Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ten Things I Would Never Do

Tory blogger and "A-lister" Iain Dale has launched a "Blog Meme" (Ten Things I Would Never Do) which has kindly been passed to me by Tiberius Gracchus of Westminster Wisdom (see Links). Some of the best have already been taken up: "...knowingly be sexist, racist, homophobic" (Gracchi), so long as sexism doesn't mean finding pretty girls pretty I'm on board; "accept that anyone was socialy superior to myself" (Skipper); "Have sex with a man" (Skipper), well, not knowingly, although they do say any port in a storm (that's a joke, by the way). Anyway here is my ten, rather less morally uplifting than most other lists:

10: Stop loving The Simpsons (Homer is my hero...).
9: Watch Big Brother, or I'm A Celebrity, or similar rubbish.
8: Read a "novel" by Jeffrey Archer (his Spitting Image puppet used to sit in front of a typewritter which had only 4 letters: "C", "R", "A" and "P").
7: Sell my bicycle (too much history...).
6: Become an accountant (I'd rather die).
5: Buy The Sun or allow a copy of it to cross the threshold of my house (It Shall Not Pass!!).
4: Stand up for or sing the British national anthem or show anything but contempt for the House of Windsor.
3: Cease to hate Margaret Thatcher.
2: Vote Tory.
1: Drink keg if there is a cask alternative.

One is supposed to nominate 10 other bloggers to list their 10. Most of those I would nominate have already been nominated; but of those remaining I nominate Dreadnought at View From the North; Elephunt at Impossible Promises; and Robert Jackman at Double Negative (see Links for all these).

Blair Apologises

No. Not for Iraq. He is going to apologise for the massacre of prisoners at the Battle of Agincourt. Henry V's order, as recorded by Shakespeare, in Act 4 Scene 6, "Then every soldier kill his prisoners. Give the word through" will be condemned by Blair in a keynote speech....No.... only joking. This morning's Observer reports that he is to aplogise for the slave trade, and he will express "deep sorrow" that it happened. He will describe the slave trade as a "crime against humanity". Well, that's true enough; and we ought to be truthful about such things. Blair might consider being equally truthful about the atrocities committed within living memory by British forces in various colonial wars around the world e.g. in Kenya (see Caroline Elkin's "Britain's Gulag"). It would be far better for the British to come to terms with their imperial history rather than , as Gordon Brown did not so long ago, glorify the empire (in January 2005 Brown said that Britain should stop apologising for its colonial past). In fact, Politaholic has little patience for this mania for "apologising" especially for far distant events (the slave trade was outlawed in 1807). How can someone reasonably apologise for something which happened before their grandfather was born and for which they obviously bear no responsibility ? The slave trade was obviously a truly dreadful crime: but Blair had nothing to do with it. All this is cheap "gesture politics". It would make more sense for Blair to apologise for something for which he does bear some responsibility. Like Iraq. Or to give his support to the outlawing of cluster bombs....It is what politicians do in the here-and-now that matters, not cost-free empty apologies for long-gone events.

The Olympics is bollocks

Simon Jenkins had an article in Friday's Guardian on the vast expense of the Olympics: "...£7,280 million and counting". It seems that it is not the case that the city that hosts the Olympics always benefits financially: "...Athens was so bankrupted by the IOC that it had to seek budgetary relief from Europe". And "..Beijing is impoverishing its people to find the $40 billion for the 2008 games" (as well as vandalising the city). The Olympics claims "more than Britain's entire contribution to combating African Aids and debt relief together". All this for a three-week "festival of national chauvinism".
Politaholic supports the ideal of "Sport for All", and thinks the selling off of school playing fields one of more more spiteful legacies of Thatcherism. But elite sport - which the rest of us are supposed to gawp at on the goggle-box (the lobotomy machine known as TV) leaves me cold. I don't give a flying whatsit that some pampered physically malformed drug-fuelled athlete can run a fraction of a second faster than another; and still less about who wins gold in volleyball, handball, softball, rowing, sailing, or taekwondo (whatever that is). The sums of money being spent - and much of it wasted - are obscene. Olympic "national chauvenism" is better than actual warfare and maybe the mentally retarded need an opportunity to wave the flag and jump up and down (the poor things can no longer shout "Come on Tim"). But the chauvenism, the greed, the coruption (all those backhanders to IOC mandarins), the waste, and the utter pointlessness of it is what is most striking. Then again - as the picture shows - volleyball has some redeeming features.


Andrew Rawnsley was writing in Sunday's Observer on the same theme. It seems Blair was initially sceptical of London bid but allowed himself "to be seduced by the thought that the Games would be a glamour project to put Britain at the centre of world attention". Rawnsley argues that: "It was both predictable and predicted that the Olympics would be a black hole sucking money out of taxpayers and lottery funds and away from good causes. Try justifying these Games to disabled groups whose lottery funding is being cut. Cost overruns are as integral to the tradition of the modern Olympiad as are cheating and corruption. The Games are a serial financial killer. The taxpayers of Montreal are still paying for the 1976 Olympics 30 years after they were staged in the city. The cost of the last Olympics in Athens went so out of control that the Greeks had to go begging for a bail-out from the European Commission. The Olympic legacy to Sydney was another huge budget-buster and a splendid stadium which sat empty and unused afterwards. Beijing is believed to be flushing away going on for £20bn to host the 2008 Games". The "deliver fee" for the management of the project is currently £500 million (one assumes it will be inflated still further before it is all over). And finally: "We could carpet the country with spanking new hospitals or double the aid budget with the sort of money that is going to be blown on just 17 days of Olympics - and still have change to buy back all those school playing fields that have been flogged off". Ah, but what do we need playing fields for, when we can watch it all on television?

Jim's sly dig

James Naughtie, in an obituary on Nick Clarke in Friday's Guardian, comments on Clarke's "formidable judgement" and "sterling values"; and he remarks that these are qualities "too often our trade expunges in favour of egocentric frenzy". Who can he mean?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Simon wants to cane Dave and George

The "sane and rational" Simon Heffer has a rant against Cameron in the Telegraph. It is quite barking. The best way to help the poor, apparently, is to cut taxes and cut public spending, degregulate (no nonsense about the minimum wage etc), and reintroduce selection in education (what does he mean "reintroduce"?). He says that "...many people make a career decision not to work but to sponge off the taxpayer". Ah, that's what it is: a "career decision". Should I take this offer of a job as a systems analyst at 60K per annum or should I opt for living on £50 quid a week for heating, clothing and food? It's a no-brainer: I'll take the £50. Why? Because I'm an idle bastard.

But this is what most struck me. Heffer says we should treat "drug dealers, or indeed drug users, with the sort of unremitting ferocity practiced in places such as Singapore". What is he suggesting? Surely not that Dave and George did or do deserve to be caned? (But then, I thought, at least before becoming such eminences, a lot of the time they were caned). And why are these wingbats always salivating and wetting their pants at the idea of corporal punishment?

Why can't I wear my Lenin badge?

I wonder whether, if I worked as a check-in worker at British Airways, I would be allowed to wear a Lenin badge? A small, discrete one, of course (I'm sure I still have one, somewhere). Or possibly - this is one suggestion for an atheist symbol - a crucifix with a red line through it? Why not? The furore over the woman asked by BA to remove her cross while at work seems to me quite mad. No one is saying she can't wear the damned thing. She can put it on as soon as she leaves work. She could get a bigger one - life size - and drag it around with her wherever she goes. Requiring her not to flaunt her religion at work is hardly a major civil rights issue; any more than it would be for my boss to ask me to take off my Lenin badge (if only I could find it).

The proposal of the government of the Netherlands to ban the wearing of niqab and the burka in public (apparently a populist ploy by right-wing politicians) is a different matter. It involves an invasion of the "sphere of the private" which is unjustified. I dislike the veil and wish that Muslim women did not wear it. But I can't see that it is reasonable to criminalise it. There is a great deal of difference between disapproving of something and making it illegal. Are we really to imagine that if a Muslim woman walks down the high street in Amsterdam wearing the niqab a police snatch squad will haul her off to the local nick in handcuffs? This in Amsterdam of all places where, so I am led to believe, prostitutes parade their goods in shop windows and cafes serve coffee and cannabis. And presumably the streets are awash with teenagers in "FCUK ME" T-shirts.

Two Murders

I suppose Alexander Litvinenko may well have been murdered by the Russian secret service. He himself appears to have thought so. But there doesn't actually seem to be any evidence of this and it does not strike me as the only possiblity. Litvinenko was a KGB agent for 18 years, and latterly was an associate of the "oligarch" or gangster-capitalist Boris Berezovsky whose name, the Independent informs us, is "synomous to many (in Russia) with the great privatisation swindle of the 1990's" and who appears to be connected to the Chechen Mafia (but has been protected from deportation to Russia to face criminal charges by being granted political asylum in the UK). The liason between the press and Litvinenko over the past few days appears to have been Alex Goldfarb, rather sweetly described by Cahal Milmo in the Independent as "the eloquent human rights campaigner" but in fact consiglieri to Berezovsky. Litvinenko had accused his former KGB colleagues of engineering the Beslan massacre and had, apparently, a video tape of sexual high jinks at the Kremlin. It seems to me this was a man with very many enemies, Putin among them, of course, but he or his people are by no means the only possible culprits.

The murder of Pierre Gemayel has been blamed on Syrian agents. Again, there does not seem to be any evidence. It is, I suppose, not at all unlikely. But it is also odd that it should come so soon after Blair suggested that dialogue should be opened with Iran and Syria (which the Baker Commisson will probably also suggest). The killing of Gemayel has hardly benefited Syria. Hizbollah, similarly, gains nothing from this. Are there any other suspects? It could have been a someone with a grudge (Gemayel and his family are hardly innocents), a rival family, a rival warlord, a rival political faction. It could have been Israel - the most obvious beneficiary, and a country with a long record of using political murder as a tactic. Who can say? But, again, there are more possibilities than those being pushed in most of the media.

Finally, there is this very astute observation in a letter to the Guardian on Thursday by Dave Hansel:

"It is an interesting display of self-professed western values to see a prime minister, who only a few months ago could not bring himself to condemn those responsible for the wanton slaughter of innocent civilians and UN troops in Lebanon, leap immediately in front of the TV cameras to condemn the assassination of a single politician in the same country."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

They ran like cowards

The Vietnamese corporal who, on April 30 1974, drove the tank through the wrought iron gates of the American embassy in what was then Saigon, was interviewed by Suzanne Goldenberg in yesterday's Guardian. Nguyen Van Tap says: "They ran like cowards". Indeed they did, abandoning their south Vietnamese allies in the scramble for seats in the helicopters. Of Iraq, he says: "America sooner or later is going to have to withdraw troops from Iraq, and Iraq is going to have a civil war. America cannot stay there because it is going to cost a lot of money and a lot of people. .." The party leadership in Vietnam is taking a different line. Trac Duc Loi, a senior member of the "ideological wing" of the party doubts that the Iraqis will drive out the Americans. My own feeling is that the Americans will withdraw from most of Iraq, leaving behind scattered fortresses to secure the supply of oil; the rest of Iraq will collapse into civil and secessionist wars probably leading to the dismemberment of the state. The "blowback" will last for decades. But Tran Doc Loi also makes some pertinent remarks about the Iraqi resistance: "When we fought, we fought only against the ones who fought us. Civilians were never our targets". Those of us who oppose the war and the occupation should have no illusions about the nature of the Iraqi insurgents.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Beliefs should not be protected by law

In the light of the acquittal of Nick Griffin both Gordon Brown and Peter Hain are arguing that the law should be changed. It seems the intention is to revisit the religious hatred legislation (just as they intend to revisit the anti-terrorism legislation to try to get the 90 days: they want to reverse the Commons defeats). Politaholic favours legislation against religious discrimination (in employment, etc) and incitement to hatred. But such legislation must fall short of protecting religious beliefs from "insult". Here is Richard Dawkins talking about the Old Testament: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully". (For God's sake Dawkins don't beat about he bush). Now I suppose some Christians mind be "offended" by this, might feel "insulted". So bloody what? Are we to imagine that it would be proper for the rozzers to go round to Dawkins place and take him away in handcuffs? And if Christianity is not to be afforded this protection why should Islam? And if both are protected by law in the way suggested then we no longer live a free society where the robust exchange of conflicting ideas is possible. People have the right to be protected by the law; their beliefs do not.

Is Reid still up for it?

Alan Johnson's star may have (quickly) waned but Jackie Ashley in the Guardian thinks John Reid is still in the running for the Labour Leadership. She says "there is no doubt" that the "Blair camp" still think that Reid can beat Brown and "..Reid is making quiet preparations". But the strategy depends on delaying Blair's departure until the second half of next year. This will give the party time to have "second thoughts" before the Leadership election. This comes at a time when many commentators are saying that Brown is unlikely to face a challenge from within the Cabinet. It seems the game is not over yet.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Blair impedes ban on cluster bombs

It seems that in Geneva - at the review of the conventional weapons treaty - the British Government will be doing its utmost to prevent a ban on cluster bombs (proposed by Sweden, Austria, Mexico and New Zealand). These are dreadful weapons, scattering tiny "bomblets" many of which fail to explode and lie as - essentially - land mines. George Montiob, in yesterday's Guardian, says that 98% of known casualties are civilians. Many are children who are horribly maimed or killed. Most of the cluster bombs dropped during the past forty years have - unsurprisingly - been dropped by the USA and Israel (Russia has also used them in Chechnya). The case for banning these weapons is clear. That the Labour Government should feel unable to join Sweden in proposing a ban is a mark of its cowardice and a measure of its abject servility towards the United States.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blair's underling to advise on cash-for-peerages case.

Yesterday's Guardian reported the truly astonishing news that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General (the man who "signed off" on the Iraq war, admittedly after the application of a little pressure) is to advise the Crown Prosecution Service on whether to bring charges in the cash-for-peerages case. If this is not a clear case of "conflict of interest" then I'm a Swiss cheese. It does, however, seem that the final decision doesn't rest with Goldsmith, but with Carmen Dowd, the head of "special crime" at the CPS. It also seems that Blair will be questioned "under caution", which means he is to be treated as a potential suspect.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Master of the Universe Suffers Inconvenience

A Guardian profile of Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Tony Blair's Foreign Policy adviser (My God, what sort of advice has he been giving?) relates that: "Among his postings was Moscow, which he had to leave in a hurry after his car, which he was driving, hit and killed a Russian". That must have been dashed inconvenient. Probably scratched the paintwork too.

Happy Endings

Yesterday's Guardian carried an obituary of William Stryon whose novel, Sophie's Choice, was made into a film by Alan Paluka. The obituary tells us that: "...Paluka pitched the project to the cigar-chomping British film mogul Lew Grade, who thought it would be a good idea to gie the story a happy ending. Paluka declined". This reminded me of an interview with Roman Polanski in which he revealed that the scriptwritter on Chinatown had wanted to give that a happy ending. What other movies could have inappropriately happy endings? Titanic (they could all be rescued, the movie could hardly be any worse)? Casablanca (Bogart gets the beautiful Ingrid Bergman instead of going off with Claud Rains)?