Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Calling new(ish) political bloggers: Come, tell us you exist and stuff.

Oooh - I like this! Another critical examination of the British political blogosphere to complement my lengthy ramble yesterday. (And yet another description of me to add to the last couple of weeks' pile of "progressive lefty" and "Tory": I'm now "right-wing" - albeit of a decent kind, by the sounds of things - hurrah!)

Blair and the European democratic bypass, part the nth

Yet another example of how Blair and co are trying to screw us by abusing the mechanisms EU (via):

"On 1-2 December 2005, European Union justice and security ministers at a Council of the European Union meeting in Brussels plan to back stringent new anti-terror measures. Some of them will be based on a strategy that raises difficult questions about personal integrity, fundamental rights and freedom of speech. They will almost certainly be put on the agenda of the European Council summit in Brussels on 15-16 December... This is one of the most important points on the United Kingdom’s agenda for its presidency of the European Union...

"The measures should have been the subject of a public debate at EU level, involving many parts of society – not least Muslim communities. It has not happened: instead, although member-states have discussed the strategy and the wider action plan for four months, the documents are still kept secret in the council secretariat."
That Open Democracy Article also links to a leaked memo giving a few clues as to what the plans are (in typically Blairite tones like "consequence management capabilities" where they mean "manpower for picking up bodies and rubble", the old chestnut of "justification for terrorism" etc. etc.).

There's also yet another mindless attack on modern technology from our luddite overlords (they have to be technological incompetents to think their data retention and ID card plans could ever work, surely? And the obviously don't understand the internet, or government websites would be rather easier to navigate...):
"The ability to put ideas into action has been greatly enhanced by globalisation: ease of travel and communication and easy transfer of money mean easier access to radical ideas and training. The Internet assists this facilitation and provides a means for post-attack justification...

"We need to spot such behaviour by, for example, community policing, and effective monitoring of the Internet and travel to conflict zones. We should build our expertise by exchanging national assessments and analyses. We also need to disrupt such behaviour... We must put in place the right legal framework to prevent individuals from inciting and legitimising violence. And we will examine ways to impede terrorist recruitment using the Internet. We will pursue political dialogue and target technical assistance to help others outside the EU to do the same."
Yes, of course the internet provides a "means" for post-attack justification. So does a pen and paper. So does the ability to speak. But what, pray tell, does "disrupt such behaviour" mean? What does "prevent individuals from inciting and legitimising violence" mean? The conflict zones stuff, fine - no problem with that. But are Blair and co again trying to get the blessing of the EU to start wading in and censoring the internet and limiting freedom of speech?

Call me cynical, but these days I hear them say "Throughout we will ensure that we do not undermine respect for fundamental rights" and I remember the Safety Elephant blathering on about how some rights are more fundamental than others (and some animals are more equal than others).

I also note that "respect for fundamental rights" is not the same as "commitment to fundamental rights". A hunter may respect the deer he's stalking - that doesn't stop him from shooting the fucker in the face...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

UK Blogging: cliques and changes - a new (rather lengthy) post by me at The Sharpener. Apologies in advance for any boredom that ensues...

Forgot to mention this: a good overview of ID cards in history from Chris Lightfoot, which helps give some context not only to the inanity of the current proposals, but also to the government's methods of trying to introduce them. Worth a read.

Heads-up sceptics

How do you fancy getting paid to brainwash our nation's youth? Oh, sorry... Did I say "brainwash our nation's youth"? I meant, erm...

"run an educational project about the EU. This includes a nationwide programme of sceptical talks for sixth-formers, a sixth-form conference in March 2006 and a series of balanced fact sheets about EU policies and institutions."
Yes... BALANCED:
"Our speakers come from across the political spectrum, and include parliamentarians from Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, as well as top business people, journalists and political campaigners. All are sceptical about the Constitution for Europe or the euro; some would like to reform the EU from within; and some think that Britain would be better off outside the Union." (emphasis mine)
Then again, this is a post with the same thinktank that is seriously trying to promote Our Island Story as a proper history book, providing copies to as many primary schools as they can. Aside from the fact that it was written a century ago and so maintains a somewhat outdated late Victorian / Imperialist paternalist attitude (not meant in any kind of politically ideological way) and a doggedly whiggish, teleological approach to history (with a vague idea that it was Britain's - or rather, England's - fate to forever advance to become the most powerful nation in the world), it is also simply not a work of history, as the sample chapter makes abundantly clear.

Our Island Story is little more than a heavily fictionalised version of a particular interpretation of British history which has now been rejected by pretty much every major historian going as at best overly simplistic, at worst outright wrong. To wit:
"They stood beside the bed, hardly daring to look at the two pretty children in case the sight might soften even their hard hearts, and they would be unable to do the cruel deed. Then they seized the clothes and the pillows and pressed them over the faces of the little boys. They could not scream, they could not breathe. Soon they lay still, smothered in their sleep."
This would tend to give the impression that "the Princes in the Tower" were definitely murdered, and that this was witnessed/recorded to the extent that it was even known that they were smothered in their sleep. The truth? Nobody knows what happened to them. At all. There is no evidence that they were murdered beyond the fact that they seemed to vanish from the Tower of London after being locked up by Richard III, and most of the stories of their deaths originated in Tudor propagandists trying to justify Henry VII's usurpation of the throne. To present their murder as historical fact is to ignore five hundred years' worth of research.

So, if you fancy a job which involves peddling works of fiction to schoolchildren and convincing the poor kiddies that they're fact, while ignoring anything which could contradict the particular take on reality you've chosen to adopt, it looks like Civitas is the place for you. (I was going to apply myself, but my conscience simply couldn't take it - what's happened to genuinely rational EU-scepticism these days?)

Monday, November 28, 2005

BBC News: Met chief to face Menezes probe:
" The Independent Police Complaints Commission probe will be led by senior investigator Mike Grant, and be separate from the IPCC's existing investigation into the circumstances of the shooting."
Of course, they won't need to do much investigating, because they already know that it was a direct order from Sir Ian Blair that prevented the IPCC going into Stockwell station, in direct contravention of the law... Looks almost as if, much as we saw recently with Blunkett getting booted out nearly a year after Private Eye had already pointed out he was in breach of ministerial guidelines, Sir Ian has also now outlived his usefulness to the government.

Good.

(Oh, and ta to Chris for the heads up - I'm ill at the moment, hence little blogging action from me today...)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's not often you get an accessible yet interesting programme on the EU appearing on the telly (cf. the abysmal shite that was How Euro Are You? a few weeks back), so tonight's Panorama, Battle for Europe, came as a rather nice surprise. Read the overview in that link then - if you want a top-notch primer to the complexities of the on-going problem of the EU budget and economic reform presented in an easy to understand way that manages to avoid being either simplistic or patronising - head to the BBC's website and watch it online. Well worth it if only to compare Jack Straw in interview to the various other high-up European politicians doing their talking heads bit - he comes across like a nervous idiot, desperately trying to bluff his way through an exam he forgot to revise for. Great fun.

Britblog Roundup 41 - different home, usual quality.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Great Grimsby (Pffft!) MP Austin Mitchell rules. And he should blog more often. A sample, from his latest musings on Labour's "Educashun White Paper":
"Then, finally, Triumph. The follow-up Press Release: "Parents give schools plan the thumbs up". MP rushes back to Westminster to give Ruth Kelly the good news. "I have no doubt that they will get their message will be heard (sic) in Westminster loud and clear". There's even a quote provided to prove it: "[[INSERT PARENT NAME]] a parent at the event said "The government's plans are really ambitious. I'm pleased they want to give parents control ... but I was even more pleased the [[NAME]] MP and the head bothered to take time out to listen to my views". Democracy Works!"
Austin Mitchell: top chap - and decent photographer to boot. I raise my glass to you, sir.

Friday, November 25, 2005

That memo nonsense

As honourable as I find this sort of thing and the subsequent support, does anyone else get the feeling that something's not right here?

Am I merely being cynical in thinking this could be a deliberate ploy to keep the "look - Tony Blair really DOES have influence with Bush" story running for a bit in the wake of his Terrorism Bill defeat? (And in any case, I'm pretty sure that Bush isn't stupid enough to seriously suggest deliberately targetting al Jazeera - it sounds more like a Reaganesque "we start bombing in five minutes" joke.)

This is all far too much like the whole "whatever you do, don't throw me into the briar patch" thing. Why has the government opted for such heavy handed methods when there are subtler ways of keeping the story under wraps?

That book (again)

They've been and gone and made a helpful page with links to all the featured blogs in our dear Mr Worstall's book. Which is rather handy.

(Oh, and I can confirm, following a few ales last night, that Messrs Worstall, Briffa, Connor and Burgess are all thoroughly nice chaps.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The database state is one step closer

Courtesy of the EU, and we're now well on the way to bypassing the British parliament just as Blair and co planned (even if they did originally want the data to be stored for three years):

"An European Union parliament committee voted on Thursday to keep details of all EU-wide telephone calls and Internet use for six months to a year to help combat terrorism and serious crime.

"Telecoms firms typically store data for three months for billing customers, but some member states such as Britain want data to be kept for much longer...

"Details on a fixed-line call would include name and address of caller, number dialled, name and address of the receiver, the date and the start and completion times of the call.

"Details of a mobile phone call would include the subscriber's identity number or SIM card and the location at the start of the call."
There have, however, been a number of improvements to the original proposals, which were basically drafted by Britain and brought in via the Commission, notably
"The committee also agreed that only a judge could authorise access to telephone and Internet traffic, a condition absent in the Commission proposal."
Though now semi-approved by the committee, this could all yet be thrown out by the European Parliament. Fingers crossed, eh?

Nonetheless, after yesterday's UK-initiated proposals to allow police and security services across the EU full access to other countries' databases, it would seem that even though they have only got a month to go, Blair's boys in Brussels haven't given up yet. The predictions of an abject failure for the UK EU Presidency may yet have been premature...

Update: An overview of Brussels reactions and, via the comments, a really rather useful run-down of the major issues at stake.

Easyjetsetter has some interesting observations on Angela Merkel and the EU which are well worth a look.

1) If you have to spend more money (say, £1,000-£3,000 a year) you need to earn more money to pay for it.
2) If you have more demands on your time you are able to concentrate less intensively on specific tasks, potentially leading to a fall in performance.

Well there's a surprise...

Ooooh! A really rather good anti-Kilroy rant over at The Sharpener. I do enjoy slagging off Kilroy. Unchallenging, perhaps, thanks to the sheer vastness of his manifold flaws - but great entertainment nonetheless.

Note to the Metropolitan Police: Randomly increasing police presence on the streets at rush hour is most decidedly NOT reassuring. Coming in to work and seeing upwards of fifty policemen ambling around in day-glo yellow jackets down the length of the Kings Road merely makes everyone in the area rather freaked out, as they assume you have some intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack on Chelsea. Or something. Please tell them to bugger off and arrest some thug teenagers for sniffing glue. Or something. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

London, tomorrow:

5,200 extensions to pub/bar licenses approved in London, taking effect from midnight tonight. Of this, I generally approve - the 11pm closing being a prime example about how silly legislation can end up staying on the statute books far longer than necessary (it was only put in place to help the war effort 90 years ago, after all), and thus why governments - especially the current government - shouldn't be hasty to instigate new laws. But are the emergency services going to get the additional support and funding they will need to cope with the concurrent, inevitable rise in drunk people collapsing and/or beating each other up? Yeah... Right...

Oh yes, forgot - you really ought to watch this, the latest production from our Tim. Deserves to go viral and stuff just by dint of being quality - and if people actually pay attention, could do some good to boot.

Tony Blair, acting in a self-contradictory manner? Surely not!

Prime Minister's Questions today:

"The DUP's David Simpson kicks off by drawing an immediate parallel with the tragedy in Bradford: would the prime minister grant an amnesty to her killers, as the Northern Ireland (offences) bill will do for killers on the run for offences before 1998?

"Mr Blair says he is meeting the widows of RUC officers this afternoon, at the request of the unionist parties, but says the bill is something 'that has to be dealt with' in the context of the peace process."
In other words, known (if unconvicted) terrorists are being let off the hook and allowed to get away without blame/court cases for fear of stirring up more anger and violence.

So how can this be reconciled with this little exchange from the end of the session?:
"Labour's Dan Norris complains that a Lib Dem council will be adopting a 'no-blame' approach to bullies during national no bullying week. 'I'm shocked,' replies Mr Blair."
Terrorists should be allowed to get away with it (presumably as long as they aren't brown Islamic terrorists); bullies shouldn't. Nice to see they've got their priorities right...

The database state slowly creeps

From today's EU Politix morning briefing:

"[Justice and Security Commissioner Franco] Frattini proposes a decision for the council of EU governments on the exchange of data held on Europe’s Visa Information System.

"National police forces, Europol and other 'authorities of member states responsible for internal security’ will be able to access the data collected by visa issuing agencies across Europe.

"Alongside this proposal, Frattini sets out some ideas to boost the effectiveness, exchange and ‘interoperability’ of various EU crime related databases.

"Some of his ideas – for EU-wide access to identity registries or DNA databases – will alarm some MEPs, civil liberties and privacy campaigners."
"Alarm"? Too bloody right.

The really odd thing is that these proposals (and that is all they are at this stage - they haven't even been adopted by the Commission yet) come just a couple of days after the EU advocate-general declaring transfer of airline passenger information between the EU and US to be illegal:
"Philippe Léger, the Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s supreme court, called for the annulment of an agreement requiring EU airlines to give US authorities access to a wide range of confidential data on passengers before they travel."
Which earns M. Léger a place in my little book of heroes.

Sadly, however, it is Léger's opinion which is getting all the press - not the Commission meeting today at which even more invasive EU-wide data transferrals are going to be proposed.

The big fear is not necessarily that such data transferral would be misused (it's certainly not as obviously invasive of privacy as the earlier data retention proposals, and is arguably essential in some form if trans-EU counter-terrorism operations and policing are ever going to work), but - once again - what it could be used as an excuse for.

Such a decision by the EU can only help Blair's case for UK ID cards and the UK central database. After all, if all 25 EU member states are swapping information with each other all the time, there will soon emerge a need for some kind of standardisation of the information held on member states' citizens. Standardisation - in the UK's case at least - will mean the state having to hold more data about its citizens to get up to the level of those EU members which already have ID cards and the like.

It might be time to think about contacting your local MEPs (click on your country, then region - pretty much every MEP will have emails, phone numbers, addresses and faxes listed).

Update: Sorry, forgot to mention. Yes, yes this was all an initiative of Blair's EU presidency - as covered by me before, they're trying to use the EU to bypass the British parliament on this one - something we might see more of now Tony's suffered his first Commons defeat...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A quick HTML/CSS/Blogger question: I recently fiddled with this site's template - shifting the archives around a bit, altering the title text etc. As far as I understood it, if I alter the template, that should affect every page on the site - including archived pages.

So why, when I click on archive pages, do they still appear with the pre-fiddled-with layout? Shouldn't that be impossible, if the template no longer contains the information that is being displayed on those archived pages? It shouldn't be a cache issue, as some of the pages I've just checked this on I've never previously looked at on this computer. Very confusing...

I fully accept that I will never make a web designer...

More EU budget nonsense

Tony Blair will end up a "serious loser" if he doesn't sort out the EU budget according to his old buddy Peter Mandelson, who it would appear is a reader of this blog...

To be fair to Mandelson (which is something that goes against my better instincts) he does genuinely appear to be striving for everyone's best interests here. Because, as French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy puts it,

"Either [the UK presidency] presents a balanced proposal in the coming days with a just distribution of the costs of EU enlargement or it condemns us all to failure"
- and Gordon Brown, albeit for different reasons, agrees:
"Failing to break the deadlock will mean a huge price – for reform of Europe, for prices, for consumers, for our competitiveness, and for the world’s poor"
They're both right. No agreement will mean failure. It will mean an all-round fuck-up.

But we're still not going to get an agreement, because neither Britain nor France - despite what their leading politicians may say - is going to back down. It's hard not to agree with Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht's assessment of this whole thing,
"We are sitting here wasting our time."
Gordon Brown may be spot on when he says that
"It is simply wrong to say that tariffs are essential to advanced industrial societies and wrong to say that big cuts in farming tariffs would not help a solution to poverty"
but sadly being right means nothing when it comes to this sort of thing. Because, as pointed out yesterday (for the umpteenth time - see also here, here and here for starters) there's no way in hell France will back down on this one.

Blair has offered to give up the rebate, the US has offered to cut their farm subsidies to make the loss of CAP cash less hard. But French parochialism has already blocked both of these really quite incredibly generous offers.

So, once again, Blair will be a loser - and his EU presidency (as predicted right at the start) will be a failure. Which would normally be something to celebrate - unfortunately, however, the longer the CAP remains in its current state, the more poverty-stricken and screwed will be the third world farmers who are always going to be the biggest losers as long as France continues to act in its national interest rather than in the interest of the world.

Nation states, you see? It always comes down to nation states. Source of all the world's ills.

German elections: Well, that's it then - Germany has its first female Chancellor, elected by MPs this morning, and a vastly changed political landscape. What can Merkel achieve and what is she inheriting?

Hero of the day - good work!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day...

Ha ha ha! More EU budget negotiation nonsense from the government:

""We are in no way underestimating the difficulties of doing a deal, but equally nobody should underestimate our determination to try to see if a deal is possible"
Translated, that roughly means that they've given up on sorting the budget entirely.

It seems that for once Blair was entirely right when he said that the EU was facing "not a crisis of political institutions, [but] a crisis of political leadership" back in June. After all, that quote comes from a speech made just a week before he took over the EU presidency. Based on his "achievements" over the last five months, if this hasn't been a crisis of political leadership, nothing has.

Bloody hell - I told you European Tribune keeps getting better. This "week in preview" idea's not only got legs, but has also been insanely well put together. Grrr. Envious now - wish I'd thought of it. (Then again, looks bloody time-consuming - maybe I'm better off carrying on as I am...)

"One of the most trade-distorting farm support schemes in the world"

I'm pro-EU, in spite of all its faults, for the reasons outlined in a post back in April.

The way to do it with a clear conscience, just so you know, is to basically turn a blind eye to the Common Agricultural Policy - to treat the CAP in much the way you would an unfortunate, but extremely prominent, pus-dribbling wart on the face of a beloved aunt. You have to simply pretend it isn't there while hoping that your dear aunt will surely notice it soon herself and toodle off to the doctor to have it removed. But still, despite your best efforts you still occasionally find yourself staring in disbelief and disgust at the hairy, slimy lump that is so horrendously disfiguring someone you love so much, and catching yourself just before the dear relative notices that you've started to shy away from her welcoming kiss.

The quote that heads this post is from an interview with EU Farming Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel in the Financial Times - not actually said by her, though it is implied that she would agree with that assessment. (Read the whole thing for a good overview of some of the current problems in the run up to the Hong Kong World trade organisation talks next month.)

As long as the CAP continues to exist, and as long as the EU keeps subsidising an agricultural sector which would likely fail without taxpayers' money, it will be impossible fully to defend the EU as the great idea it should be. After all, how can you fully defend a system where someone wanders into a government office and says "Hello - I'm really crap at my job, give me some money," and the faceless bureaucrat simply hands over vast piles of cash? Because that's effectively what the European farmer is doing to the EU.

The CAP rewards failure, and pays idleness. Which is, of course, why it's going to be impossible to get it reformed as long as the EU continues in its current set-up. Who, after all, is going to vote to have to do more work for less pay? That's precisely what we're asking of (to pick the most obvious example) France whenever we try and push for much-needed CAP reform.

Until Qualified Majority Voting comes into force, as mooted in the piss-poor draft constitutional treaty that was roundly rejected by the French and Dutch voters back in the summer, there will be no way to override the objections of those member states who do well out of the CAP. All of this is just a rather pathetic sideshow, with fancy-sounding calls for intense reform which can not, in the current set-up, ever be delivered upon. It's much like the perennial cry of the populist right-wing of the Conservative party that "we'll take back powers devolved to Brussels" - no you won't, sonny; not without the agreement of all 24 other member states, that is.

And therein lies the problem. By maintaining the individual member state veto, the maintenance of the status quo is always the most likely outcome of any dispute - especially over the CAP. France is not likely to surrender - especially not after so many recent crises for Chirac's government, from the "Non" vote in the constitutional referendum to mob violence in the towns and suburbs. To back down over farming subsidies is a political impossibility for Chirac and co.

For France to vote for a reduction of CAP subsidies would be like the proverbial Turkey registering his support for Christmas. The French would need to be offered something substantial in return - and most importantly, something substantial that they could also use to placate their doubtless irate populace. And the big trouble is, no matter how hard I think I just can't work out what the hell that might be.

And thus, once again, we get back to the ducking of the issue which is all that really can be done with the CAP if you're even slightly in favour of the EU. It's not only indefensible, but also insoluble.

But the rest of the EU's great. Honest.

Another one of those "you're searching for WHAT now?" moments... Thank the sweet Lord I'm only third this time...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Britblog Roundup #40. *insert usual cliched praise here*

For those that care, I've just spent a couple of hours updating the archives. Good God, that was tedious. Why can't Blogger introduce a topic archive thing so I no longer have to do it manually, eh? The lazy bastards. I mean what have they ever done for me, eh? Other than provide a completely free and relatively versatile blog hosting service and software, that is...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A handy, 1000-word introduction to Dutch politics, courtesy of the increasingly good European Tribune. With the various bits of insanity in the Netherlands over the last couple of years or so (with the murders of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn and political filmmaker Theo van Gogh being just a couple of the more high-profile indications that all's not well), and a couple of important elections coming up in the next year, it's well worth a shufty.

The Times on blogging, by someone familiar, and yet ANOTHER piece on the bloody things in the Guardian, while in the print edition of the latter (can't seem to find it online) it looks like I get a quote after that piece earlier in the week.

Speaking of blogging (a blogger, talking about blogging? Surely not...), my copy of that book has yet to arrive. As and when it does, expect a brief review to appear here - and, if all goes according to plan, also in the TLS. Yay!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Reporters Sans Frontières in an Alannis Morissette moment.

Yep, the Joint Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought winners Reporters Without Borders' secretary general, on his way to the UN summit on the future of the internet in Tunisia, was stopped at, erm... the border.

Isn't it ironic, don'tcha think?

Well, well, well - look who's back... A new, personal jaunt into blogging by the man behind the now defunct Observer blog.

Read. Count yourself lucky. Then read. Agree. Despise The Sun even more.

"You did bad things, therefore you deserve no sympathy for having lost a leg in a terrorist attack. You deserved it." Sound familiar?

A rare foray into Africa

What the pissing hell is going on in Uganda? We've had attacks on foreign aid workers, the arrest of the opposition leader on charges of treason and rape, had the riots in support, further arrests, more riots, then mysterious gunmen disrupting court cases, and now newspaper offices being raided by police (the paper's own take is here, which I'll cut and paste in the comments in case it goes offline).

This all sounds rather like Mugabe's tactics in Zimbabwe, which is hardly a good development. Could we be witnessing the early stages of a return to the darker days of the country's history?

And why, exactly, has Britain been pretty much silent on the issue? The US has issued travel warnings, expressed its "deep concern" and called for fair trials. Why haven't we done the same?

Uganda remains part of the Commonwealth, and was even visited by the Commonwealth's Secretary-General a month ago. Is the post-Empire organisation just going to sit back and do fuck all once again, as it did with Zimbabwe? Are we all once again going to ignore what's going on in some far-off African country until it's too late?

The answers to those two questions, sadly, are likely to be "yes". Based on past record, the Commonwealth will simply sit back and watch, despite protestations that Uganda is a top priority for the organisation.

After all, who cares, eh? Most of the western world's interest in Africa is represented fairly well by those pre-Livingston maps of the continent - a few vague attempts to understand the edges, but the heart of the continent, the deeper understanding, remains blank. They're just savages, aren't they?

Nice to see our compassion and understanding of Africa has advanced so far in the last two centuries...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A plug - Strangely Rouge. Noticed a while back, and shows a lot of potential. Also check out the attendant flickr account, which has some beautiful stuff. And now I really must get back to that work I should have finished days ago.

The terrorism debate

It's a fairly well-known fact that if you write a blog-post about Britney Spears, lesbians, hot coed teens, cheerleaders or the like, your hit-count will rocket. The same is also true (albeit to a lesser extent) for posts about terrorism. It's an easy way to get noticed by the US blogs and make that transatlantic leap (still as hard for British blogs as it is for British bands).

To wit - my liveblog of the 7th July London bombings received 28,500 unique visits on that day, about 28.5 times my previous daily high. As I continued to cover the aftermath (including a liveblog on 21st July and of the Stockwell shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes), my daily unique visitor numbers stayed well up in the thousands. But after a while I got rather fed up with the whole thing, and decided to only really bother when there was something that touched on civil liberties, a long-time vague obsession. Hence, combined with a couple of lengthy holidays, I am now back down to a pre-July level of readership. But as that Guardian article about UK blogging sort of pointed out it's all about quality of readership, not quantity.

For me, it all comes down to people like Robert Johns (which my or may not be his real name), who provides a prime example of the kind of thing that made me stop covering terrorism so much in the comments to this post on the Guardian's Newsblog about the lovely Rachel's blog.

Despite teh Grauniad explicitly stating that Rachel was "between 7 and 10 feet away from the blast" on the Piccadilly Line train on July 7th (which would surely give her a certain amount of experience of terrorism, as well as a right to a certain amount of sympathetic respect for coping so well), Mr Johns feels he has the right to lecture that "Its people like Rachel who support individuals who encourage such suicide bombing". He then goes on to (effectively) accuse her of being anti-semitic and calls on her to "take full responsibility for the events that transpired 7/7" - because, erm, he's an idiot.

Self-righteous cunts like that are sadly endemic throughout the online terrorism debate, be they at the hell-hole that is Little Green Footballs or the comments section of Harry's Place, often a UK equivalent. They are tedious, judgemental, insensitive arseholes pretty much to a man, and I have no desire to engage them in debate - largely because they refuse to respond reasonably or rationally to any criticism of their stance and tend quickly to resort to invective-laden abuse. I attracted a fair few even on 7th July itself (even while, as far as I knew, a bomb could go off outside my window at any moment), which I thought was a tad off. Yet others tend to take it even further.

But let's face it, it takes a special kind of twattery to tell a survivor of a suicide bombing that it's their fault for their past actions - in fact, it's much the same logic as the terrorists themselves use. (Rabid maniac: "It's your permissive liberalism that allows these terrorists to get away with it" ; Rabid terrorist: "It's your permissive liberalism that I want to destroy")

This is, however, an idea that seems increasingly to be leaking into the mainstream debate - be it Kitty Ussher's "blood on their hands" bullshit (rhetoric nicked wholesale from Harry's Place) or the ongoing scare tactics of Blairledee and Blairledum.

Last night Blairledum called for a debate on the correct response to terrorism. Judging by the sort of thing we've seen on this here internet, such debates tend quickly to devolve into name-calling and the putting of fingers into ears. The government and, if Ian Blair is any indication, the police have already made up their minds about the "best" course of action. Any debate will be purely for a combination of show and the disparagement of their opponents. So what the hell's the point, eh?

Politics is boring

Today MEPs are voting on a vast array of chemicals legislation, "REACH" (acronym of "Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals").

If you thought that in itself couldn't get more tedious, spare a thought for the poor MEPs (most of whom wouldn't know a chemical if it bit them in the face) who have to try and get their heads around the thing and vote on it - after whittling down more than 5,000 proposed amandments in 10 different committees, they have to reach decisions on the still more than 500 that remain.

See? It's not all exciting and headline-grabbing arguments about terrorism and civil liberties. Politics (and perhaps especially politics in the European Parliament) is mostly incredibly dull.

Still, if you're REALLY keen on finding out more, EurActiv has a good roundup of the various complexities of the thing.

The Guardian in "yet another article about blogging" non-shocker! This time focussing on some of the big boys of UK blogging and featuring a few familiar friends - as well as a bunch of people I honestly couldn't be arsed to read if you paid me. In fact, the best writer on their list (our Justin) and person providing the most valuable and regularly updated service (Mick Fealty at Slugger) hardly get a look-in during the course of the main article, and there seems to be a vague assumption that UK blogland has evolved entirely separately from that of the US - an interwebnet Galapagos Islands or summat.

Plus, naturally, I'm bitter that they didn't get in touch with me. The bastards.

Either way, worth a look - and the print edition apparently has pictures of the buggers and stuff, so you can keep an eye out and know who to avoid if you see them in the street.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sir Ian Blair: Scaremongering moron. Again.

I mean, really - what sort of bollocks is this?

"The sky is dark. The terrorists seek mass casualties and are entirely indiscriminate..."
Yes, I know that it's true (even the bit about the sky being dark, what with it being nearly winter and all). But what happened to policemen popping in with a reassuring "Evenin' all - nothing to see here"? That seemed to work pretty well at keeping everyone calmly going about their daily lives during the Blitz, from pretty much all I've heard. Or were the Luftwaffe not after mass casualties? Were doodlebugs not totally indiscriminate?

*** WARNING - OVERDONE ANALOGY COMING UP ***

Your job, Sir Ian, is not to run around flapping your arms about and screaming like a little girl who's been stung by a wasp for the first time, getting the rest of the children terrified in the process. It's to calmly set up plastic bottles with some beer in the bottom to trap the buggers safely or, in worst case scenarios, get out your rolled-up newspaper to swat them (even though you know that doing so will only attract more of the mindless buzzing bastards).

Then your job is to reassure the kiddies who rely on you that the nasty wasps have all gone to calm them down, but warn them to keep a careful eye-out just in case. It is emphatically not to scream out and point to the giant nest in the bushes, because that not only sends the kids into a panic, but also makes them more likely to do something that will provoke the viciously pointless insects to attack them again. Such as, for example, support a motion that anything black and yellow (bees, sunflowers, JCB diggers, the remote, sparsely-populated desert planet of Tatooine etc. etc.) should be locked up for 90 days, just in case they turn out to be wasps.

*** OVERDONE ANALOGY ENDS ***

My advice? If you can't tell us "we've caught some terrorists and have plenty of evidence to convict them - the trial starts in a week", don't say anything at all. Cheers.

Switzerland in rampant hypocrisy shocker!
"Police in Switzerland have seized a number of paintings belonging to the Pushkin state art museum in Moscow.

"The 25 paintings - part of a collection on loan to an exhibit in Martigny - were seized on behalf of a local firm which claims Russia owes it money."
So this would be a different Switzerland to the one that's still holding on to vast piles of gold, jewels, artworks and the like taken from victims of the Holocaust and deposited in Swiss banks by the Nazis, then? Or does this mean that the families of Holocaust victims whose posessions are in Swiss vaults now have the right to go and take them back?

A prime example of how locking people up without putting them on trial can lead to resentment, anger and alienation:

Arrested December 2003 and released without charge after six days, then re-arrested in August 2004 by request of the United States and held ever since without facing trial, today dear old Charles Clarke has decided to allow Babar Ahmad's extradition even though a) British police failed to find enough evidence to bring him to trial, b) he may face the death penalty, and c) the US still refuses to agree to do the same for us. Hurrah!

Please note also a reminder that the "90 days" thing was not, despite claims, going to be enough for our lords and masters, no matter all the bullshit about not planning to bang people up longer down the line:
"Mr Clarke had an initial 60 days in which to approve or reject the judge's decision, and was twice given two-month extensions because of the "complex representations made about the case"
Six months - twice the 90 days the government claimed was "all" they needed, and Charlie STILL didn't have enough evidence to come to a decision... Admittedly he's not the brightest of sparks, but nonetheless...

An announcement about which few people will care

After much pondering, I have decided to drop the cloak of blogging semi-anonymity, step out from behind the curtain and reveal my real name. You won't have heard of me, don't worry, and with a little bit of link-following or intelligent Googling it was already possible to find out who I am, so this is hardly that exciting.

But bloggers who use their own names seem to be taken a tad more seriously and - I will admit this is the prime concern now that I've got a wife to support and stuff - appear to have more luck blagging paid work off the back of their online gubbins. So I reckon I might as well take the plunge. Even if doing it right after a piss-take post may not be the best time...

I shall most likely be following the Tim Ireland route of keeping the pseudonym at the bottom of posts (to prevent people who've got used to "Nosemonkey" being too confused) while revealing my actual name in the title bar. This will, of course, involve template fiddling, and shall be done later today.

In the meantime, in the real world and stuff I am James Clive Matthews, hack writer/editor, and known as Clive to pretty much everyone outside the family. You can buy some of my film criticism stuff here and here, should you be so inclined (or here and here for US readers). I'd prefer it, however, if you refrained from becoming a stalker.

Hopefully dropping the anonymity will not lead to a change in writing style, self-censorship or the like, nor make me feel the need to re-write everything on here to a more professional standard (as 95% of the posts here are first drafts, published as soon as I finish typing and not planned out in advance in any way - largely because I have neither the time nor the inclination to make too much effort for unpaid work). Time will tell if the lack of a mask leads to improvement or decline - fingers crossed that it works out OK, eh?

The EU - evil Catholic antichrist conspiracy

The EU flag is apparently 50 years old today. Hurrah!

The great thing is, the flag is a bloody confusing little object.

First up, you can't even get an agreement on who designed it - either Irishman Gerard Slevin or German Arsene Heitz, depending on who you believe.

Then there's the confusion about what, precisely, it symbolises.

It has always had just the twelve stars, which have never born any relation to the number of member states, as many assume. After all, the flag was initially adopted for use by the Council of Europe, which at the time of a design being commissioned in 1953 already had 15 members.

In fact, thanks to a political spat between France and Germany, the number 12 was supposedly chosen precisely BECAUSE it was utterly meaningless.

Which in itself could be significant - hence the various conspiracy theories among the nuttier members of the anti-EU community who'll occasionally come out with nonsense about zionist or masonic or Catholic symbolism and the like. Which is always entertaining.

The fact that one of the possible designers went on record about the Virgin Mary being his inspiration has led to various nutjobs quoting the Book of Revelation, 12:1 -

"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars"
Naturally, however, as with pretty much anything predicted in the Bible, it's all a load of old bollocks. Sometimes, though, bollocks is rather fun (especially when it's bollocks that you can use to tar opponents of the EU with the "nutjob" brush to piss them off - which often isn't too tricky anyway...)

Aaaah... Conspiracy theorists. Gotta love 'em. Is the EU a revival of the Holy Roman Empire as predicted in the Book of Daniel? Well, erm, no - but it still makes for an amusing read. Is the EU the antichrist, merely a sign that the antichrist is coming to power, or his future base? Well, why not, eh? Sounds like a laugh...

In any case, the flag had nothing to do with the EU until May 1986, when it was adopted by the then European Community, being confirmed as that of the EC's successor, the EU, after the latter's creation by the Maastricht Treaty of 1992.

So I suppose the only other mystery is why, considering it was only adopted by the Council of Europe on December 8th 1955, are the 50th birthday celebrations happening today?

To add to the conspiracies, can it really be a mere coincidence that today is (according to Wikipedia) the 1471st anniversary of the issuing of the second and final version of the Codex Justinianus, the basis of Roman Law? (The self-same Roman Law that ignorant critics of the EU argue as being a prime reason why the UK should leave the EU, as "you can't have two legal systems running concurrently" - which always conveniently forgets Scotland... But shhh...) Or, indeed, can it be mere coincidence that today is also the 28th anniversary of the opening of the film Close Encounters fo the Third Kind - a movie all about government attempts to hide the truth from an unsuspecting public...

Anyway, after all that deep symbolism - and especially the newly discovered Codex Justinianus "coincidence", I must say I'm convinced. The EU genuinely is an evil Catholic conspiracy to revive the Holy Roman Empire in preparation for the coming of the antichrist and end of days.

Which must surely only lead to the question - why then are the nutjobs afraid of it? Judgement Day and the Second Coming should be a cause for celebration, surely? If the EU is going to bring it about, you should be supporting it wholeheartedly - after all, you believe in the skyfairy and his woodworker rape-conceived offspring, you'll be going straight to the cloud-strewn paradise thing, won't you?

That's the great thing about nutters and religious types - they're credulous morons. All of them. Which means you don't have to feel bad for pointing at them and laughing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Using Blairite logic, if Tony doesn't follow Thailand's example and force us all to register our pay-as-you-go mobiles to ensure they can't be used in a terrorist attack, he will have blood on his hands if, as I hope will never happen*, terrorists use such devices to detonate bombs (as, it should be noted, they did in Madrid).

* cliched and platitudinous phraseology courtesy of Kitty Ussher MP - and yes, yes I am still angry about that.

Germany update

In case you missed it, they (again) finally seem to have sorted out a compromise cabinet, plus a few policy agreements which many are predicting are likely to lead to the coalition's (and perhaps the country's) imminet collapse - largely thanks to the guaranteed popularity-winners of a 3% VAT hike, raising the retirement age and cutting public spending all at the same time. Nice.

As such, Anatole Kaletsky of The Times (about whom I keep hearing good things, though will admit to rarely reading) is also predicting disaster (via) -

"Germany’s plan to cure its self-confessed economic failure by doing exactly the opposite to what modern economics would suggest is certainly a bold and novel idea. Jim O’Neill, the chief international economist of Goldman Sachs, remarked on television last week that German politicians are acting as if they had never seen an economics textbook, much less understood one...

"the Merkel tax hike will probably condemn Germany to depression for the rest of this decade and quite likely trigger an Asian-style financial crisis in much of Eastern Europe some time in the next year or two."
Hurrah!

Sorry, busy - check out Soj's superb (as usual) EuroPDB if you have a hankering for newsy stuff. Glad to see her forced blogging retirement ended up being short-lived.

I was going to do a "Peter Mandelson is a twat and so is France" round-up, but trade talks are simply too damn tedious. Thankfully the Curious Hamster has done it for me. Ta, boss.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Uzbekistan update

Utterly predictable - I mean, OBVIOUSLY it's the 15 people rounded up for a show trial who are guilty here, not the government forces who massacred hundreds of peaceful protestors...

"the judge... repeated many of the details of the government's version of what happened...

"The UN commission on human rights has said in a statement that there have been serious inadequacies in the conduct of the trial, including inadequate definition of the crimes the 15 men were accused of...

"The fact that the defendants all confessed their guilt on the first day raised concerns that the confessions might have been obtained by torture."
Hmmm... Judges going along with what they're told to by the government? Inadequate definitions of crimes? "Might have been obtained by torture"? Apart from the fact these poor bastards actually got some kind of trial, it could almost be Blair's ideal Britain.

Following the Blair camp's "the police know best" line on the whole 90 days thing, should we follow the (alleged) example of this former senior policeman? Is Tony going to propose new legislation to make us all fuck children? At least one senior policeman seems to think it's a good idea - and think of the reduction in the number of paedophilia cases, court costs and the like if it was made legal...

Kitty Ussher MP is a deluded, scaremongering, brown-nosing, dangerous idiot who has no concept of her constituents' views

I'd never heard of her before, but this load of abject bollocks (though entirely expected) earns her a place on my Commons cunts list:

"I very much hope that we will never have another terrorist atrocity in Britain. But if we do, and if it happens because the police have not had sufficient time to accumulate enough evidence to charge the perpetrators, then the Tories, the Lib Dems and our own rebels will have blood on their hands."
And would you look at that? During the limited time she's been in parliament she's never rebelled, despite her protestations that "I started off sceptical about the proposal to detain people for up to 90 days without trial" (and please note that despite her claims that she "went into politics to sort out health and education, not to strengthen the long hand of the law", from her voting record she's voted only 3 times on education/welfare issues, as opposed to 42 on other subjects - mostly appearing to be backing Blair to the hilt on the Terrorism Bill and ID Cards, while only signing two Early Day Motions that could in any way be seen to be related to these two professed core obsessions - and even though on her website she claims her priorities instead to be "jobs and housing", though in parliament she's shown no interest in these at all).

Now this kind of blind loyalty would have made sense for a new, young, female Labour MP back in 1997. But how much of a political cretin must this woman be to continue sucking up to Blair in the twilight years of his premiership? The way to get noticed these days is not the unthinking, drone-like flocking to the correct lobby, but making a principled stand to secure a place at the forefront of Labour's next generation.

OK, yes - she's MP for Burnley, which has had a fair few problems with the likes of the BNP (who have won over 10% of the vote in the last two General Elections there). Voting in favour of whacking brown people in dingy cells for months on end is likely to go down fairly well with some of her constituents.

But you'd surely think that someone representing a constituency with a very recent history of violent racial problems would take a slightly more sensitive approach to legislation which could so easily stir up more race-based resentment.

How silly of me, though. No one in Burnley's interested: "there's a strong vocal Muslim population in my constituency of Burnley and not one of them felt strongly enough about this to bother contacting me on the subject. In fact, overall, we've only had one email before the vote from anyone at all." Perhaps it would help if she made more of an effort to build a dialogue with constituents or get up an active website (the link to the "news" section gives only a link to an index page, last updated at the start of August...)

So as a public service to Ms Ussher's Muslim constituents - and any others who wish to express their opinions on this or any other issue, one way or the other - here's her email addresses: kitty@burnleylabour.org.uk / ussherk@parliament.uk and you could always try the invaluable Write to Them or Fax Your MP. Don't expect a reply though...

At the end of her ill-considered comment piece, Ms Ussher repeats that "in the horrific event of a crisis that I hope will never happen, it'll be their fault, not mine." Fine. In the event of another series of race riots in Burnley caused by a local dark-skinned person being interred without trial, which I hope will never happen, it will be YOUR fault, Kitty, not that of those more sensible, principled MPs who you seek to blame for the actions of psychotic nutters.

Update: First, I thought I ought to make clear that "sensible" and "principled" for those MPs who voted against applies purely to their actions on this particular issue. After all, the list includes the likes of Ian Paisley and George Galloway, rabid maniacs both. Also, I'd forgotten the fall-out from the idiotic blog-world's similar claims of "blood on their hands" bullshit - amply ridiculed by Jarndyce and Jim Bliss.

Update 2: I'd forgotten D-Notice was based in Burnley... As one of Ussher's constituents he wrote in, and has had a response from an underling as follows:
"Kitty is your elected representative and will try to represent your views whenever she can. However given poll after poll after poll showed the public overwhelmingly supported the measure, which side of the argument would you have her take other than the one supported by the police, the public and the party under which she was elected?"
Erm... Perhaps that side supported by her constituents, the people she was elected to represent. The selfsame constituents she seemingly, by her own admission in that Guardian article, failed to consult on this issue. Failed to consult despite Tony Blair's call the weekend before the vote for MPs to go and speak to their constituents about it.

Update 3: Oooh! Talk Politics is rather good on Ms Ussher and all...

A tad late for Rembrance Sunday, this, but found the press release amongst the hundreds of emails awaiting me back at work. Channel Four and the Imperial War Museum have teamed up to launch a couple of websites which could well be of interest - first, a searchable database of names of those remembered on First World War Memorials, and second, the United Kingdom Inventory of war Memorials, taking in all types of remembrance sites from all conflicts commemorated in the UK. Good stuff.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

From my news catch-up reading, nice to see that some things never change - Central Asia is still riddled with corruption and politically-motivated murder while facing economic crises - all of which are still being denied by these various near-psychotic dictatorial governments in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Meanwhile my new favourite country is going from strength to strength. Hurrah!

Japan photoblogging

Here you go, a few snaps from the trip. This will likely be a pisser for anyone on dial-up, I'm afraid, and no idea how it'll look as I'm using Blogger's picture hosting for the first time. It was an insanely good time though - I now adore Japan, and am seriously considering emigrating at some point. Excellent food, wonderful weather, and everything out there actually works efficiently. Being back in Blighty is, it must be said, somewhat depressing...














Saturday, November 12, 2005

Back

And trying to catch up with everything I missed. A lot of mental shit's been happening in both the UK and on the continent while I've been away, so it may take me a while. Best missed headline so far? "Blair says MPs are out of touch" - ha ha ha!

Oh, and interesting missed discovery, this table (leeched from here):



Please note the ridiculously low levels of "faith hate" crimes. For why, then, do we need specific "Religious Hatred" legislation? There would appear to be significantly fewer "faith hate" crimes per year than there are injuries caused by slips on workplace steps - so where's the legislation to rubber-coat all office staircases, eh?

Tomorrow, or possibly later today - assuming I can find somewhere convenient to host them now that my MSN Groups account is pretty much full - expect some pretty pictures of Japan and stuff. Normal blogging service here should, I hope, resume on Monday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A message from a London bombs survivor to the Safety Elephant, Blair and co.:
"I hear your voices dripping sympathy and concern, saying you do this 'for the victims', Tony, Charles, and the rest of you...and I am disgusted that you should use ordinary people - because that is all we are - bombed people - bloodied people - in this way. Who gave you the right to speak for me, Mr Blair, Mr Clarke? When did I give my blessing to fear-mongering?"

Saturday, November 05, 2005

An anti-Charles Clarke quickie from overseas

I've missed loads while out enjoying Japan and stuff, from Blunkett going out on his arse to the government's majority being reduced to one on an important terror-related vote (a vote to which a certain vocally anti-war MP for Bethnal Green and Bow failed to show) to Robin Grant apparently quitting the blogging game, but a spam email from the Labour party can't be ignored when it asks for our views on the Terrorism Bill.

Sent out to people perceived to be Labour supporters, the online questionnaire is packed full of leading questions ("Do you think police should have the time and opportunity to complete their investigations into suspected terrorists?" being a prime example, with the other two - only TWO, please note - being not much better) that it's rather hard adequately to explain to this repellant morons just why they're so utterly wrong on this one in the deliberately limited format they offer. But clicking "No" to all of them may just do some good, as might publicising the inadequacy of this little exercise, which is about as close as they come to a consultation with the public these days - little better than "Do you love Stalin? - a) Yes, b) One-way ticket to Siberia, please".

Oh, and while I'm briefly back blogging, can anyone explain to me precisely how they're trying to spin Charles Clarke's blatant attempt to mislead parliament? Or are they, as with the Blunkett affair (where we all knew that the jobs he took up after leaving the Cabinet last year were in breach of guidelines at the time, but it has taken until now for him to be ticked off for it), simply going to ignore it until a few months' time when the Safety Elephant for some reason falls out of Blair's favour?

Wednesday update: Hurrah! A Clarke email back-down -

"I would like to apologise for the questionnaire which was attached to the message that I sent out to party supporters on Friday. It was not intended to gauge public opinion but to start a political debate around the proposals currently being debated in Parliament. Many people have raised with me perfectly valid concerns about how the questions were drafted. I can only say that I share those concerns and give my assurance that questions of this type will not used in the future."
He's still a fucking cock though. Speaking of which, The Sun's apparently been up to some dodgy polling of its own. I still wouldn't know, as I won't be back in the country until the weekend. At which point (jetlag and forgotten freelance deadlines permitting) normal service will resume on this recently much-neglected blog.


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