Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sounds like a Tory, Looks Like a Tony

In a New Year's message Charles Kennedy reminded us that whatever David Cameron sounds like he is "still a Tory at heart" (let noone ever say Mr Kennedy is slow on the up-take or that he lacks a dry-as-a-bone sense of situationist humour)...

Anyway, Cameron - Tory at heart, right - must be why he leads the Tory party...

Then again Andrew Neil had him fooling Ulrika Jonsson a few weeks back - which makes a change from people fooling with Ulrika. Jonsson was falling for Cameron's 'new politics' hook, line and faux zebra cushion on an even more Daily Mail-man than usual edition of The Week in Politics (or whatever that oddly entertaining late night lubricant-fest Neil hosts with Abbot and Port-a-loo is called...)

So at heart David Cameron IS still a Tory...
and perhaps more importantly at wallet,
at his old (and new?) boys clubs (on second thoughts take a glance at that front bench team - before we even start on the advisers - and lets stick with 'old' boys club),
at private schools (or sorry opted out state schools with 'independent' selection policies - a notable area of agreement with our Prime Minister),
at work...

...You know the list.

You get my drift.

Which is why as Johann Hari points out it is a great relief that our interests are defended in such a robust way by the lovely Mr Tony - who has just ensured that years of
efforts to properly regulate the chemical industry, and the businesses which feed us its products both intentionally and carelessly, have gone up in smoke - or as Johann puts it how Blair has failed to protect us from the 'corporate killers in pin-striped suits'
- he does have such a sense of populist vim lurking under all that sententiousness our Johann that really he is quite wasted on the Indy, but his point is nonetheless sound - and the article is in fact rather better than its title.

I however am even more exercised by a similar example of Mr Tony's great wisdom. This is his well-flagged innovation for the new year of forgetting why he once opposed nuclear power - "Well, err actually, you see I never, err really, as such, opposed nuclear power, more in any case a matter of warheads and that whole labour anti-war thing - all forgotten now, you know, haha, New World Order, threats to liberty, NEW THINKING, global warming, science, advice, industry, realism, solutions not slogans..."- OH SHUT THE F**K UP Tony!

We know Blair gets a masturbatory thrill out of rolling back that delicate pink outer skin of social democracy to reveal the blue blood which apparently throbs in his political head - but surely this is a step too far - this is, after all, not a political issue - is it?

Well the fact is that it has spent much of recent history in the UK as a distinctly left-right political issue. That, if nothing else, should serve to remind us of something about where the loyalties of different political traditions primarily lie (lay? - lets stick with 'lie' - its kind of appropriate).

And this of course is why it has earned the right to be one of the left of centre statues which Tony Blair wants to kick over - but speaking as someone who knows (and has known) a statistically improbable number of people with extremely rare cancers who live(d) near to nuclear power stations and other sources of 'low level' nuclear pollution I would rather prefer if this particular statue could remain a monument to a tradition that puts people before profit and retains a healthy suspicion of what happens when science, finance and industry get together with a big heap of public subsidy, a dressing of official secrets and national interest, and the opportunity to write things down over a ten thousand year half-life instead of a five year amoritisation period.

Billy Bragg has a concert at the RFH in February called Which Side Are You On? - someone should buy Blair a ticket.

Christ - I knew all that populism would get to me eventually!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Spielburg's Munich condemned for "thinking too much"

Sign of the times: Spielburg's forthcoming film about the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics is receiving mixed reviews in the US...

"Munich" does not, as some critics would have it, make a case for moral equivalency. Instead, Spielberg is simply reiterating that the Old Testament demand of an eye for an eye has left the world blinded and wandering in an endless cycle of reprisal. This is not exactly a philosophical or dramatic revelation, and it leaves "Munich" stewing in its own blood and wringing its hands.

Um... isn't this actually a more complex and honest commentary than the kind of pseudo-solution for which this critic apparently hungers?

In some quarters at least America's post-9/11 learning curve appears to still be hugging the horizontal...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers - Not my idea of a Brucey Bone-us

OK with a title like that I should be making salacious allegations about Bruce Forsyth's sex life with women many years if not decades his junior, but I'm not... Bruce is far to good at making them himself and in any case most of them are true, which given Bruce's still impressive dancing-ability sheds more light on that business about the male ability to dance being an evolutionary pre-requisite...

No really it apparently is - yesterday's Metro said that scientists said so - or rather that the scientist's PR has spun this tenuous 'Darren Gough is evolutionarily successful' celeb news link to their otherwise rather specialist interest thesis...but whatever, it works for me, at a Metro-level.

So there may yet be some basis for the notion that its actually OK, if slightly eugenic, to say that people who don't appreciate good music should be shot...

Anyway enough of such things, I just thought that the notion that someone is flaying corpses in New York for bone extraction was worth a second look - and was momentarily distracted by the thought that the latest set of perfect teeth in the mouth of say Tom Cruise could be built from bits of Alistair Cooke. No really, you see Alistair Cooke's bones have been 'stolen' well recycled at any rate to be made into dental implants (among other things) - and when I say 'really' that does not apply to Mr Cruise, by the way, that's 'not really' terribly likely - so no newspaper ads denying it please Tom and no lawsuits, there's a good bhuddhist.

What I like is the way his step-daughter gets to the heart (or was that marrow) of the matter. Which is that the people who recieved bits of her Stepfather got a bad deal; rather than complaining that she had a rather lighter than expected urn to scatter in Central Park.

Then again maybe she didn't have any expectations, but just for the record I for one was surprised when I felt the weight of such a container for the first time fairly recently. And I can tell you that that scene in Meet the Parents with the cat is mighty possible if you want to go and use an actual urn-shaped urn - those things have crap centres of balance and their bases are FAR too small for true stability in a cat-imbued environment.

On the up-side though if anyone nicks my relatives bones before they are cremated I hope I will now be able to tell. So get urn lifting my friends unless you think the body snatchers are welcome to the abandoned shells of the recently deceased... Who the hell said Victorian Christmases were out of fashion, huh?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Ape man cometh...well sort of

Oh to be a crazy dictator. It appears uncle Joe Stalin had a plan up his sleeve to defeat capitalism after all. That's right he planned his very own Planet of the Apes army.

According to archive files Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes.

Stalin reportedly told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

Well who doesn't. Cutting down on the food bill was obviously an issue for Joe, what with millions dying after the failure of collectivization in the 1930s. You get the feeling he would have loved Lord or the Rings, wait with the whole ape like army of grunts on the march.

You can see it now. Stalin at the Politburo as he bangs the table "Together my ape men and I will rule the world".

 Posted by PicasaDie puny capitalist die

Read the full story here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rat A TAT TAT - WoT the Fuck was that Jack?

There was a certain irony in the fact that Monday's paper's were plastered with front page pictures of a cloud of black smoke from a burning oil store...

Poison Clouds Hit Tonight yelled the London Evening Standard, though a story inside by Justin Davenport revealed that the front page was off the mark, poison clouds had already hit and Sir Ian Blair knew all about it, "Oh yes he did" Wotcha mean?? "HE'S BEHIND YOU!!"

OK OK lets stop the pantomine pillory or was that the punch and judy politics? I get so confused these days...

Speaking at Together Against Terror (or TAT) Sir Ian announced what we had all seen coming for, well, at least a day (from Hertfordshire): "The sky is dark" - hey, but wait a minute Sir Frodo's Tolkeinistic call to, well, fear, I suppose, had nothing to do with not smoking while filling up your tanker in Hemel - oh no. Oh no?

So what Sauronic threat did we face, if not the combustion of complex hydrocarbon chains in Herts?

Sir Scary Police continued,
"We know there are people in the UK as we speak who are planning to mount atrocities and who will use suicide as a weapon."

He then got all metaphysical and in a particularly Shelley-ian moment announced "We are in a different place than before"

Which at any rate has the virtue of literacy unlike Uncle Tony's claim that he was going to arrest everyone who had too much cash on them in order, as he put it in an interview with BBC News, "To make the bad people in fear" - TO WHAT PM?? - to make the bad people in fear Chris, not the people going about their everyday business - and I've tried it, you know I have, and the normal law just doesn't work - I've tried it again and again and again - for years...
Oh shut up you illiterate, at least your scaremongering namesake top cop can speak english (Jesus!) - but what about this 'abnormal law' business - that almost seems like an admission (at last) of quite what an abominable range of unseemly and abnormal powers your unconstitutional little regime has been accumulating through its various legal innovations since autumn 2001 - whatever next, openly admitting that its now a crime to voice an opinion without asking the permission of the police first?

OK, OK, I know its only a crime if its within the earshot of you or your MPs Mr Prime Minister... whatever - could someone email that smug bastard Peter Hain who was appearing on Radio 4 going on about why he was right to break the law to oppose white only sports tours of the UK during apartheid?

Maybe Peter could explain why he voted for the law that convicted Maya Evans

And maybe one of our Tolkeinistic Blair twins could reveal why it makes sense to imprison supposed Enemies of the state plotting terrorism for four years without bothering to ask (or should I say investigate? discover? confirm?) what they were or weren't plotting

Maybe they're waiting for Jack Straw to go on holiday so that someone can offer them an amazing prize of a free holiday in Poland. See, when someone actually asked Jack (about some similar rapscallions) he said that the fact that you had to buy an over-priced washing machine (or was that put your head in it) in order to claim your free holiday COULD constitute torture and so he went and vetoed the whole holiday?!?

Since then, there have been over 200 free holiday flights full of lucky winners passing through British airports but Jack has had no reason to check the rules of the competitions they won because the lotteries they entered were held under US and other jurisdictions - and in any case none of the holiday camps to which they were flying were on British soil.

In case anyone got a bit lost or disorientated after all that time in the air, the CIA, who were running the competitions (which were about building huge haystack-like sculptures out of tiny needles), kept the doors to the holiday charter planes locked at all times - so noone got to see anything suspicious; as Jack explained in a written answer to parliament and an interview on Today so unconvincing that the interviewer just let him talk - a favourite barristers' trick which an experienced jurist like Jack should really have been wise to.

Apparently there is absolutely no evidence at all to suggest that the CIA have been giving away more free holidays since the start of the War on Terror (or WoT). In fact Jack said it was all pretty much 'normal CIA business' as far as he was concerned.

"Knock, Knock, Rat a-TAT TAT"
What the flying fuck is that?
~ I dunno but I'm pretty sure its dead now

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Truths and myths

For once I agree with the Muslim Council of Britain and the Tory party - it really is outrageous not to hold a public enquiry over 7/7.

Can you imagine how New Labour would have responded had they been in Opposition?

Not only does it lay bare the government's fear of being further exposed over Iraq, it also misses an opportunity to really examine the underlying causes of the attack, an opportunity sadly missed by the Home Office Task Force which further embedded extreme Islam into government policy.

While I'm at it, a word on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "myth" making about the Holocaust.

Although the man's obviously an anti-semitic crackpot whose recent call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" placed him beyond the pale, I do think his observation that...

They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets.

... does not entirely merit the BBC standfirst:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has courted further controversy by explicitly calling the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry a "myth".

Although the implication in the news headlines is that he is a Holocaust denier (as indeed he probably is, but that is not my point) I think he is correct in observing that in a Barthian sense the West has "mythologised" the Holocaust.

Although it was an act of extraordinary evil, so too was the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians, the Bolsheviks of non-Bolsheviks, and Belgians of over 3 million Congolese, yet the German slaughter of the Jews is set apart.

So what's the difference? Well, for one thing the Turks, Bolsheviks, and Belgians got away with it, while the Germans didn't and the results were captured on film. For another, it happened in Europe and was perpetrated by one of the most supposedly civilised nations in the world. It held up a mirror to the anti-semitic shame of us all, if you like.

A further element of myth is that it transforms the subject matter into something unreal, untouchable. And here we also have evidence - if Europeans really cared about genocide so much, then why did we not lift a finger in Rwanda? Or even closer to home in Bosnia? For me, all the "never again" pieties expressed by our politicians became myths in the blood-drenched fields outside Srebenica.

So although he may be a crackpot, his malevolent crowd-pleasing does challenge our complacency - by mythologising the Holocaust as a unique event, we are encouraged to believe it could never happen again. Rwanda and Bosnia suggest otherwise.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Blair's legacy

Max "Hitler" Hastings on Blair's legacy...

It is hard to imagine any political historian, never mind the British public, attributing our involvement in this shambles to anything beyond the misjudgment of one man, the prime minister. Posterity will be no more impressed by Blair's professed honourable intentions than by those of Anthony Eden in Egypt, half a century ago.

The memory of Blair's government will be dominated by this disastrous foreign war, rather than, for instance, by his maintenance of a successful economy at home and brilliant speeches to successive Labour party conferences.

More than that, though, I suspect that for those who support progressive politics, Blair's legacy may not simply be "Iraq", it could be a Conservative government.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ticket to oblivion

There seems a kind of grotesque inevitability about Muriel's progression from Belgian teen to suicide bomber...

Muriel... had a long relationship with an Algerian, who converted her to Islam in 2001...

Initially, she wore a hijab, or Islamic veil, but soon started wearing the head-to-toe chador that leaves the face visible...

Finally she wore a burka. She became ever more estranged from her parents. "When we saw them, they imposed their rules. We were at home, but my husband had to eat in the kitchen with Issam while the women ate together in the sitting room... " M Degauque said...

In mid-September they left, telling their landlord they were going to Kenya to try to find Goris's father. "She wore a burka all the time. I never saw her face, only her eyes," [the landlord said]...

Instead of going to Kenya, Muriel and her husband entered Iraq. Days later she had blown herself up, taking up to six US soldiers with her.

She had finally succeeded in blotting herself out.

Too easy to use this excuse?

Sorry, couldn't resist this - a name check on Harry's Place.

The Foreign Minister of China when asked in the 1950's about the consequences of the French Revolution answered "It's too early to tell" . A couple of years on from the toppling of Saddam is probably too soon to start writing the second draft of history but I think some of the broader outlines of that eventual narrative are becoming clearer for those prepared to see them.

Earlier in the post, Marcus quotes Times columnist Gerard Baker's measurement of success in Iraq: ...potential threats removed; future wars that don't have to be fought. It is numbered in the unenumerable: the slow awakening of human freedom; the steady, incremental spread of dignity it brings to people cowed and trampled for decades.

Well, it really is too early to tell, isn't it, but for each of those clauses I could find a reason why the war in Iraq failed, and indeed never should have been fought.

On a personal note some of the thinking behind TETT was for me consistent with what my opposition to the war was about: a profound wariness of ideologically-driven change and its unforseen consequences. For me, war, and particularly offensive war (I'm not a pacifist, sadly) is an essentially evil tool, so it seemed clear to me that only bad was likely to come of it, never mind the good intentions. I can see little in Iraq to prove me wrong, regardless of the muscular efforts of the posters on Harry's Place, ironically one of my favourite places on the web.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sent to Manchester

Although the article doesn't mention it, I couldn't help wondering if Government plans to merge The Commission for Racial Equality into a Manchester-based equality body, which will also contain the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission were not unconnected with chair Trevor Phillips' outspoken criticism of new Labour's pro-segregation agenda. I've got to say, I had always had Phillips down as an arch-Blairite until he got this job. Hell hath no fury, eh?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

On the Grauniad grapevine

I suppose I should be pleased the city where I have my second home is finally getting some recognition and Ostend may even begin to become the next, well, East End (as much as I like it, it'll never be Provence).

So why did I sigh when I saw the article? Maybe it was because I had always harboured a dream of writing a film script about Marvin In Ostend, the germ of which has now been exposed to the entire Guardian readership. But mostly, I think, it's because while I may have gone on about how cool it is when greeted with the usual sceptical reaction, I didn't actually want it to "become" cool like its London namesake. Not very likely, I know, but in these novelty-hungry times anything's possible. Babyshambles at the Kursaal anyone?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The insurgency speaks

I was struck by this piece of juxtaposition this morning in The Times. Two stories about the war in Iraq printed either side of a double page spread.

Al-Qaeda 'sorry' for Muslim dead
By Our Foreign Staff

THE head of al-Qaeda in Iraq said in an internet audiotape that the Muslim wedding parties the group bombed last week in Amman were not its target.

And then on the opposite page this piece:

Blast kills 75 worshippers at prayers in Shia mosque
By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor

SUICIDE bombers wearing explosive vests killed at least 75 Shia Muslim worshippers in Iraq yesterday, prompting fears of a new wave of sectarian violence ahead of elections less than a month away.

The insurgency is certainly speaking, and you don't have to read between the lines to know what it's saying. You just have to read.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Use of weapons

Much excitement about the use by US forces of phosphorus weapons in Iraq. These are not banned weapons, but they are deeply unpleasant sticking to anything, including flesh, and burning on through.

US forces have used them chiefly to smoke out entrenched insurgents and apparently they were sporadically used in the battle for Falluja.

Labour MPs and the Guardian are concerned about their use despite phosphorus weapons not being banned. I take it they get that once these people are smoked out that if they don't surrender they will be shot or blown up?

"Since the Guardian columnist George Monbiot highlighted discrepancies in US accounts of weapons used in the bloody battle of Falluja this week, the Pentagon has backtracked on earlier denials by the state department and its ambassador to the UK, Robert Tuttle, that white phosphorus had been deployed.

"The charge was first made by Iraqi insurgents, aware of the potency of the issue in view of Saddam Hussein's notorious use of chemicals against his own people, and taken up by the Italian TV channel RAI."

Okay, yes these weapons are unpleasant, but they are legitimate parts of any army's arsenal – hence the not banned bit. We use them, but again like the Americans that's to clear out enemy positions. They're scary and really that's the point so people generally run. Job done.

Isn't that a good thing? Well it would be if you actually thought that it was right to criticise a group of people who indiscriminately kill and time and time again choose soft targets over military ones.

The anti war lobby, of course, does not criticise these people, but are ready to come down any front possible against the US and British forces and how they prosecute the fight against terror. Yes, of course, we should be open to criticism, but only where it is legitimate and right to do so.

What the anti war lobby would prefer is if American and British forces had one hand tied behind their back and really didn't use live bullets. That would even things up. While that isn't possible they look for other avenues and this is one. A smokescreen designed to eat away at morale and to rob the forces trying to bring democracy and stability in Iraq of the ability to do so.

The bit from the Guardian that really sticks is that the charge was first made by Iraqi insurgents? You mean those people who blow up wedding parties with suicide bombers? Who blow up children or anything other motherfugger they can get a car close to? You mean those people who refuse to negotiate and rarely surrender. They're complaining? Oh come on.

It seems to clearly echo the IRA who would insist they were fighting a war right up to the point that some of the boys were ambushed and killed. At that point there would be calls for an investigation, for a judicial inquiry and for charges to be brought.

How long will it be before the anti war lobby is calling for the rights of insurgents to be protected?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The last ditch

Pleased to see the Tories failed in their attempt to halt the new licencing laws. I'm sure there will be a rise in intemperate drinking, but rigorous application of new police powers combined with the passage of time should make things settle down.

But what I found extraordinary was the language Tory spokesman Theresa May used.

"This is a deeply unpopular law and the volume of evidence urging the government to think again is overwhelming," May said.

"It is sheer lunacy to say to a country gripped by binge drinking that it is okay to drink more and for longer.

"Conservatives have pledged to fight this to the end. This is our last ditch effort and we are determined that every MP should be accountable and on the record for introducing this law.

"We hope that Labour MPs will face up to the devastating impact on their constituents of backing this law and have the courage to vote with us to postpone it."

Golly. We will fight them in the saloon bar, eh? Wouldn't it be great to see a politician use this kind of language about something that really mattered?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Nadia Anjuman

Remembering Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman, 25, "slain for her verse" by her husband. I look forward to its condemnation in The Guardian Comment section.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Take one ghastly dehumanised moron...

Shortly after he was elected, the Mayor said: "Only some ghastly dehumanised moron would want to get rid of the Routemaster."

In the manner of its death, the Routemaster shows how, in modern Britain, something which works and is loved can be replaced by something which fails and is hated, for reasons which are entirely unnecessary.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

With friends like these...

So, you're a relatively obscure left-leaning Observer commentator whose controversial cheerleading for Gulf War II - the Toppling of Saddam vaults you to the big time. Soon the letter pages are busy with admonishments and support, your name becomes synonymous with a self-styled brand of "muscular" liberalism and you go on to be made an offer you can't refuse by a certain former Australian who in slimmer, more youthful times you would presumably have placed at the right side of satan, alongside a certain former Prime Minister.

Back to the future and the sitting PM has just faced his first parliamentary defeat. Both his Commons majority and his authority were devastated by the war you played such a key part promoting. Your reaction? Why, it's time for him to go.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bombs in Jordan

A friend texted me last night. She's going to Bolivia and thought I might know someone who had been. I did a quick bit of maths and came up with zero people. So I called her just to find out what the story was as the only thing I know about Bolivia is that they like to march, but then so do a lot of people.

Its some Christian Aid thing about the water privitisation that all went badly wrong leaving people without water. Who would have guessed?

"I thought I'd ask you as you've been to some dangerous places," she told me.

Not strictly true. I mean I went to South London once and really it was quite scary, and then I guess I'd been to Israel and to Jordan more recently, but that was all five star hotels and lap of luxury stuff. No real sign of danger, although the Palestinian kid at Petra was pretty pushy, but that's about it.

A little later I'm watching the news and the al qaeda Islamofascists blew up three hotels in Amman killing 57 and wounding 117.

 Posted by Picasa

Those killed included the father of the bride and the father of the groom at a wedding party at the Radisson SAS hotel in central Amman, which in July I spent a couple of days and nights at drinking cocktails and lounging by the pool.

So I guess on reflection that would have shaken my cocktail.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Whose liberty?

As someone opposed to the war in Iraq, I can't say I'm overwhelmed with pleasure at Blair's Common's defeat.

I believe that while a 90 day detention period could be abused by the police, the safeguards introduced before the vote would have provided a reasonable compromise in difficult circumstances.

It's all very well for us to get sniffy about civil liberties, but what of the liberty of the 7/7 dead and injured and their families? The police requested the 90 day time period because the scale of today's threat meant that they would often have to act quickly in order to avert an attack and it could take longer than 14 days to gather sufficient evidence to charge a suspect. In France an investigating judge can order a suspect held for two years before trial, so talk of this being extraordinary in Europe was bollocks. This was not internment.

And no, I don't necessarily believe the police, nor Blair. I don't doubt injustices would result because of this legislation. But surely the risk of a three month loss of liberty, no matter how unfair, is worth it if it saves just one single life?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Arson and forgetting

Back in the UK and the festival of smugness that is the British media on the French riots, I listened to Labour MEP Claude Moraes pontificate on the causes. Apparently France is 20 years behind the UK, where thankfully we don't have anything like this.

So much for two tube attacks and 52 dead then. Personally I would go with a few thousand burned out cars any day.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Shit head(s)

Can I just say FUCK YOU to the shit head who stole the window wiper from my car. Fortunately I noticed it this wet evening en route to get some air put in the tyres and not on a stormy foreign highway...

And while I'm at it, instead of saying "this isn't a playground you know" to the two macho East European youths sounding loudly off and shoving each other boisterously on the way home this evening until one pushed the other into me, meekly minding my business along with the other tube passengers, can I add FUCK YOU TOO.

It's about respect really, isn't it? Where's the progress, Tony?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Listened to the head stamp keeper or whatever of the Royal Mail eat humble pie this morning over issuing a Christmas stamp that some Hindus found offensive (straight after an item on Lambeth scrapping Christmas for "winterval"). I wondered why, if the keepers at the Bombay musueum where the image was borrowed from were "delighted" with the image being used, British Hindus were so quick to take offence?

Friday, October 28, 2005

How to judge the Lib Dems

Writing in The Times today Stephen Pollard asks what kind of government would the holier than thou Liberal Democrats make?

Good question. If this week's performance is anything to go by, the party led by wee Charles ("mine's a double") Kennedy, the answer is Pollard concludes probably exactly the same as they are out of government and in third place: a glaringly opportunist bunch of hypocrites, which of course whinging from the sidelines they do so well in classic oppositionist mode - opposing everything/proposing the preposterous knowing full well that they will never have to implement a word of it.

Pollard is writing about the party's resounding silence over the brown envelope cash (£2.4m of it) that the party has accepted from Michael Brown. The money represents two third's of the party's income.

Brown was of course this week unveiled as a fraudster who has been arrested three times and accused of bouncing a dozen cheques and is regarded as an absconder in Florida, having skipped probation.

Lib Dems response to this? Nothing. Read the piece in full here.

Riots? What riots?

I don't know, Too Early To Tell is just so bleeding plural, innit. One moment we've got Neil Clark, the next Nick Cohen and now gorgeous, pouting Melanie Phillips and her take on the Birmingham race riots... or little local difficulty, as it has been largely portrayed in the press.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Iran should be "wiped off the face of the earth"

Israel's new president created a sense of outrage in the east yesterday by describing Iran as a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the face of the earth". Ariel Sharon, who is more hardline than his predecessor, told students in Tel Aviv that a new wave of terrorist attacks would be enough to finish off Iran.

He said: "Anybody who recognises Iran will burn in the fire of the Israeli nation's fury, [while] any [western leader] who recognises the Islamicist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the free world." He was addressing a conference titled The World Without Islamicism.

Surely some mistake? - Ed

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Cameron in the hand, is worth two in the...

So that nice David Cameron's far from a moderate, "compassionate conservative". Instead he's a war-mongering neo-con with a nice smile, gilded youth and, whisper it, a hell-raising past... now where have we heard that before?

Sadly couldn't find the one with him and the prossie

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No one expects....

I spotted this in Metro, but couldn't find trace of it on This Is London so had to go to the local paper, which is rather less forthcoming on the detail of the prosecution, more on the poor lad who was nicked by the would-be religious police.

However, according to the original Metro story...

A teenager has been handed an 80-hour community service order for wearing an offensive t-shirt.

Adam Shepherd... was convicted under new anti-hate laws which ban people from displaying religiously insulting signs...

Which seems a bit strange given that the laws aren't in force yet? On the other hand, given the natural zealotry of the police/ magistrates, this kind of thing shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise...

Little Britain? Here's Saudi!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Liberalism for the liberals, cannibalism for the cannibals

Nick Cohen nails it, though of course he is as much at fault as those dreadful post-modern relativists - his brand of muscular liberalism existing in an ahistorical vacuum, as it were.

It seems to me that while the people who can see more than one side of an argument generally decline to have it and seek only to get on with their lives, those who get to the top, who run countries or get their opinions splashed across comment pages, are invariably the single minded - people who, because they are only really capable of holding one opinion, taking one side, having one dream, can run with it so much faster than the rest of us, burdened as we are with inconvenient truths, uncomfortable facts, a surfeit of ideological purity or spiritual certainty.

Little wonder then, this results in so much woe.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Waking up... and rolling over

Another plot thwarted as death threats are renewed against Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Meanwhile, as the Dutch appear to be considering following the Flemish burkha ban (well, I certainly ain't seen many in Ostend) it gradually appears to be dawning on our government that their grand plans for faith schools could possibly cause one or two tiny problems.

Not that this is the inspiration behind Magaret Hodge's speech, mind.

In a strongly worded speech to the Labour thinktank Progress, which Tony Blair will also attend, she will warn that overt racism is on the rise among Britain's white working class. As a result, she argues, tough measures must be taken to prevent race relations deteriorating.

"Uncomfortable as it might seem, we do need to respond to the frustrations felt by the white working class communities in which new immigrant communities tend to settle."

Never mind that many of the communities the new immigrants tend to settle in are actually mixed or afro-caribbean or whatever, champagne-quaffing New Labour-types prefer to cling to their myths about the recidivist racism of the white working class (and the contempt new Labour has always had for the poor, period) rather than accept that their immigration policies have alienated established communities of whatever colour, creed or religion.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Taking the True Blue Mickeys in a Blizzard of Golden Brown Hypocrisy - Will Cameron Have the Last Laugh, or are the Tories playing Dealer's Choice?

For what seems like ages everybody has been asking David Cameron if he has ever inhaled. Basically this was a case of press reflexes and bad research. Some lovely young woman in the Guuadian was even defending his right to smoke and not tell us earlier this week and very amusingly too, there was a nice quip about Blunkett at Annabels in fact - which made me wonder if she also had a ghost-writing job on that odd pastiche Norman Johnson column of theirs.

Things inevitably got nastier of course, because this wasn't just about the press going after public figures in a post-Kate Moss universe. Had that been the case, after all, things would have certainly got colder faster, if you get my icy allusion.

No, what was happening was that Cameron had given a surprisingly well-recieved speech to the Tory faithful. Expected to fall flat on his face at conference like an over-inflated Wiliam Hague in a Portillo wig, Cameron had instead left the podium to rapturous applause and by all accounts spent the following evening being metaphorically cluster-fucked by the snowy-haired Sussex massive. In short the boy done good. And the bookies shortened their odds.

David Davis on the other hand, the street-fighter from the backstreets who had expected to enter by the big front steps, suddenly found himself pointed toward the tradesmen's entrance by the high tory glitterati. He was roundly condemned for being too serious, too well-rehearsed and talking over the greying heads of conference to the electorate. Who the HELL did he think he was - anyone would think the electorate decided who was going to be the next Tory Prime Minister. Sussex did not concur. The Davis campaign was in crisis. Liam the Fox even looked like he might slip it through the middle, (every little helps, right Liam?) and Davis' lethargy, bombast and ignorance of the ways of the Tory gerontocracy (not to mention of gerontophilia) was rapidly making him look like a fourth-placed also ran.

This was of course also widely regraded as a fillip for Clarke -the race coalesced around two front-runners. Davis was down and out, Rifkind was readying himself to stand aside.

So no surprise that the candidate who needed a good dusting of drug innuendos was Mr Cameron and by this week everyone had stopped blowing smoke and started talked the crystal clear language of class A's.

Where does Cameron go, he's just said no (comment). He knows there's no danger of Pete Docherty's manager ever appearing at his parties - and that even if he did there would of course be nothing to see (hey, get me, I care about legal action!). But still the inuendo continues, what to do eh?

Leaving aside the facts, because we really don't know them, Cameron has a problem - admitting some minor pecadillo in the past would be an option - in terms of ending the 'why not answer the question' phase - but lets face it the guy lives in Michael Portillo's old constituency and he knows exactly what happened to Mikey P when he decided to answer the gay 'lily' rumours by saying 'I tried it once but I didn 't really like it and I'm better now'. There was no way Davey C was going to end up in media purgatory with Andrew Neil pulling his strings as he danced the sofa shuffle with whomever the appropriate analogy for Diane Abbott would be in his case (Cat Stevens maybe?).

Luckily for Mr Cameron fate has handed him a sword, or at any rate a syringe and a bottle of methadone. So now just try and besmirch his reputation you scumbags, for the man is a saint, or at least an angel, as he valiantly helps his relative overcome addiction; presumably by the sheer force of his moral rectitude and the ability to buy flights to South Africa - the rehabilitation place of choice for the modern British upper classes.

It has to be said this is a good development for Campaign Cameron - especialy after that slight wobble yesterday when he started going on about people's right to make mistakes and learn from it - I mean, crikey, most Associated Newspapers' journalists could smell the blood THERE a mile off, even through blocked noses!

So will Cameron now ride to victory in his Golden Brown ambulance? Or will the high tories find this all a bit hard to bear, a bit too close to home? Think Diana, guys and buy his stock? Maybe - of course they can always play safe and stick with the guy who quite openly admits to being in the pay of international drug dealers responsible for millions of deaths .

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thatcher the Terrorist, Brown the Bliar?

I went to catch the tube this morning and it was shut down - no, obviously not permanently - but the gates were shut on the rear entrance I usually use. Through them I could see a silent empty station. I went round to the front of the station, not so much to find out more information as to catch the bus, which left from that side and could take me to an alternative station - a train station in fact, for the north london overland line from Gospel Oak to Kensal Rise - which is my usual preferred journey to work.

This morning however I had rejected the overland train after it let me down yesterday through an unholy concoction of lateness and screwed up connections with bus services which were circumscribed by water main work. The result was lateness on my part, for a meeting for which I wished to be on time (not least because the last time I had endeavoured to attend it the previous week a similar concoction of transport woes had intervened; though on that occasion water mains weren't involved, just full buses driving past without stopping, ...for half an hour).

My first reaction on seeing the closed tube gate was irritation and as I walked past the front of the station and saw a little crowd of tube workers outside the also closed main entrance, I briefly thought of terrorism and chuckled grimly to myself that this was now one of my first reactions. A few years back I might have assumed the little orange jacketed gaggle with a sign were a picket line and that industrial action had closed the station... - yes, hold on, I am going somewhere with this...

Today is Margaret Thatcher's birthday , on the Today programme John 'I'm not a Tory at work' Humphreys was lining up tories to analyse her legacy; I had to content myself with not travelling to work on it.

While Tories who had exited stage left (was that Shaun 'seen which way the wind is blowing' Woodward) lamented the fact that Thatch's rhetoric had left the unwarranted impression that they gave not a sh*t about those who are always with us (the poor), I pondered that the real legacy was a bizarre constitutional settlement between government and business in which serious investment in public services was only ever viewed as truly legitimate if a fair proportion of it ended up in the back pockets of shareholders who had made no contribution whatsoever to producing the capital being invested and furthermore were shouldering very little risk - yeah, I know, tell that to Balfour Beatty over Hatfield or indeed Jarvis - I'm afraid I feel as much sympathy for them as I do for Railtrack shareholders.

Maybe the shareholders of these businesses would also have had something to say about Mrs Thatcher's legacy.

The Today programme's other 'big event' was an interview with Gordon Brown and one of the Tory hagiographers (Parkinson) chose to relate the two. He wasn't far off beam either, the comparison he drew was over the Labour Chancellor's style and comments on fiscal prudence and growth - and how this reflected the true legacy of Thatcherism - a Labour government that understood economics and that was fiscally prudent with respect to public investment (though oddly of course the Thatcher and Major governments invested heavily in some areas - like the Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf - just rather selectively, so that some parts of the country socially and geographically had longer recessions and rather different business cycles to others). Oh yes and furthermore he mentioned that Labour was currently reintroducing market mechanisms to the health service a la Thatch.

Gordon Brown was however talking about Europe, to be exact he was lecturing Europe on how the European economic model was inferior to the Anglo-American one and would be given it up the arse by the surging growth of the Asians and Chinese in an era of 'globalisation' - arguably the most stupid linguistic term ever invented - but let us not get onto that JUST NOW...

So perhaps Parkinson was right and here was the true legacy of Thatcherism. A Labour Chancellor lecturing European economies, which as Evan Davis had pointed out in an intro package were in most cases more efficient than ours (notably the French), about why the key indicator they should look to was neither the productive efficiency of their labour force nor indicators of social good but labour market flexibility and the degree of 'reform' implemented in their horribly well-resourced public services.

It was Gordon Brown of course who insisted that the only option for the tube was PFI, which is why the Northern line which I travel on - or rather don't - is now run by a company from inefficient old Spain - and don't get me wrong I am not blaming them particularly for my delayed journey this morning. The legacy of long-term lack of investment is far more to blame, as is the bizarre structure for current investment set up by Gordon's PFI deal, which makes it easier and more attractive to invest in new newspaper kiosks in stations than anything to do with the actual tube line or trains.

The interesting thing was that Brown simply refused point blank to address Evan Davis inefficiency point, that was clearly NOT the reason he had turned up for the programme, oh no, he was here to tell everyone how tough he was being on the Europeans, perhaps to distract attention from declining growth in the UK and general economic jitters - no probably not, surely?

Humphreys got lost and started going on about just how much industrial product the German economy exports - yes, you got it right, the sick mensch of Europe is still the world's biggest exporter. This is understandable - he's a bit traditional like that, and Brown refused to say anything apart from 'nah nah nah Europe is inefficient and Britain is great and I'm the best economic manager ever'. [Then he thumbed his nose, waggled his ears and blew water down his trunk and all the seals in the studio clapped their flippers together - and next it was Melvyn Bragg being clever with other clever people about mammals. Anyway...]

It was all rather familiar it reminded me of Blair being interviewed about the threat from Iraq you know the sort of feeling that he just wasn't listening - like he really knew he was right - and in fact knew something we just didn't over terror threats and such like, something which he couldn't tell us, as he took on the burden of leadership and worried on our behalf about an Iraqi-linked terror 'nightmare' - you remember, around the time of all that certainty in January 2003 when Blair was questioned about his belief in the threat from Iraq in the Commons, you know, before the war?

But enough of that eh? - anyone would think we were still 'at war' with them! Still, Brown's Today interview was, also, a remarkable performance in missing the point being raised by the questioner and just talking about whatever the hell you wanted to. The worry is that, like Blair, our Atlanticist Chancellor REALLY isn't hearing what people are saying - poor Europeans eh - fancy having a summit like that where someone just lectures you without listening to your point of view ?

After the PFI experience with the tube, from which we are all still suffering in London town, that sense of someone who isn't listening should sound a warning note for Brown's first term.

And here, gentle reader, I close, having brought us full circle to that Tory hagiographer's comments about Thatcher's legacy being New Labour's use of the market mechanism to reform the NHS, as some of us wonder exactly how Mr Brown intends to fund whatever has replaced it by the time he is PM ...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The rock 'n' roll deadstars

This just in and really it kind of speaks for itself:

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Even in death, rapper Notorious B.I.G. continues to surprise. The artist, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, who died in a March 1997 shooting, "duets" with fellow deceased music legend Bob Marley on a new single, "Hold Ya Hand," which was released Monday via AOL Music. It will also appear on "The Notorious B.I.G. Duets: The Final Chapter," due November 29 via Bad Boy.

"Hold Ya Hand" includes a sample of Marley's "Johnny Was." The rest of the album is still coming together, although Bad Boy promises participation from "some of music's greatest vocalists and MCs" and "the industry's top producers."

Apparently, Tupac will provide backing vocals and Kurt Cobain will rock out on the middle eight. Now that's what I call music.

I mean seriously, has the world gone mad? Answers on a postcard to the usual Lapland address.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

One in the eye for Jerry... and Jeremy

Really like the new Battle of Britain monument by the Thames which reminds me of all those Battle Action comics of yore.

It's reshreshingly triumphalist, unapologetically sentimental and, I suspect, anathema to many of the commentators of our sneery post-modern age. In a way, it celebrates not just a battle past, but a generation passing and their values. Tally-ho!

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Two laugh-out-loud moments in today's funnies (ok, the Guardian). The ever-reliable John Ronson and in the new Experience section of the mag I was a BNP activist... and converted to Islam, the ho-de-ho moment coming toward the end of the article when Muhammed writes: I have been close to the Hizbut-Tahrir group ever since...

So from British fascist to Islamofascist. And that's progress?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fashion World Rocked by Cocaine Shock

The Evening Standard bill outside my local shop flags up a London Fashion Week Cocaine Shock - yes, you got it, there's a shortage, boom, boom.

Fashion and coke are undemanding bedfellows and its no suprise to anyone that people in fashion, like people in pretty much every other walk of life, from farming to narcotics control, use coke. Quelle surprise.

Admittedly the particular characteristics of coke are peculiarly well-suited to the demands of the party-rich fashion circuit. Great skin-taughtening short-term side affects, you never run out of things to say and you can keep going until it all goes black (or white if you're unlucky) - what more could you want? (Well maybe something to say, some sleep and a bit of the kind of substance that sticks in your memory rather than to the baby oil that some asshole put on all the flat surfaces in the washrooms?... no waaay?) Then again, that said, those grrrreat frosty coke-characteristics suit merchant banking pretty well too.

This inevitably leads me to Bret Easton Ellis' GLAMORAMA - as good an indication as any of the dangers of hanging out with models while taking drugs.

Now admittedly Brett was never exactly Mr Sedate but in Glamorama he really was kind of Cleaning out his Closet, well, OK, Bret's closet never really gets that clean, or indeed that out but, moving swiftly on...

Despite the fact that Glamorama is, well, MENTAL, I like it and I sort of know where Bret's coming from in his reaction to the culture and indeed sub-cultures he's paraodying, though its worth saying that if he could just relax and lay off then, you know, he wouldn't wake up feeling that way... but HELL ain't it cathartic sometimes to just... well, whatever...
In this interview Bret discusses, among other things, the apparently forthcoming movie version of Glamorama by Roger Avary - unsurprisingly things aren't going TOTALLY smoothly, over to Bret:
"He's written a real spellbinding script for Glamorama. I think the problem is that it's an expensive movie to make and I think it's topic, which is Americans committing terrorism abroad, makes it not a very popular movie in development right now. "

Well it might be that but frankly its more likely to be a whole lot of other things I can think of. But still I'm pretty much looking forward to seeing how Roger copes with Bret's late night vision of Pret a Porter vs Abu Ghraib via Fassbinder.

Meanwhile the other battle in fashion's war on reality continues as H&M drops Moss over drug claims to enable non-metro suburbanites to go 'ooh, models drugs - NEVER... cos they, you know, really CARE about their BODIES 'n all...' and half the metro-elite keep writing it up like it isn't while the rest write drug books... and Everybody Gets High On Love naturally - on love.

As noone 'sez', ...keep it real!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lapping it up

I don't care about the bar of soap jibes, I like Alison Lapper's sculpture on the spare plinth.

Not only did I think it's full of beauty and grace, it made me proud to be part of a culture where someone like Alison is not shut away but can celebrate herself and be celebrated for it.

And I'm not being sarcy, neither.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Hey-Hey its the Thought Police... And They Ain't Monkey-ing A-round

I know, I know terrorism isn't funny any more (like religion - right Homeland Security Secretary Clunkett?)...

So I guess its probably only me that finds the spectacle of our great democratic hope Tony Blair lecturing an audience littered with dictators, demagogues and self-appointed monarchs, many of whom have never faced a democratic election, never mind a focus group of Daily Mail readers from Surrey, about the need for us all to pass laws which make it a crime to incite terrorism.

You can just imagine Robert Mugabe and King Abdullah nodding sagely, Robert turns to his advisor seated behind and to his left and smugly comments 'you see young man, we in Zimbabwe are one step ahead of these lily-livered western liberal imperialists - it has been a crime to incite terrorism against the state in Zimbabwe for many years'.

King Abdullah chuckles at this - 'yes' he says, 'and look at all this nonsense about one dead Brazilian, in Saudi Arabia we know a war on terror when we see one, you wouldn't catch my security forces announcing to the world that we shot the wrong infidel... ach ...I mean foreigner.'

But still Blair throws down gauntlet to UN and the nations pick up the gauntlet with gusto, while naturally failing to agree what terrorism is - not because there's a groundswell of discontent around the notion of accidentally outlawing a legitimate revolutionary or liberation movement (against yourself, because you're going to give a crap about that...) by accident - but because like most things its much better to leave your options open. Better to create your own national definition of thought crimes against your state than let someone else do it for you, right?

This business of The law and inciting terrorism is interesting (as Simon Gallant of Mishcon de Reya, solicitors to royalty, explains) so of course that's why we have a new set of proposals from our legislation-happy government, despite Mr Blair telling us all that its 'pretty obvious' when someone is or isn't inciting terrorism, or, as he folksily put it Bush-stylee on the Today Programme this morning, 'not playing fair' - yes gotcha this whole blowing up innocent civilians thing, that is definitely 'not playing by the rules' - right Tony! How's it go again:
"someone who comes into our country, and maybe seeks refuge here [yeah remember those evil asylum-seekers, yeah I'm talking to yoohoo Surrey focus group, pay attention - asylum-seekers, eeevil, threat to home and hearth, got it yeh? send 'em home? right...], the fact that we say if, when you are here, you want to stay here, play by the rules, play fair, don't start inciting people to go and kill other innocent people in Britain. "

- yeah, right, like those kamikaze-rucksack guys who were born in the North of our fair isle but whatever, we all know what colour they were don't we, so you know they're really foreign innit? Lets quietly forget that they're as British as the Hungerford Massacre Guy or the 'Soho Nail Bomber' ...

...yeah, yeah, I know its not that simple and there's this whole 'international dimension' because as you told the UN yesterday in one of your odder passages (and that IS saying something):

"This terrorism is a movement. It has an ideology and it has a strategy. And the strategy is not just to kill. It is by terror to cause chaos and instability and to divide and confuse us, the enemy of this terrorism.

"It won't be defeated until we unite, not just in condemning the acts of terrorism, which we all do, but in fighting the poisonous propaganda that the root cause of this terrorism somehow lies with us around this table and not with them."

"The terrorist attacks of the 7 July have their origins in an ideology born thousands of miles from our shores.

"The proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons will never be halted outside of an international consensus to do so.

"The UN can be the instrument of achieving the global will of the people. It must give leadership on terrorism.

"There is not and never can be any justification, any excuse, any cause that accepts the random slaughter of the innocent. Wherever it happens, whoever is responsible we stand united in condemnation."

Now the last bit we can't argue with - though all that 'thousands of miles from our shores' stuff does sound a tad like saying 'look guys this is your problem, sort it out'

...Not of course that we are leaving it at that, as Blair defends new anti-terror plans - oh no, over here we're going to outlaw 'glorifying terrorism' - because of course if we outlaw TALKING ABOUT IT that'll stop nutters like the last lot of jihadis with a one-way train ticket to Luton even THINKING about doing anything so downright 'unfair'and 'against the rules' of the hospitality they never had to ask for as British citizens... it just me or are we missing something in our rush to be seen to be employing a firm (and authoritarian) legal response?

Why is it that this is going to make me any safer?

And more appositely is this really the way we go about protecting liberty of conscience and freedom of speech?

Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say

Thursday, September 15, 2005

All change again at the Guardian

As a footnote to the Guardian's move to the European Berliner format this week this week's Private has an interesting little piece on a different kind of switch. Looks like the paper could be considering a permanent switch of politics as well.

The 2005 election saw the Guardian consider backing the Liberal Demoprats, but it seems this was no one off aberration. As the paper's circulation dwindles, it hit a new low in August's Audit Bureau of Circulation figures down 4.49% to 425,737, editor Alan Rushbridger actually wants to move the paper to the centre ground permanently.

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Well it has to do something. The Indescribablyboring is quite practised at stealing the Guardian's left of centre clothes with its endless frontpage sermonising. Of course, the Independent can do nothing else but sermonise - it has no money for reporters and real news, which is what I personally want from my newspaper. But hey, what can I say, I'm funny that way.

From Private Eye:

"For all the acres of broadsheet and Berliner size newsprint the Grauniad - or as it is now appears to be called, grauniad, devoted to its slight shrinkage, editor Alan Rushbridger did not find room to share with his readers one aspect of his future plans they might find mildly more interesting then the shift from Helvetica Bold to Egyptian.

"If I had to choose between occupying a nice on the left or being nearer the centre, whether you display that through your news reporting or your comment or both, I'm more comfortable saying this is an upmarket, serious, mainstream newspaper. There's more potential for growth there than taking comfort in political positioning," Rushbridger said.

Since this is the sort of thing that Guardian readers tend to find very discomforting, one might have expected Rushbridger to have found space in the four pages the paper devoted to the forthcoming redesign to mention it. But while readers were regaled with everything they never wanted to know about the "slightly wider 9.5pt vertical spacing for the body font on news pages" there was not a word about the paper's politics anywhere to be seen.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Happy families

Following a link from the Washington Post about America's declining popularity, I checked out the rest of the data on Transatlantic Trends and found some interesting stuff...

What the trends reveal run largely contrary to the usual media spin. They present a picture of the UK as a surprisingly liberal, green, europhile country. But enough of the editorial, here's some of the raw data...

Would you be willing for the EU to be a superpower even if it impies greater military expenditure?

YES - 51% UK. Compared to 53% France. 35% Germany.

Should the EU increase its military strength, even if this means spending more?

YES - 44% UK (No 49%). 49% France. 30% Germany.

How likely are you to be affected by the effects of global warming?

YES - 72% UK. France 82% Germany 71% (US 64%)

Favourable to the UN?

YES - 87% UK. France 94% Germany 94% (US 81%)

Now this was the thing that drew the US headlines - how they were perceived...

57% UK felt favourably about the US. 50% French. 51% Germany. (86%US)

But also interesting was how others were perceived:

FRANCE: UK 54%. Germany 68% US 53% (France 77%)
GERMANY: UK 56%. France 68%. US 60% (Germany 80%)
UK: France 57%. Germany 60%. US 72% (UK 79%)

So the French liked the British more than we liked them, and even though the Brits weren't too keen on the Yanks, the Yanks loved them almost as much as the Brits loved themselves...

Meanwhile future EU entrants the Turks felt thus:

UK 30%, France 29%, Germany 44%, US 28%... though they felt pretty good about themselves (82%). Given that the Americans are concerned that they are only liked by about half of Europeans, it is somewhat surprising that Europeans aren't less concerned by the relative hostility with which they are regarded by their would-be continental cousins...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sold out

Having just bought a second pad in Belgium, this article made me smile...

Obviously if one has connections in Eastern Europe (nod to Baz) it can be worthwhile, but otherwise why spend 200,000 on a two bed apartment in Kiev?

Apparently the great British scramble for Eastern European property moves so fast that already countries such as Croatia and Bulgaria are old-hat.

So why not check out Romania, where the rotting hulk pictured below can be scooped up for another 200K? Romania is a little-explored country which has plenty of attractive, inexpensive properties and huge tracts of unspoilt countryside, mountains and beaches on the Black Sea. Hmmm, quite.

I settled on Belgium precisely because the universal response was "Belgium?" in an "are you mad?" kind of way. So, figuring our national blind spot might have prevented the kind of inflation I found across the border in France, I thought I would check it out and scooped up a fully refurbished, period apartment in the centre of Ostend, home of Rene Magritte and Marvin Gaye. Just a minute from the 9K sandy beach, I paid a quarter of what I'd have to cough up in Kiev, or a sixth in Brighton, only an hour further away...

Mad? Maybe, but would you buy a secondhand mansion from this man?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How to get ahead in China

Do you Yahoo? Errr, no, but should you choose to do so in the near future bear in mind that the US portal will waste no time in putting in a quick shout out to the Chinese authorities.

Information supplied by Yahoo! helped put Chinese journalist Shi Tao away for 10 years.

According to Reporters without Borders Tao Yahoo! provided China's state security authorities with details that helped to identify and convict him.

"We already knew that Yahoo! collaborates enthusiastically with the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now we know it is a Chinese police informant as well," the press freedom organisation said.

Tao worked for the daily Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News). He was convicted of sending foreign-based websites the text of an internal message which the authorities had sent to his newspaper warning journalists of the dangers of social destabilisation and risks resulting from the return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre. Chinese state security insisted during the trial that the message was "Jue Mi" (top secret).

Oh why send it out?

While this particular case is one that concerns press freedom, it raises wider issues about the lengths that Western companies, not just media companies, are willing to go to in order to satisfy the regime in Beijing to gain access to the lucrative Chinese market.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My Everchanging Moods

The article linked to in the title of this piece is a treat - no really it is...

And not just because I'm a big fan of migration, of which more later...

First of all it is a reflection of the realities of modern Britain and our own dear Universal City, as Ken notably termed it when some narrow-minded bunch of northern gimps decided to pay us a farewell visit before catching the ghost train.

Above all though its a treat for its non-sequiturs and paradoxes. At one point the hapless reporter states that "Immigrants now comprise a quarter of the capital's population and in one area, Wembley, just over half of all residents." Fine, but he then goes on to say, in a confusingly separate sentence that "In all, four in 10 people who were born abroad live in London" - crikey - I thought the tube was crowded - clearly this is not surprising given that a quarter of the globe has moved in...OK, OK this is pedantry but further entertaining statements then come apace:

Nick Pearce, director of the IPPR, said the study showed the nature of immigration was changing.
"It shows diversity has changed considerably over the past 10-15 years."

Is it just me or is that funny - first its the cobblerisation of English since it is changing 'diversity' into a noun, rather than an adjective. Secondly its the mistake of talking conehead to the public and thirdly the notion of change within something amorphously varied and generally described just amuses me. Diversity has changed - oh yes - you are so right - its err now MORE diverse and there's err, MORE OF IT... or something like that - oh and its err DIFFERENT (to how it was before, and not just because the only constant is change...) WHATEVER! [I yell, choately, I hope in the sense of the opposite of inchoate...'whaddaya mean is norra word?!']

Moving swiftly onward...

AND on the other side of the ring, IN the BLUE corner, WEARING the BLACK shirt and swastika armband we have:
"Sir Andrew Green of the pressure group Migrationwatch said they welcomed the study.
But he added: "We believe there is a growing realisation that immigration simply cannot continue at these levels."
He said the government were "riding roughshod over the views of the public". "

Hmmm.... which public eh Sir Andy? The white ones with little moustaches that want to keep their pansies purest blue or the brown ones with beards who don't want any of their co-religionists getting their quaint rural bigotries exposed to the corrupting influences of western society? I dare say the late Mr Mohammed Sidique Khan would quite like immigration restricted so that he can radicalise a notionally oppressed and isolated minority while avoiding the irritating interventions of their relatives turning up from Pakistan and saying how great it is to be able to move to such a liberal and free country...

Still Sir Andrew is right, it JUST can't go on like this, because if it does he might find 'his' public isn't 'the' public any more- and that would be terrible wouldn't it, just awful, but where on earth will we send Sir Andrew home to then - the Isle of Man? Well it is an island full of sheep and surrounded by sharks I suppose...

Migration Watch, its such a cute name isn't it, makes it sound like a spectator sport - I watch migration too - round the corner from where I work the Meze Bar is now an Eritrean Meze Bar - it was probably Eritrean before but now it says so - clearly there are now enough Eritreans who can afford to eat in a cheap restaurant for it to make good business sense to advertise this. While sir Andrew shudders I feel cheered that another part of the world has joined our city universe - not drowning but waving.

Rising Tide

From the Times, the best article I have read on the NO tragedy, maybe the best article I have read recently period.

Inequality does not explain why anyone faced with the present crisis should wish to sexually assault a seven-year-old, as happened in the Louisiana Superdome, but it may help to rationalise the communal disintegration of the past week. Many of the boasts made on behalf of Western civilisation are just a handy by-product of Western money. We get along because we can afford to; in New Orleans, wealth was removed from the equation, and what values were left? This was not just a failure for central government but for social scientists, educators, mentors, role models, the supposed civilising influence we wish to impose around the world.

Friday, September 02, 2005


First I want to say that I take no pleasure in other's misery and I work with someone whose hometown is mentioned above.

The news from the US south has been a rollercoster of emotion for anyone with any connection to New Orleans, or for that manner an ounce of human empathy.

First we're thinking:
'They're evacuating the city?!'
'170mph winds?!'

Next we're heaving a huge sigh of relief that the other half of the transatlantic jazz relationship that flourished in the first half of the twentieth century appears to have escaped the worst of a Hurricane named after who exactly? [dunno but it sounds Russian to me]... then things got really f**ked up.

Then they got a lot more f**ked up.

I put it down to hyperbole until I heard this interview this morning:
British Survivors in New Orleans.
Hope that's the right bit but basically I'm talkin about the interview with the father of the British guy in the Super Bowl(?Dome - whatever).

This really was fairly surreal - he's spoken to his son on a call patched through by a US army Colonel
...Basically the guys been in a football stadium run by armed gangs for two days and got no water apparently (they just never get this you scratch mine thing...)
... Anyway he's escaped, and he makes the call via the ARMY but he's told that he's got to go BACK IN or he can't be saved (sub-text they are on-site but not in control - they're like in play but not PLAYERS... I'm REALLY not making this up...)

Anyone remember Escape from New York (1981)
Know what I'm saying...

Now we are told that President Bush condemns Katrina aid effort - well he might, things were pretty bad before some nutjob who'd watched Black Hawk Down one time too many before he mislaid his Qaaludes started taking potshots at the rescue helicopters...

Is this life imitating art or what?
...Or what? We may well ask

Before the ink was dry on the imagined stoicism of the Wretched of the South the crazy loons are taking all that stuff about 'fighting' to 'save their city' a little too (il)literally...

...Did someone mention pressure cookers? (...'lid' anyone?)

As Questions grow over chaos and Refugees tell tales of horror Bush 'condemned the initial response to Hurricane Katrina as "not acceptable"' - apparently 'The president, who is expected to go on to visit Mississippi and Louisiana - but not New Orleans itself [I wonder why] - said: "We're going to get on top of this situation.' - now this is one of the things I love about the USA [in a kind of 'nice to see ya, wouldn't wanna be ya' kind of way] - its the arbitrary factor, the notional powerlessness of the state, the sense in which American civilization is an idea not a reality (calm, I'm not saying they're not civilised...) and state power has a habit of disappearing in a puff of smoke when the shit hits the fan.

Our own dear premier frequently tries this and it just doesn't wash - in Britain we hold politicians responsible - a fact he seems psychologically and ideologically incapable of understanding except when he has a sudden attack of telling us how to bring up our children while being curiously elusive about the choices he makes for his own.

In the US however one just throws up one's arms in disgust at any f**k up and blames some aspect of local government, ...or the mafia, ...or the intrinsic fallibility of humanity, or the devil... even if you're supposed to be the Mr Big who runs the whole show (and has the authority to quite literally send anyone in the nation to their deaths without so much as a by your leave from Congress) .... is this is a marvellous piece of totalitarian trickery or a tacit recognition that 'i got mine' (the power of the state in international affairs and the largest patronage budget this side of Beijing) and 'you got yours' (the right to carry a firearm and form an armed militia, and buy whatever you can afford).

Its too early to say what the fallout from this terrible natural disaster will be and its also too early to speculate about the human factors influencing its scope and progress; though it does call to mind a piece of graffitti on the Holloway Road which states 'Its Global Warming Stoopid' [- its been up there a while by the way gentle reader... ] one thing is for sure however, if it first seemed like an opportunity to re-focus things for President Bush he must be wishing the Louisiana reserve didn't have troops, you know where as In Iraq, Troops Watch and Fret About Home - Los Angeles Times

I'm not saying a huge flood of London wouldn't be bad but having seen how dangerous a rucksack on a crowded tube can be, never mind a denim jacket in south London, I'm just glad I'm not allowed to carry a gun, something tells me it wouldn't make me more responsible ALL the time... And, overall, I think this helps.

OK, OK, I do wish to avoid trying to making trivial points in the face of disaster, but I guess I'm just saying that this reinforces my feeling that the supposedly monolithic power of a superpower is rarely so super at home as it appears to be overseas when its turned on an inferior opponent - and there are few less inferior opponents than the elements. Equally there are some very particular aspects of the organisation of American society and government which I suspect anyone who has been outside the glass and steel metropoli housing the American business elite will have noticed and when the shit hits the fan some pretty crazy stuff sometimes leaks out of the cracks in the American Dream.

But hell I guess we're all only Human - born to make mistakes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Cheers To Suicide! Where's My Martini?

Spotted this in the paper.

Here's to monday mourning the honey suckled dew
tattered kites sheepishly fighting floating o'er
green hills rolling ether
and ether cloggin the brain and sogging
numbed, dulled, misty, muted ...
greyed ...
swayed in a bouyant vacuum
Void and Nulled.

Here's to saluting the ashes of Amurken flags.
Here's to marching the blitzkrieg bop.
Here's to hands dropped and swinging (9 front 6 rear)
fingers curled torpor laugh.

Here's to the missing milk of fumescent flowers,
the keystoned soul holding ancient towers,
Hell, everybody knows
everybody knows
where this train ends.

Slinking slinking back from shadowed white walls
hallowed halls of marble
(not the altars of innocence).

The inexperienced have nothing to offer.
And there's no qwelling a phantom with fears
swelling tears wetting no flesh
nor the tangential tangled mesh of a lover's hair.

Sgt Thomas J Strickland of the 108th Armor Regiment of the US National Guard was killed in Iraq on August 15. He was also the author of a weblog where he detailed his experiences and published poetry. "What I'm after," he wrote, "is an outlet, an escape, a hiding place for the me that takes a back seat when I put on my uniform."

Friday, August 26, 2005

The wrong trousers?

Listening to David "Two Brains" Willets on the radio criticising the EU's embargo on Chinese trousers and some pithy woman defending the decision on the grounds that it was "hoovering up" the global low cost market from Bangladesh to the Philippines got me thinking...

About what if it aint the "end of history" (a very TETT thought this) hardly even the beginning... about what if, dreadful though the mad mullahs are, they're just a side-show... but not in a Power of Nightmares kind of way more your everyday, historical sort, just as back in 1905 the UK was battling Johnny Boer and still pointing most of its guns across the Channel in the direction of La Frog...

And these thoughts percolated with headlines about VJ Day (I was on the Tube by now) and the victory of the democracies over dictatorship... two dictatorships at any rate... and hopes for democracy in Iraq... and I thought...

Are we missing a trick here? Sure we just love those cheap Chinese trousers, as "Two Brains" pointed out, but who exactly are we dealing with? And isn't our avarice for trousers blinding us to the fact that they are produced by a dictatorship that ruthlessly crushes desent? And doesn't this avarice, which will ultimately, as the Pithy Lady pointed out, extend to cut price higher quality goods like plus fours and other specialist trousers currently being produced at home, lead to the destabilisation of our own economy, even democracy?

Were the Chinese simply turning Clausewitz's dictum on its head and conducting war by other means? Were they playing us at our own game, recognising that our greed would forego any democratic demands? Would we a century hence wake up within a society that had bowed to the Metropolis-like logic that the only way to compete in the trouser market was to run our society the "Chinese" way? Was this the masterplan of "Two Brains" and his Chinese backers, for all his silky talk of free trousers for the poor?

And had dashing, dynamic EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson spotted this terrifying trend and was even now battling against it, the un-sung hero of liberty, democracy, and the world's working class?

Go ahead and sneer, but it aint over till it's over... Or as the Chairman might say, see above.

Will history remember Mandy's lonely struggle on behalf of unaffordable trousers and democracy?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

It was God wot done it

Congratulations Nick, finding God in the most unlikely of places. Not only finding the big guy/gal but finding such a nice reasonable very English version as well! In the English countryside God is clearly a shy retiring sort as befits the traditional English character; a sort of kindly old uncle, the type you only remember at high days and holidays. You forget He's alive until Christmas and Easter and then you're a bit embarrassed not to have stayed in touch but He's really old and being all seeing and all knowing means your present to Him is hardly going to surprise Him is it, and He's certainly going to slaughter you at Trivial Pursuit...

We all have voices in our heads, call it conscience call it the Voice Of God, it might just be that you've still got your I-pod head phones on... the point is surely that not many people outside secure accommodation have ever felt it necessary to actually follow that inner voice. "Voices in my head made me do it" is an explanation given by the mad but it is also a common expression voiced by the religiously inclined. Suicide bombers on the internet tend to say they are doing God's work, in the States TV evangelist Pat Robertson has said that God wouldn't mind if the American army was to take out the President of Venezuela... take God out of the equation and what these quarter-wits are saying is I want to blow people up and I want to kill a south American head of state.

God's will always confirms personal opinions, whether it's an athlete winning a medal "with God at my side" or a suicide bomber on the tube set for Paradise and all those virgins (what's so great about virgins anyway? How did they die? Or are they just part of a Branson franchise? Or is it the one preposterous patriarchal fantasy Christians and Muslims have in common?)

David Hume said that religion couldn't be true because if one faith was right it would totally destroy the others, yet no believer is going to concede their one true faith... Organised religion, a recipe for conflict, a global game of my God's better than your God. It's amazing how each nation and time has a very different version; medieval French versus contemporary Islam anyone? Or how about today's Church of England versus its Crusader ancestors? You couldn't make it up... well actually...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Olde England #1

I heard a really great sermon at church at the weekend.

Ok, that's not that kind of thing you expect to read in this blog, but it's true, I did.

We had left Ikea and instead of turning back into London, decided to keep going up the M11, into that strange land that exists outside the M25, also known as England.

We ended up in countryside on the Essex/Suffolk border, all hedgerows, country pubs and hay fields.

We pulled up in the mostly medieval village of Lavenham, which can't be that behind the times as it has it's own snazzy website. We also checked out Long Melford, which also has its own website, though not quite as snazzy. I wonder if this represents some subtle marketing demographic...

Anyway, we went for lunch, which turned into dinner, which turned into an alcoholic evening, so we stayed. As bells peeled out the next morning, I said: "You know that big church we couldn't get into, how about checking it out now?"

"What, during a service?"

"Why not?"

Although clearly not convinced, my glamorous companion managed to dig out a mother of pearl cross that she placed piously over her breast (for fear of being struck down, I don't doubt) and we headed for church.

And very nice it was too. As we sat waiting for the service to begin, a Margo Best-Chetwynd Lady of the Manor-type complete in twin set and pearls came over to welcome us ("Are you new, or visitors?"

"Oh, we were just passing through then decided to stay the night"

"Why did you tell her that?" hissed glamorous companion, her cross beginning to pulsate hussy-red.)

The bells stopped and behind the alter emerged a procession of folk in white smocks, fronted by a bloke holding up a cross ("High church," I whispered authoratively) and sure enough, there was all that litergy stuff and hymns and things. In short, the usual bum-numbing suspects.

Then the vicar, a stand-in by the name of Richard Titford, began his sermon. It wasn't quite what we had been expecting.

"You don't mind if I come among you, do you?" he said, turning his back on the pulpit to position himself at the head of the central aisle.

He said he had a problem, and perhaps we could help him with it (I think this was a rhetorical bit). That surrounded by all this ancient beauty, how could he connect with us? He said that this was also a problem confronted by the gospel writers (and this was where it got interesting) that even Matthew was writing 50 years or so after Jesus's death, so he couldn't possibly have known what Jesus actually said (I noticed a white haired head begin to shake), that none of the gospel writers did - instead they were considering their own time and trying to make sense of it in the spirit of Jesus.

He said that even the gospels themselves were a self-selected bunch, created to conform with the needs of the time - a time when the Christians were under threat from Rome and there was a desperate need for a unified church to hold them together.

At this point I realised that Rev. Titford must have at least have glanced at my favourite (okay, the only one I've read) theological book, Beyond Belief: the Secret Gospel of Thomas.

Indeed, he went on to speak of the dozen or so gospels excluded from the Bible and his hope that one day he might be able to read from them all. Becoming increasingly excited, he rounded off by saying that although he had a duty to "the bishop and the church" he also had a duty to God, and if he had to choose, then it would have to be God.

He came to an end and hung his head. I for one wanted to burst into spontaneous Houses of Parliament Robin Cook applause, but was stilled by the frosty silence. My glamorous companion and I exchanged a glance, humbled I think, by the first honest sermon either of us had ever heard, even if it had come from a vicar who had clearly got into hot water for expressing these very views and was making a kind of swan song.

Oy tell thee that wall b'aint straight...

It was all the more ironic that Long Melford's usual Rev was away on a sabatical to learn about increasing church numbers when this pair of apostates agreed we would gladly attend more services if they were like this.

And perhaps that's the true trouble with the Church of England - not that it has gone too far, but not far enough. Allowing itself to be guided by members attracted by the simple certainties (read: fables) of the Bible is like the Conservative Party getting its members to choose their leader, or turkeys voting for Christmas. Alpha courses and the like are all very well, but in reality they only attract more of the same (gays to burn in hell? I don't bloody think so...) if via Land Cruisers and Mercedes.

It's not that most people in this country are irreligious (look how superstitious they are for heavens sake) rather that religion has become so irrelevant that they can see right through it. But instead of throwing out all that brutal Old Testament crap (Ten Commandments my foot, Moses needed to keep his people in line) and deconstructing early Christian writing to separate the wheat of what Jesus meant from the chaff the church used to keep his ideas alive, we have on one hand the Archbishop of Canterbury humming and hawing over gays and women and how tough it is to believe in a Tsunami God (never mind the Holocaust) and on the other happy clappers believing they can be "saved" and so can you if only you sign on the dotted line. No wonder most people turn to consumerism, agnosticism or atheism.

But if they won't let you preach in "God's House" Rev Titford, you're always welcome to crash around mine.