Railway stations “poor advertisment” for UK

Someone on high has just realised that Britain’s railway stations are in an appallingly bad state, and that this doesn’t reflect well on the country.

The [Public Accounts] committee’s chairman, Tory MP Edward Leigh, said: “Far too many small and medium-sized stations are threatening places, with poorly-lit, graffiti-covered passages and platforms, vandalised facilities and no staff on hand.

“As it is, a large number of Britain’s railway stations are a poor advertisement for our country.”

The reason our railway stations are in such a grotty condition is because British citizens vandalise them.   So, too bloody right they’re a poor advertisment for our country.  But they’re an accurate one.

The local railway station where I grew up (Bridgwater, in the heart of cider country, in case you were wondering) was in a shocking state a decade ago.  A beautiful, old Victorian station, it suffered from the twin problems of being both difficult to fence off from vandals, and from having an overabundance of large panes of glass incorporated into its design.  You can guess what happened next.
Happily though, the Queen deigned one day to stop ever so briefly at Bridgwater railway station en route to an official visit to Devon, the next county.  Her whole visit was for the grand total of about 20 minutes, I believe.  But the prospect of utter humiliation managed to spur the local council, or railway authorities, or whoever is actually responsible for keeping railway stations looking pretty, into repainting the station, and replacing all the shattered windows.

The station looked lovely when the Queen came.

A year later, it didn’t.

Stupid statement alert

I don’t have too much to say on the whole issue of the government’s defeat yesterday over the incitement to religious hatered bill.  Essentially, the government lost because the Labour whips miscalculated how many votes they’d need, didn’t call back some MPs from Scotland, didn’t tell Tony Blair that he should vote and, as a consequence lost by one vote.

So what do the Tories have to say about it?

“We didn’t expect to win,” one senior Tory admitted. “But they took their eye off the ball, that is the arrogance of power.”

This is possibly the most moronic statement I’ve read all day.  Someone makes a mistake – a stupid one to be sure – but a mistake nonetheless. And it’s down to “the arrogance of power”.  Not incompetence, or miscalculation, or lack of sleep, or too many things to do, or anything straightforward like that, but because of the “arrogance of power.” 

Sigh.  If this person is a “senior Tory,” one has to wonder about the Tories’ grasp of reality.  Do we really want to elect someone who doesn’t actually understand that mistakes are usually made because someone did something stupid?

OK, rant over.

US Congressman rewrites his Wikipedia entry

An alarming, but not very surprising development from the United States:

Members of U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan’s staff have acknowledged they deleted unflattering information about a broken campaign promise from an online encyclopedia, according to a published report.

Content on Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that relies on volunteers to post information, was replaced to remove references to Meehan’s broken term limit pledge, the Sun of Lowell reported.

Meehan’s chief of staff Matt Vogel told the newspaper that he oversaw the removal last July of information, which was replaced with a staff-written biography.

Meehan, a Lowell Democrat, pledged to serve just four terms — eight years — but he later broke that campaign promise. He’s currently serving his seventh term.

I wonder how long it will be before we see the first UK politician trying the same stunt.

Although, actually, this brings to mind the question – how many British politicians actually have biographies on Wikipedia?

Hat tip: The New Editor

Blair to step down “sometime” shock

David Blunkett says that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have reached an “understanding” that Blair will step down sometime over the next couple of years in favour of Brown:

Asked about the relationship between the two men, Mr Blunkett told BBC1’s Sunday AM programme: “My sense is that there is a new understanding, yes … When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown work together we are a winner, and when they are divided our opponents can divide us, it is as simple as that.” He added that it was “self-evident” that the chancellor would succeed Mr Blair. “And whether it is a year or two years, it actually will be a sensible process of combining the talents that we have.” A source close to Mr Brown said: “The prime minister has made it clear he is stepping down during this parliament and that he wants a stable transition. Any suggestion that there is a new deal on that transition is totally wrong.”

OK, David Blunkett is still thought to be quite close to Tony Blair, despite the scandals that have driven Blunkett out of office, so there is a fair chance that he is passing the word down from on high.

But, to be honest, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that Blair is going to have to stand down in a couple of years anyway, at the absolute maximum.

Where’s the news here?

Simon Hughes – gay, bisexual, whatever

Everyone seems to be getting upset about the whole Simon Hughes being ‘gay’ thing. But not about him being gay as such – that would be politically incorrect. Instead, everyone’s getting upset because, last week, when a journalist asked him if he was gay, he said “no”. But this week, he told the world that he’d slept with both men and women. Which makes him automatically ‘gay’ in the eyes of most in the media, it would seem.

Now actually, this technically makes him bisexual (assuming he is telling the truth, of course, which I think he probably is).

I guess that there is some kind of case for saying he deliberately confused the issue when he said he wasn’t gay. While he didn’t necessarily lie, he wasn’t exactly forthcoming with the truth – which is what, as a politician, he does for a living.

But this is what I really can’t understand… every British journalist with even a passing interest in politics knew that Hughes was, if not gay, then… not exactly straight. So, when said to a journalist “No, I’m not gay”, was it entirely beyond the wit of the United Kingdom’s assembled journalists to ask the probing follow ups -“are you bisexual?”, “are you straight?” or, even, “tell us about your sexuality, Simon”?

RFIDs in ID cards?

Tim Worstall has been digging, and wonders whether, despite denials, the goverment is actually planning to incorporate RFID tags into ID cards.

He quotes from a Telegraph report:

…a leaked letter from Mr Burnham indicates that the chips will use radio frequencies to allow “contactless” reading of the card by special scanners.

The Home Office said the signals emitted would be picked up only at a distance of a few inches. But Phil Booth, co-ordinator of the No2ID campaign, said receivers could easily be boosted to receive signals from much further away.

In the comments, he asks for anyone with technical knowledge to tell him if it’s possible. And the scary answer comes back – yes, and it’s not just the government who could benefit:

RFID snooping is only a matter of a non-standard antenna or of illegal power amplification. The world record was demonstrated last July – 69 feet through the roof of a hotel, for RFID tags which have a normal working range of about a metre or less.

[…] The worrying scenario is that the terrorists who are currently building bombs and booby traps in Iraq using infra-red detonators, would be able to use such “unique” EFID tags to target either individuals or to wait until a certain number of, say US or British passport or ID Card holders were within range before exploding.

OK, I’m getting a little worried now. Time to join the anti-ID card campaign, methinks. And maybe, as Tim suggests, begin checking out investment opportunities in companies that can make mini-Faraday cages.