This is not far from me. I happened to drive past last night as the raid was happening.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Several Lib Dem bloggers are back on their favourite subject of Proportional Representation
The reason for this is the current “angst” ridden political scene in Germany, with main parties having to scramble to pick up smaller parties in order to swell themselves big enough to try and form a government. Lib Dem bloggers are having to defend themselves against those who would use this shambles in order to advocate the first-past-the-post system.
Forgetting the arguments about PR versus FPTP, which are well rehearsed on both sides, what interests me is the Lib Dem obsession with PR. It tells you everything you need to know about them. They don’t believe they have the policies, the calibre of staff, or a leader that’s good enough to be voted into government. Nor apparently do they ever expect they will. That’s why they put all their hopes for gaining real political power into a change of political system. They are desperate to crank the door open wide enough in order for them to slip inside, no matter who might slip inside with them. They are willing to let the BNP have some political power, for instance, as long as they get some say in Government.
Such a lack of ambition and conviction is embarrassing. If they don’t have the confidence to believe they can ever form a government on their own merit, then why should anybody else?
I was okay about losing seats to the Lib Dems in the last election to those who would protest against the war in Iraq. What harm could they do? They might even do some good with their stance over ID cards. But they couldn’t even get that right. People went back to the Tories, for God’s sake, rather than give the Lib Dems a chance.
This May, with a seemingly indomitable party taking a battering and the old guard still in disarray, never was there a better time for them to break through. They might well be tempted to blame their insipid leader that they didn’t, but it wasn’t just him. They could do with some coherent policies, a body of politicians with exceptional skills and qualities, and they could do with actually standing for something. That way, they might pick up more than the odd protest vote and Tony Blair might not keep finding them so funny.
Posted by Helen at 4:33 pm
Highlights of TB's speech for me yesterday, in no particular order:
Britain is great. We don't have the "malaise of France", nor the "angst of Germany".
At the last election the British people saw through the Tories "nasty and unprincipled campaign on immigration".
Not being able to keep a straight face when talking about the Lib Dems - "utterly unserious".
"Never underestimate the Tories, never overestimate the Lib Dems".
The touching way he talked about London, and how the city had done the country proud after the terrorists struck.
His vision of how Britain will ride the wave of globalisation.
His explanation of how he saw the fight in Iraq as a "progressive cause". His acknowledgement that there were forces fighting the coalition, but the reminder that 8 1/2 million Iraqis had voted for the type of country they wanted to live in - and that was whose side Britain was on. Not for Britain "hiding at the back", nor for him following the "ruinous consequences of applause", but a Britain at the front line fighting those with an ideology "utterly alien to the future of mankind".
I found it a relevant speech, delivered with impressive energy and confidence. I'm only a humble voter, not a member, but I don't understand why various factions of the Labour party want to usher out of office someone of this man's calibre. He is a world class statesman. A still potent force of change in this country. And when he goes we will lose him and his unique talents for good.
Posted by Helen at 1:21 pm
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
You know, I listened to the man's speech yesterday, and came away none the wiser. It was a speech utterly devoid of content. Okay, there was something about sorting the CSA mess out, having the benefits system used as a ladder up as well as a safety net, and something so vague about pensions I've forgotten, but lacking as it was in specifics, it was all totally meaningless.
It was padded out with grandiose statements about Britain and the Labour party, occasionally dipping down into realism, but not long enough for you to get an imprint of any intended action. Which makes me think that there were no specifics because we may not like what's coming.
And old Beardy seemed ill at ease with what he was saying, the patterns of his voice swapping oddly from casual to formal, tripping up over key words, making a nonsense of some sentences. Who writes his stuff? Someone ought to tell them that if they want warm applause, and, yay, standing ovations, then it might be a good idea to have a speech that actually imparts some information and stirs the soul.
The shots of his slumbering dog at his feet, with his brown velour coat shining in the hot lights, said it all.
Posted by Helen at 9:40 am
Sunday, September 25, 2005
On Wednesday September 21, I read this piece in The Guardian about Anthony Hardy. Hardy was detained in a mental health unit in Muswell Hill after damaging a neighbour’s flat. Psychiatrists treated him for “bipolar affective disorder” and released him. Six weeks later he killed two women, cut them up, and put them in rubbish bins. As it turned out, he had already killed before going into the hospital unit.
He has now been diagnosed with an “untreatable personality disorder”, and is serving life in Broadmoor.
The Guardian piece mentions that staff at the mental hospital had concerns that he was a danger to the public. And,
"Marjorie Wallace, of the charity Sane, said: "He was not mad enough to be detained under the Mental Health Act and not bad enough to be held indefinitely in prison. His human rights took precedence over the rights of vulnerable women to whom he posed a danger."
A familiar story, is it not? Every time some random citizen gets picked off by one of these freaks of nature, we hear that the murderer was known by the authorities to be dangerous, but that they could not detain him until he had committed a criminal act.
Imagine how puzzled I was then to read this three days later. Andrew Rowe has been found guilty of two terrorist charges and has received seven and a half years for each offence. He is expected to serve ten years, and the judge presiding over the case has said that the government should “give immediate and urgent consideration to the adequacy of that term” and he would have liked “the option of a discretionary life sentence”.
The terrorist charges appear to have been possessing articles for terrorist purposes and making a record of information for terrorist purposes. This seems to come down specifically to possessing the following:
A pair of socks that carried traces of TNT.
A WH Smith notebook on how to aim and fire a mortar.
Various codes in various forms (not really explained)
Video cassettes with Jihad contents
Now, Rowe was obviously into something. He admits to writing secret codes, but said it was to help Muslims in Chechnya. Throw in a mix of differing passports, seven thousand pounds, his links with “west London” Mosques, and it all looks very suspect.
But, this worries me:
"The head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, said: "Today's conviction of Andrew Rowe is important. He is a global terrorist. He has been trained and knows how to use extreme violence. We do not know when, what or where he was going to attack, but the public can be reassured that a violent and dangerous man has been brought to justice."
We don’t know when, what or where he was going to attack then? No, nor even “if” he was going to attack. So we are now evidently able to lock people up in this country on the basis that they “might” commit a crime at some point. And by what definition is he a terrorist? He didn’t actually commit an act of terrorism, so by what means do we label him a terrorist? And how exactly has he been “brought to justice”? Brought to justice for doing what?
I don’t understand how for years the law has been so hesitant over down-grading the human rights of people with dangerous personality disorders, and yet it seems to have shot ahead in relegating the human rights of, erm, people who possess articles and make a record of information for terrorist purposes.
How did that happen?
Posted by Helen at 12:09 pm
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Starting a series of occasional posts about today’s prominent Beardy Men, we start today with our young friend Muqta, a man very much in the spotlight at the moment, bravely fighting the coalition forces by killing lots of fellow Iraqis.
- He’s not a cleric. He never completed his religious education .
- He has wide support amongst the Shia poor, loyalty inherited from his father, Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was murdered by Saddam.
- Other than that no one likes him. Not even the Iranians.
- He smells.
- He violently opposes the coalition forces in Iraq and the political process they are helping to conduct.
- Except for when he wants to be part of that political process.
- His favourite saying is: “Do you know who my father was?”
- He’s a busy man, running both a newspaper, al-Hawzah, and a militia, the Mahdi Army.
- He might have had a hand in killing Abdul Majid al-Khoel, but he says he didn’t.
- He has a thing against picnics.
Hell, yeah, let's pull out. Leave him in charge. It'll be alright.
Posted by Helen at 12:30 pm
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Europhobia highlights this - man arrested for "suspicious behaviour and public nuisance." He was wearing a coat, had a rucksack, did not look at policemen as he passed them by, and messed with his mobile phone waiting for his train. Well, at least they didn't bundle him to the floor and shoot him point blank in the head.
Although he did have his fingerprints taken, was swabbed for his DNA, had his flat searched, and was held in a cell overnight. And...
"Under current laws the police are not only entitled to keep my fingerprints and DNA samples, but according to my solicitor, they are also entitled to hold on to what they gather during their investigation: notepads of arresting officers, photographs, interviewing tapes and any other documents they entered in the police national computer (PNC). So even though the police consider me innocent there will remain some mention (what exactly?) in the PNC and, if they fully share their information with Interpol, in other police databases around the world as well. Isn't a state that keeps files on innocent persons a police state?"
Don't like it.
Don't want to live in a police state anymore than I want to live under a Caliphate.
Posted by Helen at 6:31 pm
The men who bailed out of the burning tank in Basra. Heard them on the radio this morning and was surprised to hear a Midlands accent. Turns out they are from the Staffs Reg. Odd to hear an accent normally associated with the hum drum of home, talking about bailing out of a burning armoured vehicle in the middle of a riot. Seemed very much to take it in their stride however, which is what I would expect of local chaps.
Kate Moss. Is this not turning into a witch hunt now? Do you know of any other celebrity who has lost so much, been so vilified, and been threatened with serious police action for taking drugs? And as for the fashion industry, which probably couldn't get itself out of bed in the morning without a bit of Charlie, I am very surprised. Hennies I could understand because they aim for the teenage market - but the rest? Is it because society (aka, the media) can handle most famous drug takers, but cannot handle a women with a young daughter (lesson being - fathers can take drugs, but not the mothers?) Or is this just a big, fat message that she needs to listen to what everyone is saying and finally get shot of that ridiculous Pete D bloke?
And finally, Charles Kennedy's speech, I was trying... to... think of when I was last so... ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Posted by Helen at 9:47 am
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
For those of you who have never read John Gray’s famous book “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”, here is a little taster:
In the olden days we men spent all our time sitting on a big rock, silently watching the herds of animals, planning how to execute our next kill. We still use those same skills today. Last year I spent many weeks on the internet researching the cheapest way to buy a new computer. My wife complained I was ignoring her and the kids, but I was just being a man sitting on his rock planning my next kill! Eventually when I brought a new computer home, feeling as proud as a caveman might have felt bringing home a dead antelope, my wife broke down and sobbed on the kitchen floor. I had used our savings to buy a new computer, without asking her, and she was upset. She said that the boiler needed replacing, and the car needed servicing, and the kids needed winter coats, and now we had no money left for any of those things.
How women misunderstand their men! There was my wife accusing me of being selfish, when I had taken weeks to get us all a damn good bargain! I had to explain to her how hard I had worked, and how I had done it for all of us.
Once she understood that, things were fine! She totally understood how brilliant I had been and begged for my forgiveness!!!
Well, alright, I made that up, but believe me, it’s not a great diversion from the stuff that you will find in the actual book. I read a few chapters of it at a former friend’s house many years ago and was flabbergasted that such brainless, unscientific, badly written claptrap had caught the popular imagination and become such a conspicuous bestseller. My young friend loved the book. She thought she'd found the Holy Grail of relationships. She was planning her wedding and was convinced that she had already unlocked the key to a happy marriage before she'd even made it up the alter. But then she was a Christian and so it wasn’t a great leap for someone who believed in a God to also believe that men are aliens (even though it’s ideologically incompatible, I suppose).
So I thought of her then when I read this. Surprise, surprise, a report published in American psychologist says that the sexes are fundamentally alike. Imagine that. The only real differences appear to be that women can’t throw a ball as good as men, and men play with themselves more and like shagging around more. No! Really? It needs no psychology report form America to tell us this, surely!
Imagine if you had based your marriage on John Gray’s tripe, only to find out now that it was all rubbish. You aren’t struggling to understand your man – he really is a selfish, mean pig! You’d feel like Ibsen’s Nora at the end of his play, "The Doll’s House". Suddenly finding yourself living with a stranger who’d made you perform tricks all your married life.
But then if you live your life purely by a book, without question or using your own reason, then you’re heading for trouble. Whether that book be psychobabble or the Bible.
But I don't worry too much about my old friend. I'm sure her marriage is still sound. They were two of the most tedious people you could ever hope to find, so I'm sure they've stupified themselves beyond all danger of divorce by now.
Posted by Helen at 8:08 pm
Rushing about today trying to get out of the house to make an appointment on time, someone had the nerve to knock at the front door. I could see through the misty glass of the porch door that it was a man in a suit.
When I answered the door it wasn't actually a man though, it was a boy in his dad's suit. "Hello," he said, looking petrified, "How are you today?" And he waited for an answer, trying to keep up the pretence that he wasn't going to try and sell me something.
If I hadn't been in a hurry, I might have had a bit of a play with him - it looked like this might be his first job. As it happened I ignored his question, and asked him what he wanted. I let him get as far as "... and we are in the area..." before I whispered an apology shaking my head kindly, and then quietly closed the door.
This evening my mobile rang. "Hello," said the confident voice of some Scottish buck, "I'm calling from o2. How are you?" And he too waited for an answer.
"Now's not a good time," I said, "Is this important?"
"That's fine," he said, ignoring my question like I'd ignored his, "I'll put you on ring back."
"What's this about?"
"About mobile phones," he said, faltering.
"I've got one thanks," I said, and hung up.
Asking somebody how they are is obviously Point One in the "Sell Someone Something They Don't Want or Need" sales manual. They are using common terms of social engagement to try and hook you in and bleed you dry. The bastards.
Posted by Helen at 5:02 pm
On yesterday’s incidents in Basra.
Ali al-Yassiri, aide to loony Shia cleric, Moqtada "shit stirrer" al-Sadr:
"What the two Britons did was literally international terrorism. If the British had condemned this, it would have calmed the situation but instead they came and demanded them back which sets a dangerous precedent."
No, Ali al-Yassiri, handing British soldiers over to the militia was setting a dangerous precedent. And I don’t think we need your advice on how to bring calm to a situation, thank you.
Next, loony Lib Dem leader, Charles "what's the point?" Kennedy:
"I think the events of the last 24 hours confirm what many of us have worried now over many months, that Iraq is moving more in the direction of civil war.”
Shut up. You’ve never been truly “worried” about anything to do with Iraq other than to consider how it might gain your party some votes.
Last word to Brigadier John Lorimer, commander of 12 mechanised brigade:
"I should put the scale of yesterday's disorder into context. British armoured vehicles being attacked by a violent crowd, including with petrol bombs, makes graphic television viewing. But this was a small unrepresentative crowd (200-300) in a city of 1.5 million. The vast majority of Iraqi people in MND(SE) [multinational division southeast, the British-patrolled part of southern Iraq] are law abiding and value the contribution made by coalition forces to maintaining stability and security."
Posted by Helen at 4:48 pm
Thursday, September 15, 2005
But don't panic Small Towners, it's only for three days!
I'm going up to Edinburgh for a long/dirty weekend. Never been to Scotland ever before so I'm looking forward to having all the Scottish stereotypes (burly men in kilts and vests mainly) being confirmed. Or not.
Can one of you feed the cats whilst I'm away, please? Thanks.
Posted by Helen at 1:40 pm
I was interested to learn how the Hitchens V Galloway thing went in New York yesterday and was grateful for Popinjay Douglas and also for Harry’s Place for pointing me towards this blog.
Our man seems to have acquitted himself well, giving reasoned arguments against Galloway’s usual huffing and puffing. And I think I’ve finally figured out what it is with Galloway. I think he’s actually a frustrated short story writer, communicating as he does in words that conjure up images all the time. Great habit for public-speaking, but probably a bit odd when used in a debate. He should give up the politics (oh God, please) and take up a monthly subscription with Writer’s Forum magazine instead.
The thing that struck me most was the exchange regarding Cindy Sheehan.
Hitch points out to Galloway the sickness of his cheering on the Jihadist murders in Iraq, and then siding up to Mrs Sheehan, whose soldier son Casey was killed by those very Jihadists.
And this assertion just wraps up the muddled feelings I have regarding Mrs Sheehan’s stand regarding her son’s death. Firstly, I feel desperately sorry for her loss. And I would have to say I feel some admiration for her too. It takes guts to do everything that she has done, and strength of mind. It’s humbling.
But I also feel a lot of unease about the ones she has attracted to her movement, and have the queasy notion that as much as love and grief compel her to do what she does, there are many around who have attached themselves to her who have very different motivating factors.
I’m troubled too that one of the comforts, one of the things that might be helping her through this, has been taken away from her. Because the war her son fought in was not a popular war, she thinks her son died senselessly. In a way he did. In a way all soldiers, who die in all wars, do so senselessly. Wars are senseless. But down the centuries, families of soldiers have always been able to take some pride, and so some consolation, from the fact that a life was lost fighting for a higher cause, or a better life, or against an enemy worth fighting.
What such a strong anti-war movement has done is to impart the message that in Iraq none of these factors exist. There is no higher cause. There is no better life to be gained. There is no enemy worth fighting against.
And I hate what that must do to the families who have lost people to this fight. I hate how that must make the soldiers out there feel.
I’m quite obviously not a soldier in Iraq, and I don’t have anyone I love out in Iraq, and it is easy (oh so easy) to sit here in my office in my three-bed-semi and write blog posts about democracy and fighting the fascists. But look at who is causing the bloodshed out there. Think of the enemy who gathers civilians in search of work around him, and then detonates his bomb to shred them to pieces. And if you think that only happened because we went into Iraq, then think of the thousands who died on September 11th 2001. It is the same enemy. It is the same people. The same Jihadists who blew up children queuing for sweets, are the same Jihadists who killed 52 people in London this July.
And there’s no higher cause in this war? No better life to be gained? No enemy worth fighting?
Hitchens said last night: “The Iraqi secular left are fighting for their lives against the most vicious form of fascist violence.”
I’m proud my country’s army is fighting with them.
Posted by Helen at 1:27 pm
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
According to today's Telegraph, Mr Ahmad Thomson, Barrister, member of the Association of Muslim Laywers, and advisor to Tony Blair, claims that Tony Blair went to war in Iraq under pressure from Jews and Freemasons.
It states in the article that Mr Thomson said: "Pressure was put on Tony Blair before the invasion. The way it works is that pressure is put on people to arrive at certain decisions. It is part of the Zionist plan and it is shaping events."
And a government spokesmen is quoted as saying: "We talk to a lot of people, including many whose views we do not necessarily agree with."
Right, well perhaps the Government would like to speak to one of my dear aunts then, because she's got some pretty wacko and racist views on black people. You don't have to agree with her, just soak in all that bigoted, senseless tripe and you'll be all the better "advised" for it. But then again, my aunt is only white, working class. She's not got some big posh job, and lots of money and contacts.
This is all a bit weird though don't you think? Not that Downing Street is mixing with some frankly scary people right now, although obviously that's giving me the wobbles, but these news reports of late. I've looked today for the names of the "advisors" who "advised" Blair that Holocaust Memorial Day should be changed, but they are not named. Only Mr Beardy from the MCB is named, and he's not one of the "advisors" - so what's that all about? And who leaked that non-story anyway? The government was never going to change the day, and has now said so, so who leaked that story, and more importantly, why?
And just read the Telegraph piece. It takes one current quote of Thomson's, without saying when, or how, or why, he said it, and then spends the rest of the article quoting from a book he wrote over ten years ago.
Someone, I feel, is trying to stir up trouble. It seems to me that there is not just a little bit of thumb-nosing going on here. "Hey, look at these chaps, having tea with the Government!" And I don't say it's the Muslim elite, or even any Muslim in particular who's getting all this into the press. I'm rubbish at conspiracy theories, so I haven't got any ready answers about why this is happening.
But I am getting a slightly irritated feeling that I'm being fed this information because someone has an agenda. And I don't like it.
Posted by Helen at 8:10 am
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
So, Mr Blair has been advised to "ditch holocaust day" because it gives the impression to Muslims that "western lives are more important than non-western lives" and "sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims" and "Muslims feel hurt and excluded that their lives are not equally valuable to those lives lost in the Holocaust time."
What utter bollocks.
But if you ask these stupid beardy men questions, then you will get stupid answers. It would be too much, I suppose, to ask these shadowy Muslim "advisors" to Tony Blair, and the bumbling MCB, to call upon their common sense of humanity in this matter? To accept that actually, of all the terrors in the world, of all the genocides that have taken place, that the enormity of The Holocaust is deserving of its own memorial. Not because it happened in Europe. Not because it happened to Jews. But because the murder of millions, organised in an orderly and industrialised manner, carried out over many years, rubber stamped by authority in many countries, was indeed modern history's darkest hour.
I am not a Jew, I have no Jewish associations, but I don't feel that's necessary in order to understand the exceptional horror of the killing factories in Poland.
I'm feeling more and more that we need to be careful about who we allow to "advise" us on matters of faith and community. I felt it first over Behzti, the play written by a female Sikh(Gupreet Kaur Bhatti, who has since had to go into hiding) that was pulled off the Birmingham Rep because of a mini riot by a mob of beardy men. The play had been popular with female Sikhs because of the gender issues it explored, but the beardy men were not happy with certain aspects of it and when The Rep refused to change it, the beardy men got very angry. But to a certain extent you can see why that happened. The Rep had asked these beardy men for their input into the play, they had actually "consulted" them. So when The Rep then turned around and decided that they didn't agree with what the beardy men were telling them, and refused to change the play, you have to ask, why bloody ask them anything in the first place? If you are just going to go ahead and do what you want anyway, then why "consult" at all?
(And since when did playwrights, or any other writers or artists for that matter, have to "check-in" with beardy men, sorry, community and religious leaders, before they create works of art?)
I think I might set up a Beardy Watch. Point out every time that someone's mad uncle gets a say in British politics. But then again, the British media do that anyway. With less than hilarious consequences.
I would like to say that my dad has a beard, and that this post is not meant to offend facial hair.
Posted by Helen at 2:49 pm
Madeleine Bunting’s piece in yesterday’s (new Berliner) Guardian has got me thinking (and it takes a lot for that to happen these days). I had to re-read the piece a couple of times because I found myself alternatively nodding my head and furrowing my brow in response to various points she made.
The nodding head occurred when she complains about “muscular liberals” puffing out their chests and talking about a “clash of civilisations”. Not a fan of this kind of rhetoric myself. Although I think I understand something of where that fighting talk comes from. Pre-September 11th, there was a sense in the west that “we had arrived”. After the revolutions of 1989 and the collapse of Communism, it seemed we had backed a winner and the destiny of all men on earth was civilisation - Western style.
Well, global Islamic militancy has shot that theory up the arse. We Western liberals thought we were on solid ground and now it feels like shifting sand. We are worried we might lose what we have. No wonder, as Bunting puts it, there is “a nostalgic grab for old certainties”.
The political Right sense it too. Gathering around us, whispering in our ears saying scary things about the brown people over the water, and trying to seduce us into giving up our liquor and porn and come back to a nice little age when women wore twin-sets and pearls and men smoked pipes.
Which gives us another way of looking at things.
The “clash of civilisation” proponents would have us believe that the West is one heaving community of secular open-mindedness and righteousness, whilst the states of Islam are rigid societies bound up in self-denial and harsh religious justice. But it’s not strictly true. Currently, in the US we have the spindly fingers of the Christian Right, a movement that is completely adverse to rational thought Enlightenment style, reaching straight into the heart of the political system, and in the world of Islam, there happens to exist right now a growing debate between traditional and modern interpretations of the Koran.
And so here’s the bit where I must part ways with Bunting. I am not part of the “political elite”, but I have been known to “grandstand” morally about gay rights and gender equality, and I take great offence at her statement that any suggestion of bringing Islam to account for these issues is a “charade” and a “parallel objection” alongside racism.
What she obviously fails to understand when taking this position, along with the “clash of civilisation” people she is criticising, is that there is a growing trend in Islam to want to tackle the injustices around sexuality and gender too.
But Bunting, it seems to me, cannot see past the Islamic stereotype of the burly self-appointed spokesman in big beard and white dress, talking about stoning homosexuals and making women walk about in black sheets. She says we must “learn to live in proximity to difference” and “talk peacefully with people with whom we might violently disagree” before going on to mention Ken Livingstone’s stone-wielding friend Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whom amongst other things condones the beating of disobedient women and advocates killing Jewish people.
Well, two things - notice the “proximity” bit. Other women can be made to wear burkas on pain of death, just as long as I don’t have to. Secondly, the assumption that having a discourse between the secular West and the Islamic world necessitates talking to people with whom we violently disagree.
It doesn’t. Although you’d be forgiven I suppose for assuming that it does. Just look at the mass of self-appointed religious or community leaders sticking to the realms of political power in this country like bees around a honey pot. The results of which gives us a bunch of blundering self-important tossers, sorry, the appointed advisors to the Prime Minister saying that Holocaust day should be ditched. An idea backed by no less than the ubiquitous Muslim Council of Britain, a bunch of men with no greater grip on reality than my Uncle Dave and his gang of friends down at the Legion. And who else gets air time? Ah yes. That bastion of sanity and reason Dr Mohammed “it’s all a conspiracy” Naseem of the Birmingham mosque, and Comedy Muslim, Omar “taking the piss” Bakri Mohammed. The list goes on.
It’s almost as if we are scared of giving media space to progressive Muslims, to perhaps the gay and women’s groups, because, well, I don’t know why. Because we’ll agree with each other perhaps? Because we don’t think they’re “proper” Muslims unless they come complete with a desire to abuse human rights? Because we think liberal Muslims are apologists for the West?
Or perhaps, as Bunting puts it, “the idea of submitting all potential interlocutors to an ideological approval rating will mean we end up talking only to ourselves.” But what, I ask in exasperation, does talking to the stone-wielding beardy men achieve? Do we assume that it will show us to be more tolerant perhaps of other cultures and there funny little ways? Do we think it makes us look inclusive?
It doesn’t, it makes us look like bloody hypocrites.
We extol the virtues of secular modernity and our many freedoms enshrined in our constitutions and laws, but we give credence to these individuals who oppose those virtues for others. There must be a pulsing vein of resentment through a body of people of the Islamic world who look at us in the West entertaining these people and wonder why we’ve turned our backs on them. When Tony Blair talks about “our values” and “our way of life”, it only sounds vacuous if we only believe in these things for ourselves. I believe in the freedom to express your sexuality and I believe in gender equality and these beliefs don’t stop the moment a geographical border is hit. Nor do I excuse them or change them for religion.
Both Bush and bin Laden have told us we must choose sides. Well, okay, I’m on the side of Muslims who see no contradiction between aspiring to liberal values and adherence to their faith. I’m sure Bunting would say that this subscribes me to an “ideology of superiority… reminiscent of Victorian liberalism and… imperialistic”, but you know, I can’t ever see me getting along with people who would beat my female Muslim friends for disobedience and stone to death my gay ones. I’m funny like that.
see also Pulpmovies weblog post, "Straw Bunting."
Posted by Helen at 1:35 pm
Monday, September 12, 2005
My newsagent said he thought the front page had come off or something, and I had to tell him that, no, it's a newly designed Guardian.
He wasn't impressed, but I like it better. The design that is. I reserve judgment on the content. All this talk of trying to attract a "younger" readership and be less "intimidating" is worrying me.
Bet I still carry on linking to it in my posts regardless though.
Posted by Helen at 10:12 am
Saturday, September 10, 2005
It was the kind of heat that clung to you and made your lungs feel heavy. I’d tried to eat the pastabake before me, but it seemed made of the same stuff as the heat and I was gagging on it. The place had no air con, just a few ceiling fans that whirled around dragging the damp air with it, and the temperature seemed to rise and rise. Finally I could stand it no longer and got up and made my way out swaying like somebody drunk. I didn’t hear the man serving behind the counter call after me, but my husband did, and he turned back and saw that the man was pointing out I had left my jacket behind on my chair. I can’t think why I had a jacket that day.
There was no respite out on the street. With the U2 lyrics in my head… summers get hot, well into the hundreds/ You can’t walk around the block without a change of clothing/ Hot as a hairdryer in your face/ Hot as a handbag and a can of mace… I staggered along thinking that at any moment I was probably going to come foul of some Guilliani by-law by throwing up on the pavement, and so get myself arrested. We were in some back street, and feeling weak I came to sit down on the concrete steps of a deserted office building. I sipped at a bottle of warm water and stared vaguely across the shimmering empty road at some dumpsters. If nothing else, I thought, I am seeing a little bit of New York that most tourists don’t see.
I don’t think my husband was so appreciative of where we found ourselves. Working for a bank and having regular contact with various financial institutions in Manhattan, he had wanted to spend some time in the financial district. In particular he wanted to visit the World Trade Centre, which was where we were supposed to be heading. Feeling the way I was feeling however, I didn’t think that I was going to make it. I wasn’t overly bothered. The Empire State building was the one I had wanted to clamber up inside of, and we had already done that. We had done a lot of touristy things, took the Statten Island ferry, gone to the Guggenheim museum, dozed in Central Park, shopped in Bloomingdale’s, stared at the smart people in snappy black suits down Wall Street. A place never visited before, but so familiar, New York felt a bit like one great big film set. The one jarring element had been the cars. I was expecting long, lean flat cars on the cities grid system, like the ones in Cagney and Lacey or Hill Street Blues. But the cars were disorientatingly European in appearance.
The Husband was getting impatient. He didn’t think we were far from the WTC and he wanted to go and find them. I got up, said goodbye to my private little bit of New York and followed him up the street.
He had been right. We weren’t very far from the WTC. In fact we had been practically under their shadows. The trouble with trying to find tall buildings in a city of tall buildings is that the closer you get, the harder they are to see. The Twin Towers had been visible from practically everywhere in Manhattan, but had been invisible just yards away. We stood at their feet now. 110 stories of shiny crystal jutting up into the sky in defiant grandeur. The square base of the things were frightening. Their sheer height inconceivable even as you ran your eyes up their enduring lengths. The images of other buildings around them were captured in their mirrored facades until they could no longer compete, and then only the sky was caught in their reflection.
We sat for a few more moments on the plaza outside by the fountain. Some areas were cordoned off as men with hosepipes cleaned the cracks between the paving slabs with obsessive attention to detail. I watched the men thinking that they weren’t so much cleaners as guardians of the temples above us. Everywhere the place gleamed; polished to perfection. Not a stone out of place.
We were surrounded by the gay colours of other tourists with their backpacks and shorts, mingling with the black suits of the workers catching lunch on the go. Dwarfed between the two towers there was a professional stage set up for some kind of dance performances, and someone was testing the microphone. I decided not to take a photo of the plaza because I was seriously running out of film. I would catch it on the way out if I had any left. Or I’d get a picture next time we came to New York.
We went in. The vast lobby seemed made of diamond and steel and yet at the same time was business like. The tourists had their own lifts, leaving the workers easier access to their offices. We filed in with the queue and noticed something odd. Every tourist, before being allowed near the lift area, was required to have their photo taken. Ostensibly it was a fun idea to allow tourists the chance to later buy a photo of themselves with a WTC back-drop from the shop on the top floor of the tower. I remarked to my husband that it was probably actually a security measure, the system plugged into some FBI system that would pick up on the faces of any known terrorists. I knew the place had been the venue of an attempted bombing in 1993 and I felt safer knowing that terrorists wouldn’t be able to get inside the building and try to blow it up whilst I was inside.
The lifts were the size of cattle trucks. I think we changed lifts about halfway up. Probably not that safe to have a lift shaft following all 110 floors. Whilst we rode upwards pleasant staff told us various things about the building we were currently riding up in. It took some time to make it to the top. I worked on the 14th floor of an 18th story building and when we were evacuated in a fire drill, I knew that it could take as much as fifteen minutes to get down the stairs and out of the building. I was wondering how long it would take to get out of this place in a fire drill. I squeezed my husband’s hand the whole way up.
The top floor was like a small shopping mall. It had room for a restaurant, a cinema, a gift shop, a pub. Looking through the glass walls to the outside, the view gave a similar feeling from that experienced whilst looking at the ground from a flying aeroplane. You could see for miles.
We walked the parameter and took our clues of what we were looking at from the written guides placed around the sides. We put a dime in a machine and it flattened the coin out and printed “I Love NY” on it. We went to the cinema and strapped ourselves into our seats as requested. It was supposed to be a simulation of a helicopter flight around the towers. The chairs we sat in actually moved whilst the grainy video showed the towers from the outside. Everyone stiffled laughs. I don’t think it really captured the true experience. On the way-out the projectionists said goodbye in approximately twenty different languages, and then asked at the end, “did I miss anybody?” I went to the Rest Room. We had a drink. We bought gifts for family; some mugs and a box of chocolates with the logo On Top Of The World on them. My husband had a pleasant chat with the women serving at the Gift Shop till. He remembers that conversation to this day.
There was seating that allowed people to get right up to the windows and look down to the ground. As safe as it was, it was impossible to look directly down the side of the building and not feel sure that you were just about to tumble to your death. It was disquieting and I clung to the rail behind me in case some freak accident meant I slipped and smashed through the pane of glass into the void outside.
We found the stairs that led up to the roof. Oddly, it felt safer up there than it did looking out of the windows below. It wasn’t very windy, and the area was wide and solid. Walking around amongst the scatter of other tourists, I heard every language but English.
Looking across diagonally to the other top of the other tower it felt almost as if you could jump across to it. Or hop on a cloud and be carried over.
Manhattan was bathed in sunshine. You could see directly up the length of it fitted in between two gleaming rivers; the Chrysler building, the Empire State, Central park, Brooklyn Bridge. On the other side, looking out towards the Atlantic, I looked out across to the Statue of Liberty and I don’t think I cried, but I think I felt like it. It was a dream fulfilled. For so many years I had seen New York on TV and film, and I had wanted to come since I had been little. We’d never been able to afford it until now. life was sweet. On Fortune’s Cap we sat the very button.
Stood holding my husband’s hand, we suddenly spotted a storm blowing in from the east. Behind us there was perfect late summer sun, but now before us a vast sheet of dark cloud and rain was heading straight for us. It obliterated everything it covered. We watched it coming for a long time. The wind was whipping up and it was getting dark. The world looked different now. Behind us, most of our fellow tourists had gone back down. I took the last of my photos and we too left.
When the storm hit, the windows inside the tower fogged up and the rain and clouds covered the view. The stairs to the roof were closed. The rain lasted all night.
The place had put us both in a good mood. It was the perfect end to the perfect holiday. Everything was perfect. We were still holding hands as we descended in the cattle-truck-lifts, and I think we might have kissed and whispered things to each other about what we should do when we got back to our hotel room. I was feeling much better going down the building than I had felt when I was going up.
We went beneath the towers to where there lay a stunning underground cavern of shops and transport links. As my husband bought us a coffee, I watched a woman in a suit lay out some advertising posters on the floor that I think were bound for the walls of the shopping mall. We went to the subway and stood on a dusty, hot platform waiting for our train. There was a poster advertising Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new film Collateral Damage. As part of the background of the poster there was a fake newspaper article recalling the details of the attempted bombing of the towers in 1993. It mentioned something about how Arnold’s character, a New York Firefighter, had lost his wife and child in the blast. I remember thinking what an insult that was to the people who had really lost loved ones in that blast. And how in bad taste it was to put a poster here, directly beneath the Twin Towers.
It seemed an eternity waiting for our train. When it came, inside it, the stifling heat was replaced by the cooling ventilation of an air con system. I liked New York’s subway I decided. I preferred it to London’s Underground which felt claustrophobic and dangerous. We easily got a seat. Resting my head on my husband’s shoulder, things seemed dreamlike. What we had just experienced didn’t seem real somehow. That mere humans could dream up, plan, engineer, build, service and operate a place like that seemed impossible. Surely it couldn’t be by human hands alone that things like this could be achieved? There was something otherworldly about buildings that scraped the sky, something divine about the ability to construct them, something spiritual about the desire to see them built. The capabilities of humankind seemed captured in the existence of these staggering global icons. I felt changed for having experienced them.
An announcement came over the tannoy; the driver was not moving from the station platform, he said, until the person in carriage x had taken their feet off the seats. He sounded so bored in his New York drawl, so bad-tempered, so near the edge of reason, that everyone in the carriage looked around at each other and laughed.
I love New York, I thought, I love New Yorkers. I was sorry to be leaving. But tomorrow afternoon my husband and I were going back home, flying to Britain in that other testimony to human vision and achievement - the aeroplane.
Posted by Helen at 2:14 pm
Sunday, September 04, 2005
I’m off on my hols. Think a change of scene will do me good, because with one thing and another this past month or so has been truly cacka. And I love blogging, but lately I’ve struggled with original thought and the quality of my writing. Hopefully with a few cream teas, nights out at The Ship, and some walks by the sea, I will come back feeling much more like my old self.
Anyway, having just past another birthday stuck in yet another difficult year, I find myself feeling contemplative. So, inspired by the regular piece in the Observer, I leave you with this for a week:
This Much I Know
Nothing would make my parents prouder than for me to dress nicely, keep a spotless house, and have kids. Unfortunately I do none of these things.
It’s worthwhile hanging onto fair-weather friends – you need them in happier times.
The morals of the Left are different to the morals of the Right. Lefty morals are based upon respect and compassion, Right morals upon judgment and duty. Judgment and duty make for a hard world.
Most of the people who have ever hurt me have done so out of jealousy, and yet I’ve never had that much to be jealous over.
Not everybody has a book in them, just like not everybody has a studio album, a painting, or an art installation in them.
I still get a shock when an intelligent person says they believe there’s a God.
I don’t believe in ghosts or aliens, but there is more to heaven and earth than we know.
I get my G and Js, and 5, S and 6s, all mixed up, and I never spell the word “occasion” correctly without a spellchecker.
When well, it is impossible to remember what pain feels like. You only remember the fear and distress it creates.
I give 100% to something or nothing at all, so I pick my battles. I can't bear not being able to finish what I start.
I have no idea why I keep a blog.
I don’t take comfort from the fact that others are worse off than me, and I don’t understand people who do.
The people who say they are good listeners are the worst.
Working in a call centre once has given me a phone phobia and a deep sense of despair, dislike and mistrust of The General Public.
My life is very different, but I am the same person at the age of 33, than I was at 17 and 18. I know this because I just read the diary I kept in 1990.
The world becomes a different place after you have been diagnosed with an incurable condition. I liked it better before.
A private education is no guarantee against stupidity. Being spoon-fed information until Grade A standard is reached gets you into university, but it doesn’t make you intelligent.
I always wanted a dog, but now I have cats I want for nothing more.
Everyone has their “somewhere else” and the Isle of Anglesey is mine.
Being bound to another human being physically, morally, and emotionally can be very difficult. But there is no happier place for me than the peace I find inside my union with my husband. I try my best to make it the same for him.
Now, while I’m gone, you can have friends over, but keep the music down and don’t break anything.
Posted by Helen at 12:07 pm
Friday, September 02, 2005
Stuck in an apocalyptic nightmare, surrounded by the swollen bodies of the dead, without food and water, fearful of being shot or raped, what you probably don't need is the President of your country telling you to be patient. Because that's what I heard Bush say on the news this morning.
Standing square shouldered, looking important behind his big impressive podium, surrounded by the men in black, President Bush has said of the devastation caused by Katrina: "This is an agonising time for the people of the Gulf Coast."
"This is going to be a difficult road. The challenges we face on the road are unprecedented but there is no doubt in my mind that we will succeed."
What the hell is wrong with the man? He seems to think that this is about him. Does he know what is happening down there? What the people are going through? How many have died? How many more people will die if they are not helped? What the people of the Gulf Coast need right now is aid and law and order, not platitudes, not fine words, not talk of "challenges" and "succeeding".
GET THE PEOPLE OUT OF THERE YOU IDIOT.
I have never felt so angry towards the man.
Posted by Helen at 10:06 am
Thursday, September 01, 2005
angry and sad post written after drinking good French wine and some odd banana liquor stuff. Please excuse spelling mistakes.
Okay, here was the plan, have some people over, do Pirate stuff, drink and eat slightly risque substances (things with sugar in), have a good laugh, smash up Pirate casket thing with a mop, end day feeling fulled with love. Forget especially terrorists in midst, and slightly tornadoish weather front.
Unfortunately we watched the news. So, New Orleans. Would anybody like to explain to me why exactly there are thousands of people still stranded there with no food and water amongst dead bodies, anarchy and disease? Given N.O.'s vulnerable position, given America's wealth, given the years they had to put some plan together, given the weeks and weeks of notice they had that something big was gonna happen, does anybody wanna expalin to me why the fuck thousands of poor sods are fucking stranded still in that area, with help coming slowly and sparsely. Is it because the only people left are the poor? Is it because the only people left are mostly black? Does not America care about these souls? Are they not important? Should we not have mobilised an army by now to bloody save these people? What, America just stands and watches when the poor, black south get totally and utterly fucked over? And George Cluney goes to the Venice festival and talks about a time when fear is used to get people to go along with war. Where be the millionaire now? Where be the Hollywood stars now? How about a time when rich, the uber rich, go to fucking Venice and talk about shit, whilst thousands of their fellow citizens are dying of want, George? How about a time like that? Like a Nightmare? Like a world gone mad?
And then we have macho, deluded, fucking idiotic men, with Yorkshire accents, talking calmly about how they feel the British government and the people of Britain have waged some kind of war against the people of Islam. "His people" have been attacked, he says, and he is a soldier for "his people". Fuck off! Nobody is waging a war against Muslims you arsehole. How sick in the head were you to fall for that shit? The coalition armies, like all armies, are there to fight the military, CIVILIANS are NOT the targets. There are two types of people in this world, oh Mr Suicide Bomber, there are the people who care about life, and there are the people who have no regard for life what-so-fucking-ever and are as close to evil as can exist. Guess which category you fall into you twat?
And Iraq. Sunni and Shia Muslims shooting at each other over a bridge where hundreds of people have just died? Where be brother love there? Where be pity? Where be compassion? Where be respect amongst religion? No love. No kindness. Just emptiness. Hate. Don't anyone ever fucking talk to me again of the morality of religion.
And Beslan. Can anybody please explain to me how if you are so outraged by the atrocities against your "own" people, that you can ever then justify going onto commit atrocities against others? If you feel that submitting children to death and pain is wrong, then how do you ever bring yourself to show death and pain to other children? What could you ever hope to achieve? How does your humanity become so debased that such acts of cruelty can be committed and excused?
The net is closing in on the human race. Nothing is local anymore. Everything has consequences far and wide. I couldn't even take one day off from feeling sorry for my fellow man.
Reading this sober I don't like how I generalised about "America" not doing anything for the people of N.O. I don't blame America, and I don't blame the American people.
Posted by Helen at 7:49 pm