He suggests setting up a website, tentatively named Whosekidareyou.com to monitor "...nepotism and backscratching influence peddling..." It would provide an invaluable service to all of us trying to understand the networks of influence that underpin the British Establishment. How wonderful if hovertext over an author's or politician's name could identify his/her connections!h/t Tim Worstall
Wherever you go in the EU, shops advertise the VAT-free export scheme for tourists. I live in Russia, so I sometimes take advantage. I have never had a problem getting my form stamped by a customs officer when leaving the UK, France or other EU countries. Germany, however, is a different matter. Some years ago I bought some jewellery on a trip there as a present. When I came to leave the country, all customs offices at the airport were closed. With €750 at stake, I ran to the office at each terminal to establish that; arriving sweaty, angry and robbed at my plane. I wrote a polite letter of complaint to the Federal Customs Service but received no reply.
At Frankfurt Airport a year or so later a German customs officer refused to stamp my form. She said my passport should somehow have been endorsed by the British authorities to show that I was permanently resident elsewhere. I showed her my Russian work permit and pointed out that Britain had no such system of registering citizens' residency. She said that could not be true as all European countries did. I pointed out I was an English lawyer and knew our system. She puffed out her chest and countered "I am a German customs officer" (I kid you not). Eventually, I involved her supervisor and the form was stamped. I now carry a letter from the British Embassy confirming that Britain has no such system in case I meet that proud and imaginative lady again.
Yesterday, I gave Germany its third and final chance and had a similar experience. I had bought a watch in Berlin and went to the Customs Office at Berlin Tegel airport's Terminal C to get the form stamped. It was closed. Its opening hours are published nowhere but on a board outside. I ran to Terminal A to try there, as €1,000 was at stake this time. The office was poorly signposted, hidden in a cramped area behind some shops and took much time to find. The queue, of course, was long.
This time the Federal Republic did not succeed in bilking me. But it involved much running and the risk of missing my flight. It is absolutely clear that Germany is deliberately cheating tourists by advertising a tax-free scheme but maximising the difficulties of collecting the refund. How many millions a year does it steal from less determined tourists by this shabby trickery?
Visit Germany, by all means. It's a beautiful country and the people are charming, helpful and friendly. But don't be conned into buying anything in the belief you will get your VAT back. The German Customs Service will do all in its power to cheat you.
I don't like or trust Andrew Marr, Labour's proctologist-in-chief, but when Grand Pooh-Bah Mandelson utters the words...
"I'm sure Andrew would agree that everyone has certain areas of their life that they'd prefer not to be asked about live on TV."
...I can't help but feel sorry for him. Watch your back, Marr. New Labour's smear machine has always mainly targeted its own.
It's up, over at Nourishing Obscurity. My thanks to James for my first Britblog mention ever.
I like Berlin. Architecturally it's wonderfully mixed. It has the best traffic management and junction design in Europe (so you can actually drive there) and it has great museums and galleries. It's well worth a city break. Here are some of my photographs from the past couple of days.
The entertainment at our gala dinner in Berlin last night was provided by "Marlene Dietrich". She seems to be in remarkably good condition for a woman who died, aged 90, 17 years ago.
Any views on this lady's resemblance to the famous original?
I have just attended a fascinating presentation in Berlin by a young futurologist from Sweden, Magnus Lindkvist. The YouTube below is of him speaking (less well, in my view) at a TED event. His blog "Pattern Recognizing" is here.
Today, he was addressing a group of leaders in the real estate industry. In trying to analyse and explain social trends he mentioned blogging as an example of "bottom up" change. Arguing that no-one would set up a news operation today based on inked paper distributed by vans, he ridiculed attempts to prop up newspapers with subsidies and argued that new media were the future. This provoked reactions ranging from concern as to how readers can evaluate information from blogs to outright hostility.
One lady in the audience said that if she needed an operation, she would want - not a "citizen surgeon" - but a trained and experienced professional. Similarly, if she wanted information, she wanted it from a trained and experienced journalist. In doing so, she neatly illustrated Lindkvist's earlier comment that people tend to believe "normality" is the way things were when they first became adults and that everything that has changed since then is an irritating exception.
In the discussion that ensued, I did what I always do when someone ridicules blogging; I gave out the address of "Burning our Money." After all, Wat Tyler holds government to account for its use of public money far better than any conventional journalist. I was pleased to see many present noting it down. I hope Wat sees a spike in his numbers.
Those of us at home in the blogosphere forget how strange and frightening it seems to those intellectually nurtured on conventional media. Lindkvist simply dismissed "citizen surgeon" as a poor simile, but I am interested to know how you would have refuted the analogy in his place.
To me, the most telling words in this Guardian piece are these;
Even Labour supporters do not trust their party: only 36% of current Labour supporters, and just 26% of its 2005 voters, think the government is telling the truth about debt.
No-one can guarantee us the government we hope for, but our expectations set a cap on the quality of our governance. As those expectations spiral downward, so do our chances of ever being well-governed.
If they think the Labour Party is lying to them about something so fundamental, why do they still support it? Where is their anger at being (as they think) deceived? Do voters no longer even hope for honesty in politics or government?
Lady Scotland is innocent. I believe she didn't know her servant from Tonga had no right to work in the UK. However, it's hard to feel sorry for a member of a government that created the situation reported by the BBC;
Those who knowingly give take on illegal workers face a two-year prison sentence and unlimited fine, while those who do it unknowingly face a £10,000 fine.
Lady Scotland is as innocent as many other people who will be convicted for this offence. Let's hope it makes her reflect on Labour's apparent lust for convicting the innocent to prove that it is "tough" on crime.
The Crown Prosecution Service usually manages to ensure "the great and the good" are not prosecuted. Perhaps Lady Scotland has offended someone and been denounced? That, after all, is how it works in the sort of regime she is working to build. For now, all we can do is enjoy a rare moment of accidental justice.