Thursday, March 31, 2005

Proper Blogging

Insomnia - Day 4

I've not felt like writing much in the last couple of days as I haven't been sleeping well. A combination of reasons are to blame but I won't bore you with the details. I've been trying to take my mind off things with some blog experimenting. More details on this in my next post. Anyway, since I don't feel in the frame of mind to write much, here are links to some posts which I thought were good. I've got no connection to these proper bloggers other than the fact that I read them.

Chicken Yoghurt provides lots of very good reasons why you should support the people of Backing Blair. has reaction to the nomination of Wolfowitz as the new head of the World Bank.
Guido lays into all three main parties.
MediaMediaWatch isn't very complimentary to the religious groups who are harrassing the BBC over the Jerry Springer saga. Lots more info on this available on this site. I chose this post because of the last line.
Edit - Oops, that should be MediaWatchWatch. Silly me.

Finally, Bloggerheads has a screen grab which might amuse.
(I've been on a nameless blog this evening which mentioned this effect but with an update saying that it no longer works. At least the evidence is forever preserved.)

Comments and/or trackbacks may be forthcoming. I never know whether this is good manners or leeching on the good work of others. Advice welcome.

Anne Begg is my MP

Anne Begg, Labour MP for Aberdeen South, is, as the title of this post suggests, my MP. She has her own website here. If you've read some of my other posts, you'll know what I think of Tony Blair, and you'll know that I don't want him to be Prime Minister after the election. To this end, I started to look up information about my Labour MP. I am a fan of Bloggerheads and had half a mind to set up a proxy weblog on behalf of my MP, even if only for the length of the general election campaign.

Now that I have researched the performance of my MP, I've realised that it wouldn't be fair. I looked up Anne Begg on They Work For It is a user friendly resource which gives history and performance data for all MP's. It's definitely worth a look if you want to find out about your own MP quickly and easily. I discovered that, although Anne is normally a loyal Labour voter in the House, she did vote against the invasion of Iraq and for an ammendment stating that the case for military action was unproven. With this in mind, I feel that I cannot set up a proxy weblog on behalf on Anne Begg.

I do think that MP's should keep their own weblogs, so I've emailed Anne and suggested that she might want to do just that. I also explained my own position and gave the address of this blog in case she wants to know more about me. I will continue to do as much as I can to reduce the Labour majority in the next parliament. Strategic Voter suggests that the Liberal Democrats are expected to win Aberdeen South at the election. For the sake of the country, I hope they are right. Anne Begg, perhaps undeservedly, may have to pay the price for belonging to a party led by a war happy Prime Minister.

Normal Service Resumed

I've been continuing my experiments in the wonderful world of blog. I've still got some tidying up to do but it's all going rather well. More details to follow.

I feel it would be remiss of me if I didn't say hurray for blogger.
(That's assuming this post ever gets published)


Under Deconstruction

Normal service will be resumed asap (that's assuming it doesn't all go horribly wrong of course).

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's a Left Wing Media Conspiracy

I have to be honest here and admit that I've never really taken this accusation seriously. I've always thought that people who speak about a left wing media conspiracy are just doing it to annoy people from the left. Now that I've started using the interweb to get more of my information, I've made a startling discovery (startling for me anyway). I've started to realise that there are a lot of people who actually believe in this conspiracy theory. I am astonished. I cannot see how a rational person could possibly think this way. As I've been busy today and haven't caught up on the news, and as I've been thinking about doing a post on this issue for a little while, here it is:

I wrote I Believe in the BBC a while back. To me, it seems to stand well enough on its own, even if I would like to edit it slightly. As I understand it, this would defeat the whole point of blogging and so it stands as I wrote it. To emphasis the point I was trying to make, I've found this from one of my all time favourite authors:
"Television companies are not in the business of delivering television programmes to their audience, they're in the business of delivering audiences to their advertisers. (This is why the BBC has such a schizophrenic time - it's actually in a different business from all its competitors.)"
Taken from The Salmon of Doubt, What have we got to lose? p116, Douglas Adams.

Just to state what I hope is obvious, almost all media sources are funded by advertising and this is likely to have an impact on the programmes, articles, and news items which they create. You can imagine a situation where an editor, faced with a choice about whether to publish a negative news story concerning one of his or her largest revenue providers, would be unlikely to risk losing such revenue by publishing the story. It is just possible that this is why you can still buy a certain brand of filtered tap water in some countries, but you cannot buy it in the UK.

When the BBC says that it can do certain things because of the unique way it is funded, it isn't just a slogan. It can publish news stories which other stations cannot. It is that simple. Next time you complain about paying the licence fee, think about how many bottles of filtered tap water you've been saved from buying. Do you really want all of your news sources to be funded by advertisers? Not for me, thank you.

Don't write in and complain until you've read the small print. I like Channel 4 News. I watch it regularly and I often find that the coverage has better depth than BBC news. I'm not questioning the integrity of all privately funded news sources. The point is that without the BBC, the pressure on these sources would be much greater. Jon Snow can say to his editor "Yes, we should run this story. You know the BBC will run it and we must too!" The advertisers know this too, so they are less likely to try to cover up the story. They know they don't have the power which they do in some other countries. It's all because the BBC is independently funded.

Insomnia Sucks

I don't know what time it is where you are but here in the UK it is after 5am. Insomnia sucks. Did I say that already? And to make matters worse I've just realised that I spelt insomnia wrong in a previous post. The Blogger spell checker is no use to me, it keeps telling me labour is spelt labor. That's not right.

Maybe I just haven't noticed the option to change from US to UK spelling. If there is one I haven't noticed. I said that. I've had about 5 hours sleep in the last 2 days. Can you blame me if I keep repeating repeating myself?

I am still giggling about a very funny video I saw today so although I'm tired, I am still :o)
It's video III from Backing Blair. If you like a laugh and you're not easily offended, go there right now and stop reading this nonsense.

Maybe News

I am experimenting with the wonders of blog. Further information may be forthcoming depending on the results of these experiments. It is unlikely that I'll post anything much here for a couple of days while I work it out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Local Issue

With my apologies to The League of Gentlemen, I can't help one more post on the Tory Idiots. (Last one, I promise.)

Tubbs: "Howard, Howard. Come quickly."
Howard Flight: "What's all this shouting? We'll have no trouble here. This is a local party for local people."
T: "Michael says you've got to leave the party."
HF: "Michael? Is he local?"
T: "He's not from our town Howard."
HF: "Not local? Tell him this is a local party."
T: "He says he's in charge of the whole party and you have to go."
HF: "What! An outsider! This is a local party for local people. There's nothing for him here."
T: "Shall we burn him Howard?
HF: "Yes Tubbs. We shall burn him. Every day from now till the election!"

I could go on but I'm not going to (unlike Mr Flight). I'll be back to Blair bashing asap.

Very Funny, Very True

I have no connection to this other than the fact that I think it is Very Very Funny. Read the post and open the video. Now!
Backing Blair - Video III now live
Giggle, giggle, giggle, giggle...

Aljazeera Online Confusion

I wrote this on the 27th March:
I've just been looking up information on the internet. I wanted to find out what Aljazeera had said about a particular story but I didn't have the web address. I did what anyone else would do, entered Aljazeera (actually Al Jazeera, I'm an ignorant westerner) into a search engine. It's not the first time I've done this but this time I noticed something odd; there seem to be two Aljazeera english websites. One is and the other is (I'm not sure I'd recommend this second one, read on first).

It's not that unusual so I presumed that they were two sites from the Aljazeera TV company. Now that I've had a closer look, I'm not so sure. Neither site appears to refer to the other and they seem to be based in different countries. looked the more likely candidate but I'm no expert. In times of confusion, I tend to refer back to a trusted source so I looked up the BBC website and found a story with a link to
Now I can confidently say that this is the official site of the Aljazeera TV company.

I still don't know what the other site is. It could be a sister site to or it could be something else. Now that I've thought about it I have a theory but I'll keep it to myself for the moment. I had linked to this other site in an early post but have just added an edit to reflect this earlier confusion and direct my imaginary reader to instead.

Edit - I didn't publish it tomorrow, date changed, oops.

A Short Diary Post

Insommnia strikes
Last night I couldn't sleep. I tried a long slow walk at around 1am, and again at around 2.30am. Then I tried a hot bath. Then I took off my NRT patch. It is day 16 without cancer sticks. Can I say week 3? I think I can. By 4am I decided to give up. I switched on the TV and flicked channels. I ended up watching Fox News on Sky. I'm not sure how I thought this would help me sleep, I was tired and not thinking clearly. (I don't have Sky at my flat but this house does. It is a bone of contention as my attempts to convert the owner to Freeview have, so far, failed. I've got an old On Digital box at my flat which gets me BBC News 24 and a random selection of other Freeview channels.) Eventually, at around 7am, I fell asleep on the sofa. I'd have to say that I'm not feeling fully up to speed today.

On a more positive note, I have seen some very funny stuff since I switched on the PC this afternoon. Some links coming once I've had something to eat. (Not that the sites in question need any links from me. More an acknowledgement of stuff which made me lol.) I may well spend much of the evening trying to design a poster for the first time. It could go horribly wrong but I'll never know if I don't give it a go.

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Cheap Shot (by me).

Once in a while, someone says something so stupid that I can't resist a cheap shot at it. Today is such a day.
It follows on from Tory Idiots which I wrote last week. It is amusing enough that Howard Flight seems determined to keep this story in the news by refusing to go quietly, but it is Michael Howard's statement today which I can't let pass without comment.

Explaining the reason for the sacking of Mr Flight:
"It is about the suggestion that the Conservative Party is saying one thing before an election and intends to do something else afterwards. That is not the case."
Michael Howard, BBC report.

Oh dear. I like to try to keep an eye on the news and I've never heard the Conservative's say anything like this:
"After the election, and facing another 5 years in opposition, the Conservative party will contend yet another round of messy infighting. This will be followed by a bitter leadership contest."
Does this mean that every member of the party will be stepping down?

I told you it was a cheap shot. Still, I don't think many people will take issue with this post on May 6th. I won't delete it so feel free to come back and gloat if I'm wrong.

Big Stick, Little Ball

I Like America
Part 3 of an as yet undetermined number of posts in which I attempt to counter the notion that being against Mr Bush means that you must also be against America and instead promote the notion that being against Mr Bush means being against Mr Bush, against money equals power, against the “War on Terror”, and against the “War in Iraq”.

I like:

That surprised you. I do. We get live games on Ch 5 (I think it's called "five" now but that just looks stupid). It is an interesting game. I couldn't tell you how to pitch a curve ball but I could probably explain a sacrifice fly if I had to. At a push I could even tell you the difference between RBI and slugging statistics.

My Politics

This is a short version of longer post which I am struggling to write. It's unlikely to be clever and it certainly won't be pretty. It is really just a statement of where I'm coming from. Unless you really, really want to know, I wouldn't bother with this. Read another post instead. This one will probably be deleted if I ever finish the longer version. It's not easy to explain what you believe in a logical, consistent, and structured post. I know what I think, but that's not much use to anyone but me. This is going to be dull. Anyway, here goes.


The first thing is that I think the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system isn't good.
The 2001 UK election results show one reason why I don't like it.
Out of 659 seats:
Labour: 413 seats, 62.6% of the seats with 40.7% of votes cast.
Conservatives: 166 seats, 25.2% of seats with 31.7% of votes cast
Lib Dems: 52 seats, 7.9% of seats with 18.3% of votes cast.
Others: work it out. This is a short version so I'm not going to.

It doesn't look very democratic. It gives a disproportionate number of seats to the most popular party. It leads to situations like "President Blair" having absolute power with only 40% of voters electing him. It means that if you live in a safe seat and you want to vote for another candidate, well, you'd be better off going down the pub. Your vote is unlikely to make any difference. I still think you should vote because it's never going to change if you don't.

I'd rather we had a Proportional Representation (PR) system. All votes would count. There would be no "President Blair". Parties would have to cooperate because there wouldn't be an overall majority in parliament (unless something really odd happened). It would take some of the "yah boo" out of politics. I know PR has its problems. I don't even want to start discussing the various forms because:
a) I'd have to look it all up.
b) It is very dull political theory.
The general principle is more democratic than FPTP though. There are other problems; coalition governments tend to be more unstable and small unpleasant parties (I'm thinking BNP) might get a few seats. Overall, I think the benefits outweigh the problems.


It has become accepted that the free market system leads to better economic growth than other systems. Fair enough, but does money actually make anyone happy? Ask a rich person. There are more than enough resources to provide a comfortable standard of living for everyone on the planet. Instead, the current system has a few very wealthy people and millions living in poverty. I don't find this acceptable. I don't have the answer but I know that the current system is unfair, and that our prosperity in the West is based on the exploitation of people in developing countries. It isn't up for discussion. I know enough economics to know this is a fact. I'd read "Globalization and its Discontents" by Joseph Stiglitz (one time economic advisor to President Clinton) before you even try to disagree.

Another major problem with the current system is the formation of Oligopolies. This is a growing phenomenon. Some markets: fuel, washing powder (they're all made by the same companies, look at the labels), supermarkets, banks, and lots of others I can't think of right now. An oligopolist market often distorts the competition principles which are supposed to keep prices low. Power becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few companies. Collusion is illegal in many countries but large oligopolistic companies will always have a large incentive to cheat the system and set prices together with their "competitors". A general point also needs to be made. The perfect market conditions, which proponents of the free market treat as a theoretical holy grail, rarely exist in the real world.

To summarise this, I would prefer to sacrifice economic growth in order to bring about a fairer society. I'd pay more tax if that's what it takes. The current system is, I believe, unstable. At the moment, life expectancy varies hugely between the rich and the poor. In the richest countries people can expect to live for twice as long as those in the poorest countries. Faced with those circumstances, wouldn't you want to immigrate to a richer country, preferably with your family?
As I said before, I don't claim to have all the answers but I do know that this imbalance cannot be allowed to continue.

Only governments can do this. Large multinational corporations only have a responsibility towards their shareholders. They want to make money, it's what they do. This is why it is so important that the free market is not allowed to run rampant. Regulations and taxes must be enforced and used to balance out the huge inequalities in the system. If that leads to slow economic growth, I'll happily sleep in my bed knowing that everyone else in the world also has a bed to sleep in.

This is an ugly summary of things I feel strongly about. It is not complete by any means. There are a lot of other points which I'll try to add to the post I'm struggling to write. I hope that this gives anyone who has read it a basic understanding of where I'm coming from. If you want to know more, the best thing is probably to read some of my posts. If you still want to know more, what are you, some kind of stalker? I'm joking, I guess I don't expect anyone to read all this. Email me if you have done and you want to ask me something. I'll be so surprised that I'll probably send you a really polite reply.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Blair avoids the Issue

I was recently speaking to a former senior civil servant about the prime minister's relationship with the truth. "Has he got one?" he asked. He was deadly serious.
John Ware in the Guardian.

Since the leaking of the government censored section of the resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, I have been trying to find a statement from Tony Blair on the issue. I predicted a response here, and had to admit that I was wrong here.

The story broke on Wednesday. This is the only reference I have found so far:
"I have long since realised there are groups of people who, however many times we debate this or answer questions, will find new ways to reformulate it with so-called shock-horror revelations - and to have a rerun of the arguments. The only argument that is important is: was the decision right or wrong?"
Tony Blair in the Guardian.

In my opinion it doesn't really address the accusation that Mr Blair is a liar. I have to admit that I haven't searched every news source so I might have missed a more considered response. I would ask my imaginary reader to email me if they have seen or read any responses from Mr Blair concerning this issue.

Blair said that the "only argument that is important is: was the decision right or wrong?" This would be a very good defence if Mr Blair had used the same argument for the invasion before and after it happened. He didn't. The problem is not whether the world is better off without Saddam. The problem is that Mr Blair lied about the reasons for the invasion. Whether he lied in good faith is a matter of opinion but the fact that he lied is not.

"I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go."
G.W. Bush, April 2002, interview with Trevor McDonald.

"I'm with you."
Tony Blair in conversation with G.W. Bush on the subject of Iraq, 7th September, 2002.
Both cited by Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, p119 & p178.

"No one wants military conflict. The whole purpose of putting this before the UN is to demonstrate the united determination of the international community to resolve this in the way it should have been resolved years ago: through a proper process of disarmament under the UN."
Tony Blair, 24th September 2002, Hansard.

How good was Who?

The new series of Doctor Who started on BBC 1 last night. My childhood memories of watching Doctor Who are partly clouded by the sofa I used to hide behind. I still watched it every Saturday and looked forward to the next episode in the way that only a fanatic schoolboy can. It is, I believe, an experience shared by many people my age. I don't watch much TV these days, my attention span is variable at best, but I made the effort to be sitting in front of the box at 7pm with a cup of tea. Was I disappointed?

The surprisingly straightforward answer is no. It was the business. I was going to try to explain why it is so good but I don't need to. I read Who's back on What You Can Get Away With. What point is there in me trying to write what I thought when it's already been written. Read it. It's a lot better than what I would have come up with. If you didn't see Doctor Who yesterday, well why not? I'll be watching every Saturday for the rest of the series. If you know me, don't phone me when it's on, I won't be pleased.

On a marginally related issue, so far I've only ever linked to posts which I like (with one early, and rather bizarre exception, which I've since deleted). If I read a blog I don't agree with or don't like, well, I don't feel any need to point it out. That's not to say I'll never do it, but in general I don't see what use it would be. I have a question about this and I can't decide on an answer. The question is, does this approach mean I'm a sycophantic creep, or does it mean I'm a nice friendly guy? I guess I'm not in the best position to make the call.

Mr Bush in Support of Democracy

The US government has decided to sell F-16 fighters to Pakistan. Details are available from the Times, the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Aljazeera.

All of these stories make it clear that the government of India, the most populous democratic nation in the world, is not pleased with this decision. Tensions between India and Pakistan have been well documented. These include 3 wars since WW2, and the aquisition of nuclear weapons by both countries. In 2002, tensions were particularly high but another war was narrowly avoided. It could be argued that providing military equipment to either side is unlikely to be helpful in defusing the tension between the neighbouring nations, although this is open to debate.

What is not open to debate are the democratic credentials of the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. Wikipedia has a useful article on the subject. Here are some salient, and undisputed, facts about the President of Pakistan. General Musharraf became President in 1999 after the army had removed the democratically elected government in a bloodless coup. The BBC has full coverage of this story. In late 2003, he promised opposition parties that he would resign his position as head of the army at the end of 2004. In September 2004, he stated that he would not fulfil this commitment, citing reasons of national security. He has committed to full democratic elections in 2007, some 8 years after the coup which brought him to power.

Although Musharraf's democratic credentials are flimsy at best, he is an ally of the United States in the "war on terror". The government of the US has been accused of double standards in it's foreign policy. It has been said that the Bush regime is more concerned with other nations conforming to the wishes of the US government, and less concerned with issues of democracy and basic human rights. Mr Bush would deny this catagorically. In this case, I believe, the facts provide their own conclusions.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Tory Idiots

I spend a lot of time blogging about the Labour Party, and Mr Blair in particular. This is because I don't think the Tories have any realistic chance of winning the next election. I'd rather everyone voted for the Liberal Democrats. I don't have any connection to the party but I've always voted for them, mostly because I think the FPTP system is not very clever. The Liberal Democrats support Proportional Representation and so do I. I know PR comes with it's own problems but can anyone honestly say that they are happy with the curent system? I'm not. So, I think that the only way to genuinely change the way UK politics operates is to vote LD. They aren't perfect; the Telegraph has a summary of the voting rights for prisoners issue, which Mr Kennedy botched badly. At least he's more consistent on the issue of Iraq, unlike the Tories rather bizarre position.

Labour's main pre-election tactic, so far, is to tell us that it would be a lot worse if the Conservatives won. I can't disagree with that. Just in case anyone was starting to doubt this, the Tories helpfully reminded us just how hopeless they are. I call the first witness, Mr Howard Flight. All I can do is laugh. Idiots.

I've been thinking about this today and I've thought of another explanation. Perhaps this is actually a very clever strategy. Blair keeps banging on about how bad the Tories are, and the Tories take the wind out of his sails by doing exactly the same thing. Blair can't say "Vote for me, you wouldn't want the Tories to be elected, would you?" because it's a ridiculous notion. "The Tories winning? Don't be stupid", people will say. The thought amused me, but in the end I don't think it's true. I actually do think they are idiots.

If you disagree, consider this:
Day 1. Tories unexpectedly win the 2005 election.
Day 2. Nothing gets done. Everyone is hungover after celebrating their surprise victory.
Day 3. The Conservative Party disintegrates because they still can't agree what to do about Europe.
Day 4. The end.
Renegotiate the terms of the UK's membership of the EU? Right, that'll be easy.

Bush Funds Reconstruction Efforts

The Washington Post has an article today about a new office which is being set up by the State Department. It is called the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.
An extract:
"When President Bush sent Congress an $82 billion supplemental request last month for emergency funding for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it included $17 million in start-up funds for a State Department office that would help manage the aftermath of war and stabilize countries torn by civil conflict."

$82 billion? Supplemental? I'm sure I read somewhere that the Republicans were opposed to big government. I must have misread it.
Anyway, of that $82 billion, $17 million is to go to the new department. If my understanding of the US definition of billion is correct, that makes it around 2% for the new department . I'm going to speculate that most of the remaining 98% is earmarked for the US armed forces. I'm going to speculate further that this demonstrates the degree to which Mr Bush is committed to the welfare of Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

Illegal War Update

In a post on Wednesday, I predicted how Mr Blair might respond to the release of the memo which the government didn't want us to read. I'm going to have to admit that I was wrong. Mr Blair doesn't seem to have responded at all. In a convenient coincidence, Prime Minister's questions did not take place yesterday. It was a Thursday and Mr Blair was in the House of Commons, (I'm sure, I saw him on BBC Parliament) but apparently, he was too busy. It would probably have been the last PMQ's before the general election but it was not to be. Shame, I'm sure he wanted to set the record straight.

You'd think journalists would be bound to ask him for a statement on the issue. If you saw Newsnight yesterday, you'll know what happened to Michael Crick when he tried it. Don't worry if you missed it. If it is still today, Friday, you can watch it online via the link. If it isn't still today, here is a handy summary. Blair was doing a PR visit. Mr Crick asked him if he would make a statement. Mr Blair ignored him. Crick tried to follow Mr Blair. The PM's officials ejected Crick from the building. A truly edifying sight, I'm sure you'll agree. Open government at it's very best.

At the end of his report, Michael Crick suggested a solution. Perhaps, the full legal advice of the Attorney General will be leaked out. Given his record, I'm hoping he already has an inkling that this will happen. We shall see. Another possible solution, reported by the BBC, is that the Information Commissioner will conclude that it is in the public interest for the document to be released. Fingers crossed.

Robin Cook has written an article in the Guardian today on the same issue. Don't let the fact that people have suggested that he looks like a crazed ginger dwarf deter you. On the invasion in Iraq, his warnings have been borne out by the facts rather better than the PM's. In fact, I'd say that he is probably the most Honorable Member to sit on the government side of the House. Despite the convention, I'd suggest that there are no longer any Honourable Members sitting down at the front.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Defence Committee Report

The House of Commons Defence Committee has published a report today. I've been watching news stories and reading about this, so I didn't spend too long considering the report earlier in the day. Then a thought struck me; wouldn't it be just like the Blair government to manipulate the media so that the Defence Committee report missed the headlines. On reflection, I've realised that it was an overly cynical thought, even for me, and even though it concerns the government of a liar. Still, if you missed the report, you can read about it at BBC online. Or, if you really want to, you can read the full report from the Defence Committee. I didn't, but you might want to.

I did read the Key Planning Misjudgements. There are five listed by the committee. Here is a short extract from each of them:
1. First, instead of the grateful, amenable population, which the Coalition had apparently hoped to find, many Iraqis sought actively to take advantage of the power vacuum that followed the combat phase.
2. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Coalition underestimated the insurgency—or, at least, its potential.
3. Third, the Coalition seemed to be unable to decide what to do about the Iraqi military and security forces.
4. Fourth, the Coalition did not appear to plan adequately for the scope of the reconstruction task that lay before it nor did it seem to realise how quickly it would be expected to act to ameliorate the situation.
5. Finally, the Coalition underestimated the number of troops required to meet the challenges of Iraq's post-conflict transition.

These misjudgements do not seem to be consistent with the humanitarian mission which, we are told, was a key objective of the invasion of Iraq. Of course it is easy to be wise after the event, but I can clearly remember opponents of the war arguing that there would be a breakdown in law and order in Iraq if the Coalition invaded.

At the time of writing, the Iraq Body Count organisation reports 17,186 civilians killed in the military intervention in Iraq.

The Straw Man

In yesterday's post, there is a link to the Channel 4 News report which revealed parts of a memo that the government would rather we didn't read. It is difficult to understand why they wouldn't want us to read it, unless you accept the accusation that the government is attempting to hide the truth from the public. I'm listening to Radio 4 right now and the Attorney General has just stated that it was "his view" which was expressed in the one page A4 document presented to Cabinet and subsequently made public. Apart from being a questionable statement, this avoids a main point of concern. The real issue is that it has now become undeniable that there were other views on the legality of the invasion, not least from the Foreign Office legal department. Did the government make it clear that the Attorney General's personal view was not supported by members of the Foreign Office legal department and that the legality of the invasion was open to interpretation? Was the debatable nature of the legal position passed on to the Cabinet, to MP's, and to the public? It would appear that it was not.

The BBC report on Jack Straw's response to this accusation makes for interesting reading. I can only conclude that the full legal advice, which Mr Straw still refuses to make public, is so damning to the government that they'd prefer to let this controversy run on into the general election campaign. If there is nothing to hide, the release of the full legal advice in this one exception case, would bring this difficult episode to a close. Instead, the government chooses to keep the advice hidden and leave themselves open to more accusations of dishonesty.

Diary Post 9

Not smoking - Day 11 (just).
I went to my flat yesterday. Took the bus into town which cost £2 each way. It's about 8 miles from here, (read some other diary posts, I'm not at my flat very much right now) so it cost £4 to travel 16 miles. Is this good value? I'm not sure. I really do need to get my bike up and running again.

I'm going for lots of walks and this has led to an odd development; the cat has decided that he likes to come with me. I start to put on my shoes and he gets up and waits at the door. I go out and he happily trots along right behind me. I've only gone about a mile away from the house with him because I don't want him to get lost. Is this normal behaviour for a cat? He's about 15 years old and he's only recently started to do it. I've checked all my pockets and I'm not carrying any meat. Weird, but it's worth it just to see other people's faces as the two of us walk past.

I had been managing to sleep at normal times but that's gone out the window this week. I blame the nicotine patches, the lesser of two evils. It's coming up to 2am and I don't feel like sleeping. Might take the cat out for another walk, I'll see once I get up off this chair. My PC, which is upstairs, still refuses to be nice to me. Limited or no connectivity - what's that all about? I've installed Firefox on this PC but not as the default browser so IE still makes an occasional, unrequested appearance. Apply suitable STD metaphor of your own choosing.

That's it. I'm going to put my recent posts into my index pages and switch this thing off. (I'm sure there are easier ways to archive posts by category, but I'm kind of happy I did it myself. Not elegant, but it works after a fashion.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

SIS to be Reformed

First of all, it is not MI6. The organisation is called the Secret Intelligence Service, or sometimes the SIS. It's pedantic, but I'm sure it's true. MI5 does intelligence work inside the UK and the SIS does it abroad. Look at this link to the SIS, actually no, I don't have the bottle. Look it up on a search engine instead (try "Secret Intelligence Service"). Even the SIS has to say that they are "commonly known as MI6" on their recruitment page. That building that you always see on the news, you know, the one beside the river that looks a bit like a wedding cake, that building is not the headquarters of MI6 because there is no MI6! It might be the headquarters of the SIS, although if you were to go into reception and ask them, they wouldn't tell you. A quick check and I find that it was called MI6 (Military Intelligence, section 6) until 1922 when it became the SIS. For doubters, look at this picture on Wikipedia. See what they call it?

Rant over. I feel better for writing that. I'm still not smoking (day 10). Can you tell?

So, the government has announced that the SIS and other intelligence services are to be reformed following the Butler report. Read about it here.
The BBC on the Butler report quotes Mr Blair as responding to the report by saying:
"The evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was indeed less certain and less well-founded than was stated at the time."

Stated by who, I wonder? Mr Blair, the liar, that's who. The intelligence services had provided any number of caveats as Lord Butler noted. Mr Blair also said he took "full responsibility" for the errors. Oh well, once a liar, always a liar.

The Illegal War

The letter of resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, dated 18th March 2003, has been released by the Foreign Office with one paragraph blanked out. Channel 4 News has obtained the deleted text. I'm sure that Mr Blair, the liar, will deny that there is any controversy in this story.
This is what I'm expecting to hear tomorrow from Tony Bliar:
"Look, we've already been over this. The Attorney General's legal advice was extensive, detailed and authoratitive. Let's put the past behind us and look the future."

I don't think I will. I'm still looking at the fact that the Prime Minister committed the country to an illegal invasion of Iraq after (not quite true, it was actually before) putting pressure on the Attorney General to fudge his legal advice. I can't speak for anyone else, but I won't be looking to the future until Mr Blair has resigned or been removed from office. I'm sick and tired of having a liar running the country.

To quote from Monty Python - "You can put it in the hands of your Attorney, but it'll never stand up in court!"
The International Criminal Court beckons, Mr Blair.

Land of the Free

The Washington Post yesterday reported that references to FBI concerns over interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay had been deleted from a memo before it's public release:
" FBI agents and officials had complained about the shackling of detainees to the floor for periods exceeding 24 hours, without food and water; the draping of a detainee in an Israeli flag; and the use of growling dogs to scare detainees."

The unedited memo has now been released by Democrat Senator Carl M. Levin. The references had been removed by the Justice Department who now seem unwilling to explain why this had been done. The Defense Department have said that interrogation techniques have been reviewed in response to concerns from other government departments.

Today's Washington Post has another article concerning the Guantanamo Bay detainees. The Pentagon is still trying to transfer many detainees into the custody of other nations. These other nations may, or may not, use interrogation techniques which the US Defense Department can no longer employ. Previous mention of this can be found here. The federal judge continues to resist the Pentagons plans.

In an article on another issue, The Guardian provides more evidence of US freedoms at work. Have a look at the list of people refused entry to the US since the start of the "War on Terror". I don't think I'll be booking a holiday to the US this year. I'm sure they'd let me in but it's probably best not to take the chance just in case.

Religion and Politics

Religion is not something I am comfortable writing about, although I did try it once before here. I don't think that religion has a place in politics. In the UK, religion has normally been considered a personal matter and not a political one. Alistair Campbell was once quoted as saying "I'm sorry, we don't do God." in response to a question from a reporter.

It seems that this is changing. The BBC headline Blair shuns US religion politics should set my mind at rest. But it doesn't. The Guardian headline on the same issue is Blair praises faith's place in society, but not politics. This should stop me worrying. But it doesn't. Mr Blair has been speaking to a Christian group about the role of religion in British society. To be fair, I should mention that both Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy have already spoken to this same Christian group. Now, I'm really worried.

I often write about events related to US politics, and this story is a good example of why I do this. I'm probably stating the obvious (even more than usual, I mean) when I say that US politics is normally a good indicator of the future direction of UK politics. If we are to have a religious debate as part of the general election campaign this year, then I'd say, if anything, that this process is happening faster than ever.

Another article in the Guardian, For Bush, science is a dirty word, gives us some idea of where this might lead. Now, I'm extremely worried.

I looked out my copy of The Salmon Of Doubt by Douglas Adams as an antidote to my worries. It contains an interview with a group called "American Atheists" which I've read before but which I still find thoughtful and funny. I was going to quote from the interview as a counterpoint to all this talk of religion but I've decided not to. Instead, I'll quote this question and answer which are printed immediately after it:

What are the benefits of speaking to your fans via email?

It's quicker, easier, and involves less licking.

I feel a bit better now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Bandwagon Update

Yesterday, I posted this. Now, I'm not a professional writer or a journalist, (yes, I know it's obvious) but I though it was a pretty funny way to say what I thought about the initiatives launched yesterday. I thought I might be in a minority of one but then I found this:
Howard Bandwagon Watch.
I had to double-check and it seems that this really is on the official Labour Party website. Really. I'm not joking. It is. Honestly. Google for Labour and look in the latest news section. See.
I've had a quick look at the Conservative website but they don't have anything similar that I can find. You're missing a trick there, Michael.

I'm tempted to suggest that this is because someone at Labour HQ checked to see what I'd written with the link to their site yesterday, but that is just my ego talking. Back in the box, Mr Ego, there's nothing for you here. Besides, you'd think that they'd have emailed me to say thanks if they'd got this idea from me.

Obviously, I don't really think that they've ripped me off. I do really think that the words "kettle, black, the, pot, calling, the" might somehow be rearranged to express what I think about Labour's amusing new addition to their website.
Oh, and I think that what I wrote is much funnier than the dross they've come up with. It's hardly an objective opinion but there you are.

Mr Bush and the NPT

Last week, I wrote this post. Yesterday, I read an article in the Guardian by Ian Black on the same subject. I'll quote the first line from the article:
"Iran is offering to send George Bush truckloads of pistachio nuts if he will dismantle America's huge nuclear arsenal".

As I said before, I don't want Iran or the US (or anyone else) to have nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, this response from the Iranian government gets my wholehearted approval.

Monday, March 21, 2005

It's Cheap and it's Nasty

I rarely manage to find the time to browse the London newspapers. Watching the news today, I realise that I must have missed an advertisement (maybe 2) in one of these papers. I can only speculate that it must have looked something like this:

Political party seeks bandwagons for use in the upcoming general election campaign. In particular, we are looking for bandwagons which are popular, easy to understand, and which can be summed up in a slogan of less than 10 words. All offers will be considered based on these criteria. Decency and morality are not a requirement. Owners of suitable bandwagons should apply in writing in the first instance.

This advert must have appeared some time ago because I've seen the first results of it today.
The Conservatives launched a new initiative.
Details are available from The Conservative Party or the BBC.
The Tories are going to get tough on illegal gypsy camps if they win the election.

This link to The Sun newspaper might give some indication as to what is happening here. Might I suggest that Mr Howard just tells Mr Murdoch that he loves him and that he wants love in return? I've always found that honesty is the best policy in any relationship.

Not to be outdone, Labour announced their own initiative. The quality of school meals is high in the agenda. The BBC website headline is School dinners 'gimmick' denied.
Jamie Oliver started this one (not that I'm trying to blame him, he actually does seems to care about what children eat at school).

Unfortunately, I have the feeling that this won't be my last post of this type in the run up to the election. In the interest of fairness, if anyone has a Liberal Democrat bandwagon (or indeed one from any other party) they'd like me to mention, just let me know.

I wasn't going to add this but I can't resist. I was watching The Wright Stuff on Ch5 this morning (see why I wasn't going to mention it?) and they had a viewers poll:
Who would you rather have running the country, Tony Blair or Jamie Oliver?
Result: 10% Tony Blair, 90% Jamie Oliver. Not scientific, not relevant, but it's something to think about all the same. Pukka!

News from the North

Ever since I posted News from Aberdeen I've felt a little bit guilty. I often read The Press and Journal newspaper and I probably did them a slight injustice in that post.

Today, I read a story in the paper about Raj Jandoo, Scotland's first Asian advocate. It is entitled Government blamed for creating fear of ethnic minorities. The story is also reported in the Scoland on Sunday. Mr Jandoo has been found guilty of breach of the peace and acting in a manner likely to endanger the flight from Edinburgh to Stornoway. He was fined £2,500 and it is likely that his career has been ruined. According to both reports this is a result of these actions:
He said "These bloody repressed people up here, they think I am a terrorist going to bomb their plane" when speaking on his phone before the plane took off.
He said "I hope we have no problems with bombs today, eh?" to an air stewardess while on the flight.
He rummaged in an overhead locker after the seatbelt sign had been illuminated as the plane prepared to land.

I don't think any of these actions were a good idea, but to fine Mr Jandoo £2,500 hardly seems like a proportionate reaction from the courts. I'd have to say that the "war on terror" is to blame yet again. Common sense appears to have been abandoned in favour of reactionary hysteria.

A final point. A relative of mine, white like me, travels by plane every weekend and often rummages in the overhead lockers when he should be sitting down. Normally, nothing happens. Occassionally, a steward tells him to sit down. He's never been arrested for endangering his flight though.

A Plug for a Plug

A couple of weeks ago I read that it was a good idea to have your blog listed on blog directory sites. I'm interested in learning more about blogging so I submitted my blog to one of these services to see what would happen. To be honest, I'd forgotten that I'd done this until today. I've just received an email informing me that my blog has been approved and is now listed (each blog is manually checked for suitability before being listed).

It's a free service which suits me down to the ground. There is a polite request to provide a mention and a link to the directory site on your blog which seems fair enough. Click on Blogwise - blog directory to see for yourself if you're interested.

Diary Post 8

I bough some chocolate mini eggs today. This is the first time I've caved in and bought chocolate which was not FairTrade since I wrote Diary Post 1 at the beginning of March. In my defence, I am 8 miles outside of Aberdeen today so I would have had to take a bus into town to buy FairTrade. I'll be back in Aberdeen tomorrow so I'll be able to stock up. I'm also still not smoking (7 days and 15 minutes since my last cigarette).This is why I needed chocolate so desperately. I admit it's not a very good defence, I just need to be more organised in future.

Another Confession
OK, this is hard to admit. It's a flaw in my character which I just can't overcome. Today, I watched the Formula 1 race from Malaysia. And I enjoyed it. I know it is a disgusting waste of money and I know that motor sports are bad for the environment but I just can't give it up. I even know that 9 out of 10 races are dull and uneventful but still I watch it. I've always loved the feeling of travelling fast and F1 cars go faster than any other racing cars in the world (IRL fans take note - I'm talking about driving round tracks with left and right turns here). I've been watching these races since I was about 18 and I rarely miss one. I've never been to see a race live, but if I'm honest that's because it's so expensive. So there it is, conclusive proof that I'm not a bearded leftie. It's no defense but I did sell my car last weekend. Please don't hate me.

Good Living
I'm still drinking water instead of brand name cola and I've converted 2 households to FairTrade coffee and tea. I bought some Make Poverty History wristbands which selected people are now wearing. I've been sorting out my finances; I'm going to switch to an ethical bank, possibly the Cooperative Bank, but I'll need to do a bit of research first. I'm also recycling more than I used to. Overall, I think I am starting to overcome my apathy. I'll keep working at it.

(There are far too many " I" references in this post, what am I, an egomaniac? It's hard to believe I wasn't going to speak about myself at all when I started this blog.)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Blair, Iraq, and WMD

I have just finished watching tonights Panorama on BBC1. The programme suggested that Mr Blair was not entirely honest about the intelligence reports with regard to Saddam's WMD. I wanted to check the facts for myself so I looked up the speach Mr Blair gave in the House of Commons on the 24th September 2002. It poses a number of questions regarding the honesty of the Prime Minister.
The full text is available online via this link to Hansard.

Mr Blair said:
" His [Saddam's] weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing." Is Blair a liar?

Mr Blair said:
"The intelligence picture that they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative." Is Blair a liar?

Mr Blair said:
"It [the dossier] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes,". Is Blair a liar?

Mr Blair said:
"On chemical weapons, the dossier shows that Iraq continues to produce chemical agents for chemical weapons". Is Blair a liar?

Mr Blair said:
"In respect of biological weapons, again, production of biological agents has continued". Is Blair a liar?

Mr Blair said:
"We know that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa". Is Blair a liar?

Mr Blair said:
"No one wants military conflict. The whole purpose of putting this before the UN is to demonstrate the united determination of the international community to resolve this in the way it should have been resolved years ago: through a proper process of disarmament under the UN." Is Blair a liar?

I'm not going to answer these questions here. Instead, I'll quote the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which said that "The ISG report, published on 6 October 2004 confirmed that there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq."

(I may have to edit this post as I would like to add a number of links. I'll need to check whether these links will be suitable before I proceed.)

Blair or Howard?

First off, let me make clear what I would like to happen in the general election.
Ideally, I'd like the Liberal Democrats to win. Blair or Howard? I'd answer no and no. I don't want either to be the next Prime Minister, and I suspect that a majority of UK citizens who are eligible to vote would agree. (Remember that 25-40% won't vote at all.)

Realistically, I'd rather have Labour in power than the Tories. The UK has already moved too far to the political right for my liking. I want to be in the middle of a broad debate. I don't want to vote Liberal Democrat because they are the most left wing mainstream party, I want to vote for them because they are the party in the centre and because I support Proportional Representation. So, what I'd like is for Labour to win but with a much smaller majority than they currently enjoy. And I'd like the Liberal Democrats to have a lot more MP's in parliament.

This still means that Tony Blair would be Prime Minister which, for me, is a problem. Tony Blair is a... sums up my feelings on the subject. In case you don't have time to read it, I'll say again that I believe Tony Blair is a liar. I thought he should have resigned when it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq. Mr Blair wants people to stop talking about Iraq but I, and many others, feel very strongly that he is a liar, and as such I don't think he deserves a third term. Blair won't resign because he believes that Labour will win the election anyway, and he's probably right. I find this very frustrating.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the prospect of a "Martin Bell" type independent candidate standing against Blair in his Sedgefield constituency.
A letter in the Guardian got me thinking about this. I also read this article: Blair may face Sedgefield challenger, Guardian, 02:03:05. To me, this seems like the best solution as Blair is defending a massive majority. An independent candidate has a much better chance of achieving something than the Liberal Democrats or the Tories. See Sedgefield result, 2001, UKPOL magazine.

So far, I have read about 4 independent candidates who are intending to stand against Blair. I list them here in no particular order:
David Shayler, Ex-MI5 agent to run against Blair
Jonathan Cockburn, The Blair Must Go Party
Cherri BlairOut-Gilham, The Blair Out Party
Reg Keys, Red Cap's father to take on Blair

I'm not giving my opinion on the 4 candidates. I genuinely do hope that one of them can force Blair out of office.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

My Nationality

Earlier this week, I saw Gordon Brown talking about what it means to be British. I don't want to write about the politics of it, but for someone who lives in Scotland it is an interesting question.
I am all of these:


I was born in Aberdeen although I haven't always lived here. I lived in The Netherlands for 4 years. I do understand it when another Aberdonian says something like "Fit like min?" or "Da dee at ye bam!" Most Scots would understand but, I suspect, many others who speak English would not. So I'm an Aberdonian, 29 of my 33 years have been spent here.

I cheer the Scotland football team when they play. I suffer the agonies and disappointments which go hand in hand with supporting Scotland. I don't celebrate their victories often, and if you've seen Scotland play recently you'll understand why. My father tells me we used to have a good team but it's hard to believe. I try not to support "whoever England is playing" because I don't think it's a very healthy attitude. Sometimes I can't help myself though. I blame Kevin Keegan but that's a long story. Anyway, I'm Scottish.

I can speak about the weather - On Sunday it was snowing in Aberdeen but on Wednesday it was 17 degrees celsius which is unseasonally warm for this time of year. I support the GB team at the Olympic Games. I know most of the words to "God save the Queen" which, unless I'm very badly informed, is the British national anthem. (It's an unrelated point but why does it get sung at England games? Shouldn't you English people have your own anthem?) It says I'm British on my passport. So, I'm British.

Not just because Britain is in the EU, although I'm one of those people who actually think that this is a good idea. I also say this because I used to live in The Netherlands (I actually didn't live in Holland which is technically only a part of The Netherlands, I lived north of Holland in Assen.)
And two of my relatives work in Europe, one in Germany and one in Belgium. So, I'm European.

World Citizen
I think a lot of British people don't really appreciate just how contrived countries are. I put it down to the fact that Britain is an island. I could drone on about the theory and history of the formation of nations but nobody would read it . Instead, just try to find a map of Europe from around 1400AD. There was no Germany, no Italy, no Belgium, and no Britain. Or try to find a map of the USA from 200 years ago. It's so small, isn't it? The point is that many people believe that nations are well defined and permanent. The US and UK governments, as well as many others, heavily promote this idea to their populations but it's just not true. The US didn't exist 600 years ago and it probably won't exist 600 years from now either. The US was created with guns, railways, and treaties, all the work of European settlers. Just think about it. Because of war or agreement some people have live in more than one country without ever moving. Nations are not permanent. Borders change, some nations cease to exist, and others are created. A nation is not a fundamental truth, it is a political creation.

So when someone says to me "I think that we should use our money to help British people instead of spending our money trying to help people in other countries" I get angry. I ask them what it is about a British person that makes them more worthy of help than anyone else. What is it about a new born British baby that makes them more important than a baby born in Iraq, or Nigeria or Cambodia? I can't see a difference. A life is a life. So I'm a world citizen. I don't want anyone to have to live in the abject poverty which is so common in developing countries. The worst part is that the planet could easily support the current world population to a decent standard. That is why I have a "Make Poverty History" banner up there in the top right corner of my blog.

OK, I sneaked in some politics. I admit it. That's because it's important, especially this year. We can be the generation who forces the world system to change. I'm intending to go to the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh on 2nd July to coincide with the G8 meeting in Gleneagles. It will be the first demonstration I've ever been to. I'm sure I won't be the only one. And every person at the demonstration will be a world citizen, whatever their nationality.

Conratulations to Wales

I've just watched the rugby union game between Ireland and Wales. I just want to say Congratulations to Wales for winning the Grand Slam after 28 years.

As a Scotsman I know what is like to watch your team do badly and, very occasionally, to win something. It means a lot. I can still tell you where I was when Scotland won the Grand Slam in 1990. I was in an English bar in Holland with a few mates (one of whom had his bagpipes with him). A very good day it was, especially since the English supporters had been telling us just how badly we were going to get beaten right up until the point when their team lost. I'm not one of those people who automatically support "the other team" when England plays, I've even been known to watch and support the England cricket team when they are on TV. But that day in "The Bullseye Bar" (it's in a town called Assen, I'm not making this up) was just one of those brilliant days which I'll never forget.

So, well done the Welsh! I'd love to be down there to experience the atmosphere. Good luck next year. Unfortunately it doesn't look very likely that Scotland will be challenging for the Grand Slam anytime soon. I'm about to watch Scotland against England although given Scotland's recent performances, I'm not sure if I'll be watching the whole game. I'm not a masochist.
(This post is for A.S. You know who you are. Enjoy!)

Friday, March 18, 2005

US Troop Reduction in Iraq

Unfortunately it doesn't look like this will be happening anytime soon.
The Washington Post does report that General Cody has said that there would be a reduction in US troops in Iraq by early 2006. I read the article and I noticed that there was absolutely no mention of consultation with the soon to be formed Iraqi government.
The New York Times article does have one mention of the Iraqi government. At the risk of getting sued (I don't know much about copyrights but I think this is OK) I will quote from the NYT article.

General Cody said that the decision "hinged on several factors, including the security situation on the ground, the size and competence of newly trained Iraqi forces and the wishes of the new Iraqi government."
Third on the list but at least he mentioned it.

I also have to include this. General Cody's response to the question of whether US troops strength in Iraq would definitely be smaller by early 2006; "I would think so, but your definition of smaller and my definition of smaller may be different."
According to the NYT, these are the words of the US army's second ranking general.
I'm tempted to link to several definitions of smaller from various dictionaries. I don't think it's necessary. General, if you're reading this I can help you out. Smaller, you know, a lesser quantity.

Tony Blair is a....

One of the first blogs I ever stumbled upon was Bloggerheads. One day, many years in the future, I might be able to write a blog which is nearly as good as Bloggerheads. Until that distant, and possibly entirely fictional day, I'll just have to keep on trying with this one. Today there is a post called Tony Blair's pants are on fire.

I don't understand how this works exactly but I have to agree with Tim. I also believe Tony Blair is a liar. I certainly think that he was a liar about the reasons for war in Iraq. I'm sure many others in the UK also believe that Tony Blair is a liar. In fact, I'd be interested to recieve suggestions from my imaginary reader as to whether they agree with the statement that Tony Blair is a liar.

This is just my own opinion though. You shouldn't take my word for it because I'm not an expert. I don't even know what a googlebomb is. Can anyone tell me?

(If I've made another stupid mistake with this post I'd really appreciate it if someone would let me know. I have what the police might call "form" in this regard. I have to add that I really do think Tony Blair is a liar.)

Trust New Labour

Yesterday I posted New Labour, New Danger. I was trying to make the point that Labour has been systematically attacking the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in advance of the expected general election. Once upon a time Mr Blair said "Positive policies win elections not negative campaigning." It seems that he doesn't believe this anymore. He must have used his reverse gear (before it stopped working, obviously).

A story today in my BBC News email update seems to fit well with yesterdays post:
Voters 'don't trust politicians'
A BBC poll has found that 8 out of 10 voters do not trust politicians. This is hardly surprising to me or, I imagine, anyone else who lives in the UK. What I did find a bit of a surprise was what Jack Straw said at a meeting of activists in his constituency.
"He acknowledged that the public had lost faith in Labour, but suggested it could persuade people to "reinvest their trust with us" if the party could overcome Tory attempts to spread cynicism in politics."

I feel the best response to this might be to reiterate the statement on the poster unveiled yesterday by Blair and Brown.
It said "WARNING, The Tories will cut £35bn from Public Services".
This slogan was widely criticised by the Tories and by many independent commentators as it was said to be misleading.

How cynical of the Tories to cause such a fuss about a poster which is basically a lie. You tell them, Jack!

Just in case this is the first post you've read on my blog I'm going to state catagorically that I absolutely do not want the Conservatives to win this election or any other election. I want British politics moved back to the centre so I can be comfortably in the middle.

Diary Post 7

Not Smoking
4 days since my last cigarette. I'm using nicotine patches and they seem to be working pretty well. I don't even feel particularly stressed out. I won't go into great detail about what is coming out of my lungs, suffice to say it is not nice to look at.

I was watching Newsnight earlier. I've said it before but I'll say it again; I believe in the BBC. There is one slightly irritating aspect to the programme if you live up here in Scotland. At 11pm the national broadcast is rudely interupted by Newsnight Scotland. I don't want to denigrate the Scottish edition but I do want to watch the main programme till it is finished. Tonight the cut was made immediately after the "Secret plans for Iraq's oil" report. I wanted to see the discussion on this so I logged on to the website. This is not my PC (mine still won't connect to internet) and this one didn't have RealPlayer installed so I had to install that first. Once I'd done that I'd missed the discussion as it is live online. I decided to watch it later.

I did see This Week with Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo which was informative and entertaining as always (those two don't half sit close to each other). When I came back to watch Newsnight online I disovered that there was no discussion after the Iraq oil report. Oh dear. I did watch the story about the NPT so at least my efforts weren't entirely wasted.

Other stuff
I went to the bank and payed in the money I had collected for Comic Relief ; £94 in the end so I didn't quite make the £100. I also bought a new book (for £1) but I'm not saying what it is. I might say once I've finished it.

Finally, I noticed that Bush has nominated Paul Wolfowitz as President of the World Bank, no that can't be right. I've seen this on all sorts of media but surely it's some sort of elaborate hoax. I probably shouldn't put this in a diary post but I haven't had time to post it seperately and I can't let it go without mentioning it. Sometimes it is really difficult to express my feelings without swearing. Flumping mooder brooder, I don't think they're joking.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

New Labour, New Danger

"Positive policies win elections not negative campaigning." Tony Blair, 1997.

When New Labour won the 1997 general election, I have to admit that I was one of those people who felt a genuine sense of optimism. 18 years under the Conservatives was far too long and it looked as if British politics really would change for the better. Mr Blair seemed to be making a lot of sense to me and I trusted that he would be true to his word. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that Mr Blair's government has done some good work, introducing the minimum wage for example. This is not to say that I voted for New Labour mind you. As I've said before I've always thought of myself as somewhere in between and I've voted that way in every general election since I turned 18.

Today on the news I saw the press conference at which Mr Blair and Mr Brown unveiled a new pre-election poster. It is on the Labour Party website if you didn't see it. Positive campaigning?
Then I looked at the Latest News on the site. Today, 17th March 2005, I counted the various stories and found that 19 stories (titles or summaries, I didn't actually read them all, that would be silly) contained critisism of either the Tories or the Liberals. Only 7 stories did not contain such critisism in either the title or the summary. Positive campaigning?

I know that this has been remarked on before but it seems to me that this campaign is already developing into a particularly negative affair. It can only be a matter of time before a well funded, but unconnected group, starts to produce TV adverts accusing Mr Howard of being a cowardly liar during his time in Vietnam.

And, yes, I do know that I'm always complaining on this site, but then I'm not asking anyone to let me run the country. A couple of other points about the 1997 Labour manifesto. I means complaints, obviously.

Labour Party Manifesto, 1997 - We will clean up politics (courtesy of the BBC, what would I do without them.)

"We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system."

When is this happening?

"Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in government and defective policy decisions. The Scott Report on arms to Iraq revealed Conservative abuses of power. We are pledged to a Freedom of Information Act, leading to more open government, and an independent National Statistical Service."

I don't think I need to point out the ironies in this extract.

My genuine sense of optimism has gone missing. If anyone finds it, could I ask them to email me and let me know where it is. Thanks.

Oil, Iraq and the US

Just checked my email update from the BBC's Newsnight programme. It's got a link to this story:
Secret US plans for Iraq's oil
It's not often that I find myself in agreement with oil industry types but I agree with the former CEO of Shell Oil USA. I suspect that his motivations are not quite the same as mine but that's another matter. I should also say that his comment on the "no-brainer" decision made me laugh out loud.

The full report is on tonight's broadcast.

Homeland Security

The threat advisory on the the US Department of Homeland Security website currently reads "Elevated: Significant Risk of Terrorist Attacks". This sounds ominous although it's worth noting that this is a yellow alert, the 3rd level in a series of 5. It is an improvement over the orange alert which was in force in many places until 10th November 2004. Only the most cynical type of person would think that there was a political motivation behind the date for this reduction in the threat level but I digress.

The New York Times has reported that the Department of Homeland Security has produced a list of 15 possible security threats to the US mainland. The article is entitled U.S. Report Lists Possibilities for Terrorist Attacks and Likely Toll. It is a good (free) article. There is a link in the sidebar to the 15 key threats which have been identified. The NYT report states that this information was accidentally released on a Hawaii government website.
The Seattle Times also reported the story as did the BBC.

In some sense it is difficult to see how the publication of this list is good for US security. One can imagine a potential terrorist reading this list. He might say to his associates "Hey guys, number 13 looks achievable. Lets try that." It could be argued that it is a terrorist training aid.

It is difficult to write this without sounding like I'm making light of terrorist attacks but I'm not doing that. I watched the news reports of the 9/11 attacks and felt sick and horrified just as every other decent person did. The point is that I don't believe Mr Bush and his neo-conservative colleagues are behaving in a way which helps to ensure the safety of the US homeland.

Today's dictionary word is scaremonger.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Insurgency in Iraq

This is a follow on from the previous post, US Military Power.
Today the new Iraqi parliament met for the first time. There is still no agreement on the formation of a new Iraqi government;
Iraq MPs sworn in amid deadlock, BBC News

As I write this the Iraq Body Count website reports that there have been a minimum of 16,389 civilians killed since the start of the military intervention. This figure includes those killed by insurgents and those killed by US and other military forces. The insurgency shows no sign of abating and the death toll of Iraqi civilians is likely to keep rising. The coalition have made a number of pronouncements on the subject of the insurgency. I will paraphrase those which I remember.
1 The insurgency will lose support now that Saddam's sons have been killed.
2 The insurgency will die down when sovereignty is handed to the Iraqi interim government.
3 The insurgency will be quelled now that Saddam has been captured.
4 The insurgency will be defeated when the Iraqi elections are held in January 2005.

The sad truth is that fight against the insurgents shows no sign of coming to a conclusion. Suicide bombers are attacking in Iraq at a rate which is entirely unprecedented. I find it difficult to see how the insurgency can be defeated, especially given the extremely blunt ways in which the US military applies it's power. This is why I would like to see a timetable for the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops in Iraq.

My own opinion is that Mr Bush and his administration are the main cause of the death toll in Iraq. This is not to say that I supported the regime of Saddam Hussein. I just don't believe that the welfare of Iraqi's was, or is, high on the list of priorities for the US government. The haste with which the invasion was launched seems to indicate that there were other issues at stake. I do not believe that one of those issues was the threat from WMD. I certainly don't believe, as many Americans apparently still do, that Saddam had any links to Al Queda. As has been well documented, the two detested each other.

To conclude this post I would like to quote some of the words of warning Colin Powell gave to Mr Bush before the start of the invasion.
"You will become the government until you get a new government. You are going to be the pround owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You'll own it all."
(Colin Powell cited by Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, Ch14, p150.)

Mr Woodward says that Powell privately called it the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it. Two years after the invasion and with over 16,000 civilians killed it is undoubtedly true that the Bush regime has broken Iraq. It is difficult to see how they can mend it.

Diary Post 6

I've been having a lot of problems with blogger today. I can't seem to get my posts published and I can't get into the edit post section. I suspect that blogger has some problems with its servers or something but it is slightly irritating. I don't know what time I'll get this one posted but I'm stubborn. Once I start something I'll keep going till it's done, so it will be up eventually. I've also written another post which I'll get up as soon as blogger cooperates. I'm still posting from another PC but I've decided I don't hate computers after all. I haven't decided if they hate me though.

Still not smoking. It will be 72 hours very soon (at time of writing). I am getting through my Fairtrade cookies at an extraordinary rate, might need to order some more when I get a bit of spare cash. I've been walking a lot and this is a good method of distraction. Already my nose and taste buds are working better. I'm more determined than ever to succeed. Food hasn't tasted this good since, well, since I started smoking and that was quite some time ago.

Last night I finished reading "Surviving the Killing Fields" by Haing S. Ngor. I bought it in a charity shop for 60p. Haing Ngor played Dith Pran in the film and won an Oscar for his performance. It is one of those books which you will never forget once you've read. Haing's depiction of his time under the Khmer Rouge is harrowing in the extreme (there are advance warnings to skip certain sections if you prefer).Tomorrow I'm going back to the charity shop to buy another book. I'm going to try to get something light and funny because I haven't been sleeping well while reading Haing's story. The fact that I can do this is just one more benefit of being born in a developed country. Perhaps one day every person in the world can live the life of freedom and luxury which I take for granted.

US Miltary Power

This post was initially going to be about Colin Powell and a lot is it still is. When looking for suitable reference material I found some other information which I shall also include.

At the time of the first Gulf War, Colin Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for President Bush Senior. His approach was based on the idea that overwhelming military force was needed for US military actions in order to ensure victory and to limit casualties to US military personel. This became known as the "Powell Doctrine". From the point of view of the US administration the doctrine seems reasonable and might be said to have been successful in GW1.

The consequences of the application of overwhelming US military force on the Iraqi army was devastating. The "turkey shoot" of the retreating Iraqi army on the Jahra highway illustrates this in horrific detail. "The Unseen Gulf War" series of pictures by Peter Turnley on shows this in all it's gruesome detail. Links to some of the pictures, which show graphic details of the results of US military action, can be found below.
The "mile of death"
Carbonised bodies of Iraqi soldiers

Like most people in western countries, I normally see only the sanitized reports of war in the mainstream media. These pictures are very difficult to view and in some ways I would prefer that I hadn't seen them. Many of them show the aftermath of the US bombing of retreating Iraqi conscript soldiers, soldiers who would have been tortured or killed if they had refused to follow the orders of Saddam Hussein.

I am often angered when the US military speak of their actions in the manner of a high tech computer game. To some extent this can be explained by the new military technologies which make killing at a distance easy and detatched. More recently another explanation must be added for this behaviour. The Official U.S. Army Game, America's Army, which is used to recruit young Americans into the military, has it's own website at
I have been known to play violent computer games but this blurring of the distinction between fact and reality is, well I can't put it in words. Look up the website and draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Illegal Logging and the US

Newsnight on BBC 2 has obtained a leaked memo from the US State Department concerning the UK government's proposals to combat illegal logging. If you didn't see the programme you can read about it on the website.
US blocks forest protection plan
(I believe that you can also see the broadcast online till around 11pm tomorrow, 16th March.)

Given the current US administration's approach to environmental issues, this isn't much of a surprise. Even the fact that the "head of forest policy in the State Department, Stephanie Caswell, drafted a strategy in January to work with Canada to stop imposing restrictions on timber purchasing and to lobby Russia and Canada to vote against the scheme" isn't likely to surprise that many Europeans.

Mr Blair must be so happy to have such a good and loyal ally in the US. The State Department has said that this memo was a draft and that it doesn't represent US policy. I don't want to speak for Mr Blair but I suspect he might be thinking "Cut the spin George, you can't kid a kidder".

Illegal logging is clearly not a good thing and Mr Blair gets at least some credit from me for attempting to do something about it. The defra website says "Combating illegal logging requires timber producing and timber consuming countries to work together.... Ministers will discuss the best ways of doing this" under the headline International events - UK Presidency of the G8.
Perhaps defra should have said "Ministers, except for the US representative and any others they have managed to dissuade, will discuss the best ways of doing this."

This page on has a quotation from Colin Powell which shows that some people in the US have realised just how serious a problem this is. The State Department never seemed to pay much attention to Powell when he was in charge there so I suppose it's unreasonable to assume that they'll pay any heed now.

Diary Post 5

My PC still isn't working
I still can't get my PC to connect to the internet through my network card so I'm still using another PC for the moment. I feel slightly guilty because this one doesn't have the Firefox browser and my blog has a wee "Get Firefox" banner. And I miss the option to open a new page in a tab instead of having to open a new window. I'll work on the owner of this PC to install Firefox but I'm not going to do it unless permission is given.

I am managing to resist smoking which is a surprise to me. I have not had a cigarette for 39 hours. This also explains why I posted 5 times yesterday. My advise leaflet recommends keeping busy so I'm keeping busy. This afternoon I am going to see if I can archive my posts by category which should occupy much of the rest of the day. If any random index pages appear above this one then I've probably not got it quite right. We shall see.

I'm also avoiding going to my own flat this week as this will be by far the hardest place to resist the evil lure of nicotine. I'm about to go for a walk because I couldn't stop eating yesterday and need to get some exercise if I don't want to blow up like a balloon. Still no fizzy drinks or unfairly traded chocolate though. I did buy some crisps (special Comic Relief flavours so I don't feel too bad about it). That's it for now. I might post more later if I need to be distracted further.

Nuclear Weapons, the US and Iran

I should start this post by making it clear that I would prefer it if no nations had nuclear weapons. I know I'm not the only person who feels this way. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
is an international treaty designed with this in mind. It has a specific reference to this aim.

Article VI
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

This was written during the Cold War which is why it refers to the nuclear arms race. As you can see it also refers to "nuclear disarmament" as a principle of the treaty. This treaty is still valid and the US is currently one of the many nations who agree to abide by it's rules.

Today on the New York Times website I noticed this story:
Reshaping Nuclear Pact: Bush Seeks to Close Loopholes
(Register for free to see the full story. NYT draws level with Washington Post, see this.)

I wondered if the loophole being closed was the one where the US, as a signatory to the treaty, is committed to nuclear disarmament but it turns out that this is not the case. In fact it is a story about Iran using a loophole in the treaty to continue to work on peaceful nuclear power projects which can then, at a later date, be developed into a nuclear weapons programme. I previously posted a link to a report from on this subject entitled U.S. panel faults intelligence on Iran’s nuclear weapons

I can't write a summary of this which I am satisfied with. The reader will have to draw their own conclusions.

Today's dictionary word is hypocrisy.
(From Cambridge Dictionaries Online.)

Monday, March 14, 2005

News from Aberdeen

In an effort to make my blog a bit more personal I thought I would add the occasional post about the news where I live. I also hope to give readers an insight into the kind of difficulties faced by the citizens of the north east of Scotland.

This first story was reported on the front page of the local morning newspaper,
The Press and Journal.
The story can be found by clicking this link:

It is difficult to believe, I know. One of our local 10-pin bowling establishments had to close down as it was found to have a faulty fire alarm. It was closed at 9.30pm on Saturday and was only opened again at 5.30pm the next day after an engineer had repaired the alarm. This was very difficult for me to deal with but I just had to cope. There was no choice.

I genuinely do feel sorry for the child who had his 10th birthday party booking cancelled. I do hope his family are suitably compensated.

Mr Bush and the Media

There are 2 stories today that I want to mention concerning Mr Bush and the media.

The Independent gives us Here is the news... from President Bush

An abstract of the same story can be viewed via The New York Times on the Web
(You need to register to see this one. It will link to the abstract if you do. I did. You also need to pay to see the full story. I didn't.)

This seems like a very New Labour type of story. The Bush administration is using tax payers money to produce "news reports" which some US TV companies have been running uncritically as news without presenting an alternative opinion. The administration has even written scripts which newsreaders can use to introduce the reports. What a brilliant example of US democracy in action. When does the Blair government start doing this over here?

The second story comes from Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post and concerns Fox News.
It is An Opinionated Network
(You need to resister to see this one too. I did. You don't need to pay anything for the full story. 1-0 to the Washington Post I think.)

I don't suppose this really qualifies as news. "Extra! Extra! Fox in biased news reporting! Read all about it!" No, I don't think this is news but it is an illuminating article all the same. A study has found that 73% of stories about Iraq on Fox News last year contained the opinions of the newsreader or reporter. That compares to 2% for CNN.

I just can't think of a polite way to phrase my opinions about these stories. In the real world I swear. In fact I probably swear too much (well I am Scottish, it's a national tradition). In the world of blog I've made the decision never to swear. I'll just have to leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.