Think leopards and spots. Think dogs and tricks. My political soul has been indelibly marked by the years. What I'm talking about here is the new quiz arranged by Philip Stott in conjunction with Quizilla:
Know your 'Daily Newspaper of Choice' (DNOC)
Analyses the UK national newspaper you are most likely to read, especially in relation to the environment.
You can take the quiz here - as I did. I answered conscientiously and truthfully, content to let things fall out however they would. And what do I get? After 11 months of strenuous critical effort, I get that I'm...
The Guardian/The Independent
Well, frankly Philip, I protest. The Guardian is one thing. It has long been, after all, my actual dnoc. But the Independent? Please. One must draw the line somewhere.
There's an interesting BBC feature - 'In pictures: Iraqis react to handover' - here. The balance of views expressed is positive and hopeful. One man says: 'It's a good first step for the Iraqi people and a great step to peace and security in all Iraq.' Another: 'May God keep Bush and Allawi, because Bush threw out Saddam and Allawi will give us safety and security.' Try saying that once in a way, those who need to: 'Bush threw out Saddam'. Write it on your bathroom mirror, on the top of the front page of your Guardian every morning if you take one. Try to say it in a relaxed way, in between even breaths, and articulating all the syllables as clearly as you can. For variation you might want, every now and again, to add 'and Blair' right after 'Bush'. (Hat tip: Anthony Cox.)
Meanwhile, Saddam has today been passed officially into the legal custody of the Iraqis. According to this report, he 'was "visibly nervous" when he was handed over...'
Dear friends, it is often enough (you will surely concede) that I share my enthusiasms with you, so I hope you'll be tolerant if for once I inflict upon you an account of an exceedingly bad cultural experience. This was the attendance of WotN and myself at a gig by Kris Kristofferson the night before last. Now, there are going to be some out there nodding in a superior way and saying 'What the hell do you expect if you go and see him?' I know. I know. I thought it might be a dodgy decision from the off, and I'm even a little shamefaced at having to tell you that I was there. But I can't describe the experience without letting on that I was, so as someone once put this, What is to be done? I confess. I went. Boy, was it bad.
I've been to musical events before which didn't grab me. There was, at the MEN Arena some years ago, a double-header of Lyle Lovett and Mary Chapin Carpenter, in that order. Lyle Lovett is hall-of-fame great, and that night he didn't disappoint. His part of the show was outstanding, sensational. Don't ever miss the chance. Mary Chapin Carpenter, who has a following and popularity I've never been able to fathom, was by contrast a tunefully worthy dollop of soft dough, and me and WotN were out of there maybe a quarter of the way into her act, so as not to lose the after-sense of the Lyle Lovett first half. I've had a few other such disappointments.
However, never before anything as toe-curlingly awful as Kristofferson was on Monday. Why we were there was, I suppose, because of this album, with 'For The Good Times', 'Help Me Make It Through The Night', 'Me And Bobby McGee'... that sort of thing. So what went wrong? The essence of it was that the guy, to my ear, has lost it. Even his best songs were performed in a ponderous, glompy way - both the singing and the playing - so that it sounded as if you were hearing it under water. Though there were a couple of high points - correction, higher points - when he sang two songs new to me and with a bit of pzazz, the overall consistency was the ponderous, glompy one. Nothing could have redeemed it. On that account, a less than successful outing. But there were other elements that made it worse than that. First, Kris K has evidently now got religion, and although this in itself points in no particular direction from a musical point of view (think J.S. Bach, think some very fine country music songs), he sang one or two truly mawkish, finding-his-way-to-Jesus numbers. He sang equally mawkish stuff about his children, and he did what I've never before seen a professional, particularly not a veteran as he now is, do on stage: he tried to ingratiate himself with his audience by saying how badly he wanted to perform well tonight, and how nervous he was in case he performed badly; and... do me a favour, how bloody wet can you get? Add to this that we had Emma Emphysema sitting a few rows back from us and periodically letting out a long, rolling, phlegmy, from-the-bottom-of-her-guts cough, sounding like, but not actually, her last; and that, for reasons which escape me, a significant section of the audience, which didn't seem to be especially Jewish, treated the venue and the gig the way that El Al passengers typically treat a flight, wandering volubly backwards and forwards, to the loos, from the loos, standing around kibbitzing loudly about this and that... believe me, people, you didn't want to be there. To cap it all, Kristofferson was on the 'right' side, the right-on side, on the great issue of the day. He let us know it - in two songs. The second of them, during his encore, drove Adèle and me out into the Manchester night, tottering, ashamed, feeling strangely unclean.
Here's somebody, Lisa Hilton by name, who would evidently have preferred those women of Afghanistan not to be getting the vote (better they had stayed in their rooms), and the Taliban to have been left in place. Why, the US intervention in Afghanistan, it made Ms Hilton 'spit with rage':
When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2002, I experienced, alongside my feelings about the war itself, a surprisingly violent sense of anger against men. Like most women in the West, I felt that the battle for sexual equality had, by and large, been won, but as the bombs rained down on Kabul I became furious with myself for my own complacency. Sure, I considered myself a feminist, but the 'right' to wear little more than a Wonderbra in a trendy club in Soho, along with all the other supposedly urgent issues of sexual politics as debated by the British media, suddenly felt pathetically shallow.
Nearly a century ago, women had been imprisoned for daring to declare their right to vote, and yet here was a war, another vicious, senseless war, being provoked and propagated almost entirely by men. Women mourned and laid out the dead as they have done for millennia, and it seemed as though very little had changed at all.
And this, supposedly, a reflection on sexual equality and the problem with men. (Hat tip: JS.)
As a companion piece to Yasmin A-B immediately below, read Tony Parkinson in tomorrow morning's Melbourne Age (and be sure not to miss the John Spooner cartoon):
The handover of power to the interim administration led by Ayad Allawi provides an opportunity for reappraisal.
This is especially true for leftist liberals, who have allowed hostility towards the Bush Administration and its allies to clutter their understanding of what the conflict in Iraq is about, and cloud their vision of who are the real villains of the piece.
These next few months represent the critical make-or-break opportunity for Iraq. A tyrant who ruined his country and defied the free world is in custody. Self-rule has been reinstated, and Iraq's infrastructure is recovering, albeit slowly.
The new provisional Government draws its membership from across Iraq's ethnic, religious and cultural mosaic, bringing together lawyers, politicians, academics, engineers and businessmen. It includes six women. Meanwhile, a surprisingly resilient, urban-educated, secular middle class is striving to build civil society. This is very much a fresh start.
However, as the nation moves towards the promise of free elections in January, the prospect of a more liberal and inclusive new order remains under daily siege from a motley crew of suicide bombers, saboteurs and mass murderers.
The majority of Iraqis will want and expect the broadest possible international support as they confront this vicious, blood-soaked challenge to reconstruction and renewal, and a failure to withstand and repel the insurgency in Iraq would have ramifications that go far beyond its borders.
Having murdered Iraqis by the hundreds over the past year, they [loyalists of the old regime and foreign jihadists] have more recently sought to dramatise their capacity for atrocity and depravity by beheading on camera two Americans and a South Korean. They use TV and the internet to display their helpless victims before a world audience, engage in the artifice of "negotiation" to heighten anxiety, and then hack heads off.
The goal is to persuade the Iraqi populace, along with Western opinion, that they will stop at nothing to force the US-led coalition out of Iraq. At the battlefield level, this has become a test of nerve and endurance.
More fundamentally, it is a war of values: between those who respect human life and liberty, and want to build an orderly and open society; and those who turn human beings into bombs, hide explosives in ambulances, and celebrate death as victory. As the father of the jihadist movement, Sayyed Qutb, wrote in 1952: "The death of those who are killed for the cause of God gives more impetus to the cause, which continues to thrive on their blood."
You may remember Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: she of the 'moral trauma' of having to wonder 'what kind of a human being' she is. Well, she's at it again in today's London Evening Standard. The piece (which is not online) is entitled 'My shame at savouring American failure in Iraq':
A dogged campaigner against the blighted war in Iraq, I am now wrestling with the demons of callous triumphalism. The anti-war protestors have been proved horribly right. The allies who marched with the US into this ugly adventure should feel mortified. It is a fearful and turbulent country the new Western Imperialists hand over to the Iraqis. The past months have been challenging for us in the anti-war camp. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder to teach our side a lesson. On Monday I found myself again hoping that this handover proves a failure because it has been orchestrated by the Americans. The decent people of Iraq need optimism now, not my distasteful ill-wishes for the only hope they have for a future.
In Alibhai-Brown's case it's a thought that's stupid enough to speak its name: more chaos, more shocks, more disorder. Just think about some of the human detail lying behind those three nouns. But the impulse she's ashamed of admitting to here hasn't been unique to her within the anti-war camp. It has infected wide sections of the Western media and left-liberal opinion. Not a moral trauma, just a moral disgrace. (Hat tip: Julie Cleeveley.)
Something I saw the other day put me in mind of a book I used to read to my kids: Harvey's Hideout, by Russell Hoban. Harvey and his sister Mildred are muskrats and the story starts with the two of them not getting on too well, in typical brother and sister fashion. But they're both a bit stuck for company at the moment, for a string of reasons which include that they've been warned by their parents...
not to play with the raccoon children because they knock... over rubbish bins... [and] not to get mixed up with the weasels.
There is one argument between Harvey and Mildred in which she calls him 'a selfish, inconsiderate, stupid, useless little brother', and he reciprocates by saying that she is 'a loudmouth, bossy, mean and rotten big sister.' Their father later admonishes them:
"Mildred... it is true that Harvey is selfish and inconsiderate, but he is not stupid and useless, and you are not allowed to call him that."
"What about what he called me?" said Mildred.
"Mildred is loudmouthed and bossy," said Father to Harvey, "but she is not mean and rotten..."
I just love the care of that. Anyway, everything turns out well. I recommend the book to anyone with children of a suitable age (maybe 5 up).
Of the three other terrific children's books by Russell Hoban that I know - Bedtime for Frances, How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen, and The Stone Doll of Sister Brute - I especially used to enjoy the last. Sister Brute, a member of the Brute family, calls her doll - a stone on which she has drawn a face - Alice Brute Stone. There's also an 'ugly kicking dog' with hob-nailed boots, who befriends Sister Brute in his own fashion. Here too there is an encouraging ending, hinted at on the first page. The Brute family change their name to Nice.
Get hold of the books and find some children to read them to.
Badrai was determined that the Taliban loyalists wouldn't stop her from voting. So she stiffened her resolve, walked into the mud-walled room behind the local hospital and asked the woman behind the desk if she could have a registration card.
"Yes, I am a little scared, because some people say the Taliban will threaten us," she said. "But God is kind. I think the elections will change our lives."
On Saturday, at least three women helping to register voters were killed along with a child in the eastern city of Jalalabad after a bomb exploded on a bus. Twelve women were wounded in the attack, the worst yet against election staff. A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings. It is believed the bus was targeted because it was carrying women.
Jean Arnault, the United Nations' special envoy for Afghanistan, expressed outrage at the deaths. "Their killers probably wanted to stop this momentum towards broad female participation," he said. "They will not reach their goal."
The United Nations is organizing the drive to register 8 million to 10 million voters, about half of them women. The U.N. says it needs $87 million by July 1 to carry out the elections. But so far, it says, it has received only $12.5 million from the international community.
[F]or women like Badrai, the elections represent the possibility of freedom.
"I heard about democracy in Pakistan. The women were speaking about it," she said. "In England, America and other countries, we hear the women are equal.
"Democracy means women can come to the hospital freely and go to the mosques. Before, we couldn't even leave our rooms."