Saturday, September 20, 2003

Far too brief to deserve the term 'hiatus'

No blogging tomorrow, as I'm off to The Oval.

Stating the obvious

Plaid Cymru's conference has decided to state that the party is committed to independence for Wales.
Delegates voted to drop the term "full national status" and declare its constitutional aim as "independence" - a word it has been avoiding until now, for fear of alienating some voters.
It seems to be that it's more of an issue of semantics than anything else - regardless of what Plaid may have officially stated when I lived in Wales, most people considered that Plaid supported independence for Wales even if the party didn't use the I-word. It's a nice way of getting their conference a few headlines, though, and it gives Peter Hain something to do:
Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said, after the vote : "Now everybody in Wales knows what Plaid Cymru is about - full blooded separation and independence, which would bankrupt Wales and make us an international laughing stock."
In the long run, though, I doubt it'll have anything more than a miniscule, if that, effect on how Plaid Cymru does in any elections, unless there's a huge swathe of Welsh voters who are thinking "Well, I might have supported 'full national status', but 'independence'? Never!"

Close, but no cigar

Back in March, I predicted that the next Cricket World Cup would be increased in size to fifteen nations, playing in three groups of five. Well, I was right that they were going to increase the size, it's just that they're going up to 16 teams, in four groups of four.

The Super Series idea that's mentioned in the article seems like an interesting idea as well and I'd like to see it come off. It would give test teams something to aim at in the World Championship table - if we're top at date X then we get to be in the Super Series, plus it would give players from the lower ranked nations something to aim for - getting in the Rest of the World side. If it had already been in existence, it would have been a chance for a player like Andy Flower, for instance, to actually play in a top-class test side, if only for one game every couple of years.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Around the blogs: Brent East reaction

There hasn't been too much reaction to the Brent East result from bloggers yet, but here's a quick roundup of stuff I've seen so far:

James Graham is understandably excited.
Ryan has discovered that the Mirror is willing to confound my predictions.
Blairista's Andrew Stevens notes a 'tendency to overplay the significance' of the result within hours of the result being declared. That was quick.
Tom Watson has discovered that the Liberal Democrats don't agree with Labour.

As for me, I've just discovered a new sign of getting old - I'm now older than both the youngest manager in the Football League (Chris Brass of York City) and the youngest MP. I tell you, it's worse than thinking the police look young nowadays.

Liberal councillor in competition rigging and/or Simply Red liking shocker

So, the winner of the Brent East sweepstake competition is not Iain Coleman, despite the fact he was entirely correct in predicting a 1118 majority for the Liberal Democrats. After consultation with the judges, I have decided that his prediction cannot be allowed for a number of factors, but mainly that he entered it at 10.30 this morning, some eight hours after the result he predicted had been declared. The lengths some people will go to for a Simply Red album shock me.

So, the winner is actually commenter Peter, with The Moose in second place and myself in third. Anyone who actually wants the prize should contact Matthew to arrange delivery.

Brent East - a result at last!

You know, I'm becoming convinced there's a need for a Representation of the People (announcement of by-election results) Act. I've been waiting for the result for a while, and Five Live keep teasing me with 'should have it in another ten minutes', then 'oh, another fifteen minutes'. I know it's not their fault, but it's annoying...at least when you're at the count you can see something happening.

And now, here it comes - I've not been able to type fast enough for them all, so only the main three parties:

Robert Evans (Labour) 7,040
Uma Fernandes (Conservative) 3,368
Sarah Teather (Lib Dem) 8,158

So, we win! Majority is 1118. I'd give a more cogent analysis and announcement of who's the proud owner of a Simply Red CD, but I really need to get to sleep now.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Eyes on the prize

A quick amendment to the sweepstake for predicting the winner and majority in Brent East. Thanks to the kind generosity of a Mr Matthew Turner, the winner will now be receiving a copy of Simply Red's 'Stars' CD, which he swears he didn't buy himself and just found lying around somewhere. Anyone who claims that he's just purging his music collection of noted Labour supporters before Conservative Central Office finds out is clearly wrong.

Those of you who want to change your predictions in the light of this new information should feel free to do so.

The General is in

With Wesley Clark having announced he's joining the race for the Democratic nomination for the US Presidency, I've been thinking about what effects his candidacy might have on the campaigns of the other nine candidates. This is all purely speculative, so please feel free to add your own opinions in the comments.

Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley-Braun: Clark's entry doesn't really have any effect on these campaigns. None of them were going to win before he entered the race, and none of them are going to win after he's entered the race. His presence in the race might slightly advance the date on which any of these withdraw, but they're all still likely to stay on for their fifteen minutes of New Hampshire fame anyway.

Bob Graham: Clark probably damages the Graham campaign, which has barely got off the ground anyway, because he and Graham are both strong on national security issues and Graham supporters may see this as the opportunity to jump onto a ship that might actually sail. I wouldn't be surprised to see Graham withdraw before the primaries begin, and perhaps endorse Clark, on the basis that he'd be quite a strong candidate for Clark's running-mate if he wins the nomination.

John Edwards: I have to admit that the Edwards campaign confuses me. He's still hardly making an impression in any polls, yet still seems to be able to raise large amounts of money. However, he's committed to the Presidential race, having announced that he won't be running for the Senate next year, and he may be gambling that his reserves of cash will allow him to stay in the race until the primaries reach the southern states and then make his move. Clark probably doesn't damage his chances too much right now, but the presence of another candidate in an already crowded field isn't good news for Edwards. Like Graham, though, he'd be another good candidate for Clark's running-mate and that might affect his strategy if Clark starts well.

Dick Gephardt: Of all the leading candidates, I think Clark affects Gephardt the least, and his entry into the race may even be a positive for Gephardt in that his effect on the other three leaders could knock them down enough to make Gephardt the seeming front-runner. His support seems quite stable, though probably not growing as fast he would like, but as his appeal is based on domestic issues and Congressional experience, he's not likely to lose much support to Clark.

John Kerry: Kerry's already having a poor campaign, getting trapped into a fight with Howard Dean over New Hampshire (a state that was initially perceived to be an easy victory for Kerry) and Clark's entry just adds to his troubles with Clark's military experience meaning Kerry is no longer the most high profile veteran in the race. Clark is likely to gain a number of voters from Kerry, though his entrance into the race might be the wake-up call the Kerry campaign has needed for months.

Joe Lieberman: In my opinion, Lieberman is probably the candidate most damaged by Clark joining the race. Much has been made of Lieberman's position as a 'New Democrat' and his links to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) that helped Clinton's election so much, but the reports of Clark's candidacy make mention of how he's received much encouragement from the DLC and Bill Clinton which seems to me to indicate that the DLC have realised Lieberman is not going to win the nomination and they needed to find another candidate quickly. It's too early to tell if this is the case, but if the next round of fundraising declarations show a sudden drop for Lieberman and a large amount for Clark then it may indicate that big donors and the DLC are putting their money on the General. One of the reasons behind Clark's long wait to declare himself as a candidate may have been the desire to see if Lieberman's candidacy was going to get going.

Howard Dean: The conventional wisdom is that Clark's entry is bad news for Dean. The conventional wisdom was also that the Dean campaign would get nowhere and he had no chance of getting the nomination, so it's best to remember that Dean seems to have a way of confounding the conventional wisdom. However, Clark is going to take votes away from Dean, both for being a relative outsider and also for his antiwar in Iraq position. Dean's courting of Clark is also going to problematic for him, as it makes it hard for Dean to attack Clark without getting the response of 'well, why did you want his support if he's that bad?' By having become the front-runner so early, Dean has set himself up to be the first target for the Clark campaign and just stopping Dean's momentum at this point could weaken him quite badly. The Dean campaign has to switch from being the insurgent outsider challenging the leading candidates to being leader, defending itself against a new insurgent.

So, what do you think? Vaguely right, or entirely wrong? My gut feeling at this point is that the race is eventually going to come down to three candidates - Dean, Gephardt and Clark - but the whole thing is far too much up in the air right now to pick a winner from those three.

Update: Daily Kos' latest Cattle Call comes up with a similar analysis.

Proliferation

There's an interesting bit of information about the Israeli nuclear programme that I wasn't aware of before in this story on nuclear proliferation:
France is believed to have supplied Israel secretly with a nuclear reactor and equipment for extracting weapons-grade plutonium from spent nuclear fuel in the 50s.
There's a lot of information on nuclear weapons and the countries that have, could or might develop them in the rather interesting (and sometimes rather terrifying) Nuclear Weapons FAQ and this PBS site shows just what the effects of a nuclear explosion would be on almost any location you want to select.

For your own good?

During his time in London, Salam Pax visited both the Hutton Inquiry and the House of Commons. His report on them in today's Guardian has an interesting conlusion:
I also went to the House of Commons a couple of days ago to watch the debate on the role of the UN in Iraq, and I can tell you: that being an Iraqi and seeing that and the bit of the Hutton Inquiry yesterday, is quite strange. It is like listening to your parents discuss how they should bring you up; it is your life, but you are not making the decisions.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Vote early, vote just once please

A quick run round various perspectives on Brent East before the actual voting takes place:

For the Liberal Democrats, Ian's there and reckons it's too close to call.
For Labour, British Spin's also been there, and thinks there'll be a narrow Labour victory.
I can't find a Conservative blogger who's been there (unless that's why Anthony's been so quiet recently) but Matthew sounds despondent about their chances. At least, I assume it's despondency.
And the latest odds (the final show?) make the Liberal Democrats the favourites though Hills don't seem to be taking any more bets on it (via James)

Anyone fancy a guess in a little sweepstake? Winner gets the right to say 'woo! I was right!' I predict Sarah Teather for the Liberal Democrats by 462 votes. Leave your guess of who'll win and what the majority will be in the comments section, and I'll announce a winner sometime after the result.

Curses! Foiled again!

I was going to post an update on the UK Bloggers Fantasy League, but checking Yahoo's fantasy sports page, it seems the system has gone back in time a week or so, taking off all the points earned over the weekend. It's probably just a minor glitch, and has nothing to do with servers melting down with incredulity as I top scored for the second week running, earning over 100 points and moving from 11th to 5th in the table. From what I recall Moose Rot's AFC Wibblington were top before the points disappeared, though.

I also have a new post up on Fistful of Euros - What kind of Europe? - and you should also read Scott's Back to the Future in Cancun post, as we were obviously both writing at about the same time and I knocked it off the top of the page after it had only spent about two minutes there. Sorry, Scott!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

A comical diversion at Twilight

I was surfing round this afternoon, looking up some information on Hellblazer when I found the Hellblazer Index website, which is a record of just about any appearance in comics by John Constantine (and his various relatives and avatars). There, I found reference to a Constantine appearance in an unpublished Alan Moore proposal called Twilight (or Twilight of the Superheroes - there seems to be a bit of a grey area over what its actual title would be).

I've heard of a few unpublished comic projects over the years, but this was a new one on me so I followed the various links and found Alan Moore's 'interminable ramble' about the project - what someone else might call a pitch, though I doubt anyone else writes pitches like Moore. It's quite a fascinating read, not least because Moore tells a pretty interesting story but also because DC turned it down (which seemingly ended their relationship with Moore) showing how much more conservative (in terms of story, at least) they were back when this was proposed in the late 80s. Now, of course, pretty much every character within the DC Universe has been remade, reimaged, redefined and given a walk through Elseworlds at least once and the whole legendary mythos has been given what Moore refers to as its 'capstone' in Kingdom Come but back then there'd only been The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and the grand reset of Crisis on Infinite Earths and DC were obviously wary of taking on a universe-defining project of the size of Twilight.

In a way, it was a project ahead of its time. A lot of its themes, such as the personal relationships of the heroes and the idea of superheroes taking a role in the politics of Earth would be used in Kingdom Come and The Authority, but perhaps the lessons of Watchmen took some time to sink in before they could be used on a wider scale. There's a part of the pitch that's oddly prescient as Moore looks forward to a post-Cold War world, in a way that partly echoes the 90s we lived in:
What I want to show is a world which, having lived through the terrors of the Fifties through the early Nineties with overhanging terror of a nuclear Armageddon that seemed inevitable at the time, has found itself faced with the equally inconceivable and terrifying notion that there might not be an apocalypse. That mankind might actually have a future, and might thus be faced with the terrifying prospect of having to deal with it rather than allowing himself the indulgence of getting rid of that responsibility with a convenient mushroom cloud or nine hundred.
It's an interesting perspective from 1987.

Finally, and getting back to my original search for Hellblazer information, it's interesting to see how Moore envisioned using his creation John Constantine. This is before Jamie Delano got given the character for Hellblazer and Moore's Constantine takes a different path from Delano's in that he uses the character the way he originally was in Swamp Thing's 'American Gothic' series as the enigmatic Englishman who manipulates those more powerful than him while knowing much more than he lets on - an idea later returned to by Garth Ennis when he wrote Hellblazer, of course. The Constantine that did come about was a kind of magus figure, steeped in the world of magic, but Moore's Constantine is a man who walks in the world of heroes, manipulating Batman and Superman the way he did the Swamp Thing. Moore talks about him as a character involved in 'scams and wheeler-dealing' rather than as a magical character, and it's clear that his vision of Constantine's future development as a character was not the same as the one we got.

Counterintuitive

Reading about Brent East this morning, a thought crossed my mind - if, as seems likely, the Tories come third in the by-election, isn't it in their best interests (in the short term, at least) for the Lib Dems to actually win?

Consider this: if the result is a Labour hold with the Lib Dems second and Conservatives third then the Lib Dems can say 'look, we've gone past the Tories' and Labour can say 'we held the seat and there's always a swing against the government in by-election but the Tories did really badly.' Labour won't have had a great performance but they can always spin it (even in these post-spin times) as an even worse result for the Tories.

But, if the Lib Dems win then no one's really going to be concerned about the Tory performance - the headlines will all be focusing on Labour having lost a safe seat. If there's any attention on the Tory vote it can easily be dismissed by talking about the 'Lib Dem by-election machine' and pointing out that their vote has held up as well or better than the Labour vote did in Lib Dem by-election victories in the 90s such as Newbury, Christchurch or Eastleigh.

Obviously, third place isn't good news for the Tories, but who's going to notice how many votes they get if the attention's on a Lib Dem victory and Labour defeat?

(And talking of the 'Lib Dem by-election machine', does this oft-repeated phrase conjure up for anyone else the image of Chris Rennard operating some giant Heath Robinson-esque contraption?)

Blowback

I'm not a lawyer, and especially not an expert on American constitutional law, but you have to love the irony that's allowed the 9th Circuit Court to use the Supreme Court's ruling in Bush vs Gore to delay the California recall election.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Ieuan Wyn Jones has been re-elected as leader of Plaid Cymru, after his resignation from the leadership brought about the election in the first place.

Monday, September 15, 2003

'Will this do?'

I missed this in the paper yesterday (so thanks to Ryan for mentioning it today) but this article by Mary Riddell really deserves some sort of award. "Most tenuous connection between subjects for the purposes of an article", perhaps (can you get from David Blaine to George Bush vis Damien Hirst and Mel Gibson?) "Best creation of imaginary opposition to win a straw man argument" - In the mind of some commentators, he epitomises swaggering, God-fearing America. To them, Blaine is George Bush in nappies, a third-rate magus seeking world domination. The egg-slingers and breast-flashers are portrayed by some liberal commentators as hero Brits who won't be taken in by a pseudo-mystical scam. Please Mary, name one.

Or, my personal favourite - most bizarre religious metaphor: Existing on sips of water while dangling above the dun-coloured tundra of a Thames riverbank counts as fasting in the wilderness. One report on Blaine said he should start hallucinating because of lack of food in about five to seven days from now. Is Mary Riddell having sympathetic hallucinations in advance for him?

Good ideas

I've often thought 'wouldn't it be nice if there was one day in the year dedicated to peace?' Seems like I'm not alone.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Jack Straw: Man of principle

Straw 'begged Blair' not to join Iraq war. I'm really getting far too cynical - my first thought on seeing this was 'ah, Jack thinks Tony's going to have to quit and this is way of appealing to the anti-war wing of Labour for their support in the ensuing leadership election.':
Straw is said to have written a confidential ‘personal minute’ to Blair saying the UK should offer the Americans "political and moral support" in their campaign against Saddam Hussein, but not military backing.

Straw is said to have argued that the United Nations’ refusal to back the invasion would make it damaging for Britain to take part. The Foreign Secretary reportedly urged Blair to tell President George Bush that British troops would help clear up the mess and keep the peace once the war was over, but would play no part in Saddam’s overthrow.

But the shocked Prime Minister rejected Straw’s plea point-blank, telling him there was no going back and making him promise to keep quiet, according to the book by political journalist John Kampfner, entitled Blair’s War.

Kampfner, political editor of the New Statesman, wrote: "He (Blair) asked him to clarify whether or not he would support the war, now that it was definitely going to happen.

"Straw said he would. They agreed to put the issue behind them. Having expressed his reservations and seen them rejected, Straw fell firmly into line, arguing the case for war with as much vigour as anyone else."