Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pins and needles

Flew out to Barcelona this week, was greatly amused by a sign as I was going through the security control, about prohibited materials. Apparently, one is not allowed to take hypodermic needles on board the flight except for medical reasons. I was trying towork out what legal reason one might have for carrying hypodermic needles, other than medical... any clues?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Wedding belles?

An observation from yesterday's TV listings, 8pm on Channel 5 was the following:

Colin and Justin's Wedding Belles - Lara and Rob. Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan are challenged to organise a traditional Jewish wedding with a trendy twist for Londoners Lara and Rob, on a budget of £15,000. It may not be an easy task - especially when the bride-to-be requests they ask Elton John to give her away.

Getting Elton to give the bride away would be easier than getting a kosher caterer to give the food away for just 15 grand...

Monday, June 19, 2006

World Cup fever

Sorry, dear reader, but this is the one time every 4 years (every 2 if the Euros are any good) where football takes over everything. Hence the infrequent postings and same old subject material. So I will keep it brief, with a whistlestop tour of events from the first 10 days of the tournament:

1. Whine Rouneigh's magical healing foot is suddenly fine enough to start a match - hooray!

2. Togo deserved to be trounced today and to go home in shame, after threatening to strike because their impoverished FA wouldn't pay them $200,000 each in appearance money (note that the average income in Togo is $1000 a year) - boo!

3. Harry Kewell mouthed off at the ref and is now trying to claim it was the heat of the moment (telling me what my heart meant), and was born out of his frustration at Australia's loss. Funny, I thought it was because an overrated sack of shit who wore the same number shirt as him had missed an open goal with the score at 1-0 - boo!

4. Anthemic highlights: the South Korean national anthem, a wonderful piece of classical music, so good that they accidentally played it twice in their opening group match; the marvellous T&T one complete with steel drums - hooray!

5. Anthemic lowlights: England fans repeatedly singing The Queen as if it's some kind of football chant, the morons; my Swiss cousin not knowing beyond the first line of her own anthem, but rushing in to hear it when Switzerland played Togo, and claiming that everyone was lip-synching - boo!

6. Refereeing moments of genius - Graham Poll's deft flick to Shevchenko in the Ukraine-Saudi Arabia match, and a crunching tackle at the end of Croatia-Japan - hooray!

7. The most perfect performance in living memory, Argentina crushing Serbia & Montenegro 6-0. The second goal was pure poetry - 24 passes, some lovely touches, a sublime finish, and all set to some classic tango by the BBC on their highlights programme - hooray!

8. Nancy's substitutions actually working for a change in the T&T match; whilst I felt for Owen, it was a signal of real intent to bring on Rooney, Downing and Lennon, and they turned the game - hooray!

9. Peter Crouch scoring but not doing the robo-dance - boo!

10. The many longing, lingering close-ups by the randy German camera crews of hot Swedish and Brazilian supporters during lulls in the match - hooray!

Friday, June 16, 2006

How oil lubricates our enemies

This article by Victor Davis Hanson appeared in The American Enterprise Online, and is the best argument for environmentalism I have heard to date...

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Marxism was discredited as an unworkable — and often murderous — alternative to consumer capitalism. Eastern Europe was freed and began to prosper in a manner unimaginable just a decade earlier. China and India jettisoned statism, and found prosperity by emulating Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. South America was democratizing and began to liberalize its economies (with mixed success).

Here in the U.S., Americans grew freer and richer than at any time in their history. In contrast, Europe's creeping democratic socialism left much of the continent with low economic growth, high unemployment, a demographic crisis, and a growing cultural pessimism. In short, there was global proof that the more individual freedom and capitalism, the more the good life followed.

Why, then, are socialists such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia now expanding an anti-capitalist bloc in Latin America — nationalizing companies, jailing dissidents, and whipping up the cult of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro from Peru to Mexico? Why here at home, when the stock market is near all-time highs, the unemployment rate low, and home ownership at record levels, with interest rates and inflation both in check, do the American people express little confidence in their economy and President Bush's leadership?

And given that there are more democracies now than in the history of civilization, why is the United Nations proving more illiberal than ever — blackmailed by Saddam Hussein to waffle on sanctions, mired in a tawdry $50 billion scandal, and unable to bring a renegade theocracy in Iran to meet minimal compliance with international nuclear nonproliferation standards?

The answer to all of these diverse anomalies is oil, oil, and more oil. During the last two years, a booming global economy, uncertainty in the Middle East, and the arrival of newly capitalist but petroleum-poor India and China have created a seller's market unprecedented in the history of the oil industry. The resulting jump in the price of petroleum has distorted both politics and perceptions of what works in economics and politics, and what does not.

Take away the $300-500 billion in windfall profits piled up in the coffers of the oil-exporting nations recently, and Hugo Chavez becomes just another spluttering Castro, hardly able to pay for his bankrupt populism in Venezuela, much less export it beyond his borders. Without petroleum largesse, Iran's Mohammed Ahmadinejad could afford neither a multi-billion-dollar nuclear weapons program nor costly subsidies for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Vladimir Putin's crackdown on capitalists, political freedom, and further Russian reforms comes only because he controls energy exports vital to the world economy.

And huge petroleum profits don't just empower dictators, subsidize nuclear proliferation, and curtail economic reform. They also have pernicious psychological effects. Americans hit with gasoline price hikes of nearly a dollar a gallon have fallen to despairing over our economy. Try telling furious motorists that the extra cost for most drivers amounts only to about $500-700 per year — a pittance compared to sky-high housing prices that leap tens of thousands of dollars annually. No matter: people see the numbers on the gas pump, and less cash in their wallets, and figure the U.S. is teetering on the brink.

Foreign policy is warped as well. Because of its dependency on Middle East gas and oil, Europe's high talk about human rights doesn't apply much to Arab extremists with energy-rich patrons in the Gulf. America is in a war against Islamic fascism, yet treads carefully around Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s subsidies to America-hating madrassas. When poor oil-importing countries in Africa and Latin America make sacrifices to enact tough market reforms, their hard work only helps to enrich failed states like Iran, Libya, and Venezuela lucky enough to have an accidental resource beneath their feet that was found, exploited, and mostly purchased by the Westerners they demonize.

Next time we whine that we cannot drill in the Arctic or off our coasts, that nuclear power is too dangerous, that government-encouraged conservation violates free enterprise, or that gasification from coal and shale is too costly, we should remember: there are insidious — and dangerous — costs in today's oil trade too.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Martyrs of all flavours

It seems that in the morally bankrupt world of Hamastan, any dead Palestinian is a martyr for the cause, whose blood is on the hands of the Zionists. Further to Freedmanslife's instinctive and brilliant journalism (!) on Friday, where we first wondered if there was more to the story than met the eye, the AP, not always Israel's best friend, has this report:

Israel: Gaza Blast Not From Israeli Shell
By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press Writer JERUSALEM (AP)

An Israeli investigation into what caused an explosion on a Gaza beach that killed eight Palestinians will conclude that the blast was most likely caused by a mine planted by Palestinian militants and not an Israeli shell, military officials said Tuesday.

The Palestinians had blamed an Israeli shell for the killing of the civilians in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday, and had recognized as a hero a Palestinian girl whose image was broadcast around the world crying over her father's body at the scene.

While Israel had originally left open the possibility that it was responsible and expressed sorrow for the deaths, senior officials had suggested that Palestinian militants could have planted explosives on the beach and the army opened an investigation.

The military committee looking into the blast is expected to issue its findings later Tuesday.

The committee will announce that Israel was almost certainly not involved in the explosion and it was caused by explosives planted by the Hamas militant group, military officials said on condition of anonymity since the results were not official yet.

The blast occurred on the outskirts of the town of Beit Lahia, not far from where Palestinian militants frequently fire rockets toward Israel. Israel often shoots artillery in the area to prevent the rocket launchings.

According to the findings, shrapnel taken from two wounded Palestinians who were evacuated to Israeli hospitals showed that the explosives were not made in Israel, the officials said.

In addition, the last Israeli shell fired toward Palestinian rocket launchers who operate in the area was seven minutes before the blast and landed 250 yards from the scene, the officials said.

Also, after the blast, Israeli military viewed Hamas militants collecting the shrapnel from the area, in an apparent effort to prevent authorities from revealing that the explosion was caused by explosives it had laid, the officials said.

The results of the investigation are also based on threats by Hamas to stop Israeli naval commandos from landing on the beach after group militants were killed in the area in an ambush by Israeli navy divers last month, the officials said.

The army has accounted for five of six of the shells that it fired in the area Friday evening before the blast, the officials said.

The one shell that is not accounted for was fired before the five others - more than ten minutes before the blast that killed the Palestinians - and apparently landed further away than the shells that were fired later, the officials said.

What we can conclude from this episode is that the world sees what it wants to see, and the Palestinian leadership manipulates any event for its own good. There were only five possible scenarios:

1. Israel intentionally shelled a beach full of civilians
2. Israel mistakenly shelled a beach full of civilians
3. Old Israeli ordnance somehow detonated
4. Palestinian ordnance somehow detonated
5. The Palestinians staged the explosion and framed the Israelis

Now, despite what the MSM and the Arab world thinks, Israel doesn't intentionally target civilians, so 1 is out. It does make mistakes, and there are trigger-happy individuals from time to time; 2 is in. Both numbers 3 and 4 are plausible in the light of rockets being fired from there, Israeli responses, IDF commando operations and the Hamas counter-measures. Bison insists that number 5 is not possible, because even though the Palestinians stoop pretty low, they would not go that far - the subsequent uncovering of rather different realities around Jenin, Mohammed al-Durra and many lesser-known cases would suggest otherwise.

In any case, there is still no moral equivalence between the indiscriminate firing of Qassam rockets over the fence at known civilian targets, and the generally accurate and reactive measure of aiming at their launch sites, even if one such response goes astray.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Did someone say "Wolf"?

Here is how the Beeb reported this afternoon's news about the apparent deaths of 7 Palestinians on a Gaza beach: Hamas militants vow to end truce - but some things don't quite add up in the story, so I am going to pose a few questions as we go along...

The armed wing of the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, has said it will no longer respect a self-imposed truce. In a statement on its website, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigade said Israeli "massacres" had spurred the decision.
- Is that the self-imposed truce where they were caught smuggling cash in for arms, the one where they turn a blind eye to other groups firing rockets and sending suicide bombers over the fence, or the one which foments internecine violence?

Seven people, including three children, died on Friday when Israeli shells hit a beach in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials say. There was no immediate comment from Hamas's political wing, which runs the Palestinian Authority. Hamas's armed wing posted a message on its website and distributed leaflets declaring the end of a ceasefire that had held since February 2005. "The Israeli massacres represent a direct opening battle and that means the earthquake in the Zionist cities will resume and the herds of occupiers have no choice but to prepare the coffins or the departing luggage," the statement read. The BBC's Simon Wilson, in Jerusalem, says there have been threats of a response to previous attacks, but the official nature of this response appears significant.
- How come the Palestinian officials were so quick to show injured people lying on the beach, bloodstained picnic rugs etc, as well as issuing threatening statements that redefine the term "massacre", before taking their injured to hospital? Isn't it odd that such a major policy change should be announced so spontaneously, especially right after gruesome pictures were released to the international media?

The statement came hours after the seven reported deaths on a beach near the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. At least 30 people were wounded. The Israeli military said it had halted all shelling of Gaza and launched an inquiry into whether ground-based artillery could have been involved. Four other people were also killed in separate Israeli air strike in northern Gaza on Friday, Palestinians said. The incidents come a day after senior Palestinian official Jamal Abu Samhadana was killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah, the southern Gaza.
- Doesn't it seem a little strange that Israel had halted all naval operations, but lots of Palestinian officials, who we assume must all have been on the beach by a happy coincidence, said that the shells came from Israeli gunships? And isn't it odd that Israel's prowess at surgical strikes that hit cars, get through windows, and pinpoint mobile rocket launch sites, goes missing altogether and kills an entire family on a beach? Would they do such a thing intentionally?

Samhadana - the founder of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) - was buried in Rafah on Friday, with thousands of mourners pledging to avenge his death. Samhadana was one of Israel's most wanted men in Gaza, and his group has been blamed for a series of missile attacks on Israel. Speaking before the Hamas statement, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli strikes in Gaza. "What the Israeli occupation forces are doing in the Gaza Strip constitutes a war of extermination and bloody massacres against our people," Mr Abbas said in a statement carried by the Palestinian official Wafa news agency.
- Isn't Abbas the "moderate" one? Why does the accurately targetted killing of Samhadana, a known and recognised terrorist planner, with no collateral damage other than his henchmen, provoke a reaction of claims about extermination and massacres?

The foreign ministers of Russia and the UK also condemned the strike.
- Are those the foreign ministers of the countries that respectively butcher civilians in Chechnya and falsely arrest then have to release (or shoot on a train) perfectly innocent people?

Palestinian officials say the seven people killed on the Gaza Strip beach included two women as well as the three children. The first television pictures revealed a terrible scene, the BBC's Alan Johnston says. At least four figures lay unconscious on the ground, possibly dead, our correspondent says. A little further away, a man was lying on a sand dune, perhaps fatally injured, while a child stood looking on in utter horror, our correspondent says. He says around the casualties were tables and chairs, and it looks very much as if this was a family enjoying their Friday afternoon off on the beach when disaster struck.
Why was everyone busy filming the scene rather than helping the injured? How could Alan Johnston comment on their injuries? Was he there? And if so, why was he not trying to assist them? If not, what qualifies him to diagnose their injuries?

An Israeli army spokesman said Chief of Staff Dan Halutz had ordered an immediate stop to all artillery shelling of Gaza while an investigation was carried out into the beach shelling. For many months, the Israelis have regularly shelled open areas such as fields and orchards in an effort to prevent Palestinian militants using them to fire their home-made missile into crudely made missiles into nearby Israeli territory.
- Shouldn't this paragraph, which explains why Israel shells open spaces in Gaza, get more prominence? Doesn't it demonstrate the order of cause and effect quite clearly?

I'm not saying that nothing happened on the beach. I'm not saying that in some diabolical plot, Hamas or some other provocateurs, killed their own people so they could blame Israel and end their truce. I'm not saying that Israel must be blameless, and never kills civilians. Indeed, it seems that ordinary families died, and that is tragic. But this whole story is full of curiosities and inconsistencies, and above all, implies that Israel intentionally shelled the Gaza beach on a day it knows to be a rest day when it would be full of ordinary people having a break. It will be interesting to see what else is revealed in the next few days as the fact emerge.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Labour pains

So long, Two Jags / Jabs / Shags!

Prescott is unimaginative and bureaucratic and the ODPM has overseen some shocking policy, particularly on home-building and urban regeneration; at least he had his Privates Under Secretary (or assistant private secretary, I can't remember - they all look the same to the last Home Secretary but one) reveal sordid details about the length of his, ahem, responsibilities not matching up to the importance of his title. It also seems that he was quite keen to foist these "responsibilities" on women at other points in his career (brings a literal meaning to the term "underlings").

So having essentially been sacked and placed on gardening leave, as if there were any greenfield sites left that are not earmarked for a rash of dull and unnecessary new homes, he went and did it again. The press once more obtained evidence of him hammering his balls through a tight hole on a nicely trimmed strip of grass, whilst supposedly running a country in Bliar's absence. Still, at least the man gave up one out of his portfolio of "grace and favour" residences - how humble.

The timely introduction of The Enforcer, John Reid, to the Home Office after Charles Clark's equally undignified exit, and the careful positioning of Alan Johnston regarding the ODPM, might just allow a "reverse-putsch" of Blairites seizing key ministries and stopping the further collapse of the public sector and imminent crushing of the private sector on Brown's accession next year.

I think it is time Blair went - he is fresh out of ideas and credibility, and the carpenters simply cannot lay down the shagpile fast enough for him to keep sweeping balls-ups at home and abroad under it. But Brown seems to have missed the basic economics lesson about how a government can only spend what it raises in taxes, so should be helping the economy to achieve two goals - firstly to increase growth and thus the tax take, and secondly to find ways to reduce people's dependence on the public sector.

Simple methods of doing this might include providing tax breaks for private health and education contributions, which might allow us to breach a tipping point of affordability for hundreds of middle class earners, largely taking them and their sprogs out of state provision. But of course, we know that Brown will instead pander to the public perception that having money is inherently wrong.

I have actually had arguments with friends about how immoral it is to consider taking government-approved tax breaks. I tried to explain that this is done because it allows reinvestment in the economy, and we all know the private sector is forced by the realities of the marketplace to spend its money much more efficiently than the bloated scions of Shitehall. But apparently I was depriving hundreds of thousands of poor chavs and chavettes of their right to long-term unemployment and wallowing in their own filth. Oh, sorry, that phrase is actually one that is reserved by senior Lib Dem MEPs for use about the insidious Jewish lobby and the memories of the Auschwitz dead.

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, a summer of political fun: Cameron ahead in the polls but then cheapening and watering down his policies anyway; some more Labourites (Old and New) falling on their swords; and gloriously the total absence of any profile for the Lib Dems under good old Ming. Never have we needed the distraction of a World Cup so badly.