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Member since: Mon Sep 7, 2009, 12:57 AM
Number of posts: 902

Journal Archives

Scotland to train female Syrian peacemakers in conflict resolution

Nicola Sturgeon announced she has accepted an invitation from the UN special envoy for Syria to host an international women’s summit, which will offer female peacemakers training in negotiation and communication.


Sturgeon said: “In particular, he has asked for our support in training Syrian peacemakers in negotiation and communication skills to best prepare them to maximise their role in the talks.”


“Scotland is playing its role in welcoming refugees into our communities and we have also provided funding to help support aid agencies responding to the crisis in Syria and surrounding countries. However, we are also open to exploring other avenues to assist where we can.”

The exact details of the initiative are yet to be finalised.

Sturgeon said: “This is work which I hope can involve politicians across the political spectrum in the Scottish parliament, but most importantly can also play a small but important part in helping the people of Syria find a lasting peace.”

De Mistura said: “Women’s leadership and participation in conflict resolution are critical for sustainable solutions. The engagement of women in shaping the future of Syria is more important now than ever before.

“I am, therefore, glad that the Scottish government has agreed to work with the United Nations on this initiative.”


Some background on Staffan de Mistura here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/30/staffan-de-mistura-man-with-toughest-job-in-world-syria

Somewhat more detailed report here (monthly view-limited paywall): http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14110767.Sturgeon_accepts_UN_invitation_to_host_international_woman_s_summit_for_peace_in_Syria/

Grant Shapps resigns: International development minister steps down amid Tory bullying scandal

Grant Shapps, the Minister of State at the Department for International Development, has resigned after claims emerged he failed to act over allegations of bullying by a Tory campaigner when he was party chairman.

The father of Elliott Johnson, the Tory activist who is believed to have killed himself, said his son would still be alive if the party had acted on complains about Mark Clarke's behaviour.


This had been signposted by Cameron refusing to give Schapps his full backing. This is unusual, as such resignations are usually preceded by the prime minister expressing full confidence in a minister.

This is at least the second major humiliation for Schapps, who was sacked as Conservative Party chairman in May and demoted to the junior ministerial post from which he's just resigned:

Just before the election campaign he was accused of editing the Wikipedia pages of his Conservative rivals and allegedly changed his own page to delete embarrassing references to his past.

Mr Shapps categorically denied he had any involvement in editing the pages and said he was writing to Wikipedia over the fact that one anonymous editor was being reported as "speaking as if it's Wikipedia itself" and "being somebody who is with authority".

Schapps's Wikipedia page has already been updated to reflect this latest development in a career best characterized as "controversial". One of his claims to fame is to have hired Lynton Crosby as Tory campaign strategist.

Ministers lose £80m in revenue after scrapping car tax discs


The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) ended the need for drivers to display a valid tax disc in October 2014, saying that the move would save the taxpayer £10m a year by making the system more efficient. However, that decision looks to have backfired, after official figures published on Thursday showed that the exchequer has lost as much as eight times the intended saving.

... The Department for Transport (DfT) estimated that about 560,000 vehicles were untaxed. Motoring organisations claimed when the measures were announced that the abolition of the tax disc after 93 years – part of the government’s purge on bureaucracy – would fail.

The move, which suffered a number of admin problems at the start, also led to thousands of innocent motorists having their cars clamped. Many of those who have not taxed their car may well have failed to receive official notices reminding them to get their tax renewed in the post. Under the old scheme, the tax disc provided a visual reminder when it was due. It was also easy for police to spot untaxed cars – something that it is no longer possible.


Oliver Morley, the DVLA’s chief executive, said: “Almost 99% of all vehicles on the road are correctly taxed: that’s around £6bn in vehicle tax passed to the Treasury every year. We write to every registered vehicle keeper in the UK to remind them when their tax is due, and we have introduced a range of measures to make vehicle tax easy to pay. At the same time, we are taking action against those who are determined to break the law.”


As far as I can recall, I set up a direct debit when the new system came in. Maybe I should check that I did, and that the payments have been going through. As it is, I'm reliant on DVLA's bureaucracy to keep me honest and avoid my car being pulled over or clamped or towed away.

I once met a guy whose company set up the previous online payment system, which was impressively efficient and seamless.

Also, if I sell my car to some sucker, or buy another one, I'll have to bear in mind:

While most motorists know that tax discs are no longer required, what is catching out many is that vehicle excise duty is automatically cancelled if a car changes ownership – even if there is a valid disc in the window.

Previously, anyone selling a used car could post adverts saying “Taxed and MOTd” until a certain date. But now when a car is sold the tax, even if it has many months to run, automatically expires and the new owner has to tax it again. It is this change that is exposing drivers to clamping by the DVLA and large fines.

The DVLA says it has worked with motor traders and written to new owners to make them aware of the change, but plenty of motorists have found their vehicles clamped or towed away after being given a taxed car by a relative, or even swapping cars within a family. Those who are caught out have no right of appeal to an independent body and say that the DVLA is acting unfairly.



'Twas retweeted. I don't do Facebook (nor do I have a Twitter a/c). If I'm after a fight, I can always come here.

Blimey, even the FT's getting in on the act:

Cameron’s cunning plan for bombing Isis in Syria
The questions over extending air raids answered in 43 key points


Here, then, are the key things you need to know about UK intervention in Syria.

1. British contributions to the air campaign against the Islamist militants will make absolutely no difference at all.

2. No, really, none.

3. You know all those bombs already being dropped on Isis? Well, now there will be a few more.

4. But not that many more.

5. And many of those that will be dropped on Isis in Syria would have been dropped on Isis in Iraq instead.

6. What do you think we are — made of bombs?


8. It is important to stress that, before the decision to bomb Syria, there was absolutely no plan on how to defeat Isis.

9. And there still isn’t.

10. But something must be done.

11. And this is that something.

12. These people are really evil.

13. I mean super-evil. Horrible.

14. So we are all going to feel a lot better about ourselves because now we are going to be in there socking it to them as well.

15. I cannot say this will beat them but I can say it will degrade them, which sounds like something.

16. We are doing this to make Britain safer from the threat of Isis.

17. Even though we cannot offer a single reason whatsoever to believe it will achieve that goal.


22. We know that these attacks have to be part of a clear and coherent strategy for isolating and defeating Isis. But we do not have the luxury of waiting for one to emerge.

23. So any ideas on a postcard please.

24. Our military strategists make clear that there can be no ultimate victory over those foul butchers in Isis without “boots on the ground”.

25. But none of those boots are going to be ours.

26. We think that stuff is best left to the military forces in Iraq and Syria that have been doing such a bang-up job fighting Isis up till now.


31. We are absolutely clear that the long-term political settlement for Syria does not include Bashar al-Assad.

32. Which is a bit of a pity because Russia and Iran are clear that it does.

33. Syria’s future must lie with the moderate anti-Assad opposition.

34. The ones that Russia has been bombing.


39. We recognise that there are people in this country with doubts about the wisdom of this action.

40. But, since those doubts are going to be articulated by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, we are not too worried about that.

41. We further recognise that stepping up bombing raids could increase the number of refugees fleeing Syria.

42. But they’re not coming here.

43. Because this regional problem requires a regional solution.


I may just end up outsourcing all my posts to Twitter:

Mark Steel wades into the debate:

The Iraq War wasn't as a one-off - it was just one more episode in a story that's lasted 100 years

This looks simple enough then. We’ll bomb the same people as Putin is bombing, in the same places, co-ordinated with Putin. But we won’t actually be on the same side as Putin, and maybe we’ll make that clear by painting gay rainbow flags on our bombs.

And we’re backing Turkey – although we’re not backing Turkey when they sneakily align with Isis against the Kurds, but that’s easy to get round. We’ll arrange a job share. Isis can have them on Mondays to Wednesdays, then we’ll get them from Thursday until Saturday, and on Sundays they can have the day off or back someone else such as the Cornish nationalists.


David Cameron suggests our bombing will be in support of the moderate Free Syrian Army, but many of them are also jihadists. The American journalist Theo Padnos was kidnapped by them, working in an alliance with al-Qaeda. And when you’re looking to al-Qaeda as a moderate influence, you can be satisfied things are turning out extremely well. Who amongst us, when times look tricky, hasn’t thought: “I wish al-Qaeda would turn up and take over from the nutcases in charge at the moment?”


But it looks like we’re going ahead. And presumably, although the US, France and Russia have already been bombing, our bombs will make the crucial difference. Next I expect Hertfordshire County Council will say they’re sending the Hemel Hempstead Air Force as a vital addition to the coalition, and Guernsey will send its traffic wardens to clamp Isis surface-to-air missiles. Then Isis will be driven out of Raqqa, and there will be huge celebrations. But they’ll be replaced by a group called The Irrational Quar’anic Cult of Universal Evil and Destruction, and we’ll all think: “it makes you wish we had Isis back, this lot are even worse.”


Court finds Benefits Cap unlawfully discriminates against disabled people's carers

The High Court has today ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has unjustifiably indirectly discriminated against unpaid carers for disabled family members by failing to exempt them from the Benefits Cap. The Court upheld the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s submission that carers’ Article 14 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been contravened by not considering the impact on disabled people.

Commenting in response to this ruling, Rebecca Hilsenrath, CEO at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

"We are pleased that the court has found the impact on disabled people of losing a family carer had not been properly considered. The effect could be profound and the loss of a trusted carer devastating."

"The substantial reduction of income could jeopardise the ability of those affected to continue to care for severely disabled relatives. The court noted that the Secretary of State did not provide any information to Parliament about the effect on disabled people if their family carer were unable to continue."

"The court also held that, rather than saving public money, it would cost considerably more for the care to be provided by local authorities or the NHS."


An inquiry into breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which saw a team of investigators visit the UK earlier this year has yet to report: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10888636

chipmunkson16speed: Marvin & The Chipmunks Go Trip-Hop

Brian Borcherdt, a musician from Toronto, has been playing around with old Marvin & The Chipmunks 45s and took the radical step of playing them back at 16 r.p.m. to reveal the vocals as they would have been sung - and contributions by some pretty high-quality session singers in the process.

The results are ... variable, and some songs work better than others.

The star appears to be the epic cover of the Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian":


though Tom Petty's "Refugee" has a certain woozy charm.

More here if you can take it: https://soundcloud.com/alvin-thechipmunkson16sp/sets/sludgefest

Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring"?

Look here: http://seanmunger.com/2013/10/23/stravinsky-in-space-the-classic-fight-music-from-star-trek-audio/

If you’re a fan of the old Star Trek TV show, you probably know before you even click the above video what it’s going to be. If someone so much as mentions the words “fight music” or “Amok Time,” you can already hear it in your head: the harsh bass line, the savage slices of the brass, and the pounding bongos and shaking tambourines. Indeed, aside from the Star Trek theme song itself, the classic “fight music” is probably the most instantly-recognizable audio cue from the entire series.

Although many people recognize the “fight music,” not very many people know the story behind it–either historically or musically. The music, which is officially called “The Ritual/Ancient Battle/Second Kroykah,” was composed in July 1967 by veteran Hollywood composer Gerald Fried for the second-season opening episode, “Amok Time.” This is one of Star Trek’s most classic episodes, depicting the descent into madness by Vulcan scientist Mr. Spock, who ends up in vicious hand-to-hand combat with his best friend Captain Kirk as part of an ancient Vulcan mating ritual. In addition to appearing in “Amok Time,” Fried’s “fight music” was also used in various other Star Trek episodes, including “The Omega Glory” and “The Gamesters of Triskelion”–and always during a fight sequence.

Once you’ve listened to the “fight music,” take a listen to this much older piece of 20th century classical music. You may notice some interesting musical and structural similarities.


The above piece is from the 1913 symphony “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky, one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Musically and emotionally, “The Rite of Spring” comes from the same sort of place that Gerald Fried’s music for “Amok Time” does: a primal ritual, violent and dangerous, brimming with emotions incapable of being tamed. There is an obvious thematic commonality, and I’m surprised more people don’t see the parallel.

Well, old Guido the Elder wasn't exactly a unionist ...

... some might even describe him as an insurgent, or worse.

He also wasn't that keen on the Scots, as scurrilous sources like Wikipedia will attest:

He denounced Scotland, and the King's favourites among the Scottish nobles, writing "it will not be possible to reconcile these two nations, as they are, for very long."


Fawkes gave his name as John Johnson and was first interrogated by members of the King's Privy chamber, where he remained defiant. When asked by one of the lords what he was doing in possession of so much gunpowder, Fawkes answered that his intention was "to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains."

Staines is presumably aware of this, unless - heaven forbid the thought - he's just an ignorant, bought-off establishment troll, inadvertently following in his namesake's footsteps.
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