Wednesday, June 30, 2004

missed anniversary

of the shot heard round the world (via antiwar blog).

Lenin said of World War One that it was a conflict between slaveholders for a fairer distribution of the slaves. But the remote origins of that are in the desire of one of the slaveholders – Britain – to drag in the United States to help secure its property. The US, of course, had ideas of its own about the way the world should be ordered. Lenin’s quip is not a bad description of the war between the jihadis and the forces of Anglostan in Iraq and other places.

From AJP Taylor:

The First World War had none of the traditional outcomes. The Balance of Power was not restored. A single great power did not dominate the continent. There was not even universal revolution. The intervention of the United States overthrew all rational calculations. Henceforward, what had been the centre of the world became merely “the European Question”.

Proud anti-pro-American that I am, I wonder if, should Americans ever come to their senses on the matter of empire, they will ever forgive us? Of course they will, in return for the mineral rights.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

pleasantly of musk

via informed comment, a report from Fallujah by Nir Rosen.

My hosts showed me a leaflet that was circulating throughout the region. A blurry photocollage depicted a giant, spiderlike creature next to a pair of legs that belonged to a man in an American military uniform. The leaflet explained that the creature circles around Falluja, attacking Americans. It could run up to forty kilometres, screaming and biting. I had heard numerous fantastic stories like that. One told of a Kalashnikov that worked for four hours straight without reloading. An armory used by the mujahideen turned into a weapons cornucopia. Dead mujahideen were said to smell pleasantly of musk. “Unnatural things happened,” I was told over and over.

And a happy handover to you too.

Monday, June 28, 2004

lacuna

Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11 inspire no opinions in me whatsoever. This is probably a sin against blogging. I'm sorry, but there you go. He's just so...so...no, nothing's coming.

I've a sort of meta-idea about that though. There's a great big Michael Moore shaped hole in the culture, which he fits exactly, for better or worse. There's no room to winkle him out with words and examine him in detail. He was always there in a way, a big pie shaped ghostly presence that suddenly manifested itself, a representative of the angst and agitprop subset finally called into the mainstream.

Well, that's your lot. it's not much but it was still more of an effort than I wanted to make. So be grateful.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

customer service

Harry Hutton wishes to purify himself with a view to ridding the world of infidels. It is a process which requires research and certain pieces of specialised equipment. Follow his progress here and scroll upward.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

when I'm 86

Flit takes the long view on sovereignty, and puts a marker down in the great Iraq metaphor stakes.

Reality is as much an unknown quantity among many of those in the opposition ranks too, of course. In order for them to plan domestic opposition effectively, however, they really have to get one thing straight. You're. Not. Leaving. You can't. Energy needs demand American basing in the Middle East. The Saudi bases were forfeited for Iraqi ones. So the Iraqi ones are the ones you're getting. I'll say it again: You're. Not. Getting. Out. Even if Kerry wins. Hell, even if Nader wins. Two or three presidential elections from now, you will still have tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq. …

At the moment, the Iraq adventure is more or less where the Philippine adventure was in March, 1900; the open rebellion has calmed down a bit, there is a parallel civilian power struggle in the offing, and the Americans are changing leadership. (McKinley didn't have Kofi Annan back then, so he had to invent the Taft Commission to fill its place, but other than that we're pretty close.) That puts us about one year from the popular Aguinaldo figure's (Sadr's?) end, a year-and-a-half from a bloody American defeat that outrages the home front and leads to American reprisal atrocities (Balangiga), two years from the "zones" policy (what they called the Philippine concentration camps) and a decade away from the end of the still-to-come Moro (Kurdish?) rebellion. If everything goes according to precedent, Iraq will be a fully sovereign nation again no later than 2050.


By which time, I'll be 86. I wonder if we'll still be blogging away then? Meanwhile, in another part of the empire...

and the winner is

Backword Dave. It was pretty obvious really. Even if you don’t know, you can sort of guess it wasn’t Nixon. It’s not given to one man to have all the vices, I guess - though Kennedy certainly had most of them.

Also Dave tips me off that Blogger comments only links to blogger sites. That’s them for the bin then, as soon as I get round to it.

Friday, June 25, 2004

worst president ever

No it’s not about George. It’s sort of about Bill, but it’s mainly about someone else.

OK, right. From Oliver Kamms blog, the following statement:

Clinton himself - the worst human being ever to be President - debased his office.

The worst, eh? I never liked old backdoor Bill but he never did anything as bad as what’s alleged below. This is an extract from Gore Vidal’s The Last Empire.

“Well” said Hersh “I’m glad I got to you.” Hersh is brisk and bumptious. “I got some questions for you. That detail in your book about how he was having sex in a tub wuth this girl on top and then, as he’s about to come, he pushes her head underwater. Why?

I explained to Sy that the shock of the head being shoved underwater would cause vaginal contractions, thus increasing the pleasure of a man’s own orgasm. “Crazy” he said. How do you know all this?” I said I’d been told the story years ago…Sy was exuberant. “Well, I got four retired secret service men – serious guys – and one told me how he would bring the President a hooker when he was lying on his back in the tub and then she’d get on top of him and when he was ready the Secret Service guy would shove her head underwater…”


Any guesses?

was it the uniforms after all?

Once described by an Independent correspondent as the very young columnist of the year, Johann Hari has some interesting thoughts on the appeal of fascism to certain gay men.

But there’s another important question: will fascist movements inevitably turn on gay people? In the case of the Nazis, it seems to have been fairly arbitrary; Hitler’s main reason for killing Rohm was unrelated to his sexuality. From my perspective as a progressive-minded leftie, all fascism is evil; but should all gay people see it as inimical to their interests? Is it possible to have a gay fascist who wasn’t acting against his own interests? Fascism is often defined as “a political ideology advocating hierarchical government that systematically denies equality to certain groups.” It’s true that this hierarchy could benefit gay people at the expense of, say, black people. But given the prevalence of homophobia, isn’t that – even for people who don’t see fascism as inherently evil – a terrible risk to take? Won’t a culture that turns viciously on one minority get around to gay people in the end? This seems, ultimately, to be the lesson of Ernst Rohm’s pitiful, squalid little life.

Yukio Mishima once argued that gay men should be fascists because they would inevitably face the hostility of the majority and so should support an ideology which promoted the suppression and disciplining of that majority. If the fascist party itself turned on gay people, then you would at least know in which direction oppression was coming from and so stand a chance of being able to get out of the way. This is at least arguably better than walking home through a rough area of town constantly looking over your shoulder.

More generally, I think there is an environmental pre-disposition to be economically right wing amongst gay people, if only for the fact that this is the ground where the rhetoric of of individual choice and freedom has traditionally been located. And it’s easy for someone designated an outsider to feel hostility to the idea of the working classes and to policies which might benefit them collectively. What, put my tax money in the pockets of queer bashers? That line of thinking applies to other minority groups too.

It’s noticeable that the Labour Party has used minority-speak to camouflage its own journey rightwards. Amongst a certain class of activists, it resonates to say that traditional left wing policies are “too white”, “too male” or even heterosexist (whatever happened to heterosexism? Ah, the rhetoric of yesteryear). I certainly recall a meme floating round during the firefighters strike to the effect that they didn’t deserve a pay rise precisely because they were white, male and working class. If the boy columnist really fancies chucking a bomb, gay people and the rightward shift of the Labour Party might be an interesting subject to tackle.

via Harry's Place

Thursday, June 24, 2004

a victory

Truth and beauty won in the end. Justice too. Come on, admit it. They played like donkeys. It would have been a colossal embarrassment to have that team in a semi final in a major tournament.

recognition

I blogged about Israeli interests in Iraq back in March, and now Seymour Hersh's latest in the New Yorker concerns Mossad intelligence activity in Iraqi Kurdistan. A short extract:

...Clawson said, “The Israelis disagreed quite vigorously with us last summer. Their concern was very straightforward—that the Iranians would create social and charity organizations in Iraq and use them to recruit people who would engage in armed attacks against Americans."

This doesn't quite fit. As I recall, at that time all the violence was coming from Sunni insurgents. The Shia were largely quiescent, or at least quiet.

I wonder if there's something else going on. Wasn’t one of the original objectives of the invasion to get a pro-Israeli government in an Arab state? Remember all that stuff about a pipeline to Haifa?

Well that didn't work out. Instead, the US seems to be committed to whatever form of government can be made to work and get everyone in Iraq to calm the hell down - irrespective of that government’s attitude towards Israel. I don’t think US policy has changed as such. It’s more of a change of gravity. Iraq now has weight as a subject rather than an object of US policy.

Looking at it from a Likud point of view, there’s now a possibility that the US will be lending a friendly ear to a new, pro- Palestinian government in Iraq. Perhaps it is better to weaken such a government before it takes root. Back in the spring, the timing of the Assassinations of the Hamas leaders Rantisi and Sheik Yassin seemed calculated to stir the pot just as the insurgencies in Fallujah and around Najaf were taking hold. The Kurds have already stated that they don’t like the interim constitution because it’s removed their veto on the final arrangements for the nature of the Iraqi state. Israeli military support for Kurdish autonomy would go a long way to weakening Iraq as well as providing the means to destabilize Iran and Syria.

Obviously there’s no guarantee that the new Iraqi government will set down roots. But maybe now’s the time to intervene to ensure it doesn’t, while the political and military situations are still fluid.

What I’d like to know at this point is Allawi’s intentions towards Israel, and specifically whether or not he intends to offer diplomatic recognition.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

requiem

the end of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq - a business view

I note this is rich: U.S. reconstruction specialists commonly complain of ungrateful Iraqis. What the fuck these idiots think the Iraqis should be grateful for I don't know, but certainly merely toppling a dictator is not enough, the motherfuckers in Iraq know bloody well that toppling dictators does not make the fucking pie in the end, so no reason to congratulate the Chef for simply having bought the motherfucking ingrediants, he's gotta fucking make the pie in order to fucking congratulate him. Mindless idiots, these stupid fucking American "reconstruction" idiots in the CPA, full of their bloated farts of empty pompous "liberation" posturing.

a poem for England

As the question moves on from the undoubted ugliness of England players to the probability that they reflect the ugliness of the English as a whole, I now think that this whole thing has gone too far. I may snigger and snipe, but I am for all that an Englishman. So in advance of tomorrow’s game, an extract from a poem by our most famous bard.

That Rudyard Kipling – he’s fuckin’ mint!

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Come on England!

photos via those estimable anthropologists at Chavscum

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

rhetorical wall

Via Explananda one of those articles: the invasion I supported has gone all pear-shaped, but nonetheless, in supporting it I still demonstrate my moral superiority. Well alright, if you must. But then it’s slap bang into a rhetorical wall of outstanding silliness.

To understand Saddam Hussein and the history of modern Iraq, you have to feel anger--or else you have understood nothing.

OK, let’s say that you can read Arabic, are fully versed in the history of the place and maybe even live there. But unless you’re emotionally correct, then you don’t know a thing. I would have thought the fundamental problem with people like Paul Berman is that they were so angry with Saddam Hussein that they understood nothing about Iraq. Nor did nearly all of the rest of us, but this is what tends to make sensible people wary, rather than enthusiastic.

Let’s apply the same principle to other countries. Say you have a fairly unsavoury regime – dictatorial, corrupt, brutal – but not in Saddam’s category and therefore not meriting anger.

To understand Aleksandr Lukashenko and the history of modern Belarus, you have to feel mild but constant irritation--or else you have understood nothing.

Now let’s say we’re talking about a certainly venal, probably fairly corrupt president, but one who has a firm mandate from the people of a country who, by and large, like the state they live in pretty well.

To understand Jacques Chirac and the history of modern France, you have to feel occasionally exasperated--or else you have understood nothing.

I wonder what emotions it is necessary to feel for me to understand, I don’t know, Norway for instance. Or Tonga. Or…

To understand Tony Blair and the history of modern Britain, you have to feel like sitting with your head in your hands and moaning gently but continuously --or else you have understood nothing.

Well, maybe not so wrong after all.

the ugly Englishman

As the flying cheeseburgers waddle triumphantly into the quarter finals, more people are shocked and awed by their resemblance to swamp donkeys. Worse, our official global poster boy bears an uncanny facial resemblance to the toxic avenger. Is there any doubt that, come Thursday, truth and beauty will be on the side of Portugal?

Sunday, June 20, 2004

stasiland

Anna Funder’s Stasiland was my Book of 2003 by a fairly long way. What distinguishes the regime it describes from other tales of totalitarianism is a kind of repulsive intimacy.

"Laid out upright and end to end," reports Stasiland, a first book which this week won the Australian writer Anna Funder the £30,000 BBC4 Samuel Johnson prize, "the files the Stasi kept on their countrymen would form a line 180km long." In its abandoned Leipzig offices, Funder even came across the "smell samples" of underpants that the Stasi used - or at least pretended to use - in order to trail and identify dissidents with the aid of sniffer dogs"

Other dictators get in your face. The Stasi got in your knickers. They were one of East Germany’s largest employers. Additionally, around one in six of the population was working for them part time. Clearly, this isn’t your classic secret police set up. There just wasn’t enough political dissidence to keep all these spooks and snitches employed. About halfway through the book it occurred to me that East Germany had come to exist precisely so that its population could be spied on. Hostility to caopitalsim was the official position of the State. Hostility to privacy was it's actual raison d'etre. Minding other people’s business depended on them having business to mind, so it helped that East Germany was just about successful enough economically to create a ramshackle facsimile of consumerism.

Funder interviews a number of ex-Stasi operatives. They don’t seem too bothered by what they did, and most don’t defend it in a way that indicates they might have a bad conscience. As far as they were concerned they were staunch communitarians. I’m inclined to believe they were right.

these days

Jacek Kuron was a socialist, a prominent and longstanding dissident against Commumist rule in Poland, a member of Solidarity’s national committee and Minister of Labour in the first post-Communist government.

His Guardian obituary is a tale of civic heroism. And it ends with what you might call an intergenerational moment.

He continued writing intermittent tracts on social and political themes, and produced a two-part autobiography. In 1995, he failed, probably because of poor organisation, to secure nomination in the Polish presidential elections.

He is survived by his second wife Danuta, and his son Maciej, a celebrity chef.


found via Crooked Timber

Saturday, June 19, 2004

more brutal laws

Billmon finds evidence that the hard line may be imminent.

Iraq's interim government yesterday said it was considering reviving emergency martial law powers from the Saddam Hussein era to combat a wave of violence that has killed nearly 200 people and paralyzed oil exports.

Malik Dohan al-Hassan, justice minister in the caretaker Iraqi government, said authorities may resort to "exceptional" laws imposed by the former dictator after it takes power on June 30.

…..

Such a move would be welcome by Col. Haydar Abdul Rasool, an officer in the fledgling Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

Given the country's mounting security woes, Col. Rasool said he would recommend closing the nation's borders and giving police and soldiers a much freer hand to deal with wrongdoers on the street.

If Iraqi leaders follow through with the martial law idea, he just might get his way.

"Right now we can only open fire on people if they threaten us," the burly commander of 1,300 soldiers said in an interview. "We should have more freedom to act. We must have more brutal laws. The American laws are weak laws."

….

Col. Rasool, a no-nonsense military leader who was an officer during Saddam's rule, said he was looking forward to the day when he can set up checkpoints and dispatch patrols without coordinating with American troops or abiding by the Americans' rules of engagement.


It's not that there ever was a soft line. But note the word “no-nonsense”. Back during the cold war, our bad guys stood for no nonsense. They were also “impatient” Their bad guys were “brutal”. They were also “intolerant”. As Billmon notes, the new government is looking increasingly like a fairly standard issue CIA authoritarian lash up. The neocons fell at the first hurdle. They couldn’t even get a functioning government going, which cleared the way for the cynical realist tendency.

Political science question of the day: Is it necessary to end violence in Iraq in order to stage elections, or maintain a certain level of violence in order to “postpone” them, or at least drastically limit those allowed to run for office in them? Discuss.

Still, Iraqis can always vote with their feet.

Beyond the unsure political situation, I have spent the last few days helping a relative sort things out to leave abroad. It is a depressing situation. My mother's cousin is renting out his house, selling his car and heading out to Amman with his three kids where, he hopes, he will be able to find work. He is a university professor who has had enough of the current situation. He claims that he's tired of worrying about his family and the varying political and security crises every minute of the day. It's a common story these days. It feels like anyone who can, is trying to find a way out before June 30. Last summer, people who hadn't been inside of Iraq for years were clamoring to visit the dear homeland that had been 'liberated' (after which they would clamor to leave the dear homeland). This summer, it is the other way around.

The Syrian and Jordanian borders are packed. A friend who was returned at the Jordanian border said that they were only allowing 20 cars to pass per day... people were being made to wait on the borders for days at a time and risked being rejected at the border guard's whim. People are simply tired of waiting for normality and security. It was difficult enough during the year... this summer promises to be a particularly long one.

Friday, June 18, 2004

le mot juste

Apparently, America is undergoing a linguistic invasion from these shores:

At this point, the trend is moving beyond journalism, and to terms that (unlike "go missing" and "run-up") have perfectly good American counterparts. In his campaign for governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about having "a" (not "some" or "a cup of") coffee. A visiting friend of mine talked of "booking" (not reserving) a hotel room. David Letterman recently made fun of Oprah Winfrey's saying that she couldn't appear on his show because she was "on holiday" -- what was wrong, he wondered, with "vacation"? A friend has taken to saying, "I'll ring you" instead of "phone you" or "call you up." From various sources, I have heard repeated uses of "sack" (fire), "row" (argument), and "chat up" (talk to, usually in a flirtatious way). Briticisms all: Together they constitute a cultural equivalent of De Vries's poseur.

I'm afraid I can't resist the inevitable conclusion, so here goes: Briticisms have passed their sell-by date, and the odor (or should I say odour) is getting a bit rank.


I notice from reading US blogs that the word "wanker" seems to have made the crossing too. Not suprising, in view of the above.

via Arts and Letters Daily

Thursday, June 17, 2004

that's it, they're gone

Rod Liddle expounds on the iniquities of the 2003 extradition act with the aid of a learned friend:

Britain’s foremost expert on extradition (and the author of what I assume is a deeply eminent tome, ‘Jones on Extradition’) is the QC Alun Jones. He is plainly aghast at the ramifications of the new Act. ‘Previously,’ he told me, ‘everybody knew where they stood. The courts knew what to do and there was a home secretary to take final responsibility if a foreign state wished to extradite a British subject. Not any longer. The Americans want somebody, and that’s it, they’re gone. There is no legal mechanism to stop it happening. There is a small checklist for the magistrates to consider and after that nothing at all. It is ludicrous.’

And goes on to offer a kind word for everyone’s favourite hook handed fundamentalist, currently in durance vile:

… it is alleged that Hamza spoke to the ringleaders of the kidnap gang four times on the telephone. There is no suggestion that he was behind, or directly involved in, the kidnap itself, but nonetheless the Yemenis wish to talk to him and I suppose that one can understand their desire to do so. Extraditing old Abu to Yemen would at least have an element of logic about it, much though we Western liberals may worry ourselves about the equity and impartiality of the Yemeni justice system. But the Yemeni government has been repeatedly rebuffed.

Similarly, as British people were killed during the Yemeni government’s raid upon the hostage takers, and Hamza’s phone calls, whatever their relevance, were made from Britain, one could make a perfectly respectable argument for trying the man here. And indeed we’ve been attempting to cobble together a case against Abu Hamza for at least five years, but the thing has foundered because there is no evidence whatsoever against him. We are assured, by Mr Blunkett and others, that the Americans have found new evidence — in which case, why can they not share it with our own prosecuting authorities and as a result have the man tried here? Also on the charge sheet is the suggestion that Hamza attempted to set up a jihad training camp in Oregon, despite, again, never having set foot in the US. Why on earth would he set up a jihad training camp in a country where he has never been? And how would he do so?


I’m not sure that evidence is the point here. We’ve got someone who the authorities think is a bad guy, but whom they have no evidence against. Before they took the fingernail pulling end of the interrogation business in house, the US used to deport people in this category to Syria. Now that torture in the US comes with presidential approval, we can send people there for the same reason.

surrey comes to Kabul

In Afghanistan, corruption is rampant, voter intimidation may result in the September elections being postponed and most of the country’s heritage is on sale at an auction room near you. But never mind: It was all worthwhile.

The original course was built by the Afghans during the reign of Mohammad Zahir Shah, but moved to its present site after the kings cousin overthrew him in 1973.

It may provide new challenges to any modern player, but it used to be a lot worse. The entire area has had to be cleared of mines in recent months and three Soviet tanks and a multiple rocket launcher have been removed.

"What we need is for people to come and play and help us fund restoring the grass and getting access to water," said Abdul, before driving from the high perch of the first tee into a former Taliban barracks reduced to rubble by U.S. bombers in 2001.

The first hole, a 371-yard (340-meter) par 4, drops sharply then flattens out across a barren, rocky stretch crossed by a gravel road.

Caddies are sent ahead to spot balls that otherwise easily disappear in the glaring sun on parched, near-white earth.


yes, but will they let women join?

brainstorming

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

how we got here, part one

His answer was Ukip. I had wondered whose answer it was, since the polls were showing heavy Ukip support, and yet no one I knew or met thought that the party of Kilroy, Collins and disgraced former Tory MPs was anything but a vaudeville turn. How could you appeal to the ordinary voter's sense of the authentic by presenting them with a gaggle of chemically-bronzed, face-lifted, tooth-whitened prison-penitents?

Comrade Aaronovitch wants to know. It’s a bit of a puzzle to him how we got here. And it’s dangerous apparently. Deviation from the path of the blessed Tony is a one way street to perdition, or at least Poujade. It would be less of a puzzle if he looked for the origins of UKIP in the politics of the past few years.

Take Kilroy, for instance. It’s taken for granted that the ability to perform for media is part of a modern politician’s skill set. And the daytime TV is our Prime Minister’s own favoured arena for communing with his people. So who says a daytime telly fuhrer can’t front a political party? Eventually the professionals always take over.

And then there’s the vision-of-Britain-thing. I seem to recall that “reclaiming patriotism” was an essential part of what I believe used to be called the New Labour Project. I also seem to recall something called New Britain, a soundbite of long ago. I even seem to recall Peter Mandelson walking round the place accompanied by a bulldog with unfeasibly large testicles. Behold the balls of my bulldog, he seemed to say. Look at them swing! Do they not refute forever the notion that we in New Labour are inveterate handwringers and peaceniks?

Yes, indeed. But having whetted everybody’s appetites, what did they come up with? A lot of buzzwords. Britain was new. It was young. It was dynamic. But what it actually was and who the kind of people who represented it were was always a bit of a mystery. Gay dotcom entrepreneurs? One joke conceptual artists? Funky property developers? Permatanned makeover show hostesses? Don’t forget the ringing slogan: Hey everybody – we’ve got restaurants!

But we have reclaimed the St George’s flag. Grown men can now walk the streets, their faces painted white with a big red cross in the middle, safe in the knowledge that they’re not going to be pecked to death by lesbians. As a grown man, I say: thanks a fucking bunch.

Ukip’s own vision of Britain stuff is a big, steaming pile of John Bullshit taken straight out of the Boys Book of British Battles. But so what? The nation is an imagined community. New Labour‘s imagined community seemed to be produced by people with no imagination at all. They’re not in a position to complain when other people come along and make a better job of it. Like I say, it’s bullshit. But it’s bullshit with heritage, my friends. It’s bullshit with traction.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

a race of Gazzas

Thinking about yesterday's post on the ugliness of England footballers, it occurs to me that this tends to prove the point made by Matt Ridley in Nature via Nurture that humanity's genetic component is malleable while it's environment is often fixed.

Consider English football and the skills it values: speed in short power surges, strength and tenacity, both in the tackle and in holding on to the ball. It's a combination that tends to favour homo gazzientus - short legs, so that the centre of gravity is low, and a thick, powerful body, to hold off the tackles of others and get some weight behind the player's own. Additionally, this configuration gives players speed over short distances and power in the shot. Moon pie faces and slab foreheads tend to go along with this physical type. The environment of English football selects and rewards ugliness.

Continental football, by contrast, places the emphasis on ball skills, vision and endurance. This puts a premium on height and a tall, spare build - a slightly beefier version of the East African long distance runner. That's why it was gazelles versus warthogs out there on Sunday.

It gets worse. Stumpy they may be, but English footballers are also rich and successful (bearing in mind that "success" and "English football" are highly relative terms). If it's true that women are programmed to find these qualities attractive, then Wayne Rooney is going to become even more of a characteristic English type than he is already.

turning crusty

Activist and embryonic national treasure Peter Tatchell’s gone crusty. All decent lefties should join him, he says. Well, maybe. I’m not averse to the idea. The Greens are coming out with some interesting stuff. What I’d like to see from them is a formal repudiation of the animal rights nutters. I’m a proud speciesist. I like pigs and I like pork. You can have my vote or the gone-mad-in-menopause vote. The two are mutually exclusive.

Crusty Pete goes on to diss Respect and their prospects, rather politely given the run ins he’s had with their supporters in the past.

I’m not about to play the guilt by association game, except with people who play it themselves. One outcome of Iraq is that all of us, pro- or anti-, are keeping some pretty strange political company. But where Respect did do fairly well last week was in some of areas with a large Muslim vote to mobilize. That part of the coalition came through. It didn’t do so well in traditionally left wing areas without a large Muslim vote. A serious socialist party should get more than a handful of votes in South Wales, even one just out of the gate.

This is what I meant about Respect being crap. It was the same old table-in-the-street, benefit-in-the-pub agitprop, at least in my part of Manchester. And it just doesn’t work. My suggestions? None whatsoever. I’m a consumer of politics, not an activist. It was pretty clear during the campaign what I was supposed to do for Respect, but not at all clear what Respect could do for me. And the danger for Respect’s socialist contingent now is that they could end up as the appendage of a sectarian muslim party, which is no-one’s idea of good news. Anyway, ongoing, as they say in newsrooms.

Monday, June 14, 2004

insult to injury

Watching la debacle last night, Mrs treasure said something which seems so glaringly true that you wonder why nobody noticed it before. England players are, taken one with another, appreciably uglier than those representing abroad.

You haven’t seen Germany, I said. No, that’s the haircuts, she replied. And besides, it’s not just the faces. England look sort of wrong, physically speaking.

She was right. It was the second half. As we watched, England put together a rare attack. It looked like a squadron of flying cheeseburgers out there, galloping up the pitch. What you might call the Gazza archetype – homo Gazza – was well represented - long, thick torsos with short stumpy legs. Either that, or long and bony, with what looks like half a dozen elbows. Up north, it was all pie heads, moon faces and Easter Island foreheads.

This probably explains the adulation given to Beckham. He’s the only normally proportioned one out there wearing the three lions.

And this isn’t even a vintage crop of England players. Remember Peter Beardsley?

Sunday, June 13, 2004

he has returned

and come unto his kingdom. Some have questions:

Should Americans be concerned that on March 23rd a bipartisan group of Congressmen attended a coronation at which a billionaire, pro-theocracy newspaper owner was declared to be the Messiah – with royal robes, a crown, the works? Or that this imperial ceremony took place not in a makeshift basement church or a backwoods campsite, but in a Senate office building?

Worry not child. For is it not so that a religion is merely a superstition which owns property? Yea, and intellectual respectability hath always been a rental commodity. Looketh to the extropians for further confirmation of this point.

And there was much envy and weeping amidst the counsels of the prophet Icke...

Links via Crooked Timber

Saturday, June 12, 2004

digging graves at blood and treasure

I spent a bit of Thursday on the phone, batting the options round with a mate. The Lib Dems? Yeah. In the end. What do you think? Went with the Greens. Yeah, but they’re not going to make it in North Manchester. Good for Whalley Range, but you’ve got to get Labour out and round here that means the Lib Dems.

You’ve got to get Labour out. We paused as the enormity of that sunk in. And for people of our time and place, that is an enormity. But it’s also a banality, a plain and obvious fact. Tony Blair didn’t steal the soul of the Labour Party. His presence at its head is evidence that it lost its soul sometime during the desperate days after the 1992 election.

It’s not that I don’t sympathise with this campaign on a personal level:

Click here to take part in The Big Intervention

Yes, indeed, it would be a pleasure to see him go. As his memorial, let the words “Take eyecatching initiatives and associate me with them” be projected on to the night sky above Baghdad. Let them be painted on the forecourts of every petrol station in the land as the queues stretch back for miles and the black stuff reaches £10 a gallon.

But I’m not going to chain myself back to a corpse because somebody changed its head. Would this lead to – gasp – right wing government? Yes, and we’ve had an unbroken stretch of that since 1979. Would – say – a Tory/Liberal coalition be any more right wing?

Get rid of Blair by all means, but send the Labour party with him. It’s over. It is no more. It has ceased to be, or at least ceased to be meaningful. Let’s create a vacancy on the left and amuse ourselves while candidates to fill it cavort and posture before our eyes.

And on that point, a brief memo to Respect. You were crap. Try doing us the honour of thinking up a proper name for the enterprise. Act like you’ve got jobs, or could conceivably get them. Give people some confidence that you could help them out in an everyday, material sense. We’re trying to dig a grave here. If you want to help out, bring a bloody shovel.

Friday, June 11, 2004

in the red corner

The estimable Mike Davis balances the historical record.

The decisive battle for the liberation of Europe began 60 years ago this month when a Soviet guerrilla army emerged from the forests and bogs of Belorussia to launch a bold surprise attack on the mighty Wehrmacht's rear.

The partisan brigades, including many Jewish fighters and concentration-camp escapees, planted 40,000 demolition charges. They devastated the vital rail lines linking German Army Group Centre to its bases in Poland and Eastern Prussia.

Three days later, on June 22 1944, the third anniversary of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, Marshal Zhukov gave the order for the main assault on German front lines. Twenty-six thousand heavy guns pulverised German forward positions. The screams of the Katyusha rockets were followed by the roar of 4,000 tanks and the battle cries (in more than 40 languages) of 1.6 million Soviet soldiers. Thus began Operation Bagration, an assault over a 500-mile-long front.

This "great military earthquake", as the historian John Erickson called it, finally stopped in the suburbs of Warsaw as Hitler rushed elite reserves from Western Europe to stem the Red tide in the east. As a result, American and British troops fighting in Normandy would not have to face the best-equipped Panzer divisions.



What makes the Soviet contribution to allied victory in World War Two more relevant than ever this year is the fat that the “liberation” of Iraq bears more resemblance to the “liberation” of Eastern Europe by the Red army than it does to events further West. It may be described as sovereign, but the new Iraq government is host to 138,000 troops it has no control over, hundreds of advisers and their private guards for its ministries and more than 1000 staff in the “embassy” of it’s senior occupying power. Was Poland under the Warsaw Pact any less free than this?

More generally, the Soviet contribution to the war raises all sorts of questions about “the good war”. The Russians lost over 27 million people and killed over two thirds of all the German soldiers who died in the conflict in Europe. That contribution made the Western invasion a good deal easier and might have been the thing that made it possible for it to succeed at all. We’ve heard that our freedoms, such as they are, flow from the commitment to democracy of the Western allies and their willingness to back it up with force. It’s less comfortable to consider how much of it depended on the outcome of a brutal, pitiless race war launched by the Nazis and fought between the troops of two appalling dictators. This can’t be marginalized, no matter how much the historical revisionist anglosphere types would like to do it.

But it leads on to a more disturbing thought. Would the outcome have changed if the Soviet government had been different, and better. (or in fact not Soviet at all)? Did it take someone like Stalin to beat someone like Hitler? In 1931, Stalin said that the point of his forced collectivization and crash industrialization was to insure Russia against invasion. The Soviet Union had ten years to do it, he said. It sounds like paranoid dictator speak, but ten years later the invasion rolled around on schedule. And when it took place, would it have been possible to remove huge swathes of Russian industry physically and carry it hundreds of miles beyond the Urals in a less centralized, dictatorial state?

I don’t know. But if you accept the necessity of dictatorship in this case, then you also have to accept the dictator. In this case, the dictator was Stalin. And it follows from that that you have to accept the dictator as a whole, and the whole of what that dictator does. So the immense suffering - millions starved to death, tortured, issued with “nine grammes of lead”, exiled and incarcerated in gulags – in turn become a component part of whatever contribution the second world war made to the existence of freedom in Europe. So thanks, Ivan Frontovik. And thanks to all who starved in the Ukraine, died in the cellars of the Lubyanka, hauled rock and chopped wood in the gulags. Thanks to the zeks. And thanks to the Urkas, Russia's historical criminal caste who shared gulag duty with the politicals and…

“tattooed themselves with pictures of masturbating monkeys and played cards for each other's eyeballs

…according to Koba the Dread. Yes, masturbating monkeys. Since today seems to be disturbing thoughts day, then why not?

the president is dead

long live the king!

There's a couple of puzzling things about the idea of, according to the above learned folks, asserting the divine right of presidents precisely in order to torture people. For one thing, it's not a great start to a monarchy. Come on George, the accession of a new monarch is supposed to be the occasion to release prisoners, not have them anally raped or attach them to electrodes. Get it right! (rolls eyes)

Also, this doesn't make sense in terms of the raw politics of responsibility avoidance. Back when he was Caudillo of Paraguay, Stroessner used to take a quick break from the cares of office by phoning up his head interrogator and having the man select a political prisoner and go at him with a chainsaw, extremities first, while he listened down the open line. Couldn't get away from his desk, you see.

The US government's early response to the Abu Ghraib revelations was to employ a bad apple strategy - just a few trailer park losers, nothing to do with the chain of command in any way. Further revelations made that untenable. But it wopuld still havge been possible and necessary by conventional political criteria to keep the affair contained at the lowest level possible, and above all well away from the President.

But the Torture Memo specifically nails the President, through an aggressive interprtetation of his constitutional powers, to the whole affair. What kind of political strategy puts Bush, so to speak, down an open line to Abu Ghraib and other outposts of America's gulag for Muslims?

It could be a sign of terminal decadence in the administration. Or it could be a sign that the President and his advisers aren't worried about how either the constitutional issue or the torture issue will go down with the electorate.

Enquiring British minds want to know: could they be right?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

pass the face paint

Am I an anti-corporate warrior? Do Birkenstocks make uour feet look like Cornish pasties? Damn right. I cross my fingers every time I go to Tesco and refuse to laugh openly at people playing didgeridoos in public, except at the people who play them through their noses. But it’s not something I can bring myself to get excited about. If I had a gripe with McDonald’s, for instance, it would be over such dull matters as conditions of employment and union rights rather than their existence as a large corporation as such.

After all, if McDonald’s is a problem, then what’s the solution? Nationalization? Forbidding businessmen to gather in groups of more than twenty people? This latter’s not a bad idea. Adam Smith warned us about what happens when business people get together and “conspiracy against the public” sounds like a piece of classic Blunkettismo.

But, employment conditions aside, what’s the actual problem? They’re a bunch of people who like sell meat, bread and potatoes while wearing polyester. Not my idea of a great way to spend the time, but since meat, bread and potatoes is the staple diet of northern Europe and North America, you can see how the idea took off.

Of course, it’s not such a great idea to confine your diet to the above substances, and the way McDonald’s target kids is pretty cynical. Then again, there are stunted little kids running around Salford Precinct who live entirely on pie and chips, or as it’s called locally, pie anfuckin chips. Is warping children’s nutrition any better when it’s done by nice, homely, traditional fish and chip shops? Surely not.

So when I first heard about Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me documentary, I wasn’t impressed. File under: angry young man turns up at HQ of faceless corporation and embarrasses receptionist with ponderous satire. File and forget, in other words. But when I read a bit more about it, I ran across this:

He was tested beforehand by three doctors and deemed to be an above average human specimen. In the first week he put on 10lbs. After the month he'd added a total of 25lbs. His cholesterol level rose by 65 points (one-third higher than when he started). Most shocking of all, his doctor, who begged the film-maker to abandon the experiment after three weeks, concluded that the constant intake of fast food was causing serious liver damage, akin to that of Nicolas Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas.

Like I say, meat bread and potatoes isn’t anyone’s idea of balanced nutrition. But it’s been the basic working class menu in Anglostan for just about forever. Whatever the consequences, they shouldn’t include liver failure after three weeks. What the hell are those people doing to basic foodstuffs? Of course, McDonald’s recommends that we don’t eat there absolutely all the time. But that’s like promising not to poison someone all at once.

So maybe the anticorporates have more of a point than I thought. Pass the facepaint Ethel, I feel a didgeridoo coming on. But I won’t take it too far. Looking back, and thanks to Mr S, I certainly wouldn’t take our kid to McDonalds like I used to if he were young now. He could have pie anfuckin chips instead.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

remember the pro-working class point of view?

John Reid does

"I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but it is an obsession of the learned middle class," he said. "What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette."

It’s characteristic of a certain kind of reformer to respond to the difficulties of working class lives by trying to deprive the people who lead them of their pleasures, solaces and consolations. Given the fondness of New Labour for the technocratic delusion, it’s a tendency that’s had a good deal of encouragement in recent years. We can't end poverty. But we can make poverty perform.

So it’s nice to see the Health Secretary sticking up for the harassed smoker. In times past, the pro-working class point of view – the idea that the government has no right to interfere with the pleasures and the choices of working people - was very strong in the Labour Party and provided a necessary corrective to the zeal of the middle class pokeynose element. “A little of what you fancy does you good” doesn’t sound much like a developed political philosophy. But really it’s about including the whole population in Mill’s calculus of individual rights, rather than quarantining the poorest as objects of experimentation and reform.

However, he’s not quite there yet.

Faced by calls for a ban at the meeting attended by health professionals and the local community, Mr Reid said: "Be very careful, that you do not patronise people because sometimes, as my mother used to say, people from those lower socio-economic backgrounds have very few pleasures and one of them is smoking. I worry slightly about the unanimity of the middle class professional activists on this."

Lower socio-economic backgrounds, indeed. I don’t think I’ve heard a senior Labour politician use the phrase “working class” for about ten years. It’s one of the most striking taboos in the whole Blairite cargo cult. Simply uttering it would cause the whole magic kingdom to vanish in a puff of smoke. The terrible power of the words would sweep the Blairistas from the hallowed precincts of the Tate Modern and leave them swigging Diamond White outside an off license in Swinton.

We can dream. Come on John, you know you want to…

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

democracy in Egypt!

cynical realists triumphant

Stratfor responds to the Iraqi transitional government as follows:

The United States has clearly entered a new phase of the Iraq campaign in which its relationship with the Iraqi Shia has been de-emphasized while relationships with Sunnis have been elevated. This has an international effect as well. It obviously affects Iranian ambitions. It also helps strengthen the weakening hand of the Saudi government by reducing the threat of a Shiite rising in strategic parts of the kingdom that could threaten the flow of oil. The United States is creating a much more dynamic and fluid situation, but it is also enormously more complicated and difficult to manage.

It’s a good enough place to end up. But let’s start with Iyad Allwai, transitional Prime Minister and head of the Iraqi National Accord, the main rival amongst exile groups to the now discredited Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.

According to Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s Saddam Hussein, an American Obsession, as of the early 1990’s Allawi “was a charming and articulate individual who had the gift of impressing intelligence officials.” In the early seventies, Allawi was head of the Iraqi Student’s Union in Europe, which sounds very much like an intelligence posting. He broke with the Ba’ath party in 1975 and was the survivor of an assassination attempt three years later, which left him short of a leg.

According to Middle East Reference, the INA itself was...

...created in December 1990, on the initiative of Saudi Prince Turki ibn Faysal, with the support of the CIA, and Jordanian and British agencies. Largely made up of Ba‘thists and former military officers who oppose Saddam Hussein's leadership; main constituency is Sunni Arabs in central Iraq…. Originally under Saudi sponsorship, who promoted the INA to participate in the first congress of the JAC (see INM below); and helped the INA to establish radio station, Voice of Free Iraq. Arranged bomb blasts in Iraq from 1994 to demonstrate its credibility: included the bombing of a Baghdad cinema, which killed civilians; and outside Ba‘th newspaper offices. Abu Amneh al-Khadami, who claims to have organised the bombings, stated in January 1996 that these bombings were carried out to impress the CIA. Also reportedly bombed INC headquarters in Salahuddin in October 1995; the CIA investigated, but did not release results. Counselled the US against supporting the INC / Samarra‘i coup attempt of Mar95, in favour of its own military scheme, which was scheduled to take place on 26Jun96. This had emerged out of a plan from Retd Gen. Muhammad Abdullah al-Shahwani, an ethnic Turkoman with 3 sons in the Revolutionary Guard, who had contacted the INA in Aug94. The INA in turn contacted MI6, and details were passed onto the CIA, whose operatives within UNSCOM helped coordinate the coup attempt: the Iraqi government became aware of the plot in advance, and 120 coup plotters were arrested (& mostly executed) by the Iraqi regime.

The Cockburns take up the story:

“When they sped out of Jordan, the CIA took with them General Shawani and lodged him in a safe house in London, the location of which was kept a closely guarded secret. A few weeks later, the safe-house phone rang. It was Anmar, his eldest son, calling from Baghdad.
“If you are not in Baghdad in a week, father, “ he said, “I and [brothers] Ayead and Atheer will be killed.”
The old man broke down in tears. “What have I done, what have I done?” he reportedly cried. “I have killed my sons.”


Chalabi apparently warned the CIA three months in advance that the plot had been penetrated by Iraqi intelligence. According to some, it was Chalabi himself who tipped off Saddam’s people, not wanting the INA to take credit for the overthrow of Saddam, or presumably take power afterwards. Also, the INA were supposed to be responsible for the bombing of the INC headquarters in northern Iraq a couple of years earlier in which 28 people were killed.

Exile politics was ever fraught. Maybe what makes the ‘96 coup attempt significant is the fact that it was both a CIA failure and a failure for the traditional foreign policy realist point of view, in which inconvenient dictators need to be removed with as little trauma to their countries power structure as possible. Enter the era of “Blair’s wars” and humanitarian liberalism. Leave the field free for the grandiloquent Ahmed Chalabi and his eager backers in the Republican Pentagon and, latterly, the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Despite these reverses, Allawi stayed on the CIA payroll, making himself unobtrusively useful both during

The efforts to court Iraqi commanders, and the subsequent dissolution of the Iraqi Army, offers a partial explanation - along with the sheer brutality of the bombardment that the Iraqi Army suffered - for the light resistance that the advancing Americans often faced.

"Many officers in the Iraqi Army sold out," said Iyad Alawi, an important participant in the advance operation and now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. "There were hundreds of them. Our effort was quite widespread. We sent in hundreds of messages."


and after the invasion.

The Bush administration has authorized creation of an Iraqi intelligence service to spy on groups and individuals inside Iraq that are targeting U.S. troops and civilians working to form a new government, according to U.S. government officials.

The new service will be trained, financed and equipped largely by the CIA with help from Jordan. Initially the agency will be headed by Iraqi Interior Minister Nouri Badran, a secular Shiite and activist in the Jordan-based Iraqi National Accord, a former exile group that includes former Baath Party military and intelligence officials.

Badran and Ayad Alawi, leader of the INA, are spending much of this week at CIA headquarters in Langley to work out the details of the new program. Both men have worked closely with the CIA over the past decade in unsuccessful efforts to incite coups against Saddam Hussein. The agency and the two men believe they can effectively screen former government officials to find agents for the service and weed out those who are unreliable or unsavory, officials said.


All this gives us a useful insight into the power struggle that matters – the one in Washington. Both Alawi and interim President Ghazi al-Yawer resigned over the attempted storming of Fallujah. I suspect that this is the point at which the State Department/CIA axis of cynical realists launched their successful counter-coup against the Pentagon and the Department of defense, which even now sees the eager proponents of middle eastern transformation wired to polygraphs and sweating, though for their sakes hopefully not too much.

So where are we now? Both Allawi and al-Yawer (profile here) are aligned with the traditional Iraqi power structure, based around the Sunni heartland and are aligned with Saudi Arabia. Opposing them we have an axis consisting of religious Shi’ite parties, Iranian affiliations and support from the Pentagon/Department of Defense faction in Washington, assuming that this isn’t completely purged.

Ideally, this puts the US in the role of a swing player, able to switch to either axis in Iraqi politics as local or regional priorities dictate, essentially a divide and rule strategy. The problem with this is that it tends to organize politics around Iraq’s confessional divide. And it’s going to be hard to maintain stability in this context without resorting to repression. Maybe it’s time to declare the insurgency over and prepare for the civil war.

Or maybe more than just a civil war. Stratfor again:

The future at this moment is in the hands of Tehran and An Najaf. This is the point at which the degree of control the Iranians have over the Iraqi Shiite leadership will become clear. The Iranians obviously are not happy with the trends that have emerged over the past month. Their best lever is in Iraq. The Iraqi Shia are aware that the United States is increasingly limber and unpredictable -- and that it has more options than it had two months ago. The Iraqi Shia are in danger of being trapped between Washington and Tehran. It is extremely important to note that al-Sistani today tentatively endorsed the new government, clearly uneasy at the path events were taking. Therefore there are two questions: First, will the Iranians become more aggressive, abandoning their traditional caution? Second, can they get the Iraqi Shiite leaders to play their game, or will the old rift between Qom and An Najaf (the Iranian and Iraqi Shiite holy cities) emerge once again as the Shia scramble to get back into the American game.

a cruel and stupid lizard

Even more on Ron.

He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn't like him all that much. He met his second wife—the one that you remember—because she needed to get off a Hollywood blacklist and he was the man to see. Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon.

I think Martin Amis was wrong when he said that ceasing to be a socialist enabled Christopher Hitchens to unburden himself into a better prose style. This kicking of the sainted Ron shows all the signs of a man playing at home – skillful, happy and relaxed enough to exhibit some pretty good ball skills. But in the last paragraph he remembers that he’s playing for the other team now, and cramps up badly.

Link via Mark Kleiman

Monday, June 07, 2004

oi!

You! Yes, you from the Lockheed Martin Corporation of Fort Worth, Texas! Shouldn’t you be giving your employers a little more of your attention and be spending less time googling for “prostitutes in a park in Madrid with lines of cars.”

Or is it just that lobbying for defence contracts is getting weird these days? I knew someone who helped organize a Saudi trade delegation to Paris. There were twenty people on his roster – Sheikh this, Sheikh that. And there was also: “Madam Fifi, consultant.”

Sunday, June 06, 2004

more on Ron

A commentor wants to know more about my crack about Reagan fighting for freedom down to the last European. It’s a combination of things really. The resurgence of the doctrine of winnable nuclear war. The advent of a new generation of tactical nukes. And most importantly the deployment of those nukes in Europe, amid much chestbanging rhetoric.

I can’t look back kindly on a man who would have cheerfully provoked my death, had his tactics been matched by the Russians. Ronnie’s gone, and to hell with him.

And yet, it was wrong to say that I felt in imminent danger at that time. Solemn types expended much hot air over hs supposed unfitness for office at the time of his election: “At this vital juncture of the cold war – the Americans have elected a stone cretin.”

It certainly looked that way. And it was a masterstroke. It said to the Eastern Bloc: “the game’s up, sunshine. It doesn’t matter who we elect. You’ll never catch up.” It was like Muhammad Ali tap dancing round his stricken opponent before delivering the coup de grace. It said to the Chinese: who cares who lost China – make a bunch of cheap stuff for us.

I think most of us had a sense of this back in the 80s, whatever our politics. I bet Ron was aware of it too. He wasn’t a second rate actor impersonating the president. He was a good actor in a second rate role he could pretty much phone in. The joke would be funnier if it wasn’t for the nukes.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

gone

The man who presided over the early phase of the career of Osama Bin Laden has moved on to a new role in the Bush re-election campaign.

Like many of us over here, I recall his strength. His virtue. His willingness to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union down to the life of the last European. Fortunately, we had Gorby around to save us.

I can only suspend my habitual atheism to wish him joy in his new home.

be glad you weren't there

Richard Norton-Taylor was born on D-day. But he still had a narrow escape.

As I recalled 10 years ago - in the naive belief that 50 years would be the end of public celebrations - my mother (my father was helping to liberate Rome at the time) described later how, just before going into labour, she heard about the Normandy landings on the radio news. "I was worried, though, as the matron kept coming in to inquire what I was going to call my son. I thought that something must be wrong with the baby - but the press had been calling to see if any boys had been born that day, and was I going to christen him Bernard (after Montgomery) or Dwight (after Eisenhower)?"

What burden such ties would have become. Not so heavy, perhaps, as those borne by one of my D-day contemporaries. He was named Dee-Day Rodney White - HMS Rodney was the battleship which pounded German positions on the Normandy coast - by his father, a Hastings fisherman.

"He must have been pissed or something," Dee-Day told me when I interviewed him on our 50th birthday. He has had to endure such predictable quips as "See you, Dee-Day, after tomorrow".

Friday, June 04, 2004

getting metaphorical, once more

Let's talk about the war says British Spin and continues thusly:

You have a known murderer, out from prison on license, who is holding hostages in a house. The police have surrounded the house, there are reports that the murderer has a gun. The police ask repeatedly for him to surrender either the gun or himself. He refuses. The police storm the house and take him prisoner. It turns out that he's was holding a crude replica. Are the police to be condemned as reckless?

If the cops knew through third parties - ie the UN - that the murderer had no gun and went ahead anyway, killing or causing the deaths of a number of the hostages, then they certainly were.

The fun of arguing through metaphors is that it lets you control the terms of debate. Here's how I'd do it.

The Corleones and the Five Families are discussing the fate of Lucca Brazzi, a one-time prized employee who has fallen into disfavour through showing signs of developing a mind of his own. The Corleones want him whacked as a lesson to others. The Five Families say he's no threat to anyone and whacking him will cause more trouble than it's worth. The Corleones go ahead anyway, but struggle to retain control of Brazzi's old fiefdom - so much so that the limits of their power become embarrassingly clear. The five families shrug, sigh and cross their fingers, hoping a Corleone they can do business with will emerge as head of the family

Thursday, June 03, 2004

as mad as they look?

The speccie orders its army of loyal readers to stick with the Tories. A quick glance at the UKIP website gives reason for their concern. It looks like the manifesto of an emerging party of the radical right rather than just a home for mainly conservative protest votes.

Europe aside, the UKIP manifesto mostly reflects the middle class axis of complaint along the line encompassing fuel protests – Tony Martin – immigration (euphemized as “overcrowding”). Perhaps the ideal UKIP policy would be to legalize the drive-by shooting of asylum seekers, neatly wrapping up all these issues in a vote-winning combination. Naturally, the police would take an interest in these matters. But liberty for the upstanding Briton could be secured on production of an England Rugby shirt, or perhaps a recent receipt from B&Q.

I admit this is unfair. What’s more, I intend to remain unfair to a party of whiners led by a permatanned telly demagogue. And yet there’s quite an interesting flavour to some of UKIP’s output. Take this:

Governments no longer seek to serve the people. They now view the voters as production units in a company called Great Britain PLC and as such they expect us to do what they as directors want. They never now talk of freedom, and they have forgotten what democracy means:

They take a steadily increasing proportion of our money in taxes.

They are now attacking our basic legal rights such as Habeas Corpus, the Double Jeopardy rule, and Trial by Jury.

With identify cards, CCTV, and DNA testing government agencies will soon able to keep tabs on everybody.


and later

Establish the general principle that new technology must never be used for the routine observation of members of the public who are not under suspicion of having committed some crime.

Leftist? Liberal? Whatever. The important stuff about policies like this is that they potentially give UKIP amplitude, enabling it to escape from the anti-European ghetto and maybe set up shop in a more general way of political business if they succeed in hollowing out the Tories from within. They need a new name though. And “National’s” been taken.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

life attack

Stuff's happening. Blogging light to nonexistant over the next few days...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

innovation in financial services

I learn from my inbox this morning that Mr David Roberts wishes to make me rich.

My name is David Roberts, the Chief Executive of
Personal Financial Services of the Barclays Group with
head office at 54 Lombard street, London EC3P 3AH.

I am writing this letter to solicit for your support
and assistance to carry out a project concerning a
late customer of the bank by name Dr. Victor Morgan,
an oil magnet and philanthropist who died on the 14th
of June 2002 in the London Hospital after being
involved in fatal car crash which also claimed the
life of his wife and two sons.

Lying in his inactive account in one of our branches
is the sum of Thirty Million United States Dollars ($30,000,000.00). Ever since he died the bank has placed a stop on all transactions on this account pending when his next of kin would come forward for necessary actions, identification and collection.


Yes, it's a British e-mail scam. None of your Nigerian rubbish around here. Makes the heart swell, and brings a tear to the eye. How do you get to become an "oil magnet" anyway?