Thursday, January 31, 2008

Miles Kington, RIP

Perhaps understandably, given the news of Jeremy Beadle's untimely death, the news of Miles Kington's sudden death after a short illness, seems to have slipped under the radar.

When I first started reading broadsheet newspapers (in about 1986 or 87), the Independent was my paper of choice - trying as I was to avoid the overt political spin of the others - and Miles Kington's column was always my first read.

He was 66.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There Is No Greater Shame

Next week, Channel 4 will broadcast "Heat or Eat" a Dispatches investigation into pensioners living in poverty in the UK. At the time of writing I can find no information about what is included in the programme. What I have discovered, however, has shocked me.

I know I rant a lot about politicians, privacy and the introduction of ID Cards, but the fact that almost one in four pensioners (and there are now more than 9m people over 65 living in the UK) are at risk of poverty (compared to a European average of 18% as of 2004) is utterly beyond the pale.

About 40% of men over 65 and women over 60 are living in, or dangerously close to, fuel poverty - when more than 10% of their weekly disposable-income is swallowed up by gas and electricity bills. In the twelve months up to Feb 2007, according to, "the state pension increased by just 2.7% (£2.20 a week), compared to gas bills which went up 38% on average"

A report this week, by the Newcastle Building Society, showed that this year pensioners will fare the worst of all consumers, facing 7% inflation overall. Last September's RPI figure, on which this year's state pension increase is based, was 3.9%. Pensioners suffer because typically their spending does not match the theoretical shopping basket of goods on which the RPI is based. Older people spend a third of their outgoings on food and fuel, both of which will cost significantly more in 2008.

The average council tax bill is expected to rise by 4% to £1,380 in April, making a total increase of more than 100% since Labour took office in 1997. Council tax and other housing costs are excluded from the Government's pensioner's price index, naturally.

In 2001, at an EU summit at Laeken there was a ratified proposal* that all member states should endeavour to attain a level of 40% of their median wages as their basic state pension by 2007 and thereafter work towards 60%. It should be noted that an income of 60% of the median wage is considered the poverty line by the EU.

The British Basic Pension is 18% of the National average wage. Including Pension Credits, it is still only 26% of the National average wage. Interestingly, only 2.7 million pensioners claimed Pension Credits in 2005.

The annual AON Consulting European pension survey confirmed in 2007 that the UK state pension is still the lowest in Europe. The report tries to explain why the UK has remained in last place: "It is a difference of philosophy and a different view of the role of the state. In most of Europe, it is believed that the state's obligation is to ensure that people have a reasonable standard of living, relative to what they had when they were working. In the UK, the role of the state is to ensure that people do not starve. If people want to have more than the basic level, they need to save for themselves."

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the Aon report failed to reflect its plans to improve the state pension, such as restoring the link to earnings."By restoring the link to earnings and modernising the contributory principle, we will make the state pension much more generous and fairer to women and carers," he said to in 2007.

The charity Help the Aged said it was time for the Government to address the 'shocking levels of pensioner poverty' by bringing forward the introduction of the link between pensions and earnings, which is scheduled for 2012. "Our pensioner population should be entitled to retire with dignity and without the need to apply for means-tested benefits" the spokesman added. Amen to that, brother.

Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at the financial advisers Hargreaves Lansdown, partly blamed Gordon Brown for the collapse in defined benefit pensions. One of the (then) Chancellor's first moves when he came to power in 1997 was to scrap the dividend tax credit on pension funds, described by the Tories as one of the "great scandals of the last decade". And as the Tories know a great deal about scandals, you have to suspect they know what they're talking about when they said this.

Michael Portillo, himself a former Tory MP, has an excellent article on this last point here which details the scandal that Gordon Brown *should* be more definitely embroiled in.

There is no greater shame than a nation that does not look after the people that made that nation great.

* - From Help The Aged

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Okay, How Did I Miss This?

I was looking online for some information regarding pensioners living in poverty (which hopefully you will see above this), but then remembered we're supposed to call them senior citizens now and searched for that.

But discovered this article instead. Read it (even the headline will do) I'll wait.

Done? Good.

I can only assume that I missed this because it was published on my birthday and I was drunk/dead/abroad at the time.

Let me get this straight: the US Government have argued IN A COURT (The Court of Appeal in London at that!) that it is perfectly legal for them to KIDNAP British citizens from the UK if the person is *suspected* of a crime in the US. And it's legal because the US Supreme Court said it is, "so essentially, fuck off."

I am somewhat stunned by the arrogance of the US. They're not even talking about the extraordinary rendition thing that they usually do, no, they've actually told the UK Government that they will kidnap suspects from UK soil.

And I don't think I heard a murmur out of Gordon Brown. Or the Tory party come to that.


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Beadle's No Longer About

Rather shocking news today, Jeremy Beadle has died.

It was confirmed by his agent that Jeremy had been suffering from pneumonia just before his death, having previously only just recovered from the removal of a cancerous kidney.

In the truest style of "doing a lot of work for charity but don't like to talk about it", the BBC are estimating that he managed to raise over *£100 million* for the various causes he supported, most notably for Children with Leukaemia.

Mr Beadle, who was born in Hackney, east London, leaves behind his wife Sue, daughters Cassie and Bonnie, and his stepchildren Leo and Claire. He was 59.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thanks For Clearing That Up

Error messages you really could live without.

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Hey Leave Those Kids (And Teachers) Alone

As mentioned yesterday, the Government plough on with their intention to introduce ID Cards, regardless of the opinion of the population and without the scrutiny of Parliament.

In yet another leaked document - you do suspect that there's a lot of people in positions of power who are dead against this, don't you? - teachers and 16 year olds are the favoured 'soft targets' for the redesigned ID card scheme rollout.

The Register notes
"As suggested in leaks last weekend, IPS now plans to soft-pedal fingerprints and - astoundingly - it seems on the point of abandoning the notion of forcing ID cards onto the public via passport renewals."

So, you're no doubt asking yourself, how does this tally to the post below about welcoming Big Brother? I'm so glad you asked.

John Lettice continues, possibly frothing at the mouth while writing this:
"The document's favoured initial target markets are "Trusted Relationships and Inclusion." These can be "focused on [i.e. victimise] specific groups - suggesting that you could start here".

"Nailing trusted relationship groups will essentially mean targeting people who, because their work places them in positions of trust, are required to undergo CRB checks. So teachers, carers, anybody working with children and/or vulnerable groups will be forced to get an ID card, commencing in the second half of 2009."

But that's not all, oh dearie me, no.

The "level of assurance", i.e. whether or not they will be fingerprinted, will "be driven by the services that individuals will access. Individuals within these groups may enrol at a lower level of assurance, but then be asked to provide fingerprints later, if they need access to products or services that require a higher level of assurance."

"We should leverage existing databases such as the DWP's Customer Information System to stimulate applications through marketing to target groups. For example, rising 16 year olds could be sent pre-populated forms for the 'inclusion' card, based on existing cross-referenced databases, which would only need to be signed and returned."

The kicker, and the bit which reminds both John Lettice and myself of the way in which credit card applications and pre-approved loan applications used to be sent to all and sundry:

"We also agreed the to consider further the option of sending cards to selected individuals whose identity was already verified, requiring only an 'activation' process to complete formal enrolment."

Brilliant. The Government is going to send forms out to 16 year olds, who presumably sign them (for handwriting analysis), holding it while inserting it in the envelope (to include fingerprints), then lick the envelope shut (giving the DNA for the *other* database) before giving it over entirely for the Post Office to lose.

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Welcome To The Hate Decade

Rather depressing news today. Not only the comedy related below and the spectacular intrusion into privacy mentioned below that. No. It's murder out there. Everywhere.

Wife tries to kill husband using anti-freeze. And I think the first mistake she made was googling for information about poisoning first. Then not clearing her cache.

What you should have done love, was send hubbie out to retrieve a kid's football and let one of your neighbour's stab him to death instead.

Or, alternatively, tell him to go for a walk in a park. At night. Alone. Which seems to have beem pretty successful over the past few months.

Alternatively, you could have just booked him a holiday to Kenya.


Goodbye Mr Conway

In an interesting change to the usual sordid tales of political finances, an MP was reported on Monday to have paid his children to be his researchers. No real shock in that as MPs families often receive payola - wives often employed as secretary, that kind of thing.

The twist this time is that sons were, at the time of their employment, full time students. Firstly his elder son Henry, while he was at Cambridge, then Freddie while at Newcastle. Nearly £13k a year, plus bonuses and pension contributions.

By Monday night, Mr Conway had apologised to his family (oddly) and that seemed to be the end of it. By Tuesday however, the Tory whip had been removed from Mr Conway, making him essentially an independent MP.

David "Dave" Cameron seems to have had a somewhat sudden and decisive change of heart overnight. And the normal political analysts seemed initially very surprised by this. But I think the dawn has broken for them too. Cameron realised that there were a lot of very angry supporters of his party, and they wanted blood.

There's an excellent piece on this subject - which completely removes any point in me writing about it further - on Heresy Corner

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Welcome To Big Brother

Instead of merely sleepwalking into a surveillance society, it seems we've already started sprinting towards it instead.

Today's Register is reporting that over 250,000 wiretaps had taken place in the UK over a nine month period (April to December 2006). Let's look at those figures again: 250,000 wiretaps. In 9 months.

Which is frankly a disgrace. Nearly 0.5% of the ENTIRE UK's population has, at some time had their communications intercepted. Over the course of just a nine month period.

But the chap who oversees all this, Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy, said he saw no reason to change the current law, and indeed had only met one person while doing his job who has a different opinion.

Really? You ought to get out more mate.

Sir Paul Kennedy, it should be understood is a political appointee who is in that position under Blair's auspices and the oft-mentioned RIPA.

And as such, the fact that he was impressed by the "striking successes" helped by interception should be taken with the usual pile of salt.

I am stunned by this revelation. I'm even more stunned that none of the mainstream news outlets haven't actually picked up on it.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

ID Cards To Be Coerced Onto Young

Following on from my previous post about ID Cards being forced onto youngsters who want to open bank accounts - and I would heartily recommend against it, but perhaps that's just me - there has been another leaked document (this time from the Passport Agency) suggesting that anyone applying for a first driving licence (so the young again, then) would benefit from an ID Card too.

The IPS (Identity & Passport Service) said "There are advantages to designation of documents associated with particular target groups, e.g. young people who may be applying for their first driving licence" says the document. But "universal compulsion should not be used unless absolutely necessary."

A recent National Audit Office report into use of IT by the UK vehicle licensing agencies suggests how this might happen. It found that 90 per cent of people applying for a provisional licence were unable to complete the transaction online.

The main reason was that most applicants didn't have the new format digital passport. The alternative is that the (old style) passport needs to sent off for checking, or ID checked via the post office's check and send service.

If the Government decided to abandon the Post Office route, citing security concerns or some other nonsense, then any new drivers would essentially be forced into having the new style passport, complete with ID Card, before getting their licence.

As mentioned previously and repeatedly, this Government seems insistent on introducing the ID Card by stealth and without going through proper Parliamentary scrutiny. If they are so sure of the ID Card's merits, then why are they not putting the Bill to Parliament for an open vote?

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Peanut Butter, The Atheist's Nightmare

Continuing a theme against the Creationist nut-jobs I am delighted to bring you not only the nuttiest, but also the butteriest.

From B3ta possibly the weirdest anti-Evolution video ever. For those of you who can't be bothered to watch, this bloke argues that Evolution CANNOT occur because he has never opened a jar of peanut butter and discovered new life in it. I swear, that's his argument!

B3ta were kinda convinced this was actually an anti-Creationist video, designed to look like it was anti-Evolutionist as it's so shite. How this man can actually be saying those words and believe them is astonishing.

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World Economics

Excellent piece from Robert Peston (BBC's best Business & Market Analyst by a country mile) about the scary possibility that a single rogue trader - the French chap on the run from SocGen - has forced the recent dramatic rate cut by Federal Reserve bank.

It does raise the question of whether the US would be better served protecting themselves from accidental (or otherwise) economic attack, rather than spending the billions of dollars they have in stopping a so far non-existent terrorist attack.

Although this could just be the funniest thing the French have ever done to the US.


ID Cards, Again.

Two of the major players in the UK IT market have decided not to even get involved in bidding for contracts for the ID Card Scheme.

Accenture have told the FT it was pulling out for a mixture of "political and commercial reasons". BAE told The Register "We have withdrawn but it's for commercial reasons - at this stage our assessment is that our bid wouldn't deliver everything the project requires. We will continue to monitor the project with interest."

Now for two players to *not* want to get involved in a major bit of payola like the ID Card scheme, you really have to wonder just what the hell is wrong with it, and how much of a poisoned chalice it really is.

Interestingly, the FT & The Register both report a leaked document (confirmed by the Home Office) which says that smaller volumes of ID cards should first be issued from 2010 onwards to young people to "assist" them in opening up their first bank accounts - which could be entertaining seeing as their data has already been lost by the Government, they might find they've already got a couple of bank accounts, loans, mortgages etc - as well as to individuals employed in "positions of trust", such as teachers and social workers. Not MPs you'll notice.

The British Bankers' Association said that it had not been involved in any discussion - which seems pretty much par for the course - on the use of ID cards by young people. "This has come like a bolt from the blue," it said to the FT.

Meanwhile, Damian Green, shadow immigration minister, said that the leaked documents showed that the government was engaged in an "outrageous plan" which was "staggering from shambles to shambles".

Mr Green said: "They are trying to introduce ID cards by stealth by making them necessary if you want to work for the government, take out a student loan or open a student bank account. This is blackmail and a desperate attempt to bolster a failing policy."

Well said that man. Could the last person left please turn off the lights? Ta.

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Tinfoil Hat, Check

Couple of things today which have perked my attention somewhat.

First up is that the Government are pressing ahead with their intentions to extend the time limit on detention without charge. This is despite an influential group of MPs saying that there was "no case" for the change as recently as December.

Secondly, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) may, and notice *only* may, be challengable in the European Court under the Human Rights Act. The main point of RIPA which concerns me is that you can be forced to give up your passwords to any encrypted or protected files on your PC.

So if you happen to be planning to overthrow the Government for their invasion into your personal life at every step, or you decide that the silent removal of every civil liberty that was fought for in two World Wars is getting a bit much and you want to change things back to how they were, you could be held for 42 days without charge as a terrorist.

Then charged with not revealing your passwords to the files you have on how you're planning to do this - seeing as the Government can't be trusted with non-encrypted data - and put into prison for five years.

Then held for another 42 days upon your release, without charge.

Rinse and repeat.

This Government, and the current opposition parties seem intent on doing nothing for the public of this country and everything purely for themselves.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Goth Banned From Bus

And a story that made me go "good!"

A Yorkshire Goth has been "banned" from using a dog lead to "walk" his Yorkshire Goth girlfriend on a bus. And I'm so glad. Not because I think the use of a dog lead on a woman is demeaning. No. But because I hate Goths. And I doubly hate Yorkshire Goths.

It has however, meant I have an excuse to link to this:

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Witless Protection Scheme

In a stunning example of losing data you really shouldn't have, the Ministry of Justice today coughed to having lost - yes you've guessed it - four CDs! Only one of which might have been encrypted/password protected.

The discs contained details on 55 defendants and other restricted information, "potentially including" highly sensitive details of alleged victims of and witnesses to crimes. Good work there chaps, can't see the criminal underworld being interested in those details at all then.

At least this time the package was sent by recorded delivery, rather than by the usual method of introducing information into the wild, TNT.

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Political Correctness Gone Mad

Always nice to see in our wonderfully multi-cultural society that a group of non-elected (and probably middle class white folks) have decided that something may be offensive to Muslims. Oh, and probably offensive to builders as well.

Nice story from The Register about a digital book version of the Three Little Pigs entitled "The Three Little Cowboy Builders". Despite it having previously won "Best Primary Resource and Innovation in Education" prize at the Education Resource Awards, Becta (the government's educational technology group) explained to the publishers that they "could not recommend this product to the Muslim community".

I'm guessing it's the pigs. For fuck's sake. Can't we let the Muslim community decide for itself by seeing if they want to buy/use it? Rather than having some self appointed group of righteous twats decide it might offend them?

It's stuff like this that really irritates me. As you may have guessed.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rejoice! ID Cards Delayed Until 2012

In news as fantastic as Spurs finally beating Arsenal, the Government's ID Card scheme appears to have been delayed until after the next election.

The BBC is reporting that the Tories have received leaked documents laying out the timetable for introduction, and the majority of the roll out appears to now be expected in 2012.

So if the Tories or the Lib Dems happen to knock Labour out, then both are expected to cancel the plans. A hung parliament is also likely to kill the bill as the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has promised to undertake Civil Disobediance if he is forced to have an ID Card.

And while the Government deny the details of the leaked document, the rumours will persist.

Gordon Brown, he's looking tired, don't you think?

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MoD, The New HMRC?

Following on from Saturday's post about the missing laptop with 600,000 people's details on it, Des Browne yesterday reported to Parliament about that and two other previous laptop thefts.

Unbelievably, the laptop stolen at the weekend held unencrypted data. This is in direct contravention of many MoD (Ministry of Defence) specifications regarding laptops. These, handily, have been in place since a laptop was nicked that contained the entire plans for Desert Storm (see second story on here) in the early 90s.

Yet the Government continue to insist that they're the best people to decide whether there should be a National Identity card database, despite them doing their level best to lose everyone's personal details.

It's almost as if they're trying to persuade us that since the criminals have already got our details, then there's no harm in us giving the Government them again: only this time in one easy-to-lose database.

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All Hail Cassandra

Yes folks, like a fat monkey armed with a machine gun, I've scored another random hit on my predictionometer!!

After my post of last October about how it would be a good idea to make cookery lessons compulsory in schools (see the the last paragraph), the Government announced today that it would be doing that very same thing.

Which, after my more recent prediction about Kevin Keegan, does make me think I'm either coming into line with popular common thinking (and if so, DEAR GOD) or I'm some kind of Cassandra figure. I can predict what I like (and I did actually predict a draw between Liverpool & Aston Villa last night to a customer at work) but people just won't believe me.

Having read Gary Feldman's predictions of last year - and he did get a few things right, although I've never been arrested for Mackem bashing nor repatriated to Newcastle - I'm going to have a think today and see if I can come up with any for the coming twelve months.

Right now though, I have a horrible feeling there's going to be something akin to the Winter of Discontent (Wilson's not Shakespeare's) coming up all too soon. Particularly as this Government also appear intent on forcing limits on public sector pay rises to below inflation.

Can I therefore just quickly recommend purchasing candles? And perhaps some tinned food.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Jesus Lappy?

In other news for Apple, their latest product launch - of the ultra thin Macbook Air - hasn't gone down terribly well.

Yes it is very thin, and yes it looks lovely. Well done.

Now let's see why it's so thin.

Does it have a DVD drive? No. Does it have a full-travel keyboard (so you can actually tell if you pressed hard enough)? No. Does it have lots of USB ports? No, just the one. Does it have a modem port? No. Ethernet port? No. Firewire port? No. Microphone? No.

Right, so I'll be needing quite a hearty USB hub if I'd actually want to use it then? Yes! And I'm guessing that won't be included in the no-doubt frighteningly high price? Yes again!

And continuing Apple's recent trend, the batteries in the Macbook Air aren't removeable, so when they stop charging back up - and Apple have form in this - you end up with a shiny, thin, brick.


Whiny Mac Fanboys

And in yet more completely non-startling news - this time from The Inquirer - Mac users believe themselves to be superior to non-Mac users.

The study of 7,500 respondents, also revealed that people who buy Macs are "less modest, and more assured of their own superiority than the population at large."

Again, I'm not sure where the news actually is in this. Still it is always nice to have statistical proof for something you've casually observed, isn't it?

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Data Dumped On Roundabout. Twice!

In a great day for the privacy, hundreds of documents containing highly sensitive personal data have been found dumped on a roundabout in Dawlish, Devon. The Department of Work and Pensions said it was urgently looking into the matter. Still, takes a bit of the heat off your boss, eh?

I shall quote directly from the BBC here because of something they mention, but don't really get too excited about:

"Details of benefit claims, passport photocopies and mortgage payments were included in the confidential data. The documents were found on Thursday at a roundabout near Exeter Airport by Karl-Heinz Korzenietz, from Dawlish."

Leaving the slightly suspicious name of Mr Korzenietz to one side, it is the next paragraph which concerns me the most:

"Mr Korzenietz said two months earlier he found similar documents to those found in Exeter...When Mr Korzenietz found the first documents on 6 November 2007, he took them to the Royal Mail depot in Exeter. He said Royal Mail contacted him two weeks later to say the material had been returned to TNT.

But TNT said it is not aware of any missing data. Spokesman Nick Murray said in a statement: "Investigations are continuing, but at this moment in time we have absolutely no record of any missing or lost data from this location."

So not only has there been data lost there twice in three months, but the first lot has been lost again!

Go team. No really, go.


New Year, New Data Losses

In completely non-shocking news, yet more personal details have been lost in the UK. This time - in a case eerily similiar to US cases - a laptop containing the name, address, NI Number and some bank details of 600,000 people has been stolen.

It seems the Royal Navy staffer left the laptop in their car in an Edgbaston car park. Not sure if they were remotely surprised when it got stolen, seeing as I wouldn't even leave a car in an Edgbaston car park *unless* I wanted it stolen. But I digress.

The interesting part of this - for me, anyway, your mileage may vary - is that the Royal Navy would have application details for people who had expressed an interest in, or joined, the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the RAF. Little bit of cross polination there, eh? And potentially a breach of the Data Protection Act by itself.

Nice to see the idea of joined up Government is finally underway. Your data is not just at risk from the usual Government suspects - HMRC, DVLA - but the MOD as well.

Go team.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

T'Government T'Tackle T'Internet

In slightly startling news today - startling mainly due to the fact it's taken them this long to get round to announcing something - the UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said she will mount a push against sites that promote extremism.

Well good luck with that, love.

What she seems to have failed to grasp is that the internet doesn't work quite as simply as that. The more I read about it, the more frankly absurd it sounds.

She wants someone (presumably ISPs, though she hasn't talked to any of them) to block sites that have extremist content on them. Which will require whoever is doing the blocking to employ someone who can read whatever language the site is using. I doubt that's going to be cheap, what with the sudden increase in demand.

And what's to stop the people they employ from being sleeper agents for the extremists who are making the sites, but I digress.

What's to stop anyone interested in seeing this extremist material from simply leaving the country (or appearing to have left the country by using Tor or some similar IP relocation tool) and reading it in say, Holland or Belgium? Then coming back, armed (heh) with the information on a DVD, USB stick, or, perish the thought, in a notebook. As they may have written the information in a language other than English, the customs and immigration people are going to have to have a lot of translators.

And I don't think the British are going to be too happy being searched and their private documents read every time they come back into the country.

So what about a firewall, similar to that the Chinese Government use to stop their own population reading about events like Tiananmen Square and democracy demonstrations? I'm sure the population would be delighted to discover that the Government are planning to censor the words that they can read.

And isn't all this information findable in books? Why don't we burn books as well? And libraries! And then kill the scientists who might somehow try to teach other people how bombs can be built? And teachers!

I have drawn parallels between the Labour Government and the Nazi Party before. This one just writes itself.


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thanks For Listening!

This is a message to Mike Ashley and Chris Mort, who appear to read my blog.

Thanks for sacking Allardyce, as I asked. And thanks for hiring Keegan, as I asked just the other day!

Nice to know someone out there listens to me!

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Separated At Birth?

You may recall at the end of last week a story about a pair of twins who, having been separated at birth and adopted by different families in different parts of the country, had hooked up and got married. Only then did they discover they were brother and sister and had to get the marriage secretly annulled.

Shocking stuff, really: separating twins during the adoption process, the strange attraction of the familiar, the taboo of incest - it's a headline writer's dream (see Foetal Attraction) especially given its Wagnerian overtones.

Only one problem.

Is any of it actually true?

There are a number of questions that spring to mind here. Firstly, if you were adopted and found out your partner was also adopted, and you shared the same birthday, wouldn't you then start to wonder if you might just possibly be related?

Okay I know that some people who were adopted as children may have the adoption date as their birthday, rather than their actual birthday, but you'd still think that both of them being adopted - and from the same City - would have led to quite long and involved conversations about their past. Probably along the lines of "you too, eh? Freaky coincidence." Even more freaky would be them NOT discovering they were related seeing as the chance of them both not having passports (and thus never having seen their birth certificates to discover this information) must be pretty low*.

Secondly, while the idea that the UK actually used to separate twins when they were put up for adoption is indeed horrific, you do need to look at the tense. Used to. It hasn't been done for the past 40 years. Indeed it's now unusual for brothers/sisters to be split up, let alone twins. So if this case is true, then the twins are over 40. This doesn't reduce the likelihood of it happening, but does make it seem more likely to be an old story, possibly a very old story, no?

Thirdly, it is just a bit *too* Wagnerian, isn't it? Seeing as it pretty much is the plot of Wagner's The Valkyrie. The separated twins Siegmund and Sieglinde meet by chance, feel a powerful attraction, discover that they're related, and being German, then have sex. (The resultant child is Siegfried, without whom there'd be neither of the two further operas of the Ring cycle, which is another argument against incest).

The sad part of this whole tale is that while it might have actually happened, the only source for its recent reincarnation in the press is Lord Alton, who mentioned it in a debate about the transparency of donation to IVF treatment. He claimed initially to have spoken to the judge who annulled the marriage, but has since changed his position and said it may have been a judge who knew the judge who knew the judge etc.

Essentially, this may well be just an urban myth.

* 80% of the UK Population (as of August 2004) had a British Passport according to figures obtained from here

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Not About Football

Drav posted this on Facebook and I'm passing this on: a fantastic site listing the top 100 "greatest" quotes from Fundamentalist Christian Chatrooms (and many other places besides)

There are oh so many pearls of wisdom on here but I shall share a couple for those of you who can't be bothered on clicking links.

"I often debate with evolutionists because I believe that they are narrow mindedly and dogmatically accepting evolution without questioning it. I don't really care how God did what He did. I know He did it."

"Everyone knows scientists insist on using complex terminology to make it harder for True Christians to refute their claims.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid, for example... sounds impressive, right? But have you ever seen what happens if you put something in acid? It dissolves! If we had all this acid in our cells, we'd all dissolve! So much for the Theory of Evolution, Check MATE!"

And my personal favourite;

"How can anyone beleive we evolved from monkeys heres a few questions for people who beleive that

1.If we did evolve from monkeys then how come babies arent born monkeys

2.Even Darwin said his theories were wrong before he died so why do you still believe them you really not believe the bible it says we were created in seven days not millions of years come we cant speak monkey"

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Monday, January 14, 2008

So Why Keegan?

Following on from my post of earlier today (below), here are some of the reasons I'd like to see Kevin Keegan installed as manager of Newcastle United.

1. He loves the club.

Not just in a shirt-kissing way that some footballers do when they want to get the fans onside just before a big money move to one of their local rivals (and yes Alan Smith, I am looking at you here), but in a mind-blowing, can't-talk-about-it-without-getting-misty-eyed kind of way. Witness how utterly important Newcastle winning the Premiership was to him, and how he was so totally destroyed when we lost to Man Utd.

That is the kind of uber loyalty money just cannot buy. It's the same kind of thing we had when Sir Bobby Robson was at the helm (and I still cannot believe Fat Freddie Shepherd had the gall to sack him and replace him with Souness, but that's another story) and you knew he cared when the results weren't going the right way. I'm sure it's the same thing Alan Shearer would have if he were manager some day (but not today, he's not got any experience).

2. He's played for the club.

Sounds a weird reason, but think about it for a moment. Unless you've played for Newcastle United and felt what comes off the stands when things are going right - and wrong - how are you going to know what the players are feeling? How can you possibly be a man manager without knowing exactly you wanted to hear in the same situation?

Better than many possible managers, Keegan hasn't played for one of our major rivals (unlike the not sorely missed Allardyce who'd played for Sunderland) or managed a minor one (I cannot believe anyone is seriously thinking we'd go for McLaren after he'd been in charge of Boro).

3. He's managed the club.

Again, a very odd reason, but the logic from above stands. Unless you've managed Newcastle United before - and the hype was even bigger when Keegan was in charge than it is now (remember the Adidas & Sugar Puffs adverts?) - you have no way of knowing just how much the press and every single person from the North East is going to analyse every single thing you do.

Saying that, there's not a great deal of managers we'd welcome back with open arms - Souness I'm looking at you here - but Keegan and Robson would definitely be two of them. Even Roeder if he was installed back as the Academy boss (he oversaw the development of two current first teamers and many more who could yet make the grade).

No-one understands the pressure cooker of being Newcastle boss better than Keegan. It nearly killed him the last time, and he's older and wiser now.

4. He's currently not in management.

Since resigning from Manchester City, Keegan has been out of club management. To some people this means he's not got his finger on the pulse and is out of touch with current methods of training. To me, this means he's had time to develop and hone the training methods he was previously successful with and isn't in the thrall of the latest fad.

Handily, and I'm sure this will be something to appeal to Mike Ashley, it also means that we won't have to pay cash money to another club in order to get him. Very handy seeing as we're having to pay a reported £6 million to Allardyce for terminating his contract, and Portsmouth wanted the same amount if we'd taken Redknapp off them. Let's keep the money to buy decent players, shall we?

5. He's likely to resign.

Not a great reason, I have to admit, but it makes further financial sense.

Keegan quit Newcastle after deciding he couldn't take them any further. We'd finished second in the league twice in quick succession. Souness was sacked after such highlights as losing 3-0 to Man City, Gullit after losing to the Mackems, Roeder after losing an FA Cup replay to the then lower league Birmingham. They all cost us money to get rid of. Keegan went for free.

Keegan will either do the job brilliantly, and then quit. Or he will fail to achieve the standards he's set himself, and then quit. It will cost us NOTHING to terminate his contract, he'll do that himself.


Sam Allardyce, A Fond Farewell.

So Sam Allardyce got the sack/mutual consent from NUFC last week. There were lots of people phoning into TalkSport and Radio Five that evening to say that it was too soon and he should have been given more time. There were other people saying that he'd had a few months more than Eriksson had had at Manchester City and look how well he was doing, so he deserved to get the push. There were even a few fools ringing in demanding that Alan Shearer be the new manager, despite him having no managerial qualifications and a cushy life on the Match of the Day sofa.

I will come to who I'd like to be the next manager at the end, but first, I think I should back Mike Ashley's decision to sack Sam.

After our stunning 6-0 loss to Manchester United this weekend (which would have been a loss even if we'd had a manager going into the game) we stand 11th and SIX points behind the team above us in the Premiership table (West Ham United). We are, however, only six points above the relegation zone (the spot currently occupied by S*nderland) and we've lost to pretty much every team between 18th and 12th. After a near Cup exit to the mighty Stoke, I'm only surprised Ashley waited so long.

Allardyce was the last remnant of the Fat Freddie Shepherd regime. His tactics were questionable, his recent purchases mainly awful and his insistence on not talking to the BBC just childish. The people who pay to watch the Toon don't want to see the long ball game, they don't want dour 0-0 draws at home, and they don't want the slightly erratic local kid not even on the bench when you're playing a fat Aussie from Smogville up front.

We like wingers. We like two centre forwards. We like playing it on the ground to feet. We like creative midfielders. We like, in short, attacking football. We understand that sometimes it won't work and we'll get hit on the counter, we don't mind losing if we've played well. We want the players to look like they're trying as hard as they can - like the shirt matters to them as much as it matters to us.

The way we've been playing recently (one win in six, visit to Arsenal to come), there was every chance we'd be moving down the table and not up. And if we were to get relegated.. Hmmm, I was going to write how bad it would be, but you know what, it wouldn't be that bad.

We'd lose some of our big wage earners: but hey, they're shit and don't care about the club, so good riddance to them. We'd lose the corporates at the games: good, see ya, don't let the turnstyle hit your well-upholstered arse on the way out. Some of the fans may even get a much needed dose of reality: we are *not* big enough to win the Premiership or to guarantee European football every season.

Sure we'd end up in the Championship getting fouled off the park by teams that had just come up from League One, but you know what, we'd learn how to fight, and we'd learn how to beat teams we're supposed to beat. We were supposed to beat Derby (P22 7PTS) this season, but lost away and then just about scraped a draw at home (Beye equalising in the 90th minute).

We'd also have something an incoming manager could aim for. Either save us from relegation this season or get us straight back up to the Premiership next season. No "aiming for a European place", not "guaranteeing silverware". Just stop us from getting worse, get us some players who want to play for us and get us playing football as a team again.

So while Mark Hughes (currently joint favourite) could do the job - he's transformed Blackburn on a fairly limited budget - why would he leave a team that he's just got playing the way he wants? Ditto David Moyes, Gordon Strachan and everyone else who has a job. Harry Redknapp, the last name to be linked, no thanks - we don't need another manager involved in the Panorama investigation. Can't see Mourinho, Lippi, Jol or van Gaal wanting it.

Which leaves only one name, Keegan. And I shall post later on why he is the only choice left.

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What I'm Up To Soon

So, handily, this weekend I don't seem to have anything planned. Which is, as you'll see, quite unusual. I'm hoping to meet Dave Sherlock for a pint (or two) though, as I'm going to be missing the official opening of his new pub, The Hope on Feb 2nd.

I would have been there then, but unfortunately due to a clash of dates, I'm actually going to be in Sardinia that weekend instead! Yep, thanks to Suzi and the Ryan Air free flights deal, we're off to Alghero for the weekend. Well, technically we're there for just over 24 hours, but it is at a weekend, so I'm calling it a weekend away.

The weekend after this (26th & 27th), my flatmate Jane, is off to Canada for the wedding/civil ceremony of Mickey & Miron. So I'll be looking after the (feathered) birds and probably sitting naked in the lounge covered in chips. Mmmm, chips.

The weekend after that is Sardinia, as previous mentioned, then the weekend after that I'm going to watch kick boxing! Went a few months ago and really enjoyed it, so we're off again that Saturday. No plans as yet for the Sunday, but I'm sure something will come up.

The Saturday after that (16th Feb) we're seeing the Dropkick Murphy's at Brixton Academy, followed by another visit there on the Monday night to see Jimmy Eat World. Then the weekend after that (23rd Feb) a trip back up to Newcastle to see Jimmy Eat World again (as well as my brother and Margaret) before flying back to London on the Monday lunchtime.

Handily we've nothing planned for the first weekend in March, but the next weekend, we're off to Girona (near Barcelona) for the night before flying home on the Sunday.

So basically, if you think I'm ignoring you, or you just don't see as much of me as you used to, I hope the above explains why! I probably don't hate you. I mean, I might, but it is unlikely. Unless your name happens to be Sam Allardyce, then I do hate you.

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What I've Done So Far This Year

So it's already a couple of weeks into January and I've not written anything for nearly a month (and thanks to Mia for the kick up the arse). So a quick recap of what I've been up to recently.

New Year was spent in South London with Suzi, then back to work for the next two days before a drive up to Newcastle for my brother and his wife's joint 50th Birthday party. It's actually not Geoff's birthday until July, but as it's their 25th Wedding Anniversary in June and there's a lot of people heading up for that, he decided to have his 50th celebrations when Margaret's took place.

Surprisingly nice time was had, saw a lot of people I'd not seen for years (decades in some cases) and spent the majority of the evening chatting to them. Line of the evening was Peter's who, noticing Suzi was on soft drinks with a hand on her still sore stomach, leans over and says "Is there something you're not telling us?". I laughed. I think Suzi would have killed him if she hadn't been feeling so rough!

Drove back to London on the Sunday afternoon and got back to mine early evening. Drove Suzi back to hers on the Monday (having taken the day off work thinking I'd be driving back on the Monday from Newcastle) and was back at work on the Tuesday. Work - which I'll rarely talk about on here as it's quite dull unless you're a geek - is still busy, and has been getting increasingly hectic for over a year now. I am so hoping for a lottery win.

Speaking of feeling like a million dollars, this past weekend I went shopping for clothes (I am segue-tastic). Having spent a few years living as a fat man, I still dress like one, despite having lost a reasonable amount of weight. So I look for the Large & X-Large range. I've now discovered that I should be looking in the Medium to Large ranges instead. I've also found that I can fit comfortably in the next size of jeans down from what I was wearing (w00 h00)! So that was jolly good for the soul.

Then Saturday night I was off to Hannah's house for her birthday. I'm not normally a fan of house parties, but I actually really enjoyed this one. Was nice to be stood in the kitchen and chat to a whole load of people I'd not seen for months. Just a shame I couldn't hang around for a bit longer, but that's work for you.

So, that's what I've been up to since New Year. Not terribly exciting, but mostly very enjoyable. I'll post what I've got to look forward to over the next 8 weeks and you can be amazed at how busy a boy can be!


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