31 March 2007

700th post

Mimi remains utterly astonished that I can churn out the drivel at such a rate of knots! The Poor Mouth has it's first birthday on Monday. Add the 95 posts on Plant porn and pussycats and Yet to be named and I can prove to the world, utterly and without fear of contradiction, that I am a saddo with no life whatsoever.. oh and a long suffering not-wife!

The Argentinian victims of the Falklands war

It will soon be the 25th anniversary of the invasion of the Falklands and a war that claimed over 900 dead - a war that can be blamed fairly and squarely on Galtieri and his junta. This story in today's Telegraph is sadly one that has been repeated over the centuries. Few regard old soldiers (or sailors or airmen) for long even if their victories were glorious. The situation is far worse if you are on the losing side. This is the reality that many Argentinian veterans of that war have faced.

When Jorge Martire met his wife-to-be, Maria Laura, he never mentioned his time on the Falklands. The couple had three children, Mr Martire found a job at a local government office in La Plata, south of Buenos Aires, while studying to become an architect. Then in 1992, something snapped.

In his hospital bed, being treated for atypical psychosis - known by veterans as "Malvinas syndrome" after the Argentine name for the islands - it all finally came flooding out. "He told me how he had been hungry and thirsty. They were terrified," Maria Laura remembered. "Under cover but always wet. And all the time it was dark. Really dark with flashes of bombs and guns."

On March 1, 1993, he slipped out of the hospital and bought a gun. Then he had a coffee in a bar, and afterwards walked into the lavatory and shot himself. Jorge Martire, who was 18 when he was conscripted, joined the ever growing ranks of Argentina's Falklands fighters to have died long after the country's battle with Britain for control of the islands.

Britain lost 258 servicemen in the conflict. Twenty-five years later, there are no exact figures, but relatives of the Argentine dead believe that more of their countrymen have now committed suicide because of the trauma than the 650 men who were killed on the battlefield or at sea. The most conservative estimate is 350. "Only now, is the reality of what we went through finally being talked about," said Edgardo Esteban, a veteran and journalist who has made the one and only feature film in Argentina about the conflict. Illuminated by Fire is not a story of heroes and glory but a catalogue of military incompetence and cruelty, human suffering and shattered lives.

One conscript, now a public prosecutor in La Plata, describes how he was pinned in a crucifix position with tent pegs onto the sodden freezing ground on Wireless Ridge as a punishment for raiding the military food store rooms back in Stanley. "The same military who were running the Dirty War went to the Malvinas," said Mr Esteban. "They did the same things to the conscripts as they did to political opponents at home. They saw us as civilians who needed softening up."

When the Argentine troops came home, they were ordered by the humiliated military junta not to speak about their experiences and viewed with contempt and shame by much of the population. The young veterans slunk quietly back to their homes and struggled to find jobs or girlfriends. Many of the veteran suicides have been recorded in the northern provinces of Chacos and Corrientes, where conscripts had not only never used a gun but had never seen the sea or snow before being sent to the Falklands.

Even after the fall of the military junta in 1983, democratic governments have provided little support for the veterans. They were only awarded pensions - modest ones - in 1991. Many, particularly those left crippled, resorted to begging on commuter trains. Today's government, under President Nestor Kirchner, a former victim of Argentina's military regime in the 1970s, is determined to set right the years of neglect for human rights. He has increased veterans' pensions, but only after the more strident among them camped out for weeks outside his presidential pink palace in Buenos Aires demanding not to be ignored any longer.


A British woman sacked for writing a personal blog won a tribunal against the company that fired her.

Catherine Sanderson, 34, was dismissed from her job as a secretary with the Paris branch of British accountancy firm Dixon Wilson last summer after bosses discovered her popular blog. The company claimed that she had brought its reputation into disrepute by writing an online diary, a charge Ms Sanderson vehemently denied.

The site, petiteanglaise.com, was written under a pseudonym and detailed expatriate life in Paris. Ms Sanderson said the blog rarely mentioned her work, and did not name her employers or their line of business. An employment tribunal in Paris yesterday disagreed with that decision, upholding a complaint of unfair dismissal and awarding Ms Sanderson damages totalling a year's salary of €44,000 (£29,900) plus legal costs. Dixon Wilson will also have to repay the French government for the unemployment benefit it paid Ms Sanderson immediately after her sacking.

Ms Sanderson has had the last laugh and may not need the money awarded - last July she signed a lucrative book deal with Penguin. The first instalment, based loosely on her online diaries, is due to be published at the start of next year.

So long as I've got my chocolate Jesus....

An exhibition by artist Cosimo Cavallaro has been cancelled after a campaign was launched against it on the ground that it was disrespectful towards Christianity.

My Sweet Lord, a 6ft representation of Jesus, was to have been unveiled over holy week in a gallery in Manhattan but was withdrawn after complaints by the Catholic League. The group objected to the fact that the sculpture is made of more than 200lbs of chocolate and that the figure's genitalia are on display.

Sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro, 45, is known for his large-scale installations. In 1999 he covered a room of the Washington Jefferson hotel in New York with cheddar cheese. Two years later he sprayed 10,000lb of cheese over the entire interior of a house in Wyoming. Matt Semmler, director of the Lab, told the Guardian before the cancellation was announced that neither he nor the artist had any intention to offend. "For me this is done a place of reverence and meditation - that's why I chose the piece. This is not intended to be disrespectful." He added that over the centuries there had been thousands of depictions of Christ in many different styles.

Personally I'm not offended by a naked, chocolate Jesus but then I'm not religious. At least it should be a little more permanent that a house sprayed with over 4 tons of cheese or a bed with 312lbs of ham on it. I suppose these installations show just how fickle the art scene is - what is hailed as a masterpiece one day will stink the next...

Coming Soon - St John Paul II?

A French nun's recovery from Parkinson's disease could be the "miracle" needed by the Vatican to beatify Pope John Paul II. Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, 46, claims her Parkinson's disease disappeared after praying to the late Pope.

The nun had been diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2001 . In a testimony sent to the Vatican after the death of the Pope (who also had the disease) she wrote that from April 2005 her illness got worse until she could no longer write or carry out her duties. On 13 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI announced the beginning of the beatification process, waiving the traditional five-year waiting period after cries of Santo Subito! (Sainthood now!) were heard at Pope John Paul's funeral. Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, who works in a hospital in Paris, wrote in her testimony to the Vatican that "from 14 May, my fellow sisters started asking John Paul II to intercede for my healing. They prayed incessantly, tirelessly."

On the night of 2 June she says she felt "compelled" to write, and was suddenly able to write legibly. By morning, she claims she was no longer in terrible pain, and she stopped taking her medicine. Five days later her neurologist was reportedly astonished at "the disappearance of all symptoms of the disease". Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre's case is the "most impressive" among the cures attributed to the late Pope, according to Mgr Slawomir Oder, who is in charge of the case for John Paul II's canonisation.

One miracle gets a beatification, a second miracle is required for canonisation (okay so it is a bit more complicated than just that) so it might not be long before John Paul is St John Paul. I presume that he will then need a feast day and a few things to be Patron Saint of!

What could he take on? The patron saint of i-pods? boy bands? Tivo (and sky+ and v+) boxes?
Perhaps, but he may take on some of the workload of older, more hard [pressed saints. Take St George, for example the poor guy is the patron saint of so many things it must be nothing but intercession after intercession for him...

St George has England, Georgia (no surprise there) Catalonia, Ethiopia, Canada, Bulgaria, the Greek Army. Beirut, Genoa, Palestinians, Lithuania, Malta, sou ts, Freemasons, saddle makers, Serbia, Moscow, Istanbul, same sex marriages (possibly), herpes and syphilis and many, many more.

I'm sure a canonised John Paul could help out a little - How about the pox, herpes, boy scouts and Serbia?

28 March 2007

The Cover: Judas Priest, Diamonds and Rust

The Original; Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust

Black Flag - TV Party

A bit of brainless fun from Black Flag

A paranoid regime unveils its new capital

From the BBC news report on the new capital

The outside world has got its first glimpse of the secret capital Burma is building deep in the jungle according to a report in today’s .

In 2005, the ruling military junta announced that the capital was moving from Rangoon, to an area of malaria-infested jungle 250 miles inland. At the time it was still served by steam trains. Yesterday foreign journalists were finally allowed to see the new city, Naypyidaw, at the annual Armed Forces Day parade. And they also got a rare glimpse of the junta's elusive chief, General Than Shwe, the man who rules the destiny of millions of Burmese.

What they found was a planned city on a large scale. The parade ground where Than Shwe addressed the troops is huge, and overlooked by three 33-foot high statues of the country's most famous kings. According to reports, the city is spread out so that buildings are divided by huge empty spaces.

All the hotels are grouped together in a single area called the "hotel zone". Across an expanse of empty land, apartment blocks are being built for bureaucrats who are being forced to move to the new city, painted in incongruous pastel shades. In the "government zone", ministries are several miles apart from each other. Most bizarre of all is the "military zone", said by reporters who were in the city yesterday to be a fortress. The roads have been made extra wide so they can double as military runways. There are anti-aircraft guns and missile silos. It is in the midst of this security that General Than Shwe lives, now cut off from the rest of the country, as well as the outside world.

Nobody really knows why General Than Shwe decided to move the capital to Naypyidaw. The official version is that Rangoon had become too crowded and congested, but nobody believes that. Some in Burma say the move was prompted by the advice of the general's favourite astrologer. Burma's leader is notoriously superstitious, like the former dictator Ne Win, who had banknotes printed in absurd denominations because he insisted that they all be divisible by his lucky number, nine.

But others have suggested it may have had more to do with a burst of rhetoric against the junta from the US at the time. With the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounding threatening, the junta may have looked west towards Iraq and decided to plan for the worst. Naypyidaw appears to be purpose-built to be easily defended - and is far harder to attack than coastal Rangoon.

An Indian journalist who managed to get inside Naypyidaw ahead of other foreigners last month, Siddharth Varadarajan, has another theory. The city, he wrote in Himal South Asian magazine, "will not fall to an urban upheaval easily. It has no city centre, no confined public space where even a crowd of several thousand people could make a visual - let alone political - impression. Naypyidaw... is the ultimate insurance against regime change, a masterpiece of urban planning designed to defeat any putative 'colour revolution' - not by tanks and water cannons, but by geometry and cartography."

Looking at Mr Varagajan’s photo’s of the new city Click here to see his photos) , I think he may have hit the nail on the head – a city purpose built to stifle dissent. The new capital is the folly of a brutal and paranoid regime whose acts are sadly largely ignored by the world.

Wikipedia article on the city

More photos from BBC News

Wordless Wednesday - Lady Henry Somerset's Memorial

Memorial to Lady Henry Somerset, Victoria Embankment, London - a Victorian philantrophist and temperance campaigner.

Cross posted on Plant porn and pussycats

This week's entry for Wordless Wednesday

27 March 2007

Adams's Statement

Again this is taken from today's Independent. The IRA's terrorism failed utterly to achieve its aim of a united island. Peaceful political engagement may succeed in the (very) long run. (for what it's worth I am neutral on the issue).

"I want to begin my remarks by welcoming the statement by Ian Paisley. While it is disappointing that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement have not been restored today, I believe the agreement reached between Sinn Fein and the DUP, including the unequivocal commitment, made by their party executive and reiterated today, to the restoration of political institutions on 8 May, marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island.

"The discussions and agreement between our two parties shows the potential of what can now be achieved.

"Sinn Fein entered into these discussions in a positive and strategic way strengthened by our recently renewed and increased mandate. I want to once again thank everyone who supports our party.

"Támuid buíoch daoibh go léir [We are thankful to all of them.]

"In all of the initiatives we have taken in recent times we have been guided by the need to deliver for the people of Ireland. So, in our discussions we have listened very carefully to the position put forward by Ian Paisley and his colleagues.

"The relationships between the people of this island have been marred by centuries of discord, conflict, hurt and tragedy.

"In particular this has been the sad history of orange and green. Ach tá tus nua ann anois le cuidiú De [But there is a new start now, with the help of God].

"Sinn Fein is about building a new relationship between orange and green and all the other colours, where every citizen can share and have equality of ownership of a peaceful, prosperous and just future.

"There are still many challenges, many difficulties to be faced. But let us be clear. The basis of the agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP follows Ian Paisley's unequivocal and welcome commitment to support and participate fully in the political institutions on 8 May.

"In the lead-up to restoration, important work has to take place preparing for government. And you have the outline of that also.

"As an immediate step both Sinn Fein and the DUP have asked the British Government not to issue the water bills.

"Tus maith, leath na hoibre - a good start is half the work.

"The two governments also have other work to do.

"We are committed to, and today discussed, further engagements with the British Chancellor, with the Irish government, and with others to ensure that the incoming executive has the best possible resources to fulfil our responsibilities.

"We have all come a very long way in the process of peace-making and national reconciliation. We are very conscious of the many people who have suffered. We owe it to them to build the best future possible.

"It is a time for generosity, a time to be mindful of the common good and of the future of all our people.

"I am pleased to say that collectively we have created the potential to build a new, harmonious and equitable relationship between nationalists and republicans and unionists, as well as the rest of the people of the island of Ireland.

"Sinn Fein will take nothing for granted in the days and weeks ahead but we will do all that we can to ensure a successful outcome and we ask everyone to support us in our efforts."

Paisley’s Statement

Both Paisley’s and Adams’s statements yesterday are well worth reading, Both are taken from today’s Independent . After so many years of “no surrender” rhetoric, Paisley’s words are those of a politician looking to get down to the business of running a country. There will be plenty of squabbles and rows in the months and years to come, but the DUP and Sinn Fein have created a golden opportunity. I hope they do not fail by reverting to past types and reopening wounds.

“In 2003 the DUP became the largest political party in Northern Ireland and the last three and a half years has seen our strategy deliver very significant advances for the Unionist people.

"Our goal has been to see devolution returned in a context where it can make a real and meaningful improvement in the lives of all the people of this part of the United Kingdom. On 7 March, the Unionist community gave us a mandate to deliver on this pledge.

"On Saturday the DUP executive overwhelmingly endorsed a motion committing the party to support and participate fully in government in May of this year. This is a binding resolution.

"In the past the Government has set arbitrary deadlines but now, as laid out in our resolution, we, as a party, have agreed the timing, the setting-up and working of the institutions. Today, we have agreed with Sinn Fein that this date will be Tuesday, 8 May 2007.

"As the largest party in Northern Ireland, we are committed to playing a full part in all the institutions and delivering the best future for the people of Northern Ireland.

"In the period before devolution we will participate fully with the other parties to the executive in making full preparations for the restoration of devolution on 8 May.

"This meeting represents an important step on the road to the setting-up of an executive in six weeks' time. It has been a constructive engagement and we have agreed that in the weeks between now and the restoration of devolution on 8 May there is important preparatory work to be carried out so that local ministers can hit the ground running.

"This will include regular meetings between the future first and deputy first minister.

"The work must begin as quickly as possible and we have been considering a work programme to bring us to the agreed date for devolution which we are now asking the Government to legislate for.

"There is still vital work to be done to ensure the most favourable financial package possible is in place to allow devolution to succeed and prosper. To this end we have agreed with Sinn Fein to seek an early meeting with the Chancellor.

"In the next few days detailed work will begin, involving all of the executive parties, to allow a programme for government to be finalised for the start of devolution. This will require regular meetings in the next few weeks.

"The two parties have already asked the Prime Minister to ensure that no water charge bills should be issued and the matter should be left for a local executive to determine. We hope, trust and believe that the Secretary of State will listen to the voice of the people of Northern Ireland.

"After a long and difficult time in the province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for Northern Ireland.

"Devolution has never been an end in itself but is about making a positive difference to people's lives. I want to make it clear that I am committed to delivering not only for those who voted for the DUP but for all the people of Northern Ireland.

"We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future.

"In looking to that future, we must never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging. We owe it to them to craft and build the best future possible and ensure there is genuine support for those who are still suffering.

"With hard work and a commitment to succeed, I believe we can lay the foundation for a better, peaceful and prosperous future for all our people

Now get on with the business of government

This is one of the photos I feared never would be taken. Even if thsiles are forced it is a landmark. The Irish Independent describes it as a snapshot for the history books, a picture that says that the Troubles are over and real politics can begin.

Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party will be going into government together on May 8, no threats, no conditions and no begrudgery. It is the culmination of months of work but the DUP and Sinn Fein have put their hatred aside and have finally agreed to power sharing.

"We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future." Paisley said. Adams provided an echo by accepting that "the relationships between the people of this island have been marred by centuries of discord, conflict, hurt and tragedy.. The discussions and agreement between our two parties shows the potential of what can now be achieved."

Mr Paisley said he would now hold regular meetings with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who last night accepted the post of Deputy First Minister. Many will watch with fascination to see what relationship develops between the Protestant patriarch and the one-time IRA commander.

Even if Paisley and McGuiness are the last two people I would like to have seen running Northern Ireland they were they represent the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The people have spoken. I hope they do their very best to bring lasting peace and prosperity to the six counties.

In the pure

Google “pure” and you will get 240 million hits, featuring the word in all of definitions. In the main these hits, I am sure, use the word pure in one of the following contexts: homogeneous; free from impurities; containing nothing extraneous; utter; faultless; chaste and so on and so forth

Far less common is the use of pure in one of its older meanings, one that seems to have fallen into disuse in the 20th Century: pure was used as a noun meaning dog dung. Dog dung was used in the tanning industry and apparently got its name for its cleansing properties.

19th Century social commentator Henry Mayhew had this to say pure and pure finders in his book “London Labour and the London Poor” (I found the online text here).

"The pure finders meet with a ready market for all the dogs'-dung they are able to collect, at the numerous tanyards in Bermondsey, where they sell it by the stable bucket full, and get from 8d. to 10d. per bucket, and sometimes from 1s. to 1s.2d. for it, according to its quality. The 'dry limy–looking sort' fetches the highest price at some yards as it is found to possess more of the alkaline or purifying properties; but others are found to prefer the dark moist quality. Strange as it may appear, the preference for a particular kind has suggested to the finders of Pure the idea of adulterating it to a very considerable extent; this is effected by means of mortar broken away from old walls, and mixed up with the whole mass, which it closely resembles……

...The pure collected is used by leather-dressers and tanners, and more especially by those engaged in the manufacture of morocco and kid leather from the skins of old and young goats…. In the manufacture of moroccos and roans the pure is rubbed by the hands of the workman into the skin he is dressing. This is done to 'purify' the leather, I was told by an intelligent leatherdresser, and from that term the word 'pure' has originated. The dung has astringent as well as highly alkaline, or, to use the expression of my informant, 'scouring,' qualities. When the pure has been rubbed into the flesh and grain of the skin (the 'flesh' being originally the interior, and the 'grain' the exterior part of the cuticle), and the skin, thus purified, has been hung up to be dried, the dung removes, as it were, all such moisture as, if allowed to remain, would tend to make the leather unsound or imperfectly dressed.

The number of pure-finders I heard estimated, by a man well acquainted with the tanning and other departments of the leather trade, at from 200 to 250. The finders, I was informed by the same person, collected about a pail-full a day, clearing 6s. a week in the summer -- 1s. and 1s. 2d. being the charge for a pail-full; in the short days of winter, however, and in bad weather, they could not collect five pail-fulls in a week."

A grim way to make a living in grim times… Still, it doesn’t stop the not wife and myself having a good laugh when we see businesses like Pure Tanning. I hope to God they have sunbeds!

26 March 2007

Make your house a Molly House

According to the National Statistics website, the most popular boy’s name last year was Jack. Olivia topped the list for girls. Molly appears at number 24 on the girl’s list for 2006, just behind Freya

According to this Telegraph article Molly was also the most common name for both cats and dogs last year (Sadly Tiddles doesn’t get a look in)

So if a house has a pet called Molly does that make it a Molly House?

A Molly House is an 18th Century term for a meeting house/brothel for gay men. One of the most famous, or perhaps notorious, of which was run by Margaret (aka Mother)Clap in Holborn. In 1726 the local constabulary raided the house and Mother Clap was sentenced to the stocks. It is believed that she died of the injuries sustained during this time – being sentenced to the stocks was often a lingering death sentence - three of her patrons were hanged at Tyburn.

Or perhaps it just makes a house with a cat or dog called Molly, Perhaps having four cats makes this a cat house…

Interestingly Mother Clap does not seem to have given rise to the slang term for gonorrhoea though; that is believed to come from “clapier”, the Old French word for brothel.

Tom Stoppard on Darfur

Last week the Independent carried a letter signed by ten leading European writers (including Nobel laureates Dario Fo, Seamus Heaney and Harold Pinter) urging the European Union to take action on Darfur. Today it carries this piece by playwright Tom Stoppard entitled “We must speak up for the dead and dispossessed in an epidemic of rage”

If not now, when? If not we, who? News of murder, rape, arson and dispossession in Darfur has been coming in for something like four years, stopping and starting and stuttering, scaling up into horrifying film footage that blanks out the political story, and also down into declarations, resolutions and soundbites that veil the horror of what's really happening in a war so remote and so obscured that the numbers of dead arrive rounded to the nearest hundred thousand.

Is it 200,000 or 300,000? Both figures keep popping up in the Darfur story in reproachable documentation and all you can think is that the sub-text "enough is enough" of Tony Blair's reported message to Angela Merkel the other day had an even darker meaning than the phrase was intended to carry.

But, yes, enough is indeed enough. And one of the things you'd think the UN would have had enough of is being treated with casual disdain by the Sudanese regime, whose latest gesture was to use troops to deny the UN's humanitarian delegation access to a refugee camp in the Darfur region.

A peacekeeping mission would be more to the point, and here again the UN is as helpless against its own vetoes as against President Omar al-Bashir's soldiers. If the United Nations could die of shame it would have been dead years ago.

How can the EU do better? Can it be effective at all? Yesterday, the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor were making the right noises. Stringent sanctions. No-fly zones. But the unpalatable truth is that sanctions require a degree of collective determination, of which the UN appears constitutionally incapable. A no-fly zone over that vast remote area represents an enormous challenge. And would freezing Sudanese assets abroad, one of the suggestions in the "writers' letter", in itself turn the situation around?

Bob Geldof, who orchestrated the letter, said yesterday: "It's code to get the UN behind us." Well, maybe. But the point about Geldof is that he is a populist. What is needed is to make rage and shame contagious, an epidemic. The situation will be turned by numbers, vast numbers of the living outraged, to speak up for the 200,000, or was it 300,000, dead.

25 March 2007

England's first slaver

Every year on 1 August Plymouth holds an African Remembrance Day, a reflection that England’s entry proper into the history of slavery began there.

John Hawkins holds the dubious title of founder of the English slave trade (He was not the first Englishman to carry slaves – John Lok and William Towerson had brought slaves to England in the 1550s). In 1562 Hawkins sailed from Plymouth. He took 400 Africans from Guinea and traded them in the West Indies. Between 1562 and 1567 He made three voyages three voyages to Guinea and Sierra Leone taking between 1,200 and 1,400 Africans.

Hawkins would sail for the west coast of Africa and kidnap villagers, often with the help of other African natives. He would then cross the Atlantic and sell his cargo, or those who survived the voyage, to the Spanish. For Hawkins, the trade ended in 1567 when his fleet, which included a ship commanded by Francis Drake, took shelter from a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. The Spanish were also there. In the chaos and fight that followed, many of his men were killed. Hawkins escaped in one ship and Drake in another. He'd lost 325 men on that voyage but it still showed a financial profit.

He was later appointed as Treasurer for the Navy and knighted in 1588 by the Lord High Admiral, Charles Howard, following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. In Plymouth there are numerous public monuments to his achievements, including Sir John Hawkins Square.

Above: The Hawkins Crest

200 years ago today

How slaves were loaded on the Slave ship The Brooks

Today is the 200th anniversary of the passing into law of the Slave Trade Act. This Act abolished the British slave trade, the US passed a similar law the following year.

It was not until the Abolition fo Slavery Act was passed in 1833 that slavery ended in the British Empire. When ite ended the government compensated slave owners. Interestingly one of the recipients of compensation was the BishopExeter who received over £12,000 for his 665 slaves. Needless to say the slaves got nothing....

24 March 2007

Fur das Kind - more photos

The Kindertransport memorials at Liverpool Street Station have been the subject of several posts already (click here, and here for two of them).

I was pleased to find a CD of some photos I took in 2003, just after the first Kindertransport memorial, Fur Das Kind was unveiled by Sir Nicholas Winton. I would spend time ujust looking at the items the children brought with them. most poignant were the family photos - in most cases their parents and other siblings were murdered during the Holocaust. It is a shame that Fur Das Kind's design was flwaed. the items are back at teh Imperial War Museum. I wish I knew where the statue of the girl is

The taxman cometh… and imposes a pole tax.

Ever in the desire to bring both my readers the news that really matters, I could not pass on a report in today’s Independent regarding lapdancers and VAT liability.

Apparently the lapdancing chain, Spearmint Rhino, has been in dispute with HM Revenue and Customs over who is liable for any VAT (Value Added Tax) liability on the activities of the “exotic” dancers working at their establishments. A High Court judgment has just ruled that the liability falls upon the dancer.

Explaining his ruling, Mr Justice Mann described the financial transaction in the business of dancers gyrating semi-naked round a pole for money: "A fee of £10 is charged for a semi-nude dance; £20 is charged for a nude dance. The dance is arranged as between the dancer and customer. In addition to those services, the dancer and the customer can agree what is called a 'sit down'. For £250 (a sum which is in fact negotiable) a woman can be engaged to sit and socialise with the customer for an hour." (I wonder how much field research the good justice did…in the interests of ensuring the law was correctly applied of course!)

He described the Spearmint Rhino club in Tottenham Court Road, London, as a "typical example" of a lapdancing venue (requiring one or more visits to the club, also to a number of others for benchmarking purposes I presume…). He said: "A member of the public pays £8 for admission and on entering goes into an area in which he/she may drink, socialise, eat and watch partially clad women dancing on a podium.” (but mainly to watch partially clad women dancing on a podium, you can get the other stuff and any good bar or restaurant)

David Milne QC, representing Spearmint Rhino, had told Mr Justice Mann that the dancer has to pay the club for the facilities she uses and there was no contract between the club and the men she "entertained". Mr Justice Mann he agreed with Spearmint Rhino's case - the operation at the clubs tended to suggest that the dancers are performers "plying their self-employed trade at the club in their own right".

I can’t see HMRC accepting that that lap dancing is an educational or medical service, and thus exempt from VAT. However, the current threshold for compulsory VAT registration is £61000, so any lap dancer earning below this amount (I would have thought that was most of them) would not be forced to register. By doing so theywould be able to offset any input tax suffered against their liabilty but I really can’t see the VAT charged on the purchase of g-strings adding up to very much. Perhaps the biggest biggest problem is going to be where the dancers going to put their invoice pads….

Hmm this post really did seem like a good idea when I started it…

23 March 2007

Blackadder - Election special

Blackadder is easily my favourite comedy. This clip is from the first episode of the Blackadder the third featuring the Dunny on the Wold by election. Enjoy. My damned ribs are playing up again - inflamed cartilage. I had better not laugh...

Who on earth was Wilfrid Lawson

Located in Embankment Gardens not far from Charing Cross and Embankment stations,
Wilfrid Lawson's statue is one of the many monuments on the Victoria Embankment. Like so many of the others commemorated by the Thames the seems to have slipped from public memory.

I've been meaning to look him up for some time. I've finally gotten around to it: Sir Wilfrid Lawson ((4 September 1829 – 1 July 1906) was a politician and temperance leader.
He was first elected to parliament in 1859 as the MP for Carlisle. Between 1859 and 1900 he represented Carlisle and then Cockermouth, losing his seat as a result of his violent opposition to the Boer War. In 1903 he was returned as the MP for Camborne in Cornwall then finally in the 1906 general election his old constituency of Cockermouth.

He was an enthusiastic supporter of the temperance movement, becoming president of the United Kingdom Alliance. A radical politician, he supported disestablishment of the Church of England, abolition of the House of Lords, and disarmament. He was apparently a very popular parliamentarian.

And now he is forgotten.

In the name of the people, beating allowed

The story that a German judge refused a Moroccan woman a fast-track divorce on the grounds that domestic violence was sanctioned in the Qur'an is widely reported in the press

The judge, Christa Datz-Winter, said the woman, who is of Moroccan descent, would not be granted a divorce because she and her husband came from a "cultural environment in which it is not uncommon for a man to exert a right of corporal punishment over his wife," according to a statement she wrote that was issued by a Frankfurt court. "That's what the claimant had to reckon with when she married the defendant."

The 26-year-old mother of two had been repeatedly beaten and threatened with death by her husband. When she protested against the judge's decision, Ms Datz-Winter invoked the Qur'an to support her argument. In the court she read from verse 34 of Sura four of the Qur'an, An-Nisa (Women), in which men are told to hit their wives as a final stage in dealing with disobedience. The verse reads: "... as to those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping places and beat them".

The woman applied for divorce before the statutory one-year separation after receiving death threats from her husband. Fast-track divorces can be granted under German law if it is deemed the woman is suffering hardship as a result of marital breakdown. Her husband continued to threaten her despite a restraining order.

Christa Stolle, of the women's rights organisation Terre des Femmes, called the decision "scandalous". She said: "In a democratic country like Germany religious law cannot be drawn on to justify abuse". The leftwing Tageszeitung ran a headline on its front page "In the name of the people: beating allowed" above the relevant passage from the Qur'an, while the tabloid Bild led its front page with: "Where are we living?". Germany's Central Council of Muslims was also quick to criticise the ruling. In a statement, it said: "Violence and abuse of people are of course naturally reasons to warrant a divorce in Islam as well."

Datz-Winter has been removed from the case.

Is this an example of sharia by stealth? I doubt it somehow. It would appear to be an example of moral relativism, not that this acceptable of course. Perhaps Datz-winter would be better emloyed judging knobbly knees contests instead

Mimi's train of thought makes her brane hurt....

.. so much that she can't spell brain. This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named

22 March 2007

A band called Captain

I went with my old friend Jimmy St James see an up and coming band called Captain on Saturday (which means of course I had not heard of them before!). However Jimmy likes them and they were playing locally at the Bitter End in Romford

Were they any good? Yes, definitely. I would see them again. If they are playing locally check them out. Ever in the chance to take more photos I took my now ageing compact digital camera with me. The photos are a bit ropey but look better in black and white than colour.

Wonders of nature - an "invisible" octopus

Okay so it isn't invisible but its camouflage is amazing. I have no idea what species it is but sometimes it's enough to gaze in awe at Mother Nature.

A hat tip goes to Infinitely CRAZY where I first saw this video.

20 March 2007

The Museum of Garden History can be found next to Lambeth Palace - just across the Thames from parliament. Even if you are not greatly interested in its exhibits the knot garden is a pleasant place to spend some time. Given that it is located in a deconsecrated church the garden includes several tombs, including that of William Blighe and, appropriately that of John Tradescant, the 17th Century gardener and plant hunter

19 March 2007

A de Chirico street and THE de Chirico street

Giorgio de Chirico was a surrealist (or is that pre-surrealist?) artist - not to everybody's taste, perhaps, but I find his work preferable to, say, Dali (which isn't saying much)

This painting is called Melancholy and Mystery of a street. You can say that it is a De Chirico Street.

This, on the other hand, is Robyn performing De Chirico Street with Deni Bonet's on her open access show "Duets with Deni". With lyrics like I was followed home by a weighing machine
On De Chirico Street It said, "What do you know?" I said, "What do you mean?" On De Chirico Street Can you go wrong?

It will be the pinnacle of my life to be able to say "Jasper this one's evil" but then I am a sad case...

London Eye

18 March 2007

Pour encourager les autres - no pardon for Admiral Byng

The expression “Pour encourager les autres' is a well known quote from Voltaire’s Candide. The full quote is "dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" - in this country (England), it is good, to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others'). It refers to the fate of Admiral John Byng who was executed in 1757.

Last Wednesday marked the 250th anniversary of Admiral Byng’s execution for failing to "do his utmost" during the Battle of Menorca at the start of the Seven Years’ War. There is a memorial to him in a church in Southill, Bedfordshire which sums up his fate quite well “To the perpetual Disgrace of Public Justice... a Martyr to Political Persecution...when Bravery and Loyalty were Insufficient Securities for the Life and Honour of a Naval Officer”

Thursday’s Guardian reported that descendants of the admiral had petitioned the government for a posthumous pardon. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said Byng could not receive the sort of pardon that ministers granted last year to men executed during the first world. "There are people alive who knew them. There was a feeling that a wrong had been done. It was a personal matter rather than something lost in the mist of time." A spokesman said,

But descendant Sarah Saunders-Davies from Romsey, Hampshire, called it a shameful end for an admiral with an unblemished career. "His court martial was a sham, with false testimonies, witness intimidation and intrigue - all to cover up the failure of the government."

John Byng (1704-1757) had been tasked with preventing the capture of the British garrison on Menorca after a French invasion (Menorca had fallen into British hands along with Gibraltar during the War of the Spanish Succession. The admiral made it clear that he believed he did not have enough ships or men to perform his task , but was denied reinforcements. When a French fleet hove into view, they were half-heartedly engaged but then allowed to escape. Byng eventually set sail back to Gibraltar without relieving the fort.

He may have been unfortunate that the French commander's jubilant account of the battle reached London before his own report did and the government, privately ashamed it had underestimated the threat to the island, determined to make its admiral a scapegoat. It released an edited version of Byng's dispatch to inflame the public against him then had him arrested, brought back to England and put before a court martial at Greenwich.

Byng's execution aboard the Monarque

The government had recently altered the articles of war to ensure officers could not evade responsibility for their actions through the pulling of strings. The only punishment for dereliction of duty was death. On March 14 1757, despite appeals from the court martial - two vice-admirals refused to sign the sentence - Byng was led on to the quarterdeck of his flagship, the Monarque and was shot by an execution party of Marines. In the words of the Newgate Calendar: “Thus fell, to the astonishment of all Europe, Admiral John Byng; who, whatever his errors and indiscretions might have been, was at least rashly condemned, meanly given up, and cruelly sacrificed to vile political intrigues.”

No Royal Navy admiral has been executed since. Given the time that has passed it is rather too late to grant him a pardon now.

A flying start

Again I am not a huge F1 fan but it was good to see that Lewis Hamilton had an excellent debut taking third place in the Australian Grand Prix .

The (Cricket) world turned upside down

I will happily admit that not only do I fail Norman Tebbit's cricket test I don't even make it to the exam room. However, I couldn’t resist this result from the Cricket World Cup: Ireland 133-7 beat Pakistan 132 by three wickets.

Pakistan, one of the top cricketing nations beaten by minnows, are now out of the World Cup beaten by a nation where cricket is only marginally less popular than pro-am shove ha’penny! (in the Republic anyway, the team does represent the whole island).

I won't insult anyone by commenting on the match itself. Here are a couple of reports:

Irish Independent


17 March 2007

When in doubt,

Have some Therapy


Oh and have a good St Patrick's Day....

I can't understand why anyone would dye beer green though. Try a pint of Creme de Menthe instead, it get's the job done quicker and your breath smells great...

Will this be his legacy? - Tony Blair and Catherine Tate

The Tony Blair/Catherine Tate sketch from last night's Red Nose Day programming. I think he does the "am I bovvered" thing well. Political participation in entertainment has certainly come a long ways since Denis Healey gave the line "I can't seem to budge it" in a Nationwide panto.....

Don't forget to give generously. Click here for the Red Nose Day website

Err you could call it “Still life with brick dust”

A sculpture by Anish Kapoor, entrusted to a specialist fine art storage firm, was probably mistaken for builders' rubble, dumped in a skip and destroyed by a waste crusher.

Hole and Vessel II in polystyrene, cement, earth, acrylic and pigment, was stored by the collector Ofir Scheps with Fine Art Logistics, in south-west London, where it promptly disappeared without trace.

Yesterday Mr Justice Teare decided that its most likely fate was linked to building work at the site which led to it passing into a skip, then to a waste transfer site where it must have been crushed. The judge decided compensation should be £351,375, made up of its £132,000 value at the time of loss and £219,375 for the amount it would have increased since that time.

Mr Justice Teare also admitted that the sculpture, which was created in 1984, had left him lost for words. "It is not possible for me to describe it," he said. "One expert described it as sensuous and sexy, the other as clumsy and somewhat absurd." There was, however, agreement that it was made during Kapoor's transitional phase when he was "moving away from an exploration of the male/female dichotomy towards an exploration of the void"

… Or the Emperor’s new clothes. I don’t believe in destroying art, like I don’t believe in burning books (even Mein Kampf ), but it was hideous. More fool Scheps for spending over £100k on it in the first place!

Zimbabwe: Solidarity with Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions - for human rights and the rule of law

Laboutstart has launched a campaign to show support for our brothers and sisters in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (see below).

The crisis in Zimbabwe has its origins in President Mugabe's autocratic regime and its mismanagement of the economy. Since the disputed re-election of President Mugabe in 2002, there has been a steady deterioration in human rights and the economy, reducing Zimbabwe to a land of penury and starvation. In 2005, more than 30,000 arrests were made and hundreds of urban dwellings were demolished under the guise of "a clean-up campaign" aimed at workers in the informal economy who had been increasingly turning to the trade unions. In September 2006, a large number of trade unionists and human rights activists were arrested and brutally assaulted following a peaceful protest over the state of the economy and shortages of essential medicines. Alarmed at the growing willingness to oppose the regime openly, including from within the ruling ZANU-PF party, the regime has banned political protests for three months, especially to prevent protests against the Government's economic failures. But the ZCTU and others have responded by stepping up their criticisms and protests, and a general strike has been announced for 3-4 April. Over the weekend of 10-11 March, the security services violently attacked opposition leaders and on 13 March, raided the offices of the ZCTU to seize materials about the strike.

Click here to register your support

16 March 2007


Roland Dodds of But I am a Liberal is moving to Calexico. Until I read his post I thought Calexico was just the name of Joe Burns's and John Convertino's band and not actually a place (then again I first heard of Texarkana via the REM song). What better excuse could I have to blog one of my favourite songs (Ballad of Cable Houge) and a cracking cover of Love's Alone again or...

How would you like it if I shone a searchlight in YOUR eyes?

Bebe is not fond of the camera flash but she seemed to tolerate me doing my doings here. This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named

15 March 2007

Mugabe tells critics to "go hang"

Robert Mugabe responded to western criticism of his mistreatment of opposition leaders by telling the west to "go hang".

Speaking after a meeting with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Mugabe said It's the west as usual ... when they criticise the government trying to prevent violence and punish the perpetrators of that violence, we take the position that they can go hang. Here are groups of persons who went out of their way to effect a campaign of violence and we hear no criticism at all of those actions of violence, none at all. Mr Mugabe added that he would continue to accept humanitarian aid from the West as long as it did not "indulge in our politics".

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was arrested on Sunday following a rally and brutally beaten, is still in hospital. However, doctors say he is now out of danger and has suffered no permanent brain or scalp damage.

The sooner Mugabe is out on his ear the better for Zimbabwe

The Felidae family welcomes a new member

Although several new species of mammals have been discovered in the past decade or so, the news today that the clouded leopards of Sumatra and Borneo are a separate species from those found on the Asian mainland means that the cat family has had its first new member in a very long time.

Named Neofelis diardi, the clouded leopard is the biggest predators on Borneo, and can grow as large as small panthers. The separation of the species was discovered by scientists at the US National Cancer Institute near Washington DC. "Genetic research results clearly indicate that the clouded leopards of Borneo should be considered a separate species," said Dr Stephen O'Brien, head of the Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity. "DNA tests highlighted around 40 differences between the two species."

Supporting evidence came from examination of fur patterns. Leopards from Borneo and Sumatra have small "clouds" with many distinct spots within them, grey and dark fur, and twin stripes along their backs. Their mainland cousins have large cloud markings on their skin with fewer, often faint, spots within the cloud markings, and are lighter and more tawny in colour.

"The moment we started comparing the skins of the mainland clouded leopard and the leopard found on Borneo, it was clear we were comparing two different species," said Dr Andrew Kitchener from the National Museums of Scotland. "It's incredible that no-one has ever noticed these differences."

WWF, which maintains a large conservation operation on Borneo, estimates there are between 5,000 and 11,000 clouded leopards on the island, with a further 3,000 to 7,000 on Sumatra. The three governments with territory on the island - Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei - signed an agreement earlier this year pledging to protect the "Heart of Borneo", 200,000 square kilometres of rainforest in the middle of the island thought to be particularly high in biodiversity.

Hoist by your own dog end?

Last year, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) introduced on-the-spot fines to anyone caught dropping a cigarette end as part of a campaign for cleaner neighbourhoods. However, according to Westminster city council, it seems that staff at Defra headquarters is one of the worst government departments for discarded dog ends.

Not much of a story I know but a surely case of "physician heal thyself!"

Peers vote to keep an appointed House of Lords

Last week MPs backed a 100% elected Upper House by a substantial majority. Today it was the Lords’ turn to vote on proposals for its composition. They opted for a fully-appointed chamber. Voting was 361 to 121, majority 240. The Lords also voted against all other combinations

While the votes are not binding on the Government the votes demonstrate a deep division between the two Houses and the difficulty there will be to find a consensus. It looks as if a reform bill, certainly one that looks for a fully or largely elected upper chamber, will have a tough path if it is to become law.

13 March 2007

TV Smith - another date for my diary

Gary Gilmore's Eyes

I must see if I can get tickets to see T V Smith at the 100 Club on Maundy Thursday (5 April). T V was formerly in the Adverts and he will be playing their 1977 debut album "Crossing the Red Sea.." at the 100 Club . While they many not have had the stature of the Sex Pistols or the Clash, they were a great punk band. More importantly TV has not rested on his laurels. His solo work is definitely worth seeking out.

Lion and the Lamb - on of TV's excellent solo works

What famous leader am I?

I had hoped for Vlad the Impaler or the like but no, its...

12 March 2007

The great unread

Vernon God Little may have won the the Booker Prize but it also appears to have won a more dubious accolade: According to a survey pubblished today, DBC Pierre’s satire was the book least likely to be finished - 35% of respondents who bought or borrowed the book failed to get to the end (Me, I loved it but his second book Ludmilla’s Broken English was dreadful), beating Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into second place. Ulysses came third.

According to the survey Fifty-five per cent of those polled said they buy books for decoration, and have no intention of actually reading them. This suggests that some readers buy "intellectual credibility for the bookshelf" rather than books they actually want to read. "Far too often people are buying books because they think they will be good for them, rather than because they think they'll enjoy them," said Rachel Cugnoni from the publisher Vintage.

Oxfam and other charity shops have had quite a few unfinished books off us over the years. I really don’t get why people would buy books just for decoration though. Then again both myself and the not-wife are old enough and ugly enough to give a damn about what people thought of the contents of our bookshelves!

Judge orders access to detained Tsvangirai

A higt court judge in Zimbabwe has ordered police to allow lawyers access to Morgan Tsvangira, who was arrested yesterday. The judge said Mr Tsvangirai should have immediate access to medical care and should be brought to his court on Tuesday morning or freed.

Mr Tsvangirai, who leads Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was arrested after riot police broke up a public meeting in Harare. Mr Tsvangirai's lawyer Innocent Chagonda said he had seen the opposition leader from a distance of about 10m and that his head was bandaged and face.

The MDC, had split into into two rival factions over than a year ago. Both factions came together at the weekend in a rare show of unity aimed at trying to resolve the political and economic crisis in the country, including chronic unemployment and 1700% inflation, the highest in the world . They were joined by civic and religious organisations in the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. Riot police used tear gas and water cannons as they fought battles with activists gathered for the rally, opposition officials said.

Black Poplar - Chase Nature Reserve,

The Black Poplar (Populus nigra var betulifolia) is one of Britain’s most endangered native timber trees. There are only 3000 specimens, of which just 600 are female.

The Black Poplar was once a common sight in Britain. It was a very useful source of timber and was often planted near farms and villages and used for scaffolding, wagon making, even for arrows - a Black Poplar in Portsmouth is the descendant of one used to make arrows for the armoury of the Mary Rose.

However, the Black Poplar needs very specialised conditions in which to propagate. The seeds need to lie undisturbed on bare, wet mud or silt from June to October to germinate successfully. These conditions became harder to find as suitable habitats were lost.

Also as the need for native timber dwindled fewer Black Poplars were planted, this propagation difficulty became more important. Even worse, as a rule only male trees were planted: the females were considered a nuisance because of the drifting white down they produce.

thanks to Peter Roe’s informative Black Poplar website for this information.

It is nice to know that a local nature reserve, the Chase has six female specimens. These photographs were taken here earlier today.

London Wildlife Trust

11 March 2007

Playing with an infra red filter

The problem with IR filters is that they are pretty well opaque so I couldn't see what the hell I was photographing. This was a lucky shot - perhaps it's to buy a tripod and if I want to do these sort of photos properly.

Taken at the Chase nature reserve, just south of Elm Park

11-M comemorated

Today is the third anniversary of the Madrid train bombings.

King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and senior government officials are to unveil a monument outside the Atocha rail station, one of four targets in an terrorist attack that ripped apart morning rush-hour commuter trains on March 11, 2004, laving 191 people dead and more than 1,800 people wounded.

The monument is an irregularly shaped, 11-meter-tall (35-foot-tall) glass cylinder with a transparent inner membrane bearing messages of condolence that Spaniards left at Atocha station after the attacks.

The Bookseller/Diagram Prize: the one that really matters

It may not have the prestige of the Booker Prize and its winners are not as celebrated as Nobel (or perhaps even IgNobel) prize winners but the Bookseller/Diagram Prize, which is awarded for the oddest book title, truly deserves to rank among the greats.

Bookseller magazine has released its shortlist for the 2007 prize. Among the hopefuls are:

  • How Green Were the Nazis?( edited by Franz-Josef Bruggemeier, Mark Cioc and Thomas Zeller),
  • D. Di Mascio's Delicious Ice Cream: D. Di Mascio of Coventry: An Ice Cream Company of Repute, with an Interesting and Varied Fleet of Ice Cream Vans (Roger De Boer, Harvey Francis Pitcher, and Alan Wilkinson), and
  • The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification (Julian Montague)

The winning author will receive a bottle of champagne for their efforts and a sense of honour that comes from victory. Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller, said: "While rival literary awards have sold out, The Bookseller/Diagram Prize has refused all offers of corporate sponsorship for 29 years. It continues to celebrate the bizarre, the strange, and the simply odd. This year's shortlist shows that despite publishers cutting back their lists, literary diversity continues to flourish."

Roll of honour: selected past winners

The Joy of Chickens (1980)
The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History and Its Role in the World Today (1984)
Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (1986)
How to Avoid Huge Ships (1992)
Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (1996)
The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2003)

10 March 2007

When you want to be somewhere else

All her faourite fruit by Camper van Beethoven may be an odd choice but some songs define a particular time or eent. This song is one of them

Churchill, Parliament Square

FAA memorial

Images of the James Butler's Fleet Air Arm memorial on the Embankment, not far from Parliament. One of London's more eerie monuments in my view, but still I like it.

09 March 2007

Robyn contented and curious

Robyn certainly believes in the expression "all your pizza are belong to us" even the odd crust...

This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named

08 March 2007

President's threat over Chagos Islands

Sir Anerood Jugnauth, the President of Mauritius has stated that he would be prepared to quit the Commonwealth over the issue of the Chagos Islanders. who were expelled from their homes in the Chagos archipelago during the 1960s and 1970s to make way for the US military base on Diego Garcia. He is also prepared to take the UK to the International Court of Justice over the islanders' plight.

Jugnauth also said he believed Mauritius had also suffered injustice over the issue of the Chagos Islands: "We have always claimed Chagos from the British….We were deprived of part of our territory and this is against all the United Nations resolutions." The Chagos Islands were ceded to Britain in 1814. They were administered first as part of the Seychelles and then as part of Mauritius. The Islands were retained as the British Indian Ocean Territory when Mauritius was granted independence in 1968.

Jugnauth said he did not think leaving the Commonwealth, a 53-nation grouping of mainly former British colonies, would be too high a price to pay."I won't say a very high price," he said. "We are in the Commonwealth, we get some benefit out of it, but there's not much that we get."

Click here for previous posts on the Chagos Islanders

07 March 2007

The end of the Lords as we know it?

I've only just seen the news that MPs have voted in favour of a fully elected House of Lords. In a series of votes, they also voted for an 80% elected Lords, rejected other options for lower proportions of elected members and outright abolition.

The vote is advisory, but it gives momentum to reformers who want to see see an elected second chamber. It will now be up to the government to decide whether to accommodate the wishes of the Commons in a bill to reform the Lords. Peers will themselves vote on the same options next week. The fully-elected chamber was backed by 337 MPs to 224, a majority of 113. MPs rejected a move by to ensure the remaining 92 hereditary peers were not removed until the elected peers took their seats in a reformed Lords.

Under the white paper, elected peers could serve only one term, but that would be of 15 years. Elections of a third of members every five years would mean a complete change of personnel every 15 years. Some form of proportional representation would be used, with party lists for candidates, and constituencies based on the European parliament regions. A future bill could also see the name of the upper chamber changed from the House of Lords

My first reaction is to to be glad that MPs have voted this way. It'is about time we had an elected upper chamber. I know the vote isn't binding but the Government would be crazy to ignore the commons on this matter.

The Church - Unguarded Moment

06 March 2007

West Ham – Insert appropriate tabloid horror headline

Call it a nightmare on Green Street; call it a Hammers Horror but West Ham has had a season that is very much an annus horribilis (although to date no castle has burnt down).

The Hammers have not won a match since December and have taken only two points so far during 2007. They are at the bottom of the Premiership table, eleven points adrift of safety and relegation seems inevitable (unless prayers to St Jude, the patron saint of hopless causes can turn things around!).

To make matters worse the team is in a morale meltdown according to a report in last Sunday’s Observer. Charges have been laid by the Premier League over breaches rules over the signing of Argentinean players Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.

And now today the press is reporting that the Metropolitan Police confirmed that is investigating a complaint about racist chants heard at last Sunday’s game against Tottenham. One of the chants apparently was: "I'd rather be a Paki than a Jew".

The FA's head of stadia, Chris Whalley, will write to the relegation-threatened club today to demand an explanation for the security and stewarding provisions it has in place. The FA will want to know why there was no intervention from stewards to put a stop to the chanting, which took place at half-time when West Ham were leading 2-0. Even if the chants were from a tiny minority of fans, we need this srt of behaviour like a hole in the head.

Last May West Ham came with in an ace of a famous FA Cup win. This season has been an unmitigated disaster. I wonder if it’s time to pull down the shutters and hope for a successful return to the Premiership next year. On a happier note Dagenham & Redbridge are 12 points clear at the top of the Conference. Barring disaster it looks like league football next season.

Robyn Hitchcock - I often dream of trains

The title track of Robyn's third solo album. Also features "Man with the lightbulb head" from Fegmania

05 March 2007

Cherokees vote to expel descendants of former slaves

Members of the Cherokee nation voted yesterday to expel descendants of black slaves they once owned. In a special election to amend their constitution citizenship is to be limited to those listed as “Cherokee by blood”. The move stripped tribal membership from freedmen (those descended from slaves) and blacks who were married to Cherokees. They had enjoyed full citizenship rights for 141 years.

The ballot, which followed a ruling by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court in March 2006 confirming citizenship to freedmen descendants, will now limit citizenship to those who can trace their heritage to a “Cherokee by blood” list, part of what is known as the Dawes Rolls census created in 1906. Under that census, anybody with a trace of African-American blood, even if half Cherokee, was placed on the freedmen roll. Those with full Cherokee or mixed white and Cherokee ancestry were put on the “Cherokee by blood” roll.

Supporters say that it was a long-overdue move by Cherokees to determine their own tribal make-up. In their view freedmen were granted tribal membership under duress in an 1866 treaty with the US Government. Those who wanted to expel freedmen said that, without the vote, thousands more descendants would seek to cash in on the tribe’s revenue and welfare network.

Opponents of the vote denounced it as a racist plot to deny tribal revenue to those not deemed full-blood Cherokee, and to block them from claiming a slice of the tribal pie. A minority of the 270,000 Cherokees are descendants of freedmen. Members are entitled to a share of the $350 million annual budget from federal and tribal revenue, housing and medical support.

The vote has reopened a chapter in Native American history –that some country’s largest tribes were slave holders and sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Cherokees, Choctaws, Chicksaws, Creeks and Seminoles were known as the Five Civilised Tribes because they adopted many of the ways of the Confederate South, including the ownership of black slaves.

This may well not be the end of the story: In 2000 the Seminole Nation expelled its freedmen. But the federal Government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and federal courts, refused to recognise the Seminoles as a sovereign nation. Faced with such a loss of status, they took the freedmen back.