24 April 2014

Somewhat proud to be British

Hugh Dennis: The results of [the British Social Attitudes Survey] were out this week, and showed that whereas in 2003, 43 percent of people said they were 'very proud' to be British, today only 35 percent of people do. Forty-seven percent of people said they were 'somewhat proud' to be British. Which is very British in itself. The phrase 'somewhat proud' seems to have come from a different era, the old days when the survey would've gone...

How proud are you to be British? Are you:

A. Somewhat proud.
B. Just a smidgen proud.
C. Terribly, terribly proud.
D. Dash it all, I'm not proud at all d'you hear - I'm not proud and I don't mind who knows it... I'm sorry, I've let everyone down.

- The Now Show, BBC Radio 4, 18 April 2014

See also:
Comedy: Putting an 'i' in front of things, 2 April 2011
Comedy: How the BBC works, 14 May 2010
ComedyMock The Week, 20 February 2010

23 April 2014

Remembering Blair Peach

Blair Peach (Guardian, via public domain)
Today is the 35th anniversary of the unlawful killing of 33-year-old New Zealand teacher Blair Peach in Southall, south London, by officers of the Metropolitan Police. Peach was attending an anti-fascist demonstration against the far-right National Front on 23 April 1979, and he died of head wounds the following day at the New Ealing Hospital. No-one was ever charged with Peach's death. A 2010 inquiry report, much delayed by official denials and obfuscation, agreed that evidence - including 14 eye witness accounts - 'almost certainly' points to a member of the Met's Special Patrol Group having dealt Peach the fatal head wound. A 2010 Guardian report on the Met's inquiry notes:

Suspicions centred on the SPG carrier U.11, the first vehicle to arrive on Beechcroft Avenue [sic.], the street where Peach was found staggering around and concussed. [Commander John] Cass said there was an "indication" that one officer in particular, who first emerged from the carrier but whose name has been redacted from the report, was responsible. 
The criminal investigation into Peach's death was hampered by SPG officers, who Cass concluded had lied to him to cover up the actions of their colleagues. He "strongly recommended" that three officers should be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, giving detailed evidence to show how they were engaged in a "deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at that time". None were ever charged.

The original 1979 police documents adopt some unusual methods, like redacting the name of the National Front's candidate, whose planned rally at Southall Town Hall spurred the Anti-Nazi League counter-rally that Peach attended. This would have been a simple matter of public record.

Times editorial on 14 January 1980 noted that 245 people had died in British police custody in the past decade, although it is unclear whether that is referring to solely the Metropolitan Police or a larger grouping. According to Inquest, in the 10 years from 2004 to 2013 there were 93 recorded deaths in Met custody, and 519 deaths in police custody across England and Wales.

The Met's Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, said in 2010:

As a police officer with over thirty four years service reading and being briefed on the investigation reports leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable. Thirty one years later we have still been unable to provide the family and friends of Blair Peach with definitive answers regarding the terrible circumstances of his death. That is a matter of deep regret. 
See also:
News: 'Partner of man killed by Met officers calls for investigation to be made public', Guardian, 13 June 2009

22 April 2014

Muriwai gannet colony

The gannet colony at Muriwai on Auckland's west coast is generally best visited between October and February, but on a shining day like yesterday even its somewhat depleted numbers impressed. In fact, perhaps it's better visiting out of season, because the guano smell isn't so foul!

See also:
Blog: California Design exhibition, 2 October 2013
Blog: MOTAT 2, 3 April 2013
Blog: New Year Sky Tower fireworks, 1 January 2013

19 April 2014

Eat a peach, love Neil

[...] I got some satisfaction hearing war stories about the Stills/Young Band's tour. Seems that it was snakebit from the start. With too little time to rehearse, the band never felt comfortable onstage. A review in the New York Times called the show "an ill-conceived evening", blaming the sound, which was "rough and overly loud". The tour needed work. Stephen [Stills] wanted to stick to a single set list until the band got tight, but that apparently bored Neil [Young]. And eventually, Neil reverted to being Neil. Heading to a gig in Atlanta, he was travelling in his bus down the highway when the driver put on his left turn signal to go to the gig. Neil insisted they go right instead. "But, Neil, the gig is to the left," the driver assured him. Neil got right into his face. "I said turn right!" The next day, at the gig in Atlanta, Neil just never turned up. Instead he sent everyone in the band a telegram: FUNNY HOW SOME THINGS THAT START SPONTANEOUSLY END THAT WAY. EAT A PEACH. LOVE NEIL. He'd gone home and left the entire company - the band, roadies, support staff, and promoters - holding the bag.

- Graham Nash, Wild Tales, New York, 2013, p.236-7.

18 April 2014

Why is North Korea poor?

"North Korea is poor because the sanctions are working"

Not even close. North Korea is poor because of an outmoded economic policy and self-imposed isolation from the world. The latest round of UN and US sanctions, implemented in March 2013, only target the elite. They ban the export of luxury goods and clamp down on individuals and companies that are financing proliferation activities. It's safe to say that the average North Korean does not own a yacht or wear a Rolex.

Blame lies with five bad decisions North Korea has made in the management of its economy. First, in the aftermath of the Korean War, Kim Jong Un's grandfather -- President Kim Il Sung -- focused exclusively on heavy industry development and the military while expecting the country to be self-sufficient in agriculture. In a country that only has 20 percent arable land, that was a huge mistake. Second, rather than seek technologies and innovations like the Green Revolution that helped nations like India make enormous gains in agricultural productivity in the 1960s and 1970s, the North tried to substitute longer work hours and revolutionary zeal. Given the broken infrastructure, this was like squeezing blood from a stone. Third, rather than trade with the outside world, the North went deeply into debt in the 1970s, borrowing and then defaulting on hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from European countries, which forever lost them lines of credit with any country or international financial institution. Fourth, in the 1980s and 1990s, the North undertook extremely wasteful mega-projects, building stadiums, hydropower projects, and tideland reclamation projects -- most of which failed or were never completed. Finally, after the Chinese and Soviets stopping giving aid to the North at the end of the Cold War, Pyongyang relied on humanitarian assistance as a form of income, instead of trying to fix their economy.

One could not have imagined a worse economic plan. This country has allowed an ideology that prizes autarky to dictate economic decisions rather than taking advantage of the benefits of trade, technology, or innovation -- which is why North Korea is one of the only countries in the world to have suffered a famine after industrialization.

- David Kang & Victor Cha, 'Think Again: North Korea', Foreign Policy, 25 March 2013

16 April 2014

Earl's Court, 1968

Juan insisted, after our first meeting, that whenever I came to London I stay at his pied-a-terre in Earl's Court. He was almost never there because he spent most of his time in Newmarket, transferring real equines to canvas. I'd be doing him a favour if I aired out his apartment from time to time [...]

I liked Earl's Court very much and fell in love with its fauna. The district breathed youth, music, lives lived without caution or calculation, great doses of ingenuousness, the desire to live for the day, removed from conventional morality and values, a search for pleasure that rejected the old bourgeois myths of happiness - money, power, family, position, social success - and found it in simple, passive forms of existence: music, artificial paradises, promiscuity, and an absolute lack of interest in other problems that were shaking society. With their tranquil, peaceful hedonism, the hippies harmed no one, and they didn't proselytize, didn't want to convince or recruit people they had broken with in order to live their alternative lives: they wanted to be left in peace, absorbed in their frugal egotism and their psychedelic dream [...]

Many hippies, perhaps the majority, came from the middle or upper classes, and their rebellion was familial, directed against the well-regulated lives of their parents and what they considered the hypocrisy of puritanical customs and social facades behind which they hid their egotism, insular spirit, and lack of imagination. Their pacifism, naturism, vegetarianism, their eager search for a spiritual life that would give transcendence to their rejection of a materialist world corroded by class, social, and sexual prejudices, a world they wanted nothing to do with - this was sympathetic. But all of it was anarchic, thoughtless, without a centre or direction, even without ideas, because the hippies - at least the ones I knew and observed up close - though they claimed to identify with the poetry of the beatniks (Allen Ginsberg gave a reading of his poems in Trafalgar Square in which he sang and performed Indian dances, and thousands of young people attended), in fact read very little or nothing at all. Their philosophy wasn't based on thought and reason but on sentiment, on feeling.

- Mario Vargas Llosa, The Bad Girl, 2006.

See also:
London: Mr CD in Soho, 17 October 2013
London: George Fordyce & Dolly's Chop House, 22 February 2013
LondonSpringtime in Wimbledon, 24 March 2011