All entries for Friday 07 July 2006

July 07, 2006

More revisionist history from the States

This guy is Charles Krauthammer (great name, utterly unpronounceable) and he's written an opinion piece for the Washington Post.

He writes:

Our big wars — and the war on terrorism ranks with the big ones — have a way of starting in the first year of a decade.

By way of example he includes 1861, 2001 and… 1941. Yes, that's right. According to Krauthammer (an apt name if you split it in two in the right place), World War Two began in 1941.

His point – if there is one – seems to be that in 1861 and 1941, things were sorted within five years (works fine when you fiddle the figures!), and that after 2001, Bush hasn't "won" the War on Terror. Well, no shit, Sherlock.

Now, it's not a particularly good point, as it could be argued that 1861 and 1941 were ever so slightly different to the "war" that began in 2001. Perhaps 1,000,000 died in the American Civil War, many of disease. It's estimated that 62,000,000 died in WWII. And how many have died in the War on Terror? 10,000? 60,000 if you include those killed in Iraq?

Krauthammer is talking nonsense, his metaphor is crap and his revision of history is offensive to those who died between 1939 and 1941.

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell - Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is, like his previous novel number9dream a complicated affair. There's several different narratives which all pile into each other at various points, with varying levels of success. The story begins in a confusing world of pirates and natives (not the most accessible start ever imagined), before taking turns into Belgium, California, England, South America, futuristic Asia, and then back again.

The most successful of these is probably the diary of Robert Frobisher, an English composer who goes to Belgium to meet his musical idol, and also to scrounge for a while. The tale is mischievous, yet sinister, and although his love–life is easy to predict in advance, it's the most engaging of the six narratives described. The story of the Englishman who is accidentally imprisoned in a nursing home is brilliantly comical and has elements of Last of the Summer Wine in its farcical nature. The futuristic chapters are also well-written, and most similar in nature to number9dream.

Less successful is the supposed "crime thriller" set on the West Coast of America, a genre which would have been best left to Patricia Cornwell. The villains are obvious from the moment they're introduced and the set–pieces are far from unique.

The awards acclaim for this book almost certainly derives in large part from the author's ease with different narratives within one book, although at times the chain between each story seems tenuous. There are few common themes, although many issues are addressed individually in the book, such as democracy, capitalism, freedom of information and artificial intelligence.

Mitchell's writing style is also fluent despite the regular changes in context and culture. That said, the central chapter of the book is too tiresome to translate into English, and the first/last chapter would be best placed elsewhere in the book, as they provide little in the way of a book–end.

Cloud Atlas is certainly proficient, although at times is hard to read and not recommended for the unambitious. If your last read was by Dan Brown, don't be fooled by the attractive artwork: this book isn't for you. If, on the other hand, you want a book to challenge you, then this is as good a candidate as any.

Gordon Brown about to face his first challenger?

The rumour has it that the first challenger to Gordon Brown's coronation as Labour leader (and Prime Minister) will come out from the woodwork this weekend. He'll be scared as his challenger looks set to be the esteemed, notable and highly proficient…......................John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington.

Well, he's all of those things in his constituency at least, where he picked up 58.7% of the vote, beating the unlucky Conservative candidate into second place. If he can repeat this drubbing in the leadership battle then Gordon Brown will be crying into a glass of Scotch whisky as we speak.

Or not… Because it'll never happen. McDonnell represents the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, who are very much to the left of the party, and worship Tony Benn as if he were Gandhi. His 'natural base' is therefore likely to be somewhere in the region of perhaps 50 Labour MPs. Which is a drop in the ocean, especially when you factor in the likelihood that he won't be the only member of the Campaign Group to run against Brown. In fact, fellow MP Michael Meacher is expected to be highly "pissed off" if his lesser–known colleague beats him to it for the leftie vote.

McDonnell voted against the Iraq war, in favour of fox hunting, against ID cards, the terrorism bill and foundation hospitals. All in all, a red–blooded rebel.

The only reason that McDonnell might stand a miniscule chance of coming anywhere near Gordon is the way the leadership will be chosen. 33% of the votes will go to Labour MPs and MEPs, 33% to members of the party and 33% to the trade unions who fund Labour.

Don't be surprised then that McDonnell's leadership bid will be launched at the Durham Miners' Gala on Saturday, where Cabinet minister Hazel Blears will be in attendance, presumably wearing the confused smirk that always seems to adorn her face.

There will almost certainly be a token female candidate for the leadership (and I mean that in the nicest possible way – at least one female Labour MP will run because the Labour MPs will want one, even if they then vote against her), and I suspect there may be at least one more proficient candidate for the job when the leadership election comes. Possibilities include Peter Hain, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson or David Miliband, although Hain would probably be seen as the most likely of those four.

What we can almost certainly take for granted, however, is that Brown will beat his challengers, and will absolutely trounce them if they are as high–profile as Mr McDonnell.

More dodgy World Cup refereeing!

How precisely does this...


...turn into this?


The BBC explains:

Podolski won the prize because Fifa had the final say, chosen by a 14–man panel.

Were they all German?

I've already said that I thought Podolski or Messi should have won, but clearly public opinion accounted for just about bugger all in this poll. Not to mention the fact that there clearly was one English player nominated (in fact, somewhat implausibly, Scott Carson and Theo Walcott were on the list).

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