Friday, September 29, 2006

Bush entertains Kazakh autocrat

No sooner was Dick Cheney finished criticising Russia for its record on democracy than George Bush was sitting down with the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to thank him for his country's support in the 'war on terror'.

You could not make this stuff up. The media
in Kazakhstan is controlled by the state and since the country achieved independence in December 1991 no election has been seen as free or fair. In February this year the death of one of Nazarbayev's main opponents was widely believed to have been the work of the country secret service.

Kazakstan sent 29- that's TWENTY NINE- troops to Iraq. Now I'm not knocking that contribution. It's not their fight over there and I've no idea what kind of standing army they have. I'm guessing in a country with a population of 15 million the army is not spectacularly large. But doesn't ol' Georgie boy not appear a little too grateful for
Nazarbayev's modest support?

Moldova, for example, has, according to the website www.globalsecurity.org, 33 troops in Iraq, outstripping the Kazakhs by four troops. As far as I know the president of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin, has yet to receive an invitation to the White House to be bathed in Bush's munificence. And goodness knows what Nambaryn Enkhbayar president of Mongolia thinks of Bush's back-slapping given his country has provided 133 troops to the war effort.

Could Bush's willingness to cosy up to
Nazarbayev have anything to do with Kazakhstan's vast untapped reserves of oil, estimated by some as the largest outside the Kingdom of Saud?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Security fears force cancellation of Berlin opera

I've missed the boat a bit with this story but I thought it worthy of a few words nonetheless.

The Berlin opera company 'Deutsche Oper' cancelled the performance as it feared reprisals over scenes featured the severed heads of Muhammed and Jesus (not their actual bonces I wouldn't have thought, probably balloons with papier-mache skin- you know the sort). Oddly those responsible for the opera 'Idomeneo' don't appear to have actually received any threats for intending to perform it. Though a 2003 performance of the opera in Berlin did arouse criticism for the severed heads scene.

In a particularly strange dichotomy it was the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit,- the establishment figure and not the bohemiam theatre types- who lamented the company's decision to cancel the opera saying, "Our ideas about openness, tolerance and freedom must be lived out on the offensive."

The cancellation of Idomeneo marks a particularly depressing nadir. In 2004 Sikhs in Birmingham demonstrated against the city's Rep theatre's run of the play Behzti. More recently the Christian Voice's Christo-fascist loony director, Stephen Green, led protests against Jerry Springer the Opera. And in so doing resorted to some pretty un-Christian methods of persuasion. Not gentle discourse and a few verses of kumbayah for our Greenie; but threats of violence and unholy alliances with the BNP.
However, in Deutsche Oper's case it had yet to see a single burning effigy or so much as dodge a molotov cocktail.

The Berlin mayor's intervention is to be credited, but we cannot rely on elected officials to be guarantors of artistic license. It's for the artists themselves to take chances and risk opprobrium for the work they produce. Elected officials should be ensuring protests pass off without incident and where they fail to ensure this see that criminality is punished. In this case the threat of a threat seemed to be the motive for Deutsche Oper's decision. And that is almost as barmy as the feared protestors themselves.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cruddas declares intention to run for deputy leadership

The Dagenham MP John Cruddas today joined Peter Hain and Harriet Harman in declaring he will stand for the deputy leadership of the Labour party when deputy sheriff John Prescott steps down.

Cruddas believes his position as a backbencher will allow him more freedom of thought than those restricted by the demands of their government roles. He told Radio 5 Live, "I am standing to be deputy leader because change is desperately needed. As we stand, the party is not in a fit state to fight the next general election."

Cruddas was at one time close to Tony Blair and was the PM's deputy political secretary after the 1997 election victory. However, he has since become a vocal opponent of government positions such as top-up fees.

While many agree that change is required few will endorse Cruddas's claim that the party is not ready to fight the next election. Change is to come but with the next election probably two if not three years away there is time enough to prepare. Nonetheless, Cruddas could emerge as a dark horse in the race for the deputy leadership. He has already stated that he does not believe the role should be combined with that of the deputy prime minister and will have strong support among backbenchers and trade unionists for his tireless efforts in fighting the fascist menace in east London.

The talk of when Blair will step down has abated somewhat in the last few days as MPs have urged a focus on the policies at conference. However, as more people step forward to announce their designs on the deputy leadership it would surely only require one heavyweight contender for the leadership itself to make plain their battleplans for Blair to set about naming the all important date. Are you listening Gordon?

Government suffers second conference defeat

The government was defeated for a second time today as delegates at the Labour party conference passed a motion condemning plans for further private investment in public health services.

A motion attacking the "breakneck speed of change" in the NHS was carried by a show of hands on the conference floor. The motion had been opposed by the Labour party's National Executive and Patricia Hewitt had attempted to have the motion revoked.

It is unclear how significant the result of this vote will be, but it comes on the back of Peter Hain's recent comments that he believed it necessarry to consider the limits of private involvement in the NHS. The closure of NHS Logistics in favour of the outscourcing arrangements with DHL has its critics. One major difficulty is that the DHL couriers are to deliver only as far as the front door of hospitals and not to distribute bulk deliveries any further. It had previously been NHS Logistics' responsibility to decant and deliver goods directly to the user. It may sound trivial but arrangements to ensure deliveries reach their intended recipients do not appear to have been considered. However, Patricia Hewitt claims the move will save the NHS £1 billion. Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Blair takes conference bow

Evening, folks. I've been a bit slack with the postings of late and I know you're all missing me.

Tony Blair made his final Labour party conference speech as leader today and received a
predictably warm response. One MP questioned as he left the arena said he couldn't remember why he wanted him to go in the first place.

Again the media latched on to Blair's failure to endorse a successor. I'm not sure why he should. If there's one thing Blair will be remembered for it's the cult of personality he has brought to British politics. That his personality should have any bearing on whom the next leader should be is surely questionable. I reject wholeheartedly claims that a General Election should be called when Blair has stepped down. It is the Labour party that is in power and not any one individual. It is time for policies and ideas to take back some of the spotlight.

Otherwise a reasonable speech: a few funnies; a note on the past; some advice on the future; and a tearful valediction. Oh, and a glowing report from Alistair Campbell on Newsnight. Much as we probably expected.


Some prodigious postings to follow. Dare I say better?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Turkish novelist acquitted

The Turkish novelist Elif Shafak has been acquitted today of the charges of "insulting Turkishness" after the prosecution decided to drop its charges.

Shafak had faced up to three years in prison because of remarks made by a fictional character in her novel 'The Bastard of Istanbul'. The character had referred to the massacre of Armenians in the first world war as genocide. The prosecution believed that her work was in contravention of Article 301 of the Turkish penal code which criminalises the "public denigration" of Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, the Grand National Assembly, the government, judiciary, military and security services.

The outcome of this trial was keenly anticipated across much of Europe. If Turkey is to join the EU in 2015 the limitations it currently places on freedom of speech will undoubtedly have to be lifted. Article 301 has been in existence for over a year and already 60 authors have been charged since its introduction.

It is the first time the prosecutor has decided to drop charges of this nature and may well mark a watershed in Turkish history.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Football's fixers

I've just seen clips of tomorrow night's Panorama programme on dodgy football agents, shown on Newsnight.

Unfortunately, I'm going to miss the programme tomorrow so I'd appreciate a synopsis in the comments section from someone after it has been aired. It certainly looks interesting. One clip showed a football agent named Charles Collymore who'd been duped by a football coach working with the Newsnight team. Collymore tells them that he knows of six Premiership managers who would 'definitely' be interested in a bung.

I'm doubtful that any of it will come to anything but should be a decent watch.

Neo-Nazis claim electoral success in Germany

The far-right German National Democratic Party last night pulled off an electoral coup in the German regional assembly elections.

Building on recent electoral success which saw the party win seats in the previous three years, the NDP now has a say in the regional assembly of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, based in the town of Schwerin.

Mirroring the British National Party's success in the May local elections the NDP also did well in places with high unemployment. It is surely time politicians in major parties started to address what may be becoming a burgeoning concern across Europe. Politicians need to consider what makes people vote for extremist parties and in so doing avoid the sort of clumsy, ham-fisted conclusions drawn by Margaret Hodge before the elections in Barking.

As the paper The Berliner Zeitung has reported, the NPD's leader in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Udo Pastörs, was given a fillip through the combined efforts of opposition parties and the media. The fact that other parties treat him as a 'pariah' merely helps his cause, the paper said, adding: "Nobody had so many cameras and microphones thrust at him".

Part of me thinks that if you ignored these groups they'd go away. I remember thinking the same of old hook-hand Abu Hamza, famous for preaching 'hate' outside the Finsbury Park mosque here in London. However, Hamza had many young followers who in the present climate may have made the security forces twitchy. But I wonder to what extent the hordes of cameras and reporters who flocked to his sermons served to exacerbate the danger and augment his uniquely peculiar profile.

On the other hand, there are measures the government could take to disrupt the workings of these groups with minimal fuss. As I've mentioned on these pages before the website Red Watch hosts hundreds of pictures of various people who have attended marches and demonstrations which are anathema to its aims. The website apparently encourages sympathetic visitors to perpetrate acts of violence on those pictured with slogans like, "Remember places, traitors' faces, they'll pay for their crimes". Websites such as "Stop the BNP" campaign tirelessly to encourage John Reid and others to move to close down websites like the one described. However, the owners of a litany of bile-filled webpages escape censure by having their sites hosted in other countries.

While parties such as the BNP seek new and innovative ways of achieving respectibility, it is the duty of the rest of us to think of new and innovative ways to expose the lies and subterfuge they present as fact. This must be done not through tawdry insults and cheap jibes but through coherent and cogent argument. Are you with me?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Top of the Blogs

There's been something of a buzz in the blogosphere this weekend following the publication of Iain Dale's guide to the top 100 political blogs in the UK.

Unfortunately, the Pamphleteer doesn't feature but I put that down to this blog's relative infancy: it won't be long before Mr Dale is forced to compile his first amended edition! Er...

Anyway it's broken down into four categories namely: the top 100 non-aligned, top 100 Lib Dem, top 100 Tory, and top 100 Labour blogs. I was surprised to see some of the blogs I've started to visit regulary on there, since I've mostly just stumbled across them. Sportingly, Mr Dale only puts himself at number two in the Tory list. Though how he claims that Melanie Philips is non-aligned escapes me. I'm not sure there's a category there she could be easily placed in.

Nonetheless, from looking around on different blogs it appears he's put a great deal of work into it and has given many a blogger a well-deserved plug.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Muslims 'offended' by Pope's remarks

Following Pope Benedict XVI's speech on Tuesday the Muslim world has reacted with its usual mixture of phlegmatism and equanimity.

The lecture which the Pope gave on Tuesday at his former univeristy in Regensburg has seen demonstrations across the Muslim world. In Allahabad, India protestors burned an effigy of the pontiff and Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf has also condemned his remarks.

Benedict XVI had been lecturing on the need to reconcile faith and reason (a doomed enterprise, old boy) when he quoted a 14th Century Christian emperor who said the Prophet Muhammad had brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things. Now, undoubtedly the comments were ill-judged but to what extent the old buffer can claim he didn't mean to cause offence (as the BBC is now reporting) is doubtful. He's got previous where anti-Muslim comments are concerned. Before he became Pope he spoke out against Turkey joining the EU, reasoning that Christian Europe had to be defended. And it's unlikely the furore which resulted from the Danish cartoon incident passed him by. If some badly-etched and not particularly witty cartoons could cause such offence, suggesting that in Islam Allah is higher than all things including reason was not going to be laughed off with a collective roll of the eyes.

Of course, that either of these religions- nevermind any other- has more of a handle on reason than the other is laughable. But as usual the Muslim world goes some way to justifying the criticism levelled at it as pictures are beamed in from around the world of burning effigies and angry mobs with fists aloft. Nonetheless, comdemnation of Benedict's malign idiocy from the non-partisan among us must be swift and exacting.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Show me the money

When I was a kid I was, like most young lads, football mad. A trip to the football as a kid started off as a treat and an hallowed affair. I can still remember one of my first visits to a game when a friend's dad took five of us along for his son's birthday. My abiding memory was the almost terrifying noise of the crowd, aggression and euphoria mixed together like nowhere else.

These days I'm more ambivalent. I still love the game but much of the insidious sideshow the game drags along in its slipstream leaves me cold. Much is made of the money footballers make and while it's incontrovertibly obscene, to make mention of it seems hackneyed and worn. What irks me more is the failure of anyone at any level of the game to speak out about the most deplorable facets of the business. Week in, week out pundits bemoan players' penchant for 'simulation'- they can't even call a dive a dive- or the vogue for brandishing imaginary cards in the direction of the referee whenever an opposing player commits a foul. Sure, it's a pain in the arse and spoils what can often be a wonderful spectacle but it barely deserves more than a moment's consideration once the terraces have emptied. More worthwhile talking points like Wayne Rooney's predilection for prostitutes, or the virulent homophobia which pervades the game seldom rate a mention. So it was with some glee that I read Marina Hyde's assessment of Ashley Cole's autobiography in today's Guardian.

You can read it for yourself so I'll not repeat it here, but my favourite part is Cole's description of how he felt when he realised Arsenal wouldn't meet his wage demands. "When I heard Jonathan (Cole's agent) repeat the figure of £55,000," writes Ashley, "I nearly swerved off the road. 'He is taking the piss Jonathan!' I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn't believe what I'd heard." Cole had been holding out for £60,000 a week so naturally he was upset when Arsenal could only stump up £5,000 less. If ever an example of the venality and greed of these individuals was required, here it is in gloriously unabashed terms.

These are men who are paid the earth for what is essentially of little consequence. More importantly their every whim is catered for, they have aides ensuring they are physically fit and healthy, and they shoulder minimal accountability, yet rarely do we see any evidence that they are humbled by, or appreciative of, their situation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Uncovering Iran

On Sunday BBC radio 4 launches the first of three programmes on Iran.

The spiel promises to challenge many of the preconceptions about the country. Worth a listen, I'd suggest. Though this may be a forlorn hope for many of us at 1pm on a Sunday.

Hain launches deputy leadership campaign

Peter Hain last night began his bid to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour party. Hain spoke of his desire to renew the progressive coalition which swept Labour to power in 1997.

I saw Peter Hain speaking this summer at the GMB congress in Blackpool and was impressed. There was suspicion at the time of Hain's motives for appearing and he was pointedly reminded of this when introduced to the delegates. President Mary Turner asked rhetorically if it was Hain's first address to the GMB. Mr Hain has been a member of the GMB for some 30 years.

Nevertheless, the Northern Ireland Secretary spoke well. He is not the liberal activist he once was. But then he would not be where he is now had his opinions and motivations not changed and matured. This is a man who once received a letter bomb to his door (it failed to explode). Who in 1975 was acquitted at the Old Bailey of his alleged involvement in a bank robbery in Putney. At the time Hain was a vigorous anti-apartheid campaigner and a prominent white South African attracting so much attention abroad was not the sort of attention the ruling administration wanted. It is widely believed that both incidents were orchestrated by the regime to which he was a thorn in the side.

Hain has already made noises which many Labour supporters will find reassuring. He has spoken of his belief in the need for electoral reform; he is willing to consider limits on private sector involvement in the NHS; and he has opposed those who seek to minimise the unions' influence in the party.

Today Alan Johnson has confirmed he will stand for the deputy leadership and with Gordon Brown still the overwhelming favourite to succeed Tony Blair it may enhance Johnson's chances. The thought of a Scottish prime minister and a South African deputy may prove too much for some. Nonetheless, in the current climate of the Labour party, Hain's words may be exactly what many have been hoping for.

Happy Birthday, Sara!

(Belatedly)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Delegates walk out of Blair address

Tony Blair today addressed the Trades Union Congress for the final time and, as had been rumoured, delegates of the RMT and FBU staged a walk out.

Blair had joked last week that his final appearance at the TUC would be a relief for both parties. And so it proved as a clearly angry Blair fielded questions and endured heckles when he spoke on Iraq. The demonstration is believed to have been led by the RMT and the Fire Brigades' Union (neither Labour affiliated) and around 30 of their number walked out when Mr Blair arrived on stage.

While Blair allowed that the protestors were entitled to show their dissatisfaction, the merits of this kind of protest are questionable. It immediately attracts sympathy for the speaker who is forced to struggle on through the catcalls and heckles. Moreover, the speaker can turn it to their advantage- as Blair perhaps did- by saying, "I'm willing to discuss this. Aren't you?". As the prime minister went on to say, the behaviour of those few delegates is exactly what opposition groups want to see.

Like much of the name calling and back-biting of the last couple of weeks today's demonstration is notable only for its futility. It's time for those who matter to consider the policies and arguments which will still have to be made when Blair does go.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Guidelines aim to prevent covert selection

A new school admissions code is currently being considered which aims to stop schools cherry-picking the brightest pupils.

The amended admissions code means schools will not be able to give higher priority to those children

  • whose parents are more willing to support the ethos of the school or support the school financially;
  • according to the occupation or financial status of their parents;
  • according to the educational or social group or background of parents;
  • who [or whose parents] have particular interests, specialist knowledge or hobbies.

Under the new code interviews will also be proscribed.

Ministers hope to ensure these new measures are binding and an independent forum is to convened in order to scrutinise schools' performance every 12 months. It is well known, particularly amongst those of us in the education sector, that many schools will use whatever means they can to block the admission of some children. Interviews have long been a reliable tool in attempts to filter out children from the most chaotic families. It allows schools to run the rule over parents and decide whether a family is suitable for their school. And, of course, it also allows them to find out whether the child is from a single parent home.

Children in England and Wales who have a 'Statement of Special Educational Needs' can request a place in whichever school they choose, provided their local council deems it an appropriate placement. Often parents will choose high achieving faith schools which feature favourably in league tables. An application is then made by their local council and the chosen school's views are sought. It is not uncommon for faith schools to reject an application when there is no evidence that the family is sympathetic to that ethos. The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice does not allow schools to decline applications on such grounds, but schools none the less do. It must be hoped that the revision of the admissions code will force schools to adhere to the guidance and limit their ability to refuse entry on specious grounds.

The proposed changes are still at the consultation stage. I await the outcome with interest.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Clarke explodes


Not literally, of course, but it got you thinking.

Charles Clarke today rebooted the Labour party leadership debate with an attack on Gordon Brown.

Just when it appeared that an uncomfortable truce had been brokered, Clarke burst from his moorings and denounced Big Gordy as "absolutely stupid". Clarke's heckles were raised apparently because Brown was photographed smiling as he left Downing Street yesterday. Clarke hasn't had much to smile about recently, so it may have been a touch upsetting to see a fellow... sorry, to see
a cabinet member smiling. Who knows what might have got Brown belly-laughing. He may have just been read Grigori Perelman's latest answer to the Poincaré conjecture by a flustered aide. Perhaps baby John had garbled his first words, "Endogenous Growth Theory, dada!" What father wouldn't be beaming?

What made Big Gordy grin so? Your comments, please.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Three of the major news stories of recent weeks have got me thinking.

In no particular order I refer to the following: the Israeli invasion of Lebanon; David Cameron's denunciation of Thatcher's policies towards the African National Congress; and Gerry Adams's meeting with members of Hamas. There seems to be a tendancy among the more wild-eyed members of the Right to refuse to attempt any understanding of terrorist groups' stated aims. For those of us more willing to cultivate a breadth of view the questions posed are rarely as simple as the 'good versus evil' claptrap spouted by people such as George W "Bring 'em on" Bush and the good Doctor Paisley.

Hezbollah, the ANC and the IRA it may be argued all have and had identifiable goals and objectives. The increase in radical Islam is more difficult to pin down. The 7 July bombers cited events in Iraq and Afghanistan as the principle motives for their dread actions. But what objective has it fulfilled? What change has it affected? Global Jihad has no leadership, no detailed political demands, no coherent game plan. It survives by preying on those with the slightest sympathy for its cause who some designated 'Mr Big' has considered first rate fodder. And yet more would-be suicide bombers emerge unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the abject pointlessness in the deaths which preceded their own. Impending. The bombers of July 7 all enjoyed relatively comfortable lives and a wealth of opportunity. But they misdirected their anger and paid with their lives. Their grievances lay in Iraq and Afghanistan; one wonders why they didn't choose to end their lives there.

The other groups I have mentioned fought local battles. They were predominantly interested in localised conditions (sounds like a weather report, but bear with me). Hezbollah rose up from the previous Lebanese conflict with the intended aim of protecting Palestinians in that area, in the face of Israeli attempts to wipe out the PLO. The ANC fought against apartheid in South Africa, the IRA fought against the presence of a foreign invader in the 1920s and the persecution of Catholics in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and onwards. The common bond is that all three took to violent protest in the face of perceived repression by much larger and better equipped forces.

Now, before the vast waves of disagreement pour in, let me try and elaborate. I cannot say what Catholic Irish, or Lebanese, or Palestinians who consider themselves to be living in a occupied country should do. Write a letter to the UN, perhaps (I think Chuck Berry did once, he said so in a song. Unfortunately, he didn't write another one detailing the reply). Burn their adversaries' flags might be another option, but that goes on quite alot and it upsets people, including people whose flag it ain't.

I suspect their best bet is to align themselves with another nation of comparable size and strength as the enemy. That way they can attempt a stand-off at which point everyone can get around a table and talk. But even this approach is bedevilled with problems as sanction upon sanction is meted out by the UN. And it may come back to bite you on the arse as the Americans will testify on Afghanistan.

It is always easier to condemn than to listen and consider. One of the main difficulties is that these 'conflicts' are decades old. As each combatants are killed new ones are born and each grows up with a primordial desire to win future battles to balance the lost ones of old. And it is true of both the terrorist and the uniformed soldier. I do not hold the answers. I believe dialogue must be embraced, not matter how far off it glimmers; laying waste to entire nations is not the answer.

Discuss.

The pipsqueaks revolt

What a day. Yesterday the news channels were buzzing with talk of petitions and the turning of previously staunch Blairites. The speculation culminated late last night with the Sun going to print with its prediction that Blair would resign on the 31 May 2007. This followed leaks of a supposed blue print for his final months in charge whose aim was to ensure TB bows out with the crowd demanding more.

Should Blair see out his current predicament to continue into the new year, it seems incredible that those close to him could suggest a 31 May exit date. It is expected that Labour will suffer losses in both the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliamentary elections. Assuming Blair was to announce his departure on the date the Sun expects, he would have approximately two further months in the top job while the leadership contest plays out. Enough time to banish the memory of more losses and ensure he goes out on a high? I'm not convinced.

But what of today's capers. I'm not certain as to the motives of the seven involved, particularly given their positions in government. Blair, however, was quick to denounce Tom Watson, the junior defence minister, as "disloyal, discourteous and wrong". Watson and Co's leaking of their letter to Blair seems ill-judged; these party members are not going to be remembered as the men who did for Blair. Indeed Blair was just choosing the font for Watson's letter of dismissal when the renegade MP chose to save him the ink.

The seven are entitled to make representations to Blair. Undoubtedly, they chose the wrong method. Their actions are more damaging to the party than to Blair. It plays into the hands of 'A la carte' Dave. Cameron has already moved into hyperbole overdrive, exclaiming that the government is 'divided and in meltdown'. Cameron is mistaken, this will be no 'Black Wednesday' for Blair. Perhaps Cameron could be more sure of himself were he streaking ahead in the polls. But he knows his current lead in various and fatuous polls will be pegged back markedly when a new Labour leader is in place.

While I believe Blair should go I cite again reasons already elucidated on these pages. Electorates simply lose interest when one person has been there too long. It's likely that a July 2007 succession will leave the new leader around two years to prepare for a general election. Time enough. We'll (possibly) know more about Cameron by then. Even by next summer he may, to quote that odious bigmouth, Gordon Ramsey, have "grown some bollocks" and committed to cutting taxes (surely only a matter of time) and further reveal himself as the Old Etonian we know him to be. Modelling himself in the image of the very man he currently derides will see him one day reflect with horror. But perhaps not with as much anguish as Messers Mahmood, David, Lucas, Tami, Wright and Mole.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Australian environmentalist Irwin dies

It's trousers at half-mast here at the Pamphleteer this morning with news that Steve Irwin, the Australian environmentalist and television personality, has died after being attacked by a stingray while diving.

Mr Irwin was killed by a stingray barb to his chest while filming a documentary in the Great Barrier Reef. Paramedics were called to the scene but were unable to save him.

Irwin gained fame internationally for his madcap approach to interacting with some of the planet's most dangerous creatures. He was often filmed poking crocodiles with sticks while saying, "I bet the little blighter doesn't like that", or "He's really mad now".

Details as to the exact circumstances of his demise are not yet confirmed and it is unclear whether a stick was involved. David Penberthy, editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, was interviewed by the BBC and said that he had not heard of anyone in Australia having been killed by a stingray before.

"You know we still at this early stage don't know what type of stingray it was, or, you know I guess given the bloke's track record, whether he was getting up close and personal with it as well," Mr Penberty said.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Church in anti-gay stance

One of the last week's less reported stories was that of nine firefighters in Glasgow who were disciplined by the service for refusing to hand out leaflets during a gay pride march in June of this year.

As reported by the BBC, the men apparently refused on 'moral' grounds and were subsequently reported by their superior officers for disobeying orders. The men were later supported by Scottish National Party MSP Fergus Ewing who said it was "unbelievable" that they would face disciplinary proceedings. Mr Ewing also said that the men were entitled to their private views. Then last week the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, lent his support to the men who the fire service has said will now undertake diversity training, saying, "They were asked, while in uniform, to hand out leaflets during a demonstration where they had legitimate concerns about being the subject of taunts and jokes, and in which in some cases, their religious sensibilities would have been grossly offended by people dressed as priests and nuns lampooning the Church."

While one of the firefighters was demoted and forced to take a £5,000 pay cut, the others were issued with written warnings in addition to undertaking the training. Archbishop Conti then went on to say, "The duty to obey one's conscience is a higher duty than that of obeying orders."

There are a number of things which bother me about this case. Firstly, Mr Fergus Ewing MSP proclaimed that the men were entitled to their private views. And, of course, they are but it seems to have escaped Mr Ewing's attention that the men had
publicly expressed these views. I work in education and although I am wholeheartedly in favour of the abolition religious schools I do not take these views into work. I can do no service to that cause in the capacity in which I am employed and it is not the correct forum in which to do so. That these firefighters were not able to do the same is at best reprehensible and at worst dangerous. Would these men refuse to do the job for which they are paid if they were called to the scene of a fire in a gay bar or similar venue? It may seem alarmist to wonder, but it is none the less pertinent.

Last week Archbishop Conti threw his episcopal hat into ring, warning of the likelihood that the men would have suffered the ignominy of witnessing their religion being lampooned before their incredulous peepers. Of course, the good Archbishop is a little disingenuous when he cites this as the object of their ire. The firefighters are said to have refused on 'moral' grounds, which must lead us to conclude that the march itself was what they refused to countenance.

Archbishop Conti should be condemned in the most vehement terms. For many his religious convictions give his bigoted outpourings a veneer of respectibility. Outpourings which in any normal walk of life are unacceptable. There can be no doubt that the firefighters deserved to be discplined. Bigotry is bigotry however one may try and disguise its true face.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

14 arrested in new terror raids

The BBC reports that 14 men have been held in a new wave of terror raids.

Last night, around 40 armed police officers stormed a halal Chinese restaurant in the south London area of Borough. There are also details of two arrests in north London and a further two but unconnected arrests in the Manchester area.

The London arrests are thought to be connected with alleged British "training camps". An Islamic School in Kent is now being searched as part of the same investigation. This follows information in recent weeks that groups of men have been under surveillance taking part in apparent training camps in various national parks and green spaces around Britain.