Sunday, February 25, 2007

Super Saturday....

Unless you are English or, for that matter, Scottish or Welsh! The middle Saturday of the 6 Nations has become known as Super Saturday for the fact that three internationals are played on the same day.

First off, for a rugby nut like myself, it is one of the best days of the year. I get to monopolise the TV for practically the entire day. But more importantly, yesterday saw three of the best games I've seen for some time.

First off was Scotland against Italy. With the game being played in Edinburgh at Murrayfield, this game was yet another where one's interest was how big would Scotland's winning margin be. For once, I was ready for the start of the match, and how lucky I was for that. Italy was 21-0 up within 7 minutes - 3 converted tries had put the team which has never won away from home, almost out of sight! All three tries came from Scotland errors the type of which, even schoolboys would never do. Scotland made things even worse for themselves by not kicking penalties as the usual Italian indiscipline crept in to their game. With the amount of kickable penalties awarded, Scotland could have been on level terms by half time, but they preferred, for reasons known only to themselves, to kick for position. What was even more impressive, was that the Italians didn't sit back, but took the game to Scotland and managed a couple more tries, including one for Alessandro Troncon Italy's 34 year-old scrum-half. Although Scotland did attempt a rally in the second half, on the day, they were always going to be second best after such an awful start and in the end, the 37 - 17 scoreline to Italy was a true reflection on the match, and their first away win was quite emphatically, in the bag.

Next up Ireland against England at Croke Park in Dublin.

For anyone who has followed the 'troubles' in Ireland will know that Croke Park has been home to Irish Gaelic Games since 1884, but is more infamously known as the place where the original 'Bloody Sunday' happened. November 21, 1920, a troop of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary Entered the ground and started shooting indiscriminately into the crowd killing 14 during a Dublin-Tipperary gaelic football match. This was in apparent retaliation to the killing of 14 British intelligence officers earlier that day by Micheal Collin's squad. From that day forward, it was decreed that no 'English' game will ever be played at Croke Park, and inparticular, no 'English' team will be welcome onto the ground.

However, Lansdowne Road, the traditional home of Irish rugby, is under development for the next few years, and Irish rugby has been, temporarily moved across to Croke Park. Given all the cultural background to this game, there was a real possibility of 'problems' at the game, and in particular when 'God Save The Queen' was sung and played. What I witnessed brought a tear to my eye, and a pride in my heart that I support a game that has the best and most noble of supporters. Where I expected cat-calls and whistles, barracking and shouting (there were even reports that the Irish would turn their backs when the anthem was played) I was immensely
pleased to see everyone in the ground who were not English, standing respectfully and quite, and at the end, giving the English team a round of applause of welcome. A truly, but characteristically Irish welcome to the English.

Unfortunately, that is where the welcome ended as the Irish team led by the magnificent O'Driscoll at Outside Centre (my old position) cruelly and ruthlessly to England apart. I don't want to go into details at this stage - it hurts too much, but to echo England Coach, Brian Ashton's words, "We were stuffed". Ireland beat England 43 - 13 - their biggest ever winning margin in this or the previous 5 Nations tests. England choked at Croke Park.

Finally, under the floodlights at the Stade de France in Paris, France took on Wales. History indicates that this should have been a good match for Wales, having won their last 4 matches at the ground. Moreover, the French are not too happy to play under floodlights. The game certainly started off well for Wales with 2 tries and conversions, but as the dust started to settle on the first frantic quarter, France started to impose themselves on their visitors and countered with tries and penalties of their own. The second half was a 40 minute demonstration of keeping it tight and controlled, and apart from a couple of occasions, one of which led to a Welsh try, didn't give the Welsh opportunity to put anything together. However, compared with the two previous matches, this game was a much more even affair, though a late score saw France take the honours, 32 -21.

Wales have now lost all 3 games and are languishing in the wooden spoon position. There next match is against Italy, which previous form would indicate a win to Wales, but from what I saw yesterday, all bets are off. Italy have found some belief, but more importantly, a style of rugby that suits them and is now paying off.

Role on to next week!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Home Building

Standing for my 8:50am train to work on Hindley station today, I saw a female Blackbird gathering nesting material.

Does she not know it is still February?

I know the picture is of a Robin, but I couldn't find a decent one of a Blackbird. If I do, I'll change it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'm Living With A Teenager

The 18th February 1994 at 8:04 in the morning, a nurse placed something into my arms that was to change my life for ever. Mr eldest daughter, Bethen, had been born to the strains of Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell (Christine's choice!). She was starting as she meant to go on by giving her mother a rough time in labour and eventually being delivered by Cesarean section after untold hours of not wanting to face the world.

From that auspicious start, Bethen has continued to mark her own way in the world. An independent thinker, and, like me, not afraid to state her opinion, she can, at times, be a bit difficult to live with. Two highly self-opinionated people under the same roof can make for uncomfortable living, but to be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way.

However, today, she became a "teenager"! (In truth, I think she has been a teenager for sometime!). Thirteen!

Where have the years gone? The early days when she neatly fitted into the crook of my arm falling asleep, later when she would snuggle in on my lap before going off to bed, rushing up when I came home from work to tell me what she had done at school and the look of relief and love when I finally gave up smoking! It all seems like yesterday, and I treasure every memory.

But she is now a teenager! No longer the 'lets go for a bike ride' but now, 'I'm going to town with friends, and can I have some money!'. Everything now becomes a 'big' deal and 'you don't understand!'.

I'm beginning to think, will either of us going to survive the next seven years! I've decided, I think the best thing is that I leave home!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Britain Condemned On Extraordinary Rendition

Britain was condemned by Euro MP's yesterday for colluding in secret CIA operations to fly terror suspects to countries where they faced torture.

A report, approved in Strasbourg after a year long inquiry, said more than 1,000 covert flights operated by the US intelligence agency had flown into European airspace or stopped over at European airports after 9/11.

Britain was singled out for co-operating with the CIA by sending 3 British citizens on rendition flights.

The report expressed 'outrage' at a legal opinion provided by Michael Wood, former legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who said that "...receiving or possessing..." information extracted under torture was not, in itself, against international conventions banning torture, " so far as there is no direct participation in the torture". Mr Wood refused to give evidence to the European Parliament committee which conducted the inquiry.

The study follows last year's findings from the human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, that the CIA ran a 'global spider's web' of rendition flights, with Europe as a major staging post.

The report found that at least 1,245 flights stopped at European airports or flew into the continent's air space between 2002 and 2005, and expressed 'serious concern' about 170 stopovers by CIA flights at British airports.

Well we can certainly hold our heads up high after this one.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Will They Ever Learn?

The inability to learn from past mistakes and a lack of understanding of the consequences of action are to of the main characteristics of the psychopathic personality.

It now seems that the White House has embarked on a path of "educating" the American people on the need to invade Iran. The evil of Iran has been a mantra for the US for some time now, but the time has now come to ratchet up the fear.

With similarities that are both laughable and chill the blood to the build up to the Iraq war, the US military has decided to present "evidence" of Iran's involvement with the militias in Iraq. A number of "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs were displayed to which three nameless (of course) "experts" confirmed were manufactured in Iraq.

The display appeared to be part of the White House drive that has empowered U.S. forces in Iraq to use all means to curb Iranian influence in the country, including killing Iranian agents. All means includes invasion!

It is clear to me that Bush wants to invade Iran and exercise the same principle of "regime change" that has been such a success in Iraq, - oh, and of course, knock out a nuclear complex or two.

It will be interesting to see if the American people will allow themselves to be suckered again and swallow the nonsense pedaled by this regime. Certainly I expect my government to resist this latest bit of adventurism to the hilt and not cravenly fall in line as they did last time.

I am sure that Iran is stirring the pot, but the place for that to be aired is in open at the UN, not behind closed doors in the White House. Can the American troops, their families and people afford to open up a third front, baring in mind the lack of success in Afganistan and Iraq. Moreover, can they afford it in cash!

As one of the "experts" said; "We know more than we can show," said one of the senior officials, when pressed for tangible evidence that the EFPs were made in Iran. Of course they do, and I'm living in Groundhog Day.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Unfriendly Fire - Part 2

The Sun newspaper has acquired and released a copy of the cockpit video of the 'friendly fire' incident I wrote about yesterday. From what I saw and listened to just adds to the concern.

It appears that the American pilots had no real idea where they were, and even though their controllers told them there were 'friendlies' in the vicinity, they still mistook the orange recognition flashes on the vehicles as rocket launchers. They also seemed to think that Scimitar armoured vehicles looked like flat-bed trucks.

What I also heard was the shock and grief from the pilots when they realised what they had done. Sobbing could clearly be heard.

I know that in the heat of battle, things can get very confused and accidents will always happen - it is, after all, part of being human, but that being said, it was daylight and visibility was reasonable, - and at the end of the day, taking time to check once more could have meant the Corporal Matty Hull might still be alive today.

Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted, and in this case, can save lives

Monday, February 05, 2007

Friendly Fire - Bloody Murder!

Lance Corporal Matty Hull of the Household Cavalry was on duty in Iraq in his Scimitar armoured truck in 2003 when a circling pair of American A-10 tankbusters suddenly opened fire. This so-called 'blue on blue' killing, also know as death by 'friendly fire', happened four years ago. The coroner's inquest is presently under way to finalise and determine cause of death.

Obviously, a tragic accident - or was it?

It now emerges that there is a cockpit recording of the incident which our America allies refuse to allow the coroner to play in court. This despite the tape's crucial importance, as it is said to contain 'incriminating' information, including the line: 'Someone's going to jail for this.'

Alas, our Ministry of Defence is complicit in a cover-up. Not merely because it will not let the Oxfordshire coroner flick the 'play' switch until America gives permission, but because, scandalously, for four years it has denied 'categorically' that any such recording exists, knowing this to be a lie.

If Defense Secretary, Des Browne can't ensure this tape is admissible when the inquest reconvenes later this month, he should be fired, himself, in a manner most unfriendly.

And what of America? It claims the right to try foreign nationals in foreign countries for 'crimes' defined by American law. Yet it requires Britain to extradite suspects to America, while failing to ratify a treaty that would let us try Americans here, such as those who kill our citizens. So often, British ministers plead with this administration to show some slight consideration that would make our support for the Iraq war easier, but, as usual, they are rebuffed.

The sadness is that with a Democrat Congress and - we hope - a less ideological President, American activism and interventionism could become a more consensual force for good in the world once again. But that might be too late for Britain. It certainly is for Lance Corporal Hull.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Drip, Drip, Drip

"From the perspective of the White House, it was smart to blur the lines about what was acceptable and what was not in the war on terrorism. It meant that whenever someone was overzealous in some dark interrogation cell, President (George W.) Bush and his entourage could blame someone else. The rendition teams are drawn from paramilitary officers who are brave and colorful. They are the men who went into Baghdad before the bombs and into Afghanistan before the army. If they didn't do paramilitary actions for a living, they would probably be robbing banks. Perhaps the Bush Administration deliberately created a gray area on renditions." This quote was made by Tyler Drumheller, the former chief of the CIA's European division during an interview with the German current affairs magazine Der Spiegel in responce to a question about extraordinary rendition.

On how the White House viewed Europe after 9/11 he had this to say: "Elements of the Bush administration developed the view that European personal privacy laws were somehow to blame, that the Europeans are too slow. We can be very frustrating to work with. I always said, 'Stop preaching to them.' The Europeans have been dealing with terrorism for years, we can learn from their successes and failures. Its not a good spy story, but it's actually how you do this."

When asked how much the CIA was to blame for the amount of wrong information about Saddam Hussein and Iraq, he responded: "The agency is not blameless and no president on my watch has had a spotless record when it comes to the CIA. But never before have I seen the manipulation of intelligence that has played out since Bush took office. As chief of Europe I had a front-row seat from which to observe the unprecedented drive for intelligence justifying the Iraq war."

He was then asked about the critics in Washington who claim that the Germans, because of Curveball, an Iraqi dissident who gave information about supposed Iraqi biological and chemical weapons development, bear a large part of the repsonsibility for the intelligence mess. His reply: "There was no effort by the Germans to influence anybody from the beginning. Very senior officials in the BND expressed their doubts, that there may be problems with this guy. They were very professional. I know that there are people at the CIA who think the Germans could have set stronger caveats. But nobody says: "Here's a great intel report, but we don't believe it." .... The administration wanted to make the case for war with Iraq. They needed a tangible thing, they needed the German stuff. They couldn't go to war based just on the fact that they wanted to change the Middle East. They needed to have something threatening to which they were reacting."

At the time of Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations, Drumheller said: "I had assured my German friends that it wouldn't be in the speech. I really thought that I had put it to bed. I had warned the CIA deputy John McLaughlin that this case could be fabricated. The night before the speech, then CIA director George Tenet called me at home. I said: "Hey Boss, be careful with that German report. It's supposed to be taken out. There are a lot of problems with that." He said: 'Yeah, yeah. Right. Dont worry about that.'"

He then adds: "I turned on the TV in my office, and there it was. So the first thing I thought, having worked in the government all my life, was that we probably gave Powell the wrong speech. We checked our files and found out that they had just ignored it." ..."The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy. Right before the war, I said to a very senior CIA officer: "You guys must have something else," because you always think it's the CIA. "There is some secret thing I don`t know." He said: "No. But when we get to Baghdad, we are going to find warehouses full of stuff. Nobody is going to remember all of this.""

The full interview transcript can be found here, but it is yet just another piece of evidence of the White House's comfort with using lies. When is impeachment going to be started?