Thursday, March 29, 2007

Voluntary Code Free Zone

More rubbish from the BBC (here) on the need for a voluntary code for blogs.

Here are the two logos that I'm hoping people will adopt and put on their sites to signify their attitude towards the concept of a voluntary code.

Here is the main one:

And for those with a more sensitive disposition:

You can read more about the voluntary code here as reported by the BBC.

I have had some requests for a high res version of the middle finger logo. You can get that here. Please drop me a line if you decide to use any of these, so I can add it to my list of adopters.

Update: James Higham of Nourishing Obscurity has figured out the HTML for posting the polite badge. I can't figure out how to post the HTML to the blog entry without it turning into the image, so if you want the code then just email me.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Another Mii Round

Three more for you. I have to get out more!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mii A Party Leader?

One of the features of the new Nintendo Wii is the ability to create your Mii. This is the digital representation of you in the game and online. Loads of websites have sprung up that focus on famous Miis. I've taken a crack at the UK political party leaders here:

Feel free to make your own political mii online here and I will post the best ones that are emailed to me. There will definitely be a prize for the winner.

Update: By popular request, here is Nigel Farage. I've given him the funny wine-purple colour from the UKIP website as his top. Unfortunately, he's quite tough to do as he has few distinguishing marks:

Update 2: This article has been linked to by Danny Finkelstein at Times Comment Central and so I've whipped up a Mii for him.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Crazy Ken And His Fantastic Police State

I'm not sure if this is an actual sign (I found it here), but if it is then we should be afraid.

Bush Bikes Through Bomb Drill

This from Think Progress:
“Dozens of high-level officials joined in a White House drill [today] to see how the government would respond if several cities were attacked simultaneously with bombs similar to those used against U.S. troops in Iraq. … President Bush went on a bike ride [this] morning and did not take part in the test.” (HT: Huffington Post)

It's just not surprising any more. Not long now...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Straw Tries To Out-Hain Hain

First it was the ridiculous call from Peter Hain to make city workers give up two thirds of their bonuses to charity and now it is Jack Straw calling for reduced ticket prices at football matches (here). As the Deputy Leadership contest for the Labour party gets fully underway, it is tugging the Blairite mask from the faces of the major contenders. Populist to the core and natural state interventionists, their response to everything is control and regulate. Has Jack Straw never heard of the free market? Football clubs, as businesses, should be allowed to charge whatever they like. If we then choose to pay those prices then so be it. Why does the government need to be involved? Is football "a basic human right that needs protecting"? Obviously not, so leave it alone.

Imperial Press Conference

Shock Deputy Leadership Announcement

In an announcement that is sure to stun his colleagues, Des Browne, Secretary of State for Defence, has revealed that he will not be running for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Political analysts and pundits will be shocked by this given the announcement by the rest of the Cabinet that they intend to run. A senior source close to Browne was overheard saying, "What a little shit. I don't understand why he doesn't just put his hat in. Even that fucking Blears is running." In other news, government ground to a halt today due to contrasting interviews being given by senior politicians who are looking to a future after Blair.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

White House Attacks Bloggers

There is a story here on Think Progress that appears to have been missed in the UK. Tony Snow, the White House Press Secretary, led a discussion with the MSM about how blogs and bloggers were affecting their role.

Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary:
“You’ve got this wonderful, imaginative hateful stuff that comes flying out. I think one of the most important takeaways is — it’s the classical line — not only should you not believe your own press, you probably shouldn’t believe your opposition blogs either.”
Watch the whole thing at Think Progress.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Extent Of Blair's ID Card Intrusion Revealed

In a response to the 27,000 people who have signed the petition on the Downing Street website opposing the ID card scheme, Tony Blair has revealed the extent to which our civil liberties will be slashed. You can read the full letter here. Blair's tone has become ever more defensive and I couldn't help but go through it paragraph by paragraph. Apologies for the length of the post it is almost Unity size.

The petition calling for the Government to abandon plans for a National ID Scheme attracted almost 28,000 signatures - one of the largest responses since this e-petition service was set up. So I thought I would reply personally to those who signed up, to explain why the Government believes National ID cards, and the National Identity Register needed to make them effective, will help make Britain a safer place.
Yes it's a big number. Not in the road pricing league, but a great response to an online poll. Good to see that the knee-jerk response isn't to reconsider the legislation, but rather to explain why it will go ahead anyway. As an aside, does anyone believe that Tony wrote this "personally"?

The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services - who have the task of protecting this country - believe.
I simply do not think that the views of our security forces are the most important factor to consider for an issue like this. Security services by their nature will always push for greater and greater powers. As a democracy, it is vital that the government hold these demands in check and prevents an overmighty police/security force. If we follow Blair's argument then we would allow all of the powers available to the former KGB if security forces thought this would prevent "international crime and terrorism".

So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs - particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.
Is it really wrong for us to assume that government figures that relate to large-scale technology projects will come in way over forecast? What evidence does he have that they can deliver projects on time and on budget?

In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.
Comparing the ID card to a store card misses the entire point about compulsion. We can choose whether to have a store card or not. I also have more faith in the commercial pressures that would prevent Tesco abusing our data than the government as we shall go on to see in the rest of the letter.

But first, it's important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities - up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.
There is not a system in the world that cannot be cracked. Terrorists and criminals will hack these systems and they will ultimately not be secure. The biometric passport has already been hacked and you can read more about this here.

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.
But again, not impossible.

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.
This is an astonishing admission. The government is effectively going to trawl through the database and match old crimes to the information that we give them. Worse than that, this data will most likely be shared with all EU countries along with our DNA under an agreement discussed here last week. Mistakes will be made and innocent people will be implicated in crimes that they have not committed. This is a significant and unprecedented invasion of privacy. Where is the protection against crimes that might be put on the statute books by future governments that can be "solved" using the database? This information will be shared across government departments and ultimately abused. What additional information will be added to the card over time? How will this data be used?

The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.
ID cards could speed up this process, but at what price to the rest of us? The government could start by fixing the mess that exists within the existing system. Why don't they know where paedophiles are today?

Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.
So why not just store biometric data for people who are trying to enter the country? Why do you need it for all of us?

Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.
Maximise the benefits? Nobody else is pushing this hard against civil liberties. The US will certainly not go there and have sensibly forced the issue back onto governments such as our own. In any event, do we need to blindly follow companies and other countries or should we chart our own path using the principles of freedom and privacy that have been ours for centuries?

These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.
That is not the aim of this letter. Anybody who was opposed to ID cards will not have been appeased by these weak arguments. Most of the most powerful arguments have not even been addressed.

If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.
I'm sure that this is true, but how were the questions asked and who was surveyed. I'm sure I could construct polling questions that could deliver the opposite result. In any event, isn't it Tony Blair who always tells us that public opinion shouldn't matter (e.g. Iraq) and that he makes his decisions based on principle.

I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.
I would rather have a range of documents from a variety of sources than one piece that could be systematically abused.

The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don't recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.
The government has no credibility on this point.

As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.
blah, blah, blah.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair
Bugger off.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I've Jumped On The Terry Kelly Bandwagon

I was sent to Councillor Terry Kelly - Socialist by Tom Paine and Not Saussure. It is absolutely brilliant and you should definitely check it out. He is a self proclaimed "man under siege" on his blog. He writes tremendous amounts of drivel and there are a number of other bloggers who love to wind him up. Who knew that such people still existed?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Not To Live Alone

There is a story from Reuters here that is incredibly scary. Read the story and then think about all the things that can happen in a year.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police called to a Long Island man's house discovered the mummified remains of the resident, dead for more than a year, sitting in front of a blaring television set.

The 70-year-old Hampton Bays, New York, resident, identified as Vincenzo Ricardo, appeared to have died of natural causes. Police said on Saturday his body was discovered on Thursday when they were called to the house over a burst water pipe.

"You could see his face. He still had hair on his head," Newsday quoted morgue assistant Jeff Bacchus as saying. The home's low humidity had preserved the body.

Officials could not explain why the electricity had not been turned off, considering Ricardo had not been heard from since December 2005.

Neighbors said when they had not seen Ricardo, who was diabetic and had been blind for years, they assumed he was in the hospital or a long-term care facility.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Government Pledges Our DNA To The EU

It was, I suppose, only a matter of time before the European Union got its hands on our extremely intrusive DNA database. The Blair government doesn't give a damn about civil liberties and has now actively set about creating an EU-wide database that gives other governments access to our records. A large number of people on the database haven't even been convicted of a crime.

I have said it here before and I will say it again, we are evolving into a police state. The most worrying thing about the sharing of data across borders is the fact that DNA will become part of the passport application in 2009. DNA data can today be used for relatively few applications, but that is not to say that current scientific research won't yield greater uses. Feel afraid.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "The decision to share broad categories of information across the enlarged EU is deeply troubling. The information includes personal data, it is not limited to criminals and there are no reliable means to guarantee the safeguards on the use of that information by criminals gangs or those not entitled to use that data."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Citizen Hain

Not so much a lurch as an opportunistic hop to the left by arch idiot Peter Hain. Not content with telling city workers to donate two thirds of their bonuses to charity or face a big fight, he has now suggested that television licences and bus passes should be means tested and given free to "the poor". If that doesn't contribute to a poverty trap then I don't know what will. Would we then need a sliding scale of television licence fees as people move out of poverty? It strikes me that a better move would be the removal of the subsidy for the BBC altogether. Then there would be no television tax and Eastenders could be paid for by advertising revenue. Do you see how less state intervention can actually be empowering Peter?

Let Peter's Westminster Popular Front come together for this "war on inequality".

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More BBC Waste

The Telegraph has picked up on the fact that the BBC has spent £700,000 or the equivalent of more than 5,300 household license fees on the redesign of the BBC 2 idents. They look lovely, but what a ridiculous amount of money flushed down the drain. Do they really need to spend this money at a time when they are downsizing? Would a commercial enterprise spend this money?

To add insult to injury, they were filmed in South Africa due to cost and the weather!

The Tip Of The CCTV Iceberg

Is it surprising that CCTV cameras are being abused by staff at CCTV centres? Not really. There's an article in The Sun today that outs Tom Muff, who couldn't be more appropriately named, as spying on women using the police screens that he is paid to watch.
A POLICE CCTV operator has been carpeted — after security camera footage showed close-ups of the boobs and backside of a woman in the street.

Shocked detectives found a 20-minute sequence of saucy footage while checking the film during a probe into an assault.

The screen was filled by shots of a scantily clad woman’s breasts, bum and legs as she was “followed” by cameras in Worcester.

The Sun story, as you can imagine, is focused on the more salacious side of the incident, but there is a much larger issue at stake. Anybody who claims that this type of ubiquitous surveillance is only troubling to those of us who've done anything wrong is crazy. This is an occasion when an individual abused the system, but in the long-run there is no reason that the government can't undertake similar or worse abuses of our rights. Dizzy wrote yesterday about us not assuming that future governments will be as incompetent as the current one and he is absolutely right. This technology in the hands of an efficient state machine rather than a horny operator could be terrifying.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Russian Soldier Prostitutes

This story here on the BBC website is too bizarre for words. Apparently, young soldiers based in St Petersburg have been forced into prostitution. If that wasn't bad enough, one was beaten so severely that he got gangrene and had to have his legs, and wait for it... genitals amputated. Are you kidding me? Is this common?

Richard Dawkins Interviewed On CNN's Paul Zahn Show

This is not the best interview ever, but as usual Dawkins is extremely eloquent.

Petty Victories In The Blogosphere

In the US, the big blogging story today is that a blogging member of staff for Presidential candidate John Edwards has been forced to resign. This has been heralded as a huge coup for the Catholic groups that set out to achieve this. It's yet another example of the influence of blogging on mainstream politics. The key question though is what it has really achieved? For some it will be proof that their contribution to the blogosphere has been recognised. For others it will be the culmination of thousands of words wasted in defence of a fallen comrade. For yet others it will mean nothing as they continue to blog about Jessica Simpson's new brown hair do.

So why is a relatively small online group of bloggers so focused on this story? I think we all feel that the political systems in our vast liberal democracies are remote, unresponsive and difficult to influence. These victories show that we can influence and that we aren't just shouting into a void. It's the little guy reclaiming some power for a change and what a rush when one of your blogging campaigns leaves cyberspace and ends up on the front page.

Blogging as a medium of communication is well suited to those of us with a slightly obsessive personality. From the early morning newspapers to late night TV, everything around us becomes something that might make a good blog entry. You can post instantly on any topic, so the desire to maintain a dialogue and a somewhat unique perspective on the world for your 45ish daily readers can concentrate the mind on issues that to others would appear to be esoteric and bizarre. These little victories can take on mammoth proportions. Let's just hope that the desire to be "influencers" doesn't just lead to petty squabbles and victories that are anything but.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Problem With Permanent Sucking Up

I've always been a big fan of being sucked up to and whether it's in a shop or on a plane, a bit of brown nosing goes a long way. In small doses it can make you feel special, warm and just a little bit powerful. I suppose it's a bit like a gateway drug. It starts with the occasional weekend excess, but in a short time you've moved on to Class A ego stroking and from there it's a risky business. An overdose can be fatal.

Judging by the last few weeks, Blair has been smoking the crack pipe of adulation for slightly too long. He's become a man obsessed by the hand of history and the "legacy" that he will leave after 10 long years in office. Jackie Ashley writing in the Guardian today has been the first to out Tony's post office plan. He will become to the global environment what Superman is to Metropolis. In Ashley's words it is "Tony to save the world".

If the Priory didn't have enough on their plate, what with Jade Goody's recent stint, it is becoming increasingly clear that Blair needs a bit of therapy and counseling of his own in order to beat his addiction. In cases like this, the intervention strategy might be appropriate. First of all Tony must be removed from his Downing Street buddies that lead him astray. Secondly he needs to understand the impact that his actions are having on those closest to him. It's only when he can admit that he has a problem that he can begin to change. C'mon Tony it's not too late.

New Look...

No, not the low end chain of high street clothing stores, a make-over for the blog. I thought that if it was good enough for The Mirror, The Times and The Appalling Strangeness then it was good enough for me. I've tried to keep it very simple and based it on the standard Rounders theme.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Worst Dressed?

Admittedly there were a lot of contenders at this year's BAFTA awards, but I think Eva Green wins. What the hell has she done to her hair?

Did the guys who redesigned the Mirror website style her for the night? I'm sure I recognise that red.

Expensive Mistakes

First The Times and now the Mirror. Who redesigned their site? It is awful and now officially the worst newspaper website in the UK, just ahead of The Times Online. From the bubbly buttons to the busy screen it is a travesty of crap design. I'm no designer, but does anybody want to hire me as a consultant on a newspaper redesign? I certainly wouldn't do a worse job than these guys have.

BBC Once Again Stifling The Media Industry

Good to see Kevin Bakhurst, the BBC News 24 Controller, writing here on the BBC's The Editors about competition being a fine thing for viewers. It is always fun when the word competition is used by an organisation that faces no competitive threats whatsoever due to its position as a taxpayer funded body. Yes, competition is a good thing for the audience, so maybe we can start by leveling the playing field.

Here are his comments:

It emerged late yesterday that from the Spring, if Ofcom approves, Sky News will no longer be available free to viewers on Freeview.

They currently get around 845,000 viewers a week on this platform out of their weekly total of 4 million. For us at the BBC, I think this is a double-edged sword.

Sky have already rather given up on viewing figures as BBC News 24 has moved substantially ahead of them (6 million a week versus 4 million). Whereas, a few years ago audience size was their preferred measure of success, it has now been quietly dropped. The move on Freeview will almost certainly be another big blow to their audience size.

I can fully understand why Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB have taken this decision on commercial grounds alone: you can make money out of movies and sport but not easily from news. However, I do think it's a real shame for TV News coverage in the UK.

We are very fortunate to have two thriving 24-hour TV News channels and I firmly believe competition is a good thing for the audience. Sky's decision will be a bad thing for news audiences, particularly those who can't afford subscription services and choose Freeview for that reason. I would just say that for us at BBC News 24, we put immense value on our audiences and their views - and will continue to do so whatever platform they watch us on.

Old Labour Rears Its Ugly Hain

You really need to read this interview by Peter Hain in the Daily Telegraph (here). In this imaginative return to the 70s, he calls for City bonuses to be given to the poor and needy.

"I don't believe that people will only work in the City because they get those sort of bonuses. They don't need to offer them. Why don't they give two thirds of that £8.8 billion and invest it in charity or invest it in regeneration schemes for unemployed kids who are living a mile away from the opulence that there is in the City?

"In the interest of the City, particularly if they don't want to invite attacks for greater regulation or changes in taxation, if they don't want to get into that kind of arena, then they have to show a lead.

"Let's work this out on the basis of consensus, let's not have a big fight, because it will come to a big fight otherwise.

"There's a debate starting and either it's done in a self policing way, a way that shows moral and socially responsible leadership, or people will look for other solutions."They may go down the regulation road. It's hard for me to see how that would work, but they may do."

Does Hain honestly believe that large banks and asset managers would be giving such whacking great bonuses if they didn't need to? And if they stopped, would they give it to charity or to shareholders? Hmmm let me think... Nice one Peter, now go and lie down for a while.

Friday, February 09, 2007

My Entry For The £12m Virgin Prize

I was reading Daily Pundit's views here on Richard Branson's new £12m prize for the person who can develop the best way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and it gave me a great idea. How about a Spaceballs style Mega Maid? Alright just send me a cheque.

Tough Life For Lounging Royal

Looks like The Earl of Wessex is having a particularly exhausting trip to the Caribbean judging by today's Court Circular in The Times (here). He visited a gallery and then went to a Golf Club. This follows a pretty arduous trip that included a quick stop over in Palm Beach, Florida (here). Good to see him still representing the UK on the beaches, sorry major social events of the world. Money well spent in my opinion

February 8: The Earl of Wessex, Trustee, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Foundation, this morning visited the new National Heroes Gallery, Bridge-town, Barbados.
His Royal Highness, Trustee, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Foundation, afterwards attended a Reception for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Golf Cup at Sandy Lane Golf Club, Saint James.
The Earl of Wessex later departed Barbados for the United Kingdom.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Miliband Whacks Brown On Question Time

David Miliband made a huge gaffe on Question Time tonight by claiming that the audience would be booing Gordon Brown and demanding Tony Blair back in a year. He realised his mistake and lamely tried to put it right, but perhaps a little too late. Ooops... not sure Gordon is going to be very pleased with that. See the latest episode here. It is close to the end.

Update: Also on the BBC news website here. The exact quote was "I predict that when I come back on this programme in six months or a year's time, people will be saying 'wouldn't it be great to have that Blair back because we can't stand that Gordon Brown'."

Congestion Ken

I've just been reading over the form I'll need to fill in for my Congestion Poll Tax when the charging zone expands into my street on February 19th. I started off outraged that I'd be hit with an additional £200 charge, but I suppose in the mini police state that is the UK, it isn't a massive amount of money. In fact, the more I've thought about it the happier I've become. I now qualify for the 90% discount on the overall cost, so I'll be happily driving into the old congestion charge zone on weekdays because it'll make no financial difference. I might not be able to park, but I'm sorry Ken I'll be driving round congesting all day everyday to teach you a lesson.

The western front of the congestion charge zone will cover a massive residential area of people who will probably drive in central London much more than they did before. Please tell me this isn't just a money making scheme.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Conservatives Come Out Strongly Against New Times Poll

In a shock reaction to this morning's Times poll showing that David Cameron's support doesn't extend to the Midlands, North of England, Wales and Scotland, the Conservatives have announced that they will begin a huge trench that starts on the west coast and runs the width of the UK. "The North" will then be towed closer to the Arctic Circle enabling northerners to complain even more about how grim things are. Cameron's official spokesman stated, "it's about bloody time. Why didn't we float these people away years ago when we first knew that they didn't like us?"

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Good IDea

I am incredibly pleased that the Conservatives have come out wholeheartedly against the ID scheme. All they need to do now is pledge to tighten up rules on how information is shared across government departments, scale back the (ab)use of the police DNA database, reduce the number of CCTV cameras and remove a large number of speed cameras and they might have a pretty good freedom platform to run on.

They Can't See The Small Business Bureaucracy For The Trees

I have just received a letter from HM Revenue & Customs inviting me to a "London Business Advice Day" to help me deal with government red tape, sorry help me succeed in running my business. There are a ridiculous number of public bodies to meet. Here's the letter:
Dear Sir/Madam,

I am delighted to enclose an invitation to a free business advice day being hosted by HM Revenue and Customs on Wednesday 21st March 2007 at The Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 0QH.

Over 50 Government Departments, agencies and public sector organisations will be attending the event, providing advice and support to help you succeed in running your business successfully.

There are also free education semnars on a range of isses, to help you make the most of your day.

For further details please see the enclosed flyer or alternatively visit our website at www.

I hope you will be able to join us.

Yours faithfully,

Roger Lovell
Business Liaison Team Manager

Over 50 bloody organisations and agencies!!! If this many entities are involved, no wonder small business is suffering. This is a shambles and a good example of unjoined up government. I definitely won't be wasting a day at this thing. I spend enough time filling out the endless forms and complying with the infinite regulations that these people spew out on a daily basis.

Cameron Sinking Lower And Lower This Morning

David Cameron has made a major media appearance today on This Morning with Fern and Phil. Incisive questions such as "How do we deal with extremists in our society?" were followed up with "Why's Tony Blair having such a tough time?" Fern clearly fancies herself as a little bit of a serious interviewer and why wouldn't she after her long stint on Ready Steady Cook? I would think that the new host of that programme, Ainsley Harriott, will be in line for the BBC Political Editor role in a year or two.

My favourite part of the interview was Fern's impassioned "Patients just want clean hospitals, with clean sheets and no bugs, with decent food and good nurses". I can just see the letters being written now by Doreen in Whitstable, "Thanks Fern for speaking on behalf of us normal people". The problem with this is that these things don't just appear Fern they need policies and that means talking about other points that are slightly more complicated.

These lightweight interviews play a specific role of reaching an audience that isn't normally interested in politics, but in terms of learning anything new about the Conservative party it was a waste of time. This was a very Blairesque performance and I'm sure the styles will be compared again and again.

To put this edition of This Morning into perspective, the other major guest was Jamie Oliver's dad. Are you kidding me? What the bloody hell? I'm surprised Jamie Oliver's postman hasn't gotten in on the act. All aboard the Cash-In Express.

Monday, February 05, 2007

John F Kennedy 1960 Television Political Ad

This blog has been a little too newspaper focused today, so I thought I would balance it a little with a political ad from JFK's 1960 election campaign for President. Priceless.

Guardian Knows Nothing, So Makes Up Headline

There's a story on The Guardian website (here) with the headline "Blair will not face third interview". Well there we are. We should assume that Blair is in the clear and that all is right with the world should we? Well er... no actually.

If you bother to read the article you realise that the only evidence they have of "will not" is the word of Blair's official spokesman who is not aware of any contact between No 10 and Scotland Yard regarding a further interview. Indeed, he has "checked with everyone [he] can conceivably check with in Downing Street and in wider government and the answer is no." Well that's a little different from "will not" isn't it. It may be more appropriate to use the headline, "Blair may not face third interview because we can't find someone to tell us he will, but wait a minute they kept it secret from us last time, so we cannot categorically say either way". Not as snappy, but about 100% more accurate.

Times Site Still Not Really Working

The redesign is a total disaster. I tried to get on there to give feedback on how bad it is and managed to get my screen to look like this (below) before giving up and moving on. "web 2.0" features like participation in the site only work if the site actually loads.

Terrible Times Redesign

Hurrah for the web consultants. Another website redesigned and ruined. I cannot believe that the new Times website has gone live in what can only be described as an Alpha version of the site. It looks awful. Admittedly the navigation bar has been made simpler than the odd mix of horizontal and vertical that the site used to sport, but this has been done in such an ugly fashion that any navigational benefits are lost as a result. It also loads incredibly slowly for some reason - slower in fact than any of the other UK newspaper sites I visit (Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Sun, Mirror, Independent and the NOTW). There are objects floating everywhere and there has been no effort made to streamline the page. It is now a horrible mess of icons, stories, pictures and links. And who chose that awful font size and the shocking colour scheme?

Update: The site is so bad that had to go out and buy a paper version. Is this their cunning secret strategy to drive up circulation?

Protect And Survive

There is a brilliant article here in the Guardian by Steve Boggan. He has visited the huge government underground bunker in Wiltshire that was built as a command and control centre in the event of a nuclear war. He has also examined the current civil defense measures in place to protect us today.

His article mentions the old Protect and Survive government instructions and I've found some really interesting old videos on Youtube. Here's one entitled "Action After Warnings".

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Blair Drums Up The Usual Suspects For Support

Interesting article on the BBC website here that sums up the comments of ministers that came out swinging for Blair today. Unsurprisingly, Blears, Jowell and Hewitt drew the short straws. What was more interesting was who wasn't out defending the Prime Minister. If that's the best they can rustle up then he really must be in trouble.

The key talking points can be summed up as follows:

1. He should be allowed to "get on with the job";
2. He should all be wary of "unattributed" stories;
3. It would be "undemocratic" to drive him from office during the inquiry;
4. "The prime minister is giving outstanding leadership."

As far as number one is concerned it seems pretty clear to me that a Prime Minister who doesn't have control over the Cabinet or his party cannot just "get on with the job." I have a little sympathy with the second point and I do think the Labour politicians who are spinning against Blair should to some extent put up or shut up. I cannot for the life of me work out what is "undemocratic" about his party pushing him from office. That is exactly the way our political system is supposed to work. He cannot be primus inter pares without the support of other MPs. Once this is lost then he should no longer be Prime Minister. This overrides any party systems to elect leaders and so it should. Do I need to say anything about four other than it is patently not the case.

Weak talking points, none of the big gun ministers. How long does Blair have left?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Matthew Parris Spot On Again

Here's an excerpt from Matthew Parris' article in today's Times. I think he is absolutely on the money in terms of what Brown should do to bring the Blair "presidency" to an end. I also entirely agree with his analysis that Brown is not a shoo in for Labour leader.

Mr Brown tells himself that he dare not raise a hand against his leader because then he would inherit a sour and cantankerous party. But he will already. Does he not know that the Blairites detest him, that few of them expect him to do well and some of them actively want him to mess things up? These, then, are the two reasons why Mr Brown’s passivity is rotting his inheritance. But there’s a third argument for action. I still believe — in fact my belief is growing — that 10 Downing Street may never be his inheritance. I am not quitting that small band of commentators who (though we have been forced to admit that a Brown premiership is the likelihood) hold stubbornly to our hunch that it is not in the bag.

Like David Davis’s supposed inheritance of the Tory leadership, it could crumble so fast once it began to slip. An overvalued stock, Mr Brown’s crown is a prophecy that most people buy because most other people are buying it. I know of few who — were the bottom to fall out of the Brown market — would not be saying “I always did have my doubts”. Even now, few are confident he can win the next election. So why make him leader? To my disappointment, Alan Johnson seems to have lowered his sights. John Reid is not having a good year. But if David Miliband were to step forward then (Mary Ann Sieghart is right) he would get a positive response not only from the press but from many of his contemporaries. There would be a sense of relief. All at once, people would be asking: “Why does it have to be Brown, anyway?” The Tories, whose picador-attacks on the Chancellor are working well for them and who are looking forward to the matador stuff later, would be in panic: their weaponry and leadership is not designed for a fight with someone like Mr Miliband.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Do They Ever Go Quietly?

Ultimately, it was the behind the scenes machinations that led to Thatcher's resignation, despite her desire to stay in the role. I wonder if similar conversations are taking place at Number 10 today. Blair has publicly stated his wish to stay, but the current police inquiry is making this more and more difficult. Anybody brave enough to bet that he'll be gone by the end of next week?

Here is the BBC One evening news from the day of Thatcher's resignation.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Blair On The Ropes

Today's attack at Prime Minister's questions from David Cameron was extremely powerful and represents a new tactic from the Opposition. Cameron's new line is "When is he going to realise it is all over? It is time for him to go." The underlying point is that Blair is now damaging Britain by hanging on to power. There's not a great response to this one and it is now only a matter of time...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What Is Truth?

Think Progress is carrying new report presented to the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project showing 435 instances in which the Bush administration interfered into the global warming work of government scientists over the past five years.

Frank Zappa Debates Censorship

Here is a great video that I came across via Digg. It's from an episode of Crossfire from the 1980s. Zappa's responses are absolutely brilliant as he shows the absurdity of government censorship. Novak gets really fired up. "I love it when you froth like that."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

GMTV's Janus

Uh that's Janus rather than anus, but you would have been forgiven for assuming the latter if you had watched this morning's show. Caroline Flint, the government minister responsible for getting us all fit, was on the show talking about childhood obesity. This was in response to the fattest seven year old I've ever seen. A more corpulent child would need to be put in a wheelbarrow and this doughboy couldn't stop himself from huffing and puffing like a 70 year old man even when he was sitting down. This was clearly parental irresponsibility on a massive scale and GMTV at least pointed this out. Unfortunately, the very next item was where in Britain you could buy the best fish and chips and there were at least three or four school kids tucking in at this award winning establishment. You couldn't make it up.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A New Arms Race?

Great to see that China now has the capability to shoot down satellites (here). That should come as good news to democratic governments and mobile phone companies all over the world.

It must only be a matter of time now before a head-on confrontation with the US occurs. The key reason made for this not happening is the interdependence of their economies and the high level of trade between the two. However, this assumes that the quasi-communist regime in China cares for the well being of its citizens - a big assumption - and that relations with the US are the key to its long-term economic future.

With around a billion people, it dwarfs the United States and makes Britain look like a pimple on a panda's bottom. I for one will be learning Mandarin as soon as possible. Now what's Chinese for "yes sir"!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bloody Goody and Smelly Kelly

This weekend has been all about resetting my body clock after my trip and I'm pleased to say that it's worked. I got up at a normal time this morning despite spending half the night watching the Indianapolis Colts versus the New England Patriots on Sky Sports. To the detractors of American Football, there would not have been a better game to watch. High scoring and full of drama, it was a tale of two quarter backs and the weight of recent history. The Colts won and I can't wait to see Peyton Manning in the Superbowl.

The one "significant" news item I missed on my recent trip overseas was the Jade Goody race row. I cannot believe that this has dominated news headlines for so long. I can't even pretend to find this interesting. This is a pathetically thick woman on a show created for and watched by morons. What does it say about racism in Britain? Absolutely nothing. Now let's move on.

The other person that does continue to attract my negative attention is Ruth Kelly. Where did Nu Labour find this hideous individual. It staggers me that as Communities Minister she can be so opposed to one part of it. Her views on homosexual adoption are questionable at best if held personally, but downright outrageous in the position she's in. The counter argument is that we are all entitled to personal opinions. As I have said here before, specifically in relation to Ruth Kelly's decision to take her "special needs" child out of state schooling, if she wants to have opinions that are diametrically opposed to the manifesto under which she was elected and serves then she should resign. Please resign!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Heaven And Earth Is The BBC At Its Worst

I got back from my trip to New Zealand yesterday and although I was away for just three weeks I feel like I've been away for months. My body clock is in turmoil, but I'm hoping to get it back in the right time zone over the next couple of days.

Normally I'm tucked up asleep in bed at 10:35am on Sundays but due to the trip I've been up since 6am. Imagine how excited I was to discover Gloria Hunniford's BBC programme "Heaven and Earth". It's a bit of a grab bag of a show, featuring celebrity interviews, debates on hot religious topics and news style reporting. The phrases "low brow" and "dumbing down" would be a kind way to describe a show that looks at some of the greatest philosophical questions in a truly facile and pointless manner.

Today's show featured the top guest line-up of David Blunkett and Englebert Humperdinck. However, it wasn't their searing religious insights that got me fired up enough to write a blog entry, it was their ridiculous segment on the teaching of intelligent design in British schools. The main focus of the segment was Dr Alastair Noble, an "expert" in intelligent design and a scientist who wanted to see it taught in science lessons. I wanted to find out more about this chap as there aren't many credible scientists that support ID. What I found with a quick Google search came as no surprise. He is not an expert on this topic and actually works as the Scottish Education Officer for the Christian charity CARE (Christian Action Research and Education). You can see a little bit more about him here. This was not ever pointed out on the programme and is either classic BBC sloppiness or something a little more dangerous. Interestingly, that small description of him points out that he has also worked for the BBC. This lack of information on his background left viewers with the sense that he was coming from a purely scientific perspective, rather than a Christian one. I don't have a problem with a range of views, but we should definitely ensure that we know who is talking and why.

Suffice to say I will not be watching this crappy programme again. Good to see our TV tax being spent on low quality sunday morning rubbish.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Barack On Track

So, no surprise to learn that Barack Obama is forming a committee to formally explore a run for President. This has been on the cards since he spoke extremely well during the 2004 campaign. Many are describing this as Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare, but there are a number of reasons (highlighted here in October by Our American Cousin) that make it unlikely that Obama will win:

1) Senators never get elected, so it's a pointless discussion (the only one in the past hundred years was Kennedy, and his dad called in a few favours for that one). This applies equally to Hillary and was almost certainly at the root of John Kerry's problems at the last election.

2) Not proud to say it, but how does a guy whose last name is one letter away from Osama and whose middle name is Hussein get elected in a post-9/11 invading Iraq America? Forget black-white issues--will this country be enlightened enough to elect a man with an Arabic name (even if he happens to be a Christian raised in Hawaii and a descendent of Jeff Davis)? I'd like to think so, but we are talking about the same electorate who was easily convinced that a winner of the silver star and three purple hearts was a coward while a draft-dodger who didn't even complete his service in the Texas Air National Guard was some kind of war hero.

3) Everyone gets very excited about the chance to have the first African-American president, but, racial labels aside, I don't think that distinction really counts until the direct descendant of a slave is elected. As Thomas Sowell, among others has pointed out, basing racism on the color of skin alone often overlooks a cultural bias against "American" blacks in favor of relatively recent Caribbean and African origin. So in a country where a black kid is six times more likely than a white kid to go to jail for the same crime (and with the same record), we ought to be very careful about what is real racial progress and what only appears to be racial progress. Interesting also to note that the typical civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson have pointedly chosen not to support Obama with much gusto.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Harry Training For Iraq

It is interesting to see (here) that Prince Harry is training to go to Iraq and it says a great deal about his character that he seems keen to go with the guys he's trained with. It is likely that in the next few months, Prince William could be put in the same position. I cannot understand those who say that the second and third in line for the throne should not be heading out there in case they come to harm. Do we still believe in the 21st century that royal lives are worth more or less than any other? I will be disgusted if the MOD decide that either of them shouldn't go. I certainly hope that no harm comes to either, but I feel the same way about everyone that we have out there, from the cooks to the generals.

TV Predictions 2007

I am still in New Zealand, but heading back this week. Before I reconnect fully with the UK political landscape, I thought I might fill you in on two of my favourite television shows that are currently running in the US.

The first is 'Friday Night Lights' an amazing show based on the movie released in 2004 and the 1990 book by Bissinger. Ostensibly it is about a football team in a small Texas town, but for anyone wise enough to track it down, it is much, much more. It really showcases American TV at its best - terrific acting, great writing and superb cinematography. I have been glued to it all season and although I haven't seen anything about it being picked up in the UK, I urge you to hunt it out. It has had great reviews from critics although the US public hasn't quite warmed to it in the same way. I just hope they get into it soon and ensure that more episodes are made.

The second is 'Heroes'. I don't feel quite as well placed to comment on this one having only seen the first episode, but it is off to a great start. The premise is that there are a group of people brought together by newly found special powers. It is very similar to X-Men, but is done incredibly well and is focused on normal people rather than a breed of mutants. I think it is being picked up by the Sci-Fi channel in the UK and I will be tuning in regularly. It really deserves a wider reach and could end up being bigger than Lost. It was the most talked about US series on the internet last year.

Both of these programmes are from NBC and represent really exciting investments by this US TV channel. If only we had a true market based media in the UK...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Everybody Loves Lego

Watch the amazing video below of a Lego Mindstorms creation. It's an automated Lego car builder made out of Lego. Simply amazing. It takes the Lego pieces that you input and turns them into a tiny vehicle.

Education, Education, Education - Resign, Resign, Resign

I haven't blogged here in a little while as I'm in New Zealand attending a friend's wedding, but one story has really caught my attention and made me angry enough to search out internet access. That story is the breaking news about Ruth Kelly's decision to send her son to a private school because her own local schools are not suitable to educate his "special needs" (here).

Other blogs (notably Guido's and Iain Dale's) have rather let the minister off the hook. I for one believe that this is a fundamental issue and that she should resign. I don't fall for all this crap about her having to make a decision in the best interest of her child. She was elected and subsequently became part of a government that promised to improve education for all children. This has patently not happened and this former education minister shares a great deal of the blame. In my view she has two choices: 1) agree that the government has failed, send her child to a private school and resign; or 2) send him to a local state school and keep her job. What she cannot be allowed to do is admit failure and retain her role.

The press gave Tony Blair an easy ride over the choice of education for his own children and unfortunately that set a terrible precedent. How long are we going to stomach ministers who tell us, "do as we say, not as we do"? The argument could have been made that Tony Blair had to make his decision about his own kids before being given an opportunity to improve the lot of his local schools. These bastards have now had almost 10 years to make their changes, so this argument will simply not fly any more.

Iain Dale says "I won't be calling for Ruth Kelly's head", but then goes on to say "But she should answer this question: what would someone do if they didn't have the financial resources to pay £15,000 to a prep school?" There is no suitable answer to that question and that's why she must resign. Come on Iain, I would have expected more from you.

This is a government on the brink of collapse and cabinet ministers are behaving with a complete lack of collective responsibility. Has the country gone mad? When did it become alright to stay in a government and then publicly argue against it? First it was health and local hospital closures and now it is education. When will somebody resign on a matter of principle?

The Labour cabinet has become a morally bankrupt collection of individuals that are positioning themselves for life post Tony. Shame on them.