Saturday, 29 November 2008

Jason Smith

I am grateful to the Evening Post for bringing me up-to-date on the career of Jason Smith. The last I heard of him was when he announced that he was leaving Swansea City to take up coaching. As one half of one of the best-ever Swans defensive partnerships, before it was broken up by injury and the financial shenanigans at the Vetch at the time, he was surely well-qualified to train up-and-coming centre-backs.

It seems that Smith is now back in Devon as a financial adviser, obviously an important job in these difficult times, but I hope his football nous is not lost to the next generation.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Couldn't be abuse, must be bullying; so that's all right, then.

Yet again, a devious sociopath has managed to conceal gross child abuse from the authorities. In scale, the Lincolnshire case dwarfs anything which has occurred in England & Wales in recent years and is more like that of the Austrian Josef Fritzl. Nick Clegg, the MP for a constituency in Sheffield, where the abuser was finally brought to book yesterday, confessed to incredulity that such things could have gone on undetected for so long.

The convicted businessman was obviously cleverer than the Haringey mother. The reports in the media detail his m.o. in evading action by the authorities. However, the signs were there.

One that leapt out at me was the report that "in 1988, burn marks on one of the girl's faces were spotted at their school but were put down to school bullying". Who decided that it was "only" bullying - the school authorities or a social services team leader? What sort of school was it that accepted the diagnosis but failed to investigate the "bullying"?

Lord Laming wrote (para 6.602) in his report on the Victoria Climbié case: "While I accept that social workers are not detectives, I do not consider that they should simply serve as the passive recipients of information, unquestioningly accepting all that they are told by the carers of children about whom there are concerns. The concept of 'respectful uncertainty' should lie at the heart of the relationship between the social worker and the family. It does not require social workers constantly to interrogate their clients, but it does involve the critical evaluation of information that they are given. People who abuse their children are unlikely to inform social workers of the fact. For this reason at least, social workers must keep an open mind."

Help save lost rights-of-way

The Ramblers' Association has a petition here which is self-explanatory. I would only add that not only paths enjoyed by long-distance walkers are affected. Habitual footpaths, such as those taken as a short cut by ordinary members of the public and which may be taken for granted, are liable to be lost.

Leighton: back to basics

Allan Leighton, boss of the Royal Mail, was questioned on BBC2's Working Lunch today about the continuing closure of post offices. Sidestepping the issue of the government taking away official transactions and thereby destroying local businesses (an instance of which had just been shown) , he expressed optimism that the post office network was about the right size to be viable after the latest round of cuts. He drew attention to the revival of support for the Post Office Card Account. "Good old basic banking is back," he said, "and the Post Office is in a good position to deliver that."

Let's hope that the government has taken the message on board.

Welsh rail and road plans delayed

There was supposed to be a statement in the Senedd yesterday, but this is what was on the offiical web site:

13:30 Plenary meeting (the Siambr)

  • Full agenda
  • Summary:
  • Questions to the First Minister
  • Business Statement and Announcement
  • Statement by the Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy and Transport: The Rail Programme and Re-prioritisation of The Trunk Road Forward Programme (45 mins) - postponed to 2 December
  • Statement by the Minister for Rural Affairs: CAP Health Check (45 mins)
  • Statement by the Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills: Higher Education (45 mins)
  • Debate on Sustainable Procurement (60 mins)
  • Votes and proceedings
  • Record of proceedings

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Hospitals hit by virus of the computer variety

Jo Best of has reported that the computer system serving a group of hospitals in London has acquired a virus. Details are sketchy, but it appears that the net effect of the (unidentified) virus has been to clog the system rendering it unusable, rather than corrupting clinical records.

It is depressing that, when we are all more aware of the prevalence and dangers of viral attacks, what could be critical IT systems are still not secure against them.

MPs have double standards for blogs

Paul Flynn MP has had part of his parliamentary allowance cut for expressing personal opinions on his blog.

I believe it was outrageous for MPs to vote themselves £10,000 as an allowance for communications, something that was always going to be exploited for self-promotion, when they are already very well paid for what they do. However, once having been granted, the allowance should have been administered impartially. A MP should not be punished for rising above identikit lobby-fodder, especially when the expression of his opinions is not funded by Parliament. Paul Flynn has not changed the funding of his web-site since he first set it up yonks ago. The causticity of his views should not have been unknown to the authorities, pre-communications-allowance.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Obama: anti-Islamic?

Barack Obama spent much time in his election campaign, more than he should have been expected to, rebutting claims from the Republican camp (though not, to his credit, from McCain himself) that he was linked to Islamic terrorism.

It appeared that he had recognised the danger of following the unthinking views of Reagan and GW Bush on Islam by promising to open talks with the Muslim leaders of Iran.

Two of his early appointments to his shadow White House team are worrying. His chief of staff will be Rahm Emanuel, son of an Israeli zealot and himself strictly observant. He has now appointed Sonal Shah, linked to Hindu extremists, to his advisory board.

I have no doubt that Emanuel was appointed because he was the best man for the job, not because of his religion. It was also necessary to connect with the growing, economically important, Indian community in the US.

However, the President-elect must urgently balance his support team with one or two people who are either Muslim or visibly supportive of the rights of Muslims where they under threat, as in India, the far east or Palestine. This is important not only for America, but also for us in Britain. We are linked in the eyes of the world, rightly or wrongly, with America's foreign policy.

We can take for granted his support for Christians where they are under threat. His task will be eased in Iraq and Iran if he does not go into negotiations with apparent anti-Islamic prejudices.

Baby P: Haringey social services have some excuses

The Ministry of Truth has a long and detailed analysis of the report in the Baby P case. It appears that the warning signs appeared over a much shorter time-span than the newspaper headlines suggest, and that some of the evidence may be tainted.

"Unity" quotes a chilling remark:
there is little to distinguish [the Baby P case] from many other child killings that happen (on average once every 10 days)

Monday, 17 November 2008

New President will be stripped of his BlackBerry

The story is in The Independent and here. It is obviously going to be a severe deprivation for Barack Obama.

One wonders, though, whether his pain would be any greater than that felt by Peter Black if he were to be similarly deprived.


In his article on surfing the "Cloud" in The Independent's "Life" pull-out today, Tim Walker writes:

There's a scene towards the end of 2010, that most inferior of sci-fi sequels, in which Roy Scheider and his fellow planetary explorers discover an endless stream of Kubrick and Clarke's iconic monoliths – from the classic original 2001: A Space Odyssey – flooding from the gaseous clouds of Europa. Thanks to the Apple chief executive, Steve Jobs, Earth may soon resemble Jupiter's moon, orbited by an infinite number of alluring black rectangles. But, rather than the cosmic, life-generating beings of science fiction, these iconic real-world objects are flash drives sheathed in plastic: they're called iPhones.

That first sentence reminded me of an old saying among computer system support technicians: never apply an even-numbered update release.

Robert Owen, a paradox of socialism

Today is the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Owen. He is hailed as the father of British socialism, yet his most successful venture, both financially and in terms of the benefits it brought to the community, was the commercial New Lanark mills.

My socialist friends are busy redefining socialism as favouring the small community, clearly disenchanted with both communism and the modern Labour Party. Ironically, the most prominent people claiming his heritage in Newtown this year have been politicians (whom he despised) who believe in the big centrally-directed state, the antithesis of Owen's cooperative instincts.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Haut de la Garenne: discrediting of physical evidence must not stop inquiries

The Jersey police, investigating claims of abuse at the Haut de la Garenne children's home, have discounted some of the physical evidence. Items excavated from the cellar and grounds have been scientifically examined and dismissed variously as not human in origin, or dating from Victorian times or earlier.

However, the doubt that has been cast on the wilder theories of excesses on Jersey must not be allowed to discredit the first-hand testimony of those who first raised concerns about children's services on the island.

There are still questions to be asked about people who appeared to be acting beyond the law and taking advantage of the most vulnerable young people.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Another Liberal response to that Blears speech

Stephen Tall published a considered response on Liberal Democrat Voice. The whole piece is well worth reading.

Its conclusion cannot be emphasised enough:

Here’s what we should be doing: working out how we can make Parliament matter less; how real power can be devolved not only to local councils, but further still to parishes and area committees, to cooperatives and residents’ and tenants’ associations; and - above all - to individuals. No-one should need to feel that they have to be elected to Parliament to have power over their own destiny; that power should be in their own hands already.

If only we had a Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who understood this. If only we had a Government which truly believed in putting Communities in Control, which really did want to return real power to real people. If only their words were more than verbiage.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Ros Scott is president

I've just had the message from Chris Rennard: Baroness Scott has been elected Liberal Democrat Federal President.

For once, I have picked the winning ticket. Let's hope that Kirsty can make it two in a row.


Figures were:

Ros Scott 20,736 votes (72%)
Lembit Opik 6,247 votes (22%)
Chandila Fernando 1,799 votes (6%)

Turnout: 47.8% (+0.4% on last time)

Ros Scott will take up office on 1st January, succeeding Simon Hughes.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Just Jake

Look this up in the dictionary, and you will find that it is an Australian or American expression meaning that everything's all right, fine, correct.

It is also the title of a classic strip cartoon, which I was surprised to find actually has a Wikipedia entry. There are (far too brief) samples here.

The dim memory of "Just Jake" was dredged up by a chance wibble on CIX by Ken Palmerton of Fleetwood, recalling the classic Daily Mirror cartoon strips of the 1940s and 1950s. They may have drawn their inspiration from US originals, but they had peculiar qualities of their own, and it would be a pity if "Jane" were the only one to be memorialised.

"Just Jake" had the enviable quality of entertaining both the schoolchild and the more knowing adult, much as "The Simpsons" and "The Perishers" do today. Indeed, the original authors of the latter cited "Just Jake" as one of their influences.

So, how about it, Trinity Mirror? You've published collected editions of "The Perishers", "Andy Capp" and so on - what about samples of the classic "Just Jake", "Garth" or "Buck Ryan"?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Politcal blogging: sour grapes from Labour

Liberal Democrat Voice draws attention to the views of Hazel Blears on political blogging which are so out-of-touch that they would be funny if they didn't come from a key figure in neo-Stalinist New Labour. (Lord Lester, that long-time defender of liberty, has given up his advisory rôle in the administration, be it noted.)

Yes, Guido Fawkes is the most widely-read blog (though his frequent restatements of this fact, and his putting-down of Iain Dale and the Telegraph, reveal a certain nervousness). Yes, he is a high Tory by inclination. But he is required reading because he exposes corruption in high places, in the Conservative as well as the Labour parties. And he is readable.

That is also true of virtually all the liberal and democratic blogs. In addition to the ones linked to in the first paragraph, there is the superb The People's Republic of Mortimer* from which you can link to so many others I don't have the time to list here (though I must pick out Steph Ashley's "Dib Lemming"). Top of my list is, of course, Peter Black, one of the earliest and still the best Welsh one. Glyn Davies would no doubt protest against being described as a liberal, but he is not a rightwing Conservative in the sense that Blears and her ilk use the term. And he is informative, and readable.

This is more than can be said of the average Labour blog, and this is probably what has caused Ms Blears' expression of sour grapes. Too often I have seen the announcement of a new Labour blog, only to find that it is merely a feed from the Labour PR machine. There is only one Labour MP's blog which I head for when a view from an individual socialist is required, and that is Paul Flynn's (again, a long-established one).

If by "left-wing", Ms Blears means "radical", then there are blogs a-plenty. Very few of them are Labour blogs, though, and one cannot see the situation changing when the Labour party goes into opposition.

*though I still can't quite forgive AM her occasionally-expressed metropolitan prejudices.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Icelandic bank problems prefigured

I remember the fantastic John Glashan illustrating a book about con artists, published in the 1960s. I believe it was this one, "Refer to Drawer" by Nicholas Luard & Dominic Elwes.

To be honest, it rather stretched its material. However, one or two jokes stick in the memory. One was of a trick used by one of the characters when asked his name by a mark. Scottish surnames tend to give the impression of solidity and reliablity. If you are in a pub and stuck for inspiration, you can run your eye over the labels of the scotch whisky bottles. He came unstuck once when, rather drunk, he could see only one Scotch bottle and announced himself as "John Haig and Haig".

Another concerned the production of authentic-looking bank documentation. As I recall, fictitious banks had to be based abroad (to make it difficult to be checked up on) and incorporate the name of a widely-used basic commodity. A Scottish connection was, again, useful. Hence, "The Bombay Jute Bank of Iceland".

If only this informative volume had been on the bookshelves of more treasurers. :-)

Big Brother checked

Peter Black comments on the House of Lords voting to check the onward march of the national ID database.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Joseph Rotblat centenary

The British physicist, who shared the Nobel Peace prize in 1985, was born in Poland on 4th November 1908. He was one of the two British signatories to the manifesto which set up the Pugwash conference.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Drugs and a driven personality

I hope that Katherine Jenkins' admission that she used cocaine, E and hash for a time does not prevent her entering the United States and having a crack (pun not intended) at the American market.

There has been some over-reaction to the news. Of the people who have declared publicly that they will never buy another Katherine Jenkins album, I would ask: does the fact that she gave up the habit in 2003, and that she now regrets it, count for nothing? If certain of her "friends", ready to shop her to a down-market tabloid for a few bob, had behaved more honourably, she would not have been forced into her admission and we would have been none the wiser.

If nothing else, it should show people that the drugs in question are not necessarily addictive, and do not, taken over a short period, do not appear to have caused long-term damage. Paul Flynn MP and Chris Davies MEP have long campaigned for decriminalisation of soft drugs and Ms Jenkins' evidence would appear to strengthen their case.

Katherine Jenkins' story demonstrates that illegal drugs are far more easily obtained than I would have credited or be happy about, given the doubts which must exist about the quality of the product.

The drugs, and the company of the "bad crowd" she confessed to falling in with, were clearly an attempt to fill something missing in her life, something which is now being met by her career. That the drive is still there is shown by her move to conquer America. Those with any knowledge of politics can name driven party leaders who also had troubles with a mind-altering substance. The fact that the substance in question was the legal and somewhat more socially acceptable alcohol allows them (or their posthumous reputation) to escape censure.