Thursday, May 31, 2007

Good Causes

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database state
Fighting Back Against
Big Brother
I've just added a new feature in the sidebar which (if my JavaScript is good enough should be slide-showing some of the Internet based campaigns that are around at the moment and which I am strongly inclined to support.

Some of these campaigns have produced results in the past so I'm pleased to add my minuscule little bit to support them. I've included three initially.

First and foremost is the NO2ID campaign. This is the only one of the three I have had any personal contact with and it's an issue very close to my heart. I've met some of the people behind NO2ID and it's impossible not to be impressed with the hard work they do and the results they achieve, on a shoestring budget, against the might of the Home Office's spin machine. Their media penetration belies their limited size and they are clearly winning the battle for hearts and minds in the war against NuLab's Big Brother.

Second up, and loathed though I am to support anything from the Lib Dems, they seem to be the only people trying to garner public support for the fight against the Freedom of Information (Keep Parliament Secret) bill. I can't really say I could bring myself to hand over hard cash to the Lib Dem coffers, but their MP's performances in the Commons in fighting this insidious little bill have been impressive and must be commended.

Felicity Jane Lowde
Felicity Jane Lowde
Finally there is a campaign that has been highlighted on many of the blogs that are daily must-reads for me, looking for help in tracking down a fugitive serial stalker. I must admit other than a brief 'due diligence' scan of the underlying stories I still don't know the whole tale behind this particular saga. That said, it's amazing the number of people I know, especially women, who have fallen victim to this very disturbing type of behaviour, and as most of the reports come from sources that as far as I am concerned are pretty reliable I'm glad to do my little bit of promotion of the cause.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Big Brother...of the NUT?

In Need of Education?
Some of the activities of the NATFHE, representing staff in higher education, last year did make me wonder if that is exactly what its post merger successor, the University and College Union, would become. An organisation legitimately representing the voice their membership at large, or a debating society devoted to preserving the corpse of long dead arguments?

Today was a day of mixed messages on the subject. I was alerted to the fact that UCU were holding their conference this week by an article on the BBC website centring on whether or not they would back government requests for them to report on activities amongst their students that may be suggestive of extremist activity. I wasn’t especially interested in this as I was sure they would reject the opportunity to be Reid’s spies on the campus, which they duly did and I applaud them for doing so. However the term used was that they were set to ‘boycott’ this bit of NuLab’s Big Brotherism, so I started to wonder if the old chestnut of boycotting Israeli institutions and academics was about to rear its dog-ugly head again. I started wading through the fraternal greetings and composites of their meeting’s agenda, which was predictably light on the interests of their members and the good of higher education in general, heavy in political posturing. I was beaten to it by Archbishop Cranmer took a shortcut via the Socialist Worker to find the typical moronic bilge.
Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.

Congress instructs the NEC to
  • circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;

  • encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;

  • organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;

  • issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.

I was ready to vent my own spleen on the mind numbing stupidity of such measures, however three things quelled my indignation :

  • The motion (which passed) only invited institutions to consider the request by allied Palestinian unions to have an anti-Israeli boycott, and made only vague reference to future kindergarten behaviour

  • It became clear that the union leadership were opposed to bigoted actions like this

  • In a separate vote the existing boycott of two Israeli higher education bodies, inherited from the NATFHE days was lifted

So I’ll have to be fair minded and say credit where credit is due. I doubt the passing of the motion for institutions to consider a boycott will have much effect; once they are back at their day jobs I suspect the activists will find their influence diluted by enough colleagues with enough common sense not to indulge in such counterproductive posturing. Even if the somewhat more moderate line of the leadership did not prevail on the motion which did pass, the lifting of the existing boycott is a blow for common sense.

The extremists of course were not happy with the latter outcome. One particular LSE victim quoted by the BBC typified the self-deluding bullshit that we come to expect:
"The struggle goes on. This is the end of the beginning.

"We are not surprised. We saw people who did not come to earlier meetings there and we knew what the outcome would be.

"We won the moral argument. They just won the vote."

Sue Blackwell, Birmingham University

Well as we say in Yorkshire ‘You can have t’ moral cup then luv’, common sense won the real one.

Why do I even care? I’m in the ‘plague on both your houses’ camp when it comes to Middle Eastern affairs. I do find much anti-Israeli sentiment from the left to be based not on moral judgement but a tenuous link between ‘Israel’ and ‘right wing’ or on dated prejudices, but that’s not what worries me most.

I’ve got no answers that I can put forward with confidence about the future for secondary education in this country. I do know though that despite some known problems, from worthless degree subjects to the seemingly ever more limited abilities of the domestic intake, much of the upper end of our higher education system is still world-class. The number of overseas students who vote with their feet, and their money is testament to this. This success has in no small part been built on resisting political interference; the last thing that is needed is political corrosion from within starting the rot.

Boycotts like this also strike at the heart of what, beyond the study advanced subject matter of whatever nature, is probably the most important opportunity afforded by the few years many of us spend in the world of academia. I mean of course beer and sex the fact the in the course of your study you are made not only to learn, but to debate, to justify and where necessary to defend and rebut. You learn to do this without the use of props such as mindless slogans, shouting and certainly without violence; perhaps a little irritation, but no hatred.

In my second year at University I ended up in a lab group with half a dozen others for a term. One was an Israeli, a proud one, who had come to Cambridge only once he had done what he saw to be his duty in national service; he’d not actually been involved in any controversial actions but was quite open that he would have done, within reason, whatever he was told to do by his commanding officer. Another was a Moslem woman, clearly very observant to the tenets of her faith. I never asked her about exactly where she came from but minor details of dress (and according to more linguistically talented people than I, language) suggested Palestinian roots.

The two had not the slightest problem working together. They would also have tea together while the rest of us swilled lager after the lab session. They would talk, even argue, often heatedly, but they would also laugh together. While some of these arguments were about faraway political problems, more of them were about the same sort of rubbish that got the rest of us hot under the collar. I saw many other positive examples at University, more later on in business, and still more when I worked in America for a while. In each case a loyalty to a different ideal took precedence over tribal identities and constructive, even friendly, dialogue took place.

It still doesn’t happen enough, and to try and close down one type of forum where it does take place for reasons of petty ideological posturing is beneath contempt. My suggestion to any student of today who finds that a given lecturer supports this type of action is to consider whether, without prejudice to your education, it is possible to boycott their particular courses.

As a rule I found, with only one exception that dates back to primary school, that the ones that are good at this type of outmoded politics won’t be very good at their day job anyway. ‘Those who can do, those who can’t teach’ is a load of crap (thunderbolt from ex-parent teachers averted); it always seemed to me though that within the profession that ‘Those who can teach, those that can’t become the union rep’ seems a fair enough adage.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Liberty's Requiem Miscellany No. 1

The first in what, considering the charisma bypasss most of our polititians seem to have undergone to achieve high office, is likely to be a very occasional series.

Many know that behind the grey, in all senses of the word, image of Sir Menzies Campbell lies a colourful sporting past. As unlikely as it may seem, he was once a fine athlete, holding the British 100 meter record for over six years, captaining Scotland in what is now the Commonwealth (don't mention the E-word) Games and representing Britain at the 1964 Olympic games. The problem is that it all seems so unlikley now in the face of the Menzies we know on the political stage that I don't think they can make use of this once dynamic side of Ming.

The hero of the latest bit of political trivia I stumbled across is the former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke. As someone who is far more in tune with the ideas of John Howard, the current incumbent of the post, and who I consider a bit of a role model for sensible, progressive (in the real sense of the word) centre right leadership, it pains me to say that I am impressed with this little factoid,
'His academic achievements were possibly outweighed by the notoriety he achieved as the holder of a world record for the fastest consumption of beer: a yard glass (approximately 3 imperial pints or 1.7 litres) in eleven seconds.

In his memoirs, Hawke suggested that this single feat may have contributed to his political success more than any other, by endearing him to a voting population with a strong beer culture.'

Source: Wikipedia

Listen and learn Mr Cameron, perhaps those days of the Bullingdon Club could actually pay off. Stuff calling for debates on the BBC where, if they happened, Ming, the dour one and yourself would just p*** everyone off by parroting the usual lines.

Challenge them to a proper drinking contest and the Child of the Manse would stand no chance whatsoever. Ming could be a risk but age is on your side. It looks like a dead cert to me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Nanny Back on the Sauce?

Pint Glass
A Glass...For Now
Distressing news has recently reached me from a former colleague who now works for Accenture, but whose opinion I still trust. The evil empire has dispatched him to an English town not far from where I grew up. I shall not name it as the local rag where he read the news has no web presence so until I have his promised press clipping by snail mail I don't have documentary proof. Strangely he had no access to a scanner. Perhaps not strangely though, as he is working on a government project which probably means that it will go horribly wrong at some stage, so it might be a sensible leak control mechanism. It’s the clipping itself he is sending, not a photocopy which might also be significant.

The gist of it though is that yet again a local authority is proposing mandatory use of polycarbonate ‘glasses’ in place of the traditional ones made of, erm, glass. Now, applied in a limited sensible way this seems like good policy. Some councils are considering the measure as a licensing condition for pubs with a track record of violent incidents and plastics are certainly a little safer. In some places even without a likelihood of any trouble, like outdoors and at sporting events it makes perfect sense too.

One problem however is that a local MP is apparently quoted as saying that a national scheme merits serious attention. He couldn't remember the name of the MP when I spoke to him, but knew it was a woman. Checking on potentially interested local MPs one name sprung to the fore, the same delightful Caroline Flint I commented on earlier today. God forbid that it gets on her agenda, because experience tells us that the only thing that she will not accept any form of sensible policy. She would want to make sure that those in the leafy suburbs and the countryside suffer the same crap drinking vessels as the type of scum that create the agro and probably (if they vote at all) vote for her and her brain dead party.

The other issue is that polycarbonate really isn't that much safer. Albeit accidentally incurred I've seen some pretty nasty cuts from broken polycarbonate glasses too. The alternatives are not appealing, mainly consisting of vessels with the structural integrity of a plastic sandwich packet; you know the ones, the type where you have to stack three inside each other to make it possible to hold them crushing out the beer. There are even worse possibilities.

I've had a look and there don’t appear to be any proposals coming forward on the Westminster agenda, but its one of those areas where eternal vigilance is called for. It must be realised that being known as "the one who introduced the Tupperware pint" would actually be considered a badge of honour by the type of froth that rises to the top of the NuLab glass.

I hope I'm wrong but let us not forget these words attributed to Winston Churchill,
"Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery."

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill KG (1874-1965)

NuLab cronies actually probably think the last clause is there for balance and showed that there was some hope for the great gentleman.

I shall attack more fully when I see the evidence.

Update 10:30PM: Everyone at the mother ship thinks the legislation is on the way...have I missed something? Very worrying.

(Bank Holiday) Monday Once More

Just Another Washed-out Monday
There are certain traditions that surround bank holidays. Most of these, such as filthy weather, traffic jams and French air traffic control or dock worker strikes, are well known. One lesser known tradition is that should any politician have the temerity to suggest sensible changes to bank holiday arrangements he or she will have, unwittingly or otherwise, have stepped on to one of the more obscure ‘third rails’ of British politics. Any potential middle ground consensus becomes impossible and old fashioned tribal warfare begins in earnest.

Any Conservative proposal is rejected out of hand as being an attack on the May Day bank holiday whether or not it effects this particular holiday. It is natural that those afflicted by leftism does so; after all it is their unique privilege to have a national holiday that is associated with their particular political ideology. Those in the advanced terminal stages of this terrible disease have lost all the battles that really count, so I think we can afford them May Day as some kind of palliative care; a pointless battle we can let them win, even if most of us associate May Day with parades of SS20 missiles through Red Square rather than anything positive.

Labour proposals invariably involve ‘more’ to bring us up to ‘European Averages’. Cue another battle. We could probably handle an extra public holiday but even I’d find it hard to find common ground with the Labour proposers of the various EDMs and adjournment debates. In general, I find being far from European Averages in terms of employment law to be a good thing and the language of the arguments of those in favour tends to betray the instinctive distrust of business from the Labour benches. Alternatively, you find the root of their desire for change is based in their outmoded views of multiculturalism and hence the religious roots of holidays like that today and Easter.

As it happens there is a change I would like to see; I think it is sensible and does not tread on any of the various sensibilities.

Why not move all the one off bank holiday Mondays to the previous Friday, other than at Easter which already has Good Friday. I suggest five reasons for this.

  • Productivity : Thursday is an increasingly popular drinking day, especially for work groups. Friday bank holidays would allow people to have a belter on Thursday without having to endure the typical nightmare Friday.

  • The Working Week: No matter how hard I try tomorrow will just feel like another Tuesday. Starting a week on a Monday, knowing that I only had to survive to Thursday really would feel like a four day week.

  • Sunday: It just gets in the way situated in the middle of a three day weekend; much better that it is a chilled out day at the end of it all.

  • Religious Neutrality: It would probably be popular with the Muslim minority to have a day off on Friday, thereby spiking the guns of the multiculturalists over terms like ‘Whitsun’.

  • Weather: Who knows…it might be the magic bullet!

Oh dear, rereading all of that it all sounds all to sensible, there isn’t a cat in hells chance of getting anyone to take up the challenge!

Nanny in the Saloon Bar

New Drinks Label
Irresponsible New Drinks Label
TV news has had a lot of coverage of the voluntatry agreement between health ministers and the drinks issue over health lables on alcohol. I think the public health minister Caroline Flint's team must have had one too many units at lunchtime before signing off on this scheme. Looking at the minister herself's track record I don't think it would really matter whether or not she had, even for a member of this governent she has a history of backing entheusiastically any interfering, nit-picking, liberty eroding measures her colleagues can come up with.

We're already used to the enigmatic 'Contains Sulphites' cropping up on many bottles of wine we buy. I'm not sure if this is a warning or an endorsement. My chemistry is good enough to know what sulphites are, but my physiology knowledge too poor to know if they are good for me or bad for me. In the end it just takes up space that could better be used for more interesting information about the wine's pedigree. But let's put aside the aesthetics of plastering your nice bottle of burgandy with these ugly lables. Will they actually have any effect? Actually I think they will.

According to the minister.
"This landmark, voluntary agreement will help people calculate, at a glance, how much they are drinking...

"This is about helping people to make the right choices."

Caroline Flint
Irresponsible Minister
Wow, for once I find myself in agreement with Flint. Every chav in the land will no longer have to rely on anecdotal evidence to decide whether it is getting down 10 Smirnoff Ices or 12 vodka and cokes before vomitting that makes you the hardest. Even in the most moronic groups someone will be able to do the maths. Even among less unpleasant boozers I can imagine the range of new drinking games we will be able to come up with.

Yes, we have a binge drinking culture, and yes it is a problem, but when it comes to the binge drinking culture I can really see this proving more part of the problem than the solution in the long term. Anyone who has seen the way the binge drinkers use the alcohol by volume figures on premium lager pumps to help pick their drinks and peer pressure their friend's choices will know that the effect of this labeling can only be negative.

As for the government's Chief Medical Officer's recommended limits, sorry Sir Liam Donaldson, but considering the quality of recommendations from this government's professional advisors, I think I'll be sticking to my own recommended figures which are somwhat different.

Naturally, the pressure groups behind the scheme have been somewhat lukewarm in their response the proposals. According to Don Shenkar of alcohol concern,
"In terms of cans and bottles, it's a very good first step" (My emphasis)

Why is that 'first step' uttered by the representatives of pressure groups fill sane people of a libetatrian bent with such utter terror. Experience I guess. Some of the extreme fringe anti-drinking campaigners have suggested a legally enforced daily limit. Sadly with these types of organisation, what was once fringe and extreme can very quickly become mainstream thinking and then, with a suitably illiberal government, the law of the land. Already the tone of disappointment that it is a 'voluntary arrangement' is coming through loud and clear.

Another rant on the nanny in the saloon bar to follow...

A Real Hero

Tul Bahadur Pun, VC
Tul Bahadur Pun VC
There is a story circulating on many blogs, which had their genesis in The Daily Mail. I'm not going to echo here the outrage that so many have rightly felt over the story. It is a tale of British officialdom at its worst and the victim of the bureaucracy a hero of the highest order, a man who has given so much to this country denied a little comfort at the end of his life at the stroke of a civil servant's pen.

I'd encourage anyone who hasn't yet caught on to this story to look at the fuller discussions on it at sites like Iain Dale's Diary where there are several suggestions on how we can all help bring pressure to bear as the decision approaches judicial review.

I'll simply close as so many others have done with Tul Bahadur Pun's VC Citation.
“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to :- No. 10119 Rifleman Tullbahadur (sic) Pun, 6th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army. In Burma on June 23rd, 1944, a Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles was ordered to attack the Railway Bridge at Mogaung. Immediately the attack developed the enemy opened concentrated and sustained cross fire at close range from a position known as the Red House and from a strong bunker position two hundred yards to the left of it. So intense was this cross fire that both the leading platoons of ‘B’ Company, one of which was Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun’s, were pinned to the ground and the whole of his Section was wiped out with the exception of himself, the Section commander and one other man. The Section commander immediately led the remaining two men in a charge on the Red House but was at once badly wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun and his remaining companion continued the charge, but the latter too was immediately wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun then seized the Bren Gun, and firing from the hip as he went, continued the charge on this heavily bunkered position alone, in the face of the most shattering concentration of automatic fire, directed straight at him. With the dawn coming up behind him, he presented a perfect target to the Japanese. He had to move for thirty yards over open ground, ankle deep in mud, through shell holes and over fallen trees. Despite these overwhelming odds, he reached the Red House and closed with the Japanese occupations. He killed three and put five more to flight and captured two light machine guns and much ammunition. He then gave accurate supporting fire from the bunker to the remainder of his platoon which enabled them to reach their objective. His outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise.”

Were he alive today, I'm sure the King would bow be mightily displeased.

Update, 3rd July: Common sense has prevailed.

Too Clever by Half

Blog Rule
Technological Humiliation
Argh...I should really be able to master this. Unfortunately I tried to do something innovative with the blogspot platform which it obviously didn't like as none of the weekends postings appeared. I'm restoring these now en masse (ok not too big a masse) but it has been a bit of a 'stream of consciousness' weekend so there may be the odd continuity error around the time-line of postings, which I can't really be bothered proof-reading to check out, but apologise for.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Wounded in Battle

In an earlier posting I challenged the good certain pressure groups have done for the communities they seek to represent. That said most are driven by people whose actions are driven by a passionate belief in their cause and in many cases are prepared to take actions in pursuit of that cause that most of us simply don't have the guts or commitment to emulate.

News has come via the BBC that 'Veteran British [Australian actually but it is only the BBC] gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell' (to use the standard formulation) was assaulted and then arrested at a gay rights rally in Moscow today.

There are a few small parts of the agenda which Mr Tatchell puts forward with which I cannot agree. I'm not entirely convinced either of the merits of activists involving themselves so prominently in events like this in other parts of the world; they may be the same issues, but it is a very different country at a different stage in its development and there has to be some sensitivity to cultural differences. In the realm of the Internet he now has a role as an occasional presenter on 18 Doughty Street where he positively drools over a collection of a worse collection of ridiculous POLs (or "progressives" as he would probably prefer) in his interviews than you could imagine in your worst nightmare.

I can't even begin to justify some of his actions. Probably the invasion of the Easter Sunday service being held by the then Archbishop of Canterbury was the worst. If they wanted to expose some hypocrisy of the cleric in question, that's fine by me. I've got no time for religion of any flavour and don't think it deserves any special immunities from just criticism. That said that there was a congregation there who did believe on one of the most special days of the year for them and common courtesy dictates that their rights to celebrate their own, equally strongly held, beliefs in their own way should have been respected.

All of that said, it's clear from his Interview on 18 Doughty Street that he fights hard for things he believes in, that this has been at a significant cost to himself in many ways and could have followed a much easier course. Regardless of the wisdom of being there he was only in Moscow to put forward his arguments in a peaceful way. Nobody should be exposed to the type of thuggery, in response to simply speaking ones mind, that seems to take place in Russia on an increasingly frequent basis.

The follow up reports suggest that the assault was not at the worse end of the scale, and I'm sure its unlikely that even Putin wants the flack of serious legal action against those who have been arrested. Even so it should not have happened, it's yet another black mark against the type of country Russia is becoming. I wish Mr Tatchell well and hope he's back soon so I can fume more about of some of his wilder flights of fancy.