Category Archives: Politics

Well Put Mr. Ellsberg

From the Guardian today:

Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America

Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us a chance to roll back what is tantamount to an ‘executive coup’ against the US constitution.

     –Daniel Ellsberg
This from the man who brought us the Pentagon Papers all those years ago.

Calatrava Tele Clava

From today’s Guardian newspaper, UK edition, comes news of revolt stirring in Valencia against claims of exorbitant fees paid by the conservative government to Santiago Calatrava for works both completed and those unrelaized:

Stunning bridges, airports and daring buildings have made him famous around the world, but now Santiago Calatrava is facing fierce criticism for his dealings with the local government in his home region of Valencia.

The architect, who designed the roof of the Athens Olympic stadium, is under fire from political opponents of the conservative-run authority, and a website highlighting fees paid to him by Spanish taxpayers has been launched.

Calatrava has charged some €100m (£81m) to the Valencia government, according to the website, established by the leftwing Esquerra Unida party. The party says it has managed to see copies of bills paid by the People’s party regional government to the architect, who is now based in Zurich.

Architect Santiago Calatrava accused of ‘bleeding Valencia dry’ | The Guardian

Architect Santiago Calatrava accused of ‘bleeding Valencia dry’

Careless Courtship and the Fact Challenged

John P. Avlon has it right today:

…”Not intended to be a factual statement” is an instant dark classic, a triumph of cynicism, capturing the essence of Michael Kinsley’s definition of a gaffe in Washington: when a politician accidentally tells the truth.
No wonder “people are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke,” as Will Rogers once said and Colbert increasingly embodies. But we can’t keep depending on comedians to be the voices of sanity.
And don’t be fooled. There are real costs to this careless courtship of the lowest common denominator. Without fact-based debates, politics can quickly give way to paranoia and hate. Our democracy gets degraded.
Americans deserve better, and we should demand better, especially from our elected representatives. Empowering ignorance for political gain is unacceptable.
Colbert vs. Kyl and spread of ‘misinformation’ | CNN

Hear ye to that! <emphasis mine>

Not for the faint of heart

Politico tells us that Former UN Ambassador John Bolton is mulling a Presidential run.  Here’s his rational:

“As I survey the situation, I think the Republican field is wide open,” Bolton told POLITICO. “I don’t think the party’s anywhere close to a decision. And stranger things have happened.”

John Bolton eyes 2012 presidential run – Molly Ball –

Now that’s a stirring fund raising platform, “Stranger things have happened!”

Bolton, who has the reputation of being the most bellicose member of an over testoseroned, über-bellicose Bush foreign policy team, Politico claims, “whose reputation, at least on the right, is as a speaker of unfiltered truth to power.”  On the right, perhaps, but everywhere else he’s known more as as a speaker of power to truth.  Part of that whole Might-Make-Right American Exceptionalism thing.

Want to lose a little sleep?  How about a Palin/Bolton team for 2012?  She can see Russia from her porch, and he has a nuke aimed at it.

Sleep tight…

Literary Ambassadors

This from the Times today makes one proud of our Foreign Service.  An excerpt:

Cables about Kazakhstan’s high-living leaders are written in a satirical tone worthy of Borat, the fictional (and wild) Kazakh played in the movie by Sacha Baron Cohen.

One described Kazakhstan’s defense minister turning up drunk for a meeting with an American official, “slouching back in his chair and slurring all kinds of Russian participles.” He explained that he had just been at a cadet graduation reception, “toasting Kazakhstan’s newly-commissioned officers.”

The memo concluded: “Who was toasted more — the defense minister or the cadets — is a matter of pure speculation.”

From WikiLemons, Clinton Tries to Make Lemonade | The New York Times

Pawn compliments Secretary Of State Clinton on her so far masterful handling of the whole leak situation.

Far less palatable is the performance of Sen. Joseph “Useful Idiot” Lieberman, whose harassment of Internet and other businesses has led to the eviction of WikiLeaks from Amazon’s servers, PayPal’s payment processing, and a host of other services.  These firms seem suddenly to have decided that reporting from purloined documents is now against their terms of service, although they gladly provide the same services for their media partners, such as the Times, the Washington Post, and others, whose content they host, payment they process, or electronic editions are provided on their Kindles.

Shame of these big businesses of the Internet for revealing how unfree it really is.


How Fair Is That?

The New York Times is reporting:

The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override vetoes of two highly restrictive abortion measures, one making it a law that women undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion.

Strict Abortion Measures Enacted in Oklahoma | New York TImes

In the interest of fairness, Pawn feels we should have similar requirements for prescribing certain erectile dysfunction treatments.  Perhaps mandate that all men be required to listen to tapes of crying babies and change a few diapers before getting those little blue pills…

Drop Outs

Some political races are getting more interesting for who’s not running than for who is.  In several races these past few days, prominent politicians have ended theior candidacies:

  • In the New York 23rd Congressional race, to fill the seat vacated by Republican John McHugh, Dede Scozzafava, the Republican establishment candidate yesterday dropped out of the race after taking a drubbing in recent polls and suffering the indignity of several party leaders, such as Sarah Palin, endorsing her Conservative Party opponent, Doug Hoffman (who, interestingly enough, doesn’t even live in the district).  Today Scozzafava has gone a step further, endorsing her Democratic former competitor, Bill Owens.
  • In the Wisconsin Governor’s race, wide open for the first time in over 30 years as sitting Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, has decided not to run, the latest person to make news for not running is Doyle’s Lieutenant Governor, Barbara Lawton.  She joins expected candidate Congressman Ron Kind  (D, La Crosse) in sitting this one out.  That leaves an unknown Jared Christiansen as the only declared candidate for the Democratic nomination, though many expect Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to jump into the race soon.
  • In the California Governor’s race, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has dropped out, leaving no announced candidates for that state’s Democratic nomination for term limited Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seat.  Many expect that former Governor, former Oakland Mayor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown will run.  He has an exploratory commitee already up and running and has nearly $8 million in the bank already.  Some also suspect that Senator and former San Francisco mayor Diane Feinstein may jump into the race to avoid a potentially pricey defense of her Senate seat against former Hewlett Packard CEO, and John McCain campaign surrogate, Carly Fiorino.
  • In Afghanistan’s contentious Presidential runoffs, currently scheduled for next weekend, Hamid Karzai opponent and former Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, has stepped down, complaining that with no real electoral reforms instituted in the wake of August’s sham election (in which fully 30% of Karzai’s votes, 1.3 million ballots, were set aside due to fraud), and the electoral commission still being run by the same people, those appointed to their jobs by Karzai.  This leaves the Obama administration in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to continue to support a demonstrably undemocratic and corrupt regime.

All in all a bunch of interesting developments for the final week of October, 2009.

Sadness in Tavistock Square – 7/7 Memories

Listened this morning to interview with a man who lost his girlfriend to the 7/7/2005 terror bombing of a bus in Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury, London. She would normally have been on the tube, but was diverted to the bus.

Unfortunately for her the terrorist was, too.
She called her partner, and as they spoke he suddenly heard screams, then the line went dead. “I knew then that I’d lost her,” he recalls. News of the three earlier tube bombings was already on telly.

I have fond memories of Tavistock Square from my recent visit to London. It was just a block or so from my flat, and I visited there frequently. The square is a memorial to peace, ironically enough. One charming aspect to the square, which I got to witness after theatre one night, was the formally robed bell ringer whose job it is to sweep through the park at closing time, barring and locking each gate, calling out “One and all, the park is closing” as he rang his bell and moved from gate to gate.

London 2009 – Day 21/22 – Remainders

“Hey, no new entry?  You slacker!” “Even though people aren’t writing comments, they are reading the blog and enthusing over how beautifully you write and how witty and smart you are. I assure them they are quite mistaken.”

Yes, even from across the pond, X has kept up her bitter commentary :-). Here, then, is a catchup instalment to bring things back in line.

Yesterday was mostly a work day for me, the morning at least. My friend L came to town around 14:30, on a visit to see her brother, who lives in Kensington. We’ll be hanging around a fair bit, too. After getting waylaid on her way from Paddington to Kings Cross by an ambitious but misdirected cabbie, she was glad to go marketing with me at Borough Market. L loves sea salts, and is on a first name basis with a Frenchman down at market who brings the stuff over by the tonne. Great joyous sounds erupted when she spotted him, and quite a bit of money later we had 4 big tubs of differently doctored sea salt and a great slab of herbed butter.

That butter will go nicely with our spinach ciabatta and rye cottage tin loaves. The bread vendor was also selling this stuff:

He claimed it is Fonzerelli bread, in honour of Milwaukee’s own Home Town Hero, The Fonz. “You know Henry Winkler, He is from Milwaukee. He’s here now, up in Cambridge, signing his books. He was here, took picture with my bread!” Okay, we get it, you’re a fan. Oh look, isn’t that Potsie over there (hurry, run).

Also high on L’s list is balsamic sauce, a vinegar based concoction with loads of spices and flavours mixed in. Quite good on salads, breads, fruits, veggies, meats…pretty much anything one puts in one’s mouth. She loaded up on that, too. Won’t she have fun with her duty claim form. We also pick up several marinated lamb chops and other fixings, as well as strange French sausage blends. Now with the steel reinforced over the shoulder carry-bag compressing my 6′- 1″ frame down to something approaching 5′-6″, we headed back to the apartment to have dinner before L heads to her brother’s place.

Dinner was boffo, along with a couple of gimlets consumed during the preparation thereof, but in order to keep L from simply dropping into slumber following her flight, we opted for a nice walk about Bloomsbury. Off we went to Russell Square and thence the British Museum. Here are some snaps:

The British Museum was open(!), which we were surprised at, as it was almost 8:00 pm when we got there. We ducked in to enjoy a visit to the mostly empty exhibit galleries. Remember this, if the museum offers evening hours, take advantage of them! Here are some more snaps from us mugging (with the) exhibits

Back home, then, by way of Lord John Russell public house, where I enjoyed some Balvenie scotch and L opted for some ale and lager:

With L packed off to her brother’s for the next few days I returned to the business of business, this morning, and then ambled off to Leicester Square to find out what I would be entertained by this evening. War Horse was the winner of the silent auction for my attention, and a tenth row seat in stalls will put me in a pretty good place to watch this well received and well reviewed drama making extensive use of elaborate life-sized horse puppets. Here is a video of the action:

That sorted, I then proceeded to go in search of a still life with cheese toastie and discarded cocktail table:

Compliments of Delish Cafe:

I was on the march for the Phonica record store and their public exhibit to celebrate the first 50 years of Island Records, one of the top British record labels. It was an expansive exhibit of album art and other paraphernalia, but not very good exhibitry. There was a dearth of explanatory text, and what there was was in odd places and a bit dense. Here are some snaps. More in the gallery, of course.

After dropping a bunch of cash on Island anthologies I traipsed off toward Mayfair to take in a couple of photography exhibits; Helmut Newton at Hamiltons Gallery and Diane Arbus at Timothy Taylor Gallery. Lucky for me they are right next door to each other on Carlos Place. Right next door geographically, but miles apart in artistic sensability. Hamilton, in my experience, tends towards photography from the fashion world, and Helmut Newton presents that sensability but while almost all his pieces feature nudes, they all possess a tension and power imbalance which sap them of whatever eroticism they may otherwise have had (at least in my eyes). For the second time this trip I am left cold by what Hamiltons offer.

Next door at Timothy Taylor we find a truly original master in Diane Arbus. This is a refreshing exhibit of her work, sixty prints dating from 1957 to 1971 and including sideshow performers, regular people in New York, Nudist camps, and even a nude, pregnant, self portrait. It was well curated, and featured several additional catalogues to browse. There were many pieces in the exhibit which have not been shown in the UK before, which should make this a well attended show.

Arbus is always sensitive to her subjects, and her tenderness comes through even when unapologetic, “I don’t like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.” What a contrast to the harsh sexual power struggles staged by Newton in his works next door. Perhaps the future will bring me back to Carlos Place, more likely for Timothy Taylor than Hamiltons.

Now down to Tate Britain, unfortunately on the verge of two new exhibits, so a little light. I shant well on it, then, but instead report on what must be the 13th or 14th day of the now seemingly permanent protest, in Parliament Square, by Tamil and Sri Lankan expats and supporters. Even though the Sri Lankan government has finally declared victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists in what is most assuredly a humanitarian disaster of a scale we will not appreciate until and unless some independent group, such as Amnesty International, Oxfam or the UN/HCR are able to get in and check things out, these protesters who have snarled traffic and run up huge policing costs show no signs of backing down.

Unfortunately, in the biggest disaster of the trip so far, I was heavily jostled into a railing whilst trying to cross into the square for a closer look, and tore a ruinous gash into my favourite black linen jacket. I couldn’t tell you whether it were a Tendentious Tamil or a Stroppy Sri Lankan, but whoever wot did it, the jacket is rubbish now, it is.

My wings clipped, as it were, I took some more documentary snaps and slumped back home to get ready for tonight’s show.

Oh, and booked a single in stalls for tomorrow night’s Donmar Warehouse production of A Doll’s House in a new adaptation, staring Gillian Anderson and Christopher Eccelston.


London 2009 – Day 20 – In Other News, Pt. II

There are a lot of little things that I keep meaning to mention, so today I will try to catch up.

First off, however, I need to comment on Havana Rakatan, the dance programme presented by Sadler’s Wells tonight at the Peacock Theatre. Ooh La La!

I have learnt that Sadler’s Wells do not disappoint, and tonight was no exception. Last year I saw Insane in the Brain and Tango Por Dos, and both were exceptional. Now, when I see an advert for a Sadler’s Wells production I just add it to my list and don’t worry myself about whether it will be a worthy investment.

So, tonight’s performance, ending Saturday, features the top Cuban Son band Turquino, and a crew of about 20 dancers representing the cream of the crop in Cuban dance. Every style of Cuban dance is represented in this show: Salsa, Mambo, Rumba, Flamenco, classic folkloric, Bolero, Cha-Cha-Cha, etc.

A crowd favourite was when, following a bracing ensemble number, just the men are left on stage wearing an assortment of tops and tie-up trousers. They all face the audience and strip off their tops. The women in the audience went nuts and we all cheered. Then they started to loosen the ties on their trousers, the whole audience gasped, and many started a deafening cheer.

Just then a female Flamenco dancer started in from stage right, all taught angles, quivering curves, a costume as red as if a vat of lip gloss had been dumped on her (and as figure hugging, too) and a severe glint in her eye. As she moved across the stage in that staccato fashion unique to Flamenco, the men preened, then shrugged and then, resigned, simply picked up their kit and slunk off the stage.

The moment was precious, and the audience was but putty in their hands after that.

The show nearly broke my heart when the band started into Guantanamera, that most Cuban of all songs. I cannot help myself, whenever I hear this song I am transported to a little Mexican restaurant I visited many, many years ago with X and her mum N. N loved Cuba, and when the mariachi’s band came by X asked if they could play it. They launched into a serviceable rendition, an N started to cry for her love of Cuba. It was a touching, and to me eternally precious, moment, and now whenever I hear that song I start to tear up at my love for N and for her love of Cuba. Oh what a tangled web…

The show ended with the entire audience brought to their feet and trying to dance along with the crew on stage. My seat mate, Carolina, (a Polish immigrant, by way of Australia) a salsa dancer, put me to shame as I just did the white-guy-shuffle and tried to keep in time.

So, the other news… I have already reported twice on the little constitutional crisis brewing over here. Well, it would be one if the Brits really had a constitution like the US does. At the root of the current mess are two separate scandals, which are coming to fruition simultaneously. The first is the peerage “laws for pay” scandal. This actually dates back to my last visit here, in early spring of 2008. In this one, members of the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament (think Senate) were found to be dispensing favours for money – aka taking bribes. Two peers have been found guilty, finally, and have had their privileges suspended pending further action. This is remarkable in that it hasn’t happened in over 300 years, dating back to the era of Britain’s civil war (yes, they had one too).

The second is the continuing Exes scandal, in which members of the House of Commons (MPs) have been exposed as having exploited rules which allow them to recoup various expenses associated with maintaining multiple households so as to attend parliament. This has now claimed several members of all the major parties, including senior aides and ministers, and has lead to calls for wholesale reform of the entire electoral system. Yesterday it took its biggest toll, the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Though widely expected, and called for, this act, again for the first time in more than 300 years, has set the entire government, majority and opposition alike, on their arse and made them think about just how quickly they are racing towards the abyss of writing themselves out of governance and into history.

There is a lot of talking about cooler heads prevailing and the like, but coming down the tracks like a dual locomotive are the 4 June county and EU elections. The electorate are fuming and they are ready to elect anyone who is not currently in power. This could potentially send a bunch of fascistic “England for the English” folk, like the British National Party (we’ll pay you to just move back home and leave us alone) into Whitehall. No one bargained for this.

Meanwhile the Germans and French, in the person of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, have already issued warnings that if the Conservatives (Tories) or isolationists are elected they may need to restrict England from having a say on EU policy going forward.

This is, as my dad used to say, a right bloody mess.

On a lighter note. I noticed something in Mayfair the other day. You know those ridiculously gorgeous models in the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogues? If you go to the Mayfair outlet of A&F those very same models are there in person, wearing virtually nothing, and ready to greet you at the door and hand you a shopping basket. I kid you not.

Marks and Spenser, known affectionately around here as either M&S or Marks & Sparks, celebrate their 125th anniversary this year, and so for three days, starting today, put 30 items on sale for a penny a piece, in recognition of their start as a penny shop (“Don’t ask the price, its a pence” was an early slogan). People started to line up at the flagship Oxford Street, Marble Arch location at 5 this morning and M&S handed out tea and coffee to those in line, along with cards listing the available products and little pencils so they could check up to five that they wanted.

Twiggy was there as Mistress of Ceremonies and has been all over the telly promoting it for the past week or so. At least we get to see a lot of Twiggy, whom fate and time have treated quite well indeed.

Bank Holiday, again! When Pawn first got here, nearly three weeks ago, England launched into a three day weekend, triggered by a bank holiday. In the US such a term evokes memories of the Great Depression, when “Bank Holiday” was a euphemism for a bank failure, wherein the government would shutter a bank for a few days while they sorted the books and then reopened the bank under national control. We have seen this happen with alarming regularity in the past year or so, but the FDIC, who handle such things, have gotten quite good at doing the whole thing over a weekend, so no one’s any the wiser.

Anyway, Bank Holiday weekends mean a few things. First off, sales, lots of sales. Two, everyone tries to leave London for the hinterlands, beaches of Brighton, etc. Third, half the underground goes under repair at once, and you cannot get anywhere you want. Fourth, the weather sucks. The forecasts are always rosy, but the actual weather always seems to suck. We’ll see if this time is any different.

The next item on today’s gazette, STRIKE! The RMT union have struck the Victoria line for a 24 hour stoppage from tonight at 9:00 pm. This is due to a little incident a couple of months ago wherein a train operator mistakenly opened the doors on the wrong side of the coaches of a Victoria Line train. The union pointed out that this line lacks the safety devices which prevent such a mistake on the other lines, but Transport for London (TfL) sacked the driver nonetheless. Thus the strike.

For me this means I may not get to see Cirxus up at Arcola Theatre’s new experimental Studio K space. Arcola are up in Dalston, in Hackney, and the only good way to get there from here is via the Victoria. I meant to go there tonight, but couldn’t risk being stranded with no way home. Thus my choice to attend Sadler’s Wells show. Tomorrow may work, but if the strike does continue for the full 24 hours it will be a no-go to get to Hackney. Bank Holiday means massive trains works, so that means the whole weekend is bullocks. >Sigh<

In other news of the day, I treked east to Bethnel Green again today, hoping to check out some more galleries there. Oops! Must learn to check the fine print more carefully. Most of these galleries are only open by appointment or on Friday and Saturday. Okay, add that to the list for the weekend.

Tomorrow L shows up from Wisconsin to visit her brother. We’ll hang out some, too. So look forward to more reports of someone getting annoyed at me for walking fast or refusing to hail cabs or other such indignities. I am hard to cope with, which just adds to your reading delight.

Two final notes: I pinched an office chair from a rubbish skip the other day, an office block across the street is under rehab and they had a half dozen chairs out to the curb.

My favourite Gay-Bollywood-After-School-Special, Nina’s Heavenly Delights is on BBC One right now. Ah, joy!