Iranium: The Movie

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

This is the 60-minute film that prompted the threats and subsequent closure of the Canadian theatre where the first screening was due to take place last month.

I watched it last night and it's a well-made film drawing on Iran's history and the rise to power of Ahmadinejad.  It has lots of talking heads and concentrates on the potential capabilities of a nuclear Iran with a short segment towards the end about the repression of the people and the 2009 protests.

I don't know who's behind the making of the film but it's another stage of the softening-up process for confrontation with Iran - and remember, that's something Tony Blair was advocating at the Chilcot Inquiry.  I really recommend you watch this and judge for yourselves:



Calling England
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Common Purpose and Climategate

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sir Brandon Gough, Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, accused of being complicit in academic fraud and corrupt abuse of public funds:

http://www.stopcp.com/cpclimategate.php

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Britain's Police State: Britain adopts Chinese model of policing protest?

Friday, 14 January 2011


CCTV has led to large scale arrests, following the recent student protests in London, over increased tuition fees. A total of over 180 people have been arrested, with the majority identified by CCTV.

The current arrests very much represent a landmark - we are now equipped for the Chinese approach to public order, in almost a complete reversal previous British policing.

The power of the new system is based on the ability to track down individuals at leisure. However, this ability could be used as easily to track anyone, in “political policing” of lawful democratic activity.



More than 180 people have been arrested by police investigating rioting during the series of protests against rising student tuition fees.

Senior officers said the vast majority of the 182 suspects were aged between 17 and 25 and have never been involved in violence or criminal acts before.

Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Horne, who is leading the inquiry, said he expects the figure to grow considerably as 80 officers comb through video footage.


Speaking at New Scotland Yard… he said the inquiry could take months to complete. … What struck me is the number of people arrested who did not go that day with necessarily any intention of committing any violent action."

London Evening Standard


Police had been criticised for their handling of the protests, particularly the tactic of “kettling“, where large groups - hundreds - of demonstrators were confined for several hours and not allowed to leave until late at night. It was argued that this tactic actually caused violence, and punished many who had done nothing wrong. Similar criticisms were made when this tactic was used at the G20 protests in London last year.

Here is the contrast: - previously, almost all the arrests would have taken place at the scene, to remove trouble-makers from the fray, to de-escalate the situation, not afterwards, to “settle scores“. Now, everything has changed.

The combination of these two new tactics - containment and surveillance - has parallels with handling of large disturbances by Chinese authorities: - rather than attempt to make arrests at the scene, the police merely contain the disturbance to limit any damage; CCTV photography is used to identify individuals within the crowd, who are then arrested later, at their homes.

The use of CCTV in China, to identify protestors, dates from at least 1989 : -

Fo example.........."Neutral" Technology at Tiananmen Square

Following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the Chinese authorities tortured and interrogated thousands of people in an attempt to identify the demonstration’s organizers. But even if the students and workers had resisted the terrors of the secret police, the hapless demonstrators stood little chance of anonymity. Stationed throughout Tiananmen Square is a network of UK manufactured surveillance cameras, designed to monitor traffic flows and regulate congestion. These cameras recorded everything that transpired in the months leading up to the tanks rolling into the square.

In the days that followed, these images were repeatedly broadcast over Chinese state television. Virtually all the transgressors were identified in this way. Siemens Plessey, which manufactured and exported the cameras, and the World Bank, who paid for their installation, claim they never had any idea that their "technologically neutral" equipment would be used in this way. However, in 1995 the World Bank authorized the funds to set up the same traffic flow system in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Lhasa is not, as yet, known for having problems with traffic congestion; besides, the area in which the traffic flow system is in operation is solely for pedestrians.


Is it valid to make a comparison between Britain and China? After all, the people arrested in London allegedly were involved in violent disorder and British government is not going to torture them.

On the other hand, the model of policing has sharply diverged from traditional “policing by consent”, with scenes such as police horse-charging protestors and dragging a disabled man from his wheelchair. Something has to have gone wrong when police arrest, not determined trouble-makers but, large numbers of young people who “have never been involved in violence or criminal acts before” and “who did not go… with… any intention of committing any violent action”.


The techniques of surveillance and identification employed here could just as easily be used to identify lawful political activists, leaving a quiet meeting. There is the manpower to do this - by comparison with the current 80-man search, Britain already has a permanent police unit of 100 staff, looking full-time for “extremists“. Extremism is a term also applied to peaceful, lawful protest.


In the near future, identification is likely to be much faster and less labour-intensive, due to new CCTV technology, scheduled for implementation. Not just in Britain - New York plans soon to overtake London in CCTV technology.


There are very strong European dimensions to these events - the European wave of austerity programmes and protests, the European sponsorship of new surveillance technology and what may be an emergent European style of policing political dissent, with an EU manual on policing public order. We can see common tactics in policing, for example, kettling - penning-up large numbers of demonstrators - which was used at London was also seen at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, December 2009.


Identification

How have British police identified these 182 suspects in London - people mostly without a photo on file?
One way has been to post photographs on the news, as the Chinese did in 1989, but it appears the majority were identified by other means, because the number of photos released has been small compared with the number of arrests.


A second method the police announced was by searching websites and forums, “where activists might boast about their actions”.


It has not been disclosed how police have conducted this search, so this will inevitably be the subject of speculation. In theory, police could able to search social websites for photos matching suspects, using new facial recognition and semantic search technology. Facial recognition has made huge progress recently, largely overcoming problems with size of databases. Semantic search makes it possible to search on criteria other than text, for example, to search by image characteristics. The UK National CCTV Strategy discusses how the CCTV network may be used in conjunction with other databases to allow data-matching/mining and profiling; the same techniques can be applied to any database.


Facebook has recently added facial recognition to its features, to allow users to tag names to photos. Privacy on the Facebook scheme is opt-out, rather than opt-in, hence it is possible many people may be unaware of their participation in this new functionality. Other people may be completely unaware that there may be photos of them on the web, posted by others (e.g. group photos with friends) and tagged with their name. Although Facebook claim their tool is not suitable for site-wide trawling, the intelligence agencies have put significant resources into data-mining social network sites.


So watch your ass Facebook Users!


However, the most powerful tool to identify people is by tracking their movements, to a point where they can be identified, for example, by getting in a car (which can be identified by vehicle registration) or by getting on public transport (potentially to be identified by a travel pass). So that any camera can identify a vehicle, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) facility is being added to town centre CCTV systems, not just traffic cameras, as part of the National CCTV Strategy (see p40). On public transport, the National CCTV Strategy, sought to integrate “Transport system cameras to travel cards“(p40), so that travellers identities could be established as they passed through barriers. Police tracking of travel cards is an established reality - in 2008, police obtained over 3000 individuals’ travel records from Oyster Card, Transport for London’s smart-card. OysterCard has been so successful, it is now ttempting to be rolled out across the entire UK, for all public transport, as the integrated ticketing scheme.


Technology to track individuals from camera to camera, through a city’s CCTV network, has been available for over a decade and has been deployed widely. More recently, technology now allows police to track suspects by their clothing. This allows police to re-acquire suspects, if they are lost between camera sightings.


...Once the item to search for is selected - a Nike T-shirt worn during a shop robbery, for instance - the computer analyses it, pixel by pixel.

It then scans for matches in the police database and footage from other CCTV cameras in the area, and provides a list of search results to help identify and locate the suspect.

"We say to the machine, 'there's a Coke logo, go and find it'," says David McIntosh, of Omniperception. "The technology is like a bloodhound. You give it a smell and it will go off looking for it."


For example a camera might only have a clear of shot this fictional Nike-clad suspect from 150 yards away. Feed this image into the system, and it will recognise the outfit filmed from other angles and distances, even if partially obscured.

The best results are gleaned from giving the computer an image of a suspect, rather than feeding it "clean" brand logos.


Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, of the new London-based unit [Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido) ] ... says the system could help track a suspect's movement before and after an offence. This may throw up footage of their face without hat or hood, or even where they live.


How can CCTV spot suspects by clothing logos?

The power of his technology is its ability to trawl through vast amounts of data, generated by extensive camera networks, or to piece-together fragmented information, which may have been assembled from numerous sources. This is important considering that the majority of the 500,000 CCTV cameras in London are not yet networked, and police have to search laboriously through recordings - for example, private CCTV systems in shops and cameras on buses. (However, it is likely that many of these cameras may become networked within the decade). It is easy to see that without machine-searching, it would be impractical to access and organise this huge amount of data.

Many quoted numbers of CCTV cameras in Britain can be misleading. Yes, there are a lot of cameras, but in London, only few of tens of thousands of these can be accessed easily by police, which would make the rest relatively useless for routine political surveillance. Those cameras that have live-networked access vary in ease of data-retrieval. Despite this, the London CCTV network provides formidable coverage, particularly on trains and the London Underground.


There had been a sustained programme to upgrade the system, under the National CCTV Strategy. This appeared to be threatened by the pledges of the new coalition government, but now, it seems likely that the recent disturbances will guarantee the upgrade goes ahead. The London Olympics in 2012 are also expected to prompt major upgrades of police and surveillance systems.

Although there is an official estimate of 500,000 CCTV cameras accessible by police in London, the vast majority of these can only be accessed by requesting recordings.

In 2007, there were 10,524 local authority CCTV cameras in 32 London boroughs - but the figure today may be significantly greater - these are all networked live-feed public cameras. Additionally, there are currently 12,000 cameras on the London Underground network, plus Transport for London has 900 traffic cameras, to which the police also have networked live access.

These are still large numbers - about four times the number used by NYPD and transit.


At the present time, cameras on London buses are not networked live - however, there are “60,000 recordable CCTV cameras operating on the 8,000 London buses”, and the police make “650 requests every month for images”. Several other British cities, do have live-feed CCTV on buses, which can be accessed not only by central commend but also by mobile officers, on hand-held viewers. This seems likely to come to London by 2012.


Images obtained from private cameras are important. Police announced that photographs of suspects have been obtained from the private CCTV systems of shops along the route of the march. There is a voluntary registration scheme for privately-owned CCTV systems, so that the police may obtain recordings when required. As part of new proposals for regulation of CCTV, this registration is expected to become compulsory. As part of the controversial “Internet Eyes” monitoring scheme, many shops are beginning to link their CCTV systems to the internet. It is easy to see how this could evolve into live-access to the authorities.


The CCTV network in London is still evolving and still very piecemeal - the price of being a pioneer. This is why it has taken as many as 80 officers to track down 180 suspects. It won’t be nearly so difficult in future. We can be fairly certain that, by the Olympics in 2012, the network will be much more streamlined and automated. There has been a sustained programme to create this, as part of the National CCTV Strategy. Reportedly, under an initiative called 3Ci (Command, Control, Communication and Information) access and control has now been consolidated centrally. It is believed that now, any of London’s networked CCTV cameras can be accessed and “driven” from any one of three “Special Operations Centres”. Several similar regional CCTV centres have now become operational throughout the UK.



Is this about crime?


In numerous studies, CCTV has been found to have a very low effect in reducing crime.

CCTV represents a radical departure from the approach of traditional policing. The methodology of observation and recording is that of the secret policeman, not that used in tackling real crime. Perhaps that’s why CCTV has had so little impact on crime, yet has been so effective at arresting demonstrators.



According to this report

…the London CCTV system is mainly useful for reconstructing crimes or incidents after they happen—rather than preventing them—people familiar with British security measures say that the camera system is gradually being used more extensively for intelligence-gathering and surveillance by undercover agencies like Special Branch, the political policing arm of Scotland Yard, and MI5, Britain's clandestine domestic intelligence service…

Mark Hosenball, Newsweek


If CCTV does not deter crime, does it help solve crime, and catch criminals? In London, CCTV does not seem to have helped much, finding the perpetrators of real crime, such as robbery and violence,

Only one crime is solved a year for every 1,000 CCTV cameras, police admitted …

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville said: '£500million has been spent by the Government on cameras. Despite this, in 2008 less than 1,000 crimes were solved using CCTV …'

He said that of the 269 robberies reported in one month only eight were solved with the help of CCTV footage. …

Detectives are thought to be reluctant to scour hours of recorded footage 'because it's hard work'.

CCTV helps solve just ONE crime per 1,000 as officers fail to use film as evidence

Matthew Hickley, Daily Mail 25th August 2009


In parallel with this new-found investment in technology, policing in Britain has been moving away towards something more remote and detached. Town-centre police stations, where the public could go to report a crime, a lost dog or whatever, have been closing down, to relocate out-of-town, to large “patrol bases” in business parks, which are closed to the public. It sounds like beat-policemen, community contacts and the human touch are seen as a thing of the past.



Where next?

The big problem with CCTV has always been a shortage of people, to watch the cameras, or to sift through recordings. All this is set to change with radical artificial intelligence (AI) systems currently under development by the European Union (EU). Now, machines will be able to watch the cameras, spot crime or aberrant behaviour, alert officers to the scene, track (and identify) the suspect, and collect the relevant video clips into a file, together with any other relevant information from other feeds.


HERMES, INDECT and ADABTS are AI suites aiming for deployment in 2012-3. They will be capable of analysing multiple different types of data-streams, identifying events and assembling a file with a commentary.


According to the EU website, the HERMES system will be capable of recognising events such as robberies or violence, and can “not only detect events in real time as they are filmed by surveillance cameras but also describe them semantically and react to them intelligently. It operates at three levels: tracking the movement of people and objects; monitoring the behaviour of people; and, in the case of high-resolution footage taken at close quarters, detecting changes in facial expression.”

HERMES is also designed to automatically search for and correlate other data, from other sources, such as multiple alternative camera positions or other identification systems.


ADABTS is intended to recognise "suspicious behaviour" so [this] can be automatically detected using CCTV and other surveillance methods. The system would analyse the pitch of people's voices, the way their bodies move and track individuals within crowds.

ADABTS is being developed by a consortium including arms company BAe Systems and the Swedish Defence Research Agency.



INDECT is aimed at surveillance in a different sphere - it will enable, “continuous and automatic monitoring of public resources such as: web sites, discussion forums, usenet groups, file servers, p2p [peer-to-peer] networks as well as individual computer systems, building an internet-based intelligence gathering system, both active and passive [with the aim of] automatic … recognition of abnormal behaviour or violence"


Tom Burghardt described INDECT as a system for “profiling internet dissent” INDECT had emerged from strategies in Europe and the CIA to data-mine information about political opposition, from social networks and related sources.



What these official descriptions above do not mention is that, to do their job, these systems have to lead to the automatic machine-identification of individuals. It is not hard to see how the ability to track individuals and access “multi-media data streams” will make this possible. It is also easy to see how the ability to identify individuals combined with the ability to assemble data in organised files, with notes, could construct personal dossiers on the movements and contacts of any individual. This would be a gift for the surveillance and control of legitimate political activity.



In 2007, a European Union working group presented a proposal called the ”Digital Tsunami“, to track and record the lives of every individual. This was described by Tony Bunyan of Statewatch: -

"Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record. This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations", leading to behaviour being predicted and assessed by "machines" (their term) which will issue orders to officers on the spot. The proposal presages the mass gathering of personal data on travel, bank details, mobile phone locations, health records, internet usage, criminal records however minor, fingerprints and digital pictures that can be data-mined and applied to different scenario – boarding a plane, behaviour on the Tube or taking part in a protest.

‘The surveillance society is an EU-wide issue’,

Tony Bunyan, 28 May 2009, The Guardian

Officially, this proposal was never adopted as policy. In practice, every measure within it has been adopted, under the new name “Digital Agenda“. Worryingly, this dovetails with a new, authoritarian approach in the “Stockholm Programme” on security, justice and home affairs.


CCTV becomes much more powerful in this role when combined with complimentary tracking technologies, such as the RFID chips (Radio-Frequency Identification), which have been inserted into ID cards around the world. Bank cards too increasingly incorporate RFID. In several European countries, bank cards have taken on the function of ID cards - called eID (or “electronic signatures“), issued in collaboration with the national population register, via “commercial certification authorities“, they are recognised for accessing public services. As mobile phones are becoming used for payment, these too are being registered within the same system. This international eID registration system has come about to enable electronic payment, and has been organised by a UN agency, UNCITRAL. This has become another branch of a global population register.


Technologies exist to locate and identify the position of all RFID tags within the view of a CCTV camera. Integration is becoming simpler and more affordable, with commercial solutions available.


Since opening in 2007, all passengers at Heathrow, Terminal 5 have been tracked and managed by a combination of RFID and facial recognition CCTV. The system was developed by the European Union as “The INtelligent Airport” project (TINA). Normally at airports, domestic and international passengers would be carefully segregated, for security, but at Terminal 5 they are allowed to mix in one departure lounge, controlled by ubiquitous surveillance. Effectively, passengers are tracked by RFID and facial recognition CCTV is used to verify, to a high degree of accuracy, that the subject is the authorised holder. The system can also identify anyone not carrying an RFID pass, and recognise a pass dropped on the floor. The system can also recognise the RFID in passengers’ passports, which are the same as RFID in national ID cards, both standardised by the ICAO. This surveillance system is trusted to provide the same level of security as physical segregation. Facial recognition is now a proven, mature technology.


The European Union is investing heavily in promoting RFID and a system for tracking RFID, called the Internet of Things (IoT). Every tagged object will have its own webpage, with the web-address being its RFID serial number. Every time an RFID tag is scanned, the webpage will be updated with the time and location. Designed to track goods in the supply chain, corporations realised that this could also track customers after purchase, to produce marketing information. This scanning and logging will become frequent and pervasive, as RFID scanners replace anti-theft portals at shop entrances, and all will be networked into the Internet of Things.

It is easy to see how the Internet of Things could potentially dovetail with intelligent CCTV and AI systems to enable ubiquitous surveillance.



Conclusion
The real threat comes not from CCTV but from its application to identifying citizens, then tracking and recording their lives. This phase of CCTV is only just beginning, but will be heavily upon us, very soon.
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My New Blog

Thursday, 13 January 2011

I just thought I would let members know that I've started a new blog called:

Rachel Reeves Global Leader

This blog was inspired by an article in the Independent that predicted that new Labour MP Rachel Reeves will be a world leader in 20 years time.

I thought it would be interesting to keep an eye on her for a few years, maybe the whole 20 years, to see if this come true...
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Gabrielle Giffords Only Subscribed To Two You Tube Channels - One Of Them Was Jared Loughner's!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

  
I discovered something about Gabrielle Giffords' shooting last night and I don't know about you, but to my mind it stinks to high heaven!
 
This is my original post which is followed by a rather disturbing update.......


  
So the Lefties put it all down to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement - how typically opportunistic of them to use this as a means for their New World Order muppets to call for the disarming of American citizens, (prior to their impending enslavement),  closely followed by the same calls in the UK and the rest of the EU, no doubt, (makes the job easier, you see), they never ever change!
    
SPOT THE NUTTER


Let me blow that "theory" into tiny little pieces without needing to say very much to do so!

This is a screenshot of Congresswoman Giffords' You Tube channel.......
  
If you look just above, you'll see that she only subscribes to two channels, one of which is Classitup 10.
  
Now I wonder who that could be? Let's see, shall we, and  please do check out his reading material.......
  
I also believe that in the video what he was trying to say was
"In a few days you WILL know I'm conscience dreaming!"
 
    So - this guy is a total nutter - what a surprise! 
  
And what are the chances of him being yet another NWO patsy?
  
I REST MY CASE!


+++UPDATE+++

  

Curiouser And Curiouser
 
From the comments on this post.......

And sure as shooting.......


  
SOMEONE IS TIDYING UP LOOSE ENDS!
 
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US Party Politics And The Arizona Shootings

The shootings in Tucson, Arizona have sparked a fierce debate about whether inflammatory right-wing rhetoric was somehow a party to the murders.

Six people died, 1 of which was a 9 year old girl, and 20 were injured, including Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.


Within hours the local country sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, who happens to be a member of the Democratic Party, held a press conference in which he went out of his way to link the murders with political rhetoric.


This has led to a wave of soul searching in the American media and online.

Most criticism has been directed by the left of centre against the Republican right and in particular Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

The evidence that they have created a "climate of hate" includes Mrs Palin's online campaign map from last year using crosshairs over the Democratic-held congressional seats.

She has also used the phrase "don't retreat - reload".

One typical comment on Mrs Palin's Facebook page read: "You cannot flippantly talk about 'reloading' and putting people on your TARGET list and not expect some nut to take you literally."

It is true that language and symbolism in American political debate is more emotional and violent than in many democracies - but missing from the debate appears to be a sense that it has always been this way and that America has always been a country where the gun has played a role.

The founding fathers called each other "traitors" in print, there have been 20 attempted presidential assassinations, four of which were successful.

JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy died in the blood-soaked, rhetoric-fuelled, 1960s in which one of the most memorable political slogans came from the Black Panthers: "By Any Means Necessary."

In 2004 the Democrats used a map of the US under the headline "Targeting" and bullseyes over states they were concentrating on - the blurb talked about operating "behind enemy lines".

This may have been less overtly violent than Mrs Palin's crosshairs but is in the same vein, as is Barack Obama's "if they bring a knife we'll bring a gun" speech in 2008.

Sheriff Dupnik introduced the rhetoric idea into the news story at an early stage.

Immediately it gave the media and public a different angle to the usual gun control/loner/drugs narrative which arises after similar events.

A link to political rhetoric cannot be ruled out in the Arizona tragedy - and there is a genuine debate to be had about the relationship between language and violence in the media.

But there appears to have been a rush to judgement that there is something special about this event.

Politics in America has always used the language of the gun, and the gun has always been used in America.

My Opinion............



Jared Loughner.............although I hasten to add not yet convicted, but who is the main suspect as the shooter (must be careful in law here)..........was a looney with a gun.

He was un-hinged.............twisted and indeed in strong need of medical and mental help.

A simple read through this piece will give an idea of the individual at the centre of this.

He slipped through the net.............reading the above piece will show that many suspected but nobody did anything about it.

This was a tragedy waiting to happen..............and sadly it just has.

The blame of Sarah Palin is wrong................trust me I think the woman is a political joke.
Her day time TV program / fly on the wall documentary is just that...........A JOKE.

Her choice of language and the use of the cross hairs may well have been inappropriate with hindsight, but has been a ploy used in US politics for many many years..........and is part of the US psyche.

That did not make Jared Loughner pull the trigger..............he did that all by himself.


I will make an inflammatory statement here.............

Hungerford and Dunblane where horrific gun crimes here in the UK. After both incidents there was a huge overhaul of fiearms laws.

Many gun clubs went to the wall. Many sporting and target shooters gave up the sport.

However none of the legislation passed stopped the Cumbria incident or more recently Raul Moat.

Again un-hinged people who pulled the trigger themselves.



Repost from my Blog

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The comment that says everything

Sunday, 12 December 2010

"Just because of their social attitudes, the Tories are part of the Progressive/Marxist establishment now. A change of leader won’t save them. They are doomed. They are SO on the wrong side of history. The Third Way, which is the LibLabCon’s method, isn’t about a golden medium between Methodist Socialism and Anglican Conservatism. It’s a path halfway between Fascism and Communism.

In a classical Libertarian/Constitutional era, the LibLabCon will be viewed the same way as we view the Nazis or the Soviets."

http://witteringsfromwitney.blogspot.com/2010/12/mainstream-conservatism-vs-liberal.html

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The abdication of the West

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Read this and weep. Notwithstanding the carefully-orchestrated propaganda to the effect that nothing much will be decided at the UN climate conference here in Cancun, the decisions to be made here this week signal nothing less than the abdication of the West. The governing class in what was once proudly known as the Free World is silently, casually letting go of liberty, prosperity, and even democracy itself. No one in the mainstream media will tell you this, not so much because they do not see as because they do not bl**dy care.

http://sppiblog.org/news/the-abdication-of-the-west

What to do? Send this blog posting to your legislators. It is their power, as well as yours, that is being taken away; their democracy, as well as yours, that will perish from the Earth unless this burgeoning nonsense is stopped.

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They don't like it up 'em

Monday, 6 December 2010

...one should not underestimate the willingness of the continental European political elites to inflict pain on their peoples in pursuit of what they see as ‘the greater good’.

So just do it, without warning.

Being just one piece of advice in a long list, in a must-read ASI article on How to leave the Euro.


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Marco Pierre White's Swan Inn snatches defeat from the jaws of victory

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Reposted from The Red Rag


Far from politics but I wanted to share my experience of how the behaviour of a single poor staff member can completely change one's attitude towards a business.

Last night Mrs C and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary. In recent years we have flown to Paris and Madrid for our anniversary but due to business commitments we were unable to get away this year. So we decided we would stay in the UK and have a nice meal and overnight stay. Mrs C booked a room at Marco Pierre Whites Swan Inn Restaurant in Aughton, Lancashire.


Despite the relative prosperity of our home county of Cheshire there is a dearth of decent restaurants. So we were looking forward to travelling a little further from home for a great dining experience at what their website describes as the perfect venue for any occasion.


We had booked a table for seven o’clock, we thought we would arrive early and relax in our room for a while prior to heading downstairs for aperitifs about 6:30. We arrived about 5:00pm and were given room one.


The room was cold so we turned the radiator up, it didn’t take long for us to find out why it had been turned down. A noise like a pneumatic drill filled the room. We turned it back down but within minutes the banging started again, this time coming from the room next door. It was no big deal at this point but it was obvious we would be unable to sleep unless it was sorted out. I called down to reception and within minutes the noise had stopped and a lady knocked on our door to tell us she had turned the radiator off in the room next door. She explained they had recently had some plumbing work done and there was air trapped in the system.


I assumed the room next door must be empty so we were quite happy with the solution, as it was minus seven degrees last night we turned our heating back on whilst we went for our meal, the plan was it would heat the room while we were out and we could then turn it off overnight so as not to be disturbed by the banging.


I had a gin and tonic and Mrs C enjoyed a Bacardi and diet Coke whilst we perused the menu. The wine list wasn’t great, I was surprised how limited it was, but there were a couple of good reds on there and I picked a reliable old favourite. A rich full bodied Pommard, I felt it would benefit from being decanted so I requested this and ordered it early. I also ordered a bottle of 2000 vintage Dom Perignon to start with.


Mrs C ordered pottage of mussel s followed by a pork loin, I ordered panache of sea scallops and a main of halibut with a side of creamed potatoes. The wine waiter brought the champagne and he was friendly and knowledgeable, he had recently been to a tasting where he had tried the 2002 Dom Perignon which he was looking forward to stocking soon. He also delivered the red to give it time to breath, he apologised that he could not decant it as they only had two decanters and they were both in use.


So we did not start off with quite the standard I had expected, but that was quickly forgotten as hors d’ouvres arrived. My sea scallops were beautifully seasoned and cooked to perfection. Mrs C’s pottage of mussels was absolutely delicious, and I didn’t just take her word for it I tried a spoonful myself in return for half a scallop. She did feel the pottage would have benefited from having more than three mussels but concurred with me about the quality of my scallops.


The atmosphere was very pleasant and it was clear all of the diners were having a great night. Our mains were absolutely delicious, a genuine first class dining experience that was enhanced by the friendliness and professionalism of the waiting staff. We were completely unhurried and took our time before ordering desert. The waitress recommended the chocolate and pistachio marquis, Mrs C and I are both fans of pistachio so we ordered one, I had also noticed that they did a chocolate fondant with pistachio so I ordered that as well and we planned to share washed down with a bottle of Hungarian desert wine. The fondant was superb but we were a little disappointed with the marquis which was a touch too dry. Our waitress asked how our deserts were and when I mentioned that the marquis was a little dry she immediately apologised and said she would deduct it from the bill. I told her there was really no need but she insisted. A true example of outstanding customer service.


We finished with a cheese plate which again did not disappoint. We asked for a liqueurs list but it never arrived. In all honesty we both forgot we had asked and a little while later we asked a different waitress for our bill. Then the waitress we had asked for the liqueurs list came back and advised they did not have a list but asked us what we wanted. We said we had asked for our bill now so would leave it. It really didn’t matter at all and probably protected us from a hangover.


All in all I would rate this restaurant as outstanding whilst still having room for improvement, a more comprehensive wine list, a couple of extra decanters, and a list of available liqueurs would help the overall experience match the outstanding quality of the food and service.


So to bed, the room was lovely and warm so we immediately turned the knocking radiator off. A quick flick through the TV confirmed my fears that we were limited to Freeview and would not be able to look in on the Ashes where apparently we were trouncing Australia. They did have wireless broadband though so we were able to watch on Sky Player.


We had a wonderful night but were in for a rude awakening. That infernal plumbing was knocking again, clearly the room next door was occupied after all and they had turned their heating on, and who could blame them with the Siberian weather we were facing. It was however impossible to sleep. I phoned reception to complain and ask if perhaps the heating could be tuned off overnight. The man on the phone said he would look at our room rate for us and I advised him that a rate of zero would be appropriate. We checked out with Mark in the morning, I told him he needed to get the plumbing sorted out and without a word of apology he simply said it was being fixed on Monday.


So after less than eight hours of very disturbed sleep we went for breakfast. It was 9:50 on Sunday morning. A waitress making up tables advised that they stopped serving at 9:30, I was very surprised that they stopped so early on a Sunday and expressed my disappointment that they did not tell us that when we checked in. Now here is where thing went wrong, badly wrong. We now were experiencing a case study in how the rudeness and arrogance of a single staff member can do untold damage to a business.


Given they were fully aware of our disturbed night, great customer service would have been to show a little flexibility and make us some breakfast. Surely it was not beyond the capability of the numerous staff there. However, they were absolutely not prepared to do so, the waitress was just explaining that the chef had left when Mark interfered with “9:30 is our brand standard” and far from apologising insisted that we would have been told “as we always tell people breakfast ends at 9:30 when they check in”. When I assured him we had not been his response was “yes you were, and it was in your welcome pack in your room.” I was astonished, it was beyond belief that this man could be so badly trained and have such appalling customer service skills that he chose to call me a liar. Not just once but three times, after the first time I pointed out that he was calling me a liar and that surely he should just accept that we were not told and it was all just an unfortunate misunderstanding. But no, he was having an argument and he was damned determined to win, we were leaving, we were in the entrance hall en route to the car park but Mark had followed us still insisting we had been told. I lost my temper and shouted at him that he should stop. We were leaving and there was no need for him to persist in his allegations that we were liars. He once again repeated that we must have been told “as we always do.” I no longer just doubted his customer service skills but his mental capacity as we headed off in search of breakfast. He was now shouting “Get out, go now!” which was odd as we would have already left had he not followed us persisting in his obnoxious behaviour.


It was an entirely forgivable oversight that the lady on check in didn’t advise us of the breakfast times, and to be fair at no point had we asked and the onus was on us to do so. A simple sorry would have been enough, sure we would still have been a bit disappointed but that would have been the end of it.


Following the wonderful meal we would have been sure to return but I very much doubt if we now will. I asked Mark to get the manager to call me, we will see if he does. The contrast in service between the night and the day was as stark as the difference between... well... night and day I suppose.
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