Wednesday, August 31, 2005

German elections:MatGB points me in the direction of this openDemocracy blog dedicated to the German elections - good stuff, expecially today's comprehensive overview post.

PM urges European modernisation after 'bra war' - yep, Tony's back and jumping on yet another European bandwaggon. Call me a decadent westerner snob by all means, but his calls for "Europe as a whole to modernise to meet the challenge from China and India" confused me a tad. After all, the problem over Chinese underwear imports is surely more to do with the less than modern working practices in the People's Republic whereby sweatshop workers can be paid an absolute pittance, keeping overheads down and end products cheap? Is the Dear Leader about to repeal the minimum wage to make the UK textile industry more competitive in the world market? Is that really what's known as modernisation these days? I dunno - perhaps I shouldn't have read this piece on free trade earlier...

As I've done one Iraq post, may as well do another: Reuters cameraman ordered held in Abu Ghraib -
"A cameraman for Reuters in Iraq has been ordered by a secret tribunal to be held without charge in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison until his case is reviewed within six months, a U.S. military spokesman said on Wednesday... The U.S. military has refused Reuters requests to disclose why he is being held. He has not been charged... he [will] not be allowed to see an attorney, his family or anyone else for the first 60 days of his detention, which began in Abu Ghraib last week."
Anyone want to take a guess at the ethnicity of this cameraman?

Depression

This is what is known in the trade as fucking awful. More than 640 dead, 230 injured in Baghdad thanks to mere RUMOURS of possible suicide bombers, following mortar attacks on a crowd of religious pilgrims.

It should by now be obvious that the people launching these attacks have no more claim to be a muslim than I do. Sooner or later it should also become obvious that if you are living in a state of fear and panic, this sort of tragedy becomes, even if not on this horrific scale, inevitable. Lessons to be learned for Sir Ian "terrorists are everywhere and we can't stop them" Blair, perhaps?

Still, political points should not be made over the bodies of the dead. But I hold out little hope of any western nations offering anything like the kind or quantity of messages of support and condolence to Iraq over this that London received in the wake of our bombings. Hey, it may be twelve times the death toll (as it stands), but they aren't westerners, so what does it matter, eh?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Europhobia's emergency service workers piss-up update

I've finally sorted it all out once and for all. The money is ready and waiting behind the bar and the piss-up will commence at some point after work on Thursday.

It's still not too late if you want to donate - anything received via the PayPal link to the left before 4pm (British Summer Time) on Thursday 1st September will be added to the money already given on the night. Every penny shall go on giving the volunteers of the St John Ambulance Service who helped out in London on July 7th as good a time as possible by way of thanks for their vital work.

Thanks to all those who donated - expect a full write-up here (and possibly some other places) on Friday.

Robert Kilroy-Silk: workshy layabout

Heh - I'd missed this while away, but going back through those anti-Kilroy posts got me hunting around for news of the silver-haired idiot, who appears to have been keeping an uncharacteristically low profile of late.

So anyway, a bunch of his MEP colleagues are complaining about the guy, and it's likely to kick off again this week now that the European Parliament's back up and running.

The East Midlands MEPs who have written to complain about Kilroy's lack of attendance to his duties include two Tories and a Labourite, as well as someone from UKIP, and based on the little it's possible to find out about what Kilroy (or any MEP for that matter, now that europarliament.net seems to be down) gets up to in Brussels they appear to have a point. According to the MEPs in question, Kilroy last signed the plenary session attendance register on April 12.

Of course, you could argue that as Kilroy doesn't believe that the EU should exist, let alone the European Parliament, he's actually sticking to his principles by attending as little as he legally can, and that those who voted for him would have wanted him to do nothing less (or is that more?). Additionally, by not signing on as often as he could do, he's actually scabbing less money off the European taxpayer than many of his eurosceptic former chums.

But still - what are the ethics of electing a representative who doesn't believe in the institution which he/she is meant to be a representative at? Are there comparisons to be made between Kilroy and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams? Probably, but that would be affording far more serious consideration to the man than he deserves. There's no principle involved here, because Kilroy's promise on his election was to "wreck" the EU. He can hardly do that while swanning around forming pointless new political parties and then quitting them as soon as it becomes clear that they are singular failures. Much as, based on the recent lack of coverage this publicity-hungry maniac has been getting, he now appears to be. Hurrah!

German elections: Anthony Wells, it would appear, is my bitch. Hurrah! Check out his newly updated German election polls info, and his sage advice and analysis:
"The figures to watch on the German polls aren't the gap between the CDU/CSU and the SDP, but the sum of the CDU/CSU and FDP figures - or more specifically, if they are over 50%.

"A couple of months ago they were well above 50%. August has been a bit dicey, with the combined figure often falling to 49%. Once parties that fall below the 5% threshold are excluded, 49% would probably be enough to scrape a meagre majority for the CDU/CSU+FDP, but it's too close for any real comfort. The most recent two polls however have shown the CDU/CSU+FDP back over the 50% mark.

"On the left, while the SDP have gained some support - recent polls have them at 30% when a month or so ago they were marooned around the 26-27% mark - this is mostly at the expense of the new Left party, who seem to have peaked at the end of last month when they were regularly hitting 12%. Now they are are 10% or lower."
Top work, Mr Wells!

German elections: Despite weekend polls giving the CDU/CSU opposition a 13% lead, another recent poll reckons that Gerhard Schröder remains Germany's preferred Chancellor. Will Merkel's latest announcement tip the balance, or has it already been tipped? Confusing, this polling business - we need a German Anthony Wells...

It may still be more than a month before our Westminster overlords deign to return from their extensive summer hols, but in Brussels it'll soon be back to business as usual. Deutsche Welle has a handy overview of some of the upcoming issues, from terrorism to the constitution, airline bans to Turkish membership, the Iranian nuclear programme to bras and panties. We can also expect a bit of fuss over the next day or so thanks to today's Commission report to the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee about serious member state infringements of the Common Fisheries Policy, (perhaps justifiably) one of the many ongoing obsessions of the eurosceptic crowd.

God proves once again that he can match the terrorists any time. At least 50 dead in Mississippi thanks to Hurricane Katrina - sounds like an absolute nightmare, and a death toll similar to the 7th July bombs already.

You have to wonder why exactly these nutter terrorists feel they need to do anything at all when they've got an omnipresent, omnipotent deity with the ability to control the weather (and/or destroy the entire universe any time he feels like it) on their side. If I was in their shoes I'd sit back and let the big guy handle it - after all, why send in the infantry when you've got a tank?

Monday, August 29, 2005

A year of geekery

On 29th August 2004 I relaunched this site, and have somehow managed to keep it updated fairly regularly ever since. So, time for a bit of back-slapping, some highlights and stuff, methinks:

When I started regular updates a year ago, the site was getting about 10-20 unique visitors a day. Thanks to a few plugs from Tim at Bloggerheads (a b3ta buddy), like the launch plug he did on August 31st (ta, boss!), it was up to about 30-50 a day by the time I installed a decent visitor counter in mid September, and first broke the 100 visitors in a day mark on September 23rd. By the start of November it had made it through to the final round in the Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards 2004, which was nice (if, frankly, a tad silly considering how long it had been going at that stage).

Over the year, Europhobia has received in the region of 145,000 unique visitors and 250,000 page loads - the most in one day being thanks to the liveblog of the 7th July 2005 terrorist attacks, which was linked to by pretty much everyone. On July 7th alone, there were 28,500 unique visitors, around 28 times the site's previous high.

But statistics are boring. Have some highlights instead:

The blog first really came to prominence with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. I started posting about it here (check the Ukraine section in the right hand column for more), knowing tit all about Ukraine or what was going on, posting on little more than a vague feeling that something major was going to kick off. Four days later the mainstream media twigged it as well. In the meantime I'd got my first Instapundit spike, had my first liveblogging experience, and seen for myself how blogs can both raise awareness and create links around the world as I helped relay info direct from contacts who had suddenly materialised in Kiev. A very odd experience, but well worthwhile - I think that's probably when the bug really got me for the first time.

Then there's the less serious side of blogging, nicely evidenced by the first Robert Kilroy-Silk: Twat post, with more Kilroy hatred here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here (not to mention the piss-take, sort of satirical Stop Veritas blog I set up before this year's elections, which ended up even more insane than I originally intended it to be thanks to a bunch of maniacs in the comments - top stuff...)

Other than that, a few posts I've been chuffed with are in the "Best of" section to the right - the booze and insomnia-addled General Election Liveblog being one of my favourites after the silliness of the campaign (which I also helped cover on the General Election 05 blog, for those who don't know), while this post on why blogging is shit still keeps getting quoted around the place - and may be worth reading if you're thinking of taking up this particularly addictive hobby.

Anyway, this is getting tedious. It's now on to Europhobia Year 2 (even if I did technically start this thing in March 2003) - and hopefully soon some cunt newspaper will offer me insane amounts of cash to come and work for them. (Hint sodding hint, all you journo types who read this...) Despite a few intriguing offers (to take part in a panel discussion on CNN, be interviewed by the BBC, write an article for the Guardian etc.) as of yet I have not managed to capitalise on this bloody thing at all. It annoys me, damn it. Pay me cash, you bastards - or at least give me some freelance work (with realistic deadlines this time, ta very much...)

Oh well, there's always this coming Thursday's thank-you piss-up for ambulance workers thanks to donations I've managed to collect through the blog since 7th July. So I guess I've achieved something, at least, even if it is getting a few people drunk for free. Hopefully there's also been a bit of entertainment along the way - and I know I've learned a shit-load more about all kinds of stuff than I would have done without this thing.

It may be intensely frustrating sometimes, it may be far more time-consuming than you ever plan, it may end up taking over your life if you're not careful, but it's worthwhile, this blogging lark, even if you don't get any dough out of it. Give it a pop, let me know and I'll try and give you a plug.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Britblog Roundup 28 - 28 already? Time flies and stuff...

Germany - T minus 21 and counting

It's really about time we started paying more attention to what's going on in Germany. On Thursday Germany's Federal Constitutional Court gave the final go-ahead for the elections on September 18th following a legal challenge to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's call for a snap election back in July. It's all go.

Naturally enough, the main thrust of the German election campaign is going to be domestic. Despite recent rumours of a planned terrorist attack in Hamburg, security fears in the run-up to next year's Germany-based football World Cup, and on-going attempts to gain a seat on the UN's security council, the main concern for Germany remains the five million unemployed and the perennial problem of how to kick-start the east German economy, still largely stagnant more than a decade after reunification.

For most outside observers, there is little to really excite or interest in German economic arguments (I expect a rebuke from Tim Worstall any moment now...) as, although a few of the proposals could tangentially impact on EU-wide policy, most of it is the usual bickering about localised tactics and requires a far greater level of in-depth knowledge of Germany than most outsiders would wish to posess.

Nonetheless, behind the scenes and between the lines, a few hints about foreign policy can be gleaned - and what has come out so far seems to suggest that, should Schröder be booted out, there could be a radical shift in Germany's relations with the world.

Don't think it matters? Well, remember that Iraq war business? France and Germany closely locked together in opposition, creating all kinds of trouble for Bush and Blair? Remember all those little spats in the EU of the last few years with France throwing a hissy fit, but getting away with it because Germany backed her up? In recent years a lot of that has been down to the close alliance of Schröder/Chirac. In terms of most foreign policy they've been pretty much joined at the hip.

If Schröder goes, the whole dynamic of the EU's big three will - instantly - massively have altered, creating the potential for the deliberate isolation of France and a genuine drive for the kind of radical reform for which the European Union has a sore need. If Tony Blair can cozy up to a new German leadership, replacing Chirac as Berlin's bumchum, then the grandly empty rhetoric about EU reform he started spouting when the UK took over the EU presidency might actually end up with some possibility of becoming less a load of meaningless, unrealistic drivel.

A new German leadership and attitude to the outside world could also isolate Jaques Chirac still further both in Europe and at home, making his already near-certain political demise that much more guaranteed. At the same time, this would demonstrate to his successor in the French presidency (likely in 2007) that the EU game has finally begun to shift away from France's favour - half a century after the Treaty of Rome gave Paris a wonderfully privileged position, there might finally be a chance to introduce a bit more equality to the EU.

Think this is all wishful thinking? Quite possibly. But Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union alliance, who have the best chance of unseating Schröder's Social Democrats, have already clearly stated their aims to improve relations with the United States and to expand Germany's intra-EU dialogue to include rather more countries than merely France. It looks promising, at least.

In terms of specific external relations, Merkel has hinted that she favours broad reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, placing her closer to the likes of Britain and the new eastern European EU states - in particular Poland, the accession state by far the most likely to radically alter intra-EU relations in the long run thanks to its size, population and economic potential.

Merkel's lot also have plans to drastically cut the number of immigrants Germany accepts, increase (highly controversially, given the country's past) the role of the German military in counter-terrorism operations, and introduce a wider range of centralised digital resources which could well lead to German support for an EU-wide biometric ID system along the lines of that being proposed by Tony Blair and co.

So, rather than an anti-war, pro-France Chancellor whose main response to the (frankly fairly insignificant) terrorist threat to Germany has been to propose introducing classes on Islam in schools to cut down on demonisation and misunderstanding, we could end up with a more hawkish, internationalist one with aspirations to cozy up to Bush. Bearing in mind that Germany - despite the unemployment issues - still has the 5th largest GDP in the world, this could mark a major change on the world scene, the potential significance of such a shift should not be underestimated.

Still, having said that, Merkel's apparent early lead has been drastically cut, and the elections now seem too close to call. (She's even cynically started jumping on the anti-Turkish EU membership bandwaggon in an apparent attempt to immitate the Tories' recent appeals to latent racism dressed up as economic concern.) We could yet be stuck with Schröder for a while, and see a continuation of the Franco-German stalling of much-needed EU reform. But while another term for Schröder is a nightmare from a pro-EU perspective, having the more authoritarian, right-wing and pro-America Merkel in charge could be equally nightmarish for the anti-war/pro-civil liberties crowds. Not only too close to call, but also too tricky to work out who'd be best for both Britain and the world.

So, worth keeping an eye on. Good places to start include Der Spiegel's election site, Deutsche Welle's election site, Sign and Sight's election special, Wikipedia (as always) and the blogs Bildt Comments and Ostracised from Österreich. If anyone knows of any other good, regularly-updated English language blogs with good coverage of German politics , I'd be grateful for a heads-up - most of the ones I used to check seem to have died...

Update: Over the weekend new polls in Germany seem to suggest that, after Merkel's early lead and Schröder's recent resurgence, Merkel is comfortably back in front by a margin of around 13% - the CDU/CSU on 43%, the SPD on just 30%. Can these figures be trusted? There's still three weeks to go - anything could happen...

Friday, August 26, 2005

A reminder (to myself as much as anyone) - Uzbekistan blog day, 1st September. Got a blog? Sign the pledge. Only three more needed.

My brain am addled.

Nothing changes, I see

After a couple of weeks in sunnier climes - stuffing myself on steak, sushi and overly fizzy beer - I return to find it's business as usual:

Charles Clarke is still planning on acting illegally, there are still questions which may never be answered about the Stockwell shooting which seems to be getting more unjustified by the day, and there's still a spat over the 21st July bomb suspect held in Italy.

Elsewhere the US is continuing its attempts to undermine the UN, with Bush's appointee John Bolton trying to get the organisation to spend less time trying to alleviate poverty and scrap plans for rich nations to spend 0.7% of their national income on helping the poorest countries (the US currently gives 0.2%).

Over in Iraq, everything looks set to go tits up again, in Iran there's still no progress over their nuclear programme, while Africa's still screwed and, following dickwad preacher Pat Robertson's calls for the assassination of a democratically-elected leader the US doesn't like, a dictator the US does like is about to execute people who allegedly wanted to assassinate him.

In all, nothing's changed in the slightest. Even the cricket's continuing in much the same vein, with England doing well but not well enough to be uncatchable. I should go on holiday more often.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Remember that London bombing business?

Well the piss-up I was trying to organise for London's emergency service workers is a go. It will be taking place on the evening of Thursday September 1st (8 weeks to the day after the first attacks) not far from Edgeware Road tube where, of course, one of the devices was detonated. It will be attended by volunteers from the St John Ambulance service who attended the scenes on 7th July, as well as (hopefully) reporters from both the BBC and The Times. Full report, no doubt, here on the 2nd.

Back

12 hours of being trapped in a window seat behind the biggest man in the world with his seat all the way back making reading (or, indeed, moving) impossible; knees contorted beyond belief; forced to watch a double bill of Monster in Law and Miss Congeniality 2 and then an Ice Cube kid flick inexplicably dubbed into Portugese with unreadable, bright yellow English subtitles; a flight staff unwilling or unable to provide anything in the way of liquid refreshment - not even water, and certainly not alcohol - not to mention the inevitable lack of cigarettes and the stupid woman in the row behind who started screaming at every slight rock of the plane, I am understandably in no fit state to say much about anything. Other than don't bother with the cheap flight option if you're going transatlantic. It's really, really not worth it...

Tomorrow I shall try and catch up on what I've missed (Mo Mowlam, the rampant amateurism of the Metropolitan "off for a" Pissolice etc. etc.), as Canadian newspapers and television news - as I previously suspected but now know for a fact - are utter, utter shite. Now, however, I'm off for a pint of proper bitter, then the sleep of the dead. Followed by getting up at seven tomorrow for a five mile cycle into work. Joy...

Oh, and another thing - can any web expert type person tell me why the pissing fuck these BlogAd things seem to be shifting position all the sodding time? They get me money, so I'm a tad loath to get rid of the bastards, but if they're going to fuck up the limited formatting this site's built over the last year (1 year anniversary of regular postage on Sunday - woo!) then I may have to scrap the buggers, which would be irritating.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Quick missive from the colonies*

Canada seems pleasant. Almost suspiciously so... Everyone's polite. And it's sunny. And despite being far too cold, the beer's rather pleasing. And the food's great.

In fact, so far Vancouver appears to be everything that London so often pretends to be - cosmopolitan, happily multiracial/multicultural with none of the attendant fears of the other, and with what appears to be a ridiculously low crime rate - worts I've witnessed so far was a fight between an Alsatian and a Pug. (Well, a savaging might be more acurate - the poor little bugger got tossed around like the proverbial wotsit thing).

Anyway, Nosemonkey's official verdict - Canada's OK. Now I'm off to get a massive coffee and look at mountains before heading off to a wedding this evening. Ta-ta all.

* Yes, I am aware that Canada is actually one of Her Majesty's dominions. Not happy about her only being on the $20 bill though... She should be on ALL the money, damn it.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The one, the only... Hitler kitten!

I'm off to sample the delights of British Columbia on my first proper overseas holiday in about 18 months to climb mountains, swim in the Pacific and drink huge quantities of Canadian beer - back around the 26th.

In the meantime, have some pictures of my mate's new kitten like wot bears an uncanny resemblance to Adolf Hitler:



And some slightly less sinister ones:





Isn't Hitler cute?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Is the government making laws that it doesn't need to make in a vain effort to look like it's doing something when it doesn't know what can be done? I wouldn't be at all surprised...

Headline of the day: Vandals continue attacks on beavers - apparently, "This time, four beavers were targeted. Reader Beaver, Beaver Crete and Busta Moves Beaver were blasted with white paint sometime before Thursday morning. Bib's Beaver was partially unclothed last week."

Pffft!

Yvonne Ridley: traitor or just a silly bint?

Hard to tell in the present circumstances. Either way, using an explicitly non-political meeting to commemorate the victims of the London bombings to instead spout a load of over-the-top bullshit about Blair, Israel and the US - including calling for a boycott of Israeli goods because "Every time you make your purchases you are putting bullets in the backs of Palestinian children", comparing Tony Blair to Pol Pot and then seemingly trying to incite violence by vomiting up crap like "Tony Blair, if you really want war with Islam, bring it on!" has got to put her in the top league of fucking idiots.

Christ - just imagine what would happen if her and Galloway had kids together...

You see, it's people like Ridley who discredit all opposition to the latest half-arsed anti-terror measures. People like Ridley who stir up trouble between Muslims and the rest of us. If some radical Imam shot his mouth off with this rabid, foaming at the mouth rubbish, he can be dismissed fairly easily as simply being an extremist. But when a white woman - or a Scot with a 'tache - start off on this kind of rhetoric, it lends far more "justification" to the cause.

So, control orders all round?

Update: Having just slagged off Gorgeous George, it's only fair to acknowledge that at his most recent opportunity to spout off he resisted the urge to go utterly mental. You may disagree with his take, but unlike Ridley he kept his rhetoric in check. His last point in particular is hard to disagree with (although I will concede that his first could be interpreted in a number of different ways, not all of them commendable, and that this was likely deliberate...):

"It is a crime, a sin in any language, in any religion, to punish innocent people for the cause of the guilty people.

"The guilty men are not travelling on buses or on the London Underground. If you bomb people, some of them will want to bomb you back, it is obvious.

"We will not be silenced. The country has to change course and it will not change course so long as Blair remains at number 10 Downing Street."

Got m4d w3b 5k177z? Want to help democracy and stuff? Go lend your services to Tim Ireland with The Political Weblog Project. More info here:
"I want to get more elected officials blogging properly. I want to do this by offering them a full blogging package at rate they can afford... on pretty much the sole condition that they use it properly... So, if you can design, build, code and/or host a weblog and think this is a good idea, I'd like you to get in touch: manic AT bloggerheads DOT com"
Don't forget, this is the guy who got Boris Johnson blogging. He's got a good track record with this stuff, and his committment can't be doubted. If you can help, do.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Another group to be added to the "potential terrorists to be scared of" list: (apparently) white Americans with no prior connection to any extremist groups.

Right, so that's anyone in traditional Muslim dress, Arabs, Pakistanis, Jamaicans, East Africans, people with dark hair or skin carrying bags, people with dark hair or skin wearing large coats, Brazilians, woman, children, Chinese men with cancer, white Americans, and anyone who could be mistaken for any of the above.

That'll make getting to work without shitting ourselves nice and easy...

A wonderful example of the current insanity:

Pissing hell - the world really has gone mental. I'm agreeing (almost) wholeheartedly with Max Hastings. Highlights:

"Whatever steps a society takes to defend itself, these must be subject to extra-parliamentary review. Democracy in Britain is already in poor health. Such is the power of the executive, so feeble is the influence of Commons backbenchers, so weak are the Lords and local government, that today the judiciary represents the only substantial check upon the excesses and follies of government....

"The outbreak of active terrorism in this country indeed demands new laws, rendering necessary a shift of the balance between civil rights and public protection. It will be surprising if judges do not show sensitivity to this. But the greater the powers of the state - especially custodial powers - and the more vital becomes the sceptical, scrutinising role of courts...

"None of this is intended to make a case for the British government to respond feebly to the threat from violent Islamism. It is merely to argue that legislation on new security measures should be reasoned, rather than reflexive. This is difficult in the current overcharged mood, both at Westminster and among the public."
Has old man Hastings had a forced lobotomy since he started writing for the Guardian? This is pretty much spot on.

Update: There's a fairly predictable discussion of the latest witch-hunt over a Guardian opinion piece in the comments.

Russian Liberals, Communists Ask European HR Court to Cancel 2003 Elections. They won't get anywhere, but still... And in other Russian "travesty of democracy news", Putin's most detested opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former boss of the oil company Yukos which Putin fucked royally in the arse before imprisoning the guy, is considering running for election from prison, even though he almost certainly won't be allowed to and will face reprisals for even suggesting it (follow-up here).

Afghanistan elections relying on Canadian ink and donkeys - hurrah for incredibly confusing 400 candidate ballot papers! Yay for donkeys! Woo for Canadian ink high in silver nitrate! Huzzah for me going on a proper holiday on Monday for the first time in nearly 18 months!

Reuters - UK holds 10 foreigners deemed to be security threat. The BBC >reports these include some of the tabloids' favourite bogeymen like Abu Qatada. Who's already been banged away without charge for two years and is also subject to a control order. (Which would surely tend to suggest that control orders are a waste of time?)

Anyway, looks like they'll all be deported without any kind of trial, and probably without the right to appeal. Despite this being utterly illegal.

Yay for Tony "cunting fuck" Blair and his tough anti-terror measures which are protecting our way of life! (God, I hate him.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

This could prove interesting - can it really be a "Human right" to terminate the life of another human, albeit one that's not yet been born?

Abortion is a tricky issue at the best of times, but when you've got 25 countries involved - many of which are Catholic - it gets even more so. Which is precisely why there are currently no EU laws on abortion.

Are foetuses covered by the European Convention of Human Rights? If these women lose, it would tend to imply they are - and so surely abortion should become illegal throughout the EU? If they win, the European Court of Human Rights will essentially be declaring Catholic doctrine to be against human rights - which would itself surely be a breach of the "human right" to freedom of religion?

94 years of equivocation and "the Eastenders factor"

Ninety-four years ago today, the 1911 Parliament Act was passed, stating the following:

"And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it is at present exists a second chamber constructed on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation"
I'd imagine that most people would consider "not immediately" to mean "relatively soon" - not "the best part of a century". So today is Lords Reform Day, and I have agreed to post about it to raise awareness of the fact that we're still working with a half-arsed parliamentary system. (Other bloggers' views are being collated here.)

The most important fact to consider is simply that the House of Commons does not have either the time or the manpower sufficiently to debate and scrutinise every piece of legislation which passes through its doors - especially under the current, legislation-happy government.

This is why we have Select Committees. This is why All Party groups are formed. This is why we now have Westminster Hall debates, running parallel to those in the main chamber. This is also part of the reason for the party system, the whips, even for the Cabinet and post of Prime Minister. All of these exist, at the most basic level, to enable the proper scrutiny, debate and prioritisation of bills and their various amendments.

But the Commons STILL hasn't got the time or the manpower to analyse everything which affects this country - European Union legislation being the prime example. You don't have to be a eurosceptic to agree that directives issued in Brussels should be properly examined before being put into force, or to see that an body not directly involved in drawing up the legislation is more likely to be able to take a more objective view of the implications.

The Commons currently has no time or real framework to discuss EU legislation. Hell, it barely has time to read its own legislation or prepare properly for its own debates - witness the much-lauded performance of the recently-departed Robin Cook in the Scott Report debates in 1996. He was given just two hours to read and digest 2,000 pages of dense material and prepare his argument attacking the Major government. He succeeded, but such fortitude and intellect is rare amongst MPs.

The Lords, however, in part due to its larger membership (even if this has been drastically reduced since January 1999, when there were 1,165 active members), in part thanks to the lack of pressure from constituency work, finds far more time to analyse what the EU is up to - spotting and making public potential problems BEFORE they become official. Even if no one ever pays any attention...

The House of Lords European Communities Select Committee, set up in 1974 on the advice of the Maybray-King committee, is just one example of the vital yet largely unknown work that the upper House conducts on a daily basis. It is not all old men in grey suits droning on amidst red leather luxury, nor is the Lords' sole function to hold up legislation.

Yet the holding up of legislation is also absolutely vital to our democracy. Especially in times of a government with a large Commons majority, bad legislation (ID cards, detention without trial etc. etc. etc.) could otherwise be sped through with even more ease.

It was with the 1832 Great Reform Act, bringing in popular elections (if not universal suffrage) and disciplined political parties, that the Lords became a reviewing and suspending body. But the Conservatives ended up with a majority in the Lords, and this was where - as so often - the problems started. When the Liberals' 1909 "People's Budget" (with its strangely Blairite name) was thrown out via the Conservatives' Lords majority, a crisis was provoked.

And so we see the real key to the problem - party politics and outright majorities.

After various proposals (like the 1917 Bryce report) and various new changes (like the 1949 Parliament Act, 1958 Life Peerages Act, and 1963 Peerage Act), in 1968-9 an inter-party conference finally came to some relatively sensible decisions:

1) the second chamber should complement but not rival the Commons
2) hereditary membership should be eliminated
3) no one party should possess a permanent majority
4) powers should be restricted - especially regarding subordinate legislation
5) membership should be divided between voting and non-voting peers.

The Lords, being fully aware that their position was increasingly anachronistic in an age of hippies and women's lib, acknowledged that the proposals were in the best interest of the country and - as they did again in 1999 when the hereditary peers voted to abolish themselves - acted like the proverbial turkeys, voting in favour of the House of Lords Reform White Paper by 251 to 56.

But then petty politics got in the way again. The Commons rejected the White Paper, despite all parties having previously agreed, after a filibuster from a cross-party coalition opposed to the then government's position on proposed UN Sanctions on Rhodesia. Which, let's face it, had very little to do with the future of British democracy - but such is the nature of parliamentary politics - point-scoring against one's political opponents is often just as important as actually getting things done.

And this is why - even though this "Lords Reform Day" has been promoted by the Elect the Lords campaign, I cannot advocate an elected upper chamber.

If we accept that the Lords' prime purpose is to scrutinise legislation that will affect the country, identifying flaws and oversights and suggesting possible remedies. If we accept that their prime purpose is to ensure that we end up with the very best laws possible, I do not think that this can be done within a party-political system. And that is what - if we had an elected upper House - we would end up with, because elections cost time and money. Those standing for election would need the kind of support that only a party could provide.

Once you accept party support and allegiance, you lose a certain amount of independence - party support does not come for nothing. They will expect you to help them out in return, and will cut off funding and support if you refuse to comply.

Likewise, once you are beholden to an electorate, and rely on re-election to maintain your position, you are less able to act on your conscience, instead having to second-guess what the people who will be voting for you might want. And the people most certainly do not always know what is best - witness the fact that The Sun is Britain's most popular daily paper. The customer is NOT always right - often, as anyone who has ever dealt with customers will tell you, the customer is not only entirely wrong but also an absolute twat.

The US Supreme Court works largely because those appointed to it are appointed for life. The judges can therefore criticise the sitting government's proposals based exclusively on their expert interpretations of the constitution, with no fear of any kind of reprisals - either through party whips and funding being withdrawn or at the ballot box. The only problems with the Supreme Court appear to arise when it is perceived to become imbalanced, so that conservative interpretations of the constitution outweigh progressive ones, or vice versa.

This is yet another example of how, in a body whose prime purpose is to act as a check on the government of the day, overall majorities of one viewpoint are a BAD THING. With elections - even staggered elections over extended periods based on proportional representation systems - overall majorities can be hard to avoid.

An imbalance of opinion is, however, somewhat easier to achieve with the US Supreme Court than it would be with the House of Lords as there are only nine judges, yet hundreds of peers. It took Tony Blair nearly eight years to appoint enough life peers to give Labour more lords than any other party, but even so he hasn't managed to gain an overall majority, and the presence of the unaligned Cross-benchers (about a third of the total) should ensure that this never happens.

There's another useful comparison from our own country - the Bank of England. Since the 1998 Bank of England Act, the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee has had sole right to set the UK's interest rates, working to promote price stability and economic growth entirely independently of the government. As with the US Supreme Court, none of the Committee's members have been elected - they are there by dint of having been recognised as experts in the field by their colleagues. As with the US Supreme Court, the Committee does not necessarily act in the interests of the government, but in the interests of the country.

And it is this - "the interests of the country" which is how the Lords should (and usually does) act. Thanks to their lack of need for party support or to suck up to the electorate, peers who sit for life can act on their conscience. The honour of having been recognised as worthy of a peerage simply underlines the fact that peers should act with honour - this is not an appointment based on who spent the most on advertising or who managed to find more dirt on their opponent but, technically at least, on merit.

The peers are not just some schmuck who managed to suck up to the right person at party HQ - like the majority of MPs. They are supposed to be the country's best and brightest. They include experts in almost every field on which the government may legislate: economics, law, science, media - you name it, there are members of the House of Lords who are world-leaders on the subject at hand. Would we be able to ensure such a spread of expertise through election? Such independence?

If we accept the very first point - that the Commons doesn't have the time or manpower to properly examine all legislation - then we can accept that Lords exists to scrutinse. To properly scrutinise, you need people who know what to look for. Some random bloke who stands for election is not necessarily going to know what to look for. So we need the very best, the people with the most expertise in every area going. The Lords does not need democracy - it needs meritocracy.

And so the solution to how to appoint the Lords? Well, the 1917 Bryce report proposed a House three-quarters elected indirectly on a regional basis, one quarter chosen by a joint standing committee of both houses, with a proportion of hereditary peers and bishops. I'd obviously ignore the elected part. I'd scrap the hereditary peers. I'd scrap the majority of bishops (although as long as the church remains established we'd need a few in there - but we'd also need leading expert representatives from all the other major religions in this country to help scrutinise religious legislation).

So we'd be left with the joint standing committee of both houses to make appointments. That would remove the Prime Minister's patronage issue and so prevent the ability of the government of the day to whack its buddies in the upper House and then give them high-powered jobs (Lord Adonis, anyone?). It would enable debate and scrutiny of every potential member to ensure that they are up to the standards required. It would maintain a cross-party make-up, and be able to bring in non-parliamentary experts to advise on the qualifications of potential new peers. And once its decisions had been made, appointments would remain - bar disciplinary procedures allowing expulsion which would probably be sensible - for life.

It is only with a meritocratic system in the Lords that legislation can be properly examined. Rushing towards a democratic system simply for the sake of democracy is not only foolish, but dangerous. The electorate is easily distracted and confused and, given a straight choice between voting for the world's leading biochemist or someone who used to be on Eastenders, we all know that they'd likely opt for the latter. And as much as Martine McCutcheon may have a lovely bubbly personality and a surprisingly OK singing voice, I wouldn't trust her to examine my shit, let alone a bill proposing a broad range of new legislation for the pharmaceuticals industry.

And that, in short, is why the Lords should not be elected - the Eastenders factor. We've got enough democracy with the Commons - and people hardly bother to vote for that.

(We'll leave the lack of separation of powers and the lack of a directly-elected executive for another time, I think...)

Best. Front page. Ever.

The Sun. (Prop. R. Murdoch.) Britain's best-selling daily. Getting its priorities right.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


(Via)
Not too happy about giving them my details though... Heh...

Is this true? Is the US really drawing up plans for a nuclear strike on Iran in the event of another terrorist attack on the American mainland? Anyone seen any verification of this anywhere, or is it just a rumour? I fucking hope so.

Because, let's face it, another terrorist strike on US soil is pretty much inevitable (as our own dear Metropolitan Police keep pointlessly telling us is the case with London). If anything, it's amazing they've got away without another one for nearly four years...

Somebody got what I was trying to say - thank God for that. Thought I might have been going mad for a while there...

The German election race looks to be getting more interesting - Schröder could be making a comeback. And if he does get back in, Blair's chances of reshaping the EU in his image are screwed. Worth keeping an eye on.

Update: Don't know anything about the German political system? This is a good place to start

Update 2: Via Jérôme in the comments, a very nice introduction and discussion to the German elections at European Tribune that I missed yesterday.

Blood & Treasure on Britishness - top - "It is not British to elect a new people if the old one doesn’t suit the government"

I'm still trying to work out whether, under the new "hyphnated Britons" thing, I would be a "Franco-Celtic-Norse-Saxon-Norman-Germano-Pictish-Briton", or whether they'd merely stick to "English".

One thing we do need, though, is a better term than "Asian" to describe anyone with black hair and slightly darker than caucasian skin, stretching (apparently) from the Middle East to Japan, and covering several billions of people. Bloody stupid - especially as the Americans generally mean "south east Asian" and we mean "Indian/Pakistani" when trying to be specific with it.

(Oh, and more from Qwghlm - "we'll call ourselves whatever the fuck we want to" - yay! I want to be a trappist cantaloupe Briton! Can I be a trappist cantaloupe Briton please Ms Blears?)

"I will blog about the situation in Uzbekistan, supporting call for sanctions on Uzbek cotton on September 1st but only if 20 other people will too."

It's one of those dodgy Central Asian regimes with a weird name ending in "stan", and few people know much about it. Hell, I'll freely admit I know little about it beyond the fact it's politically repressed, protestors have been shot there (accused of being terrorists), it's effectively a police state and we turn a blind eye because it's one of our "key allies". A key ally to whom we supply arms and training for government enforcers, despite the highly suspect nature of the regime in charge...

This strikes me as an ideal opportunity to find out more. Sign up. Start with the Wikipedia page. Check out the archives at Publius Pundit and Registan (plus the sidebar links at the latter) and let's spread the word. (Good work, Disillusioned Kid)

(Note: I'm not too sure about sanctions being the solution here (it hardly worked against Saddam, after all - or Castro, for that matter). They have a tendency to hit the poorest worst, and they're having a bad enough time as it is. Others think differently. Either way, a swell of public outrage that our government is helping this highly unpleasant regime maintain power could well do some good in the current climate. They want to prove they have the moral high ground to kick off their anti-terrorism measures? Fine, let them prove it. Let's get our own house in order - and that includes the friends we keep.)

Monday, August 08, 2005

UK Blog stuff - of interest to fellow bloggers only, no doubt

Heads up UK bloggers: Our man Worstall (of Britblog Roundup fame) is actually getting somewhere with his BlogAds UK scheme. Could be a way of actually wrangling us some money for the stress and effort this blogging lark costs us. Check it out, and check with the man for more details. If I understand correctly, the more people who sign up, the more we're likely to be able to charge.

From la Worstall:

Two things everyone needs to remember about Blog Ads.

1) You set your own prices.

2) You can refuse any ad you wish. Everything gets offered for your
approval and you have to make a positive choice to add it.
He's also trying to get us all actually using Trackbacks to help foster cross blog debate a bit more on this side of the Atlantic. Nice idea - I keep forgetting to ping people thanks to being lazy (and due to "ping" sounding both silly and potentially rude at the same time...)

It's also worth remembering that if auto-pings don't work for your Trackback system (as they don't appear to with my Haloscan lark), you can manually ping Trackbacks via this handy site - well worth bookmarking. You can even do it if you don't have trackbacks enabled on your own blog. (Although as Haloscan doesn't cost a penny and is so simple to set up that even I managed it, you haven't really got an excuse...)

Treason

A new post over at The Sharpener.

Time to start being suspicious of Chinese people on the tube/bus: A man dying of lung cancer set off a homemade bomb aboard a bus in downtown Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province, this afternoon, killing himself and injuring 23 others.

But wait - that can't be right... I thought it was supposed to be only Muslims who did the whole suicide bombing thing? And that they were all meant to be "Asian-looking"? (Well, apart from that Somalian one. And the Jamaican...). "Huang Maojin" doesn't sound especially Muslim/Somalian/Jamaican to me... And presumably he was "Asian-looking" only in the American sense...

Update: More info - "Pictures from the scene showed the side of the bus ripped apart and debris strewn across the floor of the vehicle. The injured were shown being stretchered out of windows... Attacks of this kind are common in China, often carried out by angry residents who feel wronged by society or the communist party government."

Terrorism common in a communist country, eh? Maybe all those people who accuse the Socialist Workers' Party of being terrorist fellow travellers for criticising the war and stuff have got a point after all...

Turkish diplomat in charge of EU accession talks resigns - cites "personal reasons", but speculation is that he had got pissed off not only at the slow pace of the talks (especially thanks to French reluctance to even consider the prospect of Turkey joining) but also at the slow pace of reform within Turkey itself, necessary before it signs up.

This could screw a few things up. Either for good or ill, depending on your point of view - and opinion is split among the pro-EU camp as much as the anti. Because, let's face it, Turkey's position is pretty much unique, and it's bloody tricky to work out what would be best - for them, for the EU, or for every other member state. Will it invite more problems - thanks to an EU border with Iraq, for example - or enable renewed dialogue with the Islamic world? Will it boost the EU's economy, or lead to an influx of Turkish organised crime? Either way, the carrot of EU membership has prompted a number of reforms in Turkey which are long overdue - withdrawing it now could reverse the gains in human rights seen in recent years. Which can't be a good thing, surely?

What Would Juvenal Do? - a potentially promising new current affairs type blog with the added benefit of words of wisdom from some guy who lived 2,000 odd years ago. So kind of like those weird Christian ones you find all over the US blogosphere, but without the self-righteousness or the all-powerful beardy bloke on a cloud:
Whate’er men do, or say, or think, or dream,
Our motley paper seizes for its theme.
(Juvenal, as translated by Pope in Tatler, 1709)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

RIP Robin Cook

Well that was unexpected. I didn't always agree with Cook. But I did meet him once, while he was Leader of the House and I was a but a lowly researcher for an opposition MP. And he was thoroughly nice. I'm rather shocked, and rather saddened. Even though he may have been marginalised in the Labour party of recent years, it is a loss to them and a loss to the country.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Today is Hiroshima Day

Today we commemorate the "just" bombing of civilians because - hey - it was for the greater good, you know? (Well, greater good for the Allies at any rate. But if you wanted to see an Imperial Japan stretching over the whole of Southern Asia, it was a bit of a pisser really.)

Sixty years ago this morning thousands of people were obliterated in less than a second. By the end of 1945 140,000 were dead out of a population of 350,000 - and thousands more died of radiation sickness over the following years. The official figure now stands at 242,437. From one bomb. Makes the Iraq death toll look like nothing. And in three days time we'll remember Nagasaki, nuked basically for the hell of it, as Japan was already in negotiations for surrender.

These days, of course, the Japanese would probably be called quislings and be accused of giving in to terror. But hey, that's probably moral equivalence or something, right? Because - you know - killing loads of innocent civilians to achieve your own political ends and defeat an ideology to which you are opposed, that's NOTHING like what our terrorist chums are doing, is it?

Hardly an original thought, and likely to piss off a few people to boot, but I'm genuinely finding it very, very hard to see the difference. Can someone explain why it's not simply because we did it to someone else and we won that Hirosima and Nagasaki are OK? If it's a means to an end and to prevent greater loss of life through invasion, wouldn't the same be said of the London terror attacks by an Islamic government if the Caliphate is established here, and of 9/11 if they managed to take over America? Wouldn't they then be able to point to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and say "hey - we managed to do it with far less loss of life"?

How many deaths does it take before it becomes unacceptable?

Either way, you'd have thought the US could have spared SOMEONE to go to the ceremony.

Wikipedia has a good page on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Uzbek blog campaign day - not a bad idea, and well worth supporting. Count me in.

Tony versus Terrorism

Blair's statement on anti-terrorism measures. Mostly fairly typical, platitudinous stuff, and all to be expected. A few bits stand out for confusion, however. But I'll keep this brief as I'm knackered and have work to do.

First up, people will now be able to be deported for "fostering hatred, advocating violence to further a person's beliefs or justifying or validating such violence". All very well and good. But considering the government's line over the last few weeks has been "if you say Iraq is a reason for why London was attacked, you're giving excuses for and justifying the attacks" it's a tad worrying. What, exactly, counts as "justifying" these days? Although I seem to be getting into trouble every time I link to Talk Politics these days, this post may help to point the way to some of my concerns.

Is suggesting that an action - which has led to Al Quaeda's second in command and one of the 21st July bombers explicitly listing it as a reason for their terrorism - may be a contributing cause of the terrorist attacks a justification or validation? According to the rhetoric of the government and some of its supporters, it would appear so. So should we start deporting everyone who suggests a link between Iraq and the London attacks? Again, from the rhetoric of the government it would appear so.

There's also the specific reference to "The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws. But this will also be applied to justifying or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the UK."

Does that include George Galloway? How about Gerry Adams, who Blair had a chat with just the other day? Is it going to become illegal to say that you can understand that in the Israel/Palestine conflict Israel has the military advantage, so Palestinian methods are understandable, as Ken Livingstone (a member of Blair's own party) did not long ago? (A statement which did not, despite it's rapid spinning by his critics, actually condone Palestinian terror tactics, but as that spinning proved could be interpreted as such.) Considering the part which states "For those who are British nationals and who cannot be deported, we will extend the use of control orders. Any breach can mean imprisonment" will Livingstone and Galloway find themselves presented with control orders?

I surely can't also be the only one to find "Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further, including, if necessary amending the Human Rights Act" a cause for concern? We all know what happened the last time the Law Lords pointed out the flaws of some Blairite terrorism legislation - rather than just lock up foreigners without trial, we can now ALL be locked up without trial. (Something which could get worse with the mention of "a way of meeting the police and security service request that detention pre-charge of terrorist suspects be significantly extended.")

Then there's the clampdown on freedom of speech, which could also lead to innocent people getting screwed: "Once the new grounds take effect, there will be a list drawn up of specific extremist websites, bookshops, centres, networks and particular organisations of concern. Active engagement with any of these will be a trigger for the home secretary to consider the deportation of any foreign national." So if you have, in your browser's history, a visit to an Islamic fundamentalist website, does that count as "active engagement"? Could following a blog link to a statement from a terror cell count? How about unwittingly visiting a proscribed bookshop, or reading a proscribed book (an idea I find fundamentally abhorrent)? Or will we all be able to take the Pete Townsend "research" defence?

You've also got to wonder, when you read things like "the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are compiling an international database of those individuals whose activities or views pose a threat to Britain's security" why on earth they hadn't done that years ago. How can you defend the country if you don't even know who our enemies are? If they don't know who our enemies are, this surely means that they've been able to enter the country with valid passports for years - making all the guff about both ID cards and illegal immigration sound even more like a load of bollocks.

There are naturally also some valid statements, like "Cases such as Rashid Ramda wanted for the Paris metro bombing 10 years ago and who is still in the UK whilst France seeks extradition, are completely unacceptable", and a good part of what Blair says can't really be denied as being relatively sensible anti-terror measures. The thing about recalling parliament in September is also welcome (although the qualifier "[if] the right consensus is achieved" has slightly sinister undertones...) Even bits some people may not expect me to welcome I do think need to be said, namely "coming to Britain is not a right. And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people, have no place here."

Nonetheless, there is also a lot to cause concern. A lot of vagueness which needs to be made specific. A lot of things which could easily be turned to political ends, rather than to security means.

As for the statement that "The rules of the game are changing", it's understandable (which is not to say that I condone it, please note) - it's just rather disappointing. What happened to "We will not allow violence to change our society and values"?

I know, let's ban the buggers and drive them underground (pun not necessarily intended) - that'll make it easier to keep tabs on 'em...

And no, I have no knowledge of or interest in either of those groups - but they should be allowed to spout whatever nonsense they like as long as they don't incite violence, just as should the BNP and their ilk. Banning them achieves nothing especially useful beyond restricting the freedom of people in this country to form and hold repellant views. Which is a restriction on all of us.

And - honest, sincere question - can someone explain to me the logic of the government's apparent position whereby Iraq (a very prominent war going on for two years and in the papers and on telly every day, being seen and heard about by millions) has no influence on our terrorist buddies, yet a few small groups of nutty preachers (behind closed doors, monitored by the security services, and being seen and heard by mere tens of people) have such an immense impact that we have to proscribe their tinpot organisations and boot them out the country?

Way to keep the moral high ground there guys! The full research paper on the United States' apparent plans to re-start production of antipersonnel landmines can be found here.

(And yes, the US is indeed one of the few countries left which hasn't signed up to the 1997 Ottawa Convention - the Mine Ban Treaty - a distinguished list of 41 nations that includes such bastions of democracy and freedom as Burma, China, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Vietnam, as well as a bunch of other dodgy buggers.)

I like the US. I genuinely do. But it really is very hard to argue against its critics sometimes...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Missed this earlier - the New York Police Department also agree with my assessment of the 7th July bombers. It's like I'm some kind of terrorism expert or something. Which would be an even more worrying thought...

Beer fund update

Have just had a call from the St John Ambulance lot, and it's a go to give their volunteers who were on the scene on the 7th a nice piss-up. Should have date/venue confirmed early next week.

I knew there was a reason I didn't sign that "Unite against Terror" thing...

And just to keep those who continually read the worst into everything I write happy - George Galloway is a dangerous idiot for spouting this kind of abject shite.

Out with the old... And in with the pro-growth, pro-business new Europe. (Via) - interesting stuff:
"it's not only former Communist countries that have put rapid growth at the top of their priority list. In fact, since the 2004 enlargement of the European Union that saw it grow from 15 members to 25, the pro-growth nations may now be in the majority. Which means that in the latest of the occasional debates over the future of Europe, the tables have been turned on Europe's founding nations, especially France and Germany."

Terrorism: It's the sodding Welsh! That's what I read into this at any rate - and it's not as if the Welshers haven't got a history of acts of terrorism: anyone else remember the Plaid Cymru attack on the Pen y Berth Bombing Range in 1936? No?

ID Cards - commencing propaganda phase two. "Hey, look guys - y'know, I understand entirely - you reckon these things are all about giving things to us! You don't, like, see the benefits to you! Well, guys, here's how it'll b gr8!!! (And worth three hundred odd quid)"

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Compassion and understanding. And more. And more. And more. And more. And more. And more.

I've never read this Steven Vincent guy. Know nothing about him. But it's nice to see that if I get blown to fuck going to work tomorrow my parents can look forward to reading a bunch of rabid maniacs going "ha ha - served you right because you disagreed with me about terrorism".

The internet is full of fuckwits.

In my considered legal opinion*, this silly bint should have had the book thrown at her.

* What? I was accepted for a law conversion course once. Just because I turned it down and have only the most basic of grasps of the legal system doesn't make me any less qualified to express an opinion. Just look at Charles "studied economics and maths" Clarke, currently overruling centuries of tradition and the opinions of m'learned friends daily.

MPs to return from recess to discuss bombings. In five weeks.

Good on 'em, I say - leading from the front, not letting the terrorists alter their way of life and all that. The lazy fucks.

The press: scaremongering knobfloggers

Yesterday I reported a minor scare on a bus near King's Cross with the headline "Again?" - a tad premature as it turned out to be little more than a small fire (which happen all the time on London's rather crappy busses), but I at least had the excuse that no news organisation had, at the time I put up the post, got any information about it. Within half an hour, the all clear had been given - as I reported - and everyone got back to going about their business as the two roads which had been closed as a precaution were re-opened.

So, how do we get from "Small fire on bus causes minor concern for half an hour" into The Mirror's alarmist headline PASSENGERS FLEE IN TERROR FROM 'BOMB BUS'? Or, indeed, the London Evening standard's (print only) NEW TERROR ALERT SEALS OFF LONDON?

What's wrong with, erm... you know - not spreading fear and panic further than necessary? Why not - perhaps - report what actually happened without exaggeration? Especially considering that you had plenty of time to find out what the real story was before going to press? Perhaps you'd like to take a leaf out of The LA Times' book, with their infinitely more accurate headline London Blames Engine Fire for Smoke on Bus?

I'll tell you why they don't curb their alarmism - because fear sells. Terror sells.

My daily readership figures have doubled since I liveblogged the 7th and 21st July terror attacks. It's likely that newspaper circulation has gone up significantly as well. Add to that the fact that parliament's in recess, we've got tit all to write about other than terrorism.

And to continue to attract the readers, headlines need to lure them in. Had I titled this post "A thought about something that happened yesterday" it's likely fewer people would be lured in than have been by the use of the wonderful word "knobfloggers" (I'm rather proud of that one - came up with it before any coffee or alcohol as well...). Likewise, the press need to shock, scare, and intrigue to con us into forking out fifty pence for their poorly-produced rags. (At least you can read my turgid shite for free...)

The impact of all this? Terror lingers. Fear is revived. We continue to worry about more attacks (helped by the constant demands that we shit ourselves daily coming from the head of the Metropolitan Police). We fail to get back to our normal lives. And the terrorists have achieved another small victory.

We've already had this debate, but I fear that in the wake of London's latest scrape with homicidal idiots it's going to run and run. (Personally I'm more scared of being stabbed by some idiot while out with the missus than I am of terrorists, but maybe that's just me and the readers of the Daily Mail...)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Times opinion piece more suited to a particularly idiotic blog is taken apart by a not particularly idiotic blog (which is in turn then attacked by one of the most idiotic blogs going* - and you'll probably have to refresh that link as they don't like people linking direct to posts...)

I, meanwhile, will merely point out that the Times piece, by Anthony Browne, was already worthy of contempt merely for breaking Godwin's Law by the first sentence of the second paragraph. Note to idiots: Nazism was an ideology based on hatred, and the majority of true Nazis were nutters; Islam is an ideology based on religious devotion, and the majority of true Muslims are no more nutty than anyone else who believes in an all-powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent deity. Direct comparisons are doomed to make you look even more foolish than usual.

Oh, and a rather nice fisking by Talk Politics on this as well.

* I should probably point out that the response itself gives a good impression of being sane, and that David T is usually one of the less barking posters there, even if the response would tend to suggest that the blog on which it appears has a rather bad case of double-standards when it comes to people it disagrees with versus people it adores...

Again?

Hearing reports of "smoke pouring out of a bus on the Gray's Inn Road" - which runs up to King's Cross, for those who don't know. Also helicopters over Camden to the north.

Will try and find out more, as per.

15:25 - BBC tickertape reports police investigating an "incident" and that the roads have been closed. No confirmation for about 15 minutes though, and the usually sensationalist Sky have nothing, and nor do ITV News, despite having offices on that street. Could merely be a knackered engine. Dunno...

15:32 - Sky page with a traffic camera picture which shows precisely nothing of any use.

15:36 - BBC page up - calling it a "smoking bus", which summons up images of a double-decker slouched against a wall, the collar of its leather jacket up, eyeing people suspiciously James Dean style while sucking on a roll-up. That could just be me though...

15:42 - A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: "There was a small fire on a bus and it seems there was a bag found as well. Nobody was injured."

A Transport for London spokesman said: "The incident involved a 205 bus close to King's Cross. Buses in the area have been delayed."
Sky reporting Fire Brigade called out to a "small fire" on the bus, police called in when a suspect package found. Either way, sounds minor.

15:48 - All over. Police have declared it's a false alarm.

Italian police agree with my assessment of the 21st July bombers. (Perhaps it's time to reassess...)

Bananas cause the EU grief once more - not about straightness this time, though, which is a bit of a relief, at least...

Der Spiegel - American Capitalism vs. European Social Markets, a fairly interesting, easily-accessible piece by Jeremy Rifkind, author of EU/US comparative study "The European Dream", following on from last week's pieces Europe's Commitment Anxiety and Why the European Dream Is Worth Saving. Worth a look, although as it seems to be aimed at Americans the level of assumed knowledge about both European and global politics is insanely low... Which may be a good thing or not, I dunno.

Racialism and stuff, innit?

Now I'm not a fan of targetted searches based on skin colour, even though I can see the logic behind them. They stir up all kinds of racial tension and resentment, plus help create an "us" vs. "them" feeling which is never helpful. So it's quite heartening to see first Peter "useless twat" Hain and then Hazel "dozy nonentity" Blears speak out against them.

But it must be said, Hain's assertions that racially-tagetted searches would help terrorist recruitment, coming as they do so soon after the Dear Leader's dismissal of any suggestion that anything other than their EVIL nature helps terrorists recruit, seems a tad odd. ("Nope, this guy didn't blow himself up because he'd witnessed two years' worth of images of people being killed in Iraq and repeatedly saw Blair and co ignore the public and the opinion polls over the war, it was because some policeman held him up for five minutes to rummage through his sandwiches... Oh yes, and because he's EEEEEVVVVIIIILLLL")

It also seems a tad odd that no one has yet explained why searching random people with bags is less likely to cause suicide bombers to detonate than a bunch of plain clothes policemen rushing at them with automatic guns, ready to shoot them in the head. Krishnan Guru-Murphy tried to get an answer on that very question on Channel 4 News last night, and it was not so skilfully avoided.

But this does start to show the next line of argument for ID cards. Much as with the right to lock us all up without trial, they're going to start off targeting small groups (then it was foreigners, this time it's ethnic minorities) but then say "hey guys, it's unfair and prejudiced to target small groups - we'll target EVERYBODY! Just for the sake of fairness, you understand?"

ID cards will, for some reason which they'll no doubt have worked out by the time they launch this, enable us merely to flash the things at the rozzers and go about our business unmolested. (Because it's not as if the 7th July bombers were - just like the rest of us - British citizens with no previous history of terrorism, is it? Oh... Erm...)

And, of course, the fact that our Ethiopian chappie currently held in Rome used a false identity will also heighten the government's assertions that we should all have official ID. The likes of the Sun and the Mail will doubtless jump in straight behind it due to their ongoing hatred of all things asylum-seeker.

But the major question the government needs to answer - if our dear terrorist chum managed to convince the Home Office that he was a different nationality, had a different name and sucessfully applied for asylum under false pretences without anyone knowing - is how exactly they're going to make sure that this doesn't happen during the process of issuing us all with ID cards in the first place?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Nice to see Tony Blair's got his cunting priorities right, the star-struck tosser.

For fuck's sake. There are many infinitely better uses for your time, Mr Blair.

Five arrested at the protest ban protest, which was joined by Cherie Blair's sister. Looks like the family are beginning to be a bit of a pain in the arse for old Tony - only a matter of time before he passes a law to ban 'em...

Assuming they haven't been locked up (or shot in the head), expect reports from the Parliament Protest Blog and Bloggerheads at some point soon.

Update: Kitty Killer's initial post and photos.

It'll be interesting to see how people on the ground reckoned it went - from the BBC London news it must be said that it looked to go how I feared it would: most acting sensibly, but a few twats acting like dickheads and making it look like something other than what it was intended to be. The Stop the War Coalition's stupid "Troops Out" banners likewise warped the message - it should have been kept purely to being about freedom of speech. Bring other politics in, you ruin it and lose support. Nice one, Stop the War lot. You've blown it.

Ah... Political loyalty, eh?
"Lord Saatchi, the former Conservative chairman, charged the party £1.5 million for the services of his advertising companies in the general election campaign that he helped to create."
Combine that with the news that ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has threatened to throw a hissy fit if the party doesn't select someone that he likes, and it looks rather like there could be yet another childish meltdown at Central Office on the cards. Not that anyone gives a flying fuck about what Duncan Smith thinks, obviously, but still...

Non-news of the day: I'll quit Commons at next election, Blair tells family and friends.

Well, dur... Did anyone seriously expect him to do a Ted Heath and loyally serve his constituents from the backbenches for another quarter century? And surviving on a measly MP's salary? With his mortgage(s)?

As soon as he announced he was going to quit the leadership it was obvious he'd be heading to better-paid climes. This is nearly as much of a non-story as those "terrorists will try and strike again" ones - patently fucking obvious if you use your brain for even half a sodding second.

Update: Downing Street denies the story - so it MUST be true...

Tuesday update: Ha! Told you it must be true if Downing Street denies it...

The Media and Terrorism - good stuff, a nice follow-up to that Simon Jenkins article from yesterday.

RIP Wim Duisenberg

The former European Central Bank head honcho, who oversaw the introduction of the single currency during his 1998-2003 tenure, was found dead yesterday following cardiac trouble. As he died in the pool of his south of France villa, be certain that some less than respectful comments will be made about how this is indicative of the decadence of the EU, or something...

A few people have been referring to him as the father of the Euro, but his role was more that of midwife and wetnurse, helping drag the prematurely-born currency kicking and screaming into the world, coping with the complications and suckling and nursing the thing through the difficult early years. Having stepped down two years ago he'd passed his charge on to the runtish currency's nanny figure, Jean-Claude Trichet, who's currently having to protect the poor dear from the bullying likes of Silvio Berlusconi and the nasty gang of eurosceptics at the nursery school.

More: Bloomberg, Reuters, Financial Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Times obituary, CNN, Le Monde, Libération, EU Observer, ECB Press Release.


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