Saturday, October 25, 2008
Our Anniversary, US Elections Fun and the World’s Worst Anti-Drugs Campaign
There’s been a fluorescent tube in our bathroom since long before it became our bathroom, and following its breaking down (after ringing one electrician who laughed and told us it was a deathtrap and what grade of completely different replacement fitting to get, but who after various fiascos never got back to us), we’d recommend Garry Vinning, who was a nice chap, on time, reasonable and admired our view. As a bonus, we survived a fortnight of a lamp on an extension cable and lots of trailing wires from the knackered old fitting without electrocution, though I now no longer have an excuse for shaving the right side of my face so badly.
We had a lovely visitor who didn’t handle our fittings earlier in the week, too – our friend Mr Quist came to stay the night, with much good conversation and exposing each other to things we don’t usually see. For him, for example, there was the extraordinary spectacle of Hugh Grant acting and some 1978 Doctor Who on the big telly; for us, he went on the Internet and showed us some pictures of Beavers. So a good time was had by all.
How Not To Do Not Doing Drugs
Did you hear The News Quiz earlier? It featured one of their greatest ever news story clippings. I missed which paper it had been sent in from, but I found it in the New York Times, and it’s superb. A school has just suspended the least plausible anti-drugs message since Ebeneezer Goode:
“A company has recalled a batch of pencils after a fourth-grade student pointed out an embarrassing message that appeared after he sharpened his pencil.I want one.
“The pencils carry the slogan ‘Too Cool to Do Drugs’. But the student noticed that when the pencils are sharpened and get shorter, the message becomes ‘Cool to Do Drugs’, then simply ‘Do Drugs’.”
Or perhaps a pencil that says “Do Chocolate”. Preferably one with a filling. I’m easy. Hmm, wonder what could have happened to my teeth?
Let’s hope tonight’s Bremner, Bird and Fortune is as funny, and that we manage to get there. Not only do I have notorious problems leaving the flat, but we laughed this morning as we opened the front door for Mr Vinning and our ticket blew out of the window. Fortunately it was an e-ticket, and our cranky old printer was in a good enough mood to let us print another (so we’ll be setting up for Merlin, which really should have some other name as it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the best-known of British legends, but which must be single-handedly doing more for slash fiction than any other series I can think of)!
Vote McCain / Palin? You Must Be On Drugs
Every day, I mean to write something new about the US election. I’ve become addicted to parsing opinion polls, and to reading Daily Kos and The Daily Dish. But it all moves so quickly and, really, what can you say about Sarah Palin? Well, Betty White said it all, really; we’ve been missing her since she stopped being an occasional character in the fabulous Boston Legal. If I wrote a serious article right now, I’d probably just explode at the sheer loathsomeness of the Republicans’ new low in cynical race-baiting lies, so instead here are some things that have been cheering me up as the volume of messages increases from friends in the States typing with whitened knuckles as they hope another election won’t be stolen.
So, for your delight and delectation:
- A cautionary tale for your parents (and, bonus, no pencils are involved)
- And simply the best summing-up of Senator McCain’s campaign of lies, venom and negativity you could hope to see.
Just 006 Days ’Til Quantum of Solace (minor spoiler)…
I Should Have Posted This Yesterday, Shouldn’t I?
We’re terribly excited, and our Elephant is quite beside himself. And after the last movie, we’ve got a pretty shrewd ghost of an idea what the villains behind the whole thing might involve. With it even being released on Halloween, you don’t have to look in the TAROT cards to anticipate some sort of Shade, or Phantom, or Ectoplasm, or Chimera, or Trace, or Revenant, or… or… (reaches for thesaurus) Eidolon… Hang on. I’ve just read what it says on the card. Quasi-Autonomous… That can’t be right, surely?
But to keep you from exploding with excitement, and to keep me from gritting my inflamed molars because the film opens the day after my birthday, you can listen to the proper title theme and watch a rather striking Bond-related musical interlude that, strangely, makes me look much more warmly on both a Bond theme and a decidedly non-Bond movie, neither of which were quite as good as I expected…
Labels: American Politics, Blogs, Drugs, James Bond, Personal, Richard, Top Tips
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Crooked Coroners Corruption Dropped… For Today
Thanks to Richard for ringing and telling me!
Update: And to Stuart Douglas, who’s posted a comment to my piece this morning to the same effect.
Meanwhile, I’ve been joining in with the latest debate on everyone’s favourite new spot for intemperate arguments on Liberalism, Irfan Ahmed’s blog.
Labels: British Politics, Crooked Coroners Corruption, Labour
Gavin Webb Latest – Democracy Wins!
I’ve known Gavin for a good many years and disagreed with him almost as often as I’ve agreed with him, but I’m quite certain that he’s both a nice bloke and a conviction Liberal. He’s at about the furthest libertarian edge of the Liberal Democrats, and has a tendency to shoot his mouth off; well, fair enough. I’ve been accused of being on the fringes and being gobby often enough that I’m a bit wary of either of those being used as sticks to beat someone with.
Dodgy Suspension Number One
Back in April, Stoke Liberal Democrats – Gavin and his fellow councillors there having fallen out fairly comprehensively – decided to suspend Gavin from the party pretty much on the grounds of being too racy in the run-up to an election, and to think about it later. So this had nothing to do with any misconduct, but for Gavin shooting his mouth off with views such as his support for legalising prostitution, all drugs, firearms, and drink-driving so long as no-one is injured, as well as that he was uncouth enough to call a BNP councillor a fascist; some of which are party policy, some of which I disagree with, some of which are highly impractical, some of which I suspect no readers of this blog would object to, but all of which everyone knew he’d been espousing for years anyway.
“I’m shocked – shocked – to find that gambling is going on in here!”Now, suspending for a moment your disbelief at a Liberal Democrat local party spending their time going witch-hunting a week before election day, you’ll be aware that, being a liberal and democratic party, there are rules that mean you can’t go chucking someone in an oubliette and that’s the end of them. There are rules about due process, getting a chance to answer your charges, and all within a decent span of time so they can’t just be deliberately ‘forgotten about’. To cut a long – three-and-a-half-month-long – story short, the party’s extremely keen and on the ball investigation started only the week before that fourteen-week time limit expired, Gavin was never offered proper charges to respond to nor a proper hearing, and so at the end of that colossal waste of time his membership was reinstated automatically, that rule being in place precisely to stop people doing that sort of cowardly, petty pissing about for eternity. Gavin having moved his membership to being part of a Liberal Democrat local party he got on with better rather than arguing for the sake of it, you might think that was the end of it.
Reinstated! Selected! Re-suspended! Um… Why?
Gavin, as a talented, hardworking and articulate party member with much to be articulate about, put himself forward to Liberal Democrat members in Burton for selection as their PPC. Before you can do that, incidentally, you have to go through a training and screening process to make sure you’re up to it and that you agree with the party’s core principles – which Gavin passed with flying colours, and which the Region had no problem with. Bear that in mind. So Gavin told me the story:
“At my hustings, at which the Region's Candidates Chair was in attendance, I was vigorously questioned by my Local Party which I answered openly and honestly – indeed, not every member agreed with everything I had to say but they by and large appreciated the message of individual rights, freedoms and responsibilities. In short, I made no bones about being a libertarian. I was selected overwhelmingly as the Liberal Democrat PPC for Burton.Gavin had to make repeated requests even to get the reasons for his suspension, a week and a half after it happened, and he couldn’t forward them to me because the letter from the Region was “Confidential”. Come on. This is the Liberal Democrats, not a national security trial where the evidence has to be heard in camera! As Paul Walter put it succinctly, this is No way to treat a member.
“However, the following day the West Midlands Regional Executive met, they considered the report from my meeting [in ‘week thirteen’] with the Chair and Local Parties Officers, and decided to suspend me from standing for the Party, internally and externally, for a period of three years.”
After six months of this vindictive nonsense, Gavin was impatient to get on with fighting Labour in a seat where the MP is standing down and the Tories are split over local council conflicts of interests, while too many in the West Midlands Regional Liberal Democrats seemed impatient only with a Liberal Democrat who didn’t strictly follow the party line. For those who think he just enjoys stirring it, you might like to know that, though he’s been keeping me and others informed of what’s going on – to the extent that anyone could be bothered telling him – he’s generally asked for it not to be publicised until the story’s already come out in other places. For example, I’d known of his ludicrous second suspension for some time without posting on it, Gavin having asked me not to… Until he told me at Conference, amid many hugs, that the Daily Telegraph had asked him to comment on a hostile briefing from within the party, at which point he defended himself. Yes, that’s right: some parts of the party are too busy to talk to people they accuse, but not to talk to the press about them.
I’ve heard from Gavin again this morning, and it won’t come as any surprise to you to read that this latest suspension, too, has collapsed without a proper hearing, because the regional party was pathologically unable to follow due process and have admitted they cocked up the original ‘investigation’. And so Liberal Democrat members in Burton have the PPC they chose, and he can get on with fighting people who aren’t Liberal Democrats at all.
Now, come on – what’s just about the original, central kernel at the heart of Liberalism? Control of arbitrary power. Standing up to bullies. So even if you disagree with a lot of what Gavin Webb has to say, who’s displayed the most fundamental lack of understanding of what it means to be a Liberal here? All those involved in these alleged (but not in public) suspensions should be ashamed of themselves, and take the logs out of their own eyes before they go squinting at the specks in anyone else’s.
This morning, I’ve been writing to OMD:
Gavin was almost that pretty before he grew that astounding beard, you know.
Update: I don’t think I was sufficiently blatant above in linking the way Liberals stand up against arbitrary power above to the defeat in the House of Lords yesterday of the Labour Government’s plans to grossly extend the period in which people can be imprisoned without charge to 42 days, and from that to the way a Liberal Democrat was suspended without charge for 98 days, and then for some more time on top of that. So let me be unsubtle in placing that thought in your head.
Jennie draws our attention to the 42 days issue not being the only shameful thing in that bill, though, and refers us all to Chicken Yoghurt. This is a Labour scandal I’ve genteelly referred to once or twice myself as Crooked Coroners Corruption. Keep on about it to any MPs you know.
And in at number 36 on The Golden Ton for 2008-9.
Labels: Crooked Coroners Corruption, Ideas, Liberal Democrats, Liberalism, Meddling In Things That Are Nobody's Business But Your Own, Music, Stupid Ideas, The Golden Dozen, The Golden Ton
Monday, October 13, 2008
Best of the Last Sixty Years – Any Ideas?
It’s quite rare that I can agree with all three panellists – quite often I don’t agree with one. And, yes, technically there were four on there, but the academic who answered last just agreed with the others and didn’t count. Shirley Williams, Harriet Harman and Oliver Letwin, however improbable, all came up with something memorable. They were actually asked for both the best and the worst things of the last sixty years; I can’t remember what each of them attacked, but what sprang to their minds as something good was has stuck in my memory.
The Day I Agreed With Shirley Williams, Harriet Harman and Oliver Letwin
Called first, and not sounding entirely happy to be, was Shirley Williams. Now, I’ve long had rather mixed feelings about Shirley – great speaker, many good things in her record, but plenty of things she says that get on my wick as well – but her answer was both unexpected and spot-on, impeccably Liberal and internationalist. She nominated the massive growth of internationalism and communication made possible by the Internet.
Harriet Harman – about whom I don’t have mixed feelings at all – went next and, to my surprise, I was happy with her choice, too: the NHS. Of course she said it shared a birthday with Any Questions (three months out, but at least she got the year right; the smarter among you will have noticed that puts it slightly more than sixty years ago, so technically she didn’t answer the question) but, yes, a great institution, and certainly one that’s made a huge difference to my life, if not as much as I’d like.
And Oliver Letwin rounded up with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War. Again, something I’d wholeheartedly agree with as a good thing.
But though each panellists came up with a thoroughly good thing for their answer, it’s striking that each came up with an answer that also so strongly reflected their philosophy. Mr Letwin the Conservative said – we beat the communists! Ms Harman the Labour Minister said – celebrate a British state organ of doing good that we, the Labour Party, that’s the Labour Party, the nice Labour Party, voted through Parliament! And Shirley Williams gave that Liberal, decentralised answer: that people talking to each other all over the world and doing things for themselves is the best the world has to offer.
My Best Thing?
I found myself nodding with each answer, and though none of their three would have been what popped into my head first if I’d been put on the spot, I was glad to find something from each politician that I agreed with, and to find that Shirley was speaking from the same sort of core that I have. What would I have picked? Well, it’s more amorphous, but the first thing that came into my head is that in so many countries, including (mostly) both of mine, the last sixty years have seen such an incredible degree of socially liberal movement, that people are so much more free to choose their own lives – most obviously and particularly, but far from exclusively, if they’re not male, not white and not heterosexual. I wouldn’t change my life with Richard for any time in the past; let’s hope for just as much progress in the next sixty years.
Now I have a question for the panel. How has Any Questions lasted so long when the tedious and self-satisfied Jonathan Dimbleby has been droning on as chair for a third of that time?
The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Day of the Clown
Hmm, what’s the best thing about today? That I’ve just had an e-mail from Thornton’s announcing that it’s National Chocolate Week and offering me 15% off? No – it’s got to be that top Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures is just about to come on. Obviously, Doctor Who was the other thing that sprang to mind as the best thing in the last sixty years…
We saw Part One of The Day of the Clown on the CBBC Channel last week, and it’s just about pop up on BBC1 in ‘proper’ transmission, with the conclusion later (which, incidentally, looks like it’ll have a prop that’s a visual reference to near-namesake Doctor Who story Day of the Daleks. Keep your eyes peeled). So far it’s been one of the best pieces of TV all year: stylishly frightening, and unsettling kids and parents enough with stolen children; just funny enough; taking a myth and twisting it; great performances from the regular cast and great new regulars; Bradley Walsh making an absolutely superb villain… And, yes, it’s at least the fourth ‘creepy clowns’ story that Doctor Who’s done, but when it’s shaping up to be the best of them, why complain? Delightfully, it’s directed by Michael Kerrigan. Not only is he only the second director who worked on Doctor Who last century to ‘come back’, but he was easily the weakest of those at the helm in 1989 with Battlefield. Now he’s deft, stylish and just right. Gosh. The Day of the Clown’s a great day to sample the series if you haven’t yet. Go on, then.
Update: I forgot to mention something else excitingly Whoish (though not quite as exciting as The Day of the Clown) from BBC1 earlier today. Daytime soap Doctors featured Sylvester McCoy playing… Well, an unsettlingly fourth-wall hybrid of Sylvester McCoy and Jon Pertwee, an ageing actor famous for the 26 (cough) episodes of children’s sci-fi show The Lollipop Man in the late ’80s and keen to fly to Australia to make new episodes. Sylv was superb, and his
Labels: British Politics, Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Liberalism, Radio, Sarah Jane Smith, Sylvester McCoy
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
National Economic Council or L’État, C’est Moi?
Let’s see, now. “National” – well, that must be bringing the nation together, mustn’t it? Not just Labour Party politics, but finding all the best and brightest from across the divide that Britain has to offer, surely. “Economic” – well, obviously, they must be real economic whizzes; innovative businesspeople, perhaps, or Nobel-winning economists, or Vince Cable. And “Council” – well, that surely means some sort of democratic structure, so we can all see their wise debates in the open, hold them to account and vote them in or out based on the ideas they come up with.
Hang on… I’ve got a list of the membership here. “Secretary of State for…” “Minister of…” “Secretary of State for…” “Minister of…” “Secretary of State for…” “Minister of…” Here! This is just a list of Labour MPs who’ll meet behind close doors, check nobody’s listening, and cry “Oh, s**t! We’re doomed!” twice a week, isn’t it? And in what way will that make a change?
It’s one of Mr Brown’s more successful pieces of spin – for a day, at least, he was surrounded by journalists implicitly praising his sagacity – but this isn’t a “National Economic Council” or a cross-party crisis “National Government” (a terrible idea, but clearly what the name’s supposed to evoke) at all. It’s just a renamed Cabinet Committee, with nothing new about it at all, made up simply of all the Labour machine politicians who were there before, none of whom will suddenly have grown the economic nous to fix Mr Brown’s mess by dint of being given a new title. You’d think it was the first example of the dark arts of the return of
The main thing to learn from this ‘new’ body isn’t that Mr Brown takes his economic crisis seriously, nor that he’ll mutter incessantly and impotently about it twice a week to a picked bunch of his cronies – we knew all that anyway. It’s that Mr Brown sees himself and his party as the nation. The national interest is Labour’s interest; the best of the nation are by definition those place-people he’s already picked from the Labour benches; if Mr Brown needs a council of the nation and its unparalleled brilliance on the economy, he need only talk to a mirror. Scratch that 1960s corporatism – this Labour Prime Minister doesn’t even need to bring in trade union barons and captains of industry for beer and sandwiches, let alone anyone with a less establishment worldview. Mr Brown thinks there’s nothing about the economy that he, as father and embodiment of the nation, doesn’t already know. What could possibly go wrong? Actually, we all knew he thought that already, too.
Alternatively, you can’t help feeling that maybe Mr Brown just wanted one because his friend President Bush has one, too. And hasn’t that turned out well?
Labels: British Politics, Labour, Stupid Ideas
Friday, October 03, 2008
The Avengers, The Prince of Darkness, Two Uninspiring Veeps, David Cameron’s Missing Plan and a Dashing Secret Liberal
Peter Mandelson Rises From the Grave
Peter Mandelson’s an odd sort; the Prince of Darkness, and an unrivalled unprincipled backroom operator who’s done more than almost anyone else to make politics untrustworthy. The thing is, I thought he made a pretty good business minister and a pretty good trade commissioner. If only you could erase Mr Mandelson the master of spin and just keep the competent free-trader, he’d be one of Mr Brown’s best ministers. But you can’t. His background means no-one will trust him, and popping up in the Lords means no-one will hold him to account – presumably Mr Brown was driven to it by the man known in our flat as Sir Pigby Jones, who unexpectedly changed animals and disappeared with a squeak and a splash. And three goes at the Cabinet’s pushing it, rather… Still, I’d rather have him than Mr Blunkett, who trumps Mr Mandelson by being even more vile politically than he is personally.
Way to disprove Nick Clegg’s gag about your “zombie government,” Mr Brown. For goodness’ sake, you’ve still not even dumped Geoff Hoon.
A Tale of Two Veeps
I did watch the Vice-Presidential debate this morning while pottering about the flat and, goodness, at least Governor Palin’s improved a lot. Shame, really, as her eye-wateringly awful interviews at least made good car crash telly, while an hour and a half of relatively competent incessant perkiness was like overdosing on a bag of evil Skittles. Joe Biden, by contrast, was a bit less soporific than usual, and answered far better – particularly in the second half, when he came across like a human being and she started to forget her lines – but I can’t kick the feeling that the two Vice-Presidential nominees together are like tartrazine and Horlicks. Or a very, very boring man and a kick in the eye. A debate where you’re being constantly lulled to sleep and then jerked brutally awake is surely some form of cruel and unusual punishment. I’m glad Senator Biden did better, but I still wouldn’t have started from here.
It’s a good job I’m not a betting man about these two extraordinarily defensive choices: one Veep nominee’s the one I spent August wincing and hoping wouldn’t be chosen, the dull more-of-the-same Washington insider with a record of gaffes who I’ve disliked for years and who made the ideal person to blunt Senator Obama’s message of change and mumble the alternative message of ‘Mommy, I’m scared!’; the other’s one I’d read about a couple of months ago and confidently written off. Shows what I know! And that wasn’t even because I knew then what a disaster Governor Palin would be when not allowed an autocue, nor because she’s a swivel-eyed creationist to keep the fact-loathing Republican base on side, nor even because with her at his side, Senator McCain would suddenly look an idiot calling Senator Obama young, inexperienced and lacking in foreign policy knowledge. It was the corrupt and spiteful way she used her high office – look, Alaska’s high up the map, at least – to hound a police officer from his job, even causing her head of policing to resign in protest after being leant on, purely because, er, her sister’s just divorced from him and she wanted to take revenge. I hesitate to use this metaphor today, while the celebrations over Labour’s favourite tainted ‘public servant’ stooge being forced out of office still throng London’s streets, but it’s as if the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police had resigned, loudly blaming the Mayor of London for ordering him to sack a police officer who was going through a messy divorce with one of the Mayor’s family. Yes, that’s right: Governor Palin makes Boris Johnson seem principled, competent and comprehensible.
If she gets in, the world’s doomed.
“A Man With A Plan (Actual Plan Not Included. Please Check Your Package For Testicles)”
In other news, the Tories had their conference this week, and I didn’t think much of it. Oh, wait; I said “news”. Well, Mark Valladares gives George Osborne’s pledge-without-actually-pledging-anything offer to freeze one of the few taxes over which, as Chancellor, he would have no control an even bigger kicking than I did, while Mr Cameron’s speech is effectively eviscerated by Andy Hinton, Mr Cameron’s own early draft and, of course, Millennium Dome, who asks the devastatingly pertinent question – if he’s “a man with a plan,” what on Earth is it? Was he really so dumb as to think just announcing he had a plan would convince people he had the answers? Apparently, yes, and you only have to look at Nick Mate-of-Dave Robinson’s predictably hagiographic coverage to see why, but the question remains. There’s no sign of this plan. I’ve looked under the bed, in the cupboard, and in the shoebox his chauffeur carries. Is it a secret plan to fight stagflation? Or… There is no plan, is there?
Secret Agent Quist and the Man They Couldn’t Ban
And finally, you may have noticed a new arrival to the Lib Dem blogosphere in the last few weeks – my good friend the impeccably Liberal, witty and occasionally smutty (all hurrah-words here) Costigan Quist. I have an inkling of his* secret identity under that distinctive cape, gimp mask and Pantone 1235 Pimpernel, but I’m sworn to secrecy: she’s** a Liberal agent under fire and constantly on the move, and to identify him*** would be to expose her****, Mrs Quist and all the little Quistlets – definitely not Quistlings, take note – to reprisals from the vicious team of Tories on their tail. The last message I had from him***** was beamed from a secret location aboard a ship somewhere in the ------- Sea, where the little Quistlets were complaining to her****** that their crate was smelling of fish when not taking it in turns to look out for the Tory bounty hunters (they’ve all been trained since birth to kill with one delivery of a sharpened FOCUS). In our younger days, he******* and I were once smuggled north in a lorry together, you know, but I’m more of an armchair agent these days. Still, I look forward to reading what she******** has to say with interest, and you might like to start with just how improbable it is that the Tories are now demanding unquestioning loyalty from the gay vote – I know they’re into asking for support based on a non-existent “plan”, but this is just plain insanity. We know that most of them still want to go back to banning us. Speaking of which, who was the BBC’s most-banned man, and just why was Deep In The Heart Of Texas so subversive?
* Or her
** Or he’s
*** Or her
**** Or… Oh, you get the idea
Labels: American Politics, Blogs, British Politics, Conservatives, Labour, The Avengers Season 4