SSAFA PetitionThe Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, SSAFA,
wishes to buy a residential property in Ashtead, Surrey in order to provide ‘home from home’ accommodation for the immediate family members (spouses, parents and children) of servicemen and women receiving treatment for serious injuries sustained during military operations.[from the SSAFA website]
The objections that have been raised by the local residents beggar belief. They can be found, with responses, here.
Please visit the SSAFA site, the 36 Grays Lane site and sign the petition at the Number Ten website.
Building on flood plains
Writing in Friday's Guardian, Jonathan Glancey makes one good point but in a bad way. His argument - which I made on this blog on the 22nd - is that, should we feel the need to build on flood plains, we should build houses to be floodproof. I suggested half-sunk basements and high plug sockets on the ground floor while Mr Glancey prefers stilts; I don't know which has more architectural merit.
It is perfectly possible to build in a practical manner on a flood plain. It is also necessary to avoid higher and higher housing costs.
Unfortunately, he uses that argument to question the principle of building on flood plains and to attack town and country planning. He attacks 'modern' towns for being desiged with the car in mind.
I think that's a little unfair, as it is only comparatively recently that people have appreciated the social and environmental benefits of mixed developments and promoting the use of public transport. Milton Keynes was built well before this appreciation, as were all the post-war new towns; Mr Glancey waxes lyrical about how "all traditional settlements used to be eco-towns".
This confuses good urban design for social purposes with good urban design for environmental purposes. While you'd hope that both would be part of the design brief, the one does not imply the other.
Whether Mr Glancey likes it or not, this building is going to happen. While attacking the errors of the past, he neglects to promote any of the other lessons we have learned. Municipal combined heat and power, for instance can reduce carbon emissions and is easier to install by design than to retro-fit.
Mr Glancey would also do well to accept a reality; people work in London and commute from the south east. While both he and I would like to promote geographic communities by providing commercial (and perhaps even light industrial) space in these developments, significant numbers will commute to London; if not immediately, over time as people from existing commuter belts move to these areas. It would be far better to provide good rail links from the beginning rather than burying his head in the sand, try to insist on local businesses and end up putting more cars on the road.xD.
BBC iPlayerThe BBC is proposing to launch its on demand TV system, iPlayer, but it will only be available to people using a Microsoft operating system. Firstly, this expresses a n unjustifiable commercial bias. Secondly, it fails in the BBC's obligation to provide universal services by excluding Mac and Linux users. Thirdly, it supports Microsoft's digital restrictions management which, regardless of your opinions on DRM, is implemented in a memory-eating, roundabout manner.
Please sign the petition at Number Ten that calls for iPlayer to be available to all operating systems.
Ethical shopping and conspicuous compassionI've been reading Thorstein Veblen's book, The Theory of the Leisure Class (available for free online via Project Gutenberg), lately. George Monbiot, writing in today's Guardian, makes an excellent point - much in line with Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption. The basic argument, as I understand it, is that there is not a huge amount of understanding of the effect that h. sapiens sapiens is having on the environment but there is an appreciation that it is 'important' and even 'fashionable'. As the grossest excesses of capitalism of the Edwardian era are behind us (or were - they seem to be coming back) from the perspective of Mr & Mrs John Q. Guardian-Reader we have to show how worthwhile we are by showing how much we care. Conspicuous consumption becomes conspicuous compassion, as shown by Live 8, Live Earth, the eco/ego bag (top left) and possibly even the outpourings around the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
I think Monbiot has a point (although I think 'conspicuous compassion' is a bon mot), particularly as it has some explanatory value. If, as he suggests, city bonuses are leading to
plenty of farm labourers and tenants who are desperate to start a farm of their own but have been excluded by what they call "horsiculture": small parcels of agricultural land that are being bought up for pony paddocks and hobby farms. In places such as Surrey and the New Forest, farmland is now fetching up to £30,000 an acre as City bonuses are used to buy organic lifestyles. When the new owners dress up as milkmaids and then tell the excluded how to make butter, they run the risk of turning environmentalism into the whim of the elite.we can only assume that the organic hobby-farms are there only to impress their kith, kin and ilk with their conspicuous compassion and that said hobby-farmers don't give a hoot for the effects on the local economy or the lack of realism their purchases imply. Moreover, for people in that position, it is not enough to adopt a low-carbon lifestyle; really, they should be going for a negative-carbon or below-sustainable carbon lifestyle to account for their excess emissions prior to 'going green'.
It also explains why (and I can't find the statistics) lots of people, predominantly at the bottom end of the spectrum, aren't particularly concerned about being green - it doesn't impress anyone they care about impressing. It's not a criticism so much as re-stating an age-old problem: how do you make people avoid consequences that are delayed and diffuse?
Answers on a postcard.
Bat for LashesI'm listening to 'Fur and Gold', the debut album by Bat for Lashes, aka Natasha Khan. It is definitely worth a listen. Her voice has a similar, ethereal quality to Kate Bush and her music is, IMHO, reminscent of Bjork and, at times, Sigur Ros. All in all, I'm rather impressed.
Flood-proof housingAs the floods of the past few weeks show, the UK is not particularly well-prepared for inundations and has to build more homes on flood plains. While a lot of the houses to be built to the east of London are (I think) protected by the Thames Barrier, a lot aren't. Here is my brilliant solution (with thanks to Trevor Baylis).
Build the houses with a half-sunken basement. Have steps and a ramp to access the ground floor (which would be a few feet up from the ground). Put tiles on the first floor instead of carpets (less flood damage). Put electric sockets half way up the wall (you won't have to bend down and the water has a lot further to rise before it damages the electrics).
Hug a Tory dayCourtesy of Tygerland:
Following the bloody battering the Tories received in last night’s by-election (police have requested dental records to identify the mauled bodies), Tim, being the concerned citizen that he is, has lovingly launched “Hug a Tory Day”.I've hugged Matt Sinclair of Sinclair's Musings.
A couple of interesting postsI'd like to draw everyone's attention to an interesting guest post by Nick Spurrell on Sinclair's Musings about the failure of the Tories at the recent by-elections and an equally interesting post on Turkey by Vino.
A criticism frequently levelled against blogging is that it adds nothing new that is also of value. I think both posts do add those things - frankness from Nick Spurrell and a different perspective from Vino.
Ruth Turner's good nameAs I mentioned on Luke Akehurst's blog, I feel rather sorry for Ruth Turner, formerly director of government relations at Number Ten under Tony Blair. She has committed no crime and there is insufficient evidence against her (or, for that matter, anyone else). Nevertheless, the press felt the need to drag her name through the mud. I'm sure that they were careful to stay within the letter of the law but, sadly, 'mud sticks'.
I've not met Ruth Turner myself, but I know a few people who have and they were, frankly, incredulous at the idea she could have done anything wrong. Perhaps worth looking at her CV. She helped set up The Big Issue in the North. She set up a social research company, Vision Twenty One, based on citizen's juries. She has a lot to offer UK plc, whether in government, commerce or the third sector but has had her good name besmirched by the papers.
There needs to be stronger protection, both in this case and a multitude of others that I'm sure we can all think of, for people accused of crimes. The recent Madeleine McCann coverage brought to my attention a feature of Portuguese law whereby a person questioned by the police can ask to be officially named as a suspect, which brings the equivalent (I believe) of sub judice protections. The disadvantage is that you are an official suspect (but still innocent). A similar provision here so that people can garner some protection for themselves against the more feral instincts of the media would be welcome.
Free speech and the Spanish Crown PrinceThe Spanish police have been ordered to remove from sale all copies of the satirical newspaper El Jueves as it carries a cartoon (appears right) depicting Crown Prince Philip and his wife having sex.
The cartoon refers to the proposed policy of paying €2,500 for each newborn child in an effort to increase Spain's declining birth rate and to the Crown Prince's lack of a working history; the speech bubbles say "You do realise that if you fall pregnant, this will be the closest thing to work I've done in my life?".
Under Spanish law, insulting the royal family carries a two-year prison sentence and the magazine have been ordered to identify the cartoonist. I hope that a court case does come about and that it reaches a European court as I would dearly like to see all restrictions on free speech on the basis of nobility or political position summarily struck out. It is possible to have a debate about the merits of a monarchy or a republic (for the record, I would prefer a republic, both here and in Spain, to a monarchy) but it is not possible to say that they should be immune from criticism.
El Jueves is, in a way, doing what the satire boom and Spitting Image did for the UK: allowing criticism of people in positions of power and influence who feel that they should be handled with kid gloves. El Jueves has attacked just about every politician, ETA, the royal family and, as they put it, anyone that moves. No court has found them guilty of any crime, and yet the police have taken it upon themselves to remove the publication from circulation. If a crime had been committed, better to have imposed a fine after a judicial process than set a precedent for such an alarming curtailment of one of the most important civil rights.
I'd add that it is impossible to call the Spanish monarchy apolitical (if you can call any head of state apolitical) because of Juan Carlos (positive) actions after the death of Franco and in the attempted coup of 23
The Boris Johnson CoronationOh dear, oh dear. The Tories are trying to choose their candidate for Mayor of London, but their much-vaunted primary has ended up looking like a rubber-stamp for Boris Johnson.
The news item on the Conservative website can hardly be called unbiased: it has a picture of Boris (reproduced right) and reads
[...] Other contenders who have publicly launched their campaigns include Winston Mckenzie, Simon Fawthrop, Victoria Borwick, Warwick Lightfoot, Andrew Boff, Lurline Champagnie, and Lee Rotherham
Firstly, there are no other credible candidates. Despite extending the deadline for nominations, no-one else of any substance can be found. They include Winston McKenzie (formerly of Veritas), Simon Fawthrop (who campaigned against the existence of a London Mayor in the first place), Victoria Borwick (who rattles off answers to easy questions but doesn't take on the hard ones), Warwick Lightfoot (who presumably wishes the last three years of NHS spending increases hadn't happened), Andrew Boff (who has been failing to be Tory Mayoral candidate for eight years), Lurline Champagnie (who is supporting Hillary for president of the US on her Lurline for London website and simultaneously endorsing trade unionism) and Lee Rotherham (of the pottily eurosceptic Bruges Group).I haven't heard of any of them, and they're just the ones that the Tories are prepared to name. Of course, the Tory faithful won't be able to choose, both because anyone who is registered as a voter in London (which does not include Mr Johnson, I believe) can participate in the election and because:
"A panel of Party officials will now sift through the list of potential candidates, selecting about nine or ten to go forward to the interview stage.So that no-one too embarassing gets any coverage.
Secondly, if the Tories are going to make any mileage from their primary as an attempt to re-energise democracy in the UK, it cannot be seen, in any way, to favour a candidate or candidates. Their trial of American-style primaries is only valid if Londoners have a real choice; the Tories owe Londoners that much, but seem unwilling to offer it. I hope that, if and when Boris does become the Tory candidate, any attempt on his part to claim any form at all of extra legitimacy is shot down as being based on a flawed process.
The Tories could learn from the Labour Deputy Leadership - it did a measure of good for the Party.
Guido on BorisPaul 'Guido Fawkes' Staines is, unsurprisingly, supporting Boris Johnson for Mayor of London. I don't that Mr Johnson would want the support of someone who advocates copyright theft is beyond me; I'd have expected Staines to be in favour of property rights, but it would seem that does not apply to people he doesn't like.
One of the problems with the blogosphere is that lots of people keep trying to break news stories. Unless a blogger is actually on scene or has a creditable source, it's barely worth trying. One person cannot compete with the news gathering capacity of a news outlet that actually has people on the street reporting on and looking for news, if for no other reason than that they seem to be permanently stuck behind their computer. Thus, we have Staines' first enlightening post:
Boris! Confirmed!Hardly cutting-edge stuff. Guido thinks Boris is a good candidate, but cannot bring himself to say why. He also says:
Boris Campaign Under Way"Guido hears...". Well, good for bloody Guido. The last sentence is laughable. Does Guido thinks that it is newsworthy or bloggable in any way at all that Boris Johnson will have a website for his campaign for the Tory mayoral nomination? Later on, he links to it. How kind. I do know how to use Google. I'm sure other news sites will link to it.
Is it a particular surprise that someone who was 'key' in Cameron's campaign is moving to support the only decent candidate the Tories can muster for the mayoralty? Indeed, the other candidates are either now ministers in the Labour government, unfortunately ill, out of contention because they reportedly wanted to stand as a joint candidate with the LibDems, or completely unheard of.
He also is certain that Boris is going to win and comes up with some interesting ideas to back his position. He starts:
The Tories are more popular now than before and they have in Boris a likeable candidate.Labour is also more popular - it is the LibDems who have suffered of late. Ken is also a popular candidate. Despite the howls of protestations from some corners when the congestion charge was introduced, Ken was re-elected on the basis of his platform. Boris, as yet, does not have a platform. Boris comes across as an amiable buffoon; that will go down rather less well in London than Henley. His attraction is on the basis that he is a 'character' or outspoken. Ken matches him on that.
He then goes on to say in the same post
He is extremely popular with the Conservative grassroots and if Boris just succeeds in motivating them to go out and vote, he will win. On the basis of the last election's results Boris needs to get an extra 1 in 5 Tory sympathisers in London to go to the polling station. This is without the extra oomph from the Conservatives nationally polling better than in 2004. Boris inspires a great deal of enthusiasm, he will without doubt energise that base. He also has first-name brand recognition.One universally acknowledged fact is that the Conservative base tends to come out more than the Labour base, ceteris paribus. That extra one in five is harder for the Tories to find than for Labour. There is also extra oomph behind Labour at the moment. 'Ken' has as much first-name brand recognition as 'Boris'; it should be remembered that Ken and Boris have both appeared on Have I Got News For You seven times.
HIGNFY is a good place to point out the next problem with Boris. As Ian Hislop challenged Boris in 1998, Johnson provided information on the whereabouts of a News of the World reporter to one Darius Guppy, who wished to assault said reporter - a fact Johnson appears to have known. In short, Johnson is spectacularly gaffe-prone, matched only by Prince Philip. One insult on a par with Liverpool during the campaign could do for Boris' campaign. Pray remember that at the time he was in the shadow government.
Polly Toynbee does an excellent job in The Guardian of pointing out some of Johnson's many other flaws.
Going back to Guido, he also makes a rather large mistake - he predicts that Boris won't stand.
Boris - Latestand before Guido says that he meant it the other way:
Everyone is Backing BorisAs various other people have pointed out before, Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) is a lousy blogger. His facts are pinched, his predictions wrong, his opinions at best misinformed and at worst deliberately misleading. In a similar way to the tabloid press, he has tapped into a vein of (as his website says) "Tittle Tattle, gossip and rumours" that does very little for democracy. Sadly, and more so because the same is true of the tabloids, people seem to listen to him.
Before you mention it, I know I said I wouldn't write about Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines any more. I relent. I'm going to. I do occasionally still flick onto his blog.
UPDATE 2210: Guido says on his 'Why Boris will win' post that
People seem to forget that Boris got to Eton on a scholarship, not because he was a toff, the buffoon tag can be shaken off easily.which I find faintly laughable. It really is clutching at straws; his entire first-name brand recognition is based on being an eccentric toff. He has played off the image (or actually is an idiot). A rather week point, Guido, particularly as 'scholarship boys' can be really very middle class as those awards are given out on academic merit, inter alia, and often require middle class parents to send their child in that direction.
A challenge for you, GuidoGuido Fawkes has been blogging lately at some length about Boris Johnson standing to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
The Conservatives' website has a news story that reads
Boris Johnson, the Henley MP and former Shadow higher Education Minister, was the last to put his hat in the ring before Monday's noon deadline for applications. Other contenders who have publicly launched their campaigns include Winston Mckenzie, Simon Fawthrop, Victoria Borwick, Warwick Lightfoot, Andrew Boff, Lurline Champagnie, and Lee Rotherham.My question to Mr Fawkes is:
What are the names of the 'more than forty others' who have entered the race?
In the meantime, and for everyone else:
What effect will a period of Tory vs Tory in an election have on the Tories?
Will they come out of it as well as Labour did in their deputy leadership?
What effects will an open primary have?
Will party members (other than Tories) vote to screw up the open primary?
Is this an attempt to prop up a decreasing membership as card-carriers are now too removed from reality to be trusted?
Is this idea based on Labour's Supporters' Networks?
Velib - pay attention, Mr LivingstoneVélib is one of the best ideas I've heard of in some time. Attention please, Mr Livingstone. Using the equivalent of an Oyster card, you can hire a bike from an automated station around the city and return it to any other station. The first thirty minutes are free.
More information from BBC News and Vélib. The only problem is that I can't ride a bike, as I have an unfortunate tendency to fall off.
What price marriage?The Conservatives have come up with the idea that families are good and better if they're married. In their attempt to promote marriage, they have suggested a £20 a week tax break, effectively putting a price on what should be a contract you enter into for love and not financial reward or other convenience.
Aside from putting a value of £1040 a year on marriage, which according to the Church of England's form for the solemnization of matrimony, "no one should enter into ... lightly or selfishly", there is at least one large, logical flaw. If you accept the (frankly preposterous) idea that £20 a week will secure a relationship, you have to ask why that extra help is going to the people that the Conservatives think are already in a more stable relationship than to those who are in a less stable relationship.
I would add that the Conservatives can't really complain about social engineering anymore...
A nice thing about building your own computer...is that you feel a lot happier about opening the box to repair it. My computer's RAM went, and having put it together in the first place, it was pretty straightforward to replace it with a new set.
A nice thing about Ubuntu is that it's very easy to reinstall...
New JobI start a new job tomorrow. I've had a couple of weeks off, during which I've been to my brother's graduation (a first in physiotherapy from Cardiff, with the highest mark in his year for the final year: 93, where the average was 54) and the wedding of Polina Obolenskaya and Barend Janse van Rensburg. Congratulations to all.
Hopefully, blogging will resume normal service fairly soon.
GlastonburyApparently, on the way back from Glastonbury, there were problems with the trains and so there was a large group of people waiting in a very muddy field. Some wag started saying it was like a concentration camp - at which point someone in a uniform arrived to tell them that they could get on a train.
To make things worse, there was a large pile of wellington boots at the station. Some wag at that point shouted out an offer of a shower...
Via Max, a friend of my girlfriend's.
Jingo from the Tax Payers' AllianceMy friend Matt Sinclair has pointed me to the Tax Payer's Alliance blog. I should declare an interest here - I am a taxpayer and no, I don't just mean VAT.
The latest post is a round-up of recent press coverage that the TPA like. It runs
Hollywood hard-man Bruce Willis interviewed in The Guardian:Huh?
OK, let's look at this in order. The person Bruce Willis admires most is the 'young man or woman fighting overseas'. It is certainly a brave thing to be prepared to go wherever you are sent and to face quite extraordinary risks. I wonder, though, why it is that particular person who is chosen. It is somewhat jingo; are the police in the more violent parts of the great American cities less brave? The social workers in those areas? There are a hundred other candidate types of people, but it is unfailingly the military who receive these accolades. I suppose I'm asking why the military occupies such a prominent position in the American national psyche; it is not the only brave, worthy or dangerous occupation.
As to the second question - Mr Willis is probably very, very rich. Rich enough, one might say, to make Cresus blush. He can well afford his own insurance payments and doesn't need a national or social health (or otherwise) insurance scheme. He is not exactly a passenger on the Clapham omnibus.
Equal justice under law - 'Scooter' Libby and 'Tookie' WilliamsA little while ago, I wrote about how Paris Hilton received a comparatively light sentence and initially seemed to be let out (as she was rich, white and famous) while Genarlow Wilson was sentenced to an inordinate sentence of a decade in prison for consensual oral sex with someone a couple of years his junior.
The case of Lewis 'Scooter' Libby seems to be another case in point. Mr Libby has had his sentence commuted by President Bush so that, although he will remain a convicted felon and will receive a quarter-million dollar fine, he will not serve the thirty months in prison to which he was sentenced for perjury and obstruction of justice around revealing the identity of a CIA agent. The commutation was justified, according to President Bush, because of his long service to his country.
Compare and contrast with Stan 'Tookie' Williams. Before I go any further, I should say that Williams was for a long time a deeply unpleasant character - a murderer and founder of the Crips amongst other things. Nevertheless, he changed over time in prison. The precise details can be found here.
After a long time in solitary confinement, 'Tookie' wrote children's books against gangbanging and generally sought to repent, through deeds, for former crimes for which he later repented.
The sequence of events for Mr Libby was good --> bad --> redemption while for Mr Williams it was bad --> good --> execution. I was under the impression that it was a principle of justice that a previous good deed or deeds did not mitigate a later crime while repentance for the crime could do just that.
I am not saying for a moment that we should overlook Williams' very dark past - I don't think he tried to either - but all that was sought for him was life imprisonment rather than execution in recognition of his attempts to atone for his crimes. The punishment - the death penalty - was too severe (and, in fairness, I think it is always too severe) given the situation. In Libby's case, the statement from President Bush ran
Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation. I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison. My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby.The idea that the sentence was unduly harsh was contested, not least by the prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald. Nevertheless, the principle I'd've like to have seen applied in Williams' case did apply in the case of a well-connected, white man.
Religious idiocyI have various problems with organised religion. One is the problem most seem to have with homosexuality. The other is not doing something useful when there's a good opportunity to and, instead, condemning homosexuality.
Enter stage left: the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend Graham Dow. It may be that Bishop Dow sincerely believes that homosexuality is 'wrong'. It may also be that he is using the Bible to justify his prejudices. Either way, I think it would be more appropriate for a Bishop to offer support - spiritual or physical - at a time of crisis. Indeed, if the Bishop would like to bring people to Christianity or at least give the impression that it might be worth looking at, hellfire-and-brimstone prophesying and theological argument aren't necessarily the most effective way. In the meantime, it does nothing to help people who need it. Could the Bishop open his cathedral or other churches within his diocese to give the people who have lost their homes somewhere to sleep?
The Bishop's comments are included in this article from the Telegraph.
As I read it, the Bishop is saying that global warming is God's judgement for environmental desecreation, exploitation of the poor and gays. The Bishop said that "He expressed his sympathy for those who have been hit by the weather, but said that the problem with "environmental judgment is that it is indiscriminate" ", which makes God a bit of a bastard, really.
It's a little bit like the SWP's 'we are all Hizbollah' placards. It keeps the nutters who subscribe to that particular ideology on board and attracts the fellow-travellers while alienating pretty much everyone else. The end result, though, is sectarianism without, of course, actually achieving anything of any use at all.
I have a Nintendo WiiIf you ask me, a Nintendo Wii is a pretty good way of spending your severance pay :). As it seems to cost about half the amount that the other consoles do, it's even better. Best of all is that it's fantastic. I'm sure I should marvel at the technology but it's fantastic. You get into the different Wii Sports games really quickly. Anyway, it's great and you should have one.
Stats for JuneI am quite pleased to have had, according to the Tracksy widget on my blog, 862 hits for June. Given the relative infrequency with which I update and that 'unoriginalname38.blogspot.com' hardly trips off the tongue, I think that's not bad.
I have a couple of weeks off as I change jobs, so I'm going to try to come up with some decent posts that will hopefully drive a bit of conversation.