Monday 28 February 2011

Survey and commemoration o' the day

It is that time of the year again, apparently, it being the Fourth World Rare Diseases Day.  And in a impressive show of foresight, the EU commissioned a survey on rare diseases, which today sees the light of day.

So to the findings.  A rather alarming 37% of those polled do not know what a rare disease is, with a special salute to the 3% that replied 'These are diseases that nobody cares about'.  In France that figure is 6% and Italy 5%, but a mere 2% in these parts.   Makes you proud, doesn't it?  Among those who 'know or who have heard of a case of a rare disease', the 'nobody cares' response still rates a 2% response rate, which is pretty harsh.

Anyway, on to the rare diseases that Eurobarometer addresses - Cystic fibrosis, haemophilia, osteogenesis imperfecta, progeria, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease.  CF is the best known at 65%, followed by haemophillia at 60%, DMD at 39%, Huntingdon's at 31%, OI at 19% and Progeria at 16%.  I had not heard of the last two, so have that in common with the majority of those polled.   The Bulgarians and the Austrians proved to be the least well informed, while our neighbours to the West and the South did rather well.  

Some 84% of Danes claim to know or to have heard of someone suffering from a rare disease, which makes me wonder whether they are enthusiastic hospital visitors or can't tear them selves away from medical stories in the media.  We come bottom of the heap at 40%.  Sieving it out a bit, 42% of Danes claim to know someone with a rare disease, compared to 6% of Greeks.  One does wonder whether our Danish chums just wanted to show off.  Elsewhere, there is a strong correlation between both higher social status and tertiary education and knowing someone with a rare disease.  Or lying about it.     

Asked whether 'the cost of ...drugs to treat people suffering from rare diseases should be fully reimbursed by the national health care system even if they are expensive' some 56% of us 'totally agree', which is one of the lower figures.

As cynics realists will have guessed, there is rarely a Eurobarometer poll which does not include a push question for an EU landgrab, and here it is:  'should there be more European co-operation in order to help the limited numbers of people suffering from rare diseases more efficiently'.  We have one of the lower 'total agreement' figures at 58% to the EU average of 66% and the Cypriot peak of 91%. 

Friday 25 February 2011

Another 21/4 earthquake in prospect?

The 21st April does not have any great significance in these parts, but it certainly does on the other side of the Channel, as on that day in 2002 (Yes, I had to look it up) the French Socialist Party's candidate Lionel Jospin failed to make it past the first round and into the run-off, resulting in a Chirac / Le Pen decider.  Which Chirac won by a landslide, traumatising much of the French left as they turned out en masse to vote for him rather than see a Front National president.  Still, they should not have voted for various Trots and other no-hopers thinking it was cost free, should they?

Anyway, it is by no means certain that Sarkozy will run again and current polling suggests that it is only Sarkozy who could out poll Marine Le Pen in round one and thus face Dominique Strauss Kahn (likely PS candidate in 2012) in the knock out.  François Fillon would tie with MLP and both Jean-François Copé and Jean-Louis Borloo would be out of the hunt after the first stage.

Marine Le Pen is rather more subtle in her public statements than papa, but she is some way off being what I would deem a respectable voting option.

Delusional, or just an attention seeker?

This, from the Evening Standard:

"Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has positioned herself as "the real opposition" to the coalition Government".

This is the woman who is quite happy to make common cause with Fourth International Trots.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Finding the mot juste - then ignoring it.

A rather poor choice of words by Hermann Van Rompuy (That's El Presidente of the EU Council to you, matey) in referring to events in Libya and North Africa:

"The European Union should not be patronising, but should also not shy away from using its political and moral responsibility".

The effect of which is rather spoilt by the continual references to 'the EU's Southern neighbourhood' rather than a term that said southern neighbours might use themselves.

The 1911 Hansard trawl,featuring the Nelson Column, bright lights and phone books.

A 1911 round up:

Atheists neither in foxholes nor dreadnoughts:

Mr. HUGH BARRIE asked the First Lord of the Admiralty how many seamen in the Navy are registered as Presbyterians; and how many Presbyterian commissioned chaplains are there in the Navy?
Mr. McKENNA The latest Return showed 4,299 Presbyterians as included in the personnel of the Royal Navy, a percentage of 3.65 of the total. There are no Presbyterian commissioned chaplains in the Navy, but when His Majesty's ships are in port every endeavour is made to permit attendance at places of worship of the church or denominations to which the men belong.

Barrie was Scots-Irish and likely a presbyterian himself.

Nothing new under the sun, pt 378:

Sir WILLIAM BULL asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has recently received petitions from various sections of the Coptic community in Egypt drawing attention to the religious disabilities from which they now suffer, particularly in regard to elementary education in the Kuttabs; and whether he has received any information to show that these grievances are receiving proper attention from the authorities, independently of the provincial councils, with a view to their redress?

Sir E. GREY I have received telegrams on this subject from four Coptic communities in Egypt, and have referred them to His Majesty's Agent and Consul-General at Cairo for report.

Puts me in mind of this from The Spectator the other week:

It is related that an emissary of Tsar Alexander III went to see the Coptic pope, with the Tsar’s gracious offer to proclaim himself Protector of the Copts. ‘Is the Tsar of Russia immortal, or will he die like other men?’ asked the Pope. ‘He will die, as do all men.’ ‘In that case, we shall depend for our protection as we have always done — on Him who is immortal.’

The terms they used: Housing of the Working Classes Act

Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND  asked the Chief Secretary whether he would take such steps as may be within his power to expedite the sanctioning of the scheme, now for some time under consideration, for providing, under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, suitable homes for the artisans and labourers of the town of Ennis?

What is meant is clear enough, but it is tempting to let one's mind wander as to what would be the differences between houses for the working classes as opposed to lower middles etc etc.   

Sometimes points raised just look foolish in the light of subsequent events:

Captain MURRAY asked the President of the Local Government Board, with reference to the question of the hon. Member for Kincardineshire on the 4th November, 1908, whether the subject of accidents caused by the employment of dazzling headlights on motor-cars had received his further consideration; and, if so, whether he could now take steps, by regulation or otherwise, to compel the use of such appliances as would reduce to a minimum the excessive glare?

Mr. BURNS  Further consideration has been given to this matter, but I regret that I have not as yet been able to find a satisfactory means for dealing with it.

However, this would have been timely up until quite recently:

Major GASTRELL asked the Postmaster-General if he will consider the desirability, as soon as he has control of the telephone service, of providing a directory for telephone users that shall not contain advertisements inserted among the names of subscribers?

 Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL  I do not think that the large financial sacrifice  which would result from adopting the suggestion of the hon. Member would be justified.
I imagine the galloping (?) major would have been spluttering into his pink gin if he had been landed with the cost of a phone book sans advertising.

These sound good, but Lombard Street to a rotten orange they have been banned:

Mr. GLYN-JONES asked whether instructions had been given to the Metropolitan police to enforce Section 30 of the Explosives Act, 1875, with regard to the hawking and exposure of an explosive known as electric sparklers in the public streets; and, if not, whether such instructions will be given?

Mr. CHURCHILL  No instructions of the kind have been issued, but the matter is now engaging my attention.

The Greatest Ever Englishman continues to deal in robust common sense:

Mr. YERBURGH asked the Secretary of State whether he is aware that the exhibition of the red flag and the use of treasonable language on the national monument erected to commemorate the services of Nelson are resented by loyal citizens without distinction of party; and whether he will arrange for the speakers at anarchist, republican, and insurrectionary meetings held in Trafalgar Square to be accommodated with a platform other than the plinth of the Nelson column?
Mr. CHURCHILL  The use of the plinth for public meetings has been allowed by successive Governments for many years, and I see no reason to interfere with the established practice. If any speakers use seditious language they can, if necessary, be prosecuted; but there is no ground for differentiating between the treatment of speakers at one meeting and speakers at another.
I wonder when the usage changed from the Nelson Column to Nelson's column.

How very unlike our own David Davies:

Mr. FELL asked if the Celtic shepherd, David Davies, will be allowed to return to Dartmoor Prison and resume the occupation he pursued there prior to his release, if he surrenders to the authorities or is captured by the detective who is now searching for him?
Mr. CHURCHILL As the question is hypothetical and depends on circumstances, some of which are not within my knowledge, I am afraid I cannot enter into any undertaking at the present time.

Further matters Cairene:
Captain GILMOUR asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that the Abbassia barracks at Cairo, where British Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery are quartered, are only lit by old-fashioned oil lamps, from the light of which it is impossible for the men quartered there to 2087 see to read after dark, and that the men are therefore obliged to buy lamps to work by at their own expense; and whether, under these circumstances, either electric light or incandescent gas will be installed?
The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane) New barracks are being built at Abbassia in which it is intended to install electric light. It may be found possible later to extend this light to the old barracks. Large sums are being expended on the improvement of lighting in barracks generally, but it is not possible to meet all requirements at once.

How would they be able to write <strike>their feelthy Port Said postcards?</strike>their orders for the morrow?

Not especially amusing this one, but it does tee up an old joke:

Mr. DELANY asked whether any regulation exists obliging railway companies to provide platforms raised so as to secure the safety of passengers; and, if so, will he say whether the platform at Portarlington, Great Southern and Western Railway, Ireland, meets those requirements, seeing that the level of the platform is over two feet and a-half below the floor of the carriages?

Mr. BUXTON I am informed by the railway company that the platform in question is about one foot six inches above the rail level, which would leave it about two feet six inches below the level of the carriage floors. The Board of Trade have no statutory authority to require the railway company to raise the platform, but I am asking them whether they propose to take any steps in the matter.
Yes, it's this headline from some years back "Steps to help hill farmers urged".  Rimshot

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Of patents and the like

I spotted this at KCNA:

"The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) announced in Geneva on February 9 that China's international patent applications increased sharply last year, making the country the world's fourth IP applicant....WIPO noted IP applications are on steady increase in northeast Asian nations".

Now the KCNA's take on anything is always to be taken with a shovelload of salt, or at the very least rates a bit of act checking.  Anyway, while there is nothing incorrect in the statement, it is what the KCNA omits that is of interest: "International patent filings under WIPO's Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) increased by 4.8% in 2010, with strong growth from China (+56.2%), the Republic of Korea (+20.5%), and Japan (+7.9%)".  Source 

Ah - so the KCNA wants to suck up to the 'People's Republic' of China (of which there has been a lot more than usual of late) but can't bear to name the other names of 'northeast Asian nations' because that includes two out of the DPRK's three least favourite places, South Korea and Japan.  The US, natch, is the other least favoured nation and leads, as this chart shows:

(Click for improved legibility).

And lo and behold, the US, Japan and South Korea muster 53% of the projected 2010 patents.  We managed 3%.

Because I think it is least mildly interesting, here are those figures based on patents per head:

Wherein the Swiss lead from the Swedes and the Finns.

Middle East Dictator Top Trumps

As found at, crafted by user Digits of Pi.  Good, aren't they?

Monday 21 February 2011

Really bad typo o' the day

This, not from a British newspaper, but an Irish one:

And a little more magnified:

Yup, there's Fine Gael ('family or tribe of the Irish') rendered as Fine Gale by what is reckoned to be the Republic's journal of record, The Irish Times.  I suspect that there is probably a joke about pols spouting hot air to be had.

Where's Spartacus?

A headline in somewhat poor taste, I'm afraid.

Anyway, the Swedish police have declared that 130 people have 'confessed' to the assassination of Olaf Palme, the 25th anniversary of which is almost upon us.  Because I'm not normal, I can remember where I was when I discovered he'd been shot - a newsagent in North London.

Meanwhile, the Swedish police are nowhere nearer to filing charges.

Even more EU fun and games

I found this curious video lurking in the EU's YouTube channel, even though the author goes under the soubriquet of 'Gay Aussie':

On the face of it (or even at all, actually), exciting it ain't - being a series of photos of EU Presidents with a few lines on their achievements. However, there is some entertainment to be had.

Jean Rey (0.54) was clearly a bit of a radical, because he 'advocated universal suffrage'. Franco Maria Malfatti (1:05) apparently achieved nothing at all during his three year tenure, nor did Sicco Mansholt (1:14). One would think that maybe they could have summoned the energy to equal Rey's radicalism. Opposing the slave trade, or questioned the divine right of kings, perhaps? Fast forwarding a bit, Jacques Delors shows up as the longest serving pres so far. It would seem that he is still agitating for a federal Europe at 85. Quite pleasing that he will not live to see it. My favourite bit is this epic mispelling- 'fruitition' (2:52) - which has gone uncorrected in almost two years. Urban Dictionary defines it as 'The art of using fruit in nutrition', but that definition rates one thumbs up to seven down.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Friday 18 February 2011

Enemies within and without

Gallup, because they are lovely people, have polled the good people of the US of A as to which state they regard as their greatest enemy, and in outbreak of still greater loveliness have published the results.  The chart, however, is my doing:

And oh what a waggish / self-loathing / useful idiot 2% there is that judges that the US is its own worst enemy.  I think it is a shame that the make up of 'other' is not teased out.  Canada?  Burundi?  The Solomon Islands?

Affording enemy status is not quie the same as liking and disliking various countries, and look how well we do:

Given the amount of money given to Kabul and Baghdad, perhaps they might spend some of it on a charm offensive State-side....  


Enlivening a dull day at the Delors Building.

This, from the European economic and social committee's press office:

Ho, ho, ho.  I make the EESC right on this one.

Mapping the demon drink

An amusing map of worldwide alcohol preferences, as found at Libération, which found it at WHO, apparently

Tipples of choice:
(Click for improved visibility)

Note that much of the Islamic world passes the threshold of the equivalant of 0.1 litres of pure alcohol per head, including Our Friends the Saudis, who opt for spirits.  And I refuse to believe there are no figures for Greenland - I think WHO did not try.  I am at a loss to know why Mozambicans opt for spirits over beer or palm wine.  

Figures for what we British types get up to are available here, not that they are very interesting, bar just under 21% of British men being de facto non-drinkers, as are 36% of British women

Thursday 17 February 2011

Winston Churchill's thoughts on roller skating

No, I am not making this up.

This, from 1911.

Mr. TOUCHE (Con, N.Islington (sigh...) and founder of a certain accoutancy firm) asked the Home Secretary whether he has refused to sanction a by-law prohibiting roller-skating on the footpaths in Stoke Newington; if so, what are the grounds of his refusal; and will he reconsider the question, having regard to the circumstances attending the death of Mary Ann Bay, an elderly woman, who was knocked down by two boys who were roller-skating at Clapham Cross on 5th January, and whose death, according to the medical evidence at the coroner's inquest, was due to exhaustion following shock from the fall?

Mr. CHURCHILL attention has been drawn to the case of the old lady referred to. I made inquiries, and was informed that the correctness of her statement that she was knocked down by boys roller-skating on the pavement is open to great doubt. The police have failed to discover any corroborative evidence. The old lady, who was ninety-one years of age, and suffering from senile decay, is stated to have been in the habit of imagining things which never occurred. (I'm sure her relatives were delighted to have heard her thus described in Parliament).  My reason for refusing to sanction the bylaw made by the borough council of Stoke Newington was that I have received no evidence that the dangers arising from roller-skating by boys and girls are so much greater than the ordinary dangers of traffic in the streets, particularly motor traffic, that the practice ought to be prohibited by by-law.  Such a by-law would create a new offence punishable by the criminal law...would lead to the imposition of fines, and possibly to the detention and imprisonment of children and young persons for indulging in a form of amusement which would be legal on one side of the road and illegal on the other. I am very reluctant to increase the number of occasions when the children of the poorer classes may be brought into the police-court and rendered liable to imprisonment".   
Viscount CASTLEREAGH  Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that elderly people have been killed?

Mr. CHURCHILL  If we had proceeded on the principle that no person may be killed by such a pastime, the Noble Lord would ride more rarely than he does in motor cars.

I am inclined to side with Churchill over Castlereagh and Touche.

While that is the most prize pearl for 14/2/1911, there are some other pieces of decorative calcium carbonate lurking in that day's Hansard.

Like this:

Silk Handkerchiefs for the Royal Navy (Home Supply).

Mr. BURGOYNE asked whether the silk scarves and ties used in the Navy, formerly made and woven in this country, are now purchased from abroad?

Mr. McKENNA The question is understood to relate to the black silk handkerchiefs worn by men of the Fleet. These articles continue to be purchased from firms in this country, and no alteration has been made in the conditions of contract which have prevailed for some years 869 past, requiring such articles to be of British manufacture throughout.

And a relieved nation sleeps easy again.

The decline of stoicism at the Met:

Sir SAMUEL SCOTT asked what was the percentage of sick amongst the members of the Metropolitan police force in November, 1909 and 1910

Mr. CHURCHILL The percentage of sickness amongst the Metropolitan police in November, 1909, was 2,62, and in November, 1910, 2,66.
More recent figures can be found here.  4.2% were tucked up with a hot water bottle in March 2010. 

And so to Margarine and Milk-blended Butter.

Mr. HUGH BARRIE asked how many Fancy names for margarine and how many for milk-blended butter have been approved and registered by the Department of Agriculture under The Butter and Margarine Act, 1907; and will he state what these name are?
Now why can't we have Acts with such comical names these days? 

Anyway, there's more.  Much more:

Mr. BIRRELL The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland have approved of 411 names for use in connection with margarine, and a provisional approval has been given of one name, "Bondone," under which milk-blended butter may, subject to certain conditions, be dealt with. A list of the names approved of for margarine will be sent to the hon. Member.

Mr. HUGH BARRIE asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture if he will state how many fancy names for margarine and how many for milk-blended butter have been approved and registered by his Department under the Butter and Margarine Act, 1907; and will he state what those names are?

Sir E. STRACHEY The Board have approved 1,831 names for margarine and forty-four for mixtures of butter with milk. In view of these numbers perhaps the hon. Member will excuse me from stating what the names are.
I think I might be in with a chance of naming a dozen, if I was allowed supermarket own brand products.

Someone thinks little of the FAZ:

Viscount WOLMER asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether there is any truth in the statement published by the "Frankfurter Zeitung" that the rebels in the Yemen derive weapons from English sources?

Mr. McKINNON WOOD His Majesty's Government do not know from what sources the rebels in the Yemen derive their weapons, but they have no reason to suppose that there is any truth in the report.
Us, supplying arms to rebels?  Rebels fighting the Ottoman Empire when we controlled Aden?  How very unlikely.....

A little light 1861 Hansard trawling, featuring plunder, prisons and plugs

From 1861.  An apparent bit of 'After you Cecil...':

"MR. VINCENT SCULLY rose for the purpose of offering an explanation of a statement that fell from him in the debate of the preceding evening. He had quoted a French despatch, stating that the French General had forbidden the forces under his command to commence plundering the Summer Palace of the Chinese Emperor until the English troops had arrived. From knowledge which he had since acquired he was led to believe that the despatch was either not authentic or that its statements were incorrect; and he was ready to acknowledge the correctness of the statement made by the noble Lord on the previous evening. The remarks that he had offered had called forth comments from some of the gentlemen of the press; but he should as soon think of tilting at a windmill as of endeavouring to rebut their hostile comments".

Someone probably hasn't tried gaol food (Neither have I, but I am confident it is not Michelin star standard):

Sir George Lewis "....One day in the beginning of the present month a disturbance occurred while the convicts employed on a small island named St. Mary's, in the Medway, were at dinner. The ten convicts who were implicated in that disturbance alleged as the reason of it the poverty of the soup which was furnished for their dinner. That complaint, however, was entirely unfounded, and was merely a pretext for creating a disturbance".

Plugging one's business in the House?

GENERAL UPTON said, he would now beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, If all means were taken by the Official Director of Electric Telegraph Companies, himself one of the ex officio directors of the Red Sea Telegraph Company, to insure complete and uninterrupted insulation in the Red Sea Telegraph Cable by an efficient and continuous testing of the Cable during the process of its manufacture, as empowered by the agreement entered into with the contractors.—Chairman's Letter of the 28th day of September, 1858?

MR. PEEL said, that he was informed that proper and sufficient measures were taken to test the cable during the whole course of its manufacture. The company had servants of its own resident upon the premises of the contractors, who were exclusively engaged upon the operation of testing the cable.
I'm amazed the General did not mention the competive prices the RSTC offered.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

The less than benign use of social networking

A story from Balkan Insight should act as a corrective to the thinking that suggests that the sharing of information across Facebook, Twitter et al by cause groups is always a good thing:

"The violent scenes seen in the heart of Skopje have sparked a wave of hate-speech on Facebook, with ethnic Albanian and Macedonian hard-liners calling for renewed violence this Saturday. Eight people were injured on Sunday when rival Macedonian and Albanian protesters scuffled over the controversial construction of a museum being erected on the foundations of a medieval church at the fortress in Skopje....“My Macedonian brothers, on Saturday we will have our revenge,” one Facebook group says, adding that it is time for “the final battle to eradicate the Shiptars”. "Shiptar" is a derogatory term for an Albanian.  Another Facebook profile, opened by Albanians opposed to the museum, says that “only a massacred Macedonian is a good caurin". The word "caurin" is a derogatory for a member of the country's Macedonian majority".

One does not need to think too hard to come up with examples of past horrors that could have been facilitated by social networking.

Meanwhile, while Macedonians outnumber Albanians around 3:1 in Macedonia, there is a distinct Albanian majority in the region.

Today's yank at the heartstrings

This, from The Romanian Times. If you have tears, prepare to shed them:

Romanian president Traian Basescu said today (Thurs) on public radio that he is discontent with his salary.
Basescu said: "We must admit doctors are badly paid, teachers are very badly paid, public clerks as well as members of the military. We all get the wages which the country can afford, which [is] not as much as we'd need."

"I wished I had a salary [of] more than 1,100 Euros per month, especially [as] I am not allowed to have a suit which is worn at the elbows, I must always have a white shirt, a tie," commented the President.  
I make that £922 per month, so not a phenomenally great scratch, especially compared to some of our council chief execs.  However, shining one's shoes does not involve much expenditure after the inital sunk costs.  A little research reveals a list of British towns twinned with Romanian ones, if not Bucharest, or Constanja, the nearest significant town to his place of birth, but I am not going to let that get in the way of a modest proposal - why don't the CEOs of Leeds, Liverpool, Coventry and Nottingham (inter alia) do their bit to show inter-municipal solidarity, if not with Traian, then with the CEOs of their sister councils, who - presumably - also have problems funding their white shirt and shiny shoe habits?  

Great press release fact checking disasters of our time.

This, from the lead singer of the Alabama 3:

"Not since Robert Johnson dropped thirty eight tracks in one night in a Minnesota hotel room, in 1938 and defined the blueprint for Delta Blues has the genre been so radically (messed) with".

Factual error #1 - He recorded 42 tracks.
Factual error #2 - Over five different recording days
Factual error #3 - During the day, not the night
Factual error #4 - In Texas.
Factual error #5 - In 1936 and 1937.

I'm waiting for the album to judge the truth of the secondary clause.

Monday 14 February 2011

You too can balance the US budget

By having a go at this interactive site hosted by the Program (sic) for Public Consultation, "a newly-established joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes (COPA) and the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland".

I started off by zero-ing anything that the founding fathers would not have deemed appropriate, and that left me with a $62bn budget deficit.  A 10% cut in the military budget would have balanced the books completely.   Thereafter I decided I did not think much of the tax algorithms in that there was no scope, anywhere, to cut taxes in order to increase the overall rake.  Paging Arthur Laffer....

See how you do.

The needle and the damage done

The sale of sodium thiopental by Dream Pharma to the US, for use in executions by lethal injection is back in the news, or at the very least made the Today programme this morning. 

When the story first reared up, my reaction was 'this is legal - even though I do not actively support the death penalty, so let the company go about its business unmolested', and my reaction is unchanged, but I have been doing some digging to see where else business could get itself into trouble

When thinking about the death penalty in the US, I imagine that a lot of us think about the electric chair and -
"places in the world which still reserve the electric chair as an option for execution are the U.S. states of Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. (Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois laws provide for its use should lethal injection ever be held to be unconstitutional.)" Source
And British-owned energy companies are active in the US electricity market, including National Grid and BP.

The state of Utah has been known to employ death by firing squad.  Idaho and Oklahoma have it as a secondary method. Source.  As readers may well be aware, the UK has a lively armaments industry.

Both firing squad and electrocution can be considered as current mathods in that they were applied last year.  Lethal gas and hanging have not been used since the 1990s, although one might note that we have a chemical industry, and probably engage in rope making too. 

Friday 11 February 2011

The wit of Jack Straw and other matters Parliamentary.

No, I'm not being sarcastic.  This from the debate on lag voting rights:

Mr Ruffley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Is not the essential problem that the European Court in Strasbourg became an appellate court for British cases in 1965-not in 1950-and that that was decided by a British Cabinet without any debate in this House?

Mr Straw: I was not in the House in 1965. [Hon. Members: "Are you sure?"] I was causing trouble at universities at the time, so I have an alibi-I was at the scene of some other crimes.

The generally loathsome MacShane also attempted some sarcasm:

I know that this will make me unpopular with the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Telegraph, which have constantly supported my political views over so many years, but surely we can still find a tiny space for classic, do-gooding, bleeding-heart British liberalism in contemporary politics. It is sad that there is no one left on the left to say that the right is not right, as we are told to bow to this atavistic tabloid hate against prisoners.

I have not checked all of the dailies, so if this is all well known, I've been wasting my time but here are those who voted against the motion:

Beith, rh Sir Alan (LD)
Bottomley, Sir Peter (Con)
Brake, Tom (LD)
Edwards, Jonathan (Plaid)
Foster, rh Mr Don (LD)
Gardiner, Barry (Lab)
Green, Kate (Lab)
Hames, Duncan (LD)
Hermon, Lady (Ind, ex UU)
Hughes, rh Simon (LD)
Huppert, Dr Julian (LD)
Jackson, Glenda (Lab)
Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn (Plaid)
Love, Mr Andrew (Lab)
Lucas, Caroline (Green)
McCarthy, Kerry (Lab)
McDonnell, John (Lab)
Munt, Tessa (LD)
Qureshi, Yasmin (Lab)
Reid, Mr Alan (LD)
Williams, Hywel (Plaid)
Williams, Stephen (LD)
Tellers for the Noes:

Jeremy Corbyn (Lab) and
Lorely Burt (LD)

So, one Tory, one Indy, one Extreme Left, three Plaid, eight Labour and 10 LD.

And what of MacShane?  He couldn't be bothered to vote, by the look of things

Thursday 10 February 2011

Great graphic design disasters of our time

This minicab firm calling card, number etc removed to protect the guilty:


A 1961 Hansard trawl

It looks as though there's nothing new in over-manning at government departments, as this shows:

Mr Paget asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty if he will state the number of persons employed in his Department, the number of Her Majesty's ships in commission, and the number of men serving in the fleets in 1939, 1945, 1950. 1960, or convenient proximate dates.

Mr Ian Orr-Ewing - The numbers of civilians and naval officers together employed at Admiralty Headquarters in the years 1938, 1946, 1950 and 1960, respectively, were: 4,407, 18,445, 10,855 and 9,953. The number of Her Majesty's ships in commission at approximately the same respective dates were: 434, 1,176, 268, 211. The number of men serving afloat on approximately similar dates were: 68,300, 159,900, 65,900 and 43,000. These figures exclude Fleet Air Arm and Royal Marine Commando personnel serving ashore.

So, twice as many folk at the Admiralty in 1960 than in 1938 with only half as many ships.  Graph forthcoming if time and technology permits.

The National Theatre -
Dr. Stross (Lab, Stoke on Trent)  asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware of the mounting public interest in the possibility that, after long delay, the National Theatre will be built on the site allocated on the South Bank; and when he will make an announcement about this. 
Doubtless the talk in Stoke was of little else.  Stross is rumoured to have been a Czech spook.  The MPs for Goole and Cambridge were also interested.
And then this:

Mr. Jeger  Is the Financial Secretary aware that this long continued and unnecessary delay in making up the mind of the Government on this question is building up their reputation for meanness and mediocrity? Are not the Government being put to shame in this matter by the imaginative and progressive policy of the L.C.C. in developing the South Bank?

Sir E. Boyle I do not consider that the Government's record of support for the arts generally, in comparison with that of any previous Government, can be considered all that mean. In other respects, I do not think I can add to what I have said.
Meanwhile, a doff of the opera hat to Sir Peter Garnett Agnew Bt, the thespians' friend:

When the time comes when the Government feel able to give more money to art, will they consider, not putting it into bricks and mortar, but making it available to our provincial repertory companies, from whom and among whom so many of our leading dramatists have made their successful beginnings in their profession?

And now the smoker's friend,or perhaps the tobacco barons' friend:

Mr. Woodnutt  (Con, IoW) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will authorise the Customs and Excise to refund duty in respect of stocks of tobacco and cigarettes damaged by flooding.

Mr. Barber No, Sir.
(Adopts Taggart voice) - There's been a muhrderrr:

Brigadier Clarke asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many murders, known to the police, took place in January, 1960; and how this figure compares with that for January, 1961.

Mr. R. A. Butler: The number of murders recorded as known to the police in January, 1960, was 18. The corresponding figure for January, 1961, is not yet available, but it seems probable that it will be about 21. These figures include some cases that have been or will be found not to be murder.
And so to the demon drink:

Mr. F. Noel-Baker asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will publish the results of the investigations of the Social Survey Division of the Central Office of Information into offences of drunkenness among all age groups which he received almost six months ago.

Mr. R. A. Butler:The inquiry was limited to police records and the views of the police; and the report was not designed for publication. The report shows that the general view of the police is that public drunkenness is not a serious or increasing problem. It affords some ground for believing that the increased number of convictions for drunkenness is in part attributable to changes in police practice rather than to an increase in drunkenness itself. These conclusions, however, are tentative and must be treated with some reserve.
Oh well....

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Charge it to my account....

A video from EUTube (I have failed dismally to get it to embed, alas).

 If, understandably, you cannot face a 1:40 seconds of EU banner waving, the voiceover bod claims that the move towards a universal charger for mobiles is 'down to the EU's powers of persusion' and 'reduce electronic waste by more than 50,000 tonnes'.  

The first claim, is - unsurprisingly - not exactly true, as the EU's own website makes clear:

"in March 2009 the EU Commission gave the mobile phone industry an ultimatum to voluntarily adopt common standards for chargers or be subject to mandatory EU legislation".

So, persuasion in much the same way that when mugged a wise man hands over his wallet before getting stabbed.  As to the 50,000 tonnes claim, I very much doubt that my next 'phone - which is a long way off - will come without a charger.

Europe's most hapless internet users.

As all were doubtless well aware, today is 'Safer Internet Day'. Which is nice.  To mark the occasion, Eurostat has published a survey on virus infection, phishing etc across the EU 27 plus Turkey, Croatia and Norway.  I've removed Romania as the data is only partial. Bear with me, this is going to be less dull than it sounds.

So, the data:

(Click for improved visibility)

I had assumed that there would be a particularly stark correlation between those who suffered viri and non-users of anti-virus programmes, in which case the Turks should be hardest hit, followed by Latvians, Estonians and Italians.  At the other end of the scale, McAfee employees doubtless holiday in the Netherlands and Malta.  However, it is the unfortunate Bulgarians who suffer the most viri - 58% had one or more last year, despite 73% having anti-virus software.  Then the Maltese, Slovaks and Magyars.  At the other end of the scale, the Austrians and the Irish were least likely to get a computer virus.

Phishing was less common - or less often noticed - and it was the Latvians (8%) and we Britons (7%) who were the unluckiest / stupidest / adjective of your choice.    

Fun with number plates

First we had the French making a mess of their rather splendid number plate system, now our Danish chums are reaping the whirlwind of using the EU number plate template:

"Some 40,000 Danish car owners are about to become mobile promoters of the Danish People’s Party (DF), and not all of them are too happy about that. After the changeover to EU licence plates last year, the two-letter, five-number combination is approaching “DF”.

The DPP is a eurosceptic party allied with UKIP in Europe, so it is hardly pacing around the outer limits of respectability.  Meanwhile, "Letter combinations such as DK, EU, UN, SS and KZ are not permitted on Danish licence plates".  (KZ appears to be the German abbreviation for Konzentrationslager, or concentration camp).

I have just had a look at the DVLA's site, and one can buy SWP, but not B*P.  I believe J1HAD was banned some years back.  Other finds would be most welcome.

Monday 7 February 2011

A brief historic Hansard trawl

From 1911.

The question of mixed marriages in Ireland rather exercised honourable members in that they managed to spill some 30,922 (count 'em) words on the topic.  This, I might add is mixed marriage vis a vis religious observance rather than ethnicity or even the US sense of different sexual orientation.  The underlying condition was this:

"In April, 1908, the Vatican promulgated a decree, now notorious as the decree Ne Temere from the opening words of the document, by which the Vatican claimed over the Roman Catholic Church the right to declare illegal, with all ecclesiastical consequences, any and every marriage in which one of the contracting parties either was, or ever had been, a Roman Catholic, unless celebrated according to certain conditions to be attached by the Roman Catholic Church and by this decree".   (James Campbell, Unionist MP for Dublin Universities, and grandfather of Patrick Campbell the gameshow panellist, apparently).

The debate is not enormously thrilling, but this bit is quite amusing:

"Mr. McDowell is the unelected pope of the Ulster Unionists. He prepared the case, and during the General Election here is what he wrote in a letter—which was not intended to be published, but which somehow did find publication—to one of the colleagues of the right hon. Gentlemen when on these benches. After denouncing the Ulster Unionists, and saying that they were very difficult people, that they were very stupid and hard to understand" (Joseph Devlin, Irish Nat MP)
As is this, not that it seems even remotely relevant to the debate:

When I see Members on this side vehemently condemning the hereditary principle, I glance at the roll of Junior Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and wonder to what other cause they attribute their high position in this House (1). Therefore, I say there is to my mind a certain sense of unreality in this discussion. I do not consider it necessary to use any strong or abusive language towards either political party, or even towards the other place, at the other end of the corridor. I have always entertained a respect for that lady of whom we have all heard who was in the habit of bowing her head in church whenever the name of his Satanic Majesty was mentioned, and when called upon for an explanation, replied, "Politeness costs nothing, and you never can tell."  (Horatio Bottomley, Lib)
(1) - I cannot lay hands on a list of Asquith's minsiters from 1911, which vexes.  However, Gladstone fils had gone by this date.

The South Wales Coal Strike also exercised Parliament - at some 11,995 words. This, I believe, is the strike that led to the Welsh being less enthusiastic about Churchil - then Home Sec - than we English are.

Anyway, this from Keir Hardie:

"First of all there is the question of the character of the Welsh collier. He has been stigmatised all over the country as a wild, riotous, and disorderly fellow, who requires extra police, backed by the military, to keep him in order during trade disputes...When men are brought a very long distance in the midst of winter; when they are turned adrift amongst the Welsh hills without proper provision being made for housing, for feeding, even for clothing; when they are kept on duty for intolerably long hours, it is not to be wondered at that they get irritable and commit acts which, in their cooler moments, they probably regret".
And the man himself:

"But I was yesterday the subject of attack from no less a person than the Leader of the Opposition, and he has attacked me, not for the excessive amount of force employed, but for not employing sufficient force—for not sending military instead of police—for not sending military soon enough" (Churchill)

And on to Persia, with a Libby Purvis-worthy contrived link from Sir George Lloyd (Yes, really.  Con):
I ask the attention of the House to transfer them from the somewhat turbulent discussion of events in South Wales to the scarcely less turbulent atmosphere of international politics at the present time....

It is in the knowledge of this House that for many years past there has been a scheme of a trans-continental railway which will link Constantinople with the head waters of the Persian Gulf, and which is steadily advancing into a sphere of influence which has been regarded, and which is still regarded, I believe, in all quarters of the House, as a sphere of influence which, if not exclusive in character, is, at any rate, of paramount and peculiar importance to us.

Yes, the Berlin-Baghdad railway, always a popular way to scare the horses.

And this, which is news - so to speak - to me:
"The more do we regret any disposition to discuss our special and recognised interests in the Gulf when we consider the battle that is going on to-day in Arabia, a battle that is for the very life of Turkey, a battle which, if unsuccessful, will separate Turkey from the holy places, and perhaps throw into jeopardy the position of the Caliphate on which the power of Turkish sovereignty so largely depends".

Jeremy Clarkson, Nigel Mansell etc watch out:

Mr. STEWART  asked the President of the Local Government Board if he will say why John Craven Dixon, of the Borough of Wallasey, has been refused an old age pension; and whether he fails to qualify because he resided for a period in the Isle of Man?

Mr. BURNS The Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom, and the claimant, who had had his residence during twelve of the last twenty years in that island, fails to satisfy the condition in Section 2 (2) of the Old Age Pensions Act, 1908, and is consequently not qualified for a pension.

Then again, maybe they are sufficiently financially set.

The thrilling issue of Post Office hours, in Sussex and Kent at least:

Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL the hours at Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, and Eastbourne are as follows:—Brighton: Open always, except between midnight Saturday and 7.0 a.m. Sunday. Tunbridge Wells: Weekdays, 7.0 a.m. to 10.0 p.m.; Sundays, 8.30 a.m. to 10.0 a.m., 5.0 p.m. to 6.0 p.m. Eastbourne: Weekdays (May to Oct.), 7.0 a.m. to 10.0 p.m.; Weekdays (Nov. to April), 8.0 a.m. to 9.0 p.m.; Sundays, 8.30 a.m. to 10.0 a.m., 5.0 p.m. to 6.0 p.m.

Such hours now would be a fine thing, eh?

Thursday 3 February 2011

A DPRK update

Well, it has been a while, hasn't it?

It would seem that not a lot has changed at the northern end of the Korean peninsula of late, so here are some gems:

Japan Accused of Whale Hunting 

In terms of unexpected things done by the Japanese, that is on a par with 'The Japanese eat rice'.  The only piece of note in the item is this, a vanishingly rare piece of praise:  "Whale meat is very expensive in shops, markets and restaurants throughout Japan and whalebones turn into high-grade craftworks".

Another news item on the Japanese land expropriations in 1906 suggests that the DPRK will not be extending the hand of friendship any time soon:  "The Japanese imperialists should be made to pay to the Korean people for all the generations to come for those hideous crimes".

Meanwhile, should I attend an out of town meeting any time soon I am going to have my role written up as an 'immortal exploit', just like Kim Jong Il does:

"Praising Kim Jong Il for his immortal exploits for the development of the Sino-DPRK friendship through his two visits to China last year, the vice president [of the China Association for International Friendly Contact] expressed the belief that the friendship would further develop under the concern of the leaders of the two countries this year, too.

Facetiousness to one side, anyone wanting to know what the DPRK is really like should read Barbara Demick's 'Nothing to Envy', a heartbreaking narrative derived from the testimony of escapees from the the DPRK.  It can be had second hand for the price of a pint.  

Work in progress

Over time I will change the look of this blog to something rather less pedestrian, and will add in links and so forth.  However, posting is rather more entertaining, so it might take a while.

The things the UN thinks worth doing.

I am not a big fan of the UN, and tend to subscribe to the opinion of the wag who deemed it the most ridiculous body since Quasimodo.  Anyway, this: 'The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations today recommended eight organizations for special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council and postponed consideration of 19 applications'.

I had some fun with a similar list a few years back, but I think the new list raises the bar somewhat. So, here are some of the winners, none of which am I making up:
CLIPSAS - Centre de Liaison et d'Information des Puissances Maçonniques Signataires de l'Appel de Strasbourg, an international organization based in France which wants to connect national Masonic associations that had signed the Masonic signatories to the Strasbourg Appeal;
I cannot get at all exercised about masonry and regard it as at worst harmless, but note that it is meant to be a secret society.  So are the CLIPSAS bods outing themselves, or are they imposters?

And this:
Grand Triangle, Inc., an international organization based in the United States which aims to achieve universal fraternity and development by promoting peace, cooperation and justice;

Laudable, but I guess they will not be winding themselves up any time soon.  Perhaps they could shoot for better weather, tastier fruit and the like too.

International Samaritan, a United States-based international organization which serves to alleviate poverty in garbage-dump communities worldwide, and eradicate ignorance by providing United States citizens the opportunity to participate in service trips that bring social services to these communities;
Erm.  Where to start?  If I lived in 'a garbage-dump community' and had my poverty alleviated to the degree that I could afford to move out of said G-DC, I would.  Perhaps IS should term its aim as being to persuade people not to be down in the dumps, as it were.  Or maybe living in G-DC is rich and rewarding and they have a fabulous sense of community, the only problem being that there are not enough rich people in them to serve as a stimulus for economic activity. 

And now to the ones that did not pass this hurdle and lurk in limbo:
Center for Global Nonkilling — an international organization with headquarters in the United States which wants to promote change towards the measurable goal of a killing-free world — as Burundi’s delegate asked about it’s affiliations, Cuba’s delegate queried membership and finances, and China’s speaker wanted information about projects in the Republic of Korea and Thailand, and how they were funded.
Measurable goal, eh?  Perhaps we will have to be wary of vast spikes in the apparent suicide rates in various parts of the world.

And there's more:
Ecumenical Federation of Constantinopolitans — an international organization with headquarters in Greece working towards the strengthening of relations, exchange of ideas and solidarity between all world Greek Constantinopolitans and particularly the Greek Constantinopolitans of the diaspora with their fellow countrymen currently living in Istanbul — when Turkey’s delegate asked about the group’s membership and affiliations, as well as about its Government funding and philanthropic donations.  Bulgaria’s delegate, seconded by Belgium’s delegate, expressed support for consultative status, as the organization was widely and internationally recognized.
Fancy Turkey asking questions.  However, a quick google suggests that  Ec.Fe.Co (as it sometimes terms itself) spends most of its time in Turkey bashing.

And this:
Homosexuelle Initiative Wien — a national organization in Austria which fights for the human rights of gays and lesbians, combats all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation, works for equality and equal rights of gay men and lesbian women in all areas, and strengthens the self-esteem of gays and lesbians, among other activities.
Someone from Pakistan is not up to speed on inclusive speech:

Pakistan’s delegate asked how the organization viewed the human rights of its members.  Were the rights of lesbians and gays different from those of “normal” men and women; if so, how?  Also, the organization stated it sought the rehabilitation of gay and lesbian victims of State suppression, and he requested details about the nature of such State suppression, and about what efforts had been made to recover the rights of the victims.
And the reaction:

The representative of Belgium asked Pakistan’s delegate to reformulate the question as there was no difference in application of human rights to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) persons or heterosexuals.  He simply wished to see the question “be proper” vis-à-vis reference to LGBT people.  Bulgaria’s delegate asked that the question from Pakistan be reformulated in a more respectful way.

Those Bulgarians learn fast, don't they?

In response, Pakistan’s delegate said he had never said gays and lesbians were not normal human beings.  He believed they were normal human beings.  That was precisely why the human rights of normal men and women were the same as those with another orientation.  He wondered what “extra” human rights they enjoyed.
And so on.  This wikipedia page would seem to suggest that Pakistan is not exactly twinned with Old Compton Street. 
International Center for Alcohol Policies — an international organization based in the United States which promotes understanding of the role of alcohol in society and help reduce the abuse of alcohol worldwide.
Sound ghastly, doesn't it?  I bet the office party is an absolute riot.

Here we have a very strong contender for the least appealing name for an NGO in all recorded history:

Lawyers for Lawyers.

Yes, lawyers for lawyers.  Anyone feel like making a donation?  Turns out it is not as bad as it sounds, as it is 'a Netherlands-based international organization which actively supports lawyers who are hindered or threatened in practicing law'.

Another odd one:

Second Amendment Foundation — a national organization in the United States which defends the right to keep and bear arms, through its publications, public education programmes and legal action projects — because Cuba’s delegate said the agenda the organization promoted was controversial.  It was difficult to see it in the context of the work of the United Nations.  He asked whether the organization promoted firearm use in schools and how it could contribute to the Economic and Social Council’s agenda.  Supporting Cuba, Peru’s delegate said the topic had no place in the Council or its subsidiary bodies.  Venezuela’s delegate said the NGO did not conform at all with the Council’s work and there was no reason to give it status. T he delegate of the Russian Federation added that the group’s position was contrary to international efforts to strengthen control on arms trade and wondered whether its application should be considered at all.

The opposition of those countries is not hugely surprising, but I would think that there would be a remarkable degree of overlap between US UN-haters and US 2nd amendment fans.  Perhaps the organisation was on a fishing expedition and is even now e-mailing its support base with the news of which countries line up against it.