Friday, 28 November 2008

Poetry please

Julian Gough celebrates an exciting new voice in poetry. This a sentence of Sarah Palin's that he has transcribed into the free verse into which he thinks it naturally falls, word for word. He has given this haunting piece the title 'The relevance of Africa'.

The Relevance of Africa

And the relevance to me
With that issue,
As we spoke
About Africa and some
Of the countries
There that were
Kind of the people succumbing
To the dictators
And the corruption
Of some collapsed governments
On the Continent,
The relevance
Was Alaska’s.

Says Gough, 'She could be the most natural, visionary poet since Blake.'


The arrest of Damian Green

I have found this a genuinely shocking story. It appears that the Speaker sanctioned the raiding of Mr Green's Commons offices by counter-terrorist police officers. Why did he do so? On whose authority was he acting? Did he even have the power to do so? Cramner reminds of the words of Speaker Lenthall in resisting when Charles I entered the House to search for five members accused of high treason:

"May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."

Speaker Martin was a disaster even before this. He must go now.

And why counter-terrorist officers? There has been no suggestion that Green was involved in the leaking of any material relating to defence, national security or intelligence matters.

But, most importantly, why was he arrested at all? We are told it was in connection with an alleged offence of aiding, abetting, procuring or commissioning an act amounting to misconduct in public office. In other words, a civil servant leaked something to him. Whether that could ever amount to misconduct in public office where the vital interests of the state are not involved is a moot point. But was is not is that it could never be in the public interest to even consider prosecuting an opposition spokesman to whom such a leaking was made.

Was this Ian Blair having one last swipe at the Tories after being sacked by Boris? In which case, he is an even bigger fool than I thought he was. Or was it HMG trying to intimidate the person or persons who have been leaking at the Treasury? In which case it is an obscene abuse of power.

We are told that the Prime Minister was not informed that the arrest was planned; and Phil Woolas said on the radio this morning that 'so far as he was aware', no Ministers had prior knowledge. What a crock of shit. If Home Office Ministers, and I should imagine, the Home Secretary, were not informed in advance of such a rare and controversial step, then the Met is completely out of control. If Brown was not officially 'informed', that's because he didn't want to be.

Blair once called New Labour 'the political wing of the British people'. Today it appears that the Met is the political wing of New Labour. Never has that standby epithet of right wing bloggers, ZanuLabour, seemed more appropriate.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties

I think we have a poltergeist.

Well, I'm not entirely convinced. But I went out yesterday to get kindling for the fire from the bag in the shed that the previous owners had left. It was full of kindling, but in pieces too long to get in our wood burning stove. I had to break some up to use.

I went out again earlier this evening for more kindling. This time, the same bag was full of the same pieces of wood, but neatly broken into kindling of the right size. So we either have a bizarrely helpful though shy neighbour, or a very helpful and friendly poltergeist. Either is a plus, it seems to me.

Anyway, I was reminded of the genuinely terrifying case of the Amherst poltergeist, also known as the haunting of Esther Cox, who was born in 1860 in Nova Scotia. I read a lot about ghosts when I was small, and this was definitely the scariest true ('true'?) account I came across. It is particularly impressive because of the way the account is backed up by various witnesses incuding the very sober and sensible Dr Carritte.

There's a reasonable summary of what happened here. I still remember reading about in bed at about nine or ten, and being scared witless at how, while the good doctor was attending the teenage Esther at home, the words 'Esther Cox you are mine to kill' were, as he watched, scratched by an invisible hand - with a terrible scraping sound - onto the wall above her bed...

Mumbai terror attacks

Tremendous web coverage.

Good photosets on flickr; very full wikipedia entry (already!); and is this when twitter really takes off? Jihadwatch puts it in a global context.

Drudge, on the other hand, is still unforgiveably leading with the so-called plot to bomb Penn station. Another sign that he's losing his grip?

Finally, anyone who needs the FCO to tell him to 'avoid Mumbai at the moment' is in need of professional help.

Update: Drudge has finally got this as his lead story now (5.30pm GMT). And a quick Google blog search reveals that at least someone is asking the relevant questions over at "Theresa's Biotech/Biomedical Blog":

"Will Mumbai Terror Attacks Hurt Biotech Businesses?"

Well, quite.

Somewhere cached on the internet there will be a blogpost discussing the potential knock-on effects for the swimming pool maintenance industry of 9/11.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Made me chuckle...

I’ve never seen the attraction of prostitution. If a man wants quick unfulfilling sex with a woman who despises him, he should get married.

- Stumbling and Mumbling

My brain hurts

An optical illusion from the Telegraph. This one is the 'Adelson Checker Shadow Illusion'. Apparently it is only an illusion that the 'white' squares in the shadow of the green cylinder (such as B) are a different colour from the 'black' squares outside (such as A). In fact, says the Torygraph, A and B are exactly the same shade of grey (much like, say, John Hutton and James Purnell).

I simply don't believe it.

More illusions here.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Quote of the day: why the fuss about 3m on the dole?

Polly on CiF today, giving an object lesson in self-delusional Brownite cheerleading:

Even if unemployment reaches 3 million, that still leaves 90% in secure jobs. Most people will suffer not at all in this recession...

Bet she said the same thing in the early '80s. Or possibly not.

Prince Charles in 'being an arse' shock

An eye-opening anecdote from Richard Dawkins:

A friend and colleague of mine was seconded into the civil service to head an important government agency, where his scientific expertise was put to good use. On one occasion, he met Prince Charles at a drinks party and the Prince promptly launched into an attack on his agency. The details don't matter here, it could have been homeopathy or GM crops or any of half a dozen bees in the Royal bonnet. The point is that my friend, as he is well qualified to do, mildly remonstrated along the lines of, "With respect, Sir, I think you'll find you are mistaken. The facts are . . ." Without another word, the Prince simply turned on his heel and walked away. An equerry immediately approached my colleague, a very distinguished scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society, and said, "One doesn't disagree with the Prince."


Dawkins also lays into Charles' notorious desire to be - if he ever becomes king - 'Defender of Faith', not 'Defender of the Faith'. I share his irritation for three reasons.

1. There is no logic in it. Why defend all 'faith'? Why defend Scientology and Islam and Buddhism and Christianity and paganism indiscriminately?
2. On the surface it's drippily wet and inclusive - as Dawkins says, who can doubt it's meant at least in part to 'reach out' to Muslims? - but in fact it elevates all 'faith believers' over non-believers. It posits more expressly than the old formulation that atheists don't need defending. Again - why not?
3. Like mooted plans to make prayers in Parliament 'multifaith', it proposes a change to our constitution without a proper understanding of the possible consequences and implications of doing so.

For more erudite analysis from a Christian perspective, espeically on point 3 above, see Cranmer here.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Haunted sofa? That's not scary...

If, like your humble blogger, you're an assiduous reader of the websites of the gutter press -in which category I include the Telegraph, such is its enthrallment to 'slebdom - you will have seen this story about a couple who claim their sofa is haunted. The ghostly presence manifests itself by a 'mystery creaking sound' that is getting louder and louder, and even their Yorkshire terrier is scared. To the delight of sub-editors everywhere, the hauntees' surname is Strange.

The Telegraph finishes its account of the story rather sniffily: "It is unclear whether they have ruled out rodents." That reminded me of my own brush with a terrifying sofa. In far-off student days, six of us lived out of college in a shared house (which was small, filthy and generally horrible) in the second year. At the end of the first term we had a very drunken Christmas dinner in the house, in the course of which (for reasons lost in the mists of time) we shoved some bones of the chicken we'd just eaten under the sofa cushions. The next day, very hungover, we all went home for Christmas without clearing up.

When we came back the next term, having forgotten about all this, two of us were sitting on the sofa when someone noticed that the maggots...The same sofa was later discovered to have fleas.

Ah, happy days.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Caché (Hidden)

If you've seen this Michael Haneke movie, you will have a view on this question: who sent the tapes?

If you haven't: well, my dear, you simply must. Here's a taster:

(The JMP mixologist, Hans, is off on annual leave today, so we have sacrificed our normal Sunday cocktail hour. Apologies for any inconvenience.)

Japan: 'the frog that has already boiled'

Japan, it seems, is in real trouble economically, as explored in an interesting Washington Post article. Last year, as stock markets across the rest of Asia rose, Japanese shares declined by 12%, and have declined a further 11% this year. It has just slipped into recession; it has slipped from fourth amongst the world's economies in GDP per capita in 1993 to 20th today; by 2050, according to a PWC study, its economy will be about the size of Indonesia's or Brazil's, and it will have a zero rate of economic growth. This is partly a function of the demographic crisis facing it, with the world's highest proportion of elderly people and the lowest proportion of children. Foreign investors are pulling out; and manufacturing, the one sector of the economy that is sill relatively strong, is set to suffer from increasing lack of international competitiveness.

But - and this is the interesting bit - the population doesn't seem to care very much. Although wages are starting to decline, crucially life for most still remains comfortable. Unemployment is low, crime is low, health care and infrastructure are good, and savings levels are high. Nor do politicians offer solutions. "I have a sense of crisis because Japan has not nurtured industries that will grow in the future," the economic and financial minister Hiroka Ota said cheerily recently.

The Post quotes one Minoru Morita, a political analyst in Tokyo as saying "Although the situation is not good, because it is not so bad, people from top to bottom remain indifferent. The leaders in this country don't expect too much and they are very good at adapting to a new environment, even if that means a downward spiral." And Shumpi Takemori, an economics professor, compares the country's oddly passive acceptance of economic decline to a frog swimming in slowly warming water. "Our problem is that the frog is already boiled. It doesn't have enough energy to jump."

This extraordinary docility in the face of economic and demographic crisis is inevitably linked, it seems to me, to Japan's extraordinary culture and recent history: a once roaring economy powered by obedient salarymen. But it also raises an interesting question. Is this ageing, mono-cultural population quite happily resigned to a slow, relatively comfortable economic decline?  Is this most respectful of people putting up two fingers in this way to the capitalist assumptions of the Post and the rest of the West?  It would be nice to think so.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Sarkozy and Palin, we salute you.

Forgive the YouTube overdose, but it is Friday, and both are so good I can't resist. The first is a mere 14 seconds, and is of Nicolas Sarkozy being introduced to the model Bar Raefeli at a function. Just watch those wandering eyes:

The second is of, I hesitate to admit, Sarah Palin. She is being interviewed on the occasion of her 'officially pardoning' a turkey in some Thanksgiving thing, while in the background a farmworker is...slaughtering turkeys. The captions on the MSNBC report are fantastic. My favourite is 'BREAKING NEWS Governor Palin apparently oblivious to turkey carnage over her shoulder'...

God, who advises these people?

From the Washington Post -

There are 24 daily nonstop flights from Detroit to the Washington area. Richard Wagoner, Alan Mulally and Robert Nardelli probably should have taken one of them.

Instead, the chief executives of the Big Three automakers opted to fly their company jets to the capital for their hearings this week before the Senate and House -- an ill-timed display of corporate excess for a trio of executives begging for an additional $25 billion from the public trough this week...


Thursday, 20 November 2008

Mandelson wants Sergeant to come dancing

What to make of the news that Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for 'Business' and peer of the realm, has issued a statement about John Sergeant leaving Strictly Come Dancing?

"John Sergeant should not bow out. He has become the people's John Travolta and he should be a fighter, not a quitter."

I mean, is this deft self-parody? Is it ironic? Post-modern? WTF?

Mr Fawkes describes it as another example of the Guido-isation of politics. Oh, but it's worse than that. Politics has, it seems to your humble blogger, after a long flirtation, entered into a grotesque, incestuous sexual relationship with 'slebdom, and this comment by third-time-lucky Mandy is one of the first horrorshow offspring of what is a dark and fetid coupling. Godfather: Tony Blair.

Sometimes it's hard to avoid the feeling that the lowest point has been reached in our public life, and that there is nothing left to be done but razing the Palace of Westminster and Bush House to the ground (preferably by a mob of bemused, angry but decent folk wielding burning torches) and starting all over again.

Is Griffin that short, or is the other bloke very tall?

h/t David T

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

BNP Membership List

Some thoughts on the publication of this on a blog, in contravention of a previous injunction:

a) it shows how toothless injunctions against publication are now. Just publish on a foreign-hosted site, and enforcement becomes a nightmare and, with switching between hosts, effectively impossible

b) reactions to the publication show the intolerance of many on the left. Alongside the handrubbing glee at this breach of the Data Protection Act and the exposure of these people to threats and intimidation, many on Comment is Free, for example, are arguing that teachers, nurses and other public servants should be sacked if they are BNP members. Why? If it affects how they do their job, fine; but otherwise this would be just another thoughtcrime. And of course no-one on the left would suggest that an SWP nurse or fundamentalist Muslim policeman should be sacked on the basis of how they might treat an Israeli. The instinct is to say that the BNP is racist, therefore it is right and proper to limit the rights and freedoms of its members and supporters. That is wrong in principle, and also clearly counter-productive in terms of reducing its support. Let the BNP become a silenced matyr, and its appeal will grow. Let it make its arguments in the famous marketplace of ideas, and watch its support fall away

c) Nick Griffin has shown once again what a tin ear he has for presentation and spin by arguing that the publication breached the right to privacy being established by jurisprudence under the Human Rights Act - which his party wants repealed. As well as being a truly nasty piece of work, the man really is an arse

d) the CiF article by Lola Adesioye is full of the ill-thought through verbiage that infests so many pieces there. For example, at one point she says:

Somehow, seeing details such as the names of men, women, families, young and old demystifies the BNP, making it appear much less threatening, although not by any means more legitimate.

What is the word 'legitimate' supposed to mean there? Something along the lines of 'acceptable to right-thinking people' as far as I can make out. Tssk, tssk, tssk.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Fresh from the internets

Meet Miss Snuffleupagus and her excellent blog To Miss With Love. Snuffy, as she calls herself, is a black teacher in a tough inner London school, and her blog chronicles her trials, tribulations and triumphs. Snuffy is compassionate but fiercely conservative, with no time for the idiocies of PC or the racism of low expectations. Start reading her online before the inevitable book of the blog makes appears. 

Betting news

Ladbrokes have, at time of writing, Sarah Palin at 5 to 1 for Republican presidential candidate in 2012, joint favourite with Mitt Romney. Mike Huckabee is not far off the pace at 7 to 1. All three are deeply socially conservative, with Palin and Huckabee particularly representing the 'theocon' strand of American conservatism that so many of us are hoping will wither and die after a highwater mark of eight years of having a born-again Christian in the White House.

The Object Of This Blog's Obsession has certainly been keen to promote the idea of a 2012 run, with lots of post-election appearances and her oh-so-subtle talk of going through open doors if God wants her to, etc. But will her massive name recognition, and the undeniable enthusiasm she creates amongst the grass-roots, be enough for the Republican establishment to take a punt on her? Mitt Romney, after all, has stayed out of the spotlight recently, but is still level-pegging with her. Interesting times ahead.

Incidentally, both Palin and Romney are on 16 to 1 to be elected President in 2012. In a sane world, of course, the odds on Sarah Palin ever being US President would be about 50,000 to 1, but there we are.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Sunday cocktail hour

I give you the Duncan MacLoed. Equal parts Coke, Scotch and sake over crushed ice. 

This is great to drink in alone in a bar in a foreign city where you don't know anyone, and you want to pretend you're Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.


Two things learnt today

1. David Davis' Desert Island Discs include Dire Straits and Phil Collins. What a man of the people he is.
2. Trevor Howard always ensured that his movie contracts gave him the day off whenever a test match was being played. Pure class.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Creation Museum

The Dragon Theater features a short video on dinosaurs that absurdly argues they were in the Bible and were around until at least Medieval times where they were called dragons...

Great article here by Daniel Phelps, the President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, describing a walk around the Creation 'Museum' in Kentucky, the brainchild of one Rev. Ham and his Answers In Genesis 'ministry'. The 'museum' opened in 2007, Ham having raised $27m to build it, including support from US Congressman GeoFf Davis. It's a fascinating glimpse into how creationists present their bizarre, anti-science and anti-Enlightenment worldview.

There's much to savour. I particularly enjoyed the label to an exhibit that tells us that all creatures were original vegeterian:

Design and the Curse –
Some animals seem to be specially designed to eat other animals (carnivory). We do not know exactly how meat-eating started, nor how long it took to begin, but we do know two things:

All animals were plant eaters before Adam's sin. God said, "To every beast of the earth I have given every green herb for food" (Genesis 1:30).

Another bit of signage deals with what appears to be something that worries creationists: that Adam must have had to spend a large part of his time naming the various creatures in the Garden of Eden:

Adam named only "birds", "cattle", and "beasts of the field" – probably the only animals closely associated with man and "not beasts of the earth" or "creeping things". If the created kinds correspond to modern families, as many creation biologists believe, then Adam named fewer than two hundred animals. Naming all these animals would require only a few hours, at most.


This excerpt from an AIG 'Statement of faith' quoted by Phelps encapsulates how how expressly antithetical creationism to science and to rationalism:

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.

That could stand as a declaration of war on the Enlightenment. Still, on a lighter note - isn't Eve foxy!

Obama and the Jews

(table h/t daily Kos)
During the election the Republicans and their allies in the media tried, as they so often do, to present the Democractic candidate as weak on Israel; even as Israel's enemy (pace Joe The Plumber). The irony is that the Republican rhetoric is always the more fiercely pro-Israel while American Jews traditionally vote Democrat.
So in the face of the latest onslaught, how did the Democratic Jewish vote stand up in historical terms? The answer, as you can see, is incredibly well, and Obama did better on this front than John Kerry four years ago. Worth remembering when the rhetoric both of hysterical rightwingers in the US and Israel, and anti-Semitic left groups in the UK such as the SWP, gives the impression that American Jews are in the pockets of the Right.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Premiership's dirty secret

Your humble blogger is not an enormously big sports fan. To say the least. He blushes still at the memory of mistakenly referring to Sir Alex Ferguson as Alan Ferguson (after someone I used to work with) in an unguarded moment. And yet even he has noted both that Harry Redknapp (recently arrived at Spurs) and Karren Brady and David "Porno" Sullivan (Birmingham) are currently on police bail in a complex investigation into the transfers of Amdy Faye to Portsmouth and Newcastle. What really strikes me  is the lack of coverage in the bits of the newspaper I normally read - ie not the sports pages - this criminal scandal has received. It's almost as if we don't want to have to acknowledge rottenness at the heart of our national game.

But how far does the rottenness extend? Just how corrupt is the top of English football?

Legal case of the week, or, a David fights back

Pity Anthony Michaels. Picture the scene. It's Christmas Eve 2007 in San Diego, and Mr Michaels, rather than indulging in a traditional wholesome festive activity such as wrapping presents, watching a crappy film or drinking heavily in an unpleasantly crowded bar, is crouched over a flickering screen, surfing the interweb.

Suddenly, and with mounting excitement, he sees an email in his inbox telling him that former school friends are trying to contact him on Ah, but there's a catch - to make contact with them, he needs to pay $15 for sexy-sounding Gold membership. Hmmm. Nevertheless, he makes the payment - no doubt casting financial caution to the wind in a nostalgic fit of what yuletide experts call Christmassyness - and excitedly logs discover, dear reader, that it was a lie! No-one had tried to get back in touch with him. The sickening truth is that he had spent that $15 for nothing.

So naturally, being American, he sued.

But as you can see from his claim, he's not just suing on his own behalf but on behalf of what he believes to be many others in his position: in the archaic American legalese of the action, and please put on your best LA Law voice for this bit, "Plaintiff believes that the total number of class members is at least in the hundreds of thousands". Woof! was founded in 1995 and so is a granddaddie in web 2.0 terms. Other sites suggest it has indeed indulged in some questionable marketing activities, and it seems possible (even if you wouldn't put it higher than that) this case could end in it being forced to repay millions of dollars in subscription fees; which could bring it down, down, down.

Well. There's only one response to such a tale. Go, Anthony Michaels, go!! says JMP.

via wired.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


In case you didn't spot this elsewhere. Pretty shabby, as a friend would say.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

"Showbiz" journalism: Just as long as it takes some space up

Exhibit A

22 October 2008: lovely, tragic, Kerry Katona appears on popular TV programme This Morning. In an incoherent interview, she touches on several topics, including medical warnings that, following cosmetic surgery, if she continues to smoke her nipples will fall off, a bombshell reported in this blog the following day (via a story on the Mail website; sadly, the army of researchers at JMP Towers didn't catch that edition of This Morning).

11 November 2008: the story appears for the first time in The Sun's Bizarre showbusiness column, simply repeating what Katona said in that interview.

Exhibit B

Viz's Matthew Shight column from about 2001, a one-off satire of piss-poor tabloid show-biz columns ("I went to see my superstar pal, Madonna, at the Hammersmith Odeon last week. After a wonderful gig, I went backstage where she opened her heart exclusively to yours truly. "Who's this asshole? How did he get past security?" she gushed."). At the bottom of the page: "KNOW ANYTHING THAT MIGHT FILL THIS COLUMN? ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. JUST AS LONG AS IT TAKES SOME SPACE UP. CALL ME ON 09090 400 919"

Dulce et decorum est

For Armistice Day, Terry Teachout has a fascinating blogpost about an extremely rare* and very haunting audio recording (two minutes) of a gas shell bombardment in October 1918, made by a "a primitive piece of recording equipment [set up] immediately behind a unit of the Royal Garrison Artillery stationed outside Lille". The person responsible was a brave HMV sound engineer by the name of Will Gaisberg.

This is an mp3 of the recording. Somewhat disconcertingly, it's also available on iTunes - search Gas Shell Bombardment.

Mr Gaisberg inhaled some of the gas from the bombardment that he recorded, and died four months later.

*I don't know if any other audio recordings were made on the battlefield during the First World War.

Well I never knew that

Via sweary blog Devil's Kitchen, a second verse of I Vow To Thee My Country that I've never heard of:

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

We don't sing it now, apparently, because it's too overtly martial and nationalistic. And also, presumably, because it's a bit crap compared with the other two sublime verses.

Indulge your need for I Vow To... facts and trivia at Wikipedia here.

Monday, 10 November 2008

A write old load of tosh

It's a cold rainy November Monday. It's been a tough day at work. You finally get home and switch on good old Radio 4, expecting a bit of 6.30 comedy. And whaddya get? "And now The Write Stuff, the game of literary correctness". Oh God. Yawnworthy quiz questions and self-congratulatory parodies. Save me. Perhaps only Brain of Britain is more smug, and only the announcement of an imminent "Moneybox Live With Paul Lewis" more generally depressing. It's almost enough to make you turn the dial to seek out overpaid celebraties shouting obscenities down the phone at old people instead.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Sunday cocktail hour

Yup, it's come round again: it'll shortly be l'heure du cocktail.

In this part of the world it's cold and dark at the moment, so to suit the conditions JMP introduces you to the Hot Jobby: two measures of whiskey (warmed, preferably Jamesons) and half a measure of warm, neat Ribena (or similar blackcurrant cordial, though not any diet or sugarfree versions). Sip in front of a roaring fire, with a slightly puzzled expression on your face. 

Your daily cynicism and despair

Hazel Blears on political blogging this week:

"Until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair."

Now in what way does blogging - which, for the first time in history, allows the citizen to publish his views to a global audience in real time, for free - not allow "new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge"? For fuck's sake. In its utter lack of logic and use of thought-free buzz-words - anybody want to add some value? - it's a quite incredibly vapid and stupid remark. Oh, am I "fuelling a culture of cynicism", Hazel? So sue me.

What she means, of course, is that political blogging is dominated by right wing men, and she doesn't like them and she doesn't like what they produce. The instinct of this authoritarian government, in the face of this, is to attack the bloggers, and, no doubt sometime down the line, to attempt to 'regulate' them, rather than to rejoice in this new space for democratic debate and encourage left-wing bloggers to meet the challenge of Guido, Dale et al. We've already had murmurings from the EU on blog regulation, which no doubt the Government is quietly encouraging.

Update: I realise I didn't point out above  the sinister use of the phrase "legitimate protest and challenge". It suggests Hazel thinks some political blogging is illegitimate, which is worrying in the extreme.

Prize for...

funniest comment of post-election coverage goes to right wing looney-tune Michael Ledeen, veteran of both Iran-Contra and the yellow-cake forgery, in National Revew Online's blog the Corner:

"The continued trashing of Sarah Palin — IMHO the most qualified and by far the most exciting candidate of the four — is very disappointing..."

Roll over Tina Fey, that's frickin' funny.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Future of the American Right

"Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast..."

That description in Newsweek, by an 'angry McCain aide', of the infamous Palin shopping trip is incredibly revealing about the struggle going on for the future of the GOP. It shines a torch on the  struggle for control of the party between the shrinking socially conservative lower-middle and working class base who provide most of the Party's voting fodder, and the wealthy elite who fund it, control it and benefit most from its economic policies. The mass enthusiasm for Sarah Palin, both 'Wasilla hillbilly' and Vice-Presidential candidate, in the Republican heartlands surely poses a threat to that control. Karl Rove in particular hitched the religious right to the GOP: famously, evangelicals used to disdain participation in politics as ungodly. The strategy was a political triumph, but has it now created a monster that is beyond its control?

The point is also illustrated by who I think is the other key player in this fight, Mike Huckabee, the personable, funny, Creationist Baptist Minister and former Arkansas Governor who came second in the Republican primaries, much to most people's surprise. He is a staunch social conservative and Christian, who during the primaries issued an advert which didn't deal with politics at all; in it, he wished voters a merry Christmas instead, and said "what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ". Uh-huh. He is now lined up to present a show on Fox but his website certainly suggests that he still has significant political ambitions, and Marc Ambinder in the Atlantic is one of those who has identified him as a 2012 front-runner. Crucially, Huckabee's support of the Fair Tax proposal also puts him a long way away from the traditional tax-cutting Republican position; while what its practical effect would be is hotly debated, it is presented as a 'progressive' measure which effectively broadens the tax base and taxes wealth.

Ambinder, like several others, thinks that the other front-runner in 2012 will be Mitt Romney- smooth, uber-wealthy, and very much a Republican establishment figure (despite his Mormonism). If 2012 did come down on the GOP side to Romney against Huckabee, the rich Republican establishment could, if Huckabee won, lose control of the Party for a generation, and risk becoming a party entrenched in the South but unable to reach out beyond that. 

I think survival for the GOP lies in an opposite direction from both Huckabee/Palin and Romney, in embracing social liberalism, low taxation, and foreign policy hawkishness. Semi-libertarian at home (while accepting and addressing climate change) and strong on the 'war on terror' abroad would have a strong link back to Reagan and would, it seems to me, be the only way forward that would be attractive to new generations of right wing voters growing up under President Obama while not alienating - too much - its base. State out of your face and instead fighting the dual wars on climate change and terror, perhaps? (How to reconcile libertarianism and fighting climate change is for another day, but there must be clever market-based approaches to carbon capping that could be explored.) And let's face it: if the Republicans took a more liberal stance on gun control, abortion, and 'the culture wars' generally, their core Southern base would have nowhere else to go. The problem is that I know of no obvious contender to lead such a new Reaganite revolution.    

Friday, 7 November 2008

Help me, Jeremy Paxman, you're my only hope

CNN election night hologram. Very cool:

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Post-election thoughts and questions

1. Anybody else feel really quite deflated that it's all over?

2. Currently it looks like Obama got just over 64 million votes to Mccain's 56.5 million. Impressive, yes, but didn't you get the feeling from the coverage both in the run-up and during that McCain would be more adrift than that? At times it seemed impossible to imagine that anyone apart from a few rednecks in Alabama would vote for him.

3. A similar feeling re turn-out. it seems to have been around 64%. Considering the hype of the huge numbers voting and massive queues, this seems a pretty ordinary figure to me. How would they cope if they had a genuinely really high turn-out of, say, 80%?

4. Anybody understand what it means to be a 'registered Democrat/Republican'? Don't think it means you're a member of the Party. In its familiarity but unfathomability it's a bit like mysterious talk of being a 'sophomore' or 'in 9th grade'.

5. Thank goodness that la Palin continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Firstly, there was the excellent prank call* in the run up to polling, and now we have the Republican infighting starting, leading to these excellent spilt beans on Fox News (via the Daily Kos, which in common with many left-leaning blogs is very sweet in not quite believing that it didn't all go wrong at the eleventh hour):

Reporter: I wish I could have told you more at the time but all of it was put off the record until after the election. There was great concern in the McCain campaign that Sarah Palin lack the degree of knowledgeability necessary to be a running mate, a vice president, and a heartbeat away from the presidency. We’re told by folks that she didn’t know what countries that were in NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, that being the Canada, the US, and Mexico. We’re told she didn’t understand that Africa was a continent rather than a country just in itself...

Textbook, absolutely textbook.

*During the prank call she told 'Sarkozy', in response to a comment about how she would make an excellent President, 'Maybe in eight years.' Sarah, honey, I'm not sure the world can wait that long...

Update: an interesting take on turnout here (h/t Andrew Sullivan).

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

In other news...

...three wholly mysterious giant waves rise up and crash into Boothbay Harbour in Maine at an hour before low tide, causing significant damage. Trust me, this is the start of a story that's going to dwarf the election of Barry Whatsisname. I've read my John Wyndham.


Now let the expectation management commence.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Japan and WW2 - unfinished history

Fascinating story, in case you missed it, about the Chief of Staff of the Japanese Air Force indulging in some objectionable historical revisionism.

In the words of the Washington Post:

The abiding reluctance of prominent nationalists in Japan to come to grips with the past resurfaced Friday, when a hotel company announced the winner of its $30,000 "true modern history" essay contest.

The winning essay was written by Gen. Toshio Tamogami, who until Friday night was chief of staff of the air force. He was fired a few hours after the essay appeared on the hotel company's Web site.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because of a "trap" set by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Tamogami claimed in his essay, which also argued "that many Asian countries take a positive view" of Japan's role in the war.

He wrote, too, that the war was good for international race relations: "If Japan had not fought the Great East Asia War at that time, it might have taken another 100 or 200 years before we could have experienced the world of racial equality that we have today."

The essay concluded that "it is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation."

Worrying that such views still hold some sway in Japan. Infinitely scarier that they are held by a man who, until he expressed them, was head of its air force.

All a good excuse to re-read An Artist of the Floating World by the incomparable Kazuo Ishiguro (JMP's favourite living British writer).

Still crazy (for the West Wing) after all these years

The JMP "Santos-McGarry" bumper sticker arrived yesterday, just in time for election day. Woo, as our American friends say, hoo!

(I did try to buy some official Obama merchandise, but was not allowed, not being a US citizen. But frankly, this is much better; Leo so knocks Joe Biden out of the park.)

Monday, 3 November 2008

A conspiracy theory I can believe

Look at the facts:

Fact A: Dick Cheney has, very late, publicly endorsed McCain for President.
Fact B: Dick Cheney is incredibly unpopular with the US public at large. (See Obama's gleeful leaping on the endorsement: "I'd like to congratulate Senator McCain on this endoresemnt because he really earnt it".)
Fact C: Dick Cheney and John McCain, it is generally agreed, hate, or at the very least dislike, each other. They have a history of clashing and of spats.  See eg this analysis. there has been talk that Cheney has resented McCain's attacks on the administration during the campaign as disloyal.
Fact D: Dick Cheney's age and health mean that he doesn't have a future in Republican politics.

Now, I think Dick Cheney must be aware of his unpopularity. In the light of all this, I think the following conclusion is both logical and eminently possible: Cheney has come out for McCain in a deliberate attempt to damage his campaign.

It seems to me the obvious alternative - Cheney genuinely wanted to help McCain, and thought his endorsement would provide a helpful shot in the arm - is simply not all that likely, because the politics doesn't work. Cheney might enthuse the hawkish neo-cons, but they have now accepted McCain as a poor candidate (eg on immigration) but ultimately worthy of support - see the Ann Coulter 'I'll vote for McCain but I'll have to get drunk to do it' line. They are going to get out and vote anyway, to keep out ol' terrorist-lovin', Muslim Obama. It's the undecideds - as much as 10% of the electorate according to some polls - that are crucial now, and they are likely to be put off by Cheney.

Andrew Sullivan disagrees; he sees another reason for the endorsement, arguing that Cheney genuinely thinks his aupport would be helpful, and wants McCain elected to ensure avoid prosecution for warcrimes. 

I just don't find this very convincing. I prefer to go with Darth Cheney stabbing his old foe in the back with the knife of his support, as one last, dark, subtle act of political warfare.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Sunday cocktail hour

As I write, Lewis Hamilton is in fourth place in the Brazilian GP, and he only needs to finish fifth to win the World Championship. Fingers crossed. Indeed, with an eye across the Atlantic, let's hope it's a good week generally for good-looking mixed race blokes.

So, in the spirit of nascent celebration, this week's cocktail is a boozy, bad taste, hang-over inducing, chilled-but-warming fizz-based production, the Champagne Supernova.

Mix 1 oz Bourbon, 3 oz Champagne (preferably Veuve Cliquot), 3 ice cubes and 1 oz port with crushed ice in a glass, and garnish with mint leaves.

Soupy twist.

Update: bloody hell, that was close. Great stuff. Lewis Hamilton does the impossible and makes F1 exciting!

From the obit columns

Studs Terkel has died. I know next to nothing about him or his life, but I do know he had an absolutely brilliant moniker. "Name?" "Terkel. Studs Terkel." Lucky bugger. How could he have failed to succeed (in, er, whatever he did)? 

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Tech stuff

Technorati Profile

Legal news

The wonderfully named Taichi Takashita (fnarr fnarr) has launched an online petition for the right to marry a cartoon character. In a challenging manifesto, he writes:

"I am no longer interested in three dimensions. I would even like to become a resident of the two-dimensional world. However, that seems impossible with present-day technology. Therefore, at the very least, would it be possible to legally authorise marriage with a two-dimensional character?" (source)

"I am no longer interested in three dimensions" may be the oddest sentence I have read this year. That aside, the idea raises a veritable firestorm of legal, ethical and moral issues, including how to ascertain the consent of the two-dimensional party to the marriage, and whether gay marriage is permitted. And what's the right minimum legal age for the cartoon?

The more pressing question though is who (if you weren't already happily married in this boring old 3-d world) would you marry from among the dimensionally-challenged? I think I'd go for her with the long blonde hair off Scooby-Doo; or Lisa Simpson in 10 years' time; or...