I'm really looking forward to this evening's massive game. Not only is it one of the hottest matches of the season but also, I'm going to watch it live at the Camp Nou! I'll try to take some decent photos while I'm there and post them later.
The Thai armed forces and national police chiefs have set up a commission to decide on political reforms after troops and tanks took over government headquarters on Tuesday, a statement on television said.
The written statement relayed by all television channels, said the armed forces and police were in control of Bangkok, which remained peaceful, and appealed for calm.
The city is apparently under curfew now. Witnesses saw dozens of vehicles full of troops in the streets. All Thai TV channels are now broadcasting the same images of national unity.
…according to Reuters and BBC:
- Tanks are blocking roads around the government HQ in Bangkok
- A state of emergency has been declared by the absent PM
- The head of the armed forces has been sacked
- An army TV channel (huh?) is broadcasting images of the Thai royal family accompanied by songs 'traditionally associated with coups'
- The army say that a 'special announcement' will be made tonight
- Government House has been seized by troops 'loyal to sacked army chief'
So glad that we booked our honeymoon in Thailand!
I couldn't resist coming out of hibernation to write something about this brilliant story. Since the beginning of the new school year, schools in England and Wales have been obliged to follow new guidelines (â€˜Jamieâ€™s Lawâ€™) covering what types of food they can serve to pupils. This has meant that state schools have been serving healthier food without chips, burgers and lard. Fizzy pop drinks â€“ usually very high in sugar â€“ have also made way for milk, water and fruit juice.
The law was introduced as a final attempt to turn back the increasing rate of childhood obesity in the United Kingdom. As well as the obesity issue, children with diets high in salt, sugars and fats are more likely to under-perform in their studies, can concentrate for less time and are more likely to develop mental illness, heart problems and diabetes. Parents had campaigned for this policy change and Tony Blair at his most populist agreed to convince Gordon Brown to spend an extra 2p per child per day to improve the situation. No one would argue that the law was a much needed first step towards solving the problem.
Well, some people would. Some mothers at Rawmarsh Comprehensive in South Yorkshire have taken matters into their own hands to ensure that their kids get chips and burgers if that is what they want. The children arenâ€™t allowed out of school during lunch break (a rule designed to prevent tobacco abuse and burger binges). So, Julie Critchlow and her comrades have taken it upon themselves to buy fish, chips and burgers at the local fast food joint, drive to the school with the fatty yum-yums and feed them to the pupils through the locked school gates.
Asked why they were subverting government policy with this pro-burger direct action, Critchlow gave a confused and multi-faceted answer which meandered around claims that they were supporting â€˜free choiceâ€™, that the children â€˜donâ€™t likeâ€™ the healthier food and that queuing time and lunch-break reductions mean that kids didnâ€™t have time to eat their food. Which they didnâ€™t like anyway. Maybe her head is too full of chips to see the damage she was potentially handing out to the kids, or maybe this is symptomatic of a larger malaise at the heart of modern society?
What Iâ€™m talking about is the modern â€˜do nothingâ€™ style of parenting whereby kids as young as seven have the â€˜rightâ€™ to decide for themselves what to eat and parents give up the responsibility of caring for and controlling their offspring. The net result of this laissez faire attitude is a generation growing up who know more about their entitlements than their duties, who have been taught to believe that every opinion is valid as fact, no matter how poorly it is thought through, who view parental and institutional control as inherently wrong and â€˜fascistâ€™.
Donâ€™t get me wrong: we all like the odd burger and chips. I just loathe the idea that eleven year-olds are somehow expected to decide whatâ€™s best for themselves even though we all know that given the chance, the answer would be: Playstation, chips and no school. Thatâ€™s the point of parenting, surely?
…while I'm busy with other stuff
The current attempts by Charles Clarke to prevent Gordon Brown from becoming Labour leader and PM are simply astounding. I'm not sure that I fully understand the basis for what is clearly a deep-seated dislike for the chancellor but Clarke's round of interviews and outbursts have confirmed one thing for me: he's clearly a man looking for a job. He was an abysmally bad home secretary who deserved to be sacked and deserved to be told to piss off afterwards when he petulantly tried to blame Tony Blair for his disastrous inability to do his job.
Also, he's an ugly brute.
Much has been made by anti-Catalanista bloggers and commentators of the behaviour of certain minor extremist groups who take direct action against people they consider to be 'fascist' or otherwise undesirable. I've been directed to read one particular article about JERC teenagers causing trouble at a political meeting, by the man who penned the piece, naturally. The argument against interrupting meetings, threatening 'undesirables' and generally interfering with those who espouse an apparently antithetic ideology is simple: these thugs, by preventing other parties from expressing themselves freely and without fear, are attacking the very basis of our democratic society. They're as bad as brown-shirts burning books.
So I've been surprised to see that these fearsome defenders of human rights, crusaders for freedom of expression and opponents of 'bully boy tactics' are as yet silent on the case of Pepe Rubianes. This actor's latest play, a work about the poet Lorca (murdered by the fascists, incidentally), has been cancelled by the mayor of Madrid.
The reason for this censorship is that Rubianes has made himself unpopular with the Spanish right wing. A few months ago, he uttered some pretty offensive comments about Spain during an interview on TV3. This incident led to him being threatened with a law suit, and further enraged those same supporters of freedom and critics of Catalan TV – for having the nerve to broadcast his outburst. When it became known that this monster (who had, in the meantime, apologised and tried to explain his comments) was to perform an unconnected play in a municipal theatre in Madrid, the right wing wiped the foam from their mouths and started a campaign to stop him. At all costs.
So the campaign went into action. Blog posts were written, threats were made, demonstrations were (apparently) called. All this pressure came to bear on the one man who could do something to stop this disgraceful indulgence. Mayor Gallardon couldn't handle that pressure. Whether it was the awareness that he was elected by 'Libertad Digital' reading pricks or a more personal hatred for the freedom of expression, Gallardon moved to stop the play from being performed. Another great day for democracy and freedom of expression under the PP.
At first, this case looks much like those where political meetings have been violently broken up by ultra-nationalist youths: the employment of mob rule to prevent people you don't like from saying things you don't want to hear. But this case is far worse. In this case, the mob has spoken and elected officials have moved to placate it. The precedent is far more dangerous and deserves strong opposition from those who oppose repression of free speech.
So where are the crusaders?
I've just discovered that Spain is the world's third largest producer of wine. Behind France and Italy (I must admit that I can't remember the time I last tried a glass of Italian), Spain produced nearly four million tonnes of wine in 2005. I suppose that it makes sense: from the ubiquitous Rioja, through Cava to the Valencian fare sold for four pounds a bottle in England, almost every region in Spain produces its own variety of God's greatest gift. Personally, I'm a great fan of Priorat. The Catalan county which gives Priorat its name has a minuscule population of fewer than 10,000. And yet it manages to produce a wine whose quality and richness is even now being 'discovered' by the bodegas of New York City and London. Read more about Spanish and Portuguese wine at Catavino.
Speaking of wine, Gemma and I watched the film 'Factotum' tonight. An adaptation of one of Charles Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novels, it tracks the jobs, drinks and women of Henry Chinaski who weaves his way between work and bed and racetrack in the form of Matt Dillon. I hadn't read Factotum before. I loved Post Office and Ham On Rye and so knew – more or less – what to expect. I wasn't disappointed. The direction and acting in the film were smart and well adapted to the subject material. I laughed my head off at parts. And it stars Marisa Tomei… always a good sign, right Costanza?
Graeme at South of Watford drew my attention to the mad ravings of a Libertad Digital blogger today. Pio Moa (or Pio Mio, as I call him) wrote a piece yesterday which basically argued for the use of violence to wrest power from the democratically elected socialist government. The justification he offers for starting a new civil war is that the socialists conspired to bring about the Madrid bombings two years ago in order to steal the election which followed days later. Naturally, this theory is totally lacking in evidence but then most crazy conspiracy theories are. It would be easy for me to say that this guy needs to drink either more wine or less wine, depending on his current wine consumption.
Pio, I'd be more worried about the crack if I were you.
There's a lot of interesting spin coming out of the PM's office and the Treasury at the moment. Blair's supporters are blaming Gordon Brown for orchestrating a 'coup' and have appeared on the BBC in their droves insisting that forcing Blair out now will be 'damaging to the party' and that Brown wouldn't want to inherit that, now would he?
I take issue with the main argument here: that removing Blair ASAP will damage the Labour party, whereas allowing Blair to hang on for eight months will strengthen it. Is it not true that the single most unattractive thing about Labour is Tony Blair himself? Is it really worth hurting the party even more than it has been hurt over the last decade, just so that Blair can get his jubilee?
It looks to me as if Blair is now committed to preventing Gordon Brown from becoming leader. The eight month wait is ample time for John Reid or another loyal Blairite to establish himself as a successor to the great leader.
I wouldn't say that Brown deserves to be PM in any way. But someone needs to take over pretty quickly if Labour is to slow – and reverse – its sliding in the polls. Besides, where's the categorical difference between a coup and a transition? A coup is a transition… much quicker, of course, and sometimes bloodless.
(Oh, and by the way: anyone referring to Blair as 'Bliar' in these pages will have their IP address blocked.)
Amid the spin, smoke and confusion of the last couple of days' business in Westminster, junior minister Tom Watson has quit.
One of the signaturies of the letter from 16 MPs which yesterday called for Blair to step down, Watson today stated that it it is neither good for Labour nor for Britain that Blair remains leader.
It's understood that Blair was going to speak with Watson today, so this could be perceived as a pre-emptive resignation to avoid a reprimand or the political advantage of sacking a rebel.
What will be interesting is if more MPs now resign… at what point does the pressure on Blair to resign reach critical levels?
â€œâ€¦and why did God invent the Paris Hilton sex tape?
Well, so even the mentally retarded would have something to masturbate to.â€
No apologies: you canâ€™t stop good comedy. God bless Neil Hamburger.
Itâ€™s sad that this guy has died because he was a pretty amusing character and a good Aussie bloke. It must be said that his chosen path took him dangerously close to such a death on numerous occasions but Steve Irwin clearly found the urge to be at one with nature was too powerful to worry about his personal safety. While I enjoyed his television programmes, I was frequently reminded that this man was more of a circus ringmaster than a true naturalist. He had no professional training in animal husbandry and could be pretty rough with the snakes, crocodiles and other critters featured in his shows. He has for several connected reasons been criticised by other naturalists. Irwin, however, insisted that he loved animals and he apparently spent much of his fortune on buying tracts of endangered habitat in order to assist conservation efforts there.
Steve Irwin 1962-2006, naturalist and television personality, killed by a stingray.
One of the current stars of the right-wing (or rather, neo-con) blog circuit is the English columnist and author, Melanie Phillips. Her vociferous hatred of Islam, her certainty that, left to the pansy-liberals, Britain is doomed to become a caliphate (her book's called Londonistan) and her… vociferous hatred of the left have all earned her a certain cachet among the broadly American neo-conservatives whose praise she courts. Personally, I think they like her even more because she's English and serious-looking: far easier to like than the dangerously blonde and completely mad scourge of common sense, Ann Coulter. Oh, and because she's very good at telling certain people that their ill-fouded beliefs about Britain are correct.
Well I guess that's enough praise for Melanie. The reason I'm writing is to have a look at some of her writing. Specifically, her recent article 'Suicide Of The West' in the National Review Online.
The main gist of this article is that the British 'establishment and chattering classes' are making a huge mistake in their understanding of Islamist terrorism when they consider that it might be influenced by foreign policy. She states that this attitude ignores the fact that this terrorism has a religious aspect and that,
There was an al Qaeda plot in Birmingham to blow up Britain back in 2000 â€” before 9/11, let alone the war in Iraq. Similarly, jihadi attacks on the U.S. began 22 years before 9/11 with the Iran embassy hostage crisis in 1979, followed by two decades of further attacks.
It is undeniably true that Islamist terrorists existed before 2001 (they would have had to form their cells long before then in order to carry out their earlier attacks on the WTC, the east-African embassies etc etc). What she omits to mention is that US/UK foreign policy also existed prior to 2001. For example, the 'war in Iraq' didn't begin in 2003. It could reasonably be stated that the war began as early as 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Our military took up positions in Saudi Arabia (at the behest of the regime there) and continued assaults on Iraq throughout most of the subsequent thirteen years.
Prior to the Iraq war, the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran, supported jihadis in Afghanistan against the Soviets, supported the Shah in Iran (this was before it was all about 'freedom and democracy') – all policies which had their as their base a fairly sound (if unpleasant) strategic intention but which undoubtedly fomented anger and hatred against the west long before 2000. When remembered, these facts make it clear that while it's perfectly obvious that al Qaeda started before 2000, so did the foreign policies which allegedly enraged them. I'll go further and say that Melanie Phillips knew all of this perfectly well but chose to ignore historical fact in order to pursue her central theme: that we are facing a religious war rather than the hangover from decades of meddling, bombing and assassinating.
Why does Phillips think that she can get away with this? She is a journalist of many years' experience with an excellent academic reputation. It's puzzling that she can be rigorous while constructing arguments based utter mendacity. Well, it's not really. Her rhetoric has been carefully honed to fit its intended audience: the American right-wing. Who else would believe the myth of the religious war when no war has ever really been about religion?
Phillips goes on to say that the radicalisation of British Muslims is the fault of (wait for it…) the BBC. By bombarding the British people with anti-USA, anti-Israel propaganda, the BBC is 'culpable' for al Qaeda terrorist attacks.
[The BBC] powerfully incites hatred by persistently misrepresenting Israelâ€™s self-defence as unwarranted aggression, and giving air-time to an endless procession of Islamic jihadists, propagandists, anti-Western activists and bigots with rarely even a hint of a challenge.
While I am unable to review every minute of the BBC's news coverage over the last ten years, I can remember plenty of interviews and airtime given to Israeli officials, US Army generals and modern neo-conservatives which I have seen with my own eyes. If you watched the BBC at the time of the invasion of Iraq, you too will remember the ghoulish blood lust that seems to overtake every news outlet at times of war. The Guardian had rather too many graphics of how laser-glide bombs work for my liking. My point is that it's unreasonable to accuse the BBC of prejudice unless you're willing to accept that 'when it counts', the BBC always backs up 'our boys'.
Add to that the campaign led by the BBC against the Taliban regime in Kabul (extensive reporting of human rights abuses, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a Despatches documentary about the religious/moral police force), joyous reports of democratic elections in Afghanistan and Iraq… I've looked hard for this alleged bias in the BBC but I've never found it.
For Israelâ€™s fight is the worldâ€™s fight. Lose Israel, and the world is lost
…yes, that's true. But how do we best secure the safe future of Israel? By deciding that we're locked in some sort of esoteric 'religious war'? Melanie Phillips is committed to selling the concept of a clash of cultures, a war of ideals. This war exists but it's not between Christians and Muslims. The war of ideas in the west is between truth and lies, between power and democracy, between terror and debate, between reason and hate. Those of us dedicated to truth, democracy, debate and reason – from accross the political spectrum – need to stand up soon to prevent these people from controlling the dialogue.