Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Amnesty appeal


Amnesty International have a letter-writing appeal going on behalf of Mao Hengfeng. Deatils of the campaign, and the conditions under which Mao has been held can be found by following the link. In a nutshell, she is being held under China's long-standing 'Re-education Through Labour' policy, which denies its recipients access to a lawyer or a court hearing. She is believed to have been tortured.

While there is no guarantee that this appeal will be successful in securing her release or an improvement in her conditions, Amnesty's campaigns have sometimes borne fruit in the past. So do get out your pens or printers (you can even email) and join the appeal.


Direct action - without leaving your chair!


Quick! Here's your chance to do something about the government's silly and dangerous ID scheme, and you don't have to make placards or get rained on or risk arrest (probably) or do anything your mum wouldn't approve of (probably) or smash up a branch of McDonald's (but don't let me stop you) or make bombs or grow a beard or shave off your beard or shave off someone else's beard or dress up like a frightened fox or put a clothes peg on your nose or anything other than go here, and add your name to the list.

Before you protest, "hold on, you're telling me what to do, but I don't see your name on the list", well, did you think Oscar Wildebeest was my real name, you nincompoop?

While you're adding your name, look down the list and watch out for some well-known names (I mean fellow bloggers, not celebrities or MPs. As if).

OK, 3 million may be an ambitious target, but 2 million marching against the war didn't make a scrap of difference so I guess we've got to set our sights higher.

(Did I spell 'nincompoop' right?)


Green Goddess


Why the sod has Channel 4 not repeated Green Wing? Or did I just miss it?

It won a BAFTA, for heaven's sake!

According to the C4 forum (but let's take everything fans say with a pinch of salt), the DVD will be out in the autumn, around the time that Series 2 hits the screen.

Let's hope they have the common sense not to stretch it out beyond the point where it ceases to be brilliant, as is beginning to happen with Black Books.


New kid on the blog


A newcomer to the (no, I can't bring myself to use the word 'blogosphere', I can barely believe I've used the word 'blogroll' - that won't be there much longer) world of blogging has dropped by and left a comment. Kay Ballard of Virginia, USA, has ambitiously started up eight blogs simultaneously. They can be accessed via her profile.

Such an undertaking deserves support (and perhaps a little sympathy) in any circumstance, but I'm particularly looking forward to Kay's entries in the blog entitled Can't Marry Me, largely because of the subtitle: "Men Who Will Never Be My Husband, Because They Are Dead".


More bother


BBC News reports that voting in Big Brother is more popular than voting in a General Election for 18-34 year olds - except that it depends on how you read the figures, since you can only vote once in a General Election, whereas multiple voting in reality shows is allowed (and positively encouraged).

There's a wizard scheme in this, isn't there? Simply charge people to vote in a GE - say, 50p a vote. That really would strike a blow at voter apathy. You'd make damn sure you voted, if your money was going towards it. The cash raised could go to the Treasury - or to a good cause, instead.

Cynics may argue that rich people will simply spend millions of pounds trying to ensure that the party of their choice gets elected. Oscar's answer is that this already happens!

FOOTNOTE: Jim Bliss, over at Where There Were No Doors has a jolly good rant about BB in the context of Orwell's original novel. His joke about the synagogue vandal is groanworthily amusing, too.


Can't think of a title that's not tasteless


The LibDem MP for Cheadle, Patsy Calton, has died of cancer.

Naturally, such an event is one of great sadness for her family and friends, her party colleagues and presumably many of her constituents. It leaves a nagging doubt in my mind, however. She had been ill for a long time and, indeed, had campaigned for cancer charities, being quite open about her own illness. With such a disease, no one can predict exactly when one's time will come; but Ms Calton was too sick to attend her count, and had to take her new oath of office in a wheelchair.

What, I wonder, was the point of putting up an openly terminally ill candidate in the most marginal seat in the country? I'm speaking from a position of ignorance, I admit, in that I don't know to what extent her condition was definitely terminal and I don't know how physically able she was to go knocking on doors, etc. But the LibDems must have known that they were looking at ekeing out their hold on the seat, rather than confidently expecting another full term.

None of this is to say that Ms Calton should have been barred from standing, or that she doesn't deserve respect for fighting what must have been a gruelling campaign. Nor do I deny that any MP could be hit by a bus, say, at any time (I wouldn't cry if some of them were). But where is the benefit to the consituents, who are now going to have to go through the rigmarole of a by-election, with the possibility of the seat changing hands? Where's the benefit in saying, effectively, "please vote for me, even though I may not be your MP for long and I may be too ill to attend to constituency business much of the time?"

MPs are public servants and, however heroic they may appear in such circumstances, the public interest is not served by electing a representative who is unlikely to be able to discharge his or her duties to the full. That's twice in quick succession that a LibDem candidate has died, forcing a by-election ("to lose one candidate may be regarded..." etc., etc.).

The above may sound callous. There may be good arguments why what I have said is reprehensible. Please make them.


Wrist banned


Oscar has been contemplating placing the Make Poverty History banner on this site as a kind of make-do for the absence of a white MPH on his wrist. The 'scandal' about their manufacture hardly helped the cause. Nor did this comment by 10-year-old Merlin Evans in today's Grauniad::
"I wear the bands because they are cool. I've got the most in my class. My favourite is the anti-racism one - it's the most famous, every single person in my whole school is trying to get one. They are banned in school but we still wear them."
Still, when your parents have christened you Merlin, your judgement is entitled to be a little off the mark.

No, what troubles me about the whole wristband/ribbon/badge/white poppy (or even red poppy) trend is the sheer smugness of it, the sense that you've joined the Virtuous Club by means of sticking something onto your person. Surely the act of charity itself is the virtue, and not something you necessarily need to publicise? I could more readily accept that there would be a point to such a gesture if one could see a massive groundswell of spontaneous support for a cause (like the orange motif in Ukraine - if, indeed, that was spontaneous).

In the same Grauniad article, the philosopher Julian Baggini wonders if there is something contradictory about being embarrassed about having given to charity. "The idea that philanthropy only counts if it hurts," as he describes it. But he's missing the point. Philanthropy doesn't need to involve self-flagellation, it doesn't need to involve good old middle-class liberal guilt. It can afford, however, to be discreet, sincere and virtuous for its own sake.

Perhaps this point is missed not only by posturing middle-class liberals like myself, but also by the conservative (small 'c') traditionalists who won't let people appear live on TV in early November unless they're wearing a red poppy, as though the nation were being submitted to some kind of compulsory act of commemoration (anyone remember Jonathan Ross's CGI poppy? How pathetic is that?).

Surely virtue should be an act of altruism alone, and not motivated by personal glory, guilt, or subtle coercion? Am I expecting too much?

(I might put the banner up anyway, just to annoy pompous bores like Stephen Pollard.)

EDIT: As you will see, Dear Reader(s), after (not) much agonising I have gone ahead. People should have the right to go to the MPH site and decide on the merit of the campaign for themselves.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Big Bother


I caught some of the highlights of Big Brother last night, in search of something vaguely interesting to watch.

It really is car-crash TV. If you met any of these people in real life you'd cross the street, even if you were at home at the time.

I may have something to say about BB over the next few weeks but, given that everyone else will be talking about it, I will probably refrain.

UPDATE: On researching further, I discover that there is a Tory speechwriter among the housemates, who has apparently not been reticent in expressing his disdain for proceedings and for his fellow competitors. Good for him; he's the one I'll be backing.

(God, me, supporting a Tory. This truly is a world turned upside down.)


First Test: Satisfactory conclusion


Well, a few days at Lord's in the blazing heat has left Oscar with a bright red face (despite cramming his Jermyn Street sunhat over his forehead and slathering factor 40 over exposed areas - I should have booked the lower tier, I'll know better next time). Never mind, the good news is that England beat Bangladesh by an innings and 261 runs.

Exactly how it should have been, of course. One hardly expected any other result, so the key thing is to look beyond the result and ask what it means in terms of England's prospects for the rest of the summer. You can't draw too many conclusions from one match, but I took some heart from a few things. Trescothick's batting was largely sublime, and I thought he was unlucky to have been caught behind only 6 runs short of a double ton. I guess we can excuse a lapse of concentration after all that time, especially since it was unseasonably hot. Michael Vaughan scored another century, and what a relief it must be for him to have started his third summer as captain with a good score on the board (although he was out edging to the keeper yet again). And Ian Bell looked completely at home and assured in the team, extending his Test average to 135.00 (although that's after only two innings, with one not out).

As for the bowling, Simon Jones looks to have arrived back in true style. His bowling was fast (regularly hitting 87-88mph), aggressive, accurate, consistent and exactly what the Aussies won't want to have coming at them during July to September. After a dreadful start, Hoggard (who needs to keep one eye on his foot going over the crease, although preferably not while he's actually delivering the ball) returned to the steady, strong, reliable form that has kept him in the side for some years now. Jones and Hoggard's performances look even better considering they were bowling into the wind.

Inevitably, there were disappointments. Although he made 69, I thought Strauss looked nervy at times, surprisingly uncomfortable on his home ground. Too often he let the pace slow to a trickle, and perhaps could have opened up a little more. The weight of expectation, perhaps? Another hundred-on-debut-against too much to hope for, it seems. Harmison's anything-goes appeal on his hat-trick ball (despite not knowing what he was appealing for) was the higlight of the third day; but, although he was regularly pacy and played a lot of chin music, was short of what we know he's capable of. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to see him bowling with at least some menace, and he will feel relieved to have taken some wickets. Freddie's bowling was OK, but again short of expectations - and I'm worried about the way he's walking. His left foot looked... well, odd. Perhaps it's good that he didn't have to bat, because I'm worried what running between the wickets might have done to him. And the absence of Giles (who has also been ruled out for Chester-le-Street) exposed the gaping lack of talent in the England spin department - thank God we were spared the embarrassment of watching Batty bowl.

It's almost impossible to talk about Bangladesh without sounding patronising, but their third day 50-partnership was an indication of what they could be capable of, if only they had a bit more discipline and luck.

But this really was a men-against-boys contest, as will be the Second Test.

The atmosphere throughout was fun for myself, an infrequent visitor to the home of cricket, but I could have done without people of all ages (and, for some reason, always in proximity to me) pretending to be the Barmy Army, when they lacked the latter's wit, assertion, or ability to hold their beer. Most annoying were the three sixteen-year-olds behind me on the second day, who rolled up their programmes to form makeshift megaphones, then shouted every childish rude word they could think of in silly voices. Grow up, you bastards, or fuck off to Old Trafford where the locals will make mincemeat of you.

Actually, I could also have done without the two toffs (and their wives) who sat in front of me for the grand total of ninety minutes during the second day, then disappeared. £30 per seat for ninety minutes, and all they did was discuss who was head boy at their children's school and (I think, I was trying to tune out their conversation) something about a windsurfing holiday.

Middle class bores in front of me, and middle class yobboes behind me. Perfectly frightful, my dear.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A hiatus (or should that be 'an hiatus'?)


There won't be many posts in the next few days; my mother is visiting tomorrow, then I have three days at Lord's for the First Test between England and Bangladesh, where I sincerely hope we will be thrashing the living daylights out of the opposition.

I have nothing against the Banglas - they are a developing team with some talented individuals, and I wish them well. Just not against us, that's all. Especially with the Ashes coming up...


Whaling and gnashing of teeth


Stephen Newton draws my attention to this important development in naval technology which may have a direct impact on marine life. Again.

Bloody armed forces.


Films are dangerous


Looks like Mediawatch might have a point*. People really do imitate what they see on the screen.

No doubt fluorescent tubes will be withdrawn from all branches of B&Q forthwith.

The report doesn't say whether the people involved were wearing hooded tops. Still, I expect the BBFC will issue Star Wars 3 with an 18 certificate when it comes out on DVD, since it clearly involves scenes in which science-fiction characters are placed under physical and psychological stress.

(Actually, the Guardian does seem to have a story about an episode of Dr Who being snipped because it included the sound of breaking bones, but mediaguardian.co.uk seems to have bollocksed up my registration, so I can't read it just now.)

* In case any reader hasn't brought his or her sense of irony along, this is a JOKE**.

** The rest of this post is, of course, deadly serious...


You've got a bear behind


I don't know. You read something like this, and you think, "only in Switzerland".

Dontcha just?

Sorry, there's no more text to this article, I just can't get rid of that bloody 'More...' link at the bottom of each post.


Bloody hell!


I don't believe it's happened to someone else. I suffered from exactly the same problem as this woman, except that my condition cleared up by itself, and I wasn't leaking buckets of the stuff (so didn't have to stay indoors).

How I came to this un-pretty pass is a matter for another, longer, post.

(PS I should, of course, thank Hungbunny for this story.)




From the Guardian:ID card bill delayed in face of rebels.

Keep it up, guys!

(Anyone have a list of potential rebels? Gwyneth Dunwoody has obviously nailed her colours to the mast.)

SOME DAYS LATER: The cost of each ID card is now estimated to be £300 per person, with no government subsidy. This makes the case for refusing even stronger. Please go here and sign the petition.


At last, some real correctness


Hooray for Marcus Brigstocke. At last someone has had the courage to come out and speak up for Political Correctness.

Brigstocke has the perception to see that political correctness exists not so that some bunch of loopy left-wing nannies can control the words and thoughts of 'ordinary' British people (as if such a thing were actually possible). It exists to balance out the bigotry, narrow-mindedness and adhesion to outdated activities and beliefs which characterise 'Britishness' among a good proportion of the public. It exists because our country is a good deal more racially, religiously and sexually diverse than it used to be, and old ways of thinking and talking about society and life can be offensive to people and are, in any case, outdated and beyond their useful life. Political Correctness, extreme though it may be in some cases, forces us to think more carefully about how we express our thoughts - not to control us, but to make us aware that our words affect other people (and reflect on how we think and feel about other people).

Brigstocke is also absolutely right about referendums:
Let's face it, the British public are eminently more qualified to vote off the vapid, hollow souls who frequent [reality TV] programmes than to register any opinion based on the contents of the EU constitution.

Exactly. The last people who should control the decision about European integration are my short-sighted, racist fellow countrymen. (I'd rather leave it to short-sighted, racist Labour MPs, thank you.)


Lies, damned lies and yet more damned lies


I didn't see Chanel Four's Dispatches programme last night, about New Labour's duplicitous tehcniques during the election campaign. Fortunately, Justin McKeating has done his usual excellent job and produced a sharply worded summary of the main points of the programme and what they mean for us, the humble public. It's also pretty funny.

The article can also be found at The Sharpener.

On the same subject, Curious Hamster has some misgivings about events in Aberdeen South.


Welcome again

Well, it's a relief to know that someone is actually reading this blog. Talking to yourself may be the first sign of madness, but arguing with yourself is someway down the line to lunacy.

Curious Hamster will note that I have installed TrackBack, despite being unable to help with his more complicated HTML queries (it took me about five goes to get TrackBack working, for heaven's sake!).

This gives me extra incentive to produce good quality posts. My thanks to those who have left comments, my greetings to those who have dropped in without commenting and as for the rest of you - where are you???


Monday, May 23, 2005

Meat is madness


Things are cookin' over at the Guardian blog, where someone has lit a match to the blue touch paper that is the debate about vegetarianism.

It's Vegetarian Week, apparently (no, I didn't know either, and I am one). Anyway, the Grauniad thought it would be a jolly good idea to invite people to attack meat-eaters. Not with forks, alas, but with invective.

Of course, what happened was that the comments have been swamped by sanctimonious types of both kinds: passive-aggressive meat-eaters have brought out their treasured "they're all loonies" lines, while the veggies have poked at them with long chopsticks, attempting to refute their arguments without sounding priggish (and mostly failing on both counts).

There's no point to debates like this, they just allow the socially inadequate to blare away with their prejudices without the inconvenience of facts. Bit like sitting through Question Time, or listening to Jeremy Clarkson talk about... well, anything.

If you've got twelve hours to spare, take a long scroll through the comments and see if you can find Oscar's slim contributions. Or just wait until I decide to produce a longer, reasoned discussion on the merits (and possible drawbacks) of vegetarianism and its evangelists.

(Postscript: there was one comment which I thought was reasonably sensible and clear-headed, from a chap (I presume) called Yorgos:

In the interest of sanity, I'll summarize some points from this discussion, all of which I believe to be true:
1. Meat eaters can get very defensive and boorish.
2. Vegetarians and (especially) vegans can get sanctimonious and hectoring.
3. A largely vegetarian diet is healthy (check out the heart-friendly Mediterranean diet).
4. On the other hand, vegans have to be more careful to get essential nutrients.
5. It's tough to be vegetarian in an omnivore world.
6. A largely vegetarian diet is better for the environment.
7. Cruelty to animals is a strong argument (but against factory farming).
So the vegetarians win, perhaps heavily, on the balance of the arguments. Still, the omnivores like meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and tiramisu, even if only occasionally (I have a vegetarian daughter, and she has changed us, but I still have to get some meat now and then). We are the majority. Vegetarians can try to educate us. Maybe they will succeed. Meanwhile let's respect one another.

Yorgos goes on to make some less wise remarks elsewhere, but I'll return to the above sometime (after the cricket).


How exciting


It's a tough urban life, here in leafy Chiswick. The police have raided an address in Chiswick and recovered an entire kilo of cocaine!

Up yours, Harlesden! Chiswick is da new hood!


Here is not the news


So, the BBC strike held firm, and there were no significant news bulletins today. That's lucky because, as we all know, nothing significant actually happened today.

Except this: Five teenage girls killed in bus crash

And this: Ten dead in multiple bombings

And this: Students riot over social security reforms

And this: 32 people killed by flash floods

And this: 28 die in gun combat

And this: Three drivers shot dead

And this: Bombs rip through cinemas

And this: Soldiers inadvertently shoot man dead while breaking up fight

And this: Girls drown on school outing

Slow day for news, really. I suppose all the dead and wounded should take comfort from the fact that, had the events occurred in Britain, they would have had decent coverage on the television news.


Ethics online


Trawling through the Blogs (gosh, there really are an awful lot of them), I came across ethiscore.org, a new service from Ethical Consumer magazine, which allows users to "identify the best products to support and the worst companies to avoid" by giving each company an 'ethical score'. You have to subscribe (£20 for a year at the moment), but it would sure beat having to wait for the magazine to come out each month in the hope that it'll rate the new sofa you've got your eye on.

My thanks to Peter Gasston for finding this (sorry, Peter, I haven't installed TrackBack, yet*).

* Edit: I now do have TrackBack installed, but Peter's homepage won't load. Sigh...**

** Edit again: Peter's homepage is loading, but he doesn't have TrackBack...


Silly tart


Charlotte Church, ex-Voice of an Angel (TM) gives an interview to the Observer in which she smokes, says "shit" and "bollocks" a lot and is photographed in a church, holding a flaming sword. Oh, yeah, and claims: "I've got a pretty normal life."

Grow up, girl!


This really is worrying


Although the Great British Public claims it doesn't trust the tabloids, it turns to them more than it does to libraries, apparently, even though libraries are more trusted.

Research for Sheffield University finds that libraries are just not open at the times people need them. Moreover, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) reports that public borrowing of library books has fallen from 420m to 320m in five years. The figures also show that only 62 of Britain's 4,800 libraries are open for more than 60 hours a week.

Strange how people will place convenience over trust - tabloids are full of shit, but at least you can get one anywhere. Sounds a bit like New Labour, doesn't it?


Classical defiance


A strike hits the BBC today, and Mrs Gnu wakes me up to tell me that the Today programme has been replaced with I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, which seems appropriate.

Meanwhile, Terry Wogan (who, according to the Guardian, now presents the breakfast show on Radio 3) crosses the picket line. Scab.

(I share a birthday with Wogan. Not my proudest boast.)


Oh, dear, no, this is too much


With the BBC journalists on strike, it's left to others to produce stories, and inevitably some silly stuff comes out. AFP reports that computer technology may soon become so sophisticated that it will be possible to download the entire contents of someone's brain and re-upload them after the person dies - in effect, making death redundant. AFP credits the story to the Observer, but I can't find it on their website.

Anyway, the pronouncement comes from someone called Ian Pearson who is supposed to be head of the 'futurology unit' at BT. Now, I know BT is potty enough to have something like a 'futurology unit', so let's assume this is not a prank. Here's the World According to Pearson:

While the predictions might sound outlandish, they were merely the product of extrapolations drawn from the current rate at which computers are evolving, Pearson said in an interview with the newspaper.
"If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it's not a major career problem," he said.
"If you're rich enough then by 2050 it's feasible. If you're poor you'll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it's routine.
"We are very serious about it. That's how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT."
As an example of the advances being made, Pearson noted that Sony's new PlayStation 3 computer games console is 35 times as powerful as the model it replaced, and in terms of processing is "one percent as powerful as a human brain".
In views which those of a religious persuasion might find hard to handle, Pearson said the next computing goal would be to replicate consciousness.
"Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that's what we're trying to design on a computer," he said.
"Not everyone agrees, but it's my conclusion that it's possible to make a conscious computer with superhuman levels of intelligence before 2020."
One of the "primary reasons" for such work would be to give computers emotions, Pearson said.
"If I'm on an aeroplane I want the computer to be more terrified of crashing than I am so it does everything to stay in the air until it's supposed to be on the ground."

Well, I don't know about you, but the last thing I want to be travelling in is a scared aeroplane. If they could program an aeroplane to refuse to travel if global carbon emissions have exceeded a certain level in the previous 24 hours, that'd be more like it.

Will we be able to handle this (literally) mind-blowing technology when it comes upon us?


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Gas! Gas! Quick, lads!


Cracking Dr Who this evening. It's amazing how just sticking a gas mask on someone can instantly evoke horror and chill, even in this most hardy of scary movie watchers. I'd have liked to have seen more of Richard Wilson, and less of the smarmy Tom Cruise lookalike, however.

Much more entertaining (and memorable) than Eurovision.


HTML - like learning German, only very much quicker


Well, I seem to be getting the hang of this HTML lark, thanks in no small part to the excellent online Blogger Help.

I've managed to get 'More' to appear at the bottom of long posts, so you don't have to read the whole thing on the home page. Trouble is, it also appears at the bottom of short posts. If any reader knows how to circumvent this, I'd love to hear from him. Or her. Or it.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Nappy Talk


The Gnu household was joined by Baby Gnu last July and, like all new parents who don't want their carpets covered in piss and shit (I assume we're in the majority), we have been putting nappies on him several times a day. Caught between the desire to be green and the desire not to be up to our elbows in muck all the time, we were uncertain how to proceed in the matter of disposable versus washable nappies. Surely, we thought, in the twenty-first century, there must be some kind of sufficiently green compromise between the two extremes?

Well, so there was - or we thought so. The self-consciously amusingly named NatureBotts provides 'green' disposable nappies. Although they're not actually coloured green, they do have supposed green credentials:

  • Made from unbleached cotton, and no chlorine or bleaching agents used in their manufacture

  • Contain tea extract for odour neutralisation

  • 100% bio-degradable packaging

  • Proven to bio-degrade naturally in 8 weeks in a wormery (of particular interest to the Gnu household, since we actually have a wormery, although I haven't seen any worms in it for a long time - they don't like the light, those wormies)

  • Made from recycled materials

  • Manufactured in Germany, so less likely to break down three days after the expiry of the warranty... oh, sorry, ignore that bit

Well, we've been using them for almost a year, and they've been fine and dandy, apart from not being quite leak-proof enough to last a whole night (we've resorted to Pampers at night, but I shall do appropriate penance at the church of my choice as soon as Baby Gnu is potty-trained).

Now, the Environment Agency is telling me (and every parent) that we needn't have wasted our time worrying, because apparently washable nappies are no more eco-friendly than disposables.

Respected though the Environment Agency is, something about this report doesn't smell right (if I can put it that way). Undoubtedly, it's comprehensive (209 pages). The EA took care that the report's advisory board contained representatives from all sides of the argument (listing, amongst others, people from that embodiment of evil Procter & Gamble, as well as someone from cloth-nappy supplier Cotton Bottoms). The report takes care to detail the environmental threat posed by continual use of disposable nappies, pointing out that:

  • "2-3% of our household waste is estimated to be disposable nappies, approximately 400,000 tonnes of waste each year."

  • "If we take the Government’s most optimistic forecasts we will still be landfilling over 350,000 tonnes of disposable nappies."

  • Despite the above, "disposable nappies account for some 95% of the market."

  • "Used nappies (containing excreta) are discarded along with other municipal waste and will later on end up disposed either to landfill or to incineration. [However,] in the UK [only] 8% of municipal waste is incinerated."

  • "[12% of municipal solid waste is] recycled or composted, neither of which are currently suitable for managing used disposable nappies in the UK."

The report assumes that a typical child will wear nappies for the first two and a half years of its life - although a good many children will be out of nappies by that age (and it has been suggested that children in washable nappies actually get potty-trained sooner, simply because those nappies are less good at absorbing moisture - so the child feels more discomfort and is anxious to get out of nappies at an earlier age!).

It's when dealing with washable nappies that the report becomes controversial. For a start, it calculates the energy consumption necessary to wash such nappies on the basis of washing machines manufactured in 1997, overlooking the fact that washing machines have become much more energy efficient since then. Furthermore, the report assumes that 9% of washable nappy users IRON THEIR NAPPIES. Doubtless there are one or two potty (pun intended) souls out there who won't be satisfied until little Harry or Olivia is clad in smooth, unruffled cotton, but to me this is on a par with ironing socks.

The calculations are also based on the assumption that users of washable nappies will buy and use a total of 47.5 nappies (don't ask me how you can buy half a nappy) over the two and a half year period. The report does, however, confess that this is a MAXIMUM figure, so the report is already skewed.

It's skewed further by the sample size: 2000 users of disposable nappies were interviewed to gather data for the report, against ... er ... 117 users of washable nappies.

In fact, p.118 of the report confesses that the data for washable nappy use are pretty unreliable. SO WHY PUT OUT A REPORT BASED ON UNRELIABLE DATA? ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COSTS £200,000???

The report has already been criticised by the Women's Environmental Network. Their specific analysis of the report can be found here. Leo Hickman also demolishes the report in today's Guardian.

Let's be fair on the Environment Agency. I don't suppose they went out to prove one thing or another. I don't imagine the figures were deliberately fixed or that there was any malicious agenda to 'get' the green lobby. I just think they could have taken into account that parents who use washable nappies are more likely to be eco-conscious than disposable buyers, and therefore more inclined to use energy-efficient washing machines, and make do on fewer nappies and fewer washes than the number assumed in the report (and are less likely to tumble dry them, when the report assumes that a MINIMUM of 19% of washable households will do so).

Oh, and they did try and issue a warning to manufacturers of disposables. Tricia Henton, director of environmental protection at the EA, said: "We hope manufacturers of disposable nappies will use this study to improve the environmental performance of their products, particularly the quantities going to landfill." Yeah, right. I'm sure they'll concentrate their efforts on this, instead of trumpeting that their products have been 'exonerated' by the EA.


New Labour, New Militant


A splendid piece in the Guardian by faithful old Tribunite Mark Seddon, in which he trumpets the imminence of Gordon Brown to the Second Most Powerful Job in the Country (the first being head of News International or host of Big Brother, depending on your perspective).

Other bloggers will comment on the piece at greater length, no doubt, but I was struck by one paragraph in Seddon's piece:

Labour won a historic third term in spite of, not because of, Blair - a reality that still hasn't percolated through to some of the braying New Labour loyalists. Last week some of them shouted down colleagues at the first meeting of the parliamentary Labour party. "It was reminiscent of the worst days of the Militant Tendency," reported one chastened MP. "You could call it the Blairite Tendency. They are simply out of touch with reality."

Did we need any more evidence, after the Queen's Speech, that Blair and his chums are just carrying on as if nothing had happened? The electorate may have bloodied his nose (or slipped his disc), but he rebounded to his feet and continued with barely a "what was that?".

Is there anyone left to vote for?

(Incidentally, on that slipped disc: I'm sceptical. I suffered from back spasms a few months ago, and I could barely walk for a week. If Blair had really slipped a disc, he'd have gone to the Lords on a stretcher.)

Oh, one more thing: who ARE these Blairites who shouted down the rebels? Can anyone give me names? Are any of them, by any chance, in junior ministerial positions?


Oi, you lot, go home!


On the Today programme this morning, an item about a shopping centre in Northumberland, where young people will be subject to a curfew for the next six months.

Once again, after the Bluewater 'hoodie' ban, control of public space becomes an issue. But reading the detail of this scheme, it becomes a little more chilling. The police have the power to "disperse groups of two or more people at the centre, if they believe their presence has resulted or is likely to result in members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed." (My italics)

According to the Today programme, such behaviour could include "eating chips" (AAARGHH!!!) and "making remarks" (SHOCK!!!).

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist (but it helps) to join all the dots together and end up with a society in which public space is ruthlessly controlled, and young people are not allowed to hang around, even in pairs and even for the purpose of buying food if the police don't like the look of 'em. And what happens in Bluewater and Cramlington today will be happening in your high street tomorrow.

UPDATE: Justin McKeating has a sharply-worded article about the use of existing police powers to crack down on legitimate protest here.


Not Keen on this


My local free rag - or, rather, one of the many local free rags that get put through my door by a range of Polish and Chinese people and get briefly glanced at before being deposited in the green box outside my front door - reports that the husband-and-wife MP team of Alan and Ann Keen have been called to account for having a flat in Covent Garden, as well as a home in Ann's constituency of Brentford (a mere nine miles from Westminster). At a public meeting, Alan Keen was heckled about his flat and promised to explain all at a later date.

Of course, he didn't explain any further at the meeting, and hasn't said when this 'explanation' will be forthcoming. Sounds to me like another smart dodging move - instead of obviously not answering the question (which we're all used to, now), simply promise to answer the question later, then forget all about it and hope everyone else does the same.

I'd be grateful to any reader who spots Alan Keen's 'explanation' at any point in the future and can alert me to it.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Cream's gone off


I see a policeman driving a car at 159mph has been acquitted of speeding. He was described by the district judge as the "crème de la crème" of police drivers.

I wonder if anyone has asked Sheena McDonald what she thinks about this?


Just keep bonkin' along


The Evening Standard front page today carries a headline with which we should all be familiar: TORY MP IN SEX SCANDAL.

I sneaked a peek on the newsstand (heaven forfend I should buy any publication owned by Associated Newspapers), and was disappointed to note that the 'scandal' involved the new MP for Croydon Central, Andrew Pelling, who had left his wife for a younger woman. Not much of a scandal, really. Still, nice to see the Standard sticking the boot into the Tories.

(I was secretly hoping it might involve gorgeous, pouting Justine Greening, the new MP for Putney and the only photogenic Tory on the opposition benches. Greening is one of those right-wing pin-ups, like Condi Rice and Anne Coulter, whom you can't help wanting to give a good seeing to - and then feel suitably ashamed for thinking that way. More on Greening in future posts, I have no doubt.)

UPDATE: See Recess Monkey for more.


Slaughter the innocent


My new MP is Andrew Slaughter (an apt name for a representative of the party which gave us the Iraq War, perhaps).

Quick off the mark as ever, Labour's website shows brief biographical details of the man: he is 44, a barrister educated at Exeter University (famous for its Oxbridge rejects), unmarried, and a member of Amicus.

Accompanied by a photo of the seat's previous MP, fellow blogger Clive Soley.

Perhaps the appalling, simpering picture of Slaughter that graced his election literature was considered too emetic even for Labour supporters?

Nice work, guys.


Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing


At last, a proper post.

Talking over the issues of crime and punishment with my South African nanny this morning, she brought up the issue of ID cards. In South Africa, it seems, ID cards are compulsory - and not only contain your ID card but also your driving licence, marriage certificate, and other critical documents. Naturally, she managed to have hers stolen one day, and had to go through the rigmarole of having every document replaced. This struck me as one of the least reasons to object to ID cards (and here's where you can object in writing).

I had a lot more to say about this, but I seem to have deleted it. Never mind, these people can fill you in.

I am not a number. I am a gnu.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Good morning, afternoon, evening or night.

This blog is only just up and running. As you can probably tell, I know bugger all about HTML.

Interesting posts will appear shortly. In the meantime, go and look at some of the excellent stuff on the left.