Tag Archives: war on terror

Straw on Iran

“The idea of US nuclear attack on Iran is just nuts,” says Jack Straw in today’s Times. A conventional attack on the other hand…

Elsewhere he says, “We can’t be certain about Iran’s intentions and that is, therefore, not a basis on which anybody would gain authority to go for military action.” Funny – it didn’t stop you last time, Jack.

Three cheers for Walter Wolfgang

I am very proud to say that Walter Wolfgang, the 82-year-old anti-war activist who was manhandled out of the Labour Party conference this week for shouting the word “nonsense” during a Jack Straw speech about Iraq, lives in my neighbourhood. I sometimes see him shopping in my local Waitrose (a home from home, but that’s another story). He actually used to be a much closer neighbour of mine when I lived in a different part of the town years ago but at that time I didn’t know anything about him. Now the whole world knows about Mr Wolfgang (or “Walter” as Tony Blair called him rather patronisingly in his “apology” for the delegate’s treatment).

The first time I got to know about WW was during the war in Kosovo when I attended a local political meeting. (That invasion seemed pretty dire at the time, although compared to Iraq it now seems a model of legitimacy.) It was a slightly weird occasion – in fact so much so that this was not only the first but the last political meeting I’ve ever been to – where the war wasn’t really discussed but railed against by a bunch of lefty oddballs whose views ranged from moderately critical to downright bonkers. As chair of the “debate”, WW was one of the few calm voices in the room. I have to admit that when I first saw the footage of WW being bundled out of the conference on Wednesday’s Channel 4 News, my gut reaction was that the poor old sod had finally lost it, but I was delighted to see that this was a million miles from the truth.

Yesterday’s Independent lost no time in citing Mr Wolfgang’s treatment as the perfect example of everything that is sick at the heart of the government. As if that front page splash with a photo of WW being led away by police wasn’t enough, today’s front page features a whole article by the man himself about the incident and why he was protesting. It’s excellent: “My case is not important” is the self-effacing opening sentence, while later he describes Blair as “the worst leader the Labour Party has ever had” and observes: “Blair’s instincts are basically those of a Tory. He picked up this cause from the Americans without even analysing it. I suspect that he is too theatrical even to realise that he is lying.” That’s a great line and I think the best and most succinct explanation I’ve yet heard for why Blair has acted (pun intended) the way he has.

So, good on you, Mr Wolfgang. If I ran a restaurant I’d invite you in for a meal on the house but as it is I’ll probably have to make do with shaking your hand the next time I see you in Waitrose.

Getting the blues

I suppose I hardly need add to the column inches (or digital equivalent) laying into the US government’s pathetic response to the Katrina tragedy, but it surely can’t be said often enough that the way the refugees of Louisiana have been treated beggars belief. Yesterday George Bush denied the response was slow or that being black (the affected people, that is, not Bush of course) had anything to do with it. Like Tony Blair denying that the bombings in London on what we must now call 7/7 had anything to do with the war in Iraq, it makes you wonder how it is that the only people who believe the bullshit are the very people we trust to tell us the truth.

Anyway, I’ve been following the series of letters in the Guardian in recent days about the old blues songs about the Louisiana floods of 1927, which documented the same effects of the same sort of disaster on the same poor, black people of the same area. Correspondents have also highlighted Bob Dylan’s “uncanny prescience” in his 2001 song High Water. Although this song was inspired by the work and experiences of Charley Patton, one of the original bluesmen in question, the fact that Dylan had now been brought into the discussion prompted me to look up an old Aaron Neville album called Warm Your Heart (which I was just about to get rid of, oddly enough) which features a cover of Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927. In honesty I didn’t know who was US president at the time of the original floods until I read the lyrics and found there the reference to Coolidge. Doubting that an ultra-literate songwriter like Randy Newman would have got such a fact wrong, I nonetheless double-checked the reference in Wikipedia before sending the letter above. As my initial link to the Guardian letters of 12th September attests, the reference by the original correspondent to Hoover has now become a matter for the Guardian’s Corrections & Clarifications department. (I also didn’t know what “crackers land” meant, and therefore felt a bit uneasy quoting it, but it was taken from the official Randy Newman site, so should have been correct, and in fact the Guardian, when printing my letter, added an apostrophe – i.e. “crackers’ land” – indicating that “crackers” were the residents of the area in question.) Altogether therefore I feel a bit embarrassed about all this, but this whole story seems to prove that, with the internet as powerful as it is, we’re all experts now.

All of which brings me to the image of my letter at the top of this post. As part of its recent relaunch in “Berliner” format, The Guardian is offering its excellent digital edition of the paper free until 26th September. It’s really just a very trendy version of the website, as all Guardian stories can be read for free on the main site anyway (the standard text version of my letter is on this page for instance), but the digital edition allows you to click on a story and read a PDF or JPG version of the actual paper as printed, from which the above is a clipping. Like a great many things these days I think a digital Guardian is a bit of a luxury (if you’re going to ordinarily pay through the nose for such a service you might as well read the paper and be done with it) but it’s nice nonetheless.

The Berliner Guardian incidentally is very cool but the smaller size feels weird, as if something’s missing. When I went to buy the launch edition at the paper stands in WH Smith I couldn’t find it to begin with – I thought it must have sold out already, until finally it turned up looking a bit sorry for itself in a compartment designed for a normal-sized broadsheet. And it’s still too big not to fold in half when you’re carrying it or laying it down somewhere, but because of the dimensions it feels wrong being folded either horizontally or vertically… but I feel I’ve strayed from the point somewhat. To round off therefore and return to my original topic, here’s a link to a withering attack on the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling of the Katrina disaster, with a mention in it of Russell Hoban‘s Riddley Walker no less. As one of my Hoban friends commented when she saw this, “‘Riddley Walker’ and FEMA on common ground — this is eerie.” Or maybe just scary.

Brazilian’s family claim police altered their story

Oh, right. According to this, Jean Charles de Menezes was not, actually, wearing a bulky coat which could have made him look like he was carrying a bomb underneath it. Furthermore, he did not vault the ticket barriers at Stockwell station – he used his Travelcard to get in.

I’ve also read (although I can’t find the damn article now) that De Menezes didn’t come out of one particular flat or house whose address had been found in one of the unexploded rucksacks, as we were led to believe initially – instead, he emerged from a communal entrance door of a block of flats, which anybody living there would have had to use to get onto the street.

The fact that the police have now apparently arrested one of the actual bombers, having disabled him with a Taser stun gun, raises even more questions about the way they tackled De Menezes.

Innocent man shot in Stockwell

It’s come to something when I find myself agreeing with Jack Straw, but he does have a point that the police are in an incredibly difficult position at the moment. This still doesn’t, however, justify the killing of an innocent man, which we now know to be the case.

I must admit that when I first heard the news on Friday I naively thought the police couldn’t possibly have shot someone who was in any way innocent, as they must have had a foolproof reason for tackling a guy so comprehensively. Then when I heard Jean Charles de Menezes was actually innocent, I still felt that he’d been asking for trouble by running away when challenged and jumping the ticket barriers at Stockwell underground station. This does not, of course, justify a summary execution but it does at least make it easier to see why the police acted as they did under the circumstances. The fact that he was wearing an unseasonably heavy coat which could have concealed a bomb and he initially emerged from an address police found in one of the unexploded rucksacks from Thursday’s botched terror attacks didn’t help his case, but now these details just look like the worst possible bad luck.

It seemed fairly common sense that running from armed police is simply not something you do if you’re entirely innocent of any crime, and that he may have run because he was (for example) carrying drugs or was in trouble over something else which under normal circumstances would have been merely arrestable, as opposed to killable. However, I didn’t originally realise the officers were in plain clothes, and they haven’t said he was involved in any other kind of crime, so the fact that he did run surely proves he wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. To him, the guys with guns chasing him could have been anyone from London muggers to Brazilian mafia – I doubt we’ll ever know the full story.

That said, the police’s case is pretty threadbare. The fact that they allowed him to get onto a bus before they started chasing him doesn’t tally with their defence that he could have been carrying a bomb. It looks like the whole operation was botched from the start, and that the intelligence they had was more than faulty. But on the other hand, in the current climate, if you have even the slightest suspicion that a bloke has a bomb strapped to his body, how you’re meant to arrest him in a peaceful manner without risking death and destruction is very difficult to determine – but nonetheless something for the police to sort out without resorting to murdering innocent people.

Incidentally it’s not that I haven’t been watching the news as closely as everyone else for the past few weeks, but I tend generally to think I haven’t got anything very interesting to add to the fountain of comment gushing forth at the moment. Sometimes though you have to stand up and make an exception…

Prince William says Picasso is good, so it must be true (and other stuff)

Week 94: the housemates are on day 62 of their pedalo task. They’ve only three hours to go and then they’ll be given their next task – painting the house. That’s right – tune into Big Brother tomorrow night and watch paint dry…

Big Brother. The very words strike fear into the soul: someone watching you 24 hours a day, telling you what to do, what to think, what to believe. If it’s not George W. Bush and Tony Blair, it’s Enema Productions or whatever they’re called. Oh, that’s a nice kitchen. Mm, she’s pretty. God, he’s boring. In fact, it’s all boring. Why am I watching this crap? Why don’t these people just GET A LIFE???

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Jilly Cooper (no relation) and Joanna Trollope have descended on the Guardian Hay Festival to defend the honour of their “bonkbusters” and “Aga sagas”. Cooper claims: “There are two categories of writers. Jeffrey Archer and me who long and long for a kind word in the Guardian and the others who get all the kind words and long to be able to do what Jeffrey and I do.” One for Private Eye’s Modesty Corner, I should think. What can she possibly care what the Guardian says about her books when Telegraph and Mail readers lap them up wholesale? She then goes on to say, “My new book has got paedophilia, September 11 and lots of black people in it. I’m moving on, we’ve got to progress.” If that isn’t the most desperate, sad cry for literary credibility I don’t know what is.

Trollope meanwhile pours scorn on the “grim lit” popular with critics “that makes you want to slash your wrists”. Sounds a bit like the old argument about Leonard Cohen’s records being “music to slash your wrists to” – always levelled by people who’d never listened to them, of course. And as LC himself once said, “My feeling about music I don’t like is that I keep my mouth shut about it.” A lesson for us all, maybe, Joanna?

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Thoughtcat’s spy in West Drayton highlights a very good article on ZNet today by Ian Hislop’s favourite “left-wing comedian” and scourge of the Iraq war, Mark Steele, entitled Truth, Lies and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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And finally today, in an exclusive to all newspapers, Prince William, a.k.a. Ordinary Geezer Bill Windser, talks about life as a student at the University of St Andrews, where he’s reading history of art. Commenting on the subject, he describes his father’s watercolours as “brilliant” and Picasso as “revolutionary”. “His blue period,” he ruminates: “I do like that.”

The decline of civilisation

John Reid, leader of the House of Commons, is reported today to be under fire for saying of Iraq: “I believe there are weapons of mass destruction there. I know we haven’t found them yet, but because we haven’t found them yet no more means that there was not a threat than not finding the money stolen from the Great Train Robbery means that Ronnie Biggs was innocent.” This Prescottesque tongue-and-truth-twister is even worse than Jack “Short” Straw’s “rewriting of history” yesterday when he said “it’s not crucial” now to find the weapons. All this comes despite Tony Blair going on and on like a bloody scratched record for weeks before the war about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (the expression was of course used so much that he had to truncate it to “WMD”) being the pretext for military action, which we all knew was bullshit anyway. My respect for our politicans just gets lower – at the same rate, in fact, as their respect for the intelligence of the people they claim to represent disintegrates. How can people like Straw live with themselves? Why not just go and get an honest job like being a milkman or something? It might not pay as much but at least it’d be human.

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If you missed the BBC2 programme “The Nation’s Favourite Food” last night, think yourself lucky. My wife and I were watching it while we were eating… never again. This alleged top ten of the UK’s favourite “seduction” foods included strawberries in chocolate, and, of all things, prawns. They also interviewed an inarticulate 12-year-old DJ about champagne, filmed a bunch of sloane-rangerettes blowing up a kitchen in an attempt to make chocolate vodka cocktails, showed Melinda Messenger spitting out an oyster and, perhaps worst of all, filmed Peter Stringfellow. In his kitchen. Cooking a chicken casserole for his girlfriend. I mean, Jesus. It made us yearn for a Get It On bar.

For anyone who doesn’t watch TV or doesn’t live in the UK, this was just the latest TV show in recent weeks claiming to represent the UK’s favourite this-or-that as voted for by viewers. In the past few weeks alone we’ve had the UK’s top 100 film stars, the UK’s top 100 romantic films, the 100 worst people in the UK (all on Channel 4, it should be said), not to mention the soon-to-be-announced BBC Big Read, a poll of the UK’s favourite 100 books. I’m all for anything that encourages people to read, but even that’s a bit of a naff idea (especially as the number one will probably be something I haven’t read). Something else I haven’t read is Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man but this total lack of imagination on the part of TV programme-makers is the Last Straw and would seem to bear out the feeling that The End of Television is nigh. How many more cruddy TV shows can they make on the basis of things voted for by viewers? More importantly, when are TV companies going to realise that the results of these programmes don’t represent the views of the UK but instead just the views of the six people who voted? Plus, the only people who do vote in these things are people who don’t do anything except watch cruddy TV programmes all day. It’s like that exchange in Woody Allen’s Manhattan:

IKE: You’re going by the audience reaction to this? I mean, this is an audience that’s raised on television. Their standards have been systematically lowered over the years… these guys sit in front of their sets and the gamma rays eat the white cells of their brains out… I quit.

DICK: All right. Just relax. Take a lude.

IKE: All you guys do is drop ludes and take Percodans and angel dust! Naturally, the show seems funny.

The axis of anti

The Observer reports that a wave of books critical of the US stance on the war have become bestsellers in that country, with Greg Palast‘s The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men and Noam Chomsky’s 9/11 forming the “axis of anti”.

The same issue of the paper also prints a version of an excellent speech by actor and director Tim Robbins in which he says “Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home [in the US] have been compromised in a climate of fear.” He goes on to relate a great story of how his 11-year-old nephew stood up to his schoolteacher who was ranting about Robbins’ wife Susan Sarandon‘s anti-war stance.

The Independent today features a savage article from John Pilger about the aftermath of the war, warning against the “unthinkable” of what was done and both that and our reactions to it becoming “normalised”. (The Independent however has since started to charge for archived articles at the rate of £1 a time; I have my doubts about how long that’s going to last.)

While we’re on the subject of the war, I must put in a belated plug for playwright David Hare’s beautifully written piece from the Guardian on 12th April, “Don’t look for a reason”, sub-headlined “All the explanations for this war are bogus – Bush only invaded Iraq to prove that he could.” Hare also points out what I mentioned a while back about the lack of a leader in the anti-war movement. I have to wonder if Tim Robbins, who played a nastily ambitious US politician in his brilliant political satire Bob Roberts a few years ago, would consider running for office…?

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Meanwhile, poet Christopher Logue writes a nice piece about his friendship with the late Leonard Cohen-inspirer, Sir Paul Getty. He writes that when they first met, Getty was surrounded by books, many of which were poetry, among them “a selected edition of Robert Herrick, the loveliest book I had ever seen, and an example of wonderful English bookbinding. From, I think, the Doves Press, it had a soft green leather cover studded with a hundred primroses tooled in gold. ‘You see,’ he [Getty] said, ‘when you open it,’ opening it, laying it on the side table, ‘it stays open. And when you close it,’ closing it, ‘there is an almost silent gasp.'” Which will probably end up in next week’s Pseud’s Corner, but you have to admit that books just don’t do that anymore, do they?

Sliding into chaos

According to a story on the BBC’s website today, Ry Cooder, the brilliant US slide guitarist and musicologist who assembled the legendary Cuban musicians for the Buena Vista Social Club record a few years ago, has been fined $100,000 by the US government under the – wait for it – “Trading With the Enemy” act. There has of course long been an embargo on US citizens having dealings with the Cubans, but this was temporarily lifted in Cooder’s case by Bill Clinton, who if he did nothing else at least recognised good music when he heard it. How totally impoverished must the soul of the current US administration be to fine Cooder at all, let alone under this law, at a time like this?

Elsewhere, Ananova reports that the politicians of Pennsylvania are wrangling over the “official state biscuit”. “The state Senate favours the chocolate chip cookie, but the House of Representatives wants the Nazareth sugar cookie,” reads the report. As a long-standing biscuit lover I deplore this abuse of biscuits in the so-called name of democracy. Only in America, as they say.