Saturday, July 12, 2003

British Spin on Howard Dean

For those of you with an interest in American politics, British Spin has an excellent new post on Howard Dean and his chances in the Presidential election.

He who hopes for a billion new speakers

Today's Guardian Weekend magazine has an article about Esperanto and the people who speak it. It's one of those great weekend magazine articles about a subject you'd never intentionally look into, but is really interesting when you find about it. And 'esperanto' in Esperanto means 'he who hopes'.

However, a quick search for a weblog in Esperanto only finds this, which hasn't been updated in a year or so.

Friday, July 11, 2003

And the 10,000th caller is...

Woo-hoo! 10,000 visitors! Don't know who it was, except they were using NTL at about 5.50pm and didn't come via a link from anywhere. Yes, there are people out there who either know the address of this blog or have it listed in their favourites. Scary, really. Number 10,001 came via Beatniksalad (for dummies, of course) though.

And I will now shut up about the number of hits I've got until I reach 100,000. And at present rates, that's not likely to happen till sometime in late 2005.

Rembrandt in Vegas

American casino magnate Steve Wynn has spent $6.9m on a recently uncovered (literally) Rembrandt self-portrait. I'm sure there are quite a few people wondering just what's going to happen to it in Vegas and are having nightmare visions of it being displayed above a fruit machine somewhere, but there are actually some interesting art exhibitions in the city. Maybe not quite worth a visit in themselves, but they certainly provide a nice break from the sonic and visual assault of the casino floors for a while.

It's all part of that continuing Vegas desire to attract the more upmarket clientele by trying to show it's about more than gambling, monstrous buffets and showgirls. There's certainly some heavyweight tie-ups between museums and casinos, though. While I was there last September, the Venetian had a very interesting selection of works from the Guggenheim while Bellagio was displaying a collection of Faberge artifacts from the Hermitage.

But no, they're not for sale, no matter how much you win.

Blogging solidarity for dummies



And I'd go yellow, but there's already enough of it on this page, and I don't know if I could change it back afterwards...

Update: Oops. Forgot to add the obligatory 'for dummies' reference.

Those evil Liberals...

I'm going to try to make this my last post on the subject before I end up disappearing up my own arse, but I've just realised something else about Oliver Kamm's post on the Liberal Democrats yesterday - a theme that was later taken up by Jackie, Stephen Pollard and Peter Cuthbertson, amongst others.

First, there's the supposedly illiberal nature of the Liberal Democrats which is highlighted by a decision to impose restrictive new laws, propose the introduction of compulsory identity cards and withdraw from sections of internation human rights treaties we don't like. Oh no, that wasn't the Liberal Democrats, was it? That was the Labour government that Oliver (and others) seem to keenly support. Of course, that sort of behaviour means nothing compared to the Liberal Democrat conference in 1995 passing a resolution calling for the removal from sale of lottery scratchcards. That policy, one so important to the party that it was never included in an election manifesto as far as I can recall, is the most dangerous and restrictive policy ever passed by a British political party, or so some people would have you believe. After all, the Labour and Conservative Party conferences have never, ever, passed policies that might embarrass the party leadership, have they?

Secondly, there's the argument put forward by Pollard that the Lib Dems show a 'shameless inconsistency' and change their policies in each and every town. Yet again, it would seem that I'm living in a parallel universe, for in the one Pollard and the others who advance this argument live in every single local Labour party and Conservative branch all agree on the exact same policy in every ward of every borough and never change that policy by one iota to suit local circumstances or the wishes of the people they represent.

And, of course, not one Labour or Conservative councillor anywhere in the country has ever done anything wrong at all. This parallel universe Private Eye obviously has no need for a 'Rotten Boroughs' page - or if it does, it must be entirely filled with those nasty Liberals - for there's nothing for it to report on. From Doncaster to Westminster, all Labour and Conservative councillors are perfectly moral and upstanding citizens who would never do anything so corrupt as actually representing the people who elected them.

Don't worry though, folks, you can still go and make all the unfounded personal smears about Charles Kennedy you like. After all, you won't complain if I do the same about Blair and Duncan Smith, will you?

European holiday news

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Paula Radcliffe can do it in half an hour

Sometime in the next twenty four hours, a bomb will go off in Los Angeles and a young girl will be kidnapped 386 times. Meanwhile, the President will...

Oops, wrong script.

Sometime in the next twenty-four hours, this blog is going to get it's 10,000th visitor since I installed the Extreme Tracking counter at the end of February. In truth, that means I'm actually way past 10,000 as I got several thousand visitors in my first week thanks to a mention on Bartcop.

But, it seems as good a time as any to sit back and take stock of what I've achieved since starting What You Can Get Away at the end of January. To begin with, creating this blog was a bit of an afterthought. I originally got my own domain just to have somewhere to put all my various pictures so my family, friends and anyone else could see them without me having to go the expense of getting prints made of them all. But, having got the domain, I thought I should do something with it and, seeing that a couple of my friends (most notably the Dustbinman) had blogs, I thought 'hey, I could do that!' and decided that it would be quite fun to have one myself.

From the start, I've never had any sort of editorial philosophy. I've just written about whatever happens to interest me at any given time, as well as posting links to whatever I find on the web that I think is interesting - the classic description of blogging, really. I didn't set out to be a specifically political blogger, it's just that politics is one of my main interests so it happens to be one of the subjects I write about with great frequency. But, there are many other things that fill up my life besides politics, so I write about them as well. The only editorial voice I listen to is my own - if I find something boring, I don't write about it, but if you guys find something boring then tough. My blog, my rules and all that sort of tough-sounding language. Actually, it is interesting to see who finds some things interesting as well - the mini-discussion about the F1 Rejects website with people comparing their favourite obscure drivers was quite interesting, to give a recent example.

To be honest, I've been quite surprised by the number of people who've visited here and especially by the number of of people who judge me so interesting that they've given me a permanent link. I wish I'd kept some notes to remember who gave me my first link so I could give them special thanks, but I didn't - it was probably one of Barney, Dan, Ryan, Iain, or Green Fairy - so thanks to you all. I've never gone out begging for links - I've just linked to blogs I've found interesting and reciprocated pretty much everyone who's linked to me, should they choose to do so.

All in all, it's been a pretty interesting time. I've made new friends, learned some things, maybe even taught some people something, been given a couple of free books (thanks again Sam!), had a few arguments, left far too many sarcastic comments on other people's blogs and now I get to go to a seminar at the House of Commons! In short, it's been a lot of fun and long may it continue.

If I had to boil down what I've learned to one piece of advice for bloggers, though, it'd be this: Don't take yourselves too seriously. No matter how many readers you get, no matter how many comments they leave, even if you're one of the Supreme Masters of Blogdom it's just a tiny tiny fraction of the six billion people in the world (though at times it does seem like there are six billion blogs out there) and the vast majority of what we all write is going to be forgotten the minute it disappears off the screen. Have fun and enjoy it, because in the words of the late great Mr Hicks, this is all just a ride...

Teen albatross?

The BBC have become the latest website to notice Tom Watson's teens page, but they do realise it's a joke. It's an interesting article on how what weblogs can do for politics, anyway, making note of the Voxpolitics event on Monday (now with added wi-fi), and also getting some interesting feedback from readers at the bottom of the page.

But, thinking about the Teens page, I do wonder whether Tom will ever be able to forget he created it, as almost every mention of him in the media seems to circle round to it eventually. I can just imagine an election night in 20 or so years time with him finally winning the election and heading off for number 10 with David Dimbleby (or whoever's replaced him by that point) intoning 'and so Tom Watson, creator of the famous teens page, becomes the first blogging Prime Minister. Is he still down with the interwebnet?'

Argument by smear tactic

Oliver Kamm responds to my criticism of his 'rules of politics'. I'll keep it short, because there's really nothing more boring than long inter-blog debates that eventually swallow their own tail and disappear into a void of meaninglessness. Also, his arguments are pretty much just bluster and fall apart under a bit of scrutiny.

Firs he takes me to task for saying that, while parties agree that the security of the nation is important, that does not require there to be any agreement on the way in which that security is assured. He then ties himself up in linguistic knots by basically claiming that any disagreement over defence issues is actually agreement:

There's complete agreement, for example, that our defence rests on the collective security provided by Nato, and only those far outside the political mainstream maintain otherwise. Where there is disagreement has traditionally (excepting Labour's moment of madness in the 1980s) had nothing to do with the contending ideologies of the different parties, but reflects legitimately differing views on defence priorities - that's what I meant by national security's being properly an area for bipartisanship.

So, everyone agrees, except those who don't, and when there are differing views, it's still an area for bipartisanship. Huh? Remember, Oliver's original rule was 'they are entitled to bipartisan support while doing so' yet now he seems to regard that 'differing views on defence priorities' - a term so vague it can encompass pretty much anything - still falls within the realms of 'bipartisan support'.

Then, of course, he goes back to the good old smear argument - that anyone who was opposed to war in Iraq was a totalitarian and anti-semite:

The Liberal Democrats thus allied themselves with the totalitarian and antisemitic Left in the certain cause of leaving in power a genocidal tyrant today, tomorrow and, through his appalling sons, a generation hence. It is not 'simply opinions' to observe this but a fact, about which we must all make our own value judgements

Of course, to extend this argument, that means that organisations such as CND and the Quakers can also be decsribed in those terms, yet they never do get smeared like that (even though CND were a co-organiser of the protests) because everyone recognises it's a completely flawed argument. It's saying that because two groups both agree on one facet of one issue, they can both be assumed to share exact views on every facet of that issue, even when common sense tells you they don't. No one, except those on the absolute extremes, was saying that the Hussein regime should be left alone to do whatever it wants - the issue over Iraq was that we were being rushed into a war with no mandate from the UN, without even the support of all of Nato, on the basis of evidence that was shaky at best with, as we're seeing now, no clear plan for what to do once the war was won. Of course, in the Kamm-world, no one has the right to point that out, as the government has made its mind up, and we must all rally round the flag and cheer it on.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Eyeblogging

Here's an interesting story from Private Eye (the website doesn't have the main stories on it, unfortunately):
Police raids on high street mobile phone shops as part of a clampdown on suspected insurance fraud have cast Britain's crime statistics in an interesting new light.

Inspector Knacker believes phone shop staff have been encouraging people falsely to report their phones stolen rather than lost in order to get insurance companies to fund a new one. In some cases the scam is simply to get an 'up-grade' courtesy of the insurer.

Police believe that up to 100,000 false reports of mobile phone thefts and robberies are made each year, inflating crime figures, raising fears of street crime and wasting police time.

However, Tony Blair and home secretary David Blunkett responded to the resulting wave of tabloid street crime hysteria by promising tougher penalties and to have street crime 'under control' in six months. With mobile phones believed to have been the trigger for half of all London street robberies, lord chief justice Lord Woolf joined in too and recommended minimum jail terms for even first-time phone robbers.

But as Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem shadow home secretary, points out: 'This extraordinary development could blow the government's multi-million pund street crime initiative out of the water.' There were 121,375 street robberies recorded in England and Wales for 2001/2, an increase of 28 percent. Given the claim that many of those may have been false, the huge street crime bulge which triggered the panic may have been an illusion.

'Instead of a calm and level-headed approach, ministers allowed themselves to be carried away by the hysteria,' says Hughes.

Indeed. Had they looked at the British Crime Survey, considered by most criminologists to be a far better indication of crime and crime patterns, instead of police records, they would have seen there was no such robbery upsurge.
It's a very good Eye this week - some interesting articles , and a collection of the best 'Dear Bill' letters in memory of Dennis Thatcher.

I've noticed recently that Private Eye might be paying attention to what's being written on blogs - some of the stories they run are ones I've seen on various blogs (especially some of the American ones) that don't make it into the major media. For instance, this week they feature the story on how Wesley Clark revealed the White House were trying to publically link Iraq to the 11th September without any evidence within hours of the attacks taking place.

Grants for all!

I remember when NUS was campaigning not just for the return of grants for students in higher education, but for them to be extended to further education as well. This probably isn't what they were envisaging back then, but it's an interesting proposal. I'd write more, but it's time for me to head home and go to sleep!

Even worse than David Coulthard

The F1 Rejects website is an excellent waste of time. It's a tribute to the drivers and teams who found themselves at the back of the grid and out of the headlines. There are some great stories there, like Al Pease, who was disqualified from a race for being too slow; Perry McCarthy, whose F1 debut lasted all of 18 metres; the driver whose name no one could get right; and, of course, the rather bizarre history of the Andrea Moda team.

While it's easy to cite statistics as to who the best driver or team might be, deciding who the worst is can be a whole lot harder, especially when you see the wide range of those who scored no points in their F1 careers.

Meta name="joke" content="yes"

This is really one for Green Fairy to link - she gets more nutters reading her who might think it's real:

So whether you're 8 months or 88 years old, if you're ready for a tattoo or a body piercing-the clear choice is Baby Ink! (via Snopes)

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The Guardian starts charging?

In the comments on the post below this, Harry mentions the prospect of the Guardian website going 'pay-per-view'. I suspect it's in response to this article on Guardian Unlimited today, but before we all start blogging about the sky falling, there isn't going to be much change.

From what I can tell, access to articles is still going to be free, but if you pay you can either get the site ad-free, or as a kind of 'virtual Guardian' with articles laid out on the screen like they are in the paper itself (which will no doubt be useful to anyone with a giant printer). Also, crosswords and some of the email services will now be charged for, but not The Fiver, which is the only email service I get from them, so I don't mind.

So, nothing much to worry about - though I do wonder just what the bloggers of the world would have to write about if they couldn't link to Guardian articles.

Early morning predictions

I'm working a couple of night shifts at the moment, so I get to read the paper on the train home. It means I get to play one of my favourite games - 'who's going to blog this article?'

I spotted three that I thought would get attention - I was pretty sure Harry Hatchet would write about David Aaronovitch's column, and he did, George Monbiot's column was always going to get some attention (if only so certain people could call him 'Moonbat' again), especially from Ryan and I was sure that Zoe Williams' column on homosexuality and the Church of England would get Peter Cuthbertson's attention, but he hasn't written anything on it yet. Maybe it has, and he just hasn't posted it yet. Still, it gave Anthony Wells the chance to do some number-crunching on the whole subject, which he obviously enjoys.

Still, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

Sun readers get everywhere...

It seems that Berlusconi may not be alone in the German-bashing: "They always want to be the best in the class and inhabit our beaches in the summer, punch-drunk with arrogant self-confidence." according to Stefano Stefani, Under-Secretary of State for Industry. (via The Agonist)

Monday, July 07, 2003

Creating an oasis in the desert of news

The Guardian is reportedly planning to create a US edition. This really annoys me, as it's going to be about a year too late for me to have any use for it - I just wish it had been there when I was in the US last year. One of the things I really miss whenever I'm in the US is a decent newspaper in the morning - I even bought the Daily Mail when I was in Florida. They actually print an edition of it in Orlando, which is exactly the same as the British version, but it's on the same principle as chip shops in Torremolinos - something to stop people getting worried by all the 'foreign' around them. Anyway, when I found a copy of The Guardian Weekly in Chicago, I was very happy, and hopefully this new Guardian will do well enough to survive in the US so, should I be there in the future, I'll not feel so homesick for a real newspaper. (via PolitX)

Get those pens a writin'

My suggestion that we should try and see how many bloggers can get letters published in the papers seems to have gone down well, so I guess I ought to suggest a date and a paper, right? In fact, because I'm so generous, I'm going to go for two papers just to boost the possibilities of some of us getting published.

So, I'm proposing that we try to get as many letters as possible in The Guardian and the Daily Mail on Thursday 17th July. Letters featured anywhere in the paper count, which is why I've gone for Thurday as that's when The Guardian has its Online supplement that regularly features blogs and blogging, so that should be inspiring for people who don't have any comments to make on the news. Plus, it gives you a few days to think up a letter in response to anything that features in this Thursday's Online. However, if you're aiming to get something in the main paper, you'll need to write it the day before. The Mail has about the same thing every day - usually one page of general letters, and one on a particular issue from a recent edition as well as various one-liner section and whatever their Notes and Queries rip off is called.

If you want examples of letters to The Guardian then they post them on the website - just click the 'Letters' bit on the main page to see today's. However, the Mail doesn't have any online, so here's a couple of examples:
There is no more foul an act of anatomical desecration than homosexuality. Abominable both in concept and in practice, the thought of a man remorselessly driving his penis into my dirty backside is an image that haunts me every night.
or
I'm fed up of hearing trendy liberals banging on about how it's 'okay' and 'cool' to be homosexual. Anyone who says that must be homosexual themselves - hardly an impartial position from which to approach the subject. As a committed heterosexual, I am better equipped to view the issue objectively - and it is obvious to me that homosexuality is wrong.
OK, they were actually from TV Go Home's Daily Mail Islander, rather than the real thing, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to include them. They might be inspiring to some people when trying to get themselves in that Daily Mail frame of mind.

Another mystery solved

Yesterday's Observer Sport Monthly managed to reveal one of TV's secrets - the identity of Top Gear's 'Stig'. If you want to know who it is, click here. If you don't, or have no idea what I'm talking about, then here's an article about a model who's going to climb K2 instead.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Rule 1: There are no rules

Supposedly left-wing blogger, Oliver Kamm, writes this:
Three simple rules of politics. Governments need to take decisions on national security with the best information they have available. They are entitled to bipartisan support in doing so. And national security is not a matter of 'personal conscience': it's the first duty of government, and of any party that aspires to government.
For a start, I always distrust any talk of 'rules' in politics. Some writing about rules isn't really setting out universally accepted and agreed rules, just what they believe, and expect others to agree with. But, let's take a closer look at Oliver's three 'rules', anyway.

Governments need to take decisions on national security with the best information they have available.

Wow, really? I thought they made it on the basis of the worst information they had, or just made it all up on the spot and winged it. I believe this rule comes into the category known as the Argument from the Bleedin' Obvious. Of course, there's a huge assumption within it - that someone is capable of deciding just what 'the best information' is, but we'll let that slide for now.

They are entitled to bipartisan support in doing so.

For a start, the use of 'bipartisan' here, shows the US-centric nature of this argument. The usual term in Britain is 'all-party', but given that Oliver is one of those people who's so obsessed with the supposed 'irrelevance' of the Liberal Democrats he has to remind people of it all the time, he obviously wishes we had a nice two-party system.

The question has to be asked - why are they entitled to this support? What makes national security the issue where the government must be agreed with above all else? There's no real explanation, but then these are supposedly 'rules of politics', not things to be discussed. So, let's look at the third rule, which makes some effort to include an explanation:

national security is not a matter of 'personal conscience': it's the first duty of government, and of any party that aspires to government.

Again, we have high-sounding words, but ones without any real meaning when you look closely at them. Oliver writes about 'national security' as though it's a simple issue, one where there are agreed-upon answers to every question and where everyone agrees there is only one possible course of action. Yes, ensuring the security of the people they have been elected by is the primary responsibility of government, but that does not mean there is any agreement over the way in which that security is to be achieved.

I'm still unsure as to why Oliver has referred to 'personal conscience' in quotation marks, as though it's a fictional entity, but to claim that an individual's conscience can have no bearing in matters of national security is to hand the government an alarming amount of power. As I've already stated, there is no agreement over how national security is ensured, so there will always be dissent from what the government wishes to do, not because those opposing the policy are opposed to national security, but because they do not believe that policy will ensure national security. In fact, it may even harm the defence of the nation, and thus, it is a matter of personal conscience as, from the point of view of the person who opposes the government, the government is failing in its 'first duty' and is thus worthy of condemnation.

These supposed 'rules' are quite simply opinions, and are dangerous ones at that. Allowing a government to use the line 'well, it's a matter of national security so we don't have to discuss it, and anyway, you're not allowed to oppose it even if we do' is giving them a dangerous amount of power, even if one assumes that it is possible to determine what is the 'best intelligence' and the best course of action based on that. National security may well be the first duty of government, but to believe that there is only one possible way of ensuring national security and all must agree with it is anti-democratic and potentially dangerous to national security - if policies cannot be opposed, reformed, scrutinised or discussed, how can you be sure they are effective?