‘Politics like you’ve never seen it before’

Britain is to get a brand new internet tv station covering news and politics. 18 Doughty Street – which will broadcast for four hours each evening – promises to “break the mould” . Here’s the trailer:

Having just watched the trailer myself, I must admit, I found it difficult to muster much enthusiasm. Dull, but worthy, was my immediate reaction.

I would be happy to see a new non-mainstream tv news channel, though, so I am keen to see how it develops. And, yes, I’ll happily eat my words if I turn out to be yet another cynic with a blog.

Liberal Democrats in Russia and England

Grigory Yavlinsky, the head of the Russian Democratic Party (also known as Yabloko), addressed the Lib Dems conference today.

The Guardian Newsblog used the speech as an opportunitiy to have a dig at the Lib Dems, and their electability:

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dems’ president, prefaced Mr Yavlinsky’s speech by claiming that the undemocratic political system in Russia was not “enlightened enough” to embrace liberalism.

But a point of principle was in tow, namely the role of parties destined to stay in opposition rather than having much chance of forming a government.

The Russian liberals stand even less chance of that than their UK counterparts in the near future.

But at least the Lib Dems are taking the time to reach out to other similar parties across the globe, in both democratic and non-democratic countries.  They have an active and committed International Department (Full disclosure – I was once interview for and subsequently not offered a job there.  Swines.), which works to promote both liberalism and democracy across the globe.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair goes around expressing his disapproval of Vladimir Putin by giving him bear-hugs.

The local news from faraway

If Ian Dale were to compile a list of the best British ex-pat blogs, Tim Newman would surely be sitting comfortably at the top of the pile.

Today, Tim brings us a roundup of the local news from the Russian Far East:

If I once thought the regional news on S4C or BBC Wales was parochial, I now stand corrected as to what that word actually means.

[…] we had the story of a small lorry which got stuck when crossing a makeshift bridge over a ditch, the ditch in question being about a metre wide and six inches deep.  An interview with the driver was of particular benefit to the viewers.

Post-Soviet telly at its finest. 

George Galloway for Empire!

George Galloway has come out of the woodwork in support of one of the world’s last empires.

In this particular case, he supports Morocco, who annexed Western Sahara in 1976.

“I am for Morocco’s position (on the Sahara issue), and I always have been”, he said, stressing he is against “the balkanisation of the Arab region”.

“We should not balkanise the Arab region … I am against the partition of Morocco,” added the British deputy, affirming that “there is no room for small entities”.

A while back it looked as if the Saharawi people might get their homeland back.  But then the Moroccans discovered oil

(Hat tip: Marcus at Harry’s Place).

BBC gets lost on the way to al-Jazeera

A bit of a media sandstorm seems to have blown up over a video called Is This the Way to Al-Jazeera, which features BBC staff dressed as Osama Bin-Laden, singing a version of Is This the Way to Amarillo.

The tape was shown only at a private party but someone, described only as a BBC insider, thought that it was necessary to leak the tape, claiming it would be “offensive” to Muslims.

Call me a cynic, but that’s the most gratuitous excuse I’ve heard in quite some time. Let’s just take a closer look at the logic of leaking this tape:

  • This was a video that was to be shown only at one person’s leaving party.
  • It would have been seen by a hundred people at most, of whom probably no more than 10 (at the outside) would have been Muslim.
  • This insider is worried that Muslim’s will be offended.
  • So, in order to prevent this offence, he releases the tape to a global audience of approximately 1 billion Muslims.

What? Does this insider have no brain cells at all?

I simply can’t believe that the person who leaked this tape was motivated by a desire to protect sensibilities of Muslims. Their motivations, surely, must have been more sinister than that – either an attempt to discredit one of their work colleagues, or the BBC as a whole.

To wrap it up in an attempt to protect Muslims from offence is a disgrace.

Moving on – is the tape actually offensive? Well, make up your own minds – the Daily Mail has a copy of the video.

Use the force, moi luvver, and watch out for that droiver.

Yet again, our elected representatives have excelled themselves:

Cyclists in busy urban areas may have to sound a bell almost continually as they cycle along under government plans to force them not only to have bicycle bells fitted, but to use them to warn pedestrians of their approach.

I was going to use this post as an excuse to point out that pedestrians who get run over by bikes should have bloody well looked before they stepped into the road, and to pose the sarcastic question – how long until someone gets fined for noise pollution after ringing their bell constantly?

But instead, I was reminded of David Prowse, a true giant of a man. If there were more people like him around today, there wouldn’t be any need for such stupid legislation.

David Prowse, for those of you not in the know, was the very tall man in the Darth Vader suit in the first three Star Wars films.  His greatest role, however, was the Green Cross Code man, who taught a generation of British schoolchildren how to cross the road without getting squashed.

I’ve never been squashed while crossing the road, so I can confirm that the Green Cross Code Man’s advice really does work.

Anyway, enough of spuriously trying to link this to cycling.  I’m not really interested in making a point about cycling.  I want to reminisce. 

You see, I had the very great honour to meet David Prowse once – he came to my school when I was about eight years old.  As you can imagine, to my eight year old eyes, he was by far the tallest thing I’d ever seen.  (Although, if pressed, I probably would have admitted that he did look a bit silly in a green and white suit).  I was far too shy to ask for his autograph, but I do remember him telling me very nicely how to cross the road correctly. 

That was nothing compared to the highlight of the day, though.  We were allowed to go outside, and gawk at his car.  And what a car it was! 

Prowse was the owner of a very shiny, very low-slung red Porsche, a vision of futuristic metallic coolness the like of which had certainly never been seen before in dull old Bridgwater.  And, to top it all, his license plate was DARTH 1

Upon mature reflection, I’ve no idea how a man so tall managed to get into a car so small, but that will have to just remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of my life.  To the eight year old me, David Prowse was a God.  And, true to my god, I always (well, occasionally) stopped, looked and listened before I ran out into the road.   

Despite all this, I can completely understand why George Lucas chose to get James Earl Jones to do a voiceover of Darth’s voice.  You see, I got to hear him talk when he taught me to cross the road. 

For a frighteningly tall giant of a man, David Prowse speaks with a remarkably soft Bristolian burr.  And, with the very greatest of respect, hearing Darth Vader utter the immortal words…

Use the force, Luke, moi luvver.

… would not have had quite the same impact.

British MEP to be next UN Secretary General?

Nirj Deva represents South East England in the European Parliament.  But it looks like he’s decided Europe isn’t big enough for him – he wants to be boss of the world.  Or, at least, UN Secretary General.

Sadly, though, the balls up over whether Fiji had officially nominated him does seem to imply that he’s not a particularly good at managing his public image, and neither is he particularly diplomatic.  In fact, it looks like, in true British tradition, he’s a bit of a bungler.

The confusion over whether British MEP Nirj Deva has received a formal nomination from the government of Fiji continues. His campaign maintains that the July 18th letter from Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola trumps the recent letter from Ambassador Isikia Savua, which stated that any report of a nomination by Fiji was “to be disregarded.”

[…] The President of the Security Council is attempting to resolve the confusion, but the Devas campaign does not appear to be helping in that regard. Inquiries from campaign observers are met with accusatory and sarcastic remarks anonymously or from an unnamed person, often twisting provisions of the UN Charter or official communiques to defend their position.

Oh well – it’s only another decade until Britain’s next shot at installing ‘our man in New York’ comes around. 

Pressure on ‘Autistic Brown’ increases

Gordon Brown must be wondering how things went so very wrong, as it seems that every newspaper and commenter in the country has turned against him.

Robert Harris, I thought, had the most perceptive – not to mention amusing – analysis:

Gordon Brown is Labour’s Richard Nixon. That is not to suggest for an instant that he is a crook — far from it — but he has Nixon’s combination of immense political talent and utter clumsiness. The buttoned-up suit, the mouth slightly agape, the physical awkwardness, the alarming smile which seems to appear from nowhere as if a button marked “smile” has been pressed in his head, the nocturnal brooding on imaginary grievances encouraged by a group of chippy cronies — Brown, like Nixon, suffers from a kind of political Asperger’s syndrome. Intellectually brilliant, he sometimes seems socially barely functional: a little bit . . . odd.

I wonder if this could be Brown’s “something of the night” moment?

Britain holds back troops from Afghanistan

The Times today reports that the British government has held back from deploying an 800 strong rapid reaction force to Afghanistan:

BRITAIN agreed to provide an extra 800 troops to allied forces fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan but later withdrew the offer, Nato officials disclosed last week.

Lieutenant General David Richards, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, planned to use the 800-man force as troubleshooters, sending them into any area where fighting broke out.

However, John Reid, then the defence secretary, was so angry at the reluctance of other Nato countries to supply troops that the offer was retracted.

Yes, Britain’s NATO allies should be doing more to help, and should certainly be providing more troops to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan. 

But, given the difficult situation that British troops are finding themselves in at the moment, holding back reinforcements in order to prove a political point to one’s NATO allies is nothing more than negligence on the part of the British government.

Terrorism books being confiscated at British airports

The terrorist threat to air travel should be taken seriously – but probably not this seriously:

Ben Paarman turned up at Luton airport for a flight to Berlin. Having forgotten to remove toiletries from his hand luggage, he was hauled over for further inspection, and two books were discovered. A German novel passed without comment, but Murder in Samarkand, Craig Murray’s memoir of his incident-strewn stint as British ambassador to Uzbekistan, didn’t. “‘Is that about terrorism?’ asked the lady that examined my onboard luggage,” wrote Paarman on neweurasia.net, a collection of blogs by and about Central Asians. “‘Humm, well, it contains mentions of that, but it’s about your former ambassador to Uzbekistan and more about diplomacy,’ I replied politely. ‘Does it have al-Qaeda in it?’ I looked a bit confused. ‘Well, I have to check this with my manager, the rest of your stuff is fine, though.'” The manager arrived, asked Paarman where he got the book (Waterstone’s, Islington), then pronounced: “I am afraid you cannot take this onboard, Sir.” The book was duly confiscated.

Apparently the book, which the Foreign Office tried to prevent Craig Murray from publishing, has been confiscated a couple of times at British Airports recently. Murray, with his unerring eye for self publicity, is claiming that it is now British policy to seize every copy of the book it can copies of the book at airports, and is planning to seek a High Court injunction on the grounds that his (or perhaps the reader’s?) human rights have been curtailed.

Oddly, the Guardian article mentions that Paarman wrote about the incident on his blog- neweurasia. I’ve just had a quick look, and couldn’t find anything, but Ben’s a reputable guy, so I’m sure the article’s around there somewhere. (Update 9/11/06: I’ve just found Ben’s blog post, over on neweurasia’s Uzbekistan blog.  Now why on earth didn’t I think of looking there in the first place?).
Whatever, seizing books from passengers is an alarming precedent, which does absolutely nothing to make the skies a safer place. The practice deserves to be exposed and ended as soon as possible.

Update (11/9/06): Post amended at Craig’s request to correct my error – see comments.