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27 February 2005

Blair is election liability, warn Labour aides

The Observer reports on trouble within the Labour election camp. Tony Blair is too "presidential". He must now appear with cabinet members at his side, and Gordon Brown will be put more to the forefront. Oh, the irony of it.

25 February 2005

A law to end all lawfulness

George Monbiot, in Protest as Harassment raises an important but overlooked (in the media) issue about the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. While attention has focused almost exclusively on the admittedly problematic religious incitement provisions, most people have not noticed that, by clever redefinitions of offences, the Bill pretty much outlaws all forms of peaceful protest and makes free speech a crime. The most basic activities of peaceful protest are now defined as criminal harrassment; it is only necessary, for example, to hand a handbill making a valid point to two people to be guilty of "harrassing" the public 'in order “to persuade any person … not to do something that he is entitled or required to do, or to do something that he is not under any obligation to do.” ' And the public itself does not have to complain of being harrassed; under this law, the McDonald's libel action against Dave Morris and Helen Steel that was recently overturned on human rights grounds would not even have been needed. McDonald's could have just had the two activists locked up for criminal activity.

24 February 2005

Blogkeeping

Yes, almost all of my pictures are broken. This is not the fault of Blogger or Blogspot. I think the server of my ISP (ntlworld) is completely kaput. I cannot even access their main site to see what's wrong, and my mail service with them is sputtering around, timing out, only an occasional little dribble of mail coming through very late. I don't know about the fate of my outgoing mail.
Sorry for the inconvenience this will cause, as they say on the trains.
***Update, same afternoon *** Seems to be all better now. As you were.

22 February 2005

The Doctor is Dead

Hunter S. Thompson, one of my great heroes is dead from an apparent suicide. With a gun, which is appropriate, because he loved his guns a lot, and he famously said that he would feel really trapped in life if he didn't know that he could commit suicide at any time he chose. So I guess this was the time. He also said he never expected to live past 30, and he was a respectable 67, and in far better health than he had any right to be, the old devil.
The following are some excerpts from the obituary for HST in The Independent:

Hunter S. Thompson in 2003 summed up his life thus: "I was a notorious best-selling author of weird and brutal books and also a widely feared newspaper columnist . . . I was also drunk, crazy and heavily armed at all times."
His heyday was the Seventies when every magazine around wanted to use him. He set up home in Woody Creek, near Aspen, Colorado, in a "writer's compound". In 1970 he was almost elected sheriff in Aspen under the Freak Power Party banner but in subsequent decades became increasingly reclusive, surrounded by peacocks and guns. His books were mostly collections of his journalism. They included: The Great Shark Hunt: strange tales from a strange time (1979); The Curse of Lono (illustrated by Ralph Steadman, 1983); Generation of Swine: tales of shame and degradation in the '80s (1988); Songs of the Doomed: more notes on the death of the American Dream (1990); Silk Road: thirty-three years in the passing lane (1990); Better than Sex: confessions of a political junkie (1993); and The Proud Highway: the saga of a desperate southern gentleman, 1955-1967 (1997).
Thompson was the model for Garry Trudeau's balding "Uncle Duke" in the comic strip "Doonesbury". In 1980 the film Where the Buffalo Roam, based on Thompson's coverage of the Super Bowl and the 1972 presidential elections, had Bill Murray playing the good doctor of gonzo journalism. Later, in 1998, Johnny Depp played him in Terry Gilliam's film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
As the years went on, Thompson's provocative insights into American society and politics sometimes veered into hectoring and invective. However, on occasion, he still kept his bite. In a 1994 Rolling Stone obituary of Richard Nixon he famously described the former President as "a liar, a quitter and a bastard. A cheap crook and a merciless war criminal."

Another kindred spirit gone.

16 February 2005

The Fighting Moderates

My non-blogging friend Joani sent me this New York Times op-ed by Paul Krugman. It's a good analysis of what Howard Dean is and isn't (the clue is in the title) and also outlines what the current Democratic strategy should be for preserving the last great creation of Democratic liberalism under the guns of the Bush administration - the middle class.

13 February 2005

Baghdad Burning

Another infrequent post from Baghdad Burning's Riverbend. This one contains a Baghdad-eye view of the elections and a story about a visit to the Ministry of Education, where Riverbend was admonished by a strict Shi'a official for not dressing appropriately.

12 February 2005

Stop press! Deborama finally comes down against political correctness!

You all know I am a liberal, except in those areas where I am left of liberal. You may not all know it, but my gay-friendly, practicing bisexual, friend of friends of Judy credentials are pretty well established. Nevertheless, when I readthis, my reaction was "Fer christsake, don't you people have better things to do with your time and energy?" I mean, really!

OK, look . . .

I am not going to blog about the Chuck and 'Milla Show. Not now, not ever, well, not unless they do something newsworthy. But I can still blog about the things that spring up because of them and their little drama, such as this wonderfully bitchy depiction, by Polly Toynbee, of what monarchy does to a nation, which I have had the misfortune to witness firsthand.

Ludicrous and grotesque for the wretched royal performers and their subjects alike, this is the least dignified of all state institutions. It always was, even in those relatively few reigns when the monarch did behave with due decorum.
The glittering emblem of the sovereign infantilises the nation into an unhealthy fascination with the doings of the royal household, children, servants, foibles and every banal saying and doing. It demeans the idea of citizenship and the meaning of the state. Why should these meaningless people be embedded in our national imagination? . . .
The tyranny of the monarchy is not in its puny temporal power but in its hold over the national imagination. Its spirit permeates politics, poisoning the appetite for reform and imbuing the nation with grandiose fantasies. It imparts an unsubtle taste for the thwack of "strong government" under the firm dictatorship of one party: Her Majesty's government. Proportional representation comes from another part of the brain, less hierarchical, less certain, more consensual - but somehow "not the British way". We have hierarchy hard-wired into us - tyrannical little kings and queens atop every pyramid of management.

That last paragraph particular struck a nerve. While all the "royal wedding" fuss was going on, my workplace in Nottingham was actually graced with a visit from a minor royal: Sophie, the Countess of Wessex. To my staunchly republican American gaze, this was an appalling show. First, they closed off to all of us peons the spanking new and happy-shiny atrium of our building, with its vital deli, shop and cafeteria, between 10:30 and 12:15. Then we were informed we were "welcome" (ha!) to stand respectfully around the balconies on the upper two floors and gawk at the lovely Countess and the beribboned mayor and those lucky few who actually got to press the royal(-ish) flesh. (No flash photos please.) Then the intranet the next day was adorned with pictures of the poor old wait staff in their crisp uniforms standing at attention behind the crystal coffee urn, the ultra-serious PR types and management types looking only a touch less ludicrous as they stood at ease in their poshest suits awaiting her arrival, and in some ways the unluckiest of all, the Countess herself, dwarfed by a huge bouquet that she was apparently obliged to carry around with her the entire two hours she took part in the Presenting of the Enormous 7-foot Cheque, the Song-singing of the Local Schoolchildren Who Would Benefit from the Aforesaid Cheque, the Making of the Speech, and the Listening to the Welcomes and Thank Yous of a Grateful Nottingham.
Meanwhile back at home (our castle!) DH thinks he (but not I, of course) and other British men and women, ought to have a referendum on the role that poor old Camilla will play in the nation. He just doesn't get it. Referenda are not guaranteed in any government, and certainly not a monarchy. I think he wants to have his cake and eat it too, because he is not in favour of abolition of the anachronistic institutions in Britain, but only of their reform, or to be more precise, picking and choosing the bits he likes. I say "You live in a monarchy, which means you are a 'subject' rather than a 'citizen'. If you're not prepared to change it, just deal with it."

09 February 2005

Iraq to US: Where is our money?

George Monbiot, in Fraud and Corruption, delivers a scathing indictment of the Bush administration's fast-and-loose policy with money, in this case other people's money. (I would add, in this case, the money of a people they cynically subjugated under the flimsy guise of saving them from a worse dictator.) Most of this I pretty much either knew or suspected, but to see it all gathered together, carefully documented and laid out in one place is a sickening experience.

On my book reviews blog and my kitchen blog

Another great post idea stolen from the Whole Wide World of Fat Buddha : a wonderful article on Dashiell Hammett, which I linked to in Deborama's Book Reviews.
Speaking of books, I am very close to finishing The Confusion, book 2 of 3 massive books making up the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. I just can't say enough good things about these books. They are a stupendous achievement on so many levels.
Meanwhile, Deborama's Kitchen features a heartwarming story about tuna-noodle casserole.

05 February 2005

The paradox of urban ecology

A posting by Dr. Menlo in American Samizdat links to this article by David Owen, reprinted from the New Yorker magazine, called Green Manhattan. The article points up the paradox that the most environmentally-responsible living takes place in the very environments that are considered ecologically catastrophic - densely populated cities like New York. Where over 80% of workers commute either by public transit, on foot or by bicycle, a rate that is 10 times the US national average. Where those great destroyers of the environment, the lawn, the highway and the second car, are virtually non-existent. And where energy usage per household is a fraction of that in the suburbs and the idyllic countryside.

04 February 2005

Blogkeeping

See Holy Chocolate at Deborama's Kitchen.
And I still haven't done those darned book reviews! I am now plugging away at the Baroque cycle or trilogy or whatever it is by Neal Stephenson, even though books two and three are only available in hardback and I hate reading hardbacks with an irrational passion. Well, I guess it isn't that irrational - it hurts my neck and shoulders to hold up a heavy book, that's the problem. But the books are excellent. A hard slog to read, but eminently worth it.
On another topic, I have just discovered a photoblogger here in Leicestershire who has been linking to me, all unbeknownst to me. Thanks to Brodick Photo World and hey, some excellent photos there. I have added you to my Bloglines feed.

Latest Criminal Scourge: Wal-Mart Openings

City Pages (of Minneapolis/St. Paul) reports on the way that Wal-Mart is using the police force to do its private security work. In this particular case, threatening and "warning" union members who might be thinking of protesting Wal-Mart's viciously anti-union tactics at one of their store openings. I don't know whether it's the union members (who ought to know better) or the reporter who is so naive as to think that this is something new, but it really isn't. It wasn't just the Pinkertons in the labour wars of the past who were providing the muscle for the corporate side; just as often, it was the local police or the national guard.

Better news from Portland

Grand-daughter Savannah seems to be on the mend. She was hospitalised two days to have a staph infection lanced (she had to be heavily sedated for this, which is mainly why they had to keep her in overnight). The staph is partly resistant to antibiotics, but she is taking some kind of antibiotic that hopefully will clear up the immediate infection. The family is on a strict hygiene regimen to try to "flush" this bug out of their systems, because they have all had infections at one time. (Staph will "colonise" your body asymptomatically and then flare up when your resistance is low.) But the danger is past, and I am calmed down a bit.
Thanks for all the friends here and on my mailing lists who offered prayers and vibes and kind wishes. And I'm sorry I haven't been blogging much. I do mean to do better.

02 February 2005

Pray for us

I just heard via a brief and desperate-sounding e-mail that my baby grand-daughter is in the hospital with an MRSA infection. Can't blog anymore right now, but please, please, send prayers for health and recovery to 17-month old Savannah in Portland.

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