Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bollocks - a missed opportunity

GNU LABOUR

Sod it! Fungus the Bogeyman offers to resign, and Blair refuses to accept it!

Of course, there are other reasons why Clarke should resign, which are too obvious to go over again now, but it can't be long now...


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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The price of things that come for free

TECHNOGNU

Blogger is pissing about. It may be difficult for me to post in the near future. Don't know what the problem is.

Eventually I shall upgrade to WordPress, or something similarly reliable.

In other news, I see I have risen to the status of Lowly Insect in the TTLB ecosystem. Thanks to all those who continue to link to me. Please let me know if I haven't returned the favour.


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Monday, April 24, 2006

Safe in our hands... oops, butterfingers

GNU BRITAIN

I frequently get spam asking me if medical bills are killing me. Naturally, I don't open spam, so I have no idea exactly what the shady types behind these emails are actually offering me. I can instead sit back and chuckle to myself, safe in the knowledge that I can enjoy medical treatment that is free at the point of delivery.

Well, that complacent mask is beginning to slip, and it's not helped by stories like this. For those unfamilar with west London (I guess that covers most of you) there's a small hospital, next to a lovely park, called Ravenscourt Park Hospital. It's a centre of orthopaedic excellence, and in fact enjoys a good reputation in the area for the things it can do with bones. And it really is as nice as the photo makes it look.

Anyway, right on the edge of the hospital buildings is a nursery, ironically named the Happy Times Nursery. Mrs Wildebeest and I went there for one of our ante-natal classes before Baby Gnu was born. It's an extensive and well-stocked place, full of toys and children's artwork, with attractive space to run around outside.

The nursery is no more. It's been kicked out by Ravenscourt Park Hospital, who claim that Happy Times are 21 days late with their rent (21 days? Even the credit card companies give you more than that!). Happy Times say they're not late with the rent, and that the trust running the hospital hasn't counted a payment they've just made. What may be happening is that the hospital is to be taken over by the private sector and needs the space for its new facilities. The motivation behind this plan? The hospital is £12m in debt, and its losses are expected to reach £37m by 2010. Who runs Ravenscourt Park Hospital? Why, Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust. Haven't we seen that name somewhere before?

In the meantime, bouncers stand on the doors threatening to forcibly remove any five-year-old who attempts to gain access and get their drawings back.

Oh, well, never mind. The NHS is having its best year ever. So, that's all right, then.

[Footnote: Blogger is fucking about today, so God knows how many times this post will appear.]


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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Auguri!

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

YES!!! Or, rather, SI!!!


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Next stop, Euston (or rather: next, stop Euston)

GNU LABOUR

My brother is coming to visit me with his family on Thursday. They'll be arriving at Euston Station.

I only mention this because thinking about Euston has prompted me to look into the absurdly-named Euston Manifesto. I'd seen mention of it on a few sites but never took much notice, since no one seemed to have a good word to say about it (and some had a lot to say against it - useful list here).

Anyway, I skim-read it, and it looks like another attempt by Blair cronies to appeal to the self-styled 'Decent Left' - on the surface, nothing anyone could reasonably disagree with (we are for democracy, freedom and nice things; we are against racism, sexism and nasty things). As usual, the devil's in the detail and Phil Edwards has found many, many devils in his excellent analysis.

Ultimately, though, what the hell is the point in issuing a statement such as this, other than perhaps the self-congratulatory reward of seeing one's name attached to a 'worthy' document and having something to talk about at dinner parties? It smacks of bald men fighting not over a comb, but over a wig with which to hide their moral emptiness.


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If only...

GNU LABOUR

...this were true. However, until 95% of the population are regularly using the net as a source of information gathering and not just emailing their family in Australia or ordering Arctic Monkeys from Amazon, we will remain lonely voices in the wilderness.


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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lucy Mean-gan

GNU BRITAIN

I've noticed that a good many people who come to this blog do so by searching for 'Lucy Mangan'. They inevitably end up on my rant about her stupid piece about decaff (I've decided to keep the second 'f', it just looks better) coffee. Some seem to think I harbour a grudge against Ms Mangan. Truth be told, this was the first article I'd ever read by her. So, in a spirit of fair play, I thought I'd trawl through the Grauniad's website to sample her other material, in the hope of understanding the mindset of her apparently vast fan club.

What's alarming about her 'journalism' is that two themes emerge from it strongly:
  • Lucy hates herself.

  • Lucy hates everyone else.
With regard to Point One, the references to self-hatred occur about once an article: "they exuded a confidence that I spent the next 20 years looking for in myself but never found"; "how deeply I wish to plumb the depths of self-loathing"; "my house is full of gin and scrofula"; "I was only deflected from a hugely promising career as a mathematician by the inability to spell it on a UCAS form", and so on and so on. Self-deprecating humour can work, but only as an antidote to laughing at one's own jokes. Week upon week of it just looks pathetic.

As for hating everyone else, Lucy seems to enjoy picking on other social groups, especially fellow females. For example, glamorous older women: "Madonna is 47 and has devoted her life to looking 12 in Lycra"; actresses: "staring into the middle distance with a slightly superior expression while people move scenery around you, a la Amanda Burton?"; women who have facelifts: "women keep flocking to the butchers instead of the bakers during their lunch hours"; iPod owners (OK, but Hungbunny has been doing this sort of thing for months, and much more wittily); and, for an inexplicable reason, Scarlett Johansson, for whom she often has a choice epithet.

It's not that she doesn't have a sense of humour, or that she can't pack an elegant turn of phrase into her pieces (several turns of phrase, in fact, so that the article becomes less a serious critique of social trends and more an exercise in "look, aren't I just the female Stephen Fry?"*). But her pieces are classic examples of Cynicism Journalism, picking on people whom she finds irritating (because they are wealthier and happier than her, or aspire to be so) and throwing snide comments at them, in the hope that some of her readers will be equally self-loathing and enjoy a conspiratorial snigger.

And it's not that what I write is any wittier or has more impact or should necessarily be taken more seriously. It's just that she's given a platform by a national newspaper, one that I read regularly, in order to moan about how annoying she finds everyone. Something about that just doesn't feel right.



[* In fact, any reading of Fry's pieces for the Telegraph will reveal a genuinely radical but wise philosophy behind the wit, which is not matched by anything Ms Mangan produces.]






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Vote Labour, or the bogeyman will get you

GNU LABOUR

Be afraid, be very afraid.

I don't know. Last year it was 'if you don't vote Labour, the Tories will get in', which might have been true if every single Labour voter in the country had voted with his conscience - although if that had happened all the votes would have gone to anti-war parties and we'd have had our first Lib Dem government. Now they've found an even bigger monster to scare us with.

Now the media take the shit that comes from Margaret Hodge (she should see a bowel specialist to stop it coming out of her mouth) and stir it in with some misinterpretation of their own, following a report by the Joseph Rowntree Trust. 25% of voters might consider voting for the BNP, apparently.

Hello, guys! That's MIGHT CONSIDER. I might consider sticking my fingers into an electric socket, but I would quickly persuade myself it was a bad idea. I have considered using a hosepipe on the garden, in accordance with Geraldine's desire to tell Thames Water to fuck off, but I don't know my neighbours very well and Justin has given me good reason to hesitate.

The BBC, on the 10pm news last night, did the government's work for them by hauling a load of toothless EastEnder types from Central Casting onto the screen to mutter dark things about "too many immigrants".

If the report had said that "25% of British people are a bit racist", I'd have looked up from my paper and murmured "is that all?" before returning to the saga of Michael Vaughan's knee.

Let's be clear: voting for a party at a General Election is something people still take seriously. If they can't take it seriously, they usually don't vote at all, or they vote for a candidate who has absolutely no chance of winning (eg Raving Loony, or Kilroy-Silk - excuse the tautology). If they want to register a protest vote, they do it at a by-election, a local election or a Euro-election. When you're choosing the government of your country, you don't piss about (which makes it all the scarier that one person in five still wanted Blair and his maniacs in charge). The BNP stands for principles which are abhorrent to the majority of people, who consider themselves decent-thinking: fairness, balance, restraint. Most people might have a fairly woolly concept of what those things are, but luckily they still associate the BNP will Millwall-suporting thugs. Sure, many British voters don't like it that the people who've moved in down the road have big beards, cook funny-smelling food and don't speak English. But they don't want them deported, put into camps, or even have their windows smashed.

The only thing that is potentially worrying is that more people are now prepared to say to a market researcher that they'd consider voting BNP. But that doesn't translate to an imminent jackbooted revolution.

Britain will never have a BNP government, and all these dark hints from the government are yet more scare stories told by a desperate administration, like an over-controlling Victorian parent trying to frighten disobedient children into compliance. You would hope the former Children's Minister would have better things to do than make kids nervous.

(Further excellent comment from NoseMonkey and Chris.)


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Thursday, April 13, 2006

How not to spoil your vote

GNU LABOUR

Live in London, sick of Blair, but can't bring yourself to vote Tory? London Strategic Voter has the answer.

Trouble is, I can't vote at all, because Hounslow Fucking Council decided I had moved into the borough too late to register for the elections, even though they have already put me on the electoral roll. Mind you, they're all Tories round here - there's even a Victorian Society based round the corner. I suppose twice a year they have someone go in and turn their clocks back for them.

(Via Backing Blair.)


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At last, some good news

GNU LABOUR

The Financial Times reports that the government may be about to back down on the Legislative & Regulatory Reform Bill (good, because I'm sick of typing its name out):
Jim Murphy, the cabinet office minister, said the government would back down from the highly contentious plans [...] He said he would amend the legislative and regulatory reform bill “so that it can no longer be misconstrued as an attempt by government to take a wider constitutional power”.

“At the moment, in clause one, the bill deliberately seeks to take a wide power,” Mr Murphy said. “We’re going to focus that power more on regulatory outcomes, such things as productivity and competitiveness and reducing bureaucracy, rather than replacing legislation.”

The minister also pledged to give a statutory veto to the regulatory reform select committees in the Commons and Lords, allowing them to block proposals to fast-track legislative changes under the new law.
Of course, as Spyblog (from whom I got the link) notes, select committees are generally dominated by government MPs, so these concessions may not be as concessive (is this a word?) as they sound. Murphy's promise that the Bill won't be used to replace legislation may be worth as much as most Zanu-Labour promises of recent years.


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Hooray for terrorism

GNU LABOUR

Terrorism - don'tcha love it? I do! Hooray for terrorists! Isn't terrorism glorious? Osama - what a pin-up boy! Whoopee! Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists, hooray, hooray, hooray! Bombs, guns, knives - I can't get enough of it!

Support violence to remove a regime? You bet! Kill innocent people? That gets me going! Encourage kidnappings, explosions on public transport, armed insurrections aimed to provoke civil war? Nothing I like better! Trespass on nuclear sites? Plan to spend my Easter weekend doing it!

Tip for Blue Peter fans: Get an old bedsheet and a tin of paint (any colour, but red's probably most appropriate). Paint the words 'TERRORISM - IT"S GREAT' on the sheet, and hang it out of your window.

Come on, then, arrest me. Since you've got nothing better to do, like hold a bloody public inquiry.

[EDIT: Curious Hamster has posted the text of this part of the Act on his blog. It seems that, to qualify for 'glorifying terrorism' I must not merely say "terrorism's great". I also have to state or imply that readers should be actively encouraged by my words to go and blow people up, or whatever. Painting bedsheets probably doesn't count. Damn.]


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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Berlusconi: "It's so unfair!"

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

One would have expected this from the man desperate to maintain his immunity from prosecution. Slimy Silvio has challenged the election result on the grounds that:

* He got more votes than Prodi in the Senate, even though he won fewer seats.
* Prodi must have cheated.
* Nobody won anyway, because the vote was so close.
* It's so unfair! I hate you!

Now he's proposing a Grand Coalition, like in Germany. Presumably he's hoping history will repeat itself - the two opposing sides come together to form a government and, oh look, they make the right-winger the de facto leader (although I think a more apt comparison would be that the oily, corrupt slimeball gets kicked out of the leader's chair). He claims "I have no personal ambitions [to remain Prime Minister] - I just want what's good for the country." Like not being sent to prison, which would obviously be disastrous for Italy - just think of all the Italian citizens who would die laughing.

(Via this report in La Repubblica again.)

[EDIT: Splendid summary of all the fun from Harvard University, and what this means for the three Bs (Berlusconi, Blair and Bush) by Davide Simonetti (both via Nosemonkey).]


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Neanch'io so che succede (I don't know what's going on, either)

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

Well, I guess you all know about as much as I do now. After the swings and roundabouts of last night, Italy is left in an electoral mess of the sort it hoped it had left behind.

With all but some (see below) votes counted, Berlusconi controls the Senate with 155 seats to Prodi's 154. Prodi has won the lower house by beating Berlusconi by 0.1%, automatically winning him an allocation of a majority 340 seats.

What's critical is that there are six Senate seats being voted for by Italians living abroad which haven't declared yet. Prodi says he expects to win four of those seats, giving him a one-seat majority over Berlusconi - though how he knows which way those seats will fall is anyone's guess.

Berlusconi, meanwhile, is spitting with fury in that charming way of his and demanding recounts. Mind you, given that he loses his immunity from prosecution the moment he stops being Prime Minister and a host of potential indictments may face him, he would probably demand a recount if he'd only polled 0.2% nationally.

Sadly, the live updates at La Repubblica aren't much help at the moment. I'll post again the moment I know more.

UPDATE: Another article in La Repubblica shows the basis for Prodi's optimism (in Italian only - the article, not Prodi's optimism). Based on results already being counted, Prodi looks set to take four seats, Berlusconi one and the Association of South American Italians one (there are loads of Italians in South America, but I don't know what they'll do with their one seat in the Italian Senate). Of course, if last night's events are anything to go by, we should learn not to trust press reports until the actual numbers are on the table.

Even then, this won't be allowed to rest. The Italian President, Carlo Ciampi, is one month away from the end of his term of office. A new President has to be appointed before the new government takes over (because the President appoints the government), and it was already agreed that Berlusconi would head a caretaker government in the meantime. Presumably he'll spend the time going round the governmental offices with a tube of Superglue, affixing his ministers and himself permanently to their chairs. I doubt the thought of bribing/bullying/threatening the new President to let him form the government has so much as even crossed his mind...

UPDATE: Another report in La Repubblica notes that Berlusconi got 66% of the votes in Iraq. From Italian ex-pats, that is. I wonder if they had ink on their fingers? No, just blood, probably.

UPDATE: It's over for now. Prodi got those four Senate seats, and Berlusconi only got one. So Prodi takes the Senate 159-156 and the lower house 340-277. Berlusconi hasn't said a word, but you can bet he's preparing another Florida 2000. Subject to legal challenge, the Berlusconi era is over. Bet he's not grinning now; although the plastic surgery has probably etched the grin onto his face permanently...


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Monday, April 10, 2006

Che succede? Chi ha vinto?

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

Polls have just closed in Italy, and I'll blog on whatever happens in the next few hours. Italian exit polls are notoriously unreliable, so don't expect much of a clear picture to emerge just yet, or perhaps even for days.

UPDATE 2.21pm: A Nexus exit poll reported on Rai Tre (one of the few TV stations not owned by Berlusconi) has Prodi's Unione beating Berlusconi's CDL by between one and nine points. Not very revealing. They're not promising any projections this side of 5pm BST... (The poll's margin of error is 2 points, so it could even be a tie. Or it could be way, way off-target.)

UPDATE 2.33pm: Another poll, this time by Piepoli, shows Prodi winning 52% in the lower house and about the same percentage in the Senate. A more detailed Nexus poll is promised in the next fifteen minutes. The Piepoli poll shows Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, only one part of his coalition, has lost 8% off its support.

UPDATE 2.52pm: News via Bloomberg (inexplicably headed 'Germany') that there is another exit poll, conducted by IPR Marketing, which shows almost identical figures to the Nexus poll.

UPDATE 2.59pm: La Repubblica's handy table gives Prodi's Unione 340 seats in the lower house versus Berlusconi's CDL's 277, and gives the Unione a minimum of 159 seats in the Senate versus the CDL's maximum of 150. All this could be bollocks, of course, it's only an exit poll.

UPDATE 3.36pm: La Repubblica has refined its forecast to give the Unione 52.2% in the lower house and the CDL 47.1%. Forza Italia have already admitted defeat looks likely. Prodi has celebrated Blair-style by drinking coffee. No sign of that more detailed exit poll, but real results should start to come in very soon. Update to update: Senate results give the Unione a 10-point lead in that house, but it's early days. Italian votes tend to be very concentrated regionally, so calling it now would be like trying to predict a Labour victory on the basis of the results from Sunderland and Hamilton.

UPDATE 3.47pm: Jolly useful, these real-time updates from La Repubblica. The Senate results are being counted first, and Prodi's lead has dropped back to two points - but it's so early that these fluctuations are not surprising. Still, the Senate result should give a reasonable indication as to how things are going to go in general. There will be some Italians who have split their vote, voting Berlusconi in one house and Prodi in the other (just as some US states will vote Republican for President but cheerfully elect two Democratic senators), but they won't be in the majority.

UPDATE 3.57pm: That updated exit poll is available at last, and it alters absolutely nothing. Still showing Prodi with 50-54% and Berlusconi with 45-49%. Thanks, guys.

UPDATE 4.01pm: Prodi's lead in the Senate shoots up to a massive twelve points. Only 3% of the results are in, mind. This isn't going anywhere fast - time for a break.

UPDATE 4.40pm: Over 10% of the Senate votes have been counted, so this gives us a possible early indicator. Prodi has a 7.5 point lead in the Senate, although no seats have actually been declared yet. His lead in the lower house is massive, but hardly any votes have been counted yet. Still within the boundaries of the exit poll. That said, there are some regions where hardly any votes have been counted (eg Lombardia) and the votes from ex-pat Italians - who have been allowed to vote abroad for the first time, without being required to go back to Italy to do so - aren't in yet. An allocation of seats is kept back for the foreign votes, and it was the overseas votes in the Israeli election of 1996 which gave Netanyahu power when it looked like Peres had won a narrow victory. Not that I think we'll end up in that sort of situation here. As I write, the proportion of Senate votes counted rises to about 12% but Prodi's lead remains constant. We'll see how things develop. About two hours from now we should have a reasonable idea of how things are really going to go.

UPDATE 5.05pm: Nearly one-fifth of the votes counted and still no seats declared! Prodi's lead slips back to five points, but still consistently hovering over the 50% mark, below which it has never slipped. Nexus's latest projection gives Prodi 158 seats in the Senate (50.4%) and Berlusconi 151 (48.6%). The projection for the lower house remains vague, but unchanged from the original figures.

UPDATE 5.21pm: It occurs to me that, under PR, they won't declare seats until the share of the overall vote is known. Dur... Anyway, it means that the share-of-vote figures have genuine meaning. Berlusconi's share seems to be holding up extremely well only in certain areas, such as Lombardia, Veneto and Friuli - I guess the rich are voting for one of their own (the Northern League votes in these areas will obviously make a difference to his share as well). He's also polling well in the extreme South, where the Left is not traditionally strong. Prodi seems to be ahead everywhere else, particularly in Emilia-Romagna, Basilicata, Abruzzo and Toscana, in all of which he is currently polling at over 60%.

UPDATE 5.59pm: The latest exit poll refinement puts Prodi on 50% for the Senate and Berlusconi on 49%, so things are tightening up for the Professor. That said, he maintains his lead in the actual votes: 51.3% to 47.9%, with well over a third of the votes counted. Prodi's lead in the lower house continues to be much stronger, but counting has hardly begun.

Have to sign off for now, as the family are home and dinner is more important than international politics...

UPDATE 7.59pm: As always with these things, things don't look so good as the night wears on. The projection now shows Berlusconi with a majority of seats in both houses, despite being behind on the popular vote. With two-thirds of the Senate votes in, Prodi's lead has collapsed to 0.6% and his rating has dipped below 50%. Berlusconi is projected to get 157 Senate seats, to Prodi's 152; I don't know how they work that out. There are going to be a hell of a lot of red faces among the media and political classes tomorrow. Just like Kerry - ahead on the exit poll, but going down to defeat. Looks like Berlusconi may have the last laugh, after all. Sorry I couldn't bring you better news.

UPDATE 8.35pm: Berlusconi's victory looking more and more probable. It's Israel 1996 and USA 2004 all over again. Media backpedalling rapidly. Why can't they do exit polls properly? Why do they do them at all?

Fucking bollocks.


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ID cards - time to relax

GNU LABOUR

Tom at Blairwatch has done some calculations and worked out that the whole thing is doomed to failure because it's logistically impossible.

Thank goodness for that!

(Via Alex.)


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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Instant ID

GNU LABOUR

How marvellous - you can get your own ID card here for free, without having to wait! Smashing idea!

(Courtesy of Worstall's BBRU.)


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Fruitcakes, loonies and, er...

LAND OF HOPELESS TORIES

Genuine letter in last Thursday's Telegraph, quoted verbatim:
SIR - I resent being associated with closet racists. I voted three times for Norman Tebbit and Mrs Thatcher for obvious reasons.
Aren't we always being told it's Americans who have no sense of irony?


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Friday, April 07, 2006

Backing Blair (into a big, deep hole)

GNU LABOUR

I'm sure this blog is already on MI5's extremely lengthy 'To Watch' list, so there's no harm in adding my support for the wonderfully ironically-named Backing Blair campaign.

I didn't support the campaign at the last General Election because it would have meant voting Tory, and I'd rather eat my own spleen (not that I voted for Blair, either, of course). But there's no reason now not to join in and try and get this elected dictator out - by peaceful, democratic means of course (I put that bit in for the Secret Services - what a wuss).


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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Computer says no

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

Bet the Safety Elephant's wishing he'd thought of this.

"What is the purpose of your visit?"
"I'm on holiday."
"Oh, yeah? Computer says you're a terrorist."
"If a person fails, he is accompanied by a guard to a cubicle where he is asked questions in a more intense atmosphere," Mr Kornilov said.
"Tony, it's Charles. Get on the phone to Putin, he's got a wizard idea..."

[EDIT: Longrider wonders what happens if you just tell it to piss off.]


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The drugs don't work, they just make you worse

GNU BRITAIN

That's what I like. An inquiry that concludes the bleedin' obvious:
this product showed a pharmacological effect in man which was not seen in pre-clinical tests in animals at much higher doses.
Well, dur. A bit like saying that the 7/7 bombings "happened because some nasty men blew up some bombs on the Tube and killed people. Oh, and a bus."

The only potential interesting outcome of this fiasco would have something to do with the uselessness of animal testing, but we're all supposed to be in favour of that, these days, so no one's making the obvious conclusion (except the usual suspects, of course).


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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Watch this

GNU LABOUR

As if you needed persuading: Don't Vote Labour.

(Via practically everyone.)


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RUSIANS!

GNU BRITAIN

The Cuban Missile Crisis, in AOL-teenager speak (generated via Lucas Longley's painfully accurate translator):
TEH CUBAN MISIEL CRISIS REFERS 2 DA TENSE CONFRONTATION BTWEN TEH SOVEIT UNION AND DA UNIETD STAETS R3GARDNG DA SOVEIT DEPLOYMENT OF NUCLEAR MISIELS IN CUBA!!1! WTF TEH PARIOD OF GR3AETST DANG3R STARTAD ON OC2BR 16 1962 WHEN US1!1!!!!1 WTF RACONASESANC3 WAS SHOWN 2 US!1!!! OMG LOL PRESIEDNT O F!1!! K3N3DY WHICH REV3AELD EVIEDNCE FOR SOVEIT NUCL3AR MISIEL INSTALATIONS ON DA ISLAND AND LASTAD FOR 13 DAYS UNTIL OC2BR 28 1962 WH3N SOVEIT L3AEDR NIKITA KHRUSHCHAV ANOUNC3D TAHT DA INSTALATIONS WUD B DISMANTLED!11!1!!1 LOL DA CUBAN MISIEL CRISIS IS REGARDAD AS DA ON3 MOMENT WHEN TEH COLD WAR CM3 CLOSAST 2 ESCALATNG IN2 A NUCL3AR WAR

RUSIANS!1!111! OMG LOL R3F3R 2 DA 3VENT AS TEH CARIB3AN CRISIS WHIEL CUBANS REF3R 2 IT AS TEH OC2BR CRISIS
11!!!1!

(With thanks to Kyle and the guys at Cricket 24/7.)


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Move along, please, there's nothing to see here

GNU LABOUR

Many weeks ago, I wrote to my ex-MP, Andrew Slaughter, about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill which I've posted about before. Well, here's a thing: I finally got a response out of the man. It took him four weeks but, be fair, he's a busy man: according to his newsletter, he's been doing important things like attending a production of West Side Story by the "Priory Centre’s Descendants project at Acton Town Hall" and watching Fulham beat Chelsea.

Anyway, I'm glad to say he has lost none of the condescending tone he has so successfully mastered in his newsletters. "I am pleased to be able to tell you that your fears are groundless," he informs me (any of my female readers hear the much-used expression "don't worry your pretty little head about it" coming through in an undertone?). He goes on:
While I can understand how, on the face of it, the Bill may appear to grant ministers an autonomy that no believer in democracy could tolerate, I believe that on closer scrutiny, it will become apparent that the bill has one main aim, which is to cut down on expensive red tape, and does not relinquish Parliament's vital power of veto on the Government.
This is the line the government's been plugging since the bill was introduced: oh, it's all about cutting red tape, it's really boring, it's just procedural, it's to make life easier for business, come on, move along. This is what the magician calls 'diversion', insisting you look at his right hand while his left hand is substituting your deck of cards for his loaded deck.

Slaughter continues:
During the passage of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, the Government gave a commitment that it would not use the order making power to implement “large and controversial” measures. Jim Murphy, the Cabinet Office Minister, told the Regulatory Reform Committee that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill would not be used to implement “highly controversial” measures. The Government has suggested that what is controversial at one time is not necessarily controversial at another time, so the degree of controversy associated with a particular proposal would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, it has “reiterated its commitment not to use Order powers to deliver highly political measures, such as amendments to terrorism law or the Parliament Act".
Oh, well, that's all right, then. The government has promised not to do anything controversial with the Bill. That's OK - we trust this government, don't we? And we trust all governments likely to come after it, don't we?

Here's where things get really unsettling:
In essence, this Bill will be used to save time and huge amounts of public money, by removing the obligation for Parliament to go through the motions of "debating" and passing into law non-controversial measures.
Look how he phrases it. "Save time", "save money". How nice - they're doing us a favour, really, aren't they? Removing all that debating, the very thing that Parliament exists for - scrutinising government legislation, having a free and open discussion, the people's representatives holding the government to account for the laws it proposes to introduce. Any measure can be controversial, "Andy". Virtually all laws passed either involve spending public money or proposing transgressions of the law and the punishments for them; many laws involve both. To hide behind the noble-sounding defence of "cutting red tape" is an attempt to distract attention from the other things you'll be cutting: parliamentary scrutiny, freedom of information, government accountability.

Slaughter next ropes in one of his colleagues, as if to spread the blame:
I happen to be a member of the Regulatory Reform Committee, whose job it was to scrutinise this Bill and report to Parliament. The Chairman of the Committee, Andrew Miller MP, says that, "This Bill must be scrutinised with particular care. Our report recognises that there is widespread support for removing redundant regulation and costly red tape. But the problem many people will have with Part one of this Bill, as drafted, is that it provides Ministers with a wide and general power that could be used to repeal, amend or replace almost any primary legislation. That can't be right. We need extra safeguards. What we've done in our report is to recommend extra safeguards to be put into the Bill, which, if accepted, would, I believe achieve the Government's objectives in a manner acceptable to Parliament."
That all sounds very sensible, doesn't it? Problem is, "recommendations" do not safeguards make, if I can put it that way. And Miller has hit the nail on the head: "it provides Ministers with a wide and general power that could be used to repeal, amend or replace almost any primary legislation. That can't be right." You're damn straight, it's not right, Mr Miller. And what makes you think the government, in its determination to have its own way over ministers, MPs and the general population, cares two hoots about your recommendations?

Slaughter's brief conclusion is:
I hope you will agree that I have thought about this bill carefully; and that the outcome should be that with the afore-mentioned safeguards, I should vote for it.
Er, no.


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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hang up your tools, Rory Bremner

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

There's a saying in poker that you can only bluff an experienced player, simply on the grounds that an inexperienced player is too stupid (in game terms) to be trapped by your bluff.

In the same way, there are some countries and people who are unsuitable targets for satire because their stupidity and ridiculousness goes beyond anything a satirist could dream up.

Hence we end up with this, courtesy of Arthur's Seat.


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Goodnight for the Knight? The Professor the lesser?

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

The Italian general election takes place in a week, with a possible end in sight to the reign of perma-tanned, pate-thatched, nose-jobbed, oily Silvio Berlusconi, a man who makes Rupert Murdoch seem like a modest, retiring, unambitious sort.

Since Italian politics is currently divided rather neatly into Left and Right, the polls make more sense than they normally would. Or they would, if only they didn't show the two sides neck and neck. Which begs the question all foreign observers must be asking: why do so many Italians want to vote for the clearly dodgy Berlusconi (who somehow won himself the nickname 'the Knight')? How can a man with so much scandal and the smell of corruption hanging around him attract so many voters? How can they bear to see him with his hands on the levers of government?

To understand this, one must bear three things in mind:

Berlusconi does not command the poll rating on his own. The rating of 48-50% is for his coalition of the Right, which consists not only of his party, Forza Italia, but also of the Alleanza Nazionale (the ex-Fascists), the Lega Nord (mostly Venetian separatists - it's a bit like Surrey wanting to declare independence from the rest of the UK) and the Union of Christian Democrats (the people who used to run Italy in the good old days - IRONY ALERT) who recently pulled out of the government because they couldn't bear to work with the Fascists. Each of these groups commands strong support in different regions of the country, and Berlusconi's party rides on their coat-tails. Furthermore, the Left is made up of a similarly disparate group of parties and their coalition leader, Romano Prodi (nicknamed 'the Professor', which will probably cost him a few votes), doesn't even have his own party, unlike Berlusconi.

Second, Berlusconi has a number of things in his favour. Italians find him attractive (yes, I know...). He has a certain charisma compared with Prodi, who can come across as a little stuffy. Italian nationalism has grown in recent years, not held back by the hosting of the Winter Olympics in Turin, and Berlusconi is not afraid to appeal to the basest populism. Berlusconi also controls many TV channels in Italy, which guarantees him massive media coverage (although he has been caught out when he strays beyond safe territory, as he found when he was interviewed on Rai Tre, a channel he does not control). And while there is a strong and loyal left-wing tradition among many Italians, there is an equally strong anti-left tradition among others - and Berlusconi has not been slow to throw slurs about a Communist threat lying behind Prodi's benign face.

And the third factor is that Italians have got used to carrying on with their own affairs despite the government. This is a country in which hundreds of directly contradictory laws are still on the statute book, in which favours and bribes are a normal part of everyday life, in which religion, fashion and football take a front seat in the minds of the population and government is relegated to "those people in Rome", in which legal transgression is greeted as often with a "yeah, whatever" as with an "oh, dear". Many Italians can't decide whom to vote for, because they are convinced it doesn't matter.

Anyway, the practice of television debates has leaked over from America, and Berlusconi and Prodi have had a number of set-tos on national networks in the past few weeks - the latest took place yesterday, and was a particularly bad-tempered affair. The Italian press reacted along party lines, so there is no clear indication of who won - however, you know that Berlusconi is rattled when he loses his temper. Let's hope the weekend's poll wipes that irritating smile off his face for good.

[EDIT: Worth reading Martin Kettle on why Berlusconi isn't all bad, except that he is. Worth reading the comments, too.]


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The boy blunder strikes again

LAND OF HOPELESS TORIES

I've just enjoyed the wonderful sound of Charlie Cameron tripping over his own feet on the radio.

New readers start here: Charlie was being interviewed on LBC about the plans by UKIP to acquire information about the Tories' secret donors lenders under the good ol' Freedom of Information Act (or, more properly, Freedom of Information We Choose to Allow You to See Act). Concerned to dismiss this irritation and deflect attention from this issue, Cameron described UKIP as a fringe party, as you do: "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".

It was the last remark that got him into trouble. Asked to clarify his accusation of racism, Cameron's well-oiled machine hit a stone in the road and started to fall apart. You could almost hear him thinking, "oh, fuck". He spluttered his way through to the end (hear it via here), but it was possibly the most unconvincing performance he has yet given in the public arena. One was reminded of Iain Duncan-Smith answering a question on the Today programme by laughing repeatedly.

Poor Charlie; the honeymoon really is over. Only two polls out of eight in the last month put the Tories ahead (see UK Polling Report for details). At a time when Labour is in disarray, when the concealed cracks at the top of the government are starting to peek through the wallpaper, his party should be revelling in a massive - or at least consistent - poll lead. His inexperience is showing through; glib and charming in his leadership campaign, he suddenly looks like a sixth-former who desperately wants to be a prefect if only that nasty Mr Blair didn't have the headmaster's ear.

Trouble is, on this occasion it was a fairly good call. A quick glance at UKIP's website (don't make me link to it) includes such enlightened and savoury statements as these:

  • "[Muslims] have a mission to take us back to the Dark Ages"

  • "Everyone should have the right to say that other people’s religious beliefs are mumbo-jumbo. That was acceptable when offended Christians would forgive and pray for the soul of the blasphemer. Apparently it is not, now that an offended Muslim might threaten to kill them."

  • "The United Kingdom lost its independence and identity when a referendum on trade turned out to be a political take-over. Uninvited foreign regulations poured over the border attempting to change traditions and eliminate the country."

  • "All those entering Britain with the intention of staying [should] be subject to health checks for certain communicable diseases."

  • "UKIP will repeal the 1999 Human Rights Act [and require] the reinterpretation of parts of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees."

Not actually racist, as such, but you can see where Charlie was coming from. [EDIT: More precise info at UKIPwatch (via Clive).]

Never mind, as Gary has observed, it's nice to watch the Right falling out with each other. If only there were a credible third option to vote for...


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Monday, April 03, 2006

Back in business

The wireless connection is running, the laptop is faster than the desktop (but not as fast as the next desktop, tee hee) and I'm ready for posting again, except it's quarter to six and Junior needs his tea.

Never mind, the good news is that Jim Bliss is also back in business, and some fine posts he has made in the last few weeks. Jim, you'll be on my bl*gr*ll soon. [EDIT: Done!]

More tomorrow, including perhaps why I'll be shutting my Swiss Army Knife in a drawer for ever. Do you think they'll eventually ban me from having one even in my own home?


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