Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mr Finkelstein and Mr Ford

Times columnist and staunch neo-conservative Daniel Finkelstein reveals that if he had to give away a million dollars he would give it to 'those trying to promote democracy in Iran'.
Where was he I wonder, during last year's Presidential elections in the Asian republic? Iran is a democracy, but the only trouble is that the people didn't vote the way Daniel would have liked them to. Ditto in Belarus, Venezuela and Palestine.
Supporting democracy means respecting the right of people to vote into power whatever government they wish- be it Islamist, socialist, communist, capitalist or nationalist.
I fear the form of democracy Daniel favours is the narrower Henry Ford variety, under which people can elect any government they wish- so long as its neo-liberal and orientates its foreign policy to Washington.

Not this left-winger, Leo

In today's Daily Express, Leo McKinstry writes:

"Left-wingers are fond of sneering at the claim that Britain was less violent and more free of crime in the first half of the 20th century."

Some unfortunately are. But not this one.
Those on the left who are in denial about the growth of violent crime do the progressive cause no good at all.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Odd One Out

Today's quiz question:

A next day peak-time 200-mile return journey by trains costs:

£56.10 in Spain
£23.83 in Belguim
£54.38 in France
£78.07 in Germany
£202 in Britain

Source (Which?), as quoted in the Daily Express.


Which country has privatised its railways?

Johann Hari: The Independent's Russia 'expert'

Many thanks to Gabor for sending this in.
Only one thing I'd disagree with in Eurasia's article: Hari may talk sxxt, but he's not a 'nice guy'.
Certainly not judged by the arrogant way he responds to emails asking him for the evidence to back up his unsubstantiated claims.

If Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, why not Scotland?

Isn't it interesting that those who were so keen for the Yugoslavian Federation to break up- and who did all they could to demonise the man who tried to hold it together- are now horrified at the prospect of the break-up of the United Kingdom?

Apart from the period 925-1102, the only time, prior to the 1990s, that Croatia had existed as an independent state was in WW2, when an independent Ustashe state was set up by Hitler. And it can hardly be said that Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo have stronger historical claims to statehood than Scotland.

If I were a very wealthy- and vindictive- citizen of the former Yugoslavia, I would be channelling money to independence parties not just in Scotland,Wales and Cornwall, but to Basque, Catalan and Andalucian separatist groups in Spain too. And I would also be trying to get independence movements up and running in Texas, California, Vermont and New Mexico.

Don't get me wrong. I think it would be a very sad day if the UK were to break-up. Ditto Spain and the US.
But it does make me angry that the sound, common sense arguments that are applied in favour of federalism in Britain and elsewhere, were deemed by 'the international community' not to apply in Yugoslavia.

UPDATE: Many thanks to reader Cal for writing in to point out a factual mistake in the original post.
Prior to the war-time Ustashe state, an independent kingdom of Croatia did exist from 925-1102. I have amended the post accordingly.
Even allowing for the earlier kingdom, I still think it's fair to argue that Scotland, an independent nation until 1707, has stronger historical claims to statehood than Croatia.

The Neo Cons' Most Useful Idiot Award

Things are really hotting up in the race for the Neo Cons' Most Useful Idiot award. Yesterday, I thought Johann Hari had clinched it with his breathless attack on 'totalitarian' Russia. But he's been massively outflanked by this offering from David Clark (no relation, I'm very pleased to say), in the Guardian today.
Clark, judging by his previous work, seems to fancy himself as a foe of the neo-cons. 'Unwitting accomplice' would, I think, be a better description.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Great British Train Robbery

Here's a question for Tim Worstall and our pro-privatisation friends at Samizdata and The Adam Smith Institute.
Why should a privatised railway, which not only receives four times more taxpayers' money in subsidy than a nationalised railway did but charges much higher prices to the consumer, not be bought back into public ownership? Along with around 70% of the British public, I would like to know.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/transport/Story/0,,1959184,00.html


UPDATE: Tim Worstall has posted his response to my question here

Johann Hari: The Neo Cons' Useful Idiot

You would have thought that having got the Balkans and Iraq so spectacularly wrong, this man would have done a wee bit more research before jumping into another foreign policy area about which he appears to know very little. But no, straight on cue yesterday, the Indie's 'Boy Wonder' leapt in, head first, to tell us how Russia, the country with more political parties than Hari can probably count up to, has turned into a 'totalitarian state'.

The neo-cons would never have got public support for their long-planned wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq if 'useful idiots' like Hari hadn't swallowed hook, line and sinker, the carefully manufactured propaganda about 'genocide' in Kosovo and Iraq's miltary 'threat'. Now, they are happy to let dimwits like Hari play their part in their latest project- the demonisation of Vladimir Putin, whose 'crime' has been to oppose the Iraq war and to stand up for Russia's national interests.

If there was an award for the Neo-Cons' most 'useful idiot', Hari would win hands down.
But this man seems to be making a concerted effort to grab the silver medal.

UPDATE: Here's the latest news in the Litvinenko inquiry. My guess is that those who were quick to blame the Russian government before any facts were established will be made to look rather ridiculous in a few weeks time.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The 20th Century's forgotten genius

Feelin' Groovy by Harpers Bizarre. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Kodaly's The Hary Janos Suite played by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. The Man Machine by Kraftwerk. Nancy and Lee. Flanagan and Allen's Greatest Hits.
Just a few of my favourite long-playing albums. What's yours?

It's a sobering thought that without one of the 20th century's forgotten geniuses, the Hungarian inventor Dr Peter Carl Goldmark, born 100 years ago this week, we would not have been able to enjoy any of the above albums. Goldmark's invention of the LP in 1948 revolutionised the music industry and added so much enjoyment to people's lives.

Here's my tribute to the great man, from today's Daily Express., together with some interesting facts you may, or may not know, about the LP.


INVENTOR WHO GAVE MUSIC TO THE MASSES

What’s your favourite LP of all time? The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Rumours by Fleetwood Mac? Perhaps it’s something more ‘middle of the road’, like Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers. Or maybe a film soundtrack, Maurice Jarre’s haunting score for Ryan’s Daughter, for example.

It’s a sobering thought that we would not have been able to enjoy any of those classic albums- or indeed any other long playing records, without one of the 20th century’s most forgotten geniuses- the Hungarian inventor Peter Carl Goldmark, who was born 100 years ago this week.

It was said of Goldmark that he had “more ideas in one day than most others have in a lifetime.” For in addition to inventing the LP, Goldmark also created the world’s first commercial colour television system in 1940; played a key role in development of video cassette recording and invented the scanning system used by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft in 1966 to transmit photographs to the earth from the moon. All in all, this remarkable man patented over 160 inventions before his death at the age of 71 in 1977.

Goldmark’s story began in 1906 in Budapest. The son of the Jewish composer Karl Goldmark, best known for his 1875 opera ‘The Queen of Sheba’, Goldmark junior unsurprisingly developed a love of music from an early age. But despite remaining a keen amateur musician all his life, science was to be his vocation.

In 1925, he left his native Hungary to study physics at the University of Vienna, where, at the age of just 19, he built a receiver for John Logie Baird’s historic television transmission from London in 1926.

After receiving his PhD, Goldmark set off for England, to begin his career working at Pye, an electronics company based in Cambridge. In 1933, he travelled to the U.S. to work as a construction engineer until 1936, when he joined CBS ( Columbia Broadcasting System), one of America’s leading radio networks, as chief engineer of the television department.

After his pioneering work in the field of colour television in the early Forties, (inspired by watching the Technicolor movie Gone with the Wind in 1939), Goldmark turned his attention to recorded sound. Like fellow music lovers around the world, Goldman was frustrated by the technology then on offer for listening to records- and with the records themselves. Before the invention of the LP, people had to make do with heavy and breakable 78s, made of powdered slate mixed with clay and shellac (a material obtained from the excretion of a southeast Asian beetle), whose often loud surface noise detracted from enjoyment of the music. The records wore out quickly and to play them either required needles made from steel (which had to be changed often) or cactus or bamboo styli, which though kinder on the disc, gave a much weaker sound and had to be sharpened after every play. The biggest drawback of all was that 78s had to be flipped over every three to five minutes.

Goldmark got the idea for the LP after becoming irritated by the clicking and thumping of a record changer while listening to music at a friend's house in 1945. Three years later, he and his colleagues at CBS, unveiled the new 33 and one third rpm LP. The new discs, made of vinyl, allowed more grooves, thereby greatly increasing the playing time on one side of the record to as much as half an hour. Not only that, they were much improved in terms of surface noise and much less breakable. The LPs also weighed far less than 78s, saving the record producer, shipper, and retailer a great deal of money in handling and storage costs, meaning they could be sold much more cheaply.

Goldmark’s invention, together with the introduction of smaller 45rpm vinyl discs by Columbia’s main competitor RCA Victor one year later, revolutionised the music industry. But although his main interest was classical music, it was popular music which fuelled the LP boom, and one smash-hit Broadway musical in particular. Just months after the first LPs went on sale, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific opened to packed audiences on Broadway. Having watched the show, theatre-goers, naturally enough, wanted to own a copy of the soundtrack. It was said that by the end of 1949, everyone in New York had bought a copy. The LP as a format was well and truly launched.

For the next thirty years, LPs, given a further boost by the introduction of stereo in the late Fifties, dominated the music scene. In 1976, the US music industry alone shipped a total of 273m albums. But, of course, technology never stands still. By the late 1970s, the LP, so cutting edge in the 1940s, faced a serious rival in the shape of the audio cassette, and a decade later, by the advent of CDs. Goldmark himself, ever the visionary, had predicted the use of laser technology for recorded music back in the early 1970s, but did not believe it would be commercially viable.

Does today’s digital technology mean that the days of the LP are over? Don’t bet on it. Despite the growing reluctance of customers to pay for CDs, when they can download music for free or next to nothing via the Internet, there has been a dramatic revival of record sales in Britain. “We are not just talking about vinyl singles but also about albums – the format is just continuing to grow,” says HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo.

Sales figures indicate that we could be about to enter a new golden age for Goldmark’s invention. Not only are more and more contemporary artists switching to record labels which still produce vinyl, but for those thinking of building up a record collection, great LPs of the past are available often only for a matter of pence in charity shops - I recently bought a pristine copy of ‘Hoagy Carmichael’s Greatest Hits’ for 75p.

Turntables may be hard to find in the high street though the are on sale in specialist hi-fi dealers - but, with record sales increasing, it may be only a matter of time before mainstream electronics manufacturers catch on by reintroducing budget models.

And LPs possess many advantages over CDs. There’s a widespread consensus that music, and in particular pop music, sounds much better- and more real- on vinyl than on digital equipment. Then there are the album covers. Many are works of art: just think of the montage of 57 famous people on Sergeant Pepper, or the inventive die-cast ‘advent calendar’ style windows of the New York buildings on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

And there are few things more pleasurable than slipping a disc out of its sleeve, putting your feet up then letting the stylus work its magic.

Music lovers the world over owe a huge debt of gratitude to the remarkable Mr Goldmark.


RECORD RECORDS
Things you may, or may not know, about the LP

A autographed copy of ‘Double Fantasy’ signed by John Lennon just five hours before his assassination by Mark Chapman, is the most valuable LP in the world at $505,000 (£261,000).

In a poll in November 2003, The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’ was voted the Best Album of all time. All in all, the Fab Four had 11 albums in the list, with 4 in the top ten.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is believed to be the best selling album of all time, with global sales of over 100m.

The first No 1 LP in Britain was the soundtrack of South Pacific, which held the position for a record 70 consecutive weeks, eventually achieving 115 weeks as Number 1. In the US it chalked up 69 weeks at the top.

The UK record for advance album sales is 1.1m for “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1984.

Alessandro Benedetti of Italy has a collection of 647 coloured vinyl LPs- the largest in the world.

No way, Jose

Do you think Chelsea will be the 'No 1 club in the world by 2014'?
No, me neither. Here's my piece on Peter Kenyon's silly boast from today's First Post
p.s. before anyone accuses me of bias, let me say that I support none of the other football teams mentioned in the piece!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Wrong Apology

I'd like apologise for England's disastrous performance in the first Test in Brisbane.
I'd also like to apologise for the rather wet and unpleasant weather we've been having in Britain recently.
And finally, I'd like to apologise for the defeat of Gladstone's second ministry in 1885.

Well, actually I wouldn't. For the simple reason, that however regrettable all three events might be, I had nothing whatsover to do with them. Ditto Tony Blair and the slave trade. Now, if Mr Blair is actually the Teddy Sheringham of politics ( in other words over 200 years old)- and made a fortune in slave trading in his earlier years, it would be highly creditable that he has finally shown remorse. But he isn't. Blair was born in the 1950s- over a century after Britain stopped dealing in slaves.

Instead of apologising for 'crimes against humanity' for which he and the British government are not responsible, Blair should be saying sorry for the 'crimes against humanity' which he and his government have committed. There are at least 655,000 of those in Iraq for a start.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Great WMD lie

Today's The Australian has a highly revealing interview with SAS man Pete Tinley, who played a key role in operations in Iraq.

"I couldn't find any direct actionable intelligence linking any of the areas we were looking at in the west with WMD. We were looking from just west of Baghdad all the way through to the Jordanian border and between the Syrian and Saudi borders. When I pressed them (US intelligence) for more specific imagery or information regarding locations or likely locations of WMD, they confessed, off the record, that there had not been any tangible siting of any WMD or WMD-enabling equipment for some years. It was all shadows and inferenced conversations between Iraqis. "

Read the full interview here:
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20815881-601,00.html

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The mysterious Mr George Courtenay

Yesterday, I revealed that a certain "George Courtenay" had sent an email to the editor of The Australian, a newspaper which I write for, drawing the editor's attention to untrue and libellous claims made about me by the pro-war, neo-conservative writer Oliver Kamm. It was, as I think most fair-minded people would agree, a clear attempt to discredit me in the eyes of the paper and to prevent them from commissioning me again. The email was cc-ed to Oliver Kamm.

But who is George Courtenay? It is not a name I have ever come across before in the neo-conservative, pro-war blogosphere.

Further investigation however, reveals that Mr Courtenay has been involved in disputes involving Oliver Kamm at least twice before. http://www.ministryoftruth.org.uk/2005/11/30/pot_kettle_fallacy/
In fact, the only time Mr Courtenay seems willing to enter in to any debate, is when Oliver Kamm is involved: I can find no trace of him commenting on any other issue.

In the links above, Mr Courtenay does not provide a way in which readers can contact him. No email address, or webblog address. Is Mr Courtenay a real person? Or is the name a pseudonym for someone else? Only the person who sent the email into The Australian newspaper knows the answer to this question.

UPDATE. Ministry of Truth have very kindly offered to let me have information which will, hopefully, lead to the unmasking of "Mr Courtenay". Watch this space.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The most compelling sporting soap opera of them all

Can you wait any longer? In just seven hours time, The Ashes gets under way in Brisbane. Here's my piece on the oldest and most compelling sporting soap opera of them all, from today's The Australian.
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20804328-7583,00.html

FORGET Neighbours, Home and Away or Coronation Street. After a 14-month absence, the oldest and most compelling soap opera is back - and coming to a television set near you. In its 124-year run, this particular soap has had a cast of thousands. Some have played entertaining cameos; others - such as the Don in 1930, Beefy in 1981, and the Demon 100 years earlier - have given performances of a lifetime.

The Ashes combines the gripping, emotional drama of a play by Tennessee Williams with the colour and exuberance of an Alexander Korda epic. But unlike pre-scripted soaps, saccharine endings are not always on the agenda, as Don Bradman found out when bowled for a duck by Eric Hollies in his final Ashes innings at the Oval in 1948.

Old colonial rivalry, at least in the early years, undoubtedly helped make the series what it is. But the main reason the Ashes is still the biggest show in town is because it has changed so little down the years.
The players may no longer wear neckties, the final Test is no longer played to a finish beyond the time limit and advertising is now everywhere, but the essential premise - of a biennial five or six Test series between two traditional sporting rivals - has stayed the same ever since the 1880s.

With the Ashes we know what we're going to get and the familiarity, far from breeding contempt, engenders only affection - and an incredible sense of anticipation. What a pity, therefore, that unlike English and Australian cricket administrators, others have not heeded those wisest of words: if it ain't broke, why fix it?
For in today's post-ideological age, change for the sake of change appears to have become the new religion. Politicians talk of modernisation in the same way they used to talk about socialism or liberalism and see it as their duty to change as many things as they can, regardless of whether there is public demand.

Ditto, sports administrators. In 1999, England's football authorities had the brainwave to change the format of the FA Cup, the country's oldest and most popular knock-out competition. The all-important third round, when the clubs from the first two leagues entered the contest, was switched to the second Saturday in December away from its traditional home on the first Saturday in January. Fans were disoriented, unhappy and voted with their feet.

The renowned Cheltenham horse-racing festival, so beloved by jump racing fans, has also fallen victim to the mania for making unnecessary changes. For more than 50 years, the festival provided three days of intense, top-quality action. But in 2005, the authorities decided to introduce afourth day, diluting the quality of the event and ruining its unique atmosphere.

Unnecessary redevelopments of perfectly adequate sporting stadiums are also part of the modernising obsession. What was wrong with the old Wembley stadium with its evocative twin towers? Or the old Ascot racecourse, with its leafy paddock and elevated viewing terraces?

It's not just sport that has been adversely affected. Last year, in a shameful act of cultural vandalism, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, decided to scrap the city's distinctive red double-decker Routemaster buses, an emblem of the city the world over. In their place, Londoners are served by ugly, modern bendy buses totally devoid of charm and photogenic appeal. And they go no faster.

Of course, we should not be slaves to the past and oppose all change. But we do need to acknowledge that too much of what is good is being destroyed needlessly.

Thank goodness, as we settle down to watch Warne, Flintoff and co commence hostilities, that there are some things in life that stay the same. Such as the art-deco bistros and brasseries in Paris, yellow taxi-cabs in New York and Aussies yelling abuse at the Poms at the cricket. The Ashes is proof that just because something has been around a long time, it doesn't mean that its time is up.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The framing of Vladimir Putin

Martin Kelly has a brilliant post about the wave of Putinophobia sweeping the western media following the alleged poisoning of an associate of the notorious oligarch Boris Berezkovsky in London.
Innocent until proven guilty? If you're a Russian leader who doesn't do what the neo-cons want, you're guilty as charged.

And here's an excellent piece on the same subject by Justin Raimondo of anti-war.com. Please do click on his link to the 'American Committee for Peace in Chechnya' - the names of its members is really quite revealing.
Hard-core neo-cons linking up with radical Islamic extremists? Now where have we heard that one before?

A very tawdry affair

"In an ideal world there should be no threats of legal action against fellow bloggers who provide fair comment on a matter of public interest even if one doesn't like what that person says", opines Marcus of the webblog Harry's Place.

I totally agree.

But what would you do if someone posts defamatory and malicious claims on his blog about you- in a clear attempt to jeopardise your career as a journalist- and then repeatedly refuses to remove them?
Contrary to what Oliver Kamm implies, I am first and foremost a journalist, not a blogger (I derive no income from blogging), and Kamm's highly libellous comments- that I was book reviewer who didn't read books and that I deliberately misrepresented my sources- were a deliberate attempt to lower my standing in my profession.

I did not take the decision to sue Kamm, a hedge-fund manager likely to have the financial wherewithal to engage top legal representation lightly, but when emails were being sent to editors who commission me (see an example below), repeating Kamm's defamatory allegations and cced to Kamm himself, I think most fair-minded people would agree that I had no option but to take some form of action. I must add, this was the first occasion in my life I had ever taken anybody else to court.

I went to the courts not to silence Kamm's right to make fair comments on articles with which he disagreed, but to prevent Kamm and his neo-con, pro-war associates from silencing me. Their aim was - and still is- to get editors, like Robbie Millen and Daniel Finkelstein of The Times, Tom Switzer of the Australian, Seumas Milne of the Guardian, and Sam Leith of the Books section of the Daily Telegraph to stop publishing my work. It worked in respect of The Times, which hasn't commissioned me since Kamm's defamatory comments were published (conveniently providing more opportunites for freelance work for Kamm and his associate Stephen Pollard), but their smear campaign has not worked elsewhere, which is why they are continuing their vendetta.

From: George Courtenay [mailto:georgeco@gawab.com] Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 1:33 PM
To: switzert@theaustralian.com.au
Cc: Neil Clark; oliver.kamm@tiscali.co.uk

Subject: Neil Clark sources
I see you have published an opinion article by Neil Clark today. That's all good to print a range of views but you may be interested that Oliver Kamm of the London Times has been investigating Mr. Clark's use of sources.
http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2006/02/more_on_balkan_.html
http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2006/02/balkan_claims_r.html
Mr.Clark doesn't say the same thing in his new article but as he's lied to other editors I'm bringing it to your attention.
G. Courtenay

UPDATE: Within hours of Kamm's allegations being posted on his blog yesterday, the editor of the Australian newspaper received another such email, linking to Kamm's piece. I'll leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to such a remarkable coincidence.

Don't mention the war!

Wow! Some people will go to any lengths to follow Basil Fawlty's dictum!
http://www.stephenpollard.net/003057.html
http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/cat_blogland.html

Open Prison: A contradiction in terms

My dictionary defines prison as "a place of confinement, especially a public building for the confinement of criminals. How about yours?
htttp://news.aol.co.uk/seventy-flee-open-prison-in-under/article/20061121052709990001
ps On the million to one chance that someone from the Home Office is reading this, then perhaps he/she be so kind to inform us why convicted murderers and rapists are being kept (or, more to the point, not being kept) in 'open' prisons?

Monday, November 20, 2006

RIP Brown Windsor

It's sad to hear of the death of the popular chaser Brown Windsor, who won the first Whitbread Gold Cup I ever attended, back in 1989. My favourite story about Nicky Henderson's gelding came from the trainer Ben Pollock. Pollock had ridden BW, then long in the tooth and well past his best, to a victory in a point-to-point. The next day he went in to ride work for the legendary trainer Captain Tim Forster, feeling rather pleased with himself. The Captain, as he was known in racing, was having none of it. "The horse won a Whitbread and you won a point-to-point on him. Great." The Captain was not known for dishing out too much praise. "There are 60 million people in this country" he once told Pollock. "20 million are idiots. And every single one of them has had a job with me." He was also a born pessimist. When jockey Charlie Fenwick asked Forster for instructions before setting out on board Ben Nevis in the 1980 Grand National, Forster's reply was : "Keep remounting."

Meanwhile, here's some better news about another Nicky Henderson chaser.

Slow on the uptake

About four years ago I took part in a BBC World Service debate with Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch. The subject under discussion was the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague. I maintained that the trial, financed by the very powers who had illegally bombed Milosevic's country in the first place, was a farce which ought to be stopped forthwith. Dicker was having none of it and seemed convinced that justice was being done. Now his organisation has produced its report on the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Nice to see that you've woken up to the fact that NWO instigated tribunals don't do justice Richard, though it took you a mighty long time to figure it out.

A tale of two poisonings

Isn't it strange how the western media are keen to believe government involvement in some cases of poisoning, but not in others?

Tales of Hoffman

Nice to see that the spirit of the late, great Abbie Hoffman- and the Yippies- lives on.
http://news.uk.msn.com/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=1299249

Why coffee houses matter- and why Starbucks sucks

Here's a terrific article in today's Guardian by Charlotte Ashby on the depressing prevalence of chain coffee stores in Britain. Standardised, bland and expensive, these chains are everything coffee houses shouldn't be. How it raises one spirits to leave Blighty and arrive in a city, like Paris, or Brussels, where individually owned establishments, each with their own distinctive character still predominate. As I've said before the biggest charge against modern monopoly, Anglo-Saxon capitalism is that it's BORING. Identik High Streets, Tescos on every out of town roundabout, Big M signs wherever you look. And the neo-liberal fanatics of the Adam Smith Insititute, The Centre for New Europe and other 'free-market' think tanks would like the rest of Europe to go that way too. High Street diversity, where the small shopkeeper and small coffee house/cafe owner has a chance to flourish, means restrictions on the operations of multinational chains. And that is the last thing these paid-up propagandists for monopoly capitalism really want.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

King Rat deserts the sinking ship Neo-Con

Now even he admits it's a disaster. By my reckoning that leaves around twelve people in the world who still think the war has been a success (not counting those with shares in Halliburton or private security firms of course).

Falconry can be an expensive hobby......

Want to know how a bird of prey could cost someone £237,000? Here's how

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The short story king with a sting

Ninety years ago this week, one of the finest writers of all time was killed in the battlefields of northern France.
Here's my tribute to Hector Hugh Munro, aka Saki, from today's Daily Telegraph.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2006/11/18/bosaki18.xml

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thanks for nothing, Mr Friedman

Do you ever wonder why British train fares are the highest in the world? Or why gas and electricity bills now take up such a large part of ur incomes? Or why the gap between rich and poor just keeps getting wider and wider? Or why British manufacturing industry no longer exists?
It's all because we listened to this man.

Ferenc Puskas- simply the best

Sad news from Budapest. Ferenc Puskas, arguably the greatest footballer of all time, has died. Here's my tribute from today's First Post.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=2&subID=1111
Three great football judges, the late Billy Wright, Sir Bobby Robson, and My Dad reckon that Puskas was the greatest of them all. Having watched plenty of video action of the great man, including the 1960 European Cup final when he scored four goals against Eintracht Frankfurt, I must say I find it hard to disagree.
What do you reckon? Was Puskas the greatest? Or was it Cruyff, or Pele? Or perhaps someone else?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Neo con scaredy-cats

I have commented before on the cowardice of those neo-conservative writers who egg on military conflicts from the warmth and comfort of a London office, while never attempting anything more dangerous themselves than crossing a road in Canary Wharf.
One of the most bellicose of the war-loving writers is Tory MP Michael Gove. Today's Daily Mail reveals that Gove,( in addition to showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm for spending any length of a time in the Arab world- a region on which he claims to be an authority), is frightened of flying. Isn't it revealing that those who are so keen for others to risk their lives, usually turn out to be such total yellow-bellies ?

ps- No need to worry Michael! Here's a place where your condition can be treated!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Travel in the UK- an expensive joke

Here's an excellent Thunderer from today's Times by Michael Binyon on the disastrous state of British public transport. The only thing wrong with the piece is the heading- at £3 for a single ticket on the London underground (as opposed to £1 on the ultra-reliable Paris metro), the joke played on Britain's long suffering commuters is anything but a cheap one.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2453585,00.html

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Death of a sporting superstar

Here's a superb tribute to Desert Orchid by Tony Paley in today's Guardian.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1946977,00.html
No one who attended Cheltenham racecourse on that freezing cold March day in 1989, when Dessie ploughed through the mud to land the Gold Cup, will forget the experience as long as they live.
RIP Dessie- you were the best.

How the Left found Jesus and won

Here's my piece from today's First Post on some very interesting developments in Latin America.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=1&subID=893

Friday, November 10, 2006

It's Spot Thedifference....Again...

A year ago to the day, I wrote on this blog:

It was a privilege to be at Cheltenham racecourse today to witness the stirring victory of 'Spotthedifference', Enda Bolger's cross-country specialist in the Sporting Index Chase. It's the fourth successive time the twelve-year old has won over the cross-country course at Prestbury Park and all those who knock such races as not being 'proper' racing should have witnessed the reception the old boy got as he was led into the winners enclosure.

Well, today Enda Bolger's incredible horse registered his FIFTH win over the cross-country course, just over one month away from his fourteenth birthday. And once again, all those who knock such races as not being 'proper' racing should have been at Cheltenham to witness the reception this sporting superstar got when being led back into the winners enclosure. There was however, a sad postcript to the race. Enda Bolger's other runner, Bualites and Fadas, dropped dead after finishing a gallant third. And earlier in the day War General, running in the same colours as Gold Cup winner War of Attrition, suffered a fatal heart attack after finishing second in the novices' hurdle. Jump racing can provide us with unforgettable moments of equine and human bravery and skill. But it can also provide us with scenes of tragedy. Never was that so amply illustrated than at Cheltenham today.

It really is a wonderful town

Simon Jenkins has penned a beautiful piece today on what he describes as 'the most old-fashioned city in the world'- New York.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1944511,00.html
It's the old-fashioned nature of the city- and the wonderful friendliness- and humour- of its inhabitants that makes the city so appealing. You can step out of the Museum of Television and Radio off Fifth Avenue having watched some old episodes of Ellery Queen, and walk past Radio City Music Hall and think it's still 1948. 'If it ain't broke, why fix' it could be the motto for New York- unlike London which seems to take great delight in changing things for changing sake- just think of the decision to axe the Routemaster.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fates worse than death (well, not quite)

Today's papers report the story of poor Jennifer Fox, locked for eight hours in an office toilet. What could be worse than that? Well, short of death and dysentry- quite a few things actually.
An Evening with Janet Street Porter?
Being forced to watch Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield United with Jonathan Pearce commentating?
Listening to rap music?
Watching a box set of Norman Wisdom films in one sitting?
Going down the pub with Johann Hari?
Going deer-stalking with Bruce Anderson?
Going anywhere with Mark Thatcher?

Any more suggestions......?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How they stole the mid-term elections

Many thanks to reader Bob Taylor for sending in this excellent piece by Greg Palast from Smirking Chimp.com
And all this goes on in a country which has the nerve to lecture others on how to operate democratic elections!
http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/2717

Monday, November 06, 2006

A nanny goat under threat

This piece of mine appears in today's Guardian.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1940469,00.html

Plans to sell off Winston Churchill's Tote will do nothing for efficiency, competition - or racing.
The Guardian

Considering his other political achievements, it is understandable that setting up the Tote - or Horserace Totalisator Board - in 1928, only features as a minor footnote in the extraordinary career of Winston Churchill. But for lovers of racing, the impact of Churchill's creation has been immense.

For 78 years, the "nanny goat" has enjoyed a monopoly of horse-race pool betting in exchange for a guarantee that its profits are ploughed back into the sport. The arrangement has helped make British racing what it is today - a compelling, richly varied pageant which enhances the lives of millions of people.

But now racing's beneficial relationship with the Tote is under threat. The government is hellbent on privatising Churchill's creation in a move which has caused consternation throughout the racing world. Despite the opposition of the late Robin Cook, one of the few politicians in Westminster to understand horseracing and the role the Tote plays within it, in 1999 the government announced a "review" of the options for the future of the Tote. The outcome was a 2001 manifesto commitment (repeated in 2005) to sell the Tote to a Racing Trust "to allow it to compete commercially" - a favourite catchphrase of the pro-privatisation lobby which we have heard ad nauseam in relation to the planned sell-off of the Royal Mail.

To placate critics of privatisation, the government made it clear that they would not countenance a sale to another big bookmaker. But when racing, in the shape of a consortium of Arena Leisure, the Racecourse Holdings Trust and an owners group did come up with a bid, they were told that their offer was far less than the official £400m-plus valuation and that a sale at a "knockdown price" of £310m would contravene EU state aid rules.

The government has subsequently backtracked on its commitment to keep the Tote in racing, saying recently that its aim in the sale is "to achieve value for money for the taxpayer, while recognising the racing sector's legitimate interest in the Tote by ensuring that racing benefits from the sale". In reality, racing will benefit very little, regardless of what cosmetic measures the government put in place when the sell-off goes through. The Tote made a £10.7m contribution to racing last year, and the absence of shareholders means that the Tote's post-tax profits (which last year were £6.5m) remain in the sport as well. Contrast this with Ladbrokes, Britain's largest retail bookmaker, whose profits from racing have, until recently, helped its parent company Hilton embark on an ambitious programme of hotel acquisitions. None of the arguments regularly put forward by supporters of privatisation apply. A Tote sell-off to one of its rivals will not increase competition - it will do exactly the opposite, leaving millions of punters with much less choice than before. The Tote is no inefficient loss-making enterprise, on the contrary it is inherently profitable and, in its 78 years of existence, it has never taken a penny from the government in subsidy.

Why then, when virtually everyone in racing was happy with the status quo has the government been so determined to privatise? The boosting of Treasury coffers to the tune of £400m is of course a factor, but the real reason for the sell-off is, I believe, ideological.

The privatisation of the Tote demonstrates just how wedded to neoliberal dogma New Labour is. When a Labour government tries to sell off an institution that was set up by the Tory government of Stanley Baldwin - and which escaped even the attentions of the serial privatising Margaret Thatcher - you realise how far down the road to market fundamentalism we have travelled.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The British Government and the Death Penalty

Spot the Difference:

"We call upon all states to abolish the death penalty for all crimes and forever. 'We will continue to look for opportunities to encourage other governments to put in place a moratorium on the death penalty. We regret that countries continue to carry out death sentences... Together with our EU partners we will continue to work towards universal abolition."
FCO Minister, Ian McCartney, 10th October 2006


"Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice,"
Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, 5th November 2006, as Saddam Hussein's death sentence is announced.


Perhaps the Prime Minister could clarify HM Government's exact position regarding the death penalty? Is it Mr McCartney's or Mrs Becketts? Could it be that Mr McCartney forgot to say "all states except Iraq?"

UPDATE: He obviously reads this blog............
http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,,1940854,00.html

Thursday, November 02, 2006

David Marquand's Striking Influence

The pro-war, former SDP activist Daniel Finkelstein, now comment editor of The Times writes:

It has always seemed to me that Professor Marquand has been underestimated as a public thinker. His writing is more profound and insightful than anything else that has come out of the centre left for decades and his political influence (on Roy Jenkins first and then on Tony Blair) has been striking. He has had recognition, of course, but lesser thinkers have had more.

Finklestein is right about Marquand's 'political legacy' being striking. But that doesn't mean that Marquand was right. Here's my Daily Telegraph comment piece on the disastrous legacy of one of Marquand's closest political allies- the late, unlamented Roy Jenkins. Oops sorry, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead....


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2003/01/09/do0901.xml
Roy Jenkins made Britain a far less civilised country by Neil Clark
(Filed: 09/01/2003)

By the way, can anyone think of two more disastrous post-war politicians than Woy and Tony Bliar- the two men Marquand had such 'striking political influence' on?

Letter of the Day

Why must Serbia be bullied into giving up Kosovo, when Serbs in the Republik Srpska are denied the right to cede from Bosnia?

Serbs and Kosovo
Thursday November 2, 2006
The Guardian

You suggest (Leaders, October 31) Serbian foolishness in not giving up Kosovo. To Serbs, Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia, legitimised by the London agreement of 1916 and by UN security council resolution 1244 of 2001. Kosovo is also the historical, religious and emotional heartland of Serbia. The change from a Serb to an Albanian majority does not change its historical, legal and political status.
Serbia's claim to Kosovo is no different from Russia's claim to Chechnya, China's to Xinjiang, India's to Kashmir, Thailand's to Panni Marathiwad and Philippines to Mindanao - all Muslim majority provinces in non-Muslim majority states where violence for independence has taken place for decades. The Serb majority of the Krajina region in Croatia broke away and declared independence. They were not recognised. The Krajina Serbs have all been driven out of Croatia in the largest ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav wars. Republika Srpska has been denied independence from Bosnia.
As long as the independence of these provinces are denied, Kosovo has no special right to independence either. Serbia must not be treated differently.

Professor George Thomas
Marquette University, Wisconsin, USA

Big Bang? More like Big Swindle

To mark the 20th anniversary of 'The Big Bang' here's a wonderful piece by Peregrine Worsthorne from The First Post on why - quite rightly- we don't respect those whose only "talent" is to make money make more money.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=1&subID=868