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Showing posts from December, 2009

Pre-Christmas Reflection (2nd. Take!)

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It's the end of the so-called 'noughties' and I'm sure the space between Christmas and New Year will be sufficiently full of 'wise after the event' reflections on the first decade of the third millenium AD (or CE or you prefer a non-religious option). Seems to me that the first story of the decade - the non-story of the millenium computer bug that was due to destroy us all - stands as a suitable precursor to all that came after. There were few events that were not subject to media overload and often hysterical commentary. They came a bit stuck with 9/11 - the defining event of the decade - but just about managed to pillage the English language for expressions of ever greater outrage. 9/11 gave us George Bush as a war leader, and Tony Blair as a cheerleader-in-chief, and both roles ultimately proved - and are proving - disastrous.

At the end of the decade here in the UK, rarely before has paaliament managed to so comprehensively disgrace itself in the eyes of an …

The World's Dumbest Cabin Crew

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BA cabin crew are well paid compared to those of other airlines. Their working hours are not extensive, and long-haul crew always get a decent stay at their place of destination to recover from the rigours of pushing trollies up and down the plane every so often. The new pay schemes do not affect existing workers, only those newly entering the job. BA itself has serious financial problems - hardly a world exclusive at this time of recession - and many of its other staff, from its chief executive downwards, took pay holidays this year to help ease the pressure. Lots of people in the UK have been suffering the effects of the economic downturn, but might also have saved enough to be able to look forward to a few days abroad over Christmas or the new year. So, given all this, well done the BA cabin crew, who always seemed to be such nice people, for their brilliant decision to take on a 12 day strike from December 22nd to January 2nd.

It's certainly got our attention. But the real bril…

Newsnight's News Desert

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I'm a fan of the BBC, and I usually find its current affairs programmes to be thoughtful, often challenging and certainly constructed with a view to what is significant in terms of news, rather than simply for ratings (which the BBC should not specifically be chasing). Tonight's Newsnight is clearly a departure from these standards! I know that we retain a concern for the war effort in Afghanistan, and I have every sympathy for the plight of the families of soldiers who have gone there, but the first Newsnight feature - a look at the 'real people' fighting the war, and then some sob-stuff from the home front - has been done a thousand times before. It's a too easy bit of television, entirely emotively based, and adds little or nothing to our awareness and knowledge of the war. If they had been interviewing ordinary Afghanis and the effects of the war on them, that at least would have had the virtue of scarcity in British television terms. The Brave British Soldier …

Class War

Gordon Brown's class war is the subject of the Economist's Bagehot column this week - worth a read, I think.

The Respect Party's Effective Leader

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Question Time last night, from Wootton Basset, boasted a pretty heavyweight panel - General Dannatt, Paddy Ashdown, William Hague, Armed Services Minister Bill Rammell and Piers Morgan. So much so, that I wasn't sure at the start that I thought it was really necessary to include the underwhelming seeming Respect Party leader, Salma Yaqoob. Ever since George Galloway flounced away from it, we've all rather lost interest in the Respect agenda. And anyway, it seeemed to me that broad consensus now seemed to exist along the lines of "the war in Iraq was wrongly conceived and should never have been fought; the war in Afghanistan was necessary, and we need to stay". There was quite bit of this sort of chummy consensus going on amongst the panellists to begin with. William Hague even went so far as to say that he thought Paddy Ashdown should have been appointed as some sort of high representative to sort out the Afghan mess.

Then Salma broke cover. This under-stated m…

The Climate Change Debate

A few faked email stats and suddenly the entire edifice of climate change is in the balance. There's no doubt that the revelation of less than pure scientific method being used by the prominent climate change boffins at the University of East Anglia has given a new lease of life to the climate change deniers, or climo-sceptics. But, as we get ready to see our leaders parading their concern at the Copenhagen Summit, the debate seems to be engendering some thoroughly bad tempered exchanges. The Daily Politics website has a lot of material, including the scientist of Newsnight who called his sceptic opponent an "arsehole" on air (although, having seen the video, he may have had a point) and the rather hostile debate between the Spectator's Fraser Nelson and climate change defender Bob Watson on Sky. Politically, the Australian Liberal Party* leader, Malcolm Turnbull, has been forced out by his party because he was minded to support the ruling Labour Party's comm…

The Sun is Bad for the Tories

Zac Goldsmith may be having a few difficulties with his non-dom status at the moment, but good on this maverick Tory candidate for saying what many Tories think - the deal with the Sun newspaper is a deal too far!

Murdoch's Tiny Victory Against Free News

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Rupert Murdoch didn't get where he is today by being a shrinking violet. Neither did he succeed by allowing his focus to divert, even ever so slightly, away from how to screw everyone else to the best advantage of R. Murdoch. So it is hardly surprising that he has been so aggressive in his campaign against news aggregator sites, as well as the providers of free news - most notably the BBC. All of these sites damage his own revenue raising machine, and in truth he has yet to work out a way to make the internet work for him in the way that print and television media does.

However, he seems to have won a small victory today with Google's announcement that it is only allowing surfers up to 5 clicks to a free news article before directing people to the appropriate subscription page. This effectively limits the access that surfers used to have to specific pages on subscription sites. And this is where Murdoch wants to see the internet heading - nicely behind pay-walls, preferably ere…

Students....

....should head to the other blog for admin announcements and useful links for current homework assignments.

Obama's First Year

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President Obama has just announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, complete with 30,000 more troops (less than the 40,000 requested by his general) and a timetable for withdrawal. It is inevitably drawing comparisons with his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam strategy of 1965. The Vietnam war went on to destroy one of the greatest liberal reformers the White House had seen, and the ghost that is haunting Obama must be Johnson (not, it has to be acknowledged, that the Ice Man of the White House looks very haunted at the moment). Even before the Afghan announcement, Obama spent a pretty difficult summer over healthcare, and a resurgent right have been attacking him from all quarters, while the left complain of his inactivity.

But does this amount to a failing presidency, or is it merely the petty detail of a genuinely transformational one. Jacob Weisberg in Slate.com makes the case for regarding Obama's first year as the most successful since Franklin D. Roos…

The conservative soul

Andrew Sullivan's reasons for departing from the 'conservative' movement in America are set out in his blog comment. Since his reasons stem from his classical liberalism, they make interesting reading.

The Westminster Conference and a Parade of Politicos

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With an election on the horizon, you might have expected something a bit challenging, or radical, or even thoughtful, from the leading politicians who gave up half an hour each or so to come and talk to a hall full of two and a half thousand A-level politics students. Alas, elections encourage a retreat into cliché-ridden tribalism, and most of the speakers at the Westminster Central Hall gathering on Monday didn’t disappoint on that score. The best one of the lot, from the point of view of sheer, unadulterated, tribal clap-trap, was almost certainly Frank Dobson. Frank’s tribalism dates from an earlier era of tribalism, when it was ok for aspiring Labourites to condemn the “stinking rich” (and yes, he really did use that phrase as if it had some sort of revolutionary meaning). He must have missed the speech by Peter Mandelson that “New Labour is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” You see, it’s filthy rich these days, not stinking.

Not that the largely incoherent and …