Damn Spam

Apologies to those of you (Keefieboy, SD, Lyndon) who have made comments on here and seen them guzzled greedily by my spam filter and not spat back out again.

I’ve been subject to a sustained attack by a blogspot address over the past month or so, and my spam filter automatically blacklists that domain.  Anyone posting comments from a blogspot domain will find their comments binned and I have to retrieve them manually, which I normally do every day but this past week or so I’ve been too damned lazy busy working so not had time.

Anyway, your comments should be up now.  Thanks for posting them, and I’ll do my best to keep them from the merciless jaws of the spam filter in future.


BBC in “Iraq War was planned” shock!

Bush-Blair Iraq war memo revealed

exclaims the BBC triumphantly.

The New York Times says it has seen a memo which shows that the US president was firmly set on the path to war two months before the 2003 Iraq invasion.

From private talks between George Bush and UK PM Tony Blair, the memo makes it clear the US was determined to go to war whether or not he had UN backing.

Although the US and UK pushed for a second UN resolution on Iraq, the memo cites Mr Bush saying he did not believe one was needed.

The US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten,” Mr Bush is paraphrased as saying.

“But he had to say that if we ultimately failed, military action would follow anyway.”

How exactly is this news?  It became very clear in 2003 that Bush was prepared to go to war without the second UN resolution when Bush went to war without the second UN resolution.  Yet the BBC thinks a memo, that “the New York Times has seen”, which allegedly confirms what is blatantly obvious to anyone with a passing interest in world events is worthy of news.

Some people say they remember when the BBC was good.  I guess I’m too young.  In my experience, the BBC has always been shite and is getting rapidly worse.


A Small Victory

Recall last month the case of Oleg Shcherbinsky, who was jailed in Russia for allowing a speeding ministerial car to crash into him, which led to protests in several Russian cities against the system which allows ministers and government favourites to act with impunity at the expense of the general public.

The verdict against Mr Shcherbinsky has been overturned:

[T]he court found that Shcherbinsky had been following traffic rules while the governor’s driver had “grossly violated” them. “The panel of judges finds it necessary to overturn the verdict on Shcherbinsky and to abandon the criminal case, as there is no case to answer,” said one of the judges, announcing the decision in Barnaul. The crowd in the courtroom burst into applause.

This is hardly a victory for the rule of law, though.  The reason the verdict was overturned, as the Washington Post story alludes to, was that Mr Shcherbinsky’s case had generated a lot of sympathy among ordinary Russians who felt vulnerable enough to petition for his release, fearing that they too could end up behind bars for doing nothing wrong.  The Kremlin has come under some degree of public pressure recently, over this case and the bullying of recruits in the military, and in New Russia the leaders are unable to ignore public opinion completely.

This is a victory for ordinary Russians over the elite who believe they can secure courtroom verdicts in their favour regardless of the circumstances of the case.  It is a shame that this had to come after a court had done just that, instead of the court having upheld the law in the first place.  There is still a long way to go in Russia.

(Via Gene at Harry’s Place)


Anchored in Love Bovine

The desert sun does strange things to some people.  Last year we had somebody in Ras Al Khaimah jailed for shagging a camel, now somebody has been caught in Fujairah sexually assaulting a cow:

A Bangladeshi labourer allegedly turned into a wild beast after dashing into a cattle pen and sexually assaulting a cow. He was detained and referred to the court, which sentenced him to six months in jail to be followed by deportation.

Court records showed that a national heard abnormal sounds coming out of his cattle pen. When opening the door and checking, he found a Bangladeshi labourer, identified as M.Z., sexually assaulting a cow. He took hold of him and called the police. The man, who was arrested, admitted to his crime, while the cow was sent for medical examination.

(Via Secret Dubai Diary, who notes this as being an “udderly tragic affair”)


Obsessed? Me?

Books I have read over the past year:

Berlin: The Downfall, 1945, by Antony Beevor

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Among the Russians, by Colin Thubron

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, by Peter Hopkirk

Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia, by Peter Hopkirk

Putin’s Russia, by Anna Politkovskaya

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka

Lost Heart of Asia, by Colin Thubron

In Siberia, by Colin Thubron

We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, by John Lewis Gaddis

Chasing the Sea:  Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell

Cancer Ward, by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia, by Catherine Merridale

Books I’m planning to read:

Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, by William Taubman

A Writer at War : Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, Vasily Grossman

Ivan’s War : Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945, by Catherine Merridale

The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis

Black Earth: A Journey through Russia After the Fall, by Andrew Meier

In Denial: Historians, Communism, & Espionage, by John Earl Haynes & Harvey Klehr

God Lives in St. Petersburg, by Tom Bissell


Anti-war, anti-business, anti-clue

Good to see the anti-war crowd are up to speed with current events:

Protesters against the war in Iraq yesterday stormed an oil firm’s premises. The six-strong group entered KBR Production Services headquarters at Dyce shortly after 9am and tried to tamper with their computers. The protesters also threw files around the Wellheads Place office during the 20-minute incident.Police yesterday confirmed they were investigating after a number of unauthorised people entered the premises.

The demonstrators told staff they were anti-war protesters voicing their opposition to Halliburton’s operations in Iraq.


When staff pointed out the Aberdeen-based production services business had been sold by Halliburton last week, in a deal believed to be worth £100million, they decided to leave.

You’d have thought that anyone with enough interest in KBR to protest about them would have known that they’d undergone a change of ownership, wouldn’t you?


Business as usual

Meanwhile, further down the page of the Gulf News, it is back to normal.  Here is their take on the Jericho prison siege:

The barbaric offensive by Israel on the Jericho prison, literally under the noses of the two Western great powers, explains once again why the peace process in the Middle East remains a mirage.

Well, no.  The attack did not take place under the noses of two Western great powers, because those monitors had been withdrawn by the British government through fears for their safety.  Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, said in parliament on Tuesday that he had seen the conditions under which the monitors were working deteriorate to the point where he was going to withdraw them in the autumn, but took the risk of keeping them in situ.  The Quartet (US, EU, UN, and Russia) had warned the Palestinian Authority that the situation was unacceptable, and their security concerns were not being addressed, yet these warnings went unheeded.  Then earlier in the week, the armed guard who were responsible for the monitors’ protection was withdrawn without warning or reason, hence the monitors, fearing for their safety, were withdrawn.  Hence, when the attack to place, there were no noses of Western powers anywhere near.

As long as the Israeli government continues to flout international laws, build new colonies, starve the Palestinians and target their leaders, no roadmap will ever help the process reach its final destination.

True.  And as long as the Palestinians renege on previous agreements regarding the imprisonment of terrorists, threaten the lives of international monitors, and set fire to the British Council building, then indeed – no roadmap will ever help the process reach its final destination.

In attacking the prison and arresting Ahmad Sa’adat and others, with perhaps the blessing of the United States and Britain, Israel again undermined the leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Firstly, the US was in no way involved in this as their monitors were not around at the time.  So we can end this piece of low-grade hack journalism here and now.  Secondly, there is no evidence whatsoever that the attack on the prison was carried out with the blessing of the UK, and both parties have denied any collaboration in full.

The attack showed him unable to protect his people. It also provided Palestinian factions, some of which do not recognise the peace process, with more reasons to continue their armed struggle.

What curious logic!  Mahmoud Abbas was shown to be unable to control his own people, yet somehow this has turned into protect his own people.  And in confronting an armed Palestinian faction which did not recognise the peace process, Israel has somehow given it an extra reason to continue with its armed struggle. 

The attack also shows the double standards of US and British policies. Sa’adat and other activists were being jailed in a local prison based upon international guarantees that Israel would not target them. These guarantees, however, do not seem to matter when it comes to Israel.

Either the Gulf News has not done the basic research expected of a national newspaper, or it is deliberately misleading its readers.  The international guarantees in place which prevented Israel from attacking the prison also required Ahmad Sa’adat and others to be held in certain conditions which would be verified by international monitors.  The reports from the monitors have repeatedly stated that the Palestinians have never fully implemented their obligations under the agreement, and this culminated in those who control the prison threatening the lives of the monitors and preparing to release the prisoners.  Only once this international agreement was in tatters and the prisoners about to be released did Israel respond.

I was wondering how the Gulf News was going to spin this story when I was watching the events unfold on TV.  The answer seems to be by turning all conventions of logic on their head, leaving out half the story, presenting events in the wrong chronological order, inventing collaborations between Britain and Israel, and displaying moral indignation at a story which bears little relation to reality.

Business as usual, then.


Night of Stone and Russian Trains

If you scroll down a bit, you will see from that clever software plugin that I am currently reading Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia by Catherine Merridale.  I’m only one page in, but already a passage has brought back memories:

Russians are surely among the most accomplished long-haul railway travelers in the world.  Their preparations are formidable.  If you join them, you will be treated, at irregular hours of day or night, to hard-boiled eggs, pickled cucumber, sausage, lukewarm vodka, and sweet black tea.  It will become apparent that the windows of most old Soviet railway cars do not open.  But the conversation will always be lively.

So true, oh so true.

Here’s what I wrote after my last trip on a Russian train: 

I was sharing a carriage with a middle aged Russian lady who spoke enthusiastically to me in very fast Russian, of which I understood practically nothing, until she got off in Novoshino. It would not have been so bad if she’d stuck to the topic in hand, but having started the conversation talking about photography from a train window, a few sentences later she was on about Roman Abramovich buying Chelsea, which made it awfully difficult to follow. She was highly critical of my choice of food for the journey – a few pot noodles and Snickers bars – telling me there was too much salt in them, and instead offered me what she considered healthy food – an entire roast chicken and boiled eggs. Such is the nature of travelling on Russian trains.

If any budding writer was stuck for material for a new book, he could fill volumes with what he saw whilst riding Russian trains for a month.  Lacking fancy Western gadgets like iPods, the entertainment is laid on for you.  Watch the people, watch the scenery.  Look on with amazement though grimy windows at the surreal scenes unfolding before your eyes as the train pulls into a station.

It may come as a surprise to anyone unfamiliar with Russians, but on their home turf they are extremely confident people.  They will think nothing of talking to a complete stranger in a train carriage (lack of Russian language is not a problem, you are there to listen not speak), and if your correspondent happens to be a woman, she will interfere with everything you do as though you are a long lost son who needs looking after.  In Western society, it would be considered rude to criticise a stranger’s choice of food.  Not so on Russian trains, where your business is everyone else’s.  But so friendly.  Not an ounce of malice or condescension.  Just harmless busybodying.

And yes!  The preparations!  Trying to buy food at a station in St. Petersburg before my journey to Kazan, I thought 20 minutes or so would be ample time.  Not a chance!  There was a queue … no, not a queue, a rugby scrum … of formidable Russian women crowding the counter in the food shop.  They were all shouting, and jostling, and handling a multitude of food items, bullying the staff behind the counter into giving them some extra meat or cheese. I couldn’t get a look in.  I stood there with my jaw hanging open.  Not only was there the usual pre-packaged and dried food on sale, there were enormous hunks of raw meat with the ribs still attached, and cheeses the size of footballs.  The meat looked as though a butcher had gotten lazy and only cut the carcass into three before going down the pub.  Yet women were sticking these things whole into stripey nylon bags, along with four loaves of bread and a hunk of cheese, before boarding the train.  Anyone would have thought a call had gone out for citizens to take food to the Red Army, stranded in Novosibirsk and desperate for food.  After 10 minutes, I gave up and went to my train, leaving my Russian friend to do the buying on my behalf.

I could write for days about Russian trains.  Damn, I miss Russia.



Upon winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Syriana, George Clooney said:

“We are a little bit out-of-touch in Hollywood…I think that’s probably a good thing.”

Syriana is a film largely about the workings of the oil and gas industry, in particular the Middle East oil and gas industry, and as I know a thing or two about this subject, I was interested in watching it.  Having now done so, I think Clooney was understating the fact.

The points of contention are as follows.

1.  The merger between Connex and Killen will use economies of scale, and result in cheaper products for consumers.

I think they’ve whipped this line from the automotive industry or somewhere, where buying raw materials in bulk and mass producing the same item on identical production lines can result in a reduction in cost per unit built, and hence increase the margin per unit.  Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry doesn’t work like this. 

Continue reading


South Africa vs Australia

Probably the finest one-day cricket match I ever saw was the tied semi-final of the 1999 world cup between Australia and South Africa.  I doubt that any true cricket fan will ever forget Herschelle Gibbs’ drop of Steve Waugh in the previous match and the impact it had on the semi-final, nor the efforts of Lance Klusener who smashed his way to 31 off just 16 balls, and the desperate run-out of Allan Donald.

I am therefore desperately disappointed to have missed today’s match between the two sides, which would in all likelihood have surpassed that semi-final in 1999 for excitement and memorability.  Australia smashed 434-5 in their 50 overs, with Ricky Ponting at 3rd batsman scoring 164 off 105 balls.  This broke to smithereens the previous ODI record of 398-5 scored by Sri Lanka against Kenya in 1995.  When South Africa were presented with this total they must have felt all was lost, and thrown caution to the wind.  If so, it was a tactic which paid off, because Graham Smith scored 90 runs off 56 balls, and Herschelle Gibbs, following in Ponting’s footsteps at 3rd batsman, promptly trumped his rival by smashing 175 off 111 balls.  Ricky Ponting must have been rubbing his eyes in disbelief.

With no wickets to spare, and one ball left in the game, South Africa ended the match on 438, having broken the record set by Australia a few hours before.  An ending this tense, with scores like these from each team, is unlikely to happen again for a long, long time.

Why, oh why, did I not find a pub which was showing it?


I have heard from a South African colleague that a DVD is going to be released which will show the entire game.  This is a must have, and somewhat of a consolation for not having seen it live.