Friday, November 25, 2005

It's snowing

The first proper snow of winter, and it's actually not melting as soon as it falls. And there is a new Harry Potter film. It really must be getting close to Christmas!

Friday, November 04, 2005

How gorgeous is he?

I went to hear George Galloway earlier this evening. His media coverage gave me the vague feeling there was something slightly suspect about the guy - but I wanted to hear the man himself. I'm not sure I'd give him my own money, but who could resist free tickets?

There was a hint of the commercialism that infests the cultural world when we were warned at the start not to record him. Heaven forbid we infringe anyone's right to make money from what Mr Galloway described as a political meeting! Before I had time to worry that journalists might be reduced to shorthand, George walked on to rousing applause and the strains of Aretha Franklin's R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

My first surprise was what a friendly audience he had. Perhaps opponents of The War found him a kindred spirit. Maybe they just liked anyone who could get the better of a US Senate subcommittee. But they liked him.

Mr Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow MP for the Respect Party) is an engaging and charismatic speaker. He has a slightly self-deprecating, gently humorous and occasionally bitingly sarcastic manner. He was obviously in his element as he worked the audience - as he should be, having done it over 1600 times since 9/11. He's worked years to become an overnight sensation he conceded, smiling.

He revelled in being to the left of New Labour. He made very telling points on a number of topics, and gave a good account of consistent and principled opposition to Saddam Hussein, his criticism of UK support for Saddam in his earlier years, his attacks on the suffering brought about by the sanctions programme which followed Saddam's defeated invasion of Kuwait, and his opposition to both the case for the war on Iraq, and the war itself.

He said that there were worse things than dictators - like obscurantist fundamentalist regimes - and not just the one in the USA. He criticised Saddam Hussein's record and that of other regimes the West supports, but he also mentioned the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, which the West, he argues, is feeding. He argued that Western actions help form the swamp that breeds the mosquitoes of terrorism.

His main "swamps" were Israel's treatment of Palestinians, Western hypocricy in general, and the forces in Iraq. I didn't hear how a "drained" Israeli swamp would look (though he wants an end to support for Israel), but his solution for Iraq was for the coalition to leave. The killing might well continue, he said, but there was nothing we could do to stop it. The age, he said, of colonialism is over. It is not for us to intervene paternalistically, with lethal force. Or even with sanctions, presumably.

He deplored the rise of political spin, and the decline of Parliament from a watchdog which put country before party, to a group of people afraid to vote with their consciences on the National ID Card scheme. He has a point! At this point (sorry, pun) hecklers asked him why he wasn't in Parliament a bit more - he gave them short shrift.

Most questions were friendly, and gave him the chance to ramble entertainingly for a few minutes at a time. Some of the audience raised interesting issues, and he answered them well. I was impressed by the man.

Then a harder question was asked (I paraphrase a little, but like I said, recording was banned): Since military solutions were not the answer, and sanctions killed millions, what was his alternative approach to regimes or atrocities like North Korea, Burma, Rwanda or Zimbabwe? Hadn't action in Kosovo been a good thing, on balance?

At this point, in spite of his earlier complaints about spin and his comments about other politicians, he seemed to treat the question and the questioner with contempt. It was interesting, he digressed, that the questioner was concerned about the countries the Americans were concerned about. Why not the Congo? The questioner asked him to talk about the Congo, if he'd prefer. Once the microphone was safely retrieved from the troublesome upstart, George took the opportunity to complain that the West had removed a great statesman in the Congo and installed Mobutu, but completely failed to discuss the actual question. He admitted that Mugabe of Zimbabwe was a bad thing, but his only suggestion was that the West should not support people like the President of Pakistan.

I would have loved to hear his view on the Iranian President's wish to "blot Israel from the map". Or what badness he hadn't been up to with Oil for Food, and charity funding. Or even an answer to the problem of tyrants who were not anti-western enough for America to depose. But it was not to be.

Gorgeous George, as he's sometimes known, is a charismatic speaker with a great deal to say - some of it very important. But he's no less a politician than any of the people he criticises.

Another venerable gentleman of the left, Tony Benn, comes across in person as a man of strong principles and great integrity. George Galloway is a man with valid criticisms to make, but by the end of the evening there seemed to be too many questions, too few answers, and maybe not enough respect.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

We were hacked

I know that security is important.
I know that you need to keep your software up to date.
I know that low traffic is no guarantee of safety, when google can point people at vulnerable versions of a system.

But in my defence, we hadn't much traffic or many users. Hardly any, in fact. We're busy. It didn't seem a priority. And there would have been a fair bit of customisation to redo. (On the other other hand, those are terrible excuses, and an upgrade would also have stopped most of the Russian pill spammers).

Anyway, a young turk who claimed to be "hacking for Allah" (kind of like vandalism for God, I suppose) forced our hand. So now everything is being restored from backups and upgraded. And hopefully the spammers will be gone as well.