30 November 2012

The vision thing

Are you bored already?  Vainly fighting the old ennui?  It all got so complicated and you can no longer distinguish the goodies from the baddies?  Yeah well, regulation of the press sometimes has that effect.

But at least Simon Hoggart has had a vision:
The whole event was a manic melange of mixed metaphors. The last chance saloon was teeming. Cameron said repeatedly that he didn't want to "cross the Rubicon". Everyone talked about "statutory underpinning" apparently unaware that "underpinnings" is an old euphemism for ladies' underwear.
I had a vision of a grizzled old prospector bursting into the last chance saloon, his corset dripping from crossing the Rubicon. "You want the carrot, stranger, or you want the stick?" asks the barman.
As the poem puts it:
When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.
And, thus, Lord Leveson/Dangerous Dan, underwear dripping and loaded for bear, moves on into history ...


29 November 2012

Conversation of the week

As ever, from The Guardian (here):

Osborne: Before you go, Cams. I need to tell you I've just chosen the next governor of the Bank of England.
Cameron: Who is it?
Osborne: Can't remember. Some Canadian bloke. He's definitely the best man for the job.
Cameron: How would you know, Ozzy?
Osborne: Well he can't be any worse than that fool King.
Cameron: I thought you were going to give the job to that bloke Tucker.
Osborne: I was, but then I saw him on The Thick of It and I thought he might swear too much.


27 November 2012

Flogging a dead horse

You thought the problem had gone away, didn't you?  Well it hasn't!  The EU, the IMF and the ECB (and, no doubt, other assorted acronyms) continue to wrestle with the Greek economy.

The Guardian reports the latest state of play:

European governments and the IMF sought to bury months of feuding over Greek debt levels in a tentative agreement that should see the release of up to €44bn in bailout funds needed to rescue Athens from insolvency.
But after almost 12 hours of talks for the third time in a fortnight between eurozone finance ministers, leaders of the IMF, the European central bank and the European commission struggled to reach a consensus, suggesting a lack of confidence that the effort to resurrect the Greek economy will bear fruit or that three years of European bailout policy was working.The meeting agreed to shave projected Greek debt to allow it to level at 124% of GDP by 2020, entailing a 20% cut in Greek debt by the deadline.
With the IMF demanding a writedown of Greece's debt by its official eurozone creditors and Germany leading the resistance to such a move, declaring it illegal, the meeting agreed on a mixture of measures involving debt buybacks, lower interest rates on loans, longer maturity periods on borrowing, and ECB returns to Greece of profits on its holdings of Greek bonds.
In an increasingly arcane dispute entailing sophisticated number-crunching over recent weeks, the IMF had stuck to a bottom line of getting the Greek debt level to 120% by 2020, far below what eurozone and IMF inspectors concluded was possible.
A debt sustainability analysis last week said the debt level would be 144% without eurozone action to write much of it off.

Nobody really believes that this agreement (if it may be so described) will resolve the Greek problems, but there is a smidgeon of hope that it will keep the lid on the problem for the next few months.


Toupee or not toupee

Mildly amused by the re-emergence of Michael Fabricant, an MP whose 15 minutes of fame had hitherto rested entirely on his wig.  He now deserves a footnote in history in that his suggestion of a pact with UKIP has been thoroughly stamped on by every Tory bigwig (sorry!) available.

Anyway, here is Simon Hoggart from 2003 to remind us of Mickey's real claim to fame:
Forget Iraq and the euro. A single topic dominated the Commons yesterday: what on earth had happened to Michael Fabricant's wig?
It used to be roughly normal length, finishing round about the level of his ear lobes.
Yesterday the thing had reached his shoulders, a great lustrous cascade of tresses curling over and even caressing the collar of his jacket.
MPs on both sides of the chamber were transfixed with curiosity and awe. How could a wig not only grow but grow so fast to such a length?
In the press gallery one of my colleagues sat gazing at the sight, murmuring "gorgeous, quite gorgeous," to himself, for these were locks that would not have disgraced Michael Heseltine or even the original Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller.
How many My Little Ponies, we asked, were slaughtered to make such a creation?


26 November 2012

Signs of uncommon sense?

Could it be?  Is it possible?  Is the Tory leadership beginning to grasp the fact that British membership of the EU is not necessarily a Bad Thing?  BoJo, although an unlikely pathfinder towards the dawn of political intelligence, appears to have twigged that life is too complicated for in/out referendums:

Boris Johnson has spoken out against holding a referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union as it currently exists, in an intervention that will help the prime minister, David Cameron, as he faces concerted pressure from hardline Tory backbenchers for an in/out vote.
The mayor of London, seen by many Conservatives as a potential future leader and alternative to Cameron, and who has channelled strident Eurosceptic sentiment in the party, said that any further fiscal integration of the EU should trigger a referendum but that a single question on whether the UK should remain a member state was unnecessary.
Johnson made his intervention from India, where he is leading a trade mission, telling BBC Radio Five Live: "I certainly think that if there was to be a new treaty, for instance on a fiscal union or on a banking union or whatever, then it would be absolutely right to put that to the people.
"Whether you have an in/out referendum now, I can't quite see why it would be necessary."

Now then, Cameron's flank has been temporarily shored up.  Will this give him the room to manoeuvre his way towards a more intelligent approach to matters European?  Or will he revert to little England type?  Mrs Marr doubts if he has the nous to see the better way, even though Angie has mapped it out for him.


21 November 2012

How to undermine your own Law Officer

You might have thought that the Attorney General had made the position abundantly clear:
After Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, said on Tuesday that he could not get involved in the case of Sgt Danny Nightingale, No 10 said the Prime Minister had “sympathy” for the soldier.
Mr Grieve made his decision after Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, asked him to examine Sgt Nightingale’s case.
The soldier is currently serving an 18-month term in a military prison having pleaded guilty to possessing an automatic pistol and more than 300 rounds of ammunition without permission.
His lawyers are expected to lodge an appeal on Wednesday over his detention.
Mr Hammond asked Mr Grieve to consider reviewing the original decision to prosecute Sgt Nightingale over the weapons and ammunition. Within an hour of receiving the Defence Secretary’s request, Mr Grieve’s office made clear that the attorney believed he had no scope to intervene.
“It would be inappropriate for the Attorney General to review either the decision to prosecute or comment on the appropriateness of the sentence,” a spokesman said.  “That is a matter for the Court Martial Appeal Court, in due course.”
But No 10 cannot resist pandering to public opinion, thus putting not only the Attorney General in a difficult spot but also the Court Martial Appeal Court.

13 November 2012

Photo of the day


Too much time on their hands

These American generals are really romantic, at least when it comes to e-mails  It amazes me how they find the time.  The Guardian reports:

The leading US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, is under investigation for alleged inappropriate communications with a woman at the centre of the scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus, a senior US defence official said on Tuesday.
The revelation threatens to fell another of the US military's biggest names and suggests that the scandal involving Petraeus – a former four-star general who had Allen's job in Afghanistan before moving to the CIA last year – could widen further than previously imagined.
The American official said the FBI uncovered between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of communications – mostly emails spanning from 2010 to 2012 – between Allen and Jill Kelley, who has been identified as a long-time friend of the Petraeus family and volunteer social liaison in Tampa, Florida, with military families at MacDill air force base.
It was Kelley's complaints about harassing emails from the woman with whom Petraeus had had an affair, Paula Broadwell, that prompted an FBI investigation, ultimately alerting authorities to Petraeus's involvement with Broadwell. Petraeus resigned as CIA director on Friday.

Imagine!  20,000 pages of communications in 3 years!  That's about 20 a day.

What a boring love-life I have ...

Covered both ways

Much fuss about the payoff to the BBC Director General amounting to double the amount specified in his contract.  The Guardian reports:

In a letter to the Commons culture select committee chairman, John Whittingdale, Patten said the payout was "justified and necessary." 
He wrote: "The alternative was long drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty at a time when the BBC needs all of its focus to be on resolving fundamental issues of trust in BBC journalism."
He accepted that Entwistle's contract entitled him to only six months' payout if he resigned, but that he had been paid the equivalent of 12 months' salary.

Lots of argument about whether this was justified or not.  Me, I can't get past the earlier stage of wondering what kind of employment contract awards a payoff in return for resignation?  I can understand why a payoff might be necessary where an organisation decided to let someone go.  But I had always understood that if someone chose to resign, then he or she was on his own.

When I resigned from the civil service after 32+ years, I neither expected nor received any kind of payoff.  But maybe employment contracts have changed since then ...

10 November 2012

Smoke and mirrors

Let us see if I have understood this.

When the government borrows money, it sells what are known as gilts (essentially IOUs), to banks and other financial institutions.  Like anyone else, when it borrows money, it has to pay interest on the loan.

In order to ease the UK.s economic problems, the Bank of England has been creating money which it then uses to buy up government IOUs, mainly from banks which it hopes will use the money to lend out to businesses and individuals.  Because the Bank of England has bought up these loans, it now receives interest from the government.

It is now proposed that the Bank of England should return all that interest to the government which will use it to pay back (some of) its borrowing.  Conveniently, this will enable Chancellor Osborne to meet his target that by 2015-2016 the overall national debt will be falling.

It's just as well that I am not a financial genius - otherwise, I might think that there was something fishy going on here ...


06 November 2012

Nothing ever happens

When I hear, once again, that the government is going to do something about tax avoidance and evasion, I can only metaphorically shrug my shoulders.  It's not as if transfer pricing is a new concept.  If the government really wanted to do something about it, they could have taken effective action decades ago.

Furthermore, the UK's hands are dirtier than most.  Why, do you suppose, the big British multi-national companies - from oil companies to banks to grocers - have subsidiaries located in the Caymans or the Bahamas?  And who is it that protects the offshore tax status of crown dependencies in the West Indies, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and so on?  Meanwhile, Slasher Osborne and his chums systematically destroy the resources of HMRC through so-called efficiency gains, job cuts and office closures.

I refer you to the Del Amitri song, Nothing Ever Happens:
Bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs 
While angry from Manchester writes to complain about 
All the repeats on T.V. 
And computer terminals report some gains 
On the values of copper and tin 
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs 
For the price of a hospital wing 

Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all 
The needle returns to the start of the song 
And we all sing along like before 
Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all 
They'll burn down the synagogues at six o'clock 
And we'll all go along like before 


Vox pop

I've had enough.  I am not going to listen to the radio until we start getting actual results tomorrow morning.

America appears to be stuffed full of BBC presenters, asking valueless questions of men and women in the street, providing nil analysis other than noting that it's too close to call.  How many times do we have to listen to Obama and Romney shouting slogans at crowds?

It is with relief that I turn to the great Alistair Cooke, a man who can convey more information about the US in 15 minutes than the entire BBC coverage for the past two weeks.  What's more, he does it with elegance and ease.


05 November 2012

What has he got to hide?

Secret arms sales?  To middle eastern potentates?  The Guardian reports:
David Cameron will embark on a low-key arms trip to the Gulf on Monday in an attempt to persuade regional powers upset by Britain's response to the Arab spring to buy more than 100 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets. The deals could be worth more than £6bn to Britain.
The prime minister will fly to a major UAE military airbase on a mission to patch up relations with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where major British businesses such as BP and BAE have important interests.
Cameron will be accompanied by only a small pool of two newswire reporters, a broadcast camera person, a broadcast producer and a photographer. Other journalists, making their own travel arrangements, are invited to attend a limited number of events, though it is impossible for those outside the pool to report on any aspect of Cameron's short visit to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
I suppose an ethical foreign policy is out of the question?


04 November 2012

Wearing white stilettoes?

Are e-mail addresses subject to the dictates of fashion?  The Observer thinks so:

The most astonishing thing about the news that Gmail, Google's email service, has finally overtaken Microsoft's equivalent, Hotmail, is that anybody still uses Hotmail. It's about as fashionable as Bros or white stilettoes. Gmail has been the go-to email address for years now. Who would bother with Hotmail?
Apart from me, of course. I was gobsmacked to discover that, according to official figures, 286.2 million people use Hotmail (as opposed to 287.9 million who now use Gmail). I thought I was the last person in the world to have a Hotmail address.

Oh dear.  My principal e-mail address is the even more antiquated yahoo.com.  I guess that whatever street cred I once possessed has vanished into the internet ether.

On the other hand, it's only an e-mail address.  It functions - and who needs all the more fashionable bells and whistles?  Furthermore, it's somewhat similar to your current account at the bank; why go through the hassle of changing it?


02 November 2012

Music of the week


Quote of the day

From Her Majesty's UK Government (here):

"This government has confirmed it does hold legal advice on this issue. Based on the overwhelming weight of international precedent, it is the government's view that the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the UK's existing international rights and obligations and Scotland would form a new state.
"The most likely scenario is that the rest of the UK would be recognised as the continuing state and an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU as a new state, involving negotiation with the rest of the UK and other member states, the outcome of which cannot be predicted."

Well they would say that, wouldn't they?  Although it does rather turn down Mr Salmond's gas to a peep.

But will the UK still be a member of the EU for much longer?  No real answer here.


US political campaign ad of the year

01 November 2012


Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey and potential presidential candidate for 2016:

Kris Kringle, star of Miracle on 34th Street:


Another fine mess

Bit of a predicament for Mr Cameron.  Does he comply with the stated will of the House of Commons and insist on a real terms cut in the EU budget, even though that would be comprehensively unacceptable to most of the other member states?  Does he veto any alternative outcome, even though his original starting point (of a budget increase equivalent to inflation was one such alternative outcome?  And what would a veto achieve anyway, other than kicking the can down the road to another summit later on?  And if he were to accept an outcome other than a real terms budget cut, what would the Tory Party do?

I might even feel some sympathy for the poor sod, were it not for the fact that his current predicament is at least in part due to his previous (and continuing) equivocations about an EU referendum, his previous pointless veto on the fiscal compact, his utter failure to build alliances with other member states and - above all - his inability to make up his mind about his policy with regard to the future of the EU.

And that does not excuse the shameless opportunism of the Labour Party.