The Snow In The Summer or So-So

08/30/2004 - 09/05/2004

Mon 30 Aug 2004

We report...

"Can we win? I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the -- those who use terror as a tool are -- less acceptable in parts of the world."

You deride.

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posted 30 Aug 2004, 17.19 +0100


Tue 31 Aug 2004

Cricket update

In the Netherlands, Australia beat Pakistan in a triangular warm-up for next month's Champions' Trophy in England. Sri Lanka has been warming up by beating up South Africa 5:0 - it's now ten matches since the Proteas last won. England will be playing India in their warm-up matches for the rest of this week, and the competition kicks off on the 10th.

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posted 31 Aug 2004, 20.36 +0100


Wed 01 Sep 2004

Our survey said...

Anthony Wells' guide to opinion polls. . . . . . 100

Strongly recommended for anyone who wants to know the facts about opinion polls in the UK.

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posted 01 Sep 2004, 20.36 +0100

The latest decadent western invasion... causing casualties in Saudi Arabia. If we're lucky, we'll soon hear our politicians calling for a War On Ikea. I'm right there with them, as self-assembly pine furniture really is the work of Satan, and the matresses they sell have a nasty tendency to sag in the middle if they're not counterbalanced by someone else.

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posted 01 Sep 2004, 20.57 +0100

Thu 02 Sep 2004

Clement Freud says...

It is amazing how the citizens of the United States have managed to elect so many non-entities and second-rate fools to the office of president.

That was Clement Freud, MP for Cambridgeshire West, speaking on Just A Minute in February 1980.

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posted 02 Sep 2004, 19.18 +0100

Mmm, fruity

A religious college has moaned about sweet wrappers. The brainwashing institution claims the sweeties portray fruit in sexual positions. "We are shocked at the shameless presentation of sexual practices on the wrapping, which includes not only sexual intercourse but also fellatio and cunnilingus," wrote the St Blasien Jesuit College near Bonn. "It's irresponsible to expose children to such pornographic representations."

According to Ananova, the sweets show lemons, limes, strawberries, cherries and oranges playfully romping with each other. According to the college, the lemon flavoured chews "undoubtedly show a green figure having sex with a lemon. The lemon, which from the drawing looks female, is obviously enjoying it with the greatest of pleasure."

Spokesweet Marco Alfter said: "The new wrapping is certainly fruitier than the old. But we have not had any other complaints. In fact until now the feedback has all been positive."

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posted 02 Sep 2004, 19.29 +0100

Good luck... The Line, a free local newspaper for London produced along the North American model. Living out in the sticks, we only get to read the web edition and look at their rss feed (please take notes, Indytab, rss is good.)

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posted 02 Sep 2004, 19.33 +0100

Why do they love him so?

We've had better things to do that watch the Loser party tear itself to pieces on BBC Parliament. Why waste a whole week doing that when we can cherry-pick the reasons the party has given us to suggest voting for Mr Kerry.

You've directed me to buy more M1s, F14s, and F16s—all great systems … but we have enough of them. - Dick Chainsaw

Nothing makes me madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators - Zell Miller, forgetting that the first person to call them occupiers was Candidate X.

Four years ago, some said the world had grown calm, and many assumed that the United States was invulnerable to danger. That thought might have been comforting; it was also false. - Dick Chainsaw again, talking about himself and his nonchalant approach to internal defence: "Sit back and let 'em come to us."

He made it clear that he would rather lose the election than make national security a partisan campaign issue. - Zell Miller again, suggesting that the first candidate to make national security a partisan campaign issue deserves to lose.

He declared at the Democratic Convention that he will forcefully defend America after we have been attacked. My fellow Americans, we have already been attacked. - Dick Chainsaw, quite literally putting words into the other candidate's mouth

I've come here tonight to honor [sic] my father, not to politicize [sic] his name - Michael Reagan, son of Ronald and brother of Ronald, politicising his father's name.

Bush is a complete moronwad, and we must do everything we can to kick him far from office - Dick Chainsaw. It's easy, this.

Actually, it really is that easy. Dick Chainsaw one last time. What America needs in this time of peril is a president we can count on to get it right.

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posted 02 Sep 2004, 19.50 +0100

One year on...

The revamped Bull Ring centre claims 36.5 million visitors in the first year (actually 360 days - 4 September 03 - 31 August 04, excluding the closed days 25 Dec and 11 Apr.) That visitor figure is slighly more than 62% of the UK population; assuming an average of three visits per person, the average Brit will visit once in five years. The developers made a projection of 28 million in the first year, only slightly above the council's visitor figure for the High Street / lower New Street area during 2001.

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posted 02 Sep 2004, 20.25 +0100


Fri 03 Sep 2004

Out of the mouth of a moron

"Since 2001, Americans have been given hills to climb and found the strength to climb them." Yep, the mountain of a preventable recession, the foothill of increasing unemployment, and the hillock of increasing budget deficits. The minor alp of Enron and Worldcom, and the towering massif of a war sold on a lie and another nation to rebuild.

We were going to spend much longer attacking Candidate X's lies, untruths, and blatantly made-up wafflings, but the whole exercise seems rather pointless. His speech was so flimsy, so vacuous, so lacking in substance that it's impossible to attack coherently - it's like having a swordfight with a ghost when we really need a quick spellcast.

So here's a quick spellcast: V-O-T-E-K-E-R-R-Y.

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posted 03 Sep 2004, 19.52 +0100

Massacre in Russia

The assault did not appear to be planned, but rather began with scattered fire that quickly erupted to a crescendo, punctuated by more blasts. Dozens of hostages - many barely dressed, their faces strained with fear and exhaustion - survived the assault, but others emerged bloodied and in shock. The fate of the majority inside - now believed to be as many as 1,000 - was not immediately known.

A two-day siege at a school in southern Russia ended to-day. The school had been taken over by gunmen who identified themselves with the Chechen independence movement; the semi-official Chechen polity has repeatedly disowned the antics of these "crazed fanatics".

Shortly after 1pm local time, a group of pupils and adults made a run for safety, the gunmen opened fire, and the Russian forces moved in en masse. At the time of writing, it's believed that at least 150 people were killed when part of the school's roof was blown away, and over 400 people have been treated in hospital. These numbers are not definitive.

What is definitive is that we're seeing the latest manifestation of two interlinked phenomena: theocratists who want to establish a Caliphate across the Caucasus mountain range, and well-intentioned but poorly-executed plans by the Russian military.

The theocrats' main aim is to establish a trans-national fundamentalist Islamic state between the Black and Caspian seas. It would cover the current countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, parts of Iran and Turkey, and the southern part of Russia, including Chechnya and Ossetia. They saw the mid-90s upsurge of independent spirit in Chechnya as an excellent opportunity to further their own ends. Even before Chechnya gained a significant devolved government in 1997, the theocrats had begun their sieges, taking over a hospital in 1995, and witnessing a hundred die.

Most of the deaths in that siege came when the Russian army stormed the hospital to end the siege. The theocrats (deliberately conflated with Chechen separatists by the Yelstin-era Kremlin) were blamed for a series of bomb attacks in Moscow during 1999, and took over a theatre in the Russian capital in October 2002. That siege ended when the Russian army pumped the theatre full of a gas they hoped would disable the attackers while leaving their captives unharmed. It didn't work.

To-day's occupation - and subsequent botched rescue attempt - comes less than a week after two aeroplanes were blown up in suspicious circumstances. While initial suspicions pointed to cock-up rather than conspiracy, the attention shifted to the true believers after traces of explosive were found in the shattered planes. There was also a suicide bomb attack in Moscow last Monday, and elections for a new Chechen president last Sunday.

Back in the days of the cold war, the best Soviet troops were forces to strike chill into any western soldier's heart. The USSR's Spetnaz forces were every part as ruthless and well-trained as the SAS or Delta Force. Since the Soviet Union broke, Russia's army has gone to the dogs, with the result that their best troops are no more competent than (say) occupying forces 1000 miles to the south. With their greater fire-power and lack of competent planning, the Russian troops might be more dangerous.

Where do we go from here? Russian president Vladimir Poutine takes his lead from his bankers in Washington. If they say that it's OK to have a war against terror, then he'll define the theocrats as terrorists, use the previous regime's conflation to define all Chechens as terrorists, and crack down. Hard. That only works for a while. Even with M Poutine's best efforts to supress the media, it's becoming clear to the Russian people that the more Poutine clamps down in Chechnya, the more it spreads to other republics around Chechnya and to Moscow.

Cynics might say that Russia is deliberately inflating the death toll in these situations to make it easier to crack down on the rest of Chechnya. Real cynics might say that Poutine is exploiting Candidate X's "you're with us or against us" nonsense from The War Against Terror to say that foreign countries are either with Russia, or with the neo-Islamic theocrats. The War Against Terror comes with its own handy acronym.

At the end of the day, all this nastiness is a clash between two opiates for the masses: the irresistable force of organised religion meeting the immovable object of blind patriotism. The sooner humanity learns that it needs neither crutch, the better we will all be.

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posted 03 Sep 2004, 20.42 +0100


Sat 04 Sep 2004

Let battle commence...

Dare I believe the words appearing on the wire service to-day?

"For the past week, they have attacked my patriotism and even my fitness to serve as commander in chief. Well, here is my answer to them. I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could've and who misled America into Iraq.

"The vice president called me unfit for office last night. Well, I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments make someone more qualified than two tours of duty.

"Let me tell you in no uncertain terms what makes someone unfit for office and unfit for duty. Misleading our nation into war in Iraq makes you unfit to lead our country. Doing nothing while this nation loses millions of jobs makes you unfit to lead this country. Letting 45 million Americans go without health care for four years makes you unfit to lead this country.

"Letting the Saudi royal family control the price of oil for Americans makes you unfit to lead this country. Handing out billions of dollars in government contracts without a bid to Halliburton while you're still on the payroll makes you unfit to lead this country."

John Kerry (for it was he) could have gone on to list a different reason why the Republicans are unfit for office every minute until polls open on 2 November. He didn't, because that's quite enough of a soundbite to be getting on with. The lies that led to a private invasion of Iraq have become a live issue. Again. They will cause major embarrassment to the Republicans. The lack of jobs in the economic uptick is coming home to haunt them.

The only cloud on the horizon: I'm rather reminded of Kevin Keegan's Famous Outburst. Back in April 1996, Keegan was the Newcastle manager, and he ranted live on an obscure satellite channel, saying that he would "love it, absolutely love it" if his rivals for the title Manchester United would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead, it was Newcastle that ended up going down the pan. Not the sort of pressurised outburst history we like.

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posted 04 Sep 2004, 10.39 +0100


Sun 05 Sep 2004

By-election watch

Not a good week for our Tone. The slew of June 10 by-elections drop out of the index, and we're suddenly looking at 106 Labour losses, leaving an overall minority of 27. Amongst the casualties are Estelle Morris, Jack Cunningham, Stephen Twigg, and the NUS presidents of my student days, Fitzsimmons and Woolas. John "Jack" Straw holds on to his seat by just 7%, Glenda Jackson and Charles Clarke by 8%. Could both this parliament's education secretaries be out of office? Probably not.

The current swings: C-Lab +10.31%; C-Lib -2.29%; Lab-Lib -12.60%. I'm making a 15% deduction of transfer voters to reflect the current increase in fourth-party votes. Halving these swings gives Labour a 45-seat majority on 37.1% of the vote. Morris and Woolas lose their seats.

The six-month rolling average is almost identical to the two-month rolling average, showing Labour 26 seats short of an OM. The figures from 2004 so far put Labour 31 adrift.

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posted 05 Sep 2004, 12.05 +0100

Opinion poll watch

A couple of polls this week-end have purported to show a large lead for Republican candidate X in the PDRUP presidential election. We don't actually set any credence by these results.

A Princeton poll commissioned by Newsbang magazine took place on Thursday and Friday. It sampled 1008 people, which would normally lead to a margin of error of 3%. This one has an error of 4%, indicating that the pollsters knew they were comparing apples and oranges. Assuming half the sample was taken on each day, the Republican lead was 5% on Thursday (an 62% confidence of some Republican lead) and 14% on Friday (still within the accepted bounds of error, an 80% confidence of some Republican lead.) This poll proves nothing.

A Schulman poll for AOL Time magazine ran from Tuesday to Thursday, quizzing 1128 for the usual 3% error. Amongst registered voters, it gave the Repubs an 8% lead in a two-cornered race (99.6% confidence of any lead) and 9% in a three-cornered.

A Zogby poll spoke to 1001likely voters, 3.2% error. The Rep lead there was just 2%, (73% confidence). More tellingly, Someone New beat Re-elect by 2%. According to this poll, the electorate just doesn't know.

American Research Group had 800 / 3.5, and emerged in a tie.

Clearly, something is askew: Zogby and ARG are giving statistical dead-heats, Princeton's apples-and-oranges and Schulman are giving high confidence to one candidate. What's the difference? Princeton and Schulman asked questions along these lines:

If the election were to-day, would you vote for Kerry, that independent bloke, or the moron? If you don't know, to which candidate are you leaning?

ARG and Zogby asked something closer to this:

If the election were to-day, would you vote for Kerry, that independent bloke, or the moron?

Spot the difference. In the first example, the pollsters are pushing people for an answer. Studies in the past have shown that this practice will tend to distort the sample by around a full margin of error. So the Republican lead in the whole Princeton poll (which made 11%, indicating more people were polled on Friday) is anywhere between 15% and -1%. Similarly, the Schulman lead is anywhere between 11% and -1%.

For the record, pushing voters in this manner is generally only done in the last two or three weeks of a campaign, when the time to make up minds is short. The polls following the Democratic convention in July weren't taken until the following week-end, and didn't employ this pushing technique.

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posted 05 Sep 2004, 12.27 +0100

Weather in week 36

A mostly dry week, though there were some heavy showers on Monday morning. It was a bank holiday, what did we expect? Tuesday and Wednesday were gloriously sunny, with barely a cloud in the sky. There was slightly more cloud later in the week, and Saturday was particularly overcast. Temperatures rose from 17 on Monday to 26 to-day. There were 12 degree cooling days this week, taking the summer's total to 173.

Next week looks dry and settled throughout, though with more of an easterly breeze and the consequent possibility of some cloudy days. It won't be as warm as to-day, but temps in the low 20s are possible every day.

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posted 05 Sep 2004, 18.21 +0100


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