Friday, July 25, 2003

I'm off for the weekend, so there probably won't be any posts from me until Sunday night or Monday morning. I'm sure you'll survive.

Where am I off to? Clapham, to try and write a film script in a weekend with a friend of mine. More details when I get back...

Nationalist leadership

Following on from Plaid Cymru's leadership contest, the SNP have decided to go and have one of their own, with a party activist challenging John Swinney for the leadership, leading to the bizarre (but unlikely) possibility that the SNP could be led by someone who is neither an MP nor MSP.

Of course, Plaid's leadership contest could have the same result, but could also lead to Ieuan Wyn Jones getting re-elected to the post he resigned from two months ago. Is there some political rule that the smaller and more narrow-focused the party, the more bizarre the leadership disputes?

California uber alles (candidates)

I've only been partly watching this 'recall the California Governor' story, firstly, because it's 6000 miles away, and secondly, because any time I think I've understood what's going on, it turns out I haven't. (For more, see this post on Calpundit or the Political State Report)

But, I read something in Metro this morning that made the whole thing more interesting. To run for Governor in the recall election, all a candidate needs is £2,500 (I presume the actual figure is $4,000) and 65 signatures. From what I can tell, there are no party primaries, no other qualifiers, just that. There are going to be hundreds of candidates, aren't there? And if Arnie does stand, is there anything to stop someone changing their name to 'Aarnold Schwarzenegger' and standing, thus appearing before him on the ballot?

After Ali?

So, if Campbell does go, who's going to replace him? I can't see Blair going back to the Mirror for another Campbell, though the image of Paul Routledge or Matthew Norman taking on the job does prompt thoughts that it would make an interesting sitcom. There is always Tony Parsons, though Blair appointing him would no doubt be followed by The Guardian making Julie Burchill their Downing Street correspondent...and we're back in the world of sitcom again.

Bias and other lies

At The Road to Surfdom, Tim Dunlop has an interesting post on how the Australian Government 'is going to set up an "independent" inquiry into bias (or is it lack of balance?) at the ABC'. Tim's comments on it are worth reading, especially these which seem to have an application here as well:
This is the work of a temperamental and strangely insecure government who wants total control over the public sphere.
So, how long before we get someone calling for a similar inquiry into the BBC's refusal to do exactly as it's told 'bias'?

Indigo

Purple People Eater or just a purple polar bear? (via Hesiod)

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Here I stand

Responding to a comment, Richard Allan discusses the issue of whether people should get involved in politics. In it, he makes an interesting comment about the question of joining a political party:
parties are a necessary part of our political system (I say that because in a Parliament full of independent MPs, parties would inevitably form as people join together around common agendas) so you will have to join one. I think that like marriage this is often best done when you are a little older and wiser as you are more likely to stick with it than if you sign up too young. I have always encouraged young people working in my office to find out what issues motivate them first and pursue these, perhaps joining issue-based campaign groups, before joining any political party. A political party is a means to an end, i.e. the resolution of the issues that concern you, and not an end in itself. Political parties can also be wrong as well as right and their members should not adopt a position of such slavish loyalty that they will allow the party to do wrong unchallenged.
The idea of a political party as being a means to an end is an important one, that often gets forgotten. There's a saying that 'all political parties are coalitions', whose members agree on a set of basic principles but those principles can have a wide variety of interpretations. It's often forgotten in our modern political era, where anyone who disagrees with the majority of their party on a couple of issues is branded as a 'rebel' or 'maverick', and I think that's one of the reasons that turns people off getting involved in party politics. People are often led to believe that to become involved in a party, you have to agree with every policy of that party - in other words, that the means are as important as the end - and if you don't, then there's nothing for you in that party.

The other effect of this is to create more single issue parties (see some of the links in my post on minor parties below for examples). If people feel they have to agree with a party on everything, then they'll naturally be drawn more to parties with a simple list of policies. If you're strongly for or against a certain issue, then there's obviously going to be an attraction to a party that makes that issue its central (and in some cases, only) policy. While this might create strong, united parties, it also creates a lot of them, each arguing incessantly on its one point to the detriment of all issues so nothing gets done.

In short, I think the important thing all parties shoudl be doing, if they want to get more people involved in politics is to stress their basic principles more, rather than getting stuck in the morass of arguing policy points with each other. It's about stressing their inclusiveness around their basic principles, rather than their exclusiveness of 'if you don't agree with us on every section of policy X, then we don't want you'. While they might not be saying that, people often have the perception that they are and it drives them away. What drew me into joining the Liberal Democrats was the party's principles, not the exact correlation between their policies and what I want to see (though there is extensive agreement). It's hard enough to find two people who on everything, let alone several thousand. And if you're curious as to what the principles are, it's this, from the party constitution and printed on every party membership card:
The Liberal Democrats exist to build a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
(If you want a lighter take on the subject, Vivienne's got an amusing post on the pros and cons of being involved in a political party)

The really minor parties

This list of British political parties provides links to some quite obscure parties. Some of them seem quite interesting, though more in the 'how few members does this party have?' sense than the 'hmm, that's an interesting suggestion' one. I can't quite shake the feeling that the combined memberships of the Centre Party and Central Alliance Party falls short of double figures. The list of parties isn't complete, though - it's missing both the People's Alliance (who stood in the Scottish Parliament election), the Christian People's Alliance (who actually have a councillor in Newham) and the rather obscure Democratic Party who are clearly going for the motorists vote by having their website hosted by a Ford Granada Enthusiasts website. They did actually get a few mentions in the national press a couple of years ago, but that's because Alan Kilshaw - remember the internet adoption row? - was their 'Home Affairs Spokesman', though doesn't appear to hold the role now.

These fringe parties are always quite interesting, though mainly because I'm always curious as to why anyone would join them. I can just about see why someone might set one up, thinking that they have a vision to which thousands will flock and turn their party into a new force in the land, but what motivates someone to join a party whose membership is just slightly more than two men and a dog?

There's actually a more comprehensive list of parties on the Electoral Commission's website, though that is more a list of every label people stood on in elections over the last year or so, rather than actual active parties.

And for a trans-Atlantic perspective, here's a list of US parties that shows just how obscure they can be, including everything from the Natural Law Party to the Falangists.

My daily commute gets even longer

Days, days, days...

Thanks to Bloggerheads, I now know that today is National Shopping Day. Thanks to an email we got sent to us at work yesterday (and completely unrelated to what we do, before you ask) I now know that next Wednesday is National Foreplay Day followed by National Orgasm Day.

Would it be too much to ask for a National This Is Just Another Day Day? National Nothing Special Happening At All Week? European Month of Just Going On As Normal? International Year Of No Annoying PR Stunts?

The last days of Amin

Giles Foden, author of the excellent The Last King of Scotland, has an interesting profile of Idi Amin in today's Guardian, examining Amin's psyche and the way strange drives combined to make him such a brutal dictator, particularly a detachment from reality:
A "frozen child", he developed a warped attitude to the outside world into which his unstable beginnings and lack of education had jettisoned him ill-prepared. He merged with his environment, losing boundaries to the extent that he believed himself omnipotent, chosen by God, protected by spells. Unable to make proper object relations, he simply broke the object, ordering killed those who opposed him, or whom he thought opposed him.
It's a sense that Foden manages to evoke well in The Last King... - the sense that Amin was just an overgrown child who saw the world as a toy to be played with. Both the article and the novel are well worth reading.

The Ali and Ari Show?

From the latest Popbitch, so take it with the mandatory amount of salt:
Following David Kelly's suicide, it must be only a matter of time before Alistair Campbell leaves Downing St. But will this scandal spoil his future plans?

Last week rumours were circulating that he had been approached by CNN to do a political comment show with former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. The two spinmeisters became good buddies during the War talks. And as part of the megabucks package, Campbell's memoirs would also be handled by AOL Time Warner.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Stephen Baxter and the Mighty Reason Man

Reading this post on Very Very Happy (and the little comment war it refers to) the other day reminded me of Stephen Baxter's short story War Birds so I dug it out from my pile of Interzones (it's in issue 126) and reread it. There's actually some quite eerie parallels between it and both what's happened in the world since September 11th and some of the rantings you find around the Blogosphere.

War Birds is one of Baxter's alternate space programme stories (along with others like Moon Six, Prospero One and the novel Voyage) but it's also one of those pre-2001 (the year, not the movie) sf stories that deals with an America that's been attacked in some way and how its reactions affect itself and the rest of the world (another example is Pat Cadigan's Dispatches from the Revolution).

In War Birds, an accident that causes Apollo 11 to explode on the surface of the Moon is blamed on the Soviets which leads to a militarisation of NASA, eventually seeing it subsumed into the USAF's Space Command under Curtis LeMay. It eventually culminates in the US using the 'Sunday Punch' - a giant nuclear detonation on the Moon - to try and force the rest of the world into submission. It's an excellent story, well worth reading if you can find it - I think it's in the collection Omegatropic - but there's a few oddly prescient quotes that stand out: (sections in italics are reported speech or letters that are italicised in the story)
Not that everyone agreed. Before the UN had been thrown out of New York there had been pretty near universal condemnation of the US's actions, universal except for the British anyhow...

And now that Project Control had been implemented, that order would spread across the planet: Pax Americana, in the face of which all the old illogical ethnic and religious differences would dissolve, and mankind would come to its senses, and progress to a better tomorrow...

We must not allow the warlords of darkened Asia to believe that we can be defied with impunity. Remember, these people are not like us! They are calculating, amoral machines. We must demonstrate our strength of arm and will to them. We have the whole of the future, the whole of infinite space, before us to conquer. But we must act now! We must show we are ready!...

...I am saying that we have to be prepared! If America is going to survive in this tough old world she has to show that she's prepared to meet any threat, to fight to the last with utter inhibition, whenever she's asked to
...

You must see that some of them actually want it all to end - to pull down the house - to destroy all the little people, dirty and squabbling and unpredictable, who don't understand their giant schemes...

"After Sunday Punch, at last we squabbling Asiatics and Europeans and Africans will throw down our arms, shed our centuries of racial and religious division, and accept your cold logic. How right you were never even to attempt to understand us! Perhaps even your own people will accept that logic, beyond the diminishing minority who are protected by these new black-leather police and soldiers of yours. All human problems will be solved, for all time.(")
The key to the story? Unintended consequences. But you'll have to read it to find out what they are.

Kelly Inquiry live?

There are reports that Lord Hutton wants the inquiry into the death of David Kelly to be televised live. (The Guardian story says it's reported in the Times today, but I can't find a link to it on their website):
The prospect of daily live broadcasts of the inquiry - which would still require the participation and interest of the BBC and commercial broadcasters - will inevitably keep the suicide of Dr Kelly, and the government's whole case for a war in Iraq, on the front pages through the summer recess of parliament.

You think they'd get it...

Private Eye has become the latest branch of the media to completely fail to get Tom Watson's teens page. They're running a 'summer recess competition' to find the 'most desperate or excruciating site run by an MP' with Tom as an example.

Still, who would ever expect the Eye to get sarcasm, irony, satire or humour? I'd write in and threaten to cancel my subscription if I had one.

Freedom at hand?

I wrote about the Free State Project - the plan for several thousand 'libery-oriented people' to all move to a single US state - a couple of months ago and it seems that the Project is about to take a big leap forward by actually choosing the state they're going to move to now they're close on 5000 members. It looks like they're going to carry out the voting over the next month or so (assuming they hit 5000 members by mid-August) which means the result should be known by mid-September.

On top of that, there's an interesting article on the Free State website about Anarchism and libertarian socialism, which indicates some of the potential internal problems the Free State movement might face in the future, but is also a good explanation of why 'libertarian socialism' isn't the oxymoron some like to make it out to be.

Suicide Mouse

This has the air of something from Our Dumb Century, but it's true as far as I can tell. It seems that in 1930, worn down by the pressure of the incipient Depression, Prohibition and the fact Minnie appeared to be in love with another mouse, Mickey Mouse attempted to commit suicide. Comic sensibilities were obviously slightly different in those days. (link via The Great Communicator)

Events, dear boy...

Yesterday, British Spin and Anthony Wells wrote a couple of good posts about the Kelly affair, doing a good summary of what's happened and what might happen. The trouble is that this story is becoming one of those where events get in the way of all our speculation and commentary with each new discovery or revelation wiping out most of the predictions already made.

Which leads us to this morning's story that the BBC have a tape of David Kelly:
The BBC has a tape of David Kelly expressing serious concern about how Downing Street made the case for war, the Guardian can reveal.

Susan Watts, science editor of Newsnight, recorded her conversations with the weapons expert, who killed himself on Thursday.

In her report she quoted a "source" - now known to be Dr Kelly - suggesting that No 10 was "desperate" for information and had exaggerated "out of all proportion" the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

The BBC believes the tape is the "smoking gun" that will exonerate Andrew Gilligan, the Today programme correspondent who originally reported the suggestion that No 10 included the 45-minute claim in the September dossier on the case for war "to make it sexier", against the wishes of the intelligence community.

More polling

It seems The Guardian/ICM aren't going to release some of their raw polling data anymore - instead, they're just going to slowly release the results of the polls over a few days (of course, now they'll prove me wrong by posting the figures to the website in the next twenty-four hours). I hope they do, if only to give me, Matthew and Anthony something to blog about.

So, today we have more figures from their recent poll, this time covering attitudes towards the invasion of Iraq and the approval figures of various people. Here's the most interesting points:
The results show the dispute between the government and the BBC has polarised opinion even more sharply than before. A clear majority - 51% - believe the war was justified, up three points since a month ago. But at the same time those who believe the military attack on Iraq was unjustified is also up - by two points - to 42%. The effect of the national debate has been a drop in the "don't knows" from 11% to 7%.

There is still a gap between the views of men and women. Fifty-six per cent of men say it was justified, compared with only 45% of women. Only 39% of men say it was unjustified compared with 46% of women.

The ICM survey also shows that pro-war opinion remains strongest among Labour voters, of whom 63% believe it was justified. Opposition is strongest among Liberal Democrat voters, of whom 49% say it was unjustified.

The poll also reveals a swing in British public opinion against President George Bush. While earlier this year British voters broadly endorsed his strategy for tackling the Iraq crisis, his personal rating in Britain is now worse than Tony Blair's, at minus 30.

Fifty-seven per cent of voters are unhappy with the job he is doing and only 27% saying they are satisfied. Suprisingly, Conservative voters are even more unhappy with the performance of the rightwing president than Labour voters.
Conservative voters more unhappy with Bush than Labour voters? See, that's why I want to see the figures - is it just a couple of percentage points more, or a big gap?

One possible explanation (though the figures wouldn't show this) is that Conservative voters have a lower opinion because they contain a number of disgruntled former Labour voters who've changed their vote because of Iraq (though why they'd switch to the Tories...) but I'm not sure that's really an explanation. At least in the ICM polls, Labour supporters seem just as likely to move to the Lib Dems or Others as the Tories.

Update: Matthew Turner has a link to the full figures and some analysis.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

MMR

That 'link' between the MMR vaccine and autism? Seems that the statistics don't actually bear it out.
CASES of autism in children appear to be levelling out despite fears that numbers are rising due to the MMR vaccine, according to new research.

Researchers found that while cases among children born between 1979 and 1992 had been rising steadily, they appeared to plateau after this date.

The study suggests that the rise in autism may not have been "real", but a result of greater awareness and more efficient record keeping.

And another one...

Liberal Democrats are starting to take over the British political blogosphere - welcome to James Graham, Vice-Chair of the Green Liberal Democrats, and his blog Quaequam. He describes his blog as:
Politics and comics - one involves freakish cartoon characters getting into ridiculous situations that never happen in real life. And the other one is comics.
However, there is potential for a split here - he prefers Dix to Doonesbury in The Guardian and I'm a Doonesbury man.

Traditional British politeness?

I've been thinking - is political blogging in Britain more polite than elsewhere. I was reading this post on the Australian blog A Bright Cold Day In April and in a followup comment on Hot Buttered Death, James Russell wondered:

(Are UK politbloggers as prone to this sort of behaviour as the Americans and us?)

The 'behaviour' he's referring to is 'partisan attack dog bullshit' or, the old left-right battles that rage across American blogs and American politics. I commented on James' post that I hadn't seen the same level of 'partisan bullshit' over here. Sure, we do have a good few arguments here and there (check out PolitX or Peter's comments whenever he goes on about gay marriage) but there's not the partisan warfare that's apparently endemic in the US, and also, from what people have said, in Australia.

The best explanation I can think of is that both the US and Australia are strong two-party political systems whereas our system is predominantly two-party but with a relatively strong third party (and you could probably term it multi-party in Scotland and Wales) and while in the US and Australia pretty much everything can come down to an 'us versus them' issue, here it comes down to an 'us versus them and them, except we agree with them on this issue, and we agree with the other them on that issue...' sort of thing. Because there isn't the complete cleavage between two sides in the debate (your ally on one issue may be your opposition on another and vice versa) there's not so much of the 'who cares if I really piss them off?' attitude you can get if there's a division into just two permanent camps.

But, that's just my initial thoughts - what does everyone else think?

Brent East update

Still no date for the by-election, but as the writ can't be moved until Parliament reconvenes it won't be until the autumn now. All three main parties have now selected their candidates: Robert Evans (currently a London MEP) for Labour, Uma Fernandes for the Conservatives and Sarah Teather for the Liberal Democrats.

101%

The Guardian's latest opinion poll shows not much change since last time - Labour down 2% to 36%, Conservatives unchanged at 34%, Lib Dems up 1% to 22%, others up 2% to 9%(which gives a total of 101% - obviously just from the rounding up of percentages).

They haven't put the full data up on the website yet, which they've done for previous polls (see here for my look at some of last month's figures) but if they do I'll take a look at them and see if anything interesting comes up.

Hasta la voter

President Schwarzenegger? (via Counterspin Central)

OK, the article is stretching the Hatch-Schwarzenegger connection somewhat to make that suggestion, but for those of you interested in the prospect of the bizarrest Presidential race ever, this amendment would also allow Jerry Springer to run for President. You know you want to see the Springer-Schwarzenegger deabtes...

(Serious-minded observers might also like to note that this amendment would also allow Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to run for President)

And then...

Monday, July 21, 2003

Shock of the new Kane

I found out today that there's a new special edition DVD of Citizen Kane being released, which has yet again got me thinking that I really ought to buy a DVD player. Kane is one of my favourite movies and given that this version is a whole new print, based on an original master they found, it sounds like it will be a much better looking (and sounding) version than the ones I've seen on TV and video.

One of the problems with it, though, is that it's hard for us, 60-odd years after its first release when the technical and cinematographic innovations Welles brought in are part of the common language of cinema, to understand just how revolutionary a film it was in its time. When we see pre-Kane films we can notice how static they seem, both visually and in terms of the script, compared to what we're used to. One thing I'd love to do, if I had enough money to hire out a cinema, would be to show two or three films from around the same period in a row, then show Citizen Kane afterwards to give the audience an idea of how much of a change it heralded.

If anyone reading this runs a cinema (or just has a lot of money) and thinks it's a good idea then please go ahead and do it - just let me know and give me a free ticket for coming up with the idea!

Courriel

Pedantry is one of those blogs I wish I'd discovered earlier, as Scott really does come up with some good points - and he can spot a Right Wing Circle Jerk forming from a distance. His two most recent posts are an example of all that - explaining and clarifying the issues behind the French announcement that "e-mail" should be replaced by "courriel". It's a interesting read in terms of linguistics and Francophone culture, though it also appeals because of the line:
Allow me to respond to those who have already blogged this as yet another example of French perfidity, and those who no doubt will soon: You are all a bunch of idiots.

Iain goes to Hollywood?

I'd forgotten about Iain Duncan Smith's novel being published this autmumn. I have no idea what it's going to be like, but I fear his agent may be getting a little carried away, as he talks of selling film rights to 'major Hollywood producers'. Peter Cuthbertson has visions of 'the floating voter' seeing 'the words "Based on the novel by Iain Duncan Smith" flash across the screen' in eighteen months time. It might happen, but I seriously doubt that anyone can move a script based on a novel by a first time novelist from page to Hollywood blockbuster in eighteen months. This isn't a political thing, just something I've learned from watching this, reading this, this, this and this and checking out this on a regular basis.

You can make a movie from nothing in eighteen months, but it's more likely to be produced by Roger Corman (who probably counts as a 'major Hollywood producer', though) and is in no ways going to be a Hollywood blockbuster...except that the first place you see or hear of it is in your local video shop.

More on the Silverstone invader

Anthony Wells reports that the man who ran onto the track at Silverstone yesterday was actually Father Neil Horan, who Anthony has written about before.

A quick Googling finds an interesting mini-biography of him (scroll down about halfway) and some details of his books including one called Christ Will Soon Take Power From All Governments - no prizes for guessing the endig to that one, then.

And for those who delight in finding odd connections, here's an article by Robert Fisk about him - Anthony does link to the original on the Independent website, but now they've gone pay-per-view, this is a free version.

Insanity rides a bike

'I work with the pain, and that's how I go about my daily life,' he says. 'Accepting the pain has turned into part of my daily routine. In my opinion, it's better to accept it and not resist it. If you resist it, it's even harder.'

I meant to blog this interview with Tyler Hamilton yesterday, but forgot. It's still just as wince-inducing today, though. For those of you who don't know who he is, he's the cyclist who's currently placed 7th in the Tour de France. Maybe not too special, until you discover that he's been riding with a fracturred collarbone for most of the last two weeks.

The pain, says Hamilton, is 'constant, numb. On a scale of one to 10 it was 10, now it's seven or eight. On my bike I get sharp pains, and every bump I can feel it. When I put pressure on it, it tells me to stop.'

Demotivational

It's one of those website addresses I keep forgetting, so I'm blogging it to remember it, and maybe there's one or two of you out there who haven't visited Despair, Inc - home of the Demotivators posters.

(This has nothing to do with me having to get up at 4am for work this morning. Oh no.)

Something to get the blog evangelists excited...

Finally, one of you asked if there would be a White House blog. Why not?

Howard Dean, during his guest appearance on Lawrence Lessig's blog (via Counterspin Central)

A few links on the Kelly affair

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston has an interesting article on the BBC News site, covring some of the responsibility journalists feel about protecting their sources.

Both blogging MPs have an interesting perspective on this as well - Tom Watson covers a lot of the issues, while Richard Allan has a more personal comment:

If I wasn’t already on my way out of the snakepit this would tempt me to pack it all in now…

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Bad ways to evangelise, number 287

Those of us watching the British Grand Prix this afternoon will have seen (well, after ITV returned from a commerical break - more great timing on their part) a man running on the Hangar Straight, causing a small amount of chaos in the race.

He wasn't a fanatical Toyota fan, though his interruption did result in giving them the lead of a race for the first ever time, but was carrying a placard that reportedly said 'read the Bible - the Bible is always right.'

Obviously he believed it - after all, I don't think there's a section in it that says 'thou shalt not run out in front a vehicle travelling in excess of 150 miles per hour, for that is rather stupid' does it? Though I must admit I didn't see any drivers stopping to have a quick check of Leviticus to find the proper way to tackle Becketts.

Obey!

Now, when it comes to golf, I'm pretty much in the 'good walk spoiled' camp, and my image of it as a game run by middle aged men in blazers called 'the Major' is not really changed much by the news that two players have been disqualified from the Open for what appears to be little more than a bureaucratic error.