31 January 2007

Justice

Need I say more than quote this extract from BBC News:
Germany has ordered the arrest of 13 suspected CIA agents over the alleged kidnapping of one of its citizens. Munich prosecutors confirmed that the warrants were linked to the case of Khaled al-Masri, a German national of Lebanese descent.

Mr Masri says he was seized in Macedonia, flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan and mistreated there. He says he was released in Albania five months later when the Americans realised they had the wrong man.


Mr Masri says his case is an example of the US policy of "extraordinary rendition" - a practice whereby the US government flies foreign terror suspects to third countries without judicial process for interrogation or detention [where have I heard that before?].

Prosecutors in Munich said in a statement that the city's court had issued the warrants on suspicion of abduction and grievous bodily harm. German arrest warrants are not valid in the US but if the suspects were to travel to the European Union they could be arrested.

RUSU: Who Is Standing

That major popularity contest, student union elections, comes to the University of Reading this term. With almost tiresome regularity, a bunch of freezing students will stand outside the union building, attempting to convince those walking past that they really are the bestest in the entire world.



Anyway, here are some of my thoughts on those standing for sabbatical positions this year (who I know):
  • Emily Beardsmore: Possibly taking her inspiration from Sen. Hilary Clinton, this less than lovely lady is standing for President. She's currently VP Development, and before that she was the (unelected) Chair of Student Council that oversaw the disastrous lurch away from democracy at RUSU. Will she continue her run of mediocrity? Maybe, but I hope not*.
  • Dave Campbell - Standing for VP Student Rights & Diversity. Yeah, they've come up with some new names this year to hide the fact the number of sabbaticals is decreasing by one. Dave is a man who, in my experience, is completely incapable of making up his own mind about any single issue. He simply followed what the sabbaticals said in student council meetings without questioning it at all - I'm not making this up, he actually told me! So, should you want some unable to think independently standing up for your rights, go ahead and vote for Dave.
  • Bryn Landy: Before I start, a declaration of interest with the next two: they're both friends of mine and they're on Childs Hall JCR with me (Bryn as President and Jon as Treasurer). That said, I had my doubts about Bryn when he said he was going to run, and I kind of still do. He is a nice guy, and has great intentions, so hopefully he'll be able to pull it together.
  • Jon Barnes: Standing for VP Welfare. A thoroughly nice chap, VP Welfare seems a bit of an odd position for him, but I'm sure he'll be great at it.
  • Pete Jeffreys: Standing for VP Education. He's currently Spark's News Editor, so that's how I know him. Another guy I have absolutely no problem with - except for the fact he punched me in the arm once and it really hurt. I'm sure it was in jest though... right?
  • Sally Pearman: A self-confessed dark horse candidate, she entered the race a shade later then the rest, but has certainly buried herself into the campaign, with a fantastically put together manifesto (designed by none other than me) and a good set of policies. In case you haven't guessed, I'm going for Sally to win.
* It's here I get the feeling that if I fail to endorse a candidate it might be a bonus for them.

30 January 2007

Aaron Sorkin on Studio 60

I luh-ve* Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip**, a new drama from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin that goes behind the scenes of a late night TV sketch show. So I found this interview with the said Mr Sorkin by TVBarn quite interesting.



* That's the word "love" with an extra syllable.
** Entirely legally of course - it's coming to the UK on More4 at some point.

28 January 2007

6 Weird Things About Me

Jackart has tagged me to come up with 6 weird things about me:
  1. I've got a tendency to make inappropriate jokes... well, all the time. Highlights from last week include calling Catholics perverts and saying that I piss myself laughing when the sign language guy comes up on BBC News 24. It's not because I believe these things, it's because I think they're funny... honest.
  2. I've got a thing about knives - I hate them and hate it when anybody is using one near me. I also hate needles, but then who doesn't?
  3. I love my orange bedspread - it just lights up my room. It's not on there now though.
  4. I drink WAY too much tea every day. Sometimes I piss light brown*.
  5. I chew my clothes sometimes... I'm chewing the lace on my hoodie now. True story.
  6. I like musicals far too much for a straight guy... even for a gay guy. The musical episode of Scrubs this week was hilarious.
I'm not gonna tag anyone, it's just cruel.

* I don't.

27 January 2007

It's Not Worth It

It's not worth standing up for what you believe in and taking up the fight, no matter how noble or right you might believe you are. Those in a position of power will avoid dialogue and conversation wherever possible and they will always win. Much better to keep your head down and out of the way - the oppressive always win because they're so damn good at it and because the wider public will never question the oppressive for fear of being oppressed themselves.

24 January 2007

My Reply

The slightly light-hearted reply I've sent to this email:
My re-collection of Monday's show is that we certainly did not swear - I think the harshest thing I said was "bugger". I appreciate that if I lived in the US and had the FCC to contend with, I'd be screwed, but "bugger" is hardly a post-watershed word.

As for sex, yes it was discussed on the show, as were a number of other things: the US Presidential race, Big Brother, immigration officers and avian 'flu to name but a few. We are all adults and talking about sex is a perfectly healthy thing to do. Should somebody have a personal problem with this, I would be happy to discuss it with them and possibly set a practical exam*.

Criticism is another healthy part of Junction11 - it highlights those parts of the programming which are not too strong and let's the listener know that they're not the only one. It also avoids the "fakeness" sometimes associated with radio DJs (and Currys shop assistants, who always seem to have whatever it is they want you to purchase**). In an open society, suppressing criticism can, regrettably, lead to just one thing - a suppressed, unhappy, unproductive society.

I must also stress that Junction11 is a student radio station, run by students (as was Spark, but alas that went the way of the executive during my tenure), who have more constructive things to do with their time then reply to emails about mild swearing and criticisms of a partially dire playlist.

* This is a joke and any resemblance to serious, either living or dead, is
entirely coincidental.
** Copyright Lee Evans, 2002.

Talking Sense

Ken MacDonald, Director of Public Prosecutions, on the "war on terror" in the UK:
"London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7, 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists.

We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a war on terror. The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement."
Via Times Online.

23 January 2007

It's Not That I'm Proud

Email received today from the head of Junction11, the student radio station my friend and I broadcast on once a week:
It was brought to my attention that your Monday show did not comply with the rules that we must follow as a broadcasting service.

Having listened to your show, I must stress that it contained several breaches of our licensing contract and was highly inappropriate in places. Sexual profanities and swearing are totally unacceptable for a show that broadcasts in the middle of the afternoon. Our training meetings in the first week of term specifically addressed the rules we must adhere to, and as a station we have done our best to ensure that every presenter is made aware of these regulations. If you feel that you require training regarding any aspect of your show, please contact our Head of Training.

I must emphasise that the criticism of Junction11 music and equipment is also unacceptable. I am aware of the email that was sent by a member of the exec regarding the poor attitude of certain presenters. This email was not approved by myself and so I apologise that the issue has not been dealt with as professionally as it should have been. I do, however, understand the frustrations of members of my team who are thoroughly dedicated to this station, putting in huge amounts of hard work, only to have their efforts criticised on air.

Due to your aforementioned conduct, I must stress that your tenure as a Junction11 presenter is currently under review. I hope that you will take on board the points I have made and use them constructively for your next show.
I can honestly say, hand on heart, I did not mean to get in "trouble" like this. Unfortunately, the "logs" site - where listeners used to be able to hear old shows - is now password protected.

22 January 2007

Make It An Issue

The POWER inquiry today launched a new website, makeitanissue.org.uk.

As the website states, its four aims are:

  • Clear democratic rules designed in the interests of citizens
  • Remove the stench of money and patronage from politics
  • Give people more say in the big decisions affecting the country
  • Ensure power is exercised closer to the people.
And they set out their point forcefully in this video (which is oddly without sound):

18 January 2007

Make You Happy Tonight

For all you romantics out there, Tripod perform their song Make You Happy Tonight at a comedy festival.

17 January 2007

Fair Play

The Legal Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, John Bellinger, has been posting on international law blog, Opinio Juris, giving the U.S. government's view on various matters, mostly revolving around the "war of terror".

John Bellinger

In his latest post he argues that, contrary to popular opinion, the US did not invent the term "unlawful enemy combatant" and it is in fact sanctioned (although not explicitly) by the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

An interesting read if you're into that sort of thing and it's fascinating to read a US government official defending, in detail, the policies which they believe in.

16 January 2007

History of the Union

A lot of talk in the papers and on the BBC (including a special Newsnight later) on the question of Scottish independence, 300 years since the kingdoms of England* and Scotland were joined by the Acts of Union 1706 - 07** to form Great Britain.


Rather than enter into a debate about the merits of independence for the Scottish, I thought I would share with you, dear reader, why the two countries were joined (the crowns having effectively been joined 100 years earlier on the succession of James I/VI), to put the debate in a historical context. It happened for two principal reasons - the succession crisis and the economic crisis.

A succession crisis

The monarch of the time, Queen Anne, did not have any surviving children and so the English Parliament passed the Act of Settlement 1701, which forbade the crown from passing to a Catholic, providing that on the death of Anne the monarch should be Electress Sophia of Hanover, a granddaughter of James I, or her descendants. Unfortunately, the Scottish Parliament, passed the Act of Security 1704, which stated that, on the death of Anne, Parliament would decide who her successor should be from the descendants of the Scottish kings. This person would not be the English successor unless various economic, political and religious conditions were met. England was therefore worried that, without a shared monarch, Scotland might ally against it, and passed the Alien Act 1705, which placed heavy economic sanctions on Scots' property, unless it entered negotiations to end the crisis. But would the Scottish bow to such blatant blackmail? Economic pressures meant it had to.

The economic crisis

Scotland (through the Company of Scotland) became involved with the Darién scheme, a plan to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama in the hope of establishing trade with the Far East. The Company raised 400,000 pounds sterling in a few weeks, with investments from every level of society, and totaling roughly a third of the wealth of Scotland. The colony, however, failed, and the government became massively in debt.

What happened next?

After negotiation, the two countries passed their respective Acts of Union and on the 1st May 1707 the Kingdom of Great Britain came into existence. The Scottish debt was covered by the English and the succession was secured in line with the Act of Settlement.

What does this say about today?

Great Britain wasn't formed out of any feeling of brotherhood or shared values between the two nations, but out of simple necessity. It sprang from a fear that an independent Scotland might crush the British in alliance with the French or Spanish. It was pushed through because of an ill-planned venture which almost bankrupted the Scottish government. Both of these factors are no longer present today and serious thought should be given to whether the union is really relevant.

* And Wales
** England passed its Union with Scotland Act in 1706, Scotland passed the Union with England Act in 1707 and they came into effect on 1st May 1707.

14 January 2007

Pot Calls Kettle Black

From BBC News, noted lawyer-shooter and US Vice President Dick Cheney has come out of solitary confinement to warn Iran to say out of Iraq:
Mr Cheney told Fox News that Iran was "fishing in troubled waters" by aiding attacks on US forces and backing Shia militias involved in sectarian violence.



"I think the message that the president sent clearly is that we do not want (Iran) doing what they can to try to destabilise the situation inside Iraq.

"We think it's very important that they keep their folks at home" he said."
Advice we only wished he'd given the US President four years ago.

11 January 2007

Watching You

Via Geeklawyer, this genuine London Transport poster:

(Click to enlarge)

Is it wrong that I saw this over Christmas and didn't think anything was wrong with it?

10 January 2007

Unfortunate Words

The Guardian reports that Robin Cook's gravestone has been engraved with the following words from his memoirs:
"I may not have succeeded in halting the war. But I did secure the right of Parliament to decide on war."

Except he didn't of course. The right to wage war* still falls (unfortunately) under the royal prerogative, that most ridiculous of hangovers from mediæval times**. As a shameless plug, I wrote an article about it for Liberal Review last year.

See Also:
* Or generally commit troops to a combat situation.
** Except possibly the monarchy.

How to Really Do Biased News

Fox News "discusses"* Kofi Annan's legacy:


Via Out From Under.

* Read "three people with the same view sitting around a table agreeing with each other".

09 January 2007

How It Works

Presenter (solemnly): Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, has been pursued relentlessly by photographers and the tabloid media in renewed speculation that the couple will soon announce their engagement.

[Cut to footage of Ms Middleton walking down the street]

Presenter (V/O): The site of the heir to the throne's partner being followed by the paparazzi recalls image of the late Princess Diana.

[Cut to long-lens shot of Ms Middleton shopping]

Presenter: And some are voicing concerns that there has been a gross invasion of her privacy.

[Cut to Ms Middleton leaving a nightclub]

Presenter: Let's hope that it doesn't end the same way.

[Cut to Ms Middleton taking a dump, surrounded by photographers]

Inspired by the BBC News coverage this afternoon.

I Take It All Back

Chimps have not taken over Nintendo and their new console, Wii*, is awesome, pure and simple.


Hyperbole? Maybe, but my friend has bought one and right now, we're enjoying it far too much. Being able to actively take part in the action on-screen by waving the Wii remote just feels so good - this is what console gaming has been missing. It's not better graphics or surround sound, but physical movements that make people feel a part of the game.

Nintendo, I salute you - I may just fail my degree.

* Pronounced "wee"

07 January 2007

Amazon's Price Guarantee

This week Slate revealed Amazon.com's "secret" price guarantee, where, if the price of a product purchased from their site drops within 30 days, they will refund the difference.


Does Amazon.co.uk have a similar guarantee? According to PCW they do, so if you bought something expensive from Amazon last month and its price has dropped in the January sale, give them a call.

Re-enlisting the Dead

05 January 2007

Students' Unions and Christian Groups

The BBC reports on the suspension of Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union from their student guild and their frozen bank account (something I'm all too familiar with), which has lead them to take legal action under the Human Rights Act 1998. They were suspended because, whilst all their meetings are open, members are asked to sign a statement of belief in Jesus as their God and saviour and officials to sign a more comprehensive statement of belief.


Exeter Students' Guild:
they know what's good for you

The Christian Union at the University of Reading (where I am a proud student) is similarly excluded from RUSU, our students' union, although relations between them are quite amicable.

The Exeter Students' Guild explained their position thusly:
"The premise of the situation is that students felt that as students fund our societies and as our Equal Opportunities Policy states, all activities should be open to all students.

"The Evangelical Christian Union is the only society identified that has barriers to entry - both for membership of the society and to be on the committee of the society.

"This is certainly not a debate regarding the beliefs of the society, it is one of equal opportunities."
The problem with this is that meetings are open to all (and of course this is in their interests so that they can spread their beliefs), it's only if you want to become a member that you need to sign the statement of belief. Religion, unlike race or sex, is a choice, and at university, when you are exploring who you are and what you believe in, you should have access to groups that can help you. Asking your guild or union to support this exploration is hardly unreasonable and as long as all religious groups are funded equally there is no question of discrimination. Of course, discrimination will arise where that religious groups is not all that fond of homosexuals*, but then if you don't like their position on homosexuals, join another group that is less bigoted.

Update
* Why they care what goes on in the bedroom is beyond me.

04 January 2007

No Shit Sherlock No. 1678

The less-than-welcome return of No Shit Sherlock, with the revelation that people believe bright schoolchildren do better when grouped with (guess who) bright schoolchildren.



And there I was believing that being stuck next to Thicko Johnson in Science class helped me in my GCSEs, as well as endangering my life when he forgot to close the door on the vacuum pump.

03 January 2007

The Separation of Powers

I've written about this on Lib Dem Voice.


That's me

Liberty Cat has posted a thoughtful response on Forceful and Moderate.