Firefox 2

So I finally sorted out installing Firefox 2 on my computer. And very nice it is too, it seems to run a little faster and more smoothly, and there’s some nice features, such as remembering past session states after a crash or restart – although I can see this leading to all kinds of embarrassing or downright awful situations – think of all the people who are going to suddenly start up without remembering the last session they were browsing with, you know the 25+ tabs of exotic ostrich porn they were looking at the previous night, when firing up Firefox in front of their partner/mother/boss. Expect a comedy bug report to be filed in the next few days.

Oh, and the RSS integration with Bloglines/Google Reader is an absolute godsend, and works like a charm. And the spell checker is a lovely idea, automatically highlighting what it thinks are errors in any text area with a dotted red underline. I don’t seem to have had the problems with wrong versions of English as doctorvee has had, as I picked the UK English dictionary to use. However, I did notice one glaring omission when trying to spell check this very blog post:

Firefox's UK English dictionary does not have the word 'Firefox' in it

Yes, that’s right. The UK English dictionary for Firefox doesn’t, er, have the word “Firefox” in it.

Now the bad news. The new theme is ass-ugly – having gradient fills in the UI is a really bad idea, the glossy icons look too Microsofty and afunctional, and there are too many engraved lines all over the place, it makes for a very crowded look. I’ve downgraded the theme to the old Firefox 1.5 one which is IMHO a much nicer and simpler one. Oh, and the exit buttons on every tab – how annoying. They clutter up the tab bar and mean accidental tab-closing is much more likely. And as I’m a laptop person I use Ctrl-W much more. Luckily, there’s a solution at hand. First go to about:config and you can:

…revert to the Firefox 1.5 behavior by changing the browser.tabs.closeButtons value to 3. This will not display close tabs on individual tabs, and turn on a single close tab button at the right end of the tab bar.

From a very useful set of hints & tips from Lifehacker.

Anyway, overall, thumbs up overall – it’s a really nice piece of work, and what issues it has are easily fixed. With Microsoft’s IE7 out recently as well it’s good to see Firefox (mostly) keeping one step ahead of the competition. Oh, speaking of which… Hahahahaha (via Tom)

David Blunkett – both evil AND stupid

First, there was the willingness to commit war crimes:

DAVID Blunkett has admitted he urged Tony Blair to break international law and bomb al-Jazeera’s Baghdad TV transmitter during the Iraq war. […] Mr Blunkett tells Dispatches he suggested to the war cabinet that al-Jazeera’s Baghdad transmitter be attacked. Asked whether he was not worried that this would be “outside the rules of engagement”, Mr Blunkett says: “There wasn’t a worry from me because I believed that this was a war and in a war you wouldn’t allow the broadcast to continue taking place.”

Not that surprising, given the rest of the Blair administration’s fairly blas? attitude to international law and human rights in general. But even the most swivel-eyed loon might have baulked at machine-gunning unarmed prisoners:

A HYSTERICAL David Blunkett told the Prison Service to call in the Army and ?machinegun? inmates in order to regain control of a riot-torn jail, the former Director-General of the service claims today. The former Home Secretary is said to have ?shrieked? down the telephone to Martin Narey that he did not care about the possible loss of life among staff or prisoners during efforts to retake Lincoln jail which had been taken over by rioting inmates.

With that, the portrait of Blunkett transgresses from mere ruthlessness to borderline criminal insanity. But what was revealed this morning in the Radio 4 serialisation of his diaries takes the biscuit. The audio is here, scroll to about 6:30. Blunkett is discussing the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, when he was Home Secretary and in charge of the nation’s security. A rough transcript follows:

“…I spoke to my old schoolfriend, Graham McCreith, and his wife Christine, who live in Vancouver. Christine said that a patient in her physiotherapy clinic has told her a curious story. A relative, who had been in London, found someone’s wallet, and having returned it to them, were offered money as a reward. They turned this down, so the owner of the wallet, who was an Arab, said:

‘Well, I’ve got to do something for you: Don’t be in London on November 11th.’

“I immediately registered the significance of this. The 11th of November is Armistice Day, the one day where leading politicians, the Queen, leading personnel in the armed services are in the same place at the same time – a known time. I decided that I should at least tell Tony, as it was absolutely clear that no-one had thought through the significance. We agreed that there was no way we could possibly cancel Armistice Day, but we were certainly going to have to take increased precautions.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m now fucking terrified, with the revelation that the Home Secretary took action over security precautions based not on the advice of professionals, or even his own common sense, but only after he heard a “friend of a friend’s” retelling of a famous urban legend. I suppose it’s only the natural consqeunce of “sofa government” – faithfully relying on the informal testimony and advice of your cronies and chums, no matter how gullible they are.

Combined, the draconian brutality and outright stupidity make for a terrifying combination. Still, my fear is tempered by the fact that the crazy, stupid old cunt is no longer in a position of power, despite his ongoing concerted attempts to do so. But it makes me wonder – if someone so viciously amoral yet at the same time mind-bogglingly gullible managed to get to one of the great offices of state, what does it say about the qualities of the current cabinet?

Simon says…

So the Sion Simon “spoof” David Cameron piece has been pulled following a great outcry (well, maybe not…). Everyone’s focused on the line where Simon (as Cameron) implored people to sleep with his wife and take home his children, but there’s a more than just that.

Disregarding whether it was offensive (a matter for David Cameron and his family to say, not me), what a lot of people have ignored is that it totally missed the target. The image and persona that Webcameron is trying to generate is very much the inoffensive concerned family man – not setting himself out either as a “with it” yoof baseball cap-wearing bloke in a cheap T-shirt, but as this ordinary bland bloke who helps out with the washing up. As far as I know (i.e. according to Google Image search), David Cameron hasn’t even ever worn a baseball cap for a photo op – perhaps mindful of how much of a tit his Shadow Foreign Secretary made himself look when he tried it.

If there is anyone who is valiantly trying to “get down with the kids” a bit too much it’s Sion Simon himself, who seems to be the person responsible for having stolen Shaun Ryder’s Happy Mondays-era hair, and who still thinks that it’s in fashion 17 years on; he looks (and sounds) like your bank’s assistant manager appearing on Stars In Their Eyes. His rattled and defensive interview on Sky News is worth a watch, not only for the attempt to cling onto the coat-tails of his bigger and harder mate Tom Watson, “the computer blogger” (as he puts it), but also for the deliberately hurt tone as he puts on, as he labels Cameron “egregious” and “nakedly shallow”. It’s straight out of sixth-form debating society, the “I’m going to talk as if he drowned live puppies in front of me” act, made all the more hilariously implausible by the fact the “family man” spiel Cameron has tried on is exactly the same game that Blair himself has played.

Despite what those saying it’s “a new low”, it’s not actually all bad. This is a direct consequence of when we, us bloggers and grassroots types, ask our politicians to engage with the web and communicate directly – we find out that little bit more quickly how quite crap they actually are. I just hope that the rest won’t be too discouraged by Sion Simon’s unfortunate example and are more forthcoming as well.

Capital idea

I dislike capital punishment (for both moral and practical reasons) and I dislike its proponents almost as much. I’m normally keen on going down the “You’re willing to let a few innocent people be executed, even if you’re one of them? You would be willing to die for that?” route when discussing it, but that can be a bit high-concept and hypothetical for your trigger-happy counterpart’s liking. So hat off to this more practically-grounded solution that Paul heard on the radio and posted to The Sharpener:

Re-instating capital punishment, the plucky contestant suggested, should be put to a referendum. All those voting in favour should then have their names stored on a file somewhere. When the first incidence of proven post-execution innocence occurs, as it undoubtedly would, so our man claimed, all the names of the supporters of state-sponsored killing should be put in a hat, with one lucky person being plucked out and put to death as a way of saying sorry.

Whoever was chosen wouldn?t mind, of course, as they cast their vote for the reinstatement of capital punishment in the knowledge that eventually something would go tragically awry. They?d merely be a happy martyr for their particular political belief.

I think it’s the fact it’s the combination of a lottery and a national identity register that makes it all the more compelling – taking fusty, old, medieval capital punishment and giving it a 21st century twist. It’s just so much more believable than a simple hypothetical situation.

Too much of a good thing

One thing that has been overlooked in coverage of the England football team’s latest failings is just how tired and sluggish a lot of the players looked. While a lot of the blame for England’s shortcomings has to be laid on Steve McClaren’s own shoulders, it does not help his situation that a lot of his best players (Rooney, Lampard) are completely out of sorts at the moment, with barely no time to rest since the World Cup ended. This is not an excuse – England were crap – but it is a mitigating circumstance, and it exposes a growing problem with international football.

The World Cup was quite a gruelling, physical one for all sides involved, and yet ridiculously FIFA alloted an international weekend in mid-August. England played five matches in the World Cup and the players could have done with a bit of a break (psychologically, as well as physically – they must have all been sick of each other after a month together). The FA could have skipped this match, but instead stupidly accepted an invite from Greece to play, in a 4-0 win that (as is now evident) was totally useless in terms of improving team cohesion.

To make things worse, the qualifying groups for this European Championship are enormous. This itself is the fault of UEFA, who insist that all 50 eligible teams should feature at every stage of the qualifying tournament, which has 14 teams qualifying. This results in an insane tournament of seven groups of seven and one of eight; each team has to play home and away, meaning 12 or 14 matches for qualification in an 15-month period. England’s (population: 48,000,000) farcical match against Andorra (population: 69,000), who are little more than a Conference side, proved the stupidity of this situation. Rather than give this insult of a football team the response they deserve and field a second- or even third-string side (and perhaps make UEFA doubt the validity of these matches), the FA put out a strong side which did nothing for the players involved (except artificially boost Peter Crouch’s international standing).

Ideally we would have far fewer international matches – and I am not the only one who thinks so. European Championship qualifying could be split into two stages – e.g. the bottom 30 sides in Europe are paired into playoffs, the 15 winners joining the top 20 to make 35 teams, which are split into seven groups of five. The top two teams in each group qualify, with only 8-10 matches being played by each side in total.* This would be met by fierce opposition from the smaller associations, and you would probably have to give the sweetener of a minor nations’ tournament (a footballing equivalent of the ICC Trophy?) to make up for the fewer matches the knocked out teams have to play. But it would be to their benefit – Andorra will probably learn a lot more as a team regularly playing the likes of Lichtenstein than getting repeated hidings at the hands of larger nations.

Reducing the calendar would mean we would no longer have to play qualification matches in June (when players should be taking a break from the end of the season) and reduce the number of double-headers that need to be played (which only increase the risk of injury). Teams that had qualified for the World Cup would probably not play another international until October (once the first round of playoffs had got out of the way), further reducing the stress on major players.

Of course this is a radical change and if that’s one thing that the world of international football shies away from, it’s change. But it might be happening sooner than you think. There is currently a court case worming its way through over Abdelmajid Oulmers, a player for Charleroi, who are suing FIFA after Oulmers was injured playing against Burkina Faso. Charleroi are being backed by the G-14, a group of major European clubs. There is the risk that the G14 will just use it to leach money from FIFA (rather than it going through national federations), yet a bargaining chip is still on the table that could prevent this. Cutting international dates and streamlining tournaments would benefit the teams taking part and the clubs at the same time – pretty rare that something is in both teams’ interests. So why don’t they do it? Keeping with the unsustainable status quo is only going to lead to a further devaluation of the quality of international football – as if it couldn’t get bad enough as it is.

PS And before you ask, no, this has nothing to do with my opinion on this at all. Of course not.

*There are other less simple permutations. One would to only have the bottom 20 in the playoffs, the 10 winners joining the other 30 to make 40 teams, which is eight groups of five. 8 group winners and 4 best runners-up automatically qualify, while the other 4 are paired into playoffs and the 2 winners qualify. As I said, that’s less easy and means allocating 12 dates in the international calendar, in case a smaller team makes it to the final round of playoffs.

The wolf in the fold

After finding ricin factories without any ricin, shooting innocent men in their homes and unsuccessfully trying people for possessing fictional explosives, you’d think the authorities in this country would be desperate to publicise a proper discovery of an alleged terrorist cell allegedly equipped with proper, bona fide munitions. And I’m not talking about your highly theoretical and impractical binary explosives, but the real thing. Rocket launchers as well would be a bonus, the icing on the cake, as it were.

Last week, it seems, they actually did:

TWO Pendle men have appeared before Pennine magistrates accused of having “a master plan” after what is believed to be a record haul of chemicals used in making home-made bombs was found in Colne. Robert Cottage (49), of Talbot Street, Colne, and David Bolus Jackson (62), of Trent Road, Nelson, made separate appearances before the court charged with being in possession of an explosive substance for an unlawful purpose. The offences are under the Explosive Substances Act 1883.
The 22 chemical components recovered by police are believed to be the largest haul ever found at a house in this country. Cottage is an ex-BNP member who stood as a candidate in the Pendle Council elections in May. Mrs Christiana Buchanan, who appeared for the prosecution in Jackson’s case, alleged the pair had “some kind of masterplan”. She said a search of Jackson’s home had uncovered rocket launchers, chemicals, BNP literature and a nuclear biological suit.

(via Penguin Marginalia)

No doubt they’re organising the triumphant press conferences as we speak. Regardless of whether they are innocent or guilty, the Home Secretary will be commending his staff for their successful action, whilst calling on all decent, moderate members of the white community to condemn these Anglofascist extremists and their perverse interpretation of their cultural and moral values, and urge them to do more to co-operate with the authorities fully to deal with the threat in their midst. Meanwhile, he says, the police will be instructed to step up their guard, and white people will be subjected to targeted stop and search and additional security checks at railway stations and airports. At the same time, he would of course try and reassure the law-abiding majority that the government is working full pelt to thwart the forces of Anglofascism, and that we should not be afraid to sit next to white people on the Tube, even if they’re wearing rucksacks or sporting that funny shaven head haircut some of them have. The announcement’s due any minute. No doubt. I’m sure of it. Any minute now.

Update: Plenty of blog coverage (which having been away for the weekend, I’ve only just caught up on) – cue Jamie, Lenin, Pickled Politics, Ministry of Truth, Rachel and, most refreshingly a sensible piece in Harry’s Place. Meanwhile, it mentions just a paragraph in the Sunday Times.