Friday, September 30, 2005

I read the news today, oh boy!

We went to Bearwood Jazz Club last night and we heard the police sirens screaming out on our way down there. But it wasn't just the usual panda bobbies looking to separate the bruisers punching each other's lights out on payday, as happens from time to time. No, this was over 50 of the finest the boys in blue could muster, including a number of armed officers. Suddenly, the whole world's news media now seems to have descended on to our sleepy suburb. Instead of a peaceful out of town commuter spot, we find ourselves host to an international sex trafficking trade with girls from across Europe locked into the Cuddles massage palour during the evening to work, and taken away during the day and locked in a house. The excitement continued through to this morning when a man claiming to be the 'cleaner' arrived in a 4x4 Mercedes and found himself "assisting the police with their enquiries." Interestingly enough, although The Birmingham Evening Mail carries banner headlines about last night's raid headed "Police swoop in battle to stamp out vile trade" in the same edition they carry their own advertisement for.... Cuddles Massage Parlour!

Funnily enough, Cuddles isn't the most notorious brothel in Bearwood. Local people have been complaining to no avail to the police for years about the nocturnal activities of The Fun Place in Bearwood. They also openly advertise their 'venue' in the local press, and they have even got their own website (not for the more sensitive of you to view, unless like Pete Townsend and myself you are carrying out research into this "vile trade"... and certainly inadvisable if you are connecting at your place of work).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I wrote that last piece about intolerance in the Lib Dems before I had seen this on tonight's news. What an absolute disgrace. When you consider the behaviour of MPs in the House of Commons week in, week out, baying at each other and behaving like public schoolboys on a day out, to eject an 82-year old man from the Conference Hall for shouting out "nonsense" when Jack Straw was speaking is just disgusting. Is that the sort of freedom and democracy we are 'giving' the Iraqis. Who told the 'bouncers' to throw him out? We should be told if it was a Party Official or politician.
Lord protect us from... "Haughty conduct!" It just goes to prove what Tom Watson said last week, the first sniff of power from the (somewhat less than) Liberal Democrats, and it all goes belly-up. In the mid 1980's under Kinnock and the unreconstructed version of Roy Hattersley, life in the Labour Party was not easy on the 'left'. But to find yourself purged for .... haughty bloody conduct, that's a cracker! Given the shambolic state of the Birmingham Lib Dems, it is no wonder John Hemming, normally so quick to comment to anyone and everyone on anything at all, is concentrating on..... toilets!!!

Is this the most gruesome adaptation of google maps? Satoogle. I like that x-ray though. (Via New Links)
"Some MPs believe that Mr Clarke's chances could be fatally damaged if the party reject a proposal to strip local party members of the final say over the choice of leader and return it to MPs." Toby Helm, Daily Telegraph Chief Political Correspondent (6th Sept. 2005).

"Kenneth Clarke's hopes of becoming Conservative leader were boosted last night after plans to strip grassroots members of their right to vote for the leader were thrown out."
Daily Telegraph after the decision.

So, that's clear then, whatever happens, the Daily Telegraph has got someone who will say it benefits Kenneth Clarke. What I cannot understand is why Clarke's supporters keep repeating the message that he is 'a big man'. Trailing someone's main qualification for the job is that he is a fat sod doesn't strike me as doing him any particular favours. In any event, if being a scruffy fat bloke was the qualification for political leadership, Charles Clarke would be way out in front of Gordon Brown and Ken Clarke!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

One of the major justifications for the invasion of Iraq was the fact that in Saddam Hussein we were faced by an undemocratic tyrant, who ruled with fear and cruelty, and who was in possession of the infamous weapons of mass destruction. So, on what basis are we currently trying to woo the Saudi's into a £40bn arms deal? Money doesn't talk... it swears.

How about: Ministers must reconnect with Party for starters?

There really isn't anything that anyone can do to convince Ian Paisley that the IRA have called it a day. Let's face it, without the fear and loathing of the IRA, why would anyone want Ian Paisley?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Never mind the Blunkett of blondes and babies. Hattersley hasn't forgiven him for his most blatant lie 10 years ago.

My Back Pages

Tonight's Scorsese documentary about Bob Dylan's early career through to 1966 is an absolute must watch. The two most memorable experiences of my teenage years took place within a couple of months of each other in the summer of 1966. In May I hitch-hiked to Liverpool with a ticket in my pocket for Bob Dylan’s concert at the Odeon Liverpool. It was Cup Final day, Everton were in the Final and they beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2. These were the days before wall-to-wall footie on tv, and I never missed a cup final. It was also in the days before all-day pub opening, so I watched the match with a dozen others, obviously desperate scousers who hadn't got a telly, through the showroom window of Currys.

Dylan was stunning. In the first half he played a familiar acoustic set, and then after the interval he came on with the band and they blasted through a rock set of songs, many of which Dylan had revamped from the acoustic versions he had released on record. Where upon lots of the ‘folkies’ in the audience who had cheered to the rooftops in the first half, went ballistic. They were booing and throwing their programmes, and dozens, if not hundreds walked out screaming in protest at the stage. They wanted THEIR Bob Dylan back. I was in a state of shock. Firstly by the sheer volume of the band… and then by the vitriol of these louts ruining the concert. I must confess to also preferring the acoustic side of Dylan. Visions of Johanna in that first set was absolutely spellbinding and you could have heard a pin drop in the Odeon… as opposed to the second half, when you could barely hear yourself think. But having said that, the electric versions of One Too Many Mornings and the stunning Like a Rolling Stone were quite breathtaking.

There was a commotion outside as I left the Odeon, and I headed on down to the crowd to see what was going on. It was the stage door, and a baying mob had gathered waiting for The Man to appear. He did… to a chorus of booing and shouting, dressed in a green corduroy suit (I always wanted a green corduroy suit after that). He looked like a rabbit in the headlights as he jumped into the waiting limo and away in a flash.

I set off to try and find the East Lancs Road to thumb my way back home… with the sound of ‘Rolling Stone’ still pounding through my head. It had been a weird experience watching the audience idolise someone, and then turn on him and spit venom at him in the space of an hour.

A couple of months later I set out to hitch-hike to Wembley… with two tickets for the World Cup final in my pocket. What a summer that was.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Next week Britain's most incisive journalist on the Middle East for the last twenty-five years publishes a book, 'The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East'and it will be serialised this week in The Independent. Read this extract: On Finding Osama. In the meantime, in the land of the brave, land of the free, they have banned Robert Fisk from entering the country. Seems that, as Woody Guthrie said, some people can kill you with a fountain pen.

Friday, September 23, 2005

This story reminds me of a story the late Brian Johnson used to tell. Johnners was commenting in a test match in Kingston Jamaica when he reported the site of an ugly black cloud behind the pavilion. Suddenly there was a commotion around the ground, with people gesticulating and shouting up at the press box. Apparently, with many in the crowd listening on transistor radios, they misheard his commentary and thought Johnners had said 'crowd', not 'cloud'.
I was at a school governors meeting last night where the teaching unions confirmed their opposition to government plans that could result in some teaching staff taking pay cuts. Their main concern, which I fully agree with, is that with so many teachers in their 50's, a reduction in pay could have a major impact on their pension entitlement. By the look of these proposals, they need not worry too much because they're going to have to work until they die anyway! If any government thinks they can escape the wrath of an electorate, many of whom are busy making plans to travel the world or buy a gite in Normandy on the strength of their property equity and pension lump sum, they must be living in cloud cuckoo land.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

There is a subway which leads from my Ward under the main Hagley Road out of Birmingham, to Harborne in Birmingham on the other side. Hundreds of schoolchildren have to cross the road at that junction every day to get to the two large secondary schools on the Birmingham side of the road. Do they use the subway? Not if they've got any sense they don't, unless they are looking to score supplies of illegal substances, of course. It's not only children either. The subway isn't safe for anyone, and last year the whole thing was taped up with scene of crime tape whilst police in white overalls scoured the floor for evidence. Despite the fact that the Hagley Road junction hasn't got a pedestrian phase on the traffic lights, hundreds of people daily take a chance on the traffic rather than risk the subway. So... you're the bloody councillor, I hear you say, why don't you do something about it? The answer is, the junction is controlled by Birmingham City Council... not Sandwell. and despite the Council Leader Mike Whitby having his Ward on the other side of the road in Harborne, the City Council won't do anything about it. Before the 2004 Council Elections the City were committed to doing something about filling in the subway, and fitting a pedestrian phase to the lights. In come Whitby, Hemming and co. and the plans are put on indefinite hold. One of these days I am convinced we will get headlines like this about the subway, and you just listen to the whimpering coming from Councillor Mike Whitby when it does! And when Charles Kennedy tells the Lib Dem Conference, "I want a society that tackles crime – but really does tackle the causes of crime. I want a Britain where older people again feel safe to answer their doors. Where parents can let their children walk to school – or play in the park – without the incessant worry. Where our streets and town centres are free from fear at night." the people of my Ward scuttling across a six lane highway will know it is simply empty rhetoric.

My fellow Ward councillor, Dr Ann Jaron, has just returned from a visit to her homeland, Poland. She brought back a leaflet advertising 'Communism Tours' which invites you to 'Experience Stalin's gift to Krakow in a genuine Eastern Bloc Trabant automobile.' They offer, for instance, at only 119 Zlotych - about 20 quid - a tour of the Nowa Huta district and steelworks where you can see the sights and architecture that made communism famous. Initially I thought it was a spoof, but, no, They've got a website.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Birmingham - It's not shit! Official

Sandwell is a borough with many immigrant groups, and relatively few racial tensions. It is one of the borough's strengths. Perhaps the shame of being associated with the Tory "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour" election campaign 30 years ago has got something to do with the way new communities are received. Now, I'm not saying everything is perfect, but community relations (or social cohesion, to use the modern jargon) in Sandwell seem pretty good. However... there is one group who, no matter how long we have been here, no matter how hard they try to integrate and adopt the local customs, are never fully accepted. Brummies. It is over 25 years since I moved from Birmingham, three miles across the City, to Sandwell. But still you feel the almost vitriolic dislike and mistrust when people realise you are a Brummie. A former Leader of Walsall Council used to say, "You can always tell a Brummie when you enter a factory. If you see people working, they are from Walsall. If you see a bloke with his hands in his pockets, he is a Yam Yam (A colloquial name for inhabitants of Wolverhampton). If you see a bloke with his hands in someone else's pockets... he is a Brummie.

So, I suppose this site will be wasted on my local readers. Still, at least the people behind it are not as parochial as Sandwellians. Famous 'Brummies' listed include Frank Skinner, Noddy Holder... and Stan bloody Collymore (who is from Cannock, which is up North somewhere), and songs on the site are sung by Bearwood Ted, from my own adopted neck of the woods. Why, they've even got a flikr group with some 'exciting' shots of things happening in the City.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Monday, September 19, 2005

The yellow tories are meeting

So... all those radical ronnies and lefty lizzies who voted for the real left alternative... was this what you were urging people to vote for?

Or was it this?

Or perhaps you just wanted to privatise the post office?

Oh no.... just look who's swinging left. Please, no, no, no.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The exit poll

It would appear the very unlovely Angela Merkel (portrayed here in a German carnival) has, according to the exit polls, narrowly won the German general election.
The anniversary of the death of a victim of the other 9/11 terrorist act... the one the U.S. politicians don't like to talk about.

Friday, September 16, 2005

If you like clouds (as I do, except when I'm on holiday) there are some terrific photographs of clouds in Birmingham here.

If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they'd send a limousine any way.

Jim Naughtie on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning put it to the Prime Minister that the definition of terrorism was a legal minefield, and therefore ‘encouraging terrorism’ in the Government'latest draft legislation was even more difficult to define. Tony Blair said the definition of terrorism was easy, “It’s killing innocent people indiscriminately” he said.

That simple, eh? So where does that leave, for instance, Churchill after Dresden, Truman after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Sharon after Sabra and Shatlia or even George W. Bush after Fallujah? There is probably not room on this server to list all of the other names of those who have either directly ordered the killing of innocent people indiscriminately, or encouraged others to do so (Kissinger’s relationship with Pinochet over the murder of Allende, for instance). In fact, Churchill seemed to define himself as a terrorist when justifying using mustard gas against the Kurds he said it should be used “against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment.” He dismissed objections as “unreasonable.” “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes to spread a lively terror."

So, thinking about this definition, I thought perhaps terrorism should be more correctly labelled as “the indiscriminate killing of civilians by those not in power.” With that definition, surely we can get around the legal problems of the UN dragging Tony forward to answer charges of collaborating with George W. before the courts on charges of encouraging terrorism, and all of those other brutal regimes whose Heads of State regularly sip out of Buckingham Palace’s best China.

Talking of China… it tells me that there are still problems with this definition. Mao, for instance, and Uncle Joe Stalin, are now almost universally regarded as having conducted large scale acts of terror against their own people…. and yet they were actually in power at the time. So Stalin is a “terrorist”, but Vladimir Putin isn’t? Gerry Adams used to be such a dangerous “terrorist” we were not even allowed to hear his voice in case it encouraged us all to go around making semtex parcels (my spellchecker just tried to get me to change that to semen, but I’m sure it was semtex) and Nelson Mandela was a “terrorist” before he was declared a saint.

So, here goes with Bob Piper’s latest definition of terrorism: Terrorism consists of acts of violence against innocent civilians by those people we don’t like or who disagree with us. Any problems with that, you pinko, commie liberals?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I got to this via Skuds. It is a map of the world showing all the countries I have visited.

It really highlights how little of the world I have actually been to. You can do your own by visiting world66.
"Well, all I can say is that when we do finally catch Osama Bin Laden, we can all thank God that al-Qaeda is a terrorist gang rather than a corporation. Were al-Qaeda found to be a registered company, what would the Crown Prosecution Service do? All they'd manage to charge Bin Laden with would be a couple of breaches in the health and safety regs. Would Osama get done for murder and crimes against humanity? Don't be daft. The most he would get done for is sending suicide bombers to work without proper goggles and a mask. Mark Thomas on the Government's as yet unfulifilled manifesto pledge(s) to introduce a law on Corporate Killing.

George Galloway's US Tour started last night... and he has published a book about his appearance on Capitol Hill. For more, read When George Galloway Channeled Rocky Marciano.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

If you want one of those snazzy 'Make LabOUR Party' banners on your blog,(as displayed above left) and designed in the style of the Make Poverty History ones, I suggest you get the script from The UK Today site.

Tonight was the Abbey Ward selection meeting and I extend a warm thank you to the comrades who came out and unanimously selected yours truly to fight the Council elections next May. Warm beers all round.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"It's funded by the billions leeched by private profiteers
From Soviet oil resources built up over the years
So take a walk to Stamford Bridge and soon you'll plainly see
The universe's most exclusive donkey sanctuary!"

From Abramovitch's Donkey Sanctuary.... by the splendid Attila the Stockbroker.

While I'm talking football, this proposal by the EU Commissioners may on the face of it appear to be welcome. The prospect of wiping the smug smirk of Murdoch's mug is a delightful notion. However... I suspect the proposal will not see an influx of free-to-air footy. Much more likely is the prospect of the BBC and ITV, not to mention cable providers like NTL or Telewest, using their digital platforms to also charge for matches. Not just one subscription then, but two or three maybe.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Yesterday we went to an open day at Lightwoods House in Bearwood. Inside the hall they make, and renovate stained glass windows in the John Hardman studios, and many of the country's churches, as well as the rebuilt House of Commons have stained glass windows made by the Hardman Studio. It was a terrific place. I had always wondered what it looked like inside, and although the house is badly in need of repair and restoration, the museum and studios are tremendous.

Amongst the stained glass windows in the studio, this one caught my eye...

Apparently this image of Fidel is one of a number of stain glass images created by a Russian émigré

Saturday, September 10, 2005

It looks like Banksy has been to Bearwood. This morning I spotted this on the way to Lightwoods House in my Ward (more of which will follow).
A couple of mates of my from Wolverhampton recently visited Venezuela to see the Bolivar revolution in practice. Andy Goodhall, Co-ordinator of Venezuela Solidarity UK and Nick Kelleher from Wolverhampton Trades council, have written a report of their visit.

The local woodland near our house is plagued by... well, what shall we call it, dog shit! I've no objection to people exercising their dogs, and I recognise the dogs have to resort to the call of nature, but surely the owners could pick this mess up afterwards before kids (and adults) find themselves smeared with the stuff. This particular invention (watch the video) seems a tad intrusive for walking about with... perhaps what we need is a bigger version so that we could scoop up the owners of these beasts.

Friday, September 09, 2005

All three main political parties are losing members. The fact of the matter is, by and large, they have failed to engage with the public and those in power, although anxious to listen to people when they are on the way up... become more remote and distant the higher they climb up that greasy pole. It is easier for the Lib Dems because they exercise such little power they can present themselves as everything to everyone, but even they have a situation whereby the Party leadership will ignore the party membership if they don't like their decisions. Within days of the election Chat-Show Charlie was making noises about dropping the local income tax policy, and they are all over the place on issues like anti-social behaviour and drugs. The Tories are busy trying to take away power from the membership to choose the Party leader, under the misapprehension that this was the reason for their last three election drubbings.

But really, I don't much care about the Tories and their Lib Dem friends. However, I am concerned about the 200,000 or more Labour Party members who have walked away in the last few years. The scrapping of Clause 4 may well have been popular with the 'New' Labour luvvies... but where are they now? And on a whole raft of policies, the Party leadership has ignored the decisions of the Party Conference, particularly on major policy issues like Foundation Trust NHS organisations and PFI. Despite various initiatives about being a listening party, as far as the membership are concerned they want to be in a position to influence policy, not just ever 4/5 years in a General Election, but at internal Party meetings, Party Conferences and policy forums. If they feel they have no more influence than the average voter... they will walk away and use their energies in other ways, most notably pressure groups and single issue campaigns. I am not just moaning about national government. I think local councillors up and down the country have to give some thought about how we engage local party members in the formulation of our policies.

Anyway... Michael Meacher and others are starting the process by setting up a commission to enquire into the fall in party membership. Party members can also sign Peter Kenyon's Pledge to support the Commission.
Last night I went to the inaugral meeting of Unite Against Fascism in Smethwick. An interesting meeting and a good opportunity to launch a non-sectarian anti-fascist organisation with trade union and labour movement support. Even our local MP turned up! One interesting little footnote: A few of us were having a swift half in the pub round the corner afterwards, as you do, when a burly geezer popped his head round the door, lifted his mobile phone, took our photographs, then scooted back out of the door. When one of our number jumped up, followed him, and asked him why he had done it, he used the full extent of his mental powers before replying, "Why, it ain't against the law is it? I just like taking photos." Highly likely, mate, very believable.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"Oh, Lord, if I must die today / Please make it after the close of play"

After the shambolic performance by the overpaid prima donnas in the England football team last night... today there's a chance for Michael, Freddie and the lads to put things right. Go get those Ashes lads. Whip those arrogant Aussies and we will gloat for at least two years. (Arrogant... moi?)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Yes, well, if you were living in a rat infested swamp with your relatives dying around you, you wouldn't want to be treated by no Cuban doctor, would you?
No... don't hit the back button. This is good.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Powerful picture of the aftermath of the storm. Just one of the thousands of pictures of the hurricane on Flikr.

Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities exposed what you find when you scratch beneath the surface of United States society. The Superdome: Monument to a Rotten System says the same thing.

Meanwhile, in The Times, they run rubbish like this. I particularly like the bit where he says it can cope with flooding. Now all those residents of the New Orleans projects will know what to do in future. But this is a serious newspaper, The Thunderer, and this quote shows just how far it has sunk under Murdoch: "There are advantages to having a truck like this. Like pulling up alongside beautiful women in convertibles. You get that cleavage shot that you can’t get in a normal pick-up."

Michael Moore's Letter to George W. Bush.

Prison works, Michael Howard once said. Well, does it. Judge for yourself.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Today programme's John Humphrys is to be investigated by the BBC about remarks he made to an audience of PR people. The remarks, which were part of a lighthearted speech, included saying about Peter Mandleson: "I said to somebody once, ‘why do you all take an instant dislike to Mandleson?’ and he said ‘well, it saves time’. He said, ‘he’s a hard man to dislike but it’s worth the effort’." Humphrys also said " I do get to interview Gordon Brown a lot, oh joy. He may or may not, we have yet to see, be a great Chancellor of the Exchequer, but by God he is quite easily the most boring political interviewee I have ever had in my whole bloody life, without any exceptions." Apparently not the sort of remarks the Beeb wants to hear from their 'impartial' political inquisitor. Still, given the fact that Louise Casey appears to have been promoted by Blair after making similarly offensive remarks, perhaps Humphrys could come out of it all unscathed.

Friday, September 02, 2005

First we lost John Arlott, truly the voice of cricket and a man who knew the value of silence as part of television cricket commentary. Then Johnners joined the great umpire in the sky. His hilarious 'leg-over' commentary with 'Aggers' recently won a Radio 5 competition for the best sporting commentary.... (you can listen to it here). Now the third 'great' in cricket's commentary team is packing away his microphone after next weekend's Test Match. Richie Benaud was a great Aussie spin bowler when I was a kid, and I mean great. But as a commentator he has become a legend in his own lifetime, and three cheers to him for turning his back on Murdoch's money.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

3 wheels, 2 guys, 1 country - Help them to make a difference

Those of you who have been following the exploits of Steve, Our Main in Hanoi will already know about the work he has being doing for a year with VSO on the KOTO project in Vietnam. The aim of the project is to train young Vietnamese people, many of them former 'street kids', in the skills needed for working in and running a restaurant. As part of the fundraising effort for KOTO, two guys from Extreme Charity are riding (cycling?) a cyclo for over 1,000 miles from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. YOU can help out by donating a few quid to support Marty and Adam and help to give an opportunity to another 23 traineees in the coming year. You can download the donation form on the Extreme Charity webpage.
"If cricket says something about race, it says more about class." A fascinating piece about this new game the tabloids have invented..