Saturday, June 05, 2004

Ronald Reagan 1911-2004

The cowboy who saw off the men in the black hats. Presented to Brits by the BBC, Guardian etc as a brainless simpleton. Now what and who does that remind you of ?

as seen by all good Guardian readers.

I liked what he had to say about Challenger :

It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

He's followed them now. I can think of worse people to follow.

Huzzah !

Someone else has noticed. British Spin sums up A L Kennedy's latest Guardian recycling thus :

"It's crap. What's more, It'd be crap if I agreed with it."

Thank heavens - I thought it was just me.

The Spinster of this parish also has an excellent post on Iraq.

"Hey - I've Been Tortured Too !"

The Guardian once again gives column space to Gerry Adams. No one should be surprised by the hypocrisy of the Sinn Fein/IRA front man. But how sad it is that the Guardian thinks he's a suitable person to expound on the morality of torture or ill-treatment.

"News of the ill-treatment of prisoners in Iraq created no great surprise in republican Ireland." says the MP for West Belfast. "We have seen and heard it all before. Some of us have even survived that type of treatment."

Quite - some of us have meted it out, too, but with a difference. If Adams, McGuinness and Danny Morrison's boys - Sinn Fein/IRA's internal security department (aka 'the nutting squad') get you, you don't survive unless you're rescued quickly.

"In January 1990, Sandy Lynch, an IRA volunteer who had been passing information to the RUC, was rescued by police as he was being interrogated in an IRA safe house in the Lenadoon district of West Belfast by members of the nutting squad. According to Lynch's court testimony, an interrogator called Fred Scappatici told him he would prefer to carry out the questioning in South Armagh, which he called God's Country. 'He (Scappatici) said that if I didn't admit to being a tout (informer) I'd get a jab in the a**e and wake up in south Armagh and he'd be able to talk to me the way he wanted, hung upside down in a cattle shed' said Lynch. 'He said it didn't matter about me screaming because no one would be able to hear.' As Lynch resigned himself to a terrible death, the RUC raided the house and rescued him. Among those arrested was Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein's director of publicity, who was known within the IRA as the Lord Chief Justice because because he held the power of life and death over an informer. Fred Scappatici was acquitted due to lack of evidence."

"On 30th June 1992, the bodies of three Portadown volunteers were dumped in South Armagh after they had been shot dead following interrogations lasting over a week. One had been tortured with a red-hot poker and another with cigarette burns."

According to Eamonn Collins, himself later abducted and killed by the Provisonals, most victims would tell their captors exactly what they wanted to hear and beg for their lives. In 1982 a part time UDR sergeant was abducted, his body found a week later. 'A man called Kieran told me that the poor b***** volunteered everything,' said Collins. 'He just p***** himself. They wanted information, they got it. They wanted to know the names of other personnel, he told them. But they still shot the guy dead'.

Dressed in a blue boiler suit, the body was still warm: the blood-sodden head was bound over the eyes with brown plastic tape and wrapped in a black bin liner.
The Derry volunteer (Paddy Flood, an IRA bombmaker) had maintained his innocence for seven weeks before 'admitting' what his interrogators had accused him of .... An Army intelligence officer said that he believed the IRA had been tricked by RUC Special Branch into thinking Flood was an informer. A senior Special Branch officer ... indicated that Flood had never been an informer. 'Every man has his limits and in the end he just told the boys what they wanted to hear.'

Information from Toby Harnden's 'Bandit Country - The IRA and South Armagh'

Friday, June 04, 2004

British Understatement Not Dead ....

Mr Dickerson told Mr Loveday about his decision to live as a woman last week. The news was reported to the 130 teachers and other staff at the school, who were "very surprised", Mr Loveday said.

Postal Vote Fraud Update

In Bordesley Green, the area of Birmingham between Digbeth and St. Andrews, more than half of all voters have apparently applied for a postal vote.

"There is a climate of fear in the inner cities where people are being intimidated and threatened.

"If thugs knock on your door and demand your postal vote, you don't refuse.

"In Bordesley Green various people are going around claiming to be related to one of our candidates and asking for ballot papers. Quite frankly, the whole system is in chaos."

Don't Mention The War

Jonathan Steele thinks Britain's continuing obsession with Hitler is unhealthy.

But what do you expect if, as he says, "an astonishing 60% of pupils who take history at GSCE level choose Hitler and the Nazis". That's because it has for years been almost the only course offered. GCSE history is almost totally 20th-century. Why ?

Because in our brave new educational world history is only studied in order to teach pupils what will happen "when someone makes a racist joke or homophobic comment".

It's difficult to extract any right-on moral lessons from the Duke of Marlborough or the Luddites. Only the Nazis will do.

A Taxi Driver Writes

Polly Toynbee, 56, of Hampstead

Had the entire population of Deal in the back the other night. If you ask me they don't deserve a Labour Government. Ungrateful lot of scroungers. Complaining about their benefits with £16K in the bank ! Sheer pig-headed ignorance, nastiness, mean-spiritedness and rudeness in my opinion.

They should be made to vote Labour. And if they don't - lock 'em up - and throw away the key !

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The Fearless John Humphrys

When Today's John Humphrys asks a politician a question and it's not answered it, he usually asks it again. And again. And points out the lack of an answer.

Not so if you're Simon Calder, 'a travel writer for the Independent', and you're spinning the Air Traffic Control story as a tale of woe and national embarrassment.

Humphrys asked Calder a reasonable question on how our record of ATC computer failures compared with those of other countries. After all, computer systems crash - it's only if we're worse than other people that we've got a bad news story. It was soon obvious that Calder didn't know, but preferred to waffle rather than admit it. Humphrys asked the question again, Calder repeated his disaster story.

One rule for our media mates and one for our elected representatives ?

Simon Calder " .. yet another sad incident of the sellotape and string which seems to hold together the air traffic control system in this country ..."

John Humphrys " .. I thought we had a fancy new computer system .."

SC "We have ... it was going for about five or six months ... it does seem to be a national embarrassment ..."

JH "Doesn't every other country have similar problems ? There has been a huge increase in air traffic"

SC "Oh sure, for goodness sake, air traffic control normally works brilliantly ... but when it goes wrong, my goodness it goes very badly wrong"

JH "Yes, but does it go wrong more often than it should, is really what I'm asking ?"

SC "Well certainly the cost of this to the airlines is in the tens of millions, there's no way they can recover that cash, that is lost money, people cancelling business trips, cancelling holidays, having to be put up in hotels for possibly several nights, it's happened at a very very bad time, and I'm afraid it's again a national embarrassment in this crucial industry for the UK, in which we punch well above our weight .. "

JH "Hmm"

SC "... it's terrible when things like this just grind to a halt".

JH "Well thanks very much for that Simon"

Next guest - Transport Secretary Alistair Darling. 'Are you going to raise fuel prices in September ?' asks Humphrys. Darling waffles, Humphrys worries the point like a terrier with a rat.

Listen to the whole thing (Realplayer needed) and marvel at the contrast.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Little Fluffy Chicks

We keep bantams, and every couple of years let one of them rear a brood, to make up for the losses the fox occasionally inflicts. The children like it too, especially after they've had to tearfully follow the trail of feathers through the wood when a favourite has been taken.

If a hen has six or seven eggs, once five or so have hatched she loses interest in the others and lets them go cold. All her attention is given to the chicks. Two years ago we were clearing out the unhatched, cold eggs, when we heard a feeble cheeping from two of them and saw that they had tried and failed to break out. So we took them indoors and delivered them by breaking the shells ourselves. One chick died but the other survived. The mother won't take them back so we ended up taking the chick on holiday with us and feeding it ourselves. They 'imprint' on the person who cares for them and so the chick (now a hen) is still tame and is always wandering into the house. The kids used to put her on the handlebars of the bike and gve her rides round the garden. Must find the photo.

We've got another one this year. The computer is on 24/7 keeping it warm, at night her (or his - may be a cockerel) box goes above the monitor which stays on.

S/he was hatched on Sunday. All blogging is currently carried out to an accompaniment of cheeping.

Your Postal Vote Frauds Tonight

In Birmingham the Liberal Democrats are convinced that a Muslim party are attempting some kind of shimmy with the ballot papers.

"Political activists clashed inside a Birmingham police station over allegations of widespread postal vote fraud at the forthcoming city council elections.

Supporters of the Muslim-led People's Justice Party remonstrated with a Liberal Democrat surveillance team which had been attempting to gain photographic evidence of alleged mis-use of postal ballot forms.

There were no arrests but the incident highlighted tensions in Bordesley Green ward, where a third of the 19,500 electors have applied for postal votes.

With the deadline for postal votes passing today, the city council has revealed it is dealing with a recordbreaking 60,000 applications for the June 10 elections."

"Saturday's dispute followed Lib Dem leader John Hemming's allegations that PJP and Labour supporters have applied for postal ballot forms for thousands of electors without informing the person in whose name the application has been lodged.

He claims party supporters then track postal deliveries of ballot forms and seek to persuade recipients to hand them over unsigned, an allegation dismissed as "absolute lies" by PJP leaders.

On Saturday, PJP leader Shouket Ali Khan and several party members argued with the Liberal Democrats outside and inside Stechford Police Station."

In Oldham it's the Lib Dems getting the rough end of the pineapple.

"A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said: “He was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and theft of ballot papers.”

The spokesman added: “At around 8pm on Friday, May 28, two men called at a house on Queens Road in Glodwick and offered to look after the ballot papers for everyone at the address.

“The family handed over five ballot papers, before the two men left.

“The following day the family contacted the police to raise concerns about the two men.”

Liberal Democrat leader in Oldham Howard Sykes tonight confirmed Mr Hussain had been arrested."

We're All Bohemians Now

Virginia Woolf's granddaughter, speaking at the Hay-On-Wye Literary festival, celebrates the triumph of the counterculture in Britain.

We can conduct relationships with people from any social class without fear of ostracism, while deploring oppressive, stratified societies.

Ah yes - I see so many underclass youths on the arms of Henriettas in Gold Cup Week, so many Tracys at Henley.

Our choice of friendships and love affairs is our own.

But our sexually transmitted diseases are shared.

The idea of chaperonage makes us laugh; women are independent. We recognise that children have potential which must not be squashed.

Instead of squashing our children we abandon them, or park them in front of a video - then when they misbehave, rather than smack them we drug them, secure in our liberal virtue.

We take it for granted that society is fluid, that informality will prevail. We do not expect to behave like marionettes at any social gathering. We are hatless, relaxed and on first name terms with people we barely know.

Ah yes - that must be why social mobility is decreasing. Or do you mean this ?

We live in a society that most people's grandparents would hardly recognise.

We also live in a society where crime rates are ten times higher than 50 years ago and where one third of the population would like to emigrate.

The glorious hypocrisy of the book festival is that this sort of stuff is always spouted in the most socially conservative, genteel places - places which our grandparents WOULD recognise. The chattering classes love to read the new Zadie Smith or hear Benjamin Zephaniah discussing his new book, "Gangsta Rap". They're just not so keen on meeting 'three friends excluded from school who find their strengths and identity through hip-hop' on their way to that nice little teashop.

Hay, Edinburgh New Town, Cheltenham, Aberdeen, Shetland, Bath.

Why not Aston, Easterhouse, Peckham, Shildon, Bradley Stoke ?

David Aaronovitch has the answer. "We're safe here in Hay ... miles away from explosions, inner-city crime, miles away even from suburbia."

And that's why the Billy Braggs, the (late) Joe Strummers, the Rod Liddles, the Jeni Murrays and most of my liberal friends, when the children come along, leave behind the consequences of their own beliefs and head for a leafy, conservative county. The consequences are for other, poorer people to face.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Brave BBC Bod Battles Bigoted Bible Bashers

What could be more traditionally English than the village fete ? And they don't come much more traditional than the Grand Village Fete at Thrupp and Brimscombe in Gloucestershire's beautiful Stroud Valley.

"At 11 am the first balloon race, launched by TV Presenter Nick Page, signals the opening of the FĂȘte. This is followed by a procession, led around the field by the May Queen. The mainstay of the FĂȘte is the many familiar competitions which are taking place throughout the day: - fancy dress, juggling, town crying, beautiful baby, ripping up Yellow Pages, doggie competitions, knobbly knees and the now famous – jam doughnut eating!"

But alas at 11 o'clock the only thing to go off was TV Presenter Nick Page himself. He had spotted a stall run by a local Christian group called PETRA, who believe in the literal truth of the Bible. The Daily Telegraph reports :

Only moments before the fete was due to begin, the organiser, Liz Peters, was handed a hand-written note.

"Liz, apologies, but due to the religious propagandist overtones of the fete I will be unable to assist," it said, adding, "Regards, Nick Page." Together with the note, Page had returned his judge's badge.

To Page, 33, a stand-up comic and former national debating champion, Petra's presence was like a red rag to a bull. "I am quite argumentative," he confessed.

"But we've got a Christian fundamentalist prime minister sending hundreds of people to their death every week and I couldn't believe people were promoting these sorts of ideas - at a village fete of all places."

Indeed. A Christian stall at a village fete ? They'll be having the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Brimscombe judging the baby show next.

Nick Page, a former estate agent, presents the BBC2 afternoon show Escape to The Country. It also shows in the land of creationism, America.

Straw hat tip to Blognor Regis, who described Mr Page unkindly, but not unfairly. Were he any further up said aperture he'd have a self-contained flat there.

Of course in one sense, as Blognor says, this story is very minor. But just imagine a BBC presenter walking out of an engagement because of the presence of a Muslim or Hindu stall. He'd be out of a job faster than you could say 'Kilroy-Silk'.

An Academic Writes

In (where else ?) the Guardian :

"British forces engaged an armed and disorganised crowd of Iraqis south of the town of Amara and killed up to 40 people. There has been no government questioning of the enormously disproportional rate of casualties."

So says "Kamil Mahdi ... an Iraqi and lecturer in Middle East economics at University of Exeter ".

Thank God he doesn't lecture in military history. I'm quite happy that when our troops engage an armed enemy, disorganised though he be, the casualties are light on our side and heavy on theirs. Long may it remain so. What would our economics lecturer prefer ?

"Come on, lads, lets see a bit of disorganisation ! Don't want our casualties too light, do we now ? Wouldn't look good in the Guardian !"

But when he writes "let's face up to it - we are torturers too" he's too hard on himself and his countrymen. Not all Iraqis did things like this.

There's another view of torture in this Guardian interview with Marianne Pearl, widow of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. A number of people are awaiting trial in Pakistan for his murder.

"What about the fact that the culprits were allegedly tortured during the investigation? Pearl's eyes flash. "F*** 'em. I was tortured too.""

UPDATE 4/6/04

I've only just realised. When Kamil Mahdi complained about the disparity in casualties between 20 British soldiers and 100 armed insurgents, he was talking about this - the first British bayonet charge since the Falklands. Carried out by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Mr Mahdi, an Iraqi exile, predicted the war would bring "unimaginable human consequences, occupation, US control of oil, crushing of the Kurdish autonomy, and regional repercussions that favour brutal Israeli aggression". He argued that "an end to dictatorship and a transformation of the lives of Iraqis must be achieved by empowering the people inside Iraq. Responsible opposition must have faith in the Iraqi people, in it's history of struggle for independence and democracy, and its resilience in reconstruction. It must engage with humanitarian and peace-loving forces all over the world including the growing
courageous anti-war movement in the United States."

"Empowering the people inside Iraq" in the context of Saddam's regime presumably means civil war. Can't see the courageous anti-war movement being of much assistance there.

Mr Mahdi writes for Red Pepper as well as the Guardian. I must admit to feeling a bit peeved at paying taxes (I presume Exeter are paying him) to support someone who thinks not enough of our soldiers are being killed. I wonder how the soldiers and their families would feel if they knew ?

Monday, May 31, 2004

Robingate - The Intifada Begins

From the Brighton and Hove Forums :

Little Robin Chicks
You Flew into a Cafe
A Serious Crime
S****ing in the Latte

Now you are dead
Wyvale Garden Centre's deed
Yet they have the nerve
To sell wild bird seed

And so the call for war against the Wyvale Garden Centre goes out, and we will roast their stomachs in hell for their heinous act of robinicide, and we shall smash their gnomes, break up their potting sheds and reduce their greenhouses to shards. Those responsible for this avian slaughter will face the torment of 1000 watering cans and we shall insert daffodil bulbs in their orifices.

Islamophobia News

In Saudi Arabia, an escapee has said that Saudi forces allowed the killers of 22 people to escape. There currently seems to be some doubt as to whether anyone taken hostage survived - those 'rescued' all appear to have been hiding.

The Independent says the attack "shows the bitter harvest America will reap from Iraq". The dead were :

Eight Indians
Three Filipinos
Three Saudis
Two Sri Lankans
One American
One Italian
One Swede
One South African
One Briton
One Egyptian

In Karachi, 10 Shias were killed in an explosion at a mosque the day after a Sunni cleric was shot dead.

In Thailand a 60-year old farmer was found beheaded with a note saying that arrests of more innocent Muslims would result in the beheading of more innocent (Buddhist) farmers. Bad karma or what ? Look what happened to the innocent Taleban when they blew up the innocent Bamiyan Buddhas.

And in Britain, a Government committee met to discuss "draft a plan to tackle the roots of Islamic terrorism in Britain." Key to the strategy is an orgy of liberal apology and breast-beating.

The Guardian is already on board, but Mel P. gives the upcoming report of the Runnymede Trust's Islamophobia Commission the traditional pre-emptive shoeing, noting the involvement of Dr Richard Stone, Racismfinder-General at the Macpherson Enquiry and quoting his words to Metropolitan Police commissioner Paul Condon.

'It seems to me, sir Paul', he said, 'that the door is open. It is like when Winnie Mandela was challenged in the Truth Commission in South Africa by Desmond Tutu to acknowledge that she had done wrong... she just did it and suddenly a whole burden of weight, of sort of challenge and friction melted away... I say to you now, just say, "Yes, I acknowledge institutional racism in the police"... Could you do that today?'

The report on Macpherson, 'Racist Murder and Pressure Group Politics' by Norman Dennis, George Erdos and Ahmed al-Shahi is available here as a pdf file.

UPDATE - the report is out. You can read some of it here. I'm not sure it helps the perceived problem when the BBC spin the report as 'we'll riot if you say we're violent' and illustrate it with a picture of said riot.

Are The UKIP Blair's Saviours ?

This time last year I thought it likely that the BNP would be looking at 10-15% of the Euro vote and several seats. I also thought that the vote would not necessarily reflect the innate racism of the Brits but would be a 'Not In My Name' vote directed at all three main parties. The vote would however cause much soul-searching among Labour activists and theorists.

It's beginning to look as if the "Tory", respectable tranche of the potential BNP vote could well end up with UKIP, who are also taking support from the mainstream Tories. Some polls are showing them at 15-20%. The BNP are looking very worried.

Last time out UKIP came from nowhere to get three Euro seats, and promptly vanished from the political map. I wondered whether they might break apart - their founder is now a Tory. Yet they're back with a lorry-load of cash, judging by the posters all over Swindon town centre as well as prime sites in rural Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

This could be a good short term trend for the Government and Tony Blair. If a loss of Muslim and anti-war votes to the Lib Dems is more than compensated for by a loss of Tory support to UKIP, and the BNP is also squeezed, a few more UKIP members in the European Parliament will be a price well worth paying. Especially if their influence on everyday politics is non-existent. Given that these elections were always going to be bad ones for Labour, it could be the least worst option.

UPDATE - Stephen Pollard lays into UKIP but I think misses the point.

"Even voting Green in 1989 would have been more sensible, despite that party's lunatic beliefs, than voting UKIP today. The Green vote was taken, rightly, not as an endorsement of its specific policies but as a general concern about the environment. UKIP, however, only has one recognisable message: pulling out of the EU. Supporting that idea - and a vote for UKIP cannot be seen in any other way - would be a terrible blow to euroscepticism, since it undermines the idea that we can reform from within and hands the argument to the Eurofanatics who have always alleged that eurosceptics are in reality eurohaters."

All very true if you're talking about voting as a rational act designed to bring about a desired outcome, in this case EU reform.

But if the desired outcome is merely to raise two fingers, a UKIP vote fits the bill very well.

And Peter Preston in the Guardian blames the rise of UKIP on those awful right-wing newspapers, though he doesn't say whether he takes any credit for Respect.


"One of the wonderful things about the modern British is that they are no respecters of persons, however elevated. The old culture of automatic deference has all but dissolved." - Guardian editorial 10/09/2003

Tracey Emin, bless her, doesn't read the Guardian.

"I'm not saying they have to understand it, what I'm saying is don't laugh when it all burns down.

It is just not fair and it's not funny and it's not polite and it's bad manners."

Tracey Emin is 41.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Random Photos and Nasty Video

The BBC is promoting National Vegetarian Week, which reminded me of a postcard I saw on sale in Missoula, Montana. The version I found on the Web seems to be aimed at the good people of Wyoming (Wyomians ? Wyomingians ?).

Roger Waite's site also features a couple of classic cricket shots - Merv Hughes warming up, accompanied by the crowd :

and Dennis Lillee bowling to a field of wicketkeeper and at least eight slips :

Adding tracking to the site gives stats on the pages people have come from. I'd never heard of and can't read Arabic, but this page speaks for itself. It also links to two video pages for people with fast connections and strong stomachs. At 56K I didn't watch either all the way through. While it's not good enough to say of the occupiers - 'we're not as bad as Saddam', I guess there's bad and there's bad. As Tim Newman's Royal Marine friend said "If I get captured by the Iraqis and the worst that happens to me is I am led around on a dog leash and p****d on, I'll be thinking "Oh, happy days!"