Health Ministry of Truth

Combining theThe War against Terror with The War Against the National Health Service, the UK Home Secretary is about to propose that doctors be co-opted into the TWAT, by reporting on potential terrorists amongst their patients.

Doctors and other health professionals will be asked to identify people who are “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” as part of the government’s redrawn counter-terrorism programme to be detailed on Tuesday. (from The Guardian)

In a departure from recent government style, it seems that, for once, the Lib-Dems aren’t even being used as a human shield for this particular mad idea. Theresa May is putting it forward herself.

Theresa May and her advisers didn’t grow up in Fairyland, so they may have had occasion to visit a doctor. In which case, they should have noticed that, although doctors ask patients some very personal questions indeed, they don’t normally ask about plans to carry out suicide bomb attacks.

Doctors are indeed often too busy to ask where we stand on the single transferable vote or the extension of the eurozone. How wonderfully relaxed must some surgeries be, if doctors can take the time to engage their patients on a wide range of political topics and rank their answers on an extremism scale?

Temporarily ignore the monstrousness of treating medical confidentiality as a disposable luxury. This plan doesn’t even make sense in pragmatic terms. Potential terrorists can avoid getting caught by it by the simple expedient of not discussing their views with doctors. Can this be beyond the wit of even the stupidest terrorist?

Do we really have an Oxford-educated Home Secretary who believes that a terrorist will walk into his local surgery and says “I’ve got a bit of a sore throat but I’m planning an explosive attack on a plane this week and I’d hate to miss it”?

@MinOvTroof twitfeed

TheMin: Changed my plans for this week to attend more XFactor negotiations.

@RoZEE, Nothing is more important for our children than bigging up the XFactor winner– I will fight hour by hour for it

TheMin: am officially an x factor convert.big up joe, big up simon, big up boyley…

@supremes: u are my fave US group. Could teach our brit judges a thing or 2 about fronting me bessie m8

TheMin: Just back from helping me bessie m8 Milly wiv his court case. Judges are dissing him but he’s staying strong. Big shout out to Milly.

TheMin: All the goss

……

Tories try to spoil the Wire

My Wire fan-status already took a knock when the Guardian started running a Wire-fan reading group and most of the posters seemed to be prats. But to find the Tories using the Wire, just to steal its perceived credibility for a soundbite, is making me gag.

The BBC website headline says

Parts of Britain ‘like The Wire’

I assumed that was a subject-verb-object construction, meaning “There are parts of Britain where people like the Wire.” Which is bound to be true but a bit of a strange news headline.

But it turned out they meant:

Parts of Britain (are) ‘like The Wire’

Even that is fair enough. After all, it’s a drama that’s deliberately meant to suspend disbelief through “realism” ffs. Bits of it feel “true” to me, “true” in terms of my experience of the world and of the ways people act. I don’t assume that makes it literally “true,” in a documentary sense. No one who’s ever watched a tv series before would assume it’s a literally “true” representation of life in Baltimore, let alone any UK city.

The Conservatives have compared parts of the UK to The Wire, a US television show which portrays inner-city drugs and violence.
In a speech, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling argued that the UK was suffering the same culture of gangs and street violence found in the US.
He said Labour had failed to ensure law and order was preserved in the poorest parts of the country. ..
Mr Grayling repeated his charge that poorer communities in the UK have been let down by Labour, saying: “The Wire has become a byword for urban deprivation and societal breakdown in modern America.”
He said: “When The Wire comes to Britain’s streets, it is the poor who suffer most. It is the poor who are the ones who have borne the brunt of the surge in violence under this government.

It’s pretty obvious at this point that Chris Grayling hasn’t really ever watched the Wire.

Because, if he had, he’d have noticed that the crimes aren’t just at street level.The economy, the political world and the media don’t exactly emerge unscathed.

Crocodile tears for the “poor” seem to be the Tories’ new election strategy. For instance, they claim that the poor are being let down.

Oh yes, “let down by rising crime” is the claim. I think that misinterpreting & manipulating crime figures is called “juking the stats” in the Wire. So you’d think that a Wire-o-phile like the shadow Tory Home secretary would have the grace to blush when he does it. (Seeing as all crime figures show falling rates)

OK, the Tories aren’t the BNP – which is also trying to corner the market in populist concern for the class-formerly-known-as-working (before the last Tory governments hammered it into the ground.) But they bear a pretty monstrous responsibility for the disaffection and poverty of so many neighbourhoods, where many people never found work since the 1980s. (Don’t make me repeat the list of Tory crimes against “no-such-thing-as-society”, because I will rant for hours.)

So it’s doubly sickening to see them both using the consequences of their own actions as a stick with which to beat the government and dragging the good name of the Wire into it.

Still, it’s all in the game, I suppose…..

Snakes and ladders

Inspired by the Rapture Index, this is an attempt to quantify the UK political news for the past week or so on an objective (:-)) scale. And to put it in a handy playable format.

  • MPs shown to be largely venal (3 square snake)
  • Labour Cabinet sets off self-destruct button: e.g. the previously unknown Purnell bids for political domination by saying Brown should be replaced; Flint tries to play a spurious feminist anti-Brown card (complaining he treated her as “decoration”. Comically this came after she posed in a ludicrous Observer fashion photoshoot, the subtext of which was “Look at me. I may be in the Cabinet, but I’m really HOT”; etc ) (3 square snake)
  • Jacqui Smith leaves Cabinet (merits a 2 square ladder by itself.)
  • Several repulsively self-promoting Blairite clowns leave the Cabinet, gamely deflecting the shame of their own discovered venality by blaming Brown for everything they can think of, from global financial meltdown to not being very nice, but mainly for being unpopular. (2 square ladder)
  • Relatively decent people in new Cabinet, eg, Glenys Kinnock. (Ignore the presence of Mandelson.) WTF didn’t Brown think of having a sensible cabinet at the start of his term? (2 square ladder)
  • Local elections: Labour trounced everywhere. Tories win pretty well everywhere, even taking Lib Dem councils, despite the LibDems having been relatively blameless in ExpensesGate. (10 square snake)
  • Euro elections: The repellent BNP gets two Euro Mps – one representing MY AREA, ffs. Grrr. The a-bit-less-repellent-but-still-sickening UKIP gets more votes than the Labour Party. (15 square snake)
  • BNP leader egged when he tries to hold press conferences. (2 square ladder. I know it’s childish and probably counterproductive to welcome it, but still… Whose heart is so dead it wouldn’t be cheered by the sight of Nick Griffin getting egged? Although a Bush-referential shoe would have been even more satisfying to the viewer, assuming it was the steel-toecapped Doc Martin, traditionally favoured by some of his supporters.)
  • House of Lords yet again does the decent thing – as they did when they refused to OK 42-day detention. (In your face, Jacqui Smith.) The Lords uphold appeals against control orders (trans. house arrests) that were based on secret, ie. unchallengeable, evidence. (1 square ladder.)
  • Whole new push for constitutional reform. Sadly the current suggestions generally involve measures like PR – which would probably give the demonic parties, like the BNP, even more influence – or reform of the House of Lords – which would make it into something more like a government rubber stamp rather than the current random collection of toffs, miscreants, retired judges, generous political donors and old party faithfuls, which is still independent enough to give bad bills a good kicking. (1 square snake.)

Sorry, I haven’t designed a board yet. There are too many snakes and not enough ladders. Feel free to try it yourself.

End of civilisation as we know it?

British politics seems to have gone into a weird meltdown, all because of a few expenses claims. Some MPs fiddle their expenses….. why am I less than surprised?

The TV news and most of the press are filled with people expressing their horror and claiming to have lost all faith in Parliament. How odd.

The Iraq war or evidence of collusion in torture didn’t have that effect, oddly. But a few dodgy expenses claims did?

It seems that the system was constructed so that MPs were more or less expected to claim for things (such as food and rent) that the rest of us have to treat as normal household expenses. This system was apparently created – in Thatcher’s time- so that MPs wages would appear becomingly modest to us sensitive taxpayers.

Mp’s wages aren’t exactly low – from the perspective of the average non-millionaire – but they aren’t paid enough to keep up two homes – one of which is in central London – and to run an office to deal with constituents. Hence, the expenses scam was deliberately set up to let them pay for things, whilst appearing to be taking home wages lower than those of judges or hospital consultants.

Obviously, some of them took the piss. In which case, the problem is mainly the failure of the system for scrutinising their claims. The House of Commons seems to have agreed en masse to scapegoat the Speaker – who had already upset Tory MPs by letting the police apply the same rules to them that they expect the police to apply to the rest of us. However, even the Speaker’s sword-falling hasn’t stemmed the Telegraph’s desire to pick through every Tesco’s receipt and claim for dry-rot-proofing it can get its hands on.

The result is a country that seems to have decided that a few fiddled expenses mean that our entire Parliamentary system is broken. The Guardian has been soliciting random famous-ish political-ish people’s wishlists, throwing up ideas ranging from PR to time-limited Parliaments, as if any random political commentator’s ideas are somehow relevant. It even gave David Cameron a platform to spout the Tory party’s nebulous reform ideas.

Marina Hyde called for lots more Independent MPs, then had to write another column explaining that she didn’t mean celebs, in the face of an unholy collection of celebs – Esther Rantzen, ffs – began scrambling to get elected. However, if we don’t have professional politicians, it seems most likely that D-list celebs would fill the void. No one in their right mind could see that as an improvement.

This is baffling. None of the reform suggestions seem to have anything to do with expenses-fiddling at all. If Parliament is broken, and constitutional change is urgent – why was noone calling for it before? The BBC reported this morning that more people voted for Britain’s Got Talent (or an x-factor or a big brother or something, the “got talent” name is obviously a lie) than vote in elections. And there were loads of people in Stoke willing to tell the BBC that they won’t ever vote again.

There is much media fretting about the BNP and other lunatic parties getting votes. I thought this was just a fear tactic. However, I have been told by people who live in likely-BNP-recruiting-territory estates that there seem to be significant numbers (i.e greater than zero) of BNP posters proudly showing in house windows. (I assume that these would counts as a bricking invitation in any reasonable court.)

It’s hard to imagine the waves of mass stupidity that give rise to that. For a start, it seems to be going on the principle that – if your MP is dishonest enough to have got the taxpayer to have paid the cost of a John Lewis lighting unit – you would automatically choose to have someone with a criminal record for committing GBH and inciting racial hatred as a clean alternative. Britain’s Got Morons by The Bucketload might be a more suitable tv show theme.

I have been as pissed off as anyone at the effrontery of some of the expenses claims. But I admit to having been quite pleased to see Jacqui Smith hoist on her own “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” petard. I’ve also enjoyed seeing people who’ve made much of their desire to stamp out benefit fraud being revealed as engaged in benefit frauds that amount to much more than a well-paid worker’s wage.

Did many people really think MPs were all more ethical than the average person, until the Telegraph printed their expense claims? Does someone getting something for nothing really rouse the public to such fury, when any number of seriously bad decisions didn’t bother anyone?

Fine to reform our voting systems, the composition of our parliament and so on. But it’s hard to believe that meaningful constitutional decisions can be taken during the current hysteria.

National treasures

Joanna Lumley has become a recognised “National Treasure”. Googling “Lumley” & “national treasure” brings 4,420 links, with everyone from the Guardian to the Daily Mail united on her treasuriness. She has been appearing in the news recently because of her campaigning work on behalf of the Gurkhas, which led to a Parliamentary defeat for the government.

(Some of the 28 Labour MPs who rebelled against the government over the Gurkha issue are also pretty national treasure-worthy, insofar as MPs can ever be: Dianne Abbott, Alan Simpson, Bob Marshall Andrews, Bob Wareing, etc. The LibDems brought about the vote but I hesitate to think of them in national treasury terms.)

Maybe England could sort out its financial mess by selling the (human-form) family silver. There must be celeb-deprived countries that would pay billions for our human National Treasures. Or we could lease them. At least they are real, which is a lot more than you can say for most of the world’s conceptual billions.

Which celebs are National Treasures? Obviously, asking tinternet is the way to find out. This is the National Treasure league table. It’s only based on the names that I’d remembered having been called national treasures in the media.

  • Attenborough, obviously. (20,500 googled links) They should probably keep him in the Tower of London or something
  • Tony Hart got 58,500 (Yes, I know he and Oliver Postgate died recently, but the treausre status seems able to live on for a time.)
  • Stephen Fry is a relatively new entrant to the lists but he put up a strong showing with 3,810 links
  • Terry Pratchett 2,400
  • Oliver Postgate managed a modest 732.
  • Grommit reached an even more modest 407

I am just thinking these are all pretty fair selections for the human National Treasury. Then, (Shock, Horror!) googling shows that I am channelling an old Daily Telegraph article.

Specialists from The Sunday Telegraph and the British Library have selected the nominees for each National Treasure award, which was no easy task.

Pause to wonder what qualifies anyone to be a National Treasure specialist. Longer gobsmacked pause at the Telegraph/British Library list overall winners. These include
Margaret Thatcher, Richard Branson and Cliff Richard. Cliff was the People’s Vote choice, as the Telegraph let even its non-specialist readers vote. Attenborough and Fry got in, though.

While looking at the Telegraph’s old list of treasure people, I noticed that yesterday’s Telegraph ran a “Who Would You Kick Out of Britain?” piece. It’s some sort of evil twin of the National Treasure awards – maybe a National Debt award, or something. I don’t know if it was chosen by proper specialists, though.

I am momentarily shocked to see it’s headed by a picture of Jacqui Smith. She does indeed seem a reasonable choice for deportation. Her every action as Home Secretary seems to have come as close as humanly possible to expressing shit in a ministerial decree format. Don’t tell me that I am agreeing with something in the Telegraph, ffs.

Phew, she’s not actually number one, though. That honour goes to “the cabinet” as a whole. Her picture’s just there as a representative member of the Cabinet. The rest of the list consists of Gordon Brown, plus some insignificant celebs. There are 150 comments on the article, at least half of which must surely have been generated by the twatotron.

Still, I reckon I can spend a good 24 hours thinking of who I’d like to kick out of the country. If I get to stick them in one of the UK’s immigration prison hell-holes first, so much the better. Watch this space.

Proof Of God – Christian Voice

Who would have thought Christian Voice would have cracked under the pressure of the No God bus campaigns in London? OK, most people I suppose. Still it is entertaining that they are riled by a simple poster to the extent they are demanding the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency to rule on the proof of God.

From the BBC:

An atheist campaign claiming “There’s probably no God” has been reported to the advertising regulator.
Posters with the slogan appear on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground.
But organisation Christian Voice has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying they break rules on substantiation and truthfulness.

Pardon me for a moment while I fall off the chair laughing.

They are saying that the claim there is probably no god is insubstantiated and / or not truthful. How on Thor’s hammer do they intend to convince the ASA of this one wonders…

But Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: “There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.
“But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”

More laughter rings out around WhyDontYou Towers. Evidence for God exists in “personal experience” – surely this alone is a self defeating argument because if I do not have that experience the advertisement is accurate as stated. I do not have that personal experience, therefore (should the ASA be reading this) the banner is 100% correct. Thank you Christian Voice.

I assume Christian Voice have lodged similar complaints over any advertising that mentions non-Christian religions, so any posters for Mosques, Temples (etc) will have to come down. I would never suggest people be petty enough to go through Christian advertising with a fine tooth comb – each day on the way to work I see a huge poster telling me that I will die for my sins, where is the proof of that I wonder?

In a wonderful bit of understatement (and acting a lot more adult than Christian Voice…), Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said:

“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see what their decision is…

UK Culture Secretary Fails Internet

In a terrible indictment on the UK government, Andy Burnham (Culture Secretary) demonstrates some fundamental gaps in his knowledge of both the mystical internet and what freedom of speech means.

From the BBC:

Film-style age ratings could be applied to websites to protect children from harmful and offensive material, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said.
Mr Burnham told the Daily Telegraph the government was looking at a number of possible new internet safeguards.
He said some content, such as clips of beheadings, was unacceptable and new standards of decency were needed.

Briefly defending him, Mr Burnham has only suggested it as an option. But that is as far as my charity will go.

First things first. Film style age ratings do not “protect” anyone from anything. Browser based implementations (such as blocking your browser from viewing certain ratings) would prevent people from seeing “offensive” material but that is a different matter. Film style age ratings are far from 100% successful in stopping people seeing offensive films (have you seen Mama Mia?) and they are only moderately sucessful in stopping people seeing age-inappropriate content. Why would they work on the internet?

Despite being culture secretary, Mr Burnham appears unaware that the internet is global in nature. This website is written by British people, hosted on a German server and has 60% of its traffic from the USA. Who gets to say what is, or isnt, appropriate here? Harmful content is very culture-specific and by its nature, the internet skips over these boundaries. Do we censor information that the Iranians find offensive? Or the North Koreans? Or southern-US Baptists? Who gets to choose what is harmful? What gives that person the right to say to me what is harmful for my children?

There are some common standards that could be applied, but I suspect there are less of these than Mr Burnham thinks there are. Some cultures think it is acceptable for people to watch criminals being executed, others don’t. Supporters of capital punishment talk about the death of the criminal serving as a deterrent to others. This only works if others know of the death, which is why most executions of this nature are public. Is it harmful (in this context) for people to see the punishment carried out? It is “harmful” in the eyes of a culture that does not condone the death penalty, but why should that culture control the internet?

One thing that screamed out at me was the idea that a video clip of a beheading was unacceptable, rather than the beheading itself… But, in my charitable mood that might have just been a turn of phrase.

The madness continues:

[Mr Burnham] also plans to negotiate with the US on drawing up international rules for English language websites.

Wow. So the UK and US will make a pact that dictates the rules for Australian websites? That sounds fair. What about Iranian websites translated into English? This is mind-numbing madness. Hopefully the US government is technologically literate enough to tell Mr Burnham to boil his head for a few hours. Equally, most video clips showing beheadings are on foreign language websites. What control does the US have over them (short of invading, although admittedly the US rarely stops short of that…).

“Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do,” he told the Telegraph.

Another bit of madness. The internet is not a parent. It is not even a child minder. Parents need to be able to educate and assist their children, not rely on badly-thought out “ratings schemes.” Parents need to sit with their child as they surf the internet. Its like anything children do – if you abandon your child to do it, you have no control over what they do. You may think you have some say, but you dont. Take the ratings scheme: most children who are able to surf un-assisted will be able to change web-browers to one that ignores the ratings. Or better still, will be able to enter a URL without a .uk or .com ending where the UK/US RULE is ignored. Technologically backward parents will not be able to implement a control to prevent the child switching to [Lynx|Amaya|Chrome|Opera|FireFox|Mozilla|Safari|Etc]. Does Mr Burnham think every browser coder will be willing to implement a strong age-ratings control without new ones spawning up? Is he that foolish?

The final bit of oddness is: [Emphasis mine]

He went on to say it was time to review the accessibility of certain content on the internet and insisted he was not trying to curb free speech.
His plans are likely to anger those who advocate the freedom of the worldwide web.
You can still view content on the internet which I would say is unacceptable. You can view a beheading,” he said.
“This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it, it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people.”

For a culture secretary, Mr Burnham is woefully ignorant of what “freedom of speech” means. Personally I am opposed to beheading people. I find the death penalty for any crime offensive. Not everyone shares my opinion and, as a result, there are websites where you can read about executions. There are even websites that support the death penalty. I would say they were unacceptable. Does that mean they should be blocked from your browser? No, it means I shouldn’t view them. If I find something offensive, then I shouldn’t look at it. With my children, I sit with them to educate them about what they see. Should I accept your view of what is acceptable for them?

Despite what Mr Burnham says, freedom of speech is not about being free to say things that he (or anyone else) finds acceptable. I find political diatribes offensive and I find religious websites offensive. Will Mr Burnham have them removed? Or would that be a violation of the concept of Freedom of Speech? (I suspect the answer is yes)

The world is full of things which people will find offensive. I find children dying of hunger in Africa unacceptable. Does that mean we ban video clips of it (there go those Oxfam adverts) or does it mean we try to prevent it happening in the first place?

Mr Burnham is right to be offended by the video clips of beheadings. So why dont we prevent the beheadings?

I am sorry, Mr Burnham. As culture secretary you fail.

Windmill aesthetics

Buildings don’t get much more attractive than traditional windmills. More or less anyone will agree on that. It even comes as a bit of a shock to remember that windmills were industrial structures, not landscape beautification projects.

So, what is it about modern wind turbines that sends some people into a rage? In the Times, Charles Bremner claimed that the French countryside was becoming ugly because of the spread of wind turbines.

Windpower blights “la belle France”

His argument is basically that France doesn’t need the “ugly” windturbines because it has loads of nuclear power. What? Has he ever seen a nuclear power station?

The UK’s only remotely attractive one, as a building, was Trawfyndd – of which the architecture bit of the Guardian showed a flattering photograph a couple of months ago. The photo doesn’t come with the online story but here’s an extract from the text.

The tradition continued into the early nuclear age with the appointment of Basil Spence, architect of Coventry cathedral, to design Trawsfynydd in Wales. Like Scott, Spence went down the route of unabashed monumentality to reflect the awesome technology at work within. Never mind that his 20-storey monoliths in the middle of Snowdonia stuck out like a pair of sore thumbs. At the time of Trawsfynydd’s construction, in 1959, this treatment was entirely appropriate: symbolically, nuclear power was one of the few things that told Britain it was still Great. That triumphalism would soon fade, as the implications of the Windscale fire in 1957 became apparent, and environmental and peace movements started to campaign against nuclear.
One need only look at the industrial-looking nuclear eyesores built in the 1970s and 80s, such as Hartlepool or Dungeness, to see the change. Having furnished Britain with some of the ugliest buildings ever seen, British Energy took a renewed concern in the appearance of Sizewell B in the 90s.

Note, “Ugliest buikdings ever seen.”

You can see a selection of postcard views of nuclear carbon-friendly power plants on an odd site that google found, and you’d have to admit that, despite the stunning landscapes they are set in, the kindest description of them would be “darkly foreboding.”

OK, the concepts of beauty and ugliness are relative and individual. Let’s assume that those elegant wind turbine blades are uglier as huge concrete slab monolithic powerplants in the eyes of some beholders.

Pretend that a miraculous new way of generating energy (from fusion or electrolytic transformation or any star-trekky energy source you can imagine) has been discovered. So, the working life of a wind turbine is over. What happens to it? You just take it down. I think that’s it. (You might cause some localised pollution by dropping it in landfill. Pretty small beer compared to what we dump every day, but still, I’m trying to be fair.)

Not quite as easy to take down all the carbon-neutral new nuclear power plants is it? You need a decade or more for decommissioning. You’d still have to protect it to within an inch of its life (from accidents and terrorists) for that time. Then you’d just have to store and guard the materials for, oh I don’t know, a few thousand years.

Or, let’s assume that the star-trek energy breakthrough doesn’t happen. The turbines just spin around, collecting energy that – as far as I can tell, on recent form – is increasing, if anything. They break and can get replaced. The land, sea and air around them are as clean, or otherwise, as they would be in the absence of a turbine.

There is no reason, except aesthetics, for not siting them in the centre of big cities. If they break, they just break. They don’t go critical.

A really unlucky person might find that a broken one landed on their head. This doesn’t quite compare with Chernobyl.

(There’s a REALLY ugly power generator picture – of the post-explosion Chernobyl plant – on the Wikipedia page. I didn’t pasted it here because I’m baffled by the fair use clause.)

Imagining for one minute that you share the aesthetic sensibilities of Charles Bremner and the couple of French aristocrats he reported, it’s still a very small price to pay.

Please, Jacqui, can I have an ID card now

Message from Bizzarro world: People in the UK can’t wait to get their hands on ID cards. They are constantly bothering the Home Secretary, badgering her to hurry up and introduce them.

Well, she says so, anyway.

Jacqui Smith says public demand means people will be able to pre-register for an ID card within the next few months.
The cards will be available for all from 2012 but she said: “I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don’t want to wait that long.” (from the BBC website)

Are there enough smileys and ROTFLMAOs in the world to do internet justice to this idea? I doubt it but here goes anyway.

πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ ad infinitum

More from our Home Secretary:

“I now want to put that to the test and find a way to allow those people who want a card sooner to be able to pre-register their interest as early as the first few months of next year.”
She told the BBC: “We’ll see where that interest is, and then we’ll see if we can issue some cards to those who’ve expressed an interest by the end of next year.”
People applying for cards and passports from 2012 will have to provide fingerprints, photographs and a signature, which Ms Smith believes will create a market worth about Β£200m a year.
And in changes to earlier plans the Home Office is talking to retailers and the Post Office about setting up booths to gather biometric data.

A plan to have booths all over the country collecting biometric data is going to create a “market.” A market in what exactly? The economy must be in an even worse state than we’ve been told.

Estimated costs for the ID scheme have been revised upwards yet again to Β£5.1 billions. Even if the – how can I put this? – fiscally optimistic figure of a new “market” in selling our own biometric data back to us is worth Β£200 million a year, it’ll take a good few years to recover Β£5.1 billions. And that’s without taking into account the costs of setting up the booths and taking out the profit margins for those PFI companies that are unwary enough to sign up for the opportunity.

I suggest that anyone who’s been badgering the Home Secretary for an ID card – momentarily assuming such people exist outside the Land of Porkie Pies- get a driving licence or a passport. Problem solved.

Or here’s my alternative instant identity document. Just fill it out and carry it round. OK, it’s only half-thought out but then I’m saving you loads of time and money.

Instant ID card

Instant ID card

Now, stop bothering our busy Home Secretary with your whining demands for something to show you who you are.

Oh, you want it to be stored on a database, do you? Just as cheap and easy. Type all your personal details into any database or spreadsheet program on your PC (or send it to me to store in PHPMyAdmin, if you must be all formal about this) then copy it to a memory stick, get on some public transport and leave it down the back of the seat.

Of course, if you want it to be really secure, find a big overseas-based subcontractor and pay them a lot of money to send it offshore first, before the random jettisoning bit, but I’m just thinking of the savings you’ll make by cutting out the middle man. Read the papers, we’re all supposed to be belt-tightening you know. Do it yourself.

Money for nothing

Question: What’s the difference between an “oligarch” and bog-standard “billionaire”?

Answer: Well, nationality for a start. Russians get called “oligarchs”. Rich and powerful non-Russians like Murdoch are just “billionaires”.
My print Chambers Dictionary defines an oligarch as someone who holds power in an oligarchy, which is a mite too self-referential to be truly instructive. Wikipedia defines oligarchy as rule by the few:

a form of government where political power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family, military powers or occult spiritual hegemony.

Sorry, I still can’t work out the distinction.

A senior Tory, George Osborne – the Shadow Chancellor, no less, is currently in trouble for allegedly trying to get a donation from a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. Note, he’s not in trouble for hitting on a very rich chap for Β£50,000. The trouble is just because the potential donor doesn’t have the right to vote in England.

Anyway, Osborne is “sorry”, he “made a mistake”.

That’s OK, George, we’ve all been there. Holidays with the mega-rich. Invitations to parties on billionaires’ yacht in Corfu. The sea, the sand, the sun, the free and easy holiday atmosphere. Maybe too much champagne. What happens in Corfu, stays in Corfu…. Easy mistakes to make.

No wait, my mistake. WE haven’t all been there. I must have been temporarily channelling Peter Mandelson. He was there at the same time. And he’s also been a bit annoyed by the churlish attention that commentators with no romance in their souls have been paying to his own flirtation with the same oligarch.

This row is putting Parliament in a rather embarrassing position, as the major parties increasingly look – how shall I put this, a little slack, when it comes to their sources of income.

The move comes as the Conservative party faces allegations that it took tens of thousands of pounds from an associate of a Ukrainian oligarch and accepted a Β£1m loan from a dormant company owned and run by Lady Victoria de Rothschild, a member of the banking family.
The Guardian revealed on Saturday that Robert Shetler-Jones, a British associate of Dmitry Firtash, has been funding the office of Pauline Neville-Jones, the shadow security minister. Shetler-Jones also funds Conservative Central Office through Scythian Ltd, which he chairs and part-owns. It has been described as a “non-trading company” and its accounts are overdue.
The firm’s position had already caused concern to the commission because non-trading companies cannot give donations to political parties, although the Conservatives produced a letter from its auditors saying it was still trading.
The Observer revealed yesterday that a Β£1m loan was given to the Conservative party by Ironmade Ltd, which is owned and controlled by Lady Victoria de Rothschild. According to the newspaper, Ironmade was set up to avoid her identity being revealed.
(from theGuardian)

How impressed am I by all these people with riches so far beyond the dreams of avarice that they can hand over lottery-win-level sums of money to political parties? Anonymously. Indeed, so anonymously that they even work out complicated barely-legal ways to hide their identities. And they want nothing in return…..

Blimey, Osborne wasn’t even trying, if his (alleged) request was for a relatively humble Β£50,000.

Like his Tory counterparts, Mandelson is aghast at the very suggestion that there is anything remotely shady about hanging round with the Russian mega-rich, either when he was EU trade commissioner, or now that he was (unaccountably) brought back by Brown when the economy started to tank. (Despite having had to resign over business dealings twice before)

He flatly refused to elaborate on the his meetings with his oligarch chum.

Lord Mandelson today rejected fresh calls for him to reveal the full extent of his relationship with Oleg Deripaska, insisting that no conflict of interest arose during his meetings with the controversial Russian billionaire. (from the Guardian)

For instance, he certainly wouldn’t comment on the absurd suggestion that Deripaska may have benefited from the lowering of EU tariffs on aluminium, when his yacht-buddy Mandelson was EU Trade Commissioner.

But Mandelson, who is leading a four-day UK trade delegation to Russia, refused to confirm the number and nature of his meetings with Deripaska, or the length of time he spent aboard the oligarch’s yacht off Corfu in August.

Look, can somebody please introduce me to these Russian oligarchs who are happy to throw around invitations to their yacht parties? I had naively assumed that you don’t get to be a billionaire without demanding something quite lucrative in exchange for huge sums of money. But I was clearly wrong. So I’d like to be one of the first to join in the parting-a-fool-from-his-money fest.

Holiness

Rachel Sylvester, wrote in the Times that “There’s a god-shaped hole in Westminster” I assumed this meant that Thor had crash landed outside the House of Commons or, at the least, that artistic roadworkers had scooped out a reverse statue of Pan from the pavements of the Royal Borough.

Disappointingly, not so. Rachel Sylvester just thinks that our politicians are too godless.

Certainly, politicians find it easier to β€œcome out” as atheists than to profess that they have a religious faith. Nick Clegg, David Miliband and George Osborne have all said recently that they do not believe in God – something that would be unthinkable in the United States, where presidential candidates compete to win over religious voters……
……. the favourite book for politicians on holiday last year was The God Delusion.

Well, yes, of course they find it easier to say they are atheists, rather than to call their own credulity and mental health into question, by claiming to believe in an imaginary friend. They want us to vote for them surely.

(I am distracted again by exactly how Rachel Sylvester knows what politicians’ favourite holiday reading was. I mean, I’d like to believe that it was the God Delusion but I fear that falls into the category of “made-up stuff”.)

The creeping secularisation of politics was one of the factors that pushed Ruth Kelly, a devout Roman Catholic, into resigning her Cabinet position. …….
She was also disturbed by the way in which her membership of Opus Dei was seen as something weird and even rather dangerous; and she disliked the way in which Mr Blair’s Christianity was mocked during the war in Iraq.

“Creeping secularisation” suggests some stealthy process in which the religious underpinnings of British government are being progressively undermined. Nonsense. Religion plays a bigger part in public discourse now than it has before in my lifetime. If anything, Blair let ideas of “religion” and “faith” intrude into UK politics in ways that were relatively novel.

Ruth Kelly’s membership of Opus Dei may indeed have been seen as something weird. Because it is.

(Although I doubt anyone had heard of her before she resigned, let alone knew that she was member of of Opus Dei, a Catholic society not normally associated with the politics of the Labour Party, old or new.)

Blair’s Christianity “mocked during the war in Iraq”. What? What on earth are you talking about? Blair was unpopular because of the war, true enough. What did his avowed Christianity have to do with that war? Or did he think he was secretly acting for Rowan Williams or the Pope? I can’t believe that either of them would thank him for it.

He was mocked for his commitment to “faith”, fair enough. Indeed, his commitment to his “faith” was so great that he pretended to be an Anglican until he left power, then immediately “converted” to Catholicism. It’s quite hard to see this as a deep and abiding commitment to anything.

Plus, if he was indeed mocked, it must have only been in the House of Commons, which boosts my faltering trust in the judgment of MPs. Most British voters are not interested in a politician’s religion, even though Ms Sylvester seems to think that we need politicians to proclaim imaginary solutions to give us the optimism to deal with crises:

It is ironic that politicians in this country have abandoned belief – at the very moment that the people need hope.

What? This rhetoric is bilge. Have politicians all abandoned belief? No such luck. All of a sudden? No. Do people need “hope” now particularly, as opposed to any other time? Obviously not. Do people get “hope” as a result of politicians believing in sky fairies? Too silly to answer.

One for the scapegoating record book

I am kicking myself for not running an online gambling book on how long it would take to find a scapegoat for banking crisis. But then, less than a week would have seemed too short a time, so, as the bookmaker, I might have actually lost out on this one.

As T-W said yesterday, the UK immigration minister has stepped up to meet our government’s desire to get re-elected at any cost, by announcing a “clampdown” on immigration. This lurch towards shamelessness has been predictably attacked by the Tories – whose natural constituency is the HYS nutter and the Daily Mail reader – as not being tough enough (garbage) and stealing their policies (true)

Mr Grieve [the Tory equivalent to the immigration minister] said Labour were matching Tory policies on setting immigration limits. (from the BBC)

I have a picture of someone who finds that they have lost their housekeys and believes that beating the crap out of their next door neighbour will magically get them inside their own front door.

I.e Does not compute. This sort of thing bears about as much relation to reality as something dreamed up in an alcoholic stupor by someone who has had their frontal lobe removed.

In any case, (apart from the use of “immigrant” as if it means “black person”) the “immigration” that gets little England so irate is immigration from Eastern Europe, over which the UK government can have no control, under EC rules. So the only immigration that they can control involves a tiny number of people from the commonwealth countries and people seeking asylum.

The treatment of asylum-seekers is already a scandal. Is it possible that the government plans to make it even worse, so that people impoverished by the financial collapse will feel they’ve got their money’s worth?

Does anyone seriously believe that they are about to lose their job or their home because of “immigrants”, rather than because of the economic meltdown? Such people are clearly too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time. How on earth do they manage to survive anyway?

As I write this, the unpleasant immigration minister is on the Politics Show saying that stronger immigration controls will lessen racism, indeed that it is the ethnic minority population that’s calling for it…..

Back to my conceptual online betting scheme. What are the odds that the minister would claim that tougher immigration controls would actually counter racism? (less than evens) What are the odds that this is true? Basically zero.

Have your hate

I suspect the Twat-O-Tron has been at work on the BBC’s Have Your Say (HYS) pages once more. One of todays “discussion” topics is Should immigration be cut because of the downturn? As you can imagine, this sort of thing really does bring the spiteful, uneducated, masses out of the dark, hate-filled world they normally hide in.

As always, a second-rate politician has found a topic they can grand-stand on, which appeals to the base instincts of the public:

The economic downturn will mean fewer people from outside the European Union are allowed to live and work in Britain, the UK Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has suggested.
Mr Woolas told the Times newspaper that in times of economic difficulty, racial stereotyping gets stronger so jobs should go primarily to those who live here.
He said when people were losing their jobs, immigration had become an extremely thorny issue.
Mr Woolas said the government would not allow the population to go up to 70 million.

I doubt more than a handful of people outside his constituency had heard of Mr Woolas before this, but he has achieved his goal. His “inspiring” comments have drawn quite a bit of attention to him.

Predictably, at the time of writing anyway, the weight of comments on HYS is in support of this madness. It seems that people have an arbitrary idea of what means someone is “British” enough to be here. On its own, this is bizarre enough but it seems there is a new version of logic available to these people. Each of these seem to fall into a theme.

The first is made up from people who are slightly misled:

UK Government must respond to the changing economic situation by making drastic cuts in the non EU workers coming to work and live in UK.With recession knocking on our doors resulting in job losses and increase in unemployment it will be folley to allow the immigration at the present level. Immigration must be restricted to needed skilled workers only. [By the miracle of irony, this comment was from “Mohan Lal Ramchandani, Westhoughton, United Kingdom”]

Non-EU migrant workers are, despite scare-mongering stories, few and far between in the UK. There are already regulations in place to restrict this migration to skilled workers, which is why the non-EU migrants tend to be in highly specialised professions (Doctors for example). Now, as with all things, the jobs are open to everyone – if British doctors are either unable to take the job, or unwilling to work at the market rate, then why on Odin’s Earth shouldn’t non-EU immigrants do the work?

Worryingly for non-xenophobic lunatics, the jobs lost in the recession are always certainly going to hit “British” workers before they hit migrants; the migrants are already paid peanuts. This will provide an arsenal of madness for the xenophobes and it is worrying that the Immigration Minister didn’t think before he spoke. Well done HM Government.

The next category is the weird, irrelevant, analogy:

At last. Well done for your comments hear. This country could easily be swamped by immigration. The world population is spiralling out of control.
In the Ciaro area for example, there are more than 1.5 million every year, and there is no way enough jobs can be created, despite Egypt’s economic growth.
Rubbish just piles up in the streets, alongside dead animals and roaming packs of unempoyed young men. A worrying vision for a future UK city? [Phil, Enfield]

Typo’s aside, this madness. I have been Cairo and it looked very different to that. However, even if “Phil” was 100% accurate it carries a huge so what. London is not Cairo. The differences are immense, even if UK councils have gone down the road of less and less frequent rubbish collection…

The inevitable empty rant also has its place:

I just cant express my anger at the way in which New Labour have allowed immigration to run riot over the last 11 years in only 500 words.
To announce a cap on immigration now, after the NHS and almost every other public body in the country have been saying for years that they cant cope with the current influx beggars belief, and I just dont believe that they will have the strength to stand up to the namby pamby lefties who put the needs of foreigners before those of brits.
Shut the door today [Downingstreet Mole, Leominster, United Kingdom]

Basically, this is someone who is just plain angry. They don’t really have anything to say and there is no coherent argument. They just wanted to rant about leftwingers. Well done them. Oddly, and sadly for the tabloids, most immigrant workers don’t put pressure on the NHS. People who are earning less than minimum wage aren’t really in a position to take a few days off sick. People who are here, living 30 to a house, dont make a huge dent in the NHS dentistry budget. Yes, a small percentage do use the health service but most don’t. They cant afford to.

Conspiracy theorists have to get their oar in:

please remember we live on an island, and not a very big island at that.
tony blairs government idea of a multicultral country is and was flawed from the outset forgetting history and the fact this little island is not big enough for too many people to live on safely.
the only reason the government invited so many in was to gain supportand ultimately engineer staying in power longer, ignoring indiginous minorities infavour of incoming peoples.
it has to stop now.[delminister, truro, United Kingdom]

Well, this is odd. There are quite a few which have made this claim (or a variation thereof). It strikes me as odd, because Labour’s managed to get in power while a Conservative government held the seat. So, did Labour have a secret load of migrants to vote for them or is this just nonsense? Equally weird, migrants dont get to vote… Truly, the world of HYS is bizarre.

Staying with the madness we get this:

Everyone I speak to from the UK complains about immigration.
The Government ignores what the population of the UK wants. A stop to it.
For this reason alone, regardless of any supposed economic benefits, it should be stopped.[Will de Beest, Spain]

(Spain! Ha). Basically this implies that the government shouldn’t mind about the benefits or costs of a policy, but should just do what ever the subset of the population this nutcase talks to want. Wow. Wouldn’t that lead to a Utopia.

“What are you going to say to the employer who is desperate to fill a job, but can’t find anyone suitable in the European economic area?”
Keith Best, chief executive, Immigration Advisory Service
Is this for real? – is this guy seriously suggesting that there are jobs out there that can not be filled by anyone from within the EU, let alone this country?
If that is the case then maybe the employer should take his business elsewhere.[Graham Duncan, United Kingdom]

Erm, yes. That is what Keith Best is saying, If the employer can’t find some one from the EU he takes his business elsewhere and employs from outside the EU. It is a shame that (on HYS) British-loving seems to mean the same as idiot. This is a milder version where a poor sense of history has conspired to create the idiocy:

We were once a proud nation at peace with itself and common sense lived here it was so good everyone else wanted to live here.
Our grandfathers had worked hard and sacrificed much to make this county Great but immigration reversed all that. Broke, and under shortsighted leadership we have given away more than we could afford.
Should immigration be cut YES, in all honesty it should have been stopped years ago. [Tom J-P[, Byfleet]

There isn’t really all that much I can say to that, other than no.

The comments continue to be a mix of racist, mad or just daft, although having just refreshed them I see there is some balance there now. The oddest part is that people are in favour of immigration laws (which will only affect non-EU migrants) because they want to reduce the number of EU migrants. It really is that stupid.

Worryingly (for the UK) it does show how stupid our electorate is, and how easily they can be misdirected by a slightly cunning politician. I really do think that democracy doesn’t work – most people are too thick.

Ironically, if we did institute a system where people who could barely read or write English were deported, we’d be stuck as most of them (using HYS as my non-scientific, non-representative sample) would have been born here…

Terrorism in the 21st century

Go on home Osama Bin Laden, you are so last century in your, frankly pathetic, attempts to destroy western civilisation. For over five years now we have heard the mantra about how evil Islamic Terrorists want to destroy the decadent, freedom loving, west and how they will try to bomb us into submission.

Basically they are just impatient amateurs. If they wait long enough we do it to ourselves.

Lets look at the world of 2008:

In my job, I travel by air a lot (*) and as a result get constantly annoyed by the idiotic rules we suffer under the guise of “security.” I get monumentally annoyed by the fact that I have to check in hours before my flight, but should I want a drink during the inevitable two hour delay, I have to pay extortionate airport charges because 101mls of water is deadly (while 99mls isn’t). I get really annoyed at the obnoxious attitude most airport security staff have – although, in all fairness this is probably a reaction to suffering annoyed passengers day in, day out…

Outside work, I am a hobby photographer. I love taking pictures on my travels and feel that the cities and towns of my own country are on a par with anywhere else in the world. However in the new world of “Security” taking photos in public places of tourist landmarks results in a uniformed member of the public (**) coming up to me and asking me what I am doing. Thor forbid that a terrorist group be inexpert enough to need to overtly set up a large Digital SLR to take photographs rather than use a mobile phone or compact camera (the millions of people doing that get ignored…).

Travel around the UK and you will be recorded on CCTV along pretty much every urban street. Go into a shop and you will be recorded on CCTV. Drive along the road and you will be subjected to all manner of electronic surveillance – because, basically, you cant have any expectation of privacy in a public place (***). Despite the idea all people are innocent until proven guilty, the government have decided that Islamic Terrorists are different and the state should be able to imprison them for 42 days before it has to show enough evidence to make a charge, let alone convict. Thank the Lords this has been rejected (for now).

In the UK, religion has always been a minor part of public life and thank Odin, this is still pretty much the case. However, since the Evil Islamic Terrorists appeared, there has been a (so far minor) upsurge in people equating “Christian” with “British.” As such, an attack by Islam on Christianity is being sold as an attack on our fundamental “Britishness” to the point at which the tabloids and tacky local TV have people talking in all seriousness about how the United Kingdom is a “Christian nation” and “Britain was founded by Christians for Christians” – obviously these historically challenged dullards are watching too much American propaganda but that is another issue.

This is the non-religious, freedom loving, civilisation that is so threatened by Islamic terrorists. Hmm. Osama would love it here. Ironically, even our recent fear-inspired legislation wasn’t quite enough to smash western civilisation.

Trumping an army of Osama Bin Ladens, when it comes to smashing down western civilisation the real master is simple free market economics.

It is a sad state of affairs that we can pass laws regulating every aspect of your private life, but even in the face of an economic melt down the thought of regulating “The City” is beyond the pale. City traders can, effectively, lose millions of other peoples money with not even a hint of censure – still getting huge bonuses on the eve of begging the taxpayer for a fortune to cover their losses. The crazy irony of this sees us giving them money so they can give it back to us and tell us it is our own savings… Despite their monumental failings, and complete lack of anything resembling expertise, the banking sector still claims it “knows what it is doing” and should be allowed to function unregulated. Can you imagine catching a con-artist stealing your money, then giving them more money because they know how best to get your money back!!! Insane is an understatement.

The collapse of Iceland’s banks, and their governments apparent refusal to honour international agreements, has caused huge damage to the UK economy – on greater scale than any caused by terrorist attacks (if you ignore the cost of ensuing wars). If I deprived my next door neighbour of Β£100 I would expect to be arrested and probably jailed, however it seems if you add a few extra zeros everyone forgets about it. Iceland basically have held a gun to the governments head and taken our money. Wars have been fought over much, much less.

In an amazingly scary example of economic understanding, the Conservative shadow Chancellor said that the government should reimburse the councils that lost money to Iceland otherwise council tax would have to be increased to cover the loss. This seems sensible until you realise the effect would be to increase the tax burden on everyone to cover the mistakes made by a few. How would that be fair? Is this what we are to expect from a Conservative government?

I agree with the Government that the national banks and banking infrastructure is critical to the well being of the United Kingdom. I also accept the assertion that it is so important, spending Β£50,000,000,000 to shore up a system broken by greedy, selfish scumbags is in the public interest. I accept that this will mean other aspects of the national infrastructure will suffer and I accept that this is a necessary evil.

What I cant understand is:

  1. How can something so vital to the nation be outside complete government control? More importantly, how can something so vital be so heavily influenced by foreign nations which, when push comes to shove, have national self interest at stake? This really confuses me.
  2. Why is no one being punished for this? The bank failings are either malicious (in which case why don’t we invade a random country like we’ve done in the past) or negligent. Or both. The claim this is just the “market” is nonsense – the city traders claim to be financial wizards but abjectly failed to see this happening – either they are crap or they were played. Either way someone should be held accountable.
  3. Why the **** haven’t we enforced rock solid legislation to control such a critical asset? We’ve spent over Β£1000 per living person in the UK on them, why aren’t we having any say in them?
  4. How on Earth are the bankers getting away with claiming they “know best” on how to handle the current situation? (See 2) Blatantly they don’t or if they do, they are working against the national interest.
  5. Why are UK public bodies (Police and councils) allowed to invest money in foreign institutions? The quest for an extra percent of interest has meant public money is being sent to a foreign nation. Let me reword that – money paid by UK taxpayers has been given to a foreign country. Rather than invest in the UK economy dozens of UK public bodies chose to throw it down an Icelandic toilet and when they inevitable happened they cry to the government for more money….

I am going to have to stop here. The madness makes me want to scream. If anyone can explain this to me I would be very grateful.

* Apologies to environmentalists, but unless you are willing to pay me not to fly, my choices are limited.

** Sometimes referred to a “Police Community Support Officers” but that implies they are trained members of the law enforcement community, when in reality 75% of them are nothing more than jumped up busy bodies who get to wear a hat.

*** Well, this is true by definition. However there is a “spirit” of the law thing to consider. While you cant realisitically expect to be private walking down the street you can expect the state to not surveil your every movements. While it can be argued that the almost blanket CCTV coverage is not directed against you, the fact remains it is possible for someone to retrospectively search the databases and track your every movement. The fact the surveillance is directed against 65 million people doesn’t stop it being directed.