Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Liberal Democrat mycouncillor sites

My Cadoxton "electronic leaflet" is one of those affected by capricious behaviour on the part of the computer currently hosting Liberal Democrat mycouncillor blogs. Apologies if you have tried to access one of these in the last few days. It is hoped to provide a more reliable service by the end of the week.

Sunday, 29 March 2009


Reports of a 107-year old in a BMW M3 going round Brands Hatch stirred childhood memories. Dulcibella King-Hall is surely a younger sister of the late Commander Stephen King-Hall (Baron King-Hall of Headley). He was a naval hero (though he modestly disclaimed that description), an independent MP, founder of the Hansard Society which still exists to promote parliamentary democracy, and a regular contributor of current affairs talks on the BBC Home Service's "Children's Hour". He would no doubt be dismayed that there is no equivalent in the mass media today.

His philosophy, some of which must have rubbed off on his listeners in the 1940s and 1950s, can be seen in this speech. Over sixty years on, none of his concerns have been satisfactorily disposed of, although it must have seemed, in those more optimistic days as the Second World War was turning, that a better world was being created.

The Orwell Prize

There are so many reasons for giving up The Independent: the fact that Miles Kington is no longer around, the descent into red-top territory with sex-orientated articles in the magazine and excessive coverage of celebrities (who is this "Lily Allen"?), not to mention Simon Carr. Then one is reminded of the good journalism that this is paying for. Patrick Cockburn and Donald MacIntyre have both been shortlisted for the journalism section of the Orwell Prize 2009. Patrick Cockburn was also on the long list in the books section for his "Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq".

Blogs were added (rather tardily, some might think) to the Orwell Prize roster last year. The People's Republic of Mortimer tops the 2009 shortlist. It seems that this is on alphabetic grounds, but if there is any justice Alix Mortimer should be on the winners' rostrum at least, when the judging is over. For me, at least three of the blogs should be ruled out straight away as being part of institutions. Orwell was always an outsider, and always personal. He may not have approved of Alix's rococo prose*, but he would certainly have approved the power and conviction of her writing. There does seem to be a high regard for liberal democracy at present, helped by Vince Cable's persona and our MPs' standing apart from the general allowance-claiming culture, which may work in her favour. (We'd better make the most of it; when the date of the general election looms, the big money and the big media will swing behind the conservative parties.)

Later: I see Chris Dillow has struck a sour note.

* For those who didn't catch the reference in my comment to the Mortimer blog, it was to Orwell's "Politics and the English language". Personally, I love both simple and ornate, multi-layered, writing. It's the in-between which bores me.

Mr Smith goes to Blockbuster

- or should that be "bonkbuster"?

Devotees of classic Hollywood will know of the movie, "Mr Smith Goes to Washington", in which James Stewart stars as "a naive man [who] is appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down", to quote from the Internet Movie Database.

Seventy years on, and in an older, tired, democracy, the consort of the Home Secretary and her parliamentary aide made use of her allowance to obtain blue movies, as the Mail on Sunday reports, in her official second home.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Rattus Norvegicus

Further to a recent comment here, it seems that Maesteg has only a fraction of the rat population that Flamborough does. "Locals reported huge packs – numbering 200 to 300-strong – blocking roads, swarming across gardens and bird tables and digging up grass verges. Cat flaps have been sealed, pets and children kept indoors. Flamborough has been dubbed Ratsville." Nevertheless, this article in the Independent magazine reckons we should learn to love rats, in spite of the diseases they carry.

"Many civilisations rather like rats. In India, the rat is the vehicle of Lord Ganesh, while at Rajastan's famous Karni Mata Temple, some 20,000 rats can be found. Many Hindus travel great distances to pay their respects to the kabbas, or holy animals, that guard the shrine, believing them to be reincarnations of the deity's tribespeople. In China, the rat is one of the 12 members of the animal zodiac. People lucky enough to be born in the year of the rat are said to qualities of creativity, honesty, generosity and ambition."

Its Linnaean moniker is misleading, by the way; the brown rat originated in Asia.

Data warehousing

I have been whingeing about government attempts to make all our personal details available to all civil service Departments ever since the dying Major administration started to slip in the enabling legislation. Nobody seemed particularly concerned then, possibly because only a small percentage of the British public were aware of the power of information technology and the remainder were technocrats who thought it was a ripping wheeze.

In the last few years, the implications have begun to dawn on people generally. Now there is news from David Peter that MPs have thwarted the latest attempt at warehousing by Jack Straw at the Home Office.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Pembrokeshire badger cull

Peter Black AM writes with feeling here and here. The comments to the latter posting are worth reading, too.

If it were a straight choice between badgers and Welsh farming, I would reluctantly come down on the side of eliminating badgers. But I do not believe it is a straight choice. Moreover, there is no mention in the report of the four-year programme recently announced for Pembrokeshire of control of the other carriers of TB, especially the cattle.

For a reasoned argument on the other side, read Glyn Davies's posting on April 9th 2008.

Women in IT (continued)

I missed Ada, Countess Lovelace, Day yesterday but Lynne Featherstone, of course, did not. Here is her nomination for honours.

Jonathan Calder has a good summary of Ada Augusta's contribution to computing.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Geoff Holmes

I learned this morning of the death at only 50 of Geoff Holmes, who brightened the Glamorgan cricket team of the 1980s. The cricinfo obituary records his scoring two centuries in a match against Somerset, and I believe I saw the first of them, on a brilliant day in Taunton.

Although a Geordie, he settled and committed himself to the development of cricket in Wales after injury forced him to stop playing. He was a perceptive, and witty, expert summariser for Radio Wales. He will be much missed.

Monday, 23 March 2009

England wins cricket world cup

It's the women's team, of course. (Follow their progress here.)

One would like to think that this success would encourage sponsors to come in. The winning team is virtually completely amateur. In nineteenth century tradition, they have paid for their campaign out of their own pockets, or from family and friends. The team will break up as key members must give priority to finding paid employment when they return home. The only way to prevent this is for sponsorship to pay for them to play professionally.

However, commerce did not rise to the possibilities opened up by our women winning the Ashes in 2005, so prospects do not look good.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Marijuana possession: the Valleys defence

Why didn't Howard Marks think of this one? The Indy reports that an Italian shepherd "was caught with marijuana in his car as he was setting off for an extended period with his flock in the mountains of Alto Adige, in the far north of the country. Police found 38 grammes in the car, and the shepherd, identified only as Giorgio D, was convicted of possession.

"But upholding an appeal against the verdict, the Court of Cassation ruled the shepherd was justified in possessing this small quantity of the drug on account of 'the long and solitary period' he was about to spend 'in the countryside and the mountains, due to the migration of his flock of sheep'."

Saturday, 21 March 2009

LibDem leader makes mischief on Radio Wales

Oh, for a web-cam in the “Called to Order” studio. Eluned Morgan's face must have been a picture at the end of the following dialogue. Ms Morgan and Kirsty Williams had been discussing with Patrick Hannan the prospects of Edwina Hart succeeding Rhodri Morgan as leader of the Welsh Labour Party and consequently as First Minister:

Kirsty Williams: She does have this overriding principle of drawing things to the centre and dictating from the centre and for me, as somebody that wants to see power devolved to local communities, that's a very worrying trend and that's been the hallmark of her tenure in the health department.

Patrick Hannan: But she is of course, and these are sensitive things, the only woman candidate who seems to be coming through at the moment, Kirsty.

Williams: Yes, that is correct. We don't see ... well, Jane Davidson has obviously announced her retirement and Jane Hutt came even closer to losing her seat and obviously does not have any intentions to put her name in the hat. The question is, what's Eluned going to do?

Hannan: Oh, [laughs] well, you'd better answer that question, Eluned. You're not in the Assembly ..

Williams: ...yet...

Hannan: ... well, not by September

Eluned Morgan: [inaudible] ... September ... [inaudible] no idea.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Fair tax treatment for ITC contractors

Lorely Burt, LibDem MP for Solihull and alumna of Swansea University, has tabled an Early Day Motion seeking redress for long-standing unequal treatment by the Revenue of professional contractors. I was lucky enough to escape the iniquitous IR35 when I was contracting regularly, but many colleagues were unnecessarily penalised and continue to be so. It is to be hoped that many MPs will sign the EDM to show the strength of feeling against IR35.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

PM accepts Iran's right to develop nuclear power generation

The BBC web-site concentrates on the negative aspects of Gordon Brown's speech today. However, it was clear from the clip played on Radio 4's mid-day news that the prime minister accepted Iran's right to diversify from a dependence on fossil fuels. One wonders whether he would have been allowed to do so in public during the reign of GW Bush.

For a long time, I have felt that Iran had more justification for a nuclear power generation programme than many Western countries, including ourselves. Iran has uranium ore, which we do not. Although it is a major petroleum producer, it does not have sufficient refining capacity of its own to meet domestic needs. The desire not to be dependent on foreign corporations is understandable.

It's nice to be able to come out of the closet on this issue, given the PM's lead. Of course, I agree that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons - and, indeed, she has consistently said that this is not the aim of her programme. Iran should also return to full compliance with IAEA membership, including nuclear inspections. Now that there is a less belligerent administration in the White House, and there should be no suspicion of US bullying of the UN agency, it should be an easy decision to make.

Jersey child care issues will not go away

Jonathan Calder draws attention to a fresh Guardian article in this piece.

Quantitative easing impacts those about to retire

BBC Radio 4's "Money Box" reported last weekend that the government's pumping money into the economy by way of buying back bonds has had the effect of reducing the value of private pensions of those about to retire by about 2%.

Friday, 13 March 2009

"Wuthering Heights", Bollywood style

Sadly, Tamasha's stage show won't be coming to South Wales, or even Bristol, but it appears such an appealing confection that I couldn't resist drawing attention to their flier.

There are YouTube tasters from their rehearsal.

Enigma: sad news and good news

Shortly after learning of the death of Alan Stripp, a codebreaker and historian of Bletchley Park, I read the news that Milton Keynes council had resolved to match the £300,000 funding pledged by English Heritage over the next three years to meet repairs to the historic buildings on the site.

BBC apparently breaks Computer Misuse Act

In setting up tomorrow's "Click" programme on the BBC News channel, the programme-makers would appear to have transgressed the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Section 1 of the Act says:

A person is guilty of an offence if—
(a) he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure
access to any program or data held in any computer;
(b) the access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and
(c) he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the
function that that is the case.

Under Section 3, (1), A person is guilty of an offence if—

(a) he does any act which causes an unauthorised modification of the contents of any computer

There is also the matter of "acquiring" the botnet, which will have involved
the payment of a sum of money to a criminal.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Fox-hunting is not for the control of foxes

The late Phil Drabble, co-presenter of "One Man and his Dog", and not a softie, long ago pointed out that gentlemen of England and Wales in times gone by imported foxes from the continent, when it looked as if the stock in Britain was in decline. That was indication enough that it was the sport which was uppermost in their minds when they took to horse, not keeping charlie in check.

Yet a succession of apologists for fox-hunting have been allowed to get away with the argument that a main reason for the activitiy is to keep the fox population down. I can recall only one honest media statement about the pursuit when the then editor of "Country Life" (it might have been Dorian Williams) expressed it on "Any Questions?" many years ago.

Until now. Conservative Glyn Davies has often been too honest for his own good. In this piece on his blog, he straightforwardly argues in favour of a healthy fox population and of fox-hunting for its own sake.

Peter Black calls for better data guidelines

On BBC-Wales "AM, PM" today, Peter Black AM responded to a survey by BBC-Wales by calling for guidelines on how to look after personal data, including both public service and commercial data holders. Regular readers of his blog will have seen his recent report of another mistake by the police.

In the interview, Betsan put it to him that mistakes were inevitable, with the implication that we had better just get used to it. The conclusion that Peter drew was that this was all the more reason for government to abandon its national database scheme.

I think we need to change our attitude to digital data. It may seem weird to compare them to common cold germs, but there are parallels. Viruses are too small to be seen, are easily copied and usually cause damage when in the wrong place. We now discourage cold and influenza sufferers from struggling into work when they are still shedding germs. We can't see the bugs, but we know they are there, and we know their power. We need to instil into people working with personal data that they can wreak great damage in the wrong hands. A lost memory device can be as dangerous as a discarded tissue, or a dirty finger in a school kitchen.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Mutuals paying for bank failures

I mentioned before the iniquitous situation where, under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), the building society movement can (in the words of Paul Ellis, Chief Executive of the Ecology Building Society) "see a transfer of its capital to banks that have behaved recklessly".

A petition has now been launched on the 10 Downing Street website calling for a review of how the FSCS is funded. Please think about adding your name to the petition, which has a closing date of 15th March (next Sunday).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Craig Murray needs your help

Demand that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights should hear evidence from the former UK ambassador who has more information than most about the use of torture to obtain information. More on Craig Murray's blog. Thanks to Liberal England for drawing attention to it.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Axe another tax

In addition to being a leading figure in the campaign to achieve justice for the Gurkhas in particular, and for British servicemen in general, Bob Russell MP is a strong supporter of the British traditional pub. Read about his Early Day Motion.

The Lynette White Fifteen

Charges have eventually been brought as a result of exposing one of the worst cases of miscarriage of justice in the UK, never mind Wales. Three men were unjustifiably imprisoned and their lives ruined by this. If the death penalty had still been in force at the time of the original trial, the result could have been even worse.

The worry now is that, if any of the thirteen police officers involved are found guilty of perjury, their evidence in other prosecutions could be thought to be tainted. If cases turned on such evidence, then there could be retrials or even the quashing of convictions.

Perhaps it was investigation of these implications which caused the long delay in bringing the new case - which, I note, is being tried in London rather than Cardiff.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Abersystwyth joins Torbay and Swansea in the twentieth century

Radio Wales is reporting that the ban on showing Monty Python's "Life of Brian" in Aberystwyth is to be lifted after thirty years. The mayor of Aberystwyth, Plaid Cymru's Sue Jones-Davies, has a personal interest, of course; she played Judith in the film. (Though I preferred her in "Rock Follies".)

The ban in various places was always illogical. The film did not attack Christianity as such, but religiosity.

The Guardian reported last September when Torbay decided that the film was fit for showing there: "Members of the Monty Python team were not available for comment yesterday but when a ban was overturned in Swansea 11 years ago so that it could be shown in aid of Comic Relief, Python Eric Idle said: 'What a shame. Is nothing sacred?'"

Update 2009-3-2 17:45: "Good evening, Wales" has broken the news that the ban was rescinded some time ago, and that there was a screening of "Brian" in 1981. Still, it's all good publicity for charity, isn't it?

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Newtown: "Sodom and Gomorrah, with livestock"

If anyone from Montgomery is reading this, could they comment on Myfanwy Alexander's description of the town on today's "Something Else"?