Saturday, October 04, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

An Inside Job - back again

An Inside Job

Who brought down the cooling towers in South Yorkshire?

Monbiot's put this article back up on his site - with a disclaimer this time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An Inside Job

[link broken]

I have to admit, I was intrigued by the whole 9/11 (or 11/9 for European readers) conspiracy theory when I first heard about it. I now realize it's a waste of time, and there's much more important things to focus my time and energy on. This article about the destruction of the famous cooling towers in Sheffield seems to do the whole issue justice.

EDIT: That article was by a "lew knee" I don't know if it was ever meant to be on George Monbiot's respected site... Google saw it:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Treatment of Asylum Seekers

The following is a letter to my MP (Kali Mountford) about the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK. The article that prompted it (link below) is available for free online, and I'd urge you to read it.

Dear Mrs Mountford

I have just read an article in today's observer magazine about the treatment of asylum seekers in this country. I know that you have other constraints on your time, but I would urge you to read it - it's available for free from The Guardian's website (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jun/15/immigration.familyandrelationships).

I am sure I don't need to recount to you the fact that, in 2007, there were 23,000 refugees seeking asylum in the UK. This reprents less than 0.04% of the UK population[1], and even less that a fifth of immigration as a whole[1].
That various newspapers have set about highlighting this tiny faction of the population, and attribute all of them with the crimes of a few, seems disturbing, xenophobic and, very probably, racist.
That the Government have taken action on these such lies and distortions is downright outrageous.

The plight of a refugee is distinct from that of an immigrant, and this distinction is rarely made apparent by the xenophobic press. Papers such as The Sun, The News Of The World, The Daily Mail, and Daily Mirror, who have the highest circulation rates[2], regularly group asylum seekers with illegal immigrants.

Most, if not all, of the people who arrive in this country as refugees have left their homes, and sometimes family, as they are in real danger, often danger of death. Why else would people pay large sums of money, travel in demeaning circumstances, and declare themselves to officials when they arrive?
Yet, rather than offer these people shelter and safety, they are treated as though they are liars. Not only do rape victims have to prove that their horrific ordeals are part of "a sustained pattern of or campaign of persecution directed at [them] by the authorities", but, if they are unable to prove such an abstract and, frankly, impossible thing, they are not allowed to work, not allowed to claim benefits, and expected to live on a £35 weekly voucher for food and essentials. I don't know who much you spend on food and essentials per week, but I strongly suspect that it's more than £35. Then they are forcibly returned to the countries they have fled.

There is also the case of Detention Centres.
Amnesty International "has long been concerned about the detention of people who have sought asylum in the UK"[3]. These have been likened to high security prisons[4]. We, as a country, are locking people up who's only crime has been to seek protection for themselves and their families. That spaces in these centres are allocated on an arbitrary basis[3] seems to be almost as demeaning as the situation that detainees are kept in.

As an electorate in your constituency, I would urge you to take action in the following areas:

  1. Highlighting the poor conditions in which refugees are kept throughout the United Kingdom.
  2. Providing decent treatment to refugees for the full time they are in our care.
  3. Review of the current asylum policy and the need for refugees to prove "a sustained pattern of or campaign of persecution directed at [them] by the authorities"
  4. Requirement of the press to distinguish between asylum seekers and other immigrants, and to present an accurate and balanced picture of the situation.
  5. Providing legislation that will prevent the return of refugees to war zones or to countries where there are real concerns over the treatment of returned refugees (despite any guarantees that may be provided by these countries).
I cannot place enough emphases on this. This is a case of my country sanctioning the maltreatment of persecuted and vulnerable people. Thankfully, I can only imagine the horrors that these people have been through. I would hope that if I ever needed such help, I could find a country that would willingly provide it. As it stands, the UK is not one of these countries.

Yours sincerely

David Kemp
[Address removed]


[1] figures from the CIA World Fact Book [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/print/uk.html]

[2] Average net circulation from 28 April 2008 to 25 May 2008, according to www.abc.org.uk Interactive Analysis National Newspaper Selection [http://www.abc.org.uk/cgi-bin/gen5?runprog=nav/abcdata&pubtype=news&type=natnews&p=&menuid=abcdata|newspdata|nationalnews2]

[3] http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR45/019/2005/en/dom-EUR450192005en.html


[4] "The security devices being installed at Yarl's Wood include microwave detection units and pan-and-tilt dome cameras, of the kind normally found only in highest-security prisons. The centre will be ringed by chain-link fence two and a half metres high topped by three lines of barbed wire. According to the Government, this prison is not a prison."
Arun Kundnani, Institute of Race Relations, February 2002 [http://www.politics.co.uk/reference/issue-briefs/domestic-policy/immigration/immigration-detention-centres/immigration-detention-centres-$366686.htm]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why I don't LOVEFiLM

I started subscribing to (what was then) Screen Select some years ago. It worked pretty well: I'd say what I wanted, and I'd pretty much get that. I never had any problems with discs, and the only problem was that they couldn't get discs through the post any faster.
Screen Select were replaced my Love Film (LOVEFiLM), and then things started to go downhill.
First they stopped sending discs in little plastic cases that protected them when they were handled less than gently by the postal service.
Then, they stopped sending my the films I most wanted and started sending me my low priority ones.
Then, I started to have problems playing their discs. One of their discs even broke a DVD player, and I all got when I complained was their standard response.
Stupidly, I continued with their service.
However, as of today, I no longer subscribe to Love Film.
The penultimate disc I received had a crack that reached halfway across it, and today, instead of getting Yojimbo, I got 300. Having immediately posted it back, I went on their website to report the problem. However, it seemed I couldn't report a wrong disc unless I personally inserted the incorrect disc into my anus and type in the encryption key with my penis.
After all this, I decided to cancel my subscription. I went to the relevant page, clicked the relevant link, and received instructions to phone a call centre. Not put-off, I phoned. Then, on getting a "We can't take your call" message, I phoned again. And again. Then I got through to someone who took longer to "access my account" and "talk to his manager" than he did talking to me. All I can say is that I'm glad it's was an 0800 number, else I would have been really really peeved by the time I got through.

I'm disappointed in Love Film. In the past I've recommended them to several people, and I worry that it makes me look bad. Still, from now on, if people ask me about online dvd rental, I'll tell them to avoid Love Film, and to avoid anyone who might be taken over by love film (like amazon have been).

Oh, and to help with their search results, I say that Love Film are the worst online dvd rental service available.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Anthony Bourdain

After reading Wikipedia on Anthony Bourdain, I can see why he's a hate figure amongst veg(etari)ans.
In the light of this, I feel a debt to the people running Hezbollah Tofu, who are attempting to veganise his recipes. (You can see from their first post where the name comes from)
Well done.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Persepolis

The last animated film I saw at the cinema was The Simpsons Movie [sic], which was like a 1 1/2hr episode of The Simpsons. I suppose some comparisons could be made with Persepolis, but they'd be strained and not really add anything to the discussion.
The style of animation is amazing - the opening sequence is amazing, especially considering it's all hand drawn. The main animation is a lot more "comic book", which it was based on, and it helped make the story more digestible. I was reminded of Calvin and Hobbes at times...
The story is of a girl, Marji, growing up in during the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, and the following rise of the Ayatollah. Marji's parents are quite westernized, drinking and partying, and are part of the demonstrations at the time of the Shah's demise. Several people around Marji have been involved in the revolution movement - her grandfather was imprisoned, and her uncle was exiled in Russia, and, when he tried to return to Iran, was imprisoned for several years.
The story is harrowing, and the scenes of the Iran-Iraq conflict made me ashamed to be human. This, however, is not a film about politics. This is Marji's story of growing up with mayhem and food shortages, in a male dominated Islamic society. Marji's not the kind of woman to accept things without questioning, and this brings both tension and humor to the film.
What I most admired about the film is that it shows that Iran is populated with people - a fact that's easy to forget amidst the furore of politician's war rattles.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

I watched this on a recommendation from Amy's sister...I was skeptical about it, and started to watch it with a "you've been framed" attitude (i.e. you mustn't laugh at the kid falling off the swing, even though the kid wasn't hurt and the fact that the cat pushed it off was quite amusing...)
I cracked, and I did laugh at several points. It wasn't a laugh-a-minute, but there were some amusing parts. Some the parts that were meant to be amusing didn't work.
The storyline was terrible, and the plot held absolutely no surprises, but I don't suppose that's the point.
It's not won me over the Will Farrell Appreciation Society, but neither has it made me loath and detest him.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Control

This is the film of Deborah Curtis' autobiography Touching from a Distance. Ian Curtis married her when they were both still under twenty, long before Joy Division. The film tells the story of Deborah and Ian growing apart, partly because of Ian's darker moments, but mostly because his life in the band involves him spending increasing amounts of time away from home. One of these lead to him meeting the Belgian "journalist" Annik Honoré (she actually worked in an embassy), with whom he had an affair. Ian's inability to choose between his old life (Deborah, and their child Natalie) and his new life (Annik) lead to him committing suicide.
Most of that I wrote not from what the film told me, but by using Google and Wikipedia. All the facts are in the film, but I didn't feel that there was much more than that. There wasn't much insight in Ian's thinking, and there was even less emotion. As one IMDB contributor states:

"if this film were about somebody who wasn't famous, it would be absolutely dull"
I'd argue that, despite someone who was, posthumously, famous, it's still absolutely dull.
Perhaps it's because it's written from the wife who was left behind, who couldn't know what it's like to stand in front of a crowd of people and share your darkest thoughts. Perhaps it's because it's Directed by Anton Corbijn, who became famous partly from taking photos of the band. Perhaps it's because I'd just watched Happy-Go-Lucky, it was 10:00pm, and towards the end I was struggling to stay awake. Whatever it was, this film failed to strike a chord with me.
On a side note, it was amusing (ironic?) that Craig Parkinson played Tony Wilson as Steve Coogan, when, of course, Coogan had play Wilson in 24 Hour Party People.

Happy-Go-Lucky

I really enjoyed this film, and, unlike, for example, Secrets and Lies, was genuinely cheered by it.
Whilst it doesn't seem to be "about" anything, it follows Poppy - the happy-go-lucky 30 something that seems to be the inspiration for the film.
In the opening scenes, her bike gets stolen (I don't think that's giving the game away too much), and rather than getting another one, Poppy decides to get driving lessons. But, saying that, there's a lot more going on in the film, and it's the other parts of it that make it what it is.
For example, Poppy hurts her back whilst trampolining, and this leads to a conversation which leads to her starting flamenco lessons. In this respects, the almost off-hand way that cause and effect is handled, it makes the film believable.
Other offshoots from the main storyline may make you wonder why they're there (there's one bit that doesn't seem to lead anywhere), but, mostly, all of the many paths in this film lead to a destination which, if not full of light, are a good story along the way.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Thailand

I got back from a trip to Thailand last Saturday. I meant to blog about it earlier, but was tired and then I had to go back to work. So, before I completely forget about it, I'll try and write it up.
The things I didn't like about Thailand were:

  • Getting there and back (including airline food, long waits at airports, and security checks that start to feel degrading)
  • Pollution and rubbish (but these were definitely no worse than the UK)
  • The seedy side of Thailand (Thai brides and lady-boys)
  • Having to leave (and having missed the last few episodes of The Soporanos on terrestrial TV)
Something else that doesn't quite make that list is that there's no standard way to write Thai words with roman characters, so things were sometimes spelled differently in on maps than on signs, and it was, therefore, occasionally difficult to find our way around.

Pretty much everything else was amazing. The people were super friendly (without being overbearing or intrusive), the food was amazing, and the weather was fantastic (when it's 30C, I don't care if it rains a little bit).

We started off at (Koh) Samui, which is basically a tropical island, with all the things that go with that - palm trees; white sands; turquoise, warm sea; and coconuts.
We obviously looked the worse for wear when we got there, as the hotelier let us go straight to our "bungalow" (thatched roof, veranda, and, thankfully, air conditioning) without signing in.

The first full day there, we set off down Lamai beach (we were staying at the quiet, north, end of it) to find some breakfast. We didn't do particularly well in this regard, and ended up wandering for about three hours, in the middle of the day. We eventually stopped at a café to get a cold drink, and Amy nearly fainted. The café owner was really kind, and let Amy lie down in one of her rooms, gave us lots of free drinks, and then tried to refuse a tip.

We did eventually find Radiance restaurant at the Spa Resort. The food there was really good, and we ate most of our meals there, as it was close and good. We ate at a few other places, but didn't really explore much as we weren't there that long.

The wedding, which was the reason why we went to Thailand in the first place, was nice. It was right on the beach, on a private little cove, and there were lots of flower petals, and fancy Thai dancing (which is, understandably, slow and doesn't involve a huge amount of movement - any attempt at frantic ballet wouldn't last long in that heat). The food was well presented, and tasty enough.

We did go in the sea once - near where we were staying it was only 50cm or so deep, and really warm. We ended up staying in for about 1 1/2 hours, it was really lovely.
I regret that we didn't stay in Samui a bit longer, but we'd read it was really touristy (which it was in places), and, despite being tourists ourselves, the thought of lounging on the beach, drinking lots and generally doing the same thing as we could in England didn't appeal. Despite the reports, Lamai (where we stayed) wasn't nearly as bad as Chaweng (where the airport is), and we could have happily spent a few more days there.

The rest of our trip was spent in Chiang Mai, the "capital of the north". It's not a huge city but there was lots of places to wander, lots of really good vegetarian restaurants, literally too many Wats (temples/monasteries) to see, and it kept us occupied for the 9 (10?) days we were there. We bought the incredibly helpful Nancy Chandler map of Chiang Mai, which I found more useful than the (two) guide books we took with us.

We stayed at Tri Gong Residence, and the owner was really nice. I'd stupidly sent him the wrong arrival date and we arrived a day later than he was expecting, but he still let us stay (initially in a twin room, then a double when one became available), and wouldn't hear of us compensating him in anyway. When we left, his son took us to the airport, and only charged us the same as the (stupidly reasonable) airport taxi.

Three of our days in Chiang Mai were spent at A Lot Of Thai cookery school. Yui, the instructor, was really friendly, super knowledgeable (especially about the ingredients), and the both Amy and I really enjoyed our time there.
We made six (small) meals each day we were there, and so were well and truly full by the time we left.
The biggest things I learned were:
  • Thai food isn't just about Thai Curry.
  • You can cook cucumber - even in a soup.
  • That Thai food doesn't have to be stupidly hot - there are enough flavours in the dishes to be able to make them with no chilli and for them to still be satisfying
  • The more you chop/mince chilli, and the longer you cook it for, the hotter it will be. You can cut up chillies and sprinkle them over  meal, and, providing you don't eat them, you'll not have to put the (proverbial?) toilet roll in the freezer.
It gave me a good understanding of Thai food, and also the confidence and enthusiasm to try lots of different dishes whilst we were there  - even from street vendors. When we got back, we went over to Manchester's China Town to gather ingredients (and a wok), and we've been able to cook some Thai food at home (it doesn't taste quite as good though).

The rest of the time in Chiang Mai we wandered around a lot - we spent at least two days looking at Wats (temples/monasteries) and Chedis. Despite having been told that Thai's only have one style of temple that they build in varying sizes, they were all unique, and all had different things to see. Sure, the Buddha images were mostly similar (apart from a few fusions between Buddhism and Brahmanism), but the buildings and murals all differed, and the level of ornamentation was astounding.

Throughout our trip, I was constantly surprised by the lack of pestering/hard sell. Several tuk-tuk drivers offered to take us places we didn't really want to go, and mostly when we said that we didn't want to go, they dropped it. This was really nice, especially compared to my India trip, where we were followed down the road by hawkers trying to peddle their wears.
In Chiang Mai, we even ran into the same bloke twice (I don't think he recognised us), and we had a friendly chat before he offered to take us to the Umbrella Museum (apparently not as boring as it sounds), and when we said we weren't that bothered, we continued chatting.

Overall, as I've said previously, I really enjoyed my time there, and it hit home how much when, on arriving back at Manchester Airport, and needing some caffeine-based stimulation before I could drive home, we paid nearly £5 for two gritty, nasty coffees from the café at the airport. (In Thailand, £5 paid for a moderately expensive meal for 2).

We did loads of other stuff than this, so I've only really outlined the things that stand out. I'm sure some people will have a much fuller version of it when I meet up with them next.

Oh, and there were Common Myna birds everywhere, which made a welcome change from the rooks and crows we get round here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Running

I've been running again this last week. I'm feeling a lot better for it, even if it is a struggle to even go for ten minutes.