Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Blockbusters for Blockheads

Here's my piece for The First Post : on the decline of American popular culture.
Anyone who doubts the thesis-only needs to compare the wonderful Batman tv series of the 1960s- with the dreary, charmless special effects-overloaded Batman movies of the last decade.

King Kong is Coming! One thing is for sure, you sure as hell can’t ignore the world’s biggest ape’-cries the Hollywood hype machine and as sure as hell we won’t be able to ignore the oversized primate in the lead-up to the world premier of Peter Jackson’s $200m blockbuster. Those enamoured of kiddies fare dressed up as adult entertainment are no doubt already counting the days to 14th December; but for the rest of us, who can remember when the world’s most commercially dominant nation used to produce films, music and television for those with a mental age of over 20, these are depressing times. There’s no getting away from it: the country which gave us Ship of Fools, Cole Porter, Citizen Kane and Ellery Queen seems to be in a state of terminal cultural decline. Who can we blame for the malaise? George Lucas is certainly high on the list, for the creation of the modern blockbuster in which special effects are more important than an intelligent screenplay and merchandising opportunities count for more than artistic merit. Steven Spielberg should be indicted too for inflicting on us a succession of overblown and overproduced pap. But most of all I blame the suits. I recently bought a CD of the 60s West Coast band Harpers Bizarre, whose harmonic blend of 1920s melodies with 60s psychedelia is as sweet to listen to now as it was in the Summer of Love. ‘We wanted hits, but we wanted them on our own terms’ recalls Lenny Waronker, the group’s producer. ‘We were trying to do something interesting and trying to turn our friends on’. Thankfully, Harpers Bizarre were allowed to do just that- and the result is with us for posterity. But with the Jewish furriers who ran the American entertainment industry in their graves, and the accountants and marketing wizz-kids ensconced in their place- ‘trying to do something interesting’ is no longer an option. Maximising corporate profits has become the be all and end all- and with the vast amounts of money at stake in the modern global village- that means the entertainment industry playing it safe. Very, very safe. Today, music as experimental as Harpers Bizarre’s simply would not be produced. Neither would a film as philosophical and profound as Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools. Instead we are fed a diet of second-rate dross, never-ending sequels to already established blockbusters, boy and girl bands who can’t sing, and the mind-numbing vacuity of hip-hop. The left in Europe has long railed against American ‘cultural imperialism’. But if this meant exporting Billy Wilder, Brian Wilson and Mama Cass to all four corners of the planet, then who, save the most visceral anti-American, could possibly object? Sadly, America's corporate-induced cultural decline means we now get Eminem, Sex and the City and Britney Spears. And we are all the poorer for it.

Neil Clark/The First Post 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Great American

Predictably, the chick-hawks have been falling over themselves to launch attacks on Dr Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. Attorney-General and Gandhi Prize winner who has joined the legal team to defend Saddam Hussein.
I am proud to share my surname with Clark, a man who I believe is one of the great Americans of our age- a fearless fighter against oppression and the calamitous foreign policy of his own country.
Here's an extract from an interview Clark gave to the 'Sun' Magazine. Read it and you will discover what it is that really infuritates the war lobby about this man- his belief that political power should reside with the people- and that the aim of any policy- domestic or foreign should be whether it creates healthier, happier, and more loving societies. In other words, the very last things Messrs Perle, Wolfowitz and Cheney really want.

If we are to significantly change our culture, we need to recognize that we are held in thrall by two desperately harmful value patterns. One is the glorification of violence. We absolutely, irrationally, insanely glorify violence. We often think that we enjoy watching the good guys kill the bad guys, but the truth is that we enjoy watching the kill itself.
The other value is materialism. We are the most materialistic people who have ever lived. We value things over children. Indeed, the way we show how much we value children is by giving them things, to the point where a mother's self-esteem depends on whether she's the first in her neighborhood to get her child some new toy.
I think the hardest part for us is to break through the illusory world that the media create. Television is a big part of our reality. Children spend more time watching TV than they do in school or participating in any other activity. And television is a preacher of materialism above all else. It tells us constantly to want things. More money is spent on commercials than on the entertainment itself. And that entertainment is essentially hypnotic.
I think often of the Roman poet Juvenal's line about "bread and circuses." All these distractions that now fill our lives are an unprecedented mechanism of social control, because they occupy so much of our time that we don't reason, we don't imagine, and we don't use our senses. We walk though our day mesmerized, never questioning, never thinking, never appreciating. From this process we emerge a synthetic vessel without moral purpose, with no notion in our head or our heart of what is good for people, of what builds a healthier, happier, more loving society.
You began this interview by asking me about U.S. foreign policy, and I said that it's been a failure. Here is the standard by which I would judge any foreign or domestic policy: has it built a healthier, happier, more loving society, both at home and abroad? The answer, in our case, is no on both counts.
Jensen: So what do we do?
Clark: I think the solution relies on the power of the idea, and the power of the word, and on a belief that, in the end, the ultimate power resides in the people.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Worse than under Saddam-'Liberated' Iraq

Here's some food for thought for the chick-hawks....
I wonder if Mr Pollard or Mr Harry's Place will be featuring this story- somehow I think they'll be sticking to George Best and George Galloway.

Abuse worse than under Saddam, says Iraqi leader · Allawi in damning indictment of new regime · Bush prepares way for US troop pull-out Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editorSunday November 27, 2005The Observer
Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and are even in danger of eclipsing his record, according to the country's first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam's regime.
'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'
In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said.
Allawi, who was a strong ally of the US-led coalition forces and was prime minister until this April, made his remarks as further hints emerged yesterday that President George Bush is planning to withdraw up to 40,000 US troops from the country next year, when Iraqi forces will be capable of taking over.
Allawi's bleak assessment is likely to undermine any attempt to suggest that conditions in Iraq are markedly improving.
'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'
He said that immediate action was needed to dismantle militias that continue to operate with impunity. If nothing is done, 'the disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government', he said.
In a chilling warning to the West over the danger of leaving behind a disintegrating Iraq, Allawi added: 'Iraq is the centrepiece of this region. If things go wrong, neither Europe nor the US will be safe.'
His uncompromising comments came on the eve of Saddam's latest court appearance on charges of crimes against humanity. They seem certain to fuel the growing sense of crisis over Iraq, both in the country itself and in the US, where political support for the occupation continues to plummet.
Allawi was selected to serve as prime minister of the first interim government, before last January's first national elections. Admired in both Downing Street and the White House as a non-sectarian politician committed to strong centralised government representing all Iraqis, Allawi's supporters struggled in last January's elections, where they were eclipsed by Shia religious parties, some of which have been implicated in the violence.
Recently, however, his reputation has enjoyed a resurgence as he has tried to build alliances with Sunni political groups ahead of next month's national elections.
His comments come as a blow to those hoping that Iraq was moving towards normalisation under the new government. In a speech on Wednesday, Bush is expected to hail the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for withdrawing US forces.
But the proximity of the latest round of elections appears to have only intensified political murders and intimidations, including members of Allawi's own list, who have been killed and attacked by political rivals.
Despite denials of wrongdoing by the Ministry of the Interior, which has been implicated in much of the abuse, a series of damaging disclosures, including the discovery of a secret detention centre run by the ministry, has heaped embarrassment on the Iraqi government and its foreign supporters.
The intervention by one of Iraq's most prominent political figures promises to turn human rights abuses into a key election issue.
Allawi's scathing assessment of the collapse of human rights in Iraq under the country's first democratically elected government came amid an angry denunciation of the involvement of the Iraq government's institutions in widespread disappearances, torture and assassinations.
He added that he now had so little faith in the rule of law that he had instructed his own bodyguards to fire on any police car that attempted to approach his headquarters without prior notice, following the implication of police units in many of the abuses.
Allawi saved his strongest condemnation for the Ministry of the Interior, whose personnel have been accused of being behind much of the abuse: 'The Ministry of the Interior is at the heart of the matter. I am not blaming the minister [Bayan Jabr] himself, but the rank and file are behind the secret dungeons and some of the executions that are taking place.'
Responding to the former prime minister's comments, Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, said: 'It is inconceivable in the higher reaches of the command of the multinational forces that there was not an awareness of what is being done by some Iraqis to their own countrymen.
'The assertions by Mr Allawi simply underline the catastrophic failure to have a proper strategy in place for the post-war period in Iraq.'

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Refreshing Change

In a world in which the rich keep getting richer and life’s prizes are shared between an ever decreasing number (just think of Premiership football)-wasn’t it refreshing to see National Hunt racing buck the trend last weekend? I’ve nothing against Messrs Pipe and Johnson, but after their domination of the Cheltenham Open Meeting (yet again)-it was great to see the silverware go elsewhere: to Robert Alner- a man who embodies what the winter game is all about; to John Spearing- one of Britain’s most consistently underrated handlers and to the small County Limerick yard of Ned Mitchell. And after the tragic events earlier in the month, who could begrudge Henrietta Knight and Jim Lewis another victory in the Peterborough Chase? The very fact that such a wide range of owners and trainers can realistically dream of glory is what gives jump racing its enduring appeal - here’s to many more weekends like the last!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The neo-cons, the mujahidin and the recruiter for the S.S.

David Clark's Guardian warning against progressives about becoming involved in the Henry Jackson Society is a timely one, as the warmongers league holds it UK launch tonight.
But it's not the anti-war left, as Clark claims who ‘often fail to remain sufficiently critical in the face of reactionary and illiberal opinion- but the neo-conservatives themselves. The very people who are so quick to throw the label ‘Islamofascist’ around today, championed the cause of the mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s and were enthusiastic cheerleaders for the Bosnian separatist leader Alija Izetbegovic a decade later. Izetbegovic wrote ‘The first and most important conclusion from the Koran is the impossibility of any connection between Islamic and non-Islamic systems’ and recruited for the SS in World War Two. How much more ‘reactionary’ and ‘illiberal’ can you get than that?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Murder Most Foul

Can anyone can give me a good reason why the perpetrators of this appalling crime should not face the death penalty?

Murdered policewoman leaves 5 children
Nov 19 2005
By Wesley Johnson and Charlie Hamilton

The woman police officer murdered by armed robbers in Bradford had been in the force for just nine months, it emerged today.
Sharon Beshenivsky, 38, who had three children and two step-children, was gunned down on her youngest daughter’s fourth birthday as she arrived at the raid in a travel agent’s shop.
Detectives are hunting three men armed with a gun and a knife who held up the shop and escaped with cash
Police also revealed that a man and a woman were arrested in London at 8.30am today in connection with the murder.
Pc Beshenivsky had been a community police officer for two years before joining the full-time West Yorkshire force. She died after being shot in the chest, Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn said.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Seeing the Light

The Guardian has an obituary today of the U.S. union organiser C.P.Ellis- a former Klu Klax Klansman who saw the errors of his ways and became friends with the African-American activist who once tried to stab him.
Ellis' heart-warming story shows that leopards can change their spots. Wouldn't it be nice if others followed suit? If Tony Blair woke up tomorrow, announced his resignation and said that he was giving himself up voluntarily to the International Criminal Court to stand trial for the illegal invasion of Iraq and other breaches of international law. If Christopher Hitchens in his next Vanity Fair column admitted that everything he has written in the last fifteen years on international affairs has been wrong. And if Stephen Pollard, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Michael Gove and other journalistic inhabitants of Planet Neo-Con were to concede that the invasion of Iraq has been illegal, immoral and disastrous- and join the rest of us in opposing any future military aggression by Britain and the U.S.
We can but hope!

He Is Not The Only One

Pro-war bloggers cannot hide their glee as news of George Galloway's extra-parliamentary earnings come to light. But what about the other MPs who use their positions as our elected representatives to feather their own nests? There is no denying that Galloway- in particular for asking for fees of between £5ooo and £10000 for appearances on the BBC, has left himself open to charges of hypocrisy. But to paraphrase the title of his recently published biography: He Is Not the Only One. Anne 'Doris Karloff' Widdecombe obtained (I again won't use the word 'earned') £240,000 on top of her MPs earnings last year- far more than her immeasurably more talented namesake received- in today's money- for his stirring portrayal of Frankenstein in 1931. William Hague gained a grand total of one seat for the Conservatives in the 2001 election- and is rewarded with- yup- a jackpot of £1m a year with publishers falling over themselves to offer him book contracts. And self-styled urban radical Dianne Abbott doesn't do too badly either-- with an extraparliamentary income of £85,000. What the register of MPs interests shows us is that the big political divide in Britain today is not between Labour and Conservative- but Britain's political elite and the rest of us.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

All Aboard The Westminster Gravy Train

Here's a news story from today's Times on the outside earnings of our MPs here in Britain. Does it matter that William Hague earned more than £1m last year? You bet it does. Hague, like all the other 600 odd MPs in Britain is supposed to represent his constituents. But how can he properly do that when his life-style and life experiences are so different from those of the people he is supposed to be representing? Hague obtained (I won't use the word 'earned' as that would be an insult to nurses, miners, teachers and others who actually do 'earn' their money)-£65,000 in the month of April alone for giving four after-dinner speeches. All this at a time when the party who provided him with his public profile was doing all it could to win an election.
In any other job where there were over 100 applications for every vacancy-you might expect the employer to consider whether he was paying too high a wage. Why does this not apply in politics? So here's a suggestion. Let's pay our MPs the average weekly wage- and get them to work a full 40 hour week like everyone else- with just four weeks holiday. If this proves unbearable to the likes of William Hague and the other 'high-fliers' on the list- then so be it. Just gaze around at the faces you see on the front and back-benches in PMQs- and tell me that we could do any worse?

The Times
November 17, 2005
The millionaire Hague leads list of top earners By Andrew Pierce and Sam Coates
THREE Tory heavyweights who will be offered senior roles in the Shadow Cabinet if David Cameron win the leadership contest grossed more than £1.7 million in outside earnings in the past 12 months, according to figures released yesterday.
Their combined earnings account for more than half the £2.7 million declared by MPs in the annual Register of Members’ Interests.
William Hague leads the list, with more than £1 million from book deals, a newspaper column, directorships and after-dinner speaking. He made six speeches, worth £65,000, in April during the general election campaign, when most Tory MPs and party workers were on the campaign trail.
Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor, who was defeated for the leadership for the third time, earned close to £500,000 from five directorships, including British American Tobacco. An MP’s salary is £59,095.
Francis Maude, the party chairman and leading moderniser in the Cameron camp, declared ten paid outside interests, including two directorships he took after the election, when he was recalled to the Shadow Cabinet. Mr Maude, like Mr Clarke, does not declare any of the fees, as is permissible in Parliament’s rules.
For the first time Tony Blair has responded to the criticism from opposition MPs about the commercial career of his wife, Cherie. He has disclosed in his own return that she received royalties from her book about life in Downing Street and fees from speaking engagements in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. He does not disclose the size of the fees, but writes: “These included some discussions of my wife’s life in No 10 Downing Street.”
A Downing Street spokesman said that Mr Blair was not required by precedent to make any reference to her earnings as Sir John Major, Mr Blair’s predecessor, had not listed earnings from the book about Chequers by his wife, Norma. “The Prime Minister registered this to err on the side of caution and to be open and transparent,” he said.
The register also confirmed that Mr Blair spent 26 nights on holiday in Barbados as a guest of Sir Cliff Richard.
Three of the four MPs who have declared earnings in excess of £100,000 are Conservatives. In addition to Mr Hague they include Ann Widdecombe, who lists earnings of more than £200,000 from novels, a newspaper column, and television appearances. Boris Johnson, who is standing down as editor of The Spectator, declared £140,000.
George Galloway, the Respect MP, listed £155,000, half of which came from a newspaper column. Diane Abbott, the left-wing Labour MP, earned £85,000, slightly behind David Blunkett’s £91,000 while he was a backbencher after his first Cabinet resignation.
The spotlight will fall on whether Mr Hague, for the second year in succession the highest-paid MP, will be forced to choose between his £1 million extra-parliamentary activities and the front bench. Mr Hague, who has spent four years on the backbenches after leading the Tories to one of their worst election defeats in 2001, is thought to be ready to return to frontline politics.
Michael Spencer, the chief executive of Icap, the world’s biggest money-trading broker and one of the richest self-made men in the City, has made donations to the Tory leadership campaigns of David Cameron and David Davis. He was an early supporter of Mr Davis, but by the time of the party conference, when Mr Cameron became the overwhelming favourite after a powerful speech, he had already switched.HIGHEST PAID William Hague £935,000 plus two directorships
Ann Widdecombe £240,000 plus one directorship
George Galloway £155,000
Boris Johnson £140,000
David Blunkett £91,000
Diane Abbott £85,000
Michael Gove £75,000
Sir Patrick Cormack £55,000
Robert Walter £60,000 plus one directorship
David Willets £30,000 plus one directorship

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Where have all the chickhawks gone......

Its official- the US did use chemical weapons in Fallujah. Isn't it strange- for the last few days since this story broke- we haven't heard a word from the chickhawks- you know those oh so voluble bird-brains who assured us Iraq had 'chemical, biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction' and were so keen to attack Iraq 9so long as they stayed a few thousand miles away from action. So come on out, you chickhawks- and explain to us what you think about the Pentagon's admission. Come on, Mr Pollard, Mr Harry's Place, Mr Hitchens (Christopher), Mr Steyn, Miss Melanie P, Mr Gove, Lady Black-Amiel, Mr Sullivan and 'Neo' Con Coughlin- we are waiting to hear from you!

U.S. used phosphorus as weapon in Iraq
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The Pentagon confirmed U.S. forces used highly caustic white phosphorus flares as weapons against Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah last year.
"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable told the BBC, but he stressed it was not used against civilians.
Venable said the Army used white phosphorus incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases."
Phosphorus is highly flammable and ignites on contact with oxygen. The chemical rapidly destroys skin and muscle down to the bone on contact.
When an Italian TV documentary revealing the use of phosphorus in Iraq was broadcast Nov. 8, it sparked protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
The U.S.-led assault on Fallujah -- a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency west of Baghdad -- displaced most of the city's population of 300,000 and destroyed many buildings

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

WW2 - The Just War- (unlike Iraq)

I receive emails from a great many 'chain' sources, and I've recently been getting them from somewhere called'. They sent me an email, entitled 'Revealed- UK wartime torture camp' containing among anti-Iraq war articles, the story by Ian Cobain from last week's Guardian on the secret wartime torture camp the British operated in World War Two. Sorry guys, but what on earth has this got to do with opposition to Blair's anti-terror legislation and the war in Iraq? I had a look at the website- but it was all in Arabic- all there was was a picture of a mosque in the top left hand corner. Are suggesting that Britain should be in the dock for alleged use of torture in WW2? No one is denying that some pretty unsavory things were done on occasion by the Allies to win WW2- but to somehow suggest that our opposition to the Iraq war means we must also be opposed the Allies stance in WW2 is absurd. It is precisely because the US and Britain are now apeing Nazi Germany on the world stage- by threatening other countries and in the case of Iraq- invading them- that all anti-Nazis should be united in opposition to the war lobby. Unlike the aggression against Iraq- the war against the Axis Powers was a just one, one which I have no problem in defending. As Stephen Ambrose, the American historian said, 'never has justice been better served' than with the defeat of the militarists in Germany, Italy and Japan. So please, please, please, no more emails on nasty things Britain, America, USSR and their allies might have done in World War Two. It really was our finest hour.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Spot the Difference!

It was a privilege to be at Cheltenham racecourse today to witness the stirring victory of 'Spotthedifference', Enda Bolger's cross-country specialist in the Sporting Index Chase. It's the fourth successive time the twelve-year old has won over the cross-country course at Prestbury Park and all those who knock such races as not being 'proper' racing should have witnessed the reception the old boy got as he was led into the winners enclosure.
As the day belongs to 'Spotthedifference' , here's a topical posting. Try and 'Spot the Difference' between these two declarations of war. One from Herr Hitler in 1939, the other from George W. Bush in 2003. Isn't it interesting how warmongers down the ages have used the same kind of deceitful arguments to justify their aggression?

Proclamation by Adolf Hitler to the German Army, September 1,1939. (Source: “The Polish State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. Germans in Poland are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses. A series of violations of the frontier, intolerable to a great Power, prove that Poland is no longer willing to respect the frontier of the Reich.
In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National-Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich!”

Speech by President Bush, March 19, 2003. (Source : White House web site) “My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. (…)
The enemies you confront will come to know your skill and bravery. The people you liberate will witness the honourable and decent spirit of the American military. In this conflict, America faces an enemy who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality. Saddam Hussein has placed Iraqi troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for his own military — a final atrocity against his people. (…)
Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.
My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.
May God bless our country and all who defend her.”

Well David, here's a few things.....

Blairite toady David Aaronovitch is in a strop because his pin-up boy lost the Commons vote on Wednesday. In today's Times, Aaronovitch asks 'what do the rebellious classes and their media supporters actually want'?
Well David, how about renationalisation of the most expensive and inefficient railway in Europe; free care for the elderly; proper old age pensions, a new top rate of income tax for the very wealthy; and last, but certainly not least, no more illegal invasions of sovereign states at the behest of the war lobby in Washington?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A race to the death?

Is horse-racing cruel? In the aftermath of the demise of Best Mate, many have stepped up calls for the sport to be banned. I think they are wrong. Here's my piece from today's Guardian.

A race to the death?
The demands of horse-racing extract a terrible toll in return for glamour and excitement Neil Clark
Thursday November 10, 2005The Guardian
Dawn Run, Gloria Victis and now Best Mate. As national hunt racing prepares for its first major meeting of the season at Cheltenham this weekend, is it not a good time to consider whether the price we pay for the thrills and spills of the sport is too high?
Animal Aid thinks so and believes that horse-racing should go the way of cock-fighting and fox-hunting and be proscribed by law. "Beneath its glamorous facade, commercial horse-racing is a ruthless industry motivated by financial greed and prestige," the group claims on its website.
Do they have a case? The casualty figures in racing, from a four-year audit by Animal Aid, make grim reading. On average one active racehorse a day is killed in Britain - around a third on the racecourse, the rest from injuries. While the three-times Gold Cup winner Best Mate made the headlines with his collapse at Exeter last week, he was not the only horse to lose his life that afternoon: the less-renowned Lady Percy was killed in a fall during an earlier hurdle race.
The risk of death, though greater when horses are asked to jump obstacles, is still present on the flat - as connections of Skye's Folly, killed in a horrific fall at Wolverhampton on Monday, know only too well. But although there is no denying that racing can, in the words of Gold Cup winning trainer Tom Taaffe, be "a very cruel game", those wishing its abolition would be guilty of inflicting a far greater cruelty.
Best Mate's death was tragic. But without racing, the horse population in Britain would be a fraction of what it is today. The nation's favourite racehorse - like the 17,000 other racehorses in Britain - was bred to race, and without the sport which Animal Aid wishes to see banned, would never have drawn breath in the first place.
In return for risking their lives every two or three weeks (or, in the lightly raced Best Mate's case, three times a year), most racehorses enjoy a cosseted existence, receiving five-star board and devotion from stable staff. The penalties meted out by the racing authorities to handlers who abuse charges are stiff - as Kamil Mahdi, warned off for 10 years for ill-treatment to horses, will testify.
And racing has also showed a determination to do all it can to make the sport safer. I will never forget the sickening sight of the fatally injured Brown Trix being dragged out of the stream at Becher's Brook in the 1989 Grand National: now, thanks to changes to the course, such an accident can no longer happen.
Fence modifications at Aintree and at Cheltenham have reduced casualty rates too. There has also been progress on racehorse rehabilitation: thanks to the efforts of Carrie Humble at the Thoroughbred rehabilitation centre, Michael and Helen Yeadon of the Greatwood rehabilitation centre and others, more ex-racehorses see out their retirement in the dignified manner they deserve.
More can still be done. The Jockey Club report into racehorse injuries, clinical problems and fatalities during 1996-98, found that softer racing surfaces were associated with fewer fatalities and injuries. Ensuring that the going at jump meetings is never "firm" - as it was at Ludlow for a race in November 2003, when two of the three runners were killed - but at the very fastest on the "good" side of "good-to-firm", is exactly the sort of practical measure which can save lives. The repositioning of fences which bring about a disproportionate number of casualties is another.
But horse-racing can never be totally safe. Best Mate never fell or looked like falling in his life, yet he still perished. The price he paid - and which other horses will continue to pay - is a high one. But even after the sad events of last week, it is still one worth paying.
· Neil Clark is a correspondent for Racing and Football Outlook

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How we know the war lobby lied

Sorry, Sir Christopher, but it just won't wash. Britain's former Ambassador to the U.S., while castigating Blair for not standing up to Bush, still maintains that the British PM and the American President went to war because of a 'sincere belief' that Iraq possessed WMDs. But we know this simply cannot be true. How? Because if the British PM and the American President did believe the evidence of the various dossiers they produced- the very last thing they would have done was to go to war. Here's an extract from a piece of mine from The Australian last year on how we know that the war lobby lied.

THE AUSTRALIAN: We know the war lobby lied
5th February 2004

It really is very simple.
‘Blame the spooks’ is now the official line of those who took us to war. Our political leaders didn’t wish to attack Iraq, but faced with such alarming intelligence reports of the threat Saddam posed, they had no other option. There is however one important and much overlooked point that gives the lie to this all-too convenient interpretation of events. The strongest and most irrefutable evidence that the coalition leaders did not believe the information contained in the hastily cobbled together ‘dossiers’, is the very fact that having read them, they then went to war. Let’s remind ourselves of some of the information the intelligence reports contained. They included claims that the Iraqi military was ‘able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order’ and that Saddam’s WMD programme was ‘active, detailed and running’. Imagine for a moment you are either George Bush, Tony Blair or John Howard reading these reports. Why on earth would you then do the one thing which would provoke Iraq to use its deadly weapons ? Had the Coalition really believed Iraq could ‘deliver chemical and biological weapons using an extensive range of artillery shells, free fall bombs, sprayers and ballistic missiles’ as the British dossier of September 24th 2002 claimed, then we would have reasonably expected that at the first sign of attack on his country Saddam would have ordered some pretty serious delivering. The coalition could, if the dossier claims were true, have expected to incur losses in the thousands with many more seriously injured. Are we expected to believe that our political leaders, would have countenanced such casualties and the political fall-out which would follow ? The war party’s argument, put around in the first weeks of hostilities, that the most demonised dictator of modern times had not used his WMD for fear of opprobrium is patently absurd, though not quite as absurd as the one that the one that he may have destroyed them just before the invasion. If Saddam wasn’t going to use his WMD when attacked, then when on earth would he have used them ?
History teaches us that countries attack others only when they are convinced of their opponent’s relative weakness. This is why Mussolini bombed Abyssinia and Hitler marched into Poland. It is why Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and why Belgrade was blitzed in 1999. Bush, Blair and Howard would now have us believe that for the first time in history, a set of countries went to war last year because of an enemy’s military strength. For what the Coalition really thought of the Iraqi ‘threat’, we get a truer picture from Colin Powell’s speech, in Egypt in 2001, when he declared that. ‘He (Saddam) has not developed any significant capability with regard to WMD. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours’.
Saddam was attacked not because Bush, Blair and Howard thought he had WMD, but because they were pretty damn sure that he didn’t. The inescapable lesson of the last twelve months, for anyone who still doubted it, is that deterrence works. Iraq, militarily emaciated after years of weapons inspections and sanctions, got Shock and Awe. North Korea, meanwhile, with its self-declared uranium enrichment programme gets offers of ‘dialogue’ and promises of further aid. Pat Buchanan, veteran Cold War warrior and authentic voice of hard-core U.S. conservatism, recommends all countries wanting the respect of Uncle Sam ‘to get the bomb’. Kim Jong II listened to his advice and Pyongyang is spared the B52s. Saddam didn’t and his country lies in ruins. Here’s to the global proliferation of WMD. Then and only then might we get some real and lasting peace.
Neil Clark 2004

Monday, November 07, 2005

David Trimble and the Bomber of Baghdad

What happens to clapped-out Ulster Unionist politicans when they get kicked out by the voters? Why, they line up with Richard Perle to address the Henry Jackson Society on 'democratic reform' in the Middle East and 'other issues relating to international affairs'. David Trimble, as we know is a man who believes passionately in 'decommissioning' the weapons of those who 'use violence and the threat of violence in pursuance of political objectives'. So what on earth is he doing linking up with Perle, a man who wanted to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union in the 1980s and who is widely acknowledged to have been the architect of a war which has to date claimed the lives of over 100,000 people? In the scale of the death, destruction and human misery he has caused, 'The Prince of Darkness' makes Irish republican bombers look like also-rans.

From Henry Jackson Society website:
Richard Perle, David Trimble and Manny Weiss Brief the Henry Jackson Society

Richard Perle and David Trimble visited the Society on 03rd November 2005 to brief the Organising Committee on democratic reform within the Middle East, and a range of other issues relating to international affairs. They were accompanied by one of the late Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson’s greatest supporters, Manny Weiss.

Three Cheers for Maradona!

As a supporter of the England football team in 1986, I never thought I would live to say this- but if ever a man has redeemed himself for previous misdeeds it is the former Argentinian striker. By leading the anti-Bush protests in his own country and talking of the need to throw out 'human trash' like the U.S. President- Maradona is inspiring millions of his own countrymen- and indeed millions of fellow South Americans to unite and say no to Bush's proposed free trade area- which will enslave the entire continent. The only winners from Bush's scheme will be US multinational corporations and the President's super-rich friends- which is why of course he is so keen to promote it. And that's also why, pro-Empire lackeys, like the preposterous warmonger Stephen Pollard are so enthusiastic for the free-trade area to be imposed. Read Pollard's demented rant against Maradona in the Times today and you will see what I mean. As a worldwide, popular opposition to Bush and the War Party grows, Pollard and his fellow NWO Fascists are, for all their wealth and influence, looking increasingly beleagured.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Daily Bomber- the latest discoveries

The Daily Bomber is pleased to reveal that our intrepid reporter 'Neo' Con Coction has made more damning discoveries during his trawl around bombed-out ministries in Baghdad. Documents have come into our possession which clearly show that Tony Benn, Seumas Milne, John Pilger and Peter Wilby and indeed all other eloquent, charismatic and popular figures in the anti-war movement, were in the pay of Saddam's evil Baathist regime. Benn, our documents reveal received a full year's free supply of tea bags and Mars bars, courtesy of the Iraqi Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Milne was offered free holidays in Basra in return for writing his fiery anti-war pieces for The Guardian, while Pilger received a life-time supply of green short-sleeved shirts in recognition for his efforts to prevent Shock and Awe. Wilby meanwhile received a ten year season ticket to watch his beloved Leicester rugby union team as a quid pro quo for penning his hard-hitting New Statesman editorials. Commenting on the discoveries, Lady Amiel-Black Warmonger of the Henry Jackson Society said 'This is what we and our pro-liberation allies at Bomber Harry's Place said all along: that opposition to the war was motivated purely by commercial self-interest. As I said myself to Dick Cheney, whose Haliburton company is doing such a fine job in rebuilding Iraq-isn't it disgusting that people allow their own financial interests to affect their judgement on issues of war and peace'.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The 'Debate' That Wasn't

So how was it for you? For me, the most significant aspect of the whole charade of the 'Two Davids' head-to-head, was not what the Tory leadership hopefuls discussed, but what they didn't.
No mention of the war in Iraq or our country' s complete foreign policy subservience to war-mongering, Empire-builders in Washington.
How happy Messrs Perle, Wolfowitz and Cheney must be when they see two British neo-cons slog it out for the leadership of Britain's main opposition party. How can the war lobby possibly lose when they have the front benches of both our major parties in their pockets? New Labour bombers, or Tory bombers?
That's what 'democracy' in Britain has effectively come down to.

Was 'Matey' the Greatest?

Bob Taylor from London has written in regarding the death of Best Mate. Bob's view, which he uses Timeform ratings to support, is that 'Matey', though a 'wonderful and much loved star', nevertheless lags behind four other Gold Cup winners, and does not deserve to be labelled 'arguably the best chaser in Britain since the legendary Arkle'. What do you think? Is Best Mate the greatest chaser we have seen since the 1960s? Or have we allowed the tragic and untimely circumstances of his death to cloud our judgement?
I would certainly rate the very versatile Desert Orchid above Best Mate- but I'm not sure about Master Oats....

email from Bob Taylor, London:
As regards yesterday's column, regarding the tragic and untimely death of Best Mate. National Hunt Racing in Britain and Ireland has indeed lost a wonderful and much loved star. However, I fear the emotions of the moment may have, understandably, clouded your judgement ("arguably the best chaser in Britain and Ireland since the>legendary Arkle").If I can quote Timeform Ratings, as my source, their ratings of Gold Cup winners, is as follows:
Arkle(3) 212
Desert Orchid 187
Borough Hill Lad 184
Master Oats 183
Best Mate(3) 182
Captain Christy 182
Kicking King 182

Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's All Business....

Under President Milosevic, Zastava was the last independent car manufacturer in the Balkans.
In 1999, workers formed a human cordon to protect their factory- but that still didn't stop the NATO bombers from carrying out their 'humanitarian mission' to destroy the socially-owned enterprise. Six years on, and Zastava is now teaming up with the U.S. industrial-military complex. What a surprise! 'Wars, conflict, it's all business', sighs Monsieur Verdoux, the eponymous anti-hero of Chaplin's 1947 classic. When one considers developments at Zastava, the privatisation of the lucrative Trepca mining complex in Kosovo, and the way U.S. multinationals have asset-stripped Iraq- how could any sane, objective individual possibly disagree?

ZASTAVA: Serbian weapons maker signs agreement with US company
October 21, 2005
Serbian weapons maker Zastava Oruzje on Tuesday signed the first commercial agreement with a US company for the sale of its products on the US market during the forthcoming year.
The agreement, worth 3.2 million US dollars, was signed in Kragujevac, a major city located 140 km southeast of Belgrade, where Zastava Oruzje is based, the official Tanjug news agency reported.
According to the agreement with US arms manufacturer Remington,24,000 carbine and small-calibre units will be placed on the US market, but the carbines will be delivered without butts and with the label, "Remington-Zastava."
The agreement also includes the marketing of Zastava's sports weapons, the joint development of new models of weapons, exchange of experiences, and the introduction of technical and technological innovations.
Trade Attache at the US embassy in Belgrade, Maria Andrew, said that she was very proud that one of the oldest American companies was cooperating with an enterprise from Serbia-Montenegro.
Zastava Oruzje was founded 152 years ago, and Remington 189 years ago and the two companies should set an example to other companies both in Serbia-Montenegro and the US, Andrew said.
Serbian Minister of Capital Investments Velimir Ilic said thathe was very satisfied the Kragujevac plant signed its first contract with a foreign partner, especially as the partner is a USproducer of weapons.
"It is very important that we have created a platform of safety and stability at Zastava Oruzje, so that now our plant can appear on the market with the largest producers of weapons in theworld," Ilic said.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New reinforcements for Iraq? Here's some suggestions

Here's a revised, updated version of a piece I wrote last year for The New Statesman, on the case for sending a brigade of pro-war writers and journalists out to patrol the streets of Iraq.
Surely those who were so keen for the conflict to occur can have no problems with doing 'their bit for the war effort? I realise of course that positions need to be found for David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen and the bloggers at Harry's Place at the front. Any suggestions?

Despite what the Prime Minister says, the chances of Britain sending further reinforcements to Iraq must be high. So who should go? I propose a new division, made up of those journalists and writers who were so keen that we go to war and who so faithfully echoed the propaganda of the warmongers in Washington and Westminster.
The first laptop bombardier should be William Shawcross who, in the lead-up to invasion, could be seen perched on every television sofa in the country explaining why Iraq posed such a deadly threat. The author of such gems as "Why Saddam will never disarm" was not long ago photographed at a swish London party held by his brother-in-law, Sir Rocco Forte. Surely, Shawcross would be better employed helping the British forces search for those weapons of mass destruction which, he assured us, Iraq possessed.
Next up, Andrew Roberts--cheerleader of the fanatically pro-American Atlantic Partnership and a man who advocated using nuclear weapons against Yugoslavia in 1999. Being one of Britain's "most talented historians", he argued that we could equate Iraq, a developing world country--with its Dad's Army and non-existent air force--with Nazi Germany at its peak.
Then there's Tim Hames, tireless advocate of the pre-emptive strike. When Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003, Hames proclaimed "the war is over". If that is the case, then Hames could have no possible worries about a spot of military service in Najaf. The ubiquitous neo-conservative scribbler Stephen Pollard can accompany him. In 2002, Pollard wanted to send George Galloway a one-way ticket to Baghdad. Now that Iraq has been "liberated", and Pollard's beloved US is in control, it is surely time to send the ticket to Pollard. Patrolling the streets of Fallujah has to be more exciting than trying to flog a biography of David Blunkett.
Our recruitment procedure should not discriminate on grounds of sex or age. The Daily Mail's resident moralist Melanie Phillips, who condemns teenaged youths smashing up bus shelters, but not coalition forces smashing up Iraq, would have to be found a position. Ditto Anne McElvoy of the London Evening Standard, who believes the war, which has cost at least 100,000 lives, to have been "both morally and practically right". And we must not forget to post call-up papers to the Sunday Times’ Janet Daley, who labelled the moral case against war "at best naive, at worst idiotic". Daley believed the existence of WMDs to have been established by Blair's dossier. Nice call, Janet.
Leading the laptop bombardiers' youth brigade, we can have the Independent's boy wonder Johann Hari. "Sometimes, the only way to spread peace is at the barrel of a gun," Hari declared in the lead-up to the war. Well, Johann, now is the perfect opportunity for you to do some spreading.
Finally, let's not forget the Sunday Telegraph's "Neo" Con Coughlin, who regaled us with tales of Iraqi superguns and Saddam Hussein's plans to take over the planet. The author of 'Saddam: the secret life' was agitated lest the Iraqi leader's acquiescence to UN inspections "could stop regime change for good". In the end, he had no grounds for concern.
Alas, in real life, these people will continue to draw their lucrative salaries, sign their book contracts and attend their parties in London, unperturbed by the increasingly perilous developments of a conflict they could not wait to see started. That is just one of the many injustices of the war in Iraq.

Copyright Neil Clark/ New Statesman, Ltd.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A sad day at the races

'We would have had a revolution in Britain a long time ago had it not been for horseracing', bemoaned Harry Pollitt, leader of the British Communist Party until 1956. But would a revolution which denied us the wonder of horse-racing, really be one worth having? Racing, and in particular National Hunt racing is a compelling and exciting sport which enriches so many people's lives. But all those who love jump racing, as I do, know that there is a downside- the terrible downside we saw today at Exeter when the three-times Gold Cup winner Best Mate, arguably the best chaser in Britain and Ireland since the legendary Arkle-
collapsed and died in front of the grandstands. The thoughts of all fans of the sport will tonight be with the connections of this magnificient animal, whose courage and honesty shone through in all his races.

Rich Pickings of a 'Humanitarian' War

Anyone out there still believe that Yugoslavia was bombed in 1999 for 'humanitarian' reasons?

From: Associated Press

Kosovo's Nickel Plant Sold for $40 Million
-The privatization of Feronikeli is the most important
sell-off of socially owned enterprises, a term used
for enterprises owned by the workers and managers
under a system set up under communist-era Yugoslavia.
PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro - A nickel plant in
Kosovo was sold Friday for euro33 million, or about
US$40 million, authorities said.
Officials from the Kosovo Trust Agency, dealing with
privatization in Kosovo, signed a contract with
Alferon/IMR, part of Eurasian Natural Resources group,
which is among the world's largest private mining and
metals groups, a U.N. statement said.
The company has offered a business plan including at
least 1,000 jobs and an additional investment of
euro20 million (about US$24 million) within the first
three years, it said.
The Feronikeli plant in central Kosovo was badly
damaged during NATO bombing of Serb forces in the
disputed province in 1999. It is one of the major
plants in the economically depressed province.
Kosovo is the poorest region in the Western Balkans
with an annual gross domestic product per capita of
around euro1,000 (US$1,300) and a jobless rate of at
least 50 percent, according to European Union data.
The privatization of Feronikeli is the most important
sell-off of socially owned enterprises, a term used
for enterprises owned by the workers and managers
under a system set up under communist-era Yugoslavia.
The process of privatization is complex, in part
because it is unclear whether Kosovo will become
independent or remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the
successor state of Yugoslavia.
Serbia's authorities have fiercely opposed the process
of privatization.