November 24, 2001

Anthony Adragna

of QuasiPunditmailed to say that he knew of a guy who'd enjoy my bit about the wrinklies, namely Alan Simpson, formerly of the US senate and now enjoying - really enjoying - his retirement. While I was typing out the link, Mr Adragna blogged it himself, so you just go there. You can read nice words about me, too. Good thing I changed the colours of my blog template, which is the same one as employed by the QuasiPundit gang, or you'd all think I wrote it myself.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:25 PM | TrackBack

The healing winds of trade

are blowing over Afghanistan in this New York Times story with the great title In Herat, TV Man Is King, Burka Man Is Lonely.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

Kunduz waits.

In this Independent story Fergal Keane wonders how soldiers who have never heard of Geneva, let alone its conventions, will behave. For the record, I hope they don't massacre the Taleban. The Taleban may well deserve death. But we deserve the intelligence they could supply.

Kill them anyhow, say some: at the end of the last shindig in Afghanistan, foreign Moslem volunteers returned to their homes carrying the spores of terror with them. But the case is different now. These foreigners will not be returning as victorious heroes, but as unpopular, half-forgotten losers finally being let out of jail.

One final point. The Geneva conventions (not that the Northern Alliance have signed them, still less the Taleban) demand that once a soldier has surrendered he must be treated well. However I have heard it said that the attackers are not under any particular obligation to take his surrender in the first place. Is this true?

Posted by Natalie Solent at 07:22 AM | TrackBack

There's could-happen-to-me stupid

(this column, passim), and there's stupid stupid. The title of this Times snippet says it all. Drunk one-armed driver on mobile phone.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 06:57 AM | TrackBack

November 23, 2001

Airport security: hate it or hate it.

Let me get this straight. Airport security can close down an airport for hours because one man runs down the up escalator - remember my earlier blog on Michael Lasseter. But airport security cannot do anything so vulgar as lay a finger on said man, despite their own opinion that he might be the next Mohammed Atta. Here's the story according to CNN The key words are:
"Asked why the guards didn't physically stop him, Collins said, "They don't have the authority to touch any passengers. They can only sound an alert."
Did I miss something? Wouldn't it have (a) saved everyone a lot of trouble and (b) actually be a more secure security procedure if a guard had just grabbed Mr Lasseter and said, "You can't go this way, sir."
Posted by Natalie Solent at 04:18 PM | TrackBack

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers

, which is most of you, judging from the e-mails. Alas, not everyone shares my sentiments. Last year this is what Ward Churchill had to say about Thanksgiving. Actually, I can understand why a Cherokee might harbour bitter feelings about the last 400 years, but if you really want to put your temper to the test, try reading Mr Churchill's account of his delight at the WTC atrocity and see if you still like him afterwards.

LATER ADDITION A check on the "delight" link reveals that the final and worst paragraph has been omitted. Here it is:

> There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel
> killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside
> comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World
> Trade Center . . .
>
> Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were
> civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a
> technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial
> empire - the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension
> of U.S. policy has always been enslaved - and they did so both willingly
> and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" - a derivative, after all, of the
> word "ignore" - counts as less than an excuse among this relatively
> well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the
> costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in - and in
> many cases excelling at - it was because of their absolute refusal to
> see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly
> and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches
> and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of
> sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of
> infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way
> of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little
> Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd
> really be interested in hearing about it.


Posted by Natalie Solent at 02:03 PM | TrackBack

Exploding blog alert!

Don't look, it's too horrible! My attempt to create links to fellow bloggers just resulted in the entire blog being rolled out along the sidebar, like Bugs Bunny after he went through the sausage machine. If I've left out anyone who thinks they ought to be linked, dry your tears and e-mail me.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 01:32 PM | TrackBack

Tasteless humour

from Random Jottings
Secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld are sitting in a bar. A guy walks in and asks the barman, "Hey, isn't that Powell and Rumsfeld?"

The barkeep says, "Yep, that's them."

The guy walks over to the two and says, "Hey guys, what are you doing?"

Rumsfeld says, "We're planning an air strike."

"Really? What's going to happen?"

Rumsfeld says, "Well, we're going to kill 10 million Afghans and one bicycle repairman."

The guy exclaims, "Why are you going to kill the bicycle repairman?!"

With that, Rumsfeld turns to Powell and says, "See, I told you no one would give a damn about the 10 million Afghans!"

Posted by Natalie Solent at 01:20 PM | TrackBack

Do I laugh or do I cry

about this Common Dreams report about heavy-handed action against a parody of the GATT website?. Take your seats, ladies and gentlemen. In the red corner we have suppression of free speech by the real GATT and in the blue corner we have deception by the spoof website. The link still works, so obviously the GATT lawyers have not yet prevailed.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 12:37 PM | TrackBack

Ice Cold in Alex no longer.

This telegraph article on the latest EU environmental diktat forbidding the resale of old fridges to Africa leaves out the biggest evil consequence of all. The poor in Africa won't be able to get cheap old fridges any more. So some of them will end up eating food that has gone off, because they are poor and can't afford to throw away something just because a few flies visit it. And some of those people will die. But they'll die cared for and environmentally sound, so that's OK. Don't waste your time worrying about bottle-fed babies drinking milk full of bacteria either; it's their own fault for not realising that the correct role of black babies is to provide statistics to show breast is best, so it's a good thing if they all die, really.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:51 AM | TrackBack

Wrinklies whinge at Government.

Oops, sorry, I had the wrong filter switched on. Start again. Senior citizens are outraged at the dropping of a private member's bill to outlaw ageism. Instead of getting lots of lovely laws for Christmas, the Government is fobbing old people off with rotten old consultation. I ask you, what is Christmas without the pleasure of seeing some evil shopowner in jail for hiring his neice Janine (16) as a favour to her mum?

Fact is, wrinklies, the law is slow and you will probably have gone to your various rewards by the time the evildoer is sent down. Whereas it will only take the Janine's uncle a few weeks to grasp that our girl is semi-literate, high most of the time, and has to grab a sickie every other Monday, being "shagged out", by which I do not mean tired. So you just wait patiently unil she's fired and then present yourself at the door. Wear your medals.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:35 AM | TrackBack

November 22, 2001

Poor suckers was yesterday. Today, a lucky beggar.

Irishman David Hickey, unexpectedly enriched by a bank official who mistook euros for pesetas, puts up a spirited defence of his right to keep the money. As he says, "I looked at the original transfer form and it had a disclaimer on it saying that Bank of Ireland took no responsibility for any mistakes made during the transfer. And the Bank made a big mistake. So I thought; 'Fine, this money is effectively mine'. "

Posted by Natalie Solent at 11:59 AM | TrackBack

The Guardian has got its nerve back

on Zimbabwe, after several years of being embarassed to admit how badly their blue-eyed-boy (metaphorically speaking) had turned out. Time was when a search of their archive under the heading "Zimbabwe" got you little but cricket scores.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:03 AM | TrackBack

Anatole Kaletsky

has an interesting opinion piece in The Times which gives good odds on Blair's Messianic vision coming true. I am not exactly "on message" about the New World Order, but it's true that more trade with Russia would help both us and them. As Sean Gabb has pointed out in this Free Life Commentary, Russian Orthodox Nationalism is not suitable for export.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:58 AM | TrackBack

Cornelius Fudge can't be everywhere, you know.

While Mr Blunkett labours to destroy our rights to privacy and free expression he has lost interest in the futile war against drugs. This Guardian story, Of course weekend cocaine's OK, moves us nearer to having the legal right to take drugs. So I get to lose the free speech and privacy, which I did want, in exchange for a right to ingest poison. Better than no rights at all, I grant you, but I'm not gaining on the deal.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:37 AM | TrackBack

Blair will learn to spell "Toomorrow".

I couldn't resist this mean, heartless story from the Telegraph
Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:46 AM | TrackBack

November 21, 2001

Mea Culpa

. The North Koreans, and one of my readers, James C. Bennett, knew better than I did that "Kuds", "al-Kuds" ,"alquds" and variations thereof all relate to the Arabic name for Jerusalem. While I'm grovelling I might as well admit that Muslim News was not being as quite as evasive as I thought when it ran a story on student elections in Palestine ahead of the fall of Kabul. These student elections are important because they are the only elections.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:46 PM | TrackBack

America's Love for Jews and Israel

is the title of this article by Abdul Qader Tash of Arab News. Somebody really ought to take Mr Tash quietly to one side and tell him that it's no good the Saudis blowing 600,000 on puff in the Economist if their boys are going to write as if any love directed at Jews were in itself pathological.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:46 PM | TrackBack

Now I know what "safe mode" is for.

An illegitimate code-baby popped out just then, but the tachyonic prophylaxis of blogger software lets me pop it in again. Do not try this in the real world.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:40 PM | TrackBack

Having whet

my appetite by changing the sidebar to a rather fetching shade of purple, I'm now attempting a few other customizations. If this blog explodes it's because I have only the vaguest knowledge of HTML and related arcana. Apologies in advance for any disruption.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 03:58 PM | TrackBack

No Title

Driven from his home by fear of the mob.What is this man's crime? Did he blow up a city? Did he rape a baby? No. He ran down the "up" escalator. It caused a flap at an airport, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and now he's classed in there with Osama Bin Laden. Perhaps not quite that; the fact that Michael Lasseter didn't mean to do any harm to anyone has been noted as a sort of just-possibly-relevant secondary phenomenon: "We'll take his apology to heart," said stern Clayton County Solicitor Keith Martin. "But it won't stop the prosecution. We don't let people go with an apology."

What, not ever? Many quips come to mind regarding Mr Martin's last sentence, some of them involving ex-president Clinton. But actually this is serious, and not just for the poor sucker (poor suckers are my theme for today) whose life has been torn apart because of a moment's panic over a lost bag.

Note that Mr Lasseter's panic makes him a public enemy. Even I end up calling him a "poor sucker", and I'm on his side, having ran after a good many lost handbags myself. Strange, isn't it, that no-one thinks to call the airport's reaction "panic"? Yet that is what it was. Why doesn't the airport apologise for panicking, wasting everyone's time, creating a climate of fear, and generally doing Osama Bin Laden's work for him? "But," the authorities will wail, "we honestly thought..." That's OK. If it was an honest mistake, we'll all forgive them, won't we?

America, you have enemies enough. Save your wrath for them.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 11:20 AM | TrackBack

More bureacratic legalism,

acting, as usual, to stifle feelings of common humanity.
Daily Telegraph London 17/11/01

Judge acts as disabled barrister is snubbed

A judge threw down his wig in anger when he was forced to wheel a
disabled man into his courtroom after staff refused to help him.

Judge John Hopkin left the bench to help Michael Pearce, 59, a
barrister and MS sufferer. He was only person willing to offer
assistance after a ruling that ushers and security guards should not
touch the disabled.

Staff are not covered by insurance in the event of accidents and so
have been told to leave wheelchair-bound visitors to fend for
themselves.

Judge Hopkin, who took action in a crowded courtroom, said: "I thought
these courts were supposed to be disabled-friendly. This is a quite
disgraceful scene, a disabled counsel with no one to help him get
through the doors."

Mr Pearce, 59, a self-employed barrister, is not covered by Court
Service insurance after its policy was changed in September. He said:
"I don't know why they had a change of heart. What about disabled
members of the public and jurors, What are they going to do?

"I think the Court Service owes it to the general public to help those
people who are less able to help themselves."

Vernon Coaker, Labour MP for Gedling, Notts, said he would raise the
issue with the Lord Chancellor's Department, adding: 'This is lunacy."

Now, the disabled barrister here does not appear to be any sort of activist, just a disabled barrister trying to get on with his job. But this case is interesting as well as outrageous because it potentially sets one tribe of legalists (the jobsworths who won't touch a person needing help for fear of being sued, and behind them, the reckless suers) against another, namely those disabled people who believe that the rest of the world must be forced to make their path smooth. This man is a barrister, after all. Perhaps even as we speak he is turning the pages of Snodgrass on the Disability Act...
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:20 AM | TrackBack

How did I miss

yesterday's Telegraph leader (on the dangers to freedom of a unending war on terrorism) by Robert Harris?Perhaps because there are similar, and similarly depressing, headlines on every front page. The piece includes an incredibly apt quote from Hitler.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:14 AM | TrackBack

Hot philosophical news

. In this New Republic article, Jonathan Rauch writes in praise of hypocrisy. He's serious. This isn't a literary joke. He sees hypocrisy+law as an exquisitely modulated, evolving system that gives the most humane outcome. He thus argues for leaving in place such things as the law on drugs. One of the strongest challenges to my own hard core libertarianism that I have met in a long time.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:40 AM | TrackBack

Oops! again, and this time the poor sucker is me.

The link on the previous entry just gives you an ad. I shall leave it in place as a lesson to myself to refrain from schadenfreude. Here's the original Telegraph story:
Futures trade fiasco puts Dax in tailspin
By Helen Dunne, Associate City Editor (Filed: 21/11/2001)

THE German futures exchange Eurex was embroiled in a major row yesterday after it cancelled an unusually big trade, which left many of its members sitting on large losses.

The December futures contract on Dax, Germany's index of leading shares, dropped almost 800 points from an opening level of 5,143 within half an hour of a trader hitting the wrong buttons.

It is believed that the trader was intending to sell one futures contract when the market hit 5,180 but instead sold 5,180 contracts, which sent the market into freefall. It was unclear yesterday where he worked.

The dramatic move triggered many electronically programmed trades, set up to automatically sell futures contracts once they hit a certain level.

It also led to a major sell-off in the contract of Euro Stoxx, an index of leading European company shares. It opened at 3,807 but, within minutes, lost over 20 per cent to hit 2,985. Traders said that movements in the Euro Stoxx contract are very closely linked to the Dax contract.

Five hours after the massive sell-off in Dax contracts, Eurex announced that trades below 5,083.5 would be cancelled. However, it took a further two hours for confirmation that trades on Euro Stoxx would be cancelled below 3,726.

The news led to outrage among members of Germany's futures exchange, which is traded exclusively on electronic screens. One trader said: "This is un-bloody-believable. It is a complete mess."

They were angry because trades initiated as a result of the dramatic slump had not been cancelled, leaving them nursing hefty losses. There was also outrage at how long it took Eurex to announce its decision.

One trader said: "If they had left the initial mis-trade as it was, then I estimate it would probably cost the bank involved about 30 million. Instead, the bank has been saved and I and all the other members suffer."

It is understood that many traders took the opportunity to buy both indices when it hit such low points, and then sold them when the market recovered at a much higher level. In some cases traders sold futures contracts on other European stock markets and actual shares, as a hedge to protect themselves.

"I bought the market when it fell and then sold it when it reached a much higher level," explained one banker. "Now my first trade has been cancelled, but my second one hasn't because it was above the cut-off point. I have lost money and I am furious.

"The guy involved must have been an idiot. All through the trading process it says things like 'are you sure?' It is meant to protect us from making errors."

One Eurex insider said: "These guys are professional traders, they must have known this was a mis-trade and would be cancelled. They expected to profit from somebody else's error and now are complaining because they couldn't."

However, futures traders rejected suggestions that they had capitalised on somebody else's misfortune and pointed out that a recent mis-trade by a Lehman Brothers employee was not cancelled, even though it also led to a dramatic swing in the market. "How do we know when they are going to consider it a mis-trade? Do they want us to sit on our hands?" said one.

A Eurex spokesman said: "It did not take a long time. We have to get the information but a company has to first register that it was a mis-trade. We informed the market as quickly as possible."


Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:26 AM | TrackBack

Oops!

Some poor sucker pressed the wrong button in Germany, and a silly amount of money went flying. LATER NOTE: the link doesn't give the right result - see later.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

Now even senior police officers

are saying that the drug laws should be relaxed. This BBC News 24 story does not minimize the harm done by drugs, but reports the emerging consensus. No one should be unmoved by the sufferings of Leah Betts' mother. Equally, no one should be unmoved by the fact that the prohibition of ecstasy did not stop her daughter dying of it.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:07 AM | TrackBack

November 20, 2001

Alas for dreams of glory

... Would-be martyrs left on the beach, says this BBC News 24 story.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:52 AM | TrackBack

Voldemort

is the name Rich Galen bestows on Bill Clinton in this "Mullings" column asking where the Clintons were when it came to defending the rights of women in the White House or Afghanistan. Continuing the Harry Potter theme, in today's Guardian Cornelius Fudge a.k.a. David Blunkett speaks.

I am particularly reassured - not! - by the following:

..."especially as there is a safeguard against rash prosecutions for incitement in the form of the attorney general who would have to approve every action."
There is a legal fiction that prosecution decisions taken by the attorney general are not acts of the government. It's just that, a fiction. The attorney general is the attorney general because the Prime Minister says he is. Any time Tony says frog, he jumps.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:50 AM | TrackBack

Stock tip for the day:

All companies with unpronounceable names that have to be typed in a silly way are doomed. Ignorant of this profound truth, the New York Times reports fairly optimistically on the "stocks formerly known as British Telecom," now masquerading as "mmO2". The NYT opts to capitalise the first "m" when it appears at the beginning of a sentence, and to regard the "O" as an "oh" not a "zero". Observe other variations elsewhere. Observe irritated business diarists advising you to sell so that they may be spared the trouble of typing out the stupid name yet again.

In this post I hope to give the impression that I am casually acquainted with both "the artist formerly known as Prince" (who seems to have disappeared, in proof of the pop version of the rule above) and that I know all about stocks and shares. I do have fifteen pounds in premium bonds somewhere.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 08:26 AM | TrackBack

November 19, 2001

News from the year 2035

Author unknown. Thanks, whoever you are.

1. Castro finally dies at age 112; Cuban cigars can now be
imported legally but President Chelsea Clinton has banned
all smoking.

2. Spotted Owl plague threatens Western North America crops
& livestock.

3. Last remaining Fundamentalist Muslim dies in the American
Territory of the Middle East (formerly known as Iran, Iraq,
Syria, and Lebanon)

4. Afghanistan still closed off; physicists estimate it will
take at least ten more years before radioactivity decreases
to safe levels.

5. George Z. Bush says he will run for President in 2036.

6. 35 year study: diet and exercise is the key to weight loss.

7. Nursing home event... Bill Clinton denies allegations of
affair with candy striper.

8. Texas executes last remaining citizen.

9. Upcoming NFL draft likely to focus on use of mutants.

10. Baby conceived naturally.....scientists stumped.


11. Authentic year 2000 "Chad" sells at Sotheby's for $4.6 million.


12. Ozone created by electric cars now killing thousands
in Los Angeles.

13. Average height of NBA players now nine foot seven inches.

14. Microsoft announces it has perfected its newest version
of Windows so it crashes BEFORE installation is completed.

15. New California law requires that all nail clippers,
screwdrivers, and baseball bats be registered by January 2036

Posted by Natalie Solent at 11:21 PM | TrackBack

The last line

of this snippet from Instapundit caught my eye.
THE TIME WARP: While sitting in a doctor's office this morning, I leafed through a Time magazine from last June (medical waiting rooms serve a valuable archival function; I'm surprised they didn't have the "Who Will Win the Space Race?" issue of Newsweek still lying around somewhere). Some highlights: A skeptical account of Bloomberg's candidacy for Mayor of NYC. A skeptical account of Bush's foreign-relations efforts, strongly implying that he wasn't up to the task of dealing with foreigners. And a piece by Andrew Sullivan, suggesting that Bush & Cheney's 1950s-style stiff-upper-lip masculinity might alienate voters more used to the bitten-lower-lip style of Bill Clinton. Boy how things have changed! I should note that only Sullivan's was styled as an opinion piece, but that the other two stories seemed to have about the same reportage-to-opinion ratio. Well, not everything has changed.
How true it is that you have to separate the usually honest reporting from the unthinking commentary. I recall watching a TV documentary about the Falklands War. An ex-soldier was trying, haltingly, to describe a source of friction between the officers and men. In swoops the commentator, ten times as articulate, one tenth as perceptive: "As so often, the troops were let down by the officers..." So I'm yelling away at the TV, "He didn't say that! Shut up and let him talk, you prat!"

There you have it. I have finally become my grandma. I shout at the TV. Can you blame me? If your blood pressure needs an invigorating surge, listen to the final sound-bites with which TV political reporters finish their reports. Usually they are (a) considerably longer than the ten seconds given to the politicians they are meant to be covering, (b) presented as if handed down from heaven, and (c) fatuous.

Utterly different field, same whinge. In The Edge of England's Sword an entry headed "Occam's Razor, anyone?" gives another example of interesting jam wrapped in stale bread. It's getting more dangerous to be a vicar, says some believable if unscientific research. It's All Because of Consumerism says the waffler presenting the research, sublimely unaware that his take on events has no more status than mine or yours.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:49 PM | TrackBack

Order the guns and kill!

I'm hoping to help start up a Libertarian Kipling Feeding Frenzy on Samizdata
Posted by Natalie Solent at 06:34 PM | TrackBack

Do you like Kipling?

I don't know, I've never kippled. (This entry was a link that went wrong. The moving cursor, having writ, moves on. It cannot be erased, but my piety and wit suffice to change the wording as much as I choose.)
Posted by Natalie Solent at 06:14 PM | TrackBack

A three year old child is going to be torn away from a loving home,

the only home he has ever known, to be sent to live among strangers speaking a foreign language. God, that's terrible. Get the social workers to intervene! Sorry, no can do. The social workers are the ones doing it. In this Jewish World Review column Thomas Sowell recounts another case of PC child abuse. The unfortunate three year old is partly American Indian. Or Native American, whatever, I don't care. Apparently that means that some tribe owns him and can claim him at will.

America is not the only place where race or nationality determines the fate of unwanted children - or, more accurately, very much wanted children wanted by would-be parents of the wrong race. Anyone but me remember "The Dying Room", where Chinese orphans dragged out their last hours? Anyone remember Caecescu's orphanages in Romania, with the three year olds who had spent their entire lives in urine-soaked cots? What a relief to know that these children had their precious heritage protected! Were it not for that, something awful might have been imposed on them, like being cherished, educated and loved.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 02:20 PM | TrackBack

The [North] Korean Central News Agency

had this to say on Nov 14th about its relations with the state of Palestine. ("State of Palestine"? A little premature there, guys). All is as one might expect, except for one oddity in the last line, namely the aspiration that the new Palestine should have its capital in some place called "Kuds." There's a Kudus in Java, but it seems a little far for Arafat to commute.
Greetings to Palestinian President
Pyongyang, November 14 (KCNA) -- President Kim Yong Nam of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK today sent a message of greetings to Yasser Arafat, President of the state of Palestine, chairman of the executive committee of the Palestine liberation organisation and head of the Palestinian national authority, on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the proclamation of the state of Palestine. The message extended warm congratulations to the president and people of Palestine on the occasion and expressed belief that the friendly and cooperative relations between the two peoples would grow stronger to meet the need of the new century.
It wished the president and people of Palestine fresh success in their efforts to found an independent state with Kuds as its capital.

Posted by Natalie Solent at 12:05 PM | TrackBack

The King wanted a train set for Christmas

. Here's a cute series of letters to the Guardian about the British railway system considered as a great big toy
Posted by Natalie Solent at 11:57 AM | TrackBack

The Afghan rollercoaster.

This from the letters page of the Telegraph:
SIR - Your front page picture of happy faces on the streets of Kabul (Nov. 14) brought warmth to the heart. But how much was this evidence less of a keenness to westernise than of simple Afghani perverseness?
I cannot help wondering if the right way to see the Taliban era is as a natural reversal of what happened in 1928, when the country embarked on a crash course of modernisation. King Ammanullah returned from a European tour, determined on immediate change.

Roland Wild, a 24-year-old reporter in Northern India who was later your Vancouver correspondent, managed to take a car through the Khyber Pass. The first evidence of what was afoot came as his driver stopped to don western clothes, kept in the toolbox, whenever they approached Afghan officials, and afterwards put his dhoti on again.

Wild arrived in Kabul just in time for the meeting of the first Afghan parliament, which was held behind a barbed wire fence in a public garden. The chiefs who had been summoned were told that the proper dress for modern legislators was Homburgs and morning coats.

They arrived nervously holding hands; those who squatted on their hunkers were prodded by friendly police with poles and pointed towards the park benches provided. A band played badly out of tune; the king arrived with bodyguards dressed as if for a Ruritanian musical, and Wild took photographs. But as the king revealed his plans, presaging abolition of the veil, Wild realised from the reaction that he was finished, and set off 700 miles back to India where he filed his world scoop to the Daily Mail.

Since he was not allowed back, Wild reported from the border how Ammanullah was driven out by the bloodthirsty son of a water carrier with unregenerate views remarkably similar to those of the Taliban. He then covered the world's first airlift of 586 westerners, flown from the British embassy.

In his 1932 biography of Ammanullah, Wild described how only a few years later many of the changes proposed by Ammanullah were introduced, the cinema proving very popular in Kabul. But by then Ammanullah had settled in Rome - like his cousin the present king.

Moral: "Don't use force to bring about social change."


Posted by Natalie Solent at 10:14 AM | TrackBack

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

The American Muslim conscience speaks in an article in the Orlando Sentinel, blogged by AintNoBadDude. Further down the page the Dude also takes a glimpse at the Lifestyles of the Wretched and Deranged, to whit pro-anorexia websites.
Posted by Natalie Solent at 09:53 AM | TrackBack

November 18, 2001

And here's the whoop of relief.

As promised the Guardian - or at least its Sunday sister, the Observer, predicts that the campaign is about to descend into chaos. The first line might make you think that there is a desperate knot of Britons fighting for their lives against thousands of Northern Alliance soldiers hungry for their blood. Don't worry. It is a row about how many British troops are to guard an airbase.

Britain last night signalled its grave concern about the dangers facing coalition forces in Afghanistan as heavily armed warring factions demanded that foreign troops 'get off our sovereign soil'.
In a series of developments which showed that the war in Afghanistan was in danger of slipping into diplomatic and military chaos, Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, told The Observer that the situation on the ground was 'pretty grim' and that a contingent of 6,000 British troops may now not be deployed in Kabul.

As fighting continued throughout parts of the country still under the Taliban's control, Hoon also indicated that the group of 100 troops, including members of the Special Boat Squadron, already in the capital could be pulled out as tribal warlords began carving up the country, demanding bribes from locals, killing captured Taliban soldiers and looting property from civilians.

'It sounds pretty dangerous,' Hoon said in an interview with The Observer . 'If they have completed their work we will pull them out. We are not keeping them there for the sake of it.

'If they say we have got enough information, they will come out and we will then make a judgment as to who goes in, if anyone goes in, thereafter.'

The Northern Alliance warlords, competing for supremacy as the country drifts into a political vacuum, said that the British forces had never been invited and that they would not allow a large force in to secure the key airstrip at Bagram on the outskirts of the capital.

Mines litter the area and there are fears that marauding militias, hardened by years of conflict, could inflict serious casualties on any large-scale British force. Special forces were also said to be in the mountains carrying out search-and-destroy missions on al-Qaeda troops.

Yesterday Engineer Arif, the Alliance's deputy intelligence chief and a senior figure in the organisation, said that the troops had arrived without proper consultation and that only 15 could stay to undertake 'humanitarian tasks'.

Hours later Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the Alliance's Foreign Minister, said that there was no agreement on enlarging the force.

'We are talking about a number less than one hundred British soldiers,' he said. 'If we are talking about the presence of thousands of fighting forces from outside Afghanistan then this is an issue that must be discussed.'

The news comes as a significant blow to efforts to put humanitarian systems in place before the snows of winter set in. Without an operating airfield, large drops of food or peace-keeping forces will not be possible. The chaos also raises the spectre of the country once more being plunged into anarchy by tribal warlords, who now no longer need allied help to drive out the Taliban.

Hoon said British troops would not be put in danger, suggesting that a major reassessment of military options in Afghanistan was taking place.

It now seems clear that plans to put a large contingent of British troops on the ground in Afghanistan have been put on hold. Sources said that any deployment was not imminent.

The arrival in Afghanistan of the Government's special envoy, Stephen Evans, has also been delayed.

'It has to be dependent on the situation on the ground, how that evolves and crucially whether we can get them [British troops] in safely,' Hoon said. 'We are certainly not going to put them in and take risks with them.'

Military sources said that individuals who had set their face against the arrival of coalition forces could wreak havoc.

'You have to bear in mind that a single Taliban with a shoulder-launched missile, hiding not too far off that runway, could cause a massive problem,' an official closely linked to the British military campaign said.

'One C130 [supply plane] coming down as a result of being hit, a slow-moving aircraft hit by a missile as it is coming in or taking off, you would lose a lot of people.'

Yesterday the former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, arrived in the newly captured capital for the first time since he was driven out by the Taliban in 1996.

It is feared that this could mark a return to the factional fighting that destroyed the country after 1992, when rival warlords carved the country into personal fiefdoms and paved the way for the Taliban's rise to power.

The rest of the article refers to rumours that OBL has fled the country.
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