Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"The Brussels Broadcasting Corporation"

Ha ha ha ha ha! The heads of Eurosceptics and proponents of the "Biased BBC" meme explode in a shower of "I told you so!"s and rage, as favourite hate-figure of the loonier anti-EU brigade, Margot Wallström (she of increasingly tedious blog fame) suggests an EU-funded TV station to "fill the gaps in reporting". A televised EU-Pravda - yep - that'll win people over...

Oh, and another thing: Margot, if you're reading - the reason the EU is "under-reported" in media continent-wide is thanks to the delights of the market. The problem is simply that NO ONE CARES. By all means set up your TV station - but no one will watch because the subject matter is far, far too dull. (Actually, that's not quite true - obsessive anti-EU fanatics will watch it religiously, merely so they can rant about it in the comments section of your blog and over on EU Referendum.)

Seriously - the EU is mind-numbing. Why else do you think that 90% of this blog's content is now on other stuff, despite being set up to be EU-centred? You want the EU to be reported, you need to spice it up a little - stop obsessing over petty legislation and pointless regulation and give us some genuine excitement. A little bit of showmanship is all that's needed - an EU equivalent of Prime Minister's Questions or something. That's pretty much the only time the House of Commons gets on telly, after all.

Prime Minister's Questions serves precisely no useful purpose other than petty personal/political point-scoring in the full glare of the assembled media. But it nonetheless frequently makes for fun TV and dozens of column inches every week. No one expects Blair to give straight answers to straight questions, because other than in overly idealistic fantasy worlds that's not the point of the thing - and hasn't been since long before they started televising it. It is, basically, a chance for all sides to show off in front of the cameras - propaganda for MPs of whatever shade.

The EU would do well to follow the example of the Mother of Parliaments and descend to "Punch and Judy Politics" a bit more often - it's fun, and it gets people interested. The art of reasoned argument and grand debate of the 19th century - ideal for that era of newspaper reporting - is dead and gone. All we want now is soundbites, because our attention spans are far shorter - you'd think someone in Brussels would have noticed when their behemoth of a constitution was ridiculed for its excessive length. But no, they still seem to think that people enjoy wading through umpteen thousand clauses and sub-clauses, and that reasoned debate will work. Even if the EU's spokesmen weren't all rubbish, it simply doesn't any more. We want soundbite, soundbite, soundbite, or we'll switch to the other side.

(Hell - for another case in point, 95% of people will have stopped reading this post by now, as hardly anyone reads beyone the first couple of paragraphs of anything they see online... Brevity + entertainment => absorbtion of ideas.)

Naturally enough, the "Brussels Broadcasting Corporation" headline thing is based more on pandering to alarmist fears than the actual truth of the (still not finalised) proposals, but that lot in Brussels really do need to learn that the best way of making sure your propaganda has an impact with the people you are targeting is to, erm, not warn them that it's propaganda in advance...

And thus we see once again why all fears of the superstate are unfounded - the people currently in charge of the EU are simply too incompetent to make it work, even if they wanted to. They haven't even twigged the birth of Public Relations politics yet, seventy years after FDR helped usher in the new era with his fireside chats.

Oi, EU - you want people to engage? Make yourselves more engaging. Want them to pay attention? Give them something entertaining. No, it's not big, it's not clever, and it may well be a sorry state of affairs, but the truth is politics itself does not sell. You need a bit of drama to succeed - and all the EU's managed for the last few years has been a bad sitcom.

Missed this yesterday - the always readable, always EU-sceptical Anatole Kaletsky's latest:
"the sudden revival of economic and political self-confidence in Europe, which seemed to be in an almost existential crisis as recently as last autumn, was a genuine surprise... Last January I started my work for 2005 with a very bearish column about the euro and the European economy, and I then got even more pessimistic as the year progressed. For most of 2005 this view, which contrasted sharply with the perennial optimism of politicians and central bankers, turned out to be right.

"So why have Europe’s prospects suddenly brightened?"

"We do not see the least improvement"

An ill-considered piece on The War on Terror and the like from me, over at The Sharpener...

Monday, January 30, 2006

A quick plug - the English language version of AgoraVox, the rather good French blog aggregator type thing, is pretty much up and running after a few months in a password-only beta testing phase. It's still not officially launched, but should be worth checking out. And yes, this humble blogger is indeed a contributor.

The Tesco Value NHS

Another radical new healthcare initiative! Yep, a new drive to create "care campuses" providing medical services in the community - which is, of course, UTTERLY different to the concept of General Practice, isn't it? They're spewing out crap faster than that kid in The Exorcist these days...

Oh, and apparently "The GP market could also be opened to the... voluntary sector to help fill gaps in under-doctored areas" - even though the reason those areas are "under-doctored" (bloody ridiculous term) is largely because no doctors want to work there. Asking them to do it for no money ain't going to solve the problem, chum - doctors all come out of training these days saddled with upwards of £30,000 debt, so is it any wonder the majority try and stick around the major hospitals, where they've got a chance of becoming an over-paid consultant or getting spotted by a private practice, rather than buggering off to the sticks where they get to be moaned to by little old ladies and threatened by teenage thugs in hodded tops, all for far less pay (in real terms) than their forebears were getting three decades ago.

The report also includes the wonderous news that those "health MOTs" (stupid enough anyway) are going to be called "life checks" ("Right, that's OK MRs Prendergast, you ARE still alive after all..."), and that the government hope to have them available in Tesco. Yes, really...

Much like Tesco Value sausages, Labour's latest healthcare wheeze seems to be made of the discarded offal of fifty years of health policy, hastily re-packaged and flogged to the braindead public at a knock-down price.

Because, children, it has to be at a knock-down price. I can exclusively reveal to you today the real problem at the heart of the NHS - it's simply too bloody expensive to provide free healthcare for all at the point of use in a country with 60 million people and a rapidly aging population.

Every politician in Westminster knows this full well. But the NHS is the sacred cow of British politics - we can't slaughter the bastard even when it does start stomping through the back garden, munching on the geraniums, and costing us far more than it's worth. And so, instead, we'll get the same "new ideas" regurgitated every few years as if they're some brilliant cure-all, while the NHS infrastructure continues to creak under the strain and all the best medics defect to the private sector to earn some real money.

You see, the thing in medicine is that there are no magic potions to cure all ills. Sometimes a body is so racked with disease that little can be done - bits may yet be salvagable, but in order to do so, other parts must be amputated, or the body will be wasting precious energy supplying blood to limbs which no longer have any chance of survival.

This is the modern NHS - a lurgy-racked near-cadaver, covered with a liberal dosing of make-up to disguise the scars of the pox that has been ravaging it for decades; still recognisable, but in need of some major surgery if it is to survive. Adding some extra blusher around the endges to try and give the impression of health is no longer going to do the trick.

The NHS is a great idea, but much like swimming the Channel in lead pyjamas it's also insanely impractical. But no one is going to have the guts to take on the inevitable cries of "murder" that are always hollered when the sheer impracticality of such an insanely expensive drain on government resources is raised.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Radical new health initiative launched! Known as "going to the doctor for a check-up every now and then", the government have made the shock discovery that serious illnesses are - incredibly - MORE likely to be discovered quickly by a qualified healthcare professional than by an average member of the Public merely sitting on their obese backsides, watching Hollyoaks and chainsmoking.

This comes hot on the back of the amazing new crime-fighting revolution of "community calls to action", or "phoning the police".

Friday, January 27, 2006

Labour priorities, episode 1,345: dying children vs. self-congratulation

Exhibit A: EDM 1496, congratulating the Parliamentary Labour Party on its centenary, tabled by Ann Clwydd yesterday and already signed by 147 other MPs by 10am the next day.

Exhibit B: EDM 1500, calling for increased government funding for children's hospices to enable them to die with some kind of dignity, tabled by Bob Spink yesterday and - despite apparently having been inspired by a campaign by The Sun - signed thus far by only 2 other MPs.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

We're going to be winning the war on terror in a seven times kickass manner pretty soon! You thought we were beating terrorism before? Just wait until British troop numbers in Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan?) increase from 800 to 5,700! Watch out Taleban - we're coming for you! (Again, apparently...)

Yawn... Interesting wording, though:
"I am perfectly willing to say I have had both homosexual and heterosexual relationships in the past."
Of course you are, Simon, you're a politician, so perfectly willing to say anything that might get you a little bit of power and/or positive attention. There's also a nice attempt to head off any Oaten/Kennedy-style tabloid revelations at the pass:
"I do not believe that anything that I have done has impinged upon my capacity to serve my constituents or fulfil any of the roles that I have sought, undertaken or am seeking for the future"
But the end result is the same - he's a Lib Dem, so no one cares.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Forgotten Wars - a "brief synopsis of the Top 10 'hot' wars on the planet as well as the unstable, 'frozen' conflicts which could erupt into fighting." Complete with handy maps and everything, and apparently the start of a new series. Top stuff, as ever, from Soj.

Oi, police - piss off and do your jobs, stop interfering in public affairs.

Oi, government - stop being so sodding hypocritical over whether or not we should listen to the police's views.

(Don't you just love the way that, bar the odd pointless sex scandal, the news in the UK has been EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME EVERY DAY FOR A YEAR?)

Italian shenanigans

Potentially dangerous populist nonsense being approved shortly before a potentially dangerous populist Prime Minister gets embroiled in an election campaign he's trying to delay while battling (electrical) power crises (prompting only semi-joking suggestions that Russia is trying to help influence the elections), threatening to use the military to break strikes and playing up to nationalist sympathies? Surely not...

An added bonus of delayed elections? A delay to the rules ordering equal media coverage for all candidates in a country where the Prime Minister owns the majority of the media. During a fifteen day period this month, Belusconi was "seen on most major television channels, on talk shows and even on the traffic news, for a total of three hours and six minutes... His opposition rival, Romano Prodi... managed to obtain just eight minutes of television coverage in the same period."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

An easy space-filling meme

(For a day when I haven't posted due to being busy and stuff)

Seven Things To Do Before I Die
1. Finally get fluent in Japanese
2. Earn (or win) a million
3. Spend that million
4. Earn (or win) a vast amount more
5. Lose heat intolerance
6. Buy a tropical island. With a pub.
7. Stop stressing

Seven Things I Cannot Do
1. Vote Labour (again, currently)
2. Vote Tory (again, currently)
3. Vote Lib Dem (again, currently)
4. Remain loyal to a party
5. Understand religious faith
6. See a monkey without chuckling
7. Do basic arithmatic without using my fingers

Seven Things That Attract Me to… a pub
1. Good range of bitters
2. Being able to smoke throughout
3. No loud music
4. Friendly, but not overly friendly, staff
5. No one under the age of 50 - other than my immediate company
6. A sheltered beer garden for the summer
7. No loud-mouthed knobbastards who are so confident that their tedious job in the City or in some wankhole business consultancy or in sales or in whatever the fuck it fucking is is the most fascinating and wonderful thing in the world that they feel the constant need to broadcast their "success" in becoming a mindless automaton in a pointless profession at full volume to everyone else in the sodding place while occasionally making mysoginistic comments about the barmaids and any other female unfortunate enough to have wandered within a ten yard radius and getting vaguely agressive towards anyone male they happen to make eye contact with despite being too cunting pussy to actually risk getting in a proper fight in case Big Dave who sits in the corner by himself all the time decides to get involved and ruins their cosmetic dentistry with one artful backhand to cheers from all present, the pissing smug twats

Seven Things I Say
1. Pissing shit
2. Cunting fuck
3. How come that talentless fuckhead earns more than I do, the cunt?
4. I'll have it done by tomorrow, honest
5. Cockbollocking wankers
6. I seem to be suffering from a severe case of writers' block at the moment
7. Gah...

Seven Books That I Love
1. The Invisibles - Morrison
2. War and Peace - Tolstoy
3. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls - Biskind
4. Immortality - Kundera
5. Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics - Donaldson
6. Collected Fictions - Borges
7. London: The Biography - Ackroyd

Seven Movies That I’ve Loved (at different times and in no particular order)
1. Once Upon a Time in the West
2. Mallrats
3. Casablanca
4. Commando
5. The Magnificent Ambersons
6. Caddyshack
7. Braindead

Seven People To Tag (in no particular order)
1. Tim W
2. Dave W
3. Sunny
4. Guy
5. Soj
6. Katie
7. Sean

Monday, January 23, 2006

"History is written by the victor"

Or, in this case (as in Soviet Russia), the government.

In case you missed it amidst all the sordid sex scandals - there's been another leak. It was in yesterday's Sunday Times, apparently:

"The new evidence, uncovered in the trawl ordered by the Home Office of all relevant documents at Scotland Yard and MI5, shows the intelligence services knew far more about Khan and Tanweer than the government has publicly admitted"
But it's OK, kids - it''ll all come out in the official history! Honest!
"Hundreds of pages of transcripts obtained from the surveillance are contained in secret files being prepared by MI5 and Scotland Yard. Clarke has asked for the files to be collated so the government can prepare the official narrative of events."
The heading quote for this post comes from Churchill - a man who, in his Nobel-winning History of the Second World War, successfully propagated the still-perpetuated myth that he was almost single-handedly responsible for first highlighting the Nazi threat and then for fighting it off. As meticulously detailed in David Reynolds' In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War, Churchill - like our dear leaders today - also managed to prevent potential rivals from accessing documents which may have disputed his claims, and even used his position and connections to help ridicule alternative takes on his self-serving history.

And so, just as Churchill still gets voted the "Greatest Briton" despite being a barking, racist idiot and strategic incompetent, the lack of an independent enquiry will ensure that the "there was nothing we could do" story over the 7th July attacks will continue.

Hell, there probably wasn't anything they could do - a bunch of innocent civilians were likely to get blown up by terrorists at some point no matter what, largely because it's not that difficult to launch a terrorist attack.

But what surely could have helped prevent those specific attacks was to continue to monitor two of the eventual bombers for longer than the two months they were being investigated.

An independent enquiry might be able to determine the precise reasons why the "quick assessment" of the security risks posed by bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan incorrectly determined that he was not a threat before he went on to kill seven people at Edgeware Road, even though
"[in] the summer of 2003... Khan visited a terrorist training camp in northern Pakistan. It has established that the camp was set up by Al-Qaeda soon after Tony Blair sent British troops into Iraq."
Oh look, it's the "I" word again... There's a surprise...

Perhaps another couple of Churchill quotes may be more appropriate for the Blair government: "There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion", and, it would seem, "History will be kind to me - for I intend to write it."

Now for some REAL journalism - biometric ID by the back door:
"The UK is to go ahead with a biometric-backed system of ID verification this year, whether or not the ID Cards Bill is passed by parliament... most of the significant components of the ID card scheme already exist or are being built...

"The ID Cards Bill is simply one (albeit wide-ranging and high-profile) implementation of Government policy on national identity management, killing it without also overturning the strategy would at best slow up implementation. And, probably, make it more likely that other components of implementation would be put into place without parliamentary oversight and regulation...

"Passports are issued under Royal Prerogative, effectively executive powers of the monarch which are exercised by Government Ministers. These powers include the right to grant and revoke passports, exercised by the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. Three years ago Parliament's Public Administration Select Committee suggested that this and other aspects of the Royal Prerogative (starting wars, that kind of stuff) be put on a more formal statutory basis, but the Department of Constitutional Affairs declined to pursue the matter, observing on passports that 'successive Governments have taken the view that the non-statutory system has worked well and that change is not required.'"
This revelation that passports will also include biometrics is not new. The level of detailed research and analysis, however, as well as the conclusions of the route the government is likely to take to implement the scheme, is. Read. (Hat tip Tim)

Oaten and the blogs

Quick question for Guido (oh, and Recess Monkey) - since when is accusing someone of being a paedophile the same as breaking a story that a man has (presumably) had sex with a 23-year-old male prostitute? Since when has 23 been under age, and since when has homosexual sex been the same as raping children?

It looks rather like this sordid little scoop (which in any case would have taken the News of the World far longer to fully verify and get past their lawyers than the two and a half days they had after Guido/Recess Monkey's podcast) was entirely thanks to the papers. British bloggers still only have the scalp of a trainee journalist to their name. And the blogger responsible for that was American in any case.

Although I don't deny that Guido comes up with the goods sometimes, nor that he is quite likely to expose something genuinely dodgy at some point, I'm with Justin, Jarndyce and DoctorVee on this one...

Whoever's actually responsible for this little business coming to light (perhaps related to the person responsible for this little breaking of the law?) - set your sights higher next time, ideally on Tony Blair, Charles Clarke or Charlie Falconer. Destroy someone who actually matters and fully deserves it - go for the sharks, not the minnows.

Christ, no wonder bloggers aren't taken seriously if all we can do is brag about breaking minor stories that we actually had nothing to do with...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Oaten outing follow-up

Still can't quite get my head around what the point of this whole outing thing was.

I mean John Major/Edwina Curry, yes - scoop. News. Potential extra angle on policy decisions. Important.

Blunkett and wassername, yes - scoop. News. Potential conflicts of interests. Highlights interconnectivity of government and media. Abuse of ministerial power to aid private life. Important.

Robin Cook/his secretary, not really. "Man away from home for extended period makes bond with someone he sees daily" is hardly news.

Oaten / some younger man, no. No conflict of interest. No extra angles on policy decisions. "Married man is secretly gay" likewise hardly news.

Guido claims the scoop, anyway. Not much to be proud of, I'd have thought, destroying the life of a minor politician and doubtless his family to boot... Still, Guido's commentors seem to be having fun - latent homophobia or just the repression of wishing they had the guts to hire some arse themselves? How about this from "Delves Broughton Jocelyn Victor Hay"? (I really hope I'm just misreading a parody here...)

"I think Oaten's prostitution policy not hypocritical rather stealthily pandering to his own homosexual interest. Another thing, the 'Right Honourable' Mark Oaten is a gross moral coward and prevaricator, unwilling to confront his deviance"
This has also made Menzies Campbell go down in my estimation. I mean, what's this crap about?
"No party is entirely subject to what happens to any one individual. The party is much bigger than that and my task as acting leader is to restore a sense of unity and purpose"
Fuck off, Ming - your job as a decent human being is to back your colleague by stating that it's a private matter and you're not going to comment, not to try and make political capital out of it to bolster your leadership bid.

I had no particular time for or interest in Oaten, and still don't. He always struck me as a tad smug. But if his parliamentary colleagues are going to shun him over this due to pathetic fears that their tiny party might suffer electorally (newsflash, guys - you're already at your peak, and it's downhill all the way from here no matter what you do), then any sympathy I had for the little orange bastards will entirely vanish.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Oh yes,following the revelation that the police are holding DNA records on TWENTY-FOUR THOUSAND innocent 10-18 year olds, read this:
"taking the police work out of police work. If some DNA evidence turns up at a crime scene they can run it against the database of all those people just to make sure they're still innocent. Don't worry sir, we can re-establish your innocence in a matter of moments. Everyone's a suspect until the computer says they're not."

The Liberal Democrats just got a lot more press coverage, but again for all the wrong reasons: BBC - Oaten resigns over rent boy claim.

Yep - that's rent boy. (So much worse than simply "prostitute" don't you think? Got those added layers of objectification and hints of paedophilia - after all, when was the last time you saw a 23-year-old man referred to as a "boy" in any other context?)
News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner said Mr Oaten had been confronted with details of a relationship with a 23-year-old rent boy by reporters from the Sunday paper.
Aaaah! The good old News of the World, the least principled paper in the country, once again standing up for our nation's morals by forcibly outing a politician most people have never heard of. Lovely...

Fuck off Falconer, you unelected twat:
"The question is should you require - and I think ultimately, unless there is compulsion, you won't get the benefits of an ID card system - is it right to compel those that don't have a passport also to get an ID card?

"I think it is, I think it will become inevitable that you need reliable means of identification, both to stop people stealing your identity, and also making it much, much easier for you to deal with the state."
I don't especially WANT to have todeal with the state, ta very much - every time I have to it takes money off me. Why would I want to make that process easier?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Right - these should do it. Top work: 1, 2, 3. All I need now is some entertaining monkey news, and I should be able to handle the two hour wait until the lunchtime pint...

Man in "boasting about sexual prowess" shocker! Next week we bring you yet more amazing revelations: "Sky is blue", "Monkeys are funny" and the long-awaited proof that yes, water is indeed wet. Fucking pointless load of crap bastard wankpiss.

Despite the hamster news earlier, my rage is simmering near the brink this morning - and it's not helped by having run out of coffee. All it'll take is one stupid government announcement...

Update (2 minutes later): GAH! Housing in "expensive" shocker! REALLY? People on low incomes can't afford to pay four hundred grand for a home? FUCKING AMAZING. Arsedicks.

Something to cheer you up - aaaaaw!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

An EU tax? Yeah, right...

You'd never guess that Austria's more eurosceptic than the UK the way this EU presidency's going. First we had the revival of the constitution, now we've got proposals for an EU tax, a barkingly superstatist idea that crops up every now and again before traditionally being shot down in flames.

Chancellor Schuessel - correctly - told the European Parliament that "Europe needs a strong way of financing itself"; he knows full well, however, that it is never going to happen through taxation as long as the UK is a member.

Never mind the arguments in favour of such an approach (after all, it could well help to increase transparancy and leave less budget flexibility for the notoriously weak EU accountants to "misplace" dosh with, plus would make it clear to each EU citizen precisely how little the EU actually costs them while getting rid of the constant disputes over who should pay what, rebates and the like) - it simply is not an option at this time, as such a move would require unanimity from all member states, and no British government (or, probably, Danish for that matter) would risk it. Even if dear old Tony "This lady IS for turning" Blair tried to give in and accept an EU tax, there's no way in hell Gordon Brown would let him.

So why all the shit-stirring? What is Schuessel up to?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I could start to like this Cameron chap...

The European Parliament is set to vote on what to do with the constitution tomorrow - but is this just putting the cart before the horse? As national parliaments begin to work together and MEPs try to work out the way forward, cross-border political discussion and co-operation is taking place up top. But what about the rest of the European public sphere?
"in the absence of a common identity, there is no true and sustainable European community. And any such common identity is vitally dependent on the existence of a pan-European public space. A European public space would be a realm in which transnational values and principles - or transnational practices if you will - can be defined, shaped and reshaped, and in which supranational political institutions can gain legitimacy."
An interesting series of articles from Eurozine are linked down the side of that article, providing a handy overview of this ongoing debate over the possibility of a truly EU-wide demos and identity, as the Austrian EU presidency kcks off its campaign to get the continent discussing precisely what it is that we all want.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dear fucking Christ in Heaven - will somebody please kill the internet? It can't take much more of this abuse...

That webchat thing has been going on for an hour and forty minutes. The single most tedious, slow-moving and pointless hour and forty minutes since I havd the misfortune of having to review The Tango Lesson (still the worst film I've ever seen).

Note to the government: it's possible to download two episodes of The West Wing in the time it has taken your lackey to answer a paltry twenty-odd pre-submitted, pre-vetted questions. This is meant to be a web CHAT, for fuck's sake. If you're going to experiment with funky "new" web technologies, do it properly - or at least have the decency to pull your sodding fingers out of your overpaid arses so you can type with both hands.

E-Democracy at work folks - bore everyone so fucking rigid they all piss off and take their own lives rather than pay any more attention to your mindless, repetitive drivel.


Via Jarndyce, there's a "live" webchat with Louise Casey, Head of the Government's "Respect task force", over at Number 10's website this afternoon at 3pm. All questions, naturally, to be submitted for vetting in advance... Jarndyce's submission is rather fun - I went for short and (surprisingly) non-sweary:
"Respect has to be earned - why, exactly, should we respect a Prime Minister who keeps launching legislation designed to cut back on our civil liberties and rewarding his friends and party donors with peerages?"
Something tells me that neither of us will be responded to...

Update: Apparently it's starting shortly - only 10 minutes late... But why is it being hosted by The TwoFour Group rather than on Downing Street's own site?

Update 2: First question in "obvious plant" shocker! Short version: "Aren't ASBOs great?" The answer admits the problem of drunks causing trouble, but no mention of 24 hour drinking...

Update 3: God, this is tedious. A question that isn't even a question from one "Jimmy Devlin" (the same Jimmy Devlin who claimed to have lost trust in Labour back in September 2003? HIf so, he seems to have regained it...) - short version? "Everything the government has proposed is great"

Oooh! And a great piece of doublethink from our Louise: "People need to know that there are rules in decent societies and if you break those rules you face consequences. We can only have liberty and live without fear if we are secure in the knowldge that rules are there to make us safe." Summary justice ends fear! Rules are freedom! Hurrah!

Update 4: Good God, it's turning into The Field of Dreams: "The more people know the more people will come forward" - "If you build it, they will come..." Or should that be Wayne's World?

And now "Tony Cranwell" gets his second question answered, while those from Jarndyce, Mr McKeating and others go ignored...

Update 5: And now a second question from "Brian Baitup" is responded to...

Update 6: "Absolutely nothing will ever excuse throwing a stone at an old aged pensioner walking down the street" - not even it it's Thatcher?

And where the hell did this crap come from? "not allowing a single mum to get in a shop without hassling her to buy them alcohol or taking over a toddler's playground to start fires" - eh?

This isn't exactly topical - a rather nice little rundown of the pisspoor mess that is the French electoral system from MatGB - it is, however, very good stuff.

Labour ministers: "We couldn't give a pissing fuck about you, your pathetic concerns about 'liberty', the checks and balances of the constitution, the traditional role of parliament of scrutinising public accounts, OR the potential cost to the taxpayer, so cunt the fuck right off, you twats."

There's a surprise...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Kilroy's nutty ex-buddy after Barrymore

The name raised my suspicions, but having just seen the guy on the news it's been confirmed:

The lawyer responsible for the headline-grabbing new private prosecution against Michael Barrymore is indeed Robert Kilroy-Silk's former litigious assistant (though they are no longer on speaking terms), failed UKIP candidate, co-founder and one-time technical leader of Veritas (remember them?), road sign thief, public proponent of the "Mohammed was a Paedophile" theory (for which he was expelled from UKIP), member of bonkers self-appointed moral guardians Christian Voice, and associate of ex-chairmen of the National Front, Anthony Bennett (pictured below, in typical maniacal pose).

Judging by Bennett's less than successful track record with pretty much every campaign with which he's ever been involved, Barrymore should have little to worry about...

EU states "collaborated" with the CIA - offical

Hardly a surprise - after all, the US remains a close ally even with all the various policy disagreements. Rather shows up official denials of any knowledge of "extraordianry rendition" though, eh?

"EU governments have “collaborated, tolerated or looked away” from secret CIA operations on European soil, a high-profile investigation is set to conclude next week.

"Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who is leading a Council of Europe inquiry into clandestine CIA detention centres and flights, is set to conclude his probe on January 23...

"'For two or three years countries knew exactly what was going on,... Some countries actively collaborated, some tolerated while others simply looked away.'”

“...'It's not possible to transport people from one place to another in such a manner without the secret services knowing about it,' the senator insisted.

“'The question is: was the CIA really working in Europe? I believe we can say today, without a doubt, yes.'”
Update: The BBC had something on this on Saturday, but I missed it. Weekend, and all that. There's been little interest shown elsewhere that I've noticed in any case, which is a tad odd. But the British government, at least, was very careful (once again) not to make any outright denials... After all, if there's no paperwork, it never happened, right?

I pissing love the House of Lords sometimes:
"The amendment to be debated today will tap into cross-chamber insistence that resisting calls for estimates of the full costs of such a massive initiative not only prevents proper scrutiny but aborts discussion of alternatives. It also seems to be unprecedented. The Home Office minister Baroness Scotland tried to justify the intransigence on the grounds of commercial secrecy during the tendering process. Besides wondering at the presumption of embarking on tenders long before the bill is through, to think that commercial convenience trumps parliament's right to know is a baleful reflection on our democratic ill-health.

"Although the government seeks to pretend otherwise, our ID card project is uniquely vast, complex and intrusive. It risks outscandalising the Eurofighter, the Millennium Dome, the Scottish parliament, the driving licence and NHS computer projects and a host of other less daunting cock-ups."
Keep your eye on the Lords.

Finland, Finland, Finland

The country where I want to be,
Pony trekking or camping,
Or just watching TV.
Finland, Finland, Finland,
It's the country for me.

A run-off election because the incumbent president failed to take 50% of the vote? Meanwhile in the UK, it's rare for any government to have over 40% - sometimes put down to the similarity between the parties these days, yet in Finland, where the President's prime concern is foreign policy, "Both Ms Halonen and her main rival, Mr Niinisto, support Finland's EU membership, its co-operation with Nato and its close ties to former foe, Russia."

Best place for more info is probably Helsingen Sanomat - worth a gander, what with Finland taking over the EU presidency later in the year and all...

You're so near to Russia,
So far from Japan.
Quite a long way from Cairo,
Lots of miles from Vietnam.

Finland, Finland, Finland.
The country where I want to be,
Eating breakfast or dinner,
Or snack lunch in the hall.
Finland, Finland, Finland,
Finland has it all.

You're so sadly neglected,
And often ignored,
A poor second to Belgium,
When going abroad.

Finland, Finland, Finland.
The country where I quite want to be,
Your mountains so lofty,
Your treetops so tall.
Finland, Finland, Finland,
Finland has it all.

This. (Oh, and a vaguely-related note to all those "patriots" blathering on about the national flag: it's only the Union Jack at sea, idiots - the reason no one flies the Union Jack outside their homes in this country is because it's impossible. Unless you've got a houseboat, at any rate...)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The government planning to spy on Members of Parliament? Why doesn't that surprise me? Anger... Rising... Again...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

This may be worth a look - though not on a Saturday evening, so I haven't read it myself yet: former New Statesman editor John Lloyd on his pet topic of anti-Americanism (my own views on which can be found here) - this time in a European context (I think the likelihood is I will disagree strongly with his take...).

Yep, that's right - I'm linking to a review I haven't read of a book I haven't read. The book does, however, sound interesting...

Tony Blair as UN Secretary General? A man with no concept of international law - or even the legal system of his own country? Wouldn't that be rather like putting Mr Stabby in charge of the knife drawer? Oh well, at least the picture of Blair and Clinton they've chosen to illustrate the piece is a contender for Viz's Up The Arse Corner...

Update: I don't know if this is so much a case of great minds thinking alike as this is really the only possible reaction...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Menzies Campbell: "I will take the party left of Labour" - yeah, like THAT's hard... The difficulty, old boy, is in making your party electable. Which it never really has been - and that's coming from someone who has voted for you buggers more than once.

Please help us to find this man!

It's just like that episode of Spooks with Giles from Buffy... (Or something entirely innocent, who knows?)

The constitutional zombie

So it looks like the EU constitution has turned into one of the undead, roughly raised from its shallow grave to parade around the continent once more and scare the crap out of everyone. From the manner of its rising it can only really be a zombie - a shambling, slowly rotting, rather ineffectual member of the army of darkness which can, nonetheless, be a bit scary and have the potential to eat many a good brain.

The Austrian presidency is planning to relaunch the constitutional ratification process on January 27th in Salzburg - the home town of Mozart and the 250th anniversary of his birth, prompting all kinds of PR guff about "bringing harmony to Europe's orchestra". Meanwhile Andrew Duff and Johannes Voggenhuber, British and Austrian MEPs respectively, were the European Parliament's rapporteurs on the EU Constitution, and are due to report again next week on the "period of reflection" everyone was supposed to have been having since its rejection by France and the Netherlands last year.

They are also expected to try and get the Parliament's backing for a pointlessly contentious attempt to revive the damn thing, the only possible benefit of which could (if we're lucky, which on Friday 13th seems unlikely) be increased pan-European debate - something the Blair EU presidency studiously avoided, despite calls from the Commission for a "Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate" in the aftermath.

Nonetheless, as it looks like the constitution is going to become an issue again over the next six months, how about a recap?

  • First up, a summary of what it was the constitution was actually proposing to change
  • Then, a reminder of why something along these lines is necessary for the EU
  • A look at why - especially with Blair in charge - ratifying the constitution would be a good thing for Britain
  • A specific example of one area which would have been improved by the constitution - immigration
  • Then a quickie on why those of us in favour of the EU should reject this constitution anyway
  • The difficulties of the lack of EU democratic accountabilty and the lack of a European demos
  • And a lengthy bit on why sensible debate over the EU is all but impossible
  • Finally, a handy collection of links to other blog posts and articles on the constitution
  • Right, that's it - no more slagging off Galloway for being on Big Brother for me. Him getting locked up for a reality TV show and not being able to attend to his Commons duties is one thing, but once a government minister from a constituency 300-odd miles away starts interfering in a pathetic (and belated) attempt to jump on the bandwaggon, that's when I get sick of the whole affair.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    The EU budget deal's screwed again:
    ""In its current form, the parliament would have to reject the common position of the council, as it does not secure a budget guaranteeing prosperity, security and solidarity for European citizens.”
    So, that would be precisely tit all that Blair managed to achieve with his six month EU presidency then? Hurrah!

    Chris Who-hne?

    A Blair vs. political philosophy quickie

    It's been a few years since I read it, but Blair evoking Leviathan (from his perpective as effective sovereign) would tend to suggest that he wants absolute power over every aspect of society. There is, however, a qualifier in Hobbes - no one has any obligation to obey a sovereign if in doing so their life would be put at risk. *cough*Pissing off the entire Muslim world with Iraq*cough*

    I think it's time Tony read up on a bit of Locke - his stuff about "being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions" could be handy for this Respect thing. He should probably skip the bit about "liberty from arbitrary rule" though - load of rubbish, obviously.

    Montesquieu might also suit his purposes - political liberty "is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen." Sounds like the Respect Agenda to me. Sadly, though, old Monty also came up with a load of guff about separation of powers, checks and balances and other such outdated nonsense...

    (Originally posted as a comment over at A Big Stick and a Small Carrot)

    Oh and have a few more intriguing political parrallels over at Bloog and Treasure...

    Update: More Hobbes goodness, from Leviathan Chapter XXI:

    “LIBERTY, or freedom, signifieth properly the absence of opposition…”
    Heh… On a more worrying note (from the same chapter):
    “if we take liberty for an exemption from laws, it is no less absurd for men to demand as they do that liberty by which all other men may be masters of their lives. And yet as absurd as it is, this is it they demand, not knowing that the laws are of no power to protect them without a sword in the hands of a man, or men, to cause those laws to be put in execution.”
    See - by opposing this, we’re actively ASKING asking to be mugged by hoodies. We’re poor, foolish, easily led idiots:
    “it is an easy thing for men to be deceived by the specious name of liberty; and, for want of judgement to distinguish, mistake that for their private inheritance and birthright which is the right of the public only. And when the same error is confirmed by the authority of men in reputation for their writings on this subject, it is no wonder if it produce sedition”
    (Originally posted as a comment to Jarndyce's rather good Sharpener piece, linked up top)

    Mark Mardell's latest Europe diary is up at the Beeb, along with a glimpse of the Austrian presidency's barcode-like logo (which I'd have thought would have been more suited to Blair, but still...)

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    What's the agenda behind the Respect Agenda?

    If one belives the government's own statistics (the recording methods for most of which have been changed since Labour came to office to make them look successful for electioneering purposes increase accuracy), since a peak in 1995, crime in this country is now back to roughly the same level it was 25 years ago.

    Take criminal damage - an antisocial form of behaviour if ever there was one, including as it does graffiti, petty vandalism and the like - current figures show that we're currently experiencing less of this than for 25 years. It's the same for non-vehicle-related theft.

    Meanwhile, violent crime - which with all the reports of "happy-slapping", armed robberies and the like one might assume to be through the roof - has declined to its lowest level in 15 years.

    Assuming one takes the government's figures seriously (which, considering they must be the same figures our overlords are working with to determine which policies to pursue, we pretty much have to, even though minor "antisocial" crimes often go unreported), it looks like - despite my protestations the other day - this "Respect" thing is a meaningless PR stunt - an attempt to reassure the public could be all that is really needed.

    Could it be the case that it is actually only the fear of crime which is the problem? Certainly the last 25 years have seen a massive boom in public access to news, with 24 hour news channels and the internet all jostling to attract audience attentions with ever more shocking stories. And we all know that horror stories are often the most compelling - what better than peadophiles and teenage muggers to take the place of the bogeyman of our childhoods?

    But if this is the case, then why is dear Tony, in launching this "Respect" nonsense, telling us that

    "The scale, organisation, nature of modern crime makes the traditional processes simply too cumbersome, too remote from reality to be effective."
    Has he not been reading his own government's crime statistics that show a decline in criminal activity over the last ten years? Has he gone mad, and decided to ignore statistics (accurate or otherwise, but official nonetheless) that could easily be used to show that his government has actually been quite successful on the crime front - as a commentor on my piece earlier today contended.

    Or is Blair merely deliberately adding to the public's apparently misplaced perception that crime is out of control in yet another attempt to extend the power of the state?

    We already know that Labour want to get rid of Jury trials, so it's no surprise that Blair also mentions "a jury utterly bemused". He also catagorically admits that his legal reforms have "reversed the burden of proof". His government has tried to dictate to judges how to try cases. His government have scrapped habeas corpus. But "now... we want to take these powers further."

    I thought this Respect thing was meant to reduce our fear? Personally, the more I think about it, the more terrified I get.

    Promising new Euro-centric political discussion fora, courtesy of Der Spiegel. Launched yesterday, so hasn't quite kicked off yet, but could be worth a look.

    Two things to turn you illiberal:

    1) "Man gets life for raping 12-week old baby"

    2) "Thugs used broken bottles to cut off a man's eyelids and ears while robbing him of just £1.50... The boys are believed to be 13 or 14." (From this morning's Daily Mail sister paper, The Metro, not repeated in any other news source that I can find)

    I mean, Christ... Thank goodness for Tony Blair and his "respect agenda", eh? (Please note that the latter story appeared alongside a large feature on said new initiative. Convenient...)

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    The UK Today is back up and running, noting that, thanks to clutching at fame on Big Brother, that knobber George Galloway will miss the Crossrail Bill debate on Thursday - despite it promising to have a major impact on his constituency. To be fair to the mustachioed one, he's made some sensible points against the thing in the past. Not this time, though, and his constituents' concerns will go unheard, even though Galloway himself (in a rare visit to the Commons) told the House that "the residents and small businesses of my constituency will pay the greatest price" if the Bill is passed. Nice one, George.

    Ukraine parliament sacks government? According to the BBC's ticker-tape, at any rate, but no details as of yet. Either way, after Prime Minister Yury Yekhanurov defended the Russian gas deal earlier today, it looks like the MPs haven't bought it. Until more details emerge, here's a good overview of why the deal could be flawed, and another defending it, as well as a bit more background on the domestic Ukranian troubles caused by the deal and the growth in anti-Russian sentiment. Is this the end of the Orange Revolution?

    Update: Here's the BBC's stub, doubtless soon to be expanded upon. Looks like a no-confidence vote in the government was backed by 250 out of 450 MPs which should, from what I can tell, force an early general election.

    Update 2: Hmmm... According to Auntie, "Mr Yekhanurov has told reporters his government is not bound by the parliamentary vote". Yaaaay! Ignoring the will of the democratically-elected legislature in a country which saw a popular revolution just over a year ago - nice one... Keep your eye on former PM and Orange Revolution leading light, the rather gorgeous Yulia Tymoshenko.

    Update 3: "Mr Yushchenko told reporters on a visit to Kazakhstan: 'This decision will be shown to be unconstitutional.'" - not "this vote IS unconstitutional", please note. Either way, one might ask what good a constitution is if it doesn't force a government to abide by a vote of no confidence...

    The "respect" placebo

    After yesterday's nonsense about "community calls to action" (formerly known as "dialling 999"), New Labour appear to be turning into the Daily Mail. From their latest email propaganda missive:

    "In my local shop, at the bus stop, I would rage about the graffiti I saw.

    "You might disagree with me, I know some say it's art but for me, I ask, why don't they scrawl over their own homes? It used to make me feel useless, that there was nothing I could do to protect my community.

    "Graffiti has always driven me mad but lack of respect shows itself in other ways. Maybe you have friends disturbed by rowdy neighbours or you have relatives who can't help but feel intimidated by young people hanging around outside even though they know most of them aren't doing anything wrong.

    "We all have different tolerance levels but everyone should feel safe, secure and happy in their own area, in their own home and that is why Tony Blair has launched the 'Give respect Get respect' campaign today."
    Please note, once again, that everyone should FEEL safe - not necessarily actually BE safe. This whole thing is mere window-dressing, a placebo designed to shift public perception with the minimum of resources. Which is why they are asking for the public to volunteer to help - literally, it would seem - to clean up our streets.

    I don't deny for a second that encouraging voluntary work in the community is a good thing, nor do I deny that trying to organise it at a national level, with all the propaganda resources of the state thrown behind drumming up recruits, is a potentially valid new approach.

    What I don't see, however, is how this is really that different to the "Neighbourhood Watch" drives of the 1980s. And I certainly object to the prospect of Blair/Labour being able to claim the credit for any and every example of positive community action from now until the next general election.

    Plus, to sound like the Daily Mail myself for a moment, considering that most of the problems highlighted by Labour as examples of "lack of respect" seem to stem from bored teenagers loitering on street corners, I object to the lack of any kind of attempt to tackle the root cause of the problem. This is merely encouraging the public to do their local council's job of cleaning up the mess after the fact and worst case scenario, in a typically tabloid-friendly approach, encourage more "have-a-go heroes" to turn vigilante.

    While "respect" for and engagement with one's local community are both aims to be lauded, without increased police resources, funding for youth activities to keep the little buggers off the streets and - perhaps most importantly - a genuine attempt to tackle the problem of what to do with young offenders who feel themselves to be above the law thanks to the courts' difficulty in dishing out suitable punishments, all of this is little more than a smokescreen designed to make us all feel better without actually doing anything about the problem itself. A perfect New Labour policy, in other words.

    Update: Is this the kind of thing they're planning? Charging people £3.50 a week for the joy of helping the police monitor CCTV? Christ...

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    The end of anonymous blogging in the US? - "Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity." Yes. Really.
    "Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
    Just as well DK's not in the US, eh?

    Tony Blair proposes yet another pointless waste of time and resources in a platitudinous attempt to gain favourable tabloid press. "Face the people sessions"? "Community calls to action"? A "national parenting academy"? What the pissing hell? Please also note the Downing Street spokesman's statement:
    "Where there has been a concentrated campaign to tackle the problem, there has been both a big increase in the use of powers and a significant decline in concern about antisocial behaviour."
    A decline in "concern about antisocial behaviour", please note - not in antisocial behaviour itself.

    Well done, Tone - nice to see "the respect agenda", largely forgotten about since May, back once again. Yet more meaningless flower arrangement around the ever-growing pile of dung that will be your political legacy.

    New year, new approach?

    Nosemonkey elsewhere: A bit of speculation on what 2006 may hold in store for the EU over at The Sharpener. I was going to post it here as well, but it got a bit out of hand length-wise...

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    That's one more decent, respectable former Labour minister gone then. Good man, Tony Banks. Wrong on a lot of issues and had an irritating voice, but a good man nonetheless.

    Utterly unrelatedly, the Britblog Roundup is up.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Well, that's the Lib Dems fucked

    Nice going, guys. Hound out of office the only one of you anyone knows and likes (bar Lembit Opik, who no one takes seriously), and show yourselves up to be a bunch of infighting, childish morons in the process.

    Lib Dems take note for future reference: the reason no one takes you seriously as a political party is not because your leader's a pissartist, it's because you've got a bunch of utterly stupid and often contradictory policies knocking about and not enough MPs to make an impact on anything.

    Neither of these are Kennedy's fault - the former is thanks to your overly "democratic" party structure (what's the point of a leader in a direct democracy anyway? He was little more than a spokesman...), the latter due to the current electoral system.

    Your next leader's not going to manage any better - in fact, he's almost certain to do a hell of a lot worse in the current climate where both main parties are fighting over a tiny patch of the centre ground with personalities and prettiness. All he/she is likely to manage is to secure Kennedy a place in party history as the fondly-remembered might have been man.

    Bye bye, Lib Dems - it was nice knowing you...

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    The Observer blog has regrouped for one last gig prior to this weekend's relaunch

    Old friends remember Tony Blair:

  • "Blair's tendency was to bend the rules, but rarely break them... Instead, he enjoyed the game of infuriating the masters and escaping punishment."
  • "He did have this disarming ability to never look crestfallen, so he would never look as if he'd been defeated. And he became ... a sort of slightly aged Artful Dodger - getting through, getting by, getting out of pretty well all situations."
  • "Blair as we knew him absolutely modelled himself on Mick Jagger"
  • "He's a sponge"
  • "He is more difficult to define and to feel you understand than any other person I've ever met. He reminds me frequently of a statement made by EM Forster about Joseph Conrad's novels: that inside the secret casket of Conrad's genius there lies not a jewel but a vapour. Tony Blair is like a vapour, you can't pin him down, put him on a piece of green baize and look at him and say, 'That is Tony Blair.'"

  • Sounds charming, eh?

    Government censorship and DNA databases quickie

    Is government censorship collapsing?

    "To succeed with any legal action, we would have to demonstrate clearly to a court that real damage would result from publication. From previous experience and advice ... we know that the damage threshold is very high for successful court action."
    In other news, a funky little graph from The Economist (ta, Paul):

    But, please note, storing DNA can be an utter waste of time (sub. req.): "DNA tests are now so sensitive that they can detect if a person has sneezed or sweated near an object. Jon Swain, a barrister with a background in biochemistry, recently defended a man charged with armed robbery. The defendant's DNA was on the gun that was used, but the defence argued that he might just have been near it after he had been to the gym, and that an errant bead of sweat could account for the presence of his DNA on a weapon he had never handled. He was acquitted."

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Well done, George Galloway. Serving your constituents pissing brilliantly by being locked up in the celebrity Big Brother house, aren't you, you mustachioed fuckwit? Though, as that other blogging monkey notes, you could lock the twat up for a year and make no difference to the amount of work he does on their behalf.

    Either way, final proof, as if any more were needed... What a cunting dick.

    British party leader in "alcoholic" shocker!


    Blogged: 2005 in The Times Literary Supplement

    This week's TLS (out now etc.) has a review of that Worstall's blogging compilation book thing. The reviewer's name may be somewhat familiar to readers of this blog... *ahem*

    It's not available online, so here you go and stuff:

    Blogs have been one of the major internet phenomena of the last year or so, their number growing almost exponentially, yet many people still have no idea what they are. The simplest explanation is that blogs are a form of digital self-publishing - largely text-based websites that can be set up by anyone with an internet connection for a minimum of fuss and often for no cost at all. It is a comparison made many times before, yet still valid, that blogging has brought about a similar increase in new writing as did the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695.

    This is where Blogged comes in - as a handy guide to locate, amid the millions of people toiling away over their keyboards producing little of interest to anyone, the few potential Swifts and Addisons of this new publishing boom. The book's editor, Tim Worstall, has done his best to move beyond the realm of political blogging that he himself inhabits, with entries on everything from vasectomies to morris dancing alongside intelligent satire and detailed deconstructions of government policies. As such, and thanks to its chronological structure, there is little in the way of an overall theme to the book, rather like a "Schott's Miscellany of good writing".

    Focusing almost exclusively on British or British-based writers, Worstall claims to have trawled through more than 5,000 of the UK's 300,000 (or more) blogs to select extracts from just over 100 as being representative of the British "blogosphere" over the past twelve months. As Worstall is himself one of the more popular British bloggers, and compiles a weekly roundup of the best UK online writing on his own site, he is certainly a near-ideal guide. It is just a pity that the book's designers decided to use such an unreadable typeface for his editorial interjections. Nonetheless, the broad array of writing talent on display here is a perfect example of just how much literary potential is currently going untapped and largely ignored on the internet. It is not all pornography and dancing hamsters out there.

    Via Rachel:
    Please come and join us for a 7/7 Anniversary Memorial Service. This Saturday 7th January 2006, 3pm at the Cenotaph, Whitehall, Westminster.

    This Saturday at 3pm there will be held an informal ceremony at the Cenotaph, near Downing Street on Whitehall for the half-year anniversary of the London bombings.

    In remembrance of past, present and future acts of war, terror and aggression against people everywhere, we will share silent and spoken prayers for the coming year. And in solidarity with Maya Evans*, there will also be a public bell ringing and a reading of the names of all those who died on the London transport system on 7th July 2005.
    More info likely to appear here.

    Ex-Ambassador vs. Ex-Ambassador

    Brian Barder has rounded up his views on the whole Craig Murray / Uzbekistan torture affair. Unfortunately, he's mis-read the problem. (Please note - despite appearances this is not intended as a flaming...)

    I've always found Barder Snr fairly good but rather long-winded, and this proves to be no exception (in the latter sense, at least). Typical civil servant tactics dressed up in normal language - make it so convoluted and lengthy that any attempt to point out problems with his arguments can be dismissed with a simple "ah, but seven paragraphs on that was qualified with the following," while ensuring that the gist of the argument sounds compelling and indisputable.

    As such, I shall deliberately talk in general terms about the overall tone of his counter to Murray, fully aware that with selective quotation from Barder's posts it will likely be possible to dispute specifics of what I'm saying about his approach.

    What Barder seems unwilling to concede is that people who aren't trained lawyers / civil servants are capable of reading between the lines and dismissing legal speak (like Straw's carefully-worded "Nor would we instigate others to commit torture") as obfuscating, misleading nonsense when there is supplementary evidence, albeit largely circumstantial, to justify not taking it literally.

    It's easy to forget that Straw's a very clever man and a fairly good lawyer, but he is - and he's very unlikely to have been stupid enough to go on the record condoning torture. Taking what he (or any other politician, for that matter) says literally - especially on sensitive issues such as this - would be a tad naive. Reading too much into his precise wording and omissions would likewise be silly - that way lies conspiracy theories and tinfoil hats. Sometimes it is hard to know precisely where the division between justified scepticism and unjustified cynicism precisely lies, but so far I've seen few overly bad examples of the latter over this Murray/Uzbekistan affair.

    Barder, however, is merely focussing on the letter of what was said and done, not the overall impression. It is a lawyer's attitude, but this is not about legality per se.

    Dismissing the concerns over the UK's attitude to Uzbekistan's torturing of its political prisoners because there's no conclusive proof of any wrongdoing by the British government is pointless - if there was conclusive proof then there would have been no need for any blog-based action. What Barder (or, rather, the government)) needs to do is demonstrate that the concerns raised are unjustified, not that the evidence is inconclusive, as we all (other than the most credulous conspiracy theorists of us) knew that anyway.

    For the record: no, I do not believe that the British government has ever explicitly encouraged torture, even off the record, as I don't think even they would be that stupid. I do, however, believe that there is enough evidence building up to suggest that they may be willing to ignore torture (or maltreatment of suspects, as with the Greek affair) when it suits them, making them at least complicit in the act itself.

    If this is the case, it may not have any definite legal implications. It does, however, have moral implications that cannot and should not be ignored by any society proclaiming itself to be civilised - especially considering the fact that the Taleban's and Saddam Hussein's torturing of their political prisoners have been used by the government as justification for those regimes' removals. In this particular conflict, if we fail to maintain the moral high ground at all times, we are lost.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    A Cameron and the NHS quickie

    I've put my finger on why Cameron's "the NHS is safe in our hands" speech sounded a bit odd: he said "Under a Conservative government, the NHS will remain free at the point of need" - not, as is traditional, "at the point of use".

    There's a subtle difference there, but potentially an important one. If you started fining the time-wasters, hypochondriacs and people who fail to show up for appointments with doctors, dentists etc., and stopped paying for or subsidising costly but not entirely necessary surgery (for example - off the top of my head - the fitting of dental braces, which are themselves subsidised), you may be able to save a modest amount of money while simultaneously making the service more efficient by discouraging misallocation of resources.

    Is this what Cameron is intending? The disapproval of the NHS subsiding private treatments is a vague indication that it might be.

    Or am I talking absolute bollocks?

    Can anyone tell me where the proof is behind the Independent's Terror suspects describe alleged torture 'in front of MI6 agents' headline? I don't doubt that it's possible, but it hardly tallies with the sixth paragraph of the article:
    "However, the Pakistanis did not confirm that British agents were present, referring only to "two male non-Greek speakers, one of them black". However, Mr Munir's interpreter, Irfan Tamour, said that others from the group had told him that they had heard some of the captors speaking English."
    Wow! People in Europe speaking the most widely spoken language in Europe! Surely not!

    Note to everyone who's worried about this whole possibility of our government being involved in torture business: make sure your evidence is conclusive, or it'll be dismissed as mere nutjob consipracy theories. So far this Greece thing seems plausible but not indisputable, so remains largely ignored.

    Update: Hmmm... Just picked up this week's Private Eye, which names the MI6 Athens station chief the Indy says the government is banning the publication of in the UK, and says that the Foreign Office has admitted he was present at interrogations. Curiouser and curiouser. Were these interrogations torture or weren't they? In other torture news Craig Murray notes the lack of official response to his breaking of the Official Secrets Act. What on earth is going on here?

    Scotland latest:

    Scotland still a bit crappy; Scots still money-obsessed misers.

    Yep, 299 years after the Act of Union (something some seem to want to scrap), England is still better and Scotland retains its peculiar, under-developed charm (life expectancy of just 54? Christ...)

    Meanwhile, 49 years after the creation of what is now the European Union, there is likewise precisely no indication of any dilution of national identity in any of the member states.

    Note: Nosemonkey has tartan blood coursing through his veins, enjoys the odd haggis and adores single malts, therefore (like Mel Brooks with the Nazi jokes) is immune to accusations of being anti-Scottish. So there, you filthy bog-dwelling, skirt-wearing ginger-haired jock savages.

    Note 2: The first article is well worth a read, despite the childish dismissal of its contents - an interesting and worrying look at poverty and inequality north of the border that will doubtless excite those of you with left-wing or Disraelite Tory tendencies...

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    Ukraine gas crisis quickie

    You can be fairly sure that Russian claims that Ukraine is "stealing Europe's gas" are bollocks, and that this is indeed "the Putin regime's answer to the Orange Revolution". This little spat could, however, severely affect large chunks of Europe - not to mention the outcome of the Ukranian parliamentary elections in March.

    For background and word from Kiev, you could do far worse than start with this summary at Foreign Notes as well as some interesting speculation (including the general consensus line "I think it's clear that when it comes to Ukraine the Kremlin has lost its mind.") Hell- just keep an eye on Foreign Notes for all your Ukraine goodness - lots of good links and analysis, and currently being updated more regularly than the other Ukraine blogs in the "Regional Expertise" section to the right.

    Tuesday update: Interesting, detailed post and lots of discussion on European Tribune as it looks like the crisis is passing. There's also a good short intro at Fistful, and it's also worth checking out Neeka and LEvko.

    Quick UK/Uzbek torture roundup

    There was a good rundown article in yesterday's Sunday Herald which makes for a top-notch intro to this little spat, which I'll paste in a comment in case it falls offline, as well as a letter in today's Herald from this chap. Oh, and this is also well worth a look for those who missed it.

    Oh, and also worth a look is a critique of Murray's actions from a fellow former Ambassador, Brian Barder - an intelligent man (as is his son, who has another interesting critique), but when Barder Snr asks "Are we really bold and purist enough to say that even if we have grounds for believing that specific information was got by torture, we should primly draw back our skirts and ignore it?" he, like quite a few in blogland, is missing the point. This is not about whether the government used information obtained by torture, or even about whether they should - it is about whether they lied about it. Thusly, my comment at Barder Jnr's place:

    Jack Straw has told the House that "The British Government, including the intelligence and security agencies, never use torture in order to obtain information. Nor would we instigate others to commit torture for that purpose."

    Assuming you take the documents Murray has released to be evidence that the government was aware that some of the information they were obtaining had come from torture as early as March 2003, this would tend to suggest some kind of complicity in any torture which took place for the benefit of British intelligence after that time.

    Straw’s comments above were made 18 months after the memo Murray has leaked, so this would suggest that the government was happy to continue using torture-produced info and to mislead the House and public. It is this (always very carefully-worded) deception which is the major issue as far as I’m concerned, not the ethics involved. The “what, you’re saying we shouldn’t pay any attention to any information obtained by torture?” line which seems to be cropping up in various places is a red herring - the point is not whether the government used information gained by torture, but whether they lied about it.

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    Happy New Year and stuff. It's 2am, I'm pissed up on booze and trying to entertain at least four nationalities until they decide to leave. Hurrah. 2006 had better not be as shit as 2005. And who's idea was it to have that poor bird who lost her legs on 7th July come on that Jonathan Ross-hosted thing just before giving a prize to elephants playing football? Insensitivity reaches new heights...

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