Monday, 27 December 2010

it should have been him

all I can say really, and repost John Rentoul, as follows:

My entry for Embittered Plonker (I think it means Blairite) of the Year is my essay on the uninevitability of politics in The Independent on Sunday today, in which I take a sideswipe at James Callaghan.
It is written in praise of Alan Johnson, He Who Should Have Been Prime Minister, and in mourning for his fatal modesty, which means that he is not prime minister and someone else, who is no better than him but who possesses vast self-confidence, is.
It identifies 6 January as the fulcrum of the year (although the idea of great determining turning points is, I suppose, part of the inevitablism against which I inveigh): the moment when Gordon Brown could and should have been replaced as prime minister by AJ.
But the testing moment for AJ came seven months earlier, in June 2009, at the time of James Purnell’s resignation. That was never likely to trigger Brown’s fall, as I have argued before, because it would have been hard to resist the pressure for an early election, which Labour MPs did not want.
AJ himself gave an on-the-record interview to Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge for their Brown At 10 (page 273):
Johnson was sitting on the front bench during PMQs. Before Brown began speaking, he thought to himself, ‘I might be taking Prime Minister’s Questions next week,’ as he was the current front-runner to succeed Brown. The idea was not unappealing to him as an ambitious man who enjoyed the limelight. He thought very seriously about throwing his hat into the ring. Aspects of the job of prime minister appealed greatly to him. So why did he pull back? His own explanation is that he was so impressed by Brown’s bravura performance that day at PMQs that he was left wondering whether he could match that level. To clear his mind, he wandered up and down Victoria Street, thrashing out his options. His conclusion was that he did not believe he could do it, so decided he would continue to support Brown’s premiership … ‘I remember thinking about Gordon in action during the financial crisis and thinking, “Could I really do that?”‘
To which, of course, the right answer was Yes. And it is very great shame that AJ did not reverse the decision to which he came on that walk up and down Victoria Street.

Saturday, 25 December 2010


the news values behind this? The latest columnist for the Reading Chronicle is - Mr Salter.  From Australia.  About his harbourside flat in Sydney and his lucrative new career (he says) as a travel and fishing writer.  Just when it seemed that the Reading dead-tree media had started to come to their senses and employ columnists, like Mr London Street recently in the Post, who actually wrote about the place and not about their own tedious egos.  I would love to know who thought this was a good idea, what the actual MP for Reading West thinks about it, and how much the Chronicle are paying for this stuff. After all, the corrupt little scumbag Joe Wise doesn't work for the Chronoicle any more; last time I looked he was lengthening waiting lists at the Royal Berks Hospital (sue me, Joe.)   Just asking.  Happy Christmas.

Friday, 24 December 2010

wake-up dinner for Christmas

a literal translation of "reveillon de Noel" which is this evening's Christmas dinner, as eaten in France. There will be another reveillon, next week for the "reveillon de Saint Sylvestre" or New Year's Eve to you and me. Tonight turkey is these days often eaten, but traditionally it is seafood (oysters usually, even as far from the sea as we are) and foie gras, which was actually invented here in Alsace and is possibly the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. Champagne is consumed, as an aperitif and then again at midnight, at which time traditionally a child adds the Christ child to the nativity crib at home. People are with their families if they can be, and may or may not go to midnight mass. Presents were traditionally opened on return from midnight mass, though these days not that many people go, and quite often nowadays presents are opened the next day. There is no Boxing Day in France, it is not a public holiday (although it falls on a Sunday this year which means people will be at home) and French people usually think Boxing Day is a really cool notion, with sport on TV and live too, providing entertainment for the masses. All French sport including football takes a two-week holiday for Christmas and New Year.  But I have never worked out quite what French people do on Christmas Day. In France public holidays are taken on the actual day and not the next Monday, so for example this year Christmas being on Saturday means no extra holiday for it.  Anyway, sig other and I are having none of the above. We have had a fairly modest dinner of roast palette de porc this evening, with oven chips and Spanish broccoli (yes I know) and will not be going to midnight mass. Our Christmas dinner will be consumed tomorrow, at some point during the afternoon. I shall be going to church in the morning, having done food preparation before leaving, and on my return we will have champagne and smoked salmon (my family's tradition) while the turkey is cooking, and will open presents then. Just two of us this year means a small turkey.  So that is that.  Then Boxing Day as we wish, and on Monday evening we start our journey to Cyprus for some new year sun, and just to be in Cyprus - although rain is possible, we will not mind, as the island needs it.  Here it has been snowing most of the day, after a thaw early in the week, and today started above freezing, with wet snow falling, and is ending below freezing, with more snow forecast early tomorrow and very low temperatures.  Good.

A happy Christmas to everyone who reads this - yes, even you - and I wish you a good New Year.  I am tempted to write, but perhaps it would not be a good idea, in the words of Greg Lake, "the Christmas you get you deserve".

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall, Chris Mullin, Profile 2010

This is the second volume of the Mullin diaries.  He writes very nicely, but he does threaten us with another two volumes.  I think this one is enough for me.  He says at the beginning " those… in the foothills and not the heights of politics do not have to waste time on self-justification.  I like to think I am in this category, though that is for others to judge."  Hah.  I guess the advantage of this volume is that he reminds us of what was said on certain key occasions, sometimes informing us of it for the first time.  Tony said at the first PLP after the 2005 general election "I was loyal throughout three defeats.  All I ask is a bit of loyalty throughout three victories." (p.6).  When Mullin was sacked as Africa minister he received a rather touching note from the Ethiopian Prime Minister,  Meles Zenawi, who wrote "I am deeply saddened to learn that you have been replaced as Africa minister.  I had stayed up late at night to listen to your victory speech…and I had hoped and assumed that your tenure…would be much longer" (p.13).  How many British government ministers would wait up to hear if a parliamentarian in another country had been elected, and send him or her a personal note?  Let's have some humility, and some perspective.

Robin Cook died on Saturday 6 August 2005.  For those of us who have been in politics his unexpected death was a "remember where you were when" moment.  I remember getting the news while we were at the Swaddles' excellent summer party, and Paul showing me the message on his mobile. 

There are times when the lack of editing shows.  "Gareth Peirce spoke to a meeting on 8 November 05 about the Terrorism Bill… he offered two nuggets" (p.47).  Even I know that Gareth Peirce is female.  Does not inspire confidence.

He got bollocked by his GC (p.60) for voting against the Government on the Terrorism Bill.  Constituencies I am familiar with, they would bollock you for voting for.  Reading, your fellow Labour MP would arrange a briefing for the Guardian Diary, using the word "slavish".   Another world.  But he does learn things occasionally.  He went canvassing for a council by-election in his constituency in the middle of the loans-for-peerages scandal, and found - no-one mentioned it.  He doesn't expand on this, but anyone who knocks doors regularly knows this.  The screaming Westminster media issues are not what the people actually care about.

Could not resist this: "Angela (Eagle) and Martin (Salter) are among The Disappointed.  He because his talents have not been recognised… I suspect they believe that the Coming of Gordon will be to their advantage…" (p.105) This is May 2006, almost a year after Salter's five-week stint as a PPS before getting sacked.

But here we go: "disgracefully he (Tony Blair) uttered not a single critical word of the Israelis (sic) despite the mayhem they have caused" (p.116, July 2006, more than four years ago, quite early in the days when the pathway to respect on the left was to add a spice of Jew-hatred to the stew of your argument.)  Israel's "assault on Lebanon was a war crime" he says (p/116)/  What did he think of Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, done for very similar reasons, namely that the invading state believed terrorist attacks were being launched on its territory from within the invadee.  Ah yes (p.261): "It appears that the Georgians started this with an attack on South Ossetia, a disputed enclave (no it's not, Ed.)…also, the Americans have been messing around, training and arming the Georgians right under Russian noses."  Oh, we can't have that.  Sovereign country, schmovereign country.  Better not talk to any of them in case the Russians get upset.

The humour is often ponderous:  "the letter (telling Tony to go, in September 2006), said to have been instigated by Chris Bryant and Sion Simon, was signed mainly, he says, by "bright, shiny, upwardly mobile New Labourites" (p.123) "it is like a mass suicide pact by members of a religious cult."  Ha bloody ha.

Perhaps a sign that Mullin does not always see clearly what is around him (p.135) "today I successfully managed to top up my mobile phone account via a cash machine" (in November 2006, wtf?)

But nice quotes.  Eg Noel Coward's note of commiseration to Valerie Profumo on her husband's resignation (p.136) "Do remember that nothing ever matters quite as much as one thinks it does".  Also, and differently, I wonder if Bruce Grocott minds being quoted like this: (in December 2006, re Tony, p. 139) "I can give you a list of his strengths as long as your arm, but he is not the best judge of people"/

Great Matters That Should Not Be Forgotten, No. 1:  Trident (p.157) the argument for renewing it, or one of them, was that greater dependence on the Americans would thereby be avoided.  And Mullin's take on that?  We are still waiting.

Some of the quotes though are funny:  Gordon (March 2007, p. 159) cited Nixon, then V-P, attending the celebrations for Ghana's independence and going round the place shaking people's hands and asking "How does it feel to be free?" to get the response from one "How would I know?  I'm from Alabama".

Allegedly (p.162) "Gordon's henchpeople" have a distressing tendency to bully (March 2007).  No shit, Sherlock .  "If they accept an invitation to lunch, they are liable to turn up with a file of your recent writings, with passages of which they disapprove highlighted in green, and proceed to hector you as to where you have gone wrong".  Oooh, now I know where Reading Labour boys got it from.

The departure of Tony and the election of Harriet as deputy are not really discussed (see, for example, p.185) on the assumption that everybody knows.  But look at the paragraph above.  But he has the gall to write, of the departure of Tony from the Chamber for the last time "For once the New Labour machine delivered",  Both crass and wrong.

Hilary Armstrong quoted (p.202) "Gordon has the advantage (this is October 2007) of not having to contend with counter-briefing,  there was hardly a day when Gordon's people weren't briefing against us.  It's amazing that Tony lasted as long as he did. "  Mullin of course throws General Secretary Peter Watt to the wolves (p. 215-16), and when he finally decides to stand down Mullin says rather well, "No weeping or wailing or rending of garments.  No-one throwing themselves at my feet begging me to reconsider" (p.246) No indeed, that is not how it works.

Some intriguing little things, at least for me: "the Treasury have insisted that they won't rescue the Post Office pension fund unless the private sector are given a stake" (p. 299).  Is that why the Post Office is being privatised then?  I thought it had to be, under EU legislation.

Mullin is not much of a constituency representative reallly.  He talks about constituent asylum cases.  Several of them.  In detail.  and is rather ignorant on the subject of asylum law.  Maybe he is referring to each and every asylum case he had, given the whiteness of Sunderland.  I had to have a part-time person just to deal with immigration and asylum.

Mullin refers blithely to "the Israel lobby in Washington" as if it were a given.  Oh dear oh dear.  But he is good on media and political gossip.  Smears were proliferating against John Reid (p. 320, April 2009), when it was thought Reid might run against Gordon.  Rebekah Wade made it clear to him (Mullin says Reid told him this) "the smears would stop, if he let Gordon have a free run"..  Where have I heard this before?  Oh yes, from Salter's wife, saying if I sacked my parliamentary researcher, who was also my husband, the briefing against me would stop.  I didn't sack him.

As in the first volume, the latter part of the book is tinged with regret, frustration and thwarted ambition.  He thought too late of running for Speaker (p. 348), if only, if only, he had not already announced his intention of standing down from the House.  So, like most, he leaves the House with sadness and regret.

All in all the book is mean-spirited.  His fellow North-East Labour MP, Ashok Kumar, died suddenly and unexpectedly in March 2010.  The funeral was held, in the North-East, on a Friday, and Mullin did not go.  What could have been more important than that?

Nice writing Chris, but you are not a nice man, and/or book shows that up in y ou.  Your legacy will be A Very British Coup (for those of us who still remember) and the Birmingham Six.  Nothing else.  A failed minister and a failed MP.  Oh and a rubbish public speaker as I recall.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

my 2010 music

I thought I would mention a few tracks I have liked in 2010, and which I think are important, although on thinking about it they are not very anglophone, and French popular music does not travel anywhere much except Quebec.  Still... look them up on youtube if you fancy, you might find something you like

Sexion d'Assaut, Desole (title means "sorry" - they are an "underground" rap collective from Paris and this track is about teenage angst)
Calogero and Grand Corps Malade, L'Ombre et La Lumiere (title means "light and shade" - Calogero is a left-handed pop singer with a brain and Grand Corps Malade does slam (speaking poetry over music) and walks with a stick, hence the name, the track is about fame)
Diam's, Coeur de Bombe (title untranslatable, something like "Heart Bomb" - Diam's is a half-French half-Cypriot rapper with very much her own style, these days she wears a head covering and may have converted to Islam, the track is about the end of a relationship)
Calogero again, Le Passage des Cyclones (title means "a hurricane passes by", the track is about a turbulent relationship)
Plan B, She Said, rap'n'soul from the wonderful "The Defamation of Strickland Banks", the track is about celebrity stalking
Benjamin Biolay, La Superbe (title untranslatable, something like "The Proud Beauty", which sounds like a horse but is about a woman, the track is about the end of a relationship, Biolay is the mop-haired singing star who denies having had an affair with First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, he is very jazz influenced and some of his tracks include a theremin, thanks to the late Paul for putting me on to him)
Lady Gaga, Bad Romance, what can I say, thank you Gaga for doing what entertainers are supposed to do, entertain the public.
Eminem, Not Afraid, the most joyful song to come out of rehab, thanks to Shaun Woodward MP for putting me on to Em, and thus to rap and hip-hop, ten years ago (it's a long story)
the late Alain Bashung, Sur Un Trapeze (title means, unsurprisingly, "On A Trapeze", track is about a turbulent relationship, what a voice, wish I had discovered him early enough to have gone to a concert)
Gnarls Barkley, Going On, the track is about joy and journeys

this blog is not usually about music, but this stuff has meant a lot to me this year, so I wanted to share it.  I haven't necessarily linked to the track I mention, but to a cool video of the artist in question.  Enjoy it.

my 2010 books

because I am a girl this is not a boy-style list.  But it is a mention, in no particular order, of a few books I read this year which will stay on my shelf and will be read again, and of one or two others that I would not suggest anyone else read.  So there.

Read these:  The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas; Solar, Ian McEwan; Any Human Heart, William Boyd; Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell; Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood; Just Kids, Patti Smith (so far only in French translation); A Journey, Tony Blair.

Don't read these:  The Pregnant Widow, Martin Amis (terrible load of old sexist tosh); Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel (torture porn); Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (bloke travels on a river in Africa talking arse).

I haven't got my reading notebook with me so I will probably remember some more to recommend, or not.  Some readers have recommended books to me during this year, so I am starting to accumulate a reading pile already, before 2011 has started.

What a joy it is to read.

the bottom of the year

is where we are now:
and we know that in many cultures we light fires and candles and bring greenery into the house at this time, because somewhere deep inside we are not quite sure that the light will ever come back.  And we still do it today.  People who say "oh, Christmas is just an appropriation of the Mithraic cult, which celebrated the birth of the Sun King, whose mother was the Goddess, at the winter solstice" are missing the point.  We do it because, whatever our beliefs, this is not really about belief.  It is not rational.  Today the sun has gone away and we would like it to come back, thank you very much.  Last year sig other and I were in Iceland in late June, when it did not get dark at all, and that was harder to take than endless darkness is - but you would not like either of them to be a permanent state.  And yet near the equator the days are always pretty much the same length.  So are people who live with unchanging length of days different from us who live closer to the poles?  Discuss.

whatever possessed him?

apparently he said he could bring down the coalition " as a nuclear option", hence the picture.  But what struck me is that he said it to journalists posing as constituents.  It is not surprising that a LibDem would say one thing in one forum and another in another.  Pretty much all of them do that.  But whatever kind of system does he operate in his constituency?  A single-member system of elected representation as exists in England means that if someone is not your constituent you do not represent them.  If they approach you you may listen to them but you politely direct them to their own MP.  Unless you are Mr Salter, but that was a mental health issue, and whatever Vince Cable's problem is (possession by the devil?) it is not mental illness.  People often used to ring my office asking to come and see me at a surgery, and if they did not give their address they were asked for it, and if they lived outside the constituency they were politely directed to their own MP.  Occasionally people refused to give their address, and then they were politely told they could not be seen, unless there were special circumstances (someone living in a women's refuge, for instance, or a homeless person).  But sometimes of course people did just turn up, and they were not always constituents.  If I did not know them, had not heard from them before, and especially if they were not constituents, I was always very careful what I said to them.  Because they could be from the Guardian, or plants of some other kind.  Cable is an experienced politician, what was he thinking of?  Is it a LibDem gene?  Beats me.  I remember one person persistently sent me emails, rude and abusive ones, and identified themself only as "B".  I was patient for a while, simply asking for that person's address, but when it was not forthcoming I told the person to piss off and stop bothering me.  That email was sent, of course, to the Guardian diary.  I knew it would be.  So why did Vince Cable not see this one coming?  Hein?

Monday, 20 December 2010

I don't get nostalgic for London

where I was born, and where I lived for a total of approximately eleven years of my life full-time and eight part-time, I have only lived longer than that in Reading (21 years) although my formative years were in a town in Bedfordshire that goes by the name of Leighton Buzzard, where I spent ten years, from the age of seven to seventeen.  Anyway, the true delights of London are not always easy to find.  Just lately I have been meeting people who are planning visits there, and who ask me what they should see.  I recommend them things I am fairly sure they will not do, like go to a pub for lunch.  Anyway, I was struck by this piece on micro-brewing in London, renewing the brewing tradition that has been in the capital for centuries.  It made me nostalgic for the food and drink culture of London, even though I don't drink beer. If you are going to London, go to Borough Market, visit a micro-brewery, go to a cheese-monger's, go to an artisan bakery.  Have lunch in a pub.  Have shepherd's pie in the Prince Albert in Victoria Street.  Drink Kentish wine in Walkers of Whitehall.  And if it's not English you want, have gumbo and champagne at the long bar at St. Pancras station.  In summer have outdoor drinks in Stoke Newington by the park, or have a Caribbean Sunday roast in the courtyard of the Effra in Brixton.  Have a port and lemon with old ladies in a boozer in Harlesden or Willesden.  You won't be sorry you did.

Was only asks

Talking of dead hands, just why would John Howarth be in regular correspondance with Rajinder Sohpal (former Labour councillor and RCRE bigwig) given that both appear on the face of it to have given up working for Reading Labour?

we are all misogynists now

or are we?  Julian Assange again.  Do read Jack of Kent on this, among other reasons because he does a splendid fisking of the abominable John Pilger on the subject in the Staggers, but also because he is a proper lawyer, and while you are reading do please note that he uses the language of the European Convention on Human Rights.  As is right.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

the stylishest one

Carine Roitfeld, editor of French Vogue, and famous for styling fashion items in a pervy way (October's issue had a mother, topless, press ing her upper half against the body of her adult son, which I have to say shocked me a bit) is leaving that magazine, giving the Sartorialist an excuse ot use a picture of her, looking, indeed, stylish.  In fur.  Though why does she have a plaster on her knee?  Shaving malfunction?  I read an interview with her not long ago in which she said she thinks she looks like Iggy Pop, and she does!  I have not quite been able to take her seriously since.  She is an iconic figure here in France, and elsewhere, but still...

a disreputable propagandist

Michael Moore, obviously.  He has managed to hook himself up to the self-marketer Julian Assange so that they can both be fawned upon by the less intelligent Guardianista left.  His film Sicko, which showed a hospital in Cuba in order to illustrate the inferiority of US healthcare to that available to the Cuban people, was banned by the Cuban government, says the Guardian.  Or, no, it wasn't, also says the Guardian.  In fact it was not.  The Cuban government was so scared of the film that they showed it on national television.  And the hospital wards shown in the film were in a hospital in Cuba, right enough, but were wards not available to the Cuban people, but only to the Venezuelan elite, who pay hard cash.  (Chavez has just abolished parliament and granted himself absolute powers, anybody notice that, Guardianistas, hein?).  So, courageous whistleblowing by Moore and Assange.  Not.  A real Cuban whistleblower is Yoani Sanchez, who says this and points out to anyone who will listen that healthcare is not free at the point of use to Cuban people, that the hospitals they use are crumbling 19th-century buildings with only the most basic facilities, and that doctors who speak out about such things are sacked and have their medical qualifications stripped from them.  But we don't see Moore and Assange, who have taken no personal risks, hand in hand with Sanchez and fighting for human rights and decent healthcare for all, do we?  And while we are on the subject, the legal process which Assange is facing is just that.  He may be acquitted, he may not.  He is having due process.  It is not a CIA plot against him.  My personal view is that men accused of rape should have anonymity until the verdict, but that is another matter.  People who should know better have donated money to support Assange.  Why not build a free hospital in Cuba if you have money you have no use for?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

leave him alone

you can read here about the decision of the Tory MP for Ribble Valley and Deputy Speaker, Nigel Evans, to come out.  Not a surprise to anyone who has ever been in Westminster during his time, his sexuality I mean, and no-one's business but his own, I should think.  I counted him as a friend for several years, and I am sorry if, as I suspect, he has been pursued by a tabloid and has chosen to come out first, to a friendlier paper.  We hets would not appreciate having our sexuality and preferences featured in the tabloids, so why should gay people have to put up with it?  Nigel is entitled to a private life, as are we all.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Michael Jackson comes out for Assange

hat-tip Marbury

Belgium has no future - discuss

the Flemish separatist leader was interviewed some days ago by Der Spiegel.  The interview, originally published in German on Monday, is now available in the English version of Der Spiegel, below:

'Belgium Has No Future'

Six months after the general election, Belgium still has no new government. Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever, head of the country's largest party, wants to split Belgium into two states. In an interview that has caused a scandal in his country, he told SPIEGEL why the nation has "no future."
Belgium has sunk into political chaos. Following the parliamentary elections six months ago, all attempts to build a new government have failed. The country is divided into two camps that oppose each other, apparently irreconcilably: the socialists, who won the most votes in Wallonia, the French-speaking southern region of the country, and the nationalist conservatives in Flanders, the wealthier Dutch-speaking northern region.
The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) obtained the most parliamentary seats in June's elections. Its leader Bart De Wever wants to split Belgium into two. In an interview with SPIEGEL that was published in German on Monday, De Wever described how Begium is the "sick man" of Europe and has "no future in the long run."
The interview caused a massive outcry throughout Belgium. The French-speaking daily Le Soir called it "a bomb" intended to stir up the markets for Belgian government bonds. The Flemish newspapers were more sympathetic regarding the content of the interview, but criticized its timing.
De Wever himself said he regreted it if anybody felt insulted but confirmed the message of the interview. "I have my opinion and my analysis is accurate," he said. "There is nothing in the interview that is not true."
SPIEGEL: Mr. De Wever, how much longer do you think Belgium will last?
De Wever: I'm not a revolutionary, and I'm not working toward the immediate end of Belgium. And I don't have to do that, either, because Belgium will eventually evaporate of its own accord. What we Flemish want is to be able to control our own judiciary, as well as our fiscal and social policy. We feel that foreign policy is in better hands with the European Union. But the nation of Belgium has no future in the long run. It is too small for greater political ambitions, and it's too heterogeneous for smaller things like taxes and social issues.
SPIEGEL: Using those arguments, Bavaria should have seceded from the Federal Republic of Germany long ago.
De Wever: No, because Bavaria is part of the German democracy. If you look at German history, you can see how the country came about. In Belgium, you see how a country is breaking apart. And the consequences are fatal. In 2003, the German economist Hans-Werner Sinn coined the expression "sick man of Europe," in reference to Germany. Companies were leaving the country or going bankrupt, and the tax burden on citizens was going up and up. Today Germany is Europe's locomotive once again, and Belgium, after endless political quarrels, is the sick man.
SPIEGEL: Are you using economic arguments to pursue secession for the Flemish people?
De Wever: Once again, if it were possible to pursue the reforms that are now needed in Belgium as a country, I wouldn't stand in the way. But it isn't possible. The Walloons -- especially the Socialists, as the strongest party -- are blocking all reasonable reforms. That's why I say: Belgium isn't working anymore! Belgium is a failed nation.
SPIEGEL: So you want states to become ever smaller, while everyone around you is working toward a large, unified Europe?
De Wever: The developments in Europe and, most of all, the introduction of the euro, make partition much easier. I used to think that if we got rid of the Belgian franc, it would lead to economic disaster. Today both parts of Belgium simply continue to use the euro.
SPIEGEL: It's always said that the last few things holding Belgium together are beer, football and the royal family. But the Flemish and the Walloons each have their own beer, while the country's football is second-class and not worthy of collective identification. That leaves the king.
De Wever: Many people have a romantic notion of the monarchy. Even in republican France, the president puts on monarchist airs. But the monarchy is part of the Ancien Régime, part of the past. The king isn't important to me.
SPIEGEL: But he is the one who charges politicians with the formation of a government.
De Wever: The fact that the king still plays a political role is a problem. The king plays an important role in a crisis, taking charge of forming a government. This is a disadvantage for the Flemish, because the king doesn't think the way we do. It's an advantage for the Walloons, because they are allied with him. We favor a republic.
SPIEGEL: It's been half a year since the parliamentary election, and Belgium still has no government. Has the king failed?
De Wever: That's a very dangerous question, because SPIEGEL is also read in Belgium.
SPIEGEL: Just be honest.
De Wever: It's becoming more and more difficult, at any rate, to form a federal government. If we join such a government, there is a great risk of losing the next election. We were elected because we support radical changes and because the voters trust us not to cave in after six months of negotiations.
SPIEGEL: Then new elections are the only option. The governor of the Brussels region, a francophone Socialist, says that would be the end of Belgium.
De Wever: It's strange that those who don't want the end of Belgium are talking about it so much.

There is more in this vein.  I must say I appreciate his bluntness.  And why, pray tell, is the king called "King of the Belgians" and not "King of Belgium"?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

shooting and fishing heroes

my attention is drawn to this piece  in an Australian mag, Fishing World, known apparently as Fisho, in which Mr Salter, incorrectly described there as "UK government spokesman on angling", which he has never been, lays into Labor and Green members of the New South Wales state parliament.  Bad people apparently.  Ridiculous, another word he uses.  But a crew called the Shooters and Fishers, of whom I had never previously heard, are his new heroes.  This is what their own website says they are (red highlights are mine):

The Shooters and Fishers Party (S&F) is the federally registered political party that is represented in all States throughout Australia.

S&F is the voice of hunters, shooters, fishers, rural and regional Australia and independent thinking Australians everywhere. Advocating for the politically incorrect, a voice of reason, science and conservation.
S&F is about sustainable utilisation of Australia’s resources, Conservative in family values, we honour and value the family unit as the basic building block of our society. We believe in a fair go for all, but not at the expense of others.
S&F respects and honours our democratic traditions and those in our history who fought and died for us so that we may enjoy the freedoms that we now have.
S&F believes in a multicultural society, committed to Australian values above all others.

And what's this?  an ad appears on the same website:

The Shooters and Fishers Party (NSW) is seeking to employ four (4) highly motivated and experienced Campaign Organisers and a Fund Raising Officer (1) to work on the 2011 NSW state election campaign and beyond.

All positions require strong organising, communication and persuasion skills. Campaign Organisers will working within an assigned NSW region to mobilise volunteers and build campaign support. The Fund Raising Officer will work across all states of Australia, but the dominant focus will be on the State of NSW.
Applications close 5pm, 23 December 2010.

The successful applicant(s) will have the following skills and abilities:
A demonstrated commitment to the Shooters and Fishers Party and the advancement of the Party's policies and principles,
Knowledge of Regional NSW; local political issues and the State electoral and voting system,
Proven networking experience using email, telephone, face-to-face meetings, ability to organise meetings, raise public awareness, and run an election campaign in Regional NSW,
The ability to work with, inspire and co-ordinate a team of Regional volunteers to undertake a range of tasks including distribution of campaign material, attend club meetings and events etc.
Excellent written and interpersonal communication skills; a warm, friendly nature,
Demonstrated ability to show initiative, judgement and work effectively under pressure and have a laugh at the same time.
Reasonable computer skills (email, Excel and MS Word)
Successful applicant have overall responsibility for implementing the Shooters and Fishers Party's NSW 2011 state election campaign for their assigned region.
Pay for these positions is $40,000 per annum, pro rata, plus 9% superannuation. Other conditions of employment will be as per the Shooters and Fishers Party's NSW employment agreement.

What do readers think?  Is Mr Salter suited to this position?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

blood libel?

a report to be presented to the Council of Europe's Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee tomorrow and already press released, says it has clear evidence that Hashim Thaci, newly elected (by a landslide) prime minister of independent Kosovo, was instrumental not only in gangsterism and trafficking, but in organ harvesting for profit, mainly of Serbs.  The BBC report I link to is quite reasoned and balanced, but there have been others, which kind of go "Hah!  There you were condemning the evil Serbs for massacring innocent Albanians and being led by a genocidal maniac, and you were Wrong!  Wrong, I tell you!  So those of us who stood by when ethnic cleansing was going on in Kosovo were Right!  Because the Albanians Deserved To Die!"  Well, let's look at this clearly for once, we are not Guardianistas on this blog.  No-one ever said that all Albanians were innocent.  No-one ever says that all victims in war are innocent.  At least I don't think they do.  And most Council of Europe reports don't make up their evidence.  Unlike Guardian editorials.  And don't even get me started on cholera riots.  Actually, do.  But not right now.  I shall be most interested to read the report tomorrow, and unlike most others will not comment on its detail until I have finished reading it.  But it interested me, in fact rather depressed me, that certain reports - yes, (sigh), step forward The Guardian - have implicated, you're ahead of me here, DA JOOZ, who as we all know have been harvesting organs, drinking the blood of Christian children, etc, etc, for centuries.

One my regular interlocutors says that former Yugoslavia still thinks it is one country, and I think he is right, having now visited all its former elements, or at least their capitals.  My favourites were Macedonia and Montenegro, however it is in Serbia that the welcome is warmest.  If I ruled the world I would put Serbs in charge of all the customer help desks.

But that is aside from the future of Kosovo, which deserves to have one.  I hope this latest report is helpful in that regard, and is not obscured by the Jew-hatred that the media of the stupid left have decided is what matters here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

take the consequences

Julian Assange that is. Freed on bail, but not acknowledging the truth, that the moral "other half" of civil disobedience is taking the consequences.  Read this, which as so often with Hitch's writing made me change my mind.  I thought that the stuff about diplomatic cables on Wikileaks was just gossip, that while diplomats might be less frank in future if they thought their cables were going to be leaked, there was not much to it.  I am with Hitch that given that we now know (and in my case are not surprised) that swathes of Arab governments want and wanted Washington to go kick Iran's ass I am very glad to know this now and not twenty years from now after several events.  But I did not think that diplomatic gossip really mattered that much.  But it does.  Hitch says he knew everything he needed to know (he does not put it like this) about the Iranian regime post-Shah when it took diplomats hostage.   Well, yes.  An act against sovereign territory.  For which there is a place.  Sometimes.  Depending on the circumstances.  So Assange can publish what has been leaked to him.  People can make him a hero for doing so if they are so minded.  But when he breaks, or apparently breaks, a law he must take the consequences.  People's hero or no.  That is what the rule of law is about.  And let him be thankful that in Australia, or the UK, or Sweden, he has due process.  In China, whose embassy windows were not broken during recent student protests in London (why not?) he would not have.

Earlier this evening I heard Thorbjorn Jagland, the chair of the Nobel prize committee, which has awarded the Peace Prize to Chinese human rights campaigner Liu Xiaobo, who was represented by an empty chair at the ceremony, speak on that and other subjects.  He seemed a bit bruised by recent events.  He should not be.  Or should not feel that way.

People have broken laws over centuries, knowing they were doing so, and believing they should do so, either because they thought the laws were unjust or because breaking them would make a wider point and support a nobler cause.  They paid the penalty, sometimes with their lives.  The rule of law must mean just that.  You know the law, you know what will happen if you break it, you decide to break it and that is what happens.  Conscientious objectors went to prison.  So did Nelson Mandela.  Who was not an objector to the use of violence to achieve the aims he supported for his country, which is why among other things he was never supported by Amnesty International.  Who have some decidedly dodgy policies these days.  But that is another story.

Monday, 13 December 2010

ein Volk, ein Reich, drei Brucke

over the Thames that is.  Apparently the issue of a third bridge at Reading has resurfaced.  Been on Ceefax so it must be true.  I would be most interested to know what position the Coalition take on this.  This is what the chief executive of Reading Buses, James Freeman, had to say the other day:

"Reading Buses chief executive James Freeman said roads in the Berkshire town were often jammed, especially on Thursday and Friday evenings."

glad to see that he at least has his finger on the pulse.  My own view is that another bridge should be built, for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport only, and that no road should be built at Kennetmouth.  But hey, what do I know.  Thanks to my correspondent for alerting me to this.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Na Hrad

which is "To the Castle" in Czech.  That was the slogan used in 1989 at the end of communism in Europe, to campaign for Vaclav Havel to be President of then Czechoslovakia.  I was at the BBC at the time, and I remember a colleague visiting what we then called "Eastern Europe" (which the Czech Republic is not actually in, geographically) and bringing back a Havel campaign poster with that slogan.  I am reminded of all this (and of the splendid book Havel wrote about his two terms as President, which took a while to find an English translator but eventually did) by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights campaigner Liu Xiaobo, and by the letter to Liu written by Havel himself, which you can read below, hat-tip Flashing Blade.  Havel has always been a hero to me - I have never read or seen any of his plays, but I love his ideals and clarity of vision, there are not enough like him, especially in politics.  He was constantly undermined during his time as President by those of smaller mind and less soul than he, but came through it with humour, and with a legacy which means that when he speaks anyone who cares about human rights, democracy and the rule of law should listen.  I was particularly delighted by his reference to a "moral minimum", which is a concept not deployed enough in the geopolitics of today.  We saw this on Friday, when two other Nobel winners, both born in Russia as it happens, issued a statement condemning the Nobel committee for making the award to Liu.  Complacent, rich Norwegians they said, who have lived all their lives in a wealthy oil-rich state.  So indeed they have, Norway being the Kuwait of Europe (and a fabulous holiday destination, though it would be nice if it were a bit cheaper)  and the chairman of the prize committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, is also the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe and thus ultimately my boss, so I say no more.  But these two said the committee had no idea what life was like in China, and no right to impose their views about democracy, human rights etc on the rest of the world.  Well, yes they have actually.  The Chinese government was furious about the prize, and thus has reacted.  So did the Iranian leadership about the stoning, which so far has not happened.  Both these issues, and the international reaction to them, made those two regimes lose face in the eyes of the world.  Good.  And goodbye moral and cultural relativism.  We hope.  Stoning is wrong.  Putting people in prison for the views they hold, and nothing else, is wrong.  Er that's it.

Dear Liu Xiaobo
I am one of the thousands and possibly millions of people who rejoice that you have received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. It is always encouraging when one sees that respect for human rights and freedoms does not capitulate in the face of power and might, and does not make concessions to practical political and economic interests, as if often the case. You are not the only hero of the day – those who awarded you the prize are also heroes. And this award is not only comfort for you, it is a good deed for all, because it tells the whole word that it is still possible to serve the truth and such service can receive public recognition and thus be proposed to others as a source of inspiration. In other words, there is still hope.
Among other things I am profoundly convinced that if international interest in your fate  is maintained, your government will relent and release you, and then, successively, all other Chinese political prisoners. After all, it too must think in practical terms and realise that it is not in its interest to have the sort of reputation acquired by persecuting such people as you.
Like probably all the signatories of the Czechoslovak Charter 77, I am naturally touched that our campaign provided inspiration for the Chinese Charter 08. I am touched not only because it recalls our own efforts of many years ago but because it is confirmation of something I have long believed, namely, that fundamental human rights and freedoms are universal values that are shared in their basic outlines by all nations and civilisations in today’s world. I have had the opportunity to meet dissidents from many different countries and been surprised how similar their ideals, experiences and concerns are. And even the repertoire of persecutory skills of the authoritarian governments in their countries was strikingly similar and was totally unrelated to whether the governments in question went under a right-wing or a left-wing banner. There simply exists a sort of moral minimum that is common to the entire world and thanks to which people from countries as different and far apart as the Czech Republic and China can  strive for the same values and sympathise each other, thereby creating the basis for true – not simply feigned – friendship.
It is not clear when your efforts will achieve concrete successes. They need not be immediate. For the time being only partial and indirect successes might be apparent. But sooner or later the status quo in your country will change, partly because in the long term the market economy is fundamentally incompatible with authoritarian government.
You should not be perturbed by uncertainty about whether or when the struggle for human rights will bring concrete results. This was our experience: we sought to do good things because they were good and not to take into account the times or what might be gained. That approach has many advantages: not just the fact that it eliminates the possibility of disappointment, but also that is lends authenticity to the efforts in question. Being guided by tactical considerations does not win anyone over but instead tends to encourage further tactical manoeuvres. From reading your Charter 08 I am convinced that you are aware of all that.
In all events you should also be prepared for the alternative of early success. Although I am rather suspicious of those who are too prepared for history, it is necessary to be prepared to a certain extent. That is our experience. It would be splendid if you managed to draw lessons from the various blunders and confusion that our countries experienced after the fall of the Communist regime, and steer clear of them.
I send you my heartfelt greetings, dear Liu Xiaobo. I congratulate you on the Nobel Peace Prize and I wish you health and good cheer, if possible.
Yours sincerely,
Václav Havel

Friday, 10 December 2010

he's back - or did he never go away?

man in the dark John Howarth (prop. Public Impact Ltd, remember "Your Better Off With Labour"?) 
appears either to be back trying to pull the strings of Reading Labour, or never to have gone away.  (His company's slogan is "communicate better", lmao).  His dyslexic hand (if you've got a problem with spelling and grammar John, get someone to check the literature who hasn't got that problem, der) is on the blog of Little Dunky Bruce, Labour candidate for Thames ward and supremo of Reading Labour's Facebook page (from which I am blocked, oh how flattering, lol), thusly:  "The unions have there man" (about the Labour leadership election in the autumn) and on that of Rachel Eden, whom I do not know but who is Labour councillor for Whitley in Reading West, thusly: "Advent has definately started" and on the Reading Banner "Matt Rodda checks out in the problem in Katesgrove" - huh?  (also, Matty, don't zip your leather jacket up like that, you look like someone with a learning disability on work experience).
I always thought Howarth was working for the Tories, and in fact prior to the 2005 general election he avowedly was.  Now it's certain. 

not in my name

this is from David Aaronovitch's column in The Times yesterday: (behind Paywall of Death) or (£) which apparently is the blogosphere shorthand for that:

[T]he discussosphere resounds to the moaning of those who love the State to run everything, take responsibility for everything - except anything to do with policing, defence or foreign policy. When it comes to these, the default assumption is that government suddenly becomes de facto corrupt and that the people must be protected from it.

Yes, interesting.  Back in 2003 when all those people marched in London and other cities in support of Saddam Hussein's regime it was "Not In My Name" and Horrid Governments Must Leave Other Countries Alone and Not Be The World's Policeman, blah blah blah.  You had to wear a keffiyeh too.  Fashions have changed somewhat now, as they do, so not many keffiyehs in evidence in recent weeks, but plenty of balaclavas, and not just because it is colder at present than it was in March 2003.  So now it is Benefits For Middle-Class Young People And Stuff Everybody Else, and the demonstrators demand that the government do this for them.  Then, it was Governments - No Thanks.  I am not sure that David Aaronovitch is right in his contention that the "student" demonstrators want the State to run everything, except defence, policing and foreign policy.  I don't think most of them have thought that much about it.  They just want what they want.  And they want it now.  And what has changed is that they will break the windows of government buildings if they think that will  help, or just for the hell of it.  I remember the night of the Iraq vote, when there were indeed people outside Parliament, including some constituents of mine, who had come to say "Not In My Name" to me, and that was just fine.  They didn't try and break any windows though.  They could have done it if they had been minded to.  This is a new generation.  And they've got something to say.  With sticks and stones, mostly.

A thought - what on earth were the police thinking of, letting the demonstrators run across the green on Parliament Square?  They had had them quite safely kettled before.  After dark there is no-one much inside the government buildings on Whitehall (who left that window open, silly boy) which means (usually) more damage to property.  And what on EARTH were Charles and Camilla's security detail thinking of, letting their driver take the route originally planned to the theatre?  Someone's head should roll for that.  Motorcycle outriders prevent cars getting too close to the car they are protecting, but if people run between them on foot there is nothing the motorbike johnnies can do.  If the Sky coverage last night did not mislead (and it was taken on someone's mobile phone) Charles actually rolled down his window to talk to the protesters.  Bless.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

remind you of anything

the shadowy "Anonymous" - so shadowy that they are front-page news, see the Mail:

The ‘distributed denial of service’ (DDoS) attack involved around 2,000 computers bombarding the website’s host computers with requests for information, causing them to crash.

WikiLeaks has been publishing classified U.S. diplomatic cables, to the fury of Washington authorities.
They have lobbied to cut off all support for the website which they are desperate to shut down.
Yesterday a spokesman for Anonymous, calling himself ‘Coldblood’, a 22-year-old computer programmer based in London, said: ‘Websites that are bowing down to government pressure have become targets.
'As an organisation we have always taken a strong stance on censorship and freedom of expression on the internet and come out against those who seek to destroy it by any means.
‘We feel that WikiLeaks has become more than just about leaking of documents, it has become a war ground, the people versus the government.
‘The idea is not to wipe them off but to give the companies a wake-up call.’
In a further communique online, Anonymous warned: ‘We will fire at anything or anyone that tries to censor WikiLeaks, including multibillion-dollar companies such as PayPal.’
The spokesman added that the group’s intention ‘was to be a force for chaotic good’.
Anonymous has previously been linked to attacks on websites belonging to the Church of Scientology and the music industry.

Guy and Natalie
Watching coverage of this stuff yesterday I thought the whole thing seemed a bit like a graphic novel, especially as Jemima Khan, a donor to Julian Assange's campaign to get US soldiers slaughtered in larger numbers, looks rather like a graphic novel heroine herself.  Then I remembered a film I first saw a few years ago, which was based on a graphic novel but which is a terrific film in its own right, and which deals in a way with similar matters - the power of the State, and that of individuals.  Sig other and I watch it every 5th November now.  Zadie Smith wrote a very good essay about the film.  Natalie Portman is utterly beautiful in it.  It is of course V for Vendetta.
V for Vendetta
I would put money that those behind Anonymous have seen V for Vendetta and others like it - and if anyone is minded to make a film about the Julian Assange story and Anonymous - don't bother.  V for Vendetta is a good five years old, so social networking and Twitter were not there when it was made, but it did this, and better than most. 

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

ahead of tomorrow's vote

just a thought or two.  There is no evidence that students are deterred from going to university by the fees they have to pay.  Or someone has to.  At some point.  In the UK it is largely class that deters people from higher education.  University tuition fees should be whatever the market will stand, certainly way higher than they mostly are now, with restrictions on how the universities can spend them, so that there is always a commitment to research.  I do not see why parents who have been paying many thousands a year in school fees should be subsidised thereafter.  And there is nothing wrong with bursaries.  And nothing wrong with governments subsidising the universities to teach socially useful subjects.  Yes.  Social engineering.  Why not?  Governments should do more of it.  People will take on a financial commitment if they think there is something worthwhile to be had from it.  If they think it is a good investment.  You do not see many people in the UK unwilling to buy their home, and to go into serious debt to do it.  You do not see many people unwilling to take on credit to buy a car, which is not socially useful and not a good financial investment, given that a car begins depreciating from the moment it is driven out of the showroom.  People will do the same with their higher education.  If they don't think it is financially worth it they won't do it.  And what is wrong with that?  It is a matter of delicious enjoyment to see so many LibDems squirming on this issue.  You're in government now, matey boys.  That can be hard to do sometimes.  A lot harder than shouting from the safety of opposition.

Now stop being silly and get governing.

Monday, 6 December 2010

more girls from the golden West

seen on a train from Penzance to London Paddington today, former Labour MPs for constituencies in the south-west of England Candy Atherton and Linda Gilroy. Both appeared on fine form and were looking good. One of them said to me "There is a good life after Parliament". Not only was she right, but life appeared to have been good to her since she left. Excellent to see them both again.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell 2010

Dutch merchants in 18th-century Japan.  I once spent two weeks in Nagasaki, and it seemed Portuguese to me rather than Dutch.  Apparently though the Portuguese had gone by the time the Dutch got there.  Dutch merchants, trading in mercury and camphor and European goods, and allowed to set foot only on Dejima, the artificial island in Nagasaki harbour, and not on Japanese soil proper, and at risk of death for the practice of Christianity - the massacre of the Christians of southern Japan was still a memory.  There is an awful lot of stuff in this book, mercury powder and ginseng bulbs and jade teapots and a woman's burned face, so much so that when I started reading it I dreamed the first night of a woman with a burned face.

I am an admirer of David Mitchell's writing - Cloud Atlas was a great discovery for me, and later I read Ghostwritten, his first published book, which Cloud Atlas is a more accomplished rewriting.  I have not (yet) read numberninedream or Black Swan Green.  His is a different voice.  But I am not sure about this one.  Perhaps it is a little consciously exotic, perhaps he is a little too inclined to give his characters voices in which they express aperçus abou
Japan, such as "All traffic proceeds on the left-hand side, so the numerous collisions, seizures and standoffs that so clog Europe's arteries are here unknown" (p. 141, praising Japan not for its buildings but for its roads) and how he does love his similes: "the thought, as true as sunlight" (p. 169, I do like that one), contrast with use of metaphor "how to
combat a painted mudslide?" (p. 245, where he is describing middle-aged women, dressed and
made up for a festival and being spiteful to and about their daughters-in-law, and descriptive bits "a waterfall's clatter and boom" (p. 297) and "thunder splits the rift where the sun floods in" (p. 311, for the moment a bullet blows out a brain).  As well as "Membranous sunlight lends the breakfast table the air of a painting" (p. 377, there's Dutch for you).  Cute

Then it switches from tales of Dutch merchants in Japan, their intrigues, interpreting, a bizarre baby-eating cult and a doomed love story, to a Cornish sea-captain and a maritime battle (p. 426), as the British kick the Dutch out of Dejima off Nagasaki and then back off, by way of Luther (p. 430: "Whilst friends show us what we can do, it is our enemies who show us what we must.". Yup.  Oh, well, the ending was sad (and how did de Zoet make his money?) but what did we really learn when all was said and done?  Good stuff though.  Plenty to chew on.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

they even took away her name

This is a total disgrace.

Following the court decision on Phil Woolas, dismissing his appeal (which Phil appears to have taken with grace) Diane Abbott MP has been on the meejah defending that decision.  This is what a correspondent writes.

"Diane has just been on Radio 4, defending the Woolas decision and the right of judges to apply electoral law. Well - ok.
However, when the Tory MP for Harlow said that breaking electoral law and the consequent loss of a seat had not occured for over 100 years, Diane said 'Well, yes, it has, actually. There was a female MP in the 1997 parliament who lost her seat because she had broken electoral law'.
This is so sad. Fiona [Jones, MP for Newark 1997-2001] has now been stripped of a name - and it is not even remembered that she was vindicated and was reinstated with not a stain to her name.
The fact is, the Labour Party had decided that Fiona was guilty anyway - even before the original judge had reached a verdict and guilty she has remained. 
The nasty shits."

Quite so.

Fiona Jones died several years after leaving Parliament, leaving a husband and two sons.  The Labour Party may have decided to un-person her ten years ago, and most may have forgotten her now, but some of us remember.  I for one dedicated my little story of my life in politics to Fiona's memory.  Pity a serving Labour MP, who recently had ambitions to lead the party,  not only could not remember that Fiona Jones was found innocent by the courts, but could not even remember her name.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Chaytor plea bargains, Woolas loses appeall

former Bury Labour MP David Chaytor pleads guilty to false accounting and will Be sentenced on I think 7th January, by which time the by-election writ will probably have been moved for Old and Sad, as Phil Woolas has lost his appeal. Harriet,now is the time for your tears, not then. Chaytor has undoubtedly plea bargained to avoid a big set-piece trial. But not looking good is it boys? Happy now?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

a reductive plot meme

hat-tip Jonny for the notion.

What books have these plots?  (Not difficult)

1.  Teenage boy has dead brother.  Takes dim view of just about everyone he knows except his ten-year-old sister.

2.  Bloke escapes a disaster on a raft, accompanied by a Bengal tiger.  Adventures ensue.

3.  In totalitarian mock-future, bloke takes dim view of regime, gets brain trashed by torture and brainwashing, learns to love the leader and becomes a piss-head.

4.  Swedish hacker girl - no, that one's too easy.

5.  Rich dysfunctional couple swan around the Riviera drinking too much and going bonkers.  She recovers from bonkersness, sort of.  He falls apart and buggers off.  Everyone is beautiful.

6. Two blokes take part in ballooning accident rescue.  One bloke becomes obsessive stalker of other bloke.  That's it.

7.  Boy wizard - no, that one's too easy too.

Go on, answer these and post your own, in the comments or link to me on your own site.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Heart of Darkness

I had always resisted reading this book, or indeed any other Conrad, as I had the idea he was a racist writer, and I also object to reading writers who are not writing in their first language - because I support translation and translators, see previous post.  But in June this year, when sig other and I were on holiday, finishing our capitals of Europe with the last three in the Balkans (Montenegro is fab), I did read Heart of Darkness.  I have it as an ebook, and I can no longer buy ebooks in English, or almost not, because of the iniquity of UK booksellers (see previous post) but that is another story, and one which will be returned to.

Anyway, I did not get this book.  I could appreciate it, but I did not really get it.  Conrad says the seaman is not a wanderer but a sedentary creature: his home, the ship, is where he always is, and the sea is always the same.  "The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves" (p. 12).  I know what he means about being on board ship though.  I have always wanted to live and work on a ship, and I never will now.  This is probably why I like the Yotel pod hotels so much.  But anyway, spot on there, Joe. However, "the contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair" (p. 21).  What bollocks is this?

But - some nice turns of phrase - "this papier-mâché Mephistopheles" (p. 35).  Cool.

Mr Kurtz, Mr Kurtz.  So what?  The few days I once spent in Ghana, near the border with Togo, show me that his description of an African river is an excellent one.  But it was a different river. And another country.

So, anyway - some white bloke goes to Africa after ivory, and manages to get a whole bunch of Africans to do as he says.  A different white bloke is captain of a steamer which goes off up the river to find the first white bloke - why? and a whole bunch of Africans are hired to crew the steamer.  But nobody gives them anything to eat.  Is this not barbaric conduct?  Conrad does not say so.  And apparently "savages" chant "some weird incantation" (p. 85). Do they?  Am I supposed to be impressed?  More "weird incantations" (p. 85) - what does this even mean?  And apparently, along the river bank there are "secular trees" (p. 91) - huh?  "I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines".  Yeah, right.  Like we've all done that.

And then at the end the narrator, Marlow, is in bad faith because he lies about Kurtz's last words.

Oh, do me a favour.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

found in translation

I am not a literary translator, although I would rather like to be - I would especially like to have been the translator of Haruki Murakami - Norwegian Wood, anyone?  Time to re-read I think.  My Japanese teacher told me many years ago when I was studying in Japan, at a time before Murakami had really begun to be published and known in Japan, and certainly before he was translated, that Murakami had been a college friend of his and that they had argued about the ending of the Beatles song "Norwegian Wood", the two of them reaching different conclusions.  (My teacher was right in my opinion and Murakami was wrong, so the book was inspired by a mistake, not a lot of people know that).  Some writers would have remained undiscovered by me if they had not been translated, such as Carlos Ruiz Zafon, as I cannot read Spanish - and translated works can be real money-spinners for publishers, though publishers do not always see it that way.  My knowledge of Turkish literature is just about zero - the only Turkish writer I have really heard of is Orhan Pamuk, and only then because he has been translated into English.  The journalist and translator from Turkish Maureen Freely writes this about her translation of Turkish, and how a translator, at least in Turkey, is part of the politics as well as part of the literature.  Orhan Pamuk and other Turkish writers have been subjected to hate campaigns for acknowledging the Armenian genocide, and writers have been prosecuted under the infamous law on "Turkishness".  The Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink was murdered.  As was the Japanese translator of  The Satanic Verses (a truly dreadful book btw for anyone who wants to remember what all the fuss was about).  Translation is political.  But a translator shadows the writer and lives in the world of that book, and not only in Turkey and other countries where the medieval obscurantism of Islamism threatens to rub out culture.

Hat-tip Margaret.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

pirate radio hall of fame

I remember the pirates!  I was 13 when they were stopped, but I remember them.  There was a hit song that year "We Love The Pirate Stations" which I remember singing.  It was the only way to hear pop music in those days.  I saw the film "The Boat That Rocked", which in France was called, oddly, "Good Morning England" - no-one ever listened to those stations in the mornings, then you had the Today programme with Jack de Manio getting the time wrong and exasperating your parents, and I do not imagine things on those boats were like that at all, though as always that film was worth seeing for Bill Nighy doing what he does best, ie being Bill Nighy.  But I digress.  Many of those pirate radio DJs went on to do interesting things.  Perhaps the best remembered is Kenny Everett, now deceased, who may have been the funniest.  Dave Cash is still broadcasting, I think on Radio Kent.  Does anyone remember Alan Clark?  I do.

The Pirate Radio Hall Of Fame needs your

Alan ClarkAlan Clark Born in Wales but brought up in Croydon, south London, Alan joined Radio City in November 1965 after hearing an advertisement for disc-jockeys on the station. Radio City was one of the smaller stations, based on Shivering Sands fort in the Thames estuary, and in those days station owner Reg Calvert would often take on a new recruit for a week then pay him off with £5 “expenses”. Alan was not prepared to leave it at that and pestered the management until they gave him a full-time job. He stayed with Radio City for sixteen months and became one of their most popular presenters. Along with Ian MacRae he hosted the much-loved comedy show The Aunty Mabel Hour and, with Tom Edwards, shared responsibility for the Five By Four Beatles and Rolling Stones request show. When City closed down in February 1967 he joined Radio 390 but changed his name to Christopher Clark. Here he hosted the station's very last programme. Since the demise of the pirates Alan has worked as a journalist for Radio Netherlands, Independent Radio News, TVS and Meridian Television. He is married to Helen Clark, the former MP for Peterborough who lost her seat in the May 2005 general election. (You can hear some recordings of Alan in his guise of “Christopher Clark” on Radio 390 and see another photo here. There are yet more pictures in Edward Cole's and David Sinclair's photo albums.) 

Friday, 26 November 2010

old and sad - now Phil Woolas is really a non-person

I do not know how they can do this, while the legal proceedings are still going on, whaever happened to innocent until proved guilty, no by-election has been called, this has been sent to Labour activists today with a copy of a leaked LibDem email, addressee's name removed

Please see the below email our online team has just seen from the Liberal Democrats about Oldham East and Saddleworth.

the Lib Dems are swamping the constituency with activists from across the country. We run the serious risk of being out campaigned if we don’t rise to this challenge.
it is critically important that you come and help us in Oldham if you can.
I am personally asking for a favour from you.
It is your help here that will make the difference.
will you come and help this weekend?
Sign up here or call the office on 07872 417 249.
Thank you and see you soon.
Noel Hutchinson
North West Regional Director
Subject: Four weekends to win in Oldham and Saddleworth
This Christmas, you can give Parliament a new Liberal Democrat MP.
Delays to Oldham East and Saddleworth legal proceedings mean we now expect the by-election to take place very early in January.
That gives us a longer campaign and the opportunity to speak to more voters on the doorstep. But to take advantage of the extra few weeks, we need people on the ground now and throughout December.
There could be as few as eight working days in 2011 before Polling Day. That means we must win this by-election before Christmas. Please do not wait until the New Year to help out.
There are four weekends between now and the Christmas holidays. We need as many Liberal Democrat activists as possible working in the constituency each and every weekend until then.
If you can help out during the week, that would be very welcome too. The Greenfield HQ is open every day from 9am to 8pm. There are a map and directions on Elwyn Watkins' website.
Thank you to the hundreds of people who have already helped out in some way. Elwyn and the team really appreciate it.
Already lots of our parliamentarians have been to help. For the first time in most of our lifetimes, we have Government ministers campaigning for the Liberal Democrats in a by-election. Andrew Stunell has been several times, Steve Webb met pensioners in the constituency today and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne visited last weekend.
As well as meeting voters, Chris went to a great green energy project in the constituency and recorded a video message for the campaign.
Please join many other activists, councillors and parliamentarians by coming to help us get our message out. The forecast is for great weather in Oldham East and Saddleworth this weekend. I hope to see you there.
Best wishes,
Hilary Stephenson
Director of Campaigns and Elections, Liberal Democrats
P.S. Remember: we must win this by-election before Christmas so please come as soon as you can.

was tempted to give the LibDem one a bit of a fisking, but you can probably do it for me. Especially "in most of our lifetimes" - were they really expecting anyone who can remember 1906 to be out on the knocker?

I guess they feel scorned

what always strikes me about these pictures is how much weightier British marchers are than French ones

anyway. I think the message from this banner is clear.  These little loves feel betrayed.  They thought Nick Clegg was going to - what exactly?  Rail from the opposition benches at a "Tory scum" government or a "Labour warmonger sellout Bliar" one?  I picked this picture up from a Facebook page not entirely unconnected with Reading Labour Party.  (Sue me.)  The comments are hilarious.  One of them said "Tell you what.  Let's give middle class families subsidies and not let poor kids of single parents go to university."  I think the person was trying to say that the Evil Coalition is trying to do that to the British people.  Er.  That's what already happens.  That's what you, as middle class kids, receive.  State subsidy.  That's what you are campaigning for.  More of it.  For you.  Not for people in mock Burberry and cheap jewellery who go to tanning salons.  Oh no.

Get real.  (Hat-tip AQC).  If you voted LibDem it was presumably because you liked their policies.  If you liked their policies you wanted them to be in government.  Didn't  you?  Er - anyone?  Anyone?  (sound of tumbleweed)

Now - this is more like it: in France they let working-class people join in.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

let the punishment fit the crime!

is this man a minicab driver?
said Gilbert and Sullivan all those decades ago.  But in a slightly different context, the Guardian has this, so it must be true.  They cite London-based men who go regularly to fight with the Taleban in Afghanistan against the elected government (the Guardian forgets to tell us that the fighting is the forces of the elected government of Afghanistan and their allies against the Taleban, who are an insurgent force) and who are engaged the rest of the year in raising funds for the Taleban.  The article quotes a man who describes himself as a minicab driver who earns "good money" in east London.  Now I knew at least eight years ago that there were prayers and fund-raising for the Taleban at the Alexandra Road mosque in Reading, I don't know if anyone who lives in Reading, British citizen or no, has ever gone to fight for the Taleban.  If, as might happen, one of these men is captured alive in Afghanistan, and turns out to be a British citizen, what should happen to him?  I really would like to know what readers think.  Harry's Place on the same subject titles the post "Traitors", which of course is technically accurate and also lets you know what the author of that post thinks - but what do you think?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

tell me what you've read, and I'll tell you...

I got this from Gene at Harry's Place, but apparently it comes from the BBC, who tell us that most people - well give it a go if  you like.  The list is below, and yes I know lists are usually a boy thing, but I have bolded and italicised in accordance with what I have read.

Anyway, here’s an interesting exercise from Gavin Williams, who writes on his Facebook page that the BBC believes most people will have read only six of the 100 books listed here. Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety and italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt. Admittedly it’s quite an Anglocentric list.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo- Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

I have said I have read The Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton, but I cannot be sure.  I certainly read more than one collection of her stories when I was five or six, and I think this was one.