May 2003

An obsession with numbers

With the Tony Blair proudly announcing that the fall in numbers of people seeking asylum proves that the government has turned the corner on dealing with asylum seekers, it is worth bearing in mind how an obsession with numbers has affected Abas Amini, an Iranian Kurd who the Home Office is determined to deport regardless of the medical evidence proving that hes been tortured.

A simplistic reliance on figures doesnt lead to an improved method of dealing with asylum seekers. It simply puts pressure on civil servants to reject more applications regardless of the evidence.

KLM cancels free train service to Schiphol Amsterdam Airport

Beginning 1 June 2003, KLM will cancel the exclusive deal with Dutch Railways (NS) to offer KLM passengers complimentary train service to Schiphol on the day of travel from anywhere in Holland. According to KLM, this change is due to limited usage by travellers of the free service.

And why was such a useful service so woefully underused?

Maybe because neither KLM nor NS made any effort whatsoever to actually tell anybody about it.

Staff Meetings Explained

by Dilbert

Seeing the wood for the trees

Decisive management from Dilbert

The badly drafted law of the moment is

According to The Independent, the Governments Sexual Offences Bill could lead to magazine agony aunts, youth workers and charities such as childline open to prosecution for giving a child anything that relates to sexual activity or contains a reference to such activity.

Its nothing new that, when faced with any sort of public outrage or panic, the government starts to give the appearance of doing something. Unfortunately, the something that they do is tends to be - at best - quick, cheap and ineffective.


Screen Daily reports that United Artists are to distribute Siddiq Barmaks Osama.

Osama conveys the tragedy of religious extremism through the eyes of a young girl who is forced to disguise herself as a boy and is sent out to work to support her family with horrific consequences once her true identity is discovered by the regime.

Yahoo Movies has a few quotes from an interview by Barmak.

It�s very important for our cinema to say things about Afghan society that will change things, Mr. Barmak says in an interview. Cinema is very powerful. At this time, 85% of people in Afghanistan are illiterate: they are not able to read newspapers or books. So the power of pictures can be very strong and help them make a visual connection.

The only things that Afghanistan is known for today are Osama and war, he says. It�s time to change that.

Airline Safety

Knowing that you all (both?) must have missed me, heres a quick post to let you know that I am back and blogging after a very pleasant trip back to the UK. There are times when the craving for a properly pulled pint of Murphys and a sausage becomes to much to resist.

And seeing as Im blogging again, Ill take the opportunity to comment on a slightly bizarre encounter with the airport security.

In my hand luggage on the way back, I had an iron lamp holder (a thank-you gift for my dog sitter) which, not surprisingly showed up on the x-ray and led to my bag being searched. Fair enough so far - an unidentified metal object is worth checking.

Whenever I go back to the UK, I always buy a box of 200 cigarettes because Im too mean to pay the excessive UK duty on tobacco. Not being a particularly heavy smoker, I had half a dozen packs of cigarettes left over which were in my bag. The poor man who was searching my bag insisted I remove the cellophane wrapper and open one of these packs to prove that they really were cigarettes.

I still have absolutely no idea what he was hoping to find in one randomly opened pack of factory sealed cigarettes.

Career Aspirations

From Dilbert.

Anti EU campaigners still lost in The Matrix

The Independent debunks eight of the myths surrounding the proposals for a new EU constitution.

We would be a small province in a new superstate with an unelected head.

Mostly nonsense. Britain would be one of six large countries in a European Union of 25. Such a large union could never be forged into a super-state even if that were the objective.

It is true to say that, under almost any arrangement likely to be accepted, the EUs most senior figure will not be directly elected. But the president of the European Council proposed by Val�ry Giscard dEstaing would be appointed by (elected) national governments and approved by the (elected) European Parliament. Fantasy rating: 9

We wouldnt be able to fight a Falklands or Iraq war without the approval of 24 other countries, some of them pipsqueaks on the world stage.

Total nonsense. Defence and security is certain to remain the preserve of national governments.

Britain is concerned about the possibility of a pioneer group of countries forging ahead to try to create an EU defence force without links to Nato. But no one is suggesting that British soldiers would be forced to take part, or that decisions on war and peace should be taken away from national capitals. Fantasy rating: 10

Our Government would not be able to set tax or mortgage rates, nor could it determine public spending or borrowing.

Untrue as things stand, and only partly true if we join the euro.

Members of the single currency surrender the power to set interest rates to the European Central Bank made up of central bankers from participating countries. National governments continue to determine spending and borrowing but agree to do so within the rules (some of which already apply to the UK) to keep budget deficits below 3 per cent of gross domestic product. Even then, three nations have already exceeded that ceiling. Fantasy rating: 9

British legislators would be allowed to consider only those matters allowed by Brussels.

A distortion. The fine print of which powers should stay at national level and which should be EU competences is still being thrashed out and the devil will be in the detail.

At present anything from 50 to 70 per cent of national law originates in the EU, but this has to be agreed by national governments and MEPs. This proportion might grow, but the fundamental picture will remain the same as now. Fantasy rating: 8

Entering the euro is a necessary part of signing up to the new constitution.

Total nonsense. Those countries expected to agree the new constitution include Denmark (which has rejected the euro in a referendum) and Sweden (which is holding its vote in September) as well as 10, mainly ex-Communist, nations that join the EU next year. They will not even be permitted to try to enter the single currency until 2006 at the earliest. Fantasy rating: 10

We would lose our right to decide our own policies on asylum and immigration.

A distortion. The Government says that it is willing to give up its veto in justice and home affairs, which means that, in theory, it could be outvoted on an asylum policy, for example.

The thinking is that refugee movements need to be tackled at an international level and it makes little sense for different countries to take different measures. But the Government still has a vote on these issues. And this will be no new paradise for asylum-seekers: all EU states want to tighten immigration controls. Fantasy rating: 5

Britain will lose its seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Untrue. Negotiations are still continuing on text that would commit members of the Security Council to adhere to EU policy. But the Government says it will block such moves (even though it argues that, for example, its policy on Iraq was consistent with positions it had signed up to in Brussels).

The EU will gain a legal personality, making it easier to sign treaties and sit on international bodies. But neither the UK nor France is about to surrender its seat at the top table. Fantasy rating: 10

Britain would lose the identity that makes it stand apart from Europe and the rest of the world.

Pretty absurd. The British are no more likely to start wearing berets and carrying strings of onions than are the French to develop a passion for cricket.

The EUs constitution is about legal powers and the relationship between Europes complex network of institutions. Not the sort of stuff to shake the timbers of the Dog and Duck. Fantasy rating: 10

There are a florid lot of scare stories flying around about the EU in general and the Euro and the new constitution in particular. The truth is, not surprisingly, much more mundane.

The European Union has the potential to become the largest free trade zone in the world - if Britain turns its back on this market, or even maintains barriers to it, we will see investment and industry leave the UK for countries with free access to the Euro zone.

The currency fluctuations that result from staying outside the Euro are a barrier to this market.

A triumph of hope over reason

I think I probably see him very concerned about the aftermath of war in Iraq and he may well want to pick up on that.

Lady Archer on a possible job for her husband, Jeffrey after he is released from prison.