Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pseud's corner

"Right now, I'm going to wash up the porridge…". So says the Boy King in his new yuk-making venture into popular politics - his own blog with embedded video clips.

In going for webcasts, the Boy is attempting to communicate with the "yoof" who do not read newspapers. "Lots of young people now don't bother with newspapers - they see that as the dead wood industry and they get their news off the internet," he says. "But we're not really there communicating with them so... I'm launching a totally new idea in British politics."

Actually, Dave, it's "dead tree sellers", not "dead wood industry". There is nothing quite so pathetic as someone trying to come over as "cool" by rattling off the jargon and getting it wrong.

And get it wrong he most certainly does: talking to camera, the Boy makes out as if he is about to do the washing-up – a man of the people no less. But have you ever seen anyone do it with his sleeves rolled down, wearing cuff-links?

You can actually read a lot of things into gaffes like this. They show, deep down, that the Boy isn't really on the same planet as the rest of us, which probably explains why he is getting such crap poll results. He is just another of those Tory toffs with his head so far up his own … that he can no longer see daylight.

But, as the song goes.. "it can only get worse". I think that was how it went. Matthew Parris is worth reading on the subject.


What more can you say?

NATO yesterday failed to find any volunteers to contribute 2,500 reinforcements that are needed for combat duty in Afghanistan. After two days of talks in Portoroz, Slovenia, defence ministers from the 26-nation alliance said that nobody had produced the reserve force, first requested by Nato commanders more than three weeks ago.

"There was no offer of more troops. There were some encouraging signs but it is unlikely anything will be decided until our next meeting in Riga in November," said a British official at the talks.

I can't make up my mind whether this is a deliberate ploy by the "Europeans" to bring down Nato or whether this simply reflects the gutless, anti-militaristic nature of European society. Either way, Nato is proving to be about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Trouble in Francophonie

Oh dear, oh dear. Things are a bit troublesome in Francophonie, the world-wide organization that exists to counter the onward march of the English language.

It meets every two years in countries with large French-speaking population, such as Burkina Fasa or, as it were, Romania. It is, in fact, the latter country that is hosting the meeting this year, presumably, at least partly because France is once again attempting to spread its influence among the new member states of the European Union.

Romanian is a Latin language and, therefore, there has been a tendency in the past to learn French as the foreign language (except in the parts where they speak German of Hungarian).

The problem has come from the usual source: who is to be invited. Thus the pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, ostensibly because of the UN report that had implicated his government and the Syrian one in the murder of the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

That is not how President Lahoud sees the matter. In his opinion, this is all l’escroc Chirac’s fault, who is “meddling with Lebanon's domestic affairs”. There seem to be an awful lot of people meddling with Lebanon’s domestic affairs and none of them seem to be Hezbollah.

By acting in this unconscionable fashion, President Lahoud went on, Chirac was
harm[ing] principles of Francophone and the historic and deep-rooted relations between Lebanon and France.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who had been invited, refused to go, sending as his personal representative, the Culture Minister.


The fate of the Union?

With the publication yesterday of the Department for Transport's (DfT) road safety statistics for last year, there has been much focus on the revelation that – contrary to previous official assertions – "speeding" is not a major killer on our roads.

Up to press, the official line has always been that excessive speed is a contributory factor in a third of all accidents but, what transpires from the latest set of figures (summary here) is that "speeding" – defined as exceeding the speed limit – is a factor in only five percent of accidents (1 in 20).

Why the authorities should be so obsessive about speeding, therefore, has always been something of a mystery, except that it has the advantage of something that can easily be measured and is therefore relatively easy to enforce.

But, another important factor – of which most people are entirely unaware – is the European Union. On 12 September 2001, when the EU commission defined the road safety targets to be reached by 2010 in its Transport White Paper, it too singled out “speed” as the major issue and, in its list of priorities called for tighter enforcement of speeding laws.

If not actually the cause of the speed camera blitz, therefore, the EU has been right in there supporting the mindless morons and the government liars who have been quite deliberately distorting the presentation of the data and confusing the issues.

Even yesterday, in the official DfT press releases, the weasels were out in full force, highlighting that:

Exceeding the speed limit or going too fast for conditions were reported as a contributory factor in 15 per cent of all accidents. However, the factor became more significant with the severity of the accident; it was reported as contributory factor in 26 per cent of fatal accidents and these accidents accounted for 28 per cent of all fatalities (793 deaths).
And that is how they do it, eliding "too fast for conditions" – a variable independent of the speed limit – with exceeding the speed limit. But, whereas the latter is amenable to speed enforcement, the former is not. By such legerdemain, though, is the bulk of enforcement effort distorted, with effects that have been pointed out by Paul Smith of the organisation Safespeed.

Smith thus argues that the obsession with speed limit enforcement, increasingly through the use of speed cameras, is counter-productive. And such is the malign effect that the rate of decline in the death rate due to road accidents has tailed off. When it comes to serious injuries, data from the British Medical Journal suggests that there has been no fall at all, year on year.

Pro-camera advocates – not least those who benefit financially from them – still insist, however, that their loathsome tools should be called "safety" rather than "speed" cameras, but the evidence it now pointing to another possible appellation – like "death cameras". Ironically, the very measures which the EU supports and encourages are preventing the UK from reaching the targets that the EU itself has set.

As for possible solutions, the pictures above happily illustrate options which could apply equally to cameras and the European Union. It really is interesting, though, to see quite how many people believe burning is the most appropriate answer (more here and here).


Give me money, that's what I want

Following this, I wrote to The Telegraph Group asking for details of the prices charged for a general license for the occasional use of Telegraph photographs on our blog, and the terms and conditions of such use. I have received the following response:

Dear Dr North

Thank you for your email. I followed the link you kindly sent me to your blog site, where I saw the letter from our Group Managing Editor and various comments posted in response.

Before answering your question directly, let me say this: the overwhelming majority of pictures we publish are not the property of Telegraph Group Limited. Copyright is retained by the photographers/artists who create them. These are almost invariably self-employed and make their livings solely from licensing us and other publishers to reproduce their material. In the case of photographers such as Heathcliff O'Malley, who spent many months in Iraq during the war, they have gone to considerable trouble and personal risk in building up their libraries of material. It is not fair or right that others should be able to exploit their property for free. With respect it is irrelevant whether you make money from using their material: the effect is to diminish the exclusivity and make their pictures less marketable in the future.

The Telegraph's Syndication department is an agency that represents the interests of our regular writers and photographers in exchange for a prearranged commission. We have a duty to police illegal use of their material and protect their interests.

Having looked at the site again I see a few of our images have been removed but I would be grateful if you could remove all photographs until we have an agreement about the fees to the photographers.

Our standard rate for the use of an image on a website is £70. It must be also guaranteed that the image is used within the same context of its original publication

Yours sincerely

Richard Bentley
Syndication Manager
Daily and Sunday Telegraph
Taken literally, Bentley is demanding that we remove all photographs from the site, whether they have anything to do with the Telegraph or not. This surely cannot be his meaning and, in any case, we have refused.

As to the fees which the Telegraph Group wishes to charge, clearly these are absurd for a non-revenue earning blog, especially as we might put up as many as five (or more) posts in one day, some with multiple pics. Clearly, the intent is to seek to prevent their use, rather than protect the interests of the photographers - which is the claim made.

If the Telegraph Group was actually interested in the welfare of its photographers, it would arrange for a realistic fee which people could and would be prepared to pay, obtaining some money rather than none at all - and engendering considerable goodwill (and free advertising) in the process. Given the number of blogs there are, the overall revenue might not be insignificant.

The special pleading by Bentley, invoking Heathcliff O'Malley's name, therefore, is especially interesting. We are told he "spent many months in Iraq during the war, they have gone to considerable trouble and personal risk in building up their libraries of material. It is not fair or right that others should be able to exploit their property for free."

However, if his and any other photographs were published then presumably, they were paid for and the photographer has gained an income. That the Telegraph Group is then asking that he should be paid again and again for the same photograph, ad infinitum is an interesting concept - and lies at the basis of syndication rights. However, while the intent may be sound, where blogging is concerned, there is often no revenue to obtain (certainly not at the fee level proposed) and, therefore, the effect is to prevent blogs using photographs rather than protecting photographers' incomes.

Since these images are very often part of the story, this also has the effect of closing down debate. Imagine, for instance, if the agencies and newspapers had enforced their "rights" over the Qanagate issue and the Beruit photoshopping. Clearly, therefore, there are sides to this issue but, as it stands, The Telegraph Group is not living in the real world.

Incidentally, The Sunday Telegraph has just fired two of its loyal and especially dedicated staff photographers (and its picture editor) for no other reason than maximising the profitability of the group, so we can take the expressions of concern for photographers with something of a pinch of salt.


Who says UNIFIL is doing nothing

Well, we do for one. But now is the time to recant and to acknowledge that some parts of UNIFIL are actually quite active, though not necessarily in the way we had all expected them to be. (Well, now that you mention it, when I say “we” I do not mean this blog.)

The French troops have been active (incidentally, has France sent the promised 2,000 yet or are they still at the 200 level?), protecting those wonderful and highly objective individuals the journalists. So strongly do the French troops believe in the freedom of journalists to report whatever they feel like saying as long as it does not upset Hezbollah, that they almost clashed with the IDF.
Members of UNIFIL's French battalion almost clashed with Israeli troops who arrested a French journalist and a Lebanese photographer at an improvised checkpoint in the border area of Marwaheen in the western sector of south Lebanon.

A UNIFIL officer told United Press International that a French force was rushed to the location of the checkpoint and a heated argument erupted between French and Israeli officers, which lasted an hour before the Israeli troops released the two journalists.

It was the first time that such friction occurs between Israeli troops and UNIFIL forces, international forces which deployed in recent weeks to increase the number of the original peacekeepers in the area.
One can see that the enlarged UNIFIL and UN Resolution 1701 is going to be a huge success.


Damned and double-damned

It seems that EU enlargement is not only costing us a fortune, creating enormous difficulties with the mass migration of populations, but also causing huge problems in the enlargement countries themselves.

The Times has the story – after a fashion. But, if you want real detail on Poland, read a blog.

Behind all the political instability in Poland, however, is a vital question - will the commitment to send an extra 1000 troops to Afghanistan survive the turmoil? And, if it doesn't, who else is going to step in as the situation deteriorates?


Thursday, September 28, 2006

A love letter from the MSM

Letter received from The Telegraph Group today. They must be getting desperate.


Choosing sides - 2

It looks like this one will run and run. I was going to devote part 2 of “Choosing sides” to an account and analysis of the meeting I attended on the subject of Israel and the media. Alas, that will have to wait at least one more day.

Instead, here is a choice morsel of news about people choosing the (wrong) side. The Netherlands National News Agency reported a couple of weeks ago that the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) came up with a corker of a report. (One wonders, incidentally, what the definition of “scientific” is in this case.

The Report poured shame on all Dutch legislators and, indeed, Dutch people for endlessly lambasting Islam and Islamists instead of criticizing more seriously “friendly countries such as the US, Israel and Russia”.

Whether Russia is a friendly country is a moot point and, undoubtedly, its human rights record is dismal as is the behaviour of Russian troops and security forces in Chechnya, a much more complicated problem than some people try to make out.

Undoubtedly, there is room for criticism of the US and Israel and its governments. They are only countries and the governments are … well, just that, governments. But to say that we should concentrate on criticizing them and forget the far worse behaviour of numerous Muslim countries, not to mention gangs of thugs who burn churches, threaten everyone who says anything critical of anything Muslim and murder nuns is, to display a very peculiar attitude to the world. And that is putting it mildly.

The Report was supposed to be presented to Commission Vice President Franco Frattini but we have not heard how he received it. Given that Frattini has been making tough statements on the need to fight terrorism, on control of immigration (particularly if this involved further integration) and on the need to support Pope Benedict XVI, it is unlikely that he was overimpressed by the Dutch Scientific Council.

The researcher, Jan Schoonenboom, had presented the report to the Dutch parliament in April, where it was given short shrift.
In April, when it was presented to the Lower House, he stated that the debate in the Netherlands was dominated by "Islam-bashing". He advised the Dutch government "not to be so spastic about Sharia law" and to "support the moderate Islamic powers much more, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hezbollah in Lebanon." He added "we must address Russia more forcefully on human rights violations in Chechnya, Israel for its decades of ignoring UN resolutions and the US regarding Guantanamo Bay."
One wonders whether Mr Schoonenboom actually knows anything about the Muslim Brotherhood, the precursor of most of the Islamist terrorist organizations of today or about Hezbollah and its treatment of all those who oppose it, be they Jewish (preferably), Christian or Muslim. And, errm, just exactly what does he think Sharia law says about the treatment of women, for instance, or about freedom of speech or about the freedom to carry out scientific enquiries?

It is reassuring to know that the findings of this so-called Scientific Council were rubbished by various Dutch politicians on all sides of the spectrum. It is a little less reassuring to think that research of this calibre and of such political stupidity can be done at the taxpayers’ expense anywhere.


Blog with attitude

If blogs were not important, The Daily Telegraph would not be firing 51 members of staff on its daily and another 18 on the Sunday paper, while intensifying its electronic coverage. Neither would the new Secretary of State for the Environment be wasting public money on his and the fragrant EU commissioner for communications would not be expending so much of her energy on hers.

However, it has to be said that The Telegraph is merely adding to the diet of trivia which infests the print copy, with a blog specifically dedicated to political gossip. By so doing, it is following The Times into the fray, a publication that is continuing its long decline from being the "paper of record" to just another piece of MSM tat.

In producing these testaments to the decline of serious journalism, the proprietors of the respective newspapers hope, one presumes, to capitalise on the growing online advertising revenue which the current brand leaders have already sought to exploit.

But, while hopes are pinned on the trivia bringing in the bucks, commentators like Mike Ion on the Guardian's Comment is free site are talking up the political influence of blogs, Ion himself offering his own "take" on why they are so important. He writes:

They take the media out of the hands of the corporate world and put it into the hands of anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Their audiences tend to be political junkies who have almost non-stop access to a computer and large amounts of time to surf the internet for breaking news. This is what makes political bloggers so powerful - their ability to influence the influencers.
Despite this, Ion seems to confuse popularity with influence, citing two blogs which are almost devoid of serious content, on which both The Times and The Daily Telegraph seem to be modelling themselves in their race for the bottom.

However, we take the view that the blogsphere is too valuable a resource to be devoted entirely to the lightweight and trivial and will continue to build on our base as serious bloggers with something more to offer our readers than titillation. But, we decided, such a noble enterprise needs an identity – a logo. And if the Conservative Party can have one, so can we.

Fortunately, for a mere £40,000,000,000.23 (plus VAT) A non EU mouse has come to our aid and we are now able proudly to display our new logo on the sidebar. "Blog with attitude" R Us.


If you really want to know what is going on ....

Fouad Ajami is one of the most interesting and knowledgeable commentators on the Islamic countries and on the war against terror (for which read war against terrorists and their controllers).

He is a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and has written extensively, both books and articles.

He has a long article in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, entitled "The War Critics", though on the website, which takes its cue from the American edition of the newspaper, it is called "Infidel Documents".

Non-news about non-negotiations

Could this the most unexciting introductory paragraph on a Reuters story?
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Thursday he had failed to reach a deal with the chief Iranian negotiator on Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but they had paved the way for further talks.
Well, that’s nice. Let us hope they have sorted the seating plan out for the next few rounds of those further talks.

The EU common foreign policy high panjandrum, Javier Solana, has surpassed himself in pretending that he had something to communicate.
"We have been progressing," Solana told reporters after discussions with Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani.

"We still have some issues that have not been closed," he added without elaborating. Solana said he hoped to renew contact with the Iranians by the middle of next week.
The State Department has said that time is running out for a deal and this latest round with the subsequent information given to the press would confirm that. What will be the next stage? Possibly an attempt to get the Security Council to apply sanctions, though it seems unlikely that the EU3 will support the United States on that. And, according to President Ahmadinejad, the SecGen has told him not to worry too much about what the Security Council might say.


Medals galore

The news that almost 180 British soldiers have been recommended for gallantry awards for their efforts in Afghanistan, including "several" Victoria Crosses, brings to mind the last days of the siege of Stalingrad, when Junkers 52s from Hitler's Luftwaffe were despatched to airdrop container-loads of Iron Crosses to the beleaguered troops of the 6th Army.

That is not in any way to disparage the bravery of our troops but, as The Daily Telegraph remarks, the scale of the awards suggests a conflict out of all proportion to the security operation first outlined by the government when Britain committed forces to southern Afghanistan in January. John Reid, the then Defence Secretary, expressed the hope that the troops might be able to get in and out of Helmand without firing a shot.



A matter of perspective

In one had to point to one organisation that had done more than any to demonise waste disposal and legitimise the flood of restrictive legislation on waste, Greenpeace would be a pretty good candidate.

Thus it is inevitable that, when a disaster arises in part as a result of the very legislation of which Greenpeace so much approves, they will be the last people to recognise the consequences of their own actions.

The disaster in question is a waste oil dumping scandal, involving the ship Probo Koala (pictured above), which has killed at least eight Africans, including children, and poisoned thousands of Ivory Coast residents, reported (sketchily) by Reuters via Toronto Star (which is equally uncomprehending of the underlying issues).



Wednesday, September 27, 2006

They are lining up

SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo) is coming to the end of his second term in office but, I have no doubt, that his retirement will not be impoverished. Yesterday the Times devoted an editorial to the incredibly important question of who his successor might be and who it ought to be.

It seems that, according to Buggins’ turn, it will have to be an Asian personality, as the last one of those was U Thant from 1961 to 1971. He was followed by Kurt Waldheim and because the list was that way round, the Europeans are out of the consideration this time round.

Well the former Thunderer thinks that this is a very poor idea. SecGens should be chosen on the basis of merit. What kind of merit?



When is a riot not a riot?

A screen grab from local television newsWhen, it seems, it involves Muslims in Brussels, at Ramadan.

This one is in the Marollen district of Brussels, near the Midi station – the terminus of the Brussels Eurostar link. Riots in this area are common enough. They occur many a weekend, although the activities are usually confined to torching the occasional car and duffing up the Belgian police – who tend to regard the "high spirits" as training exercises.

This one, however, looks to be a little different. It is in its third day and has spread to torching shops and other buildings, including firebombing the local hospital.

Snapped Shot has the story and is tracking the media's curious lack of interest, recording that not a single agency photographer has been despatched to cover the activities of the Muslim mob.

Brussels Journal is on the case as well.


The real business of politics - 2

Although the meat and drink of real politics might be about dots and commas in draft legislation, it is also about life and death, as we have pointed out before. And there can be no better an illustration of this, and the total failure of our political process, than the contrast between this photograph (left) and the one below.

The first shows a Canadian RG-31 Nyala in Afghanistan which, according to CTV News was today attacked by a suicide bomber in a vehicle. The soldiers inside escaped unscathed and no other Canadian troops were hurt in the attack.

We are told that the attack took place about two kilometres from the regional international reconstruction headquarters in Kandahar and, according to reports, the suicide bomber tried to ram a vehicle into the convoy that was travelling through the city of Kandahar on its way to the main Nato headquarters at Kandahar Airfield.

The bomber was driving what appeared to be a minivan in front of the convoy. The driver pulled over as the convoy approached, then turned around and drove into one of the vehicles in the convoy. Soldiers said there was little warning of the attack.

Now compare and contrast with the outcome of a similar suicide attack earlier this month, only this time against British troops. They, to their misfortune, were riding in a lightly armoured "Snatch" Land Rover. And, as a result of the failure of the MoD to equip our troops properly, they died.

This, as the media are belatedly beginning to realise, is one of the more egregious failures of the MoD procurement process, but one that has – with a few honourable exceptions – been almost totally ignored by the British political "blogosphere".

Nevertheless, the combined effort of the blogs that did engage, with the help of a cross-party and cross-House alliance of Parliamentarians, the support of Christopher Booker in The Sunday Telegraph and the intervention of The Sunday Times, the Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne was forced to purchase armoured vehicles for our troops.

This does show the power of the political process when it is harnessed properly and focused, hence my irritation when the growing power and influence of the blogosphere is frittered away on trivia and puerile "tee-hee" comment.

A graphic illustration of that dynamic comes from Ian Dale's website which has recently made a rare expedition into defence issues, but only to report on this issue of utmost gravity:

As part of the government's Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS), it was decreed that the Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) and the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) - don't they just love acronyms - should merge.

I see from the the (sic) current edition of Jane's Defence Weekly that, from 1 April 2007, the merged organisation will be known as Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S). Even by the standards of NuLab, it seems a bit much that the Secretary of State should be naming part of his empire after himself!
By his own estimation, Iain Dale's site is third in the rankings of top British political blogs and thus in a position to influence the political process for good or bad. And, while it is not entirely fair to single out Dale's abysmal efforts, his output typifies much of what is wrong with British political blogging – and illustrates how it is failing to capitalise on the blogosphere's growing power and influence.

Although not of a religious bent, I am reminded of the parable of the talents. More prosaically, one of Rudyard Kipling's quotations comes to mind.


The real business of politics

Just to show there are no hard feelings, this time I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by Simon Heffer in his op-ed in The Daily Telegraph today. He writes:

The past few weeks should have convinced most of us that a knowledge of politics, and years watching the game, were now inadequate for a commentator like me to be able do his job. A grasp of psychiatry would be much more helpful, especially where the Labour Party is concerned. Politics used to be about ideology, but now it is about love and loyalty. Does Gordon love Tony? Does Tony love Gordon? If the answer to both parts is no, then how does it affect the delicate balance of the Labour high command?

Perhaps most important, since we technically live in a democracy, what on earth are the general public outside the G-Mex centre in Manchester, where Labour's conference is being held, supposed to make of all this? Now that we have heard from both of the alleged titans of New Labour, and they have both preened and postured in their respective corners, can we perhaps get back to the real business of politics, which is to govern the country?
The trouble is that the chattering classes, the politicos, the wannabes and sundry groupies are no longer interested in governing the country. That requires knowledge, hard work and some understanding. Moreover, as anyone who has been engaged in the process will tell you, it is at times extremely tedious and unrewarding.

That in part accounts for the attraction of the European Union. In performing its role as a gigantic law-making machine, it saves the politicos the trouble and tedium of having to legislate on the vast number of dry, technical issues that a mature democracy seems to think essential. Instead, they can concentrate on the "real" issues – such as how to get elected – without having to bother their pretty little heads about the real business of government.

So it is that politics has been reduced to all the gravitas of a soap opera, its "stars" competing for air-time with the next episode of Neighbours or Corrie, while – as one of our forum members so aptly puts it – our media cease to be political commentators and become theatre critics.

Needless to say, this infantilisation of politics is attractive, as much of the real business of government is indeed tedious. For instance, no amount of "sexing-up" is going to make the detailed scrutiny of a draft law interesting – the process of line-by-line analysis, changing commas into full stops, amending part-clauses and knocking out obscure sentences which, years later, could have a profound and damaging effect on a small (or even large) number of people.

How much easier it is to focus on the salacious gossip – who is slagging off whom; who is shagging who's wife (or boyfriend) – and all the clever-dick tittle-tattle that emanates from the political hothouse, populated by second-raters distinguished only by having intellects in inverse proportion to the size of their egos.

But, while this is all good "entertainment", it is also the death of good government. When the elections become beauty contests rather than sober assessments of the performance of governments, politicians will play to the gallery rather than get down to the nitty-gritty of good administration.

And as long as the media fritters away its time and power on giving these buffoons space and airtime, instead of using their skills to make the dull interesting, and thus inform rather than titillate the population, the politicians will continue to value acting skills and "presentation" over substance.

It is here that the antidote is the internet – a superb medium for conveying information and a portal through which the mass of detail we need to know can be accessed. Never has participating in the democratic process been easier. But, unfortunately, the internet is equally capable of becoming a vehicle for accessing the same, low-grade titillation and dross that so gratifies its authors and entertains the masses.

The trouble is that being a grown-up in a complex and increasingly dangerous world requires a sense of responsibility – a realisation that being a citizen of a democracy requires more than self-gratification and the right to 24/7 wall-to-wall entertainment. It requires taking the time out to explore and understand the issues, to complain long and loud when we are misinformed, misled and badly governed. In other words, being grown-up requires that we behave like adults.

But, as the politicians and the media are failing the test, so is the internet – at least on this side of the Atlantic – where it too is dominated by the trivial, the salacious and the populist. And that must reflect the readership which finds it easier to dwell on the infantile than to assume the responsibilities of adult citizens.

If we behave like children, however, we can hardly complain if, increasingly, we are treated like children. If we see the exponential growth of the "nanny state" it can only be because, increasingly, we are incapable of, or unwilling to, manage our own affairs – or take personal responsibility for our own actions.

Thus, there is a hard nugget of truth in that phrase, "we get the governments we deserve". If we wish to dwell on the trivial, the jokey and the superficial - to the exclusion of all else - we will continue to suffer the ministrations of the dross that populate the political classes.

Yet, by the same measure, our salvation is in our own hands. Politicians are nothing if not populists and if they perceive that the public is in no mood for the low grade fare that they and the media insists on doling out, they will change. And the internet is one of the most powerful (but not the only) tools for sending such a signal. Abuse it and we only have ourselves to blame.

So, to paraphrase Heffer, we need get back to the real business of politics, which is to govern the country. Boring, at times it might be but hey! Who ever said it was easy being a grown-up?


What's in a name?

The story of George Blake, one of the most successful Soviet spies in Britain, and his human rights, as trampled on by the Attorney Genera, according to the ECHR, is not precisely a theme for this blog.

However, some of our readers might like to see the musings over on the Conservative History Journal blog.

The long farewell…

So say, currently, 1309 articles posted on Google News, mute testimony to the media obsession with the Labour leadership – an opportunity to indulge in the mindless pap that has poisoned intelligent political discourse and saved legions of idle hacks from doing anything strenuous like reporting news.

Anyhow, by common consent, Tony Blair's speech to the conference yesterday was his "farewell" – but not to the country… that really would be a cause for celebration. Unfortunately, this is only billed as the farewell to the Labour Party. Our "Tone" still has another nine months or so in office, more than sufficient to complete the destruction of our nation that started with his accession in May 1997.

Needless to say, his speech was greeted with "euphoria" among the Labour faithful – something we will have to take the hacks' word for. Television and radio news has been banned from the EU Referendum household as the sight of TB posturing and prancing was more than even strong stomachs could bear. Watching a fourth re-run of a Star Trek Voyager episode on Sky 1, showing flesh harvesting mutants, was infinitely preferable.

A number of hacks – always ready with the empty cliché – write that his will be a tough act to follow, which is undoubtedly true. When most of the nation is already wrecked, it will be exceedingly difficult to do as much damage as this man has done, although Gordon Brown – if it is he that follows – will undoubtedly try his best.

"Love him or loathe him, it was a leader's speech," said Tony Woodley, general Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and indeed it was – although even Lemmings, presumably, have leaders.

The only thing more depressing is that after this love-fest of the morons, next week we have another, as the Boy King addresses his faithful – what's left of them – in the south coast seaside town of Bournemouth. Mercifully, from the perspective here in the frozen north, in Yorkshire, it would be difficult for him to be further away and still be in England – and the off-switch on the television is still functional.

Possibly though, there is something more depressing. When we finally do get rid of Blair, his successor may be so awful that he makes Boy King Cameroon look attractive. That is probably the only thing that would get him elected and the thought of that plump, smug, vacuous face leering from the television, being addressed as "prime minister", is something we do not even want to begin contemplating.

Should that happen – and in any event – the second draft of history will be written and Tony Blair – who's name coincidentally and appropriately shares initials with a malignant disease which his government has singularly failed to check – will re-emerge as the great statesman.

It will take several generations before historians are able to write a more accurate account of his reign, recording just how damaging this man has been - but the truth usually comes out in the end. That, at least, is of some comfort.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

This is quite interesting

Hilary White, journalist and blogger on religious matters has found some interesting patterns in the way Pope Benedict’s speech at Regensburg University was reported by the BBC, the Guardian and the New York Times. (Hands up those few who are surprised by this list.)

As the article points out the early reports of the lecture were very subdued and uninterested. There was the Pope talking about reason and faith and the need for both in life and there were the journalists, secularists to a person, completely uninterested in any of it. Or, perhaps, they found it hard to follow his arguments. Or, perhaps, they had never heard of Byzantium and her emperors.

Then, three days later, the BBC suddenly began to report fears of riots and actual riots in various Muslim countries and areas. This was followed by the Guardian and the New York Times and also, as Hilary White does not mention, a large proportion of the MSM in Britain. Even the Daily Telegraph spent some time bloviating on the subject of what might have gone wrong in the Pope’s entourage for him to have been allowed to make such an imprudent speech.

News agencies tut-tutted about the Pope’s lack of media finesse, not, probably, the first thing that comes to the Holy Father’s mind when he plans a lecture on theology. (I have said it before and, no doubt, shall say it again: one can but wish that the Archbishop of Canterbury spent a little less time on media finesse and a little more on theology and ideas. Well, one can wish.)

So the story grew for several days with frenzied demands for an apology and various rather violent though not very big demonstrations by the Islamist rent-a-mob in various countries, including Britain.

Did the media create the crisis for some reasons of its own? Was it a way of getting at Pope Benedict, a hate-figure for them as Hilary White argues?

This is not to be excluded, though the desire to create a story where none exists may well be an even bigger incentive than hatred of the Pope. Then again, there is the media’s own crowd mentality. Each journalist wants to say and write whatever the others have said or written.

There is also the problem, articulated by Melanie Phillips, with regards to reporting from the Middle East of the editorial narrative. For most of what Rush Limbaugh calls the drive-by media, the narrative is that of angry Islam being provoked by insensitive Westerners. (That’s when they are not being provoked by oppressive Israelis or jack-booted Americans, William Dalrymple, travel writer and historian of India, being a very fine example of that type of journalist.)

Conspiracy or carelessness? A vicious desire to do down the West or merely an ignorant and nasty desire to break up everything of value? Whichever it is, the BBC, the Guardian and the New York Times, together with their acolytes and followers can take responsibility for the murder of Sister Leonella Sgorbati.


Disingenuous, or what?

EU commission president José Manuel Barroso's has called for "sweeping reforms" before any EU enlargement, declaring that, "I think it would be unwise to bring in more member states apart from Romania and Bulgaria, which will be joining us soon, before we have solved the institutional question."

The phrase, "institutional question" is, of course, Euro-code for the EU constitution, made clear by Barroso’s further statement when he dismissed the idea of small treaty changes, insisting any further enlargement "is the time to take a decision on the constitutional treaty."

Speaking in Berlin, it seems that the commission president has in mind, amongst other things, "more coherence in external relations" – another Euro-code, this one meaning an EU foreign minister.

One wonders though whether Barroso has thought this through – or whether he is being disingenuous. Given that the French rejection of the EU constitution was certainly linked to enlargement, and was to some extent a proxy vote against Turkish membership. Overtly to link the need for a new constitution with further enlargement, therefore, has to be a certain way of ensuring that any attempts to agree a new treaty are rejected.


Bloggers - which is it to be?

Having dealt in a little detail with the Afghan situation on Sunday, what is particularly remarkable about the piece to follow is that it cites the European Union's special representative in Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, who not only seems to make a great deal of sense but also seems to corroborate the source we used in our Sunday piece.

The details we picked up not from the UK media but off a Texan online news service with a shorter version of the same report from the Chinese news service Xinhua.

Now, before dealing with the reports and other information, the summation of which has worrying implications – a personal note.

Frankly, I am getting more than a little tired of the self-obsessed indulgence the media is currently displaying with the Tony and Gordon show in Manchester at the Labour Party conference. But that irritation also extends to the British political bloggers who seem quite content to follow in the wake of the MSM and prattle endlessly about exactly the same issues.

Often the humour and analysis is about the level one would expect of the 4th form of a second-rate boys boarding school and I have heard more intelligent comment from college students in fifth and sixth forms in the lectures I have been given to schools recently.

In a nutshell, the Tony and Gordon show is fluff – nothing is going to be decided immediately and much water is going to pass under the bridge before things come to a head. Meanwhile, we are a nation at war, we do have troops committed to a dangerous foreign venture and, if the material we have accumulated in this and our previous reports is at all representative of the situation, there is the potential for the situation to go seriously belly-up. In that case, over the winter, we could be seeing soldiers coming home in coffins in very large numbers.



Monday, September 25, 2006

Why am I not surprised?

News from the stronger and larger UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon does not exactly fill one with hope for peaceful resolution of that unfortunate country’s problems. (Hint: Hezbollah)

It seems that, as predicted by many, including this blog, the 5,000 strong force (what happened to the rest of it?) is not actually allowed to do anything.
They say they cannot set up checkpoints, search cars, homes or businesses or detain suspects. If they see a truck transporting missiles, for example, they say they can not stop it. They cannot do any of this, they say, because under their interpretation of the Security Council resolution that deployed them, they must first be authorized to take such action by the Lebanese Army.
Well, well. Why am I not surprised? As a matter of some interest, whatever happened to UN Resolution 1701, which was supposed to guarantee the Israeli-Lebanese border and help the people and government of Lebanon by disarming Hezbollah, which was supposed to have been disarmed under UN Resolution 1559 of 2004?
The Security Council resolution, known as 1701, was seen at the time as the best way to halt the war, partly by giving Israel assurances that Lebanon’s southern border would be policed by a robust international force to prevent Hezbollah militants from attacking. When the resolution was approved, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, one of its principal architects, said the force’s deployment would help “protect the Lebanese people and prevent armed groups such as Hezbollah from destabilizing the area.”

But the resolution’s diplomatic language skirted a fundamental question: what kind of policing power would be given to the international force? The resolution leaves open the possibility that the Lebanese Army would grant such policing power, but the force’s commanders say that so far, at least, that has not happened.
Lt. Col. Stefano Cappellaro of the San Marco regiment says that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the UN peacekeeping force is supposed to be doing there. I’ll say there is, not least among the force itself.

The theory is that UNIFIL is there to win the trust of the Lebanese people for purposes unknown. Their softly-softly behaviour has certainly not endeared them to the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nazrallah, who has already made it clear that UN resolutions or no UN resolutions, his thugs will not disarm and will continue to impose their rule on parts of Lebanon. If the Lebanese government did not like that state of affairs, it could go away and leave Lebanon to the Sheik and his henchmen.

He has not been too complimentary about the UNIFIL:
“Thus far, I have not heard any country participating in the Unifil say that it sent its sons and soldiers to defend Lebanon and the Lebanese,” he said in a speech Friday before hundreds of thousands of his supporters. “They are ashamed of us, brothers and sisters. They are ashamed of saying they came to defend us, but they talk about defending Israel.”
As far as the UN is concerned, this is clearly another case of you lose some and then you lose some more.


Irish academics really, really believe in academic freedom

A couple of weeks ago, we quoted The American Thinker and, indeed, supported their question: will the British academics call for a boycott of Iranian ones, in the wake of the purge, proposed or ordered by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Well, we have heard nothing about that but 61 Irish academics, at least some of whom must know where Iran is and what is going on in that country, have called for a boycott …. of Israeli academics.

As the Rector of Bar-Ilan University points out:
“Academic boycott is not ethical and contravenes the principle of academic freedom.

Attempts to exclude Israel and Israeli academics for the purpose of isolation and demonization, overlooking history and decades of violence, are ethically unacceptable.”
What is curious about the Irish academics that, according to the news item, they are writing from all over the world. One would think that all these people who travel all over the world would know that Israeli universities have all kinds of students: Jewish, Muslim and Christian; that Israeli academics have all sorts of political opinions; and that there are countries that are far more oppressive in intellectual terms.

One would also hope that academics of whatever nationality would actually display some ability to research the truth behind facile media propaganda. The letter that these peripatetic academics have sent to their colleagues says, among other things:
“There is widespread international condemnation of Israel's policy of violent repression against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and its aggression against the people of Lebanon.”
Well, well, so these academics do not read the blogosphere and have not heard about Pallywood and Hezbollywood. They do not even appear to have heard of Hezbollah. Then again, they do not appear to know that Hamas has once again announced that it will not join any Palestinian government that negotiates with Israel.

Going on, the letter says:
“We feel it is time to heed the Palestinian call to take practical action to pressure Israel to comply with international law and basic human rights norms. Many national and European cultural and research institutions, including those funded by the EU regard Israel as a European state for the purposes of awarding grants and contracts.

We call for a moratorium on any further such support to Israeli academic institutions, at both national and European levels. We urge our fellow academics to support this moratorium by refraining, where possible, from further joint collaborations with Israeli academic institutions. Such a moratorium should continue until Israel abides by UN resolutions and ends the occupation of Palestinian territories.”
Not just ignorant but lacking in logic as well. Grants and contracts are awarded to Israeli academic institutions because they happen to be quite good at various levels and that includes their Jewish, Muslim and Christian researchers.

There is the further problem that as far as, say, Hamas is concerned, all of Israel is an occupied territory. So, the Irish academics from all over the world are, in effect saying that Israeli institutions should be boycotted until Israel ceases to exist, after which the problem will no longer arise.

I wonder what the said academics would say if someone suggested boycotting various Arab universities because they do not allow anyone in except Muslims and, often, refuse women education; or Chinese universities until the occupation of Tibet ends and academic freedom is allowed without people being sent to the gulag for speaking up against the party?


EU in the frame

The EU's new colours?Leaving it a bit late, this time at least the EU president José Manuel Barroso has come to the support of Pope Benedict XVI's, defending his remarks about Islam. According to yesterday's edition of the German newspaper Weltam Sonntag, he says he is disappointed the leaders of Europe did not defend the Pontiff.

Islamic extremists, adds Barroso, are a threat, but people cannot confuse tolerance with political correctness by putting others' values above their own. Barroso also said the problem does not lie with the Pope's comments, but with the violent reaction of extremists.

This example of "solidarity" is more evidence of collusion between the Vatican and Brussels, yet more indications that the EU is a Catholic plot. Why else would a former Maoist communist spring so readily to the defence of the head of the Roman Catholic church?


Invasion of the blogosphere

Waking up to the growing power of the blogs, the media and political establishment are moving in to neutralise the threat, using time-honoured techniques perfected during centuries of colonial rule and through keeping the great unwashed in their place.

Their use is typified in a web report from Channel 4 News on the Labour Party conference, hilariously entitled, "What the bloggers say".

If the popular view of bloggers is of "citizen journalists" looking in from the outside, Channel 4's idea of "the view on the blogosphere" is somewhat different. It starts off with a link to that famous "citizen journalist", none other than the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson who, it declares, "encapsulates the mood".

Next on the list of the "citizen journalists" is Kerron Cross, a local district councillor in South Oxhey and senior parliamentary assistant to a Labour MP, followed by Jonathan Roberts, an officer of Thirsk and Malton Constituency Labour Party, a Town Councillor campaigning for local Fair Trade initiatives and executive officer of the Labour Movement for Europe.

To add balance to this impressive line-up of "citizen journalists", we get Labour MP Michael Meacher and then, just to prove that this is really about bringing power to the people, Channel 4 brings in a "token ethnic", in the form of Omar's Blog (daily average hits 27) to make a comment of stunning predictability and blandness.

What we can see here is the obvious technique – creating a parallel body which appears to be the real thing but isn't, which can be relied upon to say the "right" things and can freeze out any dissident comment. All the time though, this allows you to say you are "listening" to the blogosphere.

Channel 4 is not the only organisation to adopt such tactics. The Tory establishment is doing likewise, funnelling readers into a carefully selected list of semi-approved sites, the occasional licensed dissident, who offers the usual diet of trivia but can be relied upon to stop short of offering any damaging criticism, the safe pair of hands, and the media pals, none of whom will rock the boat.

By carefully ignoring any sites that do offer genuine criticisms of the establishment, and promoting those which are "safe" – not least by creating faux lists of "top blogs", dissent is absorbed, diverted or contained. Stand by for the Channel 4 awards for the top political blogs of the year. And the winner is… stand up Nick Robinson!

This is how the establishment works: nothing so blunt as censorship or harassment. We did not rule half the planet and come away learning nothing – we bribe the compliant, divide and rule and then marginalise the opposition.

Welcome to the British political "blogsphere", a scene with all the power and vitality of a neutered tomcat.


A "European" victory?

You would not have guessed it from the blizzard of blue and gold flags at the K Club in County Kildare today that the Ryder Cup was originally a sporting event between the best American professionals and those of Great Britain. The first contest was in June 1927 at the Worcester Country Club, Massachusetts, when the United States team defeated their counterparts from Great Britain 9½ -2½.

This victory was to set something of a precedent in that in the first 19 matches (played every other year, with none during WWII) from 1927 to 1971, the British won only three times and drew once – in 1969.

In an attempt to balance up this uneven competition, Ireland was officially added to the British team in 1973, it becoming an Anglo-Irish team for the three tournaments of 1973, 1975 and 1977. The addition, however, did nothing to change the fortunes of the players on this side of the pond. The US also won those three contests.

Almost in desperation, therefore, the British Professional Golf Association prevailed on its American counterpart to widen out the competition to all of continental Europe and, in 1979 the first of the modern matches was played, styled as the USA versus Europe. The US won that and the next two matches.

Meanwhile, the great dream of a "European identity" was stirring in the bosom of the nascent European Union (yet to acquire that name) and, in 1984 the European Council at Fontainebleau (where Thatcher got "her money back") commissioned a report from a committee chaired by Italian MEP Pietro Adonnino to recommend various measures to build the public's sense of European identity.

He reported back at the Milan Council in 1985, suggesting, amongst other things, a Euro lottery, an EU driving license, the adoption of the blue flag with gold stars; and the creation of European sports teams.

The latter endeavour has been singularly unsuccessful to the extent that when Romano Prodi in 1999 suggested "European" teams should represent the 25 EU nations at the Olympics, he was laughed out of court. But, ironically, the one area where the commission has had some success is in hijacking the "European" Ryder Cup, flooding the venues with its emblem.

Thus, as the headlines proclaimed, "Europe wins historic third victory in succession over America in Ryder Cup", there were "ring of stars" symbols everywhere, on hats, scoreboards, flags, shirts, etc. All the television symbols and other publicity logos were blue with the ring of stars.

This was all that Adonnino could have wanted when he proclaimed in 1985 that sport provided a key opportunity to promote a "sense of a European identity".

But, like so many things the EU touches, the victory was an illusion. The victorious "Europe" team included two Swedes (one of whom lost in the final day singles), two Spaniards (one of whom lost), two Irishmen (one of whom lost, the other ended all square) along with six citizens of the UK (four English, one Scot, one Northern Irish), all of whom won. In all, 21 of the 25 "European" nations were not represented. There were not many Latvians in view, or Italians, or French.

Effectively, the 1927 dream of a victory by Britain over the US has come true – only now it is under the cover of an EU flag. Perhaps that is the only model to which the EU can ever aspire which might even bring it "victory" in a wider sphere, which might explain why – for all the provocation – the poor little Europeans are so keen for Britain to remain in the EU.

Nevertheless, one does wonder how much of the EU's publicity budget was spent by the European Commission to see six Brits beat the USA.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

In their tender care - revisited

Mustaf JamaIn May last, we wrote about the Somali criminal Mustaf (aka Mustafa) Jama, implicated in the murder of policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky, who had been freed from prison instead of being considered for deportation.

Jama was one of a thousand or so foreign criminals who had been released in this way, the subsequent furore causing the then current Home Secretary Charles Clarke to resign and the Home Office to be labelled "not fit for purpose".

His successor, John Reid, soon after his appointment as Home Secretary, said he would "move heaven and earth" to find the prisoners and there were almost daily questions in the House of Commons about the number recovered.

But now, we learn from The Sunday Telegraph in a fine piece of reporting by Ben Leapman, Home Affairs Correspondent, that the hunt has been quietly abandoned and the team of 60 police and probation and immigration officers spearheading the hunt has been disbanded.

At the last count, however, more than 400 of the prisoners had not been traced. They included 74 violent and sexual offenders, seven of them guilty of murder , manslaughter, rape or sexual offences against children. The Home Office conceded yesterday that the manhunt (including searching for Mustaf Jama) was no longer a "priority", despite so many offenders remaining at large.

Come to think of it, we have heard nothing of any more arrests after the Muslim demonstration in London last February, when they were protesting against the Danish cartoons. There certainly have been no prosecutions that we can recall, despite strong public revulsion against the inflammatory placards.

Should we not be grateful, therefore, that our government is so diligent in looking after our safety?


Ever popular

This sign is on Arbroath harbour wall in Scotland. Note the bricks.

Our correspondent writes: "Accident? Methinks not. The sign is actually on the opposite wall of a canal and therefore any damage would have to have been deliberate."


The erosion of freedoms

It is interesting to see how much energy has been expended by sections of the eurosceptic community on the remote and largely theoretical EU threat to our freedoms represented by the putative abolition of habeas corpus.

By contrast, you will see little concern – and none of any lasting effect – about the continued drip-drip erosion of our liberties that happens in a myriad of ways through the application of EU law.

One such is recorded by Christopher Booker in this week's Sunday Telegraph, under the heading, "Citronella deters insects, but it's illegal to say so".

If, like me, though, you did not even know what Citronella was, perhaps vaguely thinking that it was a branded fruit drink, then that fact that it has been banned for use as an insect repellent by the EU's Biocidal Products Directive, (98/8/EC) is not going to have you storming the barricades.



This does not look good

It must have been a slow news day yesterday because Sir Richard Dannatt, the Army's new Chief of the General Staff, stayed on most of the day's television news bulletins, springing to the defence of the RAF after Friday's attack on it.

Oddly though, Dannatt did not even hint that the Major who made his complaints about the RAF may have been mistaken – and been complaining about the wrong air force. And it is doubly odd that not one single news station (or newspaper) which reported on the affair has mentioned this. Clearly, the Major's complaints supports the media narrative that "our boys" are ill equipped and under-strength, so to cast doubt on the man would have reduced the authority of his report.

But this superficiality is getting serious. When it comes to news on Afghanistan, we as a nation are dangerously ill-informed, in two key areas – firstly, the general strategic position and, secondly, over the possible course of events during the winter.



Saturday, September 23, 2006

Is Osama Bin Laden dead?

See here.

There is a possibility that he might have succumbed to Salmonella typhi.


Cloth for brains

Christopher PattenThe Times today informs us that Christopher Patten, the former Conservative minister and erstwhile EU commissioner for external relations, has returned to the (political) fray by joining a 12-strong international "Group of the Wise", which is tasked with finding an alternative to the rejected EU constitution.

He wants – or so we are told - to combat the "playground language" of the debate over the constitution in Britain.

Why this unexciting piece of news should grab the attention of The Times – in what is a relatively long article – is not entirely obvious, but it does serve a purpose in demonstrating that some political journalists really do have cloth for brains.

The two in this case are David Charter and Rory Watson in Brussels who diligently note that Patten's involvement "may come as an embarrassment to the Eurosceptic David Cameron…".

Charter and Watson are supposedly experienced and knowledgeable political hacks. How, therefore, can they possibly describe the Boy King as "Eurosceptic"? And, if they do regard him as such, no wonder they thing that true Eurosceptics belong to the lunatic fringe.

With that quality of comment though, no wonder we are in trouble.


Smoke and fire

A USAF A-10It is extremely difficult to know exactly what to make of the "leaked" emails from a British Army Major, widely reported in the MSM (for instance, here, here and here) as complaining, amongst other things, that RAF pilots there are "utterly, utterly useless".

In one of the published extracts of the emails, the Major is reported to have claimed:

Twice I have had Harriers in support when c/s on the ground have been in heavy contact, on one occasion trying to break clean. A female harrier pilot 'couldn't identify the target', fired 2 phosphorous rockets that just missed our own compound so that we thought they were incoming RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), and then strafed our perimeter missing the enemy by 200 metres.
There is a slight problem here – actually two problems. Firstly, the CRV-7 rockets used by the RAF in Afghanistan are not fitted with phosphorous warheads. Secondly, the Harrier GR7As deployed in theatre are not fitted with guns. Interestingly though, the AV8B – the US equivalent of the Harrier – operated by the US Marine Corps, is fitted with both.

Nevertheless, the Major does write: "the US air force had been fantastic", to which he adds, "I would take an A-10 over Eurofighter any day." Cue picture of A-10 (above).

Much else of what the Major does say – about the shortage of troops and how hard-pressed they are – checks out with other information, not least the comments of Captain Leo Docherty, reported in The Times earlier this month.

There is now too much "smoke" to suggest that there is no "fire", despite the bland denials of the MoD. We will, therefore, have a more detailed look at the Afghan situation later today.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Peace keepers in southern Lebanon

Little Green Footballs provides us with this pictureof a Spanish UN peace keeper in southern Lebanon, doing his duty, being chummy with Hezbollah. LGF calls it "Jawdropper of the Hour" but, personally I do not find it at all surprising.

The European Union shows its strength, as usual

As the International Herald Tribune puts it: “Indonesia Executes 3, Despite EU Appeal”. Once again the EU’s influence is displayed for all to see. It would not matter so much if we were not told at great length by the propagandists in such organizations as the Centre for European Reform, that one of the joys of the EU was its ability to have a quiet influence on all sorts of nasty people. Not, you understand, like those nasty, brutish Americans.
"The European Union, along with many other like-minded countries, opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances," the Finnish ambassador, Markko Niinioga, representing the presidency of the EU, said in a letter that was delivered Wednesday to the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "The EU finds this punishment cruel and inhuman."

The letter was read to a journalist by a European diplomat, who did so on the condition of anonymity because the letter has not been released publicly. An aide to Yudhoyono confirmed that it had been received.
The NYT article carefully does not say but there have been problems with the trial and with the sudden decision to execute. The case grew out of the internecine violence that swept Sulawesi Province from 1998 to 2002, killing more than 1,000 people of both religions. A handful of Muslims have been convicted and given considerably lesser sentences.

read more ...

Yet more parochialism

With all the big issues around it is easy to forget what is happening on the ground, so to speak. One London Blog catches up on the various ways Hizonner the Mayor of LondON has of frittering away taxpayers' money.

Well, there's a surprise

Andrzej LepperHaving sacked his deputy prime minister Andrzej Lepper (pictured), he of the left-wing "populist" Self-Defence party, Poland's prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, of the Law and Justice party, is now 53 votes short of a working majority.

Unless he can stitch together a new coalition, the government will have to be dissolved, with the prospect of fresh elections in November.

It appears that the major stresses between the coalition partners have arisen over the budget and the decision to send 1,000 extra Polish soldiers to Afghanistan.

The Beatroot has an interesting "take" on this, but also read his latest post (and the comments).


The sky is not falling in...

If nothing else, the alarums over the meeting of justice ministers of EU member states in Tampere, Finland, over yesterday and today, provide an object lesson in the difficulties in campaigning against the steady march of European integration.

We all (well some of us) know the end destination but that is either denied or not believed, so if you shout too loudly, you are crying "wolf" – and when it finally does arrive, the further cries go unheeded. On the other hand, if you just highlight the latest step in a slow, methodical process – a series of marginal, technical moves – no one, least of all the media, is going to get the least bit excited.

Essentially, when it comes to pressing the panic button, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.


Update: article from David Rennie in today's Daily Telegraph plus a leader here. Meanwhile, Ireland’s RTE News reports that, "Ireland, Britain and Germany will oppose EU plans to scrap the national veto over decision-making on police and judicial co-operation."


Thursday, September 21, 2006

News from Iran

Choosing sides means knowing clearly who your enemy is and why, as well as knowing who your friends are and why. That is why this article by Nat Hentoff, in the Village Voice is of great interest and importance.

Hentoff is on the left of the political spectrum or says he is. In fact, he is a true liberal, a man who believes fiercely in freedom, in particular freedom of expression. I first came across him rather late when I found his brilliant book for children and young teenagers: "The Day They Came To Arrest The Book".

The story involves attempts to ban "The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn", arguably the greatest American novel and is told from the point of view of a young boy who gets involved in the fight to prevent that from happening and learns a good deal of what the First Amendment to the American Constitution really means.

Years have gone by and Nat Hentoff is still fighting. More power to his elbow. But the subject of his article is worth thinking about. Next time you hear words about President Ahmadinejad not being all that bad and, really, no worse than, say, Bush or Blair, think about the women who are stoned to death for the crime of having been raped.


He doesn't use the internet

Lebanese president Emile Lahoud photographed using a photograph from Qana to illustrate a point in his address to the 61st session of the General Assembly at UN headquarters. You might recognise Green Helmet in a classic pose.

Snapped Shot has the story and lots more pics. AP, Reuters and others - they're all there, photographing a staged pic in another er... staged pic.


Will you pay our fines?

Boris Johnson MPI suppose we should be grateful that The Daily Telegraph has done the booster seat law and again identified the European Union as the culprit – having had Tom Utley write about it in March.

After our complaints about The Times and The Sunday Telegraph failing to mention the EU origin of the law, it would be wholly ungracious not to recognise that on this, at least, the daily paper has a relatively good record.

Continuing on with our debate on how best to present the eurosceptic case, however, we could complain – as we did about Heffer yesterday – that giving the job to Boris Johnson actually does more harm than good.



Which is which?

The following passages are taken from the websites of two "leading" campaigning organisations, one calling itself Eurosceptic and the other strongly Europhile. Which is which?

Exhibit A

While we are committed to European co-operation … we believe that the EU must now embrace radical reform based on economic liberalisation, a looser and more flexible structure, and greater transparency and accountability if it is to overcome these challenges, and succeed in the twenty first century. The best way forward for the EU is an urgent programme of radical change driven by a consensus between member states. In pursuit of this consensus, we will seek to involve like-minded individuals, political parties and organisations across Europe in our thinking and activities, and disseminate our ideas widely across the EU and the rest of the world.

Exhibit B

We support the UK's membership of the EU and oppose withdrawal to the margins; we support positive and constructive engagement with the EU as the only sensible approach and as vital to our national interests. We support a vision of a prosperous free-market Europe able to compete in a globalised world. We support economic liberalisation and oppose excessive EU regulation, centralisation and red tape. We support institutional reform, further cooperation between EU member states where it is in Britain's interests and oppose old-fashioned federalism.
Confused? So are we.