Friday, November 30, 2007

Was it illegal to rip the cheque up?

There is a rather interesting look at the laws about donations over on Iain's blog. It appears that by ripping up the cheque from David Abrahams proxy (as has been reported) then the donation was never technically returned under the law and so should have been registered anyway. Yes a little bit legally pedantic, but still, the law is the law is the law right?

More here

Is Huhne paying attention to the news?

I have just read this post by Fraser Nelson on the Coffee House where he notes that Chris Huhne has been playing a blinder on "Donorgate" and that it might help him in his leadership challenge for the Lib Dems. I am however a little concerned that Huhne may be paying too little attention to some of the details of the story about Labour's dodgy donation, meanwhile Clegg has just disappeared.

The small detail that Huhne should be paying attention to relates to the law and registering donations for political activity and/or loans, credit card usage etc that might be spent in the process of that political activity. In fact, he was even on Newsnight last night when they were discussing the possible that Harriet Harman had broken rules about registering her lonas, donations etc properly.

I bring this up simply because Chris Huhne has been campaigning now for well over 30 days and neither of them have yet to register a single penny with the Electoral Commission. Sure, getting carried away with kicking the Government is understandable, but you'd think he'd be making sure he wasn't going to find himself in the same situation in a few months time wouldn't you?

N.B. Clegg hasn't registered anything either.

It must have been love... but it's over now!

Made in October.

Money, money, money!

Labour advertise for Downing Street administrator

The closing date is today, but the Labour Party are advertising for an Administrator at the No.10 Political Office. The full job description outlines the following roles (with additional crib notes from yours truly).

1. Administer and coordinate the diary and correspondence of the Political Secretary - ensuring that all meetings with dodgy donors are not recored in case of Police investigation
2. Maintain accurate and up to date records of contacts with the political office - except where the accurate and up to date records might incriminate the boss.
3. Assisting with the organisation and logistics of Political Office events, receptions and other activities - other activities may include soliciting money from people that wish to remain anonymous as well as typing out letters of thanks to said donors.
4. Arranging meetings as necessary and responding to callers and contacts with the political office - telling Her Majesty's Press Corp to 'sod off', 'no comment', 'won't you please leave us alone', 'nothin' to do with us Guvnor' and 'that Harriet Harman's a bitch we hope she dies in her own bile.'
5. Coordinate between the political office, the PM’s constituency office and the Labour Party head office as required - making sure that there is always plausible denial that the boss didn't know about any criminal activity.
6. Assisting with the logistical and travel arrangements of the Political Secretary - arranging secure safe houses where staff and the boss can go to ground when the brown stuff (no pun intended) hits the proverbial fan.

And the one they missed!
7: Full Criminal Records Bureau checks will be carried out on all applicants as a lack of criminal record is not ideal for this role. Dodgy associates with money may however be sufficient for success.

HMRC advertises for security experts

Interesting job advert for "IT Security Risk Consultants", working in a Government department, mostly in Essex at the location of HMRC offices.

So much for security procedures being in place and just not being followed. If they're having to adevrtise for expertise it sounds more like they know they're procedures are totally knackered or more likely they don't know their arses from their elbows.

When will a photo appear?

It is surely just a matter of time now isn't it before a photo of David Abrahams with Gordon Brown appears? The photo itself would not be conclusive but it would certainly raise even more questions about who knew him, when they knew him, and how much they knew about him. If anyone has a photo do send me a copy.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peter Hain fails to register donation from Mendelsohn?

It's being reported on the newswire that Peter Hain has failed to register a donation of £5000 from, of all people, Jon Mendelsohn?!?! You couldn't make this up. Was it Mendelsohn's money? Or was Mendelsohn himself a conduit?

Brown didn't even need a war to hit rock bottom

A rather brilliant comparison over at Shane Greer's blog that notes that the Telegraph poll by YouGov makes terrible reading for Gordon 'Mr Bean' Brown.

The poll should that only 23% of the population are satisfied with Gordon 'Mr Bean' Brown. Meanwhile, across the pond, 33% of Americans are satisfied with Bush's performance and he's been in the job for nearly eight years and been engaged in an unpopular war for four.

Stalin to Mr Bean in weeks indeed. That's gotta hurt!

The kicking and screaming strategy

So let's get this straight. Chris Leslie says that they didn't want the Brown leadership campaign to go near Janet Kidd's money with a bargepole because they knew it was dodgy. Then Harriet Harman says that she only went to Janet Kidd after Chris Leslie sent her in that direction (which he has admitted)?

Sounds to me like a "If I'm going down you're coming with me" strategy is unfolding doesn't it? Harman knows that her days are numbered and she's going to make sure that the dirt she has on the others gets thrown at the same time with the hope that it will stick - and the way it looks it probably will. Something tells me Chris Leslie won't be winning the selection for Prescott's seat now.

Another Friend from the North East?

Say hello to Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for Durham north. I've been wondering all day if he knows David Abrahams or not. What I do know is that he signed Harriet Harman's nominations paper. Maybe she should have invited him out to dinner in Westminster and seen if he knew who that cheque for £5000 was really from? They could have found a booth somewhere so no one saw them and whispered.

Update: Fixed typos and appalling sentence construction

EXCLUSIVE: Team Harman closes ranks as the back stabbing begins?

As Guido has noted the Evening Standard has said - despite legal threats - that it is sticking with it's story that Jon Mendelsohn was involved in secret donation cover-ups. According to the Standard it considers its source excellent.

This source wouldn't be one of Harriet Harman's parliamentary supporters spotted in Westminster last night at Shepherd's Restaurant with the journalist from the Evening Standard that wrote the story, would it?

Nah... I'm sure it's just a coincidence! They wouldn't start stooping that low and stabbing each other in the back just to save their own skins? Would they?

Some more Friends in the North (East)

Property developers seem to be cropping up every where at the moment don't they? Take Sterling Capitol Group PLC who have many different limited company subsidiaries across Yorkshire, and up into the North East doing regeneration work in partnership with Government agencies.

For example, Sterling Capitol Group PLC are currently redeveloping Capitol Park Goole in partnership with Yorkshire Forward, who are the regional development quango that reports directly into the Government. Just for reference it should be noted that Sterling Capitol have given donations to the Labour Party of £170,000 in the past three years.

Electoral Commission screenshot. Click for large version

One other thing, the company Chairman is Bob Murray CBE, former chairman of Sunderland Football Club, and also a personal Labour donor. He's made two donations, the first of £25,000 in November 2002, and the second of £100,000 in February 2003. He received his CBE in the New Years Honours list announced in December 2002. Former Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong was a regular guest of Murray's at Sunderland matches.

Electoral Commission screenshot. Click for large version

MoD slammed by Select Committee

The Ministry of Defence has been slammed today in a report from Select Committee on Public Accounts that looks at it's management of the Defence estate. The report concluded that over 40% of family accomodation and more than half of single living accomodation is substandard.

The report criticised the department's ability to understand its own requirement saying it "has no effective way of knowing where funding is needed most." At the same time it appears that in 2006-07 the department cancelled maintenance work to its estate to the value of £13.5 million because of budget cuts, but then proceeded to resurface tennis courts and create sport pitches.

Priorities huh?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Prison Overcrowding: The Solution

From the pages of Hansard. Boris goes for the youth vote?

Click Image for Large Version

"Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual caner, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts getting stoned in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences — you will get stoned with a water bong for five years."

A Brownwash

CBI or WWF speech? I don't know!

Proof that donations don't always buy you influence

Remember how back in September Saatchi & Saatchi won the gig to do Labour's advertising? They beat off competition for the contract from the agency that masterminded Blair's campaign's, Beattie McGuinness Bungay. Back in May of this year, Beattie McGuinness Bungay gave donations to the Labour Party of £6,500.

So you see? Money doesn't always buy you influence after all (even if the word 'bung' is in your name). Sometimes you just lose. Never let it be said that I only ever attack the Labour Party, sometimes I don't, like now. Instead I just make poor jokes.

Who gains from an easier planning system?

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Hazel Blears announced changes to the planning system to make planning procedures faster and apparently make local people more powerful.

This will be achieved by creating a new quango to oversee planning which will be unaccountable to the electorate, as well as central Government ministers setting national priorities for what infrastructure should be built.

I wonder what Blears' personal donor of £10,0000, Brian Scowcroft, will think of these new proposals? Come to think of it, I wonder whether the other many property developers that have pumped money into the Labour Party (openly or secretly) will be pleased with the proposed relaxation (or should I say centralisation)?

Nuclear decommissioning specialist donates to Labour Party

Whilst all those other scandals have been going on, few people have really made a comment on the nuclear energy question. Part of Gordon's "fightback" speech at the CBI was about it. The Government has a view already on this, which is build more of them. Almost all their press releases have spoken about consultation and there have been allegations that said consulting was rigged.

As noted previously here, Brown's Government has some rather strong links into the nuclear power industry. His brother Andrew, is the Head of Media Relations at EDF, whilst Yvette Cooper's father (Ed Balls' father-in-law) is a non-executive director of the Government quango called the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority which has an interest in there being things to decommission.

What is also interesting though is that Brownite MP, and former Labour Party Chairman, Iain McCartney is a senior adviser to the management team of the Fluor Corporation on a salary of £110,000 to £115,000. Fluor is a company from Texas, who specialise in, amongst other things, nuclear and environmental remediation and public-private partnerships outside of the US.

It's worth noting as well, that in April this year, the Labour Party registered a £5,100 from Fluor, and as some might remember back in January the Government announced plans to use PFI for "nuclear new build decommissioning and waste management". Fluor have used a company called Sovereign Strategy for most of their PR. Sovereign Strategy is owned by Alan Donnelly, former leader of the Labour group in the European Parliament. Since 2002 the company has given £118,448 to the Labour Party.

Not that I'm suggesting for one moment that any of these things are connected of course.

Name that Scandal!

Forget the actualities of the last scandal that is engulfing the Labour Party and Brown's Government. There is a much more important question that needs to be answered. What do we call it? This point has been raised by the Times sketch writer Ann Trenemen today. 'Cash for no Honours?' was one of her suggestions.

So here's the deal, it's competition time. Let's name this latest scandal and winner will get...erm... a blank cheque from Mickey Mouse made of rubber made out for £25,000 that you could either try to cash or perhaps give to the Labour Party. I was thinking 'Cyphergate' maybe. I considered 'HotpointGate' but I think Hotpoint - who clearly make marvellous washing machines -might not be best pleased with their name being dragged through the Brown stuff.

You never know, your entry could end up being recorded in the anals [sic] of British political history if it's really good, although don't bet on it! Over to you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Donor denies knowledge and says she's a Tory

Channel 4 News has just run a piece with a doorstep interview with Janet Dunn, who was used by Abraham to donate £25,000 on January 31, 2003. She said that she has no knoweldge of the donation and said, whilst standing with her husband, "we have always been Conservative supporters".

That changes the allegations a little doesn't it? If Janet Dunn is telling the truth the implication is that someone used her name without her permission to make an illegal donation to the Labour Party. So we don't just have an illegal donation, we have potential identity theft too.

Update: Quick update, apparently the husband made a statement last night saying that Abraham's had called them and told them to check their bank statements. It seems Abrahams paid £25K into their account and they gave him a blank but signed cheque for the amount but they had no idea what it was all about.

Dealing with tax credit complaints costs over £6 million a year?

I always knew that that the tax credit system was in a bit of mess, but I have to admit I was staggered to learn that the cost of just handling complaints is over £6 million each year. It seems the Treasury don't actually know the exact figure, but the Treasury minister, Jane Kennedy, said in Parliament that the "cost of dealing with complaints in the Tax Credit Office between 1 November 2006 and 31 October 2007 was around £6.5 million".

If you're wondering why it's not an exact figure that is because "it is not possible to provide costs for other areas of HMRC that might also handle complaints relating to tax credits". So basically the Treasury thinks it might be even more. That's an incompetent system, and incompetent accounting of how much the mess is costing all thrown into one!

Wonder how much that seat cost?

The Mirror's video content has pointed something of interest out this morning. Is that David Abrahams sitting in the front row at Blair's final farewall consitituency speech in Sedgefield on the day he left Downing Street? An invite only event for family, friends, close activists, colleagues and donors?

Why yes it is!

The easy way to an unaffordable mortgage

During the last ten years, as Brown has continued to remind us, we;ve had low interest rates. As a result we've seen lots more people leaping on to the housing ladder in order to take advantage. In the case of Northern Rock and some others we also saw irresponsible lending to people who should never have been given mortgages.

How did these people get mortgages? Well for a start there is self-certification where you just say "I promise that I earn this much" and if the banks is stupid they lend you money and then probably repossess at some later date. However, I've just learnt about something else that has probably helped out a bit for those not self-certing.

A website that will create "genuine" payslips for you (at a price) with whatever salary you fancy. They can also provide you with a "copy" of your P60. Just tell them how much you want earn and bingo!

Now you might think this is illegal, but as far as I can tell it's only fraud if you actually use them for such purposes. Mind you, given the current mess that HMRC seems to be I bet you could probably get away with submitting fake P60's to them and they wouldn't notice.

Some other sites include Office Slaves, Payslips 4 You, and Wage Slips 4 U. The last one has a brilliant line that says "whilst we will NEVER condone any form of fraud; we pride ourselves on adopting a pragmatic view in preparing replacement wage slips / P60’s." So it's not about fraud, it's about pragmatism. Hmmmm. How long before we have our own credit crunch?

Monday, November 26, 2007

The number one issue concerning Americans

Onion News Network
Hat Tip: Crossed Pond

Crazy new poll in the Independent

So tomorrow there is a poll in the Independent by Communicate Research that gives the Conservatives their biggest leads for quite literally years of 13%. The figure that is causing shock and conseternation though is the Labour one which has them on just 27%. The headlines figures are Conservatives 40%, Labour 27%, Lib Dems 18%.

Perosnally I never trust the polls because I always remember 1992. What people tell the pollster and what they actually end up doing seem to be two very different things. However, for amusement and interest I trhough the figures into Electoral Calculus. Apparently, if it happened that way the Conservatives would ahve a 64 majority. More interesting still was that Alistair Darling, Charkles Clarke, John Hutton and Jon Cruddas amongst many others would all lose thier seats.

General Secretary of the Labour Party resigns

Peter Watt, the Genertal Secretary of the Labour Party has resigned over the latest funding scandal. Apparently he knew that the money had been donated through intermediaries but didn't know it was against the law the Labour Party created.

Class warfare in Southend West?

What a strange motion by the Tory MP for Southend West, David Amess (also signed by Bob Russell, Lib Dem MP for Colchester). Amess has called on the FA to reassess footballers salaries, managers salaries, and also the ticket prices.
That this House calls on the Football Association to re-examine the organisation of the country's national sport, paying particular regard to the salaries of football players and their managers; and further calls on the Association to look at the ticket prices for Premier League and international matches on the basis of affordability and value for money.
Here's the thing though, do these two both want to kill off their local clubs? Colchester and Southend United both charge around £15 to £20 for tickets. Your average Premiership side charges about double that.

So if they're price is brought down, and you pay more for the higher leagues because of quality of football, then clubs like Southend and Colchester will have to reduce their prices and struggle to operate.

Frankly, politicians should keep their noses out of the business of football. To see a TOry MP calling for interventions on salaries and prices is even stranger.

Prif Weinidog Brown's website

The other week I found it mildly amusing that the Foreign Office Minister, Meg Munn, had told Parliament that the FCO didn't know how many people in its department spoke Welsh, and didn't record such things. What amused me most was that other departments seemed to know the answer, and that the FCO seemed like the sort of place where you would ask, as a matter of course, what languages people spoke.

Anyhow, it seems to me like Meg Munn might have been slightly mistaken. You see, last week, Mark Hoban asked the Prime Minister who did the translated versions of the Number 10 website and how much they cost, to which the answer was, "Translation services are provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the costs for which are met from existing budgets."

The perceptive amongst you that click the link to Number 10 might notice that there is a flag with a dragon on it which takes you to the Welsh language version of the site. So like I say, looks like Megg Munn was mistaken, someone, somewhere in the FCO knows who speaks Welsh!

Have to admit though that there is something quite amusing about how Prime Minister in Welsh is "Prif Weinidog"*. Seems quite an apt title really.
Hat Tip: Croydonian for spotting that.

Lib Dem leadership race: Free of coverage and errrr... free?

The Lib Dem leadership is hotting up to the finish right now as everyone knows. Ok, I'm lying, it's not hotting up at all and no one really cares either way, however, something that I've been getting confused by is how the two candidates are paying for their campaigns, or more correctly who is giving them financial backing.

Last time round in 2006, Chris Huhne managed to raise nearly £30,000 in donations for his bid. Now I guess it's possible he might have some of that leftover, but it surprises me that there are no entries at the Electoral Commission or on the Register of Members' Interests for donations to him.

The same is true of Nick Clegg. He officially launched his campaign on October 19th so you'd think that by November 26th there might be something on the register or with the Commission, but there's nothing, zip, diddly-squat.

Could it be that both men are fighting for the leadership using their own wallets? Doesn't say a lot for the faith of their endorsements if none are chucking a few quid there way to fight the good fight does it? Or perhaps they've just been so busy that both of them haven't filled the forms in yet?

The One Trick Pony Prime Minister

Why is Brown giving a largely economic speech to the CBI as if he were still Chancellor of the Exchequer? What this says about Alistair Darling's position I'm not sure. However, using a popular culture analogy, Simon Cowell on X Factor - along with the other judges - always go on about how the winners of such competitions must be able to perform outside of their "comfort zone".

Can Brown do it? I think not. He's a one trick pony who's comfort zone is boring economic speeches. He clearly doesn't have a vision which is why he can't do the "vision thing". There are just lots of statistics and buzz words like "world class".

Update: How amusing, he's just basically said that the welfare system is knackered and doesn't work. So what has he been doing for the last ten years?

Update II: He's going to enshrine "training rights" for people that are in work. So he's just extended Government fingers into the management of companies and their staff.

UN says tasers are torture

Apparently the UN have decided that tasers are a form of torture. The UN's Committee against Torture said that "[t]he use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture.... In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events".

Next week the Committee is due to report on handcuffs and fists and is expected to conclude that they can cause acute pain and so constitute a form of torture. A new campaign called "Make Fists and Handcuffs History" is expected shortly.

Ben Brogan's Lonely Planet Hotel Guide

Imperial Royale, Uganda
Brogan Verdict: "$400 a night for no hot water, no mattresses, backed up drains and a random supply of bog roll". No wonder the title of his post begins with the words "Brown returns".

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The REAL Steve Mclaren Press Conference

Contains naughty words but it made me laugh.

SFGate implements clever comment banning feature

Back when I was still posting on Bulletin Board systems there was a feature I used to love called "Ignore". You could set your profile up so that any posts by a person that annoyed you simply wouldn't appear. They could thus flame you all they liked and your blood pressure remained low as a result (unless someone quoted them and then you knew).

The feature effectively put the power in the hands of users to ban those they didn't like without telling them. This feature seems to have appeared in an automated type at the lefty San Francisco Chronicle (although they are banning users for everyone). The SFGate website apparently, now has a system that automatically deletes the comments of banned users but still makes the comment viewable to the banned user so they don't know they've been banned.

Note the comment by "JimJams" on the right. This shows up when logged in as that user but when not logged in the comment is deleted.

Evidently there are some people up in arms about this, mostly on the Right because SFGate is on the Left. Personally I think it's a great feature because if you actively ban someone and tell them then they are far more likely to try and get around the ban. By making them think they are still commenting you avoid this (at least for a while anyway).

Of course, there will be those that say this is an affront to freedom of speech. However, the commentators freedom of speech in my view hasn't really been infringed. They are still free to say what they want, they've just been restricted from saying it on someone else's property.

Put it like this. In the real world, if a company banned you from standing in their car park and shouting off your mouth about them, would that be considered an oppression of freedom of speech? Of course it wouldn't, because freedom of speech is about being free to say something, it's not about where you say something.

The banned users are perfectly free to go and start a website up that chronicles all the comments they make that are being deleted after all, or to "expose" SFGate's site administration policies that they dislike as the above link has. Now some might say SFGate's policy is dishonest because it gives someone the impression that they are still involved in a discussion thread when they're not.

I don't buy that line though because if the same user knew they had been deleted they'd still be up in arms about it claiming censorship and all the other expected arguments about how the site is dishonest and doesn't want open discussion. Basically, when it comes to comments you can't win because someone will always scream about being deleted and/or oppressed in some way. The fact that they remain free to moan about it publicly seems to be lost on them.

Update: Just wanted to point out that these sort of things are inevitable now that media organisations are taking comments and thus turning what were static news sites into forums. Anyone that's been part of a forum will know that the "censorship argument" turns up every six months or so. Eventually people will just start linking to previous discussions about it instead of wasting their time writing the same arguments over and over again.

Archbishop attacks American "imperialism"

Whilst in the last post I said that politicians in the UK don't do religion, the same does not happen in reverse and religious men most certainly do do politics. Thus we have the Archbishop of Canterbury reported in the Sunday Times giving an interview to a Muslim magazine and pushing the all too typical anti-American line about how the US is a nasty imperial nation. As usual the word imperialism is not used of course and instead we have the notion of it being the "one global hegemonic power" instead.

The problem with the Archbishop's neo-marxist analysis of geopolitics is that as with almost every one on the Left who makes this argument it ignores the nature of power in the global arena. Thus America, because it is the top dog, is, by default, the cause of all the world's trouble, and in fact, Western modernity as a whole comes under attack.

Before one blindly accepts the Chomskian world view of America though it's worth remembering this. If America wasn't the "one global hegemonic power" someone else would be, and the alternatives are much much worse. The idea that if we could just bring America down a peg or two the world would become a giant group hug of love is absurd.

Countries like, China and Russia know this very well, but it serves their purposes to feed the idea that a single hegemonic power is a bad thing, but be under no illusion that if they could replace the US as top dog they'd be more than happy too, and the world would be a much worse place if it happened.

That bloke's a nutter!

This morning's Sunday Telegraph has one of the best headlines ever today with "Tony Blair: Mention God and you're a 'nutter'". In the next episode of the BBC's Blair Years he apparently says,
"It's difficult if you talk about religious faith in our political system... If you are in the American political system or others then you can talk about religious faith and people say 'yes, that's fair enough' and it is something they respond to quite naturally.

"You talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter. I mean … you may go off and sit in the corner and … commune with the man upstairs and then come back and say 'right, I've been told the answer and that's it'."
Blair is absolutely right about the difference between the US and UK, and if you think about it for a second it's actually quite odd. In the US, you have a nation state that constitutionally separated the church by removing the right of Congress to make laws which established any religion. As a result religion and politics sit side by side quite happily, and does anyone doubt that the US is a majority Christian country? There is no legally established religion, but there is an established religion.

Meanwhile in the UK, we have a nation the state that continues to have the church intrinsically linked to it, which seems to have led to an unspoken convention that talking about God is strictly off limits for politicians. Effectively the disestablishment in the US Constitution appears to have created a greater dominance of religion over political power, whilst maintaining the system that the US Constitution sought to end has had the opposite effect in the UK.

Or maybe Britain is just a nation of part-time atheists?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Strange search referrers

I've had some pretty weird referrer searches from Google since I started this blog. One that sticks out in my mind was someone who was obviously looking for something 'different' in Scotland who landed on a Big Brother opening night post of mine. I had used the word transvestite and Glasgow in the post because one of the housemates was errrr... a transvestite from Glasgow.

This evening I've learned that someone out there has been searching for "white hart lane niggers" on Google, and, rather bizarrely I come top. Ironically this is again the fault of Big Brother, because it was in a post about the racism incident in the last series and someone mentioned White Hart Lane in my comments.

I'm not alone in being in the results though. The Guardian's Comment is Free comes fourth, just ahead of some sort of Eastern script based language site. What I'm wondering is why someone was searching for that specific search term?

Tonight on Radio Four

Should you be lucky enough to listen to the iPM show on BBC Radio 4 this evening between 5.30 and 6 you may hear yours truly in a short discussion with Lynne Featherstone MP about politician's use of the Internet and blogs. This is assuming they manage to edit it into five minutes as the actual discussion lasted eleven. The full thing will be available as a podcast.

I'm sure that I said something stupid but that's life I guess. I'm posting via email from my phone so there are no links but I will edit it later. Hopefully my robust defence of anonymous comments that took the form of 'don't read them' will get past the cutting room floor. I will do a post tomorrow expanding on what I said a bit.

Update: Here's is the full 11 minutes.

How to make 'viral' videos

If you've ever wondered how you can make a video on YouTube become a most viewed video and go "viral" then you should definitely have a read of this article titled "The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos" on TechCrunch. I can imagine that those people utterly obsessed with sockpuppets will have a major issue with some of the strategies outlined in the article.

For example, creating multiple identities on YouTube and starting an argument with yourself in the comments to generate controversy. Embedding the video on forums and doing the same thing there with multiple identities. Thing is, who really cares if the video is good?

It's worth noting that these sort of techniques are used with blogs too and Google index optimisation. Getting a blog high up in the Google index is most often acheived by having many fake advert type blogs that link to the relevant content. This is how some bloggers manage to push themselves up the index in rapid time.
From TechCrunch via Jag

The not so lucky button?

Are you one of the 1% of Google users that press "I'm Feeling Lucky" instead of viewing all search results? If you, it's been estimated that you are helping Google to lose about $110 million of revenue each year because you're not being delivered the sponsored links and ads in the search result.

Should you be an anti-capitalist socialist who hates large corporations and how they don't share the wealth with the proletariat you now have a way to "stick it to the man". Obviously you need to be careful what you search for or you might end up at a porn site automatically.

330,000 security holes on child database

This morning's Times is reporting a further loss of six CDs containing conversations between a tax credit claimant and HMRC. The CDs, like the much more serious loss of data records, were lost in the internal TNT mail system. It's starting to sound like that internal mail system is another weak point in what is fast becoming clear systematic problems doesn't it?

More amusing for me in the Times story is the fact that Ed Balls ordered an immediate security review into ContactPoint, the child database where the Government will be able to monitor all children. What will be on ContactPoint? Nothing major really, just the name, address, gender, and date of birth of every child in the country. Plus all the same details for their parents, as well as who their doctor is and what school they go too.

It's OK though, it's only got 330,000 users so the chance of your children's personal data leaking to unauthorised people is next to zero!

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's the same old theme since 1916

It seems I tend to post music videos on Friday, so here is today's. The Cranberries, Zombie from 1994 (I think). A seminal rock song with a poignant message that not everyone in Northern Ireland was interested in the nonsense. There is something eerily accurate about the lyrics, "and the violence causes silence. We must be mistaken"

Brown's 'baseball cap' moment

I see that Guido noted this a while a go, but I was busy working and have just got home and watched Channel 4 News so didn't know until I saw it there. I was however - I must admit - totally stunned when I saw Brown handing out as prizes a copy of his own book, Courage, to African children. Frankly, it was reminiscent of that moment when William Hague wore a baseball cap with the word "Hague" blazoned across it on a log flume ride.

You know the sort of moment right? You know, like when you watch The Office? That moment where you just think "nooooooooooooooooooooooo!" (in slow motion) and simultaneously experience the emotion of hilarity but also cringe at the same time (if you're really lucky it actually hurts mentally in your stomach). It was most definitely that kind of moment.

Seriously, who in their right mind in Downing Street said "you know what Prime Minister, I think it would be great if you gave these kids a copy of your book as a prize". More importantly why did no one strip off instantly, scream like the All Blacks and run round the table and then calmly say "it would be better if you did that"?

Where was the media advisor standing up and saying, in the most deadpan of voices, "or we could just ask Iain Hislop if he wants us to write his jokes for him to save him the bother". I mean seriously, did no one think that it might just be a tad egotistical (and sad) for the PM to give his own books away to kids in a developing country?

Were sales really that bad?

David Blunkett should shut up

When the news about the lost disc with 25 million child benefit records initially broke one of my first and instant reactions was that the incident, far from brining ID cards into question would actually be used as a justification for them. This didn't take long to happen and today the former Home Secretary David Blunkett has written to the Times arguing the case in a letter riddled with fallacy and flawed analysis.

The first problem comes when he says that those using the loss of data to argue against ID cards is a "diversion by those who have never wanted ID cards anyway, and who do not appear to have ever understood them". Wrong. The diversion Mr Blunkett is your attempt to dismiss their argument by playing the associative circumstantial man rather than the ball.

Whether someone has always been against ID cards or not is irrelevant when assessing the validity of their argument. Suggesting so is intellectually bankrupt. However it is when we get to his actual "argument" where it all falls apart for Blunkett. He says,
"The database is simply about identity — not about the plethora of information that already rests elsewhere. It will actually make it easier to protect your identity, including in circumstances such as these where information has gone missing. This is because it gives an absolutely robust form of identification that stops other people being able to pretend that they are you, simply because they’ve got hold of some of your personal details. It will allow a proper check to be made between your own biometric and that held on the database, giving greater protection"
Dear Lord! There are least two glaring problems with this argument. Firstly there is the false demarcation being made between ID cards and the HMRC issue on the basis of the content of the database. They are not separate issues at all, because at the core of the HMRC issue (and the core of the ID database) is the weakest point of any system, the user.

The ID database remains a simple database that has human beings entering data on to it. Errors in entry do and will occur as they do with any large-scale system. Data corruption and the consequent data cleansing required are standard operating practices of managing such information systems that contain millions of records.

The point to stress here is what happens to someone's "identity" when data corruption occurs because of entry mistakes? Maintenance mistakes? Hardware failure and subsequent recovery of data? Network outages that mean querying is not possible? Or simply stupid people making stupid requests? Remember that if your biometric data is exposed you cannot apply for a new set.

What happens when you discover that your identity is not protected on the database because as far as the database is concerned - due to cock-up, not conspiracy - you either don't exist or it says you are someone else? What happens when you go to the bank and they say "sorry Sir, you are trying to commit fraud, the Government says you’re lying we’re calling the Police"?

Blunkett's argument here is essentially predicated on the notion that database integrity is 100% guaranteed and that not enough people understand this, he willfuklly ignores the human factor in his consideration. Mr Blunkett, you won't find a DBA or SysAdmin in the world worth their salt that will give you a 100% integrity guarantee on a system. The potentiality of 'garbage in garbage out' alone is enough to ensure that without even considering the other practical realities of administering such things.

The second, and frankly unbelievable claim that Blunkett has made is his use of the phrase "absolutey robust" in relation to biometrics. Absolutely robust? Those are very bold words given the last point made about managing data integrity, but worse still they perfectly illustrate why it is not those arguing against ID cards who don't "understand" but rather the former Home Secretary and his ilk.

The argument is based upon the assumption that biometric data is impossible to workaround forever and ever in the world, the universe and time. Biometric data, for Blunkett, is impervious to fraud. It is impossible to pretend to be someone else ever because of this. This is not just nonsense; it is, to coin Bentham, "nonsense on stilts".

Personally I’m not quite sure if the assumption is dangerous or stupid in equal measure. The notion that because something is considered not possible now it will ultimately remain so is utterly bizarre. That's a bit like a SysAdmin saying "it's impossible to hack my server". It is very simple, nothing that is devised by man cannot equally be worked around by another man who desires to do so.

Whilst it may be science fiction one only has to see the film Gattaca to realise that in a world where biometrics are everything, people will find simple, and frankly elegant ways of getting around the system. Let us not forget that biometric passports have already been hacked. You don't need to fake biometrics to get around the current biometric systems, and when the time comes and someone wants to enough, they will.

Given all the above, I'm not really sure I can pass much more comment on Blunkett's closing words which says,
"That so few people understand this is the problem that government faces in persuading people that such a system will be better then any other, precisely because it will be robust, efficient and verifiable."
Actually I lied, I can pass comment. Mr Blunkett, it is not those arguing against ID cards (for which there are clearly strong political argument too about autonomy of one’s own information) that do not understand the problem. It is you. Basically you're talking bollocks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Best Cartoon of the Day

When I saw this cartoon in the Times this morning I couldn't help but giggle out loud.

Didn't they do well!

Capita have always found themselves facing lots of stick for all the Government IT projects they have done. Private Eye like to call them Crapita. Then they had problems when their former boss Rod Aldridge quit during the so-called "loans for peerages" affair he said made spurious claims about him and his donations to the Labour Party.

The thing is, Capita must have done something right surely? If they hadn't why would the Department of Education and Skills have paid them £405,522,084 from 2004 to 2006 for their work? Must have been worth it surely?

How did they tell the banks?

I've just read a copy of the letter than anyone who's data has been lost will be receiving on the HMRC website. These paragraphs stuck out for me.
This data includes your and your children’s names and dates of birth, your address, your National Insurance number and, where relevant, the details of the bank or building society account into which your Child Benefit is or was paid.

If you are paid through a bank or building society, they are aware of this matter. They are acting on this information, and assure us that they have appropriate safeguards in place to protect you.
How did HMRC do this? Well, I guess if they have sort codes they can query to sort by them and then extract that data to a file. Then they could manipulate the file to sort and separate into further files containing the data for each individual bank.

To be honest, getting the data sorted would be easy. The really big question is how did they get the data to the banks. It wasn't on a CD by courier was it?

Update: Unless of course they simple told every bank. Watch any account that receives any payment from us, which would cover lots of other things too presumably.

The American genius of Thanksgiving

How can you not respect a nation clever enough to schedule a national holiday at which the family gets together and has all the arguments to clear the air in advance of Christmas four weeks later?

It's sheer genius, it really is.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Seppos I know.

Two more discs missing?

According to the Mail another twop discs are missing from the HMRC offices that never arrived in London. I'm having trouble getting my head round the other bit they've reported which suggests that the password for the discs may have been in the same package.

I actually saw someone making a joke on a security mailing list last night about that and thought "no one would ever be that stupid would they?" I hope the Mail is wrong.

How many new teachers' personal data has been sent abroad?

Way back in the mists of time that were September 2006 I wrote about the Government's Teaching and Development Agency For Schools and the fact that if you sign up to become a teacher you agree to the Government's "privacy policy". That "privacy policy" still states,
3.4 - We may also find it necessary to transfer your personal information to third parties located outside the European Economic Area (EEA). This may happen where companies who process data on behalf of TDA are based outside of the EEA. The data protection and other laws of these countries may not be as comprehensive as those in the UK or the EU - in these instances we take rigorous steps to ensure an adequate level of protection is given to your information.
I thought it might be pertinent to mention it again in light of recent news. As I said the first time, they're essentially saying, "we accept no responsibilty for anyone that sells your data after we've given it to them for free and asked them to promise not to tell anyone".

What should I ask the blog monitors next?

Back in August, Iain Dale noticed an Financial Times report that said the Goevrnment's Central Office of Information was setting up a blog monitoring team. Being ever so curious about the veracity of it all I decided to send a Freedom of Information request saying,
Please provide copies of briefing summaries for the past three months made by the COI Media Monitoring Unit which reference the political blog (Iain Dale)
I also sent one requesting copies of breifing summaries referncing Guido as well. For pure vanity reasons I asked about myself as well as I needed to have my ego shattered. However the CoI hasn't provided any meaningful information in response, they said,
I am writing to advise you that the Department has decided not to disclose the information you requested on 25th October 2007.

The Media Monitoring Unit does not normally monitor blogs. Any extracts from blogs that may from time to time be picked up are already freely available in the public domain, and as a result are exempt from disclosure under Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act - Information accessible by other means.
Great response huh? They've rather cleverly exploited a whole in my question and assumed that I want the content of what might have come from a blog rather than simply wanting to know when blogs might have been included in summaries. Guess I should change the question, any suggestions greatly welcomed.

PDF response

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ever heard of ITIL?

If you work in IT, especially if it is large scale, you will probably have heard of ITIL. If not here's a quick explanation. It stands for IT Infrastructure Library, and it's aligned with ISO 20000 and is a registered trademark of our very own Office of Government Commerce who drew it up. It consists of standard practices, or shall we say "procedures" that should be followed in relation to IT systems and service. It has a very large section about something known as change management.

In the Commons at lunchtime, Gordon Brown said in relation to the HMRC data loss issue that "this was a failure in implementing the proper procedures....only authorised staff must be allowed access to protectively marked information; information must not be removed without appropriate authorisation".

According to this evening's news the data copy was actually authorised by a senior civil servant not the junior that did the work. OK you might say, still a procedural failure right? But what about the change management procedures?

Was there a Change Request raised via the proper ITIL procedure for the data extract? Apparently there was. Was the change request authorised by the change manager and relevant "business owners"? Rumour has it, it was. Did the junior do the work then give the data over to the senior as requested and per the correct change management procedures? Effectively yes.

So.... was there really "a failure in implementing proper procedures" in relation to the junior that carried out the work? Or did he do everything by the book when it was the pages inside the book that were the problem? I'm sure PriceWaterhouse Cooper will find out!

Is this just the beginning of more security breaches going public?

Fraser Nelson over the Coffee Hosue has hit the nail on the head it seems. The Government just don't seem to get how serious this failure in security with our data has been. Working in the IT industry I have spoken to quite a few people today about it, and amongst the incredulous reactions to such incompetence there have also been stories from others who have worked on, or know people that have worked in Government.

I think this big bang of a story could just be the beginning. Over the coming days and possibly weeks I will not be the least bit surprised if we hear of other security breaches, bad practice and other systems that have design flaws. We should not forget that it is not just central Government that holds our data. Local authorities hold, for example, bank details for Council Tax reasons. Marked electoral registers, the Land Registry, the tax credit system, local authroity benefit systems, there are numerous localised systems out there where problems could be going on too.

Frankly, the level and complexity of the IT infrastructure in the country that contains data on our lives, and the manner in which it is held and managed, are all potential ticking timebombs. If central Government can be so lax with 25 million records, what's the likelihood that a temp in your local Council office isn't equally cavalier?

The Internet always provides....

a good gag!
Click image for larger version

Two CD-R's - Have data on them - some sort of database

What an eBay Auction!
Hat Tip: Devils Kitchen

Is Charlie Whelan on crack?

From this morning's Daily Telegraph.
"This was no Black Wednesday, after which millions of people really suffered as a result of Tory economic incompetence. In the current volatile political climate, the polls will go up and down regularly, but, when people go to put their cross on the ballot paper, what was essentially a Westminster story will not matter a jot. Not for the first time, the Westminster village will be seen to be completely out of touch with reality."
Whatever he is smoking I want some. There is absolutely no way this is a 'Westminster Village' affair. This is a catastrophic failure of security with people's personal data on a historic scale.

It has far reaching implications for the integrity of information security across the entire Government IT infrastructure and has shattered any confidence that people can have that the Government can protect their data. We need a full scale review of any system that contains public data, at central and local level.
Hat Tip: Coffee House

Read this and wonder.....

This link is to a document the Government released in Septemebr 2006 called "Information sharing vision statement". It outlines the Government's stated aim of sharing your data across Whitehall and opening up numerous security holes in the process. Not only that they want to share the data down from Whitehall to local authroity level as well. It also contains a section on "Exploring greater infromation sharing with the private sector".

It was a bad idea then but few politicians made comment on it. Will any of them say anything now?

The morning papers

Via Conservative

An inquiry should review every Government system

The scale of yesterdays admission by the Government of a catastrophic failure of basic security procedures is, as you'd expect, the talk of the papers this morning. The Government's defensive line on the incident however do not stand up to any serious scrutiny.

1: The disk was password protected but the data was not encrypted - this is sheer bloody insanity. How was the disc password protected for a start? Are we talking about a password protected zip file? Crackable in seconds and you can bet it's a dictionary word too? If it's not a zip file then what operating system dependencies are there on the protection? If the disc was entered into a machine running Linux or OSX then what happens?

2: It was a 'junior official' that did it - what is a junior official doing have read access to that data? How did they get the data? Did they extract it themselves? If so what does this say about the system's internal policy procedures that someone who should not have done this had access to production data? Who else, and how many more junior officials have this level of access to this sort of data across Government? Why do they have CD burners available to them? Remember that the Government has a vision to share our data across the whole of Whitehall.

3: The second disc was sent by registered post and arrived - whether it arrived or not is irrelevant, as is using registered post. Once the data leaves your hands into a third party then it is an unknown quantity. The trust relationship should be explicity known throughout transfer. In other words you use an encrypted tunnel and transfer electronically. This reduces the risk down to the security condition of the two systems talking to each other which is far more manageable that handing it to a bloody courier who could copy the disc enroute.

4: It is not believed the data is in the wrong hands - it doesn't matter what you believe. The minute you lose data and the potentiality of compromise is known you assume that the worst possible scenario is the case. Period. You can hope of course, but trying to reassure people that your hope is a certainty is politiking at best and dishonest at worst.

5: There will be a thorough review of what happened - this is the second time in a month that HMRC have been found to be transferring secure data by stupidly insecure means. This does not look like an isolated incident it looks like standard bloody practice. A review may bring this to light, but should it do so how many more security breaches of this kind have occured that we do not know about? Security by obscurity is not a sound model for anyone especially Government.

There are also other very serious questions that need to be raised across Government systems now. This is not just about the data on the discs. The first and foremost is whether any data of financial significance is stored on actual databases in an unencrypted format.

In the private sector, companies are heavily governed by regulations on this matter and have to meet all manner of compliancy testing else face PR hell and massive penalty fines. If the company is listed on a US market they have to meet Sarbanes-Oxley compliance which is even stricter too and can result in jail time for directors. Are Government systems anywhere close to compliance?

It is not a thorough review of this incident that is needed, there needs to be an inquiry that looks at every single Government system - central, regional and local - that holds data about the public and ensuing legislation to restore any semblace of confidence in the systems.

This doesn't mean an inquiry that asks some mandarin if something is secure. It means a full security review of architecture designs with added penetration testing. Any legislation should include a requirement for security reviews throughout new system design phases as well as regular penetration testing through the lifcycle of a project. These reviews and testing should become a part of standard operating practice. Any legacy systems found to be failing should be taken offline immediately.

What's more, there should be an Information Security Committee drawn up that oversees Government systems. This should be a body that places information security at its core, not political expedience, and it should be independent of Government. It should be made up of people that actually know about this subject and are not afraid to say "No" and block a system from going live or take a system offline when it fails to meet the required standards. There should be a ministerial level role specifically for information security and legislation should ensure that the buck stops at that position.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Will Daring heed Brown's words?

In resoonse to a written question yesterday Gordon Brown said,
"Ministers are accountable for the decisions and actions of their Departments"
HMRC is the responsibility of HM Treasury. So in the Prime Minister's officially stated view Alistair Darling is accountable for the loss of 15 million child beneift records. Will the words be followed? Or will the bunker bunk down some more?

N.B. I have to go and catch a train now, so will not be about for the statement from Darling.

15 million tax records stolen? Will Darling resign?

Sky News is reporting that the chairman of HM Revenue and Customs, Paul Gray, has resigned. Sky News has said that 7.5 million tax records have been lost/stolen/accessed/compromised. The Chancellor Alistair Darling will be making a statement at 3.30pm.

Hopefully it will be his resignation.

Update: The word "breaches" has been used now suggesting that there has been more than one failure. Who wants to bet that they will argue that if we just had ID cards it would protect against such security breaches? This is on top of the 15,000 records lost by a courier the other week.

Update !!: The BBC has just reported the figure as 15 million and it's child benefit recipient confidential data. So that's my wife's bank details then. Idiots. Ministers have known for nearly two weeks and they're sure that they're not in the "wrong hands" but they don't know where they are. First rule of information security, if you don't know how badly you have been compromised then you assume the worst.

As Drudge would say.


Why not ban paper bags?

So yesterday Gordon Brown pledged to ban the plastic bag from Britain, and as you'd expect the Independent is very happy. The question I wonder is what they will replace them with? The two options on the table are reusable bags or paper bags (like they already use across much of America).

The problem with the first is that we already have reusable bags. They're called plastic bags. What's more, the assumption that we will all go to the supermarket and remember to take our bags is a bit weak. Sure, for a once a week shop perhaps we will, but what about the times we pop in because we suddenly remember we need something?

As for paper bags, it is worth remembering this. To produce a paper bag takes around five times the BTU (or joules if you're a metric nut) as it does to produce a plastic one. Virgin pulp is more often used than recycled pulp for strength purposes, so most new bags come from newly cut down trees which is... errr... bad for the environment right?

Then of course there is the pollution issue. Have you ever been near a paper mill? It stinks. That's because in order to produce paper products they have to use a vast number of chemcial pollutants that pump untold crap into the air as well as chemcial waste into the water supply (which is then cleaned out of course before we have to drink it). It's estimated that the air and water pollution of paper production vastly outstrips that of plastic production.

Of course, paper bags can be recycled, but then so can plastic bags. The advantage of plastic bag recycling is that you can make new plastic bags from old one. You can't do that with paper because the more you recycle the faster the quality of the paper as well its strength degrades. Buy some recycled toilet roll for someone with hemerroids and ask them to compare it with Andrex if you don't believe me.

What about the energy cost of recycling paper versus plastic? Well a paper bag will require around 1000 times the BTU as plastic bag will to recycle. The energy efficiency cost in recycling paper bags is around 90% more than that of plastic as a result.

"But what about degradability!" I hear you cry. What about it? Paper bags and plastic bags are both degradable. Modern polymers have a lifetime of about 18 months in landfill, and they take up less space than paper bags do. Of course, paper is recycled more than plastic, so this point could be said to be moot.

The long and short of it seems to be this. Plastic bags are less damaging to the environment in total energy and pollution costs than paper ones. They don't require deforestation to make; they don't require increased air and water pollution in their production; their landfill cost is less; and their recycle energy usage is more efficient.

Instead of banning them - which sounds ever so green because they are "man made" and thus seem unnatural to the paper equivalent that comes from the earth - perhaps we should be sending out a stronger message that people either (a) reuse them, or (b) recycle them. Whilst we're at it, why don't we ban paper bags instead, they're the real killers of the planet surely?

Monday, November 19, 2007

A sight you rarely see.....

A microphone that is too low for even Hazel Blears?

Watch the video here. She even bends down to it at the beginning.

Can we take a virtual Foreign Secretary seriously?

Look right. There is embracing technology and there is just being bloody silly. Last week, David Miliband, like his other minister friends embracing technology gave a speech on Second Life at somewhere called Diplomacy Island which is apparently the home of the Virtual Embassy for the Maldives. The video of the speech has been posted on the Foreign office YouTube channel, but I warn you before you press play that he is as wooden as ever.

Now some people might say this is a brilliant way of engaging people. To use a virtual conference to put out a message to a much wider audience. Digital Trends for example argued this point saying "[b]y using Second Life, the minsters [sic] were able to reach a much wider range of the earth's population to talk about the impact climate change is having on everyone."

Errrrr..... reality check! I know that might be difficult given the whole "virtual" nature of Second Life, but the idea that by broadcasting a speech on Second Life you're reaching the wider planet's population is universally idiotic. Currently - right this moment - there are 40,114 people logged into Second Life.

That is less than the population of the Cayman Islands, and the vast majority of them will probably be having virtual sex or wandering around bored looking for someone to have virtual sex with. They won't be thinking about saving the planet. In fact, the whole point of Second Life is to get away from the real world and real life problems, not replicate them.

As a Times leader noted last week, "anyone on Second Life needs to get a life".

Plaid Cymru MPs ordered to pay back misused public funds

Three naughty Plaid Cymru MPs have been ordered to pay back the money they spent from the Communications Allowances for party political campiagning. During the Welsh Assembly election campaign Elfyn Llwyd, Adam Price and Hywel Williams all took out adverts in the Daily Post, a daily paid-for paper circulating in North Wales.

They paid for the adverts using their Communication Allowance, and whilst they did seek guidance on the content, the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges concluded that "the advice given to them, in good faith, was based on incomplete information". The report went on to say that,
"Taken overall, the fact that the advertisements appeared virtually simultaneously; the proximity of publication to the Welsh Assembly elections; the prominent use of party logos; and the extensive nature of the reports' distribution beyond the Members' own constituencies, in our view constitutes campaigning, and therefore breaches paragraph 6.1.1. of the Green Book.
As a result the Committee has said that all three MPs must pay back the cost of the advert. I wonder if Ruth Kelly will face the same punishment for her misuse of public funds for party political purposes?

Copies of the Plaid avderts can be seen here.

Parental choice doesn't exist

If there's one thing you hear about as a parent it's something called 'choice'. Apparently when it comes to education all of us who have bred and successfully spawned are entitled to choice about education for our kids. I am yet to reach the time where secondary school beckons but the idea that there is choice in primary education, at least where I live, is nonsense.

Last week, the better half and I went to the local school which has a nursery attached. We had to meet the head and make sure that Mini-Me had his name down for said nursery. Now, whilst we live within spitting distance of the school - you can see it from our front door - we learn that we are by no means guaranteed a place. The head infomred us that they have to follow guidelines about intake that is not just about location, gender diversity plays a part.

Now, call me a nerdy engineering type if you must, but what happens if during the year of one offsprings birth there are more girls or more boys born? Do they start turning people away based on the number of XX and XY chromosones in the population? Or do they start offering the parents of three year old from miles way places and then chastise them for doing the school run?

On the point of choice though, the only choice we actually have is where to apply. The decision about where we go is not ours at all. However, it got even more silly when I asked about the school entry system from nursery. It does not follow that attending the nursery at the school 100 yards from my front door will mean that the nipper gets a place at the school.

In fact we have to apply again. When we do that though it is not, as with the nursery ,the school that decides. No. Instead some bureaucrat takes the decision in the local education authority, presumably based on "key indicators" and some other management-speak nonsense.

If we get the boy into the nursery and we really want him to go to the school at the same place, because he has friends there, and we liek the teachers, we can still find ourselves told, for arbitrary reasons, that we have to send him to another school further away. So where's the choice in that exactly?

Here be health and safety nonsense

Without a doubt this has to be a contender for silliest story of the month if true. According to a tiny column filler in the Times, the author Lindsey Gardiner has said that her publishing editors objected to a scene in one her books where a dragons toasted marshmallows by using the flames from its nose on the grounds that 'it looked dangerous and went against health and safety'.

Update: Also in the Telegraph.
Another of her novels, When Poppy and Max Grow Up, initially included a scene where a little boy climbed a ladder, but that too was changed.

"They didn't allow Max to be on a ladder because they thought it was precarious. But when I changed it, I had him standing on a pile of three paint cans, which is much more dangerous, and they didn't have a problem with that," she said.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The End of Books..... again?

Apparently Amazon will tomorrow unveil what they believe is the iPod for book reading. The Kindle. It's yet another attempt to, if you pardon the pun, rekindle the idea of the eBook reader which has been around for some time really.

Personally I remain sceptical about whether something like this can be a "killer app".

Press Releases versus Ministerial Statements?

If you read this or this press release you are left, at least on first impression, that the Government is spending lots of money on education, more than ever before indeed, and that they're just simply marvelous, wonderful, and generally on the side of the angels all round. However, on Thursday in a ministerial statement, Ed Balls told Parliament that, (emphasis mine),
Subject to Parliamentary approval of any necessary Supplementary Estimate, the Department for Children, Schools and Families Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) will be decreased by £14,106,193,000 from £64,665,498,000 to £50,559,305,000, the administration cost budget will be decreased by £45,221,000 from £237,698,000 to £192,477,000. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (OFSTED) which has a separate Estimate and DEL, will be increased by £16,790,000 from £205,000,000 to £221,790,000 the administration cost budget will be increased by £485,000 from £28,470,000 to £28,955,000.
For an explanation of Departmental Spending Limits see here. So basically we have DCSF press releases being put out saying how much the Government is spending using words like "boost", "additional" and "further funding", whilst in Parliament, Ed Balls announces that the amount of money in total that he has to spend has been cut by approximately £14.15 billion? How does that work then?

"I'm gonna predict....."

"that Scotland will win".
Whoops! Hope he keeps his mouth shut later this week.

Chimes of Totalitarianism II

It did make me chuckle when I read Iain's post that linked to this conspiracy loon who is also historically illiterate. It wasn't the rantings and raving of the nutter that I found amusing as such. It was more the fact the blogger in question claims to be against fascism and totalitarianism and yet uses a picture Che Guevara in his profile.

His blog is called "Chimes of Freedom II" and yet he has the image of a totalitarian murderer who supported the Soviet Union a state that killed over 40 million of its own people. What is it with extreme Trotskyite types that makes them apparently "hate" fascism, and yet then actively ignore the most vicious totalitarians in history?

YouTube Islamist arrested over death threat to London councillor

According to Christian Today the Tablighi Jamaat memebr behind a video on YoUTube that made an implicit death threat to a local Christian Peoples Alliance councillor and his family has been arrested. No doubt the London Mayor Ken Livingstone will still continue to say that Tablighi Jamaat are a lovely organisation and that anyone who questions their suitability is a raging racist who refuse to embrace diversity and his cultural relativism.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Headline of the Month

From the Yorkshire Evening Post:

Donkey love in old folk's home

Bet the local journo giggled when they wrote that!

Another broken manifesto pledge

Another day goes by and another broken manifesto pledge occurs. It's taken a little while to get there with this one but the Government has finally bitten the bullet it seems. In 2005 the Labour Manifesto said this
"Not all problems need a 999 response, so a single phone number
staffed by police, local councils and other local services will be available across the country to deal with anti-social behaviour and other non-emergency problems."
The Government pressed ahead after the election launching phase one of the project known as 101. Phase One's official start up and set-up cost was £7.47 million, although other money has been spent by Police forces preparing for phase two so the overall figure is certainly higher.

The first signs of problems for the project came just over a year ago when the Telegraph revealed a leaked email that suggested the Government was quietly shelving the service. The Government responded saying it was still under review, and that review appears to have come to an end with the five trial areas being told that their funding will end in March.

How many more manifesto pledges will end in failure with millions of pounds wasted I wonder?

Writing the Greenback off is just silly

The front page of the Independent is positively hilarious this morning. The headline is: "The dollar's decline: from symbol of hegemony to shunned currency". The article is basically a tub-thumping opinion piece on the brilliance of the Euro because the US dollar is experiencing a downturn. I'm not sure how many times I've read these types of stories in the past few years, but whenever the dollar has had a slide there is talk, usually from the pro-euro press in the UK, about how it represents the end of the Greenback's global hegemony and the beginning of the Euro's rise to dominance.

There's no doubt that the US dollar is not a currency that you would take out of choice right now. However, as I alreayd said, there have been a number of stories over the past number of years where there is talk of the USD losing its reserve currency status. I even thought it might be possible at first, then I got with reality. Sure, the US economy is reeling from the credit crunch. I see the Indy has also mentioned the hip hop star using Euros in his latest music video. Who'd have thought an anti-establishment US rapper would be so... errr... anti-establishment.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Taking a leak in a china cup

What an amusing story. Apparently there has been "controversy" over an advert (pictured) run in Belgian to promote Eurstar trips to London. Thing is, if you read it, there has only been one complaint. Personally I don't have a problem with the advert at all, I thought it was quite amusing.

I imagine the people that might get upset about it are those who equate the English flag and skinheads to racist white power English nationalism. Such a reductionist view of people based upon appearance would of course be rather ironic given that the dislike of the aforementioned group stems from rejecting their reductionist views of people based on appearance.

When it comes to promotion of a country then stereotypes will almost always come in to play in advertising. A foreign ad exec thinking of England will most likely go, Monarchy, bowlers hats (posh), mohawk punks and skins (proles). Now look at the advert again. China tea cup on a nice antique table (posh). Skinhead taking a leak in it (prole).

Clearly it's a social masterpiece!