people in the news

November 10, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld. CAN it be only five years, asks Christopher Hitchens, ‘since the society columns in Washington were describing Donald Rumsfeld as “hot” and printing stories about how ladies of a certain age wanted his phone number?’ Strange how the sweet smell of success can turn into a right old pong when the aura of power begins to fade. The gnomic utterances which once worked wonders as chat-up lines started to fall flat as a rainy Sunday when Guantanamo Bay went out of fashion. Society ladies with impeccable neocon credentials were soon on the phone to pull out of romantic candle-lit dinners they had suggested and cancel invitations to intimate soirées. “Just like a man to barge into a place and not bother clearing up the mess he’s made”, said one icily. I understand Rusmfield has been reduced to using the Daily Express dating service and putting Lonely Hearts ads in the Mail but still without success.

Paul Gascoigne “I wake up every day with 27 different problems and addictions to face,” he says but Gazza, 39, reveals he has now found religion. He says: “I’ve just started to believe in God. I read the Bible now and again.”I’m not a Bible-basher but I believe in God because he has kept me alive, touch wood.” Odd how faith in clover leaves and goblins seems to go hand in hand with the totally rational belief in a supreme being. Still if it curbs his urge to bash Bibles and throw punches in all directions when plastered, who’s to complain?

Farewell to Markus Wolf, the Stasi spymaster famous for his sleeper agents and for perfecting the use of sex in spying, making a speciality of sending so-called “Romeo” spies into West Germany to seduce female government employees. Who has not at one time or another had to resist the wiles of a stunning East German female spy? Undercover work has changed its meaning and lost most of its glamour now that spies spend all their time at computers instead of hopping into bed with shadowy seductresses. For the German tabloid Bild, the manner of Wolf’s demise – he died in his sleep – was a fitting end to his career.”Death came like an elite agent. Silently, without warning, in the middle of the night,” Bild says.

Linda Stein, an artist and veteran feminist. Ms Stein has written of her experience of being tricked into a part in the spoof movie Borat, saying she was left “confused and sad” after the filming. “Maybe it’s his way of gaining power over the childhood sting of religious animosity or the feelings of inferiority from a woman’s beating him at Scrabble,” she said. Sure, losing at Scrablle can make people do the strangest things. A while ago one Brendon Tahau, 26, of Rotorua, died after being hit at least 40 times with a baseball bat and then stabbed five times in the back during an unusually heated game of Scrabble. Watch how you go with those triple word scores.

An anonymous Austrian doctor. According to a ‘top Austrian doctor’, picking your nose and eating it is good for you: ‘Medically it makes great sense and is a perfectly natural thing to do. In terms of the immune system the nose is a filter in which a great deal of bacteria are collected, and when this mixture arrives in the intestines it works just like a medicine. Modern medicine is constantly trying to do the same thing through far more complicated methods, people who pick their nose and eat it get a natural boost to their immune system for free.’

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who explained that ‘technical failure’ led to the killing of a Gaza family. An internal military investigation blamed a radar malfunction for the deaths. The report was said by the Israeli military to have found a malfunction had misdirected the fatal artillery barrage. There was, apaprently,  a faulty electronic chip in the artillery battery’s guidance system. I understand Olmert said ‘computer stuff happens’ but apologised for any inconvenience that may have been caused.

metaphors to the fore

October 13, 2006

Interesting range of metaphors used by some of the people in the news this last couple of days. The Chief of Staff of the British Army, talking about the invasion of Iraq said “Let’s face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003, effectively kicked the door in.” At first I was puzzled by quite what the respected General meant so I did a bit of Googling and found that in most cases it refers to an attempt to break into premises illegally, especially with a view to stealing something. Now I know that a few Mesopotamian statues from the Baghdad museum went missing and the letters o-i-l were probably not too far distant from the minds of some of the politicians plotting the campaign, but I doubted whether this was what the General had in mind. Then it struck me that the phrase was probably a piece of military jargon, enshrined in some bon mot which was then handed down to succeeding military generations. So a few more minutes Googling and bingo! found the source of the quotation. ‘To one of his generals he said, “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down,”‘ And who is the source of the quotation? None other than the well-known military strategist Adolf Hitler, launching Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941. Good to know where our generals get their inspiration from. Actually, those planning the Iraq balls- campaign should have heeded what Hitler went on to say: “At the beginning of each campaign one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room. One can never know what is hiding inside.” If only he’d been there to advise Tony Blair in 2003.
The other interesting metaphor was from Steve McClaren after the complete balls- sorry defeat in Croatia. “You have to get the right people on the bus going in the same direction and that’s staff and players.” Bus? The England football team like a bus? Certainly they looked as likely to score as the number 175 Edgware to Brixton but is that how he sees the team? A great big double-decker spending most of its time stuck in traffic jams? And what about the Brazilians or the Italians? Do they compare themselves to a donkey cart down in Porto Alegre or a portly mamma siddestraddle an aged Lambretta? Do they ficar de fogo! They see their team as a Ferrari with one of those Brazilian drivers whose name I can never be bothered to remember driving it. We could at least think in terms of a Ford Escort or a Mini not a London Transport double decker.
Finally, a strange expression from a judge who ran out of patience with a family squabbling over their money. After hearing accusations that the father, a hunt master (!) and farmer paid for sex, inspected his wife’s underwear to check her fidelity and praised Adolf Hitler (presumably not for his tactical insights) the judge exploded: “We have had an awful lot of slagging off, mud being slung backwards on both sides.” What, I wondered, is the point of slinging mud backwards? I suppose you might be less likely to get caught at it but how much of the mud is actually going to reach its target? I suppose there’s only one way of finding out and as it’s still the rainy season I think I’ll give it a go. And when I get bored with that, I’ll try kicking the door in.

North Korea has exploded a pretty risibly nuclear device. But YOU can help them see sense. Don’t buy any more North Korean products. Cancel that summer holiday you booked in Pyongyang. Don’t buy any more copies of ‘Selected writing of Kim Jong Il’ or ‘The biography of the Eternal President, the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung’. Burn your copies of ‘THE U.S. IMPERIALISTS STARTED THE KOREAN WAR’ and ‘THE VICTORIOUS FATHERLAND LIBERATION WAR MUSEUM’. Don’t listen to Voice of Pyongyang’s IN THE EMBRACE OF MY MOTHERLAND weekly roundup of news. Tell your friends to ignore any pictures like this they see on sale in the local supermarket.

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Make sure your kinchi comes from south of the border.

You can help bring the axis of evil to their knees.

Noah accused of homophobia

October 6, 2006

More councillors in hot water, this time one David Clutterbuck for a supposedly homophobic joke. Mr Clutterbuck was replying to an email from a Bournemouth Borough Council member which “stated that before he set sail Noah would have to obtain planning permission, abide by building regulations, commission an environmental impact study, install a fire sprinkler system and seek guidance from the RSPCA.” In reply , Mr Clutterbuck joked: “I imagine now it would be illegal to only have animals of the opposite sex!”

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So far so good (except that he was roundly condemned by some of his colleagues for bigoted childish jokes and misusing council emails) but the imprudent Clutterbuck proceeded to dig himself  deeper into his hole by describing homosexuality as ” an abomination” and gay people as “flighty”. “The laws of Moses are more important than the laws of David Cameron but those are my own personal feelings – as long as they don’t ask me to join in and it’s not compulsory…  As long as they [homosexuals] do it behind closed doors, I don’t mind, but now they control the media, the television…. They have much stronger control over this country than they should have.”, he went on to say. I expect riots in major cities with gays waving banners proclaiming “Death to Straights”.
Several people have pointed out that homosexuality is not unknown in the animal kingdom (though whether they would have been the best choice for Noah is open to question- a few more gay mosquitoes, maybe.)  Male cicadas, for example, will attempt to mate with another male given the opportunity. They will also try and copulate with a dead cicada and probably a toothbrush as well so that might not be the best example for our gay brothers and sisters to follow. Many male penguins that apparently mate for life have been observed in homosexual pairs but do pair with female couples when given the chance. Approximately eight percent of rams exhibit sexual preferences for male partners. According to the American Humanist Association “Biologists have observed numerous examples of homosexual animals among a variety of species—bonobos, chimpanzees, swans, deer, hyena, and many more”. Little researchm, however, has been done into their life-styles. There have been no records as far as I know of gay penguin parades and transvestism seems not yet to have made much headway among animals.

Interesting report in the Times: “A truancy-hit college will lengthen its hours and add online teaching to entice bored pupils. CHILDREN at a school with one of the country’s worst truancy records are to be offered 24-hour teaching. The headmistress claimed “The Government is encouraging us to think ‘out of the box’ and that is what we are doing here…This system is simply adapting to the demands of the modern world and how they live their life. The idea of a 24/7 timetable is that we look at what is best for the children and their educational needs.”

I hear that the John Prescott Community College in Bageshot has introduced a scheme whereby the teachers are taught by the pupils. Commented headmistress Ms Courtney Tearaway (15) ‘it’s an example of thinking outside the cage that the Government wants’. She gave examples of some of today’s lessons: music and literature (bums and Vampires in the songs of the Frozen Monkeys) , contemporary language (today’s passage for translation: ‘Safe, man. You lookin buff in dem low batties. Dey’s sick, man. Me? I’m just jammin wid me bruds. Dis my yard, innit? Is nang, you get me? No? What ends you from then?’); video games, media studies (techniques of happy slapping), sports (how to nick someone’s trainers), sociology (what’s uncool about parents). Asked if the school would be introducing Shakespeare in text speak, Ms Tearaway replied ‘Who’s interested in what some dead guy wrote? You could make a film out of it and it would be just as boring.’ Truancy among teachers had fallen, she claimed, after a successful ‘bricks through window’ operation. She also pointed out that marks in school tests had improved dramatically after the pupils introduced corporal punishment for teachers. ‘It really works,’ Ms Tearaway said in defence of this controversial practice, ‘and anyway it’s fun. Nobody’s dead yet so I don’t know what the fuss is about.’

obituary: Mr Osama Bin Laden

September 24, 2006

Mr Bin Laden, who died yesterday aged 49, was a successful businessman known for his work for various charities, and a popular figure in radical Islamic circles, as well as a devotee of cricket and the music of Van Halen.
Mr Bin Laden always showed a strong interest in politics and had considered making this his career but he became increasingly disenchanted with politics in his native Saudi Arabia and was a sometimes outspoken critic of US policy towards the Arab world.
Born in 1957 the seventeenth son among fifty brothers and sisters, his father, who was married 22 times, owned the biggest construction company in Saudi Arabia. Osama had a difficult childhood- he was often bullied by his elder brothers (he later developed an aversion to crowds) and his father was a strict disciplinarian. Young Osama’s happiest moments were when his father took him on trips to the sea-side.

img-arab_israel.jpg a small selection of the Bin Laden children
Mr bin Laden attended schools in Jeddah and took a third class degree in public administration 1981 from King Abdul-Aziz university in Jeddah. He was described at the time as ‘non-confrontational, shy and studious’ but his marriage at the age of seventeen clearly adversely affected his studies. Osama developed a taste for travel and attended an English language school in Oxford, where he was a contemporary of Tony Blair, then an aspiring rock musician.

osama_bin_laden_teenager.jpg Mr Bin Laden (right) at Oxford with Tony Blair (centre)
Mr Bin Laden then traveled to Afghanistan where he started a popular guesthouse called the ‘Stars and Stripes B&B’. He was a keen camper and ornithologist and opened a number of camp sites in Afghanistan for like-minded people. Within two years he had built more than six camps and such was his success that he was able to open a resort and spa complex which he called Al-Qa’edah, an Arabic word meaning “The Base.” Tiring of the tourism industry, however, Mr bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia where he became unofficial adviser to the government and prominent in the opposition to Saddam Hussein. Disillusionment with politics, however, set in and he then devoted his time first to farming near Jeddah and then to starting a construction company in Sudan.
As canny as he was in busness, Mr Bin Laden proved unwise in his choice of female companions. After his first marriage failed, he married four other women, all university lecturers, who, friends suspect, were more interested in his money than him as a person, and who complained about his ‘austere’ lifestyle when he declined to buy them expensive presents from America. Mr Bin Laden retaliated that he only married them because they were “spinsters who were going to go without marrying in this world.” He is also believed to have had an affair with a minor Sudanese-American author who described Bin Laden as “obsessed with Whitney Houston, smoking lots of marijuana, and forcing her to dance naked to Van Halen.”
Finding the pressures of balancing his business with the demands of his lady friends excessive, Mr Bin Laden took early retirement and resumed his interest in overseas travel. He was, however, known as a home-loving man who, although left-handed, enjoyed DIY home improvement and cooking simple meals. In retirement he devoted much of his time to speleology and also spent a good deal of time reading. Bin Laden was described by his many friends as a soft-spoken, mild mannered man with a good deal of charm.
He leaves five wives and at least 24 children, one of whom runs his own firm, Fame Advertising, which has offices near a Starbucks in a two-story strip mall in Jeddah. Mr Bin Laden died previously in 2001, 2002 and 2004. His Who’s Who entry lists his recreations as ‘blowing up airliners’.

more on the Thai coup

September 21, 2006

Well, since Tuesday night, I have been living under martial law. I’m mightily relieved- when I first read it I thought it said ‘marital’ law. I’m not allowed to go to any political meetings or distribute information critical of the coup on the internet. I can’t send text messages to television stations. And I mustn’t get together with more than four other people, though quite how this restriction would be applied is not clear. You cosseted people in the west, you just don’t realise the hardships we have to suffer. I have one critical opinion of the coup leaders- they seem to have got their uniforms from the ‘Reduced to clear’ bin of the local Army Surplus store. I expect to see the tanks arriving any minute and I will be hauled off to face summary execution, a martyr to freedom of speech and sartorial elegance.

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Troops guard Government House
The military coup has interrupted filming of Nicolas Cage’s new movie, Bangkok Dangerous, the gangster thriller being shot in Bangkok, according to a foreign news report. The film crew decided the city wasn’t dangerous enough.

Rumours, however, abound and I was warned yesterday by a Thai friend not to go anywhere. As said friend lives in mortal fear of caterpillars I take this with a large dose of sodium chloride. I think I will take an example form the Bournemouth pensioner- and proceed with caution.