Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hurrahs all round!

This sounds like it was fun. (Unlike this alternative protest...)

I particularly approve of protesting against the lack of hat wearing in public life - some blame the last few decades' collapse of civil society and boom in crime on the welfare state, some on wishy-washy 1960s liberalism. Me, I blame the decline in hat wearing and the lack of well-groomed facial hair amongst today's menfolk (and no, baseball caps and scraggly goatees most certainly do not count - a trilby or bowler coupled with a fine Kaiser Bill is very much the order of the day).

I would have joined Rachel, Justin, Tim, Davide and D-Notice, but my protest would have been that "Political protests are a waste of time and effort". That and I had work to do this evening...

Nonetheless, I eagerly await post-match analysis from all involved - though Justin already has a few pics up here

Update: A couple of screengrabs - first of our Rachel with her "7/7 inquiry now" sign, second of our Justin with his "Legalise everything" one. Both times they're on the left (fnarr fnarr) of my old friend, BBC London's Gareth Furby (the chap who interviewed me during that St John Ambulance piss-up I set up last year):





What japes, eh?

Update 2: Piccies via Justin and Davide.

Today: "Infighting within the Labour Party will help the Conservatives at the next general election, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke has said."

Two months ago: "In what amounts to one of the most public rows among senior Blairites since 1997, Mr Clarke rejected claims that recent bad publicity showed he had lost control of his department. 'I disagree. I argue that the way it's gone is a direct consequence of the way the current home secretary has conducted his responsibilities,' he said."

Nice to see he's just as much of an inconsistent, loud-mouthed moron out of office as he was in...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Une sorte de maladie de langueur, de fatigue généralisée"

Thus spake France’s Minister for European Affairs, Catherine Colonna, giving her opinion of the state of the EU to the assembled ranks of the French Ambassadorial elite. Packed with (if we’re honest, fairly astute) criticisms of the current way the EU works, this seems to be a new approach from France, the country which more than any other has driven European integration and reform during the last half century.
(A little something from me over at The Sharpener)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Considering that Japan's own Tony Blair, Junichiro Koizumi, is due to step down as Prime Minister in a few weeks, it's hard to know what impact his current sucking up to murderous Central Asian dictators will have on the constitutionally pacifist nation's future foreign policy.

Nonetheless, the fact that any supposedly liberal, westernised democracy would even consider attempting to build closer relations with the perpetrators of last year's Andijan massacre, or a state which routinely employs threats of bottle-assisted anal rape in an attempt to silence political opponents, is concerning to say the least.

Update: More in-depth analysis of Koizumi's trip from the always top-notch Registan (and part 2, and again) and neweurasia.

God and the EU

Colman is spot on about Angela Merkel's suggestion that God should have a place in any new EU constitution. Merkel contests that

"[the constitution] should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way"
As Colman points out, this means
"we should include references to absolute monarchy, discrimination against women and anti-semitism, all of which have also forged Europe in decisive ways."
Why must we always have such second-rate minds in charge of working out where to go with the EU project?

God can only be a unifier when everyone's worshipping the same one. So let's ignore the Reformation and the countless variations of Christianity that arose following Luther's piece of petty vandalism (sparking a good few centuries of violence, bloodshed and persecution). Ignore the lack of doctrinal agreement even within the Roman Catholic Church, let alone the Church of England and all the various Protestant offshoots.

What's more, by codifying a Christian god into an EU-wide constitution, how exactly are community relations with non-Christian groups going to be helped at this time of ever-growing religiously-inspired division, mistrust and violence?

The EU is - in its idealised form - supposed to STRENGTHEN the ties that bind us, to emphasise and build upon the areas of similarity amongst a culturally-diverse continent which has seen more than its fair share of mistrust, division and war over the centuries.

All religion has ever done - and in Europe's history more than that of pretty much anywhere else in the world - is enhanced the "us versus them" idea, heightening perception of differences, and created hostility through the insurmountable believers versus non-believers dichotomy.

We already have enough alienated and annoyed non-believers in the EU - they're called Eurosceptics - let's not add to their number, eh?

Monday, August 28, 2006

A reminder

Our man Worstall reminds me that our man Barlow is still slogging away on his John O-Groats to Land's End walk in aid of the Brain Research Trust (follow his progress here) - which reminded me that I had a bunch of charitable donations from Europhobia readers from ages ago which had got frozen when my PayPal account briefly died.

That's now been fixed so, combined with advertising revenue from the last few months, I've just bunked the boy a hundred nicker. Donate yourself here (and don't forget to do Gift Aid if you're a UK taxpayer...)

Two years of near-daily blogging

And to celebrate, a redesign!

Here's where I started properly - and since then it's been near-daily updates all the way.

I liked the old design, but although it worked fine in Firefox and Safari, I'd been getting a few complaints that it didn't show up properly in Internet Explorer - the sidebars weren't working properly and ended up overlapping the posts.

This should now be fixed - although the second sidebar still doesn't sit right in IE, for reasons that utterly escape me (any suggestions much appreciated, etc.). Trackbacks and Linkbacks also never seemed to work, which was annoying - I'm going to try and add those in during the next few days, if I can work out how.

Still, not bad for a coding novice, eh? Constructive criticism in the comments, if I can get them working in the next few minutes before I go to bed (they seem to have vanished at the moment, and I don't know why...) - ta!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

New blood blog roundup

Up now at The Sharpener - some good'uns in there, even if it did take me rather longer than I'd hoped to get the thing up...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Not guilty of taking part in a terrorist plot that never existed? Meh... Never mind - let's deport the bugger anyway. To a regime known to use torture. That has already admitted that it plans to lock him up as soon as he arrives.

(via that Worstall, who has more)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The politics of hope (but mostly fear)

Finally, an admission from the government, in Ruth Kelly's speech launching Britain's own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion:

"Muslims feel the reverberations from the Middle East. Wider global trends have an impact."
So despite all the previous denials, foreign policy DOES affect British muslims' attitudes? Glad we've finally got that one sorted.

There's also a nice nod to Godron Brown's recurring desire to define what it means to be British with questions about "who we are and what we are as a country" - and even an acknowledgement that multiculturalism may encourage "separateness" to keep the Daily Mail on board. There's also a subtle adoption of one of the Tories' most controversial slogans from the last General Election:
"We must not be censored by political correctness"
In other words,
"It's not racist to talk about immigration"
The only trouble is, of course, that despite Kelly's assurances that this new Commission "is not, and must not be, a talking shop... [but] a practical exercise", it's incredibly hard to think of this government having done anything genuinely practical in the last few months (at least). All we seem to have had is talk and pointless shows of state strength - be they endless assurances about the state of the NHS or high-profile (but ultimately proven to be mis-timed and mis-placed) counter-terrorism raids.

Believe me, I'd love nothing more than to be able to find something positive in politics again, but for the last few years there's been nothing about HOPE in the rhetoric of any of the parties, merely fear. Fear of the Tories, fear of terrorists, fear of Europe, fear of economic collapse, fear of immigrants. The few times our politicians have appealed to our aspirations rather than our night terrors, their promises have proved to be either empty or ill-founded, their policies soon either abandoned or altered in the face of adversity.

Even Kelly's speech, which seems to be trying to promise a brave new world of cross-cultural harmony, focusses more on the current negatives than the possible future promises. She asks about "who we are and what we are as a country". I'm rather worried that the answer to both may be "distrustful wannabe-isolationists" - and that refers as much to the Don't Attack Iraq brigade as the Little Englanders...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This could be fun - expose the inanity, and all entirely legally.

(I've been in the wilds of Dartmoor for the last few days, by the by, and have picked up a lurgy - more later if my brain clears, nose ceases running, and throat stops feeling like some bugger's running a cheese grater up and down the inside of the sodding thing)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Are A-levels getting easier?

Well let's just say that when nearly a third of Northern Irish students can receive an A-grade in the things, with a UK-wide average of a quarter getting As, the thing starts to look a tad suspect. Being in the top 33 or 25 per cent does not, in my books, mean you have excelled, which is what I always thought an A-grade was supposed to indicate.

Personally I have no doubt whatsoever that the A-levels my partents took were significantly harder than the ones I did, because they kept their exam papers and I was able to compare them at the time. If you've made the mistake of speaking to a recent school-leaver with lots of A-grades, you'll also be hard-pressed to understand just how they managed it with such a woeful lack of knowledge and understanding of pretty much anything.

Now, however, Matt T has produced a handy chart to help you work out what grades you'd have got had you sat the exams with today's young whippersnappers. Hurrah! Does this mean I can change my CV?

Oh, come on... (again)

It's bad enough when a teacher who supports the BNP gets sacked for their (decidedly repellant) political beliefs, despite no evidence that those beliefs were being propagated in the classroom. But suspending someone for being a right-wing Tory and writing an intermittently amusing but hardly either original or offensive article for a blog? Come off it...

The spectrum from Iain Dale on the right to Justin McKeating on the left are somewhat miffed (and Guido has the relevant correspondence here and here) - and so they should be.

It must be said that it's getting increasingly tedious how often the word "thoughtcrime" springs to mind, but it's becoming ever more common. We've got innocent Muslims being effectively accused of supporting terrorism because they've never taken to the streets with a placard stating "murder is wrong", we've got people being arrested for wearing t-shirts bearing slogans slagging off the Prime Minister, and now people having their very livelihoods threatened for a bit of (vaguely) comic exaggeration.

Hell, I may disagree with this Inigo Wilson chap's opinions - I disagree with most people's opinions. But vindictively trying to get someone fired for an opinion expressed outside of the office and in their own time is significantly more offensive than anything contained in that article. He hasn't broken the law, he hasn't incited violence or hatred, and - most importantly - unlike those who have got him suspended he hasn't harmed anyone.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee, who I don't think I've ever heard of before but who have orchestrated this little witch hunt, apparently aims to

"open an avenue for rational dialogue and re-education of the individual on the street regarding Islam and Muslims. The aim is make the all-too-common misrepresentation of Islam a thing of the past"
All very well and good - but considering that one of the most common representations of Islam is that it is intolerant of nonbelievers and far too quick to over-react when criticised, you'd think that they'd realise that by going to Wilson's employers (who, lest we forget, have nothing to do with his article or with the Conservative Home blog on which it appeared) rather than to Wilson himself or his online publishers, they've just stirred up a wonderful bit of negative PR that makes them out to be just as intolerant and quick to take offence as the "Islamophobes" they want to "re-educate" always make them out to be.

Why is it that in modern Britain the consensus seems to be that to prove your opponents wrong about you, you have to go and do precisely what your opponents accuse you of? Say the government are cutting down on civil liberties, they deny it before cutting down on civil liberties; depict muslims as violent in some cartoons, they deny they are violent before issuing death threats; accuse the Tories of having no real policy alternatives, they deny it before issuing a pamphlet with no real policy alternatives; say the Home Office is useless, they deny it before sacking the Home Secretary and announcing the Home Office is useless.

Like Inigo Wilson's article, this is hardly an overly original or amusing observation, but Christ, it's pathetic...

Update: Having said all that, I have a moderate amount of sympathy for this take on the matter.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Vigilance in the face of an unprecedented terrorist threat 1

Vigilance in the face of an unprecedented terrorist threat 2

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Has John Prescott got a clue? Criticising the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for, erm, doing his job and criticising the government? When his criticisms are effectively more like "I'd probably do it ever so slightly differently" than "you're a bunch of incompetent idiots"? Did he actually listen to what David Cameron said - or is he just trying to remind us all that it's him, not John Reid, who's supposedly running the country in Blair's absence?

Either way, until the current "biggest crisis since Hitler(TM)" reaches such an extent that Labour offer to form a power-sharing coalition or National Government with the Tories and Lib Dems, as happened during the First and Second World Wars and Great Depression, they can shut the hell up when they come in for criticism, ta very much. Until the crisis reaches the extent that they're prepared to give up a bit of party political control for the national good, they haven't got any grounds to complain whatsoever.

Has John Prescott got a clue? Criticising the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for, erm, doing his job and criticising the government? When his criticisms are effectively more like "I'd probably do it ever so slightly differently" than "you're a bunch of incompetent idiots"? Did he actually listen to what David Cameron said - or is he just trying to remind us all that it's him, not John Reid, who's supposedly running the country in Blair's absence?

Either way, until the current "biggest crisis since Hitler(TM)" reaches such an extent that Labour offer to form a power-sharing National Government with the Tories and Lib Dems, as happened during the Second World War and Great Depression, they can shut the hell up when they come in for criticism, ta very much. Until the crisis reaches the extent that they're prepared to give up a bit of party political control for the national good, they haven't got any grounds to complain whatsoever.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Why not just go all the way and announce a short period of Sharia law if keeping us safe above all things is the overriding consideration?"

Indeed.

Erm:
"Mr Rafiq, of the Sufi Muslim Council, which is among several new Muslim groups to emerge in the past year, said: 'The first thing that we need to do as a community is admit there is a problem.

"'It is like being an alcoholic - we need to stand up and say these things and have an open and honest debate.'"
How would he know what it's like to be an alcoholic? I thought Muslims don't drink?

/childish and probably dangerously close to bigoted reactions to yet more silly terror-related news

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Psycho terrorists acting sensibly? What the hell is the world coming to? The best possible move Hezbollah can make - publicly accept the UN ceasefire plan so that Israel looks unreasonable. And then when rockets continue to be fired south across the border and Israel responds in kind, it can all be blamed on a few bad apples and Israel slagged off even more. Top bit of PR, nutty Islamic killer dudes!

Good point, well made:
"If the threat level can only be raised after a plot has been foiled, just what are they meant to warn us about?"
And the general point responded to likewise.

In utterly unrelated news, Sunny has a good piece over at Comment is Free expanding on ideas I pondered in that Press Gazette piece on blogs vs. columnists - so, why do newspapers hate us bloggers? (He's even managed to attract some intelligent comments amongst the usual maniacs of CiF...)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Oh, come on...

Yesterday: Major terrorism policy announcement by Home Secretary John Reid

Today: A 'plot to blow up planes' is apparently foiled, and Heathrow airport shut down.

And my first reaction? Utter disbelief and a sigh of resignation.

They've simply cried wolf too many times before - until I see the smoke I won't believe them, and even then I'll have my suspicions. Remember the tanks at Heathrow just before the Iraq war?

Update: For the record, I reckon this plot probably was real - but my first reaction was still "that's bollocks". Desensitising people to this extent through the constant "oooh! Be scared!" announcements is utterly counterproductive.

It does, however, mean that I can carry on with my life utterly unphased by the fact that lots of people want to blow me to shit.

More coherent thoughts: We used to be told that we will not give in to terrorism. We used to be told that we will not change our way of life in the face of this new threat. Now we are told that we MUST change our way of life.

The threat of terrorism is very, very real - you'd have to be a fool to deny it. But the clue is in the name - the point of terrorism is to cause terror.

The terrorists themselves have been remarkably inefficient at scaring the bejeezus out of us, which is their prime modus operandi. They have successfully struck in the West remarkably few times - 9/11, Madrid, 7/7. With the exception of 9/11, the death toll caused by these psychotic maniacs has been, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant, and even the property damage and disruption caused has been relatively minimal.

Instead, it has been our own governments who are terrifying the populace with their constant warnings and announcements of foiled plots; it is our own governments who are causing disruption through airport and railway closures.

Terrorism thrives on the oxygen of publicity. "Martyrs" look forward to being remembered and noticed. So why do we constantly do their PR work for them? Why do our governments keep using their publicity machines to propagate the terror that the terrorists want to cause?

Yes, we obviously need to act quickly and effectively to prevent more attacks. I don't want our governments to sit back and do nothing to prove the point, and I'd far rather we have a few more Forest Gate raids, non-existent Ricin plots "uncovered", and a few more people arrested for allegedly trying to buy radioactive substances that don't even exist than see one single other person killed for the twisted beliefs of a tiny, rabid minority. But I do dispute the effectiveness and sense of the current tactics, which appear to be little more than to ensure that we all have a good scare every few months, supposedly to keep us on our toes.

One thing I do agree with Home Secretary John Reid about is that we can't afford to get complacent. But the more often you get scared, the less impact those scares start to have, and complacency begins to set in.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Following Tim, Justin and (most comprehensively) Unity, I've had a bash at those Janet Street-Porter and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown articles on blogging from the other week, in the Press Gazette (out Thursday, apparently with a lovely piccy of yours truly...)

Thursday update: The comment facility has been fixed.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Blogs, ID Cards

Somewhat busy...

Neeka has a roundup of Ukraine news responses in the wake of President Yuschenko teaming up with ex-President Yanukovych (the guy who supposedly poisoned him). Surely the Orange Revolution is dead? Is this simply yet another temporary alliance, a last-minute cop-out, or another sign of Yuschenko's slow fall from power?

It's not just Ukraine, though. The rest of eastern Europe's also decidedly unstable. So where's the next Vaclav Havel, and what's he going to write about?

Talking of writing, more on blogging as a waste of time from the Economist.

Oh, and as much as I'm getting bored by the civil liberties thing, this can't be ignored (even if the story is a load of rubbish, as I suspect):

"Gordon Brown is planning a massive expansion of the ID cards project that would widen surveillance of everyday life by allowing high-street businesses to share confidential information with police databases."
Meanwhile, over in the Times, another ID story that might explain the Brown one, if true:
"Tony Blair’s identity card scheme could make up to £11 billion in “profits” for the government by imposing a range of additional charges on the public, a confidential Home Office memo claims."
Then again, if Blair's staying for at least another year, as the Sunday Telegraph claims, maybe Gordon won't be held responsible when it's too late to backtrack on the bloody things...

And now off to Fruitstock to listen to a load of bands I've never heard of and probably get pickpocketed... If you want more linky goodness to keep yourself occupied, check out the latest Britblog Roundup.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The New Yorker - Amateur Hour:
"To live up to its billing, Internet journalism has to meet high standards both conceptually and practically: the medium has to be revolutionary, and the journalism has to be good. The quality of Internet journalism is bound to improve over time, especially if more of the virtues of traditional journalism migrate to the Internet. But, although the medium has great capabilities, especially the way it opens out and speeds up the discourse, it is not quite as different from what has gone before as its advocates are saying."
Interesting article with good points well made - more on this particular subject from me in a few days, most likely... Busy as hell...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Terror threat tackiness

Yes, it's an obvious thing to slag off, but still, this new public terror threat nonsense is simply so predictably alarmist it's going to be delightfully easy to ignore. (Which is why, as one of those tediously obsessive bloggers you've all read so much about in the Guardian and Independent, I'm not going to.)

Still, launching the thing on "severe"? That's so predictable it actually almost surprised me for a moment.

We've also got the new website intelligence.gov.uk (contradiction in terms, surely?), which seems to be the modern equivalent of those Second World War "that shifty-looking chap in the raincoat and trilby could be AN EEEEVIL NAZI SPY" posters, with helpful, all-excusing advice like

"Public vigilance is always important regardless of the current national threat level, but it is especially important given the current national threat."
There's also the moderate entertainment of wondering what happened to the missing "the" in the sentence on the welcome page:
"From here you will be able to get an overview of the provision of intelligence in support of Government..."
Still, as "we're all going to die" sites go, it's got nothing on MI5, which somehow has an even slicker-looking website than its fictional TV counterparts.

First, check out the logo of the main page - a spy agency logo designed by a 14 year old with an illegal copy of Photoshop and an evidently under-developed interest in onanism that has given him far too much time on his hands:



But it's on the THE THREATS page that the real "BE SCARED LIKE THERE ARE TERRORIST ZOMBIE WAREWOLVES CHARGING AT YOU ON GIANT RADIOACTIVE SPIDER-DEMONS" nonsense begins to appear.

First up, the (utterly non-political for an independent agency, obviously, with its prominent placement and bright Labour-red backing) quote:
"The [security] threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before - Prime Minister, Tony Blair"
But that's not the worst of it. Check out the new headline logo for the "THE THREATS" subpage:



All that's missing is a bunch of exclamation marks to further underline the THREAT and pictures of screaming women clutching dead babies to their emaciated, fallout-addled chests.

The biohazard symbol, the indeterminate semi-phallic objects (that may or may not be missiles packed with DEADLY TERRORIST TOXINS that will be flying towards us with only 45 minutes' warning), not to mention the - really rather brave, if you think about it - link to their dinky little page on weapons of mass destruction. (Remember them? Bless...)

But how silly of me! These new threat levels are meant to enable us, the public, to make informed decisions about how to lead our lives in the light of an eeeevil new menace. They are designed to reassure us that the all-knowing powers that watch over us are in control and doing their best to assure our safety. They aren't designed to scare the bejeezus out of us at all!

Nope, no alarmism in launching terror threats, let alone so soon after the anniversary of the 7/7 attacks - that's why MI5 picked such a tranquil image of the wreckage of the World Trade Centre to promote the sodding things on their utterly bizarre website:



Nice one, spooks - really sensitive and not at all designed to elicit an emotional response that you can manipulate to justify yet further erosions of civil rights in pursuit of the phantom menace. (No, not the crap Star Wars prequel.

It's a shame that we've had so many scare stories now that I - like most people, I imagine - am now utterly desensitised. Hell - a rucksack-wearing Osama bin Laden himself could run up to me on the tube muttering twisted prayers, rubbing himself with nuclear waste, snorting ricin, and fumbling desperately for the big button marked "BANG" on his "Made in Palestine" bomb belt, and I'd simply ignore the bugger and go back to my book.

We're all threated out. The war on terror is boring. Get a new act, already. Your predecessors could get away with dining out on "eeevil Communists" for such a long time because that was the age before the internet and the iPod. Attention spans were longer. Terrorism is, like, soooo 2001. And hell, that's so long ago that Hear'Say were number one and chavs were still called kevs or neds or scallies or pikeys.

What was I saying again? Meh...

See? You're boring us with all this terrorism nonsense. It's summer, you're politicians. You shouldn't be working at scaring the populace, you should be on a four month holiday in the Seychelles or waltzing round Los Angeles or something.

Christ, HOW long until the next general election? I don't want to get rid of Labour because of their policies any more, simply because they're so damn boring.

Come on, people, launch a war on tedium and give us something to get excited about for a change - give up on these incessant streams of unoriginal and entirely ignorable PR stunts and give us something inpirational for a change. Don't make me turn this blog into a cute kittens and "w0t i d1d 2d4y w1t ma fr3nz" fest out of sheer desperation, please?


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