Saturday, September 17, 2005

Note to anyone who cares (so that'd be no one, then) - the archives by topic are now slighly more navigable, having been divided by date. However, as they're updated manually and I haven't had the inclination recently, they're a month and a half behind. For any August/September posts, use the Blogger-automated "by date" ones. Ta.

Here endeth the most boring post ever.

By way of the lovely KathyF (who may or may not actually be lovely in the real world - I refuse to take responsibility for said description having never met her, she could be a vicious psychopathic terrorist for all I know) I've found out a bit more info about this whole bridge blogging lark. As such, I utterly demand that we all start helping out with this promising-looking wiki of global blogs by country. Preferably avoiding the temptation simply to spam our own. If we all combine our brainsacks - especially my dear continental reader friends - we could help turn that into a rather handy resource.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Look! Over there! It's the Goodyear blimp!

Yep - our government does seem to think we're that stupid. Or at least that enough of us are that stupid to make the old misdirection trick worth trying.

Yesterday, Charles Clarke launched his new Terrorism Bill, packed full of illiberal nonsense designed to grap our civil liberties by the hair, put a flick-knife to their throat and then skullfuck them mercilessly until their tears mingle with their blood as they curl, whimpering and broken, on the floor of the windowless cell to which Clarkie-boy has confined them for three months without trial thanks to his wonderful new discretionary powers.

But it's been a couple of months since the nasty terrorists last tried anything, and since then there was a spot of bother with some foreign geezer getting capped by the police. Despite their best efforts, all the "he was running - he must have had something to hide" and "he was an eeevil illegal immigrant, and that's nearly as bad as a terrorist" bullshit that was spouted was unable to hide the truth, and certain sections of society had begun to question the need for intrustive new laws. Yes, there were those relatives of that one London bomb victim who were screaming for revenge justice who the Sun managed to uncover - but they were conspicuously unsupported by any other grieving families.

"I know," says Clarke, "We need to get everyone scared again! Then they'll give me the power to whack any of them in gaol whenever I feel like it!"

Sure enough, yesterday morning, a few hours before the Terrorism Bill was unveiled - and conveniently just in time to make The Today Programme - seven Algerians were hauled off to the clink under powers granted by the last Terrorism Act. As Curious Hamster pointed out yesterday, it's hardly very subtle... (Meaders, posting over at Lenin's, has more details.)

But it goes further than that. After all, the government can't risk pissing off Muslims or be seen to be focussing all its attention on eeevil Islamists, can it? That'd be discriminatory and stuff...

So back on Sunday there appeared the story that Israeli Major General Doron Almog had had a warrant issued for his arrest for war crimes he is alleged to have committed in the Gaza strip. Somehow he managed to escape being locked up and put on trial. By, erm... staying on a plane at the airport, which the British security forces sent to arrest him somehow neglected to enter...

But shhh! Details aren't important - there was a warrant to arrest an Israeli General for being nasty to Palestians, and Palestinians are, like, Muslim and stuff!

See? The government don't just go after eeevil Muslims - they can go after eeevil Israelis as well - and for war crimes against Muslims, no less! See how they don't discriminate? See how it isn't a war against Islam? Excellent! Now, back to putting out our crappy anti-terror legislation.

And then, as if by magic, along comes Friday evening - the best possible time to leak news you don't want anyone to find out about (well, other than the afternoon of September 11th 2001, obviously), as the Saturday papers have all gone to the printers, the Sunday papers are pretty much done, and no one really bothers with the news over weekends anyway.

Sure enough, the arrest warrant has been withdrawn. It's served its PR purpose. Sorted. (And in any case, they couldn't leave it outstanding too long because Israel was already starting to kick up a fuss - they'd noticed, after all, that saying Almog's order to demolish Palestinian houses was a war crime kind of... erm... suggests that much of Israeli policy for the past few years has also been criminal... And we can't piss off Israel now, can we? Except temporarily, when it suits us, that is.)

I hope that the 22% of you who voted for these dickheads are pleased with yourselves.

Kroes, Merkel and Commission impartiality

German elections: Controversial Dutch EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes (who caused a bit of fuss a year ago during the confirmation hearings for Barroso's Commission thanks to her links to umpteen business interests and unproven allegations of shady dealings) has arguably broken Commission guidelines by publicly declaring her support for Angela Merkel in Sunday's elections.

It is, however, a bit of a grey area, what with it not being the politics of her own nation in which she has become embroiled. Especially as the new codes of conduct for Commissioners state that it is even permissible to "be active members of political parties or trade unions, provided that this does not compromise their availability for service in the Commission".

Nonetheless, it is also a - perhaps contradictory - general rule that EU Commissioners should remain "completely independent" (hence the fuss over Kroes' business links in a role which involves a vast amount of interaction with business). And in any case, her assertion that "The election of this excellent politician would be wonderful for the whole of Europe" is far from certainly the case, and demonstrates - in the eyes of some - a lack of judgement which is somewhat concerning for somebody holding such an important post. But then again, Peter Mandelson is also a Commissioner...

Kroes claims that her support for Merkel is because, basically, it would be good for women's lib and stuff for a woman to hold high office in Germany. Unsurprisingly, however, this hasn't gone down too well, Schröder ally and leader of the European Parliament's Socialist group Martin Schulz (unsurprisingly not a fan of the conservative Merkel) stating that "This is an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of a member state, regardless of Ms Kroes’s motivation. As we know, Ms Kroes stands for ultra market-liberalism, so it is not surprising that she supports Ms Merkel who shares the same values."

Even so, this could spark a few interesting questions about the extent to which Commissioners should be allowed to express personal views. Remember the US presidential elections? Practically no world leader expressed any opinion as to who they would prefer in charge - Japan's Junichiro Koizumi even going as far as to publicly deny that he backed Bush after rumours circulated that he had given George his backing.

I doubt there are many who would argue against introducing a hard and fast rule about EU Commissioners stating categorically that they should shut the hell up when it comes to their personal preferences for national governments within the EU. After all, how could Kroes work impartially and without any ill-feeling with a Schröder government, should the near-incredible happen and he manage to hang on to power?

They really do themselves no favours, this lot...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A bit of legal pedantry

A quick skim over the draft Terrorism Bill (.pdf) raises a number of concerns. Doubtless there'd be infinitely more were I to read it in full (especially were I to compare it to other anti-terrorism legislation from around the world), but I've got real-world deadlines for things that actually earn me money, so I'll have to leave it to others.

I am, however, somewhat concerned that when you say that anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates the commission, preparation or instigation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of acts of terrorism"* is committing an offence, precisely what is meant by "glorifying", "exalting" or "celebrating" is left unclear.

I also don't like the idea that "A person is guilty of an offence under this section in respect of a statement glorifying, exalting or celebrating anything occurring more than 20 years before the publication of the statement only if the statement relates, whether directly or indirectly, to conduct or events specified for the purposes of this section by order made by the Secretary of State."**

This effectively wipes from existence any act of terrorism pre-1985 unless Charles Clarke specifically, officially declares it to be terrorism. So the 1984 Brighton bomb which nearly wiped out Thatcher and her Cabinet would - technically - no longer count as an act of terrorism unless the Safety Elephant specifically sets out a statutory instrument*** declaring it so to be. And if he did that, then anyone who ever jokes about it being a shame they missed risks five years in prison****.

It also - again, technically - for the first time creates the concept of "official history" as historic groups who used tactics which could be considered "terrorist" (the Chartists etc.) would now only technically be considered such if they were on the Home Secretary's official list. A perfect cop-out for any history students presented with "Were the Suffragettes' tactics terrorist in nature?" type questions - just put "No - because Charles Clarke says so".

* Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 1(b)
** Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 3
*** Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 4
**** Part 1, Section 2, Subsection 5(a)

In case you aren't aware of them, I cannot stress how great soj's eclectic world news roundups are, providing a superb overview of stories of interest from all over the shop that you're likely otherwise going to miss, from Haiti to Georgia, the US to Peru, Burundi to Nepal. Find them pretty much daily at Flogging the Simian or European Tribune. Today's is here and here.

German elections roundup

If you know nothing about what's going on in Germany or why it's important, you could do worse than start with Sign and Sight's handy and succinct overview.

First up, is Merkel going to push for an extra round? She's been dropping in the polls of late (which may be worrying the markets, plus getting into trouble over her flat tax proposals, recently so popular in the UK blogosphere - with more in-depth looks at her economic policy woes at Der Spiegel.

Meanwhile, the Guardian (or is it theguardian?) looks at what went wrong in Germany and why "Everyone is afraid", even though the Financial Times reckons that Schröder's legacy will be a good one and Der Spiegel reckons Germany's a lot better off than it thinks it is in a nice comparison of Merkel and Maggie (as in Thatcher, natch).

(As an odd aside - largely for the eurosceptics to get heated up - the eurosceptic Times wonders if the Turkish vote will save the pro-Turkish entry Schröder, while Newropeans magazine bemoans the inability of non-German EU citizens to vote on Sunday, and in national elections full stop.)

Over at Fistful, Alex gives an overview of the squabbles over potential coalitions following Edward's look at the implications of Merkel missing an overall majority and Tobias' top-notch look at the problems with her campaign. It's one of the better places to keep up with what's going on.

As I finish up I also notice North Sea Diaries also has an election roundup with much good stuff - a bit of overlap, naturally, but certainly worth a look.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Shot by Both Sides murder roundup

Following the news that anonymous dickheads have forced the premature death of an amusing and often insightful blog by spiteful blackmail, a roundup seems in order.

Crooked Timber - "I’ve alternately enjoyed and been infuriated by John’s blog and he’s certainly been a major irritant to the decent smug and self-satisfied former left and the samizdatistas. Both Daniel and I were regular commenters on John’s site and I’ll miss the mix of friendly repartee and ill-tempered invective there."

Harry's Place (rarely fans of John B) - "I would just like to take this opportunity say: what fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking scummy wankers...

"What sort of monumental, spectacular, loss of perspective can have motivated a SBBS reader to have grassed John up in such a shabby fashion.

"Fuck them."

Chicken Yoghurt - "I just hope you shitweasels who made this happen have a glowing sense of well-being in your solitude this evening as you masturbate into your socks."

Jim Bliss - "SBBS was never guilty of racism or sexism, but refused to bow to contrived notions of political correctness. If John was guilty of anything, it was of overestimating the ability of his readership to discern the real target of a particular barb."

Devil's Kitchen (hardly of the same political views, with a stirling defence of blogging anonymity) - "This is wrong; apart from anything else, it's just not cricket. Honour comes in where boundaries are not legally set; and on blogs, honour dictates that—no matter how fucked off you are with someone in this medium—it stays in this medium. Whilst I often didn't agree with John, the real life bleed-through barrier should be sacrosanct."

Tim Worstall (again, hardly of the same political views) - "Bad news. Very bad news."

Matt T - "bad news for British blogging, and probably a sign of the rut it is currently in."

Ducking for Apples - "It would be nice to think that the web is a community of tech-literate, altruistic, friendly people who are proponents of free speech and generally getting on with life in a "do what you will but hurt no-one" kind of way.

"Unfortunately, there seem to be a proportional number of people who get their ya-yas by intimidation, bullying, power-games and trying to control other people."

Third Avenue - "A chill wind blows through blogland"

Laban Tall (another from the opposite end of the political spectrum) - "This day there's a gaping hole in the Blogring of Britain, where a precious if somewhat tarnished jewel once shone."

Backword has another link roundup and ponders whether "Perhaps there’s no higher acclaim that being blackmailed by envious anonymous cunts."

Finally, my own, more considered opinion - "it would seem that wanting to gas people who complained about Geldof swearing is fine. As long as they aren’t Jewish. Which, in my humble opinion, is significantly more patronisingly racist than anything I’ve ever read of John B’s.

"Shot by Both Sides was a satirical site – not always satire of genius, but satirical nonetheless. John’s whole persona on that site was, from everthing I can tell, merely that – a persona, an exaggeration of some of the worst excesses of the internet. To take that into the real world is less than pathetic. It’d be akin to trying to get Swift booted out of the Church for writing “A Modest Proposal” – after all, if he wrote that the children of poor Irish people should be used as food, he simply MUST have meant it…"

And now the 600+ average unique daily visitors of Shot by Both Sides have discovered a part of their lives, albeit small, destroyed by the actions of a selfish, self-righteous arsehole who thinks that their ill-thought opinions are more important than anyone else's enjoyment. Aside from the massive damage this has the potential to do to the concept of free speech in the British blogosphere as a whole, as we all now have to live in fear of some felchlugger causing us shit if they don't like something we write, this is effectively the blogging equivalent of terrorism - only the person responsible didn't even have the decency of either killing themselves at the same time or taking responsibility for their pathetically childish actions. Whoever you were, nice one. I hope you're proud.

Contradictions?: "Laws will be axed if legislation can be better left to member states, where there is an inadequate assessment of the impact on business, or where the measure is seen as too 'heavy handed'" versus "Brussels has been given the power to compel British courts to fine or imprison people for breaking EU laws, even if the Government and Parliament are opposed."

The latter's not actually as bad as it sounds, aimed largely at cross-border breaches of (mostly) environmental regulations which would be tricky to prosecute via national courts, but even so it's rather tricky to work out how the Commission can reconcile their claims that they're pushing for deregulation while simultaneously gaining a significant increase in power via the European Court of Justice. Not to mention the PR insanity of both stories appearing on the same day - because we all know which one will get the most press...

Unprecedented gathering; 175 nations represented; 60 years of the UN; "historic world summit" etc. etc. etc.

And you know what? It's going to achieve fuck-all. There's no point in even bothering to write about it, despite the fact that this blog generally tries to focus on international relations. There's no point even though I love the concept of the UN, and genuinely believe it can be a force for good in the world. These days there's never any point in writing about the UN - which is why the section of the archives about that organisation is so sparsely populated - after a couple of posts I realised that no idealistic proposals to make it better would ever have any chance of taking effect, so the whole thing became incredibly depressing.

Because, at the moment, the UN is about as influential and important as its League of Nations predecessor was. It's been about as good at stopping genocide and slaughter as the League was at stopping Mussolini invade Abyssinia or Japan rape Nanking. Its Security Council is manned by two countries which the UN Secretary General has declared to have acted illegally, and two more countries with a less than adequate devotion to democracy and human rights. Yet without the US, Russia and China (and let's have no illusions about Britain's relative importance) the entire organisation will be even less effective than it is now, so booting them out or slapping them on the wrist (so making them withdraw in protest) isn't even slightly an option.

So instead we have watered down attempts at institutional reform, and ineffective compromises over poverty reduction. And the only real way to explain it is by blaming the United States - which, due to the nature of this here interweb, if I do means I'll instantly get inundated by irate Republicans accusing me of anti-Americanism and "decent left" morons saying I'm only saying that because of my views on Iraq (even though I still don't really HAVE any views on Iraq).

So don't bother paying any attention to what's going on in New York: the entire exercise is a pointless waste of time and - especially - money, all of which would be better spent elsewhere. A global force to fight poverty and injustice is - at the moment at least - only going to piss about and fail to agree on anything.

That's why Superman is such a great idea - he's basically a benevolent dictator, able to act on his unswerving belief in what is right - truth, justice and the (idealised) American way, without ending up debating in committee for weeks and months while people die all around him. Because democracy, for all its benefits, is crap at acting quickly - which is precisely what the UN needs to do whenever a crisis appears, and precisely what it always fails to do.

Whatever the solution, until we have actual superheroes (no doubt genetically-engineered mutants or something, so more like the X-Men than the Justice League or Teen Titans), whenever something needs to be done we're screwed - because nothing can be done via the UN these days. And you have no idea how much that pains this idealistic internationalist to type. But look at Sudan, Rwanda, Kosovo, Iraq, those mentalist central Asian dictatorships - look at all the times and places where fucked-up madness has been going on and the international community has failed to act. Despite the best efforts of Kofi Annan, he's no Superman.

If the UN can't mobilse the nations of the world to do some fucking good, it's a failure - even if it is down to the stubborness and self-interest of those nations that it fails. Because if, after sixty years, the UN hasn't managed to build at least some kind of sense of global responsibility and unity (the clue's in the name), there's very little hope.

Or we could do what we do at the moment and simply pray that America will somehow get around to sorting everything out, even though there's tit all real evidence that she has the capability, let alone the will to act as the world's superhero. The idea of humanitarian intervention - revived post facto to justify invading Iraq ("because, like, getting rid of Saddam was really good and stuff") - is actually, I believe, a good one. (But then, as my belief in the EU should demonstrate, I don't buy into all this sovereign nation bullshit.)

But any such humanitarian intervention needs to be conducted with restraint and - most importantly - consistency. Remove Saddam? Fine - get rid of Saparmurat Niyazov, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong Il, Islam Karimov and all the rest of the world's psychotic dictators as well. Act to free people from the oppression of dictatorship? Fine - act to free them from the oppression of poverty and disease as well.

Under the current UN arrangements that's never going to happen on a large enough scale - the limited group that is the Security Council couldn't even agree on removing Saddam, a well-known mass-murdering nutter. But the US is likewise never going to bother removing dictators when it can see no direct benefit to its own national interest. People are selfish - nations doubly so. And fair enough - why the hell should they have to sort out everyone else's problems just becuase they've got the money and the guns?

So what's the fucking point of even cunting trying, eh?

Yours, a disillusioned and depressed internationalist, currently fucked off with the state of the world.

I thought he was joking, but it seems some fuckwit internet dicks have been causing genuine trouble, and threatening to take it into the real world to fuck up good old John B's career (simply because he was trusting enough to openly include his CV on another part of his site).

So farewell Shot by Both Sides - there's now one less piece of entertainment in a bleak and boring world, and one more example of how cunting arseholish people can be even when they've never met you. My pseudonym, which I was again thinking of dropping, therefore remains in place.

In other "the internet is shit" news, I think I've finally sorted out the template of this place so it looks good in Internet Explorer. Although if you use Internet Explorer, you are (in the nicest possible way) an idiot. Any niggling formatting issues, let me know. All text should be left-aligned except the Channel 4 News quote above, and there should be three columns with slight gaps between them. All there? Good.

Update: For the first time ever I agree wholeheartedly with a post at Harry's Place

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I despise Charles Clarke

Charles Clarke (paraphrased): "From what we can tell some, if not all, of the 7th and 21st July bombers may have been descended from people who were not British nationals and may occasionally have spoken to some foreigners. Or possibly not. At the same time there may or may not be lots of people planning to do nasty things, we don't really know - and anyway, what exactly do you mean by 'planning'? It all depends on your definitions. How do I know that when you look at something and say it's 'red' and I look at the exact same thing and also think that it's 'red' that we are in fact seeing the same colour? It's all a matter of, like, perception, man... And anyway, perception's, like, knowledge but not knowledge, you know? I mean, you can be intelligent but not know anything, right? You can have been educated to the highest level and still be stupid, or you can have an incredibly high IQ but be lacking in education and so unable to read - you know? I mean, Sir Paul McCartney can't write sheet music, but he can write songs, you know what I mean?"

Charles Clarke (not paraphrased): "There is no doubt of a series of international relationships that were engaged in. The extent to which there was some kind of command and control we don't know at the moment, but we are trying to find out precisely what that relationship is... The word plotting is an interesting word. There are certainly hundreds of people who we believe need to be very closely surveyed because of the threat they offer... Intelligence is not knowledge, it is an effort to understand the threats we face by a variety of different techniques ... We didn't know, but we try and acquire the best possible knowledge that we can."

Charles Clarke (translated): "We didn't know anything before. We don't know anything now. We're going to try and avoid any outright lies so we can maintain plausible deniability and claim that we were misrepresented when the shit comes crashing down, but in the meantime we're going to rely on implication and nose-tapping as if we know more than we do. But that wouldn't be hard because we don't know anything. We do, however, need to be seen to be doing something - we've all seen how much trouble our mate George got into when people thought he wasn't doing stuff, and we're not going to make the same mistake..."

What a fucking dick.

Hot Kilroy action!

Yay! The new European Parliament site's up already (and I can access it - at the moment). So here's a bit of Kilroy, and here's a bit of Kilroy speech. Looks like he hasn't made one since December last year, and hasn't asked any questions since November (his last, bizarrely, being about Welsh mountain ponies, which hardly fall under his Eat Midlands constituency remit, I'd have thought...)

This may seem nothing remarkable, but under the old system, this information would have taken a good half hour to track down - and, let's face it, few people could be bothered to do that. As such, MEPs could get away with far more.

It's very hard to overstate the potential for good that making their actions and words more accessible could provide. Now that any random passer-by can get at what they're up to with very little fuss, they're going to have to pay more attention to what they're doing. Rather than them simply being an amorphous mass of faceless MEPs (with only the occasional lone voice trying to spread the word to an uncaring public), we'll be able to track down individual opinions.

As far as the European Parliament is concerned, today is like the first day parliamentary debates were published (in 1771) and the launch of They Work For You all at once. Hurrah!

Oh, and for more Kilroy - look, Tories with a sense of humour! (Sort of, at least...)

Update: Hmmm... The report of the recent debate about blogs and the EU doesn't sound like it's too promising: "Major concerns were the accountability of "bloggers" and the protection of privacy - or rather the lack of both." And, as if to undermine my own repost even before I've made it, Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, enters my shit list for bringing up kiddie porn in a discussion about political blogging (because the internet's eeeevil and full of terrorists, probably) and regurgitating the "a lot of weblogs are tripe" non-argument. After all, I think we can all agree that a lot of books are tripe - but then you'll get a Ulyssees; a lot of television's tripe - but then you'll get a Twin Peaks; a lot of movies are tripe - but then you'll get a Citizen Kane. and so on ad infinitum. Just because 99% of blogs are a load of bollocks (probably pretty much true) doesn't mean that the one percent that are decent should be ignored, surely?

So, they've got a fair way to go over there... The new website is certainly a long-overdue step in the right direction though.

Morning warning

Due to a workplace "efficiency drive" my access to the internet is, in places, becoming very restricted - and thanks to Telewest being shit I currently have no web access at home. I am currently looking into ways around these rather excessively pissfucking irritating problems, just in case normal service gets interrupted.

Meanwhile, today is the launch of the new European Parliament website - long-awaited after year upon year of labyrinthine confusion, hideousness and lack of usability. It'll be worth checking out later in the day - no matter what your opinion of the EU it should be a handy new resource, finally enabling us to find out what the hell our MEPs get up to a bit more - both through dedicated sections where we can look up their details (according to the press release we can look up "their mandates within the Parliament and the work they have done, such as questions they have put to the Commission and Council, resolutions and reports they have drawn up and speeches they have made during plenary sessions... In the archives this information is available as far back as 1979") and through live streaming video of EP debates...

Fingers crossed for something good, eh?

Monday, September 12, 2005

The new-look Guardian

Well, it's certainly a more convenient size, even if - thanks to still being folded in half on the shelves despite being half as big - it was rather hard to spot in the newsagent's. I'm not a fan of the new title font, yet the body text seems somehow more readable - although that may just be a misconception based on the novelty rather than any alteration in point size, spacing etc.

They do, however, seem to end up with rather more hyphenations at the end of lines than before - and it's good to see a missing full-stop (and distinct lack of paragraph breaks) in the second article on the front page - the Grauniad's reputation for attentive subs and proof-readers seems to be continuing unabated. Is it thanks to the size of the columns? They seem a tad wider than before - again though, that could merely be the novelty. And there are far fewer glaring errors of formatting with this relaunch than there were on the first days of the tabloid Indy and Times.

Inside, and page 2 shows how modern and up-to-the-minute this relaunch is going to be: a section devoted to online articles (including a blog) about the 9/11 anniversary, a run-down of popular pages on the Guardian's website, a big advert for BT Broadband and a chunky Sudoku puzzle. Turn the page again, however, and it's like a mini-Telegraph - a big picture of Prince Charles looking dapper on page 4 and an attractive female model showing a fair bit of pert bosom on page 5. It's also round about now that the impact of the much-hyped "colour on every page" kicks in - breasts in colour always seem to have more appeal, I find...

But this may be coincidence. Page 6 shows little has changed as Mark Lawson romps ahead with one of those typically under-researched articles which he does so well, the first sentence of which unnecessarily evokes Orwell in a typically cliched piece on passport facial recognition technology which somehow gets him onto discussing Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. Unlike the Torygraph, however, the Guardian has managed to avoid big pouting pictures of the two Hollywood hotties (although there is a big close-up on Marilyn Monroe's mouth - does that count?)

So far, so predictable - appeals to a wider, younger, hipper, more lecherous audience in a bid to boost circulation. Thanks in part to the page size, the articles also seem shorter and so more accessible - but there are also lots of 1-200 word mini pieces on lesser stories, an improvement on the old single sentence news summaries the broadsheet version seemed to use merely a space-filler. Minor stories thus appear to be getting more prominence, which I always reckon is a good thing.

But of the genuine news stories in the first 10 pages or so, there seems little logic - a full page on goings on at the Tate on page 9? Shouldn't that be the Arts section and further to the back? Alleged war criminals failing to be arrested would be international, surely? Pieces on Rupert Murdoch's plans to dominate the internet and the EU's bid to break Sky's monopoly on Premier League matches would surely both be better suited to the Media section, especially as this is a Monday and they're written in a fairly easy, number-light style, yet they come under "Financial". Lawson's piece would be better suited to the old G2, while I can't envisage any circumstances in the old Guardian where an interview with Prince Charles on lightweight Sunday evening Christian show Songs of Praise would merit any coverage whatsoever - let alone half a page on page 4.

It would seem Simon Hoggart's page 11 review of Andrew Marr's new Sunday morning politics show could be describing the Guardian's revamp: "full of stuff, for no apparent reason" - after all, what's the point in the double page, full-colour photograph of soldiers dealing with the current riots in Belfast which greets us on the centre pages? It's not that compelling or powerful an image, there's no indication of where in the paper the related story can be found, and it must have cost a packet.

The most confusing, though, is the extended Comment & Analysis pages. Does anyone really care about newspaper comment sections any more? I'm doubtless preaching to the converted here as you're reading a blog, but the interweb generally provides far better comment via innumerable blogs than any of the national newspapers do these days. Roy Hattersley's pointless nonsense about atheism is irrelvant and ill-argued, Madeline Bunting slagging off the "liberal" idea of civilisations clashes and the current level of debate on the situation without once mentioning Edward Said shows little more than a 6th form level of understanding, Jackie Ashley crops up with one of those perennial "where for Labour after Blair?" pieces which could have been written at any point in the last five years and so on. The only one moderately worth reading is Chris Patten on why Ken Clarke is the Tories' best hope for the future. Yet, including the page full of Leader articles, there are now four whole pages of opinion - five if you include Lawson's piece earlier on. These writers get paid more than any others, yet generally have far less of interest to say - do we really need this much space devoted to them?

It seems odd that the Guardian, despite generally being the most web-savvy British newspaper (and having a claim to having the best web presence of any paper full stop), has failed to notice the gradual death of in-depth print comment. Why read the likes of Bunting and Ashley when there are so many far more interesting, far more readable writers online?

Unless this is the start of their attempt to revitalise the old art of opinion piece writing in the British press, that is. Over the last couple of years the Guardian's Comment pages have increasingly become filled with mindless pap, an illogical mix of opinion ranging from near apologists for terror to hard right Tories, the increasingly barking Polly Toynbee to any number of people you've never heard of blathering on about why they're so much cleverer than everyone else. Much as some of us Britbloggers have been trying to do at The Sharpener, is the Guardian making a conscious effort to provide a genuine range of perspectives on its comment pages? That could be properly worthwhile - but they need to make more of an effort to get the balance right. Three pages of comment - left, right and centre - could be a truly interesting approach. At the moment, though, it still seems like we'll have the odd token Tory and little more.

In short, it's hard to tell what the plan is for this new Guardian - the news section is too confusing, the comment section too big. Maybe they'll sort it out and these are just teething troubles, it's hard to tell. But considering how long they've been planning this you'd think they'd have done something both more logical and more radical with the content. The only startling thing I've found is the apparent complete lack of a sport section - although that may simply be the copy I picked up, as there's also no G2.

The major trouble is that newspapers as a whole are having a tough time - why bother with the morning paper, based on the news as it stood twelve hours before, when you can nip online and get the lastest, most up to date info with a couple of clicks of the mouse? Why hope that the Guardian's four/five pages of comment has something interesting and worthwhile when you can hop on Bloglines or some RSS aggregator and skim hundreds of blogs in a matter of minutes, arranged by politics, interest or whatever?

To survive in the face of 24 hour news channels and the umpteen thousand alternate sources of news and opinion the internet provides, the old style news providers vitally need to do something radical to maintain an audience. Simply changing the size of your paper and fiddling with the font is not enough. You need to convince people that it's worth parting with 60p to buy the damn thing rather than simply go on the interweb. As of yet, I remain unconvinced. (But then I would say that - I'm a blogger; if I only read one newspaper I'd be screwed, and if I bought hard copies of everything I look at I'd be broke...)

The Guardian is a good paper with - outside the comment pages - largely high standards of writing and fact-checking. It has always been more readable and reliable than it's main rival, the Independent, but the two have also usually been looking towards subtly different readerships (Guardian - relatively intellectual lefties who largely know what they're talking about; Indy - 6th formers and social workers).

This re-vamp, however, seems almost wholly cosmetic, and aimed less at a constructive effort to build a wider readership through better content than a destructive attempt to cull the Indy's tabloid sized advantage, leeching back their centre-left readers to the only other serious centre-left paper - and so wiping out the already under-performing opposition. Cosmetic changes are all very well and good, but is the Guardian doing it to make itself better or merely more accessible? They are not the same thing - and nor is actively trying to steal another paper's readership the same as building a wider, more loyal base. Because all the Indy will then have to do is start a desperate price war, and both publications will likely end up bankrupt. Which would hardly be a good thing for the future of British public debate.

Update: Ah - sports section mystery solved. It would appear that they've had shipping problems. Another chap in the office didn't have a Media section in with his, but did get Sport and G2, while I had Media by not G2 or Sport. After a quick glance, I don't think much of the new, A4 G2. But then again, I never did think much of the G2 - too much Tim Dowling, too little of any actual interest or entertainment value...

German elections: Less than a week to go, and Schröder seems to be making a last minute comeback. There's a good overview of the complexities of the German voting system at European Tribune, explaining the potential coalitions (also discussed - in a bite-sized, easy-to-understand post - at Fistful), while Der Spiegel looks at Schröder's chances. Meanwhile Deutsche Welle looks at whether Dresden could tit everything up thanks to the death of a Nazi delaying the vote - just as indications that there could be a fair few disputes over the count increase by the day.

The latest Britblog roundup is packed with goodness as per. Have a gander while I try and get my act in gear this morning.

I've just had another fiddle with the site's template as even after a tweak by someone who knows more about this stuff than me it apparently still wasn't right. Looks OK in Firefox and Safari on Mac OSx, but haven't been able to test it with anything else yet - let me know if I've cocked it up again. Ta etc.

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