Sunday, 28 February 2010

A pirate party

On Friday last, Peggy and her classmate had a joint birthday party, on a pirate theme. No pinning tails on donkeys for these six year olds, instead it was stab the pirate in the heart, above. For the light of foot there was pirate hopscotch, below. Watch out for sharks, serpents, or a spell in stir!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Talking about illustration

The children in Bo and Peggy’s school are putting together a magazine, and I’ve been helping out a little. Before the half-term holidays I was talking to Peggy’s class of five and six year olds on typography. This week I talked to Bo’s class of eight and nine year olds about illustration.

There were a lot of great pictures on show in the classroom, but doing a drawing for a magazine or newspaper is different to making a painting to hang on the wall. A magazine illustration has to compete and co-operate with words, headlines and body copy,  and with other images, photos, icons, and other illustrations. Also, magazine illustrations have to reproduce well at sizes that are small compared to what you can show on a wall.

Below are some of the examples of magazine illustration I used in talking about these issues, along with some minimal notes to help start off the conversation.

Here is a page from The New Yorker magazine. How big do you think these drawings were originally?

This big? Bigger?

The drawing is by Otto Soglow. He also drew a comic strip called The Little King.

This drawing is by Tom Bachtell. What do you think he might have drawn it with?

Politiken’s Mohammed cartoons settlement

Danish national daily newspaper Politiken “has reached a settlement with the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, apologising for the offence the Mohammed cartoons have caused.” The settlement was negotiated with Saudi Arabian lawyer Faisal Yamani, representing eight Muslim organisations. Here is Politiken’s version of the story in English and in Danish, and the Associated Press account.

Danish politicians from across the spectrum have criticised Politiken’s action. Defenders of the paper argue that it has made no concession on the right to publish, and that previous expressions of regret for hurt feelings had been issued by Jyllands Posten, the paper that first published the cartoons, and by former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The current PM focuses his concern on the point that Politiken acted in response to a threat of legal action, and that it had broken ranks with other Danish papers in its response.

Politiken’s move is opposed by all other Danish dailies, according to Ebbe Dal of Danske Dagblades Forening, the Danish daily newspapers’ organisation. Since autumn of last year, a number of daily papers have been in communication with the lawyer Faisal Yamani. According to DDF, he has threatened legal action should the papers fail to apologise for publishing the Mohammed cartoons.  DDF is supporting those newspapers that don’t wish to make a settlement. reports that there is also disquiet amongst a number of Politiken journalists. Following an internal meeting,  Politiken’s editor Tøger Seidenfaden said “The debate was actually not much different than in wider society. Some think it’s brilliant, and some think it’s less than brilliant.”

See also Francis Sedgemore, who writes an obituary for Politiken.

Earlier posts on this topic here, and here, and so on.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Peggy is 6

 . . . and she’s got new roller skates. I can’t look!

Heirs to the Dutch Resistance quit allies’ fight against fascism

The Dutch Labour Party has refused to agree to any further extension of the mission being carried out by Dutch troops in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan. As a result, the governing coalition has collapsed and elections are likely. More from NRC Handelsblad, Radio Netherlands Worldwide video, and The New York Times.

The Dutch Labour Party, the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA), was founded in 1946, as the successor to the pre-war Social Democratic Labour Party (SDAP). In the 1930s the SDAP was both anti-fascist and anti-communist. The SDAP joined the national coalition government on the eve of the Nazi invasion, and SDAP members served as ministers in the Dutch government in exile in London during the occupation.

Illustration by Jan Rot, co-founder of SDAP underground paper Paraat under the Nazi occupation. (This drawing is from before the war, via

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Bo is 9

And it looks like he’s made his own cake - happy birthday Bo!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A refuge in typography

When the words on the page are sad beyond reasoning, and the tragedy, injustice, and violence overwhelm the mind’s capacity to answer, and no certainty or security can be arrived at in thought, the typophile stops looking at the meanings contained in the words, and instead looks at the shapes.

Shapes of letters, of punctuation marks, arranged in neat rows. It’s like looking at a full bookshelf with the eyes of a bookbinder. Relieve yourself of the burden of content, and take pleasure in the æsthetics of abstract forms.

These headlines are taken from recent issues of the International Herald Tribune, which since its takeover by The New York Times has switched to using a Cheltenham typeface for headlines, sub-heads, and section titles.

The original Cheltenham was designed at the start of the 20th Century by American architect Bertram Goodhue, and combines qualities of sturdy engineering and decorativeness characteristic of that era’s pre-modernist modernity.

bertram grosvener goodhue cheltenham

More internal criticism for Amnesty

In The Sunday Times, Second Amnesty chief attacks Islamist links, via Human Rights For All.

On Harry’s Place, Can Somebody Find A Lawyer To Represent Gita Sahgal? This post quotes another article in today’s Sunday Times, The conscience stifled by Amnesty. An excerpt:
To say the past week has been a difficult one for Sahgal would be an understatement. She fears for her own and her family’s safety. She has — temporarily at least — lost her job and found it almost impossible to find anyone to represent her in any potential employment case. She rang round the human rights lawyers she knows, all of whom have declined to help citing a conflict of interest. “Although it is said that we must defend everybody no matter what they’ve done, it appears that if you’re a secular, atheist, Asian British woman, you don’t deserve a defence from our civil right firms,” she says wryly.
Earlier I linked to an interview with Gita Sahgal on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme from Thursday last. On Friday the programme interviewed Widney Brown, senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International, for a response.

It’s notable that Amnesty’s leadership continues to employ a defence that avoids addressing the point of the criticism, which is not to say there is anything wrong with defending the human rights of terror suspects, but that there is a problem in giving an uncritical platform to people who continue to promote a brutally discriminatory form of politics, thus granting their views legitimacy in the eyes of many.

It should be possible for Amnesty International to defend individual rights without allowing the organisation to become a tool of extremist propaganda, but only if they recognise the trap and act to avoid it.

Meanwhile The Guardian leaves me comfortable in my prejudice against that paper by seemingly managing to get through an entire week without printing a word on the story. However its sister paper, The Observer, publishes a column today by Nick Cohen touching on the case.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

MacGiolla’s Guerrillas

I read with interest Johnny Guitar’s post last week on the death of Tomás MacGiolla, of the Workers’ Party, formerly known as Sinn Fein The Workers’ Party, and before that, Official Sinn Fein, &c. His headline was “A greatly underestimated figure”, though there are reservations, particularly in the comments.

My own view of the Workers’ Party was no doubt coloured by having their man in Galway as my science teacher. I can attest that the candidate had a strong belief in independent study, and took a keen interest in current affairs, reading The Irish Times from cover to cover in class while telling us to get on with our work and leave him in peace.

A couple of years after completing this uneducation, I did a drawing of my science teacher’s party leader as part of a batch of 1987 election campaign caricatures for the Irish Independent. Due to events described earlier, it wasn’t published by them, and instead appeared later that year in In Dublin magazine, illustrating a detailed article by Derek Dunne on MacGiolla, the Workers’ Party, and the Official IRA. Click away:

The grand design work on these pages was of course by the one and only Syd Bluett.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Iran protests in London, yesterday and tomorrow.

Starting with tomorrow:

United4Iran lists worldwide events continuing over the weekend and into next week, including a protest in London tomorrow.
United4Iran London will hold a peaceful silent march in protest of the human and civil rights violations taking place in Iran, and to magnify the voices of those most needing and deserving to be heard. 
The march will take place on February 13th at 13:00 and start from Piccadilly Circus. 50 people will walk from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square, where they will remain for up to half an hour, before proceeding to the North Terrace of the Trafalgar Square, where they will demonstrate until 16:00.
The purpose of the march is to raise awareness for the continuing human rights violations against the peaceful protesters and members of the civil society and the press. This event is particularly relevant as Iran plans to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic, while protesters in Iran and around the world hope to draw attention to Iran’s failing human rights record.
Please join us and on this Valentines weekend, why not give part of your heart to a people whose own government has forgotten. 
Facebook Event Page:

And as for yesterday:

Here are images from yesterday’s protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London from Potkin AzarmehrFrancis Sedgemore, and Iran Solidarity. Also gratifying to see, pictures and video of the protest against a pro-regime event at UCL, coincidentally the same London university at the centre of the underwear bomber case.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Today is 22 Bahman

Blogging today’s events in Iran: PedestrianNeo-Resistance, Azarmehr, Tehran BureauThe Guardian, Times OnlineEnduring America, Andrew Sullivan, Babylon & Beyond (LA Times), The Lede (NY Times).

I plan on joining the protest at the Iranian Embassy in London later today, 5-7 pm at Princes Gate, London SW7. You can find events worldwide via

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Gita Sahgal on ‘Today’

The head of Amnesty International's Gender Unit, Gita Sahgal, was on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning talking about her suspension. Details and audio here. An excerpt:
Justin Webb: What is the substance of your concern about Moazzam Begg? 
Gita Sahgal: [pause] You know, I’ve been concerned about what Moazzam Begg and his organisation stand for for a long time but I think the issue that I have is with my employer because we are a human rights organisation, we make very careful decisions about how and where we partner with people, we have long discussions around these things, and when I spoke to people in my office, who are experts on these matters, who investigate on group violations, who are regional experts, who work on counter terror policy and so on – all of them, they had recommended against this relationship. I then asked where the decision had been made to have such a close relationship, or whether we just drifted into it and, you know, whether we had any form of paper work which would explain what we were doing and why we were doing it. And none of that has ever been answered.
Via Martin. Transcript via Flesh is Grass, who has more.

Bob has a post up on his favourite Guardianistas, not all of whom still write for the paper. The story of Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International is exactly the sort of thing I would have expected to learn about via The Guardian back in the days when I spent money on it, but from what I can tell, the paper has not yet published anything on this in its pages. There has been one blog post on the Comment is Free site. And one former Guardianista has written about Gita Sahgal in print, but in The Times.

More at, ModernityBlog, and HP.

Update: A statement from Southall Black Sisters.

My earlier post here.

Tomorrow is 22 Bahman

Tomorrow, 11 February, 22 Bahman in the Persian calendar, marks the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Around the world, protests will declare solidarity with Iranians demanding their right to free and fair elections.

Here is a timetable of global events, from United4Iran:

The New York Times reports a calculation by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran of at least 1,000 arrests by the regime in the two months since the last major protests on Ashura. The Campaign’s website,, provides a flood of accounts of arrests, disappearances, and executions.

At the same time the regime is deliberately escalating its conflict with the UN Security Council over nuclear enrichment, a decision accompanied by confrontational statements from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Enduring America is providing daily comprehensive blogging on Iran. Pedestrian continues to post analysis, translations of significant speeches and statements, and valuable cultural context. Azarmehr provides a view from London. Tehran Bureau has a background article on the anniversary, The Ten Days That Changed Iran. More Iran links in the sidebar.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Wallcrack Atheist

By John Weldon, director of the animated classic Spinnolio.

And Oscar gives a further recommendation in the comments, John Weldon’s Special Delivery:

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The real dead, and the imagined dead

John Rentoul points to an error by BBC journalist and presenter Andrew Marr in attributing a figure of 600,000 dead in the Iraq war to the UN. It comes of course from The Lancet*. Andrew Marr has made this mistake before, as you can read in a feverish post by a blogger who thinks that Marr is soft on imperialists because he quotes this ‘low’ figure.

Amnesty International shoots the messenger

Terry Glavin has it covered: No Support For Amnesty International Until It Reinstates Gita Sahgal, Cuts Jihadist Ties.

Or go direct to today’s Sunday Times story which led to Amnesty suspending Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at Amnesty’s international secretariat, and longtime active member of Women Against Fundamentalisms and Southall Black Sisters. Here is her statement following the suspension:
Amnesty International and Cageprisoners
Statement by Gita Sahgal
7 February 2010
This morning the Sunday Times published an article about Amnesty International’s association with groups that support the Taliban and promote Islamic Right ideas. In that article, I was quoted as raising concerns about Amnesty’s very high profile associations with Guantanamo-detainee Moazzam Begg. I felt that Amnesty International was risking its reputation by associating itself with Begg, who heads an organization, Cageprisoners, that actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals.

Within a few hours of the article being published, Amnesty had suspended me from my job.

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.

The tragedy here is that the necessary defence of the torture standard has been inexcusably allied to the political legitimization of individuals and organisations belonging to the Islamic Right.

I have always opposed the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Bay and during the so-called War on Terror. I have been horrified and appalled by the treatment of people like Moazzam Begg and I have personally told him so. I have vocally opposed attempts by governments to justify ‘torture lite’.

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights. I have raised this issue because of my firm belief in human rights for all.

I sent two memos to my management asking a series of questions about what considerations were given to the nature of the relationship with Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cageprisoners. I have received no answer to my questions. There has been a history of warnings within Amnesty that it is inadvisable to partner with Begg. Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights. Many of my highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise has said so. Each has been set aside.

As a result of my speaking to the Sunday Times, Amnesty International has announced that it has launched an internal inquiry. This is the moment to press for public answers, and to demonstrate that there is already a public demand including from Amnesty International members, to restore the integrity of the organisation and remind it of its fundamental principles.

I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression. I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.
See also Harry’s Place, who’ve been covering the story in great detail for some time now. And Flesh is Grass includes some sharp comment in her account. More reactions linked to here.

Amnesty’s statement on the subject is fascinating for what it does and doesn’t talk about: it does talk about the legitimate and necessary task of tackling US human rights abuses, it utterly fails to address the problem in so extensively promoting Moazzam Begg given his current extremist politics.

This seems to be another example of certain kitsch-leftists in the West being prepared to sacrifice women’s rights, and the human rights of all victims of radical Islamism, in the cause of a rather selective anti-imperialism. (On which there is more, and more.)

Monday, 1 February 2010

Maybe I should try to break into the postage stamp business . . .

. . . if there still is a postage stamp business.