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30 June 2003

Roy Hattersley seems to vacillate between dogged defence and catlike offence in his relationship to New Labour. But in today's comment, I think he really nails it:
"Ever since New Labour was invented, the self-promotion of its publicists - Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson in particular - has encouraged the suspicion that Tony Blair cared more for style than substance. That was damaging enough when the novelty of "the Project" made journalists give the government the benefit of the doubt. Now that the novelty has worn off the government has no idea how to face adversity. Ministers behave as if it is sinful to criticise the government and offenders must be punished."

Found on From the Inside Looking Out: Astromind, Cognitive Research and Development. Amongst other things, they have a 13 minute IQ test.

29 June 2003

Photos from Baghdad by photo-blogger "G".

Here's the periodic update on the condition and numbers of "asylum seekers" in the UK. This story focuses on the many vicious racist attacks faced by Iraqis, Kurds, Turks and Nepalese in Plymouth and in Wrexham (way out of proportion to the puny numbers of asylum seekers they have in both cities.) In fact, the thing that makes me so ill about it is the rhetoric of being "swamped" with asylum seekers (just about the only legal category of immigrant there is, which is why I put it in quotes -- don't get me started!) So, in a country of between 60 and 70 million people, how many immigrants does it take to "swamp" the place? About 110,00 at any given time. Is the answer. I won't say right answer. That's about .16 of one percent of the population.

28 June 2003

Former Atlanta mayor and major civil rights leader Maynard Jackson died a few days ago and his funeral was today at the Civic Center in Atlanta - a very major event. There is good local coverage here and here.

Here is a shocking story of asylum-seekers in peril in the UK. As I have said before, I feel too strongly about this issue to comment coherently, so all I can do is offer stories.

27 June 2003

Coalition troops in Iraq are paying the price for their leaders lack of planning and over-confidence in the simple task of "nation building".

A Bangladeshi man has had a telephone line installed, after paying his installation fee in 1976 and waiting 27 years for the service. "I am so happy. But I am a bit sad, also. When I applied, I was a young man of 33 and had dreams about owning my own telephone. Now all those dreams are gone. My children will use the phone now," Mr Ismail said.

26 June 2003

My friend Joani is one of the most amazing people on the planet. There are a lot of reasons why I say that, but for now just get this - she is always telling me that she doesn't have the time/patience/energy to do various things, and yet periodically she will e-mail out a link to a U. S. Supreme Court opinion on a particularly important case that recently occurred. (Christ! How much patience do you need to track down and read Supreme Court opinions? It's not like she's a lawyer or anything, either.) This one is the court's opinion striking down a Texas sodomy law.

Here's another article on Hillary Clinton and her maybe-maybe-not run for U.S. president. I still think we should hold out for Chelsea. Thirteen years is not that long to wait.

See the last post of last Saturday about Harry Potter; there's an update to it that may be of interest to fans of satire or Rod Liddle.

In case no one noticed, except Terry Sedgwick, without whose help it would not be possible, Deborama's weblog now has comments. So let's hear from you. We are getting over 50 hits a day so somebody must be reading us.

Greg Palast is someone I just didn't notice until recently. I have added his website to the Politics section on Deborama's Fund of Knowledge. I think he must have come to prominence in the US after I left. Although apparently he was a columnist for the Guardian, but I have only been reading the Guardian for about 3 years. Well, never mind. What I wanted to say is that he has a story on his website that I find almost unbelievable (but I do believe it.) I won't say any more about it because I don't want to be targeted by a large and possibly evil corporation, so you will just have to read it.

24 June 2003

George Bush Is A Coward, by Jack Balkwill, Vietnam Veteran. I picked this up from some blog I was looking at at work, and as I often do, I e-mailed the link to home to blog it later. But I forgot to remember where I saw it. Oh, well. It's very good, especially if you like vitriol.

Check this link: Maketradefair.com. This site belongs to Oxfam and it has a petition you can sign to make trade fair. They also have a campaign going on around fair prices for coffee producers (Stir It Up).


Which fits very nicely with this piece by George Monbiot : Why I was wrong about trade. This is a very thoughtful, though brief, article, which goes into the thinking behind Monbiot's rejection of the simplistic idea of localisation as the "correct" alternative to coercive and exploitative global markets.

I picked up this story from Body and Soul, about two US Army doctors who were asked to treat three Iraqi children with severe burns and refused to even examine them, saying that their injuries were not life-threatening nor a result of US actions. The story and the commentary around it seems to focus on the lack of compassion of these two doctors as soldiers and as Americans. The thing that gets to me about it, and where I really think action should be taken, is their lack of compassion as doctors. Because in my mind, an Army doctor is a doctor first, a soldier second, a representative of his country third. What about the Hippocratic Oath? Why isn't the AMA looking into revoking their credentials or whatever it is they do for disciplinary measures? What about the fact that these doctors are going to get out of the military one day and be working in the emergency room of some American hospital, where they will gleefully neglect unto the death anyone whose insurance isn't up to scratch?

23 June 2003

DH and I just happened to be listening to BBC Radio Four when this story came on about the BBC Panorama crew who were booted out of Camp Delta (Guantanamo Bay) when one of the detainees shouted to them in English "We have been waiting to talk to you." This is a really horrendous story. The authorities at the camp confiscated and erased the audio tapes not only of the incident itself but all the stuff leading up to it. But, as the correspondent said "Fortunately, we had made backup copies." So we got to hear the whole thing on the radio show.

I happened to catch a bit of a programme about linguistics on TV yesterday. The description claimed that it would answer burning questions about the Tower of Babel and whether all languages came from one or not, and unfortunately it did no such thing (as is often the case with television programmes). But there was an interesting bit about grammars and how linguists compile them and how difficult that is. As an example, one of several linguists being interviewed for the show went into the subject of subject dropping and object dropping. An example of subject dropping is like in Spanish, where it is acceptable to say "Hablo Espanol" instead of "Yo hablo Espanol." The object dropping occurred in the language family this linguist was studying (Iranian languages, I think) and he made the statement that there were no examples of object dropping in English. Smart-aleck that I am, I immediately thought of two of them.

The first is in a dialect spoken in Minnesota and I am sure other places (in fact I think it may have come from rural Canada.) It's sort of a cheat, because it involves dropping a prepositional object rather than a verb object, but nevertheless . . . It is the "go with / come with" construction and it goes something like : "I am going downtown to shop; do you want to come with?" (dropped object "me".) The other example is in the peculiarly attenuated language often used in recipes, a dialect too, in a way. This is true verb object dropping. Example: "Whip six egg whites in a bowl and fold into the batter." (dropped object "them"). So there.

This is extremely scary: Naomi Klein writes about the neo-McCarthyist silencing and harrassing of NGOs that refuse to operate as "an arm of the US government". Apparently some pundits close to power have begun to whip up fear against NGOs because they are "unelected" and "only accountable to their supporters". This is brought to you by your old friends the American Enterprise Institute, which is itself an NGO, unelected, and accountable only to its supporters, primarily big oil, in case you were wondering.

There is much that is good in David Hare's essay Betrayed in today's Guardian. I particularly like his opening paragraphs, an argument against the cynical view of all politicians being crooks; it is something I have tried and failed for a long time to articulate. Then he turns to his present far deeper and more well-founded "turn" against the politicians of Britain, the Labour party, basically Tony Blair. "Any plain citizen - anyone, in fact, ruled rather than ruling - would have to be blind with conceit not to notice that the Blair-Brown project has motored forwards on a powerful fuel made up of two-parts admiration for the opposition mixed with three-parts contempt for their own supporters. " And finally to the Iraq war, including the lead-up and the present "post-war" spinning. (I can't type "post-war" without the quotes; people are still fighting there, people are still dying, it is not a matter of "losing the peace" but of not being able to face that this war is going on, and this is not peace, either lost or won.) " Hare says that the Labour voters have been "Betrayed", because it is now really irrelevant whether you believe in the politicians or not and because "far more troubling, at least to those of us who imagine that some sort of national conversation still goes on, is the knowledge that it is now impossible to imagine any American foreign policy, however irrational, however dangerous, however illegal, with which our present prime minister would not declare himself publicly delighted and thrilled."

Turning to the current state of play, he says "As the Americans lie back on their Roman pillows and toy insincerely with a laughable road map for the Middle East which is touted, among other things, as Blair's reward for his loyalty, and which, in a world now pathologically distrustful of American intentions, has no conceivable chance of success, the temptation is to throw our hands up and declare that there is no alternative but for the rest of us to join our short-sleeved cousins lolling in the bleachers. "

All of which I agree with. And yet, and yet, Iraq is better off now than under Saddam. I have to believe that. They are not well off, by any measure, they are not at peace, they are not "free." But if the relative measure of suffering has any meaning at all, they are better off. And also it is (mainly) America that is paying a heavy price, even though, God help them, most Americans are too stupefied by their appalling media to know it. The heavy price will come over here to Europe eventually, and things could get worse in Iraq yet. And I fear he is right about the prospects for any positive outcome in the Israeli-Paliestinian conflict. For now, I think David Hare's analysis is true as far as it goes, but it is a selective picture.

22 June 2003

I just added an interesting new link to the Specialist News category of Deborama's Fund of Knowledge; it's called SpinSanity. It's an online journal that tracks and criticises misleading political rhetoric (what a great job that would be!) and one of the three young male editors has the same last name as I do - well, as I used to, before I got married. Wonder if he's kin? Anyway, I highly recommend it.

21 June 2003

Oxford English Dictionary's word-of-the-day:
extropian, n. and a.

A. n. Freq. with capital initial. An advocate or adherent of the theory of extropy; a person who believes that cultural and technological development tends to oppose, and will overcome, entropy.
1988 Extropy (Introductory Issue) Fall 9 Extropians..have the insight and courage to choose the perspectives-expanding extropian paradigm. 1993 R. RUCKER et al. Mondo 2000 283/1 Extropians are folks who oppose entropy, through a variety of technological and philosophical means. 1995 Ottawa Citizen (Nexis) 1 Apr. B4 It may seem..that Extropians place too much faith in technology, that they're much too high on the freedoms and possibilities you find on the Net, but all they're doing is trying out ideas. 2000 Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey) (Morris ed.) 4 Jan. 1/2 While biochemists and geneticists strive to fashion longer life by manipulating DNA..‘extropians’believers in the consciousness-extending power of computersare looking to the preservation of souls in silicon.
B. adj. Of or relating to extropy, extropians, or Extropianism.
1988 Extropy (Introductory Issue) Fall 21 H. G. Wells wrote some very extropian stories. 1995 Observer 26 Mar. (Life Suppl.) 12/3 Down isn't an Extropian direction. Down isn't in their dictionary, or if it is, it's probably been turned into something more Extropian, like ‘anti-up’. 1998 E. DAVIS TechGnosis (1999) iv. 128 In the Extropian utopia, the mind abandons the body, technology rewrites the laws of nature, and libertarian superbrights leave Terra's polluted and impoverished nest for a cyborg life in space. 2001 Canberra Times (Nexis) 15 Jan. A15 What will the human of the future be like? The question is answered by the transhumanist theories of the Extropian Institute.

Oh, yeah, R. Rucker, I remember him well. I believe you will find the R stands for Rudy.

Any other blog that deigns to notice the Harry Potter frenzy in the media would give you a story about the queues, or a review written in the middle of last night. But this blog seeks to be a little less predictable than that. Going back a few days, here is an analysis of the whole series, dissecting what Rowling's books tell us about class, culture and identity.


Update to this post on 26 June (really testing new Blogger to the max!): Yesterday's Guardian featured a wonderful satirical piece by Rod Liddle in response to the above. Excellent.

20 June 2003

The Church of England is now grappling with the issue of homosexuality. Churches in America have been going through this struggle since the early 1980s and there has been remarkably little progress. But the Church of England's issue is complicated by proposed EU legislation flowing from the European charter on human rights. And it's also complicated by the anachronistic persistence of being an established state religion. Giles Fraser in today's Guardian billiantly sums up the case for the opposition to that of "the nine bishops".

The ever hilarious John O'Farrell holds forth on the proposal to allow 24-hour boozing in Britain. That's about the last thing the country needs, in my humble opinion. But then, DH says that we Americans are all puritanical about alcohol, so he ignores my opinions about it, except when he is drunk, of course, and then he just chucks an empty at me and tells me to shut my gob. (Just kidding, there. DH is in fact very polite and well-bred and would never behave like that.)

19 June 2003

In an earlier post that mentioned GM crops, I made the declaration that my opposition to GM technology was not a blanket condemnation of the policy itself but rather against what I consider inherently unethical applications (herbicide resistance and the terminator gene, specifically.) I also made the (possibly rash) statement that if I did not consider a given genetic modification unethical and was convinced by proper clinical testing that it was not harmful, I would even eat it. Now it looks like I may have a chance to put my - er - mouth where my mouth is? No, that doesn't sound right. Oh, eat my words, no drink my words. But anyway, I read in the New Scientist that the latest research is on a naturally low-caffeine coffee bean. As the article mentions, caffeine "can trigger palpitations and increase blood pressure in sensitive individuals". Well, I am one of those unlucky individuals, and I love the taste of coffee. It seems cruel that decaffeinated coffee both lacks a bit of the taste and costs more, due to the expensive nature of the process. The article claims that the new GM coffee (not available for many years, I imagine, as it is still in R&D) will taste just the same and cost less. (Ha! I'll believe that when I see it. Have you ever heard of a new commodity food that costs less? Nor have I.)

17 June 2003

I don't have a lot of time for the old weblog today, but just let me hastily post this link to the Washington Post story of yesterday: Former aide takes aim at war on terror. Also this plea for Clinton, with his raging libido, to come back and save America.

I think the biggest piece of evidence I have that we who think there is something evil lurking at the heart of the Republican regime are not crazy is the surprising number of turncoats they have had - people who sound so genuinely heartsick at all the things they have witnessed or been asked to do. That's got to mean something.

16 June 2003

The GM Debate Sham redux

Here's another one. Every British blogger, without exception, that I have read, has expressed disgust about this so-called Debate on GM Crops. (And if you think that's bad, you should read the comments on the organic gardening mailing lists.)

A guest columnist in the Guardian with the delightfully improbable name of Cherry Potter (apparently she is an author of what I call Pop Novels, but of her output Deborama remains blissfully unaware) has written a little piece on the latest genre of "Humiliation TV". This is not pure Big Brother but travels under the guise of self-improvement. I am not sure if my readers outside the UK (or indeed in the UK) are familiar with the concept so I will encapsulate: "What Not to Wear", where two women confront bad taste in clothing and offer the object of their ridicule a make-over; "How Clean Is Your House", where two women enter a filthy abode, expose it, clean it, etc. and "Would Like To Meet" where two women and a man observe an inept single in painful social situations, criticise him (or her), coach him (or her) and then send him (or her) out to (try to) snag a date with someone they fancy. You probably recognise the formula - it is a slightly sadistic version of the "House Doctor" formula, where a fatally hip estate agent analyses why a house is not selling and then fixes it up, usually accompanied with hearty doses of scathing critique and personal derogation. And these new shows are more sadistic, and more voyeuristic. You can't help thinking it will all end in tears. Indeed there is another show, that Ms. Potter did not mention, possibly because for one thing it does not fit her formula, because the presenter is a man (admittedly a very camp man, but stop me before I slide into Political Incorrectness here) and for another thing because the presenter, Alvin Hall, does not humiliate his subjects so much as shame them, and sometimes even comfort them. This programme, "Your Money or Your Life", has in fact moved me to tears on several occasions. In some ways, YMOYL is halfway in between the basically benign and helpful House Doctor and the frankly catty and unhelpful What Not to Wear, but in another way, it transcends all of these other programmes in that it addresses a very core emotional issue in peoples lives, far more important than their dress sense or even (I can't believe I'm saying this) how clean their house is.

15 June 2003

I got this from A Berkeley Economist Against Empire. It's the speech given by James Galbraith at the Take Back America conference.

There are two immigration/asylum stories in today's Observer, this and this. I also find it hard to comment on this issue. See earlier story about "refusal shoes".

I promise I won't make a habit of this - at least not a frequent habit. An historic win for England in Rugby Union.

I want to just let this story speak for itself. Words fail me when I try to comment on anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Journalist Saira Shah is calling for an investigation into the death of her colleague James Miller.

Of course, Hillary C.'s new memoirs are the major buzz right now, in the blogosphere as many other spheres. Peter Preston is not quite sure about her and attempts to read between the lines, while Elaine Showalter is sure she has the measure of Clinton's theme, which is "fight your own battles, run your own race," which apparently makes her book a "powerful feminist document". I think Hillary would like that.

I don't really fancy the distaff Clinton's chances as President 2008. I think she would make a good first female US head of state, but I don't think she could survive the race (not that I'm paranoid or anything. Like hell I'm not.) And that perceived lack of a sense of humour, or the kind of suspicious charm that propelled her husband to the heights and is keeping him even now at the centre of things, is still a problem.

But here's a thought: Chelsea Clinton in 2016? You heard it here first. (Or, if you didn't hear it here first, tell me where you heard it so I can see if there's an election committee I can join.)

A little bit of personal trivia I just discovered: Chelsea Clinton was born in 1980 and named for the Joni Mitchell song "Chelsea Morning". My son Carey was born in 1979 and named for the Joni Mitchell song "Carey". Don't you think these two should meet?

14 June 2003

I found this interesting weblog called "gohan taberu" ("let's eat" in Japanese) which just has random links related to food and a few interesting recipes. It is a revelation to me that people blog "about" all kinds of things, sometimes just a narrow range of things (as opposed to me, who will blog anything if I think it's interesting.) So he had this link: Recipes of Wartime Europe, and this one:which is full of Japanese recipes. Mostly the blog is "about" Japanese food because the blogger, James, is a "housewife" in Tokyo.
I am thinking of also doing a food-related blog, but no, I probably don't have the time. Maybe I'll just put some of my most excellent recipes on the Personal Page.
Come to think of it, all the food blogs I have seen are very rarely posted to, or else quite out of date.

Found on Eschaton: a health warning for those living in the US - the dreaded bump-monkey pox!

Extreme tattooing

Extreme tattooing in the UK.

13 June 2003

The story behind the film

"Mescal and madness": One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is the tale of a quixotic figure battling evil in a mental hospital. It won five Oscars and used patients in front of, and behind, the cameras. Will Hodgkinson writes in the Guardian about a documentary that tells the story behind the making of this American classic.

Apocalypse fiction (a tautology)

Absolutely unfathomable to most Brits, not even that interesting to most Americans (but rather horrifying to all the rest): the surging popularity amongst fundamentalist Christians of the Apocalypse fiction genre.

12 June 2003

If you have visited Deborama's Weblog before, then doubtless you notice my new look. I guess you could call it late spring cleaning. The new system will be under construction for a few days (so there may not be many posts although there will be changes.) I am trying to be less high maintenance with the blogging thing. Blog links will be handled by Blogrolling. Personal links will be on a new webpage and so will all the other links. So I have three pages to maintain, but two of them are meant to be fairly static, while this one will continue to be frequently updated.

I would have preferred to have the same template for all three, but Blogger only allows "new" templates for new blogs and only "old" templates for this one. But at least my new "old" template is not only cleaner looking but much easier to update. I hope you enjoy the new formats.

The missionary position

From Killing the Buddha comes this story of American Christian missionaries in post-war Japan. This is a good story in its own right, but eerily relevant to today's missionary efforts in post-war Iraq, upon which I have blogged earlier.

This just makes me sick. The US and the EU; sometimes I think they deserve each other. But the weaker and victimised nations of the world do not deserve to be squeezed between them, the sacrificial pawns in their endless chess games.

NYC in crisis

Gary Younge in New York City, where the budget crisis is causing policing to get out of hand.

Rod Liddle, on the differences between dinner, tea and supper, (it all depends on your upbringing) and how disagreement on this issue has had a major impact on the British government. Remember that little "supper" that Tony and Gordon had?

Oona King, MP, in the Gaza Strip.

I loved this story. The Belmont Mini Market : Please do not be forgetting us.

Homeless housing minister

The Swedish housing minister is homeless. Lars-Erik Loevden sold his family home in Malmo and is looking for a new one. In the meantime, he told Var Bostad magazine, his belongings are in storage. The Malmo region is apparently suffering from a chronic shortage of housing, due partly to an influx of Danes from the neighbouring capital of Copenhagen. (Sorry, no link; you'll just have to take my word for it.)

I have had to remove the commenting, as I could never get it to work. Apologies, too, for the wacky formatting experienced all yesterday; that, and the total loss of my template, were all due to my trial-and-error method attempts to get the commenting to work. Maybe I'll try a different way. Unless any javascript experts volunteer to help me out. (There is still a link to my yahoo e-mail address if anyone has feedback or wants to volunteer.) Also, I tried to post some stuff yesterday that didn't work because of said template being broken and now I can't remember what it was! (I hate this part of being old.)

11 June 2003

I just found this cool thing on Neil Gaiman's Journal: the Library Hotel in NYC.

10 June 2003

US forced to print Iraqi banknotes with Saddam's portrait. Just another weird manifestation of the war-induced anarchy.

"GM Debate" Sham

George Monbiot today publishes his criticism of the so-called great GM debate, and says, let's call their bluff. As expected, this article is filled with the facts that the government don't want you to know.

09 June 2003

I have been told by the owner of the Rant of the Week blog that my comments don't work. I am using Haloscan for commenting but I haven't put a credit up for them yet, mainly because it is risky to try to edit my template from my computer at work, and I keep forgetting to do it at night when I get home, due to the normal brainfog. Apologies to anyone who tried to comment; I will look into it.

My daughter Aimee has asked me to plug her art show. This makes more sense than it might seem, as I assume that at least 50% of the readers of this blog (that would be about three) live in Minneapolis. This isn't, strictly speaking, her art show, but rather an art show in which her art features prominently. The show is on July 5, starting at 7:00 pm, at Rogue Buddha Gallery, 2401 East Hennepin in Minneapolis. The show includes art by Aimee Whatley, Charlie Kraft, Gabriel Combs, Matt Larson, and Levi Polzin, and runs through 28 July.

I have to rant a bit. This is about one of those horribly sloppy usages of language that I cannot stand. At the bottom of the Guardian online, for the past three weeks or so, there has appeared the headline : Untold stories of those who died during the war on Iraq. If these stories are untold, what is the point of the article? Is it not to tell these stories, and does that not make them no longer "untold"? My position is that an "untold" story being "finally" told in a news item, documentary, whatever, must be at least a few years old, and preferably about 20 or more. The Iraq War is not even (really) over yet!

While I am ranting, I have to relate one of the worst, that still gets me going even though it happened over a year ago. One of the most debased and meaningless cliches in constant use here in Britain is "at the end of the day". (In the average two minute sports interview, you tend to hear it maybe five or six times.) The former Education Minister, Estelle Morris, said, in an early morning interview on BBC radio, referring to school children arriving at school : "At the end of the day, in the morning, . . . " I tell you, it's enough to put one off ones breakfast.

08 June 2003

The catchy title - A Latte and a Rifle To Go - do not really do this piece on the insanities of post-war Iraq justice. It is hard to remember that this is not fiction sometimes.

07 June 2003

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (my former hometown paper, and notoriously "liberal") via Common Dreams, comes this article about the shameful treatment of "9/11" detainees by the INS and the FBI.

You call this DEBATE?

I see another person was driven out of his/her skull by the mindless stupidity of the "GM Debate" (see below for my posting).

Here's a cool thing I got from my friend Joani: the War Profiteers Card Deck. Check it out.

05 June 2003

The UK government incurs Deborama's eternal wrath and contempt

I just had a most annoying interface with the UK government. We are in the first week of the lightening-quick one-month Great National Debate On Genetic Modification of Crops. What a joke! They are holding six or seven public forums, not advertised. They have also a website with the "points" of the "debate" set out in a very condescending way. No points are actually made, no information is given, no knowledge is imparted. The language is so Doublespeak that poor Mr. Orwell has surely disinterred himself by now with all that spinning around in his grave. If one is of the subsection of society that does most of its business on the internet (as I am) one is meant to read all this drivel, and then, freshly "informed", register ones views through a multiple choice radio button form. The questions on the form are a lot better than the debating points, I'll give them that. But then that means there is even less of a connect between the "facts" upon which to "decide" and the views that you register. And of course, after reading all this weasel-sh**, one is not likely to believe that ones views, once registered, will make any difference anyway. Oh, it just makes me spit.

By the way, I am not going to put a link here, but if you are British and can convince me of it, and can't find the site on your own, e-mail me at the link above and I'll tell it to you.

04 June 2003

Wow! The Salam Pax phenomenon just gets better and better. Two things today:
1. On Salam's own blog is a link to a story by a western journalist in Iraq who was told to find him and interview him, only to discover that he had been employing the famous Baghdad Blogger as his interpreter and hadn't even known it! From Slate's Peter Maass. Sorry, but I have to do another long quote here.

My inner journalist tells me to draw back at this moment and write about the larger significance of my encounter with Salam Pax. That working alongside—no, employing—a star of the World Wide Web and being blissfully unaware of it is a lesson about the murkiness of today's Iraq, a netherland of obscurity in which you cannot know who was a Baathist and who was not, or whether the man in the middle of the street with a gun is going to shoot you or not, or whether the country is spiraling out of control or just having teething problems before becoming a normal nation. My inner blogger, however, tells me to skip the What This Means stuff and write about my life with Salam Pax.

2. Salam himself has just inaugurated a fortnightly (that's every two weeks for us ignorant Americans) column, which is, of course, excellent, and a little more substantial than some of the typical bloggy postings that you get irregularly. I look forward already to the next one. It's on the Guardian, of course. Here is the link to the first one.

Wow! This is the sort of reality TV of which Deborama thoroughly approves! I must watch it.

I did watch it. It was pretty good. I enjoyed telling hubby: "That! That was your kitchen when I first saw it! That was your chip pan!" and him sitting there squirming and blushing and saying "No! No!" (In a sense we're both right. He isn't really that bad, but there is some blokey phenomenon where men left on their own degenerate into squalor.)

I don't think this show would make it in America. It's really popular here, though. British men do seem to like steely-eyed, granny-ish women who are stern with them (viz."Mrs. T.").

03 June 2003

I don't usually like to put very long quotes in my weblog, but I have to make an exception for Why I Stood Up for Bobby Sands by John McDonnell, MP.

I see my task now as doing all I can to get the political show back on the road, to create the kinds of formulations through which the IRA, the loyalist paramilitaries and the British army can all depart the scene without a sense of abiding grievance. No side will move if movement is portrayed as humiliating surrender.

Among British people there has to be an acceptance that the violence of the past 35 years had a root cause. It wasn't some pathological trait of the Irish. Britain faced such violence in virtually every colony from which it was forced to withdraw...We have to face up to the fact that without the armed uprising in 1916 Britain would not have withdrawn from southern Ireland. And without the armed struggle of the IRA over the past 30 years, the Good Friday agreement would not have acknowledged the legitimacy of the aspirations of many Irish people for a united Ireland. And without that acknowledgment we would have no peace process.

Irish republicans have to face the fact that the use of violence has resulted in unforgivable atrocities. No cause is worth the loss of a child's life. No amount of political theory will justify what has been perpetrated on the victims of the bombing campaigns. An acknowledgment is also needed that loyalist paramilitaries were motivated by the same dedication to their cause as IRA volunteers and that many British troops demonstrated similar bravery in what was in reality a long and brutal war. Above all else, republicans need to accept that the time for violence has gone.


02 June 2003

I don't think it was David Aaronovitch's intended message in his article about why the UK ought not to have a referendum on the EU constitutional convention. But the effect for me was to re-affirm an opinion I have been growing about British government: in the absence of a written constitution, and with a tradition of inventing phony traditions and then enforcing them as "precedents", they just make it up as they go along.

Diabolical thinking: Genetically modified foods

I have a philosophical theory that has been in development for about three decades. It's nothing new, really, the only added value I can claim is, perhaps, emphasis, and a few original applications or examples. The nugget of the theory is : ignorance causes more suffering than malice. Yeah, that's not very original, it sounds sort of Buddhist, but I came to this belief by a route entirely independent of Eastern systems (in fact, within the context of pious but humanist Christianity.) There is a corollary : the main cause of ignorance is the learned tendency towards binary thought patterns. That sounds a bit more technical. Other names for binary thought patterns : black-and-white, either-or, (false or not) dichotomy or "diabolical reasoning." This last one is courtesy M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled, etc.) and stems from a day-long lecture of his that I attended in the mid-1980s, posing as the wife of my Methodist pastor. (Yes, it is an interesting story but I don't have time to go into it here.)

I was reminded of this line of thought when I read this very good commentary about the GM food controversy by Nick Cohen. Not necessarily conscious of following my philosophy but essentially guided by its spirit, I find myself without a side to be on in the GM controversy, just as I have been in the US abortion-rights controversy for many years before.

I like to think of myself as a believer in reason, of a sort of 17th or 18th century type, to be sure. Because it appears to me that sometime in the 20th century, reason, in the popular sense, became irreversibly polluted by diabolical thinking. Now, I happen to believe that genetic modification, after appropriate testing, might be OK in the case of golden rice. I would even eat it myself, not that I need it, being in no danger of nutritional deficiency. But I believe that no amount of testing (not that there has ever been any) will make Monsanto's Round-up Ready soybean, or a terminator gene in any food crop, ethical. By the same token, as a pro-choice partisan in 1970s and 1980s America, I was not allowed to say that late-term abortions do have harmful psychological effects on many who have them. And in the matter of training doctors to perform abortions, there were only two allowable positions: pro-choice - all doctors should be forced to be trained, regardless of their beliefs (and of course training means performing abortions as a student); or pro-life - student doctors will be discouraged from taking the optional training in abortion by the handy and effective means of death threats (which is just one of the many ironies implicit in these people calling themselves "pro-life").

Alexander Chancellor in The End of the Affair discusses the current state of the "special relationship" and finds it to have been under strain for a long while.

01 June 2003

George Orwell, whose will forbade any biographies, is the subject of two new ones, by D J Taylor and Gordon Bowker. And here's a thing I missed when it first appeared: E Blair on T Blair. And here's another tidbit from the world of Orwelliana: a review of Hilary Spurling's attempt to rescue Sonia Orwell from all her detractors, and Christopher Hitchen's attempt to rescue George Orwell from all his admirers.

"They Shall Not Pass". This an article about being an immigration officer, by the author of a novel about his experiences called "Refusal Shoes." Whether you get past the UK immigration officer apparently has a lot to do with your footwear.
(I am making light of this, but in fact it is an issue that troubles me, and it is something that hubbie and I have had some big fights about.) (Oh, wait, I must correct myself. Hubbie tells me that marital spats and arguments only count as "big fights" if someone is hit or at least crockery is broken. I guess we had - um - heated arguments.)

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