Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Via Engage, a statement from the AUT on the NATFHE boycott:
At its recent annual conference NATFHE passed a motion inviting their members to consider boycotting Israeli academics under certain circumstances.

AUT does not endorse this policy and is strongly advising its members not to implement it. In May 2005 AUT council overwhelmingly rejected an earlier decision to boycott two Israeli universities and reasserted its belief that freedom of expression, open debate and unhampered dialogue are prerequisites of academic freedom.

In addition, the meeting went on to set up a commission to investigate the whole issue of international boycotts. The report of the commission was agreed at May 2006 AUT council. It sets out a very careful, staged approach to boycotts which ensures that they are applied only in exceptional circumstances, are fully justified by the facts, and can be shown to be an effective way of furthering academic freedom and human rights.

The commission considered only the collective boycotting of institutions by the union's membership. It did not consider the boycotting of individual academics by individual union members. This tactic is fraught with difficulties and dangers and should not be followed by AUT members.

On 1 June AUT and NATFHE join to form the University and College Union (UCU). The NATFHE motion is not binding on the UCU. The AUT will argue for the UCU to adopt the report of its commission. It will not support or cooperate in any way with any attempts to implement the NATFHE motion in advance of the first UCU annual national congress in June 2007.
Sensible heads have prevailed at the AUT then.

Best comment on the boycott? Shuggy's:
Collective guilt is assumed, the boycott is collective punishment. The only way you can escape this is if you pass an ideology test - and pass it publicly.

Sort of Cultural Revolution-lite for the decaffeinated generation, which reminds me: do you think they'll be demanding Chinese academics expiate the collective guilt of their government's crimes through the public confessional?

Neither do I.

There are two walls under construction: one across occupied lands, another across unoccupied minds.
Nicely put.

Looks like this is something that isn't going to go away anytime soon. The same old arguments will be trotted out for and against the boycott. For those that want to relive them, halfway down this post is a round-up of a debate between Norman Geras, Eve Garrard and Richard Kuper that puts to bed at least one of the more popular pro-boycott arguments.

Academics should know better. In the words of Norm:
What a disgrace to the profession the NATFHE decision is.
Quite. But hopefully a disgrace that lasts but a few days.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Amnesty International and the Observer have teamed up to bring you, a campaign to fight internet censorship. From Kate Allen's launch article:
Amnesty International is again calling on Observer readers to join with us to take a stand for basic human freedoms. The internet has the potential to transcend national borders and allow the free flow of ideas around the world. Of course there is a need for limits to free expression to protect other rights - promoting violence or child pornography are never acceptable - but the internet still has immense power and potential.

Just by logging on to my computer I can exchange views with someone in Beijing or Washington. I can read what bloggers in Baghdad think of the situation in Iraq. I can find a million viewpoints that differ from my own on any topic. It is the greatest medium for free expression since the printing press, a meeting of technology and the social, inquisitive nature of human beings and the irrepressible force of the human voice. This is the new frontier in the battle between those who want to speak out, and those who want to stop them. We must not allow it to be suppressed.

We are asking people to show their support for internet freedom by backing a simple pledge:
I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference. I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet - and on companies to stop helping them do it. calling on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of online freedom of expression and on companies to stop helping them do it.
We will use these pledges to urge the release of the growing number of 'cyber-dissidents' imprisoned for sending emails and posting their views on websites. They will be taken to the United Nations when it meets in November to discuss the future of the internet, and used to show companies that internet users - their customers - will not stand for a web that for some is massively restricted.

The campaign is called 'irrepressible. info' and we are launching it today in The Observer. It will harness the power of the internet to mobilise people all over the world to take a stand against repression. We hope it will spread quickly as more people sign up and tell others about it by email and on their websites.
Good stuff.

They've even gone to the bother of designing a nifty little button for bloggers that posts new censored material on your site each time someone logs in.

Their first campaign is a call on the Chinese authorities to release Shi Tao, a blogger imprisoned for ten years after Yahoo! handed over his particulars to the Chinese government. Regulars will already know the ins and outs of this story - the Amnesty campaign ought to further raise its profile, drawing additional attention to Shi Tao's plight.

Sure, there are similar campaigns along these lines, but for all its flaws, Amnesty pulls more weight than most and this move ought to be applauded. The surprising thing is that it's taken them so long...

Speaking of similar campaigns, Reporters sans frontieres brought this gem to my attention earlier today:
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the closure of online newspaper by its Internet service provider on 22 May, three days after prosecutors being investigating its editor, Vladimir Rakhmankov, on charges of “insulting a representative of the state” under article 319 of the criminal code in an article headlined, “Putin, Russia’s phallic symbol.

Claiming the article contained “phrases of an offensive nature for the president of the Russian Federation,” Vladimir Galchenko, the prosecutor of Ivanovo (near Moscow), ordered a search of Rakhmankov’s home and office and seized his computer. Rakhmankov has been placed under house arrest for the duration of the investigation, expected to take two months.

The offending article was colourfully satirical about President Putin’s appeal to the Russian people to increase the birthrate and thereby defend the country’s borders. It drew parallels with a recent report by the Ivanovo administration that said the city zoo’s animal population had risen.


No trial date has yet been set. Rakhmankov faces a heavy fine or a sentence of six to 12 months of hard labour. As part of the investigation, a “linguistic expert” will be asked to assess the gravity of the insult to President Putin.
This would be funny if it weren't true. Hard labour for calling the President a pillock? I wonder how the ChimpyBusHitlerBliarHalliburton rent-a-mob would fare over there?

Speaking of chimps, it wouldn't be right to not join the merry band of bloggers who have undoubtedly already posted similar images in response to the Amnesty campaign:

"Alright! Let battle commence! Wine and... bananas! Bring on the dancing girls!"

Friday, May 26, 2006


For some reason this post appears to have been posted yesterday, but should in fact be on today's page. Any remedies gratefully received.


Here's something for those who fancy seeing their name converted into Russian. Type your name into the box and Hey Presto! - you're as cool as Lenin.

MAY OR MAY NOT BE SAFE FOR WORK, depending on whether your boss has a sense of humour.



Last night saw the official launch of the Euston Manifesto. Demand for tickets meant a change of venue, so off several hundred of us trekked to Islington's Union Chapel.

The night kicked off with an introduction from Nick Cohen, who did a great job of chairing the meeting. Norman Geras, Shalom Lappin, Eve Garrard and Alan Johnson followed in quick succession, each keeping to their allotted time of fifteen minutes. This must have been quite tricky because I got the impression that each had easily enough material to give a far longer address.

Of course, this was bound to upset some, but there were others who thought the speeches were too long - you can't please everyone the whole time and on the whole, fifteen minutes seemed a pretty reasonable compromise. After all, this was meant to be a public meeting, not a seminar series.

I was busy sorting out late-comers on the door so wasn't able to take many notes during the speeches. Eve Garrard's criticism of those who have double standards for human rights stuck out, slamming those who fiercely criticise the US for human rights abuses but shy away from condemning regimes further from home for similar or worse crimes (whether that be a by-product of cultural relativism or simply the "the enemy of the US is my friend" way of thinking), describing them as "a moral and intellectual disgrace." Bosh.

Alan Johnson made the most of being last up by delivering a great speech, in which he turned Galloway's "I'm not the only one" against him, highlighting the common feeling that many in the audience clearly related to of feeling homeless on the democratic Left. The great thing about the EM and websites such as Harry's Place is that both have drawn together people who may have felt isolated or alone. As he put it, Eric Lee of LabourStart is not the only one. The folk who run Engage (too many to list here) are not the only ones. Labour Friends of Iraq are not the only ones. And so on.

He quoted Paul Berman as saying the pro-democracy Left is one of the largest untapped political forces in the West today. Those I spoke to said how relieved they were to find blogs that represented their way of thinking when the likes of the Independent and the Guardian have mostly kept such lines of argument out of their comments pages. These are the "invisible ones", the people that only since the invention of Cif and the publication of the EM have many on the Left realised exist.

Noone seemed to disagree when Alan Johnson summed things up by stating that the EM was dedicated to fighting for "justice and liberty for all." With the document originating from the Left, he reminded us it was important to remember that this included "social justice for all" with "noone left behind." Understandably, this went down rather well.

And so onto the business of collecting donations and mobile phones for Iraq and taking questions from the floor. Ideally this would have gone on longer, but here the venue failed us a little - due to the lighting it was absolutely impossible for those on the stage to see the audience and thus engage with them properly.

But no matter. As churches go, the Union Chapel must be a rarity in that it has a fully licensed bar round the back, a far better place for everyone to exchange ideas and work out where we go from here.

I'm not sure the venue were expecting so many people to stay behind for drinks, but we drank the bar dry almost immediately, the Drink-Soaked Trots who couldn't make the launch would have been proud. It was a pleasure to meet everyone who stayed behind - and I'm sure the restaurant we all descended on for tapas were quite pleased as well, especially with Paul's rather effective method of getting us our grub as quickly as possible: getting the staff to choose our food allowing the rest of us to gabble on as before. Genius.

After a couple of drinks it was night-bus time, following a little stroll around leafy Canonbury, a great end to a great night. That said, I didn't much appreciate the rather large drunken lady that almost managed to wedge me into my seat on the bus much to the amusement of the bloke behind me. There was me thinking that sleeping people tend to stay still and not flail their bingo-winged arms all over the shop, but that's buses for you. I'd have been alright if I'd had my buckets with me, but there we are (see next post).

To finish: where the Euston train's headed nobody knows, but there's talk of getting Paul Berman involved in June and a meeting planned on Darfur for September (details to follow). Regional EM groups are being set up around the country, the *ahem* young ones present are working on how to get more young ones involved and more than half of those who filled out our questionnaire volunteered their services, whether those be public speaking, organising events or plain old envelope-stuffing (Ed: Thank G*d for that...)

Alan Johnson was right to describe the Euston Manifesto as a catalyst.
What to do next? Well that's up to you. But we can do more than just sit and wait - let's get to work!
Personally, I need a night off. But he's right - the EM has brought together a whole bunch of people - some experienced politicos, others intrigued newcomers wondering how they can help - who might otherwise have never met. Between us we ought to be capable of keeping the ball rolling.

For now, it will suffice to take a deep breath and thank everyone who made the launch the success it was - from the organisers to the speakers to the supporters, all of whom turned down the opportunity of enjoying the first sunny evening in a while and the chance to watch England play to come and make their presence felt and their voices heard. Twelve hundred quid raised and a bucket full of mobile phones for Iraq isn't too bad either. Raised glasses all round.

More here, here and here.

Oh and congratulations to the anti-EM infiltrators who decided to leave a pile of photocopies of the article cited by HakMao here lying on a table at the end. If the best you can do to fight the EM is to leave literature written by someone who can't distinguish between fictional and genuine journalists, we're not particularly worried. You did make us laugh though and it gave us something to wipe up some spillages with, so thanks.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Here's an alternative take on the Euston Manifesto launch.

Whilst you're reading about the amazing speakers, the lovely bunch of people who turned up to show their support or the great after-party, spare a thought for those who had to carry items such as these around the tube during rush-hour yesterday (or run back to their offices with them at 1am):

I'd been told by a friend that the best way to avoid trouble on a bus in Peckham was to carry a bucket as people tend to leave you alone. This turned out to be true of tube trains as well, with commuters shying away from me even more than usual. Partly it was because I probably looked like a proper wrong'un and partly because I was carrying a pair of buckets.

I'm sure there were a couple of nervous glances around me as if Dom Joly were about to pull some stunt for Trigger Happy TV.

I thought about it. After all, if you stick a bucket on your head and sit down next to someone it shouldn't be embarrassing as they can't see who you are. But strangely it is. Or so I'm told.

I suppose there's always the fear that someone might take it off and expose you for the loon you are. But have you ever heard of anyone taking a bucket off someone else's head without their consent? It's just not the done thing. Besides, would you go up to someone with a bucket on their head and pull it off? I think not.

Anyhow, this is pure conjecture as by the time I'd thought it all through I was already sitting on the tube, the whole carriage having seen me struggle on with my buckets thus ruining any chance I had of being Anonymous Bucket Man. A shame.

I clearly need more sleep.

I should have asked these fellas how they felt about the anonymity thing:

Yep. That's Pimms he's drinking.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


There's been a lot of talk about bloggers behaving badly of late. Judging by some of the comments on the Cif pages you'd think we were living in a country on the verge of civil war. So I thought I'd have a look at a few blogs from a region in the world where things actually are a little unstable and see whether flaming, trolling and general nastiness were as prevalent.

Perhaps I was suffering from what Norm referred to as "Blogosphere fatigue." Either way, it's always worth taking a step back from the familiar once in a while and having a look around some new places.

My journey began with a trip to find out that Michael Totten's has just ended: he finished his series of dispatches from the Middle East with some fantastic shots of Beirut. That said, he claims to have a good thousand still to publish so this one could run for some time.

It's worth spending some time going through his archives - there's plenty of vintage articles, including this epic on his trip to Ramallah. As troll medication goes, twenty minutes on his site alone ought to lower the infection rate of the
10: print "YOU STOPPER!"
20: print "YOU 'MONGER!"
30: goto 10
virus making its way into comments boxes.

From there, I followed Michael's link to Lebanese blogger Perpetual Refugee's site, on the basis that this sounded like a fantastic road-trip:
PR: I can image the drive up to Beirut from Tel Aviv. You'd of course take the scenic route. The Mediterranean always on your left hand side. I would assume you'd leave in the morning, the sun already having risen in the east. It would be sunny. It usually is. As you drive north past Haifa, the terrain starts to roll. The hills become mountains. Acre. Nahariyya. Then the border.

The Lebanese customs officer smiles and being Lebanese, starts to chat you up. He'll impress you with a 'Bokaltov' followed by 'Bienvenue a Liban'. You enter without any problems. Your Israeli passport stamped. Your license plates remain as they are. And you drive. The signs are now in Arabic and French. You already feel the difference, and yet, you're comfortable. It still feels good, comfortable. You get excited as you pass the ancient city of Tyre. You feel the urge to stop and see what Alexander the Great found so fascinating about the city. But you don't. You'll be back.

Further north, you reach Saida (Sidon). It's stunning, a bit more Islamic in feel. Again, you want to stop but not today. Today you have a date with Beirut. And you'll fall in love.
We can all dream, I know. But his description of how he found himself (against the wishes of his own government) working in Tel Aviv is well worth a read, as is most of his output. And no snipers in sight. Well, not of the blogging variety anyway.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. For whilst in Tel Aviv, Perpetual Refugee met up with Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman and described the meeting thus:
We talked. But it was different. I've spoken with many Israelis over the past year. This night however we were communicating. It was so civilized. Lebanese & Israeli. Face to face. Communicating.

No stereotyping.
No blind hatred.
No official line.

Just real communication. An exchange of ideas. Of experiences. Waging a war against ignorance. Lebanese & Israeli. Proud. Patriotic. Hopeful.

Thank you Lisa for making this paranoid refugee feel at ease in a place he grew up fearing.

I hope that one day a Lebanese citizen will be able to reciprocate such a brave gesture while staring at this same body of water on the shores of another noble city. Beirut.
It can't of been one-way traffic either, for Lisa writes:
We met in Tel Aviv. And it felt sort of clandestine, not because of who he is and who I am, but because of what he is and what I am, and where we live. Which, when you think about it, is absurd.

We sat at a restaurant on the beach and talked about life and the Middle East, and life in the Middle East, and we solved all its problems in three hours, over a good bottle of wine. The fact that he is incredibly smart and cool helped a lot.

If only everyone would listen to us, the Middle East would be such a great place. :P
No, it's not a blogging's answer to Mills and Boon, but a refreshing anecdote highlighting how blogging needn't be purely confrontational. Indeed, as Lisa points out, blogs are becoming a unifying force in a region beset with many difficulties.

From her report on the We Media conference, it's apparent one of the problems they face is the media itself:
The panelists included Rami Khoury, the editor of the Lebanese Daily Star; Jihad Ali Ballout, Director of Al Arabiya's corporate communications; Saleh Ngem of BBC's Arabic service; and from Iraq by satellite Zuhair Al-Jezairy of Aswat Al Iraq.

None of them had heard of blogs. None of them was interested in the fact that Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Lebanese and Saudi bloggers are writing and talking to and about each other and, linking to one another. None of them was interested to learn that quite a few of us are discovering that the Middle Eastern media is doing a pretty crappy job of getting beyond the cliches, the slogans and the dogma, and that we made that discovery through blogs.
When certain governments don't recognise certain other countries' right to exist, clearly blogs can be incredibly useful tools in terms of dispelling regime- or media-driven stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers between people who would otherwise be barred from meeting or exchanging ideas.

Lisa Goldman provides a handy round-up of her favourite Arabic blogs here, but that's a blog-trip for another time.

Sadly, work and sleep couldn't be fought off with blogging so my journey ended there, after a pitiful three sites. But it was truly refreshing to see the other side of blogging again - it's not all just larey gits throwing their toys out of the pram, Polly!

Of course, there's nothing wrong with an assault with a deadly cluebat when someone says something completely ridiculous. In terms of bish-bash-bosh blogging this thread is quite amusing, if only for the way Flanker ends up agreeing with Johan W's satirical take on the Kos Democrats strategy for taking the White House sometime next century. Priceless.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


From David Aaronovitch in today's Times:
Forget red, blue and yellow. Now the choice is Progressives v Reactionaries.

OH, FOR CLEARER times when men were men and Tories were vermin. Each child born alive was either a little Red or a little Blue, with a few Cornish vacillators wearing the awkward yellow favours of the in-betweenies. Oceans of blood separated us. The Blues loved the Americans, we Reds (sotto voce) thought that the Russians got a bad press. They were for no taxes and lots of poverty, we were for massive taxes and no wealth. They were turned on by soldiers and the Bomb, we were turned on by women with peace symbols painted on their bare breasts. They were for Europe, and then against it. We were against Europe, and then for it. You could usually take someone’s opinion on a single issue, and from it extrapolate her entire world-view.

For years, of course, these allegiances have been breaking up, but the essential divide has been thought to remain. It’s there in the common-place that Tony Blair is right-wing for a Labour man, or that David Cameron is left-wing for a Tory. But the truth has been dawning on many of us for some time now that this way of dividing the political world is an anachronism. It no longer fits the facts. When I look at the candidates for Parliament in my own constituency, the Labourness, Libdemness or Toryness of them no longer seems to be the main question. What I want to know is whether they are a progressive or a reactionary.
Definitely worth two minutes of your time.

It calls to mind a comment Norm made in one of his Gare du Norm (Euston Manifesto Platforms) articles:
I would say for my own part that since September 11 2001, it is not just a matter of specific issues, nor of something occasional. Across a range of vitally important political questions today - questions to do with war and peace, humanitarian intervention, terrorism and the fight against it, America's role in the world, attitudes of indulgence on the left towards regimes and practices that shouldn't be indulged - there is the basis for a common fight that at once unites a part of the left with people who are not of the left and divides it from others who are.

I will even say - and here I do not claim to speak for anyone else - that if I have to choose between a liberal who is also a democrat but not a socialist, and a socialist of illiberal outlook with a frail, or worse than frail, attachment to democracy, then I'll be with the former. Every time.
I'm with Norm on this one.


Monday, May 22, 2006


Today Tony Blair made a surprise visit to Iraq, joining Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki for a news conference earlier this morning.
Mr Blair said it had taken "three years of struggle" to reach the formation of a government.

"For the first time, we have a government of national unity that crosses all boundaries and divides, that is there for a four-year term and [is] directly elected by the votes of millions of Iraqi people."

He refused to lay out a timetable for the withdrawal of troops, but said there was no excuse for the "terrorism and bloodshed" to continue.

"If the worry of people is the presence of the multinational forces, it is the violence that keeps us here. It is the peace that allows us to go."

He sharply dismissed reporters who questioned the worth of the invasion of Iraq.

"Here we are at a press conference where you are able to put me, the British prime minister and this, the new Iraqi prime minister, under pressure. That is what has happened in Iraq," he said.
Although the BBC report doesn't mention it, he then had the pleasure of trying to convince the rest of us that life in a democracy is preferable to living under a dictatorship. It might seem obvious to most, but you can never take too much for granted in politics. Even those whose livelihoods are reliant on the democratic process don't necessarily appreciate its importance (although 77% of Iraqis seem to).

It's just a guess, but on current form I'm reckoning Ken Livingstone won't be cheering on the rise of democracy in Iraq. After all, last week he managed to have another one of his "Did he really say that?" moments:
It's been a few months since Ken Livingstone dropped a decent clanger, so thank goodness London's Mayor retains a deeply-held affection for the People's Republic of China.

Back in January, Ken used a visit to Beijing to defend the Communist regime's human rights record, comparing the Tiananmen Square massacre to poll tax riots in Trafalgar Square.

Yesterday, history repeated itself. During his weekly Mayoral Question Time at City Hall, Livingstone, right, decided to stick up for one of the last century's foremost dictators, Chairman Mao.

Asked about his attitude to regimes alleged to abuse human rights (the Tory questioner cited China and Venezuela) Ken claimed Mao's cultural revolution was "justified", because it improved chiropody.

"One thing that Chairman Mao did was to end the appalling foot binding of women," he announced. "That alone justifies the Mao Tse-tung era."

The comment met with disbelief from members of the London Assembly. They note that Jung Chang's recent book on Mao blames him for the deaths of seventy million people.

"At first, we thought it was just a flippant joke," says one. "But it soon became clear that Ken was being serious."
On the one hand he condemns Israel for "horrendous things which border on crimes against humanity" and on the other excuses mass-murderering tyrant for his efforts to improve the state of his nation's feet. No doubt Mao got the trains running on time too, eh?


Hello again.

Apologies for my absence - have been rather busy in the real world, getting caught up in events personal and not so personal. If you've received a ticket for the latter, the odds are about 50:50 that I've scoured the web to check you're not a well-known psychopath, troll, medical curiosity suffering from a hideously contagious disease, etc.

Incidentally (on the off-chance you've not heard) the response for tickets for the Euston Manifesto Launch was so great we had to switch venues. Details available on the website.

Should be an interesting week.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Yesterday's Observer ran with an extract from Jason Burke's forthcoming book: "On the Road to Kandahar."

This interview must have been one of the most unpleasant he's ever had to conduct:
Kassm had joined the Baath party at the age of 15 in the year that Saddam seized power. By the time he was 16, he was working for the Mukhabarat main office in Baghdad. At 20, he was a full-time interrogator. 'At first, it was difficult for me and then it became more easy. Torture is like anything. You get used to it.'

Kassm, sitting in an upstairs room in the security-service offices, gave no indication that he felt any shame.

'How did you torture people?' I asked him. He chuckled and sat back with his fingers crossed over his belly.

'There are multiple ways. We hoist them over a bar with their arms behind them. We use hot things like an iron on their skin. We use an electric cable - here, here and here,' he said and indicated ears, tongue and groin.

'How about fingernails?' I said, thinking of a waiter who had served me a day or so earlier whose fingers ended in smooth nubs of skin.

Kassm looked insulted. 'That's an old technique. We don't do that any more. Though we did occasionally cut off toes or fingers.'

Did you interrogate children?' I asked 'Sometimes,' he shrugged. 'We tortured everyone, men, women and children.'

'Who was the youngest?'

'Newborn babies, I suppose.'

'You tortured newborn babies?'

'Well, not exactly, but sometimes we brought in newborns and threatened to starve them to death to get their parents to talk. We might starve them a bit for effect but we wouldn't kill the child. That was a pretty effective technique, actually.'

'And the older kids?'

'We would hit five- or six-year-olds with a cable.'

'What about rape?'

'My team did not do that but we had a specially designated rape unit.'

'You have a wife?'

'I have been married twice and I have seven children.'

'And you went home to your wife and kids after a day of torturing people?'

'You are a journalist, I am an interrogator. I got paid, got overtime, bonuses, holidays. It was a job.'

Burke's take on the media is an interesting one:
I spent many months in Iraq after the war. Oddly, I was always more optimistic about the country's future when I was there than in London. Western news bulletins were dominated by those making the most noise or mess, and the voices of the majority in Iraq, who wanted only to eat and sleep in peace with their families, were barely heard. This was true on a global scale too. In Iraq, the violence was aimed at dividing communities. Spectacular acts of international terrorism aimed to do the same. To an extent, sadly, they have succeeded. In the short term at least, brutality can work. But the dogmatic, the fanatic and the violent are still a long way from outright victory. And that we owe to the good sense and humanity of all those caught in the middle - whether on an Israeli bus, a London tube train, in Baghdad or, indeed, in Kandahar.
I'm heading off for a couple of days (family commitments) - further posting today or tomorrow seems unlikely. See you on Wednesday.

Friday, May 12, 2006


By now this is compete glassc0ck, but by popular request here's the most popular Tory (outside Liverpool) in the UK today playing in an England-Germany All Stars "friendly": Our Boris playing soccerball.

His defence, according to the BBC:
"There was no malice in my actions. I was going for the ball with my head, which I understand is a legitimate move in soccer."

To be fair, he does get the ball before the man, but with Rooney likely to return to fitness sooner than expected, the odds of a call-up to the England team are sadly looking pretty slim.

The pat on the arse from Ray Wilkins is a nice touch.


Nice piece in yesterday's Times from the UPI's Martin Walker - "The BBC pro-Israeli? Is the Pope Jewish?":
The official report for the governors of the BBC on its coverage of the Palestine-Israeli conflict found predictably that there was “was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias” but then went on to list a series of measurements by which the BBC could be said to be biased in favour of Israel.

This produced mocking guffaws in my own newsroom, where some of the BBC’s greatest hits — or perhaps misses — remain fresh in the memory. There was the hagiographic send-off for Yassir Arafat by a BBC reporter with tears in her eyes and that half-hour profile of Arafat in 2002 which called him a “hero” and “an icon” and concluded that the corrupt old brute was “the stuff of legends”.

There was Orla Guerin’s unforgettably inventive spin on the story of a Palestinian child being deployed as a suicide bomber, which most journalists saw as a sickening example of child abuse in the pursuit of terrorism. Guerin had it as “Israel’s cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes”.


There was the extraordinarily naive coverage of the London visit of Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais, the predominant imam of Mecca, to open London’s largest new mosque. He was described as a widely respected religious figure who works for “community cohesion”, and a video on the BBC website was captioned “The BBC’s Mark Easton: ‘Events like today offer grounds for optimism’.”

The BBC must have missed his sermon of February 1, 2004, that said “the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels . . . calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers . . . the scum of the human race whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs . . . These are the Jews, a continuous lineage of meanness, cunning, obstinacy, tyranny, licentiousness, evil, and corruption . . .”
I must admit, I'd forgotten about the latter example of BBC cluelessness.

As Walker says, these are isolated incidents, but his analysis of how the BBC report came to the conclusions it did is worth reading, for things aren't quite as simple as the initial coverage of this story made out.

Perhaps surprisingly, at the end of the piece Walker actually speaks of the BBC with a hint of admiration. On the report's conclusion that the BBC ought to use the T-word to describe terrorist acts:
[T]he report goes on to say: “While those immediately responsible for the actions might be described as terrorists, the BBC is right to avoid so labelling organisations, except in attributed remarks.”

So think of the poor hack on deadline in a flak jacket trying to remember whether to say some crazed Jihadist killer was “a terrorist from Hamas” rather than “a Hamas terrorist” while squeezing more historical background and more Palestinian talk-time into the news report.It’s amazing that the coverage is as decent as it is, and that most of us in the business concede privately that, for all its flaws, the BBC still does a better job that any other news organisation on Earth.
I think that's what annoys people - we expect more from the BBC than we do from commercial news outlets. And so we should - we're paying for it.


Another gem from Iowahawk, the London bus of the blogosphere - nothing for ages, then two corkers come along at once. I can't confirm whether he's also big, red and lowers himself so that people in wheelchairs can climb on, but I'd be happy for Ken to use a small fraction of my council tax to help make the service more regular.

This time he's got his mitts on a leaked draft of Ahmadinejad's letter to George Bush:
Young people, university students and ordinary people also have many
questions about the phenomenon of Israel. I am sure you are familiar
with some of them. Questions like, "why does not this country 'Israel'
appear on the old documents and globes, or new United Nations maps?"
And, "can I take the makeup Israel quiz? It is pledge night at the
Mahdi Martyr Mahdi house."

I tell them to study the history of WWI and II. One of my students told me that after WWII, the crafty Jews claimed that six million Jews had been killed, but it was part of a Jew scheme to Jew the life insurance company. This student totally busted the grade curve, and later scored a 1600 on his Paradise Admissions Test.

Again let us go crazy here and fantasize that these events are true. Does that logically translate into the establishment of the state of Israel in the Middle East, building their humiliating Jew pizza parlors right next to the faithful?

Mr President, I am sure you and your crafty neocon accountants know at what cost Israel was established:

- Many thousands were killed in the process.

- Millions of indigenous people were made refugees.

- Whiny tourist ladies from Miami with big sunglasses.

This tragedy has been ongoing for sixty years now.

Another big question asked by people is why is this regime being supported?

Another big question asked is: how many licks does this Zionist regime take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, which has been flavored with the blood of Palestinian infants? The answer is "three," because the Zionist will cheat and bite right into to the delicious blood filling.

The newly elected Palestinian administration recently took office, and is now ordering the needed office equipments such as copiers and Successories posters and national defense martyr belts. Unbelievefully, the Israel regime have put the elected government under pressure and not given it money for toner cartridges and rifle scopes.
But Iowahawk's not the only super-sleuth on the block these days. James Lileks managed to get hold of the original letter which (of course) was never released to the press:
Dear Infidel Crusader Zionist sock-puppet Saudi-lackey depoiler of Mesopotamia woman-touching pigdog fiendish (293 words excised) Shah-licking son of a toad’s offal: I trust this finds you well. I have much on my mind, and have taken the pen to unburden my breast. I have enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope should you wish to reply.

(429 words concerning Jewish penetration of the Postal System excised)

. . . Do you not realize you are beaten, as a donkey is beaten, but knoweth not his donkeyhood is cursed? Your comics have turned against you in your own lair, and mock you without mercy. We have seen the videos of the Meal of the Correspondents, and we know how your left regards the men of the laugh as prophets and seers. It is only a matter of time before Johnny Carson (applause be upon him) returns from occlusion to request that you, Mr. President, take the Slauson cutoff, get out of your car, and cut off your Slauson, Hi-yo, salaam. And a third part of the Slauson shall be stained with the tears of the womenfolk, and (9323 words excised)

. . . Our people glow with pride over our nuclear efforts, sometimes literally. I repeat that the enrichment is for peaceful purposes only, and we seek only peace, and peace is our goal, and there is nothing more we love than peace. Except death. Sorry; forgot. Death is definitely number one. In third place of things we love, well, there were those nice ice-cream desserts they had at this little place in Tehran. When I was Mayor I had them brought in on Fridays. Good times, good times. But once I found a hair.
On a day when all our papers are plastered with stories about yesterday's 7/7 report, it's good to see some proper investigative journalism still being practised out there.


It's been an interesting week for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. No doubt to promote her book "The Caged Virgin", earlier this week she spoke at Harvard where, by all accounts, she caused a bit of a stir.

On the one hand, she must be incredibly frustrated by the number of closed minds she's encountered, but on the second she ought to have been encouraged by the support she's received from others across the political spectrum.

Here's Hitchens on Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Before being elected to parliament, she worked as a translator and social worker among immigrant women who are treated as sexual chattel—or as the object of "honor killings"—by their menfolk, and she has case histories that will freeze your blood. These, however, are in some ways less depressing than the excuses made by qualified liberals for their continuation. At all costs, it seems, others must be allowed "their culture" and—what is more—must be allowed the freedom not to be offended by the smallest criticism of it. If they do feel offended, their very first resort is to violence and intimidation, sometimes with the support of the embassies of foreign states. (How interesting it is that the two European states most recently attacked in this way—Holland and Denmark—should be the ones that have made the greatest effort to be welcoming to immigrants.) Considering that this book is written by a woman who was circumcised against her will at a young age and then very nearly handed over as a bargain with a stranger, it is written with quite astonishing humor and restraint.

But here is the grave and sad news. After being forced into hiding by fascist killers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali found that the Dutch government and people were slightly embarrassed to have such a prominent "Third World" spokeswoman in their midst. She was first kept as a virtual prisoner, which made it almost impossible for her to do her job as an elected representative. When she complained in the press, she was eventually found an apartment in a protected building. Then the other residents of the block filed suit and complained that her presence exposed them to risk. In spite of testimony from the Dutch police, who assured the court that the building was now one of the safest in all Holland, a court has upheld the demand from her neighbors and fellow citizens that she be evicted from her home. [Ed. Clearly NIMBYism isn't restricted to Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells]In these circumstances, she is considering resigning from parliament and perhaps leaving her adopted country altogether. This is not the only example that I know of a supposedly liberal society collaborating in its own destruction, but I hope at least that it will shame us all into making The Caged Virgin a best seller.
You can listen to her on WNYC, NPR and at the PEN Festival and watch her being interviewed on Swedish and Norweigan TV here.

You've got to admire her courage and determination, regardless of whether you agree with everything she says. She certainly doesn't go out of her way to give herself a quiet life.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Whilst waiting for the 7/7 report to go back online, here's a bit of light reading that I'd normally save for a Friday afternoon. Entitled "In Praise of Loopholes", it's a great piece about blagging.

And despite what you might think from the opening paragraph, it's completely safe for work. Honestly!

21 anos indeed.

Hat-tip: Evariste.


A slightly misleading headline from the frontpage of the Times' website: Noone blamed for 7/7.
An official report into the July 7 attacks on London has concluded that MI5 and other security agencies had not understood the sheer scale of the threat posed by "home-grown" Islamic terrorists.

Although the report, by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), absolves the security forces of specific blame for their failure to identify the four 7/7 bombers and avert Britain's first suicide attacks, it paints a picture of an intelligence community that is largely out of its depth.

The cross-party group of eight MPs and one peer also criticises the Joint Intelligence Committee for its potentially misleading judgement just four months before the bombings that suicide attacks would not become the norm in Europe.


The report adds: "Claims in the media that a 'mastermind' left the UK reflect one strand of an investigation that was subsquently discounted by the intelligence and security agencies."
I'm not sure whether that's particularly good news, other than for the relief it provides that our security services didn't lose Mr Big after all.

More worryingly, if this piece from the Independent is anything to go by, MI5 have their eye on another 700 homegrown nutjobs lurking out there with the same twisted mindset as Messrs. Khan, Tanweer, Lindsay and Hussain.

How much the 300% rise in this figure since 9/11 is actually down to the police and MI5's response to 7/7 I don't know, but at least it sounds like the spooks are paying proper attention.

UPDATE: The link to the 7/7 report is currently redirecting to Microsoft's homepage. If anyone knows of another link, please drop me a line. Ta.
No need. All's working again, as of 5.07pm.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Courtesy of Iran Press News, an interesting article from Karim Sadjadpour:
Beirut (Daily Star)

As the international community wrestles with Iran's nuclear ambitions, a longstanding debate on the nuclear issue rages in Tehran, and Western policymakers and analysts should not ignore it.

Though Iranian officials publicly project a unified mindset, in reality the country's ruling elites are divided into three broad categories: those who favor pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle at all costs; those who wish to pursue it without sacrificing diplomatic interests; and those who argue for a suspension of activities to build trust and allow for a full fuel cycle down the road. Understanding and exploiting these differences should be a key component of any diplomatic approach.

The first group, supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, comprises confrontationists who romanticize the defiance of the revolution's early days. Believing that former President Mohammad Khatami's "detente" foreign policy earned Tehran nothing but entry into the "Axis of Evil", they argue that Iran should withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), unequivocally pursue its nuclear ambitions, and dare the international community to react.

They advocate measures such as withholding oil exports and cutting diplomatic ties with countries that side against Iran, confident that "the West needs Iran more than we need them."

The second group, like the confrontationists, argues that Iran is "bound by national duty" to pursue its "inalienable" right to enrich uranium, but unlike them, favors working within an international framework. Lead nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani is representative of this group, arguing simultaneously - perhaps inconsistently - that Iran must not succumb to "Western double standards," but also that "a country's survival depends on its political and diplomatic ties: you can't live in isolation."

The third, more conciliatory group is arguably the most reflective of popular sentiment, but is also currently the least influential in the circles of power. Believing the costs of nuclear intransigence to be greater than its benefits, they claim Iran should freeze its enrichment activities to build confidence and assuage international concerns.

As reformist leader Mustafa Tajzadeh told me, "We have far more pressing concerns facing our country than a lack of uranium enrichment." This group has consistently backed direct talks with the United States, convinced that the Europeans are incapable of providing the political, economic and security dividends Iran seeks.
Compare this situation with pre-War Iraq - there were no second or third groups we could deal with.

In a simlar vein, if you missed it the first time around, Hitchens' "Let the exchange of trade and ideas with Iran begin" might be worth a gander.


From a View from Iran:

…Iran’s 911.

Saw a police minibus parked on Jordan Street. A bunch of young girls were crowded around it, their big hair lifting their scarves high above their heads.

What does proper Islamic dress mean? “It’s just fashion,” a friend answers. Holland’s Moroccan women who choose to wear Islamic dress all by themselves would be subject to harassment in Iran. Why? Fashion. That’s all.

A friend was picked up. “I knew enough to call 110 when the military police started harassing me and my friend. I mean, their job is to pick up wayward soldiers, not harass women. I got through to the police. ‘Give the phone to the military police,’ they told me.”

She did. The police told them that the way the two women were dressed was none of their business. “Hand the phone back to the women,” the officer on the other line said.

“We told them to leave you alone and quit harassing you. We will call back in ten minutes to make sure you are okay.”

The police called back in three minutes. They called again in ten minutes and again in twenty.

There are so many different police-type organizations roaming the streets of Iran: the Basigi on motorcycles, traffic cops who lazily direct the traffic into bigger and bigger jams, military police just kind of hanging out, diplomatic police, intelligence, and the police police, to name a few.

This is why when some mullahs got upset about plastic manikin breasts, only a few of the offending plastic breasts actually got sawed off. “Why didn’t all of them get sawed off?” a visiting friend asked me.

“Because the police actually have to *want* to enforce that law. It’s too perverse for most of them.”
An interesting piece, given the "Crackdown on Women’s Bad Islamic Behaviour" that was announced last month:
Iran will increase police patrols to enforce women's skirt lengths, proper head scarves and even curtail dog-walking during the summer.

"In our campaign, we will confront women showing their bare legs in short pants", said Tehran's police chief, Morteza Tala’i.

"We are also going to combat women wearing skimpy headscarves, short and form-fitting coats, and the ones walking pets in parks and streets" he added.
Women who do not wear the veil can face 10 days to two months' imprisonment, or a fine.
Skimpy headscarves? How ever will the men control themselves?

Not everyone's listening though:
"They surely wait for the beginning of the week to start seriously repressing", Hessam says. With her coloured hairs that come out from the scarf, and her coat curved out of jeans, Mina Elmi, a 21 year old coed, does not look much afraid. "I do not intend to change my practices. I refuse to be afraid", she says while adjusting her make up with audacity.

At her sides, Sepideh Yazdi, her partner of window shopping, is proud to show us her last purchases: light shoes with arrow ends, the last word for Tehrani modern women.
When an authoritarian regime imposes laws on how people should dress but neither the police nor the populace are willing to oblige, it leaves those in charge looking somewhat foolish. Good.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Guess who Ken's invited over for tea? From the Times:
Which international leader publicly threatens to blow up his country’s oilfields, supports Iran’s nuclear programme, says that the Falklands belong to Argentina and believes that Robert Mugabe is a "true freedom-fighter"?

The answer is none other than Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela, who readily antagonises and hurls insults at the leaders of other nations, including Tony Blair, whom he called an "ally of Hitler". Next week London will have the dubious honour of a visit by Señor Chávez, hosted by none other than its mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Emboldened by a huge windfall of petrodollars due to climbing oil prices, Señor Chávez has no shortage of international cheerleaders. He has become the voice and leader of the resentful of our world. From Argentina to the offices of the Greater London Authority, almost every person bearing a grudge against capitalism, free markets, democracy and the rule of law support his "revolution".
Meanwhile, in the eyes of our European neighbours, our very own chavs have propelled the UK to the top of the yob charts.

UPDATE Why Blogger won't allow comments on this is beyond me. Am checking out WordPress because for all their talk, Google aren't really delivering. But then what can you expect for nowt? Grrr...

Monday, May 08, 2006


From Harry's Place, via Sandmonkey:
Egyptian reformist blogger Alaa has been arrested.

Contact details for the Egyptian Embassy:
3521 International Court, NW, Washington DC 20008
Telephone: (202) 895 5400
Fax: (202) 244-4319

Egypt Embassy
26 South Street
London W1Y 6DD
Telephone: +44 [0]207 499 3304/2401
Says Glenn Reynolds at CiF:
E-mail them, send them letters, harrass them. The last time you did that we got Abdel Karim released. I am not joking when I tell you that I had information from a source inside that this is the only reason they released him.
Time to get on it.

Freedom for Egyptians has more.


Going back to the PIPA poll,
  • 64% of Iraqis "favour having a major conference where leaders from the US, Europe, the UN, and various Arab countries would meet with leaders of the new Iraqi government to coordinate efforts to help Iraq achieve greater stability and economic growth" with only 34% believing "it is best for other countries to stay out of Iraq's affairs."

In the mean time, here's something the rest of us can do to help.

How about injecting some new life into your old brick?
The TUC has launched an appeal for unions and their members to pass on their used mobile phones to the Iraqi trade union movement as an act of 'second-hand solidarity'.

Unions representing workers in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan face incredible challenges in defending working people and rebuilding democracy. One of their requests for solidarity from British trade unionists is the provision of mobile phones - crucial for any union organiser these days, but especially in Iraq where travel can be dangerous and landlines aren't sufficiently reliable or widespread.

But mobile phones can be expensive to buy in Iraq (and UK phone systems don't work there yet), so buying new ones could eat up scarce union resources. Instead, the Iraqi trade union movement has identified a way of easily converting old European mobile phones for use in Iraq. So now the TUC Iraq Solidarity Committee has opened an appeal for used mobile phones.

TUC General Councillor Sue Rogers, Chair of the TUC Iraq Solidarity Committee, said: 'Rather than throwing your old mobile phone out, put it to good use rebuilding trade unionism in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Their need is great, and this would be such a small effort, but a big contribution.'

Old mobile phones (and their chargers, of course) should be sent to the TUC Aid for Iraq appeal at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS.
No phone? No problem - the TUC also has a separate Iraq Appeal "to rebuild a free and independent trade union movement, and strengthen civil society in Iraq."

Don't like unions? Try Books to Iraq.

Don't like books or unions? Feel free to post alternatives in the comments.


This morning I had a wander over to Cif and found: Andrew Murray - "Unwanted, unloved and achieving nothing".

No, not the title of his autobiography, but the same old same old about getting our troops out of Iraq, following this weekend's events in Basra.

He writes:
Whatever may be obscure about this particular incident, it seems clear that the downing of the British helicopter was widely welcomed by the people of Basra, who demonstrated in celebration and attacked British troops sent out on a rescue mission.

Thus the streets confirm the results of an opinion poll conducted for the Ministry of Defence itself, which revealed that in British-occupied southern Iraq only 1% of the population regard the military occupation as helping Iraq, and up to two-thirds (depending on province) believe attacks on the occupying troops are legitimate; some 82% were "strongly opposed" to the presence of British troops.
If this had happened last year, Andrew Murray might have a point. But the poll he cites was taken six months ago, well before the recent elections. Is Mr Murray perhaps being a little selective in his choice of poll to support his argument.

Simply put: yes.

Here's a PIPA poll published the day after those historic elections. Regulars will know this study inside out, but those who continually recycle the memes of Murray, Galloway, German et al. ought to take a look.

We find:
  • 68% believe the new government of Iraq will be "the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people." Contrast this with all the talk of "puppet regimes" emanating from the Stopper camp.

  • 64% believe the country is going in the right direction and even taking "any hardships [they] might have suffered since the US-Britain invasion" into account, 77% of Iraqis believe ousting Saddam was worth it. This figure rises to 98% for Shia and 91% for Kurds. Although they weren't polled, this figure falls to 0% for members of the Stop the War Coalition.

  • Over half of all Iraqis polled disapprove of attacks on US-led forces. Murray's "depending on province" caveat is key here, as the figure is worryingly high for Sunnis (88%) but falls to 16% for Kurds. Oddly, of the 43% who do support such attacks, only 41% want to see the US leave by August - things are a little more complicated in Iraq than Murray makes out.

  • Despite the unpopularity of the Coalition's presence, 59% of Iraqis don't think that their own security forces will be up to the job by August. Unlike Murray, the majority of Iraqis don't favour a "Troops Home Now!" approach.
Thus, when Murray writes:
It should be clear by now that anyone shooting at British and US soldiers is going to enjoy popular approval whatever flag they fly, just by virtue of opposing the occupation.

So it is clear more than ever that the British presence in Basra is unloved, unwanted and achieving nothing beyond extending political cover by giving a multinational gloss to George Bush's broader military occupation of Iraq.
he is being disingenuous. In fact, it is far from "clear", as the contradictory results of the PIPA poll show. Here's how the latter explained their findings:
Thus, the presence of US troops may be perceived as an unwelcome presence that produces many undesirable side effects, but is still necessary for a period.
The idea that the United States might actually be doing something useful in Iraq seems to be inconceivable to Murray and his "It's neocolonialist imperialism, stupid!" school of thought.

But perhaps that shouldn't be too surprising. After all, this is the man who wrote:
The drive to seize command of the world economy in the interests of its own monopoly groups now propels the US government to seek to seize command of every corner of the world itself. This does not need any amplification in relation to the Middle East at present. But we should also be alert to the very real dangers in the Fareast and around Peoples Korea. The clear desire of the USA to effect ‘regime change’ in its second ‘axis of evil’ target could well provoke an armed clash there, too. Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples Korea clear.
Presumably that was via the Gorgeous One, who stated:
If it comes to invasion of North Korea, I'll be with North Korea.
They sure know how to pick their friends.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Following this critique by Hitchens and this toys and pram moment from Juan Cole (via DSTPFW), comes this from the supersleuthing Iowahawk. The first draft of Cole's response to Hitchens - it's amazing what you can find if you root round inside dustbins:
I'd like to take this opportunity to complain about the profoundly dishonest character of "attack journalism." Journalists are supposed to interview the subjects about which they write, not hound them endlessly, anonymously, in their chat rooms and checkout lanes. Mr. Hitchens never contacted me about this piece. He never sought clarification of anything. He never asked permission to quote my private mail. Worse, he continues to taunt me from his secret hiding place in 5th floor bathroom air vents. 

Major journalists have a privileged position. Not just anyone can be published in Slate. Most academics could not get a gig there (I've never been asked to write for it, and seriously, what’s up with that shit?). Hitchens is paid to publish there because he is a prominent journalist. But then he should behave like a journalist, not like a hired gun for the far Right, smearing hapless targets of his ire, and by hapless I don’t mean me because I am totally not hapless, and have an advance degree, and serve on many important committees.

That isn't journalism. For some reason it drives the Right absolutely crazy that I keep this little web log, and so they keep trotting out these clowns in amateurish sniping attacks. It is rather sad, to look out one’s office window and see the teeming throngs of deranged rightwing crazy people, and their attack journalism sniper clowns. It is even more sad when the Dean will not approve  my request for bullet proof office glass to protect me from the armies of menacing Zionist attack clowns.

The reason for Hitchens' theft and publication of my private IM chat is that I object to the characterization of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having "threatened to wipe Israel off the map." I object to this translation of what he said on two grounds. First, it gives the impression that he wants to play Hitler to Israel's Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people. Second, even if it were true, Hitchens acts like that’s bad or something.

Since Mr. Hitchens wants to splash my private IMs all over the internet against my will, just like the local Korean agents of the Bush cabal who put secret monitoring devices in my dry cleaning bags, I'm glad to share the message stream from the chat room.
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2006 15:34:18 -0400

Ahmad_as_hell: fokkin jewz they gonna get teh nukez!!!!!!!!!!!!
PageGNHS08: lol!!! i no what u mean
PageGNHS08: the jews at GNHS totally blow up grade curve
Ahmad_as_hell: no serius i hate jewz & gt nukez yall!!
Ahmad_as_hell: I m enrichin u rannium bizitchz
Ahmad_as_hell: u r so totlly nuked jews!!!!!
PageGNHS08: whoa dude thts hardcore maybe u shld see ur school counselor
Juan_in_a_millyun: don’t be a narc page hez jst kiddin
Ahmad_as_hell: no way dude those jewz are fokkn ded forilla !!!!!
PageGNHS08: ur creepin me out we saw movie at GNHS abt columbine
PageGNHS08: im jst sayn
Juan_in_a_millyun: shutup page hez jst doin his a mad persian rhyme flow
Juan_in_a_millyun: if u narc u r totally not going to UM or nicks prom party
Maddie_Albrt: hi page!!!! Wow ur pic is so cute!!! my frnd Bill totally wants to meet u
Maddie_Albrt: he used 2 b prez of US heres his pic
PageGNHS08: eewwwwwww

Hitchens is like,  “you said that Khomeini never called for wiping Israel from the face of the map,” and I’m like, “dude I never said anything at all about Khomeini,” and he’s like “whatever.” Hitchens should please quote me on Khomeini and Israel and stop talking like he knows what I’m about, because I’m me, and he’s totally not.



Nationally, not a good night for Labour, leading to today's inevitable reshuffle. And not a good night for community and race relations, with both RESPECT and (more worryingly) the BNP making gains. One positive result was RESPECT National Secretary John Rees failing to get elected in Bethnal Green South, where all three seats went to Labour. Good.

But it's not all doom and gloom in East London. The eight wards in my area had no BNPers standing and only two RESPECT candidates, both of whom were trounced - even the lone Green got more votes. As I'd predicted, the LibDems had a fair showing in my own ward, giving Labour work to do in the future. Perhaps they won't take their supporters' votes for granted next time.

And there was no David Cameron bounce in sight - in one ward all three Tory candidates finished well behind the Greens and only just (~ 30-60 votes) ahead of someone purporting to be from Socialist Alternative. In fact, three of the LibDems gains were made at the expense of the Tories.

All in all, the results for my council look remarkably middle of the road. Seats were only won by the three major parties with Labour out front and the LibDems and Tories battling for second. How very 1997. Reassuring though, that despite the mixed ethnic make-up of my borough (40% of residents are non-white according to the 2001 Census), neither the BNP nor RESPECT have made any in-roads. Either they're putting something in the water (it tastes a lot nicer than the usual London muck) or else people are just a little bit more chilled round my way - long may this continue.

For those with time on their hands, the BBC have a great map you can use to find out exactly what went on around the country.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Sorry for the state of the site today. Something went horribly awry. Posted a half-finished post by mistake, deleted it and thought all was cool. Apparently not. It should be better now.


Sometimes people give me grief for not linking to "Screw 'Em" Zuniga's DailyKos. Now I know he recently had his purge but really, do you honestly expect me to take a website seriously when it publishes a diary entry entitled "moussouai is innocent!"?

Avert your eyes if for some reason you think the Euston Manifesto is a waste of time - you won't like what you see:
do any of you really believe that al-qaeda, or anyone else for that matter, would have employed a clearly deranged person like moussouai to be part of the 9/11 plot?

or did al-qaida know it was completely protected by elements within the american government establishment?

several years ago the cia stated that it would not have been able to pull off 9/11. despite its nearly limitless resources. yet an organization that was under the gun and monitored throughout the world was.

think about that.
For f*cks sake.

Tin-foil hats all round.

To their credit, several commenters say the same damn thing, showing not all is rotten in the state of Denmark.

And not that other big-name Leftist blogs are without their fair share of plums.

From Crooked Timber we're treated to the following nonsense, a supposed critique of the Euston Manifesto courtesy of John Holbo - "Euston, We Have A Problem":
The whole ‘Decent Left’ thing, starting with Walzer’s original “Dissent” piece, is about post-9/11 US foreign policy. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that it’s narrowed to be about the Iraq War, and everything feeding into it and flowing out of it. Whether you are still on the Decency bus depends on whether you are still, to some degree, on the Iraq bus.
Well that's a great way to start an essay, completely misrepresenting a broad swathe of the Left who've signed the Euston Manifesto despite their differences over the Iraq War. Sensible folk who have better things to do with their time than visit the academics' version of Kos have every excuse to stop here and change trains.

Firstly, let's start with "The whole ‘Decent Left’ thing." Drink-Soaked Trot Will was at pains to state he'd deck anyone who called him "Decent" at the last Euston meeting. He's as indecent as Drink-Soaked Trots come and there are others in the group who'd claim the same.

Letting that slip, describing the Euston Manifesto and the "Decent Left"'s outlook by stating "It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that it’s narrowed to be about the Iraq War" is simply incorrect. Not just a little bit, but entirely.

Let's revisit the Manifesto's Statement of Principles:
1) For democracy.
2) No apology for tyranny.
3) Human rights for all.
4) Equality.
5) Development for freedom.
6) Opposing anti-Americanism.
7) For a two-state solution.
8) Against racism.
9) United against terror.
10) A new internationalism.
11) A critical openness.
12) Historical truth.
13) Freedom of ideas.
14) Open source.
15) A precious heritage.
Quite clearly, it's all about the Iraq War.

I always admired Worzel Gummidge, but even he wouldn't show solidarity with this poor excuse for a straw man.

As initial assumptions go, this is about as daft as it gets. But why let the facts get in the way of a good rant?

We learn:
It is significant that ‘the Decent Left’ is, largely, an academic phenomenon. I think this is due in part to the fact that certain varieties of theatrical nonsense, not to put too fine a point on it, afflict segments of the leftist professoriat.
Fair comment perhaps, but then we read:
Maybe it would be a good idea to think about how the Decent Left exhibits self-lacerating impulses, with regard to the left as a whole, analogous to those the left as a whole is alleged to suffer from, with regard to society as a whole: to wit, a tendency to focus on the mote in one’s own eye rather than the beam in thine enemy’s.
What was that about theatrical nonsense?

The crux of the argument is:
But really maybe the best option is to extend a friendly invitation to these decent folks, who really are on the same side with us: just admit you were wrong and adjust accordingly. The fact that your manifesto attempts to skirt around arguments for and against the war shows that you are genuinely, intellectually, uncomfortable with what you have thought in the past. Come clean. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Some lefties will gloat mildly for a few days. But mostly they’ll just be glad to have you back.
Have us back? Oh, how very kind. But we never left.

Quite what this has to do with the Euston Manifesto or the anti-War EM signatories I do not know. Presumably he feels the anti-War signatories deep down were actually pro-War and must thus beg for the same forgiveness from the rest of the "Left". I don't think so.

The whole piece reeks of "But this is what you really meant!" logic, setting up false premises which the author is keen to destroy. All very well and good, but what does this have to do with the Euston Manifesto? Not an awful lot.

Quite why pro- and anti-War Leftists shouldn't find common ground in anti-totalitarianism and the other 14 Statements of Principle is beyond me. Apparently it's a bad thing, as upon collaboration on a joint manifesto both become pariahs in need of salvation. I can only presume that to the Sporting Wood brigade being anti-War is everything, a badge of honour if you will, to be rubbed in the faces of those who might feel that despite the incompetence of the Bush administration, seeing millions of purple-fingered Iraqis is a good thing.

From the comments John Holbo makes it clear that for some reason, despite the Euston Manifesto being written by folk with a myriad of opinions on Iraq, being an anti-War Leftist procludes him from signing. Perhaps his initial assumption that the document is a pro-War screed might have something to do with that rather poor judgment.

Harry's Place stalwart Soru says it all:
JH: So you made a mistake. Own up. Formally apologize, for what it’s worth. Get on with it.

Soru: Given that your basic analysis of the motives and thinking of the Euston signatories has been shown to be off base, are you going to be taking your own advice?

Go back, think for a day or two, and write the whole thing again from scratch.

In particular, consider whether the new information you have learnt justifies possibly coming to a different conclusion about whether to sign or not. Failing that, at least provide a new explanation for why it is you are not signing.
Sadly it falls on deaf ears.

And if you think my Kos comparison is out of line, have a look in the commments.

Failed Harry's Place troll Brendan starts spinning the conspiracy wheel:
In other words, despite all the fine words, and fulsome rhetoric, the point of this document is purely and simply to get people to vote Labour, and support Tony Blair. The timing is interesting too. As long as the EMers can persuade people that the major issue of our day is Islamic terrorism and not (as a quick look at the British papers would lead you to believe) the impending disintegration of the Labour party at the council elections, then obviously this helps Blair.

The mindless support of the document from the Guardian and the Observer (which, at least in the latter case, is NOT a liberal newspaper) is based purely on the fact that these papers have a blind spot about Blair, based on ‘97, and they have been completely unable to face up to his recent failings (especially about Iraq).
You've got to chuckle at someone who hasn't noticed that both the Guardian and the Observer have run many, many stories about the "quagmire" in Iraq and thinks that the Observer "is NOT a liberal newspaper"...

Unchallenged, he continues:
Regardless how much we might want to condemn those intellectuals who supported the Leninist/Stalinist tyranny or the tyranny in China under Mao, there is no doubt that the vast majority of them did so because they really believed in Leninism/Maoism. They genuinely thought that authoritarian communism might lead to a Utopia where there was no exploitation or war etc.
Well that's all right. Presumably those of us who thought the invasion of Iraq was a "good thing" are let off the hook then. After all, many of us genuinely believe(d) that things might be a bit better under democracy than under Saddam's murderous regime.

Apparently not.

The meds were wearing off when he wrote:
Could I just add one basic point? That seems to have escaped everyone’s notice?

Why are suicide bombers always referred to as suicide bombers in these discussions? I mean, who gives a shit if the guy with the bombs kills him/herself? It’s a free country (well not Iraq, ha ha ha). Suicide is not illegal. If someone wants to kill themselves it’s their business.

The key point is not that they are suicide bombers but that they are bombers. Can we all get that straight?

Or is the addition of the word ‘suicide’ to create a thick psychological wall between ‘their’ bombers and ‘ours’?
Yup. That's it. Describing people who commit suicide by setting off bombs attached to themselves as "suicide bombers" isn't telling it like it is, it's all about the thick psychological wall. I'm surprised the BBC have the nerve to call them militants.

I did wonder whether these comments were ignored because noone took this loon seriously, but a quick check of other threads shows several folk replying to his nonsense. Ho hum.

Shame the Euston Manifesto went over their heads, but I've never seen the point of Crooked Timber before now and at this rate I never will.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


A letter to the Times that struck a chord - "Shhh. Whatever you do, don't mention the local elections":
Sir, I hope I’m not breaking a secret by telling you that there are local council elections this Thursday. There has been no hustings, no leafleting at local stations, no campaigning and no posters. These elections are discussed on television and in the press, but nothing is happening on the ground. It seems they exist for politicians and commentators, with just a bit-part for the local electorate.
Quite. I've had a glossy pamphlet from the council outlining the parties that are standing and the usual gumph from the LibDems about how whatever the local Labour councillor says about speed bumps is wrong, but not a peep from the boys in red or blue.

The area of London I live in has traditionallly voted Labour so the Tories don't stand a chance, yet after the events of last week I wouldn't discount the possibility of the LibDems doing rather well in tomorrow's local election. I can understand the Tories not bothering to send anyone out, but Labour sitting on its hands? They either know something I don't and are focussing their efforts elsewhere, or they're being particularly slack.
This silent election raises a number of concerns. First, how can the results of the election be worth anything when the electorate has had no information on which to base its vote? Secondly, how can anyone criticise non-voters when they are given nothing to engage with, and the contestants seem equally apathetic or smug about the election? Finally, with party political funding in the news, I wonder where the parties’ money goes when a local election is judged not worth the expenditure?

It may be that Bromley is overlooked by the democratic process and other areas are hotbeds of electoral activity. Lucky them — I just want an election leaflet and something to vote for or against. It’s a local election, and I was hoping to base my vote on something other than Charles Clarke’s travails or David Cameron’s bicycle.

Bromley, Kent
Well Mr Corbett, it's not just Bromley. I've seen lots of council-funded adverts telling me that my vote is really important but had just the one political pamphlet land on my doormat. If Labour loses in my ward, they'll have noone to blame but themselves.

UPDATE And, as if by magic, a Labour leaflet was sitting on my doorstep when I got home last night. Better late than never.


Sad news. Hard to do the man justice in one blog post.

Here's two obituaries.

From the second:
Paul Spiegel held one of the most delicate posts in European public life. As president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany his every utterance was liable to touch raw nerves.

In Germany the Holocaust is not history; its aftermath is the stuff and content of everyday politics. All parties represented in the German parliament, the Bundestag, share an unyielding “never again” attitude. But at the slightest whiff of danger, real or perceived, every Central Council president since the late l940s has felt obliged to warn and protest. Spiegel was no exception.

The ever-present Holocaust memory also influences most government policies, internal and external. They range from welfare to education, and embrace tactical and constitutional questions about the most effective way to check the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party. And they extend to the federal Government’s policy towards the state of Israel — because today’s German Jewry still feels insecure, Spiegel has maintained the Central Council’s unwavering support for Israel. As far as the Central Council is concerned, public policies are always combustible and potentially explosive.

Relations with the federal Government were greatly smoothed during his incumbency of more than six years because he had an easy rapport with Gerhard Schröder, who was Chancellor for most of that time. Each understood the other. That is why the Spiegel presidency is likely to go down as the most tranquil in the post-Holocaust history of German-Jewish relations.

His initial task was mountainous because he followed Ignaz Bubis, a man of great charisma and powerful personality, who had dominated the Central Council and at times the German media. By contrast, Spiegel brought to the post personal modesty, warmth and kindness, and a transparent decency.

His achievement is the greater in that the Central Council is a small organisation with a tiny staff and massive tasks. Whatever its formal constitution says, the heavy duties rest in the hands of the president. He is the instant spokesman and decision maker. Spiegel performed his tasks with speed, judgment and never-flagging devotion.
And from the Herald:
Chancellor Angela Merkel mourned an "exemplary democrat" and a passionate supporter of Jewish life in Germany. "He warned, where others remained silent. His engagement for civil courage, for tolerance and mutual respect and against hatred of foreigners and anti-Semitism set standards," Merkel said.

President Horst Koehler described Spiegel as a "German patriot" who helped ensure that "we Germans learn the right lessons from the Nazi crimes".
Hat-tip to Doughnut Boy Andy.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Whilst many of us spent the long weekend trying to pretend that Rooney and Terry currently possess more than two good legs between them, I see a certain Christopher Hitchens was seriously considering adding his name to the list of Euston Manifesto signatories.

As usual, Hitchens has a fair bit to say so it's worth reading the lot, but for those in a hurry - here's his summary:
The “Euston Manifesto” keeps it simple. It prefers democratic pluralism, at any price, to theocracy. It raises an eyebrow at the enslavement of the female half of the population and the burial alive of homosexuals. It has its reservations about the United States, but knows that if anything is ever done about (say) Darfur, it will be Washington that receives the UN mandate to do the heavy lifting.

It prefers those who vote in Iraq and Afghanistan to those who put bombs in mosques and schools and hospitals. It does not conceive of arguments that make excuses for suicide murderers. It affirms the right of democratic nations and open societies to defend themselves, both from theocratic states abroad and from theocratic gangsters at home.

I have been flattered by an invitation to sign it, and I probably will, but if I agree it will be the most conservative document that I have ever initialled. Even the obvious has now become revolutionary. So call me a neo-conservative if you must: anything is preferable to the rotten unprincipled alliance between the former fans of the one-party state and the hysterical zealots of the one-god one.
Very nice.

For those who need to know, I can confirm it was indeed an O'Neill's in which this whole devillish plot was hatched, so no wonder the bitter was non-existent. Picture here courtesy of Anthony Cox, who also reports the good news that the number of signatories has now reached the 1,000 mark.

Good stuff.