Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004

Monday, August 30, 2004

Protests can only help Bush

I can't see how these protests are going to harm Bush. To the key centrist swing votes that are left they're just going to seem extreme, and, to be honest, they epitomise my problem with much of the left's criticism which is that it just seems so lacking in intellect. We shall see...I did note in today's USA Today, however, that there is a poll of three swing states which Gore won in 2000. Of those Pennsylvania (the second largest in the Electoral College) is stuck at 47% each (Gore took a 5% win) and Bush leads in Wisconsin. Maybe he is the favourite...

Saturday, August 28, 2004


I can't believe it. I think she's bloody gone and done it and won a second gold. Someone come and peel me off the ceiling!! HURRAY!


And now it's official even though the BBC website hasn't been updated. FANTASTIC!

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Continuing Paula Radcliffe media love-in: will-she won't-she run the 10,000m?

I'm the opposite of Steve Cram: my head's telling me she shouldn't, but my heart's telling me she should do it and show the world...if she can...

At the same time Kelly Holmes is qualifying for the 1500m final and could win a second gold and is still our only athlete to win a medal in the athletics!

'One Electorate under God'

There's a great new book which I am beginning to read and which is reviewed in the New York Times today. Taking it's name from the US Pledge of Allegiance, 'one Nation under God', it's basic idea is surprisingly stimulating and also particularly relevant to many of the 'big issues' one hears about so much over here. To what extent should religion impact upon politics or even the political behaviour of individual political figures?

One interesting idea was from the Democrat, and former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, a man I met during my trip to New York two years ago.

'Mr. Cuomo did not ask that religious beliefs be checked at the public door, but he limited entrance to those that "would serve well as an article of universal public morality," that were "not narrowly sectarian" but fulfilled "a universal human desire for order or peace or justice or kindness or love."
Advocating, in effect, a very loose version of "natural law," a tradition historically associated with his Roman Catholicism, Mr. Cuomo spelled out two moral principles that he asserted "would occur to us if we were only 500,000 people on an island without books, without education, without rabbis or priests or history, and we had to figure out who and what we were." These two principles - respect for one another and collaborative improvement of the world - nicely captured Americans' perpetually competing concerns for individual freedom and for community, he said, and "are shared by most if not all our nation's religions."
To which Mr. Souder replied that "the notion of a natural law common to all religions" was a particular worldview itself, and one at odds with his Christian faith.
"I cannot relate to the idea of a generic, natural law God,'' he said. "My God is a particularly Christian God." Moreover, Mr. Souder questioned whether all religions really had "a common denominator that is workable in the American political system." '

This all turns, of course, on the fundamental question of whether or not you want a sectarian state or a religious state, and is particularly pertinent given the nation-building going on in Iraq at the moment. I would suggest that their actions in Iraq, and the tensions caused there, intriguingly reflect upon America's own approach at home. There, they are worried about it becoming a theocratic state, where the religious beliefs of the majority dictate how all lead their lives. They want it to broadly reflect the Islamic values of much of the country, but they want their laws to make logical sense. My own view of the situation is fairly clear. There is nothing wrong with living in a, very broadly speaking, 'Christian country' or 'Islamic country', but the real danger comes when this becomes an excuse for not thinking. When bad logic or bad practicalities of an idea can be circumvented by reverting to the interpretation of religious figures or holy books a country, and a people, finds itself in a dangerous position.

I fear that too often in the US, the presence in the country's governing document, the Constitution, of phrases referring to God, allows this to arise; whereas in the UK I am happy our Parliament reigns sovereign. Religion is a great guide for many people in their private lives, and so it should be. It can also be a great guide for how politicians live their own lives. It should never be used as a vehicle for the oppression of one group's values by another though. That, if it ever happens, should be done for more defensible reasons than just 'I believe I have been told to'. Any democracy has to develop its own separate values which it wants to be governed by. The thoughtful process of developing these should not be by-passed using the screen of religion. It is dangerous when politicians make their decisions on the grounds of teachings, not on the grounds of practicalities, logic and what is best for that country.


Apparently cyber-bullying is a big problem in the US. It's something I've heard about so many times now since I've been here, and is a worrying trend. I think the important thing for everyone to learn and understand, as we get so much more technology in our lives, is that it is only as powerful as we make it. We can and should step away from the email, or spend a day without our mobile phones just to prove to ourselves that we can, and that, although important, it is not such a controlling feature of our lives.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Turkeys vote against Christmas shocker.

I shall blog on the Human Rights Act soon, a document I have mixed views about, when I have made up my mind whether I support it or not, but for now one nugget from the Guardian article on Conservative plans for it, and I blog this as a wannabe lawyer.

The Law Society quite likes litigation:

'"Meanwhile the president of the Law Society, Edward Nally, said: "A recent government study found the compensation culture is an urban myth fuelled by misleading media coverage.
"It is only right that genuine claimants whose lives have been ruined in that way should receive compensation. It would be nonsensical to exclude the public services from that."'


The more I've thought about Paula Radcliffe's non-appearance on Sunday the more I've been disappointed that she couldn't at least finish the race, especially after the efforts of some in history. There also seems to have been a complete media love-in as we go uber-obsessive yet again...

Now I hope the media turns its eye to the gutsiness and bravery of Kelly Holmes, someone whom I've been a massive fan and admirer of since I ran middle distance as a teenager after her magnificent victory today in one of the best contests I've seen at this Olympics as she burst from last to first over the last 300m. She has had so many setbacks (and at times looked close to retirement), since having looking so promising ever since the mid-90s that it is brilliant to see her triumphant today. That is just what we should praise: someone who's taken the knocks yet still works so hard to become the best, never giving up.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Poor old Paula

Almost as heart-rending as Paula Radcliffe's breakdown in today's marathon (she must be a psychological mess after always being so close) was the tragedy which is American commentary. There was a complete absence of any knowledge, intelligence, foresight or interest in the drivel with which my ears were pummelled.

Particular classics included:

-As the leading four had just run up a fairly hard incline, but by no means the highest:
"Let's take a minute or two's silence now just to appreciate that hill."

"Yeah, Randy, let's just take it all in in peace."

[Cue minute's silence. And I mean a good minute. This wasn't just metaphorical]


"Wow, Randy."

[Cue pause}

"Now that we've paid our respects to that hill, that obstacle you can see that Noguchi is still in the lead".


-"Well, what you can see there is that a short person with long legs can take longer strides than a long person with short legs going downhill."

"Or, longer strides than a short person with short legs."

At points I longed for just one split breakdown of the times or differences between the runners. I'm staggered by the lack of analysis or engagement you get. It's just mere speculation!
I promise, I shall try to never complain about the BBC again....

Saturday, August 21, 2004

We want five...

Never settle for less than best
Pinsent, the most experienced man in the boat, epitomised why the four managed to take gold against all odds.
"To begin with, I thought, 'How can we possibly win now?'," he said.
"Then I began thinking of trying to rescue the situation, 'a bronze or a silver would be a great result now' kind of approach.
"But I have never settled for anything less than the best since I was a schoolboy.
"I have rowed so badly as not to have deserved a medal, I have rowed myself and the crew into a tired and dejected position where winning was impossible, but gone out to try to win a silver?
"No. Never."

Brilliant. Fantastic. Hooray!

I know a few of the regular readers of this site will sigh when they read this. They'll accuse me of mindless, blind and egotistical thinking and stupid nationalistic sentiment...but, sod it. This is what happens when you love anything, not just a country! I was over the moon with victory for the coxless men's four in the Olympic was the romance of the story which made me think this was just how the Brits should win. The odds were against us, the Canadian world champs were sneering at us, everything was in disarray. Then Matthew Pinsent decided he wasn't going to settle for anything less than gold; and he went and got it. After a week of minimal British success, when I've had to put up with the Americantriumphalism of winning so much, I've just gone doolally!

I know some, particularly it seems on the left, dislike the nationalistic side of the Olympics and the undue focus on the success of some, finding it pretentious. I can't help but feel it's a great spectacle we should enjoy and revel in. Let's not expand the growing cynicism of the world into such a brilliant sporting spectacle.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

An email I received this morning

"If you have Penn's Insurance, the shots are covered.

Did you sign up for it on-line?

If you have any questions you can call the insurance Office at 215-573-3523. Have a great day!

Student HealthImmunization Office"

Don't you just love Americans? The warm glow that their desire for me to have a great day engendered first thing this morning really has sustained me into having a great day. It's completely fake of course, they probably couldn't care less if I had a good day or a bad day, but even so, if it makes you feel good what does it matter: it can't be all bad...

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

An A-Grade A-Level that everyone has is not one worth having

This article on the BBC website changed its approach to David Miliband's speech but there's still enough in there to baffle me.

'But Mr Miliband dismissed the "great education debate every August" as a pantomime rather than a discussion.
"When the facts say teaching standards are rising... when the facts show that the growth in pupils doing well comes from Middle England families, the only conclusion we can draw when commentators talk of 'dumbing down' is that they believe Middle England has neither the brains nor the talent to do well," said Mr Miliband.
"We stand for success based on worth not birth and we will not be distracted from building wider educational opportunities by those who see a danger in meritocracy." '

Well he's certainly right that it's a pantomime and not a discussion or debate, in large part because proponents of 'everyone's getting better because we choose to make the results that way' argument always seek to disingenuously represent any criticism. The problem with exam results is that they are inherently arbitrary, and that it is increasingly difficult to use A-Levels especially as a comparator from year-to-year as there has been so much government tinkering, because so many people get higher grades and because the setting and grading of exams is inherently arbitrary.

The problem with significantly more than 20% of students getting A-grades is not that people like me somehow want to retain A-grades for our friends and people from 'the right' social background, or that we want to close off education, or want to deny that one year group may be brighter than another, or even (necessarily) that the standard of teaching hasn't gone through the roof in recent years. No, the complaints are for the simple reason that the purpose of an exam is to differentiate between how well students know and can engage with the material they've been taught. They are used as such a tool for differentiation by universities, employers and teachers to find out who is better than others. This, however, is a concept that many struggle with.

The argument is in effect a whine from people unhappy with why everyone can't achieve the same from school and university. They don't like differentiation, or even discrimination on the grounds of ability, because it represents another form of unmanageable difference between people. Unfortunately for them, there is no escaping the human desire and need to measure himself against others. Just imagine how absurd it would if it were announced that in this year's Olympics the athletes (who probably, actually, put more commitment into their sport than many teenagers into study) were so much better trained than in previous years that to recognise this there would be 2 golds, 2 silvers and no bronzes. How absurd would we think that? The fact is, however, that an A-grade A-Level which everyone has is, unfortunately, an A-grade not worth having. No-one knows this more than those who are unlucky to be getting their results tomorrow at a time when their not inconsiderable achievements have been so run down.

Monday, August 16, 2004

 Posted by Hello

This white car just escaped serious damage after the recent storms Posted by Hello

And the kitchen... Posted by Hello

I've just downloaded the fantastic software for can now upload photos. Here's my new flat in University City, Phila. Posted by Hello

This is the best way to crack down on crime

What a great judge! Intriguing to see whether she reoffends...

Sunday, August 15, 2004


It's pretty out of order for Tom Watson to say what he has about the LibDem candidate for Hartlepool, but to be applauding Ming Campbell for a 'sharp political move' here, because Ian MaCartney's son died from heroin, does seem a bit ghoulish.

Charley's coming round

I'm about to experience my second hurricane, but the first I shall remember. Hurricane Charley is going to hit Philadelphia in the next three hours or so, and, although it's now downgraded to a tropical storm it should be quite an experience. The devastation in Florida is quite shocking. Watching some footage now I cannot imagine what it would be like to return from a shelter to find your home and everything you have destroyed. What would I do? I have genuinely no idea.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

....or scandalous

....but then again it was probably easy considering how the story could have broken!

Friday, August 13, 2004


This story about Governor McGreevey is all over the US at the moment. I have to say he's a brave man who's done a very hard thing: you have to salute his courage. I can also see the Republicans' point, however, in that if he can't continue and will have to resign it ought to be immediate. Nevertheless it does seem tough to make it too political when he's had to deal with something so hard.

(Unless it was a political decision to cover up an impending mega-scandal...)

William Hague hits the nail on the head

Check out this brilliant speech by William Hague. For me it's just why I'm a Conservative and just what we need to do with vibrant, young leaders to get back where we should be. Problem is, look at the date and it's 1999. Just before we do well in the Euro-elections and slump into a disastrous 'core vote' strategy. This is the vision and confident engagement we need today.

"It is one of the Conservative Party's fundamental principles that we all owe obligations to fellow members of society, including those who are poor and sick. And although free individual efforts must play a huge role in fulfilling these obligations, they will not be enough by themselves. In health, for instance, private insurance cannot be relied on as the main financial support of health care because it would leave poor and sick people uninsured....the political problem for us has been that many people did not believe us. Labour told them we had secret plans to privatise the NHS and state education. We need to slay that myth."

"So if the first criticism that we are turning our back on Margaret Thatcher and the free markets, I say that we will always be proud of Margaret Thatcher and we will always be champions of the free market but that we also believe, as previous Conservative Governments have, that schools and hospitals paid for by all taxpayers should be available to everyone in the country. "

"But if a future Conservative Government is going to devote more attention to reforming our public services and welfare state than ever before it needs to be clearer than ever before about its attitudes.
"It needs to explain not just the role of the free market but its limits. It needs to win over the support of the professionals and those who rely on those services. It needs to use a language that explains clearly what we mean and is attractive to those people who we will need as allies of reform but who have sometimes seen us as their enemy."

Independent schools best for social mobility

You can't get it online but The Economist covers a study by Cambridge University which has found that independent schools are better at promoting social mobility than non-selective state schools. The study showed that each type of school sent the same proportion of students from working class backgrounds to Cambridge, but at independent schools just one in a hundred pupils come from working class backgrounds. They argue that this shows that these kind of schools are better at nurturing raw talent and therefore contribute more to social mobility than state schools. Why is that? More selection or a better environment? Would this be the case if the number of independent schools were allowed to increase? What it does help assert, I believe, is that the environment and general attitude in many state schools is dreadful. The challenge is to find a way to turn that round, and I can't help but think that an increase in the power of parents to choose schools would help, as it would focus the demands and attitude of both the parents & pupils and the school itself.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I hoped we'd change the presentation somewhat more, but....

In an op-ed in the Independent Michael Brown says Michael Howard is returning to his “familiar home ground”: “if we were promised a new vehicle when the Howard leadership was launched last November, closer inspection reveals that it is turning out to be more of a respray job on the old model.”

This from exactly the sort of people who were slating him for being rubbish a few weeks ago! My God, the media talks some tosh....

And to think I was going to call him trigger-happy Blunkett after my last post below. Here he tries to change the law in relation to a specific case (that of the imprisoned lottery winner below). Victimisation anyone? Surely the law should try to be objective with regards to what is right and not develop just for a single vendetta. This is just like the Archer-witchhunt...


But there's a very sound and true op-ed piece by Boris Johnson on it!

...and 'fox-shooter' Blunkett tries to steal the Tories thunder again

Such imaginative politics these days as Blunkett announces what is in effect Howard's 'zero tolerance' policy. I actually think this desire by Labour to annihilate the Conservatives is just what is letting the LibDems intothe arena...they literally follow the Conservatives at every turn now.

Too few drug rehab places

So this supports Howard's proposals of yesterday to increase the number of places in rehab dramatically and giving drug users a real and genuine choice between reform and the harshness of prison. Just what the doctor ordered I think...

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Unlikely winner

That's a lot of phone cards!

A question for Mr Blunkett....

In not wanting to publicise details about the level of threat to Britain, would he condemn Bush's administration for publicising the terrorist threat then? I suspect this is just another way to help keep us happily subjugated to a one-way relationship with the US which is uninfluenced by and unexposed to public opinion in this country.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Stephen Pollard, albeit somewhat unsubtly, attacks one of the supposed problems with Bush very effectively. I am genuinely undecided at the moment as to what outcome I'd like to see in the US Presidential election, despite being innately predisposed to the Republicans normally. One thing that has struck me since being over here though is how poor much of the criticism of Bush is when there is very valid criticism to be made. Much of it comes over as preaching in a way which I can't believe can help the Democrats campaign: 'how can you possibly not hate Bush, he's cut taxes?!'...

Monday, August 09, 2004

Shock, horror...

Like Tom Watson MP I'm going to add to the tri-partisan debate on the next President of the LibDems by saying "I'm backing Lembit". I just think he may bring a surprising amount of earnest affability to the LibDems as well as a hint of genuity which you know I think they need. I bet you weren't expecting an opinion from me on this! Of course, from a political cynic's point of view it'd be lovely if Hughes, who he is up against, ran out winner.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Madsen Pirie....on a similar thing...

"The Chinese economy is powering ahead so fast now that it is outstripping energy supplies. Power cuts and brownouts are routine, and in Beijing 6,000 factories were recently closed for a week and some government employees sent on holiday. Energy demand is racing ahead at 15% per year, three times the official estimate.
In a fact-packed piece in today's (London) Times, Rosemary Righter points out that it is the energy needs of China's economy which are driving the long-term oil prices, rather than concerns about Iraq and Yukos. She quotes the Chinese Academy of Engineering's estimate that in the next 20 years China will need as much extra power from all sources as the US developed in the past half century. China's present shortfall is put at 30-35 gigawatts, or about 80% of what the UK generates in a year, and they are building 130 gigawatts of new capacity.
It is Chinese economic expansion which is filling the sea-lanes with freighters and sucking in the raw materials from primary producers all over the world. The world will have to adjust to the knowledge that China is now one of the main engines driving the world economy.
Since they embraced the principles of private ownership and economic enterprise, first in agriculture then in industry, China has provided a lesson in economic development. A country of 1.3bn, about one-fifth of the world's population, is on its way to become rich. It in an awesome spectacle, and will have profound consequences. China may become rich enough fast enough to afford the cleaner environment which rich nations can afford, but there will be harmful environmental impact on the way.
The demands of its booming economy will keep upward pressure on the prices of energy and raw materials, which bodes well for the Russian economy and those of some South American countries as well as for its own. And China's surge towards wealth will help to lift more of the world's people out of poverty, and to achieve a more equal distribution of world incomes."

Not just English/European soccer thugs

So football thuggery doesn't seem to be confined to European fans let alone just the English. This is quite shocking...

It does raise interesting questions about nationalism or patriotism in the UK though. China will be the global power of the next century, I am sure, and it seems ironic that as we in Europe seem to want to erode national identities more and more we will be pitting ourselves against such nationalistic feeling. I strongly believe in co-operation between nations, but at the same time national pride is important as it's a key factor in what binds us together as a community and helps motivate us to work for the 'common good'.

Revamp underway

Sorry for not having posted in a while. I' m moving into my new flat on Tuesday so things are a bit more settled now. As a result I'm hoping to be back up to full blogging pace again soon.