Sunday, August 31, 2003

When will I ever learn?

I've read the articles in the papers about how 90% of people who join gyms drop out after a few weeks but it still didn't stop me.

Seduced by the sight of rows of toned bodies pummelling themselves to perfection I signed up at the Virgin Active gym in west London. If I'm going to do that triathlon I've got to start somewhere. An African village could survive for a year for the price of the monthly membership but I'm a sucker for the complimentary towels and shower gel, not to mention the promise of a rippling six pack.

Actually, I had to do something. A lack of proper exercise combined with an over-fondness for lager is having a destructive effect on my waistline. It's probably a little late to get in shape for next year's Paralympics but I can at least try to stop myself turning into the Michelin man.

Like a new recruit for some dodgy religious cult I get "inducted" on Tuesday. I already feel like I've made a big mistake.
Good news this morning.

I received a text message from Jamie to say that she's safely exited Iraq. She's currently sunning herself in Amman.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

I was going to write about this in a couple of weeks' time, but seeing as it's in the paper today I might as well mention it now.

Over four days in London next month, some of the world's leading arms manufacturers will be peddling their wares at the Defence Systems and Equipment International exhibition in Docklands. It's Europe's largest arms fair, sponsored by the Government -- yes, the Labour government, the one you voted into power because you liked the sound of its ethical foreign policy.

Looking for a fleet of warships? Fancy upgrading your APC for something a bit fancier? Or maybe just thinking of blowing the shit out of your neighbour (you know, the one that plays the Garage tunes at 2 o'clock in the morning.) If so, DSEi's the place to go. It's the Wal-Mart of Weapons.

Because of this, it attracts buyers from around the world, including Angola, Tanzania, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. But wait -- aren't all these countries accused of human rights violations? Amnesty International certainly thinks so.

Today, the Guardian reports that manufacturers of cluster bombs have been asked not to display their disgusting products because it's considered to be "inappropriate."

That just about sums up the sickening hypocrisy of the whole event. The slick men in suits can happily gather in London with government backing and ply their deadly trade -- but they're politely asked not to to put their goods in the shop window in case it shows them for what they are.

It's not just the cluster bombs that should be kept out -- the whole exhibition should be shut down.

Disarm DSEi 2003
Campaign Against the Arms Trade
While in Cardiff this week I did a half-hour pre-recorded interview with presenter Mal Pope for a forthcoming BBC Radio Wales series called "Beating the Odds," about people who have overcome adversity.

I haven't got a transmission date yet but I've made a little 3 minute-long MP3 as a taster.

"Beating the Odds" Extract (372Kb)
Picture: Recording "Beating the Odds" with Mal Pope
Now I'm back in London it gives me great pleasure in being able to scan and upload that South Wales Echo front page I was banging on about earlier this week, especially for those of you unlucky enough to live outside the Echo's coverage area. Enjoy!

City Shirt Blew Up Boat (.jpg)

Friday, August 29, 2003

The Kennedy dynasty is the source of this week's Amputee of the Week

In 1973, at the age of 12, Edward "Ted" Kennedy, Jr, the son of Senator Edward Kennedy, discovered a lump below his kneecap. A paediatrician told his parents it was just a calcium deposit and to advised them soak it in Epsom salts.

Later, while skateboarding, the young Kennedy fell and hit his leg on a curb. "The pain lasted for an abnormal period of time, and I told my parents we’d better check this thing out," he said. The examination revealed a cancerous tumour, and a biopsy revealed a malignancy. His leg was amputated above the knee the next day.

"I remember my dad coming into my room and telling me that I was going to lose part of my leg," Ted Jr. recalled. "I was petrified and horrified at the thought. I remember thinking that living life with one leg was worse than not living at all."

Kennedy went on to college, graduate school, and law school, and today is an advocate for the civil rights of people with disabilities. He practices in Connecticut, specializing in health and disability law.

You can read an interview with Ted Kennedy Jr here. In it, he says:

"For some, limb salvage is a great option. But people go through Herculean efforts to try to save a leg when, I think in many cases, they would be much better off going for the amputation. It's not the end of the world to lose a leg."

Indeed it's not. Ted Kennedy Jr -- you're Amputee of the Week.
Ace Echo hackette Alex Lemon makes her debut in cult e-zine The Friday Thing this week.

Inspired by the appearance in this week's Twat Pack of Ali Bongo wannabe David Blaine, Alex assesses Blaine's latest pointless stunt. And if you're still in any doubt of Blaine's status as a Premier Division Prick, take a look at this interview in Newsweek. I think I'd rather spend six weeks in a glass box above the Thames than read it again -- especially the bit when he compares his stunt to the Holocaust.

Although the editors of The Friday Thing have robbed Alex of a by-line, we know the words are hers -- and that's all that matters. TFT is only available by subscription, so I've cut and pasted the article into the document below:

IT'S A BIRD... IT'S A BLAINE? (.doc)
IT'S A BIRD... IT'S A BLAINE? (.txt)
Much commotion among my parents' neighbours in Cardiff this morning as they awoke to find a police Scientific Investigation Unit van parked in the street and men in white boiler suits coming and going.

The coppers guarding number 32 were "tight lipped" as we journalists are prone to say but just as I was leaving to head back to London the TV crews had started arriving.

The reason....

BBC News: Man held over vanished OAP
Looking over the stats I see there are a fair number of visitors from quite a few countries that haven't made it onto the Guest Map yet.

So you're especially welcome to make your mark if you're from Belgium, Germany, Holland, Japan, New Zealand and Brazil (or indeed anywhere in South America.) And if you're not from one of those countries -- well, stick a pin in the map anyway!

Thursday, August 28, 2003

The latest BBC News Online diary has been published here.

Full marks to the graphics team for the picture of the Volkswagen Beetle alongside the Ferrari!
More proof, as if it were needed, that the we only do white legs story from a few days ago was a load of tosh.

An amputee colleague e-mails to say: "At Roehampton I often see black amputees being given black legs just the same as my NHS one only black. I don't see what the problem is."

So there we are -- the cheaper artificial limb covers are available in black.

The "problem" is that Monday's story was complete nonsense....but then we knew that anyway. It would appear that one person's ill-informed comment suddenly became headline news, regardless of its accuracy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003


Every so often a news story comes up that's so unlikely, so downright bizarre, that it takes your breath away.

The front page of today's South Wales Echo has one such story -- and a headline that's so good it deserves to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Unfortunately it's not published online so I can't link to it but the splash -- in 80 point type -- reads 'CITY SHIRT BLEW UP BOAT...STATIC FROM BLUEBIRDS TOP IS BLAMED FOR EXPLOSION.'

The copy reads: "The family of a man and his son seriously injured in a boat blast believe a Cardiff City shirt could have sparked the explosion....Their family believe static from the football shirt could have triggered a gas blast."

The evidence to back up this preposterous claim? Er...very little, but don't let that stand in the way of a good story. Please continue..."Steve said: 'There's no way they would have done anything stupid, the shirt could have caused the explosion. The thing was incinerated from Sam's body. Only the collar, cuffs and Cardiff badge remained.'"

On reading this story I was somewhat perturbed. I wear my City shirt with pride -- but now I learn it's a potential death-trap.

But on reflection I realise the metal in my artificial leg will act as an earth lead, sending all the dangerous static to the ground and preventing me from going up in a puff of smoke while filling up with petrol on my way to Ninian Park. I'll never know for sure, but my prosthesis could have already saved my life.
The latest news from MAG:

Mine action charity continues life saving work as other agencies leave Iraq

They're staying in Iraq, clearing mines and saving lives, despite the increased security risks after the UN bombing.

If you want to help their work you can do so by clicking here and donating whatever you can afford.

On August 11th I wrote about the George W Bush action figure. Now, more than a fortnight later, everyone else is finally picking up on the story.

BBC News: Bush doll has waiting list
Guardian: Bush, Barbie or Bob the Builder - a choice to toy with
SF Chronicle: Action Figures For Imbeciles

'Bout time too, guys (he crowed) -- next time you want to find out what's happening two weeks before the papers report on it, you know where to come.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

A friend and fellow radio producer, Bruce Hopkins, e-mails with a photo of him and a certain Middle Eastern leader, taken during his Arabic language course in Ramallah.

I thought it was a wind-up at first, but I promise you it's genuine.

Picture: Little and Large

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." President Bush on board the USS Abraham Lincoln, 1st May (Source: CNN)

"With the death yesterday of another U.S. soldier in Iraq, the number of U.S. troops who have died there since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations, rose to 138 -- the same number as perished during the six weeks of fighting that marked the fall of Baghdad and its immediate aftermath, according to Pentagon records." Washington Post, 26th August.
Israel's Judge Advocate General has instructed the Military Police to open an investigation into the killing of British cameraman James Miller in Rafah in May.

Haaretz reports that "ballistic tests conducted by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv on 10 rifles belonging to Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were in the area of the shooting revealed that the bullet that killed Miller was fired from one of these weapons."
Amputee actor Guillaume Depardieu seems to be kicking up a (one-legged) storm. He's been arrested for allegedly threatening a man with a gun:

BBC News: Depardieu son in gun arrest

Depardieu is also the cover star of this week's Paris Match magazine.

Watched Live Forever tonight, John Dower's documentary about Britpop.

Watching it was a kind of sad experience. It reminded me of just how full of hope and expectation those heady first days of the Blair administration were...and how many people have been let down in the intervening six years.

Monday, August 25, 2003

At about this time I like to vent my petty prejudices by naming the three people who have really got on my nerves over the past week. Introducing this week's Twat Pack.

David Blaine: The magician plans to stand suspended in a small perspex box above the Thames for more than six weeks. I'd much prefer it if he was suspended in a small concrete box in the Thames.

Schools Minister, David Miliband: For no other reason than he has the sort of face I would take untold pleasure in punching. He looks like the kid in school that everyone hated, which might explain his choice of ministerial career.

Alex from Fame Academy: Cheer up love, it may never happen.
The Independent reports on clashes between Kurds and Turkomen in Kirkuk, in which at least 11 people were killed.

When I was in Northern Iraq the main argument the Kurds used for keeping Turkish forces out was that the two ethnic groups lived peacefully side by side -- and the Turkomen minority didn't need "protection" from the Turks.

However, as the two sides jostle for power in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, it seems tensions are beginning to boil over.

The BBC is reporting today that a black woman due to have a foot amputated was told she would be given a white prosthetic replacement because it is cheaper:

BBC News: Black patient offered white limb

The story was originally reported -- with predictable tabloid sensationalism -- in the Mirror:


Before the NHS is accused of thoughtless racism, here are the facts.

At the moment, only very limited funding is available on the NHS for life-like silicone coverings for artificial limbs, such as those made by Dorset Orthopaedics. (Read a memo on NHS provision of silicone cosmesis here.) The reason is that they're much more expensive than less cosmetically acceptable foam or plastic coverings (although I'm surprised the cheaper covers aren't available in darker skin tones.)

Therefore most people, regardless of race, have to pay for more life-like artificial limbs. It's still too early in my rehab for me to have one yet, but when I do (probably in a year or so) it'll cost me somewhere in the region of £7,000.

Ms Nicholls, then, is only facing the same funding problems that most amputees across the country encounter.

Obviously I'm white but my current prosthesis -- and the one now being made for me -- bears only a passing resemblance to my actual skin colour. It might as well be brown, yellow or cyan, because it sure as hell doesn't look real. I was told very early on by my prosthetist that if I wanted a limb that looked realistic I'd have to pay for it.

By drawing attention to her situation Ms Nicholls has managed to shame her NHS trust into coughing up for a silicone cosmesis. Good for her. However, her story is really about health service funding -- not skin colour.


Sunday, August 24, 2003


"Let me talk now about the systems Iraq is developing to deliver weapons of mass destruction, in particular Iraq's...unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs....

There is ample evidence that Iraq has dedicated much effort to developing and testing spray devices that could be adapted for UAVs....Iraq could use these small UAVs, which have a wingspan of only a few metres, to deliver biological agents to its neighbours or if transported, to other countries, including the United States."
Colin Powell, addressing the UN Security Council, 5th February (Source: BBC News Online).

"Huddled over a fleet of abandoned Iraqi drones, U.S. weapons experts in Baghdad came to one conclusion: Despite the Bush administration's public assertions, these unmanned aerial vehicles weren't designed to dispense biological or chemical weapons.

"The evidence gathered this summer matched the dissenting views of Air Force intelligence analysts who argued in a national intelligence assessment of Iraq before the war that the remotely piloted planes were unarmed reconnaissance drones."
Associated Press report, 24th August.
Over lunch with friends Julie and Rich at the Orange Tree Restaurant in the Warwickshire village of Chadwick End, Jules explained that she's often barred from accessing this blog at work because the firewall picks up on my use of swear words and blocks the site.

Let's see if these get through: Minge, poop, pork sword, chuff, douche.
Tony Blair on the issue of Trust: "I accept that there is an issue that we have to confront." Prime Minister's Press Conference, 30th July.

"58 per cent of all voters have less trust in the Prime Minister as a direct consequence of the Kelly inquiry: 52 per cent of Labour voters said that they have now lost trust in Mr Blair." Sunday Telegraph, 24th August.
Good news from Kenya, which has begun destroying almost 36 thousand landmines in order to meet its obligations under the Ottawa Treaty: Anti-Personnel Mines Destroyed
Mail and Guardian: Kenya to destroy 30 000 landmines

Saturday, August 23, 2003


It's Notting Hill Carnival weekend, when the streets of London's hippest neighbourhood are filled with the sights and sounds of one the world's most famous celebrations of Afro-Caribbean culture.

It's a fantastic event for the tens of thousands of people who cram into Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park Road -- but try telling that to the poor sods who actually live in Notting Hill.

This week I had a drink with former ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent, Charlie Glass, himself a W11 resident. He described Carnival as "ghastly...for a weekend you're a prisoner in your own home."

As for me -- after my V Festival experience last weekend I'll be staying well Birmingham to be precise.
The latest weapon in the war against drugs -- an artificial leg: Prosthetic leg used in beating, police say
In March, near the mountains which mark the border between Iraq and Iran, I watched as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters supported by US Special Forces "routed" Ansar Al-Islam, the militant group allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. At a press conference I attended in Halabja, a Special Forces spokesman said that "A terrorist organisation that has held grip on this region for the last several years was rooted out and neutralised." (Read more on the operation here).

Yet according to this week's Time magazine, Ansar elements are being linked to the Jordanian embassy bombing in Baghdad. The group was known for using car bombs which could suggest it also had a hand in the UN bombing (which happened after the Time article went to press.)

What's becoming clear is that the claims in March that Ansar had been "neutralised" were overly optimistic to say the least. We heard reports at the time that many Ansar fighters were slipping over the border into Iran and it would seem that they're now popping up again in Iraq.

Another hollow victory in the war against terror.


Friday, August 22, 2003

We return to Canada yet again for this week's Amputee of the Week.

Emmy Award-winning Dancer and choreographer David Connolly was born with a defect of his feet and lower legs that left them useless.

Doctors told his parents that he would never walk and would spend his life in a wheelchair. As a child, doctors in Montreal amputated his feet and performed bone grafts and reconstructive surgery to reshape his lower legs so that he could wear artificial limbs.

Soon David was off and running. He took up swimming and diving, and joined a marching band, but the lure of the stage beckoned. "Dancing just happened," he said. "Of course, people told me I couldn't do it, but I was more determined than ever to succeed."

David was performing on Broadway at age 19 and subsequently worked as a choreographer for every major television network. You can watch a short film about David here for RealPlayer and here for QuickTime.

A gay Canadian dancing bilateral amputee -- David Connolly is the ultimate politically correct Amputee of the Week.

The Tale of Rancor, the new show associate directed by Carolyn Cohagan -- a guest writer on this blog -- is about to move from New York to Philadelphia. It's running from August 29th to September 13th at Christ Church, Neighborhood House
20 N. American Street as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

This review describes the show in glowing terms:

"The Tale of Rancor, by the company Blue, Inc., is a triumph of simple imagination, outrageous creativity, and the solid and committed work of an ensemble...It is BRILLIANT!.... I want to clap my hands for the sheer theatrical creativity of it! Hurry and see it if you’re in New York, and if you miss it here, you can catch it in Philadelphia at the end of the month."

Go see!
The Sun: For sale: My wife's brain

Thursday, August 21, 2003


Baghdad blogger Salam Pax now has a female rival -- Riverbend.

Riverbend, a young woman living in Mosul, started her blog on Sunday. Describing herself, she says "I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway."

I predict she's going to be huge. Expect articles on her to start appearing all over the place within days.

Brace yourself, because it's going to get very ugly again.

A suicide bomber blows himself up in Jerusalem, so the Israelis whack Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab, prompting Hamas to call off its "ceasefire" and vow revenge.

And so the depressingly predictable cycle of strike and counter-strike resumes and peace looks as distant as ever.

Jerusalem Post: Hamas and Islamic Jihad pull out of cease-fire

Still, some good news -- for the Kurds in particular -- in the apparent capture of "Chemical Ali." Ali Hassan al-Majid is regarded as one of the architects of the Anfal campaign of repression and atrocities against the Kurds, the results of which I witnessed at first hand when I visited Halabja earlier this year.

Credit is due to Ealing Council for cancelling the parking ticket one of their thoughtful traffic wardens gave me last week -- even though my blue disabled parking badge was displayed on the windscreen.

It's 1-0 to the cripple.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Worry not over Wales's 1-0 defeat by Serbia and Montenegro because we're going to beat Italy 2-1 again in Milan next month. Honest.
"I think the protection of journalists is at an all-time low...."

Thanks to Lynn for e-mailing me details of this article from Salon about the shooting by US troops of the Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana.

Depressingly, I find myself agreeing with what his colleague Patricia Naylor says, that there's a dreadful irony in the fact that Dana -- a Palestinian who had survived many skirmishes in the West Bank -- should be killed by an American bullet. "Mazen was probably one of the most savvy and experienced war reporters and cameramen in the world," she says.

Also, as I touched on yesterday, Naylor believes that despite the promise of an investigation into Dana's death, almost nothing will happen.

Mazen Dana was buried today in the West Bank city of Hebron. You can read an interview with him conducted in 2001 here.

There's a poignant sentence in his acceptance speech for an International Press Freedom Award:
"Words and images are a public trust and for this reason I will continue with my work regardless of the hardships and even if it costs me my life."
Tragically it did -- at the hands of the very people supposedly ensuring the safety and security of Iraq.
Jamie in Baghdad e-mails with a story she's done about a MAG project to clear UXO in the north of the country.

AP Ammo Story (.doc)
AP Ammo Story (.txt)

AP Ammo Picture 1
AP Ammo Picture 2
AP Ammo Picture 3
Among his other achievements, the senior UN official Sergio Vieira de Mello -- killed in the Baghdad bombing -- played a role in helping to rid Cambodia of landmines:
Reuters AlertNet: Cambodia salutes de Mello for mine clearing, peace

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

A black, black day.

First the horrendous attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad -- the very people trying to rebuild Iraq -- and then a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, just as Israel was on the verge of handing control of Qalqilya and Jericho.

Despite the pressures, the UN must stand firm in its mission in Iraq and the Quartet in its commitment to the Road Map.
More on those "hilarious" photomontages of Saddam Hussein.

Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Great Britain says: "I think this type of activity by U.S. forces will only further anger the Muslim population of Iraq. This clear flaunting of Islamic law by displaying pictures of scantily clad women will only add fuel to sentiments that the U.S. is trying to undermine Muslim culture in Iraq. It risks alienating the actual population." (Source: CNN)
Back to the hospital for more leg-related shenanigans.

This morning Ian turned the cast he took yesterday into a clear fibreglass socket, which will form the basis of the new prosthesis.

He gave it to me to try on and checked it for comfort and fit. The most noticeable thing was how much more secure it feels than the limb I have at the moment. Because it's held in place by a pin it feels like it's attached to my leg much more firmly. It's also much more streamlined than the bulky beast I'm wearing at the moment.

Ian marked the areas on the socket he'll cut away and got me to stand up in a metal frame to make sure there were no pressure points.

All looks good so I eagerly await the finished product....
I'm not sure why the Independent's taken two weeks longer than everyone else to pick up on the mine-clearing rats story, but there you go.
Independent: Rats replace dogs to sniff out buried mines
Speaking about the killing of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana outside a Baghdad prison, French journalist Stephan Breitner insisted: "We were all there for at least half an hour. They knew we were journalists. After they shot Mazen, they aimed their guns at us. I don't think it was an accident. They are very tense. They are crazy." (Source: The Guardian)

I already fear the conclusions of any military investigation into Dana's death will be laughable.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Commenting on the killing by American troops of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, a US army spokesman said "Last night we had a terrible tragedy. I can assure you no one feels worse than the soldier who fired the shots."

Maybe, but I suspect Dana's wife Suzana and four children are probably feeling worse right now.

Reuters: Inquiry call after U.S. troops kill cameraman
Reuters: Killed Reuters Cameraman Grew Up in Conflict

"It's not easy to have a picture -- and a picture maybe will cost you your life."
- Mazen Dana
A senator in Thailand calls for the pace of landmine clearance to be speeded up:
Bangkok Post: Demining too slow, hundreds maimed
Work on leg number two is underway!

Leg v1.0 has provided good service but my injured leg has shrunk considerably since it was made as the swelling has gone down. So, I drove down to Cardiff this morning so that a cast could be made for a new prosthesis.

It's going to be different to the last one, in that it's going to have an Iceross suspension system. Rather than sliding on like a slipper, the new leg will click into a pin at the end of a silicone sleeve. The idea is that it's more secure and feels more natural when walking.

Ian covered my leg in plaster of paris strips again and then moulded them in place using an inflatable rubber bladder. The resulting cast was about a third narrower than the one I've got at the moment.

I'm going back to the hospital tomorrow for more technical work and the leg will be ready for collection in a fortnight.

Picture: Casting 1
Picture: Casting 2
The Guardian reports that members of the US Army's 4th Infantry brigade in Tikrit are planning to put up pictures of Saddam Hussein's face superimposed on the bodies of Hollywood actresses Veronica Lake and Zsa Zsa Gabor, as well as Elvis and punk rocker Billy Idol.

The pics have been downloaded from this site.

One of the soldiers responsible for this act of blatant provocation explained the rationale. "Most of the locals will love 'em and they'll be laughing. But the bad guys are going to be upset, which will just make it easier for us to know who they are," he said.

I'm sure the families of the servicemen who are killed by Iraqis who take offence at the posters will also be laughing their heads off, especially since there have been reports for months about hostility in Tikrit towards coalition forces.

The Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana tragically lost his life on Sunday after being shot by US troops.

How a soldier can possibly confuse a video camera with a rocket propelled grenade launcher is beyond belief, but that's exactly what seems to have happened.

Dana was awarded an International Press Freedom Award in 2001 by the Committee to Protect Journalists for his work in the West Bank city of Hebron. His death brings to 17 the number of media workers who have died in Iraq since the war began on March 20. Two others are still missing.
A couple of snippets of landmine news.

The charity, Handicap International, has begun three projects in Iraq, while in Cambodia, mine clearers say the number of casualties will fall to zero by 2013.
The Kansas City Star comments on that George Dubya action figure:
KC Star: Bush toy was not much fun

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Maybe it's my age. Correction it is my age. Well, whatever the reason, I'm not sure I get the whole music festival thing.

I've gone 31 years without darkening the door of Glastonbury, Reading or Creamfields so maybe I shouldn't rush to judgement, but it seems to me that the deal is that you pay the best part of a hundred quid to sit on a piece of cardboard in a field with 60,000 other soap dodgers and watch a band you can't see with the naked eye on a big TV screen.

It's like sitting at home with MTV on, only not as much fun because you can't get up and take a pee when you want because there are mile-long queues for the unspeakable portaloos. That would explain why most people don't bother with such bourgeois inventions as toilets and choose instead to piss up against the fence, thereby infusing the site with an aroma not unlike a tramp's Y-fronts.

Add discarded beer mugs and fast food cartons up to your ankles, thousands of people off their faces at two o'clock in the afternoon and security staff that represent the missing link between homo habilis and modern man and there you have it -- the authentic "festival vibe."

Still, the skateboarding was cool.

Picture: V Festival
Picture: MAG stall at the V Festival

BBC News Online: Crowds flock to V Festival

Saturday, August 16, 2003

David Gray plays on, oblivious to the sea of piss threatening to engulf Weston Park.
PJ Harvey on stage - and damn good she is too.
Finally arrived t V. It's taken 5 hours to travel 150 miles. Thankfully we're safely tucked away in the VIP enclosure rather than slumming it with the hoi polloi.

Celeb count - 0 so far.

Friday, August 15, 2003

An early start tomorrow as I head to Staffordshire for the V2003 music festival, where I'll be backstage with the team from MAG.

The weather forecast's good so it should be a great weekend. I'm really looking forward to seeing Coldplay, David Gray, Foo Fighters and, most of all, Turin Brakes.

I'm hoping to update from my Palm and there'll be pictures to follow when I get back.
Tracey Allen e-mailed with the suggestion for this week's Amputee of the Week and I must confess I gave it some thought before deciding to go with him.

It may not surprise you to learn that I'm not a fan of WWE.

To be honest, I just don't get it, never have.

Even so, reading about pro-wrestler Zach Gowen made me delve further into the world of muscley blokes wearing spandex (I don't get that either.)

In second grade, Gowen was playing soccer when a ball collided with his left knee and pain coursed throughout his body. The following summer, the knee literally snapped while he was bowling. When the cast was removed, doctors noticed a grapefruit-sized tumor underneath his flesh. It turned out to be osteogenic sarcoma, a form of cancer that weakens the bones. To prevent it from spreading to the rest of his body, doctors amputated his left leg in January 1992.

Gowen not only learned to survive with one leg, but to flourish. After earning an academic scholarship to Eastern Michigan University, he began training for a wrestling career. He had his first WWE match on July 3, 2003.

I have some concerns over Zach Gowen, who's also known by the ludicrous stage-name Tenacious Z.

For one, his nickname is "the one-legged wonder" and I can't help feeling there's a large element of the freakshow in his act (you can read more objections to Zach Gowen here). I've never seen him perform but I'd imagine that the sight of a slight bloke with one leg taking on the WWE beefcakes is hardly a convincing one.

Even so, there's no question that Zach has triumphed over his amputation...and for that reason alone he's this week's Amputee of the Week.

According to the stats, 0.34% of the visitors to this blog are from the US Government.

Come on, Mr Bush -- e-mail me and say hello.
Flob-a-lob-alob.....Check this out -- a photo of a farting whale.....thought to be the first ever image of a minke slicing the cheese.

"We got away from the bow of the ship very quickly ... it does stink," said the scientist responsible for the photo.

If the whale's anything like most blokes he probably thinks it smells lovely.
An e-mail arrives from Jamie in Baghdad.

When not chasing down Saddam's secret wives, she's having fun driving US Army Humvees.

Jamie says she got the beast to work first time and the major whose helmet she's wearing was sitting terrified in the passenger's seat when the photo was taken.

Jamie says "I only drove it a few meters before it ahem...stalled.."

Ah well, maybe you should try an Abrams tank instead.
"Our soldiers are demoralized" says the mother of one of the 150,000 American troops still stationed in Iraq (Source: CNN).

So how does the Pentagon plan to boost the morale of all those dispirited squaddies? Why, by cutting their pay, of course.

That'll do it.
This week's BBC News Online diary has been published here.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

It sounds like total chaos in New York and elsewhere as major power failures hit the eastern US and Canada.

Maybe all those New Yorkers can now understand why the folks of Basra in southern Iraq got so pissed off last weekend.
Today the notorious "Sulaymaniyah Two" were reunited for the first time since we parted in tragic circumstances four months ago.

The last time I saw Jim Muir was in the American Special Forces field hospital in Suly, the day after my accident. I was drugged up to the eyeballs and Jim said I was "sweet -- like a little boy." Jim was about to leave Iraq to take Kaveh's body back to Iran.

Jim's just been on holiday in Scotland and is spending a few days in London before returning to Tehran.

I met him and daughter Shona along with Kaveh's widow Hengameh and her son Mehrak. It didn't take long for us to get back to our old ways. Within minutes he was berating me for bellowing down my mobile phone, just like he did in Iraq.

After lunch in Chinatown we went to the Proud Gallery, which is showing an exhibition of photos from the Iraq War (You can read more about the exhibition here and see a selection of the images here.)

The exhibition also included a "Roll of Honour" for all the journalists killed in the conflict. Kaveh's name was there among them:

Photo: Jim, Mehrak and Hengameh at the Proud Gallery
Photo: Stuart, Hengameh, Shona, Jim

After leaving Jim I headed off for an introductory Alexander Technique class. I thought anything that was going to improve my movement and posture could be of benefit -- especially as the instructor is himself an amputee.

It's probably too early after just one lesson to draw any conclusions but I'm not yet convinced that the Alexander Technique's for me. Maybe I just need to stick with it a little longer.

"Are A levels getting easier?" asks BBC News Online following the publication of this year's exam results.

Well even if they are they're obviously still not easy enough for the third in line to the throne:

BBC News Online: Prince Harry's A-level results

Prince William may have inherited his mother's looks but it seems it's Harry who's inherited her intellect. He could only manage to scrape a B and a D in his exams -- despite receiving the best education that money can buy.

It's comforting to know the future of the monarchy is in the hands of such an intellectual colossus.
A tale of roller-coasting horror for one amputee in Florida:
Local Man Loses Prosthetic Leg On Roller Coaster
Had dinner last night with Carolyn Cohagan.

She's a writer/director/comedienne based in New York. She's in London at the moment for rehearsals of the show The Tale of Rancor, which she's associate director of.

The show is described as "a highly visual, darkly comic fairytale about scent" and opens on the 19th August at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, New York as part of the New York International Fringe Festival.

After a couple of gin and tonics and a little arm-twisting, Carolyn graciously agreed to be my second Guest Writer.

Carolyn....the floor is yours:

Dear Reader,

I am just sitting here with Stuart Hughes enjoying a lovely warm day in a garden in Ealing and I can’t help being reminded of my childhood in Texas.

I was raised in Austin by a coupla cowboys and a brothel madam and each day I rode my mule the 10 miles to pick up the mail I would wonder if everyone in the world was as lucky as us Texans.

I’m happy to say that now, in this here remarkable year of 2003, the Americans unlucky enough not to be born in Texas are experiencing the next best thing: a Texan president.

He’s tall, he’s rambunctious, he has nice hair. My friend Sue Bess Sue says that he even smells nice, like Stetson cologne. He has focus and drive and his butt looks real good in a pair of Levis. Mmmmm. And have you seen him walk around his ranch? He wears a big cowboy hat (shame about covering that luscious hair) and boots and he almost looks as if he’s done a day of work in his life. Now that’s sexy.

So eat your heart out England. We’ve got him. He’s ours. If only I could convince him to return to Texas forever, but that’s my selfishness talking. I wouldn’t dream of keeping him from his adoring public.

So every time you see him on the TV, or see his studliness smiling up from your newspaper, remember my noble sacrifice and thank God for creating Texans.
This story about the landmine situation in Angola is running on the Press Association wires today. I've uploaded it as a Word document and as a plain text file for the Mac users among you:

PA Article: Angola: A RAVAGED LAND (.doc)
PA Article: Angola: A RAVAGED LAND (.txt)

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

You'll have to forgive me for the lack of updates today.

It's been a write-off of a day. I started off by doing an interview for the Disability Times and then struggled to write my BBC News Online column, despite the brain-numbing heat.

This evening I've had dinner with friends. They've supplied me with plenty of material for tomorrow's blog entries but have also ensured that I'm too drunk to write anything of worth tonight.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Time to round up this week's cultural villains, known collectively as The Twat Pack.

Aaron Barschak, AKA "The Comedy Terrorist" -- Neither funny nor responsible for acts of terrorism. Just a very, very sad individual.

The Cheeky Girls -- The most compelling proof so far that Britain needs to tighten its immigration laws.

"Naked Rambler" Steve Gough. Just put some clothes on. Now. You're frightening the wildlife.

Keep the suggestions coming...
As the heatwave continues, my 2-year old niece Elin has been helping me keep too many of those harmful UV rays off Mr Stumpy.

She also shows promise as an orthopaedic surgeon as she was extremely eager to try to fix my leg with her plastic spanner.
Spoke to Dr Donald Matheson this afternoon. He's a lecturer at the Cardiff School of Journalism and is writing a book chapter on weblogs and their relationship to more traditional forms of journalism.

We discussed how this blog differs from the work I do for the BBC, how other journalists view blogs and indeed whether blogs are a form of journalism at all.

You can read Dr Matheson's thoughts on the subject here.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Looking to stock up with a few early Christmas presents? I have just the thing.

How about a 12-inch high poseable George W Bush in naval aviator flight uniform.

"Exacting in detail and fully equipped with authentic gear, this limited-edition action figure is a meticulous 1:6 scale recreation of the Commander-in-Chief's appearance during his historic Aircraft Carrier landing.

"On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in the Pacific Ocean, and officially declared the end to major combat in Iraq....This fully poseable figure features a realistic head sculpt, fully detailed cloth flight suit, helmet with oxygen mask, survival vest, g-pants, parachute harness and much more."

I wish I were joking but sadly it's all too real, and can be shipped to your door in 1-3 business days for $39.99.
Remember Ali Abbas?

He's the 12 year old Iraqi boy who lost his parents and both his arms in a coalition missile strike. Well you're going to be hearing a lot more about him this week. He starts his rehab in Roehampton on Monday and I predict he's going to be all over the media, especially on ITV News, which has bought up his story.

The future's looking brighter for Ali but as The Observer reports, hundreds of Iraqi amputees aren't so lucky. There's an urgent need for a specialist rehab centre in Iraq. Iraq's main centre for amputees -- many of them landmine victims -- was looted and lacks basic supplies. The Observer says that surgeons are "operating under almost impossibly primitive conditions."

The Conservatives have written to the government asking for funds for an "Ali Centre" in Baghdad to provide prosthetics and rehab. They're still waiting for a reply.

The US and Britain were swift enough to launch military action against Iraq. They should now be equally quick to provide the money to help the amputee victims of war.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Until recently the British troops in southern Iraq have managed to escape much of the public anger faced by their American counterparts.

No longer.

It's hardly surprising that trouble is now flaring in Basra. Four months after Saddam was toppled, and with temperatures hitting 50 degrees, the coalition is still struggling to provide basic services such as electricity and fuel.

Significantly, the protests don't appear to be part of an orchestrated campaign of resistance but have been sparked instead by a growing popular mood of discontent. "They did not give us what they promised, and we have had enough of waiting," said one protestor.

Unless the British troops get a grip on the infrastructure problems, the demonstrations are certain to grow.
Cameraman/producer/editor Stuart McKears e-mails after reading this week's BBC News Online column.

He quotes from a question and answer he gave in an interview with "Dial" magazine:

DIAL: What are the barriers facing disabled people who want to make a career in film and/or television?

Stuart McKears: They must be individuals or groups who are (delete as required): plucky / brave / dauntless /valiant / etc. but oppressed / discriminated against / outraged / persecuted and only capable of making programmes about individuals or groups who are plucky / brave / dauntless / valiant / etc but oppressed / discriminated against / outraged / persecuted.

As if on cue, the front page of today's Sunday Times promises a feature on "The inspirational lives of albinos, amputees and others who triumph over abnormality."

How very original.

However, in response to my statement that "I am not disabled," Mr McKears writes:

Yes, you are. You might not feel disabled, you may not think you are disabled, you may not look disabled but you will now be categorised by the majority of society as disabled who will use it as either a weapon or a commendation. As time passes, you will find that sometimes people are truthful enough to tell you to your face that you can't do this or that but mainly you will find barriers of the mind which while not necessarily closing doors will just fail to open them.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you there. Indeed, as my first foreign assignment since my accident -- scheduled to be Israel and the West Bank in October -- shapes up, it seems that those saying "you can't do this or that" are nowhere to be seen.

It's official. Today is Britain's hottest day ever.

BBC News: UK Hits 100F for first time

The mercury hit 37.9C (100.2F) at Heathrow airport, 8 miles from home.

The Europe-wide heatwave has prompted the Pope to pray for rain.

Someone tell the miserable old bastard to shut up -- I'm working on my tan.
The Liberian President, Charles Taylor, calls his forced departure from the country a "rape of democracy" (Source: BBC News Online).

Taylor is well qualified to talk about rape.

Aid workers say Liberian rebels and government soldiers, some as young as 12 are assaulting thousands of girls and women under the cover of war. The 600 rapes documented in Monrovia since July is thought to be a fraction of the actual total and many rapes have been accompanied by the murder of male relatives (Source: The Guardian).

The Guardian reported last week that uncertainty about what will happen after Charles Taylor steps down tomorrow has encouraged a "frenzy of rape."

Saturday, August 09, 2003


Remember those "mobile biological weapons labs" Iraq was supposed to have? US forces seized a couple of Saddam's WMD camper vans after the war.

"US and UK technical experts have concluded that the unit does not appear to perform any function beyond what the defector said it was for, which was the production of biological agents," crowed Pentagon intelligence chief Steve Cambone at the time (Source: BBC News Online).


The New York Times now reports that "Engineering experts from the Defense Intelligence Agency have come to believe that the most likely use for two mysterious trailers found in Iraq was to produce hydrogen for weather balloons rather than to make biological weapons."

Keep looking guys. Those WMDs must be there somewhere....mustn't they?

Friday, August 08, 2003

It may still be hot as hell here in London but this afternoon I've booked a New Year getaway to my favourite country in the world -- Iceland.

I'll be seeing in 2004 in Reykjavik....which gives me an excuse to put my environmental hat on and say that Iceland's decision to resume whaling is not a clever one.
I've tried to avoid choosing fictional Amputees of the Week because there are so many great real-life ones about. However, my friend Jo has made a special request so how could I refuse.

In the opening episode of season 9 of ER, arrogant surgeon Dr Robert "Rocket" Romano gets hit by the tail rotor of a helicopter, severing his left arm. It's sewed back on but with his position on the directing staff in jeopardy, his surgical privileges on hold until such time as he may recover, Romano is thrust unwillingly into the role of teacher......

20 episodes later, after all efforts to save the arm fail, Dr romano undergoes an amputation....thus enabling him to qualify as this week's Amputee of the Week.

Ahhhhhh....the fresh London summer air. I just want to fill my lungs with it.

I've finally got round to starting Chris Moon's autobiography.

Chris stepped on a landmine while supervising a mine-clearing operation in Mozambique in 1995. He lost his lower right leg and part of his right arm.

In his prologue, Chris writes about PMN mines -- the same type that I stepped on in Northern Iraq:

"...They mainly used Russian PMNs with 240 grams of TNT, enough to blow off one lower leg completely and often damage the other enough to necessitate amputation -- if you're lucky. In remote places like this people normally die before they get to hospital."

It's here...excuse me while I stifle a yawn....the summer's most utterly pointless "phenomenon" (translation: hyped up and media-fuelled waste of time) has arrived in Britain:

The Guardian: Pointless but fun? Flashmob phenomenon reaches UK

It was 30-odd degrees in central London yesterday. Anyone with any sense was getting the hell out of town and sinking a few cold ones. But not the flash-mobbers. Oh no. They were following instructions "to speak without using "o", text message a friend, and commend Mr Robinson on the quality of his furniture."

God, you guys are sooooooooo wacky. I bet you just love entertaining people at parties by reciting the words from old Monty Python sketches.

One of the people taking part in yesterday's flash mob was called Tristan. That says it all.

Howard Reingold has a lot to answer for.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The South Wales Echo's Alex Lemon e-mails after reading my comment about sweaty provincial hacks. I suspect she's still smarting because of what I said about her chocolate santa story yesterday.

After picking up a story from the Press Association wire she writes:

See, it's not just us sweaty provincial hacks who have to write weather rubbish. Annabelle, Hettie and Tamara at Totally Useless PR have to as well.

5 WEATHER Heatwave Substitute
There is evidence that despite the sunshine some people are suffering from summer sniffles.
Supermarket chain Tesco says it saw sales of cold and flu remedies increase 30% last week compared with the same week last year. Remedies for children were up 25%, it said.

There is also evidence of hasty press release writing.
This week's BBC News Online diary column has been published here.

Arnold's running for governor of California. Arnold Drummond that is:
CNN: Gary Coleman on California ballot

Thousands have died in Liberia and even more are homeless and starving. The country's economy is in disarray, and its infrastructure is in ruins. But fear not....the Americans have arrived to restore peace and stability.

What do you mean there are only eight of them? Why do they need three helicopters? That must some serious excess baggage they're carrying. At a squeeze they could have all fitted into a Ford Fiesta.

Fox News: Eight Marines Arrive in Liberia

If one of them gets killed the Americans can claim a 12.5% mortality rate and withdraw again like they did in Somalia in 1993.


Sweaty provincial hacks across this sceptred isle have spent the day ferreting around their patches for the most inane and piss-poor hot weather stories they can find. As a result, they have large damp patches under the arms of their rumpled shirts and they smell even worse than usual.

So as a service to you, the loyal Beyond Northern Iraq blog reader, it is my pleasure to present the cream of the nation's "phew, what a scorcher!" news items. By this afternoon they'll be chip paper, except that no one's buying chips because it's too hot.

In ascending order of merit:

We begin in Lancashire, with that hardy perennial...more people are injuring themselves because of the hot weather. It's completely untrue but, hey, it fills a few column inches:
Bolton Evening News: Increase in accidents due to hot weather

Surprise, surprise...more people buy ice creams when it's hot. No shit, sherlock. Couldn't you at least try and come up with something more original, you idle scribbler. This piece of journalistic feculence even has a sidebar listing fascinating facts about ice cream. A quiet news day in Huddersfield, was it?
Huddersfield Daily Examiner: Scooping in the cash thanks to the weather

Over to my hometown of Cardiff now.
Alex, you're a friend of mine, I admire your abilities, but this is just shite. But I think you know that, don't you?
South Wales Echo: Hot chocolate for Christmas

From Blackpool...lemurs sucking on ice lollies, reindeers being hosed down and elephants being slathered with moisturiser; this piece has every hot weather animal story ever written rolled into one:
The Gazette: Good lolly! Lemurs get hot weather licked

But sunning itself at the top of the pile, as predicted earlier, is this tale of pigs doused with suncream from Northamptonshire. They've even managed to squeeze in a reference to roast pork. Geddit? Brilliant.
Northampton Chronicle: Sun cream for roasting pigs

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Earlier I flagged up the BBC article by Vicky Lucas, who has the genetic condition, cherubism.

This evening she was interviewed during a BBC documentary, What Are You Staring At?, about facial disfigurement.

It was a fascinating programme but I found myself disagreeing quite strongly with Vicky Lucas's point of view. Her argument was, in brief, that it's wrong for society to believe that the only thing for people with facial disfigurements is to undergo cosmetic surgery. It's society that should change, she kept arguing, not the disfigured individuals concerned.

Which is fine as far as it goes. If she as an individual is comfortable with the way she looks and doesn't feel the need for surgery then that's fantastic. But as the programme made clear, many people with disfigurements don't feel comfortable -- and it's naive in the extreme to expect the world to suddenly become a caring sharing place where everyone's treated equally regardless of gender, colour, sexuality or "disability." If only it were that simple.

My situation is very different but in some ways connected. Before I got my prosthetic and I was in a wheelchair I fully expected some people to stare at my missing leg. I wasn't disappointed, they did, but I could understand why. It's human nature to be curious, to focus on other peoples' differences.

Now I've got the prosthesis things are somewhat easier. Under a pair of trousers it's fairly unobtrusive. But on days like today, when I went out wearing shorts, some people did a double take.

Fine. Let them. I'd probably do the same.

Do I think society should suddenly embrace people with artificial limbs to such an extent that seeing a fibreglass and metal contraption where a leg should be doesn't cause so much as a flicker of interest? It'd be nice -- but it's not going to happen.

The fact is that most people don't have an artificial limb, just as most people don't have facial disfigurements. Lucky for them. But given that we're in the minority, some degree of curiosity is inevitable.

That's not to say that I condone discrimination. That's a different issue entirely. I just think there's no point asking the question "what are you staring at?" -- because the answer's very obvious.

This hottest day of the year business is all very well, but you try getting through it with an artificial leg.

My Otto Bock gel filled sock, which I admit has changed my life in terms of walking, is an absolute bitch in weather like this.

Imagine walking around in temperatures hitting the mid 30s celsius while wearing the leg of a 7mm wetsuit. Then put 2 cotton socks and half an inch of foam and fibreglass on top. Not pleasant.

When I take the gel sock -- or "bull's condom" as it's colloquially known -- off, there's a puddle of sweat sloshing around in the bottom.

Sorry, I'll shut up now before you throw up. You get the idea.

I have, though, worn shorts out in public for the first time since the accident. Weird looking prosthetic or no, I'm just too damned hot to care.

Soaring temperatures + a slow news day = just one thing. Local newspapers doing endless crap stories about the weather.

From Sheffield to Wales and London and across to Bristol, today's provincial rags are full of tales of over-heated penguins being sprayed with water, shops selling out of ice cream and over-priced cans of coke.

What a surprise.

I'm willing to bet one English pound that someone will do the story on pigs being covered in suntan lotion to stop them from burning before the day is out.

I'll aim to do a complete "phew, what a scorcher" round-up later, so all examples of shite local paper stories about the weather will be gratefully received.
A police cordon has been set up in the Oxfordshire villages of Longworth and Southmoor, where Dr David Kelly lived, to keep media away from his funeral, in an effort to maintain the "privacy and dignity" of the occasion (Source: BBC News Online).

Which British 24 hour news channel, then, carried live pictures of the coffin arriving at St Mary's Church?

A's the one on channel 501 on your digibox.

Gulf War Syndrome Redux?
USA Today: Army puzzled by illnesses in Iraq

'Cause it's witchcraft, wicked witchcraft. And although, I know, it's strictly taboo......
James Hider, formerly AFP's man in Jerusalem and a friend of this parish, reports on the "magic stone" keeping Saddam Hussein from harm. Is it a match for the magic millstone which the Americans will put round his neck before they chuck him in the Tigris, I wonder?
CS Monitor: Even on the run, Hussein has Iraqis under his 'spell'

That Anglican smear campaign in full:
Star Tribune: The anatomy of a smear

Bo Selecta!...A moving and challenging article by Vicky Lucas, who has a rare genetic condition called cherubism:
BBC News: Why I want you to look me in the face

Today's other football transfer news....Lady Thatcher joins the Cardiff City womens' squad:
Guardian: Plymouth Argyle sign a veteran leftwinger
Thanks to everyone who's stuck a pin in the map so far. Keep 'em coming. I'm particularly keen to see pins from the visitors in Iceland, Israel, Zimbabwe and Japan so if you're from one of the above (or even if you're not) get sticking.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003


I love the smell of "firebombs" in the morning....The US has admitted using napalm -- sorry "firebombs" -- in Iraq. "You can call it something other than napalm, but it's napalm," says defence analyst John Pike.
San Diego U-T: Officials confirm dropping firebombs on Iraqi troops

Excellent stuff from muslim comedienne Shazia Mirza, currently appearing at the Edinburgh Festival: "My name is Shazia Mirza. At least that is what it says on my pilot's licence."
Reuters: Muslim Comedienne Triumphs with Veiled Humor

Watch what you blog...a cautionary tale which makes me think I'd better be careful what I say about my secret late-night trysts with Angelina Jolie:
ABC News: Busted By a Blog

Carly Simon auctions the secret subject of "You're so Vain," letting slip only that the man has the letter "e" in his name. Saddam Hussein? Ariel Sharon? David Beckham? (Nah, it can't have been him. He wasn't even born in 1972). We may never know. Just as well we don't care.
CNN: Simon reveals 'Vain' subject -- for price
This evening I've added a guest map to the site.

Stick a pin in the map and say you've visited!
Those Triathlon results in full. The figures represent 1) Swim time, 2) cycle time, 3) 10k run, 4) Overall time.

Anthony Birchley 00:27:35 01:18:34 00:58:15 02:44:22
Richard Downie 00:28:26 01:22:55 00:55:40 02:47:01
Phil Holmes 00:39:30 01:25:20 00:49:31 02:54:21
John Davidson 00:35:05 01:22:40 00:57:46 02:55:30
Peter Dickinson 00:28:01 01:25:41 01:05:03 02:58:44
Duncan Snelling 00:28:35 01:22:52 01:09:25 03:00:52

As every journalist is taught, you can't libel the dead.

The fact that former weapons expert Dr David Kelly is as cold as yesterday's rice pudding is good news for Downing Street spin doctor Tom Kelly (no relation) because it means he can blacken his name with impunity.

Reacting to Dr Kelly's apparent suicide, Tony Blair said "I think people want and expect ourselves as politicians, I think yourselves as the media reporting this, to show that respect and restraint because of what has happened." (Source: BBC News Online)

Now it emerges that the Prime Minister's spokesman Tom Kelly described Dr Kelly as a "Walter Mitty character" to the Independent's Deputy Political Editor, Paul Waugh. Waugh says he was not the only journalist to be given the phrase.

BBC News Online: Blair official sorry over Mitty remark
Telegraph: No 10 'sorry' for Kelly slur

Respectful and restrained? Dr Kelly's funeral takes place on Wednesday. One can only hope that Downing Street officials can restrain themselves from rushing to Oxfordshire to piss on his freshly-dug grave.

While watching the guys taking part in the triathlon on Sunday I kept looking out for any amputees. I didn't see any and assumed that amputees don't do triathlons. Can you blame us -- haven't we suffered enough already?

However, a quick search of the internet proved me wrong:
Paul Martin's website
More on Paul Martin from the St Petersberg Times
Wired: The Bionic Triathlete
San Diego Triathlon Challenge
Article on Rudy Garcia-Tolson

....that's my excuse out the window, then. It seems that "I've only got one leg" just won't wash. Maybe next year...

"Flash mobs" -- inane and pointless...but that doesn't stop them being the weekend's hot news topic:

CS Monitor: Synchronized, collective, and so far pointless
Guardian: 'It's like Fight Club'
CNN: 'Flash mobs' spread to Europe
NY Times: Flash mobs: summer silliness spread worldwide

It can surely only be a matter of time before this human form of chain-letter is utilised to instantly rustle up vigilante mobs at the home or court case of suspected child molestors (and paediatricians who are mistaken as paedophiles.)

Monday, August 04, 2003

Norman Mailer once said that "If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist. I couldn't agree more, so here are a couple of my recent offerings:

Article: The Third Sector

Article: Trust in Focus Page 1
Article: Trust in Focus Page 2
Rats....I've stepped on a landmine:

BBC News Online: Sniffer rats to find African mines

Read more about mine-clearing rats here.
It's August and there's just not enough news around.

So, to liven up the silly season, I'm launching a new weekly feature -- the twat pack.

It's a chance for me to insult those who have got on my nerves over the past week -- either because they've done something mind-numbingly annoying or just because they're generally loathsome individuals.

This week's twat pack are:

Carole Caplin: She claims to be a "lifestyle guru" and gets paid three grand a month for being a sycophant to Cherie Blair. Need I say more?

Robbie Williams: You may have sold out Knebworth three nights running but you're still an over-rated pub singer.

Nicola Horlick: Superwoman my arse. Try raising six kids on income support and then we'll see how super you are.

All nominations for future "packs" gratefully received.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

The MAG London Triathlon team overcame the stagnant Thames, cramp and baking sunshine to make it round the course in fine style.

Leading the way with the early starters was Phil Holmes. As he leapt out of the water and towards his bike, he was travelling at such lightning speed that I barely caught a glimpse of him.

He didn't stop until he made it to the finish line in around 2 hours, 54 minutes.

Phil was followed by the BBC Radio Newsroom team. They look relaxed enough here -- but you should have seen them three hours later.

First across the line was "Ironman" Anthony Birchley, followed two minutes later by Richard Downie.

John Davidson stepped up the pace during the 10k run to come in third, ahead of Peter Dickinson. Showing the whipper-snappers how it's done was Duncan Snelling in a shade over 3 hours.

I'll publish the exact times when I have them.

All six put in awesome performances and I'm immensely proud of them. If you spent your Sunday sat on your arse eating chocolate, the least you can do is give them some moral support by clicking here and sending a few quid MAG's way.
Anthony Birchley's post-swim comment: "Jesus."
Not even he can help you now, mate.
Quote from Phil as he emerged from the water in the London Triathlon: 'I'm shagged.' Which is understandable.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Now's the best time of the year to live in West London, because it's the weekend of the Ealing Jazz Festival at Walpole Park, just a stone's throw from my flat.

It's just the place to buy a helium-filled dalmatian, while listening to old blokes with beards making a noise akin to a donkey being garrotted with cheese wire.
The US military has released digitally altered pictures of Saddam Hussein that coalition forces are using in their efforts to track him down. U.S. releases altered Saddam pictures

I predict a raid by Task Force 20 on Buckingham Palace as special forces confuse Saddam:

With Prince Philip:

Thanks to Johannes for the translation of the article in the German pop culture journal,

It says:

Website Of The Month: Stuart Hughes and his "Amputee of the Week"

With his private weblog BBC reporter Stuart Hughes proves that reporting on war may also have an ironic side to it.

Every Friday Hughes presents the "amputee of the week"; a column, which gets a lot of attention (and emails) by now. (paying tribute to 'political correctness' it should be said that Hughes has an artificial leg himself.)

If all that's too gory for you, you can also talk to the Brit about things like what Uday Hussein and David Gest have in common.

Thanks for the plug, guys!

Friday, August 01, 2003

Anyone able to translate this for me?
Richard Leakey sounds like a real-life Indiana Jones.

During his colourful life he's been a fossil expert, author, conservationist, opposition MP, anti-corruption campaigner, economic reformer, and head of Kenya's civil service.

His first job was studying fossils, following his parents who were famous archaeologists and palaeontologists.

In the late 1980s, Leakey switched careers to take over as head of Kenya's Wildlife Service, working to protect all endangered wildlife and eco-systems.

Leakey's methods were successful but his combative style earned him plenty of enemies.

In 1993, the single-engine plane he was flying lost power and crashed and both legs were amputated below the knee. Some suspected the "accident" was, in fact, sabotage.

In 1995, Richard Leakey took a stand against corruption in Kenya’s government by forming Safina, an opposition party. Although subjected to beatings, death threats, and constant government surveillance, Leakey continued his crusade for political justice.

Leakey's story is an amazing one -- and for refusing to let his accident get the better of him, he's this week's Amputee of the Week.

The Leakey Foundation

This week's News Online column has been published here.
Had lunch with a group of work colleagues yesterday at the Bush Bar in Shepherd's Bush.

Jo presented me with a copy of Kate Adie's autobiography, with a personal dedication inside.


Interesting stuff in the Guardian about the behind the scenes battle for "ownership" of Ali Abbas, the Iraqi boy who lost his arms in an American missle attack:
The Guardian: Ali's story

More on the Death-Daq:
BBC News Online: Why 'Terrordaq' will come - if the Pentagon likes it or not

Hopeful noises from Iraqi Kurdistan:
Washington Post: Saddam overthrow restoring Kurd trust

If you haven't checked out Neal's link to the Self-Healing minefield, you really should.

It'll surprise no-one who's been reading the blog for a while to learn that our old friends from Alliant Techsystems are involved in the project. You'll recall that Alliant was named a "recalcitrant producer" in a Human Rights Watch report for rejecting an appeal to forego any future production of antipersonnel mine components.

Good luck to Dr. Thomas Altshuler and the team working on the Self-Healing Minefield. Perhaps when you're finished you can turn your attention to developing a self-healing leg for me.

They're not the only DARPA boffins who can't be accused of not thinking outside the box.

DARPA and two private partners were due to launch a futures market which would enable investors to bet real greenbacks on future acts of terrorism, assassinations and other catastrophes:

BBC News Online: Pentagon axes online terror bets

The idea was to improve the prediction and prevention of events by using the expertise of the open market instead of relying only on government agencies -- but the project was shelved after an outcry by US politicians. Islamist terrorist opens a vial of sarin on the Washington subway in the morning rush hour, killing 200 people -- and the capitalists who'd bet on such an outcome get rich. Brilliant!

Meanwhile, the group that planned the attack has also been buying up Death Futures, so they're able to take the profits when their man carries it out. Even the sworn enemies of capitalism win -- which would go to show that behind all that "we will strike the infidels in their beds" crap they were really dollar-grabbing fat cats all along.

The idea has a certain warped brilliance to it.

Now, how much am I bid for a suicide bombing on Oxford Street?

More at:
NY Times: Poindexter to Resign Following Terrorist Futures Debacle
NY Times: The Right and Wrong Stuff of Thinking Outside a Box
Washington Post: The Furor Over 'Terrorism Futures'