Monday, 24 December 2007

"I. Am. Clegg."

I've had a hatful of lazy media speak this week. First it was Nick Robinson's analysis on Radio 4 of Nick Clegg's interview, sticking to the sad old two dimensional model. They're left, they're right, you must be in the middle. At least we're no longer being painted as being to the left of labour - basically because everybody is nowadays.

Then we have Rosie Millard's cheap sneers in the Sunday Times, and of course Simon Jenkins' habitual inability to connect to liberal democracy.

Politics is more complicated than that nowadays, but it will take an earthquake for the media ever to present it so. I think the best way to conceive of politics is to think in terms of a series of dimensions, but it's very diffcult to get that across in news media. You can get it across, but you need Newsnight or Andrew Marr. News as such doesn't do anything that can't be labelled in three words or less.

One phrase that got to me particularly about this weekend's coverage was the repeat in the Daily Telegraph of the horrible phrase "Cameron lite". That more than anything illustrated to me the vapidness of journalist speak. Look at Cameron. How is it possible for anything or anyone else to be Cameron lite? Cameron is Cameron lite. He is so insubstantial, he'd float away if it weren't for the dead lump of the Conservative party anchoring him to the seabed.

Unfortunately journalist speak has great power, so it's not possible just to wish it away. Cameron's biggest asset is that he knows this. He has the DT, for instance, saying that like Clegg, he has put the environment at the heart of his agenda. This is a man who habitually takes a private jet to go places. It's at the heart of what he's saying, but not of what he's doing.

So Nick Clegg needs to combat that attempt to paint him as light and frothy as Cameron. Maybe he needs to come out and say straight, "I am not Cameron lite. If I was Cameron anything I'd be Cameron weighty. But I'm not Cameron anything. I. Am. Clegg."

I'm pleased to say he's going about things the right way. The measured response to Dave's overtures - this from the Telegraph again " "At least Blair made these approaches with some skill and also with serious intent," said one official in Mr Clegg's office. "Cameron's offer was opportunism. They have not approached us privately in any serious way. It is inconceivable that we could go into a formalised arrangement with any other party without electoral reform." " The tone is excellent and the comparison to Tony Blair is deadly.

And I particularly like his response in the People, this via Stephen Tall on Libdemvoice.

"Rs 'What Christmas gifts would you buy Gordon Brown and David Cameron?'

Nc 'After Northern Rock, the PM needs basic lessons in finance, so I'd buy him Monopoly. Cameron needs a compass to help him work out what political direction he's going in.' "

Does the job nicely.

Sunday, 23 December 2007


Nick Clegg says education will be a priority for him. He was talking about schools, but he and Stephen Williams would do well to look at what the government is proposing to do to universities. John Denham, The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, has announced that they propose to withdraw funding from higher level students whose current studies are at a level equivalent to or lower than the qualification they already have. In shorthand, the ELQ (Equivalent or Lower Qualification) problem. I have to declare an interest here. I work for the Open University, and that institution will be disproportionately affected by this decision. There are various exemptions in place and some transitional arrangements, but these leave an awful lot of people out in the cold. They are also inconsistently drawn. Teaching, for instance, is exempted, but the subject qualification that lies behind the teaching qualification will not be (unless it falls into one of the exemption categories on its own merit).

The plan is to divert £100 million from supporting students retraining themselves with equivalent or lower qualifications in another discipline to students who have never been to university. At first glance that looks "equitable", but it is not an answer to our educational or economic problems. We need to maintain people's ability to move from one market sector to another, as well as encouraging more people to go to university.

In addition there is no clear evidence that people who want to go to university for the first time are being denied that opportunity.

This plan has a disproportionate effect on older (i.e. over 25) and part time students, and hence on the OU, which reckons it will lose some 29000 students. And in addition to the direct losses of students who cannot afford the full fees, the law of unintended consequences comes into play. The effect of losing those students means that a number of the courses they sustain will become unviable and will have to close, thus being denied to all the students who wish to study them.

Some might think that the students most likely to be affected are elderly and recreational, but the profile of OU students is not reflected in that prejudice. 85 per cent of Open University students affected are aged between 25 and 65, 74 per cent of them are working and paying taxes and 9 per cent of them are carers. (Figures given by Lord Haskins in the House of Lords debate on the subject, on 3rd December.)

While doing this, the government has just doubled the Train to Gain budget from £500 million to £1 billion within the next three years. That is a massive increase with little indication that employers have either the will or the capacity to absorb it. £400 million for them, and let the universities keep the £100 million sounds like a much better bet for spending the money effectively.

This is a piece of profoundly unjoined up thinking. We all know, and the government keep telling us anyway, that we need our workforce to become educated and flexible if we are to compete in the world market, and maintain, indeed improve, our prosperity. So, while desperately encouraging people to retrain in order to follow the market, they are taking away the means of them doing so.

They are doing this on the basis of a target driven piece of thinking, and another good example of why targets skew thinking. The target the government is committed to is to achieve 40% of the working population having a degree by 2020. It's an ambitious, laudable, and necessary target, but the government is allowing it to magnetise the focus of their thinking to the extent of ignoring the overall needs of the workforce. It should not be allowed to dominate to the extent of diverting attention from the need of UK plc for a diversity of provision to accommodate the increasingly diverse needs of the workforce.

Waitrose, cheese and Christmas

In my cheese blog yesterday I did Waitrose a disservice. I didn't spot their deli counter, hidden from me by a minor swarm of connoisseurs.

Today I found it and got several varieties of cow cheese and three different varieties of sheep cheese, including a really nice Iskara. Well done, Waitrose.

I was quite lucky to find it today as the shop was a scrum. The staff I chatted to said that today was the day the shoppers decided to go berserk. It's been interesting over the last few years watching the game of creditfest chicken between shoppers and retailers, as shoppers leave it as late as possible, and retailers try to decide whether to discount *now* or wait another day or two. It was yesterday that shoppers lost their nerve in Oxford Street, and today in Waitrose....

Saturday, 22 December 2007


After a long time of simmering, I feel the need finally to get this off my chest. What is the English obsession with Cheddar all about?

Cheese shops* will differ, of course, but most of us buy our cheese at supermarkets, and the choice we find at those remarkable emporia is - about 93 different kinds of Cheddar, and a few packs of other kinds (that's leaving aside Kraft, Philadelphia, etc, that don't deserve the name of cheese). Tesco, not my favourite at the moment, actually do better at this than some other supermarkets. They have the 93 varieties of Cheddar, but they do have a goodly selection of other cheeses too, enough to make a decent choise from. The local competition is Waitrose, who have about 75 versions of Cheddar, and then a shelf with Gouda and Edam on it. I exaggerate, but not by much.

Let me say straight away that it's not the fault of the supermarkets. They sell what we choose to buy, and the fact is most of us choose to buy Cheddar, Cheddar, Cheddar. Why???

Partly it's a labelling thing - if it's yellow and it comes in a lump, call it Cheddar. Trouble is I don't like it. What they call mature Cheddar is just too sharp, and what they call mild Cheddar is, well, tasteless and textureless. Real Cheddar is fine - it actually comes from somewhere vaguely near the Cheddar Gorge, and it goes really well with digestive biscuits. But everything tasteless while over sharp, lumpy, yellow and waxy has to be called Cheddar and produced in tons.

It's not the only English cheese - Lancashire, Wensleydale, Cheshire, Double Gloucester (and its beautiful variant Cotswold), Leicester, Shropshire, Monkland, Hereford, Stilton, and the piece de resistance, Stinking Bishop. To name but a few out of the almost endless variety. Why do we so limit ourselves to Cheddar?

*Click the link, then look under "C" for Cheese

Friday, 21 December 2007

I hate Tesco - just for now

Having been alerted by Bryan Appleyard to the fact that Julie Burchill loves Tesco, I feel driven to say that I hate Tesco at the moment. I shop at my local Tesco normally and loyally. I don't normally love it - it's convenient, it's good value, and it's reasonable to good quality. But at the moment I hate Tesco, as I did at the same point last year. The reason is that they insist on playing "Christmas" music for the last few days before the big credit fest, and it drives me bananas. It's impossible to shop udner such conditions. At leat it is for me; loads of other people just go round the aisles with a slightly more pained than usual expression. I complained. Of course I complained. And I was told, there's nothing we can do about it, it's company policy. Anyway all the stores do it.

Correction. All the stores don't do it. Waitrose, about four hundred yards away from Tesco, doesn't. So Waitrose has had the benefit of my custom for the last few days. Even though the range is not so wide and the prices not so good, at least I can think there.

What a bone headed policy. I doubt very much that they have any evidence that people are spending more in their stores because of the music, and they do have evidence from people like me that we are spending less in their stores because of the music.

And what is worse is that in this Tesco at least, I have heard from the staff, there is no respite from it on their breaks. The music, for want of a better word, is being piped into their canteena nd locker room. No matter how long their shift they cannot get away from it. That's just cruel.

I'll go back to Tesco in the new year. Next year I'll ask them to let me know, if they persist in this cloth eared policy, to let me know when it's going to start so I can avoid it again.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

This is just cheap, Mr Brown

I mean our treatment of our Iraqi interpreters.

The Times runs the latest situation, calling it a breach of honour. Fair language in my opinion.

People put their lives and their families' lives in danger to help us. When it comes time to repay them, we weasel out of it. This is the conduct of empire. This is what we did to get India to fight for us in the First World War. "Fight for us now, and we'll use a form of words which will make you think we'll give you independence, but we'll weasel out of it when we don't need you any more."

It's cheap, it's mean. David Miliband is in danger of joining David Cameron in the box of politicians who have no moral compass.

More details at Dan Hardie's blog.

Lynne Featherstone highlights her Early Day Motion on the issue. My MP has signed it. Has yours?

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Is the government about to do A Good Thing?

It is according to the Independent. "The Independent on Sunday has learnt that, in an astonishing U-turn, the Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton, will announce that he is opening up the seas around Britain to wind farms in the biggest ever renewable energy initiative... enough wind farms to produce 25 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2020, in addition to the 8GW already planned – enough to meet the needs of all the country's homes."

Furthermore it was Brown himself wot dunnit, they say. "In a confidential memorandum, Gordon Brown was advised that the target was expensive and faced "severe practical difficulties". It went on to warn how it would reduce "the incentives to invest in other technologies like nuclear power". But the Prime Minister overruled Mr Hutton and insisted in his first green speech as PM last month that the target would be maintained and met."

Now clearly we detect a bit of spin here; how to refurbish the new PM's very tarnished reputation - give him a bit of green cred. But who cares, if he's made the right decision. I await tomorrow's news with bated breath.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


I am slightly bemused but not really surprised that there has been a debate in Parliament on the subject of Christianophobia. Apparently the word exists. It's no surprise to find that it was an invention of right wing American Christians in books with titles like "Is Europe Dying? Notes on a Crisis of Civilizational Morale". Check this summary, read the comments, and be angered/scared in equal proportions. But enough of America's starey eyed over articulate fundamentalists. I wonder what Christianophobia means in Britain. And I wonder what the LibDem response was in the debate - haven't had a chance to look it up yet.

I am a Christian, though not a model one. I rarely go to church because I do not find God there; I preach occasionally, on behalf of Christian Aid. I must be in a minority as far as Mark Pritchard is concerned because I do not feel discriminated against in the slightest. I do wonder what people mean when they talk about the UK's (or is it "England's" - that's another debate entirely) Christian traditions, heritage, culture, all that stuff. The current fact is that I am in a minority as far as being a practising Christian is concerned, and I do not see that I have any more right than any other religionist to determine the social and legal mores of the country I live in. As a Christian I find it laughable that people call this country "Christian". It isn't any more, and hasn't been for a long time. OK, fellow Christians, get over it. There's nothing to prevent Christmas being Christ-mas if we want it to be so for ourselves, but we need to face the fact that for the vast majority of the country, it's a retail festival. People are free to make of Christmas what they will, and what the majority choose to make of it is a credit card debt. Let them.

If we want to be taken seriously, then maybe we should take ourselves more seriously. The main choices I have at the moment are:
- an international brand many of whose adherents worship Mary more than Jesus, and whose hierarchy has only just given up (if in fact it has given up) protecting for life any priest that has been found abusing children, and has still to come clean about its role in the persecution of Jews during the Nazi era
- my own brand, also international, who seem to believe that the three desirable qualities are faith, hope and niceness, and the greatest of these is niceness, except when it comes to either gay priests or women as bishops, depending on which flavour you're with at the time, but who in fact seem to spend far too much of their time wringing their hands over the cost of running their huge cathedrals. But we're led by a man with a nice beard.
- the silliest lot by far who indulge in the most extraordinary intellectual gymnastics to insist that every word of the bible is literally true, and that all the bits about homosexuals have to be obeyed, while all the bits about living simply are to be interpreted. (Short pause while I wait for a thunderbolt to strike.... Nope. Still hasn't.)

Don't get me wrong. I know, as well as anyone, that a lot of good work is done by Christians, and a lot of valid prayer is prayed by Christians. But we don't half spend a lot of time messing about as well.

There is a paradox or two at the heart of this, which I'm not sure I have the capacity to explain, but I'll try. One part of it is that any rational observer looking at this country would say that Christianity is by far the most powerful religion in it (with the possible exception of shopping). Yet there are Christians who genuinely feel put upon. It's not a majority, as Mr Pritchard would like to claim. Mr Pritchard said apparently that we should claim "full minority rights". It would be helpful if first we admitted that we *are* a minority, and stopped expecting to be treated differently just because the majority of the country "used to be" Christians. Perhaps some individual Christians do have a hard time if they try to put their faith into practice, but, despite all the press about political correctness, I doubt if it's any harder than it is for the average Muslim, Hindu, Jainist, etc.

I'm not sure if this is good blog etiquette but I'm going to end this post here in this unfinished form. I have more thoughts coming, but they're in too complex a form to express yet, and I'd like to see what reactions this post gets while it's still fresh.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Iraqi interpreters

This is a direct link to Lynne Featherstone's blog item Iraqi interpreters: new EDM. My excuse is that not all my readers are LibDems.

Keep up the pressure, Lynne.

Profile, favourites and films

Having recently been mistaken for Craig Murray, I thought I'd better put something in my profile, which has been completely bare up till now. So I've done that - you can go and look at it if you want.

But I was stymied by the questions about favourite books and favourite films. I've never had favourites in books - or, perhaps I have at various periods, but they've been different ones. Nowadays, there aren't many books that I would happily go back to. That's largely because I have so little time for reading that I'd rather read something I haven't read before.

I do revisit films, however. Trouble is I still can't choose favourites. The favourites folder got a random selection of those I could think of on the spur of the moment. Here's a fuller list - I really couldn't put them in any sort of order. Maybe one day I'll come up with some kind of internal categorisation. If you can spot patterns in it, let me know.

Lawrence of Arabia
Ghost Dog
The Ipcress File
The Godfather
Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Life of Brian
Fahrenheit 451
The Deerhunter
Dirty Harry
Cool Hand Luke
Mostly Martha
Italian for Beginners
The Odd Angry Shot
The Thomas Crown Affair (either version, but preferably the first)
Apocalypse Now
Grosse Point Blank
October Sky
Local Hero
The Warriors
Carry on Cleo
8 Mile
Cross of Iron
Paths of Glory
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Shawshank Redemption
The Limey
Groundhog Day
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Belle de Jour
High Noon
On The Waterfront
Nikita (the original, don't even mention the remake)
Midnight Run
The Long Run
Goodbye Charlie Bright
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Crying Game
Anatomy of a Murder
Blade Runner (director's cut)
The Big Sleep
Pulp Fiction
Seven Samurai
The Conversation
Scent of a Woman
Desert Blue
The Outlaw Josey Wales
The Manchurian Candidate (the original; didn't take to the remake.)
Repo Man
The Story of the Weeping Camel
The Claim
The Dirty Dozen

Films that are favourites, though I wouldn't want to see them again:
Downfall (too intense)
Million Dollar baby (too sad)
The Pledge (too sad)
American Beauty (too intense)
The Silence of the Lambs (too bloody)
Saving Private Ryan (too long)
Salvador (the portrayal of American sleaze is too good)

I've probably missed a few...

No2ID certificate

This is brilliant. Everyone should do it.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The yeast experiment

S154 - the yeast experiment,which observes what happens to yeast at different temperatures. This is at 37°C, or roughly body temperature.

After the potato experiment, Ollie was a little apprehensive.

But he soon....

got more....


Then he asked Ruffles if he could smell it.

Oh. Not very nice.

My most accurate jug wasn't big enough...

This week in the humanities - short one

In line with my first post about the humanities, what have I been up to?

Art history - no.

Music - Nightwish and Eliza Gylkison, mostly while preparing a really big nut roast because we had friends coming round.

Religion, philosophy, history of science, classical studies - no.

But the big one this week is history, which is reviewed in the previous post on this blog, on "The Relief of Belsen" and David Irving on the Holocaust.

And, under literature, I'll put The Relief of Belsen, which I saw on More4 last night, which reminded me about one of the great strands of thinking about the humanities. It's the Matthew Arnold, Leavis view that great literature, great art, great music etc have an improving effect on those who are exposed to them, and that western civilisation is therefore moving ever upwards towards greater and greater nobility. Among the British, American and Russian troops who liberated the death camps, there were men and officers who had been brought up in this tradition, indeed with fine degrees in literature, music and so on, who believed heart and soul in the improving effects of the humanities. And they had to confront the fact that the atrocities whose effects they witnessed were commanded by German officers who committed the most unspeakable acts during the working day and then went home to read Goethe and Schiller over their schnapps. It is no longer possible to believe, simplistically, that the humanities unproblematically improve us. So why do we study them?

I feel sorry for David Irving

This is sparked by the news that David Irving is to speak at the Oxford Union, together with watching "The relief of Belsen" on TV last night.

When it comes to giving freedom of speech to those whose words are poison to my ears, I find I have to think carefully about each case. I have always been uneasy about the speech implications of race relations legislation. But I'm not an absolute libertarian. I believe the freedom of movement of your fist ends some way short of my nose, because a swinging fist carries threat as well as physical force. The problem is where to draw the line in each case. I believe that preventing racists from speaking is justified if the pernicious results of their speaking outweighs the pernicious results of denying them freedom of speech. Having said that, I think that, on balance, the Oxford Union has taken a justifiable decision.

In my view, the world became a different place after 1945, when the full scale and style of the Holocaust became public. The human race had to confront the issue of evil in a way that had never been brought home to us before. The Holocaust was a unique event in human history. It was not unique because of the cold bloodedness or the scale of the act. There have been plenty of calculated and large scale massacres both before and since. Though, in many cases, the actual killing is not done nearly as cold bloodedly as it is often portrayed to be.

The uniqueness of the Holocaust lies in the way in which it was done. It took the pinnacle of capitalist development, the rational bureaucracy of the process of capital accumulation, and it turned it into an instrument for the killing of people and the removal of an entire race from the face of the earth. They turned genocide into an industrial process. And then, because rational bureaucrats in pursuit of growing and ordered prosperity record what they do, they kept meticulous records of their achievements - numbers of shoes, spectacles, sets of false teeth, and so on and so on and so on. If you read the records, you see how, in the relentless, rationalistic, bureaucratic pursuit of efficiency, they lose sight of what they are processing - human bodies and human lives.

Thus we had to confront the fact that what some thought of as the most civilised people on earth - western, rational, sophisticated, capitalistic Europeans, with all their development through history, with all the civilising influence of classical art, literature, music - were capable of unspeakable evil.

Then eventually, when we were ready, we had to confront the fact that the people who did this were just like us. They didn't do it because they were Nazis and therefore different from the rest of us. They didn't do it because they were Germans and therefore different from the rest of us. They did it because they were human, and just the same as the rest of us.

And then we have to confront the implication of that, which is that we all carry within us the capacity for that level of evil. We have to acknowledge that if we were put in that situation, some of us would resist, but many of us would acquiesce, and some of us would carry out, possibly with greater and greater enthusiasm, the orders we are given.

We have to accept that knowledge, that truth about ourselves, and somehow accommodate that into our own self images - we like ourselves (most of us), we think we are basically nice people. Our view of ourselves has to stretch to accommodate the knowledge that there is such a dark side, and then it has to maintain that while continuing to believe that we are worth something. That's quite a tall order, but most of us manage it. That, ultimately, is why I feel sorry for David Irving. He may have a political or personal agenda, I don't know, and I won't comment on that. But I think that he has become what he is because his own self image, his own hold on his own personality, is so tenuous that he cannot accept the implication of the Holocaust - that he, just like the rest of us, is capable of that. So he has to try to rewrite history to get rid of it. The history that is written in hundreds of thousands of letters, diaries, accounts, factory ledgers, documents, even photos and newsreels like those we saw in "Relief of Belsen" has to be written out because the implications of accepting the truth are too great for him to deal with. I teach history because I want people to know about these things. I do not want to rub their noses in it, but I do want them to *know*, so that they will never shrink from the truth the way David Irving does.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Those Iraqi interpreters

The ones we ought to be taking some responsibility for, and aren't. Full marks to Richard Colebourne for continuing to highlight the issue.

He notes that, according to the Washington Post, the same thing seems to be happening to those who helped the Americans.

We'll use you for what we can get, and do as little as we can afterwards. That seems to be the message. One comment on Richard Colebourne's article says "all I can say is that I'm ashamed to be British". Yes, exactly.

If you do nothing else, at least sign the petition at

Couldn't happen to a better bunch of people

I mean the Child Benefit details fiasco. I won't go into the details which have been well covered elsewhere, but just make the point that this gross lapse of management affects all classes of people. So I hope that a tide of opinion will hold the government well and truly to account, and I also hope that many of those affected, who have been sleepwalking towards ID cards, will realise that they are in more danger of government incompetence than of terrorist attack.

The key issue of management is very well covered in Nick Robinson's blog.

Negative point to the BBC, however, for its reporting of the reaction. The front page of their website this morning says "The government's "basic competence" is questioned by the Conservatives after the loss of 25m people's details." The inside story is only slightly different "The government's "basic competence" has been questioned by the Tories". Er, guys, I think you'll find the LibDems, and indeed all the other parties are doing a fair bit of questioning.

Vince Cable gets one grudging sentence right at the end, no other non Tory does, and Ross Anderson, who was very impressive on Newsnight last night, also gets only a sentence at the end. (The Newsnight website hasn't caught up with last night yet, but Ross Anderson is informatively nutshelled in Wikipedia.)

That's just sloppy reporting, BBC, reinforcing a completely two dimensional view of politics.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

This week in the humanities

In line with my first post about the humanities, what have I been up to:

Art history: no, had a week off this week as well.

Music: Nightwish, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pretenders. I really like Mary Chapin Carpenter. She has a long standing capacity to write lyrics other song writers would kill for.

Religion: nope. Though having some vague thoughts about the similarltiy between football and religion. You know where I'lll be on Wednesday evening.

Philosophy: no. What have I been doing this week? Tons of making web pages to meet a deadline.

History – errr... no

Literature – no

History of science – aha. Yes. I've been learning, while studying S154, about water, particularly about the condition of the Thames in the nineteenth century and the gradual growth of scientific undertanding that enabled Parliament and the authorities in London to bring cholera under control by improving the quality of the water supply. The key point was the realisation by Dr John Snow that cholera was water borne, not as had previously been thought, air borne, a"miasma". That was in 1854,whcih was not soon enough to prevent the year of the Great Stink,1858, during which the Thames became so polluted that it was rendered completely lifeless.

Classical studies – nope. But Gladiator's on - sometime - can't remember when. I still think the best thing in it is the opening battle in the forest (pure Tacitus), closely followed by Oliver Reed.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Bimbling and skithering

Two new words I heard this week from different OU colleagues. Same sort of meaning, a combination of bumbling and slithering. Is this a reflection of current perceptions of social trends I wonder? The world bimbling and skithering towards complete social entropy?

Friday, 16 November 2007

Still undecided. But happy.

That's my position after watching Clegg vs Huhne on Question Time.

Undecided because I still have no idea who I'm going to vote for. Happy in that I would be happy to see either of them in the top position.

I was surprised at the hostility of many of the texts coming in to News24 after the show. Is it normally like that?

A lot of people said how boring it was. My feeling up till now is that it's not boring, it's just symptomatic of the fact that the LibDems are a relatively united party with a great deal going for it in policy terms. Both of our top guys are somewhere between 90% and 95% in tune with that (and both made the point that policy is decided democratically in our party, unlike the others), so of course there are not going to be great differences. I guess, though, that I have to accept that a lot of people find that boring and turn off it. (Equally we seem to have been nudging upwards in the polls, or did I just dream that?) But I don't think that matters. A week after the election of whoever it is, the leadership race (leadership jog?) will have been forgotten as we start to take on the clone parties about the things that really matter.

And a thought occurred to me about Charles Kennedy. Given the experience we've just been through with the media and Ming (60+ interviews at the party conference - 60+ questions about his age), we can see now that that is exactly what would have happened to Charles once the secret about his drink problem was out. We would never have been able to say a single sensible thing; we'd have been utterly swamped in media muck raking.

Still got to make my mind up though....

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Norman Baker on David Kelly

Over on Lib Dem Voice, Norman Baker gives a synopsis of why the David Kelly affair will not go away, and what he found in the course of researching for his book, The Strange Death of David Kelly.

What about a quota for English managers?

There's the regular hoohah going on about foreign players in the Premiership, with people like Stevies Gerrard and Coppell calling for a quota for English players. I don't believe it would do any good. Getting more players into the Premiership doesn't make them better. We need a different system for training them and getting the best out of them.

If it's really the players that make a difference, why aren't they sacked when the club performs poorly? It's the manager who gets it in the neck. There's a good reason for that - it's the manager that makes the most difference. Managers make a huge difference between players playing poorly and well, and between teams playing poorly and well. I think England has a squad that is capable of competing with the best. The fact that they don't suggests there's something wrong with the way they are managed. Steve McLaren - he's better than I thought he would be, but I don't think he's a world beater.

Look at the managers we have in the Premiership at the moment. Of the twenty clubs, only eight have English managers. And only two of those are in the top half of the table. If we want a quota on players, maybe we should be looking at a quota of managers as well. But I don't think so.

Look at who we've got. Redknapp, Curbishley, Allardyce, Coppell, Bruce, Southgate, Megson, Hutchings. I'm including Hutchings despite him having just got the axe - which says a lot already. I cannot see anyone in that lot who has the managerial and organisational know how, the motivational ability, and the sheer guile needed to beat Germany, Italy, Brazil, Argentina. So, just like players, putting more average managers in the Premiership wouldn't solve anything. In fact it would make matters worse, because, without the best management ability around, we'd see our clubs dumped out of European competition earlier and earlier.

Perhaps we should be looking at different ways of training our managers. Entirely different skills are needed, and they're not always there to be taught. Handling information, for instance, is a huge must. Managers are deluged with information. They get readouts of each player's performance each second they're on the pitch. They have reports on players fitness and strength practically down the last molecule. They get videos of their opponents' games, and they analyse strengths and weaknesses down to the last detail. However, they need to command that information and turn it into a strategy - that takes a different kind of skill to those taught in most English football academies. I'm reminded of when Peter Sutcliffe was on the loose - the police realised afterwards that they'd had the information they needed to identify him for a long time. The problem was that they had so much information that they were actually prevented from putting the important bits together.

To give another sporting example, Michael Schumacher is the most successful Formula 1 driver. It makes me spit to say it, because he is such a complete moral vacuum. Nevertheless, he was very, very fast. One reason for this, according to his team mates, is his ability to make sense of all the information at his disposal. Computerised information pours out of Formula 1 cars, and the cars are also entire systems - if you do something somewhere, you get results in all sorts of other places - ease the suspension slightly, and you affect the brakes, the steering, the aerodynamics and so on. Schumacher has the capacity to see patterns in the information and turn all that into a strategy that eventually gets the best out of the car. England's best football managers don't have that capacity. Steve McLaren doesn't have it. He may well be the best English manager around, but he still hasn't got it. It's not his fault. Our managers, as well as our players, are the victims of the compete and clog it school of football in which so many of our youngsters have been nurtured for so many decades. It needs to change if we are to get anywhere. Some people are naturally better at it than others. But it's not innate and uncahngeable - it can be learned. We just don't have a system that allows for people to learn it.

Monday, 12 November 2007

This week in the humanities

In line with my first post about the humanities, what have I been up to:

Art history: no, had a week off this week.

Music: Bruce Springsteen, Nightwish, Mary Chapin Carpenter. There aren't many rock songs that contain the phrase "taconite, coke and limestone".

Religion: an interesting insight into the fractures in Christianity when I learned that in Lewes oneof the Anglican vicars a while ago tried to ahve the Quakers remvoed from the Churches together organisation, because in his view they were not Christians. Can't even start to get my head around that, but it's a good example of how people define themselves.

Philosophy: some thinking about what can be justified in the name of the state - see the next item.

History – this probably is stretching things a bit, but the death of David Kelly counts as history now. Norman Baker's book The Strange Death of David Kelly is out, and I have read it. I'm now convinced that Kelly could not have committed suicide. Baker's alternative is as good as any other. It's still improbable, but as Sherlock Holmes says in The Sign of Four "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". Makes you think. The book gets a detailed and complimentary review here. I'll give more of my own thoughts later.

Literature – I think The Strange Death of David Kelly will have to fill in.

History of science – nope.

Classical studies – nope.

Friday, 9 November 2007


Ruffles and Oliver are really enjoying S154.

Oliver is particularly fascinated by ionic bonding. He thinks he might be a scientist when he grows up.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Margaret Thatcher

For a long, long time I've had trouble making up my mind about Margaret Thatcher. I was actually glad when she came to power, because she removed Labour. That gladness very quickly turned to dislike and slowly into a hatred of all she stood for. That has been replaced equally slowly in recent years by a more tempered assessment of a person who is a very complex character.

Simon Jenkins, in Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts, argues that she carried out two revolutions - an economic one, which benefitted the country enormously, and a centralisation of power, which didn't.

(He then argues that the second revolution needs to be undone by a concerted decentralisation of power to regions, cities, boroughs, parishes, etc. Given that this has consistently been a central plank of Liberal Democrat policy since before he cut his political teeth, it's interesting that he seems to dislike the LibDems so much.)

Thinking about that crystallised some thoughts which have been on their way for some time. In my view, Margaret Thatcher did carry out two revolutions, but one was not the one Jenkins thinks it is. The first revolution is the economic and industrial one, on which most people are pretty much agreed nowadays - it needed doing, and because Thatcher did it so far and so fast, we now have a much stronger economy than we might have had. (And incidentally one that is so far out of kilter with most of our colleagues in the European Union that it is at the root of most of our squabbles with them, along with an outdated English view of the meaning of nationhood.)

One of the characteristics of a revolution is that it starts and it stops. In other words the whole process is subsumed under that heading. I think the economic revolution under Thatcher was more or less that. Very little had happened prior to her in the way of noticing that the world economy had changed and the industrial hegemony of developed countries was on the way out. Very little had happened to take on board the fact of the information revolution with its implication that services, and the movement and manipulation of information, would be a priceless asset in years to come. Arguably Thatcher only went part of the way on that one, because the big revolution in IT, particularly the web and mobile technology, was still to come. But she transformed Britain's economic landscape from predominantly an industrial one to a much more mixed economy with a large, probably dominant, service sector. That movement, and the deregulation that accompanied it, largely finished when Thatcher left office. Any movements since can be better described as tinkering rather than revolutionary, and in some senses there has been a reversal, with more rather than less regulatory burden on business, as well as a (slightly) higher burden of tax. Interestingly there is not a big argument about tax today. There are lots of little ones, which people keep trying to turn into big ones, but all the main players seem to be more or less agreed as to the general level of taxation.

So the economic revolution was, and remains, a revolution. What about the centralisation revolution? I'm not so sure about that. It's very complicated because in one way Thatcher decentralised mightily, by selling off state owned industry. She did centralise political power, and taxing power, by bringing powers in to the centre from local government, but I don't see that as being revolutionary. Central government already supported local government to a very significant extent through the rate support grant - I don't have the figures to hand. She put the squeeze on deliberately and for specific purposes - to reduce spending and to reduce the power of Labour strongholds. But she didn't go much beyond that, and, furthermore, the tightening of control was extended by subsequent governments, and indeed went much further than Thatcher had ever envisaged - the whole surveillance revolution was after her time. So I would call the centralisation thing a significant step, perhaps a very significant one, but not a revolution.

But I do think there was a second revolution. It was a more personal one, and one which remains an issue today. I'll summarise it first and then try to describe in more detail what I mean. It was the introduction of a spirit of nastiness into British and particularly English life which still stains it today.

Margaret Thatcher herself was/is a nasty person. She is capable of warmth and charm, but her default mode is nastier than that. She epitomises the manner of early non-conformist capitalism brilliantly summarised by Hugo Young as "aggressive thrift". She was very strong minded indeed, and she was correct to a fault. She was happiest when in a fight with someone. She seemed, according again to Young, to be incapable of reaching a decision without having an argument first. In other words, she had to fight. Arguably the economic revolution carried out under her leadership could have been achieved at much less human cost. But I believe she didn't just count the suffering of the workers as worth it, she actually wanted to make them suffer. I have no doubt that she believed she was doing right - but it's a very old testament, and very flawed view of the nature of the world.

I note that I oscillate between past and present tense when speaking about her. This is itself significant. The person "Margaret Thatcher" is definitely a "was". There is a live person, who "is", whose name is "Lady Thatcher". But, shorn of her power, Lady Thatcher is irrelevant. It was the wielding of power with single minded and utterly focussed will that made Margaret Thatcher the force she was. And she is no longer that force.

Margaret Thatcher was the complete hypocrite. She led a very correct life herself. She never strayed from her marriage, and she never took a bribe. And you can be absolutely sure that she would never have taken one. But she presided over a cabinet that became utterly corrupt under her tutelage. She actively encouraged that corruption by energetically supporting every one of her ministers until it became evident that they could not survive. And she was always so self righteous about it. Most of the evidence came out under Major, when it seemed hardly a month went by without some Tory being found with his hands in someone else's underwear or someone else's wallet. But it was Margaret Thatcher who set the tone. It was Thatcher's government that was enthusiastically selling weaponry to Iraq during the 1980s and it was her proteges who were apparently ready to see innocent business people go to jail rather than admit the truth. Only the ultimate maverick, Alan Clarke, was finally prepared to tell the truth in court.

(By comparison - whatever you think of Labour sleaze, no Labour minister or MP has yet been jailed.)

A further example - the Westminster gerrymandering, encouraged by Margaret Thatcher's powerful belief that the end justified the means (strange that a non-conformist upbringing should lead to such a Jesuitical stance). I don't blame Margaret Thatcher for Shirley Porter's criminality and viciousness. I do blame her for bringing about a culture in which people thought that kind of behaviour was justifiable if it worked.

And finally, her lionising of General Pinochet, when he was quite rightly and properly being pursued on a charge of murder. And we have discovered since how corrupt Pinochet was. Again, I don't blame her for Pinochet. I do blame her for having no problem in not just consorting with him but regarding him as a close friend. And, once again the crucial point, she was so self righteous about it. The presenting to him of a plate celebrating the victory over the Armada says it all. Pinochet (dictator, murderer, corrupt embezzler) is our ally. Spain (democracy, engaging Pinochet by the rule of law) is our enemy.

"Greed is good" was part of a larger movement than Thatcherism. But Thatcher enthusiastically endorsed it by her actions, even though the self righteous tone of her rhetoric would not allow her to say it outright. She encouraged other people to "do unto others" by the example of her own instinctive aggression and by the permission she gave to them to break any rule if it was in the way. Allied to a rhetoric of individual responsibility - look after yourself because nobody else is going to - the result was, in my opinion, lethal for morality.

The overall result of that was the production of a tone of behaviour, not among everybody, but among significant numbers of some classes. There are still many people in this country today who have taken their tone from Margaret Thatcher - what she did herself, and what she encouraged others to do. If somebody else is in the way of what you want, then every means is justified to get them out of the way. According to some commentators, we have a generation of young men who are so self centred that they have become criminally minded. That generation, if it exists, which I'm not sure about, was brought up under Thatcherism, and the taint of her morality shows. I don't believe it is limited to a few young spivs though. It shows in boardroom behaviour where CEOs seem to genuinely believe that having a pay package an average of 70 times staff earnings is justifiable. And it is fuelled by the Thatcherite belief that there is no such thing as society, which implies that there is no reason to be responsible to anyone else. She completed that phrase by saying you have individuals and you have families - another good example of her hypocrisy when you look at the number of her ministers who flouted family values, and the amount of support that families didn't get when they were suffering through her restructuring of the economy.

There are many people who are not infected of course, many who inoculated themselves against Thatcher at the earliest possible moment. But that attitude that says that any law, any morality can be broken because I have a higher morality - me, is still too evident in the actions of too many people.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The Tories' preferred method of transport

How does this sit with their green credentials?

Hat tip to Paul Walter. More details at the Guardian.

Picture copyright RMS:

A shameful stance, Mr Brown

While I'm getting enthused over the leadership contest, I can't help thinking that other things matter more. The issue of Iraqi interpreters that Lynne Featherstone highlights "Government’s death sentence for Iraqi employees: a first-hand account".

The news broke on the BBC in July that interpreters who worked for our armed forces were under threat of death from militants and the British government were dragging their feet in the most pusillanimous and ungracious way possible about helping them.

It says much about both our political system and the attitude of a great many people in this country that this is not and has not remained headline news. It bubbles to the surface every now and then. Brown announced a grudging package of measures in October, dealt with in a Newsnight blog here. Financing for resettlement for those who have worked for us for a year, and are still working for us, and, under unclear circumstances,some may arrive in the UK. So basically there are people who are risking their lives,and their families lives, to help our troops, and we are going to do as little as we can decently get away with to help them. Shame on you, Mr Brown.

We have an action site at and there is more information at Dan Hardie's blog.

The leadership race - more

I'm feeling quite comfortable about the way things are going. I was worried that it would not be much of a show, but I am reassured by some of the things that have been happening recently. As points out,in a two horse race and with horses so similar in many ways,they will have to work a bit to be distinctive, so I look forward to things hotting up as they get into their stride.

I'm still sitting on the fence, apparently unlike my MP, Norman Baker. I like Huhne's stance on Trident. I like Clegg's stance on ID cards. Huhne has adopted the same policy but Clegg got in first. Guys, my vote is still up for grabs.

This week in the humanities....

In line with my first post about the humanities, what have I been up to:

Art history: I got a pamphlet from the Jubilee Centre about a Christian view of art appreciation, particularly abstract art. One of their illustrations was Rothko's "Black on maroon".

Music: Within Temptation, Nightwish, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the new Eagles album “Long Road out of Eden” - they've apparently really annoyed Bush by coming out against the Iraq war.

Religion: at Castle Drogo, there was a model of the Thiepval memorial (both are by Lutyens) which got me thinking about the way we memorialise our dead, especially those who are supposed to have died “for” something. Our young men - the youngest at the Somme was 14 - were sent to die in thousands to preserver the way of life represented by Castle Drogo. And the threat to this way of life was the Germans, who were preserving a precisely similar way of life in the valleys of Germany.

Philosophy: had a week off philosophy ;-)

History – quite a lot of bits and pieces – Morwellham Quay in Devon, where they try to recreate what it was like in its heyday. Went on the rail journey through the mine. The most horrible bit was the guide's description of arsenic mining. Arsenic sublimates – as it's heated it turns directly from a solid into a gas so people heated the rock in big furnaces and the gas billowed up into a brickwork maze, where as it cooled it solidified. Every couple of weeks they put the furnaces out, waited for the whole lot to cool down, and then sent people into the tunnels to hack the arsenic off the walls. All without any protective clothing of course. As the guide said, “And this is what they call the good old days”.

Literature – Mission Song by John le Carre, Don De Lillo's Cosmopolis, John Updike's Terrorist. It was a good week for reading in between all the walking. I think I liked Mission Song best.

History of science – learned a fair bit at Morwellham Quay.

Classical studies – I found myself reflecting on the design and use of stadia while watching Spurs play Blackpool. (Undistinguished but a win.) It was the design for entrance and egress that got me thinking this week – particularly the way they had organised the ticket collection – there were a lot of late buyers like me and we were advised to turn up early. I didn't manage it so I was a bit worried when I turned up with twenty minutes to go and found a queue about 200 yards long. I got my ticket within five minutes. Impressive.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

That leadership contest

One of my Tory friends (I do have some) has made a point of saying the LibDem leadership race is so boring. And then implying that that means the LibDems are boring. It could just mean we're a relatively united party, with no big issues over which we disagree greatly.

I remain firmly undeclared pending more goodies from the two conbatants.

Dog shoots man

I just can't resist this:

The best bit is the official who says it happens all the time.

Friday, 19 October 2007


In line with last week's message, what have I been up to:

Art history: nope

Music: Springsteen, Within Temptation

Religion: it's been a bad week in one way. The funeral was held on an OU tutor and colleague of mine on Tuesday, and we heard that another had died unexpectedly on Thursday. The style nowadays for many people is to celebrate rather than to mourn. That was certainly the case with the funeral on Tuesday. I wonder how that reflects changing attitudes to life and death?

Philosophy: watched the first episode of Spooks. The starting plot hinges on the British government authorising the bombing of a train carrying a known terrorist before he carries out an attack on the UK. So can the taking of innocent life be justified if it promises to avert greater loss of life? (Needless to say, the plot got more complicated after that.)

History - watched more Tudors. They go at it like rabbits don't they. I've also been thinking about the meeting of history and geography in terms of our current landscape - that's what cultural geography is. There's a lot of landscape around Ringmer, and some people are desperate to preserve it unchanged and unchanging. There are also people around who are well on their way to being real historians.

Literature - nothing apart from picking the books I'm going to take on holiday - I'll add those next week.

History of science - I guess I include my potato experiment. I had to heat potatoes till they lost all their water, then subtract the final mass from the starting mass to see how much of them is water. After the first couple of goes in the microwave, I determined that either there is no water in potatoes, or I need a new microwave. Fortunately, after that, it began to work.*

Classical studies - erm,nothing, apart from discovering that Nick Clegg read archaeology (and anthropology) at Cambridge. But archaeology at Cambridge tends not to be very classical, so I'm not sure that I can include that.

*The answer is 80%. Or thereabouts.

Low Carbon Ringmer

Low Carbon Ringmer's environment fair was held on Saturday 13th, and was a great success. At least a lot of people turned up. Whether it was successful in starting a movement to lower carbon emissions from the village remains to be seen. There are a couple of pics on LCR's flickr site. More will follow.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The humanities

One of my many jobs for the OU is to teach AZX103, the online version of Introduction to the Humanities, and for this presentation just started, I plan to discuss each week what we've actually done outside the course where any of the disciplines impinges on us.

I need to set the scene a bit first. AZX103 doesn't introduce all the humanities - just those covered by other OU courses when it was devised, which means:
art history,
history of science,
classical studies.

One notable absence, for instance, is film - the reason for that being that when A103 was first written the OU didn't do film courses. We do now so no doubt A100, which starts next year, will cover film. One notable inclusion is history which I don't see as a humanity, it's a social science, but then you get into all sorts of awkward questions about how you define both those subject groupings.

Art history - can't think of anything, apart from looking at "Man Reading" in Saturday's tutorial, which doesn't really count.

Music - I'm into rock, fairly heavy, and mostly metallic - I've just bought two Within Temptation CDs, and one is now blowing my ears out (Dutch Gothic, which is a subgenre of symphonic metal).

Religion - a bit tangential this, but I was at the launch fair of Low Carbon Ringmer and I was next to the Christian Ecology stall, being run by the local vicar.

Philosophy - I hardly ever consciously "do philosophy" - I did have an interesting chat with my son this week who had just been to a philosophy society meeting about the connection between "attempt" and "intention". But I reckon we do philosophy quite a lot without noticing. I found on the BBC website this article about obesity. It raises, as so many of these things do, an acutely moral question - how much is it morally justified to force people to do things for their own good, especially in an (allegedly) libertarian society?

History - I watched The Tudors on telly. I never realised they had so much sex in Tudor times.

Literature - haven't read anything all week, apart from "Cultural Geography", which is a different kettle of fish. I did think briefly about what to take on holiday with me - anybody got any recommendations?

History of Science - not really. Actually at the Environment Fair, I did have an interesting chat with a farmer about the issue of risk - and that is connected to History of Science, because there's a historical dimension to the way we have grown to (mis)understand science, and what constitutes risk - the issue usually being that scientists never make categorical predictions, but we live in a society that expects them. E.g. no scientist would ever say, scientifically, that the MMR vaccine is completely safe, but to say that it is safe enough for all normal purposes doesn't play well in the media.

Classical studies - er, not this week.

So Ming went...

... and proved to be another example of what I blogged about here recently, the relative power of press and politicians. I can't quite decide whether it amounts to dishonest journalism or not. The story of Ming's age, pardon the pun, was an old, old story. We knew some LibDems didn't like him, and we knew that some LibDems were concerned about his age and image. We've known that for two years. We know Gordon Brown is a control freak - the press don't go on about it day after day after day. We know Dave the boy Cameron is completely vacuous - the press don't go on about it day after day after day. But they decided some time ago that the story was Ming's age, and it became the story - day after day after day. And that despite everything we were doing - the real news - things actually happening, policy announcements, policy working, oh sorry not news, now let's talk about Ming's age. The revelation that he was asked about his age at every single one of sixty plus interviews at the party conference this year shows the intensity of the thing. A lesson for whoever succeeds him. And at one level, OK they were right - every party needs a telegenic leader, it is now clearly a sine qua non.

So a decent, honourable man has been knocked out of the limelight. His colleagues may have fashioned the knife (it's difficult to tell from what I know and impossible, I'm afraid, to believe anything the press says, because they are determined to take no responsibility for their actions) but it was the press that wielded it.

I hope Ming comes back. Whoever becomes party leader needs him on the front bench, where he can still wield a scalpel of his own occasionally. One of the government's most embarrassing moments of recent years was the admission Ming forced of their complicity in flights of rendition. Of course, they were able to get over it because not enough people cared. But it's our job to make them care.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Coming to you via the Conservative party...

... LibDem policies. We wanted to do something about inheritance tax before they did; we were quicker off the mark with taxing non-doms; we were ahead of them on taxing planes instead of passengers...

But I couldn't say it better than Vince Cable did, according to the Beeb, "Most of these policies were set out by the Liberal Democrats. We had set out this policy on changing the basis of aviation tax, the Tories pinched it from us and now the government have pinched it from them.

"I mean for the Tories to be bellyaching about it, it's like a gang of thieves complaining about their houses being burgled."

Gordon Brown is human, shock horror

Sorry, but I have to disagree with practically all my LibDem colleagues, just about every Conservative I've come across, and almost the entire panoply of press, radio and TV journalists. I don't think Gordon Brown is a coward.

I don't think Brown bottled it, because I don't think he ever intended to hold an autumn election. I think it was a cunning plan that went wrong. I think his plan was to let everyone think there was to be an election so as to unsettle them and smoke out their plans. The only bit of evidence that doesn't fit that is the various strands about Labour shifting people to election posts, taking on staff, etc, but that could easily all be smoke as well. I remember Ferrari once doing it brilliantly to McLaren during a close race. They got all the mechanics out for Schumacher, McLaren reacted by bringing Hakkinen in, the Ferrari mechanics all went back inside, Schumacher got a couple of extra quick laps in and won the race.

The original plan worked. He got a good idea about Tory plans which he was able to shaft with the pre budget plans for inheritance tax - nicked by the Tories from the LibDems by the way. And he no doubt ruffled a few feathers. But he paid a very high price for it for two reasons. The first was flawed execution. He needed to pull the plug on the idea sooner, but I guess he couldn't bring himself to. And the visit to Iraq was tenable (even as a piece of political upstaging it was forgiveable) but the spun announcement about troop reductions was a big mistake.

The second reason was, I think, that he underestimated the power of the press. They're blaming him for leading them on, which he undoubtedly did, but they were willing victims. It was far too good a story for the press to miss - fills papers and hours of screen time without any effort on their part. So they desperately wanted an election to talk about, and they fell for it hook, line and sinker. And then he was powerless to stop it attaining much bigger heights than he wanted it to. The only thing he could do was to stop it,and he failed to do that. To me it's a lesson in the limits of political power.

And now of course he's suffering from press over reaction. He was doing brilliantly in the summer according tomany,when he really did nothing but show once again that he is a very able administrator. And he was lucky - a terrorist plot that failed to achieve any of its targets, foot and mouth which didn't take hold, and floods which enabled him to look primeministerial. And now all that's happened is that he's shown he can misjudge things occasionally. Heavens above - he's human.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Spelling and grammar....

I got a letter from my insurance company (should I name and shame them?) today: "Please accept our apologises our error and any inconvenience it may of caused". I'm quite glad I'm cashing in the policy; I'm not sure I could bear to stay with them.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Free Burma

I'm blogging nothing, except Free Burma today.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

3.10 to yuma - spoilers

Went to see this last night. I did my usual thing of not recognising people. Didn't recognise Peter Fonda - almost forgivable. Didn't recognise Ben Foster, which is really unforgivable as he is the best thing in the movie. My excuse is he's grown up since I last saw him.

As for the movie, spoilers begin here.

I can comfortably say that it's the most confusing movie I've ever seen. I was musing with my daughter on the way there about why people make westerns nowadays. Unless you have a new interpretation or one that chimes in with the times, the genre is quarried smooth. Well, 3.10 to Yuma is different, that's for sure. The bad guy might not be so bad, but spends a lot of time trying to convince us he's really really bad. That doesn't work so well because Russell Crowe clearly isn't convinced that he's really really bad. Then there are good guys who are semi bad guys, then other bad guys who sort of become good guys and then others are on the side of the good guys and other good guys are on the side of the bad guys. Then the bad guy helps the good guy get him to the train he's going to prison on. Then the bad guy's gang shoot the good guy, then the bad guy shoots the bad guy's gang, and then does he get away or doesn't he. That last bit, the non/getaway is a cop out I reckon, just a bad piece of film making, unless they were leaving the door open for "3.10 to Yuma 2".

I decided in the end that it's either a completely revisionist western in which they haven't blurred the lines between good and evil so much as completely rubbed them out, or, more likely, it's a metaphor for Iraq. It works very well on that level. In Iraq the US is in a complete mess, has no idea who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and ,ast week's bad guys turn out to be this week's good guys, and the whole thing is just utter confusion. If that's what they were thinking, then it's pretty good. If it wasn't, the film's a mess.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

While I'm being a bit political...

... I'll link to this.

It gives me no pleasure...

As a Spurs supporter, I would normally delight in Arsenal getting ensnared in something. But the fact that their ownership has moved partly into Mr Usmanov's hands is not something for any blogging football fan to be happy about. Usmanov has a criminal record and is not happy about the world knowing it. The full story, including the censorship of Craig Murray, Tim Ireland who is back up and blogging here, and their internet hosts, is at Chicken Yoghurt, and the list of bloggers who have linked to the story grows and grows.

For the record, it is currently as follows:

Curious Hamster, Pickled Politics, Harry’s Place, Tim Worstall, Dizzy, Iain Dale, Ten Percent, Blairwatch, Davide Simonetti, Earthquake Cove, Turbulent Cleric (who suggests dropping a line to the FA about Mr Usmanov), Mike Power, Jailhouse Lawyer, Suesam, Devil’s Kitchen, The Cartoonist, Falco, Casualty Monitor, Forever Expat, Arseblog, Drink-soaked Trots (and another), Pitch Invasion, Wonko’s World, Roll A Monkey, Caroline Hunt, Westminster Wisdom, Chris K, Anorak, Mediawatchwatch, Norfolk Blogger, Chris Paul, Indymedia (with a list of Craig Murray’s articles that are currently unavailable), Obsolete, Tom Watson, Cynical Chatter, Reactionary Snob, Mr Eugenides, Matthew Sinclair, The Select Society, Liberal England, Davblog, Peter Gasston Pitch Perfect, Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, Lunartalks, Tygerland, The Crossed Pond, Our Kingdom, Big Daddy Merk, Daily Mail Watch, Graeme’s, Random Thoughts, Nosemonkey, Matt Wardman, Politics in the Zeros, Love and Garbage, The Huntsman, Conservative Party Reptile, Ellee Seymour, Sabretache, Not A Sheep, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, The People’s Republic Of Newport, Life, the Universe & Everything, Arsenal Transfer Rumour Mill, The Green Ribbon, Blood & Treasure, The Last Ditch, Areopagitica, Football in Finland, An Englishman’s Castle, Freeborn John, Eursoc, The Back Four, Rebellion Suck!, Ministry of Truth, ModernityBlog, Beau Bo D’Or, Scots and Independent, The Splund, Bill Cameron, Podnosh, Dodgeblogium, Moving Target, Serious Golmal, Goonerholic, The Spine, Zero Point Nine, Lenin’s Tomb, The Durruti Column, The Bristol Blogger, ArseNews, David Lindsay, Quaequam Blog!, On A Quiet Day…, Kathz’s Blog, England Expects, Theo Spark, Duncan Borrowman, Senn’s Blog, Katykins, Jewcy, Kevin Maguire, Stumbling and Mumbling, Famous for 15 megapixels, Ordovicius, Tom Morris, AOL Fanhouse, Doctor Vee, The Curmudgeonly, The Poor Mouth, 1820, Hangbitch, Crooked Timber, ArseNole, Identity Unknown, Liberty Alone, Amused Cynicism, Clairwil, The Lone Voice, Tampon Teabag, Unoriginalname38, Special/Blown It, The Remittance Man, 18 Doughty Street, Laban Tall, Martin Bright, Spy Blog The Exile, poons, Jangliss, Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From?, Imagined Community, A Pint of Unionist Lite, Poldraw, Disillusioned And Bored, Error Gorilla, Indigo Jo, Swiss Metablog, Kate Garnwen Truemors, Asn14, D-Notice, The Judge, Political Penguin, Miserable Old Fart, Jottings, fridgemagnet, Blah Blah Flowers, J. Arthur MacNumpty, Tony Hatfield, Grendel, Charlie Whitaker, Matt Buck, The Waendel Journal, Marginalized Action Dinosaur, SoccerLens, Toblog, John Brissenden East Lower, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Peter Black AM, Boing Boing, BLTP, Gunnerblog, LFB UK, Liberal Revolution, Wombles, Focus on Sodbury…, Follow The Money, Freedom and Whisky, Melting Man, PoliticalHackUK, Simon Says…, Daily EM, From The Barrel of a Gun, The Fourth Place, The Armchair News Blog, Journalist und Optimist, Bristol Indymedia, Dave Weeden, Up North John, Gizmonaut, Spin and Spinners, Marginalia, Arnique, Heather Yaxley, The Whiskey Priest, On The Beat, Paul Canning, Martin Stabe, Mat Bowles, Pigdogfucker, Rachel North, B3TA board, Naqniq, Yorkshire Ranter, The Home Of Football, UFO Breakfast Recipients, Moninski , Kerching, e-clectig, Mediocracy, Sicily Scene, Samizdata, I blog, they blog, weblog, Colcam, Some Random Thoughts, Bel is thinking, Vino S, Simply Jews, Atlantic Free Press, Registan, Filasteen, Britblog Roundup #136, Scientific Misconduct Blog, Adam Bowie, Duncan at Abcol, Camera Anguish, A Very British Dude, Whatever, Central News, Green Gathering, Leighton Cooke (224), , Skuds’ Sister’s Brother, Contrast News, Poliblog Perspective, Parish Pump, El Gales, Noodle, Curly’s Corner Shop, Freunde der offenen Gesellschaft, otromundoesposible, Richard Stacy, Looking For A Voice, News Dissector, Kateshomeblog, Writes Like She Talks, Extra! Extra!, Committee To Protect Bloggers, Liberty’s Requiem, American Samizdat, The Thunder Dragon, Cybersoc, Achievable Life, Paperholic, Creative-i, Raedwald, Nobody’s Friend, Lobster Blogster, Panchromatica (251).