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...
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.