Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Enjoying Yourself Too Much

Gordon Brown
What in the PRC really
did impress him?
A deeply depressing political weather front has swept in from the East with the return of our dire Prime Minister to these shores. As gloom ridden as this news is I suppose that at least the feeling is likely to be mutual. Most of us feel a bit of sadness when a holiday comes to an end and judging by the first known pictures of Gordon Brown looking genuinely cheerful, especially in China, and considering the hopeless mess of a government he returns to head, at least in name, it's hard to believe his feelings are any different.

I'm not going to make advance any fatuous theory that Brown is some form of wholly reconstructed Maoist, nor that he would like reduce the real democratic powers of the British people all the way down to that enjoyedenforced in the People's Republic other than in the ways dictated to him by Brussels.

It was though a bit disconcerting to see the very apparent warmth of old Incapability in the company of those who, for all the modernisation of their Economy and the opportunities that this may offer to this country, remain serial abusers of human rights with a typically warped leftist view of the relative positions of the citizen and the state. One can only imagine his fantasies about Hain, Harman, Alexander et al. when he heard about the Chinese method of dealing with incompetent or corrupt officials, especially if the bullet is still rechargeable to the family.

For all its economic liberalisation, in many regards China also remains one of the last naive believers in the centrally imposed 20 year plans and all such failed authoritarian dogma, so I guess with North Korea still being somewhat beyond the pale it's hardly surprising the Brown clearly enjoyed this leg of the trip so much. So much did he seem to enjoy his time there that I struggle to remember another visit by a western leader where the obligatory words on human rights where so few in number, nor so quietly and indirectly spoken.

Sadly the grin was wearing off a little even before heading home during his visit to India. While Indian democracy is imperfect, with some areas perennially subject to allegations of ballot irregularities and intimidation, it does look on the whole to be a vibrant and more or less functional pluralistic democracy and is getting better on this front with age. Not, perhaps, a comfortable place to be for a man who seems hell bent on several fronts on alienating his own electorate who he seems determined to treat with utter contempt on many fronts.

I really can't help feeling that Gordon would fit in so well into China's central committee, assuming that they make him chairman of course, in a way so painfully different to the way he abrades against every instinct of most people I speak to here, in terms of what we expect from our own leaders.

I'll even offer to buy him a ticket back to his spiritual home.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Another Beneficial Crisis

Boeing 777
Shane Greer ponders whether Gordon Brown may have been the target of the Boeing 777 which crash landed at Heathrow today. Considering the dour one's ability to drain the life force from anyone within a two mile radius through force of personality, I'd have thought that the CAA might list the presence of the Prime Minister as one of the potential causes.

Seriously though, for a vehicle the size of a modern commercial aircraft to suffer what sounds like such a complete systems failure and for the passengers and crew to walk away with only a handful of minor injuries is a great testimony to the skill of the pilot who flew it and of the engineers who designed it. To transition from a run of the mill, doubtlessly computer assisted approach to a seat of the pants recovery from potential disaster at the end of a long flight shows just why the training is so rigorous.

Naturally though there are always those who emerge from such near disasters with less credit. To be fair Brown's PR team did not whisk their man to the other end of the runway to help grateful survivors down the escape slide, however the greenies seem to have scented blood, or at least aviation fuel.

News 24 has had a delightful interview with someone from the 'Green Sky Alliance' or some such set of progress hating goons. Apparently, today's near disaster is a death knell for the prospects of there being a new runway at Heathrow, as the more flights there are, the more accidents there shall be also. Naturally this is almost certainly true, but also completely irrelevant to the case for or against a new runway at Heathrow, so as long as there is no proof of a likely increase in the relative rate or severity of incidents, a case the spokesman didn't even attempt to make.

More remarkable was the spokesman's claim along the lines that 'aircraft are as safe as they ever will be'. Like many such dubious claims from the environmental lobby it is easy to accurately restate their proposition to prove it's absurdity; try 'There will never be any further progress in aircraft safety' for example, it's not exactly a proposition I'd put much money on.

I suspect the beneficial crisis rapid response unit of the EU will also be up to full speed by now looking for some tenuous European angle to demand further transfers of powers from the CAA to the EASA despite the regular criticisms of the latter's questionable performance.

Watch this space.

PS Apologies for the lack of posting for the last week, real work and real beer and an irritating technical problem have got in the way, as has a bout of 'Hain Fatigue' - kicking dog's when they are down gets a bit boring even with NuLab mongrels.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Educational Failures

A Government of Slightly More Talents
The Thunder Dragon snorts the fires of righteous derision at Ed Balls' inability to name the colours of the rainbow and I'm a bit annoyed!

I'd actually been watching the committee session during which he revealed his ignorance to the world on BBC Parliament, but had had switched over before his faux pas on the electromagnetic spectrum, in disgust at his thick-as-pigshit grin and his inability to understand that debate in committees is meant to be at least a little more mature than in the commons chamber. Indulging in every answer avoidance technique of his mentor he seemed blissfully unaware that even the said Brown shapes up just a little bit for his equivalent session.

Like I had to do today though, you can still enjoy things being Ballsed up here for a few weeks.

While there is little doubt that Balls is an over promoted, under performing twat you would think that spending time in a cabinet with Zippy as Foreign Secretary, George as Chancellor, all ruled over by Prime Minister Bungle Brown, he'd know a bit more about rainbows.

Apologies in advance for making comparison between well-loved children's' TV characters and the pond scum who rule us presently. To make up for it here is an excerpt from the said show that didn't quite make it to air.

An Expensive Failure

Peter Hain
Counting the Cost
I've got a sneaky feeling that if, on some Inland Revenue form or another, I signed off on a turnover figure of £82,000 rather than a true figure closer to £200,000, I'd be out of 'oops sorry' band, even were the figures put together by some underling or another. The repeatedly useless Peter Hain though is a politician where different, much lower, standards prevail.

As much as it has been amusing to read of Hain's deputy leadership bid team fighting like rats in a sack over exactly whose incompetence has dragged the bad name of Labour further into the mud, at heart it is a deeply depressing spectacle.

The idea that the availability of more than double the declared funding would not have affected campaigning choices, something that Hain himself must have at least some hand in, beggars belief, even if he didn't do the book keeping himself. If you look at a five figure quote for some activity it looks very different with £200k in the bank instead of less than half that. The alleged unawareness of the Prime Minister, once again, of the developing story until the last possible moment again strikes another familiar off-key note, or at the very least betokens a 'see no evil...' approach of deliberate ignorance.

Of course though, it is a story with a happy ending, in that there was at least a little poetic justice. To have spent more than double the amount of every other contestant in a race and still only come fifth out of the six that made it to the start line must have been humiliating enough, even before the realisation sunk in that the winner was one of the most easily dislikeable performers on today's political stage.

I have to admit that I used to find Hain one of the less offensive senior figures in the Labour hierarchy. Of late though he has joined a growing band whose demeanour and simplistic form of argument by unfounded assertion was something that I never had a lot of time for, but I accepted to politically work a once inexplicably popular and modestly trusted Labour government, but seem hopeless incapable of adjusting to their newly reduced circumstances.

I suspect that there are many who, unlike myself, would dearly love to be able to vote Labour without a bad smell in their nose next time around, having seen a party truly contrite and self-aware of the faults that prolonged exposure to power has brought to them as to so many others. From the likes of Hain, as well as many others such as Balls and Harman and the Prime Minister himself, I doubt an apology will ever seem truly sincere as it may do to an extend, for example, from the likes of a Miliband or Darling as similarly useless as they may be in other respects.

As long as the likes of Hain linger, so will the bad smell. It's actually less to do with individual offences against the law or general decency, but how their lack of grace under fire even if they can abase themselves just far enough to say sorry.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fog in the Channel...

Salut France, we share you're pain(s)
...continent cut off. Sometimes it's a case of 'if only it were true', but it does seem that we are not fully cut off from hearing the news of chronically stupid ideas that in the current climate may be in danger of drifting over the channel.

I'll actually skip over Sarko's silly little idea for taxing Internet access to subsidise last generation state broadcasting operations as it's so retarded that nobody who is not a card-carrying Brownite could regard it as anything other than a badly timed April Fool's joke. I have often expressed my admiration for Sarko, in particular his disrespect for the conventions of decaying French political shibboleths and who can begrudge him throwing a bone to his old school statist classes once in a while while his mind, or at least some part of his being, may me preoccupied elsewhere - and who can blame him?

From another perspective we should also remember that M. le President's predecessor toyed with the idea of an even more impractical 'per e-mail' tax, so perhaps we should be happy with even the smallest of baby steps away from the completely wrong direction. It is true that we should be wary of the stimulation that the idea of a brand new virgin tax may be causing in Mr Darling's underpants. We should also be ready to repel the general French assumption when it comes to the EU, that anything stupid that France does should be enforced on a pan-European basis. For the moment though, I'm prepared to see this idea as being, at worst, a submerged rock that only a ship as badly piloted as the truly rotten ship 'SS Labour' coming across the channel could hit.

Like most moderate Eurosceptics, I leave swivel-eyed xenophobia to those within the EU machinery with their hatred of anything outside the tiny outcrop of Asia where we live, especially if happens to be a more functional democracy than anything Europe has to offer. For all that, even if I'm going to lay off the executive branch of French government, I can't help treating taking the piss out of this decision from their judicial branch, especially as I can equally imagine some decrepit creature in our own courts coming up with the same nonsense.

Basically, a French newspaper has been fined for a piece of journalism on the state of the French champagne industry because they failed to fit in a suitable rider on the horrors of alcohol into the same article, thanks to the legal intervention of a set of busybodies whose name transliterates to the 'National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction'.

This is completely nuts (some people may suffer an adverse reaction to eating nuts including breathing difficulties and, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock reactions), but I find it hard to believe that there are not elements in our own country's common sense elimination brigades that will be going to bed over-excited over a new line of attack tonight.

The march of government for the lowest common denominator goes on.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Oh Ye of Little Ability

I suspect that if I ever sat down with a psychiatrist I'd be tagged with some kind of 'depressive' label, but actually I'm not. True, when I wake up I have a tendency to let everything that is wrong with my life run through my head, but I put that down my irresponsible use of the Today programme in conjunction with a clock-radio.

Usually, once sentient thought has blown away the cobwebs of the latest "eating lasagne can take five seconds off your life" story, I'm actually quite cheerful as long as Big Brother (the TV show) or Big Brother (the Labour ideal of governance) are not mentioned, and if Ground hog day doesn't strike.

Unfortunately, on Monday we had day-glo have-a-go half-wit Hain, dismissing, without benefit of a single number, let alone calculation, the Conservative proposals on incapacity benefits on the grounds of being too expensive. Today we had even more modest proposals that the able-bodied shouldn't be able to claim unemployment benefits indefinitely as long as we remain an country with many opportunities for employment, dismissed by the same tosser as:

"...hugely costly and the Tories can't fund it, it also won't work."

Source: BBC News

It would have been good to see that an extra day's thought had allowed Mr Hain to come up with a more considered response, backed up with real figures and real analysis behind it rather than following what remains of his own party line, that of the Lib Dems and every pressure group in the BBC Rolodex, in relying on baseless assertions, but then I guess he might have other things on his mind right now.

As depressing as it is, I fear that I must return to the distasteful subject of Hain once more tomorrow once, in a more sober state, I have re-read what I just think I have read on a mainstream website, about that other little matter afflicting him, this time on his 'forgetfulness'.

It's a true achievement of Gordon's government of all the talentless, that even Blair's bland and irrelevant can rise to the level of truly dangerous incompetence, but then I guess there is an issue over the type of role model they have.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Break for the Border

ID Card
A More Free West Lothian Question?
I was quite excited when this BBC article popped up on the news reader, detail the UK government's truly abysmal ranking in a report by Privacy International league table on protection for civil liberties and how much better Scotland, when considered alone, ranks.

I'll have to be honest and say that to an extent I was disappointed when I got round to reading the report in question today, as it did seem to be based on rather subjective criteria, even if it's conclusions are very much in line with other similar studies and commentary from both within and without this country.

On so many issues, from the size of our DNA database, to the number of surveillance cameras, to the scope of the proposed ID card database coupled with it's cousins that are even closer to being a reality for the NHS and the country's children, there is pretty clear tangible evidence that the UK is light years ahead down the track to the complete surveillance society.

As such, any report that spells it out so clearly is to be welcomed, even if it could have punched harder with solid facts and a less arguable methodology behind it, especially from an organisation which is traditionally very sound on both.

Our relative wealth, and commensurate ability to break through technical barriers is rapidly overcoming the head start that certain former more authoritarian regimes had in reversing the roles of citizen and state in the last century. Indeed, amongst the new European democracies covered by the report there is are clear signs that their citizens and possibly even their governments have learned the lessons that our own masters arrogantly think do not apply to them; lessons which a distressingly large, though mercifully dwindling number of 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' sheep are too stupid to ponder even for a moment as long as it 'keeps the immigrants out'.

The report's findings on Scotland are also interesting and once again they do at least bring some structure to the general impression that they at least care about the aspects of liberty involved in many of these matters, even if in many cases their ability to act is severely constrained by the elements that are reserved to Westminster. It shouldn't be forgotten either that this sentiment is not constrained to the SNP, with the former Labour/Liberal administration already having made a number of hostile noises about the nascent Blair/Brown police state before they were turfed out office.

With all other parties north of the border united against most of Westminster's actions in these areas and the tartan wing of Labour itself hostile it does seem likely that Scotland, for the immediate future, will remain infertile ground for the growth of the NuLab surveillance society.

Perhaps in that there is some limited grounds for hope.

While I use the example I am about to quote with a due sense of dread, and understand that there are many huge differences between the cold-war era and the case in hand, some of the political calculus remains the same.

For all its greater size and supposed economic might, East Germany could never quite overcome the existence of a smaller, at least geographically speaking, more liberal state, more in tune with the instincts of its citizens, sat right on their borders, with a pretty similar culture and an even more similar language.

Many of the wonders proclaimed by the Scottish executive are, as anyone can see, as about as substantial as their own-brand mist. I do though wonder if we in England, might start to look over Hadrian's wall for an understanding of the proper role for the state and its agents, as others once looked over a newer and uglier concrete edifice once did.

Yes, I do go too far, but at least when I listen to MSPs of all parties on the box, they do still seem to understand that there is a balance to be struck, whereas this side of the border one of the major parties, sadly the the badly-governing one, seems to see it is a matter deserving only of lip service.

The Business of Government Goes On

Peter Hain
A case for Incapacity Benefit
As appalling as it has been for the country, at least the tenure of Brown as PM has had the benefit of bringing a little unpredictability to British politics. Every time you think that the very nadir of competence and honesty has been reached, it seems that the bar can be lowered further.

Reaction to Conservative proposals on benefit reform has though been much more traditional fare where it has been scarcely worth the wear and tear on the contact lenses to read the reaction from the Government, Lib Dems and various interest groups, so predictable has it been.

As the The Guardian succinctly summarises the policy:
Controversial proposals to remove benefits for three years from people who refuse their third offer of a job are to be announced by the Conservatives tomorrow.

Source: The Guardian

I don't really think any sane person would believe that having 2.6 million on incapacity benefits at a time when, we are told we need vast swathes of immigration to fill jobs is remotely a tenable position, but this is a benefits issue, an area rarely illuminated in the glare of common sense.

It would appear that in some cases 'conservative_benefit_change_response.doc' has simply been attached to the appropriate distribution list and e-mailed without even reading the proposal, as seems to be the case with mental health charity Mind:
A spokeswoman for Mind, the mental health charity, said: "David Cameron needs to bear in mind the 40% of IB claimants who have mental health problems.

"Continuing stigma and discrimination also means many employers will not hire people with mental health problems."

Source: The Guardian

To help out what appears to be a very overworked Mind spokeswoman, I shall underline the key phrase: "refuse their third offer of a job". Listen, think, speak...it really does help.
Even the access to a large support staff is no guarantee of successful critique though, as Peter Hain demonstrates admirably in the same article:
"Their plans to interview 2.6 million people would also be prohibitively expensive."

Source: The Guardian

OK, so interviewing 2.6 million, even in the unlikely event that there isn't some simple pre-filtering that can be done on this number, with the real likelihood of making some compensating cost savings is prohibitively expensive, where as interviewing the entire adult population of the country for their ID card, for negligible gain other than in satisfaction to bureaucrat egos is not?

While we are on the subject of Hain and unhealthy orange glows, what do the Lib Dems think? Some bold blue-sky thinking coming down from their new leader? A realisation that welfare reform is possibly one area where they could be an honest broker in real change? No, they are still the party of 'real opposition', at least to anything that the government opposes:
Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Danny Alexander said: "Once again, the Tories have missed the point about welfare reform. Millions of sick and disabled people want to work, but the government has failed to provide the tailored support they need to find a job."

Source: The Guardian

Let's be fair to Alexander, not only is he one of the more honest people in UK politics bearing his surname, but he is right to point out that the plans on a carrot side could do with a bit more fleshing out, but in general it seems that he too has missed the point that the proposal applies only to those who have rejected job offers, not those unable to get such an offer. There is still the implicit presumption against any application of the stick, anyone who listens to one end of the claimants involved in their willing acceptance of life on the taxpayers' payroll should realise that both are desperately needed.

Looking at the numbers involved and the high bar set for having benefits withdrawn it does appear to be a modest proposal. Personally I'd love to see a more ambitious target and for each and every penny saved over the basic target to fund an increase in Incapacity Benefits so those who are genuinely unable to work, for reasons physical or mental, can live the kind of dignified life that a modern society like ours should be able to offer once the abuse is stopped.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Despair and Hope

Big Brother
The Nightmare Returns
A while ago I celebrated the news that Celebrity Big Brother was to be axed, only for my joy to be somewhat tempered by the news that it was only to be axed for 2008.

Come 2008 and I have the same feelings in the reverse, with the news that in fact it was not axed, merely changed in format bringing the despair before the silver lining of the news that it's viewing figures have collapsed and the notable lack of interest in proceedings in the pubs of the Village.

OK, still over 3 million did watch but, just like all those lawyer jokes end and with apologies to Jackart, it's a good start.

That said, perhaps the new format, where I understand that the celebrities set tasks for the house mates, does show some promise. It could even, for the first time, make me seek celebrity.
"So...you've got the extension lead and the toaster?"

"That's good...and you are sure that everything is plugged in?"

"Yes, that is when it is all red and glowing inside."

"Now...you know how you were complaining that the water in the bath wasn't hot enough..."

This assumes of course the non-availability of an accessible gas main and hacksaw.

The best news of all is that five minutes after reading the BBC article I've already forgotten the names of all involved, so my count of known contestants remains proudly on three.

Risk Management

Like several other people I am very pleased to discover, originally via Mr Paine, the return of Theo Spark in a new blog guise. Not only is it as much of a visual delight as its predecessor, but his much hat-tipped publicising of a very funny presentation on the dangers of blogging was a valuable reminder to go and pay a long overdue visit to the TED website.

I have to admit that for me, Yossi Vardi's warnings of blogging biohazards was pipped at the post by this, from Gever Tulley, on 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do:

I just wish the live audience had been full of UK health and safety fruitcakes, so I could have enjoyed the the thuds of them hitting the floor as they collapsed and the sounds of their heads exploding.

I'm not sure about the idea of giving kids pocket knives but I know I did all of the others and, as much as it may beyond the capability of the killjoy brigade to understand, playing with fire did not make me into an arsonist, driving my dad's car a little in an empty car park didn't make me into a joy rider, and so on and so forth. As for dismantling obsolete domestic appliances, it did actually help create an interest in engineering, even if it was ultimately bacterial genomes that I learned to pull apart at university rather than old TV sets.

The only trouble we got in to from any of these activities was when my friends and I burned a dozen copies of one of our school books. In my defence, I should say this was long before I had any knowledge of the negative connotations of book burning and as an English set-book I still feel that Steinbeck's 'The Pearl' is a rare exception that more than merits such treatment.

Usually when you hear children asked why they get involved in various kinds anti-social behaviour or crime, the word 'bored' appears more often than any appeal about poverty or 'social exclusion'. If I'd grown up in the risk-averse, antiseptic kind of environment the government and a hundred and one self-important campaign groups seem to think is best world for kids I know I'd have been bloody bored too.