-POW Senator John McCain!

In related news we learn that the Tory's also wish to retain their traditional constituency and have the opening of a new campaign centre. It's a bit unclear who's actually footing the bill for their offices in Coleshill Manor set in 200 acres of parkland in the West Midlands. It's an impressive looking Victorian pile that should go over well with the blue rinse brigade.

A page boy isn't just a haircut anymore

I was listening to a news report about Representative Foley's disgrace. I can't remember who it was but they were commenting about the programme that the pages worked under and how it was supposed tohelp them learn what "Washington was really like".

Well. Isn't that what they got taught? They had to deal with corrupt men and older sexual predators who used their power and influence to have their way.

Can it get any more real than that?

Hey look it's Bayer again

First it lets GM rice loose (trying to poison me!) and now it forgot to tell us one of its heart medications causes strokes and death.

Nevermind. I sure they just forgot!

What makes a country?

Usually this is not that difficult a question.

It has a central government. It's recognised by the UN and other treaty organistations. It issues passports.

In some places, however, it's not that simple.

Welcome to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It meets all of the above criteria, right?

However in the world of sports there is now controversy as it seems that Great Britain (Northern Ireland gets forgotten for Olympic purposes) is planning on entering a football team (soccer for the yanks)in the Olympics when they are held in London in 2012.

Doesn't seem like a big deal you say. Well it is!. In football England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all compete at the international level as countries. The FAs of these "countries" are concerned that this might set a precedent and FIFA might force competition as the UK in the World and European cups. If you've ever been to, or near, an England v. Scotland football match you would understand that this might not be greeted with open arms in all (or indeed any) quarters.

To futher complicate things in Rugby Union England, Wales and Scotland all field their own sides but Northern Irish players compete for the Irish side. (There is considerable difficulty with national anthems!)

In cricket Welsh players are compete as part of England under the aegis of the England and Wales Cricket Board. Scotland has its own, rather pififul team.

Confused yet? Well the folks that live here aren't much help either. If you ask them what their nationality is you will generally be told English, Welsh or Scottish. About the only citizens that define themselves as British are those of African, Carribean or Asian descent and Northern Irish protestants. In one last complication Northern Irish catholics tend to describe themselves as Irish ignoring their citizenship altogether.

What's wrong with the press? (Chapter 1)

We have to rely on al Qaeda to give us the news that the media won't.

To quote al-Zawahiri:

"Bush you are a lying failure and a charlatan"

Couldn't have put it better myself. (Note: I find little else in his message to agree with.)

Video here.

What's the real GDP....

...and how can it be improved without any pain or suffering?

The Greeks think they know.

Facing an angry reaction from the EU over violating rules for the Eurozone that the budget deficit cannot exceed 3% of GDP the Greeks got clever.

Did they cut spending? No.

Did they raise taxes? No.

I pricture a cabinet meeting going something like this:
"Why isn't the black market included in GDP?" said minister one.

"I do not know. It's domestic, it's product and it's often gross" said minister two.
Et voila. Greek GDP is up over 25% from last year now that the underground economy is included.

How much would US or British GDP jump if we included:
  • Prostitution
  • Drug trafficking and retailing
  • Illegal weapons trade
  • Money laundering
  • Illegal gambling (US only)
I mean it's not as if we don't do it for Afghanistan!

Rice rage redux

I have previousl waxed poetic over attempts by the American GM industry to poison British rice consumers, of which I count myself one.

Today brings more news on the subject. The world's biggest exporter of rice, Ebro Puleva, has announced that it has stopped trading in US grown rice due to the risks of contamination.

The story so far. Within the last month imports into Britain and elsewhere in the EU tested positive for LLRICE 601, a strain of GM rice developed by Bayer and grown in crop trials between 1998 and 2001 in the US. (20% of imports appear to be affected. EU rice imports from the US total 300,000 tonnes per annum.)

LL601 was never tested for human consumption or environmental impact. Somehow the environmental controls during the limited trials were insufficient to prevent DNA from this strain contaminating other varieties. This by itself warrants immediate investigation and correction!

The reaction from the US government and Bayer? Seek retroactive approval. (Is it just my imagination or is everything retroactive these days?)

In a separate move, the US department of agriculture yesterday said it was helping Bayer to fast track retroactive approval for the rice so it could be consumed by humans.

Arguing that the offending strain is similar to other strains that have already been approved, it has now filed a request for deregulation of the Bayer rice to the US plant health inspection service and prepared an environmental assessment on the company's behalf for a preliminary decision.

(100 - 1 on says that USDA officials and executives of Bayer eat 100% organic!)

I quote the Q&A section of the Guardian article in toto (with emphasis added):

What is LLRICE 601?

Liberty Link 601 is a strain of long grain rice which contains a gene that makes it resistant to the herbicide Liberty. It was grown as an experiment in five US states between 1998 and 2001 by agrochemical giant Bayer but was never intended for commercial release.

How much contaminated rice has got into the food chain?

The US government says it has no idea, has no way of finding out and cannot predict where it may turn up.

Is it dangerous to health?

It has never been tested or approved for human consumption. But US agriculture secretary Mike Johanns insists the rice is similar to other approved strains and poses no risk to health or the environment.

Let's recap shall we?

The government has no fucking idea where this untested rice is and has no way of finding out!

The government admits that the rice has never been tested but somehow knows there's no risk!

The government doesn't seem to give a fuck!

Something is very, very broken in this process and something needs to be down about it now! (How much money do the Republicans get from rice growers?)

US coverage you ask?

Washington Post? - 1 article in the past month.

New York Times? - big fat zero

Google news? - very little that isn't European or Asian

Excuse me now. I'm off to Sainsbury's to buy all the Italian brown rice they've got!

I don't know how I missed it!

I was blissfully unaware that last week was Banned Books Week.

I find that I am very disappointed in myself. I've only read fifteen of the hundred most challenged books of 2005. I'd best get cracking.

Where's Waldo is at number 88.

Where's Waldo? WTF?

Cable Street

The 4th of October will be the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. A conflict that arose when Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists attempted to march through Stepney in East London. Still a home for immigrants the East End had, at that time, a large Jewish population. The government allowed the march to go ahead despite considerable local opposition. When around 3000 fascists tried to march down predominantly Jewish Cable Street there where 6000 police on hand and somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 counter protestors.

Violence broke out. The fascists were turned away and had to satisfy themselves with marching through the deserted City of London. The East End erupted in drunken celebration.

One for good guys! Remember it on Wednesday.

America fights back....

...in the war on obesity! American fast food firms seem to be dropping the healthy menus in favour of, well, unadulterated gluttony.

Options include:

  • Burger King's Quad Stacker - 1,000 calories and a whopping 68 grams of fat - all meat - no salad ("You think I'm fat now pal? Just wait until I finish this!")
  • Hardees's Monster Thick Burger - 1420 calories - 107 grams of fat
  • Subway's 12-inch Double-Meat Classic Tuna Sub - 1,580 calories - 110 grams of fat
  • Denny's Extreme Grand Slam Breakfast - 1,270 calories - 77 grams of fat
  • Blimpie's (is it really called Blimpies?) BLT - 1,180 calories - 64 grams of fat
Nutritionist Jeff Novick as quoted in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
"This burger might better be called the quadruple-bypass special. Fast food like this is great if you're in a hurry -- to die."
I guess it's OK for McDonalds to drop the salads then.

This is how neighbours fall out

In a mad rush to clear up the diary before they rush off to do their real jobs (getting re-elected) the members of the US Senate approved a bill authorising the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the US-Mexican border.

It is only a matter of time before it all goes pear shaped.

Scene: a fine summer's afternoon. The youngest son of the Mexican President is wandering along the border, admiring his work having just finished mowing the lawn, when he notices that the fence just put up by the grumpy family next door seems to be on his family's property. He runs inside and tells his father.

El presidente walks over to the neighbour's front door and rings the bell. His new neighbour a slightly bow legged, graying and grumpy man swaggers to the door and opens it.

The neighbour: "Heh. I'm sorry buddy but we've already got somebody to clean the pool. Have a nice day."

El presidente: "Buenos días señor. I don't wish to bother you but I live next door."

The neighbour: "Hey Laura! You didn't tell me there were spics next door!"

El presidente: "Señor. I see you have built this nice new fence since you've moved in. It even has this nice sign on it saying 'No entrar. Propiedad privada'. It is polite of you to have written it in my language but believe me all of my children understand 'keep out' in English."

The neighbour: "Hey Laura. He speaks spic. Call the nephew will you. I think he understands that shit."

El presidente: "As I said, I don't wish to bother you but I was just noticing that the section of the fence over there, by the river, seems to have been built on my property. I am sure it is just an innocent mistake and that you will be happy to correct it."

The neighbour: Listen here hombre. I don't know who told you I make mistakes because I don't, alright. I'm The Decider(TM) and I decided that's where the fence goes and that's where it stays! Entienda?"

El presidente: "But señor it is only a matter of a few meters. I am sure you had no intention to cheat me. Surely it was just an honest mistake. To be fair I will share the cost with you even though you are much richer than I am. You live in this fine mansion and I only have this humble little shack."

The neighbour: "Yeah. I was meaning to talk to you about that. Your run down little shack is depressing the property values around here. You need to do something about that pronto. And another thing you're kids are always climbing over the fence to come play in my yard. I don't like my little girls being exposed to you kids, OK? They're just innocent young girls. I think your kids have been selling them tequila."

El presidente: "Please señor. There is no need to be rude. I'd hate to have get lawyers involved in all this. We should be able to settle this like gentlemen, no?"

The neighbour: "Lawyers. You want to get lawyers involved. Wait till you meet my lawyer amigo! She was almost on the Supreme Court you know that? Just missed by a whisker. And she's got a friend Alberto. He speaks your language buddy so you won't be able to try any spic shit on me."

El presidente: "I hate to see it come to this. Despedida señor."

The neighbour: "Hasta la vista, baby"

El presidente: "Bastardo de gringo."

The neighbour: "Grease ball! Asshola! Think it's your country? It's my fucking country, damn it! I'm the king of the world!"

El presidente: "Cabrón!" (Exeunt chased by Minuteman)

Headline of the week

Ethnic games tainted by cross-dressing cheats.

What did they expect to happen in women's dragon boat racing?

Even were there weren't cross-dressers involved there was trouble in this week's Ethnic Minority Games in China.

The team from the host city, Zhaotong, brawled with the team from Wenshan city over the result of a wrestling match. Fortunately cooler heads prevaild and the "Wenshan team was eventually chased away by a local gang with blades and sticks called in by the Zhaotong team" Xinhua said.

The death of the definite article

When I first moved to Britain 13 years ago it took some time to acclimate to the language. Here I was 37 years old and thinking that I had be speaking English all my life only to find out I had been speaking American. There are, of course, a myriad of differences which I shan't be exploring here. There has been more than one book on the topic with which I cannot even attempt to compete. Living in south London there was the local vernacular to get used to as well.

I do remember having a particular difficulty with the pact that it was common practice to drop the definite article in conjunction with the word hospital. I.E. "he's in hospital". Over time I adjusted and now find it odd when I hear a yank do the opposite. (Note: I was living in the south of England. It was a few years before I got up north where the definite articles seems to be extinct. However, since I had so much difficulty understanding anything this peculiarity didn't stand out.)

Now there seems to be an acceleration in the elimination of the word. Over the past year or so NewLabocrats have been dropping the definite article and have invented a new phrase "fit for purpose" that is used when discussing how fucked up a bit of the bureaucracy is; usually a bit they wish to get rid or "reform".

I was reading an article in the Guardian this morning about the arrest of British online gaming executives in the US and the refusal of the governor of New York to enforce a Louisiana extradition request. In it they are discussing the next steps in the case and say that the executive's attorney will attempt to get the indictment "lifted at source".

Is this the death knell of the "THE"? Should I launch a campaign? The domain name www.savethethe.co.uk is available for only £15. Should I buy it? Wait. www.savethethe.eu is only £10 quid.

What should I do?

Safer than Washington?

Do you remember when our friends on the right kept telling us that things were going so well in Iraq that Baghdad was safer than the nation's capitol? I don't hear that so much these days. Do you reckon this has something to do with it?

800 per week = 115 per day = 4.8 hour = 1 every 12.6 minutes.

29 September 2006

Iraq Contracting 101

A Washington Post articled today enlightens us as to the foibles of Parsons Corporation an Iraq contractor so incompentent that they make Halliburtion look expert.

According to the article 13 of the 14 projects with which they were involved are substandard. Their biggest project, construction of the Baghdad Police Academy, has led to the building being declared a health risk "after feces and urine leaked through the ceilings of student barracks". Nice.

In addition to the police academy (contract value 75 million USD) they were also responsible for the construction of 150 health clinics (contract value 243 million USD). Only six of these clinics were ever finished even though 186 million USD were spent. 121 were partially completed. These will be completed by Iraqi contractors for a further 36 million USD.

Do you think they may have had this Police Academy in mind instead?

To my fellow exiles and expatriates

I send you to Unclaimed Territory to read this discussion of why this election is important. It still may not be too late for some of you depending on the state you last lived in. Go to this site for information and assistance.

I hope to vote although I may yet be disenfranchised due to the incompetence of the Mongomery County Board of Elections!

The planet v the economy - who wins?

President Bush's consistent mantra on the Kyoto Protocol specifically and all things climate change in general is that he will do nothing.

No wait that's not right. He will do nothing that will nothing that will "harm the American economy".

Now those dangerous radicals at extreme left wing, big 4 accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers have issued a "green growth plus" study which suggests that global warming can be addressed at minimal cost to the world's economy, the equivalent of one year's growth over the next forty years. In a further blow to Bush&co's thinking (as well as that of the UK's Labour government) the use of nuclear energy is not critical to the plan. The plan suggests that 60% cuts in emissions are possible by 2050. Big seven economies would cut their emissions significantly but emerging economies, such as China and India, would be allowed modest increases that well below what is predicted for these economies if nothing is done.

I am insufficiently knowledgeable to determine if the cuts go far enough or if the goals are achievable. I do suspect that the Bushniks will resist a plan that allows other economies perceived advantages.

I hope that someone who is capable of this analysis gives this the attention it deserves.

A summary of the report is available here. The full report (pdf) is available here.
(It should be noted that the report was issued by PricewaterhouseCoopers UK rather than by the US office.)

Don't call me, I'll call you

President Bush of the US, President Karzai of Afghanistan and President General Musharraf of Pakistan of dined together at the White House last night.

(It is said that President Bush couldn't understand why they weren't having pork chops like always on Thursdays. White House Chief of Protocol Donald Burnham Ensenat had the unenviable task of trying to explain the concept of halal to The Decider(TM). After several minutes of intense discussion the President indicated that he understood. "Heh. Like kosher. My buddy Abramoff won't eat pork chops either. Not even on Thursdays.")

The conversation was undoubtedly tense but with the friendly Texan at the controls we can be certain that diplomacy was maintained. Afterwards the two south Asians said that they would "stay in touch".

Both of the neighbours expressed concern at reports that Taliban attacks had doubled since President Musharraf had come to a hands off agreement with tribes on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Meanwhile in London an MOD report was leaked which accuses ISI (the Pakistani security service) of supporting al Qaeda and the Taliban. President Musharraf was not amused.

Also yesterday Amnesty International (known lefties and terrorcoddlers) released a report accusing Pakistan of "widespread human rights violations" including the torture of detainees.

Only in Texas

The Dallas police force were duly proud of one of their recent acquisitions, a so-called bait car. The cop's new toy was "outfitted with cameras, tracking capabilities and a remote engine-kill system designed to catch auto thieves."

Sounds like a brilliant idea doesn't it? Leave the car out to get stolen, track it electronically, close in on the miscreants, kill the car's engine and nail the bastards.

Just one problem. Sometime between last Friday and Monday the bait car was, well, stolen. Now the coppers can't find it as the tracking system seems to have failed!

As they say when nature makes a better mousetrap.....

If anyone in the Dallas - Fort Worth area (or anywhere else for that matter) who might have information as to the vehicle's whereabouts should ring the auto theft unit at +12146713535. Unfortunately there's no mention of a reward.

Lady with Torch Abducted


The Statue of Liberty has been reported missing this morning.

Several witnesses reported that they saw, in the early hours of the morning, the famous monument being bundled into the back of black Chevy Suburban with tinted windows and government plates by burly, crew cut men in dark suits and sunglasses. One of the men was reported to resemble Keifer Sutherland.

Further reports that the famous French woman was spotted at a small private airfield in New Jersey, hooded and handcuffed, being loaded onto an unmarked Lear jet sparked rumours that she had fallen victim to an extraordinary rendition. News that became available later on that the plane had filed a flight plan for Algiers amplified these concerns. (You know what the Algerians think of the French!)

US government sources were not forthcoming on the matter. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow would neither confirm nor deny the disappearance nor even discuss whether the statue may once have existed.

Coming on the heels of yesterday's passage of the so-called Foreign Rendition Enablement and Enforcement Debriefing Optimization Modus Operandi (FREEDOM) Act in the Senate many concerned citizens are concerned that the shrine to humanity could be subject to aggressive interrogation techniques and even torture. No methods that could be dangerous or even fatal to a bronze object are prohibited in the bill as approved yesterday.

A CIA official, speaking off the record, would not be drawn on the status of the statue. He did however say the famous woman was: "known to have been visited by both al Qaeda operatives, known Communists and people of color on multiple occasions. She has been known to make public statements that are likely to be of aid and comfort to the Freedomhaters(TM) with whom we are at war. Also she is French".

Calls made to the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the National Parks Service have not been returned.

In other news vistors to Monticello this morning reported the sounds of weeping emanating from Thomas Jefferson's grave.

Jack and Karl in a tree....

More from Suburban Guerilla on between Messrs. Abramoff and Rove. What a lovely couple they make. Maybe if someone would get off their ass and indict Rove for something, anything Jack and Karl could be roomies in the pen. (I wonder who will get to be on top?)

Let's face we all know Rove must have done something illegal.

Why censorship is stupid

Because shit like this happens.

Borat banned!

Kazakh investigative journals Borat has been barred from visiting the White House by overzealous Secret Service agents. The independent journalist had timed his visit to coincide with the state visit of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Don't worry Borat. President Bush is not fond of journalists except those from Faux News. Perhaps if you rang Mr. Murdoch and applied for a position as the Kazakh stringer you might have more luck in the future. For a taste of what you will be working with you will be pleased to know that Faux News is available in Kazakhstan!

Attention. Senator Inhofe. More hysteria.

Dear Senator Inhofe,

This news came out too late for you to deal with it in your recent speech to the Senate as you effectively and truthfully dealt with so many other environmentalist myths .

Could you please take the time to lucidly and clearly debunk this hateful rumour that methane levels will rise causing a world wide calamity? I such this effort will be facilitated by the fact that this particular report was authored by an Australian. I mean, they live upside down, how can they be smarter than the US government?

I appreciate you using your valuable time in the service of this important campaign.

Kind regards,

A. Friend

PS - A nice man from ExxonMobil gave me a fat envelope and asked me to pass it on to your. I have enclosed it and marked it for your personal attention.

British gadgets

Somewhere in the UK there are 9.8 million George Foreman grills lying about unused. That's one for every 6 people.

If everyone who's not using them decides to throw them away will this lead to an environmental crisis and another fridge mountain?

George, what hath thou wrought?

If the beach will not come to Mahomet...

...then maybe the beach will come to Oklahoma.

I think that the proud, virtuous and courageous Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe (R), has been unfairly pilloried by the hostile and patently left wing media for his recent speech on the floor of the Senate where he deftly countered the arguments of the global warming doomsayers.

He challenged all patriotic Americans to give up on "climate porn". (I assume that this leads to "climate masturbation" and then to "climate blindness". Hey! What's Inhofe been up to when he's alone in his office with just a copy of the New Scientist to keep him company anyway?)

He knows the suffering of those born over 500 miles from the sea. He understands that the children of Oklahoma have been unfairly deprived of day trips to the seaside. He knows that if climate change occurs sea level will rise and all of those evil, blue states will be destroyed by god's wrath.

Oh, and the beach may come to Tulsa and this might not be such futile quest!

Think of the children!

Will it be a musical?

Will there be nudity? Will Alberto Gonzalez get a cameo? Will it be a neocon wankfest? Will it go straight to DVD? There are so many questions.

Presenting Rendition, a film planned by New Line Cinema and provisonally starring Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Jack the lad

A US Congressional report indicates that White House officials accepted over 25,000 USD in meals and drinks from convicted fraudster and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In addition Abramoff and his firm also supplied White House employees with sports and concert tickets. It is illegal for officials to accept gifts of more than 20 USD from lobbyists. It is unknown if these gifts were repaid as required by law. (In an administration that has go to such lengths to be ethically unimpeachable I am sure that accounts for these gifts must have been settled.)

Mr. Abramoff and his business partner have been granted a second delay to a start to their prison term so that they may continue to cooperate in a corruption investigation. Interestingly both sides sought a longer delay than was granted.

There has to be some good to come out of all this surely.

Dying for politics

British generals have been putting pressure on the government to pull troops out of Iraq and redeploy them to Afghanistan which is regarded as "a more worthwhile and winnable battleground". The government has resisted the calls for political reasons.

Meanwhile former Foreign Minister Jack Straw shows why he lost his job under pressure from the US by telling the audience at the BBC's Question Time
that the situation in Iraq "is dire". He blamed the Bush administration for mistakes and for not following "the lead of Secretary Powell. The State Department had put in a huge amount of effort to ensure there was a proper civilian administration."

In the states Bob Woodward's new book accuses the Bush administration of ignoring the level of violence and unrest in Iraq. He is quoted as saying:

"The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon saying, 'Oh, no, things are going to get better'."

In Iraq journalist have long had to live in fear. First from US attacks and more recently from insurgents and death squads. Now the Iraqi government itself joins the mix. New laws* make it an offence to ridicule the government or government officials. A dozen or more journalists have been charged and at least three have been imprisoned for these offences. On the 7th of September the "police sealed the offices of Al Arabiya...for what the government said was inflammatory reporting" and some other news outlets have been shut down.

The "Freedom Agenda"(TM) marches on.

*Note: it is rumoured that President Bush as tasked Attorney General Gonzales with "getting us some of them laws". The Attorney General was not available for comment.

Jesse Ventura's footsteps

Perhaps professional wrestling is the new path to a political career. After Jesse "The Body" Ventura's success in Minnesota Shinobu "The Strongest Man in Women's Wrestling" Kandori appears likely to gain a seat in the Japanese parliament. She is a well known guest on quiz and chat shows. She once knocked down a clubhouse door at Tokyo's Korakuen stadium. (Perhaps she should run for the US Congress and be put in charge of oversight!)

Alas the golden age of British wrestling is behind us. Yet it is possible that the UK can reverse the trend. It would be an ideal career choice for John Prescott after he leaves politics!

Totally testosterone

It may explain the walk which looks as though he just got off a horse (which he may or may not be afraid of). It may explain the arrogance. It may explain the swaggering bravado. It may explain the lack of intellectual curiosity. The Decider(TM) may be too heavy on testosterone.

According to research reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry excess testosterone kills brain cells.

Two Jags drives into the sunset

Well he isn't going to WALK into the sunset, is he?

Yesterday in Manchester we were treated to a sad farewell speech from Deputy Prime Minister John "Two Jags" Prescott. Mr. Prescott has promised to step down from the post, but not from politics, before the next part conference. Curiously this annoucement has stirred less controversy and speculation than the Prime Minister's departure date.

Mr. Prescott is a master of the malapropism with a gift for mangling the English language surpassed by only a few (George Bush may or may not be one of them). Those wishing to study his turn of phrase need look no further than Simon Hoggart's book Punchlines: A Crash Course in English with John Prescott (which may unfortunately be out of print).

His career has been peppered with incidents that have been of equal interest to the tabloids and the broadsheets.
He has punched a protester who hit him with an egg.

He is known as "Two Jags" as he keeps (actually he may have got rid of one by now) two Jaguars, his official chauffeur driven car and one he actually owns.

At the Labour party's 1999 conference in Bournemouth he hopped in a Jag to traverse the 250 yards from his hotel to the conference centre. He later blamed this on the need to protect his wife's coiffure from the wind. He later, sans wife, repeated this performance at a climate change conference in Providence, Rhode Island.

Despite a certain physical resemblance to a bulldog and a physique like a sumo wrestler he managed to have a two year affair with his secretary. (Well - Henry Kissinger used to get laid too!)

After this affair he fought tooth and nail to hang on to his grace and favour governemnt homes even after being stripped of much of his portfolio.

To Ken I say "stay the course"

Forget the war on terror. Forget about Iraq and Afghanistan. There's a bigger war afoot and I think it's a war that we can win but we can't duck and run.

What war is this you may ask?

Ken "Red Ken" Livingstone's war on pigeons. Six years ago the London mayor declared war on the "rats with wings" that haunt Trafalgar Square. He has even brought in a pair of hawks to hunt them down.

So far his efforts have proved largely unsuccessful as any recent visitor to the West End will tell you. The hawks have only managed to bag 121 pigeons over 3 years although 2,500 have disappeared one way or another. The operation has cost £226,000 or around £90 a bird.

Maybe Ken should bring in Ted Nugent and while he's here perhaps Mr. Nugent could pop round to the US embassy and collect£890,000 they owe us for the congestion charge. This would more than cover the cost of the pigeons and would leave more than enough to invite Hugo Chavez for another visit.

Lib Dems be damned Ken. This is no time to be soft. There's a war to win!

28 September 2006

A Jeffinition (TM)

Fameflation (noun)- an uncontrolable upward trend in the terms used to describe the level of noteriety of an individual. Hence someone who has made an amatuer porn video becomes "a star" (see Paris Hilton), someone who has made two or three films becomes a superstar and any band who's recorded at least 3 albums can put out a "Greatest Hits" collection.

I was driven to this nsark after receiving an email from someone (I forget from whom know and I deleted it) in which Pink was described as a superstar. Now don't get me wrong. I like Pink, she's talented, aware and I dig much of her music. But she ain't no superstar and ain't gonna be one anytime soon!

Same week, different news

It would seem that Newsweek's North American readers are too sensitive for the same reading that hardnosed Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians can handle.

The cover of this week's international edition features an Afghan fighter wearing a turban and pointing a grenade launcher towards the reader. The headline? "Losing Afghanistan".

This week's US edition is a little milder. The cover photo is Annie Leibovitz. The headline? "My life in pictures".

By way of explanation Newsweek International's editor, Fareed Zakaria, offered "that in the US, Newsweek was a mass market magazine with a broad reach, while overseas it 'is a somewhat more upmarket magazine for internationally minded people'".

You can see the different versions here.

Come on Yanks. Toughen up! There's a war on.

How long do Tastykakes last?

There was an article in the Guardian the other day about trans fatty acids which was pretty horrible in its own right. There is also news that both Los Angeles and New York are considering restricting their use in restaurants.

Buried in the article was mention of a nutritionist in Chicago who has a 22 year old Hostess cupcake to demonstrate how truly horrible these things are. Turns out that it's true.

I'm sure I must have eaten a Butterscotch Krimpet older than that. It's too bad they don't come in the waxed paper anymore. There was a real art to unwrapping them without the icing sticking to the paper. At least they're kosher now! (How did they ever sell in Northeast Philly if they weren't?

Military pay

The US Congress has decided to give their military a 2.2% pay rise next year. How generous of them! This dwarfs the 2% increase Congress gave themselves earlier this year and it's not like folks in the military have to try to live on martinis and cocktail weenies. Oh no. The military get MREs.

Maybe we should send Bush and the Republican leadership to the cinema. It seems to have had some impact on Jacques Chirac. (Not that I'm comparing those great patriots to the French! Mais non!)

I wonder what we could send them to see?

Bubba goes to Manchester

Yesterday at the Labour party conference saw a love fest starring big Bill Clinton. As one (female) minister is reported to have said: "I have never seen one man simultaneously flirt with 3,000 people".

He talked about Tony Blair. He talked about aids. He talked about global warming. He talked about ubuntu.



"What's ubuntu?"

"Some word he learned in Africa."

"Man he's come a long way since Little Rock. What's it mean?"

"Something like 'I am, because you are'."

"What's that mean?"

"Got me."

Alternate definitions here or here.

Or maybe he was just promoting Linux.

Republican convention

The Republicans have announced that the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will be the site of their 2008 convention. Ostensibly this is because they view the Mid West will be critical in that year's election but I think I know what Ken Mehlman doing whilst he's there!

In for the long haul

Hidden in the Boston Globe article referenced below is a mention that a Congressional report attributes the increase in Iraq spending to "the building of more extensive infrastructure to support troops and equipment". The report goes on to suggest "that the construction of so-called semi-permanent support bases has picked up in recent months". The US government continues to deny that any permanent installations are in place or being built.
Ironically on the release of this reports comes just days after the US House passed a defence spending bill that includes a ban on the construction of permanent bases.

I guess it all depends on what the meaning of "permanent" is. Nothing lasts forever.

War on terra update

Earlier in the week we were treated to the release of very small sections of the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. The White House had hoped that the release of these snippets would support their case that everything is going swimmingly. That doesn't seem to be the case.

Today the British intelligence community weighs via a report leaked to BBC programme Newsnight that says that the Iraq war has acted as a "recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world". The report, actually written about the situation in Pakistan, also condemns the British government over Afghanistan saying it had sent troops there "with its eyes closed". The government has attempted to distance itself from the document saying that it represents the thinking of neither the government nor the MOD.

Elsewhere in the real world:

The bodies of 40 man, most apparently tortured, have been found on the streets of Baghdad over the last 24 hours.

A suicide bomber has killed 19 in an attack in Helmand province where British troops are primarily deployed.

Lincoln Group, who has admitted paying journalist to plant pro-American articles in the Iraqi press, has been awarded a new contract, worth 6.2 million USD over two years, to "monitor a number of English and Arabic news outlets and to produce public-relations products like talking points or speeches for American forces in Iraq".

The war in Iraq is now costing US taxpayers nearly 2 billion USD a week up 20% on last year. Running ahead of inflation then!

Meet the real drug pushers

Multinational pharmaceutical firms have taken to lobbying government ministers directly in an effort to obtain wider markets for their new and costly medications. Specifically mentioned in today's Guardian article are Pfizer, Eli Lily, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Meyers Squib. The pressure was specifically towards decisions taken by NICE* (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) that several new (and expensive) Alzheimer drugs should receive only limited use under the NHS. NICE decided that there was little evidence that the new drugs represented material improvements over existing drugs and only approved their use only in limited circumstances.

Pfizer is specifically accused of making thinly veiled threats to take its business elsewhere. Drug companies represent about a quarter of the UK's manufacturing base and is worth about 3.5 billion GBP annually. The industry as a whole operates on a higher gross profit margin than any other industry sector.

In a similar vein The Times reported last week that drug firms also use funding of health charities, often specifically targeted towards specific events or projects that could provide favourable publicity for their business.

Even The Pusher didn't go to these lengths.

*Note: NICE is charged with vetting new drugs and other treatments to determine clinical value and cost effectiveness. It decides whether a new treatment will be available on the NHS and how wide its utilisation will be. Their decisions are not without controversy and often strongly condemned and protested by lobby groups be they from industry, the medical community and the wider public. The recent controversy over breast cancer drug Herceptin is a case in point. (Before the right wing Yanks start screaming "rationing" I recognise that there is a measure of rationing in any system, single payer or otherwise. Taken a hard look at the American system and tell there isn't rationing of care and treatment in America. Those with money and good insurance get excellent care with the most current and expensive therapies. Those without the funds or insurance get limited care, poor care or no care!)

27 September 2006

26 November 1997

Where were you? Have Skunk thinks he knows where Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalilzad were and what they were doing.

Most importantly he thinks he knows why 26 November 1997 seems to have been picked out of the air as the date the White House wants the amendments the McCain Kabuki Compromise to be retroactive to.

Well, I can't argue with it. There's got to be a reason.

George Bush - aletheiaphobic* or mythomaniac?

And does it matter?

President Bush has allowed snippets of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released because he says it supports what he's been saying all along: all is well, stay the course, a thousand points of light (oops that was Daddy Bush).

And guess what? It doesn't support what he says! Now what?

Read it(pdf) and decide for yourself.

* Aletheiaphobia is a word of my own invention (I think) from the Greek word for truth - aletheia + phobia for fear.

Not a god like this

I'm an atheist, a godless heathen! I have been for more than 25 years. I have no regrets and I don't proselytise. But I will have to confess that have been times during those years that I may have wished I could believe in a god.

But not Jerry Falwell's god! No siree bob.

Not the Republican god.

Not a god who damns all non-believers

Not a god who blames "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way" for the 11 September attacks.

Not a god who you have to follow his way to be a human being.

Nope. Not this athiest. No sir.

Denying the denial of the denial

From the altruists at Exxon comes a puff piece on the Guardian leader page entitled (are you ready?) "We are not climate-change deniers". Well I'm glad they cleared that up. The article is in reply to George Monbiot's recent essay berating ExxonMobil for funding pseudoscientific organisations which attempt to undermine the arguments for action on climate change.

ExxonMobil corporate affairs director Nick Thomas assures us that

"we are taking steps to reduce and minimise carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from our own operations. In addition we support approaches to reduce emissions more broadly in ways that are cost effective for society and that consider the uncertainties that remain."

However this is what they say about climate change on the ExxonMobil website:

While assessments such as those of the IPCC have expressed growing confidence that recent warming can be attributed to increases in greenhouse gases, these conclusions rely on expert judgment rather than objective, reproducible statistical methods. Taken together, gaps in the scientific basis for theoretical climate models and the interplay of significant natural variability make it very difficult to determine objectively the extent to which recent climate changes might be the result of human actions. These gaps also make it difficult to predict the timing, extent, and consequences of future climate change.

Even with many scientific uncertainties, the risk that greenhouse gas emissions may have serious impacts justifies taking action. The choice of action must consider environmental, social, and economic consequences, as well as recognize the long-term nature of climate change.

Doesn't exactly sound like they're embracing the science, does it?

You call this gun control?

There would seem to be a proposal before the Pennsylvania legislature which would restrict handgun purchases to one a month.

This is described as "controversial" and it is put forward that this represents "gun control".

Of course NRA has marshalled its forces to protest this draconian restriction which clearly violates one's god given rights.

To quote one eager opponent of the measure. Mike Cancel of Washington, Pa - "The population has to have parity against the standing military, man for man." (Emphasis mine.)

I assume that this means the federal govenrment will be sending weapons inspection teams through rural Pennsylvania any day now looking for weapons of mass destruction. I mean the man said he's got to have them!

But I don't wanna go!!!!!

Well this didn't take long. On radio 4s Today Show this morning when asked if the PM's leaving offices was now "further away than some people thought when they came to Manchester" education secretary Alan Johnson replied "oh, well, I think so".

Mr. Johnson, who it has been suggested might contest the party leadership, went on to say "I mean if the prime minister says, 'I want to use the rest of my time to try to resolve the Middle East problem in the same way as we tried to tackle the Northern Ireland problem,' I think it suggests he's not talking about a couple of weeks; it's a big problem."

Well for fuck's sack. If he's going to bring peace to the Middle East first Gordon will be a great granddad before he gets his shot!

The ashes will travel in style

First for the Americans amongst us a little background. This post is about cricket. Cricket is a bat and ball came invented by the English and then perfected by the colonies and is not to be confused with Krikkit.

Specifically this is about the Test series between the English and Australian national teams.

Test matches are international matches between countries that are rated sufficiently highly by the International Cricket Council or ICC to be awarded test status. (Current test nations are England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.)Test matches are played over five days with each side getting an opportunity to bat twice. The total score between the two innings wins. A match is drawn if a team is behind but hasn't had a chance to get through all its allotted wickets (or outs) before the end of the fifth day. Confused yet? It gets worse but I'll leave you to find out for yourself should you so desire.

Back to England v Australia. This test series, played about once every other year is known as the Ashes series. After the Aussie beat England for the first time (in 1882) the following mock obituary appeared in the Sporting Times:

In Affectionate Rememberance of English Cricket Which Died At The Oval on 29th August 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P.

The body will be cremated, and the ashes taken to Australia

In 1882-83 the English team toured Australia supposedly to recover "the Ashes". This is where the story gets confusing. During this tour someone burnt something and put the ashes in a small, terracotta urn and this was, at some point, presented to the English captain Ivo Bligh. After Bligh (then Lord Darnley) died the urn containing the ashes (now known as The Ashes) was given to the Middlesex Cricket Club and held at Lords.

In theory when England play Australia in a test series they are playing for this little urn (only 10 centimetres tall) urn when they meet in a Test series. However even when Australia "hold" the Ashes (which has been much if not most of the time since) they don't get to keep them. Instead they pose for a picture and then they are put back in the museum at Lord's.

This winter, when England tour Australia, the Ashes get to go along. In a handy dandy specially designed travel case they will fly down under in their own business class seat and then will be displayed around the country.

There are however some fairly strict conditions dictated by the MCC:
They must be kept at 20C.
The must be kept at 50% humidity.
They must
not be exposed to more than 50 lux of light.
The MCC will supervise the
placing of the urn and its base in a purpose-built hydraulic, double-alarmed
8mm-thick glass case.
The public will not be allowed within one metre of the
I think the entire membership of the MCC would perish if they could see what happens to the Stanley Cup.

What is the opposite of socialised medicine?

Capitalised medicine? Marketised medicine? Free market (but not free) medicine? Just plain bad medicine?

The LA Times reports on the continued above inflation increases in the costs of health insurance in America as well as the increase of the number of uninsured. According to the article the number of uninsured workers has increased by around five million over the past six years.

As premiums increase fewer workers take up insurance even when it is available, fewer companies offer insurance and the cost to the employee increases. Just the premiums for family cover now average around 11,400 USD annually and on average employers cover 73% of the cost. Of course this would be without deductibles or co-payments. Assuming a median income of around 65,000 USD this would leave an employee with access to employer sponsored coverage still spending nearly 5% of pre-tax income on premiums alone. If a household doesn’t have access to an employee plan then they are in trouble with 17.5% of pre-tax going to insurance alone for a family with median income.
About the only encouragement I take from the article is the comment from Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA: "We are moving closer and closer to a tipping point. Any sense that this is just a problem of the poor is disappearing. This is increasingly affecting working families.

I know that on the surface that doesn't sound very encouraging. But the middle class, unlike the poor, do have political clout. As the problem begins to touch middle class lives they may begin to realise that socialism may not be a dirty word. Then something may change. In the interim the gap widens between haves and have nots.

I hope something changes and quickly.

Meanwhile in Bangkok

Radio stations closed. Political activity barred. The king has blessed the ruling council. The US has only offered muted criticism. ASEAN has yet to speak and may tacitly accept the government as a fait accompli.

Now the promised civilian prime minister looks likely to be retired general. The "Freedom Agenda" marches on!

And in what may be a fatal blow to liberty the junta has now banned go-go dancers from dancing near tanks or handling weapons. I assume that the second restriction applies to both rifles and guns!

Senator Allen makes the British papers

George "Maccaca" Allen's fame now extends across the big water. The Guardian carries a report today on the good senators trials and tribulations. I've only been following this pheripherally so some of this was news to me. I especially like the bit where he admits that his mother was Jewish but that he had a ham sandwich for lunch; i.e. "Mum might have be Jewish but I'm certainly not".

UPDATE: the Times noticed too!

Tony bids adieu

But he's still such a tease. I'm going but I can't say when. As he said:

"The truth is, you cannot go on forever. That is why it is right this is my last conference as leader. Of course it is hard to let go, but it is also right to let go; for the country and for you, the party."

Before he left the stage maintenance workers had to be called in to pry his fingers loose from the podium.

All in all it was a bit of "more of the same", the usual lecture-like performance. Underneath the message "thank you, the Labour party for giving me the extraordinary privilege of leading you these past 12 years" was the subliminal message "aren't you thankful that you've had me to lead you".

Elsewhere he delineated his version of liberty:

"but because our idea of liberty is not keeping pace with change in reality, those freedoms are in jeopardy ... we can only protect liberty by making it relevant to the modern world" i.e. by redefining freedom to fit his purpose.

To quote Kris Kristofferson - "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".

In coded language he made it clear that the troops won't be coming home whilst he's still in office:

"If we retreat now, hand Iraq over to al-Qaeda and sectarian death squads and Afghanistan back to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, we won't be safer; we will be committing a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the deepest peril ..."

But not to worry his last days will be spent as Blair the Peacemaker

"From now until I leave office I will dedicate myself, with the same commitment I have given to Northern Ireland , to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine. I may not succeed."

In his defence he did something that the Bush administration (if fact all American administrations) is unable or unwilling to do - link the Palestinian Israeli conflict to terrorism, even if he does it obliquely:

"But I will try because peace in the Middle East is a defeat for terrorism."

All in all the speech was generally well received and there was about 8 minutes of applause at the end; whether that was in appreciation of his years as PM or because they were glad to see the back of him is open to question.

Those crazy Yanks

I reckon this was meant to be a delivery for the U.S. Ryder cup team. Way too little and way too late unfortunately.

26 September 2006

The heat is on...

...and it's on you. According to NASA (that's part of the US government right?) the earth is warmer than it's been than at any other time during the current interglacial period - approximately 12,000.

Note: a thought a link to Pravda was approrpiate. Pravda means truth in Russian even though it never used to print very much of it. Sort of like G.W. on global warming, or anything really.

Why the UK should be a republic (No. 1)

Because if we were a republic the the bloody goat wouldn't have been demoted in the first place!

How the hell do you demote a goat? (Hey - it rhymes!)

Quote of the week

"I really think the quality has gone down. All they do is try to take high out of everything."

Keith Richards - commenting on the declining standards in today's recreational pharmaceuticals.

I say no to Trident! (but at least talk about it)

At least something good might come out of the Labour conference. Three senior ministers are on board for a debate and a vote on the nuclear deterrent in the form of the Trident missile. Peter Hain, Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman protested after the party blocked a debate on the issue. The government is not yet committed to a new version of the Trident missile which would cost of 25 billion GBP but that's the way the wind is blowing. They do not want an open debate and hope to make the decision within the Cabinet.

There are many issues that need to be discussed and resolved:

In a post cold war era whom are we attempting to deter and will it work? In my mind it would not be effective against a rogue state and could only be used for revenge. Would a British government ever use it for this purpose? I don't wish to ask (or answer this question for the US.)

Does replacing the system violate the anti-proliferation treaty? I think so. However the major powers have been in violation of this treaty since before the ink was dry. It was really only meant to apply to other countries anyway. We know how that's turned out: Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea!

Would the new systems be free and independent? Would the UK have the authority and the power if the US disagreed? This is critical. The government has always asserted that it would be independent but experts have disagreed. They contend that the US might retain the power to prevent the missiles from being used. This is critical. The rogue state that worries me the most is America. They (we) have the most weapons and the government is drifting further from the no first strike policy every day.

This debate is important and it is good to see ministers standing up for this. (This includes Peter Hain who is not my favourite.)

National ID cards - bad idea

I'm not sure I agree Mr. Drum on this. It's a bit of slippery slope. Just look at where we're headed over here. They won't be free and the cost to the taxpayer will be billions.

Beautiful dreamer?

For the record, I don't think she's beautiful, but I know people who do.

Secretary of State Rice gave an interview to that beacon of the intellectual press, The New York Post. In it she attempted to rebut Bill Clinton's allegations that the Bush administration did little or nothing during it's first eight months in power to deal with the al Qaeda threat. Whether or not she did so is not what I wish to discuss now (although it sounds as if she got as pissed off as Clinton did - I wonder if Faux news will describe it as "Rice gets crazed").

What I would like to discuss is how she exposed the side of her that just likes to dream. Some choice quotes from the interview:

On Iraq: "You're never going to have a just Sunni-Shia reconciliation if you don't have a political system in which the interests of all can be represented - and that's what Iraq represents."

On Pakistan: "The future of Pakistan, as [President Pervez] Musharraf and his people fully understand, is to de-radicalize elements of the population."

On the Middle East conflict: "It would help to have a moderate force in the Palestinian territories and to have the beginnings of rapprochement with Israel and the rest of its neighbors."

On the Far East: "I would like to see an improvement in Japanese-China relations."

In general: she said that U.S. forces must finish the job in Iraq and the wider Middle East to wipe out the "root cause" of violent extremism.

I like a woman with a broad ranging imagination.

Bernie's porridge is just right!

Bernie Ebbers is doing time! Today is day 1 of 9,131 days.

One down - thousands to go.

Some might call it paradise

Welcome to Java. It is a lush tropical island with beautiful beaches, mountains and jungles teeming with wildlife.

It has also been at the centre of an earthquake and tsunami, it is associated with acts of terror and it has active volcanoes.

Now it is home to a massive mudslide, which may have triggered by gas exploration, which has been flowing since May and could last 100 years.

50,000 cubic metres a day flow out of it. 11,000 people have had to leave their homes and farms. It already covers over 400 hectares. 100 years!

How much is enough?

It has cost the US taxpayer upwards of 300 billion USD. Now we are told this is not enough.

Of course the money is the smallest bit of the price the world has paid. There have been nearly 3,000 deaths among the "coalition" forces, between 50,000 and 100,000 civilian deaths, countless soldiers and civilians physically wounded and maimed, thousands with psychological damage, hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons. The currency of human lives continues to flow into the bottomless pit that is this misguided war.

Can anyone tell how much will be enough? Can anyone even tell me when we will know?

Jesus saves!

Whilst we're on the subject of Christmas the crazy folks at Bardin & Marsee Publishing have an inspirational project on tap for this year's yuletide. For those young Americans that will be fortunate enough to spend the festive season in Iraq they have launched Light of the World.

Via this initiative they want to send to troops serving God and country 100,000 copies of "a special camouflage military edition of “The Gospel of John” in...synthetic weatherproof Bible format" (aka the Outdoor Bible®).

I only have one question. Does it come in Kevlar®?

Only 88 shopping days left

Can't figure out what to get Uncle Jethro for Christmas? Did you pick little cousin Joshua in the family secret santa? Is the prospect of finding a gift for Aunt Bessie giving you cold sweats? Would you like to get a little something to send to George Bush or Tony Blair in way of thanks for all they've done?

Then look no further!

The ideal gift for everyone this Christmas (I would have said Xmas but the folks at Faux News would get angry with me) is War on Terror the Board Game!

It certainly would be ideal for the 101st Fighting Keyboarder on your list as it would get them closer to the action than they're used to!

Note: for any entrepreneurs out there they may having trouble finding distributors in some countries. This could be your Pet Rock moment!

But how many MPG does a Raider get?

Dennis Mitsubishi of Columbus Ohio has scrapped a planned ad campaign that would have declared "jihad" on the US car market and which included free swords for kids on "Fatwa Fridays" after a considerable amount of protest. A spokesman said "this was simply an attempt at humor that fell short”. Gotcha.

The sensitive folks at Little Green (American) Footballs seem to find it most droll although some commenters seem to be upset that they've missed out on an unique retail shopping experience.

As the Mitsubishi website says "intimidation is more than skin deep"!

Light up my life

Tobacco companies face another 200 billion USD suit, this time over light cigarettes after a federal judge in New York allowed the suit to go forward.

I must confess I have mixed emotions about this. I would not bother me a bit should the tobacco industry lose and have to fork over billions to the plaintiffs and to lawyers. However how naïve did you have to be to believe that light fags were better for you than the regular variety? Did these folks expect to die less slowly, to last another five years before getting cancer or emphysema?

I mean come on people. Pay attention. A little critical thinking wouldn't go amiss. The next thing you know people will suing McDonalds because they got fat!

What's that? Really? Oops, they already have.

There are so many reasons why wine in tins is a bad idea

This is just one of them.

She's tacky. She's tasteless. She's not very bright. She has her own tax break. Should we expect less than this from Paris Hilton?

This week brings us the launch of her new ad campaign in which she promotes Prosecco's new canned wine range Rich a week after she was arrested for drunk driving. Perhaps the product would more aptly be named Thick.

The head of Italy's Road Safety Society said: "She has just only been arrested for drink-driving and a few days later she is promoting an alcoholic drink. What sot of image is that?" I've driven in Italy. As amusing as Ms. Hilton's faux pas is I think the society has greater things to worry about.

Cherie gets catty

You can almost see her claws come out. Cherie Booth, the wife of the PM and prominent barrister, couldn't be asked to sit through Gordon Brown's speech yesterday so she strolled next door where the chancellor speech was broadcast on a big screen. After Mr. Brown stated that "it has been a privilege for me to work with and for the most successful ever Labour leader and Prime Minister" Ms. Booth (she uses her maiden name professionally) was overheard by a Bloomberg reporter to say "well, that's a lie".

Number 10 has, of course, that she said any such thing. In the confusion of a busy conference centre she could just as easily have said "what a tie", "there's a fly" or "I'm so high" and been misheard. Yet as Simon Hoggart says in his Guardian column today "that nothing is really true until it has been denied by the No 10 press office".

For the conspiracy theorists the remarks were reported by Bloomberg and Bloomberg is owned by the Republican mayor of New York. Perhaps the Republicans wish to ditch the "special relationship" with the post-Blair Labour party and are trying to stir up the infighting. The story could just be a plant to encourage this. (Would we have believed it if reported by the Daily Mail?)

And I was worried the conference might be boring!

A ringside seat for Wolfie?

At last year's Labour Party conference 82 year old Walter Wolfgang was ejected by security guards for heckling during Tony Blair's speech. He is believed to have shouted "Nonsense" after Blair claimed that the UK was only in Iraq to help build a democratic government.

Mr. Wolfgang, a Jew who escaped from Nazi Germany as a teenager in the late 1930s and who was a founding member of the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), has subsequently been elected to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

I assume that this means he will have a better seat this year and won't have to yell as loud to be heard. (He was in the balcony last year - surely a cruel fate for an octogenarian!) I also assume that he won't be ejected.

I wonder if he'll get to meet the PM. If so, I'd like to be a fly on the wall.

25 September 2006

Silly Sicillians!

Palermo Calcio are to distribute anti-mafia t-shirts to West Ham supporters before the second leg of their UEFA Cup tie. At the first leg match in London vendors were selling, and supporters wearing, "Hammers v. the Mafia" shirts.

I don't know why anyone thinks that Sicily is the home of the mafia when we all know that it is the home of sexually active, abortion seeking Catholic priests and nuns!

Assistance required

I've forgotten my social security number. If anyone finds one of these would you contact me straightaway? It might prove helpful.

Remind me....

...not to see this film!

Operator get me jesus!

Can you ring Jesus on one of these?

Cue Manhattan Transfer.

I call it Talibanistan

Iraq is a terrible mess. There's no denying it - unless you're Republican and run the country.

But have we forgotten about Afghanistan? What news we do get from that unfortunate country is horrific. The fighting seems to be much worse than what is occuring in Iraq, Nato controls only small swathes of the country and the Afghan government controls even less, the Taliban is resurgent in large areas,the reconstruction (if one can laughingly call it that) has progressed even less and there is probably a great deal more to play for.

If this is success what does failure look like?

Are there "death taxes" on a death star?

It gets more like America here everyday. Where do I move to next?

For some reason estate or inheritance tax (at least I have't heard it called the "death tax" yeat) has popped up as an issue with politicians on both sides suggests its repeal or modification. Presumably this is due to more estates having tax owing due to the rapid escalation in property values, especially in the southeast. The estate threshold is now £285,000 if the heir is not a spouse or domestic partner and the tax rate is 40%. (I believe the threshold is £1,000,000 for spouses and partners.)

The case invariably used to demonstrate the unfairness of the tax is that the heirs may have to sell the property to pay the tax. Have these people never heard of mortgages?

Here's an example:

A parent dies leaving you a detached house in greater London worth £400,000. The tax due on this is £46,000. To pay that back over a 10 year mortgage at 7.5% would mean monthly payments of around £560. I assume that you're living somewhere. Renting a two bedroom flat in London is going to be at least £750 a month.

Why do they have to sell the house? I don't get it.

Ann Coulter - R.I.P

This just in! Her obituary.

Update: Um. Sorry. There seems to have been a misunderstanding. And I was so happy for a time (apologies to Eugene O'Neill).

It's not like there is actually human blood flowing through her veins.

Britain's inferiority complex

There may be a special relationship between the UK and the US but the UK definitely is the jealous little brother. For proof of this we need go no further than Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour Party Conference today. What is his vision for Britain? It is a "vision of the good society".

America got to have a Great Society over forty years ago. The UK has to settle for just a good one.
Oh well. Maybe we'll grow up to be rich and famous.

Priests and nuns just havin' fun

It seems like celibacy isn't what it used to be or is it?

Things are getting a bit dicey amongst the Roman Catholic community in Sicily.

Sister Silvia seems to have thrown a wobbly after finding here lover (and the parish priest) in bed with a married woman. She then attempted to set his house on fire and to kill him. The good father is 70 and the sister, who is also his cleaner is under 40.

Sister Silvia also claims to have aborted (or murdered in the vernacular of the church)two fetuses planted by Father Carmelo. Could it be easier to find an abortion provider in Sicily than in Mississippi?

How do you say "googly" in Mandarin?*

China is planning to get serious about cricket. Let's hope they never get test status. How would England cope?

Of course Rupert Murdoch is probably salivating over the idea of a test series between China (pop. 1.3 billion and world's most populous country) and India (pop. 1.1 billion and soon to be the world's most populous nation) given that he has significant media investments in both.

*Note: I can't find a translation but the name for cricket in Mandarin is either shen shi yun dong (the noble game) or ban qiu (球棒 - bat ball).

Who you gonna believe?

Our leaders (people who should know):

George Bush - 11 September 2006 - "The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power"

Condoleezza Rice - 10 Septeber 2006 - "I think it's clear that we are safer but not really yet safe."

Dick Cheney - 11 September 2006 - "I don't know how much better you can do than no attacks for the past five years. The fact is, the world is better off today..."

Or people who should know:

National intelligence estimate - THE WORLD IS MORE DANGEROUS!

Sveltely dangerous

Last week was London Fashion Week and once again there was a great deal of controversy about the predominance of sickly, wafer thin models on the catwalk and whether they present bad role models for young people especially adolescent girls.

Clearly eating disorders are significant problem and putting forward as icons women who's physique is unobtainable for 99+% of the female population is troublesome. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the Independent article linked to above is the discussion of material that is out there on the web: pro-anorexia sites, fasting forums and "thinspiration" sites. A lot of it's pretty disturbing.

At least it appears that Milan is taking a different direction and utilising a more Rubenesque model.

Does this still count as news?

This headline from yesterday's Independent : "Blair 'turned blind eye to Iraq intelligence' in Bush meeting".

Blair didn't counter Bush when the President claimed that Iraq had bought aluminium tubes to use for nuclear weapons production even though he had"received 'private briefings' which indicated that the aluminium tubes were more likely to be for conventional weapons". The claims come from a new edition of Lawless World by Philippe Sands published due to be published tomorrow.

I think the PM just got confused when Bush said "aluminum" rather than "aluminium". The extra syllable makes all the difference.

Is everyone sitting comfortably?

Get ready. This week brings us the Labour Party conference from sunny Manchester.

Better than reality TV or an old episode of Morse.

  • There will be intrigue.
  • There will subterfuge.
  • There will be plotting and conspiracy.
  • There will dishonesty.
  • There will be drunkenness.
  • There will be sex (although we may not hear about it - but it will be there!).
  • There will be murder.

Errr, scratch that last one I may have gotten carried away.

Or it may just be full of boring platitudes and mind numbing speeches.

Let's hope for excitement!

Will the real Borat please stand up?

As we all must know by now the people of Kazakhstan less than pleased with Sacha Baron Cohen, at least when he's in the guise of Kazakh journalist Borat. With the release of his mockumentary film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, it seems that Kazakhstan may be ready to fight back.

Jantemir (Jantik) Baimukhamedov is perhaps one of the more famous television personalities in the country and perhaps comes closest to claiming the title of the real Borat. He is threatening to crash the London premiere of the film with his mother and his horse.

Unlike Hollywood at least there's some grass in Leicester Square for the horse to graze on.

23 September 2006

Why didn't anyone tell me?

The Steel Pier is going to close! Why am I always the last to know? What ever happened to diving horses? I hope someone found them a nice home with a backyard pool.

Attention Philadelphia

I'm sure none of you will wish to miss this!

The strange case of Posada Carriles (or when is a terrorist not a terrorist?)

Posada Carriles is a suspected terrorist that has been in US custody since March of last year when he entered the US illegally. He is wanted for trial in two countries where he is suspected of responsibility for the blowing up of an airplane in 1976 resulting in the deaths of 73 people.

He is not being held at Guantánamo.

He has not been extraordinarily rendered to a country were he will be tortured.

We know where he is.

He is about to be released!

Why - you may ask.

The countries that have requested his extradition are Cuba and Venezuela. (The extradition requests have been refused as - wait for me here - he might be tortured!)

He is accused of blowing up a Cuban plane flying between Cuba and Venezuela along with other acts of terrorism.

He is reputed to be a current or former CIA operative.

There are strong indications that the CIA and others in the US government knew of his plans before the airplane was blown up.

He's just an all around nice guy.

Compare and contrast his treatment with this. Do you reckon we will win the "War on Terra" this way?

More (serious) thoughts on the death penalty

I got all excited yesterday when I thought Ms. Malkin had had a change of heart re the death penalty. I think her conversion was insincere as it seems to be based entirely on 1) the religion of the defendants and 2) the religion of the country wherein the trial took place. If she were just consistent like some folks are I wouldn't have had such a problem.

Anyway the Guardian has a feature piece in their magazine section today that suggests the death penalty in slipping in popularity in the states. I think from a distance, largely based on poll results, it may seem that way but I believe that the underestimate how zealous the supporters are. Read it and decide for yourself.

The writer went to Oklahoma to witness an execution. In her description of the process she notes that the executioners are not state employees but volunteers who answered an advert for the position in the local newspaper!

Does anyone else find this appalling? Do you include it on your CV under other interests: Little League Coach, avid tennis player, volunteer executioner? What type of person would volunteer to do this? Should they be under surveillance rather than the rest of us?

Note: this website tells me that my old home state of Pennsylvania also uses "citizen volunteers" as executioners. That makes me feel better! Illinois is also noted as using volunteers but it isn't clear whether they are civilians or corrections staff.

Thoughts whilst washing up

Why don't they make stainless tea?

A constitution for NHS?`

Oh come on Tony. I know you're trying to look interested and engaged in your final year but is this really a priority? In isolation it's not such a bad idea but, guess what, I have a better one.

How about a written constitution for the bloody country first? I always hear politicans droning on about the British constitution but when I ask about it no one's ever been able to show it to me. Isn't this a bit of a shortcoming for a so called constitutional monarchy?

So, just for you Tony, here are a few suggestions as to what it might cover:

  • The basic rules of governement including the responsibilities and the limits of the Parliament, the judiciary and the head of state.
  • The methods of selection for the Parliment, the judiciary and the head of state. (Would I be tipping my hand if I suggested that my preference for the later role wouldn't be besed on bloodline?*) You can think of this as an opportunity to replace the current upper house (which you've been promising but not delivering) with something remotely democratic.
  • The methods for removal of any of the above.
  • A definition of the rules under which a government may go to war including when and where parlimentary approval is required.
  • A bill of rights. The basic, involiable rights of citizens and residents. These should include life, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion (including from religion - so dump the Church of England while you're at it), a right to privicy (from other citizens, corporations and the state), jury trial and explicit rules about double jeopardy, right to property and from unreasonble search and seizure, a right to counsel if accused, freedom from torture and inhuman treatment, a right to healthcare, a right to education and, most importantly, the right to vote. (Feel free to expand on these as you see fit!)
  • The role of central government and the powers devolved to the regions (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) and to local government councils.
  • The definition of a citizen and the definition of the means of naturalisation.
  • The means whereby the constititution would be adopted. This should be through a plebicite or referendum and should require something greater than a simple majority as well as a majority in all regions.
  • The means by which the constititution may be amended. This should be through a plebicite or referendum and should require something greater than a simple majority as well as a majority in all regions.
There. That wasn't so difficult was it? Just think what this will mean to your legacy! What a gift to the country!

*Note: if you ditch the monarch you'll need to come up with a new name for the country. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a bit of a mouthful anyway. I think having a call in show on BBC 1 would be a good idea. You could co-host with Ann Robinson and Prince Charles. The public phone in suggestions at 50P a call. (Gordon will like that.) You pick the 10 best then you have a week of shows a la Big Brother and vote one off a night. For entertainment value you can have celebrity supporters of each potential name do silly stunts and challenges. (Ring Ant and Dec they may have some good ideas.) Think of the fun. I'm sure Cherie and the kids will want to be involved as well.