Saturday, March 25, 2006

Kermode gets his comeuppance

Ah, the pleasure of schadenfreude. It was SO satisfying to see Mark Kermode have to listen to Spike Lee saying how much he admired Michael Moore's F 9/11. Kermode has attacked Moore and F 9/11 at every opportunity in the Guardian and Observer, e.g.:,4120,1249156,00.html

For a fairer account of Moore's problem with Disney, which Kermode refers to, see:,13918,1218376,00.html

The Observer's main critic, Philip French, also disagrees with Kermode's pathetic vendetta:

"Few recent Palme d'Or winners have had much impact in the States. But Fahrenheit 9/11 became front-page news when rumours circulated that the Disney organisation, fearful of presidential wrath, planned to suppress it until after the election last November. When released, it rapidly made more than $100 million to become the most successful documentary ever made. Not only that, it managed to get up the nostrils of the American right to such an extent that several anti-Moore documentaries, none of artistic quality or popular appeal, were rushed out with such witty titles as Michael Moore Hates America.",6903,1379754,00.html

Unfortunately for Kermode, he clearly respects Spike Lee, so he cravenly kept quiet on-camera about his true feelings about Moore. When Lee said that he was surprised when, despite, this powerful documentary, Bush "won", Kermode stupidly tried to suggest that this showed that political films have no significant effect, but again kept quiet when Lee pointed out that it's hard to tell what effect a single film is having. Obviously Bush might have got many more votes had it not been been for F 9/11. Let's hope this causes quiff-boy to revise his bigoted views, but I doubt it.

Mums and dads

Some nice tributes to mums in the Independent today. Piers Morgan is funny, and lucky to have her still around, still giving unconditional support and a positive, glass half-full attitude:

"My mother is the kind of person who, if I told her I had just committed ten murders, would seek some sort of positive from the news along the lines of: 'Well at least it wasn't 11, darling.'"

Cf. Julian Clary's mum:

"I think it's a shame that everyone doesn't have a mother like mine. Discussing the horrors of an outbreak of bird flu with her recently, I related an account of the 1918 epidemic. 'Apparently you could be right as rain at breakfast and dead by tea-time,' I said. 'At least you can have a nice lunch,' was her reply. Learn to live in the moment."

I was thinking that dads didn't get so much attention, then a weird coincidence; on TV in the other room was Loudon Wainwright, who I had confused with who I now realise is his son, Rufus, of the weird voice. I went in to listen and - what a coincidence - he was singing about being a dad ! (one who'd left wife and kids):

"Being a dad can make you sad, they can break your heart, they just want their mother." !

I can't remember hearing another song about that, and it comes as I'm thinking about the issue. I know rationally that a certain percentage of coincidences must occur, but still ... it is weird. Also what a welcome change from the usual, monotonous, ubiquitous, teen love songs.

In fact this morning I bought "Dadland", a very funny book about being a dad for an ex-student who's just become a father. In it Spike Milligan is quoted talking about his father, who sounds like him:

"He said to me: 'I've never killed a tiger.' I said: 'Why are you telling me?' He said: 'Who else am I going to tell?'"

Friday, March 24, 2006

Near death we live more fully

Martha Lane Fox made a fortune from, then had a very bad car accident (to put it mildly). She's still recovering and is involved in creative projects and with a charity educating girls in Africa. She said:

"I've had a near-death experience. It has highlighted the importance of giving something back."

A British retailing billionaire narrowly survived the recent tsunami - he was diving and it passed over him. He too has reassessed his life and got more involved with charity work.

We all need near-death experiences - regularly.

Cf. "All the men who were in the war, as I was, talk about it as 'the best years of their lives', to use a film title. Horror is not the only thing in war. In war you achieve greatness, you are strong, you are pure, you are simpler. You achieve an amazing detachment. You don't fear death any more. You love danger."

Jean-Pierre Melville. From NFT notes to "Army in the Shadows".

Taking pleasure in small things

I took a portable radio to the till in Dixons and was told it was 29.99. I said that the label on the shelf said 19.99. This had happened to me once before at Dixons and I just paid the higher price. I went with the woman to the shelf. She said it was the wrong model number. I pointed out that there was no space or label for a model at 29.99. She spoke to the manager and he told her, somewhat to her surprise, to let me have it for 19.99. Very satisfying.

Even smaller: I'd lost my bread knife and had tried using a carving knife, resulting in some mangled slices. I bought a new one and its efficiency in cleanly cutting even quite thin slices was quite pleasurable.

Not being a sheep: Twice, seeing a long queue in Smiths, going to the back to the free till and paying and walking out past the sheep still queuing at the front - not that I was in a hurry, but...

Failing to learn from history

Rumsfeld rambles on:

"The terrorists seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq. I believe that history will show that to be the case.

Fortunately, history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on Web sites or the latest sensational attack. History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately."

This from a guy who has clearly lied about the history of this war, cf:

"'It would have been probably October of '02, and the war was March, I think," of the following year, Rumsfeld explains. "I sat down, and I said, 'What are all the things that one has to anticipate could be a problem?' And circulated it and read it to the president - sent it to the president. Gave it to the people in the department, and they planned against those things. And all of the likely and unlikely things that one could imagine are listed there. It was just on the off-chance we'd end up having a conflict. We didn't know at that stage.'

Some might quibble with Rumsfeld's description of the historical moment. At the time he wrote the memo, dated October 15, 2002, Congress had recently voted to give President Bush complete authority to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. A White House spokesman had just confirmed that invasion plans were on Bush's desk - detailed plans, we now know, which Rumsfeld had been shaping and hammering and editing for much of the previous year.

In other words, there was far more than an "off-chance" of conflict. All that remained to be done was for the president to reach his official decision. The train was loaded, its doors were shut, and it was ready to leave the station.

Rumsfeld never pretended there was anything off-chancy about the timing of the memo when he discussed it with Bob Woodward, who wrote about the document in his authoritative history of Iraq war preparations, Plan of Attack. In that account, Rumsfeld portrayed the memo as a warning blast, an attempt to do "everything humanly possible to prepare" Bush for the awful responsibility that had settled onto his presidential shoulders - and his shoulders alone..." [i.e. covering his arse]

Robert Fisk, who has just written a massive history of the Middle East, "The Great War For Civilisation", shows that Rummy is right that "daily headlines" - and US news stories - are unlikely to tell the truth about history, but not for reasons Rummy would accept:

'I thought U.S. reporters no longer trusted the U.S. administration, not after the mythical WMD and the equally mythical connections between Saddam and the international crimes against humanity of 9/11. Of course, I was wrong.

Here are the sources - on pages 1 and 10 for the yarn spun by reporters Josh Meyer and Mark Mazzetti: "U.S. officials said," "said one U.S. Justice Department counter-terrorism official," "Officials ... said," "those officials said," "the officials confirmed," "American officials complained," "the U.S. officials stressed," "U.S. authorities believe," "said one senior U.S. intelligence official," "U.S. officials said," "Jordanian officials ... said" - here, at least is some light relief - "several U.S. officials said," "the U.S. officials said," "American officials said," "officials say," "say U.S. officials," "U.S. officials said," "one U.S. counter-terrorism official said."

I do truly treasure this story. It proves my point that the Los Angeles Times - along with the big East Coast dailies - should all be called U.S. OFFICIALS SAY.'

Fisk points out that had people in power like Rummy actually studied history they would not have created the disaster of Iraq today:

"... this is a story of tragedy and folly and of dark foreboding. It is about the past-made-present, and our ability to copy blindly and to the very letter the lies and follies of our ancestors. It is about that admonition of antiquity: that if we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. For Iraq 1917, read Iraq 2003. For Iraq 1920, read Iraq 2004 or 2005.

Repairs of an armored car from No.1 Company in Iraq,
British Royal Air Force, ca. 1923 (IWM HU. 49856, Fagg Collection)

"Yes, we are preparing to give "full sovereignty" to Iraq. That's also what the British falsely claimed more than 80 years ago. Come, then, and confront the looking glass of history, and see what America and Britain will do in the next 12 terrible months in Iraq.

... by September 1919, even journalists were beginning to grasp that Britain's plans for Iraq were founded upon illusions. 'I imagine,' the correspondent for The Times wrote on 23 September, 'that the view held by many English people about Mesopotamia is that the local inhabitants will welcome us because we have saved them from the Turks, and that the country only needs developing to repay a large expenditure of English lives and English money. Neither of these ideals will bear much examination... From the political point of view we are asking the Arab to exchange his pride and independence for a little Western civilisation, the profits of which must be largely absorbed by the expenses of administration.'
The British now realised that they had made one big political mistake. They had alienated a major political group in Iraq - the ex-Turkish Iraqi officials and officers. The ranks of the disaffected swelled. For Kufa 1920, read Kufa 2004. For Najaf 1920, read Najaf 2004. For Yazdi, read Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. For Badr, read Muqtada al-Sadr.

In 1920, another insurgency broke out in the area of Fallujah, where Sheikh Dhari killed a British officer, Colonel Leachman, and cut rail traffic between Fallujah and Baghdad. The British advanced towards Fallujah and inflicted "heavy punishment" on the tribe. For Fallujah, of course, read Fallujah. And the location of the heavy punishment? Today it is known as Khan Dari - and it was the scene of the first killing of a US soldier by a roadside bomb in 2003.

In desperation, the British needed "to complete the façade of the Arab government". And so, with Winston Churchill's enthusiastic support, the British gave the throne of Iraq to the Hashemite King Faisal, the son of Sherif Hussein, a consolation prize for the man the French had just thrown out of Damascus. Paris was having no kings in its own mandated territory of Syria.'

Guess who wrote this, and when:

"The people of England have been led in [Iraq] into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our ... record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster."

T. E. Lawrence, in 1920, (I changed Mesopotamia to Iraq and omitted "imperial") and he concluded:

"We say we are in Mesopotamia to develop it for the benefit of the world. All experts say that the labour supply is the ruling factor in its development. How far will the killing of ten thousand villagers and townspeople this summer hinder the production of wheat, cotton, and oil? How long will we permit millions of pounds, thousands of Imperial troops, and tens of thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of colonial administration which can benefit nobody but its administrators?"

What a pity Rummy didn't learn from this. Yes, "Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it." (not from "antiquity", Fisk, but from Santayana).

As Georgia10 says in The Daily Kos blog, contra Rumsfeld, the history IS being told by bloggers:

"Yet the legacy of this war will include the blogs. The internet has empowered the citizens of this country to preserve facts in the face of a relentless propaganda campaign. Where the administration has sought to cover-up and hide the reality of this conflict, blogs have stepped up to counter their revisionist history. As the scribes of a new millennium, we preserve in pixelated form every folly, every lie, and every death Rumsfeld wishes was overshadowed by false claims of victory. Ultimately, it will be the truth-seekers, on and off the internet, that will shape the legacy of this war as an ill-conceived fraud perpetrated on the American public, as an endless war grossly mismanaged by those who breached the public trust."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

France, CPE: US and UK views

A good piece on the demos in France by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickel and Dimed":

March 20, 2006
French Workers Refuse to be “Kleenex”

"Was it only three years ago that some of our puffed up patriots were denouncing the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” too fattened on Camembert to stub out their Galois’s and get down with the war on Iraq? Well, take another look at the folks who invented the word liberté. For more than a week now they’ve been marching, rioting, and burning up cars to preserve a right Americans can only dream of: the right not to be fired at an employer’s whim.

Maybe the rioters sense a logical fallacy in the government’s proposal: Fire more people so more people can be hired? What corporations call “flexibility” – the right to dispose of workers at will – is what workers experience as disposability, not to mention insecurity and poverty. The French students who are tossing Molotov cocktails don’t want to become what they call “a Kleenex generation” – used and tossed away when the employer decides he needs a fresh one.

You may recognize in the French government’s reasoning the same arguments Americans hear whenever we raise a timid plea for a higher minimum wage or a halt to the steady erosion of pensions and health benefits: What? – scream the economists who flack for the employing class – if you do anything, anything at all, to offend or discomfit the employers they will respond by churlishly failing to employ you! Unemployment will rise, and you – lacking of course the health care and other benefits provided by the French welfare state – will quickly spiral down into starvation..."

And this from a Brit in France:

"Under this law, anybody can employ anybody else, for any reason, and up until the 2 year anniversary can fire him as well, for any (or no) reason! There are many laws which protect employees, but the vast majority will be put aside, as "not applicable" in view of the new law. Wonderful for employers, who can (and will) propose a hiring and firing every 2 years on a regular basis.

This means that wage increases (on the basis of seniority) will not exist, since seniority is not considered under the new law. The maximum time anyone can be "in seniority" is 2 years! Further educational/promotional course within the Company will be none-existant, since the employee is only employable for 2 years! Any wage increase demand can (and probably will) be terminated by a termination of the contract! What politicians think to be "cunning" is also the fact that certain periods of employment, in certain types of employment contracts do not count towards the increase or indeed payment of any unemployment benefit! Nor do they count for holiday payments, nor for bonuses such as Christmas/holiday payments etc. The deductions made forcibly for pensions and health insurances are accepted by Government as being in force, but don't try being ill for a long time on your 2 year contract, 'cos you'll be fired, and then your pension and sickness payments will take a dive!

Basically it is highly placed politicians saying that they like the idea of all this, it saves money, saves time, and should produce more jobs. They are saying, simply, that they don't know anything at all about their citizens..."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

France - reprise of 1968 ?

"It's like a reprise of the May 1968 protests. The CRS riot police cruise the
streets of the Latin Quarter in Paris, breaking up groups of protesters, and
storm the Sorbonne where students staged a three-day occupation last week.
Between 51 and 64 of France's 82 universities are now disrupted by the wave of
angry protests.",,1733392,00.html

But it's not quite like 1968:

"After November's three weeks of rioting attuned the world's newspaper readers
to government indifference, March's student revolt may be worse than a public
relations nightmare: the press here are already making comparisons to May 1968,
when 10 million workers and students effectively shut down the state for several
weeks. This spring's events mark the first time that the Unions have backed a
popular student movement since 1968.

But this time around, the alliance between workers and students is not fueled by
ideology, but by "précarité" - the insecurity fueled by increasing unemployment.
And this affinity can be extended to a third group: the disillusioned suburban
youth, primarily immigrants and first generation French citizens."

It is getting serious for the government: 

"But one analyst said the government would eventually be forced to bow to the
pressure, which included a fresh poll showing widespread opposition to the CPE.

"It's impossible for the government to hold on now. There were too many people
in the streets ... The government will have to get out of this crisis by
suspending the CPE," said Christophe Barbier, deputy editor of the weekly

"The political cost will be enormous for this defeat. But he (Villepin) would
reap an even bigger political cost governing a country that's blocked in the
event of a general strike," Barbier told Reuters.",,1733392,00.html

Public support is growing:

"Some 60 percent of voters want the CPE withdrawn, according to an opinion poll
by the BVA organization for the Depeche du Midi newspaper, in a further sign of
pressure on the government. In answer to a separate question, 69 percent said
the marchers were justified."

The government has shot itself in the foot by uniting its opponents:

"... this time it's not the impoverished suburban minorities that French
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called “Rascals,” but the cream of French
society: students of the prestigious Sorbonne university.

"In November, we saw suburban youth, frustrated by the fact that they couldn't
find a job and seemed to have no future, burning cars in the streets. Now, we
see the same sentiments being expressed by university students" said Robert
Gaignon, a union representative with the FSU.

...The government justifies the CPE by explaining that it will make it easier
for youth to find a job. Employers will be less reluctant to hire new workers
for fear that they will be stuck with them, it claims. The students and unions
counter that the contract will create a situation of disposable workers, where
employers will simply get rid of cheap young employees every two years instead
of giving them a raise and taking them on permanently.

... For the French government, things continue to worsen. Its popularity has
dropped 15 per cent in the last two months, according to the Le Monde, with 46
per cent of those surveyed agreeing that it is "too authoritarian."

... The unions are behind the students "for one simple reason" Gaignon said. "If
you introduce an underclass of workers into the job market without the same
guarantees given to everyone else, that weakens the working class as a whole."

For their part, a coalition of unions are threatening a general strike slated
for the 23rd, which could cripple the country's economy.

"Their battle is ours," Gaignon stated matter-of-factly.

The government seems to have inadvertently made things worse for themselves.
Through their actions, two traditionally disparate groups--the immigrant and
français-de-souche youth--have found common ground: the stark reality of facing
a hopeless future, without employment or adequate income.

"In November, I couldn't believe that people would burn down a school for any
reason, but now, faced with my own systematic discrimination, I'm starting to
understand," said Bureau [a student at the Sorbonne].

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hari admits he was wrong about Iraq

Johann Hari does the decent thing and finally admits: "I was wrong, terribly wrong - and the evidence should have been clear all along." Independent, 20 March 2006

Apparently this came after the Independent had a front page showing various pro-war people who'd now recanted - but I missed that edition.

Sometimes Hari starts his column by saying one thing, then reverses it in the second half; but this time it's a very direct admission that he was very wrong.:

"...The lamest defence I could offer – one used by many supporters of the war as they slam into reverse gear – is that I still support the principle of invasion, it’s just the Bush administration screwed it up. But as one anti-war friend snapped at me when I mooted this argument, “Yeah, who would ever have thought that supporting George Bush in the illegal invasion of an Arab country would go wrong?” She’s right: the truth is that there was no pure Platonic ideal of The Perfect Invasion to support, no abstract idea we lent our names to. There was only Bush, with his cluster bombs, depleted uranium, IMF-ed up economic model, bogus rationale and unmistakable stench of petrol, offering his war, his way. (Expecting Tony Blair to use his influence was, it is now clear, a delusion, as he refuses to even frontally condemn the American torture camp at Guantanomo Bay).

The evidence should have been clear to me all along: the Bush administration would produce disaster..."

But on his own site he can't resist indicating that he had admirers who regret his recantation, and he includes, without comment, an example:

"POSTSCRIPT: There's been a collosal [sic TW] response to this article and I'm still picking through the e-mails. Over fifty from Iraqis, of which some mournfully agree, although this e-mail was more typical:

"Your article in the Independent today, 20/3/2006, was really disappointing to all of your admirers. You let them down. You changed your mind and switched from pro-war to join the anti-war campaigners, means that you gave in bowed to the aggressors. So instead of blaming the terrorists for this mass killing in Iraq at the hand of the terrorists, you put the blame on Bush and Blair for liberating Iraqi people from the worst dictator in history. If your new stance is right, then it was wrong to stand up against Hitler in the WW II, because that war caused humanity 55 million casualties. So it was better not oppose the Axis sates. Is that fair? Is this is the justice that we are looking for? If the tyrants were left to do as they like because of the possible revenge from their followers, then our glob will be place for the tyrants only and the whole planet population will be living like sheep.

Abdulkhaliq Hussein"

What an absurd comparison; Hitler attacked other countries, had occupied many and threatened to invade us - a slightly different situation ! Saddam was no real threat, even to his neighbours, and the excuse for war wasn't regime change. He wouldn't even have been a tyrant in his own country if he had not had the support of the West, e.g. in the war with Iran. As ye sow ...