Saturday, May 17, 2003

Not a bad FA Cup Final in the end, even though I'd have preferred Southampton to win (and not just because then I could claim Wolves were the 'real' runners up as we'd lost to them in the quarter-finals) but it was good to see that Arsenal were clearly delighted to win it and were not just seeing it as another day, another trophy.

Couple of thoughts I had watching it: David Seaman is probably the last remaining keeper who was playing at the top level before the back pass rule was brought in. If he does retire this summer, it could well be the end of a generation as all the other keepers of that group who were still playing seem to be retiring now (Schmeichel, Flowers, etc)

Also, one thought for encouraging fair play. When Telfer was booked for fouling Pires, Pires actually appaled to the referee to not give the booking, but was ignored. How about introducing a rule that if the fouled player doesn't think there should be a card given then the referee can't give one? A rule like that might help to encourage more fair play, though I can see some downsides - players would probably demand the right to order yellow cards as well. Still, if I ever have the opportunity to speak to a senior member of FIFA, I'll suggest it. Unless Sepp Blatter happens to be reading this blog already, of course.
After mentioning yesterday how Scotland may be inroducing STV for council elections, I found this Scotsman article saying that Labour councillors in Scotland are threatening a 'four-year war' against the Executive to prevent it.

Mr McCabe, the leader of the Labour group on council umbrella organisation COSLA, said: "STV will bring total chaos to local government with no clear decision making processes, having to form coalitions and agree with certain policies to which we were opposed in the Labour Party."

Or, in translation, 'we're quite used to having our own little fiefdoms and kingdoms. How dare anyone do anything to threaten our continued domination?'

Friday, May 16, 2003

'Bouncing weather dwarfs were a major milestone in British TV.' Ah, memories of Live TV... and it might be coming back. (I just wanted an excuse to use that quote)
This research on the change in relationship between Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and their constituency since the adoption of PR for European elections in 1999 has been getting some attention recently (I found it via Iain Murray who, as you'd expect, sees PR as 'an affront to democracy as the British understand it')

Because I'm a Liberal Democrat, you probably expect that I'm going to take a contrary view, but I'm not a big fan of the party list system either. While it does rectify the disproportionality of First Past The Post (FPTP) elections it does introduce a whole new set of other problems that the report identifies. (If you're not sure about the differences between different electoral systems then this page on the Electoral Reform Society's website gives a good introduction to the main electoral systems) At the time the party list system was introduced for the European elections, I felt that it was a weak system because voters only got the choice between parties, not candidates. There are ways to amend the system to allow this, giving voters the chance to state a preference for candidates within the party list, but these weren't adopted, giving us a system that's just as flawed.

My preference for elections has always been for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, where voters rank candidates in order of preference and constituencies return multiple representatives. Part of this is because it's a system I'm very familiar with from my time in Student Union and NUS both as a candidate and as someone running elections, but it's also because it is a system already used within the UK - it's used for local and European elections in Northern Ireland and is likely to be introduced for local elections in Scotland in the near future. Using STV for elections is one of the few things Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have in common.

My belief is that STV actually strengthens the individual candidate and weakens the power of the party. Because constituencies are electing multiple representatives, parties have to select multiple candidates but (unlike with the party list system) they cannot enforce a preferred candidate from their selection on the electorate - they're free to choose between the different candidates of a party. Yes, the parties can use their publicity to promote one particular candidate above the others, but the voters are free to ignore that advice and vote for their own choice. This means the individual candidates have to stand as themselves to get elected, not just as their party's choice.

I also think that having multiple representatives for a constituency (albeit a larger constituency size than we have a present) is a good thing in that constituents have a choice of which of their representatives they wish to approach if they have a problem and find a representative they think will be the most effective on that issue. This already happens in local government where most wards return multiple councillors and people are free to approach any of their ward's councillors for assistance. Which reminds me that I've never heard of anyone who complains about PR arguing for reducing the size of council wards so they elect just one councillor.

One last point before I bore everyone to death - one of the complaints made about PR is that 'it doesn't produce strong government' which, to me, is a slightly disingenuous argument. There's nothing in any PR system that prevents any party from having a huge majority - if that's what the voters choose. It's not the fault of the electoral system for delivering supposedly 'weak' governments - the voters have made their decision, knowing how the electoral system works, and that's reflected in the results. If the people of Germany don't want a coalition government, they're free to just vote for the SPD or CDU, but they seem to keep voting for the Greens and Free Democrats. Conversely, in Italy, people wanted 'strong' governments and movements like Forza Italia and the Olive Tree alliance arose to give people the opportunity to vote for that. The recent Welsh election showed that the voters were willing to give Labour a (bare) majority, as well. Don't blame the voters if a majority of them won't agree to your ideas. Or, as I once heard someone say after an election went the wrong way: 'The people have spoken - the bastards.'
The search for Britain's saddest man is finally over and we have a winner (or loser, depending on your point of view). Not only is this man happy to be called an obsessive Smiths fan, he's also a West Bromwich Albion supporter. There's really no hope for him. This is, after all, a man who goes to the pub to celebrate Morrissey's birthday, happily admits to listening to almost nothing but Morrissey and the Smiths and says it would be his dream to visit Salfords Lad Club (which I presume has some totemic significance to followers of the fey Northern tossers). He lives in Cambridge! That's just a few hours down the motorway from Salford - it's not like having to cross the Atlantic to visit Graceland. It's a day trip to Manchester, and if you'd stop picking up flowers to beat yourself with in some perverted homage to your imbecile of a legend, you'd realise that.

I despise the Smiths. Actually, that's not strictly true - three of them I don't care about one way or the other, but Morrissey is well up there in my list of people who the world would be better off without. It's some combination of the annoying voice, the irritating dance and the general idiocy of someone who sent flowers to the funeral of one of the Kray twins (in the words of Mark Lamarr, 'so, meat is murder, but the killing of Jack McVitie was just a harmless cockney prank, eh?') combine in some existential manner to create one of the most annoying people Britain has ever invented. I despise him, down to the bottom of my black little heart and just have contempt for anyone who tries to call the Smiths one of the best bands Britain has produced. You stupid deluded fools.

Quick guide for anyone who wants to make a living as a Morrissey impersonator: 1) Look like a twat 2) Dress like a twat 3) Dance like a twat 4) Sing like a twat

Thursday, May 15, 2003

London is going to bid for the 2012 Olympics. So, it is possible to get Ken Livingstone and the Government to agree on something.
On the subject of The Day Britain Stopped, Chris Lightfoot has looked at the 'tailbacks growing at a mile a minute' claim and put some serious maths to work to show just how unlikely it is. He's also got some good points about the mid-air collision scenario used in the programme. Meanwhile, Dan's just angry about the whole thing.
Yesssssss! Now it's time to find some rhymes for Cardiff. And hopefully get some tickets for the final as well. Still, it means I stay in a good mood until a week on Monday.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

So, Graham Taylor has resigned as Aston Villa manager. Doesn't really matter to me, but it gives me an excuse to link to this page on BBC Sport, mainly because it's clearly a standard page they've had ready for any Premiership managerial vacancies. There'll probably be one or two other vacancies over the next couple of months, and it'll be fun to watch the changes to the page each time it gets pulled out for a different team. Which will probably include Wolves when Dave Jones is sacked after we lose in the playoffs.
The story about Texas' Democrat Representatives going on the run to stop the state legislature discussing something is looking likely to win 'strange political story of the year' for 2003. There's been enough sniping about the central issue involved (redrawing congressional boundaries) from both sides on the web that I have no urge to add to that debate. There is a Save the Texas Reps website that gives a good explanation of why they've done it, should you be interested.

However, what I did find interesting is that the Governor of Texas has the power to have legislators who are intentionally absent from the House arrested. This is why the missing legislators, first thought to be in New Mexico (and helping to give us one of the political quotes of the year from the New Mexican Attorney-General) are actually in Oklahoma, just over the border from Texas, where the Texas Rangers have no jurisdiction. But, it strikes me as odd that the Governor has this power, especially in Texas which is always heralded as some beacon of freedom and libertarianism - after all, the legislature there only meets for something like 140 days every two years. Maybe this is standard procedure in parliaments and legislatures, but it's not something I've ever heard of before - it would certainly be interesting to see the validity of the power challenged in court.
Four hours or so to go... I really shouldn't ge myself into this state of anticipation, as I know afte will rejoice in kicking us in the teeth yet again. Still, I've discovered today that I'm not the only blogging Wolves fan - a good omen, or just an opportunity for mutual 'oh well, maybe next year'?
The Day Britain Stopped was actually quite a good programme in the end, despite the doubts I expressed here recently. Sure, there were a few parts that didn't ring true such as there being no adequate explanation for the gridlock on the motorway network outside the M25 - to gridlock even a stretch takes a serious accident, such as the crashes on the M25, yet the possibility of a series of crashes causing enough disruption to block that many motorways is very low. Yes, the program was looking at a combination of events coming together, but the whole idea seemed to have been included solely so they could feature Lineker and Hansen saying the England match in Manchester had been cancelled (which is another flaw - an England international on December 19th?)

Also, there was one fact that was wrong. After the accident, they referred to tailbacks on the M25 growing at 'a mile a minute' which means that the back end of the queues was growing at 60mph. To understand how strange that would be, imagine driving down one carriageway of a motorway at 60mph when the opposite carriageway has been closed because of an accident. You'll drive past a long queue of traffic caused by the closure, but eventually you'll reach the end of the queue. For it to be growing at a mile a minute, the end of the queue would be travelling with you as you went at 60mph. I have heard before a figure of 15mph for the speed at which queues on the M25 can grow after a closure, though.

However, aside from those few moments, and the strange experience of seeing Anna Rajan (who I've worked with) appearing as herself while all the others featured were depicted by actors, it was a very interesting programme. After this and Smallpox 2002, the BBC seem to have invented (or at least defined) a new genre - the serious mock-documentary. Usually the fake documentary format is used for satirical purposes - these are the first times I've seen it used to examine a serious issue.

And it is a serious issue - working in the field I do (reporting travel news) means I see on a regular basis how easy it is to cause chaos from what seems like a minor problem. The most recent example that everyone saw was the problems snow caused in January (and don't get me started on how a light flutter of snow can paralyse Britain), but there are serious delays somewhere in the country every day (with, on average, ten people dying on the roads every day as well) and it doesn't take much for two or more incidents to come together and create havoc. The Day Britain Stopped did take an extreme example of this, but it was still a plausible and logical example. For those who haven't seen it, the situation is that on the day of a rail and tube strike, there's a serious crash on the M25 that shuts it in both directions on the section between Heathrow and Gatwick. Because of the gridlock, air traffic controllers can't get to Heathrow and West Drayton (one of England's main air traffic control centres), with the staff who do make it being pushed to the limit. This, coupled to faults already present in the air traffic control system, leads to a mid-air collision of two planes over Hounslow.

There are serious problems with our transport infrastructure, and one of the more telling contributions at the end of the documentary, from a fictional Labour MP and Transport Minister called Tom Walker (not blogland's own MP, Tom Watson) is that no Government wants to make the investment in infrastructure necessary to rectify the long-term problems because the pay-off is so much further in the future than Governments like to think about (or 'beyond the next election' to put it in terms of political time). Yes, effort is made to fix the pressing problems of the moment, but there seems to be a new long-term plan announced every year proclaiming a great transport system will be in place by 2020. Then, nothing happens and twelve months later a new plan comes out saying we'll have a great system by 2021... and so on.

In terms purely of London and the South-east, I think this is one way getting the 2012 Olympics could be a good thing as it would give a fixed deadline. Some things can be postponed - the Olympics can't and it would mean that the transport infrastructure for that area would have to be in place, or the country would risk international humiliation. It is possible - look what Sydney achieved for the 2000 Olympics, or France for the 1998 World Cup - but it seems that there has to be a definite motivation to get things done. I don't preten to know what the solutions are here, but I think we do need to have a serious national debate about this issue before we're forced into it by an event that so far is only the subject of fictional documentaries.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Because of their original location, Wimbledon FC were associated with the most well-known inhabitants of Wimbledon. No, not middle aged tennis fans wearing Union Jacks and hoping for a Henman victory in the tennis, but the Wombles (of Wimbledon Common), of course. However, now Wimbledon (better known as Franchise FC) have decided to move to Milton Keynes, they've discovered that they can't use the Wombles as their mascots anymore. Still, Milton Keynes is full of well-known figures for them to use - how about the team being led out for every match by a bunch of concrete cows?

Of course, the Wombles, like all the other true football fans, will no doubt end up at AFC Wimbledon, who actually want to play their matches in Wimbledon. Whatever next?
Seems like everyone's getting in on the playing cards game - now there's Chickenhawk Cards. It all reminds me of the old Friendly Dictators Trading Cards that I've got a set of somewhere.
A Green MSP is proposing what's effectively 'gay marriage' for Scotland. You know, for all that they rail against them, I reckon that the various conservative webloggers are privately delighted at the Greens and Scottish Socialist Party getting so many MSPs as they're such a steady source of outrage for the Right - I haven't seen so many 'loony left' type articles and comments since the heyday of the GLC.
The OBJECTIVE: Christian Ministries website has been getting some discussion recently (see Gert and Green Fairy, among others), mainly on the subject of if it's a joke or not.

OK, so I took a few minutes to look into it and I'm pretty sure it's a parody. First, look at the members page and check all the email addresses listed. All of them are at free, easily obtained, Hotmail-esque servers - none of them list a 'regular' or home email. Plus, the pictures don't look quite right as if they've been slightly photoshopped to make them so they're not real people. Also, while they refer to other organisations that people supposedly belong to, or are supported by, there's no reference to them anywhere else on the web - at least according to Google. For instance, Fellowship University, the Fairlight Institute and the Creation Science Museum of Cleveland only seem to exist on their site.

Plus, their statistics are open to public view and the referrer logs show a distinct lack of referrals from any Christian sites. In short, it's a parody, but an extremely good one and harder to spot outright as one than Landover Baptist - kind of like the 'Net Authority' that fooled me (and a few other people) a few years ago. The question I want answered is whether it's from the same people as Landover Baptist, or another group of satirists with either a grudge or an admiration for Landover?

And, if you want evidence from a Christian point of view that it's a parody, this guy agrees with me.
After mentioning NUS yesterday, I coincidentally got a text message from an old friend from student politics: 'Tories promise to abolish student fees! It's like Herod diversifying into nursery care!'

Monday, May 12, 2003

Jonathan Ross might have some competition. The Maoist International Movement Movie Reviews are quite entertaining and beyond the Maoist perspective on Hollywood etc, they do seem to know their films. (via Perspective)

It reminds me of the time a friend of mine stood for the position of Vice-President (Welfare) at the NUS conference as a Maoist candidate with the slogan 'It's time for a purge'. His hustings speech was one of the best I ever heard at all the various NUS conferences I went to containing classic lines like:

'I don't care about students, I don't care about workers, all I care about is building my Workers and Peasants Party!'
and
'Conference, I've seen the future and you're all in it. You're going to be white, you're going to be fluffy and you're going to go 'Baa' when I tell you to!'

He got 6 votes - worryingly, one of those seemed to have come from someone who'd taken it all seriously.
I've not been up to my usual level of blogging for the past few days for a couple of reasons. The good reasons for my slackness are that I'm working on a short story and a new entry for this. The bad reason is that a friend lent me a copy of Risk II for the PC and it's disturbingly addictive. Being able to (virtually) conquer the world brings out those pseudo-Rumsfeldian urges in me... Still, I'm sure they'll pass in time.

I'm like this with a lot of games - play them obsessively for a while and then eventually discard them. It was the same when I downloaded Elite earlier this year. Of course, I spent a lot of my teenage years playing these games as well, so getting to relive that is no doubt part of the reason for it. One day, I'll learn to use this ability for a useful purpose, but for now it's time to conquer the world again...
Tomorrow night, BBC Two is showing The Day Britain Stopped, a kind of what-if documentary about Britain experiencing a complete transport breakdown in December of this year.

It looks like it could be quite interesting, especially as it's from the same team who produced the excellent Smallpox 2002 last year which was interesting both in terms of the potential scenario it explored and the way it felt like a real documentary, even down to using Brian Cox at his most sombre as the narrator. Previews of The Day Britain Stopped (such as this one from Mark Lawson) seem to rate it quite highly as well.

However, I do have one problem with what I've heard so far, and that's it being called the The Day Britain stopped, when it seems that Britain actually refers to 'part of South-East England' - it deals with gridlock on the M25 followed by an air crash at Heathrow. Yes, it's a nasty scenario, but contrary to popular belief amongst people within the M25, the rest of the country doesn't grind to a halt when London does. Plus, the M25 isn't the most important piece in the British motorway network - if you want to cause serious national chaos on the roads, close down the M5/M6 interchange at Birmingham, or the M6/M62/M60 around Manchester. That'll bring most of England to a stop, but if you actually want to stop Britain, then you'll have to do something about the M8 in Scotland. Wales doesn't need much to stop it - as anyone who's ever tried to drive from South Wales to North Wales (or vice versa) will tell you, it can actually be quicker to drive through England than through Wales - a feat of roadbuilding geometry that led some people to suggest Shrewsbury would be the most accessible location for the Welsh Assembly.
David Mellor has left the Conservative Party. I can't be the only person who thinks that this will only boost their membership with people who wouldn't have wanted to be part of the same organisation as David Mellor.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

So, 2-1 and my Premiership dreams live on for another four days. All thanks to me and my lucky Oklahoma City Blazers shirt, of course. Yes, it's a new football fan superstition - I bought it in OKC when watching the Blazers come back from behind to beat Tulsa, and yesterday Wolves came back from behind to win. So, looks like I'll have to take it to work with me on Wednesday...