October 11, 2009

QotD: Silvio Berlusconi

Filed under: Europe, Politics, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 11:29

As Silvio Berlusconi yesterday tried to shore up his position by declaring himself irreplaceable as Italy’s head of government, a court in Milan was told it had been “amply demonstrated” that he was guilty of bribery.

“I am, and not only in my own opinion, the best prime minister who could be found today,” he told a press conference. “I believe there is no one in history to whom I should feel inferior. Quite the opposite.”

The problem, he explained, was that “In absolute terms, I am the most legally persecuted man of all times, in the whole history of mankind, worldwide, because I have been subjected to more than 2,500 court hearings and I have the good luck — having worked well in the past and having accumulated an important wealth — to have been able to spend more than €200m in consultants and judges . . . I mean in consultants and lawyers.

John Hooper, “Silvio Berlusconi: I am inferior to no one in history”, The Guardian, 2009-10-10

Will Cameron be the last PM of the United Kingdom?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:05

Jackie Ashley (almost alone among British commentators, according to Charles Stross) examines the likely consequences of both the next British election and the promised-by-Tory-leader referendum on the European Union:

So the question facing the Tory leadership is quite clear: if, by next May, the Lisbon treaty has come into force and Europe has a new president, quite possibly Tony Blair, will Cameron keep his promise to hold a referendum? Yes or no? It’s a straightforward question. He knows that to do so would risk a huge row with the rest of Europe, and a fully operational treaty would be harder to unpick than one not yet signed. That’s why until now he has used the weaselly words that, if the treaty is signed, he would “not let matters rest there”.

Cameron also knows that many in his party, not least his would-be successor Boris Johnson, will push for a referendum and have the support of much of the media too. If Cameron appears to want to renege on his promise, he will provoke fury and rebellion on his own side. For now, his “wait and see” gambit is beginning to look indecisive. If he were Gordon Brown, he would undoubtedly be accused of dithering.

At the same time, Cameron is worrying about another referendum, one which may prove no less momentous for the future shape of Britain. He faces a two-sided constitutional struggle, looking south towards Europe — but also north towards the Scots.

The nightmare for Cameron is that, once George Osborne has revealed details of the cuts imposed by Tory Westminster on Scottish budgets, the SNP start to gain momentum for their proposed independence referendum. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and nobody’s fool, has been watching the Conservative agendas on cuts and on Europe with fascination.

The Scots will be having their own referendum on independence in 2011, and the Tories barely poll north of the River Tweed. Up in Scotland, it’s Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party as the top two. Scotland is in an odd situation of having its own parliament, but also sending MPs to Westminster, where they can vote on issues affecting the rest of Britain, but non-Scottish MPs do not get to vote on Scottish issues.

Charles provides the odds:

The current government is a minority one (yes, we’ve got a hung parliament): the Scottish National Party are in charge, although they rely on other parties to get legislation passed. The SNP are formally in favour of outright independence for Scotland, as an EU member nation; and they’re committed to holding a referendum on independence in 2011, before the next election. (Labour and the Lib Dems oppose this. The Tories do too, but they’re so marginal that nobody pays any attention to them.)

Here’s the rub. As things stand, the SNP would lose a vote on independence at this point. But under a conservative government in Westminster — especially one that’s wielding the axe of public service cuts, which is going to happen whoever wins the election and which will disproportionately hit the less well off, which includes a lot of Scots — well, I’d handicap things by giving the pro-independence vote an automatic bonus of 10%.

A sensitive, caring, next-generation Conservative government will therefore be at pains to tread lightly north of the border, and to attempt to defuse nationalist sentiment. Or will it?

On the one hand, to give them their full title, they’re the Conservative and Unionist Party, dedicated to preserving the union. But if they cut Scotland loose, then, in a 650 seat parliamentary system, they lose 80 seats, 78 of which belong to their rivals. Leave aside the fact that Cameron is committed to reducing the number of constituency seats in the UK: the 10% of them elected by Scotland are overwhelmingly not conservative. Ditching them will give the Conservatives an electoral lift that will last for a generation.

That’s got to be a temptation, even to a leader who “loathes the idea of being the last ever prime minister of the United Kingdom”.

Dita’s two public images

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 10:38

Dita von Teese has had an unusual career path, from retro-40’s and 50’s style cheesecake model to having her own lingerie line with Wonderbra:


It’s not the usual style of clothing you would expect to see burlesque queen Dita Von Tesse [sic] wearing.

Clad in an outrageous Christian Lacroix wedding dress, the sultry fetish model poses during a fashion shoot in Paris for the latest edition of Harper’s Bazaar Russia.

The 37-year-old is covered from head-to-toe in the ivory-toned gown which is bejeweled with colourful roses and a headdress with a golf leaf design.

With her head tilted to one side, Von Tesse [sic] looks Madonna-like during the ‘Saint And Sinner’ themed fashion shoot, which launches her new Party Edition lingerie range for Wonderbra.

But she also reverts to form by wearing a provocative black outfit.

You tell ’em, Your Highness!

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:28

I’m not a reflexive royalist, but I’m very much in agreement with Prince Philip on this issue:

The Duke of Edinburgh has launched a scathing attack on the design of television remotes and controls.

The famously outspoken Duke, 88, criticised designers yesterday for making handsets small and complicated and for hiding controls on television sets.

His words gave an intriguing insight into life at Buckingham Palace.

He said: ‘To work out how to operate a TV set you practically have to make love to the thing. And why can’t you have a handset that people who are not 10 years old can actually read.

I’m not much of a TV watcher, so the few times I want to watch something on TV, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll need to get technical assistance from Elizabeth or Victor. If the DVD player was the last component being used, the cable box may need to be rebooted. Usually, after rebooting, it’ll then need to be reconfigured to work with the TV set. Sometimes, the re-configuration needs to be done 2-3 times before it “sticks”. Even then, sometimes the TV doesn’t get a signal from the cable box, so the cable box has to be unplugged (so it loses its IP address from the cable provider) and then plugged in again (to get a new IP address). Then, if we’re lucky, it’ll connect properly and I can start to find the proper channel . . . it shouldn’t take 5-10 minutes of fiddling to turn on the bloody television!

And that’s ignoring the fact that none of the remotes does everything, so we use the cable box remote for most things, but the TV remote for widescreen/regular format and the DVD remote for pause/eject.

H/T to Elizabeth for the original link.

Update, February 2010: Apparently a lot of our issues were caused by the DVD player. We replaced it with a Blu-Ray player over Christmas, and we no longer have anything like the same sort of hassle. Still too many different remotes, but everything now works.

Hot, Hot, Hot!

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:17

Jeremy Clarkson makes the acquaintance of “limited-edition Insanity private reserve” hot sauce:

It’s an American chilli sauce that was bought by my wife as a joky Christmas present. And, like all joky Christmas presents, it was put in a drawer and forgotten about. It’s called limited-edition Insanity private reserve and it came in a little wooden box, along with various warning notices. “Use this product one drop at a time,” it said. “Keep away from eyes, pets and children. Not for people with heart or respiratory problems. Use extreme caution.”

Unfortunately, we live in a world where everything comes with a warning notice. Railings. Vacuum cleaners. Energy drinks. My quad bike has so many stickers warning me of decapitation, death and impalement that they become a nonsensical blur.

The result is simple. We know these labels are drawn up to protect the manufacturer legally, should you decide one day to insert a vacuum-cleaner pipe up your bottom, or to try to remove your eye with a teaspoon. So we ignore them. They are meaningless. One drop at a time! Use extreme caution! On a sauce. Pah. Plainly it was just American lawyer twaddle.

A valid point: if everything these days carries warning labels, the actual level of concern for ordinary consumers drops . . . so real warnings are drowned out by the hundreds of bogus ones put there merely to avert lawsuits, not to provide useful information about the product.

The pain started out mildly, but I knew from past experience that this would build to a delightful fiery sensation. I was even looking forward to it. But the moment soon passed. In a matter of seconds I was in agony. After maybe a minute I was frightened that I might die. After five I was frightened that I might not.

The searing fire had surged throughout my head. My eyes were streaming. Molten lava was flooding out of my nose. My mouth was a shattered ruin. Even my hair hurt.

H/T to Dave Slater for the link.

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