April 23, 2009

Oppositional headbanging

These are dark days in American politics. Disgusting people run the country with disgusting deeds and disgusting words. Nothing I can do about it and I don't have much that's fresh to say, so concentrate on other things. But permit a small cry of pain on the subject of 'torture'. I wholly approve what the Bush administration did in relation to Al Quaeda detainees, except that they may not have done enough of it. This thought suffices: imagine you're Pinch Sulzberger, who runs the New York Times. The government believes a detainee may have actionable intelligence of a suicide attack against your skyscraper in Manhattan. But the detainee won't talk. He sniggers. So each day you watch your employees come to work and you know and they don't know that each day may be their last. You see their family photos on their desks, you talk about the future. So Obama rings you up and the call goes like this:

Obama: Hey thanks for all the help. I know you endorsed Hillary, but I understand the ethnic scene in NYT. Hey, Pinch, my people can lean on the terrorist COO a little. Maybe we can tickle him bad enough to to make him squawk. No bruises, we'll call it "processing". But we might save hundreds of lives, your people.

Pinch : It's torture, sir. It's unAmerican. Banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions.

Obama: The CIA tells me that we averted a specific attack on an LA building by waterboarding a terrorist COO. My DNI says we obtained valuable intelligence by scaring the bejesus out of a couple of these guys. What should I do?

Pinch: Sir, it's better that my staff die than that we 'torture' people who want to destroy America. We are men of principle, aren't we?

Obama: Fine. Let's see how that plays. I'll leave open the possibility of prosecuting the lawyers who justified the waterboarding. So long and tell your staff how much this administration values them.

Me: Among all the disgusting, luxurious, infantile attitudes adopted by liberals these days, this attitudinizing about coercion is the most depraved. It's good that the real effects of voting liberal are being so starkly played out. It's clarifying. Now back to escapism.

Update: I add Liz Cheney's fine refutation of the liberal mythology:

April 22, 2009


I'm collating a book of images from around Shad Thames in London. In a converted warehouse nearby called Hay's Galleria there's a statue called The Navigators by artist David Kemp. I was composing a shot of this work when a tourist came into the frame and wouldn't budge. Eventually I took the snap with him in it. When I saw the image on screen I realised that the interloper resembled the sculpture, so I conversed a little with David Kemp about it. During the banter we discovered a certain shared affinity for cormorants and he drew my attention to this ditty by Christopher Isherwood, also attributed to Edward Lear:
The Common Cormorant
The common cormorant (or shag)
Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
You follow the idea, no doubt?
It's to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds
Have never thought of, is that herds
Of wandering bears might come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

April 18, 2009

If you want war, prepare for peace

The new basic data on Israel-Iran are these:

1."The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict." Avigdor Lieberman, 2006.

2. "Past prime ministers were prepared to make wide-ranging concessions and the result of the Olmert-Livni government was the second Lebanon war, the operation in Gaza, severance of relations with Qatar and Mauritania, Gilad Schalit still in captivity and the peace process at a dead end.." Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Foreign Minister, 2009.

3. Iran now has the techniques to make and deliver a nuclear warhead within 2 years.

4. Obama is at least conciliatory to formerly outlaw states like Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.

5. Obama has a special relationship with Islam unlike any US President.

6. Influential Obama supporters include noted anti-semites and noted Hamas fellow-travellers.

7. Joe Biden says Israel will be "ill-advised" to attack Iran.

8. The US told Netanyahu that Obama will be "out of town" when the Israeli PM visits Washington in May.

9. Ahmadinejad is strong favourite to be re-elected in June.

10. The countries of the Arabian peninsula fear a nuclear Iran.

11. I doubt anyone exists who thinks Obama will undertake a pre-emptive strike against Iran. It's possible, but nobody thinks it.

12. Israel may need to cross Iraq to get to Iran.

13. The chance of a successful attack is much greater if the USA helps Israel.

14. Israel probably has far better intelligence than the USA.

If I were Israeli, especially an Israeli with Netanyahu and Barak's military background, I would not tolerate a nuclear Iran if it were in my power to prevent it. The Times' foreign editor:
What is significant is not their political affiliations but their military background. Mr Barak, the most decorated soldier in the Israeli army, once headed Sayeret Matkal, Israel's equivalent of the SAS before becoming the army chief. One soldier serving under him was Mr Netanyahu. Another veteran of this elite unit was Moshe Yaalon, also in the Cabinet. These men have taken part in assassination operations against Palestinian leaders and commanded daring raids deep inside enemy territory. In short, they have the experience and the confidence to plan and execute an attack on Iran.

Indeed, Mr Barak was Defence Minister in the previous Government when Israel carried out its latest secret raid in January - on a weapons convoy in Sudan. According to details released this week, Israeli F16 bombers, protected by F15 fighters, attacked targets in Sudan. Pilotless drones then filmed the wreckage, relaying back images which revealed that some vehicles were undamaged. The jets then flew a second sortie. The aircraft, which were refuelled in mid-air, flew 1,750 miles from Israel to Sudan and back. The distance from Israel to Natanz, the uranium enrichment centre in Iran, is 900 miles one way.

A factor in any Israeli calculation will be Iran's air defences, which are far more daunting than Sudan's. Here too there is good reason to believe that Israel may act sooner rather than later. Russia has sold Iran the sophisticated S300 surface-to-air system. Israel would want to launch an attack before these missiles are in place.

These military imperatives might make sense to soldiers, but surely the political cost of a pre-emptive raid - not to mention the risk of plunging the Middle East into another big war - would rule out an attack.

This argument might make sense from Europe but in the Middle East quite another logic is at work. Many Arab states, particularly in the Gulf, are more afraid of a nuclear-armed Iran than Israel is. A military strike that delayed that threat would be welcomed in some Arab capitals. The Israelis know that they would face a huge international outcry. But that happened after the raid on Iraq and many countries later thanked them privately. More recently they were widely attacked after the offensive against Gaza in January, but over time that criticism has died down.

Today the only serious obstacle to this battle is Barack Obama.

I'd deal with the opposition of this US administration rather than stake my children's lives on Iran's mercy or rationality, so I do think that Israel will attack with or without the USA because it makes sense, but unlike the surprise attack on the Osirak reactor in 1981, this time the USA has the chance pre-emptively to threaten Israel. Would the USA shoot down Israeli aircraft? Would the USA threaten to interdict Israeli aircraft? Obama will leave that possibility as an unspoken deterrent against Israel. Taste those words.."as a deterrent against Israel." How did we get here? You, Jewish-American liberals, how did we get here? We got here because your religion is liberalism.

Would Congress stand for an American President obstructing Israel to protect Islamo-fascists? Would Americans? That is the question for America. For Israel it's to be or not to be, that is the question.

April 14, 2009

Manhattan discovers Utah

The New York Times has a piece on southern Utah, specifically the Escalante area. The writer takes a few risks to bring back an account of the fearsome Peek-a-Boo slot canyon:
I had lost sight of the first stone cairns almost immediately, as I stumbled down to the dry river wash at the bottom of the ravine. (“Water is scarce,” the printout helpfully noted.) After a few false leads, I made it to Peek-a-Boo Canyon, whose hard-to-spot entrance was surrounded by what looked like a shallow pool: I took a step in and sank straight up to my thighs in thick mud. As the sun continued to climb in the sky, I wished for my own Ute guide — or at least a GPS tracking system.

Hugging the canyon wall for shade, I pressed on heroically and found Spooky Canyon, named for its otherworldly atmosphere. It was only an 18-inch-wide crack in the rock, but to me it yawned like the gateway to Shangri-La.

As I squeezed inside, the air was immediately cool and fragrant. The sky appeared to be an electric blue sliver far above, and the reflected light made the golden sandstone seem to glow from within. I remained utterly still, in a lizardlike state, knowing that I couldn’t hide in there forever.

Finally, I drank the last of my water and staggered across the rock like a sun-struck character out of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I was parched, scratched, encrusted with mud — but triumphant.
Well, the esteemed proprietor of Anatreptic.com, Mick Stockinger, and I and my brother-in-law strolled down to Peek-a-Boo Canyon and Spooky Gulch a while ago. It's great but we missed the dramatics. It really is tempting to scoff at the Manhattan pantywaist, but the truth is that the difference between a stroll in the park and a scary adventure is very little. A wrong turn, a twisted ankle, disorientation, demoralisation, dark - and that's just Central Park let alone the wildest part of the contiguous USA.

Another difference tho is experience. There's a discreet gap between hiking and mountaineering apart from technique. Mountaineering is much tougher physically and calls for judgement under stress as well as a likelihood of spending nights in a bivouac. So on a trek, however tough, a mountaineer tends to be confident that he has something in hand. That can lead to comic mistakes of course. "Hey I thought you brought the compass."

There's an obvious political moral here, but I'll let that lie.

Scoops and scalps: the MSM gets shivved

Janet Daley, Brown apologist and Daily Telegraph columnist with a grudge, attempts to belittle Guido Fawkes:
In the US, the power of the political blog was transformed when Matt Drudge made Monica Lewinsky the most famous intern in White House history, and nearly brought about the impeachment of a president, by publishing his sensational story on the Drudge Report. Why did Mr Staines not follow his example? Perhaps he would like to tell us.

He replies in the third comment:
Perhaps I will eventually. Not to the Telegraph though. Your paper has behaved reprehensibly. To breach a confidence, reveal a source, tip off Downing Street and break a signed non-disclosure agreement is hardly honourable. The bitterness you and Pierce demonstrate is manifest to all your readers.

Claiming today that the Telegraph discovered that Draper lunched at Chequers days after setting up the Red Rag site without attributing that "scoop" to me two days earlier is revealing.

You have one of the weakest political teams around. The paper has lost its way and is reduced to taking scraps from my blog for its front page, day after day.
I trust this is all a big deal in Utah. It seems positively Jacobean to me. Delicious.

April 13, 2009

A milestone

Further to 'Scoops and scalps' below, Daniel Hannan well expresses how the smeargate scandal here in the UK has crystallized the plight of the elite media:
A blog has just done something that I thought no one could do: elicited an apology (or as close as we'll ever get to an apology) from Gordon Brown. Indeed, according to The Guardian, the McBride-Draper scandal might cost Labour the next election. If so, Guido Fawkes would have succeeded where his baleful namesake failed 404 years ago: he would have brought down a government. Even if you think the Guardian story is a bit de trop, the idea that one man with a laptop could do so much damage would, until very recently, have seemed risible.

Yet, even now, a number of print and broadcast journalists dismiss, disdain and depreciate internet-based news. Read the Guardian's own Michael White responding to the way my attack on Gordon Brown spread online. Read Peter Wilby's reedy complaint that the internet "lacks quality control". It is difficult not to sympathise with journalists of their generation. They can see local newspapers dropping all around them, and know that some nationals will soon follow. Every newsdesk is shedding staff, and journalists' are having to work longer hours for lower salaries. The Whites and Wilbies perceive, even if they do not properly understand, that amateurs are driving out professionals. It makes them frightened and bilious.

What irks them most of all is that bloggers refuse to apply Leftist filters. Until very recently, few people could watch a politician's speech or read his statement in full. They relied, instead, on the Whites and Wilbies to select, précis and interpret stories for them. Now, the masses can make up their own minds without bien-pensant intellectuals telling them what to think.

April 12, 2009

Scoops and scalps: a postcard from London

The lead story here has been the resignation of a key aide to Gordon Brown. The aide has been outed concocting a sex and drugs and mental health smear campaign against the Conservative leadership and their wives. So far, so sordid, but the big point is that this is a terrific scoop and scalp for blogger, Guido Fawkes, who obtained the smoking gun emails and skilfully played the quiet Easter news cycle to maximum effect. (Guy Fawkes, by the way, tried to blow up the House of Lords and King James I in 1605 as part of a Roman Catholic plot. His effigy is burnt every November the 5th on Bonfire Night).

The story is rife with British comic detail and vendettas all around, not least the envy and treachery of Guido Fawkes' MSM competitors, up to and including a pre-emptive betrayal of Guido's scoop by the supposedly conservative Daily Telegraph. An irony is that anyone can open a blog on the Telegraph site and Guido Fawkes himself has done just that - to embarrassing effect, writing:
Telegraph Has Behaved Terribly Over Smeargate

Sunday, April 12, 2009, 01:38 PM GMT [General]

There are a lot of bitter, jealous journalists at the Telegraph and you have behaved shamefully over the McBride story. You even tipped off Downing Street in advance as to exactly what I was up to. It reflects on you a lot more than it does on me.
You revealed sources, broke a confidence, breached a signed non-disclosure agreement and behaved like patsys for McBride.

You still failed to spoil the story. Your political team is about as weak as it gets, that is why you sucked up to Downing Street.
The Telegraph was once run by gentlemen for gentlemen. This would never have happened under Deedes or Charles Moore.
Do your worst.
This is manna from heaven for the Tories. No one thinks Gordon Brown was involved,*** but he certainly turns a blind eye (he actually does have a blind eye) to the poisonous shenanigans of his entourage as long as there's political advantage. For many years the Brownian poison has been directed at rivals on his own side. This is a different game with different rules. Gordon Brown has never been elected by any non-politician outside his constituency of Fife in Scotland, since he famously bottled out of calling a General Election soon after he took over from Tony Blair. He lacks legitimacy, moreover he's accident prone. He flourished alongside Blair, whom he was constantly plotting to unseat, but since moving to centre stage has had a run of ferocious bad luck which he attracts like a mountain massif attracts its own weather.

So politics in both London and Washington would be tragic were it not so funny. Look on the bright side. Things change.

***Update: uh-oh.

Update 2: Today is Guy Fawkes' birthday, 13th April 1570. This all brings back happy memories when my brothers and I would take a stuffed guy in a wheelbarrow from house to house calling 'penny for the guy'. The pennies were spent on fireworks. 

April 10, 2009

Three chords and the truth

That's Harlan Howard's description of country music. Clint Black plays in this clip from the farewell episode of The Larry Sanders Show. I love that show. It's all on YouTube and when I'm alone I watch it on my laptop in bed. Start this clip at 3:40. For afficionados the incidental action during the song is just exquisite:

April 02, 2009

Go with the glow - photo notes from around Shad Thames

Shad Thames is a small neighbourhood by the south side of Tower Bridge in London. This post is parochial, but it gives me the chance to publicise my photography.

These notes are illustrated in this gallery

In Shad Thames the sloping balconies stack up at mad angles to sensational effect. Still, it's not trivial to make a decent image. The light is typically unyielding, either overcast and undifferentiated or high contrast such that the dynamic range from the dark, narrow canyon to the bright,white top of Butlers Wharf exceeds what a camera can handle without High Dynamic Range techniques which look surreal. Go with the glow; shoot backlit effects with light seeping round the metal balconies. This is effective while the morning sun casts long shadows of the balconies onto the side walls of the canyon, first one wall then the other. In between the sun shines straight down the canyon, floodlighting the balconies and some of the street furniture. There's often a cluster of Biffa bins at the Curlew Street corner at that time. They're incandescent in the sun. When a trashtruck moves up the street, it slots in nicely beneath the stacked up balconies. Don't forget the brightly coloured jackets of the parking wardens.

Tower Bridge is a visual cliché, dramatic skies notwithstanding. Stepping down onto the shingle by the river at low tide helps. The scaffolding on the bridge while it's being cleaned gives new possibilities. Moving towards Rotherhithe yields busy images which appeal to me. Or buy an upper floor flat for a million quid for a less usual viewpoint. Interesting boats pass through the raised road often enough - timetable here.

Birds are good round here; swans, grebes, coots, ducks, gulls, geese, even a Harris hawk to amaze the pigeons. Cormorants may look black, but they're black and white and irridescent when you get a good view and they have strange heads. They often present themselves perched on a highly textured beam or a yellow buoy, drying their wings like laundry on a line since they lack oil on their feathers. You can catch them juxtaposed with City Hall or the bridge or a police launch or some other artefact which they sneer at or harangue. Pigeons are more handsome than you might think - bright eyes, handsome feathers, fluffed up for sex or bathing or both. It helps their interesting personalities that they are the next stage up from humans on the re-incarnation ladder; like us, but less litter.

More London estate has a reputation for harrassing photographers shooting the world-famous icons around, but I think it's unfair to call the security staff 'Morons' just because it sounds apt. Some of them, often African, are perfectly polite and smiley. Others, unfortunately, start citing laws they know nothing about and which don't apply and that makes it harder to kowtow to what amounts to a breach of the peace when they try to obstruct innocent photography. One might simply snap one of these surly actors if they refuse to get out of the frame; instead of the standard Tower Bridge shot, Tower Bridge + surly security guard.

'Hell is other people' may apply now that Shad Thames is so busy. You can aim high or crop out specks of lumpen humanity from the bottom of the frame. It often works to include the odd person for scale or clothing or as an objet trouvé. My shot of The Navigator in Hays Galleria was enhanced by the intrusion of a tourist who looked like the model for the nasally endowed sculpture. A winter shot of the anchor by The Cantina was enhanced by a bloke giving scale alongside. A few seconds later a man in a top hat came striding through the snow and gave me a striking image looking back to the bridge.

Reflections are a treat around the More estate. It can be a puzzle finding just the right spot to optimise a multiple image of City Hall. That's when I look most like a terrorist casing the joint. Don't forget that rain begets reflections. La Strada has fascinating reflections of City Hall and the bridge combined with the restaurant's signage and the big red lampshades inside.

Again here's a link to a gallery of mine which shows several of these points.I've posted smallish files for faster download, so the images have a slightly stressed quality rather than the more 'liquid' surface I prefer.

April 01, 2009

G20 protests in London

It's 1am in London and I can hear a police helicopter hovering around Tower Bridge to monitor any G20 malarkey. The protests so far are trivial, incentivised and amplified 100x by the media; a couple of broken windows in a bank and some City-workers mocking the protesters by waving banknotes from windows. If there were proportionate coverage, there'd be almost no aggro. There's symbiosis between the statists who want to use the Credit Crunch as a vehicle to get them to socialism and the pot-pourri of useful idiots who provide the media images. It's laughable close-up and sinister as part of the bigger project to subordinate liberty to corporatists.
The view from above:

A lion sandwich