RT @wallaceme: I'm quite angry that Anjem Choudary is on Newsnight tonight - I can only imagine how furious Muslims he falsely claims to speak for must be
Just when you think it’s safe to eat food in a motorway service station again after a high-profile intervention from Heston Blumenthal, the God of Mammon intervenes and reminds you that greed is bad. In particular, the greed that is The Burger Company is especially bad.
Here’s what I got for £8.39:
A double-score of grissle sandwiched between two flat baps with a drizzle of red sauce, plastic cheese and “I can’t believe it’s not” plastic bacon. Oh and a huge bucket of ice.
Yes, it’s expensive renting space in a motorway service station but Byron burger, the Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Uncle Tom Cobley rent space in Covent Garden, some of the most expensive real estate on earth. As the excellent burger review site Burgaffair will point out, you can eat an amazing burger in central London for £9 so why not off a slip road on a toll road?
I have a barely-used current account with state-owned bank Natwest. They wrote to me today announcing they are introducing a monthly fee of £6 a month, just for having an overdraft, on top of an interest rate of 19.89% (that’s 40 times what the Bank of England charge Natwest).
The announcement means Natwest are:
Doubling their charges (fees + interest) on an £360 overdraft from £71.61 to £143.60
Increasing the equivalent interest rate on a £500 overdraft from 19.89% to 34.3%.
Note: Natwest took £20 billion of our money in 2008.
On the day of the local elections, the Daily Express front page leads with an “explosive academic study” that the UK will be the West’s most ethnically diverse country after 2050.
Now, I wouldn’t want to accuse the Daily Express of wanting to influence the outcome of today’s elections in favour of, say, a party such as UKIP that has been wolf-whistling on immigration in recent months. However, there are a few points to note about this report:
1. The figures include foreign born migrants, many of whom are white, so when the Express says “ethnically diverse” it is including white people.
2. Err, this explosive academic study was covered by the Daily Telegraph in 2010. That’s right, the Daily Express is reprinting a 3 year old study on the day of the local elections.
3. There are only three quotes in the piece. One by the Prime Minister, one by Professor David Coleman the author of the study, and another by Andrew Green from MigrationWatch. It is not pointed out to Express readers that both Andrew Green and Professor David Coleman are co-founders of MigrationWatch. So one organisation essentially gets two quotes. Hardly balance!
Finally, the eminent Oxford Professor David Coleman’s views on eugenics aren’t pointed out either. Coleman has for a long-time been a member of the Eugenics Society and its successor the Galton Institute.
According to The Guardian:
But Coleman has not yet, for example, responded to David Aaronovitch’s invitation to him to disown the Galton Institute, nor has Coleman told us whether he subscribes to Sir Francis Galton’s definition of eugenics as the “science of improving stock – not only by judicious mating, but whatever tends to give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had”, or to Galton’s argument that democracies “must in self-defence withstand the free introduction of degenerate stock”.
You can watch the delightfully archaic ceremony here from 15:33.
In the ceremony, the name of the Bill is read by The Lord Hill of Oareford, the Leader of the House of Lords, followed by the announcement “La Reyne le veult” (the Queen wills it) which is made by the Clerk of the Parliaments, an official of the House of Lords. With that statement, the Bill has passed through the entire parliamentary process. All that is needed is a commencement order to enact the legislation.
With the Defamation Bill, Nick Clegg’s public unease over the Communications Data Bill and the reform of Section 5 of the Public Order Act it has been a good day for free speech:
— Michael Harris (@mjrharris) April 25, 2013
I started speaking to a Chinese man, in his forties, on the tram from the Albert Hall in Brussels to the Eurostar. He was one of the students who organised the protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He described to me what happened to his life in the years following the massacre. For seven years, he went in and out of jail, mainly due to minor technical offenses as he continued his friendship with fellow student activists. In 1996, he was placed under house arrest with his wife in a Southern province of China. Under house arrest, he was not allowed to great visitors. Three guards lived outside (and in) his house at all times. He lived constantly under the threat of re-arrest and imprisonment. Eventually, he persuaded the authorities that he should be allowed to work. First, he worked at a market stall selling fish. Soon, his boss sacked him, as the pressure from the local party was too great for him to continue to employ a ‘trouble-maker’. Afterwards, he worked in a supermarket, moving crates. The man told me any work was preferable to staying at home – after all, he had studied for a degree. It was during his long work shifts day-dreaming while moving boxes at the supermarket he decided he had to escape to China. The store had two entrances on different streets. He entered the store one morning as usual and worked his shift. At the end of the day, minutes before the end of his shift, he left via the second entrance onto the other street. At the other side of the crossroads, he could see his jailers patiently waiting for him in their car. He got in a taxi and drove across town to a nearby depot. He tried to stay calm to avoid suspicion. Afterwards, he sat in the back of a transit truck, surrounded by meat carcasses, heading south towards Hong Kong.
He did not say what had happened to his wife, though he told me he still communicates with his family via Skype – it’s the only way he gets to see his loved ones. Before the truck got to Hong Kong a friend set him up in a safe house, next to the border. It was May 1997, six weeks before the formal handover to China. This week, the right suffered a collective memory loss over Thatcher’s handover of Hong Kong, the last outpost of democracy surrounded by a sea of authoritarianism. All dissidents at the time knew there was one street that crossed the Hong Kong / China border, near the Lo Wu border crossing in Shenzhen. This street did not have a formal border crossing, instead a pair of guards walked from one side of the street to the other. At night, the man, fearing for his life waited until one of the guards went in to get a drink before he made a dash for freedom. The guards chased him into Hong Kong. Darting through the streets he made it into a police station and claimed asylum. Weeks later this would have been impossible. Now, he lives in London and helps connect Chinese dissidents. His story is not fantastical by Chinese standards, he told his account entirely in a measured tone. That such bravery is so commonplace in China is a measure of the degeneration of the state’s social contract with its people.
My letter to the Guardian is available online here.
The Russian authorities have not only targeted foreign NGOs (Report, 28 March), but also domestic human rights groups, includingMemorial, which received the Index on Censorship 40th Anniversary award last year for its courageous research into the crimes of the Soviet regime. Other groups targeted include theMoscow Helsinki Group, the oldest Russian human rights NGO. Russia should comply with its international commitments and uphold freedom of expression, assembly and association – and stop these raids. The EU and its member states should take action in accordance with the EU commitment to support and protect civil society, and human rights activists. The situation in Russia is in decline. Index joins an appeal by our partners in the Civic Solidarity Platform, a coalition of 50 human rights NGOs from around the OSCE, that urgent action must be taken now to prevent the situation for human rights activists on the ground in Russia getting worse.
Head of advocacy, Index on Censorship
Yesterday I wrote about the return of private daily newspaper to Burma on Index on Censorship:
1 April heralded the return of private daily newspaper to the streets of Burma. Since the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act the state has held highly restrictive powers to license newspapers and publishers creating one of the most hostile environments on earth for a free print media. Since the transition period, the new President Thein Sein has signalled that the government would liberalise restrictions on the media. Prior to the return of daily newspapers, privately-owned weekly journals had begun to flourish as demand for independent news markedly increased. On 1 February this year, the government launched the process to allow the independent media to bid for daily licenses.
Reaction in China to the relaxation of Burma’s highly restrictive media laws was pointed according to the Want China Times:
Some internet users have expressed their envy with coded comments such as “although we cannot eat it yet, at least we can smell it,” while others suggested such media freedom is not suited to China’s current circumstances. “Myanmar has stepped on the road toward democracy and freedom. Will China have its day? Let us wait and see,” an internet user said. And, “Myanmar’s achievement was earned by opposition forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi. China has not reached this stage,” another stated.
It’s a strange idea that China must earn her democracy.
In recent years, there has been a serious problem with street drinking in the Hither Green Lane area. Many local residents (unfairly, in my view) have associated this problem with the residents of St Mungo’s homeless hostel which has worked hard to tackle this problem. What is clear is that extending licenses in this area would exacerbate the problem. So it’s extremely galling to see ethical food trader, the Co-op (Hither Green Green Lane, SE13 6QH) apply to extend its license to sell alcohol at 7.30am in the morning.
Unfortunately it is too late to place an objection. The hearing at Lewisham Council is on the 17th April at 7.15pm and has been moved because of resident representations. Members of the public are welcome to attend but are not allowed to address the committee. To attend please fill in this form quoting reference PL0250.
I will be speaking to my fellow councillors on the committee as a matter of urgency.
Councillor Mike Harris, one of 3 Labour councillors for Lewisham Central said:
“It is beyond belief that the Co-operative, an ethical retailer, wants to sell alcohol at 7.30 am in an area next to a homeless hostel. Hither Green Lane already has a problem with street drinkers which we’re working hard to tackle. Selling alcohol earlier will only make matters worse. I hope they will withdraw this application before the 17 April.”
If, as a local councillor, I was to spend my time consorting with street gangs who exercised authority without consent and packed the Council with political cronies selected on nepotism not merit, I would not expect to be celebrated by the Left. But Hugo Chavez was. No matter that he actively explored cooperation with the planet’s vilest dictators. He developed a “strategic partnership” with murderer Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Not as an accident of regional geopolitics – but an active embrace of tyranny. And in return, the government of Belarus has announced 3 days of mourning to mark his death.
It wasn’t just Lukashenko, he joked with President Ahmadinejad about building a “big atomic bomb”. He hailed Robert Mugabe and Idi Amin and was staunch in his support for blood-drenched tyrants staunch Col Gaddafi and Syrian President Bashar.
His celebrated domestic record was patchy. A welcome attempt to alleviate poverty and establish healthcare was shackled by Tammany Hall politics that drove up prices, packed public services with inept political cronies and left the shelves of supermarkets empty for the poor.
The contrast with Brazil, a social democracy whose leadership has served it well, is stark. Brazilians are 3 times less likely to be murdered in the streets, the press is still free and civil society strong.
The finest piece on this social failure is “Slumlord” by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker. The Tower of David, in the centre of Caracus, is totemic of this failure:
Guillermo Barrios, the dean of architecture at the Universidad Central, says: “Every regime has its architectural imprimatur, its icon, and I have no doubt that the architectural icon of this regime is the Tower of David. It embodies the urban policy of this regime, which can be defined by confiscation, expropriation, governmental incapacity, and the use of violence.”
This isn’t a fringe issue. Labour MPs have praised Chavez’s handling of the last elections (I’ve heard silence on the last Brazilian elections), unions pay their members to go on fact-finding missions and Labour’s last Mayor of London built another “strategic partnership” with Chavez (how many did he need?). It is hard not to conclude that the Left suffers from the racism of low expectations.
— Diane Abbott MP (@HackneyAbbott) March 5, 2013
1. London vs. Toyko
A fascinating piece in The Atlantic on how Toyko, a megacity of 35 million people, has a transport system that copes with a population 5x the size of London – and is almost self-financing.
If you attempt to map their transport network on a single map (the Japanese incidentally, don’t) it looks like this: –
Both Toyko and New York have used bond issues to fund the transport infrastructure upgrades, a model ignored in the UK in favour of the PFI model. Whilst Toyko’s network is mostly private, New York’s is entirely public.
2. The importance of rail transport
The importance of rail transit cannot be understated For the 6,000 years we’ve been building cities, the transportation system you pick dictates the form of the built environment.
From Maria Popova’s Explore.
And a beautiful essay by John Lanchester on the cultural significance of the London Underground and the link between commuting and psychological wellbeing.