Monday, October 31, 2005

Daze of ghosts and gory

A harvest of Halloween traditions

Tradition has it we tell our children never to take sweets from strangers. Given that such strangers could be persons of dubious intent offering cunningly disguised adult chemicals, this may be wise. On the other hand, tonight we let all those same children dress up as witches and the like then pack them off to knock on every stranger's door asking for - you guessed it - sweets. Trick or treat or weird logic?

It is of course Halloween - or to be more precise, All Hallows Eve. Time to celebrate the spooky, the mysterious and the downright unknown. When it comes down to it, this is a truer holiday than Xmas. Why? Research shows that far more Britons believe in ghosts than believe in a god! I'd rather this pot-pourri than the official mythology of state. Tomorrow the party will be over and we'll remove the masks. But in the corridors of power, they'll be keeping them on - lest we see the true face of their ideaology and the nightmares therein.

It can't be a comfortable time in Whitehall. After all, in barely another week the entire country will be indulging in the glorification of terrorism! That's right - it's fireworks galore as another celebration remembers Guy Fawkes and his attempt to bomb the British parliament. What strange hypocrisy surrounds us.


Friday, October 28, 2005

10% of British use Pot

Independent Online Edition > Crime

A quick link to today's Independent. It seems 11 million people here in Britain have used illegal drugs - hardly a small minority any more. More telling is the fact that 10% of us seemingly use Cannabis and that's after suggestions of a decline in it's use generally. Prohibition has clearly become a joke! If tobacco consumption is to be limited to private clubs, maybe marijuana should join it in a new class of recreational dugs for use in reserved places only. It's social policy that kills - far better to have licensed thrills!

If Blair wants to become the "war president" of the EU and play the one-upmanship game with Bushy, someone should remind him that the office expires in a couple of months, at which time he simply becomes British prime minister again.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Never Mind the Fumes - Extinquish the Fire! (See below)
eTV Picture Post

Washington in Crisis, Bush at Bay!

Independent UK

The headline alone is enough to justify this morning's link. I was waiting all day yesterday for indictment news before posting the blog but it remains simply iminent.

In Britain, the government has finally stopped bickering amongst itself long enough the announce that the smoking ban will happen here. As a smoker I'm concerned that something so comprehensive has civil liberties implications but acknowledge that it is a habit to be discouraged.

It's bad news for the chancellor too - much less revenue if the habit wanes. It is also unclear whether the expression "smoking" extends to ginseng and other herbal cigarettes. If it were simply an issue of inhaling toxic substances, far more dangerous to health are the petrolium fumes we have to endure constantly. Ban those and I'll agree to give up cigarettes - cold turkey or no!


Monday, October 24, 2005

War Droppings Falling On Our Heads

Independent Burt Bacharach turns protest singer

A link to the Independent with an article on singer-songwriter Burt Bacharach. During the Vietman War he whimisically mused about raindrops falling on his head and despite his technical craftsmanship was viewed as a slightly absurd anachronism given the pioneering and frequently political pop music of those times. A major surprise then, that at the ripe old age of 77, he is back on the scene with an album that lyrically castigates Bush and criticises the state of the modern world. One wonders if I'm about the develop a taste for a "smoochy" underscore.

London today has miserable weather and I have a headache. It is nothing of course compared to the 125mph winds of the latest hurricane battering Florida. Ominously, I just heard news on the radio that Britain will probably experience the tail end of Wilma herself around the end of this week. This planet seems to be getting seriously pissed off with mankind!


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Cracks in the Vision? Blair by Michael Dickinson - see below.
eTV Picture Post

An explosive U-Turn

It will be time for fireworks soon, but in Downing Street I suspect they will not be confined to November 5th. A long-term betrayer of the values of the original Labour Party, Blair took a very odd turn last week. It is one that now conflicts with his beloved New Labour project and is potentially a harbringer of all sorts of unrest.

I refer to his agreement over pensions with the public service union. Civil servants have always been on to a cushy number. Unless they are really senoir, they don't get paid that highly, but (since they are largely beaurocrats) their life is frequently one of undemanding paper-pushing and subservience to the dictates of the state. In return, they have uniquely received a retirement pension linked to their final salary. Thus, around age 60, they settle down to a reasonably comfortable old age. Such generosity has never existed in the private sector and these days there is little security for life-long workers in those sectors at all.

Assuming corporate administrators do not hi-jack the funds for their own devices, pensions are supposed to be paid for with money held for and invested safely on the part of the worker. They are the one "tax" that is eventually refundable with interest. Or they were! Decades of unwillingness to increase contributions coupled with the refusal to accomodate longer lifespans have left the whole business in a complete mess. The Blair government's response has been to push foward legislation and policy that allows them to abdicate the obligations of the welfare state and corporate schemes in forcing the population to make financial plans for their own retirement years.

For those starting their adult life, this may be fine - assuming they can find any institution left willing to offer such long-term secure investment. For those already retired with modest resources, there is the threat of ever-dwindling resources. For those still working and yet to retire there is also much insecurity - largely linked to one's current status in the now massive rich-poor divide. This latter is the "black hole" between any future system and the old.

Essentially, unless you are already well-off, we are now told that we will need to work longer and save more of our own money from wages that are diminishing anyway if you are at the lower end of the pay scale. It is tough already and will be tougher in the future - unless, that is, you are a government employee. The new agreement means civil servents will be exempt from working extra years and their rewards will remain linked to their final salary. In other words, no such changes for them!

This is the kind of "favouritism" that will lead to major unrest in other areas of society. It is also, to my mind, no major surprise that such exemption has been granted to those who provide the machinary of state. The new authoritarianism will need them! The biggest irony is that such exemption does cover other areas of social and public services. If civil servants get this privilage, why not the others who strive to keep the country running on lower salaries than that of the average civil servant?

An explosive situation looms. How long before Blair is "The Guy"?


Friday, October 21, 2005

Cream - The way they were. See below.
eTV Picture Post

A grand reunion

Cream Free On-Demand Music Videos

This is a link to Rolling Stone magazine. It gets a plug because they have three video tracks running from the new Cream Reunion DVD release. If you want to get the feel of the kind of musical experience we loved over 35 years ago, this is where you can find it. Try closing your eyes - the sound is virtually timeless.


Off to the hustings? UK Conservative leader candidate, David Cameron (left) now has to tackle the grass roots activists. Photo courtesy
eTV Picture Post

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Today at the White House. Bono hits Bush for lunch = agenda unknown. Prayers maybe?
eTV Picture Post

Whatever happened to non-proliferation treaties?

Independent Online Edition

CND must be turning in its grave. Today Tony Blair annouces plans to build a load of new nukes for future use. All the greater his audacity in demanding other nations not be allowed to do the same. A sad day.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The shape of things to come?
eTV Picture Post

On The Road to Plastic Anarchy

Independent Online

Yesterday the UK government pushed through the first steps of legislation to introduce its controversial ID cards. As this link points out, it was a shallow victory. They only mustered a majority of 25 MPs and look set for greater rebellion as the bill progresses. Interestingly, the Microsoft corporation (no stranger to big-brother style snooping themeslevs) also warn that this is the first step on a path toward future fraud and anarchy. SEE HERE.

It would make far more sense and be far less costly to bring in some kind of "chip and pin" system like that used by credit card companies. Such a card could allow us all to access the personal information we are entitled to see under the Data Protection Act and could be compatible with a standard computer card-reader so we can interact with government services online if required. If the card was lost or stolen, it could then be cancelled and replaced. Futhermore, if needs must and our civil liberties were not threatened, the disclosure of the PIN could be required by the police and security services under existing law to confirm our identity and the PIN itself could be surrendered using the same kind on technology now seen at vitually every supermarket check-out.

Even if fingerprints, iris scans, dental records and the like are to be compulsory future identity requirements, the information can still be held on an online database linked to the card. I would certainly rather that than the thought I carry it all on my person with the prospect of my entire existence being wiped out if it was mislaid or acquired by someone else.

There is also a "worst case scenario" where environmental and terrorist threats may someday result in the disruption of modern technological communications. A secured data hub with remote backups would surely offer a faster route to social and economic recovery than millions of displaced people wandering around with defunct ID cards tied to a non-functioning closed system.

It is time the power-brokers of this world were reminded that they exist to serve us. We do not exist to serve them or their control fantasies.


Monday, October 17, 2005

The return of liquid politics?
eTV Picture Post

Booze and the terror equation

Saul Landau: Luis Posada and Bush's Drinking

Just a quick link to an interesting piece in Counterpunch this weekend. We've been here before of course.


Clamour On - Cameras on Cameron. See below
eTV Picture Post

Backfiring bitch of a witch-hunt

Times Online

This link for today's Times suggests that the sex and drugs stories that so obsess the media may not quite have hit their mark where discrediting the conservative leadership contender David Cameron is concerned. I'm tempted to agree - the public are so used to seeing the glorification of shallow, barely controversial, evidence against public figures that they are beginning to take it in their stride. The big question is whether the Tory parliamentarians have the ability to connect with the public mood before deciding which two candidates should go forward for the final contest.

Cameron has everything to gain. His refusal to answer personal questions has given him credibility as a reasonably dignified diplomat whilst avoiding any polarisation amongst those who might vote for him. The whole witch-hunt has now given him the highest profile amongst the contenders and his demeanor is one that suggests the time is right for a political generation shift. The only thing we don't know is much more about the detail of his policies and when it comes to figureheads I onder who really cares. After all, Blair won the 1997 election against John Major by offering very little and saying "trust me, trust me, trust me!" Look where that got us!

I'm not a Tory voter but I'd love to see the final as a contest between Ken Clarke and Cameron. It would be a clear choice between effective opposition and a distinctive fresh start. Whichever the winner, I would hope they then work together to combat the wild, blind and deceitful arrogance of the current administration. Britain might even begin to feel like a democracy again.

Meanwhile, Blair is in trouble again. This time for pretending his anti-terror policies have the support of the intelligence service. See here.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

See "from the post" below as Dubya gets back to his primaries
eTV Picture Post

A Sunday diversion

As the contenders for the British Conservative Party throne battle it out, one wonders why they can't muster this kind of energy and venom at a General Election. Who did what, when and with whom seems wholly tangental to the real issue - who can do what, when and how in the future. Meanwhile, our present chancellor gets his portrait in lights - except that is isn't. See here.

In America, maybe there's hope for the next generation yet. This from the post ...

President Bush was visiting a primary school and he visited one of the classes. They were in
the middle of a discussion related to words and their meanings. The teacher asked the
President if he would like to lead the discussion on the word "tragedy". So the illustrious leader
asked the class for an example of a "tragedy".

One little boy stood up and offered: "If my best friend, who lives on a farm, is playing in the field
and a tractor runs over him and kills him, that would be a tragedy."

"No," said Bush, "that would be an accident."

A little girl raised her hand: "If a school bus carrying 50 children drove over a cliff, killing
everyone inside, that would be a tragedy."

"I'm afraid not," explained the president. "That's what we would call a great loss."

The room went silent. No other children volunteered. Bush searched the room. "Isn't there
someone here who can give me an example of a tragedy?"

Finally at the back of the room a small boy (Lil Johnny) raised his hand. In a quiet voice he said:
"If Air Force One carrying you and Mrs. Bush was struck by a "friendly fire" missile and blown
to smithereens, that would be a tragedy."

Fantastic!" exclaimed Bush. "That's right. And can you tell me why that would be tragedy?"

"Well," says Lil Johnny, "It has to be a tragedy, because it sure as hell wouldn't be a great loss
and it probably wouldn't be an accident either."

Lastly, plug for another blog here. If you like the blues (music) this is for you, but there's much more too. Go now.


Friday, October 14, 2005

We're not stoned enough it seems

Independent Online Edition > Health Medical : app2

When it comes to the clinical uses of marijuana, new research seems to suggest that alleged problems are actually due to the administration of a "too low" dosage. A decent amount boosts brain power and also acts as an anti-depressant. This article explains more.

Maybe Cameron could out-smart Blair but that old battle-axe Margaret Thatcher is having her say too. On Irag that is:

"I was a scientist before I was a politician and as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof -- and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."



Thursday, October 13, 2005

Woof Woof !
eTV Picture Post

On and On Part Three

Reuse, Recycle, Repeat! 10/12/05

A quick link to this week's offering from Mark Fiore. It's a continuation of the theme.

Also a continuation of sorts - Blunkett's been up to his tricks again. SEE HERE for more.

Meanwhile, amidst all the disasters, the Iron Lady gets her 80th anniversary polish and almost looks tame beside the reality of the Blair state. Let's hope it doesn't take a flu pandemic to expose our own inability to cope with a major disaster. At least the mainstream media has woken up to the iminent threat at last.

Check out Planet Ark's news service for environmental matters.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Finger of Blame?
eTV Picture Post

Blunkett flunks it with crumpet and resorts to his trumpet News - Top Stories - New technology and greater scrutiny to feature in anti-fraud strategy

You'll have to excuse the mild sexist undertone to that title - I just couldn't resist!

Today's link leads to a report on the Blair/Blunkett plans to slash British welfare payments. Draconian in itself, the real nightmare is the extraordinary plans they have to monitor those involved - with benefit claimants being subjected to the kind of surveillance hitherto reserved for "terrorists". Evading the regulations of this new "big brother" state will, I suspect, lead to far greater fraud and other criminality - eventually burdening an already over-stretched police force. The government only has itself to blame for the beaurocratic mess it's in. To execute this plan without creating further economic segregation they will have to invent more artificial jobs for the otherwise un-employable (beaurocrats?) or risk the kind of civil unrest that will finally define the "lie" of everything the Labour Party ever stood for.

Last night's television drama on Blunkett's days as Home Secretary was hilarious and made for great first night viewing. It was a digital broadcast of course, so one wonders how many benefit claimants actually had the privilage of seeing it. Odd nonetheless that this news appears just when the protagonist's questionable integrity and competence are in the limelight. If this is a "knee-jerk" announcement timed to convince us otherwise, I suspect they have indeed "flunked it".


Monday, October 10, 2005

Amerika Sleeps
eTV Picture Post

More 4 Debuts with extended news and Pot Question

More 4

Tonight will see the launch of the highly anticipated new channel from the British broadcaster, Channel Four. More 4 is an adult channel, but despite some initial titillating promos, is not at all concerned with sex. Rather, it promises something similar to BBC4, but less restrained - a second place on the box to appeal to the thinking man and woman.

It launches with More 4 News at 8pm - a direct run-on from the usual highly-acclaimed Channel 4 News of the previous hour and going into more depth on current issues. This link to their website also features an issue of the day. Tonight they ask if it matters whether our politicians have smoked Pot - a natural response to yesterday's telling evasion of an answer by new Tory hopeful, David Cameron.

9pm on the new channel sees something called "A Very Personal Secretary" which looks very much like a fictionalisation of the real life adventures of David Blunkett. At first site, I thought the clip was from "Bremmer Bird & Fortune" but the Blunkett character looks so much like the real thing it's uncanny. I can't see myself doing much channel surfing tonight.


Who Rules the Web?

The following editorial comes courtesy today's newsletter from Info Economy.


Who rules the web? "No-one", answer some. "Google", say others. "The US", say a growing group of nations around the world - who are set on doing something about it.

At next month's World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the European Union, backed by many other countries, is seeking to take formal 'control' of the Internet away from the US and give it to the United Nations.

The proposal has US bloggers and columnists fuming, even if the US government itself seems untroubled: it has simply said it will not happen.

In practice, it is not clear what the move would mean. Certainly domain name registration, IP addressing and the overall routing architecture remain under US control. But apart from that, the US has little more power over the Internet than any other nation - except by dint of the many privately owned US companies who contribute so much. In fact, the Internet is largely privately owned, and control points are deliberately and effectively distributed - in accordance with the original US military design back in the 1960s.

At first sight, the moves by the WSIS seem laudable: they want to close the digital divide, enshrine free speech, and attempt to secure some consistency over electronic trade. For example, it might be possible to legislate on where taxes should be paid, or on what rights governments have to tap digital conversations.

But there are several problems with this approach. On most matters - say, libel, or freedom of speech - there is a huge gulf between any governing body's ability to legislate over these matters, and their power to actually impose these on the ground. The task of bringing centrally controlled electronic order to some 190 countries, with their plethora of laws about tax, trade, freedom of speech, surveillance, privacy and copyright is beyond the ability of the UN in its current form.

And where would the UN's new responsibilities lie? Trade, for example, is already handled by the WTO, by parts of the UN itself, and by various multilateral or bilateral agreements. It is doubtful where any new controlling bodies could add much. The same is true in many other areas, whether it is privacy, or intellectual property, or even high level electronic trading formats.

Meanwhile, the US has not - so far - used its limited powers in order to use the Internet as an economic weapon (by denying access, for example), and it is unlikely that it would get away with it at the UN if it tried.

The UN has many big problems, and at the moment, the Internet is not one of them. For the time being, at least, it should leave the Internet alone - as unregulated and privately led as it can possibly be. Where deeper problems exist, these should be dealt with by the governments concerned.


On Friday I got dragged along to the Ideal Home exhibition in London to look at mass-produced interior design. Very boring. However, I got an hour or so to myself at the end and took a look at gadgets and Xmas gifts. So here's an unashamed plug for something that really caught my eye.

It's a game called "Cirondo" and it combines some of the more basic moves of Chess with a new circular playing board. Strategy is in theory simpler than Chess, but the reality is far more complex with the mind being challeged by this new, less-linear environment. For example, diiagonal moves which take place in a straight line on the traditional chessboard, here move along a spiralling sphere with obstacles far from obvious.

The game sells for around £30 but the really good news is that you can play it online for free. Go HERE and expect to stay a good many hours.


Dreams of Treasure in Ice Melt

As Polar Ice Turns to Water, Dreams of Treasure Abound - New York Times

Today's link leads to the start of a new science series in the New York Times and reveals a new aspect of global warming. As the polar ice cap melts, new islands and territories appear and are ripe for the picking. Like the gold rush of yesteryear, savvy entrepreneurs are paying pennies to claim their stake on land that may be worth millions in future years.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cartton by Gary Varvel from Slate
eTV Picture Post

Watching the defectives (on and on - pt.2)

The merry-go-round of Britain's political conference season ended last week with the conservative party rally. As usual they went on and on about electing a new leader but on this occaision the incubent made himself scarce until the end. All former bets were off as the new favourites are the old tobacco smoking sage and the new young (alleged other-smoking) pretender to the throne. We'll find out shortly one way of another.

On and on went the imperial cowboy too. A supposed important address to the Amerikan nation turned into a re-run of re-runs but without the optimism or any sense of morale boosting. There may be no turning for this president, but one wonders why he sought to offer up an excuse for his actions... "God told me to do it!" Hell - even the Blair-faced pulpit hasn't tried that one!