Sunday, December 30, 2007

Oh damn. We got just what we wished for.

And after that strop, I promptly read Irwin Stelzer's American Account in the Sunday Times, enjoyed every word, and felt better that a handful of sane, decent people are out there, carefully deconstructing the misguided rantings of do-gooders who hate America, capitalism, Big Oil and all those other (Zio)nasties, who are apparently responsible for every mishap in the world...

AMERICANS don’t approve of their president (his approval rating is 36%), even more heartily disapprove of their Congress (approval rating 18%), say their confidence is in free fall and believe their children will be no better or possibly worse off than they are. Three out of four think their country is “on the wrong track”. So they say.

Surprise: the American economy added more than a million new jobs in the year now coming to a close. It grew at an annual rate of between 3% and 4%. Share prices rose by 5% (tech stocks by double digits), recording increases even in recent weeks when the financial markets were supposed to be collapsing. Exports soared, bringing down the long-standing trade deficit. Last month, supposedly traumatised consumers splurged, increasing spending by the largest amount in three-and-a-half years.

In foreign affairs, the troop surge brought down the level of violence in Iraq to a point where American involvement is no longer voters’ No 1 concern. France and Germany ended their contest for the antiAmerican prize, ceding that award to a ranting Venezuelan president whose voters denied him the lifelong term he sought. The French and American presidents had a jolly get-together in Kennebunkport, and the German chancellor sampled the natural glories of the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder are hardly missed. Britain’s prime minister chose to be on the outside looking in, but the special relationship will survive his frostiness.

Meanwhile, Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin point out in Commentary magazine that crime is way down; teenage drug use, pregnancies, smoking and drinking are all on the decline; welfare reform is working, bringing down child poverty; and the divorce rate is falling. Most important of all, unlike young men and women in other developed countries, Americans have enough confidence in the future to make lots of babies. This is hardly a society in the winter of its discontent, no matter what Americans tell pollsters.

In short, 2007 was hardly an annus horribilis for Americans. It did not, however, end on a high note. Growth slowed. Houses, once cash machines, became more like ordinary investments that can decline in value a bit after a spectacular run-up. Foolish lenders found ignorant or greedy borrowers, and made loans that will not be repaid. Mathematical geniuses at investment banks built models that failed to incorporate the fact that other geniuses were doing the same thing, producing a concerted dash for the exits when the models said “sell”, but failed to say to whom. Banks, awash with cash, so distrusted their colleagues that they refused to lend to each other, creating what is now called a credit crunch. The Opec cartel decided that oil prices at about $90 a barrel are nicer than at the $28 that it once set as its benchmark. And politicians made it so profitable for farmers to grow fuel rather than food, that the prices of corn, wheat, animal feed, meat and, more important to some, the hops and barley used for beer-making, took off.

Through it all, the world learnt to be careful what it wished for. International institutions and foreign governments have been berating Americans for “unbalancing” world trade by running huge trade deficits.

Finally, the markets agreed, and drove down the dollar. The result has been an increase in the competitiveness of made-in-US goods in foreign markets, and a decline in the competitiveness of foreign-made goods in America. The world got what it wished for: a decline in the American trade deficit. So BMW is laying off thousands of workers as the dollars it gets for the cars it sells in America no longer buy enough euros to meet its payroll; Italian designers are reduced to using cotton where once they would consider only silk; and European hotels and restaurants are pining for a return of the gauche but high-spending Americans who have switched vacation plans to American resorts.

Foreigners also complained that America was presiding over an era of too-easy credit. Complain no more. Your wish has been granted. Mortgages are harder to come by, credit-card applications are being turned down in record numbers, and banks around the country are being sniffier when discussing deals with borrowers. The effect of this tightening, and of the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage and related markets, is just what the doctor ordered to put a stop to the lending so many of America’s critics railed against, and quite properly, too.

But it turns out that the greed for high returns was not confined to Wall Street. From London to Frankfurt to Sydney lenders have snapped up bits of paper into which were bundled risky promises to pay by borrowers who are not likely to do that. Result: balance-sheet wreckage, a need by many banks to raise new capital, and borrowers unable to roll over their loans.

Exit some but not all of the chief executives who presided over the misappraisal of risk, clutching multi-million-dollar golden good-byes. Enter the sovereign wealth funds. Having written down the value of so many assets that they needed infusions of equity, Citi, UBS and others followed the money, most of which turned out to be in China, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The sovereign wealth funds of these countries dipped into their petty cash for the odd billion, and ended up with significant stakes in many American banks. President George Bush says he is happy to see this money come home; others worry about the political influence China and the Arab nations might inject into what were once purely commercial decisions.

What does all this portend for 2008? Watch this space.

Irwin Stelzer is a business adviser and director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute

Slacking off

That's the trouble with being troubled by the world. Too many issues to blog about - an embarrassment of riches. The opposite of writer's block - a flood of topics so great it's impossible to know where to start, so you don't start at all. That's pretty much been the story of this entire year in fact. The world seriously pisses me off. Or at the very least, it frustrates me.

I wonder if this is some kind of "curse of intelligence" (or curse of conceit!) - suffered by lots of bright people with bright ideas, who watch our business leaders, politicians and members of the public at large making absurd decisions (or indecisions) and generally botching things up for the good guys.

Hopefully 2008 will be a bit more relaxing. Otherwise I am quite tempted to hop off to Bhutan with a suitcase of cash, and retire to the only country where a national happiness index is maintained and considered with every major decision. The fact that it is run by a benign autocratic king may have some appeal - at last, a role model!

Happy new year to all (except for those arseholes on my hitlist)...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Squalid as a Rock

There's been a lot of media hype over Northern Rock, and a vast number of journalists with limited grasp of economics or financial markets, blathering on about it, in a way that has in my view massively exacerbated both the run on deposits and the subsequent dive out of its stock. Sadly once again, I must conclude that this is (other than the usual British habit of press sensationalism) down to an inherent bias, which has been successfully inculcated in the common readership, against the "fat cats" who have apparently sent this country to rack and ruin by developing a sophisticated financial sector that appears heavily reliant on cheap debt. In turn, there is of course the mass hysteria and herd mentality that drives people to behave irrationally.

If one takes a look at Northern Rock's actual business model, we can see they were vulnerable to a complete dry-up in sensibly priced debt, because they had plumped for a strategy of borrowing in the wholesale market and taking an arbitrage (ie a bit of a margin) on lending out to the public as mortgages.

It's also worth noting that they have literally zero sub-prime exposure (ie loans to poor, broke people in crap houses), as their lending criteria have always been consistently conservative, which is how they got to be a FTSE 100 company with a decent reputation in the first place. They have a loan book that's 90% prime or near-prime residential (loans at risk of arrears were less than 0.5% last year, half the industry norm), a chunk of nicely secured commercial, and a sliver of unsecured personal loan exposure.

The entire sub-prime side they do have is actually secured by Lehman Brothers (anyone want to tell the media and send Lehman crashing down?!). I think even a complete moron (ie Alistair Darling) can understand then that Northern Rock's trouble is NOT because it is itself directly exposed to the sub-prime market, either here or in America, as most people seem to assume.

So the underlying security on the debt they owed back to the market is still there - it's just very illiquid. In fact, I think they still hold something like £95bn of assets in this way.

So what's the crisis all about? The way Northern Rock worked was threefold (note this is extremely simplified!) :

1. Use retail deposits (ie your cash in their bank accounts) to lend out to new customers. This gets hard when customers suddenly queue up and take £2bn of cash out.

2. Then package up blocks of this debt and sell it in the markets, and basically put that cash back in your account and/or make some fresh loans. Hence with a general credit crunch and concern about that kind of debt package (mortgage-backed securities), it became impossible to parcel up these loans and sell them (ie securitisation).

3. Just borrow directly in the capital markets (ie from other banks and institutions) for some fresh cash to lend onwards, but in the summer, the cost of borrowing exceeded how much they could charge to new mortgagees, so they had difficulty covering all that cash.

So they were basically stuffed by a model that relied too heavily on being able to use the markets to allow them to take on new loans and keep enough cash in circulation to make new loans - 75% or so of their money came from this rather than retail deposits. There is still exactly the same inherent security behind the bank as before (collateral), mostly in the form of a shedload of real estate which they have a first charge over.

Before the run on their cash, they had about £27bn of liquid assets (ie cash and other stuff they could lay their hands on easily). They also had a loan book (ie money out to customers) of £87bn. The money being put in by the Bank of England and the Treasury is covering loans to new customers, and securitising existing parcels of debt, because Northern Rock can't borrow competitively in the market at the moment. Otherwise the bank would grind to a complete halt and cause even more panic and devaluation.

Now the big question is what's securing all of that. The main statistic you hear quoted is LTV, or loan to value. This means how much leeway is there between how much the bank has lent against a particular asset, say a flat in Hendon, and what it's actually worth if the owner stops paying and the bank has to repossess and sell it to get its money out.

Right now, Northern Rock is sitting on a 2007 book average of 78% LTV, so unless there's a pile of defaults and a huge crash in property prices (nobody seriously expects anything more than stagnation), the loans they are making are really well-secured. Their historic mortgage book LTV is less than 60%. That £60bn of loan balance (£87bn-£27bn) is well-covered.

In other words, all this panic about the government losing £25bn is baseless. The issue is not IF, but WHEN and HOW it pays the money back, because this is a problem born out of liquidity issues from their unfortunate choice of business strategy, and because now they are in this downward spiral, other institutions will not lend them to pay back the government and resume normal business.

Besides, if you think Northern Rock is in a mess, take a look at HBOS, several times bigger, with assets of around £212bn and a loan portfolio of nearly £377bn - an exposure of £165bn, and in riskier market segments than Northern Rock. Guess what - it's not in trouble, well pretty much because nobody panicked, and it's in enough other businesses that it's not so reliant on the credit markets to keep liquidity.

So if you have a mortgage or savings account with Northern Rock, it's unlikely you are at any risk. If you are a shareholder, I'm afraid this is entirely at your own risk and as they say in the small print, the value of stocks can go down as well as up.

In real terms, if the bank had not been a public company with reporting obligations, they could have just shut up shop for a few months, not made any more loans except from retail deposits, and taken a hit on their profits. However, a quoted, listed bank that's in the FTSE 100 and one of Britain biggest, doesn't get that luxury.

The lesson here is that they were over-reliant on a single business strategy, which they did not have enough of a fallback plan in place for in the event of market turmoil, a hike in rates and the total absence of inter-bank lending and appetite for mortgage-backed securities. The shareholders have to take this on the chin - they invested because they believed in the bank's management to go with a winning strategy but have a hedge in place, and they were found wanting.

The only realistic course of action now is for everyone to stay the course and wait for Northern Rock to get access to some fresh debt by one means or another. The Bank of England is lending at "penal rates", albeit with interest rolled up - its base rate is at 5.75% and it's lending at something a bit over LIBOR (the basic rate at which banks historically lend each other), apparently at a rate of 7%. Effectively then, the Bank of England is going to make a profit when it gets its money back.

In practice this is not something Northern Rock can stick with forever and it means it may have to accept a take-over at any price, and get a decent new operator in charge who should be able to find a better lender. Citigroup have already offered a £10bn credit line, but unless LIBOR goes down a bit, they will charge more than 7% for the money, with more onerous conditions.

The alternatives are totally unpalatable - nationalise the bank and somehow hope to turn it round and still have to find new finance as part of any sale to retrieve "taxpayers' money", or simply run down the bank by not making any new loans, and finance out existing debt as and when possible (though predatory hedge funds and institutions will not go easy and will make a buck by buying these debts at advantageous rates to themselves). This would also crush the share price once and for all, and effectively see the end of the bank, with all those lay-offs - also unappealing.

The right thing to do may have been not to intervene other than guarantee retail deposits, and let the bank get gobbled up earlier and more painfully by sharks in the market. But I think that now the state has intervened, it has to stick it out.

Most of all, the press has to stop stoking the fire. This morning I called Radio 5Live's phone-in after one too many misguided members of the public called in to blame "the government for spending taxpayer's money" or "greedy hedge funds for getting us into this mess". I spoke to one of the producers, and he asked what I thought should be done. I said a good start would be to stop people voicing opinions that were not based on fact or any understanding of finance and economics.

He proceeded to have a massive go at me because "everyone has a right to an opinion". This is true, but they should not voice them when it's detrimental and amounts to corporate slander that, when taken on such a mass level and put in emotive terms like "900 per taxpayer" or "almost as much as we spend on secondary education", materially affects Northern Rock's ability to see this out, and hence (irony!) puts shareholders, Northern Rock employees, and the country's lent capital, at more risk.

The BBC is a leading culprit. But hey, it's a publicly financed body with no shareholders. Just as well, because it would never survive in the private sector. Imagine the shares on the slide as repeated misdemeanours come to light - phone-in scandals, failure to report objectively, massive bureaucratic waste etc. Unlike Northern Rock, where people can vote with their feet by moving savings elsewhere and selling their shares, I can be fined and given a criminal record for refusing to pay their licence fee, even though I disagree with their politics, think the standard of most shows has deteriorated, and find the standard of management appalling.

So if there is any multi-billion pound black hole that the government continues to pour money into, it's the one in White City, not the one in the City of London.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Peckish?

Just sat through the usual ITV emo-reportage about the poor hungry ill Palestinians, and how it was all Israel's fault. After showing some food trucks and warehouses, a man with colitis, some ambulances in a queue, plus a handful of rockets being fired (but of course none of them landing near Jews), then a rally of masked gunmen, we got an interview with someone from UNRWA, who blamed Israel for punishing "civilians" who have nothing to do with the rockets.

Did I miss something here? Those "civilians" voted en masse for Hamas, who are either firing the rockets or failing to stop them, then took sides in running internecine battles between various factions, who seem capable of uniting only to launch a few more rockets.

Meanwhile, Israel is supposed to supply power, water, fuel, food and medicine to these people. UNRWA and a sympathetic media can blame Israel for removing these services, but they seem to have forgotten the bit where the Arab world is sitting on the biggest reserves of oil and gas, a 25% stake in one of our major supermarkets, and where they and the Palestinian leadership have spent the last 60 years spending the money on themselves or trying to wipe Israel out, rather than build a Palestinian state worthy of the name.

But still, when Israel pulled out of Gaza, Jewish philanthropists around the world paid for the preservation of the massive greenhouses built on sand dunes, so a viable agricultural business could grow and the Palestinians could feed themselves. Instead, the "civilians" ransacked them.

The world gets very carried away by the little picture - individual suffering of ordinary people - which is heart-rending and unjust. But the injustice is being served by their own side - the perpetrators of violence - and the biased international institutions, politicians and journalists who think they are helping them - the perpetuators of poverty.

The big picture is pretty simple - have your own terror-led state whose main objective is the destruction of its neighbour, ululate on the street and hand out sweeties when Al Qaeda fly planes into Manhattan buildings, take pride in the death of every Jew, man, woman and child (perhaps even stone a couple of kids or shoot a baby), kidnap journalists who are actually favourable to your cause, scare the crap out of aid agencies who are usually also on your side so they have to leave, and you should pretty much expect to fend for yourself. Make peace, do trade, be stable, eat well etc etc.

The citizens of Nazi Germany voted for Hitler. They didn't then expect Londoners during the Blitz to send them food parcels or tankers of diesel. Why should the people of Sderot want to man the nearby gates to Gaza or the Ashdod refinery and do the same?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The rape of Europe - one year on

This article was published exactly a year ago in the Brussels Journal...

The Rape of Europe

The German author Henryk M. Broder recently told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (12 October) that young Europeans who love freedom, better emigrate. Europe as we know it will no longer exist 20 years from now. Whilst sitting on a terrace in Berlin, Broder pointed to the other customers and the passers-by and said melancholically: “We are watching the world of yesterday.”

Europe is turning Muslim. As Broder is sixty years old he is not going to emigrate himself. “I am too old,” he said. However, he urged young people to get out and “move to Australia or New Zealand. That is the only option they have if they want to avoid the plagues that will turn the old continent uninhabitable.”

Many Germans and Dutch, apparently, did not wait for Broder’s advice. The number of emigrants leaving the Netherlands and Germany has already surpassed the number of immigrants moving in. One does not have to be prophetic to predict, like Henryk Broder, that Europe is becoming Islamic. Just consider the demographics. The number of Muslims in contemporary Europe is estimated to be 50 million. It is expected to double in twenty years. By 2025, one third of all European children will be born to Muslim families. Today Mohammed is already the most popular name for new-born boys in Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and other major European cities.

Broder is convinced that the Europeans are not willing to oppose islamization. “The dominant ethos,” he told De Volkskrant, “is perfectly voiced by the stupid blonde woman author with whom I recently debated. She said that it is sometimes better to let yourself be raped than to risk serious injuries while resisting. She said it is sometimes better to avoid fighting than run the risk of death.”

In a recent op-ed piece in the Brussels newspaper De Standaard (23 October) the Dutch (gay and self-declared “humanist”) author Oscar Van den Boogaard refers to Broder’s interview. Van den Boogaard says that to him coping with the islamization of Europe is like “a process of mourning.” He is overwhelmed by a “feeling of sadness.” “I am not a warrior,” he says, “but who is? I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it.”

As Tom Bethell wrote in this month’s American Spectator: “Just at the most basic level of demography the secular-humanist option is not working.” But there is more to it than the fact that non-religious people tend not to have as many children as religious people, because many of them prefer to “enjoy” freedom rather than renounce it for the sake of children. Secularists, it seems to me, are also less keen on fighting. Since they do not believe in an afterlife, this life is the only thing they have to lose. Hence they will rather accept submission than fight. Like the German feminist Broder referred to, they prefer to be raped than to resist.

“If faith collapses, civilization goes with it,” says Bethell. That is the real cause of the closing of civilization in Europe. Islamization is simply the consequence. The very word Islam means “submission” and the secularists have submitted already. Many Europeans have already become Muslims, though they do not realize it or do not want to admit it.

Some of the people I meet in the U.S. are particularly worried about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. They are correct when they fear that anti-Semitism is also on the rise among non-immigrant Europeans. The latter hate people with a fighting spirit. Contemporary anti-Semitism in Europe (at least when coming from native Europeans) is related to anti-Americanism. People who are not prepared to resist and are eager to submit, hate others who do not want to submit and are prepared to fight. They hate them because they are afraid that the latter will endanger their lives as well. In their view everyone must submit.

This is why they have come to hate Israel and America so much, and the small band of European “islamophobes” who dare to talk about what they see happening around them. West Europeans have to choose between submission (islam) or death. I fear, like Broder, that they have chosen submission – just like in former days when they preferred to be red rather than dead.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

We are all Israel now...

So, you bunch of raving English hypocrites. Last summer, you were "all Hizbollah now". Seems that this autumn, the yellow flags and terrorist chic kheffiyahs which seem to have proliferated recently will all be neatly folded away, and Israel will be called upon to win something.

Of course, this isn't an existential war or anything, so you are allowed to support the Zionists on this occasion. It's just football.

England are in this mess because they failed to beat Macedonia at home, there being no shame in an away draw in Tel Aviv, where nobody beat Israel in the last World Cup campaign and Croatia scraped a 4-3 victory in their tie, and the now-legendary element of farce and bad luck about the loss in Zagreb.

Still, I guess it's a nice situation for the armchair Israel-haters that make up about 70% of this fucking country. Israel get schmeissed or we do you a favour. And yes, I mean WE. After all, I failed Norman Tebbit's "cricket test" - and supported Israel in the recent qualifying games. In part this was because I thought Israel needed the points more and England should have been capable of qualifying by beating all the other sides.

It's also because I despair of the manner in which the country sees its shallow yobbish support of its football team as its national identity rather than just an expression of it. This is best shown in the way that the dreary tune of the national anthem is dragged out several times per match as a strange terrace chant.

I wonder if Ladbrokes will take my bet that if Israel do lose, there will be at least one statement that makes it into the media, blaming them for some kind of "Russian-Jewish-Zionist conspiracy" because of the multiple ties between Abramovich, Zahavi, Gaydamak, Grant and so on...

Anyway, luckily for me, here is a chance for me to get a win-win result too. Israel wins and helps England: jackpot scenario. Israel loses, and I get to rant a bit more about how everyone is always blaming Israel for everything that is wrong in their lives.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Drossrail

As if the Olympics weren't enough to drive Londoners to an early grave (I quote Freedman's grandpa, who exclaimed on hearing that London won the bid - "thank goodness I'll be dead by then!" - though we note that at the current rate of progress, he may be around to eat his words)...

Crossrail today got the green light from El Gordo, so we can look forward to a mere 10 more years of transport misery at a cost of £16 billion (supposing it opens on time and on budget). Okay, let's apply standard British grands projets mathematics and add broadly 25% overruns on both counts, so that brings us to £20bn and an opening in 2020. Even I think Grandpa might not last that long - he'd be 104!

Of course, the whole scheme is a total waste of time and money, compared to the alternatives. Even George Galloway is not entirely in favour of it (perhaps I should therefore support it on principle?!). Let's review some of the reasons being bandied around for building it:

1. Existing lines and stations are really overcrowded. 2. Journey times can be reduced dramatically. 3. This will regenerate big chunks of London. 4. We can spread the range from which commuters get to London much wider and relieve pressure on London house prices. 5. Connection times from Heathrow to the City and Canary Wharf will be massively improved. 6. This will create jobs and attract investment, by making London and the south-east more competitive.

Let's break it down...

1. Existing lines and stations are really overcrowded.

This is true but what has been proven on the roads - and quoted at length by the same tree-huggers who seem to love this project, is that "if you build it, they will come". Add more trains, throw a shedload of subsidy at it, create a captive audience, ramp up prices, and the trains stay full. Not only that, but look at the route - see any new stations along it?

The underlying problem is that people don't live near where they work, and have to commute every day at the same time. Shorter journeys, taken less frequently and/or at more varied times, would provide the best remedy. This could be achieved in part by a pricing system that has more subtlety to it than "loadsamoney before 9.30am". The Oyster system is pretty clever - why not start rush hour prices at 7.30am, and encourage early risers? And the evenings are just as bad - why is there no premium for travel originating in Zone 1 between say 4.30pm and 6.30pm?

Companies would have to be part of the solution. At the moment, the vast majority of commuters pay for their own tickets of course, and may have little say over when they come in to work. Perhaps by adding the employer and place of work to the registration details of Oyster cards, TfL could develop a system of incentives (perhaps in the form of public transport travel credits!) for companies that push a certain percentage of staff away from peak travel. This has to be good for TfL, as the reduction in capital cost by simply using existing capacity better, rather than building more, surely far outweighs any cost of running such a scheme.


2. Journey times can be reduced dramatically.

Actually, this is a bit of a fallacy. The real time-consuming issue on most of the "comparable" journey times quoted by Crossrail fans is the slow crawl of suburban trains across congested tracks into mainline stations, the funnelling through the terminus down to the Tube, and then the brawl to get onto a train and another on arrival.

The wiser transport consultant will tell you that removing these bottlenecks would allow more longer distance trains to be run faster and more punctually, and speed up journeys without actually making the trains go any quicker. In other words, more direct routes need to be opened up that avoid the clogging up of termini and disgorging of crowds from overground services onto already packed underground ones.

If one could amalgamate every suburban service (say the ones that terminate inside the M25) into the Tube network, journey times would reduce on average by 10 minutes for users of those services. This may not be the 20-odd minutes offered by Crossrail, but it can come at a fraction of the time and cost, and brings the same level of comfort. In fact, as you will see below, it applies to a much wider swathe of London than Crossrail's route, so the benefits are shared among more people.

A prime example - to get from Shepperton in deepest south-west London to the City typically takes nearly an hour and a half in rush hour. Of this, 10 minutes is the walk from the terminus platform to the Waterloo & City (Drain) Line, and 10 minutes is the timetabled extra time the identical journey takes in the very heart of the peak period, because it spends longer loading up at stations and then has to crawl pretty much from before Clapham Junction all the way to town.

At the same time, a journey from Alexandra Palace in the leafy northern suburbs all the way through to Blackfriars involves a schlepp down the hill to the WAGN line station, then either a dogleg on the tube to meet the already heaving Thameslink (with a long walk at King's Cross), and a journey time of maybe 75 minutes if all goes well.

Let's go one step further - if they wanted to go and visit each other, it would take maybe 2 1/2 hours...

But what if I told you there was a very big hole just outside Waterloo station, which is used as the service entrance to the Drain, and could be opened into a fully-fledged exit ramp up to the mainline tracks? And what if the Drain ran directly underneath Blackfriars station? And at the other end, the trackbed exists for a line that was pulled up, that ran from Finsbury Park (where our Ali Pali resident will have made his first change of trains) through Highgate and right up the hill to where the palace sits? And what if, at the other end, it turned out that a proposal to extend the original Great Northern Electrics tunnels from Moorgate station to Bank to join the Waterloo & City Line have existed for 100 years? That's a distance of about 1/4 mile.

In other words, for some fairly minimal tinkering, and putting into place a short stretch of tunnel that has long been considered by operators and engineers, these journeys can all be made vastly simpler. This same process can be recreated all over London, as well as some neat alternative uses of peripheral routes so that people can avoid having to go through the centre of town when travelling between suburbs.


3. This will regenerate big chunks of London.

Not really. The route is now largely along existing lines, and the whole point is to make it a non-stop service, so other than disrupting poor people by digging under their houses, it's hard to see this affecting them. Besides, this will come too late for the other great regeneration project of our time (/sarc), the Olympics, and avoids stopping too close to the glorious solution to our housing problem known as the Thames Gateway (aka Thames flood plains).


4. We can spread the range from which commuters get to London much wider and relieve pressure on London house prices.

Again, not an overly compelling argument, as the satellite towns it is going to are already suffering house price inflation. If this is really going to happen, the line needs to stretch out and encompass half the mainline services into Paddington and Liverpool Street, so that towns like Ipswich and Swindon can become realistic commuter territory. But it isn't going to.


5. Connection times from Heathrow to the City and Canary Wharf will be massively improved.

Firstly, the serious businessman from Europe flies into London City Airport, which is tripling its capacity over the next few years, and is actually walkable to Canary Wharf if you have a light briefcase.

Secondly, Stansted is becoming the airport of choice for transatlantic business-only routes, and respectable mainstreamers like American Airlines are now opening up routes there. It has a 40 minute transfer time to Liverpool Street, and the rail line already exists (although there's no service yet - there's a business idea!) to allow the same to Stratford, from which Canary Wharf is 5 minutes away.

In other words, the general geography of Heathrow is more of a problem than the links to it can mitigate against - never mind the well-reported misery of flying through there.

Besides, what if (here we go again) I told you there was a small railway line that ran from Paddington, where the Heathrow Express terminates, through the City and as far as Whitechapel? It also branches out to Euston, runs under Oxford Street, and has a series of its own stations. It's called MailRail, and it was mothballed by the Post Office a few years ago.

Whilst it's too small to run Tube trains through - the two-way tunnel is still only about 9 feet wide - it could be adapted (by adding a second layer to the tunnel a la NY Subway) to run Docklands Light Railway type trains, which could whizz out to Heathrow or at least provide a direct link from one side of town to the other, relieving congestion on the other lines.


6. This will create jobs and attract investment, by making London and the south-east more competitive.

I think most economists will concur that London has achieved a certain critical mass. Unless we simply stagnate, investment and jobs will always be drawn to London, at least relative to other parts of the UK and Europe. Building white elephants creates a certain number of temporary jobs, but also deters investment, especially when you start slapping compulsory tax hikes on companies who happen to be along the route.


So where is this all going? It is time to unveil the Freedmanslife vision of London's Underground!

I think this can be created for roughly the same price as that single Crossrail line, and in the same timeframe. The methodology has been alluded to above - get rid of bottlenecks at termini, use lighter modes of transport that are more physically flexible (they turn tighter corners, climb steeper gradients, can be fully automatic, can run as trams for part of the way like the Metro in Manchester) and make better use of line capacity, revisit old abandoned stations, lines and projects, and take a much more wholesale approach.

It's several hundred miles longer than Crossrail, and despite the fact that I have yet to have the energy to mark in all the stations, you will quickly be able to work out how many more journeys you could hop on a light train for instead of taking the car. Hopefully if you click on it, you should get an expandable version that is legible. Otherwise try clicking here.



Thursday, September 20, 2007

Congregation Ahavat Parnassah


Dear Members/Friends/Major benefactors,

It's time once more for my annual High Holydays message. This time of year always comes round so quickly after the summer delights of weddings, warm weather, trips to Eilat and periods of mourning. Normally at this time I sum up the last year, the events, people and the trends - all, of course, as they affect the Jews. Often I segue into a plug for our appeal (in which we reguarly trounce our neighbouring shul Shaarey Suburbia!) and tell you about all the worthwhile charities that we will be supporting as well as discussing the UJIA. But this year I want to do something different. I want to think about the notion of the new year. Now I know that many of you don't like it when I discuss religious matters, and I get many letters along the line of 'that not what I pay my membership for!'. But humour me for a moment. It may turn out that what is and isn't religious isn't so clear at all.

A passing non-Jew might well conclude, on walking through a Jewish area, that the Yamim Noraim represents the festival of Jewish hat wearing, double parking and standing outside the synagogue. A quick thinking gentile might even construct an impromtu theology, perhaps Jews wait outside the synagogue to commerate waiting for Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai? Perhaps the strange semites wear hats and plimsols to recreate wandering in the wilderness? Either way the encounter at the (heavily fortified) gate of the synagogue is one of ethnic separation and suspicion, a small checkpoint to weed out undesirables so that once inside the full blown camaradarie of the yearly Jewish love in can begin. Strange then that Rosh Hashanah is actually a wholly universalist festival. Unlike all the others, Rosh Hashanah has no link to the Jewish people, no commeration of events in Jewish history, it marks a global event rather than an ethnic one. Radically in the rabbinic debate over where the near falls, Tishri wins over its rival Nissan, Rosh Hashanah is counted rather than Pesach, its polar opposite.

Aside then, from a polemically universalist commemoration of creation, what meaning can we find in our New Year? We learn that on Rosh Hashanah books are opened. in the plural. So this new year I'd like to suggest a we open some different books (although I realise that many rabbis have been sacked for such offenses). Not just the book of the Jewish people, not just the shul membership list, not just the books of jewish comfort, self-congratuation and platitudes. Many more than this: Books of the Saducees, Karaites, Gnostics, Judaeo-Christians, excommunicated kabbalists, anti-nomian Hassids, Sabbatians, Bolsheviks, Bundists, Judao-Islamic Syncretists, Rabbinic Anarchists, Half-jews, Queers, Anti-Zionists, Neo-Canaanites and 4 worlds, dancing, spliff smoking, meditating pardigm shifters. We need all of these, as Franz Rosenzweig taught "We must not give up anything, not renounce anything, but lead everything back to Judaism. From the periphery back to the centre; from the outside in". We need new books, or rather the forgotten old ones, to begin to deal with the slew of new questions. Let me briefly allude to some, aside from the obvious problems such as the price of Challah and poor quality of kosher wine: the end of 'meaning', end of jewish peoplehood, end of jewish nationalism, post Zionism, post-religion, and post-insularity-moving towards open ended, reconstructed, de-hierarchilized, joyful Post-Judaism to come. At this new year, we're desperately crying out for new books, new visions, new Jews.

Newness of course can be rather transient. What of the fate of previous New Jews, those strapping tough young hebrews who would work the land and shrug off the diaspora mentality? Somewhere between gentrification, Commentary magazine and the Neo Conservatives the new jews soon become old Jews, fitting in perfectly with a materialist ethnocentric worldview. The other, more long lasting usage is of comparison, x are the new Jews. Fit in Blacks, Asians, Muslims, Romanies etc. as the time requires. Here the newness is again transient, what if you are a new Jew that, with a change of circumstances, ceases to be a new Jew? It all gets rather confusing; do you then continue to be a Jew (perhaps becoming an old one), looking out for new new Jews, or do you, following the model of the genetic Jews, cease to be a Jew when others peoples are in the place where you previously stood? Must it be like Yehuda Ha Levi's dark fantasy, that once we gain power we are as immoral as anyone else? If you can only be a new Jew once it would seem so, it must remain a temporary state.

Just as the new year offers us an apparent fresh start, so being a new jew can be seen as a break, a radical transformation, a new begining, marking a total separation from the old. Yet much newness must take its lead from what has been and what has been forgotten. The historical positioning of Jews on the margins has led to a rich history of thought which is invaluable to the new jew. Now I know that many of us may indeed possess the little book of Jewish Knowledge, or even the Second little book of Jewish knowledge, but I feel our heritage may have something a little more substantial to offer, perhaps that newness is also oldness and that knowledge comes in books which are not necessarily little.

There is however, a cerain seduction in the new year's reinvention; the belief in a kind of all-too-easily-attained perfection. Now I know that there's a tendency to believe that the nice Sir Sacks must know all the answers and indeed live an exempary version of the life of a Jew, but we must be suspicious of what we find underneath his crown. Of course I appreciate fully that living in Mill Hill must seem like having arrived at the Jewish utopia, but I am here to warn you about the dangers of such thoughts. If our newness is to remain new and fresh, it can never arrive. It can never expect to arrive. Like the messiah, a perfect form of Judaism must be on the on hand continually strived for and on the other hand expected without a horizon of expectation. I would like to think that Judaism is perfectable, but this perfect version always remains to come. This messianic structure means that we always strive to improve on what we have and breeds in us a deep suspicion of those who claim or appear to have reached a Hebraic nirvanah.

At the end of Yom Kippur, we (those are still in shul) say Next Year in Jerusalem, the city whose gates the Messiah will first walk through. We say these words knowing that we will say them next year and the year after. We say these words even if we are sitting in Jerusalem itself. (Perhaps next year will will even have been able to take advantage of a bargain Ryanair flight to the holy city, but let me remind you, Michael O'Leary is not the messiah.) We can never reach Jerusalem, we can't even expect to reach Jerusalem, but we must never stop attempting to reach Jereusalem, a messianic post-time when wolves will be lying down with lambs, or perhaps more radically, when the human will have left the lamb alone. This is genuine messianism. Rather than madly proclaiming dead rabbis to be the messiah, or cajoling lapsed jews into performing mindless mitzvot, its about understanding a structure without content which demands of us that we never stop striving for a perfectly unattainable perfection.

Now, don't take any of this the wrong way. I won't be delaying the end of Nei'lah on the grounds that the end of the fast must always be 'yet to come'. And don't try turning up at my house univited on shabbat expecting some 'radical hospitality'! Maybe though, when we have our next AGM and debate the key issues of our times, such as whether we need a rotating bimah and should pets (but not women) be counted in our minyan we can start to see look ahead, to take small steps towards building a new Jewishness that is genuinely fit for post modernity.

Finally, I want to wish mazeltov to David and Rachel on their recent divorce, Yosef/Yusuf on his conversion to Islam and Shirley Cohen and Barry Weinberg at keeping their adulturous relationship secret until now. Look forward to seeing you all (In my dreams) in shul on Kol Nodrei. Just remember if you dont have a ticket you wont get in! I Know I said its a universalistic festival, but there are limits.........

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen

Special request: Our synagogue is a holy building. Please treat it with respect. Please leave mobiles, Xboxes, vibrators, car keys, pen-knives, recreational drugs, with security at the entrance of the shul. They may be returned at end of service.

Kiddush

Our kiddushim are the talk of north-west London thanks to the hard work of the lovely Ladies Guild. They seem, however to have been rather too popular as certain indiviudals have been spotted arriving to shul just for the kiddush and avoiding the service. This is not permitted, and anyone attempting this will be apprehended by our security team.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nous accusons ensemble

Melanie Phillips is back after a summer break, and is on top form. Well ok, she has plagiarised her title from the core theme of a classic post-7/7 Freedmanslife posting, but I think it's forgivable, besides which it allowed me to get creative on my French... this is worthy of a reprint in full:

September 11, 2007
Nous accusons!

Tomorrow, an appeal starts in Paris in a case which encapsulates all that is most rotten and murderous about the media war against Israel and its truly monstrous consequences. At the beginning of the second intifada, an event occurred which more than any other was to incite mass hysteria against Israel, lead directly to the terrorist murder of Jews and whip up demonstrations and incitement against Israel and the west throughout the Arab and Muslim world. On September 30, 2000 viewers around the world watched a short news clip screened by the TV station France 2 which appeared to show the killing by the Israel Defence Force of a Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, at Netzarim junction in Gaza. The boy was shown crouching with his father behind a barrel next to a concrete wall in an apparently vain attempt to shelter from the gun-battle between Israel and the Palestinians that was raging around them. In his commentary on the incident France 2’s Israel correspondent, Charles Enderlin, declared that the IDF had killed the boy.

This footage become the iconic image of the intifada and the Palestinian ‘struggle’ against Israel. It served to incite terrorist violence and atrocities as well as inflaming hatred of Israel around the world. It was used in Palestinian educational materials to incite other children to turn themselves into human bombs. It was used repeatedly in al Qaeda’s videotape of the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. It was used to whip Iraqi Republican Guards into a frenzy before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. And most stomach-churning of all, it was invoked by the Palestinian mob in Ramallah that lynched IDF reservists Yosef Avrahami and Vadim Novesche, who had taken a wrong turning, two weeks after the alleged al Durah killing. As Joanna Chandler wrote in FrontPageMag.com:

The consequences of their fatal error are well known: they were tortured and beaten to death in the Palestinian Authority police station, and their lifeless bodies thrown out of the station’s second story window to a throng of men howling, Allahu Akbar —God is great! They commenced to dismember and disembowel the soldiers’ corpses, and then passed the entrails on a platter to a hysterical mob numbering in the thousands who rejoiced as they literally chewed and swallowed the remains of their hated Jews. What is lesser known is that while eating the flesh and blood of their victims, in satisfaction and triumph, the good citizens of Ramallah chanted, not only, Allahu-Akbar—but the name of Mohamed al Durah!

But it quickly became apparent that the IDF could not have killed al Durah. Initially, the Israeli government had taken responsibility for his death, but it later concluded that the whole thing was a fraud because it was physically impossible for the IDF to have shot at the al Duras from their position that day at the Netzarim junction. Several other independent commentators came to the same conclusion, including extensive investigations by the French-language Israeli news agency MENA, a German television documentary film by Esther Schapira called Three Bullets and a Dead Child: Who Shot Muhammad al-Dura? and the Atlantic Monthly; along with Richard Landes, a Boston University historian, who has claimed on his blog, Augean Stables, his website, The Second Draft, and in three films—Pallywood, The Birth of an Icon, and Icon of Hatred—that the al Dura ‘killing’ was staged.

On November 24, 2004, Philippe Karsenty, founder of the French online media watchdog, Media Ratings, sent out an email to his subscribers in which he accused the France 2 television network of staging the al Durah ‘killing’. He called for the resignation of both Charles Enderlin and France 2’s News Director, Arlette Chabot, for their role in promulgating the alleged hoax. France 2 and Enderlin sued Karsenty for defamation, and won. Tomorrow sees the opening of Karsenty’s appeal. The behaviour to date of both the French judges and France 2 has been simply outrageous.

The footage in question was filmed by a Palestinian cameraman, Talal abu Rahma. France 2 is holding 27 minutes of raw footage of his film which it refuses to release. Independent investigators have repeatedly asked it to do so. It refuses point blank. Why? Since it transmitted parts of this footage, why does it refuse to release the rest of it? The most likely reason is that the unscreened footage proves that the ‘killing’ was indeed nothing of the kind.

During his trial last summer, Karsenty presented all the investigative evidence that had been accumulated. The prosecution brought no witnesses, and challenged none of his evidence. The recommendation of the Procureur was that Karsenty be acquitted. Yet astoundingly, the court decided against Karsenty and in favour of France 2 and Enderlin. It seems that the sole factor behind this perverse decision was a letter produced in court from the then French president Jacques Chirac to Enderlin in which Chirac praised Enderlin’s book and his general proficiency. That presidential encomium was apparently enough to persuade the judges that Enderlin could not possibly be guilty of journalistic fraud. Karsenty was accordingly judged guilty not on the basis of evidence against him—there was none — but because the French judiciary dances to attention whenever the French President jerks their strings, and the establishment sticks together.

From the evidence that has become available, it is quite clear that the ‘killing’ of Mohammed al Durah was nothing of the kind. Look for yourself. Here is the France 2 original film; and here is the Second Draft film which shows why it’s a fake. In her article, Joanna Chandler itemises some of the startling revelations in this footage:

Western audiences viewed a 55 second video of the supposed “killing,” at the end of which news commentators dolefully announce the “death” of the boy. The 55 seconds shown on television is actually 7 segments of film pieced together. At the end of the 7th segment, two fingers appear in the viewfinder, indicating that this last segment was a second “take.” The two fingers are only visible if the tape is played in slow motion. An additional 3 seconds of film exists—three seconds that television viewers were deprived of observing. In this segment, the “dead” boy and his father reappear. Then, something extraordinary occurs: The boy raises his elbow and right leg, turns his head and furtively looks around, replaces his head and elbow in the “dead” position, but appears to have forgotten about his leg. He leaves it suspended in the air for the duration of the clip.

The two fingers after the boy is pronounced dead, plus the clip of the boy’s movements after he supposedly “dies,” is widely available on the internet for all the world to see. Strangely, there has been little forensic, let alone, scientific and journalistic, curiosity about this novel phenomenon. Evidently, the fervent belief in life after death explains the absence of even a single collective guffaw—let alone any critical analysis of why a “corpse” would behave in so untoward a manner. Nor did the fact that Mohamed al Durah’s “death” required two “takes” arouse any journalistic, or even theatrical curiosity…

Although, the boy’s posthumous movements should have pronounced the al Durah hoax dead on arrival, there is no shortage of further evidence of the deception. The Israeli soldiers are alleged to have continuously shot the boy and his father from their guard post for a duration of 45 minutes, with the intention of killing them. In the film, the al Durahs are crouched against a wall. Immediately to the right of the screen is a cement barrel, topped by a concrete cinder block, also located against the wall. The al Durahs, the wall, and the barrel are in plain view of the camera, and the al Durahs appear to be using the barrel as a shield against fire coming from an unseen location on the other side of it. The unseen location is assumed to be the guard post from which, unseen assailants, presumably, Israeli soldiers, are, allegedly, “firing.” However, the al Durahs are concealed by the barrel and are, therefore, not visible to the soldiers in the guard post.

Because the Israeli soldiers could not see the pair, they could not have fired on them deliberately. Furthermore, even if Mohamed al Durah were shot by bullets coming from an unseen location on the other side of the barrel, by unseen assailants, presumably, Israeli, there should be bullet holes on the section of the barrel that directly faces him. In fact, not a single bullet exited the barrel from the supposed Israeli direction to reach the boy. There are no bullet holes on the side of the barrel behind which Mohamed al Durah is “hiding.” On the contrary, seven bullet holes were found in the wall against which the Al Durahs were crouched. The bullets that created these holes appeared to have been fired from the same direction from which the pair were being filmed, that is, from a Palestinian position located behind the camera, and not from the direction of the Israeli position, as alleged.

The boy’s father claimed that he had been shot in the hand, arm, elbow and leg and that he suffered a crushed pelvis. He also said that Mohamed received a bullet to his stomach that exited from the back. According to the cameraman, Abu Rahmeh, Mohamed bled for 20 minutes. But, in the film clip broadcast the world over, and in the additional 3 seconds not commonly seen by television viewers, there are no signs of blood on the Al Durahs, on the wall behind them, nor on the ground.

Three hours of raw footage from Reuters and AP, taken in the vicinity of the Netzarim junction in Gaza, on September 30, 2000—the very same day as the supposed “killing” of the boy—show dozens of Palestinian Arab children attacking the Israeli guard post, not only from the ground, but from adjacent buildings that looked down upon it, with Molotov cocktails, heavy objects, including appliances, stones, and other projectiles. Many of these landed on the roof directly over the heads of the approximately 20 soldiers inside. Surely, if they had desired to kill children, those in plain view, lobbing their Molotov cocktails, would have been easy targets—unlike the Al Durahs, who were not threatening the soldiers, were not attacking the soldiers, were not visible to the soldiers, were not in the line of fire of the soldiers, but were, in fact, impossible targets for the soldiers.

Despite the attempted arson and other violent aggression against the guard post, at no time are Israeli soldiers filmed firing upon the Arab Palestinian children. The dozens of reporters and cameramen observing the evil mischief of these “innocents” were waiting for them to provoke a shooting incident. If the Israeli soldiers had fired even a single shot at the children, it is impossible that the cameras would have missed it. Indeed, they were waiting for nothing else! In fact, other than the phony Al Durah “killing,” not a single Arab Palestinian child was reported killed or injured by Israelis at the Netzarim Junction that day. It is beyond the realm of possibility that the Israeli soldiers in the guard post would have ignored these children in favor of shooting at Mohamed al Durah and his father who were not violent, not present and not even visible to them.

This raw footage, in other sequences, is rich with evidence of typically staged atrocities and is widely available on the internet. One can see a phony ambulance evacuation and a pretend battle in which Arab Palestinians are firing into what turns out to be an empty building. There are scenes in which men dressed in civilian clothing are instructing others dressed in military uniform in the staging of heroic battle scenes with nonexistent Israeli soldiers. There are faked injuries. Phony “victims” are handled roughly and stuffed into ambulances while bystanders smile and give each other “high fives.” The al Durahs are seen crouching behind their barrel while a panicked crowd runs away. In another faked scene, a hoard of Arab Palestinians appears to be fleeing and scrambling to get out of the line of Israeli fire while other Arab Palestinians calmly stroll the streets, and go about their business with their children and families. If all the others are panicking, why aren’t they? The answer: They know the scene is staged.

This scandal has many layers of evil. It reveals the wickedness of the Palestinians who so cynically stage hoaxes like this, as a result of which murderous hatred and mass hysteria are exponentially spread and innocent people are attacked and butchered in a rising spiral of terrorist atrocities. It reveals the wickedness of western journalists who transmit footage they know is a fraud as a matter of routine, becoming as a result active collaborators in the deaths of innocents. As someone from France 2 remarked during this affair, ‘It happens all the time’. Sure it does — we saw it last year in the Lebanon war when ‘atrocities’ that had been faked by Hezbollah were transmitted as true accounts by broadcasting organisations which turned a blind eye to the evidence of journalistic fraud because the story they told fitted the broadcasters’ own prejudices. And it reveals the intellectual corruption of the French judiciary, which perpetrates a transparent injustice and in turn helps further promulgate a murderous lie because, instead of holding power to account, the French judiciary is in its pocket.

To my knowledge, there has been no coverage whatsoever of these revelations about the al Durah footage, let alone the Karsenty case, in the British media. That says it all. They are so resistant to the suggestion that the story in which they so fervently believe — that Israel is the evil aggressor in the Middle East and the Palestinians are their innocent victims —might be wrong, that they simply do not register any evidence which bears that out. How can it possibly be the case, they think, that fashionable progressive French journalists (like themselves) could deliberately make themselves party to a lie? Since in their own eyes progressive people are by definition the unique repository of moral virtue, anyone who challenges that position is by definition evil. It is therefore impossible that the Palestinians staged a theatrical hoax, impossible that France 2 deliberately transmitted such a fraud, impossible that the Israelis could be the innocent victims of such a deception. The image of the killing of Mohammed al Durah exists; and the image is all. Nothing else has any reality. The fact that the ‘corpse’ moved and peered behind its hand to see if the cameras were still filming is irrelevant. The terrible thing about so many western journalists is that they really do deeply and sincerely believe their own lies.

The trial of Philippe Karsenty is an event of the greatest political and cultural significance. It may well come to define the relationship of Europe to Israel and the Jews as devastatingly as the 19th century Drefyus affair — in which the false accusation of treason against a patriotic Jewish French army captain produced an outpouring of virulent anti-Jewish prejudice — once convinced an assimilated French journalist by the name of Theodor Herzl that there could be no future for the Jews unless they had their own country. But now the French are determined to traduce and defame that country, too.

The Karsenty appeal is a very big story indeed. Let’s see how many journalists, in these degraded times, are able to recognise it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Two Fatties Do Canada: Episode 1

Well, we were quite trim by our own standards when we set out. On the way back, it was lucky we had 5 seats between us for the return flight...

First things first: follow the complete journey through pictures (especially the various versions of me gurning like a mental patient) by clicking here for the Bodester's excellent full photo album. Here are some highlights - this is episode 1, and I'll add some more when I can be bothered and see a nice spike in my readership (5 people whose surnames are not Freedman would do it...).


EPISODE 1 - TORONTO

Cousin Michelle's wedding to Tzvi (think Dr Green from ER but 1 ft shorter and with great taste in malt whisky) was awesome. Quality food (choc fountain), drink (whiskytini) and scenery (two gorgeous waksworks). Hanging out with lots of Landys, and yes, one of them really is called Randy Landy. You just can't make this stuff up. But she has impeccable restaurant and bar knowledge, as do the rest of the family.

Culinary top moments included great Thai followed by superb ice-cream, excellent chicken wings on Toronto's equivalent of Golders Green Road, a mahoosive plate of perogies (think breaded, fried ravioli), creme caramel flavoured Diet Pepsi, visits to Cafe Nervosa for Yukon wholemeal and potato pizza (good recommendation Josh) and numerous other bits of nosh. Here is some "Jif Pie" at Chicken Nest:


For some reason there are no photos of the wedding to share, but here's one of me and two friends I picked up:



And here is one of Helen with a native Canadian moose (and a brown animal statue of some description):


Toronto is best described by Peter Ustinov: "New York, run by the Swiss"... it's not the buzziest place in the world, but it works nicely, has a laid-back atmosphere and is generally inoffensive and pleasant.


It also plays host to the Bata Shoe Museum, which is great to take the ladies to, as it allows them to indulge their fetishes without damaging your credit card. You can even visit their online exhibition, All About Shoes. Here's me crushing my feet into some clogs:


It's also home to the black squirrel, otherwise known as the bushy-tailed black rat:



Then we went on to Niagara Falls by train, stopping off for a Cinnabon each at Union Station. More to follow in episode 2...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Defacebook

It seems that Gorgeous George has made it onto Facebook, where he has managed to combine a good deal of ranting and propaganda with the usual self-promoting bollocks. Among other things, I especially liked the start of his "interests" space:

I’m consumed by politics, particularly Middle Eastern politics, and I’ve committed my working life to them and fighting to gain justice for the Palestinians. But I’m fascinated by international politics and social struggle around the globe and the effort to stop rampant globalisation and the creep of neoconservatism. I’m also a bit of a historian on the Labour movement and the party which used to represent it. I also have a twice-weekly, two- hour radio show on TalkSport so I don’t get a lot of time to pursue many other interests. I’m a passionate football fan, Manchester United – I actually scored a goal at Old Trafford! – and Glasgow Celtic, although I still carry a torch for Dundee United, my hometown team. They’re known as The Arabs, so who else could I follow?
Good to see that looking after his constituents is a high priority... it gets a look-in somewhere in the "about me" section. Also nice to see that he is really looking carefully at who he accepts as his Facebook friends - among the 123 from the "country" of Palestine (sorry kids, it currently only exists on maps of the past and future) - why, it's Ahmed Yassin, complete with wheelchair!

All the fuss about the BNP members having profiles and groups on Facebook, and advertisors unwittingly finding their products promoted on those pages. I'd rather them than this guy - at least the BNP plan on going after everyone else before the Jews this time, and in the meantime don't support and apologise for terrorists on our streets and others...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hot sex on Pinner High Street


Bet you never thought you'd read that. But here is the evidence - on offer at Cafe Rouge, a boiling f*** (methinks they meant bouillabaiSSe).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why I love Oklahoma

These are the 7 hot (that's British for intelligent) sorority chicks and their chaperones who I befriended on a recent trip to Norman, Oklahoma.


And this is a T-shirt made specially for our rendez-vous.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Multiple counts of hypocrisy

George bloody Galloway, eh? How is it that the hard left and their friends the raving Islamofascists (the ones who got Oona King out for being Jewish despite being anti-Iraq war) still think this guy is so great? Even after he showed routine adoration for a man who repressed and killed hundreds of thousands of his fellow Muslims?


This is a man about whom even the Beeb say:
"...many will greet his performance with a wry smile and claim that, like others before it, it was just that - theatre designed to obscure fact with rhetoric and declamation."
They are referring back to Galloway's absurd appearance before the investigations subcommittee of the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in which he was accused of receiving Iraq oil kickbacks from Saddam Hussein under the UN oil-for-food programme. He managed to obfuscate his way out of that one, as no trace of funds directly to him could be found. However, plenty of questions were raised - and remain largely unanswered - about how such a die-hard Commie can afford the kind of extravagant lifestyle he leads, with his big cigars and villa in Portugal.

All the meanwhile, he takes pride in channeling funds to an organisation proscribed by the US Treasury Department as a 'Hamas-related charity' and designated 'a Specially Designated Global Terrorist', and now this latest scandal.

It is about time that the so-called moderate Muslim community and the hard left disowned this creep. All the while he has been trumpeting your causes whilst funding the kind of extremism that wants to wipe you off the planet for being liberal, feminist, pro-homo, not wearing a shroud to go shopping, meeting and falling in love with future spouses once aged 18+ and other shocking immoral behaviour. Fortunately it's the Jews' turn for a massacre first (it always is), so you have a few years...


Hopefully, the next time Mr Galloway is hoisted aloft by a crown of cheering Muslims, it will involve a noose.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mad Mel saves time

I think "Mad" Melanie Phillips should take up the famous chant of Millwall FC of "no-one likes us, we don't care". Of course, I love her to pieces, not least because she saves me hours of having to collate articles and write an erudite commentary. Here's one recent piece, in which she is pleasantly surprised by Muslims and the left-o-media seeing through the government-backed crap about how the terror threat should not be treated as "Muslim" or "Islamic/ist" despite being perpetrated by the former in the name of the latter cause.


One of the encouraging developments of the last few disturbing days and weeks is the emergence of a growing number of Muslims who are speaking the truth about the religious nature of the attacks upon Britain and the west. Accounts such as Ed Husain’s book The Islamist and similar statements by a number of other young Muslims, particularly other former radicals who have renounced the jihad, are helping change the terms of the debate. It is simply not possible for Muslims to claim that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, or that it is enough to condemn terrorist violence, or that foreign policy is the cause, when other Muslims are pointing out the lethal dishonesty of such an approach. Here is Safraz Mansoor, for example, in the Guardian:

As tempting as it is to say ‘not in my name’ when faced with the terrifying facts of Islamic radicalism, the uncomfortable truth is that those who perpetrate and support such extremism do so in the name of Islam. It is no longer enough for British Muslims to pretend it is someone else’s problem or to retreat into the usual ritual of bashing the media. Denial is no longer an option and British Muslims need to accept that the cancer of extremism affects their entire community. They also must utterly and without equivication denounce the use of violence. One might think this would be a relatively straightforward matter but in the past even a simple denunciation has been difficult to extract from the self-appointed community leaders who seek to speak for Muslims.

If the problems lie within the Muslim community so do the answers but the seeds of the solutions lie inside the hearts of law-abiding moderate Muslims. The religion I was raised in has been hijacked; it is high time that those of us who recall when being Muslim was about personal conduct not politics challenge those who think what they are doing is in the name of Islam. This requires nothing less than a new articulation of British Muslim identity, a passionately argued and persuasive and optimistic version of what it means to be British and Muslim. It is a version of identity that reflects the way that British Islam is being practised peacefully and quietly every day rather than the poisonous political strain that has intoxicated a small minority.

Here is Asim Siddiqui, also in the Guardian:

No, it’s not foreign policy that’s the main driver in combating the terrorists; it is their mindset. The radical Islamist ideology needs to be exposed to young Muslims for what it really is. A tool for the introduction of a medieval form of governance that describes itself as an ‘Islamic state’ that is violent, retrogressive, discriminatory, a perversion of the sacred texts and a totalitarian dictatorship.

When the IRA was busy blowing up London, there would have been little point in Irish “community leaders” urging ‘all’ citizens to cooperate with the police equally when it was obvious the problem lay specifically within Irish communities. Likewise for Muslim ‘community leaders’ to condemn terrorism is a no-brainer. What is required is for those that claim to represent and have influence among young British Muslims to proactively counter the extremist Islamist narrative. That is the biggest challenge for British Muslim leadership over the next five to 10 years. It is because they are failing to rise to this challenge that the government feels it needs to act by further eroding our civil liberties with anti-terror legislation to get the state to do what Muslims should be doing themselves. If British Muslim groups focus on grassroots de-radicalisation then this will provide civil liberty groups the space they need to argue against any further anti-terror legislation.

Alasdair Palmer in the Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday:

Hassan Butt is another who spent several years as an extreme Islamist before coming to understand that the people with whom he was working were ‘evil’. Mr Butt used to act as a fund raiser - he says he raised more than £150,000 - for fundamentalist terrorist groups. He doesn’t see any change in attitude among their members. His family have rejected him for what they see as his ‘treachery’. His friends have all deserted him. Some of his former colleagues have openly told him that they want him dead. Earlier this year he was stabbed in the street for his ‘betrayal’. Last week, the windows of his house were broken, and his front door smashed, as a further attempt to intimidate him.

He believes that the moderate Muslim community is ‘in denial’ about the extremists in its midst. According to Mr Butt, many imams who preach at mosques in Britain ‘refuse to broach the difficult and often complex truth that Islam can be interpreted as condoning violence against the unbeliever, and instead repeat the mantra that “Islam is peace”, and hope that all of this debate will go away. This has left the territory open for radicals… I know, because [when] I was a recruiter, I repeatedly came across those who had tried to raise these issues with mosque authorities, only to be banned from their g rounds. Every time this happened… it served as a recruiting sergeant for extremism.’

And in the Sunday Times Shiraz Maher, a former friend of one of the Glasgow bomb suspects, Bilal Abdullah, and a former fellow member of Hizb ut Tahrir, said:

Like myself, Bilal didn’t have any non Muslim friends and the circle of Muslims he chose to socialise with was small and selective. But he certainly trusted and respected us. I think this was because he recognised we shared the same ultimate vision as him for Iraq and the wider Muslim world. We only differed over our choice of method.

And so it was through my involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and its ideology of extremist political Islam that I came to befriend Bilal, the alleged would-be bomber. That’s why I believe it’s wrong to distinguish between ‘extremism’ and ‘violent extremism’ as the government has been doing in recent months. The two are inextricably intertwined. Without movements such as Hizb ut-Tahrir creating the moral imperatives to justify terror, people like Bilal wouldn’t have the support of an ideological infrastructure cheering them on.

These Muslims are under enormous pressure to shut up or to change their tune, and in the case of Hassan Butt at least have been physically attacked. They are extremely courageous to speak out like this, and deserve all possible support and protection.

They also make the British government, which has banned all mention of Islam or Muslims in connection with terrorism, look like imbeciles.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Scottish civil rights infringement

Of course, I do not approve of the actions of these people at Glasgow Airport. They abused the human rights of a group expressing their legitimate claims of oppression. How dare they intervene without due process? These nice young men out for a spin in their Jeep had a nasty crash and then had their civil rights infringed.

And then this nasty fascist Islamophobic taxi driver mocked their language and wanted to give them an indiscriminate beating. Disgraceful what is happening in Scotland.

I mean, we don't yet KNOW whether this was just an unfortunate accident, but everyone always jumps to conclusions. And of course it is in the Establishment's interest to have a so-called "Islamist" "terror" "attack" five minutes after Gordon Brown takes charge.

Thank goodness here in London we failed to apprehend the peace activists who left their Mercedes in Piccadilly with their industrial barbecue equipment in the boot, or who knows what terrible attack might have been wrought by members of the public against them
- and on the very fabric of our free, liberal society?


HERO CABBIE: POLICE TOOK MY GOOD NIKE TRAINERS

Battling taxi driver Alex McIlveen faced down the Glasgow Airport terror suspects ... and his courage cost him his favourite pair of trainers and a £30 parking fine.

Dad-of-two Alex punched and kicked the two men after they crashed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas canisters into the door of Terminal One.

The 45-year-old booted one of the suspects, whose body was covered in flames, as hard as he could between the legs.

But the man didn't appear to feel the blow, and a police doctor told Alex later that he'd damaged a tendon in his foot.

After the drama, police confiscated Alex's trainers for forensic tests.

And when he went back to the airport to pick up his cab, he was stunned to find that he'd been given a parking ticket.

Alex said: "The police took all the clothes I 'd been wearing so I lost my Nike trainers. They're a good pair too. I didn't get out of the police station until late on Saturday night and I found the parking ticket on my cab next day. I couldn't believe it."

Alex, of Glasgow, was one of several hero Scots who took on the men who targeted the airport on Saturday afternoon.

He punched and kicked the passenger from the Jeep, believed to be Iraqi doctor Bilal Abdulla.

Then he went after the driver of the vehicle, even though the heavily-built man was in flames after apparently turning himself into a human torch.

Alex was dropping off a fare at the airport when the attack began. He said:

"I noticed a 4x4 sitting in the middle of the road. Then, as my passenger was paying and getting out, the Jeep rammed into the airport entrance right next to us.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The guy in the passenger seat was wearing a white T-shirt. He got out carrying what looked like a petrol bomb and seconds later the Jeep was in flames.

Then he kicked and punched a man to the ground before punching a policeman square in the face. That's when I saw red. That sort of thing just isn't on. I told my passenger to run for her life, then I went for the man in the T-shirt and managed to skelp him in the face. I followed it up by booting him twice.

By that time some other people had joined in and it seemed like the T-shirt guy was trying to get back into the Jeep. Then the driver got out of the car. He was already in flames. It was obvious he was the real psycho of the pair.

Someone was hosing him down but the flames seemed to jump up again just as it looked like they had gone out. It was obvious the driver wanted into the boot of the Jeep for something and I was worried about what it was. I thought it must be a gun.

He was going crazy, just lashing out at everyone and babbling p*sh in a foreign language the whole time. I've heard people say since that he was shouting 'Allah!' but I didn't hear that. It just sounded like a lot of c**p to me.

I ran for the guy and punched him twice in the face with pretty good right hooks. Then I kicked him with full force right in the balls but he didn't go down. He just kept on babbling his rubbish.

I couldn't believe that he was still standing. I know I would have been floored by that kind of kick."

Alex continued to take on the man, who was lashing out with his fists. He recalled:

"He was a big guy and I'm not really a fighter, but his punches were wild and I managed to dodge them and make some good strikes myself.

Luckily, more people joined in and we managed to beat the guy down. The police apparently caught the other man.

I don't think the policeman I saw at the scene drew his baton during the whole thing. He should have given it to me - I'd have leathered those guys with it."

Alex added:

"After the two guys were restrained, my memory gets a bit blurred. I think I got hit with some of the CS spray the police were firing at them.

The next thing I knew I was waiting in a room at the airport for an ambulance with another member of the public. He'd been badly beaten by the guy in the T-shirt and he had a broken leg.

But the paramedics still treated the burned guy first. He was being held by police in the next room ."

Alex spent hours at a Paisley police station telling detectives everything he could remember about the fight. He said:

"It was only after getting there that I really began to think about what had happened. I started shaking like a leaf.

A police doctor looked me over and said I had damaged a tendon in my foot as a result of the kick I gave the second guy. I've got a few pains in my back as well but apart from that I'm unscathed.

I didn't get out of the police station until late on Saturday night. An officer eventually took me home but the police insisted on taking away all the clothes I had been wearing."

Next day, Alex returned to the airport to pick up his red Skoda Octavia.

He said: "I couldn't believe it when I discovered a £30 parking ticket on my cab. Considering I got it while trying to save hundreds of people, I would hope it will be cancelled."

Alex's wife Lynn, 40, said: "He risked his life because he thought people were in danger. He is an absolute hero. If he hadn't been there, who knows what would have happened."


UPDATE...

This evil Scotsman was later treated like a hero and rewarded for his actions by a cheering mob of neo-conservative shoppers. Unbelievable. I weep for this country.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wakey wakey, morons

Has anyone noticed that those nice liberators from Hamas have the standard Palestinian dual agenda thing going on? We're all terribly busy patting them on the back, whilst ignoring that they still have Gilad Shalit in captivity and apparently with failing health.

And they have allowed the Dagmoush militias to keep all their weapons and escape any punishment, despite proclaiming to the media that they are able to keep law and order in Gaza. Some judicial process, that.

The reason for the let-off? The Dagmoush guys have been brave blowers-up of Israeli women and children, and are therefore heroes of the resistance (to the occupier that left a year ago?!?!). As long as they just point their guns at the yids, it's all hunky-dory.

Oh, and it also transpires that some of the bean-counters for the Dagmoush were concerned that the bad name they were getting might affect their gun-running business from Egypt, so it was best to call a halt to the kidnapping before they lost too much market share.

Real nice people, those Dagmoush. Johnston called them an "aberration" amongst a whole plethora of otherwise hospitable and warm Palestinians he encountered. I am inclined to think the "aberration" to think about is the one that warps Western minds into supporting various elements of these scum, when anywhere else in the world, they have no difficulty knowing right from wrong.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

And of hope...?

One thing that I have to keep reminding myself of with Israel is that for every down, there is an up.

For every horror story from my cousins about what they saw in Lebanon, there is a beautiful wedding of a dear friend. For all the maddening bureaucracy and appalling traffic, there are glorious sunsets on Gordon Beach. For all the divisions in society, there's a sense of unity when it really matters.

For each visit to my wonderful older relatives and the fear that it might be the last, there are the wonderful moments, now captured for posterity (massive thanks to Bison and the Good Man for rescuing them!), of them singing, chatting and recounting stories of their childhood, misty-eyed.

For the countless times I have thrown my hands up in despair and wondered if we will ever find a solution to any one of Israel's big dilemmas, there's an old friend with a new opinion that opens my mind again to the possibility.

That's Israel, and as always, I am wondering whether my flight back to London today is homeward bound or a leave of absence from where I belong...