Is the Prime Minister saying that the two security detachment police officers are colluding and lying?

Much has been said about Tory Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell’s tirade aimed at two policemen in Downing Street. In anticipation of any stereotyping – i.e. thinking of them as ‘plod’ – these officers were from SO1, the national security branch in the Metropolitan Police  responsible for providing specialist protection for the current and former prime ministers, along with other government ministers.

Having explained their role and exposed the hierarchy of the police service involved in this branch of anti-terrorism, you will no doubt understand that opening the gates to Downing Street is not a simple matter at all. There is surely a complex system of permissions and authorities to be adhered to. Despite their ornamental appearance, the gates are  extremely robust, acting as the last line of defence as a counter-terrorism measure – the other measures, by the way, rely on gathered intelligence. They are electronically linked to various systems that will alert officers elsewhere, stationed well outside the perimeter to steward and co-ordinate traffic around the area. – That means that every time those gates are opened, not only does it cost public money, but it inconveniences the public (the traffic lights alter the flow) and causes disruption. The gates were installed in 1989, because of the perceived increased level of violence from the IRA following the assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher in Brighton.

Having said all of that it is now not difficult to realise why Andrew Mitchell’s outburst was not only offensive and inappropriate, but wholly and wilfully ran counter to what must have been his understanding concerning the security measures that are in place at that location. Remember that the Chief Whip’s office is located at 9, Downing Street, so the chief whip must have been appraised and aware of security protocols that allowed the gate to be opened. Had the officers misunderstood what constitutes an authorised opening of the Downing Street gates, Mr. Mitchell would have been well placed to gently remind them that, under currently approved procedures, the gates should be opened for him. “Best you learn your f!!!ing place”? Does not seem to come within that expected response. It is rather alarming to think that we have a politician in high office that believes deep down that people should know their place.

The Police Federation and the Labour opposition are calling for a deeper scrutiny of the matter. It is deeply concerning that 10 Downing Street’s press officeer, when asked by the media what the Mr. Cameron thought of this debacle, the spokesperson replied that the Prime Minister believed Mr. Mitchell’s account. We must be clear about this: Is the Prime Minister saying that two police officers are colluding and lying? This is a serious allegation, albeit an implicit one, but Mr. Cameron must resolve the impression he has left, one way or the other. An even more remarkable fact to bear in mind is that Andrew Mitchell was once part of a UN peacekeeping mission. Maybe  he was successful in that role by telling the more aggressive factions of the warring side to know their place and *&%@ $%%!

Hopefully religion is in its final phase of self-destruction …

It is possible – from my viewpoint as an atheist – to rank religions by their ghastliness. For example, the Protestant faith (as in the British one) is likely a lot less ghastly than the tediously superstitious Church of Rome, further up the scale you get Scientology (OK, it’s a ‘cult’, though the difference is almost indiscernible) but the top slot for ghastliness has, for decades now, rested with Islam, that specialises in trumpeting the allusion to peace that is carried in its name, whilst behaving like a homicidal, self-harming drug addict in  the way it manifests itself to the world.

Islam has no spiritual leader – it lacks a Mahdi – the prophesied redeemer in Islamic eschatology,  though god knows Islam needs redeeming and that statement itself is an oxymoron to me as a heathen (I enjoy my heathen status). This leaves Islam in the hands of its followers, who have, in the last few days, submerged their religion into new found depths of depravity, and I chose my words carefully here.

The Taliban suicide bomber who struck in Kabul’s embassy district a few days ago must have known that  most of those who would be killed would be street children, in the neighbourhood to eke out a living selling souvenirs. One of the victims was 14-year-old Khorshid, far too free a spirit in the body of a female ever to survive in the day-to-day mayhem of the backward followers of Islam in Afghanistan. She was a keen skateboarder at a facility that gives refuge to the vulnerable street children that live their lives from one day to the next. Two other skaters from the skategroup were killed  – Nawab, who was 17, and 13-year-old Mohammed Eesa. Another child, Assad, Khorshid’s cousin, also died.

In neighbouring Pakistan, police and national security are moving an 11 year-old child with sever learning difficulties around between safe houses because she has been accused of desecrating a Koran (Qur’an) by burning pages of it with the household rubbish. She was briefly imprisoned for this ‘crime’ a fortnight ago but then released after an international outcry about her plight. Her family, having been threatened with being burnt alive in their home by outraged Muslim neighbours have joined their daughter in being shifted from place to place for their own safety, despite the fact that the Imam of the local mosque where they lived has been accused of planting the pages of the holy book in her bag of rubbish in order to see Christians driven from their homes. The man who blew the whistle on the Imam was one of the other Imams at the same mosque.

In Libya a mob attacked and burnt down the US consulate in Benghazi, inflamed by by a film called ‘Innocence of Muslims’, an anti Islam film posted online earlier this year. Clips of the film have since been shown on Arab TV stations, but it is not a serious piece of cinema in a historical sense, unlike Tom Holland’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Islam: The Untold Story’, which has caused offence among Muslims but not lead to violence. ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ portrays the prophet Muhammad as a womaniser and the bloodthirsty leader of a band of jihadists who enjoy killing. The Benghazi rioters that ransacked the building then set it on fire, killing the American ambassador to Libya and three other US workers in the compound. US state department officials say they are looking into whether the attack on the consulate was premeditated, as there is a strong suspicion that a jihadist, Islamic militant group may have been responsible for organising the sacking of the US diplomatic mission.

All this has left me wondering how it is that a religion that so often sells itself on the strength of its name alluding to peace can incite such grotesquely violent reactions from its followers. Do Muslims not see how ironic this statement is? The prophet Mohammed married Aisha, a 6 year old girl, and consummated the marriage when she was 9, a facet of the prophet’s life that is still copied by many Muslims to this very day. The prophet fought wars with a brutal cost in human life. He had captives that would not capitulate to Islam put to death and established the obligation of jihad, meaning struggle, which is the excuse, I have no doubt, that those who sacked the consulate in Benghazi and the suicide bombers in Kabul who murdered children, defiantly use to justify their sick actions. How Islam can ever put its house in order without a peace-seeking Mahdi is beyond me. My biggest worry though, is what would Islam be like if the coming ‘Mahdi’ was himself the warmongering husband of a 9 year old child? You have to ask what kind of religion would condone a 9 year old girl being married and yet has in the past beaten children for flying kites?

Kwateng makes another injudicious observation …

Poor (maybe not so poor) Sir Richard Branson is the target of Tory MP, Kwasi Kwarteng’s injudicious comments today. Sir Richard gave evidence at the hearing in front of the Commons Transport Committee, and the thrust of his complaint was that the government had not followed its own rules when it awarded the franchise to FirstGroup.

You may recall that Kwarteng was one of the five MPs who wrote a report about how the welfare state had sapped the strength and vigour of the British economy. “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor,” they said.  “Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.” One should bear in mind that these people are seeking re-election in less than two years, which either indicates that they are in very safe Tory seats or politically inept.

In a recent interview, Kwarteng told the Standard: “We need to look beyond Europe for economic success. We should be starting now. There is no reason why we can’t be pushing ahead with a lot of this. [London mayor] Boris [Johnson] when he talks about big infrastructure projects, deregulation and cutting taxes, is absolutely on the money.” He added: “There is definitely a new right, which is much more international in its focus. The old Tory right are a busted flush.” Paradoxically he again trips over a word that is more symptomatic of his own political output: Flush would seem to be the most appropriate action for his risible report on the ‘lazy’ work habits of ‘idle’ British people.

During the hearing, Mr. Kwateng challenged Sir Richard, suggesting many people might take the view Sir Richard was using his “prestige and fame to challenge” an outcome he did not like. Setting aside the fact that a definition of prestige is having a reputation or influence arising from success, achievement, rank, or other favourable attributes, many people might take the view Mr. Kwateng was supporting the Transport Minister, his political colleague, simply because  he did not like Mr. Branson’s accusation that the minister had failed in his duty when making a decision about the franchise for the West Coast line.

One bad Apple …

The iPhone 4s costs a hefty £499 for the 16gb model, when bought at the Apple Store  – correspondingly the 32gb model costs £599 and the 64gb model £699 – but have you any idea what they cost to make or, more relevant, what is the profit margin for Apple Inc for each iPhone sold through their dedicated outlets?

Recently, California based iSuppli, a global leader in market intelligence providing comprehensive industry reports on the electronics sector, carried out research that revealed an estimate of the materials that make up the iPhone 4S 16gb model and the costs amounted to £118. This figure is a long way from the final sale price of £499, but remember that labour costs have to be added to find out the gross profit margin.

Most of Apple’s electronic products are made in China by a company called Foxconn, which is primarily an original design manufacturer. Its clients include major international electronics and information technology companies. Notable products which the company manufactures include not only the iPad,  iPhone, iPod, but the Kindle, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Earlier this year, ABC’s ‘Nightline’, a show in the US, went into the Foxconn factories and their investigation ended up revealing that workers earn just £1.12 an hour.

Horace H. Dediu, an electronics industry analyst with a focus on mobile phones – and especially Apple Inc – made a calculation using the ‘Nightline’ report to estimate that Apple  incurs labour costs of between £7.86 and £18.56 for every iPhone it makes, representing an average of just 3% of the iPhone’s sale price. The ‘New York Times’ has harshly criticised the labour practices of Apple’s factories, and featured an interview with a former employee of Foxconn, who said: “Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost. Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests.”

The bottom line is that material costs appear to be about £118. Furthermore, Dediu has calculated that an additional £58 is spent on manufacturing its smartphone, a cost that includes the labour costs, transportation, storage and warranty expenses. Assuming those figures are accurate, we reach a total of about £176 to manufacture an iPhone that retails at £499. This represents a profit for Apple of £323 per iPhone.

This demonstrates why the share price of Apple Inc is so high. However, for them to maintain their high profits and low manufacturing costs, the company pays its workers in China appallingly low wages. There are two observations that stem from these figures: Why are we being ripped off and why are Apple so disgracefully contemptuous of the people that buy and make their products?

Not so much PCC as just PC!

A licence to flout privacy regulation …

In what must be the most Machiavellian twist ever by the Press Complaints Commission concerning an invasion of privacy, the watchdog announced that it would not be ‘appropriate’ to investigate The Sun’s publication of photographs of Prince Harry lest it should breach his privacy!

This ludicrous stalemate has the effect of driving a coach and horses through privacy protection standards by the PCC, because it sets a precedent that unless the subject of the breach of privacy makes a complaint, it may well render any investigation and censure of a newspaper as a further breach of privacy! This is comparable with those equally insane judgments that see dangerous religious militants let loose in our society because deporting them would breach their human rights.

Surely it is self-evident that if an open investigation of the material concerning this matter would likely breach Prince Harry’s privacy then the original offence clearly did just that? Or is that extrapolation too complex for the PCC PC brigade? This ducking and weaving to avoid dealing with over 3,000 complaints is surely a clear demonstration that such matters should be policed by a fully independent body that is entirely unconnected to the press?

Something for the weekend …

The Italians have a saying “Paesi che vai, usanze che trovi” that literally translated means ‘the countries you visit, the customs you find’.  The idiomatic translation in English is, of course, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” and many try and follow the ethos of the proverb when we find ourselves abroad, though perhaps not the majority. Of course, in this era of seemingly unbridled immigration, the ‘have nots’ and the ‘have lots’ are sometimes jostling for position, so guess who wins?

For many years, perhaps almost for a century, the well-to-do elite of British society have hankered after a home in Tuscany. Not just any home, but not a palace either;  perhaps just a shabby chic farmhouse next to a vineyard or a well-proportioned, but slightly weather beaten house in a village on a hillside overlooking the rolling, fertile hills. In the main, incomers over the last 70 years have tended to blend into the background.

Not so for the latest influx of immigrants. Brash Russians no less, even more brash than nouveau riche Americans apparently, are taking over areas of Tuscany, especially the town of Forte dei Marmi. They are inexorably splashing the cash, buying up villas, castles and country retreats and, when they do, attempting to gild the lily in a way that would make Liberace look positively dull. There is considerable concern among the the locals that the recently arrived influx of Russians are not only driving SUVs but also driving the change in the character of the Tuscan town.

“The Russians buy up houses, then knock them down and rebuild them according to their own taste,” said local author, Fabio Genovesi. “The useful shops, like bakeries and fruit vendors, have disappeared, and we only have shops selling the prestigious brands, which attract the very rich for a couple of months in the summer and remain empty for the rest of the year,” he said.  Mr Genovesi, has recently had a  book published, Morte dei Marmi, a pun that alludes to the death of the town.

British home buyers search endlessly for a not-too-obviously restored period farmhouse with all of the familiar rustic beauty that a substantial home in Tuscany would normally bring: a pantiled roof, stone steps aged by footfall and shutters aged with the summer sun bleaching them.

“The British and Americans love the rustic look – exposed beams and hand-made terracotta tile floors,” said Gemma Bruce, from Casa&Country, a London-based property agency. “But if you show that to some of the Russians, they are horrified. Instead they want super-slick bathrooms, marble floors, spa-gyms and cinema rooms. The problem is, Italian cultural heritage officials won’t allow you to do that to a 15th century property.” Russians arrive in Forte dei Marmi, splashing out huge sums just to rent entire floors of hotels to impress their entourage while they get ‘the feel of the place’ and look around for a home to buy. They frequentlt buy properties which they then have knocked down so that they can build a ‘palace’ in the sun.

Sergio Marrai, manager of the exclusive Tennis Club in Forte dei Marmi, said Russians now account for a quarter of his clientèle and are helping to compensate for the lack of local people who no longer eat out because of the recession. “We’ve seen a drop in the number of Italians this summer – and when they do come, they stay for less time. They’re afraid of spending. We’re very happy that the Russians like Tuscany so much, in particular Forte dei Marmi.”

Last year the mayor brought down the shutters on any further non-Italian food outlets from opening in the town, slapping a ban on any new Chinese or Indian restaurants or any other proposed food outlet whose food culture isn’t Italian. Pizza Beluga anyone?