The red plague rid you for learning me my language

Friday, March 03, 2006

Spot the Dumb Beast...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Baseball Comes to the Rescue...

The US Government has been forced to "allow" Cuba to field a team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Washington was using laws enforcing economic sanctions against Communist Cuba to bar its team. US laws aimed at punishing Fidel Castro's government continue to prohibit certain commercial transactions with Cuba.

Then the Castro regime announced its intention to donate all profits from the tournament to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Washington had to give in, issuing a licence on Friday allowing the Cubans to participate in the 16-team event. A US treasury spokesperson said: "The agreement upholds the legal scope and the spirit of the agreement. It ensures no funding will make its way into the hands of the Castro regime."

That at the fact that Fidel Castro will probably end up doing more to help the poor people of New Orleans than George W. Bush.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy, writer and political activist, most famous for The God of Small Things has been awarded the Sahitya Akademi award (sort of a Booker for Indian writers) for the year 2005. This is an organisation set up by the Indian Government to "to foster and coordinate literary activities in all the Indian languages and to promote through them the cultural unity of India." Though both the organisation and the award are funded by the Government, their members insist that "the Akademi is intellectually and culturally purely autonomous".

Ms. Roy has refused the prestigious award because of her very public disagreements with policies (both domestic and international) espoused by the current government. This is her letter of refusal to the Chairman of the Akademi:

I thank the jury of the Sahitya Akademi for giving me this year's Sahitya Akademi Award for my book `The Algebra of Infinite Justice.' I am proud that the jury felt that a collection of political essays deserved to be given India's most prestigious literary prize.

These essays, written between 1998 and 2001, are deeply critical of some of the major policies of the Indian State — on big dams, nuclear weapons, increasing militarisation and on economic neo-liberalism. However, even today this incumbent government shows a continuing commitment to these policies and is clearly prepared to implement them ruthlessly and violently, whatever the cost.

In the last few months, apart from the growing numbers of farmers' suicides [now running into tens of thousands] and the forcible eviction of people from their lands and livelihoods [in the hundreds of thousands], we have witnessed the police brutalisation of industrial workers in Gurgaon, the killing of a dozen people protesting against a dam in Manipur, and the killing of another dozen people protesting their displacement by a steel plant in Orissa. Even as we call ourselves a democracy, Indian security forces control and administer Kashmir, Manipur and Nagaland — and the numbers of the dead and disappeared continue to mount.

The `Algebra of Infinite Justice' is also critical of U. S. foreign policy, particularly in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. This present Indian government too has seen it fit to declare itself an ally of the U. S. Government, thereby condoning the American invasion of Afghanistan and its illegal occupation of Iraq, which, under the Nuremburg principles, constitutes the supreme crime of a war of aggression.
I have a great deal of respect for the Sahitya Akademi, for the members of this year's Jury and for many of the writers who have received these awards in the past. But to register my protest and re-affirm my disagreement — indeed my absolute disgust — with these policies of the Indian Government, I must refuse to accept the 2005 Sahitya Akademi Award.


I have long been an admirer of both Ms. Roy's writing and her political stance. I enjoyed The God of Small Things, but think her non-fiction is a lot better. And her brave decision to refuse such an honour has to be respected.

I was recently talking to a graduate student in English literature who referred to Algebra of Infinite Justice as 'reductive' in its politics. I happen to think it is incredibly important, courageous and exceptionally well-written. I think it asks some very important questions about the relationship between people and their governments - and, as such, raises issues that everyone should be concerned with it. They are polemical, certainly - but if to espose a certain political position is necessarily reductive then there can be very little that can escape that charge.

You don't have to agree with me or Ms. Roy. Go on and read the book, and then make your own minds up. But let us applaud someone who is prepared to stand up for what she believes in. In the world we live in, such examples are all too rare.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Caliban is Back...

I am so sorry for being so quiet for so long. Life just takes over sometimes, you know what I mean?

Let me see, what has happened since I was last here. Not much - finished PhD applications (finally) and sent them off. Decided on Oxford, Cambridge and Cardiff. Now I have a few months during which I can dream about my future until the rejections come through and burst my bubble.

Have a film recommendation, though. Saw a film called Dare mo shiranai or 'Nobody Knows'. It's directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, and is probably the most painful film I have seen. Ever.

It shows four children being abandoned by their mother, and left to themselves in a small Tokyo apartment. It has a documentary feel to it, highlighted by the knowledge that it is, unbelievably, based on a true story. Performances are fantastic all-round and the director is admirably restrained - there are hardly any instances of overt sentimentalism - the film is so much the better for it.

I don't want to say anything else about it, for fear of ruining it for anyone who is going to go on and watch it. Just keep a box of tissues on hand, and don't plan an enjoyable evening afterwards - it just won't happen. When C. and I finished watching it, we just silently went about the chores and headed off to bed. It was almost too painful to talk about.

Seriously, go watch it.

Oh, merry Christmas, have a happy 2006 and all that. You know what I mean.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stupid Stupid Article (that really pissed me off...)


Before you read my rant, read this imbecilic article by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - and marvel at how people can overcome their innate stupidity and still be famous for being 'clever'.
In case you don't know, the picture on the left is Senate House, the building that Jenkins seems to have such issues about.
I happen not to agree with his analysis of Bloomsbury architecture; I think there are parts of London that are far uglier, and in any case aesthetics (architectural or otherwise) are not as absolute as Mr. Jenkins seems to think. But even that is beside the point.
What Mr. Jenkins fails to see is that the primary purpose of a building, any building, is not to be beautiful. It is to serve the purpose it was designed for. In this case, that purpose is to provide a pleasant and useful place for the students to carry out their academic work. And this is something Jenkins fails to consider. At all.
Jenkins' arrogance is breathtaking as he sees fit to condemn an entire institution purely on the so-called 'soot-blackened facades' of its buildings. In his own words, all the university spends its money on is 'running student residences, handling overseas degrees, being a landlord and servicing 29 committees'. Now this is not exactly factually accurate anyway, but even taking Jenkins on his own terms, he does not deign to explain how he would house the students who live in University of London housing. But then, these trifles don't concern Mr. Jenkins. With a fantastic lack of self-consciousness, Jenkins admits that 'most of the interiors of these buildings are wildly overcrowded.' At the same time, he advocates to plan some sort of idealised campus university slap-bang in the middle of central London: 'Down would come the Senate House and the Institute of Education. Montague Place, Malet Street and Woburn Square would be redesigned as quadrangles, streets and piazzas. Hidden churches, museums, gardens and townhouses would be brought to light.' Where the students would actually go is, as usual, another trifle that Jenkins isn't bothered about.
That Jenkins doesn't care about student welfare is clear from his proposal about business and law courses: 'I would hive off some academic departments, such as business and law, into privately financed subsidiaries, independent and thus free to charge uncapped fees to students.' I guess as a Tory, Jenkins doesn't particularly care about wishy-washy liberal ideas about widening participation. But even for a Tory, advocating 'uncapped fees' is especially extreme. Not to mention the rather arbitrary manner in which Jenkins chooses business and law students as the victims of this 'financial arrangement'. [Interestingly, Jenkins studied at St. John's, Oxford - benefiting from both free university education, and grants paid out of taxpayers' money.]
Finally, though, what really, really annoys me about this article is the absolute ignorance Jenkins displays about student life in London. For example, he writes that all Senate House is 'used only for book storage'. That's a nice way to describe a central library accessible to all University of London students that, among other things, boasts one of the finest periodicals collections in the world. Apart from this, Senate House holds countless seminars and conferences from various disciplines. Senate House hosts the School of Advanced Study - with the following member institutes: Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Institute of Classical Studies, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Institute of English Studies, Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, Institute of Historical Research, Institute of Musical Studies Institute of Philosophy, Institute for the Study of the Americas, Warburg Institute. But clearly none of these matter, because it all takes place in an ugly building.
Jenkins mentions that University College London Union and University of London Union are barely 100 yards apart. He neglects to mention that while these bodies perform similar functions, they target two separate student bodies. UCLU, as the name suggests, is merely there for UCL students; ULU caters for the whole wider, federal University. And, in any case, as any UCL student would attest - the facilities at UCLU are inadequate for the 17000 student population, and as such, ULU does not so much duplicate services as provide adequate student facilities.
The University of London, as any institution on such a scale, is not perfect. It can be inefficient and wasteful and bureaucratic. It is not, nor can ever be, a campus university like Harvard, and comparing the two only serves to highlight the author's ignorance. I welcome constructive criticism that will help the University of London provide the 'unified academic leadership' that even Jenkins admits is necessary. But constructive criticism demands awareness of the issues involved, sympathy towards the goals that are being attempted, and (I just have to say this) a certain level of intelligence. In this article, at least, Simon Jenkins has displayed none of the above.

Clearly Libellous.


Robbie Williams has won an undisclosed amount of damages in a libel suit against The People newspaper, Star and Hot Stars magazines which published accounts of his sex life that turned out not to be true.
Now normally this sort of story does not interest me in the least, but this one leapt to my attention because of the nature of these 'allegations'. Basically, the tabloid newspapers claimed Williams is gay, he took them to court, and won.
What does it say about equality of sexual orientation in our society that calling someone gay amounts to libel? The BBC coverage illustrates my point through its headline: Williams wins 'gay' libel damages. Can anyone imagine Elton John, for example, suing a newspaper for calling him straight?
The number of openly gay public-figures (especially in politics and religion) is shamefully low. The Anglican Church is tearing itself apart on whether all people can be seen to be equal in the eyes of a benevolent, merciful God. (The Catholic Church is a lot more decisive. Openly gay priests are not welcome, but closeted gay priests who indulge themselves with the odd altar-boy or two are perfectly acceptable) Homophobic attacks are all too common, both on individuals and on groups, even on gay pride marches.
Is it too much to ask that the time has come, in the Twenty First Century, for people to feel that they can love whoever they want to - without fear of reprisal?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why my bank manager really does love me.

I went to my bank today to deposit a cheque in US Dollars. When the cashier processed my cheque, I asked him how long it would take to clear. 'Upto six weeks', I was helpfully told.

Now, let us say that the amount of international cheques my bank processes constitutes 0.1% of my bank's annual turnover. Let us further assume that the average interest paid out on all the accounts that my bank offers is 1%. Given these assumptions (which, though I am no economist, seem to me to be fairly generous) the delay of 6 weeks means my bank saves £12692.30 from the amount of interest paid out per year. On the other hand, if my bank cleared the cheque the day after it was deposited, my bank would only save £301.36. The difference in profits would be £12390.94.

Admittedly, twelve thousand pounds is not a huge figure when you consider that my bank's annual turnover is £11.3 billion pounds - but would it be too cynical of me to suggest that this 6 week figure is not an entirely accurate description of the amount of time it takes to transfer a certain amount of money from a bank in America to a bank in the UK?

I think it's not fair to name any names in cases like these, so I won't tell you that I bank with Barclays.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Leave our schoolbooks alone

One of the many ways in which right-wing politicians attempt to hang on to power with their grubby little hands is by starting young on the next generation of supporters. And perhaps the best ways of doing this is by altering the schoolbooks the children are supposed to study. There are numerous examples of this happening around the world.

For example, the BJP-led Hindu fundamentalist governments in various Indian states have been busy re-writing history books for the schools in their states. All reference to the eating of beef and slaughtering of cows have been removed (cows are considered to be sacred in Hinduism), all mention of the historical fact that the present day Hindu population of Northern India were invading Aryans who displaced and enslaved Dravidians and tribals, the country's original inhabitants. And in an interesting reflection of how fascists are the same all over, regardless of religion - they are removing chapters on Lincoln and Gandhi by chapters glorifying BJP and RSS (the military wing) leaders, and other Fascist leaders like Hitler.

A similar thing is happening in Southern USA, where creationism is being given equal, if not greater credibility than evolution. Matters came to a head recently in a move that would be ridiculous if it weren't so serious. In the town of Dover, Pennsylvania, the local school board managed this year to get warmed up, creationism infiltrated into biology classes, and here is what happened. A couple of weeks ago all eight members of the board who were up for re-election lost their seats. "If there is a disaster in your area," the tele-evangelist Pat Robertson told the people of Dover, "don't turn to God - you just rejected Him from your city." Mr Robertson is an important man: the former Attorney General John Ashcroft teaches at his university, and his views are sought on Supreme Court candidates and foreign affairs.

So there we are. The foreign affairs of the most powerful nation on earth are at least partly being decided by a man who believes that a town deserves to be hit by a disaster because they took a firm stance on what their children should be taught in their schools.

It's an old commonplace that history is always written by the winners, and, as such, is never accurate. Be that as it may, I really feel for the poor children whose syllabus might well be changed following each general election. I feel for the children and I fear the world they will make, having gone through the sorts of schools that are being created in two of the largest countries in the world.

Oscar Wilde was probably right when he said: 'I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.'

I, for one, would infinitely prefer our children to remain ignorant than to have their heads filled with such poison.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Tennis Star Unites Religious Loonies

This is Sania Mirza, a young and promising tennis star from Hyderabad in India. She is only 19, and has recently made it to No. 31 in the World rankings. Now, you'd think that in a sports-mad country like India, she would be a megastar, and, in a way, she is. However, recently, she has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Mirza, who happens to be Muslim, has managed to incur the wrath of muslim clerics by her choice of on-court outfits. She had been accused by a leading cleric of wearing "indecent dress" and being a "corrupting influence on young women".
Mirza said it was "disturbing" that her dress was a subject of controversy but she would take it in her stride. However, that hasn't stemmed the sexist vitriol from the religious leaders. Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui, a leading cleric of the Muslim organisation the Sunni Ulema Board, said: "The dress she wears on the tennis courts not only doesn't cover large parts of her body but leaves nothing to the imagination." Mr Siddiqui said Islam did not allow women to wear skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops in public. "She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence on these young women, which we want to prevent," he said. Admirably defiant, Mirza's response was that that even if she wore a four-inch skirt, it was her decision and others should not have anything to do with it.

However, she has managed once more to become the target of religious fundamentalists because of her 'immoral' attitudes to sex. Mirza's effigy was burned amid protests in her home state of Andhra Pradesh because she was quoted as saying that whether before or after marriage, the most important matter was that sex was safe. And for this, she has been maligned by both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists for endorsing pre-marital sex. I don't know which one's more impressive - her success at tennis, or her ability to unite the Sunni Ulema Board and the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

It is easy to mock such attitudes, partly because they deserve to be mocked, but we ignore them at our peril. We would do well to remember that this week also saw an Amnesty poll show that a third of people in Britain believe that 'a woman is partially or completely responsible for being raped if she has behaved flirtatiously, or if she dresses revealingly.' Everytime someone makes a condescending reference to 'political correctness', they need to be reminded of this survey. We should all be slightly ashamed that, decades after the advent of feminism, we still live in a country where a significant proportion of people believe a woman indicates her sexual availability by the clothes she chooses to wear.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bihar - or how parliamentary democracy failed the voters.


BBC News has reported the results of the Assembly elections in the state of Bihar in Eastern India. I thought I would analyse the election results, and what it says in general about parliamentary democracy in the region.

For those of you would not cite Bihar politics as your specialist subject, let me introduce you to the main characters who featured in this election. Laloo Prasad Yadav (pictured left) has long been the most popular and powerful politician in the state. He is the leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and is currently Minister of Railways in the Central Government, while his wife headed the incumbent Bihar state Government (though Laloo has always been the real master-behind-the-scenes). Laloo, an earthy maverick cowherd-turned-politician with a penchant for folksy rhetoric, had been backed by the state's lower castes, Muslims and Dalits (untouchables), groups that had been marginalised by the upper caste landowners. Unfortunately, few politicians have managed to combine populism, corruption and inefficiency in such equal terms. Sometimes, statistics do indeed reveal the truth:

* Bihar's per capita income is $94 a year against India's average of $255
* A total of 42.6% live below the poverty line against India's average of 26.1%
* A total of 47.5% are literate against India's 65.38%
* There were 32,600 kidnappings from 1992 to September 2004
* More than 1,000 political workers have been murdered since 1990

Finally, the voters of Bihar have done the unthinkable and knocked Laloo off his throne. In this election, they have, overwhelmingly rejected Laloo and his proxy Chief Minister wife.

Brilliant, you'd think. You'd be wrong.

The man they have chosen, the only other choice they had, was Nitish Kumar, (pictured top) the leader of the Janata Dal (United), and erstwhile cabinet ministerin the former National Democratic Alliance Government. What else do we know about Mr. Kumar? He is an ex-socialist, who has since joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at both centre and state level.

The BJP are a band of far-right, proto-fascist Hindu fundamentalist loonies, who, until recently ran the Government of the largest democracy in the world. Under their rule, India went to war with Pakistan (again), and saw the worst communal riots since Independence that left more than 2000 dead, most of them muslims.

That's the choice for the poorest people of India, then - a populist crook or a dangerous fascist. If ever there was a need for a truly progressive, mass-based political movement, it's here. Unfortunately, the local communist parties are deeply fragmented. The various communist parties range from being liberal bourgeois organisations who limit their activities to parliamentary democracy, to Maoist rebels who aim to stage an armed revolution through guerrilla warfare, and are just as likely to attack the common people as to 'liberate' them.

Thus life continues, and more than half a century after independence, Bihar acts as a shameful reminder that India is not such a fast-growing economy after all.

Blogging Power

One of the many recent troubles that Bush and Blair have had is the controversy about the use of White Phosphorus (Willie Pete of Vietnam fame) in its current occupation of Iraq. The Pentagon's initial response was that WP was only used 'to illuminate the battlefield and to provide smoke for camouflage.' Now, I am no military expert, but it seems to me to be exceedinbgly difficult, to say the least, to use a weapon as a source of light and smoke, while ensuring that it doesnt have nay harmful effects on the people and the environment.

In any case, it seems that that is a moot point, because thanks to some very enterprising bloggers, an article published by the US Army's Field Artillery Magazine in its issue of March/April this year has revealed that WP is very much a weapon:

WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes where we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosive]. We fired "shake and bake" missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out

BBC have said that the 'bloggers' influence must not be under-estimated these days'.

The Pentagon reacted by admitting that while WP was indeed used as a weapon, it was not used as a chemical weapon, and, as such, was not illegal:

So WP itself is not a chemical weapon and therefore not illegal. However, used in a certain way, it might become one. Not that "a certain way" can easily be defined, if at all.

How convenient. In any case, and again thanks to some very resourceful bloggers, documents have emerged that suggest that the Pentagon themselves view WP as a chemical weapon (or rather they do this when WP is used by enemies, like, Iraq, for example). As Cat's Dream (who initially revealed the documents implicating the Pentagon) quotes from another secret document:

SUMMARY: IRAQ HAS POSSIBLY EMPLOYED PHOSPHOROUS CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST THE KURDISH POPULATION IN AREAS ALONG THE IRAQI-TURKISH-IRANIAN BORDERS. KURDISH RESISTANCE IS LOSING ITS STRUGGLE AGAINST SADDAM HUSSEIN'S FORCES. KURDISH REBELS ANDREFUGEES' PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS AND PERCEPTIONS ARE PROVIDED.(…) DURING THE BRUTAL CRACKDOWN THAT FOLLOWED THE KURDISH UPRISING, IRAQI FORCES LOYAL TO PRESIDENT SADDAM ((HUSSEIN)) MAY HAVE POSSIBLY USED WHITE PHOSPHOROUS (WP) CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST KURDISH REBELS AND THE POPULACE IN ERBIL (GEOCOORD:3412N/04401E) (VICINITY OF IRANIAN BORDER) AND DOHUK (GEOCOORD:3652N/04301E) (VICINITY OF IRAQI BORDER) PROVINCES, IRAQ. THE WP CHEMICAL WAS DELIVERED BY ARTILLERY ROUNDS AND HELICOPTER GUNSHIPS

While the double-standards on the part of Washington that all this reveals is nothing new, it does demonstrate in practical terms how blogging is increasingly developing as a highly effective outlet of 'people power'.

The Press that is very much not free

The Daily Mirror has reported that a leaked 'Top Secret' Number Ten document claims that Bush wanted to bomb the headquarters of Al-Jazeera in Qatar (incidentally a major US-ally in the Middle East - US troops are based there). Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight interviewed some Washington hawk who claimed that Al-Jazeera were 'fair game' because this 'so-called news organisation' was just a 'propaganda machine' for the 'enemies of all freedom-loving people'. In other words the 'free press' is free to say whatever it wants to, as long as we agree with it. If not, we reserve the right to bomb it and kill any journalists who happen to be working there. Washington's official response is the classic 'non-denial denial': 'We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response.' In the words of Ben Bradlee in All The President's Men, (who edited the Washington Post when it broke the Watergate story) it is only when 'they start calling us goddamn liars, [that] we better start circling the wagons.'

The BBC's response to the Bush/Al-Jazeera story is that 'the possibility has to be considered that Mr Bush was in fact making some kind of joke and that this was not a serious proposition' The political naiveté of such a response is only exceeded in stupidity by seriously attributing George W. with a sense of humour.

I don't know if Dubya really wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera (Interestingly, the attacks on Al-Jazeera offices in Afghanistan and Fallujah have all been claimed to be mistakes), and if so, whether Tony Blair really dissuaded him from doing so. But I think that if the Mirror's story was really nonsense, then both Washington and London would bombard us with proof of the same.

All this story does is prove, if proof were necessary that Operation Enduring Freedom would be more accurately described as Operation World Americanisation (officially known as Project for the New American Century). Washington (and London) is in the business of creating an administration in Iraq that will secure for the long term Middle-Eastern governments that will put the Western interests above those of their own people. And in that the new Government will be no different from the Saddam regime.

And what was Downing Street's response to the Mirror story, by the way? Initially another 'non-denial denial' - 'We have got nothing to say about this story. We don't comment on leaked documents.' And since then, according to BBC's Newsnight, the Government have decided that the Mirror should not be allowed any further comment on this story. The Daily Mirror have been informed by Lord Goldsmith that publishing any further details from the document 'would be a breach of the Official Secrets Act.' The Attorney General also threatened an immediate High Court injunction unless the Mirror confirmed it would not publish further details. I guess the Mirror should be grateful Blair did not order an RAF strike on their headquarters in Canary Wharf.

Monkey see, Monkey do.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Political Déjà Vu?

Been re-reading an old favourite of mine, when I came across this line:

On 1 May 1963, the government enacted legislation...[called] the General Law Amendment Act...[which] waived the right of habeas corpus and empowered any police officer to detain any person without a warrant on grounds of suspicion of a political crime. Those arrested could be detained without trial, charge, access to a lawyer, or protection against self-incrimination for upto ninety days.

The author and the government he was fighting against? Nelson Mandela and Verwoerd's apartheid government.

Enough said.

Holiday!

I promised I'd tell you all about my fantastic holiday, so here goes.

We stayed in the best Bed and Breakfast I have ever seen, called 'The Old House' on Woodhead Road, Torside, Glossop (Go there if you want a holiday!) with breathtaking views over the Rhodeswood Reservoir. Fantastic breakfasts, great walks nearby, and lots of lovely animals (dogs, horses, chickens) - our B&B was the only building as far as you could see.
The first day we had a look around Glossop town centre, and then went for a walk on the High Peak.

On the second day we wanted to go on the Peak Rail (a local steam train) but it turns out that it only runs on Sundays in November. Grrr! We made up for it, though, by going to Castleton and looking at underground caves - Speedwell Cavern, which you go through on a boat, and Peak Cavern (also known as The Devil's Arse!) which is the largest cave in the British Isles.

The next day we started off by going for a long walk in Longendale Valley around the various reservoirs which was probably the best thing of the whole holiday. We were really lucky with the weather (though even when it wasn't great, it was still beautiful - as Darling Vicarage very correctly predicted) The autumn colours were so beautiful - ranging from greens through yellows and bronzes to bright, fiery reds. After our walk we went to a place called the Chestnut Centre - which is an owl and otter sanctuary. Again, highly recommended!

Our final day we went back to Castleton to see Peveril Castle, which involved a punishing climb (well punishing for people who are as unfit as we are) and some great views. We then went to Chatsworth, which at the risk of being heretical was probably the least impressive part of it. The grounds were nice but the building didn't look very promising so we decided to save the entrance fee for more interesting things. It was luck we did because we went to Bolsover Castle which wins the beautiful-castles-that-I'd-never-heard-of prize. Go there, trust me, you won't regret it.

After this gorgeous holiday, we spent a lovely weekend with my girlfriend's uncle, aunty and two cousins - which, as always, was really nice. On sunday evening, we did a marathon drive from Nottingham to Bournemouth, and arrived home around ten in the evening - exhausted but refreshed from a much-needed holiday.

I am sorry if I sound smug, but that's because I am! This is the first holiday we've had in two years, and I'm so glad we decided to go.

Back from holiday - and A&E adventures

Here I am again, after a longer than usual gap, because I was having a totally wonderful time in the peak district (more about that in the next post.)

Got back yesterday, and had a more dramatic welcome to the city than I was hoping for. Had a cream cake bought from Gregs which turned out to have nuts. Gregs will surely burn in hell forever for this.

I am seriously allergic to nuts, by the way.

Started throwing up, stomach cramps, skin rashes, severe asthma - all in all was in a pretty bad way.

Tried tablets, injected myself with my adrenaline but still felt awful so I went to University College Hospital (shown in the picture), where the very helpful staff put me in the resuscitation unit. I was on a blood pressure and pulse monitor, and had an intravenous line and everything. Was given some steroids, and when I felt better was allowed to come back home.

Before I left, I asked the doctor whether I could have a normal dinner or not. He said, 'Anything apart from nuts!'

P.S. Any sympathetic posts will be very welcome.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Missing You

Heard from my parents in India that my grandma passed away this morning. It's not totally unexpected because she had been ill for a long time, and had been suffering a lot, especially over the last few days - but that doesn't mean it hurts any less.
I have never lost a grandparent before (or anyone really close to me) so this is especially difficult, as is the fact that all of my family are in India, so I can't do the communal mourning, or help out in any of the practicalities that bereavement always involves.
So, the only thing I can do is miss her, and I do, terribly. Which is strange because I haven't seen her for more than a year - but the fact that she is no more makes me miss her in a way that geographical distance doesn't.
I know that at least she is not suffering any more, but my beliefs regarding life after death (or lack of it) mean that knowledge is of little comfort.
I just miss her, and wish I had the chance to say goodbye.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blair's Anti-Terror Laws

So Blair and Clarke managed to force through their 'anti-terror' laws by 1 measly vote. Probably won't stop them from claiming a significant and decisive victory in the battle against international terrorism. Yeah! Let's go and get those evil people. New Labour aren't much for self-irony, are they?
What's interesting is the way Blair and Co. have decided to play this, and the way most of the mainstream media has co-operated - the BBC article is a good example. The argument seems to be about how long its acceptable for someone to be imprisoned without charge. Clarke bids 90, Labour MP David Winnick bids 28 - its a perverse kind of auction, with the lives of common people in the balance.
By shifting the argument to the number of days, New Labour has cleverly and effectively side-stepped the more important, fundamental question of the moral basis of locking people up without due legal process.
It is probably pointless to argue against some of the crazy right-wing opinions being voiced by people, but I will try anyway. This gem comes from the comments pages on the BBC website:

I hear all the time about the Human Rights of the individual, the terrorist in this case, what about the human rights of the masses? I feel let down by the fact that we worry about 1 person rather than how we can make life better for everyone!! If they are proven terrorist lock them up for life without charge never mind 90 days!

'If they are proven...lock them up...without charge'. Does this person really not see a contradiction in this statement? Can you prove someone guilty or innocent without charge?
When we uphold the human rights of terrorist-suspects, we don't contradict the human rights of victims of terrorism, in fact we re-inforce them. The biggest weapon we have against the terrorists is that they do not value human rights. By allowing the Government to do the same in our name, we lose this key weapon in our own 'war against terrorism'.

The tragic case of Jean Charles de Menezes clearly demonstrates that our authorities are at best fallible, and at worst, deliberately prejudiced (in Galloway's words either a fool or a liar). Do we really want these people to have all the rights they claim to need? Do we really have to go into the culpability that both the British and American Governments share in international terrorism
Does anyone really believe that international terrorism as a phenomenon rose independently of our Governments' foreign policies?

Can we honestly say that we can trust our Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Judges or even the Police? And if we cannot, isn't it in our best interests to ensure that they can cause as little damage as possible, by ensuring a system of 'checks and balances'? Bear in mind that this is hardly a left-wing idea. The American Constituition, such as it is, is based on Baron de Montesquieau's ideals of 'checks and balances' - and he is hardly anyone's idea of a revolutionary. For the sake of Jean Charles de Menezes and to prevent others from ending up with the same fate, let us forget about these insane laws, and ensure human rights for all - victims and suspects alike.

BBC Gets Its Priorities Right, As Usual


Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are at the White House in the latest engagement of their US tour.
They are in Washington for a private lunch and formal black-tie dinner hosted by President George W Bush.


Hurricanes, earthquakes, bombings, war, ministerial resignations, race riots, even vampire rats in Brazil and the BBC decides to discuss whether a woman can convince the people of a country 4000 miles away, that she is just as nice as her husband's ex-wife.

Of course.

Holiday Booked

C. and I have booked a holiday! I am so excited - we haven't been on a holiday since November 2003, that's two years ago for the numerically-challenged among you.
Anyway, we have booked three nights in a B and B near Glossop in the heart of the Peak District in Derbyshire. I know it will probably be chucking it down all the time, but I am so excited, I just don't care.
Apparently there is a place called Castleton near by, where they have loads of underground caves and caverns. One of them is a disused and flooded lead mine, where they run boating trips!! That is so cool! Romantic walks in the middle of nowhere, rides on steam trains, going for long drives with C. and Marge (Marge is my car, by the way, a blue Peugeot 205, and absolutely amazing) - bliss!
So, if you come here next week, expecting interesting and inspiring messages, tough. I shall be enjoying myself far away from the grimy world of central London.

P.S. I am totally not resisting the temptation to go "Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah".

P.P.S. I am not mature and sensible.

Blunkett

So DB finally decides to have 'an early bath', as Labour MP Ian Gibson put it yesterday. I thought I'd have a look at the dearly departed minister's record over the last few year
  • * As Education Secretary, he implements tuition fees for University Students.

* As Home Secretary, he initiates plans for compulsory identity cards, and asks immigrants from Afghanistan and Kosovo to "get back home" to start rebuilding their countries (countries that his Government has bombed), and asks people from ethnic minorities to develop a "sense of belonging" in Britain, telling them to speak English at home.

* When serial killer Harold Shipman was found hanging in his cell, our esteemed Home Secretary was heard to comment that he was 'opening a bottle'.

* He was in the centre of the Beverly Hughes visa abuse, though he managed to hang on to his job. His junior minister was not so lucky.

After all this, it is perhaps not surprising that DB has had to resign twice from the Cabinet - what is perhaps slightly more surprising is why. Once because of what he might or might not have done with a married woman, and once because he was a director of a company or three that he should not have been.

Which of these will prove to be more damaging to the country?

Saying that, what else can we expect from a man who, within three decades went from allowing the red flag to be flown over his council's headquarters in Sheffield, to being Tony Blair and New Labour's most vocal supporters?

Farewell, minister, my heart bleeds at your departure.