Catching Up

An interesting week. On Monday, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee reported back on its inquiry into the case for the recent war in Iraq. Although the Government was cleared of charges of misleading Parliament, the report condemned the use of single-sourced data (the infamous 45 minute claim), the reliance on US intelligence, the plagiarised thesis, and the degree of autonomy that Alistair Campbell (the Prime Minister's Press Secretary) appeared to have over the whole project. Campbell was cleared of embellishing the available evidence, but only due to the Chairman of the Committee's casting vote (it was a 5-5 tie along party lines). The dissenters complained that they couldn't determine whether he was innocent or not, because the Government refused to allow the Committee to see intelligence papers and question intelligence personnel, so all their information was coming from second-hand sources.

The Government claims that this vindicates their position, and demands that the BBC should retract their earlier report. The BBC continues to tell the Government what it can do with its demands, and then finds a source in Whitehall admitting that weapons of mass destruction may never be found. The moral? Accusing the BBC of bias is not something a Government should do lightly :-).

Back in America, attention has turned to the President's State of The Union address back in January, where he made the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy nuclear material in Africa. This claim has been refuted by the International Atomic Energy Board; the documentation that provided the evidence turned out to be forged. So far, nothing new. But it appears that the CIA knew that the Niger claim was false before the speech, and told The White House as such. And yet, the claim still made it into the Union address. Sure, it's not lying under oath, but it was a lie against the combined Houses; oh, and the Americans who happened to be watching. The Administration's response? A little revisionist history. According to Donald Rumsfeld, we went to war not because of a imminent threat (excepting us Britons, of course, who were told that we were only 45 minutes away from disaster), but because "we saw the existing evidence in a new light through the prism of our experience on Sept. 11." Which is a little harsh, considering that Iraq appears to have had nothing to do with the WTC attack. He was also rather defensive about the cost of the continued presence in Iraq, only providing answers after he had finished testifying in front of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. So far, the occupation of Iraq is costing America $4bn a month, on top of a $1bn/month bill for the presence in Afghanistan. They're hoping that that'll go down somewhat as NATO troops begin to replace some of the US soldiers, but that's an awful lot of money. Especially when going into an election year.

Meanwhile, the President is touring Africa. The people of Uganda seem to be doing well in fighting AIDS, but is it at odds with the USA's preference for abstinence programmes? Bush has also given a speech deploring America's past use of slaves, although this passage of the speech worries me somewhat:

In America, enslaved Africans learned the story of the exodus from Egypt and set their own hearts on a promised land of freedom. Enslaved Africans discovered a suffering Savior and found he was more like themselves than their masters. Enslaved Africans heard the ringing promises of the Declaration of Independence and asked the self-evident question, then why not me?
Does anybody else feel a little, well, unsettled by that? A sense of "these savages didn't know freedom until we beat Christianity into them"? Maybe I'm reading too much into things these days...

currently playing: Bob Dylan - Masters of War

Now With Added Capitalism

You might have noticed the adverts. Yes, I've joined the latest bandwagon on the blogosphere, and joined Google's AdSense programme. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to be approved; I just thought I'd apply and see what happened. I hope you don't find them too intrusive.

In other news, I made a shocking discovery this afternoon: my 20GB music partition was almost full. Obviously, not a good situation, so I spent the day giving my collection a new 40GB home. That should keep me safe for a few years. I hope.

And in the time it took me to write this entry, I've made 3¢! Exxxxceelllent.

currently playing: Laura Nyro - Emmie

Oh yes II...

London. August 13th. Sleater-Kinney.

currently playing: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Henry Lee

The English Are Coming!

Well, The Guardian is, at least. It'll be interesting to see how well it fares on the other side of the Atlantic. And whether it will continue the tradition reflected in its gentle nickname The Grauniad.

More weird Japanese stuff.

A rather long, but interesting article about McDonalds. Rather depressingly, it seems to take the view that the canning of the Innovate system was a bad thing. I can't think of anything more soulless than a restaurant chain where everything is identical, right down to the temperature of the cooking fat. *shudder*.

"Would you die for her?"
"I would, but, er, I'd rather live."
currently playing: Tori Amos - Caught A Lite Sneeze

Boring Computer Stuff

A few updates on the site. Firstly, I've cleaned up the CSS rules somewhat, so the right-hand-side panel is now a little closer to the main content (this should help Gavin's repeated problem with IE. Not that I have a copy to test it on, but I'm sure he'll tell me if it makes things better or worse).

Secondly, the RSS files now include HTML formatting, and look nicer in a newsreader (at least they do in NetNewsWire). I'll be updating to a Necho feed once the new format settles down.

Finally, I've added a sideblog. This works in conjuction with an AIMbot that I wrote this afternoon. It's called barbelith49, and lives on AOL's AIM network. Currently, it supports three commands (IM barbelith49 as you would a normal person, and type one of these words instead of a normal message):

  1. where is ian — tells you where I am right now (in case you have some strange need to know, or if I forget where I am)

  2. mail — how many mails are currently in my inbox

  3. blog (your text here) — the main function of the bot. Anything after the word blog will get posted to the sidebar. All HTML is stripped out before the entry is posted (I'll probably add link support in the next few days).

We'll see how this works, shall we?

UPDATE: Okay, basic hyperlink support has been added. If you want to add a hyperlink, enclose it in square brackets, e.g. [http://www.x.org]. The bot will replace the text with the proper HTML, making it look like this: [link]. I imagine the code is a little fragile, so if you break it, let me know.

currently playing: The Strokes - Someday

Mallrats R.I.P.

This site makes me feel a little sad. Back when I was small, my American friend Travis would tell me stories of the huge malls that he'd been to, filled from the floor to the ceiling with rare Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe (or Action Force, to use the colonial name) figures. To a six year old who only had one and a half toy shops in his town, it sounded like heaven.

In addition to Travis's stories, the films I watched, and the magazines I read reinforced the notion that shopping malls were *the* place to be; Marty McFly went into the past outside a JC Penneys, while in Smash Hits I read interviews with Tiffany where she said that her favourite hobby was "hanging out in the mall, playing Lazer Tag" (this is the part where I am forced to admit that I own a Tiffany album, isn't it? Curses). I saw images of people skateboarding, rollerskating, and having a great time. I wanted to be those people, enclosed in this vast, safe space, shopping, not having to worry about being run over when I wanted to go from one shop to the other.

Eventually, Travis's dad was transferred back to America, and he told me stories about Phoenix, and Las Vegas, where he still lives today. On our first visit to America in 1994, we went to the Meadows Mall. I had grown up a little in the meantime, and Britain had got a few shopping malls, so I knew what to expect, but it was still an impressive experience. The shape, with the big department stores at each end, the food court, the people milling around; it was fantastic. No Lazer Tag, though (I strongly suspect that Tiffany was making that up. See if I buy any of your comeback records!).

Yeah, I have a well-read copy of No Logo, and I followed the protest at The Streets of Southpoint. I know that unlike the commons of the town square, malls are/were private property, clamping down on public speakers, forcing local proprietors out-of-business, and a host of other undesirable things. Still, they're preferable to the out-of-town boxes and strip malls; the shopping mall at least had some personality, as opposed to just being a giant car park with a Wal-Mart, an Old Navy, a Best Buy, and a few other little stores arranged in a circle.

The mall isn't dead yet, of course. Large-scale operations, like Southpoint, seem to do well. But I think the 1980s concept of the local mall is on the way to joining the diner as a piece of American cultural history. Incidentally, considering that most malls won't let you take pictures, it'll be interesting to see how much documentary evidence of them remains fifty years from now...

currently playing: New Order - Ultraviolence

Tired Excuses

I did have something planned for today's entry, but I'm so tired at the moment that I can't give the effort that it deserves. Perhaps tomorrow.

Have a look at some pictures in the meantime.

currently playing: Radiohead - There There

In Order To Form A More Perfect Union

A Independence Day present from MIT: Government Information Awareness. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
"I play terminator, but you guys are the true terminators"

Yes, I'm sure the US Army loves its troops being compared to an emotionless killing machine. Well, at least he can't become President.

Bonnie saw Bill Clinton tonight! And Hillary!

currently playing: Slumber Party - Fantasy

Tin Foil Saves Us All

Because Gavin demanded it...

currently playing: Zwan - Heartsong

Public Service Broadcasting At Its Best

Listening to a five-hour debate on the future of the music industry. Ah, how I missed BBC radio. So far, Thom Yorke and Tom Robinson have eviscerated the record industry's illegal downloading argument in less than five minutes. Nice.

Switching to live commentary, as some of you aren't blessed with a UK radio feed :-)

Simon Mayo asked when we last bought a single. Scarily, I don't think I've bought one for over a year. This is rather surprising; when I was at Manchester, I'd head off into the Northern Quarter every Thursday, coming out with at least two or three singles. Phil would then spend the evening complaining that I always brought obscure rubbish into the hall. Of course, he spent most of the final two years listening to Celine Dion, so I think my taste prevails.

They're not giving the record companies any breaks here at all, pointing out that the destruction of Napster without a viable legal alternative just encouraged illegal downloading, and that sharing itself is put of the music experience. It's never a good idea to declare that your main enemy also happens to be your core audience. D'oh.

Time for some Clear Channel bashing. Always a good thing, I feel 8-). 98% of music sales in America are domestic? That's quite scary.

I'm supporting the evening by downloading tracks as the debate rolls on. My conscience is having a day off today; I'll probably get guilty about it and buy the albums on Friday.

Stuart Maconie is reading out comments from listeners. If I was the record industry, I'd be scared. The programme has been on for two hours, and I haven't heard a positive listener response yet. The general public despises them. I don't think it's going to get better, either, what with the BPI threatening to use legal action against filesharers.

The debate itself is about to start. Jeremy Vine. Oooh. The return of the fabled Tony Wilson cycle theory! The head of EMI says that record companies should try to encourage and nurture talent. Which is probably why they dropped a host of small bands, fired a bunch of staff, and then handed Robbie Williams an £80m contract, on the increasingly absurd idea of him breaking America...

(Interestingly enough, Radiohead's contract with EMI will be up soon. I wonder whether they'll re-sign or not?)

Time for the scary statistics bit: a Number #1 hit in May only had to sell 36,000 copies to reach the top. The single is dead. Let's ram a stake through its £3.99-priced body.

Independent Label woman (I'm hopeless at names, sorry) is bored of all this talk of doom and gloom; apparently the small labels are doing quite well at the moment. So far, this is all shockingly positive; all the record heads are admitting that the demise of the single format isn't the end of the music industry. Meanwhile, Beverley Knight is trying to dig herself out of a hole, after falling into the "things aren't as good as they used to be" nostalgia trap. Selective memory is a bad thing; there were an awful lot of bad records in the 1980s, as the rest of the panel are currently pointing out.

Moving on to downloading again. 12 year-olds explaining how to get music from the Internet. Heh. Beverley Knight is continuing to be annoying and patronising. And she's the only artist represented on the panel. Pricing is not the issue, apparently. Music companies are not Luddites. So, Napster - 1997, was it? In the end, it took the intervention of Apple to come up with a workable legal solution. That's six years, and only because somebody else did the work.

Compulsory licensing! Compulsory licensing! Compulsory licensing!

Paul Weller's "I think they're [record executives] all scum" gets a huge cheer from the audience. They're starting to get a little defensive now. Deflect the attention back to radio playlists! (Mind you, the story of Radio 1 wanting to see a video before they add a track to a playlist is a little weird and depressing)

Another depressing story; the singer who got radio stations interested in her single, until they discovered she's only on an independent label, and she didn't have a 'plot' (marketing plan, how much money is behind the record, etc.). The playlist controller of Radio 2 is now doing an advert for the fair and balanced selection process that they offer :-). Of course, the big game is Radio 1, which is now receiving a fair bit of criticism, specifically the rather bland daytime playlist. On the other hand, without the playlist, we wouldn't have the classic Mark & Lard sideswipes after they've played a record for the 100th time…

Apparently, EMAP video channels won't accept videos unless the management accept certain advertising packages. Payola is not just limited to the USA.

Okay, when I left Britain, it was full of generic rock clones and garage tunes. Where did all The Cure-style bands come from?

currently playing: Something by a band called British Sea Power. Or, The Cure. Hmph. I think I'll go and listen to some twee American music in an act of protest.