Thursday, December 22, 2005


Right. Last bit of work finished but too many presents still to buy. And then some serious feasting. Posting will therefore be somewhat intermittent over the next few days...

Happy Holidays!


Note to self: typing "Norm" into the Firefox Address Bar doesn't get you to Normblog.

Doing so in front of your boss to show her the winner of the Weblog Award 's Best UK Blog won't do you any favours either.

Unless your boss happens to be involved in the foreskin replacement business or takes an interest in the National Organization of Restoring Men.



Khan's General Store has an interesting tale of a late-night encounter with a ginger Jihadi in McDonalds on Edgware Road. You know you're onto a winner when a story begins:
I don't eat too often in multi-national fast-food restaurants but when I do I get a satisfying feeling knowing that somewhere, somehow, a little anti-globilisation protester (probably stepping off the plane in Hong-Kong ready to do battle with the WTO) quietly dies. Next time you are about to bite into that double cheeseburger stop for a second and listen. If you really listen hard enough you can hear an anti-capitalist scream.
Heh. Now on with the programme:
It was only then that I noticed a group of four men sat to the side of us in the corner. Three of them were Asian and one was a very young looking red-haired chap. The only reason he caught my eye was that he was wearing a white namazi topi (Islamic prayer cap) and an Arabic kefiyyah scarf and he was clearly white English working class. Barely out of nappies he had managed somehow to get the tufts on his chin to stretch to the obligatory fists length to please the Creator. For I knew immediately that he was a convert to Islam and a recent one at that. He had adorned himself with all the possible outward material expressions of his new ideology. The three Asian guys sat with him I guessed were his new found faith-buddies from the local masjid. They were dressed in standard Western youth attire - designer casual sportswear or ghetto chic. Whatever you want to call it they were joe bloggs identikit twenty-somethings (though one guy looked rather older than that).


He then proceeded to explain how in fact the New Testament was the book of al-Shaytan (Beelzebub) and that Christians were actually worshipping the devil - though he went on to note that they didn't know it and were therefore not to be blamed and should be shown the true path. The Bible also said that Christians should stone their women. I couldn't quite work out though if this was being condemned or condoned. But regardless, it was all true as he used to be a Christian and therefore he 'knew'.


It was a surreal scene - a young English convert to Islam preaching fire-and-brimstone stuff to three South Asian muslims in the middle of McDonald's.
Well worth a read, for it is good: "Special Brain Masala" indeed.

(Hat tip to Eric of DSTPFW for the link - alcohol and Google's reluctance to bring up relevant pages when searching for "McDonalds Ginger Jihadi" that clicking wouldn't involve a little visit from Special Branch meant I'd not been able to rediscover the link to this tale before today)


Some interesting developments in the trial of Saddam Hussein. He's accused the US of torturing him:
"I have been hit by the Americans and tortured," he said, speaking purposefully. "I have been beaten on every place of my body, and the signs are all over my body."
Strange that he's never mentioned it before:
Investigating magistrate Raed Juhi said Saddam Hussein had never before said he had been mistreated.

"My job requires me to ask each of the defendants if he has been abused, and... I have received no complaints," the judge told reporters on Thursday.
The White House has been less than impressed:
"That's one of the most preposterous things I've heard from Saddam Hussein recently," spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"Saddam Hussein is being treated the exact opposite of the way his regime treated those he imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions. And so I reject that."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the allegation as "highly ironic."

"Look, he's been given to grandstanding in this trial, but where the focus should be is on the testimony of those people who were victimized ..." he told reporters.
Highly ironic? I should cocoa. Especially when:
Saddam Hussein said on Thursday that he was sorry to hear accounts of torture.

"When I hear that any Iraqi has been hurt it hurts me too," he said.

"The wrongs that were done to those people were wrong and, according to law, those who did it should get what they deserve."
You couldn't make it up.

Meanwhile, another trial looks like making waves in the Arab world. So have they decided to throw the book at Bashar Assad over the murder of Hariri? Of course not. From Ynet News:
The Arab Lawyers Union, a Cairo-based organization which includes twenty-four national bar associations of Arab countries, has decided to hold a moot court hearing against “war criminals who harmed Arabs and Muslims,” the Arab media reported Tuesday.

Comprising 400,000 lawyers from 21 Arab countries, the Union drafted a list of “war criminals” topped by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In the “indictment,” Prime Minister Sharon is accused of crimes against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, while Blair and Bush are held accountable for “war crimes” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So far so good. But who have they got their eye on as potential judges?
The mock trial will be held at the Union’s headquarters in Cairo in February with organizers expecting to lure personalities like Nelson Mandela, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, and former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella to act as judges.
Ha! Mahathir? He of "Jews rule this world by proxy" fame? What a great idea: having an antisemite preside over the mock trial of a Jewish man. But, fear not. The jury won't be swayed by the man's Jew-hatred. Well not if the Arab Lawyer's Union have their way:
The Union’s head Abed Al-Azim Al-Mughrabi said London Mayor Ken Livingstone, British MP George Galloway and the Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Ekrama Sabri will also be approached to act as juries.
I can't help thinking this is an early April Fool's Joke. Presumably Michael Moore and Sean Penn are on the reserve list.

OK. So that's the judge and jury sorted, but who's penned in to play the role of prosecutor? A man who wouldn't miss it for the world:
The general prosecutor in the symbolic trial is expected to be former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is one of the lawyers defending Saddam Hussein. The accused will receive indictment letters through their country’s embassy in Cairo.
When he's not defending the likes of Saddam or Milosevic, there's nothing he likes better than to sock it to those evil bringers-of-freedom Bu$h and Bliar...

What a joke.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Actually, that's rather unfair. Tim Groseclose, lead author of a recent UCLA-led study which concluded that (wait for it...) the US media is biased, stated:
"I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican," said Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study's lead author. "But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are."
I don't suppose this is news to the majority of bloggers, much of whose time is spent dissecting articles from mainstream media outlets and exposing examples of partisan hackery masquerading under the banner of objective journalism. However, the study does contain some interesting findings:
  • While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper's news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times. The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left.

  • Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS' "Evening News," The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

  • Only Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

  • The most centrist outlet proved to be the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" and ABC's "Good Morning America" were a close second and third.

  • The fourth most centrist outlet was "Special Report With Brit Hume" on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. While this news program proved to be right of center, the study found ABC's "World News Tonight" and NBC's "Nightly News" to be left of center. All three outlets were approximately equidistant from the center, the report found.

  • Five news outlets — "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown," Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and the Drudge Report — were in a statistical dead heat in the race for the most centrist news outlet. Of the print media, USA Today was the most centrist.

  • National Public Radio, often cited by conservatives as an egregious example of a liberal news outlet...ranked eighth most liberal of the 20 that the study examined.
So some surprises for those on both sides of the media impartiality debate.

To counter accusations of political bias, the study's authors chose to use the same number of Republican research assistants as Democrats and no funding, either public or private, was used to finance their research. The methodology looks quite impressive too:
Groseclose and Milyo based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker's support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where "100" is the most liberal and "0" is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low‑population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average U.S. voter.

Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants — most of them college students — to scour U.S. media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

Next, they did the same exercise with speeches of U.S. lawmakers. If a media outlet displayed a citation pattern similar to that of a lawmaker, then Groseclose and Milyo's method assigned both a similar ADA score.

"A media person would have never done this study," said Groseclose, a UCLA political science professor, whose research and teaching focuses on the U.S. Congress. "It takes a Congress scholar even to think of using ADA scores as a measure. And I don't think many media scholars would have considered comparing news stories to congressional speeches."
It would interesting to see the results of a similar study in the UK. However, there could be problems:
Since Groseclose and Milyo were more concerned with bias in news reporting than opinion pieces, which are designed to stake a political position, they omitted editorials and Op‑Eds from their tallies.
Sadly this would disqualify most of the written content of the Independent from the study.

One aspect of media bias that the study failed to address was that of the choice of stories media outlets consider to be newsworthy. Realistically, every journalist, whether professisonal or citizen, will fail to remain impartial at some point. We can all appreciate that the spin put on a story in the Independent will be different to the way it is told in the Telegraph.

The greater sin however is the omission of a story for political reasons, the Independent choosing to fill its entire front page with a story about badgers rather than news of the Iraqi election being a case in point.

On the subject of Iraq, how many of Chrenkoff's "Good News from Iraq / Afghanistan" stories ever made it onto our screens or into our newspapers compared with the number of quagmire tales of the neverending supply of suicide bombers? Are the opinions of ordinary Iraqis on matters such as elections, occupation and the insurgency considered by the media to be as important as those of say, Mother Peace?

(Pictures courtesy of Yahoo!News, hat tip to LGF)

Thank God for blogs.


Daft lad: (from the BBC)
A teenager is being questioned after police found chemicals and suspected bomb making equipment at a house in Lancashire.

Police searched the house on Grane Street, Haslingden, on Tuesday afternoon and found materials thought to be used to make bombs.

Detectives stressed it was not a terrorist incident, but believed it was an over-enthusiastic chemistry student.
Is that a euphemism that's passed me by? After the whole terrorist militant debacle, perhaps the BBC could use this phrase to describe people who blow themselves up in crowded public places with the intention of taking as many others with them as possible? After all, we wouldn't to offend our enemies now would we?

I can just imagine one of their Middle East correspondents (e.g. Barbara Plett) now:
"Was this bombing of a marketplace in downtown Baghdad the work of militants? Nooo! Just an over-enthusiastic chemistry student who forgot where he was - you know how scatterbrained those scientists can be!

"Anyhow, what's a poor student to do now that Saddam's no longer giving out grants encouraging the practice of over-enthusiastic chemisty in Israel? If it weren't for the Americans, this guy would be on his ERASMUS placement in Gaza right now! It's enough to make me weep."


Speaking of over-enthusiastic chemistry students, looks like we caught another one yesterday:
British anti-terrorist police have arrested a man in connection with the attempted bombings of London's transport system on July 21.

The man was arrested at Gatwick Airport, south of the capital, as he got off a flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Metropolitan Police said.
Wonder whether he was enrolled on one of those popular Chemistry Summer Schools in Afghanistan that were all the rage a couple of years back?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Karim Elsahy at One Arab World has a revealing interview with Chomsky, where he declares (please bear in mind this may well have been transcribed by someone whose first language isn't necessarily English):
Chomsky: Take the Unites States, now take that the American democracy doesn’t functions very well, but it certainly has the formal structure of a democracy. Its probably one of the most religious fanatic countries in the world. I mean how many people in Egypt think that humans were created 6000 years ago in their present form.

Elsahy: We have (mummified) proof that they weren’t actually.

Chomsky: What percentage of the people in Egypt, or in any country would believe that? It is about 50% in the United States. I mean the level of religious fundamentalism in the United States is beyond any country I know. And it has been for a long time, it goes back to the colonists; after all, this place we are sitting in has been conquered by religious extremists from England. The King waiving the holy book, claiming to be the children of Israel, exterminating the Malachite’s, and then as they spread across the continent a lot of it was Scotch-Irish and other religious fundamentalist. There have been repeated events in the United States called great awakenings and big religious revivals, which have enormous influence actually the most recent was in the 1950’s, that far back, and that’s when the “Under God” was put into the Pledge of Allegiance and “In god we trust” and we are having one right now. In Egypt for example, is there a problem about teaching evolution in schools?

Elsahy: I don’t believe it is actually taught in government schools.

Chomsky: I am surprised to hear that. There are democratic tendencies that come from all over the place.
So surprised that he immediately changed the subject because his line of argument turned out to be a dead-end and couldn't be used to bash America further, no?

And this quote is priceless:
I don’t see any inherent reason why the Muslim Brotherhood couldn’t be part of the majority part of the democratic culture. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But that for Egypt to work out.
Unbelievable. Perhaps Uncle Chom can tell us all about how keen on democracy the Muslim Brotherhood's associate Yusuf Al Qaradawi is? Somehow, each of the following can be accommodated within Uncle Chom's vision of democracy:
  • Executing homosexuals to keep society pure

  • Killing apostates – those who have rejected Islam

  • Terrorism and suicide bombing of innocent civilians

  • Mutilating women’s genitals

  • Forcing women to wear the hijab

  • Domestic violence against women
(taken from Peter Tatchell's dossier, courtesy of Harry's Place)
If you've already watched all of your paint dry, read the whole thing. However, like absinthe, an excess of Chomsky can rot the brain from the inside out. But at least absinthe is fun while you're doing it.


From one of my favourite blogs, Chase me ladies I'm in the cavalry:

To: The Israeli Embassy, London

Dear Sir,
I represent the Student Union of the University of Sheffield. We recently took the decision to recongise the State of Israel, following an acrimonious debate. Please inform the Ambassador of our decision.

What is the next step? When would be a good time to meet His Excellency for photographs?

A thousand shaloms.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Hutton
Genius. The comments are top notch as well.


(Photo courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald)

Poor old Kenny G. Even the most backward-looking men on the planet hate his music:
Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western music from Iran's radio and TV stations, reviving one of the harshest cultural decrees from the early days of 1979 Islamic revolution.

Songs such as George Michael's Careless Whisper, Eric Clapton's Rush and the Eagles' Hotel California have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.

But the official Iran Persian daily reported today Ahmadinejad, as head of Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, ordered the enactment of an October ruling by the council to ban Western music.
Nice. Taliban eat your heart out. Who knows, maybe Kenny G will become as unlikely a symbol of resistance in Iran as David Hasslehoff was in East Germany? I bloody well hope not. Speaking of which:

He brought down Communism you know.

Monday, December 19, 2005


From the BBC:
Counting of votes has begun across Democratic Republic of Congo after an unscheduled second day of polling in a referendum on a new constitution. The electoral commission extended voting at those stations where voting had not been completed on Sunday.

If approved, the draft constitution would pave the way for the country's first democratic poll next year.

Turnout appears to be high in many areas, even parts of the east, dominated by militia groups. Opposition groups have called for a boycott and there seemed to be fewer voters in parts of the south and the capital, Kinshasa.
Great news. However, there have been a few hitches:
[T]here was confusion about what was in the text. The electoral commission has said it had distributed some 500,000 copies of the constitution around the country in four major Congolese languages - Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba and Swahili.

"It is too bad we have to vote for a mystery document, but there is nothing else we can do," Edouardin Mputu, a young lawyer, told the AFP news agency.
Hmmm, reminds me of the recent referenda on the EU constitution...

It would seem that many voters in DR Congo are just as suspicious of their politicians as their European counterparts:
"Even if I vote 'no,' they will change it to 'yes,' so what is the use of voting?" said 42-year-old Aime Asoba, followed by two toddlers dressed in black suits and bowler hats. "I am going to church. At least there is no treachery there."
And sadly, voting in some areas was marred by violence:
Goma saw fighting involving Kinyarwanda speakers, regarded by some as having sided with Rwandan forces during a complex five-year war that dragged in six foreign armies.

"There was serious fighting between some Congolese voters and Congolese Rwandaphones who were being accused by their colleagues of being Rwandans and having no legitimacy in today's vote," said Jacqueline Chernard, a UN spokeswoman.
But despite all of these problems, this quote from the Guardian Unlimited exemplifies the attitude of a people desperate to put years of war behind them:
"We are the small people. We don't eat for days sometimes. I have never voted before and now we are passing from one era to another," said Charles Begi, a 34-year-old teacher who was among the first to cast his vote. "Now the small people of the country are choosing its future."
I'll raise my glass to that.


Reuters have kindly put together a timeline of DR Congo's recent troubles here.


Well I never. Realising that David Cameron represents a better challenge to Labour than their own party, the knives are being sharpened in Lib Dem HQ and it looks like Charlie could be on his way out. From the Times:
Charles Kennedy yesterday vowed to cut back on his drinking as he appealed for time to make a fresh start as Liberal Democrat leader yesterday. Mr Kennedy admitted that he had been told by senior colleagues to “reflect” on his position over a turbulent week that saw his fitness to continue as leader called into question.

But he tried to silence the critics within his own Shadow Cabinet yesterday by insisting that he did not drink to excess and would in any case cut back. Mr Kennedy, who has pledged to reduce his alcohol intake before, also admitted that he was struggling to give up smoking on the advice of his doctor.

He was forced to address the issue after days of anonymous briefing about his “lifestyle” and accusations yesterday from Paul Marsden, a former Lib Dem MP, that he had a drink problem. Mr Kennedy, speaking on Jonathan Dimbleby’s programme on ITV, said that he had cut down, adding: “I am actually an extremely moderate and infrequent consumer of alcohol.” Asked if he was determined to continue to drink less, he said: “Absolutely and I feel a lot healthier for it, particularly with an eight-month-old baby.”
To be fair, the Lib Dem's problems run far deeper than their dear leader's fondness for the odd sip of whisky. From an article entitled "It's the Party Stupid", Stephen Pollard rightly points out:
The Lib Dems are a make-believe party with a make-believe philosophy, a make-believe reputation and make-believe MPs. That its main spokesmen choose to refer to themselves as Shadow Cabinet members is par for the make-believe course.

They are make-believe because their only purpose is protest against the two main parties. In areas where Labour barely exists, such as the South West, they are the anti-Conservative party. Where the Conservatives are effectively absent, such as some inner cities, they are the anti-Labour party. Lib Dem MPs are make-believe MPs because they are elected not for what they represent but for what they do not.
How true. During Tory rule, a vote for the Lib Dems was a protest vote against the Government, generally in areas where the Labour candidate stood little or no chance of winning. A Labour victory posed a problem in terms of future Lib Dem electoral strategy. By maintaining their stance as a protest party, the Lib Dems have been able to benefit from growing dissatisfaction with Labour (on issues as disparate as the Council Tax or the Iraq War) and many voters' reluctance to return to voting Tory given their disastrous final term under Major. This tactic won them their greatest number of parliamentary seats at the last election.

It also provided an opportunity for the Lib Dems to outline clear-cut policy proposals of their own to differentiate themselves from both major parties, a second stab at a Third Way if you will. Sadly they shirked the challenge, instead preferring to carry on carping from the sidelines.

With the Tories beginning to show signs of rejuvenation under Cameron and finally providing the Labour government with some form of opposition, the Lib Dems may well have missed their chance to cement their position as a serious third party. Should Cameron convert his glib smile into substantial gains at the ballot box, the Lib Dem's failure to capitalise on the feeble opposition provided by the hapless Hague and IDS will haunt their policymakers for many years to come.

Kennedy must shoulder some of the blame for this (although it was good to see he was as confused about their proposal for a new income tax as the rest of us were) but the rot goes deeper.
It is not that party members have no philosophical stances; it is that they have too many. Some — the beard and sandals brigade — are as left-wing as most Labour members. Others — the so-called “Orange Book” liberals — are genuine Gladstonian liberals. The rest are an incoherent mixture of the two.
And there's the problem. Clearly unification has done little to bridge the inherent differences between the old SDP and the more right-wing Liberal Party.

In addition, years of both official and unofficial Lib-Lab alliances seem to have boosted the numbers of the "beard and sandals" Party members. Whilst New Labour have managed fairly effectively to keep a leash on their own B&Sers by booting out the likes of Galloway, the Lib Dems let their's run wild: Jenny Tonge's comments on suicide bombing (although Kennedy did eventually tell her to step down) or Baroness Nicholson's description of Iran as "an advanced form of democracy in the region" being fine examples.

Maybe Kennedy figured that a lurch to the left was in order after New Labour stole the traditional Liberal centre-ground. If so, he deserves what he gets: parties dominated by those on the extreme political fringes tend not to fare well in British elections.

Currently, with Prescott stirring up talk of "class war" and Brown's leadership of the Labour Party almost guaranteed to involve submission to the unions, the Lib Dems are in an awkward position: should they follow the B&Sers and head further to the left or listen to the Orange Bookers and reassume their role as a centrist party? A tough call, and one that could turn even the staunchest tee-totaller into "an extremely moderate and infrequent consumer of alcohol."


Tim Hames makes similar remarks in today's copy of the Times.
Is it the end? Probably, yet not certainly. Mr Kennedy’s plight is in essence the opposite of that of the Prime Minister. Loyalty to Mr Blair is (usually) at its strongest at the Cabinet table, becoming weaker with each rung down towards the increasingly independent backbencher. Mr Kennedy’s dilemma is that his most senior colleagues have begun to despair at what might be harshly described as his Hammy the Hamster approach to leadership. Hence the emergence of several Ratty the Rats of late.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Whilst those of us keen on the establishment of a stable democracy in Iraq have been busy devouring news of yesterday's elections from both the traditional media and on-the-ground blogs, this historic event appears not to have filtered through to the Left-hand side of the Blogosphere. Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom fame has a round-up of yesterday's headlines from some of the most popular anti-war blogs who between them just about managed a collective yawn before moving back into familiar territory.

Some examples:
Daily Kos: “Mr. Bush, Your Coalition Is Shrinking” (Italy to draw down troops); “Open Thread”; “Is There Any Doubt ScAlito Is An Extremist?”

Atrios: “ More Fun with Jack and Tom” (Abramoff); “What Millions Let You Do” (ad buys on Drudge); “Open Thread”; “The Dean” (on David Broder)

The Huffington Post: "Iraqis Vote Under Tight Security" [front page; blog entries follw] ; “Care for the Least of These” (Republicans don’t care about the poor); “I Won’t Stand For It” (shame at standing for the singing of the National Anthem); “The Sustainability of ‘Alternative Gifts’” (avoiding “conspicuous consumption"); “‘60s Flashback: Is the Government Spying on Us Again?” (on yesterday’s MSNBC report)
As Jeff dryly puts it:
I’m not passing judgment on these sites; I’m just trying to give you some idea about how the anti-war sites are reacting to the elections. Perhaps some sites are waiting for results. Or a really nasty explosion or something. You can draw your own conclusions.
Quite. I wonder how many are suffering from YAB-Think, that special kind of feeling anti-war campaigners get when they read about another terrorist attack in Iraq. In Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's own words (with a hat-tip to Norm Geras):
A dogged campaigner against the blighted war in Iraq, I am now wrestling with the demons of callous triumphalism. The anti-war protestors have been proved horribly right. The allies who marched with the US into this ugly adventure should feel mortified. It is a fearful and turbulent country the new Western Imperialists hand over to the Iraqis. The past months have been challenging for us in the anti-war camp. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder to teach our side a lesson. On Monday I found myself again hoping that this handover proves a failure because it has been orchestrated by the Americans. The decent people of Iraq need optimism now, not my distasteful ill-wishes for the only hope they have for a future.
Nice. Willing the insurgency to kill more innocent Iraqis to "teach our side a lesson" and all because the liberation of Iraq has been "orchestrated by the Americans" - a view shared by a few too many in the Stoppers camp I'd say. (Besides, who else does YAB think was likely to sort Iraq out? Russia? China? France? Kofi Annan on a rainbow-coloured pony bringing nothing but Peace and Love?)

Going back to the attitude of the main anti-war blogs, haven't we been here before? Ah yes, just after Katrina. When those on Blogland's Right-hand side were manically organising relief efforts for those caught up in the flooding, the Left was busy blaming Bush... How very constructive.

Surely it's time for the brigade to practise what they preach and MOVE ON. Our troops aren't going anywhere until Iraq's security forces are in a position to keep the country secure and the insurgents at bay. Get over it. Or are ten million Iraqis voting in a free election not cause for celebration?


It's not just the blogging Left who are showing a complete lack of interest in the Iraqi elections. Scott Burgess notices the Independent chose to run a full front-page story on badger culling rather than report on the millions of purple fingers...

Thursday, December 15, 2005


(Picture courtesy of Yahoo!News)

Should be a fascinating day. The newswires are reporting only low level insurgency attacks and a strong Sunni turnout. From AP:
Iraqis voted in a historic parliamentary election Thursday, with strong turnout reported in Sunni Arab areas that had shunned balloting last January, bolstering U.S. hopes of calming the insurgency enough to begin withdrawing its troops.

Several explosions rocked Baghdad as the polls opened, including a large one near the heavily fortified Green Zone that slightly injured two civilians and a U.S. Marine, the U.S. military said. A civilian was killed when a mortar shell hit near a polling station in the northern city of Tal Afar, and a bomb killed a hospital guard near a voting site in Mosul.

But violence overall was light and did not appear to discourage Iraqis, some of whom turned out wrapped in their country's flag on a bright, sunny day, and afterward displayed a purple ink-stained index finger — a mark to guard against multiple voting.


In Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Arab Azamiyah district, the head of one polling station said that by midday, about a third of the 3,500 registered voters had turned out. In January, many polling stations in Azamiyah didn't even open.

Great news that Sunnis are voting. Their involvement in post-Saddam elections is absolutely essential for Iraq's fledgling democracy to continue to move forward and blossom.

For those who prefer their news not to be filtered via AP shades, Iraq The Model have eight correspondents liveblogging the election from different regions of Iraq.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


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

"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," he said.

On live TV, he called for Europe or North America - even Alaska - to host a Jewish state, not the Middle East.
What a despicable man: he denies the Holocaust and clearly cannot stomach the presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. With his recent comments he's treading very close to calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East. Let's see how his friends on the anti-imperialist far Left explain away this particular outburst.

And just to nip the "His views aren't representative of the Iranian regime overall" meme in the bud:
BBC Tehran correspondent Frances Harrison says the Iranian press has wholeheartedly endorsed the president's views, calling them logical and less passive than the approach of previous Iranian governments.
I'm guessing press freedoms aren't all that in Iran so presumably what the regime wants printed gets printed.

Nice to see we now have two Holocaust deniers in positions of power in the Middle East: Ahmadinejad and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. What is it with the Middle East that it's leaders are able to get away with holding such repellent views? Answers on a postcard to the usual address please.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Just noticed Tim Blair has linked here - so welcome to all who've made it this far. Apologies for the state of the blog - that'll teach me to start posting before I finished setting the site up :)

And I'll bet most of you are a damn sight warmer than I am here enjoying the frozen gloom of London, grrr... But there we are.


David Aaronovitch takes Matthew Parris to task in the Times today:
In February 2003 Matthew wrote that he would be against a war in Iraq even if there was WMD, even if it was authorised by the UN, even if a liberated Iraq was then stable, and concluded: “I’m against war because it will antagonise moderate Arab opinion.” And the Iraqi people? To be massacred, shredded, gassed, beheaded, suppressed, starved, immiserated, terrorised and tortured because all of that would be less bad than antagonising moderate Arab opinion. An Iraqi democrat stands in front of an armchair anti- interventionist, and is invisible.

I do apologise. For Abu Ghraib and Donald Rumsfeld. For not understanding the insurgents. For the looting. For the dire planning. I apologise to the election workers assassinated, the police trainees blown up, the parents of children caught in crossfire and everyone else that the planners and executors of the invasion that I supported, and still support, may have let down by neglect or stupidity. I recognise their bravery and their determination to succeed despite everything.

But a disaster compared with what? Compared with Saddam and sanctions or Saddam and cyanide. And that — the thing that Matthew presumably preferred — was not a disaster? Snort.
And although at risk of trivialising the problems underlying the election, he just about gets away with this:
There were reports out of Iraqi Kurdistan about how hard the Kurdish parties were having to work to get out the vote. Some of the younger electors were complaining about corruption and a generation gulf, and the parties had become worried about abstention. This, of course, is a problem of democracy. In the past it was resolved by having life presidents, shooting the complainants and gassing their villages. Now they have to organise rock-the-vote concerts.
Well worth a read.


According to George Galloway, "The Syrian people are fortunate in having Bashar al-Assad as their leader". I'm not so sure that sentiment will be shared by the Lebanese who have to put up with his crooked regime living next door. As neighbours go, he's been long overdue an ASBO: Syria blamed as another critic is murdered in car bombing. (from the Times)
Gebran Tueni, Lebanon’s leading journalist and a prominent politician, was killed by a huge car bomb explosion yesterday, the latest victim of a campaign against anti-Syrian figures.

Mr Tueni’s death, in a suburb of East Beirut, came less than 24 hours after his return from France, where he had based himself for several months because of death threats.

Lebanese politicians blamed Syria. Damascus denied the charge, saying that the killing was designed to smear it.
Aha. Just a coincidence that:
Mr Tueni was one of the foremost figures in the opposition to Syria’s 30-year hegemony over Lebanon. His opinion pieces condemned Syrian interference in Lebanon. In one of his last columns he accused Syria of “crimes against humanity” after mass graves were found near its former intelligence headquarters in Lebanon.
Sadly this is not a one-off: the Times article includes the following rather depressing timeline:
  • October 1, 2004 Marwan Hamade, Druze politician, survived car bomb outside his Beirut home. Bodyguard killed.

  • February 14, 2005 Rafik Hariri, former Lebanese Prime Minister, killed in Beirut.

  • June 2 Samir Kassir, a newspaper columnist, killed by a bomb beneath his car.

  • June 21 George Hawi, former Lebanese Communist Party leader, killed by a bomb beneath his car.

  • July 12 Elias Murr, outgoing Defence Minister and former Syrian ally, is wounded.

  • September 25 May Chidiac, television news anchor, wounded north of Beirut.

  • December 12 Gebran Tueni, journalist on An-Nahar newspaper and critic of Syria, killed by a bomb by his car.
And what perfect timing:
The attack came as the UN Security Council received the latest report of a UN investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, who died in a bomb blast in February. Syria is blamed widely for the killing and the report has unearthed evidence that strengthens suspicion of high-level Syrian involvement.
Ah yes, the small matter of Hariri's assassination and the idiot at the UN who tried to cover-up the extent of Syrian involvement in a report for the Security Council. Shame he didn't uncheck the "Track Changes" option, eh?
The United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.

The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.

The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.

Michael Totten sums things up nicely:
The lying fascist scumbag of a regime in Syria denies having anything to do with this. If they were smart they would bump off one of their Lebanese stooges once in a while just to make it look slightly less obvious to the gullible.
Lets see whether this, the latest in a string of politically-motivated killings in Lebanon, generates anywhere near the level of outrage from those who were so upset with Israel's assassination of Rantisi. I won't hold my breath.

Monday, December 12, 2005


From the BBC: Second night of riots hits Sydney
Violence triggered by race tensions has hit Sydney for a second night, with youths damaging cars and shops.

A reporter in the suburb of Cronulla, where dozens were arrested after riots on Sunday, described scenes of "chaos".

Police said carloads of people had come into the area from other parts of Sydney and committed violent acts.
Tim Blair sums things up nicely: Beach Trash Duke It Out
Nice. Real nice. Round ‘em up—all of them, from both sides—charge ‘em, convict ‘em, jail ‘em.
Now that's a bit harsh Tim and might cost a bit. Wouldn't it be easier to ship both sets of thugs off to some faraway island where drunken violence and cop-bashing are acceptable cultural norms? The UK perhaps?

Friday, December 09, 2005


Despite her ludicrous views on Ahmadinejad's "wipe Israel off the map" comment, full marks to Yassmine Mather for speaking at the Yurukoglu Memorial Lecture tomorrow. Her lecture is entitled: "Political Islam and how to Fight it - a Communist Perspective".

From the flyer I was handed earlier:
It is of absolute necessity that the communist movement takes a principled stand against the rising tide of political Islam. Communists have a duty to exhibit its counter-revolutionary and reactionary character.
Either she's been listening to The Hitch or else she's just decided that enough is enough and that the Left really shouldn't be cosying up to far right Islamists. Regardless of her views on Marxist hegemony, at least she's got this one right.

It's at:
Marx House (where else)
37A Clerkenwell Green
from 1.30-5.00pm
and comes courtesy of the Union Of Turkish Progressives In Britain. Unfortunately I'm away at a head-wetting tomorrow, but I'd be intrigued to see who turns up.


From the BBC:
Iran's conservative (no, really? Ed.) president has said that Israel should be moved to Europe.

"If European countries claim that they have killed Jews in World War II... why don't they provide the Zionist regime with a piece of Europe," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranian television.

"Germany and Austria can provide the... regime with two or three provinces for this regime to establish itself, and the issue will be resolved."
I wonder where the Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries in the wake of Israel's creation and made up the majority of immigrants for nine of the ten years afterwards will relocate to? I'm also curious as to how Amhadinejad and the Iranian theocracy stand on the Right of Return for Jews to Iran. Unfavourably, I imagine.


Drinking from Home has started taking nominations for The British Dhimmi Awards 2005. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can nominate the entire editorial staff of the Independent or the Grauniad for their sickening "Terrorists Militants are not to blame for 7/7: it's the Iraq War / poverty / racism / Islamophobia / women-in-short-skirts, stupid!" stance (OK, I made the last one up) and the somewhat dubious selection of "moderate" muslims and apologists for terror they employ to pad out their pages.

There are a lot of contenders, but I think my vote will have to go to George Galloway for his outstanding contribution to the jihadi cause. This video of a recent speech he gave in Syria says it all.

You have to credit Galloway - I didn't think he could get much worse, but give the man a shovel and boy, can he dig: (courtesy of Harry's Place from the racist Jew-haters at MPACUK)
'I can only support the Chairman of Islam Channel in his call for Engagement of the Muslim Community in British Society, but this engagement must be one based on a position of strength and not weakness.

We must let the Government know that if anymore of our cities, Damascus, Iran or anywhere alse is attacked, we will not only protest in Parliament but we will riot on the streets of Britain.

Every single terrorism legislation has been aimed at the Muslim community and I tell you this Mr Blair, you can criminalise who you want, but I will carry on supporting the Intifadha in Palestine, the Intifadha in Iraq and all the other Intifadhas.'
I like the "we" bit. You'd think after he received death threats from Hizb-ut-Tahrir he'd be wary of aligning himself with those who want to see him hang, but there we are. No doubt George is still fantasising about leading the red, green and black revolution. If only it weren't for those pesky kids on the Senate Committee and their Zionazi neo-con mates bringing up the small matter of the Oil-for-Food scandal and his rather lax financial records...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


And have to put up with Victoria Derbyshire, Derek from Big Brother, Anthony Worrall-Thompson and Neil Hamilton discussing the likelihood of David Cameron winning the Tory leadership contest yesterday of Radio 5 Live? Can you imagine a worse combination of people to have round for dinner? Not one redeeming feature between the four of them.

Posting will be light over the next few days. The usual excuses apply: work commitments, feeling like someone's using a pneumatic drill on my head and Christmas festivities. The latter two may be related...

Monday, December 05, 2005


Saturday's Grauniad had a Q & A with Peep Show's Robert Webb. How refreshing to read:
Which living person do you most admire and why?

Christopher Hitchens.

What makes you depressed?

Suicide bombers and their apologists.

Which living person do you most despise?

George Galloway.
Nice one fella. Those are brave words that will surely piss off the majority of students (and Grauniad hacks) who religiously watch Peep Show. Unfortunately I've missed the last two episodes but the new series seems to be ticking along nicely from what I've heard. For those that didn't catch him, his partner in crime David Mitchell was absolutely superb on Have I Got News For You on Friday, suggesting a novel solution to the impending pensions and energy crises. The answer? New nuclear power stations run by people over the age of 65, clearly.

Robert Webb is already something of a legend, having starred in two of the best British comedies in recent years. Let's not forget his brilliant role as Robin in The Smoking Room - a somewhat subversive take on a place of mystery for a good two-thirds of the workforce. I'm hoping for the first series on DVD for Christmas - it'll certainly be easier to watch with the family than the recent episodes of Peep Show...

As someone who chose to spend his time in The Smoking Room rather than watching paint dry around the water-cooler with the rest of his co-workers, I found I learned a hell of a lot more about the workings of my company than I would have found out by listening to a balding, middle-aged middle manager bang on about how much he enjoyed perving whilst playing Lara Croft, or the arguments as to whose turn it was to buy milk.

The Smoking Room was an oasis for me: somewhere I was guaranteed to avoid technical talk, could catch up on gossip from other departments whilst having a good bitch (if required) about my own and avoid be grabbed half-way through a nice-cup-of-tea-and-a-sit-down by an over-zealous boss who had changed his mind about something or the other which was now far more important than my caffeine fix.

Here's an article from the Observer by Ian Florance who seems to agree with me - Health advisory: smoking can improve your career prospects.
All over the world subversive groups gather in dirty, darkened rooms or by office dustbins. They look guilty because they're chipping away at corporate power structures.

Are they anti-globalisation protesters? Anarchists ? No, they're smokers. As social and political hostility to the habit grows, 'users' are discovering that furtive indulgence could improve the health of their careers.
Meanwhile, Harry's Place have highlighted the plight of one poor German smoker (via the Telegraph):
A German company has sacked one of its employees for smoking at home after hiring a detective to catch him in the act.

Sandro Beier was dismissed from his £19,000-a-year job with a Berlin printing company after being photographed smoking in his back garden.
Bloody hell. But then the guy was raking in £68 as part of a bonus for being a non-smoker, so the company can argue he was acting fraudulently. But what sort of world are we living in when companies pay their workers for good behaviour outside the workplace?

The company involved, Laserline, claim that smokers cost them 12 days work a year in fag breaks. Shouldn't they also be rewarding people who eat their lunch at their desks? Or eat less? I imagine a thirty-stone man with a huge appetite takes a little longer over his lunch than a pencil-thin chap who eats half as much. A saving of twenty minutes a day on a lunch-break adds up to around the same time they claim that smokers spend on fag breaks. (240 days * 1/3 hour = 80 hours).

I also wonder whether the private detective they hired has cost more than employing a printer for 12 days work a year, but there we are.

Anyhow, returning to Robert Webb's Q & A, it's reassuring to see I'm not alone:
What is your most unappealing habit?

Agreeing with everyone for a quiet life and then becoming rude when drunk. For the 50 minutes in between, I'm almost a gentleman.
Ha. Aren't we all?

Friday, December 02, 2005


From the Times: National shame at fans' racism.
ALL Italian football league games will kick off five minutes late this week — by order of the sport’s governing body — so that players can demonstrate against racist fans.
Sorry for the cynicism, but that's far too little far too late. Until Italian clubs take a firm stand against their "Ultras," events like this will remain little more than meaningless gestures.
They will stand on the pitches holding up banners reading “No to racism” to protest about an incident on Sunday in which Inter Milan fans jeered and insulted the Messina defender Marc André Zoro, who is from the Ivory Coast.

The fans imitated monkey sounds and movements. Zoro, 21, threatened to leave the game 20 minutes into the second half, tucking the ball under his arm. Two Inter players, Adriano and Obafemi Martins, persuaded him to carry on. Zoro said that he was sick of being subjected to racial abuse “always, wherever I go”.
Totally understandable. That the Italian clubs and football association have let the matter drift relatively unchecked for so long is criminal.
The incident made front-page news even in a country where right-wing skinhead fans known as “ultras” often chant racist slogans and hold up banners glorifying Benito Mussolini.

“Anywhere else they would have stopped the game,” said Il Messaggero, the Rome daily. “It is time to stop this pollution of the game by a minority of imbeciles.” Zoro told reporters that “in Italy it is more a question of ignorance than of racism. He said: “Something must be done to help us, because we have relatives over here and these insults do a lot of harm to our families.”

He said that he felt at home in Italy and often tried to persuade outsiders that Italians were not racist. “But now I feel ashamed. Something comes over the fans when they get to the stadium. I dont think they understand what they are doing.”
Hmmm. I'll wager the far-right ultras aren't going to change their opinions in a long time Mr Zoro, but of the others you are probably right. We saw the same in England during the 80s. The Football Research unit at Leicester showed that when in large crowds, generally mild-mannered men can be egged on to do things they would never consider doing in a million years were they not wearing their football colours. The key to stamping out racism and hooliganism in England was to ban the hardcore offenders and ringleaders from football grounds. Let's see if the Italian clubs have the stomach for that particular fight.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


From the Telegraph: Iran's war on weblogs - the new voice of dissidents.

First the bad news:
Iran is fighting a constant battle against dissenters who are using the internet to voice criticism of the Islamic Republic and to push for freedom and democracy.

With the closure of most independent newspapers and magazines in Iran, blogging - publishing an online diary - has become a powerful tool in the dissidents' arsenal by providing individuals with a public voice.


Over the last year, however, Iranian authorities have arrested and beaten dozens of bloggers, charged with crimes such as espionage and insulting leaders of the Islamic Republic. Among them is Omid Sheikhan, who last month was sentenced to one year in prison and 124 lashes of the whip for writing a blog that featured satirical cartoons of Iranian politicians.

The press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders last week named Iran as one of 15 countries who were "enemies of the internet".
And the Iranian dissidents response?
Nevertheless, Iranians are increasingly turning to blogs and those who can publish their words in English hope they will reach a wider international audience and alert them to the problems facing free-thinkers within Iran.
Well it's worked for me. Just a shame that papers such as the Guardian are keener on printing screeds from Osama bin Laden than reporting on the fight for democracy in Iran that is currently occurring both within and outside her borders.

One of the major objections to the war in Iraq was that we should have supported an anti-Saddam resistance rather than resorting to war. Well apart from the Kurds in the north, there really wasn't much of an organised resistance at all - state-sanctioned torture and murder had seen to that. Whilst the same happens to dissidents in Iran, resistance to the theocracy is already far better organised than was ever the case in Iraq. And yet the very people who proposed we support the Iraqi opposition to Saddam have remained almost completely silent on the efforts of those in Iran fighting for freedom whilst risking their own.

The parallels to the Cold War are pretty strong. Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech was derided by the Left at the time and yet ultimately he was proven right. Communism was a brutally repressive system, robbing individuals of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Is it any wonder that 'New' Europe with its newfound freedoms is so much more confident in and willing to show support for the United States than France, Germany and the rest of 'Old' Europe? That's gratitude for you.

Those who favoured detente with the USSR have had the rug swept from underneath their feet: appeasement and containment simply didn't work. The very idea of a robust neoconservative foreign policy is still anathema to most European socialists and traditional conservatives. Indeed, the act of negotiation itself seems to be viewed as some form of success: maintaining stable relations with dictatorships being more important than removing them. The contrast between the US and European stance on Iran's Manhattan Project being a case in point.

It is no coincidence that those who oppose the war in Iraq come from both extremes of the political spectrum. Witness George Galloway and David Duke making almost identical speeches in Syria. Is it any wonder that ultra-conservative Muslim groups such as the MAB have found an ally in the hard left Socialist Workers' Party? The one thing that unites them is a common enemy: US foreign policy. Both are desperate to see the US fail in Iraq because success will simply highlight the failings and weaknesses of their own flawed non-interventionist position.

And back to Iran. Two decades after Reagan began talking of "The Evil Empire", Bush's "Axis of Evil" remarks have been subjected to the same level of contempt - have we learned nothing? I simply cannot see any redeeming features in either the current North Korean or Iranian regimes. Both are run contrary to my beliefs in liberal democracy and both popluations suffer as a result. It must be the muscular liberal in me that prefers to think of a world in which both these countries are governed by their own people rather than a dictator or council of fundamentalist Islamists. Despite possessing relatively more freedoms than North Koreans, Iranians cannot stand for public office unless they are approved by the current regime, so regardless of the turn-out (some commentators put it as low as 12%) it is not a democracy by any meaningful definition of the word.

And whilst the US has learned that the only way to deal with bullies is to stand firm, the EU seems content to have rounds of negotations upon rounds of negotiations. All the while, Iran is getting closer and closer to possessing nuclear weapons. Even after Iranian President Ahmadinejad described Israel as a "disgraceful blot" on the face of the Islamic world and called for it to be "wiped off the map" we have those accusing the Americans of warmongering. The Stoppers are already preparing their campaign: there was a rally at UCL yesterday entitled "Is Iran Next?" Presumably we are supposed to trust a man who believes he developed a halo that prevented delegates from blinking for 27 minutes when he spoke to the UN last September? Bush talking to God (neocon code for 'prayer') looks decidedly mild in comparison.

Yet in the face of mountains of damning evidence against the current Iranian regime, what does the Left do? They invite the Iranian ambassador to speak at a CND conference. And to show their solidarity for the long-suffering Iranian people, they kindly ejected several protesters who dared to criticise Iran's poor record on human rights and who (quite rightly) called out the Iranian leadership as "fascists."

Who exactly do the Stoppers think they're standing up for by defending Amhadinejad and the Iranian regime? That looks like a betrayal of the Iranian public to me; haven't we been here before with Iraq and Michael Moore's Minutemen?

Exactly whose side are they on? It's certainly not the side of the majority of Iranians who are crying out for true democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, for too long those cries have gone unnoticed in our media.

But, one by one, their voices are being heard across the blogosphere (from the same Telegraph article):
An Iranian blogger known as Saena, wrote recently: "Weblogs are one weapon that even the Islamic Republic cannot beat."

There are an estimated 100,000 active blogs written by Iranians both within the country and across the diaspora. Persian ties with French as the second most common blogging language after English.
[T]he Iranian authorities are fighting a losing battle to crush these new outlets of dissent. As fast as one perpetrator is tracked down and closed, another rises in its place and takes up the cause.
The fact that the second most common blogging language is Persian shows just how much effort Iranian dissidents are putting into bringing down the current hardline regime. I for one applaud that effort and can only encourage all bloggers, regardless of political affiliation, to sign up for the "Blogosphere Supports Real Democracy in Iran" Campaign from Regime Change Iran.

It's not much, but if dissidents inside Iran are having their access to well-known activist websites blocked, just hosting the odd story on Iran on your blog may help someone get a piece of news they otherwise would have been prevented from reading by the current regime. "Every little helps," as they say.


For those who are interested, Regime Change Iran have a good round-up of the farce that was Iran's Presidential election here.