Thursday 30 December 2010

Christians in Israel/Palestine

I always find it most perplexing that the world’s Christian leaders, particularly in the West, do so little on behalf of their fellow Christians who live in the Holy Land.  Though the overwhelming majority of Palestinians are Muslims, there has always been and still is a substantial minority of Christians among the Palestinian Arab population.  Yet even at Christmas time this small Christian community is pretty much ignored by western Christians.  
If they were just ignored it might not be so bad, but even worse for this Christian community is that so many fellow Christians seem to actively want their destruction.  In particular the so called Christian Zionist movement in the USA and elsewhere is so devoted to Israel and it Zionist project that they are to all intents and purposes both deaf and blind to the sufferings of Christians in the Holy Land.  Of course the trouble for Palestinian Christians is that they are also Arabs and for some Christians to be Arab is more important than being Christian.  

Many of the Palestinian Arab Christians live in Israel, yet they too are subjected to the same amount of racist abuse and discrimination as their Muslim Arab kinsmen/women.  A particularly nasty, if rather trivial, example of this all pervasive Israeli Jewish racism was seen recently in Nazareth.  There the Christian citizens of Nazareth Illit, a predominantly Jewish suburb of Nazareth have been prevented from putting up Christmas trees in the squares of the Arab quarter of the town.  The mayor Shimon Gapso denied the request on the grounds that this would be seen by the Jewish majority as provocative.  He went on to say, “Nazareth Illit is a Jewish city and it will not happen - not this year and not next year, so long as I am mayor”.  How much support did these Christians get from their fellow Christians in the west?  Further details can be found here.

It is not just Christian Arabs who are the potential victims of Israeli Jewish racism.  Any non-Jew is suspect it seems.  Recently two rabbis, Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur published a book in which they discuss situations in which religious law allows the killing of non-Jews.   It seems that we non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks on us “curb our evil inclination,” while babies and children of Israel’s enemies may be killed since, “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.”  I wonder what Christian Zionists make of this vile thinking.  More here.

It is of course Palestinians who suffer most from the racist abuse that is alas, becoming all too common in Israel.  Another rabbi, David Meir Druckman, also from Nazareth, wants to go on the attack against Palestinians.  He told a conference of rabbis, “We need to intimidate the Arabs, so they will flee Upper Nazareth. .... The Arabs must feel as if the Jews have gone mad and it’s impossible to live with them. .... The Arabs should be afraid of us, not the reverse.”  Other rabbis have got involved in anti-foreigner activities.  Some signed a letter calling on Jewish apartment owners not to rent to foreigners while others called for Jewish women not to date Arabs.  More information can be found here and here
It is not just rabbis who are getting all het up against Palestinians.  Ynet reports on the Principal of an integrated school in Jaffa which is attended by both Arab and Jewish children.  There the Principal has prohibited Arab students from speaking Arabic inside classrooms.  Russian speaking Jews meanwhile are allowed to converse with each other in their native tongue.  While Max Blumenthal recounts the exceptionally disturbing account of the abuse hurled at elderly Palestinian women who were on a tour of Yad Vashem.  Young Israeli Jews taunted them by calling them whores.  His report also highlights the growing rise of racism across Israel.
Perhaps the most depressing development in Israel is its increasing repression of non-violent resistance through arrests, harassment and even summary expulsion without charges or trial.  Jeremiah Haber has two detailed reports, here and here, on this oppression.  As Haber points out this repression is applied to Jews as well as Arabs.  Anyone who opposes the violence of the Zionist state is a likely target for the government and its apparatus.  Joseph Dana gives us a report on the arrest, trial and imprisonment of Israeli Jewish activist, Jonathan Pollak, for his peaceful protest, on a bicycle, against the Gaza atrocities.  It seems that Israel is beginning to turn against its own Jewish citizens.
The Holy Land is far from being at peace.  It would be nice to think that more Christians were willing to use this time of Christmas to offer practical support not just to their fellow Christians, but to all Palestinians who continue to struggle for justice against the might of Israel.

Monday 27 December 2010

2010 - Highlights of the Year in Films

This post should really be titled Going to the Cinema, since I’m only referring to films that I saw in a cinema - the real film experience.  Somewhat to my surprise I found that I have seen 18 films that way.  Not that many, but more than the previous year.  I was under the impression that we went to the cinema more often and more regularly.  Still 18 films is not bad.
Most were very good and very enjoyable.  The highlights included The Secret in Their Eyes by Argentinian director Juan José Campanella, The Time that Remains by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman and Whatever Works by Woody Allen.  These were three of the films that I did review on the blog during the year.  The first one you can find here and the other two here.  All three were excellent and engrossing films.

Below are the other films that I especially enjoyed but did not manage to write about.  The three Swedish films that make up The Millenium Trilogy were definitely one of the year’s highlights.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who played with fire and The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s nest were all terrific to watch and faithful to the originals.  The books are more complicated so the directors and screenwriters had to pare the films down to the key essentials.  Which they did manage very successfully.  The first was directed by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev and the other two by Daniel Alfredson from Sweden.  All three feature great performances from Michael Nyqvist as Mike Blomqvist and Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander - she of the dragon tattoo.  It now seems that Hollywood is to make their own version of the trilogy.  David Fincher is to direct with Daniel Craig as Mike Blomqvist and Rooney Mara as LIsbeth Salander.  Will be fascinating to see just what, if anything, Hollywood can add to the Swedish films.

Two other films really stood out for me this year.  The American is a most unusual movie, at least for a USA produced film.  It is really a European film with an American star in the lead role.  Directed by Dutch director Anton Corbijn and filmed on location in Sweden and Italy it features a mainly Italian cast.  The American is played by George Clooney in a wonderful performance of few words.  A lone assassin, the American is in hide out somewhere in rural Italy.  There is no back story to Clooney’s character nor to any of the other characters, other than the prostitute he falls in love with.  Beautifully shot with a thrilling climax this was a surprisingly good film.

I was also most impressed by Revanche, a film by Austrian director Götz Spielmann.  This is another very tense film with sparse dialogue.  There are no heros or hero like figures in this tale, just ordinary people dreaming of a better life.  Unfortunately, for Alex, the main character, this involves a bank robbery.  Which goes horribly wrong and results in the death of Alex’s girlfriend, shot by a policeman.  The death shatters Alex and he slowly tries to rebuild his life while at the same time seeking revenge.  Revenge does come, though not in the expected way.  Slow moving and intense with great performances from all the cast.  Johannes Krisch as Alex in particular is very very good.

All in all a good year for movies.  My pick of the bunch has to be The Secret in Their Eyes, a quite outstanding film with just about everything - suspense, action, humour, romance, social comment and wonderful performances from all the cast.  Next year I intend to get to the cinema more often as I know I missed out on quite a few good sounding films.  The King’s Speech and The Black Swan are already pencilled in for early next year.

Thursday 23 December 2010

A White Christmas Anyone?

It looks very much like we will all have a white christmas, at least here in Scotland.  Though more snowfalls are unlikely, the snow we have will remain for some time as we continue to suffer sub zero temperatures.  This will the second Christmas in a row with snow lying around.  However last year the snow came just before Christmas and only lasted a couple of weeks or so.  This time the snow started in late November, so will have had a whole month or more of snow.  
While this all makes for some stunning photos and a bit of sledging for those brave enough, the reality is that all this snow has come at a terrible cost for most of us.  For it is not just the snow, it is the bitter sub zero temperatures that have come with the snow which has caused all the troubles.  Transport of any kind has become a bit of a nightmare for many people.  With the low temperatures the snow has not just remained, but has in many places turned to ice.  Most of the pavements on our street are still icy and dangerous to walk over.  It is the same all the way into the centre of Broughty Ferry.  What should be a pleasant stroll along the estuary for a bit of local shopping has become a bit of a life threatening endeavour.  Luckily for us the main roads were cleared fairly early on and have been kept clear ever since, including our street.  Some of the side streets though have probably never been properly cleared.  This is the case with Elena’s street in Tayport.  We have also been lucky in that the local buses have kept running more or less all through the snow.
This has not been the case with trains, very few of which have ventured north of Edinburgh.  Nor with airplanes.  First we had the closure of Scottish airports and recently the closure of the main London airports which of course have had a knock on effect for Scottish air travellers.   Though we have been spared the worst, here in Dundee, other parts of Scotland have suffered some trully terrible conditions.  Initially the north east bore the brunt of the bad weather with roads brought to a closure and people having to spend the night trapped in their cars.  Later on similar conditions spread to Glasgow and  west central Scotland with even worse outcomes for road users.  Along with the worsening transport conditions came the closure of schools, with most schools in the east and north shut down for the whole of the first week of the bad weather.  Since then they have mostly stayed open.
These have been trully unprecedented weather conditions.   I cannot remember anything quite as bad for so long a period.  The winter of 1947 was apparently very, very bad, but as this was just after I was born, (not my fault, really) I have no memory of that winter.  During the late 1950s and the early 1960s we did have cold and snowy winters in St Andrews.  A playing field in the town would be regularly flooded to make a skating rink and just about everyone owned a pair of ice skates.  Most people would also have a sledge.  My Dad made mine and we would haul the thing up the nearest little hill and slide down.  However I don’t think we had snow lying about for every Christmas and I don’t really remember how long the snow lasted.  Certainly since then we have had nothing in any way comparable to the present white out.  The normal pattern over the last couple of decades is for two or three snowfalls over the winter period, usually between January and March.  Each would last for two or three days and then magically wash away.  So this current combination of repeated snowfalls with continuous sub zero temperatures is way out of anyone’s expectations.
On the whole, despite the atrocious weather, most people have just got on with life.  Not so however, the opposition politicians, backed up by an aggressive media.  All out to somehow pin the blame for the transport chaos on the SNP government.  Now, I don’t especially blame the politicians, as politics is a pretty messy business and the SNP can usually give as good as it gets.  Nevertheless some of the accusations hurled by Labour, Tory and LibDem MSPs bordered on downright lying.  Either that or complete ignorance.  Perhaps both in some cases.  I also do not expect much from the media, which is completely hostile to Scottish independence and hence to the SNP government.  However the BBC is a public service body, paid for by all of us, with a clear duty to be impartial and honest.  BBC Scotland’s coverage of the worst of the weather chaos left a lot to be desired.  From the beginning they seemed out to get the Scottish Transport Minister, a call quickly followed up by the opposition parties.  The fact that Scotland as a whole and west central Scotland in particular faced some totally unprecedented levels of snow was just ignored.  Scottish journalist Joan Mcalpine has some very good comments on the BBC’s coverage in her blog, Go Lassie Go.  She brings out the rather disturbing extent to which senior staff and reporters at BBC Scotland have very close links with the Labour Party.  In the event the Transport Minister did resign - the SNP is a minority government.  However what has made this attack on the SNP government so despicable is what has subsequently happened in England.  There in recent weeks there has been similar transport chaos, with trains cancelled, pile-ups on roads and the closure of two of the world’s largest airports.  Yet the BBC in England has generally treated all this in a fairly light hearted manner.  There has absolutely no aggressive grilling of the English Transport Minister - there has been very little grilling of any kind.  Even the Labour Party has been pretty muted in its criticisms.  Belatedly the BBC has begun to ask questions - but to the rail companies and the airports and airlines.  Now this fine, these are the people who have most responsibility for keeping our transport system working after all, not the Minister.  But why oh why did BBC Scotland no adopt a similar line?  I cannot recall the head of Scotrail or the East Coast railway being grilled as to why they could not keep trains running up to Aberdeen.  Or any grilling of the private companies charged with maintaining our motorways.  Perhaps that would require some real research - much easier apparently to attack the Minister.
It is also worth noting in all this that other parts of Europe have also suffered greatly on account of this unprecedented cold weather.  Not just the usual suspects - Sweden, Norway et all - but France, Germany and parts of Spain have all seen serious transport chaos during December.  Yet not one of their Transport Ministers has been forced to resign.
However this is the season of goodwill, and we should make the most of the snow.  There have been some lovely snowmen in nearby gardens and it looks like there will be outdoor curling for the first time in many a year.   If you can get to the ski centres this must be a great time for winter sports.  And the odd snowball fight can raise the spirits a bit.  So let us enjoy what is left of the snow.  A Merry, if not white, Christmas to one and all.

Sunday 19 December 2010

More Bargello and a Lavender Cube

I have been quite busy stitching recently, though I have only managed to complete two pieces.  However one of these was the largest project I have worked on so far.  This was a mini tapestry piece, stitched in wool on Penelope canvas.  Here is the whole thing.
It measures 74cm by 21.5cm and is another Bargello design.  The original design comes from the wonderful book Bargello Magic, How to design your own, by Pauline Fischer and Anabel Lasker.  It was published in 1972 and I have a second hand version from the fourth printing in 1973.  I have already used a few of the designs and this time the starting point was a design called Austrian Plissé.  Quite why they named it this, I do not know.  Plissé apparently means pleats and is common in women’s dresses and curtains.  However I would have thought that the flower and butterfly motifs in the centre panel are the key focus of the design.  No matter, I loved the pattern and wanted to try and stitch something long and not too wide.  For a more detailed look at the pattern here is a close up photo.
As you can see I used pretty bright contrasting colours.  In the book the background uses more delicate colours and the side panels are more rose than red.  I chose these colours in part because I do like bright colours and also in a more practical vein, they were what were in my thread box.  I now need to finish the whole thing off.  I need to get some backing onto the fabric and will try and attach the piece to bits from my driftwood collection.
My latest completed project was a little cube which I made using six little designs from Louison.  The six make up a series of 30 pt grilles - Série No 2 and and intended to be used to make biscornus.  Louison runs a great site for anyone interested in biscornus.   Here are the six completed squares.  
The fabric is 18 ct  white Aida and the threads are DMC cotton.  For this I tried out some new colours I had just bought.  Four are shades of copper along with a medium mahogany and a very dark terra cotta.  A bit different from the bright colours of the mini tapestry above.  Here are a couple of views of the finished cube.

Though designed to make biscornus these little squares can be used for a variety of other objects.  I first came across the idea of making a cube from Valerie, another French stitcher who sent in some photos of her cubes to Louison’s site.  A delightful idea.  A cube is also slightly easier to sew into shape than a biscornu.  I stuffed mine with hollowfill fibre and added some dried lavender.

In addition to stitching I now have a new project to look forward to.  I will be participating in my very first SAL.  This stands for Stitch-A-Long and usually involves a group of people all following the same pattern at more or less the same time.  SALs seem to be an American invention, though they are very popular in France, where they just use the English abbreviation.  Anyway,  another French stitching blog Les Loisirs de LN, has proposed a rather different SAL.  The key to this SAL is that you don’t need to follow any pattern at all.  The lovely idea is to keep all the little bits of thread that you normally just throw away, or leave lying around, as in my case.  You then put these bits of thread into a glass or other see through container - bottle or whatever.  The SAL starts on January 1st and lasts all year.  Each month you send in a photo of your growing montage of threads.  I liked the idea so much that not only did I sign up but started a mini collection for December.  Here is what the bottle looks like so far. 
I came across this SAL via Rosali, a Mexican stitcher who runs her own lovely blog.  She had signed up for the SAL and was promoting it on her blog  - gracias Rosali.  If you are interested you can join right up till 31st December.  So good stitching and good thread collecting.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Drugs and Politicians

Drugs and politics seems to be a lethal mixture.  Not so much the taking of drugs but rather the inability of most politicians to think clearly about drugs and what the country’s policy to drugs should be.  This morning we heard on the radio Bob Ainsworth, a former Home Office minister who had responsibility for drugs policy, calling for all drugs to be legally available.  He made the not unreasonable point that the approaches of successive government had all failed, leaving criminal gangs in control.  And in response to this call, the government and the Labour party immediately tried to close down any serious debate.  Both more or less simply dismissed legalisation as out of the question and some called Mr Ainsworth’s suggestion irresponsible.  See what I mean by drugs and  politicians?
Why is there such uniformity of (non) response when anyone calls for a rational debate about drugs policy?   The current policy and its consequences are a mess.  Drugs can cause terrible harm to users.  Tobacco for example kills thousands of people each year.  Not only the users suffer with tobacco, but non smokers can suffer the damages caused by the weed.  Yet tobacco is still legal, albeit with restrictions on where you can smoke - not in public places.  Here the overriding policy is one of health and harm reduction.
Alcohol of course remains the biggest killer and alcohol is a major factor in much of the violence that goes on in our towns and homes.  Yet, outwith Muslim countries, alcohol is not just legal, it is actively promoted and usually regarded as a good thing.   Addicts are encouraged to get treatment and only if they commit a crime are they punished.  
Another case for concern is the growing number of people who depend on prescription or over the counter medicines.  This can lead to sever cases of addiction and even death.  Not only drugs can cause harm.  The over consumption of food is causing growing damage to an increasing number of people.  While the deliberate under consumption of food is now regarded as a medical condition.   Once again the emphasis of policy is on health and harm reduction, not punishment.
In the examples mentioned above the damage comes from the mis-use of the substance - usually smoking, drinking or eating far too much.  However in the case of the currently defined illegal drugs - cannabis, cocaine, heroin etc - the mere consumption is a crime.  Why do we treat some drugs so differently form others?  The benefits of this policy seem very hard to discover.  The growing power of drug barons in Columbia and Mexico do little for the well being and economic prospects of these countries.  While the apparently insatiable demand for drugs from Americans continues we have a classic supply and demand situation which no amount of policing or crime busting can stop.   It is pretty similar here in the UK and much of the rest of Europe.  Rising amounts of violent crime associated with drugs.
We desperately need to look hard and seriously at other approaches.  As with tobacco and alcohol, I would suggest that the key priorities are to focus on health and harm reduction and to clear out the criminal gangs involved in the drugs trade.  Legalisation is one policy option which we should be debating in an open, serious and rational manner.   It is long past time to stop pretending that the current policies are working.

Monday 13 December 2010

2010 - Highlights of the Year in Books

This post is a brief review of the books I have read over the year.  At least the fiction books, though most of my reading is now fiction.  Though I feel that I now mainly read crime novels I was somewhat and a little pleasantly surprised to discover that I have in fact read slightly more non crime novels, 38 to 34 crime novels.  Though most of the authors were new to me, a few of the books were by writers already familiar to me.  I thoroughly enjoyed the novels by Ian Banks - The Business and Transitions, and Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd.  I also listened to an audio version of Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel I had previously read.  It was good to experience the novel in a different medium.
Of the non crime novels five stood out as offering something special.  Theft, by Peter Carey, is a very funny and at times biting account of the pretensions and corruption of the art world.  Set mainly in Australia, it is a very irreverent tale.  A Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks, is also a rather biting and witty dissection of modern life.  Here the focus is mainly on the deceit and corruption of the financial world with a look at the allure of fundamentalism.  The Long Song, by Andrea Levy, written as the memoirs of a former slave woman, tells the story of how one family survived the trials and tribulations of the years of transition from slavery in Jamaica.  Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier, is another novel which gives us a woman’s perspective on historical times.  Though virtually all the action takes place in one small town, Lyme on the south coast of England, this novel deals with matters of great significance.  The outward substance of the novel is the growing scientific awareness in the early 19th century of the significance of fossils and what they mean for our understanding of the past.  However the main focus of the book is the role of women in society and the added difficulties that class makes for some women.  The final non crime novel which most impressed me was Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  This is another historical novel which deals with the momentous events in England in the 1520s and 1530s.  This tale about the intrigues in the court of Henry the Eight is told from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell.  Though of humble origin, Cromwell rose to become one of the most powerful men in the country.  The novel is not only a wonderfully vivid account of the events of this period, but Mantel has the ability to bring to life the rich array of characters who lived through these times.  From the King himself to servants, we feel these are real people.  I listened to Wolf Hall as an audiobook and perhaps this helped to bring the characters to life.  All were fascinating, but I was particularly impressed with Cardinal Wolsey, who comes over as a humane and witty figure’
As regards the crime novels, I enjoyed every one of them.  A major difference with crime novels is that you tend to read fewer individual  authors.  You keep coming back to favourite writers and often their work forms a series, either based on a character or a place.  The works of seven authors particularly impressed me this year.  I have now completed all four novels which make up the Shetland Quartet by Ann Cleeves.  A really good and well written series.  It will be interesting to see if she is tempted to carry on the series.  I must now try some of her other work.  Philip Kerr has created another interesting detective, though Bernie Gunther is based in Berlin.  I have read two of the later novels in the series - If the Dead Rise Not  and The One from the Other.  Both very good and I now intend to work my way through the first three novels.  These are all set in Berlin in the 1930s, a pretty exciting time for one reason or another.  Jo Nesbø is from Norway and is the author of a series of novels featuring Oslo detective Harry Hole.  I have now read a group of three novels, which seems to make up a mini-series - The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil’s Star  They all involve neo-Nazi activities and corruption within the police.  Excellent writing and gripping tales.  The next novel in the sequence is The Redeemer.  At the moment I do not know if it follows on from the previous three or has a new focus altogether.  Will find out soon.  Peter Temple is an Australian writer and I read three of his books this year, and all  were excellent.  As opposed to the previous crime novels these three - An Iron Rose, In the Evil Day and The Truth - are not part of any series.   All are to a greater or lesser extent about corruption and deceit and all are written in a lively and vivid mix of standard English and Australian patois.  One of the finds of the year.   Two other books were also not part of a series.  Deon Meyer’s Heart of the Hunter is a gripping thriller set in post apartheid South Africa, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.  I have not come across much crime novels by Italian writers, so it was a pleasant surprise to read Michele Guittori’s A Florentine Death, which I enjoyed very much.  Another author I hope to read more of this year.  The final crime novel which particularly impressed me was Blood Red by Quintin Jardine.  In part I liked it because it is set in Catalunya, one of my favourite parts of the world.  It is also a very good read.  It is the second in a series which features Primavera Blackstone a Scottish woman now living in Catalunya.  As the only woman detective in my selection this is probably another plus factor.  Well worth reading, I must now try the first in the series.
All in all a most enjoyable year of reading.  Though if the truth be told about half of the books were listened to rather than read.  I am a great fan of audiobooks.  If well read they can add an extra dimension to a book.  The pick of the year has to be Wolf Hall, followed closely by The Truth.  Good reading to one and all.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Leaks and Wikileaks

There is something really strange and very disturbing about all the furore that has emerged in response to the recent revelations that have come from Wikileaks.  Their founder, Julian Assange, has been threatened with extra judicial murder, and is currently in a British jail.  Despite having no previous convictions, and the fact that he voluntarily turned himself in, he has been denied bail.  Even though his passport has been confiscated.  Somewhat excessive methinks.  All of a piece though with the intemperate, overblown and downright lies that have characterized the response of government officials and leading politicians, especially in the USA.  Just what is going on here?
You would think that this is the first time that USA government documents have been leaked to the press.  When it is in fact pretty much the norm for so-called secrets to get leaked and published.  Wikileaks has already done this on previous occasions.  Not to mention all the many US citizens who have in the past leaked government documents to the press.  Furthermore, it is not as if the information released is particularly damaging to the USA, despite some of the over the top claims by politicians and commentators.  US Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the consequences of these revelations as fairly modest.
It is also worth emphasizing that Wikileaks has not indiscriminately published the hundreds of thousands of documents in its possession.  Less than 1% has been published.  Get that, less than 1% has been published.  Also none of this small amount has been published by Wikileaks.  The revelations have all been published by reputable international newspaper in various countries around the world, including the Guardian in the UK, El Pais in Spain, not to mention the New York Times in the USA.  The Wikileaks site has only put up what has already been first of all published by these newspaper.  It is also worth pointing out that it is these newspapers that have selected which documents to publish and that it is these newspapers which have redacted the documents to ensure that there is no risk to individuals.
Yet despite all this it is Wikeleaks and Julian Assange who is bearing all the criticism and all the threats of legal and illegal action.  Why?  I can think of three plausible reasons for this.  The first and simplest reason is that it is easier to go after Wikileaks.  A single individual, a foreigner to boot, who can be demonized with little or no regard to the truth.  With the support of a pliant media this has been the standard practice in the USA for decades now.  Where was the investigative media in the run up to the Iraq war?  How many lies were exposed by the USA media then or now?  While the New York Times may be subject to pressure it would be much more difficult if not impossible to bring any kind of prosecution against the other newspapers.  Much easier to throw mud at Julian Assange.
Secondly by focussing on Wikileaks and Assange, all governments and in particular the USA, can try and stop people from asking some serious questions about just what should be kept secret from citizens.  We have the rank hypocrisy of Hilary Clinton lecturing the Chinese authorities about the need for a free press and the benefits of free access to information, while at the same time her government is presiding over one of greatest amounts of secret information in the whole world.  And prepared to threaten anyone who exposes this secrecy.  Access to information is the basic underpinning of democracy.  Yet all governments seek to keep us citizens in the dark about almost everything.  In this sense, Wikileaks is an essential adjunct to a functioning democracy.
Thirdly, I cannot help feeling that the outrageous, excessive and warlike reactions of many Americans is a symptom of the decline of American power.  For so long the world’s dominant power the USA is now in a steep and irreversible decline.  Though still the world’s sole military superpower, even there the USA can boast of little in the way of success.  Iraq and Afghanistan have more than anything demonstrated with brutal reality the limits of American military power.  Sure they can still destroy lots of towns and buildings and they can kill barrowloads of people, usually civilians.  But when it comes to actually achieving anything remotely positive then forget it. 
So it must come as an immense surprise to discover that a tiny organization such as Wikileaks can cause the USA such embarrassment.  And the USA can do little about it.  No wonder so many politicians and leading commentators are so bitter.  It is also instructive that their first reaction is to threaten violence.  I guess so many Americans are too used to getting their own way that any reverse is pretty much unimaginable to them.
However the world it is a’changing.  It is a great paradox that it is the over reaction of the USA government that is causing more damage to the USA than the actual revelations themselves.  This is a great shame and of great concern.  The new world order that is emerging will be dominated by some countries with no record of protecting free speech or respecting the rule of law.  It is thus doubly worrying that the USA of all countries, the land of the free, should be seen to be operating at the same base level.   The immediate future does not look good.

Monday 6 December 2010

Photo of the Month - November

November was a strange month photo wise.  Not much for most of the time and then a flurry of photos at the end of the month.  November started with The Souk in Broughty Ferry.  Organized by Dundee Nablus Town Twinning Association we put up a mini Arab market in the YMCA building.  Despite the wet weather it turned out a successful day.  Below are a couple of photos showing some of the lovely Palestinian goods for sale.

By the end of the month winter had suddenly descended on Scotland and Dundee was soon a winter wonderland as we awoke to an all white landscape.   Here you can see the state of our street.

It did make everything look lovely.  The next three photos show our garden.  It is amazing just how much colour there is in the garden even in the snow.

Despite the very cold weather and the difficult underfoot conditions we still managed to get out and about every day.  At least for a short while.  Below are a couple of shots of scenes by the estuary.

Things must be especially hard for the wildlife during these very cold spells.  But many do manage to survive one way or another.  Here is an oystercatcher scavanging for scraps at the water's edge.
Broughty Ferry has a large and wonderful collection of swans.  Luckily they seem to get supplied with food every day.  Here is a lovely photo of two swans.  Not sure if they are showing off or squaring up or just trying to keep warm.
In the town the Christmas decorations and lights are now up to brighten the day.  One of the most spectacular is the window display at Gillies, a furniture store.  It is not just the window, but the whole floor space that is filled with Santas, reindeer and other Christmas creatures.
On the last day of the month, St. Andrews Day, we had Liam and Jamie for company, as their school was closed due to the bad weather.  To cheer everybody up in the very cold weather we went to a local pub, The Fisherman's, for some warmth and lunch.  I end this selection with the happy faces of Liam and Jamie as they enjoy their orange juice.

Friday 3 December 2010

2018 - To Russia with Love

Congratulations to Russia and Qatar in winning the right to host the World Football Cup in 2018 and 2022.   This has provoked much bile in the losing countries.  And none more so than in England, which despite spending £15 million on its campaign only managed to win two votes.  As one of these votes was from the English FA delegate, this meant that England only succeeded in persuading one other delegate to support them.  What went wrong?
According to the English bid organizers and echoed massively by the English press, what went wrong was a mixture of corruption on a large scale and a strong dose of anti-English bias.  Now of course if there is any significant corruption within the FIFA executive committee and the English FA knew about this and had evidence of this they should have exposed all this corruption and if nothing was done, not bothered to bid at all.  If, on the other hand England had won, would the English media and authorities still be carping on about corruption within FIFA.  Smells a bit like sour grapes to me.  As the poet wrote - The lady doth protest too much.
Much the same can be said about the claims of anti-English bias.  Again, if there is any evidence of this, the English authorities should come out with this evidence and name names.  They might also care to look a bit into just why there might be some anti-English feelings within FIFA and within football generally.   They might for instance want to ponder a little over the rather arrogant and condescending notion that shaking hands with the future king of England would somehow magically win people round.
In all of this blame game, hardly anybody in England seems willing to look at the changing focus within FIFA.   World Cups were always held in either Europe or the Americas.  Until 2002 that is, when the finals were held in Japan and South Korea.  This was the first time the finals had been held outside Europe or the Americas.  Of course the decision to award the finals to Japan/South Korea was taken in the late 1990s.  Since that momentous decision FIFA has made it quite clear that its policies are all directed to expanding the game worldwide and in particular to take the major events to new destinations.  This direction was confirmed when South Africa was awarded the 2010 finals.
This predisposition of FIFA to favour new hosts meant that Russia were always the favourites to win the 2018 campaign.  The English FA must be pretty much deaf and blind not to have noticed this.  Or just too arrogant and self centred.  Probably a bit of both.  The other irritating complaint to come from the English campaign is that their bid was technically the best and economically the soundest.  Now I am sure the Iberian bid was equally sound so the English offer may not actually have been the best.  However all this spectacularly misses the point.  It is not and never has been the technical committee that makes the final decision.  The facilities in Russia may not at this moment in time be as impressive as those in England, but the World Cup is not due to held this year or even next year, but in 2018.  The prime function of the technical committee is to rule out a bid altogether, if it is felt that the country cannot meet the criteria.   FIFA clearly feel that Russia will be able to meet all the requirements regarding stadia, transport, hotels, communications etc.  If South Africa can do this, as it did so successfully this year, then it is hard to explain why Russia will not be able to do so for 2018.  Russia is a very large country and there will be considerable distances between some of the stadia.  So what?  The USA which hosted the 1994 finals is a small compact country?  Not to mention Brazil which will host the next finals in 2014.
Russia is the largest European country not to have hosted either of the major football championships - the World Cup or the European Championships.  It was thereby the most deserving of winning the right to host the 2018 World Cup.  Well done FIFA and I am sure Russia will provide all football fans with superb tournament.
The decision to award the 2022 finals to Qatar is the most surprising.  Not that they beat the USA bid in the final round of voting.  As with Russia it is good that the 2022 finals goes to a new country.   I would though have expected Australia to be the favourite.  However I guess that FIFA’s thinking is that there is greater scope for promoting and expanding football in the Middle East than in Australia.
The really surprising thing about the choice of Qatar is that it will be the smallest country to ever host the finals.  Qatar has a population of less than two million.  Less than half that of Scotland for example.  Apparently one of the key selling points in favour of Qatar was that virtually all of the new stadia will be temporary structures which will be dismantled after the finals and gifted/sold on to developing countries.  
What the Qatari victory does mean is that the prospect of small countries, such as Scotland, hosting a major event has increased dramatically.  Scotland can no longer be written off as too small.  The use of temporary stadia is another plus factor for small countries.  While I don’t think Scotland should even try for the World Cup, there is now no reason why we cannot put in a credible bid to host the European Championships sometime in the future.