Friday, September 30, 2005

Thanks, Gordon! Now I'm even less likely ever to be able to afford my own place! Cheers!

*Nosemonkey wanders off to ponder a future full of unstable and over-priced rental accommodation and slow starvation in old age due to inability to afford a proper private pension - assuming, of course, that terrorists, MRSA or the Metropolitan Police don't kill him first*

A Labour minister only acting after something's appeared in the press? Surely not! Charles Clarke (slightly paraphrased):
"The article which appeared in today’s Sun newspaper about something about which before now I couldn't care less has highlighted a number of important issues, most notably that this has now got media attention and so I need to look as if I give a shit and am doing something, or else our ratings will drop even further than they did yesterday after our goons were caught on camera manhandling a pensioner.

"I have today asked my department to look at the details of this particular case and some of the broader issues that it raises - most notably how our PR department didn't pick up on this sooner and thus save us from having to scrabble around like morons while we desperately try and cover our arses."

Europhobia's new look preview excitement! - initial template courtesy of the lovely Chris, of qwghlm fame, with a few fiddles by me - so any HTML/CSS cock-ups are entirely my fault.

It's still a work in progress (need to twig how to re-do these "Europhobit" things, get trackback up and running again, make sure that comments work properly, plus probably re-install the fancy drop-down menu things I've got, re-think the blogroll and archives and whack up a few other bits and bobs once I've integrated it to this URL etc. etc.), but what do you reckon so far? Any problems in specific browsers/operating systems (as I've only been able to check it in Safari on Mac OSX since fiddling this morning)? Any design issues? Anything else missing?

Suggestions/comments much appreciated - I'm hoping to have this up and running over here next week.

Uzbek update

Following Uzbekistan blog day at the start of the month (my contribution here), trying to raise awareness of the decidedly unpleasant regime of Islam Karimov and calling for sanctions, someone has decided at last to act - and that someone is, as I had hoped, the EU.

The proposed sanctions won't do much, being easily avoided - they appear simply to be "an embargo on exports ... of arms, military and other equipment that might be used for internal repression", but there is also to be another formal condemnation of the "excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Uzbek security forces" (unlike the Met police, eh? Well, Britain did train the Uzbeks as well...)

There's also some mention of cutting aid programmes and imposing Robert Mugabe-style visa limitations on members of Karimov's regime. Even the people proposing them know that these are all largely symbolic actions - but at least they are actions and not merely words, which is all we've seen from our highly principled, anti-dictator leaders to date.

Even if all these particular sanctions mean is that Karimov will just buy all his arms from Russia instead and carry on with his show trials to excuse his massacres as before, it's still a step in the right direction. There will doubtless be more on this over at the weblog of former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, later, as well as at the always top-notch Registan, Publius Pundit and Disillusioned Kid.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

To make up for sweariness (which oddly prevents me, thanks to my office's new web filters, from commenting on my own post in reply to the surprisingly classist anonymous Labour supporter who accused me of being a "chavista"), some genuinely good news - a truly superb Presidential candidate for 2008, one of single purpose, straight-talking, and who you can trust not to break any of his election promises. (via I forget, I'm afraid...)

Bunch of fucking Labour cunting cunts

Arrest Detain an 82 year old under the Terrorism Act for shouting "nonsense" at someone talking nonsense?

I'm not sure I can express my views on this without swearing profusely, so I'm, glad other people already have. (Legal explanation, anger and surprisingly calm disgust in turn.)

For Christ's sake, the guy's been a member of the party for 60 years - that amount of loyalty surely deserves a little respect? Or doesn't it work both ways?

Had I ever been a member of the Labour party, and had I not had the bollocks to quit already over their shameless shift to the authoritarian centre right, surely witnessing their thugs assault a pensioner would be the clincher? But then again, if you're still a member of the party you've either got to have an insane amount of hope, faith and patience or simply not care about all the deaths and fuck-ups Blair's caused. If the former, you're deluded if you think your voice is ever going to be heard, as yesterday's events prove; if the latter, you're an abject cunt.

Party membership is never something I can approve of at the best of times - summons up all sorts of images of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, none of which are pleasant, which is why I have never and will never join any party - but Labour party membership today I cannot even slightly understand, and especially the continued membership of old Labour supporters.

Why? How can you approve of what they're doing? How can you still think that this is the party you used to know? How can you still cling to the hope that they might, possibly, someday swing back towards the political ground they once occupied? How can you justify continuing to give them your money to enable them to pay hulking security guards to assault octogenarians?

I simply do not get it. I can't come up with a single logical argument for it, nor any take on current Labour policy which could in any way be described as left-wing. Can anyone justify Labour party membership any more? Can anybody justify the Labour party?

Update: Heckler returns to hero's welcome, while meanwhile,

"The Labour Representation Committee claimed there had been intimidation of delegates, allegations of corruption of the democratic process and 'blatant gerrymandering' of the conference agenda.

"It alleged that emergency resolutions to the conference had been excluded for 'spurious' reasons, that delegates received text messages from party officials telling them which way to vote and that speeches had been 'planted' by party officials.

"Labour MP John McDonnell, chairman of the committee, said: 'Enough is enough - we cannot put up with this treatment any longer.

"'We need a thorough independent investigation into the whole New Labour culture of intimidation, suppression of dissent and the gerrymandering of conference.'"
And this from an MP hardly known for his rebellious nature - until, that is, the most recent splurge of stupid legislation on gambling, terrorism, freedom of speech, ID, immigration, public private partnerships, judicial reform, etc. etc. etc.

For shame!

BBC Europe Editor Mark Mardell launches his weekly Europe roundup - coming to you every Thursday as from today. A bit short (both in length and on insight), but a moderately entertaining brief overview which could, in conjunction with Auntie's daily European Press Review prove fairly useful.

German elections: Yesterday's coalition talks between Schöder's Social Democrats and Merkel's Christian Union apparently went well, even if there's still no obvious end in sight and no decision as yet over who will end up Chancellor. The closest British comparison - from what I can make out - would probably be if in 1974, rather than going to the polls again Labour and the Tories decided to team up, with Heath and Wilson trying to agree between them who would end up Prime Minister. All very odd, in ther words.

And if Schröder and Merkel can't come to an agreement? According to Der Spiegel, keep your eye on Edmund Stoiber, currently Governor of Bavaria and head of the Christian Social Union, Merkel's major coalition partner. But if they're honest, it's still the case that no one knows what the hell's going on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Talking Turkey

(Sorry, my subbing skills seem to have gone out the window today - a truly terrible title...)

Voting has been postponed on extending Turkey's association agreement with the EU to the ten new member states, although the European Parliament has voted that accession negotiations can start on October 3rd as planned. Just one more bit of confusion with the whole Turkish thing which has been knocking around for years - and yet another excuse for wildly differing interpretations of what the hell's going on.

So, is Europe's attitude to Turkey hypocritical, as one letter in the Guardian has it today? Is the Armenian Genocide question just an excuse, disguising latent racism and Islamophobia, as the Guardian's second correspondant would seem to have it? Is it fair to bring up something from 1915, when the Turkish Republic was only founded in 1923, or should the focus be on current concerns, like alleged stifling of human rights and ongoing accusations of torture? (Not that Britain has any right to complain about torture these days, thanks to our delightful Home Secretary's love of sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and the extraction of fingernails with pliers... This may be why our support of Turkish membership threatens to cause so many problems with our European partners.)

As Turkey starts dropping hints it may give up on EU entry, sparking fears of a shift towards a more Islamic polity, there's a good, if fairly lengthy, look at Turkey's relationship with Europe over at the New York Times which helps point out some of the complexities, while the Economist has a superb intro to the problems of Turkish membership which may be worth a look first:

"Turkey first applied to join what was then the EEC in 1959. The two sides signed an association agreement in 1963 (implicitly accepting that Turkey could be a candidate); a customs union in 1995; and the EU officially accepted Turkey as a candidate for entry in 1999. Turkey has, in short, been asking to join Europe for so long that its application is starting to look old and moth-eaten—so much so that some diplomats and politicians seem to have forgotten the strategic reasons for entertaining it...

"Yet rejecting Turkey's bid for membership would do little to solve the difficulties its application raises. The budget needs to be reformed whether Turkey is in or out. Europe's economies must create more jobs whether or not Turkish workers get free movement of labour (which they probably won't). Popular dissatisfaction with the EU exists regardless of Turkish membership. A majority of Europeans say they are undecided about Turkey, rather than actively hostile."
Count me among the undecided. No matter what the outcome, there could be serious problems. Full EU membership, we get the introduction of a vast country with a vast, largely impoverished population, who would have full rights to live and work anywhere in the EU, and borders on some of the most unstable and dangerous nations in the world. The proposed "privileged partnership" and we risk fostering resentment and feelings that Europe is patronising our semi-European neighbour, which could help revive nationalist and/or radical Islamist political groups within the country, destabilising the one (relatively) sane and stable Islamic country we've got on our side. End all talk of membership, and the likelihood of a shift towards radical Islamist politics is even more likely, with all the concurrent increase in security risks that would threaten.

Is there a way out? Who knows? All I do know is that this seems a very odd area for Labour to suddenly rediscover the concept of "principle"...

A plea for help

This blog is fucked. Its template is crammed full of shit. It doesn't work consistently across all browsers for no apparent reason, and it has now got to the stage where I am utterly pissed off with it. As of today it also appears to be refusing to show new posts in Safari, meaning I can't actually see what I've written this morning without entering the URL for the post manually. Which is hardly helpful.

I understand nothing of HTML or CSS beyond how to put in links and pictures, so am incapable of sorting it out.

So, who wants to help me redesign this bugger? I pretty much know what I want (basically the same with some tweaks and not fucked would be a good place to start) but have no idea how to achieve it. I'm also going to throw this open to suggestions - is there anything you, dear readers, would like to see done? Anything you want got rid of? Let me know.

I can offer little in the way of payment because I'm pretty much completely broke (vast amounts of entirely necessary yet extortionate expenditure recently, involving jewellery, hotels and intercontinental flights). You would, however, gain my eternal gratitude. And possibly a pint or two.

If you're pondering what question to ask dear Tony tonight, Manic has a good un, or check old Justin's analysis of yesterday's speech for inspiration - or the Curious Hamster's, for that matter.

Fancy having the secret service smash down your door and shoot you repeatedly in the head?

Then why not call Tony Blair a fuckbollocking cuntknocker and threaten him with physical violence on the supposedly "live" web chat he's apparently doing tonight?

Please note, should you submit your question for pre-approval (hardly "live", is it, Tony?) you will be inundated with Labour party spam for the rest of your days, and the buggers will also have a record of your IP address and the like, making it very easy to track you down should you, say, take this opportunity to inform Blair that you'd like to see his stupid fucking grin splattered over the walls and ceiling after a suicide-bomb induced explosive rectal prolapse.

This is the kind of sanitised crap you'll get out of these supposed questions from members of the public. (And by the way, I hope Eddie Izzard feels the piles of cash I hope they bunged him were worth it - the cunt's just lost any respect I ever had for him).

The only good thing? This:

Tony Blair: "I am the Prime Minister... It doesn't inspire confidence, I know"

EU lifts British beef ban.

Hang on, it was still banned? You learn something new every day...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More proof, as if any were needed, that Charles Clarke is a fucking tool:
"The Prime Minister was elected earlier this year in a very strong election result. He said he would go before the end of this Parliament - that means by May 2010 - and he will go towards the end of the Parliament.

"I would urge him myself to stay right up towards the end of the Parliament"
So, you know, just spring a new, untested leader on the public right before a general election, giving them no chance to formulate their own policies, appoint their own people to the positions they want, or to allow the public a chance to get used to them? Genius.

(Although actually, considering the Tories are still likely to be fucked by 2009/10 and the voting system won't have been reformed, Labour could put a donkey in a leotard up for PM and still get in with a majority - maybe Clarke's got a point after all...)

Update: More guff on this at the Guardian - vaguely interesting, actually, which makes a change from the usual Blair vs. Brown stuff that gets churned out whenever any paper's got space to fill...

Update 2: For fuck's sake - won't somebody rid me of this troublesome Home Secretary? It would appear that he's now proposing to execute every single teenager in the country - that's the only way I can envisage that he'll be able to "eliminate disrespect and antisocial behaviour". What a twat.

Got something to get off your chest? Why not take advantage of our new little wotsit at The Sharpener? Whether you're a blogger or not, rant away about something or other, and we'll whack it up for all to see - assuming it's decent and stuff, that is. Email Jarndyce or me, if you like, offering your services, and we'll get back to you wih details and stuff when we've got them. Just looking for volunteers at the moment to guage interest levels.

MEPs to save us?

Today the buggers are voting on those stupid data retention proposals Blair and co have come up with (For background: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or via or

As this interview with Jean-Marie Cavada, the chair of the EP's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, should make clear, it's rather unlikely these stupid and invasive measures are going to be passed by the European Parliament:

"The State does not need to know everything. It is essential to respect the principle of proportionality. It is not the State that controls citizens but citizens who control the State. We must avoid introducing measures which may turn out to be a system of mass surveillance."
The Committee has formally recommended that Parliament reject the proposal, submitted jointly by Britain, France, Ireland and Sweden. Which, if they do, won't really achieve a great deal, but will at least hold them up a bit...

Update: Via John in the comments - hurrah!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fucking FINALLY. Template sorted after hours of fiddling around with HT-pissing-ML so this blog's now readable again in Internet sodding Explorer.

Lessons learned? A single misplaced triangular bracket can bugger up the entire sodding thing. Oh, and I hate computers.

Other lessons learned? Everyone should use Firefox, if only to make my life easier.

Headline of the day: "Sarkozy pushes for six nation EU 'hardcore'". He he he! It's funny because "hardcore" is a term most commonly used to describe the more explicit kinds of pornography, and this therefore sounds like Sarkozy is trying to organise some kind of perverse international orgy, or something.

Jokes are always better when explained at length, I find.

Can someone explain Switzerland to me?

The country works via a complex federal structure based on various different bodies elected in various different ways - from fairly straight PR through to the indirectly-elected Federal Supreme Court. The majority of powers remain devolved to a local level and the people can get directly involved via innumerable referenda, making it one of the most actively participated in democracies in the world. It could almost make a nice microcosmic model of how the EU could reform itself to gain accountability...

They've signed up to the Schengen and Dublin agreements for passport-free travel throughout the EU, they've been gradually bringing their economic policies in line with those of the EU, and now they've voted to allow workers from the 10 newest EU member states to live and work freely in their country.

They're also a member of the European Free Trade Association, gaining a few handy trade deals in the process, but bizarrely not of the European Economic Area - so unlike Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein don't gain the advantage of unfettered access to the Common Market, instead having to rely on a series of bilateral agreements with the EU. And despite signing innumerable deals with Brussels, they still haven't made a great deal of progess towards signing up to the EU itself, even though that's technically been a government aim for years.

The entire country seems a mass of contradictions, and I simply can't work it out. Yes, obviously at the most simplistic level there's a resistance to EU membership from the people. But why are they supportive of some parts of integration, yet not interested in actually having some say in the future direction of the EU by joining up properly?

If the EU goes apeshit mental (well, more so than it has so far), Switzerland could easily end up pretty much screwed. Yet all they seem to be doing at the moment is making a few concessions and signing a few agreements - some obviously beneficial, others less so (the country's got a 3.4% unemployment rate - not much, admittedly, but if that's the case why admit more workers from the new EU states to compete for jobs when you don't have to and you have citizens of your own looking for work?) Why join EFTA and not the EEA, only to then negotiate bilateral agreements with the EU which pretty much amount to EEA membership without the formalities?

Is Switzerland being really bloody cunning, wrangling as much of the good stuff out of the EU without any of the crap, or is it just utterly schizophrenic? That's what a lovely Swiss email correspondant of mine reckons (disclosure - someone who was working for the yes campaign in the run-up to this referendum):

"56% yes might not seem like much, but believe you me, it's actually a helluva result... As you can imagine, the no-campaign was quite ugly. Together with the 55% yes to the Schengen/Dublin treaties in June, the security-paranoid-world-war-II-nostalgic Swizerland seems to be opening up. (With help of quite a chunk of dough from the yes-campaign, granted.) Even the remote East cantons (something halfway between the Midwest and the wild wide west... but east) voted yes...

"though they participated actively in the yes-campaign, the pro-europeans are now stuck in a difficult situation. If you thought that winning such a referendum would mean a new step towards the EU, think again. The so-called "bilateral way" seems to be cast in stone for a new decade and the crusade for joining the EU is entering a new path through the wilderness. The debate is now concentrating on withdrawing some dusty request sent in 1992 for opening membership negotiations...

"All the best from schizophrenic (but sunny) Switzerland"
So, again - anyone care to explain? Is there any logic here, or shall I just whack this in the file marked "the people don't know what they want" for when I set up my global dictatorship?

(Sorry, did I say "global dictatorship"? I meant "global super happy fun time" - just easing some of the pressure off by removing the hassle of you having to bother voting every few years, that's all...)

David Blunkett: "I'm too cunting important to bother myself with answering questions which may reflect on the way I carry out my job - piss off." (slightly paraphrased)

Lords to decide on allowing evidence extracted by torture. i.e. Lords to consider whether the following (heavily sanitised) exchange makes for reliable evidence:

A: "Are you planning acts of terrorism?"
B: "No - I'm Brazillian, and trying to get to work!"
B: "Aaaargh!"
A: "Are you planning acts of terrorism?"
B: "No, I told you..."
B: "Aaaargh!"
A: "Are you planning acts of terrorism?"
B: "Aaaargh!"
A: "Are you planning acts of terrorism?"
B: "Aaaargh!"
... continues for two weeks...
A: "Are you planning acts of terrorism?"
B: "Aaaargh! Yes, yes! Just stop hitting me, you nasty purple and yellow rhino thing - and for Christ's sake allow me to sleep, my brain's gone wonky."

No link yet, but European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx is expected today to slag off Blair and co's stupid data retention proposals as they "will have a direct impact on the protection of privacy, as laid down in Article Eight of the European Convention of Human Rights and developed by case law of the European Court of Human Rights." Again, no link yet, but an advance statement from Hustinx has said that
"It is crucial that the directive respects the fundamental rights. A legislative measure that would weaken the protection is not only unacceptable, but also illegal."
Hurrah for Hustinx! (And not just for his amusing name...) - There's a job description here (.pdf) and an interview with him here which shows he's a sensible chap. In other words, expect the Blair machine to go into full-on character-assassination mode over the next few days.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Britblog roundup 32 is up.

In other news, I've finally got around to updating this site's archives. Very exciting, I know. I've also had another fiddle with the template, as you've probably noticed from the re-sized logo and stuff. Better? Worse? I'm not sure yet - can't tell if it's too cramped. Let me know what you think - I'm pondering a major overhaul again sometime soon, but that all depends on time, inclination and working out the tech stuff - this do in the meantime?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Perfect - "Authority was given to the police in 2001 to take and retain DNA samples from everyone they arrest in connection with a ‘serious recordable offence’. Everyone; whether subsequently released, charged, convicted or acquitted. Prior to this change in the law, the police had been retaining DNA samples illegally for around seventeen years. The police now have over two million DNA records."

Postman Patel (following up on yesterday's security alert at Manchester Airport) - "A police spokeswoman confirmed the suspect had been arrested under the Terrorism Act and was being questioned. Subsequently he has been held under the Mental Health Act, a controlled explosion by a hastily summoned bomb squad revealed the man’s clothing and his passport, but no bomb or weapons...
'A man who had a picture taken of him at Manchester Airport without his consent has agreed an out of court settlement of £4,000 with the airport. Tim Hedgley had his photograph while passing through airport security when travelling on a domestic flight. His picture was used to ensure he did not buy duty-free goods and to check his identity at the gate.

'The photograph was taken without his permission and was therefore a breach of the Data Protection Act. He agreed to receive agreed an out of court settlement of £4,000 with the airport.'"

Friday, September 23, 2005

Something stupidly good for the weekend

Via The Virtual Stoa and Early Modern Notes, for today, tomorrow and Sunday only the Oxford University Press are offering free online access to the Dictionary of National Biography, one of the finest academic achievements of all time. Truly superb stuff - I don't think I can over-emphasise just how damn good the DNB is - register for free access and indulge. You won't regret it.

German elections: Some possible scenarios (and interesting discussion in the comments), plus a look at why the German mess does NOT mean that Proportional Representation systems are rubbish (with more good debate/links in the comments - including my solution to all this country's political ills, which should net me all kinds of awards and stuff, naturally...)

Read. Now. Then ponder if the next time you see an episode of Are you Being Served? and John Inman minces on to utter his catchphrase you won't pause for a moment and sigh with nostalgia for a more innocent time when, despite the fact that terrorists were bombing this country on a regular basis, the words "I'm free" could be uttered, meant, and still be true.

Hopefully nothing - "incident" at Manchester airport...

Jarndyce has more - once again, Manchester police manage to arrest someone without killing them. Good work Manchester police! Fancy coming to London and showing our lot how it's done?

A sensible response to terrorism - yes, really!

First one of these I've seen, but trust anyone but the government to come up with it. My old mates St John Ambulance have come up with a sensible and cunning idea, following their experiences tending the wounded on 7th July: First Aid lessons via podcast.

Stupidly good, simple idea. Download the buggers, whack 'em on your MP3 wotsit (assuming you have one, of course), and then should you be faced with an emergency you've got an expert in your pocket ready to talk you through how to help people out. Top stuff - and completely free. (Might be nice if you made a donation though...)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What. The. Pissing. Shit. Is. Going. On. With. This. Fucking. Country?

More at Perfect. (I are too busy at the moment, hence delay in picking up on this...)

Emigration is beginning to look increasingly appealing. Either that or I'm going to freeze to death this winter through fear of wearing a coat the police deem "suspicious" for no apparent reason. Bunch of cunts. I blame Blair and Blair.

The constitution rears its ugly head once more

Today the European Parliment's Constitutional Affairs Committee is expected to follow yesterday's entirely sensible point from Commission head José Manuel Barroso that debate on the future of Europe has stalled with an announcement that the old provisional constitution is dead and crap and it's about time to start again from scratch.

The committee's report, “the EU's constitutional crisis - breaking the deadlock” is to be published today, rejecting repeat referenda in the Netherlands or France and finally killing off any eurosceptic hopes of a vote in the UK at the same time.

This may well explain why UKIP have started spouting mindless nonsense about a referendum on EU membership, as they've finally accepted they'll never get to rub their hands with glee as they put a few final bullets into the constitution's now rather smelly, near-unrecognisable corpse - they never were that quick on the uptake, were they? The rest of us twigged the constitution was dead months ago... (As an aside, UKIP will no doubt be funding this latest pointless campaign with the £170,000 EU grant they've just been awarded - that's right, kids, the EU is funding anti-EU propaganda, isn't it eeeevil?)

Of course, the trouble is that while the UK holds the presidency, nothing much is going to be able to happen. Not only are we too contentious a figurehead,but also Blair and co are entirely obsessed with terrorists at the moment, and can't be arsed to do anything other than run around screaming about how we're all going to die. As such, the budget squabble has yet to be resolved, the Anglo-French spat over the CAP has got nowhere and thanks to the post-election stalemate in Germany, until the final member of the big three has managed to work out who's leading the country, the most obvious referee in the UK/France fight is utterly impotent.

So, the EP's Constitutional Affairs Committee wants to know how we can kick-start debate on the future of Europe? Simple - wait until the UK presidency's ended because you're going to get fuck all done while Blair's in charge. Oh, and if you want sensible debate, probably wait until both Chirac and Blair are out of office, make sure that any new Convention on the Future of Europe ends up rather more democratic and open than the last one - and, most importantly, don't rush the buggers this time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

EU internet survey thingie

Via Ken at EU Realist, let's help some poor PhD student, shall we? Spirit of altruism and all that. Go here and follow the instructions - it's a survey to check public perception of "the EU’s public diplomacy strategy online and its use of the Internet to promote a European public sphere", looking at the websites Europa (aimed at us European types), EurUnion (aimed at the yanks) and Europa at the UN (aimed, I assume, at the rest of the world - I'd never heard of it before...)

There are, of course, more than just those three (like the recently revamped European Parliament website) - but the Europa site itself is so damn vast you can find pretty much anything on there, once you work out how - it's also the home to dear Margot's blog.

There's a total of 27 questions, most fairly simple and quick to fill out. So go on - and let's try and keep this scientific, shall we? No childish spamming of the place with "Brittania roolz, E-U SUXX0rz" type crap, shall we? Leave your political opinions at the door and answer the questions honestly and sensibly. For science and stuff. Everyone likes science.

German elections: If you don't know what the hell's going on (which is most people, German or otherwise), you could do a lot worse than this round-up by Alex. Missed it yesterday - good stuff.

This - largely my take on the whole shoot to kill fiasco, with only minor quibbles, differences in interpretation and/or additions. It's hard to summon up the will to write about it any more, it's just so obviously been so shockingly poorly handled and ill thought out. Perhaps I'm suffering from this kind of thing.

Blair and co thwarted by the EU?

Let's hope so, eh? Today the wonderful data retention and electronic surveillance proposals put forward by our delightful government are being tabled by the European Commission amid EU-wide differences of opinion over their legality and effectiveness.

Blair's lovely plan, for those who missed it, is to force all phone companies and internet service providers to record all your phone calls (and keep tabs on missed calls), texts, emails, internet usage etc. etc. etc. and store them for anything up to three years (with, naturally, the potential to extend this at a later date), enabling the state to poke around into our lives whenever the hell they feel like it (especially were this information to become linked to the proposed biometric ID cards for ease of cross-referencing - although, obviously, if you've got nothing to hide... and anyway, human rights are outdated...)

However, Blair's initial proposals seem already to have been watered down by the Commission - at least to an extent. There have apparently been clauses inserted stating that the stored information can only be used for the investigation of serious organised crime and terrorism. Which, while no doubt intended to be reassuring, summons up an image of using five-mile net to catch a single flea - after all, how many of the 450 million people whose details will be stored will actually have been involved in any of those activities? And don't you think, just possibly, that criminals and terrorists will switch to non-electronic communication methods to excape detection? (Sorry, repeating myself, but the point apparently still needs to be made.)

Perhaps most promisingly, the European Parliament is to be given co-decision powers, allowing MEPs to scrutinise and amend this crappy legislation. (Of course, the European Parliament - as the only democratically-elected body in the EU - should ALWAYS have co-decision powers, but that's another matter altogether).

The only danger, of course, is that these measures are forced through the EP in a bit of a rush, with little time for debate, and are passed unthinkingly by our anonymous MEP masters, thus daubing them with a touch of democratic respectability. This is unlikely to happen here (largely thanks to the unpopularity of the measures with business, with poorer EU states who don't like the idea of the cost, and with anyone who thinks for half a second about how hapy they'd be fore some civil servant to be able to poke through their inbox and read their texts), but I'm still worried about the ID threat, about which there has, of yet, been no word... When they go quiet, that's generally when they're about to pounce.

There will also be a Commission discussion paper on the radicalisation of European muslims published today. Be on guard for Blairite thoughcrime language in the small print - and be aware that, on this occasion, it is thanks to Britain holding the EU presidency that the EU is pushing ahead with these dodgy, antidemocratic moves. But enough should be reluctant (or simply pissed off with Blair over the rebate) enough to try and drag it out until our term at the top ends, and if so there's a good chance we can get it all pushed out. Perhaps it's nearly time to cynically raise the spectre of Nazism, still far more powerful an epitome of all that is repressive across the Channel than it ever has been over here? That should raise a bit more opposition to giving Uncle Tony the right to, effectively, flick through our diaries whenever he likes, eh?

Keep an eye out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hmmm... Booze, you say? Free, you say? On the BBC, you say? If you're a London-based blogger, it may be worth checking out. I shall reserve commitment for the time being, as I can't remember if I'm meant to be doing anything on Thursday evening - if anyone's planning on popping along, though, let me know. Could be entertaining, plus a chance to spout nonsense on the radio by the sounds of things...

More info via the person organising it. Apparently she was on the telly once or something - weren't we all, dear? (In the nicest possible way, of course - I'm sure she's lovely really...)

It would appear (via la Worstall) that those of you who contributed to my London bombs beer fund a couple of months back in preference to Ken Livingstone's official Red Cross one made the right choice. Am I seriously more efficient than the Mayor's office and the government put together? What a bunch of shoddily-organised fuckwits. They should give me a job, I'll whip 'em into shape. Using tanks.

This BiasedBBC cross-post actually makes some very valid points. I may have to re-assess my opinion of Auntie.

Look, sorry - I know everyone seems to expect that I'm a wishy-washy pinko liberal peacenik and stuff, but there's only one way to describe this story - this is fucking cool! That's what war should be all about - the sort of bollocks they always used to get up to in those late-1960s caper movies with the comedy Nazis and stuff. Quality! Especially check out the quote from the Ministry of Defence Spokesman, and imagine him being played by James Robertson Justice, leaving an extended pause before the last word and then tapping his nose and winking at the end and shit. War's great.

(Normal service will be resumed shortly)

Monday, September 19, 2005

German elections: it could be weeks

The Beeb, as ever, has a load of good info, including the wonderful bit "Mr Schroeder said he could not understand how the CDU 'stakes a claim to political leadership from a disastrous election result'" - because, erm... they beat you by 1% and yet you're still claiming power? Nice one, Gerdy...

Meanwhile Ostracised from Österreich looks at some potential coalitions after liveblogging yesterday's results, while North Sea Diaries points out that, despite the scare stories about the German economy and unemployment, comparisons to 1970s Britain (and thus Merkel to Thatcher) are not as accurate as many believe.

Medienkritik has the German electoral map - showing a rather hefty north/south, east/west divide. He's also provided a similar map of unemployment figures, hinting at a correlation, as well as a bit more coalition speculation.

Over at Bildt Comments, in Berlin everything's unclear except the weather - the only thing that's certain is that "there are distinctly more losers than winners" - and the Dresden election in two weeks could end up decisive. Possibly. Depending on everything else that happens. Perhaps.

Whether or not this result is as bad as some seem to think (sections of the German press apparently calling it "fatal") it's simply too early to say. But if even the German press don't know what to make of it, you can be sure that anything you read in the English language press will be even less helpful - not least thanks to the animosity with Britain and America that Schröder's managed to build up over the last few years (and that Merkel could, lazily, be mistaken for a Neocon).

Expect a load of punditry on potential German governments in the European press over the next couple of weeks, in other words. Most of it more or less ill-informed, all of it highly speculative and based in little in the way of knowledge or fact.

Update: Hysteria from the Commission. Well, not hysteria, exactly, but can't we just let the Germans sort out their problems for themselves? It's not like they actually WANT a political deadlock. Well, except for the fact that that's what they voted for...

(Oh, and can someone tell Mandelson to shut up about "social models"? Whenever I hear that phrase I think of those little postcard adverts you get in the phone boxes around Soho. As such, a "new social model" appears to feel quite nice for a bit but then leave you feeling ripped off, broke and dosed up on clap. Not that I'd know, obviously...)

By the by, this should be read if you want to know what's going on - a nice overview with good analysis, and even a few nuggets along the lines of "the F.D.P. served chicken wings in their car park". Can't be bad.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

German elections: Dead heat?

Well, well, well. Down to the wire, no obvious majority, and suggestions even appearing that Schröder and Merkel should team up and form a coalition - much like Labour teaming up with the Tories. Yet both wannabe Chancellors have claimed victory, and neither is likely to want to compromise over their fairly significant political differences. It's all gone a bit mad, in other words.

Best place for all the excitement appears to be Der Spiegel's election liveblog (hat tip to MattGB in a comment here earlier this evening) and their special section on the elections, with Deutsch Welle's funky graphic thing also worth a quick look. Its exit poll is currently (10:30pm) showing 1% in it - or a two seat difference - nowhere near enough for any one party to comfortably take charge. (Of course, a 1% difference in Britain can be enough to give a 60 seat overall majority... But more on that, no doubt, some other time.)

Lots of good stuff at Fistful as per usual.

My arse.

Piss off, Murdoch.

Oh, and the latest Britblog Roundup is up. Go, read and stuff.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Note to anyone who cares (so that'd be no one, then) - the archives by topic are now slighly more navigable, having been divided by date. However, as they're updated manually and I haven't had the inclination recently, they're a month and a half behind. For any August/September posts, use the Blogger-automated "by date" ones. Ta.

Here endeth the most boring post ever.

By way of the lovely KathyF (who may or may not actually be lovely in the real world - I refuse to take responsibility for said description having never met her, she could be a vicious psychopathic terrorist for all I know) I've found out a bit more info about this whole bridge blogging lark. As such, I utterly demand that we all start helping out with this promising-looking wiki of global blogs by country. Preferably avoiding the temptation simply to spam our own. If we all combine our brainsacks - especially my dear continental reader friends - we could help turn that into a rather handy resource.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Look! Over there! It's the Goodyear blimp!

Yep - our government does seem to think we're that stupid. Or at least that enough of us are that stupid to make the old misdirection trick worth trying.

Yesterday, Charles Clarke launched his new Terrorism Bill, packed full of illiberal nonsense designed to grap our civil liberties by the hair, put a flick-knife to their throat and then skullfuck them mercilessly until their tears mingle with their blood as they curl, whimpering and broken, on the floor of the windowless cell to which Clarkie-boy has confined them for three months without trial thanks to his wonderful new discretionary powers.

But it's been a couple of months since the nasty terrorists last tried anything, and since then there was a spot of bother with some foreign geezer getting capped by the police. Despite their best efforts, all the "he was running - he must have had something to hide" and "he was an eeevil illegal immigrant, and that's nearly as bad as a terrorist" bullshit that was spouted was unable to hide the truth, and certain sections of society had begun to question the need for intrustive new laws. Yes, there were those relatives of that one London bomb victim who were screaming for revenge justice who the Sun managed to uncover - but they were conspicuously unsupported by any other grieving families.

"I know," says Clarke, "We need to get everyone scared again! Then they'll give me the power to whack any of them in gaol whenever I feel like it!"

Sure enough, yesterday morning, a few hours before the Terrorism Bill was unveiled - and conveniently just in time to make The Today Programme - seven Algerians were hauled off to the clink under powers granted by the last Terrorism Act. As Curious Hamster pointed out yesterday, it's hardly very subtle... (Meaders, posting over at Lenin's, has more details.)

But it goes further than that. After all, the government can't risk pissing off Muslims or be seen to be focussing all its attention on eeevil Islamists, can it? That'd be discriminatory and stuff...

So back on Sunday there appeared the story that Israeli Major General Doron Almog had had a warrant issued for his arrest for war crimes he is alleged to have committed in the Gaza strip. Somehow he managed to escape being locked up and put on trial. By, erm... staying on a plane at the airport, which the British security forces sent to arrest him somehow neglected to enter...

But shhh! Details aren't important - there was a warrant to arrest an Israeli General for being nasty to Palestians, and Palestinians are, like, Muslim and stuff!

See? The government don't just go after eeevil Muslims - they can go after eeevil Israelis as well - and for war crimes against Muslims, no less! See how they don't discriminate? See how it isn't a war against Islam? Excellent! Now, back to putting out our crappy anti-terror legislation.

And then, as if by magic, along comes Friday evening - the best possible time to leak news you don't want anyone to find out about (well, other than the afternoon of September 11th 2001, obviously), as the Saturday papers have all gone to the printers, the Sunday papers are pretty much done, and no one really bothers with the news over weekends anyway.

Sure enough, the arrest warrant has been withdrawn. It's served its PR purpose. Sorted. (And in any case, they couldn't leave it outstanding too long because Israel was already starting to kick up a fuss - they'd noticed, after all, that saying Almog's order to demolish Palestinian houses was a war crime kind of... erm... suggests that much of Israeli policy for the past few years has also been criminal... And we can't piss off Israel now, can we? Except temporarily, when it suits us, that is.)

I hope that the 22% of you who voted for these dickheads are pleased with yourselves.

Kroes, Merkel and Commission impartiality

German elections: Controversial Dutch EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes (who caused a bit of fuss a year ago during the confirmation hearings for Barroso's Commission thanks to her links to umpteen business interests and unproven allegations of shady dealings) has arguably broken Commission guidelines by publicly declaring her support for Angela Merkel in Sunday's elections.

It is, however, a bit of a grey area, what with it not being the politics of her own nation in which she has become embroiled. Especially as the new codes of conduct for Commissioners state that it is even permissible to "be active members of political parties or trade unions, provided that this does not compromise their availability for service in the Commission".

Nonetheless, it is also a - perhaps contradictory - general rule that EU Commissioners should remain "completely independent" (hence the fuss over Kroes' business links in a role which involves a vast amount of interaction with business). And in any case, her assertion that "The election of this excellent politician would be wonderful for the whole of Europe" is far from certainly the case, and demonstrates - in the eyes of some - a lack of judgement which is somewhat concerning for somebody holding such an important post. But then again, Peter Mandelson is also a Commissioner...

Kroes claims that her support for Merkel is because, basically, it would be good for women's lib and stuff for a woman to hold high office in Germany. Unsurprisingly, however, this hasn't gone down too well, Schröder ally and leader of the European Parliament's Socialist group Martin Schulz (unsurprisingly not a fan of the conservative Merkel) stating that "This is an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of a member state, regardless of Ms Kroes’s motivation. As we know, Ms Kroes stands for ultra market-liberalism, so it is not surprising that she supports Ms Merkel who shares the same values."

Even so, this could spark a few interesting questions about the extent to which Commissioners should be allowed to express personal views. Remember the US presidential elections? Practically no world leader expressed any opinion as to who they would prefer in charge - Japan's Junichiro Koizumi even going as far as to publicly deny that he backed Bush after rumours circulated that he had given George his backing.

I doubt there are many who would argue against introducing a hard and fast rule about EU Commissioners stating categorically that they should shut the hell up when it comes to their personal preferences for national governments within the EU. After all, how could Kroes work impartially and without any ill-feeling with a Schröder government, should the near-incredible happen and he manage to hang on to power?

They really do themselves no favours, this lot...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A bit of legal pedantry

A quick skim over the draft Terrorism Bill (.pdf) raises a number of concerns. Doubtless there'd be infinitely more were I to read it in full (especially were I to compare it to other anti-terrorism legislation from around the world), but I've got real-world deadlines for things that actually earn me money, so I'll have to leave it to others.

I am, however, somewhat concerned that when you say that anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates the commission, preparation or instigation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of acts of terrorism"* is committing an offence, precisely what is meant by "glorifying", "exalting" or "celebrating" is left unclear.

I also don't like the idea that "A person is guilty of an offence under this section in respect of a statement glorifying, exalting or celebrating anything occurring more than 20 years before the publication of the statement only if the statement relates, whether directly or indirectly, to conduct or events specified for the purposes of this section by order made by the Secretary of State."**

This effectively wipes from existence any act of terrorism pre-1985 unless Charles Clarke specifically, officially declares it to be terrorism. So the 1984 Brighton bomb which nearly wiped out Thatcher and her Cabinet would - technically - no longer count as an act of terrorism unless the Safety Elephant specifically sets out a statutory instrument*** declaring it so to be. And if he did that, then anyone who ever jokes about it being a shame they missed risks five years in prison****.

It also - again, technically - for the first time creates the concept of "official history" as historic groups who used tactics which could be considered "terrorist" (the Chartists etc.) would now only technically be considered such if they were on the Home Secretary's official list. A perfect cop-out for any history students presented with "Were the Suffragettes' tactics terrorist in nature?" type questions - just put "No - because Charles Clarke says so".

* Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 1(b)
** Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 3
*** Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 4
**** Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 5(a)

In case you aren't aware of them, I cannot stress how great soj's eclectic world news roundups are, providing a superb overview of stories of interest from all over the shop that you're likely otherwise going to miss, from Haiti to Georgia, the US to Peru, Burundi to Nepal. Find them pretty much daily at Flogging the Simian or European Tribune. Today's is here and here.

German elections roundup

If you know nothing about what's going on in Germany or why it's important, you could do worse than start with Sign and Sight's handy and succinct overview.

First up, is Merkel going to push for an extra round? She's been dropping in the polls of late (which may be worrying the markets, plus getting into trouble over her flat tax proposals, recently so popular in the UK blogosphere - with more in-depth looks at her economic policy woes at Der Spiegel.

Meanwhile, the Guardian (or is it theguardian?) looks at what went wrong in Germany and why "Everyone is afraid", even though the Financial Times reckons that Schröder's legacy will be a good one and Der Spiegel reckons Germany's a lot better off than it thinks it is in a nice comparison of Merkel and Maggie (as in Thatcher, natch).

(As an odd aside - largely for the eurosceptics to get heated up - the eurosceptic Times wonders if the Turkish vote will save the pro-Turkish entry Schröder, while Newropeans magazine bemoans the inability of non-German EU citizens to vote on Sunday, and in national elections full stop.)

Over at Fistful, Alex gives an overview of the squabbles over potential coalitions following Edward's look at the implications of Merkel missing an overall majority and Tobias' top-notch look at the problems with her campaign. It's one of the better places to keep up with what's going on.

As I finish up I also notice North Sea Diaries also has an election roundup with much good stuff - a bit of overlap, naturally, but certainly worth a look.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Shot by Both Sides murder roundup

Following the news that anonymous dickheads have forced the premature death of an amusing and often insightful blog by spiteful blackmail, a roundup seems in order.

Crooked Timber - "I’ve alternately enjoyed and been infuriated by John’s blog and he’s certainly been a major irritant to the decent smug and self-satisfied former left and the samizdatistas. Both Daniel and I were regular commenters on John’s site and I’ll miss the mix of friendly repartee and ill-tempered invective there."

Harry's Place (rarely fans of John B) - "I would just like to take this opportunity say: what fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking scummy wankers...

"What sort of monumental, spectacular, loss of perspective can have motivated a SBBS reader to have grassed John up in such a shabby fashion.

"Fuck them."

Chicken Yoghurt - "I just hope you shitweasels who made this happen have a glowing sense of well-being in your solitude this evening as you masturbate into your socks."

Jim Bliss - "SBBS was never guilty of racism or sexism, but refused to bow to contrived notions of political correctness. If John was guilty of anything, it was of overestimating the ability of his readership to discern the real target of a particular barb."

Devil's Kitchen (hardly of the same political views, with a stirling defence of blogging anonymity) - "This is wrong; apart from anything else, it's just not cricket. Honour comes in where boundaries are not legally set; and on blogs, honour dictates that—no matter how fucked off you are with someone in this medium—it stays in this medium. Whilst I often didn't agree with John, the real life bleed-through barrier should be sacrosanct."

Tim Worstall (again, hardly of the same political views) - "Bad news. Very bad news."

Matt T - "bad news for British blogging, and probably a sign of the rut it is currently in."

Ducking for Apples - "It would be nice to think that the web is a community of tech-literate, altruistic, friendly people who are proponents of free speech and generally getting on with life in a "do what you will but hurt no-one" kind of way.

"Unfortunately, there seem to be a proportional number of people who get their ya-yas by intimidation, bullying, power-games and trying to control other people."

Third Avenue - "A chill wind blows through blogland"

Laban Tall (another from the opposite end of the political spectrum) - "This day there's a gaping hole in the Blogring of Britain, where a precious if somewhat tarnished jewel once shone."

Backword has another link roundup and ponders whether "Perhaps there’s no higher acclaim that being blackmailed by envious anonymous cunts."

Finally, my own, more considered opinion - "it would seem that wanting to gas people who complained about Geldof swearing is fine. As long as they aren’t Jewish. Which, in my humble opinion, is significantly more patronisingly racist than anything I’ve ever read of John B’s.

"Shot by Both Sides was a satirical site – not always satire of genius, but satirical nonetheless. John’s whole persona on that site was, from everthing I can tell, merely that – a persona, an exaggeration of some of the worst excesses of the internet. To take that into the real world is less than pathetic. It’d be akin to trying to get Swift booted out of the Church for writing “A Modest Proposal” – after all, if he wrote that the children of poor Irish people should be used as food, he simply MUST have meant it…"

And now the 600+ average unique daily visitors of Shot by Both Sides have discovered a part of their lives, albeit small, destroyed by the actions of a selfish, self-righteous arsehole who thinks that their ill-thought opinions are more important than anyone else's enjoyment. Aside from the massive damage this has the potential to do to the concept of free speech in the British blogosphere as a whole, as we all now have to live in fear of some felchlugger causing us shit if they don't like something we write, this is effectively the blogging equivalent of terrorism - only the person responsible didn't even have the decency of either killing themselves at the same time or taking responsibility for their pathetically childish actions. Whoever you were, nice one. I hope you're proud.

Contradictions?: "Laws will be axed if legislation can be better left to member states, where there is an inadequate assessment of the impact on business, or where the measure is seen as too 'heavy handed'" versus "Brussels has been given the power to compel British courts to fine or imprison people for breaking EU laws, even if the Government and Parliament are opposed."

The latter's not actually as bad as it sounds, aimed largely at cross-border breaches of (mostly) environmental regulations which would be tricky to prosecute via national courts, but even so it's rather tricky to work out how the Commission can reconcile their claims that they're pushing for deregulation while simultaneously gaining a significant increase in power via the European Court of Justice. Not to mention the PR insanity of both stories appearing on the same day - because we all know which one will get the most press...

Unprecedented gathering; 175 nations represented; 60 years of the UN; "historic world summit" etc. etc. etc.

And you know what? It's going to achieve fuck-all. There's no point in even bothering to write about it, despite the fact that this blog generally tries to focus on international relations. There's no point even though I love the concept of the UN, and genuinely believe it can be a force for good in the world. These days there's never any point in writing about the UN - which is why the section of the archives about that organisation is so sparsely populated - after a couple of posts I realised that no idealistic proposals to make it better would ever have any chance of taking effect, so the whole thing became incredibly depressing.

Because, at the moment, the UN is about as influential and important as its League of Nations predecessor was. It's been about as good at stopping genocide and slaughter as the League was at stopping Mussolini invade Abyssinia or Japan rape Nanking. Its Security Council is manned by two countries which the UN Secretary General has declared to have acted illegally, and two more countries with a less than adequate devotion to democracy and human rights. Yet without the US, Russia and China (and let's have no illusions about Britain's relative importance) the entire organisation will be even less effective than it is now, so booting them out or slapping them on the wrist (so making them withdraw in protest) isn't even slightly an option.

So instead we have watered down attempts at institutional reform, and ineffective compromises over poverty reduction. And the only real way to explain it is by blaming the United States - which, due to the nature of this here interweb, if I do means I'll instantly get inundated by irate Republicans accusing me of anti-Americanism and "decent left" morons saying I'm only saying that because of my views on Iraq (even though I still don't really HAVE any views on Iraq).

So don't bother paying any attention to what's going on in New York: the entire exercise is a pointless waste of time and - especially - money, all of which would be better spent elsewhere. A global force to fight poverty and injustice is - at the moment at least - only going to piss about and fail to agree on anything.

That's why Superman is such a great idea - he's basically a benevolent dictator, able to act on his unswerving belief in what is right - truth, justice and the (idealised) American way, without ending up debating in committee for weeks and months while people die all around him. Because democracy, for all its benefits, is crap at acting quickly - which is precisely what the UN needs to do whenever a crisis appears, and precisely what it always fails to do.

Whatever the solution, until we have actual superheroes (no doubt genetically-engineered mutants or something, so more like the X-Men than the Justice League or Teen Titans), whenever something needs to be done we're screwed - because nothing can be done via the UN these days. And you have no idea how much that pains this idealistic internationalist to type. But look at Sudan, Rwanda, Kosovo, Iraq, those mentalist central Asian dictatorships - look at all the times and places where fucked-up madness has been going on and the international community has failed to act. Despite the best efforts of Kofi Annan, he's no Superman.

If the UN can't mobilse the nations of the world to do some fucking good, it's a failure - even if it is down to the stubborness and self-interest of those nations that it fails. Because if, after sixty years, the UN hasn't managed to build at least some kind of sense of global responsibility and unity (the clue's in the name), there's very little hope.

Or we could do what we do at the moment and simply pray that America will somehow get around to sorting everything out, even though there's tit all real evidence that she has the capability, let alone the will to act as the world's superhero. The idea of humanitarian intervention - revived post facto to justify invading Iraq ("because, like, getting rid of Saddam was really good and stuff") - is actually, I believe, a good one. (But then, as my belief in the EU should demonstrate, I don't buy into all this sovereign nation bullshit.)

But any such humanitarian intervention needs to be conducted with restraint and - most importantly - consistency. Remove Saddam? Fine - get rid of Saparmurat Niyazov, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong Il, Islam Karimov and all the rest of the world's psychotic dictators as well. Act to free people from the oppression of dictatorship? Fine - act to free them from the oppression of poverty and disease as well.

Under the current UN arrangements that's never going to happen on a large enough scale - the limited group that is the Security Council couldn't even agree on removing Saddam, a well-known mass-murdering nutter. But the US is likewise never going to bother removing dictators when it can see no direct benefit to its own national interest. People are selfish - nations doubly so. And fair enough - why the hell should they have to sort out everyone else's problems just becuase they've got the money and the guns?

So what's the fucking point of even cunting trying, eh?

Yours, a disillusioned and depressed internationalist, currently fucked off with the state of the world.

I thought he was joking, but it seems some fuckwit internet dicks have been causing genuine trouble, and threatening to take it into the real world to fuck up good old John B's career (simply because he was trusting enough to openly include his CV on another part of his site).

So farewell Shot by Both Sides - there's now one less piece of entertainment in a bleak and boring world, and one more example of how cunting arseholish people can be even when they've never met you. My pseudonym, which I was again thinking of dropping, therefore remains in place.

In other "the internet is shit" news, I think I've finally sorted out the template of this place so it looks good in Internet Explorer. Although if you use Internet Explorer, you are (in the nicest possible way) an idiot. Any niggling formatting issues, let me know. All text should be left-aligned except the Channel 4 News quote above, and there should be three columns with slight gaps between them. All there? Good.

Update: For the first time ever I agree wholeheartedly with a post at Harry's Place

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I despise Charles Clarke

Charles Clarke (paraphrased): "From what we can tell some, if not all, of the 7th and 21st July bombers may have been descended from people who were not British nationals and may occasionally have spoken to some foreigners. Or possibly not. At the same time there may or may not be lots of people planning to do nasty things, we don't really know - and anyway, what exactly do you mean by 'planning'? It all depends on your definitions. How do I know that when you look at something and say it's 'red' and I look at the exact same thing and also think that it's 'red' that we are in fact seeing the same colour? It's all a matter of, like, perception, man... And anyway, perception's, like, knowledge but not knowledge, you know? I mean, you can be intelligent but not know anything, right? You can have been educated to the highest level and still be stupid, or you can have an incredibly high IQ but be lacking in education and so unable to read - you know? I mean, Sir Paul McCartney can't write sheet music, but he can write songs, you know what I mean?"

Charles Clarke (not paraphrased): "There is no doubt of a series of international relationships that were engaged in. The extent to which there was some kind of command and control we don't know at the moment, but we are trying to find out precisely what that relationship is... The word plotting is an interesting word. There are certainly hundreds of people who we believe need to be very closely surveyed because of the threat they offer... Intelligence is not knowledge, it is an effort to understand the threats we face by a variety of different techniques ... We didn't know, but we try and acquire the best possible knowledge that we can."

Charles Clarke (translated): "We didn't know anything before. We don't know anything now. We're going to try and avoid any outright lies so we can maintain plausible deniability and claim that we were misrepresented when the shit comes crashing down, but in the meantime we're going to rely on implication and nose-tapping as if we know more than we do. But that wouldn't be hard because we don't know anything. We do, however, need to be seen to be doing something - we've all seen how much trouble our mate George got into when people thought he wasn't doing stuff, and we're not going to make the same mistake..."

What a fucking dick.

Hot Kilroy action!

Yay! The new European Parliament site's up already (and I can access it - at the moment). So here's a bit of Kilroy, and here's a bit of Kilroy speech. Looks like he hasn't made one since December last year, and hasn't asked any questions since November (his last, bizarrely, being about Welsh mountain ponies, which hardly fall under his Eat Midlands constituency remit, I'd have thought...)

This may seem nothing remarkable, but under the old system, this information would have taken a good half hour to track down - and, let's face it, few people could be bothered to do that. As such, MEPs could get away with far more.

It's very hard to overstate the potential for good that making their actions and words more accessible could provide. Now that any random passer-by can get at what they're up to with very little fuss, they're going to have to pay more attention to what they're doing. Rather than them simply being an amorphous mass of faceless MEPs (with only the occasional lone voice trying to spread the word to an uncaring public), we'll be able to track down individual opinions.

As far as the European Parliament is concerned, today is like the first day parliamentary debates were published (in 1771) and the launch of They Work For You all at once. Hurrah!

Oh, and for more Kilroy - look, Tories with a sense of humour! (Sort of, at least...)

Update: Hmmm... The report of the recent debate about blogs and the EU doesn't sound like it's too promising: "Major concerns were the accountability of "bloggers" and the protection of privacy - or rather the lack of both." And, as if to undermine my own repost even before I've made it, Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, enters my shit list for bringing up kiddie porn in a discussion about political blogging (because the internet's eeeevil and full of terrorists, probably) and regurgitating the "a lot of weblogs are tripe" non-argument. After all, I think we can all agree that a lot of books are tripe - but then you'll get a Ulyssees; a lot of television's tripe - but then you'll get a Twin Peaks; a lot of movies are tripe - but then you'll get a Citizen Kane. and so on ad infinitum. Just because 99% of blogs are a load of bollocks (probably pretty much true) doesn't mean that the one percent that are decent should be ignored, surely?

So, they've got a fair way to go over there... The new website is certainly a long-overdue step in the right direction though.

Morning warning

Due to a workplace "efficiency drive" my access to the internet is, in places, becoming very restricted - and thanks to Telewest being shit I currently have no web access at home. I am currently looking into ways around these rather excessively pissfucking irritating problems, just in case normal service gets interrupted.

Meanwhile, today is the launch of the new European Parliament website - long-awaited after year upon year of labyrinthine confusion, hideousness and lack of usability. It'll be worth checking out later in the day - no matter what your opinion of the EU it should be a handy new resource, finally enabling us to find out what the hell our MEPs get up to a bit more - both through dedicated sections where we can look up their details (according to the press release we can look up "their mandates within the Parliament and the work they have done, such as questions they have put to the Commission and Council, resolutions and reports they have drawn up and speeches they have made during plenary sessions... In the archives this information is available as far back as 1979") and through live streaming video of EP debates...

Fingers crossed for something good, eh?

Monday, September 12, 2005

The new-look Guardian

Well, it's certainly a more convenient size, even if - thanks to still being folded in half on the shelves despite being half as big - it was rather hard to spot in the newsagent's. I'm not a fan of the new title font, yet the body text seems somehow more readable - although that may just be a misconception based on the novelty rather than any alteration in point size, spacing etc.

They do, however, seem to end up with rather more hyphenations at the end of lines than before - and it's good to see a missing full-stop (and distinct lack of paragraph breaks) in the second article on the front page - the Grauniad's reputation for attentive subs and proof-readers seems to be continuing unabated. Is it thanks to the size of the columns? They seem a tad wider than before - again though, that could merely be the novelty. And there are far fewer glaring errors of formatting with this relaunch than there were on the first days of the tabloid Indy and Times.

Inside, and page 2 shows how modern and up-to-the-minute this relaunch is going to be: a section devoted to online articles (including a blog) about the 9/11 anniversary, a run-down of popular pages on the Guardian's website, a big advert for BT Broadband and a chunky Sudoku puzzle. Turn the page again, however, and it's like a mini-Telegraph - a big picture of Prince Charles looking dapper on page 4 and an attractive female model showing a fair bit of pert bosom on page 5. It's also round about now that the impact of the much-hyped "colour on every page" kicks in - breasts in colour always seem to have more appeal, I find...

But this may be coincidence. Page 6 shows little has changed as Mark Lawson romps ahead with one of those typically under-researched articles which he does so well, the first sentence of which unnecessarily evokes Orwell in a typically cliched piece on passport facial recognition technology which somehow gets him onto discussing Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. Unlike the Torygraph, however, the Guardian has managed to avoid big pouting pictures of the two Hollywood hotties (although there is a big close-up on Marilyn Monroe's mouth - does that count?)

So far, so predictable - appeals to a wider, younger, hipper, more lecherous audience in a bid to boost circulation. Thanks in part to the page size, the articles also seem shorter and so more accessible - but there are also lots of 1-200 word mini pieces on lesser stories, an improvement on the old single sentence news summaries the broadsheet version seemed to use merely a space-filler. Minor stories thus appear to be getting more prominence, which I always reckon is a good thing.

But of the genuine news stories in the first 10 pages or so, there seems little logic - a full page on goings on at the Tate on page 9? Shouldn't that be the Arts section and further to the back? Alleged war criminals failing to be arrested would be international, surely? Pieces on Rupert Murdoch's plans to dominate the internet and the EU's bid to break Sky's monopoly on Premier League matches would surely both be better suited to the Media section, especially as this is a Monday and they're written in a fairly easy, number-light style, yet they come under "Financial". Lawson's piece would be better suited to the old G2, while I can't envisage any circumstances in the old Guardian where an interview with Prince Charles on lightweight Sunday evening Christian show Songs of Praise would merit any coverage whatsoever - let alone half a page on page 4.

It would seem Simon Hoggart's page 11 review of Andrew Marr's new Sunday morning politics show could be describing the Guardian's revamp: "full of stuff, for no apparent reason" - after all, what's the point in the double page, full-colour photograph of soldiers dealing with the current riots in Belfast which greets us on the centre pages? It's not that compelling or powerful an image, there's no indication of where in the paper the related story can be found, and it must have cost a packet.

The most confusing, though, is the extended Comment & Analysis pages. Does anyone really care about newspaper comment sections any more? I'm doubtless preaching to the converted here as you're reading a blog, but the interweb generally provides far better comment via innumerable blogs than any of the national newspapers do these days. Roy Hattersley's pointless nonsense about atheism is irrelvant and ill-argued, Madeline Bunting slagging off the "liberal" idea of civilisations clashes and the current level of debate on the situation without once mentioning Edward Said shows little more than a 6th form level of understanding, Jackie Ashley crops up with one of those perennial "where for Labour after Blair?" pieces which could have been written at any point in the last five years and so on. The only one moderately worth reading is Chris Patten on why Ken Clarke is the Tories' best hope for the future. Yet, including the page full of Leader articles, there are now four whole pages of opinion - five if you include Lawson's piece earlier on. These writers get paid more than any others, yet generally have far less of interest to say - do we really need this much space devoted to them?

It seems odd that the Guardian, despite generally being the most web-savvy British newspaper (and having a claim to having the best web presence of any paper full stop), has failed to notice the gradual death of in-depth print comment. Why read the likes of Bunting and Ashley when there are so many far more interesting, far more readable writers online?

Unless this is the start of their attempt to revitalise the old art of opinion piece writing in the British press, that is. Over the last couple of years the Guardian's Comment pages have increasingly become filled with mindless pap, an illogical mix of opinion ranging from near apologists for terror to hard right Tories, the increasingly barking Polly Toynbee to any number of people you've never heard of blathering on about why they're so much cleverer than everyone else. Much as some of us Britbloggers have been trying to do at The Sharpener, is the Guardian making a conscious effort to provide a genuine range of perspectives on its comment pages? That could be properly worthwhile - but they need to make more of an effort to get the balance right. Three pages of comment - left, right and centre - could be a truly interesting approach. At the moment, though, it still seems like we'll have the odd token Tory and little more.

In short, it's hard to tell what the plan is for this new Guardian - the news section is too confusing, the comment section too big. Maybe they'll sort it out and these are just teething troubles, it's hard to tell. But considering how long they've been planning this you'd think they'd have done something both more logical and more radical with the content. The only startling thing I've found is the apparent complete lack of a sport section - although that may simply be the copy I picked up, as there's also no G2.

The major trouble is that newspapers as a whole are having a tough time - why bother with the morning paper, based on the news as it stood twelve hours before, when you can nip online and get the lastest, most up to date info with a couple of clicks of the mouse? Why hope that the Guardian's four/five pages of comment has something interesting and worthwhile when you can hop on Bloglines or some RSS aggregator and skim hundreds of blogs in a matter of minutes, arranged by politics, interest or whatever?

To survive in the face of 24 hour news channels and the umpteen thousand alternate sources of news and opinion the internet provides, the old style news providers vitally need to do something radical to maintain an audience. Simply changing the size of your paper and fiddling with the font is not enough. You need to convince people that it's worth parting with 60p to buy the damn thing rather than simply go on the interweb. As of yet, I remain unconvinced. (But then I would say that - I'm a blogger; if I only read one newspaper I'd be screwed, and if I bought hard copies of everything I look at I'd be broke...)

The Guardian is a good paper with - outside the comment pages - largely high standards of writing and fact-checking. It has always been more readable and reliable than it's main rival, the Independent, but the two have also usually been looking towards subtly different readerships (Guardian - relatively intellectual lefties who largely know what they're talking about; Indy - 6th formers and social workers).

This re-vamp, however, seems almost wholly cosmetic, and aimed less at a constructive effort to build a wider readership through better content than a destructive attempt to cull the Indy's tabloid sized advantage, leeching back their centre-left readers to the only other serious centre-left paper - and so wiping out the already under-performing opposition. Cosmetic changes are all very well and good, but is the Guardian doing it to make itself better or merely more accessible? They are not the same thing - and nor is actively trying to steal another paper's readership the same as building a wider, more loyal base. Because all the Indy will then have to do is start a desperate price war, and both publications will likely end up bankrupt. Which would hardly be a good thing for the future of British public debate.

Update: Ah - sports section mystery solved. It would appear that they've had shipping problems. Another chap in the office didn't have a Media section in with his, but did get Sport and G2, while I had Media by not G2 or Sport. After a quick glance, I don't think much of the new, A4 G2. But then again, I never did think much of the G2 - too much Tim Dowling, too little of any actual interest or entertainment value...

German elections: Less than a week to go, and Schröder seems to be making a last minute comeback. There's a good overview of the complexities of the German voting system at European Tribune, explaining the potential coalitions (also discussed - in a bite-sized, easy-to-understand post - at Fistful), while Der Spiegel looks at Schröder's chances. Meanwhile Deutsche Welle looks at whether Dresden could tit everything up thanks to the death of a Nazi delaying the vote - just as indications that there could be a fair few disputes over the count increase by the day.

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