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!


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