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Monday 31 January 2011

The Qualification Anomaly

Last week’s edition of BBC2’s Horizon, “Science Under Attack”, has clearly stirred up the climate change denial lobby, to the extent that the Maily Telegraph’s dynamic denial duo of Christopher Booker and James “saviour of the Western world” Delingpole are still whining about it.

And that whining is now becoming desperate: Delingpole’s latest attack on Paul Nurse, head of the Royal Society, excuses his interview performance by telling of a medical condition. Well, James, none of us are perfect, and I’ve not seen you make an exemption for anyone on the end of your sneering as yet.

Booker, meanwhile, is once more obsessing with the qualifications of those involved in the Horizon programme, when he isn’t trying to accuse Nurse and one of the team at NASA of misleading their audience over amounts of new CO2 entering the atmosphere (wrongly, it seems).

That man from NASA, Booker complains, is “only an expert in ice studies”, so somehow doesn’t count. Nurse is dismissed as he is a geneticist. And Booker has been at the forefront of the discounting of IPCC head man Rajenda Pachauri as a mere “railway engineer”.

But wait a moment – what of the accusers’ qualifications? Well, Anthony Watts, whose blog Booker and Delingpole quote so approvingly, is a meteorologist – but not a climatologist, which would not pass Booker’s criterion if he were on the other side of the argument.

Moreover, Steven Goddard, who guests on the Watts blog regularly, and who has been shown to have difficulty reading a graph of temperature anomalies, does not provide any CV or list of qualifications, so it must be assumed that his expertise has been taken by the Telegraph Two on trust.

And those two Telegraph contributors’ qualifications for judging climate change science? Delingpole took his degree in English Literature, not a science related subject, and Booker read History (ditto).

But he read it at Cambridge, so that’s all right, then.

Fat Eric – Humble Beginnings

Having made an earlier than usual Sunday morning start, Eric Pickles is relaxing on the clearly indestructible sofa on the set of The Andy Marr Show. Taking his turn on the programme’s paper review, Fat Eric laces his comments with a skill he knows well – the casual smear. His Labour opponents, he suggests, are out of touch, living in their “palatial mansions”.

And so an apparent inferiority complex was revealed. Pickles’ family didn’t have any kind of mansion: in his formative years, his parents ran a shop in Parkwood, a less than salubrious part of Keighley. The family lived on the first floor. Eric could not have helped but notice the difference between that and the proper house where his former friend Peter Gilmour lived. The Gilmours lived on Hospital Road, across the river in upmarket Riddlesden.

Gilmour, as I noted yesterday, lost his council seat as the Honeyford affair rocked Bradford council. Pickles, who had done little outside politics, had suddenly turned into a populist, and one now aware that doing the bidding of the Tory party in London – rather than the local party in Keighley – would be to his advantage if he wanted to continue his political career.

And the figure for aspiring Tories to watch in the mid-80s was then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her style was combative, her attitude to the Labour opposition dismissive. Pickles could see a stark contrast between his party’s leader and the cosy co-operation of Bradford council, where Tory group leader Ronnie Farley and his Labour counterpart Phil Beeley were good friends, and often part of the same social group.

Ronnie Farley, who I encountered before he sought elective office, told a good story, so when in later years the tales of his sexual conquests circulated around City Hall, I and many others took them with a significantly sized pinch of salt. By that time he drove a Porsche 911 and was very much a high profile politician, but his brand of conservatism did not always sit well with the Thatcherite view.

The Tories had a bad local election in 1986, and Ronnie stood down as head of their group on Bradford council. He was succeeded by Fat Eric. Farley was, by all accounts, not totally trusting of Pickles, but remained loyal to the party. Pickles, meanwhile, had set his sights on not only getting the Tories back into power, but bringing a Thatcherite zeal to local Government.

However, he would have to overcome one problem: Bradford’s electorate habitually returned a council that was either hung, or with the smallest of majorities. It was, among northern cities, quite unique.

Sunday 30 January 2011

A Load Of Von Trapp

Good news for fans of musicals – the Sound Of Music is coming to Stoke-on-Trent next month! The Regent Theatre is putting on the show, which will run from February 15 to March 5.

And in the role of Captain von Trapp will be ... Jason Donovan. Er, what? I know that Jase is a bonzer bloke and all that, but Captain von Trapp? Well, that’s what it says on the poster.

Boring but true.

Fat Eric – The Making Of A Politician

In his younger days, Eric Pickles was very much a consensus Tory, a small “L” liberal, like his friend and fellow councillor Peter Gilmour. They were unashamedly anti-racist, which in the early 1980s put them at odds with many in their own party. Their approach to council business was informed by principle as much as ideology.

And then came Ray Honeyford.

Honeyford had been appointed head of Drummond Middle School in Bradford back in 1980. He had been given a verbal warning two years later after a letter to Bradford’s evening paper the Telegraph and Argus, which he wrote on a school letterhead. Then, in early 1984, he wrote an article for the Salisbury Review, which at the time was “pro-repatriation”.

Honeyford’s article, “Education and Race – an alternative view”, attacked “the race relations lobby”, the council’s education policy, and talked of a superior “English” culture. Even so, this journal had a circulation measured in hundreds, so at first it had little effect. But in March of that year, the article was reprinted by the Yorkshire Post.

The Yorkshire Post is a solidly – and on occasion rabidly – Tory supporting paper. Its editorial staff included the legendary blowhard Bernard Dineen, only recently retired, who penned a weekly rant called the “Monday Column”. Connoisseurs of right wing ranting can still access some of the Dineen oeuvre, including the priceless assertion that there is a “nice way” to call someone a “Paki”.

Dineen may or may not have been the man at the YP with the Salisbury Review, but the journal didn’t just appear there: one of the senior staff must have been a subscriber. Following the YP’s reprinting of Honeyford’s article, all hell broke loose. The consensus was that Honeyford had to go, whether or not he was an effective headmaster. But then came Tory HQ and the Daily Mail.

The Mail bought Honeyford and his story: they concluded that he was being “hounded. The views of the Drummond parents – who were against Honeyford staying, and nowadays might have been better heard – were disregarded.

The Tory party nationally supported Honeyford. And in the next round of local elections, Peter Gilmour lost his seat: many party workers refused to campaign for him. Fat Eric now arrived at the fork in the road where principle diverges from populism. His sense of self interest now heightened, he chose the latter. He changed tack, backed Honeyford, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’ll look at Pickles’ humble beginnings later.

Saturday 29 January 2011

The Goddard Anomaly

In the pantheon of those who dedicate much of their waking hours to rubbishing the idea of man-made climate change, the presence of Steven Goddard is key. He contributes guest posts to Anthony Watts’ blog (note that he asserts Portugal to be “tropical”), his Real Science blog is cited by the Maily Telegraph’s chief denialist Christopher Booker, and sneermeister James Delingpole also gives him the nod of approval.

Clearly, much investment has been made in Goddard’s credibility. And that investment appears to have been misplaced, because Goddard is not as knowledgeable as his grandly titled blog Real Science suggests. The evidence for my assertion is easily found, and is easy to explain: it is from Goddard’s own blog, and two posts made in December last year.

Ridiculously simple error

On December 11, he uses a graph titled “2010 Temperature Anomalies”, but then talks in terms of temperatures – not temperature anomalies. So when he describes “temperatures plummeting”, he is totally wrong: all the readings shown are showing anomalies, and positive ones at that. This means that every line on that graph shows that temperatures are higher than for the long term average – the only divergence between them is over the amount of the anomaly.

Horrifically bad interpretation, more like

This is not a one-off error: on December 13, Goddard uses the same graph, and makes the same mistake. The rest of his ramblings – over El Niño and La Niña – is irrelevant, and one can only assume it is included in order to make its author sound authoritative. He has also been caught out making this mistake by Ben Lawson, so that’s Goddard’s three strikes, then.

Ironically, the accusation of inability to read data correctly is one that Goddard is more than ready to hurl at others, along with a routine helping of abuse. Perhaps if he read up on a little of that “real science”, he would be credible. Right now, he is not, and neither are those who are buying into his analysis.

Over Egging The Egyptian Pudding

Today’s Maily Telegraph brings its readers an exclusive from Egypt, and it looks at first glance as if the USA has been giving support to those behind the current uprising. However, a closer look at the article, “Egypt protests: America’s secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising”, shows no such thing.

One person now detained by Egyptian security forces attended a State Department organised get-together three years ago, and was later taken less than seriously by US diplomats in Cairo. But that doesn’t make much of a story, so the Telegraph – which has run the item under the by-lines of no less than three reporters – has dug out one of the cables released by WikiLeaks in order, shall we say, to sex it up a little.

The individual concerned attended the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit in late 2008. How subversive is that? Well, not very: the blurb for the following year’s gathering tells that its purpose is “to explore ways to advance grassroots movements seeking positive social change through 21st Century technology and tools”.

In other words, it’s a way of promoting technology along with the implicit promotion of democracy. USA promotes change through democracy and technology? Shock horror, film at 11. And the supposed “backing” for this person cannot have been too great, as when he suggested that he would be unable to attend a meeting in Washington DC through lack of funds, the US embassy in Cairo didn’t give any assistance.

Moreover, that same embassy advised that an alleged movement to bring democracy to Egypt by 2011 was “unrealistic”, that “we are doubtful of this claim”, it was “not supported by the mainstream opposition”, and the person concerned was “outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists”.

All of that suggests that the US Government and its agencies did not take this individual very seriously, and did not give him any further support. The impression is given that the Telegraph’s WikiLeaks cable is among those that were not revealing enough to interest the Guardian.

And how clandestine a gathering is the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit? Check out the list of sponsors for the 2009 event: Facebook, Google, MTV, PepsiCo, MySpace and YouTube. Real MI5 stuff. No, this is another example of talking up a story to fit an agenda.

No wonder it’s nicknamed the Maily Telegraph.

Friday 28 January 2011

Friday Food Is Curry!

Ever wondered how to reproduce that curry house taste at home? Here is what works for me.

Back in the late 1980s, my local curry takeaway – I kid you not – was called the Bismillah, on the parade in the Huddersfield suburb of Marsh. Its USP was that the ovens were out front, in the shop, and so you could see how the dishes were prepared, and the kinds of ingredients used. They also did some pre-cooking of those ingredients, something I still do nowadays.

The Bismillah is long gone, so I’m told, but those key curry components, like paste, puree and yogurt, are timeless. So, after any Wayne’s World moments, on to the preparation. The curry described is a vegetable one: chicken or lamb can be used as well, or instead of potato.

Pre-cooking: chick peas (if prepared from dried), onion and potato should be prepared separately. Also applies to meat, if used.

First things first: start with oil (I use ordinary veg or sunflower oil) and curry paste, adding chilli powder to taste, and having mixed together, stir in some natural yogurt. This moderates the effect of the spices, and it’s why yogurt based drinks go better with curry than large amounts of lager.

That’s the base for the curry – done.

I always do mushrooms in my curries, and they go in next. Stir in and leave to soften and cook through.

Then add and stir in tomatoes (canned are fine) and tomato puree – you’ll figure out what amount works best for you – followed by pre-cooked pulses (I use chick peas), then onion, potato and/or meat. It’s that simple.

By all means chuck in favourite spices as you go: I prefer to leave it at curry paste and chilli powder, but get out the savoury pickle at serving time instead. Serve with pitta bread (quick and easy), chapatis, or rice. Naan breads if you must.

And that, folks, is curry house curry made simple. As I said, it works for me – your preference may be different.

Kicking In The Rotten Door

Some regimes outlast their time: starting with the end of Imperial Russia, and continuing through to the end of communism in eastern Europe, it was the sign that Governments were past their useful life when the people rose and threw them out. It was the point at which the door had rotted away, and could easily be kicked in.

This would have happened in then South Vietnam, had the US Government not clung for so long to the idea that they could hold back the Viet Cong when the regime in Saigon was so detested by its own people. It then happened, whether the West liked it or not, in Iran as the hated Shah left, just in time.

It happened in Portugal and then in Spain, as the dictatorships of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco fell. And it happened across the former Eastern Bloc as the regimes in the line of buffer states that the former USSR held close to them, out of fear of another invasion like that of the Third Reich, collapsed.

When time runs out, some, like the Shah of Iran, know that the game is up and they have to go. Others cling to power, often hiding behind their security apparatus and relying on it to suppress dissent, but the end result is the same, even if the inevitable is held briefly at bay. In any case, trying to hold back opposition usually means creating more martyrs, making the final dénouement yet more certain and correspondingly violent.

Recently, the door rotted away in Tunisia, and the Government there ultimately accepted defeat. Now, revolt has spread to Egypt, a much more populous country and an important ally of the West. President Hosni Mubarak has held the country in an iron grip for 30 years, but he is now 82 years old, and his son has reportedly fled.

Street protests have grown in number and intensity all week, whatever the actions of Egypt’s security forces. The impression is given that ordinary people have lost any sense of fear, are demanding change, and have had enough. Another door is rotting away, live on air.

For Hosni Mubarak, the game is up, and it is time to go. Let us hope that he goes quietly and without major bloodshed.

State Of The Climate Address

The numbers are in for 2010: the year was one of the warmest ever, and this much is agreed by the Met Office and University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

However, the three bodies do not agree on whether 2010 was the warmest ever, which is interesting, given that some of the antis label all three as part of some great conspiracy. Yes, established science does not agree on every detail, probably because the three organisations are obtaining their data from different sources.

But the variation between the analyses is not great. The Met Office has helpfully ranked the ten warmest years as reported by them, NOAA and NASA, so that a comparison can be made. Note the reference to temperature anomaly: this shows the difference from the long term average. A positive anomaly means the temperature is higher than would have been expected, had readings followed that average.

A look at those figures shows that the difference between the three bodies for any particular year are small: 1998, which the Met Office and CRU have as the warmest ever, gives an anomaly of 0.52 Celsius there, versus 0.50 for NOAA and 0.49 for NASA. Last year comes out at 0.50 on Met Office and CRU versus 0.52 for NOAA and 0.56 for NASA. But all three organisations concur on the warmest ten years.

Also included by the Met Office is a global temperature anomaly map for December 2010, which was so cold across the UK. As can be seen, some parts of the earth’s surface were colder than the long term average, while others were warmer: the anomaly varied depending which side of the USA was studied, which part of the Mediterranean coast, or which side of Australia.

Thus the reason that climate change science cannot be easily dismissed by saying “it’s cold therefore there is no global warming”, although it can be predicted with the certainty of night following day that some of the antis will continue to do just that.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Party On – On Another Channel

These are strange times in the world of cable news: the channel that had, until recently, been averse to opinionated hosts and any kind of overt partisanship has struck up a partnership with a group that is not merely partisan, but also apparently as much a money generating scheme as a political action committee (PAC).

CNN – the original cable news network – has been languishing in the ratings, only scoring serious viewer numbers for set piece events such as Monday’s State Of The Union (SOTU) address. As CNN’s numbers have sunk, MSNBC, many of whose hosts are overtly liberal in outlook, has overtaken it, especially in primetime. And it is way behind our old friends at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

And, from the start, Fox has been the channel of choice for the various “Tea Party” groups that have sprung up around the USA recently: one such was the Tea Party Express, which the channel promoted heavily, gaining the attention of Media Matters For America (MMFA), as can be seen in this video.

But recently, Tea Party Express has moved its affiliation ... to CNN! The two have joined forces, and the association between them was heavily promoted on the channel during the SOTU address and analysis. Moreover, CNN carried not only Barack Obama’s address, and the official Republican Party response, but a “Tea Party” response from Rep. Michelle Bachmann.

The CNN action effectively elevated the Bachmann response to the same level as the mainstream GOP one, although she is not part of the Party’s leadership, and nor is she an official “Tea Party” spokesman.

This change in approach for CNN, and some background on the Tea Party Express, was covered on her Tuesday show by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Given her analysis, and that of MMFA, one can only wonder what CNN are doing getting into bed with this group, other than perhaps to garner ratings from those who would normally tune in to Fox.

Murdoch Is Served (30)

This post was going to be written yesterday, but then the feedback on Bozza’s jolly good cable car wheeze arrived. That event was doubly fortunate, because the circus that is Phonehackgate took a new turn in the meantime, and that turn was that the Murdoch press suddenly decided to take the whole business seriously.

Why would this happen, after years of batting off any questions with the “one rogue reporter” defence? Simples. Rupe and his troops want the 61% of BSkyB that they don’t already own outright: Murdoch wants his hands firmly round the cash cow that the satellite broadcaster has become. He’s not getting any younger, and keeping his empire intact and strong is the best protection against the in-fighting and power struggles that will inevitably erupt once he shuffles off this earth.

Rupe clearly believes that coming clean over Phonehackgate will help Young Dave and Jeremy Hunt the Culture Secretary (no Spoonerisms, please) to nod through the BSkyB takeover, hence the sacking of the Screws’ news editor Ian Edmondson yesterday and the release of information by that paper to the Met. Hence also the more robust attitude to laddism at Sky Sports.

Will it be enough? That depends on Rupe and his troops containing Phonehackgate, which right now looks increasingly unlikely. Over the last few days, Pa Broon has entered the fray, and Alastair Campbell has queried an occasion when a snapper from the Screws turned up at a meeting organised over the phone. And Sienna Miller’s stepmother Kelly Hoppen has joined the list of litigants.

On top of all that, the Met are at last taking the whole saga seriously. And Edmondson, if he feels that others are getting away while he takes the rap, may yet start singing for his supper. The accusations of hacking within the past year – rather a long time after Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman were convicted – show that the “one rogue reporter” line was blatantly dishonest.

No, I don’t believe that even Rupert Murdoch can stop this firestorm from spreading. The saga – called a “non story” for so long – will keep on running as long as there are disclosures to be made and litigants to pay off. Nodding through the BSkyB takeover without referral to the Competition Commission is no longer a credible option for this Government.

We may have already seen, for the Murdoch Empire and its cosy collusion with too much of the establishment, the beginning of the end.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Crikey Readers, The Cable Car Still Doesn’t Add Up!

Thanks to information received from Transport for London (TfL), I am now able to get a fuller picture of the proposed cable car link from North Greenwich to the Royal Victoria Dock. As this has come via TfL Customer Services, I do not consider it subject to the Chatham House Rules, and therefore quote freely from it.

In response to my question on whether there were similar systems with ten person cabins in operation elsewhere in Europe: “There are numerous examples ... in Lisbon and Barcelona among other places

I plead some knowledge of both: the system in Lisbon is part of the Parque das Nações (Park of Nations), the site of the 1998 Expo. It runs over the waterfront and provides a view of the site. It is not a serious people mover, and nor is the system in Barcelona, which runs from the upper station of the Montjuic funicular to the castle. Both systems have cabins that seat no more than four people.

You won't get ten in one of those

According to the planning application for the London system, this will be on a far larger scale than both examples quoted: for starters, the minimum clearance above high water on the river will be a whopping 54.1 metres, or over 180 feet. And of course the cabins will be larger than for those examples.

On capacity, “the technical requirements ... are to be able to operate at ... up to 2,500 people per hour”. A ten person per cabin system running at a 30 second headway (this figure has been widely disseminated) has a maximum one way capacity of 1,200 per hour. As for helping to disperse large crowds after events at the O2 or ExCeL, forget it. But I am told that the proposed system will be fully accessible.

On fares, “Oyster cards will be accepted ... although it is envisaged that it will not be included within the Travelcard scheme. The fares will be determined in due course”.

So what will a journey cost? The Barcelona system gives a clue: compared to a single metro or bus fare of EUR 1.45, and a ten trip Zone 1 ticket at EUR 8.25, the Montjuic cable car costs EUR 6.30 for a single trip and EUR 9 for a return.

On timescale, “TfL is discussing the programme in some detail ... including the potential to open before the 2012 Olympic Games. We will be in a position to confirm the planned programme in the Spring”.

I’m not convinced: my feeling is that financial push will come to shove, and that this will be quietly dropped. Another of Bozza’s wizzo ideas that should have remained just that.

TPA – Pick’n’Mix The Numbers

On Thursday last, the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) returned to one of their favourite subjects, that of taxation on road users. In a so-called “Research Note” titled Excessive Motoring Taxes [.pdf], a smokescreen of verbiage is used to justify highly selective use of figures to demonstrate that motorists are being taxed excessively, while ignoring costs that are so inconvenient as to prove their argument not just misleading, but blatantly dishonest.

The theory underpinning the TPA analysis is all to do with what are called Pigovian taxes, those that are intended to correct for “negative externalities”, for instance, a tax on pollution with the objective of reducing it. However, this is mere cover for the TPA’s selective use of figures: the costs of congestion (p3) are ignored by glibly stating that they are “internalised within the body of road users and create an incentive to use other methods of transport”.

Moreover, the cost of congestion quoted is from 1998, whereas the tax figures quoted throughout the “Research Note” are from 2008-9. This is a routine and unsurprising deception. The costs of road congestion are a reality, and waffling about Pigovian analysis cannot cause them to vanish: the generally accepted figure for 2004 – which will be far higher today – was around 20 billion.

Also, the TPA manage to ignore the total cost of traffic accidents. According to DfT figures, the total value of prevention of reported road accidents in 2009 was 15.8 billion, and including accidents not reported, that figure could be as high as 30 billion (I’ve used the latter figure). Added to this may be police and court costs, as well as those of noise and other pollution.

Accepting the TPA figures for motoring taxes, road building and the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions, assuming a police and court cost of 7.5 billion (it was 3 billion in 1994), and including congestion and accident costs, we have a stark comparison.

Motoring taxes: 30.2 billion

Motoring costs (TPA): 12.3 billion

Motoring costs (ZS): 69.8 billion.

I accept that the Zelo Street analysis is flawed, as it does not take into account the increase in congestion costs from 2004, and that this may well increase the total figure to over 80 billion. I also suggest that the TPA accept that they have, once more, been caught fiddling the figures to fit their conclusion, and desist from such fraudulent behaviour in future.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Fat Dick And His Forward Combing

The ravages of time can do terrible things to male vanity. Parts of the body get older and creakier, other parts get flabby, and some even fall out. Into the latter category comes the curse of male pattern baldness: many of us blokes find out as the years advance that what doesn’t go grey, goes period.

And for some, the fear of going into terminal hairline recession becomes such an obsession that they start talking around the subject: not talking of their own fears, but projecting them on to others. This latter category appears to be gaining a most deserving new recruit, the obscenely overpaid and under-talented Fat Dick Littlejohn.

In his last two columns, Fat Dick has started to mock those men who wear hairpieces (scroll down in both cases). True, the examples he shows are particularly bad – he’s not fingered Eddie Jordan as yet – but it’s becoming a habit. In his latest attempt at mockery, he asks “is it vanity or bravery that drives men to these lengths?”, while his column shows that same old stock photo of him, leaning forward and with hair combed likewise.

Fortunately, there are pics of Fat Dick available that give a more, shall we say, interesting angle: this one is from 2007. And the impression is given that the Littlejohn recession is well under way: things will not have improved in the intervening three and a half years.

So next time there is a Littlejohn “Syrup Watch” (geddit?!?), remember those projected feelings of concern from Fat Dick for his disappearing barnet. Allegedly.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

Yesterday evening’s BBC2 Horizon, Science Under Attack, was the subject of fierce debate even before it was aired, and that debate began when the Guardian revealed details of an interview between Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, and the hectoring and sneering James Delingpole, who has made a reputation from rubbishing climate change, generally by shouting down anyone who has the temerity to oppose him.

The piece in the Guardian environment blog that started the ball rolling revealed that Delingpole had been stumped by Nurse’s questioning – true – and that he had asked for filming to stop at one point, then had later complained to the Beeb. The Guardian had clearly got some information from Nurse himself. Delingpole could not allow this to pass unchallenged.

So, again before Horizon was broadcast, Delingpole launched into a tedious and defensive whingefest on his blog (hosted by the Maily Telegraph, one might note). Nurse is called a “bruiser”, rather as the hosts of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) characterise their hate figures as “thugs”. Then he dismisses the scientific consensus on climate change, a line of argument which somehow escaped him during the interview.

There then follows a welter of abuse: Nurse’s questioning is “shabby, dishonest and patently false”, the climate change consensus is an artificial and “politically driven” construct, and there is the suggestion that scientists buying into the consensus have themselves been bought. And if only the rest of the three hour interview had been shown, then all would be well.

That last point sounds reminiscent of the legendary confrontation between Will Self and Fat Dick Littlejohn: when Littlejohn complained that Self had only read the first 200 pages of his new novel, Self retorted “Why? Does it suddenly turn into Tolstoy?”.

And Delingpole shares another trait with his Daily Mail counterpart: there is precious little research in his rant, but plenty of assertion. Delingpole confuses transient weather events with climate change, wrongly asserts that “there has been no global warming since 1998”, and continues to be abusive towards Nurse, an agreeable and enthusiastic advocate for science.

Only one conclusion can be reached: that Delingpole is painting himself as being wronged by a dreadful BBC stitch-up, and the straightforward explanation - that he was found wanting - is not allowed to enter. He is another who has proved Keith Olbermann’s assertion that “the right lives in a perpetual state of victimhood”, and is now proving Healey’s dictum in spades.

Monday 24 January 2011

TPA – Driving Down Drivel

There are no areas of the economy off limits to the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), and such is their zeal for misinformation that they have spun off yet another Astroturf group, the so-called Drivers’ Alliance (DA), to help spread their particular brand of propaganda on matters relating to road transport and travel.

The agenda of this new group is shown in its full glory in a so-called “research note” titled “Speeding Fines[.pdf]. Here, the usual TPA methodology is used: overwhelming numbers of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests are made – wasting public money in the process – to enable huge tables of figures to be compiled, ensuring that hard pressed hacks are suitably impressed, and therefore ensuring that much of the Fourth Estate looks no further than summary and press release.

Sadly, there are a number of omissions in the “research note”, of the kind so basic that they would shame any serious researcher. Look at all the tables [p4-8] showing amounts of fines collected: at first glance – and the TPA clearly hope that this is the only glance their efforts will attract – it looks as if all those local authorities are making a lot of money out of the unfortunate motorist. Then ask how much the fines actually cost to collect: this is not told. So any talk of profiteering is worthless (no change there, then).

It gets worse when the “research note” looks at the effectiveness of speed cameras. Here, two basic mistakes are made, but dressed up with lots of very serious looking numbers to throw lazy journalists off the scent. The TPA are trying to suggest that speed cameras have not reduced casualty accidents, but somehow increased them (other potential factors are conveniently ignored). In support of this, a graph has been produced showing a “predicted casualty rate”.

TPA and DA drive down their credibility

But following the trajectory of this rate would see an end to all casualty accidents in the next two years. This, I can guarantee, will not happen: a wilful – yet typical for the TPA – false assumption. It gets worse: a regression analysis (and a Chow Test) are then featured [p12-16], which is meant to impress the average hack. The analysis uses the point where speed cameras were introduced, in 1991, to show how the casualty rate decline has reduced.

But, again, this is pure tosh: the analysis only works if all speed cameras were installed at the same time – it’s a straight fit. Many cameras didn’t appear until after the 2000 “Tomorrow’s Roads – Safer For Everyone” white paper [.pdf]: the TPA analysis is therefore exposed as a sham.

Once again, no change there, then. More on the TPA/DA very soon.

[UPDATE: this post has appeared, in an edited version, on Liberal Conspiracy. My thanks, as ever, to Sunny Hundal]

Murdoch Is Served (29)

So Andy Coulson will soon depart 10 Downing Street for the last time. Will that be the end of the affair? Not a chance. There are two strands to the fallout from last Friday’s events, and neither will resolve themselves in the immediate term. The most urgent, from Young Dave’s point of view, is to get himself a new spinmeister, and quickly.

I’m aware that, by emphasising the speed with which Cameron needs to move, my analysis diverges from the line that some have been taking over the weekend. This holds, more or less, that PM and Chancellor needed Coulson back in 2007 when they were less sure of themselves and the Tory right was showing signs of inconvenient behaviour, but that their self confidence and authority have grown, to the extent that Coulson’s departure will not concern them unduly.

This was the approach taken in the Maily Telegraph by Andrew Porter. And it is utter and complete bullshit.

So it should surprise no-one that Porter engaged his grey matter and later penned a piece giving the view from Tory maverick David Davis, where Cameron’s former rival for the party leadership reminds the Telegraph’s readership why Coulson was so useful in the first place: he was the only one close to Young Dave who came from an ordinary background and understood the priorities and concerns of those who didn’t go to Eton.

Coulson was there to remind former Buller men Cameron and Osborne that not everyone could routinely afford to quaff enough Dom Perignom to cause them to pass out, especially when the bill for trashing the reassuringly upmarket restaurant was taken into consideration.

And, no matter how much self confidence the current occupants of 10 and 11 Downing Street have acquired since 2007, that link to those who in the past have been characterised as “Basildon Man” or “Sierra Man” is now absent. And the Tory right is still showing signs of inconvenient behaviour.

So Cameron needs to replace Coulson, and replace him with someone who can give that connection to the ordinary Joe and Joanne, before the next crisis. Meanwhile, the second strand to the fallout from last Friday – the seemingly never ending saga of Phonehackgate – rumbles on, and could yet damage the present Government.

I’ll return to that later in the week.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Climate, Weather, And The Power Of Knowledge

In support of his urging that people should have an intelligent position on the subject of economics, J K Galbraith explained that not to do so effectively ceded power in that subject area to those who did take an intelligent position, or who claimed so to do. A recently controversial subject area where I would urge anyone to take an intelligent position – for the same reason – is in the area of weather and climate.

On climate, the best attitude to take for anyone who really wants to gen up on the issues is to be thoroughly and genuinely sceptical: that means to be in “show me” mode (the denial lobby aren’t really sceptical, as they have already made their minds up). By all means check out the antis, but also some researched and reasoned Q&A.

Our own National Environmental Research Council (NERC) Climate change challenge is a good place to start. In the USA, the OSS Foundation hosts a Myths v Facts area. Brian Angliss has also assembled a list of myths, and explains why that is all they are. And the people at Real Climate have a host of articles that also explain why science is right and the antis are wrong – often wilfully so.

Basically, you can be sure that whenever a pundit or hack sounds off on air or in the press in forthright condemnation of climate change science, the arguments they make have already been comprehensively debunked, and that at least one of the resources linked above will explain why those pundits and hacks are wrong.

So what of the idea that “it’s cold therefore there’s no global warming”? Sadly, there is no link between the ability to sound off on air or in print, and the knowledge that transient weather patterns do not disprove climate science, although some pundits do take an intelligent position. The basics on how to usefully interpret those weather patterns are not difficult to learn, and, again, I would urge people to check them out.

For those of us in the UK, the behaviour of the Atlantic Jet Stream, and its influence on weather patterns, are a crucially important part of understanding that weather. I posted on the subject recently, and linked to a site which gives free and regularly updated Jet Stream forecasts. At present, this shows why we have a quiet period of weather across the UK.

And the Met Office site lets you see the development and movement of weather systems on its synoptic chart (right now it looks like rain from the NW during Tuesday next). Monitoring this chart over time also demonstrates why exact forecasting for a country placed between ocean and landmass is not always easy.

It’s not difficult to get knowledgeable on climate and weather. And by doing so, you take the power of making decisions on those subjects into your own hands.

[UPDATE: this post has also featured on Liberal Conspiracy. My thanks, as ever, to Sunny Hundal]

Spinmeister Versus Naked Boy

It might be thought that seasoned masters of spin would not let distractions get in the way of their mission to get the message across. But perhaps Alastair Campbell, Tone’s former communications chief, wasn’t aware of the background yesterday when he did a piece to camera outside Broadcasting House in Portland Place.

Big Al was commenting on the resignation of Young Dave’s very own spinmeister Andy Coulson, and the interview was recorded opposite the entrance to the Beeb’s original 1930s headquarters. Problem is, the camera angle meant that Campbell’s head – the one doing the talking – appeared right next to Eric Gill’s sculpture of Prospero and Ariel (characters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest), which is positioned above that main entrance.

Prospero, Ariel ... and Pundit

The carving, showing Prospero sending Ariel out into the world, invoked controversy from the beginning, as the latter figure was naked. A local MP said in Parliament that the figures were “objectionable to public morals and decency”.

Nowadays, Gill’s sculpture may not cause offence as it may have done 80 years ago, but it can’t have helped Big Al to have to compete for attention with a seven foot tall naked boy, even if it was inanimate.

Saturday 22 January 2011

He’ll Be Back

The world of cable news channels in the USA is not like any other, and the three main protagonists are regularly surrounded by rumour. Since Media Matters for America (MMFA) started to get inside information out of them, even more attention has focused on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). CNN’s often dire ratings fuel stories about changes there. And MSNBC, despite replacing CNN as second in this league, is rumoured to be a less than totally happy ship.

So it was not a complete surprise when MSNBC suddenly parted company with top rating host Keith Olbermann last night, the news only made public during the last few minutes of his show Countdown. Relations between Olbermann and head man Phil Griffin had apparently not been good for some time, but then, Countdown set up the evening for the channel in the same way that Bill O’Reilly does for Fox.

Rumours have already started as to why Olbermann left: the imminent takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast is widely cited but officially denied. There has been feedback from “an MSNBC source”, but then, organisations routinely make company spin available in off-the-record briefings.

The same source has made light of the forced reworking of MSNBC’s evening line-up, with Lawrence O’Donnell moving to the 8pm ET slot and Ed Schulz moving to 10pm ET (Rachel Maddow stays at 9pm ET). Schulz’ current 6pm ET slot goes to “Young Turk” Cenk Uygar, who has clearly benefited from being a recent target for partisan abuse by the increasingly scary looking Ann Coulter.

Sadly, the terms of the settlement reached between Olbermann and MSNBC may mean that he cannot host any program on a rival network for some time into the future (exactly how long is at present unknown), although he will doubtless appear on the talk show circuit, being a recent and popular guest on the Letterman show. But return he will.

Why so? Because even the cynical world of TV needs those who bring knowledge, clarity of thought, and sheer passion. Keith Olbermann brought all of that: you can see these qualities in his two most recent “Special Comment” pieces, which I referenced in recent posts HERE and HERE.

Until then ... Good Night, and Good Luck.

Fat Dick And A Plastic Bag

Today I have been in speciality shop mode, which has meant a journey to Manchester to visit retail outlets majoring in produce that I can’t get in Crewe. And first call after a leisurely walk from Piccadilly station has been the Worldwide supermarket in Rusholme.

At the checkout, jars of savoury pickle from India and Pakistan – and no, lime is not a Zelo Street favourite – were packed into a Worldwide plastic bag. There is a globe graphic, and when you turn it over, a different name. Because Worldwide, depending on where the store is located, also trades under the Al-Halal brand.

But, so what? Well, try taking these bags when you visit markets or shops where you bring your own, unless you want to pay for them. What doesn’t cause me a problem certainly generates disapproving looks from other shoppers, or at least some of them. And Crewe, unlike nearby Stoke-on-Trent, has little visibility from the BNP and EDL.

It was the remembering of this that made me think of yesterday’s column by the singularly unsavoury Fat Dick Littlejohn, who has clearly been deeply offended by Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, when the latter claimed that Islamophobia was still socially acceptable.

Littlejohn, while appearing not to understand that saying “conversation dims after the sixth bottle” might reveal he is not free of problems himself, suggests that, because Islam was not mentioned at the last dinner party he attended, this makes Warsi wrong. But then he also asserts that “most of us think anyone who wears a burka in Britain is barking mad and wonder why anyone who utterly rejects our society and our liberal values would want to live here”.

Well, Dick, your “most” doesn’t include me, and the idea that garment choice equals opposition to the rest of society is what is really barking. Or even en route to Upminster. As is much of the rest of his column, with its talk of “alien looking mosques”, the “intrusive call to prayer”, and of course “halal meat in supermarkets”.

Which brings me back to my plastic bag, and my personal proof that Sayeeda Warsi is right and Fat Dick Littlejohn is not only wrong, but is contributing to casual Islamophobia by his corrosive and bigoted ranting (for which, remember, he is paid not far short of a million notes a year).

I don’t have a problem with the occasional miserable look, but the more the ranting goes on, the more the prejudice is likely to become the conventional wisdom for the easily led. The Fourth Estate has often been noted as enjoying power without having to accept responsibility: Fat Dick Littlejohn is a significant, if unfortunate, example.

Friday 21 January 2011

TPA – All The Way To 2020

On Friday last, I observed that the “2020 Tax Commission”, supported by the Institute Of Directors (IOD) and the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) would be meeting for the first time on January 18. But even before this historic date, the Commission’s name was appearing on press releases.

In a piece titledComplexity makes tax even more costly than cash paid to HMRC”, TPA non-job holder Rory Meakin urges simplification of tax codes. Although the title itself makes no sense – a little care and occasional proof-reading may prove useful to this endeavour – the content gives a useful insight into where this venture is heading.

Meakin underlined this the following day when he posted a further missive titledWe need a tax system HMRC can understand”. Sadly, there is another of those TPA false assumptions at work here: merely because HMRC come back for more well after the end of the tax year doesn’t mean they don’t understand. Such behaviour means they understand the system only too well. But, nevertheless, the article shows the direction: there will be much talk of simplifying taxes.

But what of company taxation? This area was visited by Meakin on Wednesday, with a post titledCorporation tax cuts not bold enough”. This is a predictable move, given the kind of folks willing to bankroll the TPA, and the motivation of the IOD: a drive to lower corporation tax rates will also feature in the work of this commission. There will be much talk of “competitive advantage”, “entrepreneurship”, and “enterprise”. A few veiled threats about moving everything to Zug may also be deployed.

And tax cuts elsewhere are also on the Commission’s radar: the same day, the increasingly busy Meakin assertedTax cuts needed to cut chronic youth unemployment”. Compassion for the young, perhaps? Not a chance: in among the usual verbiage is the nugget “high minimum wages may simply put businesses off hiring”, with the suggestion that paying a 21 year old just under six notes an hour is causing distress among the TPA and IOD.

Moreover, the clear corollary is that this Commission will urge abolition of the minimum wage: the TPA’s so-called Research Fellow, Mike Denham, who sits on the Commission, has already said this on his blog. No doubt there will be lots of “research”, many “reports”, and a continuing slew of press releases to back up the growing wish list, and I await them with interest.

Not that I’m expecting anything original, useful, or even decently argued, you understand.

Ten O’Clock ... How Live Is That?

The first edition of Channel 4’s sideways look at politics and other current affairs, Ten O’Clock Live, which aired at 2200 UK time yesterday, was always going to be judged alongside what had gone before, or what was going on elsewhere. And so it came to pass: the Guardian review made the inevitable comparisons with That Was The Week That Was, which actually ran only from 1962 to 1963, and the Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart.

And those comparisons are something the folks at C4 must not only get used to, but also, mostly, put aside: they must create their own identity. TW3 is more revered in hindsight than it was at the time, and nobody on UK TV right now is going to measure up to Stewart.

The programme itself? You knew it really was live, this being reinforced by some of the presenters starting their segments with “Right ...”. The interviews featured a proper and quite senior politician – Tory David Willetts – and the group discussing bankers’ pay had a nicely edgy and unpredictable quality.

Any bad bits? There was no need to keep panning across the audience. If the item is funny, then the viewer doesn’t need prompting by showing part of the gallery. I wasn’t convinced that all the show needed to be live – the Daily Show remains topical but what you see is all pre-recorded. One or two pre-prepared segments would give the team a breathing space.

And on the subject of the Daily Show, that programme airs four times a week – a once weekly format is always at a disadvantage. The news about Alan Johnson just scraped in, but that on Tone’s return to the Iraq Enquiry, and Andy Coulson’s exit, won’t be so fresh when it inevitably comes under scrutiny next week.

Finally ... C4 should make video clips of show segments available, as Comedy Central do for Daily Show interviews or lead items – sites like the Huffington Post invariably plug these, and UK web media would readily do the same. This helps the show reach more of that target audience without their having to sit through the whole fifty minutes playing time.

[The first Ten O’Clock Live can be seen on 4OD HERE. Very strong language, as befits any sensible analysis of Jeremy, er, Hunt]

Murdoch Is Served (28)

This blog, as the title suggests, has been observing the events surrounding Phonehackgate for some time. From the early days of the story, when the right leaning part of the blogosphere was howling down any mention of Andy Coulson’s part in the affair as a “non story”, to the eventual fall of Young Dave’s chosen spinmeister, this was unmissable stuff.

And the main reason was that Coulson, as editor of the Screws at the time of the trial and jailing of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and NotW royal correspondent Clive Goodman, could not have done his job without knowing that routine – and illegal - interception of voicemail was happening. His continued assertion that this action – underpinned by the payment of significant sums of money – could proceed without his knowledge never sounded credible.

That is why, earlier this week, I called out Telegraph man Benedict Brogan and suggested that his piece on the business was in the “famous last words” category. But Ben was not the only one weighing in on the side of the former Screws editor.

On September 4 last year, Iain Dale, a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda, told his blog readers thatCoulson’s Accusers Can Go To Hell”. Dale’s pal Phil Hendren (aka Dizzy Thinks) spewed out a characteristic cloud of Whataboutery and claimed that it was a “non story” because nobody cared. And the routinely clueless Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) told his readers as recently as December 11 that “They huffed and puffed, Coulson still standing”, adding that “Punters now give Coulson a 96% chance of surviving”.

But then, Staines’ judgment has not been too good recently, as shown when he sprayed 500 notes up the wall betting that David Laws would not lose his job. His calls bear all the hallmarks of partisan denial – or he isn’t as well informed as he would have us believe.

No, the right leaning part of the blogosphere has not covered itself in glory on this one – the real credit has to go to one journalist, and one alone: step forward Guardian man Nick Davies, tenacious investigator and the man who brought us the go-to book on the workings of the press, Flat Earth News.

Davies, ably supported by his editor Alan Rusbridger, is part of the MSM, which is supposed to be so very last Century. Well, apparently not.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Danger In The Retelling

Today, the Daily Mail has published an excellent example of how this paper uses selective reporting to follow its own particular agenda: “I could have been dragged to my death” begins the article, about an incident that happened around midnight at the wayside commuter station of Rayleigh.

What is not in dispute is that Mark Simpson and his girlfriend were intending to get off their train at Rayleigh after a journey back from London, and that the girlfriend remained on the train until Hockley, its next stop. But then the Mail tells that, when Simpson tried to alight at Rayleigh, “the automatic doors suddenly snapped shut”.

Automatic doors, however, don’t just snap shut: there is an audible alarm – usually a series of beeps – accompanied by a visible warning as the door control buttons flash. Only after this do the doors close, usually after three to five seconds. And, if Simpson and his partner were waiting by the door as the train arrived at Rayleigh, they would have had ample time to alight after the doors opened.

So maybe the couple were not waiting to alight, or, more likely, they did not realise that it was their station until the train was about to leave. After all, they had been at a party in London and then had to get to Liverpool Street, with 40 minutes on the train to follow, and may have just been tired. But what about the claim that Simpson was dragged along the platform as the train moved off, with his leg still stuck in the partially closed doors?

If the driver could have released the brakes and moved the train with a door partially open, that would be worrying: only when the doors show as closed can trains be moved when in passenger service. So there may indeed have been some kind of fault with the coach concerned, as Simpson suggests, or perhaps just his clothes were stuck in the door, allowing it to show as closed. The station’s CCTV will be crucial in the inevitable investigation.

But taking a measured approach does not fit the Mail agenda, which is to give the impression that rail travel is dangerous, alien, and out of its users’ control. After all, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, who is routinely chauffeured from home to city pad to work and back, would not soil his 2.8 million pound a year presence on such things.

Hence an article designed to frighten his readers first, and deal with facts second. Inconvenient details, such as no passenger fatalities for the last three calendar years, and only one in the last six, do not enter.

TPA – Never Mind The Figures

Secure in his non-job at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), the smug Chris Daniel has joined the right leaning chorus of those not only demonising local Government, but also demonising the decisions of local authorities to cut their workforces following a round of central Government spending cuts.

Daniel’s article, filled with needlessly pejorative terms and phrases, such as “Councils ... gorging on taxpayers’ money”, “councils hiking the cost”, “councils ... have gorged on taxpayers’ money”, “[councils] keep feasting by ramping up charges”, “unsustainable growth”, “misspending”, and “bloated”, will be music to those who cheerlead for the TPA and otherwise take its dubiously sourced propaganda on trust.

TPA "Report" - shame about the grammar

Sadly, Daniel’s clear inference – that local Government has been not only growing in recent years, but growing unsustainably – does not survive the most cursory of factual examinations. His use of a graph showing “Public Sector Employment” is especially disingenuous: this includes far more than local Government.

Data source: ONS

Of the rise in that headcount from 1998 to 2005, almost 600,000 (out of around 700,000) was down to the NHS, Education and Police.

This also from the ONS

And the apparently sharp increase in headcount in late 2008, as the ONS helpfully tells, was caused by the classification of employees at Lloyds Banking Group and RBS as public sector.

In fact, public sector headcount has (bank bailouts excepted) been falling since 2005, and, as previously noted, most of the rise in the preceding seven years reflected manifesto commitments by the Blair Government. Local Government headcount did not significantly change.

So that’s another TPA missive undermined by dodgy figures. No change there, then.

[UPDATE 1: this post has featured, in an edited form, on Liberal Conspiracy. My thanks, as ever, to Sunny Hundal]

[UPDATE 2: Matthew Sinclair, Director of the so-called Taxpayers' Alliance, has experienced such distress at seeing this post that he has published a rebuttal, which you can see HERE. I will desist from commenting, save to say that Sinclair's piece demonstrates superbly that the TPA's overmonied, greedy and cowardly backers are wasting their money. It couldn't happen to a more deserving group]

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Express – Not Quite Plagiarism (One More Time)

Three days in a row it has been disturbingly easy to find a piece run by the Express that has previously been published elsewhere (Monday’s HERE and Tuesday’s HERE): today’s comes from the paper’s Night And Day section, and like the article on snow across the USA, had appeared previously on the Huffington Post.

The HuffPo not only does the serious news, but also serves up lots of slebs, which I reckon was the inspiration for the Daily Mail’s website (both, for instance, dwell at length on the appearances of the Kardashian sisters). And the Express also likes to plaster the Z-listers all over its site.

Huffington Post, 18 January

Subject of the original HuffPo article was evergreen former Friends star Jennifer Aniston, and the “story” was that she hated the iconic hairstyle her character wore. This piece was originally published at just before 0930 ET yesterday, or 1430 UK time. The Express feature carries today’s date, which is more than enough time (at least fourteen and a half hours) to lift the copy and rewrite it.

Express, 19 January

Also telling is that, although both HuffPo and Express mention that the source for the story was Stateside fashion magazine Allure, only the HuffPo piece includes a link to the Allure site. Which gives the impression that the Desmond press are doubling down on their economy drive.

But there is at least some method in the apparent madness: providing the top stories in the Express – or any other paper – are part of the current news cycle, readers are less likely to notice that other content is yesterday’s. Especially if those readers don’t follow news sources Stateside.

Reality In A Pickles

One tell-tale sign that politicians are starting to wobble is when their public utterances diverge from reality, not just slightly, but so obviously as to make that divergence clear to all. Thus it was yesterday with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, that champion of elective circumferential challengement so popular from his fortunately brief reign over Bradford Metropolitan District Council that he now sits for the well known Yorkshire constituency of Brentwood and Ongar.

Fat Eric is, in the words of the Guardian, “under fire from councils of all political hues”, which means his imposition of spending cuts has annoyed plenty of Tory and Lib Dem councils, as well as Labour ones. So how has he responded to the fire projected in his direction?

Well, back in December he told that councils should dip into their estimated ten billions’ worth of reserves, but was then slapped down by the head of the Local Government Association, who reminded Fat Eric that the money in reserve was not only there for a purpose, but could only be spent once – it could never become a substitute for current funding streams.

Yesterday, Pickles went one better, suggesting that local Government was somehow responsible for the UK’s budget deficit, and that “Local Government is a massive part of public expenditure”. It is? So just how massive a part of that expenditure is it?

Taking the 2010 figures, estimated total public spending comes out at 661 billion. Of this, local Government is 173 billion. However, assuming the cake cuts up in similar proportions to the 2012 figures, that 173 billion includes around 80 billion for Education, leaving 93 billion for everything else – including the Fire service, and policing. And that’s for the whole of the UK.

Alongside this is the figure for net public debt, of 772 billions, estimated to rise to 932 billion in 2011. The cost of local Government is estimated to rise by just seven billion to 180 billion. That means the local Government share of increased net public debt is under 4.5%.

Which suggests that Fat Eric is having trouble accurately defining the term “massive”.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Turn Down The Rhetoric? Some Chance

It is now more than a week since the shootings in Tucson, AZ. So has the tone of political discourse mellowed in the meantime? Well, not if you’re talk radio host Bob Durgin of Harrisburg, PA. Durgin was so distressed by the New York Times’ take on the shootings that, on his Monday 10 January show, he told listeners “Somebody ought to burn that paper down. Just go to New York and blow that sucker right out of the water”.

And with that comment, normal service was resumed, at least from the right leaning part of the media. Even the appearance of Barack Obama at the Tucson memorial service last Wednesday set the critics off: the next morning, Fox and Friends’ co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocey sank so low that they took to picking apart the seating arrangements, causing Daily Show host Jon Stewart to call them out [video not generally available in the UK].

Then, the same day that Bob Durgin was proposing violence on the NYT, Bill O’Reilly, top rating host on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) went over the top at the end of his show, denouncing rival network MSNBC and telling of “vicious personal attacks on anyone who doesn’t toe the far left MSNBC line”.

What Bill-O didn’t say was that the most vicious thing coming out of MSNBC since the shootings had been a call by their top host Keith Olbermann to renounce violent rhetoric, as I noted at the time. But then, O’Reilly never mentions Olbermann, at least not on air, so he was actually saying “ignore Olbermann” without mentioning the O-word. Thus the egotism of broadcast news.

And from there, the name calling has gone on more or less as before, so when Olbermann came to make a follow-up “Special Comment” on Monday’s Countdown, he conceded that only one commentator or politician had joined his call to renounce violent rhetoric: John McCain, the senior Senator from Arizona, who had been at the previous week’s memorial service in Tucson.

After considering some of the routine unpleasantness and dishonesty that has come from the right since the shootings, Olbermann concluded with a line that will strike a chord on this side of the North Atlantic: “the right lives in a perpetual state of victimhood”. Many mainstream Tory politicians may be of moderate stance, but their cheerleaders across the various parts of the Fourth Estate fit Olbermann’s description all too well.

Murdoch Is Served (27)

Hardly had I posted on the state of play with Phonehackgate, than more developments came to light: private detective Glenn Mulcaire has now, it seems, fingered the Screws’ assistant news editor, Ian Edmondson, as someone who asked him to listen in to others’ voicemails.

And this short paragraph from the Guardian article should be setting alarm bells ringing long and loud across Downing Street: “It is also understood that Mulcaire said in the court statement that several other executives at the News Of The World were aware that phone hacking was taking place, although he does not name them

But over at the Maily Telegraph, assistant editor Benedict Brogan tells us that Andy Coulson, who sat in the editor’s chair at the Screws while Phonehackgate was in full swing (but didn’t know anything about it, honest), is proving indispensable to both Young Dave and the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet.

Ben’s argument is just a little complex: while he admits that “the waters of the ... affair are lapping at the door of Number 10”, and that “the police say the mood has changed and it’s getting serious”, he also tells that Coulson is being talked of as on a par with Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell. For some reason, Brogan fails to stop and think a moment on this: Young Dave isn’t old enough to know squit about Ingham, and no Tory will have first-hand knowledge of Big Al’s time at Number 10.

Moreover, Ben covers his rear by then going on to talk in terms of Coulson moving on “to even greater things”, maybe as early as next May. But Ingham and Campbell were made of far sterner stuff – the idea that either would move on after a year would not have been credible then, and certainly isn’t now. If Coulson is indispensable to Young Dave, there would be no question of departure, short of the next General Election.

Methinks Ben is just trying to sound optimistic, and has maybe swallowed the Number 10 line that this is just a Westminster Village story. But we’ve already had the “non story” idea taken apart by recent events. My take is that the man from the Maily Telegraph may be nominating himself for a “Famous Last Words” award.

Express – Not Quite Plagiarism (Again)

Yesterday I noted that the Daily Express was running a story that looked very much like a piece in the previous day’s Telegraph, thought allowance must be made for the possibility of pure coincidence. Today, however, it’s happened again, which reduces that possibility and instead suggests that this is an organised practice.

The Maily Telegraph, on Monday – the article is timed at 1641 hours on that day – published a piece titledBlazing saddles in Spanish fiesta for patron saint of animals”. This was about the annual Luminarias festival held in the village of San Bartolome de los Pinares, where riders coax their horses through flaming bonfires.

Telegraph original, from Monday

Then, in another piece bearing today’s date, the Daily Express – under the anonymous by-line of “Daily Express reporter” – reports the same event, the title being “Blazing Saddles In Spain”. The content of the Express article appears suspiciously similar to that from the Telegraph – both are shown to illustrate the point.

Express, from today (Tuesday)

The news was also carried by the Daily Mail, which, like the Telegraph, shows Monday’s date on its copy. So, Express editor Peter Hill, perhaps you’d like to explain yourself: what’s with this succession of stories appearing one day on other news websites, then the next day on yours?