Saturday, July 21, 2007

Just When You Think You've Heard it All

Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Wisdom in Ten Words
This country has produced some of the greatest wordsmiths of all time, poets, playwrights and novelists alike, but for expressing an obvious but often overlooked truth in a single sentence that will stick with you for a lifetime I think most, Wilde and Shaw possibly excepted, must still bow down to an American, specifically one Mr Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

I thought I knew all the best of his wry observations on l'état humain but it seems like I've missed a classic:

Good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

It's as true today as when the ink was still wet from its first writing.

More Support for the BNP Coming?

St George's Cross
Used by the extreme left to divide,
by everyone else to unite.
The unintending cheerleaders of the BNP are back at it in one of its northern strongholds, Burnley in Lancashire, an area, sadly like my own home town where those idiots need very little help.

More politically correct stupidity from today's Telegraph:

"A black dustman has been banned from wearing a St George's Cross bandana because council officials say it could be regarded as racist.

"Matthew Carter, 35, who was born in Barbados, used the headgear to keep his dreadlocks out of the way while he was on his rounds in Burnley, Lancs."

Source: The Telegraph

The most telling line in the article though is:
"He had done so for seven months before his photograph appeared in a local newspaper. A number of local people complained, and his superiors called him."

Source: The Telegraph

So actually nobody had any problems until he appeared in the paper...hardly surprisingly as the small minded POLs who complained probably have nice family friendly hours in some politically correct non-job and would still be fast asleep while Mr Carter was hard at work offending precisely nobody. These people test my liberal instincts so badly.

Update 9:00PM: The Thunder Dragon thinks it's pretty absurd too. Hear Hear.

Smoke Without Fire

Causing Long Term Mental Problems?
Perhaps the most tabloid inflated piece of irrelevance of the last week was the sequence of revelations over NuLab minister's revelations over drug taking in their university days. We might all have had a chortle over the Drugs Cabinet, Stoned Office and the new Home Secretary, the Right Honourable Jacqui Spliff MP, but frankly who gives a damn? There is material aplenty to bash the Home Office for, but compared to the succession of disasters a sequence of Home Secretaries have presided over in their dog-eat-dog contest to beat their predecessors in the blinkered authoritarianism and limited competency stakes, whether or not they skinned up at university is pretty small beer.

We're in an age now where for a new generation of ministers, it will only be the immensely dull who won't at least have considered the odd toke while at university. I suppose that's why the only surprising revelations were that Alistair Darling and Ruth Kelly had also tried a spliff, although in the revolting Kelley's case someone had probably just told her it was something new to put in the censor for high mass. At the other extreme the recent revelation that the dull
David Miliband was clean, while Hazel Blears had experimented, as well the older news that Caroline Flint had too, were real dog bites man stories, and in the latter case could explain a lot if she has continued in the habit.

Slightly more nauseating, as highlighted by The Thunder Dragon is the fact that whilst they had all experimented on 'a few' or 'several' occasions, almost everyone claimed not to have enjoyed the experience. For the record, I have consumed cannabis on a fairly regular basis, either once or twice per year, and I have known some people who have not enjoyed any form of illicit drug. That said a slight majority did, and those that didn't usually never tried it again.

So what are we are to assume from these various ministerial pronouncements? That they were too soft in the head to withstand peer pressure to try again? Not likely, in fact, on educational record most seem to be among the brighter of lights on Gordon's team of all the talentless, even if intelligence has in true NuLab style not brought wisdom. Or should we just assume that they think the entire British public is stupid enough to believe them in their pointless politically correct lies? Yes that fits a lot better.

To Legalise or not to Legalise?
Drug policy has always been difficult for the sensible wing of libertarianism that I like to think I am part of. Part of me really doesn't give a damn if these ministers go off for their summer holidays in a couple of weeks and openly roll one up in whichever freebie villa or yacht they happen to find themselves. I've lit up one evening and been as compis mentis as ever the next day, perhaps even more so as I do tend to ultimately just fall asleep much earlier than I do under the influence of other more legal substances.

On the other hand I do acknowledge that there are a set of serious social ills that stem from drug usage, and these do, on many occasions, cross that boundary line where the exercise of one person's liberty's impinge seriously on those of others. I'm also sure that these problems are getting worse, not better.

I think there certainly is truth in the claim that some of the 'softer' drugs become much more powerful over time, or at least that more powerful variants have become available. I can't think of anything that I have smoked in this country that has left me completely incapable but having had a rather regrettable incident with a spiral staircase in Amsterdam I do know there are plenty of things out there that could be called 'just a joint' that could make oneself a hazard to yourself and others. That said trying the same variety again in the safety of my hotel room was a lot of fun.

In that observation, I think is part of the answer to the moderate libertarian's dilemma, and at last I think I have a personal policy on the legalisation of drugs rather than a 'mmm...that's a tough one'. Fine then, let's legalise pretty much all drugs other than the most serious of class A drugs. Let's take the advantages in seeing the end of the illegal trade and focus scarce resources on these most destructive of substances. Let's have a sensible minimum age for consumption as we have with tobacco and alcohol and come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who pedals to those too young to fully think through the consequences of their actions. But let's add just one more very specific rule - that consumption of these substances must take place either in the privacy of a private home, or at premises designed for and dedicated solely to that one purpose.

Society accepts, or at least tolerates almost any type of sexual behaviour these days, but that does not convey with it an acceptance that it should take place in public, and that others should be subjected to others exercising their liberties. What goes on behind closed doors in private homes, or at a pinch, in premises dedicated to the purpose is a different matter. So it should be too with the consumption of narcotics. People don't (usually) expect to be subjected to the sight of people loosing control, and thereby awareness of the impact they may be having on others, at the peak of sexual ecstasy down at the local pub (no, not even on a Friday night at the Base Camp), and nor should they expect to be subjected to people out of control through artificial chemically induced highs.

So go home, enjoy a spliff, or sex, in the privacy of your home and nobody really has the right to give a damn what you get up to, and even less to prohibit you from doing it. In fact, why not do both...there is something to be said for it you know.


My involvement with the 'Backing Boris' Facebook Application I came across the rather fun Boriswatch site, which as well as a blog dedicated to the next Mayor of London, features a fine collection of quotes by the man himself of which I feature a few of my favourites below.

“I don’t see why people are so snooty about Channel 5. It has some respectable documentaries about the Second World War.

It also devotes considerable airtime to investigations into lap dancing, and other related and vital subjects.”

Boris Johnson
On Channel 5 (Now 'Five')

“He is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet.”

Boris Johnson
On Tony Blair

“My hair has yet to induce epilepsy and cost considerably less than £400,000 to design.”

Boris Johnson
When Boris’s hair was compared to the new London 2012 Olympic logo, 9th June 2007

H/T Boriswatch

Friday, July 20, 2007

Something for the Weekend

I must admit I've never been a big fan of the main Monty programmes, as much as I love the various Pythons' appearances in other projects as well as most of the films. That said I came across this on YouTube today and loved it:

Oh god, we're not really meant to enjoy things like that any more, are we? It will probably be an offence under some EU xenophobia directive in the next few years, so enjoy this and its ilk while you can.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Playground Politics

The Kremlin
Back to the bad old days?
The last few days have seen a bit of a blast from the past with the tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, first by the UK government of Russian embassy staff from London then a retaliatory expulsion on British diplomats from Moscow. Events like these seemed pretty commonplace up until the mid 1980s, but have been increasingly uncommon, at least between two states of any real international significance since the fall of Eastern Europe's communist regimes.

Obviously the casus belli is the refusal of the Russian government to extradite a suspect in the case of the appalling poisoning of Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko, a prominent critic of the Putin regime, in London. It was a deeply repugnant act and I too would hope that those against whom a firm case can be made against should face appropriate charges. I'm certainly no fan of the Putin government either, one which practises a particularly crude form of politics to bully and intimidate both internal opposition and critics beyond its borders, even if it does stop short of some of the atrocities and genocides of its forebears against the former. I do doubt that the murder was in any way directly on Putin's orders, simply because the political risks would always outweigh the limited advantage, but I'm equally sure that he wouldn't shed any tears over the terrible way the victim died.

For all of that the current situation has left me not only incredulous at the puerile ways our lords and masters carry their foreign policies at times, but also wondering whether, in the case in hand, Putin and Russia are actually in the right.

I mentioned in a posting at the time of his appointment that time of his appointment that I found David Miliband as Foreign Secretary quite an interesting choice and with the ability of foreign affairs to often rise above any particular party political standpoint, one that I would genuinely watch with an open mind. The opening salvos from the Miliband Foreign Office have, I'm afraid, not been promising.

We've moved on from a flurry of contradictory briefings from various senior NuLab figures that may, or may not have indicated a shift in Foreign policy towards a more Eurocentric and less Atlanticist position with no apparent managerial control from the man at the top. When Miliband himself did speak, the kindest thing you could hope that he was simply fluffing an attempt to be deliberately obscure on the matter rather than simply being out of his depth and just adding to the confusion.

Now it has got worse. I'm not sure if tit-for-tat expulsions of each others diplomats was ever an especially effective tactic, even at the height of the cold war. I suppose, in those days, it at least was a bit like a bluff in a poker game with incredibly high stakes; functionally useless but it increasing the pressure on your opponents in a game they could not afford to lose. We are not in a cold war now though, and for all the ridiculous behaviour by Putin, it doesn't seem that likely we are going to find ourselves in another one even after recent events. In today's changed world it is charitable to call the approach 'childish'.

I've no doubt whatsoever that the surprisingly microbrained Miliband was simply trying to appear tough on an issue that the British people, rightly, would like to see some action taken on. The way he chose to do it was laughably predictable. I can't think of anyone, in the media, or in real life who expected anything other than like-for-like retaliation from the Russian government with no change in their policy. What do the Foreign Office think they are trying to achieve? Impress the Russian government with their seriousness? They already knew, just didn't give a damn. The press? They all, friends and foe alike, accurately predicted the inevitable outcome these actions without praise. The British public? Even the man on the street knew it would achieve nothing.

Maybe it's just one of 'the ways things are done' in the arcane world of the Foreign Office, but here out in real world, when we realise we are doing something pointless we think about doing something different instead rather than wasting our energies on tasks of complete futility. I suspect the Skoda minds of the British Civil Service may well be revving beyond their limit once again.

It would be more forgivable if at every level their cause was just, but as I alluded to earlier, I'm not sure it is. At one level it has merits. The idea that someone should answer, where sufficient evidence exists, a charge made against them, is of course a case worth fighting for. The rule of law is a precious gift, which is why it is all the more strange that the British Government should be angrily demanding that Russia should abandon it. Regardless of whether Mr Putin would, or would not care to extradite the suspect in question it would, as Russian law stands, to carry out the extradition would not only be illegal, but also unconstitutional as such practises are specifically outlawed. Russian law does provide for its citizens to be tried in Russian Courts for offences committed overseas, and will accept the evidence of overseas law enforcement agencies, but as this prospect has not even been mentioned in this case it can only be concluded that the case against the suspects in question is not especially strong anyway, and this might be nothing more than a fishing expedition, once again to give the impression of the the government 'doing something'.

It would be fair to say that if Russia want to be fully accepted as part of the world community it will have, one day, to change this provision of its constitution, but even were it to do so today it would hardly be likely to have retrospective effect. It makes it very hard to see what the Foreign Office is demanding the Russians should do. Turn a blind eye to their own laws? Tear up a constitution that was agreed by the Russian people in a popular vote in 1994? For all it's faults it at least has provided some constraint over Putin's actions, and one of the few truly clever moves by Boris Yeltsin was to ensure that there were many checks and balances that make it hard for any successor to amend it in their favour.

As it's probably the same bunch of chinless second-raters who are among the strongest proponents of there being no say for the British people over any EU constitutional treaty, its probably the later they seek, incapable as they are of understanding how unreasonable that demand is. As much as we might dislike some of the things Moscow does, perhaps in terms of understanding the importance of constitutional stability, inviolability and the importance of public respect for a constitutional settlement, it might be that the Russians could teach their Foreign Office counterparts a thing or two.

They won't of course, as long as our officials and their political masters keep playing the same old tired public schoolyard games.

Update Saturday: Yury Fedotov, Russian Ambassador to the Court of St James's, makes the same case in today's Telegraph. One of the commenters does highlight that there is a construction that could be put on the constitution that would allow for a federal law permitting deportation to be introduced. This however does not fundamentally change the situation though. Such a law would need to be introduced, not simply have the constitutional provisions be ignored. Even it this is legally possible, the practice of instituting laws with retrospective effect, designed to target specific individuals has been frowned on by mature democracies for centuries. We should not expect to Russia to ignore sensible constitutional conventions and provisions that we consider to be part of the ethical basis of our own systems of government. Are we really suggesting that Russia should introduce the type of Bill of Attainder, that was such a notorious feature of old British government that they were specifically outlawed by the American constitution, before we also dropped the practice in the 1800s? It seems to be another example of bad cases making for bad law.

Backing Boris II

Neatly linking together yesterday's posting about Facebook and one from earlier today on BoJo's bid for the London Mayorality, Liberty's Requiem has been pleased to provide a little technical consultancy on, and hosting for an unofficial "I'm Backing Boris" Facebook application to back Boris' bid. The application allows supporters show their supprt by displaying The Thunder Dragon's campaign poster on their Facebook profile page, along with a few other goodies such as links to relevant Facebook groups and 'Boris TV'. I was quite proud of my De Pfeffelometer which charts the progress in application sign ups!

Sign up now, just click the button on the banner above!

The Kids Among You...

Look away now to avoid a plot spoiler for the ending of the latest Harry Potter novel, adults, don't worry...I don't think there's anything that will have JK Rowlings lawyers on your case if you watch it!

H/T EURSOC - An old favourite back on great form.

Backing Boris to Bash Ken

Boris Johnson
A Gaffe and Offence Prone Mayor?
Crikey - Plus Ça Change...!
There have been quite a lot of things happening over the past few weeks in the world of politics. We've had a change of Prime Minister, as sadly a not insignificant proportion of the country will unbelievably have failed to notice (I kid ye not - I know at least one intelligent person who was not aware of Mrs Thatcher's demise until well into John Major's second year). Probably the biggest issue for the two main opposition parties' leaderships today will be the two bye-elections in Ealing Southall and Sedgefield, where whoever actually comes the 'distant third', that each predicts for the other will probably come under a lot of pressure, especially if it's Ming. Across the channel Senor Barroso is showing all the signs of a Napoleon Complex. Not quite like any other Napoleon complex of course, after he is, in his own words, the president of the first non-imperial empire (????). There's nothing new in what he said of course, but he's the first Commission President to have been enough of a bumbling idiot to actually say it. Jean Monet must be turning in his grave to hear the imperial ambitions of the EU proclaimed, at least so publicly, regardless of the bizarre caveats Barroso attached.

My focus though, has been strangely drawn to matters more local this week, on an issue that I've rarely given that much thought to.

The deadline to enter the primary race to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London passed on Monday and the likely shortlist of candidates for the primary stage appears to be coming together. Lots of hats have already been thrown in the ring already and thanks to 18 Doughty Street and Iain Dale's series of interviews I've had chance to listen to most of their owners. I really hate say it, because every one of them showed a lot of enthusiasm for the job, nerve to be standing for the post in the first place and had at least a couple of unique policies I could back, but I couldn't see a serious rounded candidate among them. The closest was probably DJ Mike Read, who I'd have to admit did impress in his Doughty Street, but at the end of the day I can't help thinking that his undoubted brand-recognition factor would ultimately have turned out to be a sword two equally well-honed cutting edges.

The general consensus as the deadline approach seemed to be that, at the last minute, Steve Norris would step into the breach for another attempt to unseat the repellent terrorist, tin-pot dictator and newt fancier. There also seemed to be another tacit consensus, if the general reaction to this possibility was any measure, that the most likely outcome in such a match up will be Norris running the Vile One (no not the Poison Dwarf (q.v) - Even Ken isn't that bad) very close once again, but again not close enough. My gut instinct leads me to the same conclusion. I just couldn't see what would be different this time around; Norris has campaigned well on his previous outings and was generally well received, Ken has continued to embarrass and inconvenience London with his various escapades but no worse than in years before becoming Mayor, or during his first term, and has continued to dodge the opprobrium the little half-wit truly deserves. There was unlikely to be a Cameron effect in play with Norris already having played an effective 'inclusive' line, even managing to blend it successfully with a bit more of a streak of toughness than party has yet managed to do on a national level.

And then after months of rumours and counter-rumours about the little known, media-shy, MP for Henley, and his ambitions, or lack of them to be a candidate for London Mayor, came the final announcement that Boris Johnson would stand for the post. Already Read and Richard Barnes have withdrawn, backing Boris, and the remaining shortlist 4 (or 5) look to be facing an uphill struggle to see off BoJo in the primaries.

It was only as the speculation became more serious about a Boris bid, that I started to think that such a bid might actually be a pretty good thing.

It's pretty easy to bring Boris to mind for a series of public gaffes and causing gratuitous offence to various communities, as well as his slightly shambolic, vague public image. That though, is to ignore the perceptive nature of his more considered writings and frankly, that through it all people actually instinctively warm to him. Even Ken on Sunday's TV seemed unable to direct his normal venom for someone of different political persuasions in Boris' direction. As for his habit of causing offence now and again, when he speaks his mind, well I think Ken shows that Londoners will live with it.

Ken contemplates a day at the
office whith no tin-pot dictators
or religious bigots to meet
I find it hard to be kind to Ken, but I think it's a similar kind of straightforwardness that gives him his appeal beyond his natural political constituency. If it wasn't for the particular inanity of some of his policies and the uncommon vileness of some of the people he shares a stage with, I suppose I too could come to a similar view, and I can see a certain something in him that I prefer to the creepiness of his colleagues in national government.

What it should make for, most importantly though, is an interesting contest, and might well fire the public imagination even beyond London. It's something the country needs in an era where public participation in the political process is falling to dangerously low levels.

There have been a hundred and one suggestions on how to reverse this trend: changing to weekend voting, voting in supermarkets or on-line, increasing fraud prone postal voting or dropping the voting age to include an age band that is probably the most politically apathetic of all. Other than this last suggestion they all have one thing in common - the idea that somehow the act of voting is too difficult for we the electorate. I think that this principle is fundamentally flawed. Time after time, when there is something at stake that the electorate both care about, and feel that their vote will count for something, the people will overcome these imagined obstacles to their participation.

The real problem, as I see it, is that at a national level with the exception of John Major's victory over Lord "I'll never take a peerage" Kinnock there has not been one general election in the time when I've had the vote where the result has been in any serious doubt. At a local level, after 10 years of centralising of control, there are so many areas where local authorities can only act as the local implementation agency for central government policy, that there is little at stake even though dramatic results can and do occur. Probably the last time I felt my vote counted for something was at the last elections to the European Parliament, as I'm sure many others must have done, and the turnout increased massively. This was despite the fact that many of us knew it would only have symbolic significance as the EU, by design, would never make the slightest course change regardless of the message from the voters.

I'm sure the next general election will be better, but perhaps only marginally so, as, while the result is far less certain, it will in all probability the choice between two flavours of bland managerialism, with a PR blitz to create a facade of 'clear blue water' between the parties.

A contest for London Mayor between Ken and Boris would be an engaging affair, doubtlessly chaotic at times, and controversial at others. It would though, be for an office that carries significant powers, with little certainty to the outcome, and between two politicians that people genuinely engage with, and that can only be a good thing.

If the prospect of Boris as Mayor brings out thousands of newt fanciers to see off Boris then so be it. That's what democracy is all about. Meanwhile I'll be backing Boris.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Internet - What Is It Really For?

Patch Cable
Wired...but in to what?
Posting has been lightnon-existant for the last couple of weeks as a succession of stories have been ruthlessly ripped apart by better commentators than myself. I've also been conducting a little experiment.

Last week I highlighted a couple of humorous items on common perceptions of the Internet and the behaviour you find therein. I'd been too lazy to go and find them myself so the credit is due to those mentioned in the original postings. Today however, I can report the results of a personal experiment, one that appears to fully justify the slightly cynical views in the two video clips I posted, rather than the more lofty ideas of some Internet evangelists.

The platform under test was StalkerFacebook, as it seems to be the social networking site of the hour. Leaving aside the more sad terminology used on the site, such as the endless variants of 'X wants to be your friend, do you want to be friends with X', and the distinctly dubious practice of poking complete strangers I can actually see why people like it. There are enough privacy features to stop it turning in to a pseudo-dating site, it seems stable and pretty easy to use, and the way third party content may be added means it will hopefully stay this way.

Being a good scientist as well as a test subject I created a control sample. Being a bad developer outside of my familiar Microsoft toolset it took longer than expected to create both hence the light blogging of late. However in the end I'd got enough put together to launch both on an unsuspecting public. The control subject was a worthy little Facebook application designed to help Facebook users share good blogs of the moment amongst their friends, with various recommendation features. It's pretty similar to the various 'My Bookshelf', 'My DVDs', and 'My Music' type applications, but unlike these themes seemed unique in its class. It took probably about twelve hours, end-to-end, to develop. The test subject took three hours to knock together. I won't give too many details on it, as this might hasten it's banning from Facebook; I can say though that while it is certainly not pornographic, it is decidedly smutty.

Both were launched amongst the same initial four users, but a couple of weeks have had very different fates. The graph below summarises the results to date.

One is now showing distinct signs of early viral spread, users worldwide amongst its over 4000 (at the time of writing) devotees, growing at a rate of over 500 a day at present and accelerating constantly. The other has reached the dizzying heights of seven users...yes...that slight blue tint to the X-axis.

There are no prizes of guessing which was which. Sex, does after all, does still seem to sell.

The graph above updates automatically if you should want to see the ongoing progress of the experiment.