Saturday, December 29, 2007

Time to acknowledge the Anglosphere?

I've just read an interesting article in the Telgraph by John O'Sullivan
about A British-led Anglosphere in world politics?. "Anglosphere" is a word slowly gaining in usage and the concept seems very appealing. As O'Sullivan notes:

If you want to know which countries the British feel really close to, check which ones they telephone on Christmas Day (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, America... but you knew that).
Indeed. I do a lot of selling on eBay and it is very telling where my overseas sales go - by far and away most go to the USA, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. The cultural connections of the Anglosphere are never far away - just look at this week's Doctor Who, set on a vessel mimicking a trans Atlantic liner and co-starring a popular Australian singer and actress. And it was the second highest watched show of the week. The UK's culture has many external influences and look where they come from.

Politically it's similar as shown by the pattern of alliances and friendships. Nor are the links rooted through a single country:

The idea, lagging well behind the reality, is now seeping into politics. Last year Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, delivered an eloquent speech to the Australian parliament that praised the common British heritage linking both nations.

Even more significantly India's PM, Manmohan Singh, gave a speech at Oxford in 2005 that neatly stole the entire concept for New Delhi: "If there is one phenomenon on which the sun cannot set, it is the world of the English-speaking peoples, in which the people of Indian origin are the largest single component."

That raises a painful question. If Australians, Indians, Canadians, and even Americans can recognise the Anglosphere as a new factor in world politics, why is it something from which the Brits themselves shy?
Too often those who've talked about the Anglosphere in the past have been accused of being reactionaries dreaming of the old days of Empire. The idea that Manmohan Singh fits that bill is plain absurd. There are ties in so many fields - family, culture, business, politics and so many more - that reinforce the bonds between the nations of the Anglosphere. Why not take the next bold step and reinforce those ties on the world stage as a force for good? The idea is gaining more and more credibility:

Its academic foundations are rooted in work demonstrating that England always had a more individualist culture than continental Europe, that the "civil society" tools of this culture were transmitted to the colonies settled from England, and that those countries have since not only prospered unusually, but also established a world civilisation rooted in liberalism.

Bennett in The Anglosphere Challenge makes unmistakably clear that it is English cultural traits - individualism, rule of law, honouring contracts, and the elevation of freedom - rather than English genes that explain this success.

These traits enable a society to pull off the difficult trick of combining trust with openness. Nations with different genetic backgrounds that adopt such traits seem to prosper more than their similar neighbours. Hence the Anglosphere includes India and the West Indies, as well as the "old Commonwealth".
So is now perhaps the time to take the plunge?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bye Bye Netscape

I have just seen the news that from the start of February Netscape Navigator will no longer be supported and will be cast adrift to sink in the sea of obscure outdated software. The announcement can be found at Netscape Blog: End of Support for Netscape web browsers.

People will say this is the end of an era, but something like only 0.6% of web users are now using Netscape (source: BBC News: Web icon set to be discontinued). For readers of my blog it's even lower - in the stats for November only 0.24% of readers were using Netscape. The era seems to have already passed.

Why has this happened? I haven't followed the technical and corporate politics of the AOL takeover and everything, but looking back as a user I stopped using Netscape when version 4 could no longer support most websites and version 6 had system requirements that were too advanced for my laptop (which was then only three years old). Consequently I switched to Opera after recommendations. About this time my then university dropped Netscape altogether in an upgrade of the network login (which up to that point was still on Netscape 3). For a long time I was reluctant to take the plunge with Internet Explorer but I eventually succumbed, primarily because for a year it was the only available browser for the sole computer with internet access that I regularly used.

More widely I guess the big part of the problem was the continued expansion of internet usage came at a time when Internet Explorer was automatically included with new versions of Windows, whilst Microsoft websites were near impossible to use with any other browser to say nothing of other applications that are internet compatible and link to websites. So for the average user Internet Explorer did all that was required and there was no need to get another browser. In turn more and more websites were designed with IE primarily in mind - and on some versions of Netscape many a website looks ugly.

This of course doesn't explain the mass switchover amongst existing users, though miscalculations and unstable new browsers from Netscape in the crucial period whilst competing with a more aggressive drive by other browsers might. Much as some of us would like otherwise, most computer users do not have an obsessive hatred of Microsoft to the point of overriding all other considerations. And thus in a market driven by those who are always trying to be new and which scorns those who can't move with the times (see my past post Bye bye Windows 98) Netscape appeared old fashioned, clunky and undesirable. And so it failed.

Perhaps the biggest loss is not the browser itself but the email reader. One thing that I always liked about Netscape is that when replying to a message, at least on the versions I used, the default setting was to place the cursor below the quoted text, encouraging the sender to quote properly when sending email. I find lengthy emails full of bottom quoting tedious in the extreme, especially when they evade key points which proper email quoting targets. Here endeth the Rant.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

I'm not sure what to write about the events today. We turned on the news at lunchtime to see the story of the attack just breaking and then news of her death came through.

This is a sad day not just for Pakistan but for much of the world. Bhutto had proved a key force of moderation and was one of those who seemed able to bridge the often turbulent gap between western-style democracy and the Islamic world.

Bhutto was no stranger to political violence - she knew the risks to her personally when she returned to Pakistan, but was determined to stand firm in the face of them. She showed true courage, her assassins none.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

So Cable wasn't even original!

I take back what I said about Vincent Cable doing something good for once. (Shock of the week) He wasn't very original, as this BBC News round up of the press from August shows:

BBC News: Newspapers dub PM 'Gordon Bean'

Gordon Brown is returning from holiday because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, news of which came too late for early editions.
Instead, the papers focus on the prime minister's trip to Weymouth which prompts several to liken him to Rowan Atkinson's comedy character, Mr Bean.

The Daily Mail compares the PM's dark trousers and beige jacket to Mr Bean's outfit on his seaside visit.

The Daily Telegraph publishes a picture of Mr Brown striking a pose which it says is "not dissimilar to Mr Bean".
So minus points for Vincent Cable - he couldn't find his own joke. Here's a hint Mr Cable - the biggest joke is your party.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The new Liberal DemocRAT leader

A truthful poster for the Lib DemsAnd so it's "Calamity Clegg". So the Liberal Democrats look set to get into yet another mess.

Watch out for the hordes of anonymous comments claiming that it's a glorious moment and calling anyone who disagrees names (in spite of the claims of the Liberal Democrats to be "above tribalism" and all that other self-righteous hypocrisy they spew out).

So when's the next Liberal Democrat leadership election?

I don't knowI know nothingAs I type this the result of the Liberal Democrats leadership election, 2007 is about to come through. It's not exactly a contest that's set the world on fire with the candidates squabbling with each other, whilst the one Liberal Democrat who's come out of the last few months with his stature raised is Vincent Cable (see Shock of the week). No wonder people are already regretting that Cable didn't stand himself (BBC News: Vince Cable: Acting like a leader).

But let's not disguise the truth - whoever wins will be the fourth leader the Liberal Democrats have had in a single parliament. They've meandered all over the place, been utterly unable to give a consistent answer on what they'd do if there was a hung parliament which is, after all, the likely outcome of their wet dream of proportional representation! What do Liberal Democrats stand for? Other than leadership elections.

And whoever wins will be at the head of a fractious party that's used to squabbling and back & frontstabbing. The Liberal Democrats are now truly the nasty party - well they are the ones with "rats" in their name.

So when will the next leadership election be?

The absurdities of monarchical succession

I have just seen the news that the Countess of Wessex (where's that?!) has given birth to a baby boy (BBC News: Countess gives birth to baby boy). The new boy has not yet been named, though he automatically receives the courtesy title of Viscount Severn. That's fair enough, his family can call him what they want (and indeed it's doubtful he'll be called "Prince So and So").

But what is utterly absurd is that he immediately jumps his sister in the queue that is the line of succession to the throne. For some reason that I am unable to grasp, having a Y chromosome means that Viscount Severn is inherently superior to his sister. It's not just here - somehow Viscount Severn is considered superior to his father's elder sister. Even Lady Louise Windsor ranks above Princess Anne in the line of succession!

Normally I would despise any system that suggests that someone is inherently superior merely because of when they happened to be born. However when something is inherited and indivisible then clearly there has to be some method of prioritisation. But the "male preference" rules in the succession for the monarchy are utterly out of date and defy consistency. It says that a woman can inherit the throne but only if she has no living brothers. It doesn't say that women are not suitable to inherit the throne (which would be reprehensible but at least consistent) but nor does it say that they are equal. In effect it says that both Elizabeths and Victoria were not good enough to be monarch. Who would agree with that?

Indeed if some simultaneous tragic misfortune were to strike down the Queen, her three sons, William, Harry, Beatrice & Eugenie then Viscount Severn would immediately become King despite being less than 24 hours old. This is hardly a good system for producing a head of state. Whatever happened to the idea that each individual should advance as a result of their own decisions and efforts?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

You can't have your cake and eat it Gordon!

In search of a bottleThe EU Constitution "Treaty" has been signed, making sweeping changes to Europe "just tidying a few things up" (BBC News: EU leaders sign landmark treaty) and look who's the only leader not at the signing ceremony.

Will this one do?Yes Gordon Brown, once again bottling out. He's used some committee at the House of Commons as an excuse for not attending, when committees are rescheduled all the time. He just doesn't have the bottle to be seen signing such an important document when he won't honour Labour's election pledge to hold a referendum on it. The argument that the "Treaty" is too different from the Constitution just doesn't wash.

If Brown wants to be taken seriously, he's got to learn that a Prime Minister can't simply hide every time there's something controversial, the way he often did when he was Chancellor. And if he wants the county to adopt the "Treaty" he should be willing to sign it in public. Even Tony Blair had more courage than this.

Or did he just skip the ceremony so he could avoid running into Peter Mandelson?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Do the Lib Dems need a real leader at all?

Will the real Charles Kennedy please stand upNot some Liberal Democrats it seems! Nick Assinder relays an anecdote from Charles Kennedy himself (BBC News: Commons Confidential: December 2007) about how he once made a surprise visit to a constituency, only to find that the candidate didn't need him for an obligatory joint photo.

The unnamed candidate had instead resorted to other means - by using a photo of himself with the Madame Tussauds waxwork of Kennedy.

So do the Lib Dems really need a living leader? They could always just get an immobile lifeless object to stand in instead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The BNP in meltdown

I've just seen news in the blogosphere that the British National Party is in major turmoil, with several prominent members expelled in what appears to be a major clash over personalities and direction, some seemingly sacked merely for standing up for the others.

(Unfortunately there's a limited number of websites I can link to that aren't BNP or expelled BNP blogs, and I chose not to give the BNP help in climbing the Google hits. But there's some information on this at Black Information Link: BNP in meltdown, Lancaster UAF: BNP in meltdown as Graham and Smith expulsions infuriate membership and Chris Paul: Labour of Love: Enough is Enough: Fascist BNP Continues to Crumble.)

It seems that groups in the sewer of British politics often find fighting amongst themselves to be the thing that comes easiest to them. Let's hope that this incident helps to further expose the BNP as not being a party with "all the answers" and help to destroy it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It's not just Stalinist dictators who have one sided elections!

I've just found the following video on YouTube showing another person winning a very one sided election:

Gordon Brown's result was about as close!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Links tidy up

Over the next few weeks, as and when I find the time, I'm going to be slowly going through all the links on this blog and removing those that no longer work and those that link to sites which haven't been updated for more than three months.

If you want the link to your site kept up, please either email me or leave a comment on this post.

Strange coincidence

I've just turned on the TV to find a rerun of Little Britain with a scene where the Prime Minister is under pressure over a scandal involving huge donations to his party. Coincidence or what?!

Mind you Sebastian Love was meant to be a parody of Peter Mandelson. I can't think of an obvious present day equivalent, even if Harriet Harman seems to be routinely appointed to office despite being in an equally untenable position.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

On second chambers: The Japanese House of Councillors

After a much longer break than I'd planned, a return to my look at second chambers around the world. This time it's a look at the Japanese House of Councillors.

Composition: 242 members sitting for six year terms, with half elected at each election. 146 members are elected from the 47 prefectures by the Single Non-Transferable Vote and 96 from nationwide lists. It should be noted that this is not an Additional Member System but rather Parallel Voting where the results in one section of the election have no effect on the other.

Fairness of representation: The prefectures have quite a diversity of population, with the most populous, Tokyo having over twenty times the population of the least, Tottori. In a single election some prefectures elect one Councillor, others more than one and so consquently there's a malapportionment in favour of the smaller prefectures. The proportional element can water this down a little.

Powers and conventions: The House of Councillors is another of the stronger upper houses. It can consider almost all matters that the House of Representatives can; however in the event of deadlock between the two Houses the lower House can assert its will on budgets, treaties and the appointment of Prime Ministers after a period of time. On other matters it takes a two-thirds majority in the lower house to over-rule the upper.

Conflict resolution: In the event of a dispute between the two Houses, there is provision for time to reach agreement - 10 days for Prime Ministers, 30 days for treaties and budgets - then the decision of the House of Representatives is deemed to be the decision of the Diet as a whole.

For all other matters, if the House of Councillors either fails to pass a bill passed by the lower house within 60 days or passes unacceptable amendments then the House of Representatives can override the veto but it takes a two-thirds majority to do so.

Protector against the tyranny of the majority vs bastion against democracy: Both Houses are directly elected, albeit on different electoral systems and at different times. Consequently there's the option to split votes and elect a House of Councillors as a check & balance against an over powerful House of Representatives. It's rare for a single party or coalition to win a two-thirds majority in the lower house, although it did happen in the 2005 general election (which was called after the upper house voted down the privatisation of the post office). The most recent elections for the House of Councillors have seen control shift to the opposition, but so long as the Liberal Democratic Party and its allies the New Komeito Party maintain their two-thirds majority in the lower house then it seems the potential for gridlock is lessened. However the majority in the lower house is on a rare scale and a more normal majority would not be able to override an opposition majority in the upper house.

Anything else?: Not much more as the above covers the main features.

Anything worth copying?: Once again there's the benefit of split elections, so the question of which house has the greater legitimacy is removed. There's a clear mechanism to resolve a conflict between the two houses. It's also not possible for the upper house to bring down the government, a problem noted with the Australian Senate. On the other hand the prefectural system is something that doesn't have an obvious parallel in the UK, and the malapportionment may be hard to stomach, whilst the Single Non-Transferable Vote is one of the most complicated electoral systems to understand and very prone to attempts to manipulate it.

Doctor Who - Destiny of the Daleks

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

Not wearing well?

The introduction of the Randomiser was supposed to ensure that the Black Guardian couldn't find the Doctor, yet the very next place the TARDIS lands is Skaro! This does make a slight mockery of the Doctor's attempts to avoid him, even though this is in fact only the second landing there the TARDIS has actually made. With the next story, City of Death, taking the Doctor to twentieth Century Earth questions must asked about just how random the device is! However this criticism should be levelled at the wider series rather than an individual story.

Right from the start there are many signs that the series is being deliberately sent up and often this story feels extremely tired and worn out. This feeling extends throughout much of the production and the result is a story where most of the elements are working in tandem with one another but only serve to enhance the story's weaker features.

Terry Nation's final contribution to the series has a strong premise and it is refreshing to see a story that seeks to tackle the Daleks' weaknesses and how they seek to overcome them. However the story is very poorly worked out, with the Daleks proving extremely weak and subject to manipulation at times, whilst the Movellans are far too easily disabled and make such a minimal impact that it is hard to believe that they have reached a centuries long stalemate with the Daleks. Of the other characters, Tyson shows a strong degree of ingenuity but is poorly defined, whilst Davros is resurrected all too easily and is afflicted by some weak lines and all too easily shows his readiness to challenge the Supreme Dalek's right to lead. Much of the story is further weakened by the excess use of humour that at times sends up the situation far too much, most obviously the scene where the Doctor taunts a Dalek about its inability to follow him up a shaft.

Lalla Ward returns to the series as the new incarnation of Romana and makes a strong impact from the start, but the regeneration sequence is played for laughs and gets the story off to an all too poor beginning. There's no explanation at all of how Romana is able to chose between different forms or even test out several in succession and the result is a scene that is clearly nothing more than a parody. Tom Baker's performance is even more dominant and wisecracking than before, whilst virtually none of the rest of the cast make any severe impact. David Gooderson now takes on the role of Davros but his performance is completely flat and fails to give much impression of emotion in many scenes.

The entire first episode suffers from not actually featuring the Daleks, even though the title has clearly given away their presence, and the result is a dreary wander around the surface of Skaro. Elements such as the radiation pills are introduced and then completely forgotten for the rest of the story, whilst the sets are poor and at times not one but several sets of studio lights can be clearly seen in shot. The whole production has a very cheap feeling to it, reflected in the sets which completely fail to convince the viewer that Skaro has been deserted for 'centuries' if not millennia whilst the direction is extremely pedestrian and fails to build up much exciting. All in all Destiny of the Daleks has the feel of a series and a concept that is starting to get extremely tired and is desperate need of a renewing force. This is a very poor start to a season. 3/10
Destiny of the Daleks can be purchased from here.

On the death of educationet

Yesterday came the news that educationet is soon to die, as announced by founder Joe Rukin (messageboard Time for ednet to die).

educationet (or "ednet" as it's widely known) was set up to "provide spin-free news and campaigning information" (Educationet - The new UK News & Campaigns Site is GO!) at a time when there was very little online information disseminated. Looking back it's astounding how students' unions and the NUS were appalling at using the internet to disseminate information and mobilise support for campaigns - NUS for instance had at the time one of the most hideously designed websites I've ever encountered, complete with complex frames, Java and requiring software that many a university or college PC couldn't support.

(The number one rule in designing websites is to make them easy to browse on standard browsers, not expect people to install a new browser just to read the site. This is particularly crucial when the target audience are likely to be unable to install new software, such as most students using their institutional PC.)

educationet filled a vital gap, making it possible for ordinary students (yes actual students, not just sabbatical officers and their mates) from across the country to communicate easily, share ideas and develop campaigns, especially through the messageboard. The news stories were also a revelation, particularly in exposing NUS officers who claimed to be "independent" but were actually part of a faction (the Organised Independents).

Of course as time went on understanding of the internet grew and more and more online resources emerged, with Facebook in particular increasingly squeezing out traditional messageboards as a way to communicate. As Joe's successor as editor, Chaminda Jayanetti, noted:

to be honest joe, i suspect part of the reason why no one contributes news is that there is so little news to contribute. SUs work hard but these days to little apparent effect. Now they are happy to spend years on end discussing the finer points of 'governance' without doing any actual 'governing'.

When we were discussing this site in 2006, i looked through the early archives and there were plenty of reports on campaigns against RAE-driven course closures. Come 2006, and SUs were far more interested in throwing money at Bates Wells & Braithwaite for photocopied legal advice than they were in dealing with the government's (deeply flawed) RAE reform. In fact, I wonder how many of them even knew what RAE stood for.

Ednet was founded as a place for student union activists of all hues to discuss how to campaign effectively for the benefit of students. In that sense, it's an anachronism.

Time to die.
(Messageboard post: Re: Time for ednet to die)

Sadly much of this is true. During my one year on the University of London Union Executive the issue of the exact status of research students writing-up came up. For some of the sabbaticals the fact that it offered an option to get rid of an officer who was asking questions they didn't like answering was far more important than the fact that this is a very real problem area with serious consequences in areas such as student support and council tax exemption. The childish attitude of these sabbaticals was beyond belief.

educationet may be passing on, but many of the contacts made will last a long time. And the work it did in connecting people up will not be easily undone.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

November 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 October.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. Slugger O'Toole (RE-ENTRY)
  3. (-1)
  4. Mars Hill (-)
  5. Facebook (+3)
  6. Conservative Mind (RE-ENTRY)
  7. ConservativeHome (-2)
  8. Wikipedia (-5)
  9. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (+11)
  10. Yahoo (-3)
Dropping out of the top ten are Iain Dale's Diary (at 18, down 9) and (disappearing altogether).

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

  1. ian smith (NEW)
  2. verity lambert (NEW)
  3. what does your birthday say about you (-1)
  4. grumpy old men muppets (NEW)
  5. laura blomeley (-2)
  6. jeffrey archer fraud (NEW)
  7. tim roll-pickering (-6)
  8. what happened to dan quayle (NEW)
  9. bremner sketch of archbishop youtube (NEW)
  10. shabina begun (RE-ENTRY)
Some of usual regulars, some interesting new ones. I wasn't aware Rory Bremner had done any sketches of Archbishops.

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


Thank you all for reading!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shock of the week

For once delivering good jokesIt's incredibly rare for the Liberal Democrats to ever deliver a good joke - normally they're too busy being total jokes - but the prize this week must go to Vincent Cable, not normally the most dynamic even by Lib Dem standards. But whatever else he may do, it seems he will be remembered for this Leo Amery moment:

And because of that, it seems this is how we'll remember Gordon Brown:

So will "The House has noticed the Prime Minister’s remarkable transformation in the past few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean" go down in history with this line from the Norway Debate of 1940: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conservatives and the free market

Whilst going through some articles today I found the following quote from Anthony Eden at the 1947 Conservative Party conference on what the Consevatives stand for:

We are not a Party of unbridled, brutal capitalism and never have been. Although we believe in personal responsibility and personal initiative in business, we are not the political children of the laissez-faire school. We opposed them decade after decade.
Where did the Tories stand when the greed and squalor of the industrial revolution were darkening the land? I am content with Keir Hardie's testimony: "As a matter of hard dry fact, from which there can be no getting away, there is more labour legislation standing to the credit account of the Conservative Party on the Statute Book than there is to that of their opponents."
I don't think any further need be said.

John Major

On this day seventeen years ago John Major was elected leader of the Conservative Party. (BBC On This Day: 1990: Tories choose Major for Number 10)

Sir John, as he is now, is one of the nicest people in politics in the last seventy years and a wonderful witty speaker as I was reminded last night at a Tory Reform Group dinner.

Without him this country would be a very different place today.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time for some perspective

I've just got in and seen the BBC News website currently running as their third front page story MP quits union over BNP speaker. This is part of the ongoing row about whether or not the Oxford Union (for those unfamiliar a debating society and not the university students' union) should be inviting Nick Griffin and David Irving to speak.

Now "No Platform" policies are so controversial as to generate lengthy posts in their own right so I'll just refer people to my previous post The rise of the British National Party.

What I do think is crucial is that excessive publicity should not be generated. The Oxford Union may have had many members who went on to achieve fame, but it is after all merely a university debating society. This should not be a major media story. By giving so much coverage of the Oxford Union invitation to the BNP leader, the media is elevating it to a level of importance it doesn't need or deserve. There are those for whom this is an issue - within other universities and also locally in Oxford for instance. But beyond that, all this does is to artificially inflate the story and help the BNP.

The way to tackle the BNP is to tackle the root causes of their support, not get into lengthy debates about "freedom of speech" and whether or not a legal political party and its leaders should be treated as pariahs. Sideshows like this are merely helping them to play the role of martyrs who the chattering classes want to silence.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Verity Lambert 1935-2007

I've just heard the sad news that Verity Lambert, one of the giants of British television, has died. (Behind the Sofa)

Forty-four years ago this very day the first show she produced began its transmission. It was Doctor Who.

In tribute:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The death of Ian Smith

Ian SmithBBC News: Ex-Rhodesia leader Ian Smith dies

I was born several months after the creation of Zimbabwe. Thus to me Ian Smith, UDI, Rhodesia and all the rest were already part of history by the time I became aware. Although my godmother's daughter married a Zimbabwean farmer, I have never had particularly strong views on the country before 1999.

That year was the first time I studied the country at all, at the end of an undergraduate history module on decolonisation in East Africa. I was struck by the similarities of concerns between the white settlers in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, and how in the former country independence was achieved without major conflict between the white settlers and indigenous population, in stark contrast to the latter. No country has had a perfect history, but the history of Rhodesia struck me as one of the worst.

Ian Smith's champions often argue that decolonisation in Africa was widely flawed, leaving behind it some very young mass democracies that rapidly fell to one party rule and military dictatorships, and that Smith was a much more benign ruler than the likes of Idi Amin, with Smith pursuing a gradualist course towards black majority rule. Exactly how this is consistent with Smith declaring "I don't believe in black majority rule over Rhodesia, not in a thousand years," is hard to see.

Smith argued that Robert Mugabe was a disaster for Zimbabwe and that because of betrayal by both the South Africans and the British Zimbabwe was given mass democracy too soon, and expectations that a coalition of moderate black leaders and Smith would be formed to lead the country towards a bright future were rapidly shown to be naïve. But what efforts did Smith - and to give him his due, the British colonial administration right across Africa - make towards fostering a culture of participative democracy? What did Smith do to make support for moderate black leaders a realistic course? How can anyone escape the conclusion that Smith's declaration rejecting black majority rule completely and similar declarations and actions were not great recruiters for the likes of Mugabe?

The UDI era Rhodesia may well have been a country with a stable economy and standards of living stronger than Zimbabwe has today. But Rhodesia proved to not be a stable regime in the long run. Some of this was due to events beyond its borders, such as the sudden collapse of the Portuguese Empire, but what effort was made to encourage all the people of Rhodesia to support the country and regime? The failure of the 1979 internal settlement when Smith did finally try powersharing demonstrated that no such nation building had been achieved.

So was Smith a wise man before his time who should have been supported, or was he one of the prime reasons for the emergence of a tyrant such as Mugabe? Try as I do, I find it hard not to reach the later conclusion?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Razors at 10 paces!

The other Muppet is uselessThe other Muppet is uselessI've just seen the clip of Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg at loggerheads (available from BBC News: Lib Dem sorry for 'calamity' slur) and I'm left wondering why either of these men thinks they're an appropriate person to lead the Liberal Democrats.

One is attacking the other for not being very clear about what he stands for. But these are Liberal Democrats after all! The other is complaining about an inability to keep one's campaign team under control. Consistency is to Liberal Democrats what chastity is to a prostitute.

And in the past two years the Liberal Democrats have deposed two leaders, had public row after public row, failed to find a clear direction instead meandering over the place even more than usual and now both their "leadership" candidates prove that this really is The Nasty Party of UK politics.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Doctor Who - Planet of Evil

As is regular, here is my old review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this month's DVD release, Planet of Evil:

Homage to Forbidden Planet

This story's roots are clearly embedded in the story of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the film Forbidden Planet but there's never been anything wrong with making a blatant homage. Planet of Evil is an interesting foray into the depths of the universe, bringing the Doctor into a situation that would not appear out of place in an episode of Star Trek but that should not be held against the story.

The basic concepts underlying the story are those of greed and arrogance jeopardising everything around them and these are admirably shown in the performances of Frederick Jaeger as Sorenson and Prentis Hancock as Salamar. Together with Ewen Solon's role as Vishinsky these actors bring a strong presence to the story that makes it stand out well. As is often the case Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen give strong performances showing how well the two complement one another and the result is a cast that is not detracted in anyway by the minor roles of the Morestran crew.

Script wise this is probably Louis Marks' strongest contribution to the series so far. The tale is straightforward but brought to life by some extremely strong characterisation There's a genuine sense of terror throughout the story, though the threat to the entire universe is never properly shown in terms to make such a danger seem imaginable. David Maloney's direction is as strong as ever and makes imaginative use of film to bring depth to the artificial jungle scenes. The anti-matter creatures are extremely well realised through video effects that are highly reminiscent of the exposure of an invisible creature in the film Forbidden Planet. Less effective is the model work of the Morestran ship or the interiors, both of which look cheap, but the direction and lighting manages to cover up such limitations.

Planet of Evil comes from a period often considered by many fans to be the series' 'Golden Age'. Whilst the wider implications of this classification are highly debatable, it's hard to find much in this story that could be held up against the series or which detracts from presenting it as an example of strong Doctor Who. This is a story that shows how important it is to have all elements of production working together to complement one another and the result is tale that can embarrass few Doctor Who fans. 9/10
Planet of Evil can be purchased from here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Is conservapedia serious or a parody?

I've just been shown Conservapedia, the Trustworthy Encyclopedia, which seeks to provide a counterpoint to the alleged "liberal bias" of Wikipedia. i.e. a website full of counter bias.

But looking through this site I don't know if they're serious or if they set out to be a parody of the more extreme elements of what Americans call "conservatives". For instance the entry for "Liberal" starts:

A Liberal is a believer in many of the following political positions:

denial of inherent gender differences, leading to things such as allowing men and women to have the same jobs in the military (while quietly holding them to different standards)
taxpayer-funded abortion
same-sex marriage
support of affirmative action
support of political correctness [1]
censorship of prayer in classrooms
compelled taxpayer funding of government schools for nearly all ages
government-controlled medical care
labor unions
elimination of abstinence-only program funding [2]
income redistribution, usually through progressive taxation
a "living Constitution" that is reinterpreted rather than an unchanging Constitution as written
support for gun control
government programs to rehabilitate criminals
environmentalism [3]
disarmament treaties
opposition to a strong American foreign policy [4]
support of obscenity and pornography as a First Amendment right[5]
opposition to full private property rights[6]
limit conservative talk radio by reinstating the Fairness Doctrine
Only then does it mention the word's use in other parts of the world, as though the American term is the original and correct one. The playing up to the "America is the whole world" stereotype is one of the things that makes me wonder if this site is serious.

Then there's the entry on "Wikipedia" which tears into the alleged "liberal" bias, with some hilarious errors:

It has millions of entries on topics ranging from an explanation for "duh" to singles by obscure rock bands to arcane British royalty.[3]

[3] Part of the article about Henry Liddell, a 19th-century Vice-chancellor of Oxford University and author, includes that his grandfather was the youngest son of the 8th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and that his daughter was the child Alice in Wonderland was written for. (accessed April 1, 2007)
Since they don't know the difference between aristocracy and royalty one has to wonder what they do know. True the talk page hides behind some rubbish that Liddell, was a very distant relative of someone who married into the Royal Family but that doesn't make them an arcane royal. There's also comments there justifying the criticism as "Why should an American care about the aristocracy of nineteenth century Britain?" - again the "America is the whole world" stereotype.

The site doesn't pretend to be neutral, I'll give them that. But looking through this website reminds me that "conservatism" is a very broad term that has become refined differently in different countries. British Conservatism is most definitely not US Conservatism and historically the UK Conservative Party has rarely been influenced by conservative parties or parties claiming to be conservative in other countries, something that too many seem to forget in their desire to emulate the Bush Republicans.


For the first time a multi-Doctor story that actually addresses whether or not the later incarnation can remember it all happening, and why the earlier incarnation looks older. And David Tenant's Doctor got to meet his hero.


In eager anticipation

As I type this I'm awaiting the start of Children in Need. And there's no mystery why...

Yes - Doctor Who: Time Crash! Once again (after both The Five Doctors and Dimension in Time), Children in Need brings Doctor Who fans a special multi-Doctor story!

And so to enjoy it...

On the former ULU executive - in response to Ashley McAlister

Generally on this blog I've sought to avoid talking about what I've done (and haven't done) in students' unions over the years as I've tried to keep this on a different focus. However there was an article in the latest edition of London Student, the student newspaper for the University of London Union, which was brought to my attention by another former ULU Executive Officer which I feel merits a response.

Unfortunately the London Student website is currently offline, but for those with access to a paper copy the article is in the edition Volume 28 Issue 4 12th November, on page 4 and is headed "ULU's 'ghost' networks". The bulk of the short article is about the very low attendance at the "network" meetings ULU has launched as part of its new governance structure and which were billed as a way to get more students involved. I'll refrain from my general comments on the failures of the implementation of the governance review other than to say that all to often problems have arisen in ULU not because of rigid rules and structures but because of a lack of willpower to give the right sort of support needed for particular bodies, then using the first sign of failure as a justification to try and make a regulation change.

But what I do find offensive is the following part of the article:

ULU VP Education and Representation Ashley McAlister defends the change. "Networks were never suppose to replace exec because exec didn't work. It tended to be where misfits who couldn't get into their own college washed up at ULU's door." he told London Student.
Such a sweeping generalisation is false on many levels. Many of the final year's worth of Exec members most certainly had not been unsuccessful in students' union elections in their own colleges. Nor were they people who had "washed up" at ULU - they included three former ULU sabbatical officers, several incumbents and others who had shown strong interest in ULU throughout their time at the University.

During my time on the exec there were two variants of this point of criticism in circulation. One was a false version like the above, mainly pushed by a minority of college sabbaticals who'd had nothing to do with ULU before taking up their position and who seemed to think that because they held a full-time position that inherently made them some sort of Übermensch and their opinion was the only one that mattered.

The other wasn't targeted at Exec members but at ULU sabbaticals as some had previously unsuccessfully stood for election at their college, or else had nothing to do with their college's students' union and who got elected to ULU despite not having had anything to do with it before. But as I said this was not true of the non-sabbatical members I worked with.

In my opinion the single biggest reason why Exec didn't work in my final year was because there was limited will to give it support in some quarters. It did not help that just prior to taking office there had been an attempt to abolish the Exec, proposed by our year's President, on the given bases that "the proposed new Charity law requires it to be scrapped" when the law (now enacted) does not, and "it doesn't work" when it clearly had in previous years. She didn't even bother to try and explain her reasoning to the incoming Executive. It can be deeply discouraging to morale to try to do a position with such a vote of no-confidence from your fellows, although other problem that year were the main reason for my activity being far more limited than I would have liked.

Since Ashley McAlister was not involved in ULU at all that year prior to running for a sabbatical position I am uncertain as to where he got his flawed information from but I strongly refute it. The almost annual turnover of officers in students' unions invariably means that quite rapidly myths get generated and when such myths are attacking individuals and repeated in public they need to be challenged and corrected in public. Hence my writing this post.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

So can Transport for London get even more complicated?

This week saw the launch of London Overground, by which Transport for London has taken over what used to be the Silverlink services, including the Watford DC Line, the North London Line, the West London Line and the Gospel Oak to Barking Line. The last, known as the "GOBLIN", runs right through Forest Gate (the station is called "Wanstead Park" but is so far from Wanstead Park it could have been named by RyanAir!) so I do often use the network to get to North London. Oyster "Pay As You Go" has been introduced on the lines.

So all joy you'd think? But no, there are some major problems created by these developments and I have to wonder how they were thought through.

The first is that there's already a lot of very confused terminology for public transport in London. "Oyster card" is often used interchangeably with "Pay As You Go", even though the former is the mechanism and the latter only one of the products As I've written before in The Oyster Card is a mess, this results in a lot of confusion for users. Of particular confusion is just where "Oyster cards can be used" on the railways.

This is only going to be compounded as "Overground" already has two other meanings in London. One is for all the overground private Train Operating Companies railways, which TfL seems to call "National Rail" in announcements (another potential point of confusion as technically "London Overground" is a TOC itself and so technically a "National Rail" service). So what does "Oyster Pay As You Go can be used on London Overground" say to the public at large? There's also the "Overground Network", a past attempt to encourage the public to uses trains in south London in a metro fashion. This has formally ceased but a number of stations still have the branding. So once again there is something called "Overground" that isn't what TfL is using the term for.

And here's another farce. The Watford DC lines go all the way to Watford Junction, several stops outside of the Travelcard zones. The line between Watford Junction and Wembley Central parallels services run by both Southern (from Clapham Junction) and London Midland. Southern are accepting Oyster PAYG on the relevant services from Watford Junction. London Midland won't accept it north of Harrow & Wealdstone. So the passenger now has to know how to distinguish between the two train companies and to understand why if a Southern service is delayed they are not allowed to travel on the London Midland service, when they could on a paper ticket.

I'm all for ways of improving ticketing both to give the passenger value for money and to speed up the flow of passenger traffic. But it's not a terribly good state of affairs where a new product is introduced that turns the clock back on interchangeable usage. Nor is it good to have a situation where the terminology used can be deeply confusing for the passenger and liable to result in many falling foul of the system and incurring fines and penalty fares simply through confusion. Something needs to be done to make the Oyster system much more user friendly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

So is STV easy to use?

There's been several posts related to Australia lately - I guess that's what Googling the elections can do to you! But before I turn my attention homeward I've just been glancing at the Australian Electoral Commission: 2007 Federal Election - Candidates details and Senate preference flows website. This rather dry sounding page lists all the candidates for the election including the Senate which is elected by single transferable vote. (For more details see my past post On second chambers: The Senate of Australia.)

One thing that stands out above all else is that the ballot papers can be HUGE. The candidates in New South Wales are no less than seventy-nine.

How are voters supposed to be informed about every single one of these candidates so they can work out an order of preferences for all seventy-nine candidates? Even the most ardent follower of politics would find this task hard.

Of course there are two ways round this. One is to pick a few candidates you like then number the rest in the order they appear on the ballot - a donkey vote. Alternatively they can "vote above the line" which is to select just one box for a party, and their vote will be allocated in accordance with one of the party preference tickets submitted (also available on the site).

Curiously most of the ardent STV advocates in this country who are aware of how the Australian system works are fiercely critical of making it easier to cast a valid vote. Would they rather have lots of donkey and spoilt votes?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Does the layout of a parliamentary chamber make any difference?

All too often we hear the suggestion made that the House of Commons should be redesigned so as to be semi-circular, the reasoning being that this might make debate in the chamber more "constructive".

Are they thinking of something like this, as shown at the start of the Wikipedia article on Parliament:

This is the Australian House of Representatives. Now according to the theory, a more rounded chamber should lead to a calmer style of parliamentary politics shouldn't it?

So here's an excerpt from a session:

I can't imagine Alistair Darling ever having the problems at the dispatch box that Peter Costello is having here! Somehow I don't think the shape of the chamber has much effect...

Is this the emptiest PPB ever?

I've just seen this clip on YouTube of Wayne Swan, the Australian Shadow Treasurer (that's their equivalent of the Shadow Chancellor) making the following broadcast as part of the Australian election:

I've heard of positive campaigning, I've heard of negative campaigning but I've never before heard of surreal campaigning. Is the Australian Labor Party missing something besides a "u"?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The return of Jonathan Aitken

I've just seen the news that Jonathan Aitken is to head a study into prison reform. I suppose he's well experienced in the field to put it mildly. BBC News: Aitken returns to front line)

Now we'll see if all those who assert that people who've been to jail can be redeemed will give him the same second chance they will give others. The reaction of the left-wing press will be very interesting to see...

Is devolution a concern for England - or just the south?

I've just come across an article in The Herald entitled Why the figures peddled by Scotland's critics don't add up, looking at several "myths" and "facts" about the various claims and counter claims about what Scotland puts into and gets out of public spending. If one thing stands out clearer than anything else, it's that statisticians could join economists as a vocation that can never reach a collective conclusion.

But one thought did stand out from the figures and that is that by and large most of the financial grounds for grievance are ones that have rather more resonance in the south of England than the north. This is by no means a universal statement as both have areas of affluence and poverty (and to some extent the English regions are not the most natural of boundaries) but figures that suggest the north east of England gets a much greater benefit out of the financial settlement than Scotland - and the "Labour north east Mafia" is a term not without some numerical basis in the voting lobbies at Westminster - but it is rarely complained about. Now someone is bound to raise the point about the Scots having devolution etc... but spending throughout the UK has never been an absolute equal amount per capita. But of course there's no north east equivalent of the Barnett formula or the Scottish Parliament or so forth to give an angle to complaints about taxes in one part of the country financing services in another part.

It's also true that Scottish devolution and the Barnett formula have not been sold very well to many in England, making it possible for the wilder claims about the differences in spending (but then Scottish devolution is not alone in this regard - a lot of people seem to think the Greater London Assembly is a devolved assembly to give London its own devolution, rather than being in theory a metropolis wide council and in practice a waste of space talking shop). But would an English Parliament deliver the same for England? Or would it continue allocating its funds much as it does at present? Or would the north of England become the new whipping boy in the press?

The current devolution settlement is messy for the UK as a whole. There are grievances in one part, whilst attempts to find a settlement provoke accusations of partisan advantage and risking the future of the Union. A growing sense of perceived unfairness in different sections of the UK is not good for the country as a whole, especially when it is based on tilted figures and heavily appeals to one end of the country without pointing out the benefits at the other end.

Just what is the solution though? I'm not sure at all - short of the classic fudge of creating a public enquiry in the hope that it can go away and bring back the Holy Grail of a solution. A grand constitutional convention to try and sort out the numerous constitutional issues raised by not just devolution but also Lords "reform" and other changes sounds good in principle but would all the key parties in the UK participate and could a settlement with overwhelming consensus be found, or would parties bring the whole thing down because they couldn't get their pet demand (e.g. voting system changes) through?

Questions to which the answers seem more elusive every day...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Time to stabilise the date of Easter?

I've just been reading BBC News: Ever been drunk driving a steam engine? and noted the following:

The ones that survive either serve some purpose or to repeal them would be too controversial, like the Easter Act 1928, which deems that Easter Sunday should be fixed as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. But to enforce it would require agreement with Christian churches around the world.
Easter is a festival that wanders all over March and April, often playing havoc with other schedules (particularly for schools and universities). When at school I remember a Greek Orthodox friend telling me how Easter was celebrated on a different date that year - maybe it wouldn't be so disruptive if the Church of England were to agree to regularise Easter in line with this law.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On transferable skills

See the latest Piled Higher and Deeper strip Transferable Skills for some of the problems PhD graduates face when heading for the world of work. Sometimes it really does feel like that!

Piled Higher and Deeper is a wonderful webcomic and I recommend it to you all.

Well Clegg's a gonner

Not a very memorable muppetI missed this one earlier this week. Nick Clegg's leadership ambitions took a serious blow this week and it's possible he may never recover.

The supporter nobody wants...Yes he has received the backing of Lembit Öpik. (icWales: Öpik sides with Clegg on Lib-Dem vote)

Clegg has shrugged off the "Curse of Lembit" (see my past post Lembit Öpik's chance to sink yet another candidate's hopes) but others may not agree. Mike Ion: Message to Lembit Opik carried a warning a month ago; whilst Liberal England: The Curse of Lembit now reports a flurry of bets on Chris Huhne.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

So where did Spencer Perceval die?

Spencer Perceval - where did he died?Ellee Seymour: Has anyone died in the Houses of Parliament? highlights a recent poll of "ludicrous laws", in which participants voted as number one the law that "It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament". As some commenters on her blog have already pointed out, this raises the question as to where our only assassinated Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, legally died? Presumably as he was a former Solicitor General and Attorney General he would have known the answer himself.

The full list of laws is at BBC News: UK chooses 'most ludicrous laws', and I note with amusement one of the ludicrous foreign laws: "In France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon". Now is this a reaction to Animal Farm or does it predate the book? (In the French translation, Napoleon is called "César".)

So what did Enoch actually say?

In the past week I've had two reminders, one minor and one major, about Enoch Powell's most famous speech. Both in their way seem to miss the point.

Steptoe and Son - The Christmas SpecialsThe first, and minor, was last week when I got the final Steptoe and Son DVD - The Christmas Specials. In one of them we see Albert Steptoe singing "Enoch's dreaming of a white Christmas..." and the implication could not be clearer. (Albert, incidentally, was shown to be a fan of Enoch as early as 1965 - see my previous post Steptoe and Son - "My Old Man's a Tory".) But the implication also seems false to what Powell actually said.

The second, and more major, has been the row about Nigel Hastilow's article. There are those in the blogosphere arguing that he should have been discipline discretely. Clearly they fail to comprehend that in this day and age of the media watching everywhere a discrete disciplining would have left the party open to the charge it was doing nothing.

Enoch PowellBut what's also telling is that people still cling to the idea that Powell made a "racist" speech. As Simon Heffer points out (Daily Telegraph: When will Tories admit that Enoch was right?) "there is a long tradition in the party of not reading the speech." It is a tradition widely shared outside the party. Indeed I remember back in 1998 when Channel 4 ran The Trial of Enoch Powell on the thirtieth anniversary of the speech (and two months after Powell died) and many, including Darcus Howe (who wrote about it afterwards in the News Statesman), encountered the actual words of the speech for the first time. Since Howe was the leading "prosecutor" this speaks volumes about how Powell is remembered. (But then "the Trial" was not exactly impartially composed - it was adjudicated by Trevor Phillips, who in the week of Powell's death had denounced him as a racist on Question Time.) "Evidence" that Powell was "a racist" was mixed, with Howe at one stage falling back on a story of how one of Powell's teenage daughters invited a friend and her boyfriend round for tea. When Powell answered the door to a six foot black man he is said to have "blanched" - defined as "turned white" - and retreated to the kitchen throughout the visit. It was a story firmly denied by Powell's widow and daughters in a letter afterwards. (Though I suspect many a teenage girl would be only too glad if their father gave them freedom of space when they had friends round!) Despite such a loaded attack, "the Trial" found Powell "not guilty".

Since the speech itself seems to be so unknown, the Telegraph amongst others have reproduced the entire text at Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech and I would urge people to read it before commenting.

Many of the comments about poor integration are comments that numerous politicians in all parties are making today (and, as Powell pointed out, were made by Labour ministers at the time). Powell was deeply sceptical of the workability of integration, something I think he was wrong about, but his comments about the numbers, the sense of resentment and the divisive effects of what we now call "positive discrimination", and how all these were detrimental to community relations are not that dissimilar to what many are saying today.

Heffer also writes:

This was a man who loved India and Indians so much that he reached interpreter standard in Urdu, and who in 1959 had made what by popular assent was one of the great speeches ever heard in the Commons, in which he attacked the government of which he was a supporter for the brutal treatment of Mau Mau detainees in Kenya. Powell was about as much of a racist as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and his warnings in the Birmingham speech have proved grounded.
There are many aspects of Powell that surprise those only familiar with the popular, misleading caricature. Powell was very much a social liberal, voting to abolish the death penalty and co-sponsoring a 1965 bill to legalise homosexual intercourse. As the UK retreated from Empire Powell was amongst the first to admit that it was no longer the power it once was. His opposition to the UK getting dragged into American wars and the "world policeman" attitude of some of our leaders, such as over Iraq, are views that many in this country share today. His calls for reform of the Conservative Party to be more professional and businesslike, where merit and not birth or old boy networks determine promotion have been at the forefront of calls for party reforms for a long time, if currently submerged beneath focus on gender and race in candidate selection. And his predictions that devolution would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom - that's hardly an unvoiced view now is it?

But unfortunately Powell is primarily remembered not for one speech but for the misconceptions of that one speech. As Tony Benn said the day Powell died, Powell was not a racist himself but his speech unleashed a lot of racist expression from others.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

No wonder there's so much debt...

The answer is clear. People don't understand basic maths.

From Manchester Evening News: 'Cool Cash' card confusion comes the story of how a new scratchcard caused confusion when a buyer called Tina Farrell couldn't understand why they hadn't won:

"I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher - not lower - than -8 but I'm not having it.
Did they not learn basic minus numbers at the age of 11 to 12, as the article explains? They probably also think a debt of £5.00 is higher than £5000.000. No wonder there's so much debt about.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

October 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 September.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. (+1)
  3. Wikipedia (-1)
  4. Mars Hill (-)
  5. ConservativeHome (+2)
  6. (NEW)
  7. Yahoo (+18)
  8. Facebook (-3)
  9. Iain Dale's Diary (-3)
  10. (NEW)
Dropping out of the top ten are Vote 2007 (at 14, down 4), AOL Search (at 19, down 11) and Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (at 20, down 11).

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

  1. tim roll-pickering (+1)
  2. what does your birthday say about you (-1)
  3. laura blomeley (+3)
  4. how many adventures are there in the key to time story arc (NEW)
  5. langua franca (RE-ENTRY)
  6. what harms the environment (NEW)
  7. how electricity harms the environment (NEW)
  8. living in sutton, surrey (NEW)
  9. millwall loonies rotterdam (RE-ENTRY)
  10. ukipbromley (NEW)
Another mix of the regular and the new.

Some of the stranger searches include:

*matthew taylor, make money review
*what does mutual love mean - given my view on this matter I somehow doubt anyone searching this blog is going to find the answer!

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


Thank you all for reading!

Runaway train!

I've heard of dogs running off, leaving their handlers chasing after them, but never a train...

Read The Register: Docklands train runs off without operator for the full details.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"RESPECT" - still shaking things up!

When it was founded the so-called "RESPECT - The Unity Coalition" pledged to shake up politics and change the nature of politics. This week they've continued to do that.

Over a third of the "RESPECT" group on Tower Hamlets Borough Council have resigned the whip, feeling that their leader has "systematically acted to appease only one section of the party and community". Unsurprisingly they are the four associated with the national Socialist Workers Party. See their statement at East London Advertiser: We quit because we have no respect for Respect group leader. It's also notable that the ring leader of the four is Oliur Rahman, who stood in the Poplar & Canning Town seat at the last election. With George Galloway having decided that the "RESPECT" nomination for that (renamed) seat is his by right, one has to wonder if Rahman has a personal issue in all this. On my one encounter with him I found him to be even more stubborn minded than George Galloway and watched with bewilderment as he went on about courtesy whilst interrupting someone speaking and claimed that a point about what had been seen on Iraqi television was invalid "because the BBC is inherently biased". One has to wonder where "RESPECT" found this idiot.

But as for "RESPECT" itself, it is just conforming to the standard pattern of a flash party that springs up from nowhere, gets a bit of support and then disintegrates when its internal contradictions are exposed. And for the rest of us it's all hilarious to watch as socialists demonstrate that their most hated enemies are other socialists!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Conservative Future elections

The Conservative Future elections are almost upon us and the various candidates are currently declaring. I am especially pleased to see that Daryl Williams is running for National Chairperson and he has my full support. In the time I've been involved with Conservative Future Daryl has always stood out as one of the best campaigners, bringing dedication, hard work and enthusiasm to the task and inspiring others, and he would take the organisation forward by huge leaps and bounds.

(See also ConservativeHome's CF Diary: Daryl Williams launches campaign for the chairmanship for many other endorsements of Daryl.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Does English need a spelling reform?

Recently two incidents have left me wondering about this one.

Earlier this week I received back a copy of a thesis chapter from my supervisor and amongst the howlers in it he pointed out that I'd used the spelling "practice" when it should be "practise" for the verb. Since the noun uses the latter form, and Americans use both (and Microsoft's "UK English" spellchecker doesn't flag it as an error), it's an easy mistake to make. But both spellings are pronounced the same, are derived from the same root and so forth. Why exactly they're spelt differently is a mystery.

Another point came in reading a few pieces about the current general election in Australia where I was reminded that the Australian Labor Party uses that spelling despite ~our spellings being standard in Australia (including for "labour") because nearly a century ago one of the leading Labor politicians was an advocate of spelling who opted to "modernise" the name, only for the great spelling reform to not happen. (See Wikipedia: Australian Labor Party#History and King O'Malley.)

Spelling reform seeks to make a language easier to spell, removing irregular spellings and making spelling phonetic (now why isn't that word spelt the way it's pronounced?). Is this a pointless goal or could it bring greater benefits? Could it really reduce levels of dyslexia (another difficult to spell word) as some of its advocates claim?

In one area spelling reform happens all the time. As foreign words get incorporated into English very often they lose accents (e.g. rôle becoming role or élite becoming elite) even when there already conventions for how to type them without accents (e.g. without an umlaut "Führer" should be rendered "Fuehrer" and strictly not "Fuhrer"). Another change, although one that frequently provokes howls of pedants and protests, is when the English rules of pluralisation are followed - so it's "forums" not "fora" and "referendums" nor "referenda" (and the Blogspot spellcheck has just flagged the latter as an unfamiliar word). I have never understood why the Latin rules of pluralisation should be adhered to for words used in English, unless it's because some people want to show off that they know the language.

But overall English is a very complicated language to understand, and the international variations compound the problem further. Now as time goes on it's possible that some of the spellings will start to regularise naturally, but it would take millenniums to occur. Would a concerted effort help? And would it be possible to implement? (Just look at how much resistance to metrication in the UK, and the US is even worse on that one.) The German spelling reform of 1996 has been particularly controversial, but it's not yet possible to see if it has helped literacy rates.

Still we can at least try to ensure that only English plurals are used.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

So what is this contest all about?!

One random Muppet......after anotherOne of the common complaints about the Liberal Democrats is that overall it's utterly unclear what they stand for, wit numerous ambiguities and a reluctance to engage in heavy philosophical debate. It's a reputation that both Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg seem determined to maintain, with the announcement that there are no policy disagreements between them and the election is all about presentation! (BBC News: Lib Dem race 'about presentation')

So do the Liberal Democrats want their policies to be presented by a Cameron clone public school Oxbridge educated politician or by erm a Cameron clone public school Oxbridge educated politician? I have nothing against anyone misfortunate enough to have been sent to a public school, but there are times when I do think it would help to have a broader mix of backgrounds in politics.

So for once we genuinely do have the Liberal Democrats involved in a two-horse race but with very little of note. What is this party for again?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A new species on the endangered list

Yesterday I had no internet access and consequently the resignation of Sir Menzies Campbell largely passed me by, so I didn't see the hints and whispers about the men in grey sandals telling Campbell his time was up. His interview on BBC News 24 this afternoon suggests there's a lot of anger there. He can at least console himself that the knives went into his back, rather than the front as with Charles Kennedy. But given his role in that fiasco, Campbell cannot complain about his downfall. But it now seems that Liberal Democrat leaders are the most endangered species in British politics - by the end of this Parliament they'll have had four different leaders since the election!

As to his successor - well aside from the acting leadership of Vincent Cable - who should the Liberal Democrats go for? Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne are both being talked up a lot - but the party may remember that last time they plumped for the obvious choice and look where that got them!

Of course there is one MP who absolutely has to stand, if only to ensure he can't accidentally support someone else! So come on down Lembit Öpik, this is your chance! As leader, you would have the chance to tell the country why protecting us all from asteroids is the number one priority!

P.S. There's a group on Facebook: Lembit Öpik MP for Lib Dem leader! So join up and invite others to do so as well!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Liberal Democrat leader steps down

Going from this, soon to be gone from allYou were all expecting to hear that the Lib Dems have finally done what needs doing and deposed Sir Menzies Campbell, weren't you? Well that news hasn't come through yet. But what has come through is that Lembit Öpik is resigning as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. (BBC News: Öpik to step down from party post) He's jumped before being pushed - Lembit has been losing a lot of support lately. (See Liberal Democrat *leaders* in trouble)

So who will succeed Lembit in the battle for this incredibly coveted post?


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