Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Age of Stupid

I saw The Age of Stupid last night, a crafted, nuanced and engaging 'reflective' on the insanity of mass carbon indulgence, corporate greed, geopolitical warmongering, resource plunder, consumer gratification and all the media-fed eco indifference that's ticking us towards imminent planetary abyss.

All the vital statistics, projections and fearful implications on climate change are here for the viewer. Yet, avoiding preaching tones or heavy scientific jargon, The Age of Stupid plays, more consciously, as a soft-spoken lament for the species: how could we have been so unthinking, so cravenly careless, having all the information before us?

As the excellent Pete Postlethwaite character calls-up pre-2055 computer-held footage from his towering earth repository in the melted Arctic (a neat narrative device), we're asked to think about why public awareness and concern was alarmingly out of step with the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming.

The answers are cleverly illustrated by Director Franny Armstrong through use of arrestingly simple animations indicting capitalist imperialism and rampant consumerism, alongside media clips of the ersatz debates and political pretensions around 'green awareness', circa 2007 - cue, for example, shots of David Cameron in the garden wearing recycled shoes.

Moreover, the real issues and immediate challenges to action are convincingly stated. There's the gross imbalance in carbon use between a voraciously selfish US and a struggling, starving Africa, the insatiable Western product and resource cycle feeding China's economic growth and the indisputable case for international and individual carbon rationing.

And yet, the intelligent heart of this film is the unthinking and often contradictory actions we all engage in day-to-day.

There's the Indian entrepreneur (with a business ruthlessness to match Ryanair's Michael O'Leary) about to launch the latest low-cost airline with the apparent belief that lifting the Indian masses out of trains and into the skies will generate wealth and also lift them out of poverty. From a wealthy mogul family, he decided upon this venture while flying his private jet to help out in stricken villages -apparently without considering the real reasons for their plight or the primary damage mass aviation is doing to the planet.

There's the "resource curse" of oil in the Niger Delta, which has seen people become even more immiserated as Shell continue to plunder and pollute with impunity. While Shell's promised clinics and other local welfare projects remain unbuilt or abandoned, the residual gas that could be harnessed for local use is, instead, blasted into the sky causing massive atmospheric damage. People have to wash the depleting fish they catch in Omo powder to remove the petrochemical pollutants. The exploitation and squalor has, optimistically, prompted the featured Nigerian girl living among this deprivation to become a medical student.

In Louisiana, there's the heroic paleontologist who rescued over one hundred of his New Orleans neighbours from the flooded ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Yet, in his 'other' life, he's been a lifelong worker for one of the big oil companies off the New Orleans coast scouring the sea beds to feed the unremitting demands of US consumers.

In the French Alps, there's the wise and knowing old mountain guide who has witnessed the steady melting of the Alpine glaciers, while the Mont Blanc tunnel was allowed to blast its way through a pristine idyll, permitting the increased trucking of goods back and forth for processing. As he sagely reflects: "We created this problem. Always progress, progress, progress. Always demanding more and more from the planet."

There's the English family, returned to Cornwall from his Alps tour, trying to live the sustainable life. The father, a renewables advocate is struggling to convince rural objectors to a proposed wind farm that they should act upon their proclaimed 'environmental views' rather than block a project that affects their own 'aesthetic views'.

And then there's the poignant story of the little Iraqi brother and sister, living as traumatised refugees in Jordan, selling second-hand shoes on the streets, after fleeing Baghdad, their father killed by the Americans, all in the 'cause' of 'liberating' the oil.

Just part of the human debris and broken lives that come about through the political-corporate theft of resources and indifferent destruction of the planet.

Facile liberal dismissals of the film include offence at people being called "stupid" - even though the title denotes an "Age" of stupid - while another slates it as "hecture". Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's a pity, though, that Armstrong didn't make a little room for the hypocrisies of the Guardian and other 'green vanguard' media. George Monbiot's caveat commentary on the need for mass street action could also have mentioned the amount of carbon advertising the Guardian and Independent carry and refuse to give up.

In that vein, the credits at the end provide an honest breakdown of the film's own carbon footprint. There's also the impressive achievement of having "crowd-funded" the production from green-aware individuals and groups, a kind of co-operative alternative to the big production process, leaving all the rights in their hands.

Will they be showing The Age of Stupid in 2055 as part of a celebratory retrospective of climate alerts, or will it be stored up, forgotten, in something like Postlethwaite's earth repository?

As the film reminds the audience, that's ultimately up to us.

Go watch.


Thursday, 19 March 2009

Compassionate action: boycotting Israel

What's the point of detached compassion? That is, the kind of compassion which feels sorry or bad about others' suffering, but doesn't act upon those concerns. Of course, we can't always intervene on every human injustice across the planet. But sometimes it's worth stopping just to think about the small practical things we can do, the little changes in habits that can make a cumulative difference.

Quite often, it's very easy. In the case of Israel, it involves looking at the origin of products like a pepper or a bunch of flowers and deciding not to put them in your shopping basket. It can be a quiet act of individual solidarity or a collective consumer response, as in the admirable action inside a French supermarket.

Recent research has shed further light on the close trading ties between major UK supermarkets/retailers and Israeli companies serving to sustain the illegal West Bank settlements:
"Business activities in the settlements and their associated industrial zones are very important for their economic viability. Agricultural companies producing fruit, vegetables and flowers dominate, but industries producing food products, plastic products, metal products, chemicals, cosmetics and many other products are also relevant for the economy of the settlements and thus are an important factor in their continued existence. Accordingly, these economic links sustain a continuing violation of international law, which has grave consequences for the enjoyment of human rights by the local non-settler population."
Moral arguments against rejecting Israeli goods don't stand up to any humanitarian scrutiny. Naomi Klein recently responded to one such claim that it's a "one-sided boycott" with the reminder that:
"there is already a fierce campaign of boycotts and sanctions under way, and it is completely one-sided. I am referring, of course, to Israel’s brutal eighteen-month siege of Gaza, launched to teach Gazans a lesson for voting for Hamas in US-backed elections. As a direct result of this siege, Gazans have been deprived of lifesaving medicines, cooking fuel and paper—not to mention food. This is far more than a mere boycott; it’s “collective punishment,” as described by Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. By contrast, the kind of legal boycott being called for by the BDS campaign would deprive Tel Aviv of some international concerts and, if it really got going, would cost Israel some foreign investment. It would not starve and sicken an entire people. In this context of actual one-sided punishment inflicted on Palestinians, sanctioned by the so-called civilized world, to complain of one-sided boycotts against Israel is, frankly, obscene."
Alongside this one-sided strangulation of Gaza, accompanied by an unremitting campaign of mass murder, it's also worth bearing in mind the illegal appropriation of Gaza's offshore gas fields, and how securing them was an important factor in the recent Operation Cast Lead against Gaza.

Ignoring the economic theft of Palestinian natural resources is just part of the special treatment reserved for 'plucky little Israel'. The US even has a special Antiboycott Compliance law which:
"prohibit[s] U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League, and certain Moslem countries".
It's the same preferential story with Israel's nuclear weapons, a menace ignored by the West, while Iran, a state without nuclear arms and, unlike Israel, a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty, is routinely demonised. The recent Media Lens Alert, Selective Vision: Iran, Israel and Nuclear Arms, makes the crucial point:
"One searches in vain for any corporate media analysis focusing on Israel's large stockpile of over 150 nuclear weapons. Where is the in-depth discussion that Israel might have a reason to divert attention from its own nuclear arms by cynically manipulating fears over Iran?"
From weapons of mass destruction to goods of settlement production, Israel's military and economic output is serving to maintain fear and misery for the Palestinians and the wider region. It may seem, in the face of this mass killing machine, somewhat futile to pass-up a pack of Israeli tomatoes or complain to a supermarket about their stocking of Israeli avocadoes. But that's just the kind of habit-forming action that, through time, was so decisive in helping to end South African Apartheid.

In this regard, the Boycott Israel Goods (BIG) campaign is urging a nationwide boycott of Tesco and Waitrose, 28th - 30th March. BIG note that:
"Waitrose and Tesco are the most intransigent British supermarkets on the issue of Israeli settlement goods and Israeli produce."
So, be a shopping dissident. It's an effectively simple way of showing solidarity with the suffering people of Palestine and intensifying the pressure on Israel and their Western protectors. It's also a useful way of showing a little defiance to the supermarket monolith that's taking over our lives.

To borrow one of their 'pithy' corporate sayings: "Every little helps".


Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Rosen's short-term victory over Freeman

The Freeman affair continues to rumble on. But, as Robert Dreyfuss comments,* the seeming victory for Steve Rosen, AIPAC and the rest of the Israeli lobby in foreclosing his appointment may turn out to be pyrrhic.

Freeman's vocal backlash and the Washington press's front page coverage identifying an actual "Israel lobby" comes just as the governmental alliance between Netanyahu and Lieberman is formalised, bringing together a truly open racist coalition.

Dreyfuss sees this as a crucial joint moment for the Obama administration and the Lobby:

Perhaps most important of all, Israel is about to be run by an extremist, ultra right-wing government led by Likud Party leader Bibi Netanyahu, and including the even more extreme party of Avigdor Lieberman, as well as a host of radical-right religious parties. It’s an ugly coalition that is guaranteed to clash with the priorities of the Obama White House. As a result, the arrival of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government is also guaranteed to prove a crisis moment for the Israel lobby.

Rosen and his circle must, indeed, be running just a little scared these days. As previously noted, there's little indication of Obama rushing to Freeman's defence or facing-down people like Rosen. Yet, the adverse publicity generated by their squalid manoeuvrings, coupled with shifting public perceptions after the slaughter of Gaza, signifies a growing public relations crisis. The murderous actions of Israel and the extremism of the US Lobby have pushed both into the critical limelight.

Rosen's own statement of alarm over the proposed Freeman appointment illustrates the Lobby's determination to put naked Israeli interest before peace and justice for the region. It's worth quoting it and Freeman's cited words in full:

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Freeman blasts the Lobby

The decision by Chas Freeman to revoke the post of National Intelligence Council chairman is a significant illustration of how the Israeli Lobby helps maintain the interests of a foreign country within America's major centres of power.

Freeman has issued a strongly worded statement castigating the Lobby's manipulative influence and corrosive effect on any possible peace process for the Middle East. Here's a key sample of his indictment:
"The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel. I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel. It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so. This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States."

The related issue here, of course, is the spinelessness of Obama in failing to defend Freeman against the Lobby. It wasn't enough for Freeman's proposer, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, to give his token backing in response to criticisms of Freeman from Israel-supporting Senator Joe Lieberman.

It required Obama and his circle to stand firmly in rejection of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its Zionist acolytes, a course of action which no Obama appointee seems willing to countenance.

Incisive critic Juan Cole sees the hands of Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel all over this dirty business.

A Freeman appointment, of course, would not have promised any radical departure from Washington's core support for Israel. Indeed, the severity of the Lobby's interventions to prevent even this moderate figure's posting is a lesson in itself. It's saying to Obama: 'don't even think about going down that road'.

But, while Freeman doesn't pose any critical threat to Israel or the alliance, he does recognise, as do other Obama supplicants too afraid to speak out, the immense disaster of Washington's rigid appeasement of Israel. Factor in Freeman's warnings about the war in Iraq breeding new generations of anti-US sentiment, and it's clear that his take on how to cultivate 'soft American leadership' in the region doesn't sit well with the more belligerent model of domination sought by Tel Aviv and its endorsers in the US.

Still, despite Obama's cowering conduct, Steve Walt offers this encouraging note:
"The silver lining in this sorry episode is that it was abundantly clear to everyone what was going on and who was behind it. In the past, the lobby was able to derail appointments quietly -- even pre-emptively -- but this fight took place in broad daylight. And Steve Rosen, one of Freeman's chief tormentors, once admitted: "a lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the dark and dies in the sun." Slowly, the light is dawning and the lobby's negative influence is becoming more and more apparent, even if relatively few people have the guts to say so out loud. But history will not be kind to the likes of Charles Schumer, Jonathan Chait, Steve Rosen et al, whose hidebound views are unintentionally undermining both U.S. and Israeli security."

We can lobby too

Meanwhile, on matters counter-lobby, it's good to see the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement getting something of their message across, albeit nominally, to one of Israel's most complicit allies. Following the collective efforts of notable Palestinian and international activists, the UK government has decided against dealing with diamond tycoon and illegal settlement builder Lev Leviev:
"After Israeli and British papers reported the UK’s plans to rent its new Tel Aviv embassy from Leviev, eight groups in the US, UK and Palestine launched a letter-writing campaign to the UK’s Foreign Office. Among those writing to demand a boycott of Leviev were ex-BBC Middle East Correspondent Tim Llewelyn, US academics Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, Vice President of the European Parliament Luisa Morgantini, and British lawyer Daniel Machover, writing in the Independent."
Alongside the gathering legal actions being raised against Israel's war crimes elite - the latest by the Samouni family from Zeitoun, Gaza - we're seeing the growing internationalisation of the campaign against Israeli apartheid, ethnic cleansing and mass murder - all this despite the Lobby's ruthless advocacy and Obama's craven indulgence of it.


Monday, 9 March 2009

Zionism and Hamas: the real facts on the ground

It's all too typical for those proclaiming Palestinian human rights to be castigated as anti-Semitic or even "racist". But it often helps expose both the poverty of Zionist argument and the extent to which sympathetic authorities are willing to use such spurious claims.

In that vein, Joanna Blythman has written an excellent Sunday Herald piece in defence of four Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign members charged with "racially motivated conduct". The protesters had peacefully disrupted a performance of the Jerusalem Quartet, an avowedly Zionist ensemble funded by the Israeli government and closely linked to the Israeli military.

It's a little difficult to understand the rationale behind the Crown's decision to drop the original breach of the peace charges in pursuit of this latest indictment. As Blythman and others ask, in what way does criticising the actions of Israel constitute racist aggravation? As should be obvious even to nominal observers, it's the protesters who are challenging the racist attacks by Israel on the Palestinian people.

Members of the SPSC have welcomed the Crown's decision, noting that it provides a useful opportunity to highlight Israel's war crimes and racist apartheid system.

The Crown's choice of action is part of a wider attempt by state and media to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The BBC's refusal to show the
Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal for Gaza was a precise illustration of this false and politically-motivated equation.

Last night I attended a fund-raising event for the DEC Appeal, organised by Glasgow Stop the War and various pro-Palestine groups. As Peter Murray, (National Union of Journalists, BBC Scotland) chairing the speakers, remarked, you "can't be impartial" when it comes to the open violation of human rights. Which, even for the BBC, should prompt core examination of why such suffering prevails in Palestine.

In this vein, keynote speaker Azzam Tamimi reminded us that, beyond all the discussions of one or two state solutions, it's finding a solution to the racist ideology of Zionism that remains the principal challenge. Part of his talk charted how the evils of the Nazi Holocaust had led Jews to flee what they believed to be their true homelands in Europe for a place they never really wanted to inhabit. Alas, it was the Palestinians who came to pay the price for those mass Nazi crimes.

Tamimi insists that he doesn't really care that much about one or two state 'options' - seeing this as a divisive diversion benefiting Israel. What he wants, primarily, like most other Palestinians across the diaspora and in the refugee camps, is the right to return to his family's home. At the very least, he wants acknowledgement of this basic issue of Palestinian suffering.

Indeed, he believes that much of the Palestine-backing left have failed to recognise and support this most basic principle of humanitarian justice, endorsing, even in good faith, the terms of debate around the Zionist-led two state narrative. Most urgently, he believes there has to be constructive dialogue between Arabs and Jews on this very problem of mutually-destructive Zionism.

In similar mode, Tamimi noted that while the 'international community' deliberated at Sharm el-Sheik on the 'emergency aid' package for Palestine - most of it earmarked for Fatah-funded projects rather than Gaza - Hamas and the actual people of Gaza were excluded from discussing their own situation.
Thus, Tamimi echoed the growing campaign to end the exclusion of Hamas from the political process - one is tempted to use the term "from the peace process", but, as with Tamimi's alertness to Zionist-filtered language, let's avoid another Israeli/Western fiction.

Speaking on behalf of Jews for a Just Peace for Palestine,
Barrie Levine also dismissed the cosy conceit that 'Hamas are the problem'. If Hamas disappeared tomorrow, he insists, Israel would still find the necessary pretext to expand the settlements and intensify their "ethnic cleansing".

Glasgow human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar amplified this by insisting that Hamas are merely resisting the illegal occupation of their land, just as the French resistance did during World War 2.

And, expecting all the standard condemnations, Scottish National Party MSP Sandra White announced that she plans to meet with Hamas officials during her visit to Syria this week.

Facts on the ground

Israel talk consistently about dealing in 'realities, about "facts on the ground". Here are the real facts on the ground.

Fact 1: Hamas are the legitimate political representatives of the Palestinian people and no peace is possible until their status is fully recognised and they are properly constituted in full peace talks.
The ongoing efforts to portray Hamas as anti-Jewish rather than anti-Zionist is an all-too-obvious mask for Israel's own crimes. As Tamimi and other observers rightly insist, it's time for Hamas to be taken off Washington's 'terrorist' list.

Fact 2: It's Zionism that lies at the heart of the problem, not Hamas. And there can never be any long-term peace for Palestinians or Israelis until this racist ideology is faced.
Israel is the real terrorist entity engaged in a systematic apartheid project of killing, containment and expansion.

The West know very well about Zionist facts on the ground. For example, a confidential EU report, recently acquired by the Guardian, expresses grave concern over Israel's illegal annexation of key areas of East Jerusalem, including Arab house demolitions, extended settlements and the proposed building of police stations and other strategic infrastructure in the E1 district. This construction near the main Israeli settlement town of Ma'ale Adumim is intended to break any continuity between Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In effect, more Zionist 'facts' in the event of any proto-settlement.

Contrary to their demonisation agenda, the EU, US and the other Western powers also know that the Hamas project is built not on anti-Semitic motives or crude Holocaust denials, but on a focused resistance to Zionist aggression.

As Hamas spokesperson
Khalid Mish'al wrote days after Hamas were fairly elected:
"We are being punished simply for resisting oppression and striving for justice. Those who threaten to impose sanctions on our people are the same powers that initiated our suffering and continue to support our oppressors almost unconditionally. We, the victims, are being penalised while our oppressors are pampered. The US and EU could have used the success of Hamas to open a new chapter in their relations with the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims and to understand better a movement that has so far been seen largely through the eyes of the Zionist occupiers of our land."
Beyond the official castigations, Israel and the West further know that Hamas would be amenable to a serious border settlement. Indeed, Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has consistently stated that his government will accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

Again, the complexity of Hamas's political thoughts and its role as a resistance movement runs contrary to the convenient picture of Hamas as craven Jew haters. As
Haniyeh repeats: "Our conflict is not with the Jews, our problem is with the occupation."

Again, as Jonathan Cook concludes in Two-state Dreamers, the fine afterword to his latest book Disappearing Palestine, the issue is not how we secure a two state settlement, or how we imagine the possibility of a one state scenario. The real task is to maintain a critical focus on Zionism:
"The obstacle to a solution, then, is not the division of the land but Zionism itself, the ideology of ethnic supremacism that is the current orthodoxy in Israel. As long as Israel is a Zionist state, its leaders will allow neither one state nor two real states. There can be no hope of a solution until the question of how to defeat Zionism is addressed." (p 251)

Monday, 2 March 2009

Arming Israel, rebuilding Gaza

Tony Blair has just made his first visit to Gaza as the Quartet's peace envoy. Apparently, Mr Blair wanted to see for himself the extent of the devastation and speak with those affected.

He said afterwards:
"I will relay their account of events, their assessment of what is needed for reconstruction, their goals for rebuilding a vibrant private sector and civil society, to this week's conference in Sharm El Sheikh."
One is deeply touched by this display of concern and determination to rebuild the Gazan infrastructure torn apart by Israel's state-of-the-art weaponry. It must also be particularly pleasing for Mr Blair to know that British companies played such a helpful role by supplying the cockpit components for the F16 fighter jets that helped level Gaza to the ground.

I suppose it's all part of the prevailing business logic. Weapons to Israel helps keep British and US arms companies like BAE and Raytheon afloat - particularly if the stockpiles of bombs and parts get quickly built up again after those Israeli massacres. Then, when all the schools, hospitals and neighbourhoods are safely reduced to dust from the targeted bombing, the "rebuilding [of] a vibrant private sector" can begin - with, presumably, generous reconstruction contracts for Western companies.

It calls to mind NATO's helpful destruction of Belgrade in 1991, where the kindly removal of bridges, nurseries, a TV station and other civilian infrastructure was followed by all that touching private sector/IMF-led conditional aid.

As with this earlier ethical intervention, the Palestinians must, indeed, be in thrall to Mr Blair - knowing also that his business-drive visit to Gaza is helping to stave off economic gloom in the West. Just where would we be without high-tech warfare, human carnage and the knock-on benefits it brings to the global economy? If only the families of the 1300-plus dead Gazans could come to see their admirable part in helping to boost corporate profits.

Likewise, where's the gratitude over Development Secretary Douglas Alexander's £30 million pledge to Gaza? UK taxpayers and Palestinians alike may be reassured that this staggering generosity won't put too big a hole in Britain's annual £36 billion defence spend.

In similar ungrateful mood, Al-Haq, a leading human rights group, launched a lawsuit last week against the UK government, claiming that it was complicit in war crimes by failing to suspend British arms used in the murder of Gazan civilians. The action raised in the High Court in London claims that Foreign Secretary David Miliband and others have acted "in flagrant and continuing breach of international law".

In response, the Foreign Office offered this assuring statement:
"The government monitors the situation in Israel with care in considering applications for arms export licences."
Well, it's good to see that matter cleared up. I hope Al-Haq and all those other human rights/aid groups realise their mistake in thinking the UK would stoop to such unethical trading policies. That's the same kind of cynical misconception that points to the EU's preferential trading agreement with Israel while it supports the blockade of Gaza.

Other welcome assurances on the well-being of suffering Gazans will be made this week by our concerned leaders at the aid summit in Sharm El Sheikh. Thankfully, it comes with the primary reassurance that those wicked Hamas people are to have no part in the proceedings.

Well, how could ethical-arms-trading, economy-priming, private-sector-promoting states like Britain and the US possibly deal with virulent tunnel-smuggling, privation-resisting militants like Hamas? Mr Blair and his munificent friends might be willing to come dispense a little business charity on those pitiful Gazans, but we can't have them actually speaking to their democratically-elected politicians.

But that may also be changing. And much credit to Mr Blair for suggesting the possible need for dialogue with Hamas. Yes, he asserts, they can be brought to the table, provided they abide by our own codes of good conduct. Perhaps it's part of some belated recognition by Mr Blair that seasoned mass terrorists like himself can, after all, face these small-scale rocket-launching upstarts. Perhaps he secretly admires their ability to resist, just as he has resisted any thought of his own criminality.

Its kind of strange that Jeremy Bowen didn't ask about such things when he interviewed him in Gaza - all those million-plus dead Iraqis, and Mr Blair's suitability to act as a peace envoy. It must have slipped his mind.

Sometimes I have this worrying feeling that I'm not living in the 'real' world.