Thursday, June 30, 2005

Letters for Fair Votes

Last month I wrote to Lord Falconer regarding his statements on reform of the voting system.
In essence I wanted to know the government position on this:
"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."
Labour Party Manifesto, 1997.
I have received a reply:
24 June 2005

Dear Mr Hamster,
Electoral Reform
Thank you for your letter to the Lord Chancellor dated 24th May 2005, regarding the voting system employed to return members of Parliament to the House of Commons.

I can Confirm that an internal review is currently underway within the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which will review the new electoral system introduved for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the Londom Assembly. his review is at an early stage, and decisions regarding any steps for the review will be taken id due course.

The government still maintains that a referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminister.

Thank you for writing to Lord Falconer and I hope this is of use to you.


It's not a great deal of use to be honest. First paragraph is polite, no problem, but no information. The second is completely irrelevant to my question. The third is an attempt to answer my question without answereing my question.

Furthermore, it bears a striking resemblance to this reply received by doctorvee:
Regarding Mr Stephen’s first concern [making my vote count], I can confirm that an internal review is currently underway within my Department, which will review the new electoral systems introduced for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the London Assembly. This review is at an early stage, and decisions regarding any next steps for the review will be taken in due course.

The government still maintains that a referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster.
And that doctorvee post has a trackback reference to this reply to Murky which also contains exactly the same reply. It's matching evasive half truths all round. Hurray! OK, I understand that the government has a standard position, but when that standard position contains no information and is repeated word for word to all and sundry, I'm not too pleased.

Right, another letter is what's needed.

Thank you for your reply dated 24th June 2005. Unfortunately, I have not found the information it contains as useful as you had hoped.
Your reply states "The government still maintains that a referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster."

This is not the position expressed in the 1997 Labour Manifesto:
"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."

My understanding of "appointed early" leads me to believe that the government has reneged on this commitment. I would like an explanation as to why this has happened. The only other possibility I can see is that I might have misunderstood "appointed early". In this case, I would like an outline of the projected timetable for the referendum, in order to better understand the phrase (and the commitment).
To the postbox, I say.

Feel free to cut, paste, print and send your own version btw. It's appears to be a standard and accepted practice.

Window Dressing

This must be one of the busiest periods of Tony Blair's premiership. What with having to deal with the G8 summit, the presidency of the EU, continuing efforts to construct a stable and secure Iraq, listening and responding to the many concerns over ID cards... and lots more besides. The demands on the PMs time must be great indeed. So what is Mr Blair doing this afternoon? Well this afternoon, our great leader, along with Sir Bob, face a grilling on MTV.

*takes a deep breath*
The last post was a rant so I'll do my best to remain calm.

I don't mean to disrespect Trevor Nelson or Destiny's Child or anyone else taking part but please. I imagine Blair will say he's trying to encourage young people to become more engaged in politics. He'll say he's listening to the young Africans in the audience. He'll say it's important that he conveys the enormous efforts he's been making to tackle the issue of global poverty. He'll probably even wear a "Make Povery History" wristband.

This would all be great except that the Prime Minister is window dressing while Rome burns. There are lots of real problems which need to be addressed. Encouraging a new generation of posturing, delusional, image obsessed, untrustworthy politicians is not something likely to be of great benefit.

More details of the MTV programme.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Be Afraid

A Rant

The government won the vote on the Database/ID card bill with a majority of 31. In the end 20 courageous Labour MPs rebelled against the government. Sadly, my MP was not one of them. The good news is that the bill isn't going to have an easy time in the committee stage. The bad news is that our great leader has decreed on the subject.
"We will have to listen to those concerns and respond to them."
Tony Blair, PMQs, 29/06/05.
Excuse my language but fuck, that's really fucked it. It's safe to assume that "listen" is a code word. Basically, what's going to happen now is that the government is going to make tiny grudging concessions, like capping the cost (a total nonsense as it's all our money, so we'll pay the full costs whatever they are). They'll do just enough of this to appease just enough MPs to get a slightly fudged version of the bill passed into law. Fuck.

If Blair is going to "listen" these are troubling times indeed.

Better Late Than...

Regular readers might find something odd about this story from yesterday's Evening Express (28/06/05).
Aberdonians may be too tight or too cold to buy champagne, it was claimed today. A new survey shows Aberdeen has the lowest Champagne sales in the whole of Britain. The research, by supermarket giant Tesco, saw Birmingham topping the league with the most sales of bubbly.
Claimed today? A new survey? Hmm...
Would that be the same new survey mentioned in this post from 21st June? It does appear to be identical in almost every detail. Well, except the date obviously.

Regular readers will also know that the local morning newspaper, the Press and Journal, is owned by Northcliffe Newpaper Group which is owned by the Daily Mail Group. The Evening Express is the evening newspaper from the the same organisation.
(I don't have a link to show that the NNG owns the P&J and the EE. If you click on the Copyright button at the botton of any P&J or EE webpage it'll show you though.)

The well resourced professional journalist types at the Daily Mail subsidiary are only one week behind some guy sitting at home with a computer and an interest in the news. And I think, for this fine achievement, they should be applauded.

Misunderestimation of Resolve

I'm frequently surprised by the statements of the Bush administration. I've long struggled to understand why their pronouncements make no sense to me. They seem to be reasonably intelligent people for the most part (politics aside).

But then I remembered the fallout from the release of the Downing Street Memo. Tod Lindberg understood the phrase "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" in a way I found odd. This set off a storm in the blogothingy. It seems that "fixed around" is not defined as fixedly as I'd thought. Perhaps this new found knowledge will make it easier to interpret and understand Bush administration policies.

Well, G.W. Bush has delivered his primetime speech on the continuing war in Iraq. What better opportunity could there be to attempt a suitable translation? My efforts are in [square brackets].

"The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. This war reached our shores on 11 September 2001… After 11 September, I made a commitment to the American people: this nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will take the fight to the enemy. We will defend our freedom. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war...

[It’s best not to acknowledge that our troops invaded Iraq without provocation. There is no link between the invasion of Iraq and the 11 September attacks.]

Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home...

[Since the invasion, insurgents and terrorists have prospered in Iraq. They are killing innocent men, women and children. Remember, no Iraqis were involved in the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.]

We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who exploded car bombs along a busy shopping street in Baghdad - including one outside a mosque. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul. And we see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who behead civilian hostages and broadcast their atrocities for the world to see. These are savage acts of violence - but they have not brought the terrorists any closer to achieving their strategic objectives.

[Violence continues to rise.]

The terrorists - both foreign and Iraqi - failed to stop the transfer of sovereignty. They failed to break our coalition and force a mass withdrawal by our allies. They failed to incite an Iraqi civil war. They failed to prevent free elections. They failed to stop the formation of a democratic Iraqi government that represents all of Iraq's diverse population. And they failed to stop Iraqis from signing up in large numbers with the police forces and the army to defend their new democracy....

[Many of the proposed solutions to the insurgency have already been implemented and have done nothing to halt this rise. There is no sign of the violence abating.]

The new Iraqi security forces are proving their courage every day. More than 2,000 members of the Iraqi security forces have given their lives in the line of duty. Thousands more have stepped forward, and are now in training to serve their nation. With each engagement, Iraqi soldiers grow more battle-hardened, and their officers grow more experienced. We have learned that Iraqis are courageous and that they need additional skills. That is why a major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting and our troops can come home...

[This didn’t work in Vietnam and it isn’t likely to work in Iraq. With each engagement the enemy also grows more battle-hardened and more experienced. Two years after the invasion, we’re no closer knowing when the US military will withdraw from Iraq.]

This 4 July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom - by flying the flag ... sending letters to our troops in the field ... or helping the military family down the street. The Department of Defence has set up a website -

[I am the United States of America. If you criticize me, you criticize the USA.]

...And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces. We live in freedom because every generation has produced patriots willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. Those who serve today are taking their rightful place among the greatest generations that have worn our nation's uniform.

[Your country needs you… to replace the growing number of soldiers who’ve been killed and wounded in this unprovoked invasion.]
That's about it. There's no mention of WMD (via), no mention of the Downing Street Memo, and no mention of an exit strategy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

If you liked Google Maps...

You'll probably feel even more affection for the amazing Google Earth. (via Robin). Outstanding. I couldn't resist the temptation to zoom in to a photo of my flat. Bet you can't either (I mean zoom in to a photo of your own residence, obviously).

Political Creep

Hardtalk has an interesting interview this week. It's on BBC News 24 tonight. Having watched it at 4.30am this morning I can say that it's definitely worth watching. I'll need to watch it at a sensible time of day before I can say much more than that though.

IDiot Update

Some news on the second reading of the Database IDiot bill. The vote is at 22.00 tonight.

Will MPs remember the words of the Information Commissioner when they go to vote?
Govt Watchdog Slams ID Cards:
"The measures go well beyond a secure, reliable and trustworthy ID card. Measures in relation to the National Identity Register and data trail of identity checks risk unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion into individuals' privacy."
Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, 27/06/05

What about our great leader? Are you listening, Mr Blair?

Nosemonkey has more.

Updates (and an edit):
Rhetorically Speaking highlights the astonishing record of government IT projects.
Chicken Yoghurt points out the absurdity of Charles Clarkes' vacuous statements.
Tim Worstall thinks the whole thing is a waste of space... time, and money.

In conclusion, let's look at this equation:
Database & ID Card Bill + Labour MPs not listening
= long spell in opposition for Labour Party

There you have it. Conclusive scientific proof (as if more were needed) that this bill is IDiocy.

The Vote
First vote: Aye 314, No 287.
Second vote: Aye 313, No 286.*

So that's a government majority of 31. The details are not available yet, but given that the DUP apparently voted with the government, I make that around 10 voting against and another 35 - 40 abstaining or not managing to vote (very roughly). There's still a long way to go before this bill becomes law.

MSPs; A Sitcom

Yesterday, new Deputy First Minister (and my MSP), Nicol Stephen, announced his changes the Scottish cabinet. As such, it seems only right to focus on a Scottish Parliament story today.

What about this one in the P&J? Yes, everyone's favourite parliament building urgently needs over £15,000 worth of new furniture. For the members bar. Apparently this is because the atmosphere in the bar needs improving. Well, there are often difficult and controversial decisions to be made when spending other people's money, but this one seems straightforward enough.

SNP MSP Fergus Ewing gets to the root of the problem:
"The immediate problem was that the corporate body imposed a ban on journalists [Tuesday to Thursday, now overturned] which resulted in the boycott... That removed at a stroke a very large group of high-spending customers."
Yes, they really did try to ban journalists from the only bar at Holyrood. Talk about a self imposed bullet-foot interface.

Not content with that, this story also came from the Scottish Parliament today. I believe "you couldn't make it up" might be a suitable conclusion.


There's been more not unexpected trouble for the National Database and ID Card nonsense with the publication of the London School of Economics report. The report contains a lot of concerns over the governments proposals. The LSE report's best case scenario is that ID cards will cost £170 each.

In Blair's monthly press conference he discussed the Database/ID bill in detail.
"People recognise the benefits of a scheme that will allow us to tackle identity fraud more effectively, bear down on illegal working, illegal immigration, abuse of our public services and help in the fight against organised crime and terrorism, and these are all strong arguments for moving forward with identity cards."
All completely unfounded arguments (that's a polite way of saying he's talking out of his...). The NO2ID campaign has already debunked these fictional benefits. The LSE report (via the Guardian) continues in the same vein.
On identity theft: "preventing identity theft may be better addressed by giving
individuals greater control over the disclosure of their own personal information.."
On terrorism: "prevention of terrorism may be more effectively managed through strengthened border patrols and increased presence at borders, or allocating adequate resources for conventional police intelligence work.
(Both quoted from summary of conclusions.)

Considering the flimsiness of the government position, it is perhaps understandable that Mr Blair wanted to focus on an additional argument (yes, another one) in his press conference.
"There is now the technology to move to a biometric passport, that is a document with fingerprint and facial recognition of the holder, and to move to that biometric passport will require an interview and then obviously getting the facial and fingerprint biometrics... In a time also of intense global insecurity, there is now an unstoppable political momentum across the developed world for countries to use the opportunity of the new technology to make their borders more secure... So the impact of all this - and this is the essential first step in this argument - is that we are going to be in a position where we have to make our passports here in the UK biometric if UK citizens are to continue to enjoy the right to travel freely around the world... In short, as we start issuing biometric passports for the first time, we will develop a sophisticated identity register. 80% of the population have passports which will all need replacing over the next 10 years. Now the whole point about this is that it is for a relatively small additional cost to the biometric cost, and the additional cost is estimated at under £30, not £300, never mind £100 - under £30..."
To summarize: it's inevitable, everyone else in the world is doing it, it won't be expensive, and we if we don't do it the great British public will have their annual two week holiday in Florida ruined in the arrival halls of Orlando International Airport.

In an almost uncanny way, the LSE report responds to Mr Blair's new "most important part" of the argument in the very report he's trying to dismiss.
The Government seems intent on pointing to international obligations and precedents to justify the introduction of a national identity card. Our research indicates that a national identity card need not resemble the one that the Government is proposing, nor is any nation under an obligation to create such a card. Indeed, no other country has done so with such a pretext.
(Section 2, Overview.)
To summerize: it's not inevitable, we're the only country in the world doing it this way, all the evidence shows that it will be expensive, and no-one's holidays are going to be ruined if this bill doesn't become law.

The pledge has achived more than half the target already. Nice one. The NO2ID campaign are lobbying in Parliament Square starting at 11.30am, Tuesday. I'd love to come but my geography's been playing up a bit recently. People with more amenable geography might want to get themselves down there though.

Elsewhere, Anne and Frank continue their campaign to save the Aberdeen Met Office.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Apologies for the slight outbreak of lazy blogging around these parts recently. It's not my fault but is entirely down to a series of increasingly bizarre, elaborate, and unlikely adventures I've been having. In fact I've been so lazy busy I've not even got round to making some up.

In the meantime, why not read some of the splendid posts in the 19th instalment of Tim Worstall's ever interesting Britblog Roundup.

BB is Selling You

The Independent on Sunday: Ministers plan to sell your ID card details to raise cash
Personal details of all 44 million adults living in Britain could be sold to private companies as part of government attempts to arrest spiralling costs for the new national identity card scheme, set to get the go-ahead this week.
The Independent on Sunday can today reveal that ministers have opened talks with private firms to pass on personal details of UK citizens for an initial cost of £750 each.
Blair's not selling my details for £750, they can F.R.O. I'm sure I'm not the only one expecting a serious outbreak of civil disobediance if the government forces this bill through. Anyone not signed the pledge yet?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Links Worth Clicking

A Good Deed
Being British and a man, I'm completely unable to communicate when it comes to emotions. I think it's because of something they put in our milk when we're at nursery. Anyway, I think Blair, my long time correspondent from far away, wrote a great post celebrating the 6 month birthday of her son. Happy Birthday Josef!

Me! Me!

I've registered in the TTLB Ecosystem. At the moment I'm an Insignificant Microbe. Outstanding! Should improve a bit once the system has done some sort of scan thing it says here...

Handy provides user ID's and passwords for sites like the NYT who want you to register to access articles (via a comment on this Onlineblog post). Slightly amusingly, bugmenot has actually been recommended by the NYT. There is also a Firefox extension which seems to be working splendidly. Most excellent.

Edit: Now the links are worth clicking. Doh...

Tacky Self Promotion

Two new posts are up at my Anne Begg blog. This one is about Anne's recent appearances in parliament, and this one is about the threatened closure of the Aberdeen Met Office.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Lunatics are off the grass

Those who read this post will know that I have no great affection for Stephen Green, the director of Christian Voice. Anyone who hasn't heard of Christian Voice might think this unfair. In order to provide an illustration as to just how fundamentalist and extreme they are, Christian Voice have been asked to take their money elsewhere. Now that is good news. Mediawatchwatch has more.

Just one more excellent reason to bank at the Co-operative Bank. I fully intend to open an account as soon as I get some money to put in it.

Update: bookdrunk has more, including a press statement from the Co-op and a handy email address.
Update 2: Chicken Yoghurt in splendid form as usual.

Good Violence

The perfect way to deal with an irritating amphibian (via).
Warning: NSFW (unless your boss doesn't mind a bit of swearing and cartoon violence).

Thursday, June 23, 2005

One Step Closer To Power

My MSP has just been promoted. Good Work Guy! There's a splendid combination of vague idealism and management doublespeak in Nicol's acceptance speak. Still, it is his first day so I'm not complaining or anything. Give the man a chance and all that.

I hope Anne's new website doesn't take too much longer to go online. When that happens I'm hoping to stop doing this, and instead, find out the new Deputy First Ministers views on MSP blogging.

Scottish Blogs (and lot of them)

I never got round to mentioning the Scottish Political Blogs Review. It has an excellent directory of Scottish political blogs. Very Comprehensive. Credit to Stuart at Independence for putting in together.

There was some talk of other activities occurring on the site. If Stuart is still looking for volunteers, my services are always available*. I'll leave him a message, see if there's anything happening.

*Well, not actually always, that'd be silly, but "my services are sometimes available" doesn't have the same pizaz.

No Decision

Here's a quick update to this earlier post on the possible use of the Terrorism Act during policing of the G8 summit. I've received a reply from Tayside Police G8 media unit and their position remains unchanged. The essential point:
If circumstances merit an application to the Home Secretary then this will be considered.
The Sunday Times and the Press and Journal don't seem so sure. Bertie suggests here that the two stories originate from the same briefing. I suppose that still poses the question of who gave the briefing. It doesn't seem likely to have been Tayside Police who apparently haven't decided yet. A Downing Street softening up exercise before the official decision is announced seems the most likely explanation to my mind. Of course, this is purely an operational and not a political decision...

PS, Bertie writes an interesting blog about Ilkley.
(There's a tiny bit of G-juice to help with the temporary search ranking slide.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


This is the twist in the tail I mentioned in the previous post. I think it's marginally amusing, and it's an interesting illustration of how the media works (or perhaps doesn't work).

To recap, I had read an article in the Press and Journal (13th June) but it wasn't available online. A search turned up this article in the Sunday Times, written by Jason Allardyce and Mark Macaskill and published on the 12th June. I'd just finished re-reading the P&J article and immediately started on the ST one. The twist is that they were the same article. To be clear, I don't mean that both newspapers covered the same story, that would be dangerously close to a pot-kettle-blackness interface. I mean they are almost exactly the same. Having read through them both one after the other, I can safely say that at least 80% of the contents of both articles are made up of exactly the same words in exactly the same order. Someone's made a very half hearted effort to rearrange some of the wording but they are all just superficial changes like these:
Sunday Times, paragraph 3
Section 44 of the legislation will allow police to stop and search anyone they consider may pose a threat to security, while section 43 will enable them to hold suspects without charge in purpose-built cells in Glasgow for up to seven days.
Press and Journal, paragraph 3 (not online, strangely, but I do have a copy of the newpaper so that's ok.)
Section 44 of the act enables the police to stop and search anyone they consider may pose a threat to security while Section 43 gives them the right to hold suspects, urcharged, in Glasgow cells built for the occassion for up to seven days.
And so it goes on, for all 15 paragraphs of both articles. Word for, very nearly always the same word. There's no mention of a writer in the P&J article but it is on the front page of the paper. Nowhere does it say "This article has previously appeared in yesterday's Sunday Times".

Now it might be that Allardyce and Macaskill are freelance and sell articles to as many newspapers as possible. I don't know enough about how the newspaper industry works to say how likely this is. It did occur to me that the P&J might be some sort of subsidiary of News International, but this turns out not to be the case. In fact, as I think I already knew but kept trying to forget, the P&J is owned by the Northcliffe Newspaper Group, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Daily Mail group. Well, you can see why I try not to think about it too much.

So what we are left with is an article which appeared in a News International newspaper on Sunday and appeared in a Daily Mail group newpaper on Monday. Do these bitter rivals share articles like this often? I've no way to tell. It's interesting though.

It's worth highlighting the performance of the Evening Telegraph here. Their report informed its readers of the official position of Tayside Police, and took the time to consider the implications:
The Scottish Human Rights Centre has voiced its concerns over the Section 44 powers claiming their use would be “extremely controversial”. Chairman John Scott said, “It would represent an easy way for the police to deal with some people they suspect of being troublemakers and keep them out of circulation for the duration of the G8.”
Excellent regional reporting there from the Evening Telegraph. (The Evening Telegraph is owned by DC Thomsons). It's certainly a lot better than an almost exact replica of a national newspaper story from the previous day.

Ah well, there goes any possiblity of an exciting new career in regional newpaper publishing. I suppose I could move to Dundee, maybe get a job at the Beano, that'd be cool...

Update: I forgot to mention the conspiracy theory. It is possible to imagine a situation where both newspapers have actually just printed two versions of the same private press briefing from Downing Street, no question asked. Just a thought.

A Tangled Web

There was a story on the front page of the Press and Journal on Monday last week which I've been meaning to blog for a while. It wasn't online but I kept the paper aside and intended to provide a scan. I haven't got round to that yet (but more on that later). The Sunday Times seems to have led the way on this story with this article from 12th June. The article is a statement of fact:
Police to use new terror powers at G8
POLICE are to use special anti-terror powers that will allow them to jail protesters at the G8 summit for up to a week without charge.
Tayside Constabulary is expected to become the first force in Scotland to be granted the powers under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Do you hear the sound of another little bit of our freedom leaving the country? If true, this is another sad day for democracy. What are our elected representatives saying about this state of affairs?
Here's an exchange from PMQs, 9th March:
Howard: At the weekend, the Prime Minister said that its provisions could be used against protesters against the G8 meeting in Scotland. Did he mean that?

Blair: I have read that I am supposed to have said that, but I confess that I have absolutely no recollection of saying it. There are people who want to protest against the G8 meeting—incidentally, protests happen on a very wide range of issues, and I obviously see many of them on my travels around the place—but the control orders are specifically designed to defeat terrorism. For people who want to come and protest in this country, there is a long-standing democratic right and they are perfectly entitled to do so.
It goes on in that vain for a while but it's a straight answer free zone. It's not really possible to determine whether Blair intends for these provisions to be used. Has the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, had anything to say on the matter? Yes, on 15th May:
Policing and security arrangements for the forthcoming G8 Summit are a devolved responsibility for the Scottish Executive and Scottish police forces. Scottish Executive and Tayside Police have confirmed that US military personnel will play no role in the security operation.
Nice swerve. Imagine this though; Bush phones Blair to ask about the security arrangements, and Blair says "don't worry George, I've got Jack McConnell on the case." "Who in the hell's that Tony?" "You know, Jack McConnell. Don't worry, I have every confidence in his abilities." (Photo via Independence.) Er, right, it might have happened that way. I've no evidence to say it didn't.

Other than that, there's not much to be found on the subject. Des Brown provides an excellent demonstration of the ethos of open government, Jeff Hoon adopts the swerve approach, and that about it. The Scottish Parliament may have debated the matter but their website is so poorly organised I doubt even proper journalists bother with it. As luck would have it, Tayside Police have their own G8 website which is quite useful. There's a statement of their position regarding the Terrorism Act.
The provisions of Section 44 have been used on a number of occasions around high profile events in London and further afield. We are examining how they work and how they might apply to the G8 Summit in Scotland. If the circumstances merit an application to the Home Secretary then this will be considered. It should be stressed that the provisions of Section 44 are there to allow the police to take a proportionate approach when judged necessary to assist in the prevention of acts of terrorism.
Statement, 03/06/05
This statement was made before the Sunday Times article (12th June) and it appears that this is still the position of Tayside Police. In fact, the Evening Telegraph and Post, a locally owned Dundee newspaper, seem to have confirmed this with Tayside Police the day after the Sunday Times article. They report using a more considered headline on the 13th: Police consider terror powers bid

So, where the did Sunday Times source the information that "Police are to use special anti-terror powers"? The police in question don't appear to have decided yet. Reading the Sunday Times article again, there is no mention of who provided the information for their claim. It implies that the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland supports their story but it's no more than implication. The official position is still undecided as far as I can ascertain. I thought it best to fire off an quick email message to the Tayside Police G8 media relations unit:
Would it be possible to clarify the position of Tayside Police with regard to the use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 during policing of the G8 summit at the Gleneagles Hotel? Has a decision been reached as to whether Tayside Police will be making the necessary application to the Home Secretary?
Brief and to the point. It's already dangerously close to journalism as it is (for this blog anyway). I'm hoping this will clear up the confusion over this issue. We shall see.

It is, in some sense, unfair to focus on Tayside police though. There is no doubt that this is a political rather than an operational decision. In fact, the Sunday Times article, perhaps inadvertantly, highlights the ridiculous nature of the claim that there may be operation reasons for using the powers of the Act:
If they are found to possess a suspect device or weapon, they will be detained.
Hmm, so we don't already have laws we can use to arrest people carrying suspect devices or weapons? That's clearly a nonsense argument. Whether the Act is used is a matter of politics and public relations. It's almost certainly a decision for Downing Street. It's tempting to suggest that the Sunday Times article is a softening up exercise, testing the waters before the official announcement is made. Downing Street does love to work with Murdochs' evil empire after all.

One thing can be said without a doubt. The article is a classic example of how the sections of the press make unjustified connections between protestors and terrorists. The first two lines, quoted above, are a perfect illustration: we get "Anti-terror powers - jail - protestors - Terrorism". Nice.

This post is already rather long, but there is a marginally amusing twist in the tail. It's the "more on that later" I mentioned in the first paragraph. I'll post that later on today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just Say No

There's a new flashy banner to promote the NO2ID pledge. There are already an impressive number of signatories but more are needed.

The government is already eroding our civil liberties in far reaching and unjustified ways. It's time to speak up.

Update: Read this Talk Politics post for a better understanding the potential dangers of the National Identity Database.

Shallow Waters

I'm not great when it comes to grammer and punctuation. I try to make the effort but there are often times when I just don't know whether a comma should be added (like here), or where to put the dreaded apostrophe. BBC2 showed an interesting programme on the subject last night. Although I knew that some people feel strongly about these rules, I hadn't realised quite how strongly. The chap who added an apostrophe to a sign opposite his office with tipex was an excellent example. The BBC magazine is asking for readers (or is that readers') comments. I'm not going to leave one myself for obvious reasons. The BBC also provide a link to a punctuation quiz. I got 25% which makes me a stickler apparently.

Scots have always been a dab hand at inventing things, so this chap is continuing in a great Scottish tradition. Pretty inspiring stuff for a 12 year old, I reckon.

BBC News 24 were reporting on a survey of UK champagne sales earlier today. Do you know which city in the UK buys the most bubbly? Take a guess. No, you're wrong, I'll have to tell you. It's Birmingham.
Even more surprising is the news that the highest concentration of connoisseurs is in Essex. Remarkable.
There is one result from the survey which isn't surprising. Do you know which UK city's (?) residents buys the least champagne? It's the residents of Aberdeen, the tight fisted misers. Still, I suppose we can't be accussed of being champagne socialists.

Nice MP Blogging

I've posted some more information on my MP, Anne Begg. The post is On Balance, and it's all good positive stuff. This doesn't mean I've been knobbled. It does mean there has been a reappraisal of the blogs attitude to impartial and objective reporting. In short, it's going to try some.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Accidental Truth

Bloggerheads highlights President Bush's Radio Address from the 18th June, in which he's still propogating a huge whopper.
"We went to war because we were attacked, and we are at war today because there are still people out there who want to harm our country and hurt our citizens. Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power..."
A textbook example of the President evoking the horrors of the World Trade Center attacks and suggesting a link to the war in Iraq, a link which clearly isn't justified.
There was one extraordinary admission from Bush:
"Our troops are fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here at home".
I think that's the most truthful explanation of the current situation in Iraq I've ever heard from the President. The policies of the Bush administration have turned Iraq into a magnet for Islamic and anti-American extremists. It doesn't matter to the US government that they've created more extremists through their actions in Iraq. What's important is that the extremists are mostly killing Iraqi and not US citizens.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

9.5 on the Ostrich Scale

A third slice of half baked philosophy pie

It’s another attempt to delve into the wonderful world of the human being. The standard naivety warning applies.

The first point is that the Ostrich Scale is pure self indulgent crap, and it’s only because I have a comfortable life that I can spend an evening writing a post about it. My life isn’t a physical struggle. I always have enough food, water, and shelter. I live in a country where the rule of law provides me with an extraordinary level of security. In fact, for all our worries about anti-social behaviour, the people of this island are as safe as they have ever been. The average life expectancy of a UK citizen is far higher than the world average. I’m comfortable. How many people in the whole of human history have been able to say those words? Those of us who have it tend to take it for granted (myself most certainly included) but it is a highly unusual state of human existence, both historically and geographically. I didn’t do anything to deserve this unusual level of privilege, I was just lucky to be born when and where I was. I’m comfortable.

It is only because I’m comfortable I can take the time to consider the Ostrich Scale at all. In essence, it’s a measure of how much we allow the discomfort of others to intrude into our own comfortable existence. At some level, everyone knows that there are people enduring indescribable suffering somewhere in the world at this very moment. It is an uncomfortable thought. It isn’t easy to write as I sit in front of the pc, having just enjoyed a warm pleasant day in which a farcical F1 race was my biggest concern. I don’t think anyone will deny the fact that it is true, it’s just that we prefer not to think about it too much. Some will say its best just to accept it’s always been this way and do their best not to think about all this unpleasantness any more. These people score highly on the Ostrich Scale.

On the other hand, everyone also knows that it’s not impossible to be comfortable. We’ve managed it here in the UK, so it’s clearly possible, and the UK wasn’t always this way. Go back 200 years and see how comfortable most of the citizens of the UK were. For example, I'm glad I wasn't around for this. There is no doubt that in the UK in the year 2005, we are in a privileged and unusual position. We are able to control the amount of unpleasantness we let into our thoughts. There are those who choose to face the discomfort and to fight for change with every waking moment. These people score 0 on the Ostrich Scale, are vary rare, and are to be applauded at every opportunity. It is people just like them who helped give us the comfortable lifestyle we now take for granted.

Most of us find it difficult to face many of these uncomfortable truths and spend a great deal of time ignoring them. So, when I read earlier this week that the US had admitted to using Napalm type weapons in Iraq, I was sickened but I didn’t dwell on the issue for too long. It’s horrible to think of someone burning to death in this particularly ghastly way. The fact that our ally has used these bombs is appalling, repellent even. I’ve seen photos of people who have burned to death in Iraq. They are very difficult to view. I’m not going to link to them but they are out there if you want to find out what war really looks like.

The mainstream media, including the BBC, will not show you what war really looks like either. They understand the Ostrich Scale and they won’t broadcast the truly ugly side of war. It’s worth remembering that every shocking image you see in the media has already been selected as suitably sanitary for our comfortable lives. The viewers and readers don’t want to be made uncomfortable with images of burned alive corpses. In fact, it makes perfect sense. If the TV News broadcasts actually reported openly about the effects of Napalm, or the result of every suicide bombing, many people would just stop watching. I would probably stop watching. It is just so very difficult to deal with such horrors. By the same token, I find it difficult to deal with the fact that there are huge numbers of people dying of preventable diseases in Africa. I know it is happening but I tend not to think about it very often. It is a choice, and not one open to an Iraqi under a bomb, or someone dying due to diarrhoea.

But, by avoiding these issues I become complicit in their continuation. Our government takes our silence as approval of their behaviour. The government takes a million people marching against the Iraq war as temporary turbulence, soon calmed. The fact that our government shows such reluctance to listen discourages many from speaking out. It should be having the opposite effect. If the government says it cannot hear, the important thing is to speak louder and more clearly. To make it incontrovertibly known that we are opposed to an alliance in which our ally is intentionally burning people to death. To make it absolutely clear that we oppose the current economic framework in which the rich get richer and the poor live (and die) off the scraps from our table. These things are happening but they can be stopped. It just needs enough of us to put down our hamburgers, unplug our TV’s, and pull our heads out of the sand.

A Fast Farce

Formula 1 is one of my guilty pleasures. I know I shouldn't watch but I just can't help enjoying it. I'm sort of watching the US Grand Prix and it seems that F1 seems intent on removing the pleasure from the whole experience. It's a 6 car race. What on earth are they playing at?

I've never seen anything quite so ridiculous. F1 has just self destructed in the US. The fans at the circuit are demanding a refund. Quite right too.

It's so dull I've just looked up the link for a Doctor Who wallpaper I applied the other day. It the TARDIS landing in Cardiff. Nice.

Stay In Your Home

Today's headline on the front page of the Independent on Sunday:
Leak of secret plan to protect G8 leaders sparks security alert

It seems that an unnamed member of the intelligence community has leaked these plans to the Independent in order to create a "wake-up call" for complacent ministers.
The information includes: details of the threat, including assessments of the risk from chemical, biological, and radiological attack... the precise location of lines of reinforced fencing to keep out would-be suicide bombers and protesters; and aerial photographs of the estate marking likely terrorist targets.
Good grief, it's going to be a madhouse down there. This leak must be very embarrasing for the government. Hmm...

There is another possibility. The Independent might have become an unwitting participant in the government's Stay In Your Home campaign.
An unnamed member of the intelligence community? A tenuous connection between suicide bombers and protestors? A leak likely to deter legitimate and peaceful protestors from attending demonstrations? A leak likely to provide an excuse for the government to introduce greater restrictions on those who do wish to protest peacefully?

Of course, I'm just speculating and I am a self confessed cynical bas***d. It'll be interesting to see how the government responds to this leak though.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Weather Report.

It's been really warm today in Aberdeen. This is so unusual I thought it worth mentioning. In fact, it's so unusual I felt compelled to spend most of the day outside. In short, I haven't got anything to post today. I may, however, have a slight suntan.

I did watch Doctor Who. Excellent stuff, already looking forward to the new series. It's just too warm to expand on that at the moment. One thing I did notice though, ITV1 showed Beverly Hills Cop when Doctor Who was on. OK, I'm sure they've dubbed the bad language but, I mean, well... Beverly Hills Cop at 6.30pm on a Saturday? Is that really a good idea?

Edit: Due to a too/to ado. I've sorted it now.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Utterly Useless Devices: No. 1

What can I possibly say about these politicians. Aren't they supposed to be setting an example for the rest of us? (via taffia don.)
The report says:
Divisional Crime Prevention Officer Pc Simon James said that while the results could not be used as evidence, they can indicate to officers that a person should be searched or questioned.
I wonder if either of the AMs were searched or questioned? I suspect not.
What a spectacularly, outrageously, preposterously, pointless and useless machine.

BTW, I've added 3 new links to my blogroll: Bill, Akatsuki, and taffia don I already mentioned. (I'd like to say that this will lead to an increase in traffic but I'm afraid it's unlikely.) As ususal, I've probably forgotten to link to someone I meant too. I'll no doubt remember at 4.30am.
Right, the next post I post will be the post I mentioned I would post in the previous post (once I write it).

Edit: Duff link, now repaired.


I seem to be having some trouble getting blogger to accept posts with links this afternoon. I wonder if it'll post these words. I have written something but I've tried posting it any number of times. I'll try again later.

I was also going to write a sort of round up of where I'm at with various things. I'm still waiting for replies to my letters concerning fair voting reforms for example. I'll either do that later on today, or perhaps tomorrow. I'm off to get the latest news about the EU. They're bound to have sorted it out by now*.

*This may not be my actual opinion.

Britain, Britain, Britain!

Would you qualify for British citizenship? Take the test and find out (via doctorvee). I'd like to tell you how I did but modesty intervenes.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Anne's Big Day

I've just finished my post on Anne Begg asking a question at PMQs yesterday. I think it's worth checking out (well, I would), especially if you're from around these parts.

I'm probably going to take a break from any more blogging for today. Have a nice evening.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Fundamentally Wrong Headed

In association with the Dubious Digressions Division

There are quite a few things I'd like to blog tonight but I haven't had the time. My trouble with blogging is that I spend a great deal of time reading posts on all types of blog on all sorts of topics. Actually, that isn't the problem. In fact, that isn't a problem at all, it's very interesting. The problem is the length of a standard Earth day. Well, it's just not long enough. I mean, look at the time. How did it get so late so quickly?

It's still not too late to write a little bit about the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. It seems like the government is on a hiding to nothing here. I mean, look at this:
8. Will religion be defined? Will the definition include cults?
In keeping with similar legislation, the proposals do not define the meaning of religion. “Religious hatred” is defined as “hatred against a group of people defined by their religious beliefs or lack of religious belief..."
Home Office
So, who's protected? Christians, Muslims, Scientologists, Satanists, Branch Davidians, those who believe that the world is ruled by a talking marshmallow called Gerald...
(Credit to Jim Bliss for Gerald. Jim tries to play Devils Advocate in support of the bill but can't quite bring himself to commit to the cause.)
It's a nonsense straight away. How do you define religion? Anyone? Apparently, it's going to be down to the courts. I bet that's a buck they're looking forwards to receiving. And on this one part of one paragraph, there's another problem. I'm an atheist but I don't need a law to protect my "lack of religious belief". I normally find rational thought does the job reasonably well without any need for legislation.

Jim actually gets to the heart of the problem for me though. Ultimately, religion is a personal choice. As such, it cannot be justified as an addition to the Incitement to Racial Hatred laws. There is huge difference between attacking someone for their race and attacking someone for their religious beliefs.

For example, read this email interview with Stephen Green. It's as spectacular a piece of circular reasoning as your ever likely to find. After this law is brought in, will I still be able to call him "wrong headed"? What about "sadly deluded" or "a crazy man who hears voices inside his head" or "a troublesome god-botherer"? What about "a dangerous fundamentalist nut job"?
99% of the country might agree that these are accurate representations of Mr Green's position but will it still be legal to say so after the bill becomes law? How far would I have to go before I became guilty of incitement to religious hatred? I don't really know and I'm not sure anyone else does either.

But perhaps the worst thing of all is that Mr Green and myself agree that it isn't good idea. Of course, Mr Green just wants to retain the right to attack religions other than his own. Still, even the slightest possibility of an agreement between Mr Green and myself is mildly embarrasing.
(Petition link also via mediawatchwatch.)

A Musical Tribute

Warning! Clicking on the following link will take you to an external website containing the work of clever funny people:
Doghorse and Ecletech Present a Musical Extravaganza.
(Via akatsuki)

Outstanding. I wonder if Anne has seen it?
Edit: Don't forget to visit the NO2ID campaign.

Words and Numbers

I've just watched Sir David Frost's interview with Donald Rumsfeld on Newsnight. (The programme should be available to view online for 24 hours.)

There were two answers I thought were particularly illuminating. Rumsfeld's answers are quoted exactly as spoken (to the best of my ability) but I've paraphrased Frost slightly.

On Iraq

Frost: "Do you believe the security situation in Iraq is better today than it was on the day after the war ended?"

Rumsfeld: "Well, eh, statistically no, but clearly it has been getting better as we have gone along."

On Guantanamo Bay
Frost: "Is there a chance that Guantanamo will be closed for the reasons that these Republican senators have been saying today, that it's real bad news for PR..."

Rumsfeld: "There is no question but that the phrase today "Guantanamo" has a meaning that's unfortunate."

There we have it.
Statistically, there are more attacks in Iraq than after the war ended, statistically more civilians are dying in Iraq now than a year ago, but it is clearly getting better.
And Guantanamo, well, it's just unfortunate the phrase has aquired negative connotations. Can't imagine how that happened.

You see? Words and numbers, that's all these leftie peacenik criticisms of US policies are. Just words and numbers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Still MP Blogging

I've put up a new post at my Anne Begg blog. For anyone who doesn't know, Anne has been missing from the interweb for a wee while now. I'm attempting to provide the rest of her constituents with information on her activities in the meantime. And I'm doing it for free, who says Scots are mean?

Move On, Move On, Move On, Move On...

I missed the significance of this completely. Fortunately, others are more observant.

There's a post up at Chicken Yoghurt concerning another leak which appeared in the Sunday Times this weekend. It's a Cabinet Office paper from 21st July, 2002, called Iraq: Conditions for Military Action. Here's a sample:
20. Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein. There would also need to be a substantial effort to secure the support of Parliament. An information campaign will be needed which has to be closely related to an overseas information campaign designed to influence Saddam Hussein, the Islamic World and the wider international community.
Yes, in July 2002, the Blair government was planning to "prepare public opinion" for the invasion of Iraq. And we all know how accurate the "information campaign" turned out to be.
It's worth taking the time to read the Chicken Yoghurt post in full.

Aljazeera on the interweb

A while back I mistakenly used a link to thinking it was the English language website of the TV station of the same name. I later realised that I'd made a mistake and that is the official Aljazeera TV station website. Having recently checked Wikipedia, I realise that I'm not the only one to have made this mistake.

There is something odd about the website but I'm not really sure what it is. I emailed and they replied:
We would like to inform you that the website that you provided ( does not relate to us (our English Aljazeera website.)
Aljazeera channel has only two online versions: The English website: and the Arabic website:
I was hoping for something more about what is and who operates it. Wikipedia says it is London based. The contact details are an address in Dubia. It is not connected to the aljazeera TV station. As Wikipedia points out, does state this in their about us page. They don't say much else though. I wonder if anyone has any more information about I am, as so often, most curious.

Yoof Culture

This is the post I wrote yesterday. I still can't decide if it's worth posting. Ah well, I'll post it anyway. It is absolutely true, unfortunately.


Here's something which happened today which intersects this post about good deeds and this post on violence. It isn't really a good deed post, just a reflection on what might have happened. It isn't particularly positive or inspiring I'm afraid.

This evening I walked to the local shops. As usual, there were various groups of teenagers hanging around in the vicinity. I've had a couple of unpleasant conversations in such circumstances, normally due to my refusal to buy booze and fags. It doesn't really bother me unduly, I'm not easily intimidated. There is a problem with vandalism in the area and I struggle to resist the "it wasn't like this in my day" attitude (I'm 33, btw). The thing is that I've been going to this shop for 15 years and I know that it really wasn't like this 15 years ago, but I digress.

Here's what happened:
I'm walking past three boys, all around 16 or so, and one of them speaks to me just as I draw level with them. I've got on my earphones (loud) so I've got to take one out to hear what he's saying. It turns out that he's saying "fit like min?" (how are you?) and he's pretty drunk. "I'm fine, cheers" I say, smiling in a probably rather patronising way and go to walk on. He's not finished though. He offers me a gesture which looks for all the world like a Nazi salute. And then, hand still raised, he says "Salute, Salute, Salute..."

What's going on here then? (I should say that the shop is located in what is pretty much exclusively a white middle class area.) Why does this 16 year old drunken youth think it's a good idea to do this?

I've got no idea, but it doesn't seem like there's much sign of a culture of respect. So, "what was the good deed?" I hear you ask. Isn't it obvious? I didn't lamp him one. I'm sure he's none the wiser that I refrained from giving him a wee tap in the face. As I've mentioned before, I'm quite tall (6'4") and I'm not thin. It wouldn't have been difficult to subdue three drunken teenagers.

I'm joking. I don't believe violence is useful and I'm not a violent person (I'm occasionaly known as the BFG). There's no way the drunken teenagers could have known that though. If they hadn't been quite so drunk I might have asked them what they were doing but as it was I just walked on by. On a personal level, it doesn't bother me. As for what it says about society, I can't say the same.

A Day Off

I haven't really posted anything today. I did intend to blog a story in the P&J about the policing of the G8 summit but I never got round to it. Here's the key sentence:
Special anti-terror powers will enable police to jail protestors for up to seven days during the G8 summit.
The story is on the front page but it's not on the P&J website. I may yet write more on this (I've got the paper so I might scan the story and post it here for your viewing pleasure).

I've written a post about something which happened to me today but I can't decide if it's worth posting. I'll have to read it again in the cold light of whatever time I wake up tomorrow. I've also been meaning to add some more links to my blogroll. I'll get round to that shortly. I'm still on the lookout for good deeds, big or small. Oscar Wildebeest provides an excellent example. That's all for now.

Monday, June 13, 2005

National Idiocy Database

This government is planning to build a national database which contains all of our sensitive personal identity data. Sod that for a laugh. Even if I trust that they have good intentions, I can't believe they're capable of not making an absolute ar*e of the whole thing.

The NO2ID campaign have organised a new pledge at the pledgebank. I've signed it and now I'm going to pester everyone I know to do the same. Starting with you! Yes, you!*
*Only if you're a UK citizen of course.

They pack the 9, they fire it at prime time

The second slice of half baked philosophy pie
(The same warning applies.)

Last night’s episode of Doctor Who, Bad Wolf, presented a very odd sight. Actually, it presented a number of very odd sights but I’m just interested in one at the moment. It was the sight of the Doctor carrying a large and powerful looking gun. Fans of previous series will probably have experienced a slight sense of shock. I know I did. Doctor Who doesn’t use a gun, period (as our great leader might say). Anyway, it struck me that there were probably lots of younger viewers who were comforted when he picked up the weapon and completely baffled when he discarded it again. In fact, there are probably a lot of viewers who find the idea of a hero without a gun unsettling. Voila, instant cue for another woolly headed exploration of human nature and the conflicts involved in being a liberal leftie in the modern world.

Here’s my “opinion in a pot” regarding guns and violence: it’s bad, m’kay. I wouldn’t say I was a pacifist exactly. I think there are some occasions where violence is the only option. [Insert standard “I’d like to think I’d have fought against Hitler” argument here.] In my woolly headed way, I believe that we ought to constantly work towards a world where violence is never an option. I also think that violence rarely (if ever) provides a lasting solution to a problem. So that’s my starting point. Let’s see how it develops.

OK, I’m going to relate a conversation I had a wee while ago with the mother of a young child. In truth I can’t remember who I had this conversation with so I’m not being needlessly evasive when I refer to her as A.Mum. I think we might have been in a toy shop. The content of the conversation stuck in head. Paraphrasing:
Me: “I’ll never understand why parents allow their young children to play with toy guns. It doesn’t seem like a very good idea to me.”
A.Mum: “I know what you mean. It isn’t easy to resist when they’ve got their heart set on something though.”
Me: “I suppose it’s one of those occasions when parents have to set a line which just can’t be crossed.”
A.Mum: “The thing is that if they don’t have toy guns then they’ll just use pretend guns made out of sticks or whatever they can find.”
Me: “Hmm…”

Now, I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t a genetic predisposition towards pretending to own a gun. It seems that what is described above can only be accounted for in terms of nurture. I’m going to assume that A.Mum isn’t teaching her children about guns. There must be external influence acting on children which causes them to like playing with toy guns. It isn’t too much of a leap to conclude that this external influence comes from television and other forms of media. This is especially true in Britain (and many other countries) where the chances of a child coming into contact with a real gun are close to zero. So, it seems rational to assume that the media is nurturing in children a desire to play with toy guns.

This, in itself, might not be a huge problem. It’s only pretending with toy guns after all. I believe there is a problem and it relates to context. In almost all cases, television and cinema violence is portrayed as the solution to whatever problem is being addressed. Much of my thinking here is based on a chapter in the book Why Do People Hate America (which isn’t quite what the title suggests and, I’d suggest, is almost certainly worth reading). The book uses the illustration of the traditional cowboy film where every problem can be resolved with an accurately fired bullet. The gun is the ultimate symbol of justice and the good guys are always the best shot. This idea is pervasive throughout the TV and cinema output of the US and pretty much everywhere else. This is why I tend to laugh at the idea that Hollywood is full of bleeding heart liberals. If that were true, there’d be a lot less people getting shot in the films they produce (I know there are some exceptions, The Shawshank Redemption being a fine example).

I like to use Star Trek as an illustration because it’s often presented as a liberal and optimistic vision of the future, (and because Gene Roddenberry originally pitched it as “Wagon Train to the Stars”). The point is that Star Trek (especially TOS, with NG being possibly the least guilty) conforms to the traditional media stereotype portrayal of violence as the answer to problems. For all its liberal credentials, the Star Trek universe cannot escape the fact that many episodes are concluded through the judicious application of violence by the Enterprise crew. How often do the Enterprise crew beam down to a planet intentionally unarmed? Basically never (unless there is some pressing reason why they must leave there weapons behind). By default, they have weapons. By default, weapons are required. There isn’t anything liberal or optimistic about this state of affairs.

And that’s why Doctor Who stands out as being so different. He doesn’t own a gun, he never uses a gun, and he almost never becomes involved in violence. It’s worth reflecting on how many other “hero’s” you can apply this to. I can’t think of many. When the Doctor bursts into the room holding a gun, he almost immediately passes it to the people he is supposed to be threatening. He wants information and he asks for it. He attempts to understand the situation facing him. That’s the key for the Doctor, communication and comprehension (of course there’s no reasoning with the enemy who appeared at the end of Bad Wolf but this is already becoming the Sci-Fi post so lets just leave that for now). And I think it’s important that the Doctor shows that there are other ways to solve difficult problems. He is a role model of another sort. Children with sonic screwdrivers running around pretending to fix stuff sounds like a good idea to me. Children whose first instinct is to try to understand why something is the way it is. Children who want to see the best in people.

The problem is, as I’ve already said, the Doctor is very much a minority hero. The “shoot first” hero is far more pervasive and is influencing children to a greater degree. I’d argue that this is partly the reason why society continues to display violent tendencies. Children are constantly bombarded with the message that violence can always be justified if you believe you are right, that violence has few negative effects, and that violence can solve all sorts of problems. To me, this is not good.

What is the answer then? The obvious one is greater censorship of the media. I’m not a great fan of censorship. What about artistic expression? What about freedom of speech? Who decides what is acceptable (and who decides who decides)? I believe I have the right to choose for myself. I’m afraid I can’t offer a solution (perhaps I should have mentioned that in the introduction, sorry). I’d like to see more positive role models on TV and in films, especially for children, but I’m not sure how to make it happen. Perhaps consumer power can do it. Perhaps if we all took the time to reflect on the messages children receive through the universal babysitter, the media would have to respond in a more responsible way. Any thoughts?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Strike a Pose

The recent announcement of debt relief for some of Africa's poorest countries is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It is a very small step.
It is worth considering the deal in a larger perspective:
The debt deal is worth around $1.5bn [annually] - critical money to some very poor countries - but only 3% of total aid flows of $50bn per year.
It's also worth remembering that one of the biggest obstacles ( controlled by the G8) to African economic development is still in place:
Steve Tibbett, of the Make Poverty History campaign, told the BBC News website: "Trade is the biggest issue, where there is the deepest unfairness- it is the root of the problem."

If Blair and Brown are serious about the economic development of Africa, the protectionist policies of the G8 countries must be addressed. It remains to be seen how much movement there will be in this area.
(It might be worth pointing out that I'm trying to be pragmatic here. In an ideal world, I'd like there to be a much greater restructuring of the rules of the globalised economy. In the meantime, we ought to at least remove our own barriers and practice what we preach.)

Altruism in it's purest form

I was reading an Observer piece on the debt relief deal when I spotted this:
The deal is another example of the new working relationship between Brown and Tony Blair which first emerged when Labour's election campaign faltered. Downing Street was quick to claim some of the credit for Blair, who went to Washington last week for talks with President George Bush. 'Tony goes to Washington and essentially ensures the door is open for the deal we wanted to make this weekend,' said a source. 'It may be possible that Gordon then picks up the ball and runs with it hard, but it's a good one-two: Tony goes to Washington essentially to make all this possible.'
Doesn't that make you proud?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Good Deed Noticed

In discussion with Blair Necessities*, we came up with an idea to write a series of posts about good deeds which have gone unnoticed. I think it'll be a good antidote to all the cynical critisisms I write about politicians. Once in a while it's a good idea to stop and recognise there are lots of good things happening in the world every day. What I'd really like is for more people to take up the idea and write their own "good deeds noticed" posts occasionaly. If you do, please feel free to let me know. If I get enough interest I'd like to start a good deed blog which posts links to suitable blog posts from as many people as possible. Here's the first post. And now, here's one from me.

H2O and a friend were out walking the friends dog earlier this week. They were walking down a quiet country road when they spotted a sheep and two lambs walking towards them down the middle of the road. They managed to put the dog on it's lead before it had a chance to chase the sheep but sheep being sheep they turned tail and headed off in the other direction up the road. Now, neither H2O or the friend have any experience in dealing with sheep (contrary to popular opinion most people from the Aberdeen area are not farmers and do not have well developed sheep handling abilities) so they were not sure what to do. There was no sign of a farmer. They continued to walk slowly along the road with the sheep and lambs now leading the way. After a while they passed a field with the gate open. It was apparent that this was where the sheep had escaped from but the sheep had already gone past the gate and were heading on up the road.

And that's how it came to pass that H2O and friend became amateur sheep herders for an afternoon. One ran at full speed to overtake the sheep while the other held the dog to stop a full sheep u-turn. After some shouting and general arm waving the sheep were returned to their field and the gate secured. The farmer is still none the wiser about the eventful afternoon had by his sheep and her two lambs.

As I said, I'd be interested if anyone else is interested in posting similar stories. Let me know via the comments or by email if you've writen a good deed noticed post on your blog.

*I've decided to say Blair Necessities so people don't think I mean Mr Evil Emperor Blair.

Brainwashing Babies

Even though I've got nothing to add, I thought this needed more than a link in my linklog (which needs a better name btw, any suggestions?).
Read this:
Marketers see babies' noses as pathway to profits
(via chris at qwghlm).

It'd be funny if it wasn't so (gnnh, I really want to swear here) seriously not funny.

Edit: fixed a duff link. Never let it be said that I don't admit my mistakes (occassionaly).

Friday, June 10, 2005

Fact Free EU Zone

EU finances are not something I can claim to know a great deal about. As usual, it's not going to stop me from expressing an opinion on the subject.
Here's the story.

The first thing is that I can't see any justification for the British rebate. Twenty four nations follow one set of rules but Mrs Thatcher didn't like those rules so we've a special set just for us. We're like the spoilt kid in the class who sulks until they get what they want. The EU would be even more of a mess if every country negotiated the way the UK does. The rules are badly in need of reform and serious negotiations are required from all member states.

But for this man to be leading the calls for the rebate to be scrapped? No, I don't think so. Is he willing to discuss the removal of EU agricultural trade subsidies? Not likely.

This is the one area which could actually make a huge difference in the G8's stated goal of addressing poverty in Africa. I'm not saying that France is the only sticking point but I think it's fair to say that it is the biggest one. The French are apparently not even prepared to discuss reform of the CAP. Well, I'm afraid I find that hypocritical in the extreme (even Blair would struggle to achieve such a level).

So, let's get rid of the ludicrously unfair EU agricultural subsidies, let's put pressure on the US to do the same with their own protectionist agriculture policies, and let's scrap the British rebate. But let's not take advice from a posturing French President who won't even discuss reform of the EU's most indefensible policies.

Update: what some other people say.
The Sharpener (Nosemonkey) : Britain's rebate - A European view
Perfect (Robin) : The common agricultural policy: A ray of hope
And, writing from a country with similar issues to contend with, Hugo Kent : The Rebate Debate

Genuine People Personalities

Well I never!
"At first glance it may look like nothing has changed at all but the bins and benches all have unique personalities. They are what's called "generative" so that over time they develop more and more personality."
Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and all they want me to do is let people sit on me...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Inadvisable Posting

I'm going to make a prediction but first I need to set the scene. I've been awake for almost 24 hours. I'm trying to readjust my hours of conciousness so that they fit with those of most other people in the UK. At best, I'd say I'm in a dwam. I may have left a couple of ill considered comments as I've travelled the interwebs this afternoon. Ah well, not to worry, I'm still going to make this ill advised, bad taste, and probably quite offensive prediction.

I've been trying to avoid the coverage of the Michael Jackson trial. It's all a bit "media circus" for my liking. Unfortunately, it's pretty much unavoidable, even on BBC news, so I'm aware that the jury is considering it's verdict. It seems to me that the verdict, whatever it is, will in no way prove anything one way or the other. I'm not going to predict the verdict, I'm going more long term. I predict that if Michael Jackson is found guilty, and if he is sent to prison, it will be the first tentative steps in the foundation of a new religion.

OK, I warned you it was inadvisable. Still, if the two conditions are met, I'd say the religion of Jacksonism will be thriving within 20 years or so. Remember to check back in 20 years to congratulate me if I'm right.

I'm switching off my pc now and going to sleep.

Stay in your homes!

This is really just a footnote to this earlier post. In particular it's about this quotation from the front page of the P&J:
But terrorism expert David Capitanchick has warned north-east oil firms could be attacked by anti-capitalist activists. The Aberdeen University academic said multinational oil companies were prime targets for anti-globalisation demonstrations.
I like to google for information about experts when I see them quoted in the local media. In this case I'm also interested because I actually studied terrorism at Aberdeen University in 1996. There are no shocking revelations to be found here but I thought I'd share what I did find. Anyone who's interested can click the permalink for more.

Number 1: It's actually David Capitanchik. The P&J have misspelt his name.

Number 2: Mr Capitanchick is not employed by the University of Aberdeen. He has not been employed there since 1993 (which explains why I didn't recognise his name). He was most recently employed by Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen but he retired in December 2004.

As I said, trivialities, but I thought they were worth correcting. The RGU profile does say "David is now a frequent commentator on current developments in his areas of expertise in both the national and international press." They aren't kidding. Here are some of Mr Capitanchik's comments.

The Times, 31/10/02
“I cannot think of a country where you are guaranteed to be safe...We are vulnerable right here in Britain. It would not take much for a suicide bomber to walk into Selfridges...”
[David points out that we are always vulnerable.]

The Scotsman, 14/04/03
"I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true a number of senior Iraqis had escaped in a convoy of Russian diplomats. Since Saddam came to power the Russians have been very close to his regime. It must be remembered that Saddam owes Russia $12 billion for arms deliveries and economic aid and the two are closely tied through this."
[David comments on the possible location of Saddam and other senior Iraqis]

The Evening Express, 16/12/03 (via google cache)
"Instead of the bloodshed of the Balkans I expect the new Iraq to be more like a devolved Britain."
[David predicts how events will unfold in Iraq. One of the few occassions I can find when David provides an optimistic prediction.]

The Scotsman, 17/09/04
"If it had been terrorists the consequences could have been horrendous. Suicide bombers would have blown themselves up or attacked someone with knives."
[David comments after journalists gain unauthorised access to the Scottish Parliament.]

The Sunday Times, 26/09/04
"It’s no excuse to say that security would have been tighter when the royal family are in residence. The palace is susceptible to a Brighton bombing-style attack, in which a terrorist was able to build a bomb into a wall (in advance)."
[David commenting on a reporter gaining access to Holyroodhouse.]

The Scotsman, 01/04/05
"I was surprised when Gordon Brown encouraged people to join the anti-poverty march which I think is an occasion to worry about."
[David warns against joining the G8 march. A particular favourite of mine, this one.]

Daily Record, 31/05/05
"Given the current terror threat, it would be unreasonable for Britain - the Americans' main coalition partner - to refuse their request."
[David agrees with Blair's decision to allow 2000 heavily armed US Marines to help guard Bush during the G8 summit.]

There are more but I think you get the idea. Doomed, doomed, I tell ye! OK, I suspect the worst that can be definiteively said about Mr Capitanchik is that he's a media rent-a-quote but I wouldn't even be as unkind as to say that. Also, I don't have to. Alan Taylor, writing in The Sunday Herald, comments on the Tartan Bollocks Awards , 2004, "when due recognition is given to stories whose relationship with reality is tenuous to say the least."
In truth, there was never any doubt about whose bollocks would win the top award. Step forward Jason Allardyce of the teuchter edition of the Funday Times. In March, Mr Allardyce reported that “government experts” believed that the Holyrood parliament could be attacked by “a lone terrorist with a lightweight mortar” standing on Salisbury Crags...
Credence was lent to this incredible tale by... rent-an-academic, David Capitanchik, “a terrorism expert” at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, who said he expected surveillance of the hills overlooking the parliament site to be stepped up in view of the danger of a mortar attack.
Apparently, “terrorists were most likely to strike during visits by foreign dignitaries and eminent people.... The parliament is exposed,” added Mr Capitanchick observantly, “and if things get really tough for terrorists in London, which they are, and if they see things are not so tight in Edinburgh, they could come here. Al-Qaeda does not know much about devolution. We are as vulnerable in Scotland as any other place in the UK.”
Stay in your homes!

To be a Scotsman

What's going on here then? I hope the blancmanges were watching.
We really do live in interesting times.

There's a story from in the Press and Journal, Wed 8th, 2005, (sadly, the story isn't online) which gives a good illustration of why I worry about the possibility of Scottish independence.
The article is about a Burger King poster used in Hungary which translates as "Burger King is where a Scot takes you for a meal becasue it's so cheap". OK, Burger King is one of those companies I boycott for various reasons, and the slogan doesn't seem particularly funny to me, but it doesn't really bother me much.
The same cannot be said for SNP MSP Bruce Crawford:
"This advert is by no means idiosyncratic [as described by a BK spokesperson]. It demeans the people of Scotland. I hope Burger King in Hungary do not produce any more of their so called idiosyncratic posters demeaning Scotland... This advert is clearly an unfair representation of the Scottish people and needs updating".
He also descibed the advert as a "slap in the face" to the people of Scotland.
I'd say this little episode probably tells us two things.
a) Mr Crawford is taking this advert a bit too seriously. 1
b) MSPs don't really have enough useful things to be getting on with.

Relax guy, it's just a joke. As is this:
Q) Do you know how copper wire was invented?
A) Two Scotsmen were arguing over a penny.

Oh, I've demeaned my country. Outrageous! 2

1: There are lots of valid reasons why MSPs might want to complain about Burger King marketing stragegies. The above just isn't one of them.
2: Please don't misunderstand, I am proud of my country. I am particularly proud of our ability to laugh at ourselves. If only all nations would take the time to do this more often, I feel the world would be a better place.
3: This was supposed to be a post with no serious points in it at all. The footnotes put paid to that idea.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Quick, before they all go to bed

I've just put up a new post at my blog about myMP, Anne Begg. Anne's official site doesn't look like it's going to be launched for a while yet so I'm going to continue to provide this voluntary service in the meantime.

In other news (ie me, me, me!), I'm having some difficulty in maintaining conciousness at the same time as the rest of the country. Insomnia don't you know. My posts might be slightly out of sync with those of "normal people" for a wee while. In honour of this, I'm going to adopt a new motto:
The early bird may catch the worm but the early worm gets eaten.

One more thing. Recently I've not been managing to respond to as many comments as I'd like. [Insert suitable excuse here.] Sorry about that, normal service will resume shortly.

Anarchic Loon Invasion

The media is becoming increasing obsessed with the potential for public disorder during the G8 protests in July. I've just listened to a good 15 minutes worth of speculation on this very issue on Newsnight Scotland. The first point I should make is that I'm sure there will be a group of people who are intent on causing public disorder during the protests. They will be a tiny minority. The overwhelming majority of people will demonstrate peacefully and lawfully. The media have their own reasons for concentrating their attentions on the extremist fringe, and those reasons are often rather more complicated than a first glance would suggest. I'm going to avoid that particular hot potato for the moment and concentrate on another institution which has a vested interest in overstating the extremist involvement in the protests.

Yes, it's that bastion of honesty and integrity, Her Majesty's Government (forgive me if I'm preaching to the converted here). New Labour under our great leader do not want you to protest in Edinburgh or anywhere else. If a million people turn up only to be told that it's pretty much business as usual, it'll be embarrassing for the government. Blair knows Bush doesn't intend to give the kind of commitment needed to affect radical change. What's more, Blair himself doesn't intend to give that kind of commitment. The recent announcement of an increase in aid to 0.7% of GDP by 2015 is just another example of posture politics. It's a long standing commitment which should have been met years ago. No, the government don't want you there because they'd find it all a bit awkward and uncomfortable.

And so, they are more than happy to play up the extremist fringe elements. It's going to be anarchy out there. Your children will be in danger. Fighting, stone throwing, fires, overturned cars, riots beatings, bombs, tear gas...
Stay in your homes!

And many potential protestors probably will stay at home. This will suit the government right down to the ground. Groundswell, what groundswell?
Y'see, the only way the current situation is going to even begin to change is if a million people do march peacefully on Edinburgh and Gleneagles. This will be something extraordinary, something unique, and something very difficult to ignore. One million people protesting for radical change to the international economic system. The government doesn't want that. They're happy to posture and to tinker round the edges.
So stay in your homes!

Now that you've read the above you're either thinking
a) Tell me something I don't know.
b) I never thought of it like that.
c) Why am I reading this conspiracy nut job's rantings?

If it's c) you should know it's not about to get any better. I'm inclined to believe there's more too it than I've mentioned here, but I'll leave that for another post.
Here's a link to get flavour of it though.

Anyway, the point is that this type of thinking tends to provide a framework for me when I read certain news reports. Yesterdays P&J has a striking headline on it's front page:

Police Will Protect Oil Firms From G8 Attacks
The first minister has told north-east oil firms they will be protected from G8 protesters. During a visit to Aberdeen yesterday, Jack McConnell responded to fears that militant campaigners could target major oil companies as part of anti-capitalism protests timed to coincide with the world leaders' summit being held at Gleneagles in Perthshire next month.
Holy crap, that sounds scary. Stay in your homes!
But wait a minute, Mr McConnell was responding to fears from who exactly?
Perhaps it's these fears:
But terrorism expert David Capitanchick has warned north-east oil firms could be attacked by anti-capitalist activists. The Aberdeen University academic said multinational oil companies were prime targets for anti-globalisation demonstrations.
You see, it's so serious we need to consult an expert in terrorism. Terrorists, activists, protestors, demonstrators, they're all the same, every one intent on coming to blow us to smithereens.
Stay in your homes!

Aberdeen is actually quite a long way from Gleneagles (the hotel is marked A) but I suppose it is convievable that a group of radical activists could make the trip north. Seems an indecently long way to travel when there's so much stuff to blow up in the central belt. Still, it is possible, an expert in terrorism said so.
Stay in your homes! No-one is safe from the anarchic loon invasion.