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Wednesday 31 July 2013

Multiple Personality Spiv Spills Beans

Of all the people that could have been made chairman of the Tory Party, some bright spark must have thought that Grant “Spiv” Shapps (aka Michael Green) was a good choice. Sadly, this amateur human being turned out to be the modern day equivalent of Joe Walker, Flash Harry, and Arthur Daley rolled into one. But chairman he is, and so chairman’s speech he had to give today.
Roll up ladies and gents, on sale today only

Sadly, Shapps may be good at selling the dodgiest of motahs, but sounding coherent and sincere in his role as Tory chairman is beyond him. But his clumsy delivery today has been most useful in confirming one thing: Lynton Crosby is calling the shots behind the scenes. Shapps underscores this at the beginning, with a call for his party to rise from their collective slumber.

I know the summer is not a traditional time for political speech, so apologies for rousing you from your deck chairs, but there is a certain urgency to what I want to say and less than two years left to get this message across”. As Benedict “famous last words” Brogan revealed yesterday, Crosby has been imposing earlier starts and longer hours on the Tories. That’s where Shapps’ reference comes from.
Man with hand up chairman's back

Another Crosby tell-tale is the direct and blatant use of dishonesty, and Shapps pulled this one next: “I’m not making this up – Labour has actually been working on this policy, which, taken to its logical conclusion, could allow prisoners, serving a life sentence at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, to be entitled to housing benefit [and] exploit the Human Rights Act to secure their newfound human rights to claim welfare”.
Yes folks, he’s not making this up, one careful owner, lovely runner, I’ll even throw in six months’ tax, now you can’t say fairer than that. But seriously, that’s the same kind of crap that Crosby was pulling with Bozza’s re-election campaign, with such corkers as “Ken admits Boris has built many more affordable homes than he ever did. A record 50000 in first term” (the net, and verified, number was rather less).
Then there is the exhortation not to go back to some horror story revision of what the previous Government did: with the London Mayoral election, it was “Imagine going back to the days when ...”. Now, it’s “handing the keys right back to the people who crashed the economy in the first place. Same Old Labour forcing Brits to live the pain again”. And Free Schools would be closed, to which many will respond “Meh”.

So there you have yet more evidence that Lynton Crosby is driving the Tory policy van. And, talking of vans, I do hope the UKBA staff and their “Go home” vans are spreading their search for those overstaying their visas across all racial groups. Like Australians. Not that I’m suggesting Lynt might not have got his visa up to date, you understand. I mean, imagine going back to that sort of thing!

Or, in other words, exactly what Crosby has got the Tories doing right now.

This Is Paul Dacre’s Truth, Tell Me Yours

Complaints to the BBC Trust are in the category of Stuff That Happens for the Corporation, and unlike the now-discredited PCC, there is no question of the Trust being some kind of obedient poodle that will whitewash bias and dishonesty to order. So when the Trust criticised a documentary fronted by veteran John Humphrys, on the narrow point of quoting statistics to back up its stance, this was hardly news.
But, because of a characteristically petty intervention from Tory statistics misuse specialist supreme Iain Duncan Cough, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has erupted in righteous fury. “BBC Attacks Humphrys For Telling The Truth On Welfare” thundered today’s front page, setting the tone at the outset by conflating the BBC and the BBC Trust, which as any fule kno are two separate bodies.

What is the problem here? “The BBC Trust found that the programme failed to back up controversial views with statistics” was the criticism, but “there was no evidence that Humphrys advocated the coalition government's reforms” and “the programme was ‘fair’ and ‘open-minded’ in its examination of the evidence, that there was a ‘wide range of significant views’”.
Every day, and in every way, I'm getting better and better. Wibble. Oh f***, back in the c***ing straitjacket!

All of this suggests that not only was the criticism not particularly severe, but also that Humphrys’ presentation was far superior to the kind of falsehood and misinformation that one might read in the pages of, oh I dunno, how about the Daily Mail? The same paper that now asserts “The BBC was accused of ‘blatant Left-wing bias’ after bosses attacked one of their most respected journalists”.

But there was no attack, and no bosses were involved. Moreover, the only claim of bias came from Duncan Cough, who, although the Mail cannot apparently get its head round the concept, is not exactly free of bias himself. The personal view of one right-wing politician is all Dacre has to proclaim that there is now a “new row” about the Corporation’s alleged “left wing bias”.

This is then amplified in a Daily Mail Comment which goes off the Totally Gaga scale: “Proof positive that the BBC is biased ... balanced analysis was ... an aberration ... Left-dominated Editorial Standards Committee ... parody-defying ruling ... institutionally unfit ... chilling ... monolithic Corporation ... This cannot be healthy for British democracy”.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “as the printed Press faces demands for draconian statutory controls, the truth is that the giant BBC has no regulatory controls – the politically correct, supine trust apart”. They’ve created strange ways to get their jollies in the world of Paul Dacre. And to think that some men just make do with a lad’s mag and a hanky.

How long before the Rothermeres cause him to retire – for his own good?

Telegraph’s Organised NHS Assault

Some of the knocking copy directed at the NHS is beginning to abandon all pretence of objectivity, such is the obsession of the right-leaning part of the commentariat to do damage. This can be seen at its most blatant in the Maily Telegraph, which long ago ceased to be a paper of record, in its highly organised attempt to frighten readers over the so-called “Friends and Family” test data.
Before any figures had been released – note the similarity with the pre-emptive strike before the release of the Keogh Review – Political Editor (note title) Robert Winnett told readers “Patients treated at many NHS hospital wards would not recommend the care they received to their friends and families, official figures will disclose tomorrow”. So a heads up, people, it’s going to be bad.

And how bad would it be? “It is understood that many NHS wards received ‘negative’ scores, with less than 50 per cent of patients recommending treatment”. So, got that, readers? “Many NHS wards”. Sounds like a lot. This was a most convenient intervention, and it was also deliberately misleading, because when the actual figures were released, they did not justify the initial frightener.

But the headline yesterday was apocalyptic anyway: “NHS shame: 36 wards so bad patients would warn friends and family to stay away”. Can we perhaps have some detail on that? “36 wards were given a negative score in June”. Meaning what, exactly? Well, on balance, meaning that those who responded to the questionnaire would be less likely to recommend the ward to others.

And what about “warn friends and family to stay away”? Actually, no, that didn’t happen. And what is tucked away further down the article – to be read by the few who haven’t already made up their minds – is another small factette: this is 36 out of 4,500, or rather less than 1%. Moreover, eight of those 36 depended on just one respondent. The corroborated total (28) is two thirds of one per cent.

But that’s enough for the pundits to pile in: Tory MP Chris Skidmore, who put his name to the assertion “Once they enter the workplace, the British are the worst idlers in the world”, penned an opinion piece asking “Are you listening, Andy Burnham?”, showing that attempts to dump any NHS shortcomings on someone who left office more than three years ago are still continuing.

And, as the man said, there’s more: Cristina Odone wailed “How many more people have to die before we stop worshipping at the NHS shrine?” on the basis of nothing but the prejudice of someone going private and under editorial orders. Philip Johnston wailed “How much more can the NHS take before it cracks?”, but the Tel might more usefully ask how much longer its readers will believe this crap.

We know what the right wants to do with the NHS, thanks. The record’s stuck again.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Guido Fawked – Thatcher Funeral Hypocrisy

The supposed impartiality of the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog was called into question yet again this week as they not only trotted out misinformation from the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate, but did so to bash those rotten lefties, and to burnish their credentials as unswerving supporters of the memory of Margaret Thatcher.
Maggie Funeral Final Cost: £1,205,809” declared the Fawkes blog yesterday, adding that this was some kind of national bargain as it worked out at a mere 1.9 pence per person. Then it was time to kick the rotten leftie Mirror and deeply subversive Guardian for having the gall to suggest that the real cost of Mrs T’s send-off could be as high as £10 million.

Yeah, that’ll show them, eh? But this was neither original, and nor was it factually accurate, both these being trademarks of the Fawkes rabble. The post was culled from the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, to which Staines and his pals have sold out, in order to ingratiate themselves with Rupe, so they can get a column on the Sunday edition. At least the original headline had been toned down.

“£1m Lady T funeral bill shames lefties” proclaimed the original article by the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn. “LADY Thatcher’s funeral cost just £1,205,809 — a TENTH of the amount claimed by Lefties” he asserted, knowing that Sun readers need some WORDS in CAPITALS so they know when to get REALLY ANGRY about SOMETHING.

Sadly, Newton Dunn’s “exclusive” – and The Great Guido’s lifting of it – were being a little economical with the actualité, as the Guardian has now pointed out. The costs of policing and security, and of the funeral, were as shown by the Sun. But Newton Dunn had managed to miss out the minor detail of the £2 million “opportunity cost” of policing – that of 4,000 officers not available for duties elsewhere.

Moreover, the opportunity cost for the 700 military personnel was not included, and for that you can easily add another half a million or so. And then there is the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, in production lost to the economy through all those people having the day off. Or would the papers who said there were so many lining the route now like to scale down their numbers?

So there is, in reality, nothing for any “lefties”, or indeed anyone who favours full disclosure of information, to be ashamed about here: the total Thatcher funeral bill may well have exceeded the £10 million estimate given by the Mirror and Guardian at the outset. Not that Newton Dunn will be saying anything beyond his original propaganda piece, and nor will The Great Guido.

Derivative, dishonest, grovelling, and yet obedient – another fine mess, once again.

Corporate Hacking Scandal Is Damp Squib

Lord Justice Leveson, it was alleged, had seen a major report showing that the real culprits in the business of hacking, blagging and other illegal information gathering were not the poor, downtrodden victims of the Fourth Estate, but dastardly major corporates who were getting away Scot free. And what had he done with the report? He’d just ignored it – or maybe even suppressed it.
Such was the story fed to an increasingly sceptical public by a press that is turning to increasingly desperate means in order to stamp out the distinct possibility that they will soon be subject to properly independent regulation. There would be no press veto on appointments to the new body, and no more suitably malleable Tory peers wheeled in as figureheads, as with the discredited PCC.

Moreover, the list of potential appointees to the new regulator is the stuff of nightmares to many editors: never mind Brian Cathcart of Hacked Off, there is now talk of NHS chief David Nicholson fancying a punt at the job – after years of being remorselessly slagged off by the Mail and Sun. Alastair Campbell – who, after all, served as a hack for many years – is another name causing distress.

Well, today the major report talked of by so many in the Fourth Estate as the smoking gun that proves not only that they were mere bit parts in the drama, but also shows Leveson to be behaving improperly, has now been released by the folks at Exaro News, the place that majors in the sort of investigative journalism that all too many papers have given up on.

And what does the press think about that? I mean, as Cathcart and Evan Harris pointed out in a piece for Hacked Off yesterday, they were making enough fuss about it before the report was released. Well, there’s a thing: they’re saying nothing. The Mail is kicking the NHS (again), and telling readers it’s not racist to send a van saying “go home around areas where there’s a large Asian population.

The Sun is also sneering at the NHS (the smear by association is because of problems with the non-emergency 111 number) and discussing the Twitter threats made to campaigners and MPs. The Express is indignant that people not born in the UK might be mending our roads. The Maily Telegraph is also scaring people about the NHS, so plenty in the kitty for hacks to go private, then.

So why aren’t they all rejoicing that the report they claimed Leveson “suppressed” has finally been published, and without redactions? Ah well. That would be because it shows the typical solicitor or accountant use of Private Investigators was to pursue debts. And the two blue-chips named, BT and British Gas, are there because they got hacked, not that they had others hacked.

It’s just another attempt to shout “look over there”. And it’s another abysmal failure.

Trending Central – A New Comedy Genre

So, as The Commentator, in line with the dictates of The Curse Of Zelo, sinks slowly in the West – it’s all about the West, remember – a new shining light, as the Reverend Spooner might have put it, can be seen rising. A bringer of content, enabler of talent, highlighter of the most finely crafted jewels of the Web, and all undermined by the most intercoursing stupid name known to humankind.
Pretentious? Moi?

Let’s put it this way: if you were fronting a group of Young British Artists, and were opening a permanent exhibition space for your collected collections, you would not this side of hell freezing over call it The Pretentious Gallery. But this is to reckon without the sadly overreaching ambition of someone for whom the word “pretentious” might have been coined: step forward Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam.

And so it came to pass that “Ray” had what Iain Dale, writing at ConHome, calls a “falling out” with the humourless Robin Shepherd, and departed from The Commentator. He has now set up Trending Central – no, don’t laugh – bringing thecontent you’ve gotten used to me bringing you, but with more of an edge ... fast-paced, interesting news items”. Wow! Happening! Zap! Pow! Dull!
Wow! Tune In! Browse! Yawn! Switch Off!

He goes on (unfortunately) “Trending Central is always on the look out for hot new talent ... you can donate to us by clicking here [no link provided – must try harder]. Or failing that, how about hitting up a few of our advertising partners to steer some cash our way” Yo! Happening language! Young! Fast paced! Hey, and there’s a list of stuff that’s trending ... actually, no there isn’t.

This is yet more boring right-wingers, selected personally by “Ray” in accordance with his superior insights, which are, happening people, “pro-free markets, pro-democracy, pro-Western and pro-Israel in its outlook”. Yeah, the same drivel as at The Commentator, with a similar cast of Clever People Who Talk Loudly In Restaurants telling each other how sodding wonderful they are.
Behold the voice of grim reality

Kassam would do well to heed the reception he received from Damian Thompson at Telegraph blogs: “territory laboriously covered by [The] Commentator, Standpoint, D Murray etc ... There’s a whole breed of attention-seeking young right-wingers who want instant stardom without any apprenticeship”. If the man at Tel blogs says you’re peddling a bunch of boring nonentities, you’d do well to listen up.

But “Ray” Kassam is too full of wind and piss to even listen, and, it needs to be said, the name will only gain traction until folks figure out it’s the same idea as ConHome’s Must Be Read, yawn at yet more clueless RWNJs trying to bore the crap out of an audience that doesn’t exist, and go back to wondering if Asda are still doing four packs of Branston Beans for a quid.

Pencil in July 2014 for Trending Central’s first birthday, folks. If there is one.

Monday 29 July 2013

Spanish Train Crash – The Southall Parallel

While the press has been poring over the widely leaked testimony of Francisco José Garzón, the driver who was at the controls of the Madrid to Ferrol train that derailed just before Santiago de Compostela last Wednesday evening, other parties to the affair are keeping remarkably quiet. Moreover, having heard Garzón’s account, the investigating judge has released him on bail.
And the train’s black box data recorders have, as of yesterday evening, still not been opened up and examined. One might get the impression that the authorities are being rather cagey about the whole business. In the meantime, the leaking of Garzón’s interview with the judge merely fuels the impression that it is becoming convenient to dump on the driver.

Here, there is a parallel with the UK: when an InterCity 125 train ran into a freight train at Southall in 1997. Driver Larry Harrison was charged with manslaughter: the press was fed the line that he had admitted packing his bag in preparation for arrival at London’s Paddington terminus, although this would have taken two to three seconds, and the sighting time for the two signals he missed was far longer.

Ultimately, it came clear that Harrison had been sent out with the train’s Automatic Warning System (AWS) not working. Moreover, the two signals he missed (those showing two and one yellow respectively) had been moved from the lineside (and eye level) position as part of the then-recent Heathrow Express electrification works. The AWS “hooter” would have alerted him. It wasn’t working.

So the manslaughter charges were quietly dropped, and then-operator Great Western Trains was hit with a £1.5 million fine for health and safety breaches. In the case of the Spanish derailment, there is also a safety system question: the 730 series train involved in the accident was fitted with the European Train Control System (ETCS). It was present on the new line. It was not being used by that train.

Garzón’s testimony suggests he had become distracted or disoriented regarding exactly where he was. Had ETCS been active on his train, it would have signed off at more or less the point where he needed to start braking for the curve: that would have been his cue to action, and to confirm where he was. Adif, the infrastructure operator on whose road it happened, had little to say today.

All that you can see on the Adif site is that the Government minister responsible has sent condolences to those bereaved. Train operator Renfe has been similarly quiet, its site just carrying contact information for those affected by the crash. And coach manufacturer Talgo is saying nothing, although the selection of trains shown on its homepage wisely does not include the 730 series.

It may be politically expedient to dump on the driver. But it would be wrong.

Boris Says I Know Nothing

Once again, as befits the new week, there is another fresh and steaming pile of, er, output on offer at the Maily Telegraph courtesy of London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, for which he has trousered his customary £5,000 of “chicken feed”. After the usual bonhomie, telling how wonderful the Anniversary Games were, we find that today’s topic is immigration.
Oo-er chaps! Controversy! Cavey readers! Cripes!

Actually, make that illegal immigration. Bozza has been upbraided by a woman holding a carton of drink which, he believed, she might empty over him, but why this should be is unclear. Perhaps The Great Man has detected a recent decline in his popularity, especially among those who travel by bus between central London and, oh I dunno, how about Hampstead Heath?

The woman who grumbled at Bozza, to his clear irritation and inconvenience – I mean, what are all those deputy Mayors there for, if not to do the real work and allow him to bumble around picking up the plaudits and plot his new meisterwerk on Winshton, with the associated trousering of More And Bigger Paycheques For Himself Personally Now? – was a lawyer, so was clearly a rotten leftie.

How could he be so sure? Well, she had objected to what is becoming known as the “Racist Van, an advertising vehicle that is, purely by coincidence you understand, touring areas of the capital where there are significant populations of south Asian residents. The van carries the subtle message “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest” and offers translations only in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu.

This suggests that yer average Russian hit-man, South American drug enforcer or representative of the Triads should not worry themselves unduly. It also suggests that, once again, there is more than just a coincidence between Bozza’s pal Lynton Crosby arriving at 10 Downing Street and a crude example of dog-whistling. As Private Eye might have asked, I wonder if the two are in any way related?

So when Bozza excuses himself by claiming, in true Fawlty Towers style, “I know nothing”, the thought enters that he is possibly being more than a little economical with the actualité. He has his excuses all lined up, painting “eloquent” lawyers and those pesky human rights as something “lefty”, and makes sure you can’t call him racist, because, well, he’s just cheered on Mo Farah.

What Bozza fails to do is to address the potential for incitement of the “Racist Van”, whose appearance was somehow slipped past the Tories’ coalition partners, as Vince Cable revealed on The Andy Marr Show (tm) yesterday morning. It’s nothing to do with him, and anyone who stops his serene progress in the general direction of the nearest hot food is just arguing against the rule of law.

And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

So Farewell Then, The Commentator

Another week, another example of The Curse Of Zelo in action, as it seems the unloved and unsuccessful right-wing group circle jerk otherwise known as The Commentator is in trouble. This is the site that told its readers that I had accused them of buying Twitter followers, which I had not. They refused to do the right thing and say sorry, and the Curse has done the rest.
An editorial meeting before the split

Every visit to The Commentator nowadays brings the tiresome top-of-page greeting “The Commentator is supported by our readers ... Support us by clicking here”, and the About page gives an idea why. After an apocalyptic spiel about how the West is under attack and We Must Support Israel (er, hello Commentator, we already do support Israel), there is a plea for help.

P.S. - We're basically running the site off our own dimes at the moment. If you want to help support us, you can click here” is the message. Heck, a blog that gets no outside funding? Soil the bed, that’s a bit radical, isn’t it? Er, no it isn’t: Zelo Street does not receive, and nor does it request or require, any external funding – like thousands of blogs across the country.

So what happened to all those staff – presumably paid staff? Dane Vallejo – who believed that those he considered “left wing” did not count – has left, protesting that, even though The Commentator advertised for unpaid interns, he had been paid. The occasional appearances of the odious flannelled fool Henry Cole, tame gofer to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, have ended.

The Fawkes blog’s newly anointed teaboy Alex Wickham, who was given the grand title of The Commentator’s Political Editor – yes, I know, he wouldn’t be able to identify politics if it jumped up and fly-hacked him in the undercarriage – is nowhere to be seen. And now, not that the website tells you, the equally grandly titled Executive Editor, Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam has gone.

This means that the humourless Robin Shepherd is left all on his tod to persuade the idle and desperate to pony up content for nothing, which they can do just as easily at the HuffPost UK, just to prop up another boring outlet for the libertarian right. The Commentator has been going for just over two years. It’s been plugged all over the right-leaning part of the web. And it’s been an utter failure.

Punters can get screamingly right-wing dross at Telegraph blogs and the Spectator, or if they’re really keen, look across the North Atlantic and visit Daily Caller, any of the Breitbart sites, or pundits like Michelle Malkin. Why invest in a bunch of Mini-Me no-marks when the real Conservative deal is available elsewhere? The Curse Of Zelo has done its work once more: bye bye The Commentator.

And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of, er, people.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Murdoch Hacks Piss Down Their Legs

Lyndon Johnson’s tendency to scatological humour was typified by his observation “Did y’ever think ... that making a speech on ee-conomics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else”. The quotation is well known, but its meaning has not been taken on board by Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun.
Had the Murdoch hackery taken heed of that pronouncement by the 36th President of the United States, they might have thought twice before running their cheap, nasty – and ultimately ineffective – attack on Mil The Younger and a number of other Labour MPs, part of whose funding for staff and office space comes from Trades Unions, “How the reds fund Ed” (originality not their strong suit right now).

This is accompanied by a group photo which is annotated so as to suggest that the Labour Party is personally in hock to Len McCluskey (the idea that Union General Secretaries might be other than Stalinist dictators is not allowed to enter). Here, MPs’ total donations are shown, then those received from Unite. The use of red to show total donations and blue for Unite is characteristically fraudulent.
Spot the very dodgy photo annotation

Moreover, readers will soon pick up on three failings in this photo: four of the MPs (Caroline Flint, Sadiq Khan, Jim Murphy and Mary Creagh) receive no money from Unite at all, six more (Peter Hain, Margaret Curran, Stephen Twigg, Liam Byrne, Chuka Umunna and “Auguste” Balls) get a quarter or less of their donations from Unite, and seven others are for some reason not identified.

This last looks all the more glaring, as two of the seven are the easily spotted figures of Tom Watson and Tessa Jowell. So even before considering whether their audience will be receptive to union bashing, on the pretext of the alleged selection packing at Falkirk – no Police action is being taken – the Murdoch faithful have shot themselves in their generously remunerated feet.

Many others, even if they fail to see through the dodgy and selective figures on the photo, will know that the histories of the Trades Unions and the Labour Party are linked, that the money for staff and campaigning has to come from somewhere, and manage a brief “Meh” before heading for the sleb goss and the sports news. And some will note that Labour, at least, makes the numbers known.

Where the dosh comes from to bankroll Young Dave’s jolly good chaps is another matter entirely. And that’s without the murky finances of all those Astroturf lobby groups out there on the right. Rupert Murdoch might not like to admit it, but even Sun readers are savvy enough to know that they are being sold a propaganda pup, however hot it might seem to his hacks.

The floor at Fortress Wapping must be a bit wet right now. No change there, then.

Delingpole Protest Hypocrisy

These are not happy times for James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, who has discovered that the Middle England he so loudly claims to represent is not at all in tune with his enthusiasm for shale gas to be extracted from beneath the earth by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This has led to Del Boy having to face both ways on the issue of protesting.
Definitely not Fair and Balanced

On the one hand, when folks protest at proposals to install wind turbines anywhere near their houses – or just when the things might interrupt their vista – this is to be encouraged, especially in areas where Del Boy either lives or frequents when on holiday. He is even prepared to risk ridicule by association with such figures of fun as Donald “king of the combover” Trump.

So the right to protest is A Good Thing. Or maybe not, when those pesky middle classes in the East Sussex village of Balcombe – it’s just inland from Brighton – take exception to Cuadrilla fetching up and proposing to frack in the vicinity. At this point, that right to protest becomes signally suspect, and Del Boy has detected the presence of rotten lefties behind the scenes.

The green lobby is trying to spin the protests at Balcombe in East Sussex as Middle England in revolt against fracking” he observes, before whining “some of the protestors were seen sitting in comfy middle-class-style camping chairs and drinking tea out of actual china cups”. Yes Dellers, this is because it’s an authentic middle class protest, just like the ones against wind power that you so love.

But, instead of realising and accepting that many of the protestors are inherently small-c conservatives who are worried about what fracking might do to their environment, he goes completely gaga: this is “part of a well-orchestrated campaign by the usual suspects of the green-stained hard left to close down Western industrial civilisation by whatever means they can”. Wibble.

As Del Boy’s colleague at the Maily Telegraph, Geoffrey Lean, has pointed out, the shires are protesting about a whole host of issues right now: if it isn’t wind turbines, fracking and HS2, it’s road-building and attempts to slip the odd 95,000 houses on to the Green Belt without anyone noticing. Politicians and their cheerleaders should stop sneering and listen – that’s their job.

As J K Galbraith put it, the common characteristic of all great leaders “was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time”. Right now, that major anxiety is not playing yah-boo over party funding, pretending the EU is an alien spaceship coming to get you, or that legitimate protest is something to allow at the whim of self-appointed loudmouths.

Your world and reality are not the same thing, Delingpole. Time to wake up.

Top Six – July 28

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 have a vat of curry to parcel up. So there.
6 Phone Hacking Why Oh Why Stephen “Miserable Git” Glover whined about phone hacking, and that the hated BBC and Guardian were not going after corporate users of The Dark Arts. But the 2009 revelations came about through the use of serious investigative journalism – the kind that Glover’s paper can’t be bothered doing.

4= Porn Ban Problems – It’s The Lefties! The appalling Jan Moir tried to pin opposition to Young Dave’s jolly good porn filter ideas on “The Left”. Here’s why she was talking the usual claptrap.

4= Cameron Porn Ban Won’t Work Those who have figured out one end of the technology from the other were less than impressed with Young Dave’s spiel on filtering web content.

3 Mail Seeks To Ban Itself The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre proclaimed its support for banning inappropriate adult content, while seemingly oblivious to the sex tape promotion and photos of children in the infamous Sidebar Of Shame.

2 Spanish Rail Crash – What We Know The derailment near Santiago de Compostela last Wednesday evening was Spain’s worst rail accident for decades. Here’s what could be figured out the next day (later posts HERE and HERE).

1 Claire Perry – Say Sorry For once, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines was in the right, as technologically illiterate MP Claire Perry made a totally out of order accusation against him. She’ll have to withdraw and say sorry – or it might get a lot more expensive for her.

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

Saturday 27 July 2013

Spanish Rail Crash – The Aftermath

[Update at end of post]

It’s not for Zelo Street to tell crash investigators, train operators, infrastructure companies and train manufacturers how they should go about their business, and that is not the point of this post. All that is set out here are the questions that one lay person would ask of those people, in the aftermath of the derailment near Santiago de Compostela last Wednesday evening.
An un-rebuilt 130 series train at Alacant Terminal

We now know that the European Train Control System (ETCS) was not being used on the Ourense to Santiago line by the type of train involved in the accident (the 730 series). But ETCS was being used by other trains that use the stretch regularly. Exactly how that works, and the desirability of different trains using different safety systems, I will leave to others.

The ETCS installation on the track towards Santiago ends around 4km from the derailment point, or just where drivers should start to brake for the curve. At least the signing-off of ETCS should give drivers a cue to slow their trains – if they are using it. The older ASFA system, to which ETCS hands over, does not give drivers a speed profile for their braking (although it apparently can be set up to do so).

Moreover, ASFA as installed at that location does not have any overspeed protection built in. That looks like a potentially serious shortcoming, especially when you re-examine the video of the derailment. Had the train been an un-rebuilt 130 series, it might even have got round that curve: what comes clear from a slow motion replay is that the front diesel generator car is the first to tip over.
That, in turn, appears to drag the coaches behind it off the track, as well as tip over the leading power head. Towards the rear of the train, the other diesel generator car can be seen tipping over and coming away from the rear power head as it hits the curve. Talgo coaches, with their low profile and therefore centre of gravity, should not be so easily prone to derailment.

That’s not to say that the 730 series trains are inherently less safe than their straight electric cousins: it merely underscores the need for overspeed protection at locations like that of the derailment. What is also disquieting is the loss of life: 78 out of 220 on board, or more than a third of them. Those are horrendous numbers. Why that happened could be down to a number of factors.

The sudden deceleration would not help. But there are accounts of seats flying around – they shouldn’t come away from their anchor points. Large pieces of luggage should be stowed in floor mounted stacks or between seats, and certainly not in overhead racks. And whether parts of the coaches are designed to deform, or crumple, in an accident can help protect their occupants.

So that’s a regular day at the office coming up for the crash investigators, then.

[UPDATE 28 July 1900 hours: El Pais, as a contact has pointed out to me, has noted that high speed rail is big business in Spain, and not just domestically. Contracts worth tens of billions of Euro are up for grabs, from Russia to Saudi Arabia to central Asia to South America to the USA. The industry employs 18,000 people in Spain - at a time when unemployment is grim.

So while investigators need to do a thorough job, and ensure the causes of the derailment are not only known, but also that a recurrence is demonstrated to have been prevented, the Government and all those employers with capital tied up in high speed rail will be hoping this does not hurt their businesses.

How the investigation remains transparent, with all the potential for special pleading from vested interests, will be an interesting circle to square. And the very best of luck to them]

Mandy Plays Kick The Middletons

The attitude adopted towards the Middleton family by the Daily Mail exemplifies the ability of Paul Dacre’s obedient hackery to play both sides of the field: first, they expend significant effort leering over younger daughter Pippa, to the extent of nicknaming herHer Royal Hotness”, before expending an equal amount of effort trying to pull the family down a peg or two for beingtoo Royal”.
A scene some viewers may find distressing

Added to this is the undercurrent of snark aimed particularly at Carole Middleton, reminding readers at every opportunity that she used to be a member of British Airways’ cabin crew (and that husband Mike used to be a mere flight dispatcher – oh, the ignominy!). Then they wonder why readers upbraid them for talking crap, because there’s nowt wrong with either job.

And cabin crew and dispatchers are rather more productive than sharp-clawed Glenda Amanda Platell, who has joined the fray today. “Don't let the Middletons relegate the Royals” protests this citizen of, er, not the UK, following up her attack last year when musing “I worry the Middletons really do believe they are royalty”, but only because they got better invites than she did.

Mandy is worried that new Royal addition Prince George of Cambridge may be getting “a normal childhood”, which would never do, because, as she reverently tells her readers, “like it or not, he is not an ordinary child: he is our future King”. What does she want the Middletons to do, tug their sodding forelocks to the kid? Do they have to walk backwards when exiting the room?

William and Kate have decamped chez Middleton of their own volition: they have gone there because they want to. Moreover, the Royals, not that Ms Platell seems to have noticed, are all away on holiday right now, so anyone left in London would be stuck with the remaining servants and no family members – the kind of thing that Diana, Princess of Wales encountered all too often.

She was, of course, Wills’ Mum, so he will have that in mind when deciding where best to bring up his new son. Meanwhile, Mandy is left grasping at straws as she frets that the Middletons saw the Royal Baby before Charles and Camilla, and that Pippa – who clearly also needs bringing down a peg or two – arrived at the hospital before Prince Harry, as if he was fussed.

Yet Ms Platell is not through carping: “It’s not even as if the Bucklebury mansion was Kate’s childhood home, filled with those precious memories of her own upbringing” she muses. Doesn’t the Daily Mail celebrate those who have made it through sheer hard work any more, then? Like Carole Middleton, who started out from a maisonette in Southall? No, it seems, not when they are so full of whingeing envy.

That Amanda Platell has not made it is not someone else’s fault. Get over it.

Telegraph Blogs Hypocrisy

A remarkable volte face has been achieved by Damian Thompson, clueless pundit of no fixed hair appointment, who, it is claimed, is editor of Telegraph blogs, to the surprise of anyone who had already concluded that editing is the last thing that happens over at that particular bear pit. And the result is that Thompson has demonstrated that he is a hypocrite.
Dames has decided to take a pot shot at Charlie Brooker, mainly because Brooker regularly appears on telly, is well-regarded, and in any case it is the unwritten rule at Telegraph blogs that anyone connected with Channel 4’s Ten O’Clock Live needs the boot putting in on them regularly, a course of action previously advocated by James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole.

Indeed, Thompson borrows the Delingpole “bien pensant” sneer for his attack, “From savage critic to moaning luvvie: Charlie Brooker can dish it out but not take it”. Dames reaches his conclusion by taking a recent item in Private Eye at face value: this suggested that Brooker had asked Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to disable comments on his column, and that the request had been refused.
Unfortunately for Dames, this is not the recollection of Brooker, who has put the Tel pundit straight today, telling him “I never asked Alan Rusbridger to turn comments off and therefore was not turned down”. Brooker’s Tweet was re-tweeted by Rusbridger, which suggests some measure of agreement, although Dames has not so much as amended his post at Telegraph blogs.

But, those with suitably long memories might ask, what is Dames doing taking Private Eye on trust, when he has been so ready to take issue with it in the past? When the Eye ran a piece back in 2011 that described how the Tel’s bloggers were ranked, Thompson was not at all pleased, and even offered to demonstrate how the Eye had got it wrong.
Sadly, not only did he not pony up the evidence to back up his argument, he was also undermined by the loathsome Toby Young, who confirmed the Eye’s assertion that Thompson routinely ranked blogs, and also confirmed that Delingpole usually topped the poll. And now, Dames has decided that the Eye, far from being less than totally accurate at all times, is correct.

It’s correct, of course, because the subject of its attack is someone Dames envies, and wants to take a pot shot at. Private Eye is only wrong when it shows him in a less than favourable light, or to use his own words “from savage critic to moaning luvvie, Damian Thompson can dish it out but not take it”.

You’re welcome, Dames. Have a nice day.

Friday 26 July 2013

Sun Jealous Of Channel 4

If there is one thing that Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun do not hold back on, it’s the laddish language and raunchy characterisations. After all, this is the paper that brought us Page 3 Girls. But Sun hacks are equally adept at putting the boot into the broadcasters, and if they can’t find anything on the BBC to gripe about, there’s always Channel 4.
The latter is now filming a second series of What Happens In Kavos, the first having aired at the beginning of the year. And anyone who has visited the island of Corfu any time in the last, oh I dunno, 25 years will have wondered why the programme makers did not do it a lot earlier. Kavos, at the south-eastern tip of the island, is one of the longest established Young Fun Party Places in the Greek islands.

It also enjoys the distinction, unlike Malia, Laganas, Faliraki and Kardamena, of not being more or less the first resort you come to after leaving the nearest airport (It’s quite a long drive from Corfu Town). This means the partying folks tend to stay in the resort for the whole of their stay, and are therefore ideal material for documentary makers, and even hacks and snappers.

But the Sun, which had already found adversely upon the first series (“What Happens In Kavos slammed as 'sick' and 'disgusting' by viewers”), is clearly unhappy that Channel 4 viewers get to see the resort, while the poor hacks have to remain in their office, with noses firmly against the grindstone. So out has come the headline “Sexploited by Channel 4” today.

What’s the problem? “What Happens In Kavos accused of targeting bonking Brit women” is the first excuse. Clearly this is a different kind of “bonking” than that done by all those slebs that the Sun and its paid freelances chase around after. So if you’re well known, “bonking” is newsworthy, provided it’s in the Sun. If you’re not a sleb, then “bonking” is “sick” and “disgusting”.

And while you’re figuring out the Sun’s interesting way with logic, consider this: the first paper to lift the Sun copy has not been the Daily Star, Express or Mail, but the supposedly refined and upmarket Telegraph (in the “Culture” section). Dicky Windbag says you couldn’t make it up. The Tel has copied the whole story – minus the “bonking” references – including the Sun’s anonymous local “source”.

Channel 4 may have temporarily called in the production company to make it look like they are being bawled out, but they’ll be back, along with a queue of Sun hacks desperate for a Corfu assignment so they can watch the action first hand. Because this is just another snark at a broadcaster the Murdoch press doesn’t like – if the documentary was on Sky, the treatment would have been slightly different.

Not that Rupe’s downmarket troops are stinking hypocrites, you understand.

Spanish Train Crash – Was Safety System Switched Off?

As the wreckage is taken away, the dead identified, and the injured nursed back hopefully to full health, the investigation has begun as to how a Madrid to Ferrol train entered an 80km/h curve at well over twice that speed, derailing in the process. Focus will inevitable turn to the train’s safety systems, and why they did not step in and slow the train down.
For starters, let’s bin the idea that you can’t safely operate a high speed line that has an 80km/h curve at the end of it: the very first Spanish AVE has an even more severe 70km/h reverse curve as it passes through the town of Puertollano, and has been in use with no mishap for around 20 years. But it does have its train control system switched on at all times.

The reason I mention this is because El Pais has reported news which, if true, would explain how the accident happened, and moreover, suggests that such an accident has been waiting to happen ever since the high speed link from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela was opened in 2011. And the safety system installed at the point of derailment would have been unable to intervene and slow the train.

This is what El Pais reported: “Thales ... confirmed to this newspaper that ... ERTMS Level 1 was installed to Kilometer 80 of the line ... and tested and delivered in November 2011 ... ERTMS works perfectly on ... Madrid-Valladolid, but these trains do not use it ... in ... Ourense-Santiago, even in the 80km where already installed and tested, confirmed sources” [my emphasis].
It’s entirely possible that something has been lost or gained in translation from Castellano, but consider this: as shown in the diagram above, ETCS hands over to the older Spanish ASFA system very close to the 80km/h curve, and knowing that ASFA could not intervene in time to deal with a serious overspeed incident, any competent ERTMS/ETCS installation would have provided for slowing trains.

And, if ETCS was working, why the need for two drivers, as appears to have been the case here? All that was needed was for whoever was at the controls to miss his braking point for the curve, and with a number of tunnels immediately before the curve, the potential for disorientation is clearly present. Miscount the tunnels, and there is the recipe for the disaster that followed.

On top of that is the downhill gradient before the curve, meaning a longer braking distance would be needed, and the increased weight of the 730 series train (with its diesel generator cars in place of two more coaches) over the more conventional 130 series, making the braking distance longer still. All of this fits with the assertion in the El Pais article that ERTMS was not in use.

That’s the grim conclusion to which my Occam’s Razor is pointing right now.

Porn Ban Problems – It’s The Lefties!

It is, after all, one of the favourite lines used by their unfunny and talentless churnalist Richard Littlejohn, so it should be no surprise to hear yourself think “you couldn’t make it up” in response to the mixture of desperation and stupidity doled out today by the Daily Mail’s deeply unpleasant Glenda-in-residence Jan Moir, who has been ordered over the top on the subject of internet porn.
Why DO the Left sneer at Cameron's bid to block porn?” she trills, right on cue. What’s the problem, Jan? “How on earth did it happen that a river of pornography merrily flows into every house in the country via a laptop? When did hard core become so ... normalised? I didn't sign up to a national porn programme. Did you?” she bleats, painting a picture that does not exist.

And, as the man said, there’s more: “Yet porn seepage has crept up on all of us - a rising flood water of vile and violent imagery that seemed unstoppable, until now ... Of course, normalcy and acceptance is just what the porn industry wants. It craves respectability. It wants the consumption of porn to be as casual and everyday as the purchase of a packet of cornflakes”. What a load of tosh.

Then we get the attempt to conflate any adult content with child porn and paedophilia: Vincent Tabak leads to Mark Bridger and soon we arrive at the long defunct Paedophile Information Exchange. Yes, we must Think About The Children, and Ms Moir has the opponents to Young Dave’s jolly good scheme in her sights: “Yet some, particularly on the Left, dismiss Cameron's plans” [my emphasis].

So who are these rotten lefties who “sneer” at the attempts to hold back this tide of stuff that most of us have never seen, or even so much as thought about seeing? Well, one particularly trenchant critic of Cameron’s ideas is Mic Wright, who says “David Cameron can't protect us from child porn because he doesn't understand the internet”. Terrible, eh? Except he’s at the Telegraph.

And, not that it seems to matter to the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, Wright has some idea of the technology involved, as does another critic, Mark Wallace, telling “Claire Perry’s porn filter is fantasy policy making, and it’s coming unstuck”. Except he used to shill for the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, and is writing for ConHome.

On top of that, the tech publications, like TechWeek Europe, not a particularly well known hotbed of leftism, are not impressed. And there is the small matter of Claire Perry, self-proclaimed champion of banning porn, showing herself up this week as technologically illiterate and signally clueless. None of this has anything to do with “the left”. But it has everything to do with folks not knowing their subject.

And that convocation of blind ignorance clearly includes Jan Moir.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Phone Hacking Why Oh Why

[Update at end of post]

Something is clearly taxing Daily Mail pundit Stephen “Miserable Git” Glover today, and that something is phone hacking. For once, one of Paul Dacre’s obedient array of dubiously talented pundits is all in favour of the law enforcement authorities going after phone hackers – provided, of course, that they are not plying their trade in the service of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet.
Why shouldn't my f***ing pundits whinge, c***?!?

Blue-chip firms hacked phones on an industrial scale. So why aren't there dawn raids on THEM?” thunders the headline, before Glover slips effortlessly into whinging about the hated BBC, and pretending that he really despises the former Screws hacks who commissioned acts of hacking and tapping. Then he arrives at a favourite Mail target, the deeply subversive Guardian.

It was the Guardian’s earth-shattering assertion that the News of the World deleted the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, giving her parents ‘false hope’, which created the furore that has resulted in these controls. But it turns out — so police now say — the News of the World did not, in fact, delete the voicemails”. Bullshit. The Police now are not sure (minor difference).

Then he gets onto his shock horror revelation: “Over recent weeks a far bigger scandal has emerged that has received scant coverage. The story was broken by the Independent newspaper, taken up by the Mail and a few others, but it has barely been mentioned by the all-powerful BBC. I don’t expect more than one or two people in 100 are aware of it”. So go on and enlighten us, won’t you?

Law firms, telecom giants and insurance companies have been routinely employing private investigators to hack, blag and steal the personal information of business rivals and members of the public, according to a leaked secret report which the police have belatedly been forced to acknowledge”. Like Steve Whittamore, who did so much work for a paper called the Daily Mail, perchance?

But enough of the Miserable Git: let me put Glover and his editor straight. No progress will be made by pundits sitting there and whingeing. Nor will the BBC, or any other organisation, publicise a cause just because Glover is bleating about it. The actions of the Screws were unearthed through many hours of painstaking and proper investigative journalism by the Guardian’s Nick Davies.

If the Mail wants to see a similar outcome for the hacking done by other organisations, the solution is in the hands of its legendarily foul mouthed editor: concentrate less on mining slebs’ social media sites and feeds, and do some proper journalism for a change. If Paul Dacre really wants to find his name on a future honours list, that would be a good way to get it there.

But that won’t happen: instead, there’ll be more whinging. No change there, then.

[UPDATE 1855 hours: I am reminded by Peter Jukes of Daily Beast fame that Stephen Glover took a very different, but equally dismissive, attitude to Phonehackgate when it burst on to the scene back in 2009. Glover, then writing for the Independent, but already making suitably grovelling noises in the direction of Paul Dacre, characterised the whole thing as old news.

Moreover, he dismissed Nick Davies, who has won plaudits and awards for his journalism since then, as "the sort of journalist who can find a scandal in a jar of tadpoles", and asserted that Davies and his editor Alan Rusbridger were desperate to emulate the Maily Telegraph's scoop of MPs' expenses information.

But, as Jukes points out, this is the same story that is now coming round again, and it leads to organisations like Southern Investigations, the fiefdom of Jonathan Rees and Sid Fillery, and which was involved in illegal information gathering for an array of clients. And the Serious Organised Crime Authority (SOCA) report to which Glover refers will only be any use if it can provide evidential standard information.

If not, there will have to be yet more of that proper investigative journalism, a concept that clearly distresses Glover and his editor. The authorities are not going to subject anyone to the 0600 mob-handed treatment on the whim of a disgruntled Daily Mail pundit]

Spanish Rail Crash – What We Know

[Update at end of post]

The Speculatron of partially informed punditry has fired into action overnight after a passenger train derailed on the approach to Santiago de Compostella in the Galicia region of north western Spain. At the time of posting, it appears that 78 of those aboard lost their lives, and many more are injured, some seriously. The circumstances appear straightforward; the questions arising less so.
The derailed train was similar to the 130 series - at right

The train that derailed was a Talgo/Bombardier 730 series, consisting of two power heads (one at each end of the train), two diesel generator coaches (one behind each power head), and nine trailer coaches, with a mixture of Preferente (First Class) and Turista (Standard Class) seating. The trains have been rebuilt from straight electric 130 series trains, to enable them to operate beyond the limits of electrification.

The derailment occurred at the end of a newly inaugurated high speed section of track, where the speed limit changes from 200km/h (124mph) to 80km/h (50mph). For some reason, the train does not appear to have slowed significantly, and the resulting overspeed has resulted in its derailment. The coaches do not appear to have stood up to the impact at all well.
As the diagram above shows, the line approaching the point of derailment uses the European Train Control System (ETCS) to regulate trains and their speed. But, and this is the crucial but, ETCS hands over at this point to the older Spanish ASFA system, which also uses conventional lineside signalling. The line is also on a gradually falling gradient.

From this, the question has to be asked: what provision was there in the ETCS installation to slow trains down as they approached the curve on which the train derailed? Was there any provision under ASFA, or would that have been ineffective, given the proximity to the curve? In the UK, there would have been at least a warning, and with many lines nowadays, an overspeed provision.

This last comes via Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS), which has in recent years significantly reduced signal overruns and overspeed incidents. Had there been no similar provision on that part of the Spanish network, it would only need driver error or distraction – or leaving the braking late and encountering slippery rail conditions, perhaps – for disaster to follow.

Following the question of how the train was allowed to do that speed at that point is the apparently poor crash resistance of the coaches. Around a third of those on board died – an utterly horrendous proportion. Talgo trains, in their many incarnations, are part of the railway fabric of Spain, and to see this one apparently fold up so badly is worrying. That, too, is for the crash investigators to pursue.

The best thing that can come out of this is measures to prevent a recurrence.

[UPDATE 1805 hours: I've been pointed at an item in the Público (in Portuguese) which shows the approach from the new line to Santiago de Compostela station.
As can be seen, the new line, which approaches more or less straight for many kilometres, is effectively then tacked on to the existing network to avoid the need to cut a swathe through the city's built up area. This is not necessarily A Bad Thing, providing the approach speed prior to the curve where the derailment occurred is properly controlled.

And here we come back to the two safety systems: whereas ETCS is set up to continuously monitor speed and slow the train if overspeed is detected, ASFA has an inbuilt lag in response. Moreover, the handover point was so close to the curve that ASFA could not have slowed the train in time, given the extent of the overspeed.

The probable solution is to reconfigure the ETCS installation to slow trains before handing over to ASFA control: ideally, the speed at which handover takes place should be synchronised. The presence of a concrete retaining wall will not have helped the survival chances of those aboard, and that is yet another reason to ensure trains are slowed before they leave the new line]