Wednesday, 29 March 2006

as it's to the immense credit of Italy in offering asylum to the outrageously persecuted Afghan Abdul Rahman, it would be good if other aspects of Italian asylum now came under similar intense international scrutiny.
but that's not going to happen is it
superb analogy in this week's Economist, Israel as middle-aged homeowner [results], that "relations with the neighbour seem beyond repair, but the house is sturdy."

Saturday, 25 March 2006

Population 47,000, with 5,000 unemployed, 58 locals dead in the wars, and 15 factories shut.

Otpor member Mile Veljkovic describes Pozarevac in statistics

Friday, 24 March 2006

The water is up to my chest. The bosses got the time wrong. I can’t get back in time.
- the last words of Guo Binglong to his wife.

Guo spoke with his wife, who was in China, on a mobile phone. Guo was one of perhaps 23 people (21 bodies were recovered) who died in Morecambe Bay when they drowned in rising tides in 2004.

It was all over the press shortly after the tragedy, that the MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, Geraldine Smith, had written to the Immigration Service in June of 2003 alerting ministers to the dangers that illegal cockle pickers in the Bay faced.

A letter she sent to London had urged the Immigration Service to become involved; saying one of her constituents was on the Bay when police swept the area for tax evaders.
Smith wrote that Unable to speak English and under the control of a gangmaster, these people were being paid one-fifth of the standard rate for their work. They were also being transported 20 to a boat in waters renowned for their currents and quicksands, where an experienced local fisherman would not consider carrying more than six.

Fiona MacTaggart – Home Office Minister – cited a lack of resources as why Smith’s letter would not be acted on.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) confirmed that Morecambe Bay was to be regarded as a place of work, and therefore under their jurisdiction. Telling an inquisitive journalist they were familiar with a “near-miss” that occurred in December 2003, involving Chinese workers, they assured the journalist they had offered “advice”. The deaths of these cockle pickers, regarded as an “industrial accident”, might have been prevented had the HSE served a prohibition notice. That, incidentally, would have been a statutory duty with any other business (in the days following the tragedy, able local policing was extremely effective in preventing anyone from getting out on to the sands).

During the summer of 2003, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shut the activities of the cockle beds on the Thames (The notoriously dangerous Morecambe Bay cockle beds are being intensively harvested because tests by the Food Standards Agency, which may have produced false results, have closed the best cockle beds elsewhere, as the Guardian noted), in the Wash and at Craner’s beloved South Wales.
Immediately at stake were the position of many workers and the future of much of the UK’s (worth £20 million to the economy annually) cockle trade.
The FSA took the decision to shut down beds at these places due to what it said was the discovery of an unidentified toxin in the cockles (to protect human health, we would do the same thing again, Dr Andrew Wodge of the agency later told the BBC’s John Humphrys). FSA scientists had been experimenting on mice, injecting them with cockle-meat. The meat was being made to adhere together due, basically, to toxic glue. The lab-mice were dying as a result.
That November, FSA researchers began to get rid of what they termed “solvent carry-over.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, after the elimination of this factor, other mice who were undergoing the experiments did not die.
With science this flawed, you might have thought that the FSA would perhaps rethink their approach and maybe even be a little contrite, but their Dr Wodge continued to insist to Radio Four that the agency had done nothing wrong.
The select committee for environmental, food and rural affairs – whose chairperson (at the original time of this post) is Labour man Austin Mitchell – was less friendly to the FSA than the Today programme. Citing a very real and unnecessary damage to cockling, the committee suggested the industry must be compensated, and ways should be found to do that.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

more fun and games with Rita Verdonk

Saturday, 11 March 2006

The grave unearthed in Crni Vrh (which means black peak in English) contained the remains of 629 men and boys.
One of the children was 18 months old when he was killed.

Friday, 10 March 2006

We'll stand trial as often as we have to. It'll continue as it has because the refugees and their needs actually set the agenda.

Jim Corbett
earlier this year the Syrian daily Al-Thawra - a regime newspaper - appeared to suggest that Israel was responsible for the construction and spread of avian flu.

"The question being asked today is whether the virus chosen by the Zionist for their 'ethnic bomb' is bird flu?"

the mouthpiece recalled that Arafat was assassinated by the Zionists using a biologically engineered virus, warning that all the planet will suffer the effects of a flu pandemic, even though it seems likely the Israelis had designed their flu to target Arab genes specifically.
(An Israeli decision to bury infected birds in the West Bank was pointed to.)

It was lamented the flu was bound to spread beyond the Arab world (well they got that right).

if the Israelis were that good, surely they could do something about those pesky Lebanese on behalf of Damascus?
DPW/P&O deal, USA branch: or, yunno, just ramp up the selective outrage, plumping for a miserable fudge that sends out a terrible message to the rest of the world.
good work team, good work.

Thursday, 9 March 2006

putting the fox in charge of the henhouse

- Anonymous New York and New Jersey port authority board member, February 2006

The reaction in the United States has occurred in no other country in the world

- Ted Bilkey, COO of Dubai Ports World, February 2006

Hillary Clinton may have a bit of an axe to grind.

An issue that's been engulfing talking heads in the USA for some time now concerns Dubai Ports World, a Dubai state-run company.

DPW are buying august UK firm P&O, in a £3.9 billion take-over, something which means – amongst their new portfolio of locations worldwide – DPW gaining control of the majority of the operating of six ports (including Baltimore and Philadelphia) across the lower 48, from the hands of P&O. The Port of Singapore had been sniffing around P&O too, but DPW won out.

Opponents duly grumble; Iran has moved uranium through the UAE in the past, Libya has previously used its territory as a staging post, some banks in the Emirates have demonstrably not hindered the passage of dirty money before now. Oh, and two of the 9/11 hijackers were local lads.
There's also the matter of a 2002 letter - its authors claimed to represent al-Qaeda - in which the writers said they'd infiltrated various sections of the UAE govt (that has actually been flagged up in the USA maybe more than it might deserve, which could indicate a bit about the mindset of some commentators. Or perhaps it's not been flagged up enough. Jury out?).

Bipartisan lawmakers (including a vociferous Clinton and Bill Frist, Republican Senate majority leader) have been lining up to take pot-shots at POTUSA, following from Dubya not realising this bidder was Arab-owned until after his own treasury's foreign investment committee had agreed to the transfer.
They'd concluded there were no security problems here; Justice Nicholas Warren, for the High Court in this country, has also approved, waiving aside objections from American firm Eller & Co, the Miami partner of P&O (Eller & Co fear a loss of trade after the fall-out, for starters).
The New York and New Jersey Port Authority had also formally protested.

The President, firmly behind the deal, has, as usual, been his typically media-unwise self in trying to deflect heat over the take-over, not publicly acknowledging the key truth in the matter for a crucial week whilst mouthing useless platitudes at his many detractors, stubbornly refusing to climb down. He's even said he'll veto any law attempting to block the move (such a law now a distinct possibility).

Interest among the press – fear of jihadist terror striking again has understandably stoked urgent conversation – is high, to the extent that a quick google will reveal acres of bellicose newsprint [including this quite thorough Media Matters rebuttal], fiercely critical of the move.
The pig's ear the administration has made of its PR is just another galling factor to opponents.

It's certainly a fairly complex issue in which reasonable people with concerns are being unfairly lumped in with those just possessing ugly reflexes (see Media Matters for the former who are a group dedicated to correcting conservative bias in the American press; so, er, no biases in itself there then...).
Some of the most serious objections are potentially sustainable, but eventually the actual argument centring on port operating security boils down to one set of claims (Media Matters are a little disingenuous on this issue themselves when they target mainstream competitors who wave aside objections on these grounds; their own counter claims are partial) that shows up opponents – whether with the correct sort of intentions fuelling their unease or just parochial populists – as perhaps a little quick to judge.
The heart of the matter is outlined neatly by Irwin Stelzer.
An LA Times writer nimbly pointed out how Bush has brought this on himself; burden of proof and an expectation that democracies should not engage in the politics of panic for short-term gain rather going out of the window in the rush to denounce Iraq's WMD.

Extremist Islamists wandering around the New Orleans docks? Just isn't on, Jon Corzine (New Jersey governor) rightly reckons.
Charles Krauthammer: Democrats who might be upset if an Emirates citizen in an American airport, full burnoose and flowing robes, speaking only Arabic was subjected to more scrutiny than his sweet 84-year-old mother in the same situation, are not quite in the same corner here (it should be said Krauthammer was ambivalent about the deal and wanted it to go ahead only when the advanced stage was reached, but would have preferred if it hadn't got anywhere in the first place. It should also be said Krauthammer is, frequently, a buffoon).
Sure, there are enough holes to drive through in that newspaper column example, but even still, none as breathtakingly wide as Corzine's illogical double standards in flagging up that two known terrorists came from the UAE.
Provocatively, Bush observed he was struck by the lack of protest when a British outfit was running the ports.

In this climate, dismally insular voices are making themselves heard, while some on the right discuss if their President really is a conservative. Those arranged against DPW have widespread public support [a poll for USA Today found respondents against the move by 4 to 1] whilst Duncan Hunter, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, says he is prepared to legislate against such transfers.
Jerry Lewis, House Appropriations Committee chair, has also vowed to scuttle the deal (the Committee has recently voted 62 to 2 to halt the take-over’s American side).

It is DPW boss Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem who has bought some fine New York real estate for the Dubai royals (they own two of that city's most notable buildings), a regime that has given enough help to the Americans tracking terrorists. Support for a Qatari base of American forces is another service the UAE provides, whilst since the autumn of 2001 the details of transactions carried out by those suspected of terror links within its secretive banks have been discreetly passed on to Washington all the while.

DPW, if the take-over were allowed, would carry on with the same American staff as P&O uses.
Actually controlling these ports is not quite the same as fully controlling security, which is instead directed by various levels of domestic officialdom alongside the operator: Customs, the Department of Homeland Security, police, ports police, and the US Coast Guard all have roles.

A second, 45 day review of DPW's security arrangements - tougher than the initial 30 day assessment, we're promised (some carped an individual intelligence agency should have had responsibility for the first review, not a treasury-led body) - is now on.

If this review raises compelling objections, fair enough.
If not, then frankly it seems doubtful that some vocal critics would be ready to eat humble pie.

Meanwhile a second London court has dismissed Eller's arguments, this time the Court of Appeal.
Lords Justices Lloyd, Neuberger and Moore-Bick shooed away their objections on Monday, clearing a path for the deal to complete yesterday. P&O shares were due to be delisted today; their shareholders will be receiving cheques in about a week or so.
Though the deal cannot now be blocked on that side of things, with debate still raging in the USA, there are legs in this spectacle yet, with DPW agreeing to stop the American part of their take-over.

The US ports that P&O ran have been ringfenced as everything has ground to a halt - a bit like the DPW website at the moment: 'Sorry, this site is temporarily unavailable. Please check back later' - so it's all eyes on Congress.
(Also watch out for the private Dubai Investment Capital Group who are preparing to acquire British engineers Doncasters; those Brits also work in the USA, making military parts.)

As it is, Clinton – an impressive voice during the unveiling of the Abu Ghraib outrages – appears to have cheapened herself during this intrigue (not that she's alone), which may embolden isolationist perspectives; this, in the short term, is unwelcome, and could well turn out bad in the long run [some fairly recent literature the Dems were sending out to the faithful and activists asked – among a raft of other questions – were supporters concerned that what could be termed isolationist causes weren't getting enough attention from the party].

Alas, as Nicholas Wapshott noted in the Telegraph a week or two ago, it appears that Senator Clinton, possibly scenting pollsters, is taking the view that "no amount of good character references from Dubai will persuade her to abandon an issue that is doing her so much good".
David Aaronovitch on Migration Watch and Polly Toynbee

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

it was only reading the guardian obit of Ivor Cutler that made me realise just how many things he did, and what an incredibly full life he led. i was ignorant of so many passages of his fabulously rich time.

i've been finding it difficult to come to terms with Lynden David Hall's passing in the last couple of weeks. it's not like i ever even met the man and i realise the sadness of a fan might be a bit indulgent compared to the grief of those people who loved and knew him as an individual (i don't really know about grief though know enough that someone is allowed to react how they want), but just thinking about how awesomely sweet his voice was keeps pushing me back to some strange stage.
i wrote in my diary [a diary! hark at him] on the day something along the lines of 'i refuse to believe this'. that unacceptance a common reaction, i know, and now something i seem to have adopted.

what with people like Gordon Parks and Dana Reeve also leaving us, this week feels like a particularly packed period for celebrity deaths.

there was a death in the family yesterday morning of a very storied someone who i wished i'd spent far more time with, although the time i did was incomparably valuable, which is something to cherish i suppose.
but it was nowhere near enough, and it really was late in life; too late.
i really want to be paying my respects and to be with people right now.

i remember this beautiful smile, saintly really and so strong in its radiance. he smiled and it sort of expanded outward, cocooning everyone in a happy contentment.
plus a weakness for plain cheeseburgers.

in one of her last interviews, Linda Smith said that 'you watch Laurel and Hardy - they're long dead but there's something more than just watching an old film. You are seeing these really joyous inspired moments. And that lives on. People's work lives on. And people's qualities live long as there's someone to talk about it. As long as there's someone to remember what they were like'.
After it has been prov[en] on the basis of Shari’ah, they should seize him [or her]…they should keep him standing, they should split him in two with a sword, they should either cut off his neck or they should split him from the head. He will fall down.

another nail in the coffin of Dutch liberalism

Monday, 6 March 2006

Sunday, 5 March 2006

Tell a dream, lose a reader

Henry James

Friday, 3 March 2006

it's a shame that the compassionate concern Heather Mills McCartney shows toward Canadian baby seals does not extend to Guantanamo detainees.
This is a victory for international law, a victory for Indian workers and a victory for workers all across Asia.

Greenpeace France on the Clemenceau decision

Thursday, 2 March 2006

lor knows David Holmes has had enough mud slung his way down the years (i'm certainly guilty) but i must admit to finding the piece that closes Ocean's Eleven - in that scene as Pitt, Clooney, and Roberts drive off - simply wonderful.
it just seems so full of hope and pointing to so many possibilities; joyous stuff.

available mainly mail order via

Martin Archer - Ten studies for organ - Audiolaceration AL005
Vinyl only release
I've now acquired remaining stocks of this item originally recorded at the
end of 2001. As the title says, this is a series of ten short pieces for
solo organ plus editing and effects, with each piece dedicated to a number
of my favourite organists / soundsmiths from Oliver Messiaen to Markus Popp
to Vincent Crane. Simple and gritty, it's a good release I think.
Packaged in delightfully pre - worn plastic sleeves and custom printed
artwork. I just spent most of today assembling these, so I hope y'all want
to buy one!
earlier i noticed the way that the light fell across a usually opaque bottle of a facial scrub exposed its contents entirely.
the sun is not normally my source for looking at the scrub, rather dull electrical.

for a split-second this seemed to really transport me - quite powerfully so - to some place famed for the quality of its natural light, like the High Atlas or the Pilbara or somewhere dusty and small in Andalucia.
a luminous moment.

oh, and by the way, there's now three weeks left to read Joe T's archives before little dog's day - another absolute and original great - bites the dust.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Yesterday was possibly the best away day with the Rs. Even the wonderfully anagramed Colin Wanker had to admit that the best team won and didn't even complain about the ref. In truth we should have scored 7. Highlight was Paddy Kenny who has had a history with our fans. He had his back turned for their penalty and was celebrating like a twat before he realised that they had missed. The look on his face was priceless when he realised. Our 1200 easily outsung their 24,000 with the bizarre chant of "Arctic Monkeys are overrated".