The Snow In The Summer or So-So

10/16/2006 - 10/22/2006

Mon 16 Oct 2006

Blind to the truth

Paul Eastham in A Demi Grauniad on how Plunkett lied and lied and lied.

Plunkett recalls that the interior ministry sent a letter to Leonica Casalme. She was a Filipino nanny working for his lover Kimberly Fortier. The letter said it would take seven months to process Casalme's visa application. Plunkett gave the letter to the civil servants working in his private office to show that "the system had broken down." He concedes with some understatement that he "should have indicated his personal connection" to the girl mentioned in the letter.

It is difficult to exaggerate how vehemently Plunkett and his spokespeople then denied the very thing Plunkett now blithely admits. His spin doctors insisted he had not given civil servants this hugely sensitive letter. Instead Plunkett's spokespeople, led by his special adviser Huw Evans, put out a quite different story. They claimed he merely asked staff in his private office for help to check that the nanny's original application form had been filled in correctly - because of his blindness.

Evans said, "David took it with him to the office and, because of his blindness, said to his principal private secretary and his deputy: 'I have got a piece of paper in my pocket, what does it say?' One of them may well have read it to him or looked it over." Blunkett then gave it back to Fortier, she applied and it was "processed by the Immigration Service in the normal way. The allegation that he fast-tracked the application is untrue."

Plunkett's own memoirs make it clear Evans's story was complete rubbish. It was not the innocuous application form Plunkett took to the Home Office, but the sensitive letter. He did personally confront civil servants with the individual case and it was fast-tracked.

His change of position tells us something else, too. Plunkett says he felt under extreme pressure at the time because of the "sustained campaign" he claims the press ran against him. But maybe the real reason for the pressure was because when Sir Alan Budd launched his inquiry into the affair, Plunkett knew his cover story did not fit the facts.

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posted 16 Oct 2006, 18.28 +0100

Two Songs a Week 37: The Uncompressed Choir

Alex Ross has a full discussion of psychoacoustic compression. You can read it. Or you can listen to Scala's finest four and a half minutes, the definitive reading of Bono and The Edge's composition With or without you. Your choice.

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posted 16 Oct 2006, 19.00 +0100

Two Songs a Week

Tue 17 Oct 2006

Psephology, Down Under is an interesting site, mixing philosophy and mathematics in a (roughly fortnightly) essay. There's one addressed to New Zealanders, entitled How to Double Your Vote. It's simple, all you've got to do is vote for an Overhang candidate. Now, Overhang sounds like what you'd get if Peter Snow were guest-hosting that top daytime television quiz Numberwang, but it's actually an interesting quirk of the Multi-Member Proportional voting system used in New Zealand and elsewhere. If, for instance, a party wins four constituency MPs, but their top-up vote indicated only three members, then the other parties retain all their top-up members and parliament is extended by one seat. That's Overhang!

Would this advice be of any use in Britain, we wondered. Surprisingly, the phenomenon has already happened, in the 2004 London Assembly elections. The Conservatives won 9 constituency seats, but their party vote indicated they should only have won eight, with one member (and we don't know or care which) being the Overhang member. In this case, as would happen in Scotland and Wales, the overhang is ignored, and another party - in this case, Labour loses out. So, as good as the advice in 1729's post is, it doesn't apply in any UK election. That's First Past The Post Hangover!

There's more information, including a solution that doesn't break proportionality at all, in the German original: Das ist Überhangmandate!

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posted 17 Oct 2006, 19.30 +0100


Wed 18 Oct 2006

A Wednesday Miscellany

Depression is the watchword for danah boyd.

Businesspeople, academics, press, politicians... All have destroyed my utopian fantasy of what intellectual life is supposed to be about. People are driven by money, by fame, by power. Of course, many have good intentions and those beliefs and hopes often work as a check and balance. Unfortunately, the institutions that have taken over have no such moral qualms. Corporations need to make money for their stockholders. All other systems are becoming corporations or corporate-driven. Political structure requires politicians get elected... which requires money... which requires corporations. Academia survives on grant money... which requires government (which requires corporations) or corporations directly. Media, well media has already become a corporation.

Good Mathematics, Bad Mathematics returns to the Iraq death study published in The Lancet last week. In summary: IT'S WRONG BECAUSE WE SAY IT'S WRONG AND IF YOU DISAGREE YOU'RE A TRAITOR!

(Yes, I know the original title is a nod to Animaniacs, and a jolly clever one too. It also happens to be particularly non-standard English.)

Comic Sans walks into a bar only to be told 'We don't serve your type here...' Seven of the worst t(r)ypefaces in the Microsoft world.

For what it's worth, the pages on this site will display in 1) Book Antiqua 2) Garamond 3) Zapf Elliptical 4) Century 5) Bookman Old Style 6) a default serif font. Titles and subheaders are in 1) Typewriter 2) Bookman Old Style 3) Georgia 4) Calisto 5) your default serif.

The British Political Wonk Test. Twelve here (2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 19).

"It's 'sudoku', not 'sudoko'. Please spell it correctly so my kill-file will delete it automatically."

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posted 18 Oct 2006, 18.34 +0100

Sale of the Century

The Granada Media Group has purchased the remaining two Century Radio stations from Capital Radio. Originally founded by John Myers in 1994, Century northwest and Century northeast, along with stations in the east midlands and Solent, were purchased from Border Television by Capital in 2000. It is thought possible that GMG, under the day-to-day control of Mr. Myers, may rebrand the stations Real Radio.

DAB stations in Cardiff, London, and Birmingham remain transmitting, at least for the moment, as do transmissions via cable and Astra II.

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posted 18 Oct 2006, 19.00 +0100


Thu 19 Oct 2006

Two Songs a Week 38 - We Are Amused

Devon's finest export since the invention of clotted cream, Muse have been going since 1997, but didn't hit the big time until their second major label album, Origin of Symmetry. Since then, their earnest, almost innocent sound, has endeared them to a generation of fans. I'm particularly taken by the group's current single, Starlight, as it's one of the grandest, most sweeping songs of the moment, replete with more hooks than would be legal in most countries.

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posted 19 Oct 2006, 19.45 +0100

Two Songs a Week
Veil update

Updating the case of Mrs. Azmi and the covered face from last Sunday. The employment tribunal delivered its verdict this afternoon, and gave a partial victory to both sides. According to the tribunal, Mrs. Azmi was victimised, but was not harrassed on religious grounds, or discriminated against because of her beliefs. Mrs. Azmi has already made it clear that she will appeal against her partial defeat.

Other commentators: Anarchomuslim correctly points out that Britain is in the throes of yet another moral panic, suggesting that moslems are to the 2000s as paedophiles were to the 1980s, mods and rockers to the 1960s, and communists were to the 1950s. Writers in the Indytab remind us that "The religious requirement for Muslim men and women is to dress modestly and not to flaunt their physical attributes. Since hair can be such an attribute, Muslim women are required to cover the hair by wearing a scarf (hijab). The same does not apply to face. Muslim women in most Islamic countries do not cover their faces."

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posted 19 Oct 2006, 20.15 +0100


Fri 20 Oct 2006

What, Sup?

Another day, another failure of imagination from Six Apart. Back in the day, two of the tasks I set the failing advertisement brokerage in order to retain my custom were:

With that in mind, I note that Six Apart has entered into an agreement with SUP, a Russian advertisement brokerage. With, it appears, a manager who is as corrupt as any other Russian these days.

The devil here is in the details. It's clear that Six Apart wishes to maintain its existing contract terms, including its ineffably toothless lack-of-privacy policy. There's no mention that the service will become any faster, merely that it will be more Russianified. From the omission, I tentatively conclude that all the data will still reside on top of a seismic fault in Arizona West.

How does this address my points? It's true that the primi inter pares have finally woken up to the substantial Russian-language userbase - they constitute something over 8% of all users, something over 10% of persistently active users [1], and (anecdotally, at least) contribute more than their fair share of paid funds.

However, the manner of this awakening appears to be that Six Apart will wash its hands of the day-to-day running of Russian-language journals, and outsource to a separate company. I'm not going to comment on whether SUP is a reliable company, or if it can be trusted to keep its contractual promises; the reaction of Russians to the original post was profoundly unsympathetic.

How could Six Apart have done this better? One idea, not fully thought through by any means: Engage the talents of Latvia, where there is a substantial Russian-speaking population, who could provide all the translation and feature exchanges one could possibly imagine. There would also be fewer concerns about trust, for Latvia is - in general - a functioning market economy, a claim that cannot honestly be made for her neighbour to the east.

Of course, basing their team in Latvia would have brought the company under the local laws concerning privacy and contracts. By choosing a Russian company, Six Apart has found the one country that offers weaker de facto protection than Arizona West. This, as much as the enhanced revenues, ensures that this is only marginal progress on the last test.

[1] Persistently active: account has been created for longer than one year, and has been updated within the past month.

Also of note

Six Apart employee Abraham Hassan wrote, in response to objections from European users,

Would you rather we posted to news saying "Sorry, guys, we couldn't get a feature set up in Europe, so instead we're not going to offer it to anyone at all"? I acknowledged in the post itself that we know we don't have international support and that we're looking into it; what more would you like us to do, at this point? We know that not everyone can use these features, yes, but does that mean we can't be excited to be offering them anyway? You can't even argue that we're ignoring everyone else, since I made a point to specifically address that in my post.

As one would rather expect from Corporatist shills, Mr. Hassan sets up a strawman argument, and proceeds to demolish that, rather than address the actual question, as posed earlier by Curious Wombat: we just subsidise the US by paying as much for our accounts but not getting things like text and voice posts at all...

The model response would include a review of the international situation. If it is deemed likely that customers in other parts of the world will receive the feature soon (for values of "soon" measured in days or weeks, not months), then it would be honourable to delay a full roll-out until the initial spadework had completed. Where a feature will be available later, values of "later" should be measured in months, not years, as has been the case for voice posts.

(There is, lest we forget, no technical reason at all for any SMS service to discriminate by country of origin. The only reason why Six Apart's product is available in part of the world is because they're using an SMS Short Code, rather than a fully-qualified number. And the main reason to use an SMS Short Code is to raise revenue. You draw the lines.)

Mr. Hassan continues,

What's broken about LJ? Seriously, I'd like an answer, and I'm not being sarcastic; what are the things that you run into, on a regular basis, that you think we should be putting time and energy into fixing?

See previous entries in this category for my take. Many of them can be summarised as: stop being so utterly Yank-centric.

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posted 20 Oct 2006, 19.09 +0100

Six Apart Is Useless

Sat 21 Oct 2006

Parliamentary summary

How good are written parliamentary answers, asked Norman Baker (Lewes; LD). "Good," replied an underling of Lord Privy Seal.

What about a wireless network in our offices, asked John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford; C). "Yes, but only for Windows boxen," replied the Lib Dem responsible.

Useful stuff in Treasury questions: average incomes over the past thirty years; tourism entrances from the EU and elsewhere, 2001-05. From the Interior ministry: Luv-a-duck; no records are kept regarding lost mail. From the Office of National Heritage: internet neutrality (non-answer) and We have made 82 press releases, said David Lamey, in a press release.

David Steel said, "The Romans, 2,000 years ago, had an effective system of signalling by beacon throughout the Scottish Borders, which is something yet to be achieved by Vodafone?"

The Lord Chancellor's office expects to introduce a marked register of returned postal votes from next May's borough elections. The LCO is also incapable of reading questions properly.

The charge for crossing the Dartford Bridge from Essex to K*nt will be removed - but only between 10pm and 6am. It is not immediately clear if the reverse journey, through the Dartford Tunnels, will also be free.

Non-answer of the week comes from Mister Tony Blair (Lab, leader), who was asked,

How many times he has visited members of the British armed forces who have been wounded either in Afghanistan or Iraq in hospital since 2001; what the dates were of these visits; and which hospitals he visited.

The answer referred back to a question in February:

Pursuant to the answer of 15 February 2006 (50367), for what reasons he will not disclose the (a) dates and (b) locations of his visits to British soldiers injured in Iraq.

That answer referred to the official press briefing of 1 February, which included this gobbet:

Asked whether the Prime Minister felt under any pressure to provide evidence of meetings with relatives or injured soldiers, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister did not grandstand about such meetings. They were private occasions and should remain so. Asked whether he was saying the Prime Minister had met bereaved relatives, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had met injured soldiers and bereaved, but we would not provide details.

In summary: not telling.

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posted 21 Oct 2006, 11.16 +0100


Picking holes in The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard could provide a good little drinking game. Last week, we found the quite remarkable composition of the new parliament - 360 Purple Alliance members, 150 Conservatives, 120 Labour. That leaves only a handful of Nationalists, Ulster parties, and almost a complete wipe-out of the Lib Dems. Is this credible? Even more tellingly, would that be the prime conversation point with David Steel?

That's a little one. This week's plot revolved around the plan to move the political capital from London to Bradford. (Why Bradford? If I'm not mistaken, the travelling centre of the British Isles would be somewhere near the junction of the M-6 and the M-62, suggesting that the best place to move parliament would be Tatton Hall.)

Anyway, Mrs. Pritchard is determined to push through a rather nebulous plan to move the seat of government, and to reform the upper chamber in a manner that's not explained at all. In order to do this, she spent most of the programme wondering whether or not to invoke the Parliament Act. One rather large problem here.

As any fule know, the Parliament Act - as amended in 1949 - can only be used 13 months after a bill was introduced, and there has to have been at least one Queen's Speech in the period. Other parts of the chronology suggest that there's only been a matter of weeks - a few months, tops - since the election.

Technically, it's not the government but the Speaker who invokes the Parliament Act, but we'll let that slide as a point of pedantry. We won't let slide the leader of the opposition trying to claim a point of order during PMQs, because that would, itself, be out of order, and any experienced parliamentarian would know it.

Nor will we let slide the greater constitutional matter: Mrs. Pritchard has risen to power without a clear manifesto commitment, and is re-writing the constitution on little more than a whim. It is not at all clear that she enjoys popular support for her proposals. Indeed, it is utterly unprecedented to ram such a fundamental constitutional reform through parliament. Even Speaker Martin's blatantly partisan approval of the hunting bill in 2004 referred to a point of principle, not the fundamental constitutional settlement. The Purples can look forward to their day in court, for this mess would surely be litigated all the way to whatever she's putting in place to replace the Lords. And beyond.

The pseudonymous Hamer Shawcross reviews the episode, giving particular vent to the ludicrous Stereotyped African Leader. Particularly like the entry for 9.28.

Time to find something else to do with my Tuesdays, I think.

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posted 21 Oct 2006, 12.04 +0100


Sun 22 Oct 2006

Music in week 42

A new number one in Germany, where the Seizure Sisters move past Justin Nümberwäng. Pink comes straight in at number 4, and Puff Daddy at number 8. Lucie Silvas has her second continental duet hit of the year - Everytime I think of you is with Marco Borsato, and hits the top spot in his native Netherlands. More old stagers return in Europe - it was Roxette last week, now Europe return to the fray, with Always the pretenders landing in the number two spot - popsters Caracola and Ana Johnsson also go straight into the top ten. Alkesander D and the Lilyjets both have new entries in the Norwegian top ten. Back to the Netherlands, and readers are cautioned against the new Soul Control single, for it is Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep.

North Europe's Top Twenty

 20 NE My Chemical Romance
   - Welcome to the black parade
 19 re Snow Patrol - Chasing cars
 18 13 Basshunter - Boten Anna
 17 19 Kooks - She moves in her own way
*16 17 Cassie - Me and you
*15 18 Evanescence - Call me when you're sober
 14 12 Nelly Furtado - Maneater
*13 14 Killers - When you were young
 12 10 Cascada - Everytime we touch
 11 11 Shakira - Hips don't lie
 10  9 Lemar - It's not that easy
  9  8 Fratellis - Chelsea digger
* 8 16 Pink - You and your hand
  7  6 Bob Sinclar - Rock this party
  6  4 Justin Numberwang - Hairyback
  5  2 Seizure Sisters - I don't feel like dancing
* 4  7 Muse - Starlight
* 3  5 Razorlight - America
* 2  3 Lily Allen - LDN
* 1  1 Nelly Furtado - Promiscuous

My Chemical Romance, big in the UK. Pink, big in Germany, as we said not two paragraphs back. Do pay attention, reader!

No change at the top spots - My Chemical Romance continue to hold off all-comers. They'll be doing well to remain on top next week, though, for the Council Estate Slappers are back. Amazingly, they've got enough mixes of their one song to pad out a Singles Collection album, and even more amazingly, the new single is in at number 5 on downloads alone. Sometimes, I really do worry for this country.

Sometimes I don't. Meat Loaf charges up the chart to number 6, which was exactly where Céline Dion's version of It's all coming back to me now entered the chart ten years and three weeks ago. Coincidence? I think now. Marion Raven, meanwhile, has beaten her previous chart peak by ten places - M2M's one hit single made number 16.

Mr Loaf's bulk means that three other records fall behind on full release - the Ordinary Bores at 10, the Beatfreaks at 11, and Jamie T at 13, with Bouncey Knowles in at 14 on downloads. A few years ago, Amy Whinehouse attracted a lot of positive press, but nothing could cover the fact that her album was rubbish. Judging from Rehab, the first single, the new one is no better, but she does have her first hit single, a number 19 smash on downloads. A shame that this nonsense is helping to keep the Pet Shop Boys out of the top 20.

There's an entertainingly old-style look to David Hasselhoff's chart run: 3-10-27 is something we would have seen in 1996, not 2006. Ska entertainers Holloways are infectious at 30. Rogue Traders underperforming at 33 and Cassie at 38 on downloads.

The waltz beat of the Goo Goo Dolls is back in the top 40, but only just. Iris missed the top 50 on initial release in 1998, and made 26 when re-released the following summer. In the intervening period, Slide had become a brief airplay staple, but just missed the sales top 40. Seven years later, and following a cover version by Ronan Keating - atrocious, even by his low standards - the original scrapes the penultimate place. Under the current chart rules, Iris is entitled to chart for the next 51 weeks on its download sales alone. This is significant because it would have regularly been in or about the top 60 on downloads, but has previously been excluded for age. If the record companies have any nous, expect annual re-issues of two other classics, the Proclaimers' I'm gonna be 500 miles and Robbie Williams's Engels. Meanwhile, expect a bloodbath on Christmas Eve, when Fairytale of New Amsterdam is excluded from number 5 for age.

Lower down, full release entries for the Rifles, Coolio, the Deftones, and Imogen Heap - her entire physical sale has been disqualified, but she still makes it on downloads. Also on downloads: Magic Numbers (50), Rhianna (55), Kooks (58), and the View (60).

No move atop the albums listing, with the Killers keeping the Seizures and Razorlight at bay. Puff Daddy has the highest new entry, at 11, ahead of proper albums from Patrizio Buanne (15) and Badly Drawn Boy (17), and singles collections from Deacon Blue (18, their second), Roy Orbison (20, at least his fifth), and Roxette (22, their second). Chris Rea (34), Cradle of Filth (46), Dubliners (54), and John Mayer (58) also have new hits, while the unlikely record at 63 is from Ray Charles and Count Basie.

Here's the good stuff on the singles listing:

 1  1 My Chemical Romance
  - Welcome to the black parade
 2  2 Razorlight - America
 6 43 Meat Loaf and Marion Raven ^^
  - It's all coming back to me now
 9  6 Little Chris - Checking it out
15 12 Nelly Furtado - Promiscuous
16  8 Killers - When you were young
17 13 Shakira - Hips don't lie
18 11 Lily Allen - LDN
22 17 High School Musical OCR - Breaking free
23 NE Pet Shop Boys - Numb
25 16 Evanescence - Call me when you're sober
28 23 Pink - You and your hand
30 NE Holloways - Generator
34 26 Lemar - It's not that easy
35 19 Fratellis - Chelsea dagger
36 25 Feeling - Never be lonely
39 42 Goo Goo Dolls - Iris / Stay with you ^^
41 31 Bedouin Soundclash
  - When the night feels my song
42 27 Hot Chip - Over and over
45 33 Muse - Starlight
46 37 Kooks - She moves in her own way
48 NE Rifles - Peace and quiet
57 45 Lily Allen - Smile
58 NE Kooks - Ooh la **
60 NE View - Superstar tradesman **
62 52 Pink - Who knew?
65 53 Kasabian - Empire
66 51 Nerina Pallot - Sophia
68 58 OK Go - Here it goes again
72 67 Kooks - Naive
74 NE Imogen Heap - Headlock

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posted 22 Oct 2006, 19.43 +0100

Weather in week 42

The Greenland high was a little deeper than we expected, balancing the one over Europe, so it was a frustratingly calm opening to the week, with nary a breath of wind until Thursday. Since then, we've been in a moderate south-westerly airflow, which has delivered frequent showers.

16 Mo mist                 9/17
17 Tu fog                  7/15
18 We fog                  9/16
19 Th rain o/n, showers   14/16,11.0
20 Fr cloud               10/15, 2.0
21 Sa showers             10/16, 4.5
22 Su sun to showers      11/14,17.0

83mm of rain so far this month, already topping the month's average of 58mm with nine days to go. Neither degree-hearing nor degree-cooling days this week.

Is autumn finally arriving? High pressure persists over Greenland and over Russia, funnelling areas of low pressure up over the UK. Expect showers at any time, with Wednesday (in the south) and Thursday (in the north) being particularly messy. Mild until mid-week, winds may briefly swing round to the north-west, but still no particular cold.

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posted 22 Oct 2006, 19.51 +0100


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