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Friday 29 June 2012

Littlejohn And A Motor Race

The Daily Mail’s tedious and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn clearly believes he is on firm ground this morning as he unveils a supposedly hilarious spoof on plans to hold a Formula 1 event on the streets of the capital. But, sadly, Dick clearly hasn’t watched a race for many years, and the working through a list of check boxes to produce the alleged humour is all too obvious.

Formula 1, guv? It's on telly, innit?!?

The disruption, coming on top of the Olympics, would be enormous” he protests, clearly not having heard over there in Florida that what is being suggested would happen well into the future. This year’s schedule was agreed a long time ago: F1 doesn’t add extra rounds on a whim. And neither does Murray Walker do the commentary any more.

But those boxes need checking, so here we go: Japanese tourists (check!), armed hold-up (check!), road works (check!), bus lanes (check!), congestion charge (check!), wheel clamping (check!), bomb scare (check!), black cabs (check!) speed humps (check!), more road works (check!), temporary traffic lights (check!), parking tickets (check!), protest march (check!), potholes (check!).

Palau de les arts Reina Sofia, Valencia: near the circuit

And, as the man said, there’s more: hot dog sellers (check!), box junctions (check!), joyriders (check!), illegal immigrants (and from Bulgaria, natch) (check!), speed cameras (check!), Tasers (check!), yet more road works (check!), faulty traffic lights (check!) pedestrian areas (check!), one way systems (check!), local Councils (check!) and a bendy bus on fire (bingo!).

Laugh? I thought I’d never start. Dick, you’re a dick. Whether London hosting an F1 event is a goer or not, you don’t have the first idea of what would be involved when looking at it from the side of the pool in your gated compound over there on the other side of the north Atlantic. Perhaps you should look to see what kind of business is being done by other cities that host such races.

Veles e Vents: on the Valencia circuit

The obvious one to check out is Monaco, but then, the rulers of the principality can effectively wave their hands and cause all the traffic closures and circuit changes to be done without recourse to pesky old democracy. A more instructive example can be seen in the Spanish city of Valencia, which has just hosted such an event. Their race is now a permanent F1 fixture.

Valencia’s circuit is just an area of nondescript harbour-side tarmac for most of the year. But when the time comes, in a well choreographed series of moves, all the clutter is removed, the pits set up, safety fences and barriers configured, and the racing happens. No howls of protest from the city’s hotels, bars, restaurants and shops have yet been detected.

But then, Dick doesn’t have to engage brain first. No change there, then.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Blame It On The Indians

As the problems affecting thousands of account holders at RBS and its constituents – including NatWest and Coutts, the bank the Royals use – are gradually sorted out, the blame is being dumped, as so often, on the most junior staffer involved. Moreover, that person is in India, which makes it doubly convenient: it’s a bloody foreigner and they’re a long way away.

You f***ing calling my hacks hypocrites, c***?!?

But before hordes of people remind anyone who will hear that Prince Philip Was Right All Along, a note of caution should be sounded. The junior operative could just as easily have been someone working in the UK. This thought, though, has not been allowed to enter by the why-oh-why part of the Fourth Estate, where Alex Brummer of the Mail bemoans the practice of “offshoring” jobs.

After all, RBS is now owned substantially by the taxpayer, so why, he asks, do we have to put up with a “heavy accent and lack of local knowledge of our situation”? This is, of course, one of those issues that the Mail (and the rest) can argue both ways in order to suit their agenda. If RBS didn’t lower its wage bill then the Dacre hacks would be kicking them for not giving taxpayers value for money.

And the idea that RBS is somehow alone in the practice – or that India is the only place where offshoring takes place – is ludicrous. Anyone who uses the services of BT knows that they, too, have not only call centres, but also significant technical expertise deployed in India. Insurance giant Aviva has been offshoring work to the sub-continent for almost a decade.

Branches of other multinationals base their call centres and internal advice desks in Malaysia, Thailand, and even parts of the USA which are considered “low cost”: the Carolinas are often categorised thus. Parts of Ireland and Scotland attract call centres due to the ability to attract local labour at favourable costs (often including tax breaks and other incentives to the company concerned).

Instead of acknowledging this reality, Brummer says of India “it is extraordinarily difficult for management to remain in day-to-day control”, which is complete crap. The control exercised is just as tight as it would be in the UK – maybe moreso. Brummer’s citing of Santander bringing call centres back to the UK proves only that Santander got a good deal from wherever in the UK it set up shop.

This does not detain the Mail pundit, who thunders “Such outsourcing is a betrayal of the UK — and a lethal blow to our ambition to be a modern, technology-savvy economy capable of competing with the rest of the world”. He does not stop to think that he is effectively arguing for the minimum wage, which the Mail was so dead against when the rotten lefty Labour Government introduced it.

Hopefully not too many of his readers will remember that far back. Fingers crossed.

Diamond Geezer Proves HIGNFY Right

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

In the opening titles for Have I Got News For You, the viewer is shown inside a high street bank branch, where counter service is going on, and all appears normal. Then the scene in the back room appears, and there is a casino where non-trivial sums of money are being ostentatiously gambled, with the punters out front blissfully unaware of what is being done in their name.

Keeps job, no conviction ... Diamond Geezer!

The difference with reality was supposed to be that this was an exaggeration of a practice that had been stamped out as the banks sought to rebuild their reputations after the 2008 crash. Except that we now know it not only wasn’t an exaggeration, but also that it carried on unchecked more or less to the present day. And the gambling was enhanced by forthright criminality.

Only one bank – Barclays – has thus far been fingered, but others are now being investigated. The fine levied against them for attempting to manipulate the London Inter Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) was a whopping £290 million, although at recent rates that only means ten days’ worth of profits. Oh, and CEO Bob Diamond has decided to forego his bonus.

Well, whoopee-do. In any responsible organisation, the SOB would be prevailed upon to forego his job in short order. Diamond was previously head of Barclays Capital, the part of the business that was deemed to have been doing the fiddling. The impression is given that at least part of Barclays’ stellar performance recently has been down to profiting from manipulating the LIBOR rate.

That has helped drive down the share price, which has fallen by over 15% today, with those foreign investors who bought into what they thought was a rather sounder bank than it actually was being deeply unimpressed. Other banking shares have fallen as the thought has entered that the LIBOR fiddle may not have been exclusive to Barclays. Investigations continue.

So why the fallout? Well, if the LIBOR rate (or its EURIBOR counterpart) can be fiddled, then traders have a one way bet, which, given the kind of sums being traded, can yield millions more in profits every day. That’s what appears to have made Barclays’ profits look so healthy, and why the share price has fallen so dramatically. And also not helping are the tales of excess coming from whistleblowers.

A culture of summary dismissals for such trivia as failing to specify a Mercedes S Class to a taxi firm, poker games with hundreds of thousands of pounds riding on one hand, mock electric chair executions, and other forms of ritual humiliation and conspicuous consumption have been recounted to the deeply subversive Guardian. And the best the Government can offer? “It was under the other lot’s watch”.

Will anyone be made to carry the can? Yes – we will. No change there, then.

[UPDATE1 2120 hours: Channel 4 FactCheck has looked into the claim and counter claim over whose responsibility it was to keep tabs on the LIBOR rate and unearth any wrongdoing. Typically, the Tories are blaming Pa Broon and his sidekick "Auguste" Balls, while not telling that the "light touch" regulation they now condemn was criticised by them at the time for being too severe.

But it is the British Bankers Association (BBA) that should have been watching over LIBOR, and its "ownership" of this brand, combined with its failure to act, that causes the fact checkers to conclude that this is where the fault lies. After all, it "promised to monitor the situation on a daily basis", but failed to uncover the fiddles]

[UPDATE2 29 June 1620 hours: the right leaning punditry are not quite of one mind on this affair today. While Alex Brummer at the Mail is in full why-oh-why mode, telling that the traders at Barclays are "no better than barrow boys with the morals of the casino", Jeremy Warner at the Tel is clearly frightened that actually making them behave themselves would be A Very Bad Thing Indeed.

Yes, seriously, he believes that any regulation that follows the Barclays case will "shackle" the City, and that it would be, like much current regulation allegedly is, "ill thought out". The thought that he and his fellow pundits have constantly told readers that there is too much regulation, only to find that there isn't nearly enough to stop the City behaving like a gathering of spivs, is not allowed to enter]

Guido Fawked – Email Invention Re-spun

Yesterday, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, crowed long and loud as he announced that he had been right all along: there had been a second email system at 10 Downing Street. He knew this because of former insider Damian McBride, who has been reminiscing about the day Pa Broon moved from the Treasury to the Top Job.

It was McBride! Er, what was the question?

Sadly, though, a little examination of Staines’ claims shows that, at best, his claim, made while Tone was still PM, are wild exaggeration, and at worst are no less dishonest than all those politicians and their hangers-on that he so reviles. Because there never was a “second email system”: all that McBride revealed was that, apart from the internal Government network, there was one stand alone machine.

Is this enough to be called a smoking gun? Well, no it isn’t: the idea that this proves the Staines accusations is bunk. If the one machine wasn’t connected to the Government network, and there was no series of shadow email accounts, then he’s just guessing, and not for the first time. Nor does the stand alone machine prove that Tone’s official spokesman had misled reporters.

The key word is “system”. One isolated machine doesn’t prove there was another system. And had it not been there, anyone wanting to send something from a private email account would only have had to nip out with their laptop to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot, or at a pinch visit an Internet Cafe. Having a stand alone machine to allow this is not unknown in large organisations.

Instead of taking this thought on board, Staines proclaimed at the time “Emails will be to the Blairgate cover-up, what tapes were to the Watergate cover-up”. So we’re five and a half years down the road from his claim, and where are the arraignments? From revelation of the Watergate break-in to Tricky Dicky being persuaded to leave the White House took less than two.

Not even the protestation that the Labour Party’s own network could be accessed – and from a machine not on the Downing Street network, and no doubt firewalled off from it, that would not be a surprise – proves Staines’ case. Now, if he could provide prima facie evidence that public funds had been used to purchase a machine being used primarily for Labour Party purposes, he might have a point.

He won’t be doing this, of course, not least because the stand alone machine is probably still there, and it’s his preferred team in residence. He could also pass his supposed proof to the Police, but they’ll only laugh at him. But some who read the Fawkes blog will believe it, and thus the image of The Great Guido as fearless defender of truth and scourge of wrongdoing is perpetuated.

Meanwhile, the real world moves on. Another fine mess, once again.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Chloe Gets Paxoed

The name of Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been trending on Twitter all day, and for reasons she would rather forget: yesterday she was wheeled out by the Treasury, after a U-turn on fuel duty, to face a grilling by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News, followed by an appearance on Newsnight before the Inquisition of Pax Jeremiah. The first did not go well. The second was a veritable car crash.

The mysterious disappearance of Bum Nose

All of which demonstrates that the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, is nowhere near making the running in the way that Pa Broon used to be able to do. He is merely reacting to being buffeted by media and pundits alike. His Budget has substantially unravelled. Worst of all, he clearly does not have the backbone to go and explain himself to the media.

And this is where we come to Ms Smith drawing the short straw. There are five MPs on the Treasury team, and she is the most junior. They could also have drawn on the experience of Francis “Mad Frankie” Maude, even though he works out of the Cabinet Office. It’s nothing to do with her gender – an excuse some have fallen back on – but that all the others were somehow unavailable.

If it was Osborne that made the decision, he should have submitted himself to Paxman’s interrogation. Whatever the line of questioning, he’s experienced enough to have given as good as he got. So perhaps he had another of those pesky hair appointments? Then he could have sent Danny Alexander, his Lib Dem deputy, or, yes, Francis Maude, who is at least a combative presence.

All the other MPs on the Treasury team have been in the Commons longer than Ms Smith: Osborne and Mark Hoban from 2001, and Alexander and David Gauke from 2005. Maude was first returned to Parliament in 1983. As the most junior member of the team, Chloe Smith should be there to learn the ropes. Volunteering for the more heavyweight grilling should be for those above her.

Meanwhile, the pundits are veering between having a field day – Daniel Knowles at the Tel comparing her appearance on Newsnight to a scene from The Thick Of It – to kicking Osborne for being a coward, a charge led by “Shagger” Prescott. Michael White at the Guardian concludes that Ms Smith did OK, given that the cabinet apparently didn’t know of Osborne’s U-Turn beforehand.

And when all the dust has settled, the impression that is left behind is not only that Osborne is a coward, but also that he and Young Dave do enjoy dumping on women, whether they are in opposition (Angela Eagle), or backbenchers of inconvenient attitude (Nadine Dorries). Or even others on their own team (Justine Greening also got dumped on before moving to Transport).

The ones with the woman problem aren’t Ms Smith’s defenders, but her bosses.

Mail In Malicious Maths Muddle

The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre is no stranger to running down the country’s education system. And, thanks to an eagle-eyed Zelo Street reader, I can now show just how far this motley rabble is prepared to go in order to accomplish its task – and along the way dupe gullible Tory MPs into nodding along with them and gifting them quotes.

What's f***ing wrong with a bit of fact bending, c***?!?

Last September, hack Kate Loveys (is that name for real?) told readers “It doesn't add up: We're even worse at maths than Albania as UK schools rank 43rd in the world”. Ho yus. And where did this gem come from? Well, initially, the source, the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2011-12 Competitiveness Report (read it HERE [.pdf]) looks pukka. Until you do a little digging.

And boy, do you have to do some digging. Not until page 445 do you get to see the table that, indeed, shows the UK in 43rd place, just behind Albania. So the successors to King Zog are besting us at sums, are they? Ah well. The question is the giveaway: “How would you assess the quality of math and science education in your country’s schools? [1=poor, 7=excellent, among the best in the world]”.

So the question that forms the basis for the table is to ask folks in each country how they perceive the standard of the education provided in that country. No comparison between countries is made: it’s just down to how people see their own system. Maybe Albania’s system has improved in recent years and doesn’t have hordes of ranting hacks queuing up to run it down.

That, though, did not deter the Mail, who the very next day managed to find a couple who had sent their son to school in, you guessed, Albania. And they also contributed quotes to the piece by the ubiquitous “Daily Mail Reporter” that said exactly what the paper wanted to hear, such as “My complaint with the system - it's all about being creative. But children need to learn science, maths and reading”.

That is followed with “Labour created a system where kids get 10 A stars at GCSE - but what does that mean if everyone gets them”. It means the Mail has a sub who has not yet learned the art of using the question mark, that’s what. But the icing on the cake of fraudulent deception was to get a Tory MP to do the quotes, and the One They Saw Coming was Chris Skidmore.

Skidmore attended Bristol Grammar School and took a double first in History at Christ Church, Oxford. He is not stupid. Yet he failed to look before leaping: “After 13 years in which Labour failed to grasp the importance of maths and science education to our future prosperity, this report shows how much ground we have to make up”. It showed instead how little he thought before quoting.

Don’t take the Mail at face value, politicians. They too have an agenda.

Understanding Northern Ireland – Or Not

Nick Ross, for so long the lead presenter of BBC Crimewatch, studied at Queen’s University in Belfast, and began his reporting career just as what we now call The Troubles kicked off. Ross was later at pains to stress that, the more he looked into the whole sorry business, any idea that there were good guys on one side and bad guys on the other went out of the window.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont

In situations such as that, nobody, Army or Civilian, Catholic or Protestant, Police or Paramilitary, ended up covering themselves with glory. And after the hostilities gradually wound down in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, with the political process taking over from any idea of a military campaign, there was still unease, still tensions, and still some folks up for a scrap.

After so many decades of polarisation, the healing process has been a long one. It will continue so to be. And it is in this context that The Queen made her visit to Ireland recently. Then, the leadership of the nationalist Sinn Féin declined to attend. This move backfired on them. Having acknowledged the error, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will meet Her Majesty today in Belfast.

The meeting is laden with baggage even before it starts. McGuinness was in the early 1970s a commander in the Provisional IRA, the organisation that in 1979 murdered Lord Mountbatten, an act that repulsed the local community so much that they shopped the culprits to the Garda. The significance of the meeting is reflected in a thoughtful (and recommended) piece by Paul Bew in the Telegraph.

Lord Bew, who is professor of Irish politics at that same Queen’s University in Belfast, believes that Sinn Féin also need to go further, perhaps considering overcoming their reluctance to taking their seats in the House of Commons. After all, they now have five MPs. This measured and constructive tone is, sadly however, not reflected elsewhere in the Fourth Estate.

Because over at the Mail, Andrew Pierce is screaming “Has anyone asked the Queen if she wants to shake hands with McGuinness? Let's hope she has disposable gloves”. It’s all the fault of those rotten politicians, you see. The thought that Her Maj might be capable of taking initiatives herself is not allowed to enter: instead, there is a welter of abuse directed at McGuinness.

Double dealing politician ... terrible man ... money grabbing ... lily livered ... dishonest thug ... disgusting, dishonest, debased little man” whines Pierce, who manages to work in a totally irrelevant reference to Nicolae Ceausescu, and then foul up his dates (he was shot dead 11 years after meeting HM, not 15), in addition to the signally dishonest act of projection.

Fortunately for all in the UK, the Mail and its hacks don’t make policy decisions.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Stanley’s Sorkin Steamer

Over at the bear pit that is Telegraph Blogs, one pundit has seen the latest project of Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom, and is not happy: step forward Tim Stanley, who you can tell as he’s a doctor. What, one wonders, irks him about the successor to The West Wing? Well, two people walking and having a discussion at the same time is one thing he’s not keen on, as perhaps Gerald Ford might not have been.

But the real Stanley grumble is about the L-word: Liberalism. Yes, it’s all imbued with that progressive lefty over-compassionate patronising Hollywood ethos (allegedly), which isn’t what Real Americans (tm) are in tune with. In fact, there is so much of this condescending attitude in the Stateside news media that, in the Stanley view, it led to the launching of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

Who is The Newsroom aimed at? The pundit from the Tel is in no doubt: “If you’re an old, white man who remembers Adlai Stevenson with fondness, then you’ll love The Newsroom”. Er, hang on a moment: to remember Adlai Stevenson, you’ll have to be Very Old Indeed. He was the losing Democrat nominee for President in 1952 and 1956 (losing both times to Eisenhower).

I’m not in the first flush of youth, and the only thing I remember about JFK, who won both nomination and Presidency in 1960, was having to ask my parents what “assassinated” meant. But there’s a very good reason why Stevenson’s name appears when Stanley wants to dig up a Democrat hate figure, and that’s the speech he made on October 27, 1956, at Los Angeles’ Gilmore Stadium.

Why so? Ah well. Note also that Stanley suggests that, for Hollywood liberals, “the world ended with Richard Nixon’s election in 1968”. On that warm Autumn night, Stevenson told his audienceOur nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. But I tell you, it is not America”.

It became known as the Nixonland speech, and was more famous after Tricky Dicky sank into the mire in the aftermath of the Watergate revelations. And Stanley misses one other talking point about The Newsroom, which is the rumour suggesting Sorkin based the central character on another hate figure of the right.

No sooner had The Newsroom aired than it was widely asserted that the Jeff Daniels character was based on Keith Olbermann, something Sorkin has been at pains to deny, although he has met the former host of MSNBC’s Countdown, and observed the show’s production. Stanley demonstrates that he understands the right-wing rule that the one thing you don’t mention about Keith Olbermann is Keith Olbermann.

So that’s another pundit scoring his brownie points. No change there, then.

Dan, Dan The Book Sales Man

Wishing himself an early redundancy over at the bear pit that is Telegraph Blogs today is a familiar figure: step forward occasional Tory and MEP Dan, Dan the Oratory Man. Hannan has decided to combine his flair for selective quotation with a little propaganda selling as he makes a pitch for a new book called The EU In A Nutshell, whose author will be familiar to Zelo Street readers.

Daniel Hannan

That’s because the book was written by Lee Rotherham, who you can tell as he’s a Doctor. Rotherham is the EU pundit for the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), for whom he authored the supremely dishonest “reportBritain And The ECHR, which claimed that the latter body had cost the UK almost £43 billion over the years, a figure which was largely made up.

Much of Rotherham’s Very Big And Scary Number came from assuming that the compensation culture was all down to the ECHR, and that over five years this cost £25 billion. No citation of any kind, reliable or otherwise, was provided. And he is being lauded by Hannan, whose ability to tell the most flagrant whoppers can be seen from his appearances on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

Note that Hannan does not contest the claim by professional loudmouth Sean Hannity that the state of healthcare in Canada and the UK “isn’t pretty” before reeling off a series of totally untrue statements: the “State takeover of health care” and “Death panels” ones were PolitiFact’s “lie of the year” for 2010 and 2009 respectively. The NHS “cutting off funding” for drugs was another.

Add to the serial dishonesty the strange episode where Hannan journeyed to Spain to encourage expat Brits to cast their European Parliament (EP) votes for a fringe party called Alternativa Española, which turned out to be run by a Franco apologist. Yes, he makes headline grabbing speeches in the EP and at CPAC, but Hannan suffers from questionable judgment.

So when he asserts that the Rotherham book contains “facts and anecdotes”, this should be treated with care. In a previous incarnation, Rotherham was at Open Europe, where he claimed a figure for EU “propagandathat was wildly exaggerated. He did this by taking any budget item that included publicity, adding them all up and declaring that the result was something it was not.

Maybe Rotherham should remember the fictitious volume of incorrect facts devised by the Monty Python team and change his name to Hackenthorpe. It would hardly hurt his credibility, as he has none to start with. One could say the same about Daniel Hannan: there’s little point in garnering adoration from a small circle of right leaning and like minded folk, only to be ridiculed by all others.

Never mind, though, the money’s good on the US chat circuit.

TPA – Welfare Whoppers

Following Young Dave’s jolly good interview for the Mail On Sunday, where he blew the dog whistle of unreconstructed intolerance for all he was worth, came the pundits and interest groups. And no interest group is more adept at jumping on the bandwagon of public spending cuts than the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA).

More bore from the second floor

And when the TPA fetches up with its well-manicured press release and suitably scary list of Very Big Financial Numbers, you can be sure that whoever they have sent out to bat is more than likely to pull a few short runs even before they have played themselves in. So it is with former ConHome stalwart Jonathan Isaby, who tells that “The nation’s welfare bill currently comes in at about £165 billion a year”.

This is indeed a Very Big And Scary Number. But the generously remunerated and clearly well fed Isaby is not telling the full story. Because not only does that figure include such elements as Disability Living Allowance (DLA), for which claimants have to pass a series of medical examinations, it also includes the state pension, and pension credits.

Whether Isaby and his fellow non-job holders are going after the state pension, or DLA, is not told. But, unless the amount quoted is the actual one that is proposed for reduction, it should not be pitched in the first place. So how is the TPA justifying its support for cuts? As if you need to ask: “Why David Cameron’s welfare plans will mean a fairer deal for taxpayers”. Yes, the title says it all.

As with so much else that emanates from the TPA, it’s all dressed up as being “fair”. Like the flat tax proposal that would go hand-in-hand with slashing the size of the public sector to 1939 levels, that is, before the inception of the NHS. On top of that cut, there would be an ending to free access to education for all – this from a group that wants to pontificate on falling standards in, er, education.

But is there some merit in the proposal to cut housing benefit to under 25s? Ah well. As with so much from the TPA, there is an underlying false assumption here, and that is that this group can always move back in with parents or other immediate family, and that those family members are, by happy coincidence, located in an equally convenient location close to the workplace.

Workplace? Well, yes, as the vast majority of housing benefit claimants are in work. Full time work. You swallowed the line about the feckless and workshy? But you should never take the Dacre press on trust, and far less the TPA. Remember, this is a group that pretends to speak for taxpayers, but in reality takes its orders from its overmonied, greedy and cowardly backers.

And that’s what you need to remember when the TPA talks about “fairness”.

Monday 25 June 2012

McHackey’s Royal Trash

[Update at end of post]

There is a regular requirement at the Daily Mail to produce a column of low grade rubbish that would disgrace the by-line of Phil Space. But the ideal hack is on hand and even occasionally equal to the task: step forward Peter McKay, aka Peter McHackey, aka Peter McLie, aka The World’s Worst Columnist, who has been a faithful servant of the Vagina Monlogue for some years.

Wake up Peter, you've been fired

And how long would that be? Well, ever since he tried and failed to stop Richard Ingrams passing the editor’s chair at Private Eye to Ian Hislop, an exercise which failed dismally, despite he and Nigel Dempster buying Peter Cook a generous lunch, washed down with a yet more generous quantity of drinksh. Hislop demonstrated wisdom beyond his years and sacked the pair of them.

Now, nobody else who scrabbles around the dunghill that is Grubstreet is interested in the witterings of McHackey, so he is stuck with asking how high the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre would like him to jump. And Dacre’s latest response has been to tell him to scribble something about the Royal Family. In an attempt to satisfy his last paymaster is a piece about, er, curtsying.

How sodding tedious is that? If it wasn’t for all the photos of Wills’n’Kate (and other sundry minor Royals like Beatrice and Eugenie), not even the most diehard Mail reader would bother reading past the first line. Order of Precedence? Who cares? Er, hello? Oh, hang on, he’s moving on to Charles. “Given that he was born in 1948, he could be quite old when he does succeed”.

No shit, Sherlock. He’s 64 already, so it’s blindingly obvious that he’s not going to be in the first flush of youth when he succeeds Liz. But this doesn’t deter McKay, who moves on to rabbit aimlessly about the Middletons. “Perhaps William will decide to accord the Middletons the status of members of the Royal Family”. Do some research. It didn’t happen to the Bowes-Lyons. Or the Spencers. Or the Fergusons.

So Peter McKay retains his title of The World’s Worst Columnist with ease, although he has competition at the Mail, and especially on matters Royal. This comes from Olivia Bergin, who is fixated on Kate’s wardrobe, which she estimates (the Mail does a lot of that) cost £35k in the past year. Olivia, I hate to break the bad news to you, but most of the country couldn’t give a flying foxtrot.

There are 2.6 million people without work. Many of the less well off and vulnerable are frightened about being pilloried for claiming even in-work benefits, or worse still losing them altogether in the faux cause of “fairness”. The only folks who are paying attention are all those clothes retailers who have kept staff on and tills ringing solely because Kate wearing something brings the punters in.

And they would rather she keep doing it. Is the message getting through?

[UPDATE 26 June 1100 hours: at least the Mail got its "story" about Kate's wardrobe costs out on the day the information became available - the Express, as is customary with the Desmond press' shoestring approach, has to wait on others publishing before lifting the story.

So Dirty Des' finest are a day late with what is hardly earth shattering news in the first place. Still, it makes a profit for the foul mouthed pornographer, so that's all right, then]

Guido Fawked – Cartoon Bang Out Of Order

[Update at end of post]

Over the past week, a Twitter-like product called Menshn has been launched, first in the USA and now in the UK. To no surprise at all, this is partly the work of self-publicising Tory MP Louise Mensch, who scored a momentous own goal when she attributed comments to the appalling Piers “Morgan” Moron under Parliamentary privilege which he most certainly did not make.

Yep, she's been on there as well

Menshn is part of a joint effort between Ms Mensch and Luke Bozier, former technical analyst for the Labour Party. It allows users to chat in “rooms”, and is claimed to offera permanent water cooler for people who want to talk live”. The strapline is “Talk On Topic”, although exactly how that is to be enforced, or even merely encouraged, is not told.

And that’s that. But not at the Guido Fawkes blog, where the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, wanting to show their ability to show a little laddish swagger and demonstrate that they’re not in hock to the politically correct brigade, have distilled their sheer obnoxiousness into one image as their Monday morning cartoon has gone well over the top.

Laugh? I thought I'd never start

Whoever “Rich and Mark” are I know not and care less: this exhibition of sexism verging on misogyny, published by Staines as the controlling interest in Global and General Nominees, isn’t even slightly funny. It does, however, give outsiders an insight into the world inhabited by the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, where women are still referred to as “totty”.

Staines and Cole like to sneer at those who decline to share their antediluvian attitude to women, calling them “right-on”, and in my case suggesting that, underneath all suggestions otherwise, I’m just like they are, to which I call bullshit. Some of us are capable of conducting a respectful and grown-up debate, however forthrightly expressed. Staines and Cole are not.

I doubt that the less than dynamic duo will even consider doing something so alien to them as apologising: that would be too much like giving a damn about what others think, and that would never do for two buffoons who think that the size of their readership insulates them from playing by the rules that the more civilised part of the blogosphere adheres to without any problem.

You’re bang out of order, guys. Now say sorry to Ms Mensch and take it down. Another fine mess, once again.

[UPDATE 1620 hours: Louise Mensch is not the only one on the receiving end of the less than dynamic duo and their casual misogyny, as Laurie Penny found out earlier. After Staines kicked off the sneerfest in an exchange with his tame gofer, the Twitter exchange began in earnest.
"Is that about her stripping days?" he Tweeted, the kind of remark that has no relevance other than to goad Ms Penny.
Then Staines mounts one of his favourite hobby horses, as he tries to smear Ms Penny for allegedly having money, yet holding views some way to the left of his. The "champagne socialist" jibe is alive and well for the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere.
And then he signs off with a welter of name calling, once again referring to Ms Penny as a "girl". Maybe Staines has had the ability to use words like "woman" or "person" surgically removed.

In any case, Laurie Penny is 25, so hardly a "girl", whatever crotchety David Starkey says. Another fine mess, once again]

Gove – Fawning Pundit Overload

And still they come, bravely and selflessly pouring over the top in service of their generously remunerated editors who have never seen the inside of a state secondary school, to bring readers who must be beginning to tire of the subject yet more unequivocal support for Michael “Oiky” Gove and his ill-thought-out proposal to take the examination system back over 25 years.

Maybe not such a visionary after all

In justifying this line, they cite opinion polls – never the best measure of respondents’ actual understanding – as showing support for the idea of reintroducing the “O” level and something sounding rather like the CSE as a replacement for GCSEs. But the questions asked, and how they are structured, is not told, and this is important: if voters are given the idea that standards will rise, of course they will show support.

For this is another of those ideas that is simple in its articulation, while showing that it is potentially disastrous, and that much of the froth generated in its support is simply wrong-headed and full of falsehood and misinformation, is less straightforward. So it will enjoy a few days’ support, until the weight of real world information, backed with the historical reality, cause Gove and his cheerleaders to think again.

A quick studio visit before hopping on the District Line

That thought, though, has not been allowed to enter the world of the fawning pundits who are still lining up to praise the Education Secretary, typified by Matthew d’Ancona at the Maily Telegraph, who talks of “an aggressive Conservative proposal being unleashed”, and that “The sheer swashbuckling surprise thrilled Tory MPs”. Michael Gove is not appearing as Errol Flynn at a cinema near you.

It’s no better over at the Daily Mail, where the Vagina Monologue has once more wheeled out Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips to talk of a “stunning set of proposals” and that “welfare and education account for a very high proportion of Britain’s grievous slide into demoralisation and decline”, before she loses it completely, froths at the mouth and falls over backwards.

Only Suzanne Moore – who of course also contributes to the deeply subversive Guardianappears to bring a little reality to proceedings, as she records her lack of total satisfaction with the current situation, but does not buy into the Gove proposals, telling “His convictions are real but deeply wrong”. She would rather fix what needs fixing, which the return of the “O” level guarantees not at all.

But what of that OECD ranking that has supposedly “plummeted”? Well, these have only been going since 2000 – 15 years after GCSEs were introduced. The UK’s position declined between 2006 and 2009, which, given the length of a pupil’s secondary education, cannot be tied directly to the GCSE, nor to any governing political party. That is why so many have misgivings about Gove’s ideas.

If only the pundits would look before leaping. It was ever thus.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Gove, Tories And The “O” Level Norm

As the “O” level debate continues, we are constantly being told that these were somehow “more difficult” to pass, that less pupils passed them, and that they were a more challenging test. From this it is then assumed that anyone passing the “O” level examination in any particular subject is instantly endowed with the skills that will satisfy the needs of even the most discerning potential employer.

And as I’ve already pointed out, much of what has been said in support of these mythical examinations is not founded on anything that could be classed as evidence. To support my argument, the mystical art known as “five minutes’ Googling” is all that is needed, and here I turn to a piece written by Anthony Seldon for the TES back in 2008: it’s all explained there.

Alright Norm?

One very important item in the Seldon article may not be apparent, and it needs stressing, so I’ll digress momentarily to explain it. As he tells, marking of “O” level papers was normative, and this – not the ease of answering questions – explains why the proportion of pupils getting top grades did not increase over time. Because a normative approach means it can never increase.

How so? Well, in The Good Old Days (tm), the use of the Normal Distribution meant that only the top few percent received a distinction in School Certificate parlance (or Grade 1 or 2 at “O” level, or “A” Grade at GCSE). The next two (much larger) chunks of the distribution got a credit (or Grade 3 or 4, or “B” Grade), with the next two getting a pass (or Grade 5 or 6, or “C” Grade). All the remainder failed.

So if there was a particularly good year, you had to do better than average to pass, and vice versa for a less good one. GCSEs are marked to criteria, so there is no restriction on the number who can get a particular grade. This should be borne in mind whenever a pundit rants about “grade inflation”. Better results do not mean that exams are getting easier. The comparison with “O” levels is simply misleading.

Moreover, as Seldon explains, teachers are that much better nowadays at preparing pupils for exams. Sure, coursework and the ability to take exams in “chunks” makes things more straightforward, but the old days of effectively guessing what was going to be in the exam paper – usually by checking out old papers and using the law of averages – are long gone.

And, before the frothers and ranters line up to denounce Anthony Seldon, it should be noted that he is not some bit-part player in the field of education, but the Master of Wellington College, Berkshire, a leading independent school in the Rugby Group. One is tempted to allow the thought to enter that he would be better placed than “Oiky” Gove and his colleagues, and their press friends, to comment.

What you will not see in the right leaning press and blogosphere right now.

Cameron Whistles His Doggy

Those observing last week’s deliberate and carefully orchestrated leak to the Daily Mail by Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove might have thought the occasion a one-off, an independent act by a loose cannon on the bridge of the ship of state. It was not. We know this as Young Dave has done more or less the same thing by feeding an “exclusive” to the Dacre empire himself.

Subtlety? Stuff that for a game of soldiers

CAMERON: MY WAR ON WELFARE CULTURE” thunders the banner headline of today’s Mail On Sunday, as under the by-line of routinely dishonest “political editor” Simon Walters (the hack who invented the totally untrue story that John Bercow’s marriage was in trouble because wife Sally had agreed to do Celebrity Big Brother) readers are told exactly what they want to hear.

Indeed, the online version spells it out in yet more graphic terms: “Cameron to axe housing benefits for feckless under 25s as he declares war on welfare culture”. So the under 25s are at a stroke defined as “feckless”, and of course readers are also fed the customary “welfare system that discourages [people] from working”. Yes, “the system encourages people not to work and have children”.

By this point, observers might have noticed that not only is the tone of this article suitably judgmental and verging on the downright hostile, but that it also meshes all too perfectly with the ideas of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his view of what constitutes the Mail’skind of people” – and what other kind of people Mail readers are intended to view in a negative light.

This matching of what Young Dave is jolly well going to do with what the Mail thinks he should – forcing under 25s to live with their parents, making the unemployed produce CVs and, well, smarten up generally, and taking benefits away if their behaviour is not in accordance with Mail editorial policy – is not an accident. And neither was Gove’s leak last week.

So why are they doing it? Ah well. After Jeremy Hunt the Culture Secretary failed to get the Lib Dems’ backing in the Commons, the fight back had to begin. And what better way to do it than to feed a line to the best resourced and most feared papers in the UK? So, more out of desperation than anything else, Young Dave and his fellow jolly good chaps have cultivated the Dacre press for their own ends.

But, as Tone and Pa Broon found out with their courtship of Rupe and his troops, the beast that is the Fourth Estate can just as easily turn on you: Paul Dacre is not known as the Robert Mugabe of Fleet Street for nothing. Today, Cameron is fawningly described as “super-fit, sleek and impeccably groomed, oozing confidence and enjoyment in his role”. But woe betide him if he fails to follow through.

After the Lord Mayor’s parade, the man sweeping the streets could soon be him.

Top Six – June 24

So what’s hot, and what’s not, in the past week’s blogging? Here are the six most popular posts on Zelo Street for the past seven days, counting down in reverse order, because, well, I also have to kick Simon Walters. So there.

6 Guido Fawked – Not In The Same League The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, at the Guido Fawkes blog were caught out in a routine slice of hypocrisy as they called out the Telegraph for making “frantic changes” to a story. Earlier the same day, the Fawkes blog had made its own “frantic changes” to its own spin on the same story. Another fine mess.

5 Leveson Still Under Attack The Fawkes blog was at it again the next day, as the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere went after the Leveson Inquiry, pretending that its chairman was “losing it”. Why they were going in to bat for the hated MSM, doing the bidding of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, was not told.

4 Got Any O’s? Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove leaked a frankly batshit idea – returning to “O” levels and CSEs – to the Daily Mail and nobody stopped to think that this might not be such a good thing for at least 75% of pupils. But every pundit suddenly became an expert and decided it was A Very Good Thing.

3 Dorries Doublespeak Diversion The Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire inadvertently let slip that daughter Philippa was being paid around £20,000 a year as her “office manager”. Meanwhile, she was starting to believe that journalistic curiosity over her employing a family member meant Young Dave was out to get her.

2 Gallagher The Hypocrite Maily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher called out the BBC for allegedly not crediting the Daily Mail as the source of its story on “Oiky” Gove and his whizzo idea on education. But not only did the Beeb story credit and link to the Mail, the Telegraph equivalent did neither – until I pointed it out. The last minute edit just made Gallagher and his hacks look even worse.

1 Dishonest Dorries Doublespeak Mid Bedfordshire’s Tory MP pontificated on ConHome about lies being spread across the internet, destroying the reputations of those thus smeared. She somehow forgot about the campaign she and her pals have been waging against Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads fame, including making a malicious and defamatory accusation to try and stop him appearing on TV.

And that’s the end of another blogtastic week, blog pickers. Not ‘arf!

Saturday 23 June 2012

The Very Last Beach Movie

The last survivors from a once pioneering and world famous band, four of them either past 70 or passing it later this year, and whose history of bad blood makes the breakup of the Beatles look like a tea party, have been prevailed upon to reunite for a fiftieth anniversary tour, and to make a new album. All their output over the past 35 years has veered between the forgettable and the downright dire.

Welcome to the story of the Beach Boys.

Five old blokes find a piano to lean on

This exercise could have been a complete train wreck. But now the album is out there and some are even talking up the prospects of another. They should desist. The principal motor behind their music, Brian Wilson, has littered the new work with enough clues to show that even the most diehard fans will be wasting their efforts: That’s Why God Made The Radio is the end of the road.

It’s more than a little good fortune that caused the reunion to happen at all: as late as last Autumn, Brian didn’t seem interested, and why should he have been? He has enjoyed a successful solo career since his comeback at the end of the 80s, and yet more successful after he was removed from the grip of Eugene Landy.

Brian Wilson

So can a group of 70 year olds still cut it? Mainly, they can, despite the contributions of the perpetually litigious Mike Love, most of which are predictably lame. The quality of the album has undoubtedly been helped by bringing Brian’s former collaborator Joe Thomas back on board to knock the songwriting into shape, along with Wilson’s long time backup crew including Jeff Foskett and Darian Sahanaja.

And what of those clues that this should be regarded as the group’s last album? Well, although the title song is relentlessly upbeat, the last three tracks give the game away. From There To Back Again occupies the same territory as Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game, underscoring that, whatever we may want, some things can never be brought back. The clock inexorably moves on.

Penultimate track Pacific Coast Highway even ends with the word Goodbye. And at the very end, Summer’s Gone hints at the memory of Brian’s brothers Dennis and Carl, who sadly didn’t make it:

Summer’s gone
I’m gonna sit and watch the waves
We laugh, we cry
We live, then die
And dream about our yesterday

The End

So, fans, be thankful for one pretty damn good last album. And be more thankful that Brian Wilson was granted his full three score years and ten. His like will not pass this way again.

The Fool Monty

As the right leaning part of the Fourth Estate, whose senior hacks and editors have never been near a state secondary school in their lives, continues to lionise Michael “Oiky” Gove over his move to reintroduce a system of examination that failed at least 75% of the country’s pupils, a look at the Conservative commentariat is instructive, if all too predictable and wrong headed.

Tim Montgomerie among like minded folks

This is facilitated by the preposterously puffed-up Simon Heffer, now editor of the e-dustbin of ranting and frothing otherwise known as RightMinds. The Hefferlump has given ConservativeHome stalwart Tim Montgomerie the opportunity to hold forth, and thus his supremely misguided piece titled “At last, a politician who’s brave enough to tell the truth”.

Monty, who was too young to sit “O” levels, is nevertheless all in favour of them. This, he believes, will raise educational standards. The inconvenient fact that the exam was only ever sat by 25% of pupils, many of whom failed one or more subjects (there was always the option of the dreaded “autumn re-take”, of course) is not allowed to enter. Nor is the knowledge that the CSE had no credibility.

A CSE Grade 1 pass was intended to be equivalent to a pass at “O” level, but in practice, employers and those in charge of higher education considered the exams to be worthless. Secondary Modern schools, at whom the CSE was mainly targeted, got their brightest pupils to sit the equivalent “O” level, knowing that only this exam held any value. And that’s what Gove wants to bring back.

But Monty does not dwell on such detail. Instead he obsesses over the EU, and talks about telling “the truth” about it, which means a version of the facts that meets with his approval. He repeats the tired canard about the UK not being independent of that strange alien presence known as “Brussels”. And he wants more airports, nuclear power stations and of course more roads.

That particular take on the country’s needs is what drives Monty’s belief in a return to a system that a Government led by his great heroine Margaret Thatcher did away with. And on this subject he has clearly been reading too many rants by Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips: “We started to hand out good exam results like sweeties”. Good to see he hasn’t been doing his homework, then.

All he then needs is to talk of people on benefits, throw in a reference to the Soviet Union, say “dumbed down”, and he’s done. And that’s not good enough: Gove, a former hack, has deliberately and calculatingly fed the press beast what its editors and owners want to hear. Montgomerie could at least have engaged brain before commenting, but instead has produced a slice of Pavlovian slavering.

So that’s Monty for the dreaded “autumn re-take”, then. No pass grade for him.

Friday 22 June 2012

Muslim Bashing – The Sting In The Tail

The Heywood grooming case had a surprising coda yesterday as Shabir Ahmed was convicted at Manchester Crown Court on 30 counts of rape. The 59 year old divorced father of four was revealed to be the one presence of the Heywood case that, at the time, could not be named for legal reasons. Once the jury had found him guilty, reporting restrictions were lifted, and very soon after he was duly named.

In a bizarre twist, Ahmed was not revealed to the jury as one of those in the Heywood case, but chose to very openly tell them anyway. He will be sentenced later, but having already been handed a 19 year stretch, he cannot expect to regain his liberty for a long, long time – maybe not this side of his shuffling off to meet what Dave Allen might have called “his own God”.

But what was most revealing about the case over which Ahmed was convicted yesterday is that the victim was a young Asian girl. Think about that. One of the conclusions drawn by much of the Fourth Estate after the conclusion of the Heywood case was that the group of men convicted had gone after white girls because they would not go after Asian ones – the racial subtext.

This enabled the usual why-oh-why aftermath – “political correctness gorn mad”. Indeed, the Mail’s tedious and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn was on hand almost immediately to tell “these men ... view white girls as trash – easy meat, to be raped at will” and that they were “motivated ... by their own wicked brand of racial and cultural bigotry”. No prizes for guessing who’s been keeping schtum today.

The rest of the press haven’t exactly distinguished themselves, either. Littlejohn’s own paper waited until the ninth paragraph of its report to let readers know that the victim in this case was Asian. And readers of the Super Soaraway Currant Bun have to wade through “Paedo gang king” and “Grooming beast” before reading the news in the fifteenth paragraph of that article.

Interestingly, it is the Express whose report requires the least scanning to find the news, coming as it does in the fourth paragraph of their copy. And the BBC report linked above doesn’t mention this crucial detail at all. All that is singularly unfortunate, because although it underscores the misogyny at work, it shows that the idea of a racial element is plain flat wrong.

But one pundit who at the time of the Heywood case talked of “A Muslim community disproportionately involved in criminal behaviour targeted at non-Islamic people” has been silent. Why might that be? Maybe because that person is Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips. And Mad Mel doesn’t do apologies or retractions, not to Muslims.

It’s high time she started. And the rest of the Fourth Estate, too.

All Gove Fans Must Have Prizes

After the leak from Michael “Oiky” Gove to the Daily Mail have come, in the manner of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), the pundits to pass comment and reinforce the view of their legendarily foul mouthed editor that a more rigorous approach to education is A Very Good Idea Indeed, though all have stopped short of backing a return to ritual beatings and cold showers.

Still not the voice of calm moderation

And pride of place at the Mail has to go to the one who brought us the magnificently fraudulent catchphrase “All must have prizes”: step forward Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips. Mel’s characterisation is total crap, and for one very good reason: all that those who pass a GCSE get is a pass, just as it was for those who passed CSEs or “O” levels. Passes are not prizes.

But this does not deter Mel, who deploys the full range of pejorative language in opposition to the status quo: “educational collapse ... standards have disintegrated ... plummeted ... sacred shibboleth of the left ... asinine knee-jerk reactions ... worthless public examinations ... farce ... zealots ... wickedness ... imbecility ... dumbed down questions ... plummeting (again)”.

And her assertions are hilarious in their sheer idiocy: “many of those with university degrees today are inarticulate and innumerate ... creativity was fetishised over knowledge ... state-imposed rubbish – including heavy doses of politically correct propaganda about gender, race and man-made global warming” and no, I am not making any of that up. Those are Mel’s exact words.

Then she wants to go back to the 1950s, which is an interesting proposition, given that many were concerned at the time that the introduction of “O” levels and “A” levels in 1951 could be a little radical. Prior to this date, pupils deemed sufficiently able took the School Certificate at age 16, and the Higher School Certificate at 18. And obtaining the School Certificate was not just a matter of passing exams.

One did not obtain the School Certificate until and unless one had matriculated, that is, had passed the exams in maths, English and other subjects. A pass therefore showed that the pupil had ability across the whole of the curriculum. Yet this approach failed those with aptitude in, say, sciences or languages. And when “O” levels came in, these too failed most pupils.

Because what Mad Mel and the rest of the froth brigade fail to grasp is that only 25% of all pupils in England and Wales took them, and many of them failed one or more subjects. And the other 75% got nothing – well, not until the CSE arrived in 1965, and the two together did what the GCSE does now. But the CSE was regarded as next to worthless, so the 75% still effectively ended up with nothing.

Melanie Phillips would like to return to that state of affairs. That’s not good enough.