Monday, December 29, 2008


too much madness upon the land,
I've got to wonder,
if it's because the times so hard,
yes I've got to wonder
if it 'cause of too much drinking
or it 'cause of too much smoking,
I don't know
I want to know ...

Most of this madness
comes from the wickedness
of our own people ..."
In 1976 the Mighty Maytones were singing this about Jamaica. Admittedly there's a fair amount of wickedness about today that doesn't come from 'our own people', but the natives are doing their bit to make the song a lot more applicable to the UK than it was in those days ...

(if you liked that, try Owen Gray's 'Bongo Natty', of similar vintage. Unfortunately the youtube poster, a chap called wikidub, has seen fit to improve it with random gunshots and other effects - can't be helped).

Youtube and the internet are wonderful things. I love Bulgarian singing, I love pipe music (be it Highland, Border or Irish) . But I had no idea what absolutely wonderful, haunting pipe music they had over there. Try this. Suddenly you realise where a lot of the little trills and inflections in Bulgarian singing come from. Gorgeous.

Can't work out if this is corny or beautiful - perhaps it's both. Inga and Anush Arshakyan are surely the Clannad of the South Caucasus. But where else other then the web would you get an Armenian lullaby - with dancing - at short notice ?

And for anyone who liked the medieval Sinfonye music, here's head honchette Stevie Wishart producing some more modern sounds - in her electronic bondage outfit.

(Apologies for the lack of serious posting when there's so much serious/unpleasant stuff happening- apart from the usual Christmas shenanigans, I've been decorating a room. "Just" got the flooring to do tomorrow.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Does it Say ...

- about the Level of Debate on Domestic Violence in This Country...

... that I have just watched the most sensitive and informed treatment of abusive relationships I have ever seen on British television, and it was in Wallace and Grommit?

Fluffles was the archetypal battered partner, and Paella the archetypal abuser. It was harrowing ...

Laban's immediate and ungallant thought was that her Significant Other needs to keep an eye on the sherry bottle. Has anyone else any ideas about What It Says ? After all, if she's right, the Organisation Formerly Known as Dr Barnardo's Homes has just frittered away a lot of the punters dosh on expensive representations of Real Domestic Violence as envisaged by Bartle Bogle Hegarty's finest - when it should have been giving us Mr Park's gentle allegories.

(I must admit to preferring Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which I'd not seen before. Paella was too obviously a villain from the off. But will the lovely Fluffles become a fixture in the W/G menage ? It occurs to me that Gromit is a hero in the Gary Cooper mould ..)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Belated Christmas Joy To You All

A couple of years back I mentioned this lovely Marian hymn. My daughter put this together with the freebie XP movie maker and Google, Vivien Ellis sings beautifully - Gloria in excelsis !

(post backdated to the appropriate day - at the time I was just too busy !)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tariffic !

The trade barriers are starting to go up. While the company formerly known as British Steel, now Indian-owned, faces 30% production cuts, India is raising steel tariffs to protect its domestic production capacity. At the recent G20 meeting, participants swore to uphold free trade - then went home and raised duties on steel (India) and cars (Russia - a decision which provoked protests).

The Economist is distressed.

Tariff increases may be the protectionist’s barrier of choice, despite limits agreed by members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This is because in the past decade many countries have unilaterally cut tariffs to well below those limits. They have plenty of room to raise them without breaking any rules.

If all countries were to raise tariffs to the maximum allowed, the average global rate of duty would be doubled, according to Antoine Bouet and David Laborde of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC. The effect could shrink global trade by 7.7%.

China has announced tax rebates for its favoured exporters, as well as pegging its currency at what America sees as an unrealistically low level. In many countries there's pressure for more import duties.

“Post-imposition of the duty, the prices for imported zinc would go up, thereby inclining buyers to opt for domestic variants,” an official of a zinc company said.
He seems to have grasped the concept pretty well. The Economist is reminded of the 1930s and the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. In fact, the increases weren't that hefty compared with the already-existing tariffs. But :

Smoot-Hawley did most harm by souring trade relations with other countries.
And that's the point. America was then the great world exporter. By provoking retaliatory tariffs, she cut off her nose to spite her face, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, again in Cassandra mode, explains :

There has been much talk lately of America's Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which set off the protectionist dominoes in 1930. It is usually invoked by free traders to make the wrong point. The relevant message of Smoot-Hawley is that America was then the big exporter, playing the China role. By resorting to tariffs, it set off retaliation, and was the biggest victim of its own folly.

Britain and the Dominions retreated into Imperial Preference. Other countries joined. This became the "growth bloc" of the 1930s, free from the deflation constraints of the Gold Standard. High tariffs stopped the stimulus leaking out.

It was a successful strategy - given the awful alternatives - and was the key reason why Britain's economy contracted by just 5pc during the Depression, against 15pc for France, and 30pc for the US.

Could we see such a closed "growth bloc" emerging now, this time led by the US, entailing a massive rupture of world's trading system? Perhaps.

Interesting to see that the 1930s depression in the UK was apparently nowhere nearly as bad as in the US, thanks to Imperial Preference - the policy of making the British Empire as nearly as possible a free-trade zone. Some remnants of Imperial Preference - like the favourable UK import regime for Caribbean bananas - only vanished relatively recently. Not that depression was a picnic for those affected - my grandfather was unemployed for pretty much the whole of the 1930s, with occasional labouring work on Government relief schemes, and his daughter went to school with cardboard in her shoes.

We have no Empire any more, so that avenue is closed to us - and America is not the world's exporter any more, so the lessons of Smoot-Hawley don't necessarily apply to them either.

Protection can work pretty well for a nation with a devastated economy and infrastructure wishing to rebuild. Japan and Korea did pretty well out of it - can you think of any candidates closer to home ? The South African and Rhodesian economies under the impact of sanctions did not collapse, but substituted imports and became self-sufficient.

I must admit I had M. Sarkozy down as a Brit-style price-of-everything sell-the-grandmother merchant. Maybe not so, although he's probably just playing to the gallery :

"We cannot be the only continent in the world that does not support its builders and manufacturers. We have to help our industrial infrastructure," Sarkozy told the assembly.

"Otherwise we are going to see an industrial wasteland."

What do you mean "are going to see" ? M. Sarkozy obviously hasn't taken a train between Birmingham and Wolverhampton or Sheffield and Leeds.

Pity The Poor Banker

Robert Peston reports Bank of England deputy chairman John Gieve as follows :

"If we'd used interest rates to try and address this asset-price credit growth, we would have been holding down the level of activity elsewhere in the economy, in manufacturing, in other services, holding down the level of employment at a time when consumer price inflation and earnings were stable and reasonably low. And people would have said, you know, 'this is a wilful reduction in the prosperity of the country'."
In other words, they feared the political reaction to what they knew was the right thing to do, so they didn't do it.

So much for the political independence of the BoE, for which Chancellor Brown was given so much credit, and which seems to have left him with the power while passing the responsibility to the BoE.

And the kindest expression for the BoE personnel involved would be that they "fell below the level of events".

It's not "that the Bank of England does not possess the proper tools for dealing with incipient booms in assets and lending". It's that it doesn't possess the proper bankers. John Gieve sounds like one of those chaps who would have trundled through less interesting times without trace. Instead he seems to have a CV covered in red ink and blots.

BoE website :

Sir John Gieve was appointed Deputy Governor in January 2006. In addition to his membership of the Monetary Policy Committee, he has specific responsibility for the Bank's Financial Stability work ..
That's unfortunate. Financial stability seems in short supply ...

He oversaw one Home Office shambles :

Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General wrote

To inform Parliament that the Home Office has not met the statutory reporting timetable in respect of its 2004-05 resource accounts;


I cannot form an opinion on the truth and fairness of the Home Office financial statements for 2004-05


That is as strong a condemnation of incompetent financial management as any auditor is likely to utter.

It is as astonishing as it is unacceptable, that a major Central Government Department like the Home Office cannot be trusted to account for the money it spends on our behalf.

If a private sector organisation had mismanged its financial affairs as badly as this, then the people in charge would be out of a job forthwith.

Will the Home Secretary Charles Clarke, whom in theory bears resposibility for this David Blunkett legacy, have the honour to resign ?

What about the "Sir Humphrey" , the Permanent Secretary and therfore the Accounting Officer of the Home Department at the time. i.e. Sir John Gieve.

Sir John is now the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, with a vote on the level of the Bank of England's official Interest Rates, which affect the entire UK economy !

And another :

Last week the 56-year-old career civil servant returned to Westminster for a grilling by the Home Affairs Select Committee about why more than 1,000 prisoners were not even considered for deportation after serving their jail sentences. "There were failings in the handling of foreign prisoners which I regret," Gieve told the committee. "I am not trying to excuse the inexcusable."

Gieve has also been criticised over the running of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and his failure to give a full account of how the nanny of Kimberly Quinn, David Blunkett's former lover, was given a visa.

In recent weeks, the Home Office has come under fire from several corners. Charles Clarke, the former home secretary, called the department "dysfunctional", while Clarke's successor, John Reid, recently judged it "not fit for purpose".

You have to be impressed with a chap who can preside over so much disaster and is still prepared to share his wisdom with us on prime time TV (tonight's Panorama). What's Hebrew for 'chutzpah' again ?

To be fair to Gieve and his colleagues, house prices were roaring ahead long before 2006. It was around 2005 that I started to get unsolicited invites to buy-to-let seminars at snazzy hotels, one of the signs that the market is heading for a peak. And doing the right thing would probably have cost the members of the Monetary Policy Committee their jobs. Instead it'll cost ours.

Gods of the Market Place

In my Amazon post I got comments from people who seemed to think I was a disciple of free markets. Up to a point, I am. As a general principle, free markets seem a pretty good way of 'making us better off' - although that phrase covers a multitude of sins and ideas - what exactly is 'better off' ?

But only up to a point. People are not always rational. What JFC Fuller called the myth of the Heroic Man is to a greater or lesser extent always in conflict with the myth of the Economic Man. Neither myth is terribly healthy, as we're not all one thing nor all the other.

Unfortunately both major UK parties are full subscribers to the myth of Britons as Economic Men.

Labour see that 'you are what you have' - and it doesn't matter how you got it. Hence the idea that being poor is somehow in itself a stigma and disgrace - to be removed by state transfers of cash. Pretty much the direct opposite of their founding beliefs, that an honest working man, no matter how poor, could - and should - be able to look anyone in the eye. But it's a long time since Labour was the party of the honest working man.

Tories see that 'you are what you make' - and it doesn't matter how you make it. Wasn't David Cameron's previous existence spent doing PR for upmarket vertical drinking establishments ?

I'm more of Martin Kelly's mind (he's quoting here) :

"(Economics) has moved into the void left by the decline of religion and the moral consensus; and it is increasingly seen as the main preoccupation of public policy, a panacea for social ills, the source even of private contentment. From being a technical subject, explaining human society in the way that medicine explains the human body, it threatens to become an end in itself, laying down goals, motives, incentives."
Which, as he says, is how we end up with Billy Aitchison and Sonny Devlin.

It's not one or the other, it's more or less. Don't forget Heroic Man, don't forget Original Sin and don't forget Original Damn Foolishness - the unwise decisions of clever men are likely to impact us much more then the unwisdom of the stupid, because clever men will be in positions to make decisions which affect us all. Vortigern thought he was maximising his utility when he hired Hengist and Horsa, but it turned out they had their own ideas about utility.

The worshippers of the Gods of the Market Place should ponder the end that attended Gabriel Oak's dog George, shot in "another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise".

Trouble is, we may by then have suffered the fate of his sheep !

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Laban Agrees ...

... with Chick Yog. I'd thought the Tories had selling off the family silver down to a fine art, but they're just amateurs compared to this lot ...

(btw, there's a small Cultural Studies paper waiting to be written on names - how the Amalgamated Union of Wire-Drawers, Fettlers and Allied Trades turns in thirty years into something called "Together" or "Unity", British Insulated Cable and Radio Limited into "Xantippe" or "Xenith", and the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment via "Defence Research Agency" into "QinetiQ". The key being that the old, wordy, literate names actually described what the organisation did, the new ones conceal it and are post-literate, logos in letter form)

UPDATE - can there have been a worse government since the Baldwin/Chamberlain administration ? I'm speechless.

The Treasury is considering privatising other state assets in what critics have called a recession "fire sale". These include:

*Ordnance Survey

*The Met Office

*The Forestry Commission

*The Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster

*The Covent Garden Market Authority

*The Royal Mint

*The Tote

*Buildings owned by British Waterways

*British Nuclear Fuel's stake in uranium enrichment company Urenco

*The Oil & Pipeline Agency, which manages the UK's underground network of fuel distribution pipelines.

Why don't they sell the Palace of Westminster to Donald Trump and lease it back as well ?

"‘A careful reading of the text ...."

Children as young as eight were among the audience at the performance of The Comedy of Errors at The Old Laundry Theatre, in Bowness, Cumbria.

Actors from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) took part in the show.

It featured one of the play's characters Dromio guarding a door when a man dressed as a woman walked up to him, pulled down his pants and Dromio's pants, before the pair simulated sex.

Not tebbily surprising.

Peter James, LAMDA principal, said: ‘A careful reading of the text would demonstrate that we did nothing that was uncalled for by the Bard'.

It's all in the interpretation - and these days the interpretation is likely to be one that Thomas Bowdler would be uneasy with. Even Cymbeline at the Swan last year featured a few single-entendres - and as I said at the time, I hadn't realised what a huge influence on modern drama Benny Hill and the Carry Ons were.

We took the kids to A Midsummer Night's Dream at Stratford a month or so back, where as ill-fortune and a dodgy wall would have it, the famous lovers Pyramus and Thisbe were forced to communicate through the legs of the Wall (who sported a fetching pair of red Y-fronts) - and, golly, if Pyramus doesn't accidentally kiss the Wall's bottom in time for the line "I kiss the wall's hole, not your lips at all". Thirteen year old boys find that kind of stuff hilarious.

Now you could argue that the baying mob in the pits of Shakespeare's day would have expected - nay, demanded such toilet stuff. But you can't tell what some transgressive director will come up with next. We considered another trip to Macbeth at Stratford, and while I know the play comes with its drunken porter you do have to check out first whether the director has given the text 'a careful reading'.

"The way I read it is this. Lady M is desperate to get hubby's courage screwed up to the sticking place. Given the position of women in medieval Scottish society, her sexual hold over him is one of the few levers of power available to her. Lady M is a strong, ambitious and determined woman. Surely in such a circumstance she would use all her wiles - including ..." we get a radical new interpretation of 'sticking place' and the play is sold out for months. But it's art, darling !

After all, the then artistic director of the Globe, one Mark Rylance, read Macbeth so carefully that Lady M, in the form of the delightful Jane Horrocks, wet herself on stage every night in a perfomance that sold out every mackintosh within ten miles of the theatre. There wasn't a dry seat on the stage ...

(btw, I do love the bit in Macbeth where the murderers are waiting for their quarry and discuss the beautiful evening ... 'the west yet glimmers with some streaks of day ..')

(I'm sure David Duff will have views on this .. he usually does !)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Do you mind if the dog smells your breasts?"

There are more things in heaven and earth ...

It's Cognitive Dissonance Time ...

Aren't (Christian) 'fundies' funny, with their weird views on women and homosexuals ? sayeth Sheffield's Incurable Hippie.

Not so the 'fundies' of other religions. It appears that one Benyam Mohammed, current address Guantanamera Bay, is on her Christmas card list.

"I used some of my photographs to make cards" quoth the self-confessed 'pacifist warrior'.

I hope she sent him this one - I'm sure he'd appreciate it.

On the other hand, perhaps not this one - don't want to put ideas into a chap's head, do we ?

Amazon / Home Delivery Network Saga II

I just took a look at the Amazon site again. The delivery was booked out of the depot at 7:17 and "delivery attempted" at 8:18, 61 minutes later.

A quick AA Autoroute tells me the depot is nearly 46 miles away and about 59 minutes drive in a car. I suppose the driver booked out the parcel as the very last one then leapt into the van and caned it directly to my house before tragically finding I wasn't there even though I was. They're making it up as they go along, aren't they ?

It was booked out at 7:11 this morning. It's now 9:09 and I'm typing this in the kitchen, looking out at the road. I wonder what time they'll 'attempt delivery' today ?

Well, I've written to Amazon and now I'm trying the phone to the depot. Wish me luck.

UPDATE - no answer. There's a surprise.

Home Delivery Network The , Hitchin , HERTFORDSHIRE , SG5 1RT , 01462 421336
Home Delivery Network , Eastleigh , HAMPSHIRE , SO50 4NG , 023 8061 9866
Home Deliver Network Ltd , Lynx Trading Estate , SOMERSET , BA20 2NZ , 01935 432924
Home Delivery Network , Sunderland , TYNE AND WEAR , SR2 8QS , 0191-564 0924
Home Delivery Network , Dafen , DYFED , SA14 8QW , 01554 777877
Home Delivery Network , Warwick , WARWICKSHIRE , CV34 6QP , 01926 311404
Home Delivery Network , Rochdale , LANCASHIRE , OL11 3JR , 01706 352537
Home Delivery Network , Eastleigh , HAMPSHIRE , SO50 4NT , 023 8061 8398
Home Delivery Network , Yate , AVON , BS37 5QZ , 01454 316101
Home Delivery Network , Glenrothes , FIFE , KY6 2RU , 01592 773297
Home Delivery Network , Stoke On Trent , STAFFORDSHIRE , ST6 4PB , 01782 836071
Home Delivery Network , Park Royal , LONDON , NW10 7UA , 020 8961 8774
Home Delivery Network , Bolton , LANCASHIRE , BL3 6AX , 0870-154 5414
Home Delivery Network , Fareham , HAMPSHIRE , PO15 5ST , 01489 581544
Home Delivery Network , Lenton Lane Industrial Estate , NOTTINGHAMSHIRE , NG7 2TG , 0115-986 0431
Home Delivery Network , Gateshead , TYNE AND WEAR , NE10 0ES , 0191-495 2211
Home Delivery Network , Oldbury , WEST MIDLANDS , B69 3EX , 0121-552 5541
Home Delivery Network , East Kilbride , LANARKSHIRE , G75 0YA , 01355 233085
Home Delivery Network Ltd , Newbridge , MIDLOTHIAN , EH28 8LD , 0131-333 3651
Home Delivery Network Ltd , Morley , WEST YORKSHIRE , LS27 0BN , 0113-253 8226
Home Delivery Network Ltd , Basildon , ESSEX , SS14 3DT , 01268 286666
Home Delivery Network Ltd , Mitcham , SURREY , CR4 4HX , 020 8685 1032

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Should You Be Buying From Amazon ?

In the last 18 months I've probably bought more from Amazon than from any other online retailer, as it's overtaken my previous top site of ebuyer (the house now has 5 PCs built from Ebuyer components plus two 'bought-in' boxes, so my purchases there have diminished). Admittedly a single Ebuyer order might have been for £150-odd compared with my average £30-40 on Amazon, but the family between them have probably spent getting on for £500 this year, including Amazon gift vouchers.

Following the revelations in the Sunday Times about the way Amazon UK treats its staff, I'm wondering if I shouldn't diversify - maybe look to Borders for the books and CDs and elsewhere for the electronics. They're getting too dominant in the marketplace anyway.

An investigation by The Sunday Times at Amazon’s enormous warehouse in Bedfordshire has found that workers were:

– Warned that the company refuses to allow sick leave, even if the worker has a legitimate doctor’s note. Taking a day off sick, even with a note, results in a penalty point. A worker with six points faces dismissal.

– Made to work a compulsory 10½ hour overnight shift at the end of a five-day week. The overnight shift, which runs from Saturday evening to 5am on Sunday, means they have to work every day of the week.

– Set quotas for the number of items to be picked or packed in an hour that even a manager described as “ridiculous”. Those packing heavy Xbox games consoles had to pack 140 an hour to reach their target.

– Set against each other with a bonus scheme that penalises staff if any other member of their group fails to hit the quota.

I'm surprised the sicknote stuff is legal. Anyone out there got good ideas for Amazon-replacements ?

There's another thing. My son is waiting for the delivery of his new Acer netbook, sourced from Amazon. While awaiting I did a quick bit of googling for the delivery company Amazon use, Home Delivery Network.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

HDN tracking system said they had 2 failed deliveries, and had left cards each time. Funny how I was working in my hall the whole time, and never saw or heard a vehicle, no ring or knock at the door and certainly no cards. Amazon apologised and said they would "follow it up". Its difficult to NOT use HDN with Amazon, as they use it by default on many items, and you have no choice unless you upgrade to much more expensive shipping options. The lack of contact details of ANY KIND on their website just confirms their incompetence, as they obviously have far too many complaints to afford staff to man the phones or email relies. Avoid if you can...

In over 10 years of shopping online I have NEVER had to deal with a shower such as this company! I finally gave up on the call centre and phoned my local depot after the website was updated showing I had missed a delivery for the FOURTH time despite me being in all day.

08/03/2007 00:00:00 Customer Parcel Data Received
08/03/2007 19:30:01 Sort Centre - Shaw, Oldham Sorted
08/03/2007 23:42:00 Leeds Depot Received
09/03/2007 06:36:42 Leeds Depot Loaded onto vehicle
09/03/2007 09:40:02 Leeds Depot Unable to Deliver Carded
09/03/2007 13:48:23 Leeds Depot Received
09/03/2007 13:49:09 Leeds Depot Unable to Deliver Carded
12/03/2007 06:31:17 Leeds Depot Loaded onto vehicle
12/03/2007 14:06:28 Leeds Depot Received
12/03/2007 14:08:43 Leeds Depot Unable to Deliver Carded

I rang them and the guy on the other end was very unhelpful. making out like I had missed them and they would be trying again on Monday. Of course he wouldn't listen no matter how much I insisted no attempt was made to deliver the parcel and the same thing is going to happen on Monday.

I had been in all day and had no cards and heard nothing.

Well, you know what's coming. The beastie was recorded as leaving the depot for delivery at 7 this morn. No further update (and my son stayed in all day) until nine tonight, when finally the Amazon 'tracking' page updated.

Apparently the driver was 'unable to deliver' at 8.20 this morning - when I was still in the house and would have heard any delivery vehicle arriving. No one rang, no-one left a card. I get the impression the drivers have too much stuff to deliver and end up inventing 'failed deliveries' for those households they don't get round to. We stayed in till 7 tonight and left a note for the driver when we went out. We were wasting our time. Why wasn't the site updated in real time ? Don't they carry little digital, mobile-linked tablets to record failed deliveries as they happen ? Or do they wait till the driver's returned to the depot (having had plenty of time to think up plausible non-delivery scenarios) ?

There's a fortune to be made for the person who devises a decent delivery/tracking system, although nothing will avail if the company are screwing their drivers with too much work and the drivers are returning the compliment by lying about 'failed deliveries'.

Most of the delivery companies are incompetent to a greater or lesser degree. I must at this point give due to one of the senior guys at Initial Citylink. When my son's birthday present didn't arrive I phoned head office and actually got through to (I think) the sales director. He put me through to a regional manager - with the result that the manager of the depot where my son's gift was ended up putting it in the boot and delivering it personally on his way home ! He didn't look too chuffed about it either ...

Anyway, what think you ? Where can an ethical(ish) consumer turn to as an Amazon-alternative ?

Beheaded ?

Crumpsall ?

Now who would do a bad thing like that ?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One Nation Under God

via Martin Kelly I learned the story of George M Docherty, the Glaswegian pastor of Abraham Lincoln's local Washington church, whose 1954 sermon to a congregation including Dwight D Eisenhower resulted in the words 'under God' being added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

In his sermon, Docherty anticipated the theme of Gregory Isaacs - that "Men without religion Just can't keep in a righteous man's position" :

"Philosophically speaking, an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms. Now don't misunderstand me. This age has thrown up a new type of man - we call him 'secular'; he does not believe in God; not because he is a wicked man but because he is dialectically honest (? LT) . He would rather walk with the unbelievers than sit hypocritically with people of the faith. These men, and many I have known, are fine in character; and in their obligations as citizens and good neigbours, quite excellent.

But they really are 'spiritual parasites'. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I'm simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other. These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeao-Christian civilisation, and at the same time (they) deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow."
That's exactly right. And we in Britain are, in the main, parasites living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of nearly 1700 years of Christianity, just as the Britons of the fourth century were warmed by the declining glow of Rome's glory - until the barbarian war-bands came.

Take a psalm ...

.. and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.

Well, he says it's a 2100 year old Greek song, played on a copy of a Jewish temple lyre - who am I to argue ? It's beautiful ... I love the harp in all its forms.

This is another lovely old song, and the very wonderful Sinfonye - three Aussie feminists and a hurdy-gurdy - are involved. If I have time I'll try and get some of their music - which is as gorgeous as they - onto Youtube. For some reason there's a chunk of Pentangle on the back end, but that's never a bad thing. In fact Jacqui McShee sounds a bit like the singer of the next piece :

North African Jewish music ? And isn't the first part a song to Our Lady ?

You may notice my preference for female voice again ... here's an exception. This is 900 years old but sounds to me as if someone like Philip Glass could have written it. Perotin - Viderunt Omnes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Few Damp Patches on the Curate's Wall

Dominic Lawson on "the right to die" - aka "the right to be killed". After all, "the right to die was granted" us in Eden, and there's no opt-out clause. the Netherlands, the supposedly enlightened pioneer of euthanasia, more than a quarter of “physician-assisted” deaths occur without any request from the patient-victim and people carry cards that read: “Please don’t kill me” ...

Perhaps the most compelling evidence given to the House of Lords came from Dr Bert Keizer, who worked as a geriatrician in Amsterdam for a quarter of a century and carried out many “physician-assisted suicides”– the basis of his book Dancing with Mr D.

Dr Keizer told our legislators: “It is useless to worry about the slippery slope. Once a society has decided that euthanasia is allowed in certain cases, one is on it. Thus in Holland we have given up the condition that a patient must be in a terminal situation. Next, mental suffering was allowed [as a reason]. Then one’s future dementia was suggested as a reason for a request for death . . . I believe, on the grounds of the more than 1,000 deathbeds I attended, that euthanasia is a blessing in certain exceptional situations, yet I would rather die in a country where euthanasia is forbidden but where doctors do know how to look after patients in a humane manner.”

Martin Kelly on the same subject :

"That has been the track of modern history; there is absolutely no reason to believe that doctors will not euthanise with the same abandon that they have aborted."

Why are misery-childhood memoirs so popular ? I'm sure future sociologists (if there are any) will make connections with the rejection of parenthood. My theory is that the childless buy them, but it's a theory based on zero evidence plus my prejudice.

... given the gravity of the allegations made in the millions of “miserable childhood memoirs” that have flown out of bookstores in the past decade or more, the wonder is that there haven’t been more law suits, both civil and criminal, arising out of this genre.

One of the few to hit such an obstacle was Kathy O’Beirne’s memoir of a horrific life in the Magdalene laundries, which sold 400,000 copies worldwide. But after Kathy’s Story was published, the Sisters of Charity issued a statement insisting she had never set foot inside any of their institutions, either laundries or care homes, and five members of her own family claimed she was a vindictive fantasist.

The Pub Philosopher brilliantly sums up what's going on with Sark and the Barclay brothers :

"Half a millenium of European history has been condensed into fifteen years."
He thieved, drank, took drugs, sabotaged religious meetings. Perhaps that would have been enough for many an Oxbridge lefty, but there was more to him than that. Paul Anderson remembers. Ernest Bevin is rotating at 7,200 rpm.

"The United Kingdom is officially a grey nation. The number of pensioners exceeds the number of children under 16 for the first time, figures published yesterday show."
And of the children under 16 in England and Wales, heading for a quarter are "ethnic minority". More on the latest ONS stats when I have time.

More questions on identity in the next census.

In a further bid to capture how society has changed since the last census, the 2011 poll will ask residents whether they consider their "national identity" to be British, or English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish.

People will also be asked if they have step-parents or step-children, if they have entered into civil partnerships and whether they have second homes.

New proposed questions, which must be agreed to by MPs, require each member of every household to state what month and year they came to live in the UK, how long they plan to stay in the country and what passports they hold.

Elected police commissioners ? Blood on the streets if “white, middle-class, middle-aged men in suits” get the jobs, according to Chris Huhne.

He told MPs: “In complex urban areas, with substantial ethnic minorities, such as Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands, the Conservatives’ proposal – and to a lesser but almost equal extent, the Government’s proposal – would ensure that the people elected as commissioners and members of the police authorities would be white, middle-class, middle-aged men in suits.

“They would not represent the genuine differences, especially ethnic ones, in police force areas.

“That worries me, because it would set up exactly the sort of problems that led to the riots in Brixton and cities such as Bristol in the early 1980s.”

I like that 'complex'.

Chicago politics does sound like a TV script. The Times, unlike the BBC, let us know Rod Blagojevich's political affiliation.

The Invisible Hand.

This sounds like a non-story.

Muslim children are being beaten and abused regularly by teachers at some British madrassas - Islamic evening classes - an investigation by The Times has found.

Students have been slapped, punched and had their ears twisted, according to an unpublished report by an imam based on interviews with victims in the north of England.
While reports of a child being kicked in the head are obviously bad news, most of this sounds like standard school discipline in a 1960s State grammar.

" Madrassas and similar religious classes are not subject to any regulation nor are their teachers required to be vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau."
I bet they are. And I bet the massed ranks of infidel Western social workers don't want to "go there".

"Is Britain Civilised ?"

On 9/1/2003, Neil Clark wrote the following in the Telegraph, but the link no longer works. If anyone can find a link I'll link to the post - in the absence of which here's the whole thing.

Roy Jenkins made Britain a far less civilised country

By Neil Clark

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 09/01/2003

In his Guardian obituary of Lord Jenkins, David Marquand listed four "achievements" of his hero on which, to him, "the verdict of history seems plain". As Home Secretary, "Jenkins did more than any other person to make Britain a more civilised country to live in". As leader of the Labour Europeans, he played an "indispensable part" in taking Britain into what is now the European Union; and, as president of the European Commission, he played an "equally indispensable part' in paving the way for the single currency. Finally, by forming the SDP, and "breaking the mould" of British politics, Jenkins created New Labour.

As an Old Labour Euro-sceptic, I believe the last three "achievements" that Marquand lists were ones we could have well done without. But what of Marquand's first claim: that Jenkins made Britain a more civilised country to live in?

As an up-and-coming Labour backbencher, Jenkins had written, in the late 1950s, a tract entitled Is Britain Civilised?, in which he attacked Britain's "archaic" laws on censorship, homosexuality, divorce and abortion, as well as arguing for the abolition of capital punishment and changes to the country's "Victorian" criminal justice system.

At that time, Jenkins's "progressive" views on social reform were still in the minority in the Labour Party, dominated as it was by its socially conservative, working-class ethos. But by 1964, when Labour eventually regained power, much had changed. A group of middle-class, mainly Oxbridge-educated "intellectuals" had risen to prominence in the party and, for these "modernisers", led by Jenkins and his Oxford friend Tony Crosland, the main aim was the social, rather than the economic, transformation of Britain.

Although their views had little support among the British public at large, this group was able to push through its liberalising agenda when Jenkins became Home Secretary in 1965. Already, earlier that year, the death penalty had been suspended. Now it was full steam ahead to give support to private members' Bills to decriminalise abortion and homosexuality, relax censorship and make divorce easier.

Jenkins's impact at the Home Office did not end there. He also embarked on the most radical programme of penal reform since the Second World War. His Criminal Justice Act of 1967 said very little about the victims of crime, but plenty about the perpetrators. The Act introduced the parole system of early release of offenders serving sentences of three years or more, established the Parole Board and introduced the system of suspended sentences.

In two years, Jenkins had succeeded in transforming the criminal justice system from one whose raison d'etre had been to deter wrong-doing to one designed to be as "civilised" as possible to the criminal.

Jenkins was of course convinced that the "permissive society" was the "civilised society". In this, he - alas - got it all terribly wrong. What underpins civilised society is not permissiveness, but self-restraint, a phrase detested by libertines of both Left and Right. What Jenkins failed to see was how the freedoms he espoused would lead to the degeneration of British society and the selfish, me-first libertinism of today.

Jenkins was never a socialist, but in my view he was not much of a liberal either. Classical liberalism always understood that liberal freedom is dependent on moral self-restraint. Without it, freedom becomes licence - which itself is a threat to freedom, as it acknowledges no obligation to others. Before the Jenkins-sponsored social reforms made their impact, Britain was a country famous for the self-restraint of its people. "Letting it all out", extreme displays of emotion, and shouting and swearing in the street were all considered unacceptable. For Jenkins, the taboos that existed in 1950s Britain were intolerable. But the net result was a society remarkable for its civility.

More than 30 years on, the damaging impact of Jenkins's reforms on the society we live in is all too clear to see. One marriage in three now ends in divorce. Almost 40 per cent of children are now born out of wedlock, the highest figure in Europe. Since the 1967 Abortion Act, more than six million unborn children have been aborted.

The legalisation of homosexuality has not been the end of the chapter, but merely the beginning, with an aggressive "gay rights" lobby demanding more and more concessions. The policy of early release of prisoners has had a catastrophic effect on the safety of the general public: 14 per cent of violent criminals freed early are convicted of fresh violence within two years of their release.

As The Sunday Telegraph's Alasdair Palmer states: "Scores of men, women and children have been assaulted, raped and murdered as a result of the policy of releasing dangerous criminals before their sentences are completed" - a policy initiated and endorsed by Jenkins.

In addition to this tally, we must add the hundreds of innocent lives lost as a result of the abolition of capital punishment, which Jenkins zealously campaigned for and whose reintroduction he so resolutely opposed as Home Secretary in 1974.

Dividing his time between the palaces of Westminster, the delightful Oxfordshire village of East Hendred and the high table of the Oxford colleges, Jenkins did not, of course, see too much of the social debris that his "civilising" reforms had caused. Had he seen at first hand what the "permissive society" amounts to in practice on a "sink" council estate, he might have modified his views.

It is, though, unfair to blame one man for all of Britain's modern ills. Others, too, must take their share of responsibility for the nation we have become, not least the economic freedom junkies of the 1980s. Nevertheless, the Britain of 2003 is very much the Britain that Jenkins always wanted. The self-restraint and taboos of the 1950s have all gone. The "archaic" laws against which Jenkins railed have been abolished.

On the day of Jenkins's death, I looked at the other stories listed on the Teletext index. They were: "Man accused of bodies-in-bin probe", "Gun killers will be caught, pledge police", "Man faces charges over abbey axe attack", "Man charged with taxi driver murder" and "Freedom for hostage in 11-day siege".

If David Marquand believes the Britain of 2003 to be a "civilised country", it would be interesting to hear his definition of an uncivilised one.

What's German For "Schadenfreude" Again ?

Rowan Williams complaining about people not liking Britain is like Schopenhauer moaning about pessimists.

The Archbishop of Canterbury told shoppers yesterday that Britain was a country that was “unhappy” and “didn’t seem to like itself”.

Speaking in a city centre pub in Cardiff, Dr Rowan Williams told his informal congregation after a presentation on social problems that the nation seemed ill at ease with itself and was in urgent need of some help.

“What we saw was a picture of a country and society that doesn’t seem to like itself very much,” he said. “We are not very happy, we look around for people to blame . . . When society is that unhappy then society has a problem.

I can't understand it. After all, apart from a few surviving traces of sexism, racism and homophobia, Roy Jenkins' "Civilised Society" is pretty much with us today. That bad old Britain of the 1950s, when innocent murderers were hung, innocent criminals and innocent homosexuals were sent to prison, and the streets ran red with the blood of the victims of domestic violence and back street abortion (the victims of the latter being the mothers, of course, not the babies), classrooms rang to the screams of the victims of corporal punishment - and worst of all to the Archbish, the Church of England was a strong supporting pillar of such evil - is now history.

Only a few elderly bigots cling to the hideous morality of our wicked past - and they'll soon be dealt with.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"morally bankrupt parasites"

"shameless layabouts and gutless politicians ... the degrading impact of irresponsible handouts to morally bankrupt parasites ..." , go on, Jeff Randall - tell us what you really think about welfare.

Talking of morally bankrupt parasites, isn't there room for Doncaster solicitors Beresfords in that category ?

The men who became two of the highest-paid solicitors in Britain by mishandling the claims of almost 100,000 sick miners will be struck off after being found guilty of misconduct yesterday.

James Beresford and Douglas Smith, partners in the South Yorkshire firm Beresfords, took advantage of vulnerable miners by putting their own commercial goals before those of their clients, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found. The company earned more than £115m under a government scheme for compensating miners with health claims, and Beresford himself made more than £16m in one year.

Eight out of 11 allegations of serious professional misconduct against the pair - including acting in a conflict of interest, failing to give adequate advice and information to clients and creating fee arrangements which were not in their best interests - were proven against them, the tribunal said.

"If ever there was a group of persons who needed the full care and attention from solicitors, it was these miners," said tribunal chairman David Leverton, adding that the miners had been vulnerable because of their "understandable inability to appreciate legal documents".

According to the Guardian, taxpayers have stumped up £6.9 billion to compensate former employees of the National Coal Board for various industrial diseases. More than half of that money has gone to lawyers. Beresfords are just the fattest vultures on the carcass.

When I first heard about this story a few years back, I wondered what the unions were doing. Surely they'd see it as part of their remit to ensure that their ex-members got a good deal - find good lawyers with reasonable fees, then recommend them ?


Beresfords has enjoyed a close working relationship with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and Vendside, the claims-handling company owned by the union, which chose to pass on several thousand of its cases to be dealt with by the Doncaster solicitors.

And as the three leading individuals at the UDM have flourished financially, so have their friends at Beresfords.

Looks like the union are 'Democratic' as in 'Democratic Republic of Congo'. In some societies, that kind of betrayal - of your own people - would merit a firing squad.

"This has turned out to be a bonanza for solicitors," said Geoffrey Hopkinson, son of miner George Hopkinson, who died of a lung obstruction after years of inhaling coal dust in the mines. Hopkinson, whose claim was handled by Beresfords, said his family received £549.38, which he described as "derisory".
If you've ever seen someone with serious lung disease, only just able to get out of a chair and move around with difficulty, oxygen mask removed for a few wheezy words then straight back on again ... and you think that the people ripped off were miners, as good people as you could ever find in Britain - for once I'm stuck for words with more than four letters.

Don't forget the 'irresponsible handouts' to the said parasites.

The tribunal heard how the scheme, which was agreed after a high court case established British Coal's liability in 1998, allowed legal costs to be claimed from the DTI, leaving the full amount of compensation for the miners themselves.

Yet Beresfords failed to inform miners they were entitled to the full amount, and deducted up to 30% as fees.

Two issues here. Obviously our fee-inflaters are among the lowest of the low, not quite there with child-murderers but somewhere just above - the vicinity of those who mug OAPs, steal charity boxes or tell a class of seven year olds that Santa doesn't exist.

But the government's well-meant announcement that client compo, whatever amount, would be net of legal fees was an inducement to said vultures to make as many claims as possible, sure that whatever the client got, they themselves would be fat. HM Treasury might as well have sent men with pockets full of our cash to walk the streets of South Yorkshire, bearing notices inviting passers-by to rip them off. Of such good intent is the road to hell paved.

UPDATE - Beresfords are apparently planning to bounce back via :

"which will screen cases submitted by users and then share the resulting workload among paying subscriber law firms.

The business will be a direct competitor to both Injury Lawyers4U and, according to literature provided at a conference the firm’s chief executive Mark Farrell spoke at earlier this year.

Beresfords originally sought to launch the venture this autumn, according to the pamphlet, however this has yet to take place.

The URL was registered in 2003 by Esther Beresford, believed to be Jim Beresford’s daughter Esta, who is also a lawyer at the Doncaster firm. Her ownership of the domain name will expire in 2010.

I believe ScumbagsR Us, Ambulance Chasers Inc and Fraudulent ClaimCorp are also active in the personal injury marketplace. Not to mention the personal injury solicitors who have their adverts in our local NHS casualty department - something to read while you wait ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hmmm ...

Indie :

Steffen Kampeter, the budget spokesman for Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, said: "Peer Steinbrück's comments have nothing whatsoever to do with internal German politics as Prime Minister Brown has suggested. In questioning the British Government's approach, Peer Steinbrück is exactly expressing the views of the German Grand Coalition.

"After years of lecturing us on how we need to share in the gains of uncontrolled financial markets, the Labour politicians can't now expect us to share in its losses. The tremendous amount of debt being offered by Britain shows a complete failure of Labour policy."

As a rule I care not what other nations' politicians think of the UK. But Germany on economics is worth listening to, if only because German companies still make things - in Germany - that people want to buy. We sold off most of our companies years ago. Some of them are still UK-based, some aren't. Some of the most successful manufacturers here - like Toyota and Nissan - are greenfield start-ups. I like their general approach to debt as well. We were like that once. I can remember the adverts in the early eighties for something new-fangled called a credit card, which apparently 'took the waiting out of wanting'. In practice it just seems to have put it off for 20 years.

Their near no-risk attitude to money is reflected in their spending habits: the Germans have minimal debt, few credit cards, no sub-prime mortgages and what could almost be described as a national phobia about the stock market. Just over 15 per cent of Germans own shares and some 500,000 of them sold what they had at the first signs of the credit crunch in August 2007.

Less than half of Germany's 80 million citizens have mortgages, and a 30 per cent deposit before buying a home is the norm. Sixty per cent of the population lives in rented accommodation and only 5 per cent use credit cards regularly. Most people pay cash or use direct-debit cards. Experts such as Fabian Christiandl of Cologne's university's economic research institute admit: "The puritanical ethic of the war generation is still very much a part of today's Germany."

Brown's fiscal stimulus and VAT cuts would be all very well if the extra spending was on UK-made goods and services. But what good will it do if it stimulates a few more 42-inch TV sales ? How much of that cash will stay here ? And what good is the collapsing pound if we don't make anything people want to buy ?A couple of the comments on the Biased-BBC blog struck me :

"if weakness in a currency were such a good thing, Zimbabwe would be going through an economic miracle"

"Exports are yet another of Brown's non-existent divisions being moved around the map in the Downing Street bunker whilst his (and our) nemesis closes in."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some icy patches on the curate's path

Christian police and counsellors sacked for their beliefs. Apparently it's OK to mail officers asking them to wear pink ribbons for Gay History Month (I kid you not - somehow I don't think Ernst Rohm will figure prominently), but not OK to object to it. Graham Cogman and Gary McFarlane will not be the last victims of out new religious orthodoxy.

Apparently Hutus and Tutsis just can't get on.

Dalrymple on the changing British character.

Before the English and British became known for self-restraint and an ironic detachment from life, they had a reputation for high emotionalism and an inability to control their passions. The German poet Heinrich Heine, among others, detested them as violent and vulgar. It was only during the reign of William IV—“Silly Billy,” the king before Victoria—that they transformed into something approaching the restrained people whom I encountered as a child and sometimes as a doctor. The main difference between the vulgar people whom Heine detested and the people loathed and feared throughout Europe (and beyond) today is that the earlier Britons often possessed talent and genius, and in some sense stood in the forefront of human endeavor; we cannot say that of the British now.

But the second point is also important. The moralization of the British in the first third of the nineteenth century—their transformation from a people lacking self-control into exemplars of restraint—was the product of intellectual and legislative activity. So, too, was the reverse movement.

Looks like Met officers have done the PC stats course.

Around one in 15 of all rapes in London are gang rapes involving three or more attackers, according to latest Metropolitan Police statistics.

There were 126 in 2006, 91 in 2007 and 85 so far this year. But the force says 'these offences may be under-reported'. In other words, the phenomenon might be far more widespread.

The majority of victims - 60 per cent - were white, while 28 per cent were black.

Scotland Yard identified certain characteristics among attackers. Around 40 per cent of suspects were described as Afro-Caribbean. A further 13 per cent were of Indian or Pakistani appearance.

Officers insist that this is not a race issue, simply a reflection that most gang rapes take place in the most deprived boroughs, which have disproportionately high ethnic populations.

Socialists against mass immigration ? Socialists who think it benefits big business but not ordinary people ? It'll never catch on. What do you mean, it has ?

Fear and loathing in the markets. A lot of other people seem to be asking the questions I asked the other day.

The rush for the safety of US Treasury debt is playing havoc with America's $7 trillion "repo" market used to manage liquidity. Fund managers are hoovering up any safe asset they can find because they do not know what the world will look like in January when normal business picks up again. Three-month bills fell to minus 0.01pc on Tuesday, implying that funds are paying the US government for protection.

"You know the US Treasury will give you your money back, but your bank might not be there," said Paul Ashworth, US economist for Capital Economics.

The gold markets have also been in turmoil. Traders say it has become extremely hard to buy the physical metal in the form of bars or coins. The market has moved into "backwardation" for the first time, meaning that futures contracts are now priced more cheaply than actual bullion prices.

Good to see that Germany, contrary to my earlier fears, are not yet committed to Gordonomics. Read the whole thing.

"Our British friends are now cutting their value-added tax. We have no idea how much of that stores will pass on to customers. Are you really going to buy a DVD player because it now costs £39.10 instead of £39.90? All this will do is raise Britain's debt to a level that will take a whole generation to work off. The same people who would never touch deficit spending are now tossing around billions. The switch from decades of supply-side politics all the way to a crass Keynesianism is breathtaking. When I ask about the origins of the crisis, economists I respect tell me it is the credit-financed growth of recent years and decades. Isn't this the same mistake everyone is suddenly making again, under all the public pressure?"
Sounds about right. The crisis was caused by too much credit and not enough saving, Gordo's response is to hammer savers and use the taxpayer (and the printing press) as a source of more credit. The BBC spin the story thus :

"sources close to the government said Berlin was "out of step" with most nations on how to handle the crisis."
They're certainly out of step with the UK. They make things in Germany that people want to buy. And they're made by German companies.

Greece Isn't The Way We Are Feeling

I didn't know what to make of the riots in Greece. For the last 30-odd years, riots by "youths" in Western European cities have meant riots by immigrant "youths" - as in France last year and the year before. I can't remember large scale riots by natives since - when ? Paris 1968 ?

Yet in the French riots it was easy to translate and see who the rioters were. I didn't get the impression that it was an immigrant underclass rioting in Greece. Everyone seems cheesed off over there. Yet, as I blogged in October, there is a perceived problem with immigration and crime in Greece. What's going on now ?

Time to do some Googling.

A quick look at Greek demographics. Pretty much par for the European course - ageing population, not enough children. Not tremendously high numbers of immigrants compared to say the UK - but they've probably arrived over a shorter period of time. I must say, if you were running one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, do you think another half-million Albanians would improve things ?

Majority Rights (apologies in advance for the commenters) reckon it started with trouble involving asylum seekers, and a leftist demo in support thereof, during which the youth got shot.

Seems eminently possible as a trigger, and a blackout on the asylum angle likewise - but why are the riots going on and on, with seeming widespread anti-Government feeling ? Greece has had an anti-Western far left for 30 years or more - where's all the support coming from now ?

EU Referendum

"What marks this out is the comment from Stathis Anestis, spokesman for a federation of private sector unions. He says: "Participation in the strike is total, the country has come to a standstill." Banks, schools and public transport are shut and hundreds of flights in and out of the country have been cancelled as air traffic controllers also went on strike.

The level of unrest here, and the huge support for direct action, is clearly more than a rump of disaffected youths running amok. The whole country is crying out, and there is clearly something seriously and fundamentally wrong."
An English Teacher in Thessalonika describes what appear to be Left-Right battles :

In Greece's second city anarchists occupying caused extensive damage to the Law and Theology department in the university campus.

In Patra and Larissa angry citizens attacked protesters in the cities universities. In addition riot police allowed groups of youths to throw rocks back at anarchist protesters in the university of Thessaloniki (see video here).

Greek prime minister, Kosas Karamanlis last night went on TV to make a call for national unity after pleas by the government for claim over the death of 15 year old Alexandros Gigoropoulos went unheeded.

But it's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph who reckons he's nailed it. The Greeks apparently fiddled the stats to gain Euro entry :

Greece's euro membership has now led to a warped economy. The current account deficit is 15pc of GDP, the eurozone's highest by far. Indeed, the deficit ($53bn) is the sixth biggest in the world in absolute terms -- quite a feat for a country of 11m people.

Year after year of high inflation has eroded the competitive base of the economy. This is an insidious and slow effect, and very hard to reverse. Tourists are slipping away to Turkey, or Croatia. It will take a long time to lure them back.

The underlying rot was disguised by the global credit bubble, and by the Greek property boom. It is now being laid bare.

Plenty of underlying rot in the UK, too. I guess it takes a lot to get the stolid English going, unlike the excitable sons of the Med.

While the violence was triggered by the death of a 15-year old boy, the underlying motives of the protest obviously run deeper. The hard left can mobilize demos because the youth unemployment is endemic and because the goverment is being forced by economic constraints to adopt a hair-shirt policy at a very bad moment. At some stage a major political party - perhaps PASOK - will start to reflect whether it can carry out its spending and economic revival plans under the constraints of a chronically over-valued currency (for Greek needs). Then there will be a problem.

I am a little surpised that the riot phase of this long politico-economic drama known as EMU has kicked off so soon, and that it has done so first in Greece where the post-bubble hangover has barely begun.

The crisis is much further advanced in Spain, which is a year or two ahead of Greece in the crisis cycle.

I've been wondering about Spain, too. Catastrophic demographics much worse than the UKs, an idiot left government that makes Tony Blair look like Franco (did you know that some human rights legislation was extended to "our evolutionary comrades", apes and gorillas, this summer ?), mass immigration and a property collapse worse than the UKs, the highest unemployment in the EU - it doesn't look good at all.

My old job as Europe correspondent based in Brussels led me to spend a lot of time in cities that struck me as powder kegs - and indeed became powder kegs in the case of Rotterdam following the murder of Pim Fortyn, and Antwerp following the Muslim street riots (both of which I covered as a journalist). Lille, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Amsterdam, Brussels, all seemed inherently unstable, and I do not get the impression that the big cities of Spain and Italy are taking kindly to new immigrants.

The picture is going to get very ugly as Europe slides deeper into recession next year. The IMF expects Spain's unemployment to reach 15pc. Immigrants are already being paid to leave the country. There will be riots in Spain too (there have been street skirmishes in Barcelona).

Hedge funds, bond vigilantes, and FX traders will be watching closely. In the end, a currency union is no stronger than the political will of the constituent states.

No doubt events will be ugly in Britain as well.

Mr Evans Pritchard is a hell-in-a-handcart merchant who even I think may be a tad too pessimistic (he also thinks that the recent Chinese devaluation may trigger 1930s style protectionist wars - with all their concomitant unpleasantness) - and I'm not at all sure what the link is between immigration to Greece and the wrong valuation of the drachma at Euro entry, or immigration to Spain and the Spanish housing boom. But our government seem to share his fears, if the recent police harassment of political opponents and attempts to extend powers of detention without trial are any guide.

UPDATE - I'm still not sure that the above totally explains things. If anyone has any decent links, please drop them in the comments - remembering that blogger comments can't deal with links longer than 40 or 50 characters. Chop them up or use tinyurl to shorten them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Imagine ...

... it's December 2000, and that Texas Republicans stand accused of auctioning off newly elected President George Bush's recently-vacated governorship to the highest bidder. I can't help thinking that would be the number one BBC news story for days if not weeks. There's no way it would be squeezed out of the headlines by more euthanasia plugs or the government's latest series of welfare reforms.

Of course, during the campaign, BBC correspondents would have shone a spotlight on the institutionalised corruption of the Republican heartland, with its long and dishonourable history. How exactly, they would ask, did George W Bush rise to the top of the most corrupt political machine in the United States ?

Wouldn't they ?

(cross-posted at B-BBC)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"In The Lands of The North ..."

"... where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale ..."

He may have been an upper-class leftie pacifist, from a long line of upper-class leftie pacifists (dad was Raymond, socialist journalist and Good Foodie, auntie was Fabian Margaret Cole, one granddad missed out on the Cambridge Latin Professorship to A.E. Housman, another was the Labour Party leader who 'carted his conscience from conference to conference' and lost the leadership for his pacifism), but Oliver Postgate could tell a story. With Peter Firmin's artwork the result was magical.

The children are mourning too, having had the stories of Nogbad and Graculus read to them in their infancy.

He would have been Old rather than New Labour. Kept up the politics to the end, as his website testifies. Hs views on the BBC are of interest.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I must be going soft ...

.. I can't find it in me to join in the chorus of abuse directed at that hideous Haringey harridan wot's been sacked because her social workers are clueless cretins. In fact she seems to have been treated somewhat unfairly, and I can "take comfort" from the fact that she'll almost certainly get a quarter of a million from the inevitable industrial tribunal.

Don't get me wrong. As a matter of general principle, I approve of sacking social workers with immediate effect and no compensation. But what's one among so many ? Why her in particular ?

We all know. A baby is dead, the firestorm swirleth, goats must be scaped. What really seems to have nailed her is social services inspectorate Ofsted's backside-covering. You may or may not recall that they gave Haringey social services top marks just before the murder - which is somewhat embarassing for Ofsted. One might be tempted to ask, as does hübsche Haringey hottie Lynne Featherstone MP, what the point of their inspections are.

But thinking on her feet, Ofsted supremo Christine Gilbert had the answer - Haringey social services deceived us.

Tactics used by the council included claims that managers had assessed children promptly when the files revealed that those assessments were in fact incomplete. The same files showed that such assessments of children were routinely and wrongly made with their parent or guardian in the room, when they could have been the ones harming them.

It wasn't until inspectors in this week's review began pulling children's files from the office shelves in the town hall that they realised the extent of the deceit.

One might ask what kind of inspection regime never opens a file and takes the inspectees word as gospel. If the Inland Revenue took that approach, a happy world it would be, and one with a lot less money for social workers and Ofsted inspectors. Methinks Ms Gilbert is either too hopelessly naive for her role, or she's neatly and cleverly diverted the pack onto the wounded wildebeeste yclepte Sharon Shoesmith.

Sporadic Blogging Alert ...

The room which serves me as office/computer room is being stripped, painted and having new flooring - currently my main blogging PC sits forlornly sans monitor, sans mouse, sans everything.

We relocated the homework PCs to the kitchen using 'through-the-mains' Homeplug networking - not sure where my box will end up. Inshallah it'll be set up elsewhere - somewhere - soon, but meanwhile blogging will be will be a bit like the FT100 - up (today) and down, but with more down than up.

Publicans 1, Chavs 0

"I say, Giles ! Let's get down to Stansted and ruin a few holidays !"

Saturday, December 06, 2008

"Pure Evil" ?

Can't quite find it in me to join the chorus of abuse directed at Karen 'pure evil' Matthews. I think the other copper who held forth on the subject, Norman Bettinson, made more sense :

Lack of "personal responsibility" was at the heart of the Shannon Matthews case, a senior police officer has said. West Yorkshire Chief Constable Norman Bettison told BBC One's Panorama programme that the nine-year-old's mother, Karen Matthews, had lived her life "without the sense of having to answer for the consequences of her actions".

That's exactly it. She's behaved irresponsibly all her life and sugar daddy State's picked up the tab every time. She never grew up and never had to. It's not surprising she thought she could get away with it - partly because she's not the sharpest knife in the drawer and partly because she got away with everything else - how was she to know where the limits were ? As for her accomplice, I almost feel sorry for him.

There are tens of thousands of 'families' like the Matthews' all over the UK. Karen's just a particularly prominent peak on the benefit dependency skyline.

Ian Duncan Smith says it again about the underclass and points out one of Laban's favourite themes - that what used to be "the working class" in left rhetoric is now the non-working class.

Britain is witnessing a growth in an underclass whose lifestyles affect everyone. Perhaps the reason why most people haven't been aware of the extent of this is because housing policy has, over 20 to 30 years, ghettoised many of these dysfunctional families. In the Seventies, only 11 per cent of households on the estates weren't working; today barely a third of working-age tenants have full-time work. Less than 15 per cent are headed by a couple with children. Two-thirds are occupied by lone parents, lone men or lone women.

Ms Matthews was a great Jeremy Kyle fan. At which point Dalrymple says it all :

What, then, is left for them? Entertainment and personal relationships. Entertainment, absorbed passively, informs them, through television and films, of a materially more abundant and more glamorous way of life and thus feeds resentment. A sense of their own nothingness and failure breeds powerful emotions—especially jealousy and the intense desire to dominate or possess someone else in order to feel fully in control of at least one aspect of life. It is a world in which men dominate women to inflate their egos, and women want children "so that I can have something of my own" or "someone to love and who'll love me."

Personal relationships in this world are purely instrumental in meeting the need of the moment. They are fleeting and kaleidoscopic, though correspondingly intense. After all, no obligations or pressures—financial, legal, social, or ethical—keep people together. The only cement for personal relationships is the need and desire of the moment, and nothing is stronger but more fickle than need and desire unshackled by obligation.

Unfortunately, the whims of two people rarely coincide, and thus the emotional lives of people—who, remember, have very little else to console or interest them—are repeatedly in crisis. They are the stars of their own soap operas.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What Is To Be Done ?

It's rapidly becoming apparent - to me, anyway - that GB and NuLab in general are fearful of depression - forseeing civil unrest and all the other consequences of ticking the Weimar boxes.

And it looks as if their least worst option is to inflate their way out of it. They're simultaneously spending lots of money they haven't got, and slashing interest rates to way below inflation. Cue for collapse of sterling.

At this point, long after the smart money's made its exit, Laban wonders if it mightn't be a bad idea to convert his savings into Euros. Gordon seems intent on driving the pound down to 1-1 parity (and then Euro entry), so why not preserve a little value ?

Trouble is, it looks as if the European Central Bank's got the same idea.

Mr Sarkozy said the goal of restoring France's dilapidated public finances to good order could wait for better times. "Not doing anything now would have cost us much more. We're not going to sacrifice the present for the future. This crisis is an ordeal, a painful ordeal and a terrible ordeal, but we have to keep faith," he said.

Italy needs a stimulus package even more badly but is having to tread with care as markets fret over some €200bn of Italian state debt that must be rolled over next year. The yield spread on 10-year bonds has risen to 123 basis points over German Bunds. Giulio Tremonti, Italy's finance minister, insisted yesterday that state bonds were at no risk. "Buy them. They are absolutely solid".

Mr Trichet signalled for the first time that the bank is considering some form of "quantitative easing" (QE), the term used to describe the emergency measures pioneered by Japan during its Lost Decade and now being adopted by the US Federal Reserve.

"We are supplying liquidity on an unlimited basis. We will continue to look very carefully at the situation of the market and if needed we will take new decisions," he said, when asked about QE measures.

I really hoped the historical memory of Germany, the strongest Euro economy, would prevent the ECB attempting to inflate its way out of trouble. Seems not.

Two questions

a) where should a man with some cash put it ? The garage is already full of tins of beans.
b) in the hyperinflation of Weimar, who profited ? What investments preserved value ?

UPDATE - thanks for the helpful advice. Commenter Dawn suggested that in Weimar it was the professional clever-clogs with government contacts ("government power brokers") who could make big profits.

And what's this ? Jonathan Weil :

If you had considered betting against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this summer -- that is, when the Securities and Exchange Commission wasn't banning short sales of their stocks -- the biggest risk wasn't that they would surprise investors by turning in a good quarter. It was that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson or Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would show up before Congress to talk up their stocks and squeeze the shorts.

Your worry is the same if you're thinking of shorting Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. or Citigroup Inc. All Paulson might have to do to separate you from your money is call a press conference. And if you bought toxic mortgage bonds, just before Paulson canceled Treasury's purchases of troubled mortgage-related assets, you've felt his sting already.

When the government let Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. die, there at least was the sense, for a day or so, that somebody very large wasn't too big to fail. Today we understand better: The government is picking winners and losers ...

So, for the time being, the clearest path to making money in the public markets is to know in advance what the government plans to do next with which companies, and when - and then trade on it. Let there be no doubt: Plenty of people with access to such inside information are enriching themselves this way now.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Enough of this idle banter ...

Wrap your lugs round another classic female vocal - LaVern Baker with a backing band as tight as her dress.

Lancet - New Figures Shock Horror

In the most shocking shock issue since the last one, Lancet editor Richard Horton fearlessly exposes the price that British children are paying for George W Bush's War For Oil.

  • Horton and series editor Richard Turner reveal that child maltreatment in the UK has risen by over 6,000% since the start of the Iraq War, with over 950,000 preventable deaths. A child conceived in England and Wales has about a one in four chance of being killed before its first birthday.
  • Aussie social worker Dorothy A Scott recounts the hidden threat that landmines pose to school sports.
  • Top paediatrician Carole Jenny calls for more support for top paediatricians - especially those making outrageous allegations against innocent parents.
  • More top paediatricians call for support for top paediatricians - and for smacking to be made illegal in non-Muslim countries.
In a major development, the heads of all UK children's charities said in response that more money should be given to children's charities. Social work heads thoughout the UK have welcomed the report, saying that it underlined the need for more resources to be devoted to social services.