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The Times of London breaking news story: 28, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Syria.
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Syria accused of arming Hezbollah from secret bases

Hezbollah is running weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles, from secret arms depots in Syria to its bases in Lebanon, according to security sources.

You don’t say?

AA Gill on Algeria 21, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
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AA Gill, the outrageously talented Times of London journalist, has written a piece on Algeria. It’s not without its holes (or, rather, so I’m told) but, at the end of the day, it’s written by AA Gill and thus always worth the read for he writes like no other.

Hat tip – the arabist

Jesus sightings 2009 7, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Thanks to The Times’ Comment Central for compiling this years best Jesus sightings.

On Newcastle’s oh so sad demise 27, May 2009

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This is my first and in last post on football (or soccer, if you’re so inclined). Newcastle, for those that aren’t aware of recent events, have just been relegated from the top division in the UK. This is despite spending untold millions of pounds for a decade now on players, coaches and in turning their stadium into the third largest in the Premiere League. The club carries with it something of an arrogant aire based on the (pure)  mythology of how the Geordie (someone from Newcastle) is ipso facto the greatest, most loyal and most fierce supporter in all the land. This is grating for supporters of other clubs, to say the least. This is why, on hearing that Newcastle slipped out of the Premiere League last weekend, most supporters in England would have smiled with a deep sense of schadenfreude.

Even if you’re not interesting in football, you ought to read this piece by The Times of London’s Matthew Syed, a plainly gifted writer who sums up the situation eloquently and with no little wit and – again – perhaps a touch of schadenfreude. Here’s his article in its entirety.

“Newcastle United needs to be filled with people who love this club”, Alan Shearer [the manager and former star player]  said on Sunday and in that one, endlessly banal, hopelessly misguided sentence the latest would-be Messiah laid his finger on everything that has gone wrong with Newcastle’s football club and why it would be madness for Mike Ashley to appoint the former centre forward as full-time manager.

This is a club that have had far too much love: the love of the fans, the love of their various managers, the love of other supporters who, until now, have been happy to rally behind Newcastle as their second team.

This is a club that have basked in an orgy of self-infatuation, living on myths, dreams, brown ale and anything else that could numb the senses to the catastrophe that has been ticking like a time-bomb all season.

And now they want to turn to a man who has an excess of love but who has no qualifications to lead the club out of the mire into which they have jumped, feet first, except an ironed shirt and an occasional turn of phrase. A man who ticks no boxes whatsoever except possession of a Geordie accent and a legendary status on Gallowgate that is so patently irrelevant to the club’s present predicament as to be almost laughable.

This club do not need love; they need to be stripped clean of all sentimentality. They need a man who feels nothing but contempt for the position Newcastle now find themselves in and who is prepared to ignore the mass of fans and their hare-brained schemes.

They need a man who can state the truths the supporters do not want to hear; who can perform reconstructive surgery on a team that have lost all semblance of unity and coherence; a man who is hard-headed, hard-nosed and has spent hardly any time on Tyneside and is thus untainted by the delirium.

They need a man with a proven track record of management; a man who can finesse an understandably panicky owner; above all they need a man with the deep and long experience capable of persuading the good players to stay (and, let’s be honest, there are not many of those), who can get rid of the dross without the whole thing descending into a fire sale, and who can go into an infinitely complex global marketplace, identify a new crop of talented youngsters and persuade them that Newcastle are not a busted flush, but a club that can ride high once again.

And the new manager needs to do this with a close eye on the rapidly deteriorating finances, a deep awareness of the long-term contractual implications of his manoeuvrings in the transfer market and with a nose for how his string of new signings will cope with the unique demands of the Coca-Cola Championship, a league that is different in style, pace, philosophy and tempo from the Barclays Premier League.

Shearer, it hardly needs stating, is qualified for none of these tasks and it is symptomatic of the delusional contagion in the North East that so many supporters think he is.

Perhaps the most darkly comic aspect of Shearer’s initial appointment was how often we heard the phrase “the mood on Tyneside has been transformed”, as if the fans might be able to emote an awful team out of the relegation zone; as if the level of intoxication inspired by the great man’s appointment was a good thing rather than a distraction from what was, even then, a formidable challenge; as if sentiment has any bearing on success and failure when a team are plummeting towards calamity like a man in a concrete overcoat.

I sat in that opening press conference, heard Shearer’s repeated protestations of devotion to “the football club” (as if we doubted that), watched the fans outside taking off their shoes in an apparent show of fealty to their new saviour, and then got the train home wondering if this tedious soap opera will ever end. First Kevin Keegan, then Shearer; give it a couple of seasons of failure in the Championship and they will doubtless turn to the ghost of Jackie Milburn for managerial redemption amid yet more scenes of jubilation outside St James’ Park, yet more dreams of a return to the glory days, yet more whimsy and surrealism.

For the record, Shearer’s tenure has been a failure in almost every possible way, bar his ability to deflect criticism from his own inadequacies during post-match press conferences. He managed a derisory one win in eight games, executed tactical shifts and machinations that made Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman, seem like a rock of stability, but, most damningly of all, the St James’ Park hero failed even to inspire the passion and resolve in the players in what was the whole point of the exercise.

In retrospect, Newcastle needed only a point from their last two games to retain Premier League status, but failed to manage even that; their meek, passive, antiheroic surrender in the final quarter of an hour away to Aston Villa symptomatic of a club that had expended all their reserves of emotional energy on irrelevant happenings off the pitch; a club that have, in truth, spent so long navel-gazing that they no longer had the wit or the wish to look to the fights — the real fights on the pitch — that needed so dearly to be won.

As Alan Hansen said on Match of the Day (which is where Shearer should have stayed, firmly on the couch) on Sunday: “Even then, in the last ten to 15 minutes there was nothing, absolutely nothing. You know their life depends upon this and yet we spent 15 to 20 minutes waiting for some sort of effort [which never came].”

Some will point to Keegan, who as a virginal manager brought Newcastle back into the top flight 16 years ago.

They will dare to believe that this sets some kind of precedent. That inexperience can be some sort of blessing in club management.

But what about Sir Bobby Charlton, who took Preston North End down from the old second division in his first season in charge? What about the dozens of other precedents that show that experience matters in football management just as it does in every other area of life?

The reality is that, lumbered with Shearer, things are likely to get a lot worse for Newcastle, a club that face a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent themselves from top to bottom.

But has Ashley got the balls to ditch him, to make a decision based on the kind of hard corporate logic that has served him so well in amassing a fortune in the sports goods market? Would the fans even let him?

And with that last, rhetorical question we hit the bull’s-eye of Newcastle’s travails. Until the club have an owner who can ignore the myopic short-termism of the nation’s most capricious fans, there will be no bounce for Newcastle United. I am not saying that all supporters are burdened by overinflated expectations, but can it be seriously denied that Newcastle are weighed down by a critical mass of unrealism? That this is the underlying reason for the lack of a single major trophy in 40 years?

Shearer’s appointment would symbolise everything that is wrong at St James’ Park, past and present. Expect him to be unveiled by the end of the week.

Ralph Nader – GM Smear 27, May 2009

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From the Times of London’s Comment Central:

The Nadar/GM smearAfter Ralph Nader wrote a book about auto safety, General Motors, he says, hired private investigators to snoop around in his personal affairs, even hiring beautiful girls to lure him into compromising situations.

After five years of public feuding before television cameras, congressional committees and the courts, the company agreed, in 1970, to pay Nader $425,000 in an out of court settlement.

Poor Pirates 5, May 2009

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French Frigate Nivose

This is the French frigate Nivose. Whilst I am far from any kind of naval expert of any note or repute, indeed, I pride myself on being an unrequited, unrepentant and utter land-lubber. Nevertheless, this looks to me like like a naval ship of some type. Personally, the big gun on the front is the true give-away. But, alas, a boat load of Somali pirates appear not to have been able to tell the difference between this and a typical merchant ship. They duly pursued it, as they are wont to do, yet this particular boat launched two smaller boats full of French Commandos and a helicopter gunship. Those really were some poor pirates.

Torture doesn’t work 23, April 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Ben Makintyre at The Times of London offers a compelling and persuasive  argument for why torture simply does not work. Here are a few choice excerpts.

The key example is Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan al-Qaeda trainer captured in Pakistan in 2002. He denied knowing of any links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, but, under torture, “remembered” that Iraq had trained Islamic terrorists in the use of weapons of mass destruction. His evidence formed the centrepiece of George W. Bush’s pre-invasion speech: “We’ve learnt that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gases.” Al-Libi’s “confession” was entirely false, but by the time the CIA retracted the claim, the war was under way…

Violence is taboo,” wrote Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens, the fearsome monocled martinet who ran Britain’s wartime interrogation centre in London. “Not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information.” Torture fuels insurgency, as the French discovered in Algeria. The extreme violence of the second intifada has been directly linked to the mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners after the first. Britain discovered from its experience battling the IRA that violent repression could be profoundly counter-productive.

Parris on the financial crisis 18, December 2008

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Here’s the best commentary that I’ve seen on the financial crisis yet from Matthew Parris of The Times of London.


To the tumbrils, I say. I want show trials. The public are in for great grief next year. A consolation would be to see some of these cuff-linked Catos of conventional City wisdom carted through the streets and pelted by the crowd. I want TV interrogations before jeering studio audiences.

I want to see hedge-fund managers tipped into cage fights with naked Gypsies; bank managers wrestle with lions in the O2 arena; failed regulators thrown to alligators in the Royal Docks; short sellers in pits of snakes; and distinguished City economists try their luck with sharks. They’ve had their heyday, their bonuses, their Porsches, their fine wines and oafish ostentation – they’ve had their fun. Now for ours.

To the guillotine!