Monday, May 30, 2005
French Vote "No" To Union of European Socialist Republics
More details at the BBC. Disclaimer: the BBC, while ostensibly non-political, has a strong pro-EU bias.
My own view as a British Citizen who has the good fortune to be a permanent resident here in the USA on this memorial day is that the French "Non" is the most overhyped non-event in history.
There have been several previous referenda held in European countries. Whenever there has been a "No" vote, the governments simply hold further referenda until they obtain the desired "Yes" result. If the French do not do in fact do this, the UESR will still proceed, with the necessary legislation rammed through piecemeal by the various national parliaments, as has been the case up until this point.
The Socialist/Liberal Intellectual elite class which governs most European countries has decided to go ahead with "the project" and referenda like this one are held merely to give the whole process a fig-leaf of democratic legitimacy.
So, forget the shock on the BBC website (who could accuse Socialists of being in touch with reality, anyway?).
As far as the EU/UESR is concerned, it will be very much "business as usual".
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Daley Popular in Canada
I disagree with his stance on gun control, and I am well aware of the shenanigans that goes on in City Hall.
But people who criticize him should try living somewhere like London where there is no strong leadership.
There's almost no corruption, but more an institutionalised incompetence. Taxes rise constantly, the public transport is the most expensive and least reliable in the civilised world, there is virtual 24 hour gridlock in the streets, they bring in fees and charges for bringing your car downtown, crime is spiralling out of control, everything is broken and filthy.
So as an outsider I see the benefits of an autocrat like Daley. You have to be tough to make things happen in a city like Chicago.
I'm not the only outsider to share this view. Check out this article from the Tribune ( registration may be required). Excerpted below:
TORONTO -- Five hundred miles from the brewing federal investigation of City Hall, Mayor Richard Daley was basking in the praise of Canadian politicians and media who hailed him as their kind of boss.
Far from the unpleasant news about patronage hiring and minority contracting, Daley largely was free to expound at great length about rooftop gardens, public-housing reform, lakefront parks and his assertion that mayors should be unafraid of criticism.
"He makes things happen," said Toronto Mayor David Miller, who since his election in 2003 has eagerly built ties with Daley. "He's a terrific example for any mayor."
Newspapers in Canada's largest city called on Daley to show Miller how to be a powerful big-city leader with the muscle to build controversial projects such as Millennium Park and demolish a downtown airport for a waterfront park.
"Voters want a Daley," columnist John Barber wrote in the Globe and Mail.
"One can only hope Daley's take-charge attitude will rub off on Miller," said the Toronto Sun. The newspaper described how "a phalanx of Toronto bureaucrats sat hanging on every word" from Daley on Wednesday.
It may be less fun to be mayor of Chicago than at any point in Daley's 16-year reign. Federal agents seized personnel records from the mayor's office recently, Daley's public approval rating is at an all-time low, and the sales tax is rising because of the city's budget crunch.
But the mayor can leave Chicago and be assured of a warm reception in almost any place where the hosts have heard little or nothing about the Hired Truck scandal or minority fronts getting city contracts.
Despite rocky times at home, the mayor continues to draw accolades from across the country and abroad. Time magazine recently called Daley the best mayor in the nation while blasting other mayors whose administrations are facing corruption probes.
"If you took a poll of [urban experts], they would say Daley is the best American mayor of the last 25 years," said Alan Ehrenhalt, a Hyde Park native and executive editor of Governing magazine.
"Yeah, there's a cronyism to Daley's administration and even to the Daley family, but that seems small compared to what he has accomplished."
Although there are critics in Chicago who say Daley merely rode the strong economy of the 1990s to urban renewal, his admirers from afar give him much credit for the real-estate boom in previously declining neighborhoods.
"Chicago could have become a Detroit or a St. Louis, and it didn't," Ehrenhalt said. "Outside of Chicago, people look at what Chicago was 25 years ago and what it is now."
The adoration of Daley also comes as urban experts increasingly trumpet the merits of enlightened dictatorships in city government.
Civic leaders in towns paralyzed by constant division say they are looking for leaders who can rule with an iron fist. They enviously watch Daley run his big and diverse city with little real opposition.
"Ideally, there should be more debate about important issues, but cities are like corporations in that they need a strong executive, which Chicago has," said Joel Kotkin, author of "The City."
"Chicago has stability and continuity. That's what international capital and local businesses want. They will put up with higher costs and even corruption."
Continuity of rule at City Hall, Kotkin said, has given Chicago an advantage over cities such as Los Angeles and New York. He noted the protracted fighting over the future of the World Trade Center site in Manhattan.
"In Chicago, Ground Zero would probably be rebuilt already or at least construction would have begun by now," Kotkin said.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Assault Weapons Ban in Illinois Fails
The ban would have included the Barrett .50 Caliber Sniper rifle which apparently is capable of piercing a tank's armor plating, and shooting down a helicopter, should its owner be so inclined.
I heard this on NPR this morning. I had to laugh when they interviewed a proponent of the ban who was complaining about the Barrett rifle. "You don't need that to hunt any animal we have here in Illinois!". No shit!
I have three problems with gun bans
1. Politicians start with the big stuff and the bans gradually get extended to the point where self-defence becomes de facto illegal, like it is in the UK.
2. Everywhere politicians go they are protected by state police brandishing exactly the same type of weapons. To my mind this essentially sets up a two-tier society composed of the rulers - protected by force of arms - and the disarmed, dependent, ruled over populace. This is the European model, but I reject it, and I think most Americans, given America is supposed to be government by the people, instinctively reject it too.
3. They demonstrably make no difference to the amount of gun crime and there is evidence they make the situation worse. If you're strung out on crack and desperate to rob somebody to fund your next high, who would you choose - a Texan oilman in a pickup or a New Yorker sipping a latte in the back of a cab?
I couldn't even get a cellphone as I had no "credit history" attached to my Social Security Number. Correction, I could get one... but they wanted a $500 deposit up front.
Then after being here for a few months, I started to get what looked like credit card offers. Reading between the lines, they look like credit cards but are in fact only good to buy overpriced junk from specific catalog shopping operations.
Finally I managed to secure a pre-paid credit card to start building my credit, where you have to put down a deposit first, which becomes your credit limit. The application was tough to fill out, because it was in Spanish.
Now, I am in the position where I am getting about ten credit card offers a week.
My wife, on the other hand, who has been here for fifteen years and always maintained excellent credit, goes one better. Last week, she was sent (at our old address) a shiny new Mastercard, without ever having applied for it or even wanting one. Fortunately, the new homeowner forwarded it to us, and did not use it to go on a spending spree.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
This story put a damper on my whole week
What a disappointment!
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Healthcare in the US
It's tough. Everybody wants great healthcare. In the US it's rationed by cost; in the UK it's rationed by waiting lists.
My problem with healthcare here in the US has to do with the billing practices of the hospitals and the attitude of the insurers.
You go into hospital for some work. For me, this was a revelation -- spotlessly clean, private rooms, smiling staff, sleek, well-paid doctors, nobody sleeping in corridors, etc.
The problems start after you leave. You start receiving random invoices for things you don't recognize. Every so often a bill will arrive with cryptic references and codes on it. You wouldn't tolerate this from a car repairer, why should hospitals be any different?
You find your insurance has got various pathetically low limits. For my daughter's vaccinations -- a legal requirement, without which she can't attend school -- I very soon blew through the $500 limit and ended up paying out of my own pocket. (The government in effect forcing me to pay to risk my daughter's health)
The insurance and the hospital don't communicate with each other and you turn into an unpaid project manager, with both of them on the phone together, relaying messages, working out all the issues. (How the hell do people cope when they don't speak good English or are not comfortable arranging and managing conference calls?)
Hospitals, doctors, and so on have had to spend millions complying with the new HIPAA "privacy" act... which, I suspect, actually reduces your privacy.
Instead of that nonsense, why not compel them to producing clear invoices for their services instead of relying on obfuscation? What is so hard about producing a clear bill for services rendered?
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Sunday, May 08, 2005
More Ramblings from the Euro Socialist Elite
But I just came up with this gem from the lovely German Ambassador to the UK
Sixty years after the Allied victory over fascism in Europe, Britain is still "obsessed with the Nazi period" and "ignorant" about German history after 1945, Berlin's ambassador to London has said.
Thomas Matussek said that the countries were "drifting apart" because British schoolchildren were growing up with "dangerous misunderstandings" and were not taught "what Germany is about".
Well, Herr Matussek, I was born 20 years after the war ended, but I have read a lot of history, particularly relating to the 20th Century, and I think I have a pretty good idea of what Germany "was about" during that period, and having seen how the EU has festered since 1973 under its largely Franco-German leadership, I am fairly confident I know what you are about today.
At this time of year, mein Herr, I think you and the rest the pompous, puffed up, overblown Socialist windbags in Berlin should do us all a favour, and shut the hell up.
I'll finish with a story about the liberation of the Channel Islands from German control at the end of WWII.
They sang God Save the King when I unfurled the flag on Jersey
By Richard Savill in St Helier
Ronald McDonald pointed to the old Harbour Office window in St Helier, where he had raised the Union flag in front of cheering crowds 60 years ago.
On the day Jersey was liberated from five years of German occupation, the 86-year-old retired Royal Navy officer recalled how he had been the first British serviceman ashore.
"As I get older I may forget names in minutes, but the memories of that day, even I can't forget," he said. "Those crowds were the happiest people I have ever seen."
Today, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Channel Islands, he will be presented to the Queen during her visit to Jersey and Guernsey.
It was on May 9, 1945, following the German surrender, that Surgeon-Capt McDonald and Sub-Lt David Milln, a German-speaking fellow officer, were sent ashore in a launch from the destroyer Beagle.
As they arrived the islanders set off fireworks and cheered wildly.
The two British officers, in uniform and without revolvers, climbed the 51 steps at the end of Albert Pier. There was no opposition from the 26,000-strong German garrison but at the top of the steps were three armed Germans.
"I told Milln to tell them to point their guns at the ground and amble off. We never saw them again."
He unfurled the Union flag at the window of the old Harbour Office, now the tourism office, alongside a Russian prisoner of war, who had escaped from Alderney. "The crowd burst into singing God Save the King."
Doesn't look like the people on Jersey were all that keen on being part of the project the last time you guys tried to foist an integrated Europe on us, does it, Herr Matussek? Marvellous.
Some days your head might explode
Step forward Swedish European Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.
Wallstrom is in charge of selling the European Constitution (which establishes a United States of Europe where all the EU countries surrender self-government in favour of unelected and unaccountable rule from the European Commission in Brussels).
Wallstrom claims that:
[...] politicians who resisted pooling national sovereignty risked a return to Nazi horrors of the 1930s and 1940s.
Mrs Wallstrom, vice-president of the commission for institutional relations and communications, was speaking in the former Jewish ghetto of Terezin in the Czech Republic.
She blamed the Second World War on "nationalistic pride and greed, and international rivalry for wealth and power". The EU had replaced such rivalry with an historic agreement to share national sovereignty.
Her fellow commissioners also issued a joint declaration, stating that EU citizens should pay tribute to the dead of the Second World War by voting Yes to the draft constitution for Europe.
Incidentally, there's more about Wallstrom's wonderful homeland (or should that be Fatherland) here and here.
I am so damned furious all I can say is this.
How fucking dare she?
WWII was caused by the nationalistic pride and greed of Adolf Hitler, who wanted the whole of Europe governed from Berlin, in his words, a thousand year Reich.
With a rhetorical flourish worthy of Goebbels himself (who always claimed that the bigger the lie, the better) the EU commissioners somehow claim we are honoring the dead by voting our own governments out of existence in favour of European rule direct from Brussels.
Those brave people must be turning in their grave.
One question: what rock do they find European Commissioners under?
American No Sale
Today we went to another American Sale which has opened near our house. Again there was a reasonably priced table and chair set and we had cash to buy it there and then. I finally located an assistant and said to her, we want to buy one of those patio sets, but I can't find anybody to take our money. She said she just needed to give a price to some other people and she'd be right with us. After about ten minutes I saw her on the other side of the store chatting to a completely different customer. I then went to the customer services desk and told them I wanted to buy a $2000 patio set in the next five minutes if somebody could be found to take our money. She got on the P/A system requesting an assistant. We waited around for another ten minutes and nobody showed up so we left. On the way out, my wife told an assistant that we wanted to spend money there, but were leaving because nobody seemed to care, and she replied, blankly, "ok!".
I was very surprised by this because my experience in every other store I've ever been into here in the US has been that you are almost mobbed by knowledgeable staff asking to help.
I think American Sale need to stop opening new stores and concentrate on finding decent managers to run the ones it already has.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
World of the Bizarre
There's a story on there about walking penis Colin Farrell. According to seventy year old British actress Dame Eileen Atkins, the human sink-plunger spent a couple of hours trying to persuade her to go to bed with him, despite a 42 year age gap.
That got me thinking about the starlets I had the hots for as a youngster who are now getting on a bit in years, like Joanna Lumley.
Or take Joan Collins for example. She may have brought my preadolescent hormones to a boil when I caught an illicit glimpse of the late movie with her in it, but thirty years on, like the old warship the USS Constitution, although she still floats, there are probably very few original parts left on her. Similarly, while the boat is fine being sailed around Boston harbor on the 4th of July, were she to be caught out in the open sea during a midwinter storm, things might start falling off.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Why I love the USA
What? You hadn't heard?
That's hardly surprising. Whether Tony Bliar's ruling Labour party wins a third victory at the polls or is defeated by Michael Howard's Conservative party is almost completely irrelevant.
My money's on Blur, incidentally. In the fifteen years since they unceremoniously and disgracefully sacked Margaret Thatcher, the woman I believe history will record as the last and greatest Prime Minister of an independent Britain, the Conservative Party has had four different leaders. It has been repeatedly humiliated at the polls, sometimes being beaten into fourth place behind single-issue parties like UK Independence which campaigns for withdrawal from the European Union.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power in May 1979 she did so promising to bring Britain back from the brink of economic extinction. 34 years of state imposed brain-dead socialism (whichever party was in power) had virtually turned the UK into a third-world country. Margaret Thatcher took on the whole socialist establishment, sent them away with a good kicking, and made Britain punch its weight as a world power again.
Her downfall came about because as a true patriot she wasn't too keen on surrendering Britain's right to self-government in favour of rule from Brussels. Those around her, unfortunately, saw the benefits (to them) of the uncontrolled corruption in the European Commission and forced her out.
So I have no sympathy at all for the plight of today's Conservative party. They had only self-interest at heart when they championed greater European integration in the late 1980s. UK politicians covet the uncontrolled cash, unaudited expenses, lavish salaries and vast gold-plated pensions enjoyed by European Members of Parliament and EU commissioners. A throwback to a better age, a woman of decency, honor, and strong principles, Margaret Thatcher would have none of it, so they stabbed her in the back and got rid of her.
The irony is that it really doesn't matter who wins on May 5th. Through various treaties and legal devices, most British law is actually made in Brussels and imposed on the UK without debate. The UK Civil Service (which has grown by 1,000,000 pen-pushers since 1997 under Bliar) merely implements directives imposed by Brussels. This process has been going on since the British were conned into voting for membership of what was then called the "Common Market" in 1973, thinking it was a free trade area. This is a superb example of two primary tricks of politicians: calling something one thing when it's another and "salami tactics" whereby things are changed little by little over time to make it easier to water down any dissent.
So the Conservatives are now they are reaping what they sowed in 1990. It will take them a generation before they achieve office again, if ever. By then, Britain will be no more than a collection of European regions, and the British Government, if it still exists, will be about as relevant on a global level as, say, the Peoria city government (and will have less actual power to influence people's lives, as well).
This also explains the pathetic level of what passes for political debate in the UK. Why would a Thatcher or a Churchill bother going into British politics today? Somebody of that stature is not purely motivated by greed and wants to be in a position where they can make a difference. That certainly isn't in the British Government.
So why do I love America?
Whatever their professed party affiliation, everybody in the liberal socialist elite that runs Britain is the same. Big government; state control; regulation; high taxes; surveillance; weak on crime; embarrassed about Britain's proud history. If Adolf Hitler was threatening Britain in 2005, there would be none of Winston Churchill's stirring "we will fight them on the beaches, we will fight them on the landing grounds, we will fight them in the fields and in the hills - we will never surrender"; Blair would instead invite him in, in return for free use of Berchtesgaden during the summer months.
But in America, for every big government socialist in Congress, there is a Representative Ron Paul (R-TX).
And thank God.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Britain's last remaining volume car manufacturer, MG Rover, has gone into administration (the UK equivalent of Chapter 11). PWC are now in there selling off what remains.
In its heyday in the 1960s and early 70s Rover was responsible for producing some of the most beautiful cars ever made, like the Rover P6:
Or even better, the classic P5:
In 1975 the British Government created a monster nationalised car company, British Leyland, which contained classic marques like Jaguar and Rover. Of course, the brain-dead socialist government turned out to be as good at making cars as it was at everything else - that is to say, absolutely useless - and British Leyland became synonymous with appalling quality and industrial unrest. At the Longbridge plant in 1978-1979 the communist agitator Derek Robinson was responsible for an unbelievable 523 strikes.
Under Margaret Thatcher British Leyland disappeared and Rover was privatised again, first by being sold to British Aerospace and later to BMW. In 2001 BMW sold Rover to its own directors for one pound.
And now Rover has finally called it a day after 100 years car manufacturing.
Another British manufacturing legend was GEC (not to be confused with the American GE). GEC manufactured electrical parts such as turbines and generators, as well as owning shipbuilding companies amd telecommunications interests and could trace its origins back to 1886. Under its shrewd, legendary, boss Lord Weinstock who headed the company from 1963-1996, GEC went from strength to strength. (More information here)
In 1999 the new management decided to refocus the company's activities on what was then the booming IT and telecommunications market, joining the illustrious ranks of the likes of Worldcom, Global Crossing and Enron Broadband Services. They renamed the company Marconi. (Incidentally all these firms, including Marconi, had Arthur Andersen as their auditor)
They went on an acquisition spree in the USA, buying various overpriced communications and networking companies. More information on this brilliant strategy here.
In 2001 with the bursting of the Internet bubble Marconi's stock plunged to an all-time low. They were on the brink of bankruptcy.
On April 28th Marconi announced that it has failed to win any of the $10BN "21st Century Network" contract from British Telecom (the UK's main telephone and internet provider). Talk about a vote of confidence from BT.
Marconi is now up for sale.