Saturday, November 08, 2003

ITV - Pathetic

Having woken up (along with three boys) to watch South Africa vs New Zealand, surely the outstanding game of the RWC so far, we discover ITV are not showing it on terrestrial TV. Instead we can see "Diggin It", a programme specially for children with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Also credit to Lloyds TSB for their handy World Cup guide which shows the game incorrectly as ITV1.

What a cretinous decision. A chance for ITV to do it properly, the way the BBC have done for years, and they've blown it. Indeed it could be argued that the BBC, in 40 years of showing the Five Nations, helped create the modern game, now busy selling itself to the highest bidder. Do ITV deserve the World Cup ?

I miss the 10 minutes of analysis you'd get on BBC at half time. Now you get 7 minutes of adverts and 3 of analysis.

Still, the coverage has been sold, home England games are sold to Sky - what further purpose does the BBC have ?

Wimbledon I suppose. Imagine adverts while they change ends or get new balls.

So tomorrow and tomorrow ... mixed feelings. I don't think my beloved Wales can do it. If they beat England they won't beat NZ, whereas England are capable of winning the trophy. Certainly don't want the Offside Aussies to do it.

At least we can cheer on Ireland wholeheartedly.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Those Rumours

I would just like to make plain the following :

1/ I completely deny them, whatever they are

2/ No corgis were hurt in any way.

3/ The African dance troupe involved have returned home and will not be pressing charges.

4/ All the industrial equipment has been returned, undamaged, to the hire shop.

5/ The members of the Farmers Bloodhounds were unanimous in their view that the experience had been a most enjoyable one, despite the horse that sadly had to be destroyed.

I hope this statement will finally lay the rumours to rest.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Today's Spam

After the Barclays, Halifax and Lloyds Bank scams, I'm suddenly being bombarded with what appear to be 'email undeliverable' messages, as if I'd sent mail that couldn't get through. Viewing the mail source it appears to be a 'post one dollar to the following' type pyramid. Ho hum.

Better news is that Lovecraft's best fantasy novel, 'The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath' is being made into an animated film.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Monbiot - a new Jeremy Sandford ?

George Monbiot is horrified at racism towards gypsies, as shown by the burning of "pikey" effigies at a Sussex bonfire. What would he think about the following incident ?

It was giro day, and the Price travelling family, or their menfolk, had arrived at the DSS office in the High Street to collect the child benefit and social security. A group of men from my village were waiting for them in vans, armed with iron bars and baseball bats. The Prices fought back but were outnumbered and badly beaten in front of horrified shoppers. Several were hospitalised, some for months.

But no outraged editorials were penned in the Guardian or Independent. The Gypsy Council didn't get an interview on the Today programme. The incident slipped under national news radar. Why ? The perpetrators were another branch of the same travelling family, the branch who lived on a site at the edge of my village. No-one in the village seemed particularly fussed - the general view was of a rather spectacular and large-scale 'domestic'.

Police eventually arrested the culprits, several of whom, including the patriarch, served prison sentences.

Monbiot worries about racism, I'm more worried about the enduring hostility to lower-middle class people like the "good burghers of Firle" from upper-class snobs who romanticise travellers. Though to give him his due, he managed to avoid the usual net curtains and privet hedge cliches used by those who think true evil comes with a neat lawn and a second-hand Mondeo.

His logic defies belief. After giving chapter and verse on the sufferings of gypsies ("Throughout eastern Europe, the Roma are still denied employment, herded into ghettoes and beaten to death by skinheads." What, all of them ? How about 'throughout Britain, old people are still denied employment, herded into nursing homes and beaten to death by muggers." ? ) he wonders "why, despite so much evidence of persecution, are expressions of hatred towards Gypsies still acceptable in public discourse" ?

Well, if gypsies are the subject of State and private persecution in the UK, then surely you can see that the likelihood of people saying bad things about them is greater than if they were a cosseted and lauded group ? Though I would query how public a discourse Firle Bonfire Society's parade might have been, were it not for the BBC and people who write Guardian articles.

But he knows why we do the evil that we do. "Envy lies at the root of racism. Racists associate Jews with money and black people with sexual power, but our hatred of Gypsies may arise from a still deeper grievance, the envy of a people whose instinct for continual movement is frustrated by the constraints of the humdrum settled life."

Now there's a grain of truth in that last part. Anyone who's witnessed a suburban cricket or rugby side on tour, or young Brits on holiday, knows the wild, liberating power of (temporary) rootlessness, manifested though it may be in drunken vandalism or sexual misbehaviour. But the first part is surely as wrong as wrong can be. Did the poor people of Poland and the Ukraine really associate the (equally poor) Jews with money ? Did they envy them ? Did the slave-owners of America and Jamaica, or the British imperialists of Africa, associate black people with sexual power ? Did they envy them ? To ask the question is to answer it.

Surely these are more modern concepts. Perhaps they tell us more about George Monbiot than about racism. Projection, anyone ?

Anyway, the good news for George Monbiot is that those few Roma who escape being herded and beaten by skinheads will be starting to arrive here next May, when the Eastern European countries join the EU. The existing European nations, fearing a sudden influx of Eastern Europeans, have imposed a seven year restriction period on immigration from the East.

Only one major EU nation will allow unrestricted immigration immediately. Guess which one.

Currently the British Government maintain representatives at Prague Airport whose job it is to stop illegal immigrants, mostly 'Roma' gypsies, from boarding flights to the UK. From May next year all the citizens of Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, including the 1.6 million Roma, will be free to reside, work or claim benefit in the UK.

The Government are relaxed about this prospect, Migrationwatch are not.

"The really wild card is the Roma question. A UN study last year found that 80% were unemployed and one in five were permanently hungry. The governments of Eastern Europe have been urged to pass laws to outlaw discrimination. It is, however, hard to say what impact this will have on the lives of the Roma and how they will perceive the alternative of migrating to Western Europe, particularly Britain.

Any forecasts are highly questionable for such changed circumstances. However, the Home Office upper estimate of 13,000 is both highly theoretical and divorced from the realities of the new situation after accession. It is almost worthless. A more realistic “back of the envelope calculation” suggests 40,000 a year. A major factor will be the reaction of the 1.6 million Roma in the candidate countries to the new opportunities which they will enjoy."

George Monbiot's romantic view of travellers is reminiscent of the late Jeremy Sandford, playwright, travellers advocate, and author of "Gypsies" (quotes when I find my copy), another upper-class enviro-hippy with a dislike of straight suburban types. A hilarious Telegraph obituary here - I particularly like Sandford's portrait of his second wife.

"Sometimes she spends part of the night roaming the woods," wrote Sandford. "And at times she has refined her spirit through gazing at a candle. I return to find her composing a song with the help of her autoharp while concocting a flower remedy by distilling the essence of rare flowers."

Very Spinal Tap.

"Throughout his life Sandford continued to dislike the middle class. Either side of that bracket lay an aristocracy, whether of the dispossessed or the rich. He was a snob in both areas."

Peter Briffa also takes aim at 'Moonbat'.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Scottish Republican Terrorism ?

A seventeen year old was last week jailed for sending threatening letters to various public figures, and aromatherapy oil laced with caustic soda to others.

"Edgar Prais QC, defending, said his client had been ordered to send the packages by the head of an anti-English Scottish terrorist organisation, which cannot be named for legal reasons.

This stirred a memory. Every February half-term we visit Scotland, often staying in the Glencoe area. A couple of years ago I noticed several police cars in Glencoe village car park, and a couple of coaches arriving. My next door neighbour apologised for them, told me they were Scottish Republicans, not to let them hear my English accent, and to get the children indoors.

So naturally I went to take a look at them. They were marching, ostensibly, to commemorate the Glencoe massacre. They were youngish - twenty and thirtysomethings. And most strikingly, half of them were wearing black berets and dark glasses. 'These people want to be the IRA' I thought.

And here are the IRA, in Republican Sinn Fein guise, speaking at the 2003 Glencoe rally. Brought to you by those good, freedom-loving people at Indymedia UK.

Scottish Republican sites seem pretty diverse, from the Celtic Twilight (with a bit of Yeats or Crowley - where do the Knights Templar come into it ?) through the earnest to the frankly creepy.

And how exactly does this site fit in ?

A Fossil of History

While reading about Jewish immigration to the UK during the 1930s, I noticed references to a Soviet 'Jewish Autonomous Republic' set up on the Manchurian border in the revolutionary ferment of the 20s and officially sanctioned by Stalin in the 30s.

It's still there.

Just north of the Chinese border, between the Ussuri and Amur Rivers, in some of the most difficult terrain in Russia, part forest, part swamp, with hot summers but bitter winters. The area was the setting for W.E. Johns "Biggles Gets His Men".

"So there are tigers there, eh ?" murmured Bertie.
"Plenty. The Amur tiger is first cousin to the Bengal tiger. There are panthers, too, and bears. Their skins are another export."
"What about the country itself ?" asked Biggles.
"Well, one's first impression is that nature has played a cockeyed practical joke. That is due to the fact that you are at the spot where the Arctic and the tropics bump into each other, so to speak. Thus, you get the flora and fauna of both - tigers, panthers, wild boar and pythons tread the same tracks as reindeer, wolves and sables."

A short history of the Republic is here, a 1991 Guardian article on the remaining Jews here, and the views of US venture capitalists here. Pleased to hear about the micro-brewery, not sure about "the Jewish Autonomous Region’s unique version of Jewish home cooking" and interested to hear of the 80,000 hectares of uncultivated farmland - that's 80% of the arable land.

"Whereas much of the Russian Far East is dominated by passive Soviet-era managers with a greater taste for vodka than serious business, the 200,000-person JAR bustles with primitive, entrepreneurial energy, and has a feel not unlike the Garment District of lower Manhattan."

Can't say I know the Garment District but it sounds a bit Brick Lane to me, if you can imagine a Brick Lane with a population density of 20 per square mile.

What's the skiing like ? Uh-oh.

"Forests cover almost half the territory, but the wood is not export quality. The climate is monsoon. Winter is cold and dry with a little snow. The average temperature in winter is –22 – 25C, and in +20 – 25 in summer." Whew ! Pretty fierce winters but not much snow !

As well as Russians, ethnic Koreans, Chinese and Jews, the region is home to the Ussuri Cossack Host, as well as the shamanistic Orochon people, whom Biggles and Co. weren't too keen on.

"The people lived by hunting, and buried their dead - if we can say buried - in trees. The body is rolled in birch bark and hoisted up out of the reach of wolves. You come across these grisly cemeteries all over the place. After the funeral everyone gets drunk on vodka. Drinking seems to be the only recreation".

"Nice people," murmured Biggles.

A more sympathetic portrait of Orochon hunters here, bearing out Capt. Johns' observation that "what with flesh, fish and fowl, a man with a gun need never starve".

Oh no - he's sold out already !

The Blessed Michael Howard worries Melanie Phillips - and scares me too - in this Telegraph interview.

'To be fair, I think the Conservative Party was slow to realise the way in which the country was changing. I think that the way in which the country had changed was symbolised by its reaction to the death of Diana. We are in many ways a different country from what we were 20 or even 10 years ago. People have a different approach in the way they lead their lives and that's something the Conservative Party has to recognise and embrace.'

Yikes ! Don't go there ! As Mel P. says

"The undoubted Dianafication of the country is a change for the disastrous -- a plunge into sentimentality, false emotion, manipulation, infantilism, self-centredness, irresponsibility and hysteria. If the Tories are going to embrace this, it will be a case of the unelectable grovelling before the unspeakable. "

Is this the shortest honeymoon in political history ?

Aren't minorities all liberals ?

As a good Guardianista, only a few years back, I well remember the shock of reading a right-wing piece on a bulletin board, supposedly from a publication called 'Jewish World Review'.
There can't be such a thing as a right-wing Jewish magazine, I thought - surely all Jews are good liberals like myself and my friends ?

So it really upsets some on the left (and Nick Cohen), when a Jewish child of asylum-seekers not only fails to line up with the asylum lobby, but actively disagrees.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Private Education, Private Education, Private Education

Diane Abbott explains the indefensible in the time-honoured manner - with a neat twist.

"I would have done anything not to have found myself in the position I was in this year. I had to choose between my reputation and my son. I chose my son. "

Wipe away tear. What mother could do less ? But wait !

The reason I had to make this choice is because of the catastrophic failure of black boys in Britain’s schools. I have campaigned around black underachievement in schools for the best part of a decade; setting up a study group called Black Men in Crisis in 1995; holding a series of conferences on this issue and recently launching the London Schools and the Black Child initiative.

Ah - it's not London state schools as such - it's 'a system that has been failing black boys for three generations'.

Must be all those racist teachers.

Just down the page a Mr Chris Woodhead isn't so impressed.

Hackney children do not underachieve because your government has failed to throw enough money at the problem. They fail because the government has not had the courage to confront the vested interests, ideological and bureaucratic, that you exemplify so perfectly.

You know best, don’t you, Diane? You really believe that Hackney’s educational problems stem from the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority. You really think that more money is the answer. You are really proud, aren’t you, of the fact that you have “campaigned around black underachievement for the best part of a decade”? The truth is that your campaigns have distracted attention from what needs to be done. Black boys are failing for much the same reasons as white working-class boys are failing. They are not learning to read. Expectations are too low. Discipline is too lax. We need less hot air and more action. It is not rocket science. There are already head teachers in London schools who are raising standards in an extremely impressive way. The challenge is to replicate their success, not to enhance your reputation as a black politician.