Saturday, September 23, 2006

Quietness at the moment

You'll have noticed this blog hasn't been updated as frequently as usual. This is because I'm currently working for my college's registry during the intense two weeks of enrolment. But have no fear I'll be blogging regularly again soon!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

With friends like these...

Am I the only one who thinks that is often doing Labour's work for it?

Take today's frontpage. The first features noted are comments on the polls (as though the polls were going to magically go heavily in our favour the second the Labour leadership row blew), problems with obtaining membership data and an incredibly important piece on David Cameron's favourite tie. Then in the week in which Cameron made perhaps the best received speech in Scotland by a Conservative leader in a very long time and distanced himself from past Conservative mistakes, rather than highlight the positive coverage umpteen negative pieces are wheeled out to pretend the speech went down badly.

Time and again one feels that ConservativeHome is more of a thorn in the party's side. Having become one of the main sources of information for many party members the result is that often it needs to be reassured on much needed major changes - look at the way the announcement about the rearrangement of seats in some useless assembly was made.

Would "ConservativeAway" be a more accurate description?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The top Conservative blogs?

Iain Dale has published his Top 100 Conservative/Right of Centre Blogs. The list makes for interesting reading especially number 37... Many thanks Iain!

A papal mistake or a deliberate slight?

The big story this week has been the Pope's alleged comments about Islam. Like many reacting to them I haven't read the full speech - at a glance I can only "key" extracts on the BBC News site. I suspect most protesters have no idea what the Pope said exactly either, and are just reacting to news reports and stirrers.

What appears to be the crucial point is as follows:

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read... of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

In the seventh conversation...the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God," he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats."
On reading it one feels that this is aimed at condemning religious violence and not another faith. But not everyone's convinced.

It's as well that even in Roman Catholic theology the Pope is not assumed to be infallible unless he asserts infallibility. (On an aside I sometimes wonder if this means that if the Pope turns up at a railway station he can assert infallibility to declare the train to be so late that he qualifies for passenger compensation!) It's possible the Pope didn't realise just quite what reaction the speech would have, and the previous removal of Archbishop Fitzgerald from the Vatican's unit on dialogue with other religions now looks like a big mistake. But now the Roman Catholic Church is showing a willingness to be firm with Islam, pushing for a real open debate and seems unafraid to cause offence.

When it was announced that Joseph Ratzinger was the new Pope, many expected a hardline Papacy and so far these expectations have not been met. Is the hallmark of Benedict XVI's Papacy going to be relations with Islam? And will we see more comments that bring violent reactions?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The new UKIP leader

The real face of UKIP?Nigel Farage has been elected as the new leader of the UK Independence Party. So it seems that UKIP has decided not to bother countering the charge that they contain racists, now having a leader who notably declared:
"We will never win the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us."
Once more it seems UKIP will continue to focus on the far right and maintain local links with the British National Party. Once more UKIP have shown their true colours. Turning off Kilroy has made no difference to their party's outlook.

Monday, September 11, 2006

How to change a leader without fuss

Whilst glancing at Slugger O'Toole for details on other stories, I noticed that in the Republic of Ireland the Progressive Democrats have a new leader - Michael McDowell.

The Progressive Democrats are one of the few parties in the Republic without roots in the Civil War - indeed one of its favourite slogans is "breaking the mould of Irish politics", which may sound familiar to some. They were founded in the 1980s by politicians who left one of the big parties (anyone noting more similarities?) and are the Irish affiliates to the various European and international Liberal alliances (is there anyone who doesn't spot it not?). Ideologically they're probably closest to the Orange Book Liberal Democrats, although they're often labeled right-wing for both their economic policies and McDowell's record as Minister for Justice. They're probably the party I would vote for if I lived in the Republic, although given the nature of the coalition politics there I'm not sure I'd want a government dominated by Fianna Fáil over one dominated by Fine Gael.

McDowell has emerged as leader following discussions with other PD members of the Dail ("TDs"), rather than a bruising leadership contest that could have split the party. It seems to have been a very quick turnaround since the previous elader, Mary Harney, announced she was stepping down. Next to Harney McDowell is the best known of the PDs and should have no problems taking his party on a firm footing into the next election, due in 2007.

Meanwhile over here the PDs' counterparts, the Liberal Democrats, continue to meander all over the place with endless speculation about the leadership. They must feel so envious of the PDs!

Five years ago today

It seems I was not the only one working in a coffee shop that day - so was Paul. At the time I was working for Marks & Spencers in Canterbury in their-then newly opened coffee shop and so I spent the entire of that day making mochas, washing cups and clearing tables. I didn't finish work that day until 18:15 and so I spent the entire day in total ignorance as to what was going on in the United States and on television.

It was only as I was walking home and happened to bump into a local councillor that I heard about the attacks. My immediate reaction was sheer disbelief - how could the World Trade Center have been destroyed? I'd visited New York the previous summer and been to the top of one of the towers and they seemed so solid.

When I got home that night I found my temporary flatmate (who had just arrived in town the day before - I was due to move into university accomodation that Saturday) who told me about the events. I saw what must have been the umpteenth rerun of the footage of the collapse of the tower and just couldn't believe it.

My immediate thoughts turned to my parents and sister, all of whom were in the US Mid West at the time. My parents were due to fly back a few days later and I wondered how this was impacting on them - and I don't just mean their travel plans. Unfortunately I had limited means of contacting them. Much of that evening was spent up on campus in a generally unused office that I was often in, trying to find an email address for my sister (I only had the one for the job she'd recently finished) and failing that to find contact details for her then boyfriend. It was a long and fruitless search and it wasn't until a couple of days later that I received a call from the US.

With much of this initially occupying my time it was difficult to step back and look at the wider picture. Bizarrely my search of the Usenet archive fails to yield the post I wrote about how I felt about the way the world seemed to be moving (I was concerned about the war in Afghanistan but in the end supported it; however I've never felt happy about the invasion of Iraq) but does show I was in some ways getting on with life as normal - even taking time to argue whether or not Spider-Man himself killed his girlfriend Gwen Stacey (some of you will know what I'm talking about).

Many talk about the world changing but I didn't feel much of this. Maybe it was because my own life was changing - I was just beginning my MA and a part-time job - and so it was harder to spot other changes, or that some of the events were not unprecedented (Al-Quaeda had made terrorist attacks before and countries had launched strikes against other countries harbouring terrorists). But I never felt as though there was some new world order, despite much comment and rhetoric at the time.

What is amazing is the way that in the last five years public opinion across the west and beyond has swung from being very supportive of the United States to bitter opposition. A lot try to claim it's all because of George W. Bush, but he's hardly the first US President to be dismissed internationally as a "thick cowboy" - indeed almost all US Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt had come in for the exact same criticism. Maybe it's because the Bush II administration tends to give off rhetoric that may go down well with Bush II's "base" but doesn't reassure the wider world, unlike the rhetoric of say Clinton (who wasn't that great a President either) or Reagan. Or maybe it's a reflection of the rise of the internet, making it even harder to cover up failings. Sometimes I wonder if Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan could have ever been President, or for that matter Churchill Prime Minister, in the internet era.

A lot of people think the world is now a more dangerous place. Did September 11th cause that? I doubt it - I think it has been the war in Iraq that is the main fuel for the growth in fear. But what happens now is anyone's guess.

The power of captions

It seems that as ever the media and certain politicians have been making a big issue of something totally out of context:

The next day's front pages were bad for the Chancellor, using a photograph of him grinning broadly to suggest he was gloating. In fact, he had been sharing a joke with his assistant, Sue Nye: but calls to Labour HQ in Newcastle were running 80:20 against Brown. Could the deal be unpicked?
Now admittedly Brown's reputation is such that his smiling in public is notable, but if this is the best line of attack for the likes of Charles Clarke, then one has to wonder just what the next Labour leadership election will be about. There are some acknowledged policy differences between the Blairites and the Brownites but at the moment they are rarely aired in the media and even Labour Mps attacking Brown and/or Blair are reluctant to use them (and this can't just be that the media is disinterested - Charles Clarke's attack was by the current media standards newsworthy by virtue of his being public).

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Is this the beginning of Blair's Charles Kennedy moment?

There have been seven resignations from the government over Tony Blair's refusal to set a date for when he is going. This follows the round robin letter of "normally loyal" MPs calling for him to end the uncertainty. Finally someone in the Labour Party has found the will to admit what everyone has known for ages.

At the start of the year Charles Kennedy faced umpteen internal demands for an end to the drift and his failure to deal the problem resulted in the escalation that eventually led to his public brutal overthrowal. Kennedy tried dismissing his critics as disloyal and pretending the problem was small - and his critics proved him wrong by getting louder and more and more public. Now Tony Blair seems to be going down a very similar route. How long will it be before the next resignation?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Doctor Who - The Mark of the Rani

As is now becomming a regular feature, following my previous postings for Inferno and The Hand of Fear, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this week's DVD release, The Mark of the Rani:

Forget the tree

Historical settings are rare in the later seasons of Doctor Who so it is interesting to see this one, which also holds the distinction of featuring, in the form of George Stephenson, the first 'real' historical character since The Gunfighters (King John in The King's Demons doesn't count due to only being impersonated). This is a welcome change of approach, even though Stephenson himself doesn't appear until the start of Part Two, as we get to see the Doctor interacting with the history of Earth and resisting all attempts to interfere on a massive scale. Less effective are the references to Faraday and the other geniuses who are coming to Killingworth for a meeting, since we never actually see any of them at all. Otherwise the historical setting makes for a pleasant change from a succession of contemporary and futuristic stories, as well as allowing for a lot of excellent location filming.

Unfortunately most of the characters native to the setting are incredibly poorly scripted and acted that only two make any noticeable impact at all whilst the rest merely provide a backdrop to the events of the story. The two exceptions, George Stephenson and Lord Ravensworth, are handled better and provide good support and foils for the Doctor, aided by good performances from Gawn Grainger and Terence Alexander respectively. Otherwise the setting is predominantly a backdrop to the battle of wills between the Doctor, aided by Peri, the Master and the Rani.

Although it has by now become the norm for the Master to seemingly be destroyed at the end of a story only to survive and return in a later one, Planet of Fire had apparently finished him off far more effectively than many earlier adventures and so the lack of an explanation as to his survival here is especially perplexing. The Master's plan in this story is somewhat contradictory since at the same time he is trying to destroy the Doctor yet also seeking to cause disruption to Earth's history once more, even though luring the Doctor to this period is likely to cause problems with enacting such a plan. As a result the Master feels extremely superfluous to the story and provides little more than a motivation for proactive action against the Doctor, whilst the Rani has little time for feuds. Introducing a new Time Lord villain, possibly a replacement for the Master as a semi-regular protagonist for the series, is a good move forwards and the Rani is shown as being much more than merely a female version of the Master but instead as a amoral scientist dedicated to the task at hand, acting only to prevent her work being disrupted, and caring little for the side effects. Kate O'Mara gives a strong debut performance and competes well with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant's performances, though Anthony Ainley seems bored by the restricted role the Master has in the story.

The BBC is notoriously good at period drama and so The Mark of the Rani features good location work, costumes and sets that are all highly accurate for early nineteenth century Britain. The notorious artificial moving tree only appears briefly and isn't that bad at all and can be easily ignored. Pip and Jane Baker's script holds together quite well and contains some good dialogue accurately capturing Colin Baker's charecterisation of the Doctor, though otherwise there is little actual excitement generated outside of the cliffhanger. Ultimately The Mark of the Rani is a competently put together story but not one that generates much enthusiasm at all. 5/10
The Mark of the Rani can be purchased from here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

August on this blog

Once again, a look at the stats for this blog. As ever earlier stats can be found at the pages for February, March, April, May, June and July.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (+2)
  2. Mars Hill (-1)
  3. (-1)
  4. Jo Salmon (+2)
  5. Cally's Kitchen (-)
  6. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (NEW)
  7. Dizzy Thinks (NEW)
  8. Antonia Bance (+2)
  9. Conservative Mind (-)
  10. Ulster Young Unionist Council (NEW)
Dropping out of the top ten altogether are The Vented Spleen (at 13, down 9), Take back the voice (at 20, down 11) and My Yahoo! (disappearing altogether).

True to her word, Jo Salmon has finally ended the impression that she was going to relocate to number 6 permanently!

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. tim roll-pickering (+1)
  2. laura blomeley (+5)
  3. rhonda paisley and willie mccrea affair (NEW)
  4. what does your birthday say about you (-3)
  5. grumpy men from the muppets names (NEW)
  6. coprophillia study women (NEW)
  7. jen winter npc (NEW)
  8. matthew taylor mp news of the world (NEW)
  9. cakebread london east end (NEW)
  10. sm postal area mitcham (NEW)
As ever a mixture of brand new terms and some ongoing ones. Some of the sillier other terms include:

In case anyone's wondering, I never expected someone searching for anything about Radley to come this way.

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in):


Thank you all for reading!

So was the IDS era so bad?

There's an interesting post on The Mincing Metrosexual that challenges the perception that Iain Duncan Smith's leadership was the worst period of the modern Conservative Party. Pointing to successes (e.g. rising poll ratings, becoming the largest party in local government, overthrowing Labour's control of Birmingham, gains in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections) it also points out that there are a lot of similarities with David Cameron's tenure. Maybe IDS wouldn't have led the party to victory but he deserves far more respect than he currently gets.

Now can someone debunk the myth that the Hague era was a period of glory for the party that took it places?


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