Monday, December 26, 2005

Baffled of Rayleigh

Thanks to the encouragement of Martin , Tristan James and Ryan I am attempting to set up a Wordpress blog on 1&1.

Well, so far I've upgraded my 1&1 account to their business package and downloaded Wordpress from the web. I've set up a database at 1&1 through "MySQL Administration", , set up a wp-config.php with the info from MySQL Administration and downloaded a trial version of Ipswitch ws_ftp .

I've actually succeded in uploading the Wordpress files into my 1&1 webspace! I've then located wp-admin-install.php, and hoped I was only a few minutes away from finishing the set-up.

Trouble is , I can't figure out what to do next. When I open the wp-admin-install.php file with wordpad I get a lot of discouraging stuff which begins:

define('WP_INSTALLING', true);
if (!file_exists('../wp-config.php'))
die("There doesn't seem to be a wp-config.php file.

So clearly I've not set up the wp-config-php file correctly, or it's not being found (I have uploaded it).

Offers of help, and advice, greatly received.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Season' s Greetings

Christmas Greetings to one and all.

I really enjoyed watching the "Greatest Store in the World" this morning. Splendid performances , a very good script and the real Christmas Spirit.

"People were buying everything that money could buy, in the hope they would get what money couldn't buy as well".

"Having adventures is more important than being tidy"

Monday, December 19, 2005

Margaret Thatcher (1975), Harriet Jones (in Dr Who) and .... ?

I was struck by a comment on Political Betting tonight by Zebidee:

"26. Estelle Morris seems to have Blair over a barrel over the education issue. if he doesn’t cave in he will end up trying to get his silly bill through with the support of Cameron and more Tories than labour MPs than Labour and Lib Dem ones.

Brings me to the Labour (Blair) succession. Former education Secretary, come out of nowhere, no hope of winning at all. . . .
Well didn’t it happen once before?"

Could this guy be right?

A couple of downloads

Celestia is a free, interactive 3D space simulation program that lets you roam around the solar system and beyond. It's great fun and full of features. You can save images and videos.

Decades of Darkness is a chronicle of an alternative history that you can download - there's a lot to read. The point of departure for this scenario is that Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States dies in office from natural causes in Jamuary 1809. His successors in this timeline do not repeal the Embargo Act, a law restricting trade with France and Britain. I hadn't heard of this act before, but in our timeline it had the New England states seething as it was bankrupting their merchants.
James Madison, the 4th President , keeps the Embargo Act in force and New England (plus New York) eventually secedes from the union. The end result is that the rump of the United States recovers by expanding south-west, and without the influence of New England , remains committed to slavery even into the twentieth century...

29 January 1909
Fremantle, Western Australia
Kingdom of Australia

Life, it seemed to Brian McMahon, could be described as a series of journeys between pubs. Sometimes you saw good things outside of the pub, so you wanted a drink. Sometimes you saw bad things outside of the pub, so you wanted a drink. Sometimes, you went too long without a drink, so you wanted a drink.

This time, he just felt like a drink. When he entered the pub in Fremantle, he took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“You look like you could use a drink,” the bartender said.

“Sure could,” Brian said. “Your best beer, please.” He’d learned from painful experience never to ask for anything stronger than that in an Australian pub. “Vodka’s for Russkies, wine’s for Poms, rum’s for Jackals, sake’s for slant-eyes and beer’s for men,” or so he had been told.

“There you go, mate, a nice cool glass of Swan. That’ll be ninepence,” the bartender said as he handed the glass over. He raised an eyebrow at the one-pound note, but eventually passed back a handful of shiny silver coins.

Is it always this hot here? Brian wondered. Though tempted to press the glass to his brow, he settled for drinking it.

“You a Yank?” the bartender said, after a moment.

“Canadian,” McMahon replied. He’d noticed plenty of Australians had trouble telling the difference between the accents [5].

The bartender shrugged. “Yanks, Canadians, you both sound the same, you both burn the same.”

Brian held up a red hand. “Seems to be that way, yes. Never known heat or sun like this before.”

“You get used to it,” the barman said. “But beats being back in Canada these days, I bet.”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” Brian said. The newspapers from Stirling [Perth, WA] spoke of little from elsewhere in Australia, let alone North America, but life anywhere in Canada sounded harsh. What the Jackals were doing in British Columbia, now... Some things, he’d thought, were beneath even Americans. He’d been wrong there.

“Why’d you come for, then, if not the sun?” the bartender asked.

“I’m from Vancouver Island,” Brian said. That got him only a blank look. “Now full of Nephites and lemonade.”

The bartender laughed. “So you’re just another godless heathen like the rest of us?”

“Yup. I’m amazed they didn’t stone me for buying a drink.”

“I heard about that,” the bartender said. “No beer, no smokes. Hell of a boring way to live.”

“No tea or coffee either,” McMahon said. “The only thing which keeps them interested is seeing how many wives they can get.”

“Bloody hell, isn’t one mother-in-law bad enough?” the bartender asked, which made Brian spray beer across the bar. “”Scuse me, mate,” he added, as he went to serve another customer.

Brian sat alone for a while, watching people come in and out of the pub. It was a spacious building, certainly bigger than any bar he’d seen back on the Island. So close to the docks, he heard a variety of accents from across the Empire, and even some from outside it. The humidity still clung, despite the westerly sea breeze which came in every afternoon. McMahon didn’t want to stay here for very long; his interest lay more in the giant trees which were reported to be found to the south-west of here. For now, though, he enjoyed being here.

Until he heard two voices speaking in drawling accents. He turned to see four men walking into the pub. They looked like any other merchant sailors, but what were Jackals doing here?

Before the Jackals could reach the bar, two bouncers and the bar manager smoothly intercepted them. “Americans are not welcome here,” the manager said.

“We’re just after a drink, mate, not a fight,” the lead American drawled.

“Americans here will cause fights whether they want them or not,” the manager replied.

“Throw the shits out!” a voice called from somewhere behind Brian.

“You see?” the manager asked.

The American scowled. “You damn cons forget who won the war.”

“Australians made it onto American soil. None of your lads made it to ours any time in the war. Now, will you walk out or be thrown out?”

The lead American spat at the bar manager’s feet. “Fine! We’ll find somewhere else to drink.” The Jackals walked out, ignoring the taunts aimed at their retreating backs.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Jane's View of Vultures

Former Labour MP Jane Griffiths has some definite views on the Lib Dem leadership question that are worth reading:

The vultures are circling round Charlie Kennedy. He is a nice bloke seemingly and is an effective leader, though I would say the LibDems have peaked for the foreseeable future, though they might have a more important role in the hung Parliament we are likely to get at the next general election.

This happens all the time in politics. Those who don't have the courage to put themselves forward for office start undermining the person who has and who has done a good job. Much good it does them in the long run. As Keynes nearly said, in the long run we're all dead. I think that Ming Campbell wants taking down a peg or two. How about a ringtone, or of course a Mingtone, along the lines of Crazy Frog, for a Christmas Number One? All together now, a Ming-Ming-Ming-Ming-Ming-Ming-Ming! Charlie is being bullied by his own party boys and they will regret it.

Advice, please

I could do with some advice from the more technologically knowledgeable Lib Dem bloggers!

The other website I help write , , is important to us for communicating with our local residents. I have used 1&1 Internet Ltd for hosting it and have used their own 'website creator' for producing it. It's worked reasonably well but at over 100 pages is definitely cumbersome.

I'd like to change over to something more blog-like. I would keep the domain and manually copy over some of the old content. I'd like a set-up where:
- residents can comment on each post
- posts can be classified under several headings - such as council ward, subject and month.

Wordpress seems suitable, and it seems that I could probably host a Wordpress site with my current host.

However does anyone have any suggestions for alternative hosts? How easy would it be to set it up? (I managed to set up "Moonlight Over Essex" without any assistance)

All comments welcomed...

And They Need Us More Than Want Us

I don't want to comment yet about the Lib Dem leadership.

Apart from anything else I'm probably one of the least-informed of any of the bloggers on this issue - I think I've only ever met one of the current Lib Dem MPs, and that was Andrew Stunnel about 15 years in a pub in Somerset (the first Liberal MP I met was Clement Freud in Rayleigh in about 1972!) At the moment I'm taking particular notice of what James Graham and Jonathan Calder are saying.

However I've had two thoughts. One is that I've seen a lot of anti-Lib Dem bile this week - for example in the Daily Mail , and some comments on the Guido Fawkes website. There are some people out there who really hate the Lib Dems, and don't want us to exist.

But we do exist, and we have such a large wedge of MPs - and public support - that Cameron is making it his first immediate priority to woo us over. He needs us desperately.

Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman comes to mind:

"And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time until the next election "

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Our local Conservatives in Rochford seem really disappointed that David Cameron has become the new Tory leader. We've only found one councillor who actually voted for him, all the rest wanted somebody more right-wing. (we'll keep his name a secret to avoid him being de-selected). When I mentioned in a council meeting that Cameron wanted a more compassionate, modern and inclusive Tory party, this was all too much for one Tory lady who called out "Tosh". She clearly doesn't approve of that kind of Conservative Party...

By the way, when was the last time anyone heard the word "Tosh" being used?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Vitriol or Antiseptic?

The Council Chamber in Rayleigh , where my District Council meets, seldoms sees any real nastiness. A few months ago I made a somewhat barbed (but not nasty) speech concerning a broken pledge by the Conservative Group and some time afterwards one of the best of the Tories made the comment that he had now seen some vitriol in the Council Chamber. My response was that you have to be able to distinguish between vitriol and antiseptic....

However if you are looking for vitriol have a look at this blog from Jane Griffiths , ex Labour MP for Reading East. Her "About Me" section is a good starting point: "I was Labour MP for Reading East from 1997-2005. Some boys in the Reading Labour party decided they had had enough of the uppity girl who wouldn't do as they said so they sacked me. The seat is of course now Conservative, which is what they, especially the Reading West MP Martin Salter, wanted"

Vitriol or Antiseptic?

The credit goes to Iain Dale for providing a link. (He's not had a good political year himself, but seems to have avoided any bitterness !)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Resurgent Essex

Many thanks to Martin Tod for constructaregion ....

Using it I have found out that an Essex-Southend-Thurrock region would have only 50,000 people fewer than Northern Ireland and be bigger in population than 2 German Lander, 12 US States and 4 EU members!

I'm now looking at Freethink's local heroes, which seems worthy of detailed study.

With hindsight...

I tried to find libdemwatch today but apparently their account has been suspended!

However I stumbled across something from the Guardian's Election 2005 blog from last April where someone was belittling the Lib Dem campaign in Leeds NW:

"Witnessing the Lidbem campaign strategy on the ground can leave you wondering which way is up.

Libdemwatch has picked up an example of this in their LeedsNW campaign - where, despite coming 3rd in the last two general elections - they are STILL claiming they are set to win. How do they do this? Well certainly not by showing their share of the vote in '97 or '01.

They do this by showing their share of the vote increased between 1997 & 2001... erm leaving them in 3rd place again!

Witness this is all it's glory from a scanned 'Focus' newsletter here:"

Some interesting comments - both pro Lib Dem and against - follow.

After reading this I thought to myself, "Wait a moment ... Didn't we...?" and yes, there it is

Leeds North West
LibDem gain
Mulholland G.T. LibDem 16,612 37.15%
Blake J. Ms. Labour 14,735 32.96%
Lee G.A. Conservative 11,510 25.74%
Hemingway M.F. Green 1,128 2.52%
Knowles A.D. English Democrats 545 1.22%
Sutton J. Ms. Alliance for
Green Socialism 181 0.40%

Electorate: 71,650; Turnout: 62.40%;
Majority: 1,877 (4.20%)

Not one of libdemwatch's finest moments...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Cracking bit of Britcosmic

I've just finished reading "Century Rain" by Alastair Reynolds, and it's a cracking read if you like SF. I was surprised and intrigued to find it's not connected to any of his earlier books. Don't read the blurb on the back cover, it would be more fun to plunge in without knowing exactly what happened to the Earth and exactly where some reproduction jazz 78s are coming from.

I mentioned this book to a Tory councillor yesterday and he said he might buy it as a Xmas present for a certain Mr Davis. Is this a scoop - David Davies is an SF fan? If so , he rises slightly in my estimation.

Round One

The planning application from Asda for a 'neighbourhood centre' was turned down at our planning meeting last Thursday . In fact I moved refusal, my ward colleague Ron seconded it , and we won the vote by 12 votes to 9 with 5 abstentions. As you can see, it was a tight vote.

Why did we go for refusal? It's a long story.

Afterwards, the guy from Asda apparently said to the guy from the local chamber of trade. "Round One to you, but we'll see you at the appeal...."

Friday, November 25, 2005

A (fairly) satisfied customer

My colleague Ron just received the following email which shows that we are (nearly) getting things right in our ward...

Firstly we want to say how much we appreciate receiving Focus which we find extremely informative and useful. However we have received 3 copies in as many weeks at our home !! 2 were received on the same day.

Perhaps you would have a word with your distributors to point this out and save time, money & sore feet!

Many thanks & thanks to all our Lib Dem councillors for their hard work & efforts which are appreciated.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Blogger's Block

It's been a hectic couple of weeks, with a really busy time at work, a Focus to write and get out, a Saturday lost through illness and a lot of ward issues coming up. So there's been no postings from me for a couple of weeks and I'm currently bereft of ideas. Maybe it's a case of Blogger's Block.

So I thought I'd write a bit about some of the sites I link to....

Baghdad Burning has a desperately sad piece, about many things but in particular Iraqi POWs held by Iran back in the Iran-Iraq war. Do read it.

Nick Barlow provides a link to some pretty classy satire

Edis Bevan has written some good stuff on international issues recently , especially on piracy. The real piracy that navies are supposed to deal with, not the copying of DVDs or software.

John Hemming has some interesting info on MPs who didn't take participate in that crucial parliamentary vote last week - for example, George Galloway.

BAGnewsNotes has a slightly worrying analysis of Senator Bill Frist: ''It was, of course, a heinous and dishonest thing to do. And I was totally schizoid about the entire matter. By day, I was little Billy Frist, the boy who lived on Bowling Avenue in Nashville and had decided to become a doctor because of his gentle father and a dog named Scratchy. By night, I was Dr. William Harrison Frist, future cardiothoracic surgeon, who was not going to let a few sentiments about cute, furry little creatures stand in the way of his career.

Kim Ayres has lost 66 lbs in 9 months and he horrifies his wife by wanting to swim in the sea...

Ophelia casts a professional and approving eye over the BBCs "Rome"

...and David Wang's Mum has Dengue Fever. Get well soon ....

Ah well, time for bed

Sunday, October 23, 2005

If you were on trial for being a Democrat, would there be enough evidence on your blog to convict you?

Here's some news stories from this month:


No decision has yet been made on whether to replace Britain's ageing Trident nuclear deterrent, the prime minister said. But nuclear weapons remained "an important part of our defence", he said, as he appeared to rule out giving MPs a vote on the decision.


Ex-Cabinet minister Clare Short has launched a bid to give MPs the final say over whether troops go to war.

Ms Short said Tony Blair - or any future prime minister - should be forced to seek Parliament's consent for military action.

But Commons Leader Geoff Hoon kept speaking long enough to prevent a vote being taken on the bill.


Anti-nuclear protestors are being warned special police powers will be used to limit a rally on Monday.


Under the plans to drive up school standards, headteachers would be allowed greater independence from local education authorities (LEAs) by becoming 'trust schools'. They would be able to vary the national curriculum and form closer bonds with private firms.

Geoff Hoon has said he hopes Gordon Brown will be elected Labour leader without opposition when Prime Minister Tony Blair stands down.


We Lib Dem bloggers write a lot about what "Liberalism" means these days. But we seem to take the "Democrat" part of our name for granted. Yes, it may be there as a historical accident, but it should still be crucial to our identity. After a good start with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly , Labour seem to be riding roughshod over local democracy and sometimes doesn't treat parliament correctly. One of the things that we might be able to agree with the Tories on is to give councils more independence from central control...

I think the "Democrat" part of our name is an asset that we don't use enough. Maybe we can emphasise it more often in the future...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Dark Cloud in the East

The Telegraph reports today that former members of the Russian military are helping Iran acquire technology from North Korea. This could be used for missiles capable of hitting European capitals such as Berlin and Rome (but not London).

At this stage Putin doesn't want to take the issue to the UN Security council. I don't know why his government seems to be being so helpful to Iran . Iran doesn't have the Bomb at the moment, but if it develops it and then , like a friendly uncle, offers it to other Islamic countries, Russia has as much to lose as anyone else (except perhaps Israel).

In the next few months the British and US governments will need to speak on whether or not Iran has weapons of mass destruction. It would be good to believe what they say, but they don't have a very good track record, do they?

The Telegraph ends its chilling leader with the sentence "It is the last chance to avoid war".

After failing to get support from Putin, Condoleeza Rice meets Tony Blair today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Blogging invented by Russian in 1837 ?

The excellent Siberian Light blog quotes from Mosnews that blogging was described - if not actually invented - by the Russian Prince Vladimir Odoevsky in 1837 ! Odoevskiy was an intellectual and a science fiction writer who apparently wrote a book called "Year 4338"

According to Mosnews:

"Odoevsky suggested in future there would be a kind of connection between houses that would allow people to communicate quickly and easily, the way they do now via the Internet.

“Houses are connected by means of magnetic telegraphs that allow people who live far from each other to communicate,” Odoevsky wrote.

Even more interestingly, Odoevsky suggested every household would publish a kind of daily journal or newsletter and distribute it among selected acquaintances, a habit which Russian bloggers immediately recognized as blogging.

“We received a household journal from the local prime minister, which among other things invited us to his place for a reception,” one of Odoevsky’s characters tells a friend.

“The thing is that many households here publish such journals that replace common correspondence. Such journals usually provide information about the hosts’ good or bad health, family news, different thoughts and comments, small inventions, invitations to receptions.”

Mosnews got this story from a Russian Blogger Ivan Dezhurny, a Russian poet and singer.

Boring additional note:
I was rather suspicious of this story - could it be a Russian April Fool , perhaps? However it seems genuine. The Black Family's battered 1961 McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Russia and the Soviet Union describes Vladimir Fyodorovich Odoyevskiy (1804-1869) as a writer and musical critic who wrote a collection of philosophical fantasies "Russian Nights" published in 1844.

However according to a web-page I found Odoyevskiy was still in the middle of writing "Year 4338" when he died. So I'm not sure how this matches up with 1837.

But it still looks he was the first fellow to think of blogging.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Blues on Fire ... and Pier Ablaze

A Sunday of mixed emotions in Southend... United go top of League One after beating Nottingham Forest 1-0 and setting a club record of eight consecutive wins.

... and the pier - the longest pleasure pier in the world ... was seriously damaged by fire.

Leader of Southend's Lib Dems , Graham Longley, was quoted by our local paper as saying "Southend Pier is in the middle of my heart and it looks like it has been ripped out. It is our best and most prominent attraction and I feel like I have just been told an old friend has been in a serious accident"

Votes for Prisoners

Oh dear, I seem to be having one of those right-wing moments. But I am really the only Lib Dem who doesn't want to give prisoners the vote? Mark Oaten says:

"The Liberal Democrats have a longstanding commitment to lift the ban on prisoners voting. Today's ruling is not just about rights. It is about ensuring that prisoners return to their communities as responsible citizens. Telling offenders that they have no part to play in our democracy is no way to end the cycle of crime."

Is there evidence from other countries that giving prisoners the vote reduces the rate of re-offending? If so, why aren't we publicising this more? If not, can we make this about 999th on our list of priorities?

Incidentally, if this policy came in, it would make one of the ulfra-safe Tory council seats in our district rather more open , as we have Bullwood Hall young women's prison in Hockley! Would make canvassing quite interesting...

However the only good aspect of this policy is that if it had been introduced 30 years ago, it might have provided the background for a really good episode of Porridge. Fletcher - surely Labour. Godber - Liberal? Barraclough - Tory? Mackay - surely Tory too, or could he have been closet SNP?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"During the daytime there is still freedom of movement in the UK." - Time Magazine 21.02.80

It's an important football day today, we really need to beat Austria. I can remember staying up at late as a 12 year-old watching us play Germany in 1970 and feeling utterly miserable when we lost 3-2.

But according to the brilliantly inventive Anthony Wells, it would have been far worse for our country if we had won.

What political events might follow from England doing well in the World Cup next year?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Liberals back Lib Dem Candidate

"Sam will be a superb Councillor. I’ll be voting for Sam and I hope you will!”

See Mike Oborski's Liberal Party Website

This is apparently the first time since the split in 1996 that the Kidderminster Liberals have endorsed a Lib Dem. It's got to be good news.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Grimness Over Essex

I love my county, but I've recently heard two true stories concerning residents of my ward who haven't exactly received good customer service....

The first concerns a couple who went to a certain budget supermarket and parked their car in the supermarket car park. Unfortunately when they came back to their car they had a flat tyre and had to call the AA out to help, which took a while. As a result they spent longer than the stipulated 2 hours in the car park, and almost unbelievably, were given a £75 fine by the supermarket!

The second story is from a friend who bought a bag of chips from a fish and chip shop in Grays. The lady serving him asked if it was to eat now or to take away. My friend replied "to take away" and asked if she could put some salt and a bit of vinegar on. The response was "This isn't the F****** Hilton, it's Grays". Sad, really.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Clowns to the West of us, Jokers to the East, here we are...

US Website TPM Cafe reports that some US Neo-Cons have launched a "Committee for A Strong Europe". There's not much hard information on this, all I can find is a French-language website , A L'Heure Americaine which links to its Statement of Intent.:

We, Europeans and Americans committed to the defense and promotion of freedom in a dangerous world, have come together to create The Committee for a Strong Europe. Our belief is that a Europe whose foreign policy is strategically sound and morally grounded, and whose nations are strong economically and militarily, can be a responsible and important actor on the world stage. The United States has a deep and abiding interest in a strong, capable, and independent Europe able to wield significant influence around the globe. Our conviction is that a strong Europe can act effectively in concert with the United States to deal with the threats we face, and to take advantage of the opportunities we share to expand freedom around the globe and to shape a world in which liberal and democratic principles flourish.

Guiding Principles of The Committee For A Strong Europe

- We believe that the desire for freedom is universal--unbounded by culture, religion or geography.

- We believe that a strong partnership between the United States and Europe is crucial to the defense and promotion of freedom for all nations.

- We believe both Europe and the United States must have strong and free economies that encourage entrepreneurship and individual initiative and responsibility.

- We believe both the United States and Europe should invest adequately in their armed forces so as to have strong militaries capable of serving in a wide variety of missions around the world.

- We believe that all free nations must fight terrorism and adopt policies that challenge states that harbor or support terrorists.

- We believe that all free nations have an obligation to aid those living in tyranny, and that regimes that subjugate their own people at home will not be reliable friends and allies.

Europe's strength today risks being undermined by a lack of strategic clarity, by the threat of economic stagnation, and by declining military strength. This is not in Europe's interest, nor that of the United States. Our goal is a United States that works with Europe, and a Europe that works with the United States.

There is no doubt that the United States and Europe face major challenges today and in the years to come. But with a Europe animated by a clear sense of resolve, and a United States committed to working in genuine partnership with its European allies, the cause of liberty can prevail. We intend to work together to help it do so.

All seems admirable. But I rather suspect that when they write about a foreign policy that is "strategically sound and morally grounded" , they are basically looking for allies to back up whatever the US wants to do next.

It will be interesting to see just how significant this committee will be... there's a suggestion on A L'Heure Americaine that former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar will be the honorary president. The next question is ... will Tony Blair get involved?

Mr Blair , incidentally, sees Russia's President Putin today. The BBC reports that soon Russia will supply 50% of the EU's natural gas needs.

So exactly who is going to have more influence - the Neo-Cons to the West, or the Oil Tsars to the East?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Apologies in advance to any South Americans

I've never been a big fan of telling jokes about the mental abilities of President Bush - I don't think it helps the situation- but I did like this one from Rambling with Roger :

Don Rumsfeld is giving George W Bush his daily briefing and tells
him that three Brazilian soldiers have been killed in Iraq.
George says
"that's absolutely terrible", is lost for words,
and holds his head in
his hands for several minutes.
His staff are amazed at the response,
and the whole room stays silent.
Finally George lifts his head from the
table and says "exactly how
many is a brazillion?"

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Far away from the problems of our little world...

I've been adding some links to more sites today .... a lot of political sites, but also to the Nome Nugget (my favourite online local newspaper - worth a look) and to a couple of sites dealing with space art and extrasolar planets. The illustrations here are from Nova Celestia. However the artwork - and the background information - at is also very good.

Walter Wolfgang's Week

AS all good bloggers know, undoubtably the lasting memory of the Labour Party Conference was the manhandling and removal of the 82 year old heckler Walter Wolfgang, a Jewish refugee from nazi Germany. Not only that , but anti-terrorism laws were then invoked by the police to deal with him.

It seemed to most people that this was an absurd over-reaction by the Labour Party and the Police and a slightly chilling reminder of the powers that they have. (As well as being a public relations disaster.) However some people have taken a different slant:

Oliver Kamm has pointed out that Mr Wolfgang isn't perhaps as saintly as some of the press makes out, and apparently belongs to such organisations as "Labour Action for Peace".

Meanwhile on Harry's Place, there's a post that begins:

I find Walter Wolfgang’s musings on the Iraq war, Kosovo, his allegiance to new millennium CND - the sick bastard child of a once noble peace movement – and membership of the Stop the War Coalition – now exposed as a front for Trotskyite supporters of fascistic child murderers in Iraq – all utterly abhorrent.

The post on Harry's Place has generated over 200 comments. I haven't read them all, but the one that sums up my views is from Stephen Marks:

Nor are Walter Wolfgang’s broader views, or the opinions of HP bloggers and commenters on those views, of any material relevance. The bouncers who threw him out, together with the young constituency chair who took his part, did not have the benefit of Oliver Kamm’s diligent research into Wolfgang’s political history. All they knew was that he had shouted ‘nonsense’ and ‘that’s a lie’ at Jack Straw - opinions which, whether right and wrong, are shared by millions of Labour supporters most of whom are neither Respect members, Turkish Stalinists or CND activists with a past record of co-operation with Communists during the Cold War.

The stewards had their instructions to eject anybody who interjected - and, it appears, to sit ‘with intent’ next to someone who muttered ‘hear hear’ during a rare speech which did express criticism of the war.

It should by now be well known that Labour conferences are almost entirely stage-managed, with constituency delegates often hand-picked by regional officers from moribund ‘rotten borough’ constituency parties and spoon-fed ready-written speeches. In many parts of the country - though not here in Oxford - the party is a moribund and hollowed-out shell.

It is this disease, of which the outrageous treatment of Walter Wolfgang is merely a symptom, which ought to be the subject of concern from a blog which claims to represent social democratic values.

Ironically one of Jack Straw’s grandparents was also a refugee from Nazi Germany - and was I believe a conscientious objector during WW2, unlike Wolfgang who volunteered for the British forces. Had he returned from the grave to heckle his grandson, he would no doubt have received the same treatment.

I do not have an immense amount of time for Jack Straw. But it seems he does mount the soapbox and hold a street meeting in his constituency at weekends. Unlike all too many of today’s politicians he could probably have dealt ably with a modest critical heckle.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Too Interesting for the Newspapers

I'm still reading last week's New Scientist magazine. Here's half a dozen items I found interesting that I haven't seen in any newspaper:

....In their editorial the magazine highlights the evidence about the increasing strength of hurricanes. "The good news is that there is no rising trend in the overall number of hurricanes , nor any sign that the worst storms are getting fiercer. But there is bad news too: [since 1970 ] there has been a near doubling in the number of the strongest categories of hurricanes - the category 4 and 5 storms exemplified by Katrina."

....The first extraterrestrial sea may have been discovered on Saturn's moon Titan - a sea of liquid methane, cooled to below -179 degrees C. May be good news for BP and Shell !

....There was an unprecedented hurricane off southern Brazil in 2004 - the scary thing is that this is the first and only hurricane recorded in the south Atlantic, where the textbooks say hurricanes shouldn't occur. Looks like Global Warming is having an effect.

....The inventor Ray Kurzweil writes about his prediction of a singularity occuring in artificial intelligence: "By the mid 2040s the non-biological portion of our intelligence will be millions of times more capable than the biological portion" (To find out more , have a look at

....There is a quote from 1998 from Zbigniew Brzezinski, US National Security Advisor during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan:"What is more important to the history of the world? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

.....There is an article about Tanzanite. Never heard of Tanzanite? It's the newest of the precious stones, considered fifth in line after diamond, emerald, ruby and sapphire. It was only discovered in 1967 by Masai herdsmen.


1)That global Warming and the Singularity look like being big issues that will swamp politics - its possibly pointless to come up with policies for more than 10 years ahead.

2) To really understand what's going on, you should read New Scientist. But if we dumb down and run down science in the Uk, fewer people will be able to.

3)That, as Brzezinski shows, it's easy to miss some of the wood for the trees, so that maybe my first conclusion is wrong....

Thursday, September 22, 2005

How to mention the next Harry Potter Film on a Political Blog

Lib Dem MP Ed Davey is quoted as saying : "With the fierce debate about discipline in Britain's schools, perhaps the most important lesson from Hogwarts is its traditional "House" system"

Well, thanks to Ophelia , I've seen the trailer for the next Harry Potter Film.

It looks fantastic.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Jonathan Calder has reported on how Durham Councillor Paul Leake has left his Lib Dem group - because of his blog.

Paul said:

Behind the scenes there has ... apparently been some disquiet from some of my Liberal Democrat colleagues who feel all communication with the electorate should be politically vetted – this has come to a head today with a rather brusque email from the Leader of the City Council, Fraser Reynolds telling me to remove all mention of City Council decisions and any comments on them as soon as possible and refrain from commenting further, and that all comments that are placed in the public domain should be agreed by the press secretary

I stood for election on a manifesto of openness, fairness and honesty, and have always tried to deliver on this. While the Liberal Democrats have run the Council much better than Labour did (particularly the finances), I have had growing concerns about the failure so far to deliver on parts of the manifesto people elected me under, but felt, on balance, I stood a better chance of achieving it working within the group of Liberal Democrat councillors. This is however is the final straw – I will not do a poorer job as a local councillor in order to do better for the party. I remain 100 per cent committed to the manifesto I was elected on – but I can best get that manifesto delivered on as an Independent, able to speak my mind and hold the council leadership to account.

I don't know the background to this and I suspect there's more to this than just the issue of the blog. But it does seem sad. Tensions and stresses can easily develop within a council group. I remember when I was leader of a group of about 20 Lib Dems (before I stepped down from the leadership to really spend more time with my family). One chap phoned me up at 6 a.m. to say "I've had enough, I want to resign" , and I talked him out of it. So I have some intrinsic sympathy for almost any group leader.

On the other hand , blogging should be quick and a direct link between the writer and the reader. When the day arrives when any large group of councillors will have a dozen or so bloggers, nobody is going to be able to enforce any external discipline or editing on them. The leader of that hypothetical group is simply going to have to trust them. (although I can imagine in the seemingly bitchy world of North-East political blogging, there will be scavengers out there ready to seize on any scrap of disagreement or poor choice of words that can be found.)

If I was in hot water with the Lib Dems over something on a website - and I suppose it could happen, I'm sure that I wouldn't quit, I'd just carry on regardless.

Meanwhile , if you look at Don't Blog - "Blogging Headlines from the Future Backlash" you will find cases where people have been dooced (sacked because of their blog) or have karshed (quit their job because of their website). I hereby coin a new word:

Pleake (vb.) - to leave a political party because of your blog

Anyway, good luck to everybody in Durham.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I've seen that there's a lot of controversy in the US about a proposed memorial to the victims of flight 93. which crashed during the 9/11 attacks. The design is of a crescent of red maples, indeed its official name is "The Crescent of Embrace" and some observers think that, however beautiful it may look, it has too close a resemblance to a symbol of Islam to be appropriate. Some people are campaigning against it.

The issue has made me reflect on two public memorials that I know something about, which are both in Rayleigh. The first is a granite obelisk in the High Street, to commemorate four protestants who were burned to death in the 1550s, during the reign of Queen Mary. A curate from Hockley called Tyms and the rector of Thundersley called Drake were executed at Smithfield in London in April 1556. Thomas Causton was burned in Rayleigh High Street early in 1555 . According to John William Burrow's "Southend-On-Sea and District : Historical Notes": "So great was popular feeling that he was led to the place of death bound in a cart for fear of rescue". John Ardeley from Great Wigborough was burned there the same year.

The memorial itself was unveiled on September 23rd 1908 by the local MP Rowland Whitehead (incidentally a Liberal MP, probably the only one so far to represent this area) in front of a crowd of 2000 people. It is a dignified and rather eternal-looking structure and is a familiar part of the street scene.

The second memorial is much more recent , having been commissioned by the District Council in the last few years. It is a memorial to the victims of persecution, in a small open space in front of one of our main public buildings, the Mill Hall. When I first saw the design I though it was ugly, but when I understood the explanation I changed my mind, and now I really like it:

The interpretation of the design, supplied by the Architect, is as follows:
• The stone plinth represents a solid foundation upon which Society rests.
• The three finish concrete slab reflects the ability of man to repair what has
been damaged, i.e. rough to smooth, but reminds us that we can also
destroy the perfect finish.

• The three steel posts in alternative finishes represent the technological
progress of man, and the diverse states of development throughout the
• The rough sawn and smooth posts running through the structure reflects
the ability of man to twin raw products with a finished product, and the
unity of our manmade and shaped society by organic and living materials.
• The Star of David, which would only be viewed in full when standing in
front of the memorial, is a direct reference to the Nazi Holocaust, but
reminds us that looking at it from another viewpoint leads to fragmentation
and separation of this iconic symbol, reflecting persecution.
• The horizontal element of the concrete slab and its relationship with the
constancy of the plinth is to remind and encourage us from the solid basis
of society, man can shape and reshape society, but not always for the
• The vertical steel plates, whilst reflecting a straight line upwards, (the
conventional approach to seeking a higher power regardless of faith or
religion), also create open spaces between them, perceived as people
• Planting to each side, centrally, and the centre plate are intended to
remind us that the living world has the ability to grow i n even the most
barren places, usually the first visible step to reconciliation and
reconstruction following conflict and persecution.
• The orientation of the structure should be on an East-West axis, the
conventional orientation of churches and western faiths with the dedication
stone in the east reflecting the alter position, also recognising that the sun
rises in the East. At the same time, the structure can be viewed from all
points, to remind us that we all have different perceptions.

So what does my small-town English experience tell me about the "Crescent of Embrace"? Well, that memorials are very long-term projects, hopefully with life-spans of centuries. That they don't need to be conventionally beautiful to be effective. Also, that they need public support. For myself, I'd change the design of the red crescent into something with a different title- and a somewhat different shape. Such a project shouldn't be born in the middle of a political argument.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Local rural politics, Florida style.

Most of the American political blogs I've seen have unremittingly partisan rhetoric, which gets rather tedious after a while. You look in vain for a liberal blogger to say "Hey, Bush is right for once", or for a Conservative to write that "The Democrats are making a good point here"

What's more , they seem to avoid the nitty-gritty of politics- how to actually win elections. For example, nobody ever talks about delivering leaflets.... So I was intrigued to find, via political oddsmaker , a blog- Akins Campaign Strategy, which actually deals with some of these issues.

Unfortunately, he's a Republican, campaigning in rural Florida. And his suggestions aren't really useful anyway - for example, he strongly prefers radio ads to newspaper ads (and these are for local elections such as County Schools Superintendent). No actual mention of delivering leaflets.

Anyway, no more posts for a few days. Have a lot of paperwork and residents issues to tackle.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Clock

Susanne Lamido seems to like the clock that I've put on this blog.

I got the idea after seeing one on Mike Oborski's Blog.

Mike has reported that he is recovering from a cancer operation and it is good to see that he is back in action, posting on the blog and attending council meetings.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What effect does an ASDA supermarket have on a town?

There is a planning application for an ASDA (Walmart to you Americans) supermarket on the outskirts of our town. It happens to be in the council ward that I represent. The Rayleigh Chamber of Trade are very concerned about the impact this would have on existing shops. Residents living near the proposed site are worried about traffic. Some other residents would welcome an extra shop to go to.

I'm not allowed under the local government code of conduct to express my own opinions or make up my mind in advance of the planning meeting, which will probably be in October. Like all 39 members of Rochford District Council, I am on the planning committee and will be able to vote on this.

However I'd be glad to hear accounts - from anyone - on what effects an ASDA or a Walmart has had on their community (positive and negative)

"This train was tossed 200 yards. Nobody knew whether there were still chemicals inside.."


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Aren't Some People Lovely?

I have recently found an blog called Oklahoma Hippy - with lots of good stuff there. One recent post links to Agape Press - "Reliable News From A Christian Source". Apparently one pastor, Rev. Bill Shanks of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans , seems really glad about what's happened to New Orleans:

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."

Will this chap get to heaven?

Friday, September 02, 2005

What would James White Think?

I've felt angry and disturbed at the prospect of the teaching of "intelligent design" (creationism under another name) creeping into the US schools system. Perhaps the word 'evolution' will be banned in US schools in a few decades time. I'm sure the Taliban would approve.

I can't help think of the late science fiction writer James White. He wrote truly good books - not only were they well-written , but the characters within them tried to do good. Imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader, or Star Trek without the Borg? Well , James White created "Sector General", a vast space station hospital full of medics and technicians of dozens of different alien species, all trying to save lives.

When I say 'alien species' . these weren't just variations on the humanoid form, as in Star Trek. White had a fertile imagination. There were nurses that looked like giant caterpillars covered in beautiful, twitching grey fur, patients as shy as mice but with the size and natural weaponry of sea monsters, surgeons resembling flightless birds who used beaks instead of hands.

White frequently explained the evolutionary origin of these creatures so it's pretty obvious that he accepted the scientific evidence. But he was also a Catholic, and in one of his books "The Genocidal Healer" he looked at the possibility of religious belief in a vast universe filled with sentient beings.

One character says:

"My knowledge of the subject is incomplete , but among the majority of the intelligent species it is said that this omnipotent and immaterial being has manifested itself in physical form. The physiological classifications vary to suit the environments of the planets concerned, but in all cases it manifests itself as a teacher and lawgiver who suffers death at the hands of those who cannot at first accept its teachings. But these teachings, in a short time or long, form the philosophical foundation of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between individuals of the species which eventually lead to the formation of a planetary and interstellar civilsation...

At one stage some of the hospital staff become concerned that after curing one patient (the one in the cover illustation above), he would return to his home planet and become a teacher and lawgiver himself....

James White knew that if a God does exist, he presides over a universe unimaginably vast and exciting. He would probably pity those so suspicious of science that they can't accept evolution.

PS White also wrote my favourite anti-war story, "Tableau"

Dancing with Katrina

I've just found a new blog "Eye of the Storm" reporting, with photos, of what's happening along the Gulf Coast.

Have a look.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Future Leader?

Political Betting had a post yesterday basically on whether Charles Kennedy will still be Lib Dem Leader at the next general election, and if not, who his likely successor might be.

I'm quite happy that CK stays our leader ; people who normally dislike politicians often melt when I mention his name. However I was pleased to see that the post attracted 214 comments - 50 more than a post the previous night on the Tory leadership election!

I see that one of the possible future candidates for leader is Norman Lamb. He's referred to as being bright, a really nice guy and eurosceptic. This sounds quite palatable to me, but I don't really know enough about him to comment further...

A day full of dreadful news

Not much to be cheerful about today, bearing in mind the news from Baghdad and the USA.

Tonight I stumbled on a blog, Ramblin' with Roger. Roger's going to give a dollar to the American Red Cross for every person going to his blog before next Monday (they don't even have to read it, though he hopes they do!) .

Have a look, and nudge his counter up by one.

And if you have a counter, maybe follow his example?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

So much for the land of Edison, Feynman, Asimov , Watson and Hubble

Political Wire reports that a Pew Research Center Poll finds that 64 percent of Americans favour teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools.
38 percent want schools to teach creationism instead of evolution.

On a more detailed question the response was:

"Life On Earth has
......existed in its present form since the beginning of time ....... 42 per cent
......evolved over time guided by a supreme being ....... 18 per cent
.....evolved over time through natural selection ....... 26 percent
.....evolved over time don't know how ........ 4 percent
.....don't know at all........ 10 percent

Well. That's 42 percent of the American public who don't seem to believe that dinosaurs existed long before mankind. Are they believers in the Bible, or simply in the Flintstones?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Beautiful Bank Holiday Rawreth

Bank Holiday Monday - the River Crouch, beautiful in sunshine. Posted by Picasa

The River Crouch is the dividing line between the Battlesbridge side (in Chelmsford Borough) on the left hand side, and the Rawreth side(in Rochford District) on the right hand side Posted by Picasa

A tank (seems to be from a re-enactment group) turns up outside "The Barge" at Battlesbridge. Posted by Picasa

Bank Holiday Monday in Rawreth - a Straw Man has suddenly appeared in one of the fields... Posted by Picasa

Advantages in Making Essex a Region in its own Right no. 1 :The Fire Service

There is a storm brewing over the Government's proposal to replace England's 46 Fire Control Centres with just 9 regional ones.
Essex would no longer have a control room - it would be looked after by a regional centre in Cambridge. The Fire Brigades Union are very concerned about this - in terms of their members' jobs, and in terms of running an effective service with local knowledge

I haven't looked about this in any depth yet. I don't assume that the Fire Brigades Union are always right . But my instincts are that these proposals are wrong, wrong, wrong. Another case of centralising for the sake of it.

Its a longstanding belief of mine that Essex is big enough, populated enough and coherent enough to be a region in its own right. If we were a region, we'd presumably keep our own centre.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Perfect Sunny Afternoon

Went out this afternoon delivering some Focus leaflets in one of the rural parts of our district ward. Ate a few sun-warmed blackberries, chatted to a few people, then saw the end of the cricket at my colleague Ron's house.

It's been great to see such an epic battle between two superb teams , who a) respect each other and their fans b) have tremendous talent and c) both deserve to win. Cricketers aren't angels, but make much better role models than most top footballers.

The nice thing about cricket , compared with football, is that it isn't just the richest club that wins...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Disappointing McCain

I've had a fair bit of respect for Senator John McCain. But not now he's come out in favour of teaching intelligent design. (Spotted this at Political Wire)

Depressing. Very.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Battling Barry Aspinell

When I became a council group leader back in the 90s, one of the first things I did was to visit the Brentwood Lib Dems to learn how they did things. I learned a lot in one evening, and incidentally met Barry Aspinell.

He's still battling away, and has been involved in a difficult social work issue that seems to have been upsetting for all concerned and devastating for the parents involved. It's highlighted here in the Daily Mail.

I don't know all the details on this case, so it would be foolish for me to comment on the rights and wrongs of it. Essex County Council put their point of view here.

But what I can say is that it's important for councillors to remember that they are there to be the residents' representative to the council - not the council's representative to the people. It's clear that Barry Aspinell hasn't forgotten that.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Can't Fight the Moonlight?

One of the advantages of working strange hours is that I get to listen to great radio. In fact my favourite shows on 5 Live and Radio 2 are all between midnight and 6 a.m. - Alex Lester , Janice Long, Mo Dutta and Up All Night.

Driving home tonight I heard Mo Dutta play the excellent "I Drove All Night" sung by Roy Orbison, and then LeAnn Rimes sing "Can't Fight the Moonlight". An encouraging omen for this blog, I hope.

Meanwhile, it's been revealed that our neighbouring ....

... Southend-On-Sea Borough Council spent more than £1,700,000 last year on consultants fees, which seems excessive, to say the least.
The story is covered in depth in the Southend Evening Echo. It's good to see their political reporter Geoff Percival being given adequate space for once. I was also pleased that opposition Lib Dem councillors Peter Wexham and Graham Longley got good coverage.
The implications for the council where I live is that if we had been absorbed by Southend a few years ago , local services in Rayleigh and Rochford might have been cut to pay for stuff like this.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I thought MY council had financial problems but this is dreadful...

The 11,000 residents of Galion, Ohio, seem to be particularly nice people.
But they now have a big problem, after their finance director embezzled at least $87,000 and through mismanagement left the town about $11 million in debt. Civic savings are having to be made by such means of selling police cars, and local utility charges have had to be increased.
The wretched man himself, 51, tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head, has survived, but blind, and is now facing a possible 50 year prison term. The explanation he has given for this is credit card problems and gambling debts.
Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.

I write this blog in a private capacity , but just in case I mention any elections here is a Legal Statement for the purposes of complying with electoral law: This website is published and promoted by Ron Oatham, 8 Brixham Close , Rayleigh Essex on behalf of Liberal Democrat Candidates all at 8 Brixham Close.