Sunday, July 31, 2005

The bombs: pick your own reason


Just as no one can agree over the precise details of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, so no one can come to a conclusion on the reasons for the attacks of 7 and 21 July in London, not even the people who did it.

Blair and his government continue to trumpet the line that the bombers, and only the bombers, are to blame for the attacks - no one else. On one level, he's obviously right; but this line refuses to countenance any debate about the circumstances in which people emerged who wanted to blow up Tube trains and buses without regard for who their victims would be. Blair's position is "these people are just evil; they want to destroy our way of life because they're just evil; they kill innocent people because they're just evil". It's a handy line to take for many reasons: it attempts to head off any criticism of the policies of his (and other Western) governments - "nothing we did could have prevented these attacks, they would always have happened at the time and in the manner in which they did happen". It also recycles the nice pseudo-medieval paradigm of good vs evil which was previously the exclusive domain of the tabloids, and more frequently used to denote paedophiles.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum we might position the Stop the War Coalition whose website contains the following quotation: "The real tragic mistake has been the illegal, immoral and barbaric invasion of Iraq. The killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Londoners are now really paying the price of this war, both in the suicide bombings and in this public killing [a reference to de Menezes]." In a sense, the Stoppers' position is as simplistic as Blair's - the war is a direct result of the US invasion of Iraq, as backed up by Britain and other countries, and a pull-out of troops will ensure an instant return to peace in the UK. If they really believe it's as simple as that, then I wish them well in their journey through the world of fantasy. (But see EDIT below for more on the Stoppers and their arguments.)

The problem with Blair's position is that it provokes ridicule - the percentage of people who believe that the invasion of Iraq contributed to the terrorist attacks stands at 64%, according to one poll. The argument that Iraq had no impact is so transparently thin, it amounts to little more than a conjuror's misdirection trick: "look over there while I change the cards round".

The Stoppers' argument bears a little more weight, since there are obvious factors which overlap between the war in Iraq and the sudden upsurge in terrorism in the West: the European countries which have been hit so far have been Spain and the UK (and British targets in Turkey), both active supporters of the war - not to mention the Bali bomb, in which Australia (another war supporter) seems to have been the target; Iraq (and Afghanistan) has now become established as a place where combatants can have 'live' training in attempting to take out US military targets, a more valuable learning ground than training camps in Afghanistan; and, unlike Palestine, where terrorist supporters could only justify action against Israel, because it was the only state directly involved in the oppression of Muslims, Iraq's territory has been invaded by the countries which have become targets themselves.

I'll finish this post later. Click 'More' for... well, more.

1 AUGUST: All right, I'm back. Anyway, the purpose of this post was not (just) to ridicule both Blair and the Stoppers, but to point out a rather more awkward assumption being made by some commentators (I have Norm's Guardian article in mind, for example). It is the belief, espoused by these people, that there are ranks of 'apologists' (their term) in the UK who refuse to pin any blame on the terrorists, preferring to take the 'easy option' of effectively saying that Britain and the US have brought the terrorist attacks on themselves. Well, Norm, I can't say that my social circles were buzzing with self-flagellators after 7/7. Nor have I seen any serious commentator whose first comment was anything other than shock, outrage, disgust and sympathy towards the victims.

Norm's article includes the following paragraph:
If causes and explanation are indeed a serious enterprise and not merely a convenient partisan game, then it needs to be recognised that causality is one thing and moral responsibility another, though the two are related. The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity doesn't show that they, as well as the direct agents, are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong and doesn't serve to justify it. Furthermore, even when what someone else has contributed causally to the occurrence of the criminal or atrocious act is wrong, this won't necessarily show they bear any of the blame for it.
Let's deconstruct this paragraph. Norm is far from a stupid man, and his argument warrants serious consideration. Let's look again at that sentence: "The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity doesn't show that they, as well as the direct agents, are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong." To make this more concrete, this is another way of saying that if it's OK to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, arrest and torture civilians, and award 'reconstruction' contracts to American companies, then the US cannot be considered to be even indirectly 'responsible' for the terrorism it suffers (not even in an 'well, what did you expect?' sense). Well, that argument would be fine if it were OK to do those things. We'll leave that to speak for itself.

Norm goes on, referring in passing to the "'We told you so' crowd" (crowd?), to reveal what he believes is the 'root cause' of terrorism: "It is the fanatical, fundamentalist belief system which teaches hatred and justifies these acts of murder." I assume he's referring to the extremist form of Islam which seeks the imposition of the 'caliphate' across the world. Or perhaps he's referring to all Islam? He doesn't actually specify, preferring to say that it's "obvious". This all sounds pretty similar to Blair's mantra of "these people are just evil" (Blair: they're just evil; Norm: they're taught to be full of hatred).

Now, Norm is perhaps right to say that there is a belief system operating among certain young men in the Middle East which is profoundly anti-Western. He would be perhaps right if he were to conclude that anti-Western terrorism pre-dates the Iraq War (of course it does). He might even be right if he parroted the government's line that "these attacks would have happened anyway". He is wrong if he concludes that the Iraq War has made no difference.

Norm's argument is rather more civilised and intellectual than the posturing from 'Brownie' at Harry's Place (not, I assume, the same Brownie as this one): "I’ve yet to hear an argument from this clique [the Stoppers] that I couldn’t destroy in a thrice". Go on, then. Let's hear your argument for what you've called a "progressive foreign policy" (if you ask me, it's progressive only in the sense that American troops seem determined to progress from destroying one country to destroying another).

EDIT: I'm grateful to Philip for his comment (see below) directing me to yesterday's statement by the Stop the War coalition. Unfortunately, their argument isn't articulated very well. OK, they acknowledge that "The Stop the War Coalition has condemned unequivocally the bombings and attempted bombings in London. No disagreements with government policy can justify these acts". But they rather spoil things by stating "The invasion and occupation of Iraq is shorthand for wider concerns about Anglo-US foreign policy, as well as being a catastrophe in itself". While the list of Arab grievances against the West that follows this sentence has a lot of truth in it, it's lazy to imply that "you understand that when I say we should end the Iraq War, I mean we should end the Iraq War and the occupation of Afghanistan and free the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and support for the corrupt Saudi government and all the other things we've banged on about in the past."

Like all matters of international politics/diplomacy/relations/conflict, this is a complex issue which demands complex thought - not the simplistic blame game played by Blair and the Stoppers and Norm and Brownie (I see Chris Applegate agrees with me - I do hope this post doesn't fall into the 'boring political blog' brush with which he tarnishes many of his fellow bloggers. No doubt he will let me know).


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Demonstrate to demonstrate


In all conscience, I can't not help promote the demonstration against the government's Exclusion Zone.

The aim is to assemble outside Parliament at 2pm on the afternoon of Monday 1 August. The police know it's happening, so I can only advise attenders to wear very lightweight clothing, not carry rucksacks and stay very, very still if anyone with a gun orders them to stop.

As usual, the indefatigable Tim at Bloggerheads has more, including a rather splendid poster.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tiro a matar


That's 'shoot to kill' in Portuguese (or it is, according to one of these online translator thingies which are about as reliable as José da Fonseca's English as she is spoke).

Things get curioser and curioser, according to this report in the Guardian. To summarise the most interesting findings:

  • Jean Charles de Menezes was not wearing a thick padded jacket, but a denim jacket

  • He did not jump the ticket barrier, as he had a travelcard

  • He was in the UK legally

  • Three of the armed officers involved in the shooting have been taken off current duties - one given leave, the other two taken off firearm duties altogether

Moreover, the Times reports that armed officers have come close to shooting seven people dead since 7 July (thanks to Robin for the link). Sir Ian Blair (any relation?) has said he cannot guarantee that more innocent people will not be shot.

Well, I feel safer already. As a white, well-dressed, middle-class Briton there's a good chance I won't be picked out for target practice. Of course, there's always the possibility of being caught in the firing line - but that's OK, because it'll be 'friendly' fire, which will be of great comfort to my bereaved family. (Nevertheless, would it help the police if I painted a target on the front and back of my T-shirt? Just in case, you understand.)

Poll question for you all: would you rather be killed by a suicide bomber or by a police marksman? Let's give you a free choice (which you wouldn't have in reality).

(UPDATE: Lenin's Tomb has received some timely reminders about the legal position of the police in such circumstances.)

(FURTHER UPDATE: The Home Office now claims that de Menezes's student visa had expired and that he was effectively no longer entitled to stay in the UK (they are basically hinting that he forged his passport stamp - yeah, nice move, guys. Tell you what, since he's got no right of reply, why don't you also claim that he was the mastermind behind all the bombs, that he was a paedophile, that he was actually the driver of Diana's car and that his death will have thwarted the Vogons in their attempt to build the intergalactic bypass?).

Meanwhile, eyewitness reports from the scene also claim that de Menezes did have a thick jacket on, that either five or two shots were fired, and that he had a "bomb belt" on. Which just goes to show how unreliable eyewitness accounts can be (Mark Whitby describes de Menezes as being "of Asian or Pakistani appearance" - and, it seems, even the police sometimes don't get this sort of thing right. Mark Whitby strikes me as the "dunno, mate, they all look alike to me" type, mind you).

Personally, I no longer know what to believe, so I shall probably have to fall back on believing nothing that I hear.)


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

All mouth and no browsers


It has been brought to my attention (by Stephen and others - thanks for the vote of confidence, Ed, your blog's rubbish, too ;) ) that this site doesn't load properly for some of you using Internet Explorer. In fact, you get the top post and nothing more.

All I can say is (a) there's more to this blog than meets the IE; and (b) go get a proper browser like Firefox or Opera (if you're using a Mac, you'll already be using Safari).

For more ammunition, have a look at Browse Happy.

(EDIT: I think I shall pin this post to the top of the blog (by changing the date to 2006), so that it's the first thing people see. Or, if they're using IE, the only thing they see...)

ANOTHER EDIT: OK, I have put a notice at the top of this blog, so this post can go back in the pack where it belongs.


Bang bang, you're dead, oh shit


Speaking of Jean Charles de Menezes, Tim at Bloggerheads has a few questions, including wondering whether people would have considered it OK if the victim had turned out to be a terrorist (even if he wasn't carrying a bomb) and this gem:

Why wasn't the public informed of the 'shoot to kill' policy?

Perhaps they thought it would be less distressing for us to find out about it this way.

This is a critical, must-read article.

Personally, I'm glad I've already stored my ICE number in my mobile (although perhaps it ought to be called an ICIGSITBOTH number - In Case I Get Shot In The Back Of The Head).

My advice to anyone of non-white appearance living in London is this: shave off your beard (if you have one), don't ever carry any luggage bigger than a small bottle of water, and stay very still if you hear someone shouting at you (even if it turns out to be a gang of youths intent on adminstering some rough justice of their own, although how you'll distinguish them from plain-clothes policemen is anyone's guess).

(UPDATE: Tim has taken my ICIGSITBOTH idea and spun it into a post of genius. Go read, go!)

Fungus the Bogeyman is, of course, copyright Raymond Briggs.


A new pledge on ID cards


A new pledge at PledgeBank has been created for those who would like to refuse to register for an ID card when the time comes, but who don't want to risk unpleasant legal or personal consequences in doing so. The pledge reads: ""I will actively support those people who, on behalf of all of us, refuse to register for an ID card, and I pledge to pay at least £20 into a fighting fund for them but only if 50,000 other people will too." In other words, pay the money to support the campaign without needing to fear arrest, social ostracism or merely difficulties with getting benefits, healthcare, etc.

It shouldn't need saying, but just in case: there is no need to sign this pledge if you have already signed the pledge refusing to register for an ID card! In fact, doing so would merely dilute the strength of this new pledge.

As an aside, how long before Fungus the Bogeyman (see pic above, in wrong post, grrr) tells us, without irony, that Jean Charles de Menezes would still be alive today if only he'd had an ID card he could show to the police?

(Thanks to Justin for the link, btw.)


Monday, July 25, 2005

First Test: Australia won by 239 runs



Well, here we go again. Another Ashes, another humiliation for England.

The build-up to this series suggested it might be different. England had lost only two out of thirteen Test match series since the beginning of 2002 (and one of those was the previous Ashes series). A much improved side, they now had world-class players in every department: Andrew Strauss, who made centuries on debut against New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa; Ian Bell who, after a series of not outs, was sitting on a Test average of 297.00; Andrew Flintoff, arguably the world's leading all-rounder; Steve Harmison, who had reduced the West Indies to tears in their own backyard; and the wild card of Kevin Pietersen, South-Africa-turned-Englishman, who had hammered his way through a series of one-day matches, showing extraordinary courage and seemingly superhuman attacking batting prowess. And they were captained by Michael Vaughan, who had made three Test hundreds in the previous futile Ashes tour and whose captaincy seemed at times to have recaptured the imagination and mental strength of Mike Brearley.

The press and messageboards were full of speculation about how, though clearly still the underdogs, England were going to pull off a surprise victory. England had held their own in the one-day internationals. Australia had been beaten in a one-day match by Bangladesh, the worst Test-playing country in the world. England had saved the final of that series with an unlikely tie. They had taken the Australian attack apart at Leeds and at Bristol. They were younger than the Australians, almost to a man. Their fielding was superb. They had seven batsmen who had made hundreds at international level. Every one of their bowlers was responsible for winning a Test match at some point in the preceding year and a half. And they were playing at home.

Well, fairy tales aren't real, as we all know. What happened in the cold light of a miserable Sunday afternoon at Lord's was that the Australian juggernaut crushed a bedraggled England side yet again, by a huge margin of victory. It was as if an elephant, tired of being stung by a wasp, had woken up briefly from its sleep and rolled over, squashing the insect dead in the process.

Those who are interested in my analysis of this match should click on 'More', below. For others, I shall simply note that my prediction of a 3-1 victory to Australia remains intact. I have predicted England to win the next match but, after yesterday's pathetic display, I am not optimistic of my prediction's preservation. Stupidly I have booked a holiday for the next Test, so I'll have to take a radio with me.

Anyway, onto that analysis I promised. Actually, as my friends at TMS 24/7 have been keen to point out, there are a lot of positives that can be taken out of this match. Lord's has never been fertile ground for us: we have won only five Ashes Tests there - the last of those was in 1934 and all the others were in the nineteenth century. The pitch was two-paced and two-faced, favouring the bowlers in the first innings and (apparently) the batsmen in the second. Harmison responded magnificently, his short-pitched attack damaging, respectively, the helmet, elbow and cheekbone of Hayden, Langer and Ponting. It was as if Malcolm Marshall had suddenly come back to life as an Englishman. Shocked and stunned into committing errors, the Australians were bowled out for 190.

At this point, the match should have been ours for the taking. Against any other opponent, it would have been - we could have coasted to an innings victory. But there is something incomprehensible in the psyche of an English batsman which dates back over twelve years: a mortal fear of Glenn McGrath (there is also a mortal fear of Shane Warne, which is strange since he's a fat yob with the social skills of a rhino whom any self-respecting Englishman would normally barely deign to cast a dismissive eye at - but I digress). Thirty-five, written off as past it, a yard or two slower than he was at his peak, McGrath sauntered in and took five English wickets for the cost of two runs. It was the most devastating bowling display in years, even better than the 7-12 which made Harmison a god among bowlers in the Caribbean. McGrath has this ability to pitch two consecutive balls in the same spot (within centimetres of each other) and have them move in opposite directions after landing. The England batsmen, alternately inexperienced or battle-scarred, had no way of dealing with him.

We should have been bowled out for less than a hundred. But (and here's another positive coming up) just as Australia have a man who seems capable of the superhuman (McGrath) so we have a batsman who can do things his team mates can't. Kevin Pietersen is South African, but left his home country because he felt he wasn't being given the chance that his talents merited. By virtue of an English mother he qualified to play for England. Before this match, I was sceptical about his selection. I feared that, like Neil Fairbrother and Paul Collingwood, he was fated to be a one-day wonder, a man who would flounder and be found out in the longer form of the game. He answered all his critics. On his debut Test match he scored 121 runs and was only dismissed once (to an exceptional catch). One cannot imagine the man he usurped, Graham Thorpe, performing any better.

At 155 all out, England were 35 behind but still in the game. To stay in it, they would have to strike Australia as quickly as they'd done in the first innings. They didn't. They had their chances - six, seven or eight in total, depending on whom you listen to - but they dropped every one of them. It must have been bloody cold out there, or they must have been bloody desperate, or over-excited, or just tired, but they put down catches which if held would have kept them in the match. Australia made over 400 on a pitch and against bowling (initially, at any rate) which demanded 200. No Australian made a century, yet England's bowling and fielding were so poor and dispirited by the end of the innings that the tail made over a hundred runs for the loss of the last three wickets. That was it - set a record-breaking 420 to win, England's morale simply collapsed. Though they started well, they were smitten with the combination of poor judgement and bad luck which tends to hit sportsmen in a bad position. They folded, and the rain came too late.

So, we are faced with the probability of yet another Ashes failure. This was the competition that our selection and performance was supposed to be gearing up for. Perhaps there was too much pressure to draw first blood, as if that were the only way we could ensure our confidence stayed high and theirs low. Perhaps we were struck down by unlucky coincidence - if it's true that every batsman has an occasional off-day, it must be possible for several batsmen to have their off-day on the same day as each other. Perhaps if we'd held those bloody catches we could have kept them down to a reachable total. But somehow I don't think so. There's a distinct difference in psychology between these two sides which has a greater impact than talent, age, flexibility or fatigue levels. Australia are used to winning - so used to it that they no longer question it. This is something beyond complacency; it's a mindset which allows them to play below their maximum ability most of the time, so that they can raise their game should any team have the affrontery to pose a threat. With England, there are all the hallmarks of an inferiority complex. England fear failure - Australia do not accept it as a possibility. I had hoped this English mindset (which affects us in pretty much all sport, not just cricket) would have gone away by now. Apparently not. We are just still not good enough.

Sadly, Australia's domination of world cricket will not end when England or India or South Africa raise their level so they are as good as Australia. It will end when Australia forget how to be good any more. With McGrath, Warne, Martyn, Ponting and Gilchrist in the side, that time is a long, long way off. It will happen. But by then, my son may be opening the batting for England. I hope some Australian spinner, trying to emulate Warne but lacking the latter's skill, feeds him some gentle full tosses.

(More reaction to the First Test at Normblog. Most other blogs have been pretty slow to respond. Even Corridor of Uncertainty is still stuck on Day Four, as I write. Come on, chaps, I know you're all feeling down, but try to say something positive!)


Thursday, July 21, 2005

More explosions in London


All in the Wildebeest household are alive and well. Doesn't sound like it's as serious as last time.

Live blogging at NoseMonkey and Perfect.

How dare they interrupt the cricket, especially when England are doing well? ;)

(EDIT: The last remark was true at the time of writing...)


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Feels like 1997 all over again


Well, the Ashes start tomorrow and I can't think of one single thing to say about them which isn't being said elsewhere (and nor can Phil Tufnell, to judge from his anodyne pre-match commentary on Yahoo Sport).

All I will say is that I think we will be absolutely hammered by those sneering, smug Aussie bastards yet again, and all the pre-series hype about an England comeback will be put to bed before this weekend. I'm expecting no miracles. In fact, I'm expecting to see a load of bulldozing. Same every tour, every bloody tour.

3-1 to Australia. It's what I said three months ago, and I haven't changed my prediction since.

Fasten your seatbelts, England fans, it's going to be a grim summer.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Oh, dear. How sad. Never mind


A British political leader has died. No, not Heath (well, yes, he's died too, but this isn't about him). Read and weep.

No, do weep.

Go on, you must be upset.

Oh, all right, then, mine's a large one.

(Many thanks to NoseMonkey, although John B had it, as well.)


What hope for the nasty party?


I can't believe I've let almost a week go by without noting with satisfaction the result of the Cheadle by-election. This is the second time (I think) that the LibDems have, at a by-election, successfully defended a seat they hold - I'm searching my memory, and assuming the first is Truro, but I'm prepared to be corrected.

Now, I've been pretty hard on the LibDems in the past, but I'm pleased they held the seat. Not so much because I support the LibDems (I don't, after all) but because it keeps another seat out of the Tories' hands. Two opposition parties fighting a by-election may seem like two bald men arguing over a comb - the really bloody but significant contests are those where the government is being challenged - but, as Stephen Newton notes, this by-election tells us quite a lot about why the Tories are still in trouble.

One factor that I think Stephen neglects to mention is that the Tories are currently rudderless. Without a confirmed leader, they have no obvious direction that the voters can emote with. Cheers Kennedy may not have the most motivating personality, but at least a handful of the voters know who he is. In any case, the LibDems have always specialised in putting the local candidate at the front of the campaign in a way that the Tories have perhaps not yet mastered; this is what makes the LibDems so powerful in by-elections (and relatively poor in general elections). Once David Davis (does anyone seriously think it's going to be anyone else?) takes over, watch the Tories march forward towards, well, probably a hung parliament, as I have boldly predicted.

(Oh, and the other factor that Stephen hints at is that the Tories were just too nasty at Cheadle. Hmm, maybe, but let's not kid ourselves. I've seen the LibDems produce some comically nasty material at election time. All parties are inclined to play rough - it's not surprising, what else can you expect from kids?)

PS Speaking of bald men and combs, pop over to Liberal Democrat Watch for an amusing account of Nick Harvey's fears about headlice.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Stick this in your mouth, madam, it's good for you


I'm indebited to Curious Hamster for a most interesting piece of health advice aimed at women. I don't wish to steal his thunder, so go here to read more.


All fascists are basically the same


Also care of Tim's BritBlog round-up is this excellent piece by Honourable Fiend, which puts into words the same things I was thinking at about midday today. Do the followers of OBL or al-Zaqarwi (sp?) or any of the other freelance loonies who want to turn the world into a version of their own twisted vision really believe that they're doing anything other than helping out an opportunist who has no conviction about his own cause? There's going to be no equal rights for Muslims once OBL is World President. There won't be any 'thank you'. The people who train and arm and encourage and incite will be the ones who are first against the wall. This was how Mao played it, and he was brilliant at it. A total scumbag of the worst kind, of course, but brilliant.

Anyway, go read the article. By the time you come back, I may have thought of something to say about the Ashes.

UPDATE: Nope, no Ashes comments until the eve of battle, I fancy. But I have found this piece by Phil of Actually Existing. Lengthy, but highly intelligent post-bomb analysis. Give it the time it deserves.


Of course I'm all right, I live in Chiswick


Tim Worstall's BritBlog round-up brings this gem from The Englishman. Read the whole thing, but I was struck by this paragraph:
I noticed that unfortunately it took less than an hour after the blasts for the Americanisation of the tragedy to kick in. This began with unsolicited e-mails from people asking me “Are you alright?”. Of course I’m fucking alright, I live in Wiltshire.

I know, I had the same experience. Fair enough, I do actually live in London. But so do 7-8 million other people, and about the same number come into London to work during the day. You do the maths - what are the odds (especially given that I work from home)? (Yes, I know it's got to happen to someone.) My brother in Edinburgh did not call me, just as I did not call him when I saw police beating up demonstrators (oops, I mean 'anarchists running riot') in Edinburgh.

(Incidentally, it's a bit rich to moan about 'Americanisation' and then write "alright" instead of "all right". But that's by the way...)


Click here to see naked people


I've decided that the titles for my posts aren't nearly interesting enough, or long enough for that matter (KathyF is a genius at finding intriguing but relevant titles for her intriguing and relevant posts, but do come back here when you've visited her). Anyway, the title of this post is not an invitation to search even more internet porn (try The Hun if that's the sort of thing you're after; although if that really is the sort of thing you're after, you'll already know where to go), but to mention that Spencer Tunick has done another of his installations, this time at the Baltic Centre in Gateshead.

It seems unlikely that no one has any idea any more about Tunick and his work, but the Guardian blogged about this particular venture. I am moved to write about it because, just like Michelle Pauli who has written the 'Culture Vulture' (stupid expression) blog entry, I took part in Tunick's event at Selfridge's in April 2003.

There's a lot of the usual crap written in the Comments section about "oh, it's not art" and at least one person making the usual idiot confusion between nudity and pornography. For my money, Tunick's work is art - he is a damn fine photographer, as a quick look at his website will confirm. And I like his concept of 'private bodies in public spaces', even if he's a one-trick horse who is no longer a novelty.

Anyway, even if Tunick's concept seems to be driving him to create new events much more than it seems to be driving him to be in any way original, much of the interest surrounding him now focuses not so much on himself but on the individuals who come and cheerfully expose themselves for his events. Seven thousand people in Barcelona - seven thousand people - there can't be that many naturists in Barcelona, so a lot of them must have been people who wouldn't ordinarily strip off in public. Certainly, I fall into this category. Why did I do it? Something to tell the grandchildren, I suppose, as well as overcoming my usual reluctance to do such a thing (I am by nature a curtain-drawer).

I can testify that the entire experience is in no way whatsoever erotic. Even though I was surrounded by approximately two hundred and fifty naked women, the presence of two hundred and fifty naked men, the desire to keep my eyes focused at head level (for fear of being seen to be doing what everyone else was probably doing, ie having a good gawp), and the general businesslike but relaxed atmosphere contributed to a total lack of arousal on my part (although the combination of cold marble Selfridge's floor and an urgent desire to relieve my bladder meant that my normally proud manhood had shrunk to the size of a small peanut in any case).

The BBC's report on my experience at Selfridge's is here (no, you can't see me) and I may post my own commemorative photo of the event in due course.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Quick round-up


It's been a slow week for news ;) and I've had personal commitments which kept me away from the computer for a couple of days, so rather than trawl through today's newspapers I'm directing people towards articles of interest to be found among the 25 million blogs out there (according to the latest edition of Macworld).

First, Robin at Perfect has unearthed information that the London bombers could perhaps have been caught, had not Bush unnecessarily unmasked the name of an Al-Qa'ida mole before the US Presidential election (thanks to Justin for the link).

Tim at Bloggerheads finds Richard Littlejohn inciting racial hatred. Not really news, I suppose.

Alex, the Yorkshire Ranter, comments on his personal experience of where the bombers came from. Be warned that he starts talking about Hegel in the fourth paragraph. Otherwise, an eye-opening piece.

Tim Worstall discovers that Fungus the Bogeyman (alias Charles Clarke) has demanded that everyone in the European Union be fingerprinted. This from the man who admitted that ID cards would not have prevented the bombings (thanks to Gary for that one).

Away from death, horror and their consequences, Doctor Vee compares the BBC's generosity with Beethoven symphonies with record companies' greed.

The Moai has some tips for people dealing with recruitment 'consultants' (that really sends a shudder down my spine - unhappy memories: "I'd like to get out of market research, I'm sick of it." "Yes, but all your experience is in market research; let me call a few research companies and get back to you...")

Kay at Kiosk says some very nice things about me (Kay, you have quadrupled the traffic I get from your site, by the way).

And, finally, Noreen.

May not be able to blog again until Monday - deadline approaches. Have a good weekend, everyone.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

ID pledge - almost there!


Only 240 signatures needed for the 10,000 signature PledgeBank pledge on ID cards to be met.

Don't let the bombers and the government together take our freedom away. Get your friends, families, acquaintances, people you meet in the street, etc, to sign the pledge and donate £10 to the legal fund.

(Note that you can still sign the pledge even after the target has been reached.)

UPDATE: As I write (Saturday evening, 16 July) only 32 names needed. Can we reach the target by midnight? Come on, you lot!


You've got a gun, but you're still afraid?


No, this isn't about the American soldiers who are too scared to come to London (although that was pretty funny, in a sort of 'ain't-it-typical' way). This is about the British Defence Staff chiefs who want British soldiers to escape the due process of law.

Put briefly, if a British soldier is accused of major wrongdoing (murder being the most obvious) he can be tried by a court martial. All well and good, but if the commanding officer dismisses the charges, the soldier then has to be tried in a civilian court.

I suspect most people will find this arrangement perfectly reasonable. After all, the army is famous for regarding acts which would be illegal if practised by a civilian as nothing to get concerned about. If the armed forces are seen as being above the law, if investigations are internal and internal only, if a soldier can get away with murder without any intervention by the state, then that is a sorry state of affairs and takes us back to a time we thought we had left behind.

In fact, the Chiefs of Staff are arguing not that the process is legally or even morally flawed, but that it is "bad for morale". Excuse me? Your soldiers find it "bad for morale" that they're not allowed to murder people outside of a combat situation? Oh, shucks. We're so sorry. Would your soldiers like us to shut them in a room with no windows for five minutes with a group of unarmed Iraqi insurgents, no questions asked? Actually, never mind that, they almost certainly would like it.

Lord Inge, interviewed this morning on the Today programme, said that it was intolerable that British soldiers should be accused of "war crimes" because it was such an "emotive" phrase. Do you have a suggestion for an alternative, Lord Inge? "Being a bit nasty to foreigners", perhaps? "Not upholding British standards of fair play and a level playing field"? "Getting cheesed off with a feelthy Arab?" Would that help the morale of "our boys" out there in the desert, coping with people who didn't ask them to be there and have the discourtesy not to speak English? Would that give them a bit more rein? Do you have another classification for shooting prisoners in cold blood, or committing acts of humiliation and terror upon them? I'm sure you'll be giving your answers to these questions in your speech to the Lords today.

(Incidentally, BBC News, I'm no lawyer, but I think you'll find the expression "military court martial" is tautological.)


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Water lotta fun


Blimey, here's a good idea to put the smile back on everyone's face (thanks to Curious Hamster for the link, which he got from Doctor Vee).


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Yes, we're all burning with fear, thanks very much


I hadn't properly until now read the statement from 'The Secret Organisation of al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe' (bloody stupid name - they're not secret any more, are they? Bit long-winded, too. Must try harder). Anyway, I stumbled across it on Londonist, so here it is:

Rejoice, for it is time to take revenge from the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern and western quarters.

So we have a Zionist Crusader government, have we? I don't remember seeing that on the ballot paper (mind you, I don't remember seeing anything about restricting protest around Parliament Square, either).

As for the last sentence, I'd be grateful to my friends in Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Portsmouth and Norwich if they could update me with bulletins about the "fear, terror and panic" on display in their localities.

Bloody terrorists. Get everyone to take them seriously by committing mass murder, then make themselves look stupid with this kind of melodramatic shit. You've got to laugh, haven't you? (Cabalamat Journal is taking the same line, only he's not laughing.)

PS Londoners might consider buying one of these T-shirts.




As you can see, I've updated the list of blogs (I do hate the term 'Blogroll'...), so it should be a bit more readable and user-friendly.

If your site links to mine, and I haven't reciprocated, please let me know.


Monday, July 11, 2005

ID, not IQ


This just in, in response to my letter to my MP (Andrew Slaughter) about ID cards:

"I am writing in response to the letter you sent to Mr. Slaughter registering your opposition to the ID cards Bill. This is an extremely contentious issue with strong arguments on both sides, but on balance, Mr Slaughter voted in favour of the bill, in large part because it formed a central part of the manifesto upon which all labour candidates stood in the recent election. As you have clearly expressed an interest in this issue, I include the Parliamentary Labour Party Briefing, which I hope may explain some of the reasons I voted in favour of the bill.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Usher
Researcher to Andrew Slaughter MP"

(Interesting that Mr Usher says that 'I' voted in favour of the bill - does no one proof-read these things? Not to mention the poor capitalisation... Pah.)


Roving reporters, brilliant bloggers


An interesting article in the Guardian by Emily Bell comments on the increasingly dependent relationship between MSM (mainstream media) and 'private' sources, such as the people who recorded the scenes from inside Tube carriages on their mobile phones on Thursday (she also mentions bloggers, natch).

It calls to my mind the fact that I do not blog out of pure vanity - there are plenty of fora on the internet where I can put out my personal opinion at length, and bore the pants off my fellow human. Rather, I wanted to add my own contribution to what seems to be an increasing trend in a disseminated, fragmented - but somehow stronger - form of journalism. After all, we all sift through the news to read only the things that are important to us; why not create our own newspaper which contains only the things which are important to us? Especially one which uses no paper (unless you've been printing this blog out, in which case I pity you).

What's more, just as one might find something surprisingly interesting in a part of the paper one doesn't normally read, so I have found surprisingly interesting stuff just by flicking through the blogs (the best of which are listed on the left, but there are loads more good ones out there, which I just haven't come across yet). It's like channel hopping, the difference being that there aren't 5000 channels of crap. Most blogs are relatively high quality, and some are superlative, as good as anything in the MSM (and usually with impeccable grammar and spelling, for those for whom this is important). There are a lot of first-class journalists out there, who are not actually Journalists. Even the 'personal diary' type bloggers who tell us about the intimate details of their lives are more fascinating than all the days and days of Big Bother put together.

As Bell writes: "The public have shifted up a gear, and now those in the media have to decide how they wish to keep pace." I'm proud to have joined the race. I hope I can make a difference.

(PS If anyone from Pirates is reading this, this post wasn't prompted by Annabel's comments. Not consciously, anyway.)

(PPS Anyone who doubts the quality of blogging in this country should check out Tim Worstall's BritBlog round-up.)

CASE IN POINT: A blogger was on one of those Tube trains - his account is here (via Cabalamat Journal).

UPDATE TO CASE IN POINT: It seems another blogger was on the Piccadilly Line train - she has been recounting her experiences on the BBC News website. She reveals that the Piccadilly bomb was at the back of the first carriage, not the front (as the BBC had reported).


Saturday, July 09, 2005

Fuck Osama bin Laden


It's difficult to write a post like the one that follows, especially when I write more in anger than in sorrow.

Right though it is for those of us on the Left to criticise the US and its allies for their wars on Afghanistan and Iraq... right though it is for us to express outrage and horror at the human rights abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, etc. ... right though we are to resist the British government's attempts to tag us all, abuse our right to privacy and the security of our personal information... right though we are to protest against globalisation, Israeli aggression, racist attacks on Muslims, Halliburton's shady dealings, and all the other sacred cows of the Left... there is one thing I think we don't say often enough, loudly enough.

I don't care (well, I do care, but not for the purposes of this post) whether Osama bin Laden himself plotted yesterday's bombings in London which have left, at present count, over 50 people dead. The fact is that he is rejoicing in the devastation and death caused (presumably) by people loyal to his cause, who have lost touch with the compassion espoused by the religion they claim to follow, and have childishly sought to hurt not the decision-makers whose policies affect their region of the world but civilians, people like themselves, people with no political agenda, people who might actually agree with them on a number of points. People who didn't vote for Blair, and couldn't vote against Bush. People who have never handled a gun in their lives. People who feel no hatred or aggression towards Muslims or the Islamic faith. People, some of whom might have been Muslims themselves. People whose only error was to have been on a Tube train or bus at just the wrong time.

Well, fuck you, all you Islamic terrorists who have misappropriated your peaceful and respectful religion, selectively quoting the Qu'ran and ignoring the bits that inconveniently condemn violence (especially violence against Muslims). Fuck you, all of you who have so lost touch with reality that you see glory in taking explosives into a crowded, virtually unprotected public area and detonating them without warning and without regard for the bloodshed caused. Fuck those of you who post anonymous internet messages crowing about the 'heroism' of your acts. You're not heroes, you're fucking children. You're not even fit to be called children. My one-year-old son has more integrity in his little finger than you have in your bodies. You're giving your lives to promote the vanity of an obscenely wealthy Saudi renegade who sees himself as some kind of lunatic Messiah and who has sacrificed his humanity and morality on the altar of grandeur. There is no heaven with virgins serving you wine into eternity - or, if there is, you're not going to be part of it, because the atrociousness of your acts qualifies you for instant and everlasting damnation. You talk about freedom, but the obscure and archaic version of Islam which you have co-opted into your insane cause has no room for freedom, only room for slavish devotion to rigid principles and no space for dissent.

And those of us who live in civilised, liberalised countries - yes, we have our faults. We're not blind to them, and we should point them out at all times, whenever possible, especially when those who call themselves our leaders try and hoodwink us, commit acts of indiscriminate violence on the defenceless in the name of some kind of ridiculous concept of global justice, bribe and coerce the rest of the world into accepting their way of life as the only right way to live, fix elections so that democracy is cheapened, weight the global economy in favour of the small percentage of our own populace who are already so rich they don't know what to do with their money, and finally insult our intelligence by introducing legal constraints they say are for our protection*. We should draw attention to this, and always exercise our right to campaign against the absurdities and dangerous excesses of those who are privileged to have power over us. But let's not turn our faces away from these evil, bigoted, ruthless, amoral, uncivilised, compassionless, anti-human bastards. Let's remember to condemn their actions in as loud a voice as we use to condemn our own governments.

Fuck you, Osama. You're fighting a war which you can never win. You're going to die leaving a legacy of discord. You've set back the cause of religious tolerance and integration a hundred years or more. You're a despicable, evil, foul pig who hasn't got the guts to stand in public and denounce the things you oppose. I went on more than one protest march to oppose war against the country you've adopted as your temporary home (and which will be delighted to see the back of you). You don't even have the courage to appear in public. Fuck you. Fuck you and your sallow skin and your stupid beard and your Kalashnikovs (yeah, you're so fucking hard) and your appeals to Allah. Allah will shit on you when He gets the chance, and that's more than you deserve.

Come on, come and get me. I'm sure you can find out where I live. Come on, turd-face. But don't send some impressionable eighteen-year-old who's signed up to your cause to win respect from his friends and gain brownie points from the imam in his North London mosque. Come and get me yourself. Show your face in West London. Knock on my door. Come and convince me that you're the true bringer of light to the world. Come and tell me why you should have the right to oppress the world, instead of the Americans. I bet you drink fucking Coca-Cola, you hypocrite.

(* Clarke admits ID cards would not have prevented attacks.)

Read Ken Livingstone's passionate response to the bombings here. That was his off-the-cuff Singapore reaction; his subsequent, even more inspiring statement is here.

UPDATE: The team at The Sharpener have organised a PledgeBank pledge to hold a public demo defying terrorism. The pledge has already met its target, but do go and sign (by 15 July) so you can get details of the demo - although I'll post updates about it here, of course. Good work, guys!

Further comment on this topic can be found at NoseMonkey, Green Fairy, Kathy F, Non-Trivial Andrew, John B, Alex and about 3 million other bloggers, I suspect.

Meanwhile, Justin wisely urges caution.

ANOTHER UPDATE: You can donate to the Mayor's Charitable Relief Fund here.

The target for the pledge has been increased to 2,500 people so it's worth signing it after all. I imagine the demo will happen anyway. Stop the War had a vigil yesterday, but I don't know what the turnout was like.

An article in the London News Review mirrors my feelings.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Bombs away


For those of you who are kindly concerned for my wellbeing today, I can assure you that I am alive and well and safe at home in leafy Chiswick.

Explosions have been reported at Edgware Road, Liverpool Street, Moorgate (or Old Street, accounts differ), King's Cross and Aldgate East Tubes and on a bus near Russell Square. The bus, I can testify from TV pictures, has had its top ripped off. At the time of writing, the number of fatalities is unknown.

Ironically, I was in Central London last night, although I was near Trafalgar Square and not near any of the incident areas. Still, there but for the grace of God...

I confess to being one of the people who was absolutely sure it couldn't happen in London, simply because so many Al-Qa'ida operatives live here (so we're always being told) and because the Muslim community in London is plentiful. I assumed they wouldn't shit in their own nest. Perhaps I was wrong - we'll see.

One thing's for sure: behind all the pontificating by cabinet ministers about how their "hearts go out" to the families of the victims, they will be rubbing their hands with delight that they now have the perfect pretext to introduce ID cards and God knows what other restrictions on our freedom. Of course, I shall be asking them how exactly ID cards would have prevented these attacks, and it will be interesting to hear their response.

EDIT: Live blogging of the events at NoseMonkey.

EDIT2: Sounds like at least 30 dead. This is a big one, by London standards.


More hate - live!


I promised, at some stage, to recount Mark Thomas's article in Time Out about Live8. For those who can't get the publication or who choose not to buy it, here's a summary of his points:

1. Some of the ideas of Geldof and Bono are a bit mad: "If someone had broken into a news studio and shouted, 'Row to France and pick people up', he'd be arrested and sectioned".

2. Live8 is a distraction from the real issues which "creates [a] false sense of achievement". The idea that one concert can solve the world's problems is naive. "The idea that it's automatically good if they raise aid is bogus, the idea that this aid is going to be new cash is bogus."

3. The musical acts chosen to perform hardly represent solidarity with Africa: "What are we going to do, are we all going to sing 'Circle of Life' from 'The Lion King'?"

4. One of the real issues is the demand for privatisation of the African infrastructure as a condition of aid: "You're dictating to countries what their economic policy should be, for the benefit of your own multinationals. Companies have been finding it difficult to do business in Africa because of the insurance. You could look at [debt] cancellation - which is from taxpayers' money - as a way of allowing those companies to go back into those countries. Look at the implications of privatisation. In Zimbabwe, they were asked to charge fees for schools and there was a huge increase in child prostitution in cities, so that the children could pay to go to school."

5. The anti-globalisation movement gets little coverage until its members are (a) beaten up by police and (b) condemned by Geldof for "spoiling it".

6. Western companies are as prone to bribery and corruption as African governments. "The ECGD [the UK's official export credit agency] has just given support for the Chad pipeline to Halliburton, which admitted to bribery in Nigeria. Why on earth are they supporting a bribing company?"

7. The real difference is being made at grassroots level by people on the ground in Africa. "There's a group of people [in South Africa] called the Water Warriors who go around smashing water meters because people can't afford it. [...] They've got these huge metal hooks with rubber handles, and they hook them onto electricity pylons and run cables through the townships, to give people access to electricity. But strangely Pink Floyd have not reformed as a result of their actions."

8. There are positive things about Live8. "It's the first time in a very long time that we have got a lot of people thinking about what's happening in Africa, and also the responsibilities that our own governments have towards that continent."

Not many jokes - Thomas doesn't do so many these days - but many wise words.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Let's nuke Iranistan!


Blogenlust askes what the election of Ahmadinejad means for US policy on Iran. Nothing, apparently.


Live Hate


I've refrained from having a go at Live8, on the grounds that pretty much everyone else has done a great hatchet job on it (see here, here, here, here, here and here. Even Noreen has had a go).

Some have spoken up for it, such as Peter Gasston and Jim Bliss. But the overwhelming response from bloggers seems to have been negative.

Is this Tall Poppy Syndrome? Is this a case of people falling into the trap of "if these rock stars have so much money, why don't they give it all to African children themselves instead of buying more coke and cars"? (If you're one of the people who wrote this, what percentage of your income did you give to poverty-relief charities in the last year?) Or is it just a curmudgeonly moan about other, more-stupid-than-me people having a good time ("of course, they'll have learnt nothing about poverty along the way")?

I didn't watch Live8 because it was Baby Gnu's first birthday. I spent the morning constructing his new climbing frame in the back garden, and the afternoon helping him to get to grips with his first tricycle (he can't reach the pedals, we have to push him) and serving him cake. Then I listened to the last few overs of the stunning victory-in-all-but-name pulled off by England against Australia in the NatWest Series final (good boy, GoJo!). But I wouldn't have watched Live8 anyway, partly because rock concerts bore me and partly because I don't exactly need converting to the cause. I was sorry to miss REM, though.

Briefly, the issue of African poverty has been put on the public agenda. This is a good thing. The G8 ministers will come out of their conference and make some bland statement about how they intend to hoick up their pathetically low aid budgets, and wait for something more interesting to hit the news. This is a bad thing. There isn't much more to say.


Identity crisis time


The campaign against identity cards hots up, according to the Observer (worth reading the article for some neat ideas about legal, decent, honest and truthful methods of civil disobedience in relation to the introduction of the cards).

Readers may want to bookmark the Defy ID site, although they seem to be slow to update it, the naughty people.

Remember to sign the pledge! Target 80% achieved! You could be the one that makes the difference!

Meanwhile, a YouGov poll reported in the Telegraph shows public support for ID cards collapsing: "The vast majority of people are convinced the introduction of ID cards would prove an administrative shambles and only a small minority believe cards would justify the ever-mounting cost."

Fight on.

FOOTNOTE: Austin Mitchell on the ID card bill (on which he abstained, let the record show): "Asking for ID Cards [...] will be like the old Sus Law. Guess who`s going to be harassed by being asked for ID by anyone in uniform. Not respectable middle-aged men in suits. Blacks, the poor, the odd, the angry, the hip, the young and the ethnic. The only consolation is that thanks to the huge cost of the Cards we won`t be able to pay for quite so many police to do the asking."


Monday, July 04, 2005



I just want to say a big hello to all my friends at Pirates, where it seems my blog has provoked some discussion.

They will know what this means.


Friday, July 01, 2005

Identitetskorter (that's Identity Cards in Swedish)


I say it in Swedish because this letter appeared in today's edition of that peculiar mix of genuine news headlines and Big Brother updates that you wouldn't pay for if it had a cover charge, but luckily it's free: Metro:

"I am so tired of people compaining about these cards and very curious as to why they cannot see the obvious benefits of them [...] I am from Sweden and have lived here since 1998. In Sweden, we have had ID cards for as long as I can remember and I have never felt as though my rights have ever been infringed. We are not obliged to carry an ID card but not doing so makes life quite difficult. We pay approximately £30 for the card and it lasts for ten years, so it is not hugely expensive. We use the card to prove our age when buying alcohol and when entering bars and clubs.

"Most importantly, we use it when we use or debit or credit cards. It is not possible to pay with a card in any shop without showing a matching ID card. This has created a society that is almost free of card fraud. In my seven years in London, I have had my credit card stolen and used. This would not have been possible if the thief had been asked to produce an ID card to prove he was the rightful owner of that card. ID will protect you. If you remember that, the fee for it might not seem like such a huge sum of money.

Sarah Evers, London E10"

Now, I'm fond of the Swedes. I used to have a Swedish girlfriend, and I've been over there many times. I can attest to the truth that ID cards are used for the purposes Sarah Evers mentions. But her letter really is an exercise in missing the point. She ignores several key facts:

  • Swedish ID cards are simpler than the card the British government is proposing to introduce. As I recall, they do not contain the biometric information (iris scans, facial contours, fingerprints, etc.) proposed for the British cards. There is less information to be collected about an individual; therefore less room for error when reading the card.

  • As Sarah Evers says, the card only costs £30 for ten years - way short of the predicted cost of the British card, even using the government's own figures. And the British cards could need updating every five years.

  • The Swedish card is issued along with the person's personnummer (personal number). This acts as an all-in-one identification number, combining the equivalent of the NHS number, National Insurance number, which we have in this country. The ID card is not an additional document, as it would be in this country.

  • Personal data is protected by law in Sweden. The data cannot legally be passed to anyone other than relevant authorities. No such protection is guaranteed in the British system (the government has had to deny that the identity register would be sold to private companies, but the Home Office is known to have been considering such a scheme). The culture in Sweden, an open society where resources and services are considered to be everyone’s right, is different from that of the UK, where you have to prove your ‘worthiness’ to access things which should be one’s right (eg healthcare).

  • Swedish ID cards are issued by local authorities, not a central national body (although the Swedish government is considering moving to national registration).

  • Sarah Evers claims that she could not have had her credit card used when stolen. True, unless the thief had also stolen her ID card and doctored it (or forged one of his own). Is she saying that’s impossible? Harder, yes, but surely not impossible?

  • She’s probably also unaware of cases of mistaken identity in Sweden, such as the woman whose son was taken away from her on the grounds that he was a drug abuser, because someone else had been using her personnummer (source here).

Assuming her letter isn't another New Labour plant ('Sarah Evers' doesn't sound like a very Swedish name, but one Swede in six has a non-Swedish parent, so there are all kinds of names over there), this is a valiant, no doubt well-meaning, but utterly flawed defence of this government's arrogant scheme.

A useful article contrasting the British and Swedish positions can be found here.

And let’s not forget that even the most secure security systems are vulnerable to hacking, theft and forgery, as reported here (registration required).