August 2009 Archives

Glum Councillors.

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Via the ever-cheery Councillor Andrew Cooper, father of the best policy ever, comes Glum Councillors. You must have seen them. They kneel by potholes, point at graffiti, and hug postboxes. To prove it's not just Lib Dems who do this, I give you the future Green MP for Norwich South, Adrian Ramsay, in an absolute classic of the genre.


What's in a name?

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Political anagrams have long been a source of amusement, especially if they can be seen as standing up some pre-existing political point. Two notable examples are of Virginia Bottomley (I'm an evil Tory bigot, somewhat unfairly) and Tony Blair (if you use the full "Tony Blair MP" you get I'm Tory Plan B). 

The shorter a name the harder it is to get a good anagram, which is why Rich Arse is so impressive for Chris Rhea. With this in mind, I wondered whether the Scottish parties and their nice long names might provide some easy pickings. Remember, it's only a meaningless game.

Scottish Conservative Party
Catchy Transvestite Proviso
Trashy Coven Visit Spectator - I envisage this as the Spectator magazine
Activate Press Thirst Convoy
Soviet Tavern Chastity Corps
Invasive Crotch - Sporty Taste

Scottish Green Party
Persistent Chat Orgy
Prosthetic Angry Set
Shoestring Party Etc - this is 100% true, so appears despite being a bad anagram
Gritty Phone Actress
Atheist Gentry Corps 

Scottish Labour Party
Statutory Crab Polish
Busy Hospital Tractor
Solitary Butch Pastor
Robust Postal Charity
Trashy Tribal Octopus - possibly my favourite on this list

Scottish Liberal Democrats
Orchestrate Basic List Mold
Bothersome Acrid Class Tilt
Democratic Asbestos Thrill
Storm? Ditch Electoral Basis

Scottish National Party
Hypnotic Trot Assailant
Hast Only Cast Partition
Nasty Atlantic Riot Shop
Thirsty Satanic Platoon

Any other entries?

(pic via weaving)

Lying about flying.

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futureairship.jpgA group called Future Heathrow recently put out ads claiming that "A third runway won't make Heathrow any noisier or dirtier" and that "... it won't get the green light unless local air quality meets stringent EU standards on concentrations of nitrogen dioxide". 

When this nonsense was challenged by a complainant to the ASA, it turns out Future Heathrow is actually BAA, or at least that BAA replied on their behalf from an address at Heathrow itself. Both claims were duly rejected as likely to mislead, and the advert mustn't appear again.

It's tired and dishonest astroturfing, which is hardly surprising when that their environment page only mentions climate change in passing, and then only in pretty curious terms. I'm surprised they didn't just get the former Marxists behind Modern Movement to put the ads out. Then again, they haven't posted anything since March, so their quixotic crusade for us all to emit as much CO2 as possible in the name of class equality may be over.

I have a vision for a future Heathrow too. One where clean, green and efficient airships take people on somewhat more leisurely foreign holidays. An older blog post has more on the time it would take. Helium is entirely safe, and lighter-than-air craft don't have to waste fuel on lift. Meanwhile, domestic travellers whizz past on high-speed electric trains, and local residents get shot of the noise and pollution. 

The local campaigners against the Runway Three expansion have been rightly lauded, and it remains one of the signature issues Labour's profoundly wrong about. If you want to help, here's the HACAN website.

Good food is only moments away.

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So it says in the Parliament canteen, and for lovers of spicy food this was true, at least until Mai Thai moved away. The canteen food is fine, and the staff are lovely, but it is pretty bland. 

Hence this off-topic post, comprising my top ten hot sauces for livening up Parliamentary cuisine. 

A note on the heat ranking: I could, of course, use the proper Scoville scale, but I don't have the technology to do the tests. 

By my scale, anything below four isn't really hot, and anything over eight should be handled with caution. Also, I'm not an extremist: hottest doesn't necessarily mean best.

1. Mr Vikki's King Naga. The name says it all. The king of hot sauces, made from the hottest chili in the known universe, but full of flavour as well. There are plenty of hotter sauces, but this is rich and complex. Excellent mixed with houmous in a sandwich too. 
Heat: 9/10
Country of origin: UK

2. Sriracha. A thick red garlicky paste sold in big squeezy bottles, internationally loved and great with simple things like fried egg rolls. My favourite version here is by Flying Goose.
Heat: 7/10
Country of origin: Thailand 

3. Mr Vikki's Hot Banana. Apologies, this is really cheating. It's not a hot sauce, it's a chutney, and it's not even particularly hot despite the name. It is, however, so outstandingly and implausibly good that it can come third even in the wrong list. Buy several at a time - I find jars sometimes don't last very long, in one case less than twenty minutes. (note: we've only had the regular - they're now doing a habanero version, to which the link refers)
Heat: 3/10
Country of origin: UK

4. Swazi Fire. A multi-award winning sauce, this is quite the hottest thing I have ever eaten. It's fair trade, too, so that should offset the carbon footprint. Best used in small quantities as a substitute for fresh chillies.
Heat: 11/10
Country of origin: Swaziland

5. Lingham's with garlic and ginger. A classic southeast Asian dipping sauce, also available as just chilli, or just with garlic, or just with ginger. Seriously, just have the lot in one sauce.
Heat: 5/10
Country of origin: Malaysia

6. Tabasco brown. This is their chipotle-based sauce, and quite the best from the most mainstream hot sauce manufacturers: ideal for veggie breakfasts, and presumably meat ones too. Their garlic version is great as well, and the habanero is an excellent hot hot sauce. In fact, the only one I wouldn't recommend is the rather bland one you get everywhere. Available in gallon jugs (!) for $38.95, but they won't ship to the UK. Ask a friend to help you with that one.
Heat: 5/10
Country of origin: USA

7. Patak's Chilli Pickle. I'm cheating again, this isn't a proper hot sauce either. It is the Indian equivalent, though, a very finely balanced oil pickle, both hot and still curiously subtle. A sandwich staple.
Heat: 6/10
Country of origin: India/UK

8. Reggae Reggae sauce. I found out it'd been on telly after I got into it, believe it or not, so don't let the celebrity put you off. Properly more of a barbeque sauce, but also hot enough to spice up any breakfast. Not recommended on porridge, though. Also, I'd avoid the guava version. It sounds like a good idea, but it's actually really tasteless.
Heat: 4/10
Country of origin: UK

9. South Devon Chili Company's Hot Habanero. A really citrusy number, more so than one might expect from a habanero-based sauce, but also one to apply sparingly. A 60ml bottle should last ages, at least a month.
Heat: 9/10
Country of origin: UK

10. Mama Africa's Peri-peri.  Another really fierce one, made from sacanas (not a variety I've come across elsewhere), but again with a nice broad flavour to it. Approach with caution. Comes with a nice tassel on the bottle, if you like that sort of thing.
Heat: 10/10
Country of origin: South Africa

Finally, seeing as I'm endorsing businesses, Edinburgh and Glasgow residents should check out Lupe Pintos, where many of these sauces can be found and many more besides. It's a spicy treasure trove.

Immodesty permits.

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greenquestionmark.jpgThe Iain Dale blog-ranking bandwagon continues to roll, and thanks to you kind readers, I came second again in the Green list, and moved up three places to five in the Scottish list, despite failing Jeff's peculiar test.

Thanks in particular to Jim, who made me blush spectacularly with these words. There are a fair few Green bloggers who I think do better work than me, and his is the best of those. I'd have asked for a recount if I'd beaten him.

But, as Jim asks in the comments to that piece, what about the others? There are some good Scottish Green blogs out there, and listed to the right (updated today), but there's nothing from our councillors, our branch convenors, or even any of our once and future MSPs. Even Patrick doesn't really blog, but he tweets enough to make up for it, and I don't think I'd recommend him trying to fit a blog into his schedule.

So bring on the competition. I'd love to keep doing what I'm doing and come way behind loads more active Green blogs. Get it together, folks. It's incredibly rewarding, especially on those occasions when people say to me "I saw that bit on your blog and I really agreed/disagreed because.. " That's better than any award. 
happykids.jpgHere's a good case study on bad PR. Suppose there's a skanky bit of wasteland where used needles lurk and an unpopular property developer waits. Imagine an active and committed local community tidy it up, have events with happy wee kids with painted faces (left), and put in some raised beds for fruit and veg. Who do you back?

Welcome to the North Kelvin Meadow debate. We've lined up with the community, and Glasgow City Council have taken them to court. In August. Not clever.

The BBC coverage has a neat before-and-after illustration at the top. As one of the journalists said to me yesterday - "we do love a good bullying Council story in August", and so it went - Express, Sun, Mail, Herald etc. I particularly recommend the Sun's coverage there.

We're going to court tomorrow to see how it goes. Either way, though, the Council will lose, and I suspect they know that now.


f4jsantas.jpgLast night, with the heads of the four other parties' press teams here in Holyrood, I did a presentation and Q&A for the Chartered Institute of PR and an audience of about fifty. 

Although the others on the panel are my direct competition both for stories and within stories, we actually all get on well, and I thought the panel operated as a pretty good team.

However, it was all Chatham House rules, which prevents me from retelling entertaining stories about the career of Ramsay Jones, the Tories' head of media here. I can say his advice was excellent, and he's also the author of one of the best media comments ever. When Fathers4Justice piled up the Santas on Holyrood's roof, he gave following the line (roughly) "Whatever the rights and wrongs of their case, it's inappropriate to give kids the impression there's more than one Santa."

Those same Chatham House rules also prevent me from embarrassing one of the PR agencies who came along. Suffice it to say (and this is within the rules*) it's not the best way to win friends in this bit of Parliament to come up afterwards and try to pick a fight over a project your company has worked for and which we don't support. 

The kicker - at the end of that conversation, to try to build some bridges, I said "do let me know if any of your clients do anything sustainable that we might take an interest in", but in a moment of honesty I was told no, none of them do. Can't say I was surprised.

* "When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed."
MarkThomas.gifMark Thomas is currently touring his Manifesto, and it's a great show. The concept is simple. Each night members of the audience suggest policies they like, and then they choose between the submissions. 

It's a "guided democracy", taking account of his preferences. All the ones about hanging go in the bin, apart from the Hanging Register. Only supporters of hanging are hanged when they screw up - ingenious.

He then campaigns on some of the policies his audiences pick. Some are semi-sensible: he's got a team from NEF working on a kind of SATs-type scoring system for MPs. Others seem absurd, but have a serious point. I'm annoyed about tax evasion, but not convinced that invading Jersey to go and get it back is the right answer. Still, protesting outside the MoD with INVADE JERSEY is certainly imaginative. Even making Parliament play the Benny Hill theme if it all kicks off has a kind of perverse sense to it.

We saw it last night, and tonight's was the final show in Edinburgh. Except for one more extra-special one - he's putting all thirteen submissions from Edinburgh to a cross-party panel of MSPs, including Patrick Harvie of this parish. It should be a good gig.

Personally I'd like to see him stand for election himself. If Al Franken can stand and win, so can Mark Thomas. He's swum Douglas Hogg's infamous moat. We've given him the policies. He's ready.
rockymountain.jpgWhen Rupert Murdoch proposed charging for access to News International websites, there were predictions that a stampede of other titles would join in. 

Obviously the smart thing to do for anyone considering taking this approach is to see what it does to Rupert's bottom line, but many are going beyond waiting and seeing.

The Telegraph, for instance, have described it as "a gift to the competition", and if you can think of a more direct competitor to the Times than the Telegraph, do tell. 

The Guardian's heading in the opposite direction: they just took down the last paywall, although that was only around the crossword. A members' club, something they are considering, is not the same beast. The question is this: can you read the paper online or not?

There are somewhat more plausible moves to charge afoot in the States, but the bottom line remains that it'd be a cartel, and there'll be more opportunities in undermining a cartel than there are in taking part. 

Imagine all the UK broadsheets join a paywall conglomerate apart from the Guardian or the Telegraph. Which paper will you read online? Which familiar commentators will you choose when you're buying a paper copy for the train? Who gets blogged about? Which proprietor has influence, which remember is what most people own newspapers for?

If you really want to know what's happening, the best guide is the Kübler-Ross model, which set out the five stages of grief. I shall lazily point you to the Wikipedia page. Here are the stages, as they apply to the newspaper industry:

1. Denial - "This can't be happening, not to me, I have a three-hundred-year-old business model." (c. 2002 - 2004)
2. Anger - "Who is to blame? Is it Craiglist or those pesky bloggers?" (c. 2005 to 2009)
3. Bargaining - "I'll try paywalls again if it gives me a few more years." (right now)
4. Depression - "This industry's going to die. What's the point?" (when the Murdoch experiment fails, probably within a year from when it's brought in)
5. Acceptance - "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."

I'm not sure what the model is for the last phase, and I desperately hope it still includes as much good journalism and commentary as possible. But I'm convinced that Clay Shirky's more likely right about this than Tom Harris or the more thoughtful Doctor Vee.

Previously here:

Twitter vs the Republican right.

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Although I'm on Twitter, I'm not convinced by it as a social tool - it's not even as good as Facebook status discussions, which is saying something. However, I get it for business, and I get it for campaigns. Tonight's a great example.

As Obama tries to do something about the American pay-or-die health care system, his opponents have attacked him for trying to recreate the evil socialist NHS. 

One of them went far too far and put it about that Stephen Hawking would have died if he lived in Britain. See how many problems you can spot in that one claim.

It's sparked a furious round of twittering (tweeting still sounds twee, sorry) with people posting their defence of the NHS with the hashtag #WeLoveTheNHS

You click that link, read a flurry of anecdotes, jokes and arguments for, and it tells you immediately that there have been something like "300 more results since you started searching". It's currently the third most popular topic on Twitter, and the BBC, the Telegraph and others have noticed too.

There's a backlash, obviously, with the wingnuts going hard for the socialism stuff. And in one sense they're right. The NHS is socialism in action. I've paid taxes over the last year and not been to the doctor once. When I was unemployed I went to the doctors when I needed to and didn't worry about the cost. It's from each according to his ability, to each according to her need.

It doesn't work for lattes or laptop design, neither of which are actually needs, but it's a damn fine model for health care. It's also the best thing Old Labour ever achieved, it's worth protecting, and it's time to roll back the PFI/PPP marketisation forced upon it by both New Labour and every sort of Conservative.

Question, though. If twittering about it hadn't got the mainstream media's attention, how much impact would this have had on the American campaign? Right now, given the way journalists love techo-novelty, I think it'll help. US media will surely cover it, and they'll have plenty of short quotable stories about the merits of living somewhere where you don't have to feel for your wallet before the doctors feel for a pulse. 
milkorange.jpgThere's something about the SNP and the Liberals in coalition at local authority level which really doesn't work, as we've been finding out since May 2007. 

A chunk of the electorate vote for the SNP milk, and others back the Liberal orange juice, but then the results come in and it all gets poured into the same glass. Unpleasant.

The best explanation I have for this is to do with political principles. The SNP have a single such principle, but sadly it doesn't tell you anything about how to run a local authority beyond "don't embarrass the First Minister otherwise people won't ever vote for independence". 

On the other side, it's hard to identify whether any Liberal principles survive into the modern age. They're for Heathrow expansion and against it, they're for SUV-specific congestion charges and against them, for incinerators and against them, and the list goes on.

The useful thing about having more principles is that it helps you make consistent decisions, decisions which your electorate could rightfully expect you to make. Otherwise you tend to follow what the local paper says as a substitute for leadership or even accountability, or just to twist in the wind of your internal politics.

Edinburgh is a great example. Local residents can only watch as an incompetent administration makes a fist of a public transport scheme that only one of the parties wanted. The SNP in particular constantly bitch about the chaos caused by the installation of the first tram line, while somehow not noticing that they've been in charge of it for more than two years now. Having failed to block it altogether, it's like they've decided to deliver it as incompetently as possible to prove they were right.

The bin dispute is another classic, where a decision devoid of principle has come back to bite them hard. Why don't we offer staff a -50% pay rise and see what happens? Oh, a strike, you say? Jenny Dawe's approach here will be useful to future textbook writers as a case study for how not to treat those already on low pay but properly unionised.

In Aberdeen, it's fair, this same glass of curdled politics inherited a spectacular hole from the last administration, but the Liberals were in that coalition too, so my instinct is to blame them. They did avoid going bankrupt, which is great, and recent reports suggest some progress, but Aberdeen City Council is still hardly a role model for others. 

East Lothian Council has largely avoided problems on this scale, but this week's defection of a husband-and-wife pair of Liberal councillors to their SNP coalition partners must be making for some tense times in the Council chambers and probably some awkward family photos. Here's the previous round of (wildly inaccurate) speculation on the subject for reference. Sounds like fun!
lutherkingdream.jpgPeter Cranie tells the story today of his recent experiences in the dreamland version of Iran. I think it's time to start admitting how political obsession can work its way into dreams. 

This is not cool. In fact, it's properly embarrassing. But here goes. In about 2001, I dreamt an entire Scottish Parliamentary by-election for the Angus constituency. 

The SNP's candidate was Shona Robison, since 2003 the MSP for Dundee East and since 2007 the Minister for Public Health. The Tory challenger was Ben Wallace, now the MP for Lancaster and Wyre. 

I don't think it's any coincidence that I'd worked with both of them through the cross-party group on refugees and asylum seekers, where Wallace defied his whip just by joining the group. His military experience meant he "knew what they've been through", as he put it, and she was the group's efficient convener.

Both were regional list MSPs for the Northeast at the time, so would also have been relatively plausible choices as candidates, and the Tories have indeed been in second place in the seat every time it's been contested. I don't remember anyone else getting a look-in, presumably because the squeeze effect works even in dreams. Nor was there any explanation about what had happened to Andrew Welsh, who still represents Angus at Holyrood. 

When I say I dreamt it, I don't mean that I just dreamt there was a by-election. There was a hustings, copious newspaper coverage, Brian Taylor doing pieces to camera and vox pops, and a full by-election special. Sadly, I woke up before the declaration, in a reversal of the normal run of things, so I can't tell you who won.

I've got one more even more bizarre political dream to confess to as well. If enough other anoraks come out of the woodwork with shameful political dreams I'll do the followup here. It can't just be me and Peter.

Watching the wingnuts.

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The "birthers" are getting a lot of coverage as August drags on - for those of you who live in reality-based communities, these are the bizarro people who think Obama wasn't born in the US, and therefore isn't really President.

Kos fanned the flames with a poll showing only a minority of Republicans and Southerners believe the evidence, but this video takes the biscuit. HuffPost describes it as an interview with an angry Fraggle, which seems about right. Thanks to the inimitable Chez for the spot.

Gap in Westminster thinking.

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gapyear.jpgThe Department of Health is putting the frighteners on young people considering volunteering abroad - do you really want the people you're helping to come down with swine flu? 

They've got an example, too. Kenya's first swine flu case followed a visit by Nottingham University students, some of whom had caught it before they left (not pictured).

So far so clear, even if swine flu is so far failing to live up to the warnings of the sandwich board men. In particular, a hundred times more people die each year just from car crashes than from have died from swine flu.

The new Department for Business Innovation and Skills, created as a vehicle for the ego of Peter Mandelson and his attendant junior lordlings, takes a different view. 

anim.gifThe rotating images on its front page are delightful. They show Mandy looking like a creepy uncle with that trademark strange expression halfway between genial and sinister, followed by a biological closeup of something the dubious Lord Drayson presumably has a conflict of interest in, then a massive space laser for destroying David Cameron, and a dude having an absolutely enormous sneeze to publicise swine flu. 

Their Lordships don't seem particularly worried about the last of these, though, unlike their chums at Health. Others may wish to keep British viral vectors on their gap year at home, but Mandelson is proposing to pay to make sure those self-same gap years go ahead. Joined up government anyone?

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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