Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Saturday 31 August 2013

What Special Relationship?

You didn’t know that Rupert Murdoch was a US Citizen? After today’s toe-curlingly over the top Sun front page, it’s something you can’t avoid. There, in large letters, is a DEATH NOTICE for The Special Relationship. But is the relationship between the UK and USA really that special? And have successive Presidents always defended our interests, as if they were their own?
The answer is, no they haven’t, and here’s six examples. As Rupe’s downmarket troops have cited the friendship of Winshton and Franklin Roosevelt as the start of their golden era of UK/US cooperation, I’ll start with the immediate aftermath of that, as World War 2 ended. Britain, at this stage, was in a parlous financial situation. The last thing we needed was for an ally to withdraw its support.

And that is exactly (1) what the USA did, in September 1945, as President Truman cancelled Lend-Lease: this concept did not just involve military supplies, but also foodstuffs, road and railway equipment, and medical supplies. Anything still in transit had to be paid for, albeit at a discount. The USA compounded their playing hardball when asked for a loan to tide the UK economy over.

There was a lag between an economy geared to a war footing, and one able to concentrate on civilian goods, especially those which could be exported, and thus help alleviate the country’s indebtedness. Keynes was dispatched to Washington DC to try and negotiate a loan for this purpose. (2) The US treasury demanded that Sterling be made fully convertible as a condition of granting the loan.

The UK Government complied, and the loan was used up in a matter of days, as those who had hoarded unconvertible Sterling during the war years eagerly exchanged it for US Dollars at the rate of $4.02 to the Pound. The USA had caused its best buddy to become yet more indebted. True, the Marshall Plan arrived later, but the damage had been done.

Then, in 1956 (3), after Eden had deceived Parliament and secretly arranged with France and Israel to attack Egypt in an attempt to recapture the Suez Canal, Eisenhower demanded that the parties desist. Had we not done so, the run on the Pound would have been catastrophic. Ike’s GOP successor Ronald Reagan (4) was little better when confronted with the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.

Ronnie (5) didn’t even bother to tell us when he launched an invasion of Grenada, which was, and remains, a part of the British Commonwealth which recognises Elizabeth II as its head of state. And Dubya Bush (6), also mentioned by the Sun, would have been more than happy to go off to Iraq without us in 2003. So when the Sun tells of a “special relationship”, one has to ask: what “special relationship”?

Not that Murdoch’s papers will be telling their readers about all of that, of course.

Nile Gardiner – Exceptional Pundit Stupidity

The bleatings of Nile “Chauncey” Gardiner at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs have passed before my examination before, notably when, in June, he failed to do his homework and asserted that JFK had given his Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech at the Brandenburg Gate, which he could not have done, as that location was on the other side of the wall, in East Berlin.
Nile Gardiner

Someone at the Tel – I’m looking at you, Damian Thompson – belatedly corrected Gardiner’s copy, but you can still see the joins. And there is only so much that can be done to cover the tracks of “Chauncey” and his trail of forthright idiocy, as a spate of recent posts illustrates, starting with “Barack Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis has been a disaster – a few airstrikes won’t change that”.

Readers are supposed to believe that the Obama presidency has “led from behind” on Syria, then told that airstrikes will make no difference. Given that a large majority of citizens doesn’t want to get involved at all, and that the only other alternative would be a ground invasion, the Prez has judged things reasonably well. Gardiner is just whingeing for the sake of it (because Obama is a Democrat).

The whining continues with “President Obama’s flat and uninspiring message to America: I have a big government dream”, and Gardiner observers will not be surprised to learn that the “big government” is entirely his own invention, as he, along with other right-wingers, attempts to lay claim to being part of the Martin Luther King Jr fan club (nobody from the GOP turned up at the fiftieth anniversary bash).

But it’s when he turns his attention to the latest developments on Syria that Gardiner demonstrates his effortless stupidity. First comes the observation “Ed Miliband looked lightweight and out of his depth during Syria debate”, following which Mil The Younger helped to inflict sufficient damage on Young Dave as to have the paper that carries Gardiner’s blog describe the latter as having been “humiliated.

Never mind, perhaps he could do better on the Stateside angles? Sadly not, as “Why a nervous Hillary Clinton is remarkably silent on Syria” shows. Yeah, she’s supposed to be the Democrats’ front runner for 2016, and she’s not said anything about Syria. There is a very good explanation for this: she is no longer in office, and John Kerry is. So she’s leaving the Syria interventions to him.

And then comes the piece de resistance: “Barack Obama is proving an embarrassing amateur on the world stage compared to George W. Bush”. Dubya Bush? The bloke who froze for several minutes when told of the 9/11 attacks? The one who let the neocons run the show, to such disastrous effect? Gardiner is holding him up as some kind of exemplar? Just f*** right off, Chauncey.

I give you Nile Gardiner, an exceptionally clueless, and exceptionally stupid, pundit.

BBC Union Email Row – Mail Silent

The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre is generally at the front of the queue when there is BBC bashing to be done. And, if there are also accusations of covert surveillance and dirty tricks levelled against the Corporation’s management, one might expect the Mail to be in there like a shot. But on this occasion, the paper has been rather selective in its coverage.
What we know, and what is not controversial, is that the Beeb’s head of Human Resources Lucy Adams is to leave next March, after five years’ service. As she is departing of her own accord, no severance payment will be due (the Mail erroneously leers “she won’t get a golden goodbye”). What is also known is that Ms Adams has been involved in controversy with the NUJ.

And it is here that coverage of the story varies, depending on the paper concerned. Both the deeply subversive Guardian, and the Maily Telegraph, have told that there are allegations that a staff member who was also an NUJ representative had their emails “monitored” during a dispute over changes to the staff pension scheme. The Union is taking the matter to law.

The BBC hotly disputes the allegations, and Ms Adams is also instructing lawyers, so the whole thing could drag on for some time. But why has the Daily Mail – which normally would be all over anything that could be used to paint the Corporation in a bad light – not mentioned the alleged email surveillance? Well, anyone who has been given access to those systems in large corporate may have a good idea why.

When you sign up to using corporate email systems, and perhaps even at login time, notices will be displayed prominently telling users of the various terms and conditions to which they must adhere – on pain, generally, of disciplinary action. Nothing that could reflect badly on the host organisation, nothing that could be classed as bullying or harassment, and nothing for personal gain can be sent.

And users are also notified that emails may be monitored. It’s the company’s system: they don’t need to get a warrant or call the cops, they can just decide to check what you’re sending and receiving. Having observed this in action over the years – including seeing people sent down the road for misuse – I can confirm that monitoring does go on. So I am not surprised at what happened at the BBC.

Equally, I would not be surprised if the reason the Mail was so coy in its reporting of this story was because the Dacre empire uses that kind of practice to keep tabs on the inhabitants of Northcliffe House. I make no accusation here, but can remember what one Mail staffer told Nick Davies: “It’s fear versus good money”. If there is a better reason for not kicking the Beeb, I’d love to hear it.

But be careful which email system you use to contact me, mind.

Friday 30 August 2013

So Farewell Then Dan Hodges

At long last, the semi-detached has detached himself: in a fit of pique brought on by nobody caring sufficiently to chuck him out, or whatever alternative excuse he has found fit to present to readers at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs, Dan Hodges, the Colonel Nicholson of the Labour Party, has left the PoW camp and wandered off into the jungle, to the relief of many who wished he had done it earlier.
But he has made sure that anyone who was paying attention to him, rather than last night’s momentous events, knew that he was the one doing the deed out of principle, but not necessarily the same principle that saw him embracing Lynton Crosby on the occasion of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson being foisted upon the unfortunate inhabitants of London for a second term.

So why did he do it? “Miliband was governed by narrow political interests – not those of Syrian children”. Yes, when in doubt, WHY WON’T WE THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN? As with LouiseMensch, the impression is given that lobbing a few cruise missiles at Syria from a ship standing off the coast is any more than a futile gesture to try and keep the politicians’ spirits up.

And, talking of politicians, what about those elsewhere in the Middle East? “Israel will have watched the spectacle of British politicians stating events in the middle-east are not their concern”. Israel stopped depending on us after Ike told all the participants in the Suez campaign to desist, on pain of his not securing re-election. Had it been the USA not being bothered, Israel would be concerned. As it’s us, they aren’t.

Britain is now an isolationist nation” bleats Hodges, but this is crap. We don’t want to make things worse than they already are. Then he continues bleating about what Mil The Younger is alleged to have done, as if he was a ringside spectator, which by this time in his Labour career he definitely was not. Miliband is accused of changing his mind, and giving Young Dave all manner of undertakings.

To be able to know all of this when you’re not party to the discussions is truly remarkable. But Hodges’ conclusions are not: it’s all about Miliband acting in his “narrow political interests”. So he is upset mainly because the leader of the political party he joined so many years ago turns out to be ... a politician. Just like his beloved Tone. Just like Pa Broon. And this is a resigning matter?

And so, like Perkins in Beyond The Fringe, Dan Hodges has volunteered himself to make another futile gesture, turn himself into a pointless sacrifice to a cause dear only to Himself Personally Now. Perhaps a few of those who drift around the comments sewer at Tel blogs will applaud his principled stand. Most will not care less, shrug their shoulders, and move on. As Hodges should have done long ago.

Yes, there goes Dan Hodges ... on his way ... out.

Don’t Menshn The War

On occasions like last night, Young Dave will have been reassured to know that he could count on the support of one loyal Tory, even if she now represents only the distant constituency of Manhattan Upmarket. Yes, Louise Mensch (for it is she) has commanded “Listen to me, Twitter people”, because she knows everything that is to be known about, well, any subject she chooses. So there.
Has she got news for us? Well, she thinks so

The UK and US, she has decided, should not “war on the side of the rebels, whatever that means. This is because there are “Islamists” in their midst, which as any fule kno is a failing only of Islam, and not of other, more wonderful kinds of organised religion. So what does this ultra-loyal Cameroon have to say about intervention, if we’re not going to take sides?
Simples. “A targeted strike against Assad’s chemical facilities would be right and just”. Er, says who? Where are these “chemical facilities”? Can anyone be sure that none of them are in civilian areas? That could mean gassing an awful lot more innocent people, were any of the stuff to go off as a result. Are they dispatched from mobile launchers? Locating those before firing missiles could be fun, then.
But she does know that we can just start military action, providing the pesky Commons says so: “The Royal Prerogative is used by the PM, with consent of Parliament, to wage war. No international approval req[uired]”. There speaks someone who pretends to know all about the Middle East, but has forgotten one very important four letter word – Suez.
But one villain that Ms Mensch certainly hasn’t forgotten is Mil The Younger, who, as per the Tory Party script, is “weak”: “Miliband looking exceptionally weak after trying to face both ways on Syria. Playing politics with the lives of the gassed”. Yes Louise, as opposed to playing politics with the lives of hundreds of British service personnel who have recently come home in coffins.
And Miliband is one politician with whom Ms Mensch clearly has a problem: his victory in the contest to succeed Pa Broon, she has decided, is “revolting to stand against your own brother for his life’s ambition”. I do hope she never finds out about the Brownlee brothers, who regularly compete against one another, with one of them having to come no higher than second as a result.
Still, Louise is nothing if not well read, so she can make these earth-shattering decisions from a point of view so much more informed than anyone she disagrees with. That means she reads, er, the thoughts of Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam at Trending Central (a venture filleted right HERE). “Ray” likes “to get up the Left’s nose”. Ah, if only the Left would give the witless SOB a sniff, eh?

And if only Louise Mensch could face political reality once in a while.

Tories Losing It Over War

After the intemperate language hurled at Mil The Younger came the plainly nasty suggestion that, if Labour were not to obediently toddle along after Young Dave and his jolly good chaps, they would be “giving succour to Assad”. There was a clear desperation in Government ranks, and so, when the vote was taken and Cameron came up short, nobody should have been surprised.
And, while Cameron accepted his defeat with magnanimity, others could not contain themselves: Michael “Oiky” Gove went berserk, his voice ascending the octaves before he had to be instructed to calm himself. Then the blame game began: it was all Labour’s fault really, because of what Tone and Big Al did on Iraq. And that is total horseshit: there is nothing to be gained from our intervening.

Long serving Tory MPs such as Edward Leigh put the question: what would we do by dropping bombs on Syria, other than add to the death toll? The conflict there is already heavily influenced by other countries, with Iran propping up Assad, and Saudi Arabia assisting some of the rebels (note that there is no single, coherent group of rebels, and the same may now be true of the Government side).

If Cameron, and anyone of like mind, wants to show their support for the people of Syria, then there are far better ways to show it than stand off the coast and launch cruise missiles into what is already a highly combustible situation. The Prime Minister is a keen exponent of international aid, so let’s see him get behind practical help for refugees:  food, clothing, shelter and medical supplies are all needed.

What Cameron needs to show is leadership, and at such times the definition of that art by the economist and commentator J K Galbraith should be required reading. “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”.

Right now, Cameron is presiding over a sluggish economy and over two and a half million unemployed. He talks of tackling the deficit, then proposes spraying tens of millions up the wall bombing somewhere in the Middle East. Some of his MPs, like Sarah Woolaston, who represents the Devon constituency of Totnes, have sounded out their electorate, and their major anxiety is clearly not attacking Syria.

Indeed, when she asked for voters to give their opinion on the idea of military intervention, 53 were in favour, but 507 were not. Sarah Woolaston voted against the Government last night. Others in the Tory Party gave their support out of loyalty to the Blue Team. But the message was clear: Cameron has failed the basic test of leadership. He cannot blame anyone else for that but himself.

And those pointing at something that happened ten years ago are just deluded.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Toby Young – Utterly Delusional

Some spin is so blatant that it leaves the impression that its source is suffering some kind of delusional disconnect from reality, and that has been the case today with our old friend, the loathsome Toby Young, whose return to Telegraph blogs, after having been given the boot by Rupe, was hailed as “triumphant”, rather than someone scratching round for work after being unceremoniously sacked.
Tobes cannot, under any circumstances, admit that anyone to the left of his beloved Michael “Oiky” Gove is ever right, and so when Mil The Younger caused Young Dave to abandon any thought of immediate military action against Syria, this could not possibly mean that the Labour leader deserved any credit. Tobes cannot go there: it is as if he’d been Ipcressed.

So out was wheeled the patently ridiculous assertion “Syria: Cameron's climb down over air strikes is a victory for Parliament, not Miliband”. Really? Let’s subject that one to a brief reality check, shall we? Did Parliament sit yesterday, at the time that Cameron and Miliband had their discussions and the former made his decision to back down? No. Therefore bullshit.

Even Tobes’ colleagues Iain Martin (“This is not David Cameron’s finest hour”) and Damian Thompson (“Miliband has outmanoeuvred Dave. Well, that’s a first”) concluded thus. Tobes has dug himself into a hole and has disregarded Healey’s Dictum. But he had another chance when the actual Parliamentary debate took place this afternoon, so did he fare any better?
And the answer is that no, he didn’t: “Listing to Miliband respond to David Cameron, I had difficulty understanding what Labour's position is. In particular, it's unclear why Miliband changed his mind yesterday afternoon about supporting immediate military action”. And, for the second time, I call bullshit: as can be seen from this helpful extract from Miliband, he did not change his mind.

Perhaps Tobes hasn’t been paying attention, but most likely is that he thought he could pull a fast one and nobody would notice. Then we get more spin about the UN weapons inspectors, on the subject of which Tobes manages not to notice that they have not yet reported back on their findings. That is Miliband’s point. But Tobes is sure that “the Leader of the Opposition certainly doesn't look very statesmanlike”.

Once again, his colleague Iain Martin, who I would estimate is some way to my right, has scored the debate as a loss for both party leaders. Meanwhile, Toby Young gives the impression that, despite his libertarian claims, he is throwing a mardy strop because the rotten lefties won’t let his team go and stick their bugle in the affairs of yet another Middle Eastern country.

Then, on top of that, he thinks his opinion matters, and that really is delusional.

Boris Bus Fan Talks More Rubbish

Sometimes, the press can be suckers for the witterings of those who pretend to know their subject, but turn out not to have a clue. Today, the Independent has indulged one such pundit, Autocar’s Hilton Holloway, whose enthusiasm for the New Bus For London (NB4L), aka Boris Bus or BozzaMaster, has led to some in the press concluding that he knows what he is talking about.
Poor economics: New Bus For London

On the buses: Public transport is undergoing a technological transformation” gushes Christopher Beanland, before getting the NB4L all wrong: “the Ulster-built buses have proved more of a hit with tourists, who like the ‘hop on, hop off’ platforms on the Routemaster replacements”. Where to start? They’re not a Routemaster replacement, tourists aren’t fussed, and you can’t just hop on or off.

With this level of hype, it is no surprise that Holloway has managed to get his foot in the door: “Personally I think that after the Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road is finished, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane could become a circular trolley- bus route – using converted Boris Buses” he announced, which will be a surprise to anyone at TfL, which has no such intention.
Sound economics: pair of Tatra T3s in Prague

And, as the man said, there’s more: “As urban populations swell, buses offer the best mix of affordability, flexibility, and low investment for mass transport. They're essential for budget travel because of the huge infrastructure costs – and, therefore, high fares – associated with new undergrounds or trams”. A word in your shell-like, Hilt: your grasp of transport economics ain’t making it.

The NB4L requires two crew members – as well as frequent visits from the fare dodger hit squad – and yet it carries a maximum of 80 passengers. Even cities like Prague, which runs many tram routes with the venerable Tatra T3, doubles them up into pairs with one driver. A T3 can carry more than an NB4L. So a pair of them, with one crew member, has less than a quarter of the staff costs.
Ultimate people mover: Siemens Combino Supra in Budapest

So much for “high fares” associated with trams. And it gets worse for the Holloway Weltanschauung: modern people movers, such as the Siemens Combino Supra built for Budapest’s lines 4 and 6, can comfortably hoover up 400 punters, which, given there is, once again, one crew member, makes their staff cost one-tenth that of the BozzaMaster. And Hilt’s trolleybus conversion isn’t going to happen.

The NB4L, in any case, is too heavy to carry its design load (it should be able to take 87 passengers, but can only take 80). A trolleybus conversion would make it yet heavier, and even more uneconomic. And the shaky grasp of economic reality demonstrated by its most enthusiastic fan shows that he doesn’t get why “everyone’s out of step bar our Boris”.

Leave public transport to the real experts, Hilton. You’re out of your depth.

Miliband – Pundit Idiocy Exposed

The return to the fold last weekend of Simon “Enoch was right” Heffer was typical of the genre: “Labour will let Red Ed lose, then simply dump him” he harrumphed. Mil The Younger was “dismal”, those “grandees” were considering his fitness to lead the Labour Party, and “In the latest opinion poll, Labour has 37 per cent and the Tories 34”. It sounded convincing to some. But it was weapons grade bullshit.
Then I 'it that Cameron wiv a cosh this big, lads!

The preposterously puffed-up Hefferlump was not alone: Dan Hodges, the Colonel Nicholson of the Labour Party, told how Miliband was less popular even than Corporal Clegg, so that was, well, a bit like Robert Mugabe! Ha ha ha! He’s useless! He got egg on his face! Rubbish! Red Ed! Odd Ed!
I'm sorry, he hasn't a clue ...

And the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines sneered “If Labour abstains on tomorrow’s vote, can Ed Miliband seriously be their candidate for Prime Minister in 2015?”, reflecting those mythical “sources” available only to The Great Guido, while his odious tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, snarked “Anyone done the obvious Miliband Syria soundbite yet?
... and neither has he

What fun they were all having, laying into Miliband for having the qualities that they had projected onto him. And the problem with projecting attributes onto people without bothering to find out what they are really made of is that those doing the projection are likely to look very foolish when reality intrudes, as it did when Young Dave took a call from the Labour leader yesterday afternoon.
And then reality has to intrude

Miliband spelt it out plainly and firmly to Cameron: before Her Majesty’s Opposition would consider supporting the Government on the Syria business, the UN weapons inspectors had to complete their work and report back, and then there had to be another Commons vote. Cameron rejected this. Less than two hours later, he had caved in, and had been forced to accept Miliband’s position.

Worse, it is now being reported in the Times – a Murdoch paper – that someone in Government (for which read the occupants of either 10 or 11 Downing Street) had railed at Miliband, calling him a “f***ing c***” and a “copper bottomed shit”, thus confirming that those educated at Eton College and St Paul’s School have moved on from calling their opponents “cads” and “bounders”.

All of which begs the question: just who is “Weak, weak, weak” here? Who’s the leader not in control of his own party (there are, apparently, as many as 80 Tory MPs unhappy with the idea of rushing to launch missiles at Syria)? Who has ended up looking Prime Ministerial, and who is looking childish and petulant? And why have all these supposedly clued-up pundits got Miliband so spectacularly wrong?

Yesterday afternoon was the moment that Ed Miliband took a big step towards 10 Downing Street. And it was the clueless pundits who got egg on their faces.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Syria – War Drums Beating

Considering how free and fearless the press likes to pretend to be, they are remarkably good at “preparing” their readers for the possibility that the Government might decide to join some kind of unspecified coalition, and take some kind of equally unspecified military action against whoever set off all those chemical munitions in Syria, which right now looks like the Assad regime.
So both the Mail and Telegraph have – purely by coincidence, you understand – told that evidence to back up the chemical weapons claims is about to be released by the USA. That means it will be declared “declassified”, which, considering the howling over Edward Snowden’s disclosures, means this step is sure to be in the Americans’ interests. The Mail has the more dramatic headline.

U.S. spies certain Assad used nerve gas 'after intercepting phone call from panicking Syrian defence chief demanding an explanation from its chemical weapon military unit'” it howls. The Tel concurs: “US intelligence to justify looming missile strike against Syria”. Note also that the missile strike is “looming”, which means that we just have to accept it, as the decision has already been taken.

That is bad news for those pundits who have urged restraint, notably Max “Hitler” Hastings at the Mail, who tells of “Immature advisers, moral indignation and the folly of wading into this bloody morass”, which is both a sure sign that he is aware of his advancing age, and also that he is indicating that Young Dave and his jolly good pals should listen to the sage words of Himself Personally Now.

Meanwhile, Hastings’ fellow pundit Stephen “Miserable Git” Glover is imploring the Government not to listen to Tone, but they weren’t doing anyway. Blair is denounced as a “war monger”, for taking the UK into a conflict that the Mail was behind 100%, right down to joining enthusiastically with the chorus of adverse comment directed at the French for being insufficiently bellicose.

The paper achieved this, despite its pathological hatred of Blair, demonstrating the ease with which it plays both sides of the field. And it does seem to be softening up the readership into expectation of some kind of intervention this time around – which it can then mercilessly slag off if anything fouls up, which, Syria being in the Middle East, is highly likely.

And, in any case, the exercise of preparing the readers may be a little premature: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged patience, and that weapons inspectors presently in Syria should be allowed to complete their job. With Barack Obama less keen on a scrap that his predecessor, the advice ignored in 2003 may well hold the line this time round. But someone, somewhere appears to have decided something.

That’s the message that the military are getting out there. And it’s their missiles.

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

[Update at end of post]

In the UK, there were, before the passage of the Race Relations Act, those in business who operated a colour bar: publicans, hoteliers, landlords were all guilty of that practice. Those from racial minorities suffered terrible prejudice. But we had nothing on the scale of the southern states of the USA, where segregation was enforced by law, and often backed up by the lynch mob.
It was into this arena that Martin Luther King Jr led the struggle for civil rights – for all citizens. It was a struggle that would ultimately cost him his life. And that struggle led him to address a crowd of hundreds of thousands before the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC fifty years ago today. Much has changed since then: the USA now has its first African-American President. But not everything.

Much of the vitriol spewed out by the right at Barack Obama – accusing him of being a communist, not born in the USA, a covert Muslim – is undoubtedly code for his not being white. So, while Obama may have carried states such as Florida and Virginia twice, many in the South are still hostile and resentful so many years after JFK and Lyndon Johnson swept away the baggage of segregation.

So how is the UK’s “free and fearless” media commemorating the half-century since Dr King delivered his speech? There is the cheap and nasty, exemplified by the Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle column, nowadays the domain of Peter McKay, otherwise known as The World’s Worst Columnist, where the opportunity is taken to have a cheap snark at the King Estate. Stay classy, McHackey.

The BBC does rather better, with not just a news item, but also the full text of the King speech, which I would commend to anyone who is not familiar with it. And even the Maily Telegraph has managed a thoughtful piece from Raf Sanchez, with a number of quotes from Barack Obama about the prejudice he experienced 35 years ago – well after the civil rights legislation was enacted.

And that’s a whole lot better than the joke that is the Express, where the dwindling retinue of hacks is reduced to combining arthritis cures with yet more milking of the latest Diana story. Fortunately the Mirror has restored some credibility to the tabloid cause by making the King speech one of its lead items, and providing an online version for its readers to view and hear.

That, after all, is the best and most immediate way to understand the power of Dr King’s oratory, the way in which he summed up the plight of African-Americans fifty years ago, and the vision which he spelt out with great clarity and passion. Everyone should hear that speech: it is one of the defining moments not just of American history, but of our own, too.

[UPDATE 1625 hours: even with an occasion as the 50th anniversary of Dr King's speech, there has to be a smartarse who wants to dredge up a counter argument to impress those who get uneasy at the sight of darker-skinned people not giving sufficient deference to those of Caucasian appearance, and a superbly wrong-headed example has come from Damian Thompson, clueless pundit of no fixed hair appointment, at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs.

Dames has, perhaps wisely, knowing the kinds of people who drift around the Tel blogs comments sewer, not allowed comments on his effort, where he tells that Dr King may have borrowed some of the substance of his doctoral thesis - like goodness knows how many others. Then there is an interval of nudge-nudgery where he asserts that King also womanised. But when he sells the pass is at the very end of his post.

"If he'd been a famous white Republican, his reputation would have been comprehensively trashed by historians and the media" protests Dames, to which I call bullshit. Right-wingers, no matter what faults they possessed, are generally deified in death - look at Ayn Rand, an undeserving recipient of accolade if ever there was one. And, while we're on those who were politically active during the 1960s, what about Ronald Reagan? There's another who can do no wrong in death.

Thompson and his pals at Tel blogs may not be paranoid, not that the rotten lefties are coming to get them of course]

Guido Fawked – Grovelling To Uncle Rupe

There is a very thin dividing line between loyalty and crawling, and veering across it in no style at all yesterday were the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his obedient rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, in what may at first appear a routine piece of knocking copy aimed at Labour MP Tom Watson, but is in reality a shameless exercise in sucking up to their new boss.
You want more for that column? Jump a bit higher, Poms!

Hipster Watson Makes Friends Down Under” jeered the Fawkes folks, while recycling an article from The Australian (prop: guess who) which was, to no surprise at all, slanted to paint Watson’s visit to Oz in the worst possible light, not that this has anything to do with the MP having co-authored a book exposing the Murdoch empire’s less than ethical behaviour, oh no.

Mr Watson, in Australia as a self-appointed policeman of election coverage, was caught by surprise when he appeared on Melbourne ABC Radio with mornings host Jon Faine yesterdaytells Murdoch lackey Christian Kerr, while not managing to mention that the only surprise was that The Australian had sent a photographer to pursue the Member for West Bromwich East.

This, of course, is the kind of behaviour that, had it been used on the Fawkes rabble’s favourite Tory MP (yes, it’s her again) Nadine Dorries, would have had them howling “Stalker!” in short order. “He kept darting about trying to avoid The Australian’s photographer Stuart McEvoy” whine the Murdoch hacks, while glossing over their crude attempt at harassment.

All that remained was for Rupe’s down under troops to spray around a few insults – accusing Watson of being overweight and vain, an area where more than one of the Fawkes folks would be skating on very thin ice – and there was the complete hatchet job. All that remained for The Great Guido to do was to recycle it, and add a suitably derogatory comment from a partisan talking head.

Who might that be? Well, how about Mark Textor, business partner of good old Lynt, of whom we have already heard? Textor was directly abusive, as befits the level of subtlety inherent in the campaign modus operandi of Himself and Croz: this was then eagerly relayed by the Fawkes rabble as the words of an “Impartial observer”. That’s impartial, as in not really impartial at all.

All of which adds up to another shameless display of grovelling at the feet of Uncle Rupe: after all, if the Fawkes folks want to retain that lucrative column in the Sunday edition of the Sun, they need not only to jump when their new master tells them to, but also ask “how high?” as well.

What a bunch of crawlers. Another fine mess, once again.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

IoD Joins HS2 Cat-Calling

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

Another day, another lame attempt to rubbish the HS2 project which, like so many of the other lame attempts to rubbish the HS2 project, has been based on no analysis at all, save for the director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD) to airily wave his hand and tell anyone that is listening that it is a “grand folly” and that “the business case ... simply is not there”.
High-speed rail: a quiet scene at Paris Gare de Lyon

Do we get any facts and figures? You jest. That kind of detail ended when the IEA “report”, the one that pretended the cost of HS2 could reach £80 billion, got rumbled as another work of fiction yet more shameless than the stream of knocking copy that had gone before it. But this does not deter the well-organised, but fact-free, chorus of voices demanding cancellation.
One pundit congratulates her own side ...

Among these is the supposedly thoughtful Ruth Lea, who congratulates her former employer on not volunteering any argument against HS2 other than bluster. She is joined by MEP and occasional Tory Dan, Dan the Oratory Man, who demands “Instead of firehosing cash at the HS2 boondoggle, why not spend a twentieth of the sum on giving everyone rural high-speed broadband?
... while another practices for his next Fox News appearancee

Yes, sadly, Hannan hasn’t figured out that construction hasn’t started. And, as the man said, there’s more: the humourless Matthew Sinclair, chief non-job holder at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), approvingly quoted the IoD propaganda and called it “damning”, which is rather easier than having to stand up any of the routinely dishonest analysis he and his pals have been churning out.
Ah, once a spinner ...

But pride of place has to go to Mark Wallace, formerly of both TPA and IoD, and now at ConservativeHome, who has penned “Is there anyone left who still supports HS2?” today. Things, he tells, just keep getting worse for HS2. They do, Wal? Do tell. Well, the IEA says so (debunked), the treasury says so (but not officially, for some reason), and Tim Montgomerie says so too (addressed HERE)!
... always a spinner

There are then several paragraphs of padding, before Wallace suggests we build more airports instead, and declares rail technology obsolete because TPA stooge Allister Heath at City AM says so: yes, self-driving cars are the future (addressed HERE). Did anyone call for a chorus of “Monorail”? But the worst thing about Wallace’s piece is that, in sixteen paragraphs, he fails to address one point.

That point can be put plainly, and directly: the rationale for HS2 is to provide more capacity to move people, and freight, between London and the South-East, and the North of England (and potentially beyond). Neither the IoD, nor the ASI, nor the IEA, nor the TPA, have provided a satisfactory alternative. So let’s see that point being addressed, rather than the attempt to shout down debate.

That, of course, would mean thinking positively. So don’t expect it any time soon.

[UPDATE1 1940 hours: Mark Wallace has responded to my post by showing that addressing the central issue at the heart of the HS2 project - capacity - is beyond his intellectual capacity.
And there, folks, it proof, if proof were needed, of how much the HS2 bashing fraternity really know about the whole business, and how seriously they take the continued economic well-being of the UK]

[UPDATE2 28 August 1155 hours: it now appears that Mark Wallace's assertion that "HS2's supporters have all lowered their hands" was yet another example of his tendency to veer from spin to forthright dishonesty, as ConHome has had no problem finding a Tory MP, Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) to give his support for the project.

Zelo Street regulars may recall the example from last September where Wallace had suggested the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres (DUWC) were using public funds to pay for the notorious Margaret Thatcher T-shirts. This was due to a combination of Wallace not bothering to put the question to DUWC - which I did - and his failure to understand such things as audit trails.

I would hate to think that Wal made his assertion about HS2 supporters in the same way - through not bothering to ask around beforehand. That, of course, would be both shameless, and inexcusably bad practice, and that would never do]

Journalism Is NOT Terrorism

[Update at end of post]

It should concern us that much of the advice about press freedom, in the days following the detention of David Miranda while in transit at Heathrow Airport, has come from the USA, Germany, and the Nordic countries. That tells you much about the UK’s general acceptance of spooks, and the premise of “National Security, something that is not so readily accepted elsewhere.
That it took a US-born pundit, Janet Daley – on many matters someone of conservative thought – to have to say, in response to the Richard Littlejohns of this world who whine “the Guardian didn’t stick up for my mates when they got nicked”, that “It’s Left-wing prats who are defending our freedoms”, signifies how we accept the intrusion of the state security apparatus, often without question.

It was Germany’s top human rights official who voiced “grave concern” about the detention. It was the EU Justice Commissioner who confirmed that she also had concerns about the matter. And it was newspapers from the Nordic countries that signed a letter to Young Dave, telling that “events in Great Britain over the past week give rise to deep concern”. The New York Times has summed it all up.

If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected ... Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?

The title of that article, “War on Leaks Is Pitting Journalist vs. Journalist”, sums it up. But it remains a fact that journalism is not terrorism. MSNBC’s top host Rachel Maddow sums it up in the video above (she also gives invaluable background into the past harassment of documentary maker Laura Poitras).

And, as Barry Eisler has pointed out, “The National Surveillance State doesn't want anyone to be able to communicate without the authorities being able to monitor that communication”. This is the only connection between terrorism and what Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – and other journalists – are doing: that the state uses the same means to interrupt their work.

Except, of course, that journalists do not bring violence and destruction, but merely seek to shine a light on those areas that some would rather keep dark. The security services may have helped us beat the Nazis. But now we are not fighting the Nazis: the overreach of the state surveillance apparatus means that the press and its journalists are struggling to maintain their very freedom.

That is why it’s not just about the Guardian. It’s about all of us.

[UPDATE 28 August 1430 hours: the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which represents around 18,000 news publications worldwide, has now written to Young Dave, calling the Government's behaviour towards the Guardian - which involved legal threats and the destruction of two computers - "deeply regrettable", and showing concern over press freedom.

The organisation, moreover, called the detention of David Miranda under Schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act "outrageous and deeply disturbing". For some reason, many UK publications are not reporting this news, and it has fallen to sources like the HuffPost to let us know.

Clearly, those representatives of all those thousands of publications understand that, as I pointed out above, it is not just about the Guardian. Exactly how Government cheerleaders in the UK press and elsewhere explain that one away will be a joy to behold]

UKIP Clown Conned By Telegraph Whopper

If only he had not spent all that time asleep during sessions of the European Parliament, UKIP MEP Roger Helmer might have been a little quicker at spotting a flagrantly dishonest headline when he saw one. Instead, he has converted himself, in just one Tweet, from mildly controversial man of the people to a combination of gullible fool and certified laughing stock.
Not engaging brain before shooting gob off

Wow! Estonia becomes the first country to get all its power from shale gas ... and much cheaper than Russian gas” he enthused, which will raise a few eyebrows, not least in Estonia, because there is no shale gas extraction there. None. Not a sausage. Nada. Bugger all. And, had Helmer bothered to read beyond the headline of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s article, he would have found out for himself.

That headline, “Estonia becomes self-sufficient on shale gas boom”, was fraudulent. What Evans-Pritchard is describing is the use of oil shale, a rock which can be dug out of the ground, pulverised and then heated to yield energy. It is a particularly crude and inefficient way of doing so, and the technology was bequeathed Estonia by the former Soviet Union.
Lots left over? They import natural gas ...

Moreover, the idea that there is lots left over after using oil shale for power generation is an interesting one. The country, certainly until 2012, imported all its natural gas – from Russia – despite Evans-Pritchard suggesting otherwise. Estonia also imports electricity. It also imports crude oil. So the Telegraph piece is about rather more than a dishonest headline.
... they import electricity ...

What the Tel is also not letting its readers know is that Estonia produced as much as 17% of its power from renewable sources as far back as 2004. That’s rather better than many other EU member states, such as, oh I dunno, the UK for instance. And the continued use of oil shale in Estonia is controversial, which the Tel article manages to mention towards the end.
... and they import crude oil

As a former environment manager for Estonia’s state power company put it, “We inherited this infrastructure from the Soviet Union so there was some justification at first, but now it doesn’t make any sense. We are linked to electricity from Finland and we can offset wind intermittency with Nordic hydro-power. We should be switching everything to offshore wind and biomass”.

He also pointed out that, while he was in that job, he was his country’s biggest polluter. Energy from oil shale, despite recent improvements in filtering out the worst emissions, is not exactly a clean technology. But none of this has concerned Roger Helmer, who has seen the headline and allowed the Tel, together with it being the kind of news he wants to see, to con him something rotten.

Something to think about when you even consider voting for these clowns.

Monday 26 August 2013

They Pissed On The Pitch!

Sometimes a story comes along that the press really ought to think about before rushing to follow the herd. And, if the warning signs are so obvious – like part of it combining falsehood and misinformation – one might expect the press to think once more. On top of that, when the source is part of the Murdoch empire, it might be best to think for a third time. But that is not today’s way.
So when a story came along suggesting that members (literally) of the England cricket team were deployed after hours last night to urinate on the pitch at the Kennington Oval, part of the why-oh-why brigade rushed to lift it, instead of checking it out against what was known. For starters, the photo accompanying the claims showed the players sitting on the outfield, and no more.

Moreover, the story had come via News Limited, which is the Australian outpost of Rupert Murdoch’s empire: Rupe owns well over half the Aussie print media, and right now it is being used, when not spinning tales about test cricket, to try and swing the upcoming General Election there in favour of the Liberal-led coalition (the Liberal Party in Australia is the equivalent of the Tories in the UK, only nastier).

The Splashes: England players celebrate Ashes victory by urinating on The Oval pitch” reports the appropriately-named Malcolm Conn. He went on “A number of players including Stuart Broad, Kevin Pietersen and Jimmy Anderson took it in turns urinating on the pitch to the cheers of their team mates. This could be clearly seen from the outside overflow areas of the press box”.

So it’s come from Rupe’s down-under troops, it’s not been backed up by another source or any photo or video evidence, and here’s the false premise: “It would have been the only moisture applied to the pitch for quite some time given the deliberate dry and dusty nature of the pitches presented in this Test series to blunt Australia’s pace attack and aid spinner Graeme Swann, the highest wicket-taker in the series”.

Australia were the only team with a pace attack? Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad forgotten already? What a load of crap. But the Maily Telegraph has swallowed the story whole, blustering “ECB urged to examine claims”. At least the Mail has qualified its story with “accused of act ... according to an Australian journalist”. The Mirror has gone withThe Herald Sun claim”.

The Australians lost the test series, and had it not been for the deteriorating light, they’d have lost the Oval test as well. The Aussie press, and especially the Murdoch part of it, wants to claw back some credibility, however desperate the means. But the really shameful thing is that some UK media outlets, and especially the Telegraph, have allowed themselves to run along behind the herd without engaging brain.

Don’t trust the Murdoch empire, no matter what country its copy comes from.

Boris Talks Crap On Migration

London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, still on his self-promoting tour of Australia, has encountered someone who would very much like to live and work in the UK, and who has done so before. This person is encountering trouble getting “sponsored”, a feature of the “Migration Cap” which has been enthusiastically introduced by, er, his own party.
Now, this is not the first time that Bozza has complained about migration restrictions, which he sees as potentially harming the competitiveness of London, versus other major cities such as, well, anywhere in the rest of the EU, for starters. The thought that the dastardly Germans or the garlic-crunching French may instead attract talent to Frankfurt am Main or Paris is a recurring Bozza theme.

But today’s rambling, in the column for which the Maily Telegraph will have bunged him the usual £5,000 in “chicken feed”, suggests that the UK should relax its immigration rules for Australians, because they speak English: “As I walk around Sydney today, I see advertisements for the recipes of Jamie Oliver. I meet people who watch Top Gear”. And they’ve gone metric. Your point is?

There’s an undercurrent in Bozza’s argument which he never really gets round to addressing, and it’s this: there are many other countries around the world where the first language is English (or you can take it as read that those educated there to graduate level will be fluent), and they’ve heard of both Jamie Oliver and Top Gear. And many of those countries are also part of the Commonwealth.

Those that are not part of the Commonwealth – the USA, mainly – are English speaking because of their historical connection with the UK. So if Bozza wants there to be an exemption to current immigration rules for the English speaking, he’s going to open the UK up to a potentially far larger influx than a few Aussies who want to teach here – or all those Romanians the tabloids like to scare readers about.

Is he going to suggest that? Is he buggery. This is just another “look over there” device to allow him to bluster his way through another money-generating enterprise. And his attempt to pin the UK’s immigration policy for non-EU nationals on “Brussels” won’t wash, either: “I suppose there might be some objection from the EU – but they should be told firmly to stuff it”. Bullshit. You just made that up.

France makes its own arrangements with former colonies and other Francophone countries. Spain and Portugal do likewise (the latter only having divested itself of the last remnants of its own empire after the 1974 revolution). Bozza really does talk the most appalling drivel on the EU, and what is worse, he knows it. And his migration idea, taken to its logical conclusion, is a non-starter.

But it impresses Telegraph readers for a few hours, so that’s all right, then.

Mad Mel The Wrong Guide

Many people start their adult life on the left of the political spectrum and then gradually drift to the right. Some drift rather less than gradually, and rather more obviously, and this tendency has been exemplified by the return to full-throttle ranting of Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, who has today seen terrible things in, er, the Girl Guides.
Not even a little fair and balanced

Wait, what? You read that correctly. Mad Mel has taken exception at the idea of no longer pledging to “love my God”. How could they? So out comes the long handle: “An unholy war in the Guides and why we must ALL fight the secular bigots” screams the headline. Oh, and Guides are no longer pledging to serve “my country”, but only “my community”. This is yet more grist to the Mel mill.

Now, some may look on and respond “Meh” at the idea of no longer pledging allegiance to one or other of organised religion’s various deities, or trying to relate to a “community” rather than a “country”, but for Mel, if there is no organised religion, then there is no trust. Yes, this is another example of taking personal opinion and allowing it to morph into alleged fact.

Mel helps this process along by contrasting religion with “an ideology which brooks no dissent”, which sounds very much like Herself Personally Now. She also shows signs of not understanding where society is at right now: organised religion, and the belief in one or other deity, is very much a minority sport. But Mel does know that much of this is down to political correctness. And we know what that means.

‘Political correctness’ is not remotely liberal at all, but viciously oppressive. It is simply a mechanism for re-ordering the world according to a particular dogma — and thus inescapably stifles all dissent. Innately hostile to traditional morality, it paves the way for a secular Inquisition in which today’s Torquemadas are the ideologues of such group rights — and it is Christians and other religious believers who are the heretics to be silenced by force”. Wibble. And. As the man said, there’s more.

It is, indeed, the principal weapon of unholy war wielded by the forces of militant secularism, which are intent upon destroying the Judeo-Christian basis of western morality. It supplants traditional morality and the concepts of right and wrong, truth and lies by a creed which says in effect, ‘Whatever is right for you is right’”.

Yes, the Guides have been taken over by “aggressive secularism” and “hyper-individualism”! It’s all “about tramping underfoot the beliefs of others”! There are “secular zealots”! Society’s demise is being hastened! Bloody hell, there’s some strong stuff out there in the “legal highs” marketplace, and no mistake. Mad Mel’s had a summer break, but all it’s done is made her more screamingly intolerant.

The world moves on. Organisations move with it. That is all. Get over it, Mel!

Sunday 25 August 2013

Express Diana Desperation

Last weekend’s seizing on an accusation about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales by the Express was never going to be allowed to generate just one front page splash. And, with yesterday’s edition reduced to telling readers that the bank holiday weather might feature both sunshine and rain, there was clearly a need for something a little racier to bring in the punters.
And so it came to pass, with “Diana Death: The Two Mystery Cars”, telling that the Military Police are investigating the latest accusation, as if this means it’s rather more serious. Sadly, it means nothing of the sort: the claim of SAS involvement was made by a then serving soldier, those reporting it did so to his commanding officer, and so the MP are the ones who will take on the enquiry.

Readers are briefly told that Henri Paul may have been “set up” (he was not in a fit state to drive, something that has been established beyond doubt, except of course for the Express) before talking about two mystery vehicles, which were supposedly in the area of the crash at the time. And a photo is captioned “Diana turns to look back. Had she felt a bump from another car?” At the speed Paul was driving? No chance.

Then there are a number of witness accounts, but there is no need to go beyond the very first to put this one to bed. Someone staying in a hotel overlooking the entrance to the Pont de l’Alma underpass “heard the noise of an almighty crash followed immediately by the sound of skidding tyres and then immediately a further very loud crash”. Two vehicles, then? No, just the one.

The Mercedes being driven by Henri Paul – and remember, it was a heavier than standard model – had struck a support pillar in the underpass (first impact), then spun and struck the nearside wall (second impact). The initial impact, at an estimated speed of 105km/h (65mph) is what caused fatal injuries to three of the four occupants. So that’s the two crashes dealt with.

The witness quoted by the Express had actually seen nothing (which figures, as the crash happened inside the underpass), then returned to bed, but shortly afterwards heard more sounds, so looked out of the window “to see that a small dark vehicle had completed its turn into Rue Jean Goujon immediately followed by a larger white vehicle”. They were travelling close together, and moving very quickly.

So I examined my Paris street map, and found that it would be possible to approach the Rue Jean Goujon from five different roads, none of which is that which passes through the Pont de l’Alma underpass. And the Express’ first witness had heard the crash, returned to bed, and only later saw the two vehicles which readers are being expected to connect to the crash that killed Diana.
That’s desperate and lame even for the Express. Another Benchmark of Excellence!