The Null Device


Political post; ignore if not interested: De facto president of Britain, Tony Blair, has suffered a major blow when 122 Labour MPs voted against military intervention in Iraq, defying a three-line whip (i.e., the threat of expulsion from the Labour Party). Blair won the vote, with the near-unanimous backing of the Tories (which is rather telling in itself).

It's a pity for Blair that his Presidential leadership is entirely unofficial. Were he a President, he could switch parties to the Conservatives. He would win a loyal party, and the Tories would gain a leader with some modicum of charisma (a bit of a 'wet', but not really all that left-wing). But since he's the Prime Minister elected by Parliament, his career looks fucked. It's not unlikely that he would lose a leadership challenge within Labour (unless he did a deal with the Tories to establish a "government of national unity", giving Tory frontbenchers cabinet positions in return for their vote of confidence. Which could yet happen.)

Though it's sobering to think that the only opposition to Blair's Labour party is the even more hawkish Tories. (What is the state of third parties in Britain? Where do the Liberal Democrats stand, and how much clout do they have? Is there anything like the Australian Greens there?)

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A teaching union in Britain has compiled a list of the 39 worst-behaved schoolchildren in Britain, the children whose behaviour is so horrid that many teachers are refusing to have aught to do with them. Some of the things these latter-day Marmalade Atkinses have been getting up to include attempting to sell replica guns in schools and physically assaulting teachers.

At a school in Wales, which faced "serious problems of violence and disruption", a pupil threw a book at a teacher's head, then verbally abused her while jabbing her in the ribs. In a separate incident, another pupil attacked a pregnant teacher, forced his way back into a science laboratory, overturned furniture and set off the gas lines. The list contains further information about pupils who vandalised school property, made threats and physically attacked teachers. In other cases pupils made malicious allegations against teachers.

The union claims that violence in schools has been increasing in recent years.


Chinese political dissident Wu Chong has declared that he's proud that his T-shirts were used in the Global Weekend of Protest. The 45 year old former University professor, who is serving a 10 year sentence was delighted to learn the T-Shirts he makes in the prison sweatshop had been screenprinted with anti-war slogans, such as "No hoWARd" and "There's a village in Texas that's lost its idiot", and worn in rallies in London, Madrid and Sydney.

"I'm honoured they chose my T-Shirts to find against injustice." He said he thought that the choice would have been based not just on the competitive price of his T-Shirts, but the quality of his stitching. He noted his labour camp had some of the strictest "quality control incentives" in China.

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Computer scientists in Britain are tackling one of the hard problems in speech recognition: developing software which understands Scottish accents. The Glaswegian accent is one of the hardest on current speech-recognition software (which tends to be rather London-centric, if not American). The team from Birmingham University will be paying locals to say some phrases in the "Glesca patter", which will be analysed to develop regionally-correct voice-recognition software for use in office computers and mobile phones. (via bOING bOING)

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For the geek who has everything, a USB-powered toothbrush on the market in Japan. More evidence that USB is the cigarette lighter socket of the 21st century. (Though who keeps their toothbrush next to their computer?) (via 1.0)

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