Freesteel Blog » 2008 » June

Thursday, June 26th, 2008 at 12:11 pm - - Whipping

Back in 1999 the Select Committee on Administration, the Clerk of the Parliaments, and all those out-of-touch fuddy-duddies in the House of Lords thought that maybe it was about time to stop printing every public Act of Parliament on vellum (calf hide). We’re not talking about just the covers here, but every single page of drivel.

As to the cost, which was at issue in 1984, it is clear that there would be substantial savings to public funds from such a change. The current cost of vellums is £27 per page (ie for two copies). Expenditure on vellums amounted to £59,000 for the 1997 Acts, and is projected to be £67,000 for the 1998 Acts. The Finance (No. 2) Act 1998 alone cost £11,502.[1]

However, the MPs voted 121 to 53 to keep the practice. The campaign to keep the tradition was led by Brian White MP, in whose constituency the sole remaining vellum manufacturer in Europe is based.

Now, to me it’s not a money issue. I’d quite happily see some of the millions of pounds paid to Dairy Crest diverted to support the vellum industry, so that we could all afford to have our business cards and birth certificates made on white leather. Printing those Acts of Parliament on the sides of cows seems like a waste, given their quantity and quality. No one wants to read that crap in the future when everything else has burnt down.

“Oh, but vellum sheets can last thousands of years, unlike acid-free paper, which can last 500 years max. And data in computer format rapidly becomes incompatible (wake up: not anymore, since the internet began). And anyway, there might be a war and our fragile computer technology will become obsolete when we go back to the precomputer age. Either that, or the PICT project will never complete.”

Well, in that case, the Computer Misuse Act won’t be much interest then, will it? And anyway, given the destructive effects of war, what good are two physical copies in London going to be — especially when there is no way trivial way to duplicate them through an electronic pipe. Is someone going to type the worthless text back in or something?

Dr Palmer MP: said:

It has been pointed out that vellum is less susceptible than paper to fire damage. However, the problem with that argument is that vellum and paper are both flammable, so security cannot depend only on the document’s material. If there is a serious fire, a document will burn whether it is of vellum or paper. I remind the House that all the records of the House of Commons were destroyed in the fire of 1834, whereas most of the records of the House of Lords survived. That was not because the House of Lords documents were recorded on a different material, but because officials, policemen and soldiers braved the flames and were able to save many of the documents by throwing them out of the window. We depend partly on that type of physical security; the Administration Committee and other Committees are anxious to maximise it. However, to rely only on the fact that the paper itself will not burn is not adequate.[2]

And so the useless, out-of-date, and frankly quite embarrassing tradition was saved for us. So proud of it are they that there’s scarcely a mention of it on the Parliament webpage, no photos, no patriotic declarations about how we record our laws “properly” in human-readable-only (barely that) unstructured form on the same substrate as the execution warrant for kings.

There’s one mention of vellum in the FAQ under: “I want… the text of an Act of Parliament”.

Apart from [post-1988 and some other historical exceptions], you will need to consult the paper versions – there are no free online versions available. Most Acts have been printed and will be available at a good public library or university research library near you. We can also make them available to you in our search room at Westminster. We also have our own set of digitised Local Acts 1799-1990 which can be consulted in our searchroom on CD.

If you are looking for a Private Act, for instance an Act that concerned a divorce, naturalisation or an estate, then it is unlikely to have been printed and you may need to consult the Original Act in the form of a parchment roll here at Westminster or order a copy from us – we will be the only place you can find it. Please note that photocopying of original act vellums is not permitted as per our reprographic guidance; all copying of vellum acts will be printed from microfilm.

A later FAQ caught my eye: “I want…the text of a debate after 1988 (Commons) or 1995 (Lords)”:

Hansard (the Parliamentary Debates) from 1988 (Commons) and 1995 (Lords) to present day is available online. If you know the exact date it is probably easiest to follow links to that specific date and browse the text from there. Otherwise use the Parliament website search engine, restrict your search to Commons and/or Lords Hansard and put in as many other factors as possible (e.g. date range, name of speaker).

How to find a division: Votes by MPs (divisions) are recorded in Hansard. Be aware that Hansard debates are long and can be split over many pages, which can make searching difficult. In particular the long lists of names of MPs in a division may cover pages and pages on their own, so (for example) you might find an MPs name recorded in a division on a different page from that of the word ‘Division’ or the name of the bill they were voting on. If you can use the search to locate a day where there was evidently debate on the piece of legislation you are interested in, it may be worth then following the debate page by page until you find the division.

Tracing debates on bills: If you can find out the exact dates a particular bill was debated on, you can follow links from the Hansard home page to all debates on that specific date and browse the text from there. You can find out the dates specific bills back to 1995 were debated by looking first at the Sessional Information Digest . Follow the link to the session you want and look under ‘Complete list of Public Bills and their stages in both Houses’. Once you have the dates, you can then go back to the Hansard page to find the actual debates on those dates.

Well, fancy that. Is it that the TheyWorkForYou and PublicWhip webpages are Not Invented Here? Or do they believe that these new-fangled computer indexes should be discouraged. After all, if the law and government business is such that it is both

  • (a) in the public domain so that you can’t legally be ignorant of it, and
  • (b) in such a disorganized state that only a qualified barrister with five assistant secretaries can find what he needs in it

then that’s the best of both worlds satisfied.

*Rip* Mooooo!

Update: FOI request made.

Monday, June 23rd, 2008 at 10:44 am - - Weekends, Whipping 10 Comments »

And so another entirely inexplicable hack-day (called mashed) in Alexandra Palace was served. (Last year’s event is written up here.) I had plenty of sleep on the night, lying across three triangular bean bags. It was the night before that was the problem, with the insane plan posted up on their event website of a bus pick-up from Liverpool at 3:15 in the morning, intending to reach London by 9am.

This seemed so incredibly stupid I had to go for it.

Unfortunately, the BBC had contracted out the booking of attendees (for its free 24 hour hacking convention) to a (sub)standard commercial package which didn’t collect people’s emails, mobile phone numbers, or give out reminder notices the day before to confirm to everyone that it really was going forwards on the specified times. According to the strict laws of economics, if the punters don’t show up after they have paid for their ticket, it’s a good thing, so why build helpful features for attendees into a commercial event-booking package?

I identified the bus on Lime Street, Liverpool at around 3:30am (I believe I was the only sober person in the surprisingly busy streets at the time), got on, and tried to make myself comfortable with the limited leg-room while resolutely ignoring the fact that the bus continued to remain parked for another 40 minutes with its engine running. I think I dozed off shortly after it finally moved on.

When I woke up it was daylight and the bus was parked in a back alley somewhere with its engine off — probably for the driver to take his statutory break off work or something, I thought. I tried not to be too concerned that the bus appeared empty, apart from me.

The driver was concerned. He was outside on the pavement complaining on his mobile phone, trying to find out why he only had one party on the bus for a weekend trip all the way down to London.

We were in Manchester behind the Oxford Road BBC building and it was 5:45am.

There was something on his job sheet about changed appointments (which explained why he’d spent so long uselessly parked in Liverpool), and those who were in Manchester at 4am were there when there was no bus. There had been no communication to or from these people — whoever there were — and no attempt to detect or rectify mistakes as they were occurring. The BBC guy, who was on the driver’s phone when he handed it to me, said there should have been about 20 people. Also, nobody could explain how I’d managed to catch the bus. Logically, everyone ought to miss it when there is a cock-up of this scale.

“I’ll catch the train,” I said. The BBC guy said, “You’re free to do so, but you have to understand that you’ll be on your own. We will pay for your ticket when you get here.” — Not.

Though contractually it could have been carried forwards, I considered the option of going all the way down to London on an empty bus more extreme than that taxi offer we once had in Esbjerg.

And I don’t see why the whole transport thing wasn’t being done on the train anyway, instead of a bus, other than as a result of the legendary dire crapness of the UK train fare system. In other places there’s such a thing as a group ticket to overcome the rip-off experienced when more than 5 people travel together on the same route and it becomes 90% cheaper to charter a crappy road vehicle, in spite of the fact that there’s plenty of room on the trains at 5 in the morning. In all other businesses there are hefty discounts for bulk-buying and wholesale. So it goes.

And so, in London, I met Dan, formerly of the CADCAM industry, whom I had insisted come over on the 4am bus from Bristol (which did exist), so I’d have someone to talk to. My plans of distributing a general-purpose, simple-to-use, fit-for-the-job parsing and mash-up database (the metroscope) rapidly deflated due to patent lack of interest, so I spent a day and a night teaching Dan about urllib, regexps, and how to scrape and parse the June 2008 Merseyside Police Helicopter flight page (chosen as an easy exercise), followed by uploading the records into my fit and general feature-complete but too-ugly-for-cool-people-to-be-seen-dead-near metroscope database on which I had suspended development exactly two weeks ago.

RP rolled in late in the afternoon, drank some beer for his hang-over cure, and began to write a screen-scraper for some other source of government data. He decided it was better to upload the structured data to his own version of the metroscope, written in PHP, designed incompatibly, and which he had begun work on exactly two weeks ago but didn’t complete due to time constraints that he had been aware of for at least the past week. As such, it was not possible to mash-up any of his scraped data on a map of the country in the time available, because no one had prepared a downstream webpage to render such images beforehand — as had been done for data in the metroscope. But that’s just the brilliance of building on top other people’s hard efforts and componentized systems, instead of just throwing it all away sight unseen, isn’t it!?

Late in the night I began building my unrolling-titles metroscope-front-end. Dan began work on scraping the missing person’s database, but by the morning there clearly wasn’t anywhere for this to go. I suggested Dan go chat with people at the other tables. Having been so long in the CADCAM industry where the companies are (a) highly secretive about what their programmers are doing, and (b) appear to express bugger-all curiosity for what their competitor’s programmers are doing (thus undermining the reason for (a) other than for the purpose of breeding a culture of sad isolation among their employees), the idea that people on other tables actually wanted you to come over and sit down with them to talk about what they were doing, came as a complete surprise.

A guy with a microphone, who claimed to be a radio reporter, approached me and asked what I was working on. At the time I didn’t really want to talk. I would have wanted to show him undemocracy.com, because it’s still important and still no one is interested in it, but I knew he wouldn’t be interested in it. So I made up something about mashing-up the locations of all these poxy police helicopter rides in the middle of the night, and letting people know where they had occurred.

I called Dan back and said we had to make a presentation. We got scheduled in for our 90 seconds of fame in slot 22. My computer broke down the moment I unplugged it. And anyway its 24 hour internet connection had predictably expired and refreshed the lovely dynamic Open Streetmap web-page with a Virgin logo. Luckily, we had prepared some static slides on Dan’s computer. But it was an Ubunto machine and unable to access its external monitor socket. The back-up back-up plan on-stage was for the camerawoman to direct her lens over our shoulders at the computer screen so that the text showed up in blur-o-vision on the big stage projection.

I let out a good healthy rant with a lot of genuine emotion about being kept awake by that f***ing police helicopter above my house at 4 in the morning. To sort this out I was going to run a screen scraper to read the log of pathetic excuses good reasons for being in the sky at that time of night. Our system was going to email everyone in the neighbourhoods affected automatically with a quote of their excuse and include a link to the police force web-page for making complaints.

It didn’t win a prize, or even an honourable mention. All of those freebies and respect went to incomprehensible word-soup TV subtitle unnecessary-OCR translating Lonely Fling-it find-your-favourite-music sound-tracks, again.

Meanwhile, the government has promised to produce a crime map, channel 4 has goes on about its £50 million to spend on things like on-line innovative public tools, and who knows what talent the BBC will report that they have painstakingly discovered and nurtured from across the country?

What all these nutty media corporations don’t see is that what we really need more than anything else is some engaged publicity — preferably in the form of a TV program where the stories are explained to the audience about what is happening in such a way that inspired more people that they could do it. You don’t have to waste your talent programming only what your boss tells you to. There are better things which you know you can do.

The fact that not one radio, TV or newspaper outlet has deemed it worth considering so much as a 10 minute broadcast on — for example — the development of the Open Street Map project is outrageous and completely inexcusable.

Same goes for other unique developments, like mySociety and TheyWorkForYou, whose segment, if ever made, will consist entirely without mentioning Public Whip.

Did I say I was horribly grumpy right now?

Must be the lack of sleep.

Meanwhile, Becka got flooded into the cave she was exploring on Saturday, and didn’t get out till seven hours late, missing the club dinner. I’m glad I wasn’t there to have worried about it.

Saturday, June 21st, 2008 at 12:49 am - - Whipping 6 Comments »

Amazingly, although I have been ranting about this issue in various private and public group emails for a year now, the matter never seems to have hit the blog. I’d pretty much given up attempting to persuade the TheyWorkForYou.com crew to make a move in this direction, so I must have forgotten about it.

It is an observable fact that when an area of software gets done to the point of being declared tolerably okay, it becomes totally static till the end of time. That’s why you have to finish things properly, or leave them in such a bad state that you cannot avoid fixing it later, if you don’t want to get stuck in a hole. It’s also why start-ups in the software industry can sometimes whip the established products with shockingly little effort, when in a sensible world they shouldn’t even be able to catch up.

However, what’s changed is that recently a small group have taken a block-copy of the TheyWorkForYou.com code and called it OpenAustralia.org for the purpose of republishing the Hansard transcripts of the Parliament of Australia. I’ve been winding them up over here recently.

While I’m very much in favour of reusing good code, what this means is that they’ve copied all the static flaws of the TheyWorkForYou.com project, when it would be preferable if they were a small start-up that whipped this established system by being a lot smarter. As the Australians are ruby programmers, you’d have expected them to borrow from the code-base of TheyWorkForYou NewZealand instead.

My unsupported attempts at producing a system with many of the features I want (and without any stupid “Add your comment” links) to see can be witnessed at undemocracy.com.

I wrote the parser for undemocracy.com (from PDFs) over several months, but the webpage suffered a serious setback because I tried to get someone else to build it on top of a content management system he was a very keen fan of called drupal. It didn’t work. I don’t know if any of these numerous big fancy CMSs are up to the job. It’s odd. You’d think there’d be something out there standard by now for noting down minutes of meetings and subcommittees, or court transcripts, or even historical plays, which could be adapted for this purpose. But it seems not.

In the end, after a really long hard weekend building it from the ground up in raw python, I got something ready in time to show to people at hackday last year. (Note: I’m staying up to catch a bus to the equivalent event this year, which leaves at 3:15am)

One of the important ideas is to parse everything into a standard HTML form, rather than this made up XML nonsense which I thought was a good idea at the time. After all, why have a line like:

<major-heading id=”uk.org.publicwhip/debate/2003-06-26.1220.0″>

when the semantically equivalent

<div class=”major-heading” id=”uk.org.publicwhip/debate/2003-06-26.1220.0″>

is readable in a standard HTML browser. Consequently, while the parsed files of ParlParse which feed into TheyWorkForYou.com found here are not a lot of use on their own, the undemocracy.com files here are quite serviceable with the addition of a trivial bit of CSS. In fact, you can design it so that this makes the job nearly done. All you need are some batch generated indexing pages and scripts to slice out the individual debates, and this is essentially what you get. No need to load all the paragraphs and speeches into a SQL database, only to print them all back out in the same order without any gaps — that’s just a long way round to get back to where you started.

What’s the problem with “Add your comment” then?

Well, as you can see, there are a billion times more empty comments than ones people have written on, and it’s always going to be that way.

The spread of locations where comments can be made is desperately uneven — there’s one per speech, whether it’s a substantial multi-page oration covering dozens of points, or a one word interjection. You might call this a minor implementation quibble that could be fixed by changing the unit to the paragraph, but the fact that this has not been done in the past three years is a hint that comments are not really being used.

What are comments on a debate speeches anyway? When you read a good debate, you have one person putting points to another person who responds to them in a process known as an intervention. Isn’t the intervention a comment on the first person’s speech? Is his response to that intervention a comment on the intervener’s comment, or a second comment in a pair of two comments on the point he was making at the time of the intervention? And how does a third person outside fit their comment in later? I know of no forum software where anyone, but the editors, can insert comments between two comments made earlier, such as with this example. Maybe a debate is a single comment thread on its own in the first place.

The most effective place comments can be used is to explain the back-story, such as with this example over the interjection: “So weak!” which witnesses had reported (across the front page of newspapers) as being “So what!”

These are extremely rare. Generally the quantity of data flowing out of the debates is such that, given the choice, people would prefer to skim down the comment column, hoping that others will have picked out the interesting speeches. They won’t have done. Someone has got to read it. And if it’s got no comments yet, no one will think it’s interesting.

Another use of comments is to point out contradictions or related speeches. Some person gives a speech in 2004 completely contradicting his speech from 2001, so you point to his 2001 speech from a comment on his 2004 speech. Then you add a similar comment to the 2001 speech pointing back to the 2004 speech, just in case someone finds that one instead of this one. It gets prohibitively annoying once you get up to three related speeches in a cluster.

As well as being very sparse in the data, comments are generally not worked over, because who is going to read them anyway? People who write good articles about speeches or disclosures in Parliament do it on their own blogs and professional newspaper articles. These are not going to appear on your TheyWorkForYou comment stream. It’s easy to find them for issues today on the Liberty website, here, here, and with a non-deeplink to TheyWorkForYou, and no link to PublicWhip (which should be to this one) here.

The ever-popular TheRegister often has snippets about events in Parliament, particularly when they report the latest publically funded IT debacle. (I posted my favourite exchange two years ago). Here is a recent TheRegister posting, with a link to a video that doesn’t work — especially at a time when TheyWorkForYou.com have been dealing with this issue. Just goes to show that most of the people who should know about it are going to be completely oblivious to the hard technical problems that you’re solving, because they don’t even know that what they’re doing now isn’t working.

Without trying very hard, it’s easy to find other respected places like Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the BBC who generate Parliamentary commentary, but will have nothing to do with your site.

So, comments hosted on a TheyWorkForYou system are going to go nowhere.

What’s the alternative?

Host only track-backs.

These are easy to harvest using the referrer in your incoming HTTP request, and turn out a handy live feed that is more dynamic than the “most recent comments” table, because it takes no effort to bump things up to the top of the list. Also, since the data is not intrinsic to your system, it makes it easier to develop the software because it doesn’t need to remain compatible with a huge blob of user generated data in a database.

You don’t need to respond to every blog; that would just allow the spam in. In fact, blogs and other publishers are kind of like individual users in this case, so when you ban one, all their messages can disappear. Wikipedia (of which more later) is a quality source as well. Say what you like about it, but it is astonishingly spam free in this day and age.

In fact, if you designated an open blog, or a forum, which you lightly integrated, it’s possible to recreate the whole execrable “Add your comment” feature in its entirety by making every link go to a new thread whose first sentence contains the link back to the speech. The comment is made there, and the back-link appears in its place as if you added your comment. The designated open forum software can then operate its own user-login environment so you don’t have to program it.

So that proves this is an enlarged system. What’s better is that one article or blog post can point to many speeches at once. So you can say, “Hey, my MP said this in a speech in 2004, but he said the opposite thing in that speech in 2001. I think it’s because of this entry in his register of interests.”

Now that’s three places that will all back-link to the same article. No more having to point one thing to another and to another and to itself again. Also, if someone else commented about that same register of interests, citing all the other MPs who had the same commercial interest, you can connect through from your post, to the register, back to his article, and then back forwards to another MP whom he says has the same interests.

This is a sort of zig-zag effect that could happen when a site automatically exchanges links with the outside world.

Okay, now this isn’t happening yet anywhere. But the technical implementation is not very hard. I can’t do it for TheyWorkForYou, because that system is already established, and you can’t make a rival one, and no one working on it sees this as a very pressing issue. Therefore, it won’t happen.

The undemocracy.com site, on the other hand, has limited resources and audience, but it makes the first step. Take a look at this link and click on the grey [link to this] block. This opens out into a block containing a copyable reference like so:

<ref>{{ UN document |docid=A-62-PV.15 |body=General Assembly |type=Verbotim Report |session=62 |meeting=15 |page=32 |anchor=pg032-bk02 |date=[[2 October]] [[2007]] |speakername=Mr. Gutiérrez Reinel | speakernation=Peru |accessdate=2008-06-21 }}</ref>

which is going to fit quite nicely here into a wikipedia article.

So that’s the first step — generate these high-quality links which will give people the support to add them into — for example — wikipedia articles. I’ve made up a few links, like in here, for the TheyWorkForYou system, including the necessary {{UK Parliament|}} template, but they don’t auto-generate them.

So much for that.

Like I say, I’ve given up trying to get this to happen. But if it did, the next step would be to create these back-links, and then make the back-links to the blogs. Now you will have a reason for people like Oxfam and Greenpeace and the BBC to link to you — because they’ll get something back: you will give people who read the Parliamentary transcripts a way back to their sites as good as a google-ad (which these organizations all pay for). And they don’t even have to associate themselves with you overtly by posting their original comments on your pages.

So, that’s the plan, as I’ve been expressing it for some time. It’s waiting for someone who’s cool, with more influence than me, to take it up as the basis for a robust general CMS that’s suitable for Parliamentary informatics. Then we can all load our different parsed data into one good flashy well-designed system so I don’t have to keep hearing about how crap I am at designing web-pages anymore, and it’ll be compatible across all continents. Wouldn’t that be great, eh?

Friday, June 20th, 2008 at 9:32 pm - - Machining 1 Comment »

Trying to clear some space on the front page of freesteel in order to fill it with videos and other attractive stuff. I’ve uploaded the old ones we have had there from years ago:

That final one has some banjo music in it rather than the usual machine tool howl.

We desperately need to get in to a machine shop and make our own footage at some point. Must lean on the university a bit harder.

Thursday, June 19th, 2008 at 7:05 pm - - Kayak Dive, Weekends 2 Comments »

I’ve done a full photographic write-up for last weekend receiving intromediate instruction over in Anglesey.

Below is a video of my failed attempt at rolling.

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008 at 3:19 pm - - Machining 6 Comments »

Unless you can see what you are doing, it’s hard to program it. I’m trying to make some algorithms which work, before I have time to make them fast. As you can see, the model has very few triangles to make the holder collision calculations quick. But it is also an extremely hard case.

Current strategy involves creating a waterline pass for a sphere (a ball-nosed cutter without the shaft) and then find a smooth trajectory of holder orientations that do not collide with it.

Step one is to find any trajectory that works. Step two will be to make it go smoothly.

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008 at 11:18 am - - Whipping 11 Comments »

A colour clone of TheyWorkForYou.com has appeared, calling itself OpenAustralia. I have had a little snoop round and found evidence that they’re going to need to get the video streams included as there appears to be a degree of editing of the transcripts going on. For example, there is this bizarre exchange:

Mr Garrett: about rebates for energy-saving insulation or about accelerating energy efficiency. Instead, we have had scaremongering from the Leader of the Opposition and symbolism from the member for Flinders, who in June last year presented two Wollemi pine trees to the King of Sweden — a gift that was described by the former government as ‘a symbolic gesture of action being taken to tackle climate change’. Wollemi pines became fig leaves when you examine the former government’s attitude and delivery on climate change.

Australia now has a government that is taking a new direction, taking responsibility for tackling climate change, taking responsibility for sound economic management and taking responsibility for ensuring that Australians have a sustainable future.

Interjection

Mr Hunt Mr Speaker, I ask that the minister table the statement from which he was reading word for word, including any evidence about the destruction of the solar sector.
Interjection

Mr Albanese Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. That was an abuse of the procedures.
Interjection

The Speaker The Leader of the House makes a valid point. That is why I ignored all after the request for the tabling of the documents. It is not a precedent, but I ignored it. Minister, were you reading from a document?

Interjection

Mr Garrett I was.

Interjection

The Speaker Was the document confidential?

Interjection

Mr Garrett Yes, Mr Speaker.

Interjection

The Speaker The document was confidential.

This section began at 2:30pm and the next section begins at 2:35pm, so there isn’t much room for things to have happened, but I am sure there are longer off-the-record intervals.

Anyways, that’s a set of work that can be done later, provided that they start archiving the video streams now.

The parsing doesn’t look like it was too desperate, as the pagination happens at the debate boundaries, rather than every 40 or so paragraphs with the Westminster Hansard. So the large-scale chunking is already done for them.

They also had it easy by the fact that the speakers are hyper-linked, so they don’t have the issue of name matching for Honourable Members. It would help, however, if they constituency-matched phrases such as

I remind the member for Sydney that she has been warned.

In fact, a simple tweak could add the constituencies into the text beside their photographs so that we could decode these to some extent ourselves from speeches in other parts of the debate.

Also, they are given hyperlinks to the Bill being discussed. Wouldn’t it be nice if Westminster did this for us too.

Detecting the ends of speeches needs more work, such as here where the final line of a speech shows up as:

Opposition members interjecting –

These run-ons are easy to deal with when you isolate all the different formulations of words and regexp them out into their own sections.

Where’s the heck is the Australian Public Whip?

It seems the pattern is repeating itself. While all the cool people are having a good time getting all the kudos diddling around with the speeches, the votes that matter are being completely ignored. After all, in Westminster there are 40 Honourable Members (known as Whips) whose job it is to police the votes. No one cares about the speeches, so long as the members vote the right way. Which is why the political class won’t have a problem encouraging everyone to be distracted by this entirely fruitless endeavour that everyone thinks is cool.

It took some time to find where they put the votes. I could tell some kind of decision was made in this debate, because it followed the pattern of a Westminster Second Reading debate, with an amendment proposed:

Christopher Pyne: I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
notes

(a) that the increase to the Passenger Movement Charge is an unfair slug on Australian working families;

(b) that the Government has shown itself to be both tricky and cavalier in its attitude to Australia’s border security by cutting Australia’s Customs Budget by $51.5 million in real terms next year, while at the same time announcing a measure that will raise $459.3 million over four years, allegedly to offset ‘the cost of a range of aviation security initiatives’;…”

Then the debate ends with:

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Pyne’s amendment) stand part of the question.

Somewhere there was a vote, which doesn’t occur in the original transcript. In fact you’ve got to look hard for it to get to the Votes and Proceedings which summarizes the debate, without the distraction of the speeches.

The order of the day having been read for the resumption of the debate on the question — “That the bill be now read a second time”

Debate resumed by Mr Pyne who moved, as an amendment — That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:…”

Debate continued.

Question — That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question — put. The House divided (the Deputy Speaker, Dr Washer, in the Chair) –

AYES

Mr Adams Mrs D’Ath Mr Hayes Mr Price
Mr Albanese Mr Debus Mrs Irwin Mr Raguse

NOES

Mr Abbott Mr Haase Mrs Markus Mr Secker
Fran Bailey Mr Hartsuyker Mrs May Mr Simpkins

And so it was resolved in the affirmative.

Question — That the bill be now read a second time — put and passed — bill read a second time.

Leave granted for third reading to be moved immediately.

On the motion of Mr Debus (Minister for Home Affairs), the bill was read a third time.

In other words, this crucial information is in a separate parallel thread which is too boring and technical for cool people to be bothered with, but it must be parsed and aligned against the House Hansard debate speeches to make it any use.

If this doesn’t happen, then the party whips and high-performance lobbyists will continue to get their job done by getting the votes, while the public receives only fine political speeches that make us feel good about the process. This is the essence of modern politics — the art of successfully conning the public while selling out the to powerful interests. This website in its current form will help them do just that, because you could have an absolute disgrace of a law being debated in the Parliament, and everyone saying how bad it is, but a bunch of silent MPs come in and vote it through, and none of the people who are motivated enough to read and be moved by those great speeches finds out who the scoundrels are. We lose contact with the chain of events, get confused, and move off with the mere feeling that something has gone wrong, but we don’t know what.

So I wonder who is going to do this job, or if it gets onto their Open Australia development plan. I can tell anyone who does take it on that it’s an absolute thank-less task, because it’s very hard work, and nobody appreciates the results. At least they here in England they don’t.

There are some very important sell-out votes such as this one that I am still trying desperately to publicize, without anyone’s help. That particular one has 443 hits on it on the PublicWhip webpage — none of which come in referred from any environmental or sustainable energy group. Every reader of it has come in through the front page and my appalling web-interface that everyone complains about.

By voting against their government on this issue, 37 MPs sacrificed any chance of becoming a government minister or obtaining future party employment. Observing the so-far lack of any interest in this by the wider community, I’m wondering why they even bothered. They should have made their speeches, and then voted the way they were told to vote.

This web-technology enables you to access the information you couldn’t easily get to before. But it doesn’t mean you’ll go after the information you need. A wrongly interfaced system like this — in its current form — can be a step backward because it’s already filling the niche, and won all the kudos available in that department.

So I’d like to see them acknowledge the crucial importance of a Public Whip project in their system, and could easily propose some designs and possibly some collaborations on code — if they’re interested. Though I’m not sure they are.

Oh well. Nevermind.

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008 at 6:32 pm - - Kayak Dive, Weekends 1 Comment »

Some pictures and notes from three weekends that didn’t make it onto the blog on time.

At the end of April, Becka and I headed down to Babbacombe beach near Tor Bay on the invitation to teach a couple of divers how to dive from kayaks. As usual, they had bought the inflatable kind, probably because it was once advertised (and reviewed) in the national diving magazine. There has been never been coverage (since eight years ago) of the proper type of dive kayak, made from hard plastic and somewhat more sea-worthy, so few people know to get it instead. Ah, that corporate money-driven journalism attitude gets everywhere and prevents things getting reported on its merits. One day the world will catch up.

We had hoped it was the season for spring cuttlefish mating. Unfortunately, we missed seeing any, but we did find a patch of bivalves up to something or other.

In between discovering just how extraordinarily unfit divers can be at paddling kayaks, we ticked off a couple of dives in the bay, such as Morris Rogue. The guide writer for that site begins his description:

If I was a fish, and quite often I wish I was, I would want to live here.

No he wouldn’t. It’s wall-to-wall fat dalia anemonies. They sting.

It was an excellent dive.

We tried to find it using the transits, before giving up and heading for the pot buoy that marked it in the current.

That was a successful weekend.

The weekend before was a Becka’s choice. We went to Snailbeach mine in Shropshire, which was cold and full of loose rock. As you can see, the way to the next level is down a rope between the ore-cart rails. There was probably a solid floor there when they put in the tracks originally.

The week after Babbacombe and Tor Bay we visited Anglesey where a friend of ours was over from Ireland to attend the Sea Kayak Symposium. No one paid any attention to us, or asked us for tickets, probably because we had the wrong kind of kayaks.

The weather was less than ideal and there was an unimpressive upset in a big wave as we tried to get off the beach. We got by with our stumpy dive kayaks, but the proper sea kayak back-flipped and was sent towards the rocks in danger of a good scraping.

On Sunday the whole island was covered with a bitterly cold dense sea fog, which wasn’t very fun. We’d had enough of winter conditions for one year, so Becka and I departed and drove all the way round the north coast of Anglesey in and out of blazing sunshine searching for a break in the coastal cloud.

We found the cut-off point at Puffin Island, parked near Beaumaris, and paddled along the boring sandy beach, and around the corner on the wrong side of the light-house where the misty cliffs were spooky. Across the strait, just out of sight in the fog, sea kayakers playing in the over-falls like ghosts.

We pulled up for lunch by a small stream that dribbled on a huge slab of rock and made it slippery with moss. The tide had gone out significantly by the time we turned back, so we had to go round the light-house on the correct side, and then discovered this big ship-wreck near the beach where we had launched.

Many things are hidden under the sea. Next weekend we’ll go for a course to learn about this proper sea kayaking. Might take our dive kayaks for a play on Friday if the weather is good.

Monday, June 2nd, 2008 at 11:51 am - - Whipping 4 Comments »

In Britain the political parties consider the votes of their MPs such a serious matter that 40 of their number are given the task of policing it, and disobedience requires the resignation from any ministerial post. The public, unfortunately, don’t pay any attention.

In the US, however, congressional votes are a campaigning matter, as you can see in the following TV ad that was highlighted on crooksandliars.com

If you watch carefully, you’ll notice the code “HR 2642 #328 5/15/08″ appearing several times in the top right hand corner.

There’s no other mention of this code from any of the blog commenters here, or on the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) webpage where they further outline the phases of the campaign which involves radio ads, and automated phone calls in the voice of General Wes Clark (the man who ran the 76 day NATO bombing campaign of Serbia in 1999) targeted at particular representatives in their district.

What was the Roll Call vote #328 on House of Representatives Bill 2642 about exactly? If the DCCC are urging people to phone the Republican Minority leader, John Boehner, won’t it be obvious that that they don’t know jack? How can this be improved?

As all the publicizers of this ad are so useless at providing the details, it’s necessary to put “HR 2642″ into google and find the multitudinous of publicwhip-type websites that are flourishing on the better quality data in the United States on the back of the greater attention paid to these matters…

For this bill, I can find:

The bill appears to be called: “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008″. The websites above are confusingly unhelpful (like the US legislative process, randomly balkanised as it is between the House and the Senate), and you can’t decode the #328 number. There are three votes in the House of Representatives on 15 May 2008, so presumably the DCCC TV ad must refer to one of them. They are:

3:30 PM On Agreeing to the Senate Amendment With Amendment No. 1: H R 2642 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act Failed 141-149, 144 not voting
3:37 PM On Agreeing to the Senate Amendment With Amendment No. 2: H R 2642 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act Passed 227-196, 11 not voting
3:45 PM On Agreeing to the Senate Amendment With Amendment No. 3: H R 2642 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act Passed 256-166, 12 not voting

After carefully reviewing the links on the different websites above, I can confirm that “On Agreeing to the Senate Amendment With Amendment No. 1″ is the vote that the DCCC chose to invest tens of thousands of dollars to under-inform the public about via automated phone calls and TV slots. The voting break-down reported on OpenCongress (includes enormous spread out list of names and some useless pie charts) comes to:

  • Ayes: 141 (Democrat: 84; Republican: 56)
  • Nays: 149 (Democrat: 147; Republican: 2)
  • Abstained: 12 (Democrat: 3; Republican: 9)
  • Present: 132
  • Required percentage of ‘Aye’ votes: 1/2 (50%)
  • Percentage of ‘aye’ votes: 32%
  • Result: Failed

So, the Yanks appear to have invented a fifth voting category called “present” to go with the four that are required in the United Nations (for, against, abstain and absent). The UK Parliament makes do with just three (aye, no and absent). Normally “absent” gets lumped with “abstain”. I don’t quite get that 32% number quoted. Does it mean that the abstain and present votes are actually counted as though they were against?

What makes it really odd is that a 2/3 majority of Democrats voted against the Amendment 1, and lost narrowly because only some of the Republicans voted for it, with all the rest voting “Present”.

The majority of the (split) democratic party carried the vote.

Why would people in the Democratic party then mount a multi-state TV, radio and robot phone call campaign complaining that the Republicans had voted “present” when if more of them had voted they would have almost certainly overturned the will of the majority of the voting Democrats?

What was that Amendment 1 actually about anyway?

On none of these citizens webpages, including the very well-funded ones sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation, is there a link to it. The fact that none of the users and referrers to these sites shows any curiosity about the specific content really disappoints me. It appears as if all the on-line reformatted information is flowing from the official roll-call web-page with the URL http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll328.xml, as there is nothing new that is not directly derived from here, and this government web-page lacks a link to the content of the vote.

So much for all that.

Because of their absolute failure to deep-link in any meaningful way I have to use the general search engine a second time and navigate through the Library of Congress Thomas website, which isn’t easy.

The official page for the HR2642 bill data is here. If you use search you go through a whole bunch of temporary URLs that are valid for about 20 minutes, so you have to discover where you are going, and then browse through to it properly.

The link Major Congressional Actions on HR 2642 provides titles and links to the votes, but not the amendments that were voted, so that’s useless.

Using some further effort and technical browsing it’s finally possible to get to this page, which is some kind of very poor table of contents with page numbers. The link says pages H3912-3917, but it’s actually H3912-H4044.

I can’t give you any further links down because they are all temporary URLs that will give a “page not found” 20 minutes after I post this blog. I recommend you click on the link Printer Friendly Display – 770,463 bytes at the top of the page.

Now we have thousands of lines of text with all the necessary content in need of some serious beautification by one of these well-funded foundations — or an independent citizen with an eye for something interesting.

As the page is entirely without anchor-tags or decent formatting, I’ll walk you through this astonishing document (lists of weapons are best read in a manic Nazi-Hitlerian voice) while you use the Find feature of your browser.

After some waffle, the “senate amendment” is read out, which I think is the content of the original Bill before amendment, “that the following sums are appropriated… for military construction… for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008″

This contains a series of precise financial quantities are stated with strings attached. The first part includes accommodation, base closure programs ($8billion), cleaning up filthy and completely unnecessary chemical weapons stockpiles that were ordered by generals too ignorant to notice that it was all only going to poison their own men and country ($104million), and the provision that “none of the funds available to the Department of Defense for military construction or family housing during the current fiscal year may be used to pay real property taxes in any foreign nation.”

Buried so it’s incredibly easy to miss is the text:

MOTION OFFERED BY MR. OBEY
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I offer the motion at the desk.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Clerk will designate the motion.
The text of the motion is as follows:
Motion offered by Mr. Obey:
Mr. Obey moves that the House concur in the Senate amendment with three House amendments.
The text of House amendment No. 1 to the Senate amendment is as follows:
Page 60 of the Senate engrossed amendment, strike lines 1 through 3 and insert the following: …

It starts with money sections. Under “Military personnel” there’s army $11,807,655,000, navy: $866,753,000, marine corps: $1,820,571,000, Air Force: $1,286,153,000, repeated for “reserve personnel”, “national guard personnel”, “operation and maintenance” and on and on and on.

Addtional procurements Army Navy Air Force
Aircraft $954,111,000 $3,411,254,000 $7,028,563,000
Missiles $561,656,000 $66,943,000
Weapons $5,393,471,000 $317,456,000
Ammunition $344,900,000 $304,945,000 $205,455,000
Other $15,967,340,000 $1,260,135,000 $1,903,167,000

Later, we get:

The text of House amendment No. 2 to the Senate amendment is as follows:
Page 60 of the Senate engrossed amendment, after line 3, insert the following:
TITLE X–POLICY REGARDING OPERATIONS IN IRAQ

“…No individual in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or instrumentality thereof, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.”

“…None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this or any other Act may be used to detain any individual who is in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or an instrumentality thereof unless the International Committee of the Red Cross is provided notification of the detention of and access to such person in a timely manner and consistent with the practices of the Armed Forces of the United States.”

“…None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this or any other Act may be obligated or expended by the United States Government… [to] establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq; or to exercise United States control over any oil resource of Iraq.”

“…Sec. 11302. (a) Clarification of Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.– (1) INCLUSION OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES AND CONTRACTORS”

Neat. That looks like the end of Guantanamo Bay, the occupation of Iraq for oil, and the legal impunity of military contractors gone in one go.

There’s also funds for “Peacekeeping operations” authorized in Afghanistan, the West Bank, Mexico, and Central America, as well as $704,000,000 to New Orleans to modify the 17th Street, Orleans Avenue, and London Avenue drainage canals and install pumps and closure structures at or near the lakefront.

Later we get:

The text of House amendment No. 3 to the Senate amendment is as follows:

Page 1 of the Senate engrossed amendment, strike line 1 and all that follows through the end of line 21 on page 59, and insert the following:

More money and stuff follows including:

CHAPTER 33 — POST-9/11 EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE

SEC. 1A. INCREASE IN TAX ON HIGH INCOME INDIVIDUALS TO FINANCE THE GI BILL.

(a) General Rule.–In the case of a taxpayer other than a corporation, there is hereby imposed (in addition to any other tax imposed by this subtitle) a tax equal to 0.47 percent of so much of modified adjusted gross income as exceeds $500,000

Finally, halfway down, without shred of formatting in all this legislation to identify the boundary, we get some dialog:

POINT OF ORDER

Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I make a point of order against consideration of the measure.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman will state his point of order.

Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I make a point of order that the measure causes an increase in the deficit over a 6- and 11-year period and therefore violates clause 10 of House rule XXI, the PAYGO point of order.

Mr. Speaker, there is undeniably net direct spending included in this bill. Hence it increases the deficit. Simply by putting new entitlement spending on an appropriation bill in order to evade PAYGO would constitute a blatant loophole in the PAYGO point of order. If PAYGO is designed to prevent increases in the deficit, this measure should not be considered here today.

Shortly:

Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, we have a tough problem before the House today. We have a war which the majority of this House despises. We have a war that we do not have the power to end so long as the President is as obstreperous as he has been on the subject. That means that we have to find a way to try to manage this problem in a way that sends a clear message to the public that they are the only ones who can, in fact, muster the power to change direction on this war by electing a President who will get us out of this war. It also means we have to manage it in such a way that we set the table for the new President to give him at least a few months to think through how he is going to proceed to extricate us from this war and to get his ducks in a row on Iraqi policy. Therefore, we are taking the Senate bill and we are asking the House to consider three amendments and work their will on it.

The first amendment is very simple. It’s an up-or-down vote on providing the funding to pay for the equipment and to pay for the salaries for the troops as long as they are going to be in the war situation. That money will be estimated to run out by June of 2009.

The second amendment would simply be an up-or-down vote on the conditions that the House believes should appropriately be attached to the spending of that money, many of which the House has seen before. Those conditions will, among other things, require that virtually every unit sent to the war be fully combat ready. They will provide that no one who works for the United States may engage in interrogation techniques that are at variance with the Army Field Manual. In plain language, no torture. The conditions will also say that there shall be no long-term security agreements entered into with Iraq without submission of those agreements to the United States Senate for their consideration. It will establish a timetable for extricating ourselves from combat by setting a goal, not a firm date but a goal, of 18 months from the date of enactment.

Also, we have added two conditions which would have the effect of requiring Iraq to provide a dollar-for-dollar match for any of the redevelopment and reconstruction activities that are being carried out by the United States Government. The effect of that would be the functional equivalent of turning 50 percent of what we provide to Iraq into loans. We’ve done it this way because we have faith that the loans would ever be repaid, and this way we guarantee that the Iraqis, who are now about to develop very large surpluses in their own budget–they will have to meet these costs up front on an equal basis before the United States proceeds to expend its own money. And it would also require that the American military be provided gasoline in Iraq at the same subsidized price as the Iraqis are being subsidized. We don’t see why the United States troops who are defending that country ought to have to pay a premium.

Then we will have a third amendment, again up or down, on the other administration requests. Those include food aid. We’ve increased the international food aid recommended by the President by $745 million. Anybody who has read the newspapers or watched television for the last 2 weeks understands why that is a moral necessity. We have also included the administration request for the Louisiana levies exactly as they have requested it as fiscal 2009 money. We have responded to a request from the Bureau of Prisons to provide $178 million so that they do not have to lay off prison guards and other personnel in the U.S. prison system. The Secretary of Commerce has requested that we provide additional funding because they run into technology problems at the U.S. Census Bureau; so we have responded to that with a $210 million appropriation. We have also added $2.2 billion in military construction funds above the President’s request to fully fund the administration’s 2008 BRAC requests. We have also included $210 million for military child care centers, which the President from that rostrum told the country he was for but neglected to ask the money for in his budget this year.

Mr. WOLF … I rise in opposition to this legislation…. I also wanted to offer an amendment that would create a bipartisan commission–much like the Iraq Study Group–to look at everything–tax policy and entitlement spending–and recommend legislative action to rein in our Federal debt.

We have $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities, and over $9 trillion dollars in debt. Standard and Poor’s Investment Service has indicated that we could lose our triple-A bonding rating as early as 2012. The value of the dollar is falling through the floor. China holds our debt. OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia hold our debt. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children.’”

Our grandchildren will bear the burden of out-of-control entitlement spending if we do not act. It’s on our watch to fix, and the process being used today shuts out critical issues that we must face.

Mr. PENCE. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, unlike the previous speaker from Illinois, whom I greatly respect, I support the war in Iraq. I have supported it from the beginning. I support providing the resources to our soldiers who are in the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. I pray for some 3,000 Indiana soldiers who are on the ground in Operation Iraqi Freedom every day. But though I support providing our soldiers with the resources they need to get the job done and come home safe, I cannot support this war supplemental bill.

Mr. Speaker, I believe the American people need to know what is going on here. I mean, this is a backroom deal for $250 billion that includes $72 billion in domestic spending that has nothing whatsoever to do with our soldiers and the war on terror. It also will increase taxes on working families by $51 billion. Higher taxes and higher domestic spending put on the backs of our soldiers is indecent, Mr. Speaker.

When my colleague from Illinois speaks about decency, it is indecent to come to this floor and play politics with our troops during a time of war. This Congress should bring a clean supplemental bill to this floor that provides our soldiers with the resources they need to get the job done and come home safe, not billions of dollars in domestic spending and higher taxes.

There are these mysterious [Begin Insert] and [End Insert] bits in the text. Here’s something after an “[End Insert]“:

National Governors Association,

DEAR CHAIRMAN BAUCUS, SENATOR GRASSLEY, CHAIRMAN RANGEL AND REPRESENTATIVE MCCRERY: On behalf of the nation’s governors, we write to express our support for an extension of unemployment benefits and to request federal assistance for states to serve a growing number of jobless individuals.

In the last month, 36 states experienced an increase in the unemployment rate. The national unemployment rate increased to 5.1 percent in March 2008. Most notable, however, is the significant number of individuals that are unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, thus exhausting all unemployment benefits. Today, approximately 16.7 percent of jobless individuals are experiencing long-term unemployment compared to approximately 11 percent at the beginning of the last recession.

The debate — badly formatted though it is — is an excellent read, and compounds the disappointment that no citizens group has thought it worthwhile to give it the theyworkforyou.com treatment.

Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. I thank the distinguished gentleman.

I rise in opposition to one more dollar being spent on the war in Iraq but many, many dollars spent on the brave men and women. I thank the leadership and I thank this committee for allowing us to spend dollars because of a responsibility to our troops with the GI Bill.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to the continued funding of the Iraq war. While I offer my support for Amendments No. 2 and No. 3, I must oppose amendment No. 1. While amendments 2 and 3 contain provisions beneficial to the American people, designed to improve our economy and protect our young men and women, amendment 1 continues a disastrous policy of providing unrestricted funding to continue the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.

At the end of the debate — which is worth reading — we clarify:

Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, following is an explanation of the amendments of the House of Representatives (relating to supplemental appropriations for fiscal years 2008 and 2009) to the amendment of the Senate to H.R. 2642, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2008.

In this statement, the provisions of the House amendments to the Senate amendment are generally referred to as `”the amended bill”.

House Amendment 1 strikes lines 1 through 3 on page 60 of the Senate amendment and inserts language providing supplemental appropriations for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2008, and additional supplemental funds for fiscal year 2009 for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

House Amendment 2 inserts after line 3 on page 60 of the Senate amendment language regarding policy for operations in Iraq and reforms relating to war profiteering and contractors.

House Amendment 3 strikes line 1 on page 1 of the Senate amendment and all that follows through line 21 on page 59, and inserts language providing supplemental appropriations for military construction, international affairs, and other security-related and domestic needs, as well as language providing for improved veterans education benefits, temporary extended unemployment compensation, and a moratorium on certain Medicaid regulations, and establishing a surtax on high income taxpayers to offset the cost of the veterans benefit provision.

The texts of the amendments are printed in the Rules Committee report (H. Rpt. 110-636) to accompany House Resolution 1197.

Unless otherwise noted, all appropriations in the amendments are designated as emergency requirements and necessary to meet emergency needs pursuant to subsections (a) and (b) of section 204 of S. Con. Res. 21, the congressional budget resolution for fiscal year 2008.

The amendments are now restated in the text slightly differently formatted with subtly different details, verbal justifications added, and lines that say: “Insert offset folio 1000A/12 here EH15my08.007″

If you used the Control-F to find your way round the text, this really screws you up.

Some more hidden dialog occurs:

Mr. BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, after five years, thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent and trillions to go, the amendments adopted today are the beginning of a solution in Iraq. These amendments mandate the beginning of withdrawal, setting us on a path out of Iraq, and support critical domestic and international priorities.

The language offers some of the same prescriptions in my own Iraq legislation, including a ban on permanent bases and an increase in contractor oversight. All too often we hear reports of billions of dollars our contractors can’t account for, or the hiring of individuals our troops can’t rely on. This war will cost over $3 trillion, and I am pleased to see some funding shifted to cover more of our international obligations. I authored legislation to help the 4 million displaced Iraqis and I support the funding in this bill for migration and refugee assistance and international disaster assistance. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people, and as we have an obligation to provide for our own.

This takes you to the end of the document. If you go to here you get to a continuation of this complete shambles as the votes are done. (Don’t forget to click on Printer Friendly Display.)

Ms. WATSON, Messrs. MILLER of North Carolina, CARSON of Indiana, AL GREEN of Texas, and BECERRA changed their vote from “yea” to “nay.”

Messrs. JORDAN of Ohio, BILIRAKIS, Mrs. SCHMIDT, and Mrs. MUSGRAVE changed their vote from “present” to “yea.”

Ms. GRANGER, Messrs. DOOLITTLE, WALSH of New York, EVERETT, and SAM JOHNSON of Texas changed their vote from “yea” to “present.”

Messrs. ISSA, LINDER, WELLER of Illinois and Mrs. CUBIN changed their vote from “nay” to “present.”

So the first portion of the divided question was not adopted.

The result of the vote was announced as above recorded.

A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

Stated for:

Mr. SALI. Mr. Speaker, on rollcall No. 328, had I been present, I would have voted “yea.”

PERSONAL EXPLANATION

Mr. GALLEGLY. Mr. Speaker, on rollcall No. 328, I was in the well waving my “present” card. The Speaker clearly saw me and did not recognize me. Had I been recognized, I would have voted “present.”

And that’s just one part of one day in the disorganized paper explosion that is the United States Congress. Makes the UK Parliament look like an efficient small office — probably because it doesn’t deal with any of this financial stuff which the powers that be do not believe is any of our business.

Anyways, I think this day of exploration from start to finish has wiped out any respect I had for all that stuff done by the Sunlight foundation if I can find substantially more interesting material that needs work done to it by bypassing their stuff. People going through their websites are likely to get trapped in a dead end if they had any interest in the actual content and not know that the information actually exists elsewhere. That’s the danger of partial indexing without making it clear about what’s being left out and how to get to it.

I’m also still perplexed about the Democratic Party vote campaign choice. It’s almost as if the DCCC is vehemently pro-war and wants to get it funded for more and more and more, but the majority of party members in Congress have rebelled and voted against. So their leadership is trying to appeal to the Republicans to get their funding through with this confusing ad campaign that urges people to call their representative to vote for it. Amazingly, the DCCC don’t have any time publicize the other two votes (Amendments 2 and 3) that took place to pull out of Iraq, and fund college education for Iraq war veterans that everyone is completely in favour of, but the republicans are somehow not embarrassed to vote against.

Here’s a relevant clip from the Daily Show that explains it as your reward for getting this far: