Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Taking Liberties at the British Library

What a marvellous, and free exhibition! Go see it! It finishes 1st March. Open late on Tuesday.

Taking Liberties is an exhibition about our liberties; how they came about, how they have evolved, and how they continue to change today. It's a large exhibition with a wealth of supporting documentation, including priceless objects like one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta.

In the British Library next to St Pancras, the exhibition is accessed through their shop. On entry, one dons a bar-code wristband, which lists one's "citizen number". This is used throughout the exhibition to keep track of the answers given in various questions.

Inside, one passes through several themed areas, Rule of Law, Women's Liberties, The United Kingdom union, The right to vote, Human Rights, Free press etc, each of which has all manner of beautiful historical papers and books spanning 900 years of British democracy to examine.

Curiously given the subject of the exhibition, there are no curators, instead CCTV camera sit high above us watching our every move. The room itself is quite dark, and I found myself straining to read some of the presented documents.

To anyone interested in the history of the UK, our constitution, politics, democracy, rights or law, this exhibition is nothing less than wonderful. I've been twice now, spending about an hour and half each time, and I still haven't finished it.

I do have a personal connection - though it is not acknowledged (bad BL!), my cousin Susie Cole chose the sound clips that one can listen to on headphones in a few spots around the exhibition. I don't think the punters seem to be paying much attention to either these or the video based clips either.

The exhibition is brought right into relevance today with cases like the Good Friday Agreement and Guantanamo. As is said, our rights are not ours forever - they can be changed or removed, and at various times in our history, they have been.

The British Library's free exhibition 'Taking Liberties: the struggle for Britain's freedoms and rights' is on till 1st March 2009.

Here is the curator's blog. There's also a lot of good information on the exhibition website here.

NB: Thanks to Rob Ainsley for pointing out my "typo" - exhibition is at the British Library (not Museum!).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Find me Free Wifi in London!

Why is this such a mission?! It's probably one of my biggest bug-bears with London, along with the lack of true 24 hour life and the cost of transport.

The best site I've found so far listing spots is: It's a good start, but not ideal and not always accurate.

Cafe Camera near the British Museum is tiny but quaint.

The Royal Festival Hall cafe level is a great spot but last time I was there my laptop refused to get online.

Pret have announced free wifi but I've yet to find a branch that has implemented it.

The ideal for me would be Cafe Nero, my favourite chain, having free wifi. Come on Nero, I'll live in your coffee shops if you don't make me pay for net access!

How about a new logo indicating free wifi?

DEC Gaza Appeal, Emotive Language and BBC Bias

Far be it for me to comment on the merits of the BBC and Sky's refusal to show the Gaza DEC Appeal (except to note mild irony in the case of the BBC with their biased reporting), or indeed comment on the conflict in general. It's clearly a very sad situation on both sides. After all the debate about the DEC Appeal though, I decided to do what people often do not in these situations - I thought I'd actually watch the appeal, which I readily found online.

It is a series of emotive shots of children and devastation, talked over by a calm clear voice rattling off various information designed to sway you into handing over some cash. What I didn't like, aside from any questions about accuracy, is that the numbers just don't add up. I decided to make a note of them. Watch the numbers and descriptors (or lack of):

Children are suffering
Many are struggling to survive, homeless, or in need of food and water
Several hundred killed
A large number of children
Some of those survived are traumatised
60% are living in poverty
Thousands are malnourished
1 million depending on aid to survive
Thousands homeless
300,000 without access to running water
Entire streets flattened
40% without electricity

Seems to me, if we are being harsh but fair, if only thousands are homeless out of (implied) millions, this is something that could be handled without too much external intervention. There are a lot of figures being bandied about in the video without much logic to back them up. Note that the EU has just announced extra aid worth £50m on top of the 600 - 700 million Euros donated annually. Is this not sufficient to sort out a few thousand homeless and rebuilt (again) the roads and houses that Israeli has flattened?

Now the last DEC Appeal I was aware of was the Tsunami Appeal, which was aid for, what, several hundred thousand dead and millions displaced? I'm not sure whether the Burmese Cyclone Appeal (150,000 or so killed) was organised by DEC. Both, though, are of a different scale to Palestine. Furthermore this appeal excludes the civilians (or should I say "children" to keep it emotive) killed by the thousands of Palestinian rocket attacks into Israeli, which is what I suspect makes it unpalatable for the news organisations.

Further reading: The Balen Report, currently being supressed from Freedom of Information using over £200,000 of licence-payer money! That's almost 1,500 licence fees not including the cost of writing the report in the first place!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My First Loldog

I was going to post a rant about the UK finances, and the IMF's negative view of our PM saving the world, the credit agencies about to downgrade the British economy from AAA, perhaps with some pessimism about the weasel behaviour of our leaders in trying to cover up their personal expenses whilst pouring trillions of tax pounds into a pit to support foreign debt liabilities our greedy bankers have incurred racking up their disgusting bonuses (continued p94).

But then I decided instead I'd make a loldog!

Yes, I have ventured into the world of Lolspeak and created my first Loldog! Quite satisfying, although not on a level with the brilliant exhibits on the main site at, a derivative of the famous (depending on what company you keep)

Here's one of my favourites, diz how we, by blazeorama:

No doubt breaching copyright etc, I can't help but post these Matt cartoons from the Telegraph which beautifully capture the current economic situation:

Urgent: Support Open Democracy in the UK

On the 16th of May 2008 the High Court ruled that MPs’ expenses must be published under the Freedom of Information Act.

This Thursday, MPs are voting to change the law to keep their expenses secret after all, just before publication was due and after spending nearly a million of your pounds and seven months compiling the data.

Your MP may not even know about this proposal (it was sneaked out under the Heathrow runway announcement). Please take a few minutes to alert them to this attack on Parliamentary transparency and ask them to vote against the measure.

Read more about it at here.

Update: We won! The government backed down - a true victory for democracy and online awareness of political issues.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Clash of the Capitals

Wasps Leinster
Went to see London Wasps play Leinster (Dublin) at Twickenham yesterday in a crucial Heineken Cup group game. Was a good match, with a nice balance of supporters in the stadium (33,000) and a close result, meaning tension till the very end, though we were sitting low down in the South stand. In all honesty you get a much better idea of what's going on watching on TV!

Unfortunately the wind was blowing away from us, so most of the action was at the other end of the pitch. Apparently the ref made several decisions against Wasps which were quite unfair.. which I read of afterwards in the Times!

Only try was a mighty fine one:

Josh Lewsey received the ball in the Wasps half then powered down the field past five defenders before firing a long pass to Sackey who got within a few yards of try line. Skivington tried to get over, but it was Betsen who finally succeeded. Converted by Danny Cipriani, though no sign of Kelly Brook on my lap as hoped for!

Glasto Rumours
Glastonbury line-up rumours abound right now.. My goodness I wished they'd just get it over with and put me out of my misery!

Let's have back some of my favourites from last year: Reverend and the Makers, Fun Loving Criminals, Jimmy Cliff, Emmy the Great, Kosheen, Amy Winehouse, and please please lord bring on Pink Floyd and Faithless! I wouldn't refuse to see Sigur Ros or Royksopp either. Other exciting rumours include Madness, Fleetwood Mac, Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys and much more.

Heathrow Expansion
Boris was on the tv this morning (here, 42:10 in) talking about the Heathrow plans, and I think he's got it spot on: London does not want an expanded Heathrow. Why does our unelected Prime Minister persist in trying to force this scheme down our throats? It's our city, let us decide!

Why spend huge amounts of money on a site that has no further expansion capability, is poorly connected in with national rail infrastructure, is surrounded by built up housing areas, with a flight path right over central London? As Boris says, it's "madness"!

We should be looking at real alternatives, either expanding Gatwick or Stansted, or this Estuary Airport scheme, linked in via HS1 to the continent and any future speedy trains we build (a mere 50 years or so after Japan and the rest of the world). Close Heathrow and use the space for some of the capital's housing needs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

EU Reintroduces Death Penalty through Lisbon Treaty

Interesting, eh? I missed the reintroduction of the death penalty in all EU states last year, buried as it is within the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, [apologies, next few lines are in rant mode] part of the Lisbon Treaty which Gordon Brown decided to sign up for without a referendum, claiming that as the Irish had rejected it there was no need for us not to sign up, and it was all totally different from what had been rejected before by the French and Dutch (weasel behaviour of the first order).

Was there any reporting of this (the death penalty) on the BBC? No. Anyway, you can now be put to death again in times of "upheaval". Pre-Lisbon it was only permissable in times of war. Quite a legal difference, I'm sure you'll agree. Do the riots in Greece count as upheaval? Does a rally marching through central London count as upheaval? Those who end up on death row in Belmarsh will find out!

Matt never fails to capture the essence of the situation

Who is my MEP anyway, I wondered? Well it's one of these lot, though I have no idea which one is supposed to "represent" me. Maybe I've missed the point.

On an entirely separate theme:

One of the problems I face, running my life out of Outlook and my calendar, is the Multiple Days Reminder All Day Event Sleep Deprivation System. What's that, you ask?

Many of my Outlook events, like birthdays, or days where the whole day is turned over to an activity are recorded as all day events, that is to say they run from 00:00 to 23:59. Fine. However, my standard reminder for events, 3 days, is just that - a reminder 3 days in advance. This therefore generally triggers at midnight.

Now it's not that often that I am asleep before midnight, but if I am, I can be sure to be woken up at midnight, just in case I'd forgotten that in three days time it's an ex-colleague's birthday. Thanks!

So my proposal is - can someone write a plug in for Outlook that will postpone mobile reminders if they occur between 10pm and 6am or so?

Make Some Noise on Super Sunday

And in other news... need some churching up? Speed gospel, it's the way forward!!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Food for Thought

The landmass of England is about 130,000 sq km. Russia is about 17,000,000 sq km. That is to say, Russia is around 131 times the size of England! Makes you wonder what sort of claim we really have on the world stage, eh?

Kiss Your Girlfriend Somewhere She's Never Been Kissed Before

I kid you not.. this is the phrase used for an advert on the tube which I saw yesterday. And guess what the product is?

Kiss your girlfriend somewhere she's never been kissed before.... Bournemouth!

Brilliant! I'll try to get a photo for you all, think it was at Baker Street.

Site of the day: The Daily Mash. A satirical humour news site. Recent snippets I like include:

West Coast Mainline designated national metaphor
Britain's piece of shit of west coast railway line has been designated as the country's latest national metaphor.

Treasury has been able to print tenners all along
Chancellor Alistair Darling has admitted the economic downturn was completely unnecessary as all this time he could just have printed more tenners.

And the best..

Prince Philip alters will
Prince Philip has changed his will in order to bequeath his extensive collection of racist paraphernalia to his favourite grandson.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fox Cottage

This has been reposted here as the website seems to have gone.

Fox Cottage
The Green, Aldborough, Norwich, NR11 7AA

Contact Name: Martyn Crawley
Telephone: 01227 263878
Mobile: 07710 120372

Aldborough is a traditional English village with attractive cottages clustered around the village green, where in summer you can enjoy watching a game of cricket. An ideal location for a relaxing break but also excellent for a family holiday with the seaside towns of Cromer and Sheringham within eight miles. This is a good area for walking and cycling with The Weavers Way footpath running through the village. The fine city of Norwich and the renowned Norfolk Broads are both within easy driving distance as well. The village has a shop, post office and two pubs/restaurants.

This character cottage is situated in the centre of the village overlooking the village green. It has been recently refurbished throughout providing attractively furnished accommodation, including a cosy sitting room and a large conservatory. Shop: 100 yards Pub: 200 yards

Ground Floor: Sitting Room attractively furnished with comfortable seating, colour TV, video, CD hi-fi and woodburner. Dining Room with dining table and chairs. Kitchen with gas cooker, fridge and microwave. Utility Room/Cloakroom with washing machine, tumble dryer, washbasin and w.c. Conservatory with cane furniture.

First Floor: Bedroom 1 with 1 double bed. Bedroom 2 with 2 single beds and bunk beds. Bathroom with bath, over bath shower, washbasin and w.c. Shower Room with shower, washbasin and w.c.

Garden: Fully enclosed small patio garden with garden furniture and barbecue.

Parking: On village green, opposite the property.

Included in Price: Bed linen and duvets provided. Electricity and central heating included. Also Provided: Highchair. Books, games and children's videos. Welcome pack.

Extras: Towels available for hire at £3 per person per week.

Pets: One well behaved pet welcome. Notes: No smoking in the cottage. Weekly bookings start Saturday.

Price List
Prices vary for time of year and length of stay. For bookings please call Martyn on the above contact number or email us with dates and length of stay and we will get back to you. We look forward to hearing from you.

I have to ask...

..and maybe I'm completely out of touch with public feeling here, but is "Paki" really such an offensive term? It's just Pakistani abbreviated, surely? Is it so different to "Brit"? It may have been used in an ignorant way in the past but for our generation does that have any relevance?

Of course the question is posed in relation to the headline story on the BBC now (more important than a couple of hundred people dying in Indonesia apparently), that Prince Harry supposedly used the expression in a video diary, as the nickname for a Pakistani friend of his in his army troup.

I would strongly suggest that it is in fact the very groups kicking up such a fuss about this story that are the ones inciting hatred and racism in this country, rather than the subject who had a Muslim friend and was referring to him by his nickname.

Ramadhan Foundation, the News of the World, Aki Nawaz, and all those who jumped on the bandwagon, dividing society by race in our beautiful multi-coloured country: Shame on you all!

More generally, I think the point here is that people latch on to descriptors both when searching for terms to insult and for affectionate names for people. For whatever inconsistent logic some of these are acceptable - Fat, Ginger, Northern, and some are not - Black, Welsh, the dreaded "n word", the last being acceptable for black people, and indeed used as a term of endearment, but not for whites? When I was in Botswana, one of my (black) friends there said that I was the only white guy that was allowed to call him "the n word", although he did then caution that I shouldn't say it too loudly in bars in case I was lynched!

Here's my suggestion - reclaim these words! South Park was right on when they differentiated between certain words and the language of hate in general. People will always find words to represent their hate or stupidity, let's pull some back from the ignorants who seeks to divide our society.

Of course, I'm white, so I can't do this (damn ignorant racist by birth of course)! According to South Park, Jesse Jackson is the global leader of black communities, so I guess it's for him to start this movement! Perhaps Amir Khan can kick things off here, or if not, well, I'm sure Gabrielle Union and I can make a start together on integration :)

Monday, January 05, 2009

Happy 2009

Happy New Year, one and all!

Apologies for the lack of posts over the festive period, although that said, I haven't received too many complaints! I've been having a very nice time visiting my family down in beautiful Whitstable. I hope you all, my dear readers, had as pleasant a break as myself. Now back to the grind! Posts starting up soon..

- Sam