The Snow In The Summer or So-So

08/09/2004 - 08/15/2004

Mon 09 Aug 2004

News for to-day

Surprised this one hasn't received more play... A leak of steam from a nuclear plant in Mihama, Japan has killed four people; the water vapour was not radioactive, and no-one outside the plant was in any danger. The steam release followed an alert that shut down the reactor and its turbine; the steam then escaped the turbine hall and blasted into the control room.

In Germany, there's been a second Monday of protests against proposed reforms to the welfare state. The reforms, which would limit the automatic entitlement to unemployment benefit to one year, would mostly hurt the former East Germany. It's there that the protests have been strongest, and they've been co-ordinated in a way that deliberately evokes the Monday mass demonstrations that led to the DDR's collapse. A tad shameful, methinks. Opposition politicians are jumping onto these reforms, along with the language reforms we mentioned yesterday, in ein Silliseasonattak.

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posted 09 Aug 2004, 21.42 +0100


Tue 10 Aug 2004

Who are these Conservatives, and for what do they stand?

Good question. Their self-proclaimed leader is the shadowy Michael Howaerd, and he to-day rose from his crypt and delivered his mediaeval views on crime.

"The police have been undermined by political correctness," claimed the prince of darkness, "and will receive backing for zero tolerance policing under a Tory government." Mr Howaerd failed to define his terms adequately - "political correctness" in this instance appears to refer to Home Office plans that would give all people stopped by police a receipt detailing their race and why they were stopped. "Tory government" we have no idea about.

Critics were out with their stakes and crosses before anyone could call Buffy. Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, which encourages ethnic minorities to participate in the democratic process, accused Mr Howard of "sanctioning the demonisation of black and Asian youth". The Tory policy was "deeply disappointing", he said, and the system of stop and search was a "draconian, humiliating, 'sledgehammer to crack a nut' approach to crime".

Mr Howaerd said there had been a "dramatic decline" in personal responsibility and he disputed the validity of the term "antisocial behaviour" to describe activities such as drunkenness, intimidation and overturning litter bins. "That behaviour is not just antisocial - it's wrong ... and people shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. Many people now believe that they are no longer wholly responsible for their actions; it's someone else's or something else's fault: the environment, society, the government." He did not explain how the social order had disintegrated over the past few decades, as much of the blame would, inevitably, be put at the feet of his Mistress Thatcher.

We wrote on Sunday about how the Conservatives would benefit from triangulating past Labour, onto the wide open spaces of social inclusion that Blair has left behind. It's abundantly clear that Michael Howaerd is not capable of doing that, instead pushing his band of loyalists ever further to the lunatic right. The space is clear for Chas Cheese to plonk down a sensible, balanced crime policy.

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posted 10 Aug 2004, 19.44 +0100

Does this count as news?

International observers to monitor PDRUP elections, reports Het Grauniad.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - which has a respected track record of monitoring elections, mainly in developing countries - revealed it had been approached by the PDRUP department of foreign affairs. The Vienna-based OSCE said it would send a team to the country next month to determine whether to accept the task of monitoring the November elections.

"The whole idea is to make an overall assessment and then determine what sort of observation, if any, should be carried out," Curtis Budder, a spokesman for the OSCE's Warsaw-based human rights office, said.

Since 2002, the OSCE has called on all its members to seek election observers. Such teams usually meet with members of electoral commissions, political parties and non-governmental organisations. Mr Budder said he did not yet know exactly where the mission would go.

The OSCE has sent 10,000 observers to more than 150 elections in the past 10 years. Its member countries include European nations, Russia and Canada.

Wonder if Mr Robert Mugabe has any election scrutineers available?

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posted 10 Aug 2004, 19.49 +0100


Thu 12 Aug 2004

File under...

From the "Thanks, now I'm worried" file: Life support systems running on Windows. As if that wasn't bad enough, the makers of these crap devices aren't allowing the operators to patch them to a halfway decent level of security. Alarming.

From the "Interesting insights" file: The price of oil is still too low.

"Oil is an unusual commodity in that demand is almost completely price inelastic but supply is highly price elastic. Of course demand for oil increases or decreases in line with general economic growth -but not in line with the price of the stuff. Nonetheless the economics of oil are simple enough: make it expensive enough and within a few years there will be a glut; make it too cheap and right away there will be a drought.

At USD20/barrel, many of today’s marginal fields would shut down to wait for the price to rise again, and exploration and production of new fields would stop. Result -- immediate drought.

At USD50/barrel, the price would justify pumping everywhere that could be pumped, and exploration and production of new fields would be worthwhile again. Result -- eventual glut.

The reason for wishing for USD100/barrel is that at that sort of price, it becomes economically viable to start developing alternative energy economies such as hydrogen.

From the "Er, quite" file: Channel Tunnel closed because of the wrong sort of storm. The recent blast of unusually humid weather has played havoc with the signalling in the Chunnel, and the fixed link had to be closed for a few hours Wednesday afternoon to put things right. Said a Eurotunnel spokestube: "We apologise for the inconvenience. Yay! I've just won Railway Buzzword Bingo! Nous apologisiens pour le cockup. Oui! J'ai gange le mot juste de chemain de fer!"

In a slight defence for Eurotunnel, the last week or so has been tremendously humid and stormy, and the insides of the tunnel are generally warm and humid, as they installed an enhanced ventilation system to combat electrical shorts that regularly occurred during the winter. Some you win...

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posted 12 Aug 2004, 19.36 +0100

Not Going Places

In spite of some hefty awkwardness from Centrail Trains and Vermin, we've managed to track down an approximate pattern for services on the Neustra&zslig;e - Euston corridor from September. The example hour is 1pm:

1300 Vermin to International (1310) Coventry (1320) Watford (1426s) Euston (1447)
[1303 Birmingham to Reading and beyond, calling International and Coventry]
1306 Central to Coventry, calling all stations, arriving 1340.
1330 Vermin to International (1340) Coventry (1350) Milton Keynes (1424) Euston (1505)
[1333 Birmingham to Reading and beyond, calling International and Leamington]
1336 Central to Coventry, calling all stations, arriving 1410.
1351 Central to Northampton, running fast to International (1401) and Coventry (1414) then Rugby (1426) Long Buckby (1439) Northampton (1450). Change at Northampton for the 1502 to Wolverton (1515), Milton Keynes (1519), Bletchley (1523), Leighton Buzzard (1530) Berkhamsted (1543) Hemel Hempsted (1547) Watford (1555) and Euston (1614).

Also: 1302 from Milton Keynes calling all stations to Watford, then Bushey and Harrow, arriving 1407.
1355 from Tring, same stopping pattern, arr 1437.

In effect, then, the number of trains down the Birmingham - Coventry corridor per hour comes down from eight to seven - two London and two Reading trains remain, as do the two stoppers, but the two Silverlink trains are combined into a single service to Northampton. That mirrors the situation on the line from Brum to Wolverhampton - Silverlink don't go there, and there's only one train from London, but there are two services to Shrewsbury.

It'll be interesting to see if travellers to Wolverton get an easement allowing them to take a fast train to Milton Keynes, then double back. A similar allowance is already made for travellers to Bletchley from the south.

There were plans afoot to do some very clever stuff - have one of the stoppers run from Wolverhampton and Neustrasse to International, the other run NS - Int - all stations to Northampton, and this may yet come in the December timetable. Looks like we'll be putting up with ten weeks of short-change for possible gain later. Certainly the Chiltern trains are still running just one direct service per hour (at 1310 from Snow Hill), with the 1333 offering a change at Banbury or Reading, and that'll improve come December.

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posted 12 Aug 2004, 19.52 +0100


Did David Plunkett miss his daily opportunity to grab the headlines yesterday, because he's certainly making up for lost time to-day. "All offences will become arrestable offences," claims the fascist interior minister, who now appears bent on introducing a thousand law reich before he's ejected from office next May.

At the moment, police can only arrest people for offences that could result in a prison sentence. While this is simple in theory, it can prove a little difficult for the layman to understand.

David Plunkett was unavailable for comment to-day, but he sent his zombified minion Hazel Blears to explain his plans to an incredulous nation: "A constable could come upon an offence and he might not be sure whether it is arrestable or not. In future that would be very clear." As excuses go, that simply isn't good enough - there is no need for the police to be confused in the slightest, as they can reasonably be expected to know which crimes can result in prison sentences, and hence be arrestable.

Shami Chakrabati of Liberty made a far more sensible comment: "The Home Office says the detail will be set out in guidance - an approach which has failed as far as stop and search is concerned. If powers are truly needed then parliament should debate them and perhaps pass them."

There's a huge raft of other ideas, some of them dafter than others, but all predicated on the idea that crime is a huge social problem and that passing laws is the way to deal with them and that these laws are actually effective. Only one of these three conjectures enjoys widespread support amongst thinking persons.

It would be a very simple task for Michael Howaerd to triangulate past Plunkett, and call for a thoughtful root-and-branch review of each and every one of New Labour's knee-jerk criminalisations. It would be such a simple task that it's not occurred to the vamp.

But wait, there's more! Let me quote from the only UK lottery site worthy of the name:

[A man] who bought a ticket in Middlesbrough whilst on temporary release from a life sentence for attempted rape, won one of last Saturday's £7m Lotto Extra jackpots. Despite there being nothing illegal about this, the UK tabloids have gone into a front page frenzy today on the subject.

Inevitably, the populist David Plunkett (yep, him again) has come stampeding into the fray, demanding that his voice be heard. "We'll change the rules to make it illegal! We'll be able to arrest them when they claim their winnings, and divert them to other worthy causes. Nothing that would actually help victims of crime, but causes we find worthy, like blind dogs for the blind. Oh."

Unfortunately for the ever-expanding empire of Plunkett, the lottery is firmly off limits for him. Instead, it falls under the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (prop: Mellor-by-Jowell) and is Tessa's personal responsibility. Unlike television quizzes, there's no requirement for lottery players not to have a criminal record. Indeed, the lottery appears to be disproportionately popular amongst the very section of society that does have a criminal record, even if it's only that tat by Elton John.

There's nothing to stop Tessa and the Office of the Lottery Regulator from amending the rules so that people with an unspent criminal record cannot claim large prizes, but they know that such a move would damage the lottery, and possibly damage it more than the current storm in a tabloid.

Since the lottery began almost ten years ago, and excluding scratchcards and the pan-European draw, 1,903 prizes worth a million pounds or more have been awarded. At least 10 of those were never claimed, and a similar number were won by newspaper syndicates - a promotional fad of the late nineties. That leaves around 1,880 million pound prizes won by individuals. One - exactly one - of those has turned out to be an unpopular criminal.

If we reckon that 50 million people are entitled to play, and that exactly one unsavoury person has won a million, that suggests an Unsavoury Person Count of about 26,600. A study for the DCMS this year showed that only 61% of people played, and that cuts our USP count to about 16,000.

Where is this argument going? The UK prison population varies from day to day, but is generally around 75,000. Our estimates of Unsavoury Persons, based on lottery success, are between one third and one fifth of that figure, which roughly correlates to the numbers of people who are in jail for crimes the tabloids dislike.

Hard figures on this last category are - by definition - difficult to come by, but I'd suggest that perhaps a third to a half of all prisoners might be disliked by the tabs. On that basis, the pertinent question might not be why this convict has won a large amount of money, but why it's not happened before.

This is, of course, far too intellectual for your average Daily Hell reader purchaser.

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posted 12 Aug 2004, 19.56 +0100

Those of you who rely on the RSS...

...may wish to visit the main site once in a while.

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posted 12 Aug 2004, 21.18 +0100


Fri 13 Aug 2004

Hello, good morning, and goodbye

I'm not particularly surprised by the news that Breakfast with Frost is to end. David Frost has been presenting the same show - a news bulletin, a couple of chatterboxes looking at the papers, a soft interview with someone sort-of famous - for the past twelve years on the BBC, and for ten years before that on TV-am. No, my surprise is that he's still allowed to clog up the television schedules on Sunday mornings, when all the intelligensia are listening to Fi Glover on Broadcasting House.

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posted 13 Aug 2004, 23.17 +0100


Sat 14 Aug 2004

This much we see

From A Fistful of Euro, the possible link between anti-Jewish attacks in France and right-wing christian groups in the PDRUP. Very roughly, the neo-nazis are using an obscure passage in Numbers, combining it with their own white supremacist theology, and concluding that daubing paint on tombstones is doing the work of their god.

The main thrust of the reporting - at least in the English-language press - has been that the attacks are perpetrated by Islamic extremists alone. Some evidence contradicts this assertion.

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posted 14 Aug 2004, 14.50 +0100

Election predictor

Nine months - and counting - till the probable UK election, so whose necks are on the line? Which well-known politicians face the chop?

At the moment, I'm looking at Labour winning just 300 seats, some 23 short of an overall majority. Most of this loss is due to the anti-Tory tactical vote in 2001 and 1997 unwinding. I'm nowhere near as hopeful for the Lib Dems as Political Betting, seeing perhaps half a dozen to a dozen tactical voting opportunities, and very few gains from the Tories.

One of the few Lib Dem gains would be the highest-profile casualty of the night. Estelle Morris - a former education minister, and now in charge of the arts - has ridden her luck over the past couple of elections, only just holding off the Lib Dem challenge both times. My model shows that her luck will run ou, and the Lib Dems will take a comfortable 5% majority.

I'm currently showing defeat for some other high-profile Labour names - former Minister for the Today programme Jack Cunningham, and Stephen Twigg. Both gents are currently trailing the Tories by less than 0.5%, so well within the margin of error. Two former NUS presidents look in trouble - Phil Woolas is losing by 7% to the Lib Dems in Oldham, while Lorna Fitzsimmons trails by 0.6% in Rochdale.

I'm not currently seeing any high-profile Tories lose their seats, but Treasury spokesmen Oliver Letwin and Theresa May are both vulnerable to tactical voting, as are the high-profile Virginia Bottomley and David Heathcoat-Amorey. All would fall on a 3.75% local swing to the Lib Dems.

The sanity check: this model shows Chris Mullin's Sunderland South constituency - presumably the first to declare next time - returning him with a 29% majority.

At present, I don't have confirmation of how the Scottish MPs map to the new constituencies, so can't provide information there. Technical note: This analysis uses 2/3 of the average swing recorded in council by-elections over the last eight weeks, and assumes that 12.5% of voters who oppose Labour will change their vote to the candidate with the best chance of defeating that party. The decrease in support for a party is re-allocated amongst the gaining parties in proportion to their increase. I don't intend to change this methodology before the election.

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posted 14 Aug 2004, 16.33 +0100


Sun 15 Aug 2004

We couldn't make it up

According to the mildly pro-Labour Times...

Labour is to start conducting weekend “academies” to win wavering supporters back to the moral values upon which the party was founded.

The idea is pioneered by Hazel Blears, the Home Office Minister of State, who said that they would run along similar lines to the Alpha courses, the popular beginners’ guide to christianity. Blears, one of the rising stars of the Labour Government, said that she had already run two Labour academies.

Groups of 25 people will commit themselves to two full Saturdays, as well as homework in the form of reading key texts on Labour’s history - including works by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - to serve as the basis for discussions of personal morality.

New Labour, new morality. When we said we wanted a party with a more revolutionary outlook on society, we didn't mean the frikkin Cultural Revolution. D'oh!

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posted 15 Aug 2004, 12.16 +0100

Just go, Plunkett

The extremist Interior Minister has faced renewed calls to resign after breaking his own promise to stop jailing refugees who have committed no crime. Official figures show that 170 refugees are being held in prisons - that's down on the 1000 who were jailed in summer 2001, but comes 34 months after Plunkett announced an end to the use of prisons for those detained solely under Immigration Act powers, describing the practice as "a scandal that should not have happened".

Following the fire at Yarl's Wood detention centre in February 2002, Plunkett said that only those refugees "with a history of violent or criminal behaviour and those considered a danger to safety" were transferred to prisons. Yet following a riot at Harmsworth centre last month, over 130 people who fall into none of those categories have been thrown in the clink.

The United Nations has called on the Government to end its policy of locking up refugees and said alternatives had to be considered. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said: "We do not agree with people who have not been convicted of any crime being detained in prison, especially when these people came to this country to seek asylum, whether they were right in doing that, or whether they were wrong."

Neil Gerrard, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, called on the Government to find more appropriate places to house those moved from Harmondsworth. "You are not dealing with people who have committed any criminal offence, so prison is not an appropriate place for them to be."

Keith Best, of the Immigration Advisory Service, warned the Home Secretary he would have "blood on his hands" if any of the detainees put in jail committed suicide. "People who are psychologically disturbed are being put in prison quite casually. At some stage they will do themselves in rather than face being returned to a country where they will be tortured or killed."

Elsewhere, prominent lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith has been denied security clearance to the illegal torture factory at Guantanamo Bay. An incredible court ruling this week appeared to allow the use of evidence gained under torture in British court cases, a ruling that pleased the buffoon(s) at the Home Office.

Oh, and apparently the Plunk is having it away with someone else's wife. Doesn't that break some obscure criminal law, and can't we now have him locked up and someone else eat the key? Good oh!

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posted 15 Aug 2004, 13.44 +0100

Weather in week 33

The extreme heat of the last two weeks has gone away, but we're still left with temperatures in the low 20s. Sunday was the 20th consecutive day with temperatures at 21 degrees or above, and it looks like the 28 degrees recorded on the 7th and 8th last week will be the year's high.

This week saw an inch of rain on each of Monday and Tuesday, then it dried up to leave a mostly sunny end to the week, albeit with half an inch falling during a thunderstorm on Thursday afternoon. It's remained humid all week, but the cooler temperatures have made things almost bearable. Hottest days were We, Th, and Sa, all at 23; coldest night was Sunday morning at 12. There were 14 degree cooling days this week, taking the summer's total to 152. Eighty of these DCDs have come in the three week warm spell.

The outlook is for a change. More heavy rain will move in overnight, and the Scandinavian high has finally weakened enough to allow us to return to the showery conditions that have predominated for much of this year. We'll also get a more northerly airflow, enough to take the edge off the temperatures.

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posted 15 Aug 2004, 20.20 +0100


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