Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Tenth Planet?

BBC News is reporting that astronomers have detected a '10th planet' orbiting the Sun. So far this doesn't seem to be generating much attention - a sad reflection of the limited interest in the universe beyond this small little world these days.

The planet is about three times the further away than Pluto and it could be centuries before a space probe is sent there. At the moment it's being called 2003 UB313 - doesn't that name just roll off the tongue? A new name will be needed that is in line with the other planet names. So which of the following could work?

Apollo - but calling a world so far out after the god of the sun seems silly

Bacchus - the god of wine - would this say that drinkers must be kept at a distance?

Ceres - the goddess of the earth so this is about as silly as Apollo

Cupid - but the world would be so far from his mother Venus

Diana - really the goddess of the moon so again a bit far out

Fortuna - one of the ones everyone forgets - the goddess of luck so is it lucky to be so far out?

Janus - the god of doors - can we say for definite that this world is the doorway to the solar system?

Juno - the queen of the gods and the wife of Jupiter. It would be saying a lot about their marital issues that the two would be so far apart!

Maia - the goddess of growth - is there much of this on that world?

Minerva - the goddess of wisdom but does being a planet so far out strike you as wise?

Proserpina - the Queen of the underworld - and as Pluto is the king would this work?

Quirinus - the god of defense & the state - again not a name to be used lightly until we're sure there are no more worlds

Vesta - the goddess of hearth and similarly a bit far out

Vulcan - now this will get the vote of Star Trek fans. The problem is that Vulcan is traditionally a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury (the theory on this was popular in the 1960s hence a lot of science fiction from the time features a world called Vulcan), not a distant world at the extremes of the Solar System.

Alternatively, if we stick with the science fiction theme how about calling it Cassius, which is the name of a world beyond Pluto in Doctor Who?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Vanitas continues to face the truth

Vanitas Deputy Leader Damian Hockney has resigned, ostensibly to clear the way for a new team to take the party forward. Sadly this does not generate the guffaws that Kilroy's exit did.

Hockney describes himself as "Leader of the Veritas-UKIP Group at the London Assembly". I was under the impression that both MLAs elected as UKIP had defected to Vanitas so how can there be a joint group?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Kilroy quits

Robert Kilroy-Silk has quit as leader of Vanitas claiming that he has to "face the truth" that no-one wants his party. Since he's realised people prefer established parties, here's hoping he'll now join Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Past comments

I've just found the following piece I wrote over four months on the McCartney case:

End of the Road for the IRA?
Recent events in Northern Ireland have led to a noticeable sea-change in attitudes towards the Irish Republican Army. We may be on the verge of a major historic change that could have ramifications throughout these islands.

This evening I noticed that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has received further rebuffs in the USA, as normally staunch supporters such as Edward Kennedy and Peter King start cold shouldering the Northern Irish Republican movement, refusing to meet with Adams and calling for the IRA to be disbanded. The murder of Robert McCartney and the brave campaign for justice by his family has clearly influenced many. Have the IRA finally reached a turning point?

Back in in 1994 the IRA called a ceasefire and the much vaunted "peace process" began. Eleven years later it's a shock just how far things have come in many areas. Virtually all major political parties have signed up to some form of cross-community power sharing executive as the solution to the province's political problem (though there is disagreement about who should be included/excluded in such an executive). The right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide for themselves whether they wish to remain in the United Kingdom or join a United Ireland has been accepted by the main nationalist and republican parties and the Republic of Ireland has amended its constitution to remove its claim to the North. Sinn Fein members have taken their seats in a Northern Irish assembly, first doing so barely a year after fighting an election on a "No return to Stormont" line. The Ulster Unionists and even the Democratic Unionists have appeared on platforms and television programs with Sinn Fein members.

Yet we are still talking about the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the potential disbanding of the Provisional IRA. It's true they are not the only terrorist group and that more needs to be done about loyalist paramilitaries. But no loyalist paramilitary's political representatives are on the verge of entering the government of Northern Ireland and Progressive Unionist Party (the political wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force) leader David Ervine is a solitary figure in the suspended Assembly. By contrast Sinn Fein could claim the Deputy First Ministership and several key ministerial posts in a re-established Executive and many are worried about this whilst they retain weapons.

It's easy to forget just how many times the issue has been fudged before. There was a time when the British and Irish governments would not let Sinn Fein into all party talks on the future of the province until decommissioning had taken place, and the Unionist parties made it clear that if this bar was lifted then they would walk out and derail the process. Then the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated and voted for overwhelmingly in a referendum on the understanding that there would be decommissioning before the release of paramilitary prisoners and the establishment of an executive. But both the latter happened without it. Time and again the political system in Northern Ireland has ground to a halt as the Ulster Unionists have stood firm, then been forced by the government into a compromise. It is no wonder that electoral support for the Democratic Unionists has soared amidst this background.

The release of the paramilitary prisoners is now seen even by many who still support the Good Friday Agreement as a clear mistake on the government's behalf. Time and again the IRA has evaded what many want. However it's telling that up until now most of the calls have come from the Unionist community and the British government. Even the nationalist SDLP has evaded the issue of decommissioning in the past. Now we see many who have previously given support to the IRA now prepared to stand up and say it is time for them to decommission. The Westminster vote to deprive Sinn Fein of their parliamentary allowances was supported by all parts of the House, including many who are traditionally sympathetic to Republicans.

Why particular cases become cause celebres has always been unclear to me. Just as Albert Dreyfus was far from the only person to be wrongly sentenced for passing on state secrets, Robert McCartney is far from the only IRA victim from the nationalist community. For a long time it was a complete taboo to make the stand that his family is making. They have shown real bravery in refusing to accept the "normal" process, refusing to accept the IRA's offer to carry out an arbitrary execution and instead demanded justice. It is a stand that has made many question just why the IRA still needs to exist.

And yet the first electoral returns suggest it has not had much impact. Opinion polls traditionally underplay support for Sinn Fein, but they offer no indication of any collapse in support. A by-election in the Republic has seen the Sinn Fein vote hold steady, rising by 43 absolute votes from 6042 to 6087. Due to a fall in turnout their percentage share has risen by 3%. How Sinn Fein will perform in the forthcoming general election, when they will be fiercely defending their slender hold on Fermanagh & South Tyrone, whilst also hoping to gain Newry & Armagh and possibly Foyle (Derry) remains to be seen. But with the McCartney sisters threatening to stand on the single issue of justice for their brother (and also independent Doctor Kieran Deeney standing on the issue of hospital provision in Omagh in Sinn Fein held West Tyrone) there is a real danger that voters may decide that there is a better way to cast a vote for getting rid of the IRA than by trying to keep Sinn Fein in the democratic process.

Some cynics might argue that we've seen this all before. But I think we've seen for the first time in a very long while the drying up of grassroots support for the IRA. After current events no Unionist party is going to be prepared to make a fudged deal with Sinn Fein. The disbanding of the IRA has become an absolute requirement for Sinn Fein's participation in any future government. Even the British government seems to have accepted this. We may finally see a movement towards normality in Northern Ireland. It has been overdue too long.

Maybe the recent events have made me more cynical as my initial reaction showed. But if the IRA's support base has dried up then this move is less surprising. I've also now seen the footage of the statement being made - and that it was read out in person by a former prisoner is in itself an encouraging sign - and perhaps this truly is a step forward. But at the moment we can only have stronger peace of mind. The restoration of an acceptable political system that all can accept is still a major hurdle to come.

Sinn Fein's recent election results have been if anything consolidating - holding Fermanagh & South Tyrone amidst a Unionist struggle generating multiple candidates, gaining Newry & Armagh as everyone expected but failing to gain Foyle - indeed the survival of the SDLP is the overlooked story of the general election (many forget that before the election a common betting game was whether the SDLP or Ulster Unionists would suffer a greater defeat!). It's also forgotten that there has long been limited actual support in the Republic for a United Ireland and many believe the IRA has merely diminished this. Peace will bring a more stable society - ironically all international precedents suggest that this will reduced support further. I doubt there will be a United Ireland even in our grandchildren's time.

Is it over?

The IRA has formally ordered an end to its armed campaign and says it will pursue exclusively peaceful means according to the BBC. Many are seeing this as a sign that the Troubles are at last over.

Like many I'd like to believe that this truly is an ending. But the IRA have been on alleged ceasefire for a long time and that didn't stop the murder of Robert McCartney. I also remember the pledges at the time of the Good Friday Agreement that promised the IRA would decommission within a few years and before Sinn Fein entered government.

If this statement does bring real peace of mind and change then it is a great day throughout these islands. But after so many false dawns before I remain sceptical.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Aren't computers fantastic?

Due to technical difficulties I will not be online easily over the next week or so. Updates to this blog are going to have to be sporadic I'm afraid but don't worry - normal service will be resumed!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Shoot to kill?

The media today is full of coverage of how the police shot dead an innocent man on Friday. At such times it is easy to bash the police. But one needs to imagine a reversal of the situation. The police followed leads derived from the bomb sites and found this man's address. A man comes out on a summer day wearing a winter coat. They follow him and when they confront him he bolts for the tube, jumping the barriers and hurtling towards the platform. Had he indeed been a suicide bomber, and given both recent events and the man's behavior the police clearly had strong grounds for believing that, then the consequences could have been catastrophic.

Armed police officers frequently have to make very difficult decisions in the heat of the moment. This incident is not like confronting someone they believe is carrying a gun. It is like confronting someone they believe does not care about their own life and who will not back down if confronted, but instead is more likely to detonate. The police have to act quickly to protect us. Sometimes they get it wrong and an innocent dies. But if they get it wrong and fail to stop a suicide bomber then the consequences escalate.

Many are already calling for a re-evaluation of police tactics. But some are being rash and demanding an end to a shoot to kill policy. I would like to know how one is supposed to stop a potential suicide bomber when confronted with one. Tackling the grievances that generate such monsters is all well and true but that is not a viable alternative solution at the apparent intended point of detonation.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Not again!

More blasts in Central London. We have some minor chaos but it's not major. It seems the bombers were incompetent and only exploded their detonators. They're not so much Kamikazes as Kamiclownies!

Soon this will be cleared. London is not a city to surrender. The terrorist vermin will never win.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Scotty has been beamed up

James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star Trek has died at the age of 85.

Although I've never been a Star Trek fan, finding the franchise to be ghastly overstretched and the various series to be ruined through excess money being spent on effects at the expense of decent scripts (and also burdened with far too much technobabble), Doohan has always stood out as one of the strongest performers, making the part of Scotty really come to life. Though the line "Beam me up Scotty" was never said, he will long be remembered for the series and no doubt much missed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Crossrail gets a step closer.

MPs are debating the Bill to enact Crossrail. This project, whilst not now going to be finished in time for the Olympics, could transform transport in London, especially here in the east where Stratford and Liverpool Street are bursting at the seams. Sadly it seems that some are opposing it. Bethnal Green & Bow MP George Galloway said the following:

The residents and small businesses of my constituency will be paying the greatest price for a service designed to connect Canary Wharf to Heathrow Airport.

It will be like a major bombing raid on the East End: Three major tunneling sites, a two-metre wide conveyor belt, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for six years, carrying spoil from the digging of these three tunnel sites, going inches from people's windows.
Whilst it's good to see that George Glasgow occasionally remembers he has a constituency and where it now is, once again he has missed the point. Crossrail will do a lot to revitalise the whole of East London, allowing easy connections from the East End to suburbs such as Forest Gate, Ilford and beyond into the wider area. This can only benefit Bethnal Green & Bow as more people are able to reach it, helping the businesses.

Much has been made about the shafts to remove soil in the construction of the tunnels. But at the end of the day these have to be somewhere. Living in Forest Gate I would have no problem whatsoever with having the shafts here (although from a technical point of view it's way too far east - as a consolation the building I live in is literally on top of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which will open long before Crossrail and the vibrations can be felt throughout our flat). "Not In My Back Yard" is not a reason to relocate somewhere - and I have yet to hear any objector state where they think the shaft should be. As ever Galloway goes in for a cheap dig at the project, claiming it's hurting the poor to benefit the rich and showing just why class warfare and disRESPECT is such a joke in today's politics.

2013 can't come soon enough, although I'm sure that something will come along to delay Crossrail even further. Still one can but hope...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Alan Duncan quits the Conservative leadership race

The Conservative leadership election narrowed today as Alan Duncan quits the race. However it's widen out again with Theresa May dropping the strongest hint yet that she will stand. Given his previous comments about wanting to see fewer leadership candidates, Tim Yeo must be feeling very confused.

Alan Duncan's withdrawal sadly deprives the contest of one of the more thoughtful and dynamic contenders, although I have to admit that in one or two areas he can be too liberal for my liking.

Edward Heath passes away

And so Sir Edward Heath has died. We have lost one of the political giants of post war era. And how many other Prime Ministers managed to personally lead their country to victory in an international sporting tournament whilst also running the country?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Edward Heath 'getting weaker'

It seems that Edward Heath will not be with us much longer. It seems that in his long feud with Margaret Thatcher he is the one who has lost the final battle. And today's Conservative party is a far cry from the one that Heath led - now it stands for economic stability, democratic government, a sovereign nation, empowering the individual and standing up to extremist infiltrators who seek to bring down the government of the country.

There seem very few people who seek to defend the Heath government - about the only "achievement" anyone remembers is that of taking us into the "Common Market" (in the days when it was about enhancing trade). Otherwise governments since 1974 have for the most part sought to avoid a repeat of those dark days. The obituary writers and commentators will have difficulty placing Heath's legacy.

eBay can be surprising

Some readers may have noticed that amongst the many links on this page is one to the list of items I'm selling on eBay (or for international readers try here). Today several auctions ended and I was astounded at the way that every item sold ad some saw fierce bidding in the last few hours.

Whilst this often happens on eBay, it was especially shocking here as the items included old VHS cassettes and even some early feature free DVDs that have both been superseded by current DVD releases, including season boxsets. I originally put them up primarily to see if I could clear some space in my room, to refresh my eBay selling skills before big sales later on and to see if I could get some more feedback which again will help later sales.

I guess as someone who's had a DVD player for nearly four years and who only purchased a handful of VHSes after that, mainly a series that didn't switch to parallel releases, I'd rather taken the dominance of DVD for granted. By contrast I was one of the last to switch to CD, and even then had to be dragged into it (mainly because I was never particularly into music in the 1990s and so rather resented it when other areas of audio were seemingly forced into it - although a few do seem to continue to produce cassettes to this day - and also because for one reason or another I'd never wound up with a CD player by accident in a bigger unit). Yet it seems there are still a good number who haven't joined the DVD revolution. A lot of students are often amongst them - unsurprising given how many have traditionally inherited the family's old VCR when it gets replaced by a newer model and are unlikely to have received an integrated unit or an outdated DVD player yet. But there appear to be pockets of sales elsewhere and may be for some time to come (which I hope so - otherwise I'll have a huge number to put on eBay in a very short space of time!). The machines retain other uses - how many of us use them as an elaborate adaptor to get round the problem of other equipment having only a SCART connection and no direct way to connect to the television set's coaxial socket? (Oh and given that virtually everyone stores their VCRs, DVDs, TVs, decoders and everything else on top of one another, why are SCART cables a metre long?)

Looking back at eBay I see the bidding increasing. At the moment the Bond movies are all coming to close and the one getting the highest bids as I type this is For Your Eyes Only - bizarre as it's arguably the most forgotten of the official movies by the public at large (a pity as it's easily the best of the Roger Moore films). Mind you it's being substantially outbid by a copy of Never Say Never Again - wonders never cease.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Liberal Democrats start to lose confidence in Charles Kennedy

Just seen this, thanks to Liberal Democrat watch. Liberal Democrats start to lose confidence in Charles Kennedy.

As an article in the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students' magazine says:

The major problem with Charles Kennedy is that he doesn't inspire confidence in the electorate. Even a lot of our own supporters laugh at the idea of Charles Kennedy becoming Prime Minister.

If we are to convince the general public that we are the real alternative we need to present them with an alternative Prime Minister, who commands their general respect in a way Charles Kennedy does not.
So parts of the Liberal Democrats are willing to admit what many others have realised - Charles Kennedy is a bad leader for the party. Now how long will he try to cling on?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stephen Liars finally admits it

Stephen Byers has admitted tellings untruths on Railtrack. When he was Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government, the Regions and the Jo Moore Scandals, Byers occasionally tried to do things with the railways amidst everything else on his agenda. There was a time when politicians had honour and would resign if they lied to Parliament. Nowadays the Labour Party will just try to brush this one aside, respond with pointless rubbish about what happened under other governments, refuse to admit that this is why politicians are so distrusted and prepare for Byers' return to government at some later date.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kilroy splits another party!

Yet another party is facing a leadership election! Does it never end?

It's particularly ironic as the main reason for creating Veritas in the first place was to allow Kilroy-Silk the chance to lead a micro party after UKIP rebuffed his ambition. Now it seems that Kilroy can't even keep his own vehicle in order! What has the man got (other than a orange tan)?

Why oh why couldn't the BBC have just let his show carry on where no-one was watching it, rather than inflicting him onto the rest of the world?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Homegrown vermin

There have been some despicable comments by both George Galloway and the leader of the national Socialist Workers' Party, trying to use this atrocity to support their demands on foreign policy. Their so-called "RESPECT Unity Coalition" would be better renamed "Quislings," pure and simple.


That's the message loud and clear. If the pathetic excuses for humanity who pass for the terrorists who perpetuated this outrage honestly believe they have achieved anything for their cause then one must wonder just what universe they're in.

Today has been terrible for many. But it has also been a day that has shown the greatness of London. Our emergency services have been fantastic. The people of London have also done their bit, co-operating and bearing the problem. And the message of all is clear - this is not an attack on some philosophy or policy, but an attack on London, on the United Kingdom and on our way of life. We will not surrender to this vermin.

London's crisis

In case you haven't seen the news, multiple blasts have paralysed London. Sitting here in Forest Gate it's difficult to know what to say, with all my information coming from the media. However it's getting increasingly scarey and some Arab experts have finger Al-Quaeda as responsible.

On September 11 2001 I seem to have been one of the few who wasn't aware of what was going on for several hours - I was working in a shop and only first heard about the events some five hours later as I was walking home. Now instead I'm sitting watching all this on the television and seeing places I often go through - Liverpool Street station, Aldgate, Bloomsbury - all engulfed by the explosions and this is truly scarey. It always is when it's somewhere you know well.

The mobile phone network is very patchey and I'm unable to reach some friends in London. The reports on the three twenty-four hour news channels have been at some variance. MSN has been a relief, allowing me to converse and share information with several others.

I'll post again later if anything major happens.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

London beats Paris to 2012 Games

And so London will be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. Much of the country is celebrating. Meanwhile Crossrail is still not running. If all the transport links are fully operational by 2012 I'll eat my words and buy the travelcard for the first person who reminds me of this.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The London Olympic bid

And so Tony Blair is trying to get support for the London Olympic bid. The way in which nearly everyone in London at least seems to have jumped on the bandwagon is shocking, and has resulted in a number of home truths being overlooked.

Living in Newham, at the heart of the bid (Stratford station has "Back the Bid" signs everywhere and even an electronic countdown to the decision on the forecourt) one gets a rather different perspective on this. Perhaps the most obvious and truly daming is the pathetic state of public transport.

It's true that Stratford station has been transformed in the last decade or so, with the mainline and low level stations merged into a single complex (even if the street maps haven't noticed this) and with extensions to both the Docklands Light Railway and the Jubilee Line greatly enhancing the area's connections. There's also a good bus station integrated into the station forecourt. But despite this there are still major transport problems. The local commuter services are overflowing at peak hours and there simply isn't the capacity to add on more trains into Liverpool Street. The North London Line and its little brother the Gospel Oak-Barking Line are both extremely restricted in their capacity (some of the platforms can't handle more than three carriage trains). Despite talk for decades Hackney still has no tubes. And of course Crossrail still hasn't been built.

Okay the East London Line extensions have finally begun, but almost immediately they were delayed by a series of objections and will inevitably open late. The Jubilee Line Extension opened nearly three years later than scheduled - and even that was a hasty rush job and the consequences bedevil the line to this day. The Underground simply does not have a good track record in building extensions on time and within budget. One has to seriously question the claims that all the proposed transport links would be ready for a 2012 Games.

Perhaps the best comparison is with the Millenium Dome. It is often forgotten that the Dome was only sited in North Greenwich because the Jubilee Line Extension would be opening a new station there some two years before. But the extension dragged on and on and in the end London Underground were forced to start a shuttle service to North Greenwich from Stratford in the summer of 1999 to make up for the fact that key parts of the route still weren't ready. Had the committee that selected the site known from the outset that a through service would not begin until one week before the end of 1999 they would never have located it there.

If the Olympic Commission decides that London doesn't have what it takes to host the Games then don't be too surprised. As someone who regularly travels what is earmarked to be the Crossrail route I've long given up any dream of seeing the fantastic service the brouchures and websites promise. Soon this will be brought home to the rest of London one way or the other.


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