May 27, 2009

European Elections

In the past, I’ve written about council elections and this election cycle we have some european elections going on. If you live in the Coventry area there are no council elections this cycle. Interesting update from last year, the whoberley wikipedia page still needs more information. Clearly I should do this at some point in time.

In the european elections there’s a party list, so you don’t get to necessarily vote for a specific candidate, as far as I can tell, but its still worth looking at the candidates and parties I think. Currently the west midlands is represented by 3 Conservatives, 2 Labour Party members, 1 Liberal Democrat and a UKIP member, within the next parliament we will be loosing one of our representatives, through shifting demographics. Interestingly enough if the treaty of Lisbon had passed, it would have the West Midlands another seat, maintaining our current level of importance. The BBC provides a helpful grouping of different european party affiliations on its website.

Candidates

Of the existing representatives, all but one are looking to get re-elected to their positions as MEPs.

The Conservative Party

1. Philip Bradbourn

Number 1 on the Conservative party list, Bradbourn has been a member of the European Parliament since 1999. He has also advised Wolverhampton City Council, and stood for elections at a national level in 1992. When caught smoking inside the EU Parliament building, he allegedly said “I’m a member. I make the rules.” Richard Nixon would be proud.

2. Malcolm Harbour

2nd on the Conservative list, Malcolm Harbour worked as an engineer before his election to the European Parliament. He has stated strong support for software patents.

3. Anthea McIntyre

3rd Conservative on the list, not currently an MEP, Stood in the 1997 election and lost. According to her website, she wants to keep the pound and encourage the single market – but wants no further integration within the EU.

The Labour Party

1. Michael Cashman

Former East Enders) character actor Cashman, has been an MEP since 1999, where he has worked on the Civil LIberties committee. He was elected MEP of the Year for Justice and Fundamental Rights by his peers in 2007.

2. Neena Gill

Another member of the 1999 MEP intake, Neena GIll sits on the Urban Housing intergroup in the European Parliament, and was also a Vice President with the Anti-Racism and Diversity intergroup. She is also listed as a Friend of Football.

3. Claire Edwards

Currently a Rugby Councillor, about whom it is hard to find further information.

Liberal Democrats

1. Liz Lynne

Yet another 1999 intake MEP (I wonder if this trend is nationwide), Ms Lynne is a former MP. She is currently a Vice-President, for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, and the disability intergroup. She has also worked with Amnesty International.

2. Phil Bennion

Has a fascinating website that I advise everyone to read. As a working farmer with a PhD, including alleged expertise in BioMass – which I think means shit, Dr. Bennion stands out instantly. He was agricultural affairs advisor to Charles Kennedy, also a former Lichfield councillor, where he campaigned against local post office closures.

3. Susan Juned

A former Avon and Warwickshire Councillor, Dr. Juned has a PhD in environmental sciences, and plant biology and is quite focussed on campaigning for environmental issues.

I think the next two parties who have a chance of electing someone are UKIP and the BNP, and I don’t want to publicise their racist views, otherwise I hope this has been helpful. I might return to this topic again soon. It has stirred some thoughts within me as to what issues the European Parliament could have an impact on.


May 15, 2009

Hotspot Print Assembly

Since google fails at providing this information, and I haven’t blogged in a month:

It is possible to print assembly produced by the SUN Hotspot JVM’s JIT Compiler. In order to do so you will need a debug enabled JVM from http://download.java.net/jdk6/binaries/. The magic flag is +PrintOptoAssembly, and since its a JVM flag it needs a -XX: prefix. Additionally, code is only printed out as assembly if it gets JIT’d – so if you want everything printed, then you reduce the compile threshold. Consequently, an example command look like:

java -server -XX:+PrintOptoAssembly -XX:CompileThreshold=1 SomeJavaClass

Hopefully this is helpful to other people


April 13, 2009

Economic Stimulus

Towards the end of last year the government chose to attempt to stimulate the economy using fiscal means – that is to say that spend more (creating jobs) and tax less (incentivizing purchases and harder work). This is a traditional remedy in time of economic strife – action that the government can undertake to encourage the economic to grow faster, or shrink less in this case.

The conservatives opposed the measures on the grounds that they would increase government debt. Debt they argue is bad because it its hard to repay, it requires that at some point in time in the future one must either raise taxes or cut spending – either way the economy will be damage by the inverse effects of the stimulus. Some commentators pointed out that the stimulus would only increase the fiscal deficit (ie the amount added to national debt) by 1/15 of the amount that it was going to rise by anyway, and the Conservatives weren’t opposing the ‘stabilizers’, ie the natural reduction in taxation and increase in spending that happens during a recession. It seemed obvious to me that that was merely political expediency, that they didn’t want to be charged with sacking doctors and teachers for example.

There exists only a limited amount of investment capital, the kind that is required to fund businesses and drive forward growth. Since the cause of the economic issues was fundamentally related to the debt markets, and banks in the Uk that have had financial issues have generally been over-exposed to the debt markets there currently exists a climate of irrational negativity with respect to investing in firms, and in general to spending money. The government’s monetary policy, the cutting of interest rates to their lowest rate ever, is an attempt to provide some disincentive to saving, and thus encourage spending and investment.

This all seems to ignore one critical aspect of the financial crisis that has been, in my opinion, heavily overlooked. When a flight to safety occurs, when investors look towards companies that are unlikely to go under during times of economic hardship, the British government’s bonds are always in demand. People already want to invest their money in buying government debt, because its comparatively safe, why encourage this trend? It crowds out the private sector from much needed funds, both in terms of medium term investment and short term spending. Given the size of the deficit during the coming two fiscal years, and the fact that someone has to buy the debt that is issued, there is a lot of money thats going to the public, rather than private sector.

One could argue that since the government are committed to injecting all the debt that they are accruing, via deficit, into the economy it actually isn’t something to worry about at all. Private sector companies are laying people off in ordering to save costs, whilst the public sector can simply plough on, injecting capital where it is needed. If one accepts this duality between debt and spending, however, it means that the net benefit of a government running a deficit is actually the different between its deficit and the amount of bond capital that wouldn’t have been investing in the economy, ie the amount that would normally be stored in some kind of savings account. Since we are currently bailing out banks because they lack these kind of funds … epic sigh.

So having thought about it a little more maybe we should be less gung-ho about using a fiscal stimulus in the current climate. Not that i believe that a fiscal stimulus is useless, but in a situation where there is a such a virulent flight to safety the effecting of crowding out the private sector could do more harm than good. Of course, interest rates have already reached their lowest level ever and can’t really help. I’m still somewhat uncertain as to how exactly demand is going to be stimulated by quantitive easing. To quote the great and wise Bender Bending Rodriguez, “We’re boned!”


March 17, 2009

Identi.ca

As an experiment I’ve started microblogging at Identi.ca. My microblog’s url is:

http://identi.ca/richardwarburton/


March 09, 2009

Watchmen

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen_(film)

Its been a while since I last posted something worthy on my blog, and even though there have been many issues cropping up, especially with the economic crisis I’ve not really felt much like actually blogging. Hopefully this, and the need to avoid planet uwcs getting completely overun by Dan will kick start things off again.

Caveats: minor spoilers & I’ve not read the comic book.

-------

In my opinion the film adaptation of the watchmen was always bound to never be considered as influential within the medium of film, or even within the genre of comic book adaptations, as the comic book is to comic books. When people mention The Watchmen with reverence, they consitently mention its post-modernist content (self concious and self-reflective defiance of convention) and violence. One can see both of these attributes within the adaptation, but this isn’t anything new in the current climate. It was decided before 2009 that all comic book adapations worth their salt had to delve into their characters dark past, and attempt to create interesting characters, either by setting in a wold realistic and situation enough for one to empathize with them (for example Batman fighting terrorism with technology) or by making them charasmatic enough for one to like them (Hellboy’s cigar and willingness to sticky it to Jeffrey Tambor). I can’t really decide whether it is an innate failure as a film on these grounds, or merely minorly disappointing because of its flaws – perhaps I am setting the bar a little too high.

The story itself follows a group of super heroes trying to save the world from nuclear warfare between fictionalized American and Russian super-powers in an alternative Cold War. There is much to like about this scenario, the dangers are to humanity, by humanity, rather than a threat caused by a super-villain. The heroes themselves are second generation, allowing the story to deal with the issue of having to live up to the expectations of ones parents. The scenario itself has Nixon in a 5th term in office, having won the Vietnam war with the help of the super heroes, and American on a moral and social decline. It forgoes the now cliche’d origin-story in favour of an opening montage, possibly the best part of the film, combined with occassional flashbacks. All but one of the heroes is essentially an superior mortal, rather than an übermenschlich.

The one other hero, Dr. Manhattan, has had the mandatory radiation exposure and consequent super-powers that seem to prove remarkably statistically likely to happen in comic book stories. His character plays an important role in the film, a God with existential angst, loosing his humanity and unable to decide on what his true position in life is. I felt his story was well portrayed with the exception of a hard to swallow turn towards the end of the film. I was also highly appreciative of the use of some of Philip Glass’ score for Koyaniqatsi, since Dr. Manhattan genuinely is life-out-of-balance. Unfortunately this is really the only attempt to meaningfully reference popular culture in a level above the superficial.

Rorschach is another character worth mentioning – apart from his masked face he is essentially a prototypical hard boiled detective, complete with the kind of narration one would expect from Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately he doesn’t get all the trappings of the film noir genre, and the cynical and amoral world that exists around The Watchmen is used to neither counter point their fundamental belief in justice, nor as a reflection of their frailties in comparison with traditional superheroes.

An interesting comparison could be made between, The Incredibles and The Watchmen. On a stylistic level these have nothing in common – the watchmen is moody and dark, whilst The Incredibles is as jazzy and exciting a film as I’ve ever seen. In the incredibles, humour is naturely part of the setup, while Watchmen artificially injects bad jokes into the fabric of a serious film, fundamentally undermining the emotional payoff of several scenes. In both films, however, self-reflection on super heroes is put to the fore-front, but while The Incredibles explores Nietzsche (“When everyone is special, no one is”), watchmen looks more broadly at what super heroes would be like if they were more human, perhaps less morally absolute, afraid of living up to their parents, or unsure what to make of themselves. For me, this is where Watchmen falls down – its an interesting ‘what if’, brilliantly visualised and intelligently conceived, but I don’t want to go and see a film to gain insight into the lives of super heroes, I want to gain insight into the real world around me: people, politics, philosphy and I can’t say I leant anything meaningful about them from this visit to the Cinema.


January 20, 2009

Bush Out!


January 01, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions – but I thought this year would be a good time to start. It’s also about time for another blog post. (Side note: this blog will very soon be three years old, so happy birthday.) I think in order to check what you’ve actually achieved you really do need to write down your resolutions. By doing it in public – it gives you more incentive to succeed.

1. Finish PhD

Very few people actually finish their PhD within the three years that they, presumably, set out to. Gordon Brown, for example, took 10 years. At the beginning of October 2009 the first three years of my PhD will be up. I’m going to aim to finish writing up by then. This will require the level of productivity that I achieved in my 4th undergraduate year, but frankly, haven’t gotten back up to since.

2. Get a Job

This obviously depends on (1) – but more importantly it depends on me figuring out precisely what I want to do with myself. Its quite tempting to try and continue an academic career, but it’ll be hard to obtain an interesting position given the poor student numbers. I’d also like a job with more hard deadlines again for a bit. Industrial research seems vaguely interesting – usually good application and plenty of good people doing work there, but in the current economic climate I’m sure research will be cut back on. Certainly this will suck up much of my musing time in 2009.

3. Complete Uncompleted projects

I currently have a whole load of partially finished personal coding projects lying around between my desktop and my laptop. I need to pick two or three of these and actually sit down and finish them off.

Good luck in 2009 readers.


December 14, 2008

Banks and Regulation

One of things that has stood out to me recently, is the propensity of members of the public to trust government regulation as a universal panacea for the ills of the banking system. The argument, as I understand it, goes as follows:

1. Industrial Leaders cannot be trusted to make sound judgement because they have a perverse economic self interest for short term gain.
2. Regulators don’t have that self interest and can thus make sound judgements in the public interest.
3. Consequently we should trust regulators and government over Industrial Leaders to do, ‘the right thing’.

I am inclined to believe in (1). There is an excellent case made in The Roaring Nineties that observes the combining of accounting and consulting firms as generating an economic incentive to not audit firms properly. This was a lesson that was perhaps more in the front of people’s minds at the time, soon after the Enron and Worldcom accounting scandal – but it is a problem that continues to face us now. Hopefully the IFRS clears up some of the issues involved.

Banks have a peculiar financial incentive to make risky investments. The government is obliged to bail them out in times of financial hardship. This is very obvious in terms of the so called nationalisation of the banking industry that has recently happened, but it is important to not ignore the Savings and Loans Crisis . Here the problem couldn’t be blame on complicated financial instruments (the bane of any regulatory authority is that they don’t control them) – but was mainly organisations being unable to appreciate that if they don’t have sufficient assets to back the loans that they are giving out and some of them go bad they are in trouble. Again, recent market deregulation, in this case the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act acted as an enabler to systemically poor judgement on the behalf of those lending out money.

Its not hugely surprising that some of these companies are instinctively risk loving when you look at their history. Bank of America famously expanded in aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake by loaning money to people on trust and without proper knowledge of their financial histories. The bank’s founder, Amadeo Giannini, was the only serious bank in town at the time, since he had taken the personal risk of death in order to get the bank’s gold deposits out of San Francisco during the earthquake.

I have more of an issue with statement (2) however. It is frequently the case that supposedly independant regulators are either controlled by former industrial leaders – people who they have been regulating, or their independence is undermined by lobbyists. In 2004 The US Securities and Exchange commission increased the debt to capital ratio for banks from 12:1 to 30:1. Its chair at the time was William H. Donaldson – a former chair of the New York Stock Exchange.

Henry Paulson, current US Treasury Secretary, at first requested congress allow him to personally distribute the $700 billion, with the guarantee that there was no way he could be criminally charged in relation to its distribution. In other words he was requesting to be able to give tax payers money to his friends and not be held responsible to any standards of oversight. As the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs he is another industrial leader who is unable to recommend policy with an objective eye.

The US Congress should, in theory, be an independent oversight on the actions of such people, but it is estimated that the banking industry spent $30 million on lobbying in order to pass the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999. Some of this legislation increased competition in the banking market, however, the spate of mergers that resulted certainly decreased competition, and increased the recent contagion within the financial markets.

I am thus left asking myself several questions. Why should we trust a regulator if they are intimately linked with organisations that they are meant to be regulating? How can government be made truely accountable in the presence of well funded lobbyists and pervasive public ignorance? Is it possible to institute legislation that prevents systemic bad judgement?


December 08, 2008

Virgin Killer

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Killer

I have mirror the wikipedia page the scorpions album Virgin Killer If you wish to view it without the offending image, but with the remaining text in place I have a mirror of that as well.

Google have also continued to cache the page At the time this is posted, amazon have still the image up on their sales of the cd.

Wikipedia offer a description of how users can block images whilst continuing to read the text of an article.

The ability to easily publish content is an important aspect of the web’s success as a content distribution medium. I highly encourage other people to mirror the content, as I have. I think its also important to mirror the page without the offending image, as one of the most ridiculous aspects of this entire debacle is that it would be easier to leave in the text itself, and just ban the url of the image. Though that is also entirely your own prerogative.


November 04, 2008

US Senate Elections 2008

Yes its finally that time, US elections this evening. First lets look at the Senate races. The democrats currently hold 49 seats, with two independants caucusing in their favour. Consequently they need to look to pickup 9 seats to achieve a filibuster-proof majority, whilst the republicans need to pickup 2 seats to regain a majority.

Likely Democratic Swings

Virginia

An open seat formerly held by a republican. Democratic former governor Mark Warner will be running against Republican former-governor Jim Gilmore. Warner was a popular governor, and flirted with a run for US president. Whilst governor Warner worked in a cross-partisan manner and left office with a high level of popularity. Demographically Virginia is trending democratic, due to increasingly large urban areas in northern virginia. Further Jim Gilmore only narrowly won the republican nomination with 50.3% of the vote. Consequently I have a strong democratic pickup here.

RCP Average: Warner 61.3 vs Gilmore 32.7
My Prediction: Warner 64.5 vs Gilmore 35.5

New Mexico

Incumbent Senator Pete Domenici isn’t running for re-election, leaving this an open seat. Tom Udall, the democratic candidate, is expected to beat Steve pearce, his republican opponent. I believe that Udall will be running above the democratic party identification bias of 8%, due to the popularity of New Mexico’s democratic governor Bill Richardson. New Mexico is also trending democratic at the moment, due to its increasing hispanic population, and strong anti-immigration rhetoric being pushed by the republicans within the last election cycle. Whilst many hispanic voters are catholics and can be considered social conservatives, this election cycle should see them firmly in the democratic camp, since economic issues are being considered more important.

RCP Average: Udall 54.3 vs Pearce 39.7
My Prediction: Udall 56 vs Pearce 43

Colorado

With incumbent Republican senator Wayne Allard announcing he wouldn’t run for re-election we have another open seat, and another Udall, first name Mark, running for office. Neither he, nor his republican opponent Bob Schaffer had a primary challenge, and consequently the race here has been more competitive than New Mexico. A lot of similar issues to New Mexico present themselves here – demographic changes, democratic funding advantage, a strong democratic presidential campaign also in town.

RCP Average: Udall 50.8 vs 38.3
My Prediction: Udall 54 vs Schaffer 43

Alaska

Ted Stevens has now been indicted for not revealing gifts that he was given. He was already running close in this election, but the polls have swung away from him after the court case’s result was revealed. Mark Begich his opponent is quite inexperienced, but the race hasn’t really been about him. Lets not forget that at his last election Stevens won 78% of the vote, to his democratic opponent’s 11%. I’m predicting a little above the RCP average, because news events are swinging Begich’s way.

RCP Average: Stevens 41.7 vs Begich 52.0
My Prediction: Stevens 41 vs Begich 58

New Hampshire

In 2002 this was an open seat battle between former governor Jeanne Shaheen and John Sununu, which Sununu narrowly won. This year we have the same candidates, different overall electoral picture. In 2002 the republicans had a strong advantage in fundraising and identity due to the recent September 11th attacks. The fallout from republican congressional corruption, War fatigue, and most recently economic crisis have swung things to Shaheen. Consequently She’s ahead in line with democratic identification and presidential polling. I’m putting this quite a bit closer than RCP due to Sununu’s strong campaigning late in the day.

RCP Average: Shaheen 50.8 vs Sununu 41.2
My Prediction: Shaheen 52 vs Sununu 48

So we should see the democrats pickup at least 5 states.

Toss-Ups

North Carolina

Incumbent Elizabeth Dole is considered to have taken her re-election for granted early in the campaign, during the 2006 she was more focussed on chairing the National Republican Senate Committee, whilst being in the embarrassing position of losing control of the senate. Her seat should be safe, since its been in republican hands for 35 years, however, since the recent economic downturn her opponent, Kay Hagan, has been ramping up the polls. Furthermore democratic funding parity during the current cycle has wiped out an expected Dole advantage.

RCP Average: Hagan 49.3 vs Dole 45
My Prediction: Hagan 53 vs Dole 46

Oregon

Incumbent senator Gordon Smith has had low approval ratings, and was considered an easy democratic target. However, he has fundraised well and his opponent, Jeff Merkley, faced a strong primary challenge. Consequently Smith has been holding his own for most of the race. That began to swing away during the financial crisis, when his vote for the bailout could be used as a whipping stick. I’m going above RCP since the race is swinging towards Merkley. and Obama is qutie a way ahead in oregon.

RCP Average: Merkley 47.8 vs Smith 42.5
My Prediction: Merkley 53 vs Smith 46

Minnesota

My dream of jesse ventura entering senate unfortunately didn’t happen, but Al Franken is a good enough. Unfortunately, polls seem to be swinging away from him again and towards Norm Coleman again in one of the most expensive senate races ever. Franken has been accussed of not paying his taxes, and clips of him swearing whilst on his radio show have been offerred as evidence that he is “out of control”. Franken has countered that Coleman voted with Bush over 90% of the time, and has focussed on policy such as healthcare improvements, though he has also been playing dirty with frequent mention of a lawsuit that alleges that a top donor funnelled money to Coleman’s wife. There is also the independance party of minnesota candidate, Dean Barkley running, who appears to be pulling support from Franken. This is a genuinely hard to predict race, but I’m going for a narrow Coleman win.

RCP Average: Coleman 42.0 vs Franken 39.2 vs Barkley 14.4
My Prediction: Coleman 43 vs Franken 41 vs Barley 15

Georgia

Saxby Chambliss (great name) beat his 2002 opponent narrowly, but has been fundraising well. The race narrowed considerable whilst Obama was pushing resources into the state in an effort to force McCain to play defense. He has since pulled out, since it seemed unlikely that he would actually be able to pickup a win there. The interesting aspect of this is the voter registration drive, which will have a big impact on this race. It is generally expected that southern black democrats will be out in force this election, and Jim Martin, the democratic candidate is seeking to capitalise on that. Furthermore, Chambliss was a strong supporter of the bailout plan, and Martin has been using it at every opportunity. The democratic senatorial campaigns committee has been backing Martin to the hilt, which has levelled the fundraising gap that Chambliss achieved. I’m going against polling here and for a narrow Martin win – if this comes true, it will be a dark day for the republicans.

RCP Average: Chambliss 47.8 vs Martin 44.0
My Prediction: Martin 49 vs Chambliss 48

Kentucky

Few republican senators are associated with the incumbent policies than Mitch McConnell – their minority leader. His opponent, Bruce Lunsford, is running against these ties, and against the bailout, whilst McConnell is arguing that Kentucky will do better with a senator who is high-up in the republican pecking order. An interesting proposition, given Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, has stated he would make people pushing for porkbarrel projects “famous” by vetoing their legislation. At the moment McConnell is leading, but polling here tends to have a very high proportion of undecided voters. I believe they will swing towards safety in the form of McConnell, especially since Kentucky hasn’t been as subject to the strong Obama voter registration efforts.

RCP Average: McConnell 49.5 vs Lunsford 43.8
My Prediction: McConnell 53 vs Lunsford 47

Likely Holds

Mississippi

A special election to fill Trent Lott’s vacated seat. Ronnie Musgrove, former democrat governor, goes up against Roger Wicker, former congressman. The state hasn’t voted for a democratic senator since 1982, and this seems unlikely to change, despite democratic headwind.

RCP Average: Wicker 50.0 vs Musgrove 39.7
My Prediction: Wicker 55 vs Musgrove 43

Louisiana

Initially a top republican target, Mary Landrieu looked vulnerable with low approval ratings, and a very narrow victory in 2002, especially since Louisiana has been swinging increasingly republican in presidential elections since 1992. furthermore a considerable number of democrats left the state after Hurricane Katrina. Landrieu’s opponent John Kennedy was formerly a democrat and switched teams in order to run for this seat. Early polling had him competitive, and even ahead for a while. Since the stockmarket crash, however, the election has increasingly swung towards Landrieu.

RCP Average: No Average, last Rasmussen has Landrieu 53 vs Kennedy 43.
My Prediction: Landrieu 57 vs kennedy 43.

Maine

Maine consistently votes democratic in Presidential elections, but both senators are female moderate republicans. this year’s incumbent, Susan Collins isn’t hugely associated with any Bush policy, and though her opponent, Tom Allen, notably voted against the invasion of Iraq whilst a member of the house of representatives, This election has seen little national attention, and should be a GOP hold.

RCP Average: Collins 55 vs Allen 40.4
My Prediction: Collins 57 vs Allen 43

Texas

The democrats couldn’t evict the republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Governor Rick Perry in 2006, and I am skeptical that they will remove John Cornyn now. Texas has become a republican stronghold, and that doesn’t look likely to change. Furthermore the democratic candidate Rick Noriega isn’t particularly well known, being only a state senator, and Cornyn has out-fundraised him.

RCP Average: No Average, last Rasmussen Cornyn 55 vs Noriega 40
My prediction: Cornyn 55 vs Noriega 45

I think all other senate elections will be held by their incumbent party, many of these candidates have large leads, so I expect a respectable 8 seat swing to the democrats.


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