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?


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.


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."

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: / 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...

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