Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The posts make up for the passion for Java

Just wanted to take the opportunity to plug a new blog on the block called Stop the Bureaucrats. He's only done a few post thus far but each of them has been excellent. His only negative is that he says he's "passionate about Java" and he's not talking about coffee. I have but one response to such passion:
ps aux | grep java | grep -v grep | awk {'print $2'} | xargs kill -9

Alan Johnson performs another U-turn?

I've just been told a totally unsubstantiated rumour that the Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, arrived in the Midlands today, received a call from the Whips office and promptly turned around without doing any of the planned hand shaking etc.

I tried to ring the Department of Education press office to see if he really did go to the Midlands, and whether he returned early, but sadly they close at 5pm and you just get an answer phone. To be honest I think they might really have left the office at 3.30pm when the bell rang.

Police mergers that never were cost taxpayer £3.9m

In an answer to Parliament yesterday, Tony McNulty, Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, admitted that a total of £3,997,200 had been wasted on the police force mergers that never happened.

The table presented to Parliament shows that the police forces to be merged had spent around £6.5m on preparatory work but the Government placed a cap of 100,000 on there claims when the policy was scrapped.

Labour whips office recalls ministers?

In an earlier post by Guido he mentioned that the Labour whips were looking a little stressed today given the vote this evening about an Iraq inquiry. Apparently, the Labour whips office has been on the phone recalling ministers to Westminster. Anyone fancy a flutter?

Leeds to get Balls?

Last week Paul Linford speculated that Ed "I look like a school boy" Balls would be moving into the soon to be vacated seat of Leeds West now that John Battle has announced his plans to step down (or go to the House of Lords).

A usually reliable source has told me that this is not mere speculation and is effectively a done deal (bang goes the idea of Hull East). It also ties in with rumours that during the Labour Party conference Yvette Cooper was said to be hoping for the family to stay in West Yorkshire.

Personally speaking I'd rather he didn't find a seat at all, but I doubt that will happen. His appearance on Channel 4 News the other week when the tax proposal document was leaked was awful. he was like an excited little school boy who didn't seem to get the distinction between proposals and policy.

Want a new career? Become a profesional gold digger

According to an article in Guardian the Government is planning legislation that will allow couples who live together to have "divorce" rights. Harriet Harman told the Guardian that the law needs to be changed so people who live together are able to make the same claims as married couples after a relationship breakdown.

Besides the obvious question of "what's the point of marriage?", surely such proposals are going to be exposed to massive fraud? At least with marriage a gold-digger needs to make a significant legal commitment.

Council Tax collection outsourced in Oxfordshire?

Are Cherwell District Council providing outsourced tax collection services to other Councils? According to their website they "also collect Council Tax for other councils."

Given so many Council's have massive Council Tax arrears perhaps this isn't actually a bad thing if it is as it seems. Why not outsoruce the job to another more effective Council? Sure it might cost you a little but if it's costing less than recovered arrears then maybe it;s a price worth paying?

We need to start playing Aussie Rules

Why is it that the EU can stir up such massive emotion and hatred? More importantly, why is it that we apparently acquiesce at every whimsical idea that gets pumped out of the EU Commission? As someone who is a sceptic, and by that I mean I'm equally sceptical of europhilia as I am of euroscepticism, I find myself thinking that neither side are right when it comes to the answer.

On the one hand the europhiles will say that we don't acquiesce, we have simple agreed, as with all other member states, to confer areas of competence at the supranational level. That means that in some areas of policy we accept that qualified majority voting is the weight required to carry it.

On the other hand, the eurosceptic frame the debate within the issue of sovereignty. For them we have given away our right to decide to do x, y or z and we only have ourselves to blame. Their solution tends to manifest itself through groups such as Better off Out, or they call for renegotiation of our membership back to the terms they believe we agreed to in 1975.

Personally I take another view that is less political and more cultural. I think all our problems and annoyances with the EU stem from our obsessively British sense of fair play and following the rules. We, in joining the club, agree to accept the rules. We're not like those French, Germans, Spaniards or whoever else that might occasionally ignore the rules when it suits them. That just wouldn't be British!

Therein, for me at least, lies the problem. Take for example the recent changes to the law regarding booster seats in cars. The law, as many will know, stipulate if your child is under a certain height, or under 12, they must have a booster seat. Besides the problem of enforcement on our own part, ask yourself this, if we had ignored the law what would've actually happened?

Nothing. A few words would've been said in the Council of Ministers no doubt, strong words from the Commission, perhaps talk of a fine. It's not like they have the capacity to invade. In recent years the French and Germans have comprehensively broken the economic rules governing the Euro. Their argument? National interest, sod off. Would we ever do that? Probably not. Perhaps we should.

The European Union, works for those on the continent precisely because they know it doesn't really have the capacity to enforce it's will. This is especially true where those member states have their own written constitution. We on the other don't, so we get lost in the minutiae of statute and convention trying to figure out where sovereignty lies. Throw into the mix our cultural tendency toward following the rules and fair play and you have a recipe for disaster.

Put simply, our relationship with the EU is defined by our insistence on playing cricket with it. Everyone else meanwhile is playing Aussie Rules.

Update on British security student

For those interested (i.e not the British press it seems) in the ongoing tale of British citizen Chris Soghoian, the security postgrad who highlighted significant flaws in airport security where electronic check-in is present. The Congressman that originally called on the Bush Administration to apprehend him has now had a change of heart and suggest the Government employ him (presumably due to the number of emails he received). He said that it was clear that
"[Chris] intended no harm but, rather, intended to provide a public service by warning that this long-standing loophole could be easily exploited.... Under the circumstances, any legal consequences for this student must take into account his intent to perform a public service, to publicize a problem as a way of getting it fixed. He picked a lousy way of doing it, but he should not go to jail for his bad judgment. Better yet, the Department of Homeland Security should put him to work showing public officials how easily our security can be compromised."
More here

Monday, October 30, 2006

Belusconi and Mills to stand trial for corruption

It's been reported on Reuters that Silvio Belusconi and David Mills are to stand trail for corruption. At least the mortgage was paid off.

Not down to me guv'

The Lib Dem MP, John Hemming, has failed in his High Court challenge regarding the standard of the replies Tony Blair provides to Parliament under questioning. Apparently the MP has raised this in the past in the House and the Speaker has told him that it's not the Speaker's place to rule on the matter. Now the High Court says it's not their job either. The hapless MP has been ordered to pay just over £2000 in costs.

MPs fail Highway Code test

Just spotted this Early Day motion submitted by Lib Dem MP, Richard Younger-Ross. Basically he's calling on the Government to "educate drivers in how to respond to emergency vehicles, in particular by including such advice in the Highway Code, and to make it part of the driving test."

Perhaps it's Mr Younger-Ross that need educating given the HighWay Code states the following:
29: Emergency vehicles. If an ambulance, fire engine, police or other emergency vehicle approaches using flashing blue lights, headlights and/or sirens, keep off the road.

194: Emergency vehicles. You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights, headlights or sirens. When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of the emergency vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but do not endanger other road users.
I think we should make him, and the 17 others who signed the EDM, take their test again.

The USB duck hoover

Only in Japan.

Hat Tip: The delightful Tokyomango

Police Press Officers monitoring and commenting on blogs

Last week there was a report on the BBC and other news outlets that the Greater Manchester Police had put out an order to limit arresting Muslims during Ramadan. A few blogs out there commented on this at the time - see here, here, and here. The interesting thing to note is in their comments appears a statement purporting to be from the Greater Manchester Police Press Office. The statement says that the whole issue was been misrepresented by the media.

After someone contacted me last night to ask if I thought it was genuine, I decided to give the press office at Greater Manchester Police a call and find out if they really were monitoring the blogs and putting out official statements on them. The answer was yes, the GMP press office was responsible for the messages.

This left me wondering, is this now an official policy for UK police authorities? Will we soon see press officers from other areas of the state apparatus posting press statements in the comment section of blogs? I imagine they'd get slated if they did it at Guidos

Incidentally, I notice the GMP still have the "Cones Hotline" (disbanded in 1995) listed on their useful numbers page. I got all nostalgic when I saw it.

Dizzy's Environmental Proposals

The Environmental policy debate appears to be moving a pace with ernest today. Below are some alternatives to Miliband's insanity.
  • The state can have a role in environmental policy. However it should concentrate on areas already within in it's remits, such as environmental policies within the public services.
  • Around 60% of all energy is lost from power station to consumer. There should be a national strategy to encourage Council's to go down the route of self-sufficiency.
  • Councils should be encouraged to take themselves off the grid through energy decentralisation.
  • Investment should be made into implementing locally based energy generation with a combination of solar, cogeneration, trigeneration, wind, fuel cells and tidal power (where appropriate).
  • All local authority property, including social housing should have its energy supplied by these decentralised power sources.
  • This will create localised grid that will rely on the national grid only for power resiliency.
  • Woking Borough Council provides the case study for how such a strategy is possible.
  • All new social housing building projects should have local decentralised power generation within in their design plans.
  • The benefits of the above are not just environmental. They will tackle the scandalous waste of energy that currently takes place.
  • If we stop wasting 60% of energy in the delivery, then we can consume the same amount but actually produce less. Such an approach would have order of magnitude impact on our CO2 emission output far greater than blunt tax increases.
  • As has been found in Woking, such strategies provide the means to sell excess energy back to the grid, and also means that local energy prices in council property can be kept stable and relatively low.
  • A range of tax breaks should be introduced to encourage, rather than coerce, changes in individual behaviour, thus acknowledging that not everyone will change their ways and that is there choice as individuals at liberty in civil society.
  • For example, increases in vehicle excise duty will hit the poorest and push them off the road entirely as they will not be able to afford to buy a brand new low emission car. Instead, rebates should be offered on vehicle excise duty on the basis of how much mileage a car does in a given year. This genuinely provides an incentive to changes in behaviour.
  • Local offsetting initiatives in conjunction with organisations like Climate Care.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Brown and Miliband's plan to punish the poor

Gordon Brown and David Miliband are preparing to tax the poor off the road with plans for "a substantial increase in vehicle excise duty for higher-emissions vehicles" according to a leaked document in this morning's Mail on Sunday. The document, from Miliband to Brown, outlines a number of areas where the intention is to heavily tax everyone in an attempt to make them more environmentally friendly. It's not so much a stick as a baseball bat, and there is no carrot. Key proposals are:
  • Substantial increase in road tax - bizarrely arguing that this will be an incentive to buy low emission cars. Which may be true for someone able to afford a new car, but won't be for low-income family of four driving a 10 year old Mondeo. I guess they're expected to catch a bus in our "integrated transport system".
  • Remove the freeze on the fuel escalator by arguing it will create price stability of oil. I'm not quite sure how the tax on fuel in the UK impacts the global oil price, but that is the argument in the document.
  • Total "road-user pricing". Basically a per journey charge to use roads which has massive technological and surveillance implications.
  • Using Council Tax to target owner-occupiers who have have high emission homes. That basically means punishing those who live in period property.
  • Putting VAT on air fares.
  • Introducing an air passenger tax. That on top of the tax already, and presumably VAT.
  • No stamp duty on purchases of "zero carbon" homes. Not quite sure how any home can be "zero carbon". This sounds like a headline grabbing policy that will never actually be applied because of it's virtual impossibility to achieve. A bit like zero road tax on a car that is no longer in production.
Perversely, Miliband's final bullet point says that if the proposals are taken on wholesale they will "provide clear incentives to change behaviour". This sort of argumeent needs to be exposed for the nonsense that it is. There is no incentive present when you use tax to punish people into changing their ways. Genuine incentives do not use negativity (in this case financial pain) as a means to an end. Attempting to draw a distinction between increased tax and incentives is like arguing in favour of torture because it provides an incentive to talk. Incentives are positive benefits that are acheived from a neutral status-quo position. You do not move the goalposts then ask for money as an incentive to move them back, there is only one name for that, and it's blackmail. To argue as Miliband does is at best disingenuous, and at worst intellectually fatuous.

The reality behind this sdocuemnt is that it's a revenue generation scheme worth literally billions. It proposes even greater extension of the state's ability to monitor and track individual private action through the road pricing proposal, but the most pernicious aspect of the proposals is that they will punish the poor most significantly. They'll have the consequence of increasing dependency on the state and crushing any hope of social mobility.

There is a debate to won on this issue and it the one that argues that incentives to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour must be based on revenue neutrality. We should not be increasing tax and then saying if people act in particularly ways they will get a reduction, because that doesn't represent a reduction at all. We should be introducing policies which offer rebates from the status-quo tax position, not an increased position. We must reject coercion through financial pain as a means to an end.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Government spins different lines on non-emergency 101

The other night on 18 Doughty Street I spotted a story in the Daily Telegraph about the Government's "non-emergency" alternative to 999, 101. The Telegraph reported that they'd seen a leaked letter stating the entire scheme was being shelved after the "Wave 1" pilots had proved rather unsuccessful.

According to an article in the Evening Standard examples of this failure were calls to 101 in Hampshire with request such as "Do you know when the next bus leaves for Southampton?"

The cancellation of Wave 2 has apparently annoyed the Police in Wales, and in Lancashire the Government wasted £100,000 preparing to set it up before changing their mind and scrapping it. The line from the Home Office is that any decisions about the projects future "will be deferred pending the outcome of a full evaluation of Wave One in the autumn of 2007."

What's interesting though is that the Government's official 101 website doesn't say this? It still states that the "second wave areas will start work during 2006 with the aim of launching in 2007, and the service will be available across all of England and Wales by 2008".

Is it on? Is it off? Does the arse know what the elbow is doing?

Blogger apologises for outages

The full horror story of what has been going on over the past weeks or so is available on Blogger Buzz which is an official Blogger blog. Also, for those looking for info when they do have problem, check out the Blogger status pages. The long and short of the tale appears to be to migrate to Beta Blogger, although I fear if everyone were to do that at once it might have problems too.

Still... I have been testing Beta Blogger out for a while now and I think it's functionally better than Blogger and is operationally far more stable. The risk is mitigated by Blogger being awful anyway, there is no going back now.

British citizen questioned by FBI for highlighting airport security flaws

A PhD security student who exposed how easy it was to bypass airline security has had part of his website taken down by the FBI. Chris Soghoian, a British citizen and PhD student at the University of Indiana created a tool which could generate NorthWest American Airline boarding passes with any name of the users choosing (click image for large version). When he posted about it on his blog he gave the following possible uses:
1. Meet your elderly grandparents at the gate
2. 'Upgrade' yourself once on the airplane - by printing another boarding pass for a ticket you're[sic] already purchased, only this time, in Business Class.
3. Demonstrate that the TSA Boarding Pass/ID check is useless.
The last of those reasons is the most important without a doubt. To be able to generate, with such apparent ease, a boarding pass for any NorthWest flight of one's choosing, in any name of one's choosing, represents a threat to airline and airport security of massive proportions. A boarding pass will get you through security check, and once there, well, God knows what mayhem could be caused. It makes a mockery of the so-called "no-fly lists".

However, there is of course a downside to Christopher's decision to publish the tool via his blog as he did. Highlighting security flaws is no doubt important, but doing so ought to be done through official channels else sadly, what eventually happened to Chris happens. It began with calls from the Senator who originally pointed out the potential security for Chris's arrest and the removal of website and ended with the FBI.

The University, according to Chris's blog, told him he was on his own if he got arrested, and yesterday, his blog had a short post saying "The FBI are at the door. Off to chat". The Boarding Pass website is now gone. Three hours after going for a chat with the Feds, he posted again saying "I am now safe (and no longer with the FBI). Still trying to find a lawyer....."

Personally I hope he does find himself a good lawyer. His decision to publish was, I think, unwise, but his intentions certainly lacked malice. He should be praised for having highlighted such a flaw in the system, and, frankly, the US Government should be offering him a job. There is a front to the "War on Terror" on the Internet, and it needs people like Chris.

UPDATE: Apparently the FBI returned to Chris's home last night whilst he stayed elsewhere. They smashed the glass on his door to enter and seized his computers and other belonging, then left the warrant taped to the table. Chris's blog appears to be down at the moment, but more details can be seen here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dizzy in Arabic

I just discovered the following in my referrer logs. It would appear someone wanted to read my post regarding MPACUK's decision to juxtapose a 9/11 Rememberance picture with an interesting headline.

I've never seen my words in arabic before but the really cool thing is that when you hover the mouse on the text it pops up the english translation. Rather cool I thought.

Ming Campbell insults UK childcare workers

In a speech today it appears that Ming Campbell has effectively said that the standard of childcare offered by the workers in the UK is of low quality as a result of the workforce being uneducated. In a speech he said:

"In Denmark, those working in childcare need a degree. In Britain, they need no qualifications at all.... By professionalising childcare provision, we can raise the standing and the standard of the service"

I'm sure all those hard working childcare assistant will be well chuffed.

Extra anus kills four-legged chicken

Utterly bizarre I know, but apparently he developed two bottoms and it got "glugged up". I kid you not.

The chicken's corpse is apparently going to the Auckland museum.

Working the dizzy way

Utterly pointless post for a Friday lunchtime, but its been suggested by some that I blog more than I work. I don't work like normal people. One keyboard and mouse controlling two computers with a monitor each where the mouse just glides between screens. This is the joy called x2vnc.

"Disingenuous bastards" you say?

Well, whilst my appearance last night on 18 Doughty Street's End of the Day show was enjoyable it did leave me in a slight pickle this morning. Iain did ask me what I would be writing about today and I was a bit stuck as I'd just spent the evening talking about it. However, thank the lord they didn't have a copy of the Grauniad so I bought that this morning. Unsuprisingly I feel compelled to write about things now... funny that.

Whilst reading it on the Tube, it was not long before I found myself exclaiming, out loud, "disingenuous bastards!". You see, the front page carried a story on MPs' expenses (like the other papers) and it was carried with a picture of David Cameron riding his bicycle with the title "MPs' Expenses: It's 20p a mile for cycling (and 40p a mile for the car behind)". Pretty daming huh? You might even find yourself thinking "what a cheek! He's claiming for cycling and his following car".

The truth though, is buried in the small print as always. A quick turn to the story on page 8 and we find, at the bottom of the second paragraph, the words "[Cameron] did not claim mileage in his total expenses claim". This as you probably now realise, puts my Tube expletives in context.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What Richmond Council ought to be doing

Yesterday, as has been well reported, the Lib Dem run Richmond Council has announced a prescriptive local tax policy on those wishing to have "Resident Parking Permits". Basically, it will band vehicles by CO2 output and charge higher rates for the right to park on the road outside houses.

Without wishing to get too philosophical, this is exactly the wrong way to go about tackling climate change and CO2 output. Using taxation to change behaviour rarely works, when it hurts, and especially when it hurts the poor, as this policy will do, it creates resentment, not compliance.

Instead of arbitrarily trying to reduce emissions by targeting one single small group, Council's should be looking to encourage greater carbon neutrality from its residents. What might that mean in practice? Well here's an idea, if, as Richmond Council claim, there approach is revenue neutral, then how about offering scaled discounts from reasonably set parking permit price on the basis of driver carbon offsetting?

Instead of having a rising price scale, what you do is set your permit price at say, £150 per year (that figure is arbitrary for my example before anyone complains it is too high or too low). You then offer, in conjunction with Climate Care, residents the ability to off-set their car's carbon output. In return they receive a rebate/discount on their parking permit at the end of the year or beginning of the next, which is a notional amount higher than their offset cost. e.g. £150 for a permit at the beginning of year, £25 offset charge at the end of the year, rebate of £50 from the Council.

This kind of policy, unlike that proposed in Richmond, would encourage people to be aware of their impact of the environment and make them act by offering them a discount to their pocket. If Council's genuinely mean it when they say the want revenue neutral schemes then carbon neutral carrots, rather than taxation sticks are what they ought to be doing.

Local dictatorships are not the solution to local democracy?

There is much fanfare being made today about the Government proposals for local government. Read the news and you might start thinking that this represented a massive change in the relationship between Whitehall and Local Government.

Using phrases like "double devolution" sounds very snazzy, but they mask the disconcerting part of the proposal. The Government make it sound like they're repatriating power to the local people, but the reality is they're trying to consolidate power to smaller and less accountable political elites.

Take for example the desire for directly-elected mayors. The argument the Government put forward is that this creates a directly accountable link to local people. However what it really creates is an effective local dictatorship. Lewisham is a case in point.

In Lewisham they have a Labour directly-elected mayor who has a casting vote in a Council where even with his vote Labour have no overall majority. Lewisham is an effective dictatorship as a result. What Steve Bullock wants, Steve Bullock gets, the fact that the majority of local people might be against simply doesn't matter. Directly-elected mayors make a mockery of the democratic process, they do not enhance it.

Quote of the Day

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden, or in the park, or in the backyard without cover, and the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." - Sheik Taj al Hilali (Australia's most senior Muslim cleric)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A candidate for "Pseuds Corporate"?

"The International Water Association is a global network of water professionals, spanning the contiuum between research and practice and covering all facets of the water cycle"


Heffer plays the "Dictionary Definition" game

Great news everyone, with a slight deviation last week, normal service has been resumed by Simon Heffer. In today's Telegraph he's back to his anti-Cameron best, only this time he's doing it by playing the "Dictionary Definition" game that anyone that's discussed politics on Usenet will have seen many times before.

Today's Heffer rant is about the terms "ideology" and "ideologues". Heffer points out that "ideology, as the dictionary tells us, is simply the study of ideas: and an ideologue is one who studies them" thus those that reject ideology are "rejecting and condemning ideas". Isn't he clever? Of course, he's deliberately ignored the other defintions in the dictionary that ruin his argument, such is the way when you play the Dictionary Definition game.

As it happens though, Heffer is wrong to say that those that are pragmatic reject ideas. On the contrary, they embrace ideas, the difference is that they are not bound by the doctrinal nature of what Heffer later referred to as an "ideological system".

Being non-ideological does not mean rejecting ideas, it means, for example, rejecting marxism and socialism because it compartmentalises human action into the grand theory of dialectical materialism. On the political flip-side it also means rejecting the world which fails to acknowledge the complexity of human action. Human action cannot be assessed though behaviourism that relies on bedrock assumptions that we will always act in economically rational ways.

Being non-ideological means, quite simply, acknowledging that politics is the art of the possible. Sadly that's something Simon Heffer doesn't appear to "get".

US announces it won't be withdrawing from Iraq?

Has the Bush Administration done enough to starve off the electoral headache of Iraq witht this latest announcement by the US Ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad? According to reports they announced that local security forces should be able to fully "take control" in about 12 to 18 months. Thus, so the line goes, setting a timetable for US withdrawal. Of course, it's what wasn't said that's the important thing rather than what was.

As far as I can tell, nothing was said about what happens if the security situation does not allow for such a handover of control to take place. Interestingly, General Casey did say that "Iran and Syria continue to be decidedly unhelpful by providing support to the different extremists and terrorist groups operating inside Iraq", which I'd say actually leaves the timetable very open-ended.

I'm left thinking that the announcement was for a domestic US audience about to go to the polls, rather than the wider world audience. There certainly seems to have been a lot of hedging. Hopefully we won't start talking about withdrawal formally either, but I dread to think what will happen when Blair goes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Red Flag flies above the Telegraph

Apparently, the NUJ journalists at the Daily Telegraph have overwhelming voted for strike action. About 65% of the staff hacks at the Telegraph are NUJ members. I don't know why, but I think there's something mildly amsuing about Union strikes at the Telegraph.

Brown's Britain: You will all "volunteer"

Putting aside the obvious increases in the tax burden, the fiscal fraud of the PFI on the nations balance books, the CHancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown gave us all a hint of what the "Brown Future" will look like and it seems pretty clear that his three priorities for Government will be legislation legislation and legislation. IN a speech today to the Corporate & Social Responsibilty conference he outlined his vision thus:
A vision for our country to pioneer and be the first to achieve the day when it becomes the norm for:

* Every person to be asked to give some of their income to a charitable cause,;
* Every young person to volunteer some time while in education;
* Every employer has a volunteering scheme for their employees; and
* Every retired person considers helping others with their life's experience and skills.

Supported at each point by an enabling and empowering government that does what it can to make this possible.
The last sentence is the killer that sets the tone for what is to come. Greater social authoriarianism and increased interference. There will be very little that is voluntary in Brown vision of volunteering based on that last sentence.

In Brown's world the state will have an ever increased role in dictating our actions. To quote a wise man from Croydon, Brown is essentially advocating the "nationalisation of free time". God help us all.

Will we wash our hands of it?

According to an ICM poll for the Guardian, 45% of the public want immediate withdrawal of troops for Iraq, and 61% want them "home by Christmas". At the same time, a poll by Communicate Research for the Independent says that 62% want withdrawal "as soon as possible" whilst 72% simultaneously, and bizarrely, acknowledge that the country will descend into civil war when we leave.

For some reason I keep hearing Matthew 27:24 in my head now.

Government facing defeat over "Natwest Three" ammendments

The Government faces a potential defeat at the hands of rebels, the Tories and Lib Dems over safeguards introduced to the shameful "fast track extradition" agreement Britian holds with the US. Back in the summer, to much press coverage, the so-called Natwest Three were extradited for an alleged fraud against Natwest which Natwest says did not happen.

Under the one-sided extradition agreement that Britiain has, the US no longer has to provide prima facie evidence for extradition. This evening the Commons will vote on a Lords Ammendment to require a judge to only allow extradition if it is in the "interest of justice" for a trial to be held abroad.

The Labour rebels are being led by the firebrand socialist John McDonnell (he who wants to be leader) and it's fair to say that anti-americanism populism is far more likely a driver for him than anything else. This said, anything that might course the Government humiliation is surely a good thing?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Don't forget L. Ron Hubbard's maxim

There has been a little bit of coverage here and there today about the Church of Scientology opening a £24m centre in the heart of the Square Mile and how much you have to pay to get near Tom Cruise at Scientology events. Having been intrigued by Scientology whilst a student - I have a passing interest in theology generally - I had a glimpse at "Dianetics" some years ago. It was nonsense as far as I recall.

However, I am also always minded to remember that Scientology's founder, L Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer extraordinaire, is well known to have said (often in many variations), that the easiest "way to make a million dollars is to start a religion." He was right.

US bans vegemite

Much to the annoyance of Australians it appears that the USA has banned the importing of the Vegemite. Apparently, Vegemite contains folate, which is only allowed to be added to breads and cereals in the US, making it effectively illegal. More here.

Firefox 2.0 final release available

Firefox 2.0 final version is now available for download here.

Quote of the Day

A brilliant quote today from the Home Office Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, in a press release on GNN called Keeping communities safe:

"Protecting the public is at the heart of the Government's priorities, and ensuring the effective management of the most dangerous offenders is a key part of our agenda"

Truly astounding.

Polls are bad mmmkay... except my polls

This little comment gem in the Times made me chuckle this morning. Deborah Mattinson bemoans newspapers for commissioning polls to "manufacture headlines rather than uncover facts" and goes on to attack pollsters who "sell" their ideas.

She then proceeds to sell the poll on page 17 of the same paper as a shining example of a good poll, which just so happens to have been carried out by the polling organisation she is joint Chief Executive of. Go figure!

Undergraduates are not the sum of their parents' earning

This morning's Times is running a story which I'm sure I saw last week somewhere about proposals to lower the entrance requirement for university courses in circumstances where the applicant is poor.

The argument, as any good Leftie will tell you, is that if you're from a poor family then you won't have access to books (or computers in today's world) like the rich kids will. Therefore you are less likely to acheive at school.

This argument is of course complete nonsense and problematic on a number of levels. Firstly it's based on the rather dodgy assumption that affluent parents are good parents who support their children. Conversely it also assumes that parents from less affluent backgrounds will be bad parents and not wish to support their children.

Secondly, the argument punishes children on the basis of hereditary values. In effect, two children of equal intellectual ability, but from differing backgrounds, are expected to achieve different levels of attainment simply because of the circumstance of their birth. How odd that such an argument would be promulgated by those who supposedly hold an ideological opposition to hereditary privilege.

Gaining access to University should be about academic attainment and perhaps, if the institution chooses, an interview. Lowering entry levels on the basis of someone's background does not create equality it actually extenuates difference. It says to prospective undergraduates, "you are not you, you are merely the sum of your parents' earnings".

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ted Kennedy worked with KGB to oust Reagan?

It is just a low buzz at the moment, but I imagine that soon it may turn into a much louder noise in the US mainstream. In an interview with Cybercast News, Professor Paul Kengor has talked about his new book The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism which contains a letter from the Viktor Chebrikov, head of the KGB in 1983, to Yuri Andropov, General Secretary of the Soviet Union's Communist Party referring to contacts made by Senator Ted Kennedy.

The letter apparently shows that Ted Kennedy used Sen. John V. Tunney to contact the Soviet Union with a plan to help them counter Reagan's foreign policy and stop him from becoming re-elected. "Kennedy was afraid that Reagan was leading the world into a nuclear war... He hoped to counter Reagan's polices, and by extension hurt his re-election prospects."

There's no doubt about it, if it's true then it is of massive significance. For Senators Kennedy and Tunney to have approached the KGB during the middle of the Cold War with a mind to effecting the foreign policy of the USA is surely an act of complete, and unquestionable, treason. The story is potentially the October Surprise the Republicans have been waiting for.

Update: There are some who are speculating this is a smear and a fake, a la Zinoviev, I have however just found article of 3 years ago whcih refers to the same memos along with other relating to Senator Tunney and the KGB.

Supreme Nerd God

I can't deny that I hate online tests, but this is the second "nerd test" I've taken in the space of a week having been sent one by Croydonian and this morning seeing that Iain Dale is officially NOT a nerd. I on the other am a Supreme Nerd God. This is nothing to be ashamed of in my opinion, it just means that I can read your email!

I am nerdier than 97% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Buckinghamshire = Tory

This morning, whilst driving to the Vets I tuned in to Radio 4 and caught Tim Monotgomerie and John Bercow talking about the Conservative Party. Tim has already posted about what John Bercow said, but for those that won't listen he basically said that the grassroots of the party didn't matter and convincing the electorate was the important thing.

Whilst I think that John expressed his view poorly, I do understand his point, but Tim has asked a number of questions of John now as a result. The first of these is whether he won his "Buckinghamshire seat because of [his] innate qualities or because [he] stood on the Conservative platform?" The answer is neither.

John Bercow won his seat because he has "Conservative" next to his name on a ballot paper in Buckinghamshire. Whoever stands for the Tory Party in Bucks will win, period. As a Bucks boy I can tell you now that being Tory is in our blood.

I went to both a Secondary Modern and a Grammar in Bucks, and in the Sec Mod I was in a House called Burke. Yes they have House Systems in Bucks still, even in secondary moderns. The other houses were Disraeli, Hampden and Gladstone, all tories.

If you were to ever point at a county in the UK and say "Tory" it is Buckinghamshire. A quick look at Aylesbury Vale Disrict Council website shows that being Tory, for the most part, is a way of life. You can search by party members on the wesbite, the choices are Tory, Lib Dem and Indepedent. Nuff said.

The Valley is Revolting?

Just spotted the following over at the Last Boy Scout blog. It's not a good day to be a Charlton fan, and as it;s technically my "local team" I have to agree with him. Obviosuly when they play Everton it's a different matter, but really, it is time for Charlton fans to "Say No to Ian Dowie".

Coup plotter rails against Short for disloyalty?

Unbelievable I know, but one of the West Midlands Gordon Brown coup mafia, Khalid Mahmood, has spoken to the press about the disloyalty of Clare Short. You couldn't make it up I swear, Sion Simon will be doing a video next!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Murdoch's internet business robbed of £6 million in equipment

Last Monday Rupert Murdhoch's recently acquired Internet operation business, Easynet was robbed of massive high value network equipment. In a truly bizarre incident it appears that security guards assumed that because the robbers had swipe cards to enter the car park they were legitimate.

The result was that the blaggers quite literally walked in and the out unchallengeed with masses of Easynet's Tier One Internet technology kit. The initial estimates apparently value the loses at around £6 million.

Bomb the Blogosphere... quite literally

Ok, so it's in America, but I just spotted this posting on a left wing American blog. It's basically a clip from O'Reilly on Fox News where O'Reilly says "if I can get away with it, boy, I'd go in [the Blogosphere] with a hand grenade". Admittedly the US blogosphere is quite a vicious place, I wonder if the same will happen here or not?

Claire Short quits Labour Whip

Well there were threats to expel her from the Labour Party but Clare Short has decided to quit the Labour whip instead before they can get her.

What that means is that instead of having an irritating backbench brummie Labour MP popping up on telly every now and again, we're going to have an irritating backbench brummie Independent MP popping up on telly every now and again. Wonder when the book comes out?

That'll teach you not to lock the door

OJ Simpson to confess.... well sort of

Apparently, according to MSNBC via The National Enquirer, OJ Simpson has agreed to write a book about the double murder he was acquitted of. The book is apparently going to be a "hypothetical" titled "If I did it". Clearly he's skint.

The Complete Works of Darwin Online

Digitised and searchable for all, the Complete Works of Charles Darwin have gone online. According to the site there are over 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images from Darwin's publications and manuscripts, and new achrived material will be added over the coming months.

The "vast left-wing conspiracy" is coming

Yesterday, President Bush admitted that there were comparisons between Iraq today an the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. I'm not quite sure why he conceded this point as it's simply not true. For those unsure I suggest reading John Keegan's piece in today's Telegraph. Iraq is nothing like Vietnam with the exception that people put the word "war" after the name.

The problem though for President Bush is that by conceding this inaccurate point he has given the Democrats an absolute gift as the mid-term elections draw near. The Democrats, and especially it's activists online, have been trying desperately to draw a comparison between the two conflicts since the first day. They've now succeeded, through sheer repetition, of creating a truism that the President himself has, bizarrely, bought.

The question is what impact such a concession will have on not just the mid-term elections, but on the final two years of his presidency. The resurgence of the Democrats, especially around the issue of Iraq, may very well set the entire tone for what we see in the US between now and 2008. It seems likely that 2006-2008 will be a role-reversal replay of 1999-2001 sans cigars but with just as much viciousness.

As the political pendulum swings, it looks like it's the turn of the "vast left-wing conspiracy" to have it's "fun". The only losers though - as with last time - will be the American electorate.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Labour to bring back Direct-Grant Schools

In an interview withthe Independent, Lord Adonis has apparently said that the government plans to "re-establish a modern version of the direct grant schools". For anyone wondering, the Direct-Grant system was abolished by Labour in the 1970s. Essentially, they were independent selective fee charging schools which received government grants in return for admitting poorer pupils. As a policy to encourage social mobility goes it is, in my opinion, a good one. The Unions hate it as well, so that means it must be good!

Sensible tax proposals for a happier Dizzy

Proposal: Scrap VAT on all electrical and computing goods
Reason: I want cheap electrical and computing goods.
Impact: I will have lots of new toys.

Note to Ed Balls - this is not an official Conservative Party policy

Hat Tip: Croydonian for Ed Balls gag

It ain't actually broke. Let's not waste time thinking how to fix it

The other night on Vox Politix, the subject of party funding was discussed after the Lib Dem's top donor was sent down for fraud. Having pondered the question of what we should "do", and given that Hayden Phillips Interim Review has been published today I thought I'd post about it. Put it simply, I don't think we should do anything about party political funding. There might be a tweak here or there we could make, but this entire argument seems to be based on the classic "something must be done!" with the rather dodgy assumption that what ever can be done will inevitably be "better". In my view we have the "least worse" situation currently.

Unlike total state funding, it does not restrict the existence (or creation) of small parties. It is responsive to the private market in which parties must operate, for example in terms of paying for advertising etc (capping spending will surely restrict political parties if costs changes due to market changes?). It also has a number of pieced of legislation surrounding it which require disclosure and transparency of large donations (loan loophole excluded of course but effectively closed by virtue of media scrum on the issue). As far as I can tell the situation isn't particularly broken right now.

I wonder though, what the final cost of Hayden Phillips' review will be to the taxpayer?

Ed Balls is talking balls

Yesterday, as he ran around newsroom looking like an excited little school boy, Ed Balls kept on saying the following about the proposals that the Conservative Tax Commission had made: "These are not tax cuts for families, these are tax cuts for the few... this is really the same old Conservative Party."

However, under the proposals (not policies), the classic 2.4 child family, with only one earner on £15k will be paying half the amount of tax they pay today. How exactly is that not helping them?

The BBC's not so "secret" pronunciation guides

According to this morning's Telegraph a "secret guide that has helped generations of BBC newsreaders pronounce difficult words and odd-sounding names is to be made public for the first time." Now. I'm presuming they are talking about this, which is, indeed, a new publication.

However, the idea of BBC pronunciation is most certainly not some closely guarded secret as far as I can recall. Between being a shelf stacker and working in a bank, I worked in a University library, and BBC pronunciation dictionaries were commonplace. Must've had problem filling column space at the Telegraph today I guess (last week they printed the same story twice on opposite pages).

If it's written on the Internet it must be true!

"David Cameron uncut" says the headline of a posting on LabourHome followed by a rather intriguing opening paragraph: "A video clip you won't see on Webcameron is Dave scowling and wiping his hand after an encounter with one of Edinburgh's less fortunate."

Sadly it's a video clip you also won't see on LabourHome, or the original posting that is referenced there. Why won't you see it? Because... well... it doesn't exist. There is no Cameron Uncut video at all. In fact, all there is a post consisting of an unsubstantiated claim dripping in political bias and poorly linked causality.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Councils invited to apply for Internet Voting pilots

It would appear that the Department for Constitutional Tinkering has put out a prospectus to lcoal authorities inviting applicants to join an e-Voting/e-Counting pilot for the May 2007 elections. The scariest thing is that want to use the Internet. According to the prospectus, the proposals for "remote voting", are based on the success of voting on shows like X-Factor and that young people "expect similar processes to be available for statutory elections".

This is a very bad starting assumption to have where matters of security should be paramount. Just because a commercial talent competition uses Internet voting it doesn't necessarily follow that you should use it to decide your Government, even if you do think it will increase turnout. The talent contest can afford for there to be fraud, Government elections cannot.

It's not as if the Internet is some sort of enclosed space. It's not the local school hall with a ballot box. An online polling station is viewable, and accessible, to the entire planet. Anyone can reach it, legitimate user and illegitimate. I can hear the cries coming up now of "there will be safeguards!", "we'll have a firewall!", we shouldn't allow anyone to use those arguments.

There is no such thing as a secure system. Having a polling station on the Internet is analogous to putting a physical polling station in the lawless desert of Afghanistan. It will be exposed to not just those who might seriously want to affect the result but also to every script kiddie and bored hacker in the world who just happens to wander by.

From a purely security driven standpoint it is madness to propose using the Internet for voting in elections. Localised, non-network connected electronic voting is flawed already, but using the Internet takes those flaws to whole other level. I hope it remains just a pilot, but I fear on past experience it will be seized on and touted as a panacea to electoral turnout at the expense of democracy.

Health Secretary admits "we've done sod all for nine months"?

DoH press release: "Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has today set out progress made so far since the publication of the Our health, our care, our say white paper in January this year, and action needed to deliver on commitments made in the white paper."

Translation: "We wrote a White Paper nine months ago with some commitments in it. We've now produced a report explaining to you about how much work we havn't done in delivering those commitments."

Clearly, the Secretary of State for Health's bowel movements are far more regular than the work she and her department does.

To hell with submersion. This is subzero!

I must first pay homage to the nice man from Croydon for sending me the link to the following story. There really is nothing better than a mad geek story to liven up my morning. I apologise for anyone reading this that may be expecting politics, you'll get it later.

There is a thread over on this forum that deserves blogging about for it's ingenuity. You see, computers need to be cooled, they generate heat. Traditionally this can be acheived through copper heath sinks and fans on the silicon drawing the heat away, but there are other, more efficient, and, exciting ways to do it.

There's water cooling for a start, which many do go in for. This does of course have the worrying possibility of having water and electrics next to each other which can be... well... quite bad. The option is a next trick called submersion cooling which is where you just chuck your electronics into a non-electrical conductive oil, for example, canola oil. This is exactly what the glorious geek linked above did, but he also got hungry when he did it, I won't ruin his telling of the tale though. Click here.

If the linked tale were to appears on a Cool Wall like in TopGear it would undoubtedly be in the SubZero fridge with the Aston Martin.

The Citizendium Project

One of the 2001 founders of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has announced plans to launch a rival product that will apparently attempt to reduce the flaws within the original wikipedia which has lead to a number of criticisms over the past year. The plan is to "unseat Wikipedia as the go-to destination for general information online." It's called The Citizendium Project and it will begin life as a proessive fork of the current wikipedia project and content, and plans to have expert driven content.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Does she have a postcode?

A letter apparently sent to PersonnelToday

Dear Guru,

During my time as an HR bod, I have had many unfortunate dealings with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), but today's really does take the galette. [That's a French pastry, by the way.]

We have a number of staff members from Somalia, some of whom came to this country as refugees a few years ago. I was helping one to complete her CRB disclosure form, for which one has to provide addresses for the past five years. She said that she used to live under a tree in Somalia.

I wasn't quite sure how to put this on the form, so called the CRB for advice on the matter. When I told them that she didn't have a previous address as she used to live under a tree in Somalia, they promptly replied: "Well, did she have a postcode there?" In the end, we filled in the address as 'tree street' in Somalian.

So absurdly funny it can't be anything but true surely?

The network is changing

The next step in social new media technology is coming closer it seems. A few years ago, as Global Position Systems (GPS) were becoming cheaper and smaller, thereby more commonplace, it was always envisaged that at some point they would be a built in feature with mobile phone technology.

Back in August, Motorola released the A780 that does just that, and there is also chip development upstream at Texas Instruments that will see even more products come to market during the next few months.

Couple the idea of GPS in a phone, with an idea dreamt up a few years ago which saw the idea fo tagging "virtual" post-it notes to each of the six sides of a cubic metre of available space on the earth, and you have the recipe for yet another step change in social communications with wider society.

The idea is quite simple, you go to a restaurant somewhere, and you think it's awful. As you leave you leave a "virtual" post-it note at the GPS location you are standing in. Your service provider records the data and ensures that any of its customers can see the data when they pass with a certain distance of it.

Just to put this into perspective, it's been calculated that there are, roughly, one hundred billion billion cubic metres of available space for such a service in the world. Allowing for the fact that large parts of that area may well be uninhabited, and allowing then for multiple network providers in multiple countries holding different information, that's a hell of a lot of post-its and no trees killed.

Such a technology, which is currently under development in Scotland and Ireland) has the potential to create another inter-network of disparate information, some good, some bad, where the step between those point will be us with our phones rather than the bits on the copper and optic. We will be the network.

Richard Spring MP blog redesign

Newbie blogger Richard Springs MP has taken my advice and revamped his blog template here. much better to look at than the green thing it was before in my opinion. But then I do have a thing for black text on white background.

Which level of reality is Blunkett in?

When I read about David Blunkett allegedly telling the former Head of the Prison Service to use "machine guns" in order to retake a rioting prison I can't deny I had the Harry Enfield character's voice going round my head saying "that's blokes a nutta!"

Thankfully the other voices managed to cast Enfield back to the pit of my subconscious and I was able to read on and see Blunkett was maintaining that his diaries were an accurate account of the time.

With that I recalled Sir Humphrey Appleby's observation that any statement in a politician's memoir represents six levels of reality:
  1. What happened.
  2. What he believed happened.
  3. What he would have liked to have happened.
  4. What he wants to believe happened.
  5. What he wants other people to believe happened.
  6. What he wants other people to believe he believed happened.
Sharp cookie was Humphrey, much sharper than I could ever hope to be.

18 Doughty Street freedom under threat?

Last night, as I left 18 Doughty Street, there was a general conversation going on about how the Internet station was exempt from regulation. I'm not sure who said it (it may have been RecessMonkey), but I recall hearing the words "give it time".

Lo and behold in this monring's Times is an article about precisely such a topic. It seems there's draft EU directive called Television Without Frontiers which intends to regulate and require licensing for what the EU Media Commissionar calls “television-like service”. Apparently this include YouTube and personal websites.

Now I'm not exactly sure how that will work for YouTube sites given their hosting arrangements are not, as I understand it, based in the EU. As such just because a poster may be based in the EU it does not, by necessity, mean that the video was posted from that location. All seems rather unenforceable to me. The good news for YouTube users - maybe - is that the British government is against that aspect of the directive and is supposedly lobbying to get others to agree with it on a compromise.

Unfortunately, the compromise does not bode well for 18 Doughty Street though. Basically, the Government is proposing to redefine what constitutes "television". The approach, is going to be that if it looks like television and sounds like television then it is television. YouTube would not fall within this wide definition it seems because of it's "clip" nature.

Personally, I instantly repulse at any form of Internet regulation period. There's nothing more annoying than non-technologists trying to control what is, by it's very nature, a largely uncontrollable beast. The Net has established a virtualised world that is unique of national sovereignty and boundaries. Interference in that should be opposed at all cost.

I am rather annoyed with myself

Well what can I say, I'm a tad annoyed with myself for letting RecessMonkey wind me up, he did however buy me a beer afterwards. It was very hot in the studio and the chair was extremely uncomfortable, I had cramp by the end. I did get horribly ranty which kind of makes a mockery of Iain rather pleasant compliment quoted above, but such is life. Having said this my colleagues always found that quote amusing for precisely that reason. Have to roll with the punches and all that stuff.

Monday, October 16, 2006

HSE spandex sells for £2050?

A few moments ago the Government's eBay auction for a made-up spandex outfit belonging to a the drummer of a fake band which formed part of a £2.4m campaign by the Health Safety Executive closed.

Until the closing seconds of the auction, someone, coincidentally I'm sure, by the name of "hse-rules" was leading the bidding on £2000. The user had no buying history and just so happened to register the day after I originally wrote about the bizarre use of taxpayers money, and it was then highlighted by the Times.

However, as with all eBay auctions, there is alwasy someone on a keyboard waiting and watching for the last dying seconds to bid. As a result hse-rules was pipped to the post by macmorland with a winning bid of £2050. Like hse-rules, macmorland has no bidding history but registered back in August it seems. I imagine if macmorland is a real person he'll be upset when he finds out he's been conned.

The future of UK blogging?

In the past, blogger extraordinaire Iain Dale has commented on how he considered the UK to be maybe a year behind the US in terms of the potential impact of blogging. The question is though, as that impact grows will the anarchic anti-establishment nature of blogging, particularly policial blogging, be able to sustain itself?

In the US, where the influence of bloggers has been acknowledged, and very quickly embraced by the two main political parties, we're now seeing a number of bloggers who have, for many, "lost their integrity". Critics now see them as tools of the machine.

Personally I don't think that assessment is necessarily fair, after all, political bloggers are often obviously on one side or another. Sure, some may just be voters and not actively involved with a party and that will no doubt always be the case for many, but others are often members and activists in the real non-Internet world so it shouldn't be surprising for them to act in similar ways online.

In my view, as long as a blog remains a voluntary activity on the part of the blogger then their integrity remains intact, especially given interests are more often than not openly declared anyway. However if a blogger starts being paid to blog and fails to tell people then that is different matter.

Which leads me on to a site I've just found called PayPerPost which... errr... pays bloggers per post - assuming the post is advertising a product or linking to a particular website as per requests. This new method of product placement through the popular social media space is not particularly new in the US, but it is only just beginning to appear in the UK.

PayPerPost, along with others, has recently caused a bit of blowback in the US where bloggers have not declared that they're being paid to promote things. Whilst I'm not aware of this being massively popular in the UK yet, I wonder (if Iain is right about a year lag-time with the US), whether we shall start to see bloggers in the UK shortly using their blogs as a means of corporate advertising. The question is will the blogosphere react to it in the same manner it has in the US?

There's no such thing as a free lunch

There is nothing more amusing than seeing an offer of something that is "free", especially in relation to the internet. A cursory look at the details in supposedly "free broadband" offers show you that. Unsuprisingly the same rules apply in Government as well when something si said to be "free".

Today the Department of Communites and Local Government has announced that "Government Connect" - a project which allows local government to securely connect into central government - is "to be free for Local Authorities". The small print's in the "Notes for Editors" section which says:

5. What is GC free; subject to the applicable terms and conditions local authorities shall receive:

a) Free Connection to GCSx up to a maximum 2mb line.
b) Free running costs of the GCSx line until March 2008 or 12 months from installation whichever comes first.
c) Free Anti-virus on email for the first 1,000 GC users per local authority.

So that's 1000 users over a "maximum" 2meg leased line which has a limited free period? Can't imagine network performance will be particularly efficient on the free line which local authorities will have to start paying for at the end of the offer. Not to mention that it's taxpayers money that being used to pay for this initially and it will be errr... taxpayers money that will pay for it afterwards.

There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

Vox Politix tonight

Tonight I shall be appearing on Iain Dale's Vox Politix alongside other guests Alex Hilton of Recess Monkey and LabourHome fame, and LibDem blogger Stephen Tall. I shan't be wearing a shirt and tie because I don't do that.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Prescott informs NEC of his retirement as an MP?

According to a normally reliable source, John Prescott will "soon" be making an announcement to his constituency party about his intention not to contest his Hull-East seat at the next election. I'm no expert on the internal machinations of the Labour Party, but allegedly the NEC has been informed as is required, and a decision has been made for there to be an "open selection" for the seat. That means both men and women can apply but, according to my source, means "men only" in reality.

I imagine, if it's true, there will be a bit of scramble for the seat. After all, Prescott has a majority of over 12,000 so it's a dream for any wannabe or ex-MPs looking for a tasty sinecure. Possible names include the former Shipley MP, Chris Leslie; Ed Balls given he's lost his battle against boundary changes; Stephen Twigg, desperately seeking purpose no doubt; or possibly Patrick Diamond, former Special Advisor to Milburn and Blair. One other possibility I'm told is local councillor, Gary Wareing (who?).

Personally I think they should find someone with the surname Johnson to keep Alan and Diana in the neighbouring constituencies company.

Quote of the Day

"Zionist Neo-nazis of the BBC" - A ranting comment poster on MPAC UK.

Council asks people to snitch on they're neighbours

What is it with all these local Councils and they're "innovative" ideas for dealing with rubbish collections? We've had bugs in wheelie bins to weigh rubbish, arbitrary limits on collections leaving rotting rubbish on streets, calls to withdraw the wheelie bin bugs and make them voluntary, and now we have a Council asking people to report their neighbours for not recycling.

In the case of the last on that list, it's reported the Council has set up a hotline and has delivered leaflets which say: "Do you know of someone in your road who is not doing their bit? Do you feel strongly enough about it to let us help them? Then contact us free on 0800 7310323 and a recycling sheriff will be there to assist."

There's something horribly Orwellian about this, not only because it's asking people to snitch on behalf of political masters but the language the leaflet chooses to use. For whilst the use of fines is made clear by the Council, the leaflet attempts to portray those it intends to punish as merely needing "help". The language cynically masks the punitive reality of the policy.

For anyone wondering, it's a Liberal Democrat Council.

History Matters - Mass Blog

On Tuesday the History Matters campaign is calling for as many people to participate in a mass one-day diary blog. The plan is to then hold the archive created at the British Library. Declare your support here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A bizarre argument from Alex Hilton

Just spotted this post by LabourHome founder Alex Hilton which surprised me a little. It's about the Sion Simon video and Hilton is defending it. What's I found surprising though was the rather bizarre argument he uses. Essentially he says that if one is outraged, or perhaps just mildly annoyed, about the video, and one is also a Tory then the annoyance and outrage is melodramatic. Why is it melodramatic? Well because of the level of unemployment in the 1980s of course!

Seriously, being annoyed that an MP would make a video in which he pimped out someone's wife and suggested that the viewer take one of their children too is melodramatic if you're a Tory, because of the Tory Administration of the 1980s. It makes me wonder if Alex Hilton has ever heard of just plain decent manners and decorum.

The idea that the video can be defended on the grounds that those annoyed with it are responsible for things that happened 20 years ago and thereby don't have the right to be annoyed is - well - bollocks.

Ming Campbell says Jenny Tonge is "antisemitic"

Ming Campbell has apparently sent a letter of "stinging rebuke" to Jenny Tonge over her remarks at a Lib Dem conference fringe meeting last month. As some may recall the LibDem peer said, "the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they have probably got a certain grip on our party."

Campbell said in a press release that he "acted with the maximum powers at my disposal at this time. I have written to Baroness Tonge dissociating myself and the party from her deeply offensive remarks and what I believe to be their clear antisemitic connotations. I have asked for a review of the disciplinary powers available to the Liberal Democrat leaders in both the House of Lords and Commons."

Now, as Croydonian has pointed out this woman "has form" on antisemitism so it's high time someone called her on it. The question is will Campbell have the courage to withdraw the whip from her in the Lords?

Friday, October 13, 2006

The total surveillance society creeps ever closer

The other month I wrote about the growth of RFID tags after the "bugs in wheelie bin" scare. At the time I said that these little tracking devices were springing up all over the place and these past two weeks have seen two news stories about some new uses of the little blighters.

In Spain, RFID microchipping, akin to the microchiping that is done on pets, is being taken up voluntarily in some bars and clubs. Apparently many clubbers are embracing the idea of being microchipped. Presumably they are drunk when they shove their arm forward for the chip injection.

Today it's been reported that the EU is expanding and trialing the use of RFID tags on all incoming flight passengers through Hungary. The tags will apparently be able to track the wearers to within a metre, and it;s being done on rather dubious grounds of increasing security from terrorism. How long before the same argument is deployed for wearing RFID tags wherever we go I wonder?

MPs take on HP Sauce

An Early Day Motion has been put down yesterday by MP for Solihull, Lorely Burt calling on the House to condemn Heinz for it's continued use of a Houses of Parliament image on the bottles given it had closed up production in the UK and moved where business is cheaper. THE EDM read as follows:

That this House deplores the retention of the picture of the House of Commons on HP sauce labels following the decision by new owners Heinz Plc to remove production from the historic Aston site to Holland, making the 125 employees redundant; believes that Heinz should not exploit this symbol of Britishness to sell a product no longer made in the United Kingdom; and calls upon the Administration Committee to remove HP sauce from all House dining areas until the jobs are reinstated or the House of Commons picture is removed from the label.

Of course this has nothing to do with the Aston site being in her constitutency, it's a matter of principle in upholding Britishness. I wonder if she'll apply the same principle in reverse and put down an EDM demanding cars assembled at Longbridge be called Chinese because that is where the parts are actually made?

Why are we cautioning child sex offenders?

This morning, the Children's Minister Parmjit Dhanda has published a new document for consultation on the regulations controlling the infamous List 99 upon which child sex offenders are placed and barred from working with kids. Up until now the list has comprised of those people convicted of sexual offences, but the draft regulations shift the contents of List 99 to also include anyone over 18 who has been cautioned for a sexual offence against a child.

Given that a caution implies one has accepted guilt of an offence you can see where they might be coming from on that. However, I've found myself asking why an adult who accepts they are guilty of a sexual offence would only receive a caution rather than be prosecuted? The Department of Education press release seems to be protraying this as a strengthening of List 99, but surely if we're cautioning child sex offenders that actually implies a weakening of the law. Doesn't it?

I'd buy that for a dollar!

Given the penchant for nicking foreign CEOs of Internet betting forms it shojld come as know surprise that many of the betting forms are shutting down or selling their US operations. SportingBet has apparently donje this today and sold it's US business for $1 (54p) to private investors. According to CEO the company "received cash consideration of $1 for the shares and related assets of the U.S. operations, and has discharged excess liabilities amounting to approximately $13.2 million." Who will be next I wonder?

UKIPMoan launches

Just spotted a new site in my referrers called UKIPMoan who's tag-line says it's "the shamelessly hypocritical, self-promoting voice of Charred Knobble". I shall of course be adding it to the blog links shortly. I imagine Chad may get a little upset with it. C'est la vie!

The real security threat in Iraq is balkanisation

This morning there are two stories about Iraq in the news. The first is the head of the British army, General Sir Richard Dannat's interview with the Daily Mail and his defence of that interview to the BBC this morning. In the Daily Mail interview, he said that "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems". That's not a particularly unusal view for a commanding offcier to take in a warzone really, however it falls far short of the manner in which the much of the anti-war mainstream have portrayed the comment. For them, it is indicative of a call for withdrawal as soon as possible.

However, whilst there's the General's point about troop presence exacerbating problems, the second story about Iraq may have much further consequences for British troops and Iraq in general. Yesterday, the Iraqi Parliament has passed a federalism bill which set in motion the process for the semi-autonomous regions. The legislation proposes the effective balkanisation of Iraq and the weakening of Iraqi territorial sovereignty. The border argument surrounding the legislation - which Croydonian has dilligently researched here may well be the precursor to much worse consequences. By legislating for the separation and break-up of Iraq into small constituent parts, the potential of full-scale civil war increases far more than our mere presence could ever manage.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Derek and Clive Monkey

Geniuses both.

Parliamentary phishing scam?

Not particularly sure of the details, but at the conference thingy today I heard that there's been a phishing scam that targetted parliametary email addresses, including former "e-Minister" Alun Michael.

Whilst Alun is apparently quite savvy on these things aqnd so saw the scam for what it was, I do worry how many people may have fallen for it. Apparently the Police investigation will become a case study for the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group. I wonder if the result of the case study will be fed into the ID cards debate given the security considerations etc etc?

Parliament and the Internet

Off to Portcullis House this morning for Parliament and the Internet. Should be an interesting day with a presentation of Windows Vista (as if I havn't seen and played with that already!), and then some speeches and workshop discussions on the future of the industry.

Why capitalism is wonderful

You'd never get an idea like this without capitalism! Buy a fence window for your mutt here.

That Iraqi "death toll" figure

Yesterday, the Lancet published a report stating that the number of people killed in Iraq "since the invasion" was 650,000. The figure was arrived at by a linear extrapolation calculated from a random sampling of 1,800 Iraqi households in 47 areas across the country.

I don't there is much more to say than the last sentence really. Calculating the number of people killed by taking a random sampling data is not exactky sound practice. What's more the extrapolation claims to be "since" the invasion, even if it were right it does not necessarily mean the deaths are "because" of the invasion.

The Lancet's report has however been picked up on by the likes of MPAC and will be milked for every last drop.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tory MP joins the blogosphere

It seems that Richard Spring, the MP for West Suffolk, has decided to enter the fray and set up a blog. Obviously, as has been discussed on VoxPolitix, an MP starting up a blog can be dangerous. The trick is whether you're able to keep it updated and keep it fresh without coming across as someone that is just peddling the party line rather than their own viewpoint. Posting opinions online is easy, posting opinions online when it can impact your political career takes courage.

I wish Richard Springs all the best, and shall be adding him to the links below just as soon as I submit this post. My one piece of advice to Richard is change the template asap, it lacks the uniqueness that is present on your official site.

The book I bought today...

It's my birthday, so as a treat to myself I bought a book. The book I chose, after much deliberation was "The Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report". I couldn't believe it when I saw it but it's basically a graphic novel (what we used to call comic books) which takes the original "The 9/11 Commission Report" and makes a non-fiction Government report come alive.

I can't deny I mocked the idea this morning when I mentioned it to people, but having taken the time to sit down with it I have to say it's a brilliant and utterly engaging account of probably the most significant historical event in contemporary history.

Given the recent comments from historians such as David Starkey regarding the over-emphasis in schools of technique at the expense of knowledge about historical events, perhaps graphical novels could be used as means of engaging pupils with the event narratives within history?