Friday, May 09, 2008

Short week

Monday was a Bank Holiday, and very welcome to have a day catching up.

Tuesday, our Select Committee on Intergovernmental Organisations, looking at communicable diseases, took evidence from Professor Harvey Rubin, Director of the Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response (ISTAR) at the University of Pennsylvania. He wants to create a ‘Global Compact for Infectious Diseases’, to do the job of systems integration for the large number of IGOs, NGOs, governments, foundations and companies involved in fighting existing diseases and others that may develop in future. Professor Rubin is a great enthusiast, but I’m not convinced that we need yet another body to add to the dozens that already exist.

Then attended a meeting of the All-Party Armenia Committee, commemorating the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which more than a million Armenians lost their lives. Although there are a few Turks now prepared to discuss those terrible events, they aren’t yet ready to acknowledge the historical facts, and the EU doesn’t make it a condition of their accession.

Later, attended a meeting organised by Jeremy Corbyn for Liberation, to discuss progress towards the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh. I spoke briefly about the recent episode of ethnic cleansing in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in which 8 villages were burnt to the ground by arsonist settlers, making between 150 and 200 families homeless and destitute. The government hasn’t launched an inquiry into this atrocity and not one of the criminals responsible has been arrested. The army, which has a very oppressive presence in the area, disclaims any knowledge of the events.

Wednesday, I joined in questions on Zimbabwe, asking the Minister Lord Malloch-Brown whether, since the regime has neither the money nor the logistical capacity to run a second round of the Presidential election, the international community has some leverage to provide not only the management of the second round, if it takes place, but the protection needed in the form of security for the members of the opposition who have been subject to repeated violence so far.

Midday, Lindsay rang me at the House to say that she couldn’t get onto the internet. I rang Netgear when I got home and at first they said the problem was that the router firmware was very old – ie probably three years old. Obviously I couldn’t download an upgrade but our kind neighbour Jamie not only did that for me, but also brought it round on a USB device of his own, as I couldn’t find either of mine. Towards midnight I had uploaded the new firmware to the router and it still didn’t work. Netgear –whose tech support line, based in India, was still open at that time – gave me an RMA number. They offered next day replacement for an express courier charge of £22 which I accepted with alacrity.

Thursday, I fielded the statement on Cyclone Nargis, asking the Minister, Christine Crawley, how the logistics of the relief effort were to be coordinated, and whether, as the enormous scale of the disaster became apparent, that was yet another reason for abandoning the sham referendum that is planned for this weekend.

Friday, the replacement Netgear router arrived and I installed it with a few minutes help from Netgear. Their tech support telephone line answers promptly and the technicians are first class, light years ahead of most hardware manufacturers.

Friday afternoon I collected my new htc PDA Phone from the Lords. A couple of years ago the computer department had told me I couldn’t have a PDA because I didn’t use Outlook or the Parliamentary email system, but this device lets one use Gmail, and synchronise it with the desktop. It also reads the Gmail calendar, which could be useful in allowing me to make and change appointments when I’m not at either of my desks at Flodden Road or the House, though it’s a beta, with some oddities. Anyway, it’s a brilliant tool, even incorporating a camera, see Doris and Lindsay below.

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