Thursday, November 25, 2004

I've written before about the little luxuries that make all the difference for foreign correspondents far from home.

As I pack my bags for tomorrow's journey to the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World there'll be a bottle of rum (to be added to the Christmas cake) and a block of parmesan in my suitcase for a certain East Africa correspondent.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Apologies for the light blogging over the last few days.

My body has been invaded by the nasty little critter above and I've spent most of my time under the duvet.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The US military is spending $10 million on a new rehab centre for amputee veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre.

Good news for those who've lost limbs during active service -- but bad news that such a unit is needed at all.

(More on the new centre here.)
The UN has put together a special website on humanitarian mine action ahead of next week's Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World.

It's full of useful resources.
The Kevin Sites open letter makes it onto the front page of this morning's Guardian.

Is blogging journalism? Not always, but it can be -- as this example demonstrates.

Monday, November 22, 2004

How do you get rid of a 2000lb bomb that's stuck in a south east Asian village too remote for vehicles to reach?

Rope in an elephant to do the heavy lifting, of course.

The bomb pictured above was found in the village of Phanop in Laos a few days ago by a team from MAG.

The roads were too narrow to drive through, so the MAG workers recruited Bounmar the elephant to drag the device out of the village and across a river, where it could be dealt with safely.

Ten other bombs were found by MAG teams in and around Phanop within a week.

(Thanks to Sean Sutton for the pictures.)
Kevin Sites finally puts his side of the story over his film of a US marine apparently shooting an unarmed wounded Iraqi in an open letter to the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment.

The New York Times runs with his account.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

New evidence that going to church kills you.

Stay outside, kids, and have a cigarette instead.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The New York Times reports that journalist and blogger Kevin Sites has received hate mail and death threats since he filmed a US marine apparently shooting a wounded Iraqi in Fallujah.

Sites himself is saying little.

As I mentioned yesterday, this year's Landmine Monitor Report has been published.

The report, which looks at the progress made since the signing of the Ottawa treaty five years ago, has some positive conclusions. Since the treaty took effect, use of the weapon around the world has fallen dramatically, global funding for mine action programs has increased more than 80%, more than 1,100 square kilometers of land has been cleared, and the number of new mine victims each year has decreased markedly.

Even so, many challenges remain -- to convince hold-out governments to come on board, to ensure effective implementation of and compliance with the treaty, to get mines out of the ground within the ten-year deadline, and to provide adequate assistance to landmine victims.

Landmine Monitor is the definitive study of the landmine problem worldwide. It'll form the basis for discussion at the Nairobi Summit On a Mine-Free World, which I'll be attending for the BBC in just over a week's time.

A landmark in amputee acceptance or a sick piece of exploitation? -- I'll let you be the judge.

The New York Daily News reports that Jennifer Krum, a 25-year old arm amputee from Pennsylvania, is to strip off for Playboy.

Krum, who lost her forearm in a car accident at the age of 5, came to Hugh Heffner's attention after being crowned Miss Amputee 2004 by shock-jock Howard Stern.

"I'm doing it mainly because I want to send the message to people who are amputees, or have issues with confidence or don't find themselves attractive or sexy - that you can be attractive or sexy, even if you're an amputee," Krum insists, not altogether convincingly.

If anyone from Playgirl is reading, my agent is standing by the phones.

It's not just two-legged mammals who benefit from a good prosthesis.

Fuji, a dolphin who underwent an amputation in 2002, is jumping for joy again after being fitted with an artificial fin. (Thanks Marc).

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Much discussion -- and a deep and genuine sense of revulsion -- in the newsroom this afternoon over the murder in Iraq of aid worker, Margaret Hassan.

Several colleagues had met and interviewed her during visits to Iraq and spoke of her dedication, humanity and bravery.

I hesitate to call her killing a "new low" as there have been so many disgusting acts of brutality -- but to shoot at point blank range a woman who has devoted her entire adult life to improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis is repugnant beyond words.

During conversations with colleagues one sentiment kept recurring -- "thank God she was shot and not beheaded."

It's an indication of how desensitised we're becoming to unimaginable brutality that a single gunshot to head can be regarded as "better" or "more merciful" than a knife to the throat.
Depressingly but unsurprisingly, the final official report into a military assault on the Palestine Hotel in April last year, which killed the journalists José Couso and Taras Protsyuk, has concluded that "no fault or negligence" can be attributed to the US army (Source: Reporters Sans Frontieres)

Troops from the Alpha 4-64 Armor Company fired into the hotel even though anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Baghdad knew the place was stuffed with western journalists.

However, it seems no one in the military chain of command thought to tell the grunts with their fingers on the trigger.
The media roll-out of the 2004 Landmine Monitor -- the most comprehensive overview of the landmine situation worldwide -- is underway, with press launches in Cambodia, Mozambique and Belgium.

Landmine Monitor is embargoed until tomorrow morning, after which it'll be available for download here.

The report will conclude that there were more than 8,000 reported incidents of deaths or injuries caused by mines last year, down slightly on 2002. It will also say that up to 20,000 more people could have become victims over the last year because so many cases go unreported.

It will call on more countries to ratify the Ottawa Treaty and on governments to provide more aid to victims.
I've been following the progress of Welsh amputee runner, Andrew Palmer.

On Sunday, Andrew ran the Silver Strand Half Marathon in San Diego.

He finished third in his class, recording a time of 1:34:33 -- just behind Paralympian Paul Martin.

Nice one, Andrew.

Also on the subject of running, I very nearly took ownership of my new Chetah yesterday.

I gave it a test run at the hospital yesterday but then had to give it back for some minor adjustments to be made. It's coming soon, though.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Within the BBC, there's currently some debate and head-scratching taking place over whether employees should be allowed to keep personal blogs -- and if so, whether policies need to be formulated to advise staff on what they should and should not talk about in the public domain.

It's obviously an area of some interest to me -- although I'm glad to say that the approach so far has been marked by dialogue and consultation rather than confrontation.

There's no sign that I'm going to be silenced just yet.

It's interesting, therefore, to see how NBC reacted to last night's genuine scoop by its correspondent Kevin Sites -- who's also a blogger.

Sites and I both blogged from Northern Iraq during the war last year, earning ourselves the "war blogger" tag -- although thankfully he emerged from the conflict unscathed.

Rather than playing down or ignoring Sites' blogging activity, NBC actively promoted it on air.

It's the clearest sign yet that some broadcasters are beginning to understand and even embrace blogging by staffers -- even though what they write is beyond their editorial control.

As more and more mainstream news outlets experiment with blogs in various ways, perhaps some of the suspicion that journalists would "give away trade secrets" or keep all their best material back for their blogs is beginning to fade.

I hope blogs like mine and Kevin's have shown that personal websites by journalists need not trouble our paymasters unduly. Indeed, they very often enhance and enrich the work we produce in our day jobs by providing a "rough draft" we can feed into the polished pieces that make it onto the air or into print.

NBC's response to Kevin's exclusive is very different from that of his former employer, CNN, which asked him to shut down his blog during last year's war. Long may it continue.

Monday, November 15, 2004

I understand that the US military authorities are anticipating a criminal investigation following an incident in Fallujah filmed by NBC correspondent and blogger Kevin Sites.

Sites' report appears to show an American marine shooting dead an unarmed and wounded Iraqi in a mosque in Fallujah.

The Iraqi was one of five wounded prisoners left at the mosque after Marines fought their way in on Friday and Saturday.

Pooled TV footage shows a Marine saying "He's fucking faking he's dead. He faking he's fucking dead."

The Marine then apparently raises his rifle and fires into the man's head.

The timing could not be worse for the US military. Amnesty International has just warned that "the rules of war protecting civilians and combatants have been violated in the current fighting in Falluja."
A belated link (sorry Lu) to a report on last Friday's "Morning Edition" on NPR about the lack of American media coverage of the Paralympics.

The story is pegged to the airing of Paralympic action from Athens on the Outdoor Life Network -- just two months after the Games closed.

As a radio producer, I must say it's a dry and not very creative piece of radio. Still, it's good that NPR chose to cover the story -- even if you did read it here on 6th September.

In his report, Tom Goldman says that NBC declined to speak on the record. Sounds familiar. I'm still waiting for my reply.

When I was in Canada last week, the newspapers there were full of stories predicting an exodus from south of the border, as hordes of Americans put off by the idea of four more years of a Bush White House looked to trade Mississippi for Manitoba.

The Canadian immigration authorities, the reports claimed, were being swamped with inquiries from would-be asylum seekers from the lower 49 states.

Warming to the theme, Salon's David Beers offers some advice to those looking to swap the Stars and Stripes for the Maple Leaf.

AP has a similar story.
Above-knee amputee and Royal Signals corporal Colin Campbell gets a write-up in the Telegraph (registration required).

Friday, November 12, 2004

One event I missed because of my travels this week was the announcement of the winners of this year's Rory Peck Awards.

Most notable among the winners was the late James Miller for his film "Death in Gaza" (which I've mentioned before.)

I have the film on DVD if anyone wants to see it.
Slate publishes a chunky article on the controversy surrounding amputee sprinters at the Paralympics.

The piece refers extensively to the Flex Foot cheetah -- as worn by Oscar Pistorius, Marlon Shirley and....when it finally emerges from the!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

As I was flying over the Atlantic, crossing timezones from darkness to dawn, Yasser Arafat was heading in the opposite direction, finally slipping into the night.

I heard about his death on the radio in the taxi from the airport. A BBC team was already on its way to Cairo, which meant I thankfully didn't have to turn back around and catch another plane.

Some will be mourning the death of a great symbol of resistance. Others will be rejoicing at the passing of a terrorist.

Either way, with Arafat finally gone there is a short window of opportunity for progress in the stalled Middle East peace process. Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia are acceptable to Israel and the United States and -- freed from Arafat's interference -- they could potentially bring closer the day when their predecessor's dream of a Palestinian state becomes a reality.

But Hamas has already vowed to continue its jihad against Israel. Continued violence in the West Bank and Gaza and a protracted power struggle within the Palestinian Authority would give Ariel Sharon justifiable reason not to reopen negotiations.

Let's hope this unique chance for peace will not be squandered.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Back to London (England, not Ontario) this evening -- more from there.

The primary responsibility of an uncle is to teach one's nieces and nephews the ways of the world -- like how to get pissed up on booze.

Quote of the day, from an episode of the Simpsons that coincidentally happened to be showing on TV this evening:

"Canada...It's so clean and bland."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The first snow of the season has fallen on Barrie, Ontario.
Human Rights Watch reports on moves by the Iranian regime to silence bloggers.

Monday, November 08, 2004

See the family resemblance?

I went to watch a fight this afternoon and a hockey match broke out.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

I'll leave Canada a rich man, thanks to Gotcha, winner of the 7 Up Mile at Georgian Downs.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

How anyone can claim Canada is a dull place is beyond me.

Why, my brother's adopted home town of Barrie, Ontario is just a few miles from the tourist centre of Alliston -- home of the world famous Alliston Potato Festival and birthplace of Sir Frederick Banting, discoverer of insulin and winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize for medicine.

What more could you want?

Friday, November 05, 2004

BBC Security Adviser Craig Summers has just sent across this shot of him at the finish line after last weekend's Marine Corps Marathon -- which he ran to raise money for MAG.

Nice one Craig!

Blogging will be light for the next few days because I'll be spending time with my brother and his clan just outside Toronto.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Wrapping up here in DC before heading to Canada for some R and R with the family.

A couple of belated the New York Times and The Guardian for their election night mentions.
This morning's Mirror front page backfires completely. Criticise President Bush if you want, but don't belittle the democratic decision of 59 million people:

The Independent is far more powerful:

It's finally over -- and at least John Kerry acted with dignity and honour by pulling the plug straight away rather than dragging out the process. To do so would have tortured his supporters and -- more importantly for me -- us journalists further with futile legal challenges.

I've got a hundred and one reflections from election night, but am just too tired to discuss them all.

Some of the most important:

* Exit polls. Utterly useless. Bloggers have already taken plenty of heat for publishing the exit poll data. (I saw all the data but chose not to publish it because of its perceived unreliability -- although I referred to it with a strong health warning.) I'm rarely one to stand up for the "bloggers are journalists" credo but on this occasion I don't think they're the ones at fault. It's the pollsters who produced the bogus data that should be criticised -- not the bloggers (although some of the more prominent bloggers really need to take a reality check and stop believing their own hype. Just because you've can surf the net and post links doesn't make you a political commentator.) More on blogs and the exit polls here and here.)

* Don't believe conventional wisdom. Record turnout and a big youth vote were touted as potential tipping points for Kerry. But many other Republican advantanges (such as among married, suburban voters and white Protestants) cancelled these out.

* It's gonna get bumpy. For the last four years, the anti-Bush campaign has claimed the moral high ground after the controversies of 2000. No longer. With a popular vote majority of more than 3.5 million an energised Bush can justly claim that America has spoken. He now has the mandate he's lacked so far and can do damn well anything he pleases (as the leader in this morning's Guardian notes.)

* Look to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice, William Rehnquist's health is fading and other vacancies on the bench are imminent. A conservative court would complete the takeover of all three arms of American government.

Last night, America changed forever - and I've received many e-mails over the last 24 hours asking what it felt like to be present as history was made.

I'll tell you.

I watched history being made in an unbearably stuffy makeshift press tent, surrounded by pizza boxes and empty coke bottles. The choking air was thick with the stench of stale piss wafting in from the portaloos outside.

Somehow, that seems apt.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Back at the Reagan Centre, where party workers are gathering and President Bush is due to make his victory speech in just over an hour.

Can't you see how delighted I am to be back here?
John Kerry has conceded and called the President.

He'll speak in Boston at 1400E. The President is due to speak an hour later.

So it's out of bed and back down to the Reagan Centre for round two.

Beer, bed. It's all over for Kerry, Ohio or no Ohio.

The only people who'll benefit from dragging this one out any longer are the lawyers.

But all further analysis will have to wait until I've had some sleep.

Hope you've enjoyed the coverage.
this is an audio post - click to play
An early report from the New York Times on how the exit polls got things so wrong.
President Bush now unlikely to address the (rapidly diminishing) crowds at the Reagan Centre.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card may speak instead.
It's now looking increasingly unlikely that President Bush will come over here to the Reagan Centre because of the continuing uncertainty.

If he's going to come -- he'd better make it soon. The crowds are thinning out and if there's a late change of heart the President could find himself addressing half a dozen pissed Republican activists and the cleaning crew.
The knives are out for the exit pollsters, who seem to have been seriously wide of the mark in their predictions.

Let the recriminations begin.
As night turns to morning, some of the press corps are starting to flag.

We're not being helped by the fact that the press catering tent shut down three hours ago -- so there are no sandwiches, no water, no caffeine, nothing.

I'm due for a huge blood sugar level crash some time very soon.
A few moments ago I saw the country and western band which entertained the party faithful here earlier in the night ferry its equipment out of the building.

But this night's certainly not over yet -- and the revellers here at the Reagan Centre just don't know whether to continue celebrating or head home, get some sleep, and wait for the picture to become clearer.

President Bush is over at the White House -- the question here is whether he'll come over to the Reagan Centre and issue a holding statement to the effect that "it's looking good for us but it's not over yet" or keep his head down until the fog of Ohio lifts.

It's all starting to feel like 2000 all over again, with John Kerry refusing to concede and the rising possibility of no official winner for days or even weeks.
this is an audio post - click to play
The fat lady's warming her lungs up. The race for the White House will soon be over -- and it looks like removal men won't be needed.
The crowd here at the Reagan Centre has erupted into cheers and chants of "Four More Years" after ABC News called the key battleground state of Florida for George W. Bush.
It's clear from the election night broadcasts that all the news networks are being true to promise to wait for a clear picture to emerge before calling states.

They're being more than cautious -- they're being incredibly cautious...but so far it's paying off.

There have been no 2000-style gaffes so far.
RUMOUR MILL....A folding camping stool collapsed under the bulk of which heavyweight correspondent working on the BBC's election night coverage??
Surrounded by several generations of Bushes and some family friends in the West Sitting Hall on the second floor of the White House residence, President Bush said:

"We're very upbeat, thank you. I believe I will win.

"It's going to be an exciting evening."

BNI understands that Senator Kerry will not follow the President's example by holding a photo op.

Kerry camp sources describe Bush's photo op as "part of the overall effort to show that he has not lost."

"Bush is nervous, as he should be," they say.
President Bush, who is still hosting a buffet for 25-30 family and friends at the White House, is due to make some comments on camera shortly.

Sources tell BNI the President's mood is "good."
this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


The band tune up:

The glare of the media:

The Fox News fox hole:

The number crunchers prepare to crunch numbers:

The first wave of exit polls make extremely positive reading for John Kerry, with the Democratic challenger ahead of George W Bush in a number of key battleground states -- including Florida (by 3 percentage points) and Ohio (by 4 percentage points.)

Note that these first wave polls are extremely provisional and should be treated with a great deal of caution. They are in no way indicative of how the final result will shape up.

Pick of the goodies on offer in the press catering tent -- raspberry jam cookies decorated with the GOP logo.

My press pass for the evening's event is still predicting "Victory 2004" for Bush -- but the buzz here among the press, based on the first wave of polling data, is swinging towards Kerry in some key states.

I'll be blogging from here all evening.
The New York Times correctly gauges the mood of news executives on election day -- one of barely disguised terror.

They're all terrified of repeating the mistakes of 2000 by making incorrect calls.

"We're all petrified about getting it wrong," one stressed exec tells the Times.

BNI sources travelling with John Kerry say the senator "seems content and comfortable, if tired."

They say he's expressing confidence that the outcome of the presidential election will be clear "one way or the other" by the end of the night.

BNI sources travelling with the President say Mr and Mrs Bush appeared "tense and fatigued" when they voted in Crawford, Texas.

They say the President's eyes were "a bit puffy, probably from his late night," while Laura Bush's demeanour seemed "somewhat strained."

The prize for the wisest, and most lyrical, preview of the US election in the British press goes -- by a clear margin -- to The Independent's Rupert Cornwell.

Even if you never buy the Independent, buy it today.

If you're watching the election night coverage tomorrow evening this is where you'll see George W.Bush deliver his victory or concession speech.

On a podium in the Reagan Centre, just a couple of blocks from the White House, he's due to address around 4000 Republican party activists at what's being billed as a "Victory 2004" rally.

This is the bit you won't see, the dozens of TV stand-up positions banked up four stories high in front of the stage.

At 0835 Eastern, the president will cast his ballot at a fire station in Crawford, Texas. He'll then visit supporters in Columbus, Ohio before heading for Washington and back to White House.

The presidential race has cost the two main candidates and their allied groups an estimated $1.2bn (Source: Center for Responsive Politics)

Virtually every voter believes the election is important (Source: Pew Research Center)

But the fact is that no-one can say with any degree of certainty who's going to win -- not the pollsters, not the party officials, not the journalists...and certainly not me.

Anecdotal evidence suggests Kerry has gained some last-minute momentum -- and some of the analysts I've been talking to today are beginning to talk more confidently of a Kerry win. Certainly, Gallup and Fox News polls have shown movement toward Kerry and are now suggesting a dead heat. But in every poll the gap is within the margin of error, making it impossible to draw any firm conclusions.

Frankly, you can slice and dice the numbers any way you like in order to put forward a plausible explanation as to why either candidate is going to win.

Real Clear Politics, an excellent source of number-crunching data, has the outcome hanging in the balance.

Only one thing is certain. Whether that Bush rally I'll be attending tomorrow evening really will be celebrating "Victory 2004" is anyone's guess.

My only firm prediction? Ralph Nader's definitely not going to be the next president.