Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday, 30 March 2003

Rageh Omaar of the BBC rebuts allegations of bias toward the Iraq regime in his reports from Baghdad

In today's Sunday Telegraph, Rageh Omaar refutes allegations that his reports from Baghdad show pro-Iraqi bias. I think it is well-worth reading to explain to people in democracies just how things operate in tyrannies like Iraq.

Another article in the same paper today by Nic Robertson, a senior CNN reporter recently thrown out of Iraq for reporting in a way the Iraqis found 'unhelpful', sheds further useful light, I think, on the pressures facing western journalists in Iraq.
Is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld interfering too much in imposing strategy and logistics on his military experts, rather than simply imposing overall policy?

A very interesting article in yesterday's Washington Post, concerning an article to appear in the Monday 7 April issue of 'New Yorker' magazine. A couple of quotes, to give a flavour:

"He thought he knew better. He was the decision-maker at every turn," the article quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon planner as saying. "This is the mess Rummy put himself in because he didn't want a heavy footprint on the ground."

If the contention of this article has substance, I do wonder if it's all a part of the rivalry said to exist between the 'hawks' Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice and the more moderate elements in the US administration, for example Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former serving army officer who is known to be cautious in his approach and who is said to prefer to go in with over-whelming force, or not at all.

I hope that this internal jostling is not going to get in the way of achieving the over-riding objective - the removal of Saddam Hussein and his odious Ba'athist regime and its replacement in due course by a somewhat more representative, and hopefully decent (in all the senses of that word), government in Iraq.
Archives republished - as they had disappeared (again). And again (4 hours later).

Saturday, 29 March 2003

Spring forward .... Fall back
Tonight (officially at 2 am tomorrow) the UK moves one hour forward from GMT to BST (British Summer Time), until the Autumn when we'll move back to GMT for the winter. So from tomorrow, we'll be having much lighter evenings - great!
Is the BBC biased toward Iraq (as Andrew Sullivan claims) or is it just reporting 'neutrally'?

My own view is that it is the latter, of course - no surprise if you've been reading my recent postings. Naturally I may be completely deluding myself and Andrew Sullivan may be completely correct in writing again about what he descibes as the "Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation", but I seriously doubt it.

Of course, some people think that, even if the BBC is reporting 'neutrally', it should not be doing so in time of war. Such people, I suspect, think that in time of war the only acceptable behaviour by our media is to report exclusively favouring the 'coalition' point of view, as espoused by the British government. There is certainly an argument to be made for this, when our national security is at stake, even if I believe ultimately that the benefits in the longer-term of the BBC always reporting as 'neutrally' or 'even-handedly' as possible far outweigh the benefits of exclusively pro-British reporting, irrespective of what is really happening. Not having been alive during WWII, I am not in a position to comment from my own knowledge about how the BBC reported news relating to the war at the time, but from what I have gathered from my study of history, and from what those who were alive at the time have told me, is that whilst news was heavily censored it was not actually 'falsified'. I have no doubt that release of 'bad' news was at the very least delayed, or simply blocked completely, but I have not heard that completely false news was reported knowingly, even if 'disinformation' was released with the intention of confusing the Nazi enemy.

Now to get back to the current war with Iraq, the article that Sullivan focusses on in his latest anti-BBC diatribe seems to me fairly even-handed - it reports what all the parties said about the incident in question (the supposed 'execution' of two British POWs after their capture) in what I believe to be an even-handed manner - read the BBC article for yourself, if you like.

A flavour of what this article does say, despite the claims of Sullivan, can be had from the following two brief paragraphs:

"Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram took the opportunity of a news briefing for journalists in London to express his "regret" for any distress caused." (about the claim by Prime Minister Tony Blair that the two POWs had been executed)

"According to the Daily Mirror newspaper Sapper Allsopp's sister Nina said: "His Colonel told us he was not executed we just can't understand why people are lying." "

I have no idea what the truth is about what happened, nor (I suspect) does Sullivan. There are many hypotheses possible, perhaps. Assuming that the two were 'executed', it may be that the army Colonel referred to above thought it would be 'kinder' to let the families believe the two men had been killed 'in action', rather than 'executed' in cold blood. The army may or may not have precise information about how the two died. At the very least, though, I think it reasonable to wish that the British military authorities (ie. the Army) had coordinated what was being said about this incident with the British civil authorities (i.e. the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister). If Tony Blair was going to state baldly that the two had been executed during the Camp David Press Conference with President Bush, it would have been much better, not to mention less confusing and hurtful to the men's families, to have ensured that the British army had passed on the news in similar fashion.

Sullivan of course is an unimportant 'pundit'; I doubt very much if his ignorant so-called analysis of what is going on in the Middle East is regarded highly by anyone who really matters (in the US or elsewhere), but it is unfortunatley true that he is widely-read and his regular peddling of misinformation is therefore widely disseminated. This incident is yet another blatant example, however, of how little respect this man appears to have for objectivity and balanced commentary.

Thursday, 27 March 2003

At last! I've almost got my wine stock records just about in order

I rarely write here about side issues, but I thought I'd make an exception today. Over the past several days, including part of this afternoon, I've been working to put my wine stock records in order. I'm a keen wine-drinker and over the years have built up a fair 'revolving' stock of wine; some hundreds of bottles.

Over the past 18 months or so, I've badly neglected keeping my stock records up to date, not so much with marking out bottles used, but getting round to adding new wines bought to the records. In a way this hasn't mattered too much because whilst I do buy wine which is used in the six months or so after purchase, I tend to have wines for a few years before I even start to think about using some of them. However, in the past month or two I've wanted to start using an occasional bottle from stock purchased at the beginning of last year and I've discovered through bitter experience that it's too easy to forget what I drank a few days ago, far less a week ago.

Over the past 15 or so months I've bought roughly 14 or so cases (probably a bit more, I haven't tallied it up), some in unmixed dozens, but 4, 6 or 8 bottles of some others, so there are quite a lot of different wines involved - well over 25 I'd say. Anyway, I've now got all the purchases input (I've kept my wine stock records in a database for quite a few years) and have so far got most of the reds marked out for bottles used, to update the paper stock register printouts. I've still to do all the whites and fortified wines - I'm a keen 'amateur' of madeira and sherry and of course port. I hope to get all that done tomorrow - then I'll have a better idea of what I've got and when it needs to be drunk. It's very easy to forget about the last couple of bottles in a case, keep them too long and then find they're past their best - which reminds me, there's a bottle of Hermitage with my name on it for this evening!
Blair and Bush Press Conference shows they are almost totally united

At a joint Press Conference today (I just finished watching it live on television), President Bush and Prime Minister Blair revealed as expected that they are almost totally united in their aims and policies toward Iraq. Their differences, which I consider are probably quite minor in substance [although perhaps more significant politically in the longer term] will be discussed briefly, too.

Bush began by recalling the more than 100 years during which the closest ally of the US has been the UK and that they have fought together to rid the world of all major threats during that period.

Bush was asked by a US journalist to try and give a timetable for the war - he was categoric in stating that "it will take as long as it takes" and went on to say it was crucial that all parties, our own soldiers, the Iraqi government and specially the Iraqi people, were reassured of the coalition's resolve to free Iraq from the grip of Saddam Hussein whom "we will remove from power, one way or the other".

Blair, for his part, emphasised the need for UN involvement with humanitarian aid "basically within the next few days" and in the longer term. It is fair to say, I think, that whilst President Bush listened politely to this part of Blair's comments, he did not verbalise his support for this particular aspect of Blair's policy. Blair, like Bush, also emphasised the immediate aim is to 'liberate' Iraq from Saddam Hussein's grip.

Both men implied that the war may not necessarily be over very soon - Blair said that war is a "brutal and bloody affair" and we must be prepared for casualties. Blair was asked (by Andrew Marr of the BBC) to clarify the use of the word 'executed' in relation to some of the British military personnel who had been shown dead (some with bullet holes in the forehead) on arab television stations (al-Jazeera amongst others). He responded only by saying "we know", but declined to provide other information - presumably because it relates to sensitive intelligence sources which he does not wish to compromise. Personally, I am happy to accept what Blair said - although I hope that once the war is successfully concluded that we will be allowed to know the circumstances. He said these incidents illustrate very well the brutality of the Iraqi Ba-ath regime, as do other recent actions of the Iraqi toward its own citizens.

Bush issued a direct warning to Iraqi generals not to obey orders to use WMD, and that any senior officers who gave such orders would be held personally responsible and treated as war criminals. His warning, as we have come to expect from him, was delivered calmly and quietly and designed to emphasise that he is firmly resolved in what he said. I am glad and I hope the Iraqi authorities will understand it is in their own best interests not to disregard this warning.

Blair rebutted those who say that the war is going slowly - he said he thought it was remarkable how much progress had been made in what was still less than a week. He reminded listeners that whilst it may seem as if the war has been going on for a considerable time, it is still only aboout a week.

Blair also rebutted those who say that most of Europe is against the war. He reiterated that a majority of present EU members are supportive as are almost all those countries who will shortly join. He accepted that there were some EU countries who were opposed to the war and suggested that their leaders could be asked again why this is their policy.

All in all a very positive public performance. I daresay there were many other matters the two discussed in private which we will only come to know about, if ever, once the war is much farther forward or concluded.

It is clear to me that it will be concluded successfully, although I suspect it could take some time, and entail significant coalition losses, to achieve this - certainly more than many even now considerable realistic. But there is no alternative - it is a worthy cause.
Iraq and propaganda - Andrew Sullivan continues his idiotic anti-BBC 'crusade'

Whenever I send a constructively critical (well, I would say that, wouldn't I?) e-mail to Andrew Sullivan, soon after up pops an even more blatant example of selective news analysis - this is one of the 'best' I've read for some time.

Of course, he carefully doesn't quote other very relevant paragraphs from this BBC article by Rageh Omaar (an excellent news journalist, whom I've been watching for some years now):

The targeting in the air strikes has not been indiscriminate but, as in all wars, there are mistakes and there are civilian casualties.

That seems to have been what has happened here, but the political price of such mistakes in this war will be much more costly.

Finally, and most seriously (and frankly, unforgivably), he neglects to mention the all-important final 'health-warning', very relevant when someone reporting on behalf of an invading army's national broadcasting service is reporting from the invaded country's capital:
"The movements of those reporting from Baghdad are restricted and their reports are monitored by the Iraqi authorities"

The man persists in writing about the Middle East when he is pig-ignorant on the subject, and he is shameless in distorting reporting he doesn't approve of. He writes good stuff, sometimes (specially in the past, if truth be told ... sigh), but it's difficult to remain dispassionate when faced with this kind of nonsense.

Wednesday, 26 March 2003

The war in Iraq, the Middle East and Islam - and Andrew Sullivan and his eccentric views on media (in this case BBC) bias

I don't disagree with everything Andrew Sullivan writes, by any means, but on the subjects of the Middle East and Islam he often talks complete nonsense. And his current anti-BBC campaign shows what a sharp mind can do when it loses its edge. The following is the text of an 'open letter' to Sullivan. His letters page is famously eccentric, so I'll be quite surprised if my little 'billet doux' finds its way onto that august forum - thus its airing here:

Hi Andrew

You do write some God-awful rubbish sometimes, and you are specially unreliable on things touching on the Middle East and Islam. Frankly, you don't know anything about the Middle East and your seeming knowledge of Islam is embarrassingly scant. Why do you bother?

Where we do agree, though, is on the merits of the current military effort on the part of the US and the UK finally to get rid of Saddam Hussein's thuggish regime. I am completely behind Bush and Blair and hope that the Iraqi Ba'athist regime will soon be history (I understand why Bush senior didn't do the job in 1991, even though I had some misgivings at the time - I spent that period in Abu Dhabi, where I lived then).

Your tired 'Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation' really has to stop, though. I, too, sometimes find some of the BBC commentary on current affairs touching on the Middle East rather too 'neutral' or sometimes even seemingly pro-Iraqi for my 'refined' tastes and I would have to agree that there seem to be rather too many lefties given free-reign for their odious views; I'm right of centre, but perhaps not quite so right-wing as you sometimes come across.

However, on balance, I believe that the BBC is reasonably even-handed in its treatment of events and in the present crisis in Iraq this is particularly noticeable. Of course, someone like me (an ex-Tory gay Briton with right-wing tendencies) often finds BBC output pretty hard to take - for the reasons I mention above. But I really am a democrat who believes passionately in free speech, and that sometimes (pretty often, actually) means that people and broadcasters say things I disagree with, but they often say things I agree with, too. You, however, seem to have a very 'dirigiste' view of the world and don't appear to take too kindly, in practice, to genuinely diverse viewpoints. I revel in them - that is why I find your constant harping on about perceived BBC bias (or CNN or NYT, for that matter) so tiresome. The US and the UK, and only a very few other countries, have genuine freedom of expression. That's why, of course, I strongly support your right to spout the c..p you often do - most readers of your pieces know what to expect most of the time when they read you; there are few surprises. Fair enough, your views are well-grounded and well thought out (or at least firmly held), but there's little surprise - rather sad, really.

From personal experience, I know how much (even today) the BBC is believed and respected in diverse countries - I'd lay a bet that a fair number of Iraqis today who can get hold of a short-wave radio make a point of trying to catch the news on the BBC in Arabic (I often listen to the Arabic version on the web), because they know it is even-handed and not a tool of the British government and often comments on matters in other countries much more objectively than do their own broadcasters. The last Conservative government often complained of BBC bias against it, just as the present Labour government does - I'd say that its real fault, if it has one, is that it likes to be controversial and hold the government, of whatever colour, to account. It was no more a 'luvvie' of the former Clinton administration than it is of the present Bush administration. It is genuinely independent - and that is sometimes painful.

There are very few broadcasters who approach the BBC in objectivity - Radio Canada possibly and perhaps a few others. In any case, the best way of forming a view is to try and listen to as many different views as possible and trying to balance out the pros and cons. The days of 'my country right or wrong' went out with the disaster of WWI and Earl Haig in the UK; I loathe communism, but the US had its own period of madness during the McCarthy period. Objectivity really is a state of mind - which I don't think you possess.

All the best, though .

Bill Cameron


Tuesday, 25 March 2003

The war in Iraq - new 'MiniPoll' added

I've added a new MiniPoll to the site now that the war to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from Iraq has begun. Please add your vote to express your view, whatever it is. Thanks.

Monday, 17 March 2003

Holiday trip aborted (Sigh!) ...

Right, my little trip to Oban described below had to be aborted. On Saturday I spent about 4 1/2 hours driving there (great trip, wonderful weather, some lovely photographs on the way), only to find what I'd booked had been changed for something completely different, and less good, than what I'd booked and paid for. So I turned around and came home - another 4 1/2 hours driving, so I was pretty exhausted by the time I got to bed that night; only minor compensation was that I got some lovely sunset shots on the way back. Normally I'd have stayed a night in an hotel someplace, to break the journey, but it's not easy to find places that accept pets at short notice so that was not really an option.

Now I'll get to see, in the next week or so, how the Small Claims Court functions - Trading Standards say I've got a pretty cast-iron case, but we'll see how it goes...

Friday, 14 March 2003

On 'hiatus' for a week

I'll be away from tomorrow for a week, a late-winter/early-spring break with my dog, to a glorious part of west-coast Scotland, just south of Oban. The next posting here will probably be around 24th or 25th March.
Michael Portillo - "they [the Conservative Party] still don't get it"

Michael Portillo, speaking during his regular appearances on Andrew Neil's 'This Week' programme on BBC1 yesterday evening, was asked by Andrew Neil his opinion on the Conservative amendments defeated in the House of Commons earlier in the week, which would have had the effect either of stopping the repeal of Clause 28, or of replacing it with an equally pernicious right for parents to vet materials used in education. 'Clause 28' was introduced in the late-1980s by Thatcher and forbids the so-called 'promotion' of homosexuality and describes homosexual relationships as 'pretend family relationships'.

Michael Portillo was asked why he had not voted on these two amendments - he pleaded absence from the HoC that evening, which made me a little 'suspicious', but he continued with a very forthright declaration that he would certainly have voted against both amendments had be been present - as did others such as Alan Duncan, John Bercow and Christopher Soames. He went on to say that that too many in the Conservative Party still didn't 'get it', saying that many people who would normally vote Conservative were so offended by the Party's desire to see Clause 28 retained that they would never vote Conservative again, even though they agreed with almost everything else Conservatives believe in.

I have never heard any mainstream politician talk about this quite so clearly and candidly before - it exactly reflects the reason why I left the Party when Mr Iain Duncan Smith became the Leader and why I shall not vote for that Party again until Duncan Smith is replaced by someone less bigoted (i.e. David Davis is definitely not such a person!) amd this ridiculous and damaging policy is abandoned. Duncan Smith of course voted for the amendment earlier this week to retain Clause 28.

I had worried that Tony Blair's weakness at present might strengthen the Conservative Party, but as 'The Economist' points out in one of its pieces this week, if Blair were to be replaced by Brown (God forbid!) it might mean there was more likelihood of some more reasonable candidates putting themselves up to be Leader of the Conservatives if their electoral fortunes were seen to be reviving and that IDS would be dumped pretty quickly - one can only hope.

Wednesday, 12 March 2003

Tony Blair’s dilemma – authorise military action by British troops, or save his political career

Can he do both? This is becoming increasingly uncertain.

Support for Tony Blair’s strong position on Iraq has been haemorrhaging for weeks, but in recent days this has become public and very heated, specially amongst Labour supporters and even amongst a large number of Labour MPs and at least one Cabinet Minister.

Clare Short, International Development Secretary, last Sunday described Tony Blair’s Iraq policy as ‘reckless’. This flouts the notion of collective cabinet responsibility, which says that disagreements with government policy be expressed only in private and that once a decision is made that all members of the Cabinet support it. She has declared she will resign from the Cabinet if Britain undertakes military action having failed to achieve a further UN resolution.

Yesterday evening Donald Rumsfeld dropped one of his occasional bombshells, which we are told caused ‘panic’ in Downing Street. Frankly, this surprises me if it is true and I can hardly believe it is. I can of course understand that there would be a certain amount of anguish in Downing Street, because whilst the UK government supports the US government’s policy almost totally (and rightly in my view), there are obviously nuances which separate them. Not to mention the political reality that Tony Blair’s personal position has suddenly become much less strong in this country specially amongst his own ‘supporters’. It is difficult to see how Blair can ignore these realities, even if he does decide to plough on with his basic policies. The bottom line is, though, that the US will most probably continue with its plans to initiate military action very soon to thwart Saddam Hussein’s regime, even if the UK decides it cannot participate in at least the early stages at a practical military level. This is the message that Rumsfeld was putting across last night, I think, and whilst it may grate a little I am certainly not going to say he should not have said what he did – he was after all only stating the obvious.

Today at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons I thought the PM did moderately well, in the circumstances, even managing to joke a little about the internal cabinet dissension he is faced with. The reality is, though, that talk of yet more conditions and yet more time in tortuous negotiations to try and get at least 9 of the 15 UN Security Council members to agree to a ‘cobbled together’ resolution will work only if President Bush agrees to play along. Frankly, I doubt if he will or even whether he should. The sooner Saddam Hussein is removed from power in Iraq the better – that must remain the over-riding objective.

Tuesday, 11 March 2003

Conservative 'compromise' amendment on Section 28 fails also

More good news, even though offset by the reality of continuing Conservative bigotry. The 'compromise' amendment supported by David Davis, which would have given a 'small but significant' minority of parents the right to demand a ballot on the materials used in their children's sex education, was handsomely defeated by 356 votes to 127 last evening.

Shamefully, amongst the 127 were 13 members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Even more shamefully and shockingly, the Chairman of 'Torch' (James Davenport) endorses this bigotry. Of course, the 'e' for equality has been dropped from the former 'Torche', which now styles itself as 'Gay Conservatives'. Sad, deluded and pathetic!

From earlier information, I understand that the small but significant minority referred to was 5%. As the Liberal Democrat local government spokesman Edward Davey is quoted as saying, the amendment had it succeeded would have been a "recipe for homophobic behaviour on a grand scale". Quite.

You can read a full report in the Independent. Naturally, there is no mention of it in The Daily Telegraph.

Monday, 10 March 2003

Conservative blocking amendment against repeal of Section 28 fails

An amendment designed to thwart the repeal of Section 28, proposed by Conservative MPs Ann Widdicombe and Edward Leigh, was this evening heavily defeated in the House of Commons. Hurray!

The amendment was defeated 368 to 77, a majority of 291. It is thought that 74 Conservative MPs voted for the amendment, including the Leader Iain Duncan Smith, aka 'the quiet man', also the person who says he is not a homophobe.

John Bercow, the Conservative MP who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet a few months ago over his disagreement with Conservative Party policy relating to homosexuals, described the amendment as 'obnoxious', a view I share.

Edward Leigh, in proposing the amendment, included the following remarks: "Section 28 is a statement that there is no moral equivalence between homosexuality and heterosexuality. I make that moral statement in the knowledge that many other people in this country believe it to be true." What this shows with glittering clarity is that the bigoted majority of the Conservative Party still have a very long way to go before they even begin to understand how out of touch their Party is with modern British society.

Saturday, 8 March 2003

Does Hans Blix represent the UN in Iraq, or is he Saddam Hussein's representative to the UN?

Tucked away in his 173-page report issued late yesterday was a detail friend Hans 'forgot' to mention during his oral report to the UN Security Council yesterday. It seems that the Iraqis have an unmanned drone, wingspan 7.45m, which apparently suggests it could exceed permitted ranges and pose a threat to Iraq's neighbours. Read a full report about it in the Times (London). US officials are, unsurprisingly, not amused.

It seems clear that the 10 day time-limit imposed by Jack Straw, UK Foreign Minister, yesterday during his remarks after Hans Blix's oral report, is merely for form's sake and that military action, to thwart Saddam Hussein, will begin soon. And not before time.