Friday, 27 February 2009

Bob Piper comes to Prescott's rescue

Labour councillor and entertaining blogger Bob Piper on Prescott and Goodwin, in an exchange with me in the comments on Mr Dale's blog:

"However, the fact that Prescott has thought through the inevitable consequence of ripping up the contract, rather than just spouting nonsense without thinking, merely goes to show he is a more thoughtful blethering twat than Cameron."

Goodwin (again)

The attention on Goodwin is obvious naked (and rather unattractive) politics and spin by the Government, to deflect attention from the wider financial crisis, and I can't believe how the mid-market Tory leaning papers, such as the Express and Mail, have fallen for it. Frankly, I don't really care about this one, rather greedy man - in fact, I have a sneaking admiration for his sticking to his guns in the face of massive public opprobrium. (Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his reputation for his pension...) The sums involved are tiny, absolutely tiny, compared to the vast, unquantified liabilities faced by the state under its insurance scheme for toxic loans. Brown and Darling should be in the firing line, not Goodwin.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Sir Fred Goodwin

RBS agreed to pay him the pension. He is contractually entitled to it. (Addition: yes, an element was a discretionary payment, but the decision was taken to pay it, and under his contract, he is entitled to it.)

So, putting aside the fact that a court case to stop it being paid out would have no hope of success, why do any decent and reasonable people support government efforts to bully him into giving it up with threats of legal action?

Addition: this isn't a comment on the morality of Goodwin's position. It might well be that the right thing for him to do would be to give up some or all of the pension. But that's not a reason for the Government to harass him. It would be morally right for me to give 30% of my salary to Oxfam, but I don't, and I don't want the Minister for Overseas Development to leave me messages badgering me to do so.

Update: Prescott on Today tells us that RBS should stop paying the pension and wait for Goodwin to sue. Brilliant. He would sue, he would win, and so on top of the pension, substantial court costs would have to be paid. What a twat.

A potty marinade in my dildo

Courtesy of Messrs Fry and Laurie, and just because it made me laugh, my mate laugh, my mate's mate laugh...

Stephen and Hugh are sitting at either end of a long table, having breakfast. Hugh is a woman, Stephen isn't.

Hugh: Could you pass the marmalade darling?

Stephen: What?

Hugh: The marmalade, could you pass it?

Stephen: You want me to arse the parlourmaid?

Hugh: No darling, there's a pot of marmalade at your elbow, I want you to pass it.

Stephen: A potty marinade in my dildo, have you gone mad?

Hugh: Darling, I want you to pass the marmalade.

Stephen: (Amazed) You want me to fart the hit parade?...

(Update: I'm proud beyond words to report that this site is - at time of writing- the number one result for the search term 'potty marinade in my dildo'.)

Nuke it!

Brilliant. A design firm in Sydney, Carlos Labs, has done a mash-up of Google Earth that shows you the effect of nuclear bombs, of different sizes, being dropped on - well, wherever you want.

Above is Edinburgh hit by a bomb the size of Little Boy: the concentric circles represent conflagration, and first, second and third degree burns.

In a further stroke of genius, you also have the option of replicating your chosen target being hit by an asteroid.

Bye bye Basildon.

BLDGBlog has more.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Naked Chef 2 "leak"

Your humble blogger has, like many others I suspect, been forwarded a document purporting to be an accidentally leaked copy of the text of Jamie Oliver's new cook book.

"It seems that someone at Jamie Oliver's publishing company sent a word document version of his 2nd book to one of their mates this morning. Unfortunately for the poor sap that sent the word document, it is now flying around the web at a rate of knots. So print what you like AND please spare a thought for the poor bugger that originally sent it, while enjoying the food you make from the recipes!!!."

Hmm. I smell a Radiohead-stylee viral marketing ploy. If this has any measurable effect on sales, I bet it's upwards.

Update: googling suggests it's a (quite longstanding) hoax. Quite why someone would go to the bother of it all isn't clear.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Law, the Government, Teenagers...and Sex

The Times and the Mail are suitable outraged about a new government leaflet on talking to your children about sex. The outrage arises from the fact that the leaflet will apparently suggest that parents consider avoiding banging on about right and wrong when telling their kids about the birds and the bees, apparently because of the fear that said children will switch off and stop listening if it becomes a lecture, rather than a groovy bonding session about johnnies. A conservative Christian is wheeled out by both papers to condemn this government-sponsored hostility to morality.

The advice, which talks about 'teenagers', is aimed, officials have confirmed, at all teenagers, not just those over the age of consent, because children under the age of consent have sex too. And the advice is not to prevent such children having sex, or even to advise them against it; but rather to ensure that they understand what sex is, and, especially, about contraception. "Why not offer to go [to the doctor] with your daughter or encourage them to take a friend to support them", it says.

I don't find this, in itself, especially extraordinary. What is striking is the disconnect between government policy in this area, as exemplified by this leaflet, and the law. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is an offence for a person under the age of 18 to have sex with a person who is under 16, without a reasonable belief that he or she is over 16, or with a person under 13. And it's a serious offence; on conviction, you can go to prison for up to five years.

The 2003 Act also creates, at section 14, a specific offence of 'arranging or facilitating the commisison of a child sex offence', which without more would catch a parent taking his 15-year old son to the doctor, pursuant to Beverly Hughes' advice, to get some condoms. Now the offence specifically exempts from liability a person who is acting to protect the child, which means acting for the purpose of

"(a) protecting the child from sexually transmitted infection,
(b) protecting the physical safety of the child,
(c) preventing the child from becoming pregnant, or
(d) promoting the child’s emotional well-being by the giving of advice

so the parent of the 15-year old would not be committing the s14 offence. (Interestingly, there is no reason why said parent would not be committing the common law offence of 'aiding and abetting' a child sex offence, though there is no way the CPS would prosecute in those circumstances.)

But the key thing, it seems to me, is that the 15 year-old himself would, in having consensual sex with his girlfriend (or boyfriend), be committing a serious criminal offence; and the government is encouraging his parents to help him arrange contraception and/or protection against STDs, so that he can continue to offend.

Doesn't that seem just the teensiest bit odd?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Cocktail hour

Simplicity is the name of the cocktail game at the moment, according to Hans, JMP's resident mixologist. It's easy to try too hard, he says, and now, in these difficult times, is the time to get the simple things right. He has had a whimsical look in his eye since he finally made it back from his sojourn in Norfolk on Wednesday; it's all embracing the natural world, googling 'smocks', and listening to the Archers at the moment. (He's especially worried, as we all are, about the fate of Tom Archer's bangers.) All well and good, but the best cocktails get to be made in London, Paris and New York rather than Swaffham, so I hope he reverts to type soon.

Anyway, back to simplicity, and as we are at G in Hans' A to Z cocktail challenge, this cocktail hour is, after the vulgar flummery of the Face Ache last week, all about the perfect gin and tonic. Here are Hans' tips:

1. The drink should be very cold; but undiluted, so far as possible, by ice water. The answer is to chill the glass in the freezer beforehand, and to use lots of ice. (Pubs invariably get this wrong, and serve a G&T either tepid, or diluted.) 

2. A double measure of gin should be used. More than that, and it's too strong, but less and the gin is fighting the tonic, and - I quote Hans - 'isn't given enough space to breathe'. Quite.

3. Which gin? A matter of personal taste, of course, but never trust someone who proudly claims to prefer Gordons over the better, more expensive brands. Use Bombay Sapphire (the gin of choice in JMP Towers), Tanqueray or Plymouth, and you won't go far wrong.

4. Which tonic? Schweppes. In individual small (glass for aesthetics) bottles, so it can't go flat.

5. Lemon or lime? Hans advises that lemon complements the botanicals in the gin much more subtly than the rather heavy handed lime. He also says - and in this he is surely right - that it is mere pretension and vulgarity to wipe the lemon (or lime) around the rim of the glass. A slice or two of lemon in the drink is all that's needed. Hans puts two slices in the bottom of the glass, on the ice, before adding the gin and tonic.


Saturday, 21 February 2009

Barbara meets her public

Margot and Barbara, the JMP cats, were 'done' yesterday. Poor girls. To stop them doing unmentionable things to their wounds, the vet sent them home in natty little coats, modelled by Barbara above. In the wood basket, natch.

Margot, I'm sorry to say, is adept at wriggling out of hers. We're trying to persuade her that it complements her colouring, rather than clashing, but at the moment she just won't listen.

High level political analysis resumes tomorrow, with Barbara's thoughts on the implications of the recent BNP local council win in Kent for foreign resident cats.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Geroge Galloway and the Gaza convoy

- 'Call me Fidel.'
- 'Fuck off, fatboy.'

You may have heard about the convoy of vehicles driving from the UK to Gaza - they hope - in a blaze of self-publicity - they hope - carrying food and other aid for Gaza under the name Viva Palestine. It's a large convoy of vehicles, and an impressive undertaking.

Everyone's roughing it. Yvonne "Stockhausen Syndrome" Ridley* reports, at Socialist Unity -

This morning I expect many of us are bleary eyed as the convoy heads for Bordeaux - I know I am, after a sleepless night trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in a car seat...My eyes feel like sandpaper every time I blink...this 5000 mile trip from London to Gaza isn’t a jolly or five star vacation for any of us

Well...not everyone. Gorgeous George, obviously, isn't roughing it. The Independent reports:

You’ll find him at the head of the column, where the cameras can see him. Driving a Mercedes 4×4. This being George, he has a Winnebago motorhome in which to sleep while everyone else has to kip down in tents or in their cabs..."I do have to appear on television when we stop.”

And, inevitably -

He will actually fly back to London for three days a week, to host radio shows and his surgery as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, while the others press on.

Nor is it all peace and love. Not that George would stir up already radicalised British Muslims. Oh no.

Most of those who are going with him are British Muslims. "If I had said to the youth, 'Right, break out the Kalashnikovs, we're heading for Palestine,' they would have been there. The people are boiling mad."....He goes further. "There is a kind of intifada among the youth. They are determined to act."

Lovely. Why do I suspect that if they were ever to really have their way - an event George no doubt fondly dreams of - 'the youth' would have him up against a wall sharp-ish?

H/T Harry's Place.

*Journalist > Taliban hostage > convert to Islam. Go figure.

Happy Birthday Gordon!

58 today, and isn't he looking well?

Quote of the day

Or, to be more accurate, yesterday -

"Because she's mad."

- a "senior Labour source", quoted by Deborah Summers on the Guardian's politics blog, on why Harriet Harman is so disliked in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Should Jacqui Smith be disappointed about Abu Qatada?

In the car today, Red Harriet - occasional blogger at JMP and glamorous siren - became annoyed at Radio 4 reporting that Jacqui Smith was 'disappointed' by the decision of the European Court to award Abu 'a truly dangerous individual' Qatada £2,500 compensation for his being detained without trial under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

Her annoyance sprang not from the rightness or otherwise of the decision, but rather the appropriateness of the Home Secretary expressing disappointment about it. In her view, it is not right for a politician, let alone a Government Minister, to suggest that a court has got something wrong - unless it is in the appeal court. In her view, a better response would have been along the lines of 'we do not share the view that Mr Qatada should be awarded compensation, but we respect the court's decision'.

I don't share this view. I don't understand it all as regards the European Court, where the British government has no meaningful power over it. As regards British courts, the separation of powers means, I think, that it is not improper for the government to say that it thinks a court's decision is wrong, even that it is 'scandalous' (as the Conservatives described today's decision). What is clearly wrong, in my view, is where politicians attack individual judges, as with the vile David Blunkett, whose shameful bullying was apparently the cause of Lord Woolf's early retirement as Lord Chief Justice. That risks being seen as attempted interference with justice by the executive.

Incidentally, while it may be good politics, it is almost always stupid in legal and logical terms for politicians to attack the court's decision. The courts very rarely apply the law wrongly. The correct subject of the attack is normally the law itself. But, of course, that is nominally within the power of the government to change, so it is much easier to attack the judgment than the statute it applies. 

PS If you want to read a cretinous, disingenuous, extraordinarily ill-informed and almost parodically hand-wringingly liberal discussion of the decision finally to deport Qatada, feel free to head over to Victoria Brittain's recent piece on CiF. It's all about 'casual racism', you know. FFS.

Alan Johnson's 'authenticity'

I keep reading, in the context of renewed gossip around the Prime Minister and the leadership of the Labour Party, that Alan Johnson is well-placed and well-thought of because he is 'authentic'.

What does that mean? Is 'authentic' a new codeword for 'working class'?


Wednesday, 18 February 2009

What is an extremist? Bunglawala, for one

The new Contest 2 anti-extremism strategy sounds good news. The focus, it seems, will be on extremism, not just violent extremism, on the basis that extremism breeds violent extremism. Sensible enough.

So what is an extremist? These are some of the reported indicators:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Discussing this, Inayat Bunglawa at Comment is Free quotes with approval a response on a Muslim discusison group:

One point that is becoming clearer by the day is that the "extremists" as defined by Contest 2 are no longer a fringe element but rather those who believe in the fundamental aspects of Islam, ie the majority.

Well, quite. Some might say that this is the rather disturbing point, and why we are in, to use the language of the 1950's for a moment, such a pickle.

Incidentally, the Guardian loves Bunglawala; he's always writing on CiF. The fact that he has a long history of making anti-semitic comments* puts them off not at all. After all, this is the Guardian, and it's not like he's a real racist, is it?

*One example: this was his description of the chairman of Carlton Communications:

The chairman of Carlton Communications is Michael Green of the Tribe of Judah. He has joined an elite club whose members include fellow Jews Michael Grade and Alan Yentob.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Dolly and Alfie

Sorry about the lapse since the last post. Bloody real life. Bloody work.

First off, you've probably seen the Derek Draper Downfall mashup if you've been following Dollygate, and don't know what I'm talking about if you haven't. Let's just say that Derek Draper's reincarnation as a blogger and editor of the soporific LabourList hasn't gone entirely smoothly. Now watch the video (warning: NSFW):

Second, I see that Little Alfie The Schoolboy Dad may open the results of his paternity test on live television. Seriously. The whole sorry saga has, with this news, gone beyond satire and parody into new uncharted underclass waters. Still, at least The Sun and Max Clifford are making oodles of cash from it, so that's some consolation.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Cocktail hour

And the news of the hour is that Margot and Barbara, the JMP kittens, have now been microchipped. Quite why a blogger who has signed up to the No2ID campaign allowed such an insidious invasion of privacy to be visited upon his furry friends on Saturday morning by Auntie Martha of the animal shelter that M & B used to call home is, now I think about it, something of a mystery. Does the increased likelihood of their getting home safely if they go walkabout make up for the thin end of the feline surveillance state wedge the chips represent? Deep waters indeed; too deep for this blog in cocktail hour.  

Speaking of which, and of getting home safely, Hans still hasn't returned from his Friday night, and his been reduced to faxing in (as he says, "how retro!!") his cocktail from "somewhere in Norfolk?!"; quite an achievement since his destination on Friday was a dingy bar in Walthamstow. He seems to be enjoying the rural life with his new friends, and I will spare you his cheery faxed bawdiness about "pheasant plucker sons", instead simply passing on his choice for the letter F in his A to Z cocktail challenge - the Face Ache, which he tells me is a favourite in the loucher pubs of Kings Lynn.

Place a measure each of creme de menthe, avocaat and vodka in a cocktail shaker, together with some crushed ice. Shake, pour out and add lemonade to taste. It sounds dreadful; but it really is quite drinkable. Honestly. Though not one for Soho House, perhaps.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Smooch, courtesy of the Power Plunger

JMP hopes your Valentine evening is a riotous success.

Here at JMP Towers the night has been saved by the quite excellent 'Power Plunger Kit', which has effectively addressed a potentially Valentines-threatening lavatory situation, and all 'without harmful chemicals!' as the packaging says. A much better option than the evil 'One Shot' drain cleaner I once used in an attempt to unblock a sink. Said 'One-Shot' is nothing more and nothing less than concentrated sulphuric acid, and it unblocked my sink all right - by instantly dissolving the plastic u-bend under it and spilling onto the floor....

Friday, 13 February 2009

Lesbian Vampire Killers the new film by James Corden and Matthew Horne of Gavin and Stacey fame. Just wanted to say that JMP takes its hat off to the boys for nailing a magnificent title.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Lies, damned lies, and Keith Vaz

The Office of National Statistics has published figures showing how the number of foreign workers in the country has increased in the past year at the same time as it published the latest unemployment figures.

'Senior Government sources' have briefed that they are, like a Cabinet of Kola Kubes, 'fizzing' with anger, because they believe that the National Statistician, Karen Dunnell, published the figures with the intent of embarrassing the Prime Minister.

No proof is offered for this conjecture which, in anonymously ascribing improper motives to a civil servant who cannot effectively answer back, is a smear of the dirtiest kind. It also smacks of bullying and intimidation of an office holder who, by statute, is independent of the Government.

And now pompous little Keith Vaz has gone into print on the issue in the Times. In a masterclass of NewLabour-ese he tells us (and I can't resist another fisk):

I’m not against the publication of statistics

That's a relief. It is the ONS' statutory function, after all.

but they have to be accurate, relevant and very clear.


So I think that to put out figures on foreign-born workers on the same day as the release of unemployment statistics is not helpful. The danger is that such information could be misconstrued or misused by those who do not support the view that Britain should be a diverse and multicultural society.

A magnificent string of non-sequiturs, and classically, pathologically, New Labour. First: so what? Statistics can be, and are, misused and misconstrued by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. That's not a reason not to publish them. Second: it is not the job of the ONS to defend or promote the idea that 'Britain should be a diverse and multicultural society' or indeed, and importantly, to be 'helpful'. Indeed, I'd be worried if I thought such an independent body was being, in the Government's view, helpful. Third: note the inference - if information, pure data, can be used to support the arguments of those who 'do not support the view that etc', it should not be released.

While we should be transparent about statistics, organisations such as the Office for National Statistics should be careful to make sure that they are always accompanied by a detailed explanation.

No, no, no! The job of the ONS is to produce raw data in an intelligble form. It is not its job to provide 'detailed explanations'. That, rather, is the instinct of Mr Vaz, who cannot bear the idea of pertinent information being produced shorn of spin.

New Labour: 'the data is unhelpful, therefore, do not publish the data'. Pathetic.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Geert Wilders banned from the UK

Some thoughts:

1. It is right in principle that the UK bar entry to anyone the presence of whom it considers - on reasonable grounds - to pose a threat to national security, or be otherwise not be conduicive to the public good.

2. This power must be exercised consistently.

3. This is the first time an elected legislator in one EU jurisdiction - and one, it might be added, who has been convicted of no crime - has been denied entry into another, thereby denying him his right to free movement. That doesn't mean, to my mind, that the decision to bar his entry was automatically wrong; but it does mean that the test to be applied, which should be high in any event, should be even higher in this case.

4. The Home Office reasoning for barring Gilders in this case, as set out in the decision letter (pdf), is that "your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewnere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK." That is pretty clear-cut: Wilders is barred because of the reaction his presence might provoke. That is a pragmatic decision, but it is a deeply depressing one. On the same logic, a Dutch or French author who wrote a Satanic Verses-type novel could be banned. In other words, being banned does not depend on what you have said and done, and the inherent quality of that, but on how others react to it. Wilders is a nasty piece of work who would like to ban the Qu'ran, and so is an unatractive free-speech martyr. But you could be utterly blameless, judged by western, democratic laws and mores, and still be banned like him. This is a policy which can only be seen as a pre-emptive capitulation to the threat of unrest, placing 'community cohesion' over the right to free speech.

As I say, arguably pragmatic; but deeply depressing nonetheless.

5. And what about this from a 'Home Office spokesman'? -

'The Government opposes extremism in all its forms. It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.

Wilders explicitly links violent suras in the Qu'ran to terrorist acts committed by Muslims, suggesting there is a link between the two. (Not wholly unreasonably, as Islamist terrorists from Bin Laden down have quoted from the Qu'ran in support of their actions.) It would appear that the UK Government now classifies that as an act of 'extremism'. That is surely wrong.

We endorse the original condemnation of the film 'Fitna' by the Dutch Government, and feel that it serves no constructive purpose.

Since when did a film have to serve a constructive purpose to avoid condemnation by the state?

The British Government has absolutely no connection with any screening of this film that may take place in the House of Lords or anywhere else in the UK. It is a matter for the House of Lords or any other venue as to whether they choose to show it.

Fair enough.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but one that must be used responsibly and not as a cover for causing offence and division.

This is genuinely deeply disturbing, illiberal stuff. Is the Home Office really saying that freedom of speech can and should be limited by the power of the state if it causes offence or creates 'division' (whatever that means)? For that matter, when did it become incumbent upon me as a British citizen to exercise my freedom of speech 'responsibly' (as opposed to lawfully)?

We fully appreciate the sensitivities around the portrayal of any religious figure or text.

But not around ill-thought through attacks on freedom of expression, apparently.

: interesting, and encouraging - an online poll in the Guardian/CiF on whether Wilders should have been allowed in is currently 83:17 in support of his being allowed in, on free speech grounds.

Update 2: magisterial piece by Philip Johnston in the Telegraph on all this. Money quote: It is simply not good enough to say that Wilders should not be heard because he might provoke a backlash from those who do not like him or his views. That is not upholding the law. That is appeasement. Oh, and of course it is inevitable that David Miliband felt able to condemn the short film at the centre of this, Fitna, without actually having seen it.

And Bruno Waterfield is worth quoting at some length on the politics of this:

Home Office officials deliberately, in my view, engineered this "hate speech" storm to play to the gallery and to present the government as a champion of the "Muslim Community", as it is officially defined by its self-appointed "leaders", who are usually deeply conservative.

In doing so, Miss Smith has further poisoned the well of public debate while damaging Britain's relations with an important European ally, the Netherlands, for short-term, sectional opportunism.

An elected European politician was invited by a British parliamentarian (albeit an unelected one) to speak in Westminster's House of Lords (albeit a chamber that should be scrapped).

There is a convention here, and it is an important one, that governments do not interfere in such contacts unless a threat to security is a clear and present danger.

Britain has smashed this convention to bits.

It frogmarched a foreign MP off to the cells to win cheap headlines to cement the government's multicultural credentials with a key constituency, Muslim "representatives" such as the unelected Muslim Council of Britain.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Putin and Bjorn Again: file under Weird

The opening line of this Breitbart report - the more I re-read it, the more I think it may be my favourite opening line ever of a news report - tells you all you need to know, really:

'Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's office moved on Friday to quash claims he attended a mystery concert featuring ABBA lookalikes singing to him from behind a veil at a military-style compound.'

But despite his denials it seems pretty clear that he was there:

'"It was quite obvious where Mr Putin was sitting," Aileen McLaughlin, who doubles for blonde ABBA vocalist Agnetha Faltskog, told AFP by phone from London. "I got a glimpse of his face in the lights." [The group's manager], also speaking by phone from London, said the band had been told beforehand that the show was for Putin.'

Marvellous. The bloke in charge of the world's second biggest nuclear arsenal would appear to be not only significantly sinister, in that ex-KGB kind of way, but also something of a nutter.

Oh I so didn't want to know that, no.94

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, on video, 'sharing' her urinary incontinence.

To save you the distress of watching it, she's discussing being questioned by anti-terrorist police at an airport. She doesn't explain why she was so scared, only that she was: so scared that she 'peed in my pants'.*

Sorry, YAB, this is a case of the boy who cried wolf. You've played the professional victim for so long - for Chrissakes, you've made a successful career out of it, thanks to the strange decision to employ you at the Independent - that despite being a staunch defender of civil liberties against New Labour's attacks, I just don't buy it. As it stands, this is a less a case of the heroic Yasmin being bullied by fascistic bully boys, and more a middle aged woman who needs to do some pelvic floor exercises.

*that is, her pants. Let me be perfectly clear about this. To the best of my knowledge, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has never - never I say - peed in my pants.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Meet Rowan Laxton, the racist diplomat

If you read the Guardian or the Independent, you won't have read about the extraordinary case of Rowan Laxton - the head of the South Asia Group at the Foreign Office, and, if the reports are to be believed, anti-semite. He has been arrested for inciting religious hatred through threatening words and behavior after shouting 'fucking Jews' and 'fucking Israelis' at the television at his gym while on the exercise bike - continuing after people had complained. In a charming echo of some of Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel, he is also reported to have shared his view that Israeli soldiers should be 'wiped off the face of the earth'.

Despite his arrest, he is continuing to 'work normally' at the FCO.

Several things strike me about this story.

First: what do you have to do to get suspended from your job at the Foreign Office these days?

Second: what a bizarre thing to do. Not only is he - apparently - a racist, he decided to share his prejudice with his fellow gym goers in a way which he must have known risked professional suicide. It almost smacks of a breakdown. Bit of a failure of FCO vetting.

Third: the story tends towards confirming one of my own prejudices, which is always nice - that the Foreign Office is deeply anti-Israel and pro-Arab. (This is the subject of one of the episodes of Yes Prime Minister, 'A victory for democracy'.)

Fourth: we all know that the Guardian and the Independent are highly critical of Israel and have commentators who are dangerously close to being anti-semitic. But simply to ignore this story is surely very, very odd. This guy is not a nobody, he's senior in the FCO pecking order. So why aren't they reporting it?
Update: Little Green Footballs' take: 'I’m not sure which is more disgusting — this antisemitic rant by a British diplomat, or the fact that in Britain you can be imprisoned for seven years because you said some words.'
Update 2: I should have made it clear that there's nothing about this on the BBC either (quelle surprise); the obvious thought experiment is to ask how it would be reported, and who by, if he had shouted abuse about 'fucking Muslims'. Meanwhile Melanie Phillips raises the pertinent legal point of why he was arrested for inciting religious hatred and not racial hatred.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Essential reading

Deeply disturbing post by the ghost of His Grace Archbishop Cranmer here.

Cocktail hour

Hans (JMP's resident mixologist, for newcomers) has been glued to his adored Daily Mail's free 'Cranford' DVD's, and it has only been with difficulty that it has been possible to persuade him to turn his attention to his blogging duties, and the continuation of his terrific A to Z cocktail challenge. Miss Mattie...the wonderful Imelda Staunton...and my dear, the outfits! He's been sitting a foot away from the television, sucking what he assures me is his thumb, enthralled by the mid 19th century period drama unfolding before him, and insisting on speaking only in 'Cranford dialogue'. For example, he tells me that last night 'he formed an attachment to' and 'walked out with' a bricklayer from Peckham. In the dungeon of a club in Shoreditch. For about two hours.

Anyway, after telling me that he recognised that 'my countenance was troubled' (I'd just told him to pull his finger out and give me the frickin' details of today's cocktail) Hans has shared the secret of a cocktail named, he says, after his 'beloved alma mater' (nonsense obviously, as far as I've been able to tell Hans spent most of his teenage years in a reform school in one of the loucher parts of Switzerland) - the Eton Highball Soda. Also known as the What Are We Going To Do With This Cherry Brandy That's Been Hanging Around For Ages, Oh God You Need Soda Water. Mix a measure each of gin and c.b. with two teaspoons of lemon juice and of sugar syrup. (If you don't have sugar syrup to hand, substitute two teaspoons of granulated sugar.) Shake, strain, and pour into a glass with plenty of ice. Top with the soda, and enjoy the unusual taste. First half pint's the worst, as my father would say.

The obligatory JMP snow photograph

Well, it was the biggest snowfall in these parts since '63.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Sharon Shoesmith

La Shoesmith, head of Children's Services at Haringey when Baby P died, has given in an interview to the Guardian.

This is the Guardian's summary of the Ofsted report into Shoesmith's department:

It identified insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight; failure to ensure full compliance with post-ClimbiƩ recommendations; a lack of communication between social care, health and police authorities; a conflict of interest in the serious case review; failing to identify children at immediate risk of harm; inconsistent quality of frontline work; inconsistent and often poor record-keeping; too much reliance on quantitative v qualitative data.

The interview itself is an exercise in self-justification and deflecting the blame for the tragic death of baby P. She attacks Ed Balls, who effectively sacked her, for 'breathtaking recklessness' (both as regards the situation in Haringey, and the effect of her treatment on social work in Britain at large, as I understand her); she attacks Ofsted for producing an unfair report (She is struck by how there is almost nothing positive in it, even though she knows that in interviews some positive things were said); she talks of political opportunism. The only person who escapes is of course herself.

My point isn't whether she has valid grounds to complain as regards any of these issues, though as far as I can see she hasn't. Rather, it is simply that the fact that she didn't have the decency and sensitivity to not indulge in a nakedly self-serving points scoring exercise in the press will confirm what most people thought about her (both nasty and incompetent); exactly the opposite of the intended effect, of course. As Alanis Morissette would say, isn't it ironic. 

Friday, 6 February 2009

What's in a name?

JM Towers is now shared by two kittens. Black. Female.

What should we call them?

Update: Margot and Barbara are current front runners.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Oh Pilger, you are such an arse

You learn a new thing every day.

John Pilger tells us in the latest edition of the New Statesman that "Blair was the prime mover of the London bombings of 7 July 2005".

And there was me thinking that the "prime movers" of those attacks might just be the wankers who decided the most effective way to protest against British foreign policy was blowing up commuters. 

Ah, the glamour of academia

An early candidate for quote of the month:

By the beginning of the third year of my PhD, I knew more about lizard faeces than I had ever thought possible.

- David Bennett, who is suing Leeds University for throwing out 35 kg of lizard poo that he had collected. Post-grads: strange bunch.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Carol Thatcher and the gollywog

So Carol Thatcher is likely not to be used again by the BBC, where she was a regular on the One Show, for referring to a tennis player, thought to be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, as a gollywog. She did so in the green room - ie within the BBC, but off-air - after a couple of drinks, in conversation with Jo Brand and Adrian Chiles. Chiles is thought to be the one who, in the language of the schoolroom, grassed her up.

Iain Dale has his knickers in a twist about this, but while I think he may have a point about consistency and its kid glove treatment of the foul Chris "Polish women make good prostitutes" Moyles, I don't have a problem with Thatcher's dismissal. The term she used clearly has racist connotations; it seems she used it about a black person; and while the conversation could be described as 'private', she was on BBC property and within her broader work environment. For me, that's case closed.

But Dale's take has raised an interesting question. He originally reported that Thatcher had used the term about white Andy Murray, specifically his hair. If that had been the case, would it still have been right to fire Thatcher? Does the sackability of what she did depend on who she was talking about, or just the word she used? Personally, I think it's a combination of the two. If she had used the n-word in describing Murray then, once more, get your coat. But would describing a white man as having hair like a gollywog be sack-worthy? I think not.

Similarly, if she had used the term gollywog, or even the n-word, to describe Tsonga in a wholly private conversation - away from work, not with work people - then JM's call, as long as she didn't act in a racist way within the work environment, would be: don't sack.

Crumbs, it's Sootygate all over again, except this time I can cling thankfully to the bien-pensant side of the barricades...

Update: much of the heat and light around this odd little controversy seems to hinge on whether Thatcher's conversation was a 'private' conversation. As I've said above, as far as I'm concerned it would be wrong for her to sacked for anything she said, say, in the pub, or at a dinner party. But it seems clear to me that a conversation in a BBC green room is not a 'private conversation'. She said what she said at work, just as if she said it in the office.

I would add something I didn't make clear above, which is I think it important that she has refused to apologise. If straight after this she had said to BBC management 'yes, it was a crass and stupid thing to say, and I'm sorry I said it and that it offended others', then I don't think it would have been right to 'dispense with her services'. But she didn't. And she continues to refuse to.

Update 2: I see that James Forsyth at Coffee House thinks along similar lines regarding the 'privacy' or otherwise of the conversation, in his post "The green room is a place of work".

Katie Holmes' hairy secrets; &c

Blimey. You go away for a few days and the country grinds to a halt after suffering multiple Extreme Weather Events (aka some snow). I'm rather with the nice headmaster on PM on Radio 4 last night, who said he was fed up with people quacking on about the amount of money lost in productivity from staying home without factoring in the fun of buggering about in snow.

In other news, Hans is naturally tense that I wasn't able to post the latest Cocktail Hour on Sunday on his behalf. I've told him that we'll just have to catch up next week. It's not as though he was around much, anyway, having taken a last minute flight to Dusseldorf for a rare and much-sought appointment with Katie Holmes' waxer. (The worst job in showbiz, Hans gossips: apparently, the mind boggles at what the poor chap has to endure.)

Anyway, while your humble blogger unpacks and generally sorts himself out, I leave you with JMP's quote for the day, from Channel 4 on the reality TV show 'Boys and Girls Alone' where a pack of children are left to their own devices for two weeks, with predictable results:

'It is a bit Lord Of The Flies, but there is no murdering.'