Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ah, So That's How Much You Respect Our Country...

When the historians look back at the 2009 European Elections, I suspect they will marvel at the extent to which the field was already full of "You know they're corrupt, vote for me because you don't know I am" candidates before the Torygraph brought the roof of the House of Commons crashing down around MPs ears. It's a shame that it will have to be the historians who do the marvelling, because they deserve a lot more scrutiny (read: pointing and laughing) than they're getting.

UKIP do get coverage (if not especially scrutiny), but they don't count since their message is more "We are corrupt, but not as much as they are". Jury Team had their little blaze of launch-related glory, but once it became absolutely clear that they were just a massively multiplayer experiment to determine whether Paul Judge's ego was bigger than his wallet, the whole thing disappeared faster than Cristiano in Rome...

And then there's No2EU, or as they might more accurately be described, UKIP For Communists. They are of course their own ego trip, this time for Bob Crow, the man who thinks he's Robespierre. Still, you have to take an organisation seriously when it constitutes an alliance of the RMT, the Alliance For Green Socialism and the Liberal Party and when its most experienced candidates are Tommy Sheridan and Dave Nellist...

Still, if by a man's actions you shall know him, my encounter with one of their number this evening was instructive. Walking home from work I found a man flyposting for No2EU on the billboards at the junction of Callaghan Square and Tyndall Street. Now, I didn't mind him doing the one on the left (which currently bears the UKIP poster from blogs passim) but when I caught him, he'd just started on the one on the right.

Which is advertising the British Army.

I tried to take a picture of him, but my phone decided to have a funny turn and switch to video mode, so I had to make do with making him scarper for fear of being caught with the vandal's brush in his hand. Still, it's nice to know that the eurosceptics of the world know how to behave with respect to our fighting men and women...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Haymaker For A Hay Maker

Few tales have humbled me as an elected politician more than the curious case of Leo Blair's MMR jab.

As we are reminded by the ever-excellent Dr Ben Goldacre in his book, Bad Science (accompanying his weekly column in The Grauniad and his blog) the MMR scare did not begin with Andrew Wakefield's study in The Lancet in 1998; it had just gotten going in 2001 when Tony and Cherie were asked whether baby Leo had had the jab. Somewhere between their refusal to confirm or deny and Sylvia and Carole Caplin's perceived influence and vocal opposition to MMR, 2002 was the year MMR leapt out of the hands of the science correspondents and into the grubby little protuberances of the columnists.

The results we all know about; reams of evidence showing no link between MMR and autism going ignored by meeja hors assuming smoke as proof of fire, while vaccination rates plummet and more and more children needlessly face death and disablement. Indeed, today brings us news that there are over 200 cases of measles in Wales at present, as average vaccination rates of just 82% (against the 95% herd immunity threshold) have allowed outbreaks to take hold from Llanelli to Llandudno.

I was therefore furious to read in yesterday's South Wales Echo that Neil McEvoy, Leader of the Plaid group on Cardiff Council and a Deputy Leader of the Council, is considering taking his daughter abroad to get the single mumps jab.

Now don't get me wrong, the decision is one for Neil and Neil alone and it's not the gross negligence that failing to immunise at all represents. But that argument swings both ways; if it's Neil's decision and Neil's decision alone, why the hell am I reading about it in the Echo? I mean, didn't using your children to make a political point pretty much go out of the window with John Selwyn Gummer?

But what's more, by endorsing all the anecdotal evidence (and how I wish Dogbert's pronunciations on that were available on YouTube) you reinforce the cycle of fear that's gotten us where we are already. That's not the act of a supposed leader of his community, particularly one whose community includes some of the poorest parts of Cardiff where parents can't even dream of taking their children abroad for vaccinations and where health levels are already appalling. It's also not the act of someone who shares with all of us the responsibility of acting as a corporate parent for looked after children.

I hope Neil's comments don't have that effect, not least because I can remember what it's like to be on the other side of the coin. I was born just too early to receive MMR and as a result, I got all three; rubella at six months, measles at one year and mumps as a six-year-old. Mumps, of course, I remember vividly, and let me tell you, it is by no means flu with a kick. And heck, I was the lucky one, recovering with no long-term damage. I have school friends who cannot say the same. I'd very much prefer it if my children did not end up in that position too.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What A Bunch Of Boobs...

As seen near Gloucester Bus Station;

The prosecution rests, m'lud...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Curse Of Brownite-Moranist-Petardism

A spot of late-night filing with BBC1's "MP Burning Night" leads to an funny little discovery.

Among the many pieces of paper that regularly get shoved through my door as a councillor is the cunningly-entitled C'llr, a magazine of "Information and Inspiration for Councillors from the Local Government Information Unit". Amongst the inspiration is the back page feature, "In My Day", where parliamentarians talk about their time in local government. And who should we find on the back of the March 2009 issue?

Margaret Moran

And on what is she to be found opining?

Social housing, and how the government shouldn't be in the business of building any.

Well if the government investing money in the housing stock is good enough for you...

Monday, May 18, 2009

And We Think Our Sporting Heroes Are Stupid...

In case proof were needed that American politics is a foreign country, news from Delaware, where legislators have voted to legalise sports gambling.

To explain; while horse and greyhound racing are fairly commonplace across the United States, other forms of sports betting were generally frowned on by the states until a federal ban was introduced in 1992. Four states had specific exemptions from that ban for activities that were legal in those states at the time the federal ban was imposed; Delaware's exemption related to a sports lottery (wherein punters bet on the cumulative outcome of a large number of games, the result being akin to a small stake on a big accumulator) that failed back in 1976 but is now one of the centrepieces of new Governor Jack Markell's deficit-reduction plan.

It's hard to argue with the logic, because betting now occupies a more significant place in American sporting culture than in perhaps any country since the height of the football pools in England, be it through the endless journalistic discussion of spread betting prices or the proliferation of college basketball pools even unto the Oval Office.

The source of the obsession is easy to trace, for while Montana and Oregon also have exemptions for lotteries, only one state has legalised betting on individual results. Coupled with Las Vegas' inexorable rise as a cultural venue, Nevada's unique legal position has allowed sports betting to flourish in the American consciousness. Betting from outside Nevada by telephone or internet is of course illegal, but a nod remains as good as a wink to a blind bat...

But despite all that, there is fierce resistance even to Delaware's return to the gambling fold, let alone to any relaxation of either the out-of-state or in-state bans. What's most remarkable, however, is that that resistance is lead not by the political or religious conservatives, but by the sports themselves, with various governing bodies having already threatened sanctions against Delaware teams.

The concern is the exact opposite of the one that gripped Britain for so long; while we were obsessing over lotteries being games of chance, the governing bodies are terrified of the skill element in sports betting and the scope for match-fixing. Some of that goes back to the early days of professional sports and the Black Sox scandal, but compared to the experiences of professional sports in Europe and considering the enormous salaries involved in America such a level of paranoia doesn't seem credible.

Betting exploits of individual players cast an equal shadow over the debate. Baseball remains obsessed with the downfall of Pete Rose (possibly the best pure hitter in history, banned for life after being caught betting on games of the Cincinnati Reds team he was manager of) and basketball is awash with rumours that Michael Jordan's abortive baseball career (as chronicled in that classic documentary film Space Jam) was a cover to allow him to serve a gambling ban without having to admit to doing so.

I wish I had a clever conclusion to all this, but I guess it should just speak for itself.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Births, Marriages And Especially Deaths

On one level, the decision of the majority of Plaid AMs to ignore party policy and back their coalition partners in introducing top-up fees in Wales is a tragedy for every Welsh student, present and future. But on another level it's a far more profound political event, my feelings about which are best described thus;


Suddenly on the floor of the Senedd on Wednesday May 14th 2009, aged 84, of an overdose of cowardice in response to a morbid desire for ministerial car-related buttock comfort. Beloved father of Leanne and Bethan. Resting at Ty Gwynfor, Atlantic Wharf, Cardiff. Funeral service at the ballot box across Wales before June 3rd, 2010. No flowers.

Friday, May 01, 2009

As Spike Said To Mr Justice Caulfield

See, I take a post-conference break from blogging for some application form-related torture and the Welsh blogosphere decides to set itself on fire. And while peace has broken out on some fronts (something I'm all in favour of) there's clearly some outstanding business to be attended to.

So, for the wilfully ignorant and the plain stupid alike, let me restate the position in words of as few syllables as possible; there's nothing wrong with attack blogs that stick to known facts and public statements and there's nothing wrong with party staffers and Assembly Member Support Staff blogging. But when Plaid staff and AMSS blog on Welsh Ramblings and Guerilla Welsh-Fare, they do so anonymously in the worst attempt at astroturfing since the Metrodome; when Lib Dem staff do so at Freedom Central, they sign their bloody names to it! Honestly, what part of anonymous are you not able to understand here?

Either way, the whole saga brings my thoughts round to a matter I've been mulling for a few months, namely the difficulties of linking in the Welsh blogosphere. When the new Blogger template came along with its blog list widget, it seemed churlish not to make use of it and as at the time I was only listing my Liberal Democrat favourites, using authors real names was more aesthetically pleasing and fairly easy to achieve. When a Welsh Lib Dem list became necessary (in the days before WelshLibDemBlogs) the names were again not a problem. But now that I'm writing Y Barcud Oren, I'd like to be able to provide my non-Welsh readership with a decent selection from the rest of the Welsh blogosphere, and that's a more difficult proposition.

For starters, much as the real names are an aesthetic choice, there is something to be said in a democratic society for standing up and being counted. Sure, there are some people who do have a legitimate reason for pseudonymity (and that does not include Julian Lewis who continues to waste Parliament's time bleating on about how vital it is that his home address not be published lest he be assassinated by the militant wing of CND...) but they are generally up front about it, something I'm not aware of any of Wales' pseudonymous crowd having been (though I'm happy to be corrected on that point).

And even in the world of the identifiable, there are limitations. I won't, for example, link to blogs by current, former or future AMs or MPs of other parties; they can waste taxpayer's money advertising their own bits of electronic real estate without me using my turf to help them out. And in any case, it's not as if I'd recommend any of the current blogs in those categories because of the brilliance of their intellect or the soaring power of their rhetoric...

There's always the journalists to fill out a few slots and I'm not unhappy to have them there as I tend to think they're all right as bloggers; the problem is that some of them are a heck of a lot better as bloggers than they are as journalists and even that often isn't saying much... Beyond that, there's Dylan Jones-Evans (who I grant an exception as his academic standing outweighs his party affiliation) Alwyn ap Huw, Ian James Johnson and... well...

So I don't know. If anyone can recommend someone I've missed I'm happy to check them out, but I've done plenty of trawling of other people's blogrolls with very little to show for it. That lack of talent willing to stick its head above the parapet doesn't say much for the "Ie Gallen Ni" generation.