Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ils Sont Tous Hors-jeu!

Dart Board
Best at the Pub, not on the box
This looks set to be a very challenging afternoon. It would appear that my only option for coverage of Biarritz v Saracens match in the Coupe Heineken will be a single web radio station en français.

I normally don't mind a bit of practice for my somewhat suspect language skills, but I've got a suspicion that a live commentary may prove more than a little challenging; after all it's hard enough to understand half of the BBC rugby commentary team when the action hots up.

Normally I like to have some other sporting action on the TV in the background, unfortunately this is not an option with ITV showing the pub game of darts, while that last bastion of taxpayer funded quality television, the BBC, is showing, erm...darts. Unfucking believable, obviously neither has rights to Heineken cup coverage, but have Sky and Setana really cornered the market to such an extent that both our main terrestrial networks are reduced a double helping of darts.

Perhaps, to be fair to the BBC, they felt that their sports audience needed something to calm them down after the excitement of last week's bowls coverage. To be fair to both, at least it's not the triple helping of horse racing that you can sometimes be subjected to on a Saturday.

I'd even settle for soccer at times like this.

Update H/T: The head is hurting a little bit, but there was quite a tribute to "ce monstre de la troisième ligne, Richard Hill" and more to the point, two essais see the score line at Saracens 14-9 Biarritz, so I'm not complaining! Allez les noirs.

Update F/T: Merde.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ceding the High Ground

Celebrating Gordon's Gift
The arguments over government proposals for further supposedly anti-terror legislation, especially on pre-trial detention, have continued to rumble on today, and so they should.

I'm sure there is nobody rationale who would want anything other than to see the would be perpetrators of the types of outrageous crimes that have occured from time to time in recent years thwarted, caught and punished. This does not however mean that every 'get tough' policy from the government, should, as Gordon seems to believe, be nodded through simply because the police would like the additional powers.

You don't even have the type of passionate belief in individual liberties and basic values, such as a person's fundamental innocence until properly convicted to understand why the type of measures the government appears to be considering should be treated with the greatest of scepticism. All you really need to do is a very simple, though unpleasant, thought experiment and just for a moment put yourself in the shoes of a terrorist leader, and try and imagine how he will have reacted to recent announcements.

Will he have slammed down his fist in frustration on his desk or whatever he may have his dank cave and torn up his plans for attacking the UK overland train network? I suspect not, I think he will probably joined his brethren for a little jig firing volley after volley of AK-47 ammunition into the air. Why wouldn't he? After all he has forced, in his mind at least, a western state to consider placing a highly visible daily reminder of the threat his and similar organisations pose in 285 of the busiest railway stations. This is a measure he will know will have to all intents and purposes zero impact on his ability to operate but will create a very real sense of threat in the minds of the loathed infidels and that after all is his primary objective. As for pre-trial detention, he needs to nothing but wait for the first case of mistaken identity or bad intelligence leading to prolonged imprisonment for an innocent member of a very sensitive community.

As is so often the case with the current government it is the most headline grabbing initiatives that stand up to the least scrutiny. After all to grab headlines is their raison d'être, not actually to be effective. Try another thought experiment. You've got a backpack full of explosives and you want to blow up a packed commuter express just as it comes into London Waterloo during the morning rush hour, but the 285 busiest stations have airport style security scans; do you abort your mission? I've not read the Al Queda training manual, but off the top of my head I can think of a dozen or more ways I could render the inconvenience to those standing in the queues for the scanners completely worthless.

This particular suggestion is at best a symbolic gesture to show the government is doing something, albeit at enormous cost in cash and inconvenience terms. At worst things could take a rather more sinister turn. After all, once the National Identity Register is up and running, what better way could you find to 'encourage' us to file into the registration centre for processing like the mindless sheep the government wishes us to be, than introduce a 'common sense' ID check at these security bottlenecks.

I guess you could clamp down on all train and tube stations, with full airport style checks at all stages even for, say, a ten minute trip from Battersea to Waterloo. I guess there would even be those whose knee jerk reaction would be to say yes to this, just as they squeal 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' on ID cards. Fine, but all you would have achieved by this draconian action is a displacement to fear of buses, and so it goes on.

Airport type checks are appropriate for airports. They are relatively few in number, making the checks practical, the vast majority of journeys are of sufficient length to make the time spent going through security checks seem acceptable, the limited amount of weaponry or explosives needed to cause an outrage make them essential.

This particular gesture, for that is all it is, is about making Gordon Brown appear to be the tough man we all now know he isn't.

The suggestions on pre-trial detention are worse. They should outrage any fair minded person, as should the denunciations of those who speak against them. That said, I'll wait until we know what the government position is once all troublemakers have reported to Number 10 for their reeducation session, before venting my spleen on this subject.

Personally, the greatest tragedy of Labour's response to the terrorist threat, is a growing difficulty to feel proud of my country, in the sense of the values it demonstrates through actions not words to the outside world.

A Surfeit of Riches

Also available in Earl, Marquis and Duke
Blogging has been light for the last couple of weeks as real, though much less enjoyable work, as well as a surfeit of opportunities to consume alcohol in convivial surroundings have intervened. It's not come at the best of all possible times as wave after wave of opportunities to lay into a struggling government have come and gone.

The media has also had the occasional tale of the bizarre that I've had to pass on too. I thought nobody was going to comment on the man bites/is bitten bymarries dog story of the week, but fortunately Thunder Dragon picked it up in time to stop me making some tasteless reference to Blair (Mk. I).

Other than the Home Office's daily blunder, most of the serious debate has focused, naturally enough on the subjects of the Queen's speech debates. Overall it is a truly abysmal programme of legislation that is proposed, one that if it shows any vision whatsoever, it is a terrifying one. I guess for myself the most repellent items on the agenda will be the European Communities (Stuff the People) to ratify the EU reform treaty and the Terrorism (Unwitting Promotion of) Bills, but the Political Funding (Preferential Treatment for Labour) Bill runs both of these very close.

The unequal treatment proposed, that uniquely benefits one party and the likely further dipping into the taxpayer's purse is pretty a pretty vile blend of greed and corruption. One thing that has been rather interesting in the opening forays over this piece of forthcoming legislation is the relatively emollient tone of the Lib Dems over it, as they prefer to make facile attacks on Team Cameron. Might they fantasise that with one more lurch to the left, some of the less dogmatic unions might choose to buy a little influence with a third party that may hold sway in the far from unlikly scenario of a hung parliament?

I know the passage of this piece of legislation will frustrate me intensely, but that will be more over the principle of it. On a practical level, I hardly think that the attempts of a governing party to pass one of the most self-serving pieces of law in recent times will endear it to the public, and there have been a number of analyses that suggest that the impact on those not blessed by special treatment in any act should, while doubtlessly unwelcome, would not be as disastrous as the baying hoards on the government back benches may hope.

There is though, perhaps one additional precaution the Conservatives could consider taking. Members of the House of Lords, let's be honest, get the tarry end of the stick when it comes to pay and conditions, compared to the Commons trough diners. Surely, it is time for these downtrodden masses to unite.

It is time for the Union of Conservative Peers. If some if its members should opt in, following all of the correct laws, to paying into that union's properly constituted political fund, for disbursement to political parties whose aims they support, who are we to complain?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ad Astra (per Taxpayer)

One that works - Navstar
Through the ages addiction to 'grands projets' has been been one of the greatest vices of the political class. Successes? yes they do happen, but on a somewhat less of a common basis than the simple toss of a coin would suggest they should, even without totting up the consultancy hours that should have taken whatever assessment was performed out of the realms of uninformed guesswork.

This is not a 'brutal' capitalist assessment. It is one that factors in a lot of pride in the seemingly impossible being achieved that we can all appreciate. The US gave up at the first hurdle, Concordski as I understand it did fly, but never went into commercial operation, but Concorde did and, for all its costs to the relevant exchequers, I'm as happy as mes frères français that it did. It broke through a barrier, that in their own way, so did projects as diverse as Bazelgette's sewerage system and the channel tunnel. Not one of these would have or will ever return cash to the taxpayer, and I don't care. I believe in small government, but on occasion government can deploy the strength of the resources that even the most minimalist of administrations can muster to catalyse something that, even with the best will in the world, the private sector of its own volition would just find to be a little bit of a step too far.

There really are the opportunities a good government should consider big ticket expenditure on; unfortunately we have Gordon Brown, the EU, and Galileo.

GPS was a fantastic innovation. I used to go sailing now and again and its navigational predecessor, in terms of hopping over to the Channel Islands, DECCA, was the most unreliable pile of cack I have seen outside a local government IT department. Along came Navstar/GPS and you knew exactly where you were for the price of a crew night at the only decent subcontinental food emporium in Lymington.

For some though, there is a problem. Not one that actually will ever put lives in jeopardy, something worse than that, it was a project with its roots in the US military. It is true that it is less accurate than the proposed European alternative. So far though, the value in this enhanced accuracy seems to be explained as either the ability to support new and innovative ways of taking more money out of the taxpayer's wallet, or, for reasons I guess to do with frequency ranges, the capability for the new system will work inside buildings too, so that hard pressed bureaucrats can find the nearest lavatories in the Berlaymont after a prolonged lobbying session with all the free booze it may have entailed.

Everyone knows it is fundamentally what one could crudely, but fairly, call a 'dick length' project, even within the governing party:
"What taxpayers in the United Kingdom and other European countries really need and want is better railways and roads, not giant signature projects in the sky," said committee chairwoman Gwyneth Dunwoody.

"The government must stop this folly and endeavour to bring the European Commission to its senses," the Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich added.

She called for independent evidence that proceeding with Galileo - a rival to the US GPS system - was worthwhile and offered value for money.

Source: BBC News

Ambitious is not a word you would use in its normal tired political context for Ms Dunwoody, but in the idea of bringing the "European Commission to its senses" she does show that a spark of naive optimism cannot be fully extinguished by the mandarins.

Slightly less pleasing from the same story was the BBC commentary that:
In September, the EC said that unused agricultural and administrative funds from 2007 and 2008 could be used to plug most of the £1.7bn (2.4bn euro) hole in the project.

Source: BBC News

How good would have a statement saying "we've saved some money, so we don't need a superinflationary increase in funding this year" have sounded in place of "we've found another wall to piss it up"?

I would comment on whether some of the target dates quoted in the BBC article sound remotely attainable, even with a fair wind, in the context as described, but to do so would be an insult to the intelligence of anyone who can read it, let alone anybody who has run a project of a fraction of such complexity.

Just so long as there are swish launch parties for the the right people, what's the problem?