Saturday, March 01, 2003

So, Tony Blair says he'll let history judge if he's right over Iraq. For some reason, all I can think about in response to that is from John Maynard Keynes:

Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.
A few changes to my reading list. I've dropped Don Quixote off the list because I just couldn't get into it, so I'll leave it for another time. Of course, this has got me worried that I'm some kind of philistine for not 'getting' it, and indeed, choosing to put a Kurt Vonnegut book on the list in it's place (Bagombo Snuff Box). But then, I'm of the opinion that Vonnegut will be one of those authors remembered many generations on from us. Personally, I'd love to see him win the Nobel for Literature, if only to hear his acceptance speech.

(For more on my appreciation of Vonnegut, check out my Bartcop Books piece on Mother Night)

Haven't started reading Bagumbo Snuff Box yet though, as I picked up a copy of Jon Ronson's Them: Adventures With Extremists as well which is an excellent book. I'd seen the Secret Rulers Of The World TV series that some of the book is based on as well as reading the Guardian articles that were early drafts of some chapters, but it's interesting to have them all collected together in one book. It confirms my one belief that while I find conspiracy theories fascinating, the people who propagate them tend to be slightly out of the norm of society.

I do believe that there are conspiracies in the world, and that somewhere there are people plotting to influence world affairs for their own benefit. However, I don't believe that these people are all secretly gathering in private rooms and manipulating absolutely everything in order to pacify us for their alien overlords, put members of the Merovingian bloodline on the thrones of Europe, turn us all into obedient slaves of the Illuminati, ensure the dominance of the Annunaki lizard people, or whichever is the individual conspiracy theorists belief of choice. In my opinion for most of these people the central organising tenet of their theory has become a form of religion, with the central figures of their conspiracy acting as a God-like figure (those who argue for competing conspiracies, such as the thirteen families of the Illuminati in conflict with each other, are obviously pantheists) who omnipotently manipulate the world to benefit their followers. It also allows for them to understand complex events by relating everything to their basic theory.

Two of my favourites in this regard are this theory, where a rather left-field idea that the planes on the 11th September were remote controlled is effortlessly put into an Illuminati scenario and this one, which also begins with a left-field idea, that James Cameron uses Masonic mind control techniques to make his films successful and then slips off into the realms of the absolutely barking with the classic lines:

Since "Strange Days", Cameron had learned that all of this time, he had been manipulated and controlled. by a group of "bad" Freemasons who work for evil purposes. In order to understand this, you have to trace the history of the Freemasons from Atlantis.

But, if you want conspiracies you can really believe in I think The Parking Lot Is Full got it right with either The Steak Conspiracy or the two monkeys playing cards. They're probably more believable than evil Freemasons from Atlantis, anyway.

Friday, February 28, 2003

This is just wonderfully, absurdly, British and funny - Traffic Warden gives parking ticket to bus that had stopped to pick up passengers.
I would comment on this, but some things just satirise themselves.

Now, for the first time on television, we will reach out to the spirit world and attempt to communicate with Princess Diana
Britain's most renowned psychics retrace Diana's final journey, and gather with her closest friends to reach out to her spirit.

And I'm pretty sure Chris Morris isn't involved in this anywhere, but I wouldn't be surprised.
Yesterday, I wrote about my new dream word - Blogtide - and asked for definitions of what it might mean. I think Bana may have got the right description for it, referrig to the trend among bloggers to write lots ond lots for a while, then go almost silent, then back to posting lots etc...going in and out like the tide. So, someone who's posting a lot at any time is on a high blogtide, and a site that's been dead for a while is at low blogtide. OK, now all I have to do is persuade a few thousand people to start using it regularly and I can be in the OED!

But then, I had a thought last night (while I was still awake this time) - what if the word was actually 'Blogtied' instead? (The one usage of it Google finds looks like a typo to me) What does that mean? I'm thinking it refers to the situation of feeling you have to post to to your blog even when you don't want to, just because you know people are waiting to read it. Any better suggestions?
This picture of London from the International Space Station has been diverting us in the office this morning. It's 7am, we're easily amused.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Thinking about the House of Commons vote last night, I think it's shown a couple of things.

Firstly, I think Ken Clarke has given up on the dream of becoming leader of the Conservative Party. Sure, if Iain Duncan Smith is removed I think he'll stand, but I think he knows the party membership is now just too barking mad to elect him and will go for someone like David Davis or Michael Howard instead. By making a speech against war with Iraq, and then voting for the amendment along with only 12 other Conservatives, he's probably found the one way to put more distance between him and the party membership than being in favour of the Euro. If he wanted to be leader, I think he would have said nothing and maybe abstained. By voting against, he's sided with the 'peace' wing of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and that is the sort of thing they would be able to effectively use against him in a leadership campaign.

Leading on from that, I was actually reading some of the transcript of the debate and noticed that it was one of those rare situations when the rules of Parliament didn't match up with the sides in the debate. The Conservatives, who are supposedly the official Opposition, were siding with the Government, and seemingly using their speeches (especially Michael Ancram's opening speech and Alan Duncan's closing remarks) to bash the Liberal Democrats, rather than oppose the Government's policies, as is the role of the Opposition.

But, the peace movement is probably the most effective actual opposition this Government has faced in the six years it has been in power. After all, even in the face of a three line whip, it was able to get 199 votes against (and if Menzies Campbell wasn't ill that would have been a nice round 200) which is slightly more than the 166 MPs of the official Opposition (the Conservatives). But, looking at the people who voted against, it certainly includes people who could make a much more effective Opposition than the current one. For a start, there's Clarke and the sane members of the Conservative Party, the whole of the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP (the last sane party in Northern Ireland with seats in Parliament - the Alliance are sane, but just slightly too sane to get the votes), a large portion of the the Labour Party including people like Chris Smith, Glends Jackson and Peter Kilfoyle, and outside the Commons, there people like Roy Hattersley, John Major and Ken Livingstone (actually, I'm trying to think if there's ever been any other issue Hattersley, Major and Livingstone have ever all agreed on).

Strange times we're living in.
From the online edition of Hansard, here's the full breakdown of the votes in the House of Commons last night - who voted for and against on the two votes:

On the amendment (that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been proven) 199 in favour, 393 against
On the Government's motion (blah blah, Resolution 1441, blah blah, last chance, blah blah, but no direct approval of the House of Commons for a war, in case they try and spin it like that in the weeks to come) 434 in favour, 124 against

The entire debate is online, and begins here (very long)
Right now, arrows are plotting to quantity-survey a shouting bath. My camcorder is neo-Nazi, and Greeks that I work with may be nervous.
I'm Federal Agent Jack Bauer, and this is the most newborn splinter of my life.

24 Dreaming, from the people who brought you the Blog Twinning Project.
From comes this little example of the media in action.

So, Tony Blair has just suffered the biggest revolt of his time in office (and possibly, the biggest Parliamentary revolt in over 100 years) with over a quarter of Labour MPs voting against the Government over Iraq, and Blair having to rely on the Conservatives (with the notable exception of Kenneth Clarke) and the 'payroll vote' to defeat the rebellion. So, while the rest of the world leads with 'Blair rocked by biggest revolt over war on Iraq' (The Daily Telegraph), 'Almost 200 MPs vote against Blair' (Deutsche Welle) and 'Stung by party revolt, British leader resumes Iraq diplomacy' (Star, Malaysia), a few papers bucked the trend and reported just 'Blair wins vote on Iraq' headlines. Of course, the fact that they're all in the US is entirely coincidental, right?

In the words of Eric Alterman, What Liberal Media?
Signs you've been blogging a bit too much number 1 - it starts to infiltrate your dreams. Which happened to me last night.

However, part of that dream involved someone using the entirely new word 'Blogtide' which I thought sounded like a good word, but I can't work out what it might mean. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Some just like to refer to them as 'collateral damage' rather than people - the Iraq Body Count is recording the number of civilian casulaties from military action in Iraq, building on the work that showed how more civilians were killed in the military action in Afghanistan than died in the September 11th attacks.

(counter now installed at the bottom of the links section on the right)
Another one for the 'it's OK for us to be xenophobic, but not for you' file: Danish restaurant owner bans French and German tourists over Iraq. Of course, there are various pro-war bloggers lauding this as a good decision (I really can't be bothered to link to them, but you can see enough of them on Blogdex, should you wish) - now, what do we think their reaction would be if someone banned Americans or Britons from entering a restaurant?
Probably the best metaphor for the current situation I've seen, from No More Mister Nice Blog:

Iraq? It seems to me it's basically a hostage situation. Spare me the Hitler analogies -- Saddam doesn't even control half his own country, for chrissakes. A better comparison for Saddam is David Koresh, or Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon.

Saddam is surrounded, but he can kill a lot of innocent people if we go in with guns blazing; he really might want to die gloriously and take a lot of people with him. How different is he from an armed bank robber holding a few dozen people at gunpoint, or a self-styled messiah in a compound with a group of followers, a small arsenal of weapons, and a messiah complex?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Something worth linking to in Metro? Yes, it's an excellent interview with Jon Stewart:

After September 11, we had this problem with Al-Qaeda but now we're suddenly going after Iraq. I don't understand why. It's as if after Pearl Harbor, we decided to go after Australia. I don't know the logic behind it but that's probably why they don't have me in the meetings.

I'm almost tempted to shell out for cable, just to get a half hour dose of The Daily Show on CNN every week. Why can't we produce an equivalent here in Britain?
The joys of aimless net surfing: Mr Benn - What Was It All About? and the rather fantastic Benn In Black.

However, I discount the "Mr Benn was all about drugs" theory - that's a theory more aptly applied to the televisual cartoon insanity that was Jamie and The Magic Torch.
A recent post on soc.history.what-if reminded me of something I'd discovered a couple of years ago - the Political Compass, which allows you to see your political leanings on a two dimensional scale. Rather than just the one dimensional left/right political scale, this adds in an authoritarian/libertarian scale as well which is quite an interesting analytical tool, especially as (or so it seems from the FAQ) its reminding (or even informing) Americans of the existence of the "libertarian left" and anarcho-syndicalism.

I've actually taken the test a couple of times over the last couple of days, with slight variations - though that's probably due to me varying in the strength of my response on certain questions - and get something around -7 on both axes, which puts me firmly into the libertarian left category, and more radical than Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, if their analysis of current British politicians is correct.

Of course, there is also a game you can play while using it - set yourself a target score in advance (hardcore Stalinist, absolute zero-point moderate etc) then try and answer the questions in such a way as to achieve that score. It's harder than you might think.

Monday, February 24, 2003

OK, so I wrote last week about the Congestion Charge in London, and how the prophets of doom were saying that last week was just a blip and it would of course be chaos this week. Wrong again. Still, at least Steve Norris has changed his tune slightly:

"Even if this works in the way Ken Livingstone thinks it will, it is fundamentally wrong. It's wrong for London as a centre of business, it's wrong for Londoners."

Remember, Steve Norris originally proposed the idea of the Congestion Charge, then decided he couldn't support anything Ken Livingstone proposed, so opposed it and said that it wouldn't work and would bring chaos to the streets of London. And now it's actually worked, it's just "wrong". Still, at least he's almost admitting it actually works, which is something, I suppose.

But, if you want some fun, try looking at Sod U Ken, where there are lots of people apoplectic over the fact that Ken Livingstone hasn't given them anything to complain about and have now resorted to trading conspiracy theories about why the people of London haven't risen up in a revolution to overthrow the congestion charge.

And before you say this is a London thing (and remember I just work in London, I don't live here), now it's proven to work here, it's coming to a major city near you. It'll be the first time Britain's led the world in transport policy since we invented the railway, I reckon.
So, the BBC, that bastion of Commies and Liberals who want nothing more than to tear down the whole of Western Civilization and America in particular...has been commissioned by the Texas state education board to produce TV shows that will increase students' awareness and knowledge of world geography.

Of course, everyone knows that American students' grasp of geography is poor (but at least it's better than Mexico's) but, judging from the results of this National Geographic survey, it doesn't seem that British students fare much better. Perhaps they should get the Swedes to do it instead - after all, they seem to come top in just about every question in the survey? Such as knowing the population of the US better than everyone else, including Americans, and, along with many other countries, being better at locating America on a map than Americans..
Every week, Democratic Underground publishes its list of the Top 10 Conservative Idiots from the week before. This week, to celebrate the 100th announcement of the list, there's a special Top 100 Conservative Idiots - the all-time greats of the Top 10, ranked according to their number of appearances on the list, including some 'fun facts' that I think might not be entirely true...

Contrary to popular belief, Oliver North has never committed a crime in his entire life, not even jaywalking.

And then, down at number 72 (Free Republic) there's a picture I was looking for last week - a shot of the 'Rally In Support Of War With Iraq' from last October, taken while around 200,000 people were protesting against war. Well, the numbers were close to that - you only have to knock four zeroes off the anti-war figure to get the 20 at the pro-war rally. So, is this why the pro-war forces aren't organising their own marches? Because they know very few people will turn up and then we can use all their smear tactics against them?

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Thnaks to Blogdex, I've found this very interesting article - When US Foreign Policy Meets Biblical Prophecy - on Alternet. It's an interesting explanation of how the theories of premillenial dispensationalism (in the words of Bill Hicks that's 'people who believe the Bible is the exact word of God, including that wacky fire and brimstone Revelations ending') have affected US policy, such as the Religious Right's support for Israel.

I've often come across people who say that we in Britain have more in common with the US than Europe, to which my response is usually 'have you been to anywhere in the US except Florida, California or New York?' to which the answer is usually no, of course. Most people aren't aware of just how deep religion runs in American life. Even when you see the statistics that x% more Americans attend church regularly compared to Europeans, there isn't the awareness that this isn't the American equivalent of the Church of England or Catholicism, but in many cases is what is often referred to as 'fundamentalist Christianity', which includes beliefs like this.

As an example, compare American bookshops to British ones - American shops (and this includes the big chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble) will have an entire section just devoted to Bibles that is bigger than the whole 'Religion' section in British shops (and probably European ones, though I've not seen a big enough sample to properly compare) and avowedly Christian literature, such as the Left Behind series, sells like the proverbial hot cakes - 50 million copies and counting, the last I heard. There is a basic difference between the American culture where religion is paramount in everyday life (as an example there are precisely no atheist, agnostic or humanist members of the US Congress) and European culture which is primarily secular, with the exception of the Ian Paisleys of the world, of course.
I know that John Pilger is a journalist who can often go off the deep end into the dark seas of hyperbole. However, this article about the people of Iraq is one where he's just let the facts do the talking.

Professor Doug Rokke, the US Army physicist responsible for cleaning up Kuwait, told me: "I am like many people in southern Iraq. I have 5,000 times the recommended level of radiation in my body. Most of my team are now dead.

"We face an issue to be confronted by people in the West, those with a sense of right and wrong: first, the decision by the US and Britain to use a weapon of mass destruction: depeleted uranium. When a tank fired its shells, each round carried over 4,500g of solid uranium. What happened in the Gulf was a form of nuclear warfare."

In 1991, a United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority document reported that if 8 per cent of the depleted uranium fired in the Gulf War was inhaled, it could cause "500,000 potential deaths". In the promised attack on Iraq, the United States will again use depleted uranium, and so will Britain, regardless of its denials.
So, it seems that the British Government isn't going to be left behind in the race to terrify its own population and is going to issue a 'how to survive a terror attack' guide to every household. (Sunday Times article so registration may be required to read it)

The guidance, which ministers intend to reach all 24m homes in Britain, will include a shopping list of items that should be bought before a possible biological, chemical or nuclear strike.

I'm beginning to wonder if these terror alerts are just ways to try and jumpstart the economy. After all, telling everyone that we should buy these things before a 'possible' terrorist attack, then saying that a terrorist attack is possible at any time means, to follow their logic, that we should all head down to B&Q and get everything we're told. And look...

The information is similar to advice recently issued in America that caused panic buying. British shops said last week that they, too, were running short of some items. “There has been a definite surge in demand for the 20-litre water and petrol cans,” said Julian Hogg of Anchor Supplies in Ripley, Derbyshire.

Still, at least there's some useful advice in the emergency tips:

Take turns listening to the news but don’t watch too much television as it may frighten you

But make sure you keep reading the Murdoch papers so you remain at an acceptable level of terror.

One final thing I discovered from that article is that Britain does have an official website for emergency planning and information - UK Resilience with information on everything from train crashes to terrorism. I'll probably write some more on that when I've had a chance to look through it and find the most absurd parts...