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Wednesday 23 December 2009

‘Tis The Season

The time has most definitely come – for a break. Zelo Street has been up since March this year, and recently has come not only from Crewe, but Vienna, Amsterdam and the Algarve. It’s time to take a break, have an extended family Christmas, and recharge the batteries.

I’ll be back with more from the Crewe end of the telescope in the New Year. Have a good Christmas, and check back soon.

No Closure On Gitmo

It was supposed to be closed come the end of the year, but it now seems that moves to transfer detainees away from Guantánamo Bay have been slowed, as the New York Times has reported.

The closure of “Gitmo” was pledged by Barack Obama, and with mid-term elections next year, there will be no shortage of opponents ready to highlight it. That is, of course, when they’re not acquiescing in the continuing abuse directed at the Prez: one GOP candidate, noted here, declining to take to task one attendee at a voter event who asserted that Obama was a Muslim.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Out On The Circuit

Some in the history of motorsport have retired and meant it: nobody, but nobody, was ever going to persuade Jackie Stewart to get back behind the wheel – well, not in competition, anyway. Others have returned: Niki Lauda came back to gain a third Drivers’ World Championship, and, sadly, the USA’s Mark Donohue was persuaded back by his friend Roger Penske to drive for him in F1, only to die as a result of a practice accident.

One retirement that was never going to stick was that of seven time World Champion Michael Schumacher, and so it was no surprise to see him sign up for another season with his old mucker Ross Brawn at the team now rebranded as Mercedes GP.

Will he still be competitive? Well, given that the habits of bears in woods are as before, he may just be. What will the competition think? I don’t inhabit the world of F1, but the impression is gained that, up and down the pit lane, drivers, management and sponsors will be thinking “Oh no – not him again”.

Safety First

A police officer has apprehended two young men for cycling whilst naked. No prizes for figuring out that it didn’t happen in the UK: the location was Whangamata, in New Zealand. The officer decided to allow the pair to go free, but warned them to wear protective headgear in future.

So there you have it – nude cycling is OK, provided you wear a helmet.

No further comment necessary. Frankie Howerd would have strung that one out to fill a half hour show.

Monday 21 December 2009

The Republican Wrong – By Popular Vote

The excellent PolitiFact site run by the St Petersburg Times – a 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, no less – has run a poll to find which, of eight “pants on fire” entries nominated, is the year’s biggest whopper. And the result has been conclusive: 61% of all votes went to the Right’s favourite former Governor. Step forward Sarah Palin.

And the Palin assertion that topped the poll was her infamous “death panels” posting on Facebook. There was no truth whatever in this, but the idea has gained traction, particularly with older voters, and thus a lesson for the Democrats: they were not fast enough, or focused enough, in their rebuttal.

That may change next time the former Alaska Governor sounds off.

A Stroll Across The Astroturf - 7

In the news today are the affairs of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, which, it seems, has a charitable arm called the Politics and Economics Research Trust. So what? Well, the question has been raised as to whether the TPA is using this registered charity to channel donations and thereby gain tax relief on them. The use of any registered charity for political ends is forbidden.

The usual suspects have been quick to provide quotes, not least “Shagger” Prescott (“traditional misbehaviour in a modern setting”), who has asserted that the TPA is a Tory front organisation. As I said recently, this is not my reading: the TPA has many supporters who are Tories, but they will be kicking a Cameron Government just as hard as they kick Pa Broon if they don’t get their way.

Meanwhile it seems that the nice folks at the Charities Commission have opened a number (plural) of assessment cases and are examining the arrangements of the TPA and its charitable arm. Hopefully for the TPA, the burden of proof will be of a higher order than the “Dodgy Dossier” which alleged that the Government was paying for organisations to lobby it.

Sunday 20 December 2009

What A Star!

Mystifying. What caused five Eurostar trains to sit down – and well inside the Channel Tunnel – is still not clear. After all, this isn’t the first time that the service has run during the winter months, and we’ve had cold snaps during those months on a regular basis. Moreover, the Eurostar is one of the French TGV family, trains that rack up large mileages across not only France, but Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain.

However, the worst part of the failures has been that Eurostar have taken so long to extract trains and passengers from the Tunnel and get them to their destinations. Whereas the main line network in the UK has so-called “Thunderbird” locomotives at a variety of locations, ready at short notice to rescue failed trains, Eurostar has none, although Eurotunnel provided some switcher locos to extract two of the failures.

Also, there are other train services running between London and the Kent coast, so it might be thought that, once passengers were brought out of the Tunnel, they could be moved onwards pretty quickly. Instead, we have been treated to a series of horror stories, with unfortunate punters arriving at St Pancras more than half a day late. Then, the time taken to get the failed trains out of the Tunnel has started talk of it being a “death trap”, despite there having been no fatalities thus far either on Eurostar, or car and lorry shuttles.

The reputational damage that has been done to Eurostar, and to an extent to rail travel generally, is substantial. It will take time to recover customer confidence, and in some cases that confidence will have been lost for good. Whatever the cause, we need to know that this operator has measures in place to avoid another fiasco on the scale of the last few days.

Or, failing that, the concession to run these trains should be given to someone who will.

Class Not At War

At the moment, it doesn’t take much prompting to get Tory cheerleaders crying “class war” at their Labour opponents. This was shown by Pa Broon’s recent remark at PMQs about policy being made up “on the playing fields of Eton”, which provoked much frothing and assertion that the coming General Election campaign would be based thus.

This points up the nervousness out there, and not only in Tory land. Remarks by party leaders and anyone held to be “influential” are seized upon for their supposed relevance to the campaign.

As I posted at the time, the only target of Brown’s remark was Zac Goldsmith, Cameron advisor and more significantly Tory PPC, who had admitted to non domicile status. This was confirmed this morning on the Andy Marr Show by Home Secretary Alan Johnson. Also on the Marr sofa, and demonstrating its robustness, was Fat Eric, who did not show any noticeable dissent on that point.

Next: Brown says he had steak for lunch, which is immediately held to be a central plank of the Labour manifesto. Yes, General Election 2010 will be the Steak Poll. Wheel out your fillet, t-bone and rump jokes, everyone.

Beginning Of The Beginning?

The Copenhagen summit is over – at long last – and analysis has begun: the Beeb has this round up of some of it. Much has been made by those participating in the discussions that the outcome was at least “a beginning”. But there has been no legally binding agreement.

This has been meat and drink to the antis, who don’t want to admit to what is happening elsewhere in the world. Sea levels are rising, and weather patterns changing, yet the rump of denial continues its howling.

Meanwhile, on an earth that is not flat, the jury is out, but the prognosis is not good. This post, with a variety of links, gives an idea of the urgency required. If a beginning has really been made, then we should not have to wait until Mexico next December to see progress.

Thank You Andrew

It must be happy coincidence – I doubt that the Beeb read this blog – that the part of Andrew Marr’s interview with Nicole Kidman that I mentioned last week turned up this morning in a look back at 2009.

The short segment was fascinating for one reason: La Kidman clearly wasn’t happy with the question about scientology, but the smile and pose hardly slipped.

Another fine performance.

Friday 18 December 2009

Out Of Time

The news from Copenhagen is not good. Agreement on climate change and limiting emissions of carbon dioxide doesn’t appear to be happening – at least, not in a way that will give any reassurance that countries and their Governments are prepared to take the difficult decisions and face up to the problem.

No doubt the denial lobby will be overjoyed at this: after all, they still cling to the belief that it’s not happening. But, as those who are prepared to consider the evidence out there keep trying to tell the antis, it is happening, and it’s going to get worse. Hurling abuse at those warning of irreversible change will not hold back that change.

One comment sticks in the mind, and its author was Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chávez:

If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved already”.

Timeless Technology

The Beeb is showing a variety of reports, mainly from the south-east, telling of disruption due to snowfall. Well, it hasn’t happened here in the north-west – it’s just very, very cold, and for the kind of reasons I described yesterday.

[For anyone wanting to see a plain English explanation of the current weather pattern, the Met Office has just the thing, below its surface pressure forecast]

But Zelo Street has not been free of its own disruption. Today brought gremlins in the opener mechanism of the main bedroom window. Double glazing, eh? All sealed units and maintenance free, but sticking open. What to do?

After yet another obligatory nice cup of tea, the solution became clear. Spray all the affected parts with WD-40, leave it to sink in, then apply a little gently persuasive force.

Sure enough, the opener mechanism later yielded, and the window has been securely closed. I don’t know what goes into WD-40, but it’s hellishly effective.

Thursday 17 December 2009

What Does A Cold Snap Prove?

Among all the other excuses offered up by those flailing around trying to discredit the Climate Change science is the idea that, well, it can’t be true because it’s cold right now.

And it’s complete baloney. It’s cold right now because, well, it’s mid December – the weather in the UK tends to get cold this time of the year – and we’ve got an established north easterly airflow. This latter means that the wind is blowing off a cold continental land mass, and given a little encouragement will start dumping a moderate covering of snow over the eastern side of the UK.

Should the prevailing wind move round to the south west, or preferably a little more towards a plain southerly, all will change, especially if that wind originates in north Africa or out in mid Atlantic. Then, temperatures will rise, and if anything falls from the sky, it will be rain.

Problem is, getting from established very cold weather to something milder often has a transition period involving more of that snow. Hmm, guess what we have forecast for next Monday?

The Republican Wrong – Just For Christmas

Freedom of speech may allow some, shall we say, diverse views to be aired, but there is a fortunate flip side: it also allows for satire and occasional ridicule. The latter case is especially deserved by Glenn Beck, “star” of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

And, in this festive season, cracked.com has just the thing. For anyone feeling a little jaded in these uncertain times, I commend to them The Christmas Sweater. All you need to know about the American Right in general, and Fox in particular, without getting too serious about it.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday 16 December 2009

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Some acts are hard to follow, and in football, that doesn’t mean just players, but managers. The shadow cast by your predecessor can be a long one: you need to look no further than Crewe Alex, where two replacements have failed to measure up to Dario Gradi’s stature. Tonight, that thought will be among the crowds at Anfield.

Because, fifty years ago, Liverpool, then a second division club with a tatty stadium and non-existent training facilities, appointed as their manager a dour and uncompromising Scot called Bill Shankly. It was not just Shanks’ achievements with the club – his successor Bob Paisley won much more – but his putting Liverpool back on its feet that drove the legend.

Ever since Paisley left, successive managers have struggled to keep the team at the top, and this season has started badly for Rafael Benítez, the current incumbent. He has been fortunate that two of the team’s victories have been against Manchester United and in the derby match with Everton: these are prize scalps for the fans. But, whatever the cause, Liverpool are not having a good time of it, and the celebration of Shankly’s arrival will just cast that long shadow once more.

But then, Shanks’ great friend and rival Matt Busby cast his own long shadow across Man U for two decades after he retired. Eventually, Alex Ferguson remade the club and stepped out from the shadow, so it can be done. My feeling is that Benítez will not be the one to return Liverpool to the promised land.

But someone will, one day.

Non Exemplary Behaviour

A regular visitor to Zelo Street has emailed me a list of the Australian delegation to the Copenhagen summit. So what? Well, so it’s a very long list, that’s what. After the name of Aussie PM Kevin Rudd at the top, there are another 113 (yes, one hundred and thirteen) names. That’s a lot of hotel space, seats on aircraft, food, personal transport, and yes, carbon footprint.

And, if that one delegation is so large, the corollary is that there will be a lot more of those non-trivially sized groups representing several other countries. When we consider what the gathering is supposed to be about, it’s not good publicity, and it’s not a good example. This will be meat and drink to the denial lobby and their cheerleaders such as Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

Perhaps the next such summit can be held by teleconference. After all, we are supposed to be setting an example. Meanwhile, Fox “star” Sean Hannity has continued his attempt to rubbish the established science by saying that “it snowed yesterday in Houston”. Anyone not knowing better might think that Rupe was wanting to keep his target audience ignorant and frightened.

What We Didn’t See

Last Sunday, the Andy Marr Show included an interview with actor Nicole Kidman, who was clearly very keen to promote her new film Nine. The interview we saw, however, had been edited to remove an exchange that Ms Kidman clearly found less to her taste.

This was sparked by Marr asking her directly about Scientology, the so-called religion espoused by her former husband Tom Cruise. Kidman didn’t want to talk about that, thanks very much. Fortunately the exchange has been noted elsewhere.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Greasy Polls – 2

And then there was another poll showing a narrowing Tory lead: this, the latest in the Guardian/ICM series, shows a 40-31-18 split between Tory, Labour and Lib Dem. Also, it was conducted after last week’s Pre Budget Report, with all its attendant bad news on taxes.

On these numbers, Young Dave should still be able to muster a majority, but one in perhaps single figures. Should he worry? Maybe not: for an opposition to defeat him, they would need to be united, and that would have to include Plaid Cymru, SNP, Independents, and the Northern Irish members – some of whom won’t take their seats at Westminster. Is there a scenario where the SDLP and DUP would file through the same lobby?

So maybe the time has not yet come for the Tories to worry unduly. That would only happen if the numbers continue to move against them: if they were to drop another five points to Labour, their lead would be gone. And, after all, Labour won in 2005 on just over 35% of the popular vote.

Meanwhile, there is talk of a so-called “early election”. In late March next year. This is “early”? It’s more than three months away. Somewhere in the ranks of assembled hacks, someone is getting carried away. Pa Broon will not be getting deflected, and neither will his opponents, whatever their followers say for public consumption.

The real message is that we should concentrate on doing Christmas, and have a think about the politics in the New Year.

Monday 14 December 2009

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Flight

This time of year brings many traditional offerings: Christmas itself, too much food, too much shopping, short days, chilly weather, and a British Airways strike. Even if I’d stopped off at the bookies, the chances of getting half decent odds would have been so close to zero as to make the bet pointless.

The man with the job that very few others would go near, Willie Walsh, will not have relished the news that his cabin crew have decided to walk out from three days before Christmas until after New Year, and without a break for such trifling things as work.

The Guardian estimates that this will hit a cool million passengers, many of whom may not readily return to BA. But rival carriers won’t be too worried: any spare seats on popular routes will be snapped up, and not at the lowest price, given another day or two.

BA and Spanish carrier Iberia are still on course to merge. It will be interesting to see which of the two ends up the more dominant partner. There cannot be two winners.

The Limits Of Denial – 2

The loose convocation of climate change naysayers came under pressure recently, following the well publicised confrontation between a group of student activists and hereditary peer Christopher Monckton, which occurred at a meeting on the fringe of the Copenhagen summit.

Monckton, who has asserted that the summit would lead to the imposition of a “Communist world government”, repeatedly called the activists “Hitler Youth”, despite being told that one of them was Jewish, and whose grandparents had mercifully escaped the Holocaust. The exchange has been preserved for posterity.

This kind of behaviour has caused the Spectator to call Monckton a “swivel-eyed maniac”, which is particularly significant, given that the magazine’s editor, Fraser Nelson, is firmly in the climate change denial camp (he also has a problem with the connection between HIV and Aids).

So, while the denial lobby continues to peddle a variety of spoiling tactics against mainstream science, and its supporters deploy terms such as “liar”, “warmist” and “eco fascist” as they flail around trying to attract attention, the infighting merely underlines the pitifully low level at which their debate is being pitched.

Fairly Straight Kind Of Guy?

The Iraq Inquiry grinds on. Occasionally a nugget of information, or more usually gossip, emerges, but otherwise the process is so mundane as to be off most commentators’ radar. Or rather, it was until the upcoming appearance before it of one Tony Blair. The former Prime Minister, of course, was a man of supposedly unimpeachable integrity, and a “fairly straight kind of guy”. So he would appear before the enquiry for us all to see and hear, wouldn’t he?

Well, apparently, no he wouldn’t. The Chilcot enquiry team are now insisting that his evidence will be heard in public, but that some of it may have be heard behind closed doors, the usual catch-all excuse of “national security” being deployed. Also, some of the intelligence reports that may be discussed demand more of that privacy.

I don’t buy this. Blair can, and should, be the most open and transparent of all witnesses before the Iraq Inquiry, and Sir John Chilcot should insist on it. Alternatively, Blair could declare himself that everything would be in public – he is, after all, a “fairly straight kind of guy”. Isn’t he?

That’ll Cost You, Sport – 9

Two years ago, Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal, and many commentators had misgivings about the sale. Many still do, even though the paper has not become quite as downmarket as many of Rupe’s titles in the UK and his native Australia.

What has happened, though, is that the WSJ has shifted to the right, and now exhibits the usual Murdoch traits: Obama bashing, anti health care reform, and of course anti anything to do with global warming. These attributes can be seen, in rather sharper focus, on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

This move rightwards has been picked up by the New York Times, in this article which points up the WSJ’s change to a more general and less analytical perspective. In an interesting coincidence, some from the right and libertarian part of the blogosphere have been enthusing recently about the WSJ and putting the boot in to the Financial Times, even to the point of painting the FT as left wing (I kid you not).

As Private Eye might have said, “I wonder if the two are in any way related? I think we should be told”.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Put It In The Curry

I first visited Berlin during a work assignment back in 1998. The city had been reunited for almost a decade, but the infrastructure had not yet followed suit: parts of the city’s iconic S-Bahn network were still being rebuilt and reopened. More, the “new” centre around Potsdamer Platz was one gigantic building site.

But one thing was the same then as it was last year when I renewed my acquaintance with Berlin, and that was the citizens’ love of currywurst. That’s right: traditional German sausage, chopped up and smothered with curry sauce. And there are hundreds of places across the city where you can partake in the ritual.

I never did the currywurst thing, but as this clip shows, Berliners love the stuff. Each to their own.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Camera Obscure – 2

Another week, another exhibition of harassment by the Met. This time, the unfortunate photographer was from the Guardian, and the accusation one of terrorist reconnaissance. This comes after new guidance issued through the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) told explicitly that taking photos of public buildings was not normally an excuse to stop and search them.

As usual, the justification given is by quoting Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. Apparently there are “designated areas” within which police are allowed to stop and search anyone without there even being a need to demonstrate suspicion. Unfortunately for the public, who are generally not inclined to acts of terrorism, the presence of these areas is information that is not routinely available to them.

As I said recently, this is utterly and absolutely cracked. The police service, at times of greatest need, asks the public for their help: when the police have earlier behaved so as to harass that public, they should not be surprised when they do not get it.

Friday 11 December 2009

Let He Who Is Without Sin

As Expensegate has rumbled on – more MPs expenses revealed this week – there have been those in the House of Commons who have given the impression that they are above all the alleged troughing.

And the eccentric Tory MP for Harwich and Clacton, Douglas Carswell, is one such. But his expense claims for 2008-9 include an amount for food. And it’s not a trivial amount.

It’s just a shade over 2,960 quid. I’m sure it’s all above board, or will be in the retelling.

Bad Sports

Another day, another apparently wide ranging injunction, this time guaranteed to put a stop to a source of increasing curiosity. Yes, lawyers for Tiger Woods have succeeded in having certain information about their client suppressed.

As in so many of these cases, exactly what the information is, we are not told. But whatever the information, it can’t be repeated. The injunction applies to the UK, but as far as is known, not to the USA. Just in case you missed that, the injunction doesn’t apply to the USA.

Better not say any more. Wouldn’t want the spoilsports to get upset.

The Goose Must Have Been Getting Fat

What’s with all the goose fat? Earlier this week it was piled high at Aldi, and today there it is at Asda. But, after sitting down with the obligatory nice relaxing cuppa, the penny dropped.

Somebody on the telly has been plugging it.

Well, it can’t have been Delia, or the stuff would have sold out before I’d even noticed it. And that much is true, although she’s recommended the stuff for basting the goose before it goes in the oven.

No, the culprit this time is the agreeably upmarket Nigella Lawson, who is majoring on goose fat to help you produce the ultimate roast potatoes. Whether it makes your kitchen sparkling clean, despite all the cooking, is another matter.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Elocution In Reverse

Over the time he was Prime Minister, much about Tony Blair irritated me: the regular use of “y’know”, the idea that his integrity, like Caesar’s wife, was beyond reproach (every politician tells the odd porkie, even if only by accident), and ultimately his almost messianic belief that the so-called WMDs in Iraq would be found, despite their not existing.

And then there was the pronunciation. Blair attended Fettes College – aka “Eton in a kilt” – but he was leader of Labour, supposedly a party of the ordinary folk. So, consciously or otherwise, his speech became “ordinary”. It might not have registered on most folks’ radar, but it irritated the heck out of me, so much so that I recognise anything similar very readily.

So it was that the alarm bells sounded yesterday while I was watching coverage of the Pre-Budget Report. And it wasn’t anything coming from the Government side, but the response by the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet. He was starting to sound like Blair, and less like his old self. Why should that be?

Perhaps the talk from the Labour side about their background is getting to some in the Shadow Cabinet. From Osborne, who, as I said a while back, I found instantly dislikeable, one can understand it. After all, when the accusations of privilege and never having had a “proper” job get thrown, he doesn’t have any means of countering them.

Hopefully the rest of Young Dave’s team will not follow suit: Cameron himself won’t go in for any of that, and one reminder of Tony Blair’s attempt to sound “ordinary” is quite enough.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Murdoch Is Served (9)

And so it came to pass that the Commons culture, media and sport Select Committee considered their report on Phonehackgate, which I last looked at back in July. But they are not happy about the evidence given by Rupe’s Troops, and so have requested the presence before their good selves of the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks (née Wade).

Ms Wade, now chief executive of News International, may not make her appearance until the New Year, but appear she will. Meanwhile, expect Tory cheerleaders around the blogosphere to either ignore this, or howl “non story” in response. They have good reason to respond thus: Young Dave’s new spinmeister Andy Coulson was editor of the Screws when the initial hacking story broke.

Moreover, Coulson has recently come out of a wrongful dismissal case brought by a former NotW hack very badly indeed: he’s been identified as part of a bullying culture at the paper. As Nick Davies – himself involved in the phone hacking story – has said in Flat Earth News, “Dog doesn’t eat dog”. So it is no surprise that, apart from the Guardian, other papers have managed to ignore the story.

But that’s no guarantee of continuing silence, and a General Election looms. Young Dave is now locked in to being Murdoch friendly – so he’ll just have to hope that this potential IED doesn’t go off.

Hung Over The Gap

Another day, another poll: this one had Tory, Labour and Lib Dem on 38, 30 and 20, which at least gave “only” 12% for “others”, but otherwise just fuelled talk of a hung Parliament. Why so?

Ah well. It’s all about the gap that an opposition party has to cross if it wants to form any kind of majority – let alone a working one. And over the years that gap has been widening.

Back in 1959, the number of MPs not part of Tory or Labour was just seven. Six of those were Liberals: this was the age when the Parliamentary Liberal Party could indeed be fitted into the back of a taxi. So the scope for a hung Parliament was very narrow: an opposition party merely needed to gain another seven MPs to cross the gap.

It was all rather different in 2005. The Lib Dems, as successors to the 1959 Liberals, now had 62 seats. Moreover, the various Northern Ireland members, 18 of them, mostly did not take the whip of any major party. Then there were nine nationalist MPs from Scotland and Wales, and two Independents. That’s a gap of 91.

So Young Dave and his chaps need to gain enough to wipe out the Labour majority – and then another 90-odd on top of that. Only then will they be in a position to form a majority Government. The only other way is to squeeze the Lib Dems, but the days when the Super Soaraway Currant Bun would routinely field a “Libs In No Seats Shocker” edition during the General Election campaign are over – well, credibility wise, anyway.

And the Tories would prefer any majority to be substantial enough that a few by-election losses would not cause too much concern: many in the party still remember the erosion of John Major’s 21 seat advantage during the 90s.

The Network That Gives 120 Per Cent

There are, across the USA, and even further afield, folks who trust what they are fed by Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). And Fox have been hot on the issue of global warming of late – majoring on anything that undermines the scientific consensus.

Thus it should not be a surprise to see that Fox have published the results from a recent Rasmussen Reports poll on the subject: it backs the generally sceptical mood in the USA right now. Look at the response to question 3, which asks “In order to support their own theories and beliefs about global warming, how likely is it that some scientists have falsified research data?"

The response was as follows:

35% Very Likely
24% Somewhat Likely
21% Not Very Likely
5% Not At All Likely
15% Don’t Know
Total 100%.

This, however, wasn’t enough for Fox. On December 4, Fox And Friends put up a graphic which added the “Very Likely” and “Somewhat Likely” together to make 59%, but then restated the 35% “Very Likely” and even discarded the 15% “Don’t Know”. The upshot was a total percentage of 120.

As the article in the link says, this could be the first example of Climath Change.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Greeks Bearing No Gifts

I’ve enjoyed some excellent holidays in Greece. The people are on the whole welcoming and laid back, and it tends to be sunny and warm there. Yes, things don’t always work, and service might not come when you’d like it – or even the next day – but you can’t help liking the country and its people.

But successive Greek Governments have never got on top of the country’s economy. In the days of the Drachma, there was always inflation, and a lot more than in the UK: in 1990 a pound bought about 290 drachmae, by 1992 that had gone up to 340, then in the mid 90s it had gone over 400. By the end of that decade it had reached over 500.

So I did wonder how the country would manage to get its currency in line with the Eurozone, and adopt the Euro. The short answer is that they never really managed it, and thereby hangs the problem. The idea of just marking up prices and then blaming the resulting problems on the Euro failed to address the problem: now their sovereign debt has been downgraded, an event which the Cicero’s Songs blog had considered a while back.

This is, as far as is known, a first for a Eurozone country. And Greece not only has a stubbornly high level of debt, but has not displayed the will to tackle it. How the ECB and other Eurozone countries tackle this one is uncharted territory, as the Beeb’s Stephanie Flanders has shown on her blog.

One to watch.

Monday 7 December 2009

Common Sense Prevails

As it became clear that Donington Park was never going to be ready to stage a modern day British Grand Prix, there was only one alternative, and that was to return the race to Silverstone. And so it has come to pass: today’s deal should keep F1 at the former wartime airfield for another seventeen years.

Bernie Ecclestone seems at last to be happy; Damon Hill, as head of the BRDC, looks positively ecstatic. After all the smiles, you have to wonder why there was all the manoeuvring in the first place.

And it will be free to view.

Unlucky Seven

Last week there were reports that golfer Tiger Woods had been injured in a road accident. Then it started to escalate: Woods and his wife had been involved in an altercation over his alleged infidelity. Then there were photos and names of supposed mistresses.

Well, today the number of alleged mistresses has reached seven. Woods’ recent appearance before the media to confirm that he had transgressed is starting to look like the ultimate understatement, but I do have a sneaking respect for the bloke: how on earth does he fit them all in?

It brings back memories of JFK and his nickname of Jack The Zipper: the women came and went as in a revolving door, at least three of them on the night of his inauguration (and none of those was his wife).

Will Holly Sampson be the last? It’s all getting rather addictive.

Sunday 6 December 2009

An Inverted Class Warrior

First things first: a confession that I don’t watch every politics oriented item on TV. Hence my having something better to do than take in today’s Beeb One Politics Show. So I initially missed Young Dave getting jolly miffed about Pa Broon’s remark during last week’s PMQs about Tory policies being dreamed up “on the playing fields of Eton”. Yes, Dave’s jolly angry about this, and has left everyone in no doubt that it’s “Class War” – and that sort of thing doesn’t work (allegedly).

So who is making all the fuss about the remark? Had it been Big Al, or Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole, then the “Class War” assertion would have been credible. But for Cameron to major on it is not: moreover, such an approach fails to grasp the real purpose of Brown’s remark, which was to get at Zac Goldsmith, advisor to Young Dave, Tory PPC, and a “non dom” – yes, he’s in line to become an MP, yet does not pay tax in the UK.

This has not stopped the usual cheerleaders from lining up to denounce Brown and stating that “Class War” does not work. Their single by-election sample is Crewe and Nantwich, though factors other than the “Tory Toff” stunt played in favour of Edward Timpson: he was minded personally throughout the campaign (and even on Andrew Marr’s sofa afterwards) by Fat Eric, the Government was for a variety of reasons unpopular at the time, the seat isn’t the working class Labour stronghold that some paint it, and the Labour campaign, as I noted at the time, effectively gave up in the last few days and failed to get their vote out.

I would be more than happy to show any of the Tory cheerleaders round Crewe and Nantwich to demonstrate the area’s uniqueness – and how it is much more of a swing seat than they might think – but somehow know that this is an area that they would rather talk about than visit.

Meanwhile, despite Cameron saying he’s relaxed about having gone to “School” (Old Etonians only recognise the one), the impression is given that he’d rather his opponents talk about something else. So expect them not to.

The Stationary Station Scheme

As I posted recently, CREAM put forward their contribution to the “masterplanning” process at their recent Heritage Centre presentation. This was in advance of meetings and decisions with the new Cheshire East Council in the driving seat, but so far everything has gone quiet. Moreover, my email prompt to one of the councillors hasn’t even been answered, and the next relevant meeting – to which the general public, in contrast to the CREAM presentation, aren’t invited – is next Wednesday.

The silence from Cheshire East, together with the leaked suggestion that the Crewe Gateway scheme (leaving the station in its current location and updating it) did not have a “valid business case”, has caused concern. If the Gateway scheme had not had a sound business case, it would not have been put forward in the first place, and, as nothing of any substance has changed in the meantime, one can only wonder how the new Council has arrived at its conclusion.

That concern was voiced in an article that has appeared in the local press, the main contributor being Labour PPC David Williams. There has been no comment from MP Edward Timpson, but neither has he dissented from Williams’ line. It is certainly strange that Cheshire East Council is apparently still considering the crackpot idea of moving the station out of town, especially given that Network Rail (and it’s their rail network) abandoning the idea, not least because they cannot fund the necessary track and signalling works.

Also, one of the consultants advising Cheshire East tells in its literature of its commitment to “sustainable” solutions, and such an attribute could not be associated with a scheme that forces more punters to get in their cars and drive, just to be able to catch a train. All eyes are now on Wednesday’s meeting at the Alex Stadium: it is to be hoped that the Basford move will be dropped for good, and that the Gateway scheme can proceed.

More news as it appears.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Your Fifteen Minutes Is Up ... For Now

Who in the blogosphere, I wonder, recognises the name of John Ward? He hadn’t registered on my radar, I confess, until a former work colleague took time out to put me straight. Ward was the first to publish the Pa Broon medication story, and has been running with it for some months. He doesn’t actually blog, but has a website and sends out a regular email post.

Unfortunately, as Ward himself concedes, he clearly believes that Brown is on a particular kind of medication, but has no means of proving it. And, without the proof, his story is going nowhere. Other better known bloggers and pundits are drifting away, and Ward’s use of his newsletter style postings to tell of disputes with neighbours is not helping him.

At least Ward has discovered one thing about the blogosphere: even those bringing the exclusives to the table can drift out of favour. He is also right that there are too many folks chasing cheap popularity and embracing a variety of conspiracy theories along the way. His angle on “serious” journalists getting in on the New Media is, of course, already happening with sites like the Huffington Post, which I check out regularly.

What is happening over in the USA, I reckon, will not take too much prompting to happen here: conspiracy theorists calling their opponents “liars”, along with so much that is blatant party propaganda, will not survive competition with anything half decently presented and properly researched.

At which point John Ward may come right back into favour, so I for one hope that he sticks around.

The Limits of Denial

The debate over man made climate change rumbles on, and with fresh intensity on the approach to the Copenhagen summit. The lobby denying that such change exists has drawn new strength from a recent hacking of emails from the University of East Anglia, although the interpretation of this correspondence is disputed. Moreover, if this University were the sole repository of climate change data, the idea that some of it may have been lost would be genuinely disturbing. But UEA is one of many places studying climate change – so it isn’t.

Nevertheless, the antis have dubbed the product from the hacking “Climategate”, while getting terribly sensitive to the charge of climate change denial. The D word, it is argued, makes them sound like holocaust deniers, while trying to re-categorise themselves as merely “sceptics”. This latter would be fine if they were in “show me” mode, but those who have decided that climate change is some kind of hoax, conspiracy, or cover for more taxation are not. They deny that man made climate change exists, hence the legitimate use of the D word.

The chorus of denial should surprise nobody. Many centuries ago, there were those who denied that the earth was other than flat. In the nineteenth Century, some argued that travelling at over thirty miles an hour would be fatal to humans; Dr Dionysius Lardner was particularly concerned at the effect of the first souls to travel by train through Mr Brunel’s tunnel at Box. Before Charles Darwin, the idea of evolution of species through natural selection would have been considered blasphemy, and in some resistant parts of the world still is.

And so it was with exercise. Nowadays we accept that regular exercise is good for you, but half a century ago this was revolutionary stuff. It was substantially due to pioneering work by Professor Jerry Morris, who has just died at the age of 99, that the link between exercise and a healthy heart was proven. Morris’ studies first covered London’s bus crews, noting that conductors were far less subject to sudden heart attacks. Then he looked at postal workers, seeing that those who delivered the post on foot or by bicycle were healthier than office workers.

After all his research, Morris got outsiders to try and destroy his thesis. They could not. Subsequently the research was published in 1953. This came hard on the heels of the publishing of evidence demonstrating the link between smoking and lung cancer in 1950 by Richard Doll. Both these publications were opposed by interest groups, and were not at fist taken seriously – which brings us back to man made climate change.

We now accept that exercise is good for you, and that smoking causes lung cancer. Hopefully the climate change evidence will also be accepted - before it’s too late.

Thursday 3 December 2009

The Laws Don’t Work – 7

Another day, another routinely dispiriting confirmation that being “tough on drugs” is not working: today’s Guardian has revealed that the number of cocaine addicts entering treatment is increasing sharply. And the numbers shown in the article are more than likely to be only a small fraction of the total number of those so addicted.

Why should this be? Ah well. There may be occasional headline grabbing drugs busts, but their effect on supply is trivial. The product gets to the market, and, being delivered there by organised criminality, is certainly plentiful, but has been adulterated with a variety of additives to bulk it out. Some of these may be carcinogenic: the drug gets the blame for the cancer, while the real reason gets ignored.

Current policy on drugs reinforces the presence of the criminally inclined in the supply chain, along with the variety of lawlessness that comes from the need to feed habits, debt collection, and turf wars. All could be reduced or even eliminated by ending the present charade and legalising – and regulating – the industry. All would then follow: education and treatment would occur without the threat of criminal sanction.

It would also become easier to make comparisons between drugs as to their relative ability to harm, modify behaviour, and cause dependency. Thus another reinforcement of public education. Only in a rational and unthreatening manner can we all become better informed – and have the ability to make our own choices.

The Republican Wrong – Wrong Again

Routinely at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) there has been yet another attack on Barack Obama by Glenn Beck. However, Beck’s claim – that less than 10% of Obama’s Cabinet appointees have worked for the private sector – has been comprehensively debunked by PolitiFact. And it begs the question of the accuracy of Beck’s assertions, along with their apparently not being checked prior to broadcast.

Beck, with no apparent sense of irony, has defined private sector experience, partly, as “folks that have done more than write on the chalkboard”, which is the defining activity of his Fox show. Perhaps he will tell of his own entrepreneurship in a future presentation.

At least the verdict of PolitiFact was merely that Beck’s assertion was “untrue”: thus he avoided the most severe assessment – “pants on fire”. Beck has, however, attained a recent entry in this category, as have Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Bachmann, Orly Taitz and (you just knew this was coming) Sarah Palin.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Greasy Polls

The Beeb’s poll tracker is now showing one clear message: the much debated Ipsos Mori poll recently was not the only one showing a narrowing in the Tory lead. But, so what? These things show movements to and fro, and a few more weeks down the line, things may be different. This stance, I suspect, is the one being taken by Young Dave and his chaps: they might have less good days, but they’re still nicely in front.

And it’s probably the sensible line to take, as is the Tories’ newly defined stance on the EU. But the cheerleaders in the blogosphere are more easily unnerved, and it’s easy to tell when a less favourable poll comes out – it gets ignored. Conversely, a better than expected poll is greeted by coverage bordering on overkill. The thought that the poll lead might fritter away, as Neil Kinnock’s did back in 1992, is preying on many minds.

Added to this is today’s apparently happy and confident performance by Pa Broon at PMQs, likely to have been bolstered by the return to the top team of Big Al, who is one man who still frightens the Tories – more so than Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole. Tory cheerleaders are now whining about Brown’s “playing fields of Eton” jibe and shouting “liar” (unfortunately, much in the blogosphere has difficulty rising above this level) at his rather broad definition of the G20 (is Spain a member or just an attendee?).

On the other hand, the playground smears about Brown’s alleged medication are being shouted all over Tory blogland. I make no complaint about this apparent factual imbalance: it is symptomatic of folks getting – prematurely, I would suggest – nervous and rattled. And, if a mere dip in opinion poll ratings gets folks rattled, what if the lead were to vanish?

One thing is for sure: shouting “liar” and making medication jokes won’t bring it back.

That’ll Cost You, Sport – 8

The attempt by dear old Rupe to make the punters pay for access to news continues, as does the demonisation of aggregators and linkers around the Web. How News International is going to make its content so unique as to make folks willingly pay for it is a mystery: as Nick Davies has explained in Flat Earth News, there is little to differentiate between a variety of presenters of what is in effect the same news.

Murdoch himself has been at the forefront of cutting costs by cutting down on the numbers of journalists. Unless he is going to spend more, in order to give his content a uniqueness and quality not available elsewhere, he’s on a hiding to nothing.

Moreover, the whole idea of simply walling up his empire behind a pay barrier misunderstands the way the Web works. This has been brought home in typically forthright style by Arianna Huffington, in this post. I commend it to anyone not yet persuaded of Murdoch’s folly.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Longer Exposure

All the photos from my sojourn in warmer climes have now been selected, edited, uploaded and titled. So, as previously signposted, here are some links for anyone who is interested.

New views of the city of Lisbon have been added; these are marked as “New”, as are additions to the collection on the city’s much photographed trams. A collection of views from the less touristy part of Portugal has been assembled, with images from Braga, the Douro Valley, Évora and Beja. A tour of the National Rail Museum at Entroncamento is there too, as is one of the Algarve.

By all means stop by, browse, and let me know if there are any howlers, or anything I might have missed.

Bring Me Sunlight – 3

Back in October I checked out the particularly eccentric stance of backbench (and, apparently, determined to stay there) MP Douglas Carswell, who sits for the constituency of Harwich and Clacton. The Guardian, being a broad church despite those – on the same part of the political spectrum as Carswell – who like to pretend otherwise, has featured an interview with him in its Environment Blog. Carswell, as I’ve previously mentioned, doesn’t believe in such things as man-made global warming.

And Carswell is refreshingly candid about his recent conversion to climate change scepticism. This, he tells, follows his investigation into the writings of one Ian Plimer, particularly the book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – The Missing Science. In the Guardian interview, this is the only author and volume he quotes in his defence. But there is a problem with this approach: Plimer and his book have been savaged by the scientific community.

This, however, has not stopped several on the libertarian right from taking Plimer, and those of similar persuasion, as their particular gospel. Meanwhile, this article tells you all you need to know about the critics.

Guilty Until Proven Guilty

Desperate times, desperate measures: the town of Standish, Michigan is down on its luck, so much so that it hopes to improve things by successfully bidding to bring inmates from Guantánamo Bay (aka “Gitmo”) to a nearby, and otherwise disused, facility. Some of the responses have been truly bizarre.

Some assume that the detainees are all terrorists, although no charges have been laid, and no trials started. Others suggest they will break out of the jail and rape their way around the county, although none were detained on those grounds.

The most bizarre assertion of all is that having the detainees in the nearby prison will make the area a terrorist target. And how many terrorist actions have been targeted on Guantánamo? Well, as far as is known, none.

The ultimate solution is, as ever, straightforward: bring forward the evidence, put the detainees on trial, and apply the appropriate sentence to those found guilty. Otherwise set them free: being Muslim with Intent, or Reading the Qur’an with Malice Aforethought, are not indictable offences.

Who Checked The Figures? – 2

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Young Dave did something that Pa Broon does not find easy: he made a public apology. As I posted recently, there was a row of non-trivial size after Dave’s assertions about money going to Muslim schools, and now he was admitting getting some of his facts wrong.

So far, so honest, but we are no nearer to knowing how the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition got it so wrong. Where did the assertions originate? Who checked both them and the figures? One thing, if previous discussion of the Cameron character is to be believed, we can expect: whoever put this particular “dodgy dossier” before Young Dave will have found out directly what the Tory leader thinks of such service.

Moreover, the source will not be so readily trusted any time soon – that being any time this side of the General Election.