Saturday, February 21, 2004

Let there be slack

An online version of the Principia Discordia. Cool.

Images of ego

Inspired by Rochenko, I tried looking up my name in Google Images. However, neither version came up with an image of me, though they did grab a few other impostors.

It could be used for some kind of art, if I had any dedication - using the different images a person's name generates in a kind of montage to show a selection of who they may or may not be. For instance, who knows whether any of these pictures are the 'real thing' or what they say about their 'subjects'?

On the fringes

While Ralph Nader does his usual act and gets the media to pay attention to his 'will I or won't I seek to get my ego massaged again this year?' act, a more interesting development on the fringes of the US presidential race isn't being noticed.

Judge Roy Moore, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who lost his job over his desire to display the Ten Commandments at his courthouse, is reportedly considering running for President as the candidate of the Constitution Party.

Now, this could turn into yet another fringe run for the Presidency that doesn't affect the outcome at all but who knows? It could provide an interesting challenge to Bush from the heart of the Christian Right, perhaps paralleling the effect Nader had on the Democrats in 2000.

More questions

Via Blogdex, I've just found Don't Amend, a campaign to stop the proposed amendement to the US Constitution that would completely outlaw gay marriage in the US.

Now, there's been lots of writing about this issue over the last week, and there'll no doubt be much more. (Chris Brooke not only has words but pictures too while yet another strange quote of the day from Cuthbertson has prompted an, ahem, interesting debate in the comments)

But, I have to admit to being completely perplexed by one of the assertions in this debate. I suspect I'm not alone, but can anyone supply me with a clear, reasoned, explanation as to why allowing gay people to get married will weaken the already existing institution of heterosexual marriage? (Note: Any answers using 'God' within them will be judged to have failed the 'clear and reasoned' test unless the argument still looks sensible if 'God' is replaced by 'A pink elephant from Alpha Centauri called Zibbit') You see, I just can't understand how letting other people get married weakens the institution of marriage. Are there going to be thousands of couples getting divorced because of it? Are there going to be men thinking 'hold on, I was going to marry this woman I'm in love with, but now gay marriage is legal I shall go and marry a man instead'? Was the legalisation of homosexuality in the 60s accompanied by thousands of straight men and women suddenly, spontaneously changing their sexual preference?

That's you that is

Stuck for a new insult in an ongoing flamewar? Need to liven up your variety of insults that wouldn't sound out of place in the playground? Or just have fond memories of David Baddiel and Rob Newman back when they were funny? Then check out these transcripts and samples from History Today, discovered via The Great Communicator.

Friday, February 20, 2004

While it's still fresh

One day, an MP or councillor starting up a blog will be just another thing that passes without comment, but until then, here's about one and a half new Lib Dem ones for you: Adamsdown, from Cardiff City Councillor Nigel Howells and Simon Hughes new blog/journal on his Mayoral ampaign site.

Watch out for the stealth pandas

I just like this quote for no readily apparent reason:
Originally, it was just supposed to be a satirical take involving a series of ever-escalating panda wars

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Taking on The Sun

One of the side effects of the Jon Kerry non-affair affair this week has been to give Americans some idea of the journalistic 'standards' of some of the British press. It's almost a classic of the genre, with lots of heavy implication and little actual fact, heavy use of 'alleged' and 'allegedly' and, of course, made-up quotes.

Writing in The Guardian today, Sydney Blumenthal (who has personal experience of being on the end of a Drudge smear) suggest that John Kerry should sue The Sun over this story, offering the following justification:
In the US, there is virtually no legal protection for a public figure, especially a political one, from defamation. Libel laws are de facto defunct. Public opinion is inevitably swayed by this tainting, all journalism has fallen under suspicion and truth cannot easily be distinguished from malicious fiction. Only if Kerry (or Polier) were to sue the Sun under British libel law, for example, would this transatlantic corruption of the press be truly engaged. Then a British court would begin to set important rules in American politics.
Now, I have to admit that it's a tempting idea. Kerry taking on News International in the courts would be an interesting spectacle, especially given that Kerry and his wife have pockets deep enough to make funding a libel action comparatively cheap.

However, like many temptations, it's one best resisted. Firstly, it would be a big mistake in political terms - the 'scandal' is pretty much dead in the US and this would only reignite it. Second, any libel action would require Kerry to spend a lot of time in London when the case finally comes to court which would be bad at the best of times, but disastrous should it not come to court till October or November and frankly embarrassing should he be elected in November and then have to spend time in London fighting a court case that's become pretty much irrelevant.

Now, I'm not a lawyer (and neither do I play one on the internet) but from what I can recall of the Sun's reporting of the case, they covered themselves enough to be able to be able to say that they weren't libelling Kerry themselves but reporting that there were stories/rumours out there and so if they were to come to court they could have the basis of a sound defence. However, I'm not entirely sure about this - reporting potentially libellous reports may be as serious as making those reports in the eyes of English law, I don't know.

The best option here may be a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. Yes, it's a pretty toothless body, but complaints from Kerry, as well as the woman accused in this and her misquoted family, are a way of putting the British press on warning that they are being watched, that their reporting does have an audience outside the UK, and that they need to be responsible and accurate in what they report about the US. It's a long way from a perfect solution (which would be something like Sky setting up a new channel filled 24/7 with profuse apologies to everyone the Sun and News Of The World have ever gone after just because they don't like them) but it might be the best in the current situation.

Never let it be said that football is dull in India

After all, what could be wrong with a sport that allows two matches to have over 100 goals between them? Quite a lot, say the authorities, who now seem likely to permanently ban the four teams involved in the 'Goalathon'.

I'm just wondering how you score 60 goals in 45 minutes - that's one every 45 seconds - when the opposition have to get the ball from their goal back to the centre circle and then kick off. Obviously, there was collusion going on, but that's still pretty efficient. I wonder when boredom set in for the players - almost anyone who's played a Playstation or other computer football game has probably tried playing it against completely passive opposition at some time, and it gets incredibly boring after just a few minutes, let alone 45.

Thanks for the mammaries

Atrios wonders:
Can I be the only person to take note that for all the outrage the Bush administration has expressed over Janet's boob, Bush didn't seem to so concerned about mammaries when he gave an exclusive interview to The Sun when he visited the UK?

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Email

I've had some problems with my email over the last day or so (thanks to my hosting company changing its policies without any announcement) so if anyone's emailed me in the last 24 hours or so you'll have to send it to me again if you want me to actually read it, as it's probably been lost in the shuffle.

Apologies for the inconvenience, rest assured that someone at my hosting company has already received a sufficiently irate complaint from me.

Not extreme enough

Following on from yesterday's thoughts about negativity, Julian Baggini (author of the rather good Atheism: A Very Short Introduction) has a piece in the Guardian on the polarising effects of political discussion in the media.

A boost for the Sri Lankan film industry

The Onion's AV Club has an interview with Arthur C. Clarke, who hints at the possibility of a film version of The Fountains Of Paradise. There's no mention of the long-rumoured Rendezvous With Rama movie, though Cinescape reports that it might still be in development with David (Se7en) Fincher directing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Performance related politics

Richard Allan wonders what measures you could use for performance related pay for MPs. Obviously, as turkeys don't vote for Christmas, MPs are highly unlikely to ever vote in such a system for themselves but I'm sure people can come up with some interesting ideas. Suggestions on a postcard to Richard's comments box, where I've already proposed percentage of votes/committees attended and/or constituents issue dealt with.

On negativity

It seems that none of my readers did see that John Edwards interview on the Tonight Show, so I had a look around the web and discovered that there aren't any transcripts available of the show. However, even if I can't find the exact quote, I think the general thrust of it is valid, however it's expressed - negativity in politics is bad, because it makes people think that politicians are more interested in themselves and other politicians than they are in dealing with the concerns of ordinary people.

This year's Democratic primaries have shown that this argument is valid - Edwards' strident refusal to go negative has seen him become a leading candidate, and after tonight he could well be the last man standing against John Kerry in the contest while those who went negative, most notably Dick Gephardt against Howard Dean in Iowa, saw their hopes implode. Dean is also a case in point - while he made the early running by going heavily against Bush, when it came to actual votes he lost out to those candidates who could give people positive reasons to vote for him. In the Leno interview, Edwards said it could be seen as trying to apply Ronald Reagan's 'Eleventh Commandment' - Thou shalt not attack another Republican - to the Democrats - while both parties contain a diverse spread of opinion, in recent years the Republicans have managed to appear much more unified while the Democrats have been prone to internecine squabbling.

You can easily see the same in British politics - Labour's woes in the 80s were accompanied by massive internal disputes and the Tories' problems since the 90s were heralded by the party's inability to appear united over almost any issue. Now, under Howard, they appear a much more united party, and this can be given as one of the reasons for their rise in the polls, especially when the Labour Party seems to be caught up in more fratricidal strife.

However, it's worth bearing in mind that, especially in the context of party politics, unity cannot be imposed from the top, at least in the long term. In the short term it can work because parties tired of infighting will seize on the prospect of a respite from strife, especially if it promises electoral success. However, in the longer term, the old differences will re-emerge and if there's no way to confront these disputes amicable, strife will return again, perhaps even more destructive than before as the stakes - total control of the party under unified structures - are much higher.

Beyond the parties, though, there's the wider political arena and it's here where the culture of negativity in politics is most damaging. While we political junkies might lap up the adversarial nature of politics, it's a turn off for a lot of people who don't see a debate, but rather a shouting match with each side trying to drown out the other in a wall of noise. That's not to say there isn't a role for adversarial politics, especially in the role of scrutiny of policy, it's the yah-boo nature of it that doesn't appeal to many people. It's a culture where arguments are won rather than resolved where it's not just sufficient for an idea to be accepted, the opposing idea has to be belittled and discredited entirely.

Watching Prime Minister's Questions on TV, I've often been struck by the thought that it, especially the centrepiece clash between the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, could very easily be presented and commentated on by BBC Sport rather than BBC News. Discussion of the policies could be quite easily removed and replaced by tactical analysis (complete with flashy statistics). Indeed the post-PMQ discussion on Daily Politics is eerily reminiscent of Gary Lineker's Match Of The Day studio chats with Alan Hansen.

I appreciate that change isn't going to happen overnight and, indeed, that I'm probably being slightly hypocritical myself in that I engage in pointlessly adversarial situations just for the fun of it, but isn't anyone else just getting bored of the whole thing?

Shocked, shocked!

That a Murdoch-owned paper could seemingly (and accidentally, I'm sure) have misquoted someone:
In a separate statement, Ms Polier's parents, Terry and Donna Polier, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, dismissed the "completely false and unsubstantiated" allegations about their daughter.

Last week Mr Polier was quoted in the Sun as referring to Mr Kerry as a "sleazeball".

"He's not the sort of guy I would choose to be with my daughter," he was reported to have said.

Yesterday the parents said that Mr Kerry had not been involved with their daughter and they would be backing him for the highest office in the country.

"We love and support her 100% and these unfounded rumours are hurtful to our entire family," they said. "We appreciate the way Senator Kerry has handled the situation, and intend on voting for him."

Monday, February 16, 2004

Reasons for digital TV #278

Flicking round the channels earlier, I caught the tail end of Senator John Edwards' appearance on Jay Leno's show - I think it was originally on in the US sometime last week as they were talking at one point about Clark's withdrawal from the Presidential race. Now, it wasn't a particularly memorable interview, but Edwards made one comment that I found interesting.

Leno was asking him about negative campaigning and why Edwards had kept his campaign positive all the way through. Edwards answer was (and I'm paraphrasing slightly, because I don't usually take notes while watching TV) 'When politicians are talking about each other, people lose interest because they're not talking about the people' which was an interesting response. I may write more about this tomorrow, but right now I need to sleep and I just wanted to note this down. Anyone who did see the interview and can remember the quote better than me (as I'm sure it sounded much more eloquent than I've rendered it) should feel free to tell me the correct version in the comments.

That liberal media again

This article (and I could have found hundreds like it) starts: 'SO FAR unscathed by rumours of a two-year-long affair with a 24-year-old journalist, the United States senator John Kerry ' before going on to mention, with a seemingly straight face, that 'the only potential (Kerry) scandal is not even being discussed in most mainstream media'

It'd be nice if it were, because it's clearly a bunch of the usual unsourced Drudge horseshit, but do these people not actually look at the other media before they mention it. It took me five seconds to do a Google News search for 'kerry affair' which found 782 hits, surely it's not too much to expect a supposedly professional journalist to do the same?

The point is this - it's a rumour from a website that's well known for reproducing large barrels of crap around the occasional nugget of truth, and to just print it and say 'well, it's a rumour, but what if it's true?' is not responsible journalism, it's gossip-mongering. I've seen lots of crazed rumours about Bush on the web over the last few years, but I've never seen an article that starts 'So far unscathed by rumours that he's the preferred candidate of the Bavarian Illuminati, and plans to sell the population Earth as slaves to his masters from Sirius, US President George Bush...' Now, why might that be?

Pandagon discovers Samizdata

Ezra Klein:
If the most important thing about being a libertarian is that you get to carry a semi-automatic, then your ideology seems to be disturbingly similar to the way gangs recruit

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Redefining 'frill'

How long before Ryanair starts charging passengers extra for minor frills like seats, oxygen in the cabin and the right to get on the plane?

Cut saints' working hours now!

As some others have raised the issue of Saint George 'keeping people English', it's interesting to note some of the other causes this probably mythical figure is associated with. Anyone praying to him might want to make sure that they're quite specific about what they ask for - if he's particularly busy, he could end up making you Catalan, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Maltese, Canadian, Lebanese or Georgian instead or even, and this would no doubt be quite worrying for some who invoke him, a Palestinian Christian. Then again, should he get the English confused with any of his other non-national responsibilities, you could wake up one morning to find that you've become an archer with herpes or even a horseman with syphilis.

Still, I guess if you believe any of that nonsense about gods, saints and all the rest, it's no doubt quite simple to ignore the problems it creates.