Coalitions of the Vaguely Supportive of Something or Other

So, there are forty (or ‘more than’) countries joined together in this anti-IS coalition? Which are, exactly? Anyway, all are obviously united in their deep-seated desire to be rid of the IS fundamentalists. Like Egypt, whose military rulers are no doubt salivating at the idea of getting more US money and guns to ‘degrade and destroy’ . . .er, the Moslem Brotherhood, probably. The Gulf States, who will be equally keen to get their hands on more munitions to ‘degrade and destroy’ . . .er, those awkward democratic protesters. The odd monarchy here and there that hopes to keep going for another fifty years, with its own brand of Islamic fundamentalism . . .

It is hardly surprising that nobody has much idea of who’s in, or what they’re in for. (In both senses of the phrase.) A ‘coalition’ cobbled together like this is simply nonsense; it’s not a plan, nor a strategy, it’s just a recipe for ever-expanding chaos as countries gleefully pick their favoured  enemy and call them “IS-inspired’ just as previously they were ‘Al Quaeda inspired’ or ‘Iran-inspired’ or ‘Libya. . .’ or  ‘Hamas . . ‘. . .well, you get the idea. As though there hasn’t been enough already.

And of course, it’s going to be  a really good start to hand over a half billion dollars’ worth (or whatever) of weapons to a few thousand ‘vetted’ ‘freedom fighters’ in Syria. Who, one supposes will be asked to tick the right boxes on a questionnaire before the airdrops land on the heads of IS occupiers of Syrian and Iraq towns and airbases.

“Tick both of the following: ‘Do you promise to use these guns only against IS and not against other ‘freedom fighters’ you might have a beef with or happen to attack you?’ ‘Do you promise to use these lovely expensive weapons against Assad’s forces at the same time, no matter how likely it’ll be you’ll be decimated between the two?’ ”

And once the 5,000 have done that, off they charge into Iraq brandishing their wonderful weaponry all ready to be greeted with flowers and sweets, instead of tanks and rockets the US (and the Iraqi army) so casually left lying about. And after that, after a quick diversion into Pakistan, the Egyptians will give them a free pass across into Libya, so they can sort out the ‘wrong kind of Muslim’ there; and then nip across the Sahara to tidy up Malawi, northern Nigeria. . .and everybody (especially American soldiers) lives happily ever after.

(Forget about the Kurds, btw. The US is never going to allow anybody to give the Peshmurga any really effective weaponry to do anything more than hold on (just!) to what they’ve got. Turkey, you see. Still pretty unkeen on anything that might ever come to resemble the capacity or possibility of any kind of independent Kurdistan.)

Never mind, it’ll all work out somehow. There’ll be a banner (headline, not on an aircraft carrier this time) probably just before the next US presidential election boasting that “IS has been degraded and destroyed.” Somewhere. (Probably somewhere rather small and ineffectual.) Just like all the others . . .

Oh dear, oh dear. It’s all a bit too late to start asking the Pentagon, the State Department (and, obviously, any members of Congress at all) to learn some history, some theology and some geography. Looking back, forget the Balfour Declaration. Perhaps one of the biggest British blunders in the Middle East was giving Abdul Aziz a bloody kingdom.

Squirrel Nest ‘Open House’ . . .

Just realised it’s the London ‘Open House’ thing this weekend, where all kinds of buildings, houses and flats get opened to anybody and everybody who turns up.

Sadly, the Squirrel Nest is not included this year. (Again.) No-one seemed interested in the description I offered:

“Undistinguished, even casual and mildly inconvenient, 1960′s conversion of the first floor above a shop of a Victorian building of 1870. No original features, apart from half a stuck sash window (re-glazed ca. 1970) and many-times overpainted skirting board, from time to time housing authentic descendants of the original Victorian mice.”

So I shall be free to go buzzing around looking at things I haven’t somehow got around to seeing. (I hope: the Squ. spine’s been in a bad way the last few weeks, but I get a new injection on Wednesday, just in time, if it works as quickly as the last one.) One site I rather fancy is a trip around the roof of Victoria Station, only I doubt somehow it’ll have wheelchair access . . .Or crutch access, for that matter.

Mildly tempted to see what the inside of that horrendous grey concrete Czech Embassy looks like. Will they show us the rooms the Russians were reputed to do all their spying from? (If you don’t know of it, it was notoriously huge—probably about eight or ten times the size of the actual Russian Embassy just along the road—and with an array of aerials on the roof back then that was probably capable of picking up alien reality TV from Tau Ceti.)


What you can see this year is just amazing. Hadn’t realised it had got so big. There are around 20 places I’d really like to get into; going to need at least a full day plotting bus routes, I think. Pity about the Victoria station roof, though. Curiously, one is the chapel at Charing Cross hospital: it’s got stained glass windows by John Piper, apparently. I didn’t know that, and I’ve been going to that hospital three or four times a year for years. I like Piper. Have to look for it on Wednesday when I’m there.

Hacking Shock: Naked Squirrel in Bed Pic!




And be Warned!

“Sharing these images is not the same as making a joke . . .. It’s an act of sexual violation, and it deserves the same social and legal punishment as meted out to stalkers and other sexual predators.

“Under US and other laws, it is illegal to own or share sexual images of another person under 18.” [The Squirrel here was definitely under 18 when this photo was taken. Probably about four.]

Does anyone else feel this is becoming ridiculous?  If you’re going to take nude photos of yourself (or have someone take them for you) and then keep them in the Cloud, why exactly did you do it in the first place?  To keep looking at them yourself, which is absurdly narcissisitic, or to pass them around to others, which has just happened on a rather larger scale. . .There’s something rather warped that nudity amounts to sexual abuse; if that were to be taken at face value, then an awful lot of painters over the last few centuries are criminals, not painters (admittedly, one or two Italian ones actually were!) and anyone who goes into an art gallery or wanders past Michaelangelo’s David in Florence, or the Mannekin Pis in Brussels, will have to be prosecuted.

“Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. Your bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you.”

Wonder what Botticelli’s Venus would think?  (And can we be absolutely sure she’s under 18?) Or Alison Lapper? (Who, btw, was talking on the BBC a week or so ago, along with her son—who’s now 14—who didn’t seem to feel that either.) Or Rembrandts’ Sascha? Or Angela Merkel for that matter?

So, here, is naked, unashamed, Squirrel.


Dark Days for Satirists

As satirists around the world scribble their “Goodbye cruel world” notes and reach for their razor blades and sleeping pills, CNN reveals that a nine-year-old girl, on vacation with her family in northern Arizona near Las Vegas, has shot and killed a tourist-emporium employee with the submachine gun he was teaching her to shoot. At a place called Bullets and Burgers. (At a place called Bullets and Burgers. At a place called Bullets and Burgers.) The owner of Bullets and Burgers says that “We really don’t know what happened.” (He should watch the video that CNN helpfully links to. It would be the least he can do, since everyone that kid has ever met will have bookmarked it already.) CNN notes that Bullets and Burgers brags on its Facebook page that “We separate ourselves from all other Las Vegas ranges with our unique ‘Desert Storm’ atmosphere and military style bunkers.” Their web site (which CNN doesn’t seem to have found yet) makes the same claim, and adds “You will be treated with the World Famous All American Hamburger, fresh cut french fries, and a drink. The All American Burger is guaranteed to be the best hamburger you have ever eaten.” Trip Advisor, whatever that may be, ranks Bullets and Burgers “#1 of 575 attractions in Las Vegas” (take that, Hoover Dam). CNN does not reveal whether the girl will be tried as an adult, but things don’t look too good for her because the dead instructor “was married, well-liked and a veteran.” Also, there were no reviews of the hamburgers.


few early pix before I had to use my long-planned ‘rat-run’ to get to a concert that was going to start more than four hours later. Going against this:





Friemds? (It was also the 200th anniversary of us burning the White House, but we kind of forgot  to celebrate that on Monday. Washington Post reminded us . . .)













. . .or. . .or . . .when I grow up I’ll learn to play the tuba!



OK,. so where’s the Italian one, then? (All quiet now, but could be awake for a while yet; they’ve just started the first run cleaning my street; won’t be finished till 4 in the morning probably . . .)


It’s a bit sad today. We had a forecast of heavy rain and it’s been raining continuously since dawn. Usually, by about now (mid-day) there are two or three hundred people walking around my street and in a couple of hours’ time  there’d be a couple of thousand; now, there’s barely a handful. One plus is that the sound stages are relatively quiet. (Normally my windows and doors are rattling like bass drums by now and I start worrying about going deaf and hide in the kitchen . . .But I suspect some of them didn’t pay attention to the weather forecast and have blown their electrics . . .)

Should have been going to a lunchtime concert, but  I had to abandon it. I got a very big waterproof cloak for rainy days. (it’s huge, I call it ‘The Tent’. It’s a German thing that doubles as a sort of ground sheet. I think you can probably use it as a bivouac as well; it covers me and a lot of my wheelchair down to my feet; bought it after getting thoroughly sodden from the waist down a few times last year.) But I’d still have to wheel it for about half an hour to get to a bus, and I couldn’t face it. Especially as I’ve got tickets for two concerts tomorrow . . .

Ferguson, Missouri: “Proud to be ‘a playful USA community’.”

More:For the fourth consecutive year, they say  on the official website.




Newark 1967


Top: Ferguson 2014;  bottom, Newark 1967

To bring some sense of proportion to this, according to the St Louis Post Despatch, the number of protesters actually on the streets of Ferguson has varied from ‘ a dozen or more’, to  ‘a few dozen’ to ‘over a hundred’. The largest number appears to have been 400 who met in a church, some of whom briefly ‘marched up and down’ outside afterwards.

And for  this, they are deploying automatic weapons, tear gas, ‘wooden bullets’ (not rubber?) and heaven knows what else. And they order the media out; and they close the airspace. Small town, small war. And all because a young (admittedly rather large) man didn’t step onto the pavement when a policeman in a car ordered him to.

Also, according to the same newspaper,

Gun sales have spiked at several metro area gun stores in the wake of rioting and looting in Ferguson and disturbances at a few stores in other locations.Mid America Arms in South County reported that firearm sales were up by about 50 percent on Tuesday.Customers are loading up on semi-automatic handguns and shotguns, said Al Rothweiler*, one of the owners.


This, I suppose is where Bill Bratton’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ policing leads. (He wanted to be the Met’s next Commissioner; mercifully, we’ve been spared that, or perhaps the streets of London would be littered with corpses.)
* I’m not sure I can believe the owner of a gun store is really called that. . . .
And it goes on . . .now they’ve brought out armoured vehicles; tear-gassed a TV crew (Al Jazeera America. . .well, they would, wouldn’t they?) and nicked their equipment, arrested two journos, one from the Washington Post, because two bottles were thrown. (Which probably didn’t actually hit anyone.)  Nonetheless, this constituted an assault on the police:”The fear of threat like that is still construed as an assault. Injury does not have to happen for an assault to happen,” said a police spokesman.They’ve arrested a state senator for ‘unlawful assembly’. (What?) And they’re using flash-bang grenades and sound cannon. (There’s a pic of one mounted on one of the armoured vehicles.) What next? Bring in drones and start demolishing ‘suspected protester’s’ houses?All this does (all it can do) is fuel not just distrust, but absolute loathing. I was living in Notting Hill before (and during) the riot in ’87. I’d just moved there. For weeks before Carnival, I was stopped and searched at the end of my own street any night I was coming home late from work. (Dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase. It got so if I spotted a police van in the distance, I’d turn and take a long detour home to try to avoid them jumping out of the shadows at me.) If I’d been black, I’d have been stopped at least once every night. It made me angry. So when rioting erupted after Carnival, I wasn’t exactly surprised. It took years  for the police around here to regain any sort of trust (let alone respect) whatsoever. What people in Ferguson must feel, apparently treated like that continually year after year and now faced with what looks like a military occupation, I can hardly comprehend.(A few weeks later I had to chair a public meeting (not in Notting Hill, in Westminster) with a senior ‘Community Officer’ from Scotland Yard about ‘reassuring’ people that the cops were nice people really. He was very shocked when he spoke to me privately afterwards to thank me for chairing the damn thing and I let rip—still seething—about what it had been like living in Notting Hill those few months.)


And now . . .the governor is sending in the National Guard. This is turning into a war.


And another man is shot by police in St Louis. The police car draws up, he first walks away, then turns back towards them as they yell “drop the knife!” Within fifteen seconds of their arrival, they have fired at least ten-twelve shots from a few metres away. they have made no attempt whatsoever to keep some distance between them, no attempt to calm him, no attempt to disarm him by other means. they just confront him and  open fire. They don’t even attempt to shoot to disable him. The police chief says it was ‘a lethal situation, they used lethal force.’ But it’s not clear it was a ‘lethal’ situation’. the man had shown no sign of attacking anyone else; he did not strictly speaking, show any sign of actually attacking the two policemen. And even the St Louis alderman who has been on the streets said “Legally, an armed man lunging at police can be shot. . . this seems to be legally justified.”

A couple of friends of mine (one Italian, one French) are as shocked as I am. (The point being, of course, that though both are living in Britain where the police in the streets are not armed, that’s not the case in France or Italy, where every policeman has a sidearm.) I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Belgium (where the police are all armed too) and France, but though I know people have been shot by police, it’s not like this.


And then, of course, there is the now notorious piece in the WashPo by an ex-policeman who is now a ‘professor of homeland security’ which lays bare the contradictions in policing this way. (Which the author, professor or not) seems not to have realised himself.)

You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant (though a pat-down is still allowed if there is cause for suspicion). Always ask the officer whether you are under detention or are free to leave. Unless the officer has a legal basis to stop and search you, he or she must let you go. Finally, cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: The moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officers must cease use of force.


if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.

As we’ve seen, ‘aggressively walking’ (or too fast, too slow, or not at all) can be ‘legally’ lethal.


good for one thing

I’ve decided; this is the kind of thing, and it may well be about the only kind of thing, that the internet is good for.  Theoretically, it could also be good for a lot of other things too, but to my eye the jury’s still out on that one. Well, hang on. Recipes, it can be good for recipes.

And “How to get your washing machine/pickup truck to display its error codes without buying an $800 tool.” Yeah, it’s real good for stuff like that.

Oh, and for finding shit that you really need which the local hardware stores say doesn’t exist.

OK, the internet can be handy.

But this is the kind of thing it was really made for. I thought at first that maybe he has a pickup truck full of hay parked behind the camera. But then I realized that his audience would have simply walked right past him and got right into it. So that’s not it;


It’s Toasted!

I always wondered what that slogan on Camel cigarette packets  meant. However, seems there’s a new take-away notion in San Fransisco. Take-away cheese on toast.

Seven dollars will buy you cheese and macaroni on toast, with optional free tomato, or grilled onion and for another dollar you can have spinach on it.

It looks disgusting. That’s an expert opinion; squ has—probably like every kid brought up in this country—been making cheese on toast from a pretty early age. But never, never, never, even with being half-Italian, have I ever considered for a second, putting macaroni on it.


Mozzarella-on-toast, yes. Tricky, though, taken a long time to perfect it . . .

And as for their version of a croque madame . . .



Well, really. As a basic toasted cheese-and-egg sandwich, that’s the wrong way round anyway. The cheese should be on top of the egg. Or it tastes all wrong. There is much more to making cheese-on-toast than just piling one thing on top of another like a cheesy building site. And is the toast buttered? The menu doesn’t mention it. You can’t have toasted cheese without butter on the toast. And is the bread toasted on both sides? That’s important, too.

And you can’t just add a slice or two of tomato to your toasted cheese, just like that! If you put it on top of the cheese, it slides off. You need to put the slices under the cheese, so they’re nice and warm but not shrivelled and burnt at the edges. Better still is to put slices of tomato, well black-peppered, and cheese into half a pitta, and toast in a toaster.

And where on the menu are such real cheese-on-toast delicacies as Welsh Rarebit? And what about what I call ‘Italian poached egg on toast’? (I don’t actually know the real name for it.) You cut a very thick slice of bread, make a poached-egg size hollow in it, sprinkle it liberally with good olive oil, break an egg into the hollow with seasoning, sprinkle Parmesan over the top if you like, put it on a greased baking tray and bake at low heat in the oven until the white cooks. You have to watch it, or if you’re not careful, the yolk goes rubbery.

I think this company needs a toasted cheese consultant.


To Sleep, to Snore, Perchance to Die . . .

Look away now, if you don’t want to get upset. However hard I try (and it’s the BBC Proms Season, so I’m doing my best to listen to a lot of music) it is getting harder to distract oneself from real life. And here we go again. Another botched execution, this time in Arizona.

“I’m telling you he was snoring,” Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general’s office, said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “There was no gasping or snorting. Nothing. He looked like he was asleep. This was my first execution and I have no reason to minimize this.”

“No, he was not drowning, he was waving. This was the first time I’ve seen anyone waving out at sea; I know. Trust me.”

If, during the numerous times I’ve been under an anaesthetic (and that’s quite a few over the years) none of my anaesthetists have ever complained that I snored through the operation. According to the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association,One of the first changes seen with the induction of anaesthesia is the loss of upper airway reflexes, when this occurs, the effort of breathing in will cause the throat to partially collapse. This is similar to the changes that cause snoring during sleep. This partial obstruction is so well known that anaesthetists automatically correct for this to maintain a satisfactory airway.”

In other words, if you’re snoring, you are not dying. . .you are struggling to do quite the opposite. In this case, it would appear, for an hour or more.

A long time ago, a relative (I never really knew what exactly,  he was just one of a number of old folks who tended to pat me on the head and give me a penny or two for pocket money) committed suicide in his house not very far from ours. He’d retired, and it was only overhearing when I wasn’t supposed to be in hearing distance, I heard that he’d been a policeman. An Inspector, I think. Not just that; he’d been a policeman who had had to be an official witness at executions at Manchester Strangeways Prison. It had preyed on his mind, they said. Whether that was speculation, I couldn’t, of course, ask. But since the person who was telling my grandmother had been called by the police to identify him at the house, and was still in shock, I assumed, though much later, of course, the he’d mentioned that in a note. Or perhaps he’d been talking of it.

I hope Ms Grisham sleeps well. And doesn’t snore.