Friday, January 30, 2009

Romania to have violent street protests

"In a few months there will be people in the streets, that much is certain," said Luca Niculescu, a media executive in Bucharest. "Every day we hear about another factory shutting or moving overseas. There is a new government that has not shown itself too effective. We have got used to very high growth rates. It's an explosive cocktail."
-From this article in the Observer a couple of weeks ago

Blimey. Jason Burke is an excellent journalist who until recently was the most informed man on Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, etc etc. I have no idea why he's been redeployed to Europe, especially when it seems that this article is just a bunch of vague possibilities strung together and presented as some kind of prescient "be very afraid" type article.

A correspondence

In case you need any background to the following exchange of emails:
Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza aid appeal video
BBC refuses to air humanitarian appeal to save lives in Gaza
Martin Bell (former BBC journalist)

January 26th: Me to the BBC
Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to strongly protest about the BBC's decisions not to show the humanitarian appeal for Gaza. Over the course of the last few years the BBC has, fairly clearly, taken on a less and less objective stance on the Israel Palestine issue, to the point now where it just seems to be a mouthpiece for Israeli government pronouncements. However, the decision not to show a humanitarian appeal is taking this to a new and despicable level. A friend of mine works for a charity and has over the years been involved very heavily in working with relief moneys collected through the DEC. I hope you don't mind me quoting his email to me on this subject:

"I have worked with a large and a small charity either in the field or at HQ ensuring that DEC money is spent properly and accounted for. There was never any question of taking sides by supporting the people affected. Obviously not in the Indian Ocean Tsunami or Pakistan earthquake (natural disasters), but also in Kosovo and more importantly with Hutu refugees from Rwanda.

After the Rwandan Genocide, the perpetrators, along with millions of other Hutus with various degrees of complicity fled to Eastern Zaire (now Congo) and Tanzania. They arrived in countires unable to support them and very, very quickly cholera broke out: the monthly mortaility rate reach 30 per thousand. Now these people were the 'baddies' the people who between them had the blood of 600,000 Tutsis and moderates on their hands. It was not an easy moral decision at first sight, but the agencies decided that stopping people from dying was a humanitarian imperative. And the BBC was there, supporting us with Kate Adie being rushed around to film it."

The obvious question is - what has changed? Why are the people of Gaza undeserving cases when previously the logic was that dying people were dying people and needed help?

I am disgusted by this whole episode and extremely unhappy at (a) the BBC's lack of compassion, and (b) its increasing pro-occupation political bias.

I hope that something can be done to make the BBC actually take some notice of the disgust that myself and many thousands of others feel about this horrific anti-humanitarian decision

Yours Faithfully
Andy H

January 28th: The BBC to me

Thank you for your e-mail.

We note your disappointment at our decision not to broadcast an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee to raise funds for Gaza.

We decided not to broadcast the DEC's public appeal because we wished to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of covering a continuing news story where issues of responsibility for civilian suffering and distress are intrinsic to the story and remain highly contentious. We also could not be confident that the aid resulting from audience donations could reach those it was intended for at a time of a fragile ceasefire and sporadic border access. We will of course continue to report the humanitarian story in Gaza.

The BBC's director-general Mark Thompson has therefore explained the decision in more detail in a number of television and radio broadcasts and online at our Editors' blog. Please follow the link to read his explanation in full:

Please be assured that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us.


January 30th: Me to them

I recently made a complaint about the BBC's decision to refuse to show the humanitarian appeal regarding Gaza. It was a long and considered complaint and referenced a number of other times when the BBC has (correctly) formed the opinion that humanitarian concerns should be above political ones. In response I received a standard letter summarising Mark Thompson's comments and basically ignoring all my questions and points.

I realise that the BBC employees charged with dealing with these complaints are overworked and overstretched, and it is of course not their fault that the easiest way of responding is just to cut and paste the standard non-answer. But if you offer the option of receiving a response it at least ought to reference the complaint in question.

I am still awaiting a response as to why the humanitarian appeals after Rwanda and Kosovo were broadcast, despite political concerns, whereas this was one was not.

(I would also like to know why the editorial policy of the BBC these days on the Israel/Palestine issue is to merely parrot the Israeli government line at all times, but I don't expect I'll ever get an answer to that questions)

Yours Sincerely
Andy H

Jan 30th(within about 25 minutes): Them to me

Thank you for your further email about the BBC's decision concerning the DEC Gaza Appeal.

The Director-General has explained the BBC's position and is the BBC's Editor-in-Chief so this cannot be considered at a higher level by the BBC's Executive. We cannot therefore add more to our previous response but if you wish to take the matter further you can contact the BBC Trust about the decision. For details of how to do this please see the information on the BBC Trust's website at:

Thank you again for your email.

BBC Complaints

I have, of course written to the BBC Trust. Don't expect much more from them, but you never know.

In case you haven't yet complained, and want to:
BBC Complaints
BBC Trust

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Year of The Ox

Today is the first day (or second, or third, I'm not entirely sure - whatever the facts, it's early on) of the year of the Ox. You probably know this already since for whatever reason the Chinese New Year is always presented as a piece of big news. I don't have a problem with that per se, but it seems like other New Years (and there are loads of them) don't get half the coverage. Anyway, that aside, I am very pleased that this is the Year of the Ox, for historical reasons.

There now follows a story from my past which may upset people for a number of reasons. Some may be offended by the schmaltzy dredging up of old reminiscences. Some may be shocked to learn that I am not, as everyone may suspect, entirely perfect and above the law. Others still may be perturbed to learn that, despite appearances to the contrary from my writing ability, I actually did go to University. Who knows? Anyway, without further ado, and with my fingers firmly crossed in the hope that the statute of limitations on some of the revelations contained herein has passed (and typing with your fingers crossed is quite challenging, let me tell you), here goes.

When I was a student (an undergraduate student, that is, since I've done more studenting since then), I occasionally indulged in a spot of smoking. And by smoking here, I don't mean an after-dinner Gitane or a post-coital Marlboro, but something a tad less legal. And by "occasionally" here, I actually mean something like almost incessantly. I hope you've got the picture.

Anyway in my third and final year, I lived on campus in a kind of shared kitchen arrangement with a number of other students, some of whom were first-years. Somehow, one of the friends of one of these first-years, learned that perhaps I might have once in a while on a special occasion have a small puff or two on a joint. Anyway, he wanted to know where he could source some of Morocco's finest export, and so he naturally ended up approaching me. However, much as it amuses me to imagine it these days, I may have intimidated him slightly (apart from being the old hand, I was obviously living a life of crime), and he approached me by shoving a letter under my door. Now here I must now explain that for reasons connected to my surname, for many years in my school and latterly university life I was known by the nickname "Hox". So, this note appears under my door addressed to "The Ox". Obviously this lad had decided that I was some big time gangster drug-dealer and had assumed that what he'd heard to be my name was actually a big-time-gangster-drug-dealer alias.

You might be surprised to learn that this event caused great hilarity among my circle and among a number of people I indeed became "The Ox". In fact my oldest friend still calls me The Ox.

So, anyway the upshot of all this, is that it being the year of "The Ox" is (or ought to be) very propitious for me. And I fully expect to be overwhelmed with good fortune and health happiness and whatever else Chinese people get in good years.

(Final note to the police: The events depicted here happened over 20 years ago. And, anyway, I could have made them up. So there.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Best place in Romania and Hungary combined

I have decided to declare a unilateral ceasefire in my current angry rants on the state of the World's media and their signing up to the "Israel is just a poor victim" lobby. It doesn't mean that steam is not still coming out of my ears.

Instead, in a much much lighter note, I need to point out that Csikszereda is quite clearly and by a large margin, the most important and powerful town/city in both Romania and Hungary combined*.

I mean take a look at this table:
  1. HC Csikszereda
  2. SC Miercurea Ciuc
  3. Ujpesti TE (Budapest)
  4. Budapest NZ Stars
  5. Dab Docler (Dunaujvaros)
  6. Steaua Bucuresti
  7. Ferencvarosi TC (Budapest)
  8. Progym Gheorgheni
  9. Miskolci JJSE
  10. Alba Volan SC II (Szekesfehervar)

This is the final standings in the MOL Liga - the ice hockey league that covers both Hungary and Romania. The sharper eyed amongst you will have noticed that both the first and second clubs in this table are from the same town. This one. So, it is clear that we are obviously and without a shadow of a doubt the biggest, most important, incredibly top city in the two countries*. So inyourface Budapest and Bucharest (and Szeged and Cluj and Iasi and Debrecen and Constanta and Brasov and Miskolc and wherever else). We rule!*

(*In ice hockey)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bushian Logic

Over the course of the last few days, I have received a lot of correspondence (here as comments, by email, and other places where I hang out on the net) which for the most part make the same odd logical leap (sometimes aggressively, sometimes nicely, sometimes filled with bile and invective), which I'm at a loss to really follow. that is that by criticising and expressing my anger at the Israeli bombardment/war on Gaza, I am therefore supporting Hamas. How does that work? Bush and his supporters used the same one when trying to justify their attack on Iraq. "if you don't support our invasion, you must think Saddam is great" Has this kind of "logic" gained common currency these days? What's all that about?

Monday, January 12, 2009


You may think my posts on Gaza have been somewhat biased. I think you're probably right, so here, to provide some actual balance, is the "STATEMENT OF SPECIAL RAPORTEUR FOR THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES" published by the UNHCR this weekend. Now, I hope we can agree that while various media outlets might have their own axes to grind (in whatever direction), the UNHCR is pretty much as neutral as it gets (Though I'm under no illusions that there won't be lots of the extremist wing of the pro-occupation faction who will say that obviously everything the UN is involved with is biased).

Anyway, the full text is here, but here are some excerpts for you if you don't have the time to read the whole.
This concern about exclusion has been compounded during the period preceding the Israeli attack upon Gaza, as well during the military operations, by denying access to foreign journalists, a policy that has been successfully challenged in Israeli courts, but as yet with no tangible results. As noted in the New York Times, Israel denies media representatives access to the humanitarian impacts of its military operations in Gaza while encouraging journalists to view any harmful effects of the rocket attacks on civilians in Israel. Even requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate scenes of supposed humanitarian abuse have so far been refused, e.g. to visit the site of military action in the Gazan town of Zeitan that reportedly killed by deliberate action 60 members of the Samouni family, including several children. This issue of access is crucial for the work of Special Rapporteurs and deserves the attention of the HRC, and of the United Nations generally.

The rationale for this Special Session is the existence of a humanitarian emergency in Gaza, a set of conditions that has been questioned in many public settings by the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. Ms. Livni contends there is no need for a 'humanitarian truce' because there is no humanitarian crisis. She asserts that Israel has allowed shipments of food and medicine to cross the border, but as UNRWA and other UN officials have observed, these shipments will not alleviate hunger and nutritional difficulties unless distribution becomes possible, which is not the case given the war conditions prevailing in most of the Gaza Strip. To what slight extent this dire circumstance can be addressed by the three hour pause in combat operations announced by Israel on 7 January remains to be seen. Beyond the immediate crisis some underlying features should be noted: about 75% of the population lacks access to sanitary water and has no electric power. Such conditions are superimposed on the circumstances of Gazans resulting from the prolonged blockade that had deteriorated the physical and mental health, and the nutritional status, of the population of Gaza as a whole, leaving some 45% of children suffering from acute anemia. Interference in the supply of medicines and health equipment, and border closures, had made it impossible for many Gazans to receive or continue treatment for life-threatening conditions. It was also reliably concluded that up to 80% of Gaza was living under the poverty line, that unemployment totals approached 75%, and that the health system was near collapse from the effects of the blockade. This set of conditions certainly led impartial international observers and civil servants to an uncontested conclusion that the population of Gaza was already experiencing a humanitarian crisis of grave magnitude prior to 27 December.

It should be pointed out unambiguously that there is no legal (or moral) justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and that such behavior is a violation of IHR, associated with the right to life, as well as constitutes a war crime. At the same time, the nature of the offense must be evaluated with the context of its occurrence, including the relevance of the temporary ceasefire that had held since June 2008 until seriously disrupted by a lethal Israeli attack on Palestinian militants in Gaza on 4 November 2008. For the year prior to 27 December, not a single Israeli death resulted from rockets fired from Gaza. Further, since June of 2008 a ceasefire had been observed by both sides, with some infractions taking place, but without altering the willingness of both sides to uphold the ceasefire. During this period Israel had been expected to lift, or at least ease the blockade that had imposed severe hardships on the entire population of Gaza, especially through restraints on the supply of food, medicine and medical equipment, and fuel, but failed to do so. The acute harm done to civilian Gaza has been repeatedly pointed out by leading UN officials on the ground, including the commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that is most directly engaged with the daunting task of meeting the humanitarian needs of Gazans.

This blockade in effect for a period of 18 months was unlawful, a massive form of collective punishment, and as such in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and also a violation of Article 55, which requires that the occupying power ensure that the civilian population has sufficient food and that its health needs are addressed.

The Israeli military campaign was also justified by Israeli leaders as an 'inevitable' and 'unavoidable' response to the persistence of the rocket attacks. Here again it is important to examine the factual setting of Israel's justifications, which go to the reasonableness of such action and its defensive character. Most accounts of the temporary ceasefire indicate that it was a major Israeli use of lethal force on November 4, 2008 that brought the ceasefire to a de facto end, leading directly to increased frequency of rocket fire from Gaza. It is also relevant that Hamas repeatedly offered to extend the ceasefire, even up to ten years, provided that Israel would lift the blockade. These diplomatic possibilities were, as far as can be assessed, not explored by Israel, although admittedly complicated by the contested legal status of Hamas as the de facto representative of the Gazan population.

To mount a major military campaign against an essentially defenseless society already gravely weakened by the blockade accentuates the disproportion of reliance on modern weaponry in combat situations where military dominance was largely uncontested.
It seems significant that Palestinian casualty totals at this time are estimated to be 640 killed, some 2800 wounded, included many critically, with civilian victims set at about 25% by qualified observers. In contrast, according to the latest reports, four Israeli soldiers have died, apparently all as a result of 'friendly fire,' that is by Israeli firepower wrongly directed. The one-sidedness of casualty figures is one measure of disproportion. Another is the scale of devastation and the magnitude of the attacks. It is obvious that the destruction of police facilities, as well as many public buildings, in crowded urban settings represents an excessive use of force even if Israeli allegations are accepted at face value

There have also been a variety of allegations made by qualified observers of Israeli reliance on legally unacceptable targets and on legally dubious weaponry that violate the customary international law prohibition on weapons and tactics that are 'cruel' or cause 'unnecessary suffering.'

That was more excerpting than I was actually planning to do, but it was all so damning that I couldn't reasonably snip it. And remember this is a neutral source.

Csikszereda in the Indepedent

Just got the following link thanks to Lucy Mallows (who wrote it, and has a fascinating blog on Budapest here) - it is a potted version (I presume) of her book Transylvania: The Bradt Travel Guide (I say I presume because I have yet to get hold of a copy of the book.)

Anyway, there we go, a very useful potted guide to travelling in Transylvania. I reckon the book is probably great too. When I actually get one I'll let you know for sure.

Friday, January 09, 2009

More anger

I'm still too upset/angry/disgusted by the massacre going on in Gaza to post coherently on any other subject (less joking about my inability to post coherently about anything at any time at the back please). I've spent this week working in the UK and have been really really appalled at what passes for TV news there. I mean I kind of imagined that Sky News would be poor, given its ownership, so that was no big deal, but the BBC...what happened to the BBC? A couple of years ago an independent study of the BBC's coverage of the Israel Palestine issue found that it was relatively even-handed with slight pro-occupation bias*. But since then rather than getting better it has got immeasurably worse. Yesterday I watched the Israeli spokesman repeating the lies that Hamas were firing rockets from that school that the IDF bombed (which is fairly clearly the usual bullshit they pull to try and cover themselves whenever they do something like this - see also Qana and various other similar indefensible acts of mass murder) and the guy interviewing him never even once pushed him on this, never asked a probing question, never did anything to try and force him to get closer to the truth. It was truly an appalling lapse of journalistic integrity. Luckily my faith waas partially restored in the sense that there are still some TV journalists in the Uk worthy of the name when later in the day the guy interviewing Mark Regev on Channel 4 News actually pushed him to respond to the ICRC's condemnation of the fact that the IDF had left a bunch of children starving next to their corpses of their mothers and hadn't let any ambulances come. (Just, for a moment, muse on that scene. Children. Starving. Next to the decomposing corpses of their mothers. Utterly utterly sickening isn't it?). Anyway while Regev flim-flammed and refused to apologise for this heinous act ("we have to investigate for ourselves" - this is the ICRC we're talking about Mark. They are the most neutral body in the world. They never criticise anyone unless something really really fucking bad has happened and the facts are incontrovertible), but the journalist, to his credit, really did try to get the slimeball to say something that admitted that maybe just maybe the IDF are not the squeaky clean lovers of humanity and ethics that he likes to portray them as. He didn't of course, but at least for a while he felt vaguely uncomfortable. (I presume the result will be that they ban Channel 4 News from reporting in Israel)

(*Just to be clear, there are two positions here - pro-occupation and pro-peace. I am pro-israel, in that I want Israelis to be able to live in peace and security, and to get that result they need to end the occupation. I reject the pro-Israel/pro-palestinian dichotomy which is used as shorthand to suggest that anyone who supports the palestinians right to life and liberty and so on as being an anti-Israeli viewpoint)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Unhappy New Year

Making comments about Israel and Palestine on the Internet tends to be the most surefire way imaginable of getting loads of mad crazy people from the extremes of the debate from both sides to launch insane cyberhate campaigns against one.

But I cannot just sit here and say nothing about this appalling revolting vile murderous indiscriminate killing launched on the people of Gaza by the Israeli government. Not that it's any surprise that the Israeli government (any Israeli government) would decide to start killing Palestinians (apparently as a particularly disgusting murderous electioneering tactic, or perhaps just - just - a massive collective punishment). What is really sickening is the craven mealy-mouthed non-condemnations emanating from the so-called "International Community". All Bush has done is condemn Hamas for firing rockets, and has said nothing about the bombing of women and children in Gaza - like it's OK. They are only Arabs after all. (And the US has refused to sign a call for a ceasefire in the UN. Why? Because they actually want more deaths? I guess so. The EU has done sod all too, and where is that "envoy" Tony Blair? What the fuck is he doing?

And then there is the media coverage. I've watched this unfold on various TV channels, and all of them post the whole thing as some kind of Israeli "response", and just a self-defence. Why do we have to have the media (and I'm talking about the BBC, CNN, etc here) just parroting the Israeli government line? We have that scumbag Mark Regev on our screens every couple of hours smoothly and calmly explaining that he sees the Gazans as victims too (well if you lifted the siege and stopped bombing and murdering them they might not be quite such victims, Mark, you vile apologist for mass murder). It's not even remotely balanced, and anyway, why should there be balance? We don't ask our news channels to present the murderers point of view when there's a trial. Why now, when this massively heavily armed war machine is indiscriminately killing women and children, bombing mosques, schools, shopping centres, and universities, dropping bombs on one of the most overcrowded places in the world with no mercy, no thought for people as people, why now do we have to give prominence to the view of the aggressor? And of course Israel doesn't allow any reporters into the Gaza Strip, so we just have sanitized pictures from outside, of tanks massing.

It's disgusting, and barbaric and vile and a massacre. And the mass media is saying nothing. Nothing. Bastards, vile motherfucking bastards. I cannot watch TV anymore, it disgusts me so much.

I'd normally make an apolgy here for my intemperate language and for saying nothing light-hearted, but I won't. In fact I have moderated my language somewhat.

Some better places to get news untainted by being regurgitated Israeli Government statements or my angry ranting:
The Electronic Intifada
ZMag Middle East Watch
Bitter Lemons
The Guardian - Israel and the Palestinian Territories