Sunday, 31 August 2008

McCain and torture

Just in case you missed it - Andrew Sullivan made the excellent point a couple of weeks ago that John 'subject-verb-PoW' McCain was not tortured as a PoW according to the bastardised Bush definition of torture. What he went through was just the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, or whatever Orwell-esque phrase is currently in vogue in Bushland. And, to add an extra seasoning of irony, Sullivan claims that in supporting the Military Commissions Act, McCain acquiesced in CIA use of these same techniques against terror suspects. "And so the tortured became the enabler of torture."

Sullivan has been great on the torture point. Putting aside the moral obscenity of it all,  its sanctioning at the top of the administration has been surely one of the most catastrophic global political mistakes of the Bush presidency, up there with Rumsfield and the DoD running roughshod over the careful work of the State Department in relation to war- and post=war planning Iraq.  

The Barracuda and the price of smashing that glass ceiling

Wow, Sarah Palin's a scary creature to liberal European eyes. Evangelical Christian; purist 'pro-life' position (though in favour of the death penalty, natch); in favour of the teaching of creationism in schools; fiercely anti-gun control; anti-stem cell research. Green she isn't = she doesn't believe in man-made global warming, she's in favour of drilling in ANWR, she opposed listing the polar bear as an endangered species, and so, depressingly, on.  

Many of these positions are contrary to McCain's own, of course. But it's also hard to think of a set of values and beliefs which are further from Hillary Clinton's. Yet everyone assumes that a key part of the decision to pick Palin was to sweep up some embittered Clinton loyalists. Is the pull of gender communalism so strong that someone who believes in what Hillary believes in could vote for McCain on the basis that he has Palin on the ticket - just because Palin is a woman? How depressing if so. 

Saturday, 30 August 2008

[Insert pun involving the word 'Darling' here]

Well, what to make of AD's interview in the Guardian? There's fascinating material there for Kremlinologists. He agrees that he's unusually unknown as a politician, because "For most of my political life I've kept out of doing this kind of interview". Hmm. He clearly thinks that now, when everything really is as tits-up for a Chancellor as it possibly could be, is the time to start doing such interviews. Apart from the whole "Yup, everything really is completely screwed" part of the story, the other interesting bit is the firmness with which he says that there will not be a reshuffle in the autumn. Is he so worried about his position that he's trying some pre-emptive defensive measure? I'm reminded of the terrible, terrible Margaret Beckett at the FCO, when it was clear that one of the last of Blair's reshuffles was coming (perhaps the last?) and that she would be going, making some toe-curling speech in which she said that she wasn't going anywhere. She was sacked a week or two later. Yuk yuk.

Poor Old Gary; or, A Lucky Escape?

Overheard on the high street today:

"I really like Gary, but fuckin'ell, I don't wanna be marrying 'im."

Friday, 29 August 2008

Fresh from the internets (4)

Garfield minus Garfield. What was a vaguely amusing cartoon featuring a lazy cat becomes, without Garfield, an ongoing study of mental breakdown, loneliness and melancholy absurdism that out-Becketts Beckett. 

McCain chooses his VP - excitement boils over

Life imitates art - again

Obviously the Obama 'narrative' has striking parallels with that of Matt Santos in the West Wing (though I fear John McCain is a much nastier piece of work than Arnold Vinick - you can't imagine Arnie V calling his wife a c**t). Indeed, the scriptwriters may have based Santos' character on BO (unfortunate initials, no?). And the parallels have now been reinforced by his choosing an older, well-respected, 'safe' running mate (Biden/McGarry). 

It seems to me that it is likely that the fact that choosing Biden would reinforce this West Wing narrative is very likely to have played a (small) part in the decision to select with him. The point must have come up in discussions within the Obama camp, whether seriously or not, after all. Not bad for a telly programme with Rob Lowe in it.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

More fall-out from the Jenna Delich business

It's good to see Andy Newman at Socialist Unity (surely one of the most ironically named websites of all time - the comment threads normally end up a vastly entertaining bearpit of SWP v the rest of the far Left) sticking up for Harry's Place in the whole 'UCU-Israel boycott-daft 'academic' links to former KKK Grand Wizard  website' saga (see below). Good on him. But the comment thread is revealing. "johng", for example, is reasonably typical in being far more concerned that the confidentiality of an email list has been breached, than one of his fellow union members is so mired in anti-Semitism - barely disguised as 'anti-Zionism' - that she doesn't notice that the site she's linking to is neo-Nazi. "The labour movement has a word for people who spy on their fellow workers", he says, of the person who leaked Jenna Delich's email. As so often when talking about the far Left and anti-Semitism, one is reminded of the last lines of Animal Farm.

An important ps - I'm not a fan of HP publishing Delich's photo. 

Welcome back

Harry's Place, the excellent left-leaning, pro-liberty, liberal interventionist collaborative blog is back online, after an attempt at cyber-bullying by an academic involved in the 'boycott Israel' movement who, HP told the world, managed to link to an article on the neo-Nazi David Duke's site in an email newsletter. She apparently accused HP of libel, apparently not understanding if that what you report is true, it cannot be libel. This has been typical of the useful work done by HP in uncovering the links between the far Left and nasty elements on the Right, especially when it comes to Israel.

Full story here.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Just had one of those 'living in a sci-fi film' double-take moments that modern life can throw at you when you're over 30: the wife sitting chatting to her mother face to face by Skype, via the wireless rinky-dink Powerbook resting on her knees. Modern life can be pretty cool, in the most geekish sense of the word.


The latest Government data loss has, it seems to me, been pretty downplayed in the media - largely because Parliament isn't sitting, but also, it seems to me, because we have just got used to it, blase about the personal details of tens of thousands of peope being...well, lost, like you lose your keys. 

In fact, of course, it's wholly unacceptable. But what it also underlines, surely, is that the ID card scheme is a really, really bad idea. Putting aside the significant and substantive points of principle (which I consider overwhelming) for a moment, consider and meditate on the simple fact that no computer system is wholly secure and hack-proof. If a human has designed it, a human can hack it. Therefore, logic dictates that the National Identity Register will be compromised, probably quite soon after going live, even if there isn't a data loss due to the Government's own incompetence. As such, it seems to me, the entire latest justification of the legislation - providing secure and guaranteed proof of identity for all citizens - is holed beneath the waterline. The hacking - which as I say, will inevitably happen - will be disastrous and a massive pain in the arse for those directly affected, impacting on all parts of their lives; and it could also, depending on who the hackers are, have significant wider security implications.

And it's all due to start very shortly. The first cards, it is claimed, will be issued this year or next.


Well I never knew that, Ambassador

Bought some Nutella for the first time for ages at the weekend. Found the taste very evocative of something I just couldn't remember. Then looked at the label and found it's owned by Ferrero...

Monday, 25 August 2008

A historical, moral and political blur

"We've got to get over thinking we have the moral high ground because I just don't think we do" - Damon Albarn on China in the Sunday Times, interviewed by the wonderful Bryan Appleyard. This is based, apparently, on his study of history: "let it not be forgotten that we sold opium, which we took from India through Hong Kong and, like, disabled vast tracts of China for 80 years...or something like that". The utter fatuity of the argument that we cannot criticise human rights abuses in China because of our imperial history is deeply depressing. Albarn also appears to offer a defence of the catastrophic regime of Mao: "There was, I point out, the awkward fact that Mao Tse-tung killed 70m of his own people, an achievement that puts our own opium trade oppression in the shade. 'I realise that, I am aware of that, but there is also the argument that something like 400m people were taken out of extreme poverty.'"

Er, what argument is that? Historians are agreed that Mao's rule was utterly, utterly devasting for China, with policies actively designed to cause the deaths of millions of people: just about any alternative the mind of man can think of would have been better for its people. If you go there, you see signs that even the Chinese authorities are starting publicly to recognise what a disaster Mao was for China.

Fool. There was always  lingering suspicion in the days of Blur that Albarn was a bit of a prick with all his mockney stuff. Sad to see it confirmed so comprehensively.

Here's the Amnesty page on China. And here's the Free Tibet campaign. Become a member (like your humble blogger), because you do have the moral high ground over Beijing's goons.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

No.10 website

A tiny addendum to Dizzy et al's comprehensive savaging of this piece of incompetent rubbish - the email address for comments,, doesn't work.

Umberto Eco and Viz

People who don't know it very well think Viz is all knob jokes and swearing. There are a lot of knob jokes and swearing, to be fair, especially on its off days, but there is more to it than that, as suggested by the very British and self-aware (and funny) strapline "Not as funny as it used to be". An example, chosen pretty much at random - a Gilbert Ratchet strip from 1999 that's in one of my favourite pieces of bathtime reading, the Viz compilation from 1999 called "The Clown's Pie". 

GR is not Viz's funniest character by a long chalk. He is a boy who makes ludicrous gadgets. The strip opens with him needing a new tool set. He sees a sign for an Easter Egg rolling competition with a first prize of a "CORDLESS ELECTRIC SCREWDRIVER AND ABAG OF NAILS", so he decides to enter. Through an unlikely series of circumstances, he wins first prize, and goes to collect it with the judge. "Right then", says the judge, as Gilbert looks speechless and cross, "here's the robot chauffeur without any corduroy trousers which conveys prison officers around in a car...and here's Jimmy Nail's scrotum." "Ha! Ha! It's that sort of 'cordless electric screwdriver'", and "Ha! Ha! It's that sort of 'bag of Nail's'", say two speech balloons coming from under these bottom panels of the strip, with an arrow pointing to them that says "Umberto Eco's voice". There's a certain modest kind of genius in that, if you ask me.

Quote of the day

"Were I to be called, like Cincinnatus from my plough, obviously it would be a huge privilege to serve. But you may have a long time to wait. I am on record as saying that I am more likely to be reincarnated as a hobbit - or locked in a disused fridge." - Boris Johnson

How many MP's know who Cincinnatus was, let alone would mention him in a public comment? And I love the "locked in a disused fridge" image. No doubt this is the type of thing that makes the blood of the Zoe Williamses of this world boil. Well, frankly they can fuck off. Boris adds something unique and life-enhancing to the political life of this country. It's a bit like having Stephen Fry as PUS at the Department of Transport.

PS That god-awful ZW hitpiece has my vote as worst bit of journalism of the past twelve months.  


Saturday, 23 August 2008

Oh, it's Biden...yawn. Well, yes, but

The accepted view on the blogosphere, exemplified at Kos, seems to be that Obama's choice of Biden as his VP is 'plugging a gap' and not 'reinforcing the message', and so is disappointing because of that. I'm not convinced. I do think Biden is the safe choice, and so to that extent feel let down. But can one really argue that Obama needs his message 'reinforced'? He and the 'change' chorus has saturated the media - seven Time covers in one year! - and the danger he now faces, it seems to me, is cynicism (he's all hot air) and boredom (not him again). In this light, 'reinforcing the message' is precisely what he doesn't need to do. But that doesn't mean that the windbag Biden is unalloyed good news - clearly anyone who has been found to have stolen passages from Neil Kinnock's speeches can't be described as that - nor that there wasn't a real third choice of surprising us, and strengthening an underplayed part of his ticket. Al Gore, anyone?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Obama's weakness, continued

A good summary of the type of points discussed below (in general terms, not focussing on abortion) from the Corner at National Review Online.

Quirky lyric break

Some song lyrics just stick in your head. I've always been a big fan of these two lines. Know the band?

Some civil servants are just like my loved ones
They work so hard and they try to be strong...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Obama, America and abortion

It's easy in Europe to assume Obama is just going to walk the election in November. He's young, good looking, charismatic,  seems more rock star than politico, and he's up against an old bloke who...well, yes, was a PoW, well done, but apart from that appears to represent more of the same. It's difficult to spot the "maverick" now in this former enviro-friendly man who now claims off shore drilling is the answer to America's energy difficulties (yeh, right).

But the dread issue of abortion has never fully gone away, and this week it has come alive again as rightwing media like National Review have been plugging away at what seem to be misleading comments by Obama about his voting record on the Illinois Born Alive Act. And the latest polls show him and McCain neck and neck, or McCain in the lead by a few points.

It's easy to say that abortion is such a live issue in America because it is stil such a religious country. But that's only a partial answer. The other part is, surely, that unlike in the UK, the law in the US (as set out by Roe v Wade) does not reflect the will of the people. It is a law imposed from on high, not as a result of democratic debate. It smacks of liberal elitism, which is also one of Obama's gravest presentational weaknesses, and one with great potential traction for the attack dogs of Fox et al. 

Fresh from the internets (3)

With a hat-tip to the always excellent Andrew Sullivan, I give you cake wrecks - a blog dedicated to professionally made cakes that have gone badly, badly wrong. Hilarious.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Brown, Miliband, Georgia and Brown

Interesting. Nick Brown (famously close to his PM namesake) seems at odds with the Foreign Secretary's position on the desireability of Georgia being admitted to NATO. Is this Brown undermining Miliband through, er, Brown?

(What a crappy article, by the way. Tough luck if you're being menaced by a newly expansionist Russia according to Nick; nowt to do with us. Appeaso-tastic.)

What would Sir Humphrey say?

Interesting post by Tom Watson MP at his site on a proposal for a Wikipedia-style encyclopedia of English law. I was particularly struck by his comment at the end:

"I was alerted to this project an hour ago by email. That's the wonder of the modern age - I get to pick up projects before they've been pitched to officials ten times over. I think I can help and I'm going to talk to my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice..."

This ability to bypass officials by going directly to a Minister by email - and the Minister's willingness to pick up and run with whatever catches his eye without seeking advice - is something very new in our system of Government. I doubt whether it's good news for effective government in the long term.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Lake and shore

That video

was a link from the No.10 site. What is the point of it? It's not serving any useful purpose. It's clearly trying to be amusing - is that a Government role? Why should Government - ie me and you - and not the Labour Party be paying for this bollocks? 

Is this what you want your taxes paying for?

Well that's it

We all knew the Staggers is a shadow of its former self. But now we have to cope with one of its journalists describing "Back in the USSR" as "crap". A line has been crossed, I fear.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Little Green Evolution Wars

Anyone with more than a passing interest in the political blogosphere will have come across Little Green Footballs, Charles Johnson's fiercely pro-Israel, anti-Islamist (some would say anti-Muslim, I think unfairly) blog that he has maintained since pre 9/11. Some of the sycophantic commenters on the threads are deeply unpleasant characters, and it's a scary swamp of group-think sometimes, but our Chuck has broken some interesting stories and it's always worth a look, if only for a glance into the often dark heart of the American right (a heart that still appears utterly traumatised by the events of 11 September 2001). 

So what are we to make of LGF's recent broadside against creationism? It's a meme which is at odds with a not insignificant section of his readership - the mid-West, scared of A-rabs, "Left Behind" crowd - and Johnson seems on occasion to have taken delight in the upset he's caused. In many ways it's a brave step for Johnson and interesting, and I've also been amused that he has managed to link creationism with political Islam just to stir things up even more. (See here for an example.) Is this more evidence of the Rove Republican-evangelical alliance that was such an effective vote winner for so long breaking-up? Or is it just Chuckles starting to move out of the far-right ghetto? 

The mysterious silence of Gordon Brown

I'm not the only one in agreement with the (surely Murdoch-sanctioned) Sun editorial on Brown's absence from the international stage in re Russia and Georgia. Iain Martin over at Three Line Whip was also struck by it.

The No.10 website disaster...

...continues. Dizzy is on the case.

It's worth saying again - these are the people who want to introduce identity cards, and claim that they will be hack-proof.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

I suppose it has to happen every so often

Gulp. I agree with a "The Sun Says". Brown's silence on Georgia has been frankly weird, and Cameron's trip, which could have come across as opportunistic, instead simply fills the news gap. The amusingly error-prone new No. 10 website has a couple of slightly desperate stories along the lines of "Russia and Georgia really should try to get along and stop this nonsense says Brown", but they hardly constitute a forceful denunciation; more hopeful confirmation that he has picked up from the telly that, you know, something a bit tricky's been happening.  

(I was going to go on to say something about the sweet stories of Georgians and Russians hugging at the Olympics before playing beach volleyball against each other. But their impact is sadly diluted by the slightly odd fact that the Georgian team was in fact from, erm, Brazil.)

Fresh from the internets (2)

The oddly moving photoblog of a puddle in New York. Really. The excitement when it froze last winter was something else.


Funny lot, the Norweigans.

Friday, 15 August 2008

A refreshing change

Good to see a group on the fringes of the Left that doesn't embrace the crass cultural relativism and divisive communalism of the SWP, Galloway, etc etc. These speech notes from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty site could have been (almost) written by Nick Cohen. Good for you, comrades.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

A titanic cock-up

Prescott as blogger, what a delight. He's even more entertaining as blogger than as politician, and thankfully just as disaster-prone. (Labourhome seem to be down-playing their star player at the moment, with the wonderful 'Titanic' post (linked to above) hidden away behind several click throughs, and no obvious sign of his latest post.) Am also amused by the way he's always introduced by Alex 'Recess Monkey' Hilton, as if by a compere in a men's club, though in fact the normally cheeky Monkey is remarkably po-faced and reverent. But surely the usually reliable Martin Bright is going a bit far when he claims some renewed political role for the fat old shagger-bruiser? They're not that desperate, are they?

Oh for the love of God

Seamus Milne, old school Stalinist and wannabe enfant-terrible of the Guardian's CiF pages, is at it again, getting a hard-on at the sight and thought of Russian tanks rolling into a neighbouring country, and blaming....well, America, of course. The CIA and Israel also get name-checked, natch. I have a vision of Milne being the sole survivor of the Jihadi nuclear apocalypse, sitting at the last word processor in the world, spending his last hours before he too succumbs banging out a piece on how it is all Bush's fault. Oh, and of course he's an ex-proper-public school (Winchester) boy.

On the same page is the quite wonderful Julie Burchill - more genuinely controversial, and a hundred times more interesting. In her latest, she talks about her life as a Christian (who knew?), claiming Christianity as rebellious in this secular, multi-cultural society. But being Julie, she doesn't just focus on soppy old Christ: "I believe, literally, in the God of the Old Testament, whom I understand as the Lord of the Jews and the Protestants." She's endlessly surprising, and effortlessly entertaining. What a shame she seems to have settled into semi-retirement.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Celeb sighting of the week

Courtesy of the always marvellous Popbitch:

David Gest and Peter Andre were spotted having a beer together in Manchester last week in the Brunswick pub, a Chef & Brewer at the bottom of station approach.


Blogging, politics and humour

Iain Dale spots that rarity, an amusing leftwing blog post. Why is British political blogging dominated by non-Party, amusing, right-leaning blogs? None of those adjectives seem inevitable to me. When considering politics and humour, it's always the left you think of. Take the News Quiz on Radio 4: regulars Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel are present or former SWP-ers, and chairman Sandi Toksvig is a Lib Dem. When did you last come across a rightwing political humourist on the box or the radio? Is it a "damn pinko BBC" thing? I don't know. But then consider the blogosphere, headed by the libertarian king Guido, and his waspish Tory queen, Iain Dale. They and obvious other big hitters are to the right, and they're the best bloggers around.

What is it about blogging that the right is so much better than the left? Does the pure market of the blogosphere show that right leaning political commentary is more popular than leftwing stuff? Or just that more Tories than labour types read blogs? I think part of it is that popular blogs are libertarian-leaning which (a) sits naturally in the internet and (b) means that they can be, and are, amusingly irreverent about practically everything.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Fresh from the internets

A series introducing assorted splendid blogs.

First up: Photoshop Disasters. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

This ain't no disco! (Jonny Mac loves Talking Heads)

"Jim, let me be very clear."

Reason 4,647 why this grotesque excuse for a Government will be demolished at the next election: junior Ministers saying "Let me be clear" on the Today programme, just before saying something misleading or self-exculpatory. Exhibit A: Bridget Prentice this morning, talking about the CICB's turn-around on cutting compensation for rape victims who were drunk at the time they were attacked. She said that the CICB's policy "had always been" not to reduce awards where the victim was drunk. That it had done so was due to a misapplication of the policy (aka "it was the civil servants' fault, not mine"). (What you call a policy that is not implemented is a moot point.) Then Evan Davis gently raised the question of why, in that case, the CICB will take drunkenness into account in considering pay-outs to victims of mugging. If it's not your fault if you're raped when drunk, why should it be your fault if mugged when drunk? Prentice's response? To talk about rape victims. And when pushed? To say that we (the Government, of which the CICB is, according to Ms Prentice, wholly independent) are concentrating on rape victims. She had simply no response on the mugging point. Hopeless.

Climaticide Watch

In the last two weeks it's reached 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Centigrade) on Baffin Island in the Arctic. Normal temperature for this time of year: 54 degrees F (12 degrees C).

Monday, 11 August 2008


John Edwards. Always was a bit odd, I thought, but the revelation that he has confirmed the National Enquirer re the mistress and the cancer-ridden wife, after weeks of denying it, is shocking. He's still denying he's the father of the mistress' baby. (Mkay. So why then did he see it a few days, I'm not going there.) I'm not interested in the personal morality side. It's the politics - the fact that he stood for the Democratic nomination, knowing that if he got it this was always likely to come out - and the election would be lost for the Democrats. Unbelievable selfishness, to even think of sacrificing the party to his ego.

Music Top Tens: (1)

Lists. We all love 'em. And we all love the Beatles (if we're sentient beings with ears). So here's my pre-Revolver top ten:

10. Paperback Writer
9. I Saw Her Standing There
8. Norwegian Wood
7. Help
6. Day Tripper
6. You're Going to Lose That Girl
5. A Hard Day's Night
4. She Loves You
3. It's Only Love
2. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
1. In My Life

It'll change tomorrow. 

I discovered the Beatles age 6 with my parents' copy of Sgt Pepper, shortly followed by Revolver. A curse, not a blessing, as nothing else is as good. You shouldn't be allowed to listen to Revolver, Sgt Pepper, the White Album or Abbey Road until you're 15. Bros only until you're 9. Oh dear, Bros. Showing me age there.



What's up with the Telegraph? I mean, really? The new website design is terrible. The sleb addiction is out of control (on the site's main page today there's something about celebrity holidays, in addition to the regular celebrity pictures slot; I haven't been able to face seeing what other sleb tat is within). Rosa Prince's self-styled Miliburn-as-Chancellor "splash" has been laughed out of court as Brownite scheming. They're losing the colonels in the shires; will they get enough upwardly mobile Mail-ites to compensate? Or have the Barclays resigned themselves to vanity publishing?

Who's it going to be?

Obama's VP candidate, that is. Here's a fascinating thought: Clinton. Not Hilary, Bill. Imagine the uproar. It would turn the contest on its head. The south and southwest would be put into play. Hilary loyalists would go nuts(ier), unless she could persuade them to unite behind this version of Obama/Clinton. It would unite the Republicans more behind McCain, but the strategic gain for Obama could be greater.

Oh, I know it's not going to happen. But wouldn't it be fascinating if it did?

PS Because of the constitutional succession difficulty (Bill couldn't serve a third term), would it be legal?

Sunday, 10 August 2008

WALL-E and the lardies

Have you seen it? It's fantastic. The first non-dialogue 40 minutes is as good as anything modern American cinema has produced. I've been fascinated by the furore kicked up by its portrayal of fat post-apocalyptic Americans. My first reaction was, a la the fat aristocrats in French & Saunders, that it was all a lot of fuss and nonsense. And my second. 

Speccie Sunday essay

Love this Coffee House idea. Pity the first one is a trifle dry.

Bill of Rights?

Calls for a bill of rights are not going away. Trouble is, some want it to be on top of the Human Rights Act, and some want it in place of the HRA because it sounds more English and less European and criminal-coddling. Can these competing forces get their act together? Plus, the nail in the coffin, Jack Straw's in favour. Rights to a clean environment etc are going to be so hard to enforce in the courts that at the moment, I'm not that excited.