Saturday, January 31, 2004

Beetles and Elephants

Via Mrs T comes news of the Unintelligent Design Network, which believes:
The intelligent design people say there are too many holes in the fossil record, and that evolution is only a theory; the scientists say there's not enough evidence of intelligent design. So we say, instead, that life has indeed been designed, just not very well...
There have been 23 elephant-like animals in history, and yet only two survive today (and we add, they're not doing very well). Clearly, this is the mark of an all-powerful creator who is stuck on the same stupid idea and can't figure out why the hell they keep dying off.
Of course, JBS Haldane said it best:
The Creator, if He exists, has a special preference for beetles.

Unexpected circumstances

Something I wondered about recently was what Muslims who live north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle do during the days of the Midnight Sun, or permanent dark. Well, here's the answer - they take an average day from elsewhere and use it instead. And here's an article about a Palestinian Muslim living in Lapland.

New year, new look

Well, it's not really a new year, it's just one year since I started this blog and I figured it was time to slightly rearrange and tidy up the template. The 'ten best' section is just a list of the ten (or so, I may change the number at some point) blogs I'm visiting most at the moment - part as a reminder to myself, part to allow some of them to get out of the rapidly growing blogroll slightly further down. I think I've now got links on that to everyone who links to me, but if I'm missing anyone, or I've put someone in the wrong place or category, let me know.

And as strange Blogiversary presents go, I think this has to be just about the strangest possible. It makes me think that there must be something wrong with the universe for both me and Josh Marshall to be nominated for the same award. I feel like that 13-year old Maori girl who's been nominated for an Oscar...do they really mean me, or is this just a joke?

Of course, the question I want answered is who nominated me, so I can shake some sense into them and point out one simple fact. Wolves aren't 'hapless'!

Friday, January 30, 2004

Also in the news this week

I missed this earlier in the week, but it appears amongst all the departures this week, the BBC has taken on one new member of staff - Alexander Armstrong is reportedly to be the new host of Have I Got News For You. Nothing official yet, though, and it's based on reports from The Sun from the same day as their Hutton leak. If it does turn out to be true, then that means The Sun has got two correct 'exclusives' in one day. Sign of an impending Apocalypse, anyone?

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if Armstrong is the new host (I predicted it last June, though it's taken longer than I thought) and part of me suspected it was going to happen when the Jenson Button BBCi adverts started - he's watching HIGNFY in it, and there's quite a few shots of Armstrong there.

Of course, it's a Sun TV prediction - I lost count of how many times in my youth they told the world that Brian Blessed and/or Joanna Lumley was definitely going to the the next Doctor Who.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

After a week of feuds and arguments, it's good to find something we can all celebrate and enjoy - Atomic Kitten are splitting up. One could claim that this is proof there is a god, but no living deity would have inflicted them on us in the first place.

Technical

I've just set up a new XML feed for this blog, using Blogger's Atom system. If you want to see it, or use it then it can be found here. I'll add a permanent link to the sidebar tomorrow as I'm hoping to find the time to go through and update the whole thing. I've currently got it set to the 'short' setting where only the first 255 characters of the post are done into XML, but there's also a 'long' setting where the whole post, regardless of length, is XMLized. If you've got a preference for one of the other, let me know.

Dead in the water?

Further to the post below about Howard Dean running low on funding, Kos reports that he's effectively broke with cash in hand for the campaign being the same as outstanding debts. The situation's so bad that he's not planning to run any TV advertising in the states voting on Tuesday, and is saving his fire for Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin, which vote in a week or so's time. The campaign is now talking about how it's important to win delegates, even if they're not winning actual elections. To me, his arguments sound about as desperate as Joe Lieberman's claim that his fifth place in New Hampshire was really part of a three-way tie for third place, if you squint really hard and try to forget how to count:
"Michigan is the biggest delegate pool that we have," Dean told reporters aboard his campaign plane. "I said consistently yesterday that we're after delegates. We have a good organization in Michigan and we want to work hard in Michigan and try to win."

Dean had an early advantage in the state, which has allowed caucus-goers to cast their ballots on the Internet, an option tailor-made for Dean's Web-based organization. But after Dean's loss in Iowa, Kerry opened a double-digit lead in the Michigan polls and Gov. Jennifer Granholm plans to endorse Kerry. The Massachusetts senator also has several other leading Michigan Democrats in his corner.
As a strategy, Dean's plans might make sense if he was in a two-horse race with Kerry, but when there are two other candidates in the race even if Kerry slips on Tuesday, they'll reap all the benefit and get the new momentum. Dean could find himself in the same position as Clark was in New Hampshire - sitting out a round and watching others steal your thunder.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The future of the Beeb

Just to repeat a thought I had in Matthew Turner's comments - as Richard Ryder has ruled himself out of becoming permanent Chairman of the BBC, Michael Portillo might be an interesting candidate for the job. He's been on News 24 this afternoon, and made one suggestion that I think the BBC would do well to consider - separating the roles of Director-General and Editor-In-Chief, as the growth of the BBC's output in the last few years means that it's become difficult, not least in terms of time, for one person to do both jobs.

I-Squared

Will the investigation into the leak of the Hutton report to The Sun be called The Hutton Inquiry Inquiry?

Who Wants To Be A President?

Somewhere in a parallel universe, that world's Chris Tarrant or Regis Philbin faces a tense contestant...

'Howard Dean, your next question is Who is going to win the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries? The answers are A: You B: John Edwards C: John Kerry or D: Wesley Clark.'
'I'll go with A: Me.'
'Is that your final answer?'
'Yes.'
'Howard Dean, you had $40 million... you now have just $5 million. The correct answer was C: John Kerry.'

(via Oliver Willis)

On to...quite a lot of travelling in seven days

With John Kerry now the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for President, attention turns to next Tuesday's when seven states have either primaries or caucuses - Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina. It should be another interesting night, as they're all quite different states. Looking at the figures here it looks like there are 234 delegates to be won next week, so even in the highly unlikely event of one candidate winning them all, it would still only be about 10% of the 2167 needed to secure the nomination. Of course, the primaries are much more about momentum and perception as they are about delegate counts.

Each candidate is going to have a different aim next week to either hold their position or show they're still a viable candidate. Kerry needs to win 2 or 3 and come high up in the others, with no other single candidate as a consistent rival, to show he's still the frontrunner. Dean has to win somewhere (and probably more than one state) to show he can win, after losing two states where he'd been the favourite, but he's in a difficult position where he's coming into states where he's not that strong. Clark and Edwards have to take at least one state, and hope Kerry doesn't have a big sweep of the others, to show they can win as they get to what should be a strong area for them. A poor result in South Carolina would be very bad news for Edwards

Here's a quick overview of the states from my perspective.

Arizona (48 delegates) is one of the big prizes of the night. It's an interesting state, with unique demographics - the large urban sprawl around Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun, with a large Hispanic and Native American population but also a large number of retirees in the West. Unsurprisingly, it has its primary early in the year - any later in the year and it might well get to hot for anyone to want to head out and vote. Current poll leaders there are Clark and Kerry.

Delaware (13 delegates) will be one of the states that gets overlooked next week, but Delaware's probably used to being overlooked. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see a candidate (probably Dean) taking some time out of campaigning in other states to campaign there and maybe give themselves a big win to crow about if everything else goes wrong. Dean is the current poll leader there, I believe.

Missouri (64 delegates) is probably going to be the state that gets the most attention. A couple of weeks ago, it would have been mostly ignored, as it's Dick Gephardt's home state and thus he was expected to win their easily, meaning none of the other candidates had really campaigned there. Now it's open and it'll be an interesting test to see which candidate or candidates can build an organisation there, and get the money in to campaign there. At the time of writing this, I'm not aware of Gephardt having endorsed any of the other candidates, but Josh Marshall reported after Iowa that Clark had recruited a significant number of Gephardt's campaign staff. There's been no polling there yet that I'm aware of, but I suspect Dean and Clark may be in with the best chances here right now, though Kerry's campaign has shown in Iowa and New Hampshire that it can achieve a lot in a short time.

North Dakota (12 delegates), which is holding caucuses rather than primaries, is likely to be another state that gets ignored in the reporting because of the few delegates it selects and its location. I doubt if any of the candidates will even visit there, given that it would take significant time away from campaigning elsewhere. No polling from there that I've seen, and your guess is as good as mine as to who'll do well. Dean may do well as he's probably got a number of volunteers working for him here.

New Mexico (23 delegates) is also holding caucuses, so organisation will again be important. It's likely to be a key battleground state in the general election as Gore only won it by a few hundred votes in 2000, so electability may be a key concern which could boost Kerry. It'll probably get a significance above what you'd expect for just 23 delegates as its Governor, Bill Richardson, is a leading figure in the Democratic Party (he was Clinton's Energy Secretary) and will probably be frequently mentioned when the eventual nominee is looking for a running mate. His endorsement would be one worth having so candidates may be looking to curry favour with him as much as with the New Mexican voters. Again, I've not seen any polling from here, but I'd reckon Kerry has the advantage right now, though the strong liberal tendency in the state might be good for Dean.

Oklahoma (35 delegates) is an interesting contest as it's a strongly conservative state (sometimes referred to as 'the buckle of the bible belt') but has a Democrat Governor - Brad Henry, who won a squeaker in 2002. If Lieberman remains in the race next week, as he seems likely to do at this point, this is where he'd hope to make a breakthrough - though he's currently in fourth place there, but outpolling Dean - by emphasising his more centrist credentials. However, Clark has also targeted it, and is the current poll leader there - this is one state he may concentrate his resources and time on to get a first win.

South Carolina (39 delegates) is normally regarded as Edwards territory, given that he's a Senator for North Carolina. However, there is a deal of difference between the two, and Kerry has also looked at this as a potential victory for a long time - he officially declared his candidacy here in September. Edwards does lead in the polls here, but not by much, but he knows a win here is expected of him and losing here could cause fatal damage to his campaign.

So, seven contests, all with their own little dynamics, all hopefully adding up to give a much clearer picture next Tuesday evening. There'll probably be a big winnowing of the candidates after this, and I'd be surprised if more than three of them have active campaigns after them. Barring absolute disaster, Kerry will be one of them, but the fight for the other two places is going to be tense.

In the comments on the post below Ken asked if anyone had ever come back to beat a candidate who'd won both Iowa and New Hampshire. Off the top of my head, I can't think of one, though I suspect Lyndon Johnson may have won both in 1968 before he withdrew. Since then, I'm not sure if any Democratic candidate has won both states - aside from Carter and Clinton in their re-election years, of course. I'll see if I can find out, or if anyone knows feel free to inform us!

Finally, I think it's time to have another sweepstake! Quite simple - guess the seven state winners, and for a tiebreak, should it be necessary, guess how many delegates (out of 234) the leading candidate will win on Tuesday. As for a prize, inspired by what's happened in previous sweepstakes (which came from Matt's desire to rid his CD collection of Mick Hucknall) I'm offering a copy of the album Pornograffiti by Extreme and should anyone else have CDs they wish to get rid of then please go ahead and add them to the prize fund. As is customary, the winner has the right to turn down the prize.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The trick is to keep breathing

Live results from the New Hampshire primary election are available from CNN and ABC. Blogger Oliver Willis has live commentary as the results come in.

At the moment, with about 25% of results in, the US networks have called a Kerry victory. He's currently on 39%, quite a bit ahead of Dean on 24% with Edwards third, just ahead of Clark, both around 12-13%. Lieberman's just behind them with 10%. With only seven main candidates in the race, Al Sharpton is currently... eighth, with less votes than Gephardt who withdrew a week ago. It's not quite being beaten by a dead man, but probably rather embarassing.

My call? Kerry's now the clear frontrunner, Dean's in trouble as the states who vote next week don't look good for him already. Edwards and Clark are probably just holding on, but both will be looking anxiously at the polls over the next couple of days to see if they can pick up a win or two next week, which is what they need to stay in this race. Lieberman's done better than expected, but he's still fifth, and coming in behind two Southerners in New Hampshire. I think this is probably the end for him.

ABC's results page says there are three write-in votes for 'Clinton' (and 13 for Bush) - they don't mention whether it's Hillary or Bill, though.

Update: The Edwards/Clark battle for third place is agonisingly tight - about 200 votes between them at the moment, with Edwards currently ahead. News 24 reports that Clark's already in South Carolina tonight, so he's already looking to next week. I think that the attention will be on 'How badly is Dean doing?' giving them a pass to next week. Gephardt's still ahead of Sharpton.

Pandagon's blogging it as well.

Irrelevant update: It's started snowing here - my own personal New Hampshire. Relevant update: Edwards' lead over Clark is now less than 100 votes, according to ABC.

Trivia: Dean's going to get almost the same percentage of the vote in New Hampshire as Clinton got in 1992. Kerry's about 6% ahead of Tsongas' total then, though. That year also featured a close battle for third place between Tom Harkin and Bob Kerrey. Anyone want to bet that that number will turn up in Dean spin sometime tonight or tomorrow?

News 24 now reports that Clark has passed Edwards.

Sharpton update: He's no longer in eighth place...he's now ninth as some nutter called Randy Crow (seemingly Lyndon LaRouche withouth the surrounding cult) has passed him and Gephardt.

Kerry's now making his victory speech and sounding very much like the frontrunner, talking about how he's going to take on Bush. 'We're coming, your're going, don't let the door hit you on the way out!' will be tomorrow's soundbite, I believe.

Final update: There was obviously a glitch in the reporting of results giving Crow an extra 300. Sharpton still finished eighth, behind Gephardt. (and I've closed the open bold tag)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Mr Brown saves the day

Of course, the question is which Mr Brown. According to this Guardian report, the Government's majority could be attributed to Nick Brown, Barbara Roche and Anne Campbell whose switch from three votes against to two in favour and one abstention turned what would have been a 314-314 vote into 316-311 - Spin mentions the role of the SDLP, and I don't how the UUP voted in the end.

Of course, with a majority that small one can easily identify any three or four MPs who voted for the motion or abstained and say their decision was crucial. Reading the full lists of who voted for and against (and the approximately 25 who abstained) when they're published might throw up some interesting information.

There's still a lot of politics to go before this becomes law, though. I'd expect some frantic days during the committee stages, and then it has to go to the Lords who'll be able to have all sorts of fun with the Bill as it's not a manifesto commitment.

But, Tony Blair has survived Day One of the Big Crisis - now we have to wait till tomorrow to see what Hutton has to say.

That Liberal Democrat cloning programme

Just watching some of the top-up fees debate while Phil Willis was speaking and I've noticed that he seems to bear an alarming resemblance to his fellow Lib Dem MP Bob Russell. It was a tight angle on BBC Parliament, but I couldn't see Russell sitting on the benches behind him. So, has anyone seen the two of them in the same room recently? Or, is Bob just putting on a different pair of glasses, replacing his Essex accent with a Yorkshire one to be Phil Willis as well?

The fees vote, and other predictions

I'm already on record in the comments at Spin saying I think the Government is going to win tonight's vote by single figures. Now, I've had a theory as to how they might pull this off, but it's slightly outlandish so I'm just putting it out here in case it turns out to be true, in which case I'll be seen as a prescient genius and if not, it'll be forgotten about like all my other failed predictions.

I'm wondering whether Blair has done a deal with Brown - something on the lines of 'get your mates to either abstain or vote for the bill, and if it passes I'll step down in a few months time'. Blair, assuming Hutton doesn't finish him off, gets to step down at a time of his choosing, looking fully in control of his destiny and Brown gets to move to Number 10 and has a year or so to stamp his authority on the Government and the Party before the next General Election. While I do think Blair sometimes has an overdeveloped sense of his own importance, I don't think he's an apres moi, la deluge type of person who doesn't care about what comes after him. He'll know that if he's seen as being forced to resign it'll weaken the Government, and hence his successor, and that will reduce the chances of him being seen as having left a legacy to future Labour governments.

Like I said, it's just speculation, but who knows if it's true?

And my prediction for New Hampshire tonight? Kerry wins, followed by Dean, then Edwards, then Clark. Dean will try and claim he's the new 'comeback kid' but it won't look too convincing - Kerry and Edwards will be the big winners, Clark will survive because the media will be too focused on discussing whether this is the end for Dean or not. Lieberman will probably withdraw in the next few days, while Kucinich and Sharpton will start getting lots of phone calls from senior members of the DNC saying 'you've made your points, now please leave with dignity'.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Thoughts on the favourite movies poll

Norman Geras has announced the results of the favourite movies poll and, probably like most people who took part, my first instinct was to see how many of my personal top ten made it into the upper echelon of the results.

(First, though, a big thankyou to Norm for carrying out the poll - counting 1510 votes spread over 659 different movies must be a tough job but it's good that someone's willing to do it)

Three of my top 10 made it into the top 52 - The Shawshank Redemption in 4th place, This Is Spinal Tap at 12th and Withnail and I at 26th. (If I hadn't made the last minute swap of Shawshank for Blade Runner, Shawshank would have dropped down to 7th place while Blade Runner would have moved up to 12th from 15th)

Of the other films I voted for there were only two I was surprised not to see in the Top 52 at the end - The Usual Suspects and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That said, I wouldn't really quibble with the Top 52 as chosen - unlike those Channel 4 polls there's nothing in there that makes you want to track down the people who voted for it and ban them from ever watching films again because they clearly have no taste. A lot of the films in there could well have ended up in my top ten had I voted on a different day. Life of Brian did make it into 26th place, though (which probably answers Dot Comrade's question) and I suspect that my dilemma over whether to include Grail or Brian in my top 10 was echoed by most Python voters.

It's probably the absence of The Usual Suspects that most surprises me as it's a film that rides high in many 'best film' polls and, notwithstanding the fact that I've noted how much dreck they usually contain, the films that usually do well in those polls are all scattered around the top 52. But then, this was quite a diverse poll with the top two only being voted for by 20% of the voters, and everything else receiving 1 in 10 or less (except The Third Man which just creeped over the 1 in 10 mark). I think it shows just how diverse people's tastes can be when you ask for favourite movies rather than what they think are the 'best' films. Given that 414 films received just one vote, a rough average suggests everyone who voted included 2 or 3 films that no one else voted for. I expect that my choices of The Day The Earth Caught Fire, Bob Roberts and 28 Days Later all fell into that category, with Usual Suspects, M*A*S*H, Blues Brothers and Holy Grail all getting between 2 and 5.

One final film-related thought I had while watching 'The Hamster Factor' this afternoon - has George Clooney replaced Bruce Willis as 'Big Movie Star most likely to be cast against type'?

Could Alistair Campbell impregnate homeowners?

This and many more headlines can be found via the Daily Mail-o-matic (found via Chris Brooke and Harry's Place, for the small percentage of you who haven't already seen it via them)

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Obscure football trivia

Despite winning the trophy seven times between them, today's match between Wolves and West Ham will be the first time they've ever met in the FA Cup. Now I need to find a football trivia site to see if it can tell me who the most high profile non-matchup in the Cup is now. Of course, this makes Wolves and West Ham like Brazil and Germany (and it's not often you get to make that comparison, so I'm enjoying it now) as their meeting in 2002's World Cup Final was the first ever World Cup match between the two sides.

Primary directives

This year's race for the Democratic Party's nomination for President is looking like it could be one of the most interesting US primary battles in a few years. It certainly seems to me like the most open race from either of the major parties (at this stage, anyway) since 1988.

What makes it interesting is that it's pretty much come down to a four-way contest between Kerry, Dean, Clark and Edwards and, aside from the all the fun that is anyway, the differing strategies of the candidates promise interesting clashes all the way to Super Tuesday at the start of March, and possibly beyond. Dean's atempting to drive it on volunteer power, Clark's building a national campaign, Kerry's front-loading to try and get a position of strength and Edwards is playing a waiting game, hoping to use his Southern roots to his advantage when the campaign moves there. Kerry and Edwards have the momentum right now, but the big question is whether they have the organisation on the ground to use whatever momentum they come out of New Hampshire with in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, Dean and Clark may come off badly from Iowa and New Hampshire, but they've got the organisation and money to keep going strongly while Kerry and Edwards are having to organise.

But, before all that, it's New Hampshire's turn to vote on Tuesday. Looking at how delegates are assigned for the Convention, it's interesting to see how much influence it has, considering that only 22 out of the total 4322 delegates will be decided on Tuesday (last week's Iowa caucuses chose 45 delegates). The polls have been pretty interesting over the past week, with Dean crashing while Kerry rises, though the latest ARG one shows Kerry way ahead with Dean, Clark and Edwards in a close fight for second place. Watching the progress of the tracking polls is quite interesting in itself, trying to spot trends, seeing just who's moving up or down and wondering how the current day's results differ from the three-day average.

One website that's had some excellent coverage from New Hampshire is Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo. Josh is on the ground in New Hampshire, and it's a mix of reportage on campaign events, speculation and unattributed insider gossip about what's happening behind the scenes. Current speculation seems to be centred around a possible Dean recovery (though there is the prospect of it being a 'dead cat bounce') and whether Edwards can keep up that climb. Of course, sometimes you can get a bit too carried away with watching the polls.

I think that Kerry is going to win on Tuesday, but it looks like it'll be how much he wins by that's important in terms of determining who's met the media's expectations. But, unlike Iowa, I'll be able to watch the results this week (one of the advantages of working weekends is that I can sleep late on Wednesday) so I may end up blogging a few comments that night.