Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Out by the Thames

Aaaargh, set the alarm for 04:05 this morning so it's back to work. But it's been a "good" Christmas - good turkey, good conversation and thoughtful presents. (For regular readers of this blog, I didn't get anything by Katie Melua but I got two copies of the Best of ELO CD !)

As for the TV, we only watched "Some Like It Hot" and Doctor Who. I thought the latter was probably better overall than the previous Christmas special, with sterling performances by the two main characters and some inventive use of the sonic screwdriver. I particularly enjoyed Lance's pent-up feelings being released in a rant against Posh Spice and "Text me, text me, text me". The taxi chase sequence was memorable too and nicely paced. However there wasn't the ethical / political twist in the last 5 minutes that we had last year...

And by the way, I've just checked with London Port Control -nobody warned them that the Thames was going to be drained dry in order to save the planet from aliens...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Tonight, Thank God It's Them Instead Of You

A sober Christmas message via This is Zimbabwe:

Every day I ask myself ,what am I - a child of Africa and a Zimbabwean of many generations - doing here in England ? Every day I am reminded that I don’t really belong in this alien culture. What am I doing here, away from the sun-drenched plains of Africa in this dank, dark and cold climate ? What am I doing among the cold and indifferent and (though they don’t know it) amazingly prosperous Brits ....

....For three years I struggled on under the ZANU PF monolith, bartering my soul away bit by bit in order to retain the confidence of my superiors. In truth it became more and more difficult to look at that questioning face in the mirror each morning. Yet with shame I have to confess it was not the moral compromises which finally forced me to a decision to leave.....

.....Yes, we’re surviving. We’ve made the break so many Zimbabweans dream of as they struggle on in the wretched conditions Mugabe has created for all (save his own select group of cronies). But you’d be wrong to envy us. Like thousands of other Zimbabwean exiles we have an existence here but we are hardly enjoying the experience....

.....The truth is we are dreading our first Christmas in exile - away from our real home.

Years on from the original Band Aid record, made in response to a natural disaster in Africa, there is a man-made calamity in Zimbabwe that seems to have fallen out of the headlines altogether.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I'm dreaming of a peaceful Christmas....

I'd like to wish everyone who knows me through the blogosphere the best possible Christmas.

Also, particular thoughts go to my new distant cousin Adam, who came in to this world on Wednesday. He's no fool - after all, he wasn't born yesterday.

There will be four of us for a special turkey dinner on Monday, the family Black plus an old work friend. The present I'm hoping for is a CD from this lady, and the only thing I want to see on TV is this....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Strange Magic

After 12 years of marriage I thought my wife Lena and I had already discovered all our mutual likes and dislikes. But not so.... Sitting in a traffic jam last week, we discovered that we both liked the Electric Light Orchestra. Nothing very exciting about that, you might think. But consider-

Early 1970s, Essex, England. Earnest teenager has ELO as one of his favourite bands, has "Showdown" as one of his favourite singles, and knows the lyrics to the album "A New World Record" off by heart.

Early 1970s, Novorossiisk, southern Russia. Serious Russian teenage girl likes ELO and buys Livin' Thing from a shop there. I didn't even know you could buy ELO in Brezhnev's Russia. I didn't know if Lena had heard of ELO.

So we have something extra in common. Maybe that's why we've lasted together. Marriage? It's a livin' thing. It's a terrible thing to lose.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Who Should Elect Council Group Leaders?

.... that's the question that Lynne Featherstone has posed on Liberal Review.

I've responded as follows:

It's an interesting idea from Lynne , but ....

I have to say that I thought as party members we elect the leader of our party, not the leader of the parliamentary group (though obviously the two posts are normally combined) My feelings are that once councillors are elected, they should make up their own minds on issues (either individually or as a group) and not follow the instructions of the wider party.

Councillors shouldn't follow party instructions on a planning application or other agenda item, I don't think they should do so when the agenda item is the appointment of group leader.

Obviously a council group and local parties should co-operate as much as possible, but party instructions should never penetrate into the council chamber.

PS : I'm not sure how it would have worked out the two times I've been elected group leader on Rochford DC. The first time nobody else wanted the post (we were the largest group on the council then). I nonetheless asked for a secret ballot of all the councillors to confirm my positon (which I'm pleased I won).

The second time was when he had been reduced to just four, and nobody else wanted the post either (the other 3 being newly elected).

The question our group had when we became a majority was - when you have chosen your leader, does he or she pick who chairs which committee (as a PM selects a cabinet) or should the group vote on it?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Do They Mean Me?

Much of the last few days has been spent with my councillor's hat on, reading through a couple of hundred pages relating to Asda's planning appeal in the ward that I serve. (That's Walmart for you American types).

What's amused me most is the line tucked away where it describes the ward councillor as being 'well organised'. I think they mean me - which is odd. In my 48 years, none of my relatives, friends, teachers or employers has ever called me 'well organised'. I'm quite touched ...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

“By its actions, it appears that the appointed management at EPA is determined to actually reduce the sum total of human knowledge,”

A significant and alarming post from US Librarian Roger Owen Green:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is frantically dispersing its library collections to preempt Congressional intervention,according to internal emails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Contrary to promises by EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock that all of the former library materials will be made available electronically, vast troves of unique technical reports and analyses will remain indefinitely inaccessible....

... This month, EPA closed the OPPTS Library, its only specialized library for research on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides, without notice to either the public or affected scientists.

Here's the link to the order to destroy (“recycle”) US Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances library materials .

Weird Animals

Inspired by the Damn Interesting website, here's a puzzle for you. How many of these creatures are imaginary?

The Amazonian Giant Centipede, Scolopendra gigantea, grows to about 35cm long, climbs onto the ceiling of big caves, hangs on by some of its back legs and catches bats to eat.

The crustacean Cymothoa exigua is a shrimp-like parasite that attaches itself to the tongue of a fish called the Spotted Rosesnapper. Once in place it drinks blood from the artery that supplied the tongue with blood. The tongue gradually withers away and the parasite takes over as its tongue for the rest of its life, supplementing its diet with food particles. It is the only known parasite to replace on of it's hosts body organs, and one has been found recently in UK waters.

The Tiger Quoll , Dasyurus maculatus, is mainland Australia's largest marsupial carnivore. When it's babies are born they are the size of grains of rice. Adults are about 4-7 kg in weight. Little is known about their biology and ecology, and they are an endangered species.

The Caddy, Cadborosaurus willsi, is a sepent-like sea creature living off the Pacific coast of North America. 5-15 metres long, sighted nore than 300 times in the last two centuries.

The Mongolian Tuba, Tööm ah. was described (in Welsh) by the explorer Realth Chalmers as "A small kid, which as far as I can tell is devoid of any limbs, save two large horns which in some stories are much sought-after by hunters.". Buzkashi is a game played across Mongolia and Central Asia, in which two opposing teams on horseback compete to move a legless goat over their rival's goal line. It is claimed that the game was originally played with tuba corpses, when tubae numbers were much higher before they were nearly wiped out by hunters. The Maastricht Hours, a fourteenth century prayer book originating from the Netherlands and now kept in the British Library, features, amongst other illustrations, a depiction of a goat with the head of a snail. This could be an indication that stories of the tuba had spread far beyond their point of origin in the mountains of East Asia, most likely during the rapid expansion of the Mongol Empire during the 13th century.

Answers here, here, here , here and here.

Glancing to my Right

Prague Tory reckons half of his visitors are Lib Dems - and he's worried.

Andrew Sullivan is looking into Mormon underwear.

My favourite Tennessean Republican Bob Krumm is coming back to life after losing in the state senate elections, with an interesting post on blatant racial discrimination in the US Navy

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Night I Wore A Burqa

"F" at Blunt and Disorderly wrote an interesting piece yesterday regarding the British Airways ban on staff wearing crosses. I was particularly struck by her comments on people adopting a particular religious appearance for non-religious reasons:
I remember in the 1980's the 'young and hip' wore crosses all over, in their earrings, bracelets, even tatooes. They meant nothing, except maybe a tendency to listen to Madonna, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

Then I realised - I've worn a burqa for non-religious reasons. It was October 31st, 1979, Sussex University. I was going to a Halloween party dressed as a Nazgul from Lord Of The Rings. My costume was basically a sheet dyed black - except I didn't use enough dye, so that the sheet was a battleship grey. I wasn't a very scary Nazgul, actually.

But basically I was effectively covered up in something resembling a burqa (although I hadn't heard of the word at that time). Wearing something similar like that today might be seen as a sign of theological sarcasm, rather than poor fancy dress skills.

From what I can recall, wearing that costume didn't make me act more modestly than usual - in fact I was probably a bit, uh, frisky and , er , slightly more tactile than usual in my behaviour. Looking back at that night I've realised that for some women it might feel empowering in the short term.

Even so, if God told me I had to wear one of those in public for the rest of my life I'd tell Her to keep Her advice to Herself...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Political Pornography

If you want to mix your politics with a touch of violent, literary pornography, try the Devils Kitchen. The blog that last week had an interesting piece on chip and pin has degenerated. A piece that begins with some fairly puerile comments on Margaret Beckett's appearance turns into, well, violent pornography. Someone will probably tell me that he's being funny, but actually he isn't. Someone else will probably say it's brilliant invective, not for those easily offended - but it's not in the least brilliant and even if it was, so what? I'm no supporter of Margaret Beckett, but that still means she is a human being worthy of normal respect.

Devils Kitchen is one site I won't be looking at again. But I'm sure that all those right-wing bloggers will still proudly keep him on their blogrolls - or will they?

Election Addiction

For those who are election addicts, and are suffering withdrawal symptoms now the US mid-term elections are over, hope is in sight. You can look at surveyusa.com. This has head-to-head state-by-state poll results for comparing about a dozen potential Democrat candidates against a dozen potential Republican candidates.

So if you pick, say Barack Obama and John McCain, you can see instantly that McCain would win in the electoral college by 510 to 28, with Obama only winning Illinois (where he is senator), Hawaii (where he used to live) and Washington DC.

Replace Obama by John Edwards, and McCain wins by 272 to 266... and just for fun you can put Franklin D Roosevelt up against Ronald Reagan...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Labour's Big Change

This website appeared last Thursday - "LABOUR'S BIG CHANGE".

There's a lot of stuff here that I sympathise with :

If Labour is going to win the next general election, we need a fundamentally new direction of travel for the new Government after the election of a new Leader and Deputy Leader.

We need more than corrections of where we have clearly gone badly wrong – over Iraq, Lebanon and subservience to Bush, over the centralisation and unaccountability of Government today, over the growing and unacceptable inequality between rich and poor, over the privatisation of our public services, over the decline of manufacturing and the weakness of workplace rights, and over the continuing erosion of civil liberties. What we need above all is a vision of a new direction which can fire the imagination of today’s generation.

The overriding political issue today, the danger that could overwhelm much of the planet, much of the human race, if not in our lifetime but certainly in that of our children or grandchildren, is climate change.

Labour has to become the Party that will lead the world in a fundamental change of direction. We have to move from the peripheral and tinkering to the profound and visionary. Tackling climate change must permeate every other policy in government – not just energy, but transport, industry, building, agriculture, public expenditure and taxation, and foreign policy.

Put bluntly, we will never have food security, water security, or energy security in this country (or anywhere else) unless we give absolute priority to combating climate change.

It's backed by just 5 MPs so far - David Chaytor, Nia Griffith, Kelvvin Hopkins, Michael Meacher and Alan Simpson.

Is this website for the long-term, or connected to the leadership contest?

Hat-Tip: Andrea, on Political Betting

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Howard Dean goes over to the Dark Side

I'm very disappointed. In fact I'm stunned.

According to the Guardian:

Labour has enlisted one of the engineers of this week's Democratic victory in the US midterm elections in an attempt to boost its flagging fortunes before the local elections in May.

Howard Dean, the former presidential candidate and one of the men credited with masterminding the trouncing of the Republicans, will visit the UK next month to brief party officials about his pioneering campaigning techniques.

Can somebody tell Howard Darth, I mean, Dean, that it's the Lib Dems who voted against going to war?

That he should be on our side? That we thought he campaigned against the arrogant, complacent incumbent parties damaged by sleaze?

When Parties Fall Apart

It's a wretched business when a local party - any local party - divides into factions.

So I have some sympathy for the Republican Party Chairman for Woodbury County , Iowa who seems to have had a hell of a bad time recently. He's reported in the Sioux City Journal as saying:

Revealing the divide in the Woodbury County GOP, Salem said "real simply, we had two headquarters offices, which were doors apart from each other. The public reaction was, 'What the heck is going on?' The message that was sent is that this party is split apart."

He was also pretty blunt about one of the factions:

Salem said he coined a new phase: "You've heard of IslamaFascists -- I think we now have Christian fascists. What is the definition of a fascist? Not only do they want to beat you, but they want to destroy you in the process."

Salem said "if things keep going the way things are going locally and statewide, it is going to be more and more difficult for Republicans to recruit candidates. We have elements of the party who are moral absolutists, who take the approach that if you don't take my position every step of the way, not only will I not support you, but I will destroy you."

The comments column below the article has a fair amount of pungent debate between the two sides... Meanwhile, Woodbury Democrats are pretty happy.

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

Friday, November 10, 2006

"Up to 40 minutes after any Chip & PIN card transaction, the retailer may access your confidential details"

Full startling story at Devils' Kitchen

If this story is true , it's alarming in terms of fraud and consumer protection. But at a deeper level - if the public are being deceived over this, how much could anyone trust an ID card system?

And how does it relate to this report back in May:

Petrol giant Shell has suspended chip-and-pin payments in 600 UK petrol stations after more than £1m was siphoned out of customers' accounts.

Eight people, including one from Guildford, Surrey, and another from Portsmouth, Hants, have been arrested in connection with the fraud inquiry.

Beppe Grillo

I stumbled on Beppe Grillo's Blog this evening. I must confess that I didn't recognise his name, even though apparently he has one of the 10 most visited blogs in the world.

According to Wikipedia: he is an Italian actor and satirist, and a campaigner on issues such as corruption and energy policy.

His take on the US elections?

Well then, is it true that Italy is getting to be ever more similar to the USA?
Let’s see. In the USA elections, after dark years, the progressives beat the conservatives.
It’s just like in Italy, the elected progressives are at times conservatives just like the old conservatives.
And there are messes in the election procedure, the computers don’t work and Bush, great robber of votes, and Berlusconi, great buyer of consensus, are complaining.
But Bush admits the defeat, while Berlusconi is still gnawing away.
Rumsfeld resigns. Previti wants to come back. The Americans are more frightened of the increase in the price of petrol than the war in Iraq. The Italians prefer the withdrawal of ICI {tax on housing} than the withdrawal from Iraq.
The USA in Iraq are fighting and dying. The Italians are dying but it’s not known what they are staying there to do.

His comments about the Mafia are nearly strong enough to change my views about being in the EU:

I would like to make an appeal to organized crime. The top economic power in the country. The top industry. Feared even by Putin who retracted his statement after a few rash affirmations. However Bush has never raised problems since he was informed of how John Kennedy ended up.
The mafia has won. They have annexed themselves to the cities, provinces, regions. It’s necessary to be loyal and recognize that. Those who win, win.

The Great Repeal Bill

My favourite Labour website Ministry of Truth writes about the Great Repeal Bill:

It’s not often I have anything positive to say about the Lib Dems, but just for today I’ll make an exception in the case of their proposed ‘Freedom Bill’ or ‘Great Repeal Bill’, which they also called it.

Okay, so its pretty much a gimmick with little real prospect of going anywhere other than the Lib Dems website, but at least the list of illiberal laws they want to get rid of is pretty good one to be going on with, and with a bit of luck it should spark off a bit more debate on the subject of personal liberty.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tennessee Stories

I'm developing a liking for Tennessee politics....

The man who voted an hour after the victor was declared. It's not a joke:

After waiting nearly five and a half hours to vote, John Hailey cast his ballot the day after Election Day — at 12:25 a.m.

Hailey was the last person to vote at Madison Public Library and one of the last to vote in all of Nashville. He attributed the wait to long lines, too few voting machines and time-consuming paperwork that needed to be filled out by people who had moved recently.

The Bloggers Man Wins.

A lot of Lib Dems will have followed the Senate race in Tennessee, where the Republican Bob Corker beat the Democrat Harold Ford. What's intriguing is that Harold Ford previously had a seat in the House of Representatives. And the new Democrat candidate for that seat - who emerged through the primary process - was a guy called Steve Cohen . Cohen is definitely on the left of the Democratic Party and, incidentally, a white man standing in a black majority district. Did this upset certain people? Because Harold Ford's brother Jake stood as an independent....

Time Magazine reported it as follows:

Rhetoric has been heated. Thaddeus Matthews, a politically independent African American whose widely read local blog is part scandal sheet, part political tip-sheet, early in the campaign dismissed "Joke Ford" as an un-credentialed political novice and high-school dropout who lacked his congressman brother's finesse and did odd jobs for his father. That has also been the perspective of an influential corps of liberal white bloggers who pooled their efforts on Cohen's behalf during the primary.

The bloggers see themselves as representatives of Democratic Party progressives who long ago soured on Harold Ford Jr.'s ever-more-conservative rhetoric and voting record.

Cohen won easily on Thursday, with Ford second and the Republican third.

The Third Man. Meanwhile, in that Tennessee senate contest, it wasn't just Corker v Ford, there were 5 independent candidates as well. The third placed candidate, a chap called Ed Choate, got 10000 votes.

His website is interesting - not everybody becomes a Christian after being in a juvenile detention hall in Brazil- and he seems to be a biblical literalist ( I believe that that the world was created in six literal days, no more than Ten thousand years ago, and that we all came from Adam and Eve.) He has an wide-ranging set of policies, from supporting "good and comprehensive Health Insurance" to giving "our National guards and border patrol, permission to shot anyone trying to enter our country illegally without them being afraid of being prosecuted for human rights violation."

The Fourth Man
The guy who came 4th in the Senate contest, with about 3000 votes, was David Gatchell, who stood as a "None of the Above" candidate.

"Ever had the feeling you'd just rather skip an election than have to pick the least unqualified of the candidates? That none of them are worth taking off work and going to the poll to vote for? Yeah? Me too."

The Republicans Have Become Too Left-Wing

Finally, one lady blogger in Tennessee quotes an email she received today which puts , ahem, an interesting spin on things:

The single, most important lesson here: Democrats didn’t win; Republicans lost. And they didn’t just lose; they were routed. Voters didn’t reward Democrats, they punished Republicans. Badly. This wasn’t the country saying it wanted to go further Left; it was the country saying Republicans had already taken the country too far Left.

Hat Tips: Tennessee Politic Blog

How To Lose With Good Grace

"I have been out meeting voters, knocking on over 8,000 doors, talking with thousands of people for seven months now, and I’ve never received anything but kindness and encouragement."

He may be a Republican, but I still like the look of this guy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Republicans Blame Election Losses On Democrats

WASHINGTON, DC—Republican officials are blaming tonight's GOP losses on Democrats, who they claim have engaged in a wide variety of "aggressive, premeditated, anti-Republican campaigns" over the past six-to-18 months. "

Full story here

The Joy of Politics....

O Joy! O Happiness! O Chocolaty Cuddliness Everywhere! Orgasms! Enlightenment! Windows which clean themselves! Your heart's deepest desires satisfied at no cost!

Electoral Races I 'd Followed

A good night for the Democrats, thankfully.

But the two challengers I'd been particularly watching didn't win:

Democrat Tammy Duckworth (standing for the House of Representatives) looks set to lose in Illionois, trailing 48 percent to 52 percent , after the votes from 82 percent of the precincts were in.

And Republican Bob Krumm (standing for the Tennessee State Senate) lost in Nashville by about 34 to 66 percent.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Southend United 1 Manchester United 0

My parents got married during the week because my father was a devoted Southend United football fan and didn't want to marry on a Saturday - he didn't want to even miss a reserve game. So I have Southend United in my blood.

And this evening I come straight back from a council meeting to hear on the radio how the club are doing tonight. They are calling tonight's game their biggest match since they were founded 100 years ago - it's a 4th round cup game against Manchester United.

So, Southend United , bottom of the Championship (the English Division 2). Haven't won in the league for 12 games, but have a very talented young manager, Steve Tilson, who has led the club to two successive promotions.

And Manchester United , top of the Premiership, this week celebrating Sir Alec Fergurson's 20 years as manager. They aren't fielding their best possible team, but 10 of their starting 11 are internationals, and include Wayne Rooney, Wes Brown and Ronaldo.

The local paper quotes one of the Southend players, Mark Gower, as saying "Even the most die-hard Southend fan will not expect us to win tonight.."

But Southend have just won a massive shock victory. A goal from a 30-yard free kick from our best forward, Freddy Eastwood. Then a lot of determined defending...

Brilliant. Just Brilliant.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Part-Indian Conservative Prime Minister

They say that Barack Obama may become the first Afro-American President. (To be precise, his father was Kenyan and black, and his mother was from Kansas and white)

Still, how many decades is it going to take before one of the main political parties in this country chooses a leader who is at least partly of Asian ancestry?

What do you mean, The Tories did it 194 years ago?

"Liverpool's mother Amelia was the only daughter of William Watts, an associate of Clive in India who married a Eurasian wife. Amelia thus brought Charles Jenkinson a considerable dowry, and made her son around one eighth Indian, a fact which seems to have caused absolutely no stir in Britain"

Hat-tip: Pickled Politics

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I Love Irony

A Republican Congressman in Indiana has used a company to phone voters to deliver a message attacking his Democrat opponent Tom Hayhurst. The theme was that Hayhurst was "bad on immigration".

Trouble is , the firm that the Republicans hired uses people with heavy Indian or Hispanic accents.

The highlight of the message is supposed to be :

“The United States now is home to 11 million illegal immigrants, and the number grows every year. But instead of protecting our borders, congressional candidate Tom Hayhurst supports citizenship opportunities for illegal aliens.”

But the Congressman has heard the message (left on his daughter's answering machine), and is furious that all he can understand is :

“xxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xx xxxx xx xx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx, xxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx. xxx xxxxxxx xx xxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxx, xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx Hayhurst xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx.”

Full story at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Hat-tip : Talking points Memo

What has happened to Paul Leake's Blog ?

at http://www.paulleake.org.uk// ???

I'm 24 Percent Capitalist!

You Are 24% Capitalist, 76% Socialist

You tend to be quite wary of businesses, especially big business.
While you know that corporations have their place, you tend to support small, locally owned shops.
As far as the rich go, you think they're usually corrupt and immoral.

This is an American quiz, so of course it places me pretty far to the left. But it's pretty accurate regarding my views on shops. I don't think the rich are any more corrupt and immoral than anyone else, but I don't think they are more virtuous, either...

Found via Newerlabour

Remembering Fred Whipple

The American astronomer Fred Whipple was born a hundred years ago today.

Fred did many things, He discovered six comets, and suggested correctly that comets were 'dirty snowballs' rather than 'flying sandbanks'. He co-invented a cutting device to produce chaff to protect allied aircraft from enemy radar. In 1946 he invented the Meteor Bumper, a thin outer metal skin to protect spacecraft and satellites from meteors.

Overall Fred had a 'good innings' - he had long-lived parents too, with his fathetr living to 81 and his mother Celestia to 87. In 1999 he was named as a consultant on the NASA contour mission, the oldest person ever to accept such a post. He died in 2004 aged 97.

In 1933 he discovered asteriod 1252, which he named Celestia, after his mother.

Asteroid 1940 - Whipple - is named after him.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Not Enough Pollocks in US Politics

Back in the 1950s the US Government covertly funded the arts in a kind of cultural cold war, to show the rest of the world it's intellectual and artistic values. For example, the Boston Symphony Orchestra was sent on a celebrated tour of Europe. The CIA even funded expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock through front organisations.

Now, fast-forward fifty years and the US is trying to export democratic values to the Middle East. I have to say, the elections they are having in their own country don't inspire much admiration for the system, which too often seems to involve throwing venom at your opponents in vastly expensive TV advertising. I really hope the Democrats do well, because if the Republicans don't deserve to lose this year, they never will. But politics, it's a dirty business...:

Forti and Lapp run the independent expenditure arms of their parties' campaign committees, the place where many of the negative ads that voters are seeing are financed, produced and strategically placed on television stations across the country. In the final days of the campaign, they will easily outspend the candidates themselves in many of the most competitive House races. They will decide the final images that many voters see in this campaign. Warning for the fainthearted: Most of the ads will be dark and accusatory.

Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA), accused of choking his former mistress, "agreed to pay her about $500,000 in a settlement last year that contained a powerful incentive for her to keep quiet until after Election Day," the AP reports.
"Sherwood is locked in a tight re-election race against a Democratic opponent who has seized on the four-term congressman's relationship with the woman. While Sherwood acknowledged the woman was his mistress, he denied abusing her and said that he had settled her $5.5 million lawsuit on confidential terms."

Fake "Progressive" Group Still Active in PA
The shadowy RNC-connected front group the "Progressive Policy Council" is still at it, trying to discourage liberal voters from going to the polls on Tuesday.

Vito's ad a scarefest on terrorism
Is Rep. Vito Fossella getting nervous?
The Staten Island Republican has begun airing a new shock ad on the radio saying his challenger cares more about protecting terrorists than New Yorkers.
The scare ad features a phone call between two terrorists that suddenly goes dead. An announcer says Democrat Steve Harrison wants to stop wiretapping terrorists who are planning new attacks.
"Steve Harrison: putting terrorist rights above the safety of you and your family," the spot says.
Harrison, a Brooklyn lawyer who hasn't enough cash to air a response ad, called the radio spot a scurrilous lie and a sign that the once-mighty congressman is running scared.
"These are more than distortions. They are fabrications," Harrison said.

Fort Bend County Democrats are irate about campaign signs linking Democrats to illegal immigrants and terrorists, but the Republican county commissioner who paid for them said they accurately reflect Democratic positions.
Early voters in the heart of the heated race to succeed former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay were greeted Wednesday with red and white signs that read: "Want more illegals? Vote Democrat" and "Encourage Terrorists. Vote Democrat."
By midafternoon, outraged Democrats had removed the signs but not the acrimony.
"This is a majority minority county where Hispanics, blacks and Asians make up about 60 percent of the population," said Don Bankston, campaign coordinator for the Democratic Party in Ford Bend County.
"This is an appeal to fear, racism and prejudice, and that is wrong."

FRANK SCHAEFFER: I should be supporting Allen. Instead, I'm leaving the party.

I'm a Christian, a writer, a military parent and a registered Republican.
On all those counts, I was disgusted by an e-mail I just received that's being circulated by campaign supporters of Republican George Allen, who's trying to retain his Senate seat in Virginia.

The message goes like this: "First, it was the Catholic priests, then it was Mark Foley, and now Jim Webb, whose sleazy novels discuss sex between very young teenagers. ... Hmmm, sounds like a perverted pedophile to me! Pass the word that we do not need any more pedophiles in office."Democrat James Webb is a war hero and former Marine, wounded in Vietnam and winner of the Navy Cross. He was writing about class and military issues long before me and has articulated the issue of how the elites have dropped the ball on military service in his classic novel Fields of Fire. By the way, that's a book Tom Wolfe calls "the greatest of the Vietnam novels."

Mr. Webb's son is a Marine in Iraq. That's an uncommon fact in this era in which most political leaders' children act as if it is only right and proper that it's someone else's war to fight. Mr. Webb also happens to be running against a desperate opponent supported by people who circulated the stupid e-mail, something that reminds me of a 2000 smear campaign aimed at another war hero, John McCain.

I never served in the military. It was my son's unexpected volunteering that connects me to the military family and to my country. And I've been voting Republican for years. My late father – Dr. Francis Schaeffer – was an evangelical theologian, friend to Jerry Falwell and White House guest of Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and the first President Bush.

I have nice handwritten letters from various members of the Bush family, including Barbara, thanking me for my books on military service. So I have every reason to stay in the Republicans' good graces. (It's nice to be complimented on television by the First Lady.)

But enough is enough. I've had it with Republican smears.

The Webb e-mail is the embodiment of the cynical Republican strategists, some of whom must know the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Was Agatha Christie a murderer because she wrote about murder?

According to the Allen camp's logic, God would be a pedophile, too. After all, we Christians believe God inspired the Bible. And God-the-author chose to include the "sleazy" story about Lot offering to send out his young virgin daughters to be raped by the men of Sodom. The Bible has masturbation scenes, rape, pedophilia and God's favorite man – King David – warming himself with a young virgin in his old age. He's the same man God tells us committed murder after he indulged his peeping Tom fantasies.

Lucky for God-the-author that He's not running against George Allen.

More outside money is flowing into the Nevada-03, where Tessa Hafen is mounting an unexpectedly stiff challenge to Republican incumbent Jon Porter. The Democratic 527 group, VoteVets, whose ads this year include this one about insufficient body armor in Iraq, spent a quarter of a million dollars this week for attack ads on Porter, according to FEC reports filed yesterday.

The fight is on in New Jersey. The RNC yesterday dropped $3 million into the Senate race for attack ads on Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

IL-06: NRCC Sends Out "Welcome To America" Kit Attacking Duckworth
By Eric Kleefeld
The NRCC has come up with a novel way of attacking Dem Tammy Duckworth on immigration: It's sent out a new mailing packed in a cardboard box, of all things, and the box is labeled, "Welcome to America Kit!" Inside this "kit," which you're supposed to think is for immigrants, is another mailing designed as if it were intended as an offer to illegals. It says: "Enter America illegally and get...Social Security benefits!" There is also a picture of Duckworth, which is obviously meant to suggest that she supports the "offers" to illegals on the mailing. She doesn't, however: Duckworth actually backs GOP Senator John McCain's immigration approach, which doesn't include benefits for illegals.

[The Green Party candidate for Attorney General Rachel] Treichler had petitioned weeks earlier to be included in the League of Women Voters' proposed three attorney-general debates. In a letter, she argued her qualifications: ballot access, financial compliance with New York State Board of Elections, voter interest and serious media coverage. The league, in turn, commissioned a Zogby poll in which Treichler polled 17 percent of the vote among independent voters. It was decided that she was a viable candidate.
At the last minute, however, Treichler learned that she wasn't going to be included in any of the debates. [Democraticic candidate Andrew] Cuomo wasn't interested, she says, in debating a third-party candidate, and his camp put the pressure on to not include her.

After some searching, the most positive, freshest viewpoint I found was down in Tennessee , for a state senate race.. This Republican candidate Bob Krumm seems to have a pretty decent approach and a useful website:

"Yesterday I had a chance encounter with my esteemed opponent.
I was at the American Legion Post 5 luncheon at Piccadilly. While I was standing in line, I looked back toward the door and saw Senator Henry walk in.
I moved to the rear of the line to speak with him. As always, we had a very cordial conversation. Say what you will of him, no one can deny that he is a kind gentleman of the highest order.
At one point, Senator Henry asked me, “Mister Krumm, Do you know who the speaker is today?” He was visibly shocked when I told him, “You’re looking at him.”
I really wanted him to stay for the whole thing, and told him so. But he, probably not wanting to appear like another notorious party crasher, said that he was just going to get his lunch and leave before I spoke, so as to give me my time.
I do wish that Senator Henry had stayed. I think he would have been happy to hear the kind words I said about him during my remarks.
And besides, it might finally have given some voters an opportunity to see us together, and ask questions of both of us."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Baghdad Burning Is Back

I've just realised that after a gap of a couple of months, Riverbend has posted again.

It actually took me a fortnight to notice - but I'm truly relieved that she is still alive.

She's in a sombre mood.


Friday, October 27, 2006

The Worst Political Websites

Are here.

Unless you know some worse ones...

Hat-tip : Political wire

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The CIA and Rochford District

The former head of the CIA, George Tenet as been appointed as a non-executive director of the British defense technology company Qinetiq.

What's the connection with our district? Qinetiq operates the spooky military research establishment on Foulness Island. It controls a lot else on Foulness as well.

According to the Washington Post , Mr Tenet told President Bush it was a "slam dunk" that the great politican Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Let's hope he doesn't get any wrong ideas about any of our local politicians.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More Jokes

I've got this serious , personal post I keep planning to write, but I never get round to it. So, as people so liked the last batch of jokes I copied from politicalhumor , here's a few more:

"The election is three weeks away and there are rumors the Republicans are getting ready for an election night disaster, which would be a first -- a disaster they were actually prepared for." --Bill Maher

"If recent polls are correct and Democrats win back control of the House and Senate, President Bush's administration will be transformed into an early lame duck. Worse, Cheney will then shoot it." --Seth Meyers

"Elections are only a few weeks away and it looks like the Republicans are going to lose a lot of them. I guess desperate times require desperate measures. [on screen: RNC's TV ad depicting another terrorist attack by Osama bin Laden, followed by a reminder to vote 11/7 ]. Let me get this straight. Osama bin Laden is threatening to attack America again, so what we should do is vote for the people who haven't been able to catch him for the last five years?." --Jimmy Kimmel

"In Las Vegas, a 32-year-old mother told police that Republican Congressman Jim Gibbons, who is running for governor in Nevada, got drunk, put his hand on her thigh, complained about his marriage and then tried to have sex with her in the parking garage. A congressman trying to have sex with an adult woman? This is the best news Republicans have had in years." --Jay Leno

"Florida Congressman Mark Foley is writing a book. The book will be about 400 pages. I don't know how long the book is, but the book will be about 400 pages." --Jay Leno

"According to the latest poll about the 2008 election, many voters in Iowa consider Hillary Clinton as their second or even third choice. After hearing this, Bill Clinton said, 'I feel the same way.'." --Conan O'Brien

Monday, October 23, 2006

"I Want My Own Party Punished"

This extract from Bloggingheads is interesting because :

a) It shows how you can do interesting video political discussion over the net.

b) One of the participants is Daniel Drezner, one of my favourite US bloggers. And he's explaining why, as a "Long-term Republican" , he wants the Republicans punished and Democrats to win control of one chamber of Congress

"I'm not sure if it's the party of the grown-ups any more, frankly. I'm not saying that the Democrats are, but , you know... "

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Life In Ohio

I've just discovered Shakespeare's Sister, a group blog from the USA (one of the contributors looks like UK Tory Martine Martin, they are probably different people, but I'm not sure.)

American Progressive

UK Tory

Anyway, it's well worth looking at Shakespeare's Sister , for example for a posting here. Apparently a group in Ohio called “Citizens for Community Values,” is giving legal support to a guy who beat up his live-in girlfriend. Why? Because allowing live-in girlfriends to be protected by domestic violence laws is one step towards allowing gay marriage...

"Picture your family dead. Just for a second. Are you picturing it? Now go vote."

For those interested in the US elections, some examples of late night TV comment via Political Humor:

"Interesting admission by President Bush today. He said there are similarities between Iraq and Vietnam. Of course, the big difference is his dad could get him out of Vietnam." –Jay Leno

"The president had a press conference this week and he said that the U.S. has no plans to attack North Korea. And then he added, 'Like having no plan ever stopped me before.'" - Bill Maher

"We all know about the big dust-up between President Bush and the Senate leadership over his wanting to change the Geneva Conventions, right? Well, they reached a compromise. That's not just a victory for Bush, it's a victory for the country because basic human rights is something we all need to compromise on." --Stephen Colbert

"Yesterday Pope Benedict was severely criticized for his anti-Muslim remarks by 1970s singer Cat Stevens. So far, no word yet from Dan Fogelberg." --Conan O'Brien

"The Venezuelan President went to the U.N. and called Bush the devil. You could tell Bush was offended, because his tail stopped wagging. Bush said, 'I would love to answer your ridiculous charge that I'm the devil, but I'm a little too busy this week trying to unite my party behind torturing people.'" --Bill Maher

"In the West Bank a group calling itself the Lions of Monotheism fire bombed four churches, telling the Associated Press the attacks were carried out to protest the Pope's remarks linking Islam and violence. The irony of the statement, and this is often the case we find, was lost on them." --Jon Stewart

"The Senate Intelligence Committee -- that almost sounds like an oxymoron -- released a report this week saying there's no evidence that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with al Qaeda. Thank God we found that out before we did something crazy." --Jay Leno

"Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is still in the hospital with a serious medical condition. Castro said that a half century of Communist rule seemed like a good idea right up until the point he was rushed to the hospital in a '55 Oldsmobile." --Conan O'Brien

"President Bush had his annual medical exam this week. The doctors said the president remains in excellent health and is fit for duty. In fact so fit today the National Guard called and said 'So how about serving your time now?' ." --Jay Leno

"Picture your family dead. Just for a second. Are you picturing it? Now go vote." --Jon Stewart, summarizing President Bush's interview with NBC's Matt Lauer

What's bald, 110,000 years old , and Votes Lib Dem?

It was me! It was my birthday yesterday, and I can still do binary arithmetic!


Monday, October 16, 2006

Should Market Forces be the Strongest Forces in The Universe?

I share the dismay of Peter McGrath about the proposed closure of the Physics Department at Reading University.

It's this kind of issue that reminds me that market forces are good servants but unpleasant masters...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Fear and Loathing in Russia

The shops in the big Russian cities have lovely supermarkets now, Russian TV has the most beautiful singers in the world and the doctors are good but it ain't easy to be a liberal ....

MOSCOW — Internet postings are calling on Russian nationalists to kill government critics — death lists that underscore the dangers journalists and rights activists face in Russia.Svetlana Gannushkina, a refugee rights activist, tops a list of 89 people published by a radical nationalist group, the Russian Will, which has urged "patriots" to take up arms and execute her and other friends of "alien" peoples.

"Since there is nothing I can do in this situation, I try not to think about it," the soft-spoken, 64-year-old Gannushkina said.

Slain investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was on such a list, for her reporting on Chechnya and criticism of the Kremlin. Her slaying Saturday has cast a chill over human rights activists and journalists who criticize government policies and increasingly fear for their safety in a repressive climate.

More here from Friday's St Petersburg Times.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The population was 299,978,881 when I wrote this...

Thanks to Ramblin' with Roger , I see that the US Census Bureau expects the population of the USA to pass the 300 million mark very soon. Only an estimate of course, but still interesting. Every few seconds the figure on their website increases.

You wouldn't believe it now, but I used to be the youngest person in the world.

Is this just a paranoid fantasy, or is this for real?

Whilst looking at the steampunk laptop below, I found the following video on the same livejournal.

This sample of the dialogue is intriguing in itself. But is the speaker a sober, sensible whistleblower, or just a fantasist?

"And [US Representative Tom Feeney] asked you to design a program to rig an election."


"While he was the speaker of the Florida House."


[...] "And [Mrs. Yang] said, 'you don't understand, we need you to hide the fraud in the source code, not reveal it. We need to control the vote in South Florida.'"

Wikipedia says that Curtis's specific allegation is that:

At the behest of Rep. Tom Feeney, in September 2000, he was asked to write a program for a touchscreen voting machine that would make it possible to change the results of an election undetectably. This technology, explained Curtis, could also be used in any electronic tabulation machine or scanner. Curtis (a lifelong Republican) assumed initially that this effort was aimed at detecting Democratic fraud, but later learned that it was intended to benefit the Republican Party. West Palm Beach was named as an intended target, but used punched card ballots in the 2000 elections; Curtis explained that the software could be used in any electronic tabulation machine or scanner. Curtis spoke about this to the Conyers Voting Forum, after Conyers left the forum and turned over the dais to a local politician, on 2004-12-13.

Things are really interesting now, as Curtis is now standing against Feeney for Congress. This is in a congressional district where Feeney won unopposed last time. (Can you imagine that in the UK- political parties giving up and letting another party getting a parliamentary seat unopposed?)

Wikipedia also says that:

According to WFTV News, The Tom Feeney Campaign sent tens of thousands of mailers throughout his district. WFTV reports, "the mailing features congressional candidate Clint Curtis's head superimposed on what's supposed to be the body of Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Heffner. It went out to 110,000 voters across Central Florida," (http://www.wftv.com/news/10011093/detail.html?rss=orlc&psp=news).

The mailer sent by Tom Feeney's campaign upset many local mothers, including one New Smyrna Beach native, who said "don't send smut to my mailbox...how about sending what a politician can do for someone and what you stand for, because now all I have is negative thoughts that stick in my head because of what I read," 1

Feeney's responses to Curtis's allegations may have hurt his campaign for reelection, once thought to be one of the safest Republican seats in the United States. This comes at a time when Republican scandals, including Feeney's, may signal a change of control for the House of Representatives.

Curtis's election website is here

A laptop with a Morse Key

This looks like fun- a laptop with a Morse key and a lot of wood...

Found via this livejournal .

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Records of Service

Until yesterday, the longest serving East Anglian local politician I'd come across was Frederic Chancellor. This chap was elected to the Chemsford Board of Health when he was 27 , became first Mayor of the new Chelmsford Borough in 1888 when he was 63 , stood down in 1917 at the age of 92.

But, via Ellee Seymour, I've read in the Eastern Daily Press about Jack Chase, a parish councillor who's 100 years old and still going strong:

While Jack Chase celebrates his 100th birthday today he remains just as committed to tackling the issues in his village of Caister, near Yarmouth - even though he is almost certainly the oldest parish councillor in the country.

“During the last election I talked about retiring for about one minute but the chairman of the council insisted I should carry on,” he said.

Marianne Webb, a spokesman for the National Association of Local Councils, said: “We don't keep this sort of record, but I have never come across anyone as old as Mr Chase still serving on a council.”

Pat Hacon, himself a Caister councillor since 1977, said: “He is the youngest centenarian you could meet. I have a picture of Caister Football Club in 1929 and he does not look much different.

“I see him at every council meeting I attend, in fact I'm sure he goes to more than me.”

It is the spirit that shows itself when you mention Mr Chase's other big passion, golf, that is clearly the key to his longevity as a public servant.

Despite having knees “condemned” by doctors, the former seven-handicapper played his last round on the Caister links only a year ago.

“I still practise my swing with a seven iron and I have 80 new balls still waiting in their boxes,” he said, the twinkle in his eye betraying the fact that he still sees himself as having a future on the fairway.

As well as his continuing stint on Caister council, which began in 1927, Mr Chase also represented his village on Blofield and Flegg Rural District Council from 1948 and Yarmouth Borough Council from 1973, following local government re-organisation.

He is proud of his visible achievements that few other local councillors could match.

“I think my biggest achievement was overseeing the start of work on the seawall in Caister in the 1930s. Without that we probably would not still be here,” he said.

“And wherever I look in the village I can see things I helped to bring about, from our three brand new schools after the war to the King George V playing fields.

Mr Chase is still quick to voice political views that sound surprisingly fresh and young.

“I am in favour of European countries some day coming together like the United States of America, but it will need to be led by the people rather than politicians,” he said.

Simply awesome. So why no MBE?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Turned out nice today....

Looks like it's a pleasant day at the South Pole.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Vote for Parent and Child Parking Bays? We'll throw you out of the Tory Group!"

I really liked a piece yesterday on the BBC Website - about Cameron hitting 40. It rang true:

Forget the politics, it's a 40-year-old father thinking aloud.

Have you noticed something about the Conservatives? Trying to look a bit more youthful, suddenly discovering that money isn't everything, obsessed with looking after the children.

Yes, it's a 40-year-old man thinking aloud. David Cameron has hit the big four-zero. And the Conservative party is reverberating with the anxieties familiar to anyone in this greying hair, growing kids' time-zone.

Forget the politics, just listen to the speeches.

"Think what it's like when you're left on your own to look after the kids. If I'm in charge on my own for just a few hours the place looks like a bomb's hit it. Imagine looking after children all on your own all the time."

What's that from? It was Cameron's big policy speech to the party conference last week in Bournemouth.

Bournemouth. That'll be nice for the kids. Bit of beach, they'll like that. Isn't there that monkey zoo nearby? Saw it on Animal Planet. Wanted to watch the football, but they'd hidden the remote...

Sorry, what was that? Yes, speech to the conference. Modernising. Green. Hospitals. Sorry, can't get that Balamory tune out of my head. Yes, taxes. I'll mention taxes. Wouldn't you like to know.

If you want to understand the changing face of the Conservatives, consider the obsessions of the fortysomething parent.

"Sorry. I've left the buggy in the restaurant."

Having children means discovering stuff like hospitals and schools. They're no longer just public services, they have a very private significance. They suddenly seem much more important than before.

Sit where fortysomethings gather and listen. They're not talking about Europe or macro-economics. They're talking about schools, houses and work. And how do you balance work with that over-riding obsession - children?

"Imagine trying to hold down a job with an employer who isn't understanding about the fact that you might have to disappear at a moment's notice..." As Cameron told his party's followers in Bournemouth.

If he'd carried on talking, the Conservatives would have committed themselves to buggies that you can fold one-handed and free counselling services for parents shell-shocked by four-hour nursery rhyme tapes for long journeys.

Here on Rochford District (34 Tories, 4 Lib Dems, I Independent) we now have our own 40-ish new-father Tory. He's a chap called Phil Capon and he and his wife Tracy are both councillors. Tonight we had a committee item on Parent and Child Parking Bays for council car parks:

The officers were recommending… doing nothing. Apparently there are some spaces that could be widened into Parent and Child spaces, but it would cost an estimated £500 per space (!) to adjust them, and then it might be a problem that they might be left empty when they could be occupied by non-parents.

However the item was up for debate by councillors. The committee has 9 Tories (2 of them didn't turn up), 1 independent (who didn't turn up) and 1 Lib Dem (me) When the chairman of the committee, Phil Capon , began speaking, it looked like we would get some spaces agreed:

"Since becoming a father my eyes have been opened to the many issues and problems that the parents and carers of children face. I can appreciate what my residents have been telling me for some time.

To return to your car and find you are unable to get your child back in his or her car seat due to the thoughtlessness of others is potentially dangerous and annoying.

I don't advocate the loss of parking bays but merely that end bays should be designated 'parent and child"

We continually hear that we must prevent the High Streets from dying and that 'out of town' shopping centres are luring people away. This is true - they appreciate the problems and offer suitable parking bays.

We can not only show our commttment to child safety but also that we support local businesses."

I felt quite good at this point as I was on balance in favour of the idea and it looked like it was going to happen. BUT THEN - a sombre Cllr Capon continued to speak:

Sadly members, my dream is not to be. Due to the blinkered views of other members, who I can only assume care nothing for the wellbeing of children and who don't want local shopping centres to survive, a wonderful chance is being lost.

The "whip" is on, I cannot vote against it otherwise I lose my right to represent ny residents. Morally , I cannot vote for the recommendation so I will abstain"

The situation became clear. Cllrs Phil and Tracy Capon had raised the item in the private Tory group meeting. They'd lost out in a vote to the Tory 'dinosaurs' . Then the Tory leadership had enforced a whip, so that if Phil Capon voted for Parent and Child parking bays, he'd be thrown out of the Tory group.

After Capon spoke, there was an embarassed silence. i jumped in and proposed allowing some Parent and Child parking spaces but didn't get a seconder. So Tory leader Terry Cutmore proposed having no Parent and Child Bays and Cllr Tony Humphries seconded that.

I then scornfully said that in 20+ years on the council I'd never seen any political party impose a whip on such a small item. The Tories then won the vote 5-1 with 2 abstentions.

A big mistake by the Tory leadership tonight. If they'd let Phil Capon vote with his conscience, the issue would have been over in 5 minutes. But now it won't be forgotten so quickly, and it shows them in a bad light.

Democrat Vets

Thanks to BAGnewsNotes I've seen this striking picture from Vanity Fair. They are four veterans of the current Iraq war, and as far as I can tell, they are all standing for election.

A brilliantly composed group portrait of some feisty people.

The lady, by the way, is Major Tammy Duckworth, she's standing for Congress in Illinois and here's another picture of her here:

According to Political Wire, she's just ahead in the polls:

In IL-6, Tammy Duckworth (D) edges Peter Roskam (R), 43% to 38%, in the race to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde(R-IL).

Sunday, October 08, 2006

An Email From Dante's Hell

The full story is in Time magazine , but in case it disappears, here are the most memorable bits:

All: I haven't written very much from Iraq. There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for 20 hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process.

And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.

Worst City in al-Anbar Province — Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Lots and lots of insurgents killed in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.

Most Surreal Moment — Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. We had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Biggest Surprise — Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never figured that we'd get a police force established in the cities in al-Anbar. I estimated that insurgents would kill the first few, scaring off the rest. Well, insurgents did kill the first few, but the cops kept on coming. The insurgents continue to target the police, killing them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won't give up. Absolutely incredible tenacity. The insurgents know that the police are far better at finding them than we are — and they are finding them. Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to a pulp...

Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate — Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here — all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a band of brothers who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps.

Best Chuck Norris Moment — 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in a small town to kidnap the mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the Bad Guys put down his machine gun so that he could tie the mayor's hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machine gun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.

(found via Andrew Sullivan)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Away From It All

Rayleigh Lib Dems had our October walk along the Paglesham sea wall today. No politics , just fresh air and a chance of a chat. The weather was very kind...

Trevor Powell used to be councillor for this area, but he now lives somewhere less urban..

The remains of HMS Beagle are in these waters...

Paglesham Church ! And then lunch at the Punchbowl...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Credit Where It's Due

Full marks to Mr Straw for stating what to me seems bloomin' obvious:

Jack Straw, the ex-foreign secretary, has angered Muslim groups by suggesting women who wear veils can make relations between communities more difficult.

The Blackburn MP says the veil is a "visible statement of separation and of difference" and he asks women visiting his surgery to consider removing it.

and a slightly surprised "well done" to Mr Cameron for coming out so strongly in support of the NHS

Mr Cameron called the NHS was one of the 20th Century's greatest achievements.

"Tony Blair explained his priorities in three words: education, education, education," he told Tory activists in Bournemouth.

"I can do it in three letters: NHS."

I've got to say though, that however important the NHS is to me, it wouldn't ever get above, say, number 4 on my list of priorities...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Man Who Wasn't There

One of the minor ambitions of my life is to actually get to the Big Conference. Although I've been in the party for about 25 years, I've never found the time to go... and life is really busy.

So I have definitely appreciated the veritable cornucopia of posts from all the assorted Lib Dem Bloggers who were there - in particular I enjoyed reading Millennnium Elephant's pieces on Sarah Teather and Ming.

Alex Foster's comments about being a 'bad' Lib Dem and avoiding the Leader's Speech were illuminating but haven't put me off the idea.

I'll get there one day...

Where will Conference be in 2008?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hungary for Knowledge

The "Lying Hungarian Prime Minister " story has been news for several days now. Thanks to Harry's Place, I've now found an interesting Hungarian English-language website with the splendid name of Pestiside

But never mind the Hungarian lies, have you heard of the "Hungarian Calendar"? It seems to be a book written by one Zoltan Hunnivari which seemingly claims that conventional history is wrong , that Jesus Christ was born in AD 194, and that basically the dates of ancient historical events are out by about 200 years. Of course, most historians would say that this is a load of old goulash.

If you want to know more, look up the phantom time hypothesis in Wikipedia , which suggests that the early middle ages (614 -911 AD) never happened.

If this isn't sufficiently weird for you, try the New Chronology of Russian mathematician Anatoly Timofeevich Fomenko, who believes that "the history of humankind goes only as far back as AD 800, we have almost no information about events between AD 800-1000, and most historical events we know took place in AD 1000-1500." Oh, and the historical figures of Jesus and Pope Gregory VII are the same person.

Wikipedia helpfully points out that "These views are entirely rejected by mainstream scholarship."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Labour's Achievements

My favourite Labour Blogger , Ministry of Truth, has given a list of 50 achievements by the Blair Labour Government:

1. Lowest inflation since the 60s
2. Low interest rates
3. Introduced the National Minimum Wage
4. Record police numbers in England and Wales
8. Funding for every pupil in England to double (since 1997) by 2007-08
9. Lowest unemployment for 29 years
10. Written off up to 100 per cent of debt owed by poorest countries
11. 78,700 more nurses
12. 27,400 more doctors
17. NHS Direct offering free convenient patient advice at any time
18. New Deal - helped over a million people into work
19. Local government funding has increased by a third in real terms
21. Free entry to all national museums and galleries
22. Overseas aid budget more than doubled
24. Child benefit up 25 per cent since 1997
25. Created Sure Start to help children from low income households
27. £200 winter fuel payment to pensioners & extra £100 for over-80s
28. The biggest rolling stock replacement programme ever seen on our railways
30. Over 30,000 more teachers in England schools
32. All workers now have a right to 4 weeks’ paid holiday
33. Record rises in the state pension
34. 700,000 children lifted out of relative poverty
35. Introduced child tax credit giving more money to parents
37. Cut long-term youth unemployment by 75 per cent
38. Free nursery places for three and four-year-olds in England, Scotland and Wales
39. Free fruit for all four to six-year-olds at school
40. Free school milk for five, six and seven-year-olds in Wales
41. Record police numbers in Scotland
44. Free TV licences for over-75s
46. Halved maximum waiting times for NHS operations
47. Free local bus travel for over-60s
48. Record number of students in higher education
50. Five, six and seven-year-olds in class sizes of 30 or less

It looks a pretty good list. (And doesn't even include the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.) Remembering what happened to me under Mrs Thatcher, I particularly welcome number 9. If a Lib Dem government had achieved all this I'd be quite happy, although there's not been much done for the environment.

So why are Labour so unpopular???? It's not just a question of voting intentions, it's a matter that a lot of people loathe Blair and his government. Here's a few thoughts:

a) We don't like the government because the people at the top are not very likeable. After all, they don't even like each other. It's said that sincerity is important in politics- once you can fake that, you can do anything. Trouble for Labour is that much of the public now only perceives them as insincere and this perception tarnishes everything they do.

b) It's all those other "Achievements" that are the problem. Invading Iraq hasn't exactly increased Labour's public support. All that sleaze. Every flop from the Millennium Dome onwards.All those measures that erode democracy and our civil freedoms. The abject failures of the CSA and the Immigration Service. All the things brilliantly mentioned here at Bloggerheads.

c) There were always going to be some Tories who disliked Blair on principle. And the Thatcher years made us more of a "me, me, me...." society, not caring about any of those 50 items unless they benefit us directly as individuals.

d) Finally , Blair has torn his party away from it's roots. Those roots are unhappy.

It's ironic that in a party so seemingly obsessed with spin, that it's managed to obscure the respectable list of things that it has achieved. Let this be a lesson for us in the Lib Dems for the future - let's stay honest and modest ,even if that means owning up to the occasional failure.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The pruning of a Bush?

If it was someone from Respect - or even a liberal blogger from the States - writing about the idea of George W Bush being impeached, I'd not take it too seriously.

But when a UK Conservative starts writing favourably about the possibility of it happening, I start to get interested...

To quote the lady concerned - Martine Martin (no. 50 on Iain Dale's Tory list)-

Even though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has publically stated that "impeachement is off the table", if Conyers becomes chairman he will certainly put it firmly on the agenda. He has publically stated "When the House returns to the Democrats, I will have the power to subpoena Bush Administration officials to answer questions and face the consequences for their abuses of power". In fact, I'd say that the elections this November could very well be a huge turning point in American history, because, dependant on the outcome, there is every possibility that George Bush could actually be on the sliding slope to impeachment, and eventually maybe even the death penality.

I know, I know. It'll never happen, I hear you say.

Maybe not. But at this point I would never rule out the eventuality... so just watch this space folks.

Every patch of land, every building, every garden, has a councillor...

First of all , congratulations to Stephen Tall on winning "Lib Dem Blogger of the Year"...!

I see that Stephen is also a councillor for Headington in Oxford. Not having a good knowledge of the city (last time I went there was for a wedding at St Cross Church decades ago) I don't know whether he represents any of the celebrated dreaming spires.

But it got me thinking. Every piece of land in our country has a councillor - probably several.And so does every famous location or building. I believe that David Morton has the privilege to represent the area that includes Headingly Cricket Ground, and Simon Wright likewise for Fakenham racecourse.

Do any of the other Lib Dem bloggers currently represent notable places?

What is it like to be a councillor for a ward that includes Aintree, or Winchester Cathedral, or Snowdon, or Inverewe Gardens?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Make Your Own Seal

Found via Ramblin' with Roger , a site where you create your own seals...

Well, I quite like it.

The Top Six

The six blogs shortlisted for the Lib Dem Blogger of the Year award are all worthy candidates - although I have to say that the one I nominated didn't make the list.

The award is for "The blog that has done the most to promote liberalism in the last year." Well, I'm not sure that many of us set out to do this as our main purpose. For me blogging is a pleasurable activity- whether about politics, or music, or football, or history - and I cherish the sense of community that I find at Lib Dem Blogs.

To use a football analogy, we're a league of fairly equal players - some of us may write more frequently, or more elegantly, or more amusingly, or more knowledgeably than others - but we don't have any "Chelsea" or "Man U" bloggers towering above the rest.

And that's good.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Back to Blogging

The last few weeks have been exceptionally tiring for me - not enough hours for sleeping adequately, let alone blogging. But hopefully things are improving a little bit now.

August is traditionally a quiet month here for councillors. However some interesting things have been going on in the ward I help represent:

First of all Asda and Henry Davidson have withdrawn their appeal on their first planning application - which is mostly for a supermarket on land with outline planning consent as a neighbourhood centre. ... They are now going to appeal on their second one. What's the significance of this? Well, the second application has space for some community uses which the first one lacked - So if Asda win their appeal, what we get will be an improvement on the first application (which our council officers strongly recommended for approval)

However I doubt that Asda will win with their second application . They've clearly switched applications because their advisers felt they were on very dodgy ground with their first one. There are still strong reasons for refusal - heavy traffic, conflict with our council's retail policy, loss of amenity for neighbouring residents - with their second one.

What's the moral to this story? Councillors should always look at applications on basis of their planning merits, not on the size of the applicant.

The second item of interest was an application for a small beauty studio to be housed in a redundant Green Belt farm building - actually a few derelict toilets. Our officers recommended refusal - partly because they felt it might damage the vitality of our High Street, although they didn't raise this concern over Asda. In the end it got passed, because councillors felt it complied with our poilicy on re-using existing farm buildings. But I was struck by the support that the applicant had from her clients. For example, lots of lengthy, articulate, and quite angry comments here on our local website.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

20 Years Ago today....

Back in 1925 the passenger liner Berlin III was launched - she served the Bremen - Southampton - Cherbourg - New York route in the days when you had to cross the Atlantic by sea. After being chartered by the Nazis as a workers cruising ship and then service in World War 2 as a hospital vessel, she was sunk by a mine in 1943.

The Soviet Union refloated her in 1949 , renovated her and renamed her Admiral Nakhimov after one of Russia's greatest naval commanders.

She ended up on the Black Sea, taking Soviet holidaymakers for 6 -day cruises along the beautiful coast.

And then 20 years ago today - August 31st 1986 - she was hit by the cargo ship Pyotr Vasev, and sank in a few minutes. 423 people perished. It was with a sense of disbelief that Russians heard the rumours that she had sunk - no official announcement was made for days.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Place is Cold -2

For those of you who really want to know what's going on about Pluto, a couple of interviews with the astronomical body himself.

The Place is Cold - 1

A lot of the Lib Dem Bloggers have been commenting on the Pluto controversy. Of course it's the astrologers who are going to be in a real panic over this. This comes from www.astro.com in 2001, where a couple of astrologers are discussing the Saturn-Pluto opposition (i.e. the arrangement that Saturn and Pluto are in opposite parts of the sky:

Nick Campion: To start with, Liz, I’d like to talk a little about Pluto, the planet of the moment, especially in view of the current Saturn-Pluto opposition. I’ve been reading what you wrote about Saturn and Pluto in your book Saturn; you stated that, when these planets combine, "there often seems to be a carefully and deliberately organised movement towards some sort of self-destructive experience."[1] You added that the person may be aware of this obsessive movement but may not be able to control it. I have that Saturn-Pluto opposition squared my Sun at the moment, so I was thinking: "How can I be conscious about it?" In fact, how does one become conscious of something? Have you experienced that opposition this year, in terms of your clients? Has it been noticeable?

Liz Greene: Oh yes, very noticeable. There aren’t many people who are not getting it in one form or another, because it doesn’t just involve planets in the mutable signs. It is also hitting things by semi-square and sesquiquadrate. That pulls in all the cardinal signs as well. So, yes, a lot of clients are beginning to put on their armadillo suits.

Nick Campion: Do you mean that they’re getting into a self-protective posture?

Liz Greene: That’s one reaction to it. I think it is a very common reaction - and probably a natural reaction. Saturn is much more individually graspable, whereas Pluto feels so overwhelming that the initial response is to pull into Saturn and try to defend oneself against Pluto. It is not "wrong" to do that. It is an inevitable, natural thing to do. But it is not necessarily the best thing to do. The aspect will work itself through anyway, but that certainly seems to be what people are doing.

Nick Campion: In view of the respective planetary positions, do you think that there is a particular Gemini-Sagittarius character to this Saturn-Pluto opposition?

Liz Greene: I think so, because it seems to be raising issues that have to do with morality, as well as with knowledge versus intuitive realisations of some kind. It is creating a lot of intellectual polarisation. There are ideas being battled out, although the form that the Saturn-Pluto opposition takes can be very concrete in lots of people’s lives. With all the conflicts that seem to be arising on both personal and collective levels, it is ideologies, concepts, belief systems, and bodies of knowledge that are at stake, even behind whatever wars are being fought.

Nick Campion: Is there one particular example at the moment of an ideological clash that you’d point to?

Liz Greene: Well, how about Northern Ireland? That’s been going on for a very long time, and I don’t think that it’s unique to Saturn-Pluto, but it may enter a new phase now.

Nick Campion: The Sun in the chart for the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (December 7, 1922) is at 14° Sagittarius.[2]

Liz Greene: The Sun and the Descendant are within five degrees of each other. The chart for southern Ireland[3] and the chart for the U.K., including Northern Ireland, are one day apart. They are both getting Saturn-Pluto.

Of course, now that Pluto has been demoted, this is now absolute hogwash, whereas as until last week, it was , er..
Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.

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