Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Lisbon Factor

Seven weeks later, and the effects of Ireland's No vote are still being felt across Europe. Could one of its effects be to delay Gordon Brown's departure from Number 10?

Another coronation, of an as-yet-undetermined Labour front-bencher, would surely not be acceptable to the electorate. It should be out of the question.

But, however awful the alternative of almost 2 years more of Brown as PM might be, the possibility of a 2009 election may be too much for Labour, and perhaps paradoxically the Lib Dems, to bear - not just because the Conservatives would likely win by a landslide, but because the effects of said Conservative win could result in a fundamental shift in Britain's relationship with the EU.

David Cameron has promised the British people a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty should the process of making it law not be completed by the time the Tories gain power - which, barring some kind of miracle, will be by June 2010 at the latest. In the Sun in September 2007, he wrote:

Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations.

Cynics dismiss this as so much hot air. I wouldn't be so sure. The pro-EU faction of the Conservative party has all but faded away, and both Cameron and his shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, have a strong EU-sceptic track record.

For our part, EU-sceptics both in the Tory party and outside will remind Cameron of his "cast-iron guarantee" at every opportunity should the Tories take power before Lisbon is fully ratified. The U-turn that it would require for the Tories to fail to give the promised referendum would hang like an albatross around Cameron's neck.

Call me an optimist, but I honestly believe that Iain Dale is right to say that an early election, or an election in Britain before the EU find a way to deal with the 'Irish problem', would mean death for the Lisbon Treaty.
What [Brussels] haven't bargained for is an election in the UK earlier than June 2010. They look on Gordon Brown's current difficulties with undisguised horror as they know what an early election would mean for the Lisbon Treaty. Death.

Will it be the 'Lisbon Factor' that keeps Gordon Brown in power over the coming year?

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Catch-16

Polly Toynbee reports on agreements made by Labour at their national policy forum in Warwick, including

Sixteen-year-olds get the vote in an ageing society where wealth and power tip towards the old.

Yes, that's right. The same Government whose policy it is to raise the school* leaving age to 18 - and who were lauded for said policy by, yes, Polly Toynbee back in November - is now talking about giving young people the vote two years before they are given the freedom to run their own lives as they see fit.

This Government isn't exactly known for its joined-up thinking, but that's one really ill-thought-out policy announcement! As commenter Roas amusingly suggested
Next Conservative campaign slogan : "Labour wants to force you to stay in school till 18. You have a vote. Use it."

That would be one way of stopping the compulsion agenda in its tracks, I suppose. Until then, there's blogger opposition at the anti-Educational Conscription blog.

* Compulsory education or training

Monday, 28 July 2008

Video Of The Week (30)

Video Of The Week 21/07 - 27/07: Juxtaposer

This cute college animation, by one Joanna Davidovich, sat largely un-noticed on YouTube, until Viacom made a copyright ownership claim on it, apparently as part of a site-wide fishing expedition.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Seen Elsewhere (9)

5 posts from my top 5 blogs as voted for Iain Dale's Top 100 Political Blogs, followed by 5 from around the Blogpower community makes up this week's set of recommended reading:

  • The Devil's Kitchen on, er, Iain Dale's Top 100 Political Blogs.

  • SepticIsle at Obsolete has the only post you need to read on the Max Mosley verdict.

  • Tim Worstall is more a place to go for consistent excellence in the cutting-down of daft journalists, commentators and retired accountants than for stand-out individual posts. Here's a typical example. Eh?

  • To Miss With Love is the blog of Snuffy, a black teacher in inner-city London. If you read only one professional blog, read this one. Here she is on parents who sabotage teachers' efforts to instil discipline.

  • EU Referendum on a seemingly appreciative communication that turned out to be total bilge.

The mini Blogpower round-up (for the real thing go here):
  • Bearwatch with (surprise surprise) a pessimistic post about the world economy.
  • Labour blogger Bob Piper on the fall-out from his party's loss of Glasgow East. Unsurprisingly, when times are bad, it's the economy, stupid - never mind who was chancellor of the exchequer when times were good!

  • Paulie at Never Trust a Hippy asks if Brown should go now. It's all about communication, apparently. I think I feel a rant coming on.

  • Oh, No (Clue). Its Harriet Harman in control!

  • Can we consider Barack Obama to be the American Tony Blair? Yes We Can, says CityUnslicker.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Who's Off-Message?

Polly Toynbee:

Two hundred Labour stalwarts gathered at the national policy forum yesterday after the shock of the byelection. They were briefed that Gordon Brown would have no text, and would walk and talk hands free; he needed to show that he can in extremis speak human and express feelings to an audience willing him to be the leader they yearn for. A loyal audience gave a dutiful ovation, but it was a dismally mechanical performance. If this was Gordon does Dave, the comparison was excruciating.

He could do it without notes because it was an autopilot compilation of the dullest parts of every speech he has made, mantra after clunking mantra, pacing up and down to the same old tropes. With oil and food prices rising by the day, his party in ruins, his future in jeopardy and the country about to fall to the Tories, out came the same old figures...He bypassed the by-election as if it simply hadn't happened.


or Steve Richards:

For all the speculation about his future, Brown made a powerful start in addressing this daunting challenge in his speech yesterday to the party's policy forum in Warwick. It was the best he has delivered since becoming Prime Minister, delivered without notes, carefully structured, beginning and ending with accessible stories about people whose lives had been transformed through recent policies.

He spoke well in the darkest of contexts. At the moment there is only subdued panic in Labour's ranks. Many anxious, partially scheming ministers and MPs are on holiday already. But this autumn will be tempestuous with Labour's conference the most highly charged for decades.

?

Friday, 25 July 2008

He's No Expert

A while ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works with young people, about the coverage of crime and education in the press. To paraphrase, he put it that almost without exception, the commentators, on both the left and the right, who opine on these controversies don't have a clue what they are talking about. They work from sweeping generalisations and often make the arguments to fit their preconceptions.

At the time I thought "I must blog about that", but as with so many of these things (I should do a rundown of half-finished 'drafts' that were never posted sometime) it was put off. I was reminded of his comments today, though, when I saw this article by Dave Hill at Comment is Free.

As a PhD student and a degree-holder in Biological Sciences, I know when I see a writer who is talking about genetics from a position of ignorance. Dave is such a writer.

A belief system reasserting that microbiology is destiny has become a feature of the modern age. Fostered largely by a lazy and credulous media but often encouraged by the hubris of new frontier scientists, it privileges the hormone, the gene, the DNA molecule over all other factors in explaining why humans behave as they do. One of its key revealed wisdoms - one of its articles of faith - is that there is a gene "for" everything, some ultimate explainer of whatever we feel, think and do.
In case you didn't catch it, "...microbiology is destiny.."?!?

Microbiology is:
  • the study of microorganisms, which are unicellular or cell-cluster microscopic organisms.
Oops! Clearly the sub-editor didn't know enough about science to spot the mistake either, since he/she repeated it in the article's subheading (when I first saw it I thought it was a subediting error!). My guess is that the term Dave was fumbling for is 'molecular biology'. Not that this substitution would make the rest of the paragraph any more accurate.

Understanding of a subject is not a prerequisite for having a platform to opine on said subject. Such is clear when such a glaring error as the above is made, or factual errors that a little research would have averted are committed. However, when a topic in which such clear distinctions between correct and incorrect cannot be made, it becomes very difficult to distinguish the genuine expert from the pretender. In some cases, it may even be impossible.

Cartoon: XKCD

Moon Bat

You're not funny, Monbiot.

(well, OK, maybe you are. But your article isn't)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Selling The Drama

The rhetorical battle between the 'warmers' and the 'denialists' is splattered across the comment pages once again, this time following OFCOM's publication of their ruling on Channel 4's 'The Great Global Warming Swindle'.

I can't be alone in being sick and tired of the back and forth on this issue. I admit to usually taking the side of the sceptics in online debate, perhaps more because I find the tactics of the other lot rather distasteful than for any scientific reason. To say that 'deniers' are regarded by some rather as blasphemers might have been 400 years ago is perhaps an exaggeration, but Brendan O'Neill isn't entirely off the mark in suggesting an antipathy to freedom of expression exists among environmentalists.

I am a university graduate, and I am a postgraduate student in science*, yet I am agnostic on the issue of climate change. Why? I guess because I'm being asked to 'take their word for it' - that is, to trust the IPCC; to trust the "consensus". It doesn't take much reading of Climate Audit, or Watts Up With That, or Climate Skeptic, to begin to think that maybe there's something not trustworthy about the consensus. And, unless I'm about to set off and do a whole 'nother postgrad course in climatology, that's probably going to be the way it's going to stay. Unless, that is, somehow the way in which the argument is conducted changes...


George Monbiot makes an observation in his latest column:

On almost every other weighty issue, the professional classes appear to be better informed than the rest of the population. On global warming the reverse seems to be true. The only people I have met over the past few years who haven’t the faintest idea what man-made climate change is or how it is caused are university graduates.
He suggests that the reason for this is that these people are 'deceived' by the "denial industry". Perhaps there is an alternative explanation: University graduates are more resistant to being told what to think, and more likely to question the received wisdom. For that is what it is - a global plea to "trust me, I'm an expert".

That is, when hectoring environmentalists aren't forgetting that their claims are supposed to reflect scientific consensus at all, and simply going for shock value - truth be damned. Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' succeeded in bringing the issue of climate change to public attention, but how great was the cost in terms of the trust of intelligent and thoughtful people. Statements from the IPCC report were mixed together with "distinctly alarmist" claims that ranged from outright lies to statements with rather debatable scientific validity.

Upon watching this film, a major reason why many members of Monbiot's "professional classes" don't trust environmentalists to tell them the truth should become apparent - its makers were more interested in selling the drama than in scientific objectivity. Similar ludicrous claims - which range to those attacked by Mr Justice Burton are made by environmentalists in the newspapers e.g. Johann Hari and on TV all the time. Do you still wonder why those university graduates, informed and intelligent but not climatologists, are thinking that climate change campaigners are working to an agenda other than that of scientific objectivity.

So, assuming for a moment - as OFCOM have - that the positions reflected in the IPCC's 4th assessment report are the correct ones, how should the 'drama' be 'sold'?

How about this:
  • Dump the unscientific, alarmist, and exaggerated claims.
  • Dump the ad hominem attacks on the unconvinced, starting with the word "denier".
  • Take on the arguments of your opponents rather than smearing them or threatening their freedom of expression.
  • Acknowledge that the average 'believer' is as uninformed about the science of climatology as the average sceptic is
  • Acknowledge that 'An Inconvenient Truth' is a polemic that doesn't reflect the current science, and dissociate yourselves from it.
and most of all:
  • Tell the (scientifically accepted) truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

Then, and only then, climate change campaigners, will the "professional classes" start listening to you and trusting you again. Because at the moment many of them, justifiably, don't.


* I am a PhD student in biology & computing - Nothing related to climate science.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Video Of The Week (29)

Video Of The Week 14/07 - 20/07: Time For Some Campaignin'

This humorous animated skit on the US Presidential Race is possibly the most stylish video yet this year.


10% Doubt On Climate Change 'Consensus'?

From Robert Watson, former chair of the IPCC, writing at Comment Is Free in response to the OFCOM ruling on 'The Great Global Warming Swindle'?

4th paragraph

Attempts to undermine the strong scientific consensus on this issue detract from the urgent challenge that the world is facing – namely, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently and rapidly enough to avoid dangerous levels of climate change in the future.

6th paragraph

The bottom line is that there is little doubt (greater than 90% certainty) that human activities are responsible for most of the observed changes in climate change over the past 50 years, and that we need to act urgently to avoid dangerous human-induced climate change in the future.

Is there doubt, or isn't there?

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Seen Elsewhere (8)

This week's bloground (back to normal service this week after last week's marathon), and 5 new 'Blogs to Watch':

  • The latest libel threat by Schillings against Craig Murray. Ministry of Truth picks up the story once again. Back To The Locus has a list of supporters, and a quote from a man that even Schillings wouldn't dare take on.

  • One story above all others has dominated the Scottish blogosphere this week ahead of the Glasgow East by-election. Kezia Dugdale has the 'Exclusive'. Doctorvee has the commentary.

  • Margaret Curran hasn't had it all her own way, though. Guido Fawkes spots a suspicious post on the Labour candidate's campaign blog. Deliberate fakery was assumed at first, but the cock-up hypothesis was found to be the correct one (Devil's Kitchen - scroll down to Update #2).

  • Guido Fawkes again: His long running campaign against the left-wing think tank the Smith Institute (not to be confused with the Adam Smith Institute!) bore fruit this week... or did it (Ministry of Truth)? Frankly I find the whole thing, and the associated sniping from both sides, stultifyingly dull - but you can read the posts and make your own minds up.

  • Simon Clark has a great post on the 'secret seedy underworld' of BDSM.


QT's Five To Watch

Five blogs that will be highlighted for a month in the 'Blog List' on Question That's sidebar.

Last month's five were: Aled Dilwyn Fisher; Charlie Marks; Clairwil; It Is Better To Be Free; and Underdogs Bite Upwards. The last of these was promoted to the 12 'Most Read Blogs'.

  • Ambush Predator, the blog of frequent CiF commentator, and one of a precious few non-feminist female bloggers, thylacosmilus.

  • Back Towards The Locus, a brand new centre-left blog by a sixth-former going by the name of BenSix.

  • Ewan Watt, a right-libertarian I met at drinks with DK & Tim W who has been blogging since late 2006 without attracting much attention.

  • Norfolk Blogger, a Lib Dem blogger and Blogpower member.

  • Scribo Ergo Sum, a mainly democratic-socialist collaborative blog that has been running for 8 months.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Tories Vote For Fingerprinting Of Children

Via Hugh Muir:

Tory MEPs, that is. While David Cameron and David Davis stand up for civil liberties in the UK, in Europe, all but one of the Conservative Members of the European Parliament voted down a resolution condemning ethnic profiling, including fingerprinting, of Roma children in Italy by Silvio Berlusconi's government.

"Fingerprinting is the only way to ensure the children are sent to school" - Charles Tannock MEP

Of course, the representatives of the Tory party in the European Parliament are different to those predicted to form a majority at the next General Election. All the same, these events hardly paint a picture of a Conservative party that is unequivocably committed to the defence of civil liberties that are under threat from myriad angles, one of which is the spread of fear of minority groups - such as, in Italy and elsewhere on the continent, the Roma.

Hat-tip for this post goes to, believe it or not, Drink Soaked Trots

Day Of Rest Rested By BBC

Spotted by my cousin on the BBC Weather site:

Thursday, 17 July 2008

US Liberals In Sense of Humour Failure Shocker

The controversy surrounding the Barack Obama New Yorker cover is hysterical in both senses of the word.

If I were involved in ground-level electioneering for the Republican party, I could do a lot worse than to throw together some of the contemptuous comments being made on the likes of Huffington Post and Daily Kos about 'ordinary Americans who don't read the New Yorker and won't get the joke'. I am seeing the following sentiment expressed again and again (this example is from a mainly US-liberal message board I read regularly):

I am amazed at the number of people who continuously miss the point here. Presumably intelligent and savvy people who read the New Yorker.

Yes, we ALL get that the cover is satire. And to liberals and New Yorker readers they get it and think it is funny.

Swell...no problem if the world was only populated by people who read and comprehend the New Yorker.

But it is not. There are more than enough people out there who will not get it. Or they will get it and deliberately misuse it. The New Yorker handed an ideal smear picture, one that conservatives would not have dared to make on their own, to the conservatives. They can now bandy it about willy nilly, it's already out there and not their doing. As such the illustration will perpetuate misinformation in some groups who previously would have a hard time hanging on to their prejudices.

I get the humor here. I am not offended. In principle I agree with what they are trying to do. But I also am shocked at their naivete over this. Indeed I do not think the artist or the New Yorker were naive...I suspect they had to know where this would take them.
The issues are different, but the mindset is the same - We (left-liberals) are your betters, we will tell you what to think, and we don't like it when someone throws a spanner in.

This controversy is bringing to the forefront some of the worst traits exhibited by significant elements of the left: A hair-trigger recourse to 'offence' (More: Martin Rowson) and a contempt for those with different worldviews (More: Kirk Leech).

Of course, there's always the alternative type of response; illustrated here by David Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Quote Of The Day

Via Tom Griffin at Liberal Conspiracy

"...As you know, the CEO of Aegis Defense Services Tim Spicer has been implicated in a variety of human rights abuses around the globe. Given his history, I agree that the United States should consider rescinding its contract with his company." - Barack Obama

More: from Irish World

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Get Listed In The 2008-9 Blogging Guide

Iain Dale is looking for blogs to be listed in the 2008-9 Guide to Political Blogging, which will be published in September by Total Politics in association with APCO Worldwide.

If you have a blog and it isn't listed here, or it is but it is in the wrong category (see below - some libertarian blogs are under 'Conservative', for example), leave a comment here...

Conservative blogs; Green blogs; Labour blogs; Left-wing blogs; Lib Dem blogs; Libertarian blogs; Non-aligned blogs; Plaid Cymru blogs; Right-wing blogs; SNP blogs; UKIP blogs.


EDIT: The Witangemot Club (campaign for an English parliament) has also opened the voting for its annual blog awards this week. Vote here.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Bloggers vs Schillings Round 2: The Tim Spicer Letter







IMAGE: Colonel Tim Spicer in 2004 (BBC)

Remember last September, when libel lawyers Schillings took on Craig Murray and provided us with a classic demonstration of the Streisand Effect, thanks to the outrage of over 300 bloggers?

Well, it seems they learnt precisely nada from the experience, for they're at it again - this time trying to block Murray's new book 'The Road To Samarkand' before it has even been published!

These enemies of freedom of speech are working this time around on behalf of one Tim Spicer, a former Army officer who now runs a firm of 20,000 private soldiers in Iraq, called Aegis.

Schillings sent Murray a letter, marked 'Not For Publication', in which they demanded the full text of 'The Road To Samarkand' in advance of release. It has since been republished at Ministry Of Truth, Obsolete and at Tim Ireland's Usmanov blog, and discussed on several other blogs.

If Schillings were aiming to spread the word about Tim Spicer's less than ethical activities in Iraq across the blogosphere, and give Craig Murray's new book a handy publicity boost with lots of likely interested readers, then I have to admit that they've been very successful.

Otherwise:


UPDATE (15/07): More on this story, and the wider campaign against the UK's censorious libel laws, from George Monbiot...

So, You Believe In (9/11) Conspiracy Theories?














IMAGE: Moonbattery.com

Charlie Brooker gives 9/11 Troofers a good kicking today in his usual sarcastic style in an article entitled So, you believe in conspiracy theories, do you? You probably also think you're the Emperor of Pluto. Bravo!

...Embrace a conspiracy theory and suddenly you're part of a gang sharing privileged information; your sense of power and dignity rises a smidgen and this troublesome world makes more sense, for a time. You've seen through the matrix! At last you're alive! You ARE the Emperor of Pluto after all!

Except - ahem - you're only deluding yourself, your majesty. Because to believe the "system" is trying to control you is to believe it considers you worth controlling in the first place...

Go and read the whole thing. And then, when you're in the mood to be disheartened again, start reading the comments...


UPDATE: I'll make an exception to the line above regarding the comments for this comment by Oroklini, a commenter I seldom agree with but who neatly summarizes why 9/11 Truthers are talking out of their arses:

REQUIREMENTS for 9/11 conspiracy "Troofers" version of events:

1) Hundreds of expert subcontractors to plant explosives inside buildings
2) Forgers to create documents
3) Tens of agents to encourage the 19 "hijackers" to forge a distinct group
4) An entire televisual production team, probably several of them, to create fake videos
5) One Osama bin Laden lookalike
6) Hundreds, probably thousands, of accountants to creatively hide the monies required for the operation
7) The chief brass of the military, navy and the air force
8) Twenty or so Congressmen, plus their staff, plus thousands of investigators to "find" planted evidence.
etc. etc. etc.

REQUIREMENTS for the, erm, truth:

1) 19 guys with Stanley knives and some basic piloting lessons.
2) Some money.
3) Erm...
4) That's it.



UPDATE 2:
Via regular commenter necroflangerie, here is a round-up of responses to the most common 9/11 Truther lines. Elsewhere on the linked website is more detailed discussions of these and other 9/11 conspiracy-related issues.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Video Of The Week (28)

Video Of The Week 07/07 - 13/07: The Referee's A Drunkard

Sergei Shmolik, a FIFA official who once refereed an England match, was escorted from the pitch in the second half of a Belarussian Premier League match after it became apparent that he was three sheets to the wind. He has since been suspended.

Seen Elsewhere (7)

Cross-posted from Defending The Blog. It was my turn to host the Blogpower Roundup this week, so here is a super-sized Seen Elsewhere including links to posts from just about every active blog in the Blogpower community, plus the usual 5 picks at the end...

















As Blogpower's newest member, I am only too happy to host the 2nd in what I hope will be a long-running series of weekly Blogpower Roundups.

Because Blogpower encompasses a wide variety of types of blogs, I have divided this roundup into 3 loose categories: Politics, Humour, and Miscellaneous.


Starting with Politics...

If I have the capacity to nominate a 'Post of the Week', then I hand the virtual golden statue to CityUnslicker of Capitalists@Work, for his summarization of the state in which the UK economy finds itself after just over 12 months of "Brown out".

Brown, of course, doesn't see it quite like that - apparently us consumers are to blame (Critical Faculty Dojo)! On a related issue, Grendel is justified in telling Brown to get stuffed. Wolfie at Two Wolves really gets across quite how ridiculous Brown's paternalism is - and who the real culprits behind the 'food crisis' are.

Across the Atlantic, a 'food crisis' of a rather different type. An Insomniac highlights the absurdity of 'Wafergate' and the non-existent 'right not to be offended' that a certain type of religion-adherents can't get enough of exercising.

The 'Big Brother By-election' (Guthrum) in Haltemprice & Howden came and went this week. Was David Davis a fool or a hero for calling it (Tom Paine)? Were the Green party justified in claiming their second place (with under 8% of the vote) was a success (Norfolk Blogger)? Was the £200,000 spent a waste of public money, or relatively trivial (The Thunder Dragon, Matt Wardman)?

Another sort of liberty - that of the blogger: Harry's Place was sued by the British Muslim Initiative this week (Pub Philosopher, among others). My politics are a long way from those of HP, but this is one blog that needs defending at present. In Wales, a threat to online free speech of a different type as sacked civil servant blogger Christopher Glamorganshire takes his case to tribunal (Miss Wagstaff Presents).

The Tin Drummer ladles on the irony in his approach to a worrying story that belongs in the realm of satire, as does Benedict of A Conservative's Blog over the astounding tale of the confessing murderer who was sent to the back of the queue in a South London police station. Paulie (Never Trust a Hippy) wonders why the Irish were asked such a stupid question on June 12th.

At Cynical Chatter, The Morning Star chronicles his battle with depression, here describing the associated feelings of lowered self-esteem. Calum Carr campaigns for Mental Health For All at his blog pseudonymously, however he and his wife were named in an article published in the Edinburgh Evening News in which he details their struggle to get help from the NHS.

In London, Heather Yaxley of Greenbanana looks at the Porsche/GLA congestion charge controversy from a PR point of view. In Iran, Gracchii (Westminster Wisdom) gives a political view of 'Persepolis'. Finally, Bearwatch speculates on Zimbabwe.


Humour:

Some politics/humour cross-over to start with: Letters From A Tory is being crippled by Royal Mail cutbacks!

More satire from The Fake Consultant: All Suspicious Persons Will Be Monitored! and from Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe who asks if Scottish people are sick of being made fun of?

I know, I know, we shouldn't feed trolls. But sometimes it is just irresistible. Dirty European Socialist has pushed all the right buttons by starting a one-man 'Boycott The Tory Blogs!' campaign. Andrew Allison and Guthrum take the piss.

Apparently the search term that leads more people to Harry's Place than any other is 'roaring fork peace coalition adam holland'. No, I'm not too sure about that either. Split your sides with plenty more where that came from at The Wardman Wire.

Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but Theo Spark's camel-toe video (definitely NSFW) find made me grin, as did this photo of a very pointless 'special offer'.

The Poor Mouth marks the start of the Scilly season with a rather ill-thought-out job advert.


Miscellaneous:

There's been some stupendous photography showcased on Blogpower's blogs this week. DeeJay of Age Is All In The Mind got this post off to a great start with their safari photos from Tanzania, one of which illustrates this round-up.

Finding Life Hard has been holidaying in France, Sally In Norfolk has been Sally In Ireland this week, while Canadian JMB at Nobody Important has been a tourist in her own country, taking some lovely photos on a family day out in Steveston, British Columbia.

Closer to home, MJW at Observations From The Hillside has a review of the Ealing Beer Festival.

Onto food & drink: Coffee blog Cafe Grendel has a cafe review from Perth, WA with photos. To make something to eat with our coffee, we have tempting recipes from Chervil at Green Living - St Martin's Bread; and Sicily Scene - Pan Bagna.

Back in front of the keyboard again, Crushed By Ingsoc envisions his Internet Eden. Bob Piper has an overview of the main players in the UK political blogging scene from a left-blogging perspective. At Question That, I get down to the nuts & bolts of social bookmarking tools as I finally move into 2008 in the way I save pages for later reference.

Finally, Tuscan Tony has a test for you all. No sneaky peeking at the answers!


Non-Blogpower Blogs:

A few highlights of the week from outside the Blogpower community:

  • Let Them Eat Bighand Thornyhead! The day after Gordon Brown exhorts us to cut down on food waste, take a look at the feast he is sitting down to (via Guido Fawkes)

  • Chris Dillow on the uselessness of aggregate statistics when talking about violent crime rates.

  • A Very British Dude on why he is in favour of direct democracy.

  • Runaway leader of my personal 'best new blogger award' nominations, Leg-Iron of Underdogs Bite Upwards, on why photo-bloggers had better watch out. From the same blog, some rare praise for David Cameron.

  • What if somehow New Labour were to win the next election? Old Holborn at LPUK blog is drooling in anticipation. No, really.

Friday, 11 July 2008

What Does FURL Stand For?

A friend - "'umble real libertarian" came up with the following suggestions. Enjoy:

  • Fucked Up Reggae Lout (see above)
  • Found Under Richmond Lido (where were the webpages?)
  • Famed Upper Radical Libertarian (someone else I know)
  • Fairly Unpleasant Radical Lady (ditto)
  • Firing Unicorns Round London
  • Foreign Uber-fuhrer Reads Lines
  • Funny Udders Restrict Lactation
  • Fashionable Uniform Resists Lint
  • Funny Undertaker Rolls Low

In case you're wondering, Furl actually stands for 'File Uniform Resource Locator'

Which Social Bookmarking Tool?

I check the front page of Digg to find out what people are talking about on the web quite regularly, but I've never made use of the social bookmarking services offered by systems like del.icio.us. However, since I work on my blog on multiple computers and often in internet cafes, I figured its about time I jump on this particular bandwagon (only 4 years late!), if only so I can access my bookmarked pages from anywhere.

Del.icio.us could perhaps be said to be the original social bookmarking service, but is it still the best? ...Or should I sign up for something else? Wikipedia lists 20 social bookmarking sites. Some of these are, like Digg, more suitable for sharing news than for using as a remote bookmarking service, so I've narrowed it down to 5 competitors to del.icio.us. They are: Ma.gnolia, Simpy, Furl, Spurl, and Blinklist.

Because del.icio.us is more popular and longer-established than the other sites I list, the other 5 tend to be discussed in terms of how they compare to it, and many of them are promoted on the basis of their offering something different to del.icio.us. So...

Ma.gnolia has one immediate point in its favour when compared to del.icio.us - its appearance. While del.icio.us is sparse and functional, the designers of the ma.gnolia website have clearly put a considerable amount of effort into making their site attractive.
Ma.gnolia also offers a much more social 'social bookmarking' experience, offering users profiles and avatars, while del.icio.us keeps it simple: Clicking on a username leads you simply to a plain list of that user's bookmarks.
When ma.gnolia started out it was a little lacking in technical wizardry compared to del.icio.us and some of the other sites I'm going to talk about, however more recently an API like that of de.licio.us has been added to ma.gnolia, and a system called Ma.gnolia Roots that allows ma.gnolia community interaction to be integrated into a browser extension has been introduced. Reports on useability, however, are mixed. Ma.gnolia clearly has elements of superiority to del.icio.us, but the sum total leaves me a little underwhelmed.

Simpy is one of the least well-known of the social bookmarking sites, even though it is also one of the oldest, having been established in May 2004. Its stand-out features are its full-text search capability, and the ability to use Google AdSense to make (a small amount of) money from your bookmarking. However, it is a very basic interface with no advanced technical wizardry (a browser toolbar button is about as exciting as it gets). Improvements in del.icio.us since it was acquired by Yahoo! mean there is no reason to choose Simpy instead.

Furl's standout attribute is its ability to capture websites rather than just bookmark them, saving copies of web-pages to its own hosted archive. This is an attractive feature, particularly when saving political blog posts (which occasionally put on a disappearing act, e.g.) or pages from the BBC website! It allows bookmarks to be made private as well as public, and the Furl 'bookmarklet' can be integrated with Firefox for ease of bookmarking - the latest version is Firefox 3 compatible.
Furl is smaller than deli.cio.us, with fewer users and therefore a less comprehensive archive of bookmarked pages - but then I'll probably continue to use Digg for the purpose of finding interesting webpages. It has fewer community-oriented features than ma.gnolia also, but since I blog and use Twitter already I don't anticipate missing much in this regard. The archiving, privacy and simple browser add-ons of Furl mean that with 2 sites left to consider, it is clearly in the lead.

Spurl is one of the smaller social bookmarking services - it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page - and its most attractive features are the archiving of web-pages and the browser-integrated 'bookmarklet' for bookmarking pages. So far, so familiar; and its hard to escape the sense that Spurl is somehow little more than a mini-me Furl.
The fact that the Spurl front page announces as I write that Spurl is "currently forced to offer reduced functionality due to heavy spam attacks" does little to give me confidence that this is a well-run, reliable service built to last, unlike the LookSmart-backed Furl. I have no compunction in eliminating Spurl from consideration.

Blinklist is the most interesting of the set. Of all of the services I've discussed, I'd say Blinklist has the best-presented front page. It seems their marketing hasn't extended much beyond this, however. As with Spurl it has no Wikipedia page - not a good sign - and it's not exactly a well-known name.
That doesn't necessarily mean its not a worthwhile service, however. Blinklist's most attractive feature is its speed: A straightforward approach to bookmarking (the one-click 'Blink It' button). Beyond that, it has social features that are superior to del.icio.us but inferior to ma.gnolia - there's clearly elements that have been influenced by Digg. Its community is so much smaller than that using del.icio.us, though. Even popular sites like iGoogle homepage have less than 200 'blinks'! There is no archiving feature, unlike Furl. Blinklist is not the worst of the 5, but it certainly isn't the best.

For me, after having considered and put aside Ma.gnolia, Simpy, Spurl and Blinklist, it comes down to a choice between del.icio.us and Furl. These are the two largest sites of the 5, which I considered to be a significant plus point because a) they have bigger communities sharing bookmarks and b) I consider that larger sites are more likely to be reliable (unlike Spurl, currently suffering badly from spam). The immediate attraction of del.icio.us is its simplicity and its popularity. However, I do think that I will find the archiving Furl offers very useful - blog posts and even whole blogs sometimes vanish off the face of the web.

Primarily for that reason, but also considering the ease of bookmarking from Firefox and its searching and privacy functions, I have chosen to make Furl my social bookmarking service of choice.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Runway Delayed By 'Equalities Impact Assessment'

via Iain Dale:

Development of Heathrow's third runway has been held up by, of all things, the Government's having to conduct an 'Equalities Impact Assessment'.

I don't particularly support the 3rd runway, but this makes me despondent at how we've got ourselves into such a ridiculous state of affairs (bolding mine):

We also want to be sure, given the socio-demographic mix in the Heathrow area, that we fully understand how airport development might affect different groups in terms of race, disability, age or gender. An initial screening exercise has been conducted to look at the potentially different effects of the proposals. Further work is now being undertaken to deliver a full equalities impact assessment. We will shortly engage in a consultative exercise, focused on these particular groups
- Ruth Kelly, Written Ministerial Statement

Dale hopes that "whatever legislation governs this political correctness gone mad state of affairs will be repealed by the next Tory government".

I sincerely hope he's right. If that means disentangling ourselves from the European Union, as some commenters at Dale's suggest it would, so much the better.

Unfortunately, before that, it could be going to get a whole lot worse.

Windows XP Users: Beware Today

On July 10, 2008, at 10:00 AM PST (18:00 PM BST) , Microsoft will begin to "push" distribution of Windows XP Service Pack 3 via "Automatic Updates". (Link)

There have previously been occurrences of compatibility issues, particularly in PCs with AMD processors.

If you use XP, I suggest you turn off your automatic updates, use the Service Pack Blocker toolkit, or - if you're prepared to risk installing SP3 - back up your work!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Video Of The Week (27)

Video Of The Week 01/07 - 06/07: The Voice of Experience

Is waterboarding 'extreme interrogation', or is it torture? Neo-conservative journalist Christopher Hitchens volunteered to be subjected to it by Special Forces veterans.



He concluded that it is indeed torture.

Seen Elsewhere (6)

Recommended reading elsewhere from the past week:

  • Clairwil wonders why the residents of Glasgow East would consider voting for Labour after having been taken for granted.

  • The Thunder Dragon (at Matt Wardman's place) on why David Clelland MP should be told to stick his job.

  • On a similar note, via Jon Worth, the French Foreign Minister makes his ignorance known.

  • Dave Osler asks if some of Britain's youth have come to believe that it is "cool to kill". Cue a lively comments thread.

  • Teacher blogger Old Andrew (at Scenes From The Battleground) rails against the anti-disciplinarians, setting out the Appeasers' Creed.

  • Finally, I became a member of the Blogpower community this week. Here, thanks to Colin Campbell (who blogs at Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe), is this week's Blogpower Roundup.

This Comment Has Been Removed

From here (Comment is Free) exactly as was written (apart from one typo I corrected):

Oh, come on. This is getting to be beyond a joke.

How many pro-feminist pieces, making sweeping anti-male statements that wouldn't be tolerated were any other group the subject and often containing all kinds of mis-uses of statistics in support of their arguments, have there been on CiF?

How many times have there been articles in opposition to the feminist viewpoint above the line here?

You have feminist spaces (like 'The F Word') where you can control the discussion, every comment that appears, so nothing too strongly-worded in its disagreement with the feminist line can be published. Elsewhere, in uncensored venues, if you attack people, they'll attack back. And rightly so.


UPDATE (08/07):

Mr. Godwin enquires "Why [do] otherwise intelligent men seem to find perfectly reasonable pieces of feminist theory so threatening/intimidating/frightening?".

Those aren't the right words - I'd prefer to say "insulting and bordering on/crossing the line into offensive" (see here for some examples of the type of rhetoric I'm talking about).

However, in response to that question I don't think I could put it better than commenter sealion (on Dave Hill's thread at CiF) has (bolding mine):
My problem with a lot of feminists (not feminism) is that they often berate men for holding onto a lifestyle that they do not have. Like most men, I go about my life peaceably, going to work, socialising with male and female friends, trying to do a little bit to help others if I can, busting my arse to make a living, that sort of thing. I do my best to treat people fairly and with respect, whoever they are, and generally find that most other people do the same.

Then I turn on my computer and get told that I contribute to violence against women, that I'm a possessor of 'invisible male privilege', that 'my kind' need to confront their own attitudes and behaviours, and give up my privileged position of power.

My first thought is usually: "What the f*** did I do?"

There is often an accusatory tone to articles on here, and when people get defensive its assumed that its because their privileged position is being attacked. That may be the case sometimes but think its usually because people feel that they are being held commonly accountable for something that they would never do.

Holding a group of people collectively accountable for the sins of some is wrong - whether its a Richard Littlejohn type doing it, or a feminist like Julie Bindel.


UPDATE 2: Want an example of another, separate reason I have a problem with many feminists? Have a read of this.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Diktatwatch: Police Cycle Skills

Diktatwatch is an occasional feature on Question That that highlights the effects of ideological correctness and general idiocy on our public services. These are the type of stories that appear in the Mail and Sun and are dismissed (by people with an ideological axe to grind, usually) as fiction, when in fact they are often all too real. I take them from the public services blogs, and occasionally - as in today's instalment - from the broadsheet press.

Today's Diktatwatch comes from the Telegraph, via The Policeman's Blog. In Kent, a PCSO who covers his patch, consisting of several villages, by bicycle was told he has to use the bus and walk until he completes a two day 'Basic Police Cycle Skills' course.

Dear God in Heaven, how have we come to this?
'All the relevant skills and knowledge' to ride a bike? That would be getting on, pedalling and getting off, then. Two day course, £200 a day for the trainer. It's nice work if you can get it.
- PC David Copperfield
Yes, a police officer has to complete a 2-day 'cycling proficiency' course (a little like the one you probably did at school when you were a teenager), costing £400, in order to be allowed to ride a bicycle during the course of their work.

As a commenter at PC Copperfield's puts it: What next? Paper-handling courses to avoid paper cuts? Biro handling courses in case someone gets jabbed in the eye?

You literally couldn't make it up.

Quote Of The Day

Via Biased BBC, from Ashley Mote MEP

Here's one for the Euro-sceptics:

"The UK media is broadly sceptical [about the EU] so we try in Brussels to break that cycle of scepticism...The BBC's job is to reflect the European perspective . . . and make news less sceptical. That is why the BBC has such a big bureau in Brussels" -
Jonathon Chapman, Senior BBC World News Reporter, March 2004
Another source for the quote: Tory MP Philip Davies, from Parliamentary Select Committee Minutes of 11 July 2006 (Q106)

More: BBC Charter Review (RTF)

Cartoon Of The Day

From xkcd

















More: BBC News Magazine

Thursday, 3 July 2008

You're Only Fooling Yourself

Mark Lynas, that is.

Is anyone going to argue that the following comment (from the wonderfully named 'britononthemitten') isn't on the button when it comes to 'public concern about climate change'?

Deep down, I think we all know the reality is that your average Joe doesn't give a toss about climate change and after having survived the 70's ice age, the Aids epidemic, CJD and Saddam's WMDs he's pretty much impervious to the scare tactics of "Experts".


Meanwhile - elsewhere on Comment is Free - another writer, Tahmima Anam, suggests that the Asian Tsunami (which was, of course, caused by an under-sea earthquake and had nothing whatsover to do with carbon or anything else man-made) was caused by climate change (bolding mine):
Al Gore has gone around the world with graphs and arresting photographs of the melting Arctic ice, proving that climate change really is happening. And, of course, there is the anecdotal evidence: everyone knows someone who has witnessed an extreme storm, or had their house flooded, or watched from a balcony as the Asian tsunami leapt from the sea.

Where do they get them from?

Tahmima, and everyone else who has a habit of making extraordinary claims in 'support' of their arguments, answer me this:

If you're caught making such a basic factual error in your argument, how can you honestly expect anything else you say to be taken seriously?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Tax Debate This Evening

I will be out and about this evening. Specifically, I will be at the Church House in Westminster for a seminar organised by Demos & the TUC entitled 'Is It Time For Tax Justice?' that I spotted on Liberal Conspiracy's list of think-tank events.

I'm not expecting too much in the way of lively debate - the guests are:

  • Polly Toynbee
  • Richard Murphy
  • Peter Hain
  • Brendan Barber

Still, should be interesting. If anyone reading this between now and then fancies coming along, it's probably not too late. To attend email taxjustice@tuc.org.uk or call 020 7467 1204.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Schools Need Discipline

Yesterday's post, about the seemingly beyond parody story of an examiner who awarded a candidate marks for responding to a GCSE English question with "Fuck off", was one I didn't expect to meet much in the way of disapproval.

SepticIsle
put up a mainly tongue-in-cheek (but still wrong-headed, particularly by his high standards) response, comparing the candidate to swearbloggers and to Gordon Ramsay.

Patrick Vessey at the Libertarian Party blog, on the other hand, has this LPUK member rather bemused.

I also feel for the student. Faced with the question "Describe the room you're sitting in", the sheer idiocy, the banality, and the pointlessness of the examination may well have tempted me to respond as he did. Asked to make a choice of who to go out for a beer with, who would be the more interesting human being, I'd take the individual with a bit of individualism over any member of the dutiful herd who actually bothered to scratch away at answering that question any day.
Patrick: We're not talking about a polemical diatribe, here, that the candidate has been penalised for. We're not talking about "independent, individual thought" as you put it later on, or anything with any wit, or imagination, or a statement with any originality whatsover. We're talking about a brat with so little concern for their own future, and so little respect for their teachers, their school and the examiners, as to scrawl "Fuck off" on an exam paper.

There are times for "independent, individual thought", and there are times when a little bit of "banal, thoughtless conformity" is required. That is true throughout adult life, and will remain true no matter how large or small the state is. At the very least, the candidate concerned has somehow managed to get to the age of 16 without taking this valuable life lesson on board. I expect that in truth they are more likely to be the type of pupil described in this teacher blog post.

For any society to function, the people who make up that society have to appreciate that they have responsibilities as well as rights. It is quite obvious that many children aren't bring taught this at home. It is critical for this reason, and for the school to function as a learning environment, that schools instil good discipline in their pupils. In many cases - because, I suspect in part, of the fashionable attitudes like yours - this does not happen, and here is one example of the end results. This is not the way to achieve a functioning society in which one of the fundamental tenets is personal responsibility. It is a good way to end up with a broken society.