Saturday, July 02, 2005

"The greatest thing that's ever been organised in the history of the world, probably"

Thus spake Chris Martin of Coldplay at Live8 just now, and so perfectly summed up the inanity of the thing.

This is an intelligent chap. An intelligent chap with a good history degree from one of the best universities in the country. And yet he's happily spouting hyperbole in a vain effort to make people think that a bunch of pop stars no one's ever heard of and a handful of washed-up legends belting out tedious music of a Saturday afternoon is actually going to change anything.

Why didn't they charge for tickets, exactly? Whose bright idea was it, precisely, to hope that people would be guilt-tripped into donating cash by this pointless series of concerts? Who seriously thought that the focus of this mindless exercise would be on its nominal reason for existing - African poverty - rather than the behind-the-scenes spats and gossip about the stars?

The more they spout nonsense, over-exaggerating how significant these little shindigs are, the less impact it will have. The more people think "oh, it's really doing well and raising awareness and stuff", the less likely they'll be to actually get off their arses and do anything themselves.

And if you believe the "x amount of cash will feed a family for a year" things, just how many families could the people prancing about on the telly have fed if they went to the bank rather than poncing about in the park?

If you believe their adverts, in the time it's taken for me to type this 180 children have died of poverty.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Yaaaaaay! Vacant US Supreme Court seat! A fiver on it going to someone who's anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-gun and pro-war. (More here

Federalism - lessons from American history (likely to appeal to you Eurosceptics out there): first States, Countries and Nations from The Sierra Times, then The States’ Rights Tradition Nobody Knows from

The Village Voice - Psst! There's a War Going On - a fairly biting attack on the US media's coverage of Iraq and stuff. Its link to the Salon article War? What war? is also worth a look for a nice rant against Fox News:
"The contrast between Fox's resolute avoidance of showing bloody images from the war in Iraq and its nearly pornographic immersion in shark bites and unsolved murders, was glaring. Only death or bloodshed with high entertainment value gets on Fox."

The BBC - A six-month charge for EU glory - good overview of the problems to be faced - and a few other distractions I'd forgotten about:
"In [the] final part of the year, when the main Council decisions are likely to be taken, the international agenda also becomes hectic.

"There are EU summits with Russia and Ukraine in October, and a summit with Canada at the end of November, followed by a major UN conference on climate change.

"The World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December actually overlaps with the final European Council of the UK presidency."

Le Monde - The United Kingdom and the building of Europe: 45 years of ambivalence - a nicely critical timeline (in French), along with one of those all too common terrifying pictures of Thatcher...

Licence to protest

The Government's love for liberty knows no bounds. In addition to the wholly unnecesary extravagence of id cards, Charles Clarke has now decided that those wishing to protest near the seat of government (ie where it has the only chance of making any impact) must apply for a permit first. To be fair, Trafalgar Square - site of the Poll Tax riots, arguably the last public demonstration to make a difference - is exempt. What's perhaps most depressing is that this move is unashamedly aimed at removing Brian Haw, the famous Parliament Square protestor, who has been camped directly outside the Palace of Westminster for the last four years.

President Blair

You can just picture the smug grin on his face first thing this morning as Cherie rolls over in bed with a sultry "Good morning, Mr President", can't you? (Excuse me a moment while I go and scrum myself down - that made me feel somewhat unclean...)

Well, as of this morning Blair is the nominal boss of the EU - a position which means basically sod all other than that any pronouncements he makes on the thing are likely to get a little more press overseas, and that the British media is going to find it rather harder to ignore the complexities of the various EU institutions and methods of working, as they normally tend.

Other than Blair, who genuinely seems to have deluded himself that he can achieve a breakthrough over the next few months, no one seems overly convinced that anything will actually get done. EUpolitix has reactions from 36 MEPs to Blair’s agenda – few seem overly enthusiastic. A British presidency is simply too contentious.

Despite EU Commission president Barroso calling for calm and good sense to prevail and for Blair and Chirac to kiss and make up lest they “destroy the very idea of Europe”, it doesn’t look likely.

Instead, thanks to the almost certainly upcoming German elections, Britain’s concurrent G8 obligations, and the fact that France is not going to back down while it could look like Britain has won, the EU is more likely to stagnate for another six months or so, with the occasional plea for reform, the odd invective-laden pronouncement from either side of the channel, and an excuse for columnists and commentators continent-wide to regurgitate the same old speculative nonsense again and again and again.

If any advances are made over the next six months of British EU Presidency, it will not be thanks to Blair – the only way forward is for Chirac to start making concessions. And that is something that neither his pride nor his political position will allow him to do.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the dangers of blogging and the benefits of a blogging pseudonym: I currently appear on the first page of results for a Google search for "twat". Make of that what you will, but they do say that Google knows all...

Blair government - yet more bullshit scaremongering

A couple of days ago the government narrowly saw its piss-poor ID cards bill pass in the House of Commons.

One of the ongoing claims for the intrusive little plastic bastards is that they'd help cut down on illegal immigration. Because - you know - illegal immigrants would all be asked very nicely to register for the sodding things like the rest of us and then we'd be able to nab them while they're off their guard. Or they'd have "illegal" stamped across the front of their official state-issued ID. Or something.

The only surprising thing is that they didn't come up with this load of made-up statistical nonsense at the start of the week, happily drumming up another scare just in time for the vote (as they have done with most pieces of anti-terrorism legislation - tanks at Heathrow, warnings of planes flying into Canary Wharf etc.):

One in 100 could be illegal immigrant, says Home Office

To which the only reasonable response is surely:

One in 100 could be giant purple cyber-ants from the icy moon of Beltrazoid Alpha, says Nosemonkey

"A Home Office research document team used data gathered in the 2001 census and American methodology"
Because, you know, illegal immigrants are all going to tick the box marked "illegal immigrant" when their census forms come around, aren't they?
"Tony McNulty, the Immigration Minister, said: 'This is only an estimate and should not be seen as a definite figure. No government has ever been able to produce an accurate figure for the number of people who may be in the country illegally - by its very nature, it is impossible to quantify accurately, and that remains the case.'"
In other words, it's a load of dangerous scaremongering bollocks, based on little more than speculation and conjecture, and designed purely to appeal to the Daily Mail / Sun reading crowd.

And look - surprise, surprise:
"Referring to the figures, Mr McNulty said the central estimate of 430,000 underlined the need for a 'robust ID card scheme which will, among other benefits, help tackle illegal working and immigration'."
To which the only response is:
"Referring to the figures, Nosemonkey said Mr McNulty's patronisingly made-up bullshit underlined the need for the government to 'shut the fuck up and stop talking bollocks'."
In case Blair and McNulty and co haven't realised, Britain is a sizable series of islands with a ridiculously large amount of coastline. Unless you build a sodding great big wall around the country they're going to keep getting in. And none of them are going to register for ID. You morons.

Bunch of opportunistic bastards. This is precisely the sort of thing which leads to increased racial tension and suspicion. It's irresponsible and cynical, designed merely to build support for a stupid and ill-considered policy in the face of condemnatory expert opinion - despite the fact that the policy in question will do precisely tit all to prevent the perceived problem.

If you have to resort to making up statistics to try and win an argument, you've already lost. Now give it the fuck up already.

(Oooh, I'm angry - did you notice?)

P.S. Got to love the analysis from Times Home Correspondant Richard Ford (my notes in square brackets/italics):
"We now know that there are an estimated [i.e. unreliable/made-up figure of] 430,000 people in the country illegally [i.e. without official sanction or status and actively avoiding government agents], but we don't know their identity [because, erm, they have no official permission to be here and if we knew who they were they'd be arrested and deported]. If there were ID cards you would know who they are [because, erm, we'd issue ID cards to a bunch of people whose identites we don't know, who have no official permission to be here, and who may or may not, in fact, actually exist]"
The Murdoch press, eh? Bastion of logic and good sense. Twats.

UK blogging: the risks and the way forward

My latest lengthy post, up now at The Sharpener. Good, bad? Dunno - haven't read it through properly yet...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Heads-up for all your Eurosceptics out there - Move to 'sell' EU to the French:
"A 40-point plan to explain Europe to the French has been submitted to the government... The proposals include a European stamp, a medal of honour, exams on Europe for schoolchildren and an EU sports event."
Let the accusations of EU propaganda commence! (Although before you get too excited, it would appear that this report was not funded by the EU and its author, Michel Herbillon has never, as far as I am aware, held an EU office. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

Polly Toynbee, either credulous or a twat

Remember the nosepegs? Remember the "vote Labour because they're better than the rest"? It was only a month and a half ago, but already our Polly, Guardian columnist and controversy-courter par excellance, is criticising the government that she encouraged others to vote for. Nice one, luv. (In fact, she probably started doing this the day after the election for all I know - I tend to try to avoid her usually mindless drivel.)

Some "highlights":

"Under a government committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, UK emissions have increased by 3% since 1997 - and were up 1.3% last year alone..."
So, does that count as another broken Labour promise, Polly? Or should we whack on another nosepeg and ignore it, because they're doing such sterling work in other areas - like the moronic bill outlawing criticising religions, the vastly expensive and pointless ID cards thing, the continuation of failing peacekeeping tactics in Iraq, the piss-poor execution of working family tax credits (which has forced one of my father's patients to sell their sodding house to pay the government back for an error which was not their fault), the freedom of speech exclusion zone around the Houses of Parliament, etc. etc. etc.?

And here's another telling admission:
"Our Kyoto targets will only be reached by the accident of the conversion from coal to gas before Labour's time - and now we are burning more coal again."
So, Polly, would that be the Tories who set up a reduction in pollution? The same Tories who laid the foundations for the (relatively) healthy economy of the last few years? The same Tories you urged everyone to vote against lest they introduce excessively totalitarian legislation (like - perhaps - ID, control orders, restriction of freedom of speech) or act against the interests of the poor (by - perhaps - giving them money to which they aren't entitled, not warning them, waiting for them to spend it and then demanding it be repaid)?


In Actual Fact on the practical side of ID cards:
"What was surprising yesterday was that four people, in Bundesgrenzschutz uniform got on the train at Colmar in France and during the 10km journey to Saarbrücken in Germany, went through the entire train demanding to see the ID/Passports of everyone on board. After showing one of them my passport, I asked the man (who was, I should add, friendly, courteous and polite) why border passport controls were still taking place 15 years after Schengen. 'Oh, it’s not a border control,' he said, 'just a random, spot check'"

Welcome to Blair's identity card Britain.

The Obscurer on the upcoming Cheadle by-election:
"I don’t know just how stupid the Tories think I am, but it seems they think I am very stupid."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Lessons from the past

ID cards debate today. An overly-powerful executive trying to impose its will on the people, claiming it has the right even though nearly four fifths of the population either outright oppose it or don't care who rules, reminded me of a certain spat from the mid-17th century which also kicked off (at least in part) thanks to the executive claiming the right to lock people up without trial and stifling freedom of speech.

Not that we're going to end up with another civil war, obviously, but still. I was then reminded of one of my all-time heroes of political writing, the frequently unprincipled genius that was Marchamont Nedham. To wit, some words of wisdom from 1656's The Excellencie of a Free State:
"It is pity, that the people of England, being born as free as any people in the world, should be of such a supple humour and inclination, to bow under the ignoble pressures of an arbitrary tyranny, and so unapt to learn what true freedom is. It is an inestimable jewel, of more worth than your estates, or your lives...

"the first insurrection [in the Roman Republic] was occasioned by the usury and exactions of the great ones; who by their long continuance in power had drawn all unto themselves: so the second was occasioned by the lordliness of those ten persons, who being elected to do justice, according to the laws, made use of their time, only to confirm their power, and greaten themselves, by replenishing their own coffers, ingrossing of offices, and preferring their own kindred and alliances: and at length, improved self-interest so high, that they domineered, like absolute tyrants, advancing and depressing whom they pleased, without respect of merit or insufficiency, vice or virtue; so that having secured all in their own hands, they over-ruled their fellow-senators at pleasure, as well as the people...

"the main interest and concernment both of kings and grandees, lies either in keeping the people in utter ignorance what liberty is, or else in allowing and pleasing them only with the name and shadow of liberty instead of the substance... The truth of it is, the interest of freedom is a virgin that every one seeks to deflour; and like a virgin, it must be kept, from any other form, or else (so great is the lust of mankind after dominion) there follows a rape upon the first opportunity...

"when government is managed in the hands of a particular person, or continued in the hands of a certain number of great men, the people then have no laws but what kings and great men please to give: nor do they know how to walk by those laws, or how to understand them, because the sense is oftentimes left at uncertainty; and it is reckoned a great mystery of state in those forms of government, that no laws shall be of any sense or force, but as the great ones please to expound them...

"for Satan had a new game now to play, which he managed thus: First, he led a great part of the world away with dangerous errors, thereby to find an occasion for the prelates, to carry on the mystery of their profession; and so, under pretence of suppressing those dangerous errors, they easily screwed themselves into the civil power..."

Newsday - Getting EU on track would help U.S.:
"Before the French and Dutch votes in late May and early June, the EU was discussing the possibility of expanding to include the countries of the former Yugoslavia, as well as Ukraine and Turkey.

"The United States has important interests in all three. It fought wars in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s and still has troops in both. Ukraine is a country of more than 50 million people that, after peaceful protests against a rigged election, has installed a genuinely democratic albeit shaky government. Its fate will affect prospects for democracy in the former Soviet Union, especially Ukraine's huge neighbor, Russia, which retains enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States.

"Turkey is a longtime American ally, the mostly Muslim country with the oldest tradition of democratic governance, and one whose political future will influence neighboring countries where the U.S. is deeply engaged - the Arab Middle East.

"The United States has a powerful interest in encouraging political stability, human rights and political liberty, free elections and economic prosperity in all three places. EU membership has a track record of helping to foster precisely these things."

Monday, June 27, 2005

EUpolitix - EU budget row continues ahead of British presidency - It's been same old same old for a couple of weeks now. Without something new to fire up interest and controversy the EU will once again slip back into the sidelines, and the radical changes that are needed will once again remain little more than a wistful dream. The longer it continues without getting anywhere, the more the press loses interest; the more the press loses interest, the more the public lose interest; the more the public lose interest, the more likely it is some bland and imperfect compromise will be reached without anyone really noticing.

ID cards, or, How everyone's learned to stop worrying and love our surveillance culture

If you are reading this from the main Europhobia blog, rather than an RSS feed or someone's later cut'n'paste, I can see you.

I can see your IP number. I can track your service provider. I can see what operating system you're using, what web browser, what screen resolution you have your monitor set at. I can tell roughly where in the world you live - down to the nearest town or city at least. With a bit of cunning I would likely be able to find out who you are and precisely where you live, what street, what house. With the power of Google and various targetted search engines I would often be able to track down even more information - perhaps a photo, perhaps names of your friends and family, perhaps a phone number or a CV. From this I could build up a profile and piss around with your life. Your internet service provider can doubtless do the same - especially as they have the head-start of knowing who you are and where you live.

If you own a mobile phone, your provider can listen in on your calls. They can, with some newer models, track your location. They can tell who you are phoning, when, and for how long. They also will have your bank details. From this they could build up a profile and piss around with your life.

If you leave where you are now and walk down the road (especially in Britain), these days you will likely be picked up on a number of CCTV cameras. From the central control room someone could trace your every move - what shops you visit, what paper you read, what clothes you wear. From this they could build up a profile and piss around with your life.

If you go to any shop and buy something on your credit or debit card, your bank can peek into your lifestyle. Mine would see I buy far too many cigarettes and spend rather too much in several pubs scattered around London, occasionally splash out on a spree of book or DVD buying, like going to the cinema and prefer bitter to lager. From this they could build up a profile and piss around with my life.

We are already under constant surveillance. Thanks to the power of computers and the endemic penetration of other largely benign types of modern technology we already have little ability to protect our lives from prying eyes. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, never use the net or the phone or any other service or utility (including mains water and electricity) and work purely with cash all the time, you cannot escape the prying eyes of Big Brother.

But, at the moment, Big Brother is not a single entity. He is a series of Little Brothers - perhaps loosely connected, but nonetheless not yet working as one. The occasional judder in the system may cause us problems, but we remain protected by law from too much deliberate, malicious intrusion from these various and disparate spies.

Now imagine someone collecting all this information together. All these little profiles compiled, indexed, and accessible at the click of a button. With your biometrics included as well... and your tax history... and your medical history... and as much more as they can think of to add over the years. It's not too pleasant, even if that someone has no hostile intent, is it?

And what would happen if that information came into the hands of someone with hostile intent? Or society became so reliant on that information being THE TRUTH that if yours became corrupted you ended up unable to obtain basic goods and services, or treated like a criminal by the police, now unable to verify who, precisely - down to your fingerprints - you are.

Today the London School of Economics published its study of the British government's proposed ID card scheme - an idea so old that Yes Minister did an episode about this very issue back in 1982.

It is, perhaps, an indication of just how used we have already become to the surveillance culture in which we live that the thing most likely to scupper Blair's plans is not the fact that our biometric details are going to be stored on these things, effectively making us all mere entries on a national crime database and allowing any amount of exploitation should some unscrupulous person hack into the system, but the cost.

After all, I can find out about you merely by you visiting this site (and I could find out a lot more if I knew anything about computers beyond how to use a keyboard) - but you don't mind too much because should I choose to pry into your life at least I don't then send you an invoice for an invasion of your privacy which you never requested and probably somewhat resent. If I started doing that, you may take rather more interest in the cookies this site tries to set on your computer. You may install some software to make it more difficult for me to do it again. You would, in other words, wake up to how easy it is for people to trace your movements online and relay this back to the real world.

But what if there was nothing you could do? What if I could continue to pry into your life and continue to charge you every time you made the slightest change? What if you had no option other than to pay me every time I tell you to?

If anything is going to scupper Blair's ID cards, it is not the concerns about invasions of privacy - most people think that this will never affect them. It's not even the statistically incredibly likely chance of errors ocurring - even today's Downing Street Press Conference was delayed by 20 minutes thanks to a security computer bug (multiply that inconvenience by 58 million and you'll get an idea of the difficulties a glitch would create in the national ID database) - as most people simply reckon that, again statistically, it's unlikely to happen to them.

It's money, plain and simple.

So, for those of us who are utterly opposed to this abject nonsense (which appears to be the majority of the British blogosphere, from whatever political background), human rights group Liberty's slogan ID cards are Mr Blair's poll tax needs to be made a well-known reality. It is only when they are seen by the majority of the politically uninterested public as yet another tax that these hideous plastic watchmen will be finally defeated, not before. And - thankfully - they are simply too damn expensive for the government to intruduce them without getting us poor chumps to stump them the cash.

Increase awareness of the cost, ID cards will once again fade away. We need to ensure that studies like that by the LSE are not brushed off as nonsense as the government is already trying to do. And we all need to phone our MPs before tomorrow's vote to drive home our concerns.

The Guardian - Interview with British Europe Minister Douglas Alexander - interesting stuff. Assuming, that is, that he actually gets any say whatsoever in British relations with the rest of Europe...

The Dear Leader seems to be rather too hands on to let anyone else get a look-in, the last Europe Minister used primarily as a mouthpiece to deliver news liaible to cause a stir among the sceptics and so draw fire away from Blair. His reward? Being sacked straight after the election and being used as an unofficial government spokesman on various news programmes during the "constitution crisis" when none of the big boys could be bothered to come and play. Will Alexander have any more luck? Well, we've heard little from him so far - and the last month has been one of the most contentious in EU affairs for years...

Reuters - France's Sarkozy urges freeze on EU enlargement - this is naturally being interpreted as another French anti-Turkey thing. But he's certainly got a point that the EU's various institutions need updating before expansion can take place. The constitution should have all been sorted and agreed before the most recent ten member states joined. We're seeing the fall-out of relying on old systems after new accessions at the moment, and it's causing a fair few problems - unless something is done this will only get worse with further expansion.

Today's Honourable Award for Stating the Bleeding Obvious goes to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Congrats, Don!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Lazy Sunday evening post-working holiday book blogging post

Whisky's great. The Highlands, when it's sunny, are great. Castles are great. Getting up at 6am and not going to bed until past midnight for several days in a row (and having to maintain the public face of the company the entire time) is not so great. But copious quantities of a broad range of excellent free single malts tends to make up for it.

Anyway, I've been out of web contact and out of news contact. All I know that's happened is floods at Glastonbury (my brother, driving security guards around, is fine - there has been no word from Europhobia's Steve, so I can only assume he has been swept to his untimely doom somewhere amidst the plains of Somerset to join those foolhardy ancients who attempted to assault the fabled Isle of Avalon). Oh, and Britain is once again massively overly optimistic about both its tennis and rugby skills.

So, a quick flick, and Tim Worstall's latest britblog roundup points me in the direction of Infinitives Unsplit, which may or may not be written by our dear semi-regular comments chappie Hew BG (who may or may not himself have connections to a certain region of Scotland, which is also a somewhat stereotypical Scottish name, through which I passed the other day). Good stuff - witty and in character throughout, so have a gander.

Thanks to a combination of blog-tracking site Technorati's recent changes being RUBBISH and the dear semi-anonymous blogger neglecting to link here on invoking my wondrous pseudonym I've only just become aware of having been "tigged" for that book meme - 'twas a fair while back now and all, and entirely possible someone else did as well, but Technorati's recent changes are, as I believe I pointed out not overly long ago, RUBBISH.

Anyway - the whisky seems to have caused some rambling (currently supping on a wonderful 16 year old Mortlach - a beautifully smooth, amber-hued Speyside single malt which slips down an absolute treat). To wit, and in the absence of any knowledge of global events of the last four days, books:

1. How many books do I own?

At my London townhouse (aka crummy flat with no sodding space for more shelves) I'd estimate in the range of 900-1,200, with a similar number at the parental abode down south. Most are decent, but at the parental pad there is a sizable collection of trash fantasy - some of which (Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, David Eddings etc.) is actually surprisingly good.

2. What’s the last book I bought?

Some regulars may recall I was at Hay-on-Wye a few weeks back, and I have refrained from buying any more since then. Thusly, I got a whole bunch at once:

  • Swift - A Critical Edition of the Major Works (in the Oxford Authors series - good edition).
  • Sterne - The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (because it's about time I got around to reading that, really).
  • Livy - The History of Rome From its Foundation (Books XXI-XLV, split in the 1970s Penguin Classics range edited by Betty Radice into The War With Hannibal and Rome and the Mediterranean - I'm on the lookout for the complete set).
  • Goethe - Faust (Norton Critical Edition, 1976 - rather well annotated and with a selection of essays on the text and some of Goethe's letters at the back).
  • The Mabinogion - a bunch of rather quaint Welsh myths, handed down orally over the centuries and plagiarised quite horribly by the likes of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Mallory in creating the Arthur legends. Quite fun.
  • R.B. Mowatt - The Diplomatic Relations of Great Britain and the United States (Edward Arnold & Co., 1925) - a random spot while wandering, but at only 50p I couldn't resist finding out what everyone reckoned about the "Special Relationship" before that term had even - as far as I'm aware - been coined.
  • Prefaces to Peace, A Symposium consisting of the following: One World by Wendell L. Wilkie, The Problems of Lasting Peace by Herbert Hoover and Hugh Gibson, The Price of Free World Victory by Henry A. Wallace and Blue-print for Peace by Sumner Welles (a fascinating collection of post-WWI essays published in the midst of WWII - rather unusual, and a bargain at only 50p).
3. What’s the last book I read?

Homer - The Iliad - Martin Hammond's transaltion for Penguin. It seemed OK to start with, but then got turgid fast (the translation, I mean, not the book itself, obviously). It was, however, the first time I'd read it (ridiculous, I know - especially as I've technically got a classical education), so I reckoned that I needed something fairly straightforward (prose rather than verse etc.) to keep tabs on what was going on. Wolfgang Peterson's take, I reckoned, would not quite be enough to prepare me for leaping into Chapman. Chapman is, however, sitting waiting on the shelf. If Keats liked that version enough to write a poem about it, I reckon it must have something going for it.

4. What are the five books that mean the most to me?

Rather than content, I'll go for the collection.

My oldest is a guidebook to the shires of England dating from the mid 17th century (1648 if I recall - a rather odd time to be knocking out that sort of thing, not to mention very early), but was sadly mutilated by some idiot many moons ago and is thus missing all the illustrations, maps etc. Nonetheless, it remains a little piece of history, still has its original leather binding and only cost me a fiver.

The most valuable I own - and a superb, if somewhat overly pompous read to boot - is probably the two-volume 1820 leather-bound pocked-sized collected edition of Samuel Johnson's The Rambler, in rather fine condition - a near runner-up being the two volume edition of Vanity Fair, complete with the original illustrations from the author's own hand, which I picked up for four quid about ten years ago from an unsuspecting bric-a-brac shop. Oh, and my first edition (with perfect dust jacket) of Under Milk Wood. (Which I accidentally - honest - stole while a schoolboy... but it did help spark the book collecting bug.)

Other than that, my first editions (English language) of Solzhenitsyn's Lenin in Zurich and Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being - both complete with near-mint dust jackets - and my signed copies of Umberto Eco's Baudolino and Alan Clark's history of the Conservative Party (sadly not the Diaries, but it is personalised, which is nice). Oh, and my growing collection of Thomas Carlyle - in particular the 1849 one-volume edition of his Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches with Elucidations - oh, and if anyone comes across volumes VI, VII and VIII of his History of Friedrich II of Prussia (Chapman and Hall Limited, London, 1897 - blue/green cloth cover), let me know.

I suppose I really should add on to that the two I've written, but that would involve revealing my utterly uninteresting real-life identity. (No, you haven't heard of me or them, although they should be available in most decent-sized branches of Waterstones and both received good reviews.) Well, that and the fact that I've done far more than merely five. Ho-hum.

At which juncture I am supposed to nominate five other people to do this, but everyone's already done it weeks ago, so I shan't bother. Instead I shall point you to the discussion of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum and invite you to join in - it seems somewhat to have stalled while I've been away.

Back to more political type stuff tomorrow, probably. For now - Richard Whiteley's died. (Europhobia: Bringing you the news that matters...)

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