Saturday, July 30, 2005

On the today programme this week John Humphrys repeatedly interrupted a Sinn Fein spokesperson who had described the IRA volunteers as seeing themselves as 'soldiers' with the challenge: "But soldiers don't blow up children, do they?" Well, do they? Max Hastings asks 'What would you have done?' about Hiroshima and of Nagasaki. On a similar theme... "Give us your bombers and you can have our baskets." Why the Battle of Algiers was ahead of its time.

Apparently there are more than 600 Polish bus drivers employed as bus drivers in the West Midlands (so be careful with your pronunciation when asking for a ticket to Walsall... although personally I could find a minimum of a thousand better reasons for going to Warsaw rather than Walsall). Anyway, looking at The Guardian travel, Gdansk looks well worth a visit. The article, by way of a neat link, is written by Niall Griffiths, a scouser who lives in Wales and writes graphically about both, and often with a tad too much violence for my squeamish stomach. Griffiths is often described as the Welsh Irvine Welch and it is easy to see why. I have just finished his latest book, Wreckage, but the characters since his first book, Grits, have become interwoven. Well worth reading, but not too soon after breakfast I would suggest.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Go ahead punk, make his day

Be ashamed you wooly-minded, wish-washy do-gooding Guardian readers. Dirty Harry and his mate Lee are going to make sure the streets of Bloxwich are safe.

However, just to show that not everything in the Express and Star is reactionary nonsense ... this is an interesting piece. I bet that got right up our Lee's nose.
I am getting increasingly concerned about how the news is presented to us. I appreciate that the requirement for 24-hour news channels and internet newspapers constantly updated means that everyone is searching for a new 'angle' on the news. But this requirement seems to be at the expense of accuracy. For instance, the 'terrorist with a padded jacket' who 'ran away when challenged' and 'vaulted the ticket barrier' story that we were peddled for days last week, was swallowed wholescale by the news media and repeated endlessly. So, on Sunday lunchtime in the pub there was no discussion amongst the bar room Jeremy Paxman's about the fact that this innocent bloke had been gunned down without someone adding the rider that 'he must have been up to no good, otherwise why run away, why jump the ticket barrier, and why wear a padded jacket in the July heat?' Of course, all this will be forgotten next Sunday when the entire thing seems to have been dismissed as a complete load of cobblers. Is all this misinformation being fed to a news hungry media who are so keen to file a story that they have become 'embedded' to the Metropolitan Police media centre? Or is it simply lazy journalism, with one reporter saying something and all the others piling in behind? Why, for instance, didn't someone ask the Met. about the 'padded jacket worn by a Pakistani' in the immediate aftermath of the shooting... before trotting the story out as if it were a fact. Now we are being told that the London bombers on July 7th may have been preparing to attack a nightclub or football match? Or perhaps it was a bomb to be placed up the backside of the next lazy bugger of a journalist who posts a story based on pure speculation

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Advice from one Texan to another:
"The biggest downside to a war in Iraq is what you could do with that money," Armstrong said through gritted teeth. "What does a war in Iraq cost a week? A billion? Maybe a billion a day? The budget for the National Cancer Institute is four billion. That has to change. Polls say people are much more afraid of cancer than of a plane flying into their house or a bomb or any other form of terrorism."
The level and standard of opposition within Sandwell Council plumbed new depths last night.The Tories are the largest opposition party and they failed to make a single point throughout the whole meeting. In fact, the Tory leader actually left the Council Chamber during "questions to Cabinet members". It was the equivalent of Michael Howard nipping out for a smoke during Prime Ministers' Questions! The Smiths, (he's the one on the left... physically, that is) for the Lib Dems made a few interventions on minutes of Cabinet meetings, but really it was all pretty desperate. The whole meeting lasted less than an hour and a half... and that despite the fact it was the first full council (other than the Mayor-making jamboree) for months. Surely they must have SOMETHING they want to make a point about.

Still, unbeknown to most of us in the Chamber, deeds of great skullduggery were taking place involving Councillor Macklin, who has recently thrown her rattle out of the pram and deserted the Lib Dem Group. I will put to one side any thoughts I might have had about Mrs Macklin's 'nether regions' but I would love to be a fly on the wall when her complaint goes to the Standards Board.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I am reminded by Mick Davies that I am remiss in failing to mention that today is the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks near Santiago de Cuba that marks the start of the Cuban revolution. I suppose it is a sign of the times, but Fidel would definitely have been the subject of a more concerted attack under the guise of the war against terrorism if such a thing happened today.

Darius Vassell had such a turn of speed he would terrify defenders. Unfortunately his finishing meant that goalkeepers had few such fears.
Just when the people of Bearwood thought it was OK to relax, Blue Chip Casinos are back with their proposal to convert a local pub in a residential neighbourhood into a round-the-clock casino. They have had their plans kicked out by the Planning Committee. They have had their appeal turned down by the Planning Inspectorate. They came back to the Planning Committee with a modified proposal which was kicked out again by the Committee. Now, for the fourth time in 18 months they are subjecting the local residents to another bout of mental torture by submitting yet another slightly modified application. It is difficult to know which part of "sod off and leave us alone" that these people do not understand. The Government are apparently trying to introduce an amendment to the law to prevent these companies from submitting endless numbers of slightly amended planning applications. The sooner the better! In the meantime, the residents in the north of my Ward are preparing to do battle again on 3rd August.

An artist's impression of the ridiculous Blue Chip Casino

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Introducing.... Prezza the Planner.

An interesting slant. Boycott The Sun for being too left-wing (and anti-English!)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Perfectly safe, these mobile phone masts. What on earth is the fuss about? So they say....

Friday, July 22, 2005

The opium of the people

It has taken the media hysteria over Madrasas to focus attention on 'faith schools'. Personally, I don't think it is the role of schools to involve themselves in matters of religion. I think they should teach children about the different faiths in the world, in the same way they should give them an understanding of the world's geography or differing political systems. But to preach religion, or have schools designated for people of differing religions seems to me to be divisive, and not the role of school. I still have a feeling of fear and dread when I think back to my own religious knowledge classes. We were taught by a fierce Wesh Methodist brute, who, if there was such a thing, would have long since burnt in hell. He would make us learn whole passages of the Old Testament by rote, maybe three or four pages at a time, and then if you were chosen you were expected to stand up and recite the stuff from memory until he told you to stop and the next person had to pick up from where you left off. Meanwhile, he stood behind you with a clenched fist, waiting for you to falter... and if you stopped, he punched you in the back of the head. Though shalt not... my arse! For many parents, sending kids to 'faith schools' is just a method of selection. They are allowed to select pupils on the basis of religion. This is not necessarily confined to children of their religion, so a bright young protestant can get into a 'Catholic' school. The school's results are subsequently better because of this process of selection, and the desire to send their children there becomes self-perpetuating. In addition, there are a limited number of Catholics from the Indian Sub-Continent or white Muslims, so segregation can be reinforced. I don't often agree with Polly Toynbee, but on this I most certainly do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The iPod cometh. I thought there would never come a time when the vinyl album with its wonderful smell and arty sleeve would be replaced by tiny plastic tapes or small silver discs. Now the whole concept is under threat. I love my MP3 player, particularly playing random tracks as a giant jukebox in the ca... but surely not to replace the LP altogether. (My daughter says... what's an LP, Dad?)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Is this Alistair Darling genuinely listening? ... or the first casualty of the London Olympics as transport cash is diverted. Can't say I'm upset about the decision... but the rest of the country should be concerned if it is the first of many plans shelved to pay for the beano in 2012.
I had some cause to be grateful to Edward Heath. In 1973 there was what was described at the time as "an energy crisis" Heath, the Tory Prime Minister had picked a fight with the NUM at the same time as OPEC started hiking up the price of oil. The Government introduce a 'three-day-week' during which industry was limited to working only on three consecutive days each week. He also introduced an incomes policy designed to stop people fueling inflation with high pay rises. As part of this incomes policy everyone received a flat-rate pay increase of £2.40 a week... with a further 40p per week rise for every 1% increase in the retail price inflation, up to a maximum increase of £6 per week. Inflation duly shot up and everyone, irrespective of who you were, ended up with a £6 a week wage increase. I was a young and fairly inexperienced ASTMS Branch Secretary at GKN in Birmingham at the time and a lot of my members, particularly the office and admin staff, suddenly found that their wages (some as low as £10-15 a week) rdramaticallyally. Of course, modesty prevented me taking the full credit for reducing the working week and doubling people's wages. Honest.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The war against terror (TWAT)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently stated, what U.S.-Venezuelan relations comes down to, is “what kind of hemisphere is this going to be? Is it going to be a hemisphere that is democratic and that is prosperous and where neighbours get along, where neighbours don’t interfere in each other’s affairs, where people fight drug trade and fight terrorism together actively?”

These neo-cons really don’t do irony, do they? The United States has spent decades training reactionary right-wing military leaders for some of the most despotic regimes in central and Latin America out of their terrorist training camps at Fort Benning in Georgia. Now they have the barefaced cheek to accuse the most progressive regime in the region, Chavez’s Venezuela, of "interfering in each other’s affairs".

Well, Condoleezza, there is one terrorist trained at Fort Benning and well known to Daddy Bush when he was the Director of the CIA, namely Luis Posada Carriles, who the Venezuelan authorities would seriously appreciate a bit of that good neighbourly co-operation over. Strangely, the Bush regime seems content to allow lying dogs to sleep.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A penniless asylum seeker in London was vilified across two pages of the Daily Mail last week. Nothing new there then, says Francis Wheen.... apart from the fact that this one has been dead for nearly 150 years!

Nick Hornby interviews The Boss. I must admit I was one of those who thought Springsteen had passed his sell by date... until we went to see him with the East Street Band at Old Trafford last year. It was an absolute stormer, the genuine dogs, and at the end of the show the audience were as exhausted and drained as Brooooce himself.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I went across the border today at the invitation of the kind folk from the North West Edgbaston Neighbourhood Forum in Birmingham. It was a really good, lively meeting with over 50 residents present, all of whom seemed ready and prepared to enter into the debates. They have an issue in respect of Deers Leap wood, an area of natural beauty in their area which appears to be the target of housing developers Persimmon Homes, and the residents feel they are getting less than positive assistance in their fight from the City Council Planning Department in Birmingham.

I was there, together with an officer from Sandwell Planning, to talk about a variety of changes that have taken place in the shopping centre in my Ward, which borders the North West Edgbaston area. Although there were a number of grumbles, most of them entirely justified, we were very politely received and people seemed genuinely appreciative of the fact that we had given up a glorious hot Saturday morning to try and explain developments. It was actually quite refreshing to go to a public meeting that was not just an excuse to moan at someone, and where the crticism was so constructive. There was considerable anger about Lightwoods Park which is in Sandwell and (allegedly) maintained by Birmingham. I pointed out to the residents that they should pressurise their Ward councillors in Birmingham, particularly Councillor Mike Whitby, the Leader of the Conservative/Liberal group who control the Council in Birmingham (again, allegedly).... but like us I suspect they are wasting their time. Teflon Mike doesn't seem to listen.
During your silent vigils, spare a thought for these slaughtered innocents too.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mark Seddon in The Guardian on the rehabilitation of a down-at-heel Victorian gent with boils on his bum.... with some useful economic advice for Gordon Brown. On the subject of political philosophers, TalkPolitics is compiling a 'web library' of political writings around the subject of democracy. He is open to suggestions. Talking of midlands-based bloggers (I'll get a job on Radio One with all these 'related' links) the UK Political Hack has some splendid stuff about Lib Dem things... and Birmingham City Council Tory/Lib Dem Leader, Mike Whitby.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

David Aaronovitch asserts that "if the jihadists weren't blowing us up, they would be blowing up someone else." It is a notion based upon the 'islamic fundamentalists wanting to take over the world theory', a close relative of 'the commies wanting to take over the world theory'and totally dismisses the notion that actions lead to reactions. Aaronovitch lists the atrocities carried out in the name of al-Qaeda and their associates over the last decade, (and who in their right mind wouldn't condemn the indiscriminate murder of civilians, both here and in Iraq). But as a letter writer to the Guardian (ah, must be a sandal-wearing wooly-minded yoghurt-weaver) today says, ....Dead people under rubble are as dead, and frightened people above it, as frightened, the world over. And the distinction between explosions caused by "a tiny minority of fanatical extremists" leaving bombs on the underground, and distinguished international statesmen ordering them to be dropped on a city from 30,000 feet, is a fine one. I for one, am perfectly willing to condemn the terrorists killing in the name of Islam... but I also condemn those terrorists killing in the name of democracy.

Bush walks the walk... a walk that brings the otherwise unusable word "akimbo" to mind.

Monday, July 11, 2005

You can take your pick on the latest bombing theories, and it seems to me you can fit the facts into your own ideological stance on the war in Iraq. So, on the one hand you have the George Galloway/Tariq Ali position, reinforced today by Gary Younge saying the bombs were an inevitable consequence of the war, and that Tony Blair allying Britain so closely to Bush placed lives at risk in this country. Alternatively, over at Harry's Place the Blair loyalists insist the bombings are the work of Islamic fanatics, and that they are encouraged and given succor by the support of the SWP, RESPECT, the Stop the War Coalition and assorted lefty, middle class liberals. They argue that al-Qaeda was in business bombing their way to paradise long before the war in Iraq. They argue that those responsible for the London bombings couldn't care less about ordinary Muslims and they are blowing up Iraqis on a daily basis in Iraq. For what it is worth, I tend towards the former view (but then, I was opposed to the war) and in the same way that internment in Northern Ireland turned into the IRA's biggest recruitment agency, the War in Iraq and the West's cosying up to Israel, provided the oxygen the fanatics need in order to survive and prosper. Terrorists don't exist in a vacuum, and they are not born terrorists.

Just what exactly was the Prime Minister trying to say on Thursday about the bombings? He said;

In addition, I welcome the statement put out by the Muslim Council who know that those people acted in the name of Islam but who also know that the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims, here and abroad, are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism every bit as much as we do.

It's the "every bit as much as we do" that puzzled me. Aren't Muslims here part of the 'we' in modern multi-cultural Britain?

I've added a new link to the sidebar, Mikedahat, or Zen and the art of guitar maintenance. I happened upon it via Steve at Occupied Country and like Steve's site it is a bloody good read. Not like all those 'politicos' sites, but entertaining, autobiographical and humorous. Well worth a regular visit.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Robert Fisk on the bombings.

Slip, slap, slop...

The Warley Woods Community Trust held their annual picnic in the park today, and as usual the weather was glorious. There must have been over a thousand people across the parkland and local bands entertained the crowds whilst Unite Against Facism circulated amongst them handing out anti-racist literature and assorted champagne socialists supped bucks fizz. (hic)

Glastonbury without the mud..

Dancing in the park

Back to the future

With every terrorist outrage the state responds with increasingly repressive legislation. ID cards, roadpricing satellites tracking every vehicle, and now the suggestion that all private e-mails and mobile telephone conversations could be monitored by the police.

Eric Blair's (no relation) vision of the Big Brother state moves another step towards the thought police. If the purpose of terrorism is to undermine our freedom and democracy... perhap's they're winning.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The events of yesterday morning brought back memories of that Thursday night in Birmingham in November 1974 when the IRA blew up two pubs in Birmingham City Centre. We had no mobile phones back then, and a shudder went through everyone wondering if one of their family members or friends had gone into Brum for a drink. Expressions of sympathy for the victims of this indiscriminate act of murder go without saying, but before the dust from the exposions settle, today’s papers not only report the events but start to speculate on the why and who.

Galloway is savaged for linking the attacks to the war in Iraq within hours of the bombings. It seems strange that Galloway is condemned as despicable, despite the fact that other commentators are equally quick to pronounce and attach the bombings to their own bandwagons.

Robin Cook in The Guardian proclaims that military means will not defeat ‘terrorism’. Whilst I agree with the sentiments, Cook fails to make mention of his role as Foreign Secretary, when the bombing of Iraq was carried out routinely on a daily basis. Gerard Baker in The Times writes..... "above all, I felt a surge of pride at the resilience and defiance of Londoners. They showed once again that fierce solidarity we have seen so many times when they have been tested; a determination to face down nihilistic terror and intimidation." Do these people think Iraqi parents don't grieve for their loved ones? Don't they understand that if the result of bombs exploding in London is resiliance and pride and defiance the same can be said of Iraqis too?

Johann Hari uses the bombings as justification for this crass piece of nonsense: Does anyone need greater evidence that these Islamic fundamentalists despise Muslims who choose to live in free societies, and they would enslave Muslims everywhere if they were given the opportunity?

As someone who remembers the blind anti-Irish backlash in Birmingham in 1974, when Irish people were attacked on the factory floor and ordinary working class Irish families had bricks thrown threw their windows, I fear for muslims who may be subjected to the same lynch mob mentality from those who don't need much excuse in the first place.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The old bat can still claim the credit for things to this day. How a decision by Mad Maggie 25 years ago contributed to the success of Britain's Olympics bid yesterday. Interestingly, the 1980 Olympics in Moscow were the subject of a boycott because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I wonder if the Tories now want the US to be excluded for the same reason?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

One thing I do think I can agree with the fragrant Ms. Casey about is her loathing of jargon, and I can particularly empathise with her desire to 'deck' No. 10 officials over their obsession with phrases like "evidence-based policy". Only yesterday someone told me that when the Council exercises its new licensing powers in respect of applications for 24-hour drink licenses, they have to use evidence-based decision making. Apparently this means allowing pubs in quiet working-class streets to open all night because there is no evidence to show that people coming and going all night would be disruptive. The evidence has to include police and other witness statements. Of course, because the pub has never previously opened for 24 hours, there is no such evidence.... so the pub has to be granted a license to cause misery for months whilst people compile "evidence" to oppose the license.

As Joseph Heller said: you cannot get out of the US Airforce on the grounds of insanity... because you would have to be insane to join the US Airforce.
Just a few days after Blair allegedly "dressed down" Charles Clarke about being soft on anti-social behaviour, and orders Home Office hard-liner Louise Casey to report directly to him, she finds herself the subject of an investigation into remarks 'leaked' from a tape of a speech she made.... a month ago! Included in her remarks was the statement that Government ministers might perform better if they "turn up in the morning pissed", adding: "Doing things sober is no way to get things done". Could it be that someone in the Home Office was "pissed" about Clarke's handbagging by Tone. Surely not?

Monday, July 04, 2005

It is very easy for those on the left to sink into defeatism and despondency. For instance, the feeling that the trade unions are hemmed in by their bureaucracies and false loyalties, that strikes are a relic of the 1970's and the defeat of the NUM was the death rattle of 'old labour' trade unionism. The cynicism of the electorate to politicians who have arrived at a middle ground concensus is manipulated and portrayed by the media to be voter apathy, without any real analysis about why people are disillusioned. It is easy to slip into the feeling that everyone has accepted the law of the free market, that trade unions are no longer relevant because we've got a national minimum wage and that talk of socialism is confined to far off third world regimes in South America.

Well, I know the Live 8 stuff was about a rock concert, but as skuds points out, and he was there, it is difficult to imagine that the people who were there were not positively affected by the experience. Certainly the tens of thousands marching in Edinburgh are not there just because some pop star told them it was going to be fun. As for the labour movement, it is not dead, nor even sleeping. All across the world, every day, trade unions are fighting for workers' rights. As Eric Lee points out, the fact that the mainstream press and 24-hour news channels don't even murmur the word 'union' doesn't mean nothing is happening. So, if they won't tell you what's going on, get out there and look for it yourself. Go to LabourStart a couple of days a week, and while you are there, click on the UK site in the left hand column. Hopefully it will cheer up your week... it certainly lifts my spirits.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

OK... it's not Live 8... but it is a charity gig all the same. Organised in Moseley (or Muesli as we usually refer to it) for one of the most popular guys in Brum. Saxophonist and blues guitar hero Steve Ajao was run down whilst crossing the road a few weeks ago and today saw the biggest outpouring of support for Steve so far from his many admirers. The crowds poured into the beer garden of the Prince of Wales all afternoon as a series of jazz and blues artists played for free the sort of music Steve plays so well. OK... Macca, Bono and Snoop Dogg didn't make it, nor Robbie, Maddona or Dido. But we still had fun in the sun for a real good cause... and someone even paid more than £50 for a special Ajao T-shirt with a zebra crossing on the front and the legend, 'Steve's Greatest Hit' emblazoned across it.

There's another benefit gig for Steve at the Birmingham Jazz Festival on Saturday Night starting at if you're about. Should be good.

Crowds continue to pour in six hours after the doors opened.

Michael Stipe... eat you heart out!

One of the authors of the Poll Tax claims that the ID Card Bill is Blair's Poll Tax. "...third-term prime ministers are not wise. They are too busy with their global agenda to study the detail of what their ministers have devised. A flood of testosterone dulls the messages from their political antennae. Machismo distorts their sense of proportion."

Well... could it be Tone is too concerned with his international image to be concentrating on the domestic agenda? Has Gordon thrown his not inconsiderable weight behind ID cards?

Talk Politics has a good post on His Bobness, Blair and the whole G8 business. The ever sceptical John Pilger is equally scathing. I'm ambiguous on this one. As per Gramsci, I do think culture is vitally important and that music can influence masses, and that masses can influence politicians. I also think Geldof and company are fully aware that their media embraced concert will not... in itself... change anything, but it is part of a process. On the concert itself, give me Tinariwen, Youssou N'Dour (minus Dido), Salif Keita etc at The Eden Project any day of the week.