Monday, 30 September 2013

5th Anniversary Blog



This blog is 5 years old today. It was 5 years ago that I migrated my old blog which was being closed down by the hosting service and switched to this new one. Since then I have published over 3000 posts and this blog has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

A lot has changed since then. Back then we were still suffering under Gordon Brown, the great financial crisis was at its height and there were people seriously wondering if this was the end of capitalism. Now such people are running the Labour Party and getting themselves all het up at the suggestions from a Conservative prime minister that people who get married should get a tax break (why this rouses them to fury is a genuine mystery to me) and that those who have been on out of work benefits should be required to do a little work in return for the state's largesse. Seriously, what is wrong with that idea?

This blog will no doubt continue to evolve. In the five years of its existence I have added pictures, adverts, music, my own video diary and now a weekly review of the week. There is more to come in the coming months. Keep reading.

The Sceptical Case



When I get time, later this week, I am going to write on the issue of last week's travesty of a report into climate change by the IPCC. It was a triumph of spin and political interference over proper science. It is in fact even worse than their last report full of badly sourced and cut and pasted references gleaned from partial sources. This is a report that has been demonstrably nobbled by governments and special interest groups. The video above sets out the sceptic's case. The latest IPCC report, despite all of their spin about 95% certainty, still doesn't answer the central questions asked above.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review of the Week



The massacre at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi came to a violent, chaotic and bloody conclusion at the beginning of the week as western trained Kenyan forces, with advice from the U.S and Israel, slowly flushed out the terrorists, freed a few of the hostages and finally brought the siege to an end. There were a number of loud explosions in the centre followed by a plume of thick black smoke pouring out of the building. Later we would see the devastation wreaked to the centre and its car park, although it was unclear whether the fire was started by the terrorists or by the forces seeking to defeat them.


But this was no SAS style swift storming of the terrorists. The layout of the centre prevented that, as did the cynical tactics of the terrorists. This was a slow, bloody and agonising process that created carnage and suffering and destroyed large parts of the shopping centre. The statistics may take a while to finally collate, but we know that at least 61 civilians, men, women and children were killed along with 6 members of the forces sent to their aid. These numbers will certainly rise as there were 51 people missing by the time the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, declared that the 'unspeakable atrocity' was finally over.


Six Britons died in the unspeakable events in Nairobi, but there were strong suspicions that they might have died at the hands of a fellow Briton turned jihadist moron, Samantha Lewthwaite. On Thursday Interpol, at the request of the Kenyan authorities, issued an international warrant for her arrest.

And on Friday, as more questions began to be asked about how this massacre happened, the extent of the terrorists preparations became clear. They arrived at the centre in two cars to separate entrances. They had clearly planned the attack well in advance as they had rented, using fake passports, a shop in the centre and had used their access to store plenty of arms and ammunition thus explaining why the siege took so long to come to an end. Furthermore their intelligence seems to have been high quality since they were able to exploit a handover from police to the military to create more carnage.

Again it will take time to fully assess what all of this means. Was this a sign that Al Shabaab is branching out and strong, or, as many are saying, a sign of its weakness? Its dimwitted legions of western wannabe soldiers for Islam are losing their battles against real soldiers and so, like the cowards they are, decided instead to turn their guns on unarmed people, women and children instead. How great does that make your god?



In an equally brutal attack, 81 worshippers at a Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan were killed by two suicide bomb attackers around the same time as the events in Nairobi. The Taliban was suspected of ordering the attacks on the All Saints Church which came as part of an increasing pattern of violence against the country's Christian minority. The bombers waited until the congregation of about 350 was leaving the church before exploding their devices in a brazen, cowardly and utterly pointless example of religious hatred driven by a hateful sect. More than half of those killed were women and children. It takes a special kind of blinkered idiocy to believe that your imaginary friend wants you to slaughter people for the sin of being brought up having a different kind of belief to your own but in the same god.



Conventional wisdom, at least in this country, has it that a governing party never increases its electoral share from one election to the next. Well nobody seems to have told Angela Merkel that. She emerged as winner of last week's election with a stunning performance that sees her returned to office for a third time. Her party, the SPD, increased its share of the vote by 8% and came astonishingly close to winning an overall majority alone, something that has happened in 50 years thanks to Germany's proportional system. Other parties suffered however as Merkel's former partners in coalition fell foul of rising Euro scepticism and failed to make the 5% cut off to be awarded seats. Merkel will now begin the long and potentially tortuous process of negotiating a coalition. It is a process which will be watched closely here in Britain, not as a forerunner of a similar process that may well take place here again in 2015 but because the outcome of German negotiations may determine our own government's prospects of changing our relationship with the EU.


Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, continued his charm offensive, which has surprised and confused the world. Speaking at the UN this week, Rouhani even condemned the holocaust, although later Iran's news agency disputed this and blamed it on the interpretation. But it has been the strength of Rouhani's words on nuclear weapons that has caused the most consternation amongst western powers. The difficulty for them is that many are taking him entirely at face value and are encouraging our governments to do the same. This could well be wishful thinking.

Those with more experience of Iran's tactics and game of bluff and double bluff remember that Rouhani has been a member of the Iranian regime for over 30 years, a regime that has a record of deceit and which sponsors international terrorism. But sanctions are hurting the country and Rouhani seems to be on a mission to change that. He could be genuine, but he could hardly blame us for being suspicious. He could also be using the North Korean playbook, offering concessions, winning concessions only to renege later on. Iran is widely believed to be close to achieving its own nuclear weapons. It might be playing for time while its real aims come to fruition.

On Friday Rouhani and President Obama spoke on the phone and the signs were positive, but call me a cynic I don't believe it. Iran has sensed the weakness of Obama and the west and their eagerness for talks over action. In the high stakes game of poker that is international diplomacy Obama has played a strong hand weakly and is in the process of being bluffed by Assad, Putin and now Rouhani.  By the time the White House has a new occupant it may be too late.


The IPCC issued its fifth report into climate change/global warming and claimed that it is unequivocal - the planet is warming and mankind is to blame. They claimed 95% certainty for this, although this in itself is unscientific. How do you measure certainty? All in all there was a very clear attempt by the IPCC to spin and shout about their consensus and near certainty before their report unravels as it is gone through line by line. It is, as ever, a highly political report, glossing over that pause, explaining it without any clear evidence to support the explanation and using spin and assertion rather than evidence.  The way it has been reported has gone along with that intention, yet the report is actually dialling back the alarmism, something few are reporting. Space does not permit me to go into the report properly here and indeed I have not yet had time to fully digest it. But watch this space.

It was the Labour Party conference this week. They all turned up to hear their leader (he actually demands that he be called The Leader) and tried not to dread what he would say, or more likely what he would studiously avoid saying. Before the big speech of The Leader, we heard from various nonentities about their non policies, some announced policies that quickly unravelled, some even announced policies that the party quickly denied were policies as they involved taking welfare off people.



Ed Balls played football. It was Balls on the ball. Actually what he seemed to be doing was doing a kind of outdoor impression of what he does in the Commons - throw his weight around, grimace a lot and generally make a nuisance of himself. Seeing him in an oddly tight fitting football kit is not a pretty sight. It made us all feel a great deal of sympathy for Yvette. Does he pull those faces at intimate moments in the bedroom? Oh Yvette! His speech? It was not dissimilar. Lots of eye bulging, lots of anger and finger pointing but in the end he is losing the argument in the same way as he lost on the pitch.

Balls also assured us this week that he knew nothing about the activities of Damian McBride. This is such patent nonsense it is hard to wonder how he could say it with a straight face. Everyone, even those of us outside the bubble of Westminster knew that there was briefing going on against ministers by the Brown team. There were numerous articles and books written about it. Yet Balls says he knew nothing of it all until the recent revelations. That's about as laughable as his economic policy. The only sensible thing Balls said this week was that he will not allow HS2 if it keeps becoming ever more expensive. Yet even that is Labour putting off a decision once again. Why not make up your minds about something for once?


Then there was the speech by 'The Leader,' as he demands to be known. Now to be fair many of us have been laughing at the big nosed twerp and calling him weak and indecisive, and a policy free zone. This week he confounded us. This week he showed that, though still weak and decidedly misguided, he is capable at least of opportunist, cheap, dog whistle politics to shore up his own position in the polls and more especially his party. How they loved his lurch to the left. How they loved his economic illiteracy. How they loved his reversion to the kind of policies that made Britain the sick man of Europe in the 1970s.

The speech, in terms of presentation at least, was good. But then all he had to do was keep repeating stuff his party likes to hear, stuff about bashing the Tories and big business and millionaires. And he repeated it. And he repeated it. And he repeated it. He is being lauded for remembering an hour long speech. Actually it was about 15 minutes long but he said everything four times. It's a wonder he didn't go into a riff about Thatcher - that would have had them rolling in the aisles. They would have erected a North Korea style statue in his honour if he had done that.

The big policies? He's going to make energy companies - the ones who, as Energy Secretary, he forced green energy policies on which forced up prices - to freeze their prices. He's going to do a Mugabe and grab land off people who hold on to it. This displeases him, even though of course, as with energy, it is a travesty of the truth. It remains to be seen how all of this flies with the people he claims to be batting for. People are not as credulous as Wallace seems to think. They didn't buy it when he selflessly saved us from war in Syria. Will they necessarily think that we can trust Labour with an economy that is only just recovering from their last ravaging of it?



A week on from the heroic operation to raise the Costa Concordia from its watery grave, her captain, Francesco Schettino, gave evidence for the first time in his trial and sought to pin the blame for the disaster on his helmsman. Jacob Rusli Bin, Schettino claimed, failed to follow his orders and steered the ship the wrong way towards the rocks. Schettino claimed that, after spotting the error, he gave frantic orders to correct the mistake but it was too late. But a panel of experts have contradicted this claim saying that this late confusion would have made no difference and the ship, which was travelling at 14 knots, would have hit the rocks anyway after plotting a dangerous course too close to the rocks.

Divers searching around the now upright wreck found the remains of two people this week. DNA tests will now take place to see if they are the remains of the two passengers missing since the disaster 18 months ago. The authorities seemed confident that the agony of the families waiting all this time was now finally over.


An earthquake so violent it created a new island in the Arabian Sea struck southwestern Pakistan and killed 327 people. Thousands more were injured and thousands of homes were destroyed as the earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, wiped out 90% of buildings in the worst affected areas. The earthquake was actually stronger than the one that killed 100,000 people in Pakistan in 2005, but the death toll was much lower this time because the area was more sparsely affected. This remoteness however caused its own problems, with the authorities struggling to get equipment and personnel into the area to mount a rescue and help those who had been injured.





It was the Emmy Awards on Sunday night in LA, the annual festival of all that is great in television. There was a British invasion but it was repulsed, possibly because people are finally realising that Downton Abbey is just a soap opera with posher clothes and accents. There was plenty of British representation there for British shows and British actors in American shows. None of them won, which is a shame because there has been much great TV this last year, not least the superb Parade's End for which Benedict Cumberbatch was nominated but failed to win. But then American television is in superb form at the moment with so many high quality, contemporary, thought provoking dramas putting the film industry to shame.  The big winner of the night was, deservedly, Breaking Bad, although its star, Ryan Cranston, lost out in the best actor category to Jeff Daniels for The Newsroom. The brilliant Jim Parsons won once again for Big Bang Theory. Here is a full list of the winners.


The VW camper van, strictly speaking the VW Transporter, in continuous production since 1957, albeit latterly in Brazil, is to die. Good riddance say I. For reasons difficult to comprehend, this chugging, uncomfortable throwback to the 1960s is regarded as cool when in fact it was like being driven around in a diesel generator.  Of course the sort of people who think it is cool are the sort of people who spend most weekends and weekdays that end in Y spaced out on weed,  and think Caroline Lucas is a really sassy lady who speaks good sense. It is to driving and having a good time what the niqab is to all round vision and women's rights. Ironically it is dying because it is impossible to fit it with air bags. Since you would need to be an airhead to voluntarily pay money for something as old and decrepit as the Duke of Edinburgh's bladder, it's hard to see why this is a problem. But we should be thankful sometimes that our health and safety obsession can work to our advantage.


In one of the greatest comebacks ever seen in any sport, the American Oracle team hauled back an 8 - 1 deficit to win the America's Cup under the eventual leadership of British Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie. Ainslie was only brought into the team midway through the final series as a tactician and oversaw its astonishing revival under team captain Jimmy Spithill.


Best sporting news of the week was the removal of Paulo Di Canio as manager of Sunderland after less than six months in charge. Player power is something that can be a mixed blessing, and over the summer we saw its limitations as Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney failed to force through moves, but this was an example of players who had had enough and said so. Sunderland players had been involved in a furious two hour row with Di Canio after their latest defeat. Di Canio, since his arrival, had spent an inordinate amount of time criticising his players in public and private, criticising the former regime of Martin O Neill and verbally assaulting players for every perceived failing. It was a peculiar and counter productive form of man management. Essentially he was acting like a bit of a fascist!. A delegation of players went to the see the club's chief executive Margaret Byrne and she agreed that Di Canio, who had clearly lost the dressing room to the point where some players refused to play for him again, would have to go. In some ways it smacks of Brian Clough's ill judged tenure at Leeds United all those years ago. Except that Clough was a good manager.



The big game of last week's Premier League was the first meeting this season of the two Manchester clubs, both under new management. It was City who prevailed in a 4 - 1 thrashing, running riot with an exhilarating display of fast flowing football that a disorganised and lacklustre United simply couldn't cope with.

In the Capital One Cup, which is what they call the League Cup these days, Liverpool lost by a goal to nil at Old Trafford as David Moyes made up for the weekend and finally scored a victory over the Anfield club. The good news was that Luis Suarez returned to the team and looked surprisingly sharp after finishing his suspension. Arsenal eventually prevailed on penalties away at West Brom after drawing 1 - 1. Holders Swansea were given a shock when they lost 3 nil away at Birmingham City, Newcastle beat Leeds, Fulham got the better of Everton and Spurs thrashed Aston Villa 4 nil at Villa Park.

And this weekend's Premier League fixtures have produced some fascinating results. Both Manchester clubs were beaten in their fixtures, with United losing at home to West Brom in what was already their third defeat of the season and City losing at Aston Villa. And to complete a disappointing weekend for all of the pre-season favourites, Chelsea could only manage a draw at Spurs, although they did it with 10 men as a dynamic but rather too aggressive Fernando Torres was sent off for two yellow cards. He could easily have been given a straight red earlier however as he pushed and scraped at Jan Vertonghen's face as the two continued a spat off and on the ball. Later, in the evening kick off, Arsenal enhanced their lead at the top of the table with victory, albeit a slightly stuttering one away at Swansea.



There were complaints this week after people took seriously a spoof advert claiming that downloading the new iOS7 for the iPhone would make their phone waterproof. Seriously? A piece of software? And even if you believed this to be true why would you then test its efficacy by flushing it down the loo or going for a swim with your phone? And anyway the cretins who fell for this could just as easily have tested the waterproof credentials about their person by throwing it into the pool of wet behind their ears.



And there have been other problems caused by the new iPhone operating system. Beware if you are intent on taking a selfie with your phone that the auto upload to Facebook is set to default, particularly if you are a politician intent on showing us what a big swinging dick you have or are. This is Richard Barnes, former deputy Mayor of London and the Conservative member for Hillingdon and Ealing. Perhaps he took this picture because, judging by the pictures, it is the only way he can check himself out without his belly and moobs getting in the way. As you can see from the picture though, he got 98 likes so there's hope for him yet.


Social networking does have its upsides however. NASA joined Instagram this week and immediately got 17, 000 followers. It posted some of its favourite pictures, including some bodies rather more heavenly than that of Mr Barnes.



Speaking of heavenly bodies, here is this week's picture of Rihanna who seems to get around even more than your average astronaut.



Rihanna has been in Thailand and Australia this week and has been treating the world to lots of pictures of her loveliness in a bikini. I therefore present several pictures of her this week to make up for the rather slim pickings and distressingly overdressed pictures I have been forced to publish. At times I worried that I would never see her lovely pert bottom again.







This is Henry, the polar bear cub, with his mum, Liya. Henry lives at Sea World on the Gold Coast of Australia.



Finally, no this is not the new presenter of Newsnight. It is in fact a participant in the New Orleans Beard and Moustache Championships. I wonder if they serve soup.



Interlude

Sunday Funnies

Interlude

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Video Diary

Interlude



Wild horses wielding Kalashnikovs could not drag me to watch to the festival of bilge that is Strictly Come Dancing. How is it that Come Dancing was regarded as the epitome of naff but it becomes fascinating when the dancers are moderately famous? And then there is Bruce Forsyth. He was irritating in the 1960s and 70s when he was at his alleged peak. Now he has all the comic timing of a politician at a party conference, and his jokes are of about the same vintage as Ed Miliband's new Harold Wilson tribute band policies.

However it seems that the lovely Sophie Ellis Bextor is taking part this year. If she engages in the sort of activities in the video above, even I might be persuaded to watch.

Interlude

Friday, 27 September 2013

Wallace and Labour's Tunnel Vision



Three days on from Wallace's big speech let's have a look where the dust has settled. First, to be fair, after a summer in which Labour had nothing at all to say and Wallace went off and switched his phone off, presumably so as to learn his speech without interruption - incidentally you have to say you feel sorry for Justine, fancy having to help him learn his lines. No, Ed, you're not saying One Nation enough - it is fair to say that they have made up for that and then some.

There is clearly a nervousness about the idea. I think it is dignifying it a great deal too much to call it a genuine policy at this stage because there is no detail and a lot of questions about implementation. When questioned they um and ah and change the subject back to the principle rather than the practice. That should tell us a lot. Oh and Caroline Flint was yesterday pointing to the fact that a couple of the energy companies have offered deals allowing customers to fix their energy tariff until 2017 as proof of the viability and good sense of the slogan posing as a policy. Actually Caroline it does the exact opposite. By making this offer the energy companies are saying we are going to have to put up prices before the government makes us freeze them. It is one thing for a company to make an offer to its customers (no doubt with small print) which it can control and limit as it sees fit. Companies do it all the time. It is quite another for them to be told where to set their prices and for how long by diktat and for all customers rather than just a few that are within their control. That will just have all kinds of unforeseen and indeed very much foreseen (if you understand even basic economics) circumstances.

But all of this is being forcefully pointed out by energy companies, commentators and industry experts. It will be gone over repeatedly in the media. Like Gordon Brown's Budgets, and indeed Wallace's supposed triumph over Syria, this could all explode in Labour's faces, and the build up to detonation may already have begun.

But Labour must surely have known how large elements of the press would react to this lurch to the left and a move which is, though certainly populist, more about Wallace's prejudices and maybe something a little more atavistic than that. The man is instinctively hostile to big business and the profit motive. He genuinely seems to believe that the state can and should control business to make it fairer and more equal.


How is this so? How is it that a man brought up in the 70s doesn't remember them? Or is that he is one of those lefties who sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest, in the words of Paul Simon? There is a big school of opinion within Labour that argues vociferously that they failed in government because they were insufficiently left wing. You might call it the Tony Benn/Owen Jones/Polly Toynbee tendency. We'll call them the BJTs for short. This is the school of thought that sees choice as an irrelevance and indeed a waste of precious resources.

And Wallace is one of them. Indeed he and Owen Jones would make a lovely couple since, as we heard in The Speech, Wallace admires people from the north so much. For them competition and choice are irrelevant. Indeed, given that they think we are destroying the planet, they almost certainly think that it is evil. It does not enter their heads that state provided services can be poor or worse, that the state sector can be hopeless, corrupt, inefficient and lazy. We should take what we are given and be grateful. Yet look at what happens when we do. We have the NHS which, even when it isn't killing patients through neglect, is slow, ponderous, spectacularly inefficient and wasteful. Sure it does wonderful things but then so it should given the billions spent on it. The same is true of schools. There are many excellent schools just as there are excellent healthcare providers. But there are plenty of bad ones too. But, if we can only take what we are given without choice, that means inevitably the very unfairness that the BJTs rail against. If there are two schools in an area and one is an excellent and well run one and the other is poor and rife with indiscipline, parents will gravitate naturally in the direction of the good one. This should be encourages. But no say the BJTs, we should get what we are given. Thus there is no incentive for the poor school to improve. How is that so hard to understand? If the BJTs ran a football club they wouldn't have squads of players they would have 11 players and a couple of substitutes and no more. Competition for places? Waste of resources and unfair on the players left out.

But it seems that Wallace is very much of the statist get what you are given school of thought. The NHS is fine as it is and just needs more money. Money and resources are always the answer. They apparently haven't noticed that doctors have been given vast salaries and are being paid more than the prime minister but are doing less and see no reason to change. Wallace, in the speech, gave the traditional paean to the NHS but there was no mention of North Staffordshire and all those people left to die in their own filth. That is inconvenient to their mindset. See what you want to see and disregard the rest.

And it is absolutely fair to say that his party was onside with him in large part. At a question and answer session on Wednesday, party members told him that the Tories are out to destroy Britain. They genuinely believe this. It's not a different philosophy, Tories are evil, greedy and out to destroy the country. Another man told him that a rich country like Britain should be giving people fuel for their homes 'for nowt.' This is a party that genuinely and indeed fervently believes that it is a good idea for the state to seize private property 'for the people.' This is a party that genuinely and fervently believes, not only that people should have spare bedrooms provided regardless of income, but that the state should heat them too.

The only conclusion we can logically come to is that these are teenagers in adult bodies, people who have never grown out of the naive idealism of youth. Wallace had lines of teenagers behind him for The Speech. But he could just as easily have chosen anyone from his party who are signed up to his way of looking at the world that wilfully ignores history, economics, the public finances and human nature. Capitalism, for all of its faults, works and produces wealth and prosperity because it embraces human nature. It harnesses our natural competitiveness and turns this into goods and services in return for cash. Socialism imagines that this is unnecessary and that the profit motive is greedy rather than a necessary quid pro quo. Yet still we have amongst us, and now even leading a party that could soon enter government, a man who cannot and will not see this. The son of a historian wants to rewrite history, or at least to give history another chance to rewrite itself in a way he deems acceptable and more civilised. Those of us who oppose socialism do so, not because we are against the idea of helping our fellow man, of civilised values and support for those who need it. We are opposed to it because it doesn't know where to stop and because its solutions create the very problems it purports to solve. Labour lost power in 2010 because they had run out of money whilst trying to create their modern Eden. Now they are proposing to do the same again pursuing some illusory dream of equality and fairness. Must we really go through the same debilitating cycle again to prove that their solution is wrong? And, when we do, will they disregard it and carry on believing their convenient fantasy? Should such people be allowed anywhere near government?

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Save The Sky At Night



What is the point of the BBC? Is it to reward mediocre managers with stratospheric salaries regardless of how good a job they do? Is it to ignore the sexual transgressions of some of their biggest stars? Is it to advance a left wing 'progressive' agenda? Is it to stick so rigidly to that agenda that it cannot even call people who shoot pregnant women and small children in cold blood terrorists?

Strictly speaking of course it is none of these things. Our national and lavishly funded broadcaster is supposed to inform, educate and entertain us. Generally, and notwithstanding the efforts of some of its legion of managers, it does so pretty well. It doesn't do so notably better than commercial broadcasters in areas like drama, sport, comedy, news or documentaries, but then it is supposed to make up for this by providing services that those broadcasters do not cater for because they are unprofitable. This is why many so appreciate Radio 3, Radio 4, local news. Some, I'm told, even like BBC local radio, but then it takes all sorts. But this is the rationale behind us all paying our annual licence fee. The BBC is there to provide a service that entertains millions, but which also ticks other boxes, things we would only really miss if they were gone.

You would imagine that a once monthly programme about astronomy and cosmology would fit very firmly into that category wouldn't you. Yet the BBC is said to be considering axing The Sky at Night, the venerable national institution so long associated with the late, great Sir Patrick Moore who died last year. Why? Why would they do such a thing? Seriously, what is wrong with them?


A programme like this is practically the definition of public service broadcasting. Sure it doesn't get a huge audience, but it has an extremely loyal and dedicated one. And anyway what do you expect when you broadcast it as close to midnight as makes no difference? The programme may be about the night but it doesn't have to be viewed after dark.

And it can't be about money either. This is a programme that goes out once a month for crying out loud. And it consists mostly of people sitting in a room or in an observatory talking and showing the occasional graphic. They may go to exotic locations from time to time to see foreign observatories or foreign experts, but if this were a programme starring Brian Cox they would think nothing of sending him to every continent during the course of a one hour show, sometimes merely to illustrate a metaphor. I would be very surprised if the budget for The Sky At Night for 12 programmes amounts to as much as the BBC paid out to Mark Byford to stop him worrying about getting another job whilst serving out his contract. How dare the organisation that thought that a good idea threaten to axe a 55 year old programme that inspired several generations of our foremost scientists, including Brian Cox I shouldn't wonder.

Sometimes you can't help but despair of the BBC, and I speak as someone who has always been a wholehearted supporter of it and was proud to work for it. Sure the programme could do with being pepped up a bit, made a bit more exciting perhaps (although not dumbed down) maybe even given a new presenter or two (I wouldn't mind that gig myself) and given a regular place in the schedules every month. But this is a programme made for television and that the BBC ought to be proud of and to consider untouchable. I don't know whose idea it is to consider axing it, but I would suggest that this is clear evidence that once again they have appointed a duff manager to their ranks who will soon need paying off.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Back To The Seventies With Lights Out Labour


During and after the big speech of the man who likes to be called 'The Leader,' possibly because he and his colleagues cannot quite believe it, I took to Twitter to share my thoughts and, inevitably got into an argument with a lefty. The lefty in question @marthasydenham was the usual combination of misremembered and cherry picked history, cod economics, envy, class hatred and sanctimony. But what she said was very revealing, because it is a widely held mindset. It's the reason Wallace's speech yesterday was so rapturously received by his party.

She trotted out the usual stuff about private companies being greedy and out only to enrich themselves. Energy bills, she piously informed me, were all the fault of Thatcher. Of course. Everything is you know. When I pointed out that privatisation had occurred 30 years ago she dismissed this as a minor detail. When I further pointed out that Labour had spent 13 years in power since then and had done nothing about energy companies she said this:


And that, I would argue, is a very widely held sentiment in the Labour Party today. They prefer not to think about the fact that they were in power only 3 years ago. It doesn't count. The Blair/Brown years were an aberration. They didn't happen.

Presumably this is why Wallace has forgotten the fact that he was Energy Secretary in that last government, under Brown not Blair. He was in charge of the very sector he now tells us is broken and needs the dead hand of the state to repair. That is why he is planning on resurrecting a 1970s style policy and bringing in state controls to prevent private companies from raising their prices. What happens if there is a spike in oil and gas prices? What about the investment needed in new generating capacity and gas storage, investment that his policies necessitated? No answer.

It was reported last night that this policy, which so enthused Wallace's party, will probably be open to legal challenges. It will have unravelled by the weekend. If it doesn't we may well be looking at the even more sure realisation of the lights going out in the coming years. Why should private companies invest and risk their capital if they are told by government that wishes and indeed needs them to do this that, at the same time, they cannot raise their prices?


But this was a part of the left wing fantasy that Wallace proudly revealed to his eager party. It feeds into all of their prejudices. This was the biggest lurch to the left seen by a Labour leader since that time Michael Foot got his choreography wrong at the Cenotaph. This week the party has told us that it will tell companies who they can employ; it will impose a tax on anyone who has a property whose value that state deems unacceptable; it sees nothing wrong at all with those on benefits having publicly subsidised unused bedrooms whilst there is a housing shortage that exists because of red tape and nimbys rather than an unwillingness to build; but it will tell landowners what to do with their private property or have it seized by the state; at the same time as telling energy companies what prices they can charge it will throw even more money at green energy; it will provide childcare for all under 5s with money from its magic tree; oh and in addition to telling employers who they can employ it will push up wages for them whilst at the same time raising corporation tax. No doubt when those same employers decide that they can no longer afford to employ so many people Labour will pass a law telling them that they must. They will then watch in bewilderment as those employers either decamp abroad or go bust. It cannot be repeated too often that Labour has never left office with unemployment lower than when it came to power.

This is Labour's magic recipe for our nation's ills. They have ignored their last 13 years in power and now want to go back to the 1970s instead, presumably in the hope that people can't remember that far back because Labour ran out of money then too.

The money has run out, as Labour occasionally acknowledge, although you wouldn't know it from all of their spending pledges this week. So now they have to get more creative about spending other people's money. Oh they'll invent a couple of new taxes too but these won't really raise much. So simply make employers employ who you tell them to. Tell energy companies what they can charge. Have a kind of wages policy and then watch and wait while unemployment rises, inflation rises, emboldened unions (Wallace said nothing about them yesterday) demand massive pay rises. The only policy Wallace didn't offer as a throwback to the 70s was compulsory wearing of nylon flared trousers.



The fantasy of the left is that markets do not function to our benefit because they encourage greed and selfishness, although they tend to ignore the tendency of their union pals to exploit areas where functioning markets do not exist to force up wages, like London Underground for instance. The reason we have what he calls a cost of living crisis is because we have just gone through a vicious recession and those at the bottom have no bargaining power, a position exacerbated by the explosion of immigration Labour waved through. The way to change that is to have economic growth.

Market economies create growth if they are left alone by government;  if they are not taxed to excess, not resented and punished for making a profit, they don't have their property confiscated by populist politicians who cannot see their own faults and culpability, and are left to innovate, invest, employ the most talented at the best prices without being told what to do any more than is absolutely necessary. Growth and wealth creation does not happen by passing laws and regulations. This country grew wealthy by innovation, by clever entrepreneurs inventing things and selling them. Some became rich by doing so, but in so doing created jobs and wealth. Do we look back on the likes of Faraday, Macintosh, Priestley, Stephenson, Bazalgette, Wheatstone, Bell, Swan, Dunlop, Whittle, Logie Baird, Shaw or many others and think them greedy bastards?


Last week people queued for days to get the latest iPhone. Apple provided, free of charge for millions, its latest software update at the same time. This is a top quality, state of the art product provided by a private company that is making vast profits. At the same time the likes of Nokia and Blackberry are in dire straits because they failed to make products that people wanted. That is capitalism at its beautiful best. It innovates, it constantly strives to improve, and if it doesn't it dies or gets eaten by the survivors.  If it does it well it earns people fortunes and has lots of happy customers. Its products make us more efficient. But presumably Labour would prefer to go back to the days when telephones were provided by the state and had to be rationed. There was a choice of two types of telephone, and you had to wait for months to get one.

Incidentally there has been a market response to what Wallace calls the cost of living crisis. Sales at the grocery discounters Aldi and Lidl have exploded. Shoppers are voting with their wallets and purses. Sales at Aldi are up 32% and up 14% at Lidl. The other supermarkets are having to respond.

It is a tiresome cliche that keeps being repeated by government ministers, but that doesn't make it untrue. We are in a global race and we have to compete. Wallace seems to think that we can do so whilst at the same time paying ourselves more than we can afford, indulging in the fantasy that we can combat climate change by raising energy prices higher than they need be and create a society in which we get all kinds of government endowed freebies like publicly subsidised spare bedrooms as of right, free childcare and energy prices isolated from reality, all paid for by taxing millionaires who will of course accept perfectly happily having half of their incomes confiscated by politicians who think that this makes them morally superior.

Around the world, around developing economies, tens of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty over the last 20 years by embracing the market economy. That is a simple statement of fact. This has been a process that has been happening for 200 years. It started here on this small island. Then we got it into our heads that it would all be much better if it were all centrally planned by our wise politicians and civil servants - the same sort of people who can't plan a simple IT system or an NHS that doesn't make people wait for months or kills them for lack of care. In so far as Wallace has a vision for Britain that is it. He thinks the 1970s, the time of inflation, strikes, British Leyland and a state that even ran a removal company, was a halcyon period in our history. His slogan was that Britain can do better than this. It can. It has been. So why does he want to turn the clock back?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Forget the Bulls, That's Balls



This is 2 year old Lola giving a look of disdain to the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. It should be put on posters.

'You knew nothing about Damian McBride's smearing? You didn't run up too much debt? You will be fiscally responsible? How is raising the tax allowance not helping ordinary people on ordinary pay rather than millionaires? What happened to the economy flatlining? What on Earth do you think you look like running around in that tight fitting football shirt like an oaf?

You tell him, Lola.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Introducing Leanne



This is Leanne. I discovered her over the weekend on YouTube. She comes from somewhere in London I imagine according to her accent. She is, as you can see, extremely pretty. But I think she's also very funny. Some of her expressions and comments as she reads from 50 Shades of Grey are comedy gold. She should be on television. I just thought I would get in on the ground floor of her inevitable rise to fame.

This Is Still Gordon Brown's Labour Party



So we move on to Brighton and the Labour conference. It is salutary as well as entertaining that McPoison has chosen this week to have his book serialised so as to maximise sales and to punish those who now pretend they knew nothing of his doings. It is salutary because it brings back to mind just exactly what Labour were prepared to do to win and then hang on to power, to sideline rivals, to cow them into submission or silence.

It also brings to mind Gordon Brown. Remember him? He's still an MP you know, although his constituents might be forgiven for thinking otherwise. It's appropriate however that the man who did so much to damage the economy and who was so free with other people's money is perfectly happy to continue to draw his public salary whilst doing little or nothing to deserve it.

And it's a metaphor for Labour too. When Brown came to power, after years of intrigue, backstabbing and temper tantrums, it was popularly imagined that his vaulting ambition, his furious impatience, his angry sense of being dispossessed of his righteous path that bordered on the psychopathic, must be for a reason. He must have a file of bold new policies just waiting to be implemented. He must have a bold new vision for the country that would transform us. He must have something more than clever dividing lines to embarrass the Tories, more than throwing billions at public services in a forlorn attempt to make them better. He must have something better than income redistribution that gave the poor a few extra quid but trapped them on benefits. He must have more than Budgets full of lies and evasion and double counting.


But of course he didn't. Brown wanted power because he felt it his right. He had no idea what to do with it. He used McBride to ensure his path to power went unchallenged. Imagine what might have happened if someone had challenged him. We might have seen just how empty the man was. We might have been spared the embarrassment and wasted years of being governed by the worst prime minister of the modern era.

Yet as we look at Labour now under his protege, has anything really changed? Wallace's performance on Andrew Marr's show yesterday has been described as extraordinary. Which is to say it was empty, vacuous, evasive and at times bizarre. As Michael Deacon explains here, he effectively interviewed himself, ignoring Marr's questions and asking and answering his own. At one point he answered a Marr question on a referendum as follows: 'We've set out a very very clear position on this - but we'll set out our position at the election.'

And Wallace seems to have had some Thatcher style voice training to make him sound less like a dweeb. It's worked. He now sounds like a dweeb who has had voice training. We get these kind of car crash interviews from him on a regular basis in which he ties himself up in knots not answering questions or trying to make it sound as though he has a policy when he very clearly does not. That answer on Europe however was a kind of classic.



One thing he has made up his mind about though: he has decided to stick with that One Nation tag that has so inspired us all. That sums it up really. One Nation is an old Tory slogan. They've stolen it and are very pleased about that, like a bunch of students who have raided a rival institution and nicked its mascot. How they must have hugged themselves and given each other nerdish high fives when they came up with that. How terribly clever. It's the sort of thing that appeals to nerds and the commentariat. Everyone else just sees a couple of words that don't seem to mean anything.

Oh and there have been announcements of things that are almost policies. Except what they are is spending commitments, populist measures and things that appeal to their base. That's Labour's idea of a policy. No speech is complete without spending a few hundred million, all paid for, they assure us, by the same tax on a few thousand millionaires. So the party that splurged billions on welfare whilst in power is now promising to undo what little this government has managed to do to cut it back. It also means that an attack line from the Tories has been neutralised. That's classic Brown politics.

Their big line at the moment is on the cost of living. Given that their diagnosis and prescription for the economy have turned to dust this is about all they can say. Aha, they say, okay we were wrong about the cuts, wrong about the economy flatlining, wrong about unemployment. But people, that's people who don't live in large houses in leafy north London but in the constituencies we sometimes visit, are apparently struggling to make ends meet. Then they smile triumphantly whilst trying to look sympathetic. Wallace on Saturday donned a nice grey pullover to make him look like one of the people. I doubt it was from Primark.



And of course it never occurs to them that the cost of living has anything to do with their policies. Why would it? This is the party that still doesn't accept it spent too much money and created a structural deficit whilst in power. As the McBride book reveals, Gordon Brown, whilst wondering whether he would have to put troops on the streets at the worst of the financial crisis, wondered how it was that the banks had got into such trouble. It wasn't his fault, he who had been Chancellor and had welcomed their tax revenues and changed, disastrously, the way they were regulated. Labour are still doing the same today. The bust they created, the vast hole in the public finances they left, the legacy of debt, non jobs, millions trapped on welfare, and now they complain about living standards?

Oh and now they promise us that they are going to get tough on immigration. You can almost hear the country say 'yeah, right.' Could the fact that Labour, as a quite deliberate policy based on dogma and cold political calculation, let an extra 2 million people into the country have anything to do with lower living standards? Could that be why so many exist on a minimum wage that has become a ceiling for many? Could that be why housing and transport costs have exploded? Now they say they will force companies that employ foreign workers to take on a British apprentice. Except they can't do that. And since when did governments dictate who can be employed? More red tape, more regulation, more interference in things that should not concern them.



And what about energy costs? Could that have anything to do with the fact they signed up to lunatic emissions controls, didn't manage to build any new nuclear power stations to replace the old ones, agreed to lavish subsidies on wind farms paid for on our bills, and generally dithered on anything that might have cost them votes?

This is a Labour Party that has not changed. Oh they might, only might, have learnt the lesson about spin and smearing, but in essence they are much the same. They want to be in power but they cannot really explain why. They want to make the country fairer but cannot explain how, other than mumbling about taxing millionaires more. They want to put more people into work but cannot explain how other than telling us they will somehow, by diktat presumably, create 150, 000 apprenticeships. Of course at the same time they say they will raise the minimum wage, abolish zero hour contracts and imply that evil employers are to blame rather than stupid politicians who abandon border controls and dismiss any suggestion that immigration might have an impact on wages.

This is the Labour modus operandi. They earnestly believe that government fiat will accomplish a fairer and more just society. By passing a few laws, creating a few regulations and a few regulators on high salaries, taxing a little more and spending a lot more, human nature will be changed - the world will be transformed. When it doesn't, when things go wrong or not according to plan, when laws have unexpected outcomes, they lash out and smear people.

What happened under Brown and Blair was no accident. It is the default reaction of left wing governments to people who disagree with them and who point out their mistakes and flaws. But they are quite happy to call Tories names and smear them for disagreeing with them, for believing, not without evidence, that lower taxes are better and more efficient. No, say Labour, it's because they are evil and greedy and want to reward their pals. This from the party that created hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs to reward their union pals. Gordon Brown boasted about it. We can only be grateful that they don't go the whole way and start imprisoning people for disagreeing them, although they did create thousands of new criminal offences while in power and tried to push through 90 day detention without charge.

The mood of the country has moved decisively against our constantly expanding welfare model. What started out as a safety net to make our country more civilised has turned into a trap for millions. Yet even now Labour cannot help themselves, they cannot help but label reform as evil and uncaring. They oppose every minor change and are now promising to reverse one of them. That will be their answer to living standards. Throw money at it, give people a few quid to lift them above some arbitrarily set poverty line. Maybe someone should teach them the parable about teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish.

But this will be the line from Labour. They have a leader who cannot make decisions and certainly won't make any that are brave or principled and would require him to make bold arguments to persuade. He prefers to oppose, to hide behind slogans, truisms and cliches. Even when he took a stance against war he did it for the wrong reasons.

Labour hope that they can win an election by saying as little as possible and by relying on electoral arithmetic and UKIP to deliver them into power. Once there they will revert to type, they will spend money (although this time it will be money we don't have) and will imagine that this will magically create a vibrant, healthy, well balanced economy with a well paid, well educated and trained workforce. They are terribly good at telling us what is wrong. But, like Brown, they have no idea how to remedy anything. Don't be surprised if they start threatening and smearing anyone who points this out.



Sunday, 22 September 2013

Review of the Week


It had been a while but we knew there would be another one along in a minute. That didn't stop it shocking us when it did happen. America suffered another of its mass slaughters at the hands of a lone gunman this week, and this time it was in the nation's capital and in a naval yard.



At least it wasn't terrorism, but that will be little consolation to the families of the 12 people who lost their lives because another man was angry, felt sidelined, ignored, inadequate, had some kind of chip on his shoulder about something or anything. The man this time was Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist with a history of disciplinary infractions who had been discharged from the service of his country but nevertheless managed to get a job as a contractor and a pass to get legally onto a government site.

President Obama sounded almost weary as once again he was required to issue the same condemnations, the same platitudes in the sure knowledge that he will be unable to do anything about it. The gun lobby will use the same phoney arguments, the anger will dissipate and the countdown to the next outrage will begin. Every time one of these mass slaughters happens and receives wide exposure they make it certain that another young man will have a seed planted in his angry, testosterone filled head. Perhaps this is the price America pays for its democracy and constitution. Perhaps, since guns are so widespread, both legally and illegally, there is nothing anyone can do to stop this. In a free country you cannot even stop the publicity and blanket news coverage. Depressing isn't it?


Equally depressing and seemingly inevitably, a Nairobi shopping centre, the Westgate, was the scene of  a jihadist terrorist attack as gunmen shot and killed at least 39 people and 60 were wounded, although these figures were changing moment to moment before this post was published. There were reports that the gunmen were also holding as many as 36 people hostage on Saturday evening as the Kenyan army moved in and Britain's emergency COBRA committee met since Britons were said to have been caught up in the events.

It looked like a targeted attack against non Muslims as, according to one eye witness, the gunmen told Muslims to leave and other witnesses told of the attackers asking Islam based questions to choose their victims. The attackers invaded the upmarket shopping mall carrying AK47s and throwing grenades. There were no reports initially of the usual moronic chant of Allahu Akhbar but it can only be a matter of time. A spokesman for the Somali terror group Al Shabaab, which has links to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for what it called the Westgate spectacle on Saturday evening.



In the same way that America suffers regular gun massacres Britain seems to have officials fail to protect children being starved, beaten and tortured to death. On each occasion we get official apologies, much hand wringing, promises that lessons will be learnt before the countdown to the next tragedy begins. This week a report into the death of 4 year old Daniel Pelka was published and it was the same story of professionals missing clues, failure to communicate and even a failure to take the basic step of speaking to the child himself. The angelic looking Daniel suffered black eyes, broken bones and was not growing owing to the fact that he was not eating. It was even noted that he had been caught stealing food on several occasions and still no alarms were raised. His mother and her boyfriend were given life sentences earlier this year. As usual no officials have been as much as disciplined for their catastrophic failings.



In the wake of the deal between America and Russia to deal with the issue of Syria's chemical weapons stocks, the UN issued its now largely academic report into what happened in Damascus last month. The report confirmed that chemical weapons have been used and called it a war crime. Whilst they had no mandate to apportion blame, Ban Ki Moon said that 'we all have our thoughts' on that. William Hague, British Foreign Secretary and Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN went further, stating that only the Syrian regime had the capacity to deliver the weapons on the scale seen last month.

There have been reports of some grumbling within the Assad regime about having to give up chemical weapons as they give them such a clear tactical advantage and were in addition stockpiled for possible use against Israel. Inspectors will have to be on their guard to ensure that all of the weapons are destroyed.

After the UN report was issued, as if by magic the Assad regime claimed to have evidence that it was all the work of rebels. You have to wonder if they are going to play ball on the issue of these weapons and if, like China with North Korea, Russia has as much influence as we all assume over President Assad who may calculate that he has nothing to lose whereas Russia can only lose face.


Egypt has been out of the headlines for the past few weeks because of the Syrian crisis, but tensions there remain as acute as before its near neighbour stole the world's attention. Security forces remain locked in sporadic battles to control Cairo and did so again this week in the Kerdasah district, firing tear gas and exchanging gun fire with armed groups. The forces stormed the area to arrest men accused of setting fire to police stations and killing 11 security officers. State television said one officer was killed but that security forces took control of the area and imposed a curfew, but elsewhere in the city the metro system was brought to a halt after a couple of explosive devices were found.

And Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, continued his charm offensive as he seeks, some say desperately, to have UN sanctions lifted. Rouhani, in his short term in office, has spoken repeatedly of improving relationships and assured the world that his country has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, although IAEA inspectors disagree. The US has hinted that President Obama, no doubt on the look out for a foreign affairs success after Syria, may meet Rouhani. The White House has spoken of his 'welcome rhetoric.'



In a slow, painstaking but hugely impressive display of engineering prowess, the Costa Concordia, stricken for over 18 months on the rocks that sealed its doom off the island of Giglio in Italy, was raised back to an upright position. The operation has cost over £500 million. The ship will remain off the coast of Giglio for several more months. First it remains a crime scene with two unaccounted for bodies still to be found and evidence to be collected. For this to take place however the ship will need to be stabilised and made safe. Francesco Schettino, the captain of the ill fated ship, is currently standing trial for manslaughter and abandoning his ship.



The Lib Dem conference took place this week, not usually a matter of much if any public interest. But this year we did have the fascinating spectacle of an ageing senior politician behaving like a teenager. Vince Cable, the guru of his own imagination, called the Tories names, played a game of will he won't he with his leader and the party, played to the gallery of his diminishing gang of fans like a kind of wizened Harry Styles and generally made a prat of himself. David Cameron has called Cable a perpetual Jeremiah. Ah, said Cable, but Jerry Mire (this is how be pronounced it) was right. He does realise that the Bible isn't actually true doesn't he?


And the big announcement from the Lib Dems? Well, in addition to Nick Clegg boasting about all of the things he has stopped the Tories from doing (yes, the man whose party is currently on 9% in the polls and may face a challenge in his own constituency from Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson - please Jezza, do it) and not long after telling us that they were determined to continue ruthlessly pushing down on the deficit and getting the public finances in order, they told us that they had nevertheless found half a billion quid to give schoolkids free meals. All of them. Well for the first three years of school anyway. This despite the fact that those from poor families already get free school meals for their entire school careers. This is the deal those caring Lib Dems have done with the Tories so that they can make a big announcement on tax at their conference in a couple of weeks time. Anyone would think an election is only 18 months away.



Coincidentally this week saw Tony Abbott sworn in as the new prime minister of Australia. He was elected by a system the Lib Dems tried and failed to impose on us and with a landslide. Abbott has promised to crack down immediately on Indonesian asylum seekers arriving by boat and to scrap the carbon tax, both policies that would give Nick Clegg and his party the vapours but are extremely popular. And he started as he clearly means to go on by immediately sacking the Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery. A lesson for our own Conservative Party with its Australian election guru?



Today sees Germany go to the polls in an election expected to see the return for a third term of Angela Merkel as Chancellor. The only question will be the extent of her victory and who she ends up forming a coalition with.  As you can see from the picture above, Merkel may not be the most exciting politician but neither is she one of the grey suited men of politics.


The Daily Mail published a picture this week of a woman's improving complexion when she gave up drinking for a month. They need not have bothered. They could just have published a picture of their new signing Damian McBride as a way of illustrating the perils of the demon drink.

McBride, a man in his 30s when the above picture was taken, but fond of a drink or two which made him look much older, is publishing a tell-all book about his time as his hero Gordon Brown's rottweiler. It is being serialised by the Mail. It is a tale of spin, lies, vanity, greed, backstabbing, deceit, innuendo, intrigue, paranoia, sadism and binge drinking. It sounds like a bloody good read. It is being timed to coincide with the Labour Party conference. Some of its juiciest revelations may well be timed to coincide with the speeches of Ed Balls and Ed Miliband who worked closely with McBride but of course deny all knowledge of his methodology. That of course is a claim that bears about as much scrutiny as their economic policy.

To be fair to McBride there is a large element of mea culpa about his revelations, although he'll also make a few quid out of them. He is holding his hands up and admitting that he was a nasty bastard who did people in just because he could, or to show, in his words, that he could piss higher up the wall than his and Gordon's enemies. What it doesn't do is explain why McBride and so many others so admired the flawed and deeply unpleasant Gordon Brown, and why he was consequently foisted on us as prime minister - a job he was spectacularly ill suited to.


It's looking like a testing week for Labour and its under fire leader. In addition to the McBride revelations, the polls continue to move against them. Some of the latest have Labour either level pegging or only 1 point above the Conservatives. Wallace is coming out fighting this weekend, but once more he is defining himself by what he is opposed to and how much money he would spend. He is going to scrap the so called bedroom tax that isn't a tax and is telling people they will earn more under Labour - so that's spending more of other people's money once again. Oh and he's bringing socialism back he tells us this weekend. For some who live in million pound houses in lovely north London, it never really went away, or at least they never stopped obsessing about it.


The US Federal Reserve confounded market expectations on Wednesday and indicated that it will not yet start to taper its quantitative easing programme. Dealers around the world, in emerging and developed economies alike, had been waiting nervously on the news and, when it came, were surprised and delighted. The Fed has elected for now not to take away the punch bowl from the party and will continue to pump printed money into the economy. It decided that the risks of choking off a still fragile recovery are greater than inflating a bubble. It will have to happen eventually of course, but, with politicians heading once again towards a fiscal cliff which could actually see government shut down unless agreements over new budgets are reached, perhaps the Fed decided to err on the side of caution for a while longer. Meanwhile, here in the UK, the latest minutes of the Bank of England's MPC were published showing that all members are now agreed that there should be no more QE.




The above picture is of the aftermath of the devastating biblical floods that devastated parts of Colorado last week. In the picture you can see row after row of vehicles abandoned after a week of torrential rain. The floods led to the deaths of 8 people and the abandonment of 1600 homes.



And Mexico has suffered similar floods and damage this week as tropical storm Manuel reached hurricane strength and battered the country's Pacific coast, even bringing a crocodile on to the streets of Acapulco. Forecasters warned of life threatening flash floods and mudslides in areas worst affected by the hurricane in what has been a quiet hurricane season thus far.



The trial began of Saif Gaddafi, son of the former dictator and former friend, to its eternal embarrassment, of my alma mater the LSE. He is being tried for war crimes, allegedly committed during the uprising that eventually brought about the end of the Gaddafi regime. Other members of that regime are on trial, including former prime minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi and a former Ambassador to London, Mohammed Zoaia. It is a sign of the enduring chaos in Libya that there are all kinds of accusations about the choreography of the trial and what might come out about current members of the government and their links to the former regime. It is another salutary reminder of what can happen when western powers intervene for well intentioned humanitarian reasons.

Liking someone or something on Facebook is a human right, or at least it is protected by America's constitution according to a federal appeals court. The case was brought after a sheriff, B J Roberts, sacked people for 'liking' his opponent in an election. They sued and initially lost, only to have the decision overturned on appeal, with the court determining that Facebook likes cannot be punished because they are a freedom of speech issue. This will come as a welcome relief to those who have liked things during foolish periods of their youth only to regret them later in life. One Direction fans in particular can rest easy.


This week saw the release, first of the new iPhone operating system, iOS7, followed on Friday by Apple's new iPhone, the 5S. It also saw the release of the cheaper 5C, although early indications are that consumers are underwhelmed by this new product and regard it, understandably, as not cheap. Those queueing, including at London's Covent Garden store above, were doing so overwhelmingly for the 5S, but then these are the Apple fans, nerds and those out to make a quick buck. There were reports of shortages of the new premium phones, especially the new gold coloured ones, but supplies of the 5C are plentiful. It remains to be seen if this is the game changer hoped for by Apple. Shares in the company have dropped by 5% since the announcement of the new products. I can report however that iOS7 is excellent, easy to use, with new features that improve an already superb product, and that I had no problems downloading it unlike some.


Both Manchester clubs enjoyed good starts to this year's Champions' League campaign, although United's victory over Bayer Leverkusen was the more emphatic and impressive. Wayne Rooney scored  twice to reach 200 goals for United as they completed a 4 - 2 home victory. But asked later if his current good form put an end to the speculation about his future Rooney was decidedly testy and seemed to be sticking to a predetermined formula. The whole will-he-won't-he? saga may well be back up and running come January, although tensions may have been eased when Sir Alex Ferguson praised the player and opined that his form is back to its best.

But the Rooney saga may well be given a new lease of life by Chelsea's current travails given that they were chasing him right up until the transfer window closed. They lost at home to a well organised but hardly spectacular Basel team in midweek and squandered several chances.

Elsewhere Arsenal's excellent start continued as they won away at Marseille despite a raft of injuries to several key players. Celtic lost to two late goals from AC Milan, after a plucky and often luckless performance at the San Siro.

In this weekend's Premier League fixtures Chelsea made up for their poor performance in midweek with a 2 - 1 victory over west London rivals Fulham. Liverpool were mugged by Southampton at home and lost their league leadership. Everton went to West Ham and beat them by 3 goals to 2. Hull did the same to Newcastle, Villa won away at Norwich and West Brom beat Sunderland by 3 goals to nil. The big game of the weekend comes today when the two Manchester clubs play, although Wayne Rooney has insisted that his club's game against Liverpool matters more.


if you want proof that we have had a decent summer this year you need only look to which team won the County Championship of cricket. It was Durham. It's a county of many delights, its a friendly and delightful place to visit, not least its lovely cricket ground. But you don't go there for its delightfully predictable and temperate weather. Nevertheless cricket's newest first class county has now won the title three times and have ambitions to establish themselves further with a young and developing team.


Religious pilgrims have been known to go to sacred holy sites to get closer to their imaginary friend, to commune with him, perhaps to ask for some kind of divine intervention in their lives. Now, according to Vienna University however, they must take with them bottled water. The holy water coming from springs and fonts at churches in Austria is full of fecal matter and agricultural nitrates and could give anyone drinking it inflammatory diarrhoea. Is this him moving in mysterious ways again? Certainly it might have that effect on your bowel movements.



Here is this week's picture of Rihanna. This week, after several weeks of dressing down she was glamming up again and showing off a bit of midriff. Thank god. All seems somehow right with the world again.



I've mentioned before that the BBC's Simon McCoy is a very funny man. Apparently however this is an instinctive thing. He doesn't even have to realise he is doing it. Viewers were puzzled this week when McCoy went walkabout, as newsreaders must do all the time these days, in front of large screens for our edification, delectation and delight and to show off all the money the BBC has spent on its newsroom. But what puzzled them was the fact that Simon was doing so whilst clutching, not a state of the art iPad, but a ream of copier paper. Has the BBC had to cut back on its IT budget after wasting so much on IT schemes that didn't work and exiting executives? No, apparently he picked it up by mistake.


Fans of Peanuts by the late, great Charles M Schulz will know that Linus was a believer, the only believer, in the Great Pumpkin which rose up out from the ground on Halloween and gave out gifts to good little boys and girls. Linus sat out and the GP never came. Here is where he may have been going wrong. 10 year old Polly Hallewell from Tostock in Suffolk sang to hers and it became the great pumpkin you see above. She sang to this pumpkin alone and it grew to weigh 7 stone and measure 90 inches compared to those that had to entertain themselves, which could only manage 70 inches. Presumably, if Polly is that good a singer, she will soon be hearing from Simon Cowell.


Does this dog remind you of anyone? A world statesman? The probable next winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (well they've made stupider decisions). Yes the resemblance is uncanny. The dog lives in the Ukraine. It too is fond of rough housing and likes nothing better than the great outdoors. He is a bit of a mongrel though, being a cross between a Staffordshire terrier and a German Shepherd. A spokesman for the dog told us however that he doesn't care what we think as we live on a small island that nobody listens to.



This is Tradinno, a 30 foot tall, 51 foot long radio controlled dragon that weights 11 tons, can walk, breathe fire and flap its 11 foot wide wings. Built by German firm, Zollner Elektronik AG, its 2 hydraulic circuits and 272 hydraulic valves are run by a 2 litre diesel engine. Let's hope they can get it into the shops in time for Christmas. It will be even more popular than an iPhone. I know I want one.

Finally, this astonishing picture is by photographer Rolf Maeder. It is the Grand Canyon during a storm, although it looks for all the world like something from a Peter Jackson film involving Middle Earth and hobbits.