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So, regular readers of this web log may be interested to discover that my piece on candidates in the European election has attracted some feedback from one of the parties whose policies I summarised. Sadly it was from Steven Uncles of the `English Democrats' and it took the form of a legal threat:
Please remove the following comment from your web-site
``The appearance of the English Democrats, who appear to be some sort of quasi-fascist mob; they're anti-immigration and believers in victims' justice. I read about two pages of their manifesto before giving up in disgust.''
We strongly object to the words `quasi-fascist'.
Well, what can I say? (Other than that `quasi-fascist' is, in fact, only one word.) Since my statement is perfectly fair comment, I don't think that I need live in too much fear of legal action. Not under English law, anyway.
(As an aside, I wonder if this Steven Uncles is the one described on this page as a leading authority on `Managed Equipment Services' and who,
pioneered the concept of `Managed Equipment Services' within first wave UK PFI deals.
Probably not though -- the English Democrats argue that:
The immediate provision of public services should not be gained at the cost of long-term debt. We have no right to defer the cost of services so that they become a burden for future generations.
so it's hardly likely that an ardent PFIcrat would be involved in such a party. Still, it's some coincidence, especially given that the Steven Uncles who emailed me has an address in the domain `unitedhealthcare.co.uk', owned by United Healthcare, which is
a leading authority on all aspects of Managed Equipment Services under the PFI model.
Oh well. What are the chances that a member of a quasi-fascist mob would be a hypocrite too?)
(Update: I've now received more threats in an email from Mr. Uncles titled,
English Democrats are NOT fascists
Absolutely right. Had I thought otherwise, I would have said so. Perhaps Mr. Uncles should more closely read what I actually wrote.)
More updates: Nick Barlow, Anthony Wells and Chris Brooke weigh in. Thanks, guys! There is also an interesting discussion in the comments on Chris Brooke's site on the party, their rhetoric, and their links to the far-right. Chris himself, who is well informed on these matters, remarks: (slightly edited to correct two typos)
But the more I look at the English Democrats' webpage, the more echoes of fascist rhetoric I see. (NB note use of word ``fascist'', not ``quasi-fascist'' or anything else, but, NB also for dim people, the adjective is being used to describe the rhetoric of the webpage, and not the party or the people in it, about whom I maintain a more or less open mind).
There's the reference to the ``young'' party, the claim that the people have been let down by the elites, the flagging of immigration on the front page of the site, the nationalism, and so on. And Chris L. quoted the slogan on the leaflet he's had delivered to him, ``NOT RIGHT, NOT LEFT, JUST ENGLISH!'', which is basically a reworking of the old fascist slogan, ``Neither Left Nor Right But Forwards!''
So, today in Government cock-ups news:
The Police will keep tabs on offenders (especially sex offenders) using `satellite tracking', by which they mean some kind of GPS thingy which transmits its position back to Mission Control periodically.
(Now, this does sound a bit draconian, given that some of the people who might be affected are parents who take photos of their kids and fifteen year-olds who kiss their girl/boyfriends, but just remember: if you don't agree, the terrorists will win! Oh, sorry, wrong war. Whatever.... Anyway, the intention here is supposed to be to deter vigilante action by being so mean to offenders that the Sun-reading hordes won't feel it necessary to try to lynch any local paediatricians. I have not the slightest doubt that this will play out exactly as intended by the Home Office.)
How well will this tracking idea work, then? In an attempt to find out, the Home Office is currently running a trial. But actually it doesn't matter:
Although Mr Blunkett will take note of the outcome of the pilot scheme, aides say he is determined to push ahead with the plan.
Now, where have we seen that attitude before?
(The answer to the question, by the way, is, ``pretty well, so long as you're not worried about offenders travelling around on the Underground, inside cars or trains, in very built up areas, or anywhere else that a GPS receiver may not be able to see enough of the sky to get a decent fix.'' So that's alright then.)
Simultaneously those same offenders are going to be interviewed using lie detectors to make sure that they're not breaking the conditions of their parole. Now, if you've read anything on the subject you'll have discovered that lie detectors don't work at all, but of course Blunkett Knows Best, and has pointed out that he's not talking about just any old lie detector; this is twenty-first century technology. Just like biometrics. So that's alright then.
(Actually it turns out that this is a bad idea that's been around for quite a while. Like ID cards, I suspect that the polygraph belongs in the Idiocy Which Will Not Die bucket.)
And in unrelated developments, the government turn out to be unable to ship postal ballot papers to victims of their all-postal-voting pilot in the north of England.
(Note, of course, that the inability of the government to ship out correct ballot papers -- containing a list of candidates and a unique number, and not very hard to print -- shouldn't make us doubt whether they'd be able to ship out 40 million ID cards -- containing all kinds of complicated and untried security features. Because they'll hire Crapita to do that. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?)
But it doesn't matter. Nobody's going to vote in the elections anyway, are they?
I promise I'll write something which isn't about cock-ups, government or otherwise, in the near future. In the meantime, yet another holiday photo:
So, then, those European elections, eh? For those who don't follow European politics, the gag here is that we get to elect `Members of the European Parliament' to go to Brussels (or, from time to time, Strasbourg) and collect enormous expenses cheques. Occasionally the rest of the EU's governing apparatus (which, for some reason, I keep thinking is the Directorate, but which in reality is called the Commission) let them play at politics by amending a Directive before backing out all their amendments and having the Council of Ministers approve it on the nod. The rest of the time I presume that the MEPs amuse themselves in the fine bars and restaurants of Brussels and try to figure out how to get in on the massive corruption practised by the rest of the EU's bureacracy.
Do I sound cynical? Disenchanted, perhaps? Maybe I am. But I'm the staunchest supporter of the European Union of anyone I know.
So, anyway, we're going to have an election -- on the tenth of June -- and it's everyone's democratic duty to be one of the twenty-or-so percent of people who will vote in the European elections. For whom should I vote?
(The real answer is -- see above -- that it doesn't matter a damn who I vote for. But let's go through the motions anyway.)
The way you're supposed to do this is to read the manifesto of each candidate (or, since this is a pretend election in which you get to vote for parties rather than people, the manifesto of each party), weigh them up on their pros and cons, and decide which best represents your views. Then vote for them.
This should be a tedious and time-consuming task. Manifestos are long and policies are complicated. However, in this case it turns out that an even easier approach works: read each manifesto until you encounter something really offensive or stupid, then stop and reject that party. If you ever reach the end of a manifesto, then you should consider voting for that party. (In the unlikely event that you reach the end of more than one manifesto without gagging, then I'd suggest that your moral compass is out of order and you need to fix it.)
This shortened procedure makes life much easier. It has also enabled me to decide how to vote without actually suffering from any full-blown eye-popping anger. (It was close, though.)
So to the parties and their candidates. For Eastern Region (this is neither a region of validity for a railway ticket nor an address in Airstrip One, but in fact a bunch of counties in East Anglia plus some hangers-on) six parties are standing, plus the independent candidate Martin Bell. (Note that because of the idiotic electoral system, even if 99% of votes in Eastern Region were cast for an individual independent candidate, the other parties would still pick up six out of the seven seats. I cannot even begin to understand the confusion of ideas -- or straightforward party-political dishonesty -- which was responsible for this absurd state of affairs. Morons.)
So, to the line-up: (the excellent -- if idealistic and doomed -- Blog:Vote links to the major parties' manifestos)
For god's sake. It's the British fucking National Party. You expect me to read their manifesto? Do they have one? Can they write? It turns out that they don't have a manifesto for the European elections, so no dice. (Yes, I looked on their web site. Now I feel dirty.)
Stopped reading because: they didn't have a manifesto. And for christ's sake they're the fucking BNP. I'd shoot myself rather than vote for them.
This one mostly reads pretty reasonably, until we get to page 16, wherein the Conservatives -- creditably -- explain that they support decoupling of agricultural subsidies from production. Then they bring in some other protectionist shite (disguised as a proposal for protecting animal welfare and means to prevent foot-and-mouth disease). Things get worse on page 18, where we have the usual `reasonable' rhetoric on asylum and immigration. Then at the end we learn that the Tory MEPs in the Parliament will remain members of the EPP-ED group, which is in favour of the propsed Constitution. The Tories have apparently negotiated some kind of opt-out from this within their group, but it's not promising.
Score: 16--18 pages out of 27
Stopped reading because: the thing descends into woolly protectionism on agriculture and strongly suggests that they won't be sound on asylum and immigration.
The Green Party have a manifesto specifically for the European elections, but, though mentioned in a press release on their web site, it doesn't actually seem to be accessible anywhere. I'd almost disqualify them on this basis, but since it's easy enough to dismiss them on the basis of their Manifesto for a Sustainable Society which is supposed to inform all their policy, I'll do that. It's not a single document, so I read it in a random order. There's a lot to disagree with there; they no longer explicitly describe their economic policy as anti-growth, but they're certainly in favour of more regulation. And their defence policy is at once silly and woolly. Nul points.
Stopped reading because: they're in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament and other rubbish too dull to list.
We have to wait until page 15 before we encounter something really offensive: the Labour party actually think that the European Arrest Warrant is a good thing! (The Arrest Warrant means that you can be arrested and extradited on an allegation made by another EU state, and the only say the British courts have in the matter is checking whether the form applying for a warrant was correctly filled out.)
Score: 15 pages out of 24
Stopped reading because: if they think the European Arrest Warrant is a good thing, god knows what awful rubbish they'll come up with next.
Not only do these idiots believe that the Arrest Warrant is a good thing, they actually boast about how a Lib Dem MEP `piloted' the enabling legislation through the Parliament! They don't even have the decency to be ashamed of themselves. Fuckwits.
Score: 3 pages out of 16
Stopped reading because: not only do they support the European Arrest Warrant, they actually boast about being partly responsible for it.
Bell's manifesto is only one page long, which is admirable. There's lots to complain about in there -- too many sops to the farming community, for one thing -- but nothing that actually screamed out `rubbish!' On that basis I am going to give it a (tentative) score of 1 out of 1.
Score: 1 page out of 1
Stopped reading because: I got to the end without gagging.
Known to readers of Anthony Wells's web log as the swivel-eyed loons, their manifesto places them firmly on the swivel-eyed lunatic fringe. On the plus side though, it's only two pages long. I gagged on the first page, which reveals that one of their top five `policies' is to stop `unlimited EU immigration'; that is, they oppose the right for EU citizens to move and work anywhere in the EU. Since that's one of its chief advantages, that's nul points again. Had I got to the second page, I would have learned -- had I not spotted the clue in the name -- that the UKIP actually want the UK to leave the EU, which is a fucking stupid idea.
Score: 0 pages out of 2
Stopped reading because: there was silly xenophobic drivel on the front page.
So at the end of this enterprise, I've discovered that the only `party' I should even consider voting for is Martin Bell's one-person party list, therefore ensuring that I waste 85% of my vote. And even my approval for Bell is very tentative. His manifesto is too woolly to be certain that he's actually sound on many issues, though -- so far as it goes -- it says more-or-less the right things in the right places. But he doesn't mention (for instance) the Arrest Warrant, so god knows what he thinks of that.
Other issues aren't mentioned at all. What about software patents, for instance? OK, so this is a minority issue (it shouldn't be, but that's life). The major British parties have been either plain wrong or dishonest on this issue, and of course none mention it in their manifestos.
There were moments of dark humour in the manifestos. I was particularly amused to discover that the Labour and Conservative ones have exactly the same front page: (more-or-less)
The Lib Dems do something more ill-advised with the Union Flag:
(The swivel-eyed loons' manifesto is in really ghastly colours which I won't inflict on you.)
It turns out the list of candidates I was reading was out of date. The BBC have the full one. Changes from the above list:
So no change to my previous conclusion.
Jim Naisbitt now has a website about his candidature. Further information in this post. Thanks to Linda Holder of Virtual Tapestry for drawing this to my attention.
On a less creditable level, Steven Uncles of the English Democrats threatened to sue me (because of the use of the term `quasi-fascist' above), and then retracted his threat, after Anthony Wells pointed out that... political parties can't sue for defamation.
Imagine a universe which is exactly like our own, except that all three of the following devices could be built. Device number one looks at your body and writes down the position and state of every particle in it instantaneously, or at least so quickly that it seems instantaneous. Device number two kills you, either at the same time as device number one is doing its thing, or at some later stage. Device number three -- which might be located anywhere -- takes the information written down by device number one, and uses it to reconstruct a copy of you which is indistinguishable to an outside observer from the person who was examined by device number one.
(In our universe, devices one and three cannot be built: they violate the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics. Even if they didn't, the amount of data which would have to be transferred is impossibly big. The human body contains something like 5,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms; accurately recording the position and velocity of each of these would require -- let's say -- twenty-four bytes of information. A terabyte of data can be stored in hard disks weighing a kilogram or two; storing all this data would require hard disks weighing about as much as the British Isles. By contrast, device number two is easy to build, and throughout recorded history human beings have shown considerable ingenuity in making numerous versions of it. For our purposes, it may as well be completely comical: a man with a shotgun standing outside the booth containing device number one will suffice.)
With devices one, two and three, I can build a teleporter. You walk into a booth and press a button. Device number one records your body, and transmits it to device number three, which is located somewhere else -- let's say Australia. Leaving the booth, device number two does its stuff: a shotgun-wielding maniac blows you away. This is not a neat teleporter; if forced to use it, the crew of the Starship Enterprise would have spent a lot of their time cleaning blood off their decks. But it clearly is a teleporter: to a witness in Australia, the person who steps out of device three is the same as the person who stepped in to device one; and when asked their experiences, they will explain that they walked into a booth in Britain -- ignoring the shotgun-wielding maniac as they passed -- pressed a button, and found themselves in Australia.
But what do you experience when you walk in to device number one and press the button?
To my surprise, this question has generated considerable discussion among people I've asked. (I was also very surprised that there are people who haven't heard this question -- or something very like it -- before.) For those who aren't sure, some further questions:
If you want to know what I think, read this; but make up your own mind before you do. At this point I should also apologise for inverting the purpose of this web log; I've already bored people in the pub with this question, but every time it comes up in real-life conversation an argument starts, so I may as well get some web log mileage out of it. Also, a special request for the comments: I'm not a great fan of brand-name philosophy, so if you feel it's necessary to invoke a brand-name philosopher to explain your answer, then please either (a) reconsider and phrase your point in English; or (b) post a holiday photograph to compensate, as with my ID cards strange attractor. And, again, sorry: no graph (next week...). At least this piece isn't about ID cards, though please do come to Mistaken Identity on Wednesday, especially if you're David Blunkett.
For some reason I still feel some kind of duty to write corrective letters to papers I read. Probably a waste of time, but here goes, anyway:
As you point out in your article (May 6th), the debate on speed cameras in Britain has been surprisingly controversial, and has seen much abuse of statistics. The claims made by the anti-cameras lobby in particular explore a rich vein of nonsense which even numerically-challenged British tabloids wisely avoid.
But the statement that `deaths and injuries drop on average by 35%' where cameras are installed is also misleading. As you state, cameras are installed in locations where above-average numbers of accidents have occured. All else being equal, a period in which an above-average number of serious accidents occur at a site is very likely to be followed by a period in which fewer accidents occur, whether or not a camera is installed there.
This effect -- known to statistics as `regression to the mean' -- is well-known and widely understood. But sadly it is rarely addressed properly in studies of speed camera effectiveness. Without controlled trials free from such bias, we do not yet know how effective speed cameras really are.
The very controversy of speed cameras is a cost that should be weighed up when making road safety policy. However effective, cameras are unpopular, and they sour the usually good relationship between citizens and the police. Without good data on the effects of cameras, it is not possible soberly to assess the costs and benefits of using them.
So then, that Iraq, eh? We've sodded that up right bad, haven't we?
I supported the war -- just -- because the general idea of using military force to get rid of dictators, when circumstances permit, is appealing, and maintaining the alliance between the United States and Britain is probably worth its price too. But more importantly, it had never occurred to me that Britain and the United States could invade a country thousands of miles away with the intention of destroying its government and have no plan at all for what to do next.
(As an aside, whatever the government's publicity material said, nobody sensible really believed that Iraq had chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in 2003. And I should remind you that, should you now be moved to say something about the threat of `weapons of mass destruction', you are a priori not sensible, for reasons I needn't repeat. Neither did the war against Iraq have anything to do with `terrorism' in the September 11th sense, however much the United States is keen to define local Iraqi insurgencies as `terrorism'.)
My anti-war friends have typically responded to my surprise about the cack-handedness of Coalition plans for post-war Iraq by saying, roughly, ``Of course they had no idea what to do next -- what did you expect?''
This time round it turns out that they were correct. However, I have a horrible feeling that many of these people would have said the same about almost any exercise of military force. It's just a pity that in the two most recent cases -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- they have turned out to be correct. Nobody asks them about Sierra Leone or the Falklands.
Anyway, I was going to write a long rant about Iraq, but the more I think about it the more I get angry about the use of language in arguments about the war. So, instead, I present,
|Don't say||Do say||Because|
war on Iraq
war in Iraq
war against Iraq
invasion of Iraq
|People who use the former want us to believe that the invasion was the moral and military equivalent of (say) liberating France in 1944. But it isn't. We invaded a sovereign nation to overthrow its government. A better analogy would be invading Italy in 1943; Mussolini wasn't as brutal as Saddam, but he was about as useless at foreign policy. Anyone who tries to make an equivalence between Saddam's Iraq and Hitler's Germany is an idiot and should be treated as such.|
|war on terror||nothing at all, please for god's sake||Remember when we had a war on drugs, and now there aren't any drugs any more? This is the same. If you use the term `war on terror' in seriousness, please for god's sake stay away from me and other right-thinking people.|
resistance fighter etc.
|While some of what the Iraqi resistance are doing could in another context sensibly be described as `terrorism', that word is now far too loaded to use unless you really mean al-Qaeda or some other established group of murderers. Now when you say `terrorist', people think of September 11th, al-Qaeda's plan to destroy Western civilisation, and George Bush's `war on terror'.|
|abuse||torture||Speak English, man!|
|contractor||mercenary, unless you're actually talking about an electrician or something, in which case say that|
weapons of mass destruction
|whichever of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons you actually mean; if you don't know, shut up||See rants passim.|
winning hearts and minds
|whatever the soldiers are actually doing, for instance ``imprisoning and torturing prisoners'', ``handing over control of a major city to one of Saddam's generals'' or whatever||There's no peace to keep yet.|
|Mission Accomplished||nothing at all||You are probably George Bush.|
Right, that's enough Newspeak for now. Any other suggestions? Stick 'em in the comments, please.
Since I haven't written anything here for a bit, some random updates. Chris Brooke encourages us to classify things as to whether they're splendid, meaning `coherent, and I approve'; rubbish, meaning, `coherent, and I disapprove'; or nonsense, meaning `incoherent'. So in that vein, I bring you:
Many things, but the one that's in my mind right now is news that the author of the `Sasser' Microsoft Windows virus has been arrested. (And there was much ignorant rejoicing in the press.) Two comments:
Firstly, these things are really getting out of hand; on Wednesday I was delayed by about two hours on a simple journey from Reading to London by a `signalling fault' at Slough; apparently the signalling on that part of the railway is run on Windows NT. Coincidence? You decide. Why are people building critical infrastructure on this rubbish?
Secondly, there is of course nothing wrong with writing a virus -- that's a simple free-speech issue. There is something wrong with releasing a virus. The press need to emphasise this.
(Sorry, no graph or holiday photos this time. Also, thanks to Tom for correcting a typo.)
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