Tuesday, May 31, 2005

EU What?

I have Listened and I have Learned

Selective hearing is a condition which appears to afflict an ever increasing number of people. In the days when I spent too much time hanging round in bars it was easy to spot. A number of my friends would immediately respond to the question "do you want another beer?" but saying "it's your round, isn't it?" never seemed to elicit quite such a hasty response. I suffer from the condition myself to some degree. I'm far more likely to hear "would you like a cup of tea?" than "I think the dishes need doing". It does seem to be mostly, but not exclusively, a male condition.

Our great leader has developed selective hearing into something of an art form. The general election result is a case in point. Labour's share of the vote dropped by 5.5%. The Tories share increased by a tiny 0.6%, and the Liberal Democrats share increased by 3.7%. Mr Blair hears this as an endorsement of his policies and a sign that he needs to step further to the right.
That goes beyond selective hearing and reaches a whole new level. I call it twisted listening.

Here's another recent example. The Independent commisioned a poll which showed that 62% of people favoured a switch to a fairer voting system. Our great leader's response was to send out his old flatmate, Lord Falconer, to tell the nation that there was no "groundswell" of support for changes to the system. Blair also put John 'Herod' Prescott in charge of the committee examining the case for electoral reform. Here we see a further evolution to the listening strategy being employed. I think of it as the "not listening but talking" strategy or alternatively the "I'll continually tell you what you think in a loud irritating voice " strategy. I believe this can be used to best effect when you've already made a cast iron commitment to listen on a particular issue. Like this, for example:
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 suppose this could also be called the "selective willingness to listen when listening might mean your grasping fingers will be removed from the levers of power" strategy (not really a catchy one that though).

The latest piece of news to reach our great leader has travelled all the way from France. The French have said no to the EU constitution. There are a number of reasons for this "no" vote but it seems partly due to the fact that many French people believe the constitution is full of Anglo-Saxon liberal free market ideas. It is a very complex problem and it will require some careful and considered listening in order to understand where the EU goes next. Our great leader is currently on holiday in Tuscany (I wonder if he has bruschettas for breakfast?) but here's what he had to say:
"The problem is there is another debate going on in Europe, among the people of Europe, which is to do with jobs, economic security, public services and welfare reform in an era of globalisation, illegal immigration, organised crime - issues to do, in other words, with the economy and security that seem to them the issues they want to see leadership from Europe on."
He argued that the constitution was a "perfectly sensible set of rules to govern Europe", but added that there was a "bigger debate now in Europe....
How do we give our citizens proper protection, proper welfare and public services and at the same time remaining strong and competitive and prosperous in this modern world? Now that, in my view, is the question that we need to debate in Europe, alongside whatever decisions are made about Europe."
The Guardian
The Guardians says: "Mr Blair's response is a bit like offering a child a vindaloo curry after they have just said they don't eat spicy food."
The Times says:
Tony Blair seized on the French “no” vote yesterday to back his case for greater economic reform, telling EU members the result showed they must face up to the challenges of globalisation.

Mr Blair takes over the EU presidency in July. It will be a difficult period. The future direction of the EU is up for discussion and many views will have to be reconciled. I hope our great leader takes the time to listen to the debate. Unfortunately for our European friends, I feel it may be beyond him.

Gunboats

The title of this blog is a reflection of the workings of international relations between nations. These relations are often said to be conducted in an environment of Realpolitik. In the days of British Empire it was called Gunboat diplomacy; a heavily armed gunboat at the mouth of the harbour would soon get the natives in line. In these more enlightened times we like to believe that international politics has progressed beyond such actions. The story of the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands puts this belief into perspective.

Last week, the Guardian Weekly reported on the fact that a number of Chagos Islanders are to be allowed to visit their former home islands. These visits will be for a period of no more than 12 hours. No journalists will be allowed to accompany them.

The full story of how the British government has treated the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands shows how far international relations have progressed since the days of Gunboat diplomacy. The Information Clearing House has put the documentary "Stealing a Nation" online.

The Blair government once talked of an "ethical foreign policy". Sadly, it was no more than talk.

Respec' to my PM

The Independent has word on our great leader:
Blair steps in to end 'yob culture' feud
Tony Blair will chair the first meeting of the cabinet committee on antisocial behaviour to end a turf war between ministers who are battling for control of the "yob" agenda.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and Hazel Blears, who is responsible for the police and antisocial behaviour orders, have been battling to seize control of the agenda...
There have been continuing reports from Whitehall that Mr Clarke was being "highly obstructive" by refusing to give up responsibility for antisocial behaviour.
Yob culture? You're not kidding. There's obstructive behaviour, a bit of battling, and a freaking turf war going on in the mofo cabinet office. I'd say Clarke packs an Uzi, Blears goes for a Glock. That's just speculation though. I'm sure our great leader will bring out the big guns and whip them into line.

In other news, the Independent also reports that Brown's supporters are calling for him to make an early push for the leadership. One nameless former minister says:
"Blair is going to continue messing up the health service with the private sector and education with city academies. That is sufficient reason for Gordon to start manoeuvring."
Now that's what I call respect. Bo!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Dumb Database

I'm against ID cards. I think they're an infringement of my right to privacy.
But some people tell me "if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear".
It sounds sensible, and I understand why people say it, but is it really true?

Do you mind if the government wants to record every phone call you ever make?
Do you mind if the government wants to fit a CCTV camera in every room of your house?
Do you mind if every civil servant with a computer terminal has access to your medical records?
After all, if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear.

You might have nothing to hide, but I'm guessing you'd still feel very uncomfortable with any of the above. One of the three is about to become passed into law.

The NO2ID campaign is the first port of call if you'd like to register your discontent.
And if you think ID cards are a stupid idea, here's a pledge you can sign.

Quick, I'm on the Telly

Real world interference means I have to be extremely brief. I can't not mention this though. It's another hit count frenzy!
That'll really please the conspiracy theorists mentioned here. Pure coincidence but rather amusing.

Good Times, Bad Times

Here are a couple of posts which I felt the need to comment on.

The first, $70 Million for Whitewater, $0 for Downing Street Memo, points out a slight double standard in US politics and links to a new pressure group which aims to do something about it.
The memo in question was first published in the Sunday Times. It's the one from July 2002 which said:
The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime... It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.
This wasn't what Mr Bush was telling his country in July '02 though. Many Americans, quite understandably, aren't too happy to have been lied to by their leader over such important issues. Unfortunately, I have to add that I know the feeling.

In the second post, Nosemonkey highlights a spectacularly wrong headed statement. The author proudly assures us that it will be printed in the Times. And it has been. Remarkable.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

BBC Bias (or lack of)

Normally I try not to comment on the sites who believe the BBC has a left wing bias. I did write a spoof post about bias in TV media and I think it makes my feelings reasonably clear. Anyway, I just couldn't stop myself from commenting on this post about the BBC radio show, "Off the Ball".
Self described as "the most petty and ill-informed sports programme on radio", I'm amazed that people can get so worked up about it. I left a comment, I couldn't restrain myself. I wasn't trying to be a troll.
Just in case I do get any new visitors, I thought I'd do a quick post to pose three questions. Be honest now:

1 Do you believe privatised news sources tend to have a right wing bias?
2 Have you read this story?
3 The water mentioned in Qu2 is no longer available in the UK, but do you know if it's still available in other countries?

It's worth reflecting on. I'm happy to have at least one mainstream news source which is not subject to the pressures of advertisers.

A Roundup of Note

Tim Worstall has posted his weekly Britblog Roundup, the roast beef of British blogging. I normally try to visit every Sunday but it does seem particularly notable this week. Good man that Tim, excellent judge of quality posts, he really can spot talent... (that's enough, put your ego back in its box, Ed).

I had to quote this from the roundup:
Perfect.co.uk is also strongly opposed to the ID cards. In fact, even with all my wandering around blogs, I’ve not yet come across one that is actually putting the case for the scheme. Would anyone want to point me to a UK blog that tries to do so?
I haven't seen one. I wonder if Labour MPs realise how big an issue this is going to be in 2009/10? There are a lot of Labour MPs in marginal seats who really ought to be paying attention if they want a long term career in politics.

Edit
- I didn't add a title. It'd only irritate me all day if I don't fix it, so I couldn't let it lie (even though I still can't think of a decent title).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Time Wastage

It's the strangly addictive Throwpaper (via doctorvee).
My best result so far is 16.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hot Air

A Slight Digression due to a Letter

I have to be honest and admit that I don't know a great deal about wind power. It seems a reasonable idea to generate at least some of our electricity this way, although it doesn't look like it'll ever be able to produce a large percentage of the electricity we need. I do support windfarms in principle.
[Click on Permalink to read more...]


Here's a potted version of my thinking:
  • Scientists may or may not develop new technologies to replace our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels before they all run out. Most advocates of the free market are reasonably confident they will. They might be right. I'm not sure either way.
  • Windfarms are not permanent structures. If a new wonder energy source is discovered, our children and grandchildren will be able to remove wind farms (and would probably be able to recycle the materials for other purposes).
  • There is currently no technology available to dispose of nuclear waste. Suitable methods may be discovered in the future but again, I cannot say with certainty that this will be the case. As things stand, our children and grandchildren will not have the option to say no to nuclear waste. They might not be too happy about this, especially if no safe method of waste disposal is discovered.
  • So, I don't mind if lots of windfarms are built all over the country. Our grandchildren can remove them if they want. I do mind if lots of nuclear power stations are built all over the country. I'd rather not pass a nuclear hot potato onto the next generation. I know there is more to the argument but this is the potted version.

Right, on to the letter in question. It appeared in today's P&J letters page. (It should be online tomorrow.) Here it is as printed:

Windfarm noise misery
SIR - Frank Bellamy complains that the pulsing sound of the Causeway Mire windfarm may force him to move away (Noise from windfarm making life a misery, May 25). I have noticed this low-pitched "whoomph whoomph" of big wind turbines, and have also heard it before, in disturbing circumstances. Who remembers those Vietnam war movies with atmospheric soundtracks of slowed-down Chinook helicopter rotors? The whoomph is caused by the blades of one rotor encountering the blade-wakes of the intermeshing second rotor. It is not the only disturbing thing about these enormous machines. The sudden emergence of a giant blade from behind a hill-slope, or out of a cloud base, triggers that primeval "corner of the eye" fright which saved our distant ancestor from leaping predators. I am not surprised that those who live in sight and sound of the wind-monsters have their tranquillity stolen and their health damaged.
Dr John Etherington,
Llanhowell,
Pembrokeshire.

To be honest, I laughed. Living near to a windfarm means you're going to be napalmed by a US military helicopter and have your intensines removed and eaten by a wolf. It's bit silly, a bit tabloid sensationalist nonsense. It stuck in my mind because I though it was funny. Then I started to think about it a bit more. Pembrokeshire, isn't that in Wales? Why is Dr Etherington from Wales writing a letter to my local paper? I'm almost certain he can't hear the Causeway Mire windfarm from down there. Curious.
You know me, I like a mystery. I thought I'd do a bit of google sleuthing. Here's what I found:
From the Guardian
"Why are we building wind turbines and paying three times the odds for their electricity when other options are so obvious? Why are we building the biggest passenger jet the world has ever seen? Why do we not reward people for saving energy?" says Dr John Etherington, a retired academic regarded as the intellectual guru of Country Guardian.
and from the same article:
The anti-wind lobby took off in 1992 with a group called Country Guardian, which was worried by wind power's potential to damage landscape. It strongly denies accusations of having close links with the nuclear industry (its chair is Sir Bernard Ingham, who is a paid lobbyist for British Nuclear Fuels). Its arguments were supported by many conservationists who feared the visual impact on lovely places, but also by old Labourites who supported the unions in Britain's nuclear industry, and others who accurately foresaw that wind power could scupper plans for new nuclear stations.
But is this the same Dr John Etherington?
What about this, or this, or this, or this, or this or this or this?

There are a few more but you get the idea. Dr John Etherington from Wales is an anti-windfarm campaigner. It's not a shocking discovery given the letter but perhaps he should have been more explicit about it. It might also have been more productive to have used one of his more rational sounding arguments rather than resorting to tabloid scaremongering. Not that I'm an expert in anti-windfarm campaigning, perhaps subliminal negative association tactics are very effective. I really wouldn't know.

I did find one other interesting reference to Dr Etherington:
Members complain it is very difficult to pin down the costs of wind power. This summary of a letter to the Western Mail on October 6 by Dr John Etherington, a leading critic of wind power, may be helpful. He took issue with a reader who claimed that the cost of wind power was 2-3p/ kWh since that, he said, was only the cost of generation.
That's from a meeting of SONE, Supporters of Nuclear Energy.

Obviously I'm not suggesting Dr John Etherington has any connection to such an organisation though.

My MP asks a Question.

Details available at my Anne Begg blog if you're interested. It's a decent question and it deserved a decent answer. But did it get one?

A Thought Experiment

The Guardian reports that Blair hits out over 'absurd' EU rules. Our great leader has decreed that the compensation culture has created an aversion to risk in the public sector. I thought it might be interesting to read the PMs speech while thinking about only one of our great leaders proposals. I decided to go for the National Identity Register and ID Card Bill. Please do try to play along at home. Do you have the bill in your mind? You do?. Then we are ready to read selected highlights of:
Tony Blair's speech on compensation culture.
It is what I call a sensible debate about risk in public policy making. In my view, we are in danger of having a wholly disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life.
Well, I agree, we wouldn't want to get our risks out of proportion. Because if we do:
...The result is a plethora of rules, guidelines, responses to "scandals" of one nature or another that ends up having utterly perverse consequences.
No-one wants that. The PM is really talking sense.
...A natural but wrong response is to retreat in the face of this change. To regulate to eliminate risk. To restrict rather than enable. But we pay a price if we react like this.
I don't want to pay a price for a disproportionate judgement of risk. Well said.
...We seek protection from risks that are exaggerated or even imagined. We allow the conspiracy theorists to dictate the argument without a basis in fact. Likewise in more mundane areas of public service the idea that it is the job of government to eliminate risk can lead to the elimination of common sense.
Quite right. I'm glad the government doesn't want to eliminate common sense on the basis of exaggerated threats and without basis in fact.
... We cannot guarantee a risk-free life. So what to do? First, recognise the problem. Some public discussion of it helps engender a more sensible debate. Instead of the "something must be done" cry that goes up every time there is a problem or a "scandal", we make it clear we will reflect first and regulate only after reflection.
Reflect first. Good plan.
...We also need a far more rational, balanced and intelligent debate as to how "risk" is debated. Not every "scandal" requires a regulatory response. Bad people will find a way round the law no matter how good the law is.
It's true, those bad people will find a way round any law. A little plastic card isn't going to be much help.
Spending hundreds of millions of pounds to reduce the risk to zero may be a foolish way of prioritising expenditure.
Brilliant. I couldn't have put it better.
... There is usually a seductive logic to any new regulation. There is almost always a case that can be made for each specific instrument. The problem is cumulative. All these good intentions can add up to a large expense, with suffocating effects. Sometimes, we need to pause for a moment and think whether we will not do more damage with a hasty response than was done by the problem itself.
That is exactly what I think. The man is clearly a genius, how did we ever come to doubt him? The hugely expensive, intrusive, and unworkable national identity register and ID card bill is being kicked into the long grass. Huzzah!

Sorry, I didn't quite catch that. What...what do you mean? Did you read his speech? He's still going to force it through, you say? No, you must have misunderstood, go and check again...

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Great Britain

I've just been reading an article in The Register. It's worth a read (via Murky).
At the very bottom of the article it says this:
On the subject of manifesto commitments and honour, last Parliamentary session the TheyWorkForYou database was reporting that Tony Blair "sometimes" rebelled against his party. Which may strike you as strange, but investigation reveals that he voted against the Labour line twice, on the abolition of foxhunting, and on the reform of the House of Lords, both of these, we recall, being manifesto commitments.
I think that says a lot about our great leader.

I clicked on the link to TheyWorkForYou and at 3pm the site lists the following popular searches today:
pussy, cocks, Andrew Lansley, gonads

I think that says a lot about our great country.

(Andrew Lanslet is the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire.)

Edit: Ugly language removed. Read then post Garry, read then post.

Two Jags and a King

Our great leader has decided to put John Prescott in charge of the Cabinet committee which considers electoral reform. [Insert rant here.]

I read that Charles Kennedy had said it was like putting Herod in charge of a maternity ward. Now that's a good line. I tried a few variations on the theme over at this doctorvee post. I thought it could become a sort of meme; you pass it on and each person has to add a new version. I don't know if it's a good idea or not.

And then I had another idea (that'll be my lot for the year then). How about if I was to say that giving Prescott the position is like putting Herod in charge of a maternity ward? I wonder if anyone will agree.

If you're feeling disheartened, these unrelated but useful instructions will cheer you up (via Newsblog).

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

National Database of Stupidity

Borderline rantage - approach with caution

The government appears determined to force through its proposals for a national ID card scheme. This is a very stupid idea. For rational, well supported arguments, I refer you to the NO2ID Campaign. For rantage on the idiocy of the ID card scheme, read on.

The BBC reports that the ID card bill is to be reintroduced.
ID cards are needed to stop the soaring costs of identity theft, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said as proposals for a national scheme were reintroduced.
The Tories have come out against the proposals but it looks as if the government if confident of getting the legislation through. They are probably right; there aren't enough Labour rebels to piss on this particular parade. And public opinion is in favour of ID cards. I wonder if that could be due to the government manipulation of the "war" on terror?

Anyway, I've spoken to quite a few people about ID cards and the most common argument I hear in favour goes something like this:
If you have nothing to hide then it shouldn't be an issue. It is only going to be a problem for criminals and terorists.

This is bullshit people, and here's one reason why. The starting point is true. Honest decent people, (possibly hard working, possibly with families, or possibly single and lazy) with nothing to hide will happily register for their flashy new ID cards. They'll show their friends their cool new bit of plastic. The government will store all of their information in a national computer register with their personal ID number. All well and good.

But what happens when a criminal or a terrorist needs to get themself a false identity?
"I wonder where I can gain access to the information I need to steal the identity of an honest and decent citizen? Is there anywhere storing all of the information I need all in one easy to access place?"asks the terrorist.
"Why yes", says the government, "we've just spent billions of pound of taxpayers money creating one".
"Oh, that's very decent of you" replies the terrorist.

OK, that's a flippant version (and I don't think the government is being deliberately helpful to terrorists) but the central point remains true. If there is a single national database which contains all the personal information of honest citizens, it will be hacked into so badly it'll look like the aftermath of a bloody medieval battle. Every terrorist group, every people smuggling gang, every drug dealing network, every criminal organisation worth its salt, will attack the security of the national register constantly. It will be unremitting.

This wouldn't be a problem if we were confident the government would install suitable security measures to deal with this constant attack. Ask yourself when you last heard news of a succesful government introduction of a new I.T. system though? Has it ever happened? Left or Right wing, I think we can agree that the government record when it comes to I.T. is, well, shit.

And the ID cards will be forged. Ask any security consultant (not in the pay of the government) how likely it is. It will happen. And the terrorists, drug dealers, people smugglers, and organised criminals will be using your details on their flashy new fake ID cards.

And yet, we appear to be quite happy to allow them to set up a national identity theft database.
Well, they can fuck off if they think they're putting my details in their super ID card register database bollocks. The shit is going to hit the fan when this bill becomes law; we'll be pleading for a return to the Golden Age of Thatcher and the Poll Tax in no time.

More MP Blogging

I've just put up a new post at the blog I set up on behalf of my MP, Anne Begg. It's about e-democracy. You never know, you might find it exciting. To be honest I feel I should add that it's not very likely though.

Antibiotics Are Ace

As prescribed, I took a double dose yesterday and one today and I’m already feeling much better. My nose no longer feels as if it’s going to explode and my left ear isn’t quite so red. Even my brain is starting to clear. I’m at that slightly bored stage where I want to get on with things but it’s difficult to do anything useful.

So, I’ve been fiddling around with my template. I like a good…
No, never mind that. I’ve just been doing some tinkering with my template. I’ve still got a bit more to do; it’s a good way to waste time on something which isn’t really useful at all. I've decided the hamster profile photo just isn't me, but then I suppose you probably knew that. A new one will be going up tonight and it's dedicated to the managers of the Bluewater shopping centre.

And look at this, I won a prize! I’ve been trying to think of an expression to eclipse 'hit count frenzy'. The best I’ve come up with is 'extraordinary extra visitor extravaganza'.
I know, it's not very good.
Anyway, my hit counter has gone completely berserk. Thanks team.

I thought I might start writing letters to every Labour councillor, MP, MSP, and MEP in my area to let them know what I think of Blair's continued leadership of the party. It might not have any effect but at least they'll know why I won't be voting for them as each election comes and goes.

In other news, Gnus of the World is the newest addition to my blogroll. Wildebeest friendliness is one of my mottos.

I’m also wondering about changing the name of the blog. It was one of the first things I had to decide when I set it up and, if I’m honest, it’s pants. I’m not sure that this isn’t a blogging no-no though. I can see that it might be poor form, what with existing links on other blogs and so forth. I did have an idea: what if I change the name of the blog to The Curious Hamster, and change the tagline to The Blog Formerly known as A Big Stick and a Small Carrot. (Did I mention I want to change the tagline too?)
Or is that equally pants?
In a few months I could change it again to Two Pants Titles Is Never Enough!
Anyway, I’d be interested to hear advice or suggestions on this. They can’t be any worse than the above.

OK, if I do any more navel gazing I’m going to fall over. Sensible posting may resume shortly.

PS, I’m still looking for advice on how to check rdf feeds automatically. Anyone?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Letters for Democracy

Last week the Lord Falconer caused a bit of a stir when he said "I don't think there is a real ground swell for change," to the voting system. The make my vote count blog highlighted the issue on Friday evening. They suggested some possible courses of action for those who feel part of the ground swell the Lord Chancellor seems unable to identify.

I wrote to the Lord Chancellor earlier today to express my own opinion on the subject. If you're interested click on the permalink to read my letter.
(That's unless you came here via a link to the individual post page in which case the letter should already be just under this sentence. Oh, there must be a better way to do expandable posts than this, this is rubbish.)

Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
94 Victoria Street
London
SW1E 6QW

Dear Lord Falconer,

I am writing to you concerning a statement you made on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Friday 20th May. You said "I don't think there is a real ground swell for change," with regard to electoral reform. I would like to take issue with that statement. I have heard others express their outrage that an unelected Lord should assume to speak for public opinion in this way. This is not my complaint however. The Independent newspaper now has over 16,500 signatories to their petition for electoral reform. I accept that this is not a reliable reflection of public opinion. A recent poll showed that 62% of people favour electoral reform. As you mentioned in your radio appearance, this same poll also contained contradictory evidence. I accept that this poll could also be considered unreliable. I have read that you are unable to attend the debate in the Lords on Thursday 26th May and have asked your deputy, Baroness Ashton, to reply on your behalf. You have been accused of not taking the issue seriously. This is not my complaint. I understand that you are a very busy man.

What I do not accept is that any member of this government should assume to speak for public opinion on this issue. In 1997 New Labour made a clear manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on electoral reform. It was worded as follows:

"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."

This was a clear unambiguous pledge. Eight years later it has not been fulfilled. As such, I find it objectionable when any government spokesperson attempts to represent public opinion on this matter. I would like a reply in which you clarify the level of the governments commitment to the pledge quoted above. If the government has decided to break this manifesto commitment then I would like an explanation as to the reasons for this. If not, I would be interested in the projected timetable for the referendum. Eight years does seem rather a long time to wait.

Yours...

It is possible that the tone of the letter could be considered pompous and patronising but for some reason I just didn't feel the need to rewrite it. I did manage to avoid any mention of the Lord Chancellor's very fetching black tights though. I'm not sure if the Lord Falconer is obliged to reply or not. If you've read all the way down here you'll probably be interested to hear if I do get a reply. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Dirty Tricks

I've just watched Dispatches on Ch4 about New Labour's use of dirty tricks in the election campaign. What can I say?
Democracy? We don't need no stinkin' democracy!

I thought this might be a good time to link back to some posts I wrote during the election campaign. They are about Professor Matt Qvortrup and his opinions on my Aberdeen South constituency. These are the posts with summaries. More details are available via the posts if you're interested.

In the first one, I noted that the professor had been quoted in the Scotsman as saying that Aberdeen South could be won by the Conservatives. I'm no expert but I knew that was a rather outlandish claim. I joked that the Professor might have some connection to New Labour.

In the second one, the professor was quoted in my local newpaper, the Press and Journal. His key points were much the same as in the previous Scotsman article. It seemed that the professor thought that the Tories could win Aberdeen South and unseat the sitting Labour candidate. I investigated a little and found that the Professor had worked as a policy advisor to both Jack Straw and David Blunkett.

I decided to email the Professor to ask him if he could provide the figures on which he based his claim (which had now appeared in two newspapers). I mentioned it half way down this post. I received a short reply from the professor which you can read in full here. It would appear that the professor had been misquoted on both occasions.

The Press and Journal did print a letter I wrote on the subject. I highlighted that the professor had connections to New Labour and that the constituency was a Labour/Lib Dem marginal.

Here is the final result for the Aberdeen South constituency. The Tories came a distant third as I predicted (not that I'm a masterbrain, it was fairly obvious). I think it is fair to say that New Labour were very worried about the Liberal Democrats winning this seat. They were not worried about the Tories winning it though.

As far as I know, Profesor Qvortrup has never received a public apology from either newspaper for their misrepresentations of his opinions . This must be rather distressing for him. After all his opinions, as quoted, imply that he has been involved in an unscrupulous, deceitful, and dishonest New Labour propaganda campaign. Twice.

Blog News

Making a linklog: An Update
Success! It's over there in the sidebar. This makes me happy. At a glance people might start to think I know what I'm doing on these here interwebs.
The linklog is brought to you in association with del.icio.us and RSS Digest. I'll add a couple of links to the sidebar shortly. Thanks are also due to doctorvee.

Blog Author News
Under protest I've been to see my doctor today. He tells me I have a sinus and middle ear infection and he's given me some antibiotics to sort it out. Bah! At least I now have an official excuse for the *ahem* somewhat varied quality of my recent posts. The antibiotics should take about a week to work. After that, the *ahem* somewhat varied quality of my posts will again be inexcusable.

Making a linklog

Part 1
Register with del.icio.us and create some bookmarks.
Success!

Part 2
Go to RSS Digest and get some HTML code.
If I paste this code into my template it looks like this:
%TITLE%
Not a success. I have a feeling that I need some Javascript code or something.
The preview for the display works OK. It's here.
I left a request for help on the RSS Digest forum. The linklog may yet appear.

A big thanks to doctorvee for pointing me in the right direction.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Spot the Difference

I was watching the Aresenal versus Manchester United in the FA Cup Final on TV yesterday and I noticed something I thought slightly amusing. A quick background for anyone who might not be aware of it:
Manchester United have been bought by Malcolm Glazer, the US tycoon who also owns the Tampa Bay Buchaneers. Manchester United fans are not very happy about this. They've been protesting rather a lot saying that their team is not for sale. I don't really want to go into any detail about the rights and wrongs of this except to say that the team clearly was up for sale and Mr Glazer did clearly buy it.

What amused me was that a number of Arsenal fans had taken American flags to the game to taunt the Man U fans. They could also be heard chanting USA USA USA USA! I'd imagine that the Man U fans didn't really find this very funny. I did.
But it also got me to thinking about the contrast between Mr Glazer's takeover of Manchester United and the takeover of another premiership team by a foreign investor. Two years ago Chelsea was bought by Russian billionare businessman Roman Abramovich. Mr Abramovich has amassed his vast fortune through *ahem* totally transparent and legal means. He is undoubtedly very very rich. The Chelsea fans welcomed him with open arms, he is their football messiah. Fans of opposing teams are unlikely to succeed in taunting anyone at Chelsea by waving Russian flags at them or by chanting Russia Russia!

I don't really know why this should be the case. Perhaps it's because the Russian ganste tycoon has so much money compared to Glazer. Perhaps there is more to it. It's a curious state of affairs though.

Edit: I did mean to mention that I'll only be blogging about trivialities until I'm back up to full operating temperature. And now I have.

Bah (Part 2)

Concentration Factor = Zero.

I have just deleted the post with the link to the intelligence test from the land of the rising sun. It only just occurred to me that this would help. (I wasn't the number 1 search result for it anymore but I've still been getting too many visitors from that search.) Bah! Not any more.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Bah humbug!

I can't concentrate because of the enormous pressure build up inside my nose. It's swollen up to about twice it's normal size, and if you know me you'll know just how big that must be. I had been feeling better for about 24 hours but now it's getting just a bit tedious. H2O says it must be an infection and I should go to the doctor asap. This is possibly borne out by the hot and cold turns I keep having, but, contrary to popular opinion, I really don't like going to the doctor. I'll make an appointment if I still feel bad on Monday.

Anyway, there are quite a few things I want to be doing today but I can't seem to focus so they'll have to wait. In the meantime I can put out an appeal for advice. If anyone has any suggestions on how to create a small linklog for my sidebar (ideally something easy to use because computers still scare me) please let me know. I also wanted to look up how to read feeds with an rdf extension. I normally use a Sage reader integrated into Firefox and it doesn't want anything to do with rdf feeds. Any recommendations? There are quite a few blogs I'd be reading more regularly if I could sort this out.
Finally, I've just changed my atom feed so it only delivers the start of each post. I've been looking at Aberdeen Blogs and my posts seem to be taking the place over. If anyone really wants it changed back, please let me know and we'll see if we can find a suitable arrangement.

That's all the masterblogging* for today. I hear the call of the switch off button.

*I can't remember who to credit this word to. I've definitely copied it off someone though.

Quick Links

Later today I'm going to see about setting up some king of linklog. I'd like a quick and straightforward way to link to the and articles I've been reading which I think are good/useful/entertaining. These are some examples from yesterday and today.

Guido Fawkes: Labour Broke e-laws During Election Campaign


Europhobia: Help make MEPs more accountable
(I'll be sending my fax later today.)

Chicken Yoghurt: Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light

The Skakagrall: Taser stun guns for G8
(Note to self: remember to wear rubber soled shoes at demonstration.)

The Independent: Backlash after Falconer slates reform push
(My letter to the Lord Chancellor will be appearing as soon as I write it.)

OK, the football is about to start, that's it.
Note for readers from the US: that's proper football where the key is to kick the ball with your foot, not football where you mainly use your hands. I'm trying to give up smileys so I'm not sure how best to indicate that this is meant in a lighthearted friendly way. I suppose writing it like this is one way to do it.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Neo-Tory Party

Neo-Tory
Neo-Tory,
originally uploaded by CuriousHamster.
The Independent printed a story this morning about Lynton Crosby, the Australian campaign director hired by the Tories to run their election campaign. Mr Crosby has been said to be responsible for the Tories "dog-whistle" campaign strategy. This is what he said:




Tories' Australian aide urges them to learn from Kylie

The Tories were urged to learn lessons from Kylie Minogue as they work out how to fight back after their third successive election defeat.

Lynton Crosby, the party's campaign director, said it should show the same grit and determination as his fellow Australian, who is in hospital after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mr Crosby said: "She's not a quitter and she never whinges. She is a good operator and she works bloody hard. She knows how to reinvent herself but still be true to herself."
Unless, I'm very much mistaken that sounds like a photoshop challenge. I'm still a novice but I had to have a go. I call it Ollie Minogue.

Brown Envelope

Doctorvee has received a reply from his MP on the issue of electoral reform. Read it here.

Update: I'm in the process of composing a letter myself. Details available on the MVC blog.
I'll post it once it's finished. I've already left a message on the Today Programme feedback page (also available via the MVC link).

Blair's Back

The Prime Minister received treatment for back pain yesterday. The treatment was thought to be successful. The Times reports:
Andrew Platts, a consultant radiologist who treated the Prime Minister, indicated that he was unlikely to need further medical attention.
Dr Platts added: “The PM has been suffering from a slipped disc and has received treatment for this problem this evening. For the majority of people, this treatment is sufficient.”
Earlier in the day the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Blair, said:
"I won't talk about his health but it's not a slipped disc."
"The Prime Minister and I are both receiving long term psychiatric counseling in an attempt to cure our mutual and pathological inability to tell the truth on even the simplest of matters" she did not go on to add.

National TV Company Found to be Biased

An Exclusive BSSC Report

In this exclusive report I can reveal the shocking bias displayed by one of this great nations TV companies. This company, while claiming to be impartial, participates in any number of activities which can be seen to be politically motivated. Furthermore, the company broadcasts a 24 hour news channel, further disseminating its insidious political bias on a regular basis. During my thorough investigation I have found evidence of bias which I believe must be put into the public domain. Read the full story exclusively here on BSSC.

The first inkling I had that there was something amiss was when watching television in the house of a colleague. This colleague informed me that in order to watch his favourite television programmes he was forced to pay a regular “licence fee”. I suggested that he should exercise his power as a consumer and choose to view only free television channels. To my amazement, he informed me that many of the broadcasts he wished to view were exclusive to this subscription service. Live premiership football, test match cricket, live boxing, box office movies, the list was endless. My colleague’s only choice was to pay for these services from the company in question, or not receive them at all. Further investigations have revealed that this state of affairs does indeed exist. My colleague has attempted to establish a rival service in order to increase consumer choice but has been hindered due to lacking the millions of pounds needed to buy the relevant broadcast contracts. As yet, my complaints to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission remain unanswered.

I decided to investigate further. I can now exclusively reveal that this TV company is owned by a billionaire Australian tycoon who pays no taxes in this great nation. Furthermore, this gentleman is unashamedly right wing and capitalistic. It appears that he is ideologically committed to the continuation of his campaign to make himself as absurdly wealthy as is inhumanly possible. The gentleman was unavailable to give any comment to this reporter with regard to these shocking revelations.

There is a final sting in the tale of this sordid saga. It would appear that this same TV company is openly selling broadcasting time to the highest bidder. This time can be bought in 30 second segments and can be used to “advertise” products specifically in order to increase the sales and profits of the companies involved. These “advertisements” are broadcast routinely at 15 minute intervals on numerous channels, including during the broadcasting of national and international news. This extraordinary bias towards the right wing must surely be legislated against. I have, as yet, found no evidence that the large quantities of money received by the TV company from its “advertisers” has affected the quality of its news reporting in any way.

I will continue my relentless pursuit of the shocking truth behind this story as soon as I’ve managed to locate a bottle of Dasani water to quench my thirst. It’s not that easy to buy in the UK these days. I often have to order it from the USA but that’s another story.

This has been an exclusive report by A. Troll for BSSC News Services. And now back to Hugh in the studio.

You Can Meme

But I'd Rather You Sing It Live

I've been passed a music meme by doctorvee. You know how it is; you wait and wait for a meme and then two come along at once (within a week anyway). Here we go:

Total volume of music files on my computer:
It's about 35MB (13 songs). I'm a bit stone age when it comes to music storage. I had copied some of my CD's onto the computer but I never used them so I deleted them again. I get my portable music through a Minidisc player. I'd like an ipod but it's not a high priority (feel free to send me one if you've got one spare though).

The last CD I bought was:
The last one I bought was the eponymous Kasabian album ( 10 pretentious ar*e points for use of language there, I feel). I don't buy many CD's at the moment but a liked a couple of their singles so much I just had to buy this.

Song playing right now:
I'm actually listening to Be-Bop to Hip-Hop on the BBC's Listen Again service. In fact, I've just accidentally interrupted that looking up those links. So now I'm listening to the first song again: C Love Floats by Donovan.It's worth a second listen so no harm done.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:
Never easy these, I'm still thinking about the book one. I can't believe I didn't include Catch 22. Or Whit by Iain Banks...
Music, yes, right. This is the list as I type:
Californication, Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
How to Disappear Completely, Radiohead. (Basically I could choose any track from Kid A, it's something doctorvee and I have in common.)
Kashmir, Led Zepplin.
Killing in the Name, Rage Against the Machine.
Redemption Song, Bob Marley.
Root Down, Beastie Boys.
Charlotte Sometimes, The Cure.
Take the Long Way Home, Faithless.
Roads, Portishead.
Shine on you Crazy Diamond, Pink Floyd.
OK, so that's 10. It's my blog I'll list 10 if I want. You should just be grateful I haven't listed the reasons why I like each song.

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton:
Five people, hmm. I'll choose the last 5 people who've left comments or Trackbacks here. Think of it as reward or punishment as you see fit.
They are BlairNecessities, my favourite person in the whole USofA, GrĂ isg from up north, Bertie from down south (this'll hopefully help with your bloggers block), D-Notice (nice template, well chosen) and Stuart who helped my Anne Begg blog get where it is today.
Over to you people.

It's not compulsory. It's just for fun*.

*Still copyright of Peter Snow

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I Am Not A Number

The NO2ID campaign is encouraging supporters to sign their petition. Their website has lots of information on why ID cards are not a good idea.
You can sign the petition online here.

I've signed it . I really don't want Mr Blair to barcode my brain.

Geekage

There is a new post up at the blog I started about my MP, Anne Begg. It's about an experiment I can't resist doing just for fun. Will I succeed? Who knows but I'll enjoy trying.

Unrelated But:
I just got a news alert from The BBC. A certain gorgeous Glaswegian is to appear on tonight's Question Time. Should be worth staying in for.

Petition Time

The Independent is leading the way in the Campaign for Democracy.
They have launched an online petition.
I support democracy.
Do you?

One Mans Terrorist...

Uzbekistan. It's been in the news recently. Most of us couldn't point it out on a map. Some people will only have heard of it due to the efforts of Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to the country. Much of the media has adopted a rather low key approach to the reporting of the most recent incident, as Tim points out here.

The US State Department says this of Uzbekistan:
Uzbekistan is not a democracy and does not have a free press. Several prominent opponents of the government have fled, and others have been arrested. The government severely represses those it suspects of Islamic extremism, particularly those it suspects of membership in the banned Party of Islamic Liberation (Hizb ut-Tahrir). Some 5,300 to 5,800 suspected extremists are incarcerated. This represents a decline from previous years, as hundreds are amnestied and fewer arrested. Prison conditions remain very poor, particularly for those convicted of extremist activities, and a number of such prisoners are believed to have died over the past several years from prison disease and abuse. The police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique.
It is not high on the list of top tourist destinations. The apparent killing of hundreds of civilians will have done nothing to improve the international reputation of the country. The BBC website has accumulated media and eyewitness accounts of the events in Andijan on 13th May:
The initial assault by security forces begins with a convoy of armoured vehicles opening fire on the crowd. Many people flee…
An armoured car fires into the crowd outside the school…Reports later emerge that injured people were summarily executed, and that many bodies, especially of women and children, were taken away and concealed by the authorities, says Galima Bukharbaeva. There is evidence to suggest government security forces carried out further killings once the mass shooting was over...
The BBCreports that our own Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has called for a full independent inquiry into the incident, as has the UN and the EU. Mr Straw called for the Ukbek government to "develop a much more open and pluralistic society in Uzbekistan".

Earlier today (Wednesday 18th May), the current British Ambassador, David Moran, was taken on a tour of the area by Uzbek government officials. He said:
I was a bit surprised to find myself at the airport at 1230 and had hoped to have some time to wander around by myself, but they did say I was welcome to come back. We remain concerned at the credible reports we received since Friday of casualties and we're keen to have the fullest possible picture.
His visit was tightly controlled by the Uzbek authorities.

In the Whitehouse the President’s Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, was asked about the situation in Uzbekistan:
Q. Scott, the President of Uzbekistan has now admitted that his government killed upwards of 170 of its citizens, some anti-government protestors, some escaped prisoners, apparently. Opposition groups say the figure could have been far, far higher. What's the President's view of this situation?

Mr. McClellan: Actually, we spoke about it just the other day. The State Department addressed this very matter and expressed our concerns about it. Obviously, we have continued to urge restraint by all and for all to work for calm in Uzbekistan. We were deeply disturbed by the reports that authorities had fired on demonstrators last Friday, and we expressed our condemnation about the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians. And we certainly deeply regret any loss of life. So we've expressed that previously.

But we've also called on people to reject those who would try to incite violence, as well. And we talked about that, too. We've urged the government, as well, to allow humanitarian organizations, like the International Committee for the Red Cross, to have access to the region so that they can gather facts and help take care of people that need help.

Q. That's very clear. I wonder if I can contrast it with something, though. In 2002, the President said of another leader who had arrested 75 people and had them sentenced: "The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression that has outraged the world's conscience." The President was speaking of Fidel Castro, who imprisoned these dissidents, didn't kill any of them, and I wonder why the double standard.

Mr. McClellan: I don't know that I would look at it that way. Obviously, Terry, there are different circumstances around the world. You have to deal with those different circumstances. And so I wouldn't look at it that way at all. But we have long spoken about our concerns when it comes to the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, and we've laid out the facts as we know them about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. We would like to see a more open and responsive government. But the way to achieve that is not through violence; it's through peaceful means. And that's what we always emphasize.

Q. This is a leader who has been in power since before the fall of the Soviet Union. He's clearly a dictator by any definition of that word. And I wonder if you could respond to the concerns that many people have that this administration is going easy on him because he is necessary in the war on terrorism, in part because the United States has rendered certain detainees into his country and --

Mr. McClellan: I think the facts speak differently. The facts are very clear in terms of we speak out about the concerns that we have, we speak out when we are disturbed by events that take place. And that's what we have done in this instance, as well. And I just did.
Uzbekistan is a US ally in the “war” on terror. There is a large US military base in the country.
The US State Department official figures show that $10.7 million was given to the Uzbek authorities for Security and Law Enforcement in 2004, out of a total aid package of $50.6 million in that year.

Maintenance

I've made a few changes and additions to my blogroll. It is, as always, a work in progress. There are quite a few other blogs I'm on the verge of adding but I've run out of steam tonight (not that I imagine it'll affect your traffic much one way or the other). If you are desperate for a link your best bet is to give me money seek professional help let me know. It might increase your visitor stats by one if nothing else. Most of my visitors are still looking for information on a type of intelligence quiz from a far away land (go away, my log is full of you people, it's getting to the stage where I might have to upgrade my stat account). I did get one visitor yesterday who was searching for "naughty celebrity blogspot", which was nice.

Anyway, I've been passed a music meme by doctorvee so I'll probably post that sometime tomorrow. Now here is a fantastically witty final line:
Edit: Blogger deleted it and now I can't remember what it was. It's true I tell you. Oh and it was so funny, my sides are still sore from laughing...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Unremittingly New Labour

Who's that knocking at the back door?

Tuesday 3rd May, 2005

Michael Howard's inability to answer the most basic questions on his immigration and asylum plans has shown the complete collapse in Tory credibility on policy.
But the Tories know their policies do not stand up to scrutiny which is why they don't want to talk about them. They are only interested in exploiting issues not dealing with them.
Instead, their strategy is to sneak Michael Howard into No.10 through the back door. And the stark truth is if 1 in 10 voters don't vote or vote for other parties on May 5th, they will wake up with Michael Howard on May 6th.
Alan Milburn, The Today Programme, quoted on the Labour Party Website.

Tuesday 17th May
The day after the election, the Prime Minister set out his priorities, the priorities that are meant to be reflected in the programme before us today: controlled immigration, school discipline, cleaner hospitals and police. Come to think of it, they sound rather familiar to me. In fact, it is almost a complete set. We had no idea that he was thinking what we are thinking.
Michael Howard in response to the Queen's speech, Hansard.

Wednesday 18th May
Another blow to the Tories as Blair steals their dog-whistle
This political cross-dressing must be extremely confusing for the electorate who thought they had given Tony Blair a bloody nose, and have ended up with Michael Howard in drag. The Labour left may think it is back in fashion, after the collapse of Labour's majority, but the prime minister clearly doesn't.
Iain MacWhirter writing in The Herald.

My ability to communicate is currently at a low ebb so I'm struggling as to how to respond. I'm torn between a full scale vitriolic rant, a sarcastic comment on the wisdom of listening, or a recomendation to keep your nose pegs handy for at least four more years. I'm also tempted to launch an appeal for asylum in a democratic country. Any genuine offers considered.

I don't want to harp on about how I'm feeling, I'm a bad enough hypochondriac in the real world, but I do feel like I'm not really able to communicate very well at the moment. I'm sure I'll be back to normal in no time at all. I might exhibit an even greater overreliance on smileys in the meantime. And I will do those alterations to the blogrolls today.

Pop Quiz

Qu. What do you get if you cross the Beatles with the Beastie Boys?
Ans. Musical Genius.

DJBC I salute you!
(Via The ObserverBlog)

Barcode my Brain?

No thanks, Mr Blair, I like it the way it is.

I will refuse to register for an ID card but only if 3,000,000 people will sign up.

Become one of the 3 million, sign the pledge. (via Nick Barlow)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Queen's Speech and Beyond

Breaking News: Clever People Have Been Writing Things
Here are links to some of the things they've written (I've still got a head full of sn*t)

Justin at Chicken Yoghurt looks at what the Queen said today. Elsewhere I read Tim Worsall saying "Good man that Chicky. Someone get him a national column will they?" I concur.
Nosemonkey at Europhobia feels some sympathy for our Liz.
(Also at Europhobia from a while back, this about nationalism, the EU, and utopian wonderlands. I liked this, agreed, couldn't have expressed it nearly as well, but never got round to linking. Until now.)
On rhetorically speaking and written before the Queen trotted down to parliament, sometimes a bad idea is just a bad idea is a worthy read on the wisdom of ID cards.

I read a couple of interesting articles in the Independent about fair voting.
62 per cent of the electorate disagree with Blair on electoral reform on a poll conducted for the paper.
John Curtice: Why the debate on PR is only just beginning takes the gloss off the headline figure above but is still encouraging.

Tom Burka writes Bush to Retract War on Opinions You Should Have. I only spotted this blog yesterday but it's definitely going in the blogroll, to be listed under the category "I wish I'd written that".
(I'll be making a few other slight adjustments to my blogroll later too.)

The Guardian has been writing about George Galloway's appearance in the US and links to their newsblog post on the same story. The comments on the post can really only be described as a gorgeous love in. I was going to leave a comment myself but when I visited the comments had been disabled. Curious.
Todays unrelated phrase is: litigious cigar smoking indefatiguable Scottish MP of dubious integrity (but great respect).
Oh, you can still see George versus Jeremy via the BBC if you've yet to experience the pleasure.

I also wanted to include a link to this by Jim Bliss. It doesn't really relate to anything else here but it's here all the same.
Right, that's it, I'm off for another hot lemon. It's days like this when I wish I still drank whisky.

Intellectual Snobbery

Or Tabloid TV?

I don't normally watch ITV News. To me it just doesn't seem like a proper news programme. In fact, I've been know to refer to it as "news-lite". Sometimes I reflect on this and wonder if I'm being a pretentious ar*e and occasionally someone I know will say that I am. This doesn't really bother me. Not as much as ITV News does anyway. The point is that I wouldn't normally watch ITV News.

Today, I watched the ITV lunchtime news. I'd spent the morning watching the opening of parliament on BBC 1. I've still got some kind of cold/flu thing so I didn't really absorb much of the Queen's speech. I had a moment of lucidity just as ITV News started so I thought I'd watch it to get a summary of the speech and see what people were saying about it. The Queen's speech, in which she sets out the government's intentions for the year, was bound to be the lead story.

Maybe I wasn't as lucid as I'd thought. In fact, the first story was, quite obviously, the news that Kyle has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I should say that I do find this news very sad. Kyle is a young woman and this must be very upsetting for her and her family. I hope she makes a full and fast recovery.

But ITV News spent the first 8-9 minutes of a 25 minute news programme covering this story. This, on the first day of a new parliament after a general election. One famous woman and her admittedly sad medical condition, or a speech which will affect every person in the country (and many from other countries as well). Well, it's no contest for ITV News. Kyle is famous, she's attractive, she's had lots of hit songs, and she's made some pop videos which can be included in the reports. It's a no brainer, right?

Where Now?

The election is now well and truly over. Parliament meets tomorrow, the lady with the silly hat will read a speech she didn't write, a man in a silly costume will prance about with a stick (I'd have thought a key would be a more suitable tool for opening a locked door but what would I know), and the whole circus will be back up to full operating temperature in no time. The Prime Minister will exercise the mandate given to him by approximately 25% of eligible voters, and lots of people will continue to call him a lame duck. It's going to be an eventful time.

But there's a wee problem. The election being over has left me, and probably quite a number of other bloggers, with a feeling of aimlessness. Just what is it that I want to write about? Should I write about local issues, Westminster issues, or international issues? Should I just write what I feel like on any given day? I like structure (no, you can't tell from my writing) so this is a dilemma for me. I really want to decide on a direction for the blog and write with that in mind. I don't mean that I need a topic set in stone, just that I have a general theme which most posts relate to. There are many things I'd like to write about but I can't realistically cover them all. For a start, I really need to try to spend some time sorting out my life (new career suggestions welcome, I'm something of a rudderless ship at the moment). OK, so I'm navel gazing here, I admit it.

Anyway, here are some news stories I've been reading today. If the day had been much longer, I'd have blogged them all.
Afghanistan
Independent: Karzai warns heavy-handed US troops as riots spread
BBC: Karzia condemns anti-US protests

Uzbekistan

Independent: Hundreds of civilians killed after protests turn to massacre
Bloggerheads: Jack Straw: humanity, practicality and reality
(Particularly of note from the above: The NewYorker, Outsourcing Torture.)
Craig Murray Weblog

Iraq
BBC: More dead bodies found in Iraq
BBC: Rice pushes role for Iraq Sunnis

John Bolton and the UN
Opinions You Should Have: Report Links Bolton To Mafia, Elder Abuse, Prostitution; Sure To be Confirmed, Sources Say
I found this blog through a google ad on gmail. I'm almost certain it'll go in my blogroll after reading this one post. First line:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported yesterday that nominee John Bolton has ties to organized crime and worked as a "crack whore" as recently as last Tuesday.

ID Cards
Nick Barlow: We have listened...and we don't care
BBC: ID card plans set to be unveiled
BBC: ID cards face Scots opposition

Campaign for Real Democracy
Independent: One or two reforms won't fix our democracy
Make My Vote Count Blog

These are just some of the stories I'd like to cover. There are lots more. What does my MSP think about blogging? How can Blunkett be back in government after resigning in disgrace? Is it a distraction to campaign for an elected House of Lords at the same time as campaigning for reforms of the voting system for the Commons? The forthcoming G8 conference in July. The French referendum on the EU constitution. The British tabloids and their obsession with spreading misinformation about immigration, and the possibly related rise in the BNP vote at the election. Murdoch's media empire. Wind Farms, nuclear power, climate change, and lifestyle changes. Are all MSP's numpties? Elvis or the Beatles? Marathon or Snickers? Chips or French Fries? Red lorries, yellow lorries? If I said you had a beautiful body would... OK, I'm tired, this is turning into nonsense, did I just use a Doctor Hook lyric?

In a nutshell, I'm not sure where I'm going with my blog. I'm inclined towards some of the international issues for any number of reasons. There are a number of very good blogs which will undoubtedly do a much better job though. I'll finish with a question and a marginally related anecdote.
Question
ABC World News Tonight (with Peter Jennings) gets shown on BBC News 24. Is this really a "world" news programme? It only ever seems to have stories directly connected to the US when I watch it.
Marginally related anecdote
This was told to me by a Frenchman who was lecturer in the History of European Colonisation at Aberdeen University (sadly, his name has disappeared down a memory hole). Anyway, he had first arrived in Aberdeen on a Saturday evening. On the Sunday morning, he went out to buy a newspaper. As he was an International Relations lecturer he bought the newspaper who's title seemed most relevant. It was the "News of the World". He was, he said, somewhat surprised by it's content. (For readers from outside the UK, the News of the World mainly features stories about celebrities, sex, celebrity sex, and sex with celebrities.) The lecturer swore that this is a true story. I don't really know why, but I really hope it is.

A footnote: When I write a post like this I worry because there are links to serious stories which I feel strongly about as well as jokes or attempts at jokes. Some people might find this inappropriate. If so, I apologise, it isn't my intention to offend.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Python Sings

This'll have to be quick or I'll drip on the keyboard (still got a cold, grumble, grumble...)

I was temporarily cheered earlier when I found a song I hadn't heard before by Eric Idle. It's about censorship and the FCC. It's NSFW 'cause he's a naughty potty mouthed python.
If you don't mind a little bit really quite a lot of bad language, click here, download, laugh.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Good News

Not here, but over at a new blog I set up: Anne Begg is my MP. You can read about it here.
(I'm happy. Search Engine aficianados will have already spotted this. It's all something of a black art to me although I'm starting to get to grips with the basics.)

I've got a stinky cold so I probably won't post anything else today. Sniff, sniff...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Put That Back

Town House
Town House,
originally uploaded by CuriousHamster.
There is a story in today's P&J which amused me. It's Turret
Taken Apart Without Permission
. I took a photo of the building in question a couple of weeks ago. What you can't see from the photo is that there was work being carried out on the fourth tower. That's why I took the photo from the angle I did. I didn't expect someone was in the process of stealing it though.
I jest, it's not as bad as it sounds:

Workers dismantled an Aberdeen landmark without permission, the city council has claimed.
Taxpayers will not be stung, as the work would probably have been carried out anyway.

Blog Experiments

Hmm. I was trying to get some kind of "click here for more" system working. It isn't going to well at this stage. I do have a Permalink at the bottom of each post as an unwanted side effect though. It'll have to stay for now. My dinner is ready and Doctor Who is starting...
[Edit: after the break. Click for more]
This sort of works but it isn't very satisfactory. I really only want a link which says "Read more" which I can add on long posts. The way it's working now, I've got a link at the bottom of every post. I don't need no stinkin link like that. And I've got to put a note in [stupid square brackets] which are still visible when you open the individual post page. Hmmp!

I'm sure I'm work out a better way to do this at some point. This'll do for now though.

Operation Mirrorball

Alex at the The Yorkshire Ranter wants you to read the following article. It appeared briefly on the Evening Standard website but has now been removed. I'm sure it's removal can't be an attempt at censorship, that would be silly. Horses and stable doors and so forth.
Anyway, as a public service, I, and many other bloggers, have copied the article from Alex' site.
Here it is:

Headline: HOW CAN BRITAIN STILL USE THE MERCHANT OF DEATH? Strapline: Today the UK will promise to curb arms traffickers. But the MoD is hiring planes from a dealer linked to Bin Laden.

By Andrew Gilligan. Evening Standard, Monday, 9th May 2005.

Victor Bout [sic] is the most notorious arms trafficker in the world. Linked to Osama bin Laden by the British government, linked to the Taliban by the US government, he was described by a New Labour minister as a "merchant of death" who must be shut down.

Yet an Evening Standard investigation has found that, just two months ago, a Victor Bout company was hired by that very same British government to operate military flights from a key RAF base...
[Click Permalink for full article]

Bout, a 38-year old Russian, owns or controls a constellation of airlines that have smuggled illegal weapons to conflict zones for the past 15 years. He has been named in countless official investigations and reports - the most recent only last month. The authorities in Belgium, where he used to work, have issued a warrant for his arrest. In 2004, the US froze his assets and put him on a terrorist watch list [not that they stopped him flying to and from Baghdad, TYR].

But between 6 and 9 March this year, according to official Civil Aviation Authority records, two Victor Bout charter flights took off from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The cargo was armoured vehicles and a few British troops. The client was the Ministry of Defence.

The charters were operated by an airline called Trans Avia. It was named as one of Mr. Bout's front companies by the Government itself - in a Commons written answer on 2 May 2002. The Government cannot claim ignorance of Bout's dubious links. The Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane reassured MPs: "The UK has played a leading role in drawing international attention to Bout's activities, initially in Angola and Liberia and more recently relating to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda".

A specialist aviation journal reported that the "al Qaeda link" was Bout's role in supplying bin Laden with a personal aeroplane - in the days before September 11, when he had a little more freedom of movement. Could Trans Avia have gone legit since then? Not according to the United States Treasury Department. Only two weeks ago, on 26 April, the Treasury "designated" Trans Avia as one of 30 companies linked to Bout, "an international arms dealer and war profiteer". Bout "controls what is reputed to be the largest private fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft in the world", says the Treasury press release. "The arms he has sold or brokered have helped fuel conflicts and support UN-sanctioned regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan. Notably, information available to the US government shows that Bout profited by $50 million by supplying the Taliban with military equipment when they ruled Afghanistan."

The story doesn't end there. Another two flights were made in the same three days of March by an airline called Jet Line International, also from RAF Brize Norton. A further three flights were made at the same time from another base, RAF Lyneham. The destination was Kosovo. The client, once again, was the Ministry of Defence.

Yet Jet Line, too, is a company that has been accused of close connections to Bout. According to the authoritative US newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, it appeared on a list of Bout companies circulated by the State Department to US diplomatic posts around the world.

"There is no doubt at all about the links between Jet Line and Bout," says Johan Peleman, the researcher who wrote the UN report. "It's one of his most important assets." Intelligence agencies say the same thing. Jet Line's office address in its base at Chisinau, Moldova, is the same as that of Aerocom, a company exposed by the United Nations as involved in sanctions-busting and arms-smuggling to the brutal rebels of Liberia. According to the UN, Aerocom was involved in the illegal smuggling or attempted smuggling of more than 6,000 automatic rifles and machine guns, 4,500 grenades, 350 missile launchers, 7,500 landmines, and millions of rounds of ammunition in breach of a UN arms embargo.

Tracking down the registration numbers of the sanctions-busting aircraft, it turns out that the Jet Line aircraft that flew the MoD flights in March were previously registered to Aerocom. They are in fact the same planes.

Bout's activities have helped cause quite literally thousands of deaths in many of the worst places in the world. Born in 1967, he served in the Soviet air force and then military intelligence, where he developed a gift for languages. When the USSR broke up, he "acquired" a large fleet of surplus or obsolete aircraft, which he used to deliver arms and ammunition also "acquired" from old Soviet stockpiles. That weaponry fuelled some of the most savage wars in Africa. Charles Taylor's insurgent guerrillas used Bout weapons to destroy Liberia. In Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) used Bout weapons to terrorise the country, seize the diamond mines, and chop off their opponents' hands.

None of our business? Well, the RUF's Bout-supplied weapons were almost certainly used to attack British troops engaged on the Sierra Leone peacekeeping mission in 2000.

Bout's planes would arrive at obscure African airstrips, loaded with weapons, then leave heaped with diamonds, coltan - vital for making mobile phones - and other precious minerals in return. "He was apolitical," said one UN official. "He would fly for anyone that paid." Bout's willingness to go places that no-one else would go made him the market leader in the arms-trafficking business. Little wonder, therefore, that the then Foreign Office minister Peter Hain said "The murder and mayhem of Unita in Angola, the RUF in Sierra Leone, and groups in Congo would not have been as terrible without Bout's operations." He was truly "a merchant of death", Hain said [and for a long time I respected Hain for it, too - TYR].

Bout used to operate from Ostend, in Belgium, where a shabby hotel in the city centre acted as his informal marketplace. There was a flight departures screen in the hotel bar, so he could keep track of his planes' movements. Then he was forced to retreat to Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates - and after September 11, to Moscow, where he controls his empire through front companies such as Trans Avia. "You are not putting facts. You are putting allegations," he tells journalists on the rare occasions they manage to get through on his Russian phone number. [Actually, the quote comes from his surprise appearance on Ekho Moskhy radio in 2002 - TYR]

Britain has been embarrassed by dodgy airlines before. Last year, the Department for International Development promised a full investigation after the Standard exposed its use of Aerocom on an aid flight to Africa. The problem is that few reputable carriers want to fly to Kosovo, Iraq, Darfur or some of the places where the government needs transport. And the airline brokers used by Whitehall seem to have learned surprisingly few lessons from past embarrassments.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said the fact that its broker "seems to have used an aircraft in Jet Line International livery" was not the same as saying that the MoD itself had contracted Jet Line. But, whatever hairs the MoD may choose to split, the payout - for Mr. Bout - is the same.

Today and tomorrow, at the MoD's vast procurement headquarters in Bristol, defence officials are holding a special conference with human rights groups and arms trade campaigners. The purpose is to persuade them that the government is serious about cracking down on the scourge of arms trafficking.

One good way to start might, perhaps, be to stop putting British taxpayers' money into the pockets of the worst arms trafficker in the world."

Help the Hamster

Some Saturday Silliness
My stats are still being clogged up by visitors arriving via a particular search query. I'm not going to mention it again, it's getting silly.

Look at this. (Link via Stuart)

I think every single person who has tried the search, all 500+ of them, have ended up coming here.
Help the hamster, Google for me! You know you want to.
It's a fight I can win and care about almost not at all.

BTW, I might be wrong but I have a feeling most of my unintentional visitors are probably looking for information about this.
I did the one in the P&J this morning, most satisfying.

Friday, May 13, 2005

MP Blogging

Earlier today I read this post on Bloggerheads about MP's, blogging, and proxy blogging.

My own recently re-elected MP, Anne Begg, has had a campaign weblog which you can view here. Sadly, it hasn't been updated since May 1st. I left a comment on May 6th but there have been no updates of any kind. This makes me sad.

Fear not though, for I am a public spirited individual with too much time on his hands. This afternoon I made a new blog. It's called "Anne Begg is my MP" and I'm rather pleased with it. There is still work to be done but, if I'm honest, I'm hoping I won't have to do it. I will if needed though. There isn't much information on it as yet but I'd welcome any feedback you might have.

Lords A-Leaping

Here's a quick follow up on one of my previous posts. In it, I mentioned that Mr George Foulkes had said some very supportive things about Mr Blair. You can read his comments in the final quote box in that post.

I said:
Undoubtedlty an A++ for listening there. Mr Foulkes, a former Minister, retired from the Commons at the election. I have a feeling that Mr Foulkes might just be talking up a new position in the House of Lord before too long. Call it a hunch.
Oh, I'm such a cynic. I should have more respect for our political system.

Anyway, here's a full list of the 27 new life peers anounced today. See if you can spot any familiar names.

Oops

This post has been removed. It wasn't supposed to be here in the first place. Carry on.

Campaign for Real Democracy

It looks like there are all sorts of people joining the call for electoral reform. I haven't had the time to keep track of what's been happening but I know a man who has.
(I don't know him really, but I do read his blog.)

At the moment I'm busy with another little project. Nothing too exciting, I'm afraid. More tonight, if I get enough done.

Ministry of Propaganda

This story encapsulates so much of what it is to be The Party of Spin, Image, and Token Gestures New Labour. The BBC reports that the Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry has changed it's name back to the Department of Trade and Industry. One week as DPEI but no longer. Why was it changed last week?
Downing Street last week said the new name was part of efforts to ensure the department was "refocused and reinvigorated playing a greater role on productivity".
Downing Street says it was "part of efforts...". I'd suggest "an effort" would be more suitable. Perhaps I'm being unkind. Perhaps the name change was just a small part of a well thought out and detailed strategy to refocus and reinvigorate the department. Perhaps changing the name back to DTI is just a minor blip in an otherwise comprehensiveplan.

Today's random phrase is "written on the back of a cigarette packet while sitting on a sofa".

It's the Meme of the Book

I’ve been passed this by my favourite person in the whole of the United States, Blair Necessities. I accept the challenge, thank you. I do like reading and I’ve got a fair number of books scattered around various places. I must admit that I haven’t read Fahrenheit 451. I have seen the film though, does that count? Probably not, but I’ve got the general idea. Here goes:

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
I was initially going to go for 1984 by George Orwell because it seems so relevant at the moment. On reflection, if I was stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, I think I’d tire of 1984 rather quickly and end up forgetting it all. Instead, I’d be The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (all five volumes in the increasingly inaccurately named trilogy) by Douglas Adams. It’s full of insights, good ideas, and general silliness; a perfect antidote to an authoritarian world. And I can remember most of it already.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Well, Princess Leia, but I suppose that goes without saying (male + 33 years old + likes sci-fi = Princess Leia). She probably doesn’t really count since she’s a film character. Other than that I'm struggling with this one, sorry.

3. The last book you bought was...?
It was The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping by Duncan Clark. I don’t have a beard before you start. There is a lot of interesting information in it, like the UK firms who contributed to the G. W. Bush re-election campaign fund.
ASDA, Marlboro, BP, Esso, AOL, Hotpoint, Kenco, Walkers crisps, UPS… just an unrelated list of names I’m not getting sued for using.
Anyway, it’s a useful book.

4. The last book you read was...?
The last book I finished was the same one as in Qu3. Here are some others I've recently finished reading: Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard, Working the Wheel by Martin Brundle (shh!), and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

5. What are you currently reading?
I’m reading two books at the moment. Who Runs This Place? by Anthony Sampson is about who holds the reigns of power in 21st Century Britain. Informative and infuriating so far. Evolution by Stephen Baxter is a hard Sci-Fi novel which I’ve only just started reading. I’ve read a few of his novels and they’ve been uniformly good.
BTW, I got both of these from the library. What a fantastically great place. Go to your library at once, they’ll only shut it down if you don’t.

6. Five books you would take to a desert island...
This is a difficult one, only five? I’ll assume that I still remember all of the Hitchhiker books from Qu1 so I’ve got them with me anyway.
No1. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen* 1984, George Orwell.
I know I mentioned it already but it’s just so prophetic in so many ways. It’s a work of genius if somewhat bleak.
No2. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh.
Not a book for the faint hearted. Reading it is a continuous assault, a battering, and far darker than the film. It’s like being chased down an unfamiliar street at 3am with no-one else around. As a Scot, it has that blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar which constantly shakes you up.
No3. Vurt, Jeff Noon.
Set in a near future Manchester. It’s surreal in many ways but grounded in the gritty realities of urban life. And it’s got dogs in it. Actually, this needs a bigger health warning than Trainspotting.
BTW, I can’t remember who I loaned my copy to, but if you are that person, can I have it back please?
No4. Life of Pi, Yann Martel. I read this last year and it was just so moving. An extraordinary character in an extraordinary novel. I won’t even try to write about it. Just read it.
No5. I’m torn here, I want to take a Sci-Fi epic series but I can’t decide which one. It’s either The Red Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson, or the Revelation Space series by Alistair Reynolds. Both are very good and very long, perfect companions for a spell on a desert island. It’s a flip of the coin and one of them wins.

7. Who are you passing this stick on to and why?
This is difficult for two reasons. First, I know the meme has been around for a while and some of the people I suggest might have already done it (as mentioned in previous posts, I do have a terrible memory). Second, I’m pretty hopeless at asking people questions generally. It’s not that I don’t want to know, it’s just that I don’t like to impose on other people. In real life I tend to have very short conversations with people because of this. Oh well, this is the interweb, what’s the worst that can happen?
I’d like to pass this stick to Eddie because he hasn’t blogged since his epic post-election analysis and I’d like him to keep on blogging. I’d also like to nominate doctorvee because he’s just finished his exams so he’s probably bored (and it means I’ll have to leave another comment, see this post and comments). Finally, I’ll go for The Bagged Bear, smarter than the average bear, and friendly too.

That’s it, start memeing……………now!

*I stole this joke off a comment on one of the Guardian blogs. I haven’t managed to look it up so feel free to claim it as your own, especially if it was your own.