Saturday, 25 April 2009

Armenian Meds Yeghern

Well, we wondered what Obama would say on Armenian Genocide Day (the 24th). Well now we know that he didn't say 'genocide'; diplomacy prevailed and he restricted himself to Meds Yeghern, Armenian for 'great calamity' - better than nothing, but not what he promised last year! Next question: what about 15th May? Will he say it in Arabic - that the Palestinians suffered the Nakba? That too was a great calamity, and it is still going on. And what about the indigenous Americans and Australians and other victims of past racially driven calamities? Will we never admit what our ancestors did?

I wonder what people will remember about the Durban II conference on racism. Most of the media portrayed it as an anti-Israeli rant, a 'hate-fest', personified by Ahmadinejad, but from the blogs of eye-witnesses it accomplished a great deal of good work to restore UN ideals. Actually, the final declaration does not mention Israel or Palestine at all. The motives of those who railed against it seem to be purely negative - to discredit the UN and all it stands for.

Suspiciously, the same people who complained about Darfur II were furious also about Obama revealing details of the Bush Administration's torture methods. They said both that it hadn't been torture at all, and that now Al-Qaida would know that in future they will not be tortured - an interesting example of not having your cake and not eating it!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Now he's admitted it: The bank bailout is going to cost us at least £220 billion, probably much more. What folly it was to save the banks! They should have nationalized the lot. It would have been cheap at the low prices shares had reached. Then they could all have been relaunched as mutuals or cooperatives, owned by their customers and their staff.

Well there's one obvious way to recoup some of our losses: cancel Trident replacement and stop posing as a Great Power. The latest estimate for the cost was £70 billion, but you can rely on that to increase as the £ slides further against the $. Oh dear, the dollar! I was forgetting that British defence and foreign policy are made in Washington. The Americans won't let us cancel an export order for billions of dollars.

Well at least we haven't yet climbed on the bandwaggon to convert the world to US-style Christianity. Here's a little taste of what is coming - and don't laugh!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


What a pity Pres. Amadinejad puts himself forward as spokesman for the Palestinians! He did just what Israeli propagandists wanted. If he had been intelligent, he would have started by talking about the Chinese colonization of Tibet and the Indonesian colonization of West New Guinea and then have moved on to point out that the Zionist colonization of Palestine is exactly the same thing, and he would have thrown in a reference to the Turkish colonization of Western Armenia and the European colonization of the Americas, Australia etc., though it is too late to do anything about that. He would then have been speaking for all colonized peoples.

In fact what he said about Israel is mostly true. It is a colony set up by Europeans, its definition of full citizenship is based on ethnic ancestry (the same definition of Jewishness as was used by Hitler), it was established by driving out most of its indigenous population - 3/4 of a million; it has occupied the rest of Palestine for more than 40 years and is illegally creating more and more settlements there; it has invaded Egypt twice and Lebanon three times and it is occupying part of Syria; it is blockading Gaza and recently attacked it brutally; it was allowed to develop nuclear weapons with impunity... But the fear of being accused of anti-Semitism still seems to be effective in preventing any serious criticism by the West. Anti-Zionist Jews are the only people doing a good job of exposing the wrongs.

Still, when can we expect truth from politicians?! Last night on Channel Four there was a documentary on the banking collapse. They included half a dozen clips of Gordon Brown making speeches in praise of the City and saying how good it was that the financial sector was leading British growth. It has been amusing the past week hearing these fantastic leaders claiming to see "green shoots" of recovery - exactly the same language that we heard in the early 1990s when the Conservatives were in the depths of a recession they had created.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Glove puppets

Notice to the makers of glove puppets: please give them a pair of back legs - and a tail if appropriate! And please could we have some monkeys. I make this heartfelt plea because I wanted to give a four-legged monkey puppet to my grandson Louis, who has just had his second birthday. I had a beloved monkey myself when I was little, and I wanted the same for him. In a week of visits to toy-shops and after examining hundreds of puppets, I found only one with four legs, and it was a kangaroo.

Do the makers of glove puppets not realize the gnawing anguish of children who find that the lower half of their animal has been chopped off? And what on earth can be the reason for this fatal amputation? It cannot be prudishness, since this is the age of anatomically correct dolls, and we have long-since accepted those that wet their nappies. Is this some left-over Platonic prejudice - the idea that the important part of the soul lies in the head and chest? What kangaroo would subscribe to that?!

So there's a business opportunity for someone - a real gap in the market - a chance to climb out of your own recession and to help revive the Chinese economy - an opportunity to spread the love of primates to a new generation! Step in quickly with an order for ten thousand four-legged apes and monkeys; your reward will be in the non-Platonic paradise on earth.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Daily pap

Walking through the sunny streets of London yesterday, I was offered a free paper dozens of times. I did once look at one of these and saw that it contained nothing but trivialities - and masses of advertisements. It is amazing that advertisers can think it is worth the tens of thousands of pounds a day spent on printing and distributing this pap. And seeing people in the tube staring at their free papers, I couldn't help thinking they'd do better to close their eyes and meditate. I hope at least that most of the paper gets recycled, but it would have been better not to cut the trees down in the first place. Perhaps there should be a heavy tax on the producers, with the proceeds used to subsidize real newspapers.

In contrast, I passed a few forlorn Big Issue sellers. I wonder how their daily earnings compare with those of the people who hand out free papers. They certainly have to work harder, looking at passers by, addressing them, thanking them for not buying, wishing them a good day... It must be rather dispiriting. I have to admit that I don't buy the Big Issue; I have more than enough to read already, and I think there are better ways of giving to charity. In Oxford there are only a few sellers, and once you've bought from them it is hard to walk past and not buy again. I'd rather just give them a coin, but I'm afraid they might find that humiliating.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


British politics seems to have descended into complete idiocy. For days we have endless discussions over what Gordon Brown knew or did not know about the antics of one of his stooges and whether he should or should not apologize. Meanwhile unemployment rises, pension funds sag, families lose their homes... and abroad Gaza suffocates, Iraq struggles, Pakistan smoulders, Thailand explodes...

Our parliament is such a charade. Having won a majority of the seats with the support of a quarter of the electorate (as usual), our rulers seem to think only of how to cling to power and the opposition only of how to wrest it from them. Liberal voters have not formed a government in living memory, and no honest republican can enter parliament, since an oath of allegiance to the Crown is required. Yet, when Labour and Blair were 're-elected' in 2005, people did not pour into the streets to protest.

The latest headline 'news': a rat spotted in Downing Street, and the leader of the opposition (whose party was in power for 18 years) says that Labour has been so long (12 years) that it has forgotten whom it serves. Good for the rat! Perhaps if we had a lot more rats and mice, people might begin to protest.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Torture Friday

I have always thought it strange that a day commemorating the torturing to death of an innocent man is called 'Good' Friday. I fear that this obsession with torture is what led to Christianity being the only religion to torture and kill people for not believing in it. Admittedly the Romans might kill you for not worshipping the Emperor, but as long as you paid lip-service to him they didn't care what you believed.

This morning on the news Mr Blair was assuring us that he worries every day about the numbers killed in Iraq, but he still thinks it was right to remove Saddam. Does he really believe it was legal under international law? And was it legal to refuse self-determination to Palestine when we were occupying it for 30 years? And was it legal to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 when he nationalized Iranian oil? And was it legal to collude with Israel and France to invade Suez in 1956? And was it legal to impose crippling sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s? And is it legal to threaten Iran for its nuclear energy programme while turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear weapons? Muslims can hardly be blamed for noticing that the victims of all these injustices were Muslim. Mr Blair and Mr Brown should issue an apology for all Britain's past mistakes.

We were also told that Mr Blair reads the Holy Koran every day; I wonder whether he has learnt Arabic now, after nearly two years as Peace Envoy to the Middle East. Anyway he should take notice of sura 41 verse 34: 'Respond to a bad deed with a better, and the one with whom you were enemies will be like a best friend.' He could start by talking to Hamas, not that their Kassam rockets were a very effective bad deed.

PS I write Koran, not Qur'an because Arabic Q is a sound that English-speakers cannot pronounce, and English QU is pronounced KW which is not appropriate. As for the apostrophe (glottal stop), most Arabs don't pronounce it in normal speech.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Alternative transport

Eurostar is terribly expensive so I chose to come back from Paris by ferry and coach. Surprisingly, it is cheaper to get to Calais by Eurostar than by taking an ordinary express train and changing at Lille. Only two of us got off at Calais; the other one was a retired engineer who supplements his meagre pension by practising homeopathy, faith healing etc. He assumed I had got off because I hated the tunnel. In fact I love it but don't like the price. In case anyone is interested, Paris to Calais was 19-odd euros, Calais to Dover 15, and Dover to Victoria £6-odd, total about £40 (all with old-folks' discounts). Journey time 6 hours.

London after Paris seemed old and tired. Coming in through Lewisham and Peckham it looks as though nothing has been repaired or repainted or washed for decades. And walking around Victoria I thought the provision for cyclists very primitive compared with those in Paris, and we still don't have the "velib" - free bikes that you can pick up and put down all over Paris using something like an oyster card (or with a one-euro-a-day permit). The system works because a central computer keeps a constantly updated record of who has which bike.

Getting into Britain is quite a hassle. I had to show my passport and go through security twice, taking off my belt and purse as well as emptying my pockets and having my bags scanned. Our failure to see ourselves as part of Europe is a constant aggravation to me. Fifty years ago there was no such problem; educated people accepted that our history, geography, language and culture were European, and when we wanted to make a distinction it was between Britain and "the Continent". Now people call that which is not British "Europe". I blame Margaret Thatcher. For my part I feel European before British and human before European, and I am happy to call myself a mammal. Citizens of the Earth, unite!

Saturday, 4 April 2009


After three weeks in France I would not be surprised if the barricades went up in Paris this summer. There is a lot of anger over all the house repossessions, job losses, devalued pensions... Everyone seems to know of some firm that has gone bust or someone who is desitute. There is also a deeper contempt for the President than I ever remember. Many people disliked de Gaulle or Giscard or Mitterand or Chirac, but they did not despise them. Sarkozy has made himself ridiculous, and he share's Tony Blair's excessive fondness for the company of very rich people. This week in Paris there seemed to be surprise that London had been first to see violent demonstrations.

The idea that the G20 meeting has solved anything seems far-fetched. As long as the dollar continues to seve as international currency nothing fundamental will change. As a visitor to the Eurozone I am painfully aware of the weakness of the pound: five pounds for a sandwich!! But it would be no improvement if the euro replaced the dollar. A multinational currency is not the same thing as an international one.

John Major should have sold British Rail to the SNCF. What wonderful trains the French have! Paris to Lyon in less than two hours! No one flies for any journey of less than 500 kilometres. The one thing I can't afford is the Eurostar from Paris to London, but it will take me to Calais for only 19 euros, and ferry and coach will complete the journey for a fraction of the cost of the full treatment. I've started reading Désert by Le Clézio, which is magnificent, so I shan't grudge the extra time.

PS As I write this I hear a noisy demonstration coming up the street, and now police sirens...