Friday, February 27, 2004

Dutch Courage 

When I arrived in the Hague a few days ago, this understated city was enjoying a Vivaldi day. All four seasons came pouring down in one bewildering day — sunshine, snow, rain and an uncertain period of chilled lull. But I've been wandering aroundhere braving all manner of downfall, looking for a treliable internet cafe. Which makes me rather certain that Holland is a internetted country alright, but not as we know it. It's more of an Ouija board than an internet, the spirit is there alright, but the Flash is weak, never mind the Java that's gone haywire.

I tried to blog too when I could, but Blogger sent down a screen here in Holland, with all the recognisable features, but without the 'Publish' or log-off buttons. So there's a blog hanging out in limbo out there somewhere in the Van Goghian landscape with crows in the sky.

Close to afternoon I met a gruff lady who introduced me to an old machine at the Congress Centrum, with a non-functioning CD drive. "I have a working one here on my own machine," she said, more in warning than in sorrow. "But as I don't know you, I won't let you use it at all." Quite.

So I could send an email out finally to a recipient (who'd been pleading non-receipt all day long through my follow-up phone calls), via a simple routine that even I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before. I opened a new eMail account, sent the intended eMail to myself, then gave the password to the intended recipient to retrieve himself. Simple as pie; mission accomplished.

Not a good day for blogging on the trot, wandering eyeless in the Plaza. On arrival a few days ago at Schipol, I realised that I'd arrived without spare pairs of socks, do off to the nearest duty free to buy a pair before making for the exit. They only had Boss, at 12 Euros a throw, stiff socks, but fresh and new. Andthen they refused to sell it to me as I had committed the sin - in this sinless city - of being an incomer, not an outgoer. All incomers must buy their socks in the shops outside, and pay the local tax due. Thank God for that because the local C&A in Leiden sold me five pairs for less than a third of the price.

Then at a loose end once again, I discovered that the Rijksmuseum's closed for at least 6 years. I only have another day here, maybe two, and six years is a lifetime away!

ghostStill, the Netherlands is full of surprises. At dawn, in a state of much deserved slumber, I thought I heard the voice of mein hostess speaking loudly from next door urging everyone to rise. But checking with mein hostess later, it turned out that it wasn't so. On seeing my puzzlement, she made a confession. Er, actually I've been having problems here with people of the spirit world, and worse things have happened than what you took to be me at dawn: lights going out, crockery rattling in the night, and a young child of the house recently speaking in a strange voice.

Oh, thank you I said, can I move out to another friend tonight? I've got a plane to catch very early.

"You coward," she said, "you're not going anywhere!" Then she added sniffily that the best thing to do was to pretend that it wasn't there.

It? Who's it?

Well, many years ago, there was a lady of the house who took her own life in the attic. And she's been coming back many, many times since. The previous tenant before me had it the worst - things flying, furnitures moving, etc., etc.

That night I slept again in my bed (which was below the attic), but I kept telling myself that it wasn't there, thought I wasn't sure if it was telling itself anything in the meanwhile. Come to think of it now, I think I even heard a few things go bump in the stillness of night. But it wasn't it, was it....there?

Waking up in the morning there was a huge white sheet out of the window. It'd been snowing all night, and it looked very eerie indeed in the stillness of the half light of the morning. I had a couple of odd dreams which I cannot tell, for that is the lore of bad dreams, you know. I've never had experience like that, but looking to the attic above me I remember what they used to say: as above, so below.


Dutch Courage

Monday, February 23, 2004

Hunting The Snark 

Stephen Hawkin
Man From The Simpsons

Listen you there in the back of the class, there's no theory of everything d'ya hear? There's no basis to this mind of God thing that I started, I'm Stephen Hawking and I'm telling y'all.

Forget what I've said before, or what I wrote in A Brief History of Time (which you all got in your socks for Christmas), we cannot know everything or the basis of the universe. We'll never know if we're all sitting in a world that's resting on the back of a tortoise that's standing on the back of another tortoise that's on the back of another tortoise and so on ad infinitum. Imagine the amount of cabbage we'll need just to keep them still. Not that they're moving very fast as it is, I'm Stephen Hawking and I know.

Or if you don't believe me ask Gödel whose mathematical conundrums have led me to believe that there're physical conundrums that we cannot surmount and are beyond everyone of us. Or see if you please, my new book called Gödel and the end of Physics in which I state that I'm glad for that because it'll keep the likes of me forever motivated and sometimes emerge as a shining star.

And wasn''t it great how I saved y'all from those Mensan morons in that superb adventures of The Simpsons?

Listen to a phat Flash video rendition of the song The Mighty Stephen Hawking
(Warning: Strong language)

§ Stephen Hawking: Gödel and the end of physics § More Gödel


Hunting The Snark

Friday, February 20, 2004

This Malaysia 

So the man who was Prime Minister says it's good that the man who is Prime Minsiter is swooping down on corruption - for whatever reasons, now.

Towers of Pride, Malaysia. Source:caingram.infoSo far two prominent men have been charged, and a few smaller ones too who've been very, very naughty. The two big men? One's a former associate of the former Prime Minister, and the other was a minister in this government until a few days ago. As it's axiomatic now that Malaysia's riddled with corrupt men and women, corrupt bosses, civil servants, and judges and policemen on the take, we go along with the former Prime Minister and say it's good that steps are taken now to weed the bastards out.

But do we detect a tone of cynicsm here? Good? Is that all he has to say? Is it as good as when he was in power? Much regaled he was as the bapa of technology and everything IT, he gave us the Malaysian-made car and sent them hurtling down our roads. Then he built another city at tremendous cost with a replica bridge from France and a Versailles type interior for his private office.

So what else happened then? Much that's riled many a private party, things seen as terribly inept, corrupt and demeaning of human reputation and behaviour happened during his time at the helm of the party. What happened to Perwaja? How did the cats get fat? How could the politicians have so much money? What really happened at Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF)? Who really put all the money that's lost in the grand plan to corner the world's tin? Who ordered all those currency speculation activites by Bank Negara in Singapore? What happened inside Tabung Haji? Where did all the money come from that ministers carried in bags hither and thither? [Do add your own list here.] We need to know the answers.

There's much cynicism about the few people now facing charges for alleged corrupt acts, but any piece of action is good, so what is the matter? Some are saying now, including some old wizened commentators that it's all a show and a farce and it's still not enough. So this new boy in the block faces a nice dilemma: he's darned if he doesn't and he's darned if he does. Okay, okay so it's politics, but which political party will act without heed for its own survival? But if the man says he's interested in going along the straight and narrow, he deserves support while he's at it. Then, if he falters, he'll really be hoist by his own petard.

As for the man who said it's good we can only ask this of him: if it's good now, why wasn't it good then? I may be in the minority, but I blame him for the moral corruption of our society, for turning politics into a money churning casino where the big boys invariably win, for the cronyism that reeks of something putrid, and for making gross materialism the goal for us all. And as for his hi-tech innovative flair? I feel that it was just the predilection of a man who's so besotted by gadgetry, a man who's so imbued by the dazzle of things that he's stacked up his house with radiograms (remember that?), the latest air-conditioning, the latest CD players, and all the latest whizz and was still looking for more things that bedazzle without understanding what's behind them all. Acquisition without spirit or soul, consumption with ostentation, money for grabs. Everything a piece of real estate, every land a potential shopping complex; why they nearly sold our piece of hallowed ground, the Stadium Merdeka.

So let the new man get on with it for now. Then we'll judge him for that. Later.


This Malaysia

Thursday, February 19, 2004

It's Rude To Point 

It's rude to point, but these people won't listen; and have been roundly condemned —

Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair said this at a charity event for Medical Aid for Palestine, June 2002:
"As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress."

There was an uproar, and Downing Street apologised.

Liberal Democrat member of the British Parliament Janet Tonge said this on Sky News:
"I do not condone suicide bombers but I do understand why people out there become suicide bombers — it is out of desperation. If I was in their situation...I might just think about it myself. They are in a terrible plight and the world is standing by and watching. Something needs to be done."

She was roundly condemned, and the LibDems sacked her from the front bench in Parliament.

Now Professor Leighton Armitage, adjunct political science professor at Foothill College in the US has dared to say this of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians:
"And what are they doing with Palestinians, every day? They're killing them. They're walling them in, they're essentially doing the same thing that was done to them... It's exactly what Hitler did to the Jews."

This critique of Israeli government policy is being labeled by the ADL as "anti-Semitic" and Armitage could be subject to disciplinary action, or possibly termination.

Foothill College and Professor Armitage have received hundreds of phone calls and emails from groups such as the ADL and Daniel Pipes' CampusWatch condemning the remark and asking Armitage to be disciplined and even removed.

And then it's that Cherie Blair again:

Bush stole the election from Al Gore, she said, according to author Philip Stephens in his book, "Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader".

"Cherie Blair still believed that Bush had stolen the White House from Gore," Stephens wrote.

So don't point, it's rude. But what the heck, everyone's doing it:

I want  you for Halliburton. Source:interventionmag.com

It's Rude To Point

Monday, February 16, 2004

Growing Up In Trengganu #3942 

Last Saturday another link with my past was severed when news came that my cousin had died. He was a cousin, but was more of an uncle to us as he was much older and was already working when we were too young to tie even a piece of string, let alone the dreaded shoelace. The last time we met must've been ten years ago, maybe more years than that.

When news came that he'd died, all I could think of was the dark tunnel and the heat, and people walking about in a colony on a hill so removed from the mainstream that it took hours to reach by train. We were all standing there at Sura Gate in Dungun, a little town described then - as now - as a sleepy place in many pages that I've read. But Dungun then was the outlet for all the iron ore of Bukit Besi, a town on the hills that produced iron from the earth; and my cousin worked there for an employer named - if my memory serves - EMMCO, the Eastern Metal and Mining Company.He stopped the train. Sultan Zainal Abidin III of Trengganu

Our journey would start from Sura Gate in Dungun which only had two rows of shop houses. The heat was intense, and the trains were a long time coming. The journey upwards, to the hill, was even longer, with the train going chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug around the next bend, and upwards into the green forest of the next incline. And it stopped and it stopped at every station that appeared along its journey in this wild, isolated terrain, and at midday in Trengganu the heat was intense. I heard someone say once that it was the heat of all that iron in the hills.

Sometimes it'd stop between stations for no apparent reason, standing there on the tracks in the eerie silence of the jungle with additional anxiety brought by the occasional hissing of the engine. And then it'd move again into the deep, dark tunnel, chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug with the anxiety overload. My auntie cautioned my mum once to hold tight to her handbag in a hushed conspiratorial tone. "Hold on to that, hold on to that, this is the tunnel of the roving hands," she said.

When Bukit Besi came within sight it was a great relief. It was a strange place, an artificial town built to serve the company, with workers living in lines and lines of company-built houses, uniform wooden structures on the terraces of the hill. It must've been a great place for the workers in this community of much camaraderie, fun even for the children who lived and grew up in this unique tin town unlike any other in Trengganu. It was because of this perhaps, or the long tedious journey that wore my patience, or the mists of isolation that hung over Bukit Besi that it never won a special place in my heart.

But this isn't to say there wasn't fascination enough. Anyone journeying there would return home with a piece of Bukit Besi ore to use as paperweight, or to show to disbelieving friends, and they'd always talk about this community on the hill that was so different from the rest of us. My late cousin, as I could see it, enjoyed his work, took an active interest in the welfare of his fellow workers (he was a union officer), and took a serious interest in photography whenever he could.

I was - and have always been - fascinated by trains, but cannot remember much else about the journey to the Bukit and back, except that it was arduous and tiresome, and I was always glad when it ended. But in having the train Bukit Besi was unique among Trengganu towns, as no train line runs anywhere else in the state by the royal order of the Sultan Zainal Abidin (d. 1918) (also known as the Marhum Haji), a devout man and one of the great Trengganu Sultans of modern time. He saw it only as a transport for the intrusion of all that'd corrupt the religion and the way of life in the state. And as for the social upheavel that it'd bring? No thanks, he wouldn't have any of that. And so it is that until today Trengganu is the only state in peninsular Malaysia that's not linked to the railway track.

I remember Bukit Besi now, and my cousin, with great sadness. Tin mining has ended in Trengganu, and Bukit Besi is no longer there to re-visit. And as for my cousin, I'm grateful to him for the memories he gave us of this unique place. God rest you dear cousin, may you be among the righteous and your life's works be rewarded.


Growing Up In Trengganu #3942

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Meet The Krazy Gang 

Woman who spooked the spooks. Source:libertyuk Somewhere in the back of their minds our leaders of the civilised world are probably wishing that those WMDs will just go away. Or that there'll be something else so big that it'll distract everyone from those dreaded things. Another war elsewhere, maybe, another attack, or news that Osama bin Laden is either captured or dead, strangled by masses of tape that's gone off-spool just as he's about to release another of his celebrated video productions.

In Britain, Tony Blair has just about had enough of those damned things - those WMDs - that he's commissioned yet another distinguished person (a man called Butler) to look afresh, but not in public, at how the intelligence service got it so wrong. He's obviously learned a lesson from Hutton that the public are capable of drawing conclusions from masses of facts that a a retired judge tends to overlook.

But who'll forget that it was WMDs that led them to attack Iraq in the first place?

In 1937, poets W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender asked writers what they thought of the Spanish Civil War, and their thoughts were published in a book, Authors Take Sides. On March 7 there'll be a repeat of that, when writers will once again air their views in a similar compilation, Authors Take Sides on Iraq and the Gulf War, and this is what writer Louis de Bernières will say in the book:
"In this case it is a shame that weapons of mass destruction were used as a pretext, especially if they turn out to have been illusory.If they do turn out to be illusory, and I was Tony Blair, I would put a gun to my head and shoot myself out of sheer embarrassment."

Bernières is no bleeding heart liberal and no admirer of Muslims or Arabs, but even he has seen that this whole exercise, this whole footing of a just war, is a sham. And no matter how much Blair or Bush denies it, the issue of WMDs will simply not go. Why? Because we've been lied to and misled time and again that that was the sole reason for going out to bomb and occupy Iraq.

In Britain Blair has already relegated WMDs to the sideline, and in the US Bush has done much the same.

On 5th December 2003, an upbeat Ari Fleischer said, when asked about WMDs, that the President and the Secretary for Defense would not have gone on and on about them if there were no solid evidence. He said this again after the attack on Iraq last March, that WMDs were what the war's about, that soon they'd be looking at stacks of them. Fleischer was His Master's Voice, speaking on behalf of the president.

In September 2003, two former CIA analysts Ray McGovern and David MacMichael said in a radio interview that they were all in it, that is, to dupe us all about Saddam's aluminium pipes and yellow cake uranium from Niger and whatever else was needed to make their case 'watertight'. In other words, they'd been planning to fabricate evidence right from the start. And what if they were found out? Well, this is the most cynical piece of their art: even then they'd planned to blame it on the British for having led them up the garden path.

Here's what McGovern said they'd do if the President's State of the Union address calim about Iraqi purchase of uranium from Niger was found to be baseless:
"[Alan Foley, head of the CIA's analytic section] testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that in discussions with a Mr. Joseph of the NSC [National Security Council], he suggested that since the agency didn't vouch for the business about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger, that it ought not to be used in the President's Sate of the Union address, and indeed they had managed to get it out of previous presidential speeches. So why did they want to put it back in there? Well, finally he was persuaded that well, let's blame it on the British. Let's say, according to a British report. And Foley said, I suppose that would be alright to blame it on the British. Now, they didn't even say 'according to a British report'. What the President said [in his State of the Union address] was 'the British have learned'. That's a lot different. We are pretty careful with words in the intelligence community, but that is what the President said, 'the British have learned that Iraq was seeking uranium from an African country."

Lying's surely par for the course for those folks in the White for Purity House. In another Presidential State of the Union address in 2002, Mr President said that they'd discovered diagrams of American nuclear power plants in the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists in those mountain caves of Afghanistan. This "confirmed our worst fears" about al-Qaeda's nuclear and chemical weapons plans, Bush then said.

When American Greenpeace wrote to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the US to confirm this, their nuclear policy analyst James P Riccio wrote back to say, in typical understatement, that as far as he was aware, no such evidence had been found in Afghanistan. So this confirms our worst fears: that the President of the United States is incapable of telling us the truth.

As is now widely known, Bush had plans to invade Iraq right from the day he entered the White House. It'd been all planned, perhaps by those New American Century planners, perhaps by those rabid Neocon Bushido knights, perhaps....but it was there. Right to the eve of the invasion of Iraq they were doing their darndest to make it happen, by 'persuasion' or by subterfuge, as leaked by Katahrine Gun (who worked at the top secret British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)as Chinese translator) to the Observer newspaper last year. Gun told them that that US and Britain were collaborating in a dirty tricks operation to spy on Security Council delegates to forestall their voting intentions on Iraq.

This is the background to the attack that Bush and Blair are eager to keep from public sight; so it'll be interesting to see how far Blair will let them go in the prosecution of Katharine Gun under the Official Secrets Acts.

Meantime it's less than comforting to know that all those people who are now grand-planning the Bush administration's game plan - the Wolfowitzes the Rumsfelds, the Cheneys - are the same bunch that Bush senior, in his CIA and White House days, referred to dismissively as the Crazies. And how was he to know, by looking at his kid, that these bunch of crazies would one day be in charge of the asylum? [To see how they operate, click on the brief bio-data of a woman called Katherine Harris, below.]

§ Transcript of radio interview with former CIA analysts § Original Observer story on the GCHQ leak § The strange case of Katharine Gun § Email from Frank Koza, Def Chief of Staff)(Regional Targets) CIV/NSA re wiretapping § Bush backs away from al Qaeda nuclear threats claim § Nuclear Regulatory Commission's reply to Greenpeace [pdf] § Fact vs. Claim

§ Meet Katherine Harris [ A must!]


Meet The Krazy Gang

Friday, February 13, 2004

Doctors At Large 

Dr David Kelly was found dead on Friday July 18th last year, eighteen hours after he'd gone out for an afternoon walk in the woods near his house. Kelly had a lot on his mind. He was a prominent weapons scientist who'd played an important role in the Iraqi weapons investigations; he'd worked with British intelligence, the CIA and Mossad, and he'd been named by the Ministry of Defence as the man who spoke to reporter Andrew Gilligan, the man behind the controversial BBC Radio 4 report on how the British government sexed-up its report on WMD in Iraq.

Cartoon by Steve Bell.
See this and other brilliant Bell cartoons HERE

Kelly had apparently taken his own life by the simple act of swallowing some painkillers, then slashing his wrist. By doing so he bled to death. But did he? During the Hutton enquiry medical evidence was heard on Kelly's death; it prompted 3 medical experts to write to the Guardian newspaper, saying, among other things:
"Dr Nicholas Hunt, the forensic pathologist at the Hutton inquiry, concluded that Dr Kelly bled to death from a self-inflicted wound to his left wrist. We view this as highly improbable. Arteries in the wrist are of matchstick thickness and severing them does not lead to life-threatening blood loss. Dr Hunt stated that the only artery that had been cut - the ulnar artery - had been completely transected. Complete transection causes the artery to quickly retract and close down, and this promotes clotting of the blood."

It's been just over 2 weeks since the Hutton Report - which accepted that Kelly's death was suicide - was published. Yesterday, Thursday 12th, the three medical specialists (plus three more collegaues) wrote in again to the Guardian, saying this of Hutton's conclusion re Kelly:
"Our criticism of the Hutton report is that its verdict of "suicide" is an inappropriate finding. To bleed to death from a transected artery goes against classical medical teaching, which is that a transected artery retracts, narrows, clots and stops bleeding within minutes. Even if a person continues to bleed, the body compensates for the loss of blood through vasoconstriction (closing down of non-essential arteries). This allows a partially exsanguinated individual to live for many hours, even days."

§ Medical specialists' letter to the Guardian 1; 2 §Questions, questions... §Huttonise history: the Verdict [Hilarious]

See & Hear Blair's statement in Parliament on the Hutton Report:
Windows Media Player | RealPlayer

Doctors At Large

Thursday, February 12, 2004

From Mars To Earth 

Two Views of Mars

From afar...

...from close up

I like this close-up of a spot in NASA's recently released picture of Mars. It shows that there are chickens, and possibly even KFCs, on the Red Planet.

For a fantastic panaroma of the planet sent in by the Exploration Spirt rover, go HERE. See if you can spot anything else in it, a rabbit maybe, or a half-eaten chicken tikka.

Meanwhile, on Earth, here's Utrillo's St Romaine Quarter:
Utrillo's St Romaine Quarter. Source:artofeurope.com

Maurice Utrillo, who was actually born in the Montmartre on Christmas Day 1883, brought art back to realism from the clutches of abstraction. His pictures are stunningly simple, but with strange appeal. He wasn't specifically interested in trees or clouds or skies, but just the ordinariness of daily life. Inexplicably, I was drawn to this painting by its wispy clouds and the blueness of the sky. The buildings are typically Utrillo in an ordinary street with extraordinary appeal. I can just imagine walking in it on a sunny afternoon. It's an anywhere street that exists in the nooks of many minds. A street in the St Romaine Quarter, St Anywhere.

This painting's been my favourite since student days when I had a cheap reproduction hung on the wall of my little bedsit. I remember buying it one day, from Woolworths (aaaah, simplicity!), and I remember looking at it again and again with a certain melancholy. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's the quiet and the peace, and its anywhere, ordinariness appeal.

Maurice Utrillo died on November 5, 1955 and was buried in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.


From Mars To Earth

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Gone To Their Noggins 

Ken with religious group leaders
Ken Livingstone, [2nd left] with representatives of religious groups at City Hall

Voices against the French ban

Yesterday when they were debating the issue of the hijab in France, Mayor Ken Livingstone was in the City Hall here in London meeting Muslims and Sikh representatives, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Christian Pentecostal minister. Livingstone, as far as I know, is a newt-loving atheist, and a secularist who preaches tolerance, something which secularists expect people of religion to espouse. The meeting was organised jointly by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the Muslim Women's Association (MWA), and together they urged the people of France - where secularism is a state religion - to exercise tolerance and and drop their proposal to ban the hijab and everything else they see as badges of faith in schools.

Mayor Livingstone even wrote a letter to the French Prime Minister Raffarin to argue that this ban is a backward move which will only further marginalise the Muslims who are already severely disadvantaged in employment and housing. In the US, 50 Congressmen and women signed a letter (the Honda-Ehlers Letter) urging similar restraint.

The French deputies of course ignored all that and yesterday voted overwhelmingly (494 - 36) for the ban. Although this law covers not only hijabs, but also Jewish kippahs, Sikh turbans, and the wearing of ostentatious crucifxes, the main target are hijab-wearing Muslims.

Muslims total about 10% of the population of France and have been the target of rabid nationalism by political parties eager to boost their flagging fortunes. Nothing stirs up popular sentiment more than the perceived threat of foreign looking people with scarves on their heads, or beards on their chins. This game has been played by parties of both Left and Right; with some French Cabinet ministers arguing for the ban on the grounds of growing anti-semitism among French Muslims. While this may be non-sequitur and arguably a convenient exaggeration to suit the interests of some parties, the irony is that Muslims in Europe are now in a similar position as European Jews in the last century - despised and discriminated people who are readily blamed for any national ailment.

Some British ministers too have expressed dismay at this French move, but few have expressed it as loudly as they should; while other European states (Germany and Belgium for example) are thinking of going the way of France. This is Western Europe - the cauldron of free speech, choice and movement - in deep turmoil because of a little piece of cloth on the heads of Muslim women.


Gone To Their Noggins

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Weapons of Mass Dissatisfaction 

The Blair government is doing everything to downplay the issue of those Weapons of Mass Destruction, especially after the Hutton Report. But the harder they try, the more the mystery deepens. First the spooks were blamed for faulty intelligence, then the issue is blurred further by their saying that Blair didn't know that the Iraqi capability to deploy in 45-minute referred to short range battlefield bombs, not long range tactical weapons.

So the spinner in chief Alastair Campbell knew that, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon knew that, Robin Cook (who was then leader of the House) knew that, but no, not Tony Blair, he didn't. He was (is) the Prime Minister and no one told him. The main thrust of Downing Street's counter-attack now is that WMDs are no longer important, so what reason for going to war with Iraq then?

So why another inquiry after the much vilified report of Hutton's cleared everyone except the BBC over the death (apparently by suicide) of David Kelly, the government's own expert on chemical weapons? To take the story further of course, to find out how the intelligence on WMDs could be so wrong. And so typically of the Brits, they've got a Butler now to do the job for them, to continue where that former Northern Irish Law Lord Hutton left off. Jeeves, Wodehouse would've loved that!

Of the stories that have come out so far since the Hutton Report I like this one best - first recounted by the leftwing journalist Paul Foot in the Guardian, then repeated in Private Eye magazine - and it concerns another enquiry into a bloody incident in Northern Ireland in 1972, when British soldiers opened fire into a crowd and killed 14 catholics. Another Law Lord, Widgery, was asked to produce a report on this, which he did, and he found that the soldiers did nothing wrong. In a subsequent inquest into the deaths, the jury couldn't see it quite as clearly as Lord Widgery, and returned an open verdict. This prompted the coroner to say that by shooting indiscriminately, the British army had committed "sheer, unadultrated murder".

Up popped the counsel for the Ministry of Defence who delivered this stiff rebuke: "It is not for you or the jury to express such wide-ranging views, particularly when a most eminent judge has spent 20 days hearing evidence and come to a very different conclusion."

Who was this righteous man, and where was he seen before? Well, he was Brain Hutton the same man who had also represented the soldiers in the Widgery enquiry. The same man who, much later as Lord Hutton, wrote the Report that blamed the Beeb.

Post Hutton, things have gone very much out of synch in this placid land. The BBC is in turmoil, the Director General has resigned and gone to write his memoirs, the 'guilty' reporter's gone too, perhaps to write his own memoirs, and the acting DG, a man called Byford, has no love for newsgathering in the way that most people know it. His first act was to apologise profusely to the government, then he issued an edict that the Beeb should be more cautious and stop chasing exclusive news; which is like telling a cat not to follow a mouse.

More than that, on the Beeb now has fallen once again that dreaded shadow of the last Director General John (now Lord) Birt. Birt was the man who turned the Beeb on its head and is still blamed for its present loss of direction. Now, as conusltant in Downing Street for Tony Blair, he's back with a vengeance and there'll be exciting times ahead.

Not surprising therefore that outside, in the streets, not only are the Beeb's employees openly urging the government to keep off, but the general public too are becoming restless. Blair, says the Daily Express, has promised wife Cherie that he'll be resigning by autumn, Chancellor Gordon Brown is said to be eager to step in, and even the Secretary of State for Education has been heard with the remark that he'd be as good in the Prime Minister's job.

And even the ailing Conservative party has taken a one point lead in the polls against the party of government.


Weapons of Mass Dissatisfaction

Monday, February 09, 2004

Skeletons In The Closet 

The Skull and Bones, like the Freemasons, sounds like just a bit of harmless fun for people with more money than sense on a night out on a brief respite from their partners or wives. Skull and Bones Club, Yale campus. Source: nytimes.comYou know the sort of thing they'd be up to in an enclosed safe house, the folding up of trouser legs, wearing of aprons, baring of breasts (their own that is), harmless things that men get up to when nobody's watching but fellow members. And in the Skull and Bones - I'm told - they have the occasional resident prostitue too to make the evening complete.

And oh, in the Skull and Bones, when they initiate a new member they make him lie naked in a cofffin as he unravels his sexual past, and when the mood takes them, they wrestle in mud. Or they kiss a skull (said to be of Geronimo), and swear their hearts out till the air is blue with profanity in the darkness of doom.

Now, you may ask, who'd do things like that when there're people in the world who don't even have a roof under which to spend the night? They're rich people, and they're in some ivy league institution called Yale (which makes most of my padlocks). Can't be a totally pointless pursuit, mind, since two of them, at least, have become Presidents of these United States. Many more are senators, congressmen, and are in key positions in public life. There are now 800 living Boners, and only 15 are recruited every year to the Club. And, by design or coincidence, they're all white. You'll just have to work that out.

Why they're in the news right now is that both Bush and Kerry, the emerging Democratic presidential candidate, are members of the Club. And so are Dean and Lieberman, two hopefuls who've fallen by the wayside.

Skull & Bones emblem. Source: rotten.com
Little is known about the Skull and Bones beyond those private shenanigans that have now become public knowledge. So at least we know now what pits of darkness, what quality of mud our leaders of the world have been wallowing in. All the bloodcurdling rituals that we now hear about may or may not be true. They may be just a bit of disinformation to hide some serious intent. Or they may be true, with more to that, and then some.

ln the original version of that expose of the Freemasons, The Brotherhood, the late Stephen Knight wrote that it is not a secret society, but a society with secrets. I suppose the same can be said of the Skull and Bones club. Secrets, yes, but what secrets?

Opinions vary about the Club, ranging from the conspiratorial to the banal and dismissive. The Club is said to have originated in Germany more than a century ago where it was known as the Brotherhood of Death, then it travelled across to Yale in 1833 from where members are said to have hatched the present movement for the New World Order. The argument follows from this therefore that being a member of the Club, nothing will change if Kerry replaces Bush, if you believe that the NWO is an idea hatched in secret by powerful people with a mission to boot. But without travelling too far into this nebulous, occult area, we can now know for certain what Kerry the Bonerman's stance is as regards US-Israeli relations should he become president.

Kerry is a practising catholic, but his grandfather Fritz Kohn was a Czech national of Jewish descent. This may be immaterial information as many people of Jewish origin are against the Zionist idea of Israel, but what's Kerry's position? In the Students for Israel publication "Perspectives: An Israel Review" he wrote an article entitled A Powerful Journey, an Essential Dream, in which he said:
"I will never forget a moment on top of Masada, when I stood on that great plateau where the oath of new soldiers used to be sworn against the desert backdrop and the test of history. I had spent several hours with Yadin Roman debating whether or not Josephus Flavius was correct in his account of the siege - whether these really were the last Jews fighting for survival - whether they had escaped since no remains were ever found. After our journey through history - which we resolved with a vote in favor of history as recorded - we stood as a group at the end of the cliff and altogether we shouted across the chasm - across the desert - Am Yisrael Chai. And across the silence we listened as voices came back - faintly we heard the echo of the souls of those who perished - Am Yisrael Chai. The State of Israel lives. The people of Israel live.

"In this difficult time we must again reaffirm we are enlisted for the duration - and reaffirm our belief that the cause of Israel must be the cause of America - and the cause of people of conscience everywhere."

So, whatever the skull and those bones stand for, at least one thing will remain the same as far as this one key to the state of the world is concerned. The US will still follow its blinkered, unbalanced look as regards Palestine. You can read the full article here.

§ More skulduggery: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


Skeletons In The Closet

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Lie Of The Land 

Two things are inevitable in life: a massed outbreak of coughing between movements in a concert performance; and lying politicians. No guessing which one wreaks more havoc in our day to day living.

Cartoon by Riddell of the Observer. Source:guardian.co.ukThere's a lot of coughing now in our life as touched by politics. More hemmings and hawings, really, ever since politicians on both sides of the pond have been asked to explain themselves vis a vis a certain thing. Well, you know what I mean, things that can go bump in Iraqi nights, calamity that can be garnered in forty-five minutes, bearded man in a hole coming out for grabs. And then there's that matter of that long forgotten Ph.D thesis that came out to boost someone's intelligence.

It was Butler - Rab Butler - I think, who coined this cute definition of politics: that it's the art of the possible. For a cute statement it's quite devoid of moral content. Perhaps that's how politicians justify themselves when they look in their bathroom mirrors every morning - this is how it is, and that's what I can get away with. That's what's possible for the moment. Full stop.

No shortage of examples here in Blighty in recent weeks, for instance, the government was near collapse when a hundred or so backbench Members of Parliament threatened revolt over top-up fees for higher education. University education used to be free here for home students, then this present New Labour lot (a party that was once the champion of the working class) introduced fees for all students. And of course when money's poured into anything it's never enough. So this time round they came back for a further top-up fee which may amount to anything up to £3000.

So that's where the 100 revolting Labour MPs came in. But on the night of the vote - don't hold your breath folks - the government won by the slenderest majority. But let's listen to the former rebels' reason for their change of mind. Oh, we've negotiated further concessions from the government, oh we've squeezed further promises from the Secretary of State for Education (who was once president of the National Union of Students, himself beneficiary, to Ph.D level, of free university education), and so on.

So they've got further concessions from the Sec of S, but the man denied that ever happening. So who's lying? And so the top-up fee scheme went through as the government wanted, thank you very much.

Inspect the manifesto of the Labour party in the last election and there you'll find this promise of no top-up fees under this government. When asked about this, Prime Minister Blair (public school educated, free university education) replied glibly that things have changed. Art of the possible folks, stop your discordant coughs and hems.

Now, if anything, it explains how that lot got into this Weapons of Mass Deception, er Destruction (WMD) thing in the first place, and the Hutton enquiry that exonerated them and stretched public incredulity to breaking point. Public disgruntled, nation agog, then you call a retired former Law Lord from the mountains and make him descend with a verdict written in stone. Not guilty, the whole damn lot of them. No deception, no double-talk, no argie-bargie, no nothing. Except for the BBC of course, poor dear old Beeb.

In a recent opinion poll, half the sample thought that Blair could not be trusted, while half again thought that it's time that Blair's gone.

Right time then for another enquiry, this time by an obscure Lord of the Rings (that're now run around us) named, er, Butler. Many jokes can be spun around this one, but I'll desist because, from the government's smug side comes a shrill voice: Oh shut up the lot of you! Well, not in quite that tone, but this is what he actually said:
"It seems at the present moment that Ministers are liars, judges are liars, everybody in the political class is a liar – apart from journalists: they never make mistakes."

Why, it's that ambitious young Master Peter Hain, ex Young Liberal activist, ex tireless campaigner against apartheid, educated in the best tradition of British education (free of charge), and now leader of the House of Commons, in full voice at a Fabian Society conference.

Am I the only one to detect a tone of desperation in that?

More arts of the possible:
§Blix says: Iraq war case exaggerated | Blair like an insincere salesman §Britain spied on UN allies over war vote § Guardian's Hutton archive § Bush offers shifting rationale for war

And a short history:
§ Arms and the Man. Turn up the volume and go here for a brilliant moving history.

Lie Of The Land

Friday, February 06, 2004

News From the World of Drinks 

coke boycott. Source:bbc.co.uk
Read Story...


News From the World of Drinks

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Grown To Please 

As a man who has worn a magnificent moustache all my life (see below) I'm chuffed that members of the Japanese army in Iraq have been ordered to grow moustaches to blend in with the local crowd.

My moustache and me. Source:ananova.com

Japanese women soldiers, not noted for their hirsute qualities, have been ordered to wear dark green scarves to blend in with the women and the grass.

Merkins are discouraged as they may get in the way of serious intent.

As a moustachioed man with no fixed bayonet and no fixed address I am proud to see this tradition being adopted by members of the illustrious Japanese imperial army in Iraq.

The men and women of the imperial forces have also been advised not to eat pork or drink their favourite sake to make them blend even easier with Iraqis, moustache and drink. "Arigato, just mint tea and no sake please, we're Japanese!" they've been coached to say in Arabic to make the deception complete.

Judging by local reaction, this camouflaged mission has been a tremendous success. "What a magnificent moustache. He looks just like an Iraqi," a Japanese newspaper quoted one local resident as saying of Colonel Masahisa Sato who still had traces of fresh Miso soup in the hair on his upper lip.

There is one problem though that this Imperial has to overcome. They have been repeatedly shot at by US forces, but so far they've managed to dodge the bullets. By just a whisker, as they say in Tikrit.

§ Read the story here


Grown To Please

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Le Mur Est Bleu 

The Wall has divided an already distraught community; Abu Dis is split in two, farmers are unable to get to their crops, one half of the Palestinian population is cut off from the other...
The dividing wall. Source:electronicintifada.net
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was mandated by a General Assembly resolution to refer the question to judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, to decide on the legality of this Israeli action against the Palestinian land and people. Britain, Germany and France have already expressed their intent to speak against the referral when hearing starts 23rd February.

A neighbour who has already taken a major chunk of your front yard because - he says - it was unoccupied, is now accusing you of rowdy behaviour, so he builds a wall to protect himself. Or so he says. But the wall is not built on the edge of the land that he's taken from you, but it cuts halfway down the middle of your house, making it even smaller, splitting your kitchen from your drawing room, your dinner table from the rest of the house. You're lucky to have what you have still, but you dsare not cross the divide for fear of being shot.

No one else in the neighbourhood will come to your aid, not least those people in those powerful cars, in in those big houses. Some ailing neighbours in smaller houses built on shifting sand make some noises of concern, but for most part the neighbourhood is very quiet except for the occasional baying of the dogs from those big houses, making you feel like the tresppassers that you aren't.

Then you think of one sensible resort. You decide to go to the law, and some of the weaker neighbours get together in support. If anything, the law will keep your transgressors in check - you hope - and uphold what's right. You choose to ignore for a while that those legal rules were made by the forefathers of those people in those big houses; or that the court is housed in their neighbourhood and paid for by their largesse.

But even as you walk to the Court to make your case, the dogs start to bark again with added ferocity and their owners begin to tear out their hair in disgust. Even those who pretended to be good neighbours from those big houses now point at you in the street. So now even you are feeling blue.

"How dare you take me to this august house and politicise its serious remit," one neighbour growls at you as you walk past.

"But if I have a grudge I go to the law, so what's wrong with that?" you ask, sounding a trifle naive.

"Why can't we discuss this issue and sort it out amongst ourselves?" They shout back.

"But I have lost half my land already, and I'm now losing the other half. What can I do? Surely there must be legal rules about acts like this?"

"How dare you use the law to question my right?" the neighbour comes back.

"Your right must be governed by rules, there must be some enabling law. That is what I want to find out in your court house," you reply feebly.

"If you go there you will never see the light again in the other half of your house. I shall take that until you behave," the neighbour replies.

"But you've told my children repeatedly, and sometimes by force, that violence is not the way out of this impasse. Now you tell me that the law cannot be used, that I am politiciing the judges and the rules of proper conduct among houses, among neighbours..."

As the wall builder speaks, two or three more people came out of their big houses to jeer at you, and to accuse you of unacceptable conduct by your dragging the issue to the court of the wise.

And they all say in unison:

"We decide for you what is wise and just in the way that we please."

"And I shall decide if the matter can be raised," shouts a fat cigar-wielding man in the red-striped trousers with many stars in his shirt.

"These are the same people who wanted me to come to the so-called International Criminal Court. What, me go to that? That'll only politicise death, and violence and wars, and what else!" he adds, as an afterthought.

* * *

"Together with the 210,000 inhabitants of east Jerusalem, whose lives are affected by the fence in one way or another, the proportion of Palestinians who are affected by it reaches 38 percent (875,600 people), according to B'Tselem."Read...

* * *

"The houses right next to the wall, that practically abut the wall, won't last long. Once their occupants have had all they can take of the Border Police in the yard and soldiers at the gate, the houses will "be abandoned" and then suddenly be considered "abandoned property" that we can do with as we please. "This morning, the Israel Defense Forces demolished another row of abandoned buildings in Abu Dis," the laconic news report will say, just like the almost-daily reports we hear from the forgotten killing fields in Rafah." Read...


Le Mur Est Bleu

Monday, February 02, 2004

Written In Wood 

Carved wood panel from Kelantan. Source: Spirit of Wood exhibition, London

The above wood-carved panel, probably from the turn of the last century, came from a traditional Malay house in Kelantan on the east-coast of peninsular Malaysia, and can now be seen at the Spirit of Wood exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, London.

Carved panels like this were a commonplace in Malay houses on the East Coast of yore, and I imagine the Sultan's palace in the glory days of the Melaka Sultanate (on the west coast of the peninsula though) in the 15th century, as a grand place decorated with carved wooden panels like this one. The Sejarah Melayu - the Malay Annals - certainly states that there were carvings galore in the Sultan's palace. So whenever, in my mind's eye, I see that old stalwart Hang Jebat flitting about half possessed and hopping mad, from one tray to another that he'd laid on the floor of the Sultan's palace, I see him doing the warrior dance in shafts of light pouring through the cut-outs of the wood panelling above those shuttered windows. Perhaps, some of the panels were decorated with pieces of coloured glass too, as in our example above, so as he jumped from one pose to another in self defence, what shafts of light must've been flitting on his brownish skin, in patterns of green, and red and blue.

Spirit of Wood celebrates a time in Malay traditional culture when wood was king, and the world view of the Malays was encapsulated in these carvings that were found in houses, on the payang boats, on handles of the Malay dagger, the kris. There were mystical birds and religious symbolism from pre-Islamic times, then latterly they moved on to forms with Islamic content. The minbar of old mosques in Malaysia were intricately carved in wood, with local motifs; and the Masjid Putih - the grand, old White Mosque of Kuala Trengganu - bears many cut-out carvings of Qur'anic verses in stylised forms. I spent a good part of my childhood looking up at them, hanging luminously between those vast pillars, trying unsuccessfully to unravel their contents.

The Mosque, sadly, was vandalised by people in power in the state government in recent times, as additions were made, unmindful of the damaging effect they wreaked on the general design

Spirit of Wood celebrates the work of the late Kelantan carver Nik Rashiddin Nik Hussein and his collection of traditional carvings. Nik Rashiddin saw his art as a continuation of the crafts of the lost kingdom of Langkasuka which embraced Pattani (now in Southern Thailand), Kelantan, and Trengganu. The surprising thing from recent research is that Langkasuka my have been grounded in terra firma, not just a flight of mythical fancy that many thought.

I shall have to come back to this another time.

Spirit of Wood exhibition, Brunei Gallery, London, 20th January - 19 March.

Written In Wood

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