Friday, February 29, 2008

Plastic bags

If these last a long time it's a surprise to meSupermarket plastic bags have suddenly become the latest fashion for finding ways to help the environment, with talk of charges and taxes on them. It's all very well and noble, although I seriously wonder if it's going to make much difference beyond making a lot of people feel smug for themselves, but no-one seems to be talking about the reasons why many people don't recycle plastic bags very often.

Well here's a big one - a lot of plastic bags are so flimsy they don't last very long. More than once I've brought my light shopping home from Somerfield, only 300 metres down the road, and by the time I've got in the bags have been coming apart, with growing holes in the side and sometimes even the bottom. No way am I going to try reusing such bags. And they certainly wouldn't last in the usual scrum on the bus when I go to Asda to do my main shopping.

Also there's a deep social reluctance to be seen in one store with carrier bags from one of its rivals. This is especially the case for supermarkets, where it's very rare for someone to visit two during a single shopping trip. Now you can say this is just human cowardice, but store security guards taking an excessive interest don't exactly help encourage people to recycle bags.

Perhaps the solution to both of these is the creation of very sturdy (including bus proof), reusable plastic bags that are not store specific that can be easily used at any store time and time again. It would be a significant change to the way they're distributed - heck sometimes at Somerfield it's a problem to even get a single bag off the dispenser without it tearing - but until reusing bags is a real workable solution it's going to be very hard to get people to switch away from new bags each time.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prince Harry - who cares?!

The Ten O'Clock News is "specially extended" tonight, because of the story about Prince Harry serving in Afghanistan. And my response is... why?

It's not as if this is that major a story. Harry isn't going to be King, that he's serving in the armed forces has been known about and he's not the first younger son to do so (Prince Andrew fought in the Falklands after all). That foreign media have broken the agreement on this is perhaps a news story, but we don't need endless reports about what Harry has been doing in Afghanistan. We know what our troops are doing there.

The media needs to get some perspective, especially when it comes to celebrities. Mind you the Harry coverage isn't as annoying as the endless stories about some person called Amy Winehouse who I'd never heard of before.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Kilfoyle vs Robinson

In the read cornerIn the unread cornerThe war of words about the Speaker has taken a new twist with an interesting spat between Peter Kilfoyle MP and BBC political editor Nick Robinson. Yesterday Nick Robinson posted Theories on the Speaker which provoked Kilfoyle to table Early Day Motion 1037 which reads:

That this House deplores the innuendo of the blog of Nick Robinson, the BBC's lobby correspondent; calls upon him to substantiate the imputations he makes in his blog concerning the Speaker and hon. Members; and also calls upon the BBC to publish a full, itemised account of the expenses of Mr Robinson, in the name of transparency and accountability of public funds.
Now I agree that BBC journalists should be willing to publish their expenses, as ultimately the licence fee payer has a right to know how their money is spent, but it's interesting that MPs - so far 51 Labour and 1 Liberal Democrat have signed - are fast to react in an attack on the media and rather slower to take action about the Speaker. It is rapidly becoming the case that even the rats in Parliament know that Michael Martin is a dead man walking, yet no-one wants to do anything about it.

The backing of deathNick Robinson's counter to the salvo is at I've caused a stir. Personally I think Nick Robinson will come out for the best in this. For the Early Day Motion has received the support of none other than The Backing Of Death himself, Lembit Öpik.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Time for a new Speaker?

It's not looking good for Michael Martin, or should that be "King Herod"? A lot of the media are gunning for him and his spokesperson quit for misleading the media. (BBC News: Pressure grows on Commons Speaker)

But what's amazing is that no MP feels willing to speak out on this matter. The Speaker's powers to decide who can and can't speak in the House of Commons are much feared, and Michael Martin is known to be pretty vindictive. It seems the best anyone can hope for is for either Martin's re-election at the start of the next Parliament to be challenged or for his constituents to vote him out at the next general election.

So does anyone fancy running in Glasgow North East at the next general election? With both main parties and the Liberal Democrats (although not the SNP) committed to giving the Speaker a free run there should be plenty of scope for a challenger.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How many more UDIs?

The recent unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo fills me with dread. The Balkans have had a tragic enough history and the prospect of reprisals, or of the Republika Srpska declaring independent or even seeking to join Serbia, does not feel encouraging.

I see that David Miliband has declared that the Kosovo situation is "unique". (BBC News: Kosovo case unique, says Miliband) in an attempt to limit the effects when there are many other separatist movements. But every separatist movement has unique factors. This UDI cannot but encourage others.

And it's already started. There are reports that senior Palestinians are considering declaring their own state if negotiations fail (BBC News: Palestinians 'may declare state'), claiming that they are no less deserving than Kosovo.

UDIs are amongst the worst forms of state creation. They leave many questions unsettled at the point of declaration and often find the only means of settlement is war, they encourage other movements to strive for the same and they prove divisive in the international community. Endorsing a UDI is just as dangerous. I fear that the genie is now well and truly out of the bottle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Liberal leadership problems

He was very narrowly elected as Liberal leader late last year, with his opponent casting doubt over his potential for success. Now he's facing abyssmal poll results and a new Prime Minister who seems impossible to dent. Few believe he will ever be Prime Minister, and naturally further leadership speculation is growing.

So is it time for another leadership election?

Or is Brendan Nelson safe?

What, you thought I was talking about someone else?

The Australian: Nelson defends 9 per cent poll rating has the full story of the latest woes for the Liberal Party of Australia.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Is the BBC value for money?

Here are two classic clips courtesy of YouTube on this much discussed issue:

And here's a response from Spitting Image:

Now these were made twenty years ago - is the BBC still good quality today? And is the licence fee worth it?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Well done David Heath!

Growing in popularityCongratulations to David Heath, now the Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson if not for much longer, for announcing that he will defy the party whip and vote for a referendum of the EU Constitution "Treaty", in accordance with his party's election manifesto. (BBC News: Lib Dem MP to rebel on EU treaty) Let's see if any other Liberal Democrats join him in this.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Would you want this bow fired at you?

Kerron Cross: Cupid, Draw Back Your Bow... highlights this curious story of a couple in the process of divorce but still working together professionally. Nothing unusual about that you might say. Only their job involves her firing a crossbow at him!

Cambridge News: Circus stars aim to hit the right target tells how circus performers Natasha and Anton Popazov have found themselves contractually obliged to continue their act, in which Natasha shoots an apple off Anton's head in the style of William Tell, even though their marriage has failed. I suppose the show must go on and they seem like true professionals, but can you imagine the sensation if Heather Mills and Sir Paul McCartney found themselves in a similar situation? And would anyone trust Heather?

Vote green go fascist

Which party has these policies:

Forbid the purchase of corner shops by migrants
Stop people from inner cities moving to the countryside to protect traditional lifestyles
Grant British citizenship only to children born here
Boycott food grown by black farmers and subsidise crops grown by whites
Restrict tourism and immigration from outside Europe
Prohibit embryo research
Stop lorry movements on the Lord’s Day
Require State approval for national sports teams to compete overseas
Disconnect Britain from the European electricity grid
Establish a "new order" between nations to resolve the world economic crisis
Not the BNP. They're apparently policies either in the Green Party's Manifesto for a Sustainable Society or voted for at its recent conference in Liverpool. Thanks to CentreRight: Vote Green, Go... Black? by Samuel Coates and Samizdata.net: Vote green – go blackshirt for this story.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who can you trust in this world?

Action Comics 309I've just been sent links to Hembeck.com: Action Comics #309 and Comics Make No Sense: More Super-Celebrity Thursday! about one of the silliest superhero comic stories going, "The Superman Super-Spectacular" which appeared in Action Comics #309 that went on sale the last week of November 1963.

This story (a full rundown is at Fred Hembeck's site) saw Superman appearing on a "This Is Your Life" style programme celebrating his life and career, with all his friends appearing. The only slight problem is that his alter ego, Clark Kent, is due to be one of the guests and Superman's plans to have either a robot or Batman stand in for him keep going astray. So amidst much madness he turns to the one man he can trust, who willingly disguises himself as Clark:

Superman meets John F. KennedyAh what a simpler age it was then! Or not - as I said earlier, this issue went on sale the last week of November 1963, perhaps not the best time to appear.

But just imagine that panel with a later President. Could anyone take this scenario seriously:

Superman meets George W. BushOr what about the two most likely candidates for this year's election?

Superman meets John McCain
Superman meets Barack ObamaSo if we can't trust the US President, who can we now trust?

A written constitution?

I've just seen BBC News: Straw's written constitution hint with the suggestion that the UK could get a written constitution produced over the next ten to twenty years and it's got me thinking.

I used to dismiss the idea in the belief that the UK's system worked perfectly well without one, and indeed allowed greater scope for flexibility. But nowadays I'm not so sure. The changes of the last eleven years, particularly devolution, are taking time to settle in and there are still some major areas not properly addressed (such as the West Lothian Question).

A written constitution that could only be changed by referendum could well have required proponents of devolution to sort out the English question before submitting the scheme to the people and there be democratic legitimacy for whatever situation was created. A written constitution would also remove the ability of parties to demand voting system changes as part of a blackmail in a hung parliament, which makes me wonder why the Liberal Democrats are so keen (although they've also never cottoned onto the fact that proportional representation would also require them to actually make a choice between the main parties and tell the public in advance of polling day).

Of course this relies on such a constitution being particularly well drafted. But are other countries that have constitutions really so badly governed because of them? Where have they had conflict that the constitution has made resolution hard? Many of them could have arisen without one.

This is an idea that warrants much further discussion...

Washington DC says No to Clinton

Well that's the "Potomac Primary" over. I visited Washington DC back in 2000 during another Presidential election year but the only political conversation I had was with a Vietnam veteran protesting because his friend was sent to Vietnam in Bill Clinton's place and died. He was pretty scathing about the Clintons and last night's results suggest that this dislike of them is shared by many in the city.

Hillary Clinton is now badly blooded and on the back foot, although if you believe that this well connected Washington insider with stackloads of "super delegates" is an "outside challenger" in this contest then I guess you'd believe Bill did not have sexual relations with that woman. If the super delegates give her the nomination over the popular choice of the primaries, then the party's demands that it be called "Democratic" will become even hollower.

But this seems unlikely. Clinton is now basically ignoring the next round of primaries and focusing all her efforts on a state often included in the South. (BBC News: Defeats push Clinton onto back foot) Hmm sound familiar? But this strategry backfired on Rudy Giuliani failed and it will probably backfire on Clinton as well.

As for Barack Obama, I saw his speech last night but can't see this "great new hope" that so many think he is. Is it just that he's a new name on the scene? Or that he talks about unity across a very divided country? He certainly didn't win me over.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

These are NOT our natural friends

There's a lot of matters where I am in strong disagreement with Tim Montgomerie but that's what healthy debate does for you. But there's one matter where he and I are very much in agreement and that is the way the fringe nutters in the US Republican Party do so much to damage the cause of conservatism with their rampant bigotry and naieve view of the world. Tim highlights this again in his post CentreRight: The Ann Coulter problem and shows the following picture of car stickers being sold at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):

Well okay a few are bearable (e.g. "Proud Republican" and "Mitt Romney for President") but the bigotry and personal abuse is such that I almost feel sorry for Hillary Clinton - and that really takes some doing. If stickers like the racist "Press 1 for English, Press 2 for deportation", the homophobic "Republican Women like Men" or the sexist "KFC Hillary Special - 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts, ... Left Wing" (or a T-shirt comparing the landmark abortion Supreme Court ruling with the Holocaust) appeared alongside those for any significant British politician, they, their party and the very ideology would be rightly crucified from all sides. That wouldn't be any "liberal bias" (and the US right needs to learn what "liberal" really means), that would be the ordinary, decent humanity of the vast majority rejecting twisted bigotry.

Now you may thing that this is just the product of an extreme fringe. But it's a very popular fringe with Ann Coulter having no remote counterpart in terms of popularity or outspokeness (or the ability to leave Jeremy Paxman gobsmacked) on the right in the UK. Tim is right to clearly and openly distance himself and others from this extremism.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ashes to Ashes

I've just seen the first episode of Ashes to Ashes, the much vaunted sequel to Life on Mars. Some thoughts from while watching it:

  • The opening sequence with the gunman by the Thames sees yet another appearance on television for my old school, the City of London School. Why did I never see television cameras when I was there?

  • Has Alex been hit or missed?

  • Alex Drake's outfit when she comes to in 1981 has to be seen to be believed. I can't remember 1981 - was it really like this?

  • Gene Hunt's shoes! Did people really wear those?

  • Gene, Ray and Chris are back and just the same, although Gene's got a new coat and car.

  • In the police station there's at least two black policemen - will there be conflict over racial attitudes?

  • Quite an introduction for the men!

  • Ah Zippy and George! Who of my generation doesn't have fond memories of Rainbow?

  • Alex finds herself in a world she thinks she understands but is it what she imagines?

  • Gene seems uneasy with "modern" policing - is he as out of place as others?

  • Alex is quite open about her situation - will this cause her problems in the station?

  • Zippy and George in the police station - quite a surreal sequence!

  • And is it me or has Roy Skelton provided their voices?

  • The clown is quite scarey!

  • Shadwell is quite close to QMUL but I don't immediately recognise the railway arches seen.

  • Sam Tyler lived in the past for seven years before drowning - or is he still alive somewhere?

  • When Alex walks into the restaurant why do I immediately think of Bergerac?

  • Gene knows that the knives are out for his type of his policing - will he act on borrowed time?

  • We're getting scenes that Alex isn't actually present for, something not done on Life on Mars - is this a sign that this really is 1981? Come to think of it, when in the present day Layton remembered Alex's mother, was he actually remembering Alex herself?

  • "I'm The A-Team." It hadn't started in 1981, had it?

  • What would happen if Layton died? A wake-up, a paradox or what?

  • Alex thinks she's done what it takes to get home, but is it that simple?

  • Even Alex found Gene's cavalry boat ride to be over the top!

  • Have Alex's parents already died yet? Or will we meet them soon?
The trailer for next week - and Alex's mother is alive...

All in all a good start to the series, showing it's very much a different beast and not just a rehashing of its predecessor. I'll keep on watching...

Bye bye Romney

I've not had much time to blog about the US Presidential election, especially given how fast it's gone. But right now I'm watching as Mitt Romney announces his withdrawal from the race. I never warmed to Romney - he always comes across as a bit of a robot on stage. As you can probably guess, of the remaining candidates I want Guliani, although Ron Paul's campaigning techniques and youth support are not something to be ignored. Now that the contest is formally down to John McCain, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee it can only be McCain - that will come as little surprise to my readers.

Meanwhile the Democrat race goes on and on, with the absurdly complex rules of their side of Super Duper Tuesday leaving everyone still trying to work out who "won". Had November's election been Romney vs Barack Obama, I'd want Obama to win, but now that McCain will be the Republican nominee I want him instead. And anyone would be better than another four years of the Clintons.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Goodbye Grange Hill

BBC News: BBC to shut gates on Grange Hill

I supposed it was inevitable - the BBC has changed the structure it children's television, splitting the 6-12 and 13-17 target groups. Grange Hill always straddled the two but has wound up on the 6-12 side and even the show's creator felt it had had its day. But it's another piece of my childhood passing into history.

King Herod's Nursery

I've generally sought to avoid commenting on the issues surrounding MPs and their expenses as I believe the issue is in danger of being over sensationalised and some of the details need to be exposed. But the announcement of the Commons committee to look at reform is really quite astounding. Only one of the six has not been embroiled in one scandal or another. (Daily Mail: Commons Speaker accused of fix as 'dodgy' MPs are put in charge of sleaze reform) This is like putting King Herod in charge of a nursery!

Michael Martin has come under heavy fire lately with many blaming him as the mian obstacle to full disclosure about MPs' financial arrangements. He is also known to be vindictive hence no MP is willing to speak out against him or make moves to depose him. Surely it's time he was replaced?

And if MPs won't do it, then why not see if the voters will try? There is a sometimes recognised convention that the major parties do not contest the Speaker's seat, although Labour have rarely observed it (and the Scottish National Party don't). But if the Speaker is no longer providing the best service, perhaps it's time to abandon this convention and challenge Martin in his own seat at the next election. Or what about an independent, pro reform candidate?

Doctor Who - The Time Meddler

As per usual, here is my old review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this month's DVD release, The Time Meddler:

A strong and sedate tale

The final story of Doctor Who's second season, The Time Meddler is something of a curiosity. This is the first story where we meet another of the Doctor and Susan's people, the first story to combine futuristic and historical events and even the first story where TARDIS is said to stand for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space (previously it was just Dimension). It also completes the introduction of Steven as a companion and takes the TARDIS to one of the most obvious years in history - 1066. This is quite a list of achievements and what is surprising is that the story not only does all this but adopts a relaxed pace which is a welcome change from the hectic tension of previous adventures.

The opening scenes aboard the TARDIS serve as a useful reminder of the basic format of the series. It is reassuring that Steven doesn't immediately accept everything he is told and instead slowly comes round to accepting that the TARDIS is a time machine and this makes for some nice scenes as Vicki tries to convince him. The mystery is established almost immediately after the TARDIS arrives and the strange Monk observes it but does not seem at all surprised.

As the story progresses and a succession of anachronisms are presented the Monk become ever more the key figure. Peter Butterworth's whimsical performance is a wonderful contrast to William Hartnell's Doctor and the all-too few scenes involving them in the final two episodes are a delight as they seek to outwit one another. Whilst the other guest cast are somewhat bland with the possible exception of Edith, portrayed well by Alethea Charlton, this doesn't matter as it means there's more scope for the conflict between Doctor and Monk. With the departure of Ian and Barbara in the previous story The Chase, the Doctor could have been left without a reason for his wanderings but here one is soon clear - he must put things to rights by stopping the Monk rather than just escape to the TARDIS.

The cliffhanger to A Battle of Wits is wonderful as there is no previous clue that the Monk has a TARDIS too. The conflict between the Doctor's and the Monk's philosophies of time travel and history is strong. Although no famous historical characters appear in this story, the threat to history is all-too clear. The one downside is the story's resolution as it's never made clear whether or not the Monk could still fire his cannon to destroy the fleet and a few lines sorting this out would have wrapped that up nicely.

The story, and the second season, ends with a strange sequence showing treated images of all three regulars over an images of stars and bodes well for the future. About a decade ago this story was chosen to represent the Hartnell years in a series of repeats on BBC2. Although it is highly atypical of the Hartnell years it was nevertheless a good strong choice to launch the repeats with. 9/10
The Time Meddler can be purchased from here.

Friday, February 01, 2008

January on this blog

Time again for the monthly look at who's been visiting this blog. For those who wish to see stats for earlier months you can now click on one of the labels at the end of this post. Comparisons are with the stats for December.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. Blogger.com (-)
  3. educationet (RE-ENTRY)
  4. Liberal Democrat Youth & Students (NEW)
  5. Wikipedia (-1)
  6. ConservativeHome (-2)
  7. Mars Hill (-1)
  8. The Doctor Who Forum (NEW)
  9. Iain Dale's Diary (RE-ENTRY)
  10. Facebook (-2)
Dropping out of the top ten are Yahoo (at 11, down 2), Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (at 19, down 9), Chris Paul: Labour of Love (at 23, down 16) and Conservative Mind (disappearing altogether).

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

  1. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  2. what president am i like? (NEW)
  3. what harms the environment (+3)
  4. tim roll-pickering (-)
  5. whatever happened to dan quayle (a RE-ENTRY, unlike Quayle himself)
  6. oldest political party (NEW)
  7. laura blomeley (-1)
  8. james juggapah (NEW)
  9. laura purll (NEW)
  10. london mayor election 2008 / polls (NEW)
Some of usual regulars, some interesting new ones, mostly stemming from various elections people may or may not be involved in.

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

ABERDEEN, ATLANTA, BALTIMORE, BANGKOK, BELFAST, BIRMINGHAM, BISMARCK, BRISTOL, BROOKLYN, CALGARY, CHATHAM, DENVER, DUBLIN, DULLES, DURHAM, EDINBURGH, GLASGOW, HARLOW, HARTLEPOOL, INDIANAPOLIS, JAMAICA, LEEDS, LIVERPOOL, LONDON, LUTON, MANASSAS, MANCHESTER, MARKHAM, MELBOURNE, NEW YORK, NEWBURY, NOTTINGHAM, ORLANDO, OTTAWA, OXFORD, PORTSMOUTH, REDMOND, RESTON, SAINT PAUL, SAN FRANCISCO, SINGAPORE, SOUTHAMPTON, SUTTON, TORONTO, VANCOUVER, VICTORIA, WASHINGTON, YONKERS and "others".

Thank you all for reading!

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