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...
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.