Archive for October, 2001

A note to my students

October 31st, 2001

Be careful! You can now be arrested at airports for travelling armed with copies of books by Karl Marx. Tariq Ali explains how, in yesterday’s Independent.

Cluster Bombs

October 30th, 2001

From the BBC:

The United States is seeking to avert further criticism over the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan by warning the Afghan people not to confuse unexploded bombs with food drops.

Embarrassingly, the bombs’ yellow casing means that from a distance they are hard to distinguish from the emergency food parcels wrapped in yellow plastic that US planes have been dropping over the last few weeks. …

I’m not sure that “embarrassingly” quite strikes the right note, all things considered.


October 30th, 2001

Snippet #3, from last Thursday’s Media Guardian:

The BBC correspondent, Kate Adie, has dismissed the US war on terrorism as “a load of willy waving”.

Adie, who was embroiled in a recent row after being accused by Downing Street of revealing classified information about the prime minister’s travel plans, has returned from a trip to the Gulf of Oman.

And she told the Sun she thought the conflict was “ridiculous”.

Adie said: “The world’s most powerful nations are fighting one of the weakest. It’s a load of willy waving.”

She continued: “We’re fighting the wrong people – the hijackers were mainly Saudis. We should concentrate on there and the Middle East.”

At a party following the National TV awards on Tuesday, Adie, who had just returned from Oman said: “I am in London because this isn’t a proper conflict… I’m waiting for the real story to happen.”

A war correspondent renowned for her bravery, Adie has been sidelined in the BBC’s coverage of the Allied campaign against Afghanistan.

Younger female correspondents, such as Jackie Rowland and Orla Guerin, have been used more than Adie, who was briefly with naval ships in the Gulf of Oman.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack, she was sent to New York but returned within days unhappy that she was not required to file for the main TV news bulletins on BBC1.

The BBC has moved to distance itself from Adie’s remarks.

Her latest comments follow another outspoken outburst earlier this week, when she accused the BBC of preferring female journalists with “cute faces and cute bottoms” to “old trouts” like herself.

Thanks to Jo for sending this to the weblog.

Doubts Inexplicably Remain

October 30th, 2001

Snippet #2, also from today’s Guardian:

“British public support for the war against the Taliban has dropped by 12 points in the past fortnight and a majority now believe there should be a pause in the bombing to allow aid convoys into Afghanistan.

“The sharp drop in support revealed by today’s Guardian/ICM poll confirms Tony Blair’s fears that the reality of modern warfare and reports of mounting civilian casualties have already led to a wobble in British support.

“It provides clear evidence that there has been a significant change in the mood of the country towards the war and explains why ministers have spent the last weekend trying to shore up public opinion and why the prime minister is to appeal to the nation to “keep its nerve” in a major speech today.

“Although the prime minister will take comfort from the fact that nearly two-thirds say they approve of military action, the prime minister will be alarmed by details of the survey, which show that support among women has slumped by 17 points from 68% to 51%. Only a bare majority of women now approve of military action against the Taliban. …”

Channel Four News took a group of “doubters” into their studio tonight and showed them clips of Mr Blair’s historic address. But even after listening to their leader, doubts inexplicably remained.

SOA —> Whisc

October 30th, 2001

Snippet #1 from today’s Guardian.

“If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents,” George Bush announced on the day he began bombing Afghanistan, “they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.” I’m glad he said “any government”, as there’s one which, though it has yet to be identified as a sponsor of terrorism, requires his urgent attention.

“For the past 55 years it has been running a terrorist training camp, whose victims massively outnumber the people killed by the attack on New York, the embassy bombings and the other atrocities laid, rightly or wrongly, at al-Qaida’s door. The camp is called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or Whisc. It is based in Fort Benning, Georgia, and it is funded by Mr Bush’s government.

“Until January this year, Whisc was called the “School of the Americas”, or SOA. Since 1946, SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers and policemen. Among its graduates are many of the continent’s most notorious torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists. As hundreds of pages of documentation compiled by the pressure group SOA Watch show, Latin America has been ripped apart by its alumni. …”

When it becomes wholly indefensible, why not change the name? It worked with Windscale/Sellafield, and now we have SOA/WHISC.

Image of the Week, #1

October 29th, 2001

My friend Palash has just emailed me to ask me what I thought of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire. I’ve only just started reading it, so it’s too soon for any sensible reactions (though I did enjoy reading Malcolm Bull’s excellent essay in the London Review of Books). But his request did remind me that I wanted to post this rather fine image up in this space. So here it is.


October 22nd, 2001

Our text for today’s return to something like normal service comes from the pen of Mr Paul Marsden, the now ex-Blairista MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham. Mr Marsden wrote the Early Day Motion last week which called for a stop to the insane bombing of Afghanistan (which eighteen Labour MPs have now signed), and has continued to speak out against the Blair line. Government Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong became interested in him, and what follows is Mr Marsden’s scribbled transcript of their conversation, as reported to the Mail on Sunday and reprinted in today’s Guardian, ever-so-slightly re-edited for style and with hypertext links for added value.

Hilary Armstrong: Paul, we are all comrades together in the Labour party and we are all supposed to be on the same side. I want to improve your communication skills.

Paul Marsden: What do you mean?

HA: I want you to join the mainstream of the party.

PM: What do you mean by the mainstream?

HA: Look, Paul, let me put it another way, those that aren’t with us are against us.

PM: Name names.

HA: We don’t really know each other do we? We haven’t had a chance to speak properly in the last four years.

[He mentions three previous meetings.]

HA: Oh yes, I remember now.

[She picks up an inch-thick brown file and waves it in his face, opening it to reveal articles he wrote for his local Shropshire Star newspaper; speeches he has made; transcripts of radio interviews he has given.]

HA: I want a guarantee that you will not talk to the media unless you speak to me first.

PM: I won’t do that. I believe it is my right to speak to whoever I choose.

HA: I have been looking at your file, you are clearly very inexperienced and your attendance record is poor.

PM: I take great offence at that. I am not inexperienced and my attendance record is certainly not poor. My wife was being cut open in the operating theatre and Nick Brown kindly allowed me extra time at home. You must know all that. What the hell has it got to do with all this?

HA: Your attendance record was not good last year either. You missed more votes than most others.

PM: That is not true. We were fighting a general election and you lot told us to go home and campaign to win it.

HA: You made a complete fool of yourself the other day when you got up in the Commons.

[She is referring to his question to Blair in the October 8 emergency Commons debate, when he said the decision to go to war should be approved by a vote of all MPs, not by the prime minister alone.]

HA: You just don’t understand the rules here, you’re too inexperienced.

PM: There’s no need to insult me. I know the rules, I consulted the Speaker’s clerk about voting procedures.

HA: In fact we may well hold a vote, but if we do, it will be whipped.

PM: That is outrageous. You won’t even give us a free vote on whether we go to war – it is an issue which should be a matter of conscience.

HA: War is not a matter of conscience. Abortion and embryo research are matters of conscience, but not wars.

PM: Are you seriously saying blowing people up and killing people is not a moral issue?

HA: It is government policy that we are at war. You astound me. We can’t have a trusting relationship if you keep talking to the media without permission.

PM: It would help if your deputy didn’t send me snotty letters disciplining me.

HA: I did leave a message at your office on Monday night saying to call me.

PM: Are you sure?

HA: Yes. Why?

PM: You couldn’t have phoned the Shrewsbury office because you didn’t leave a message on the answer machine. You can’t have left a message in London either, because I was in the office and there was no voicemail left there.

HA: But I spoke to someone and left a message with them.

PM: You didn’t. I checked the telephone log and there are no messages left.

HA: Er, perhaps I got the wrong number.

PM: Let’s get this straight. You did not call me.

HA: Anyway, you must stop using the media.

PM: That’s a bit rich coming from people like you and Downing Street when Stephen Byers’s spin doctor Jo Moore says September 11 is a good day to bury bad news.

HA: Jo Moore didn’t say that.

PM: That is exactly what she said in her email.

HA: We don’t have spin doctors in Number 10 – or anywhere else.

PM: [laughing] You aren’t seriously telling me that you don’t have spin doctors and they don’t exist. You are losing it Hilary.

HA: [shouting] You wait until I really do lose it. I am not going to have a dialogue with you about that. It was people like you who appeased Hitler in 1938.

PM: Don’t you dare call me an appeaser! I am not in favour of appeasing Bin Laden, I simply disagree with the way the government is going about stopping him. That’s the official line now is it? We are all appeasers if we don’t agree with everything you say?

HA: Well, what would you do about Bin Laden, then?

PM: I think we should indict him on criminal charges. It could be done very quickly and then the UN should take charge of the military action, not the USA. It would be much more effective. By all means send in the SAS, but let’s get the UN onside first.

HA: The trouble with people like you is that you are so clever with words that us up North can’t argue back.

PM: Do you mind? I am a Northerner myself. I was born in Cheshire. I spent four years at Teesside Polytechnic near where you come from.

HA: You do realise that everything that is said in here is private and confidential, don’t you? You cannot go out and tell the media.

PM: I haven’t got the media outside and I won’t go to them. But if they come to me I will talk to them.

It’s a rather fine document, and a source of some joy. History repeats itself – again – with the tragedy of the terrifying interrogations of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon here restaged as Westminster farce in a style entirely appropriate to the banal vacuities of the Blair regime. And in the “Hilary Armstrong” of this text, Paul Marsden has created one of the great comic characters of modern British political prose, for which – as well as for more obvious reasons – we owe him thanks.

Nick writes [22.10.01]: I shared your sense of disbelief reading the Hilary Armtwist transcript in this morning’s Grauniad. Surely that wasn’t *real*, was it? “Yes, Minister” and even Lynton Charles would do a more convincing job…


October 22nd, 2001

… for the temporary silence, and thanks to those who enquired in a friendly manner after the health of the weblog. With luck not-infrequent posting will resume after a three week break. In part, the inevitable chaos that surrounds the start of every new term was responsible, as was – of course – my own persistent and habitual idleness. I suspect also that after a lot of comment in the week or two following September 11, a lull was always on the cards. It’s a tendency I’ve noticed elsewhere, even in the normally verbose columns of the excellent bobblog, where the initial postings about the destruction of the World Trade Center were met with feverish comment; the more recent ones with near silence. The slump follows the boom as night the day.