Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Kamm book review saga- one year on

It is exactly one year ago today, that my review of the book 'Anti-Totalitarianism', by Oliver Kamm appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Little did I know when I filed my copy, that writing a critical review of Kamm's book, would subject me to a year-long campaign of vilification and character assassination.

An email, written under an alias and cced to Kamm, was sent to one of my commissioning editors, repeating malicious libels which Kamm made on his blog, just one day after my review appeared. Kamm's webblog entry was written not just for the benefit of his readers, but also to newspaper editors who employ me.

Faced with what any impartial observer would agree was a malicious campaign to jeopardise my career, I had no option but to take legal action, and brought a case for defamation against Kamm in the County Court in April. But as the defendant (Kamm) did not give his consent to the case being heard there, the court dismissed the action. The only reason why I did not bring a High Court action at the time was financial: unlike Kamm, I am not the founder of a Jermyn Street-based financial services company which started with $1bn of assets.

Kamm and his supporters have continued to hound me.

My wikipedia entry has repeatedly been altered by supporters of Kamm, to give a misleading version of our dispute. They also seem obsessed to include in my entry the information that I am a 'teacher of A Level-retakes' as if that would invalidate my opinions on the Iraq war or any other issues. As it happens, I have not taught 'A Level retakes' for a few years now, but the very fact that people are prepared to spend Christmas Day altering my wikipedia entry to say that I have, demonstrates just how fanatical - and desperate- they are.

I wrote earlier in the month on how a certain ' George Courtenay' wrote a malicious email to the editor of the Australian drawing his attention to untrue and libellous allegations Kamm had made about me on my website. I sent an email to ' George Courtenay', asking if he could provide a postal address or telephone number, to prove he was who he claimed to be. I have yet to recieve a reply. In addition to "George Courtenay", there is also a mysterious personage called "Admiral Cheddar", who spent the evening of the 25th December altering not only my wikipedia entry, but also that of David Cromwell from the organisation Media Lens. In both case, the alterations included references to Oliver Kamm. A few days earlier Kamm had posted on Cromwell on his blog.

What sort of person would spend the evening of 25th December altering the wikipedia entries of Neil Clark and David Cornwell?

Kamm, through his pursuit of Noam Chomsky, has, as I think most impartial observers would agree, shown himself to be something of an obsessive. His mysterious, anonymous supporters seem to take great pride in following his example.

But despite his attempts to jeopardise my livelihood, I bear Oliver Kamm no ill will. The emotion I feel towards Kamm is not hate, but sorrow- that such an intelligent person (anyone who lists Carol Reed's wonderful 'The Third Man' as their favourite film can't be classified as stupid), would invest so much time and energy in trying to sabotage the career of a fellow journalist.

The end of a year is however, a good time to let bygones be bygones. I know Kamm and myself will never see eye-to-eye on Iraq or the Balkans, but I hope that exactly one year after our dispute began, we can finally bring this 'tawdry affair' to an end. I do not seek a grovelling apology, merely a simple posting by Kamm on his blog to say that he was wrong to make the unsubstantiated and libellous allegations against me which he did (namely that I did not read his book and that I deliberately misled my editor over one of my sources) and that he does not approve of people, using aliases, emailing my commissioning editors and repeating the untrue and libellous allegations.

The ball is firmly in Oliver Kamm's court. I very much hope that he decides to ends this dispute exactly 365 days after it started. But if, as I unfortunately suspect, he and and his supporters decide to carry on their vendetta in 2007, they should be aware that I will use any means, within the law, to defend myself and my reputation.

A very Happy and peaceful New Year to each and everyone of you.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Empire Strikes Back, (with blood of course)

Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq was hanged today at 3am GMT. The news comes as no surprise, as Saddam's execution was inevitable from the day he was captured, three years ago. He simply knew far too much to be allowed to live. But even more importantly from the point of view of The Empire, Saddam's death- and that of Slobodan Milosevic earlier this year, is intended as a warning. The message could not be clearer: stand in the way of our plans for global hegemony, and you till will either die at the end of a rope or from an induced heart attack in your prison cell. The message is intended for all those who obstruct the neo-conservative project, particularly, the current leadership of Iran and Syria, but also other 'troublesome' leaders who don't toe the line, such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Alexsander Lukashenko in Belarus.
In acting in this way, the U.S .Empire is no different to any others. Throughout history, empire builders, be they Roman, British, Spanish, Ottoman, Russian or German, have shown little mercy to those who had the temerity to stand up to them. The only surprise is that there are those who think Pax Americana is any different.

Meanwhile, on the day that their former leader was executed, here's news of a poll in Iraq which says that 90% of the country's population believe that life was better before the invasion- i.e under Saddam. No wonder they were so desperate to hang him.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006: A Vintage Year

Here are my end-of-year reflections from today's Morning Star.

For supporters of peace, socialism and democracy, 2006 will go down as a vintage year.

The most powerful empire the world has ever seen has had its deceitful and unlawful aggression against Iraq rewarded with an abject and humiliating defeat and the neo-conservative project, which envisaged the colonisation of the entire Middle East, is in ruins. In Latin America, the democratic revival has gathered further momentum, with progressive governments elected in Nicaragua and Ecuador, and Hugo Chavez recording a resounding success in the Venezuelan elections earlier this month. In continental Europe, we witnessed the fall of the corrupt pro-war administration of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy; the return to power of the staunchly anti-war President Alexsander Lukashenko in Belarus and a growing backlash against neo-liberalism in the former socialist countries in the east.

And in Britain, as Tony Benn has said in these pages, widespread and deepening dissatisfaction with the status quo means that public opinion- on a whole range of issues from re-nationalisation of the railways to a radical re-alignment of our foreign policy- is well to the left of what is nominally a Labour government. All over the world, wherever one looks, people are rejecting the socially destructive neo-liberal policies which the US and Britain- and undemocratic bodies such as the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF and the European Commission have sought to impose on unwilling populaces.

Be they commuters in Oxfordshire forming an action committee to protest about the decision of the profiteering railway company First Great Western to cut back the number of fast trains to London each morning from seven to four, or anti-government demonstrators in Hungary protesting against the austerity measures imposed by a government led by a multi-millionaire who lied to his people, the message is the same. We- the majority- are sick to death of a political and economic system which puts a ‘For Sale’ sign on every human value and which can offer us only more wars, strife and social division.

Just consider the strength of public reaction to the £8.5bn worth of bonuses recently awarded to the partners of Goldman Sachs. This letter, which appeared in the Daily Telegraph, is I believe, typical of how most ordinary people in Britain feel about the insatiable greed being shown by the ‘leaders’ of modern global capitalism:

“ Your report about the record bonuses being handed out to the suits at Goldman Sachs is a dreadful indictment of 21st century priorities in a first world country. Just what have the recipients of such obscene rewards added to the good of mankind by way of productivity? Will their efforts cure one sick person, teach one child something useful, prevent a single serious crime, put out a fire, deal with an accident or protect members of the public from terrorists? What example is this to ordinary folk who for so much less reward make real contributions to humanity? How many of these City workers will be doubly rewarded in the New Years Honours List for their 'contributions to the financial sector?’ Such excesses have often been the preludes to revolution. Perhaps it could happen again. It might be no bad thing”.

When readers of Britain’s most conservative, and pro-establishment newspaper are saying that revolution ‘might be no bad thing’ we know just how radicalised public opinion has become. The avaricious global capitalists who call the shots in our economic and political order know that they are in trouble. In the same way that they decided that their interests could best be served under the guise of a nominally Labour government in 1997, the money men are now keen on another cosmetic change at the top in both the U.S. and Britain. Waiting in the wings to replace the shop-soiled Bush and Blair, the war criminals whose sell-by dates have long gone, are Hilary Clinton and Gordon Brown. Both will be presented to the public as more ‘progressive’ alternatives to their predecessors. Both will talk of their concern for the poor and the need to take action on climate change. But no one should be should be fooled. Hilary Clinton is a pro-big business, pro-war hawk, who not only supported the Iraq war but played a key role in the earlier equally unlawful and deceitful US-led aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999. And anyone who hopes for better things from Gordon ‘PFI’ Brown- a man whose enthusiasm for privatisation equals the most ardent Thatcherite- is na├»ve to say the least.

What is needed is not a cosmetic change in which one set of neo-liberal puppets is replaced by another- but a comprehensive overhaul of the whole system to take political power away from the wallet- where it currently resides- and back to the ballet box. People in Britain cannot understand why neither the government nor the official opposition has any plans to take the railways back into public ownership, even though opinion polls routinely show 75% to be in favour. Millions are also perplexed to why the government continues to follow a disastrous and deeply unpopular foreign policy, and why, with the super-rich getting even richer, it does not even consider the reintroduction of a new top rate of income tax. The answer to all these questions is of course, that the New Labour Government serves not the interests of the people, but those of global capital.

The evidence of 2006 is that more and more people across the world are waking up to the reality that true democracy is unattainable under a neo-liberal economic order.

The challenge of 2007 is to continue, with renewed strength and optimism- the popular democratic offensive.

The Worst Article of the Year Award Winner

Well, he certainly left it late, but the Independent 's Adrian Hamilton has made a stunning, last-gasp effort to win this blog's inaugural 'Worst Article of the Year' Award.

Hamilton purports to be something of an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, but it's clear from his article today, in which he feebly tries to draw comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, that he knows next to nothing about the former Yugoslavia. He refers to Milosevic as a ' dictator', conveniently overlooking the fact that Slobbo won repeated democratic election victories and governed a country in which over 20 opposition parties and a thriving, well-financed, independent media freely operated. Even Harry's Placer Adam Lebor, (who can hardly be described as being pro-Milosevic), conceded in his biography of the late Yugoslav President that it was inaccurate to call Slobbo a 'dictator'.

Hamilton also claims that Milosevic ruled by fear and 'the word of the informant' and in addition to being 'responsible' for war on his neighbours, oppressed his own people. Once again, absolutely none of this is true. Milosevic governed constitutionally, within the rule of law and oppressed no one, least of all the many ethnic groups who lived in the rump Yugoslavia.

Finally, Hamilton makes the charge that Milosevic cheated justice at the Hague, by passing away from natural causes. It's a charge that no impartial observer who followed proceedings at the Hague could possibly make. Milosevic's death was hugely convenient for the prosecution, who after four years had failed to produce any compelling evidence linking him to the crimes he was charged with. You don't have to take my word for this, just read the trial transcripts and make your own mind up.

Hamilton also makes a snide comment about Milosevic's lack of popularity. Well, Adrian, if as many people turn up to your funeral as turned up for Slobbo's on a freezing cold day in March, all I can say is that you'll be very lucky, old bean.

To find so many inaccuracies in an article in the Independent is not too surprising (just think of the usual tripe served up by Johann Hari). But Hamilton is not just any old Independent journalist- he is also the comment editor of the paper. For a person in such a position to be so ill-informed about a period of recent European history is truly shocking. Hamilton can be contacted at, in case any readers should like to ask him where he obtained the factual information for his article.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gazprom only cares about profits

One of the most regular charges levelled against Vladimir Putin is that under his leadership, Russia is using gas as a political weapon. Last year's spat between Gazprom, the Russian state gas company, and the new, pro-western government in Ukraine over increased prices, was put forward as evidence to back up the thesis. But I wonder what those who make the claim say now that Gazprom is involved in another pricing dispute, this time with the government of Belarus, hitherto a loyal friend of Moscow. Gazprom has threated to turn off the gas to Belarus unless the government there signs up to a deal which would involve Belarus surrendering 50% of the ownership of its pipelines.
If Russia really was pursuing its strategic interests via gas supplies, it would not be seeking to alienate its strongest ally in Europe. The truth of the matter is that Gazprom is not pursuing long-term Russian strategic interests, but is interested in only one thing: making as much money as it possibly can. It's ironic, that this giant state-owned company is criticised in the west for acting exactly like a privatised, western utility company would.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The neo-con/radical Islam alliance

One of the biggest deceits about the neo-conservative movement is that it is implacably hostile to militant Islam. Neo-conservatives championed the radical Islamic cause in Afghanistan in the 70s and 80s, in the Balkans in the 90s and continue to champion it in Chechnya today.

What the neo-con empire builders hate most of all is not radical Islamists, but secularists, socialists, and those who believe in progressive, uniting ideologies such as pan-Arabism, pan-Slavism or Bolivarianism. Further proof of this can be seen in the neo-conservatives' obsession, throughout the 1990s, with toppling the secular, Ba'athist regime in Iraq.

If the Richard Perles and Paul Wolfowitzes of this world had been genuinely concerned with stopping the spread of militant Islam after 9-11, the last country in the Middle East they would have attacked was Ba'athist Iraq, whose government had no links with al'Qaida. The correct policy in 2002, as I argued in the Spectator at the time, was not to attack Iraq, but instead to initiate a new policy of engagement:

By restoring diplomatic links with Baghdad, Britain would be acknowledging at long last the key role that Ba'athist governments have to play in Middle East security as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. Like it or not, the most likely alternative to the secular regimes of Assad in Syria and Saddam in Iraq would be militant Islamic ones. For all its lack of 'Western freedoms', Iraq has had for the last 20 years a practising Christian as its deputy prime minister. In no other Islamic country in the region has a non-- Muslim risen to such prominence. If Lady Thatcher sincerely believes militant Islam to be the 'new Bolshevism', then she has chosen a rather strange target in Iraq.

Iraq was indeed a 'a rather strange target' if containing the spread of radical Islam was the aim. But of course it never was. For the Iraqi people, the last three years have been a nightmare. For Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, the situation, as the Archbishop of Canterbury highlighted yesterday, is particularly bleak. In the place of one stable, secular state in which Christians were accorded protection and freedom of conscience, Iraq has been transformed into an inferno of religious and ethnic hatred. And the lives of millions of ordinary people around the world have been put in increased danger- as the bomb attacks on Madrid, Casablanca, Bali and London testify.

Friday, December 22, 2006

What the neo-cons are planning this Christmas

Christmas. A time of peace and goodwill to all men. But not if you're a neo-con. Having already caused untold human misery by their deceitful and illegal assault on Iraq, the warmongers are, it seems, planning further unlawful aggression, this time against the people of Iran.

In 1999, it was the turn of Yugoslavia. In 2001, Afghanistan. Two years later Iraq. And now Iran. Each time, the leaders of the countries concerned were portrayed by means of ferocious propaganda as the biggest threats to world peace since Adolf Hitler. But we know now that it was not Slobodan Milosevic, Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein who posed the biggest problem, but the serial war-mongers who threatened them.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish readers of this blog a very Merry Christmas. But for neo-conservatives and their war-mongering 'liberal' allies, I can only wish unto you the misery and fear you have brought to millions of innocent people.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

When Christmas still sparkled

Families may not have had satellite television, computer games or DVD players- but was Christmas actually more fun in 1956 than it is today? Here's my piece on how we celebrated Christmas fifty years ago, from today's Daily Mail.

British troops forced to withdraw after a disastrous military intervention in the Middle East. Cabinet colleagues manoeuvring to replace a tarnished, lame duck Prime Minister. A large influx of migrants from Eastern Europe. In football, Manchester United blazing a trail at the top of the league, with Charlton struggling at the bottom. David Attenborough appearing on our television screens.

At first sight, things don’t seem to have changed much since the Christmas of 1956. But despite the familiar headlines, don’t be fooled. Britain was a very different country fifty years ago, as is reflected in the personal memories of those who can remember what life was like back then.

For a start, the ‘Christmas break’ for most people in the 1950s meant just two days holiday: the 25th and 26th December, and a return to the office or factory the day after. In 1956 however, the fact that Christmas Day fell on a Tuesday, meant that many workplaces closed down the preceding Friday, giving workers the rare luxury of a five day break. Newspapers recorded an “exceptionally heavy rush at main line railway stations” on the Friday and Saturday evenings- with 75,000 passengers leaving Euston alone to spend Christmas with their families and relations. For the vast majority of Britons going abroad was not an option. It wasn’t just a lack of time and the stronger family ties which existed, but the fact that in those pre-package holiday, budget airline days, foreign travel was still a luxury. Just 17,000 people travelled to the Continent on Southern Region boat-train routes on the four days up to Christmas Eve 1956; compare that with the estimated 2.3m people expected to leave Britain this Christmas.

Travellers in 1956 not only had to contend with the heavy snowfalls which swept across the country, but with petrol rationing, which had been reintroduced on 17th December, as a consequence of the Suez conflict. Under the scheme announced by the government, normal car users were allowed 200 miles a month in petrol, with businesses an extra 100 miles. Other special groups such as doctors and midwives were exempt all together. The introduction of rationing led to a sharp rise in the price of petrol, to six shillings a gallon, which taking account of average wages, would be the equivalent of paying £4.50 today. But while rationing was an inconvenience, its impact in 1956 was nothing to what it would be like now. Fifty years ago, less than one in five Britons owned a car: the majority of people still relied on public transport. Indeed, petrol rationing provided rich comic material for the leading comedians of the day, including Tony Hancock, whose weekly radio show ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ was un-missable fare for millions.

In “The Stolen Petrol”, Sid James and his friends decide to start siphoning off fuel from cars and lorries and set the unsuspecting Hancock up as a garage proprietor selling stolen petrol. All goes well until one of Sid’s gang hijacks a beer tanker by mistake, with hilarious consequences. For South Wales housewives in Christmas 1956, the main concern wasn’t the lack of petrol, but lack of turkeys. Record demand meant that those who had failed to put in an advance order with their local butchers went home disappointed and had to make do with chicken instead. “We’ve never known a year like it” remarked one Swansea butcher.

Fifty years ago, only 8% of households in Britain owned a refrigerator, meaning that shopping for food had to be done as close to the big day as possible. The Christmas turkey was usually kept on a cold marble slab in the larder, with milk bottles kept in a bucket of water. “Before fridges, the big worry was that it would be a mild Christmas” remembers Joan Galeney. “Fortunately in 1956 it wasn’t, so the turkey stayed nice and cold.” Joan also remembers the bread queues which-like the queues for turkeys- were a traditional part of Christmas Eve shopping. “You had to get out very early to make sure you got everything you needed. There were no supermarkets and it involved going to a lot of different shops”. There was some good news for shoppers in 1956: the BBC reported that flowers, fruit and vegetables were all cheaper than a year earlier.

The Arctic weather, as well as causing disruption to travel, hit the Christmas sporting programme of hard, with many football matches and horse-race meetings abandoned. In the 1950s, football league fixtures were played on Christmas Day- with return matches held a day later: imagine the outcry from players and managers if such a programme were reintroduced today! Whether it was from tiredness, or a excess of Christmas pudding, there were some remarkable scores. Fulham beat Blackburn 7-2 at home on Boxing Day, having lost 2-0 a day earlier. And an even more dramatic turnaround occurred in the west country, where Bristol Rovers avenged a 7-2 defeat at the hands of Bury on Christmas Day with a 6-0 home win 24 hours later. The biggest crowd was at Old Trafford, where 28,600 saw league leaders Manchester United defeat Cardiff 3-1. United’s “Busby Babes” earned rave reviews for their skilful, attacking football. Who could have known, when reading the news on Christmas Eve of a fateful crash at Munich airport which killed 26 people, that just over a year later, the best team in English football would meet a similar fate?

While the weather played havoc with sport the heavy snowfalls provided a great opportunity for some outdoor fun for children. Peter Wilby, a writer, remembers going tobogganing on the hill near a local pub and getting into “fearful trouble” when he arrived home for being one hour late for Christmas lunch. Seventy-three year old C.P Bryant from East Sheen took part in an even cooler activity that day: swimming in the Serpentine. Bryant, who had competed in the annual 100 yards ‘Christmas morning handicap’ every year since 1902, was given a 17 seconds start by his rivals and duly came home the winner. He certainly didn’t lack for fitness, for in addition to his swim he cycled six miles from his home to Hyde Park and then pedalled back there afterwards.

For most people however, Christmas morning in the 1950s meant only one thing; going to church. Although regular church attendance had already dropped to below 10% by the early 1950s, attending a Christmas service was still de rigeur for most families. “90% of our village would go” recalls art dealer Sir Rupert Mackeson, who was brought up in rural Kent. “Everyone would dress up in their smartest clothes, with the ladies all wearing hats. Even if they owned a car, families would always walk together to church”. Afterwards, it was a walk back home for Christmas dinner and another festive tradition: listening to the Royal Christmas message.

A year earlier, the Queen’s Christmas broadcast had been televised (in sound only) for the very first time. In 1956, The Queen’s address, recorded live from her study at Sandringham, was preceded by a message from The Duke of Edinburgh, broadcast from the Royal Yacht Britannia in the South Pacific. The Queen used her address to appeal on behalf of the 22,000 refugees from the Hungarian uprising who were spending their first Christmas in Britain.

Television, which plays such a big part in Christmases today, was still in its infancy in 1956. ITV had only started broadcasting a year earlier and there was only one BBC channel. It’s fascinating to peruse the listings. On the BBC on Christmas Day 1956, The Queen’s Message was followed by a recording of the ‘Variety Theatre of China’, ‘Grand Circus from Paris’ and ‘Puss in Boots’, narrated by Johnny Morris. After an episode of The Lone Ranger, came Max Wall in “The Ice Crackers” and Act 2 of The Marriage of Figaro from Germany. Then at 7.45pm, the main event. Fifty years ago, it was not soap operas, ‘reality television’ or Hollywood blockbusters which received top billing, but variety shows which could be enjoyed by all the family. “Pantomania”, written by Eric Sykes and broadcast live from the Prince of Wales Theatre, was described as a ‘fusion between a music hall and a Christmas Party’. It was fronted by the band leader Billy ‘Wakey Wakey’ Cotton and featured as its star attraction the ventriloquist Peter Brough and his puppet ‘Archie Andrews’, a phenomenally popular act in Fifties Britain. Other names on the bill included comedians Frankie Howerd, Spike Milligan, Hattie Jacques and Eric Sykes, newsreader Sylvia Peters, harmonica player Ronald Chesney, the Marquis family of comical chimpanzees and a youthful David Attenborough and Les Rayner & Betty, whose acrobatics in the opinion of one critic “deserved a more generous position and showing.”

For the millions without a television in 1956, there was no shortage of other entertainment on Christmas Day, home-made or otherwise. “A feature of Christmases in the mid 1950s was that a group of children would tour the neighbourhood on Xmas day and came into our house, with others singing Christmas carols.” Peter Wilby recalls. Family games, in particular charades, were also very popular, as was playing cards or board games such as Monopoly and Scrabble, which was first launched in Britain in 1953. “Christmases back then were much more of a family event” remembers Joan Galeney. “We all played together and everyone would join in.” Going to the pantomime was an integral part of the festive fun. Stars appearing in panto in London in 1956 included Arthur Askey in Humpty Dumpty at the Golders Green Hippodrome, Janette Scott in Peter Pan at The Scala and Shirley Eaton in Cinderella at the Chiswick Empire. The Wonderful Lamp at the London Palladium, starring Norman Wisdom as Aladdin, was billed as the year‘s ‘top festive entertainment’ but the critics weren‘t overly impressed. “This is the most charmingly spectacular pantomime that London has seen in some years” wrote one. “It pays the price in a sad deficiency in humour.” Perhaps Buckingham Palace had had advance warning, for the Queen took Prince Charles (then aged 8) and Princess Anne (aged 6) not to the Palladium, but to The Palace Theatre to see Dick Whittington.

Christmas presents fifty years ago were also very different to what people will be buying and receiving today. In 1956, records were very much in vogue, whether long playing versions of film soundtracks like The King and I, the year’s most popular film, or smaller 45s, which were becoming increasingly popular with the introduction of the weekly pop charts a year earlier. Number One at Christmas 1956 was ‘Just Singing in the Rain’ by the American singer Johnny Ray, though competing versions of ‘Singing the Blues’ by Guy Mitchell and the ‘British Elvis’, the young, up and coming Bermondsey-born rock n’roll star Tommy Steele, were also doing a brisk trade.

Looking back at Christmas 1956, it is clear that Britain stood on the cusp of its transformation to a modern consumer society. Despite the temporary imposition of petrol rationing, the age of post-war austerity was at an end and a new age of affluence had begun. Over the next half-century people’s were transformed by steadily rising living standards and new technological innovations. Families may not have had satellite television, computer games or DVD players- but was Christmas really any less fun than it is today?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Henry Ford 'democrats' strike again

I have long argued that when neo-conservatives talk of 'democracy', what they really mean is Henry Ford democracy- ie the right of a country to elect whatever government it likes so long as it's one that
Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz et al approve of. If the people do have the temerity to vote the 'wrong way', then the neo-con response is simple. Either call the country 'undemocratic"- like they do Belarus, or did to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, or else put enormous pressure on the country in question to hold 'fresh elections', so the result they didn't like can be reversed. The latter is what's happened this week in Palestine, as the U.S. backed Mahmoud Abbas has called new elections, even though, as President he has no constitutional right to do so. What's at issue here is not whether on not one supports the policies of Hamas, the elected governing party in Palestine, but whether we accept the right of the people in Palestine to elect a Hamas government. True democrats, and I count myself among their number, do. False democrats- ie neo cons, clearly do not.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

America's finest detective returns!

Great news for UK based fans of classic television detective series. Every day this week, starting at 12.10pm tomorrow (Monday), BBC2 is showing episodes of the 1975 NBC series "Ellery Queen" starring Jim Hutton and David Wayne.
"Ellery Queen" had it all: great acting, terrific scripts and fast-moving, exciting plots. For lovers of good old- fashioned 'fair play' mysteries it doesn't get any better. Tomorrow's episode "The Adventure of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party" is an absolute gem. A little knowledge of the works of Lewis Carroll may help the viewer solve the mystery- but I'll give you no more clues! Don't miss it, whatever you do!

The Power of Nightmares

Remember August's great liquid bombing plot?
Seems like it could have been as real a threat as Iraqi WMD.......

Friday, December 15, 2006

How we know the war lobby lied

As Tony Benn once said, never be ahead of your time and never be proved right- for your enemies will never forgive you. I have long argued that the American and British governments knew full well that Saddam's Iraq posed no threat and was not in possession of WMD. Here's a link to a piece of mine from the Australian in February 2004. Even as late as then, to accuse the British and American governments of deliberately deceiving the public was a controversial position to take. The standard official line- parroted by the likes of Melanie Phillips and a whole host of other pro-war commentators, was that although no WMD had been found in Iraq, Bush and Blair had still acted in a sincere belief that Iraq did possess such weapons.
The line I took was unequivocal: Bush, Blair and Howard lied. As did Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Straw, Dick Cheney, Geoff Hoon and everyone else who planned the illegal invasion.
From today's Independent here's news of the real conspiracy, the diplomat's report suppressed by the government that exposes the truth about the case for war in Iraq. To many the disclosures will come as a shock. But not to those who read the comment pages of The Australian on 5th February 2004.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A World Exclusive!

Nine years after the tragic event, The First Post has revealed the astonishing, awful truth about the death of Princess Di.

A most disturbing thought.......

I almost choked on my Coco-Pops reading this headline in the print version of Daily Telegraph this morning:

'There's a secret Pollard in all of us'
by Liz Hunt

"Can anyone be Pollarded? Do we all have a Pollard gene? "

Then I discovered she wasn't talking about him, but a character from Little Britain. Phew!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Crackers or Turkeys?

Once Christmas Day TV meant opera, circuses and variety shows. Now, its soap operas, blockbuster films and spin-offs. So are we better off?
Here's my piece from today's Daily Express.

Christmas Turkey, described as ‘a demonstration of turkey carving by B.J. Hulbert’ doesn’t sound like the sort of programme for which you would rush to set your video. But the 15-minute programme, broadcast just after 3pm on 25th December, 1936 holds a unique place in the annals of television history, as it was the first television programme ever broadcast on Christmas Day, not just in Britain, but anywhere in the world. In those pioneering days, television had a tiny audience of only 400 households in the London area. On that first television Christmas, the BBC was off the air from 4pm to 9pm, before it returned with carol-singing and
A Seasonal Tour through the Empire. Closedown was at 10pm.

The Christmas television schedules of the 70 years since B.J. Hulbert first carved his turkey, provides us with a fascinating insight into how much society has changed. The mainstay of Christmas night TV in the Fifties- and, indeed, right up until the early 1970s, was variety shows. Television’s Christmas Party featured stars such as Terry-Thomas, Norman Wisdom and Max Bygraves.
In 1958, it was renamed Christmas Night with the Stars and continued its run with comperes such as David Nixon and Eamonn Andrews.

Billy Smart’s Circus made its first appearance on the BBC on Christmas Day 1957 and, for the next twenty years, made the slot following the Queen’s Speech its own, with audiences- unthinkable today- of up to 22 million people. A year later, the BBC began showing a film after the main variety show. Nowadays, we are accustomed to seeing a modern Hollywood blockbuster with such gems as Top Hat with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a film made over twenty years earlier. It wasn’t until 1978, when the BBC broadcast The Sound of Music, previously unseen on our TV screens that the competition between BBC and ITV as to whose film could gain the highest Christmas Day ratings began.

By 1960, over 10m Britons owned a TV and programming expanded accordingly. The BBC pantomime began and The Black and White Minstrel Show ran until 1973. Then came the comedy pairing who would dominate festive viewing for the next decade: Morecambe and Wise. Eric and Ernie’s 1971 special, starring Shirley Bassey, Glenda Jackson and Andre Previn, remains a classic: who can forget Previn complaining that Eric is playing all the wrong notes of Grieg‘s Piano Concerto? Eric, holding Previn by his lapels, replies: "I am playing all the right notes... but not necessarily in the right order."

The Morecambe and Wise shows represented the zenith of the shared television experience with more than 28m people tuning in to watch their 1977 special. Andrew Collins, TV critic and author of bestseller Where Did It All Go Right? About his Seventies childhood, says: “Schedulers are still aware that families need something to unite over at Christmas, but I doubt they get excited about gathering to watch the latest Harry Potter film in the way I used to about watching the Mike Yarwood Specials - everyone on the planet has already seen the film on satellite TV or DVD.”

Soap operas and special Christmas editions of sitcoms began to dominate in the Eighties and in 1986, the first Christmas Day episode of East Enders was watched by 30m. Only Fools and Horses made its Christmas debut in 1983 and Del Boy and Rodney went on to become festive regulars from 1991 to 2003. Its creator John Sullivan says: “There was a time when the schedules were packed with family-friendly shows. Perhaps, now that the average family owns more than one computer to keep the kids entertained, there is less of a need to cater for us all at once.”

The birth of Sky and the dawn of the multi-channel age, has transformed our viewing.
The schedules of decades past paint a picture of a society that was not only more homogenised, but also gentler. The humour of Ken Dodd, Harry Worth and Tommy Cooper was devoid of cruelty, something we can’t say about contemporary series such as Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show. Swearing and obscenity was strictly off limits and up to the mid 1970s, it’s hard to find a single show that wouldn’t have been suitable for all the family. Now they all feel like the ghost of Christmas past.

How to solve Britain's drug problem

" We cannot take 6,000 drugs dealers out on to a piece of waste ground and shoot them in the back of the head", opines Simon Heffer, in today's Daily Telegraph.
Maybe not. But we could put them on trial, and if found guilty, send them off to the gallows. If we are serious about eliminating the evil of drugs from the land, nothing else will do.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nice 'work' if you can get it

Nice to know there's a few people who won't be worried about the higher fuel bills this winter.....
Perhaps now they might be able to pay their cleaners.

Wanted: A Nineteen Forties Party

I wrote last year of the need for a 'Nineteen Forties Party' which would endeavour to turn the clock back to the gentler times before Woy Jenkins and Baroness Thatcher had wreaked their social havoc. A time when there was genuine solidarity in Britain and words such as 'glassing' and 'mugging' and 'gang-rape' had yet to enter our vocabulary. We've got more than enough 'modernisers' in politics today, be they of the Notting Hill or Millbank variety- what we really want are 'anti-modernisers', who will reintroduce capital and corporal punishment, renationalise the railways and other public utilities and ban the sale of violent computer games and misanthrophic rap music. And most importantly of all, keep 'market forces' out of areas of our lives in which they have no business to be.
It seems that Richard Morrison of The Times is of similar mind.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another murderous weekend in modern Britain

Another weekend in Britain, and more grisly murders. Five prostitutes killed in Ipswich, the victims of a serial killer- and a man kicked to death by yobs on his way home on Saturday night in Henley. I wonder what level of violent crime we need to endure before opponents of the death penalty finally concede that its abolition in 1965 was a terrible mistake? And before those so-called 'liberals' who oppose a ban of violent videos, rap music and computer games- concede that they are in the wrong too.

Global capital's favourite dictator

Neo-liberals are wont to claim that a "free market", privatised economy is the best guarantor of indiviudal freedom. Perhaps the Cafe Hayek/Samizdata/Adam Smith Institute crowd could explain that to relatives of the 3,000 Chileans who were killed or 'disappeared' under the brutal, murderous rule of General Augusto Pinochet, who died yesterday aged 91.

Here's an excellent piece on Pinochet from Marisol Grandon, whose father was among those persecuted by Baroness Thatcher's great friend.
And Daniel Finkelstein of The Times has a great post on why right-wing apologists for Pinochet, like Baroness Thatcher should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"The war is over" and other neo-con clap-trap

Three years ago this weekend, Saddam Hussein was captured by US forces in Iraq. Do you remember the news headlines in the pro-war media the following day? Neo-con hacks told us that as Saddam had been "orchestrating" the insurgency, "the war is over" (The Times' columnist Tim Hames used those actual words).
Are these people ever right about anything?
Here's a piece I wrote for The Australian newspaper (published 17th December 2003), on why the triumphalism of the war-mongers was misplaced.

It didn't take long for the capture of Saddam to be hailed as a great triumph by coalition leaders and the pro-war lobby. The news we are told, will be a powerful boost for President Bush's re-election prospects, and will increase public support for the hard-line positions of both John Howard and Tony Blair. In the short-term this may well be true. But if we look beyond the next few weeks, there are strong grounds for believing that lastweekend's dramatic developments will only add to the coalition's problems.

Firstly, the unpalatable fact for those crowing most loudly over Saddam's capture, is that the worst of the crimes the former dictator is likely to becharged with, took place at a time when he was enthusiastically sponsored bythe West. If Saddam does receive an 'fair and open trial', as both President Bush and the Iraqi Governing Council have promised, it will surely reveal just how much support, both moral and material, the Iraqi dictator received from Washington and its allies during his murderous heydays of the 1980s. Details of how the U.S. encouraged Saddam to attack Iran in 1980 and start awar which would cost a million lives, and how the US Defence Envoy Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad in December 1983, not only to assure Saddam of continued US support in the Iranian war, but also to tout the case of a specific American co-operation for building a new pipeline in his country. And most embarrassingly for the present government of Israel, details of howRumsfeld carried on his 1983 visit a letter from the then Israeli PM Itzak Shamir offering to sell arms to a man whose capture Israel now regards as great news 'for the democratic world and for the fight for freedom and justice'.

Gerard Henderson, claims that 'without intervention an appalling regime would still be in power'- conveniently overlooking the fact that without theassistance of the CIA, the 'appalling regime' would never have come to powerin the first place.

Secondly, it is clear that from his hidey-hole in the ground near a deserted farmhouse, the haggard-looking Methuselah we saw paraded on our television sets at the weekend was not, as was claimed on repeated occasions this year, co-ordinating the Iraqi resistance to the US-led occupation. Tim Hames, a columnist on the London Times believes that after the weekend's developments 'the war is over'. But with Saddam under lock and key, and the prospect of a return to his dictatorship gone for good, the non Ba'athist section of the Iraqi resistance is sure to become even more emboldened and we are likely to see an escalation, and not a reduction, of hostilities on coalition targets. The bombing of police stations in Baghdad after Saddam's capture is yet more evidence to back up the conclusion of a recent C.I.A. report that 'the resistance is broad, strong and getting stronger'.

Globally, of course, the main terrorist threat to the U.S. and its allies was never posed by the secularist Iraqi dictator and his government, but by the religious fanatics of al Qa'eda, whose global operations will be unaffected by Saddam's seizure. Saddam may have been a domestic tyrant, but aside from his payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, the man denounced by Osama bin Laden as a 'socialist infidel' had no connection to international terrorist networks and his violence was strictly not for export.

Thirdly, we must remind ourselves, that in spite of this week's headlines, the war against Iraq was not fought in order to capture Saddam Hussein. As late as last February, John Howard and Tony Blair were both still insisting that if Saddam 'came clean' on his WMD programme, there would be no need forwar, and that regime change although desirable, was not a casus belli. Now, it appears, that, lo and behold, the war WAS about the Iraqi leader after all.

Despite the triumphalism of the last few days, Saddam's capture in no way diminishes the arguments against war, as Gerard Henderson and others contend. On the contrary, the case against war, strong enough in March, grows more compelling with each passing day. The coalition may have Saddam (hardly a Herculean achievement considering the $25m bounty on his head) butthere is still not a scrap of credible evidence that Iraq possessed the WMDs that, in John Howard's words were 'capable of causing death and destruction on a mammoth scale'. That Saddam Hussein was a brutal and ruthless dictator is not in doubt. That he posed a threat to our security which justified an illegal, $100bn war that has killed thousands and made the world an even more dangerous place than it was before- most certainly is.

COPYRIGHT: Neil Clark/The Australian 2003

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The best Prime Minister Britain never had

Here's a wonderful podcast interview with Tony Benn, the best Prime Minister Britain never had, from the Guardian. Listen to it and then ask yourself: is there anyone else in public life with Benn's intelligence, integrity and sense of historical perspective?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Spot the Superstar

“It’s amazing. A horse of his age with the soft ground against him and he has doddled up. What do you say?

The words of trainer Enda Bolger after Spot Thedifference today landed an incredible SIXTH win over Cheltenham's Cross Country course. Out of all his wins, this was the most remarkable, because he not only had to deal with the heavy ground, which he hates, but he had to concede weight to all his rivals.
The epithet 'superstar' is much overused in sport, but there is no surely exaggeration when the term is applied to Spot Thedifference.

The Great Gas Rip-Off

Average household gas bills in Britain are up 43% on a year ago.
But the retail price of gas- i.e. what the gas companies pay for it- is down 80% from its high point in March.
Perhaps our very clever friends at the Adam Smith Institute or Samizdata could explain to us lesser, unenlightened souls how privatisation and transforming publicly owned companies into greedy, profit-obsessed plcs, has benefited the consumer?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why we all love Audrey Hepburn

Here's my appreciation, from today's First Post, of the late actress and fashion icon whose famous black Givenchy dress was sold for over £700,000 at auction yesterday.
I don't normally post pictures on this blog, but I think for Ms Hepburn we can make an exception!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Save the Green Belt: Burn this report

It's good news for multinational supermarket chains and those perverse souls who can't wait until the entire country is concreted over- but bad news for local democracy, nature and the everyday quality of life.
There's only one place for this report. On the fire.

Should the left really be on this bandwagon?

Here's a longer version of my piece on the neo-conservatives' anti-Russian strategy from the Morning Star.

From a socialist perspective there are certainly plenty of grounds for criticising the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. He’s introduced a flat-rate income tax, which greatly benefits the wealthy, and plans the partial marketisation of Russia’s education and health systems. And while some of Russia’s notorious oligarchs, who made their fortunes from fleecing public funds in the 1990s under Yeltsin have been bought to justice, others remain free to flaunt their ill-gotten gains, in a country where the gap between rich and poor is chasmic.

Even so, those on the left who have been enthusiastically joining in in the current wave of Putin-bashing sweeping the western media, ought to consider whose cause they are serving. For it is beyond doubt that the driving force behind the campaign to portray the Russian President as a sinister totalitarian despot, have been Washington’s neo-conservatives.

Even before the recent unexplained deaths of journalist Anna Politskaya and former secret service man Alexander Litvinenko, hawks in the U.S. were doing all they could to discredit the Russian government. In 2003, Bruce P.Jackson, Director of the ‘Project for a New American Century’ and a key figure in several other neo-con pressure groups, talked of the way Putin’s re-nationalisation of energy companies threatened the West’s ‘democratic objectives- and claimed Putin had established a ‘de facto Cold War administration’. Jackson’s prognosis was simple: a new ‘soft-war’ against the Kremlin, a call echoed by many other leading neo-conservatives. The neo- cons are gunning for Putin not because of concern over alleged anti-democratic practices, but because the current Russian regime stands in the way of their plans for global hegemony. Their imperialistic strategy was recorded in the infamous ‘Wolfowitz memorandum’ a secret Pentagon document, leaked to the New York Times in 1992, which targeted Russia as the biggest future threat to US geo-strategic ambitions. The memorandum, authored by the then under-secretary for defence Paul Wolfowitz, considered by many to be the architect of the Iraq war, projected a U.S.-Russian confrontation over NATO expansion.

For neo-cons the great crime of Vladimir Putin is that he has proved to be a far more assertive Russian leader than his alcoholic predecessor. Putin not only held his ground on Iraq, openly making fun of American and British claims that Iraq possessed WMD, but also opposes Washington’s aspirations for enforced ‘regime change’ in Syria and Iran. He has also supported, to Washington’s chagrin, Venezuela’s bid for a place on the UN Security council.

As part of their anti-Putin strategy, the neo-cons have shown they are prepared to make some interesting alliances. The pro-separatist ‘American Committee for Peace in Chechnya’ (ACPC), claims to be "the only private, non-governmental organization in North America exclusively dedicated to promoting the peaceful resolution of the Russo-Chechen war.’ But its list of members makes interesting reading. Hard-core neo cons Richard Perle, William Kristol, Eliot Cohen, Michael Ledeen and Bruce P Jackson, not usually associated with ’promoting the peaceful resolution’ of international conflicts, are all members. “Although ACPC notes its concern about human rights violations by Russia, the committee appears to be more concerned with advancing U.S. geopolitics in this region with respect to Russia and secondarily with China”, concludes the progressive and highly respected International Relations Center.

The neo-cons have also been willing to champion the cause of some of Russia’s most notorious oligarchs in furtherance of their anti-Putin campaign. After the arrest of the billionaire businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky for tax evasion in 2003, Richard Perle called for Russia's expulsion from the G8, its exclusion from any post-war Iraq oil contracts, and accused it of collusion with Iran's nuclear power programme. The arrest of Khodorkovsky also brought condemnation from no less a person than the US President himself. Just imagine the hiatus if President Putin had commented on the arrest of a U.S. tax dodger by the federal authorities.

In the unrelenting pro-Khodorkovsky, anti-Putin propaganda we were subjected to back in 2003, much was made of the oligarchs' role in building Russian "democracy" - as opposed to the crude attempts of Putin to shunt his country back to the days of Peter the Great. But the "democracy" that oligarchs like Khodorkovsky- and his British based counterpart Boris Berezkovsky, a business partner of George W. Bush’s brother, stand for, is the "democracy" of an elite of billionaire businessmen to buy themselves not just political power, but immunity from the laws of the land. It’s this plutocratic model of ‘democracy’- not the democracy in which decision making power rests with ordinary people, that Washington’s neo-conservatives favour.

The recent unexplained deaths of Anna Politskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, have only provided further impetus to their long-standing - and well-financed campaign- to smear the Kremlin.

In the absence of any evidence to suggest President Putin’s involvement, socialists and progressives should be wary at jumping on a bandwagon orchestrated by the very people who bought death and destruction to the streets of Baghdad and whose aim is to unleash similar unlawful aggression against the populations of Syria and Iran.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This is what democracy looks like

Hugo Chavez has been relected by a wide margin in Venezuela. Place your bets on which will be the first pro-Empire journalist/blogger to claim the vote was 'undemocratic'.

In Bed with Russophobes

Here's my article from today's Guardian. on why progressives ought to be very wary of jumping on the current anti-Putin bandwagon.

The Litvinenko murder is being used by neocons in their campaign against Putin's national revival.
Monday December 4, 2006
The Guardian

Three weeks on, we are still no closer to knowing who was responsible for the death of the former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko. The use of polonium 210 as a murder weapon could point in entirely opposite directions. It might suggest that the killing was carried out on behalf of the Russian security service as a public warning to others who might think of betraying it. But it could also be read as an attempt by President Putin's rich and powerful enemies to discredit the Russian government internationally. Whatever the truth, it has been seized upon across Europe and the US to fuel a growing anti-Russian campaign.

There are certainly grounds for criticising the Russian government from a progressive perspective. Putin has introduced a flat-rate income tax, which greatly benefits the wealthy, and plans the partial marketisation of Russia's education and health systems. He has pursued a bloody campaign of repression in Chechnya. And while some of Russia's oligarchs have been bought to justice, others remain free to flaunt their dubiously acquired wealth, in a country where the gap between rich and poor has become chasmic.
Even so, those on the centre-left who have joined the current wave of Putin-bashing ought to consider whose cause they are serving. Long before the deaths of Litvinenko and the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Russophobes in the US and their allies in Britain were doing all they could to discredit Putin's administration. These rightwing hawks are gunning for Putin not because of concern for human rights but because an independent Russia stands in the way of their plans for global hegemony. The neoconservative grand strategy was recorded in the leaked Wolfowitz memorandum, a secret 1990s Pentagon document that targeted Russia as the biggest future threat to US geostrategic ambitions and projected a US-Russian confrontation over Nato expansion.

Even though Putin has acquiesced in the expansion of American influence in former Soviet republics, the limited steps the Russian president has taken to defend his country's interests have proved too much for Washington's empire builders. In 2003, Bruce P Jackson, the director of the Project for a New American Century, wrote that Putin's partial renationalisation of energy companies threatened the west's "democratic objectives" - and claimed Putin had established a "de facto cold war administration". Jackson's prognosis was simple: a new "soft war" against the Kremlin, a call to arms that has been enthusiastically followed in both the US and Britain.

Every measure Putin has taken has been portrayed by the Russophobes as the work of a sinister totalitarian. Gazprom's decision to start charging Ukraine the going rate for its gas last winter was presented as a threat to the future of western Europe. And while western interference in elections in Ukraine, Georgia and other ex-Soviet republics has been justified on grounds of spreading democracy, any Russian involvement in the affairs of its neighbours has been spun as an attempt to recreate the "evil empire". As part of their strategy, Washington's hawks have been busy promoting Chechen separatism in furtherance of their anti-Putin campaign, as well as championing some of Russia's most notorious oligarchs.

In the absence of genuine evidence of Russian state involvement in the killings of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya, we should be wary about jumping on a bandwagon orchestrated by the people who bought death and destruction to the streets of Baghdad, and whose aim is to neuter any counterweight to the most powerful empire ever seen.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The birth of a new racing Star

Well, what did you make of Kauto Star's performance at Sandown yesterday?

Paul Nicholls' sublimely gifted chaser is the first horse for a long time to be rated in the 170s over 2m, 2m4f and 3m. But the big question is: will he prove equally impressive over 3m2f at Cheltenham in March?
There has been no shortage of cracking horses who, while looking world beaters up to 3m, never got up the Cheltenham hill: One Man and Florida Pearl to name but two. Against that, the late Desert Orchid not only
excelled at much shorter distances, but also won a Gold Cup, and an Irish National over 3m5f!
While it's hard to see anything beating Kauto Star in the King George at Kempton later this month, I still have my doubts about him landing the Gold Cup, especially at the short-prices now on offer. How about you?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A supporter of "freedom" and "democracy" writes

Isn't it interesting that the loudest supporters of wars to spread "freedom" and "democracy" abroad are so keen on silencing any opinions which differ from their own!
Here's a letter which was sent in to The First Post.







Colonel David W Moon (USMC-R) Ceo, The Studies and Observations Group, Chattanooga, TN

Here's another supporter of "freedom" and "democracy":
It seems the irony of a columnist for a magazine called ‘Democratiya’ deleting so many comments is entirely lost on this twerp:

Two deaths. Cuo Bono?

Who killed Pierre Gemayel and Alexander Litvinenko?

While we still don't know who was responsible, one thing is already clear - that neo-conservatives have been very quick to use both tragic events to their own advantage.

For the neo-conservatives, the greatest prize of all is to capture Russia's enormous mineral wealth and turn that potentially powerful rival into a vassal state. Through their strong links with the oligarchs, they came close to achieving their aim during the Yeltsin years. But to their consternation, Vladimir Putin has reasserted Russia's national independence and refused to play ball over a series of issues. For standing up for his country's interests, he has been subject to a tirade of abuse by the well-oiled neo-conservative propaganda machine.

Another important, long-standing, goal of the neo-conservatives is regime change in Syria.
President Assad's regime in Damascus has to go, not because of its poor human rights record (Saudi Arabia's is certainly no better, Turkmenistan's and Zimbabwe's certainly far worse), or because it supports Islamic fundamentalism-( it doesn't- and an al-qa'ida plot to blow up the US Embassy in Damascus earlier this year was thwarted by the Syrian authorities), but because of Syria's championing of the Palestinian cause.

We may never find out who was behind the deaths of Pierre Gemayel and Alexander Litvienko.

But we do know who has benefited most.

UPDATE: Martin Kelly, who has done such a terrific job writing about the Litvinenko case, has found that his main blog has been wiped. Martin's latest posts can be found here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Baron and the Billionaire

Many thanks to regular reader Bob Taylor for sending in this excellent piece on the Litvinenko affair by the American journalist Chris Floyd.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mr Finkelstein and Mr Ford

Times columnist and staunch neo-conservative Daniel Finkelstein reveals that if he had to give away a million dollars he would give it to 'those trying to promote democracy in Iran'.
Where was he I wonder, during last year's Presidential elections in the Asian republic? Iran is a democracy, but the only trouble is that the people didn't vote the way Daniel would have liked them to. Ditto in Belarus, Venezuela and Palestine.
Supporting democracy means respecting the right of people to vote into power whatever government they wish- be it Islamist, socialist, communist, capitalist or nationalist.
I fear the form of democracy Daniel favours is the narrower Henry Ford variety, under which people can elect any government they wish- so long as its neo-liberal and orientates its foreign policy to Washington.

Not this left-winger, Leo

In today's Daily Express, Leo McKinstry writes:

"Left-wingers are fond of sneering at the claim that Britain was less violent and more free of crime in the first half of the 20th century."

Some unfortunately are. But not this one.
Those on the left who are in denial about the growth of violent crime do the progressive cause no good at all.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Odd One Out

Today's quiz question:

A next day peak-time 200-mile return journey by trains costs:

£56.10 in Spain
£23.83 in Belguim
£54.38 in France
£78.07 in Germany
£202 in Britain

Source (Which?), as quoted in the Daily Express.

Which country has privatised its railways?

Johann Hari: The Independent's Russia 'expert'

Many thanks to Gabor for sending this in.
Only one thing I'd disagree with in Eurasia's article: Hari may talk sxxt, but he's not a 'nice guy'.
Certainly not judged by the arrogant way he responds to emails asking him for the evidence to back up his unsubstantiated claims.

If Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, why not Scotland?

Isn't it interesting that those who were so keen for the Yugoslavian Federation to break up- and who did all they could to demonise the man who tried to hold it together- are now horrified at the prospect of the break-up of the United Kingdom?

Apart from the period 925-1102, the only time, prior to the 1990s, that Croatia had existed as an independent state was in WW2, when an independent Ustashe state was set up by Hitler. And it can hardly be said that Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo have stronger historical claims to statehood than Scotland.

If I were a very wealthy- and vindictive- citizen of the former Yugoslavia, I would be channelling money to independence parties not just in Scotland,Wales and Cornwall, but to Basque, Catalan and Andalucian separatist groups in Spain too. And I would also be trying to get independence movements up and running in Texas, California, Vermont and New Mexico.

Don't get me wrong. I think it would be a very sad day if the UK were to break-up. Ditto Spain and the US.
But it does make me angry that the sound, common sense arguments that are applied in favour of federalism in Britain and elsewhere, were deemed by 'the international community' not to apply in Yugoslavia.

UPDATE: Many thanks to reader Cal for writing in to point out a factual mistake in the original post.
Prior to the war-time Ustashe state, an independent kingdom of Croatia did exist from 925-1102. I have amended the post accordingly.
Even allowing for the earlier kingdom, I still think it's fair to argue that Scotland, an independent nation until 1707, has stronger historical claims to statehood than Croatia.

The Neo Cons' Most Useful Idiot Award

Things are really hotting up in the race for the Neo Cons' Most Useful Idiot award. Yesterday, I thought Johann Hari had clinched it with his breathless attack on 'totalitarian' Russia. But he's been massively outflanked by this offering from David Clark (no relation, I'm very pleased to say), in the Guardian today.
Clark, judging by his previous work, seems to fancy himself as a foe of the neo-cons. 'Unwitting accomplice' would, I think, be a better description.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Great British Train Robbery

Here's a question for Tim Worstall and our pro-privatisation friends at Samizdata and The Adam Smith Institute.
Why should a privatised railway, which not only receives four times more taxpayers' money in subsidy than a nationalised railway did but charges much higher prices to the consumer, not be bought back into public ownership? Along with around 70% of the British public, I would like to know.,,1959184,00.html

UPDATE: Tim Worstall has posted his response to my question here

Johann Hari: The Neo Cons' Useful Idiot

You would have thought that having got the Balkans and Iraq so spectacularly wrong, this man would have done a wee bit more research before jumping into another foreign policy area about which he appears to know very little. But no, straight on cue yesterday, the Indie's 'Boy Wonder' leapt in, head first, to tell us how Russia, the country with more political parties than Hari can probably count up to, has turned into a 'totalitarian state'.

The neo-cons would never have got public support for their long-planned wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq if 'useful idiots' like Hari hadn't swallowed hook, line and sinker, the carefully manufactured propaganda about 'genocide' in Kosovo and Iraq's miltary 'threat'. Now, they are happy to let dimwits like Hari play their part in their latest project- the demonisation of Vladimir Putin, whose 'crime' has been to oppose the Iraq war and to stand up for Russia's national interests.

If there was an award for the Neo-Cons' most 'useful idiot', Hari would win hands down.
But this man seems to be making a concerted effort to grab the silver medal.

UPDATE: Here's the latest news in the Litvinenko inquiry. My guess is that those who were quick to blame the Russian government before any facts were established will be made to look rather ridiculous in a few weeks time.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The 20th Century's forgotten genius

Feelin' Groovy by Harpers Bizarre. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Kodaly's The Hary Janos Suite played by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. The Man Machine by Kraftwerk. Nancy and Lee. Flanagan and Allen's Greatest Hits.
Just a few of my favourite long-playing albums. What's yours?

It's a sobering thought that without one of the 20th century's forgotten geniuses, the Hungarian inventor Dr Peter Carl Goldmark, born 100 years ago this week, we would not have been able to enjoy any of the above albums. Goldmark's invention of the LP in 1948 revolutionised the music industry and added so much enjoyment to people's lives.

Here's my tribute to the great man, from today's Daily Express., together with some interesting facts you may, or may not know, about the LP.


What’s your favourite LP of all time? The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Rumours by Fleetwood Mac? Perhaps it’s something more ‘middle of the road’, like Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers. Or maybe a film soundtrack, Maurice Jarre’s haunting score for Ryan’s Daughter, for example.

It’s a sobering thought that we would not have been able to enjoy any of those classic albums- or indeed any other long playing records, without one of the 20th century’s most forgotten geniuses- the Hungarian inventor Peter Carl Goldmark, who was born 100 years ago this week.

It was said of Goldmark that he had “more ideas in one day than most others have in a lifetime.” For in addition to inventing the LP, Goldmark also created the world’s first commercial colour television system in 1940; played a key role in development of video cassette recording and invented the scanning system used by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft in 1966 to transmit photographs to the earth from the moon. All in all, this remarkable man patented over 160 inventions before his death at the age of 71 in 1977.

Goldmark’s story began in 1906 in Budapest. The son of the Jewish composer Karl Goldmark, best known for his 1875 opera ‘The Queen of Sheba’, Goldmark junior unsurprisingly developed a love of music from an early age. But despite remaining a keen amateur musician all his life, science was to be his vocation.

In 1925, he left his native Hungary to study physics at the University of Vienna, where, at the age of just 19, he built a receiver for John Logie Baird’s historic television transmission from London in 1926.

After receiving his PhD, Goldmark set off for England, to begin his career working at Pye, an electronics company based in Cambridge. In 1933, he travelled to the U.S. to work as a construction engineer until 1936, when he joined CBS ( Columbia Broadcasting System), one of America’s leading radio networks, as chief engineer of the television department.

After his pioneering work in the field of colour television in the early Forties, (inspired by watching the Technicolor movie Gone with the Wind in 1939), Goldmark turned his attention to recorded sound. Like fellow music lovers around the world, Goldman was frustrated by the technology then on offer for listening to records- and with the records themselves. Before the invention of the LP, people had to make do with heavy and breakable 78s, made of powdered slate mixed with clay and shellac (a material obtained from the excretion of a southeast Asian beetle), whose often loud surface noise detracted from enjoyment of the music. The records wore out quickly and to play them either required needles made from steel (which had to be changed often) or cactus or bamboo styli, which though kinder on the disc, gave a much weaker sound and had to be sharpened after every play. The biggest drawback of all was that 78s had to be flipped over every three to five minutes.

Goldmark got the idea for the LP after becoming irritated by the clicking and thumping of a record changer while listening to music at a friend's house in 1945. Three years later, he and his colleagues at CBS, unveiled the new 33 and one third rpm LP. The new discs, made of vinyl, allowed more grooves, thereby greatly increasing the playing time on one side of the record to as much as half an hour. Not only that, they were much improved in terms of surface noise and much less breakable. The LPs also weighed far less than 78s, saving the record producer, shipper, and retailer a great deal of money in handling and storage costs, meaning they could be sold much more cheaply.

Goldmark’s invention, together with the introduction of smaller 45rpm vinyl discs by Columbia’s main competitor RCA Victor one year later, revolutionised the music industry. But although his main interest was classical music, it was popular music which fuelled the LP boom, and one smash-hit Broadway musical in particular. Just months after the first LPs went on sale, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific opened to packed audiences on Broadway. Having watched the show, theatre-goers, naturally enough, wanted to own a copy of the soundtrack. It was said that by the end of 1949, everyone in New York had bought a copy. The LP as a format was well and truly launched.

For the next thirty years, LPs, given a further boost by the introduction of stereo in the late Fifties, dominated the music scene. In 1976, the US music industry alone shipped a total of 273m albums. But, of course, technology never stands still. By the late 1970s, the LP, so cutting edge in the 1940s, faced a serious rival in the shape of the audio cassette, and a decade later, by the advent of CDs. Goldmark himself, ever the visionary, had predicted the use of laser technology for recorded music back in the early 1970s, but did not believe it would be commercially viable.

Does today’s digital technology mean that the days of the LP are over? Don’t bet on it. Despite the growing reluctance of customers to pay for CDs, when they can download music for free or next to nothing via the Internet, there has been a dramatic revival of record sales in Britain. “We are not just talking about vinyl singles but also about albums – the format is just continuing to grow,” says HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo.

Sales figures indicate that we could be about to enter a new golden age for Goldmark’s invention. Not only are more and more contemporary artists switching to record labels which still produce vinyl, but for those thinking of building up a record collection, great LPs of the past are available often only for a matter of pence in charity shops - I recently bought a pristine copy of ‘Hoagy Carmichael’s Greatest Hits’ for 75p.

Turntables may be hard to find in the high street though the are on sale in specialist hi-fi dealers - but, with record sales increasing, it may be only a matter of time before mainstream electronics manufacturers catch on by reintroducing budget models.

And LPs possess many advantages over CDs. There’s a widespread consensus that music, and in particular pop music, sounds much better- and more real- on vinyl than on digital equipment. Then there are the album covers. Many are works of art: just think of the montage of 57 famous people on Sergeant Pepper, or the inventive die-cast ‘advent calendar’ style windows of the New York buildings on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

And there are few things more pleasurable than slipping a disc out of its sleeve, putting your feet up then letting the stylus work its magic.

Music lovers the world over owe a huge debt of gratitude to the remarkable Mr Goldmark.

Things you may, or may not know, about the LP

A autographed copy of ‘Double Fantasy’ signed by John Lennon just five hours before his assassination by Mark Chapman, is the most valuable LP in the world at $505,000 (£261,000).

In a poll in November 2003, The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’ was voted the Best Album of all time. All in all, the Fab Four had 11 albums in the list, with 4 in the top ten.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is believed to be the best selling album of all time, with global sales of over 100m.

The first No 1 LP in Britain was the soundtrack of South Pacific, which held the position for a record 70 consecutive weeks, eventually achieving 115 weeks as Number 1. In the US it chalked up 69 weeks at the top.

The UK record for advance album sales is 1.1m for “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1984.

Alessandro Benedetti of Italy has a collection of 647 coloured vinyl LPs- the largest in the world.

No way, Jose

Do you think Chelsea will be the 'No 1 club in the world by 2014'?
No, me neither. Here's my piece on Peter Kenyon's silly boast from today's First Post
p.s. before anyone accuses me of bias, let me say that I support none of the other football teams mentioned in the piece!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Wrong Apology

I'd like apologise for England's disastrous performance in the first Test in Brisbane.
I'd also like to apologise for the rather wet and unpleasant weather we've been having in Britain recently.
And finally, I'd like to apologise for the defeat of Gladstone's second ministry in 1885.

Well, actually I wouldn't. For the simple reason, that however regrettable all three events might be, I had nothing whatsover to do with them. Ditto Tony Blair and the slave trade. Now, if Mr Blair is actually the Teddy Sheringham of politics ( in other words over 200 years old)- and made a fortune in slave trading in his earlier years, it would be highly creditable that he has finally shown remorse. But he isn't. Blair was born in the 1950s- over a century after Britain stopped dealing in slaves.

Instead of apologising for 'crimes against humanity' for which he and the British government are not responsible, Blair should be saying sorry for the 'crimes against humanity' which he and his government have committed. There are at least 655,000 of those in Iraq for a start.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Great WMD lie

Today's The Australian has a highly revealing interview with SAS man Pete Tinley, who played a key role in operations in Iraq.

"I couldn't find any direct actionable intelligence linking any of the areas we were looking at in the west with WMD. We were looking from just west of Baghdad all the way through to the Jordanian border and between the Syrian and Saudi borders. When I pressed them (US intelligence) for more specific imagery or information regarding locations or likely locations of WMD, they confessed, off the record, that there had not been any tangible siting of any WMD or WMD-enabling equipment for some years. It was all shadows and inferenced conversations between Iraqis. "

Read the full interview here:,20867,20815881-601,00.html

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The mysterious Mr George Courtenay

Yesterday, I revealed that a certain "George Courtenay" had sent an email to the editor of The Australian, a newspaper which I write for, drawing the editor's attention to untrue and libellous claims made about me by the pro-war, neo-conservative writer Oliver Kamm. It was, as I think most fair-minded people would agree, a clear attempt to discredit me in the eyes of the paper and to prevent them from commissioning me again. The email was cc-ed to Oliver Kamm.

But who is George Courtenay? It is not a name I have ever come across before in the neo-conservative, pro-war blogosphere.

Further investigation however, reveals that Mr Courtenay has been involved in disputes involving Oliver Kamm at least twice before.
In fact, the only time Mr Courtenay seems willing to enter in to any debate, is when Oliver Kamm is involved: I can find no trace of him commenting on any other issue.

In the links above, Mr Courtenay does not provide a way in which readers can contact him. No email address, or webblog address. Is Mr Courtenay a real person? Or is the name a pseudonym for someone else? Only the person who sent the email into The Australian newspaper knows the answer to this question.

UPDATE. Ministry of Truth have very kindly offered to let me have information which will, hopefully, lead to the unmasking of "Mr Courtenay". Watch this space.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The most compelling sporting soap opera of them all

Can you wait any longer? In just seven hours time, The Ashes gets under way in Brisbane. Here's my piece on the oldest and most compelling sporting soap opera of them all, from today's The Australian.,20867,20804328-7583,00.html

FORGET Neighbours, Home and Away or Coronation Street. After a 14-month absence, the oldest and most compelling soap opera is back - and coming to a television set near you. In its 124-year run, this particular soap has had a cast of thousands. Some have played entertaining cameos; others - such as the Don in 1930, Beefy in 1981, and the Demon 100 years earlier - have given performances of a lifetime.

The Ashes combines the gripping, emotional drama of a play by Tennessee Williams with the colour and exuberance of an Alexander Korda epic. But unlike pre-scripted soaps, saccharine endings are not always on the agenda, as Don Bradman found out when bowled for a duck by Eric Hollies in his final Ashes innings at the Oval in 1948.

Old colonial rivalry, at least in the early years, undoubtedly helped make the series what it is. But the main reason the Ashes is still the biggest show in town is because it has changed so little down the years.
The players may no longer wear neckties, the final Test is no longer played to a finish beyond the time limit and advertising is now everywhere, but the essential premise - of a biennial five or six Test series between two traditional sporting rivals - has stayed the same ever since the 1880s.

With the Ashes we know what we're going to get and the familiarity, far from breeding contempt, engenders only affection - and an incredible sense of anticipation. What a pity, therefore, that unlike English and Australian cricket administrators, others have not heeded those wisest of words: if it ain't broke, why fix it?
For in today's post-ideological age, change for the sake of change appears to have become the new religion. Politicians talk of modernisation in the same way they used to talk about socialism or liberalism and see it as their duty to change as many things as they can, regardless of whether there is public demand.

Ditto, sports administrators. In 1999, England's football authorities had the brainwave to change the format of the FA Cup, the country's oldest and most popular knock-out competition. The all-important third round, when the clubs from the first two leagues entered the contest, was switched to the second Saturday in December away from its traditional home on the first Saturday in January. Fans were disoriented, unhappy and voted with their feet.

The renowned Cheltenham horse-racing festival, so beloved by jump racing fans, has also fallen victim to the mania for making unnecessary changes. For more than 50 years, the festival provided three days of intense, top-quality action. But in 2005, the authorities decided to introduce afourth day, diluting the quality of the event and ruining its unique atmosphere.

Unnecessary redevelopments of perfectly adequate sporting stadiums are also part of the modernising obsession. What was wrong with the old Wembley stadium with its evocative twin towers? Or the old Ascot racecourse, with its leafy paddock and elevated viewing terraces?

It's not just sport that has been adversely affected. Last year, in a shameful act of cultural vandalism, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, decided to scrap the city's distinctive red double-decker Routemaster buses, an emblem of the city the world over. In their place, Londoners are served by ugly, modern bendy buses totally devoid of charm and photogenic appeal. And they go no faster.

Of course, we should not be slaves to the past and oppose all change. But we do need to acknowledge that too much of what is good is being destroyed needlessly.

Thank goodness, as we settle down to watch Warne, Flintoff and co commence hostilities, that there are some things in life that stay the same. Such as the art-deco bistros and brasseries in Paris, yellow taxi-cabs in New York and Aussies yelling abuse at the Poms at the cricket. The Ashes is proof that just because something has been around a long time, it doesn't mean that its time is up.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The framing of Vladimir Putin

Martin Kelly has a brilliant post about the wave of Putinophobia sweeping the western media following the alleged poisoning of an associate of the notorious oligarch Boris Berezkovsky in London.
Innocent until proven guilty? If you're a Russian leader who doesn't do what the neo-cons want, you're guilty as charged.

And here's an excellent piece on the same subject by Justin Raimondo of Please do click on his link to the 'American Committee for Peace in Chechnya' - the names of its members is really quite revealing.
Hard-core neo-cons linking up with radical Islamic extremists? Now where have we heard that one before?

A very tawdry affair

"In an ideal world there should be no threats of legal action against fellow bloggers who provide fair comment on a matter of public interest even if one doesn't like what that person says", opines Marcus of the webblog Harry's Place.

I totally agree.

But what would you do if someone posts defamatory and malicious claims on his blog about you- in a clear attempt to jeopardise your career as a journalist- and then repeatedly refuses to remove them?
Contrary to what Oliver Kamm implies, I am first and foremost a journalist, not a blogger (I derive no income from blogging), and Kamm's highly libellous comments- that I was book reviewer who didn't read books and that I deliberately misrepresented my sources- were a deliberate attempt to lower my standing in my profession.

I did not take the decision to sue Kamm, a hedge-fund manager likely to have the financial wherewithal to engage top legal representation lightly, but when emails were being sent to editors who commission me (see an example below), repeating Kamm's defamatory allegations and cced to Kamm himself, I think most fair-minded people would agree that I had no option but to take some form of action. I must add, this was the first occasion in my life I had ever taken anybody else to court.

I went to the courts not to silence Kamm's right to make fair comments on articles with which he disagreed, but to prevent Kamm and his neo-con, pro-war associates from silencing me. Their aim was - and still is- to get editors, like Robbie Millen and Daniel Finkelstein of The Times, Tom Switzer of the Australian, Seumas Milne of the Guardian, and Sam Leith of the Books section of the Daily Telegraph to stop publishing my work. It worked in respect of The Times, which hasn't commissioned me since Kamm's defamatory comments were published (conveniently providing more opportunites for freelance work for Kamm and his associate Stephen Pollard), but their smear campaign has not worked elsewhere, which is why they are continuing their vendetta.

From: George Courtenay [] Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 1:33 PM
Cc: Neil Clark;

Subject: Neil Clark sources
I see you have published an opinion article by Neil Clark today. That's all good to print a range of views but you may be interested that Oliver Kamm of the London Times has been investigating Mr. Clark's use of sources.
Mr.Clark doesn't say the same thing in his new article but as he's lied to other editors I'm bringing it to your attention.
G. Courtenay

UPDATE: Within hours of Kamm's allegations being posted on his blog yesterday, the editor of the Australian newspaper received another such email, linking to Kamm's piece. I'll leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to such a remarkable coincidence.

Don't mention the war!

Wow! Some people will go to any lengths to follow Basil Fawlty's dictum!

Open Prison: A contradiction in terms

My dictionary defines prison as "a place of confinement, especially a public building for the confinement of criminals. How about yours?
ps On the million to one chance that someone from the Home Office is reading this, then perhaps he/she be so kind to inform us why convicted murderers and rapists are being kept (or, more to the point, not being kept) in 'open' prisons?

Monday, November 20, 2006

RIP Brown Windsor

It's sad to hear of the death of the popular chaser Brown Windsor, who won the first Whitbread Gold Cup I ever attended, back in 1989. My favourite story about Nicky Henderson's gelding came from the trainer Ben Pollock. Pollock had ridden BW, then long in the tooth and well past his best, to a victory in a point-to-point. The next day he went in to ride work for the legendary trainer Captain Tim Forster, feeling rather pleased with himself. The Captain, as he was known in racing, was having none of it. "The horse won a Whitbread and you won a point-to-point on him. Great." The Captain was not known for dishing out too much praise. "There are 60 million people in this country" he once told Pollock. "20 million are idiots. And every single one of them has had a job with me." He was also a born pessimist. When jockey Charlie Fenwick asked Forster for instructions before setting out on board Ben Nevis in the 1980 Grand National, Forster's reply was : "Keep remounting."

Meanwhile, here's some better news about another Nicky Henderson chaser.

Slow on the uptake

About four years ago I took part in a BBC World Service debate with Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch. The subject under discussion was the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague. I maintained that the trial, financed by the very powers who had illegally bombed Milosevic's country in the first place, was a farce which ought to be stopped forthwith. Dicker was having none of it and seemed convinced that justice was being done. Now his organisation has produced its report on the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Nice to see that you've woken up to the fact that NWO instigated tribunals don't do justice Richard, though it took you a mighty long time to figure it out.

A tale of two poisonings

Isn't it strange how the western media are keen to believe government involvement in some cases of poisoning, but not in others?

Tales of Hoffman

Nice to see that the spirit of the late, great Abbie Hoffman- and the Yippies- lives on.

Why coffee houses matter- and why Starbucks sucks

Here's a terrific article in today's Guardian by Charlotte Ashby on the depressing prevalence of chain coffee stores in Britain. Standardised, bland and expensive, these chains are everything coffee houses shouldn't be. How it raises one spirits to leave Blighty and arrive in a city, like Paris, or Brussels, where individually owned establishments, each with their own distinctive character still predominate. As I've said before the biggest charge against modern monopoly, Anglo-Saxon capitalism is that it's BORING. Identik High Streets, Tescos on every out of town roundabout, Big M signs wherever you look. And the neo-liberal fanatics of the Adam Smith Insititute, The Centre for New Europe and other 'free-market' think tanks would like the rest of Europe to go that way too. High Street diversity, where the small shopkeeper and small coffee house/cafe owner has a chance to flourish, means restrictions on the operations of multinational chains. And that is the last thing these paid-up propagandists for monopoly capitalism really want.