Issue #92 December 3rd - 16th, 2004
On the greatness of small things (first draft)
A guide to meeting people
David Aaronovitch and Tony Blair – Conspiracy Theorists
Exit poll discrepancies and other Electoral Irregularities
Deepcut and Iraq - Turning a Blind Eye
Live Review: Joanna Newsom - Birmingham Glee Club - 22nd November
On the greatness of small things (a draft)
"It's a party out there, waiting to happen."
My favourite part of the train ride home from work is when the train, which is only underground in the city centre, exits the tunnel and is bathed in the afternoon sunlight. The sky is usually some brilliant shade of blue; underneath it, the same row of colourful buildings unfolds itself like a film. The same film everyday in slightly different weather.
In any man who dies there dies with him
My favourite part of the ride to work (which is just the same, except travelled in the opposite direction) is a place a short way before the train enters the tunnel. Among some run-down, graffiti-ed, low buildings there is a fence with a cable loosely hanging from two poles above it, which is usually lined with birds. Fat, black, boring birds sitting next to each other, watching the trains go by. Hundreds of trains going by every day, with me usually in one or two of them looking out for the moment we'll noisily pass by that fence. I must have seen that sight a hundred times -the birds aren't always there, but most of the time they are- and still it gets me every time. Every time, I feel like I'm looking at something unusual. I feel a little special.
At the end of a long, wet and cold election day back in 2001 and I was standing by a bus stop, wondering whether the people who are celebrating really think they have something to celebrate and feeling desperate. The boy I was about to say goodbye to for the night had spent an hour or two explaining he didn't like his life because it was so ordinary; he talked of art and of great things, though of what sort I can't remember anymore. All I remember is leaning hopelessly against the bus stop and half-whispering when really I needed to shout: "Your life is your biggest work of art."
Until the other day, when I saw two fat, shiny, pretty cats sitting on that fence, I had never seen anything but birds on it. One cat was white and looking up at the wire and the other one was grey and cleaning itself contentedly. There were no birds around. It would make such a brilliant photo, especially compared with the one of the birds (which I have never taken.) It sort of made me want to walk home from the station, find my camera and catch the train in the opposite direction, though in the end I didn't do it.
It was almost a waste of precious words: he didn't listen. He didn't listen to me for years, and some days it seemed like no one did but it never crossed my mind I could be wrong. Because really is there anything more moving than a picture of a moment (or a life) lived gracefully?
Early one morning there were people planting flowers in the patches of dirt around the square. They look sleepier than me but somehow great as a cold north wind cames swipping in, doing a fairly good impression of proper late autumn weather (even with some swirling leaves for extra effect) and every word the Guild League sing in my ears sounded heartbreakingly true. It was beyond me not to fall in love with the moment and the place, the time, the words, the weather - with something. So I did.
The huge abstractions I keep from the light;
And through the windows at work you can see the sky. Combined with the fact that it is the sort of work that is often rather boring and allows you to look around a lot, it means I end up staring the top of some old, tatty, greyish buildings, an assortment of tv aerials, the occasional cloud and the top of three trees picking out from behind a building a whole lot. Today I noticed that the first one has turned almost entirely yellow while the one in the middle is a pretty balanced mix of yellow and green and the third one is green with flashes of yellow here and there, and from that moment on it was hard to look away.
Of course it's the big things that one should do with grace first, but when they get scary you can always look at the small things to be reminded that the world is a great place and find reasons to keep the faith and the strength to carry on. Because, let's face it, there's nothing else to do.
(And it's worth it.)
The other day I saw a man with his dog standing in front of the fence. There were no cats or birds around. I didn't even think of the camera - I just thought of telling you.
A guide to visiting people
I have been visiting a lot of different people lately and what I have discovered that is that as soon as you step through the door into their house everything changes. It is like a new world. All the complicated rules that you have spent years learning with your person suddenly go straight out of the window only to be replaced by a whole new set of rules! As I am now very experienced in the art of coping with these changes I thought that would put together a guide to help you when you and go visiting people.
1) Make a good impression.
People are great, they know where the food is, all the best places to go for walks, and will scratch your stomach when you roll over. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that you are on good terms with the person who's world you are visiting, so make sure you introduce yourself properly. To make sure they notice you I suggest you jump up and down in a circle around them until you are dizzy. If your person is anything like my girl they will try to ignore you while you do this. The girl always says things like:
"Calm down Belle, you saw 'so and so' yesterday, there is no need for all of this!"
2) Make a through investigation of your new surroundings.
As soon as the formality of introductions are over with it is time to investigate! It is crucial that you inspect the whole house in 1 minute flat. Don't stop at the inside though, get out and sniff around the garden. I find that a zigzag sniffing technique is very effective way to cover the whole territory in as quick a time as possible. The inspection is important as it will not only will they tell you whether the person is likely to take you on interesting walks, what they had for breakfast, dinner and tea (and if you are lucky you'll even find a few stray crumbs that they missed) but it will inform you of any enemies lurking nearby. I once visited a lovely person, who lived in a very nice house. It was only after I had inspected his garden that I found that a squirrel had been there the previous morning. Just think of the trouble we could have all been in if I hadn't been alert to this!
It should be possible to cover rules one and two in less than 5 minutes. Indeed although introductions and through inspections are necessary, do not make the mistake of spending too much time on them. Instead devote your time to discovering the exact location of the food in the new house. You will need to know (a) where the biscuit cupboard is, (b) who to remind to get food when you think your person might be getting hungry; and (c) whether or not you'll be having chicken for tea.
4) Learn the house rules
Like I said before each new house is a whole new world, and as soon as you enter somewhere new your person is no longer in charge. So once the essentials are out of the way you'll need to learn the new rules. You may be pleasantly surprised as quite often the rules are less strict than your own persons world. While I'm never allowed to go to the land at the top of the stairs at home, I have visited them on many occasions in other houses. I have even found that in some houses I am allowed to sit on chairs just like the girl. When this first happened to me I was very excited because even though the girl was not very happy about me doing this and said:
"Belle get down" in a very cross voice, the owner of the house said: "aww no she's a alright, she's a good dog aren't you Belle?"
So you see visiting people is a complicated business but now that you have read this guide you should be confident that you are ready to explore new worlds, meet new people and most importantly of all eat new and exciting types of food!
I dreamt that we were back together again and you pulled that face where you gave this gargantuan smile and your eyes closed and you arched your back and you were even taller. You were wearing your green coat and you looked pretty much as you did on the day that I left except this time you were smiling and we were dancing along a road that looked like the main road in your hometown, except it wasn't your hometown it was somewhere else, and I remember we went to your place and….that's as much as I remember. Except someone died, but we didn't much care because we were dancing.
Elope with me in private. Could we still do that after all these years? Could we? Could you see me dig holes in soil and you plant seeds and tell me that next year we will have an orchard?
Could you hold my bare confessions, my near-suicide complex, and me hold you as you crawl deeper into yourself, afraid of what the world outside has to offer?
Could we do all these things and still be who we are?
Your dad and I were one day sat on the wall outside Tescos. You and your mum were shopping. We didn't care much for it. He told me I was the best thing for you. It meant the world to me.
I haven't thought about these things in years. But here they are. The expensive sausages they bought whenever they visited. The night at the tapas bar when your dad and I got drunk and walked ahead of you and your mother and he told me all about his dreams and his youth and his hopes and where things went wrong but, more importantly, where they went right. I realised I had a lot to learn from that man. Forgiveness. Humility.
They forgave me my stupidity. They bid me into the fold. I loved them.
When I look back, I think of all the things I remember about us, days murdered in gold, and I realise how close, and how much a part of them, they often were. Not the most important, the greatest of our days of course (they were ours, and no one elses, ever), but other days, when they bought light and plastic and days out of days that had made a mess of us.
Evenings in Winter, drinking red wine and bottles of beer after pummelling our way along another muddy hillside on a Sunday.
Evenings in summer when we would sit in your parents garden and await the midsummer barbeque feast, and I would always eat too much but one day this worked to my advantage because it meant that I didn't have to go and work for one night at the hotel that dominated my summers.
I liked the lines around her eyes because they were lines of laughter and she was always laughing, she always saw the good in life, the good in me, and it's fair to say that, in the years since, I have never met anyone even close to her in that respect.
So here I am. Listening to my belly, my heart. You don't need this, I know, and I feel ashamed for having even got this far, so let's pretend it never happened, ok?
David Aaronovitch and Tony Blair – Conspiracy Theorists
This is a tribute to two of the finest creative minds of our age. If they were reading this they would undoubtedly protest that they have never produced anything in the least bit creative – viewing their own talents as limited to the mere hum-drum recitation of commonplace facts to deflate the work of those with more active imaginations. They are far too modest. The truth is that they are two of the most imaginative writers and speakers of the 21st century who would never allow themselves to be tied down by anything so tedious as providing enough of the facts to spoil a good story.
Tony Blair is well known to us all. His creative works are rightly famous. He co-authored the brilliantly imaginative ‘Saddam is harbouring and aiding Al Qa’ida’ narrative. His input to the renowned ‘Dossier on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction’ was unparalleled in its ability to allow the more credulous reader to suspend their disbelief. His repeated claims that there is an ‘unholy alliance' of the extreme left and the extreme right against him is another piece of creative genius, conjuring up as it does images of Sir Norman Tebbit and Tony Benn in a smoke filled room (the first smoking Cuban cigars, the latter his trademark pipe) with Benn speaking in hushed tones ‘OK Norm , me old mucker, Project Shaft Blair is up and running. The Thatcherite-Socialist brotherhood shall prevail.’ Then comes the secret hand-shake.
Aaronovitch may need some introduction. In his youth he was an influential member of the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain. He supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1965 (just as he supports the invasion and occupation of Iraq now). He now lambasts opponents of Bush and Blair’s wars as apologists for dictatorships.
He was so well able to think ‘out of the box’ that he managed to bring the Communist party to a position to the right of the British Conservative Party – at which point it collapsed into obscurity. That took some creative thought I can tell you – as did going from extreme left (Communist) to hard right( Blairite) - but then he has that in common with half of New Labour – now Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was a Stalinist CPGB member and Peter Mandelson dabbled at the edges , attending some party meetings. At no point was Aaronovitch anything so dull and everyday as a democrat or a socialist.
David Aaronovitch now appears on BBC News 24 as well as writing columns for the Guardian and the Independent labelling everyone to the left of himself, Tony Blair and George W Bush as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ (Kudos to you David – that’s an awful lot of people). He rarely if ever criticises dictators or human rights abuses in his columns – unless the British and American governments have declared a particular regime or dictator is now officially Evil at which point he bravely supports his government in its desperate struggle against the deadly triple threats posed by their electorates (most of whom oppose these wars), the full facts, and second or third world armies equipped with outdated arms and lacking any air-forces on the other.
So don't look for much criticism of any dictatorship, organisation or oppressive government that’s an ally of our government. There’s not much criticism by Aaronovitch of the dictators of Uzbekistan – despite the fact that they carry out torture and oppression every bit as horrific as Saddam’s. Little mention of the torture of British citizens by the Saudi monarchy. Not much on the Colombian military or its paramilitary deaths-quads which can be funded thanks to massive increases in aid from the UK and US. Very little on the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army’s murder and ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo – or the involvement of KLA officers in the drugs trade exporting Afghan heroin and kidnapping young girls for forced prostitution – a practice in which UN officials and NATO troops have also been involved.
Safer to stick to officially approved enemies. Simpler to have a goodies versus baddies piece of creative writing than deal with the fact that most conflicts involve atrocities by both sides. Milosevic and Saddam are bad therefore the entirety of the KLA, NATO, Bush and Blair and anything their forces do must be right. Al Qa’ida and former Ba’athists are fighting the occupying forces in Iraq so everyone opposing the occupation and its methods must be an apologist for them. Forget that the insurgency includes huge numbers of opponents of Saddam with no links to Al Qa’ida. Forget that coalition forces kill hundreds of civilians in every ‘pacification’ of an Iraqi city – 600 in the April assault on Falluja alone –of which 300 were women and children. Never mind that even the occupying coalition’s own polls show a majority of Iraqis would feel safer if American and British troops left now.
This ability to downplay or ignore half the facts entirely and make illogical claims without fear or favour is one of Aaronovitch’s greatest strengths.
Aaronovitch also has an unsurpassed capacity to believe that the same thing is both true and untrue simultaneously if Bush or Blair say its so. This double-think gives his mind and his work an elasticity which allows him to support Blair on every issue.
To give one example exit poll discrepancies in the Ukrainian Presidential elections – where Bush and Blair questioned the election results – are taken as evidence of fraud by Aaronovitch. I have no problem with believing that.
Yet at exactly the same time he can deride anyone pointing to similar exit poll discrepancies in the US Presidential elections as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and ‘hate’ their ‘madness’.
Professor Steven F. Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania has analysed this exit poll discrepancy using data from exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitolfsky polling on behalf of a media pool including the Associated Press.
Historically exit polls are accurate to within 0.1%. Professor Freeman found the exit polls differed from the announced results the day after the election in 2004 by 6.7% in Ohio, 4.5% in Florida and 9.5% in New Hampshire. He calculates the odds of this being due to random chance at 250 million to 1.
The Government Accountability Office of the US Federal Government is now conducting an inquiry into tens of thousands of allegations of electoral irregularities at the request of 13 Democratic congressmen. Independent candidate Ralph Nader’s campaign are involved in a recount in New Hampshire. The US Green and Libertarian parties are demanding a recount and inquiry in Ohio with the backing of Ohio Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich as well as the Reverend Jesse Jackson. These people and organisations are presumably all ‘conspiracy theorists’ in Aaronovitch’s book – their inquiries , recounts and demands not worthy of reporting.
Aaronovitch also likes to think that anyone who disagrees with his creative works must secretly be in the pay of shadowy forces. John Laughland has reported many facts uncomfortable to the British and American governments in the Guardian and elsewhere. In one Guardian article he revealed that while there was electoral fraud by the ‘winning’ Russian backed candidate there was also fraud by the opposition in many areas – and pointing out that while much of the opposition is perfectly democratic it also includes anti-semitic and neo-fascist groups – and while one candidate is funded and influence by Moscow the opposition candidate is similarly funded and influenced by Washington. This is not so surprising – the opposition are united only in opposing the Russian backed candidate – other than that, like most oppositions, they vary widely. While I may not agree with everything Laughland says, or all his politics, that isn’t the point. He has researched facts. He is providing the other side of the story – you need all the facts to be fully informed.
Aaronovitch’s response was to outline Laughland’s supposedly shadowy links to Sanders Research and the British Helsinki Human Rights Group which he sees as a front for the hard right – strange given that Laughland constantly criticises Bush’s policies and states that he works for these two institutes at the end of every article – even providing internet links to them.
No David – you’re too modest – you’re one of the most imaginative writers alive – not to mention one of the greatest double thinkers. You can change sides from Communist and pro-Russian to Blairite and pro-American with alacrity depending on whose power is waning and whose is waxing. Please don’t be so modest with your humble claim to be de-bunking conspiracy theories. It’s so far from the truth.
Like so many former Communists turned Blairites you’re still attacking anyone who deviates from your party line in any way as a lunatic or a traitor who must be part of a conspiracy while showing a complete disregard for inconvenient facts.
copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2004
Covering Electoral Irregularities and Opposition Demands for Inquiries and Recounts – the Ukrainian versus the American Presidential Election
Exit Poll discrepancies and other electoral ‘irregularities’ in the Ukrainian and American Presidential elections are being covered very differently by most of the media.
Historically exit polls, unlike pre-election polls, are extremely accurate. Discrepancies between exit polls and announced results of up to 11% have been reported in Ukraine.
Professor Steven F. Freeman of Pennsylvania University examined US Presidential election exit polls carried out by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky Polling on behalf of a media pool including the Associated Press. These show exit poll discrepancies in every key swing state in the US Presidential election, all favouring Bush, including 4.5% in Florida, 6.7% in Ohio and 9.5% in New Hampshire. He calculates the odds of these discrepancies being due to chance at 250 million to 1.
While President Bush and other US republicans have called for an inquiry into the Ukrainian exit poll discrepancy the Chairman of the Republican National Committee has asked the media not to report exit polls in US elections in future.
The American exit polls were modified after they were taken. The ‘explanation’ that it was ‘standard practice’ to ‘weight’ the polls by the final results is more an admission that the exit polls were massaged after they were taken. Even its originator – Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal- now largely agrees with Freeman.
Even conservative American pollster Dick Morris commented that exit polls are never that wrong – interpreting the discrepancy as an anti-Bush conspiracy by the ‘liberal media’.
The Chief Executives of the ‘liberal’ media conglomerates are chiefly pre-occupied with securing further de-regulation of media ownership to expand their own business empires – and tax cuts on their own incomes. Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, of which CBS News is a subsidiary, told Time Magazine
“I do believe that a Republican Administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one”
He had previously described ‘de-regulation’ as one benefit .
Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of NewsCorp International, of which Fox News is a subsidiary was more vocal on the fact that if Bush was re-elected
“you'll get continuation of his tax reduction program which will help”.
It would certainly help Murdoch, who was among the 400 richest American citizens who saw their personal fortunes grow by over 10% due to tax cuts in Bush’s first term.
Fox News was the first TV network to call Florida in 2000 and both Florida and Ohio in 2004 for Bush – with the rest of the media following before all the votes were counted and before any investigation of various electoral ‘irregularities’ could be carried out. Fox has the slogan ‘fair and balanced’ which is amusing considering that it’s lawyers won a Florida state court case in 2003 by admitting that Fox News had lied while claiming the First Amendment of the US Constitution – Freedom of Speech – gave them the right to lie.
So Fox and CBS don’t report any US electoral ‘irregularities’ – for that you have to rely largely on local and state newspapers , the American Civil Liberties Union , investigative journalists, members of congress and academics.
In Warren County, Ohio, officials excluded the public and the media from the count on election night claiming a terrorist threat warning from the FBI – who deny any warning was issued. A bomb scare in Florida’s Election Division building the day before the election echoed a similar event which disrupted the Miami Herald’s attempt to recount votes in Palm Beach County in 2000.
Concern over voting machines is also labelled ‘conspiracy theory’ by most of the media. Some of the inter-relationships between the two major parties (but particularly the Republicans) and the main voting machine firms in the US are covered in Method 3 under the heading ‘The 2004 election’ here.
Another line is that any irregularities didn’t affect the outcome. The American Civil Liberties union estimate around 5 million Americans were illegally or wrongly removed from electoral registers as ‘ex-felons’ in 2000 and 2004 – disproportionately black and many having no criminal record , many by Republican Secretaries of State , as in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. Then 2 million votes were discarded as spoiled ballots - 1 million of them black votes first in 2000 and again in 2004 . Black voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat, are 5 to 10 times more likely to have their ballot ‘spoiled’. So these two practices alone denied or destroyed 7 million votes – double Bush’s 3.5 million vote ‘mandate’.
Bush’s announced majority in Ohio, which decided the election, was only 136,000 – and that was before over 100,000 provisional votes were counted.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Ohio Free Press have reported irregularities including fewer voting machines being provided in districts with high numbers of low income, black or student (i.e Democrat) voters. According to the Verified Voting Foundation there were no working machines in at least one Ohio precinct. Voters were told they’d be phoned to come back later. They weren’t. In some precincts they were offered provisional ballots – but under Ohio electoral law provisional ballots can’t be counted until 10 days after the election – long after the election had been ‘called’ for Bush.
The Ohio based Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections has shown that 4% of the vote was lost in the Democratic stronghold of Cleveland due to spoiled ballots, people being removed from the electoral register, or problems on polling day - double the 2% for the rest of the county. The lower the average income of a voting district the higher the percentage of discarded votes – reaching 13% in the poorest .
International observers report that they were prevented from monitoring polling in Ohio and Florida – and overall had less access to the polls than in Kazakhstan. The General Accounting Office of the Federal government is preparing an investigation into irregularities in the 2004 Presidential election at the request of 13 Democratic members of congress. A recount is taking place in New Hampshire funded by independent candidate Ralph Nader – recounts in other states may follow. Legal action is being taken against the state of Ohio by laywers for the CASE voters’ rights group. Demands for a recount in the state made by the US Libertarian and Green parties are backed by Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Kerry campaign lawyers are preparing a list of 30 questions for election officials there.
Why do we hear so little about all this and so much about Ukraine?
Perhaps its because the rigged results of the Ukrainian elections favoured Russian businesses at the expense of US and EU based ones – the US Presidential election results were those desired by the owners and chief executives of these companies – not least media conglomerates. The media is meant to provide viewers with the facts and let them decide – instead they present viewers and readers with a conclusion that’s good for business accompanied by as few facts as possible. So much for objectivity.
Many state and local newspapers, academics , members of congress and voters’ rights groups have been honourable exceptions. There is still a chance for more of the media to redeem themselves and give the same support to demands for inquiries and recounts in the US which they have provided to the opposition in Ukraine.
Copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2004
Deepcut and Iraq – Turning a Blind Eye
Privates James Collinson, Cheryl James, Sean Benton and Geoff Gray – all died at Deepcut barracks
Private Cheryl James was 18 years old in 1995 when she was killed by a gunshot to the head in woods near Deepcut army barracks in England. It later emerged she had been forced to have sex with an officer at the barracks.The Ministry of Defence continues to claim she committed suicide but refused to collect or release any forensic evidence supporting this conclusion. Three other young recruits have died at the barracks since – the most recent in 2002. Despite continued reports made by serving soldiers to both Surrey Police and the families of Deepcut victims of bullying, physical and sexual abuse, and rape of young recruits at the barracks the MoD and the British government continue to refuse to hold a full and independent public inquiry into the deaths.
According to the Herald newspaper and the BBC Bruce George MP , Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence told the families of recruits died at Deepcut that he was so angry at their criticisms of his committee’s failure to call any current or former commanders of the Deepcut Barracks to give evidence that
‘If it was any other group criticising our methodology, I would have thrown them out.’.
He added that
“We’re taking half of our time or more in wondering and agonising about what happened to your kids…..at a time when there are many,many very serious issues that the committee should be addressing” .
Poor Bruce. What are these issues that are more serious than whether the British army , the MoD and the government are allowing recruits to be raped , killed or driven to suicide ? Could it be that he is still having to deal with the issue because ever since he became Chair of the Committee in 1997 he has refused to call British army officers commanding the barracks to testify ? Maybe the solution would be for him to step down and let an MP who will deal with the issue take over. Or perhaps the voters of his Walsall South constituency could help ease him out of his stressful position at the next election.
Bruce George also voted against a law to prevent the army recruiting children (i.e under 18s) like Private Geoff Gray, who died near Deepcut in 2001 at the age of 17 – or the 16 year old girl who alleges she was sexually assaulted by an officer after being recruited to the Army Training Regiment at Bassingbourne. This contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the UK is a signatory and which bans the use of children as soldiers.
(You can email Bruce George MP on this address firstname.lastname@example.org.)
An internal ‘attitudes survey’ by the MoD found that over 80% of serving soldiers say there is a ‘bullying problem’ in the British army. (bullying being the preferred MoD euphemism for anything from bullying to violence , sexual abuse , rape , murder or driving recruits to suicide). The Guardian says this is ‘despite senior officers attempts to stamp it out’ – which is either gullibility or a mis-placed attempt at humour. No senior officer has ever been held responsible by government for these abuses so where is their motivation to do anything about it? To date the government and the army are more interested in denying it , covering it up and letting it continue.
Not one officer who commanded at Deepcut has been so much as asked to answer any serious questions about what went on at the barracks.
Nor is it by any means certain that all the deaths were suicides – though in a some ways whether they were suicides or not is not the main issue since either way they were killed , whether directly or by being driven to suicide.
An independent investigation by a forensic specialist contacted by the families of 4 recruits who died at Deepcut between 1995 and 2002 found it 'highly unlikely' that their deaths could have been suicides. Other recruits alleged that they and the four dead recruits had been subjected to bullying, threats, assaults and sexual harassment by officers. The families also allege that the MoD have destroyed and altered evidence.
Since the government is content to allow sadists to abuse and even kill its own recruits it should come as no surprise that British forces, like American ones, are involved in the torture of Iraqi civilians. Yes – the Mirror photos were fakes – but the eye-witness accounts by Iraqi civilians and also British soldiers from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment of the torture by beating and kicking of Iraqi civilians forced to stand in ‘stress positions’ for days and nights at a time are very real. So are the deaths that took place as a result – such as that of Baha Mousa , a waiter whose dead body was dumped in a toilet after he had been beaten and kicked for days and nights.
The Royal Military Police began an investigation of these allegations.
In November 2004 it was reported that Staff Sergeant Denise Rose of the Special Investigations Branch of the Royal Military Police was found dead from a gunshot wound at a military base in the city of Basra in Southern Iraq. According to The Independent newspaper ‘Sgt Rose joined the Royal Military Police in 1989 and trained as an SIB investigator in 1995, conducting investigations into serious incidents within the military in the UK and Cyprus.”
Sergeant Rose’s death was not thought to be the result of enemy action according to The Guardian. British officers said they thought her death was probably a suicide. Sound familiar?
What you can Do
Please write to or email your MP(if you live in the UK) and/or the Ministry of Defence and Prime Minister Tony Blair (addresses below) wherever you live asking that they demand/take urgent steps to
Hold independent external inquiries into -
The deaths of recruits at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey and continued allegations by serving soldiers of violence, sexual abuse , rape and other forms of bullying by serving soldiers. AND/OR alleged killings and torture of PoWs and civilians by British forces in Iraq,
Addresses and Email addresses
(If emailing incude your postal address if you want a reply)
Your MP (UK only)
Your MP's Name ,House of Commons, London ,SW1A 0AA
Email - Your MP's email address is their surname, followed by their first email@example.com. For instance if your MP's name was 'John Brown MP' their email would be firstname.lastname@example.org
The UK's Ministry of Defence
Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon MP or Minister for the Armed Forces Adam Ingram MP, The Ministerial Correspondence Unit, Ministry of Defence, Room 222, Old War Office, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2EU , UK Email email@example.com
The Prime Minister of Britain
The Prime Minister Tony Blair MP, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA , UK Email - You can email the PM from this web page
For More Information
Copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2004
Joanna Newsom - Birmingham Glee Club - 22nd November
The tiny Glee Club studio is standing room only, all 150 seats filled in anticipation of the last date of a surely unique tour. It's not every day you see a solo singing harpist.
Arriving on stage, Joanna Newsom kicks things off with some audience participation, clapping along to a short, sweet acapella ditty. It's a neat way to gain the attention of anyone who hasn't yet noticed that she's quite pretty. Everyone's come primarily to hear her, though, so such thoughts are speedily put to one side.
Once comfortable with her harp, microphones strategically located, Newsom appears even more diminutive than when she first walks on. It looks like it should be a stretch to reach the furthest strings, yet she makes plucking intricate accompaniments look easy, all the while singing in her distinctive voice. On record, it's a voice that can take some getting used to; live it fits together much better, sounding less cutesy.
The harp is a demanding instrument, requiring concentration, and Newsom plays with a rare intensity. She may only be touring her first album ('The Milk-Eyed Mender') but already she possesses bags of stagecraft. Seemingly unfazed by the crowded room, she packs each song with character and emotion. The intimate setting allows full appreciation of both angry crescendos and doe-eyed, tender moments. Newsom looks genuinely mournful at times, and it's clear she's putting her all into the performance.
All this adds up to a completley mesmerising show. The thought occurs that this is timeless music; it wouldn't sound entirely out of place a hundred, even two hundred years ago. 'This Side Of The Blue' in particular has the kind of melody that should have been written centuries ago. Despite this, there's also a feeling of the contemporary, of vitality. A new song is introduced - timidly, in complete contrast to the assured confidence of the performance - as inspired by a conversation Newsom had with her father about the Iraq war. The song itself is a majestic epic, putting to rest the suspicion that there's only so much you can do with just a harp. If you've heard one song, you definitely haven't heard them all, as the b-side 'What We Have Known' to recent single 'The Sprout And The Bean' confirms.
Despite only having the one record, a couple of new compositions mean that Newsom can afford to leave songs from it for an encore. 'Inflammatory Writ' sounds wonderfully wistful without the album's piano part, and Newsom plays superbly to replace the harpsichord on 'Peach, Plum, Pear.' Requests are politely invited, and one wag ventures 'Don't go back to America!'
No-one present would mind another hour under Newsom's spell, but few would ask for their money back. This was a remarkably accomplished performance for someone so supposedly inexperienced. What's more, the impressive new songs indicate that despite the supposed limitations of her instrument, she isn't about to disappear yet. Next time you get the chance, be first in the queue for tickets.