Apologies for the lack of posting of late – a combination of work and house-hunting and just general life stuff have been taking up my time.

And now, even better – just as the weather in Southern England is turning to snow, I’m off to Crete for a week in the sun.

After which I will blog about interesting things, I promise…

Blair under police investigation for offending Welsh

I hadn’t heard of this story until this morning, but apparently Tony Blair has been under police investigation for the past six months.  All because he (allegedly) shouted “Fucking Welsh” at his tv.

Mr Blair is said to have shouted “F***ing Welsh” as he watched the results from the Welsh Assembly on election night in 1999.

The alleged remark was revealed in a draft of The Spindoctor’s Diary by Lance Price, a former No 10 press officer and deputy to Alastair Campbell.

Frankly, if Tony Blair wants to shout rude words at the top of his lungs at the tv, he should be perfectly entitled to.  I know I take advantage of the opportunity to swear at my tv (or specifically, the morons on the screen) on a regular basis.

And, considering that he was watching a Welsh assembley election, and he was no doubt displeased at the result of said election, who else exactly is he going to blame for the result?

If democracy means anything, then the Welsh people have to take responsibility for the results of an election in Wales.  Every single person in Wales participates in that election, either directly, by voting, or indirectly, by exercising their option not to vote.  And, they surely have to accept that, someone who didn’t do all that well in the election wouldn’t exactly be well disposed towards them.
Anyway, the police in North Wales took the complaint seriously to launch an investigation, complete with regular road trips to London, which has so far lasted half a year, and is set to last for at least one more month.  All this despite the recommendation of the Crown Prosecution Service that they wouldn’t prosecute the case.
Sadly, no news on exactly how much the investigation has cost in terms of cold hard taxpayers cash.

Hungarian police blogger missing

Henrik, from Hungarian Accent blog reports the worrying story of a policeman blogger from Budapest whose blog – Police – has closed down mysteriously, and who appears to be missing:

“At Nyugati square we waited for an hour for Police, with whom we would have had a meeting scheduled for 10 at the rotating clock, but as he did not arrived by 11, we went into some pizzeria instead to have breakfast and to warm up as we were freezing. I don’t know what could have happened to Police, he is unreachable via phone all day and his blog interestingly is erased either by Freeblog or by himself, although I consider that latter option unlikely. Anyway I hope nothing happened to him and he will show up by evening.”

Henrik points out that information about ths police bloggers disappearance is scarce, but is nonetheless worried.

The Northern Irish Magyar adds a little context to the case, suggesting that offending the wrong people in Hungary can have serious consequences:

Hungarian “Businessmen” or politicians are not great believers in the concept of an independent and feisty media, or actually any general exchange of information.

Couple of wrong words in the wrong open forum and before you can mutter “freedom of speech” you’ll be hauled up in front of the Biro or be making an unscheduled appoitment with several baseball bats down a back street.

If true, this puts the recent story about a British police blogger who closed because he was worried he would face disciplinary action into perspective. And even more alarming perhaps – this is happening in a EU member state.
Whether there is anything to this story, or whether it’s all a big mix up, it’s probably too early to say for sure.  But I’ll keep an eye out for news.

Lib Dems play Pied Piper

Once again, the Liberal Democrats prove that they are completely out of touch with modern Britain.  A ‘how to campaign’ leaflet advises:

“You go into the middle of a council estate with your leaflets and you shout at all the local kids you can see and hear ‘any of you lot want to help deliver all these leaflets?’.

“Then proceed Pied Piper-like round the estate doling out badges and toffees and leaflets, the last at least to be pushed through doors by the shouting, squealing and quarrelsome horde.”

I don’t know which council estates are the usual stomping ground of the Lib Dem who wrote this guidance, but if he tried to pull this stunt on any council estate here in London, he’d count himself lucky if the local kiddies only threw a brick or two at his head.

The Lib Dem leadership are trying to play the story down, saying that the guidance is 12 years old.  But Lib Dem websites are still selling it, so someone out there at grass-roots level must believe it’s good advice.

And even 12 years ago – what on earth were they thinking?

Rewriting the international rulebook

British Defence Secretary John Reid calls for international law to be completely re-written to facilitate fighting global terrorism. He wants the Geneva Convention to be re-thought, too:

“We risk trying to fight 21st-century conflict with 20th-century rules which, when they were devised, did not contemplate the type of enemy which is now extant,” he said. “The laws of the 20th century placed constraints on us all which enhanced peace and protected liberty. We must ask ourselves whether, as the new century begins, they will do the same.”

I think he’s right. The mighty edifice that is international law was mainly constructed just after the second world war, when states were the only real international actors that could bring force to bear. Today, though, they are not.

Terrorist organisations are battering away at the front door, with a view to affect international affairs, and not just the domestic issues they used to restrict themselves to. Granted, their weapon of choice would be better compared to an unsharpened chisel than to a battering ram, and they are nowhere close to being able to bring the whole structure of international society down. But they are a part of our international system today, whether we like it or not, and they present a growing threat.

As long as international law doesn’t recognise the role they now play in the international system, efforts to combat their threat will prove ineffective. Instead of actually acting directly to oppose them, we’ll tie ourselves in legal and philosophical knots, as we try to shoehorn them into our current laws.

Terrorist organisations aren’t the only issue that our international law is currently ill-equipped to deal with. Failed states don’t fit either. How do you apply a legal system based on state sovereignty, when there is no state, just a lawless territory?

We need to take the time to make an urgent review of just what the international dynamics of this planet are today, and adjust our laws accordingly.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting we tear up the current rule-book and start again. We actually have a pretty good legal system which has – sort of – worked for the past 50 years. But if we want it to work for the next 50 years, we need to figure out what laws still apply, what laws no longer apply, and what new laws we should apply.

Update: The Responsibility to Protect agreement, by the way, is a very good start.

…back in September 2005 at a UN summit, every member (including the Sudan!) signed an agreement on the so-called “responsibility to protect” allowing foreign powers to intervene in a country if the national authorities fail to protect their population from things such as genocide.

Although, depressingly, the fine words of the agreement don’t yet seem to have been followed up by the rest of the world in their dealings with Sudan.

New York Times gets a facelift

The New York Times has launched its redesigned website, and its now packed with snazzy new (well, they were new a couple of years back) ideas, such as lists of most blogged stories. They’ve also made the site wider, after taking note of the fact not many people still have 800×600 monitors.
nytimes.jpgAnil Dash, from Six Apart (they of Movable Type and Typepad fame) thinks the new design shows that the NY Times have been learning from bloggers, not just because of the content innovations, but because of their design “aesthetic” – mainly lots of white space.

I have to say that “it looks like a blog” wasn’t the first thing that sprang to mind when I saw the new site. Instead, I was surprised by how much more like the New York Times print edition. One big picture to give focus, with the lead stories of the day arrayed around it.

Which, actually, in my book is a good thing. I know we are supposed to use they web in new and exciting ways. But, in all my time, I’ve never really found a website that, for front page design, has bettered the humble print newspaper.

BBC to run adverts for international web-viewers

In just a few months, if you visit the website from abroad, you’ll see adverts as you browse:

As a commercial organisation which “buys rights from the BBC at commercial rates”, Worldwide is keen to improve its returns on behalf of taxpayers, he said. New software employed by the BBC is able to track overseas users of “What we are investigating is: should the BBC make money from these people and return it back to licence-fee payers to invest in programmes,” said Mr Moody.

Given that one in three hits to a BBC website is from abroad, this could be a pretty big moneyspinner for the BBC.

There is some opposition to the move, mainly from the BBC’s domestic rivals, who complain that the BBC is taking advantage of it’s public funding.  But, as one of the millions of British licence payers who fund the BBC, I say go for it.

I pay for the BBC’s services, but the billions of people who access the BBC (particularly its websites) from abroad don’t, and this is a pretty good way of getting ensuring that I don’t subsidise the world.  In particular, I like the advertising model, because it allows the BBC to generate revenue primarily from the richer users (because they pay for the advertising indirectly), while maintaining the site as free to access for people from poorer countries, that aren’t targets for the advertisers.

Egyptian anti-Denmark cartoons

This is possibly the best news I’ve heard in a while to come out of the whole cartoon saga. An Egyptian newspaper has run a cartoon contest in direct response to the Danish ‘anti-Islamic’ cartoons of a few months ago.

Rantings of a Sandmonkey has copies of all the cartoons, plus translations. This is my favourite:
cartoon kills dove.jpg

Many of the cartoons, like the one above, focus on the pen is mightier than the sword theme – the pen often committing physical violence upon the (always peaceful) people of Islam. A few have anti-semitic themes.

What’s so good about this series of cartoons isn’t their content, though. It’s the very fact that cartoons are being used to get a political message across, rather than violence. Whether we agree with that message is, at this stage, neither here nor there.