The Snow In The Summer or So-So

10/02/2006 - 10/08/2006

Mon 02 Oct 2006

News from Europa

Vienna A change of government is indicated following a Nationalrat election on Sunday. The Social Democrat Party (SPD) led the poll with 35.7% of votes. The governing People's Party (VPÖ) had 34.2%.

Two extremist parties on the far right - the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) will be represented in parliament, as will the leftist Greens (Grü). A list headed by Hans-Peter Martin, propounding greater openness and transparency in politics, secured 2.5% of the national vote - insufficient for a seat in the Nationalrat - and was unable to repeat its success in the 2004 European elections.

SPD leader Alfred Gusenbauer is likely to become the new chancellor, a grand coalition with the VPÖ is believed to be most likely.

Paris A controversy surrounds Ségolène Royal, the leading Socialist candidate for the French presidency. Mme. Royal's brother, Lt. Gérare Royal, was part of the team of French agents who attacked and sunk the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland. Over the week-end, there were claims in New Zealand that Lt. Royal was responsible for actually planting the bomb that sunk the ship in 1985.

Buda Pest The Hungarian prime minister has called for a vote of confidence, to be debated on Friday. Ferenc Gyurcsany's decision comes a day after the countrys president has stated that his prime minister used "inadmissible means to keep power". President Solyom's intervention has been widely seen as a call for the ruling Socialist party to remove Ú Gyurcsany. Two weeks ago, it emerged that he had lied morning, noon, and night about the state of the economy to win re-election; Ú Gyurcsany also enjoyed the personal endorsement of British prime minister Mister Blair.

In local elections yesterday, the opposition centre-right party Fidesz won all but one county, and nineteen of the 23 city regions. Turnout was 53%, the highest for local elections in Hungary since the fall of communism.

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posted 02 Oct 2006, 18.57 +0100

News
Two Songs a Week 33 - See one, feel one, touch one

The electric guitar at the start of this week's first Song gives away the era - it's Easter 1981, and the star-studded ERIC awards are being given out in a ceremony live on tape on B.B.C.-1. Name-checking many of the celebrities in attendance - Fred Astaire, Claire Francis, Geoff Boycott - the performers explain how they don't want to be famous, how they don't particularly want to be a world-class star. They just want to win something. One of OSCAR's awards would suffice - if they can't win the ERIC for Best Saturday Morning Television Show, then the RTS Award for Best Daytime Television Programme would serve them well. Brown Sauce (for it is they) would go on to have a top-20 hit when their B.A. Robertson composition I wanna be a winner was released at the end of the year. Not sure what happened to their drummer, though.

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posted 02 Oct 2006, 20.38 +0100

Two Songs a Week
Macaroons

Max. Hastings writes on the greatest challenge facing the Conservative party's attempt to form the next government - the Conservative party. Mr. Cameron is preaching social responsibility and accepts that public spending should be targetted before it is cut. The old codgers on the right are still hankering after the perceived tax-cutting spend-slashing rip-roaring go-ahead days of the 1980s, when their wank fantasy Mrs. Thatcher was secure in Downing-street.

John Lloyd in last week-end's FTmag suggests that Labour has acted to alienate its core vote. The unskilled working class has been let down by the loose labour market regulation and by loose immigration controls both acting to drive down wages. The islamic vote has been lost thanks to the failed incursion into Iraq and the fall-out thereof, including the apparent demonisation of all followers of Mohammed. Mr. Lloyd suggests that these factors, plus the increased fear of street crime, apparent failure of the health service, and a general climate of a party that has had its time, will all act to tire the Labour vote. The Conservatives, by comparison, need only marry the popular bits of Labour's governance (social reform, environmental concern) with their natural and genuine prudence (as opposed to Mr. Brown's learned prudence) to take a win.

Mr. Lloyd goes on to argue that the racist right - whether represented by the B.N.P. or the U.K.I.P. or the Robert Kilroy Silk Vanity Party - will never rise above the level of ineffectual council politicking. But their success will come mostly from disaffected Labour supporters, particularly the unskilled white working class. The shift won't elect the Conservatives on its own, but it could keep Labour from power.

Mr. Cameron will be making two speeches to conference this week. His first speech, yesterday, was intended to set the tone for the conference. Mr. Cameron pointed out that he had excellent working relationships with Mr. Davis, Mr. Hague, and Mr. Maude, and aims to set out "a clear, united, and credible alternative". Mr. Cameron pledged himself to safer streets, a better quality of life, and better treatment for carers. He delivered a swipe at the codgerite tendency:

While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life - we were banging on about Europe. As they worried about standards in thousands of secondary schools, we obsessed about a handful more grammar schools. As rising expectations demanded a better NHS for everyone, we put our faith in opt-outs for a few. While people wanted, more than anything, stability and low mortgage rates, the first thing we talked about was tax cuts.

Mr. Cameron attacked the Labour party's method of governance:

Ministers hold a summit. They announce an eye-catching initiative. A five-year plan. Gordon Brown generously finds the money for it. The money gets a headline, but no-one knows what to do with it. So they create a unit in the Cabinet Office.

A task force is set up. Regional co-ordinators are appointed. Gordon Brown sets them targets - after all, it is his money. Pilot schemes are launched. The pilot schemes are rolled out across the country. They are evaluated.

Then revised, re-organised and re-launched. And then finally, once the reality dawns that the only people to benefit are the lawyers, accountants and consultants of Labour's quango army, with a pathetic whimper - but no hint of an apology - the whole thing is just abandoned.

Mr. Cameron pledged his opposition to the identity register, calling it a "vast white elephant, a plastic poll tax, twenty millennium domes rolled into one giant castatrophe in the making." He also testified to his distance from Mrs. Thatcher, saying "there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state."

Mr. Cameron pledged himself to corporate responsibility and careful regulation. He also pledged himself to professional responsibility, particularly in the health service and schools. He claimed that Labour has "abandoned clause 4 and the nationalisation of industry, but they are replacing it with the nationalisation of everyday life."

Mr. Cameron concluded his speech by explaining that he was all about one word: optimism, trusting people to do the right thing. This also represented a coded swipe at the codgerite tendency, who were remorselessly downbeat.

While it's an upbeat assessment, far more entertaining than anything that the Labour conference delivered last week, Mr. Cameron appears to be going out of his way to offend some of his party's membership. This is dangerous, for it repeats the greatest error of Mister Blair's time as Labour leader, setting up faultlines to tire out the most loyal party sections.

Long-term readers will recall the extracts we ran from Dave's Diary last year. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that we'll have more later in the year...

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posted 02 Oct 2006, 22.02 +0100

Politics

Wed 04 Oct 2006

The amazing curate's egg

The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (BBC Northern Ireland for BBC-1, last night) tells of a supermarket manager who stumbles into politics by suggesting "there must be a better way" left me laughing at it, not with it.

The eponymous Mrs. P breaks up a fight between two candidates who both want to campaign outside her supermarket, shouts at them both, and puts herself forward. Somehow, we're supposed to believe that this one event, and a couple of interviews on the telly, is enough to tap into a groundswell of public opinion, attracts converts from all parties, including shadow cabinet ministers, and culminates in her becoming the prime minister.

We're meant to believe that conviction politicians can be swayed by the possibility of a job with a here-to-day-gone-to-morrow flavour of the month.

Very much like the difficulty that Mr. Pritchard has in coming to terms with his wife's sudden rocketing to stardom. Far less convinced by the store's packing clerk, who leaves his bride standing at the altar in favour of Mrs. Pritchard's daughter (who, if truth be told, we would.) Who would get married on a Thursday, though?

Some of the little details were spot on - blossom on the trees for 10 May. Some were a little off - Mrs. P lives and works in Eatanswill, which as any Pickwickian will know, is somewhere in Essex or Suffolk. The supermarket was owned by Mrs. Porter, first name probably not Shirley. Some of the little details were complete and utter election illiteracy - Peter Snow would never give a projection on the afternoon of polling day (not unless he wanted to be in the Tower by 10pm), and candidates always appear on the ballot paper in strict alphabetical order, by surname, with their party logo for the hard-of-thinking. Somewhere in the list of credits that ran past in microscopic print, I think I saw a political advisor. Hope I was mistaken.

The drama's fundamental canard, though, is that women would make a better job of running the country than men. In my experience, this is not so; women would make as much of a hash of the job as men. In fairness, there's already the hint of some back-stabbing going on amongst the Pritchardites. Such nuance is drowned out by the implicit war of the sexes nonsense, as exemplified by Mr. Pritchard preferring to vote Lib Dem.

As a one-off comedy drama, this would work. As a satire, it's a promising first draft. As a serious attempt to critique the current political system, it's a failure, and I can't see it ever working.

More: Richard Huzzey at Lib Dem Voice goes for the jugular, what the programme prescribed was a 1950s ideal of a perfect mother. James Graham at The Liberati is not hopeful, Mrs Pritchard herself will remain a sympathetic character. Conservative Home's Peter Franklin goes for the jugular: The mainstream media have infantilised political discourse and privileged personality over policy.. And UNIT News has a simple plot review.

This post has been edited to correct the author at Lib Dem Review - the original attribution was to Rob Fenwick. We regret the error.

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posted 04 Oct 2006, 19.29 +0100

Television

Thu 05 Oct 2006

The benefits of careful consideration should be clear to all. They are not.

I had the slight misfortune to hear an interview with Jeremy Wright (C, Rugby and Kenilworth) yesterday evening. He was ploughing on about how utterly wonderful the new-look Conservative party was, and he wasn't at all apologetic about the party's lack of policies. To paraphrase, his point was that the Conservatives would not be rushed into presenting a new policy every time the wind changed. They'd rather take their time and come up with a coherent and consistent set of policies.

Of course, this is a veiled attack on the knee-jerk policy-making of the Labour party. For the last ten years, its policy has been driven exclusively by what would look good in the next day's press, rather than what would be good for the country, or consistent with other proposals.

But it's a lesson that other people might well learn. Just after I completed my mini-essay on Six Apart's idiosyncratic approach to contract law, the most almighty mess was exploding right across its Livejournal property.

At 10.53 on Friday night, Denise Paolucci re-informed users that paid-for commercials were being slipped into the site. At the time of writing, there were over 3600 comments to Ms. Paolucci's post, of which approximately 3500 expressed dissent to the proposal, and the remainder were from staff valiantly defending the idea. Many of the critics found her tone to be patronising, insulting, offensive, or some combination thereof.

Site founder Bradley Fitzpatrick saw the shitstorm, and posted at 2.28 on Saturday afternoon. His post has attracted a mere 1400 comments, many of which interpreted the original post as an attack on Ms. Paolucci. Mr. Fitzpatrick substantively revised his post some time later, and (because Livejournal is not Wikipedia) the original is no longer available.

On the Monday, there was an emergency staff meeting, from which a more coherent policy has emerged (in particular, posts 1, 2, and 3, all posted from the account of Abraham Hassan.

The link with Mr. Wright's observation should be obvious - Six Apart has singularly failed to think through its policies, and has succeeded in alienating a significant proportion of its paying userbase.

Can we draw this analogy further, and directly compare Six Apart with New Labour? Well, perhaps - user Insomnia might represent Old Livejournal, and he's not afraid to call site founder Bradley Fitzpatrick a control freak, a clear comparison with Mister Blair. Both organisations seem to be dislocated from reality - the initial comments on Ms. Paolucci's post from staff were "everything in the garden's rosy", as divorced from reality as anything Hazel Blears would come out with. And Anil Dash comes across as Six Apart's resident John Reid - when he's not lying through his teeth to present Six Apart in a slightly less negative light, he's pouring liquid flame onto an already flammable situation. We should also point out that Livejournal is, ultimately, owned by an unelected cabal over which the regular user has neither influence nor importance.

(As a sidebar, was there ever a serious proposal for Livejournal to be run by a board of trustees elected from amongst the paid users? That would have worked against attempts to turn a profit by most funding methods, but a democracy could be the best way forward for a site paid for by its users. This is a completely hypothetical discussion, as the chances of Six Apart giving up its one cash cow are minimal to none.)

Once we move beyond slightly cheeky personal comparisons, the analogy rather breaks down. New Labour is committed to introducing its own database recording where everyone is at any time; this is utterly unworkable, has no reason for being, and would be cancelled by any quarter-wit within ten seconds of coming to power. Six Apart, on the other hand, prefers to outsource its tracking to an advertising agency with ideas above its station.

OK, both are fully prepared to lie through the teeth about their tracking mechanisms - Labour claims that their "identity register" will be useful to prove one's entitlement to services, er in the war against terrorism, er to prove one isn't an illegal immigrant, er, for reasons that Labour has yet to invent.

Six Apart, meanwhile, claims that, with G****e, "Users can only be tracked anonymously". It's a fib. It's probably the biggest fib that anyone has told so far this month. It's also a very common misperception, a lie allowed to persist by G****e's sickening mendacity. It's a desperate shame that there are still people so woefully ill-informed that they see G****e's activities as benign, and an even greater shame that its tentacles are spreading into parts of the web from where it has previously been blocked. It is not clear when the anti-advertisement activists will target their attention to the world's biggest spam engine.

Mr. Wright's analysis is correct: a little time in careful, considered reflection is worth a million and one apologies later on. Labour didn't, and they're paying the price. Livejournal didn't, and it's really paying the price.

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posted 05 Oct 2006, 20.02 +0100

Blogging| Intellectual| Shilling
Two Songs a Week 34: I can't really recommend it too strongly except to diehard fans of Wakeman's early years

There was one further, massive, absence from Mrs. Pritchard earlier in the week. It's an election results programme, yet they're not playing the traditional election night results music.

The Legend of King Arthur was Rick Wakeman's first work after leaving YES. Released in 1975, it set the ancient legend of King Arthur to a progressive rock soundtrack. Though exceedingly popular at the time, the soundtrack was roundly abused by later critics and would surely have vanished into obscurity circa 1980.

John Morrell, the editor of the BBC's election night programme for 1979, was looking for something suitably pompous and imposing to start his programme. With a slightly wry eye, he picked a piece that began with the words, Whoever shall pull the sword from the stone shall be the ruler of all England. Rather than return to classical tunes - Shostakovitch, Copeland, and the Beatles had all been used previously - the 1983 producer Tom Gutteridge stuck with the first two minutes of the pompous and imposing work from Wakeman, before it disappears up its own arse.

The die was cast. Thirty years on, it's almost impossible to think of an election night without that soaring chord progression, or the thought of Peter Snow jumping about like a loon.

Viewers will be able to see Snowy's début on the B.B.C. to-morrow, when the Parliament Channel repeats Election '83.

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posted 05 Oct 2006, 20.47 +0100

Two Songs a Week

Sat 07 Oct 2006

Not flying to-night

A new deal has been reached regarding the information required by the self-proclaimed government of the Failed Colonies before it will admit air passengers. After a previous version was deemed illegal by Europe's highest court, the military junta has provided additional assurances that it would not allow unconditional direct electronic access by all of its branches.

The EU still permits its airlines to give an awful lot of information to the renegade government, and has raised no protest at the FARCE's retention of biometric data without any meaningful data protection. Indeed, a series of comments on Eurotrib suggests that these two matters are linked - the provision of data gives the illegal border agents an eight-hour head-start on the arriving dissidents.

This is a simple sell-out by the European governments. I don't back their decision, because I don't trust the Yankees to keep their part of the bargain. Even if the biometric nonsense somehow vanishes, this data trawl is unreasonable and enough reason to prevent me from flying to the FARCE.

Also on Eurotrib is a reflection on the 1993 uprising in Russia, adopting a particularly anti-Yeltsgin posture.

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posted 07 Oct 2006, 11.59 +0100

Politics

Sun 08 Oct 2006

Illumination

Illuminating discussions of the week: Arch Puddington, in Commentary magazine, on the importance of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. In modern politics, the Hungarian prime minister has won a confidence vote as the deputies split on party lines. This may take the sting out of the situation.

Questionable B.B.C. science of the week was a piece on Monday's P.M. programme, in which a scientist was given airtime to propound his views that Neil Armstrong actually said, one small step for a man. The scholars at Language Log are not convinced. (2)

Entertainment of the week: The Heterosexualist Agenda: Exposing the Myths.

Even the best websites are down from time to time. Matt Howie, Mr. Metafilter, explains why metafilter is down so often. (Caution: link is on metafilter, so, er, may be down...)

Telegrams in brief

Pockets Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (C, Cotswolds) was this week's Anthony Beaumont Darke Memorial rent-a-quote M.P. after calling a £140,000 research study into the history of the pocket "unbelievable".

Worcester The city council has fenced off a pear tree, lest passers-by be injured by falling fruit. The black-pear trees in Cripplegate Park are now surrounded by signs saying, "Warning Pears Falling".

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posted 08 Oct 2006, 16.00 +0100

News
Music in week 40

The main move this week comes from France, where the unlikely pairing of Moby and Mylene Farmer hits the top spot. Crier la vie is a re-working of Slipping away from the baldie's last album. Linda Sunblad - the singer with opera metal band Apocalyptica - has the new number one in Sweden, performing Oh father; Ola also enters in the top five, and we should note that Sweden will join the UK and Germany from next week by including downloads in its singles chart. Slightly less with-it are the neighbours in Denmark, where Mister nice guy, Trine Dyrholm's smash hit, returns to the top spot it has held for something like a third of its 96 weeks (two months short of two years) in the top 20.

North Europe's Top Twenty

 20 13 Stacey Ferguson - London bridge
 19 17 Kasabian - Empire
 18 re Kooks - She moves in her own way
 17 12 Rhianna - Unfaithful
*16 NE Evanescence - Call me when you're sober
 15 11 Basshunter - Boten Anna
*14 14 Killers - When you were young
*13 16 Pink - You and your hand
*12 20 Bob Sinclar - Rock this party
 11  9 Cascada - Everytime we touch
 10  8 Fratellis - Chelsea digger
  9  3 Robbie Williams - Rudebox
  8  5 Nelly Furtado - Maneater
  7  7 Muse - Starlight
  6  6 Shakira - Hips don't lie
* 5 10 Seizure Sisters - I don't feel like dancing
* 4 15 Lily Allen - LDN
  3  2 Justin Numberwang - Hairyback
* 2  4 Lemar - It's not that easy
* 1  1 Nelly Furtado - Promiscuous

The one new entry comes from Evanescence, who got enough of a glowing review last week. New peak for Bob Sinclar on his UK debut, and for Lily Allen on her UK release.

Congratulations to Razorlight, where a physical release takes their America song storming up to the top spot, pushing the Seizure Sisters down to 2. Third place goes to David Hasselhog, the former Bay of Pigs Watch star; his Jump in my car song has been turned into an ironic hit by people who should know better - the ultimately unsuccessful Get The Hoff To Number One. It's a mere 32 places better than his last hit, November 1993's If I could say goodbye. Puff Daddy And One Of The Pussycat Dolls reach 4 on their full release, and Bob Sinclar is one place lower.

My Chemical Romance's new one is an intriguing release, a properly epic song that owes as much to the great songwriters of the 1930s as to the present day. Bedouin Soundclash has finally got a physical re-release, but number 24 doesn't provide the full testament to just how popular this song has been. Nerina Pallot has her second hit single, and number 32 isn't a bad position for a very Radio-2 act - she'll want to sell albums on the back of the airplay. Trivium enter at number 40, with their angry young man rock; it'll win few new friends. We should also mention an after-effect of last week's clear-out becoming , as three old songs (from Paolo Nutini, Razorlight, and Lily Allen) re-enter the top 40 after being squeezed out last week, and there are climbs for steady sellers from the likes of the Kooks.

Outside the top 40, there are download entries for the Beatfreaks, Hot Chip, and Corinne Bailey Rae. Full releases from Bodyrox and Soul Avengers (featuring Javine) just miss the 40, while Gina G lands at number 57. Disaster of the week is for the Vines, whose new single only makes number 66.

On the albums survey, The Killers storm into the top spot, with a six-figure sale for Sam's Town. Evanescence land in second spot, ahead of the Seizure Sisters. Daniel O'Donnell (10) and Jet (13) also have decent new entries, while Lionel Richtea (15) has a huge climb. Marti Pellow, the erstwhile Wets frontdrip, is new at 27, and an acoustic album from K. T. Tunstall is 32. Evanescence's old album has a huge climb, while Most Of The Greatest Hits of Sarah Brightman (though not I lost my heart to a starship trooper, for some reason) is number 38. Scott Matthews lands at 45, Diana Ross at 60, and Ludacris 69.

Here's the good stuff on the singles listing:

 1 15 Razorlight - America ^^
 6  2 Killers - When you were young
 7  6 Lily Allen - LDN
 8  3 Little Chris - Checking it out
10  4 Evanescence - Call me when you're sober
11  8 Nelly Furtado - Promiscuous
13 10 Shakira - Hips don't lie
14  9 High School Musical OCR - Breaking free
18 16 Fratellis - Chelsea dagger
19 13 Pink - You and your hand
21 18 Feeling - Never be lonely
22 19 Lemar - It's not that easy
23 NE My Chemical Romance **
  - Welcome to the black parade
24 33 Bedouin Soundclash ^^
  - When the night feels my song
30 32 Muse - Starlight
32 NE Nerina Pallot - Sophia
34 44 Lily Allen - Smile
37 40 Kooks - She moves in her own way
40 NE Trivium - Anthem
46 36 OK Go - Here it goes again
48 41 Kasabian - Empire
51 NE Hot Chip - Over and over **
52 60 Pink - Who knew?
53 47 Lostprophets - A town called hypocrisy
54 51 Arctic Monkeys
  - Leave before the lights come on
57 NE Gina G - Tonight's the night
61 69 Feeling - Fill my little world
62 73 Kooks - Naive
68 58 Automatic - Recover
69 34 Dirty Pretty Things - Wondering
74 53 Zutons - Oh Stacey

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posted 08 Oct 2006, 19.46 +0100

Entertainment
Weather in week 40

A relative chill in the air this week, though it has been the first full week in October, and we shouldn't be surprised. The main feature was a pronounced westerly airflow, which fed mostly cloudy weather, and the combination of stronger winds and rain led to some cloudbursts later in the week. The wind slackened somewhat for the week-end.

02 Mo cloud, showers      12/18, 2.5
03 Tu cloud                8/14, 4.5
04 We sun                  7/15
05 Th rain                 9/16, 8.0
06 Fr rain, windy         14/17,13.0
07 Sa sun                  9/16
08 Su sunny spells         9/16

We've already had 28mm of rain, nearly half the month's average of 58mm, and very much on course for the third wetter-than-average month in a row.

A band of rain will sweep across England and Wales from the south-west to-night, clearing most parts by nightfall to-morrow. In its wake will be southerly winds, and a front in the Channel will bring frequent showers to southern parts. A vigorous Atlantic depression will trail many fronts across the UK during Wednesday, ensuring rain for all parts. High pressure will then build from the south-west, resulting in a somewhat quieter end to the working week. However, we should note that another vigorous depression will be in the middle of the Atlantic by next Friday, and this may bring extremely strong winds during next week-end. Consult professional sources later in the week on this threat, and do wrap up.

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posted 08 Oct 2006, 19.51 +0100

Weather

older writing... write to