Tuesday, November 04, 2008

This is not good for Islam - Stoning victim 'begged for mercy'

Almost beggars belief ... men killing a 13-year-old rape victim. Bring back the feudal ages, eh?

A young woman recently stoned to death in Somalia first pleaded for her life, a witness has told the BBC. "Don't kill me, don't kill me," she said, according to the man who wanted to remain anonymous. A few minutes later, more than 50 men threw stones.

Human rights group Amnesty International says the victim was a 13-year-old girl who had been raped. Initial reports had said she was a 23-year-old woman who had confessed to adultery before a Sharia court.

The witness says she was forced into a hole, buried up to her neck then pelted with stones until she died in front of more than 1,000 people.

Cameras were banned from the public stoning, but print and radio journalists who were allowed to attend estimated that the woman, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, was 23 years old.

However, Amnesty said it had learned she was 13, and that her father had said she was raped by three men.

"People were saying this was not good for Sharia law, this was not good for human rights, this was not good for anything"
Witness

When the family tried to report the rape, the girl was accused of adultery and detained, Amnesty said.

Read the story at BBC News.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Great Chronicler of the Ordinary Dies


It's with sadness I note the passing of Studs Terkel, the Chicago radio host and oral historian, who more than anyone in the 20th century managed to capture the voice of the ordinary American.

Terkel was motivated by the man on the street, or farm, far more than the politicians or celebrities. I only wish there were more like him -- and more in the media who valued this sort of approach.

Obituary: Studs Terkel

Friday, October 24, 2008

Gonzo madness

Another little gem from The First Post folks this week: former Time Out editor recalls his time with Hunter S. Thomspon.

"....He arrived with his current girlfriend, a diminutive American rottweiler from whom he was clearly trying to escape - and did at every waking moment. From there on it was a descent into Gonzo madness, a blurred week of drink and drugs and sobbing women and 4am rescuing from other women's beds and more drink and more drugs. And no copy. Not the merest hint of a word...."

And what can you say after that?!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Haider was Gay


I knew it! There is just something the extreme Right cannot shake off when it comes to its "Charismatic" leaders and their love of authority, traditional values and intolerance for gays. Turns out half of them are batting for the other team!

Haider is one of those I tried to meet back in 2001, during research for my book 'Homeland'. Back then he deftly avoided me, although I did meet many members of his movement. I don't take pleasure in his death, but I can't for the life of me understand why those from the intolerant Right never seem to spot the queer in their midst (cf Nick Griffin and the BNP, Richard Barnbrook and his 'art' gay films) or those far worse (nail bombers, or the now-jailed paedophile leading America's National Alliance).

*

Haider’s gay lover comes forward

The death of Joerg Haider (pictured) – the Austrian far-right politician who was killed in a car crash earlier this month – has resulted in the confirmation of the long-running rumour that he was a homosexual. First it was revealed that he had visited a gay bar on the night he died and now Stefan Petzner, the 27-year-old who recently became the leader of the right wing Alliance for the Future of Austria, has claimed that he enjoyed a "special relationship" with 52-year-old Haider.

He made his admission in an emotional interview on an Austrian radio breakfast show on Wednesday. "We had a relationship that went far beyond friendship. Joerg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life."

He went on to insist that Haider's widow, Claudia, did not object to his relationship. "She loved him as a woman. He loved her as a man. I loved him in a completely different and personal way. She understood that," Petzner said. However, the young man's sister Christiane suggested in a newspaper interview that Claudia Haider had not always been so understanding. "Sometimes Claudia was jealous because Stefan would spend more time with her husband than she did."

Clearly embarrassed by the revelations, party officials attempted to limit the political damage and cancelled forthcoming interviews with Petzner. Their attempts to prevent his radio interview being re-broadcast, however, were unsuccessful.

taken from The First Post.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Michael Moore's incendiary bail-out!


Now, I have to say that I find the rotund chap from Flint, Michigan, both highly-entertaining and a tad annoying. But sometimes his anger-fuelled eye hits the nail right on the head.

There's no way in a million years (yet) that America is going to accept all his recommendations for salvaging the crisis of Wall Street. But in these uncertain times, it does make for a damn fun read. It does make you wonder, though, particularly those Reaganistas who argued the market was always best: what planet have the American people been living on for so long ("government = bad") and why hasn't anyone seen this coming?

Moore's 10 points to fix America.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Palin and the Shell-Shocked US


Psychoanalyst Coline Covington hits the nail bang on the head: Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate in the US elections is a phantom. An image. A dream; gossamer to protect the 'unviolability' of what Joe Bageant (author of Deerhunting With Jesus) so eloquently describes as America's inward-looking eye.

"The US is suffering from narcissistic shell-shock," writes Covington, detailing its response to economic collapse, as well as making comparisons to the reactions to 9/11.

"When the over-confident individual suffers a life blow that is beyond his control, his first response is usually to attempt to regain an illusion of control by blaming the 'other', whoever that 'other' might be. Then, as a consequence of projecting blame onto others, the individual becomes paranoid about anything 'other' or foreign and this in turn can be used to justify further attacks. Finally, he retrenches into the stronghold of narcissistic behaviour and its promise of safety in power."

Palin "deliberately perpetrated the image of the frontierswoman at a time when it is bound to be most appealing to members of a country that feels itself to be fighting against all the odds .... The frontier spirit is just what is needed. The American Indians have been replaced by the Iraqis, ecological concerns have been wiped off the slate altogether under the 'hand of God' approach, while the collapse of the financial markets can be understood as a temporary blip that simply needs tweaking to ensure continuing belief in a free market economy."

Right on. Read it here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Brit publisher pays price for defying the nuts


Following the news that three men (sigh ... Muslim extremists ... again) have been arrested at the home of the boss of Gibson Square Books, trying to firebomb his house, this just in from the people at The First Post:

Palin biog caught in Muslim storm

Bad omens for the UK edition of Sarah Palin's biography. Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down, written by Alaskan journalist Kaylene Johnson, was due to be published next week by Gibson Square Books, the company behind Sherry Jones's controversial novel, The Jewel of Medinathe cause of a firebomb attack on Gibson Square's north London office on Friday.

Gibson's owner, Martin Rynja, has now gone into hiding, which makes the scheduled publication of the book on October 7 highly problematic. It would have been a rushed affair even in less turbulent circumstances: the deal was completed on Tuesday last week, leaving just two weeks to bring the paperback out. The fact that it is a slim work - Johnson needed only 160 pages to chart Palin's journey from high school basketball player to state governor – may help the publishing process along.

At the time, Rynja said the firm's quick processing had clinched the deal. He said he had paid a "compelling amount" for the book, which had its original American title, Sarah: How a Small Town Girl Turned Alaska's Political Establishment on its Ear, changed when Palin became John McCain's Republican running-mate earlier this month. Gibson – and perhaps the Republicans – have another reason to be concerned about The Jewel of Medina furore. The publishers also have a book out by McCain himself, Hard Call, a selection of essays on great political leaders.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Britain's libel laws are stifling free speech

British libel laws are stifling free speech around the world as wealthy businessmen and celebrities increasingly turn to UK courts to silence their critics abroad, the United Nations has warned.

In a report published yesterday, the UN's Committee on Human Rights criticises the phenomenon of "libel tourism", where foreign businessmen and millionaires use the High Court in London to sue foreign publishers under claimant-friendly defamation laws.

It said that UK defamation law had discouraged critical media reporting on serious public interest matters, affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work.

The report cites the case of Dr Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American researcher who was sued in London by a Saudi businessman and his two sons over a book which was not published in the UK, although 23 copies were sold into the jurisdiction via the internet and one chapter was available online.

[disturbing stuff -- read more at The Independent]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Living in fear: Tanzania's albinos


Disturbing story from the BBC this ...

Twenty-five people with albinism have been murdered in Tanzania since March, a BBC investigation has found.

Albinos are targeted for body parts that are used in witchcraft, and killings continue despite government efforts to stamp out the grisly practice, the BBC's Karen Allen says.

Once, albinos used to seek shelter from the sun. Now they have gone into hiding simply to survive, after a series of killings linked to witchcraft.

In Tanzania, 25 albinos have been killed in the past year.

The latest victim was a seven-month-old baby. He was mutilated on the orders of a witchdoctor peddling the belief that potions made from an albino's legs, hair, hands, and blood can make a person rich.

Sorcery and the occult maintain a strong foothold in this part of the world, especially in the remote rural areas around the fishing and mining regions of Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Nobody seems to know why the killings are happening now, but Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is now putting pressure on the police to identify where albinos live and offer them protection.

This is not an easy task when BBC investigations suggest that some police are being "bought off" in order to look away when such appalling crimes are committed.

read the full story

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In isolated Belarus, Jews' fate hangs in the balance

Inconspicuous in this Soviet-built capital, a few disheveled memorial stones testify to a once rich Jewish culture that activists fear now risks extinction. From the artist Marc Chagall to Israel's president, Shimon Peres, some Jews born in the lands that now make up Belarus have gone on to great things.

But activist Yakov Basin is more inclined to despair as he contemplates the latest damage to a battered memorial erected in 1993 to German Jews brought to Minsk for extermination in World War II. It is not only the swastikas drawn on the memorial stones to Jews from Bremen, Dusseldorf and Hamburg, he says. What preoccupies him is the cumulative damage to this former centre of Jewish culture, which started with the closure of synagogues in the first decades of the Soviet Union, stepped up with the Holocaust in World War II and continues today under President Alexander Lukashenko.

"Why doesn't the prosecutor open a case into anti-Semitic publications or the vandalising of memorials?" demanded Basin. "Our encyclopedia is virtually silent on the Holocaust and there's hardly a word on it in our textbooks," said Basin, co-leader of a union of Jewish organisations in Belarus. In office for 14 years, Belarus' authoritarian leader has a way of courting controversy. While taking a positive view of Soviet history and revelling in military parades marking the defeat of Nazi Germany, he has also praised Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, befriended Iran's anti-Semitic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and recently attracted criticism from Israel for an alleged anti-Semitic comment.

read full story up at AFP.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Novelist prisoner wants to rewrite rule

Inmate says officials have told him he violates policy of no business behind bars.

By Titan Barksdale
(Raleigh) News & Observer

Victor Martin has been writing since he was a child, but he didn't realize it could be a career until he became a convict.

A few years ago, Martin became a published author, writing four novels while lying in his bunk in a state prison in Elizabeth City.

His books, which feature a high-rolling criminal named Unique and are available on Amazon.com, have a following among readers of what is known as “urban fiction,” a popular literary genre characterized by explicit tales of inner-city crime life.

But now Martin says prison officials are shutting him down, saying his novels violate a policy that bars inmates from conducting business behind bars. Prison officials say the policy is in place to protect prison safety.

Martin, a 32-year-old habitual felon with several theft-related convictions, says the policy violates his right to free speech.

Martin's attorneys are challenging the policy, which they say prison officials have used to claim Martin's manuscripts and discipline him for writing.

Read the full story up at the Charlotte Observer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

In L.A., race kills


Black-Latino tensions, not gangs, are at the heart of the county's violence, Sheriff Baca says.

That's the stark comment coming out from the Sheriff of LA County. "Let me be very clear about one thing," he says. "We have a serious interracial violence problem in this county involving blacks and Latinos.

"Some people deny it. They say that race is not a factor in L.A.'s gang crisis; the problem, they say, is not one of blacks versus Latinos and Latinos versus blacks but merely one of gang members killing other gang members (and yes, they acknowledge, sometimes the gangs are race-based).

"But they're wrong. The truth is that, in many cases, race is at the heart of the problem. Latino gang members shoot blacks not because they're members of a rival gang but because of their skin color. Likewise, black gang members shoot Latinos because they are brown."

There is interracial fighting in the prisons; in the schools; out on the streets. Gangs are often no more than collections of individuals looking for members of other races to target. It is a disturbing and pressing problem, made worse by the wider society's refusal or denial to accept that such issues are taking place.

The Sheriff has formed a Gang Emergency Operations Center to understand where and why such crimes are happening, as they happen. He makes some interesting insights into programmes that tackle such issues in jail but it remains to be seen just how much of a lone voice he and his teams are.

Read it in full.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chinese now black

Intriguing ...

*

Chinese South Africans now black

The High Court in South Africa has ruled that Chinese South Africans are to be reclassified as black people.

It made the order so that ethnic Chinese could benefit from affirmative action policies, aimed at improving living standards for black people.

The Chinese Association of South Africa took the government to court, saying its members had been discriminated against.
An estimated 200,000 ethnic Chinese live in South Africa.

The association said their members often failed to qualify for business contracts and job promotions because they were regarded as whites.

The association said Chinese South Africans had faced widespread discrimination during the years of apartheid when they had been classified as people of mixed race.

The BBC's Mpho Lakaje in Johannesburg says the Broad-Based Economic Empowerment and the Employment Equity Acts were designed to eradicate the legacy of apartheid which left many black people impoverished.

The laws give people classed as blacks, Indians and coloureds (mixed-race) employment and other economic benefits over other racial groups.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Chinese 'ghosts' in Britain


The book Chinese Whispers uncovers a hidden and disquieting world of illegal workers, exploited and maltreated, coming to Britain from some of the poorest regions of China.

*

This book based on undercover journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai's experiences among Chinese illegal labourers in this country is vital reading for all who campaign about workers' rights, racial and sexual exploitation, globalisation, trafficking and forced migration.

The tale (or tail, in this case) begins in globalisation and the massive impact of opening China to market capitalism on certain areas, especially Fujian (in the south-east), Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin (in the north-east) and those who have migrated to or been thrown out of state industries in Shanghai. Just to subsist, to ensure parents can eat and children get education, family members have to get to the West to work.

However much they have to pay to trafficker snakeheads (with heads in the UK and tails in rural China) they believe it will be worth their while. But, according to this brilliant book, Chinese Whispers: the true story behind Britain's hidden army of labour, based on investigative journalism by a committed Chinese post-graduate, it never is.

The traffickers always extort more and more, threatening family members back home, the gangmasters in the UK always take more and more for your keep, to register you for work, for sweeteners to agencies, as penalty for illness, lateness and not meeting targets. And now, even those dirty, backbreaking, jobs at the bottom of the illegals' pile, are harder and harder to come by as cheap, 'whiter' labour becomes available from eastern Europe.

Taken from the Institute of Race Relations website.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gay travels in the Muslim world?


I came across this rather unusual title (of a book), from one of my travel industry email lists. Take a look at the interview here with author Michael Loungo. As he says:

"It’s a collection of essays by gay Muslim men and non-Muslim Men. I write about Afghanistan; there are 17 other writers who write on countries ranging from Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Marisha, and even Los Angeles...

"I think historically when we look at countries like Morocco, countries like Egypt, really since the Victorian era, there has been a lot of quote unquote gay tourism within North Africa. As an example, we know that even people like Oscar Wilde would travel there. There’s also… in Morocco; entire history in the 1940s and 1950s of gay men would didn’t feel welcome in the West, traveling to these countries where sexuality was very fluid and undefined, so we have that historical niche. I do believe that within the context of Shariat law, which allows a certain amount of activity in a private setting, that homosexuality isn’t as frowned upon as the news would have us believe."


Interesting stuff.

Read the full interview over at eturbonews, the travel industry newsletter.

Here's an article Loungo wrote in the UK's Independent newspaper.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Embedding Journos is a Victory - for the military

Debate over the "embedded journalist" program run by the Pentagon since the weeks before the Iraq invasion in 2003 has long raged, with some claiming that it gave reporters valuable close access to action while others saying that the journalists were severely compromised within it. Now sociologist Andrew M. Lindner, writing in the spring issue of the American Sociological Association's "Context" magazine describes what is billed as the only sociological study to date of the substantive content of media coverage during the first six weeks of the Iraq war.

Lindner found that journalists embedded with American troops emphasized military successes more often than they covered consequences for Iraqi citizens.

"The embedded program proved to be a Pentagon victory because it kept reporters focused on the horrors facing the troops, not the horrors of the civilian war experience," wrote Lindner, who is completing his doctoral dissertation at Penn State University. "The end result: a communications victory for an administration that hoped to build support for the war by depicting it as a successful mission with limited cost."

Source: Editor and Publisher

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Belgium is 'haven' for neo-Nazis


Yep, you heard it right ... sleepy old Belgium, long-ridiculed in British press but actually a fascinating country rapidly coming apart at the seems, is a great place to be a bonehead. Apparently...

*

Accused of being a “paradise” for neo-Nazis, Belgium claims it does not have the necessary legal instruments to combat the racist groups that have been flocking to the country after meeting resistance from the German and Dutch governments.

Neo-Nazi groups such as two called Blood and Honor are increasingly heading to Belgium for their Hitler commemoration events as they usually do not face any problems from Belgian authorities. De Morgen, a Belgian left-wing daily, declared Belgium a safe haven for fascist groups in an article published on Friday. According to the daily a German investigative journalist who had been attending similar gatherings of German, English and Dutch skinheads and neo-Nazis in particular confirmed in the VRT program “Koppen” that the Belgian authorities had done nothing to stop these groups.

According to Minister of Home Affairs Patrick Dewael (VLD), the government currently does not have the necessary judicial means to act. Despite Dewael’s claims, Federal Minister for Employment and Informatization Peter Vanvelthoven has introduced a bill to ban neo-Nazi groups, characterizing these groups as private militia.

Two weeks ago Hitler commemorations were held in the Belgian cities of Bellegem and Overpelt. Home to one of the strongest racist parties in Europe, Vlaams Belang, Belgium was responsible for sending 25,000-40,000 Belgian Jews to concentration camps in World War II.

Back in February, the Belgian government and banks agreed to pay Holocaust survivors, their family members and the Jewish community 110 million euros. Last year, former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt apologized for Belgian authorities’ involvement in the deportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

Despite the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) as terror organizations on the European Union’s common terror list, both groups enjoy a certain degree of freedom in Belgium.

Source: Today's Zaman

Friday, April 25, 2008

Brit Muslims have a duty to fight extremism

(Just found this article, connected to one of the directors of a new anti-extremism organisation in the UK called The Quilliam Foundation)

*

FOR 14 years Maajid Nawaz was a member of radical Islamist political group Hizb ut-Tahrir. But the law graduate, born in Southend, Essex, reviewed his stand while in jail in Egypt and now believes it is time British Muslims became more moderate. Here he explains why.

IT’S high time that we British Muslims stood up to put an end to the double standards of a vocal minority from within our ranks.

For far too long a culture of blaming others and protecting “our own” has been tolerated.

A new standard needs to emerge. Protecting “our own” means all the people of our country, not merely one religious faction.

Freedom of speech is a non-negotiable right. Just as some Muslims invoke this right when they attack freedom and democracy, others may invoke this right when drawing cartoons criticising our faith.

If Muslim sensitivities are a reason not to draw the cartoons, then others’ sensitivities are also a reason not to attack freedom and democracy.

We cannot have it both ways. Yes, people must be considerate of religious feelings but that discussion comes after accepting freedom of speech as a right.

If Muslims wish to protest against insulting Islam, let them begin with protesting Saudi Arabia’s destruction of national heritage sites linked to the Prophet Muhammad.

Freedom of religion is also a non-negotiable right. Just as British Muslims wish to invite others to Islam, they must accept the right of British Muslims to leave Islam. If our faith is so attractive, then what do we have to fear?

[cont'd]

Source: The Sun

Why we should fear Italy's Northern League


When a xenophobic party succeeds electorally in one European country, it has a knock-on effect for all Europeans because immigration, asylum and integration policies are shaped at the EU level.

THOSE of us seeking just and humane race and immigration policies in the UK should be fearful of the knock-on effects of the Italian March 2008 general election, which secured a decisive victory for Silvio Berlusconi's Party of Freedom Alliance. Already, the anti-immigrant Northern League, which more than doubled its share of the vote (8 per cent, leading to forty-seven seats in the Chamber of Deputies and twenty-three in the Senate) has upped the ante, calling for deportation of foreigners and the formation of self-defence groups to fight 'immigrant' crime.

Kingmaker of Italian politics

The Northern League, led by the xenophobic populist Umberto Bossi, brought down a previous Berlusconi administration in 1996. It is once again the kingmaker in Italian politics, for, if it withdraws its support, the prime minister will lose his majority in both chambers. Hence, Berlusconi - the richest man in Italy and owner of all bar two of the commercial TV channels - has already hinted that the League will be given at least two cabinet positions. And in a further wink to the Northern League, Berlusconi has promised to set up camps for jobless foreigners, describing 'illegal immigrants' as constituting an 'army of evil'. Although Berlusconi's alliance includes the post-fascist Alleanza National (AN), led by Gianfranco Fini and Alessandra Mussolini, the torchbearer of Italian fascism today, according to Enrico Pugliese of the Institute of Social Politics, is the Northern League. It is the League 'that has absorbed a great part of fascist thinking, especially the racism', he told Reuters.

[cont'd]

Source: Liz Fekete, editor of the Institute for Race Relations European Race Bulletin.

WWF Warns Arctic Ice Melting Faster than Predicted


Arctic sea ice is melting “significantly faster” than predicted and is approaching a point of no return, conservation group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned in a new study.

The volumes of the Greenland Ice Sheet and ice in the Arctic Ocean were estimated at 2.9 million and 4.4 million cubic metres respectively in September 2007 — the lowest ever levels recorded, the organization said Wednesday.

The sea ice shrank to 39 percent below its 1979-2000 mean volume, it said.

“Recently observed changes are happening at rates significantly faster than predicted” by the 2005 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) and last year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), WWF said.

The melting of arctic sea ice and the Greenland Ice Sheet was happening so fast that experts were now questioning whether the situation is close to “tipping point,” where sudden and possibly irreversible change takes place.

Source: Common Dreams

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Israel 'using psychological torture'


A somewhat shocking indictment of Israeli interrogation tactics (yeah, yeah, they're in a war, I know, but still ...).

*

Gheith Nasr, 18, of the Burj Luqluq neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, has not had the ideal preparation for his high-school graduation exams in a few weeks time.

Since January, he says, he has been arrested four times by the Israeli security services, accused of stone-throwing and vandalising security cameras in the Old City.

He says he has been detained each time for a few days in one of Jerusalem's interrogation centres, and then sent home under orders not to leave the house for another few days.

The muscular, but shy and inarticulate teenager says he regularly suffered violent treatment as interrogators tried to get him to own up to crimes he says he didn't commit - but one of his arrests stands out from the others.

"When I saw my mother being brought into the cell with handcuffs, I tell you, I would have told them anything just to save her, anything," he said.

Source: BBC News

Death of the guidebook

There's a really interesting comment piece from veteran travel writer, Chris Taylor, over at Australian newspaper The Age. Taylor reveals -- or talks about the revelations -- that many travel guidebooks are written by poorly-paid freelancers who have never been to the destination in question.

Who is to blame? Taylor says the industry itself ... and the rise of the Internet.

*

Underneath the self-promoting veneer of the guidebook industry, all kinds of things go wrong out in the field and for all kinds of reasons.

Accordingly, I have followed the controversy ahead of the publication of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, by Thomas Kohnstamm, with amusement. Amusement because, if the Amazon description before the April 22 release of the book is anything to go by, Kohnstamm's account of a writing assignment in Brazil promises to be very funny. Amusement also because the official Lonely Planet response has been to attack the author as a rogue element, which amounts to blanket denial of any responsibility for what might have gone wrong on Kohnstamm's research trip.

Lonely Planet writer Jeanne Oliver challenged that response in a post on the company's internal authors' forum, which was leaked to the Sunday Herald Sun, describing Kohnstamm's coming book as "a car crash waiting to happen". Oliver has declined to make further comment, but as an industry insider, I agree with her. At present, the debate is playing out as a sparring match between Lonely Planet management and Kohnstamm, with Oliver's comments fuelling speculation that perhaps Lonely Planet is hiding some dirty secrets. The real issue, however, is not whether poor pay forces Lonely Planet writers to cut corners and accept "freebies", but endemic practices in an industry bloated with competing players. In this context, the surprise is not that the "car crash" happened but that it didn't happen sooner.

Guidebook publishers will deny this, but the travel publishing industry is bound to exploit demand for what is widely seen as a glamour job — travel and get paid for it. But with so many competing guidebook series, many titles do not generate sales revenue that justifies the legwork that results in genuine personal recommendations. Most publishers who make claims to the contrary are being disingenuous...

*

Read the full story here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gervais agent wins £125k payout


(a story from my old agency and salutory lesson for owners trying to create 'talent agencies', without understanding the role and nature of agents/authors' relationship)

*

Ricky Gervais' agent, Duncan Hayes, has been awarded a payout of more than £125,000 from his former employers PFD.

Hayes, who represents a range of comedy performers and writers including Gervais and Stephen Merchant, was one of the 12 agents dismissed by PFD parent group CSS Stellar in October last year for gross misconduct.

The verdict in his favour came yesterday, following a one-day hearing at the London employment tribunal in February in which Hayes argued that PFD acted unlawfully in withholding his due wages and commission after his dismissal.

Following his dismissal Hayes moved to help found a new agency, United Agents, comprised almost entirely of former PFD staff. Hayes is the head of United Agents' film and television department.

More at The Guardian.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Journalism student gets university help via Twitter after Egypt arrest

A University of California at Berkeley graduate journalism student received help from the institution after sending out messages through Twitter while under arrest in Egypt, the San Jose Mercury News reports. James Karl Buck was arrested while photographing a demonstration in Egypt.

He sent out the message “Arrested” on microblogging service Twitter, and friends in his network quickly notified Berkeley and the U.S. Embassy. The next day a local attorney hired by his university got him out of jail, although his interpreter, who is not an American citizen, apparently remains behind bars.

(The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Migrant crime wave a myth - police study

(taken from The Guardian)

*

A wide-ranging police study has concluded that the surge in immigrants from eastern Europe to Britain has not fuelled a rise in crime, the Guardian has learned.

he findings will be presented to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, tomorrow when she meets chief constables to discuss the issue. Several of them had complained that they needed more money to deal with increases in migrant populations in their areas. However, the study prepared for the Association of Chief Police Officers challenges claims that up to 1 million people from EU accession countries have caused a rise in criminality.

The report finds that, despite newspaper headlines linking new migrants to crime, offending rates among mainly Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian communities are in line with the rate of offending in the general population.

A senior source with close knowledge of the report said: "Any rise has been broadly proportionate to the number of people from those communities coming into this country. People are saying crime is rising because of this influx. Given 1 million people have come in, that doesn't make sense as crime is significantly down."

Source: The Guardian

Iran anti-vice chief 'in brothel'


(another classic from the Beeb)

*

Tehran's police chief, who was reportedly discovered in a brothel, has been arrested, it has been confirmed.

Local media have reported that General Reza Zarei was found with six naked women in a house of prostitution in the Iranian capital last month.

He has been taken to jail while his case is investigated, a spokesman for Iran's judiciary said.

Gen Zarei was in charge of enforcing Iran's strict anti-vice laws, which include a ban on prostitution.

State media had recently reported that Gen Zarei had been replaced as police chief in Tehran, but had not explained why.

Sex taboo

Iran has tough punishments for unmarried couples who have sex or behave in a manner considered immoral.

Young people have been jailed or flogged for dancing together at house parties.

The public dress code can be tightly enforced, with women barred from showing their hair or wearing make up or colourful clothes and men from wearing their hair long.

For years the hardline Iranian establishment never admitted that prostitution existed.

They now acknowledge the problem, though, and prostitutes are becoming more visible on the streets, correspondents say.

Source: BBC

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

China 'gold medal' for executions


(taken from the BBC)

The Chinese authorities put to death at least 470 people last year, but may have killed up to 8,000, human rights group Amnesty International has said.

Amnesty said the hidden extent of executions in China, where figures are secret, might mean the Olympic host was behind the bulk of them worldwide.

"The veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty must be lifted," it said.

At least 1,252 people are known to have been executed in 24 countries in 2007, a slight drop on the previous year.
Just five countries - China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US - were responsible for 88% of known executions in the world, Amnesty said.

About 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 nations last year and up to 27,500 people are now estimated to be on death row.

Swift justice

In its annual report on the death penalty, Amnesty International said China had executed more than any country last year, but warned that the real figure was likely to be several thousand.

"As the world's biggest executioner, China gets the 'gold medal' for global executions," said the organisation's UK director, Kate Allen.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7346938.stm

The Candidates Answer!

Head over to Yoosk to see the London Mayoral candidates now answer my debate on their campaigns:

www.yoosk.com

And feel free to post follow-up questions.

Next debates I'm considering: looking into virtual worlds and 'MMOs' (like World of Warcraft and EveOnline), the housing crisis in the UK, and nationalism & the far right.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ask the Mayor


The ground-breaking Yoosk.com website is offering you the chance to quiz all the London Mayor candidates about their plans for the city.

Ask any question you wish during the debate; or comment or vote on questions already asked.

So far Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, Brian Paddick, Sîan Berry and Lindsey German have agreed to take part.

Green Candidate Sîan Berry said of her involvement: "YOOSK is perfect for people who want to cut through the spin and get right to what candidates really think. It's the natural home for the thinking voter, and I'm really excited to be involved."

Head over to the debate to see more.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Peoples of the Abyss


The Peoples of the Abyss

A new summary, part of the current book project.

A long-haired man drinks, turning the glass over and over, examining its depths, thinking of his dead father. The TV rattles on from below, an occasional cackle, throaty and dry, rising from his elderly mother’s throat.

The smiling figure bounces his son on his knee. His wife is calling him. It will be time to pray soon. He does so five times each day: once before dawn, through the hours of work, silently murmuring the names of God in this land of the kufr, whispering his devotion to the Prophet.

In a freezing Tube station, a hand shakes. The nicotine is still visible. He grips his fellow tramp, ignoring the commuters, pushing the needle slowly towards his neck, speedballing the memories away.

She climbs unsteadily from the window, gripping the sill, then the drainpipe, hijab fluttering, the thick feel of the gun pressed to her smooth skin, then slipping.

The Flour Man wipes a tear of memory, crowds parting in fear as he heads towards the mosque, walking past buildings which still bear his dark legacy.

She laughs freely, her Sephardic beauty and carefree manners causing heads to turn. Innocent. Her eyes light up, like a child’s and she starts forward. “Will you do heroin with me?” she rushes.

*
pic Simon Wheatley of Magnum Photos

Monday, March 03, 2008

Welome The Stranger


Those with a stake or interest in the London elections on 1st May, might be interested to know that today marks the launch of the 'Welcome the Stranger You Once Were' campaign. This is being organised by the anti-racist organisation Searchlight, in co-ordination with a number of trade unions, politicians, community and faith groups and is kicked off today in Brick Lane.

The 'Welcome the Stranger...' campaign is part of a wider thrust linked to the forthcoming elections and warns against the rise of the far-right British National Party (BNP), particularly in areas of east London. 'Welcome the Stranger..' highlights the positive stories and contributions of all sorts of immigrants to London's heritage: nine immigrant Londoners, from Scots to Nigerians, speak out through the Hope Not Hate campaign, which last year toured the country supported by the Daily Mirror and backed by leading MPs, sports stars, celebs, churches, mosques and the main unions.

Hope Not Hate website

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Philosophy Football


The latest press release from those nice folks at www.philosophyfootball.com:

OUT today the brand new Hope not Hate for London T-shirt at www.philosophyfootball.com

The shirt raises valuable funds for community-led campaigns against the BNP organised by Searchlight magazine. Details from www.hopenothate.org.uk/london

Whether or not you're a Londoner the threat that the BNP may get elected to the Greater London Assembly on 1 May is a frightening prospect. And this is a very real threat. The GLA elections use proprtinal representation, the BNP only need 5%, they consistently do better than this in local elections, have a strong base in Barking already and are expected to pick up many UKIP votes who in 2004 had two members elected to the GLA when the vote coincided with Euro elections, damaging the BNP vote. If the BNP succeed in getting elected this would be their most significant breakthrough yet, by mobilising and maximising the vote for all other parties a broad-based Hope not Hate campaign stands the best chance of stopping the BNP.

Wear the shirt combining one of London's most well-known symbols with our sunshine beacon of hope. Special campaign low-price just £14.99 from www.philosophyfootball.com

Monday, February 04, 2008

Those naughty Thais

What to make of this story, from the interesting "First Post" internet newspaper:

Drug scares are a regular occurrence in Thailand. In the 1980s, the great fear was 'China white' heroin. In the 1990s, methamphetamine came along. Now there is a new drug on the Siamese streets - and it is truly bizarre.

The narcotic is known colloquially as '4 x 100'. The name comes from its four main ingredients: Coca-Cola, cough syrup, boiled kratom leaves, and crushed-up coils of mosquito repellent.

Three of these ingredients can be found in the average supermarket. Kratom is an endemic local weed with properties similar to marijuana: you can buy it anywhere in Thailand, for a few baht.

No one knows who first concocted this extraordinary mix. But everyone agrees that 4 x 100 comes from the country's roiled, insurgent south, where bored Muslim youths - forbidden alcohol by their religion - experimented with various substances, to see what could make them high. Somehow they hit on the 4 x 100 combination.

The resulting brew is drunk very quickly: because it tastes much as it sounds. The effect is like a slow-burning, hallucinogenic opiate. The user is stupefied, but then becomes agitated - as the dreams and visions kick in.


With an ailing king worshipped as a demi-god, refugee crisis on its border with the Burmese, and low-level insurgency burning away in the Muslim south, is Thailand's future further imperiled now by its bored youth?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Man Who Blows Up Mountains


They call this guy the "real" version of the oil man played by Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.

Is Don Blankenship the baddest guy in America? He is the chairman of Massey Energy, the company that blows up the mountains of West Virginia because that is the cheapest way of mining coal. A big man of 58 with a jutting moustache, he is a real-life version of Daniel Day-Lewis as the ruthless oilman of There Will Be Blood, nominated for an Oscar.

He has pioneered 'mountaintop removal', or MTR. This means blowing off mountain tops with the equivalent of 4,636 'bunker buster' bombs exploding daily, exposing coal seams which are then scooped up by the biggest diggers, cranes and trucks ever built.

Quite apart from its effect on climate change, the result is a moonscape. Whole villages have disappeared. The mountain tops are dumped in the rivers, killing them too. So far, half a million acres have been destroyed as Blankenship (left) does his best to consign to history the official state slogan - Wild Wonderful West Virginia.

Blankenship makes no apology: "Unions, communities, people, everybody has to accept that in the United States we have a capitalist society and capitalism from a business point of view is the survival of the most productive.

read the story up at the First Post.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Did Pentagon lie about Iranian incident?

A very interesting report surfaces on the MediaChannel.org website this week. According to this story:

Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader administration policy decision, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the January 6 US-Iranian incident in the Strait of Hormuz into a sensational story demonstrating Iran’s military aggressiveness, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows....

The encounter between five small and apparently unarmed speedboats, each carrying a crew of two to four men, and the three US warships occurred very early on Saturday January 6, Washington time. No information was released to the public about the incident for more than 24 hours, indicating that it was not viewed initially as being very urgent.

The reason for that absence of public information on the incident for more than a full day is that it was not that different from many others in the Gulf over more than a decade. A Pentagon consultant who asked not to be identified told IPS he had spoken with officers who had experienced similar encounters with small Iranian boats throughout the 1990s, and that such incidents are “just not a major threat to the US Navy by any stretch of the imagination”....

The release did not refer to a US ship being close to firing on the Iranian boats, or to a call threatening that US ships would “explode in a few minutes”, as later stories would report, or to the dropping of objects into the path of a US ship as a potential danger.

That press release was ignored by the news media, however, because later that Monday morning, the Pentagon provided correspondents with a very different account of the episode.

At 9am, Barbara Starr of CNN reported that “military officials” had told her that the Iranian boats had not only carried out “threatening maneuvers”, but had transmitted a message by radio that “I am coming at you” and “you will explode”. She reported the dramatic news that the commander of one boat was “in the process of giving the order to shoot when they moved away”.


You can read the full story here. Other accounts also suggest murkier elements to the story. Don't it make you love Uncle Sam?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Symbols of Remembrance and Defiance



Philosophy Football's striking Holocaust Memorial T-shirt features Nazi concentration camp badges, used as symbols of remembrance and defiance.

These icons are combined with a line from Martin Niemoller's epic poem, 'First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew', words which are testimony to the horrific consquences of abandoning human solidarity.

The shirt carries the message 'Never Forget, Never Again', in the face of holocaust denial, and helps to raise funds and awareness for Searchlight magazine's community-led campaigns against today's peddlers of hate-filled division - the BNP.

Available in sizes small -XXL from www.philosophyfootball.com