The car is traveling north in the direction of the Israeli border. The men make jokes about the virgins that according to Islamic belief are awaiting them in paradise: gallows humor. One holds a pistol in the face of the stranger: "I just wanted to see if you would be frightened." It's now pouring outside, the taxi's windows are so fogged that the promised blindfold is no longer necessary. It is impossible to tell where the car is; it's just clear that the houses outside are looking increasingly poor. Next to dark windows there are posters honoring the "martyrs," the Palestinians killed in the struggle with Israel. Smoldering campfires that appear between the massive puddles light the way.
The Islamic Jihad rocket factory is housed in a kind of garden shed. The hut measures five meters by five meters, metal pipes with small wings lean against the wall in the corner: Half finished Qassams. There are several tightly packed garbage bags on a shelf. "TNT," says Abdul and produces a chunk. The explosive looks like lumpy sugar. A large cauldron is sitting ready on a gas cooker while bags with Hebrew writing are piled up high up against the wall. "Fertilizer for the rocket fuel," Abdul says and grins. "We get it in Israel."
No matter what Israel does, the rockets from the Gaza Strip just keep coming. Young men like Abdul are the reason why. He studies by day, but at night he builds bombs for the Islamic Jihad. He and his fellow militants can produce up to 100 per night. [...]
The team can make up to 100 rockets per night shift, but today it won't be more than 10. Instead of the usual 12, only three of Abdul's men have turned up tonight. "The other guys are over in Egypt, shopping," he says, adding that the militants are just ordinary people who want to experience the open border with the neighboring country. Will they be looking for ingredients for building the Qassams? "Hardly," the oldest of the group laughs. "They are buying potato chips. We have enough raw materials to last for a few years."
The presence of smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border have ensured that there is never a lack of supplies. "The TNT comes to us from Sudan via Egypt." Other elements arrive by boat across the sea to Gaza. "We get some from Eastern Europe." The raw materials for one large rocket cost up to €500. The money to finance the operation comes the same route as the materials. "The Israeli blockade doesn't affect us; it's just intended to plunge the people into misery."
An interesting juxtaposition there: on the one hand they're "just ordinary people who want to experience the open border with the neighboring country", yet they happily continue with the very activity that keeps the border closed, all the while denying the real reason for the blockade - "it's just intended to plunge the people into misery".
In the Times, Robin Shepherd has some thoughts on this "barrage against Israel":
Apologists for extremism had long argued that occupation rather than ideology was the “root cause” of terrorism. Terrorism would therefore cease once occupation ended. That argument has now been conclusively defeated. Since Israel withdrew, Palestinian militants have fired more than 4,000 rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets.
Now, there is not a state in the world that could ignore this kind of barrage. So what were the options? One was reoccupation. Another was to carpet-bomb the areas from which the rockets are being fired. Many states would have done both. Israel has done neither.
What has Israel actually done? First, it has built a barrier around Gaza to limit the ability of suicide bombers to kill civilians. Secondly, it makes incursions to target the terrorist infrastructure. Thirdly, it has restricted imports into Gaza to stop bomb-making equipment from getting to the terrorists in aid and food packages. Fourthly, it has applied economic sanctions against the Hamas regime. Israel, in other words, has chosen the strategy least likely to cause heavy loss of life while still exercising its right to self-defence.
The condition of the residents of Gaza is dire. But ultimate blame for this surely rests with Hamas, other militants and the culture of violence in Palestinian society that sustains them. In the absence of all this there would, of course, be no security barrier, no military incursions, no trade restrictions and no sanctions.
In the topsy-turvy world of British and European commentary, however, reasoned argument is cast aside. The frenzied, rhetorical onslaught against the Jewish state is at best intellectually lazy. At worst it forms part of a hateful agenda that shames those who indulge in it.
Once again the UN cover themselves with glory:
Spectacular prehistoric depictions of animal and human figures created up to 6,000 years ago on Western Saharan rocks have been vandalised by United Nations peacekeepers, The Times has learnt.
Archaeological sites boasting ancient paintings and engravings of giraffes, buffalo and elephants have been defaced within the past two years by personnel attached to the UN mission, known by its French acronym, Minurso.
Graffiti, some of it more than a metre high and sprayed with paint meant for use for marking routes, now blights the rock art at Lajuad, an isolated site known as Devil Mountain, which is regarded by the local Sahrawi population as a mystical place of great cultural significance.
Many of the UN “graffiti artists” signed and dated their work, revealing their identities and where they are from. Minurso personnel stationed in Western Sahara come from almost 30 countries. They are monitoring a ceasefire between the occupying Moroccan forces and the Polisario Front, which is seeking independence.
One Croatian peacekeeper scrawled “Petar CroArmy” across a rock face. Extensive traces of pigment from rock painting are visible underneath. Another left behind Cyrillic graffiti, and “Evgeny” from Russia scribbled AUI, the code for the Minurso base at Aguanit. “Mahmoud” from Egypt left his mark at Rekeiz Lemgasem, and “Ibrahim” wrote his name and number over a prehistoric painting of a giraffe. “Issa”, a Kenyan major who signed his name and wrote the date, had just completed a UN course, Ethics in Peacekeeping, documents show.
Theme Time Radio Hour - courtesy of your host Bob Dylan - has been going Around the World for the last couple of weeks (RightWingBob has more details). He's enjoying himself with these shows. In the first one he plays The Canadian Rockies by the Byrds, then, bizarrely, says, "There were rumours at one point we were going to swap India for Canada - but actually that's just a rumour I'm trying to start", and follows with a brief discursion on the origins of the word posh - or at least the story that everyone knows, whether it's true or not - taking port out starboard home on the boat to India, "to get the more desirable cabins, like Sean Connery would say, on the shady shide of the ship" (laughter in the background).
Then it's "Hunting Tigers Out In India", a 1930 song by Hal Swain & His Band. Most people, if they know this at all, would know the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band version. In fact the Bonzos covered a few Hal Swain numbers. There's a recent CD Songs the Bonzo Dog Band Taught Us, on Lightning Tree, which includes "Hunting Tigers", plus the wonderful Jollity Farm. I imagine that's where Bob and friends got it from.
Here's the Bonzos' Hunting Tigers, from "Do Not Adjust Your Set", with intro by a young Terry Jones. And continuing the Python connection, here's Eric Idle with the Bonzos doing Love Is A Cylindrical Piano from the same show.
It's odd to think that Do Not Adjust Your Set was a children's show. It's largely thanks to the efforts of those involved - the Pythons, the Bonzos - that that kind of humour soon became mainstream adult comedy. Kids' shows meanwhile, like Grange Hill, went the other way and became all grim and serious. [Kids becoming adults and adults becoming kids: the Sixties in a nutshell.]
For the Bonzos there was always that childish element though: that particular kind of English whimsy, with grown men prancing around in that wearying manic look-at-me-being-very-silly kind of way. They were clever, and they were good musicians, but it never seemed somehow quite funny enough - like the Rutles, for instance, the Neil Innes and Eric Idle Beatles parody: very well done, but, really, why bother?
But Vivian Stanshall made it all worthwhile. It's impossible to keep your eyes off him when he's onstage. He was just....funny. From his Wikipedia entry:
Stanshall was often called a "great British eccentric", but this was a label he hated: it suggested that he was putting on an act and he always insisted that he was merely being himself. However, it is not difficult to understand why he received the label. Neil Innes said of their first meeting: "He was quite plump in those days. He had on Billy Bunter check trousers, a Victorian frock coat, violet pince-nez glasses, and carried a euphonium. He also wore large pink rubber ears."
He came, not, as you might expect, from Metroland - somewhere like Ruislip or Pinner - but from Walthamstow of all places. He "grew up living a dual life: at home, he would have to speak "properly" or face a beating; on the street he spoke with a broad cockney accent in order to avoid a beating from his peers".
A few choice quotes from his later "Sir Henry at Rawlinson End":
"Like the shock of fondling a raw sausage, blindfold, at a gay party ..."
"Frankly, once I've eaten a thing, I don't expect to see it again."
"Do you know what a palmist once said to me? She said: WILL YOU LET GO!"
And here's "Canyons of Your Mind":
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 9, 1948, the Convention reflects the tireless work of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish linguist and Jew who had survived the Holocaust. But in the long and too often darkened years that followed, the Convention has never prevented a single genocide, even as "prevention" receives pride of place in the ponderous convention title. Despite the many instances in which international action was desperately required, the demanding words of the Convention have always rung hollow:
"The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish." [...]
Nowhere is this clearer than in Sudan's Darfur region. Only a hopelessly constrained reading of the Genocide Convention, or a refusal to look at the systematic nature of ongoing ethnic destruction, can sustain diffidence or agnosticism.
The National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum continues to commit all the genocidal acts enumerated in Article 2 of the Convention, even if one such act now has particular prominence: "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." We need look no further than the "systematic" denial of humanitarian access to targeted African ethnic groups that has been reported by UN and nongovernmental organizations for more than four years. While violence may have declined from the ferocious levels of 2003-04, it continues, if in more chaotic fashion.
And even this chaos in Darfur is "by design," as a recent report from Human Rights Watch authoritatively demonstrates. Nor were the consequences of Khartoum's genocidal counterinsurgency campaign difficult to discern early on in the conflict. Four years ago, it was clear that in the absence of international humanitarian intervention many tens of thousands of civilians would die. Today the death toll – from violence, disease, and malnutrition – is measured in the hundreds of thousands, and the future looks just as grim. [...]
More than any genocide following the Holocaust, Darfur's killing fields are the measure of whether, 60 years after its ratification, the UN Convention has any remaining force or meaning. The debacle of deployment in Darfur argues that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations desperately requires a substantial, robust standing force, prepared to deploy urgently to protect civilian populations facing geno-cide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. Actual deployment would be at the request of the Secretary-General, and while a two-thirds majority of the Security Council should be formally required, deployment must not be held hostage to the veto of the five permanent members. This requires substantial revision of the UN Charter, but fundamental changes at the UN are widely recognized as critical for the organization to remain relevant in the 21st century.
Darfur reveals the consequences of having no such international force. If a ruthless regime of génocidaires can insulate itself from international action simply by claiming "national sovereignty," then Mr. Lemkin's labors will have been in vain. And a Genocide Convention that remains impotent in the face of ongoing, fully reported genocidal destruction will mark in us the deepest hypocrisy.
Art critic Matthew Collings doesn't like street art:
Do you like adolescent entertainment? Do you have the mentality of a teenager? Do you find Cézanne a bit overrated? If the answer is yes, yes and yes, then I don’t know what to do with you. You are a childish philistine literalist. Get down to Bonhams (one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques) next Tuesday for their first-ever dedicated sale of “street art” – this is the experience for you.
“Street art” means graffiti, comics-style stuff, spray-paint art, flyposting – the art of groovy youth. The stars of the street-art sale will include Banksy, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Antony Micallef, Adam Neate, Faile, Paul Insect, Space Invader, Swoon, D*Face and Shepard Fairey....
Gareth Williams, the urban-art specialist at Bonhams, says: “By transposing their images from street wall to canvas, urban artists are now creating a permanent legacy without compromising the vitality of their art.” Poor Williams – how giddy and weightless life must be for him, to be in the business of using words without having any interest in what they mean.
“Vitality” is what Matisse or Goya has, or Islamic mosaics, or Greek statues, or abstract paintings by Jackson Pollock – all that old obscure stuff. Vitality in art is a rare quality, it means life – you see it and you feel life is worth living. It goes with originality and surprise, a mixture of the fresh and the eternal. It’s found throughout the history of art. It’s the opposite of convention and routine. The point about street art is that it has to conform to street-art convention. It has to be a routine. It has to express the personality of a stoner, grinning, funny and kidlike.
This seems a little harsh on poor Gareth Williams. By usual art world standards what Williams says is surprisingly comprehensible - reasonable even. “By transposing their images from street wall to canvas, urban artists are now creating a permanent legacy without compromising the vitality of their art.” Yes it's all a bit silly, but as an employee of an auction house about to run a sale of urban art, what would you expect him to say? You can read much more pretentious crap any day of the week in art magazines, at galleries....in critics' reviews. The art world's drowning in vacuous nonsense.
It's the "vitality", clearly, that gets to Collings, but I don't see that it's an inappropriate word in the context. Why redefine it so it's only applicable to great works of art? Much street art does have vitality. It may be crap - much of it is crap - but you can't deny it has vitality.
It's the snottiness that gets me - "Do you have the mentality of a teenager?" and all that. Are we meant to be awestruck by Collings' astonishing sophistication in being able to distinguish Matisse or Goya from the likes of Banksy? Not that I particularly disagree with the overall point of the article....
“Street art” is adolescent. With the exception of Basquiat, the artists whose work is on sale at Bonhams next week are talented people in that area, but the area itself is of absolutely no interest unless you’ve got an arrested mentality. Its rise as something to take seriously says something about the weird state of art now. The core of art today is satire and gags and attention-getting stunts. As a society we all kind of know this but somehow we also accept that it’s a social faux pas ever to mention it. Banksy being considered a “conceptual artist” is only a measure of how banal and feeble the “concepts” of contemporary art are, and an indication of art’s slide into all-out philistinism. To appear tuned-in we now have to pretend that a literal crack in the floor at Tate Modern means global unease (the latest commission by Tate Modern in its annual Unilever series), that a lot of real people standing on a marble plinth means “humanity” (Anthony Gormley’s proposal for a new work on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square) and that Marc Quinn’s new sculptures at White Cube of foetuses are “influenced by Michelangelo”.
It's the art world that's the problem, not "street art". Banksy may not be high culture, but he doesn't claim to be.
Anyway, here's some London street art taken over the past few weeks. No, it's not the Sistine chapel, but it livens the place up:
The Greenway at Plaistow:
From the Times, the latest in the sorry tale of those Iraqis who worked for British troops and are now seeking asylum here:
Nearly 400 Iraqis employed by British Forces in southern Iraq have had their applications to live in Britain rejected after they took up the Government’s offer of residency, the Ministry of Defence told The Times yesterday.
The 383 interpreters and other locally employed Iraqis who have been turned down represent more than half of the applicants. Of the 725 in total, only 342 had passed a screening process carried out in Iraq.
By contrast, Denmark announced yesterday that it had granted asylum to nearly 370 Iraqi civilians who had worked for its military in Iraq. None of the asylum claims filed by former Iraqi employees had been rejected, the Danish immigration service said.
The Iraqis employed by Danish troops left Iraq in July on military flights that were kept secret until after their arrival, for fear that extremists might try to attack the aircraft. The Iraqis hoping to settle in Britain have been told to make their own way to a third country before being processed as refugees.
Iraqis employed by the British are eligible for the resettlement scheme only if they began work after January 1, 2005. The MoD has decided that these Iraqis had “the closest and most sustained association” with British troops, in circumstances judged to be “uniquely difficult”. Those applying have to prove 12 months’ continuous service.
The Korean Central News Agency make sure we're kept up to date with the exploits of the Dear Leader. Lately he's been busy giving field guidance to a grateful nation:
General Secretary Kim Jong Il gave field guidance to the Kanggye Chicken Farm and the Kanggye Pig Farm.
The first leg of his guidance was the Kanggye Chicken Farm. He went round the room for education in revolutionary relics and the room for the study of President Kim Il Sung's reminiscences before being informed of the work done since the start of the farm's operation by its officials. Then, he dropped in at various production processes to acquaint himself in detail with the production and management of the farm. Expressing his great satisfaction over the fact that the workers, technicians and officials of the farm have thoroughly established the scientific raising system and new production processes in the past to turn the farm into one serving for the people's living, he gave a high appreciation of their feats. Saying that the farm is playing an important role in improving the people's diet, he set forth the tasks to be carried out by the farm. What is important, above all, in putting the production on a normal basis at high rate is to satisfactorily settle the feed problem, he said, stressing the need to strive for building solid fodder bases so as to supply nutritive feed, including protein fodder, by the farm itself. In order to increase the production of chicken and eggs at the farm, he said, it is necessary to establish the scientific breeding system to gain good breeds suited to the climatic and soil conditions of the country and put the raising on a scientific basis, effectively ensure the equipment and technical management and steadily enhance the technical level and skill of the producers. He also said that the farm should pay deep attention to the scientific research into poultry farming and provide enough disinfection facilities and thoroughly establish the strict anti-epidemic system to prevent loss of even a chicken.
Then he went to the Kanggye Pig Farm newly built in Jagang Province.
After being briefed on the farm in front of its panoramic picture, he went round it to acquaint himself in detail with its construction and management. He highly praised the feats of its builders, noting with great satisfaction that the province has successfully built the modern pig farm with high capacity by its own efforts. This modern stock-breeding centre in the province will be helpful to further increasing the meat production, he said, advancing the tasks to be carried out by the farm. In order to produce more meat at the farm, it is necessary to establish the scientific management system on the basis of modern technology and, at the same time, take drastic measures for fodder supply to satisfactorily solve the feed problem by its own efforts and effect a new turn in raising pig, he said. Being told that the production at stock-breeding centres built in different parts of the province has been put on a normal basis at high rate to pay off profoundly, he underscored the need to give fullest play to the production potentials of the already built chicken, duck, pig and rabbit farms so as to provide the people in the province with more bountiful and civilized life.
Then it was straight off to Janggang County - "a socialist land of bliss":
General Secretary Kim Jong Il gave on-the-spot guidance to the work in various fields of Janggang County. The first leg of his guidance was the Janggang Mushroom Farm.
Going round the exterior and interior of the farm including a spore cultivation room and a mushroom growing house, he acquainted himself in detail with the construction of the farm and its production. Being informed that the family members of Kim Yong Jong, manager of the farm, have worked heart and soul to increase the mushroom production on the same farm, he highly appreciated their patriotic deed, saying that such people working hard for the prosperity of the country are true patriots. What is most important for cultivating mushroom is to establish a strict system for providing spores, he said, setting forth tasks to be fulfilled by the farm.
The next leg of his guidance was the Janggang Foodstuff Factory.
Going round the technologically updated production processes, he got familiar in detail with equipment and production there. He called upon the officials and other working people in the field of the light industry to bring about a radical turn in its development through the dynamic light industrial revolution, bearing deep in mind the high honor and pride of working in the important domain to improve the standard of the people's living.
He gave field guidance to the Janggang Rabbit Breeding Stock Farm.
He went round the interior of the modernly built breeding stock farm and highly praised the feats of its employees. He visited the family of Kim Chol Su, head of a work-team, who set an example in raising rabbits. Saying that rabbit is a domestic animal ensuring high productivity, he stressed the need to raise rabbits in a big way to provide the people in the county with conditions for richer diet.
He commanded a bird's-eye view of Janggang township built as a socialist land of bliss.
The need to raise rabbits in a big way? Rings a bell. Ah yes.
Chickens, pigs, mushrooms, foodstuffs (of an unspecified nature), rabbits...is there no subject on which the Dear Leader is not an expert?
It's a rubbish tip up there:
It is the size of a bus, weighs in at ten tonnes, is loaded with toxic chemicals and is hurtling to Earth at 22,000mph. No-one, unfortunately, knows where it is going to land.
US government officials admitted yesterday that they have lost control of a spy satellite and said it will smash into the planet within weeks.
The unnamed surveillance satellite is just one of an estimated 600,000 pieces of space junk currently flying above our heads.
Experts have warned that humanity has made "a zoo" of space with the amount of dead satellites and rubbish.
The spacecraft may have lost power as much as a year ago, but there is no estimate of where it could hit or what damage it could cause.
Only one person has ever reportedly been struck by a piece of space debris – a woman in Oklahoma who was hit in the shoulder by a piece of material but uninjured.
UK bookmakers last night placed the odds of being struck by this US spy satellite at at least 20 billion to one.