Tuesday, 31 March 2009


The most entertaining piece of news so far this week has been the revelation of Jacqui Smith’s X-rated expenses claim. Trivial, I know, but oh, so satisfying. Not because the amount being creamed off is an issue – when compared with the tens of thousands that an MP might hoover up as a result of, say, a questionable second home allowance, this is small time, not many steps up from taking a few biros home from the office.

No, what I love is the sheer poetic justice of it. This happened to Big Sister, the latest Home Secretary tasked with railroading us into accepting an outrageous, intrusive, almost certainly insecure ID Card and database, a cheerleader for the Police’s probably illegal attempt to hang on to the DNA of anyone they’ve arrested, regardless of whether they’re subsequently released without chargejust in case”, someone who apparently finds the idea of private citizens having private lives and keeping control of their own personal data suspicious and possibly subversive. If you’ve nothing to hide, as the saying goes, you’ve nothing to fear, Jacqui.

The expenses, in this case, are a side issue. The important thing is that this hurts. A brief thought experiment – just suppose that there had been no MP’s expenses and no public money involved, but Jacqui’s husband’s viewing habits had still accidentally leaked out into the public domain. As far as I’m aware there was nothing illegal about the “adult material” Jacqui’s hubby was watching but Jacqui would, I think, still have been hurt, and embarrassed by having something she’d have liked to keep private made public.

This, Jacqui, is what it feels like to be denied privacy. This is what it feels like to be under constant surveillance. Not very comfortable is it? Do you feel angry, humiliated, violated? Can you feel the irony yet? Ha! Ha!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Wishing the bubble back

In the middle of a crash apparently caused in large part by debt-fuelled housing bubbles on both sides of the Atlantic, a lot of people are hoping that housing markets will recover and go roaring ahead again, just like the good old days. Duncan's Economic Blog succinctly sets out some reasons why these people should be careful what they wish for:

I believe there are four primary reasons why high, and fast rising, house prices are a bad thing.


High house prices cause inequality. They redistribute wealth from non- home owners to home owners. Broadly put, from the poorer to the better off and from the young to the old...


Rising house prices encourage people to take on even more debt, both in the form of mortgages and in the form of ‘home equity withdrawal’ loans...

It doesn’t make the UK better off

The country as a whole does not benefit from higher house prices. We can’t base an economy on people selling houses to each other at ever higher prices. If someone buys a house because they want to live there, then great. If someone buys a house because they think they can sell it on at a higher prices then this is a simple pyramid scheme.


Higher house prices mean that British workers need higher wages just to afford to live/rent somewhere. This damages Britain’s ability to be able to compete with other countries.

You can read the whole thing here (originally stumbled across in Stumbling and Mumbling, the blog which occasionally encourages my delusion of having some idea of what's going on with this economy thing). Understanding the problem is, after all, a more constructive first step than smashing Sir Fred Goodwin's windows - the man's an expensive waste of space, but it's the system which paid him to be reckless with other people's money which needs to be smashed, not the glass in the mansion he blagged for himself.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The gift that keeps on giving

This is a rather splendid idea for a birthday gift - ask your friends to recommend a couple of books or so each. In no time, you'll end up with a reading list long enough to keep you going for years, (unless you have an unreasonable amount of time on your hands). My friend Fiona had the idea and here's the impressively long and eclectic list which resulted. Recession-proof for the giver, who shares a little time, some thought and a few memories rather than money.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Deceptively cute

It's a subjective judgement, but I think this just about wins the prize for the cutest aeroplane in the history of aviation. The rather snazzy paint scheme just makes it look even more like a child's toy fresh out of the box at Christmas. It's a P-26, built in the 1930's by the Boeing Company of Seattle, who are, of course, much more famous for their later jet airliners, including the pioneering 707, the ubiquitous 737 and the 747 jumbo.

You have to pinch yourself to remember that the P-26 was a fighter plane (the "P" stands for "pursuit" aircraft, which is what the US military called fighter planes), designed and built for war. More pictures of this unreasonably toy-like killing machine here and here, along with a video of a brightly-painted replica taxi-ing here. You wouldn't have to exaggerate the plane's appearance too much before it could star in a kid's TV series.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Green goo conspiracy

David Icke: a complete fruit loop, peddling barmy conspiracy theories about a sinister race of extraterrestrials who secretly run everything on earth, or so I'd thought. What a shock to find out that he was right all along. There has, of course been the routine media cover-up - some ridiculous confection about Lord Mandelson being pelted with green custard. That's what they want you to think, of course.

What they're not showing you is the un-edited video, in which the nice young woman offers Mandelson a cup of coffee, only to drop it in horror as the Dark Lord experiences a momentary wardrobe malfunction and his human disguise briefly flaps open to reveal his true nature as a hideous green slime-dripping alien blob.

The truth is out there....