The Snow In The Summer or So-So

08/02/2004 - 08/08/2004

Mon 02 Aug 2004


There are plans afoot to give Birmingham a decent open space in the city centre. At the moment, we can relax in the graveyard at St Peter's cathedral up the top of the hill, or by the canal behind Brindley Place, or on a small patch of land outside Marxan Sparx, or (er) that's it. The new open space could open within the next 18 months, but will be a little way to the east of the main centre. On the upside, that's no further than Brinders.

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posted 02 Aug 2004, 20.37 +0100

Oh, Mandy

So Peter Mandelson is to be the UK's representative on the European Commission. This is not news.

European Commissioners can claim lots and lots of money for moving their family over to Brussels. Again, this is not news.

The EU will only pay out the full lot of money for married commissioners.

In Belgium, gay marriage is legal.

Result: Peter Mandelson becomes the most prominent example of gay marriage.

Secondary result: six years after Johnny Birt slapped a banning order on the topic, the BBC can finally have a mature, grown-up discussion of Mr Mandelson's sexuality.

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posted 02 Aug 2004, 21.11 +0100

How shit-scared are the Republicans to-day?

The Democratic convention was a success, and strengthened John Kerry's lead in the polls. The SR-ometer in the corner gurgled into life, and said:

Orange, especially in financial districts.

Ah, but who cares if the World Bank or IMF gets blown up, especially if there's no-one inside?

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posted 02 Aug 2004, 21.14 +0100


Tue 03 Aug 2004

What's United Station for "David Butler"?

Opinion polls from the far side of the Atlantic begin to cross my desk. According to the official media spin, John Kerry (Democrat) hasn't had a statistically-significant increase in his vote after his party conference last week. This is a bit of a fib; Mr Kerry's opinion poll ratings have increased by 2%, and that is significant, but only if we're prepared to accept an error roughly one time in five. An un-named Republican candidate's share has declined by a similar amount. So far, so normal - both the poll, and the media's innumeracy

However... the one polling organisation perfoming province-by-province polls tells a different story. They're working in 16 provinces that were indicating close races earlier in the campaign. Mr Kerry leads in 13 of those provinces, including a 9% advantage in New Southamptonshire, 3½% ahead in Virginia (West), 3% in Florida, and 2% in Teeennss. Assuming he holds the same provinces as President Gore last time round, Mr Kerry needs just one win from these sixteen to claim the presidency.

This poll raises the question: from where are the Republican votes coming? Three possibilities:
1) The number of voters is increasing, as disillusioned people come to the polls with the sole intent of registering their discontent with the administration. The PDRUP saw this phenomenon with the Ross Perot candidature in 1992, and the UK saw something similar happen at June's European elections.
2) The Republican gains are coming in provinces they've already got locked up. Under the first-past-the-post system, these extra votes earn no extra credit.
3) The Republican gains are coming in marginal Democrat territory, and may result in an unexpected Republican gain. Further research is required into this theory.

Domestically, a poll in The Times gives a 32-32-24 split, roughly on a par with other recent polls. If those figures came out nationally, we'd be looking at Labour losing their overall majority on a 2.25% tactical vote. I'm assuming a 12.5% anti-Labour tactical vote, and that would leave Tony about 27 seats short of an OM. A Con-LD coalition would be within spitting distance of an overall majority.

On the substantive question: who is the PDRUP equivalent of David Butler or Peter Snow, the man with the facts and the graphical gizmos? Or is that commentator a British phenomenon?

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posted 03 Aug 2004, 14.32 +0100


Wed 04 Aug 2004

Not in my name

Three people illegally detained at the Guantanamo prison have published an account of their time in detention. It makes chilling reading.

Shackling in a bent position to a ring in the floor for hours or days. Isolation for weeks or months. Being held naked. Kept in freezing air conditioning. Sleep deprivation, near-starvation, imposed injections. Forced shaving of hair and beard, withholding of family mail, refusal of medical attention. Beatings, interrogations, psychological torture to force false confessions or false testimony against others, being confronted with confessions they never made, sexual humiliation, being shown pornographic photos and videos.

And being described as "terrorists" and "a threat to society" by people who should know better. In this case, soon to be former British prime minster Mister Tony Blair and his right-hand rottweiler David Plunkett.

Blair and his henchmen still refuse to make representations on behalf of four British residents, on the flimsy grounds that they are refugees, and not yet full British citizens subjects. Lawyer Gareth Peirce said the report showed Britain's complicity in the human rights abuses at the illegal prison: "The government's attitude displayed the hypocrisy of the public face in the UK saying we're doing all we can and the private face there in Guantanamo involved up to their elbows in the oppression."

There have been numerous other failures of intelligence in the UK, probably including to-day's highly publicised arrests in this country. The British citizens and residents must come back at once; if needs be, cut diplomatic relations with the capturing country until they're freed. If any prisoner has a case to answer that is not based on evidence given under torture or fabricated, try them under a fair and open system. The military tribunals are not a fair and open system.

It's time for the men responsible to step down. Jack Straw, the foreign minister, you must go. David Plunkett, the interior minister responsible for killing human rights in this country, you must go. Tony Blair, this happened on your watch, and it's time to go.

These men hold a policy that offends against the British constituion. They do not carry out this policy in my name.

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posted 04 Aug 2004, 20.15 +0100


Thu 05 Aug 2004

Out of the mouths of morons

They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

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posted 05 Aug 2004, 20.26 +0100


Fri 06 Aug 2004

Is it silly season yet?

Anthony Wells writes on the man who made Tony Blair look electable. Commander William Boakes was an entertaining eccentric, who stood in many parliamentary elections between the 50s and 1982. In many ways, he was the forerunner of the Monster Raving Loony party, which later spawned (and beat) the Esdipi, while the latter party gave rise to Nulabour.

Two council by-elections this week: in North Kesteven, the Tories squeak home over Labour by a majority of 7 (seven), while they hold off a distant challenge from the UIP in Torbay. The main source of UIP votes there seems to have been Labour. A fair slew of results from the end of April drop off the rolling average, but there's no cheer for Labour, who still remain 23 seats short of an overall majority.

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posted 06 Aug 2004, 20.21 +0100

No, don't visit Georgia. You might not get out alive.

The Georgian president has said that he will treat Russian cruise ships as enemy vessels, and fire upon them, if they land in the disputed border region of Abkhazia. "It's a bit of a war zone, and no-one in their right mind spends their hard-earned holiday roubles in the middle of a war. Well, apart from Martin Bell perhaps."

Georgia has also advised the People's Democratic Republic of United Provinces to keep its nose out of the conflict. "We're the country called Georgia. Over in Asia, between Russia (you know, famous for their lesbians) and Azerbaijan (famous for being a bad Scrabble hand, though that won't help your acting president.) We're not your province of the same name, and we don't need your troops. Please, stay away, and keep your poodle Tonyblair away, too."

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posted 06 Aug 2004, 21.14 +0100


Sat 07 Aug 2004

How shit-scared have the Republicans been?

Major props to Julius Blog, who have pulled together all the major terrorism alerts over the past four years, and plotted them against the declining popularity of the Republican party. The following conclusions can immediately be drawn:

As Republican popularity drops, the number of terror alerts rises.
As the number of terror alerts increases, Republican popularity drops as the increase in terror alerts causes fear in the populace (why are there still so many terrorists after these wars?)

Anyway. How shit-scared are the Republicans to-day, oh box in the corner?

Orange, still.

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posted 07 Aug 2004, 11.44 +0100


Sun 08 Aug 2004

Die Grosslangenreform, die

Germany's Sillyseason story this year is the Grosslangenreform of 1998. Under the re-working of German grammar, some of the language's famously long words are split up into their component bits, some spellings are changed, and our friend the ß (as in Neustraße) was generally ruled out of use. In an effort to avert a Europe-wide comma shortfall predicted for the 2040s, German also reduced the average use of the punctuation to about one per sentence.

The reforms weren't popular, and met with more than fair share of resistance. The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung gave up on the new style after just a year, and further periodicals have followed suit this week. Curiously, they're all conservative publications.

Axel Springer, which published Bild (der Dailytabloid), Die Welt (die Monde) and Der Spiegel (das Newsweekimdeutsch) will return to the old style from this week. The company commented: "In everyday practice, the reform is a failure. The situation is getting worse, confusion is growing. In responsibility to later generations, we advise others to end the state-ordered dyslexia and to return to classic German usage." The Sueddeutsche Zeitung has also decided "in principle" to drop the new writing rules.

Conservative politicians have renewed their calls to roll back the reform. Bavarian governor, Edmund Stoiber (CDU), said he would raise the issue with leaders of Germany's other 15 Lander. In nearby Lower Saxony, petitioners hope to collect 70,000 signatures that would force the Land's parliament to vote on abandoning the reform. Lower Saxony premier Christian Wulff (CDU) has personally re-ignited the controversy. "This nonsensical reform cannot be kept alive any longer," said Wulff, who re-ignited the debate a few weeks ago by calling for a reversal of the reform.

Supporters of the reform has laughed at the storm in ein Teacup, saying that it was the publishers who were causing uncertainty among Germans. Officials for the conference of German culture ministers, the government body that initiated the reforms, said media companies had so far supported the change. They added that a new spelling council established to monitor linguistic development and fine-tune the reforms had been established in June. Media organizations in Austria and Switzerland, where the new spelling was also introduced, said they had no plans to follow their German colleagues.

Education officials from Germany, Austria and Switzerland worked on the reform for years before presenting it in the mid-1990s. A transition period during which old-style grammar was still allowed in schools ends next year. Critics argue that languages should be allowed to develop naturally and not be directed by bureaucrats. The government has resisted moving off the new rules, saying that hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in new textbooks, software, and teacher training.

Does anyone else reckon that this is a plot to advance the conservative faction within German politick, and that they've launched their attack during a known quiet time? Das Sillybillien im der Sillysea&zslig;on.

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posted 08 Aug 2004, 12.15 +0100

In which we get to bash two harbingers of evil in one shot

To-day's Observer lead is that refugees may not get health care. Said one leading medic: "It is morally repugnant for us to have to look at someone's immigration status before giving them the treatment they need. Let's be clear about this: if they don't get the treatment, it's a death sentence."

Under guidelines jointly prepared by David Plunkett (fascist interior minister) and John "Oh fuck health" Read (minister for attacking the BBC and stoking up the fires that killed Dr Kelly), people whose asylum cases have been rejected, or who have not yet submitted an application to the Home Office, must not be given 'routine' care, including drugs therapy. Refugees are allowed emergency treatment only if they fall ill and are sent to casualty departments. This increases the risk of newborns contracting HIV from their mother from 1% to 30%, with the subsequent expense that would cause the NHS.

Dr Andrew Pollard, a senior lecturer in paediatric infectious diseases at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, told the Obs: "I am aware of cases here, where people have been prevented from treating the women, and then have been allowed to, after they have had discussions with managers and others, explaining what the risk is to the unborn child, and making the moral case for it. But the government guidelines are not to treat these mothers. Doctors are morally obliged to help people regardless of the colour of their skin or their race."

In London, where 75 per cent of the refugees with HIV live, members of the local NHS Specialised Commissioning Group have refused to draw up rules which would set out which illegal immigrants or asylum seekers should be excluded from care. A sub-committee, asked to look at the eligibility criteria, made its opposition clear but was told by health commissioners, the hospitals and primary care trusts which run NHS services, that they must do the work. One member of the sub-committee said: "We said the plan is not workable because how are you going to turn away someone who is infected, who is likely to be seriously ill, and who remains highly infectious while he or she is not put on the right therapy? This is an outrageous policy, and to me it seems racist and profoundly unethical."

A spokesman for the group, which investigates what services the NHS needs, said the issue was not about refusing patients access to drugs and treatment because of their asylum status, but about clarifying the guidelines. "This issue is government policy, so people have to address it."

That does appear to be an accurate statement of the facts. This is government policy, and we need to address the underlying issues. Why is it that the government thinks it's reasonable to pick on immigrants, and to pull up the drawbridge around Fortress Britain? Is this not more divisive and inimical to the socialist cause than anything the Conservatives ever put forward. Yet again, we have evidence that Labour has triangulated itself into an odious corner.

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posted 08 Aug 2004, 12.37 +0100

Re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic

The Torygraph reports that the opposition Conservative party (remember them? Thought so) is already planning ahead. Senior members of Michael Howard's party believe the Conservative Party will have to do something really drastic unless it gains lots and lots (say, 75) seats.

The drastic change they have in mind? A policy decision to triangulate past Labour on the left? An effective front-bench team? Having a shiny new leader? Er, no. Well, possibly the last one, but that's not their big idea.

No, the big idea is - change the party's name! Among the alternative names that Tory modernisers are floating in private are the Democrats, the New Democrats (both of which would cause huge confusion with the existing Liberal Democrats); Progress (which sounds like something the far left would have) and the Reform Conservatives. The Torygraph drones on:

Those who want to place the party more on the centre ground and get rid of its associations with hard-edged Thatcherism believe a change to the Democrats could work with the electorate. They say it would help to alter perceptions in a dramatic way by inviting a parallel to US politics where the Democrats are to the left of their Republican rivals.

Paul Baverstock, who was director of strategy and communications for the party under Tony Hawkes, favours a switch to the Democrats or New Democrats. "It was always my belief that the ultimate expression of the change process would have been a radical rebranding. By itself, changing the party's name will not convince a sceptical electorate. But if it is the culmination of a necessary deep-rooted process of change, reconnecting the party with the concerns of Glasgow and Birmingham not Notting Hill, then I think it should be considered."

We're reminded of the Conservative party in Canada, which - in the space of one night - was reduced from a governing party with an overall majority to a rump of 2 (two). They changed their name to the Progressive Conservatives, then merged with the Reform Party to become the Conservative-Reform Alliance Party. Perhaps the UK grouping could be the Progressive Reform Alliance Tories. Perhaps they are already.

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posted 08 Aug 2004, 12.54 +0100

Weather in week 32

It's been a particularly hot and sultry week. Thunderstorms on Monday evening and Tuesday daybreak led to a very unusual day, with nary a breath of wind and high humidity allowing fog to hold throughout the day. Another thunderstorm on Thursday evening dumped an inch of rain on the city in just over an hour. Friday and Saturday were sunny and hot; Sunday sunny and oppressive, with rain spreading in. It's been the hottest week of the summer by a distance - 44 degree cooling days brings the summer's total to 138, and nights have been no lower than 15. 28 degrees on Saturday and Sunday are the hottest days of the summer so far.

The settled weather has been due to a high-pressure area that's come to a halt over Scandinavia. Usually, that would presage a settled period of weather, as we saw in 1997. However, tropical storm Alan has remained strong well into the Atlantic, and is still a vigorous low, with strong fronts running before it. When this irresistable force meets an immovable high, something's got to give, and Britain's going to get it. The frontal system will cross Birmingham to-night, and will give rain at least until Thursday; most of this rain will fall some distance to the east, but the front may well back-track at some point. While the front's to the east, cooler and fresher conditions will prevail; if it reverses back to Ireland, the hot and sultry weather may return, so do wrap up.

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posted 08 Aug 2004, 20.34 +0100


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