Friday, January 09, 2004

Freedom to fly!

Something about this story (and not just that it's by Andrew 'Bloggers make me angry' Orlowski) makes me wonder if it really happened, or at least, if it happened in the way it's described. But, assuming it's true, I have a 12-year old nephew with a copy of Flight Simulator - which government department should I inform of this? (found via Atrios and

Memo to sports editors

While Greg Rusedski is still protesting his innocence, and before he's been found guilty, under no circumstances is he to be referred to as a 'drugs cheat' - that's solely used for foreign athletes who break the rules. News organisations wishing to be obliquely critical of Rusedski, and hint that maybe, just maybe, that he's cheated and broken the rules, should use foreign experts to raise these issues.

Should he be found guilty and banned, he's a Canadian, of course.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Advice for the traveller

It's good to see that the Foreign Office is giving advice to British tourists to cover every eventuality. Two weeks half board at Rothera, anyone?

Time for the General

I haven't written about American politics much recently, but with the Democratic primaries starting in a week or so, it seems an appropriate time to issue my hostage to fortune and predict who I think is going to be the Democratic nominee for President.

I think it's going to be Wesley Clark. Now, this goes against the prevailing trend of opinion which holds that Howard Dean has it all wrapped up, but I'll explain my reasoning.

Firstly, I think that while Dean appears to have quite a strong lead in the polls, his support seems to have peaked, or is reaching a peak. He's got a lot of supporters, but doesn't seem to be adding new support at a significant rate. Clark, however, still seems to be on the rise. His campaign stuttered at the start when he launched it in September, and there were some times when it seemed like it might fizzle out. However, I think that's now over and Clark seems to be growing steadily - looking at the tracking polls in New Hampshire (as regularly reported by Atrios and Kos), he's moved up into second place there and national polls show him in a strong second place, rapidly closing the gap on Dean. For most of 2003, Dean was the outsider candidate with momentum, but now he's the frontrunner, facing attacks from all the other candidates.

Secondly, the tendency in American elections is for primaries to become a one on one battle and from my perspective, Clark seems the most likely candidate to become the anti-Dean because of his momentum. As other candidates drop out, I think he's the most likely to receive their endorsement - I've already seen rumours that he's looking to get the endorsement of Bob Graham, the first candidate to drop out - and if/when Edwards, Kerry, Lieberman and Gephardt withdraw, I would think that they'd be much more likely to back Clark than Dean. There's also the prospect of Clark being endorsed by the Clintons, of course.

Thirdly, Clark's campaign seems to be able to match Dean's for fundraising prowess, which means that he'll be able to fight in a lot of primaries where the other non-Dean candidates seem to be struggling for funds.

Finally, there's the issue of expectations. With Dean now locked in place as the easy frontrunner, he's going to be expected to win primaries, and win them well. Clark, as the outsider, doesn't have to win the initial primaries (he's not even campaigning in Iowa) and only has to show well in them to make the case that he's the only candidate who can challenge Dean. In New Hampshire, for instance, a second place for Clark is perphaps a better result for him than a win is for Dean. A Dean victory in New Hampshire has been expected for months, so is discounted in advance. However, if Clark comes second (and beats Kerry, who was expected to be strong in NH, into third place) he'll be seen as the candidate who's got 'the Big Mo' and can go on to win.

The way I see it going is that Dean will seem to be in a strong position after the first couple of primaries, but after that Clark's going to close the gap, especially as other candidates drop out and back him and it'll come down to a big clash between the two, probably on Super Tuesday. It could be quite a long fight, but I think Clark will eventually pull clear and get the nomination...and I'm not making any predictions as to what happens after that yet.

Is this the right blog for an argument?

Chris Lightfoot has turned his attention to the misuse (or complete ignorance) of statistics by anti-speed camera protestors and received some charming emails in response.

Of course, something even Chris isn't able to explain is just why some people get so obsessed over speed cameras. I've discovered a perfect and pretty much foolproof way of never getting caught by speed cameras - don't drive faster than the speed limit. I know, it's revolutionary and probably too hard for some people to grasp, but I'll be sticking with it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Pathetic Geek Stories

If you've ever encoutered Maria Schneider's Pathetic Geek Stories - they've been featured in The Onion's AV Club for as long as I've been reading it - then you might be interested to know that they now have their own website. If you've never encountered them, then it's defintiely worth a visit.


So, the media finally break through the bias which keeps the UKIP's voice from being heard, to prove just why no one bothers asking them for their opinion. The press release in question is still on their website at the time of writing this.

So, should you know anyone who's thinking of voting UKIP in any elections in the future, remind them that this is a party which believes the spate of letter bombs sent to leading European Union politicians were the price of forcing a political ideal on people without giving them a choice.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Join again, Livingstone

So, it seems that Tony Blair does have a reverse gear, at least on his opinions about Ken Livingstone.

One thought that did strike me regarding Ken's return, though, was the question of what it means in terms of the supposed ongoing struggles within the Labour Party. Given that Livingstone has been quite a strong critic of Gordon Brown over the years, might Blair think that having him back in the party could be a good thing for him in terms of the party's own battles? I'm sure Spin and others can shoot this theory down, but it seems to me that, especially with Blair's 'hey Ken, you're a great bloke, let's be friends' mea culpa today, that Tony may see Livingstone as a potential asset in any battles he may have with Gordon this year.

Scary, scary books

An ex-girlfriend of mine was a devotee of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and that was strange enough. But if I ever meet a woman carrying a copy of this book, I'll run. Far, far away. There's a thin line between an aggressive dating strategy and demented boggle-eyed stalking. This is several light years on the wrong side of that line.

Another reason why I dislike neologisms

I like the concept, it describes me and a lot of my friends, but really, is there anyone out there who really thinks someone can't come up with a better name than quirkyalone? I'm sorry, but it's a horrible word, that just sounds wrong when you say it out loud and doesn't really make much sense when you say it. Anyway, here's what it means:
We are the puzzle pieces who seldom fit with other puzzle pieces. Romantics, idealists, eccentrics, we inhabit singledom as our natural resting state. In a world where proms and marriage define the social order, we are, by force of our personalities and inner strength, rebels.

For the quirkyalone, there is no patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone. We want a miracle. Out of millions, we have to find the one who will understand.

Better to be untethered and open to possibility: living for the exhilaration of meeting someone new, of not knowing what the night will bring. We quirkyalones seek momentous meetings.
All well and good, but the cynical side of me can't help but wonder how many people will be going along to International Quirkyalone Day parties aiming to pull. (found via Green Fairy)

Monday, January 05, 2004

I believe in Father Christmas (he is a big fellow, after all)

British Spin returns with the first draft of Michael Howard's beliefs. A few selections:
I believe that the people should be big. That the state should be small. I hate dwarves.

I believe that people must have every opportunity to fulfil their potential, unless their potential is to be an officer in an army of interferers.

I do not believe that one person's poverty is caused by another's wealth. Unless that other person is a burglar.

I do not believe in being very clear about causality.

I do not believe that one person's sickness is made worse by another's health. Which is good, because if it was, we’d have to put all healthy people into isolation wards, and let the sick wander the streets.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Britain's Real Monarch? Er, no

A couple of days ago I mentioned the news stories about Michael Hastings, the Australian who a British TV programme said was the rightful King of England. I said then that his supposed claim to the crown was on rather shaky constitutional and historical grounds and watching the programme (Britain's Real Monarch) last night didn't do anything to dissuade me of that opinion.

The first issue, which I mentioned before, is the question of the legitimacy of King Edward IV. Now, rather than debate the evidence that seemingly shows this, let's assume the research is accurate and that Edward IV was illegitimate. It doesn't matter. While the royal houses that followed on from the Plantagenets were descendents of Edward IV (through his daughter Elizabeth's marriage to Henry VII) their claim to the throne didn't come through him. Henry's marriage to Elizabeth was not to take advantage of her possible claim to the throne (and at that point in history, England had never had a reigning Queen - the closest had been Matilda, who was never able to claim the throne, despite the interminable wars with King Stephen) but to unite the houses of Lancaster and York. Henry had already claimed the crown after Bosworth (indeed, the legend is of him being crowned on the battlefield after the death of Richard III) and his marriage to Elizabeth came after he was already King. There is a point in English history where a King got the throne through his wife's claim, but that was William III around 200 years later.

Second, there's the question of whether Henry Tudor could claim the throne himself. Now, there's all sorts of issues regarding Henry's ancestry, but what is clear is that he was the recognised heir of the House of Lancaster. However, that's not really a major issue as the most persuasive reason why Henry got the throne was through force of arms, invading the country and defeating Richard's army at Bosworth. Technically, of course, that makes him a usurper, but usurpation is like treason - it never prospers, for it if it does, none dare call it usurpation. One can claim that this doesn't make him the rightful King, but if you take that position then the the same argument - that invasion and force of arms doesn't make you King - then the entire Plantagenet claim to the throne is on shaky ground as it comes from William The Conqueror's invasion of England. If heredity is the sole grounds on which one can claim the throne of England then one really has to go back to the pre-1066 House of Wessex to find a rightful monarch. That leads us to the sons of Edmund Ironside (Edward the Confessor had no children) and having looked at that briefly, it seems that that line leads (through Edward the Exile and his daughter Margaret of Scotland, sister of Edgar the Atheling) to the Kings of Scotland - which means the rightful line was actually restored in 1603 with the arrival of the Stuarts.

Thirdly, and this builds on a point made by Jonathan Edelstein in the comments to my earlier post on this, there's the fact that the Crown is in the gift of Parliament anyway. This has definitely been the case since the 1689 Bill of Rights and 1701's Act of Settlement but the concept of Kings being recognised by a parliament is present before 1066 with Kings being chosen/elected by the Witan and there are plenty of occasions of Parliaments recognising the right of someone to be King between 1066 and 1689 (during the Wars of the Roses, for instance, and of course in the various battles between Kings and Parliament in the seventeenth century). It connects into the issue of usurpation - being the descendant of Kings can only make you King if you can then claim the throne.

Finally, there's the problem that anyone claiming the throne of England is claiming something that, in one interpretation of the effects of the Acts of Union, ceased to exist in 1707 with the Act of Union as from that point the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were replaced by a new entity - the Kingdom of Great Britain. It's quite a contentious interpretation, but it holds that rather than England absorbing Scotland, the two states terminated themselves in favour of the new single entity of Great Britain which would absorb Ireland in 1800. However, by that interpretation any claims to the throne of England are as null and void as any claims to the thrones of Wessex, Mercia or Northumbria, as the rightful line of succession to the throne of Great Britain stems only from the foundation of the state in 1707 - Queen Anne and then the House of Hanover as the Protestant heirs of the House of Stuart.

So, while it was an interesting programme last night - I'd never heard of the dispute between Queen Victoria and Flora Hastings, or the remarkably wasteful Earl of Loudon who blew the remaining £120,000 (approximately £5.5m in modern terms) of his fortune on a single bet - it doesn't really prove anything except that it's possible for the descendant of a King to work as a rice researcher in New South Wales.