Thursday, 29 September 2011

To lash or not to lash .....

The latest news in the recent Saudi Arabian 'gender liberalisation' is that the courts might refrain from lashing a woman for driving a car. What an admirable level of restraint! The article also optimistically quotes correspondants and journalists who argue that there is a general thaw regarding women drivers - with many not being penalized even if caught.

Whether or not this the story about the revoked lashing is true - it was 'tweeted' by a Saudi princess who one might expect to have certain vested interests - the BBC seem to be pursuing a very strange line of reporting in regard to Saudi Arabia recently.

I expect some favouritism for allies of the West in the blatantly neo-lib/right wing Economist. They recently splashed a poorly substantiated article about possible Chinese arms deals with Gadaffi's regime, while quickly dropping the distasteful topic of Saudi and Bahraini attacks on democratic demonstrators. However, the BBC is usually more neutral and subtle in its editorial stance.

Yet in this short article they somehow refrain from pointing out that some might consider it completely unacceptable for a twenty first century nation to legally forbid 50% of the population from driving or acting in their own right. Of course it is good if King Abdullah is genuinely pushing through long overdue reform but this doesn't mean that we shouldn't note the lengths that Saudi society still has to go to achieve anything like gender parity.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Libya conflict coming to an end?

The Libyan rebels (or should we start calling them the Libyan government?) have entered Sirte, one of the few towns still held by Gadaffi-loyal forces. It seems as if progress has been slow but with the help of NATO air strikes it is surely only a matter of time before they take the former regime's last outposts.

So soon the NTC will have effective control of the country and will have to embark on reconstruction and the establishment of a more stable, democratic government. Hopefully they will succeed in this endeavour. While I think it was the right thing for NATO to militarily intervene (once the UN approved it), this destructive initiative must be matched by full economic and political assistance for Libya's future stability as a democracy.

The only question hanging over the country is the location of Gadaffi. Why hasn't he been heard from recently and what is he planning to do now that he has lost the country? Needless to say if the NTC capture him in Libya his chances of standing trial for his crimes against his people are high. Fleeing the country seems a far smarter move for the ex-dictator at this point but if he has done so why has he not revealed his location? (

Sunday, 25 September 2011

About friggin time .....

Finally, Saudi Arabia has decided to give women the right to vote and run for political positions (at least municipal and possibly also national). Cynically they have timed it just in time for the current elections, meaning that it will be four years before Saudi women can actually exercise these rights.

Guardian 'correspondants' claim that this is evidence of the liberalising role of King Abdullah, the snail pace of which can be explained by the extreme conservatism of Saudi society and the political power of the clerics.

However, looking at the wider context this seems more likely to be a response to the successes and greater democracy brought about by the 'Arab Spring'. As popular uprisings secure full democracy all over the area it looks even stranger to have a relatively rich, politically stable state with massive regional influence that refuses to let women drive. The Saudi state's reaction to these uprisings has been luke warm at best. Saudi troops fired on protestors in Bahrain and the country has acted as a haven for ousted dictators from across the region.

Still it is at least a step in the right direction, whatever the underlying reasons. In 2009, Saudi Arabia was rated zero by the World Economic Forum, meaning it had shown no recognisable effort to achieve gender parity. Therefore, any step towards the better treatment of women is a great achievement. You just have to wonder how rational and consistent gender policy can ever be in a country where female politicians have to find someone to drive them into work in the morning!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Dr Who and the Minotaur

Finally got around to watching the latest Dr Who and it was pretty damn good. I really liked the glancing, perspective shots to make the Minotaur monster seem more terrifying at the start of the episode and then the more revealing shots later on when we began to feel a bit more sorry for it.

Some of the insanity clips (as people went mad and began to giggle or PRAISE HIM) were genuinely scary, especially the sudden one where you realize Rita is the next target.

I also enjoyed how they hinted at the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur without ever actually making it explicit. The Dr referred to the space Minotaur as an alien race that descends on more primitive civilizations and feeds off their faith. The alluded to victims managed to trap their 'God' in a virtual prison on a satellite, fed by kidnapped natives of other planets. Surely a more advanced form of the tactic adopted by the Cretans, who locked their Minotaur in a labyrinth and fed it with captured enemies?

So, a scary and surprisingly clever episode that nevertheless had some good moments of humour. Every line from Gibbis about the extreme cowardice of his race was hilarious but I felt sorry enough for him and interested enough in his rat-like desire to survive that he wasn't just a character played for laughs. Similarly the Dr's joke about abandoning Amy when he met Rita was very funny and presaged things to come.*

Great stuff, although after all these psychological episodes I'm looking forward to a more sci-fi finale and the explanation of the Dr's death.

* Now if only they'd explained the room with the sad clown and his balloon!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A sliding scale of pointlessness

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I've been very busy with a new job, dentist appointments, charity training and a visit to Birmingham to see Villa play Newcastle. All very enjoyable but hasn't left me a lot of free time. To make things worse I've been getting back into video games recently - finishing Portal 1, starting a British empire in Rome Total War and even spending a night in Stockwood co-oping the vast majority of Halo 1's campaign mode.

Anyway here are some of my favourite pointless moments in Military history:

1) The 40 minute war of 1896 - Well, 38 to be precise. I've taken longer than that to cook meals. You would have thought that the Zanzibaris might have considered the proximity of British gun ships before deciding to try and throw off their colonial oppressors. (

2) The 1898 Battle of Manila - A mock battle fought between two colonial powers, neither of whom knew that a peace treaty had been signed the day before. They succeeded in their unofficial objective of stopping Filipino guerrillas from seizing the city. However, both sides took casualties despite an agreement that they wouldn't really fight. (

3) The German attack on the USSR in WW2 - This is a biggie. If Hitler hadn't taken on Russia he would have had a reasonable chance of consolidating his Blitzkrieg conquests in Europe. Stalin was so anxious to avoid war that he refused to alert his border troops as the ensuing invasion became more and more certain. The largest army ever to be assembled for an invasion swept across the border of Poland and the Baltic States causing massive damage to the Red Army. However within half a year the German advance was slowing and they found themselves at war on two fronts with both the USSR and the USA - the only remaining powers that could have saved Britain from defeat.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Drunk in charge of Moose

Haven't we all found ourselves in that situation occasionally?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Harrowing film of the week - 'The boy in the striped pyjamas'

Going into this film I was expecting not to like it. My logic behind this was that it received a 12a certificate in the UK. I didn't think that there was any way that you could cover the horrors of the Holocaust within the constraints of a program partially aimed at a pre-pubescent audience

It didn't take long for the film to disillusion me of this opinion. Stylistically it works. Nobody would have been stupid enough to carry out acts of horrendous violence against the prisoners in front of the Kommandant's eight-year-old son. Therefore, the more graphic atrocities are carried out behind closed doors. We get before and after portraits rather than viewing the event itself, as when an SS guard claims he is going to have a 'conversation' with Shmuel about stealing food and the next time we see the Jewish boy he has a badly bruised eye. Somehow this more subtle, child's-eye-view approach to the Holocaust bypassed my usual mental resistance to take in dramatic representations of horror and really got to me at points.

The character acting is fantastic, although only the Kommandant really got the hang of the German accent and the others all sound very English or American. It is interesting to see how Gretel and Bruno adjust to life in such a warped environment; Gretel is charmed by the ideological surity and surface attractiveness of camp life while Bruno retains his innocence and lack of understanding throughout the film. The ending is a real wrench that I didn't see coming even as Bruno burrowed under the fence (the border guards seemed to be especially lax, by the way). By removing the barrier between him and Shmuel he repairs any residual damage to their friendship from the food stealing incident and shows that when not being cowed by a shouting guard he feels no base revulsion or hatred of the people in the camps. However, this same childish lack of understanding means he (and even the more street-wise Shmuel) cannot comprehend the danger he is getting himself into by breaking down the boundaries, enforced by the brutality of the state repression apparatus, between Jews and the Volksdeutsche.

P.s. What is it with all the presentations of terrible people as loving parents this week? First, Omar in Four Lions with his pleasant and jokey home environment where everyone knew he planned to blow himself up for jihad. Then the Kommandant with his obvious affection for his family despite disagreements about his concentration camp posting and genocidal activities. I mean, I know it is crude propaganda to make fictionalised portraits of your (former or current) enemies as wife beaters and alcoholics, but some of them were! Robert Ley was an alcoholic, Goebbels slept around and Goering had a morphine addiction throughout his career as the heir presumptive of the Third Reich. Still it is nothing new for the film-making industry to obsess with the image of the sophisticated and clever Nazi. It raises more interesting questions about motivation and ideology than an examination of the average SA member who was in all likelihood not very clever and enjoyed fighting the Nazi's political enemies on the streets of Berlin.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Fascist's job prospects in post-war Hungary

I am currently a few chapters into Victor Sebestyen's 'Twelve Days: Revolution 1956' - a history book about the Hungarian attempt to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, which was met with Soviet tanks and the execution of the Hungarian communist leadership.

My motivation for delving into East European modern history comes from a few directions. I'm concentrating pretty heavily on German language and history at the moment so it is nice to take a break and look at some closely related but slightly different history. Reading about the Berlin Wall and Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Stasi) has also got me interested in the history of the Warsaw Pact countries. Finally and more tangentially, while watching 'The Hour' (a BBC programme which I eventually got disillusioned with but doggedly followed to the end) I was interested in the portrayal of the Hungarian uprising that they put in between their more plot-central focus on Suez.

Anyway, Sebestyen makes the interesting point that there was quite a large influx of former fascist Arrow Cross members into the post-war AVO security/secret police organisation. This superficially makes a lot of sense as apart from the showy trials at Nuremburg and initial purges in Soviet territory the removal of fascists from key positions always took second place to pragmatic consideration of restoring order and manoeuvering for Cold War advantage. The Headquarters of the two organisations was even the same (and is now a museum to the victims of Communism and Fascism named 'The House of Terror' (

However, apart from the shared HQ I can't find any collaboration of this claim. If anybody knows anything about the issue or can point me towards any good books it would be much appreciated!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Look carefully ...

The Western leaders are engaged in what will hopefully be a lengthy 'honeymoon' period with the National Transitional Council that has successfully led the Libyan revolution. In Paris they agreed to unfreeze more Libyan assets and cheerfully listened to Libyan promises to aim for reconciliation and respect the rule of law in post-Gadaffi Libya.

The BBC of course accompanied this with a picture of happy Libyan women making that most Pro-Western of hand signs, the two finger 'V for victory' gesture.

Except for the smiley woman on the far left, who must have taken a disliking to the camera man.