Sunday, February 27, 2005

Fear and loathing in ... Cardiff

If Hunter S Thompson was around in 2005, he'd choose Cardiff. There are better-tasting chips, more drugs - the green, green grass of home and magic mushrooms - more alcohol consumption. The women are prettier (you wouldn't even notice Catherine Zeta-Jones), there's better music (Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals, and Goldie Looking Chain), less neon and fewer Americans.

Life continues all night (in the streets rather than air-conditioned casinos). And you can watch the world's best sports events.

Howard Marks, author and ex-drug smuggler


How to Sell Your Book, CD, or DVD on Amazon

By Kevin Kelly.

It is a practical proposition even for small volumes apparently.

Defender of the Faith

It is told of the late Queen Mother that she once turned to some foreign religious dignitary and said: 'My daughter is Supreme Governor of the Church of England - isn't it fun?' I have no idea whether this is true, but I do hope so.
Charles Moore in the Telegraph.

France 18-24 Wales

Martyn Williams' two-try blitz early in the second half sparked a sensational Wales victory against France in Paris.
Life is good.

Friday, February 25, 2005

I'm a Welsh Snail

Although Wales are doing very nicely in the 6 Nations having played two and won two, experience has taught me that it is important not to tempt providence ahead of the French game in Paris on Saturday.

So, worrying as it may seem, I have to admit that I'm a Welsh Snail is an anagram for Shane Williams our flying winger.

Though, then again Presbyterians is an anagram of Britney Spears and that doesn't appear to have had a lot of predictive power.

Islamophobia Myth

If there is a backlash against British Muslims, where is the evidence for it? Scaremongering about Islamophobia promotes a Muslim victim culture and allows some community leaders to inflame a sense of injury while suppressing internal debate. The new religious hatred law will make matters worse.

This is a great piece by Kenan Malikin in Prospect. It is particularly strong on the facts and figures.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Musselmen and Minutemen

As the Government of the United not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmen--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Article 11 of the 1797 "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, or Barbary," now known simply as the Treaty of Tripoli.

Well I never!


I just applied to join Amazon's UK associate scheme.

So if you click on the cover of Sean Burke's fine novel Deadwater and buy it, I should get a share of the proceeds. I already bought four copies myself, one to read and three for friends.

It would be interesting to compare what I get for selling a copy via this site with what Sean makes.

Chingiz Aitmatov

Chingiz Aitmatov, Central Asia's most revered novelist, inspired such a following in his native Kyrgyzstan that opposition activist Zamira Sydykova wrote her graduate thesis on his literature, identified with his characters through the trials of life and love--and named her first-born son after him. 'His works gave us a great push to talk about national identity, about sovereignty,' says Ms. Sydykova, a newspaper editor in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan, a small land of stunning mountain beauty in the heart of Central Asia, holds parliamentary elections on Feb. 27 and a presidential ballot in October. The ruling regime of President Askar Akayev, who is constitutionally bound to leave office later this year, has been cracking down on the opposition, fearful of losing power. It is not surprising that in this climate of national turmoil, opposition activists including Ms. Sydykova are disappointed that Mr. Aitmatov has kept his silence. He once used his influence to steer Kyrgyzstan through the troublesome early days of independence from the Soviet Union over a decade ago. He's sometimes referred to as the father of the nation.
But these days, the 76-year-old writer, who has spent the past 17 years as an ambassador, prefers to speak through his novels instead. 'Now it's a different situation, and then there's my age and all those other things,' says Mr. Aitmatov, who suffered a serious heart attack last year. At times, he appears tired of the petty, the small and the earthly--his latest novel features a philosopher-monk traveling in outer space and pondering weighty issues, such as human cloning. 'I was branded a cosmopolitan for it,' he says over tea in Kyrgyzstan's embassy in Brussels, where he serves as ambassador to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg.

someone to add to the reading list methinks.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Luhrmann's Alexander is back on

Baz Luhrmann's Alexander the Great movie has been uncancelled according to Guardian

I will surprised if this is true after the bath that Oliver Stone's version took at the box office. I must admit that I rather enjoyed Stone's film but I was well primed by Robin Lane Fox's brilliant 70s biography of Alexander and his relentless proselytizing for the film on which he worked as a technical adviser and galloper.

That said, I have loved all Luhrmann's moves since Strictly Ballroom so the more the merrier as far as I am concerned.
I must try and see the 50s Alexander movie with Richard Burton. (Also A Welsh Born Icon).

Sod off, Swampy

When 35 Greenpeace protesters stormed the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) yesterday they had planned the operation in great detail.

What they were not prepared for was the post-prandial aggression of oil traders who kicked and punched them back on to the pavement.

"We bit off more than we could chew. They were just Cockney barrow boy spivs. Total thugs," one protester said, rubbing his bruised skull. "I've never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view."

Another said: "I took on a Texan Swat team at Esso last year and they were angels compared with this lot." Behind him, on the balcony of the pub opposite the IPE, a bleary-eyed trader, pint in hand, yelled: "Sod off, Swampy."

Times February 17, 2005.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Wright Stuff

I took my four year old to a party on Saturday and fell in to conversation with an aunt of the four year old host.

It turned out that she was an Iraqi, and she very proudly showed me the traces of ink that remained on her finger as she had voted in the elections from London. She was proud and as pleased as punch.

She, her mother and her father had watched the public sticking it to Tony Blair on the Channel Five daytime talk show "The Wright Stuff", and her father had remarked after one aggressive question that if it had been asked at home under the last regime, the asked and her family would have been dead by the next dawn.

I am generally very cynical about politics in the UK, and would previous have dismissed the Prime Minister's appearance as a stunt, but this makes me feel rather humble.

Designers Opt To Stick With Last Year's Fashions

NEW YORK: The buzz around the 2005 Spring Fashion Week was 'status quo,' as top designers like Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta chose to repeat their lines from 2004. 'This spring is all about consistency,' said Jacobs, who reintroduced a collection of gray and black slouchy long skirts. 'We came out with a lot of great clothes last year, so we're gonna stick with those.' Donna Karan agreed that 'introducing a new look is a relic of the 20th century.
The Onion:

20 Books

Friends have been swapping Top 20 lists of books over the last couple of days, so on arriving this morning, I opened a spreadsheet and put favourite books into it as they popped into my mind. Two hours later I have the following.

Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky
The Iron Dream Norman Spinrad
Kim Kipling
The Happy Prince Wilde
Paingod Harlan Ellison
Neuromancer William Gibson
White Teeth Zadie Smith
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter Thompson
Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Conan Doyle
The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test Tom Wolfe
Maus Art Spiegelman
Schinder's Ark Thomas Keneally
My Last Breath Luis Bunuel
Alexander the Great Robin Lane Fox
Into the Heart of Borneo Redmond O'Hanlon
From the Holy Mountain William Dalrymple
The Code of the Woosters P G Wodehouse
My American Century Studs Terkel
To Be or Not to Bop Dizzy Gillespie

I am sure that a different day would furnish a different list. Hunter Thompson, RIP, is obviously on my mind today for example, but a big shout out to all my homies for helping me to remember "To Be or Not to Bop" which I have loved and lost.

Icons of Wales

The title of this blog, "A Welsh Born Icon", is an anagram of my name "Nicholas Browne". I changed to it recently because it cost me a lot of sweat to work it out, because I have not other use for it, and because of my incipient megalomania.

Checking Google today to see if the change had stuck I came across this fine BBC site which contains - to my mind - irrefutable proof that Elvis Presley, Bob Marley and David Bowie are Welsh Icons as well.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Google Alerts Triangulation

The Telegraph of Calcutta reports on Salman Rushdie's displeasure at being allegedly misrepresented by Patrick French, author of books on India�s independence and Tibet, in a review in the Sunday Times of the Indian book everyone is talking about � Suketu Mehta�s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, and goes on to talk about how small the back stabbing, back scratching world of writers on India is.

I think they have a point. Since I got interested in it I have set up a few Google alerts to keep me up to date with writers and writing on India and this article was served up to me by all of them this morning.

Hunter Thompson RIP

Yahoo! News - Author Hunter S. Thompson Kills Himself.

This is a shock. I read all the Thompson I could get hold of in the seventies when I was a kid. I became aware of him when I read Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test about Ken Kesey. I am sure he is mentioned there in connection with the Hells Angels.

I am sure I remember a film in which he was portrayed by Bill Murray - Where the Buffalo Roam - although its not mentioned in the obit, that I had to go and see in the ICA because it wasn't released theatrically in the UK.

This certainly stirs up some dust for me. Makes me think that I haven't heard anything about Ralph Steadman - his longtime cartoonist collaborator - for ages.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

'Gorilla breast fetish' women sue

Two women sacked from their jobs caring for a gorilla in the US have sued their ex-employer for allegedly ordering them to show the animal their breasts.
Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller claim they were told to show their nipples to the gorilla, Koko, as a way of bonding.

Sign language requests from Koko, the "talking" gorilla, were allegedly relayed to the women by the Gorilla Foundation's head, Francine Patterson.


Update: Koko is a female gorilla.

Sex Change Bishop in Mercy Dash to Palace

Friday, February 18, 2005

BBC NEWS | Politics | Ban on hunting comes into force

Fox hunting with dogs is now illegal in England and Wales after a ban on the activity came into force overnight.
I have not the slightest interest in hunting, but I regard banning it in the UK as close to insane.

'Black': Bhansali's Masterpiece

There seems to be a great buzz about this picture. Fingers crossed it will get the the Wimbledon Odeon.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Peggy Noonan

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan

I am not too familiar with the Eason Jordan story, but I think this is a fine piece on the power and potential of weblogs.

(I learned of it from Scripting News.)

Serial burglar caught on webcam

A house burglar was caught after a webcam on the owner's computer recorded images of him carrying out the raid.

Stills of serial raider Benjamin Park, 19, of Cambridge, were sent to an email address so even when he stole the computer, the images could be found.

Historic Kashmir bus deal hailed

Moving further East, India and Pakistan's decision to launch a bus service across the ceasefire line dividing the disputed region of Kashmir is at least a positive gesture.

Regarding Kashmir, I bought a DVD of the Mission Kashmir move that Suketa Mehta talks about working on in his wonderful "Maximum City" book. I haven't watched it yet, but I was surprised to see it was a mainstream studio release from Columbia Tri-Star Home Video in the UK rather than an import or speciality product. There must be quite a market for it I suppose. (I just checked and the sales rank is 9,814).

Iran to aid Syria against threats

The Middle East is looking more and more like a chessboard. Moving West to East from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, it seems like everyone is surrounding everyone else in a Mexican standoff.

I really wish I understood more about this. I started on "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi last night to try and get some flavour of Iran. I didn't get more than a dozen pages into it, but I was reminded, because her flat overlooks a veterans' hospital which it overrun by visitors on the weekend - how much the people of Iran have already suffered in the terrible was with Iraq. It is important not to forget that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

How Come Syria Controls Lebanon?

Why the neighbors are calling the shots. By Daniel Engber

More of the incredibly complex recent history of the Middle East.

The land was under Ottoman control until World War I and then was part of independent Syria for two years. In 1920, Greater Syria (including what is now Lebanon) fell under French control. Lebanon, which the French had designated as a separate Christian state, gained independence in 1943.

Lebanon, gained independence as a separate Christian state during World War II! I am astounded.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ambulance Clamped

The Dublin Airport Authority has voiced regret after an ambulance waiting for a seriously injured patient was clamped by airport police.
The privately-run ambulance was clamped on Saturday despite being parked in a section reserved for emergency crews.
An airport spokeswoman said the incident was 'deeply regrettable' and promised a policy review.
Paramedics had to use a cash machine to pay for the clamp's removal. Their boss said the clamping was 'mind-blowing'.
The airport said it would refund the clamping charge of 63 euros (�43; $82)."


Iran: Objects of Emulation

Objects of Emulation are senior Ayatollahs in Qom in Iran.

Christopher de Bellaigue writing in the New York Review of Books in the middle of 2002 reports:

At the revolution's outset, most of the half-dozen "Objects of Emulation" who were living in Iran and Iraq either opposed the principle of clerical rule or remained silent about it. Qom's subsequent resistance to attempts to impose on it a uniform reading of political Islam has much to do with the pluralistic tradition of the seminary. Seminarians are free to join the study circles of the "master" they most admire. He can teach pretty much what he wants, provided he does not disseminate contentious views outside the seminary.

... which sounds very reasonable and,as he says, "pluralistic".

Compare and contrast this from last December; Mentally-ill girl who was sold for sex faces death penalty in Iran.

A teenage girl with a mental age of eight is facing the death penalty for prostitution in Iran. The trial comes only four months after the hanging of another mentally ill girl for sex before marriage in a case that has prompted a human rights lawyer to prepare a charge of wrongful execution against the presiding judge.

The girl, known as Leyla M, is in prison while the Supreme Court decides on her "acts contrary to chastity", among the most serious charges under Iranian law. Under the penal code, girls as young as nine and boys as young as 15 can be executed.

Possibly a little dissemniation of "contentious views outside the seminary", might be appropriate here.

Axis of Evil?

Toothache man finds nail in skull

A Colorado man who went to the dentist complaining of toothache found he had a 4-inch (10cm) nail in his skull.

A lucky guy it seems, but then the last line of the story says:

Doctors at the hospital said it was the second time a patient had failed to notice a nailgun had fired a nail into their heads.

Which makes it sound like just another day in the office.


Friday, February 11, 2005

Prince of Wales

If he knew the meaning of the word honour, Prince Charles would choose once and for all between private life and public duty. But he doesn't, and he never has, so he won't - he will simply continue, in the typical soft, decadent style that marks every aspect of his life, to demand the best of both worlds.

Julie Burchill sticks it to Charles in the Times.

We had a street party in Cardiff on the occasion of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969. I can remember the trestle tables and the souvenir mugs quite clearly even though it was more than 35 years ago and I was only eight.

It seems almost inconceivable that people would celebrate like that these days. In my case male pattern baldness means that I have been deprived of a forelock to tug anyway.

El Vergel

We lunched on churrasco palta, a torta, mussel empanada and tortilla followed by cheese cake and washed down with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon yesterday for just £18 for the two of us. Everyone eats together on a long wooden table.

Jane stumbled on on El Vergel when she was on jury service - there are two courts in the vicinity.

I can cross Chile off the list now in my project to eat my way around the world in London. I have also learned that there is a - to me unexpected - German influence on Chilean food to which we owe completos - frankfurter in a roll with avocado, mayo, tomato and onion.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


It seems that the Baluchis, in Kuwait - and for that matter, I suppose, everywhere else come from Baluchistan, a place of which I do not ever recall hearing.

Its a province of Pakistan apparently and contains the Makran desert through which Alexander the Great lead his troops at such terrible cost on the way back from India to Babylon and is also one of the places that Bin Laden was rumoured to be holed up.

It really is amazing how much information seems to fail to stick with me, I feel if I have done little but read and learn about Alexander for the last few months.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Crescent

We are meeting at the nearest pub to Mornington Crescent tube station at 6:30 this evening.

This means that after tonight we will have completed our project at drinking our way around all 30 Northern Line tube stations south of and including Camden Town and will be looking for a new project for Wednesday nights.

EPIC 2014

Take eight minutes to watch this and make a note to watch it again in 9 years.

via Adam Curry

The Perpetrator's Prejudice

The English Centre of International PEN has sent Open Letter to Charles Clarke on
The proposed offence of 'incitement of religious hatred' in the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Bill
, signed by a long and impressive list of writers.

I happen to agree with the PEN letter, but the backlash againt the bill is too little, too late. The flawed, absurd and corrosive notion of hate crime, has already buried itself too deeply in too many institutions.

In the UK, for example, the Association of Police Officers (ACPO) has a Hate Crime Manual in which we are told that "hate crime is taken to mean any crime where the perpetrator's prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised".

This is how the rot sets in. Firstly, attention is deflected from the definite human victims of genuine crimes, to abstract communities of the victimised. And secondly, the hair splitting effort required to decide if an offence can be classified as a hate crime, will inevitably result in an atmosphere in which the same act is regarded as more reprehensibe if it is a hate crime than if it is not.

We can dawdle further with ACPO's cheese paring, and remember that this is how the police are being instructed by their most senior officers.

Domestic violence is not included within this guide. Many of its features are not common to hate crime as defined here. Specific guidance to ensure that domestic violence is dealt with effectively and sensitively is best given in a separate document. It is recognised that domestic violence can be racist or homophobic. Such hate crimes must be dealt with in line with guidance for domestic violence as well as with the hate crime guidance provided here.

But, let's cut to the chase. Where does this mind set lead? Last week, the BBC reported that the UN HAD RULED OUT GENOCIDE IN DARFUR. As Mark Steyn said,

That's great news, isn't it? For as yet another Annan-appointed UN committee boldly declared in December: "Genocide anywhere is a threat to the security of all and should never be tolerated." So thank goodness this isn't genocide. Instead, it's just 70,000 corpses who all happen to be from the same ethnic group - which means the UN can go on tolerating it until everyone's dead, and Polly and Clare don't have to worry their pretty little heads about it.

It's worse you see when "the perpetrator's prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor".

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Drinking in Dubai

I have started to wonder about booze in the run up to the Dubai trip. According to, alcohol is available in all clubs and restaurants and pubs/bars, that are located in hotels. Restaurants outside a hotel are not allowed to sell or serve alcohol. Muslims are not permitted to buy alcohol. Residents need an Alcohol License to purchase alcohol.

Someone who's been there however has told me that you do see Arabs drinking as well, but that they wrap paper napkins around the bottom of the glasses to disguise the contents.

New Balls Please

A Welsh rugby fan cut off his own testicles after his team beat England, police confirmed today.

The man was rushed to hospital after the incident at Leigh Social Club in Caerphilly, South Wales.

A Gwent Police spokeswoman said: "We received a call from the ambulance service at approximately 9pm on the 5th to inform us of a situation at the Leigh Social Club in which a man had indeed severed his own testicles."

She said the man was taken to Heath Hospital but could not confirm his condition.
It was reported that the man told his friends: "If Wales win I'll cut my own balls off."

After the 11-9 victory in the Six Nations clash, the man is reported to have gone outside and severed his testicles before bringing them back into the club to show fellow drinkers.

A local was reported as saying that the man was on medication and should not have been drinking.


Intolerable Cruelty

I watched Intolerable Cruelty last night for the first time since it was out in the cinema. Thought again that it was hilarious.

Herb Myerson - the intestineless - head of the law firm, speaks for his noble profession.

"I'm going to talk to you about the law. We serve the law. We honor the law. And sometimes, we obey the law. But this is not one of those times."

Monday, February 07, 2005

Maximum City

Suketu Mehta's astonishing story of Bombay, "Maximum City" is now out in the UK and was reviewed on Saturday in the Times.

This should be a depressing and disturbing book. The relentless thuggery and brutality of the street life that he describes is harrowing, and the venal corruption of the police and politicians implies an irredeemable civic breakdown.

Somehow however you come away from the book with an impression of the unquenchable vitality of the city and its inhabitants. At one part Mehta tentatively proposes a parallel between Mumbai's robust politics with the US Democratic party politial machines like Tammany Hall in New York in the latter part of the 19th Century, and perhaps that does offer a glimmer of hope that the process may evolve into something better.

This BBC report of slum clearances in Annabhau Sattenagar last week suggests nothing is going to change soon.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Secrets of wartime spies revealed

Among the other wartime secrets in the book Nigel West is that British agents painted one foot blue in an attempt to fool German spies.

It makes the Goon Show sound like a documentary.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Diwana Bhel Poori House

Stumbled accross the Diwana Bhel Poori House in Drummond Street when I was out in Euston earlier this week. Looks like I have finally found somewhere in London where I can get the Bombay street and beach food I have been looking for.

Still looking for Vada Pav though.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Hours

There are many fine moments in Stephen Daldry's lugubrious 2002 film The Hours, but one gag is improved by a little background knowledge.

In the film Virginia (Nicole Kidman behind comedy nose)and Leonard Woolf are languishing in dull, provincial Richmond in Surrey. When I worked in Richmond, our offices were only a few doors away from the building in which they founded the Hogarth Press.

In the scene below Leonard catches Virginia at the train station as she is running away to London because she can't stand the isolation. Richmond Station, incidently, is about 5 minutes from their house.

Richmond to the centre of London takes about twenty minutes. You can see a timetable here.

I think she could have got from her house to Bloomsbury in about half an hour with a following wind.

It takes most kids longer than that to get to school. Its scarcely exile in Siberia.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


I have booked our trip to Dubai for late in April, so its time to start trying to learn more about it.

By the turn of the 20th century Dubai was a sufficiently prosperous port to attract settlers from Iran, India and Baluchistan, while the souk on Deira side was thought to be the largest on the coast, with some 350 shops. The facilities for trade and free enterprise were enough to make Dubai a natural haven for merchants who left Lingah, on the Persian coast, after the introduction of high customs dues there in 1902. These people were mostly of distant Arab origin and Sunni, unlike most Persians, and naturally looked across to the Arab shore of the Gulf finally making their homes in Dubai. They continued to trade with Lingah, however, as do many of the dhows in Dubai Creek today, and they named their district Bastakiya, after the Bastak region in southern Persia.
Meanwhile a flourishing Indian population had also settled in Dubai and was particularly active in the shops and alleys of the souk. The cosmopolitan atmosphere and air of tolerance began to attract other foreigners too: by the 1930s, nearly a quarter of the 20,000 population was foreign, including 2,000 Persians, 1,000 Baluchis, many Indians and substantial communities from Bahrain, Kuwait and the Hasa province in eastern South Arabia. Some years later the British also made it their center on the coast, establishing a political agency in 1954.

Seems extraordinarily that it is reported as so mixed and relaxed when you think that it is so near to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and faces Iran across the Persian Gulf.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Jackson Boomlet

According the Evening Standard, the citizens and businesses of Santa Maria are set for a huge economic boost for a few months as a side effect of the Michael Jakson trial circus. Demand for pole dancers is up (a key 21st century economic indicator) and a coffee shop is charging $265 an hour for internet access.

The only people not preparing are at the shopping centre's music store, where a single Michael Jackson CD stands out in its loneliness. 'We just don't have a big call for Michael Jackson any more,' said an assistant.