Friday, October 21, 2005

Right - I'm off.

Leaving for Tokyo first thing in the morning. I'm back in the UK on the 11th, and have no idea how often I'll be able to post while I'm away.

In the meantime, check out another new find, Rachel from North London, the blog of a survivor of the King's Cross/Russell Square tube bomb on 7th July - she was in the carriage in which the bomb detonated, killing 26. She's currently on a bit of a drive to help other survivors recover:

"There's a big push on now though, from us in the survivor group to let other survivors know they can meet fellow-passengers from the train, before the November 1st Memorial Service for the Victims at St. Paul's Cathedral. We're on a bit of a deadline, before the news moves on, which it will soon. (Plus we are seeing that it seems to be about now - 3 months on - that the impact is really hitting people, now that the shock is fading, the emotional blowback kicks in.)"
Do what you can to help spread the word, eh? Our dear government, and even Ken Livingstone with his much-publicised fund for the victims, have so far managed to do effectively tit all (there's a surprise). We can slag off the policies that have arisen in the aftermath as much as we like, but others have far more to worry about.

Otherwise, help out with expanding the Wikablog, as helpfully explained by our own dear Devil's Kitchen. The bigger it gets, the better.

And, considering I'm getting back on November 11th, why not ponder donating to help ex-Service and Service men and women and their dependants? They have, let's face it, got a bastard of a job. Again, we can slag off the policies and the politicians who make them, but these guys bear the brunt of those decisions. They deserve our support.

Right. Me done. Ta-ta for now.

The EU budget and CAP reform tedium continues

As expected, negotiations over farming subsidies have gone all to hell, US trade representative Rob Portman stating that "The responsibility at this point lies squarely with the EU" - which is partly right, but a tad unfair really - the blame really lies, as ever, with France - but also with Tony Blair's piss-poor "leadership" during the UK EU presidency.

And so, in typically new Labour style, Mr Blair, titular EU president, asks everyone to avoid the details when discussing the EU budget. Because, let's face it, little Tony seems to have trouble speaking in anything other than meaningless platitudes - why should he suddenly have to try and cope with the nuances of the single most divisive and important issue facing the EU when he's managed to be in power for so long without ever discussing anything in anything other than the broadest of terms?

I had some hopes before this UK presidency kicked off, but always knew that Blair would let us down, despite frequent pleas for action. Although I do like to see my political perception being spot on (God, I'm good etc.), this whole thing really is fucking pathetic. Sometimes I don't like being proved right.

(A handy overview of the farming subsidies issues can be found at the Common Agricultural Policy blog (another recent discovery).)

Berlusconi: "Just call me Il Duce. Oh, sorry. Did I say 'Il Duce'? I meant, erm... Oh - look over there! It's the Goodyear Blimp!"

Not content with reforming the voting system ahead of April's elections, apparently to give himself a better chance of beating ex-EU Commission bod Romano Prodi (aka a potential Nosemonkey political hero for his consistant refusal to join any political party), dear old Silvio (aka "most corrupt man in western Europe") has just passed yet more constitutional reforms. This time giving himself the right to dissolve parliament and dismiss ministers at will, bypassing the head of state. Effectively the equivalent of Tony Blair passing a law declaring himself King.

To which our man Prodi (pray he somehow wins...) responded with typical eloquence:

"A few months before the elections, a governing majority which knows it no longer enjoys the country's confidence, which has lost all the electoral tests of recent years, which is divided and fragmented on the inside and incapable of leadership on the outside, is about to strike the definitive blow at our constitution."
He doesn't exaggerate. Also included in the bill are widespread reforms which could at first glance look as if they're abolishing the Italian central government - transferring responsibility for education, health and policing to the regions. Much as if Blair suddenly announced that the failures in the NHS and state school system are no longer going to be dealt with by Whitehall, and washed his hands of the whole thing. Which many in Britain would welcome (perhaps rightly - let's face it, it'd be difficult to cock things up any more...).

In Italy, however, you can't trust Berlusconi as far as you could chuck his vast piles of cash. This is (and I will admit this is purely, like, my opinion, man) simply a way of shifting the blame away from central government - which retains the right to intervene and meddle at any point.

These are the most significant reforms since the post-Mussolini constitution came into force in 1948, and place more power in one man's hands than has been seen in Italy since the time of the baldy blackshirt. Berlusconi's response to Prodi's criticisms, however?
"Prodi's tones are not those of political debate but of civil war"
Yay! Great idea! Bring up the idea of civil war having just apparently devolved powers to the regions in a country which has only been unified for a bit over a century, has widespread regional economic disparities, a history of corruption and violence, and has famously had the least stable governments imaginable since the fall of the last strong leader... It's shaping up to be quite an interesting time in Italy over the next six months.

Oh yes, lest I forget, yesterday Berlusconi also vowed to change the law which guarantees political parties equal access to the media during election campaigns. The fact that he just happens to own the majority of the Italian media is just, like, a happy coincidence and stuff, obviously... So fingers crossed for a boom in the world of Italian blogs - a few English language ones of which I was previously unaware I've discovered today: Italy Magazine's news blog, A Welshman in Milano and Beppe Grillo. The always good North Sea Diaries also has a bit of a Berlusconi fixation. If you know of any more, let me know.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tory leadership - members' voting preferences via the ever top-notch Polling Report:
"Cameron has a dominant position - asked which candidate they thought would be best at attracting new members, best for party unity, best at opposing Brown and Blair in the Commons, best on the television and radio, which candidate would offer the best chance of winning the election and which candidate would make the best Prime Minister if the Tories did win, David Cameron trounced the other candidates on every count, beating Fox and Davis by over 30% in every question"
Jamie at Blood & Treasure, however, has yet to be convinced about the Tories' latest Great White Hope...

Has Hungary developed a Bird Flu vaccine effective against H5N1 in both birds and humans? Nothing in the UK press about this that I can see so far, but Le Monde and Le Figaro both have stories on it, as does Voice of America, in English but with few details. Seems a tad odd the British press haven't picked this up, after all the recent scare stories of the lack of vaccines and all...

Speedy translation of parts of the Figaro and Le Monde pieces:
"clinical trials (on 150 volunteers) proved to be effective, the blood of the human guinea-pigs having produced antibodies", announced the Hungarian Minister for Health, Jenö Racz, in Budapest. "We only have the preliminary results but I can say with 99.9 % certainty that the vaccine works."

The prototype was developed since the end September by the National Center of Epidemiology, starting from a stock of avian virus H5N1 which appeared in Hong Kong in 1997 and was isolated at the beginning of 2005 from a person in Southeast Asia by the World Health Organization.

"the cost of developing the vaccine (estimated at more than 4 million euros) will be covered partly by the general reserve of the national budget, by the budget of the Ministry for Health and by the receipts from the export of the vaccine", Mr. Racz said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Well that was odd - I just got mugged, I think

Notice to friends/relatives who I know read this: no worries - absolutely fine, just a tad bemused and pissed off. Especially as when my dear grandmother warned me to "be careful after dark" on the phone the other day I just patronised her with a "yeah, yeah - I'll be fine".

Inept bunch of little bastards though. You want money, you've picked the wrong guy with Nosemonkey. I'm pissing broke, my cash-card's one of the old-school, pre-chip-and-pin ones that even gets refused when I'm using it, I don't have a credit card thanks to NatWest being shit and not having sent it to me yet, my mobile's two years out of date and pay as you go, and I had a grand total of £2.54 in my wallet. Which I happily gave them to get them to bugger off. Even called them back for the 10p they dropped... And that was precisely all they got. They agreed that my phone was shit, saw that I had no notes, and didn't even bother taking my wallet, because it's falling apart at the seams.

The only somewhat irritating thing, aside from having lost exact change for a pint of IPA at lunchtime tomorrow, is that I walk down that particular stretch of road at around 11:15 in the evening, as it was, very frequently indeed, what with it being on the way to quite a few of the pubs I frequent on a regular basis. And now I'm going to have to pay closer attention to bunches of 17 year old twats in their hooded tops (show your faces, wimps - pimply teenagers all look alike anyway). Plus be worried every time the missus is out after dark in what I previously thought was one of the safest areas of London. Which it is. But I have no doubt that I'll be slightly paranoid about it for a while now for her sake.

Nosemonkey's solution? Twilight curfews for all under-21s. Bring back Borstal. And the cane. Teach them a little respect. Ban hooded tops. And anoraks. And big scarfs. And umbrellas. Anyone under 30 breaks the law, cut their parents' benefits off completely. I want CCTV cameras on every lamppost, tree and garden fence. And halogen lamps, beaming down 300 watts of glaring light as soon as the sun goes in. And ID cards - mustn't forget ID cards, they're the solution to all our ills.

Nosemonkey's actual solution? Meh... Bunch of opportunistic dicks. That's only the second time in eight years of living in London that I've had any money taken off me under threat of violence. I've been lucky. And even if I wasn't, there's still tit all anyone can do about it, because these things aren't premeditated. It was four to one, no one else in the street, and they knew that even though I could have caused some damage to a couple of them (they were all rather smaller than me, and despite the smoking and drinking I'm in fairly good shape) I wouldn't risk it in case they had a knife. Teenagers are twats, these things happen, and it's not going to make me change my mind about anything.

Right. that's me vented. Time for a whisky, a cigarette, and then bed. Normal service will resume in the morning.

Update: Heh - that cheered me up - just discovered I'mtop Google result for how much is a pint of beer in London. The answer, in case you're wondering, is anywhere between £1.68 and about £6.00, depending on where you go, but will rarely top £4.00 in any pub (those pubs are, obviously enough, never worth going into). The average is about £2.60, though.

Enter, stage right, accusations of giving in to terror and yet more misunderstandings of the nature of the Spanish vote in the elections which followed the Madrid bombings.

Though it must be said, issuing arrest orders for foreign soldiers over friendly fire incidents that took place in another country, and when those killed were journalists who had voluntarily sat themselves in the middle of a warzone, does strike me as a tad silly.

Thanks to my wonderous judicial expertise (gained by once being accepted for a law conversion course, but later turning it down due to lack of funds, thus losing myself a cool hundred quid, the bastards), I'd likely rule death by misadventure. Tragic, stupid and everything - but if you don't want to get killed, don't plonk yourself in the middle of a city that's currently being bombed and invaded. Simple. Oh, and look both ways before you cross the street. And don't make fun of that little bloke in the corner of the pub - you know, the one who always sits on his own, nursing his pint, and staring at everyone under his eyebrows.

(More on this from Spanish blog - in English - Barcepundit, with the case for more arrest warrants...)

"I will pledge £10 to a cash prize fund to be awarded to the person who proves Tony Blair is a liar and prompts that PM's removal or resignation as a result, but only if 100,000 other people will too."
(courtesy of)

Showtrials are so damn predictable

This may not be a showtrial in the Stalinist sense - Saddam is, after all, guilty of the crimes of which he is going to be convicted. It is, however, a trial purely for show. But the people it's trying to impress simply aren't going to be. So I really can't see why anyone bothers.

Why bother faffing about with the trappings of justice when we all know that Saddam's supporters don't recognise the legitimacy of the court and that the critics of the refusal to take this to the International War Crimes Tribunal, plus anyone who disagrees with the death penalty, have a tendency to feel the same way? And as Saddam's so obviously guilty, why were they so afraid of putting him on trial in a court outside US control anyway? I simply don't get it.

In any case, it's sort of started, and the headlines are already utterly, tediously predictable:

  • Iraqis watch Saddam trial with relief or fury - and the furious will not be placated by it
  • Saddam Pleads Innocent to Murder, Torture - in a vain attempt to make his life last a bit longer
  • Judge says witnesses too scared for Saddam trial - perhaps because there's still a load of his supporters roaming the country with lots and lots of guns and bombs, the government is not yet stable, the rushed constitution not yet in place, the government of suspect effectiveness and legitimacy, and the entire place reliant on foreign troops who will not be around to offer their limited protection to the witnesses forever? Just a wild guess...
  • Saddam defense blasts US, Iraq - attacking the legitimacy of the court being entirely fair enough, and the only hope they've got, what with the guy being guilty as Hell and all
  • Saddam argues with judge at start of trial - what, an arrogant former dictator not accepting anyone's power to sit in judgement over him? Surely not!
  • Saddam struggles with trial guards - yet another non-surprise, which will only go to show his supporters that he's still got fight in him, so they should still have fight in them

  • and, entirely unsurprisingly and so even more depressingly:

  • Insurgents kill 13 in attacks as Saddam's trial opens

  • Here endeth Nosemonkey's already nearly non-existant interest in what's currently going on in Iraq. The whole thing's just too depressing.

    A quick ID card vote question

    Last night the government won their ID card vote by just 25 votes.

    The House of Commons has 636 sitting MPs (not including the 5 non-voting Sinn Fein members, obviously or the Speaker and Deputy Speakers). In the vote, 309 voted in favour of the government's bill, 284 against.

    So, my question is this - where the pissing fuck were the other 43 MPs? That's nearly double the number of the government's majority, and more than enough to have sent the revolting little thing back where it came from.

    I want names and I want to hear the excuses. Anyone who has spoken out against ID who didn't vote without an EXCEPTIONALLY good reason, I want to make their life an abject misery. Nosemonkey is angered, despite knowing this was an inevitability.

    Update: Right - here we go:

    TORIES (in favour of the rights of the individual versus the state, remember) who weren't present for the vote -

    David Davies (Monmouthshire), Quentin Davies (Grantham & Stamford), Roger Gale (North Thanet), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Greg Hands (Hammersmith & Fulham), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Michael Mates (East Hampshire), Richard Ottaway (Croydon South), Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex), Anthony Steen (Totnes), Gary Streeter (South West Devon), Ian Taylor (Esher & Walton), Edward Vaizey (Wantage), Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone & The Weald), George Young (North West Hampshire)

    WIDDECOMBE? That's the last time she goes on the fucking Today Programme ranting against the things. And Soames? He above all others should realise that one of the best things Churchill ever did when PM in the 50s was scrap wartime ID. Pretty much everyone there should know better. Dicks.

    LIB DEM absentees

    John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley), John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross)

    Hemming, eh? He seemed quite the opponent of ID on his blog - perhaps we should all pop over and ask him what the fuck he was playing at yesterday?

    I'll let the Labour lot off the hook for now - them absenting themselves did, at least, mean Blair's lot had fewer people to bully into voting in favour. Although I'd be interested to know where the hell Frank Dobson and Dennis Skinner were. They've both been constant campaigner against these bloody things, yet don't bother showing for the vote? It's not even like Dobbo's constituency's far away - it's only a 20 minute walk to Westminster, if that.

    Update 2: John Hemming has responded (in the comments) - apparently he was in hospital yesterday, which sounds like a good reason to miss the thing to me.

    Now what about the rest of them, I wonder?

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Another of the 20th century greats has gone. An interview from 1996 with "the father of glasnost and perestroika", one of the first to publicly break with the party and point the way to the Soviet path to the end of the Cold War, is well worth a glance, as is this 1993 lecture on where Russia should head post-USSR. Or you could just kick off with his Wikipedia entry, from where those two links come (I'm in a rush, sadly, so no time for more).

    The UK, one of the 12 least corrupt nations in the world?


    Mandelson? The Mittal Polish steel contracts affair? Paul Drayson's government contracts and peerage following his donations to the Labour party? Birmingham postal vote fraud? Allegations of bribery? Ex-Transport Minister Stephen Byers "accidentally misleading" parliament? Capita's no-bid contracts? High-profile gambling moguls being found to have - shall we say - "connections"? Keith Vaz? Geoffrey Robinson? "Cash for Coronets"? One Lord Chancellor just happening to be the PM's ex-boss, the next his ex-flatmate (both of whom then just happened to appoint friends to high-powered posts)? Bernie Ecclestone? David Blunkett's train tickets and nanny visa? Corruption that would "disgrace a banana republic"? The Hinduja passport affair? The executive soliciting party donations from the judiciary? Relatives and ex-employees of ministers working for Private Finance Initiative companies? Dodgy Labour councillors? Public money spent on party propaganda disguised as public information? Using known conmen to help buy flats? Clive Betts MP and his male escort's immigration papers? The "reworking" of pretty much every means of assessment going, from unemployment figures to hospital waiting lists? Not to mention that 36 of the 71 corporations currently barred from World Bank contracts due to corruption or fraud are British, or any of the other countless bits of petty corruption, lies and sleaze?

    If we're that good in comparison, what the hell's the rest of the world like?

    The Tories have become a bunch of scaremongering big-government fuckwits - and that is why they will lose the next election whoever wins the leaderhip ballot. "Minister for Bird Flu"? Fucking morons!

    Note to Tories - the thing that separates you from New Labour these days (well, bar the fact that you're perennial losers and they keep on winning) is simple: your history of promoting the rights of the individual against the state, and the commitment to small government that goes hand-in-hand with that. Creating additional ministries, with additional layers of bureaucracy and expense, is not only idiotic but a betrayal of your party's once-proud history. Keep on like this and you'll have lost my vote for ever, rather than merely for the time being.

    Charles Clarke confirms that ID cards will be a massive waste of both time and money - well, what else can he mean by guaranteeing that the personal details contained on ID cards won't go beyond those currently held on passports? If we've already got passports holding that information (with which we can, erm... prove out identities), why, precisely, do we need ID cards as well?

    An obvious point, I know - but I do so very much enjoy highlighting when our dear overlords start digging themselves yet more holes. There is, as far as I can tell, now no possible justification for this legislation. If Clarke is to be believed and the biometrics are dropped (hurrah!), then what, precisely, is the fucking point?

    Update: Talk Politics has more considered analysis of why this latest wheeze "looks like a major concession but it isn't"

    "A police dog has been forced to quit his job, because he's too nice... He tried to make friends with people he should have been catching, and in one case, decided to lie down for a bit of a rest while chasing a burglar."
    [Insert satirical comment about the de Menezes shooting, Sir Ian Blair and the Metropolitan police here, thusly prompting yet more accusations of "typical lefty anti-police bullshit" even though I'm neither typically lefty nor anti-police]

    Mandelson sets up a faintly homophobic double entendre: he "needs wriggle room", as "Any attempt to reduce room for manoeuvre would be likely to reduce the chances of a success".

    I would say more about today's Doha talks, but as they're going to fail and I've already touched on them here I can't see the point. Instead I shall plant in your minds, this chilly morn, wonderful images of an oiled and wriggling Mandelson rubbing his speedos and beckoning, always beckoning, with a sly look on his face and a twinkle in his eye - "Come to Mandy," he says, "Don't be afraid...". It has haunted my dreams for many a night and, much as with The Ring, the only way to break the curse is pass it on. Probably.

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    Some nice person wrote something nice. Hurrah! (But what's all this about "language which overly sensitive readers might find troubling"? Cocking bollocks - just because I'm number one result for "cunting" and "pissing shit" and "cunting cunts" and on the first page of results for "Blair government"... Pshaw, I say...)

    In other news - we all nearly died of the plague!

    The EU and Tony Blair, the ineffectual loser

    Another load of Blairite EU-nonsense? An attempt to make it look like we're actually making an effort after the US farm subsides offer and ahead of the WTO meeting this week? Or is this just Prescott picking up his notes from a few months back by mistake?

    Yep, he's mentioned the whole "we'll scrap the rebate in exchange for CAP reform" thing again - this time also swinging a few wild shots at the sacred cow that is the rebate by branding it a mistake and - effectively - Maggie Thatcher a bit of a wimp for taking the easy option back when the negotiations for the bloody thing were going on.

    We can probably expect a few more vocal yet half-hearted noises about EU reform from Blair's lot over the next couple of months. Because a couple of months is all they've got left of their presidency - in which, as of yet, they have achieved precisely tit all. And now, of course, they also have the possible threat of Bird Flu to distract everyone from Blair's much-promoted "reforming agenda" that they spouted so much crap about back in the summer when we took over the presidency.

    Today, Liberation has a fun article slagging off the "political inertia of the British presidency", hot on the heels of the amusing sarcasm of Austrian MEP Othmar Karas, the vice-president of the EPP-ED Group, who last week put out a press release as follows:

    "We have lost the President of the Council. From what we hear he is the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, although nobody has seen or heard of him since the summer recess ended. Useful indications concerning his whereabouts and especially his activities will be gladly received by the European citizens"
    Karas also noted something that most Brits have become all too used to since 1997 - "we hear from hard work behind the scenes from his cabinet ministers, but the man himself is showing none of his promised European leadership". Replace "European" for "domestic", Karas could easily have been talking about Blair at home...

    Liberation quotes a few other Europeans who are less than iimpressed with Blair's "achievements":
    "You've got to judge the performance of this presidency by other criteria that those that usually apply... as the United Kingdom thinks that the EU already does too much, one imagines that by not doing anything they're fulfilling their objectives perfectly!"
    So, has Blair become a Eurosceptic again, as he used to be back in the early 1980s (when he was also anti-nuke, anti-US, and a pacifist)? Is he following Kilroy's line of basically doing tit all when it comes to Europe because he can't be arsed with it?

    Blair may have made bold claims about his EU plans. He may claim to be a "passionate European". But actions speak far, far louder than words - especially words coming from Blair or anyone in his circle. As of yet there has been no action. At all.

    The uncertainty of the German situation, the ongoing potential exit of Blair, the likely ousting of Chirac and the hope of the booting out of Berlusconi, combined with the rousing defeat for the piss-poor constitution, spats with Turkey and ongoing disputes with the US over air travel, steel, farm subsidies and the like ensures that, at present, no one knows what the hell's going on, and no one's been prepared to commit to anything when they know that in a couple of years' time the leaderships of the main EU countries could look very different indeed. Why do a deal with Blair when you might be able to get something more sensible from Brown, a man our EU cousins seem to respect rather more? Why argue with the stubborn bastard Chirac when he's going to be out on his arse in a year or so?

    This UK presidency is turning into a six month EU-wide holiday. Time for everyone to put their feet up and take stock of the situation, ponder their strategies over the next decade or so, and work out who their allies might be. In other words, Blair's lame-duck presidency could be precisely what the EU needs. A time out, a chance to regroup - and certainly a chance for Germany to sort out who the hell it is who's going to be speaking for them on the international stage. Because until Germany's got a stable government again (the final line-up of Merkel's cross-party cabinet is expected to be announced today, but it'll still take a while to stabilise), no EU negotiations are ever going to get anywhere.

    The fact that Blair and co seem genuinely to have thought that they could achieve something significant with their six months as the nominal head of Europe, that they would actually make some progress on so many issues, simply makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable.

    But what Blair and co failed to realise, having won three General Elections with no effort, and having had an immense parliamentary majority to ensure every piece of legislation always goes through without too much fuss, is that to succeed in grown-up politics you actually have to make a bit of effort. All they've done with this presidency is hold some press conferences, announce some initiatives, and expect everything to somehow come together. That may work in Britain - it won't cut it on the continent.

    Put Blair up against real politics, this is how he fares - inertia and withdrawal. Blair's international policies have pretty much all been dismal failures - about the only thing he's succeeded at is getting the Olympics for London, something which will end up costing the country billions with very little return. It doesn't bode well for his much-vaunted post-Prime Ministerial career as some kind of world statesman - and has certainly put down any suggestions of Blair becoming the first permanent President of Europe. Which, once again, can only be a good thing. Prime Minister Blair is bad enough - President Blair, as he's proved over the last few months, is an ineffectual loser.

    It's true and stuff

    I am indeed off to Japan at the end of the week. As such, after Friday this place may slow down for a few weeks, as I shall be otherwise engaged and, although I will doubtless be inundated with interwebnet technology in the heart of Tokyo, I won't have too much time to piss around hunting down interesting news-based thingies to send me off on a rant.

    If you get bored, why not help out with a new Worstall project which could be good - the Wikablog? There's no Europhobia page yet (hint, hint)...

    Service shall be just about as normal this week, assuming I can get NatWest to DO THEIR SODDING JOB PROPERLY and sort out all the stuff I need, and that I can hit the deadlines I've got today and tomorrow in the real world.

    /tedious, irrelevant nonsense

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