Out of touch

We’ve been away and without connectivity for much of the last week. And what a week to choose. This summer will live in memory for its news and events. Some days, the real world is more like theatre than theatre is.

Through tools such as Reeder, and the many eyes and ears of Twitter, we just about kept abreast, snatching 3G, EDGE or feeble GPRS where location permitted, and quickly learning where towns and villages could give us WiFi. (A shout-out here for the excellent Toucan Café in Minehead, its good food and free wireless.)

Back home, I’ve caught up in detail on the accumulated reading. I wish it had been less dispiriting. It’s come to something when, as Euan said, Russell Brand is more credible than the Prime Minister.

Some of what I’ve been reading about the unrest in England, on Pinboard.

Wikileaks in 10

I like this mind-map by John Naughton very much and used it recently in an English class when we got talking about some tools and techniques that help us think. It comes from his post, WikiLeaks: two challenges for journalism:

… how to make sense of all this. Most people cope with this problem by, effectively, reducing its variety.

Early last Monday, I gave a 10 minute talk about Wikileaks to our top two years (12 & 13). I hope I managed to keep some of the variety. The way in, stepping stones and some points made:

To end on, to take us away from focusing just on Wikileaks, something about the big picture right now — Paul Mason’s piece which has resonated with so many (and with so many undergraduates and recent graduates I know), Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere:

… the graduate with no future … with access to social media … [which] kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously … They all seem to know each other: not only is the network more powerful than the hierarchy - but the ad-hoc network has become easier to form. … if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection. … People just know more than they used to. … People have a better understanding of power. … Technology has - in many ways, from the contraceptive pill to the iPod, the blog and the CCTV camera - expanded the space and power of the individual.


I gave the talk again mid-week to our Year 10, boiled down and in something more like 6 minutes.

Here are a couple of other pieces which I’ve found good food for thought, neither of which I had time to work in to these talks:

Bill Keller in the NYT (January, 2011):

I’m a little puzzled by the complaint that most of the embassy traffic we disclosed did not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.

Also from the same:

The government surely cheapens secrecy by deploying it so promiscuously. According to the Pentagon, about 500,000 people have clearance to use the database from which the secret cables were pilfered. Weighing in on the WikiLeaks controversy in The Guardian, Max Frankel remarked that secrets shared with such a legion of “cleared” officials, including low-level army clerks, “are not secret.” Governments, he wrote, “must decide that the random rubber-stamping of millions of papers and computer files each year does not a security system make.”

And this from John Naughton (to whom we owe a lot for his pondering of these recent events) :

For hardcore geeks, the WikiLeaks saga should serve as a stimulant to a new wave of innovation which will lead to a new generation of distributed, secure technologies (like the TOR networking system used by WikiLeaks) which will enable people to support movements and campaigns that are deemed subversive by authoritarian powers. A really good example of this kind of technological innovation was provided last week by Google engineers, who in a few days built a system that enabled protesters in Egypt to send tweets even though the internet in their country had been shut down. “Like many people”, they blogged, “we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we can do to help people on the ground. Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service – the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.”

They worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter and SayNow (a company Google recently acquired) to build the system. It provides three international phone numbers and anyone can tweet by leaving a voicemail. The tweets appear on

What’s exciting about this kind of development is that it harnesses the same kind of irrepressible, irreverent, geeky originality that characterised the early years of the internet, before the web arrived and big corporations started to get a grip on it. Events in Egypt make one realise how badly this kind of innovation is needed.

Narrating the work (II)

This resonates with me so much and I see I jotted down some notes about it before. Re-reading the posts involved, and some others, has set me thinking again. Some significant bookmarks I want to keep to hand:

1) Jon Udell, 2001, on the web:

an environment in which everyone can produce as well as consume web content. The web began in this state of grace, soon fell from it, and has recently been trying to find its way back. It's been a hard road, frankly.

That's both beautiful and true.

2) From the same:

There's one talent common to all these creative disciplines: storytelling. We are, as a species, hardwired not only for language but for narrative. A story is, you might say, an evolutionary mechanism designed to focus the attention of a group. Sometimes the point is to entertain, sometimes to teach, often both. The power of narrative, whatever its purpose, flows from a deep human need to identify with a group, and above all to find out what happens next. … It all boils down to just three things: a storyteller, an audience, and a venue.
3) Dave Winer, 2002, discussing an Instant Outliner:
(…) narrating your work is the way to go.
4) This is Jon Udell, back in April 2004, The participant/narrator: owning the role, writing about the "XML-Deviant column at O'Reilly's … which began in January 2000, [and] would have been called a blog had the term been more current then":
For people who lack the time to closely monitor activity in some area, these bulletins are a way to keep a finger on the pulse. For the participant/narrator, they're a way to build personal brand and -- perhaps -- influence the agenda. It's been clear to me for a long time that the participant/narrator, armed with easy-to-use Web publishing technology (aka blog tools), will be a key player on every professional and civic team.
Now that the hype about political blogs has died down, it's clear that this is the real deal: a grassroots effort to connect a political process to itself, to its constituency, and to the outside world. No fanfare, just steady and reliable information flow. Every team can benefit from this approach. By narrating the work, as Dave Winer once put it, we clarify the work. There can be more than [one] narrator, but it makes sense to have one team member own the primary role just as other members own other roles.
5) Jon Udell, July 2007, Beautiful code, expert minds, discussing a book where coders narrate their work ("Although this is a book by programmers and for programmers, the method of narrating the work process is, in principle, much more widely applicable"):
Access to expert minds is just inherently valuable. We’re entering an era in which we’ll be able to access many more — and many different kinds of — expert minds. I’m looking forward to it.
6) All this was set going again by Dave Winer's fine post yesterday, Narrate Your Work, "a big part of the future Rebooted News system, imho":
I clicked on the page of NYT editorial people on Twitter that I keep and I saw something very different, and this is the point of this story. I saw a news organization at work. Careful to say what they do and don't know. Informing each other on experience with similar stories in the past. Whether they were all reading all of the others' posts, I don't know. They were reading and passing on reports from other Twitter users, even those that didn't work at the Times. They were coordinating the work of a larger community than just people who work at the Times. … real reporters dealing with a true breaking story not just a simulation of a breaking story, let their hair down and share everything they know with the world. This is the impulse of news …

Jon Udell, 2001: "The web's leading blogger is clearly Dave Winer, who has for years pursued parallel careers as a software developer and storyteller (or, he might say, technology journalist)."

Three other passages from Jon Udell's 2001 post stand out for me:

Could it be that, despite Tim Berners-Lee's dream (and mine), the writable web is not the natural state of affairs? That, in fact, it is appropriate for consumers of web content to outnumber producers? And that tools and technologies are not the major constraint on the production of web content? Recent history suggests that the answer to all of these questions is probably yes. Personal computers have forever changed the way people make publications, movies, and music. But they have not changed the people who do these things. If you lack writing or editing or illustration skills, or filmic flair, or musical ability, then desktop publishing or video or music tools can't change that. What they can do -- and it's no small thing -- is help people with latent abilities in these areas discover and grow their talents. …
Blogging as a form of mainstream web entertainment, with its star performers and its popularity ratings, may or may not be a passing fad. What will endure, in any case, matters more: a powerful new way to tell stories that refer to, and make sense of, the documents and messages that we create and exchange in our professional lives. …
It [his project weblog] looks like a newspaper, and indeed serves a similar purpose.

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A lot for the Democrats to do now, but, for the moment, relief:

This was a resounding and emphatic rejection of the core, defining premises of the so-called "conservative" movement and what has morphed into the grotesque Republican Party. Nobody doubts that Americans vigorously rejected George Bush and his signature policy -- the invasion of Iraq. But it wasn't only Bush and Iraq.

Democratic candidates won -- in every part of the country and regardless of their ideology -- by committing themselves to one basic platform. They vigorously opposed what have become the defining attributes of the Republican Party and they pledged to put a stop to them: unchecked Presidential power, mindless warmongering, a refusal to accept or acknowledge realities (both in Iraq and generally), and the deep-seated, fundamental corruption fueling the Bush movement and sustaining their power.

Virtually every Democratic winner, from the most conservative to the most liberal, in the reddest and bluest states, have that in common. They all ran on a platform of putting a stop to the radicalism, deceit and corruption that drives the so-called "conservative" political movement.

… yesterday's results should galvanize everyone who recognizes the danger this country has been placed in by the radical, hate-mongering, deeply corrupt authoritarians who have been controlling (and destroying) it. That movement has been severely wounded, but not yet killed. Glenn Greenwald (Unclaimed Territory)


I was beginning to wonder if America had the ability to see. I don't now. I stayed up until 2pm eastern last night just to make sure. The american public has seen what's really going on and they have sent a message to washington.

Democrats + 27 (maybe more) in the House and take control
Democrats + 6 (I know VA is a recount) in the Senate and take control
Democrats +6 in statehouses and set the stage for 2008

But more importantly, we have a new kind of Democrat emerging. Jim Webb, former Secretary of the Navy. Claire McCaskill, tough pragmatic midwestern woman. Bob Casey and Joe Lieberman.

The Democrats are moving to the center, occupying the vacuum left by the disappearance of the moderate Republican. … america has woken up from it's tilt right. We are back in centerville. Thank God. Fred Wilson (A VC)

Newspapers: proprietary readers and the future

I Want Media:

The New York Times Co. last week announced the appointment of Michael Rogers as "futurist-in-residence," a first for the newspaper industry. The Times describes the new position as a one-year consultant appointment to work with the company's research and development unit. …

IWM: Will newspapers on paper disappear eventually? 

Rogers: Not for a very long time. Paper is a high-resolution, high-contrast, unbreakable and extremely inexpensive display device. As the years go on, though, I think we may see more newspaper content delivered electronically and printed locally. However, we're within a few years of seeing some very effective electronic reading devices that finally do begin to challenge paper. 

The new Times Reader, on a tablet PC, is already a pretty good experience. Spin that forward five years and you're starting to have a compelling alternative. Finally, in another decade, a substantial part of our audience will have grown up already doing much more of their reading on screen, and they're not likely to have the same emotional attachment to paper as does much of the current readership.

I don't need the NYT Reader — but I can see that if I were reading the NYT often enough, and it were a major source of news, analysis and opinion for me, then it could well be a different story. Would I use it if it were the Guardian Reader? Yes, I probably would: I'm hugely indebted to the Guardian for news, views and links and I feel a great allegiance to the brand. Put the current digital Guardian alongside the NYT Reader and that version of the online Guardian looks old and passé. Of course, it is a very different beast, and Guardian Unlimited NewsPoint is no equivalent, either. That leaves Guardian Unlimited news for mobiles (read about it here; more on Guardian mobile services here) — which doesn't run on an E70, yet. (In fact, I've recently unsubscribed from the digital Guardian: using it conveys the feel of being embroiled in something more like a library archival programme than of being at one of the online coalfaces of an exciting, national newspaper that is also read and followed internationally.)

But there's an interesting issue here. On if:book, Christine Boese writes:

You know, for the money the Times spent on this (and the experienced journalists the Times Group laid off this past year), I'd have thought the best use of resources for a big media company would be to develop a really KILLER RSS feed reader, one that finally gets over the usability threshold that keeps feed readers in "Blinking 12-land" for most casual Internet users.

I mean, I know there are a lot of good feed readers out there (I favor Bloglines myself), but have any of you tried to convert non-techie co-workers into using a feed reader lately? I can't for the LIFE of me figure out why there's so much resistance to something so purely wonderful and empowering, something I believe is clearly the killer app on par with the first Mosaic browser in 1993.

'Kevin' comments:

The Times Reader smartly (it’s a brand after all) incorporates the branding, styling of the print edition (e.g. typography, colors, overall look and feel). But that’s about the extent of it. Sections and articles are in columns and pages using new layout technology that scale and adapt to screen size and resolution – but that’s more about usability and making use of the entire screen rather than trying to replicate the paper medium. …

Usability and Design. This reader provides a much more usable and readable experience than today's alternatives. It’s a big claim but it’s backed up by usability studies. Users strongly prefer this model to the text presentation found in the current browsers for example. Users also retain more information and read for longer periods. Columns, ClearType, Pagination, Hyphenation, Seamless navigation, Zoomable layouts, etc all contribute to a highly readable, easy-to-use experience. 

Interactivity. The app is still in beta and many more features are planned before its release but you can find a number of interactive features already. For example, you can comment (with ink or text) on text and share that with friends. The highlighted text is captured and the comment is recreated and rendered for others exactly as it was written. You can click on “topics” for any article and find related articles via the Search feature and “Topic Explorer”. You can peruse the news via Pictures /Photos or via the “What’s Read” feature. Stay tuned for more features. Feel free to make feature suggestions to the Times as well.

Also on if:book, in a post following Christine Boese's and picking up on her argument that re-creating a facsimile of a print newspaper online is 'just a kind of "horseless carriage" retrenchment', Ben Vershbow wonders, too, if this isn't to go backwards into the future. Most interesting bit in his post? This:

… are these proprietary, bound devices really going to replace newspapers? It seems doubtful when news consumption is such a multi-sourced affair these days (though to some extent that's an illusion). A device that allows readers to design their news menu seems more the ticket. Maybe the Times should be thinking more in terms of branded software than proprietary hardware. Make the best news reader on the web, prominently featuring Times content, but allowing users to customize their reading experience. Keep it open and plugged in. Let the Times be your gateway to more than just the Times.

Full info about the NYT Reader is available here. Currently, NYT Reader is Windows-only ('can be installed on any laptop, desktop, or tablet PC running Windows XP') and requires .NET 3.0. All OK for me, but … Mac users will want to read this post by Nick Bilton, Art Director at the NYT.

Finally, here's a quotation from Michael Rogers (IWM article) which I liked:

I think that being a futurist is in a way the last refuge of the generalist. You need to pull together all kinds of sociological, economic, technologic, anthropologic information into some kind of coherent whole. And finally, I'm not sure that the real value of a futurist is to predict the future -- the future is always going to surprise us in one way or another -- but rather to get others thinking about it in a creative and flexible way.

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Journalism and accuracy: Reuters and Adnan Hajj


  • Reuters has suspended a photojournalist covering the Israeli assault on Lebanon after an investigation by bloggers revealed an image had been digitally manipulated to increase the apparent severity of a bombing raid. 6 August
  • Reuters has dropped a long-serving Lebanese photojournalist covering the Israeli assault on the country after an investigation by bloggers revealed an image had been digitally manipulated to increase the apparent severity of a bombing raid. 7 August

  • A second allegation of altering war zone photos - made against a photojournalist by bloggers - has led to over 900 of his pictures being removed from Reuters' database. Adnan Hajj, who had contributed to Reuters on a freelance basis since 1993, was axed by the agency after an investigation by bloggers, last week, claimed an image showing bomb damage in Beirut had been digitally manipulated to increase the apparent severity of the raid.

    After right wing bloggers made further allegations of alterations to a second image - supposedly showing an Israeli F-16 firing missiles on Lebanon - Reuters withdrew all his photographs from its database.The two altered photographs were among 43 that Hajj had filed directly to the global pictures desk since the start of the conflict on July 12. Reuters said it had now put in place a tighter editing procedure for images of the Middle East conflict. "There is no graver breach of Reuters standards for our photographers than the deliberate manipulation of an image," said Tom Szlukovenyi, Reuters global picture editor. 7 August

Mitch Ratcliffe: 'Where Nicholas Lemann's critique of citizen journalism falls down is his lack of critical reflection on journalism itself.'

I've been pondering Nicholas Lemann's New Yorker article. More about that soon.

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Stephen Colbert, satirist supreme

I remember Ian Hislop once saying how he had tried to take a satirical programme (a version of Spitting Image?) to the States, only to be met there with disbelief: 'You mean you want to make fun of the President?'. Which makes the performance of Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner the more remarkable.

Thanks to Tom Coates ( for these links: a clip of some highlights (this may have been taken down; at least, it's not running right now — has CSPAN paid them a YouTube visit?); a BitTorrent link to a movie of the evening; an Editor & Publisher piece about the speech.

Botherer covered it well:

… what wasn’t reported in the UK and elsewhere, disturbingly including the USA, was the main speaker for the evening, Stephen Colbert. Currently riding high with the success of his excellent Daily Show spin-off, The Colbert Report (pronounced “Colbert Report”), the honour of giving the main speech at the dinner, which is intended to poke fun at the president, was his. From the reaction it seems no one was quite expecting what Colbert had to say.

In character, he addressed the audience from the perspective of his programme, ironically adopting a Fox News-like stance in order to make a mockery of it. Throughout, Bush was sat two chairs to his right.

“Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in “reality.” And reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Salon, too:

Make no mistake, Stephen Colbert is a dangerous man -- a bomb thrower, an assassin, a terrorist with boring hair and rimless glasses. It's a wonder the secret service let him so close to the President of the United States.

But there he was Saturday night, keynoting the year's most fawning celebration of the self-importance of the DC press corps, the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Before he took the podium, the master of ceremonies ominously announced, "Tonight, no one is safe."

To my friends and colleagues teaching satire: teach this! There's a transcript of Colbert's speech at Daily Kos (excerpt below) and, in addition to the Torrent link above, you can download the full video at these links: Part 1, Part 2. It is compelling, very sharp and very funny.

I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world. …

And I just like the guy. He's a good Joe. Obviously loves his wife, calls her his better half. And polls show America agrees. She's a true lady and a wonderful woman. But I just have one beef, ma'am.

I'm sorry, but this reading initiative. I'm sorry, I've never been a fan of books. I don't trust them. They're all fact, no heart. I mean, they're elitist, telling us what is or isn't true, or what did or didn't happen. Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was built in 1914? If I want to say it was built in 1941, that's my right as an American! I'm with the President, let history decide what did or did not happen.

The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will. As excited as I am to be here with the President, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the President's side, and the Vice-President's side.

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the President makes decisions. He's the decider. The Press Secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the Press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

Because really, what incentive do these people have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write, "Oh, they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!

You can leave a thank-you-Stephen-Colbert message here. There's a good Flickr photo from the evening here. And if you use Firefox and haven't yet got the Video Downloader extension, it's here.

Update! Inside Google reports:

The Google Video blog posts on how they’ve come to an agreement with C-SPAN to show the content, and agreement YouTube apparently failed (or never tried) to make. You have three options: You can watch the entire 1 hour, 35 minute video of the dinner, or stick to an 11 minute excerpt of President Bush and Bush impersonator Steve Bridges, or go for the 25 minute excerpt of Steven Colbert’s speech. Of course, if you want to enjoy Colbert’s biting remarks, make sure you quit about 16:45 in, because the press conference/chase segment is as tragically unfunny as it gets.

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Ridicule, Machiavelli and political life


How much derision can a national political figure take and remain a "viable political entity"? According to Michael Heseltine this morning (Today, Radio 4), John Prescott has gone beyond the point of no return.

The strong media and popular response to Blair letting Prescott keep the perks and salary of office without (most of) the responsibilities was not hard to foresee and the attacks came very soon after the news broke (my last post). Was retaining the pay and perks the price of ensuring Prescott's cooperation? Was there a deeper plot, in effect to put Prescott out to die in the amphitheatre of public opinion? Far too popular and important a figure within the Labour Party for Number 10 to decapitate completely, this halfway house might have seemed attractive yesterday to John Prescott but now (it must have dawned on him) makes him look at best contemptibly absurd, at worst indulged and rewarded beyond what any possible responsibility still remaining to him might justify. Prescott will emerge (at least for the all important short- to mid-term) as an utterly diminished figure.

Last month (30 April), Andrew Rawnsley wrote (Observer):

Even before we were treated to pictures of the Deputy Prime Minister pressing the flesh with his office squeeze, he was widely mocked as an absurd figure. Buffoonish though he might have appeared to many outside government, inside Number 10, he was still taken quite seriously as a potential menace to Tony Blair who could deliver the final, fatal blow to the Prime Minister. His allies were becoming increasingly nervous that Mr Prescott was intent on bringing on the reign of Gordon Brown, especially since he so flagrantly fanned the rebellion against the education reforms. It was in the power of Prescott to pull the trigger on the Prime Minister by making a public declaration demanding an early date from Mr Blair for his departure.

The one solace for the Prime Minister in a sea of troubles is that this threat has evaporated. The debagging of the Deputy Prime Minister contributes to the impression of a government that is simultaneously arrogant, ridiculous and reckless. But it does have this consolation for Number 10. John Prescott is now a much weakened figure whose residual credibility is threatened with more demolition from further revelation. Instead of John Prescott being in a position to tell Tony Blair how long he has left in Number 10, it is now John Prescott who is fighting to save his own job and what shreds remain of his dignity.

Prescott's Parliamentary job has gone in almost all but name. Now he's doomed to be roundly and totally derided.

There's a good BBC piece by Roger Preston on the implications of the Cabinet reshuffle in the context of Blair/Brown ambitions and "relations":

Tony Blair has no desire to quit any time soon. And when he does resign, it will be in his own time and his own way. Those were the conspicuous messages he sent out today in his sweeping reorganisation of the Cabinet.

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Whither Labour?

The BBC reports that 'John Prescott has sparked anger by keeping his job as deputy prime minister despite being stripped of his government responsibilities. Mr Prescott's local government brief will pass to Ruth Kelly. But Downing Street insisted Mr Prescott was not being demoted and would keep his salary and grace and favour homes.'

This is a great line of attack, whatever your political allegiance(s):

The Tories branded Mr Prescott a waste of public money and Labour's Kate Hoey said people would wonder "what on earth he's going to get paid for".  Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said: "John Prescott loses his department but keeps the trappings of office - including the car, the salary, and the two grace and favour homes.  "Add it all up, and the taxpayer is going to be paying more than a quarter of a million pounds a year. If you're looking for ways to cut waste in government, you can start with John Prescott."

There's a cut-out-and-keep guide to New Labour, 'a handy guide to the last nine days and the last nine years (an amalgamation of this
and this list plus a few choice bonus items)', over on Chicken Yoghurt. Designed for yesterday and the local council elections, it's not going to stop being apposite any time soon. A sample (I've cut some items and un-numbered the list — please go read it over on Chicken Yoghurt):

In the full post: 120 numbered items … Brilliant stuff.

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Blair & ID cards

With news that Blair is now set to miss today's vote on ID cards (see here), there's also this — from the Guardian:

A British Nato and defence specialist today undermines Tony Blair and Charles Clarke's claims that the new identity cards database for 60 million British citizens is safe and secure. … Brian Gladwin, from Worcester, now a security consultant to US government agencies, said Mr Blair and the home secretary had got it wrong when they accused critics of producing "a technically incompetent report" on ID cards. They had accused the report's main author, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, Simon Davies, of bias because he is also a director of Privacy International, a human rights group that opposes ID cards.  Now Dr Gladwin, who led research into protecting foreign spies from compromising the country's most secure communciations system, has written to Mr Blair saying he was the author of the sections of the report dealing with safety and security. He pointed out that the "technically incompetent" data was subject to review by the LSE before publication by two "independent information security experts, both of whom are internationally recognised for their expertise".  He warns the new database will "create safety and security risks for all those whose details are entered on the system".

In a damning blow to ministers' claims of bias, he tells Mr Blair "in case you think that I am an opponent of ID cards, I should point out that I support an irrevocably voluntary, self-funded ID card scheme". He reveals he would rather pay fines than join a compulsory scheme, saying "it is shameful that those who are less well-off will be forced to put themselves at serious risk for a system that serves no purpose that cannot be achieved in other, more effective and less costly ways".

Ministers had sought to undermine the report's findings because it has been a key issue in fuelling the rebellion among Labour MPs on ID cards, which halved the government's majority and led to a string of defeats in the Lords.

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