"teh basement cat iz in ur screen, stealin' ur blogz..."

Friday, 30 January 2009

Jonah the destroyer of hope

A study from the Spectator Coffee House shows the predicted effect on GDP and employment figures over the next five years as a result of his economic 'stimulus' package based on the PBR, courtesy of Oxford Economics. Follow the link to see just how short-term Brown's thinking has become, and then pray for an election.

Fuck's sake...

Not quite so idyllic...

The maddening lunacy of students who get on a bandwagon for a ‘cause’ almost always ends in some poor sap having to deal with the fallout. In the wake of Israel’s targeted action against Hamas in Gaza, the student fury over the Eden Springs water contract has roused itself from the doldrums where it belonged.

Basically, Eden Springs UK are a subsidiary of Danone Springs of Eden, a leading water supplier in Europe. No problem so far. The complication comes here: Mayanot Eden Ltd. is an Israeli mineral water producer which operates in Europe under the Eden Springs brand. It extracts water from the Golan Heights in Israel, and this is where Palestinian Solidarity groups have taken offence. Mayanot, they claim, oppress the Palestinians and steal their water, as the Golan Heights were illegally annexed. It’s the old ‘Israel the Villain’ argument, and guess what, it’s EUSA and the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Society who are peddling it.

Some students are really good at causes. They do their research, look at all angles of an argument, reason out the good from the ill and make their stand accordingly. Others, and probably most, jump on the nearest bandwagon for the nearest underdog and shout as loud as they can, whether or not their case actually has any validity.

Which brings me to this case: Eden Springs UK does not supply you with water from the Golan Heights. Their parent company is majority owned by Group Danone with a 58% stake, not Mayanot. If you really want to dig into it, Eden Springs UK is held by Danone Springs of Eden BV (a Dutch company) which is ultimately owned by Danone SA – a French company. None of these companies have been charged or convicted of a criminal offence. Eden Springs UK are in fact a Scottish operated group – so all that EUSA/SPSS are doing is promoting the boycott of a Scottish company. Well done there!

So the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son. In this case, whether any sin has been committed at all is a matter of perspective, but let’s leave that out of it. The Golan Heights have been Israeli territory since 1981. Why penalise a UK holding of a French company for something that one of the partner organisations may or may not have done wrong?

While this has been bubbling along for a while, the Gaza conflict has once again brought it to the fore. The result of the renewed interest has been that a lot of University contract teams are under pressure from students to cancel the contract. Legally, they are under no obligation to do so, as you must have an actual, valid reason to cancel a contract. In this case, a bunch of students in a tizzy does not constitute a valid reason. Criminal conviction, breach of contract, failure to supply and so on – those would be good reasons to review the contract. If there are break clauses they may be able to exploit these, but they’d really have to ask why the heck they’d want to rather than tell the students to go forth and multiply.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Epic Government Fail

A friend of mine e-mailed me this picture this morning, raising a weary smile to my face...

So true.

So very, very true.

Unelected, unable to admit his mistakes, and let's face it, generally unappealing.

Iain Martin at the Telegraph has a good measure of the man's current state of mind. This is the man leading our country. We should all be very afraid...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

EU Procurement law Vs. My taxes.

I received today an e-mail inviting me to attend a seminar on EU Procurement law. There have been rather a lot of seminars on this subject lately, but this one was going for an attention-grabber:
“The EU procurement rules are fraught with difficulty.

You are required to navigate between the black letter of the law and the commercial reality of putting together a procurement.

To manage the risk effectively you need rock-solid advice on what you can and can't do.”
It went on to list a number of the hurdles and complicated rules that can make a public sector contracting exercise something of a minefield, from when you can and cannot speak to suppliers during the process, when a framework is anti-competitive and thus non-compliant, and so on and so forth.

Normally these things get the ‘delete’ treatment without any further ado; however this framed the problem faced by contracts teams within the Public Sector very succinctly. Basically, there are so many pitfalls, red tape and ridiculous levels of bureaucracy designed at making the process as ‘fair’, ‘open’, ‘transparent’, ‘non-discriminatory’, etc, etc. as possible that it becomes an uphill struggle before you even get started.

I’m not saying that any of these goals are a bad thing. On the contrary, they are wonderful principles of a free market. Public money should be accountable, and we should not be awarding the contract to someone who isn’t going to offer the best value for money.

It’s also fucking difficult to argue against the rules. They make irritating sense to a free-marketeer. If followed, they stop protectionist policies and are intended to prevent sharp practice, all good things. In fact, you can’t even say that a public body should be able to spend its money in the local economy, because the whole point of the rules is that the best response to your tender will win the business.

In other words, if local suppliers want to win the business, then they need to up their game and improve. It also means that there should be no barrier to those local suppliers winning business elsewhere in Europe, if they decide to do so. Great, in theory.

So, does that mean I’m happy that my tax money is going to line a German, or Spanish company’s offers? Well the flipside is that their tax money could well be lining those of a British company, so you could argue that it will all come out in the wash.

What I’m trying to make clear here is that the spirit of the EU Procurement rules is something I agree with. My issue is more whether or not the sheer cost of implementing the laws, enforcing them, and even writing the damned things is actually delivering us any value for money, or if in fact is costing governments – and therefore you and me as the taxpayer – a huge amount of money that could be better off back in my pocket.

It also means that the UK Government can’t say to contracting authorities (basically a body spending public cash) that they should source locally and support the British economy. It has no say over where that public money will end up. Of course I should be happy that the most economically advantageous tender will win, therefore saving the taxpayer money. It’s very easy to end up in a circular argument on this.

When the House of Commons commissioned the construction of new offices for MPs, what was to become Portcullis House, the contract for the windows went to a British firm. The problem was that a French-owned firm, Harmon, had submitted the most economically advantageous bid. Someone at the House had decided we should buy British. Harmon challenged this under a breach of the EU Procurement rules and were awarded damages in court for £1.85m. There were other aspects they could also sue for, however the House of Commons settled out of court for an unspecified fee. So the taxpayer paid for the windows twice over, maybe more. Now, can you spell colossal waste of my fucking money?

Fine, you say, live within the rules. I question not the spirit of the rules, let me re-iterate that. What I do believe in is choice. The same choice afforded to the private sector, which has far more freedom to make decisions on where it spends its money. What I question is why that accountability seems to lie with Europe, and not with the UK taxpayer. Why the fuck are some overpaid bunch of bureaucrats allowed to tell our public sector that it can’t support local businesses if it chooses to do so? It may not be the right choice, but the point is that the public sector in the UK should be responsible to the UK taxpayer, not to fucking eurocrats.

I fail to see why we need another layer of bureaucracy on top of our own, trying to tell us what we can and can’t do – private or public sector. Big government is not a good thing. More big government above a big government is worse. We have enough crap from our own politicians, we really don’t need to be subsidising eurocrats as well, and we really don’t need more layers of red tape, processes and procedures that cost the taxpayer even more money.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Editorial row? I'll wiki it.

I’m sorry, but why in the name of fornication is this news? My BBC RSS feed has just informed me that Wikipedia is engulfed by an editorial row.

Engulfed. What an interesting word to use. Yes, I can see it now, swept asunder by editorial fury, drowned like Atlantis under the torrents of their rage...

The story goes that the unmoderated editing of Wikipedia entries is being reviewed after a number of wags changed certain pages – in this case those of Senators Robert Byrd and Edward Kennedy – to suggest the subjects in question were no longer amongst the living. This isn’t new, it has happened before. Lore has it that the Microsoft entry has on a number of occasions been edited humorously to be less than complimentary about dear old Bill.

The part of this I’m missing is why this matters. A group of people passionate about their product are reviewing one of the core principles on which their vision was founded. I would be much more surprised if there was laconic agreement to such a big shift. Of course there will be arguments and raised voices. Those who believe in a free interweb and information sharing tend to be evangelists for their principle, and if some amongst them are questioning that, the discussion is likely to be heated.

For what it’s worth, I would urge a little backbone amongst the doubters. Whilst Wikipedia has grown to be a respected and trustworthy source of information (due to what I like to think of as the Law of Anal Retentives), it has done so without official moderation. The truth generally outs. The principle of Wikipedia as being the encyclopaedic equivalent of open-source software should not be threatened simply because there are some irresponsible people out there who decided to have a bit of a chuckle.

My word to the editorial team: leave it as it is. It works, and don’t let the minority spoil something you have every right to be very proud of. Even if your founder does think it's okay to wear a kimono.

The boy who lied

I heartily apologise for the total lack of blogging for the last week or so. My bad, etc.

So, quick recap - Obama got sworn in, Gordy B immediately tried to pin himself to the reflected glory, RBS became even more nationalised than it was already (oh, how the mighty have fallen) and I got thoroughly 'refreshed' at a Burns Dinner one night early. Because having Burns night on a Sunday - and therefore a school night - is just silly.

Anyway, on the notice board at work a co-worker had posted a piece of poetry singing the praises of GB for nationalising RBS in the name of every Scot, thus saving the world. This irritated me on a number of levels, not the least because it involved nationalising, a distinct lack of economic understanding, and because it smacked of nationalism. I therefore spent fifteen minutes of my lunchtime coming up with a suitably withering response, got a bit bored, and came up with this.

The Boy Who Lied
by teh basementcat

Economy in meltdown,
A currency in decline,
A leader who is frightful,
And apparently quite blind.

While mortgaging our future,
Haemorrhaging our cash,
He seems to think we’ll let him,
Spend our money like a rash.

The solution isn’t working,
Simply spending will not save,
When grassroots change is needed,
This man is just not brave.

He will not trust the public,
He curtails our liberty,
He wants their private data,
But he’ll lose it as you’ll see.

A rigid style of leading,
He bullies all his peers,
Decries opponents as ‘do nothing’,
When they are what he fears.

He claimed an end to boom-and-bust,
That he brought a golden age,
While flush he failed to fix the roof,
He’s clearly no great sage.

His work is self protection,
Delusion is his game,
Our fault to perpetrate it,
But, oh, what is his name?

His touch is not like Midas,
This misguided lying clown,
He curses all he touches,
His name is Jonah Brown.

Okay, so it's hardly Whitbred Prize-winning stuff, but it was a suitable outlet for my irritation.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Eurobarometer swings...

... Exactly where you'd expect it to, actually.

Just to crunch the numbers for you:

  • 14% of UK residents questioned were aware that European elections will be held in 2009.
  • 34% of UK residents questioned are even interested in said elections.
  • 64% are not.
  • 18 % of us 'would definitely vote'
  • 28% of Brits have recently heard/seen something about the European Parliament on TV/Internet/Newspaper (the lowest of all members polled).
  • 19% of us think we're well informed about European Parliament.

Oh, and apparently we have a European Anthem.

Anyway, the upshot of this would seem to suggest that the UK at large doesn't have much interest in Europe. The Czech seem to have noticed this.

To quote DK: "Can we leave yet?"

Hat tip to The Croydonian.

Making a big splash

Now that's what I call Plane Sailing

Smoke and mirrors. And Sat-Navs, nannies, mortgages...

Mr Eugenides has cross-posted on DK about a little smoke-and-mirrors at Westminster - namely, that the much awaited 'review' of MPs expenses, in a severely watered down format, was conveniently announced (without much ado) on the same day as the Heathrow runway debacle. John McDonnell's little performance served as a nice little headline grabber to draw attention to the fact that very little has changed.

The Times has the run-down here.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Monday, 12 January 2009


With the launch of LabourList, the left-wing blogosphere hopes to find its answer to the successful and much lauded ConservativeHome. Guido, Dizzy, DK, ConHome and many more of the right-wing bloggers have already taken the time to offer their advice, support and comments/criticisms in what has generally appeared a magnanimous display. I won't add to what they have said, but I did take the time to have a look at some of the entries, and the first blog by Peter Mandelson was too hard to resist.

He happens to mention that:

"I have blogged before, when I was a European Commissioner at the WTO Doha Ministerial
meeting in Geneva last July, and I enjoyed it. But in this, my first UK political blog, I want to say something about how we get our message out in these modern times."
Yes indeed, I'm sure you do Peter. Modern times indeed...

Of course, one wag couldn't resist that bait, which rather proved the case in point (emphasis added by me):
"Your claims to have blogged before and enjoyed it are a little inflated, surely? The realm of the blog, unlike simply having an article published in a newspaper, is that it is interactive. To do it right you need to engage with those who comment, and to be willing to support your initial argument or statements when they are questioned. I look forward to this, but suspect there's more chance of photographing pigs flying in formation.
The Ranting Penguin @ 8:01 am, Mon 12th Jan 2009

You couldn't be more wrong "Mr. Ranting Penguin"? I am enjoying reading the comments and once I have attended the government's job summit this morning I will be responding to them, even from those people with rather odd names...
Peter Mandelson @ 8:13 am, Mon 12th Jan 2009"

Are you sure you've blogged before, Mandy?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

PC Brigade Strikes Again

The sad thing about public life is that all it takes is for one little comment to be taken out of context, and before you know it, the PC Brigade are jumping all over you demanding an apology.

My comments somehow failed to make it on to the BBC website, but it looks like my opinion was mirrored by a good many others who made their voices heard.

On one hand, I can understand how an outsider might see Harry referring to a colleague as a 'paki' could be taken as racist, except that would mean by extention that calling him a 'brit' would also be offensive. I appreciate that the word has connotations, but who gave it that connotation? Isn't not using it perpetuating the negative connotation? I mean, the gay community reclaimed gay, why can't the pakistani community reclaim 'paki'?

In context, it was more than likely being used as a nickname - call a spade a spade, right? As for raghead... well our troops are being expected to go off and shoot Afghan terrorists and Iraqi insurgents. Shooting is fine, calling them names is not, clearly.

Now if Harry meant it offensively or was bullying the lad, then I could understand the issue, however, I don't believe that in this instance he was. It's another example of the PC brigade jumping on an opportunity to get wound up over nothing and for the media to whip up a little frenzy.

Get. Over. It... and leave the poor lad alone.

Friday, 9 January 2009


This is almost enough to make me like him.

But only because Optimus Prime > Everything.

There does seem to be something of a superhero theme running through parliament at the moment. The Prime Mentalist shot himself in the foot with his planned 'Not Flash, Just Gordon' campaign. Even before his faux-pas on saving the world, the moniker Flash Gordon was sticking. He's been likened to Superman by his MPs, and the Tories decided he was more like Lex Luthor.

So what would that make Cameron and Clegg?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Global risks

I am now thoroughly ensconced back at my desk, roibos tea in one hand, mouse in the other. Blogging services are resumed.

One of my colleagues joked that he had expected me to have been kidnapped while I was away. This got me thinking. According to the RiskMap 2009, published by the Control Risks Group, Nigeria ranks number four in the top ten kidnapping-for-ransom countries in the world. So, you might conclude that a visit to Nigeria is not the wisest thing to do.

I disagree. I went, and I returned without incident, or even the suggestion of one. Why? Because I was miles away from the problem. Nigeria’s troubles are concentrated in the Niger Delta. The hotspot, if you like, is Port Harcourt in the east. The west of Nigeria could be a holiday destination if it wasn’t for the litter on the beaches.

On New Year’s Eve I shared a table with an Olympic swimmer. She had competed for Zimbabwe earlier that year, realising a life-long dream. Sat in conversation with her, I asked how safe it would be for me to visit. Her answer raised a wry smile on my face.

“Are you a farmer?”

“Not last I checked.”

“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re bringing foreign money into the country.”

She then made another point to me, which I’ve already alluded to. There is more to Zimbabwe than Harare. The south of the country is, I’m told, beautiful. You can go on a safari for less than $300 USD within two hours drive of the nearest airport, and stand a handbreadth from lions and giraffes.

Of course, the counter to that is if there are safer places to go where you can do similar things, why entertain the risk? Simply put, because I saw things that most people will never see. As I clambered up the side of a waterfall, I knew that the chances were strong that aside from locals, no one else ever did this, and that held a little magic for me.

On the other hand why take any money into a country like Zimbabwe, run by a man who is a blight upon freedom? If you can be sure he won’t get his mitts on it, fine...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year, I suppose!

See above. Had about 5 knots of wind today at best, southerly, but nipped out in a Lightning and took part in a race at the Lagos Yacht Club. Needless to say with barely a gentle breeze in the offing a run was barely possible. Tacking we got a respectable speed, but even with the spinnaker up on a run and the boom out we were barely moving at times. Worst December for sailing in memory at the Lagos Yacht Club, I was told.

Anyway, we're off to Ikoradu tomorrow to canoe up the creek, visit a king and see palm oil refineries. Particularly excited about the canoe part.