oddly enough, Sport

Cap & Capper, part XXIV…

Oh my, they finally did it – again.

The British Parliament yesterday night voted in favour of an outright ban of foxhunting, or hunting with dogs. For those of you, my gentle readers, who don’t really have any idea what this is about, remember the Disney film “Cap & Capper”: In a nutshell, people who favour a ban on foxhunting want Cap & Capper to stay friends, those against hold that their friendship is an aberration of nature, the work of a screenplay writer on drugs, or both.

Of course, in real life, things are a bit more tricky than that, but – while I don’t fancy any kind of hunting – I never really understood the British obsession with foxhunting. Nonetheless, while working in Westminster, I was able to find out that there is hardly any other issue that divides the UK’s population as sharply as hunting with dogs.

Sure, one can rationalise this – it’s a problem that has something to do with the urban-rural cleavage, which translates into a conservative-progressive cleavage, which also somewhat translates into a Conservative-Labour cleavage. It has to do with the slightly anachronistic British obsession with “class” as a political category, and of course, it has to do with the abilities of professional single issue campaigners to dominate the political discourse – these people certainly know how to stage a postcard campaign.

I guess this kind of obsession for Gap & Capper is hard to understand for anyone not British – a bit like no one from the outside can really get the emotional way so many Americans talk about personal use of fireams, or how foreigners will have a hard time to understand seemingly rational Germans bizarre behavior when it comes to discussing general speed limits on the autobahn…

There have been a handful of votes on this issue in recent Parliamentary history – the Guardian has a nice timeline – but so far opposition by the House of Lords and government mediated compromises have prevented an outright ban of this, well, activity. But this time, it looks as though the Parliament Act will be invoked to sign the Commons bill into law even if the proposed ban is voted down in the Lords.

So now that Foxhunting could – really – be banned by 2005, the real question of the day is – what will become the next British national obsession?

Proposals welcome.

almost a diary

National Security Update.

Lillimarleen tells us about “the real state” of national security in the United Kingdom.

According to several news reports Aaron Baarschak, a comedian, crashed Prince William’s 21st birthday party by climbing over a Windsor Castle wall wearing a false beard, a turban and a pink dress. According to newspaper reports, he climbed on the stage, took the microphone from the Prince and began a stand-up comedy performance, and later even kissed the Prince on the cheek while drinking champagne before security realised he was not exactly invited.

Now the British home secretary will have to explain to Parliament tomorrow how that could happen and why it can never happen again…

Here’s my cliffnote for David Blunkett – don’t bother.

People entering “secure” areas without proper security clearance happens all the time, works all the time. It cost me five minutes to explain to a nice female police officer in NYC last year that I had to get into the sealed off UN area to meet a friend at the Finnish embassy… [which was true and I never intened to do anything but meeting her, so said officer made – though not formally – the right decision to let me in] and in Britain, even in September 2001, there were a lot of people who joked that the only thing 911 had changed with respect to security in the Westminster was that before, one person did not check security clearances – now there are two of them…

And don’t forget the guy who is on most European head of state summit photographs, just for the fun of it [and for reminding the world that European heads of state don’t actually know all their counterparts…].

Iraq, quicklink, US Politics

Heavy Sea.

Tony Blair is going to face more criticism than the American administration in light of recent “revelations” regarding the “real” reasons for war in Iraq. The Guardian has some of it. Clare Short’s critical activism is certainly understandale given her performance in recent months but it’s hard to believe that she believes that Blair is part of a conspiracy against the British government.

I can very well imagine that Blair secretly agreed with Bush to go to war – but if so, I think that he did so precisely because he believed the British would be needed as a constraint of US power. Ah, the old Churchillian “Jr. Partner”-fallacy… happens again and again.

Europe, media, music

I want to read The Sun tomorrow!

The annual Eurovision Song Contest is over. And Turkey is taking the cup to Ankara. As usual, however hyped, there’s no reason to watch the entire event if you are able to catch the replays intended to remind the voting public of earlier entrants. These ten minutes are usually not only sufficient but at times as much as is possible to bear. The real reason to watch is not the music, it’s the voting procedure that is happening afterwards – and this time, the European Broadcasting Union even offered an animated scoreboard. If your country doesn’t get points from other European television viewers (or Juries, for those countries without a stable telephone infrastructure (Russia, Bosnia-Hercegovina), you can follow its label on the screen moving downwards…

That is if the label has been up somewhere at some point. In light of the UK’s results tonight, the BBC News Online’s Caroline Westbrook was a little bit more than prophetic when she said –

“This year Jemini have taken the UK’s hopes to Riga, and while their song Cry Baby is perfectly pleasant it’s not thought to be strong enough to see off the likes of Spain, Iceland, Turkey or the much-hyped Russian entry from Tatu. … It’s fair to say that if we do want to win again, we should come up with a better song…”

Well, I the song is probably a part of the explanation for the fact that the UK did not get even a single point from any of the twenty-six nations involved. But it was not worse than most of the other songs, nor was, in my opinion, the performance – as far as I can judge from the replays…

Looking at the results it is pretty evident that voters all over Europe rewarded musical diversity. And a huge part of the songs performed in Riga tonight simply were hard to mentally separate from each other, in fact, watching the replays was like watching one ten minute medley. The British song was no exception to that rule. Like the song, the British performance was as dull as any other medley-song performance. So Caroline Westbrook had probably a reason to predict they would not win – but being just like the others is clearly not helping to explain why Britain did not get a single point this year.

And I don’t understand it either. I don’t think it was about the British stance in the war on Iraq – despite the fact that it was a telephone vote in most countries. So it might just have bad luck. The BBCi is reporting the result remarkedly calm so far

“The UK’s entry Jemini – duo Chris Crosbey, 21, and Jemma Abbey, 20 – had the ignominy of being the only entry to score no points. It is the worst performance in the UK’s Eurovision history. The UK’s previous lowest performance was in 2000, when it was placed 16th.”

Maybe it’s too early for comments. Maybe they just don’t care. But I can’t wait to read The Sun tomorrow.


Welsh & Scottish regional and British local by-elections

The Guardian is looking at yesterday’s Welsh & Scottish regional and British local by-elections and decides that, even though the Tories fared siginificantly better in the local elections than expected, they are still no threat to anyone but themselves. Fair enough. The problem with this conclusion is, however, that the same must then be true for NewLabour. And that’s why it’s actually useful that the voters sent their government this message. Here’s more coverage from The Guardian.

compulsory reading, Europe, US Politics

Quicklinks, Tony Blair, And The Borg

Sorry for the apparent recent lack of updates. Not that there’s not enough stuff I’d like to comment on, I just did not find the time lately.

But there’s exciting news, too. Look to your left, my gentle readers, and you’ll find a seamlessly integrated second blog called “Link Of The Minute.” This is where I hope to post even when I don’t find the time to put my simple opinions into overly complicated writing. The “Quote Of The Minute”, on the other hand, has moved to the right (and will also be blog powered soon, now that I have found a way to integrate more than one blog on one page with Javascript. It’s actually quite simple – here’s how the magic happens.

Alright, more tomorrow. Expect me to be rather critical of the “European-defence-summit” in Brussels tomorrow. The history of this summit is just one more example how elections even in a small country like Belgium could have important international ramifications. But not this time, I suppose, as the US are apparently trying to play divide et impera by beginning to mend things with the German government while bashing France – think of last week’s “there will be consequences, and it will hurt”-statement by Colin Powell, who is coming to Germany in May, and statements from “beltway-insiders” who suddenly seem quite relaxed about the future of US-German relations.

Given this seeming American recognition that it is not in the US’ interest to force Germany to opt for an all-francophone foreign policy, I do not quite understand today’s “resistance is futile”- declaration by the American ambassador to Europe, the British PM Tony Blair.

All he is doing is increasing the perception that the coming world order is indeed one in which Jean-Luc will have to become Locutus of Borg. If this is what he wants to achieve, then fine. But what is really needed right now is someone who explains that a unipolar world would not be a unilateral one.

Especially for the British PM it ould be important in days like these not to repeat the mistake Churchill made after WW2, by outlining three spheres of British interest – being the US’ junior partner, the Commonwealth, and Europe, in that order.

The US never wanted a junior partner telling them how to run the world during the cold war. They wanted to use a British membership in the EU to gain influence in Brussels. Early in the 1960s the US government told the British that they would have their “special relationship” with Germany instead if the UK would not join soon. Well, it took more then ten years to get in, as Général deGaulle understood precisely what was at stake.

So he vetoed the British membership in the EU until the common agricultural policy was finally agreed upon – in a way that favoured France and would seriously disadvantage the UK once it entered the EU. So the British influence in Europe was severly hampered by this and the fact that the 1970s brought economic gloom rather than glory.

To cut a long story short – Churchill’s three spheres seemed to be a good idea back in 1945. But they turned out to be a horrible mistake. And while everyone knows that history does not repeat itself in detail, I might – as I already said last December commenting on Blair’s European ideas and the Turkish application for membership – repeat itself in structure.

Whatever Blair’s judgment about the extent of American primacy in the West – it does not matter at all if resistance is actually futile or not: there will be resistance if it is perceived necessary. Blair’s talk raises the chances it will.

And so it looks like the British government is – again – underestimating the European dynamics. It looks as if Capt’n Tony should have watched more StarTrek – NextGeneration” recently – instead of dubbing “The Simpsons” ;-).

Ah, thinking about all this, a very good book regarding the British-European relations post 1945 is: Stephen George, An Awkward Partner: Britain in the European Community. Well… I liked it a lot.


The Middle Ground.

The Guardian “Backbencher”-newsletter (could not find a web address…) also believes in C-movie screenplays and goes on to explore the middle ground in the Galloway affair. This is what it might look like –

“The Backbencher approached Guardian security affairs editor Richard Norton-Taylor and asked him to untangle the web of intrigue surrounding George Galloway MP.

‘I think the documents relating to George Galloway from the Iraqi foreign ministry, found – fortuitously and by chance – by the DailyTelegraph (hardly a friend of Mr Galloway’s, by the way) were certainly genuine. They could have been found, I suppose, by British intelligence or someone who had an interest in smearing Mr Galloway and then deposited there and the Telegraph reporter pointed in that direction. It’s possible the box was planted, but unlikely, I think. Journalists bump into things and chance has a lot to do with such scoops.

“Having said that, what do they actually mean? Who is the person actually being protected and who is being accused? On the face of it, the documents say Mr Galloway took GBP300,000 plus out of the oil-for-food programme that Iraq had negotiated with the UN and that he wanted more. But did he himself know about the money, let alone get any of it? … Like intelligence people, in my experience, middle men often want money for themselves but blame a third party, in this case Mr Galloway. I think it is very possible that this money didn’t line his pockets at all, but went to these middle men.

There’s no evidence at all that he had it, no bank accounts in Britain or Switzerland, and I must say he’d be a bit of a fool to have taken any money – let alone over GBP300,000 a year – not just from Iraq but directly from a UN-sponsored food programme. I just can’t see that. Certainly, some of the money might have gone to his campaign, the Mariam Appeal, which started off protecting a young Iraqi girl from leukaemia who was given hospital treatment in Glasgow, but became a political campaign which Mr Galloway was very open about. If the money went to the campaign and not for his personal use, then I think he’ll have a very strong case.

Mr Galloway claims it is a smear campaign and that this stuff was planted, even forged. There’s no evidence for that. Now he has also commenced legal action. The question now for the paper is one of proving a negative, but you can’t have a libel case where you subpoena Saddam Hussein and others in the former Iraqi regime. The trouble for the Telegraph is that in such libel cases the burden of proof is on them.'”

Well, maybe we’ll know at some point. But whatever the outcome of the libel suit – or possible party sanctions against Galloway for this affair or earlier statements calling Tony Blair and GWB “Wolves” and urging British troops not to follow orders – this case proves an important rule: Don’t expect to return home with a clean shirt when you go mud catching with Saddam Hussein.