LSE Students' Union on BBC News

The BBC News website reports on the Union General Meeting at the LSE SU. Sadly, people are still throwing paper, but the BBC article does make it clear that it's only a section who like doing that and that, despite an unholy alliance of neoSinclairists and AU people, an amount of serious debate is going on.

The article did, unfortunately, say that
active union members are a minority among the LSE's 9,000 students, with 20% turnout when it comes to union elections.
which is true, but it compares very favourably with both other students' unions (I remember one ULU election where the electorate was potentially 150,000 and about 350 voted) and, indeed, with council elections. You have to bear in mind that lots of people are only there for one year.

Vivat Conventus Discupulorum Scholae Economicae Londinii!



Hello, Colin

The UK CEO of Weber Shandwick and my überboss, Colin Byrne, has added me to his blogroll. His blog is at

Colin has been doing PR for one year less that I've been alive and, whether you agree with him or not, has a unique set of experiences that make him an interesting blogger to read.

I wondered here about anti-federalism in the early United States. Colin talked here about 'Advocates and Badvocates' and how independent advocates would be a step-change in PR as the power of the internet allows people not tied to companies (as I understand it) to give their personal opinions on issues. This contrasts strongly with, for instance, the Federalist Papers, written under the pseudonym Publius by Hamilton, Madison and Jay while the looser Anti-Federalist Papers were written by George Clinton, Robert Yates and Samuel Bryan under the names Cato, Brutus and Centinel respectively. The intention, as I understand it, was precisely the opposite of what Colin sets out - to present pure argument, so that senior people could say what they want with out being accused of having axes to grind or the Mandy Rice-Davies line - they would say that, wouldn't they?

If I understand the idea of 'Age of Recommendation' that Colin is talking about, the personal recommendation of someone who we respect is increasingly important, whereas the Federalists and Anti-Federalists couched their advertisements - and they were advertisements for a political programme published in the media of the day - in terms of political philosophy and from a position of neutral argumentation.

I do wonder, though, if the apparent explosion in pamphlets, newspapers and other writings around the time, and the development of print capitalism, has any relation to the great increase in political writings through blogging.



George Mason and anti-Federalism

Today's rain caused me to stop at Foyle's (not that I need much of an excuse) and I picked up a copy of The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers edited by David Wootton. I would have given a lot to have lived in those times, when it seems that the polity was alive with debate about the future direction of what would become the USA. There is a lot, reading arguments on both sides of the federalism debate, that is relevant to both Britain and Europe as they go through constitutional changes and to nascent and emerging democracies.

Anyway, the first paper is George Mason's Objections to the Constitution of Government Formed by the Convention. Reading Mason's Objections, there is a lot to think about that leads me to think that the Constitution of the United States has not been successful - of that more below. A few selected bits:

The President of the United States has no Constitutional Council, a thing unknown in any safe and regular government. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by minions and favorites; or he will become a tool to the Senate--or a Council of State will grow out of the principal officers of the great departments; the worst and most dangerous of all ingredients for such a Council in a free country; From this fatal defect has arisen the improper power of the Senate in the appointment of public officers, and the alarming dependence and connection between that branch of the legislature and the supreme Executive.

Hence also spurring that unnecessary officer the Vice- President, who for want of other employment is made president of the Senate, thereby dangerously blending the executive and legislative powers, besides always giving to some one of the States an unnecessary and unjust pre-eminence over the others.

I cannot help but think of the influence of a particular set of neo-conservative advisers on the current administration - Wolfowitz, Perle and not least Cheney - and the malign effects of there being no-one near the President to 'speak truth to power' save for the sidelined Powell.
Under their own construction of the general clause, at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their powers as far as they shall think proper; so that the State legislatures have no security for the powers now presumed to remain to them, or the people for their rights.
In short, Mason's predictions have come to pass. Largely but by no means exclusively through the commerce clause, the power of the federal government against the state has increased dramatically, far beyond what was originally envisioned by either side.
This government will set out a moderate aristocracy: it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy, or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in the one or the other.
I think that, by the terms as Mason would have used them, we can see a 'corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy' rather than a monarchy. The blurring of the lines between executive and legislative, with many serving or former senators looking at contesting the presidency, is the corrupt - with one eye on the presidency and looking to private interest, senators and representatives will not act in the interests of the states they are meant to represent or the union they are meant to preserve. Indeed, by my count, ten former senators or congresspersons and two former senators have filed papers with the FEC - Republican Senators Brownback and McCain and Representatives Tancredo, Hunter and Paul and Democratic Senators Obama, Clinton, Dodd and Biden and Representative Kucinich, along with various former officeholders.

As to tyrannical, the distance of lawmakers from citizens and the development of an entire apparatus for lobbying for almost every (concentrated) interest under the sun would, I think, fit the description. I think that part of the tyranny complaint is self-perpetuation, which is why Mason and other anti-federalists spoke both of the right of insurrection in certain circumstances and of the fear that a minority - a minority with a privileged position to protect - could use the provisions that protect against a 'tyranny of the majority' to force a 'tyranny of the minority'.

It is an aristocracy in the sense that it is a government of those with arete - the best or most able. However, their interests are not directed to their constituents' need but to their own and to the interests of those about them. Again, self-perpetuation is an issue.

I've been thinking of late as to what extent, by the standards of its framers, the Constitution of the United States is successful or a failure. That particular idea I owe to my friend Jo Kibble. Many moons ago, we had a class together on whether the Attlee government was socialist or not; Jo's argument was that 'socialism is what the Labour party does' and so if the 45-50 administration lived up to its promises, it would have been socialist. Part of this is the mythology that seems to surround the US Constitution. I have heard people say, with absolute seriousness, that the Constitution is 'ordained by God' and there is a lot of cant about the Founding Fathers - the Convention was not people coming together to argue it out, but compromising and fudging, leaving out or delaying some issues (particularly slavery) in a way that the most hardened comitologist would have to admire.

A brief aside on slavery - I understand that while Mason was a slaveowner, he wanted slavery to be abolished but did not want a provision on slavery, either way, to be included in the Constitution, which I read to be, in effect, an argument that the Constitution and, by extension, any constitution should not set policy. In a modern day setting, it would mean that the Constitution could not be used to permit or ban abortion, but also that the Second Amendment would have to be repealed.




Yeovil vs Blackpool

My home team, Yeovil Town, are playing Blackpool tomorrow in the playoffs. Apparently Yeovil had to ask for more tickets and are bringing 40,000 (yes, forty thousand) people tomorrow. Or so my brother says. I remember seeing Yeovil in the Vauxhall Conference (I was a season ticket holder once upon a time) so it'd be great to see them, after only joining the football league, to be within sniffing distance of the Premiership.

The Glovers were one of the most famous non league teams for their giant-killing reputation and seemed to be continuing that when they stuffed Notts Forest 5-2. Let's hope for a similar result at Wembley.



Ye gods, Alain Juppé is back

I've just seen that Alain Juppé, who was caught up in various financial scandals, has re-emerged as the environment minister. It is indeed a piebald pony that M. Sarkozy is riding - from Juppé to Bernard Kouchner as Foreign Minister, until his recent expulsion a member of the Socialist Party.

I wonder how long the grouping will last.

I've been a bit ill, hence the lack of posts, but am feeling better and will doubtless be posting more over the damp Bank Holiday.



David MacLean

I was delighted to see this EDM submitted about David MacLean, the MP for Penrith and the Border. Mr MacLean suffers from multiple sclerosis and, while I don't think I agree with any of his politics, for newspapers to attack him for using his MP's allowance legitimately to allow him to effectively represent his constituents is pretty low. The text of the EDM is
That this House salutes the bravery with which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border has for several years defied the onset of multiple sclerosis so crippling that a less determined person would have been confined to a wheelchair long ago; endorses the decision of the House of Commons Department of Finance and Administration to approve his purchase of an outdoor vehicle, from the appropriate Parliamentary allowance, to enable him to negotiate the largest rural constituency in England; and accordingly condemns the journalists and broadcasters who sensationalised this story for playing down, and in some cases not even mentioning, the devastating effects of his illness and his refusal to give in to it.
It is telling that the list of signatories covers the spectrum from John McDonnell to Andrew Rosindell.



Antony Gormley's Blind Light at the Hayward

The advertised part of Antony Gormley's Blind Light exhibition at the Hayward is a room full of very dense fog. It is a remarkable installation, but of that more later. There are other parts to it which are worth seeing by themselves.

I've seen a lot of exhibitions that seek to use the viewer as part of the art, but none as successful as this one. It involves you, the viewer, very directly but your experience of most of the pieces is dependent on the presence and actions of others.

The first installation, Spaceship, is huge - twenty-seven tonnes of metal that fills the room. Both irregular, looking like a hunk of technology torn off an orbiting leviathan hurled to earth, and highly regular, with holes aligned on a cubic grid, you can stand up close to it, peering into holes to see the interior, but the best effect is standing back, on the stairs, watching what could, for all the world, be Iron Age humans looking in incomprehension and disbelief at this monster crammed into a small space.

Another piece is a set of boxes, with holes to approximate human orifices, based on the sizes of inhabitants of Malmö from eighteen months to eighty years old. More than anything else in the exhibition, it depersonalises the viewer. You can find boxes of the same height as yourself, but the association is uncomfortable: reduced to boxes on the basis of phyisiognomy in a field of similar, pallid, stained figures I found reminded me of concentration camps. Now, it is at times (and I mean no offence here) hackneyed to make comparisons with the Holocaust but in this case it is, I think valid. There is a meme somewhere on the interweb about the time it takes for an online discussion to descend into comparisons with Hitler. The random positioning, crowdedness and ghastly similarity to humans along with, as I said, the hint of Eugenics left me feeling that I was standing in a field of half-humans, only their measurements in a forgotten archive to remind us of their existence.

I don't think this was Gormley's intent; another piece is a lost-wax cast of him in a cube, so that you can see the gaps where his head and hands were, which more successfully captures the dichotomy between something that protects at the same time as restricting your freedom.
It is often better to be in chains than to be free
-Franz Kafka

While I am not certain how successful Gormley was in his aim in the field of boxes, it is nevertheless a very worthy piece of art. The main installation, Blind Light, is excellent. In essence, it is simple: a glass box filled with fog. It is, though, the densest fog I've ever seen. Perhaps fifteen centimetres from your face, your hand is a shape and fully outstretched it is invisible. As I said before, the presence of others is essential. When walking around the outside, people come up against the glass and interact with you while you can do the same when inside. Walking across the box is the Gormley's most successful means of picking up on the aforementioned dichotomy. There is no feeling of danger and the new experience is quite welcome, but you have to proceed slowly, with arms outstretched, to avoid running into people. The visitors were being terribly British, with occasional cries of 'Oh, excuse me!' as they touched one another. While that is all fun, the water underfoot, the lack of vision and the water condensing on your clothes and exposed skin means that you are slightly on edge.

As to the title, Blind Light, it is an interesting reflection, much in line with the protection-restriction, quod me nutrit me destruit, idea that the excess of light which we need to see makes it impossible to function as the sighted would normally do.

The rest of the indoor exhibition is worth seeing, but less effective, consisting essentially of casts of Gormley's body in different suspensions and contortions.

Outside, the sculptor of The Angel of the North goes for another grand-scale work - casts of his body again, but on rooftops and ledges around the Hayward. I'm going to go back when it's less crowded and wander around the area taking pictures of the casts that make up Event Horizon, so more of that in another post. I would say, though, that in keeping with the guide to the exhibition, the title seems pretentious. An event horizon is the maximum limit of light from a given event, such that in proximity to a black hole all light paths lead back to the centre. This seems very much at odds with the idea of appreciation of a single event in two, apparently contradictory ways.

Event Horizon is free to be photographed - they could do no other, given that it is outdoors and lends itself to photographs. It is a shame the Hayward or the exhibitor would not allow photos within the exhibition. There are no delicate paints to be protected and it would allow further interaction with the installations, later reflection on them and the creation of mini-artworks. It'd also be a lot of fun.



Anti-social behaviour in Westminster

I live in an anti-social behaviour dispersal area in the City of Westminster, near the Channel Four building. For people who don't know the area, it's about five minutes' walk from Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. The dispersal area is a result of young people wearing hoods standing around on the street. I am aware that I am fairly large and not a likely candidate to be intimidated, but I have not seen (and my flat looks over the length of Arneway Street) any of the kids who hang around there annoying anyone. One one occasion, they were kicking a football against a building - signs have appeared saying 'No Ball Games' and they have stopped completely. There is nowhere for them to go and play ball games - the Channel Four garden doesn't allow ball games. There is no youth centre in this area. There is the lovely open space in the middle of Vincent Square which is used for ball games - but, as its owned by Westminster School, no-one can use it. My point is that this area has been dropped in place when the problem is really not that serious.

At the end of my road is a pub. On the road outside the pub on Saturday night was a fight large enough, by my count, to justify four police vans, two panda cars and a 4x4 to break up. The cause was football, opposing teams and alcohol in excess quantities.

I wonder which is actually more antisocial?



The state of the Fourth Estate

There is a lot of stuff on the blogosphere about the mainstream media (or MSM as the more conspiratorially-minded refer to it) and bias of the BBC. My principal sources of information are the media - I hear things on the grapevine, but that's pretty mediated, I read Hansard and watch BBC Parliament - and so I have no way of determing the quality of a given outlet except by comparing it to other media outlets and, where possible, checking the facts against primary sources.

I would like to do a media snapshot of Britain - what do all the media in Britain say on a randomly selected day? It would be a big job - watching all the 24 hour news channels, all the news bulletins, listening to all the radio bulletins, reading all the newspapers - and couldn't be done by one person. It would, though, be a potentially interesting exercise.

I am aware that this could be a very flawed process. If there is a problem with the media and the check is the media, it wouldn't accomplish anything. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Who watches the watchers, or words to that effect - was Juvenal's way of saying it was pointless setting eunuchs to guard virgins when the former were still corruptible. That is why I want to check against primary sources where possible. It would, in any case, let us see quantitatively which sources cover which stories with what degree of importance.

What do people think?

xD. and Queen Adreena

I recently signed up to last.fm1. It is a great site - you find music similar to your current tastes. You can either just plug in names of bands and do various searches around that, or put a piece of software that notes what you listen to and how often (yes, it does sound a bit 1984) and recommends things on the basis of that. One recommendation it came up with that was so good I now have three albums and an EP by them is Queen Adreena.

Now, people who know me IRL (or have at least seen what I'm listening to at work) will know that I have weird taste in music. Queen Adreena are described as an
independent punk-ish, gothic rock band from london. The band is fronted by vocalist KatieJane Garside and guitarist Crispin Gray, who had previously collaborated in the short-lived band Daisy Chainsaw.
and they have a brilliant version of the Dolly Parton classic, Jolene. Unfortunately, the copy on is only thirty seconds long, so you don't get past the intro, but it's worth finding a copy. Medicine Jar is really strong as well.


1 - at the recent Bloggers4Labour meeting, Tom Watson mentioned it and I had a look. Sorry, but I really wanted to name drop.



Christopher Hitchens vs the ghost of Jerry Fallwell

This is, without question, brilliant. I know it's rather doing the rounds, but I found it on A General Theory of Rubbish. I think one quote in particular is going to stick

people like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign, selling pencils from a cup.
I went to Cogers for the first time in a while on Wednesday night and one of the things that came up a lot was banning the internet. Obviously, it was raised as a joke, but making a serious point: there is an almost unfathomable about of information out there and the question is whether we search through as discerning knowledge-seekers, pick up some random blogger's opinions or watch whatever's top of YouTube. One of the joys - and it is a joy - of YouTube is being able to watch and hear Christopher Hitchens and others whenever you want. Some I particularly like are here (Bil Maher annoys me) and here, speaking on the Moral Necessity of Atheism. It's a question of what you're looking for; the amount doesn't necessarily make it harder to gain political education. The impulse still has to be there and, I think, still has to be put there.




Tony Blair's last ride

We heard a final justification from Tony Blair, with George W Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House, for the Iraq War.
"I've taken a view that Britain should stand shoulder to shoulder with America after September the 11th. I have never deviated from that view, I do not regret that view,"
This seems a lot like the Politician’s Syllogism from Yes, Minister:
  1. Something must be done
  2. This is something
  3. Therefore we must do it
Whenever Tony Blair is asked on the Iraq war, he asks whether we would rather still have Saddam Hussein, implicitly accusing us of approving of Saddam’s regime. Sometimes, we have to wait for better circumstances; sometimes, the right action is no action (or no further action). It is perfectly acceptable to say that Saddam was bad, but what has happened is worse and that there was no obligation or right on our part to intervene as we did at the time that we did.



A minor constitutional point

Following on from last week's PMQs, which I talked about here, I've come up with a rebuttal to all the (cheap, IMHO) points made by Cameron and, today, Hague about paralysis during Labour's leadership election and calls for a leadership election.

The formal arrangements are that the Queen asks a member of the Commons (or, potentially, the Lords) to form an administration that will secure the confidence of the Commons. So long as Messrs Cameron and Hague twitter on, they are challenging the majoritarianism of the system (OK), making cheap points and, worst of all, missing an opportunity to hold the government to account - for instance, what is the PM or DPM's opinion on whether Parliament should have a vote on military action? Do they think that they established a constitutional convention, or that a further vote on military action would establish such a convention?

As I understand it, when Brown is elected leader of the Labour Party, Blair will visit the Queen to say that he no longer enjoys the support of the Commons and will ask her to commission a new Prime Minister, recommending Brown. The general election is about choosing who will represent the constituency you happen to be in, not choosing the government.



The leadership of Labour

There's still a lot to be angry about.

"I know that the right kind of leader for the Labour Party is a dessicated calculating machine who must not in any way permit himself to be swayed by indignation.

"If he sees suffering, privation or injustice he must not allow it to move him, for that would be evidence of the lack of proper education or of absence of self-control. He must speak in calm and objective accents and talk about a dying child in the same way as he would about the pieces inside an internal combustion engine."

-Aneurin Bevan




The Sun, Cameron and Brown

The Sun has issued its latest edict in the form of its Sun Says column. It starts with a hagiography of Brown before declaring:
For the first time, he will be pitted directly against David Cameron, the most popular Tory leader for 15 years. Both have plenty to prove between now and polling day.To the people of Britain. And especially to Sun readers.
Is that so? It looks an awful lot to me like The Sun and its proprietor are asking both Brown and Cameron to pander to a particular set of interests. The Sun sets itself up to rubbish future members of the cabinet as it says that Brown is "a colossus in a cabinet of pygmies" and demanding that Brown stick to a particular line - especially opposition to the Euro.

The beginning of the article runs:
LABOUR’S clumsy rule book is forcing us to wait two months to confirm what we already know – Gordon Brown is our next Prime Minister. What a waste of time! A party in Opposition can afford this sort of self-indulgence. But not one that is supposed to be running the country. It might just about be acceptable if there were a serious contest.
Or, in otherwords, The Sun does not believe there should be any process of renewal in power. Equally, it does not want to acknowledge that the deputy leadership is causing a real debate within the Labour Party and that said debate is, to a great extent, about reconnecting with the party. It is indicative of the newspaper's cynical attitude to Labour and to its readers and its minimalist attitude to democracy. Particularly given that The Sun is an irrepentently right-wing newspaper, it's a shame that we pander to that tendency so much.


UPDATE 2257: while this is perhaps indicative of the current torpor of my mind, it's worth pointing out. I posted here about Cameron wasting his PMQs to press Tony Blair on the leadership of the Labour Party and the future PM; the same point occurs, as above, shortly afterwards in The Sun. Shurely shome mishtake?

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No, bullying doesn't build character

The BBC reports that a child in Australia has been given compensation for prolonged, severe bullying that the school authorities did nothing to prevent that may end up totalling in excess of A$1m (around £420,000).

Particularly galling are the comments from an education officer:
When she reported the abuse to the police and the school authorities, Mrs Cox said she was told by a department of education officer that "bullying builds character".
Now, while it was nowhere near the scale that this boy suffered, I remember being bullied at school and being told it 'builds character'. I still acutely remember a couple of particular incidents that happened to me when I was seven - eighteen years ago - and issues from school crop up from time to time with my psychiatrist (who I see regularly on a different matter). I remember the unofficial fagging system, whereby older boys at my school made younger boys do tasks for them being something that 'built character'. I remember the pupil head of a boarding house using violence to enforce discipline and 'fining' people for bad behaviour - demanding money with menaces, in essence - being something that 'built character' and I remember my contemporaries, who complained of the attitude of older boys to them, doing exactly the same to their juniors because 'it built character', 'it was done to us' and 'it never did us any harm'. I'd say that if it made you think attacking someone half your size (literally, sometimes) is OK behaviour, it did you a lot of bloody harm.

Perhaps it did build my character - it gave me a loathing of idiotic tradition and any assumption of power by right of inheritance. I still, sometimes, see the frightened seven year old being kicked against the side of a building in myself. Both things bother me - that, even now, I can't fully escape them and that while they probably don't think of me I still, periodically, think of them. It bothers me that there were and are teachers who let this go on because 'it builds character'. Ha. I remember - and I'm not naming names because I wouldn't be able to prove it and so it would be libellous - a teacher at one school I went to throwing a pupil into a patch of stinging nettles as a punishment. I hope that the official who said that 'bullying builds character' above and missed the opportunity to stop the ruining of this boy's life is summarily fired.



Brown v Cameron

Gordon Brown has had a poll jump according to yesterday's Observer. This is to be expected - people like new things - but unfortunately the Observer neglects to give its margins of error. A 3% rise could actually be static if there is a 1.5% margin either side. Still, I'm feeling pretty good about things.

If we look at the Conservatives' website, we see David Cameron saying
"Everyone knows who the next Labour leader is. So why does the country have to put up with seven weeks of paralysis?"
This all from the man who wanted to end Punch and Judy politics. Everyone does not know who the next leader is - it will probably be Brown, but we have this little thing in the Labour party called democracy. He goes on, declaring that we have a
"We've got a Home Secretary splitting his Department in two when he's already resigned….a Foreign Secretary negotiating a European Treaty she won't be around to ratify"
and lamenting that
"The Government is now paralysed."
The two don't quite sit with me. He is saying both that the Government a) is doing things and b) is not doing things. I am no logician, but the two seem incompatible. Mr Cameron also confuses politicians with the Government. The Civil Service will trundle on - yes, policy formulation may be on hold, but all the various other functions of the State will continue.

Any party in power has to change leaders, and that means a handover period. It happened in the run-up to Thatcher's departure. This is cheap politics - point scoring, rather than trying to have a debate. We also see this in the Hon. Member for Witney's appearances at PMQs last week. He asked the same question - whether the reorganisation of the Home Office is a good idea - four times. I am entirely happy for him to continue this, as it gave Tony Blair and would give Gordon Brown three good opportunities to make his own points.

Much as I am partisan, we do need scrutiny of Government and not point-scoring. It was an opportunity for some searching questions; instead we had schoolboy debating. It's probably good for Labour against the Conservatives, but I don't know how much it does to improve the quality of democracy.


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L'Angelus beer - highly recommended

I went to the ever-wonderful Quinn's in Camden on Friday night. The Quinns (the four of them) who run the place, and particularly Man Quinn, are serious about their beer and know them inside out. It's worth going there just to try, though, L'Angelus, a blonde, unfiltered beer is one of the best I have ever had. It is relatively expensive at £6 for a 750ml bottle, but it's worth every penny. I'll not try to describe it other than to say that if you're in the area, it's worth stopping by.

L'Angelus won a Golden Palm at the 2007 French Fishing and Agriculture Ministry General Competition. It thoroughly deserves it. More importantly, there is, I presume, a group of civil servants within the Ministère de l'Agriculture et de la Pêche whose job is to draw up the shortlist for this competition. I want that job.




How did we get 19 points? Well, 12 from Malta and seven from Ireland. I appreciate the fraternal greetings, but Scooch were shite. Utter rubbish. Sorry to Scooch, but sexual innuendo doesn't translate and the entire gimmick was you were a bit like flight attendants. Britain never stood a chance. Having said that, the Irish entry was pretty dismal. Given that just about everyone else had gone for more serious, sometimes darker songs, Flying the Flag looked out of place.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in Eurovision - there were a few songs that I would voluntarily have listened to and downloaded and not nearly enough good rubbish. There was bad rubbish (sorry, Scooch, but you were) but there was the utter joy of the Ukranian entry, Dancing Lasha Tumbai.

The winner was pretty good, although I actually voted for Finland. I had heard the song on Scuzz (a television station with some of today's popular beat combos, advertising itself as 'Rock Metal Punk TV'. I was flicking through) and liked it then - I didn't realise it was an entry for Eurovision.

Looking forward to Eurovision 2008 Beograd.




Switzerland knocked out of Eurovision

The wonderful Swiss entry for Eurovision, DJ Bobo, with his Lordi rip off, Vampires Are Alive, has been knocked out of the contest at the semi-final. It had been predicted as a potential winner, but perhaps people see it as just a rip off.

How will Britain fare? The campness should help for Eurovision, but it's pretty naff and the sexual innuendo won't translate. I think Israel might do suprisingly well - it's not a bad song.

Tune in to BBC 1 or BBC R2 for three and a quarter hours of kitsch.




My last post on Guido Fawkes, Paul Staines and Iain Dale

My apologies to anyone who really couldn't care less, but I want to set this down. This is a small blog, so this will be of little note to anyone, but I am removing my links to Guido Fawkes aka Paul Staines and to Iain Dale.

Paul Staines is dishonest. He has also allowed or encouraged a group of sock puppets to develop around him that are really very offensive to people who question 'Guido'. It is this sort of activity that leads to calls for standards in the blogosphere. Staines seems to like to think of himself as some sort of anarcho-capitalist type. He must be the first anarchist with no sense of personal responsibility. You probably know all the objections - if not, take a look at Tim Ireland's website. I've not been quite as sure about Iain Dale until the deep linking thing. I've emailed Iain to ask what's happening. What confirmed it my mind was that Dale and Staines seem to have the same webmaster. If you go to Iain's profile, you will see that one of the team members for Iain Dale's Diary is Jag Singh. Clicking on Jag Singh's profile will show that he is a team member for Guido Fawkes.

I'm going to do a general post about blogging which will mention Messrs. Staines and Dale. I'll keep reading Iain's blog - it is often rather fun and quite informative - but he's been intellectually dishonest by stopping deep links to his blog. I'm not, though, going to bother with any more posts about what they're up to. Iain Dale's Dairy and Guido Fawkes 2.0 do it better than I do.

Update: Iain has been in touch to give his side of the story. Watch this space!



Zhou Enlai on Tony Blair's legacy

What will Tony Blair's legacy be? It is too early to tell.




Visas for Pakistani Britons continued - a response to Matt Sinclair

Responding to my response about the possibility of America ending the Visa waiver for Britons of Pakistani descent, Matt Sinclair has two points to make; firstly, that 'Pakistani' is not a race and secondly a misinterpretation of the Pacifico incident and the indivisibility of citizenship.

Matt says that "... 'Pakistani’ isn't a race. You can't adventure race part of the way through the 20th century. Pakistani contains a collection of people from different races. It is a nationality."

In exactly the same way, Britain is made up of English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, the descendants of every one who was invaded the British Isles and everyone who has immigrated to the UK. Matt's argument is semantic; if I am discriminated against on the basis that I am British (whatever that may mean) it is, in effect, the same as being discriminated against on the basis of my race.

Matt pooh-poohs my concerns about what makes up a Pakistani for these purposes by suggesting "the simple criteria of whether a person has, or is eligible for, a Pakistani passport". If Matt would take the time to look at the website of the Pakistani Directorate-General for Immigration and Passports, he would see that Commonwealth citizens who transfer Rs 5 million (about £41,000) are eligible for Pakistani citizenship and hence a Pakistani passport. On that definition, both he and I are now excluded from the Visa waiver programme. Moreover, we go right back to what I see as unacceptably discriminatory and Matt sees as impossible - Pakistani 'blood' as the key factor.

The Pacifico incident involved someone born at Gibraltar of Portuguese extraction to the Jewish faith losing their property in Greece. The point that Palmerston wanted to make, and that Matt supports in his post, is that there is no room for a second-class citizenship. It would be better for all Britons to lose the Visa waiver than for some Britons to lose the Visa waiver. Matt is absolutely right that no one has a right to a Visa waiver and that the United States may offer that facility to people as they choose. Just because they legally could discriminate in the stated manner does not mean it would be practical, moral or desirable to do so; equally, Britain could, and I hope would, uphold the Pacifico principle in saying that from its point of view it does not matter whether you are of a given faith (or of no faith) but Britain will treat you equally and would seek equal treatment for you from other states, particularly close allies.

In response to Matt’s end cap, I maintain that defining a group in this way leads to forming or exacerbating in-groups and out-groups; I fear that Matt maintains this point himself when talking about the role of Islam in the identity of Pakistan, given that Islam was the defining characteristic at the time of the Partition.

It would perhaps be a useful comparison to turn the tables and ask whether, at the time of the Black Panther Party, Britain should have refused Visa waivers to African-Americans for similar reasons to those Matt supports above. I'm not, I hasten to add, accusing Matt of racism - far from it - but perhaps of short-sightedness.


PS I wrote this post using Dragon NaturallySpeaking - please forgive any errors, as I'm not quite there with it.



Guido Fawkes, Paul Staines and the bottom of the barrel

I don't often post about Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines, but his latest post is so poor it deserves mention. He says that he has
got his hands on a private campaign briefing prepared a few days ago for supporters of Hilary Benn's campaign for the deputy leadership. It details how popular Benn is polling with activists (pdf version here) and how they should use this information to pressurise their MPs to nominate Benn
which is rubbish. The pdf is a poll from YouGov that anyone can access from their website, and not the purported document. This seems to be the online equivalent of distraction - but then Paul Staines wouldn't be out of place as a petty conjurer at a circus. In any case, it would mean that someone in Benn's close campaign team who is seen as safe enough to be allowed to discreetly lobby MPs is leaking documents to Paul Staines - which alone beggars belief. As to having 'just spoken to McDougall', I do wonder how. I'm pretty sure it wasn't through it wasn't through the Number Ten switchboard. I'm hoping that Tim Ireland will do a sock-puppet video version of the call.

In any case, just because Paul Staines says so does not make it so. Prove the crime. If you have the document, give it to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

I have heard Tim Ireland, the person behind Bloggerheads, described as a loon and an obsessive for his criticisms of Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines and Iain Dale. Neither of them did themselves any favours by putting little snippets of code into their pages that prevent deeplinking from certain sites - that is to say, preventing links to specific parts of their sites from Guido 2.0 and Iain Dale's Dairy (these two links are to satires of the originals). Dizzy Thinks It is the academic equivalent of citing an author, but not the year of publication; it is the journalistic equivalent of citing a newspaper but not an edition; and it doesn't do them any favours by making them look either as if they have something to hide or as if they're afraid of criticism. Either way, it confirms my opinion of Paul Staines and it makes me have serious doubts about Iain Dale. They must be the first bloggers to turn away links.



Strangers into Citizens

The Sun attacks giving some migrants more rights and the possibility of staying in the UK in light of the Strangers into Citizens protest. It reads
But critics said the move would ANGER low paid workers, place more STRAIN on Britain’s dwindling housing stock and ENCOURAGE foreigners to come to the UK
which doesn't make sense.

Presumably, it would anger low paid workers because they would be undercut. If, however, they were regularised, they would have to receive the minimum wage, thus reducing their ability to undercut domestic workers. With regard to placing strain, they would have to pay taxes. This would allow, if a fourth option on council housing were available, this strain to be avoided. Equally, immigration is hardly the straw that breaks the camel's back: today's Guardian reports that 72% of new households to 2026 will have one person. This is the more significant demographic change; there are, according to the Home Office, a maximum total of 570,000 non-registered immigrants in the UK.

As to encouraging foreigners: why is this a bad thing? After all, Mr Murdoch is a foreigner.



Stargazer lily with macro rings

A photo of the stamens of a stargazer lily taken with some macro rings that arrived over the weekend from eBay. I'm quite pleased with it.

Click the photo for a larger version. Macro rings are tubes that go between the camera body and the lens and allow you to go for close-up shots without buying expensive lenses.



Should UK Pakistanis need US visas? No.

The Daily Telegraph is having a debate on whether the US should require British citizens of Pakistani origin to have visas; that is to say, on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, be denied access to the visa waiver scheme.

There are a few problems with this. I sincerely hope that this BBC report in which the US embassy to London dismisses the allegations outright. Nevertheless, no less a paper than the New York Times, according to the BBC article, originally reported the article. If you look at the responses to the original article, you will see such gems as
Hell YES!
True Britian is no more, just because you killed yourselves with the pc diversity doesn't mean the US should follow you off the cliff.
Ecellent idea! More, please. I have no interest whatsoever in foriegners' opinions with regard to this measure, or anything else for that matter. I think we Americans can bloody well grant or refuse entry to anyone, or any classes of people, as we see fit. Don't like it? Don't come, thank you. Pity you Brits hadn't adopted a similar attitude toward admission to the UK - you might have a few more underground trains cars and busses in your inventory just now.
Yes, the U.S. is justified to take this position. It is not racism, merely realism. Very regrettable for the British Pakistanis who are not of the Jihad mentality but this is how it's got to be. Here in Britain we need to become similarly realistic. Our security services are doing a good job but it will be in vain unless we drastically curtail immigration and travel to and from hostile Muslim countries.
so I'm going to have my two cents.

Firstly, it is and of itself racist. As I said at the start, it discriminates against people on the basis of their race and religion. There are those - including some of the people I've been talking about this with - who don't think it's racist. I disagree, but let's look at the effects it will have.

The proposed policy is based on the idea that UK Pakistanis are more likely to be terrorists than anyone else (I presume) and so need to be subject to more checks. That community is, in the UK, presumably more likely to have members that will fall under the thrall of extremists and be induced to commit acts of terrorism. Those extremist leaders use the idea that their proselytes are not members of the UK community and that idea will be bolstered both by the US's actions and any failure on behalf of the UK to challenge it squarely.

It is also unenforceable. Exactly how 'Pakistani' does one have to be? One-half? One-quarter? Or is there a blood taint assumed in this law? Are we going back to talking about quadroons, octoroons and quintroons? They tried those terms in Australia when talking about mixed Aboriginal-European children and that worked pretty bady.

We then look at what exactly a Pakistani is. Does Lord Waheed Alli, of Trinidadian Asian descent, count as Pakistani? We can also look at some of the other people this will catch, like Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali. There is such variability within the defined community that it makes the definition worthless for predictive reasons and may actually exacerbate the 'problem' it sets out to prevent.

It is also deeply hypocritical for a country that allowed the IRA to fundraise on its shores to now turn around and come out with this policy - admittedly, the US has disavowed it, but as I quoted above, there are lot of people supporting this idea.

Indeed, I was so incensed by this policy that I even wrote a letter to the editor of The Daily Telegraph:
Palmerston, in 1850 as Foreign Secretary, saw being British as independent of religion when insisting that David Pacifico, a Portuguese Jew born a British subject at Gibraltar, was entitled to support from Britain to the extent that he blockaded Piraeus, the Port of Athens, for two months when his goods were stolen in an anti-Semitic attack.

Defending his actions in Parliament, he said "as the Roman in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, Civis Romanus sum, so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong."

If Islam is being perverted to attack Britain and we wish to stop the impressionable from falling under malign influences, Britain must forcefully defend the rights of all its citizens irrespective of faith and not allow an allied country to discriminate between British citizens on the basis of that country's fears; to do so would imply British approval of that discrimination.
I think the point stands. I know Palmerston was a Whig, but the point stands. The Daily Telegraph and Conservativism in the UK generally stand for what might be called a civic nationalism. The support voiced for the proposal indicates that the nationalism is shifting, in is support base, to be an ethnic nationalism. Indeed, this would appear to be true when one looks at the English nationalist movement, which seems to be shifting Conservativism away from the traditional defence of the Union to being happy for Scotland to leave.

There can be no second-class citizens; the Pacifico incident established a principle that being British entitles you to the support of Britain in your dealings with other states without exception. The argument has not been made, if it can be made at all, for a derogation.





People who know me in real life will know that I (almost) always wear a hat. I've taken pictures of my hats and there is now a rotator that shows pictures of some of my hats in, well, rotation. Feel free to nick the script.

Wilber, the GIMP mascotThe pictures were edited in an open source graphics programme called the GNU Image Manipulation Programme or GIMP. It is free, as in cost and as in freedom. It is not as advanced as Adobe PhotoShop, but it's pretty damn good and you can pick it up quickly. I learnt it from Grokking the Gimp. My high-tech photo studio was the back of some wrapping paper leaning against the wall and some drinking glasses to hold the hats up. Thanks to Alice for helping lots.




Nadine Dorries MP, Mahmoud Ahmedinjad and Shilpa Shetty

I consider myself a liberal; so long as it doesn't affect other people, you should basically be allowed to do what you want. It's a rule of thumb and there are shades of grey, but that's where I'm coming from. There is an opposing tendency that becomes outraged at the idea that there are people doing something, somewhere, that they don't like; it doesn't matter that it doesn't affect them, they want it stopped.

Thus the first kiss. Judge Dinesh Gupta issued a warrant for the arrest of Richard Gere for kissing Shilpa Shetty. Beyond that, it made the front pages. Now, maybe it's an arresting visual that looks good on the front page, but deserving of criminal charges it is not. Indeed, senior legal people in India have, according to the BBC, said that it has no validity and the magistrate in question has been transferred. One wonders, though, whether a Bollywood star and the star of Pretty Woman should cause that much surprise if one kisses the other.

The second kiss is from one less likely to be involved in such scandal: the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, who kissed a former schoolteacher's hand; the teacher, though, was female. He was criticised for acting contrary to Sharia law by the Hezbollah newspaper, we are told.

The third person who takes offence at other people doing things that don't bother them is Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire who has said, opposing travellers and the particular fact that Mid Beds DC has to find four extra pitches a year for five years (twenty pitches) for travellers.

Quoth the raven:
I take the view that if you want to live in this country, you do it by living in a house, sending your children to school and live like the rest of us have to, because that's how it is in Britain. That's how we live – it's part of our British culture
Oh, really? Firstly, the illiberalism of it. What if I want to home-school my kids? What if I want to live in a yurt? British culture is not the monolith Dorries pretends it to be. Secondly, this is frankly racist. It is picking on a definable ethnic group (the Romany) and insisting that they conform to a particular vision of what it is to be British. The Romany arrived in Britain in the 1500s - before the Huguenots and before the Jewish resettlement - making Dorries' argument even sillier if you even accept the premise that you can't move somewhere and live your own lifestyle.




BNP councillor elected unopposed in South West

This is a very good argument for always having "Re-Open Nominations" (rather than "None of the Above") as a candidate. Essentially, Corsham Town Council in Wiltshire is made up of people who don't stand on party political platforms, in the main. There is a ward with one councillor and one Michael Simpkins has been elected to that ward; he did not declare that he was a BNP member.

The system of banning party politics in the council chamber means that Simpkins' membership of the BNP. Fortunately, he is only one person elected by chance, but allowing the BNP to get a toe-hold is bad enough.

The full story is on the BBC News website.



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