Sunday, 31 January 2010

41, is the design director of Jaeger. He lives in London, and previously designed for Pringle, Romeo Gigli and J Crew

Matsuri New York

Experience chef Tadashi Ono's home-style Japanese cooking in the basement of the Maritime Hotel.
It's the best Japanese restaurant outside Japan.

i don't know about you, but you'd think that - just at a pinch, and to pick three examples out of the air - restaurateurs in, for instance, Sydney, Los Angeles or Vancouver might have something to say about Stockdale's final sentence above.

Saturday, 30 January 2010


Here are some likely earners:

Fruit and veg If you meet a greengrocer you're meeting a rich man. Fruit-and-veg men have never heard of cheques. The whole business is run on cash. Mind you, you have to graft. Up in the morning at four o'clock, shlepping to the market, a few sacks of King Edwards, two boxes of spring onions and a bag of cauliflowers and you're in business. No VAT on the fruit and veg and you're halfway to Marbella with all the other bandits.

Even the Inland Revenue don't know how to catch your local friendly greengrocer. They're all at it - importers, wholesalers and street marketeers. 'It's the weather, guv. We've had a hot summer or a frosty winter. Half of my stock was rotten before I put it on the counter.'

Wine bars No skill required. You need a decent pitch, four pictures of St Tropez, six potted plants, a dozen empty Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, and the sawdust is optional. You don't have to know about wine - what is there to know? All you have to do is draw a cork and count the money. The mark-up is at least 300 per cent and often more.

Emergency plumbers Before you call an emergency plumber, why don't you phone a Harley Street brain surgeon? He'd probably do it better and cheaper too. Once an emergency plumber has set foot in your abode you're flushing money down the drain.

The beauty of starting an emergency plumbing service is that you don't have to know anything about cisterns, ballcocks, S-bends or washers. All you need is a couple of telephones and the numbers of local plumbers.
You cop on commission.

- Arthur Daley

Monday, 25 January 2010

as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

- George Orwell

Friday, 22 January 2010

Scully: Those were the most paranoid people I have ever met. I don't know how you could think that what they say is even remotely plausible.

Mulder: I think it's remotely plausible that someone might think you're hot.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

beans on toast

a taste of ale

a tweet gone astray

Modernity with their 'Marshall plan for Haiti' has the best thing most reducible to a short point that still remains eminently good

speaking of good and concise, Osler on Haiti

"He was restored to power three years later, following a US military intervention ordered by Bill Clinton. The quid pro quo was that he was instructed to stick to free market policies. Aristide did his best to split the difference, trying to be both a good reformist and a good neoliberal at the same time. Inevitably, this pleased no-one"

(this reminds one of Sachs meeting Aristide in a link posted here yesterday, discussing finance and asking sensible questions about reform, whilst confessing he was concerned the American right would try to wreck his presidency: some years later, enter the aid embargo, under vague "instructions" from the US)

and Osler on 'Daily Telegraph: distorting debate on public sector pay'

Writer Harry Wallop and the Daily Torygraph damn well know this elementary argument. Yet they prefer to slant the debate to suit their small state ideological agenda. Opinion pieces should be labelled accordingly.

Otherwise, what remains a serious if stridently rightwing newspaper sinks straight into Fox News territory. Grown up readers deserve better.

make one sit up and take note

Coatesy had a post yesterday about the recent violence in and around Jos.

the World Service spoke to one resident by telephone.

beans on toast

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Haitian Gini co-efficient - .65 (1 is perfect inequality, 0 is perfect equality)

The military forces that overthrew Haiti’s first freely elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have consolidated their rule by ruthlessly suppressing Haiti’s once diverse and vibrant civil society — the range of civic, popular and professional organizations that had blossomed since the downfall of the Duvalier dictatorship seven years ago. In a country where only nine months before the September 30, 1991 coup 67 percent of the voters cast their lot with Father Aristide, the army has presumed that the majority of the population is hostile to military rule. Seeking to avoid the kind of popular unrest that brought down past military regimes, the army has attempted to deny the Haitian population an organized platform for its discontent by systematically repressing virtually all forms of independent association. The aim is to return Haiti to the atomized and fearful society of the Duvalier-era so that even if international pressure secures the return of Aristide, his civilian government will lack the support of a dynamic and organized society needed to exert civilian authority over a violent and recalcitrant army.

- Human Rights Watch, March 1993

"There are people who argue that rich countries, too, once went through a stage of sweatshop labour, and that this is some sort of necessary purgatory on the road to improvement. It is an easy argument to make from a comfortable armchair in the home counties, but it is ahistorical. Haiti’s path of development has been completely different from those of the rich countries. The reason it has not become sustainable is that, for two centuries, rich countries and their banks have menaced almost all of its wealth out of it. For how much longer should the Haitians do penance?


The debts incurred by the Duvaliers make up 45% of Haiti’s total current debt. None of the creditors finds the fact of their complicity a compelling argument for cancellation."

Wilentz: 'It would be nice if Aristide were a saint. It's comfortable to take the side of a saint. But he isn't one. Many people died under his government who shouldn't have, and very few indeed are those who have been brought to justice for those crimes. But he didn't start out to be a brutal dictator: History and events and the international community and his own flawed character conspired against him. He does not deserve to suffer the same fate as Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier, who was also nudged out by the United States and replaced by a military-civilian junta.

When push came to shove this time around, the Bush Administration, which paid lip service to the continuation in office of the democratically elected president, refused to send in the Marines until the president was bundled off and safely stowed away in the heart of Africa, under virtual house arrest. It's not surprising, after this long, sad history, that there are people who believe Aristide when he says he was "kidnapped." He was kidnapped, in effect. So was his presidency, and so was Haiti's attempt at democracy.'

Deibert- In truth, my attitude has always been, with things as dire as they are in Haiti, any Haitian governments should accept help from anywhere they can get it, whether it be Brussels, Caracas, Havana or Washington.

"Turkish search-and-rescue team, GEA, has pulled out three more people alive from the rubble, rescuing five survivors in the last two days after a magnitude-7 quake devastated Haiti."

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said yesterday that the Haitian emergency was the "most serious humanitarian crisis faced by the United Nations" in decades, surpassing those caused by the Asian tsunami, the recent Pakistan earthquake and cyclone Nargis in Burma.

1. Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (1989)

2. HRW, Terror Prevails in Haiti (1994)

3. Jubilee 2000 Haiti, Why is it necessary to relieve Haiti of its debt burden ? (2002)

4. Jeffrey Sachs, 'The fire this time in Haiti was US-fueled' (2004)

5. Peter Hallward, Option Zero in Haiti (2004)

6. Center for the Study of Human Rights, University of Miami School of Law, HAITI HUMAN RIGHTS INVESTIGATION: NOVEMBER 11-21, 2004

7. Jane Regan, 'In Bondage to History?' (2005)

8. Edwidge Danticat, Brother I'm Dying (2007)

9. 'Michael Deibert responds to Peter Hallward' (2008)

10. J. Michael Dash reviews Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment (2009)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

1. Rwandan genocide

2. general thoughts on discussing race in the USA: sparked by reading a piece in a conservative British broadsheet, written by a journalist i have often admired and who has done, and will do, far more with their time on earth than myself

3. "Atheist Ireland Publishes 25 Blasphemous Quotes"

4. a regrettable and wholly incorrect dismissal of Howard Jacobson

5. Wallander

6. Dublin's Michelin stars for the year 2010


We acted badly, but not only France, the world did not react well. The time for asking for forgiveness has not come yet

- Bernard Kouchner,
speaking recently (he was in Rwanda earlier this month; Sarkozy should visit next month, amid a background of improving relations and big talk from his foreign minister)

on page 6 of the Rolling Great Lakes region thread at Dissensus (scroll down to the second post on that page), you can see that Vim introduced this piece: Researchers Christian Davenport and Allan C. Stam say the accepted story of the mass killings of 1994 is incomplete, and the full truth — inconvenient as it may be to the Rwandan government — needs to come out.

(you may also note that Zhao and myself have some initial reactions to it further down that page.)

anyway, on their main thrust, there's not much more to say than what i said in my first sentence at the bottom of that page; if i do say so myself, and however pompous that might sound. (other than to re-emphasize that Davenport and Stam's research is all very well, but the context of the notorious hardliner group within the regime prior to '94 is something that must never be lost sight of wrt that time. it is hardly rocket science to re-iterate - and to keep re-iterating, if need be, which, well, there is need, alas - the basic truth that those who, deliberately, with intentionally malign aims, opened a Pandora's jar of pain in Rwanda that spring are ultimately culpable for all this, no matter what a statistical breakdown of the background of victims may, or may not, reveal years later.)

however, i just wanted to flag up the Mutszini report, which came out January 11th.

i want to quote a splendid and fair-minded CSM report in part.
(all italics are my emphases; you may think i'm being very unsubtle with my emphases, and you'd be right, but i fear there are murky people who can make such elementary mistakes as conflating Paul Kagame's abuses since in power, and so on, with elements of his pre-leadership days, and then using incredibly dangerous and wrong-headed leaps of illogic, arrive at fundamentally incorrect positions that totally minimise - or even worse - the agency of the biggest criminals during that time. needless to say, the poisonous, anti-Tutsi sectarian atmosphere in Rwanda pre-spring '94, deliberately fomented by parts of the state, is well, and widely, documented.)

'Missiles that brought down the Falcon 50 aircraft carrying former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana days before he was to implement a peace accord – thus triggering a genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus – were fired from a base operated by Mr. Habyarimana's own presidential guard, according to the most comprehensive report on the events of April 6, 1994.

The inquiry - ordered by Mr. Kagame's regime in the wake of a disputed 2006 French judicial finding that Kagame's Tutsi rebels actually fired the missiles that sparked the genocide - adds a large weight to scales of justice implicating Hutu supremacists in a conspiracy to foment genocide.

“All the evidence points to the idea that missiles were fired inside or near the Kanombe base … which effectively implicates [Hutu extremist Col. Theoneste] Bagosora,” says Andrew Wallis, British expert and author of “Silent Accomplice," a book on the genocide. “Allegedly, Habyarimana’s wife herself [a known Hutu extremist] knew the attack was coming."

The exhaustive Mutszini report collects new Belgian military testimony, ballistics investigations by British experts, previous UN reports, Western authors and researchers, and some 557 witness testimonies in an effort to take a definitive position on the April 6 assassination that started the genocide...In France, the report is sensitive. French relations with Kagame's government are in the process of recovery after French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere’s conflicting 2006 report took bilateral ties to an all-time low. That report was based on the testimony of four individuals, two of whom have now recanted."


For years Habyarimana’s assassination has been the most vexing and shrouded issue in assigning responsibility and clarifying history on the onset of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide: If Hutu extremists were culpable, it suggests a coup d’état and conspiracy to commit genocide. But if, as the French have long claimed, Kagame is to blame – Judge Bruguiere’s view – then the genocide was a result of mob anger caused by Kagame.

The crux of the issue has been where the missiles were fired. The Bruguiere report, which removed the finding of Tutsi complicity, says the missiles came from a zone controlled by Kagame’s forces. A United Nations report shortly after the crash found it was at or near Kanombe, held by Hutus.


The report’s strength, according to early reads by experts, are in setting a context and motive for claims by the current Rwandan government that Hutu extremists were responsible for the downing of the plane. The Arusha peace accords Habyarimana had nearly implemented would have split the Rwandan military, and placed nearly half the Army under the control of Tutsis at a time when the Hutu extremist movements were gaining terrific strength. High-level Hutu extremists surrounding the moderate Habyarimana were loath to let that happen...Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker, author of “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda,” argues similarly of a “convincing narrative.”

In the weeks leading up to the plane crash, three key Habyarimana associates openly threatened to kill him, Hutu newspapers and radio stations hinted at removing him between April 2 and 8, Belgian military and UN forces were aware of a plot, and even the crew of the Falcon 50 aircraft were frightened, the report relates.

In one finding, Bagosora had arranged for Habyarimana's Army chief of staff, General Nsabimana, a moderate, to be on the plane. When Nsabimana discovered he would be riding with Habyarimana, he got off the plane in fear and did not reboard until Habyarimana got off and ordered him back.


Analysts say the questions it raises about French military advisers, such as the shadowy Paul Barril and commando leader Gregoire de Saint-Quentin, are largely unanswered. Most of the alleged involvement of French advisers were under the governments of former Presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac and are part of a significant Franco-African axis of business and dealings in postcolonial Africa – the darker side of which Mr. Sarkozy's government is trying to eclipse.


"It's a good political move for both sides, because they are doing it on a new basis of pragmatism," says Guillaume Lacaille, an expert on the Great Lakes region for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, Kenya, says of further Franco-Rwandan bonhomie. "The timing is important. The report was issued two days after Kouchner visited Kagame, and that is not by accident. Both have made the concrete move to put their differences aside and to move forward.”

in conclusion, you must read Oliver here

Don't Reward Killers (Rwanda Redux)

We have been deceived. This is not what we were led to believe. We were told that Tutsis were killing Hutus. We thought the Hutus were the good guys and the victims.
Sergeant Major Thierry Prungnaud, July 1994

2. the piece is by Toby Harnden, US correspondent for the Telegraph. you can get a general flavour of it in the first paragraph:

A year ago, Americans were basking in what many believed was a post-racial new dawn. The United States was just about to inaugurate its first black President. Across the world, those who had pronounced the country too mired in its past to elect an African-American were being forced to reassess.

it goes without saying nobody worth taking seriously would have said Obama's coming heralded the new post-racial nirvana for the USA, just a big, very welcome, definite step forward on that road. that's a big "just", to be fair, of course, and i don't want to sound more cynical than i actually am.
of course, the third sentence in that paragraph there is damn right ("mired in its past"), and needs to be repeatedly rubbed in the faces of those (certain fairly liberal Europeans are often to be found in this constituency) who like nothing more than indulging in a spot of reflexive anti-Americanism, come what may.

most of the rest of the article is actually nothing to get you that worked up about (though i find it a bit simplistic), but the final concluding paragraph is definitely a let-down. it reads, and i quote the penultimate paragraph too to set the scene So what happened to treating people not "by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character"? Ironically, Martin Luther King Day will be marked across the country tomorrow but this dream of King's is not being fulfilled.
American politicians have got themselves into a real bind. They have to fret constantly about race but cannot talk honestly about it.

maybe some people in the American political class are fairly cautious discussing racial issues; it certainly seems some of the wilder shores of the American political community are far from shy.

of course, as we all know, the terrible statistics about African-American disadvantage - across all sorts of indicators - are the first thing that you need to raise in order to start a riposte to Harnden. i've got no problem with a general moan about not discussing things as fully in the open as some might like, but - quite frankly - Harnden's final two sentences here sound to me like they are at the start of that sort of plane that ends in thick right wing twats going on about the black police officers' association in the UK, and so on, and moaning about where is the white police officers' association, and so on. (i am sure this observation would horrify Harnden, and i am not accusing him of anything deliberate, but his final thoughts could definitely be misused by some echo chamber pundits who already think the white man bends over too much in the US. you can't choose who repeats your message, of course, but if you make yourself clearer in the first place, you have less chance of being misused by someone whose own politics you may well abhor.)

it seems to me - though obviously the UK has a free press, and Harnden can do what he likes a day before MLK Day (to be fair to him, he presumably felt the need to blog about this issue for topical reasons, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if he was ordered by his employer to DO SOMETHING ON RACE AND THE POTUS FOR MLK) - if you're going to toss off a few lines about race in the USA, and such, then the first thing you need to start with is you need to sketch out the monstrous inequalities that plague the USA, with non-white Americans very often at the bottom of the heap. you need to look at lots of very real problems, structural problems, that fundamentally afflict and poison the well being of the American people, including a great many African-American communities, and all this, before you can start to have a few thoughts about discussing (or otherwise) race.

maybe i'm being simplistic myself here (the above rant i have not thought through, i must admit), because it might be good if Harry Reid could further his recent remarks by expanding on the subject of racism in the USA, and on the subject of horrific structural inequality in the USA, and on the subject of why so many young African-American men are incarcerated in the USA, etc.
that would be talking openly about race.

and of course the reason why he doesn't is due to political sensitivities on behalf of the status quo; it is not on behalf of the poor, the minorities, the weak in American society, that's for damn sure, it is not because of politically correct sensitivities, that much is true. it would be Harry Reid and his colleagues admitting whatever changes they might be trying to engineer in American society cannot possibly happen fast enough (and have not been happening, or certainly not fast enough anyway, even since Obama's election, since which time Obama * has undoubtedly had some magnificent achievements).

so it seems to me like Toby Harnden has wasted his keyboard on the above piece, certainly in one fell swoop undoing anything of merit he might have observed before, with that almost unbelievably complacent final paragraph.

but also i suppose, to be fair to Harnden, the guy knows all this, but he is also writing in the Telegraph, and a genuinely far-reaching structural analysis of ills in the Telegraph would probably not get past the person with the red pen intact (to say the least), so, he raises what he can and trusts that readers will run with it, inferring from his little implications and nudges a coherent view they can tease out for themselves; perhaps he's done his work, as he certainly had plenty of people commenting on the piece (albeit many of them loons, to judge from a quick skim).

* to be clear, i would label myself a firm Obama supporter. (this after at the start of the jostle for the big three candidates for the Democratic nomination, i was neutral, seeing pros and cons in both him, Edwards and Clinton all pretty much equally, and then after Edwards was eliminated, for some time, favouring Hil! ah well..)

3. number 7's a cracker! and 25 and the bonus have to be read to be believed

'From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.

This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentivises religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.

Publication of 25 blasphemous quotes

In this context we now publish a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern.

Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.

Campaign begins to repeal the Irish blasphemy law

We ask Fianna Fail and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law, as part of the revision of the Defamation Act that is included within the Act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

We also ask all TDs and Senators to support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish Constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as President of Ireland or as a Judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work.

If you run a website, blog or other media publication, please feel free to republish this statement and the list of quotes yourself, in order to show your support for the campaign to repeal the Irish blasphemy law and to promote a rational, ethical, secular Ireland.

List of 25 Blasphemous Quotes Published by Atheist Ireland

1. Jesus Christ, when asked if he was the son of God, in Matthew 26:64: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” According to the Christian Bible, the Jewish chief priests and elders and council deemed this statement by Jesus to be blasphemous, and they sentenced Jesus to death for saying it.

2. Jesus Christ, talking to Jews about their God, in John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” This is one of several chapters in the Christian Bible that can give a scriptural foundation to Christian anti-Semitism. The first part of John 8, the story of “whoever is without sin cast the first stone”, was not in the original version, but was added centuries later. The original John 8 is a debate between Jesus and some Jews. In brief, Jesus calls the Jews who disbelieve him sons of the Devil, the Jews try to stone him, and Jesus runs away and hides.

3. Muhammad, quoted in Hadith of Bukhari, Vol 1 Book 8 Hadith 427: “May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their prophets.” This quote is attributed to Muhammad on his death-bed as a warning to Muslims not to copy this practice of the Jews and Christians. It is one of several passages in the Koran and in Hadith that can give a scriptural foundation to Islamic anti-Semitism, including the assertion in Sura 5:60 that Allah cursed Jews and turned some of them into apes and swine.

4. Mark Twain, describing the Christian Bible in Letters from the Earth, 1909: “Also it has another name – The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies… But you notice that when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, adored Father of Man, goes to war, there is no limit. He is totally without mercy – he, who is called the Fountain of Mercy. He slays, slays, slays! All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies; also all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. He makes no distinction between innocent and guilty… What the insane Father required was blood and misery; he was indifferent as to who furnished it.” Twain’s book was published posthumously in 1939. His daughter, Clara Clemens, at first objected to it being published, but later changed her mind in 1960 when she believed that public opinion had grown more tolerant of the expression of such ideas. That was half a century before Fianna Fail and the Green Party imposed a new blasphemy law on the people of Ireland.

5. Tom Lehrer, The Vatican Rag, 1963: “Get in line in that processional, step into that small confessional. There, the guy who’s got religion’ll tell you if your sin’s original. If it is, try playing it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer. Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!”

6. Randy Newman, God’s Song, 1972: “And the Lord said: I burn down your cities – how blind you must be. I take from you your children, and you say how blessed are we. You all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That’s why I love mankind.”

7. James Kirkup, The Love That Dares to Speak its Name, 1976: “While they prepared the tomb I kept guard over him. His mother and the Magdalen had gone to fetch clean linen to shroud his nakedness. I was alone with him… I laid my lips around the tip of that great cock, the instrument of our salvation, our eternal joy. The shaft, still throbbed, anointed with death’s final ejaculation.” This extract is from a poem that led to the last successful blasphemy prosecution in Britain, when Denis Lemon was given a suspended prison sentence after he published it in the now-defunct magazine Gay News. In 2002, a public reading of the poem, on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, failed to lead to any prosecution. In 2008, the British Parliament abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.

8. Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979: “Look, I had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.”

9. Rev Ian Paisley MEP to the Pope in the European Parliament, 1988: “I denounce you as the Antichrist.” Paisley’s website describes the Antichrist as being “a liar, the true son of the father of lies, the original liar from the beginning… he will imitate Christ, a diabolical imitation, Satan transformed into an angel of light, which will deceive the world.”

10. Conor Cruise O’Brien, 1989: “In the last century the Arab thinker Jamal al-Afghani wrote: ‘Every Muslim is sick and his only remedy is in the Koran.’ Unfortunately the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken.”

11. Frank Zappa, 1989: “If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine – but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good – and cares about any of it – to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.”

12. Salman Rushdie, 1990: “The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.” In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because of blasphemous passages in Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.

13. Bjork, 1995: “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.”

14. Amanda Donohoe on her role in the Ken Russell movie Lair of the White Worm, 1995: “Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can’t embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world.”

15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”

16. Paul Woodfull as Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly, The Ballad of Jaysus Christ, 2000: “He said me ma’s a virgin and sure no one disagreed, Cause they knew a lad who walks on water’s handy with his feet… Jaysus oh Jaysus, as cool as bleedin’ ice, With all the scrubbers in Israel he could not be enticed, Jaysus oh Jaysus, it’s funny you never rode, Cause it’s you I do be shoutin’ for each time I shoot me load.”

17. Jesus Christ, in Jerry Springer The Opera, 2003: “Actually, I’m a bit gay.” In 2005, the Christian Institute tried to bring a prosecution against the BBC for screening Jerry Springer the Opera, but the UK courts refused to issue a summons.

18. Tim Minchin, Ten-foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins, 2005: “So you’re gonna live in paradise, With a ten-foot cock and a few hundred virgins, So you’re gonna sacrifice your life, For a shot at the greener grass, And when the Lord comes down with his shiny rod of judgment, He’s gonna kick my heathen ass.”

19. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 2006: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” In 2007 Turkish publisher Erol Karaaslan was charged with the crime of insulting believers for publishing a Turkish translation of The God Delusion. He was acquitted in 2008, but another charge was brought in 2009. Karaaslan told the court that “it is a right to criticise religions and beliefs as part of the freedom of thought and expression.”

20. Pope Benedict XVI quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor, 2006: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” This statement has already led to both outrage and condemnation of the outrage. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim body, said it was a “character assassination of the prophet Muhammad”. The Malaysian Prime Minister said that “the Pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created.” Pakistan’s foreign Ministry spokesperson said that “anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence”. The European Commission said that “reactions which are disproportionate and which are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable.”

21. Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great, 2007: “There is some question as to whether Islam is a separate religion at all… Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require… It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or ‘surrender’ as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing-absolutely nothing-in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.”

22. PZ Myers, on the Roman Catholic communion host, 2008: “You would not believe how many people are writing to me, insisting that these horrible little crackers (they look like flattened bits of styrofoam) are literally pieces of their god, and that this omnipotent being who created the universe can actually be seriously harmed by some third-rate liberal intellectual at a third-rate university… However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel.”

23. Ian O’Doherty, 2009: “(If defamation of religion was illegal) it would be a crime for me to say that the notion of transubstantiation is so ridiculous that even a small child should be able to see the insanity and utter physical impossibility of a piece of bread and some wine somehow taking on corporeal form. It would be a crime for me to say that Islam is a backward desert superstition that has no place in modern, enlightened Europe and it would be a crime to point out that Jewish settlers in Israel who believe they have a God given right to take the land are, frankly, mad. All the above assertions will, no doubt, offend someone or other.”

24. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 2009: “Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human.” Because atheism is not a religion, the Irish blasphemy law does not protect atheists from abusive and insulting statements about their fundamental beliefs. While atheists are not seeking such protection, we include the statement here to point out that it is discriminatory that this law does not hold all citizens equal.

25. Dermot Ahern, Irish Minister for Justice, introducing his blasphemy law at an Oireachtas Justice Committee meeting, 2009, and referring to comments made about him personally: “They are blasphemous.” Deputy Pat Rabbitte replied: “Given the Minister’s self-image, it could very well be that we are blaspheming,” and Minister Ahern replied: “Deputy Rabbitte says that I am close to the baby Jesus, I am so pure.” So here we have an Irish Justice Minister joking about himself being blasphemed, at a parliamentary Justice Committee discussing his own blasphemy law, that could make his own jokes illegal.

Finally, as a bonus, Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009: “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.” Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law.'

4. over at SWP man Richard 'Lenny' Seymour's LENIN'S TOMB blog (Oscar Wilde fan, top stuff) there has been some good, necessary writing in recent days wrt some silly things some people outside Haiti write about the country.
this short piece is both very much worth your time to read, and - even more importantly - keep it at the top of your mind, naturally.

with that polite compliment out of the way, i feel i must take issue with something Seymour notes about Howard Jacobson in a recent post. the post is here. in the context of a discussion about Rod Liddle and the man's recent appalling, overtly misogynist and racist internet commentary (Liddle has done one good thing in his entire professional life that i am aware of, which is saying something given how long he has been a journalist, and that was, to be fair, he did do a good documentary slagging off faith schools on British TV once, or if not slagging them, certainly being rather lukewarm and very critical of their entire edifice, using some Christian schools in northeast England as a frankly very disturbing set of examples: if you saw the programme you'll know why i refer to the schools as disturbing).

Lenin, then, in a witty and exaggerated experiment of some sort, riffs on some other idiotic British journalists that might want to join Liddle in discussing controversial issues as a sort of free speech jamboree. the two i certainly don't care for one bit are Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn, and everyone knows any Briton who reads the papers and has an ounce of human decency and compassion, or more than several functioning brain cells, is aware this pair are indeed, largely, not to be trusted.

of the other journalists he mentions (Roy Chubby Brown is a, to be diplomatic, lively, professional British comedian), excluding Jacobson, i can't comment on Roger Alton or Kelvin Mackenzie, but going by the example of the first three i cite up above, they're keeping fairly poor company.

however, Howard Jacobson, i do know a bit about. he is a man who is somewhat removed from the inaccurate bigotry that frequently clogs up a Phillips or Littlejohn column.
(i am not cheerleading him or anything, or saying anything as sweeping as i always think he's right. i am making these very obvious and dull caveats just to be clear.)

so why would he need to be included in this circle-jerk of shame?
my guess is because Jacobson does not have quite the correct views on Israel, the Israeli occupation, and the Palestinians. this piece here, for example, while containing more reserves of nuance and intelligence than a book full of Phillips columns, is not quite on-message for the SWP.

the point is, the SWP are, of course, known for their, ahem, somewhat one-eyed take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so i'm presuming that this little aside is just a little joke, a sort of quip of a piece with what the SWP regards to be the correct position to take on things (hence, though this is reaching, but have a look anyway if you want, eh, hence my little exercise once in thinking aloud on a similar topic here).

Jacobson - on his Wikipedia page - has been labelled a "liberal Zionist" by Ben White (very much an insult coming from White), but, frankly, coming from White, this means nothing.

so, i suppose, it's as you were.
it's just a shame Lenny couldn't have struck Jacobson's name from his list.

a far more 'deserving' journalist would be someone like Leo McKinstry at the Express and the Mail.
he may write biographies of past England football managers that are worth your attention but, politically speaking, he is an ignoramus, plain and simple.

5. disclaimer - i have never read any of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels. i have seen one of the Swedish-language television films they've made about Wallander (which was very, very good, and on BBC channel BBC4, to the Beeb's immense credit). i mean the English-language television episodes with Kenneth Branagh as the titular detective in a small coastal town, the six they've broadcast thus far.

i've seen episodes one through three, most of episode five just missing the opening few minutes or so, and episode six. there is an important event affecting most of the cast in the third episode that is just devastating.

i want to state this could've easily made my noughties faves list of the other month, honest truth; and i am bearing in mind only three episodes were broadcast last decade, the three comprising the first series that were originally broadcast in late 2008.
the more recent three episodes were broadcast earlier this month, the three comprising the second season.
(wrt a lot of short form British telly, a couple of Poliakoff dramas and 'State of Play' could have easily made that list too.)

firstly, i must say their usage of the Red One digital camera is some next level shit, each episode looks amazing.

sensitively shooting in southern Swedish locations too, their backdrops and sets are very intelligently used and realised, and this also contributes greatly.

sometimes the dialogue can sound a little stilted, but then i remember people are often terse, or nervy, or uncommunicative, or 'odd', in real life. especially because Branagh has such a reputation as a thespian, when i watch it, it is very easy to close the eyes and imagine this either in a theatre, or as a radio play: the scripts are strong.

of course, i could make criticisms of it (well, TBH, i wouldn't be bothered to, but i am aware of some, for sure, but they're only fairly minor quibbles), i'm sure, but i'm going to focus on some of the things i like, such as the fact that although Branagh is clearly out in front, the rest of the cast, able supporters all (other detectives, some of Wallander's family, a dry forensics guy) are good.
they don't do much acting.

i like the British actress Sarah Smart, and i've seen her in shows both comedic and serious, but i've never seen her so convincing (and spare) as Anne-Britt Hoglund.

outside of our anguished inspector, David Warner is the biggest regular name, as Wallander's ailing, crabby, painter father.

notable guests have included Nicholas Hoult, Orla Brady, and Vincent Regan (who gives a very affecting turn as an old mate of Wallander fallen on fairly frugal times).

the short title sequence beautifully weaves the colours of the Swedish national flag over some gentle guitar and Branagh foregrounded.

6. clearly, the Michelin guide privileges a kind of posh French cooking, or that sort of approach, generally a bit of a spruced-up take on certain cuisines, to get in, a bit fussy or refined (though, for example, the hefty, unpretentious fare on offer at St John in London, say, indicates this is very much a straw man, but it's a straw man i'll broadly work with, for the sake of convenience), and very often (though far from always, as you can get some relatively bargain pricing deals at Michelin establishments) at absurd prices, even when correctly taken in context of the world of fine dining in wealthy countries (and, natch, always absurd prices when viewed in absolute terms for a meal out).

not that i've ever ate at a starred establishment, or a bib gourmand establishment ("good food at moderate prices", the more practical section of the guide) for that matter.
but hey.

it's all about business to get in, really, and you can say it's a load of bollocks, but food journalists do use up a lot of column inches on the subject, and people enjoy arguing about it, and one also knows for a certain breed of chef it's a great honour, and it's good to be chuffed for them when they get an accolade (it's fair to say in the posh restaurant world of the UK Michelin, i think, carries more clout than AA or Hardens, or the Good Food Guide, although with that note there is a caveat that the GFG or AA are surely far more trusted by more people, the kind of people who enjoy eating out well, but not necessarily at Michelin prices; needless to say, the posh restaurant world of the USA has i think had a robust debate about the relatively recent entry of a French guide into their market, with the likes of Zagat's slightly earthier, chattier guides perhaps preferred by more Americans who do care about such things), a bit like being pleased for a sports club when they win a trophy or important game.

anyway, despite the fact that Dublin is a national capital, internationally famous (with all the global interconnectedness that goes with that, especially when the country's culture is so internationally popular in many other, large countries, and especially when it gets so many wealthy tourists, and especially when the now defanged Celtic Tiger brought in a lot of wealth and financial trade which continues to run through it, and especially when it is an important world city, granted, certainly the second most notable world city in Britain and Ireland by a country mile), it is not a very big city. the population of the metro area is about 1.6 million.

(given the many similarities in popular culture - and attitudes to alcohol, eating out, and socialising - between Ireland and Britain, it makes sense to compare Dublin with British cities, as opposed to, say, cities on the European mainland, for what i am about to say: hence what follows.)

compare that figure with the stated figure for the Greater Manchester Urban Area of about 2.2 million people, the West Midlands conurbation - whose capital is Birmingham- which also has a population of about 2.2 million, or Greater Glasgow's population, which is about 1.1 million, or the 2.1 million people in West Yorkshire, whose real (though informal) capital is Leeds, or about the 1.5 million people in Greater Merseyside, whose head city is Liverpool.

(note if you added up all the people that live in the Tyneside conurbation, and the Wearside urban area, and the Teesside urban area, ie the inhabitants of the three largest cities in northeast England and their suburbs, you would get a figure approaching 1.7 million. but i am not sure that i want to put Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough together, if only for my own health! granted, Leeds and Bradford going together in West Yorkshire, or Birmingham and Wolverhampton going together in the West Midlands conurbation may not be the cup of tea of all the locals in those places, but, they are defined as such by the UK's own statistical body, so fair play. the three northeast towns are not considered together in such a way by this body, and beside which, there is considerable countryside between Middlesbrough and those other two cities.)

below is a list [source] of Michelin starred establishments (current for 2010) by number in each of these six conurbations, respectively the second to seventh largest single metropolises in Britain and Ireland (i am listing top-down in population size terms)

West Midlands conurbation - three one starred establishments (all in Birmingham proper, i might add, including one downtown run by the fine Glynn Purnell, a star of BBC TV's Great British Menu, who hails from south Birmingham's well-known Chelmsley Wood neighbourhood, one in an inner suburb about a mile south of downtown, and one in a suburb three miles south of downtown)

Greater Manchester Urban Area - precisely none

the metropolitan county of West Yorkshire - a single one star gaff in a satellite town of the city of Bradford, about 12 miles north of downtown Bradford, and between about 17 to 20 miles from Leeds, or so

Greater Dublin - four one starred establishments (three in Dublin proper, and one in a suburban town ten miles north of the city centre), and one two starred establishment in the city centre, the legendary Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud

Greater Merseyside - a single one star, in Liverpool proper's neighbouring conurbation of Birkenhead: "do not be mistaken, do not be misled/you can keep your cathedrals and your pier head/for we are not scousers, we're from Birkenhead", as Tranmere Rovers fans sing (or words to that effect)

Greater Glasgow - exactly zilch

(incidentally, for a somewhat unfair comparison, it is nonetheless interesting to consider that, say, Brugge - whose metropolitan area is about 255,000, it's hardly the biggest city - currently boasts one three star establishment, two two star establishments, and six one star establishments. unfair because Belgian cooking is very good, if probably globally under-rated and because the town is a massive tourist trap, but still.)

there are obviously more important things for a city tourism press officer to publicise than Michelin stars (even within the world of eating out, a good spread of diverse, decent mid-range eateries is more important, certainly you need that base in any town of size and pretensions, before you reach for the stars), but they are worth publicising when a place gets them.
incidentally, in contrast to that figure for Greater Glasgow, there are five one starred Michelin establishments within the boundaries of the city authority of Edinburgh (that area has a population of about 470,000), though admittedly Edinburgh is a wealthy capital, internationally renowned, another tourist trap, and surely the most culturally rich city in Britain outside London.
(though that is a statement Glasgow, Cardiff and some English cities might want to argue about, natch.)

so, basically, big up Dublin!

among other attractions, your city centre has small, fun, vital pockets of east Asian cuisine, you have some incredibly good, inexpensive food markets, and a very worthwhile, perfectly formed, Italian quarter, where the high quality coffee flows easily.

Monday, 18 January 2010

"The report named Brighton, Milton Keynes, Reading, Cambridge and Edinburgh as having the right ingredients to succeed after the recession has passed, ranging from strong private sectors and high levels of entrepreneurship to highly educated workforces.
Other cities, such as Stoke, Burnley, Barnsley, Newport in South Wales and Doncaster, were said to have a much tougher outlook because of their weaker business base."

bad and unsurprising news.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Theresa May said: "This is yet more evidence of the damage done by Gordon Brown's recession. Britain's cities are paying the price for Labour's incompetence, and it looks like the recovery will be long and hard.
"Young people are bearing the brunt of the current jobs crisis and we need to do much more to help them into work. Conservatives have a big bold plan to get Britain working, including hundreds of thousands of new apprenticeships and training places for young people to prevent a generation being written off by this recession."

an unsurprising reaction.

i know it's naïve to expect anything other than breathtakingly disingenuous hubris from the Tory party on such an important issue as this one, but i still admit to being angered by May here.

perhaps she is under the impression that all of Britain, at every inch of its border, is surrounded by a twenty-foot high steel and masonry wall. and this wall extends fifty feet below the earth, and into the foundations of our rocky coastline. and this wall is, in addition, fifteen feet across at its width.

and nothing that occurs in the rest of the world ever affects the UK economy. all calamities that befall the UK economy are, of course, the purposeful work of the Labour government.

after all, we all know that unarguably good, progressive and entirely admirable schemes that have contributed to the improvement of the UK in real terms, schemes like the Sure Start initiative, the UK minimum wage, the UK Human Rights Act, or the National Health Service, are the creation of Tory administrations.

and we further know that such fundamentally unfair, beastly and dead wrong schemes as the Community Charge and Section 28 were the appalling work of Labour administrations.

yes, we all know this, and we know we can trust the Conservative party on matters of economic justice too.

whatever you do online today, make sure you read Graeme here, it's only a short point he has to make.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

watching a repeat of the Michael Palin travelogue Sahara earlier, Palin was shown at the end of his journey, in Ceuta.

he speaks to people inside the detention centre there, including a man who says he is from Nigeria. this is an EU-built and run facility, holding many people that intend to move on to Spain and claim asylum there.

when Palin asks the Nigerian man how he reached Ceuta, whether it was with a vehicle, the man replies "with leg".

Palin wants to know how long it took the man to walk from Nigeria to northern Morocco.

the guy says about a year.


speaking of BBC television, Matthew Price (his voice conveys such depths of emotion, just about more i can think of than any other television journalist off the top of my head; not bad for an ex-Newsround anchor) and George Alagiah deserve props for their Haiti coverage (obviously watching a lot of it, you see a lot of journalists, discussing a lot of tragedy, but these two are structural and nuanced from what i've seen so far).

Alagiah actually said one time that looting (clearly a word that is pejorative in the mouths of a few, though, to be fair, not most, one would say) is obviously just acquiring the stuff of life (or words to that effect).

Port-au-Prince (CNN)

Throughout the city, people tried to cope as best they could amid now-common activities brought on by the disaster. In just a brief moment on one street, people carried an injured man on a makeshift stretcher as a severely injured woman lay on the sidewalk outside a first-aid treatment center. A truck bearing a coffin passed by, closely followed by a van carrying another injured person.


one man digging his way through a pile of rubble in a garden, holding what implement he had to hand, which looked like a small trowel or something, to get to a body, he said

Friday, 15 January 2010

i must point out that John Ingham, the environment editor of the Daily Express, is no climate change sceptic.

unfortunately for that paper's reputation, he doesn't appear to have much influence in its main editorial page.
[Shell] were not meeting their own standards: they were not meeting international standards. Any Shell site that I saw was polluted. Any terminal that I saw was polluted. It was clear to me that Shell was devastating the area.

- Bopp van Dessel

former head of environmental studies at Royal Dutch Shell

discusses their operations in the Niger Delta,

over a decade later (and here i repeat myself, again)

30 June 2009

(Abuja) Amnesty International today called the situation in the Niger Delta a “human rights tragedy,” saying that the people of the Niger Delta have seen their human rights abused by oil companies that their government cannot or will not hold to account.

“The Niger Delta provides a stark example of the lack of accountability of a government to its people, and of multinational companies’ almost total lack of accountability when it comes to the impact of their operations on human rights,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Head of Business and Human Rights and co-author of a major new report, Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta, released today at a press conference in Abuja.

in a shock move, Shell disputed the report at the time, claiming that Amnesty were confusing a huge corporation which consistently failed to meet its own business principles and failed to comply with the law, with their own gutsy mom and pop operation who were just trying to make an honest buck scraping a little oil out of the Alberta sands.

or something like that; i was distracted at the time by a horde of flying pigs that dive-bombed me as i was gathering to hear the latest morally sound and historically accurate statement on world affairs from Pat Robertson.
RIP Vivian Jackson
Simon Tisdall often spouts utter codswallop.

this is not news.

however, even by his usual sixth form newsletter standards of irrelevancy and omission, this latest eruption of lamentable cack is truly awful.
media type Jonathan Ross lists four of his favourite Japanese foods





Thursday, 14 January 2010

Teddy Pendergrass

March 26, 1950 January 13, 2010
am watching CNN.

they are discussing a girl who is entombed in a collapsed mall in Port-au-Prince. she is currently OK and four rescue workers are trying to get to her.

she told them she is feeling sleepy.

holding your breath

'in his first public comments on the issue, Mr Museveni told a meeting of ruling party members their handling of the bill "must take into account our foreign policy interests".

"The prime minister of Canada came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays," he said.

"Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays.

"Mrs Clinton rang me. What was she talking about? Gays."

Britain's cold snap does not prove climate science wrong

that's the heading of a recent piece in the Guardian from Monbiot and Leo Hickman that - of course - anyone with half a brain already knows.

however, given the piece makes excellent (and amusing) reference to two of my long time favourites (ie Telegraph writer Christopher Booker and the Daily Express) i must pay homage, if only in some very modest way, by providing a link.

"This is called weather, and, believe it or not, it is not always predictable and it changes quite often. It is not the same as climate, and single events are not the same as trends. Is this really so hard to understand?"
this article by Alan Travis about the latest Refugee Council (UK) report is worth quoting at length.

Refugees have little, if any choice, over which country they claim asylum in with most only learning they were heading to Britain after they left their home country, according to new research published today.

The Refugee Council report based on in-depth interviews with 43 refugees and asylum seekers also explodes myths about 'benefit tourism' showing that three-quarters had no knowledge of welfare support before coming to the UK.

The study by Professor Heaven Crawley, director of the centre for migration policy research at Swansea University, shows that most asylum seekers often had to leave their home countries within a few days or weeks because they were in fear of their lives. Their primary motivation was to reach a place of safety.

Most were also helped to leave by an external party or agent who made the key decisions about their destination. The research shows that fewer than one-third specifically wanted to come to Britain. Some, including many of those who arrived as children, only found out where they were after arriving in Britain.

For the minority that intended to head towards the UK family and friend connections and a belief that their human rights would be respected were their most important considerations.

Around a third of refugees come from countries that had previously been British colonies or under British adminstration. The single most familiar area of British life to asylum seekers is football with surprisingly few able to speak English when they arrived.

whether it's British welfare rules contributing to the suicide of a young mum and death of her baby, whether it's Britain failing an asylum seeker who was subsequently killed after deportation, or simply more of the same in Italy, Fortress Europe is in rude health.
Haitian relief: some organisations

Save the Children




a list of some organisations compiled by CNN

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Jonathan Freedland very good on the Chilcot inquiry here: an excellent final three paragraphs to close
'Carel Pedre, TV and radio presenter, Port-au-Prince'

I saw a lot of people crying for help, a lot of buildings collapsed, a lot of car damage, a lot of people without help, people bleeding.
I saw a movie theatre, a supermarket, a cybercafe, an apartment building which collapsed.
Now it's dark outside, there is no electricity, all the phone networks are down, so there's no way that people can get in touch with their family and friends.
There are aftershocks every 15 to 20 minutes. They last from three to five seconds. The first shock was really strong, people were falling in the streets and buildings collapsed.

Julia O'Hara Stiles, b. March 28, 1981, New York

she has a quality that is almost feral
- Stockard Channing

a serious actress
- Stephen Holden

The Mets have an outrageous number of injuries, and are generally playing like chickens with their heads cut off
- Julia Stiles

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

oh my stars

20 best reggae 45s of the noughties – PART ONE

by man like John Eden
not only, but also

three of the greats, a magic triad, compilation wise, in the last decade, once more, introducing and educating and enlarging, big personal loves, especially the first encounter (naturally)

released in the UK 2000


released in the UK 2001

[ETA: the image for the third cover is SNAFU, but it should be obvious what i'm talking about without illustrative measures]

released in the UK 2002

(this and the first one i prefer to the second, though it's hardly a big margin)

bravo to Harmless Records
two BBC programmes recently seen:

"Nearly a year before Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, film-makers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams began to roll cameras on the young senator. Featuring intimate footage of Obama, his family and his election team, this unique film documents the behind-the-scenes story of the passionate campaigners who helped a young African-American freshman senator reach the White House.

By The People tracks Obama's halting progress from long-odds candidate to front-runner in the 2008 presidential race. It's a roller-coaster ride that includes the victories and upsets that were followed by millions in the media, seen this time from within the Obama camp - from thrilling wins to disappointing losses in key states, from the high of receiving his party's nomination over Hillary Clinton, to the low of losing his grandmother the day before his final victory over John McCain on Election Day."


funny, fascinating, moving, and incredibly insightful, in often little, though profound ways.

"Just over 25 years ago, the storming of The Golden Temple, the most sacred of Sikh shrines, by the Indian Army led to protests around the world.
Sonia Deol embarks on a personal journey to unravel the events of 1984, an iconic year for Sikhs. It culminated in thousands of deaths including the assassination of the Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi.
The bloody aftermath that followed so shocks Sonia that she is forced to reappraise the depth of her commitment to her faith."

humane and balanced, humbling, very giving and open, and extremely affecting.

Angolan officials now say that the Angolan driver of the bus who was initially reported killed in the attack in fact survived.

i can't find this poor sod's name in media searches, but there again, i don't speak Portuguese.

irrelevantly glorious

Monday, 11 January 2010

Oliver Miles.

(via Bob, who's been hosting some very thorough debates on Chomsky and the Cambodian genocide, and the cleavage in the British left between decents and others of late!)
splendid post by Paulie here, discussing the true nature of the DUP and Sinn Féin, and New Labour's grave tactical mistakes.

money quote for me, just before the conclusion: Our greatest virtue really is that we've kept a measurably worse option - the Tories - out.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

up to 20 men to a room

annual mafia earnings: €130billion, or, equivalent to 9% of Italian GDP

- revenue sources include "arms and drug trafficking, extortion, prostitution, embezzled EU funds and illegal waste dumping... it also costs billions of euros in lost revenue to the state"

- the 'Ndrangheta presently "regarded as the strongest and most impenetrable of Italy's mafia groups, it is believed to control a billion-pound trade in smuggling cocaine from cartels in Colombia into Europe."


also: one of the compilations of the last decade.

this blog repeats itself when it notes the review of the above in the NME by Dele Fadele was the last time i truly paid attention to that paper. (though i bought it many times afterward.)
one young woman who deserves a bump in traffic (and will get it today i assume, thanks to a national press mention) is Discotheque Confusion.

i read very few fashion blogs (er, about two tumblrs sometimes and maybe one other site), but she seems very cool: patient replies to a comment that IMO doesn't deserve a patient reply, and a profile of Devon Aoki, got the attention initially.

(so hat-tip thanks to Stella, the Sunday Telegraph's food/drink/clothes etc mag, my favourite part of that paper by a country mile, as i never tire of mentioning. though they have some good correspondents, no doubt.)
dear Dr Eunice Goes,

i am one of many people who crushes on you (a lot)

i adore watching you on Dateline

and want to go for a bica and some pastéis de nata with you


a mooning, love-sick fool
watching Holbrooke speak at Brookings last Thursday, it must be said: Michael O'Hanlon might want to visit a barber.

also, Martin Indyk looks a bit like Philip Seymour Hoffman, when Hoffman is in one of his older man roles, like Truman C.

it's true!

or Brad Pitt as an old man in Benjamin Button..

well -

Indyk as a younger version of this, of course, but the hair and forehead seem good, a good match, good enough
Team-mate Thomas Dossevi also said the players want to honour those killed

the only views that count in this situation, i.e., the survivors, not some politician or distant official (whether he is in Lomé or Luanda or anywhere else for that matter)

RIP Stanislas Ocloo

RIP Amalete Abalo

“The Angolan driver was killed on the spot”

Saturday, 9 January 2010

splendid point from Chris Dillow worth quoting at length (the amusing aside is a reference to Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon and their recent worse-than-useless attempt to unseat Gordon Brown)

Yesterday, there was a significant political development. I refer not to the Dumb and Dumber show, but to a statement by Sir Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer:

“There is no doubt about it, we have been bested by Waitrose. It’s not a secret.”
M&S said UK food sales, based on stores open at least a year, rose 0.4 per cent in the 13 weeks to December 26. That compares with like-for-like sales growth of 9 per cent at Waitrose.

Waitrose is of course owned by its workers, and its boss earns barely one-third of Sir Stuart’s £1.76m annual salary.
Naturally, there are countless caveats here, but this is evidence that, in a head-to-head fight, relatively egalitarian organizations can beat conventionally capitalist ones even by capitalist standards: co-ops, remember, are supposed (wrongly) to be bad at growing.
This bears directly upon one of the great questions of politics: which the best form of organization - hierarchy or equality?

still in Dillow land, he has a pair of questions about freedom to kick off some thoughts on liberty in which he appropriately takes aim at laissez-faire libertarians.

(it might be semantics, it might be a bit more than that, but normblog takes issue with one point here.)

Dillow is clearly on the money when he makes his vital final connection between starvation and tax, coughing up a simple question that tools like the Massachusetts Libertarian Party would doubtless try to wriggle their way out of

Why is freedom a good thing? Two things raise this question. One is Anjem Choudary’s proposal to march through Wootton Bassett. The other is Richard Murphy’s reasonable point that full economic freedom would see some people starve.
These two different cases raise the same point. In both, liberty leads to bad outcomes; offence to public decency or starvation. Hence the question: why's freedom good when it leads to bad things?


If freedom is derivative from equality, the problem posed by Richard is easily solved. A core principle of equality is that people should be equally able to avoid starvation. And this principle simply trumps liberty in the sense of being free from tax*.
Social democrats, socialists and the like won’t have a problem with this. But right libertarians would. Which raises the question for them: what is the non-egalitarian foundation for regarding liberty as the fundamental value?

incidentally, on the very first point that Dillow raises above, Dave Osler - and i really should not need to state this - accurately judges things (er, not that this matters, given this march could be called off on public order grounds and nobody would care) wrt the agent provocateur Anjem Choudary, in a post simply summarised by the plainly correct heading 'Islam4UK: even bigots get free speech'.

the only other pieces i've seen on Choudary that are worth a damn are here, where David Adler absolutely nails it * in the final three sentences:

Not only do Choudary and his fellow marchers have nothing to say about this — they are in fact allies of the forces doing the killing. Their professed concern for the innocent is a fig leaf (not to mention a way of winning support from deluded leftists). What they're actually upset about is the U.S. and UK fighting their jihadi allies abroad

and some useful UK media-centric notes from Edmund Standing here

* [one should acknowledge that in the years since the Taliban were unseated, international forces in Afghanistan are culpable for a majority of the killings of Afghan civilians in some, if not many or most, of those years, and with changing conflict dynamics and so on, it is only in the last year or three, or so, that the Taliban, with their of course deliberate targeting of Afghan civilians, Afghan civil society, Afghan government, international humanitarians, Afghan security forces, and international troops, have been responsible for a majority of the killings of Afghan civilians per annum]
BBC Sport writes

The Angolan government and tournament officials want the Togo team to stay.

i feel the only possible reply that this request from Luanda merits is, in fact, another quote from another BBC institution, viz sitcom Red Dwarf

Rimmer: Look, I think we've all got something to bring to this conversation, but I think that from now on what you should bring is silence.
I long ago decided, in dealing with revolutionaries and with their enemies, in the middle east and elsewhere, to question their motives and sense of reality, but to take seriously what they stated to be their true intentions.

- Fred Halliday

Friday, 8 January 2010

Thursday, 7 January 2010

"Domestic violence [in Britain] currently claims the lives of around two women a week".

"Domestic violence is under-reported, but research shows that:

Domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent incidents.
One in four women and one in six men will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime with women at greater risk of repeat victimisation and serious injury.
89% of those suffering four or more incidents are women.
One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.
On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner."

source: UK Home Office, August 2009
The Forgotten Case of Hofrat an Nahas by Alex de Waal
Daniel Gerstle has a very important piece up here: 'Somalia's Thorny Food Conundrum Faces New Twist'.

basically, Gerstle notes how al Shabaab are using very simplified versions of good, good faith arguments about reforming global food aid, to try to spin this debate in the direction of their brutal agenda.

chilling, foul, incredibly dangerous stuff.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Davis also does an enormous good by pointing you toward the blog of his fave crit, Tim Robey. (another London Telegraph bod!)

nice to see Sugar in Robey's '09 round-up here, which reminds me how much i wanted to see Fish Tank last year (completely failed on that score).
[Wiesler enters the lift at his block of flats. A young boy with a ball joins him.]

Boy: Are you really with the Stasi?

Wiesler: Do you even know what the Stasi is?

Boy: Yes. They're bad men who put people in prison, says my dad.

Wiesler: I see. What is the name of your...
A beat

Boy: My what?

A beat
Wiesler: Ball. What's the name of your ball?

Boy: You're funny. Balls don't have names.

how i overlooked this in my noughties faves list (given there's only about 20 films in there, there's not much place to hide for the stuff that i truly cherished, and this is one).. ...Northwestern prof Nick Davis has a fairly reasonable analysis of it here, but, by the same token, it feels like Professor Davis is let down in the finishing states by the final three sentences (or so) of his penultimate paragraph, and the final paragraph in full. (A.O. Scott in the NYT is preferable overall.)

be that as it may, his top 100 flicks of the decade is a cracking read, with a lot of tip-top stuff.

and still, the sainted Rosenbaum (formally retired, granted), J.R. Jones, and now (i have the feeling i'm going to get along fine with this guy) Nick Davis: does the Windy City have the greatest number of my favourite modern (Anglophone, natch) film writers?!

(in London i'm fond of Sukhdev Sandhu and Peter Bradshaw, maybe one or two others, but no one that ever really fills my cup too much past these two, except in fragments, such as the odd time Jenny McCartney made me smile before she gave up her cinema gig at the Telegraph. Anne Bilson maybe. and other big Anglophone film cities like T.O., NYC, LA? maybe only the odd head at a time. hmm.)

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

"If the Yellow River water is seriously contaminated, reservoirs with a total water reserve of 24.5 million cubic meters in Zhengzhou could provide the city with safe drinking water for 50 consecutive days.

And the two reservoirs in Kaifeng City could also ensure the water supply for the 800,000 citizens for more than half a month, said a spokesman with the city's tap water company."

- Xinhua.

it is entirely unrelated to note - and not very fair but i don't care - this reminds me a bit of shitty Chinese regulatory standards on construction, and earthquakes, and how the misrule of the CCP fundamentally corrodes very important things like such regulatory standards

Monday, 4 January 2010

Sunday, 3 January 2010

British journalist Ben Anderson was embedded with the soldiers of Echo Company in southern Helmand last summer.

Echo Company are part of the USA's Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and were in town as part of Operation Khanjar.

Lance Corporal Gomez is ordered up the ladder first because he's carrying a SAW (squad automatic weapon), a bigger machine gun than everyone else's. When he slowly pops his head over the wall, I ask him if he sees anything.
"I see the weed, man." There is a huge field of marijuana on the other side of the wall. "I want to jump in. But I see nothing else."


Gomez, originally from Ecuador, climbs down the ladder when his grenade launcher breaks off from his gun..."A guy on a moped came out of the house, he had an AK on the front and an RPG on the back, he got off the fucking moped, took off fucking running, and charged with the RPG, so I started lighting him up."


The Marines have more than double the manpower of UK forces in Helmand, and so much more equipment and armour that it made one senior British soldier "breathless" when he saw it. (I felt a mixture of sorrow and shame when, travelling in an American convoy of mine-resistant trucks and Humvees, we bumped into some soldiers from the Mercian Regiment who were in roofless Land Rovers. I asked the Marines in front of me what they thought about going out in vehicles like that, and they just said "insane", without laughing.)


"They're pretty smart, the way they fight," says Private Janos Lutz. "They utilise the trench lines here, and the irrigation ditches - most of the time you hardly see them."


All three platoons of Echo go out on patrols day and night, often sleeping in abandoned compounds for a night or two, and trying to build relationships with locals, who have started to return, often just to collect things from their houses, or tend to their crops for a few hours. It had become clear to the Taliban that the Marines are here to stay, and that they are too strong to take on in a straightforward fight. So the main threat became IEDs, which were being laid everywhere.


As the fighting calmed a little, a satellite phone is passed around, making it possible for some of the Marines to call home, in many cases for the first time since the start of Operation Khanjar. For some of the younger Marines, these calls leave them bitterly disappointed. One girlfriend didn't even know there had been an operation, and just talked about "partying and shopping, without even asking how I'm doing out here."
"America's not at war, America's at the mall," says one Marine. "People in the military are at war. This war has been going on so long it's been pushed aside. No one cares. It's about what's up with Paris Hilton now?"

Saturday, 2 January 2010

clean out of grapes

fresh snow underfoot

there'll be no coffee this morning

saw a sparrow on a phone line, up close, yesterday


exquisite, wee thing

sank a Duvel headache with water, sweet, sweet water

(i don't mean sugary water, i mean, you know, water)

Friday, 1 January 2010

In Italy they eat lentils on New Year's Day, stewed and served with cotechino sausage...lentils are indeed little coins, a bowlful of pleasure and fortune.

- Bee Wilson