Saturday, May 20, 2006

Give this man a job!

Here is the BBC News 24 footage with the chap who went for an interview as an IT bod for the channel and ended up on TV.

The look on his face when he realises what is happening is priceless. He also does a bloody good job in the circumstances.

Amusing too when they cut to their reporter standing outside the High Court who says: "As your Mr Kewney remarked, it's come as quite a shock."

Friday, May 19, 2006

If it walks like a duck...

Human rights groups are raising alarms over a new law passed by the Iranian parliament that would require the country's Jews and Christians to wear coloured badges to identify them and other religious minorities as non-Muslims...

The Iranian parliament, called the Islamic Majlis, passed a law this week setting a dress code for all Iranians, requiring them to wear almost identical "standard Islamic garments."

The law, which must still be approved by Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi before being put into effect, also establishes special insignia to be worn by non-Muslims.

Iran's roughly 25,000 Jews would have to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, while Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth...

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has written to Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, protesting the Iranian law and calling on the international community to bring pressure on Iran to drop the measure.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who's who

Hats off to the Muslim Association of Britain's PR team. A representative from the hardline anti-democracy Islamists banned across the Middle East got to posit wither young Muslims to Jon Snow on Channel 4 News alongside Muslim Labour MP Sadiq Khan. Three hours later a group of young Muslims were interviewed by Ashad Ahmed on BBC1 London's News at 10 about whether they would ever sign up to MI5.

Unsurprisingly they all condemned the UK's foreign policy as the main reason they would never dream of such a thing. Among the three men and two jilbab-sporting women was the same chappy who had earlier piped up on behalf of the MAB on Channel 4 News.

C4's item was about why young Muslims were being radicalised.

When TV insists on depicting hardliners as ordinary Muslims, shouldn't the question be exactly who is radicalising who?

Space cadets

A judge rules gun-toting Afghan hijackers can stay in the country as refugees.

They made worldwide headlines in 2000 when they fled the Taliban by hijacking a Boeing 727 on an internal flight from Kabul and forcing the crew to fly to England.

Armed with guns and explosives, they held the plane at Stansted Airport for 70 hours before giving themselves up to police and SAS...

The nine are not allowed to work, but instead depend on state hand-outs and report regularly to the immigration authorities.

The cost to the taxpayer of the whole affair has been unofficially estimated at around 10 million pounds.

Meanwhile another UK court decides that a Crouch End twat caught hacking US computers in search of UFOs can be extradited to America under terrorism laws.

Last year Twat told the Guardian he had carried out most of his hacks in a north London house belonging to his girlfriend's aunt.

He claimed to have uncovered evidence of a secret space army of US "non-terrestrial officers".

In a lengthy judgment, District Judge Evans rejected arguments including the possibility that Mr McKinnon could suffer prejudice at his trial because of his political opinions.

He added: "I readily accept, if convicted in the US, the probable sentence is likely to be appreciably harsher in the US than, in comparable circumstances, it would be in the UK.

"It must be obvious to any defendant that if you choose to commit a crime in a foreign country, you run the risk of being prosecuted in that country."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

This Charming Man and the blood on his hands

I was at 10 Downing Street recently, which was interesting as it is a while since I have been able to observe our Prime Minister close up.

For a bit of context I should add that this was before the recent re-shuffle and also before the local election results which this sought to distract attention from, and arguably draw some kind of line under. Though quite how is a mystery, given that those most responsible for the dire results are still in the cabinet (Jowell, Beckett, possibly Prescott, and certainly the Prime Minister himself), while those least so (Straw) are not; for all that the jug-eared reluctant authoritarian, Clarke, is no longer dining at the big boys table.

The timing of my visit to number 10 is relevant because I was moved to comment to a colleague how assured and relaxed Blair still was in his role - far more so in fact than he used to be. While Blair's media friendliness has always been commented on from the moment of his election as Labour Party leader - and he has always given good TV - in person he was often slightly awkward and uncomfortable with informal interactions, whether involving small-talk or indeed unscripted questions on the detail of policy matters.

Emeritus Profesor Hugh Berrington of Newcastle University views that awkwardness, rightly I think, as the slightly distant psychology of one of the perpetually needy over-compensating outsiders who are so often elected as leaders of nations in order to fight their personal battles with low self esteem and compensatory paranoia across rather more substantial battlefields, such as those of the coalfields of the North and the oilfields of the Middle East.

Blair has now turned the remnants of this personal awkwardness into a faux self-deprecatory camp which he uses to great effect on all and sundry (he has probably always done this, but now the originating awkwardness is generally nowhere to be seen). Curiously the matured Blair act is more Prince Charles than Queen Margaret. It is very 'chat show' too, he didn't pull a guitar out on my visit but he was moved to a suggest that 'these days I think all we are good for is photo shoots' before strolling though for some shots during which he variously complemented everything from his audiences triumphs over personal adversity to their weight loss and muscle development.

Blair is at this point very much the finished article, ironically enough just as he is indeed finished. But he is still a performer, indeed a better one than he ever was.

All those in public life and indeed in any communication role have to be. It's important, you have to give attention to people, appear to focus on them, you have to look engaged and indicate that you have noticed them through comment, while also indicating - through thought and pauses - that you are paying attention to what they have to say - and, indeed, to what they represent, as well as to the simple fact of their prescence. This is all good, this is all necessary.

But now to business, as the PM may have thought as he left his photo-shoots to turn his attention to more substantial matters.

Blair's re-shuffle confirmed my reactions at number 10 in so far as it was in no sense the action of a man preparing to hit the US lecture circuit, though, for all that, one must also reflect that this is a man with a big, if not quite Clintonesque, ego and look a little at Clinton's final months in office. It is not in the nature of such egos to ever truly admit even to themselves the imminence of the loss of power and status about to befall them. America with its habit of calling all ex-Presidents 'Mr President' (did someone mention camp? - oh, get over it), building celebratory libraries and offering roving ambassadorships to the world and roles in reconstruction after national disasters such as Katrina, does much to assist the ex-leader in fostering this illusion.

That said Blair's elevation of his lieutenants and cheerleaders and demotion of those who appeared to have begun planning for a post-Blair world, offers little hope to those who would be glad to see the back of him soon enough for Gordon and the party to have a slim chance of re-building and refocusing in time to avoid the hung parliament which appears increasingly inevitable at the next election and which it is quite possible that Blair secretly sees as his true legacy to British politics.

That the likely coalition will be between the liberals and conservatives rather than inviolving Labour is a reality which the rest of the parliamentary Labour Party and what is left of the party in the country is gradually waking up to. Of course in Blair's wettest political dreams it would be between Labour and the Conservatives against the anti-warriors of Liberal Democracy but even Blair's great performances have not so detached Labour from its roots, nor indeed convinced those roots that the path he led us on to war was right.

Education, Education, Education

Salam Pax' former comrade in blogging Raed Jarrar explains (from San Francisco) another of the reasons why the world - and the middle east in particular - will be living with the consequences of the misguided decision to invade and occupy Iraq (as opposed to any of the other possible varients on that phrase which the war's cheerleaders conveniently ignored before the war and claimed not to have been made aware of afterwards) for a very long time.

In his ever-readable blog Raed in the Middle Raed also asks 'Is there an Iran "Dilemma"?'

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Zeina also shows, in a way that will surely give pause for thought even to those people in Britain who supported the war, how women's lives are being curtailed by the rise of religious fundamentalists who have stepped into the power vacuum. "All the time in the television and the newspapers there is propaganda concerning women. It is really disgusting, it is nothing to do with Islam, but everything to do with taking women back into the home and depriving them of rights."

To show the negative effects of these developments on women, Zeina travels to Basra. It will not come as news to those who have followed developments in southern Iraq that women are being forced to wear the hijab and prevented from living their lives freely. But it brings these developments home when we see young women and their families talking about being sent bullets and death threats because they played sport or did not wear a headscarf. As Zeina emphasises, this kind of experience is new to most women in Iraq, who enjoyed economic and social freedom before the occupation. "A while ago, I was looking at photographs of my aunt in college in the 60s, wearing pants and sleeveless tops, playing sports in the college yard; and then I looked at the photographs of the women in college today, and they are covered in black from head to toe, their faces also covered."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Atwar Bahjat

In February one of Iraq's leading journalists, Atwar Bahjat, was killed by insurgents while covering an attack on a mosque.

At the time, eye witness reports suggested she had been shot but evidence subsequently recovered reveals the grotesque reality of her murder.

Hala Jaber writes:

The voice of one of the Arab world's most highly regarded and outspoken journalists has been silenced. She was 30.

As a friend of Bahjat who had worked with her on a variety of tough assignments, I found it hard enough to bear the news of her murder. When I saw it replayed, it was as if part of me had died with her. How much more gruelling it must have been for a close family friend who watched the film this weekend and cried when he heard her voice.

Opponents of the war who delight in the charnal house that is modern day Iraq and, quietly among friends, derive some satisfaction in the mayhem, should reflect on this killing. But so too should the war's cheerleaders.

It is simply not good enough to take the Euston Manifesto's "war was right, peace was wrong" approach. It denies the inevitability of the one following on from the other - it is, to twist a term used often enough by the self-styled "hard" left, to divorce "right" from "responsibility". Bahja symbolised everything good they must have hoped would come of their war, launched on a wave of ideological wishful-thinking. Her dreadful end says much about its grim reality.

The film Fateless, based on an autobiography of the same name, tells the story of a 14 year old Hungarian Jew sucked up by the Holocaust. Throughout the film, Gyorgy rejects the notion - repeated by fellow Jews - of a shared Jewish "fate" of suffering. When he returns home, someone says to him, thinking to sympathise, 'it must have been the seventh circle of Hell.' 'Hell,' he replies, 'doesn't exist. The camps do.'

Myths drive our culture, but whether conjuring up Heaven or Hell we should be wary of confusing them with the real world.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

We choose...

to lose.