Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Travelling back from Istanbul -- back in London tonight.

Meanwhile, there's a report here on the funeral of Simon Cumbers in Ireland.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It's so hot here in Istanbul that the riot police are melting.


In an interview with the Pentagon-funded TV station, Al-Iraqiya, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair will express his confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to transform their country, with the support of the coalition.

Asked what his message to the Iraqi people is, Mr Blair will say:

"Have confidence and faith because you will succeed.

"You needn't fear for the future.

"You will make it because we will help you make it.

"I would say have confidence, have faith and we will be there as a friend."

The interview, recorded yesterday, will be broadcast from 1200GMT.
Completely non-NATO's an audioblog clipped from an interview I did this morning with the Good Morning Wales programme, responding to an extremely ill-informed press release put out by the lobby group, Landmine Action.

The audioblog is 50" long and is a 130Kb .wma file.

Audioblog: Good Morning Wales Interview

Monday, June 28, 2004

At the end of a frantic day in Istanbul, I must make a confession.

I was tempted.

This afternoon I attended a news conference by President Bush and Tony Blair -- arguably the two most powerful people in the world.

After passing through the tight security cordon, and waiting for a couple of hours in a holding room at the Hilton hotel Istanbul, I found myself face to face with the two main architects of the war in Iraq.

The world's media was watching as President Bush and Mr Blair hailed their success in the war against Saddam Hussein.

And as I sat there, headphones clamped to my ears and listening to the news conference, the temptation to speak out was overwhelming. What would happen, I wondered, if I removed my artificial leg, waved it in front of Bush and Blair, and proclaimed "See this. This is the outcome of your war. Iraq may have been liberated, but I -- and hundreds of others like me -- will be burdened with this artificial limb every day for the rest of my life because of the conflict you created."

Dozens of cameras were there. An outburst would probably have made front page news around the world. But what would it have achieved, except for a fleeting 15 minutes of fame?

Without doubt, my career as a journalist would be over.

The leaders would offer sympathetic words -- but little else.

Call me a sell out, but I bit my tongue -- and kept silent.
The transcript of the Bush/Blair press conference I attended earlier.

I understand the decision to bring forward the handover was made by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, and President Bush was informed of the plan late yesterday afternoon.

Never mind "the biggest story ever broken by a blog" (thanks Xeni) -- I'm starving.

NATO can, it seems, bring together the leaders of 26 nations to discuss the security challenges of the 21st century -- but it can't provide so much as a sandwich to members of working press after 7:00 in the evening. The best I could find was a can of warm diet coke.

NATO's Istanbul summit will be remembered for the handover of power to the Iraqis -- as well as some of the worst catering ever seen on the international diplomatic circuit.
this is an audio post - click to play
I'll be at the Bush-Blair press conference at 1640 Turkish time (1340GMT) and will attempt to file an audioblog from there as soon thereafter as I can.
President Bush and Tony Blair will make a joint statement on the early handover of power in Iraq at around 1640 Turkish time (1340 GMT) following a bilateral meeting here in istanbul.

Expect the statement to appear on your TV screens around an hour later -- somewhere around 1440 GMT.
Another story on teenage triple amputee Cameron Clapp.

I can report that the date for the handover of sovereignty in Iraq has been brought forward from the scheduled date of Wednesday June 30th.

Speaking here at the NATO summit in Istanbul, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshar Zebari, said "I believe that we will challenge these terrorists, criminals, Saddamists and anti-democratic forces by bringing even the date of the handover forward."

The handover is now expected to take place today.

Downing Street has refused to confirm a change in the handover date. A spokesman for Number 10 said an announcement would be made later today.

President Bush is due to meet Tony Blair in Istanbul at around 1600 local time (1300 GMT). Expect more around that time.


Sunday, June 27, 2004

One story I should have blogged on Friday -- but neglected to do so because of Istanbul much for my dead cert.

There goes another fiver.

At least I'm consistently bad.

BBC News: Vanessa out of Big Brother house

Here's my colleague Jonny's pre-NATO summit mood piece.

Real video of our interview with Rumsfeld is here and the transcript is here.
The real reason England lost their Euro 2004 quarter final.

Central Istanbul is in lockdown.

The city is swarming with hundreds of security officials, dozens of roads are closed, the Bosphorus is teeming with warships (some just for show but others are actively patrolling the waters) and every now and then F-14s tear across the sky.

The security is not surprising given that President Bush, Tony Blair and the heads of state and other ministers from all 26 NATO member countries and a host of other partner nations are either in town or on their way here.

The NATO summit doesn’t officially open until tomorrow but our coverage is already underway. This morning we pulled off something of a coup by securing an exclusive interview with US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s on the agenda:

IRAQ: Just days before the handover of power in Iraq NATO countries are deeply divided on whether the alliance should take a more direct role in stabilising the country.

AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan is NATO’s number one priority. Since August 2003 NATO has been leading a 6,500-strong international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, ISAF, which provides security for Kabul and the surrounding areas. In January 2004, NATO for the first time expanded its responsibility outside of Kabul by taking command of the German-led Kunduz Provincial Reconstruction Team. The Istanbul summit will announce that NATO is ready to take command of the other PRTs in Afghanistan.

BOSNIA: NATO’s mission in Bosnia, SFOR, is coming to an end. By the end of 2004 NATO will hand over its operations in Bosnia to the European Union. The Istanbul summit is expected to announce the handover to the EU and what assistance the alliance is planning to provide to the EU for its future mission in Bosnia.

KOSOVO: NATO troops have been deployed in Kosovo since the 1999 war. NATO says it wants political process inside Kosovo to move forward. In order to ensure that, NATO wants to be more fully associated with the UN mission there.

NATO PARTNERSHIPS: At this summit, NATO will again stress importance of partnerships with other, non-NATO countries. NATO wants to focus on key areas of Europe and beyond, including Caucasus and Central Asia, in order to fight terrorism and proliferation.

IMPROVEMENTS TO NATO FORCES: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will press leaders to consider ways of avoiding the mismatch between political commitment and delivery of military resources seen in Afghanistan. NATO will also reveal a package of eight new anti-terrorism measures at the Istanbul summit.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Friday, June 25, 2004

Pick of the papers this morning is the Times's report that the Jamaican reggae star Beenie Man has cancelled a concert in London after he was warned by police that his lyrics could be an incitement to violence against gays.

The Guardian also has the story.

The Times story in particular highlights the shocking degree of homophobia among some Jamaican musicians. Last month the Jamaican gay rights campaigner, Brian Williamson, was murdered.

Get the background here and here.
The BBC's usually accused of turning up at assignments mob-handed, but our deployments pale into insignificance compared with the White House.

My spies in Ireland -- where President Bush is due later -- say the American delegation is made up of around 950 people.

Not bad for an 18 hour visit.

Then the circus moves on to Ankara and Istanbul -- where I'm heading now.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Al Jazeera says it's relishing the challenge from the BBC's proposed arabic TV news channel.

Wolfowitz apologises for slurring the reputations of my friends and colleagues who have died reporting on the war he created (credit to Jeff for the link.)

The WaPo has the backstory.

Mr Wolfowitz. We Remember:
Tareq Ayyoub
Jose Couso
Kaveh Golestan
Michael Kelly
Christian Liebig
Terry Lloyd
Paul Moran
Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed
Julio Anguita Parrado
Taras Protsyuk
Fred Nerac
Hussein Osman
Terry Lloyd
David Bloom
Gaby Rado
Veronica Cabrera
Mario Podesta
Elizabeth Neuffer
Waleed Khalifa Hassan Al-Dulami
Richard Wild
Mazen Dana
Stefano Rolla
Ali Abdel-Aziz
Ali Al-Khatib
Assad Kadhem
Hussein Saleh
and all journalists and crew killed covering the war in Iraq 2003-2004.
Public enemy number one.

Half-time update....Wayne Rooney goes out of England's quarter final tie against Portugal with a foot injury.

I know exactly how you feel, son.

Go for the amputation -- it's the best option in the long run.
The Right may slate him, others may question his grasp of the truth, but where Michael Moore is concerned it seems people plenty of people are already putting their money where their mouths are:
Guardian Film: Fahrenheit 9/11 sets records at previews
Turkish terrorists would seem to be complete cheapskates -- either that, or they're strong believers in public transport.

The wires are quoting the governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler, as saying that "It is understood that the explosion was caused by a bomb which was being transported... and that the bus and its passangers were not the target."

Couldn't they have taken a taxi?
Looks like the concerns I raised recently about safety and security in Istanbul ahead of next week's NATO summit (I leave for Istanbul tomorrow) were well placed.

"Why didn't they think of that before?" That's what Middle Eastern media commentators will be saying when they read the reports in the FT and the Media Guardian that the BBC is to launch a 24-hour news channel broadcasting in Arabic across the UK, Europe and the Arab world.

Maybe it'll be similar to the arabic language TV station, er....the BBC closed down 8 years ago.

Or maybe it'll be like Al-Jazeera, which was set up mainly journalists sacked when BBC Arabic Television folded.

Since BBC Arabic TV was shut a wealth of arabic language satellite channels -- Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, MBC, LBC, NBN, Al-Manar, Sahar and Al-Alam to name just a few -- have moved in to fill the gap -- leaving the BBC to play catch-up almost a decade later.
I feel a career change coming on after Shirin sent me this link.

Check out the Amputees in Action website here. The company operates under the slogan "It will only cost you an arm or a leg to be one of us!" Catchy.
Astronomers in the US have recaptured the sounds of the early Universe by analysing the background radiation that was born 400,000 years after the Big Bang.

The birth cry of the cosmos sounds like this.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

A bleak and rainy day in London was transformed this evening when I returned home to find that the first of the lilies in my garden had sprung into bloom.

I seem to have made it into Chuck Olsen's Blogumentary. An "extended section," no less.

I'm flattered.
The new rules. Better brush up on my shorthand.
BBC News: BBC outlines post-Hutton reforms

The full report is here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

More on the Glasgow University study on coverage of the Middle East conflict.

Over the Roon!
We're Throo!
Roo Puts Us Throo!
Wayne making it Eu-roo 2004!

At least if England lose against Portugal tomorrow night in their Euro 2004 quarter final it'll mean a temporary end to the deluge of poor tabloid puns based on Wayne Rooney's name.

Meanwhile, you too can look like a potato-headed car thief from Toxteth by downloading the Wayne Rooney mask.
USA Today reports on co-operation on security issues among the American nets.

Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens runs the gauntlet of Michael Moore's lawyers (and earns him a few more dollars in box office receipts) by launching a full frontal assault on Fahrenheit 9/11.
In answer to Tom Gross's questions:

Q) Who at the BBC can name the leader of the Polisario Front?
A) Me. It's Mohamed Abdelaziz.

Q) Who at the BBC has done a report about all the Arab settlers that the Moroccan government has been bussing into the area to take the land of the indigenous Saharawi people?
A) Try Tim Judah, Robin Denselow, Pascale Harter or any of the more than 100 stories filed about the Western Sahara in recent years.

Any more questions?

Monday, June 21, 2004

I present two contrasting viewpoints on the BBC's coverage of the Middle East with little comment -- as anything I say will be construed as proof either of vested interests or sour grapes.

Suffice to say that if both sides are accusing the BBC of bias then maybe someone's doing something right.

The emphasis is mine.

1) "The — in blatant breach of its own charter — virtually conducting its own anti-American and anti-Israeli foreign policy. Anyone who doesn't agree with its policies (Tony Blair, for example) finds himself at the mercy of BBC news coverage....

"...The culture that permeates the BBC, a habit of thought that has become engrained throughout the network, allows only one worldview, in which the U.S. and Israel are vilified well beyond any reasoned or justified criticism of anything these states have actually done.
(Tom Gross, National Review Online)

2) "...a research study by the Glasgow University media group entitled Bad News From Israel...confirm(s) what so many impartial observers already know.

"The main overall conclusion is that there is a clear bias in television news bulletins in favour of the Israelis. The researchers discovered that there is a "preponderance of official Israeli perspectives", particularly on BBC1, where Israelis were interviewed or reported more than twice as often as Palestinians.

"American politicians who support Israel appeared more often than politicians from any other country, and twice as often as those from Britain."
(Roy Greenslade, The Guardian)
The Wall Street Journal probes the finances of Air America Radio -- and doesn't like what it finds.

But then it wouldn't.
Ah yes, the new leg....glad you mentioned it.

Well it's not quite ready.

At the hospital this afternoon I tried it on for the first time and put it through its paces.

It's slimmer and springier than the current model and responded really well to a quick jog around the wards.

As is always the case with final fittings, there was much tweaking as Ian tried to get the alignment spot on.

After about an hour of fiddling we got it just right and the limb was feeling comfortable and responsive. But just as I was getting used to it -- it was taken away. The leg now has to go back into the workshop for tightening and covering with a layer of foam to make it more cosmetically acceptable.

So I'm afraid I can't show it off just yet. It'll be ready in a couple of weeks.
I'm in Wales...hence the lack of blogging...but because lots of people have been asking I thought I'd update with the latest on Frank Gardner's condition.

He underwent another minor operation on Saturday which went smoothly. He's now conscious and able to talk although he's still in a serious condition.

It's hoped he'll be well enough to be transferred to a hospital in the UK within the next week or two.
To Cardiff in the morning for the final fitting of my new prosthesis.

Actually, it's an old engine fitted on a new chassis. My prosthetist, Ian, is taking the Freedom Foot he used on the first leg he ever made for me and attaching a new socket to it.

Taking collection of a new limb is always a bit of a worry. It'll be part of me for the next six months or more. Any tiny niggles or problems are compounded with every step so it's essential we get the fit and alignment spot on from the start.

But getting a new leg is always exciting too. So far, each successive model has allowed me to walk further, to do more activities and to achieve more. I'm hoping that'll be the case this time.
"The mountains and plains of Northern Iraq are still covered in landmines planted by the former Iraqi dictator's regime during the 1980s," says this report from the Inter Press news agency.

Tell me about it.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

A team of amputees is currently cycling across the US, from San Francisco to New York.

Check out their website -- Amputees Across America.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The latest on Frank Gardner is that he's doing well and is due to undergo another operation tomorrow, which we hope will be the last one.

Keep him in your thoughts.
Readers outside the UK may be interested to know that an interview with Alex Zanardi, the double-amputee racing driver who lost both his legs in a crash, is running on BBC World TV from today.

Full details and transmission times here.
Clumps of bright yellow bicycles are springing up around BBC Television Centre like weeds.

Inquiries reveal that they're for a pilot scheme called OYBike, which will allow the public to zoom around Hammersmith and Fulham on bikes hired through their mobile phones.

Aside from the prospect of cyclists being crushed under the wheels of the heavy goods vehicles that rumble over Hammersmith Flyover, the scheme seems interesting and worthwhile.

How long the bikes will survive in the al fresco crack den that is Shepherd's Bush Green, though, remains to be seen.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

"It's hard to imagine how the commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks could have put it more clearly yesterday: there was never any evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11.

"Now President Bush should apologize to the American people, who were led to believe something different."

(New York Times Editorial, 17th June)

News that Jennifer Aniston is in talks to star in a biopic of war photographer and landmine victim Dickey Chapelle.

(Chapelle was also the subject of the song Pearl's Eye View by Nanci Griffith.)
As the Stanford Prison Experiment and -- more recently -- events at Abu Ghraib proved, if you lock people up in a confined space for long enough then sooner or later they're going to lose it.

So it has proved to be in the world of Reality TV, where the latest series of Big Brother has exploded into a booze-fuelled free-for-all.

The London Evening Standard is already describing the punch-up as a "new low" for reality TV -- and more self-righteous garbage is sure to follow in tomorrow's papers.

It's all tosh, of course.

The entire reality genre is built around the voyeuristic promise of sex and/or violence. The producers of Big Brother (and the advertisers) have got exactly what they wanted -- a fact that's sure to be reflected in the ratings.
I'm launching a campaign to encourage the Imperial War Museum to buy Jeremy Bowen's moustache for the Nation.

It's as much a piece of the history of modern warfare as a Spitfire or a Jagdpanther tank destroyer.

The only question is -- which era of top lip caterpillar should they purchase?

Do they go for the Balkans action hero?

The East Jerusalem barber look?

The Breakfast News lounge lizard?

Or the Swiss Toni?
Today's Independent front page follows similar lines to this posting.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


"Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe it is likely that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks" AP report, 6th September 2003

"If we’re successful in Iraq...we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." Dick Cheney, NBC Meet the Press, 14th September 2003

"Ahmed Hikmat Shakir appears on three captured rosters of officers in Saddam Fedayeen, the elite paramilitary group run by Saddam's son Uday and entrusted with doing much of the regime's dirty work....If Shakir was an officer in the Fedayeen, it would establish a direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11." Wall Street Journal, 27th May 2004

"We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda co-operated on attacks against the United States." 9/11 Commission Preliminary Statement, 16th June 2004
Xeni Jardin talks to triple amputee athlete, Cameron Clapp.

Clapp's website is here.

He's an inspiration.

This sign along the 240km-long demilitarized zone between North and South Korea reads "Hurrah for the Sun of the 21st Century, General Kim Jong Il -- and Save the Asiatic Black Bear."

OK, so I made that last bit up -- but the decision by North and South Korea to end their propaganda broadcasts across the DMZ means that some of the rarest animal species in the world can look forward to a better night's sleep.

In an unusual example of war having a positive impact, the tight security along the 38th parallel have made it an important wildlife refuge on the environmentally-ravaged peninsula.

Articles on the subject here and here.

If the Bush and Kerry campaign trail seems gruelling, spare a thought for the Mongolian Prime Minister Nambaryn Enkhbayar, who's on the hustings in an area the size of Western Europe but with just 500 miles of paved roads. It's possible to ride 2,000 miles from east to west without encountering a single man-made obstacle.
Jim Hightower has an overview of alternative media outlets -- with lots of useful links.

Go on, why not try it? Switch off CNN or Sky News and try something more progressive -- just for one day.
I'm very keen to take a look at this book if any American readers have a copy they've finished with.

An opposing viewpoint is no bad thing.

ASSIGNMENT NEWS....To Istanbul, Turkey next week for the NATO Summit.

In many ways, it's the kind of job I loathe -- a carefully choreographed set piece event in which the press are kept a safe distance from the delegates, corralled into a media centre and drip-fed information through unenlightening news conferences.

I could write the report to mark the end of the summit now -- more than a week before the thing even starts. It'll go something like "The NATO summit in Istanbul has ended with delegates insisting they've put their differences over Iraq behind them. At his closing press conference, the NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the alliance between the United States and Europe was stronger than ever."

You see if I'm not wrong.

The main interest is in the timing. The summit will take place just days before the handover of power to an interim Iraqi government. in addition, in this election year President Bush is likely to use the summit to highlight his credentials as a world leader -- what analysts call the "stature gap" over Democratic challenger John Kerry.

Mind you, while doing some background reading in advance of the summit, I punched the word "Turkey" into the White House search engine and it came back with this, which just about sums it up.
Fox News liar John Gibson responds to the Ofcom ruling, which found him guilty of failing to show due respect for the truth.

He allows himself the right of reply -- a luxury he denied the BBC when he made his unfounded allegations against the Corporation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Before leaving Washington I picked up a copy of Under the Banner of Heaven, the latest book by Jon Krakauer (who for my money is one of the best non-fiction writers out there.)

It's a fascinating journey into the hidden corners of religious extremism in the US, combining reportage with meticulously researched history.

I was interested, therefore, to read that a group of American Mormons are visiting Wales to learn more about their ancestry.

The website Welsh Mormon History has more.

It's clear from Krakauer's book that Mormonism is a damn strange religion (at least to a non-believer like me) -- although you can read the Church's response to the book here.
I had hoped to travel to Zambia and Angola around this time to report on this story, but other assignments and time pressures have got in the way.

I'm hoping to squeeze it in later this year if at all possible.

There's more on the voluntary repatriations here.
The best news so far on Frank Gardner's recovery...indeed the very fact I can begin to talk about it as a "recovery" is miraculous enough.

Frank today underwent a long operaton which appears to have gone well. The surgeons say the long term prognosis for a full recovery is good. They hope to be able to take him off the respirator and start reducing his sedation very soon.
Reopening this posting, the Sunday Times report on the circumstances surrounding Simon Cumbers' death cannot be independently confirmed.
Got one leg? Want to catch a wave? Ride on over to Ampsurf.
From the Press Association news wire:

Disability campaigners welcomed the appointment of a one-legged police officer.
The constable, believed to be the first officer in Britain to wear a prosthetic leg, has started duties as a probationary recruit with West Midlands Police.
He recently completed his training at the Tally Ho! centre in Birmingham after
completing all the necessary tests and does not wish to be named. Sandy Coulbourn, of the Shaw Trust, a charity which helps disabled people into work, praised the force for its positive approach.

It's official -- Fox News lies and shows no respect for truth.

Earlier in the year, I blogged a slice of ill-informed, one-sided excrement from Fox News's wildly-coiffured anchor, John Gibson (read the transcript here.)

After receiving 24 complaints from viewers, Ofcom investigated the broadcast and on Monday issued its ruling.

Ofcom found that:
1) Fox News’s claim that the BBC is "irrationally anti-American" was false and not backed up by evidence.
2) John Gibson misled viewers by giving the distinct impression that he was quoting Andrew Gilligan directly.
3) Fox made unsubstantiated claims that the BBC “insisted its reporter had a right to lie”.
4) Fox should have given the BBC a chance to reply to the allegations made against it -- but didn't.

In a damning censure, Ofcom ruled that Fox News had breached programme codes by failing to show a respect for truth.

Remember that ruling the next time you hear how "fair and balanced" Fox is.

I wonder, though, how Hezbollah TV would fare in front of an Ofcom complaints committee.
So, a quick catch-up on what's been going on while I've been recovering from the jetlag.

Most horrifically is a Sunday Times report that Simon was chased for almost a mile by militants in Riyadh before he was killed by a shot to his head.

I haven't been into the office today and so haven't had a chance to independently verify this report, which just doesn't bear thinking about. The Times reports that it's suspected the attackers were tipped off, possibly by militant sympathisers within a ministry. This is something I suspected from the start.

There's slightly more hopeful news on Frank, though. He has regained consciousness and is showing some signs of improvement.

Meanwhile, two of the biggest beasts in the BBC News jungle have been putting forward their views on news safety.

John Simpson, writing in the Telegraph, says "the attack on them (Simon Cumbers and Frank Gardner) marks the moment at which journalists ceased to be regarded as onlookers and became, against their wishes and instincts, combatants instead."

Over at the Guardian, meanwhile, Jeremy Bowen raises fundamental questions about whether journalists should employ armed guards. I agree with Jeremy's conclusion, that "Even wearing flak jackets, we are still non-combatants. It is not much of a defence, but it is worth trying to hold on to that status, even though the threats that journalists face are multiplying. Sometimes the best protection is for people to know you are defenceless."

Monday, June 14, 2004

Back in London and nursing a bad case of jetlag. However, there are a couple of interesting stories around today, which I'll blog and discuss this evening.

Friday, June 11, 2004

This afternoon, while taking a stroll, I made the greatest discovery just a couple of blocks away from the office.

Signature Cigars, the DC area's only dealer of Pinar Pre-Embargo Cubans, is just two blocks away from the bureau.

I can see that the Signature Cigar Club is going to become a home away from home during the US election campaign.
Events back home seem a long way away from here in Washington but Labour thoroughly deserved the good kicking it received in the local election results.
Photos of Ronald Reagan's journey from Capitol Hill to Washington National Cathedral, taken from our live position along the motorcade route at the intersection of Independence Avenue and 17th Street.


A hint that one of Ronald Reagan's closest political allies may not be far behind him in joining that great bilateral summit in the sky.

Lady Thatcher, who shared Reagan's anti-communist and pro-free market philosophy, is giving a eulogy at his funeral tomorrow.

We're told, however, that although Thatcher will be present at Washington National Cathedral, her address will be a videotaped one recorded some months ago.

Lady thatcher, who's 78, is in failing health after suffering a series of small strokes.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Some brighter news from Saudi.

Although Frank Gardner's condition remains serious, and he is still sedated, the doctors feel more confident about his stability and immediate prospects.
"You are thoughtless, mean, hateful liberal."

Just another fair and balanced interview from the crazy world of Hannity and Colmes.

Reversed riding boots:

Reversed Prosthesis:

The jetlag hasn't kicked in yet, which is just as well because I've had to hit the ground running. I arrived in Washington at 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon and started work at 3.30 (my colleagues graciously made allowances for the fact that this was half an hour later than my scheduled start time.)

I've been fighting the heat down among the crowds queueing to see Ronald Reagan's casket up on Capitol Hill. An estimated 5,000 people are passing by the coffin every hour.

Seeing the mourners standing in line, one thing that's striking is how white they are. In a country where 13% of the population is black, I'd say about 97% of the people coming to see the coffin are white.

As this article explains, the Great Communicator's appeal among African Americans was limited.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The latest update on Frank's condition....he's undergone further surgery. His condition remains very serious and he's likely to stay under sedation for another few days.

There's an online book of condolences for Simon Cumbers here.
I arrived in Washington just a few hours ahead of the 40th President of the United States -- although I'm hoping that, unlike Ronald Reagan, my visit to the Nation's Capital won't be my last.

I've already picked up one piece of Amputee News on this assignment -- Irish tenor and bilateral amp Ronan Tynan will sing at the funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Friday.

We get everywhere.
Returning to this posting, I'm disturbed to see that Vanessa is on the drift.

She's currently out at 10/1.

What did I say about my record as a tipster?
David Aaronovitch assesses Ronald Reagan's legacy in stark terms -- and with particularly relevance to some of the issues I'm interested in:

"...the Reagan administration insisted on recognising the deposed Khmer Rouge government in exile at the UN, mostly because it was the pro-Soviet Vietnamese that had done the deposing. This recognition helped maintain a civil war in which many Cambodians were killed and many thousands of landmines were laid....

"Over the Atlantic and down a bit, and we have Reagan welcoming Jonas Savimbi of the Unita organisation to the White House and speaking of his murderous outfit in Angola winning "a victory that electrifies the world and brings great sympathy and assistance from other nations to those struggling for freedom". Actually what Savimbi was doing was prolonging a civil war in which the UN estimates that 300,000 children died directly or indirectly during the Reagan years, and Angola was covered in landmines. Human Rights Watch reports that Unita's indiscriminate use of landmines, caused there to be more than 15,000 amputees in the country by 1988, ranking the country alongside Afghanistan and Cambodia in the league of blown-off limbs....

"Reagan's legacy to the world may be the fallen wall, but it is also the third-world landmine."

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

ASSIGNMENT NEWS: I've just been told I've got to go to Washington in the morning to cover Ronald Reagan's funeral.

It'll be the first state funeral in Washington for more than 30 years. Here's an idea of what the American networks are planning for the event.

More from there...
The official line on the arming of guards working with BBC journalists, from Head of Newsgathering Adrian Van Klaveren:

Following some reports today, I would like to clarify the BBC's position on the use of armed guards to escort journalists.

It remains the case that at present the BBC is not hiring armed guards to escort its journalists anywhere in the world and we have no plans to do so in the foreseeable future. But because of the increasing dangers faced by journalists on certain assignments and the need for a quick response, we have put in place a streamlined procedure for making the decision on whether or not to arm. I stress that this decision would only be taken in very specific circumstances and would require authorisation from Richard Sambrook (Director of News) and Stephen Dando (Head of Personnel). The safety and security of our teams must always be our paramount consideration and we are of course keeping our policy under constant review.

As once-in-a-lifetime cosmological spectaculars go, the Transit of Venus wasn't exactly very spectacular.

I've got spots on my arse that are bigger and more impressive.
The latest update on Frank. He's a little better, although his condition is still very serious and remains critical. He's sedated but is not in a coma and his strength and fitness are helping him through the surgery.
This story is well-sourced and very significant.

The key word in the report is enabling.

There are no plans to use western armed guards at present, but the shift in policy opens the door to use them in very limited circumstances in the future.

The decision is a controversial one -- and will divide opinion.

On the one hand, if armed guards would have protected Simon and Frank (which is by no means certain) then they potentially have a role to play in a world which is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists.

On the other, I still feel that if a location is deemed too risky to operate in without armed protection we should be asking ourselves why we're there in the first place.
AP reports on a steep rise in the number of landmine casualties in Cambodia.
My colleague Orla Guerin pays tribute to Simon Cumbers in the Guardian.

Orla sums up what we're all feeling:

"There is a relatively small band of journalists who work in foreign news, meeting often in places of war and suffering and death. Simon was a much-loved member of our group. We have lost a member of our family."

Monday, June 07, 2004

Here's an interview I did earlier on Radio Wales about the shooting of Simon and Frank. It's just under 700Kb and is four and a half minutes long.

Radio Wales Interview (.wma)
We're trying to get some sort of definitive picture of what happened to Simon and Frank but it's proving difficult.

What we know is that they were filming the house of Ibrahim Al-Rayyes, a wanted terrorist killed last year, in the Suwaidi district. It seems they were shot by gunmen in a blacked-out jeep, who escaped after the shooting.

Arab News reports that "Witnesses said Gardner kept aloof from the jeep after it came under fire but the gunmen followed and fired several bullets at him. “The terrorists fled the area thinking that Gardner was dead as one shot had hit his head,” they said."

It's too early to speculate on how the incident came about but my gut feeling is that it wasn't just a random, opportunistic shooting.

For one thing, it seems extremely unlikely that a blacked-out vehicle full of gunmen just happened to stumble across Simon and Frank while they were driving around Riyadh.

Also, this picture of Frank from Saudi television suggests that other people were milling around the area at the time of the shooting -- yet only Frank and Simon, two westerners, were seriously hurt.

So were the gunmen tipped off in advance? Were Simon and Frank followed and then ambushed? We just don't know yet.
There's a mood of overwhelming sadness hanging over the newsroom this morning.

Friends and colleagues from around the world are ringing in, offering their condolences and asking for the latest news.

The information we've got is basically the same as that being broadcast on the news reports -- that Simon was killed instantly in a drive-by shooting and Frank's critical but stable after going extensive surgery.

The only good news is that Frank's condition is stabilising.
Stratfor's latest intelligence report on Saudi Arabia has, sadly, proved to be totally accurate:

"Given the blows that Islamist militants have struck -- against both Westerners and, by extension, the Saudi regime -- in recent weeks the support they have garnered from al Qaeda and the inability of the security infrastructure to deal with the threat, Stratfor sees an inevitable increase in the use of small assault teams in strikes against Western assets in the kingdom and beyond.

"Given the success rate of such actions so far -- compared to recent failures to carry out large-scale suicide attacks in Jordan, and the manpower, investment and false starts that went into recent successful
suicide bombings in Riyadh, this methodology of precision over fire-power easily could be adapted to many circumstances and theaters of operation in which Islamist militants have a vested interest in striking at the West."
Here's the official announcement of Simon's death and Frank's injury from BBC Head of News, Richard Sambrook:

We have had to confirm some very bad news this evening. Frank Gardner and freelance cameraman/journalist Simon Cumbers came under fire from gunmen in a suburb of Riyadh. Simon was killed. Frank has been injured and is being treated in hospital in Riyadh. Their families have been informed and we are offering them all the support we can. A team from Newsgathering is leaving for Riyadh as soon as possible. We have no further details at the moment but are doing all we can to find out exactly what happened and we'll update you as soon as we can.

Simon was a freelance cameraman who had worked for several international broadcasters as well as the BBC on many world events and current affairs programmes. His talent and experience were widely recognised. He, and his wife Louise Bevan, are well known to many of us and his loss is a great shock to all his colleagues as well as his friends and family.

Richard Sambrook
A report by Frank Gardner on the growing sense of insecurity in Saudi Arabia was broadcast just yesterday.

It now seems tragically prophetic:

"Thousands of British and other Western expatriates in Saudi Arabia are bracing themselves for further attacks by al-Qaeda.

"Vehicles were left riddled with bullets after the attack in Khobar. Twenty-two people were killed there last weekend in a raid on the oil town of Khobar by anti-Western fanatics.

"Most of the terrorists escaped and the British ambassador to Riyadh has warned that further attacks are likely.

"This is not the Saudi Arabia I know."

Sunday, June 06, 2004

I've just received the devastating news that Simon Cumbers, a cameraman I've worked with on many occasions, has been shot dead in Saudi Arabia.

My colleague Frank Gardner has been seriously injured.

I'm not a religious person but if you are please pray for Frank and Simon tonight. I'm too shocked and upset to say any more just now.

BBC News: Two BBC men shot in Saudi capital

Disappointment in the garden.

When I was in Cardiff last week my dad gave me a bird table he made a few years ago. I brought it back to London and it came up a treat after a quick lick of creosote.

I attached it to my garden fence excitedly, scattered seed liberally inside, and sat back and waited for the birds to descend on my urban oasis.

I'm still waiting.

The seed is piled up, untouched, like yesterday's leftovers.

The birds are nowhere to be seen.
Fellow landmine victim and amputee Chris Moon has begun his walk from John O'Groats to Land's End.

I'll be joining him in London on June 22nd.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Praise Jesus.
Kitten Evicted
Further evidence -- as if it were needed -- that I'm hurtling headlong into middle age.

After my disturbingly enjoyable encounter with Radio 2 earlier in the week, I found myself sitting through an entire edition of Gardeners' World this evening and muttering to myself "ooooh, that's a good idea" on numerous occasions.

My excuse is that I was only watching it for Rachel De Thame -- the Nigella Lawson of the compost heap and the thinking horticulturist's crumpet.
Lou e-mails with the answer to my little artistic dilemma.

She points me towards the Variable Media Network which (ready, art lovers?) "pairs artists with museum and media consultants to provoke comparison of artworks created in ephemeral mediums. The initiative aims to define each of these case studies in terms of medium-independent behaviors and to identify artist-approved strategies for preserving artwork with the help of an interactive questionnaire" (haven't they got anything better to do?)

You see, it's all about storage, emulation, migration and reinterpretation, don't you know.

Click on "terms" then "strategies" for an explanation of what can be done about Dan Flavin's dodgy light bulbs.
The veteran and highly respected Middle East commentator David Hirst gives a bleak assessment of the region -- warning that "the worst is yet to come."

Got on to talking about the Momart warehouse fire today with my artist mate, Janine.

I asked her for an expert ruling on this posting. Janine insisted that a pile of ashes does not an artwork make -- and so the barbecued Damien Hirsts and Tracy Emins can no longer be considered "art."

However Janine, who knows her Andy Warhols from her Pablo Picassos, opened up a whole new hornet's nest with another aesthetic conundrum.

Take the work of the minimalist artist Dan Flavin, she suggested. Flavin's most famous works are light sculptures made out of commercially available fluorescent tubes. But what happens when the strip lights stop working? Can they be replaced -- or is this an act of artistic vandalism equal to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa? Perhaps only the artist should be allowed to replace them (in Flavin's case this could prove difficult because he died 8 years ago.) And what about when the gallery switches off the lights at the end of the day? Do the sculptures stop being art when the plug's pulled on them? If so, should they be left on 24 hours a day?

It's all very confusing.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Going live from 35,000 feet -- and the first live broadcast of a plane being hijacked can only be a matter of time.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I am the bookie's best friend -- any bet I place is sure to go straight into William Hill's pocket.

This time, however, I'm on to a dead cert.

On Sunday, I made reference to Big Brother 5 contestant Vanessa Nimmo.

Today I notice that of the last 20 internet searches that led to this blog, 9 -- or 45% -- were for the phrase "Vanessa Nimmo." While this does little to dispel the image of the stereotypical internet user as an adolescent sex-obsessed onanist, it does clearly indicate which BB contestant is the popular choice (although I'm not convinced she'll do so well among female voters.)

The people have spoken. I headed straight over to Skybet and laid a fiver on Vanessa to win at 8/1.
Driving back to London this afternoon from Cardiff, where I've been since yesterday for the latest round of casting and fitting for my new leg (delivery date -- late June), I found myself listening to Radio 2.

Over the course of an hour they played "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead, "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." On Radio 2! -- the home of Desmond Carrington and Your 100 Best Tunes with Richard Baker.

What's happening to the world?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A detailed look from New Zealand of the uncertain future for NGOs operating in Cambodia.