Sunday, 31 May 2009

Have Passport, Will Travel

The Independent doesn't want to be left behind in the current trend to embarrass MPs and their outrageous expense claims. It's been digging around into foreign trips made over the last couple of years by our pampered representatives- usually on business class flights and with luxury hotel accommodation too. It has uncovered details of nearly 200 "fact-finding missions and study tours" to more than 60 countries– the equivalent to two trips for every week of the year.

MPs' travels around the world

Bahrain 6-11 September 2007

David Ruffley (C), Nigel Evans (C), Michael Fallon (C). For meeting on Iraq and the situation in the Gulf. Flights and accommodation paid for by the government of Bahrain.

Brazil Two trips, including: 11-15 November 2007

Alun Michael and Margaret Moran (both L) to attend the Internet Governance Forum, representing All-Party Groups including Pitcom (Parliamentary Information Technology Committee) and Eurim (European Information Society Group). Travel and hotel costs funded by Eurim with the support of Nominet.

Cayman Islands 23-28 July 2008

Nigel Evans (C), Lindsay Hoyle (L) and Michael Fallon (C), as part of All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Cayman Islands. Cayman Islands government paid for flights and hotel. Mrs Fallon was on the trip but paid for her flight.

China Eight visits, including: 6-16 September 2007

Ben Chapman (L), Mark Simmonds (C), Ian Stewart (L), David Lidington (C), Michael Mates (C), Madeleine Moon (L), James Paice (C), Jeff Ennis (L). The All-Party Parliamentary China Group, to discuss bilateral relations. All internal travel and some food costs in China were met by the National People's Congress. Flights from London to Beijing and accommodation costs were met from the funds provided by the registered sponsors of the All-Party Group.

Cuba 9-14 November 2008

Ian Taylor (C) in capacity as co-chair of the Cuba Initiative organisation, which works to strengthen UK-Cuban trade relations. Flights and accommodation provided by the Caribbean Foundation, a charity, through the Cuba Initiative. Local hospitality provided by the Cuban government.

Egypt Three trips, including: 31 March-6 April 2006

Sir Peter Viggers (C), with UK-Egypt All-Party Parliamentary Group, to further political relations between the UK and Egypt. He was accompanied by his wife and the visit was made at the invitation and expense of the Egyptian government.

Finland 4-8 May 2009

Sir Alan Beith (LD), Sir Patrick Cormack (C), Ann Winterton (C). British-Finnish All-Party Parliamentary Group, to meet Finnish MPs for discussions on issues affecting both countries and the Finnish prison service relating to the training of prison officers. Accommodation, hospitality and local travel within Finland were provided by the Finnish parliament. Travel to Finland was funded under the House of Commons European Travel scheme, paid for by the taxpayer.

Ghana 7-12 February 2008

Stephen Hepburn (L), Jim Sheridan (L), Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth, L), Russell Brown (L), John Leech (LD). To play a football match against the Ghanaian parliament at its invitation to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence, to visit an SOS Villages project and a refugee camp at the invitation of Play Ghana, and to attend the African Nations Cup final, with accommodation, food and local transport provided by the parliament of Ghana and a contribution towards the air fare provide by our club sponsors National Grid, which also helped to provide a charitable donation to SOS Villages.


19-22 May 2008

Sir John Butterfill (C), David Wilshire (C) and three peers. Sir John led a delegation of the taxpayer-funded IPU to Reykjavik. A report includes details of 'excellent lunch', a sight-seeing tour of Reykjavik, and a trip to the Blue Lagoon 'for bathing in the hot springs'.

India Six trips, including: 10-17 February 2008

Stephen Pound, Howard Stoate, Stephen Ladyman (all L), to Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi, to meet state and national ministers, industrialists, academics, representatives of business organisations and a visit to a DfID-funded project. All transport, accommodation and meals provided by Indian government.

Japan Three trips, including: 27 June-1 July 2008

Graham Stuart (C), Eric Joyce (L) and Stephen Byers (L), to attend the Globe (Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment) Tokyo G8+5 Legislators Forum. Business-class return travel, five nights' accommodation and all meals were provided by Globe International.

Kenya Three trips, including: 13-21 February 2009

Claire Ward (L) as speaker at the Sigma Independent Retail Pharmacists Conference, accompanied by husband. Flights, travel, accommodation and hospitality were provided by Sigma Pharmaceuticals (Watford), which received sponsorship for the conference from a large number of generic drug and retail pharmacist companies.

Maldives Two trips, including: 24 August-2 September 2008

Brian Binley (C) to meet parliamentarians and advise on good practice in election procedures, as a member of the All-Party British-Maldives Parliamentary Group. Flights and hotel paid for by the Maldives government.

Monaco 18-19 May 2009

Nigel Waterson (C) to address retirement planning summit. Money Marketing paid for costs.

Montenegro 15-18 February 2009

Roger Berry (L), David Chaytor (L), Nigel Evans (C), Stephen Hepburn (L) and one peer, a delegation of the taxpayer-funded IPU. A report of the trip states: 'The delegation's first duty was to visit the world-famous Plantaze winery. We could not have received a better welcome!'

Nigeria Four trips, including: 30 November-6 December 2008

Michael Connarty, Stephen Hepburn, John Robertson, Anthony Wright (all L). All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria on a fact-finding visit. Costs met by Virgin Nigeria Airways and Shell.

Norway Five trips, including: 26-28 August 2008

Anne Begg and Dari Taylor (both L) to Stavanger to visit Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) conference and exhibition on joint visit by the British Offshore Oil and Gas Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster and the Oil and Gas Cross Party Group at Holyrood. Overseas flights, hotel accommodation, local transport and hospitality sponsored by Oil & Gas UK, Shell, Chevron, Statoil Hydro, Wood Group, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, the Norwegian embassy and OLF.

Oman Three trips, including: 30 October-3 November 2008

Alan Duncan and Keith Simpson (both C), cross-party group, as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Oman. Travel paid for by the State Council of the Sultanate of Oman.

Qatar Two trips, including: 14-16 April 2008

Derek Wyatt (L) and David Lidington (C) to attend the eighth Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade. Travel and hotel paid for by the government of Qatar.

Romania 31 August-5 September 2008

Jim Dobbin and Eric Martlew (both L) with the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group, to look at rail freight systems sponsored by the Rail Freight Group.

Saudi Arabia Two trips, including: 17-20 April 2006

Ian Davidson (L), Sir Peter Viggers (C), Huw Irranca-Davies (L), Graham Brady (C) and two peers, delegation of the IPU to meet the President and ministers. Included a 'number of lunches, dinners and receptions'.

Sweden Four trips, including: 10-12 August 2008

Ashok Kumar, Jamie Reed, John Robertson, Jim Sheridan (all L) and Bob Spink (Ind C) to Oskarshamn, to visit nuclear power and nuclear waste research and storage facilities with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Energy. The costs of the trip were met by E.ON.

Taiwan Five trips, including: 28 September-5 October 2007

Andrew Stunell (LD), Jim Dowd (L), Gordon Prentice (L), with a group of parliamentarians from the All-Party British-Taiwanese Group and All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group, as guests of the Taiwanese government.

Thailand 12-16 February 2006

Margaret Moran (L), Robert Goodwill (C), David Borrow (L), Bob Spink (Ind C), as part of a taxpayer-funded IPU trip. Including a visit to the River Kwai bridge and death railway and a reception hosted by the British ambassador.

Turkey Four trips, including: 18-22 March 2007

Stephen Hepburn, Lindsay Hoyle and Bob Laxton (all L) with the All-Party British-Turkish Parliamentary Group. Flights, accommodation and in-country costs were met by the Turkish government.

United Arab Emirates Two trips, including: 14-19 November 2008

Philip Dunne, Adam Holloway, Julie Kirkbride, Andrew Mackay and Hugo Swire (all C) to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, described as an 'all-party' delegation to meet government representatives, as guest of the government of the UAE, although no other parties seemed to have gone. The costs of flights and accommodation were met by the government of the UAE.

USA 17 visits, including: 24-31 August 2007

Stephen Ladyman (L), John Robertson (L), Robert Walter (C), Michael Connarty (L) and Nigel Evans (C) to Atlanta and Pittsburgh to visit some nuclear power facilities with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Energy. The costs of the trip were met by Westinghouse Electric Company.

And... 4-7 May 2008

John Robertson (L) as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria, to Washington to consult with US policy and law-makers on Nigeria. Flights, accommodation and other costs were met by Chatham House, a non-governmental organisation.

Time For Dilbert

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One of his better ones. :oD

Smash & Grab

The average successful convenience store robber in America gets away with $537.

World No Tobacco Day

Is today and it's quite a touchy subject here in Malaysia. They spend MYR 3 000 000 000 a year to treat smoking related diseases, which kills 10 000 people annually. That's a lot of waste in any currency...

It's Not Always Football

Today's MotoGP hits Italy at Mugello and there can only be one favourite to win. Rossi admits this is his most preferred track and with good reason- he's only won here the last seven times. Currently lying in second place by one point (after four races), he will looking to notch up another win and go top of the pile. Good luck to him.

It Must Be Close By

One in five Britons has admitted that they happily jet overseas to holiday destinations they cannot pinpoint on a map, and some (around 4%) have even landed abroad with the wrong currency.

Around 2% of the 2 000 adults polled admitted going to the wrong hotel, or even the wrong destination, after booking a trip abroad. The Thai capital of Bangkok proved a mystery to a quarter of the interviewees, who could not find it on a map. Others places easily confused were Palma, in Mallorca, and La Palma, in the Canaries.

Pah, that's nothing. I've booked up a hotel in Zurich before and we spent hours looking for it. Turned out it was in a different town entirely. Wifey now takes care of all our accommodation needs nowadays. :o)

What an Outstanding Man

I believe we may have referred to this last year, but in any case, this is inspiring if only because of the guy's courageous attitude. Taken from TSunTimes:

A terminally ill cancer patient is set to win £5,000 for the second time after betting that he would stay alive.

Jon Matthews, 59, staked £100 at odds of 50/1 that he would remain alive until June 1.

He has already received one £5,000 windfall, having laid the same bet last year. He plans to give the money to charity.

Mr Matthews, from Milton Keynes, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos, in April 2006 and was warned by doctors he could be dead within months.

The prognosis inspired him to place the first bet with bookmakers William Hill that he would still be alive on June 1 2008.

After accepting the winnings last year he placed the same bet and on Monday stands to collect a further £5,000.

Mr Matthews has made one further wager, placing £100 at odds of 100/1 that he will survive until June 1 next year, that could net him £10,000.

He said: “I think I’m the first person in the world to bet on my own life.”

“I wasn’t that fussed because everyone has to die some time. But the interesting thing for me was how long it would take, would it take weeks or years.”

Mr Matthews plans to split his winnings between a number of good causes, including cancer charity Macmillan.

“I know I’m going to die eventually and I have no real need for money, so it will mostly go to worthy causes,” he said.

Graham Sharpe, spokesman for William Hill, said: “We had never been asked to accept a bet of this nature before, but as Jon approached us directly and was adamant that it would give him an additional incentive to battle his illness, we offered him the bets he wanted."

And good for William Hill too, for taking the bets.

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World

The Queen and other spongers of the royal family are to be assigned up to 150 extra armed protection officers because of “health and safety” fears about the team already entrusted with their security.

Apparently the current squad of 400 special Plod are unable to cope with the punishing schedule of the royal ponces and some to work up to 70 hours a week, particularly on foreign trips. The strain is softened by overtime payments of up to £20 000 to £30 000 a year. That's on top of their normal salary. The decision to boost the team by up to 150 officers has prompted concerns about mainstream policing as Dibble sources say staff are being diverted from front line duties.

The money to pay for bodyguards for royals, diplomats and politicians comes from a special Home Office grant, but the size of the grant is kept secret. Why, I wonder? If the tax payer coughs for the bill, why shouldn't they know exactly how much it comes to? Experts estimate the cost of protecting the royals is about £60 million a year.

A recent survey found that 19 of the 43 forces in England and Wales cut their officers last year because of budgetary restraints. More forces are expected to cut staff at a time when the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file recruits, says the service needs an extra 2 000 officers.

Kinda brings it into perspective, doesn't it?

Play it Again, Sam

In an experiment backed by Bo-Jo, the mayor of London, and by the national lottery, 31 pianos are to be placed around the capital to encourage people to gather for a singsong with strangers. They will be placed at prominent sites such as the British Library, the Natural History Museum, the Bank of England and Tate Britain and each will be decorated by an artist with an appropriate motif. The one outside the Bank will be painted with money, one on Carnaby Street will be adorned with bright 1960s-style swirls and one in Portobello Road market will feature fruit and veg. A full-time tuner will tour the sites on a bicycle to maintain them and the organisers believe the scheme will encourage trust.

Although the pianos will be chained to bollards and railings...

Not wishing to pour scorn on a theory that is quite a nice idea, but I hate the piano and can't think of a more desperate plan. What next, perhaps a simulated black out to promote the wartime blitz and encourage neighbourly spirit and camaraderie? Who comes up with this shite?

Strap Lines

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Tan lines may soon be a thing of the past with this latest sun bathing invention from Kiniki. The Tan Through is a transparent swimsuit when held up to the light, using thousands of microscopic holes in the mesh fabric to allow 80% of sunlight to penetrate through to the skin. However the garment is covered in "magic eye" style animal prints and abstract patterns which confuse the eye, so onlookers can only see a solid block of fabric thus retaining the wearer's modesty.

Described as "a chicken wire mesh material" the stretchy synthetic fabric is available as all-in-one swim wear, bikinis, wraps and men's briefs, tangas and hipsters. A swimsuit bought direct from the company's website costs £34.30 while all other items are £17.43.

Jolly fine idea if you're not too happy about going top/bottom-less but no doubt the health campaigners will be up in arms.

Sloppy Goods

Pease pudding, the traditional northern snack (made from boiled split peas and ham fat– yuck) was confiscated from hand luggage at Newcastle International Airport. It was part of the 450 litres of banned liquids seized by staff each day, including bottles of water, fizzy pop and suntan lotion, vintage champagne and spirits, jars of Marmite and bottles of tomato ketchup.

Isn't this all getting a bit ridiculous?


It seems that England's cricket eleven are trying all sorts of desperate measures to win in the field as they experiment with different coloured lenses in their trendy shades. Glare from sunlight is considered to be a serious problem for professional cricket players as it can impair their ability to see a fast-moving ball while fielding.

Apparently certain shades improve visibility; for example, orange lenses were found to be better for players at dusk, particularly when playing with a white ball rather than the traditional red ball. Silver mirrored lenses can have up to 28% in ball visibility, while grey lenses, which are traditionally worn by players, are too dark for most conditions and performed badly in most tests. No doubt their sponsors will be disagreeing with that conclusion.

Anyway, why the fuss? British summers hardly see much sun.

Exhibition Match

Nice to hear that the German national football team played against China recently (Friday). Sadly not much of a game for the fans to watch but a top result for China who managed to take a 1-1 draw against the second best team in the FIFA rankings. China has dropped to number 97 in the rankings, and has failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

China next plays Iran on Monday in Qinhuangdo, and takes on Saudi Arabia three days later in Tianjin, while Germany has another friendly on Tuesday against the United Arab Emirates in Dubai.

Remember the Golden Rule

Always re-tune your TV set in a hotel as there is usually some numptie who's previously made a pig's ear out of it. I finally got around to doing this last night and got the welcome bonus of finding another sports channel. As luck would have it, they were showing the German FA Cup final and I made it to 03:00 in the morning and the first half before crashing.

A quick Google search and it turns out that Bayer Leverkusen lost 0-1 against Werder Bremen at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Scorer was Mesut Ozil 58, halftime score was 0-0 (told you), the attendance was 72 964and the referee was Helmut Fleischer.

Google is your friend. :o)

Congrats to Our Chelsea Fans

Of which one or two peruse the pages of this Blog on occasion. I didn't see the game, but I read that Chelsea beat Everton 2-1 after conceding the quickest goal in an FA Cup final history; just 25 seconds. Well done and at least you get a trophy at the end of your season.

Oddly enough, although we haven't won the tournament since 1991, Tottenham remain the third most successful team in the sta-testicles. Man Utd lead on 11 wins with the Arse in second on 10 triumphs. We're third with 8 wins and Chelsea now have 5 successes.

I can't recall what it feels like to actually win anything any more. :-(

Darn It

The most expensive disasters in history- thanks to Brendan for the email (and scuse typos and layout/stuff as this is just copied directly). The most shocking comes in at #1:

# 11. Titanic - $150 Million

The sinking of the Titanic is possibly the most famous accident in the world. But it barely makes our list of top 10 most expensive.
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage and was considered to be the most luxurious ocean liner ever built.
Over 1,500 people lost their lives when the ship ran into an iceberg and sunk in frigid waters. The ship cost $7 million to build
($150 million in today's dollars).

# 10. Tanker Truck vs Bridge - $358 Million

On August 26, 2004, a car collided with a tanker truck containing 32,000 liters of fuel on the Wiehltal Bridge in Germany . The tanker crashed through the guardrail and fell 90 feet off the A4 Autobahn resulting in a huge explosion and fire which destroyed the load-bearing ability of the bridge. Temporary repairs cost $40 million and the cost to replace the bridge is estimated at $318 Million.

# 9. MetroLink Crash - $500 Million

On September 12, 2008, in what was one of the worst train crashes in California history, 25 people were killed when a Metrolink commuter train crashed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles . It is thought that the Metrolink train may have run through a red signal while the conductor was busy text messaging. Wrongful death lawsuits are expected to cause $500 million in losses for Metrolink.

# 8. B-2 Bomber Crash - $1.4 Billion

Here we have our first billion dollar accident (and we're only #7 on the list). This B-2 stealth bomber crashed shortly after taking off from an air base in Guam on February 23, 2008. Investigators blamed distorted data in the flight control computers caused by moisture in the system.
This resulted in the aircraft making a sudden nose-up move which made the B-2 stall and crash. This was 1 of only 21 ever built and was the most expensive aviation accident in history. Both pilots were able to eject to safety.

# 7. Exxon Valdez - $2.5 Billion

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was not a large one in relation to the world's biggest oil spills, but it was a costly one due to the remote location of Prince William Sound (accessible only by helicop= ter and boat). On March 24, 1989, 10.8 million gallons of oil was spilled when the ship's master, Joseph Hazelwood, left the controls and the ship crashed into a Reef. The cleanup cost Exxon $2.5 billion.

# 6. Piper Alpha Oil Rig - $3.4 Billion

The world ' s worst off-shore oil disaster. At one time, it was the world's single largest oil producer, spewing out 31,000 barrels of oil per day.
On July 6, 1988, as part of routine maintenance, technicians removed and checked safety valves which were essential in preventing dangerous build-up of liquid gas. There were 100 identical safety valves which were checked. Unfortunately, the technicians made a mistake and forgot to replace one of them. At 10 PM that same night, a technician pressed a start button for the liquid gas pumps and the world's most expensive oil rig accident was set in motion.

Within 2 hours, the 300 foot platform was engulfed in flames. It eventually collapsed, killing 167 workers and resulting in $3.4 Billion in damages.

# 5. Challenger Explosion - $5.5 Billion

The Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after takeoff due on January 28, 1986 due to a faulty O-ring. It failed to seal one of the joints, allowing pressurized gas to reach the outside. This in turn caused the external tank to dump its payload of liquid hydrogen causing a massive explosion. The cost of replacing the Space Shuttle was $2 billion in 1986 ($4.5 billion in today's dollars).
The cost of investigation, problem correction, and replacement of lost equipment cost $450 million from 1986-1987 ($1 Billion in today's dollars).

# 4. Prestige Oil Spill - $12 Billion

On November 13, 2002, the Prestige oil tanker was carrying 77,000 tons of heavy fuel oil when one of its twelve tanks burst during a storm off Galicia , Spain . Fearing that the ship would sink, the captain called for help from Spanish rescue workers, expecting them to take the ship into harbour. However, pressure from local authorities forced the captain to steer the ship away from the coast. The captain tried to get help from the French and Portuguese authorities, but they too ordered the ship away from their shores. The storm eventually took its toll on the ship resulting in the tanker splitting in half and releasing 20 million gallons oil into the sea.
According to a report by the Pontevedra Economist Board, the total cleanup cost $12 billion.

# 3. Space Shuttle Columbia - $13 Billion

The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first space-worthy shuttle in NASA's orbital fleet. It was destroyed during re-entry over Texas on February 1, 2003 after a hole was punctured in one of the wings during launch 16 days earlier. The original cost of the shuttle was $2 Billion in 1978. That comes out to $6.3 Billion in today ' s dollars. $500 million was spent on the investigation, making it the costliest aircraft accident investigation in history. The search and recovery of debris cost $300 million.

In the end, the total cost of the accident (not including replacement of the shuttle) came out to $13 Billion according to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

# 2. Chernobyl - $200 Billion

On April 26, 1986, the world witnessed the costliest accident in history. The Chernobyl disaster has been called the biggest socio-economic catastrophe in peacetime history. 50% of the area of Ukraine is in some way contaminated. Over 200,000 people had to be evacuated and resettled while 1.7 million people were directly affected by the disaster. The death toll attributed to Chernobyl , including people who died from cancer years later, is estimated at 125,000. The total costs including cleanup, resettlement, and compensation to victims has been estimated to be roughly $200 Billion. The cost of a new steel shelter for the Chernobyl nuclear plant will cost $2 billion alone. The accident was officially attributed to power plant operators who violated plant procedures and were ignorant of the safety requirements needed.

# 1. Gordon Brown - $300 Billion since he came to power

Since he came to power Gordon Brown has spent $300 Billion with soaring public spending, together with propping up the banks the ailing economy which he also presided over as Chancellor.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

You're Nicked

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Parked up legally and feeling rather chuffed as you finish work for the day? Don't be quite so cocky if it's in Lambeth, London.

Some burd always parked around the corner from her house, so it came as a shock when she discovered the car disappeared and in its place were double yellow lines. Her confusion deepened when the council claimed to have no knowledge of where her car was.

Three weeks later the council admitted that its contractors were behind the disappearance, and then adding insult to injury they advised her she owed more than £800 in fines.

The car had been carefully lifted out of the way for the double yellows to be painted then replaced on the new restrictions by the contractors responsible. The same day a different set of parking enforcers spotted the "illegally parked" car, and had it towed away- after photographing it on the newly painted double yellows.

Lambeth Council blamed a "breakdown in communication" between its contractors and has now offered the lady£150 compensation. Quality piece of back tracking.

Gimme Five

EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- What do you call a high-five that misses? Many would just call it awkward, but an El Paso school principal calls it assault. The misfire came last week when schools superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was giving principals high-fives while celebrating state test scores. When Garcia came to Barron Elementary School principal Mary Helen Lechuga and she didn't raise her hand, he tapped her on the head instead.

But Lechuga - a former district administrator who was recently demoted - filed a police complaint saying she felt pain and feared what he might do next.

Garcia said she's a disgruntled employee and her complaint is petty.

The El Paso Times reported Thursday that school district police are investigating.

Ordinarily I'd have commented "only in America" but sadly I don't feel this is the case any more. Nowadays people seem to want to get rich quick and will do anything to achieve this goal. What a sad and desperate place this world is becoming. :-(

What Camera?

Cool. Cops in Australia who are after a pay rise of 15% over three years have only been offered 9.5%. They are understandably none too chuffed and so have decided on a "work to rule policy", which includes taking up their right to a 40-minute lunch break.

Better still, they are refusing to issue traffic fines and undermining Multanova (the region Plod are stationed in) revenue by parking in front of the cameras to alert drivers to their presence. You can bet that most drivers will be hoping this industrial action continues for a long time to come. :o)

Full article here.

No Shagging- Really

Last month, an Asian massage parlor in Eden Prairie called Planet Shikoku Rejuvenation Station got busted by undercover cops for alleged prostitution. It's hardly a stop press story, but it's the way they advertised their "services" in the local paper that may have been their downfall:

Men are from Mars!
Women are from Venus,
We understand that sometimes,
It's all about the Penis!

But there's NO UNHAPPY ENDINGS here,
Because we don't do anything wrong,
We will stroke your ego,
Not your ding dong!

Enjoy our tender loving care,
You can completely relax,
Have fun and never worry,
There are NO sex acts!

Don't be shy, no need to hide,
No need to cover or to camouflage,
Just remember, the better you behave,
The better we massage!

Now introducing the THAI BUTTERFLY massage!
(A special treat for our best behaving clients!)

Talk about subtle... :0)

Erm, I'm Sure I Know This One- Honest

According to a survey conducted for Toshiba, 86% of Americans are unaware that DVD is an acronym that stands for either Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc. Bless.

Halt, Who Goes There?

I'm not the most patient person when it comes to people flogging you stuff as you go about your business. Cold callers, foot in the door salespeople, hawkers- they can all go and bog off. In Malaysia they seem to have yet another angle for selling you tat; standing at the top (or bottom) of escalators and as you alight, they thrust fliers at you, whether you want them or not.

Even if you keep your head down, DMEC and thrust your hands stubbornly into your pockets, they march directly in front of you as you're conveyored (is that a legit word? It is now) at them and you have to dodge around the stubborn/determined parasites or risk causing a bottleneck with the rest of the shoppers piling up behind you.

And if you dare to ignore them they mark you out for a more determined attack on your way back and they aren't afraid to use the paper cut assassination technique either. The bastards.

How it Works

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Now This is Good News

If it comes off. From TTel:

Sources close to the negotiations say that Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, is leading talks with Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive and chairman about rolling out an international version of the BBC iPlayer, supported in some way by Google-owned video sharing site YouTube.

However the process has been mired by the need for international rights clearance for the BBC programmes currently shown on the iPlayer in the UK. The BBC iPlayer allows viewers to watch popular BBC programmes for up to seven days after they were first broadcast.

BBC content is also available on YouTube in the UK, but only in short clip format. This step would mean BBC shows could be seen globally in their entirety on the iPlayer platform supported by YouTube. Although no details about the business structure have emerged, it is though internet users would be able to access the content for free.

A BBC spokesperson said: “There are a significant number of obstacles to extending this commercially to other countries, including international rights clearance. These obstacles present significant difficulties and for this reason there are no firm plans for a specific international BBC iPlayer, but audiences can watch BBC content outside the UK through numerous BBC Worldwide content deals with online partners such as iTunes.”

Separate talks are understood to be happening concurrently between YouTube and BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation, about making the BBC’s archive content, for which international licenses have already been acquired, available on YouTube in their entirety. This follows on from a lucrative deal struck between YouTube and BBC Worldwide in America to broadcast a selection of its content in full. Industry pundits predict the deal will pave the way for a similar deal in the UK.

Although a YouTube spokesperson refused to confirm talks about an international iPlayer were taking place, they said: “The BBC is one of YouTube's oldest partners and for over two years we've worked with various parts of the BBC to support the distribution, promotion and monetisation of their content.”

Let's hope it's sooner than later.

Airport Pirates

The first security scanner that can see through bottles and detect whether they contain explosive liquid will start trials next month at Newcastle Airport. The technology could allow the Department for Transport to lift restrictions on liquid in hand luggage, meaning passengers would again be allowed to carry bottles of any size on board.

The British-built scanner works by shining an X-ray through the liquid and detecting the “spectral signature” of the image recorded on the other side. Each type of liquid has a different “signature” and the machine has been programmed to distinguish between harmless ones, such as water or alcohol, and potential explosives such as hydrogen peroxide.

About time too- this OTT ban has been in place since August 2006 after the discovery of an alleged British terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic flights. Within weeks most other countries adopted the same restrictions and the airports have been fleecing passengers ever since.

The ban has cost Britain’s aviation industry more than £100 million in security costs. BAA, which has seven British airports, had to employ 3 500 more screening staff. Two tonnes of alcohol a month are still being confiscated at Heathrow alone, along with thousands of bottles of perfume and toiletries. At Newcastle Airport, security staff seize and destroy more than 750 bottles a day.

More Credit to the Bayview

Our hotel underwent a major overhaul of its internet system in the New Year. At the time, we had quite a few niggles but it was better in the long run and they have since installed a fast, solid and reliable product. They also took the opportunity to amend their pricing structure, which is steep to say the least.

However, our long term deal includes full internet access, free of charge so we're not bothered and it's been absolutely fine until last night, when we kept losing the connection. Every ten minutes or so, we'd drop out and then a few minutes later we'd be asked to re-enter our password to gain access to the internet again. We'd comply, but the tab we were using would disappear and it became more than frustrating as this went on for a whole hour before I got the arse and packed it in for the night.

Today I met up with their IT chap who checked things through (including our lappie and all connections/settings) but he could not locate the fault. Hopefully it was a one off, but in conversation I mentioned that the Vaio was due back for repair and how would the unique password work with our Mini HP? It wouldn't, but straight away he arranged for us to get another password and so we should be able to keep in touch via the HP. Great service with a smile.

Unlucky people, we don't go off air so easily.

Barbecue Summer

Britain will bask in the first heatwave of the year this weekend with temperatures topping 27 C in a scorching start to the "barbecue summer". Meteorologists say the next few days will see the hottest temperatures of the year; well above the seasonal average of 19 C and hotter than the Italian and French Rivieras. There is even a chance that in the south the temperatures may reach the benchmark of 30 C.

The "fine, dry and sunny" spell is the perfect start to what the Met Office has described as the "barbecue summer" because they are expecting temperatures to be above average and rainfall to be low. A meteorologist at the Met Office said:

"In meteorological terms, the summer starts on 1st June and it is pleasing that it has thrown up some settled warm and even hot temperatures. It's a nice start to the barbecue summer."

I'm not going to comment on temperatures as we average over 30 C every day, but we are also in the rainy season and currently we get one day hot and dry and the next wet and dry with rain falling like it's coming out of a tap for an hour or so. Then it all clears up and an hour later it's all bone dry again.

Anyway, hope the weather holds in Britland and it stays around for a bit. And that goes for the north east too.


Who? Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy, and according to them 4.73 billion songs and videos being downloaded for free each year by over 7 million Brits, costing the economy billions of pounds and affecting thousands of jobs. Music downloading had "become part and parcel of the social fabric of our society despite its illegal status", the report found.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI and yet another snappy title) estimates that there were 890 million illegal free music downloads through file sharing in the UK in 2007 compared with 140 million paid downloads. This puts unauthorised access at a ratio of six to one, before off-line sharing like disk burning is even considered.

Yes, it's theft and yes, people are losing out financially but it's also theft to charge over £15 for a CD or DVD that can legally be bought in another country for £3. Sort out a fair price for a uniform product and perhaps then you'll see people changing their attitudes.

More at TTel.

Q & A With Dave

It's along post, but David Cameron answers questions from the readers of the Telegraph:

Obviously, you were astonished by the detail of abuse of MPs’ expenses. But you would have been aware of the widespread practise of claiming allowances that were not justified. Why did you support this system until the Telegraph exposed it?

John Hodgeman,London

What I did at the beginning of 2008 was the right to know form which was a really big attempt to reform the system, particularly for the future. I would accept that the problem with the right to know form was it didn’t deal with the years 2004-08 but it absolutely dealt with the future. It meant that for the future Tory MPs started doing this a year ago way before the HoC, had to set out how many people they employed, whether any were family members, what they claimed under the different headings, broken down into relatively small numbers so everyonecould see what they were claiming for. One of the reasons for doing that was to effectively put a stop to claims that were within the rules but without common sense and at the same time we had a three line whip on an opposition motion. Something never done before on a HoC matter, to get rid of the John Lewis list and to ban furniture claims. So I don’t accept that I did nothing. I would say that I was the first out of the box on this but I do accept that what I was doing was addressing the future. The past,the FoI act was always going to take care of and we supported the FoI process but I thought the most important thing was to sort out the future. But I have been genuinely shocked by the stuff that people have claimed. I didn’t know it was legal and didn’t think it would cross people’s minds.

I’m ashamed by what’s happened.There are the things that are the sort of fastidiousness of ministers hiring accountants to fill in their tax returnsand getting the tax payer to pay for it. That never occurred to me that people would or could do that. But also, like others, the swimmingpools, the moats, the duck ponds.The lack of common sense and reasonableness has been shocking. Why didn’t we know more about this? I did over a year ago put in place something that would help sort it out for the future.

Which is most important to you: your country and its people or your party?

RobinGaskell, Hartford,Cheshire

Country comes before party everytime. I say to MPs when you get into parliament remember you must vote according to your conscience and then your view of the national interest and your view of your constituents interests and then your party.That is the way it should go. Country always comes first. One of my great Conservative heroes, Robert Peel, didn’t do a lot for the Conservative party but he did a lot for the country.

What are the moral principles that shape Conservative policies?

Roger Steare, Seveonoaks

That we have obligations to others. That we should look to working together with other people.We should try to be responsible in what we do for ourselves and ou rfamilies and our communities and our country and we should focus on those responsibilities rather than always thinking about the responsibility of the state. I think the most important word in Conservatism is responsibility. Yes, we’re a party of freedom and we believe in setting people free to make choices but at heart the strong society that we believe in is delivered by people acting responsibly. That’s why in a way this scandal is so damaging because how can we talk about the need for responsibility in the economy or in society when politicians have been so irresponsible.That’s why we have to get our own house in order.

In order to persuade young people to vote Conservative it’s essential to lose the image of the party being of the rich and privileged. Will you actively deter these types from standing in the next election in the seats that have become vacant and would you consider keeping such figures as Osborne in the background at least until after the election?

Jane O’Nions, Sevenoaks

The Conservative party is a party that believes in meritocracy and opportunity,that believes that talent should be rewarded. I appoint people according to their talent. If you take Osborne or Letwin they hold their positions in the cabinet because of their talent. A problem the party has had is we haven’t been open enough to all of the talent in all of the country.Yes, I have battered the selection process of candidates many times and changed the rules and introduced open primaries and things like that in order to bring in more talent. And one of the most important founding principles of the Conservative party is that we area one nation party, we do not believe in the two nations of the rich and the poor.As a one nation party we have to work harder to get people from every different background into the party. This should be anopportunity to do that.

The complacency of sitting MPs in safe seats was a major factor leading to the expenses scandal.The Conservative party has been using open primaries in some areas. Will you extend these to all constituencies in the future, including those with a sitting Tory MP, so that ordinary voters can choose who their MP will be everytime they vote Conservative?

Moshin Khan, Oxford

I want more open primaries. We’ve had them in many constituencies. We also had the largest open primary for the mayor of London candidate for which they chose Boris. I’m in favour of open primaries.There are very simple procedures for anyone who wants to run for selection in a sitting MP's seat. 10% or 200 have to ask for it, whichever is the smaller number. It’s up to associations if they want to do that. Primaries should become much more relevant in selections. I don’t say make it universal because I’m not sure that would be the right approach in every case but I’d like to see many more. It’s not just enough to open up the system, you’ve got to get more people into the system. You’ve got to make sure that people coming on to the candidates list are talented, varied, that there are women and ethnic minorities. It’s not enough just to open the door and say we’re meritocratic, come in. If all anyone sees are white middle aged male faces they don’t find it very attractive to come in. You have to work quite hard. Positive action rather than positive discrimination to get people to come in.

You have expressed a wish to see ‘ordinary people’ offering themselves for selection to stand for election as MPs.How do you define ‘ordinary people’ and what qualities do you see as essential in MPs if we are to renew the political life of the country?

Anne Pitt-Payne, Aylesbury, Bucks

I think there are some core essentials that anyone wanting to be an MP has to have which is a belief in public service, a belief in the power of politics to bring real change. If you don’t believe in those things there’s not much point in doing it. What I hope you will get and I don’t like using the phrase ‘ordinarypeople’ but what I hope we will get is people from different backgrounds and experiences to bring into the Commons greater variety. There aren’t enough people in the Commons with a small business background.There’s a shortage of people who really understand agriculture and farming.There aren’t enough people on the Conservative side who have worked in some of the key public services. I’d like to see people who’ve been successful head teachers. There are a variety of experiences you want to bring to bear to parliament but the core has got to be a belief in public service and that politics can change things.

People are so disillusioned with politics that it’s difficult at a local level to interest people in participating but this is where real party strength comes from. What can be done to make party membership more relevant to ordinary people?

Dorothy Roberts, Wellington,Telford

It’s a very good question. How do you make party membership relevant? Well, being very clear what powers the party members have.They elect the leader, they play a big role in electing local candidates, they can have a say on policy, they can be involved in campaigns. I think the party has a lot to learn from other membership organisations that are more successful than us. The National Trust, RSPCA, there are many organisations that are better at looking after their members than we are.I think we have to learn from that.The other thing is to strengthen local government. If we devolve power from Westminster to local government I think you’ll get more people of more quality who want to get involved in local government and that will bring people into the party in that way.

What steps will you take in order to restore the country’s confidence not only in its parliament but also in the capabilities of individual members of that Parliament even though they may recently have been found guilty of excessive greed?

Richard Fontes, Wrexham

It’s not going to be easy because this has been a big shock to the political system..You can’t just wave a magic wand and think everything’s going to be fine. We’re going to have to rebuild that confidence brick by brick. One other frustrations people have with parliament and their MPs is that ‘we send you to parliament, the whips get control, you all just vote the same way, the bell goes, everyone troops through the voting lobbies’. Where’s the individuality? Where’s the conscience voting? Where’s the free voting, the argument, debate,discussion? Where’s the detailed scrutiny of legislation. We need to give parliament more independence from the executive, give MPs the opportunity for greater independence, make sure there’s a different career path to just being a minister and climbing the greasy pole.That’s being a legislator, a scrutineer, someone who brings the government to account.That’s why you’ve got to get the select committees out of the hands of the whips and elect the chairman and the members of the committees so people can start seeing individual legislators as people with power and influence and a role rather than seeing parliament as some giant sausage machine that just churns out legislation that hasn’t been scrutinised properly.

How could we ensure that in the future those that we elect actually have a sound, a genuine, understanding of what serving the community means?

Margaret Scott, Stevenage

If you look at parliament at the moment of the three things it’s meant to do it does one well and two pretty badly. The one it does well is individual MPs are effective at standing up for their local area. What it does badly is scrutinise legislation badly and call the government to account fairly badly.So we need to focus on those two other roles. I also think we will build confidence in parliament by making it smaller and less expensive. 650 MPs is too many and part of the process of rebuilding trust is to show everyone else that in parliament we do what we’re asking everyone else to do which is do more for less.

Many MPs in seeking to explain their expense claims have stated that as a salary increase could not be justified to the public they should inflate their expenses accordingly. Would Mr Cameron agree that these actions were effectively a conspiracy to defraud the Public and that anyone party to this conspiracy should face the full force of theLaw?

Jeffrey Burnman, Stevenage

You’ve got to separate two things.Was there a conspiracy by all parties to hold back the pay but increase the allowances? Yes, there was.There’s no doubt. You can go back to the 70s and 80s. It shouldn’t have happened but it did. Point two is if people have actually broken the law in claiming expenses, like mortgage payment for mortgages that don’t exist, should they be subject to the full force of the law. Yes, of course they should. I’ve said it’s not for me to call in the police but the police know what the law is and if they feel it’s been broken they should be able to look at that without fear or favour.

Why should the electorate have confidence in your ability to reform when you commend those who have brought the house into disrepute. I refer to your comments following the proposed resignation of the Wintertons thanking them for their ‘service, energy and commitment’.

Tom Moore, Newcastle

In the case of the Wintertons I’ve said what I’ve said in the past about their expense claims and I don’t go bac kon that but you also have to look at the fact that they were servants of the House of Commons. He was the select committee chairman of a very effective health committee. He was on the Speaker's panel. She played all sorts of roles on the front bench.They have provided a ot of public service in their parliamentary lives and I’m a great believer in the value of politeness. When people stand down from parliament after a long career when they have contributed things then it’s polite to say so

Why should members who have so blatantly departed from the terms of the Green Book be considered as anything less than benefit cheats yet allowed to continue in post, drawing theirallowances etc until the next election?

Jim Buckingham, Nuneaton,Warwickshire

People have actually broken the rules and the rules are pretty rubbish rules and the Green Book is a pretty rubbishy Green Book. But the people who have broken the rules should be subject to the full force of the system that’s already in place.The parliamentary commissioner for standards, the standards and privileges committee and as is the case with Derek Conway was excluded from the Commons and had his pay reduced. Anyone who breaks the rules there are already those sanctions in place. The difficult thing we’ve been grasping with is what do you do with people who behaved in a way that wasn’t right but who didn’t break the rules.As far as I can see I’m the only party leader who’s actually put in place a system to do something about that. Which is this scrutiny panel and when you see how much is going to be paid back by how many people I think you will see there’s been a very rigorous process to deal with a system that’s fundamentally broken.

You have in the past described yourself as the ‘heir to Blair’. How can voters be sure that you have not inherited Blair’s tendency to promise to empower the people while in opposition, only to ignore that promise once in power?

John Gordon, Datchworth Green,Hertfordshire

I would say you can judge by some of the actions I did in the case of theLondon mayoralty, open it up to all Londoners irrespective of their party. We have had a lot of open primaries where the party has given up power. If you look at the things I said in that speech this week, many of them I said in my leadership campaign in 2005 about greater independence for select and standing committees and parliament having more control of its timetable and all the rest of it and to me a part of being a Conservative is wanting to win power in order to give it away. That may sound odd but that is actually what I believe.

Would you please say what measures you would put in place to ensure that proposed laws are a) better drafted and b)properly debated before being enacted?

Julian Lea Jones, Bristol

The most important thing is to give the HoC more control over its timetable and to make sure that we don’t have these automatic guillotines for bills. Right now what happens is a new bill arrives, we immediately have a programme motion which means we set out the timetable for debate even before we’ve debated the bill and in some cases this means that whole clauses will actually never get debated on the floor of the House of Commons. It is really disgraceful so you have to give the House more control of its timetable, you have to have many fewer of these programme motions, far fewer guillotines and also I think when the bill goes into a standing committee you should by and large take the party whips off and then bring it back to the House. Of course if it’s been changed so it’s no longer what was in the manifesto then the government may want to change it back but they’d have to explain that openly. So, far better scrutiny, far more detailed scrutiny and making sure that committee stage really means something. Stop pretending that passing laws equals making progress. One of the problems with this government has been its whole programme on how macho it is at thrusting laws through parliament. If we’ve learnt anything from the last ten years it’s that 54 criminal justice bills don't make us a safer country.

Businesses are suffocating under red tape and the country has become a nanny state. What assurances can he give that instead of adding more laws he will actively start dismantling a lot of these ridiculous rules and regulations?

John Cristal, Crowborough, East Sussex

Absolutely.We should try and limit the laws that we do pass and look at things like regulatory budgets where you say to a department ‘your regulation costs £100M, next year it’s got to cost £90M, then £80M, then £70M'. So you start to hack away at regulations rather than trying to pass more. When you look at the amount of regulation that comes from Brussels a lot of this you’ve got to stop at source. I was at an agricultural show yesterday. The electronic tracking of sheep is going to cost the British farmers a vast amount of money. It’s going to improve our animal welfare by zero. It’s a complete waste of money. We’ve got the biggest flock of sheep in Europe but what has ourgovernment done to stop this coming? Nothing. They should have stopped it. So it means you’ve got to be prepared to say no and actually stamp on things at the moment at which they’re suggested.

As a former member of the Armed Forces, I’d like to ask Mr Cameron if he would endorse the provision of state-owned Parliamentary accommodation for MPs, instead of a second homeallowance? The nominal cost of this would be paid for out of their own salary as is the case with service accommodation in the Armed Force.

Stuart Seear, Newlyn, Cornwall

We’ve got to improve the Armed Forces' accommodation. I don’t think this idea of state-owned accommodation for MPs is a good one. The problem to me is this. A lot of MPs try to keep our family together as we move between the constituency and Westminster.The old fashioned idea that you leave your husband or wife at home while you’re up in parliament, I don’t think that’s a good way to keep family life together.

Would Mr Cameron be wiling to call a referendum on the UK remaining in the EU and if the majority was against would he withdraw our membership?

Richard Youens, Rushall Pewsey

I support our membership of the EU. I want us to change the EU so I don’t support an in/out referendum. I don’t think it’s right for Britain and I don’t think it’s what the country’s after. I think the country does though want a referendum on the EU constitution which they were promised by all their political parties and the best way to get it is to vote Conservative on 4th une and put the maximum pressure on Brown to keep to his promise.

Would it be possible to submit the,say, five major programmes in a manifesto for an online referendum to confirm if the goals have been achieved before the following general election? Failure of two or more would force a general election.Past goals might have included, say, an effective immigration control programme or referendum on the LisbonTreaty.

Jeremy Burton, Shurlock Row, Berks

Intriguing question. We live in a representative democracy where we elect a parliament and a government to govern, to make tough decisions, to get on with the business of government and then to ask at the end of a parliament ‘do you want us to continue or do you want to chuck us out’. think that should be the core of our system. Can we do more in terms of engaging people? Yes, do we want to have local initiatives so people in Sherlock Row want to vote on whether they want a leisure centre or a bypass? Yes, fine. But I’m not sure that that proposal as set out by your reader would work as well as your reader thinks.

Why should the public vote for anyone in the local or MEP elections next month if members of all three main parties are caught up in the expenses scandal?

Tim Hawkins, Doncaster

People should vote in the European elections for parties that they think represent their views inEurope.That is what these elections are really about. If you want the referendum then Conservatives are the biggest party promising a referendum, that’s a reason to vote Conservative. If you want MEPs in Brussels that are going to fight regulations that hit our farmers and fight regulations that hit businesses and that are going to stand up for Britain, that’s a reason to vote for a Conservative MEP. I know people are wanting to kick the major parties and vote for the minor parties but I would say: UKIP said lend us your vote five years ago and what have you had from UKIP. They voted to allow Spanish fishing vessels into British fishing waters. They’ve been a completely useless set of MEPs.

You have promised to ‘give serious thought’ to the possibility of fixed-term parliaments. Any sensible observer will recognise this as a slippery form of words, a traditional politician’s ploy. As a politician now professedly committed to transferring power to the powerless, will you give an open undertaking that, if you come to power, you will establish a Royal Commission on electoral and parliamentary reform and submit its proposals to a referendum?

Dr H P Hughes, Cambridge

No I don’t think that’s the right answer. Royal Commissions take minutes and last for years. I don’t think we’ve got that long to sort out our political system. The test should be for each proposal: does it pass power from the powerful to the powerless. In my view electoral reform, proportional representation, fails that test because you end up with a system that leads to more coalitions, more back room deals and you suddenly find the governments determined not by the voter but by the party leaders in smoke filled rooms. Oneof the beauties of our system is that you can kick a government out, you can get change through our general elections and I don’t want to change that. Fixed term parliaments, the arguments are getting stronger because we should be trying to reduce the power of the executive and increase the power of parliament. The only problem, and I want to be consistent here as I’ve been calling for an election ever since Brown took over because I didn’t think he had a mandate, is with changing a PM half way through a parliament when the previous one had said he’d serve a full term.

Why has the Conservative party failed to coherently articulate its vision for the future of the British Armed Forces when it remains clear that we are both losing in Afghanistan and singularly ill prepared to meet future threats?

Henry Jordan, Oxford

The problem is we need to have a proper national security-led strategic defence review and it is quite difficult in opposition to do that because you don’t have all the information at your fingertips. But I think it’s the right answer for making sure that we match our defence procurement and armed forces to the tasks we want to set them.

If you become PM, what will you do for children?

Edward Buckton (aged 9), Burnham on Sea

Make sure that our education system gets the basics right. We’ve got to teach reading and writing in a more traditional way. We’ve got to make sure we teach history properly. We’ve got to have proper discipline and order in our schools. Getting that right is the most important thing for the future of our country.

Phil Spector Banged Up

Phil Spector, the music producer, has been sentenced to 19 years to life behind bars after being found guilty last month of murdering an actress at his mansion six years ago. The maximum sentence is usually 15 years, but the deputy district attorney, argued Spector should face an additional four years for personal use of a gun in the crime.

An odd plea. How else would one shoot someone?

Friday, 29 May 2009

All English "Team" GB

I'm not sure they understand the idea behind a Great British team. Apparently, a "British" football team looks set to play at the London Olympics for the first time in 40 years, but it is likely to be made up of only English players after the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations said they would not participate. Instead they have agreed to drop their opposition to England going it alone, clearing one of the last major hurdles to a British team appearing at the 2012 Games.

The long-running wrangles over fielding a British squad for the London Olympics has been a hot political issue as the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations fear it could threaten their independence. A joint letter from the four associations was sent to Fifa recently saying Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have no involvement in the Olympic tournament but would not prevent an England team from doing so. The deal will have to be ratified by Fifa before it is officially confirmed.

So the point of this is what then?

The last time Britain was represented in the Olympic football tournament was at the 1972 Games in Munich.

David Suchet

Click to Enlarge

A couple of nights ago we settled down to watch Murder in Mesopotamia, an Agatha Christie Poirot film, with David Suchet playing the lead role. As ever, he was splendid in the part and along with Jeremy Brett who plays another top 'tective, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, they have truly made these characters their own.

Good news for Poirot fans then, as Suchet has committed to making another four programmes, and he said:

"After 21 years filming Poirot I am as excited as ever to be returning to the role and very much looking forward to filming with such a wonderful guest cast."

The first of the new series is to be The Clocks and should be out next year on ITV 1.

Urban Myth

Although there is a popular myth that a duck's quack does not echo, the opposite is true. In 2003, researchers at Texas A&M determined that a duck's quack will echo for the longest amount of time of any animal noise.

New Approach

Standard & Poor's is launching an index of large Canadian stocks with criteria defined by Islamic law– no companies with businesses in financial services, entertainment, alcohol, pork-related products or tobacco.

The index operator said yesterday the S&P/TSX 60 version, compliant with the Muslim code of law known as Sharia,

"will create new opportunities for Islamic investors to benchmark their Canadian investments, and for asset managers to create new investment products serving the Islamic community."

The S&P/TSX 60 shariah index joins the operator's sharia-compliant indexes in 51 other markets, including the S&P 500 shariah, S&P Europe 350 shariah, S&P Japan 500 shariah and S&P CNX Nifty (Indian market) shariah.

I wonder how it will fare?


Reading John Grisham's "The Innocent Man" he refers to catsup. Wot? After much nut scratching, it dawns on me he means ketchup. Bloody American spellings:

[Q] Why is ketchup also called catsup?

[A] Ketchup was one of the earliest names given to this condiment, so spelled in Charles Lockyer’s book of 1711, An Account of the Trade in India: “Soy comes in Tubbs from Jappan, and the best Ketchup from Tonquin; yet good of both sorts are made and sold very cheap in China”. Nobody seems quite sure where it comes from, and I won’t bore you with a long disquisition concerning the scholarly debate on the matter, which is reflected in the varied origins given in major dictionaries. It’s likely to be from a Chinese dialect, imported into English through Malay. The original was a kind of fish sauce, though the modern Malay and Indonesian version, with the closely related name kecap, is a sweet soy sauce.

Like their Eastern forerunners, Western ketchups were dipping sauces. I’m told the first ketchup recipe appeared in Elizabeth Smith’s book The Compleat Housewife of 1727 and that it included anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, sweet spices (cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg), pepper and lemon peel. Not a tomato in sight, you will note — tomato ketchup was not introduced until about a century later, in the US, and caught on only slowly. It was more usual to base the condiment on mushrooms, or sometimes walnuts.

The confusion about names started even before Charles Lockyer wrote about it, since there is an entry dated 1690 in the Dictionary of the Canting Crew which gives it as catchup, which is another Anglicisation of the original Eastern term. Catchup was used much more in North America than in Britain: it was still common in the middle years of the nineteenth century, as in a story in Scribner’s Magazine in 1859: “I do not object to take a few slices of cold boiled ham ... with a little mushroom catchup, some Worcester sauce, and a pickle or so”. Indeed, catchup continued to appear in American works for some decades and is still to be found on occasion.

There were lots of other spellings, too, of which catsup is the best known, a modification of catchup. You can blame Jonathan Swift for it if you like, since he used it first in 1730: “And, for our home-bred British cheer, Botargo, catsup, and caveer”. [Caveer is caviar; botargo is a fish-based relish made of the roe of the mullet or tunny.] That form was also once common in the US but is much less so these days, at least on bottle labels: all the big US manufacturers now call their product ketchup.

Simple question: complicated answer!

From World Wide Words

Shit + Fan

Using a leaf blower to clear leaves from a typical 1/4 acre piece of property will cause approximately 1.27 lbs of animal fecal matter to become airborne. Approximately 7.4 ounces will remain airborne for more than 30 minutes.

I Say

Many a man who falls in love with a dimple make the mistake of marrying the whole girl.

- Evan Esar

Brits on Tour. Erm, Wait a Minute...

Almost half of all Germans are embarrassed by their boorish countrymen abroad, according to a new poll. But there might not be so much to worry about this summer, as the bad economy leads more Teutons to holiday at home.

Some 45 percent of those surveyed by Reader’s Digest Deutschland reported having been bothered at least once by their compatriots’ tacky behaviour in foreign lands, the magazine reported ahead of its June edition.

Meanwhile 69 percent of those questioned said they’d been horrified by the condescending tone some Germans take with locals.

Sixty-seven percent said they found public intoxication to be a problem with other Germans, and 64 percent said exaggerated complaints were also mortifying.

The level of embarrassment for the 1,002 poll participants rose in proportion to their level of education, the magazine reported. Only 12 percent of those with low-level educations were dismayed by inappropriate behaviour, while some 61 percent of those with a university education said they had been ashamed by gauche conduct.

These Germans may be spared a bit of discomfort this vacation season, though, because the financial crisis has prompted many to vacation within their own country, German petrol station and rest stop chain Serways said on Wednesday.

In a reader poll conducted for the chain by data-analyst Forsa, Germans said were most likely to visit the states of Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein if they vacation at home.

Germans’ least favourite in-country destination is cities, though Berlin was an exception. Young people between the ages of 18 and 29-years-old were most likely to head to vacation there, the poll found.

I'd say that's about right and the Brits are no better in our experience. I'm sure other countries are also as poor but we can't speak the language so ignorance is bliss. From The Local.

Canadian Holiday? Most Would

A country I've not been to (although wifey has; she has relatives in Alberta) but we intend to at some point. Assuming we can save up enough cash- it's terrifyingly expensive. Still, it seems I am not alone in wanting to visit:

Let's say you had unlimited resources and were able to pick one country in the world to visit.

Where would you go?

Canada, right?


No? Well, then, you're out of step with the rest of the world, according to a recent global survey conducted by Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index.

Canada, which I sometimes like to think of as America's Hat, drew the top response to the statement, "I would like to visit this country if money were no object."

After Canada, the most popular countries for a theoretical visit were, in order: Italy, Australia, Switzerland and France. The United States ranked 10th out of 50.

I hadn't realized the world was so full of fans of hockey and maple syrup.

Canada's ranking "surprised a lot of people, but Canada has a lot going for it," said Xiaoyan Zhao, a senior vice president at the polling firm. "Canada doesn't have glamorous cities like Paris or London or Rome. But Canada was ranked No. 1 for natural beauty."

Iran filled the bottom spot in the poll. Saudi Arabia and Nigeria were Nos. 48 and 49, which makes a lot of sense -- unless you're looking to do a little duty-free shopping for crude oil.

The next least-favorite destinations were Estonia and Lithuania*. Who knew the world was so filled with Baltic-phobes?

I suspect that the respondents simply know little about the two small countries and, thus, skipped over them as possible destinations. That's what Zhao thinks, too.

"Lithuania and Estonia are primarily suffering from low visibility," she said. "We had some other very small nations, like Ecuador, that also scored very low.

"It's not that people have negative opinions about them; they just don't know them."

The Estonian capital, Tallinn, and the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius -- both founded in the Middle Ages -- are quite beautiful. They both have old-town sections included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and feature a wonderful architecture, many great museums and historic sites, and a well-educated populace.

Although Toronto is one of my favorite cities, given the choice I'd certainly opt for a trip to Tallinn or Vilnius.

Actually, I love visiting Canada. Perhaps our proximity has caused me to take it for granted.

And as long as you don't bad-mouth Gordie Howe or William Shatner, Canadians, as a rule, are a friendly folk.

On this, the world agrees with me: To the statement, "If I visited this country, the people would make me feel welcome," the top response, again, was Canada. The next-friendliest countries were Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Spain.

The countries perceived to be the least-friendly were Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates and China.

The world ranked the United States 25th for perceived friendliness. Idiots.

From The Columbus Dispatch (don't ask)

*We've been to both and they rock. Absolutely fantastic places and deffo worth a visit.

Wouldn't You Just Love To?

Click to Enlarge


You're no doubt aware that there is a large Chinese population in Georgetown and it has a fascinating Chinatown that gives you an insight into the way the people live.

Unfortunately it was a ghost town today and I couldn't understand why. Then it struck me.

Manchester United lost the Final and their loyal fans were in mourning...


Big Ben Hits 150

Soon, so cop some factuals about the bells and the clock:

- The clock started keeping time on 31st May 1859; the bells began ringing on 11th July.

- Each face is lit by 27 low-energy, radio-controlled bulbs.

- The “Westminster” chimes were copied from Great St Mary’s in Cambridge.

- St Stephen’s Clock Tower was built without scaffolding, from the inside out.

- Tunnelling for the Jubilee line left the tower leaning 220mm (8.66 in) to the North-West.

- Big Ben was named either after the commissioner of works

- Sir Benjamin Hall, or the heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt.

- The bell was made in Whitechapel.

- The minute hand is 14-ft long, the hour hand is 9-ft long.

- The north and east faces of the clock have heaters to prevent the hands freezing.

- The clock face is cleaned by abseilers every five years.

- You can download the chimes as a ring tone from

Holding onto a Toast

Some more guff from yet another quack how is now telling the world he can tell a person's character by the way they hold their glass. He goes on to give an example in that Hillary Clinton raised her glass to a toast using her left hand, despite her being right handed. This was suggested as being "insincere". Clearly not a remarkable deduction as she is an MP, but I'm right handed and always drink with my left*- am I insincere too?

Anyway, the eight types that have been "discovered", from TTel:

1. The Flirt: Usually a woman, who holds her glass with dainty, splayed fingers and uses it in a provocative way. She may position it over her cleavage so as to draw attention to her attributes or peer over the rim to make eye contact when taking a sip. She may "tease" the rim of the glass with her finger, perhaps dipping it into the drink and sucking it dry. Assuming her agenda is appealing, the best way to approach is with reciprocal flirtatious gestures.

Celebrities: Jordan, Paris Hilton, Kate Walsh (from The Apprentice)

2. The Gossip: This (mainly female) drinker tends to cluster in all-female groups talking about other people, and can be critical. She holds a wine glass by the bowl and uses it to gesticulate and make points in conversation. She is inclined to lean over her drink, in towards others so as to speak confidentially. This person already has a close-knit social group with little inclination to extend it, therefore advances from outsiders are not usually welcome.

Celebrities: Kate Moss, Sadie Frost.

3. The Fun-lover: This type of drinker may be a man or a woman, who drinks to be sociable and values togetherness. A convivial individual, he / she enjoys being with their friends, and likes a laugh. Swigs taken from bottled drinks are short, so they don't miss out on chipping in with the conversation. The bottle is held loosely at its shoulder for ease. This type of person is always happy to extend their social circle. The best way to approach them therefore is to leap directly into light, good-humoured conversation and make them laugh.

Celebrities: Sarah Harding, Helen Chamberlain (from Soccer AM)

4. The Wallflower: This is a shy, submissive individual who holds the glass protectively, not letting go, as though afraid somebody will take it away. Palms are kept hidden and the glass is used as a social crutch – the drink is never quite finished, with a mouthful left in case of emergency. The drink is small (maybe half a pint of lager for a man). It may be drunk through a straw, which is fidgeted with, and used to stir the drink between sips. The style and pace of drinking is an echo of those around them (very little is initiated). This individual needs to be approached in a gentle, sensitive way, with perhaps a few understated compliments to build self-confidence, but may eventually warm to overtures.

Celebrities: Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman

5. The Ice-queen: This is a mainly female type whose natural style is cold and defensive. She drinks from a wine glass, or a short glass, which is held firmly in a barrier position across the body so as to deter intimate approaches. It is usually a waste of time approaching this woman; she may be ready with a castrating put-down.

Celebrities: Victoria Beckham, Debra Barr (from The Apprentice)

6. The Playboy

This man is the active, self-confident, Don Juan-type seducer. He uses his (usually long) glass or bottle as a phallic prop, playing with it suggestively. He is inclined to be possessive, and can be tactile with his female companions.

Celebrities: Russell Brand, David Walliams

7. The Jack the Lad: This "peacock" is conscious of his image and will drink a bottled beer, or cider. Inclined to be confident and arrogant, he can be territorial in his gestures, spreading himself over as much space as possible, for example, pushing the glass well away from himself and leaning back in his chair. If he's drinking with his mates, he would be unlikely to welcome approaches from outside the group, unless sycophantic and ego-enhancing.

Celebrities: Peter Andre, David Cameron, Jason Statham. The "ladette" (e.g. Lily Allen) is a female approximation to this male archetype.

8. The Browbeater: This rather pugnacious type is again mostly male. He prefers large glasses, or bottles, which he uses as symbolic weapons, firmly grasped, and gesticulating in a threatening, "in the face" kind of way. Something of a know-it-all, he comes across as slightly hostile, even if only through verbal argument, or jokes targeted at others. He should be approached with great care, or not at all.

Celebrities: John Prescott, Russell Crowe (with Naomi Campbell as a female equivalent), Gordon Brown.

*This goes back to when I used to smoke and as a right hander, I had more control over the fag in my stronger hand then my weaker left, which simply clung onto a pint glass. It's a habit I am stuck with today, but at least it's a reasonable explanation instead of this star gazing cobblers.