Monday, June 30, 2008

Personal statement move along....

Have just read this hilarious Which right-wing blogger are you? quiz by "Me No Mad". Am rather pleased to say that when I answered the questions I came back as me! It would ahve been horrible to have come back as Iain because he is old and has grey hair, and what with me being young with ever so marvellous good looks and an arrogance to die for such a result would have sent me into fits of depression not seenj since I heard they were scrapping Knightmare.

Of particular amusement in the quiz was where it was suggested that "An online confrontation has just come to a head. It's time to put up or shut up. You have nowhere to go but backwards, but you don't want to be seen backing down or admitting that you made a mistake. What do you do?" In that the question that would get you me back was "Go on holiday".

This is because every time I have had an argument with old Loony Tunes I have had flights booked to go off and enjoy myself you see. Obviously, if you're a bit of a thicko you would come to the conclusion that people are running away. It's easier that way you see because everyone is so fearful of your terrible exposes of the truth! And being telephoned on a publicly accessible number is such an outrage too remember!

Those would be the truths of course, where Fruitcake Larry failed dismally to set me up of course and equally fail to draw attention to this link which showed him to be a complete and total cock. Instead it was far easier to make insinuations of "blackmail" like the panty wetting girl and shame to the rugged-manliness of Australia that he is.

So, Fat Boy, please take this post and stick it in a warm, dark and sticky place.... Oh yes, and I'm back, and feelin' greeeeeeat! Politics and other such fun shall reconvene in full shortly. Ciao!

Thousands of emails....

No time. Back later.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Searching takes a siesta!

Ola! It ain't half hot mum! A quick message from Andalucia where the sun is shining and it is a glorious morning. I just wanted to draw people's attention to the marvellous innovattion the country gets from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

If you take a look at the site you may notice that it lacks a basic search facility, which has been a simple implementation on a website for, hmmmm... let me see, at least 10 years? When asked about this, David Lammy (for it is he) said "DIUS is currently working with our supplier to implement a basic search facility on our existing corporate website".

Bet they get charged the earth too! Now, back to the pool!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blogging will be officially light.... viva Espana!

Yesterday was my last day in work until June 30th. It's fair to say that from now there will not be a post on this blog until at least Friday morning and even then it might not happen.

When I have gone away before I have pre-written things for friends to post on my behalf but not this time. Basically, as mentioned earlier, I am off to Spain on Thursday night. A much needed holiday with my loved one for her birthday in fact.

What this means is that today will be busy and it will be very unlikely I will be online and available to post. So I am going to sign off now until I wake with a hangover on Friday and consume the news (whatever news there may be).

I may post, but then again I may not, it will be very sporadic and depend entirely on what time I get up in the morning to gaze out at the mountains and savour the heat. Incidentally, to the commenter in the other thread, it isn't raining where I'm going, it's very very hot.

So basically, that's it until June 30th officially. There may be the occasional post in between, but as I'm just one person writing online about things I find in between work I think I need and dare I say it, deserve a break. Added to that I get to go away with my other half who has, to be honest, changes my life for the infinite better.

Comments will be left on but they may not get moderated straight away. Meanwhile, if you're really bored you can amuse by reading this. Isn't it all so puerile, but that's why I love the Internet so much! Sunny Spain here I come!
bumped to top and edited to make the time references valid for today

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hyperbole of the Day

Just to show that I can add some balance to the debate by David Davis about civil liberties and 42 Days I goev you Sunny Hundal on Pickled Politics,

New Labour wants to extend anti-terrorism legislation until every brown person in the country is locked up until proven innocent
Don't, whatever you do, be conned into thinking that that is hyperbole or exaggeration of what is, in actuality a very bad piece of legislation.... oh no!

Let's be honest, when we start to see this argument reduced to the lowest common denominator of identity politics it falls flat on its face. Sunny, is trying to argue from a failing premise at the start, and he should try harder. Yes, 42 days is bad and wrong. However, is it an excuse to lock "every brown person in the country" up? No.

It's legislation that could lock anyone up for 42 days on the Home Secretary's say so. If I may be blunt. Fuck what colour your skin is, this about much more than some politically determined special interest group. Playing identity politics with a law that has far wider implications for civil liberties is to miss the point of those liberties entirely.

Dumb Facebook errors

Whilst browsing Facebook this evening and trying to do an "action" I got told (emphasis mine),

Transport error (#1001) while retrieving data from endpoint `ajax/poke.php': A network error occurred. Check that you are connected to the internet.
How this managed to get to my laptop without me being connected to the Internet I have no idea! I blame stupid developers and crappy ESB's, which, ironically, I have had to be dealing with all day!

A challenge for David Aaronvitch

Take a look at David Aaronvitch's article today. It's all about David Davis and his "record". Besides the appeals to emotion in his piece, what struck me was this bit, where, in relation to the DNA database he wrote,

It's just that many of us are prepared to trade our contested rights to anonymity [with the DNA database] in order to reduce the agonies of those whose kids or siblings are the victims of unfound killers or attackers.
So I wish to ask David (and challenge him if the answer is negative to go and change it to the positive). Have you voluntarily given your DNA to the database, and that of your children? If not, go and do it now and prove the extent of your words.

If you do that I will respect your argument - although still fundamentally disagree with it - but until you do it, and confirm it in print along with permission to get confirmation, the argument remains little more than rhetoric in my mind.

Blears breaches Official Secrets Act?

Apparently, Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, has admitted that a computer has been stolen from her constituency office, and also admitted that it contained Government documents. These were not, according to Ben Brogan secret or top secret documents, but they were classified documents none the less.

The question, as Brogan raises, is that this may mean that Blears might have asked her private office to send documents to her constituency office which would be in breach of common sense procedures and potentially of the Official Secrets Act which states if a person

"fails to take such care to prevent the unauthorised disclosure of the document or article as a person in his position may reasonably be expected to take".
However, the wider issue that Brogan quite rightly raises, and links in neatly to David Davis' campaign about the surveillance state and the security of our information is that this is the third apparent security lapse in a week (they say things come in groups of three).

The question one should surely ask themselves is, if the Government genuinely wishes to claim that our surveillance is necessary to fight terrorism and crime; and at the same times claims that it will secure our identity with the ID cards database; shouldn't its own ministers not be playing loose and fast with state secrets by sending them, in email - ergo plain text across the Internet, to themselves at an insecure location?

Sounds familiar!

After, as predicted, a very bust day at work, I have just discovered this on ConservativeHome which notes that Francis Maude went after Labour's Union funding yesterday in the Commons saying,

Last year, we came close to an overall comprehensive agreement that could genuinely have started to repair the public’s trust in politics, and I say to the Justice Secretary that we can still achieve this. However, it would require Labour to accept that dependence on a small number of union bosses has to end. Sadly, it is hard to see that happening when 92 per cent. of Labour’s income comes from the unions, who even now are squaring up to demand their payback in the form of a Warwick agreement mark 2. It is precisely Labour’s dependence on these union bosses and the big donor culture that is preventing us from getting the reform that our politics so desperately needs.
I put it down to someone reading this although probably only after Guido linked to it. Good work on the part of Maude to point out how much hock the Labour Party are in to the Unions though.

Interestingly I am reading Gordon Brown Prime Miniser by Tom Bowden at the moment on the recommendation of Iain Dale (congratulations on getting "married" by the way, I've already said it privately but this is a public wish of good luck). A good recommendation too, it is compulsive reading and the Union stuff is interesting.

I will try to do a more full review after I get back from Spain, or if I manage to finish it whilst there, but thus far the single thought in my head is that whether it was Blair or Campbell that said Brown was "psychologically flawed" their analysis was so on the money that had there been a bookie willing to take the bet they would have won a fortune.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Easy money if you can get it?

Ahh business and capitalism!

That this House notes that inflation has exceeded 100,000 per cent. in Zimbabwe and further notes the misery this is causing for the people of that country; therefore deplores the conduct of the Munich-based company Giesecke & Devrient in producing Zimbabwean currency which is being used to maintain the Mugabe regime; praises the independent action of South African trades unions who arranged a boycott of a ship carrying arms for the Mugabe regime; and hopes that similar unilateral action will cause Giesecke & Devrient to cease the printing of money for Mugabe's evil regime.
A question has arisen for me though, what currency are Zimbabwe paying for their currency in?

Sorry for the lack of posting.....

Very busy at work I;m afraid due to the fact I'm about to go on annual leave and there is a lot to do. I will (hopefully) be posting still from the warmth of Spain when I finally get there at the end of the week.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Price fixing to return via Brussels?

Have just read a disturbing post by Trixy in which she says Margot Wallström, the European Commissioner, told the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, that the the EU was going to solve the oil price by introducing price fixing. A report on EU Observer suggests that the EU are

set to look for a coordinated response to oil prices, which reach their highest level since the end of the 1970s. The European Commission is set to ask member states to "carefully" consider "targeted measures" aimed at helping low-income households.
Ironic is it not that they should reference the 1970s given that price fixing was popular then and was a completely failure. Should be interesting to see what "solution" they come up with. They could of course just reduce the tax on the stuff.

Labour rebel to campaign for Davis?

Well this certainly makes Haltemprice and Howden interesting. The Labour rebel MP Bob Marshall-Andrews has apparently said he's going to campaign for David Davis during the forced by-election. That's a big test for Brown authority. Technically he should have the whip withdrawn and be expelled from the party, but as Labour are unlikely to put up a candidate will Brown have the bottle to do it?

What shall be interesting when the Lords inevitably reject the 42 days issue is whether Brown will try to use the Parliament Act to force through bill. That would of course make it questionable as to whether it even had any legal status as the Parliament Act is quite clear about what it can, and cannot be used for.

In effect we might end up seeing an unelected Prime Minister who has no mandate using a tool designed to force through mandated manifesto commitments on an issue that it should not and cannot legally cover. Such an act would be a complete abuse of power by the Executive.

Look at the eyes

OK, so I am clearly reading the Mail on Sunday website at the moment, but this one leapt out at me. "Mother accused of stealing her own baby from hospital after getting caught up in abduction training exercise"
Now I know that in a heightened security situation people get edgy, but seriously.... look at the eyes! No need for DNA testing there is there?

David Davis would trounce anyone

THere is yet more evidence from an ICM poll that the Westminster Village and the people out of sync on the issue of David Davis. The Mail On Sunday commissioned a poll in Davis' constituency that suggested he would win by 67% to 14% against Kelvin Mackenzie (if he stood as "The Sun" candidate.

Meanwhile in other news, the MoS also reports that Murdoch won;t be backing Mackenzie after he made some poorly judged comments about Hull that were caught microphone. Basically, he implied the place was a bit of a shithole (probably true, I've only been there once when I was 16 and it's the first time I ever saw a hooker on a street corner).

On the issue of 42 Days and David Davis, there is also an aticle in the MoS by Shami Chakrabati. And as she quite rightly says

These debates can’t be sewn up in the courtroom or the Westminster village. They belong in all the living rooms of towns and villages in the oldest unbroken democracy on Earth.
The problem with pre-charge detention is that it assumes guilt. Why not have post-charge questioning instead? It's all about triangulation politics on law and order at the end of the day. Make the Right look weak whilst the Left looks tough.

The opinion poll argument, that a majority support the argument, is flawed because when you ask someone if they support it, and then you put forward other options to them they have a tendency to change their mind. We've thrown away so much liberty already, and we did it without questioning, perhaps now we should stop and think.

Edmund Burke once noted that "whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe." His peer and rival Pitt said "necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." When opposing sides in history meet perhaps it is time to learn we paid heed to their wisdom?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The constituency secretary in another constituency?

And so we reach Sunday and "Nannygate" is back in the press. It appears that whilst being "employed" as Spelman's constituency secretary for a West Midlands constituency - and paid by the tax[ayer - she was actually living in Spelman's home in Kent.

Make of that what you will.

Self-fulfilling prophecy?

Why is it that politicians, the media, and business for that matter, never learn? So there are fuel strikes at the moment in terms of supply. This is because Shell drivers are striking over pay, and there appears to be the likelihood for secondary action by other delivery drivers from other fuel companies. The thing is, currently at least, the fuel companies are saying that there is enough fuel available on the forecourt to go round and ride out the first strike action.

So what do the Government do? They let it be known that the Army is on standby to deliver whilst simulatneously issuing a "don't panic buy petrol" statement. At what point did they not realise that 'crowds' are like children and telling them not do something is probably the quickest way to ensure they do. Thus we have news this morning that pumps are running dry and the Government will issue rationing orders if another strike occurs.

Mind you, there is a nice 1970's feeling to all this isn't there? We have a Government that has increased tax to astronomical proportions, both direct and indirect. Inflation, especially in the cost of food, is out of control. The housing market is crashing, and there are strikes on the horizon that are threatening to bring the country to a griding halt. On the plus side, I filled the car up to the top yesterday, so I'm alright!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gordon Brown is in the place (with Darling)

Serves him right

Darwin Award (without the death). So much for the "respect" agenda huh? More like the "idiot" agenda.

Via b3ta

Good work Ireland

BBC News
Image from Guido

What a waste of fuel

According to the papers this morning Gordon Brown is going to embark on a 'personal crusade' to bring down the price of oil by traveling to the Middle East and trying to convince them that they don't (excuse the pun) have him over a barrel.

Putting aside the use of the term 'crusade' in relation to a Middle East trip, he really doesn't have to get on a plane to solve the problem. All he actually has to do is have a word in the ear of Alistair Darling and reduce the tax on the stuff.

Of course that will mean less money for the Treasury but it was money it didn't budget for having. So instead of spending shed load of money flying around the world, if Brown really wants to help people with the cost of fuel, lower the tax. Don't waste the fuel on the flight.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

EUphemisms?

So I stole the title from Private Eye... sue me!

Mr. Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will review the dates on which daylight saving commences and finishes to fall more equally either side of the winter solstice.

Mr. McFadden: The start and end dates of summer time are harmonised across EC member states through a European Directive. The Directive stipulates that, in each member state, clocks are put forward annually by one hour for the period between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October.

There are no plans to change the summer time arrangements at this time.
Translation: There is bugger all we can do about it.... sorry.

Labour Councillor: Let's get "a victim of a terrorist attack" to stand against Davis

Here's an idea Luke. What about Rachel from North London? Or would that perhaps piss on the bonfire of your shameful desire to exploit tragedy for political gain?

Is Brown about to follow Clegg and not field a candidate?

Rumour has it that Brown is considering the option of following the Lib Dems and not putting up a candidate against David Davis and a decision will be made around 6pm (although not necessarily publiscised).

Seems like a strange move to make when you believe so strongly in the 42 days issue as Brown said he did. However, if it's true it would certainly take the wind out of David Davis's sails as it would make the by-election almost completely pointless.

Breaking News: David Davis to Resign

More to follow I guess....

Iraq controls Afghanistan says Alexander

From Hansard

"Mr. Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, what plans he has for the funding and operation of the Park for Women in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province in the next 12 months.

Mr. Douglas Alexander: The Government of Iraq has responsibility for the funding and operation of the Bolan Park in Lashkar Gah".
Does the US know about this? Is there something Brown intends to let Bush know on his visit?
Hat Tip: Croydonian

Normal service to resume shortly.....

Am exceptionally busy right now and have also been ill for the past two days. Normal service will resume shortly.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A decade (and a year ago)... what were doing?

Well it's 2008? What were doing in 1997/98? I was near the front for this and it was unforgettable!

Anywhere were the booze, drugs and vibe was right really! Ahh the memories!

I also say "Therapy?" there and they were awesome! Hmmm Andy plays a Gibson SG!
So what music were you listening too back then?

Blogging will be light today....

Have quite a lot to do this morning and early afternoon but will hopefully be back later on this evening.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Levy wants Obama to save Labour?

In this morning's Independent, Lord 'Cashpoint' Levy is the subject of 'You Ask The Questions'. When asked who the next Labour leader should his response was simply 'Barack Obama'.

Made me chuckle anyway.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Whether she's guilty doesn't matter anymore

I have just read the statement issued by Tina Haynes, the former nanny to Conservative Party Chairman Caroline Spelman about her "work". The statement, presumably distributed to the relevant news agency by CCHQ appears to vindicate Caroline Spelman at first glance.

However, something about it for me doesn't ring entirely true, my first thought upon reading it was "someone has leaned on this woman" to get out a statement and shore up the position of Spelman. That doesn't mean that the statement is untrue of course, but it seems rather clear that it is now fully aligned with the statement of Caroline Spelman.

There is nothing wrong with doing that of course, it's what happens. We like to call it spin because it is spin, but it is also the reality of contemporary political news management. It would be wrong therefore to assume that just because the nanny has now clarified her position to be in line with the "line" that the "line" must therefore be a lie.

The issue now seems to comes down to the recollection of the conversation with Michael Crick, and crucially, the unspoken part of that conversation. It all now hinges on Crick's question of whether the work was "political", and whether the nanny's claim that she said "no" because her "understanding of this was that he was asking was it party political work" is credible.

Deciding upon that comes down to whether one accepts that someone who is alledgely a "constituency secretary" for an MP, would really say "no" to the question of whether their work was political? I personally find this a difficult one to square up because if you're working for an MP how can one not consider that work to be "political"?

The real problem here is that you either take the nanny's assumption about the question at face value, or you don't because you make your own assumption that all politicians are liars anyway, so their must be a lie underneath it and the desire to conceal some sort of truth.

The question does still remain though as to why the arrangement suddenly stopped. There has been no explanation that I am aware for that, and, as someone pointed out in the comments of the other post on this, the suddent stopping of the arrangement could be perceived as an admission of guilt.

Guido, who appears to be coming in for a battering both at Conservative Home and his own blog, made a very pertinent point yesterday. That stories like this risk re-contaminating the Tory brand with the sleaze tag. That is why I also agree with him that the failure to spike the story fast is a strategic error by CCHQ.

Ask yourself this question. What would Alastair Campbell have done? People may despise the man, but he knew how to get control of a story and stop it from spiralling, and that involved acting fast. That is why, in my personal opinion, Cameron should have told Spelman, step down now, go through the Parilamentary watchdog procedures, and then come back when it is shown you have done nothing wrong (assuming you really have).

By clinging on to a defence, and issuing statements to try to bolster Spelman's position, they have ensured that the story will continue to run for more than just the Sunday's and that a question mark will be constantly hovering above the head of both Spelman, and Cameron too by proxy.

This is especially the case if in the coming weeks more expenses stories emerge (and my gut says they will). The genie is out of the bottle, and as I said yesterday, the hacks and bloggers will be searching for scandal amongst the details, that you can guarantee.

So do I believe the 'line' now? I'll be totally honest and say I just don't know. The statement by the nanny is certainly very carefully worded. I do still think though that Spelman should step down from her position whilst the process investigating her takes place, and that Cameron has an opportunity to make himself look decisive.

Letting the story roll for longer than is necessary neutralises the narrative that Brown is a ditherer who cannot make a decision. From a purely Machiavellian standpoint, maintaining the credibility of that narrative is surely a more important thing than the issue surrounding the "Spelman problem". However, it doesn't look like that is being taken into consideration to me.

I could of course be wrong, but Spelman's innocence or guilt is a side issue compared to the damage that the story itself causes. As Cameron himself put it, the widely held view of politicians is that "you lie and you spin, you fiddle your expenses and you break your promises." The way this story has been handled just feeds into that. Cameron needs to be seen to stand by his words.
Picture from Conservative Home

Update: Noted in the comments that the Whips Office apparently told her to stop the arrangement because it could cause problems. Clearly it has. As I say, guilty or not, the damage of letting the story run for longer than necessary is an error, and a missed opportunity to drive home the message that the Tory party will have clean hands and decisive action on these sort of issues.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How a girl checks to see if he's cheating on her?

This is apparently a very serious video and genuine R&B artist called Riskay. This song even got a mention in the New York Times.

Disclaimer: It contains naughty words and a novel solution to finding out whether an affair is occurring. If you are easily offended by rude words about rude acts, don't press play. The tune is quite catchy though.

Via b3ta

The union's 90% stake in Labour

Should anyone need any evidence of the collapse in support that the Labour Party is seeing from individuals, and the way in which they are truly propped up by the trade unions then I suggest having a look at the Labour Party donation declarations for Q1 of 2008.

During that period, Labour declared donations to the value of £2,889,069.66. Of that figure only £337,526.18 came from non-trade unions. When you strip out Constituency Labour Party donations, the figure is even lower, standing at £246,865.65.

Put bluntly, that means that 89% of donations in total came from the trade unions. The stripped down figure means that only 8.5% came from individuals and companies. The bottom line here is that the Unions are well and truly propping up the Labour Party, to the tune of between 89% and 92% of its total income from donations.

Whilst Guido noted that beer and sandwiches may not be on the menu anymore, it's pretty clear who holds all the cards in controlling what the Labour Party does at a time when it has to pay up over £7m of overdue debts in a matter of weeks.

I guess we can expect some leftward steering shortly from the puppet Leader

Can I expense that?

The world of expenses is yet again in the headlines. This week we've had three Tory MEPs caught spunging off the taxpayer, and now we have the news that Caroline Spelman used her expenses to pay for nanny. The official line from Spelman is that she paid her to do secretarial work and the nannying was separate, the nanny says she answered the phone in the house a few times.

Predictably, and understandably, there has been an attack from Labour about the Spelman issue. Kevan Jones MP for North Durham seems to have led that attack, telling the BBC, or are leading with the story, that "Clearly, old habits die hard in the Tory Party despite what their leader says." He is quoted in the Telegraph as well saying "David Cameron talks about honesty and transparency in public life. But Caroline Spelman has a big question mark over how she uses her expenses."

He's absolutely right about the questions over Spelman's use of expenses. I did find it amusing though to see that for some reason Kevan Jones prefers to fly at the taxpayers expense rather than drive have claimed over £10,000 in expenses in air travel last year. Ironic too that his voting record suggests that he is very strongly against a transparent Parliament.

It's a bit like being a heroin addict whilst calling for tougher criminal penalties for heroin addicts isn't it? For the leading attacker on the issue of expenses, which would not exist were it not for pressure on transparency, to be someone so strongly opposed to that very transparency is frankly taking the piss.

Alastair Graham, the former sleaze watchdog, has said that the expenses stories are damaging politics. That is not actually the case, what is damaging politics are the politicians that take the piss. That doesn't just include those with their snouts in the trough, but also the ones that oppose transparency and then jump on their soapbox and take advantage of transparency for political gain.

The Spelman line, given the evidence of the nanny, appears to be pretty weak, and bordering on absolutely pathetic. She should just put her hands up and say "yes, I broke the rule, punish me". Cameron must be decisive on this one or 'Ditherer Dave' might actually resonate. These sort of stories are not going to go away until MPs (and MEPs) get used to publishing exactly what they spend and realise that hacks, bloggers and anyone else can pour over the details and find scandal.

Let us be under no illusion here. This is not a party political problem. It is an endemic political class problem that goes from the highest places in the political system to the lowest. Take a look at your local Council and compare the allowance they get to their actual attendance at meetings. It's not just the MPs that rape the taxpayer daily, the lower echelons often take the piss even more.

I have been told about two Tory councillors who are very well connected centrally that receive their £10,000 a year but pretty much do bugger all to justify it. There are Cabinet members in the Labour controlled Greenwich who receive what are effective salaries of £30K that rarely turn up to meetings.

It is not politics that should be held in contempt, but the professional greasy pole climbers and the lazy bastards that people continue to vote for because of the colour of their rosette. They are the problem.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Title and Author

Not sure what to say really!

Wonder what the publisher was thinking when they saw the cover for the first time?

The funny old world of Government spin?

"82 hospitals in total on £917million debt" - Daily Mirror June 5th 2008
"The NHS continues to be in good financial health with a £1.658 billion surplus for this financial year, the Department of Health announced today." - Government News Network June 6th 2008

Women!

Quote of the Day

Given that I just shamefully took the mickey out of Hugo Rifkind in the post below, I have just read a brilliant quote from his Facebook status about the latest Tory MEP sleaze stuff that Guido has been running with.

"Hugo Rifkind is both astonished and disappointed that more people aren't making a fuss about the fact that this Tory MEP is very nearly called Ben Dover."
Quite right too. When I saw the name Den Dover I couldn't help but snigger slightly. I wonder if he knows?

Hugo 'Phonebox Spotter' Rifkind?

This week, the former diarist for the Times, Hugo Rifkind, crossed over to the darkside of feature writing, and this morning he has a piece in the Times 2 which is surely the result of a prank on the new boy?


The poor sod was sent around the country like a trainspotter to look at phoneboxes, and he scarily notes the different between the "K1 model, designed in 1921, and the K2 model, from 1924, [and] a K6, designed in 1935."

I wonder if next week he will be made to stand outside stations in London talking to those strange anorak wearing people that spot buses all day? Should his editor be reading this (unlikely) I dare you because he really does look even more nerdy than me in that picture!
Note to Hugo: Couldn't help taking the piss, sorry :-) Love the fact that you are in the women's lifestyle section too. Very metrosexual!

Thought for the Day

When will someone, anyone, individual or state, take the initiative and assasinate Robert Mugabe? Just thinking out loud is all. Controversial yes, and no doubt all the lefties that moan about what a tyrant he is would instantly talk about shameful imperialism and suddenly become apologists for him much as they have done with Saddam Hussein and the plight of Iraqis under his regime.

Still, I imagine for the vast majority of ordinary people out there, they probably wouldn't give a crap if someone took out the moustached loony. At least it would get the news off our screens about what an utter bastard he is. Having said this, has anybody noticed how his top military man looks just like Idi Amin? I wonder if we trained him too?

Update: Glad to see someone that fails to consistently denounce dictators bit. Always adds to the amusement when they bite and ignore the obvious sarcasm.

Spin of the Day

Todays utterly meaningless announcement from the Government is that apparently going to make public swimming pools and lidos free to all by 2012. Sounds like a great idea but it's really just a headline grabber which is predicated on the assumption that they will win the next General Election. You can guarantee it has not been costed and that it will disappear quietly.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Chinese counterfeiting at its best?

Hat Tip: Debate Land

The "dangerous territory" of legislating aesthetics

For those unaware, David Hockney has taken another swipe at the Government, this time over its plans to criminalise drawings or computer-generated images of naked children. Of course there are many great works that contain naked adults and naked children together, and this is where it gets into what Hockney has called 'dangerous territory', because the Government says that this new law will not criminalise 'genuine' works of art.

Hockney is certainly right about it being 'dangerous territory' for the Government, because, by implication it is suggesting that imagery that includes children and is created from someone's head can only be 'art' if the Government and the law says it is. That is a deeply worrying state of affairs. It is not of course unprecedented for the state to dictate upon what has, and what has not got, aesthetic value. Nor is it unprecedented for a state to criminalise where it decides the aesthetic is subversive or deviant. The Soviet Union did it for decades after all (we abhorred it then though).

The problem with this latest law proposal is not just that it seeks to legislate upon what art is, but it also tries to draw black and white distinction within the grey area between the subjectivity of the viewer and the intent or point by the artist. Someone that, for example, was sexually abused and ends up an artist, may want to produce a work that uses aesthetics to tell the viewer of the horror of such things. Under these laws the artist and the work would be criminalised. At the same time, it is down to the viewer to decide upon how they view the work. A very small minority may get off on it, but most would not, and this poses another question, besides 'what is art?' that is 'what is pornography?'

The best illustration of how this question works comes, bizarrely, from the space bum sitcom, Red Dwarf. Kryton, the domestic cleaning mechanoid, has just become human thanks to a DNA re-sequencer. He becomes confused as to why his penis suddenly goes from being relatively small and decidedly floppy, to errr.... well let's just say he stood to attention shall we. Lister asks him what he was thinking of at the time. Kryton tells Lister that he was flicking through an electrical appliance catalogue and found a section on "super deluxe vacuum cleaners and suddenly [his] underpant elastic was catapulted across the medical bay".*

So, was Kryton looking at porn? If he was then was it his reaction that added that quality? This is the fundamental problem with criminalising the creation of imagery that is essentially inanimate and then deciding upon its aesthetic value. The great works of 'genuine' art that will apparently be exempt, will, I'm sure, equally arouse someone that finds imagery of naked children sexually arousing. So does that make it pornographic and therefore illegal? The intent or reaction of the viewer is surely also as fundamental as understanding the driving force behind why someone has created the image in the first place? Thus arbitrarily banning imagery is actually an attack on art itself because it ignores the many shades of grey and the contradiction between the image itself, and the subjective intent of the artist and their audience.

There are also practical problems. Take for example Hentai. For the uninitiated, that is basically Japanese anime style cartoons that are basically hardcore porn, sometimes involving the most surreal thing known as 'tentacle rape' whereby strange monsters with, you've guessed it, tentacles force themselves upon a character, however I digress. The thing with Japanese stuff is that the girls invariably look like sweet and innocent kids, this is true even in the non-porn stuff. Who decides, in relation to such things, what is, and what is not a child. If you have a character in Hentai who is clearly stated to be an adult, but they wear knee high white socks, a hockey skirt and what looks like a school shirt, and has no pubic hair**, will it be decided that they are a child even if the story (yes they do have stories) makes clear they are not?

It seems to me that Hockney has hit the nail on the head about this latest proposal. By criminalising human-created imagery, the Government is seeking to impose a state-ordained view of what is and what is not art which is both dangerous politically but also philosophically contradictory in practice. The bigger worry is that it is on a subject that is so sensitive any argument against such moves get met by accusations that one doesn't care about the safety of children, is soft on paedophiles, or worse still, probably is one.
* The infamous Double Polaroid moment in Red Dwarf.
** Public hair is banned in contemporary Hentai for matters of "decency".

The next battleground

Brown's tax rise to influence behaviour on decisions made seven years ago claiming that it is a "green tax"

Brown got slaughtered on this one. He stumbled, didn't answer questions, stuttered ('he says, he say, he says'). His put downs were batted away effectively. Cameron crushed Brown's statistics too.

Quote of the session has to be "it's not my backbenchers telling me to get on my bike".

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Want to host a taxpayer funded website?

I just want to make it clear that I'm not a naturally suspicious person really, in fact, I'm awfully trusting to the point that in recent days I've realised I shouldn't probably give people the benefit of the doubt quite so much. However,

I'm rather confused right now about something going on at the Wales Office, where, as people will know, Peter "I did nothing wrong" Hain was located whilst also being at the DWP running Job Centres before he had to go and visit one.

You see, what is confusing me is this. Way back in the mists of time, December 2006 to be precise, Peter Hain told Parliament that a company charity called Eduserv had been paid £13,566 for consultancy. The following week, Hain confirmed that this payment was for the Wales Office website design.

If we then shoot forward 10 months to October 2007, Hain tells Norman Baker, that the Wales Office website is the only one the department is responsible for, that it is bilingual, and, since 2001 has had "a running cost of £1,600 per annum".

Nothing wrong there particularly, but recently the website has had another redesign (pictured) and back in April, in response to a question from Stephen O'Brien, the new Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy, said,

The Wales Office spent £10,500 to redesign and implement the new website and we pay £6,936 per annum for website hosting.
Now, call me a pedant if you must, but that hosting cost is, I would say, part of the running cost. That's a difference of £5,336 a year in just over seven months?

What's more, if you work it out on the basis of the new figure, they are basically paying £568 per month for the hosting of a website that is not paticularly flashy, has largely static content controlled by Wordpress (free software). Install and go basically. The point here is that £568 per month is an unbelievably high hosting cost for such a website. They must be getting something good you'd think?

Well, Stephen O'Brien appeared to follow up the question to the Wales Office asking what they actually got for their money. Specifically he asked,
how much bandwidth per month his Department purchases; how much of this is burst bandwidth; what the maximum burstable rate is; what resiliency has been purchased; how many servers host the website; and what backup solution is in place.
Pertinent questions given that it costs just over a monkey a month for hosting of a site that can't get that much traffic.* The response was certainly interesting. According to Paul MUrphy,
uses 1 megabit per second, none of which is burst, although the maximum burstable rate is 2 megabits per second. No resiliency has been purchased, but the company who hosts the website has a complete backup. The website is hosted on one server.
In layman's terms, they basically have something that would cost about £25 a month in bandwidth terms (I am being generous and saying 200GB a month of transfer). There is no resiliency which means if the one server dies then the site.... well it dies.

Just to put this in perspective, you could buy a rack with the space for 10 servers and that amount of bandwidth for £9000 a year. You do the maths. That's £750 per year, per server, and the Wales Office says it only has one server, that costs "£6,936 per annum for website hosting".

Let's put it like this, some salesman (on commission) at the "not for profit" company charity Eduserv (which as I said provides these services) must be laughing their arse off now as they drink the Bolly. That is one hell of a Professional Services contract they managed to negotiated where the taxpayer funds the fun.

Of course, Eduserv also provide services to other Government sites, some of which are bound to have higher traffic which makes you wonder what they are charging them? Those Government departments include:
  • Department for Education and Skills
  • Department for Transport
  • Information Commissioner's Office
  • The Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency
  • Office for Standards in Education
  • Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Training and Development Agency for Schools (who also use that company that lost those discs in America)
I'm not going to cast aspersions against any of the charities trustees because I have no evidence to back it up, but I can't help doing one of those "thinking" poses with my hand on my chin and wonder "hmmmmmmm????".

As I said, I'm not naturally suspicious but if someone could tell me where all the extra costs appeared from I would be most grateful because there is inflation and then there is taking the piss!

* I would offer visitor figures, but as Peter Hain also informed Baker, the department "does not record number of visitors." Given how low other Government websites are it is safe to assume that it is not that extreme like say Number 10.

I'm in heaven!

Google Shell! Or more correctly goosh. No more sponsored links yay!
Hat Tip: Croydonian

The cost of consultancy on British Policing?

There's nothing better than discovering how much a Government department has spent on consultancy fees and shouting "Jesus wept" at the sky as you ponder upon the pissing away of taxpayers money on... well... I don't know, but I bet it involved lots of writing and replication of work as consultant after consultant started to overlap their work.

This morning, I have just discovered just how much the Home Office has spent on consultancy fees in the financial years from 2005/06 until 2007/08. The figure is truly staggering and stands at £382,615,960 according to information released by the Home Office under Freedom of Information legislation last month.

Just to put that in persepctive, that is equivalent to about £7 per head for every man, woman and child in the UK over three years. Or, alternatively, if you assume the cost of Police officer (including pension) is about £50K, you could have paid for additional policing of somewhere above 5000.

Some may also recall that police officer have been falling sharply due to lack of funding. And as the Police Federation's chair, Jan Berry noted last month, "the government could find £2.7bn to dig itself out of a hole before a byelection but couldn't find £30m to settle our pay award". Clearly that was because the consultants are more important than plod on the street.

The concessions are a scam

The other day I posted and pondered upon how the so-called concession on 42 daya detention without trial would work given that any discussion of a case in Parliament that would be allegedly be required for their to be vote would inevitably prejudice a subsequent trial, not to mention jeopardise any investigation anyway.

We now have details of the concessions from the Home Secretary and it seems the way around that problem will basically be that the Home Secretary decided that there is a "grave, and exceptional terrorist threat" and he or she then goes to Parliament and says "trust me, would I lie to you?". How precisely this protects peoples' civil liberties I' not sure.

However, on Planet Lala, where Brown and Smith have currently set up home, it appears that this Parliamentary "oversight" whereby MPs have to vote on a matter of trust, and will of course inevitably err on the size of caution, is more than enough to protect the civil liberties of the nation.

One other thing that was raised in the comments of my previous post was that this would require a recall of Parliament in recess. Apparently that is exactly what will happen. I'm not sure what will happen if the MP's are out of the country with their families. It's coming to something though where we have not only sleepwalked into a surveillance state but we're now sleepwalking into a Stasi one.

Do these people have no sense of history and the warning that times gone by send us about such things?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Government starts book burning exercise?

I shan't deny that in recent weeks I have been lax at looking through Hansard like I used to. However, today I have taken a peek and was tickled pink by what I found.

In response to a question from Theresa May about what reviews, surveys, questionnaires and polling the Department for Local Government Government and Communities had carried out since November 2007, Hazel Blears said one was called Fire Kills Literature Review.

For some strange reason all I could think was how the conversation went. "Right guys, time to have a review. Who's got the books and the matches. Let's see if paper still burns. And remember, next week we'll be reviewing the wetness of water!"

In other news they also had a Fire Kills campaign recognition omnibus survey. Wonder if that involved live demos re-enacting Joan of Arc's failure to recant her insanity and instead prove that fire does indeed kill?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Delicious Irony

Sky News Ticker: Zimbabwe's President Mugabe arrives in Rome to attend U.N Food Summit

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stick to teaching not futurology....

I've just read about the new chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, Admiral Chris Parry, who told the Times Educational Supplement,

"It's a very short route from wireless technology to actually getting the electrical connections in your brain to absorb that knowledge.... Within 30 years, sitting down and learning something will be a thing of the past.... I think people will be able to directly access, Matrix-style, all the vocabulary you need for a foreign language, leaving you just to clear up the grammar."
And in other news, pigs will grow wings and the sun will start to go around the earth. The brain is not a computer OK! How exactly does Parry think we will receive wifi signals in the brain? Are we going to start inserting RFID tags into people? Where will this amazing amount of information be stored? Do we have any ROM in our brains? I don't think so.

It would be best if Admiral Parry stuck to the issue of education rather than making universally stupid comments about what the future holds based on a sci-fi movie that did pop philosophy and ontology for the masses. I'm still waiting for the flying cars they promised me would be here eight years ago!


 

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