Saturday, March 13, 2004

Breaking the silence

I've been a bit quiet here the last couple of days because I couldn't think of much to write after the bombs in Madrid, and what I could think of writing seemed more appropriate for Fistful than here.

I'm going to Spain in October - a week near Malaga with my family. I was planning to travel there and back by train, through Paris and Barcelona on the way there then Madrid and Paris on the way back to Britain. The train from Malaga to Madrid arrives at Atocha stataion, and until yesterday it had just been a possible destination, somewhere I'd pass through, a name I'd probably only notice just to be sure I was getting the right train from the right place.

Thursday hasn't changed my plans. I'm still going to be there. I'm still going to be getting trains here to go to and from work. You only live in fear if you choose to and I don't choose that path. A little over three years ago, I was working at Television Centre . I wasn't in the building when someone exploded a bomb outside it, but I was due in to work at 6am that morning. I could have turned round when I heard, and chosen not to go into work, to go home and let the fear win, but I didn't then and I won't now.

I'm reminded, as I have been so many times over the last few years of these words of Martin Luther King, and their message that seems to have been forgotten:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Casting by random factor

I've discovered the IMDB's page for the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy movie. I'd heard about Martin Freeman as Arthur and Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast but Mos Def as Ford Prefect? Sam Rockwell as Zaphod? Zooey Deschamel as Trillian? Warwick Davis as Marvin?

I need to lie down...

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Building matters

In the comments below, Peter reminded me that Nick Griffin used money from BNP members to build an extension to his home. While it's clearly not very ethical, I suppose it could be used as evidence that the BNP have moderated their beliefs - after all, it's not as if Griffin, realising he needed more space, just annexed his neighbour's house in the name of lebensraum.

Men come and go, but earth abides

Mirrored by Chris Lightfoot from an original site, here are some pictures of Pripyat, also known as the town closest to Chernobyl.

Sometimes there's hope in the darkest places

For once the Independent doesn't put a story I want to link to behind the subscription wall: I was a fascist boot-boy is an intereresting article about Matthew Collins who spent three years informing on the NF, BNP and Combat 18 until he was forced to flee the country because his life was in danger. There's a documentary about him on BBC Three tomorrow night which could be quite interesting. Read the whole thing, but he makes an interesting point about the way the fascist parties are organised:
"The leaders of the National Front and the BNP were invariably Oxbridge educated. Almost all of them tried to make a living off the membership fees of working-class members. I gradually began to realise that I had more in common with my black neighbours than I had with some guy who owns a farm in Wales. I just grew up. I rejected the notions and ideals of fascism, then I dealt with the racism."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

On a lighter note

After noticing the resemblance between John O'Shea and Peter Kay, UEFA obviously decided to get in on the football/comedian lookalike fun by appointing Valentin Ivanov, Russia's premiere Ryan Stiles impersonator to referee tonight's game between Man Utd and Porto:

It's the song I hate...

The Bloggers Against Fascism campaign seems to have caused a bit of controversy amongst bloggers in the last day or two, so I thought I'd weigh in with my 2p's worth - a bit later than most, as usual.

For what it's worth, I'm happy to have a United Against Fascism graphic and link up here. I'm not under any illusions that, in itself, it's going to stop the BNP but it's one step amongst many on the way to stopping them. As others have pointed out, the number of people who read blogs is small, even amongst those likely to be voting in June and there are probably few, if any, BNP voters (or potential BNP voters) amongst that readership. However, I think those of us within our little political bubble ignore the fact that there are a lot of people out there who aren't aware of the BNP, or at least what they truly stand for behind their vaguely moderated rhetoric. I had this brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I was talking with a friend who I thought was pretty clued up about politics but thought the BNP were in the same area of the political spectrum as the UK Independence Party and didn't realise the full extent of their politics. Not that he'd have been likely to vote for them anyway, but we soon let him know just what they stood for, and while I'm aware of the flaws in generalising from one experience, I doubt he's alone in that belief.

As I said, in and of itself something like UAF/BAF isn't going to stop the BNP, but what it may do is encourage more people to get out and vote in June, and maybe even go campaign for whichever party they support (as long as it's not the BNP, I don't really care which one, though obviously anyone campaigning for the Liberal Democrats will be most welcome). Recent elections that have featured BNP candidates have shown one thing - at least from my perspective - that they don't have huge levels of support, even when they go out and campaign heavily. They thrive when there's a low overall turnout, when the other parties can't be bothered to campaign and the higher the turnout in June, the less likely they are to win seats anywhere.

Just to show the whole strange bedfellows nature of this discussion, I'm in broad agreement with Peter Cuthbertson (who's in agreement with Chris Rennard) when he says that united fronts in campaigning run the risk of 'portraying the BNP as the only real opposition to the existing state of affairs, the only ones who offer an alternative.' Just going out and telling people to not vote BNP may work in one sense - they may not vote BNP, but they're also not going to vote for any of the other parties unless they're given a positive alternative. Someone, and I think it was Peter again, wrote in the comments to a post I made about negativity in politics that 'when A attacks B, C is the beneficiary'. However if A are all other parties and B is the BNP then C can only be abstention. To be united against fascism is to be united for democracy and going out to tell voters 'Vote Liberal Democrat/Conservative/Labour/Green/UKIP/Monster Raving Loony/whatever' is going to more effective than just saying 'don't vote BNP'.

On a final note, I just want to state that I don't regard people who choose not to take part in this campaign as being pro-fascist, objectively or otherwise, and I'd be very disappointed if any supporter of UAF tried to make that allegation - for what it's worth, I think the only potentially pro-fascist blogger I've ever encountered is Adam Yoshida, but the less said about him the better. I've always been very uncomfortable with statements like 'if you're not with us, you're against us' and 'if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem' as, while they're usually well-intentioned, I think they just an attempt to stamp an either/or argument onto a situation which is not necessarily the best way to deal with it. In framing an argument in those terms, you run the risk of alienating those who might potentially support you with reservations and driving them into whatever cause you're trying to oppose. Better, I think, to phrase it as 'if you're not part of the problem, we want you to be part of the solution' or 'if you're not against us, surely you can find some common ground with us?'

Monday, March 08, 2004

Australian GP Review

I thought I'd try a new feature on this blog, by writing a Grand Prix review after each race and trying to make it more of an actual review of the race and my view of what it means for the championship, rather than just reporting what happened. So, without further ado, here's the first:

Ever since it became the season-opener, the Australian GP has usually given the audience something interesting to talk about. Well, all good runs have to end sometime. That's not to say there's nothing to discuss here, just that there's very little compared to recent years.

You can see that the race itself is of little interest when most of the post-race discussion has been on just how bad the new single-session qualifying format is. It's obviously an idea that looked vaguely good on paper, but in practice, it's clearly a big mistake. I think that last year's format was fine, especially as it gave another reason for David Coulthard to moan about how it's all someone else's fault, and there wasn't really any reason to change it. Hopefully, the system will be changed back quickly - I can see that there may be technical reasons with the TV companies and the like that might make it hard to change it in time for Malaysia or Bahrain, but hopefully things will be changed by the time racing gets to Europe.

It was a rather dull race, but I'm not going to issue any dire warnings that this race could herald a dull season, as F1 has a tendency to confound expectations, especially those based on a single race - remember how doomed Ferrari looked after Hungary last year? - and it may just have been that it was a bad weekend for the Michelin teams. It may be that we're in for a rerun of 2002, with Ferrari dominating throughout, but it'll be a few races before it's safe to even think about making that prediction.

So, let's look at the teams and what they'll be thinking as they head to Kuala Lumpur:

Good Race:
Ferrari: Well, duh. first and second on the grid, first and second on the podium, in fact, first and second throughout the entire race. Short of lapping the entire field, there's not much else you can do to have a perfect weekend. Barrichello does seem to be closer to matching Schumacher, which could lead to some interesting contests between them later in the season, but does that mean Barrichello has improved or is Schumacher beginning a slow decline?
Renault: If Bernie Ecclestone ever retires from F1, there's a pefect replacement for his Prince of Darkness role in Flavio Briatore. That's not strictly relevant to this review, just a thought that came to me, but Renault did an excellent job in lowering expectations for the season, pointing out that they'd lost Mike Gascoyne to Toyota and were switching to a completely new engine design. Unfortunately for them, this weekend reminded the world that Renault have a certain Senor Alonso to drive their car and he may have got even quicker over the winter. He was the only driver capable of keeping even vaguely close to the Ferraris in the race and kept comfortable ahead of the Williams at the same time. Trulli had a good race as well, but will probably be disappointed at not catching Jenson Button.
BAR: A team who learnt the hard way about the danger of raising expectations, many wondered if they'd forgotten those early lessons with their talk of possible podiums and the potential of Jenson Button. However, Button's speed in qualifying blew away those doubts, and their talk of finishing fourth in the championship does now seem within the realms of possibility. Importantly, they've now got reliability as well as speed and while Takuma Sato is clearly the number 2 driver in the team he seems up to the job.

Average Race:
Jaguar: It's a mark of how far Jaguar have progressed that this was an average race for them. This time last year, it would have been a good one after the disaster of 2002. Webber showed his usual form in qualifying and was racing well till his breakdown and Klien allayed the doubts as to whether he was capable of driving in F1. Reliability will be a concern for them, but they seem to have maintained their level of performance over the winter so they now have a platform to build on.
Sauber: The 'average race' category seems to be made for Sauber, that most average of teams. A typical Sauber performance, really, in that you barely noticed they were in the race, but they seem to be running at about their usual level. Fisichella didn't quite reach the level expected of him, and he won't have appreciated the irony of being stuck behind Heidfeld's Jordan for so long, but both he and Massa will be feeling hopeful of the chance of points later in the season.
Jordan: Their win in Brazil last year hid the fact that they had a terrible season, so Eddie Jordan will be glad that this year's car has at least put some distance between them and Minardi. Heidfeld looks as though he's ready to take what may be his last chance in F1 and Pantano didn't embarrass himself on his debut. Again, like all the 'average race' teams, it's a good base to work from.
Williams: Not quite the start to the season they were hoping for but they'll be glad that McLaren had an even worse one. The new 'walrus' design seems to be neither a help nor a hindrance and they'll be hoping it was a Michelin problem that kept them so far off the pace of the Ferraris. However, they'll be worried about the pace Alonso and Button are showing in the Renault and BAR, and if this is to be a season of Ferrari dominance, they could find themselves in a tough battle to hold second from Renault.

Bad Race:
Minardi: When you expect to come last, it's hard to say you've had a poor race, but even by Minardi's standards this doesn't look like being a good season. Having to use two pay-drivers means that Minardi can't expect the same amount of hope they had in previous years where Paul Stoddart could pick an up-and-comer to showcase (like Alonso and Webber did in the past two years) and, to be frank, neither Bruni nor Baumgartner look like they could get an F1 drive without paying for it.
Toyota: How do you say 'going backward' in Japanese? Or, for Mike Gascoyne, 'I've made a terrible mistake, let me go back to Renault'? Rumours that this year's car was beaten by last year's in testing would appear to be true. Toyota have deep pockets, though, which is a good thing as they're going to have spend a lot to get anywhere near the form they started to show last year, especially if they're serious about trying to sign Ralf Schumacher for 2005.
McLaren: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Being beaten by Williams is bad, being beaten by Renault is worse, but finding themselves in a battle with BAR for eighth place in the race? Both cars looked slow in qualifying and the race and unless they can radically change things on their car, this could be a long and frustrating year for a team that was hoping to challenge for the championship. Coulthard's last-corner dash over the grass didn't help his weekend, but neither driver seemed able to get over the problems of a bad car. One problematic car (last season's never actually raced) is a fluke - two in a row start to look like a pattern.

Two weeks till Malaysia and another early morning start.

The Big Match

Watching the FA Cup draw a thought occurred to me - one of Sunderland, Millwall or Tranmere is guaranteed to be playing in Europe next year. The winner of the FA Cup is guaranteed a place in the UEFA cup (it's the spot that used to take a team into the Cup-Winners Cup) and as both Arsenal and Manchester United are nigh-on certainties to be in the Champions League again next season - they'd have to finish 5th in the Premiership to not qualify - it means that place goes to the cup runners-up. So, whoever wins that semi-final will know they're guaranteed a place in the UEFA Cup whether they win or lose in the final.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Co-winky-dink

In one of those strange little bits of synchronicity, Kirkcaldy's featuring in the Guardian Weekend (in the 'Let's Move To...' or did you know some people live outside the M25? section) has revealed to me that two bloggers I link to both live there. Not that I'm going to tell you who they are, of course, you can find out for yourselves, but it's interesting that one of them is one of the first people I ever linked to (indeed, someone I knew before I started blogging myself) and the other is one of the most recent additions to the list.

Tittilation

If you happen to be bored at the office during the week, some relief may be obtained from viewing Safe For Work Porn, but don't expect to find it too arousing as it's safe enough to get through the filter at my office, which blocks Disturbing Search Requests

I am dead right about this

Josh Marshall and Atrios show why it's a good idea to take extra care over the first few words of any post