Monday, December 31, 2007

Exporting English Cheese To Russia.

I've just been watching a New Year's programme on Russian TV - a music programme. Bearing in mind this is prime time television, it's interesting that they've included Russian versions of two old English pop songs. The Bee Gees "How Deep is Your Love" is OK. But can't they do any better than a Russian version of the Brotherhood of Man's "Save All Your Kisses for Me"?

What is the Russian word for "cheesy"?

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Do It Yourself Waterboarding

So,one chap at the "Straight Dope" website decides to find out the truth about waterboarding - by personal experimentation:

"Seriously, I determined to give this a try, see how bad it was: Settle the debate authoritatively. Torture, or not?

I figure I would be a good test subject. I am incredibly fit and training for a 100 mile endurance run. The main thing about such an event is ability to tolerate pain. I am good at this. I am trained.

I also have experience with free-diving from my college days. I once held my breath for 4 minutes and two seconds. Once, while training as a lifeguard I swam laps without breathing until I passed out, so that I could know my limits.

To determine whether waterboarding is an acceptable interrogation technique or torture I must research it an then undergo it myself."

His conclusions?

"I'll put it this way. If I had the choice of being waterboarded by a third party or having my fingers smashed one at a time by a sledgehammer, I'd take the fingers, no question.

It's horrible, terrible, inhuman torture. I can hardly imagine worse. I'd prefer permanent damage and disability to experiencing it again. I'd give up anything, say anything, do anything.

Full article is here, and it's worth reading.

Hat-tip : Pharyngula

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Liberal Of The Year - Terry Pratchett?

My brain moves slowly around Christmas time. So I've only just left a comment on Liberal Democrat Voice about who has been the Liberal voice of 2007.

It's the 57th comment there. So just in case you're not going to read that far down, I'm repeating it here:

I have another, very serious suggestion - Terry Pratchett.

His readership in the UK is huge. Those who have read his books will know that underneath all the humour and fantasy is a very liberal philosophy.
There’s too much to mention but, for example, books such as “Equal Rites” and “Monstrous Regiment” have a theme of , well, equal rights for women. The hero of “Small Gods” is an honest priest trying to stay one step ahead of a corrupted fundamentalist religion. One of his best characters , Commander Vimes of the City Watch, is about as non-racist as you can get - he offers jobs to dwarves, werewolves , zombies and even golems. (this may strike non-readers of Pratchett as pretty flippant, but in it’s own context it’s very serious stuff.)

The most famous fantasy books in the last 50 years have been the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I like those books, but Tolkein has a huge amounts of killing, has races such as orcs with no good qualities whatsoever, and a lot of monarchs. Pratchett is on the side of the people.

To quote from Pratchett’s novel “Feet of Clay”:

“You are in favour of the common people?” said Dragon mildly.
“The common people?” said Vimes. “They’re nothing special. They’re no different from the rich and powerful except they’ve got no money or power. But the law should be there to balance things up a bit . So I suppose I’ve got to be on their side”.

Later on in the same book he’s ordered to destroy a golem:

“In order to keep the peace, the golem will have to be destroyed”
“No, sir”
“Allow me to repeat my instruction”
“No, sir”
“I’m sure I just gave you an order Commander. I distinctly felt my lips move.”
“No, sir. He’s alive, sir”
“He’s just made of clay, Vimes”
“Aren’t we all, sir? According to the pamphlets Constable Visit keeps handing out. Anyway he thinks he’s alive, and that’s good enough for me.”

I can think of no individual who has spread a liberal , tolerant philosophy more in the last 20 years than Terry Pratchett. And now would be a very good time to give him some credit for it…

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Darkness Falls

Rest in Peace, Benazir.

Tonight I am fearful of what the consequences of this might be for the world... More bloodshed? A new regime in Pakistan?

There can be a chilling wind blowing out of Rawalpindi in the winter....

Photo: Getty Images

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

For All Those Still Thinking Of The "Titanic" After Last Night

I like the of the few songs that ends with Morse code (!).... I'm not so keen on the video though...

This got to no 54 in 1978 in the UK chart! Does anyone other than me remember it?

Women Of the World

I've sent in my nomination this morning for the "Best Blog by a Woman Lib Dem. I won't say who I've nominated...

But I wanted to mention three blogs from outside of the UK that I think are worth reading:

I would describe Echidne of the Snakes as a well-written American liberal/feminist blog. It maintains a sense of humour, with , for example, Monty Python's "Hells's Grannies" turning up recently. But there's a lot of very serious stuff.

In Baghdad Burning an Iraqi woman, now living in exile in Syria, writes movingly about her life. It's seldom updated, which makes each post a memorable one.

In Eastern Europe Veronica Khokhlova produces "Neeka's Backlog", which concentrates on Russian and Ukranian politics. There was a good piece on Christmas Eve on the risks of coal-mining, with the sombre quote "You better remember football broadcasts from Donetsk. The tracks around the field were packed with wheelchairs."

PS in writing this post I found myself looking at a couple more blogs. One of the stories covered by "Echidne" was the detention, chaining and denial of food of an Icelandic woman blogger , Erla Ósk Arnardóttir Lillendahl, when she tried to enter the US. It is enough to genuinely make you decide to go somewhere else for a holiday.... Erla's own blog is here, but it's in Icelandic...

And if you want to read more about Ukranian politics, you can look at the "personal website " of someone once named the "third most important woman in the world", Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. It has quite a nice set of wallpapers!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Someone's Trying To Do Me Out Of A Job!

So where was the SHIPS AGENT in Voyage of the Damned?

Is someone trying to do me out of a job?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Conversation Tonight

Tory Councillor friend ready to have some fun with me: "Congratulations for choosing a new leader who's more conservative than the Conservative party"

Me: "If you really believe that, you'd be joining the Lib Dems now, wouldn't you?"

Tory Friend: "Uh..."

End of Conversation.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thanks For Everything, Vince

Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime

No political relevance, just some rather special music that I felt like blogging about tonight.

The Korgis were an underated band from the 80s. Their first hit "If I Had You" was credited to their frontman James Warren and Rachmaninoff. They could show a certain delicate wit, as in this lyric from their track "O Maxine":

"O Maxine,
Don't ever leave me
Though you make love in a matter-of-fact way
When you're not here I hardly know what to say"

But they are best remembered for their haunting song "Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime".

One commentator on You-Tube wrote:
Despite the somewhat clunky first keyboard, amazing lack of material (1 verse, 1 chorus and acouple of bridges) this is one of the all-time heartwrenching pop songs, and I have no idea why. Try as I might, it also seems unarrangable (listen to Beck's shot and you'll see what I mean). Just a small, perfect moment.

Someone responded:
That is a very interesting remark; I love this song as well, and it's weaknesses are clear; as a composer of music i'm really wondering, just like you; my answer after some time is: (1) not everybody has this same appreciation of the song; (2) those who have, probably appreciate (by their musical upbringing, etc.) the harmonic structure of the song, with the repetition of unsolved chords and the few releases into solved chords - something like that?

Anyway, here it is from a re-release in the 90's:

And here it is from 2007 performed by Stackridge - again sung by Warren - with a young violinist performing the solo:

The Armed Forces Journal

The Armed Forces Journal is presumably intended for officers of the US military. Non-partisan, it provides some thoughtful writings on military-related matters.

For example, in their section on "darts and laurels", it sends a dart at the British government:

To the British government

For its scandalous decision to drop the corruption probe into the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office was investigating allegations that BAE Systems set up a slush fund for senior Saudi Arabian officials to secure the 1980s arms deal. The Saudis threatened to drop a new $12 billion deal to buy BAE Eurofighter airplanes if the investigation into the old deal continued.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's claim that the decision was not connected to British commercial or economic interests defies credibility: One month after the SFO announcement, Saudi Arabia confirmed the Eurofighter deal.

As one opposition member of parliament put it: "How on earth can we lecture the developing world on good governance when we interfere with and block a criminal investigation in this way?"

Guess who was the 'opposition member'? One Norman Lamb.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Where The Oil Is

Note how small China and India are.

Another interesting item from Andrew Sullivan

The Day I Officially Became A Handicap To Local Democracy

Peter Black has already written a pretty comprehensive post on the Councillors Commission proposals. I particularly agree with his last paragraph:

Normally, one would rely on Ministers to sort the wheat from the chaff. My fear however is that they and their civil servants have demonstrated again and again that they do not understand how local democracy works and that they believe they can use Councils as a testing ground for some really silly proposals. When that happens it is local services that suffer, along with the confidence of the electorate in their Councillors and their Council. That is a sure-fire way to damage our democracy. Surely it is time that we said enough is enough.

It's their proposal that people should be barred from serving more than 5 terms as a councillor that affects me most personally. I've done more than five terms already, so if the commission get their way, I wouldn't be allowed to stand again.

When I first read about this on Sunday morning I was annoyed - I've enjoyed being a councillor, feel I do a decent job and I've assumed that my civic future will be determined by the local electorate (who last time gave me about 74 percent of the vote in a town from elects a Conservative MP by a large margin.)

However in the late afternoon I was out delivering some of our Christmas Focus. In the damp December dusk, self-doubt starting to creep in. Do councillors get too complacent after 20 years? What should my aims be? Am I achieving them?

Nothing much is going to happen after my walk in the dusk. I'm still against the commission's proposal for a 5 term maximum - I think such a blanket ban across the whole country is unneccessary and illiberal. I'm not planning to step down.

But this report has unsettled me. The idea that the commission believes I'm a handicap to local democracy has left me with an uneasy feeling....

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Speech Worth Listening To

John F Kennedy in 1960 talking about religion and the state.

Hat-Tip : Andrew Sullivan.

Health and Safety In The 1920s

On the rather good Blognor Regis blog the author tells how he came across a memorial in Tipton Cemetery. It's in memory of 19 female workers killed in a factory explosion in 1922. A shocking thing to stumble across if you weren't expecting it...

The memorial says 'nineteen girls' and this isn't a euphemism for 'young women' - there were 13 and 14 years olds killed, whilst worked in premises breaking up miniature rifle cartridges.They were earning 4 to 6 shillings per week. It's well worth reading the material here.

This is a reminder that whilst the 'health and safety' culture is sometimes overzealously enforced nowadays, and sometimes merits criticism, overall it's better to have it than to be without it...

And bad things happened in the USA as well...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"I have taken my time choosing where I will serve..."

An old favourite book of mine is the medieval whodunit "One Corpse Too Many" by Ellis Peters.

The book is set in 1138 , during the very nasty civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. Near the beginning of the book the young knight Hugh Beringar attends the court of King Stephen. He's finally decided to join Stephen's cause. The king says drily:
"Your name, Master Beringar , is known to us. Your establishment also. That it was devoted to our cause was not so well known..."

Hugh replies:
"I have taken my time choosing where I will serve. I am here. Those who flock to you without thought may fall away from you just as likely"

So it's time for me to make up my mind.
I would have liked to have seen more candidates.
I think Huhne has the better policy ideas.
I think Clegg has more warmth.
It's a difficult decision....

If it's one thing that crystalised things for me today it was a comment by Charlotte Gore
If the party leader is supposed to be the party personified, if they’re supposed to be a metaphor for the whole movement then really Clegg is the only logical choice

I expect I'll disagree with Nick Clegg's position on many topics - I'm bit more conservative on social issues than many Lib Dems, and a bit more left-wing on economic issues. I could write all night... But my instincts tell me "Clegg", and I think many people in the wider Britain outside our party will have similar instincts.

I'll have some sympathy for Chris Huhne if he loses. But he'll still be able to help the party enormously, and be part of the team. And it's looking quite a strong team now..

Monday, December 03, 2007

Making My Mind Up -

I have a consistent record of supporting unsuccessful candidates in national elections - whether for parliament or for party leadership. I wanted Ted Heath to be Prime Minister twice in 1974, and then switched my allegiance to the yellow rosette for all elections thereafter. I've also managed to support a losing candidate in every Lib Dem leadership election - Beith, Ballard (I used her bathroom once and I liked her) and Huhne.
So basically,my endorsement isn't worth having. But anyway...

My original thoughts on trying to decide how to vote were that I like what Chris Huhne says about policies, but Nick Clegg seems to have more personal warmth. Reading Cicero's blog yesterday has reconfirmed these feelings.

Cicero himself, a Huhne supporter, says:

Certainly Nick Clegg, one-on-one is attractive and charismatic....
....Several people have said to me that "of course Chris can be a bit of a bast*rd sometimes". This is not, however a popularity contest, it is a test of leadership, and an element of ruthlessness is clearly part of the job description.

To which I would say Charles Kennedy was a great leader for us without being a bit of a bast*ard. Maybe I shoudl vote Clegg.

Meanwhile in the comments to that post , Bullseye (a Clegg supporter) writes:

The point is not so much that Chris is a statist, having spoken to him privately at some length I don't believe he is - he is a localist first & foremost. Which is better than nothing but is not the ame as being an 'ideological liberal'

However, what really worries me is that Chris's campaign has pandered so blatantly to the statist tendencies which have so hampered our party. he has run an anti-chice , pro-status quo campaign that says the only reform needed to public services is to devolve them to local authorities.

That's not a liberal revolution that's social democratic managerialism.

To which my reaction is, I'm a localist with a few social democratic tendencies myself.... Maybe I should vote Huhne.

So I'm still unsure.... I'm tipping towards Clegg.For me the final deciding question now is : Which leader will be more effective at increasing our membership? Mmm, I wonder what the membership figures are in each candidates constituency...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bloggers Never Sleep...

2:35 a.m.- and I've just heard Jonathan Calder speaking about blogs on Radio Five Live's "Up All Night"!

Well Done Mr Calder!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Which Candidate?

I still can't make up my mind, I think I'll the keep the ballot paper on the matlepiece for a few days more...!

"How Can We Dance When Our Earth Is Turning"?

"Peter Garrett has claimed victory in his Sydney-based seat of Kingsford-Smith.

The opposition environment minister spokesman received a rock star welcome from hundreds of supporters at the Randwick Labor club.

"This is an extremely, extremely proud moment for me to be representing the people of Kingsford-Smith again in the federal parliament," he told the crowd.

The former lead singer of Midnight Oil, who was wearing a navy suit and open-necked shirt, refused to speculate on the prospect of becoming environment minister.

"I will serve in any capacity, in any event. It is early still in this election," he said."

Which Candidate?

No, not a candidate in our election...

“You know, I made some bad decisions that I’ve actually written about. You know, got into drinking. I experimented with drugs,” he said. “There was a whole stretch of time that I didn’t really apply myself a lot. It wasn’t until I got out of high school and went to college that I started realizing, ‘Man, I wasted a lot of time.’”

The full story (and analysis) here

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How C-GAUN Became The "Gimli Glider"

"After repeated unsuccessful attempts to restart the stalled engines, Pearson and Quintal once again consulted the 767 emergency manual, this time for advice on an unpowered landing. Much to their dismay, no such section existed, presumably because a simultaneous engine failure had been too ridiculous for Boeing engineers to contemplate. "

One of Air Canada's planes,registration C-GAUN, is due to be retired next month. Gimli isn't only the name of a dwarf in "Lord Of The Rings", it's the name of the largest Icelandic settlement outside , uh, Iceland. How this otherwise ordinary aircraft acquired the nickname 'The Gimli Glider', is a story worth reading.

It's another good bit of writing from the Damn Interesting website.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Well Said, Mr Cable. Mr Clegg, Mr Huhne

Last month, ahead of the state visit by the King of Saudi Arabia, Vince Cable said that he would be boycotting both the official banquet and audience at Buckingham Palace:
"I have introduced three debates in Parliament this year expressing serious concerns over the Al-Yamamah contract and the corruption allegedly involved. I have, in my arguments, also been very critical of members of the Saudi royal family and the Saudi record on human rights including its maltreatment of British citizens.

"In my opinion, it is quite wrong for the British government to have proposed a state visit at this time.

"Therefore, it would, I believe, be inappropriate for me to participate in a ceremonial state visit against this background."

Well, thank goodness for that, bearing in mind that this is the kind of human rights issue that exists:
A lawyer for a gang-rape victim in Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six-months in jail says the punishment contravenes Islamic law.

The woman was initially punished for violating laws on segregation of the sexes - she was in an unrelated man's car at the time of the attack.

When she appealed, judges doubled her sentence, saying she had been trying to use the media to influence them.

Her lawyer has been suspended from the case and faces a disciplinary session.

In case this kind of revolting example tempts you into thinking that Saudis are all just irredeemable medieval types, have a look as Saudi Jeans, where you get a more three-dimensional picture.

Even so, I'm really glad that Vince took the stance he did.

I'm still a floating voter on the leadership election. Other Lib Dem Bloggers are clearly very concerned about Israel, but I thought I'd look at what the two candidates are saying on their websites about Saudi Arabia, and was pleased with both of them:

Nick Clegg:

Reacting to the news from the Saudi Foreign Minister that Gordon Brown did not raise human rights in his discussion with King Abdullah, Nick Clegg

"Gordon Brown is once again pulling his punches with Saudi Arabia. It is time we raised the serious issues of human rights in Saudi Arabia - if the Prime Minister won't do it in direct discussions with the King then what confidence can we have it will ever happen under Labour?

Chris Huhne:

One example is Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia. Vince Cable deserves praise for his recent stance against treating Saudi Arabia as an honoured ally, when its record on human rights record is appalling and its role in forcing the end to the criminal investigation into bribery in the al-Yamamah contract is dubious.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Call me Igor.

Well, I haven't done one of these for a while...

If I were a Dead Russian Composer, I would be Igor Stravinsky.

Known as a true son of the new 20th Century, my music started out melodic and folky but slowly got more dissonant and bizzare as I aged. I am a traveler and a neat freak, and very much hated those rotten eggs thrown at me after the premiere of "The Rite of Spring."

Who would you be? Dead Russian Composer Personality Test

Hat Tip: Ramblin'with Roger

Conservatives Lose Fourth Essex Councillor In A Week

This time it's from the District Council that I'm on - Rochford.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Three Tory Councillors Resign In Essex - For Pretty Dismal Reasons

First of all the Tory Mayor of Chelmsford has resigned - as Mayor and as councillor - over allegations involving a council computer and pornography:

THE mayor of Chelmsford resigned yesterday following accusations he used his council computer to look at illegal pornography.

It emerged David Lee, a married father-of-three, was under police investigation after Chelmsford Borough Council alerted detectives to alleged irregularities.

The 44-year-old has resigned both as mayor of the Essex town and also from his role as a borough councillor for the Conservative party.

He has also been told he will not be able to return to his role as vice governor of the Boswells School in Chelmsford until the police investigation is completed.

Mr Lee, who has not been arrested, became mayor in May and carried out a series of high-profile fund-raising and civic duties and had been due to attend tomorrow's Remembrance Service at Chelmsford Cathedral.

The deputy mayor, Nicolette Chambers, is to stand in for all the civic engagements.

Mr Lee's council laptop was seized from his home earlier this week and specialists from Essex Police's high-tech crime unit are analysing it.

The investigation is set to take months rather than weeks as police try to work out when any images were viewed and also how many people had access to the computer.

And today it's been confirmed that a married couple, both Conservative Councillors in Castle Point, have resigned before they are due to appear in court:

TWO married councillors quit just before benefit fraud charges against them were made public.

Tory Castle Point councillors Alan, 49, and Kate Meager, 55, stunned fellow members with their abrupt resignation from their posts in St Mary's ward, Benfleet, earlier this month.

The couple are understood to have written a formal letter to council leader Pam Challis before going on holiday.

Mrs Challis said: "I have accepted Kate and Alan Meager's resignation as they have informed me they have sold their house and are moving out of the area."

Hours later, chief executive David Marchant said: "I can confirm Mr and Mrs Meager have been investigated by our benefits team and, as a result, will appear at Southend Magistrates' Court on Monday, November 26. We are unable to comment further while the case is still active."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Misleading Headline

The Daily Telegraph's main story is ... Middle classes abandon state schools.

Phew. Let's look at the figures they quote:

Figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families showed that on average, 7.1 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds were taught in independent schools in 2004. But by this year the proportion had risen to 7.3 per cent - a total of 232,620 pupils.

There was also a rise in the number of primary-school age children in private education over the three-year period, from 5.5 per cent to 5.6 per cent - a total of 199,030 pupils.

So there's been changes of 0.1 or 0.2 percent. Not quite an 'abandonment' then.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Former Liberal MP Has Just 21 Seconds To Talk About "Blogging"

The former Liberal MP is Clement Freud , the show was last evening's "Just A Minute", and you can listen again from this page

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ros Scott

I've only met Ros Scott once - at a small Lib Dem 'do' in Basildon last year.

She was charming, warm and funny, someone that people can easily relate to, and I'm delighted that she's standing for party president.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm With Gavin - And Paddy

Gavin's written about the EU treaty better than I could have done .

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Becoming A Refugee....

There's a new entry on the Baghdad Burning blog. For those who haven't seen it before, "Baghdad Burning" isn't updated very often, but gives a fairly stark account of life in the Iraqi capital. Or at least it used to. In the previous entry - back in April - the author advised that she and her family had decided to leave Iraq. It's only now that there's a new entry that tells how they left:
....The last few hours in the house were a blur. It was time to go and I went from room to room saying goodbye to everything. I said goodbye to my desk- the one I’d used all through high school and college. I said goodbye to the curtains and the bed and the couch. I said goodbye to the armchair E. and I broke when we were younger. I said goodbye to the big table over which we’d gathered for meals and to do homework. I said goodbye to the ghosts of the framed pictures that once hung on the walls, because the pictures have long since been taken down and stored away- but I knew just what hung where. I said goodbye to the silly board games we inevitably fought over- the Arabic Monopoly with the missing cards and money that no one had the heart to throw away....

....The Syrian border was almost equally packed, but the environment was more relaxed. People were getting out of their cars and stretching. Some of them recognized each other and waved or shared woeful stories or comments through the windows of the cars. Most importantly, we were all equal. Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds… we were all equal in front of the Syrian border personnel....

Friday, September 07, 2007

Advice, Please!

I'm thinking of shifting from my current BT-based email to a web-based system like hotmail. (The impetus for this being that my current email folders seem to be corrupted and I can't receive any emails to my normal address at the moment)

As email is very important for my council work, I want to make the right decision...

So I'd be grateful for any comments or advice - particularly from other councillors- as to whether they are happy with hotmail or yahoo.

I probably send and receive 10 emails a day on average.

Thanks :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Alas , Poor Paris, I Knew Him Well, a Liberal Democrat Cat of Excellent Jest

Life's been too busy to blog for the last few weeks, but I'll probaly start writing again soon.

At the moment we're mourning the loss of Paris, one of our fine pair of brother cats. As you can see, he was always interested in our Lib Dem leaflets.... but he had a weak heart, and even though he had 350 ml of fluid drained from around his lungs, more fluid came back in a few days... he's now gone to the great Lib Dem Cats Home in the Sky...

We'll miss him.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

My Lib Dem Favourite

I heard that Stephen Tall has done some sort of list of his top Lib Dem 100. So I thought that I could at least mention my favourite. It's no great surprise that it comes from a Lib Dem constituency in Scotland. In this sort of contest, nothing from London is going to win. (Or Essex, come to that)

Orkney Bog

In fact it's from Orkney, and as you can see in the picture it's pretty green with some white flowers. I've been to Orkney once and really liked the place so this is definitely my favourite sort of Lib Dem Bog.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

It made me smile.

In the Hood, In the Hood, He's the Wizard in the Hood, He uses Magic Powers for the Forces of Good...

Hat-tip, and thanks, to: Barcharters Anonymous

Iain Dale's Diary is Doomed

I'm sorry, it's my fault.

I've had links to three proper Tory blogs:

Martine Martin's Lebwog - it was beautifully put together, she's intelligent and strongly dislikes Bush. But she's stopped writing.

Prague Tory -interesting stuff, though I often didn't agree with him. But he's just stopped writing.

That leaves Iain Dale's Diary. I'm sorry, I'm clearly a jinx, it's doomed.

Lib Dem Policy On Job Centres?

Last week Lib Dem Voice reported on our new party strategy to lift 5 million people out of poverty. A big, wide-ranging document that covers everything from benefits claims to affordable housing.

So it was odd that there were precisely zero comments left about it at Lib Dem Voice - compared with 35 on the stripagram, and 37 on the myth of classical liberalism.

Now, I also help run another, local blog for our local district. We didn't mention the policy document on our local site. But one of our regular readers there was so concerned about the apparent policy to transfer the 'jobfinding' part of jobcentres to the private and voluntary sector that she left a comment there anyway, and there's a thread with 5 comments now.

Does anybody care to go there and explain our new policy better than I can?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dean Friedman and Milton Friedman

There's been a lot of comment in the last few days over a certain Lib Dem councillor who works as a stripper. As a result three other Lib Dems have switched to being independents. They were quoted as saying:

" We believe our integrity and principles will be compromised if we stay. Myrna just doesn't believe that she is the inheritor of Locke, Smith, Ricardo and the Mills. And we were shocked, shocked to find she hadn't read “Anarchy, State and Utopia” of Robert Nozick, “Persons, Rights and the Moral Community” of Loren E. Lomasky or “Principles for a Free Society” by Richard A. Epstein."

OK, I made the last bit up. They were concerned about her work as a stripper, not her economic knowledge. But maybe some people do get a little pre-occupied with all the stuff about our party's historical roots and associated economic theories. I've got to confess that I haven't read any of those books either. Nor do I know much about Locke, Smith, Ricardo and the Mills. And I know more about Dean Friedman the singer-songwriter than I do about Milton Friedman the economist.

One of the good things about reading Lib Dem bloggery is that you are exposed to all sorts of material. This week I've enjoyed the item at Lib Dem Voice on "The Greatest British Liberal" - my choice would be William Beveridge:

And tonight I've struggled through the comments on John Dixon's interesting article, also at Lib Dem Voice, on classical liberalism.

Now, I generally let other Lib Dems debate the finer points of what 'Liberalism' actually means - I'm happier to get on with being a councillor and focussing on day-to-day matters. But I have felt I've learned a little reading through the article and the comments below it.

However I must respond to a comment below John Dixon's article which said:
A century of welfarism has surely shown us that that policy has not only not delivered in terms of poverty reduction and opportunity growth, but that it is costing ever huger amounts of money to perform it as a government function

And that's where I disagree. Strongly. Looking back at my own family experience , my father had to leave school in 1914 - at the age of 13- because although he had won a scholarship to Bristol Grammar School, his family were so poor he had to go to work. Four or five decades later, thanks to the likes of Lloyd George and Beveridge, there was a sufficent welfare state for me to get a good education (though not in economics!) - and a sufficent NHS to give me adequate health care when I needed it. It certainly gave me opportunity growth.

I'm content for other people to discuss the party's historical roots. But let's avoid worshipping capitalism. Let's remember that the pace of technological and climatic change over the next 20 or 30 years will probably affect the world more than the scholars of 200 years ago. And also remember that in Milton Friedman's last interview, he said that the greatest threat to the world economy was "Islamofascism, with terrorism as its weapon." He might even be right on that.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

60 Days Extra In Jail....

From the Miami Herald

A Broward prisoner accused of committing a sex act while he was alone in his jail cell was found guilty Tuesday of indecent exposure.

Hat-Tip - Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Not Bad

Mingle2 Free Online Dating - Science Quiz

Hat-Tip: Millennium Elephant

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Hat-Tip: Niles

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Seventh and Best

I began reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows outside Borders at Lakeside at 5:00 pm, and I've just finished it....

What do I think? I think that JK saved the best till last....

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If clicks were votes, Obama wins...

More information here.

I lose - secretly

So we had a secret ballot tonight to elect the vice-chairman of the West Area Committee. I lost the vote 10-5 , with voting purely on party lines....

Never mind, it was quite a good meeting overall...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Do you have secret ballots on your council?

I'm going be a tiny bit excited at about 7.30 on Wednesday night. We have the first ever meeting of our district's West Area Committee.....

(For Rochford exiles like Trevor Powell, I should explain that we now have a cabinet system with 3 area committees to hopefully enhance local democracy. The 5 Lib Dems on Rochford DC all represent Rayleigh wards, so we are all on the West committee, with 11 Tories.)

Now all the area committee chairs were elected at annual council - by secret ballot , a process I've not seen at council meetings before. One of the first items of business on Wednesday will be the election of a vice-chairman, and bless my soul, one of my colleagues wanted to nominate me. So now I'm in a secret ballot against an interesting and slightly untypical Conservative Councillor Simon Smith .

If voting goes on party lines I'm sure to lose 11-5....

But I've never heard of secret ballots at other council chambers to elect chairs- or to decide anything else. Do you have them in your area?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I wasn't going to even mention Harry Potter and then I read this

“But Dad…”

“No, listen. If we went to watch the new Harry Potter film and Harry and Ron had enormous breasts, but nothing about it was ever mentioned, explained or alluded to, how easily would you be able to suspend your disbelief?”


“All the way through you would just be thinking ‘this is soooo wrong.’”

Confused? Read on here.

Why this week won't change my view of Ming at all.

I've not been able to go over to Ealing because of work commitments, which has made me reluctant to blog about the by-elections this week. However I've been annoyed by those bloggers and other commentators who are trying to build the next few days into a make-or-break time for Ming. I don't want to see any more blog posts for a while about leadership contests, nor to get emails about currently inactive MPs websites. It's time to let off a little steam....

Essentially , I'm not convinced that these by-elections are any kind of reflection on Ming's ability as leader. Last year we managed to win Dunfermline without any leader at all. This time we have a , a , a - let's call it a pantomine - in Ealing with the Lib Dems at least keeping their dignity and honesty, and another by-election in a seat that was just held by a 10-year prime minister.

I don't think you can judge Ming's ability by the result of either by-election. They are both unusual constituencies.

Ming wasn't my first choice as leader. He doesn't attract the floating voting the way that Charles Kennedy did. Not one resident mentioned him to me in the local elections in May (and this was in wards where we did very well). On the other hand, Cameron was mentioned only once - when a resident compared him to a double glazing salesman. And no mention is better than a negative mention...

The situation seems now to be that the Tories are lagging behind in the polls, and Cameron's party may soon experience the horrific nightmare of losing again. Remember all the talk of LiberalsForCameron, all those defectors he was going to get ? Those blue dreams are starting to fade. It may be that Ming will outlast Cameron....

Gosh, I hope we have a good day on Thursday. But whether we win or lose, It won't change my view of Ming, or my belief that this isn't the time to think about leadership challenges.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Wasps Are Coming To Our Bedroom To Die

I don't want to talk about the current state of politics tonight, so here's a little personal problem instead....

Every morning we seem to find about seven dead wasps in our bedroom chez Black. And there's one or two weak and dying ones there as well. It's been going on for about ten days. Is there a wasp nest nearby that has been treated by an exterminator, and some of these wasps are just coming to us for a quiet and peaceful death?

Or is the wet weather killing off wasps on a national scale?

Any wasp experts out there?

The last weeks of the Mugabe regime?

Paul Walter has written here about his local Newbury's MPs call for an uprising in Zimbabwe to overthrow the Mugabe regime.

Things are going from dire to even more dire in that country. To quote from This Is Zimbabwe on July 5th:

It’s hard, sometimes, not to feel complete despair at what happens in our country. And I hit a low this morning when I read this via VOANEWS:

Members of Zimbabwe’s cabinet grappling with runaway inflation summoned business managers from across all sectors of the economy late Wednesday for an emergency meeting to discuss Harare’s ongoing offensive against rising prices.

National Chamber of Commerce President Marah Hativagone told VOA that business representatives intended to tell the cabinet task force on price stability that Harare has to make more foreign currency available so businesses can continue operating.

However, government sources said officials including Minister Without Portfolio Elliot Manyika, acting task force chair in the absence of Industry Minister Obert Mpofu, were to tell business leaders there is no turning back and that all businesses that close or reduce production will be nationalized and operated by the government.

Zanu PF managed to buy themselves time by stealing the farms and allocating them to a handful of Zanu PF elite who used the opportunity to either let the farms languish into nothing or asset stripped them, selling machinery and irrigation equipment for a quick smelly dollar. People forget, but just before Mugabe did this he’d just lost a referendum, the writing was on the wall for Zanu PF, and taking the farms was literally about political survival more than anything. Some people have become very very rich indeed, thanks to Robert Mugabe’s policies, and in return they prop him up.

I’m sure that unscrupulous greedy sods who already have a couple of farms in their back pockets are salivating at the chance to get their incompetent grubby hands on a few businesses that they can asset-strip, convert their ill-gotten gains to forex at the extra special Zanu PF exchange rates, and then funnel the cash out the country to secret bank accounts in despot havens. There is simply no way they can run these businesses with lower prices - raw materials cost what raw materials cost. Fuel is imported.

The country will be broken, all chance of economic recovery destroyed, because which businessperson, struggling to survive now, can start again when their equipment and tills are gone and they have to re-stock from scratch with no money because they’ve been forced into a deficit by the flat 50% reduction in cost.

It just seems so bizarre; to get the farms Mugabe whipped up nationalistic sentiment and cultivated and nurtured hate between Zimbabwean people. He paid the so-called war veterans (some were about 19 years old) to invade the farms and seize them before unceremoniously evicting the war-vets and handing farms to the elite.

This time he has manufactured a situation where he is literally going to destroy businesses and then blame the owner and seize their livelihoods, futures, pensions. Not war vets this time, its the ‘inflation police’ and their friends. The farm seizures were rationalised to the world as necessary re-distribution of land to the landless majority. Some people actually bought that - too naive and idealistic to see that Mugabe is not a liberator, he is a self-serving despot!

How is he going to dress this up for the world, and who the hell is going to believe a thing he says when Zimbabweans are dying like flies!? Oh yes, I forget, no one will know we’re dying because he’s made sure the press aren’t allowed in and he murders the ones in our country who dare tell the truth. Out of sight, out of mind.

Because, with the businesses, Mugabe will take the food and jobs and leave the nation destitute and starving. Not just the poor; everyone. When the shops are bare, not even the middle classes or the rich can buy food. Everyone. Everyone. Everyone - except the Zanu PF elite.

Funny how he is out the country when all this takes place, a nice little ‘hedge your bets’ approach. If it goes all wrong (in other words, not according to HIS plan - it is already so wrong for all of us) and he realises he has to backtrack, he will no doubt come back roaring and make someone a scape goat.

You know, the world uses a lot of words to describe Mugabe - evil, violent, autocratic, dictator etc. I would like to add a word: “thief”.

He is a thief.

I hope I am wrong, I really do, but its hard not to read it this way. I just want to weep: I’m so tired of what he’s doing to all of us.

I tend to agree with Daniel Drezner that Zimbabwe could well slide into anarchy and lawlessness.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Degree of Doubt?

I see that Ian Pearson , MP for Dudley has just been appointed as Science Minister. Well, good luck to him.

But I notice that his qualifications are a BA Hons. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Oxford University, an MA in Industrial Relations , and a Ph.D in Industrial and Business Studies,

And I can't help feeling surprised that the country hasn't got a science minister with a science degree ...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Here's another curious blog to visit : Paleo-Future - a look at how the past imagined the future to be. For example:

Author and critic Henry L. Mencken makes some pretty bold predictions in the February 12, 1923 article, "Thinking Men and Women Predict Problems of World Century Hence," published in the Bridgeport Telegram (Bridgeport, Connecticut).

A hundred years hence the United States will be a British colony, its chief function will be to supply imbeciles to read the current English novels and docile cannon fodder for the British Army.

I believe that Prohibition will be overthrown and restored several times before 2022. There will be periods of Prohibition and wholesale drunkeness, as now, and periods of license and moderation. Just how the wave will be running in 2022 I hesitate to predict.

The American who will be most agreeably discussed by Anglo-American historians in 2022 will be Woodrow Wilson, the first Premier of the United American Colonies.

The greatest living American author is Dr. Frank Crane. He will be remembered long after Walt Whitman is forgotten.

Hat-tip: Strange Maps

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Strange Maps, Startling Map

Am I the first Lib Dem Blogger to mention Strange Maps?. It's a site that has, well , lots of unusual maps, and is well worth a look. The most recent one is about Bruce Springsteen. But perhaps the most startling is this one here, that predicts what our climate will be like in 2071:

So the prediction is here is that London will have a climate similar to that in northern Portugal now.... and Berlin will be even hotter.

The phrase 'sustainable water supply' is echoing through my head at the moment...

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Backlash Against Vacuity ?

Item 1: I was browsing a bookstall in Rayleigh on Thursday, and saw a couple of young guys - maybe 19 or 20 - glancing at a copy of "Living The Dream: My Story", by Big Brother celebrity Chantelle. "But you haven't DONE anything yet!", one of them groaned, as he looked at her picture. As they walked away I felt slightly encouraged about the younger generation.

Item 2 : The Guardian reports today that news presenter Mika Brzezinski refused to cover Paris Hilton as her lead news story on MSNBC:

And here's a YouTube face-to-camera item that a "teen Canadian" has done in support:

According to Central Sanity,

"Remember her name. She started the revolution, the taking back of American intellect from celebrity and pseudo-celebrity fixation. God bless you, Ms. Brzezinski."

The President can cure AIDS with his herbs and the power of the Holy Book

Here's an edited report from Der Spiegel:

In January of this year, the President - a military officer who staged a successful putsch in 1994 - summoned a number of his acolytes together with foreign diplomats and revealed to them that he had made an extraordinary discovery. He announced that, in addition to asthma, he was now capable of healing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). On Thursdays -- the President's healing powers are only available to him on that day of the week he says -- the president frequently allows national television to film him as he defeats AIDS: Patients lie flat on their backs as the president whirls around them and mumbles verses from the Holy Book. He slaps green sludge onto their skin, sprinkles liquid from an old Evian bottle over them and gives them a brown broth to drink. A quick fruit snack completes the therapy.

That's it. Thanks to the power of the Holy Book and seven secret herbs this treatment, repeated over the course of several weeks, leads to the patient being cured of the lethal virus "with absolute certainty," as the President says.

So far, one of the few within the country to voice any criticism has been the United Nations spokesperson there. She said there was no proof for the success of the method and that no one should believe they would no longer be infected following treatment by the president. The president was so enraged that he immediately declared the UN representative unwelcome and forced her to leave the country within 48 hours.

Earlier, two high-ranking AIDS educators had already announced their resignation in the capital city.. They explained that, in light of the healing mania, it was impossible to teach the population about the dangers of HIV and AIDS. Meanwhile the President continues to up the ante. In early April he announced he has now acquired the ability to heal diabetes, and that -- just as with asthma -- he needs only five minutes to do so. Not all his subjects believe him -- but quite a few do.

The country is Gambia, and here's the latest from the Daily Observer in Banjul, the capital. (By the way, according to the BBC, in 2006 the media rights organisation Reporters Without Borders described the press freedom situation as "catastrophic". You can maybe detect that the Cuban doctors in Gambia are a little bit uncomfortable with what's going on::

On Sunday, 17th June, 2007, 13 cured HIV/Aids patients were discharged after they have successfully undergone President Jammeh's treatment.

In a landmark speech during the serene ceremony attended by Secretaries of State, Secretary-General and Head of the Civil Service, Permanent Secretaries, Service Chiefs, the medical team that worked with the President, the Alkalo of Kanilai, the CEO of RVTH. President Jammeh began his speech by thanking the Almighty Allah, Dr Malick Njie, and the original medical team who worked with him throughout the period of the treatment of the patients.

President Jammeh also thank the Government and people of Cuba, in particular, the Cuban medical team who worked with him in the initial period of the HIV/Aids treatment programme. President Jammeh reminded the large gathering that today The Gambia's profile in the medical field is among the best in the world, thanks to the contribution of the government and people of Cuba.

He also explained why the Cuban doctors who were participating in the HIV/Aids treatment programme were released of their responsibilities.

The valiant people of Cuba has always been involved in a fight against the big powers.

It was therefore apparent that when the first CD4 counts results were announced proving the success of President Jammeh's treatment, that indeed we have picked up a huge fight globally on behalf of The Gambia and humanity, and since President Jammeh did not want to add another burden to the Republic of Cuba he decided to release our Cuban brothers and sisters whilst we continue this global fight that has been unleashed on us. So it was not because the Cuban doctors are not efficent, or that they are not trusted but the simple reason as indicated by President Jammeh is the desire not to put our friends the Cubans in a fight that is directed against President Jammeh and The Gambia. As His Excellency aptly put it, the principles of humanity dictate that if you have a friend who is trying to help you but is already in a fight, it is more honourable not to involve him in a new fight.

This is the reason why our Cuban sisters and brothers were relieved of their duties and responsibilities in the treatment of HIV/Aids.

This was purely to put them away from the fight that is directed against President Yahya Jammeh. Indeed this was an honourable gesture to protect our Cuban friends from malicious attacks from their enemies and to ensure that Cuba is not dragged in to this new fight directed by the powers against President Jammeh and the Gambian people.

And according to the President's own words, AIDS is being produced to kill Africans:

So those who produce Aids to kill Africans (blacks) are the ones crying loud about doing something about Aids in Africa. But their insincerity has been shown by their brutal attacks on something that scientifically cannot be disputed, that is the results of my treatment. If they are concerned about HIV/Aids and they want to stop it, if they are sincere, the first thing they should have done was to come and say let's see how we can develop it and make it available for humanity.

So we have AIDS itself blighting Africa, the President's healing methods, and his claim that AIDS was created to kill Africans. Depressing, isn't it?

Hat tip: Daniel Drezner

A Small Town Website

This morning I stumbled on the website for New Scotland, which is a town of less than 10,000 people in New York State, quite near the state capital of Albany. The website has a well-written first page that is more inspiring than bureaucratic:

Town of New Scotland
The Jewel of Albany County, New York
2029 New Scotland Road, Slingerlands, NY 12159

Years ago, you might have referred to New Scotland as the best kept secret of Albany County. Today, this Jewel continues to charm and allure residents with its rural characteristics, suburban, agricultural and commercial qualities.

New Scotland offers the best of everything in 58 scenic square miles. The villages and hamlets of the town (Clarksville, Feura Bush, New Salem, New Scotland, Onesquethaw, Unionville and Voorheesville) have almost 10,000 residents who consider themselves fortunate to live here and strive to preserve this beautiful region.

As we proceed into the 21st Century, New Scotland residents will continue to make a difference through their volunteer efforts and desire to enrich their community along with 50 members of the Town Team who are working to make this vision a reality.

Join the Town Team on a journey through our website. This is your information source and communication tool. Your input is essential and we welcome you to contact us.

I really like what they've written, it would encourage me to get involved if I lived there. But has anybody seen a town or parish website home page that is even better at motivating local people? If so, I'd like to have a look...

PS the web-page for the Town Court is almost weirdly friendly:

Comments Friendly court on State Highway 85. If you have a criminal matter call to be sure you're scheduled for a DA night. Otherwise it may be a wasted trip. This court is usually not very busy, so don't be more than 15 minutes late. On a bad day you might miss it.

About the area The Town of New Scotland is a gorgeous area bordering Guilderland, Bethlehem, Albany and the hilltowns, and contains the village of Voorheesville within its boundaries.

Judges Hon. Margaret Adkins & Hon. Thomas E. Dolin. Both are excellent judges.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Didn't Expect This....

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

Hat-tip : Pharyngula

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Loving Vs Virginia

1958 was the year I was born. 13 years after the Allies defeated Hitler and his genocidal, racist Nazis.

And yet in 1958 people of different races couldn't get married in Virginia or many other states of the USA. I'm amazed that I didn't hear about the story of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving until today.

As Wikipedia tells it:

The plaintiffs, Mildred Jeter (a woman of black and Rappahannock Indian descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man), were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June of 1958 in the District of Columbia, having left Virginia to evade a state law banning marriages between any white person and a non-white person.

Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's 18th-century interpretation of race, proclaimed that Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, and in 1963 began a series of lawsuits seeking to overcome their conviction on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, ultimately reaching the Supreme Court.

This week is the 40th anniversary of their victory, and Mildred Loving has released a statement:

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

There are those who will say that society today is too liberal, there's no respect for authority, etc. etc. - and sometimes they may be right. But this is a reminder of what the "good old 1950s" were like in the world's most powerful democracy. Civilisation has moved in the right direction....

Hat-tip: Halfway Down the Danube

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pictures Of Rayleigh

I now discover that Lord Rayleigh already has two craters named after him. Here's a picture of the lunar crater Rayleigh . It's on the edge of the Moon , as seen from Earth- so it's hard to see it. It's quite big though - 107 km across.

And here's a picture of the Martian crater Rayleigh. It's quite near the Martian south pole , and even has some frost in it sometimes. It's bigger than the lunar crater - 153 km across.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Abe Obama?

There's an interesting piece at BAGnewsNotes on this quite arresting image:

As they explain, the image comes from an article on the Black Agenda Report (nothing to do with yours truly, it's an African American website) which savages Obama for, essentially, not having two black parents, spending his childhood in Hawaii and giving whites a chance to show the world that they could vote for a black president.

I'm not sure about Obama myself yet - he almost seems too good to be true,and might be a better choice as vice-president. But I wonder if this kind of attack from an African American source might actually help him get more white votes...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Julie Amero Case

In terms of dodgy trials, this takes some beating, and I'm surprised that I hadn't heard about this before. But this is an account from the Washington Post, about a school substitute teacher facing a possible 40 years in jail. For a lack of IT skills. In civilised Connecticut....

Substitute Teacher Faces Jail Time Over Spyware

A 40-year-old former substitute teacher from Connecticut is facing prison time following her conviction for endangering students by exposing them to pornographic material displayed on a classroom computer.

Local prosecutors charged that the teacher was caught red-handed surfing for porn in the presence of seventh graders. The defense claimed the graphic images were pop-up ads generated by spyware already present on the computer prior to the teacher's arrival. The jury sided with the prosecution and convicted her of four counts of endangering a child, a crime that brings a punishment of up to 10 years per count. She is due to be sentenced on March 2.

I had a chance this week to speak with the accused, Windham, Conn., resident Julie Amero. Amero described herself as the kind of person who can hardly find the power button on a computer, saying she often relies on written instructions from her husband explaining how to access e-mail, sign into instant messaging accounts and other relatively simple tasks.

On the morning of Oct 19, 2004, Amero said she reported for duty at a seventh grade classroom at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Conn. After stepping out into the hall for a moment, Amero returned to find two students hovering over the computer at the teacher's desk. As supported by an analysis of her computer during the court proceedings, the site the children were looking at was a seemingly innocuous hairstyling site called "" Amero said that shortly thereafter, she noticed a series of new Web browser windows opening up displaying pornographic images, and that no matter how quickly she closed each one out, another would pop up in its place.

"I went back to computer and found a bunch of pop-ups," Amero said. "They wouldn't go away. I mean, some of the sites stayed on there no matter how many times I clicked the red X, and others would just pop back up."

Amero said she panicked and ran down the hall to the teacher's lounge to ask for help. "I dared not turn the the computer off. The teacher had asked me not to sign him out" of the computer, she recalled. Amero said none of the teachers in the lounge moved to help her, and that another teacher later told her to ignore the ads, that they were a common annoyance. Later on, prosecutors would ask why she hadn't just thrown a coat or a sweater over monitor. On that day Amero hadn't worn either.

Several children told their parents about the incident, who in turn demanded answers from the school's principal. Three days later, school administrators told Amero she was not welcome back. Not long after that, local police arrested her on charges of risking injury to several students.

The case came to trial this month, and computer expert W. Herbert Horner testified for the defense that the images were the result of incessant pop-up ads served by spyware on the classroom computer. The prosecution's expert, a local police officer, said time-stamped logs on the machine showing adult-themed images and Web pages accessed by the Web browser at the time she was in the classroom proved that someone had intentionally visited the sites by clicking on a link or typing the address into the browser address bar.

An explanation for this is that Web browser logs will keep records of sites accessed whether they were generated by internal pop-up serving software or clicked on by a user. Also, try not to dwell on the fact that the judge in the case barred Horner from presenting technical evidence to back up his claims. Horner on Monday published a summary of the facts he would have presented were he allowed to at trial.

I checked out theInternet Archive's view of the site referenced in this case, and it is clear that the page was a gateway site for the type of products typically promoted by spam -- penis enlargement and hair loss drugs. A review of the site's source code shows that it also uses Javascript to launch at least one pop-up ad promoting various online dating and porn sites. When I clicked on one of the sites in that list -- "CoolSexx!" -- my anti-virus program alerted me that it was trying to drop a Trojan horse program on my machine (Trojans are generally used to download malicious software to your PC). The spyware was attempting to load itself onto my computer despite the fact that I was using Internet Explorer 7 and up-to-date anti-virus software.

Try also to ignore that the computer in question was a Microsoft Windows 98 machine running an outdated version of Internet Explorer Web browser (IE 5.0), or that the school's license for its firewall program expired prior to the date of the alleged incident. Likewise, the machine's anti-virus software (Cheyenne Software) was expired and it lacked any anti-spyware tools. In short, the Windows 98 computer was completely exposed to the Internet without any kind of protection.

Then there is the admission by the prosecution that it had failed to conduct even a rudimentary scan of the computer's hard drive with anti-spyware software. Amero's defense said that had it been allowed to present its full testimony, it would have shown the results of spyware software scans on the PC she used, which found two adware programs and at least one Trojan horse program. The logs showed that all of the unwanted programs had been installed weeks prior to the alleged incident, the defense claims.

Spyware and adware has long been the source of objectionable pop-up ads. In February 2006, I wrote about a young man who was earning thousands of dollars each month installing porn pop-up ad serving software on computers whose users had failed to equip the machines with security patches or firewall software. The adware this kid installed was a Web browser add-on that barraged victims with endless pop-ads for adult Web sites and services. I managed to track down several of his victims, including a technologically naive pastor in Memphis.

I spoke briefly with Amero's attorney, who said: "I sincerely believe that had we been allowed to present our testimony in full, Julie would not have been convicted. This is a grave miscarriage of justice." With no prior convictions or criminal history, Amero was eligible under state law for "auxiliary rehabilitation," meaning she could have the charges expunged by agreeing to a short probationary period (provided she didn't get arrested again during that period). But, insistent upon her innocence, she chose to fight the charges.

A number of blogs have recently spoken up on Amero's behalf. Also, a former Massachusetts school administrator recently called on the state governor to pardon Amero and expunge the conviction. Even the local paper, firmly convinced of Amero's guilt, called for lenience in her sentencing.

This may not have been an isolated incident in the Connecticut public school system. According to another former teacher in Amero's school, who spoke this week with Security Fix on condition of anonymity, the kids in the school had few restrictions on what sorts of content they could and did view on school computers. "You could look at any history in any computer and chances are you would see the children had [visited] inappropriate sites," the teacher said.

There seems to have been a groundswell of support for the lady concerned, particularly from bloggers and the latest news is that there's going to be a retrial:

A judge has granted a new trial for former Norwich substitute teacher Julie Amero, who was convicted of allowing students to view pornography on a classroom computer.

The Windham woman was convicted of exposing students to pornography on a computer at a Norwich middle school.

Amero has adamantly denied clicking on pornographic Web sites that appeared on her classroom's computer screen in October of 2004 while she was teaching seventh-graders at Kelly Middle School in Norwich.

Amero's lawyers yesterday filed a motion seeking a new trial, and the judge today granted it. The motion claimed that evidence gathered after Amero's conviction casts serious doubt on the evidence that led to the guilty verdict.

Her case prompted national debate over unseen spyware and adware programs, which some technology experts believe might have generated the pop-up ads for pornographic Web sites.

This woman must have been going through hell - and she's not safe yet....

A Burning Issue.

According to our local paper the Echo, today:

A CANNABIS plantation caught fire at a house in Westcliff.

Firefighters were called to a blaze in a terraced house in Brightwell Avenue just before 9am on Saturday morning.

Their report ends with:
A joint investigation by the fire service and Essex Police has been launched.

Starlight Over Rayleigh.

On June 1st this year Minor Planet 22740 was named "Rayleigh" - my home town!

Why is it called Rayleigh? It was named after the scientist John William Strutt, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1904 and became the 3rd Baron Rayleigh. He wasn’t made a lord for his scientific work, he simply came from an aristocratic family. In fact Lord Rayleigh is described on the Nobel website as “one of the very few members of higher nobility who won fame as an outstanding scientist.”

And why was Lord Rayleigh called Lord Rayleigh? Because his grandmother was the first Baroness Rayleigh, and she lived elesewhere in Essex and chose the title “Rayleigh”, apparently because Rayleigh was a respectable place to be named after and that “Baroness Rayleigh” sounded good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Gordon Brown Meme

At the invitation of Prague Tory....

2 things Gordon Brown should be proud of.

His family, and the minimum wage.

2 things he should apologise for.
Supporting the invasion of Iraq, and the Private Finance Initiatives.

2 things that he should do immediately when he becomes PM.
Mmmm. This is a bit of a tough one. But I would say firstly select a cabinet with a lot of new faces, and secondly tell them at the first cabinet meeting that he wants to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, but to stay in Afghanistan 'for the duration'.

2 things he should do while he is PM.
On the small scale, give power back to locally elected councils. On a bigger scale, set out a goal that in this century Britain's role will be as a world centre for rational, knowledge-based, democratic English-speaking culture.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A note for Gordon Brown

I found a list here entitled "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord". For example:

No. 65. If I must have computer systems with publically available terminals, the maps they display of my complex will have a room clearly marked as the Main Control Room. That room will be the Execution Chamber. The actual main control room will be marked as Sewage Overflow Containment.

One or two of the items are even profound. For example:

No. 61. If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

Gordon Brown, please take note.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A New Playground On Google

I've just stumbled on something that could be useful - an item in Google Labs called "Experimental Search".

You can search for something, with your search results arranged either chronologically along a timeline - for example, for FA Cup finals. or geographically on a map - for example for the Battle of Britain.

However the Battle of Britain example shows the flaws with this. Along with important places from the summer of 1940 - e.g. London, Dover , Coventry and Southampton, it shows Lancaster and Clarenville, Newfoundland.

Why Lancaster ? - because of the Lancaster bomber.
Why Clarenville? - because someone there wrote a view of the film "Battle of Britain"....

It might be fun to google your own name there, though...

Monday, May 28, 2007

In the Running

The local website we do in Rochford District, , is in the running for one of the New Statesman New Media awards.

There's no distinction in being there , as anyone can nominate you and I certainly don't expect us to win. But it's just fun to be there, and to compare what we do with other councillors' blogs (not to mention some distinguished MPs and MEPs!) One of the useful features of the New Statesman competition is that it gives 'the public' a chance to leave comments about any of the sites. Frustratingly though, apart from the original nomination, there haven't been any for our site yet.
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.