Tuesday, October 31, 2006

US: It's all kicking off with Bush and Kerry

I sense the hand of Karl Rove in the latest pathetic attempt by George Bush to deflect attention from his disastrous Iraq policy. It's the usual Rove strategy: "When in a hole: BLAME JOHN KERRY".

I have just watched John Kerry's remarkable response to this puerile rubbish from Bush. It has to be seen. Go to this page and click on where it says "Watch Kerry say he won't apologize for criticizing the president and 'his broken policy' " (I'm sorry but I couldn't manage a direct link here.)

Misty eyed moment on M4 - passing the Sharps van

I had a misty-eyed moment on the M4 this afternoon near Yattendon (I'm a local, I know where these places are and I can lead you to both Vodafone's artifical trees. There must be something missing in my life that I have to point this out....I know.)

I passed a Sharps van!

How is an exiled Cornishman meant to keep his optical water-works under control with this sort of temptation being wafted under his nose! It is bad enough not being able to find Doom Bar on draught up in Berkshire, without seeing the vans. And where was the van coming from? This indicates that somewhere east of Yattendon is being supplied with draught Doom Bar! Why didn't anyone tell me! And where the heck is it being supplied to up here?

I need to know, now.

Benn Junior's cobblers on Iraq inquiry

I have just heard Hilary Benn on XFM News (blimey, I surprised even myself that I could slip that in so easily, me a TOG too) saying that an inquiry into the Iraq war would be bad for our troops' morale and give succour to the enemy.

Tony Blair's spokesman said the government might agree to an inquiry once troops have left Iraq. He said: "Of course we continue to learn the lessons all the time and there is no doubt that at the end of our period there people will want to look back."

The problem with that is where do you draw the line? If we get bogged down in Iraq for thirty years, do we have the inquiry in year 30? If we don't wait that long how long do we wait? Until year 5, 4, 3 ? Surely the longer our embroilment goes on, the stronger is the argument for an inquiry, is it not?

As for the troops' morale being impacted, what a load of cobblers! Our service personnel are surely reassured by the fact that they are defending democracy, if they are defending anything (and even that is debatable). Part of democracy is getting all the facts and opinions out in the open. If facts and opinions are covered up, then mistakes happen and troops' lives are put in the line of fire unnecessarily. In the Commons' debate on this, it is worth noting where MPs speaking come from - and how many troops originate from their constituencies. Often along the years, a very large proportion of our troops in the line of fire have come from central Scotland and Wales. I wonder whether we will hear any Celtic voices in the debate asking for an inquiry? (yes, I know the Scots Nats and Plaid thingme asked for the debate - I was being trying to be ironic - I think I botched it. I know - it wasn't worth it)

As for giving succour to the enemy, nothing gives more succour to the enemy than the abandonment of democratic procedures.

Although Hilary Benn's voice sounds a bit like his dad's and his eyes sometimes threaten to have the same whirling properties of his father's eyes, the paternal similarity stops there. I cannot imagine Tony Benn arguing some obvious cobblers as his son did today on XFM news. Thank goodness for the new single from the Feeling played soon afterwards. It washed away the bad taste of Benn Junior's cant.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Solar panels for Newbury Town Hall

Liberal Democrat-run Newbury Town Council has decided to install solar panels on the roof of Newbury Town Hall. The installation will save around a tonne of harmful carbon dioxide emissions every year. Installation is planned for 2007, once planning permission has been given. The solar panels will be out of sight, to preserve the character of this important listed building.

Polish page on West Berkshire Liberal Democrats web site

I am very pleased that West Berkshire Liberal Democrats now have a page for Polish voters.

Tribute to Paul Walters

I was very sad to hear of the untimely death of Paul Walters, famous latterly as Terry Wogan's Radio 2 producer. He pioneered a unique form of half-off-mike grunts, uhms, aahs and chuckles which acted as the perfect foil for Terry Wogan on his "Wake up to Wogan" show. As such, Paul became much loved as a quiet, unassuming and jovial chap who, nonetheless, was skilled at choosing the music and emails for the programme, helping to make it an overwhelming success with listeners.

He will be sadly missed. Terry's tribute show yesterday was a masterpiece - the music was beautifully chosen and Terry approached it with exactly the right tone.

As the writer of a few letters read out by our Tel it will be sad not to be able to write in as "the real Paul Walter" or "Paul Walter singular" or some such unfunny joke anymore.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Going live to an umbrella (2)

I first raised the issue of this BBC phenomena in June. On the 7.35pm BBC1 news tonight we had yet another case of going live to an umbrella - and a pretty boring white umbrella at that. The newsreader crossed live to Westminster and reporter Tina Stiastny. She could have been standing in the Shetland Islands for all we knew, because all you could see behind her was a white umbrella and a minute section of a darkened road.

How much does this sort of live outside broadcast cost?

With the licence fee being negotiated, it is amazingly profligate for the BBC to do this sort of thing. For the cost of a tube fare, the reporter could have reported from in the studio at no extra cost.

It makes me so angry!

Calm down dear.

Tories stuffed on tax

Andrew Rawnsley writes a very authoritative article in the Observer today entitled: Tory taxidermy - how to get yourself stuffed over tax.

He argues that Cameron has made a major mistake by setting up all his policy commissions. As they are closely alligned to and associated with him, the public will take their prognostications to be Tory policy or, if Cameron disassociates himself with their output, see the Tories as divided:

The Conservatives have just committed what could be their first serious blunder under David Cameron: they have suggested what they might do in government.

...How idiotic for them to hand over ammunition to Gordon Brown for him to load into his formidable guns. That is precisely what the Conservatives did last week when they published a 176-page document listing tax cuts amounting to more than £20bn. Years away from the next election, we now have detailed Tory proposals on everything from personal allowances to corporation tax to research and development reliefs, presented as if they were the first-term plans of the next Conservative government.

...A lot of voters will simply conclude that the Conservatives are divided, confused and can't make their policies add up.

...The media are certainly not going to oblige the Conservatives by treating the work of their policy commissions as if they were merely the musings of some think-tank. Newspapers reported the commission's recommendations with pieces about 'winners and losers', as if Mr Osborne had just presented his first budget.

...The idea of these commissions was that they would buy time for the Tory leader. What they are doing is storing up big trouble.

We are led to believe that, under Cameron, the Tories are being very clever, like Blair was in the run-up to victory 1997. But, as Rawnsley reminds us, one of the biggest planks of the Blair pre-97 project was a ruthless control of policy output from the Labour party. No policy musings with spending attached were allowed out into the public domain without the strict approval of Brown.
In sharp contrast, Cameron has set himself up for a sort of death by a thousand commission proposals.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The ultimate political anorak blog?

This is certainly a contender for the ultimate political anorak blog - The Political Bumper Sticker blog. It is dedicated to that peculiar US trend. We don't really have political bumper stickers....or indeed bumper stickers of any sort over here, do we? Rear window stickers perhaps, but not many political ones at that.

But this new blog is dedicated to surveying what sort of cars are driven by people who sport Democrat bumper stickers relative to those who sport Republican ones...in the blogger's local area of Phoenix, Arizona.

So far, the blog is off to a rather unscientific start:

The amount of data collected has been very slim. Either people are not that interested in this election or both campaigns only handed out a handful of bumper stickers. So far, I have only found the following:

Len Munsil - Arizona Gubernatorial Candidate (Republican) -- Chevy Suburban- Ford Expedition

Janet Napolitano - Governor-(Democrat) Toyota Camry-Toyota Carolla-Ford Expedition-Honda Element

I am rather unqualified to say if this data enables us to draw any conclusions.

Currently, MyDD has Napolitano down as a shoe-in for re-election as Governor. So, the Toyotas and Hondas have it.

POLL: The phrase-maker showdown: Edmonds versus Humph

I read in Guardian Weekend today that Noel Edmonds is developing an alleged cult following for his phrases used in 'Deal or No Deal'. Such gems include:

Welcome to Planet Tension

Take the walk of wealth!

Will it be a fortune or a fiasco for...

Channel 4 is all yours

I'll let you judge whether these phrases are brilliant or cringe-worthy.

But, I was reminded of the brilliant Humphrey Littleton and his closing remarks on "I'm sorry I haven't a clue". Shining examples of Humph's skill with the language include:

...and so, as the still-warm seat of eternity is lifted by the charlady of time, before she brandishes aloft the Toilet Duck of destiny...

Ladies and gentlemen, as Wee Willie begins the frantic search for his winkie, I notice we've run out of time...

Well, with Mickey Mouse's big hand pointing upwards and Goofy's tail pointing downwards, I realise my Rolex is a fake....

There are many more here.

Who do you think is the master of quiz show phrases: little Noelly Edmonds or the Humph? (And I have added in a few others to keep it open and democratic).

The choice is yours....

Who is the best quiz show phrase maker?
Noel Edmonds
Humphrey Littleton
Jim Bowen
Bob Monkhouse
Hughie Green
Michael Miles
Max Bygraves
Chris Tarrant
Terry Wogan
Anne Robinson
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Poignant words on Aberfan by John Humphrys

I can remember seeing the news of the Aberfan disaster. I was only seven at the time, but I remember watching the pictures on the TV.

Today is the 40th aninversary of the disaster. John Humphrys was a young television reporter sent to cover the tragedy. He knew the area very well, so that added an extra poignancy to his experience. On the BBC website he remembers the events and says:

I have been a journalist for getting on for half a century now. I have reported wars and disasters all over the world, many of them involving many, many, many more deaths.
But there has never been anything to compare with Aberfan...

...although the first hours of that first day were indescribable, what was even worse in one peculiar way was watching them taking the coffins out of the chapel - small coffins.
There's something unbearably poignant about the size of a child's coffin. It just wrenches at you.

...I have always said and I will always say that nothing - nothing - I will ever see will compare to the horrors of that day.

Tories have "died off" in the North

According to a survey by 'Unlock Democracy' the Conservatives have "literally died off" across much of the north of England.

This news has brought intense debate at Conservative Home. Some of the gems deposited there by Tory supporters so far include:

Can a party with a priority list that has more Kensington and Chelsea councillors, than residents of the North West and Yorkshire really expect to seen to be taking the North seriously?

I think we got 90 votes in a council by-election in Manchester this week, coming behind the Greens and BNP

You could ditch the 15 Old Etonians in the shadow cabinet for a start.

One of the most forgotten facts of the last General Election, is that across the regions of the NE, NW, YK & Hm, we actually got a lower % of votes than in 2001. We barely moved in the Midlands.

The previous two generations were blighted with severe bouts of recession under Conservative governments. It means there is little love for the Conservative Party, therefore affecting membership.

I am also concerned at the phenomenal implosion of conservatism in Cornwall.

Tories' cynical two faces on veils

Referring to the Muslim veil debate, on Thursday David Cameron told ITV's "Frost Tonight" :

I think there is a danger of politicians piling in to have their tenpence-worth and really they have to ask themselves whether this is having an overall good effect or not.

He also said he was concerned British Muslims were left feeling "targeted".

No doubt one of the people in Cameron's mind when he spoke of politicians "piling in" to the veil debate was the politician last Sunday who 'piled in' with a lengthy article on the subject, including this thunderous comment:

The shock waves (of the veil debate) have reverberated around Britain, loudest in the Muslim communities. Which is not to say Jack Straw was wrong. He was not. His comments were perfectly proper and he highlighted an issue that is both important and difficult: the question of the very unity of our nation.

This politician suggested that a "voluntary apartheid" is being created in this country and 'targeted' Muslims with these searing remarks:

At its very least, there is a growing feeling that the Muslim community is excessively sensitive to criticism, unwilling to engage in substantive debate.

Much worse is the feeling of some Muslim leaders that as a community they should be protected from criticism, argument, parody, satire and all the other challenges that happen in a society that has free speech as its highest value.

No doubt David Cameron was thinking of that sort of remark when he said he was "concerned" that the Muslim community were feeling "targeted".

As the remarks last Sunday were made by David Davis, David Cameron's front bench spokesman on Home Affairs, are we to take it that the Conservative party executed a complete U-turn on this issue between Sunday and Thursday?

Or, more likely, is this yet another case of the Conservative wanting to blow its dog whistle for its core voters (reading the Sunday Telegraph), while simultaneously blowing its Pied Piper flute for new voters (watching ITV in London)?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Losing the will to live at 18 Doughty Street

Via Stephen Tall's blog (about his visit to 18 Doughty Street) I watched the video of "Vox Politix" from Monday.

I got to 4 minutes and 38 seconds, lost the will to live, then turned to listening to "Peters and Lee's greatest hits" to cheer me up.

I'll watch 18 Doughty Street in six months when they have hopefully made the thing look more like a professional television station and less like one of those horrid community stations we used to get on NTL. Lighting, sound, cues....all terrible.

And I know I am a political anorak but even I don't want to inflict on myself an hour of political discussion led by Iain Dale.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The minefield of buying fish and chips

I have started to do my bit in trying to eat fish from sustainable sources only. So the other day, when I was offered fish and chips, I asked for "anything other than cod or haddock" (as I understood that these species are at risk).

I was brought a delicious meal of battered Skate and chips. My hunger and conscience were satisfied in one fell swoop...until I happened to surf onto the Marine Conservation Society's list of "fish to avoid" ...which includes skate!

They also have a list of fish to eat.

It turns out I am OK eating haddock as long as it is not from Rockall. I am OK eating Cod from the Atlantic as long as it is organically farmed and Cod from the Pacific as long as it is MSC certified. And it is OK to eat Mahi Mahi as long as it is handline caught from targeted fisheries only.

So the next time I go to the Fish and Chip shop I will present the chippie with a questionaire as to the provenance of her or his fish:

Pacific? Y/N
Atlantic? Y/N
MSC certified? Y/N
Line caught? Y/N
Haddock? Y/N
From Rockall? Y/N
...you get the picture

...or perhaps I will just ask for cod and chips, as I don't really want to get a name for being a bit of a pernickety fish wuss.

Mind you, buying fish from supermarkets is a little easier as the Marine Stewardship Council publishes a list of fish in supermarkets which is from sustainable sources (click on "where to buy").

The President is coming....I'm washing my hair

The Guardian reports of a remarkable trend in the US. Old Bushy is raising lots of money for Republican Congressional candidates. But they will run a mile (or indeed fly thousands of miles) to avoid him if he visits their area to raise that money.

Tom Kean, standing for the Senate in New Jersey, turned up to a fundraiser which Bush attended, but not until Bush had actually left.

Thelma Drake, re-standing for the House in Virginia, stayed away from a fundraiser which Bush attended in her district. She said she had to attend a vote in Congress which would send projects to her district but the vote was passed 395-0.

Michael Steel standing for the Senate in Maryland, left for Las Vegas as Bush arrived in his area for a fundraiser. That's a round trip of 5,500 miles to avoid being photographed with his own President!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Is Military Commissions Act a fitting memorial to the 9-11 victims?

George Bush today signed into law the Military Commissions Bill. He said he did it 'in memory of the victims of the September 11 attacks'. How can he know that the victims of those attacks would want this Act in their memory? Have their families unanimously approved it?

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director, Anthony D. Romero said:

The president can now, with the approval of Congress, indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions.

Is this really something we can say that all, or even the majority, of the many and varied victims of the September 11th attacks would have wanted..an infringement of the traditional civil rights celebrated by the USA?

There is an old saying that when you start reducing civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism then the terrorists have won.

"Simple life" things to do before you die

I previously wrote about my burgeoning list of "simple life" things to do before you die. So far I have got up to two items:

-Catching crabs (the sealife versions) with your child/children
-Flying a kite

I now add to that list something we did on Sunday. We went for a light lunch and a couple of pints of excellent beer at the Pot Kiln, Frilsham. As you can see from the photo above, it's a wonderfully unspoilt old pub in the middle of the countryside with its own large brewery - West Berkshire Brewery. Then we had a wonderful walk through the forest in the unseasonably warm autumn sunlight. What made the walk superb was the profusion of sweet chestnuts, mushrooms, toadstools and puffballs which we came across during the walk. In particular, we saw loads of spectacularly large and bright red and white spotted ones, like the one in the photo below.

We collected two pocketfuls of sweet chestnuts (not often you find ones which are not horse chestnuts). Last night I cooked them and we enjoyed a mini-feast. Mind you, you have to be patient when you eat them!

So, eating baked chestnuts which you gathered, now joins my list of "simple life" things to do before you die.

My earth-shaking blog for history

I have just logged my blog for history. This is now apparently going to stored "in electronic form in the British Library's Web Archiving Section which is a part of the Modern British Collection."

Today I read again some of the pages of my Great Great Great Uncle's daily log book. He was called Samuel Banbury and had a farm near Stratton in Cornwall. He meticulously recorded all the purchases he made and all the sales of oats, wheat etc that he made. He also makes notes about what he is doing with some of his fields.

Today I reflected on how different my day today is from Samuel Banbury's day in the early 1800s. He was dealing with horses, farm labourers, fields, straw, hay, scythes....that sort of thing. I suspect he was very keen to make sure his farm made money. His house was on his farm. He probably worked with about ten farm workers. He probably spent much of his day walking and riding around his farm. I suspect he ate his own produce from his farm.

In contrast I have driven for one hour to get to my place of work. There are about 2,000 people in my office. I sit at a computer all day. I go to the gym at lunch time and have a salad for lunch which has probably travelled 1,000s of miles to get to me.

But there are some similarities. I believe in God, like Samuel did. I work with numbers and money figures like he did. The affinity I share with Samuel is that he was obviously very dedicated to his work and kept meticulous records and notes. He was very methodical. I can relate to that. I am dedicated to my job and keep very orderly notes and figures.

I am not sure I would like to swop with Samuel though. But then again, that is because I am lazy - I would not have liked to have had his worry. But that said, I would have liked all the fresh air and fresh farm produce.

Blog for history today

The National Trust are conducting a "One Day in History" exercise today. You go to www.historymatters.org.uk and record your diary for the day. Then it gets shared with future generations.

I pity the future historians who will have to wade through the stuff. It reminds me of the late Ray Moore on Radio 2 who used to regularly recite his memoirs:

"Got up, went to work. Rained. Came home. Had tea. Nothing on telly. Went to bed."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rawnsley on US Republican agony

It is always reassuring when Andrew Rawnsley adds his seal of approval to a political theory. This Sunday he confirmed many of the rumblings that predict something of a bloody nose for the Replublicans in the US mid-term elections next month.

I have been a great fan of Rawnsley ever since he was still in short trousers and did the daily Guardian parliamentary sketch. He is the king of the political one-liner.

In his article on the US elections, he surpassed himself with this one:

Any American with a television set and an IQ above room temperature has known for a long time that Iraq is far from becoming the pacified, liberal democracy that was promised in the original prospectus for the war.

I like that..."an IQ above room temperature". Nice one.

Rawnsley is particularly good at reciting some of the stranger oddities from the wilder shores of Republican congressional madness:

You have to say, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people. Lynn Westmoreland is running for re-election as a Republican congressman in Georgia. His sole legislative initiative has been to press a bill requiring that the Ten Commandments be displayed in the House and the Senate. He then had to confess on television: 'I can't name them all.' In fact, he could barely name three of the commandments that he was so keen on.

Voters in Iowa have on offer the Republican Steve King. He wants to keep out illegal immigrants by constructing a 700-mile wall along the border with Mexico. Better still, he built his own model of this 'Tortilla Curtain' out of cardboard and wire which he demonstrated to Congress in Blue Peter fashion. That is outdone in the crazy stakes by the Texan Republican Sam Johnson who offered personally to fly an F-15 to nuke Syria. Afterwards, he said he was: 'Kinda joking.' Don't you love the 'kinda'.

Don Sherwood, a Pennsylvania Republican, is famous for paying an undisclosed sum to his former mistress, who had accused him of repeated assaults, to settle her lawsuit against him. He has been forced to broadcast campaign ads denying that he tried to choke her.

Down in Florida, Katherine Harris, who achieved world notoriety over the hanging chads which gave Bush the White House in the first place, is running for the Senate. According to her: 'God is the one who chooses our rulers.' Mmm. If the Great Returning Officer really does bother himself with deciding elections, then God must be mighty pissed with America to have chosen rulers like these.

Sheer quality.

Faith debate

It is not often that I read "Face to Faith" in the Guardian but Saturday was an exception. I agree with where Trevor Dennis is coming from ('Lesbians and gays are the Bible's greatest lovers'). I am very much a supporter of Gene Robinson and Jeffrey John. There are thousands more important issues in life without getting het up, when we should be respecting and accepting.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tories: Now it's our turn with the dog whistle

Now David Davies is having his go with the dog whistle, recently liberally covered in saliva by Jack Straw:

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Davis questioned whether there was a "series of closed societies" in the UK. And he said there was a growing feeling the Muslim community was ..."unwilling to engage in substantive debate".

This is what is known in marketing as a "me too" product. Jack Straw got there first, but the Tories are darned if they are going to be out-canine-tooted by the Labour government.

This morning's McVitie's Digestive must surely go to Davies for his statement that the Muslim community is "excessively sensitive to criticism". Well, they are getting it in the neck from all angles these days aren't they? If you get criticised from pillar to post from breakfast 'til supper time, you do get a bit jumpy don't you?

Sensible comments on veil from Ken Livingstone

Monsters and Critics reports:

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has said that he personally would like Muslim women to stop wearing veils, but insists that any such moves will only ever originate from within the Muslim community itself. Mr Livingstone told the Today programme that efforts by non-Muslim politicians to change the way in which Muslims dressed would not have the desired effect.

Ken's comments are some of the most sensible so far from a non-Muslim politician on this subject. His non-threatening stance, emphasising change from inside the Muslim community, is most welcome....

And the London major today said 'change from within the Muslim community' was necessary if women were to ever remove their veils.
'I guarantee now getting Muslim women to give up the veil, which I suspect is something most people would like to see in the long-term, including myself, is not going to be done by old white male politicians telling them to do it,' he said.
'And that is why it's important we should engage with the progressive elements and leaders in the Muslim community, rather than what the US has been doing over the last 30 years, which is alliances with say the Saudi [Arabian] royal family and the most backward and reactionary elements,' Mr Livingstone added.

I thoroughly agree with Ken's approach. As I have said all along, Governments should not dictate dress codes. But I have been very concerned about the pressure being put on Muslims recently. I am glad that Ken is able to express a preference for no veils, while doing so in a conciliatory and peacable way.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

BA cross row provokes Widdecombe to fury

The BBC reports that:

British Airways has asked a Christian member of staff to conceal her cross necklace because it contravenes the company's uniform policy. But has it added to a sense of unease among Christians?

Not with me. I see that Ann Widdecombe is up in arms about it, talking about Christians "being persecuted". But BA staff are allowed to wear such items under their clothing so I don't see what the fuss is about.

It will be interesting to see what my multinominous correspondent in Sheffield thinks about this.

My bets for US President 2008: One down, one struggling!

When tempted to bet on politics, I am wise to keep my money in my pocket most of the time.

In February, I thought I would have a bit of fun. Betting on Hillary Clinton was a bit too obvious. So I bet a tenner on Mark Warner. A good ol' boy from the South. I thought he was in with a shout. Doh! He has dropped out of the race to spend more time with his family.

Then in March, the governor of Arkansas, who was born in a town called Hope, and was running President, came to my attention. The coincidence seem to be spooky enough to risk a tenner on Mike Huckabee (despite him being a Republican). Oh dear! He is hardly showing on most polls. He is up for re-election as Arkansas governor in November. However, the Rothenberg Political Report is tipping that the Democrats will gain the governorship in Arkansas. I would have thought that would metaphorically pull the flush on any Presidential hopes for Huckabee.

Oh well! Ho hum! Betting on H.Clinton and J.McCain would have been boring and no fun at all.

Friday, October 13, 2006

David Cameron produces the most boring video in the history of mankind

Oh my word, he can type! Elect him Prime Minister immediately!

Sion Simon apologises - guilty of crimes against comedy and hairdressing?

Sion Simon, after self-immolating himself on Sky News, has now apologised for his Webcameron "spoof".

It is all ludicrous really. Our own Will did an excellent spoof of the whole thing, the gist of which was a rather ingenious wheeze involving a cork screw.

And our own Herr Sturmblogfuhrer Tall did an interesting commentary/slight spoof/haven't I got a nice chest? videcast which effectively critqiued the Cameron webcasts.

But the Simon "spoof" was remarkable for its lack of planning, a script and indeed, any suggestion of humour. The bit about Cameron's wife was just lazy rubbish. It wasn't funny. Will showed how real comedy is put together with the aid of his trusty corkscrew. (But then again, Will isn't an MP. )

I think Simon could have got away with the whole thing if he had left out Cameron's wife and, essentially, not been a complete.......fill in your own gap.

The man is far too old for a sort of thirteen year old girl's haircut. He seems to be impersonating Clare Short most of the time. And any politician who uses a word like "egregious" deserves everything he gets.

Das ist Numberwang!

Extras is always a bit painful. You cringe rather than laugh at it. However, last night I did laugh out loud at the bit where Gervais nearly swallowed a bottle of sparkling water. It has to be seen to be appreciated. And Ian MacKellen was hilarious.

The funniest show on TV at the moment is That Mitchell and Webb look, following Extras. Some of the sketches are somewhat dull. But most of them are brilliant and it is refreshing to have a good old laugh once a week.

One of my favourite sketches is Numberwang. Last night they surpassed themselves with the German version, Das Ist Numberwang, which was hilarious. Click below for an excerpt of the English version. It's sort of Mornington Crescent on speed.

That's Numberwang!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

So farewell then, Raymond Baxter (2)

Tonight's BBC2 tribute to Raymond Baxter was superb. It did justice to the extraordinary range and volume of output of one of the twentieth century's foremost broadcasters.

The programme amply displayed the vast and colourful range of broadcasts by Baxter. His enthusiasm, gravitas and unflappability were exceptional. His ability to poke fun at himself (e.g appearing in string underwear on the Goodies) completed the picture of a remarkable British gentleman.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Brown speaks...world spins on

It is refreshing that Grodon Brown has done a major interview on general policy and the world hasn't fallen in. (Unless I've missed it)...No Blairites bleating that Brown is trying to force Blair out of Number Ten...No Brownites saying Blair is a slippery devil and needs to name the day he will leave....No ministers screaming unattributed profanaties down the line to Nick Robinson...

It seems that Blair's perceived strong speech at Blackpool has introduced a more mature atmosphere in the Labour party.

For the sake of our sanity, that is to be welcomed.

US Tide flows even more towards the Democrats

The US Democrats are seeing some phenomenally good polling results in the run-up to the November Congress elections.

Nationwide, CNN puts them a stonking 21 points ahead of the Republicans. That's up from 11 points 9 days ago. USA Today/Gallup puts them 23 points ahead - up from even stevens last month.

In the micro polls at district level, Chris Bowers of MyDD puts the Democrats on course for the requisite 15 seat gain in the House of Representatives, taking control. The chances of that happening appear better than 50-50.

In the Senate, previously thought unlikely for the Democrats to win control, there is slightly less than a 50-50 chance of the Democrats taking control.

Ruy Teixeira, my US psephological hero, provides an excellent analysis of the whole picture on the Donkey Rising.

The Republicans' trouble boils down to one thing: Iraq. The MSN antics of Maf54 (disgraced former Republican congressman Mark Foley) have added a bit of a filip to the wave in the Democrats' favour.

As the old cliche goes, this is election is the Democrats' to lose.

Is the veil the most important public issue in Britain today?

Of course, not. It is of minuscule, but perhaps totemic, importance. And yet we have had a procession of Government ministers pontificating on the subject...Straw...Kelly...Hain...and now Brown. (It is very difficult not to conclude that there is a mixture of the dog-whistle and the Labour leadership contests behind all this.)

Gordon Brown's comments about the veil yesterday were measured and dignified:

Then asked if he thought it would be "better for Britain" if fewer people wore veils, Mr Brown replied: "Well that's what Jack Straw has said and I support."

He said he is not proposing new laws (phew!).

Brown's is a reasonable and moderate position.

However, there seem to be two possibilities:

1. Muslim women wear the veil for religious reasons (according to many who have been interviewed). In this case, Britain has long been a place of religious freedoms, so we should not interfere as a society in the wish of women to do things for the sake of their religion.

2. Muslim women wear the veil because they are told to do so by their menfolk. I don't believe this and have seen or heard no evidence to support this proposition. But if we accept it, for the sake of discussion, then I would ask if the lives of these women are going to be made any more bearable by, on the one hand being told by their husband to wear the veil, and on the other, being told by the Prime Minister-in-waiting not to. Surely this will put them in a far more difficult predicament? The tangible pain of this predicament was made plain last week when one women walking along a British street had her veil stripped off her by a passer-by.

I readily accept that society applies norms on dress in silent ways. If I wanted to go to work dressed as a Viking (my dearest wish), I would probably get some strange looks and be sent home on unpaid leave by my boss. But Government ministers saying that women should not wear the veil is new territory. Has it happened before? (I can't remember any British government telling people how to dress outside of the indecent exposure laws.) It is, metaphorically, megaphonic and conscious dictation of a dress code by the government and I therefore reject it.

It is fundamentally illiberal for governments to tell women not to wear the veil, just as it is fundamentally illiberal for governments, such as the old Taliban regime in Afghanistan, to tell women to wear the veil.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Anthea Hill coming through

A few days ago I wrote about Anthea Hill, wife of the Bishop of Bristol, who was seriously injured in a car accident on the M4 last Sunday. I notice that many people were googling "Anthea Hill" for news of her.

I am delighted to say that the Diocese of Bristol have set up a blog giving regular updates on Anthea. There is a videcast (if that's what you call it) from Bishop Mike from yesterday.

The update from yesterday is good news:

Today has continued to bring good news.

Anthea has been communicating more (the tracheotomy means she can’t speak aloud yet), her vison is clear and she clearly is understanding better what has happened and what is going on. On a physical level, she has moved all her limbs and they’ve taken away the ventilator. Now she’s breathing on her own, she should be able to speak soon. The staff hope to help her sit up to forty degrees and maybe transfer her out of intensive care in the next 24 hours.

Everyone is understandably upbeat and hoping these steps forward will continue.

How random is your iPod shuffle?

Steve Levy has a fascinating article in the Guardian "Weekend" magazine today called: "Oh No, Not Steely Dan again".

It relates examples where the "random" shuffle on the iPod doesn't seem so random. In fact, there have been reports of the shuffle mechanism taking on human characteristics or, going further, assuming the feelings of the iPod owner...Steely Dan tracks appearing every 10 minutes, even though there are only 50 Steely Dan tracks amongst 3,000 odd songs on the iPod...Examples of people thinking of a song and "shuffle" producing it next..."Blue" songs appearing when the owner is feeling melancholy and "up" songs appearing when the owner is feeling energetic..etc..etc...

I myself have had similar experiences. Whatever I seem to do, Barenaked Ladies seem to crop up every three tracks, despite having only one album's worth amongst 1,000 tracks on my nano.

Steve Levy, in an extract from a book on the subject called "The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture and Coolness", beautifully explains the whole thing.

In essence, the iPod shuffle mechanism is about as "random" as you can get within the constraints of PC hardware. To get more "random" you would be into the "quantum behaviour of atomic particles" etc etc. 'Nuff said.

The problem is not the iPod "shuffle" facility, but our perception of randomness. Certain things stand out to us, and therefore we assume that the shuffle is not random. We keep hearing Barenaked Ladies tracks and that is all we remember, so they stand out and we assume that the shuffle is not random. In fact, it is our perception which is at fault, not the shuffle. (In a truly mathmatically random selection you will indeed find the same artist appearing frequently.)

So much so, that in 2005 Apple introduced "smart shuffle" so, by using a scroll bar, users can control "how likely they are to hear multiple songs in a row by the same artists". In the words of Steve Jobs, of Apple, "We're making it less random to make it feel more random."

Sounds strange, but it is true.

The Niqab - a British freedom

We see the hysterical results of Jack Straw's comments this morning. The Daily Express leads the charge with "BAN THE VEIL": "CONCERNED Britons gave massive backing last night to calls for Muslim women to ditch the veil."

Jack Straw has a right to raise the issue of the Niqab. (I have to admit, though, that the idea of him asking ladies to remove their Niqab, while they are sitting in front of him, is rather creepy.) It also seems that Straw has been misrepresented, because he emphasised that he asks ladies wearing the Niqab if they would mind removing it. That is importantly different from simply "asking them to remove it" which is how the BBC has reported him.

Jack Straw is in one of the government's deadest of dead end jobs, which doesn't give him many opportunities to...well...get out and have a life. I waded through Robin Cook's memoirs of his time as Leader of the House rather like a mouse wading through treacle. One the main things Cook wanted to achieve, an elected second chamber, was continually frustrated by Tony Blair.

So I suspect that part of Jack Straw's reason for speaking out on this issue, is that, otherwise, he would hardly get his name in the press.

He does seem to have thought very carefully about "going public" on this. He has sought the view of Muslims on it.

In a free country, it is right that this issue is discussed. However, I was very taken by the remarks on Today this morning by Nadia Ajibade, a young muslim woman who started wearing the veil when she was 19. Ms Ajibade explained that she wears the niqab because she wants to feel closer to God. She doesn't do it in order to make a statement or hide herself or make herself "separate" (she described many conversations she has with strangers while wearing the niqab in public. They ask questions like: "Is it hot in there?" or "Are you a Muslim?".)

Jack Straw says that the niqab is a "visible statement of separateness and difference".

The "difference" part of that comment is easy to dispose of. What is wrong with being "different"? Surely the whole spirit of Britishness is the encouragement, nay the celebration, of difference?

As for being a "statement of separateness", is a nun's dress a "statement of separateness"? Nuns dress as they do for religious reasons. They don't cover their face, so Jack Straw doesn't get worked up about them. But if we accept nun's outfits, priest's dog collars, turbans and other religious headwear (and indeed non-religious headwear such as hoods, crash helmets and sunglasses), surely we should accept the niqab, which is worn for religious reasons?

Freedom of religion is an important part of Britain, which we rightly celebrate. Wearing the niqab is part of that religious freedom. We should therefore celebrate the wearing of niqab. We should accept those who want to wear it, not envelop them in a climate of hysterical persecution.

I emphasise that I do not blame Straw for the hysterical reaction to his comments. He was right to raise the issue.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

US Congress battle gets interesting

The Foley scandal is having an interesting effect in the US. There is the prospect that the hordes of Evangelist Christians, normally relied upon to vote Republican, may sit at home on Election Day. They are so disgusted by the scandal.

The Rising Donkey comments:

What seemed unlikely a couple of weeks ago is now a very strong possibility -- a Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate. As a result of the Foley cover-up, it is not hard to imagine droves of disgusted evangelicals staying home on November 7, and a healthy chunk of those who don't stay at home now deciding to vote Democratic. Indeed, the GOP leadership's internal rot is so redolent that many non-evangelical conservatives may do likewise.

Polls in swing states are looking good for the Democrats, forecasting four Senate gains in Pennsylvania, Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island.

In the House elections, a tracking poll published today by Zogby shows that "Democrats hold leads in races for 11 out of 15 key Republican-held House seats".

Chris Bowers reports that in the last ten days, the US has seen the following things which are further hobbling Republican chances of a recovery:

The National Intelligence Estimate declare that the war in Iraq in increasing terrorism worldwide
Colin Powell say he was fired
Rice is on the verge of having to resign.
Bill Frist say that the Taliban should rule Afghanistan
The White House met with Jack Abramoff 485 times, and had a huge amount of influence.
Bob Woodward comes out with a book saying
the Bush administration is lying about Iraq.
Droves of Republicans are under investigation for something.

Mind you there is still time for the Republicans to stage some sort of recovery. But it's certainly all hotting up and getting quite interesting!

More people watch Mrs Pritchard than Trinny and Sussanah

The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, featuring Jane Horrocks, got 4.3 million viewers or a 19% audience share on BBC1 last night. This was more than Trinny and Susanah's heavily trailed debut on ITV earlier, which had 4.1 million viewers, an 18% share.

These figures are reported by Media Guardian, which needs a registration to read.

I found the Amazing Mrs Pritchard reasonably good entertainment. The acting, particularly from Jane Horrocks, Frances Tomelty and Steven Mackintosh (as Pritchard's hubby) was good. (I see Geraldine James is due to appear in future episodes - unless she was disguised last night - she's always good value.)

In fact, the most interesting bits concerned the young lad who intended to commit suicide and the husband's struggle to come to terms with his wife's new life. In other words, the normal stuff of drama.

The show seemed to be uncomfortably poised between comedy and drama. On the one hand it had a "Full Monty" feel of a northern-founded phenomenon. On the other, it rather clumsily tried to explore Mrs P starting to be serious about governing, which took a bit of believing. I can imagine the rest of the series being rather harrowing, but I will be happy to be proved wrong.

In essence, a rather lukewarm show, which I don't think justifies a whole series. Let's face it, if this woman had any sense she would do a Sonia Gandhi, take a back seat once elected, and allow a serious politician, such as the ex-Tory Walker woman who joined her purple throng, to do the serious governing.

Apart from anything else, her election slogan of "It isn't rocket science" was a massive hostage to fortune. If it was that easy, every political career would end in success, not the opposite, as the saying goes. Presumably it is this conundrum which the series will explore as it unfolds.

All in all, I am looking back with misty-eyed nostalgia at Line of Beauty.

By the way, we did very well out of the programme. Mrs Pritchard's husband voted Liberal Democrat!

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Cameron looking at everything

I am getting rather tired of hearing David Cameron saying he is "looking at things". It seems to be his catchphrase. His video blogs are peppered with things mentioned where he says: "we are looking at that".

Today we have a big splash and Cameron says he is "looking at" tax credits for families.

I think he will get tired eyes looking at so much stuff. He'll need Optrex .

"Spoof" of Webcameron launched by "UKIP backers"

Our own Will did it first and best (especially the cork screw joke). What the BBC describes as "UKIP backers" have now set up a whole spoof site of "Webcameron". Unfortunately they haven't properly embedded the video so you have to go to youtube.com to watch it. Also, all they have on offer is the Time Trumpet "Changes" video, which most of us polanoraks have already seen and enjoyed.

I still prefer Will's opus.

Great Accreditation Fiascos of our Time Nos 95 and 96

I am delighted to say that, as hoped, Iain Dale has revised and reposted his piece with the above title (except it was 'No 94') about the mayhem in the Tory Bournemouth conference queues.

It turns out that it was the Deputy American Ambassador who had to wait for security clearance, not the actual ambassador per se.

I am delighted that I did not join (phew!) the conspiracy theorists suggesting that Mr Dale had been "gagged". Perish the thought.

I repeat, with all sincerity, that Iain's 'Accreditation' piece brilliantly answers the question: "What is Iain Dale for?"

The Great Blogmesiter has now put the cherry on the cake by giving us another delight on the same theme entitled: "A message from the queue", which includes these gems from a rain-sodden queuer:

The security vetting has stretched to day three. Over 2,000 people have had the conference ruined by a security procedure that amounts to little more than window dressing...Furthermore, the ticket office is chaos. Nobody knows what is going on. Nobody has any information and people are waiting 3 hours to be told "sorry you application is still being cleared."...Names who were not cleared in time included: The Deputy American Ambassador (probably one of the most security cleared men on the planet), Bangladeshi High Commissioner, Michael Dobbs, Lord King, Andrew Lansley, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Andrew Gilligan, Huw Edwards BBC News, Martha Kearney, Clare Kerr (Ancram's daughter), Robin Lustig.

I merely pass this all on in the interests of open communication. I wouldn't even dream of gloating. Perish the thought. There but for the grace of God.....

Praise for the Church of England's inclusive schools policy

It is good to see the Church of England's inclusive schools policy being confirmed today. The BBC reports:

New Church of England schools should offer at least a quarter of places to pupils from outside the Christian faith, the government has been told.

The chairman of the Church's board of education, the Rt Rev Kenneth Stevenson, makes the pledge in a letter to Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Rt Rev Stevenson said:

Part of a school's Christian commitment is to reach out, to include, not with the purpose of indoctrination but in order to offer education clearly based on Christian values to the wider community.

This follows on from the Dearing report in 2001 which was endorsed by the church's General Synod. It specifically ruled out "bussing in" children from other areas to "exclusive" Church of England schools.

I am proud of this inclusive policy from the Church of England. It is right to have Church of England schools. It is right that they do not have a "purpose of indoctrination". It is also right to make them readily accessible to all children in the local community and to "reserve" a proportion of places for those outside the Christian faith.

Indeed, this policy of inclusiveness is already clear in some areas where some Church of England schools have a very high proportion of their pupils who are Muslims. For example, the DfES reports:

Sir John Cass Foundation School in inner London is a Church of England School, but has an 80 per cent Muslim intake. Its Ofsted report praised positive attitudes to learning and noted that respect for each other was central to its whole ethos.

Prayers for Anthea and Michael Hill

Today, prayers are being said throughout the country for Anthea and Michael Hill and their family.

Michael Hill is the Rt Rev Michael Hill, Bishop of Bristol. With his wife, Anthea, he was involved in a car accident on Sunday. Anthea Hill has a suspected broken neck and was undergoing an operation today in Oxford. Fortunately, Michael Hill was released from hospitalisation on Sunday with a broken collar bone.

The Hill family spent a long time living in Newbury while Michael was Archdeacon of Berkshire. The family frequently attended our local church and Michael addressed our Church Men's group (women welcome).

My wife refers to Michael as "The Venerable Yob". While this might seem fascetious, it is in fact an affectionate tribute. Michael has a remarkable history in that he was once a youth gang leader. From his testimony it seemed to be a pretty serious gang, at that. He had not even attended church at the age of 18. As a result, he comes across as a remarkably down-to-earth person.

Michael Hill is the sort of Bishop who is danger of giving faith a good name.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Great Accreditation Fiascos of Our Time No 94

That was the title of an Iain Dale posting today where he railed against the delays and queues at Bournemouth. It has now temporarily disappeared from his blog site. It was on there long enough to attract about six comments and I was about to add one saying: "Let optimism beat pessimism. Let sunshine win the day" - but the posting disappeared as I typed.

No doubt Iain will reinstate this delicious posting later. It was one of his finest. In fact, it brilliantly answered the question: "What is Iain Dale for?"

Fortunately, the remains of the posting are preserved on Google Blogsearch:

"Great Accreditation Fiascos of Our Time No 94
1 hour ago by Iain Dale Following on from Huw Edwards having to wait four hours for his pass, I can now bring you news that the American Ambassador can't get into the conference as he hasn't had security clearance. You really couldn't make this up, could you? ..."

"Let sunshine win the day?" What would Norman Schwarzkopf say?

There was an iconic moment in Cameron's speech yesterday, when he said:

"So let us show clearly which side we are on. Let optimism beat pessimism. Let sunshine win the day."

What a load of nonsense! I can't imagine any other serious politician currently or in history being daft enough to emit such twaddle as "Let sunshine win the day".

Simon Hoggart has brilliantly lampooned the statement today:

"Let sunshine win the day!" cried David Cameron. Never before has a Tory conference been addressed by Polyanna and Morecambe & Wise. It seems at odds with Conservative policy on global warming - they're against it - but it summed up the spirit of the speech. Let motherhood reign! An apple pie on every window sill! Don't forget your factor 15 and the new Maeve Binchy!

Stephen Tall has also commented quite pithily on this. And the prize for wittiest reply goes to Liberal Voice.

Words, short of pithy Anglo-Saxon ones, fail me. To properly describe Cameron's statement, not for the first time, I am forced to borrow a phrase, from General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr, which I believe originates in the US Army:

"Bovine Scatology"

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Bournemouth: No cheer for "liberal conservatism"

I watched Cameron's speech on BBC Parliament.

As a snapshot, these things got much applause, often without a suggestive pause from Cameron:
  • Praise for Thatcher
  • A call for parents to bring children up with the right values
  • "We've got to stop selling alcohol to children"
  • "We need less violent and homophobic lyrics in the music industry"
...all those statements were heartily applauded.

Then Monsieur Cameron really used his best resounding applause-getting oratory with this declamation:

"Social - responsibility - that - is - the - essence - of - liberal - conservatism"

You could have heard a pin drop. Not a single clap. Oh dear.

Cameron policy cover-up?

There is a nice tidal wave developing marked "Where's the beef, Dave?"

However, I can remember one policy which Cameron has announced - I wonder if anyone can remember any others?

The one I remember was announced in late June. Cameron announced he would scrap the Human Rights Act and set up a "British" Bill of Rights. The idea fell apart on a minute's inspection, but one wonders why Dave is so bashful about this idea? Why isn't being presented in depth at the Conservative conference?

Also, DC seems to be saying that we should wait patiently for his policy commissions to report back.

However, I can think of several examples where the overwhelming gist of the findings of his policy commissions have already been aired.

First, transport. John Redwood's team have already published their recommendations. The
centrepiece seemed to be proposing that drivers could turn left at red traffic lights. Presumably to preserve the ancient British rights of car drivers to kill pedestrians and cyclists.

In September we had an airing of what was coming out of Steve Norris' tax working party and heard from the Sunday Times:

TAXES on motoring, flying and other polluting activities would rise under a Conservative government, according to George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor.

In July we heard some of the things coming out of Kenneth Clarke's constitutional commission. "Tory's plan to restrict Scots MPs" was one. There was also this suggestion from Tory Alan Duncan:

I'm beginning to think it is almost impossible now to have a Scottish prime minister because they would be at odds with the basic construction of the British constitution.

We also heard in February that "Tory leader David Cameron wants to strip the Queen of some of her historic constitutional powers".

So, far from having no policies, Cameron has announced at least one major one and we have seen several others bubbling up from his policy commissions and from him. Why aren't these proposals being put to the Conservative conference for debate and the verdict of party members?

Why, instead, are they, humiliatingly, reduced to pressing buttons to vote pointlessly on "hot topics" like "alcohol does more harm than drugs".

Cameron: We've got no principles or policies, but I've got a wonderful webcam

The Sunday Mirror quotes some of the things David Cameron will say today:

In his speech today, Cameron will defend his lack of policies by comparing his drive to reshape the Tories to building a house.

"First you prepare the ground," Cameron will tell the Tories faithful. "Then you lay the foundations. And then, finally, brick by brick, you build your house."

He will add: "But preparing the ground is just the first stage. Now we must show what we will build there. That means laying strong foundations. Not pulling policies out of a hat.

"Policy without principle is like a house without foundations. It will not stand the test of time."

This chimes in nicely with what Cameron's spinmeisters have been saying - that their conference will announce no policies and that first, they say, the party must lay out a "solid foundation" of principles before designing any policies.

So the Conservatives have no principles or any policies at the moment. Or at least if they have any principles they are not sure, collectively, what they are.

But they have a leader who acts beautifully in front of the webcam, so that's alright then.

The Observer gives another angle on the Cameron speech:

David Cameron will echo one of President John F Kennedy's most famous speeches today when he asks the British public to stop asking what the state can do for them and instead ask what they can do for each other.

In other words: don't look at us for any policies folks - or principles or even leadership, for that matter.

The Times borrows an Americanism and says that the question to be asked about Cameron is: "Where's the beef?"

Devastatingly, The Times goes on to say:

He is wrong...to think that he can get by purely by steering the Tories towards the centre ground and offering a few touchy-feely ideas. To take him at his own words, where is the principle? A Conservative party has to stand for a smaller state and lower taxes, for freedom of the individual rather than an interventionist state. It has to believe that private enterprise is generally better at doing things than the public sector. It has to demonstrate that it would be more effective at controlling crime and immigration than Labour. Above all, it has to show that it believes in something. Mr Cameron has yet to show that he believes in anything other than Mr Cameron.

Another gloomy poll for the Tories

Hot on the heels of yesterday's YouGov poll, an ICM poll in the Sunday Mirror today confirms the slide of the Tories with their lead over Labour 'crashed' to just one point.

The Mirror beautifully summarises the Cameron conference dilemma:

Today's devastating results for Cameron comes as he battles to prove his party is not a "policy-free zone". He will face a backlash after his Shadow Chancellor George Osborne ruled out tax cuts at the next election.

The pledge will put Cameron on a collision course with rightwing Tories at their conference in Bournemouth. It flies in the face of a Tory tax commission which is set to recommend next month tax cuts of almost £20billion.