Inside the system
Elves on the line
THE ELVES are organising this Christmas. The elves in question are workers for Amazon, the e-commerce giant. Low pay and harsh conditions have encouraged a union drive in Seattle by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers.
Jeff Bezos, the firm's chief executive officer, likes to call his staff "elves" as "a mark of affection". But it's not Christmas every day for the workers who face sudden shift changes and mandatory overtime. If the unions can crack Amazon it would be a big step forward. And as every elf knows, Christmas is the time to strike.
The serious crime squad
THERE WERE plenty of policemen at the Old Bailey last week. They were not guarding prisoners-they were in the dock themselves. No fewer than five of the 18 courts were taken up with cases involving Metropolitan Police officers. The charges range from corruption to aggravated racial assault. In what one court official described as a "record week for police cases", the Old Bailey list included:
- Court 6: Four detectives were standing trial in a case which cannot be reported for legal reasons. It started three weeks ago.
- Court 8: Detective Constable Austin Warnes has admitted conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
- Court 11: Detective Constables David Evans, Christopher Carter and Leonard Gerrard-all based at Heathrow Aiport-were accused of stealing 40,000 ecstacy tablets. It is alleged they seized a drugs shipment and hoped to recycle the consignment back onto the streets.
- Court 17: PCs Andrew Wigley and Simon Wilson were accused of crimes relating to the alleged racial beating of black grandfather Christopher Broomes.
- Court 18: WPC Patricia McGovern and PC Richard Sams were on trial for a case involving a motorist who was stopped in a bus lane. The police officers deny false imprisonment, actual bodily harm and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
HOME secretary Jack Straw let slip an embarrassing truth last week. He said that no direct link exists between the number of police and the ability to cut crime. Attacked by the Tories for presiding over a fall in police numbers, Straw defended himself by pointing out that more cops does not mean less crime. In 18 constabulary areas where crime had fallen, 80 percent of them had fewer officers, and in 25 where crime had risen the number of police had also gone up.
A private hospital plans to build a 3.5 million unit inside Carlisle's Cumberland Infirmary to profit out of bed shortages there. The infirmary, recently rebuilt under PFI, has 98 fewer beds than the hospital it replaced. Now it is worried that it will not be able to cope and is looking to the private Abbey Caldew Hospital to help it out.
Caviar and flies
THE FINANCIAL Times invited its readers to start bidding for "the world's most luxurious Christmas hamper" last week. Bids had to be for a minimum of 8,000. The hamper includes a four pound tin of the world's most expensive caviar, Iranian beluga caviar, plus six mother of pearl spoons and three mother of pearl dishes.
There are two types of foie gras from France (one layered with truffles), a side of Scottish salmon and six bottles of vintage champagne. A few pages earlier in the same edition of the paper there is a report about street children in Angola. It details the life of teenagers living near the rubbish dump in Lobito.
Their staple diet is cooked-up rubbish made from fruit peel and food remnants, rescued from the flies thriving in the 33OC heat, which they boil up in a tin.
Faster by steam
IN 1830 the first steam train, Stephenson's Rocket went from Liverpool to Manchester in one hour. First North Western last week promised that the same journey can be made in one hour, 14 minutes.
IN 1895 the Flying Scotsman arrived in Edinburgh six hours and 19 minutes after leaving London. If you want to do the same journey now, it will take you eight hours and 12 minutes.
Beds in Bel Air
ONE SIGN of the divide between the powerful and the less powerful at The Hague climate change conference last week was the size of the delegations. The US had 150 delegates who stayed at the luxury Bel Air hotel.
Mozambique, which earlier this year suffered terrible loss of life and damage from floods linked to global warming, had three delegates sharing a dormitory at a youth hostel.
WALL Street bankers in the US will grab a record 10 billion in bonuses this Christmas. This year's payout is up 30 percent on last year and matches the gross national product of Cuba. Around 4,000 top executives will each get a 1 million bonus and 100 will take home 9 million each.
Things they say
"WE ARE not the army that kills kids just like that."
- Israeli GENERAL SAMIA
"TWELVE AND up is allowed. He is not a child any more."
- ISRAELI SNIPER on why the Israeli army is allowed to kill Palestinian teenagers
"JOHN Prescott has shown that first and foremost he is an inveterate macho man. A woman obviously has to be tired, fearful and not understand things."
- French environment minister DOMINIQUE VOYNET
"IT IS not the Biwater's staff that should be put on the dole, but Mr Byers."
- Labour MP HARRY BARNES calling on trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers to resign over his refusal to act to stop the closure of the Biwater factory in his Derbyshire constituency
"I'VE BEEN called everything under the sun, including teenage magazines calling me Mrs Pillock in the 80s. They were so cruel, really spiteful."
- VICTORIA GILLICK, campaigner against contraception for young people
"I KNEW the bosses were stingy-but giving us chocolate stockings which you give a child is just the limit."
- WORKER for giant mobile phone company Vodafone, which gave workers a bag of mini Mars bars as a Christmas bonus
"IN FUTURE you can perhaps use a Ferrari to speed all the way from Singapore to Kunming [in south western China]."
- President of Singapore GOH CHOK TONG's vision of greater cooperation between Singapore and China
"IT WOULD have been quicker to get to New York."
- PASSENGER on a nine-hour journey from London to Nottingham that was supposed to take under three hours