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Monday, February 28, 2005

Passports and a held thought

Well I have just done the first step in renewing my passport ready for my forthcoming trip to the USA this autumn. And I am now £42 the poorer. I wouldn't mind so much except in a couple of years time I'll have to pay again to get a biometric passport. I don't mind biometric passports (I am rather sanguine about what rights we do and do not have in this country - hold that thought), but I do rather object to government's inability to do anything in a timely fashion. Forking out forty quite twice in two years (or more probably next time) for something that is meant to last for ten just irritates me.

As to the held thought - the politicians bitching loudest about our supposed civil rights ought to learn a little history. Giving judges the right to review a decision by a Home Secretary would have been a great leap forward to those liberties. Instead they are imprisoned in the judge's wig, and I cannot think of a worse place for an essentially political decision to be made.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Requiem

It is in times like these that one really appreciates pieces of music likes Mozart's Requiem.

I am not one really for tears at these times, but I am one for expression - one reason hence the post below. Expressing that dammit! something has happened which means a lot to me, and to those around me. I do not think that one should be quiet about such things, unless one genuinely wants to keep silent.

Mozart's Requiem fits the bill very nicely: it is a very expressive work, in many ways overblown with its grand gestures, but exactly fitting the moment. It fits my mood, but also helps relieve it.

A message

Dear Sam

I hope and pray that, wherever you are now, you are in place free from the trouble and the hurt, in a place where all that was best of you, your smile, your laugh, your easy friendship and caring heart, can flourish as they are meant to. I hope and pray that you will forgive those of us on earth, who did not see, and did not hear. Go in peace, and I hope, when my time is due, to see you there.

Through Christ our Lord
Amen


This afternoon I have learnt that yesterday Sam also took his own life. Depressed by the break-up of his relationship, on Wednesday night he had a great deal to drink, and in that place where rationality breaks down he hung himself in the early hours of Thursday morning.

I did not, in all honesty, know Sam well, but at this time I humbly ask for your thoughts and prayers for his mother, Sarah, who now for the second time in her life is mourning a child of hers.

The funeral is tentatively going to be on Friday. Tentatively because Sam had followed his father and my father (and brother) into the Royal Navy, and he will be having a military funeral. In his diary next week he was going to be playing basketball for his naval team. He still had much so much to give. He had just turned 21.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Book #3: The City in the Autumn Stars by Michael Moorcock

I am well behind with these since I'm on book #7, but here starts the catch-up. I have for some time been wanting to read more Michael Moorcock, so last year I read the first von Bek book, The Warhound and the World's Pain The second von Bek book therefore seemed the logical next step.

This story is set in the 1790s, and the main character is a descendent of the von Bek in the first book. It begins in Robespierre's Paris, and flight. Soon afterward we meet an enigmatic Duchess, and from there the book swiftly takes us on a journey of imagination where the boundaries between realitity, dream, and fantasy increasingly blur. We are taken to an archetypal city - the City in the Autumn Stars - as events propel us towards an alchemical conjugation.

However, all that I think is just a setting for the real story, the themes that constantly run through the writing: fallen idealism, deceit, love, friendship, and madness - especially madness. Moorcock's great strength is in wielding such an unharmonious tapestry into a complete whole. I definitely recommend it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Thwarted

Went to download the online application form for a new passport, which I will need for my trip to the States, only to discover at the UK Passport Agency website that the online application form is unavailable:

Due to essential maintenance the online pre-application form is currently unavailable. Please try again later, we hope to have the issue resolved shortly.

Dated today. Wonderful timing.

The China Arms ban

The EU currently has an arms ban against China. Typically France wants to repeal it.

Now, last time I checked the EU was committed to certain principles like democracy and human rights - there is even a Charter, would you credit it. But France feels that all that doesn't matter, arms sales are more important. How very ... Halliburton.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Illogical advice

Granted this is according to the BBC, but in advice given about the recent health scare involving a food contamination people are advised not to eat the products but not to panic because of the 'very low risk' of having one or two things effecting by this carcinogen actually effecting one's chances of getting cancer.

So, is it a risk or is it not? Surely gobbling the dye raw is bad, but we all regularly ingest plenty of carcinogens thanks to car-fumes I really don't see the point of this warning. After all, it was a contamination, not a usual ingredient.

Oh, and the FSA waitied for 2 weeks before doing anything about it apprently eleven days, having first received word of the problem on the 7th but waiting until the 18th before issuing warnings. You almost have to ask why bother, since I know I consumed one of the listed products before the warning was issued. It also raises the quite important issue of how to speed these things up though, because for whatever reason, if you consider something serious enough to issue product withdrawals 11 days is way too long a time.

The scary thing about some possible avenues of terrorism is that people in teh FSA are as much the first and only line of our defence as our sailors, soldiers, airmen. Heaven help us, for it is a certainty Whitehall bureaucracy won't.

Winter

I was hit by about a dozen poor attempts at snowflakes as I walked home tonight. Actually I am generally disappointed by this winter - it mostly hasn't managed to be cold or windy. Of course, now that the weather has dared pretend to be wintry everyone is complaining. Why? Winter is a wonderful time - if only because it makes you appreciate the spring and summer all the more.

For my own part though I love the winter precisely for it's own sake. The cold biting at your face, chilling your legs and hands, the wind whipping around and making a mockery of any jumper or coat, biting to the bone. The long dark days with the stars like crystal in the heavens. I just like the cold.

Besides, on a purely practical level, I sunburn fairly easily, and its tough to get burnt in December in the UK.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Farewell Smarties tubes

Apparantly so anyway. All I can say to Nestle is that this is one hell of a gamble. The quickest way to destroy a brand is to change it. I basically have to ask why. The reasons given are just what you'd expect, and therefore almost certainly just justification. I'm afraid all Rowntree products seem to have gone downhill since Nestle bought them out - how long before my beloved Fruit Gums disappear I wonder?

Via Ann Althouse of all places

An amazing thing

I was just reviewing the Hansard copy of the special debate held in the House of Commons after the attacks on Sept 11 2001, when I came across the following paragraph from Charles Kennedy, of all people:

I spent one of the happiest years of my life as a student in the mid-west of the United States, in Indiana, and I have been a fairly regular visitor back and forth to New York in the 20 years since then. Until I became a student in the United States, I did not understand how mid-west America feels divorced from east coast and west coast America. Speaking to friends—including one who once worked in one of the buildings that were attacked but who, just before the summer, was transferred further down Wall street and was therefore not afflicted by this terrible tragedy—I was struck by the remarkable extent to which middle America, east coast America and west coast America have become united as never before. We, a country on the other side of the Atlantic, must not underestimate that. We have to understand the scale of the shock and the unity that it has brought about in that great country and on that great continent. (emphasis added Link - Column 609)

Of course, Charles Kennedy is now little more than an anti-American bigot and terrorist apologiser (to be fair, he is also a hopeless boor). Still I found it amusing to see a reference to the Blue-Red State divide here.

It is not surprising though, given his record, that clearly he did not heed his own words. It is plain that he, like so many of his ilk, continually do under-estimate and fail to understand the changes in the world since that dreadful day.

Incidentally reading through some of that debate reminds me again how poor the standard of oratory in Parliament is today. Mostly people were repeating platitudes. As ever, one of the best lines came from a man I do not really like, Ian Paisely, but he has a way with words most parliamentarians do not:

The whole world has been sent a fiercely highlighted message by this terrible atrocity, which brought the New York skyline to sea level and made its rubble the cruel sepulchre of thousands of unsuspecting victims. The rulers of western democracies must learn the lesson that criminal terrorism cannot be talked away; it cannot be engaged in dialogue because it is a lie incarnate. (Link - Column 631)

Though I have to say with developments in Northern Ireland over the past year or so I am warming to him.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Blogs and Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith, MP, ex-leader of the Tory Party, has a rather endearing little article in the Guardian (via Real Clear Politics) entitled "Bloggers will rescue the right". Of course he means the Tory Party, and his basic thesis is the same one applied to events across the pond - that there is a metropolitan elite that largely decides what gets broadcast and printed, and the resulting media is biased to one side. There is a problem however, in that Iain Duncan-Smith seems to have fundametally misunderstood some of the differences between the UK and US media markets, and these differences inevitably will effect how blogs evolve in the UK.

Firstly, there really isn't a culture of national newspapers in the US. This might now be changing with USA Today, and moves by the NY Times, but the national print media market that exists in the UK simply doesn't in the US. What does this mean? Well, mostly it means a much wider variation of opinion in print in the UK. In a US print media market it seems you are lucky if you get 2, maybe 3, competiting voices. In the UK you get alot more - I can think of 8 off the top of my head. Moreover, these do shout from all parts of the political spectrum. The Tories have their very vocal supporters, not least in the Torygraph (Telegraph), and if you don't call the Daily Mail a conservative rag I don't know what you call it.

This is important, because it means one of the probable driving factors of the American blogosphere simply isn't persent in the UK. A partial exception might well be made for fringe parties like UKIP, but not for the main three.

Secondly, we have tabloids and the US doesn't. I think blogs can be quite similar to tabloids, and again that very personal perspective that tabloid reporting seems to bring seems to be less present in the mainstream US print media that I have read.

Perhaps in the realm of TV & Radio Iain Duncan Smith has something more of an argument, where there is much of a muchness. The BBC particularly makes a juicy target. However, the BBC by itself is not, I think, the necessary fuel.

What really needs to happen imo is the emergence of an issue about which conservative minded people can broadly agree. Perhaps Europe might be this - though I have my doubts on that. I also have my doubts about how much of a catalyst the forthcoming General Election might be - the campaign will simply be too short. Contrast the US where the campaign really started sometime in the autumn 2003 with the run-up to the Democratic Primaries - a whole year (if not more). We may have an election on May 5th - I recall there were some rumours hinting at the possibility of a snap election in March (almost certainly not to happen). And we might not yet have an election until next year. When its called we will have about a month of campaign, and then back to the normal business of politics, so there will not be this building run-up.

So mostly I think IDS is wrong. But only mostly. I do think blogs will slowly take a more important place in UK political life, but I don't expect the MSM-blogosphere rivalry to really carry across. There are two partial exceptions: the BBC and Rupert Murdoch, but the whole industry? I just can't see it happening.

The conservative case for joining a trade union

Well, in the mail this week there came through my UNISON membership card and entry pack. I don't know what percentage of UNISON members are right-wing, I don't even know if such figures are compiled, but I am fairly willing to bet I'm in a small minority. Or put another way, I don't know how many right-wingers are union members, but I'm fairly sure its another minority. So why did I join UNISON, an organisation whose political policies are often somewhat at odds with my own, affiliated to a party whose domestic agenda I care for very little? Well, here is my reasoning.

Although right-wing and a capitalist I do not hold capitalism in any particular awe. I view capitalism - 'the market' - as basically a fact of existence, like the seasons. All human transactions are ultimately based on this, including labour. Plumbers I suppose are the stereotypical example today of a form of labour gaining value due to scarcity, and university degrees as a form of qualification depreciating in value due to over-abundance. Viewing the market as just a fact though I do not load it with the moral connotation of 'good' (or 'bad' obviously). Like a might river it can provide fertile plains for humanity, but also holds within the potential of destruction either through flood or drought. Humans have striven to try manage such rivers the minimise the disasters inherent with their bounty, and I think it should be no different with the market.

Without any balance or competition a company will inhumanely exploit its workers. If there is competition companies offering better conditions might drive up the working standard. But competition between companies is only part of it. Throughout human history people have co-operated to achieve mutual objectives, and the sphere of labour is no exception. Left to themselves labour unions and companies should be able to achieve a balance most of the time - like no system it is not perfect.

And bluntly, rather unions than the government, for government is the only other option, and I have a strong dislike of all government. That dislike has significantly strengthened since I first considered the question of union membership - especially since government is my employer.

I don't really like some of the things UNISON campaigns for, but when it comes to considering my own job welfare the simple question is whom do I trust: the government or a semi-private union? There is no real contest for the answer. Of course, I don't really approve of the Labour party affiliation - I think such affiliations are open doors for political corruption and I think both unions and the Labour Party would be healthier without them. That was really the reason I decided against joining a union nine months or so ago. I don't think there has been any single event that has made my dislike of government overcome this, rather just a general hardening of my attitudes. But that is another post.

So anyway, small government is the right-wing argument for trade unions. Or something like that. Besides, in all honesty I must admit there is a part of me that is currently greatly delighted by this.

The Hunting ban

So it has come into force, and although I have no particular desire myself to go on a hunt, or even go to a hunt, I regard the ban with a sadness.

Myself I see this, as it has been fought, as a rather obvious case of town versus country. As DM Andy states explaining his opposition the issue is more complicated, though I think he rather unfairly loads the blame against the Countryside Alliance for this. After all, the League Against Cruel Sports framed the argument in those terms, the Countryside Alliance merely responded. Certainly they might have responded differently, and probably more effectively, but they are not responsible for the battleground.

Myself though, I think the attitude of the Countryside Alliance and others has also been based on the feeling, justified or not, that they were never going to get a fair deal. Our Parliamentary system does not very easily protect the rights of unpopular minorities, especially politically incorrect ones like hunters. As for violence, the anti-hunters can pretend to cover themselves in innocence, but they have perpetrated their fair share of violence in the past.

However, I also think it is a mistake to see hunting in isolation. When I lived in Cornwall there was lots of local anger about wind farm expansion (something still there, according to a relative). Wind farm construction is mostly being held up at the moment at the local level because locally they tend to be highly unpopular. Naturally the townie solution is to batter through changes in the law rather than actually address those concerns.

There are other rural/urban issues on the table, and it will be interseting to see how they play out in the forthcoming general election. In particular it will be interesting to see how Lib Dems pick their way through.

Moderately random

There was an old lady of Crewe
Who didn't quite know what to do
She had a black cat
A broomstick and hat
But she couldn't find her newt stew


Composed while waiting at the photocopier in work this Friday.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bush and Wilson

Over at Oxblog David Adesnik has an excellent post on the Bush/Wilson comparisons.

Although not the point of the post, it did bring home to me something I hadn't really thought of before. It was not Wilson's idealism that led to his failure, so much as his faith in a multi-national body - the League of Nations. To be fair to Wilson, no one could have predicted just what a travesty that body was, or how dramatically its successor, the United Nations, would plumb ever darker depths of political tragicomedy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dresden

Waddling Thunder shocked a classmate with an off the cuff remark about his support of the Dresden bombing.

I approach Dresden from a slightly different angle. Churchill famously reacted very negatively to the terror raids, saying something along the lines of 'are we barbarians?' Churchill was a remarkable man, but in the heat of war I do not doubt that he was in something of a minority. The senses dull. In the war between Germany and the western allies there is a clear and slow decline of sympathy between the combatants. For the period of the Phoney War nothing much happened. The decline starts with the terror bombing of the Netherlands, and then with the Blitz. Two german aircraft off course mistakenly drop their bombloads on London. Britain bombs Berlin. Hitler orders to the London Blitz. Then you get the huge bomber raids of 1942 and 1943, germany respons with the V-1 and V-2 bombs. At that point no one is really thinking about the civilians - there is no line, no division. Civilians have become a legitimate target of war, for if you kill off the population... I recall seeing a British sketch about the 'bad Germans'. It went through the list, Hitler, the generals, the Nazi members, the soldiers, and ended up with basically the whole nation. But there are some good germans, the sketch continued, and the picture was a line of coffins.

Dresden is just one step along that road, and I must say not especially remarkable. The motives behind Dresden were not unique, just the numbers.

We are fortunate that we do not live in such times.

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