Saturday, April 12, 2003

OK, I'm heading off for a week or so, and I'm only going to be near a PC occasionally in that time, so don't expect any new posts here for a while. Go and visit one of the other blogs listed under 'blogs etc' on the right - some of them are almost as good as this one...

I will be back, along with a load of new pictures of hills, lakes and stone circles so be good while I'm gone and should anyone have any pressing need to contact me while I'm away then you can always try emailing me.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Atrios has a good article in the New York Press on the tearing down of the Saddam statue on Wednesday, looking at the actual size of the crowd and asking just how spontaneous the whole thing was. (CalPundit also has a good post on the role of the media in the whole thing)

I've heard a few people compare it to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which even before I read those articles struck me as a pretty poor analogy. There were millions on the streets of Berlin (and Prague, and Warsaw, and Bucharest etc) during those heady few months at the end of 1989, and I don't recall us having to invade to 'liberate' them.

I did actually see the Berlin Wall when it was in place. On a school trip to what was then West Germany in 1987, we actually got to visit West Berlin for a couple of days. It was a rather strange experience, as you had to cross the border into East Germany (including having our passports examined by a sub-machine gun wielding border guard) and then drive on the motorway that ran all the way from the border to West Berlin, with the only stop allowed on the way at a single service station in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. The road ran down a deep cutting with steep banks on either side and in our teenage minds, we were being watched at every moment by snipers, ready to shoot just in case we decided to stop the bus and get off for a walk.

On the surface, away from the walls and fences, West Berlin looked like any other West European city. We were only there for a couple of days, but it didn't take long too pick up the atmosphere that seemed to pervade it, that knowledge of being an island within an alien system, knowing that no matter how far the roads within the city might seem to go on for, they would all eventutally have to stop at the Wall, that strange border that isolated us there.

In itself, the Wall was more impressive as a concept than a physical object, though this was partly because you could never see the whole thing in one place. It was the difference between a wall, a simple object for holding buildings up or marking out your garden, and The Wall, this vast monument to totalitarianism that showed how scared they were of us, but also managed to scare us by the size of their ambition - after all, they were able to build a wall round an entire city - who knew what else they could do? But, we got to stand on a platform that resembled the one Kennedy had been on when he made the 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech and look at the wall and over it to the wastelands behind it, the ground they'd cleared of all it's buildings and occupants to stop people even getting near to the Wall from the east.

On the Western side, the Wall itself was covered by graffiti. I can remember that we were almost disappointed by that, as if there was something wrong with it. It's only afterwards that I realised what they were doing - by spraying paint on it, they were treating it like any other wall rather than the Wall, just another flat surface to make a mark on, trying to obscure the symbolic meaning of it and turn it into just another wall.

And that's what they did. Just a couple of years after we'd seen it, it fell down under the weight of thousands, just like any other wall would do. And just over a year after that, the whole system it represented seized to exist, crumbling away like the concrete of the wall when the weight of the people became too much to hold back.

I've still got the passport I had on that trip. In it, there's a stamp from the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) - it's strange to have prrof of a journey through somewhere that no longer exists, going to see something that disappeared with it. Now, it's just a souvenir, and the remaining pieces of the Wall are just tourist attractions and museum pieces scattered all around the world.
Giancarlo Fisichella has now been declared the winner of the Brazilian Grand Prix, and I'm sticking by my prediction that a race this year will be won by someone travelling backwards.
If this is true, then I've quite clearly died and gone to hell: Affleck and Lopez in talks to remake Casablanca

(Looks like the story comes originally from the Daily Express and given that for UK tabloids 'movie news' most often translates as 'stuff we made up at the pub' I still live in hope that I am still alive and not being tortured for my sins)

Luckily, there's already a petition to stop it. (via TBOGG)

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Has anyone out there been listening to Five Live Breakfast over the past few days? It's just that I've had two searches in the past couple of days from people Googling for "George Galloway" and "Nicky Campbell" (the only links it provides are me and Matthew Norman's diary on Guardian Politics) and I'm wondering if maybe Campbell interviewed Galloway sometime recently, which sounds like it would be a fun bit of radio. So, if anyone could shed some light, please let me know!

Of course, it could just be that they're trying to find a web page about irritating people from Scotland, and figured those were the best two names to start with.

Update: According to the comments from Spin and Bobbie, it was people looking for the interview. Unfortunately, I can't find the Guardian review of it on the web, and there's nothing on the Five Live website.
OK, so everyone else has already mentioned the We Love The Iraqi Information Minister website but that doesn't stop me from jumping on the latest bandwagon. That ticking you hear in the background is his fifteen minutes of internet culthood slowly going by - soon, he'll find himself in the same dark, cold, neglected corner of the internet as the 'I Kiss You!' guy.
I was reading this article about the 'democratic domino' theory on BBC News (averagely interesting) when I noticed something on the sidebar to the right. I don't know how long it'll be there for, but the little square picture of Donald Rumsfeld has been cropped very strangely so it looks like his fingers are just floating in the air in front of him in a very strange pattern. Add that to the rather surprised look on his face, and it's just a strange photo. Anyway, in case it disappears the next time BBC News reorganise the indexes, this is it:

Update: The original (uncropped) version of the picture is here (thanks to Ryan for tracking it down).
Ah, Thursdays. I never liked them, but can't really explain the reason why. I guess it's just that the week has gone on so long and there's still a day to go before the weekend. So, to cheer myself up, I've been checking out where I'll be next week.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

I mentioned Wesley Clark when I wrote about US politics last week and now it seems the movement to draft him as the Democrats' Presidential candidate has begun. Could make things interesting.

Update: There's now a second 'Draft Clark' website, created by Kos (of the Daily Kos)
For all those of us who enjoyed watching the demolition derby that masqueraded as the Brazilian Grand Prix last Sunday, it seems there might be another twist in the tale still come - Giancarlo Fisichella may be declared the winner on Friday. Apparently, if he crossed the start/finish line to start his 56th lap, which he and Jordan are claiming he did, then the count back should take the result from the end of the 54th lap, when he led, not the end of the 53rd lap, when Raikonnen had the lead.

Given the rather strange nature of all three of the F1 races so far this year, I predict that at least one of the remaining races will be won by a car that goes over the finishing line backwards. I've no idea how it will happen, but should it take place then I'm going to look very prescient...
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a BBC correspondent in Peshawar has an interview with a Taliban commander who claims they're stepping up their attacks against US forces in Afghanistan and that they 'hope to regain power in Afghanistan, with popular support'. Of course, we all know that the Taliban no longer exist and everything in Afghanistan is just fine, don't we?
Battlefield God - it sounds like some kind of web-based Pokemon spoof, but is actually a rather interesting quiz from The Philosophers' Magazine that determines whether your views on the existence/non-existence of God are consistent. I picked up a couple of hits on the way, but the comments I've read around the web about it make me think that there are flaws in the quiz, particularly on its insistence on true and false answers. I'd try and make some detailed analysis, but me and philosophy don't get on at the best of times - and I've got a bit of a cold today. So, for much more interesting commentary, from people who know what they're talking about, go read Junius (where I originally found it), Matthew Yglesias or Kieran Healy.
Differences between UK and US political blogging, number 847: Over there, they have a campaign to persuade James Capozzola to run for the Senate. Here, we have Iain Coleman running for Cambridge City Council. As a Liberal Democrat candidate, Iain of course has the official What You Can Get Away With seal of approval/kiss of death and should any of my other readers happen to reside in the Romsey ward of Cambridge, please make sure you vote for him on May 1st.
Via The Virtual Stoa, comes an excellent Mark Fiore animation about just what a good experience having your country liberated is.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Just a quick bit on the other elections next month: This report in today's Guardian has some interesting poll analysis within it:

Nevertheless, Rallings and Thrasher, of the Local Government Chronicle elections centre at Plymouth University, believe the Tory vote could effectively stand still while Labour loses about 200 seats to the resurgent Liberal Democrats.

After analysing byelection trends, they have calculated that the Tories are stuck at about 34%, Labour on 31% and the Lib Dems only two points behind on 29%: potentially making these elections a genuine three-horse race for the first time.


Note: the Labour vote is low because the metropolitan areas are not voting in this election, and the analysis only covers England - the real test of strength in these elections is in the swing between the parties and the gains/losses each one makes.

And a poll in Wales suggests that there's likely to be little change in the makeup of the Welsh Assembly after the election. So, don't expect to see much coverage of that election in the national papers.
The first polls for next month's Scottish election are looking interesting. Labour support appears to be slipping, with the SNP holding to about the same, or slightly higher, share of the vote as in 1999, with the SSP and Greens seeming to be the main beneficiaries at the moment. The Lib Dems are also up, though that seems to be at the expense of the Conservatives, and it looks like it'll need quite a large surge in Conservative support for them to challenge the Liberals for third place overall. Matthew Turner has noted a story in the 'not-rone-to-hysteria' Financial Times which raises the possibility of the SNP actually winning more seats than Labour, which, as the FT reports, raises 'the possibility of full independence for Scotland within the next four years.'

Setting aside the question of independence, if the SNP manage to get either more seats and/or more votes than Labour, it'll be a political earthquake north of the border (which does lead me to wonder if the London editions of the papers will report it as 'small earthquake in Scotland, few politcal careers hurt'). I've heard the Scottish Parliament referred to as little more than 'Strathclyde Council writ large' with most people expecting it to be just another Labour-dominated political body in Scotland, good at patronage and political infighting, but not really doing anything that draws it to the attention of the people it supposedly governs. I mentioned before the prospect of an SNP-led coalition being able to take power after the election, but this was with the assumption that it would be a combination of 'smaller' parties joining together to outnumber the biggest one. However, if the SNP is the biggest party after the election, it firstly becomes the main candidate to form an administration, but may also be in the position of being able to pick and choose coalition partners. While it's unlikely that they could be in a position to form a coalition without the Liberal Democrats, they may be able to do so without the support of either the SSP or the Greens, and a three-party coalition is going to be slightly more stable than a four-party one.

Of course, the other consequence of the SNP winning more seats than Labour is that it may make it impossible for Labour to form a coalition, if they lose enough seats. Even with the Liberals' support, they may not have a majority in Holyrood, and I doubt they'd be able to persuade any of the other parties to join the coalition.

Of course, there are still three weeks to go to the election, and the problem with all psephological ramblings is that they can be completely wiped out by the way the people actually vote. If only they'd vote in line with all the pre-election polls, things would be much easier...

Monday, April 07, 2003

From Josh Marshall:

One almost expects before too long to see [Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said] Al-Sahaf -- with some embedded reporter's videophone in hand -- broadcasting from an American POW camp, telling listeners that reports of Iraqi battlefield reverses are vastly overstated.

Actually, with his ability to put a good spin on anything, remain smiling and keep the press happy at all times, he does have all the makings of a good Press Secretary. I wonder if Ari Fleischer and Alistair Campbell are feeling entirely secure in their jobs right now? But then, I'm sure Al-Sahaf will probably be able to land a good job with the Occupation/Liberation Government of Iraq - after all, he'll be able to pretty much the same job of denying that there's anything wrong in Iraq.
Good points about war: the revival of internet comedy sites. There's a new TV Go Home! This weeks fictional TV highlights include the film When Rumsfeld met Sally, special overnight broadcasts of Baghdad Comedown, and Nicky Campbell: Swimming With Cats.
I'm planning on switching from Blogger to Movable Type in a couple of weeks (I'm saving it till after I get back from a week in the Lake District, so I'll be all calm beforehand) and I just wanted to ask in advance for any hints and tips people have for making the switch as easy as possible. So, if you've got any suggestions or advice on how to do it with the minimum of hassle then please leave a comment here, or send me email. All useful advice will be acknowledged with a mention in the first post I make after I've got MT up and running - I'd offer a better reward, but that's all I've got to offer right now!
George Galloway is in the news again - Harry does a better job than me of pointing out the various inanities in his piece in The Guardian. What intrigues me, though, is that Galloway has been continuously re-elected by his constituency since 1987, despite all his various antics, and hasn't really faced a serious challenge, it seems. The BBC's Vote 2001 page about Glasgow Kelvin says that 'All three of Glasgow's universities are in this constituency, making it the most educated seat in Scotland' and 'Kelvin is undoubtedly the most prosperous seat in the rejuvenated city.' (The BBC also has information from the 1997 election available as well)

So, why do they keep re-selecting him as the Labour candidate and then re-electing him? Are Scottish Labour voters really like those who'd vote for the proverbial donkey with a red rosette on? The results seem to indicate this, with Labour's candidate in the 1999 Scottish election getting roughly the same share as Galloway did in 2001.

Update: British Spin has a rather impassioned piece calling for Galloway's deselection and expulsion from the Labour Party.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

The Observer reports that Philip Pullman has a new book (Lyra's Oxford) coming out this autumn. According to Pullman: 'It's set a couple of years after the end of The Amber Spyglass, and refers both back and forward - so it's a sort of bridge between the trilogy and a longer book coming later, to be called The Book of Dust.'

Of course, this has reminded me of His Dark Materials - maybe I should be campaigning for that in the Big Read rather than Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell could well get in the top 10, anyway, but would Pullman?
The BBC has launched its Big Read campaign in an attempt to find 'the nation's favourite book'. It looks like last year's Great Britons, just with books, and will have all the vote-rigging that characterised that - though I don't believe we've got any universities named after one of the leading candidates this time.

Anthony's already stated what I've been thinking - that Lord of the Rings is going to win it by a mile as there are so many Tolkein fans out there to vote for it they'll no doubt pulverise the opposition. Elsewhere in the top 10 there'll no doubt he Hitch-hiker's and, of course, Bridget Jones' Diary. Probably High Fidelity as well, and something by Dickens, something by Austen, something by Wodehouse and at least one Bronte.

So, I'm starting the campaign for the book that should win, but will probably just get into the Top 10 if we're lucky. In a time when we're going to war in the name of peace, what else should win but Nineteen Eighty-Four? And, there's always the chance that if it does do well, the BBC will show the 1950s TV adaptation of it again which is absolutely superb, especially Peter Cuching's performance as Winston Smith.