Not Saussure

December 31, 2006

Baghdad Burning

Filed under: Blogroll, Iraq — notsaussure @ 11:03 pm

Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning is back after a long absence; I was beginning to worry that she’d come to harm, but apparently she’s as safe and well as any Iraqi civilian in Baghdad is nowadays. She writes very depressingly (December 29) about how

You know your country is in trouble when:

  1. The UN has to open a special branch just to keep track of the chaos and bloodshed, UNAMI.
  2. Abovementioned branch cannot be run from your country.
  3. The politicians who worked to put your country in this sorry state can no longer be found inside of, or anywhere near, its borders.
  4. The only thing the US and Iran can agree about is the deteriorating state of your nation.
  5. An 8-year war and 13-year blockade are looking like the country’s ‘Golden Years’.
  6. Your country is purportedly ‘selling’ 2 million barrels of oil a day, but you are standing in line for 4 hours for black market gasoline for the generator.
  7. For every 5 hours of no electricity, you get one hour of public electricity and then the government announces it’s going to cut back on providing that hour.
  8. Politicians who supported the war spend tv time debating whether it is ‘sectarian bloodshed’ or ‘civil war’.
  9. People consider themselves lucky if they can actually identify the corpse of the relative that’s been missing for two weeks.

A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

and again on December 30th

It’s official. Maliki and his people are psychopaths. This really is a new low. It’s outrageous- an execution during Eid. Muslims all over the world (with the exception of Iran) are outraged. Eid is a time of peace, of putting aside quarrels and anger- at least for the duration of Eid.

This does not bode well for the coming year. No one imagined the madmen would actually do it during a religious holiday. It is religiously unacceptable and before, it was constitutionally illegal. We thought we’d at least get a few days of peace and some time to enjoy the Eid holiday, which coincides with the New Year this year. We’ve spent the first two days of a holy holiday watching bits and pieces of a sordid lynching.

She’s also watched the TV tape of the hanging and has some interesting things to say about CNN’s coverage of the event — not impressed by their reporting, is Riverbend.

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A Bill of Rights?

Filed under: civil liberties, Law, UK — notsaussure @ 5:09 pm

Via Longrider, I learn that

An unprecedented alliance, including the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, Charter 88, Justice, Liberty and a host of constitutional reform organisations, is to be formed to campaign for a new bill of rights, amid growing concerns that laws protecting personal liberty are out of date.

The purpose of the campaign, it becomes clear, isn’t so much to lobby for any particular bill of rights. Rather, it’s to focus attention on the way people’s rights are being eroded by government and to attempt, quite rightly, to make this a major election issue.

I’m not so sure, as it were. I completely agree with Longrider’s diagnosis that government is part of the problem rather than part of the solution, not because I’m a libertarian (I’m not) but because I hold to the view that we’re all of us happiest when left to get on with our lives as seems best to us and that government should only intervene when — as inevitably will happen — conflicts arise from us all of us pursuing our individual courses and we can’t amicably sort out our disputes between ourselves. Let people do as they wish unless there’s a compelling reason to stop them, say I. To my mind, the problem comes when governments try to be pro-active, and attempt to stop these conflicts from arising in the first place. Politicians say, ‘let us reduce the crime rate,’ attack each other for failing so to do and seek to gain election by promising their constituents that they’ll keep them safer in their beds at night than will the other lot. (more…)

December 30, 2006

Deliberative forums — focus groups for the unacceptable?

Filed under: civil liberties, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 7:28 pm

Back on Boxing Day, a day to bury bad news if there ever was one, various government ministers took time from from their well-deserved Christmas festivities to announce “Deliberative forums” (Hazel Blears) or People’s Panels (not sure if that formulation, reminiscent of courts, republics and princesses, is the Dear Leader’s own term or coined by one of his aides). Anyway, whatever the things are called, they’re going to be an ‘extended focus group’ that will (more…)

December 29, 2006

A little light, and not so light, reading

Filed under: Blogroll — notsaussure @ 11:19 pm

Light blogging at the moment, partly because those rascals in Westminster are in hiding and partly because I’m busy trying to catch up with Westminster Wisdom’s fascinating historical articles on topics like Ivan The Terrible and The Fall of the Roman Empire and following a three-way discussion on matters theological between Alex in In Search of High Places, Ian at Imagined Community and Matt at An Insomniac. I want to pitch into this one, but as soon as I start to draft something, one of the others takes it off into a different direction. None of these would I have found without James Higham’s Blogpower, and I think this sort of discussion between folks both in their and each others’ blogs is one of the things that — I hope — Blogpower helps to develop.

I’m also very pleased to have discovered Fabian Tassano’s Mediocracy, who is, for the next few days at least, helping the government ascertain YOUR views (the widget will only apparently work for the next week or so, so hurry up; you’ll need to enable JavaScript for it to work). He’s also, somewhat mysteriously, promising people their own personal blogging whore in the new year; I may find her very useful, given the results of a little personality test I found at Bel Is Thinking, where there’s also an interesting –well I find it so — discussion of the case of the BNP ballerina.

Bel’s test:

The Keys to Your Heart
You are attracted to those who are unbridled, untrammeled, and free. In love, you feel the most alive when your lover is creative and never lets you feel bored.

You’d like to your lover to think you are stylish and alluring.

You would be forced to break up with someone who was emotional, moody, and difficult to please.

Your ideal relationship is lasting. You want a relationship that looks to the future… one you can grow with.

Your risk of cheating is zero. You care about society and morality. You would never break a commitment.

You think of marriage as something you’ve always wanted… though you haven’t really thought about it.

In this moment, you think of love as something you can get or discard anytime. You’re feeling self centered.

What Are The Keys To Your Heart?

Meanwhile, if this wasn’t sufficiently alarming, I took another quiz over at Andrew Allison’s blog:

You Belong in New Zealand
Good on ya, mate
You’re the best looking one of the bunch
Though you’re often forgotten…
You’re quite proud of who you are

What English Speaking Country Are You?

Not certain what to say that, other than that I’m not going!

The Tin Drummer on Radio 5

Filed under: Blogroll — notsaussure @ 8:37 pm

Via Matt Murrell at An Insomniac, and hosted by the excellent Thunderdragon, The Tin Drummer is interviewed by the BBC’s Chris Vallance on Radio 5 Live about BlogPower. Many thanks for the kind mention.

Give this man a job in advertising

Filed under: Books — notsaussure @ 7:17 pm

Over Christmas, attracted by Carl Hiassen’s tribute to the author (‘A Very Sick Man’), I read a highly entertaining piece of nonsense, Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore.

At one stage, the heroine, Jody, a young lady in San Francisco who has inadvertently been turned into a vampire (I hate it when that happens), has a blazing row with her human boyfriend and storms out of their apartment;

Jody thought, I guess not everything changed when I changed. Without realising how she got there, Jody found herself at Macy’s in Union Square. It was as if some instinctual navigator, activated by conflict with men, had guided her there….

Jody wondered if department stores knew what percentage of their profits came from domestic unrest. As she passed a display of indecently expensive cosmetics, she spotted a sign that read: ‘Mélange Youth Cream — Because he’ll never understand why you’re worth it.’ Yep, they knew.

Well, it made me laugh.

ID cards yet again

Filed under: ID cards, UK — notsaussure @ 6:44 pm

Something folks may have missed, what with it appearing on Christmas Eve. I’m not actually sure how much of it is news — the fact of the penalty charges was certainly known several months ago, but their severity may not previously been published.

Anyway, The Sunday Telegraph reported, of written replies published in the previous few weeks,

A draconian regime of fines, which would hit families at times of marriage and death, is being drawn up by ministers to enforce the Identity Card scheme.

Millions of people, from struggling students to newly-wed women and bereaved relatives, will face a system of penalties, netting more than £40 million for the Treasury.

People would be fined up to £1,000 for failing to return a dead relative’s ID card, while women who marry will have to pay at least £30 for a new card if they want to use their married name, risking a £1,000 fine if they do not comply.

Pace David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, who said

It is shocking that the Government is considering charges and fines on people at some of the most sensitive times in life,

I don’t see this as too great a problem; speaking as someone who’s twice had to register a death — which is a legal obligation — I don’t think I’d have found it any more onerous or distressing to have had to take my father’s or my wife’s ID card along with me to the Registrar’s office for cancellation. Indeed, if this had enabled the Registrar to notify the (what seems like dozens of) other government departments who want to know when someone’s died, it might well have been advantageous. If you’re going to make it a requirement to hand the things in, then the requirement has to be enforceable and, so long as it’s applied sensitively, I can’t see a huge problem.

However, the other charges look a tad worrying.

Joan Ryan, the Home Office minister, said that charges would apply “if a person wished to add a married surname to his or her register entry”. Based on an estimate of 311,000 marriages a year, that would net up to £9 million a year for the Exchequer.

People would be charged at least £30 for lost or stolen cards. Based on the 930,000 driving licences lost or stolen each year, this would earn the Treasury more than £28 million a year, say the Tories.

Quite why it’s necessary to levy a tax on married women using their husband’s surname, I do not know; as I recall, when we got married my wife just informed the relevant people — bank, Inland Revenue and so forth — that she now had a new surname; I think she had to produce a copy of the marriage certificate a couple of times, but that was it. Yet another example, it seems to me, of introducing an expensive solution to a non-existent problem; since her existing bank, Lloyds, were perfectly happy to take her word for it that she’d got married and cheques in her new name should be paid into her account until the Fraud Squad said otherwise, I don’t see why ID cards have to come into it.

In another cause for concern, students are apparently going to have to record all their addresses — term-time as well as home address — or face a £1,000 fine. Given the forgetfulness of many students and the way they tend to move around, at least in London, I foresee problems ahead.

Indeed, as I recall, one of the many problems that faced the Poll Tax was that no one had really appreciated how often people — young people, certainly — tend to move house. A friend of mine, then in her late 20s, was perfectly prepared to register for the Poll Tax, at least initially. Then she split up with her boyfriend and moved back in with her parents, in another borough, for a month or so. Then she found a flat-share (another borough) which didn’t go too well, so she moved to another flat-share (and borough) three months after that. Then she changed jobs and moved into my spare room (another borough) to be closer to work while she looked for more permanent accommodation (yet another borough).

At some point in all this bouncing around between Bromley, Westminster, Camden and Islington she got tired of trying to keep up with the paperwork and just gave up being registered. OK, that was an unusual year for her, but it’s hardly an unusual series of peregrinations on a few occasions in most people’s lives. Doubtless we’ll be assured that the system will be able to cope, but do we believe it? That’s the question.

Most sinister of all is the revelation that

all fees and fines will be paid directly into the Treasury’s central funds for general spending and not go towards running the scheme

I really think this is going to turn into a plastic poll tax if they’re crazy enough to go ahead with it.

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Help Hazel Blears make up her mind

Filed under: civil liberties, ID cards, Politics — notsaussure @ 1:32 pm

Via Tim Worstall, I learn that Hazel Blears MP is conducting a poll on her website to ask

Do you think everyone should carry ID cards?

Since Tim publicised it, the voting’s gone from 53% For vs 46% Against to 25% For vs 74% Against.

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Unwanted Christmas presents

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 1:19 am

Hope everyone’s had an enjoyable Christmas and that Santa brought them what they wanted.

Interesting thought from my aged ma, following last year’s debacle when several people, stuck for what to give a lady in her 90s (a decent Pouilly Fumé is, she tells me, always acceptable, as is a good brandy), made the mistake of giving her vouchers to say they’d made charitable donations on her behalf. Thus she found herself the recipient of a year’s training for a teacher somewhere in Africa, a goat for a poor family somewhere or other and a kalashnikov rifle.

This last was courtesy of some bizarre scheme whereby — as far as I could make out — a well-meaning charity bought up guns from militias somewhere or other and gave them ploughshares, or their equivalent, in return. Quite what was to stop the recipients from trading their farming equipment for newer and better kalashnikovs she couldn’t work out either.

It did, however, give her the opportunity to affect her dotty old lady act — one of the few pleasures, she tells me, that life affords someone of her age — and purport to be under the impression that the charity concerned distributed guns to teachers the better to protect their goats, which left the bemused donor earnestly trying to explain that she’d got hold of the wrong end of the stick while everyone else tried to keep a straight face as she wondered whether a decent shot-gun wouldn’t be more practical since you could also use it shoot game birds for the pot, always assuming they had pheasants there and that they weren’t endangered species. As I say, no one made that mistake this year.

Anyway, mum’s thought on this was that these charitable givers had got it the wrong way round. Rather, she reasoned, than accepting from her presents she’d gone to quite some trouble to select because she thought they’d like them — and she is pretty good at that — if they were feeling in a charitable mood, they should have told her they’d rather she sponsored the teachers, goats and kalashnikovs on their behalf rather than giving them books, jewellery or whatever. As she says, she’s going to accommodate people’s charitable inclinations by asking them to give donations to the charities of their choice instead of sending flowers to her funeral, so they bloody well wait for that.

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E-credits for more gifted pupils?

Filed under: Education, Spin, UK — notsaussure @ 1:10 am

The BBC reports that

The government is arranging “e-credits” for schools to access extra lessons for an estimated 800,000 gifted pupils.

The £65m scheme is part of its drive to ensure all children in England with special talents are given extra help.

It requires all schools to list their gifted and talented pupils in the census data it now collects each term.


each pupil would initially receive the equivalent of a number of credits – worth about £80 – which their schools could use to buy extra lessons from companies, independent schools, universities or learned bodies.

The report goes on to explain that these pupils — rather endearingly refererred to as ‘G&T pupils’ by the DfES — apparently comprise about 10% of the pupils in each school and are to be identified by … well, it’s up to the school, really. The DfES provide a range of indicators so wide as to be virtually meaningless.

This hasn’t gone down astonishingly well with some teachers; one teacher wants to know, not unreasonably,

What do you say to a hard-working Year 8 girl who says, “Miss, I really wanted to go to the giant insects workshop today, but I’m not clever enough”.

to which the DfES’s response is, somewhat opaquely,

Please let me assure readers that the scheme is not about selection, and it is not a case of children not meeting the criteria being neglected or losing out on activities or opportunities

which leaves me a tad unsure what it is supposed to be about; I mean, presumably these ‘e-credits’ are supposed to buy something for the 10% who receive them that they wouldn’t otherwise — and the 90% won’t — receive. Otherwise, what are they being used to pay for?

I suspect that, in practice, this is more of a contingency fund to allow schools to lay on extra-curricular activities of one sort or another, and good for them. Just seems a bit of a gimmick to dress it up as some special initiative.

My main worry, on reading about it, was where on earth are some of these children going to find the time? I have in mind one of my nieces, who’s a terrifyingly bright and talented 14-year-old. She scoops the pool each school prize day and still finds time to act, play the violin and represent the school at county level in athletics. She achieves this partly because of her natural abilities and partly because her parents encourage her — and can afford both the time and money so to do — in all these extra-curricular activities. How she’d find the time to fit in still more special activities I do not know, and it might well be argued that there are other girls at the school who could probably benefit more from the investment than would my niece. But if the school’s going to draw up a list of the most talented and gifted pupils that doesn’t include her, then it’s a nonsense.

Just another gimmick, I suppose.

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