Saturday, February 22, 2003

I'm trying to think of a phrase to describe the enjoyment I get watching the Conservative Party tear itself apart yet again. The standard metaphor for this is 'watching a car crash' yet I'm not sure that's appropriate in this situation, as a car crash is a bad thing and this is just far too enjoyable. 'Watching people you don't like involved in a non-fatal car crash' is a bit too unwieldy, I think. Or maybe this is the metaphor - maybe in years to come people will say 'wow, this is just like watching the Tories tear themselves apart again'.

Qucik digression for a wonderful Times moment in that article. The last paragraph is:

Mr Portillo then went to Taunton to hear the Lindsay String Quartet perform a programme of Haydn, Schumann and Brahms.

which is just wonderfully irrelevant, and makes me think that the story just came in a couple of lines short of the space it had to fill, and so they just had to bolster it with the first vaguely related fact they could get.

Of course, this is just the start of the fun. When (I'm pretty sure it's a when, not an if) Iain Duncan Smith faces a challenge, the members of the Conservative Party will yet again face the choice between Ken Clarke and some right wing non entity, and will with their customary idiocy, vote for the non-entity. And soon the phrase 'Tories voting for a right wing non entity' will replace 'turkeys voting for Christmas'. So, we're getting some good metaphors out of this debacle, if nothing else.

Also interesting is the story that two Tory MPs are on the verge of defecting to the Liberal Democrats, which I get the feeling is very close to coming true, especially if Mark Oaten (Lib Dem Chairman) is willing to be quoted on the record about it:

"The sticking point is because of friends, human relationships, what their wives think and the effect on their social life if they leave. They have profoundly honest objections about where the Tory party is going."

The effect on their social lives if they leave? What, they're worried about having too many invitations to events once they're no longer Tories? I'm still trying to work out who these two MPs might be - though, given that all the stories refer to a definite two MPs who are both challenged by the Lib Dems and are obviously of liberal views and at odds with the Tory leadership, my idle speculation is that the comment about 'what their wives think' might be a way of distracting attention from who they are. After all, the two MPs could well be a husband and wife: Peter Bottomley and Virginia Bottomley, perhaps?
Last night, I was drinking tequila. Today, my brain feels very fuzzy. In that spirit, have some Unreliable Facts.

But, just to prove I am capable of doing something while hungover, I have put the 'Quantum Politics' thing I wrote last week in the Writing section. Not rewritten ityet, as I promised to do, but at least it's now there to remind me. And if I can defuzz my brain sometime I'm planning a piece called The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range, or how Michael Franti and Roger Waters predicted the future.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Seems like Guardian Unlimited has spotted what I've been noticing in my searching of British blogs recently - there are very few British political weblogs.

Actually, there's very little British politics on the web at all, especially when you compare it to how so much of American politics seems to be carried out on the web now. Certainly, I'd say that the percentage of American blogs that are wholly or mainly political is a lot bigger than a similar percentage for British blogs. But, even outside blogging, there's not the same amount of political engagement on the web. Sure, the main parties all have their websites, but there aren't any sites in Britain comparable to Democratic Underground or Free Republic. Even on Usenet the uk.politics.* groups seem to be the sole domain of kooks, geeks and net nazis. So, where do British people go to vent their political spleens on the web? Or do we not need to?
Having mentioned the 'Be Ready' site the other day, I feel I have to point to this, by Kieran Healy, which is no doubt the first of many parodies. (thanks to Green Fairy for the link)
Chris Morris gives an interview to the Guardian about his new short movie (which has been nominated for a Bafta award), but refuses to answer the question of whether he's pretending to be Iain Duncan Smith. Some might say he wasn't asked that question, but I'll focus on the fact he chose not to answer it.

And, for some reason or another, The Smoke Hammer is one of the websites my employer blocks us from visiting.
Portillo declares Tories 'in crisis'.

Must not laugh, must not laugh...

But Mr Portillo, who was shadow chancellor under William Hague and was knocked out of the 2001 party leadership contest won by Mr Duncan Smith, told BBC News: "I cannot figure out what is going on at Central Office I would be very pleased if anyone could tell me. All I have seen really during the past few days is what appear to be self-inflicted wounds and our party plunged back into crisis.

Must not sing, must not dance...

In another report, it is claimed that two unnamed Conservative MPs are negotiating with the Liberal Democrats about switching sides. They are said to be concerned about losing their seats at the next election.

Oh, what the hell...

Ding Dong, the witch is dead!

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Now here's something vaguely interesting in terms of American politics - the Republicans are using Indian call centres to raise money. Now, think back to when Clinton was President and he and Al Gore were getting all sorts of flak for allegedly raising money abroad. Now, imagine the headlines if they had made this deal for their telephone fundraising to be done outside America.

These operators are required to call up people in the US seeking their support for President George W Bush and a donation for the Republican cause.

Now, if the Democrats were arranging for this to happen, the American media would be full of 'Clinton wants Indians to tell you how to vote' and 'What's wrong with American campaign workers?' 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the papers on the radio and filling your TV screen. But the Republicans do it, and... silence. Now, can you run through that 'the American media is dominated by liberals' argument one more time please?

(original link from Dustbinman, who was using it for a completely different story)
Now, I know that having an effective Opposition is important for democracy as they keep a watch on the Government and provide a democratic alternative at elections. But it can't just be me who finds the Conservatives' ability to continually tear themselves apart incredibly amusing? Though, given that Chris Morris has seemingly disappeared from the scene since the last Brass Eye special, would anyone be surprised to see IDS tear off the mask and reveal himself to be Morris? Especially after his latest masterstroke - sacking his party's Chief Executive for implied disloyalty and replacing him with someone whose idea of loyalty to the Conservative Party is to have negotiations with the UK Independence Party over defection. There's definitely some dark satirist at work behind the mask of Iain Duncan-Smith - I mean, no real politician would get Newcastle and Sunderland confused, would they?

And for those of you reading with no interest in politics, here's a story about lesbian monkeys from Japan that might amuse you.
And another addition to the 'should be on The Onion instead of CNN' file - Freedom Fries! (thanks to Fraise for the link)

What I want to know is - what will French Kissing get renamed as?
A couple of weeks ago, Green Fairy pointed me in the direction of the old British 'Protect and Survive' guides to what to do in the effect of a nuclear conflict. Well, it appears the US Department of Homeland Security has updated them all for the 21st Century. (thanks to No More Mister Nice Blog for the link)

It's pretty much the same as Protect and Survive, just as calm and rational in it's tone, and with lots of pictures just to help you get the message of what you should do in an emergency. However, some of the graphics are (unintentionally, I hope) quite amusing. For instance, number 4 in this series of what to do in a chemical attack, or is picture 2 in the 'radiation threat' series a subtle dig at Houston?

But remember, your government is here to protect you, not just scare you into seeing terrorists everywhere.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Listening to late night radio last night, they were discussing at one point George Bush's 'You're either with us, or with the terrorists'. Now, this isn't going to be a bash at George in particular, but I've always hated those kind of statements. Anything that tries to divide the world into the black and white 'with us or against us' type of mentality is, in my view, only hurting yourself. Actually, the worst version of that statement that I've seen is the old 'if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem'.

Why I think these sort of statement's are counter-productive is that they can drive away people who might otherwise support you but disagree with you on a few things. You're projecting the image of 'if you don't agree with me on everything, I don't want to know you' and all you do is alienate more people, create more negativity in the world, and then we all get to hate each other a little more. What I'd like to see is someone saying something like: 'If you're not against us, we want you with us' or 'If you're not part of the problem, we want you to be part of the solution.'

This is just unfocused semi-ranting really, yet again based on those lying around in bed pre-sleep thoughts. I just wanted to note them down, because I'm going to rewrite that Quantum Politics piece I did last week, and I think this should go in there somewhere.

And I'm still just killing time waiting to hear the results of this - the last two rounds, they announced the results early...but not today!
I've still not read Naomi Klein's No Logo - partly because I've never found the time, partly because I remain a bit wary about something called 'No Logo', that's clearly had a very large marketing and design budget put behind it. However, Klein does expose various injustices round the world and this report on the situation in Venezuela makes for interesting reading.
The Guardian has an interesting article today, gathering together the opinions of 12 leading historians and asking them if they thought the current Iraq crisis is closer to 1939 or 1956 in historical terms. A few points spring obviously to mind, mainly that Andrew Roberts is quite clearly heading down the path that leads to stark staring insanity, a knighthood and a regular column in the Daily Telegraph. But, there are some interesting contributions:

Simon Schama: As a consequence, if you were Bin Laden, you would be thrilled about the prospect of war: either there will be a great fat target of a western presence in Iraq for several years or there will be a broken and chaotic state: either way it will be a teddy bears' picnic for terrorism.

Norman Davies: So what about 1914? The strongest military power in sight is made to feel insecure by a terrorist outrage. Instead of confining its response to the known source of the terrorism (Serbia), it lashed out at one country, which it suspected of abetting the terrorists (Russia), and then at another country (France), which was linked to the first. Then it lost the plot. Worst of all, it calculated that the war would be won by Christmas.

Richard Overy: If you must have a historical analogy, my choice would be the Boer war, where you had a large, heavily armed imperial power trying to eradicate the threat from an awkward regional state which happened to control an important raw material.
Originally from the Dustbinman, here's a test that sees if you can identify whether a quote is from Scientology or the Weekly World News. I got 80%, which you could see as a worrying high knowledge of Scientology, though the ones I got wrong were the ones I was most sure about.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

It's a rare time that finds me in agreement with leaders of US Churches. OK, it's not me agreeing with the Southern Baptist Conference, but here's an interesting story about a group of US church leaders who are meeting with Tony Blair to propose a plan for the non-violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The original press release on this can be found here, and here's some information on the Sojourners Community, the main group behind this, and their suggestions for disarming Iraq without war.

And here's what I think is one of the crucial points in the BBC News article:

Crucially, the US delegation will tell Mr Blair the West is failing to give Iraqi dissidents the support they need - the other condition they need for success.

Under the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, they say, the US administration can give opposition groups goods and services - including training - worth up to $97 million. So far it has used $1m of that total.


Also, it's interesting that this group have to come to London to get heard. After all, wasn't George Bush the candidate who said his favourite political philosopher was Jesus Christ? Or did he only mean Jesus as interpreted by Marvin Olasky?
Random thought: wouldn't 'The Merchants of Life' be a cool name for a 70s prog rock band?

Monday, February 17, 2003

OK, so this is slightly related to my job, but it's one of those things about the media that amuses me. For the last few weeks, just about the only thing that's broken through the 'all war, all the time' news bulletins has been the introduction of the Congestion Charge in London. We've been told that it's going to create chaos, with miles of queues of traffic heading into the centre of London, gridlock on the Inner Ring Road and pretty much the breakdown of civilisation as we know it.

So, it came into effect this morning, and the effect? Almost nothing, except for a reduction of traffic in the centre of London. No long queues, no gridlock, no system breakdowns. So, we've now got large amounts of every news broadcast basically telling us how there's nothing happening in London.

Of course, all the prophets of doom (yes, Steve Norris, I'm talking about you) won't now go back and say 'OK, we were wrong, Ken was right and this is working.' But, as Norris was actually one of the people who originally proposed the idea in the 90s (indeed, the whole idea does originally stem from suggestions by Milton Friedman, high prophet of the monetarist economics) I suppose we should be used to inconsistency from him on this issue.
From No More Mister Nice Blog, I found this press release by the Center for Economic and Social Rights on the possible humanitarian effects of a war on Iraq.

CESR will also release a set of confidential U.N. planning documents that warn of a "humanitarian emergency of exceptional scale and magnitude" based on the expected collapse of Iraq's civilian infrastructure following attacks on Iraq's electricity and transportation systems. One document estimates that "in the event of a crisis, 30 percent of children under five would be at risk of death from malnutrition."
OK, so now we're being told that there's a 'moral case for going to war' because Saddam Hussein abuses human rights. I don't deny that Hussein has tortured and killed his people, and along with the vast majority of the people on the marches on Saturday, I'd be happy to see him removed from power - it's just that we don't believe bombing the innocent civilians of Iraq is the way to achieve this.

Also, if the human rights issue is so important, why isn't Hussein's compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights included as part of the UN resolutions?

Anyway, I had a thought last night about a way to resolve this crisis. It's probably heavily flawed and unworkable, but I would appreciate any comments people have - and if you think it's a good idea, then tell people about it... I'm a bit fuzzy on international law, so there's probably better terminology that could be used in some parts, but I hope the basics make sense.

Firstly, the Security Council has to pass a second resolution, similar to the Franco-German proposal - an increased number of inspectors, with miltary support and a no-fly zone established across the whole country allowing for observation flights. As part of this, a deadline would be set for the Iraqi regime to absolutely comply with the inspectors, and with relevant human rights treaties.

Then, if the deadline is reached and Iraq has not complied, the leadership of Iraq will be declared criminals, in breach of international law. This would be coupled with all the major nations (and the UN, if it has the power) derecognising the government of Iraq. The Security Council (or perhaps the International Criminal Court) would then issue an 'arrest warrant' for Saddam Hussein the rest of the senior leadership of Iraq. They would then be offered two alternatives - exile or trial. The 'exile' option has already been discussed as a way to avert war now - Hussein and his lieutenants go to another country, in exchange for immunity. Former Soviet states have been mentioned as a possibility, but personally I think they'd have a much nicer time on one of those Pacific islands that's disappearing beneath the ocean.

Now, here comes the bit that I hope I can explain clearly. An international military force would be deployed into Iraq on what is almost literally a 'police action'. Their task would be to arrest and detain Hussein and the other named members of the regime, while causing a minimum of damage and loss of life elsewhere. Their rules on the use of force would be similar to those of the police - they would not be allowed to initiate combat, but would be able to respond with necessary force if they were attacked. To help facilitate their passage through the country, there would probably need to be a major propaganda campaign in the weeks leading up to their deployment. Effectively, the Iraqi Army would be told 'we do not want to fight you, we are solely here to arrest Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants. If you stay out of our way, you will not be harmed.' We're told that the Iraqi Army is ready to defect and not put up a fight, should we attack, so if this is the case, they ought to be willing to stay out of the way.

The international 'police' force would then be able to arrest Hussein and the others, who would then be detained in a third country, before going to trial - either before the International Criminal Court, or in baghdad when a new democratic government for Iraq has been established. If Hussein was removed from power this way, then it would be a lot easier to bring in a democratic government than after a war - plus, I'm sure the US, UK etc would be quite willing to donate at least some of the money they didn't have to spend on a full scale war to help the new Iraqi government establish itself.

So, that's my suggestion - it came to me at 2am in the morning while I was trying to get to sleep, so like all middle of the night ideas to change the world, it probably falls apart under the light of day. However, it ensures the removal of Husseina and a democratic government for Iraq, the disarmament of the country, a minimal loss of life (and if the reports about the people of Iraq being ready to rise up and overthrow the regime, almost none) and all within a legal framework rather than opening the giant can of worms called 'pre-emptive war'.

Like I said, let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

'It does not do to rely too much on silent majorities, Evey, for silence is a fragile thing...one loud noise, and it's gone... Noise is relative to the silence preceding it - the more absolute the hush, the more shocking the thunderclap. Our masters have not heard the people's voice for generations...and it is much much louder than they care to remember.'
(Alan Moore, V For Vendetta)

You can find my pictures from the Stop The War march in London by clicking here.
'Do not adjust your mind. It is reality that is malfunctioning.'

I've changed the description of this blog (it's now a quotation from Reality Is What You Can Get Away With) after a couple of things yesterday that make me wonder whether reality is slightly flawed. First, at Colchester station on my way into London, I was buying a newspaper and the man in front (in his 50s, very respectable looking) was buying a Telegraph. I was behind him as we walked out of the newsagents and he bumped into some friends. And their first comment to each other? 'Oh, hello there! Are you going on this march as well?' When 50something Telegraph readers from Colchester are going on peace marches, there's some strange changes going on in the world.

My pictures from the march should be up later this afternoon - they'll be in the Events section of my pictures.

And, if that wasn't weird enough, Jeremy Clarkson has written an entire article in praise of the Germans (it's in The Sunday Times, so unfortunately, registration is required to read it). No, not German cars, the whole of Germany:

Let’s face it: if a German Tube train grazed a wall, lightly injuring a handful of people on board, they’d tow it away, replace the damaged track and have the network up and running by morning. Also, when their roads are coated with a thin veneer of snow, they send out a fleet of snow ploughs. The notion that you might be stuck on an autobahn for 20 hours because of inclement weather is utterly preposterous.

(Oh, and with regard to the little war that's broken out in the comments to my post about the 'Bash France' blog - I'm not getting involved because they're not addressing the question I asked. Should any of you be looking for a debate with a liberal, try Bartcop - he's desperate for someone to debate him.)