Saturday, January 07, 2006

Well, that's the Lib Dems fucked

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 06, 2006

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

Old friends remember Tony Blair:

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

  • Sounds charming, eh?

    Government censorship and DNA databases quickie

    Is government censorship collapsing?

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

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

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

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

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

    British party leader in "alcoholic" shocker!


    Blogged: 2005 in The Times Literary Supplement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ex-Ambassador vs. Ex-Ambassador

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    A Cameron and the NHS quickie

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

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

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

    Or am I talking absolute bollocks?

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

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

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

    Scotland latest:

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    Ukraine gas crisis quickie

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

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

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

    Quick UK/Uzbek torture roundup

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

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

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

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

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

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

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

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