THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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March 2009

Our first new colony for some time

 BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Whitehall defends 'fantasy world'.

Sky City_001How amusing. The British government has established an "innovations centre" in Second Life. The BBC reports that it has cost twenty thousand pounds to set up and will cost twelve thousand pounds a year to run, but those numbers don't make sense. I thought the journalists always told us they were superior to bloggers because of their editors and their obsessive "fact checking?"

A "private region" or "island" in Second Life - as owned by such companies as Mercedes-Benz and BMW - only costs a thousand US dollars to set up, plus two hundred and ninety-five US dollars a month in "tier fees" (Second Life's "land tax").

From the annual maintenance fee, it therefore looks like this "Innovations Centre" straddles about 4 private regions (almost twice my personal holdings in SL). Yet the reported setup cost would have bought more than twenty regions (even at current exchange rates). I infer that our highly-educated civil servants were incapable of navigating a few set-up screens and have paid a third party taxpayers' money to do it for them. The centre may be virtual, but the fees are real enough.

For what it's worth, I think the government is right to explore the possibilities of using Second Life for virtual meetings etc. It's a bit of a joke at the moment, I know, but it has within it the seeds of Web 3.00. It's just ridiculous (though typical in all but the small amount involved) that it should waste money in the attempt. I would have cheerfully have rented it a centre for $12,000 a year with no setup costs and full support from my in-world staff! Indeed if they called it the Tom Paine Centre for Innovation, I might be prepared to host it for free. If only for the amusement of watching Civil Service noobs staggering about the place.

Quote of the day

I was exchanging email reminiscences with an old friend about a dinner to which he treated me in London two decades ago. A giant of our industry happened to be sitting at the next table and suggested my friend should pick up his bill as well. He wrote that he would have if the gentleman were not a billionaire, adding;

"...twenty years ago, a billion was worth something..."

How much has your MP claimed?

The basic expense data they tried to suppress can now be downloaded here. If you have a blog, please add your own link to the download and blog about it. Please check your own MP's claims and write to him/her about them, politely requesting further details if necessary. Let's make sure the whole country knows, pace their defender-in-chief Mr Dale, just what sort of people have infiltrated a once-honourable calling. Several comments on Iain's "now, now" piece on the subject today are delightful, but the best is the simplest, calmest and most reasonable;

"MPs shouldn't have to pay for their own 2nd accommodation, where it's needed, of course. But why do they get to keep the houses we've paid for?"

Quite. Not to mention the antiques, electronics and other goodies we have paid for. As they seem so comfortable living in their sisters' bedrooms, caravans or whatever else allows them to charge the mortgage on their more valuable personal home to the taxpayer, I would provide them with a dormitory instead. I would model it on the worst ward in the NHS and upgrade it every five years as that standard is raised. How long would those Nightingale Wards last then? About five years, is my guess.

If Iain Dale is adopted again as a parliamentary candidate, I hope he first gives a pledge on the issue of expenses, in particular second homes. His defence of the system (thought not, to be fair to him, any particular fraudulent claims) has put him on the "them" side of the "us and them" divide that this issue is opening up in Britain. Particularly as he has been defending them on points as to which he openly blogs that "he hopes" (i.e. he doesn't know) that he's right. I defer to no-one in my respect for his communication skills, but I am damned if I know why the taxpayers should buy him (or any other politician) a house. Whether or not they pay CGT on a subsequent sale.

h/t Guido

The smug face of our "representatives"

Public trust in politicians now lower than during days of Tory sleaze - Telegraph.

Ourjacqui Jacqui_smith_husband_porn

Martin Bell tells it like it is. Beau Bo d'Or saves us from our rage by making us laugh about it (click to enlarge). It's not just Labour though. When their failure to prevent the Freedom of Information Act applying to their expenses leads to publication, public disgust will reach dangerous levels. I suspect we are seeing so many apparently stupid and reckless cases now, because they know they are done for and feel they may as well be hanged for sheep as lambs.

Reflections on age, psychology and sex

Dreamstime_84402Dreamstime_4102811 Last week a friend persuaded me to go to a casino with him, insisting I must not be a spectator. I agreed to go and gamble as much as he did. Armed with 60,000 roubles in cash (nothing much, it proved, to serious Russian gamblers) I set off nervously.

It seems the game of “21”, taught to me by my granny years ago, is really called “Blackjack” and excites gamblers greatly. By the end of my cards session, I was “up” and others were gambling on my hands. This was disconcerting.

At the roulette table, my “strategy” consisted of betting on 17 (my age when I first met Mrs P and still the age I feel inside) and hedging that 35:1 rashness with an equal bet on the first, second or third dozen numbers. My friend scattered chips everywhere in bewildering patterns, but I stuck to my guns. The psychological insights began to emerge as I realised I was stuck with 17 for fear that, if I changed, it would come up.

My persistence drew attention. Other gamblers started to put large amounts on 17 too, as if I knew something. I assured myself I couldn’t be sued if they lost and relaxed. The free drinks flowed and, as we steadily plied the chips, the waitresses were gradually upgraded. Following Kenny Rogers’ advice, I was careful not to  “count my money while sitting at the table.” So, when it was time to go, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself $115 “up.” Relieved, I put a $100 chip on 17 and three $5 chips on the middle dozen.  The croupiere sternly told me that $15 was below the minimum, so I smilingly moved it to 17 and turned to leave. My friend stopped me. 17 had come up.

As we walked away, he advised me to do something special with the money. It should not, he said, be frittered away on food and bills. Mrs P has long been keen for me to take more care of my health. I felt guilty when she fell ill, because she has taken so much care of her health and I have taken mine for granted. It didn’t seem fair, but then life isn’t. It's hard not to gain weight in Russia, which combines a climate unsuited to exercise with a diet for manual labourers. I have fallen into lazy ways, being driven everywhere. I decided to blow the windfall on a luxury I have never valued; health. So I am currently in the process of reviewing the swishest health clubs in Moscow. On Saturday, I rejected the most expensive. Its robes and lockers are designed for wealthy pygmies, whereas I am more of a gone-to-seed Zulu. I also signed up for long-overdue medical and dental check-ups, which have led to other insights.

Where have all the male professionals gone? The only men in sight at these places are the security guards. You will find no more militant feminist (properly understood) than me, but I didn’t expect professional men to disappear entirely. And why do female professionals not make small talk to put clients at ease? I can assure them it is bloody unlikely I will see one as a “sex object” while I am awkwardly vulnerable in a dentist’s chair or a doctor's couch. So why the stern psychological distance and the clipped diction? My daughters tell me their friends are afraid of me; that I cut a somewhat imposing figure. I suppose I must accept I have acquired more gravitas than my "internal age" of 17 (13, in the presence of an internal combustion engine) leads me to expect. Maybe these young women are just reacting to that? Until I find a young healthcare professional of the male persuasion, I cannot be sure.

My final observation is specific to my unusual situation. Expatriates in places like Moscow use “international” medical centres because they would rather do medical stuff in their own language. One wouldn’t want a linguistic error to lead to a misdiagnosis, or even the wrong tooth being pulled. Such places charge accordingly and pay staff more for foreign language skills. So why do they insist on speaking to patients in Russian and looking exasperated if they speak back in English or French? They should be pleased to earn their premium pay. If we were at ease with medical Russian, we wouldn't need to pay extra. It’s not just the Russians, mind you. The Poles were the same when I lived in Warsaw. Am I really doing myself favours by paying more? After all, the staff’s failure to understand my English is as potentially dangerous as my failure to understand their Russian.

All of which might not be so annoying (to square today's circle of blogging triviality) if they smiled, made small talk and were not both young and aloof.

Mars Hill: Jacqui Smith And Those *Ahem*, Films

Mars Hill: Jacqui Smith And Those *Ahem*, Films.

I was quietly enjoying the Home Secretary's discomfiture over her husband's high self-esteem, when my RSS feed threw up the latest from that most stereotypical Labourite, Paul Burgin over at Mars Hill. Today, he is telling us all, in effect, that "there's nothing to see here, move along."

" there any real story here?"

...he asks, adding;

" the risk of sounding pompus [sic], lets take it all with a pinch of salt and worry and get more excited (heck, wrong word) about the issues which affect our daily lives!"

Now the peace of my Sunday is fractured. How, as Iain Dale might put it (if he was not having such fun with the story),  "very dare he?" I was moved to comment and, to save you the embarrassment of being seen at his site, reproduce it below in full;

"Yes there's a story. You are right that it's is not about the porn, Paul. It's about the fraud. She is the Home Secretary, in charge of the police, and she committed a fraud. She submitted a dishonest claim for expenses which were supposed to be in connection with doing her job as an MP, but weren't.

"I didn't realise" Yes love, tell that to the magistrates. Except in the corrupt state that your party has built, with you cheering vapidly from the sidelines, that isn't going to happen, is it? But it would happen to me, Paul, if I fiddled my employers and/or the taxman by claiming as expenses things that were not for business use, but for the personal consumption of myself or my family. We don't give a Home Secretary's husband's toss about the porn, Paul. It's the hypocrisy, double-standards and exploitation that has us all spitting with rage (in between laughing at her, in this case)

The truth is, she probably didn't know. She's probably so accustomed to living off the taxpayer that she bungs in a shoebox of bills every month without paying much attention. In my book, that's worse. She owes us a duty of care as to what she does with our money. But then look at her, Paul. What kind of an apology for a nation has a loser like her in one of the high offices of state?

The most unkind thing I could say about her right now is this. You would make a more plausible Home Secretary than her. This government is beyond scraping the barrel. It's through it and is now scraping the mire on which the barrel stood."

If my atheism proves to be an error, and I find myself facing an unfortunate interview with Jehovah, I shall have less cause for embarrassment at that moment than the sanctimonious little humbug, Burgin. That he thinks fraud is not a "real story" when the victim is merely the taxpayer says all we need to know about him, his party and his religiosity.

A political beauty parade?

¿Quién es la política más linda del mundo? - Listas -




Beauty contests are really quite ludicrous. I have no ideological objection to them, as long as they are consensual, but human tastes are so wide in these matters that almost everyone in the world is beautiful to someone. Happy thought.

Judging by the current rankings, the readers of the tabloid running this frivolous online contest have their own, rather Hispanic, tastes. They are most welcome to them. For my money, the clear winner should be Yuliya Tymoshenko of the Ukraine. She combines severe beauty with intelligence, drive and a life force so powerful I can feel its presence from here in Moscow. A friend of mine used to work for her and has promised to introduce me at some point. That would provide an interesting blog post.

In second place, for my tastes, would come Sarah Palin (the only American politician who would be at home hunting bears with Prime Minister Putin). From the ones I had not previously heard of, I would have to select either Yuri Fujikawa of Japan or the delightfully named Ms Bonk of Germany for third place.

I do rather despair at the poses some of these elected legislators were prepared to strike for a camera. That they assume such frivolity is good for them electorally, says little for democracy. If you still believe in such pointless activities, voting is open at the time of writing. The Croydonian (to whom, a tip of the titfer) couldn't be bothered. Can you?