30 June 2006

Hirsi’s “Revenge”

From today’s Guardian

The Dutch government collapsed last night in a row over its treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Prme Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, will tender his resignation to Queen Beatrix today after the centrist D-66 party withdrew its ministers from his coalition government. Mr Balkenende is expected to calla general election although he may try to hang on until Spetember in order to present next year's budget.

The crisis was sparked after D-66, a small centrist party in the coalition, refused to support Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk after she stripped Ayaan Hirsi Ali of her Dutch citizenship. Although Ms Verdonk restored her citizenship this week, D-66 was infuriated when the she forced Ms her to sign a statement admitting that she had lied in order to gain Dutch citizenship when she fled to the Netherlands in 1992.

The downfall of the centre-right coalition will ring alarm bells across the EU because it marks the first time that a government has fallen in a row linked to the continent-wide struggle to integrate Europe's Muslims. Opinion polls indicate that Wouter Bos, the Blairite leader of the Dutch Labour party, will emerge as the leader of the largest party.

The Good(ish) News or the Bad News… or the Worse or Even Worse News First?

The Goodish:

David Cameron’s all new touchy feely conservative leadership was given a harsh rebuff by voters in Chislehurst and Bromley last night. Although the seat was won for them by Bob Neill against a Liberal Democrat challenge, the level of victory was just 600 votes. This compares to a resounding 13000 Conservative majority at last year’s General Election.

Conservative party chairman Francis Maude said Bromley was "a bit of a wake-up call for us - that we've got a long way further to go. David's (Cameron) been rightly, driving a process of change in the party - and the simple truth from this election result is that we have to drive that change faster, wider and deeper.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell praised his party's near-miss as a stupendous result in one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. “It shows that there is no confidence in Cameron's Tories in the Conservative heartlands," he said.

The Bad:

In the same By election Labour's Rachel Reeves gained les than 2000 votes and was pushed into fourth behind UKIP candidate, MEP Nigel Farage.

The Worse:

Labour has failed to win back a former stronghold of Blaenau Gwent last night. Independent Dai Davies won the south Wales seat, which Labour lost in 2005 to fellow Independent Peter Law. Labour party chairman Hazel Blears said Blaenau Gwent was a "unique set of circumstances" branding the situation in the Welsh constituency a "family feud. Labour had not had enough time to turn it round from the general election but insisted the result was "coming in the right direction".

This seat was previously held by Labour legends Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot. It was previously one where the Labour vote was weighed rather than counted

The Even Worse

A YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph suggests Mr Cameron is more popular than Tony Blair and that 6% more people would prefer a Tory government led by Cameron to a Labour one led by Gordon Brown.

The moral of this tale?

The Tories may have some way to go before they can win an election comfortably but we are gifting them an open goal mouth at present. If we do not do something fast we will see Labour will be condemned to the opposition benches. This does not just mean looking to sweeten middle England but reaching out to our core vote. As I have said before this job must fall to a new leader.


29 June 2006

Churchill - Parliament Square

Churchill's statue is in Parliament Square. Brian Haw's protest is close by. I will be posting more photos of statues and other items on plant porn

28 June 2006

Burghers of Calais - London

Located in Victoria Gardens by the Houses of Parliamen this is one of about 12 copies of Rodin's Burghers of Calais in existence. I think is is a magnificent statue and is a photographers dream, even one of my own meager talent!

I will be putting up more pictures of this and other statues in around central London in due course on Plant Porn (see side bar for the link)

27 June 2006

A Tougher but Pointless Stance on the Falklands

According to today’s Times Argentina has given a warning of “a drastic change” in its approach towards its claim to the Falklands. The Government of Nestor Kirchner has indicated that it will take a hardline approach on issues such as fishing and oil exploration rights in pressing Argentina’s claim to the South Atlantic islands — a move that marks a significant deterioration in relations with Britain.

Sr Kirchner, who is expected to win re-election next year, has told ministers that he will abandon the so-called “sovereignty umbrella” agreed by former President Menem, under which Argentina agreed to set aside claims over the Falklands to facilitate accords on fishing, oil exploration and transport. Señor Menem and Guido Di Tella, his Foreign Minister, had sought to eradicate the legacy of Argentina’s military dictatorship and the invasion to gain the goodwill of the islanders. But Buenos Aires has grown impatient with London’s refusal to enter negotiations over sovereignty, believing that Britain has abused its position to
exploit fishing rights at the expense of Argentine trawlers.

“The UK will not negotiate on sovereignty unless and until the islanders wish it,” a spokesman said. “We remain committed to co-operation work on a bilateral agenda to the benefit of all, including Argentina.” Last month Howard Pearce, the Governor of the Falklands, said that those living on the islands were still committed to remaining part of the UK. In his annual address he said: “Pressure (from Argentina) will prove utterly counter-productive. Falkland islanders are united in their wish to remain British.”

But the Argentine Government rejects the claim that the islanders have a right to self-determination. Jorge Taiana, the Foreign Minister, contends that they had been “planted” on what he called “sovereign Argentine territory”.

The policy shift by Sr Kirchner’s Government comes as campaigning kicks off for the 2007 presidential elections. Sr Kirchner, whose populist policies have garnered him record approval ratings since he took power in 2002, has consistently affirmed Argentina’s claim to the Falklands. He raised the issue with Tony Blair as far back as 2003. Story ends

Sr Kirchner may whip up all the nationalist sentiment he likes. It may well win him another term in power but it will not advance Argentina’s claim over the Falklands a single jot. Right now the UK will not give a second’s consideration to transferring sovereignty and Sr Kirchner can thank the Falklands War for that. That said there is plenty of scope for negotiations over fishing, oil and other rights. I am sure that this will be of great benefit to Argentina and I hope these are successful.

I would like to quote an Argentinian friend’s view of this story (he was the one who drew my attention to it) “This is insane. They are doing very well, jobs are up, corruption is down, the police and military are on a leash, the world is beginning to trust Argentina to do business with and now Kirchner wants to play "my-chunk-of-land" again? Rattling sabers, perhaps? There could have been an agreement on common exploration and harvest of natural resources on the ocean around the Falklands, but the criminal invasion of 1982 pretty much closed that door.
I say: Ask the Islanders what government they want. Check the answer. Close the book."

26 June 2006

Banksy CND Canvas

This work by renowned graffiti artist Banksy formed part of Brian Haw's anti war protest in Parliament Square until it was removed by police in late May. I was lucky that I took this picture when I did.

I have posted more photos of the Brian Haw protest on Plant Porn and Pussycats (see sidebar)

25 June 2006

Garden 25th June



Cardoon flower head - a relative of the Globe Artichoke

When PC Stands for Personal Choice

Today’s Observer carries a story about Encarna Conde who at 45, has made her first porn film. The film, Breaking Barriers, is the subject of debate on internet chatboards and has even had entire pages dedicated to it in the Spanish press. The reason for the fuss is that Encarna is a wheelchair user who has a muscle control disorder called ataxia. She is also president of the Association of Andalucian Ataxia Groups.

Her decision to appear on screen came after she wrote to Spain's biggest porn producer to complain that disabled people never featured in his films. Antonio Marcos agreed to hold a casting for aspiring disabled porn stars. But when nobody came forward Encarna volunteered her own services.

'It was very pleasant, though I was somewhat cowardly,' she said. Unusually for a porn film, however, Breaking Barriers ends with a serious conversation between Encarna and her producer. 'Disabled women have to take steps forward and one should always be happy if one breaks a barrier,' she said. 'Everybody, whether they are disabled or not, has the right to make their own sexual choices.'

El Mundo reported that her move into the world of pornography had caused ructions within her own association. Her association's site does not mention the film, but comments on its forum appear to be directed at Encarna herself. 'Good luck with your great challenge,' says one. 'This lady is a born fighter, she knows what it is to suffer and have so many things against her,' says another.

Whether one approves of such films or not, Encarna’s actions make it abundantly clear that disability does not necessarily diminish one’s right to make life choices, sexual or otherwise. Those who automatically equate physical disability with asexuality or mental impairment should take note.

Ataxia UK

Turning Hatred into Hope

After Marie Fatayi-Williams' only son, Anthony, was killed on the No 30 bus in Tavistock Square in London on 7 July 2005, her call for an end to violence made headlines across the world. A devout Catholic, she lives both in London and Lagos, Nigeria. Her husband is Muslim and they also have two daughters.

“I only feel deep sorrow for those who did this and for those who actively seek out blank minds on which to imprint negativity and hatred. At first I didn't want to look at the face of Hasib Hussain, but eventually I did look ... and what I saw was just a young man. I wonder sometimes if he meant to blow up the bus, or if at some point he chickened out? If so, it means there is hope. I am confident that if he had been asked what cause he was ready to die for, he would not have been able to clearly justify such extreme action.

“I never believed that I would be a victim of terrorism. Anthony was a peace-loving young man who only ever had love in his heart. He was never in support of war in any form. This is why I have set up a foundation in his name. I can't think of any other way to heal my heart and help others. You need to work hard to achieve peace. It doesn't come on a platter. Together we've got to make, have and give peace.

“If I could stop just one potential bomber committing a catastrophe because he felt sorry for the pain inflicted on Anthony's mum, realising the senselessness of killing innocent victims, I would bless him and Anthony's death would not have been in vain.”

From today’s Observer

I can only hope that if I would have her strength were I to face a similar loss. I would strongly advise those that view the atrocities of 9/11, Madrid, Bali or 7/7 as some form of twisted justice to take her message to heart.

Anthony Fatayi-Williams Foundation for Peace and Conflict Resolution

The Forgiveness Project

Proof that Age Does not Always Confer Wisdom

Independent under the headline “IRA gunman who was there as the wind shook the barley”

Attending the premiere in Cork of Ken Loach’s new film “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” was Dan Keating, who at 104 is one of the last surviving veterans of the Troubles (aka "Tan War") and the subsequent Civil War.

"It brought back old memories, all right," he said. "I thought it was very factual now, very good. It worked very well, I thought." Keating, a rifleman, took part in two large-scale "Tan war" actions, at Castlemaine and Castleisland in Co Kerry, in which twelve Black and Tans and other British personnel were killed. As the portrayal of the birth of the Irish state in The Wind that Shakes the Barley divides opinion in Britain, he is one of the few men alive to have witnessed events at first hand.

The "Tan war" is now officially viewed as the triumph of courageous rebels against British occupation, and is commemorated with pride by all political parties in the Republic of Ireland. But the subsequent civil war, in which Keating fought on the side of the anti-treaty rebels, pitted brothers against brothers in a vicious conflict which created internal divisions that are dying out only now. So, while tales of the Tans have always been told with relish, the Irish are mostly very reticent to recall the civil war.

The conflict included the execution of prisoners by both sides, those who favoured accepting a treaty with Britain and those who opposed it. In some cases leaders ordered the deaths of once close friends. In one instance, a commander signed the death warrant of the man who had been best man at his wedding. Mr Keating said of his civil war opponents: "They were worse than the Black and Tans, and they committed some awful atrocities. In one week they murdered 19 people - comrades I knew only too well. They were just gone overnight." One of these actions was carried out on the eve of a truce. "We knew the truce was coming up all right, but I suppose we were all mad for a fight all the time," he recalls.

Mr Keating's life is doubly remarkable in that he has survived not just physically but also in terms of his opinions. These have remained absolutely intact for almost 90 years. He is the patron of Republican Sinn Fein, a small republican party associated with the aptly named Continuity IRA, a splinter group which still uses violence. Its members - preposterously in the eyes of most people in Ireland - regard themselves as the true heirs of the state's founding fathers. Mr Keating has never accepted a state pension because he regards the Dublin government as fundamentally illegitimate. He refused to accept the state's standard €2,000 (£1,380) award to centenarians because he was "stunned" to hear the Irish President saying that her ambition was to walk through Dublin with the Queen.

While one may admire Mr Keating for his steadfastness, his support for diehard terrorists and his pig-headed refusal to recognise the Irish government is proof positive that age does not necessarily confer wisdom. His continuing support of violence is utterly out of step with the vast majority of nationalists in all parts of Ireland who realise that their cause is better advanced through the power of the ballot rather than the bullet. Those that fought the British during the “Tan War” were not usually as inflexible as Mr Keating. For example one of my now dead cousins fought in the North Cork brigade of the IRA and initially opposed the Treaty. During WWII he helped develop new radar systems for the British military. I am sure he would have viewed Mr Keating as an old fool.

24 June 2006

Crab Spider II - He's Back and Hungry

Crab Spider - this time with dinner

Once you notice something you see it everywhere. That is true of the Crab Spider. This one lives on one of our Hollyhocks and had just ambushed some dinner. The pic is a little bit of a cheat in that I have cropped and resized the original for better impact I have not manipulated the picture in any other way.

The Future’s Bright but the Future’s Probably not Kinky

It has now been confirmed that country singer turned crime novelist Richard (Big Dick) “Kinky” Friedman was been officially validated the independent candidate in the Texas gubernatorial race. He joins the three other candidates (Democrat, Libertarian and Independent Carole Strayhorn) who are seeking to unseat Republican incumbent Rick Perry. A recent Zogby poll shows Kinky on 17.5%, well behind Perry’s 40% rating.

With the anti-Republican vote being split several ways there seems little chance of the Kinkster emulating Jesse Ventura’s shock win in Minnesota a few years ago but as a lover of his books and someone who still sniggers when he plays Get Your Biscuits in the Oven (and Your Buns in the Bed) I wish him well!

Rebranding Orange Order Parades?

This story was in yesterday’s Guardian

The grand secretary of the Orange Order wants to promote the institution's annual parades, which have often descended into sectarian violence, as tourist attractions rivalling the Notting Hill carnival in London. Drew Nelson’s long-term project is to rebrand the bowler hat and pipe band ceremonies seen often as ritualised territorial claims. He envisages the marching season as a cultural celebration of one of the United Kingdom's "ethnic minorities" - Northern Ireland's protestants.

Having severed its formal links with the Ulster Unionist party, there are signs that the Orange Order is considering adopting a less overtly political position. Officials for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland have met the Irish government, in Dublin, the Catholic Primate, Archbishop Sean Brady, and nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party. These overtures signal recognition that, after years of confrontation and violence associated with the parades, the order needs to rethink its tactics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly these overtures have been met with a degree of caution: "We would like to see a carnival atmosphere too," said an SDLP official, "but it's difficult when one community has victims from past paramilitary attacks."

"I would like to see the Twelfth of July [commemorating William III's 1690 victory at the battle of the Boyne] become a tourist attraction," said Mr Nelson "It's one of the most colourful spectacles. Only the Notting Hill carnival can beat it in the British Isles. Notting Hill has overcome its problems of drugs, and deaths. We can overcome our problems."

My initial thought was “Well, Umm.. err. you'll be lucky!” While it is true that the days of rioting at the Notting Hill carnival are a thing of the past I get the feeling that the Orange Order will have a mountain to climb before their 12th of July parades are seen as tourist attractions. The same would be said about parades to commemorate the Easter Rebellion in the North.

In my view the priority (regardless of one’s stance on a United Ireland, whether you are Nationalist or Unionist) must be to break down the centuries of sectarianism and bigotry. How to do this is a big question but I imagine it will be a long and tortuous path. Perhaps then the bowler hats will be seen simply as part of Ulster’s rich tapestry and not a symbol aggression.

23 June 2006

Praising Essex Part 1

When I was born Romford was still part of the county of Essex. It became part of Greater London a few years later. However I can still call myself an Essex boy with pride, if pride be the right word to associate with what is a rather pejorative term in the eyes of many - An ill educated wide boy in ostentatious clothing undertaking a range of semi legal activities - the hell with the snobs I say.

A fair few inhabitants do live up to the stereotype and parts of the County are not exactly scenic, the “Thames Corridor” from Thurrock to Southend on Sea (aka Saarfend on Sludge) being a case in point, but I think Essex is much maligned .

Those who run Essex down will not get to see some of the county’s gems and that is their loss. If you are interested in history then Essex has a lot to offer. Of particular interest to me are three of the most unusual churches in England:

St Peter’s Chapel, Bradwell on Sea

Snuggling under the shadow of a decommissioned nuclear power station St Peter’s is the oldest church in England having been built by St Cedd on the ruins of the Roman fort of Othona in 654CE. It fell into disuse as a place of worship in the 14th century and was used as a barn until its reconsecration as a chapel in 1920. It may not be a particularly grand building but there is no other completely Saxon building left in England

St Andrews, Greensted

Greensted church is a strange mix of architectural styles with a 17th century tower, and a Tudor chancel. However, the most striking feature is the wooden nave. The church is an example of a Saxon palisade church and it is the oldest wooden church in the world, and the oldest wooden building still standing in Europe.

St Michael and all the Angels, Copford

The raising of Jairus

From the outside the church does not look particularly special but inside its walls portray some of the few frescoes to survive the iconoclasm of the English Reformation.

Painted over with a lime wash in the 1540s the frescoes were uncovered again in the 1870s. Sadly the Rector at the time had many of the frescoes over-painted to give them a Pre Raphaelite style and his use of the wrong type of plaster has effectively destroyed much of the original artwork. That said there are some original works including one depicting New Testament story of Jesus the daughter of Jairus. While they are of course rather faded they are impressive.

Other people may prefer the awesome splendour of the mediaeval cathedral but these churches are well worth visiting whether you are religious or (like me) an atheist.

Curious Covers 1: Judas Priest - Diamonds and Rust

This is British HM Band Judas Priest covering Joan Baez's Diamonds and Rust. Unlike some of their songs other no rednecks are known to have committed suicide as a result but perahps a number of Baez fans shot themselves!

22 June 2006

Crab Spider

Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) on a rose in my garden

More garden pics to follow on Plant Porn in due course

Alison Lapper Pregnant

Marc Quinn’s statue of the artist Alison Lapper currently occupies the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Originally intended for a statue of King William IV (1830-37) which was never made, the plinth remained empty until recent years. It is now used to showcase outstanding examples of modern sculpture.

Although the statue may appear is a shade incongruous resting as it does in a square overshadowed by Nelson’s column and accompanied by an equestrian statue of one of our poorer monarchs and a pair of forgotten 19th century generals it remains a work of outstanding power and beauty.

It will be replaced next year by another statue. I hope that it finds a good home in a major public gallery when it leaves Trafalgar Square.

THe photograpsh were taken this afternoon. I will post some more shortly on Plant Porn and Pussycats

20 June 2006

Holidays and big boobed mountains

I am very grateful to my parents for my childhood summer holidays in Ireland. We would be packed off to Millstreet in County Cork( the village my mum comes from) a few days after school ended for the year. We would not come back until just before the new school year started. For a child brought up before the days of video games etc it was a great place to holiday, the only downside being that it rained a lot.

Millstreet is overshadowed by Claragh Mountain (at 1500 feet a mere bump for those living in countries that have real mountains!), the first in the small range, the Derrynasaggarts, that stretches west to Killarney. Beyond Claragh is Caherbanagh, the tallest point in County Cork and then further on the Paps (aka the Paps of Anu , the maiden aspect of the Celtic earth mother goddess) a pair of peaks that as you can see look like a pair of breasts..

The word pap is an old word for nipple and just to confirm how appropriate the name is, each peak has a prehistoric cairn at the summit. Websites stress the mystical and religioussignificance of the Paps to the ancient Irish and perhaps they are right. The Area is extremely rich in prehistoric sites including the Knocknakilla and Glantane stone circles, ring forts, and standing stones. None may be as impressive as say Avebury, Stonehenge or Carnac but they are impressive in their own way and I am sure the ancient Irish held the Paps in reverence.

On the other hand I am sure that more than a few prehistoric teenagers would snigger at the site of mountainous boobs in the same way as I did when younger:

“Hey Buttvoc, check it out. Those mountains look like boobs, huh huh, huh huh. Huh huh. Huh huh”

“huh huh, huh huh. BOOBS, Bivus, BOOBS!!”

19 June 2006

Where the Wild Roses Grow Nick Cave with Kylie Minogue

From Nick Cave's excellent "Murder Ballands"

18 June 2006

I Love --------

Nico Rahim has posted a thought provoking article on Dionysus Unemployed. Here is an extract.

“I love the United States of America. I love the people, I love the land. I love that I can say “Fuck George W. Bush!” in print or in the streets without finding my life in grave danger or imprisoned for my political views (at least long term, police like handing charges for disorderly conduct that require a petty fine). Sure, I might be put on a government list and illegally wiretapped, but try telling Hu Jintao to fuck off in Beijing or Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, you’ll be liable to get run over by a tank and erased from history.

…to many self-proclaimed radicals my professed love for the United States may be taken as a betrayal to any sort of revolutionary movement. Just as you can’t choose your family, you cannot choose the country you are born into.. I’m an American. Sure, I may have an Arab last name but a denial of country—while not being a total denial of self—would be a denial of my history. …There are many skeletons in American history, but at least most are not in the closet. I will not say no to the past but say yes to the present. There is no point to history other than what we make of it…. it is up to each generation to overcome the transgressions of the past.”

These are not the words of a flag waving conservative but of a radical. Not everyone will feel the same of course but it demonstrates that criticism and desire for change is not necessarily based on hate for one’s country but on love and a true wish to create a better nation that does nor repeat the iniquities of its past. “No shit, Sherlock?” Am I stating the blindingly obvious as is my wont? Perhaps, but this motive is ignored by many on both the left and the right.

I am not American but change a few details: Bush to Blair; American to British and Arab surname to Irish one and you sum up many of my views on the United Kingdom. There is no hiding the UK’s sordid and bloody past - Imperialism, slavery, and genocide to name a few. Just about the only untrue charge levelled against my country is that we invented the concentration camp. In fact the Spanish beat us to that by a few years, not that this is any comfort of course to the thousands of Boers and Africans who died in British concentration camps.

I am also Irish: my parents are Irish born and raised; my ancestors are Irish; I also hold an Irish passport. British rule in Ireland was far from benevolent (a massive understatement!) but it does not make me hate Britain. I would no more condone the acts of terrorism committed by the IRA than I would the 7/7 suicide bombers. The IRA bombing campaigns from the 70s to the latter 90s did nothing whatsoever to right historical wrongs or to bring forward Irish unification.

As Nico Rahim says,” it us up to the current generation to overcome past transgressions”. We Britons cannot change our history but we can at least make some restitution for past iniquities by working to ensure Britain’s future, and its role on the world stage, is very different.

Ve Haf Vays of Making you Coffee

In these days of extraordinary rendition and the like the intelligence community might wish to take a note of how intelligence was gathered in the past. Today’s Observer carries a story about German interrogation techniques in WWI. Did this involve thumbscrews and beatings? According to military historian Christopher Duffy, a cordial welcome, cigarettes and a chat about mutual acquaintances, helped to elicit crucial information from British soldiers taken captive during the Battle of the Somme.

Duffy said: 'The Germans had a tremendous advantage in their knowledge of Britain. Many had been there, they were fascinated by Britain so when they received British PoWs, they could talk to them about landmarks and perhaps mutual acquaintances. 'The British expected to be beaten and shot, instead the initial questioning was very mild and persuasive. The Germans were interested in building up a picture of what made the British tick. They asked some initial questions, then gave the prisoner a coffee and cigar, then turned the conversation to militarily irrelevant details. In this relaxed stage, a lot of military information did leak out.'

Colonel Nicolai, the head of German military intelligence, described the British officer as 'a model of silence yet, Duffy found, almost every prisoner ended up revealing valuable information. Few resisted the German request to fill in a card to be dispatched to their families at home. None grasped that the Germans wanted to learn about all aspects of British life, from relations within the army and between the allies to conditions inside Britain, from tensions in Ireland and India to long-term predictions for the war.

For example, one Lieutenant Harvey was convinced he had never given away any secret of value, yet from him the Germans learnt of reinforcements for the 48th (South Midland) Division, heavy losses among the Australians at Pozieres, and the officers' estimates of British losses in the opening phase of the Battle of the Somme

However, what German intelligence mainly learnt from the questioning did not please them. At the end of 1916, the Germans summed up, the British were surprisingly confident of winning and were proud of what they achieved on the Somme.

17 June 2006

Blocking a Wonder Drug?

Again from the Guardian is a story about a major drug company blocking access to a medicine that is cheaply and effectively saving thousands of people from going blind because it wants to launch a more expensive product on the market. Greed speaks for itself

Ophthalmologists, on their own initiative, are injecting tiny quantities of a colon cancer drug called Avastin into the eyes of patients with wet macular degeneration, a common condition of older age that can lead to severely impaired eyesight and blindness. They report remarkable success at very low cost because one phial can be split and used for dozens of patients.

Genentech, the company that invented Avastin, does not want it used in this way. Instead it is applying to license a fragment of Avastin, called Lucentis, which is packaged in the tiny quantities suitable for eyes at a higher cost. Speculation in the US suggests it could cost £1,000 per dose instead of less than £10. The company says Lucentis is specifically designed for eyes, with modifications over Avastin, and has been through 10 years of testing to prove it is safe.

Unless Avastin is approved in the UK by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) it will not be universally available within the NHS. But because Genentech declines to apply for a licence for this use of Avastin, Nice cannot consider it. In spite of the growing drugs bill of the NHS, it will appraise, and probably approve, Lucentis next year.

Avastin was first used on human eyes by Philip Rosenfeld, an ophthalmologist in the US, who was aware of animal studies carried out by Genentech that showed potential in eye conditions. This unlicensed use of Avastin has spread across continents entirely by word of mouth from one doctor to another. It has now been injected into 7,000 eyes, with considerable success. Professor Rosenfeld has published his results and a website has been launched in the US to collate the experiences of doctors from around the world. But although the evidence is good, regulators require randomised controlled trials before they grant licences, which generally only the drug companies can afford to carry out.

Prof Rosenfeld said the real issue was drug company profits. "This truly is a wonder drug," he said. "This shows both how good they [the drug companies] are and on the flip side, how greedy they are." He would like to see governments fund clinical trials of drugs such as Avastin in the public interest.

15 June 2006

Charles Haughey

This week saw the death aged 80 of Charles Haughey, one of the most controversial figures to hold the position of Taoiseach (Prime Minister). Although he helped lay the foundations of Ireland’s economic surge he was a man who was equally loved and loathed: Set out below are exracts from obituaries from Irish Independent and the Belfast Telegraph:

From A Legacy of Contrast (Irish Independent)

CHARLES J HAUGHEY has died after a protracted struggle against illness which he fought with typical style and courage. The controversies which surrounded him, and which he often provoked, are still current. His place in history is already the subject, not so much of speculation as of rival but confident assertions. In the immediate aftermath of his death, his career must be assessed and an attempt made to analyse his character, his achievements and failures, and the likely verdict of history. For 30 years, he was one of the most prominent, one of the most capable - and one of the most dazzling - figures in Irish politics. For much of the period, he dominated the scene.

He has left behind him a legacy of concrete achievement. He improved the lot of pensioners. He did admirable work for the arts. He introduced the Succession Bill, which ended the injustices previously inflicted upon widows. This man is remembered by many for his imagination and compassion yet his flaws made themselves apparent from the very beginning of his political career.

In 1970 he made a colossal error of judgment. His involvement in the Arms Crisis seemed to have destroyed his career. But with ruthless perseverance he fought his way back and beat George Colley in the leadership contest of 1979. He then went on to survive no fewer than three major attempts to overthrow him.

When forced out of office, he left with dignity. But there was no dignity in the events that followed. Piece by piece, the story emerged of how he had financed his grandiose lifestyle. It is a shameful story. This man, who thought himself a superior being, had lived on secret handouts from a golden circle. And that is infinitely sad. Charles J Haughey was a man of whom his country should have been proud. We are mourning a man of enormous ability. We should be mourning a man of integrity.

Let the many fine things he did stand on the record. But our country, as a country, cannot blink the dark side of the register. His flaws were deep, his errors harmful. We tolerated them. And we are left with a disturbing thought. How much more might he have achieved if he had had as much probity as talent?

From Haughey a man of tarnished reputation (the Belfast Telegraph)

Time will tell whether Bertie Ahern (the current Taoiseach) is correct in his assessment that the ultimate judgment on Charles Haughey will be a positive one. In death, as in life, he has sharply divided opinion among the political parties in Northern Ireland.Unionists never forgave Mr Haughey for his infamous description of Northern Ireland as "a failed political entity", while nationalists credited him with laying the groundwork for the peace process. He was a roguish charmer but in the final analysis he was a fatally flawed character.

The son of a Co Londonderry IRA man, the devious Mr Haughey was never far from political, personal or financial controversy. By rights, his Fianna Fail career should have been over in 1970 when he was charged with conspiring to import arms for the Provisional IRA. Mr Haughey was acquitted and made one of the most dramatic comebacks in Irish political history, going on to serve as Taoiseach in three Dails. But the Arms Trial left an indelible stain on his character as far as unionists were concerned.

Despite his hardline approach, Mr Haughey managed to develop an initial rapport with Margaret Thatcher in the late 1980s. The relationship was derailed by Mrs Thatcher's firm stance on the hunger strike and the Falklands War, but arguably the seeds of a new Anglo-Irish understanding had been sown. For all that, the antagonistic Mr Haughey was not someone with whom unionists could have done business. His successors, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern, have shown a much greater empathy with unionist sensitivities. For too many years, Mr
Haughey displayed an ambivalent attitude towards militant republicanism, something which can be seen as one of the factors which delayed the day when the IRA finally accepted that violence was not the answer.

In the Republic, Mr Haughey helped to turn the economy round with a number of reforms, which helped create the right conditions for the Celtic Tiger boom. But his personal standing was diminished when it emerged that the Taoiseach who had urged people to tighten their belts was himself enjoying an extravagant personal life.

Mr Haughey was a complex character who inspired a love-hate relationship among the people of Ireland. He was a man of ambition and ability but he cut so many corners that his integrity was undermined. Those who pay tribute to him at his State funeral should be measured in their praise.

14 June 2006

Good(ish) News

On 23 May I posted and item about the campaign to save Naznin Mahabad Fatehi, an 18-year old Iranian girl sentenced to death for killing a man who ambushed and tried to rape her.

There is some good news: According to the Save Nazanin website, her death sentence has been commuted by Ayatollah Shahroudi (the Head of Judiciary). A retrial has been announced and Nazanin's case will be sent to a lower court for further investigation.

Nazanin is not out of the woods yet: there is a chance that she will be sentenced to death once again but the important thing for now is that Nazanin will not be executed in the near future.

Ted and Bebe

Ted, the younger of our two male cats

Bebe, the older of our two female cats

12 June 2006

Amnesty on China's Arms Exports

Yesterday Amnesty International released a report showing how Chinese weapons have helped sustain brutal conflicts, criminal violence and other grave human rights violations in countries such as Sudan, Nepal, Myanmar and South Africa. This report is carried by the BBC and in today’s Independent.

In addition to selling major conventional weapons including tanks and ballistic missiles, China sells substantial amounts of small arms and security equipment to armies and police forces. The total value of its arms exports is approximately $1bn a year.

"China's arms exports policy is reckless and dangerous, paying no heed to human rights," said Amnesty International's UK director, Kate "In a bid to continue economic expansion and grab a slice of the lucrative global weapons market, China has shipped arms into conflict zones and to countries that torture and repress their people.

Since it entered the global arms market 20 years ago, China has supplied an arsenal of military, security and police equipment to countries with a record of human rights violations. In particular, Amnesty criticizes China’s supply of military equipment to Sudan despite well-documented and widespread killings, rapes and abductions by government forces and its militia in Darfur. In Nepal, China has supplied small arms and light weapons to the armed forces, which have been responsible for much of the killings and torture, often of civilians.

Chinese authorities consider the Amnesty report to be baseless. In today’s Xinhua Teng Jianqun, a researcher with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, stated that China has always put its limited arms export under strict control and surveillance, denouncing Amnesty International's slams on China's arms trade as irresponsible and groundless.

Much attention has been focused in recent months on China's role in selling arms and technology usable in nuclear weapons to Iran, a long-time ally and trading partner. China has been linked to sales of high-quality uranium gas to Tehran for an enrichment programme which could eventually produce nuclear weapons. Amnesty said it is not just major weapons of mass destruction that are the problem and it is the weaponry on a smaller scale that is contributing to a worsening human rights situation.

China’s contribution to the arms trade may still be rather smaller than other nations but it is clear that it is showing all of the amorality that goes with that business. Should I be surprised? Of course not! When a repressive nation such as China gets its snout into the trough of international trade there is no reason to expect it to play with a “straight bat”.

11 June 2006

Guantanamo Suicides

Colleen Graffey the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy displayed astonishing callousness when she described the suicides of three detainees at Guantanamo Bay as a "good PR move to draw attention". Speaking to the BBC she stated that the deaths were part of a strategy and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause" and that the men did not value their lives nor the lives of those around them.

Meanwhile, Base Commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris stated that he believed that “this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."

These are the first successful suicides since the Camp was opened over four years ago although there have been dozens of previous attempts. Rather than a calculated statement it is far more likely that they were driven by despair. Whether guilty of terrorist acts or not, years of incarceration without the prospect of trial or release are likely to drive a person to despair.

Having said that, the suicides will almost certainly lead to more calls for the closure of the detention camp. The US Government must heed these calls and act appropriately: Indefinite detention without trial would be utterly unacceptable if the camp was on the mainland. Despite what the inmates may or may not have done they deserve due process.

Cum the Revolution? Guevara as condom salesman

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is currently hosting a major exhibition that deals with Ghe Guevara as revolutionary and icon . As expected there have already been numerous reviews including this one in today’s Observer.

Alberto Korda’s 1960 photograph, Guerrillero Heroico, became an icon for revolutionary youth after Guevara’s death in Bolivia in 1967 finding its way on to t shirts, posters and badges and becoming at once a testament to a martyr and a symbol of hope for the future - an apotheosis if you will. Ever since, his deeds have been romanticized by leftist hagiographers. Even this week George Galloway writes the following in this week’s New Statesman:

“In his life, he set a model of the self-sacrifice that he held central to the creation of a new society.. He could have remained a revered leader of the revolution, facing the arduous task of constructing a society in the face of US aggression. Che chose instead to return to the perils of guerrilla life…And that, surely, explains why there is a resurgence of interest in, and affection for, Che. It is a manifestation of this renewed stirring of revolt - another generation standing up to imperialist savagery, articulating fresh hopes for a world of equality and justice. I hope these young people find in him what I do - that rarest of things: an inexhaustible source of inspiration, someone who did not simply theorise social change, but actually brought it about.”

Fine words indeed had Che been a success. However, his incompetence as President of the National Bank of Cuba and Minister of Industries and the abject failure of his activities in the Congo and Bolivia paint a very different picture.

It is therefore quite ironic that such an implacable enemy of capitalism has been transformed into a shill for any tawdry product you can imagine: In Spain he is emblazoned on a cigarette packet, in Mexico on a textured condom. In Australia his face is used to sell a brand of choc ice called Cherry Guevara. A cherry replaces his beret's star and a caption on the wrapper proclaims: 'The revolutionary struggle of the cherries was squashed as they were trapped between two layers of chocolate.'

The Korda image of Che is Christ-like. Perhaps this is why the British Church Action Network used a pastiche of the baby Jesus in a Guevara pose to try and dispel the image of Jesus as a “wimp in a white nigthie”

Guevara was pretty much a failure as a revolutionary but he has left a powerful image as his legacy. Despite what George Galloway and his like might have to say its greatest strength now seems to be as an advertising brand rather than as a beacon for revolution… Oh the irony!

10 June 2006

More Flower and Cat Pictures

After a pretty wet May the sun is out with a vengeance and the temperature is in the upper 20s (low/mid 80s in Farenheit). As a result the garden is blooming with a vengeance. I took these photos this morning. The colours are as is but I have cropped a couple of the pictures a little. Even the common flowers like the Nigella add charm and since they self seed everywhere we save on new purchases (we do that anyway by growing most things from seed now).

Abutilon flowers

Nigella aka Love in a Mist

Malve Silvestris - Mallow

Mimi our youngest cat

Americans in the SS

Compared with what is now available on the British Free Corps (BFC) there is a dearth of information on the Americans who fought for Germany in WWII. Frustrating as this is , what little there is out there is still quite interesting

There is no reliable estimate of the number of Americans who fought for the Reich. Marcus Wendel’s excellent Axis History Factbook notes that in 1940 there were five US citizens in the Waffen SS in May 1940 and at least eight Americans died in its service during the war. Only two Americans are named Martin Monti and Peter Delaney. Both served in the journalism unitSS Standarte Kurt Eggers and Delaney appears to have been killed in 1945.

There is more information about Martin Monti . A lieutenant in the USAAF, Monti was also a hard line catholic who viewed the Reich as the bastion against communism. In 1944 he deserted his unit in India and made his way to Italy where he was able to take an F5 (a reconnaissance version of the P38 Lightning fighter) and fly it to Milan which was still in Axis hands. He ultimately gained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Kurt Eggers unit and broadcast on Italian fascist radio.

After the war Monti was initially tried only for theft of the aircraft and after a sentence of hard labour he was able to rejoin the newly formed USA, finally leaving 1948. It was only after this that he was arrested and convicted for treason. Sentenced to 25 years in prison he was paroled in 1960.

A post on a militaria forum lists 7 American citizens who gained officer rank in the SS

Hstuf (Captain). Josef Awender, a medical doctor in the “Frundsberg” born in Philadelphia in 1913,
Ustuf (2nd Lieutenant). Robert Beimes, a signal officer in the “Hitler Jugend” born in San Francisco in 1919, whose father was a translator in the SD,
Ustuf. Dr. Hans Eckert, born in Buffalo, NY in 1917 and assigned to the SS hospital at Dachau in November 1944,
Ostubaf (Lt Colonel) . Viktor Fehsenfeld, born in Elk Rapids, Michigan in 1984 and an administrative officer in the SS-WVHA,
Hstuf. Franz Stark, born in St. Louis in 1901 and assigned to the SD,
Hstuf. Eldon Walli, born in New York City in 1913 in the SS-Kriegsberichter
Abteilung (war reporters)
Hstuf. Paul Winckler-Theede, born in New York City in 1912 and who was a military judge in the “Das Reich” division.

It is claimed that their records are available in the Berlin Document Centre. Whether this is true or not I have no idea. There is no indication whether these had renounced their citizenship before joining the SS or if they were tried after the war.

There are rumours of an American SS unit called either the American Free Corps or the George Washington Brigade. However, this appears to be just a rumour and there is no evidence whatsoever the Germans attempted to recruit American POWs for a waffen SS unit

It is a shame that little research has been done on this subject. Perhaps a historian will take it up at some stage. There is rather more information on the Americans who broadcast for Germany and Japan during WWII and I will probably talk about them at a later date

08 June 2006

Copperhead Road

I love this song but this is being posted to test if Blogger is up and working. Meanwhile, enjoy!

05 June 2006

Letting the Side Down British Traitors of WWII

I have just finished Sean Murphy’s excellent Letting the Side Down which is the first book ever to attempts to cover the full range of treachery and collaboration perpetrated by Britons during WWII.

Most people here in the UK could name Lord HawHaw (aka William Joyce who was actually American.); a few could name John Amery the son of hLeopold Amery a member of Churchill’s wartime cabinet, and some will know of the British Free Corps, the tiny SS unit created in 1944. In fact there were around 200 Britons collaborated with the Reich WWII, a figure which excludes the Channel Isles the only British soil to come under German occupation.

Archibald Ramsay

The book commences with a brief account of the pre war fascists and Nazi supporters including, of course, Oswald Mosley,Archibald Ramsay, the Conservative MP who was interned after the Tyler Kent Affair and who conducted parliamentary business from Prison, Lord Londonderry and Unity Mitford. Less well known though were the pre war spies like Jessie Jordan, the Dundee hairdresser, and Joseph Kelly the labourer who tried to sell the plans of an ordnance factory to the Germans but got 10 years hard labour for his troubles.

The wartime penalties for pro German activity were far harsher: Rex Freeman, a railway worker and BUF (British Union of Fascists) member was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for printing and distributing stick labels that advertised the frequency the New British Broadcasting Service, a German propaganda station. Duncan Scott- Ford, a merchant seaman, was executed for passing on shipping information to the Germans in Lisbon while George Armstrong paid the ultimate price merely for writing to the German Consul in Boston offering to place himself at the disposal of the Reich.

William Joyce

Dozens of Britons made broadcasts for german radio during WWII. William Joyce is well known. Less well known is Norman Baillie Stewart who had gained notoriety pre war for passing secrets to Germany and perhaps was the person for whom the title Lord Haw haw was actually invented. Joyce and Baillie Stewart acted of their own volition, others were coerced: The actor Jack Trevor (real name Anthony Steane) and Ralph Powell, nephew of Lord Baden Powell both claimed to have made broadcasts after substantial threats from the Gestapo.

PG Wodehouse who had been interned after the fall of France also made a number of innocuous broadcasts intended for his American following. While this act generated a considerable amount of hostility in Britain it was accepted that his actions were naïve rather than malicious. In the end the worst penalty he faced was being denied a knighthood until just before his death in 1975.

BFC recruiting poster used in POW and internment camps

Perhaps one of the most squalid events was the creation of the British Free Corps more for propaganda value than anything else. The brainchild of John Amery, it was created in January 1944 and attracted from the British and Commonwealth POW population a motley crew of Nazi sympathisers, anti communists, and opportunists looking for an easier life with access to alcohol and women. Later in its existence the ranks were supplemented by a number of POWs who had committed offences (mainly consorting with German women) and were given the option of joining the BFC as an alternative to prison or the firing squad. 55 people passed through the BFC during its history but it never once reached the critical figure of 30 members. At this point it would have become an active unit and pressed into combat. While one or two members may have seen some combat in the final stages of the war the BFC was an utter failure - Its propaganda value was negligible, its fighting capabilities were less. I will write at greater length about the BFC in a future post.

BFC members Kenneth Berry (left) and Alfred Minchin (Centre) in uniform

Sean Murphy lists also the activities of Theodore Schurch who was hanged for Treachery, Thomas Cooper, the only Briton to receive a German combat decoration and Harold Cole who was perhaps the very worst traitor of all. Abandoned in France by the British Expeditionary Force after being imprisoned for theft, Cole become involved in running escape lines for other British and commonwealth servicemen. Ultimately,however, he betrayed the organisation to the Gestapo, an act that led to the death of approximately 50 of his former comrades. For this he would almost certainly have hanged had he not been killed in a shoot out with French police after the end of the war.

After the war the many of the traitors were put on trial. Amery and Joyce were executed for treason. Four Britons were executed for treachery. Thomas Cooper was one of two others sentenced to death but their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Others received a range of sentences from Life imprisonment to a few months imprisonment. Others still, including Ralph Powell, escaped punishment.

The actual damage done to the Allied war effort by these traitors was negligible but had Britain been overrun during WWII we would have seen collaboration on the scale seen in other occupied countries. The Final Solution would have wiped out the Jewish population and the size of the BFC that would certainly have fought on the Eastern Front would have been in the order of thousands. It is perhaps very fortunate that so few Britons in WWII were given the opportunity to play on the Nazi team.

For further Reading

Adrian Weale’s Superb Renegades: Hitler’s Englishmen is essential reading

There are numerous BFC related sites on the internet including This (although currently under reconstruction) and This I cannot vouch for the political orientation of some of the sites out there

The memoirs of one former member of the BFC were published posthumously. Hitler's Bastard by Eric Pleasants. Pleasants escaped punishment after the war on account that he had been been imprisoned as a spy by the Soviets. It was considered that he had been punished enough for his actions.

Stephens Study Room has a wealth of information on the trials of Joyce, Amery,
Cooper et al and is well worth a visit

Finally the transcripts of P G Wodehouse’s broadcasts can be read Here

04 June 2006

Will Common Sense Prevail?

Moving away again from music and back to matters Iranian, today’s Observer carried a report which indicated that Iran may be backing away from a confrontation with America and Europe over its nuclear programme: senior officials and politicians in Tehran said yesterday that proposals put forward last week might form the basis for negotiation. Iranian television reported that President Ahmadinejad had told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that a deal was feasible, provided Tehran kept a minimum right to atomic energy.

Meanwhile, the EU foreign affairs chief, Javier Solana, is due to arrive in Tehran shortly to hand a new negotiating offer which is backed by all major Western powers. Details of the deal have not been made public, but it is believed to include massive assistance with a civilian nuclear programme and a series of major trade concessions.

Here’s hoping something good comes out of this. I will certainly be keeping my fingers crossed.

Robyn Hitchcock- De Chirico Street

This video is on Youtube features Robyn Hitchcock and violinist Deni Bonet performing the song De Chirico Street which originally apeared on his 1996 album Moss Elixir. The video is taken from Deni Bonet's public access show Duets with Deni.

03 June 2006

Shirin Ebadi and Reza Aslan

Continuing with the Iranian theme there were two items of particular interest in today’s papers. The Guardian carries an article by Reza Aslan entitled “A Giant Awakes” while the Independent carries an article about Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi

Nobel Prize winner accuses US of double standards over Iran

Shirin Ebadi is currently in London to promote her memoir Iran Awakening in which she intendeds to show correct Western stereotypes of Islam, especially the image of Muslim women as "docile, forlorn creatures”..

Mrs Ebadi wishes to see an advanced and open democracy established in Iran even though she has few illusions about it happening. She argues that this is the way to end the standoff between Iran and the West over her country's nuclear programme. "No government needs nuclear weapons, neither Iran nor America. The Iranian government claims they want a peaceful use, but the world does not accept this," she says. Therefore, if the Iranian government wants the world to trust it, it must establish a more advanced democracy at home. She believes the first step towards this must be the abolition of the Guardian Council, the religious body that vets political candidates and which barred many pro-reform politicians from running in the 2004 parliamentary election and the presidential polls last year.

Despite being viewed as an American Stooge in Iran (qv) Shirin Ebadi is highly critical of the Bush administration’s double standards over the Iran Nuclear programme:

"America says that Iran would pose a threat if it gains access to nuclear weapons because it is not a democratic country, and because its government is fundamentalist, and this could pose a danger to the whole region," she says. "But America has forgotten that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and Pakistani Muslims are much more fundamentalist than Iranian Muslims, and Pervez Musharraf [the Pakistan President] did not come to power as a result of an election. The only difference between Iran and Pakistan is that Pakistan is friendly towards America and obeys America, while Iran does not obey America. This double standard is something that the Iranian people cannot understand."

A giant awakes

Reza Aslan, a scholar of comparative religion and the author of "No god but God - The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam." Argues that Iran’s position in the Middle East has hardly been stronger and that this is due primarily to the recent American foreign policy.
The removal of the Taliban and Saddam has effectively eliminated Iran’s two nearest enemies and has allowed it to secure its interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through its ties with Hizbullah, Iran has also managed to fill the vacuum left by Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. At the same time it has taken advantage of the cut in international funding to the Palestinian authority to make up its economic shortfall, giving it a firmer foothold in the Palestinian territories.

He argues that those who imagine that bombing Iran would lead to regime change are displaying an utter ignorance of the Iranian mindset:. Unlike Iraq, which is in many ways an artificial state, Iranians, whle fragmented in other ways, are united by a distinct sense of nationalism that transcends politics or piety. The surefire way to rally the people of Iran behind a much despised regime would indeed be to drop bombs on the country

Although Iran may never have had such influence in the region it is in many ways a disunited nation: many Iranians, including some powerful conservatives, are incensed with the way negotiations with Europe have broken down under the leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The merchant class is up in arms at the prospect of suffering even greater international isolation while the prominent cleric and politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has gone so far as to publicly denounce the president (something unheard of in Iranian politics) for essentially destroying any hope Iran may have had to pursue its nuclear research in peace. In the meantime, the chorus of voices in Iran calling for a negotiated settlement is growing louder by the day.

These differences would be cast aside the moment the first American bomb lands on Iranian soil. Political dissent would be stifled and the regime given unchecked wartime authority to do whatever it thought best to "protect" the country. Already those activists, like the Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who call for an end to the nuclear showdown with the west, have been labelled American stooges and possible threats to Iran's national security.

Mr Aslan argues that the way forward for US-Iranian relations would be to put in place a package of security guarantees and economic incentives in exchange for international cooperation with its civilian nuclear programme, i.e. what is being offered to North Korea. He argues that despite its unsavoury influences Iran is no longer a rogue state teetering on the brink of a popular revolt. For better or worse, Iran is now a sturdy and stable political powerhouse in an increasingly volatile region. It is long past time for the Bush administration to begin treating it as such.

If the US can put aside its ideological reservations and confront Iran the way it confronted the Soviet Union and China - with an aggressive policy of interdependent trade relations in the hope that economic growth will foster democratic change - it could do so much more than reign in Iran's nuclear ambitions. By forcing the country out of its isolation and giving Iranians access to the global market, the US could achieve the very regime change it has been striving for all these years.

Iranian Art - Minoo Emami

From Minoo's war gallery

A week or so ago I wrote about Elahe Heidari and the impact her work has had on me. Minoo Emami's work has very much the same effect.

Like Elahe, Minoo lives and works in Tehran. She is a highly regarded artist who has exhibited extensively both in Iran and abroad. Again I can thank Redwine for drawing my attention to her work.

In particular I was (and still am) blown away by her war galleries which were inspired by the personal consequences of the Iran-Iraq war, an eight year long conflict started by Saddam which cost over one million lives. For me the images of false limbs and combat fatigues are in their own way as damning an indictment of war as the poetry of Wilfred Owen.

Once again Minoo reminds us of that we should not just dwell on what is produced by American or European artists. There is an enormous wealth of talent elsewhere in the world.

Click here to access Minoo's website

02 June 2006

Lynching Amnesty Over the Death Penalty

Earlier in the week I posted “All roads must lead to Euston” from Nick Cohen’s Observer column (scroll down my blog). I was quite pleased to receive comments from Crowsdell who put forward some very valid concerns about aspects of the Euston Manifesto. In one of his posts he pointed to an article on the Harry's Place . Quoting analysis undertaken by Brett Lock
the author proceeds to lambast Amnesty International for lumping the USA along with Saudi Arabia, China and Iran as the world’s top executioners in 2005.

According to the author, Brett Lock shows that if the bald figures are analysed, then the per capita death penalty rate in the USA is not only much lower than the other three states listed but also many other nations that executed criminals last year

The author also points out that the USA does not execute people for political dissent, or for minor crimes as other executing nations and casts doubts on the reliability of the Amnesty’s statistics given that while the USA is open about the number of people it kills other nations are not so forthcoming.

In addition the author puts forward the idea that Amnesty ".. can’t be seen to be condemning gross human rights violations anywhere without having a dig at the US too" as possible reason then quotes a section of the Euston Manifesto which berates the left’s tendency to portray lesser abuses with far greater abuses elsewhere including a reference to an earlier statement from Amnesty where Guantanamo was equated to the Soviet gulags.

I have read this article several times and as someone who analyses figures for a living I know full well that raw figures can be misleading. Looking at the Amnesty report (see below for link) it is also clear that by far and away the biggest executor is China and that the figures provided for this country and others may well be considerably understated. All in all the author of the Harry’s Place article may have a point and including the USA in with the worst offenders may indeed be an exercise in America bashing on Amnesty’s part………..

And then one has to consider that Amnesty is using the best available figures and while it admits they may not tell the full story, the USA is the fourth biggest executor on the planet (60 executions, number three was Saudi Arabia with 86 while Pakistan was at number five with 31). While that does equate to a far lower execution rate than other nations and it is very true that the USA does not execute political prisoners, petty criminals or gays, the fact remains that the USA, (the same applies to Japan too) is utterly out of step with other developed nations by retaining and using the death penalty.

While it was certainly ill advised to equate Guantanamo, bad as it is, with the horrors of Gulag I feel that all Amnesty has done here is to stop its list of worst offenders at number four which happens to be the USA. Neither Brett Lock nor the Harry’s Place author seem to consider is that if the USA did not execute people it would not be on that list in the first place!

Not to condemn one nation for committing an act yet condemning another nation for doing so is akin to the cultural relativism that is quite rightly opposed in the Euston Manifesto.

I do not support the gratuitous condemnation of the USA that is spouted by all too many fellow leftists. However, I utterly the oppose use of the death penalty and the USA is to be condemned on this point and in no way gives other executing nations a get out of jail free card.

Death Penalty in 2005 Amnesty International

Getting on the Not Wife's Good Side

the not-wife as Waterhouse's Ophelia accompanied by her dark minions Robyn and Ted

Five years ago I was at a loss as to what to buy the not-wife for her birthday. A good friend Suzy, a muralist who lives on the Wirral, came to my rescue by offering to do a portrait of her as Waterhouse's Ophelia, an excellent choice given the not-wife's love of the Pre-raphaelite style. The not-wife was delighted and I earned quite a few brownie points!

Suzy and I remain great friends and I look forward to attending her wedding next year. In the meantime it that time of year when I have to think what to offer the not wife as a birthday present. Not being able to top the portrait, it looks like greenhouse staging this time around......

the Waterhouse original