Monthly Archives: November 2010

A sane voice from the Right

Decisions! Decisions!

What to make of the whole Ireland debâcle? Malcolm reckons that Jason Walsh’s review for newswhip.ie is as good an overview as one might expect. The headline is also the conclusion:

Bailout reactions: consensus that bust is better

He starts with:

Famously, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times that Ireland needed a new Jonathan Swift, saying only a satirist could communicate the true nature of what the bailout does: “punishing the populace for the bankers’ sins”.

Moreover Walsh gets us, in a retrogressive sexual time-warp, from Ms Whiplash to Mick Fealty, the Head-Lar of Slugger O’Toole in a single column:

“It’s like the Total Perspective Vortex from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Ireland has been forced to recognise how unimportant it is in the scheme of things,” says Fealty, noting the bailout was designed to protect the EU, not Ireland.

Fealty is also interested in how the question of sovereignty has cropped-up: “It’s not like virginity – it’s not something you lose once and then it’s gone. However, when the Germans come offering free money they may want to think very carefully.”

Dearie me! says shocked, naïf Malcolm.

Free-sheets are the order of the day, underfoot and in hand, on London Transport. Of the three, Allister Heath’s City A.M. is the only one that gets through three stops on the Circle Line.

Today’s main front-page piece is by Steve Dinneen:

Markets reject Ireland bailout

Dinneen won’t add greatly to the sum of  knowledge, especially after Walsh’s efficient précis. However, the same writer has another take under his by-line as “The Capitalist”:

IRELAND may have accepted an €85bn handout to keep it afloat, but why stop there? The ever-popular Powers That Be in Ireland seem to have come up with a novel solution to the country’s solvency issues.

An advert has appeared on Ireland’s biggest property website, the appropriately named daft.ie, offering the Republic of Ireland for a cut-price €900bn (o.n.o.).

The classified ad, posted by one Brian Cowen, says the property is available to move into immediately, with “full planning permission for 300,000 homes, eight prisons, five public hospitals, 10,000 schools… as well as hundreds of unfinished road developments”.

It warns the property is in need of some refurbishment but comes with stunning scenery.

There is at least one other gem in this edition of City A.M. It is a “Guest Comment” under the by-line of Mark Field.

“Who he?” you ask. Well, for the last decade, Tory MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, so with an ear to the ground at one end of town, and a voice at the other.

Field’s provocative piece seems not to be available on-line. At least for the natural audience of this free-sheet, it may be scandalously headlined:

Bondholders must take a haircut

After the throat-clearing, Field comes to his valid point:

The present panic in Ireland, so we are told, has been inflamed by the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s unilateral announcement that bond-holders should take a share of the responsibility for the costs of restructuring sovereign debt, not just European taxpayers. Yet to place blame on German shoulders is to shoot the messenger. Without a mechanism for sovereign-debt default, investors enjoy a perverse incentive to pump even more money into the riskiest economies. This will only be prevented if bondholders take an enforced haircut.

He goes on to argue that the September 2008 bank bailouts was essentially a political gambit to forestall further contagion. However, it has led bondholders to expect continuing and unbridled support from taxpayers:

This cannot go on. Further sovereign default in the Eurozone risks leaving European governments without either the financial capacity or political stock to let investors off the hook next time.

Field breaks ranks with the golf-club Tories who may have been chortling that the € is doomed:

It is hard to see how Greece or Ireland might ever be able to finance their debt in the global capital markets if expelled from the Eurozone. But it is not hard to envisage a fresh banking crisis.

While interest rates hover just above zero, banks have little incentive for banks to do their housekeeping and purge the huge unquantifiable toxic “assets” on their balance sheets. [That, at least, should no longer be true of Ireland].

Therein, then, lies the latent virus of the next calamity. If … when … that inflicts itself upon us, it would most likely precipitate a renewed credit crunch. “Most likely”? — oh, Mr Field, such sweet innocence!

With that further squeeze there evaporates any hope of the export-led, private-sector recovery on which all our hopes for economic growth are pinned. Those, like Malcolm, who wonder how every country can simultaneously manipulate its export-led recovery are less sanguine.

That apart, Field’s punchline is pertinent and chilling:

Conservative backbench critics of the Irish bailout are consoled by their clear understanding that British assistance would not have been offered to Portugal, Belgium of Spain.

Perhaps this faith will soon be put to the test.

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Filed under Britain, Conservative Party policy., economy, Ireland, Irish politics, London, policing, reading, Tories.

November

John Fahy’s evocative image for the front-page of today’s Irish Times. The caption reads:

A rare sighting of a bottlenose dolphin breaching at Killiney Bay in front of a snow-covered Dalkey Island, Co Dublin.

A strange month. It shares with early February (when one senses the lightening of winter) a sense of ending: in some ways it is far more the “end of the year” than December. Come the solstice (this year 11:38 pm on 21st December), one can begin to anticipate the New Year. Annually, Malcolm’s old Dad would that evening solemnly puff his pipe, look out the window into the lowering darkness and pontificate: “The night’s are getting shorter”. But what to say about November, as it leaves us yet again?

Thomas Hood’s poem, a stand-by for every dusty school anthology,  catches this moment of low-spirits and worse moods:

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon!
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day —
No sky — no earthly view —
No distance looking blue —

No road — no street —
No “t’other side the way” —
No end to any Row —
No indications where the Crescents go —

No top to any steeple —
No recognitions of familiar people —
No courtesies for showing ’em —
No knowing ’em!

No mail — no post —
No news from any foreign coast —
No park–no ring–no afternoon gentility —
No company — no nobility —

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

That was November 1844. Eight years later Dickens, at his magnificent best, excelled at the same tone with In Chancery, the superb opening chapter of Bleak House, which symbolically locates the majesty of the Law in the worst squalor of metropolitan slime:

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

That, of course, became the required atmosphere for any Hollywood-conceived London historical mystery or chiller. Today, now that Clean Air Acts and a switch to smokeless fuels have purged the worst of the London particulars, the effect is achieved by digital “enhancement” of stock scenes, generally shot around the Inns of Court (or, when that fails, Prague has to become London-on-the-Vlatava). The Pert Young Piece of Redfellow Hovel, whose legal education took her to such quarters, watches the cinematography while rattling off the street names, and how the cartographically-impossible sequences can exist only in the eye of the filmic beholder.

Dickens’s conceit of “mud” suggests the seasonal dry, crunchy leaves which quickly churn into sludgy muck. He is, in all truth, being euphemistic. His “mud” was the ankle-deep droppings of the thousands of horses that plodded London streets. This filth provided employment for the crossing-sweepers, the urchin-with-broom equivalent of the Venetian traghetto, providing uncrapped paths for the gentry, who in return were expected to subscribe their farthing.

Suddenly the trees are skeletal against grim, grey skies. Thanks to politicians we have that depressing Monday evening when the clocks have reverted to GMT, for the trudge home through a suddenly-dark evening. By the end of the month children go to and come back from school in twilit mirk.

London shares a latitude (approximately) with Irtutsk and Saskatoon. Only the North Atlantic drift and the jet stream prevent continental winter. This time last year Malcolm was sur le continent, enjoying (for want of a better word) that penetrating cold, with added scent of sewage, of le Plat Pays. Cue Brel:

Avec le vent du nord qui vient s’écarteler
Avec le vent du nord écoutez-le craquer
Le plat pays qui est le mien

Perhaps so, if one is native to such things. Malcolm had to purchase ski-ing roll-necks to survive. East Anglia can manage something similar (generally, unless Farmer Giles is slurry-spraying up-wind, sans sewage) when the easterlies set in. Try Aldeburgh or Sizewell beaches in a black March frost, or Ely station anytime.

This year the jet stream got it amiss; and Britain has its early snowfall. Tuesday morning London awoke to its first splatter of the winter; and it is promised to worsen through the day. Since southern England has never fully grappled with the issue, we confidently expect road and rail to clog up imminently. Pubs across the Home Counties will resonate with tales of how the drive home on the A10 (or whatever) was akin to Scott’s last expedition.

Providentially, the winter fuel allowance has dropped through the letter-boxes and into bank accounts of the over-60s. As the ConDem coalition weasel-words its way around the various contradictory commitments (to preserve? to restrain? to abolish?) on this quite-modest expenditure, the facts are that last winter, a severe one, the excess seasonal deaths amounted to 23,100 souls — but still a statistical decrease on previous years. Take a bow, Gordon Brown.

Ever-unfashionable Walter de la Mare poignantly made the connection between this dark despond of the year and death in his account of November:

There is wind where the rose was,
Cold rain where sweet grass was,
And clouds like sheep
Stream o’er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.

Nought warm where your hand was,
Nought gold where your hair was,
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.

Cold wind where your voice was,
Tears, tears where my heart was,
And ever with me,
Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.

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Filed under Britain, Charles Dickens, Dublin., Ireland, Irish Times, Jacques Brel, Law, Literature, London, politics, Quotations, reading, Tories.

A liquid diet (don’t try this at home)

Here’s the start of an odd-ball story from the BBC web-site:

A man in the US has eaten nothing but 20 potatoes a day for the past two months. So, the Magazine asks, what does such a diet do to the body?

Chris Voigt’s reason for eating potatoes, potatoes and nothing but potatoes is as plain and simple as his diet has been for the past two months.

As executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, he’s trying to debunk perceptions that potatoes are unhealthy and instead are a good source of fibre, potassium and vitamin C.

To that end, he’s eaten nothing but 20 potatoes a day – no cheese toppings, no butter and milk for mashing – since 1 October. He’s had them baked, chipped, boiled, steamed, mashed, fried – and for Thanksgiving last Thursday, he feasted on mashed potato formed into a turkey shape, and pumpkin pie made with – you guessed it – mashed potato with pumpkin pie flavouring added.

As soon as one reads executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission the automatic cut-out ought to be reading: MRDA.

Yet, something similar occurred in Malcolm’s real life.

Re-wind…

… to the back-bar of M.J. O’Neill’s excellent establishment on the corner of Suffolk Street, Dublin, as it was in the mid-1960s.

As was their common practice, a small band of Dublin University Fabians (including Malcolm’s onlie true begetters) entered for a bevy or two.

There they encountered a haunted soul. Let us call him Benny, for that was his going name.

Benny had a reputation. It was widely alleged (not least by himself) that he had been expelled from a leading public school for being persistently drunk … on after-shave.

He had, however, made it through matriculation; and by the time of this story had arrived at his first year in Trinity, studying biochemistry.

His class had undertaken a project on diet. The programme was to devise a notional diet, and then to exist on it for a fortnight. One poor tormented soul was trying to make it through the experiment existing only on fats.

Benny, though, had spotted a loop-hole. He had calculated that something like eighteen pints of Guinness a day supplied all the nutriments and trace elements the body required. Furthermore, from somewhere had come the finance (it was implied that Guinness itself had some part in it; but Benny had a healthy trust-fund of his own).

So Benny was trying to make it through the fourteen days. The first day or so were easy,well within Benny’s prodigious intake. He was helped by the pubs along Dublin’s quays opening at dawn to accommodate the needs of shift-workers in the docks. Ahem!

By the end of the first week, though, even Benny was finding the monotony and the going tough.

So, in the spirit of comradeship, his socialist friends that evening (and perhaps others) shared his burden.

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Filed under BBC, Beer, Dublin., pubs, socialism., Trinity College Dublin

La lutte continue!

Malcolm’s previous posting needs an update. Here is today’s email to Haringey Council’s planning enforcement:

______________________________________

A week ago you received the following:

Out of bloody-mindedness, Malcolm looked up The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007

  • He is severely vexed;
  • He has a gripe;
  • He is otherwise not engaged; and
  • It is a wet, grey, miserable November day in Norf Lunnun.

Despite the usual impenetrable parliamentary draughtsmanship, this is what Malcolm thinks he learned:

  • Class 3A of the rules and regulations seems the key bit which refers to estate agents boards (which is his current hate);
  • A board can be displayed if a property is for sale or to let;
  • The board ought exceed half-a-square metre in size;
  • Only one board can be displayed for a single property, and the board must be on that property, not on the verge or on a communal area;
  • and, naturally, there are all kinds of other restrictions.

So:

  • Why are there scores of signs which boast a particular property has been sold or let?
  • Why do other boards exists for months, and in a couple of egregious cases for years (vide: above Sainsbury’s, Muswell Hill), advising that the property is “let and managed” by a particular firm?
  • Why does the local authority take no action?

______________________________________

To date you have not felt able to honour this with even an acknowledgement of receipt. Malcolm assumes, therefore, that either he has mistaken the regulations (and you are too polite to correct him) or they do not apply in the London Borough of Haringey.

______________________________________

In the course of today’s errands, Malcolm wandered from Muswell Hill Post Office to Sainsbury’s in Fortis Green Road.

To help you further in any efforts, he noted signboards declaring that the premises had been “let by” or “let and managed by” a particular firm. As far as Malcolm reads the regulations, all of these seem to be irregular:

  • two separate boards (i.e. four sides) above Sainsbury’s, 12-14 Fortis Green Road (these have been there for a considerable length of time, possibly years);
  • above Broadway Pet Stores, 6-8 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • rear of Nicholas wine merchants, 91-93 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • the former premises of Quicksilver, ?150 Muswell Hill Broadway (which may also be in breach because of size);
  • 154-166 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • above Rex café, 184 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • 188 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • 192-202 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • 280-282 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • above Pizza Express, 290 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • above Andrews locksmiths, 299 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • 339 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • “I’m let”, above Oxfam Books, 378 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • former dry cleaners, 438 Muswell Hill Broadway;
  • “Flat sold”, 442-448 Muswell Hill Broadway.
  • There are also the decaying remains of the wooden supporting structure for a board above Everbest, 388 Muswell Hill Broadway.

Should any of your officers venture down the residential Muswell Hill Road, a further rash of similar boards will be evident.

______________________________________

Hello, Haringey! Is there anybody there?

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Filed under human waste, Law, London, Muswell Hill

A wigging for Ken Clarke

The intended cut-backs in legal aid (which means denying redress to all but the obscenely rich or the downright stupid) are quite staggering:

Hundreds of thousands of people with family and housing law problems will no longer have access to free legal advice under government proposals announced today.

Measures proposing the most drastic cuts to legal aid in its 60-year history would seek to reduce the number of civil law cases by 547,000 a year in what ministers describe as an attempt to save money and “discourage a culture of litigation”.

Medical negligence? Forget it! Only the most extreme, most blatant abuses of social welfare, homelessness and personal abuse will be supported. Law centres will close, reducing sources of advice and access. The end result will go far, far further than any previous worst nightmares:

Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “If the government persists with these proposals it would represent a sharp break from the long-standing bipartisan consensus that effective access to justice is essential to underpin the rule of law.”

Experts say that the measures far outstrip cuts to legal aid put forward in the 1980s, the last time significant areas of law were removed from public funding.

“The cuts made under the Thatcher government pale in comparison,” said Steve Hynes, director of Legal Action Group, which campaigns on legal aid. “One quarter of the people who get help from the legal aid system will no longer be able to.

But wait!

Look westward:

As part of his annual budget, New York’s chief judge will propose a $100 million increase in state financing for lawyers who represent the poor in civil cases that deal with “the essentials of life” like eviction and child support, according to people who have worked on the plan.

The proposal by the chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, is to be released on Wednesday. If approved by the Legislature, it would provide a major source of financing for lawyers for the poor and be a striking acknowledgment that the state’s court system is being overwhelmed by some 2.3 million people a year who cannot afford representation.

To think that Britain needs to take lessons from the State of New York!

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Filed under Britain, broken society, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Law, New York Times, Tories.

Another day, another word

Today’s Two Minutes hate is bloviate, which has become one of the standard terms of internet abuse. It’s an appropriately ugly word for an ugly tendency.

Rashly, Malcolm assumed it was a recent creation; and was therefore a trifle upset to discover it has a history going back to the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The ever-trustworthy Oxford English Dictionary finds it in the Huron Reflector, a local newspaper for Norwalk, Ohio, dated 14th October 1845:

Peter P. Low, Esq., will with open throat … bloviate about the farmers being taxed upon the full value of their farms, while bankers are   released from taxation.

Which goes to show that little has changed in the usage of the term, or taxation policies, over the intervening 165 years.

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Filed under reading, US politics

Hordes of boards

Out of bloody-mindedness, Malcolm looked up The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007

  • He is severely vexed;
  • He has a gripe;
  • He is otherwise not engaged; and
  • It is a wet, grey, miserable November day in Norf Lunnun.

Despite the usual impenetrable parliamentary draughtsmanship, this is what he thinks he learned:

  • Class 3A of the rules and regulations seems the key bit which refers to estate agents boards (which is his current hate);
  • A board can be displayed if a property is for sale or to let;
  • The board ought exceed half-a-square metre in size;
  • Only one board can be displayed for a single property, and the board must be on that property, not on the verge or on a communal area;
  • and, naturally, there are all kinds of other restrictions.

So:

  • Why are there scores of signs which boast a particular property has been sold or let?
  • Why do other boards exists for months, and in a couple of egregious cases for years (vide: above Sainsbury’s, Muswell Hill), advising that the property is “let and managed” by a particular firm?
  • Why does the local authority take no action?

[Also emailed to the London Borough of Haringey. Updates will be posted here.]

 

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Filed under advertising., London, Muswell Hill