Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Britain and the Quagmire of Iraq

Simon Jenkins, who along with Max Hastings is one of the few right-wing journalists I can tolerate, has a frightening analysis of the predicament of the British Army in Southern Iraq:
The scenes broadcast yesterday from Basra show how far authority in southern Iraq has collapsed. This is tragic. When I was there two years ago the south was, in its own terms, a success. While the Americans were unleashing mayhem to the north, the British were methodically applying Lugard-style colonialism in Basra. They formed alliances with sheikhs, bribed warlords and won hearts and minds by going unarmoured. There was optimism in the air.

British policy demanded one thing, momentum towards local sovereignty and early withdrawal. There was no such momentum. An ever more confident insurrection was allowed first to impede and then dictate the timetable of withdrawal. Sunni terrorists now hold American and British policy in their grip. The result has been an inevitable civil collapse. We do not even know on which side are the Basra police.

The British government - and opposition - is in total denial. Ministerial boasts can't conceal the gloom of private briefings. Blair has done what no prime minister should do. He has put his soldiers at a foreign power's mercy. First that power was America. Now, according to the defence secretary, John Reid, it is a band of brave but desperate Iraqis entombed in Baghdad's Green Zone. He says he will stay until they request him to go, when local troops are trained and loyal and infrastructure is restored. That means doomsday. Everyone knows it.

To read the entire article, click here.

Oh and please add a comment if you know the origins of the term Lugard-style colonialism.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Two Artists - Julian Mitchell and Kate Evans

A couple of new links appear on the blog from today onwards.

Julian Mitchell is an award-winning photographer. His subjects range from moody landscapes to the medieval interior of Lincoln Cathedral, to surreal close-ups of everything from strawberries to droplets of water. But you can recognise a style of super-real clarity and a Zen-like calm common to almost all of them. There’s nothing of the snapshot about Julian’s work – he produces his pictures with skill and craft, and sometimes takes hours of trial and error to get a single photograph right.

Co-activist Kate Evans is a young artist and political cartoonist who works with ink and paint. Her inspiration is current events and global concerns. Like most good jokes her cartoons simply tell the truth in an original and creative way. Kate has a piece called This Isn’t News in an exhibition called Three Cities, which occurs simultaneously in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and New York in November. Details to follow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I offically resigned yesterday, after 14 months in my current job.

The new job starts on Monday October 3rd.

The usual mixed feelings accompanied this decision. As always it's the people I'll miss, including a very kind boss, and an amazing group of trainers who made up the bulk of the writing and documentation team. I wish them well, and hope I've made the right decision.

Rather like a poker hand, the problem is trying to make a sensible decision on a basis of incomplete information. Only hindsight can reveal if the decision was correct, and by then it's too late to do anything but draw some sketchy conclusions.

None the less, I'm feeling optimistic about the future and will give the new job my best shot. Hopefully that'll be good enough.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

New Orleans

Like everyone else, I was amazed and awed by the destructive power of Hurricane Katrina, and then dismayed and amazed at the lack of a response by the authorities as the days rolled by.

The lack of initiative and someone with the authority and confidence to give orders was the most disturbing thing, particularly when I know from personal experience the size of some of the military bases down there, not to mention the U.S. Navy which had several days of relatively calm weather to get a fast carrier or two stationed off the coast.

Good 'ole Dubya. He reminds me so much of Ronald Reagan, who basically slept through his second term (with hindsight of course, we know he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease). Like Reagan, Dubya is utterly lost without a script, and his lack of initiative is legendary. Should anyone be in doubt, rent Fahrenheit 9/11 and watch the infamous scene where Bush is reading to a junior school class and gets the message about the world trade center. Nothing, absolutely nothing. For over eight long minutes...

It's too bad I don't share his religious convictions; otherwise I could say, "May he rot in hell."Posted by Picasa


One Year of Ranting

This blog has been going exactly one year.

Thanks to the several hundred of you who regularly read it, and apologies to the hundreds more who've made one visit and moved on.

The numbers are amazing and flattering, especially as you don't generally muck it up with inane comments.

The intention for the new year is to write more material, and make it more interesting.

Alas, in life as in blogging, it's not always the thought that counts...

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Two Lane Blacktop

Long ago and far away

Over to a friend’s flat to see an unobtainable DVD of the classic early 70s road movie “Two Lane Blacktop.”

The best road movie of all time, it’s about four drifters who find themselves racing across the South Western United States, mostly although not exclusively along Route 66.

What came across most was the wonderful clarity of film transferred to DVD, and director Monte Hellman’s superb use of the entire frame; most of the important scenes occur on the edges, rather than the centre of the picture.

Very much a film of its time, the emphasis is on character and image, particularly the wonderful roadside landscapes. Like a Hopper painting, the loneliness and isolation of the characters in the foreground produces a background mood of melancholy romanticism.

There are two terrific performances to savour. One is by Warren Oates a very under-rated character actor of the 1970s. In this role he’s middle age crisis personified, suffering some kind of identity crisis that manifests itself in pathological lying. Throughout the film we have nagging doubts about how such a dubious man acquired the shiny red brand new Pontiac GTO he drives.

A complete contrast is the haunting presence of Laurie Bird, who has the distinction of only being in three films, each of which has a cult following. The other two are Cockfighter (also starring Oates) and a small part in Annie Hall, as the girl with the P.P.L.

Despite all this art house stuff, there’s something very realistic about the professionalism of the driver and the mechanic. Laid back and lazily cool, they earn their living by betting against other hot-rodders in ¼ mile drag races held on quiet public roads. Their approach is professional – before they challenge another car the mechanic carefully checks the opposition to ensure they avoid more powerful machinery. Their car, a really rough looking customised ’55 Chevy saloon, is finished in blotchy grey primer – they keep the racing wheels and slick tyres in the back, along with the tools and the jack. There’s something brilliantly calculated in the way this car looks like a shed, quite unlike a polished mass-produced flash of the liar’s GTO.

Fav bit of dialogue:

"Small block?"

"Big block"



You don’t have to understand that exchange to enjoy Two Lane Blacktop, but it probably helps…
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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Requiem for the 1990s

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.

Typically, I missed the real thing because I was abroad playing poker in Las Vegas, but I did catch the funeral, staying with a lovely friend in Seattle after a week or two in Nevada. We watched the funeral coverage in her exquisite waterfront flat, frowned at some of the inane statements of the U.S. commentators and got upset at the sight of the motherless boys. There was also a powerful reminder to never underestimate the song writing skills of Reginald Dwight.

But as this brilliant column by Jonathan Freedland in yesterday’s Guardian points out, the whole thing, like so many “events” of the 1990s seems frivolous now.*

And yet a larger thought is prompted by a look back to the summer of 1997 through the lens of 2005. Suddenly it seems clearer what the Diana era itself, the 1990s, was all about. It was hard to tell at the time, but now the 1990s have a definition as sharp as the swinging 60s or the greedy 80s. They were the no-worry 90s...

For, viewed from today, the 1990s look like a kind of holiday, a pause between two eras of anxiety and conflict. Just as Eric Hobsbawm defined the 19th century as stretching from 1789 to 1914, so we can take the same liberty: the 90s began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and ended with the fall of the twin towers in 2001.

In other words, that decade was the hiatus between the cold war and the clash of civilisations. Before the 90s, the world was caught in a stand-off between east and west that seemed destined to bring Armageddon. After the 90s, the world has become locked in a new confrontation of east and west, with Islam replacing Communism as the great menace.
To read the whole article click here.

No-worries or not, there’s no doubt the nineties were my favourite decade, which began with me renting a rather nice apartment on the Bvd du Montparnasse in the 6th arrondisement of Paris and ended on the stroke of midnight, December 31st 1999 with me playing $5-$10 Hold’Em poker at Foxwoods in Connecticut.

True, the early 1990s were marred by a nasty recession that, like the even worse recession of the early 1980s, seems to have vanished from the collective memory now. But from some hazy date in 1992 right up to September 11th 2001 times were generally good, sometimes the best ever. Of course age has a lot to do with it, I was only 25 in 1990, and it isn’t too hard to enjoy your 20s and early 30s, especially without children to ruin everything…

It took me a hell of a long time to accept it, but things really have changed after September 11th 2001. This is almost entirely due to the hysterical American overreaction, initiated by neo-conservative pro-Israel fanatics and permitted by the most unintelligent and thoughtless leader in US history.

Osama Bin Laden must be amazed and delighted by all this especially as it's been Iraq and his arch-enemy Saddam (the secular) Hussien who has suffered the most American rage (it's not revenge). Naturally Osama remains free while the forces in Afghanistan play second fiddle to the cream of the United States Army (plus support troops, naval and airforce units) pinned down in the streets and sands and scrub of Iraq.

Has any terrorist attack ever been more successful, not just in it's vile execution, but in it's world-changing aftermath?

*To be fair, within days many people in Britain felt there had been a huge overreaction, with the 1/3rd of the population who didn’t give a fuck about Di or the royals finally getting a chance to express their views.