Monday, 31 May 2010

Military and political failure

Links and video from Martin (version with sound here), comment and discussion at Abu Muqawama, London street blogging from Francis.

Added: Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion by George Friedman at STRATFOR. An excerpt:
Public opinion matters where issues are not of fundamental interest to a nation. Israel is not a fundamental interest to other nations. The ability to generate public antipathy to Israel can therefore reshape Israeli relations with countries critical to Israel. For example, a redefinition of U.S.-Israeli relations will have much less effect on the United States than on Israel. The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now see a shift in U.S. public opinion that will open the way to a new U.S.-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel.

The Israelis will argue that this is all unfair, as they were provoked [...] they seem to think that the issue is whose logic is correct. But the issue actually is, whose logic will be heard? As with a tank battle or an airstrike, this sort of warfare has nothing to do with fairness. It has to do with controlling public perception and using that public perception to shape foreign policy around the world. In this case, the issue will be whether the deaths were necessary. The Israeli argument of provocation will have limited traction.
Israel’s Gaza policy since the 2005 pullout has been a combination of incomplete control and inconclusive war, while having to bear complete responsibility for the consequences. This doesn’t seem sustainable. The alternatives are difficult in both the direction of more control at great cost and in the direction of less control while maintaining active deterrence at unknown cost. I favour the latter as more within the realm of the possible, but I’m uncertain.

Added 3rd June:

This is not the way we put an end to war, writes Terry Glavin.

Flesh is Grass on the Gaza flotilla.

Two more from Abu Muqawama: The Limits of Military Operations, and Two Thoughts on Israel.

A series of posts at the maritime strategy blog Information Dissemination: Israeli Actions Are Stupid But Legal, More Thoughts on the Gaza Flotilla, InfoWar Observations, a short one, Priorities, on the value of Israeli manufactured drones to the Turkish military, and a longer one, On Bloggers and Battleships, looking at possible lessons for the US Navy.

Added 4th June:

Iranian blogger Pedestrian condemns the Israeli action, but detects double standards amongst some of Israel's critics in the Western Left:
As usual, pro-peace activists are busy organizing events and writing blog posts and I thank them for that. But I wonder where a lot of them were when Ahmadinejad was murdering his own citizens?

….. Oh! I remember now! They were busy writing articles supporting him.

I guess murder is only murder if Israel does it.

What angers me about their response to Iran is not that it matters (in the end, the situation in Iran will not change for better or worse no matter what they do). But that they are responsible for the very double standards they accuse the West of and which we Iranians and Arabs are all too well accustomed to.

All the main green leaders have condemned the murders on the flotilla. And I’m glad they did. They are reaffirming one of the most admirable positions of the green movement:

Che ghazeh, Che Iran, Margh Bar Zaleman.
Whether in Gaza or in Iran, down with all tyrants.
I don’t agree with everything else in her post, but then that’s what the comments thread is for.

Added 5th June:

Bigots on the left, bigots on the right, Bob from Brockley surveys a depressing prospect.

In The New York Times, a reconstruction of events including an account by protester Dr Mahmut Coskun. The close of the article:
In Istanbul, the activists had come home and Dr. Coskun was remembering the raid. He was bitter that commandos had not let him help a bleeding man, instead delivering occasional kicks, he said, and forcing the passengers to lie face down on the deck, handcuffed, for hours.

He was also angry at the young men who fought the commandos. He rebuked one of them for bragging about having beaten an Israeli.

“I told him, just because you wanted to flex your muscles and drag three soldiers down, nine people ended up dead.”

But most of all he was stunned that the Israelis had used their guns on the activists.

“We expected them to come on board the ship, and to take us hostage, but we never thought they would use live bullets to do it,” he said.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Purple fingers 3: on Afghanistan

Above: building a railway in Afghanistan: the new line from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif. Photo by the American Embassy, Kabul, via Railways in Afghanistan. Read more here. ISAF Media has more photos.

This is another follow up to Purple Fingers. See also Purple Fingers 2: on Iran. Below are some links from the last few weeks. If it’s faster service you want, try the SWJ.

Kabul goes to Washington
From earlier this month,  Hamid Karzai and Hillary Clinton in conversation at the United States Institute of Peace, and Abdullah Abdullah talking to journalist Steve Coll at the New America Foundation.

After the big reception given to Karzai, the US Government didn’t have so much time for his rival Abdullah, who came warning of the dangers of fraud in upcoming parliamentary elections, and the dangers of premature withdrawal. Via Terry Glavin.

Karzai brought a large portion of his cabinet with him on his visit, which proved useful at that USIP event. An excerpt:
PRESIDENT KARZAI: If we keep going at the current speed of revenue collection, this year – and correct me, Minister of Finance, are you around – of which this year, we had 22 percent increase in our revenue collection.

PARTICIPANT: Fifty-eight percent.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Fifty-eight percent? Yesterday, you said 22 percent. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yesterday was a good day. (Laughter.)

PARTICIPANT: That was GDP growth.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: GDP growth, sorry, sorry, sorry. Okay. So that was GDP growth. 22 percent GDP growth and 50-something percent the revenues this year. Now, if we move at this speed, within three years, Afghanistan will be able to pay for the existing numbers of our security forces. Within three years, Afghanistan will be paying its civil services, its military, and police forces from its own pocket. Now, that will be a tremendous achievement and it is a benchmark that I hope our ministers will keep very, very strongly in mind so we can come back three years later to the United States and tell the U.S. Congress and Senate, look, we’ve done it. Now we will not be asking you for salaries, but we will be asking you for investment and F-16s. (Laughter.)


PRESIDENT KARZAI: On economic matters, we had extensive engagement on the issue of agriculture and the importance of agriculture and the viability of the Afghan agriculture sector, its ability to produce the best quality of foods and to export on mineral resources, the abilities of Afghanistan, the richness of the country and the mineral resources that can easily run of the knowledge that we have today of the Afghan mineral resources to over a billion dollars. Our ministers yesterday said that it can be between $1 to $3 billion --

PARTICIPANT: He said $3 billion.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: To $3 billion.

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Yeah, 3 billion.

PARTICIPANT: No, no, 3 trillion.

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Trillion, yeah, $3 trillion. Trillion, sorry. That’s what I meant. Trillion, trillion, yeah. $1 to $3 trillion.
Full text here.

Caricaturist Steve Brodner had a go at Karzai in a short film for PBS. (Some earlier to and fro with Brodner over Afghanistan in the comments here.)

Talking to the Taliban
Lauren Feeney of PBS talked to Michael Semple about the visit, about US commitment, and about issues around talking to the Taliban.

Talking to the Taliban was also the theme of Steve Coll’s article in the New Yorker the week before last (see also photos), while on the blog he has been writing on the Afghanistan policy of the UK’s new government, and hears a statement of support from William Hague on the principle of humanitarian intervention.

In one of those posts, Steve Coll mentions the famed British pedestrian in Afghanistan, Rory Stewart, now a Conservative MP, and speculates that Stewart’s skepticism about US military strategy might indicate future policy. I linked to Rory Stewart’s arguments against the surge last October and made some criticisms of them.

How we fight: US, UK, DK.
In the New York Times today, more on Female Engagement Teams in the military: In Camouflage or Afghan Veil, a Fragile Bond, by Elisabeth Bushmiller.

From a week ago on the UK Forces Media Ops’ Helmand Blog: First British Female Soldiers Complete the United States Marine Corps Female Engagement Team Course.

The Helmand Blog is obviously aimed mainly at a UK readership, but an item from yesterday describes some of the UK military’s work communicating with Afghanistan’s media.

On BBC News earlier last week: Top army bomb squad officer Col Bob Seddon resigns.

Armadillo, a documentary on Danish forces in Afghanistan, has led to a military investigation following accusations that it describes the liquidation* of Taliban fighters. The film shows Danish soldiers stationed at Forward Operating Base Armadillo  in the first half of 2009. The controversy concerns the killing of five Taliban in a skirmish. Reportedly the Taliban were sheltered in a ditch, Danish soldiers threw a grenade into the ditch and then followed up by extensive firing into the ditch. The central legal question is whether the Taliban fighters could still pose a threat at the time they were shot.

Author Carsten Jensen, who has for some time argued that Denmark should withdraw from Afghanistan, described the film as “an earthquake in the nation’s self-understanding”.

The General Secretary of the Danish Red Cross, Anders Ladekarl, sees no evidence of a war crime in the film, though he describes it as “an anti-war film that shows war is shit”. He says “I see a group of Danish soldiers who are professional and do it as well as they possibly can. I notice first and foremost that they really try to live by the rules of war.”  Mr Ladekarl points to another scene where the Danish soldiers have the opportunity to throw a hand grenade into a closed area where there are armed Taliban fighters. The soldiers know there are also civilians in the area. “It would be completely legal to use a hand grenade in that situation, but all the same they don’t and risk their lives by instead making a search of the compound.”

The film premiered at Cannes and is now showing in Danish cinemas. Here’s the trailer.

*The word liquidation heard in the film was used during the Nazi occupation of Denmark to describe the killing of informers by the Resistance without legal process. The debate around these killings is described in this earlier post.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Friday, 28 May 2010

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Prehistoric bird

Last Saturday we all went with Susanna to Golden Lane Estate in central London, where she was doing a project at the Exhibit gallery, making an animatied film with local kids. The film will imagine prehistoric creatures and plants coming back to life and reclaiming the estate. This is Bo’s drawing for the film.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Purple fingers 2: on Iran

The above painting is by the Iranian artist and animator Ali Akbar Sadeghi. See his 1975 short Malek Khorshid on UBUWEB.

Image © copyright Ali Akbar Sadeghi.

Below is a partial follow up to this post on international struggles for democracy.

On Iran

Johann Hari in The Independent last week, writing on Islamists, their victims, and hypocrisy. An excerpt:
Kiana Firouz is a 27-year-old woman who grew up in revolutionary Iran, and slowly realised that if she ever acted on her natural impulses – to kiss and hold and love another woman – she would be subjected to a hundred lashes. If she did it again, she would be hanged, in a public square, before a jeering mob. But Kiana believed the freedom to fall in love was more important than her own safety. She stood up in Tehran and made a film showing that there are gay people there just as there are gay people everywhere, and they deserve to live and love freely. The police began following and threatening her. She knew what had happened to other gay Iranians – a bullet, a ditch, a lynch mob – so she came to a country she associated with freedom for gay people, Britain, and appealed to us to save her life.
We refused. The Home Office told her to go back to Iran and be “discreet” about her sexuality. But the law in Iran doesn't say discreet lesbians get out of jail free. They are tortured and killed just the same.
Martin Fletcher in The Times on the same day, under the headline Iranian actress Kiana Firouz fears film of her life ends in death, writes:
A young Iranian actress named Kiana Firouz will attend the London premiere tonight of a film in which she plays a lesbian seeking asylum in Britain because the Iranian authorities are pursuing her. The Home Office rejects her application and sends her back to the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death.
Unfortunately for Kiana Firouz the film is not make-believe. It is based on her life. The Home Office has denied her asylum and she now faces the prospect of deportation to Iran followed by flogging, execution or both.
Der Spiegel on Iran’s homeless dissidents: Asylum Requests Still Pending a Year after the Green Revolution.

Reuters: French court frees man who killed ex-Iranian PM. Shapour Bakhtiar, best known as the last Iranian prime minister under the Shah, was also a veteran of both the International Brigade in Spain and the French Resistance. The French government denies a link between the release of his killer Ali Vakili Rad, and the release by the Iranian government of a French teaching assistant accused of spying. Clotilde Reiss had been sentenced to ten years, but this was commuted to a fine of $285,000.

Francis Sedgemore: Who’s forgetting Iran?

Potkin Azarmehr writes that Jafar Panahi’s release shows international pressure works. Earlier, Pedestrian on Pahani’s hunger strike.

Neo-Resistance on The Hanging Baluchs and on Hijab Power-Play.

At Tehran Bureau, Hardliners Close in on Mousavi.

Posted all over the place, Unemployed workers chant at Ahmadinejad speech.

In The New York Times, Roger Cohen argues that the US administration is moving the goalposts in its response to the Brazil-Turkey-Iran nuclear fuel swap proposal. But over at Arms Control Wonk a lot of well informed people seem to see it the other way around: Zombie Fuel Swap, Back from Dead, Again, with more here, and here, and here. Though they do have a friend who’s not quite as pessimistic.

In that NYT column, Roger Cohen cites John Limbert, once one of the Embassy hostages in Tehran, now dealing with Iranian affairs at the US State Department. I’ve heard the talk that Mr Cohen is quoting, and enjoyed it. You can watch a version delivered just over a year ago at the Rumi Forum here, or listen to an MP3 of a version from last November at the Middle East Institute.

Finally, Variety on an Iranian animated science fiction feature being directed by Bahram Azimi: Tehran 2121, via TPMB. Judging by the artist’s website, he has a taste for the colour green, and compared with Ayatollah Mohammad Bagher Kharrazi’s dreadful fantasy about Iran’s future, Mr Azimi’s vision looks quite benign.

Earlier: Purple fingers the first.

Pencil frenzy 4

Below is a thumbnail plan for this book, sketched in the spring of last year. I’ve already forgotten what some of those doodles represent.

New Sound Illustration

Detail of the cover art for the Chappell Library LP ‘New Sound Illustration’. Look and listen at Jonny’s new joint. And he has lots more vinyl in store, soundtracks, library music and all that, you know, jazz.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Sunday, 23 May 2010


Oliver Kamm keeps himself occupied reading the papers, finding a familiar problem of relativity on the subject of Iraq, and morbid finality on an argument over Kosovo.

Mick Hartley goes to a gallery, MOMA in NY, and encounters a variation on the relativity problem at a retrospective of the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Martin relaxes listening to music on the radio.

And Lars Vilks stays alive. Here is his blog. Here is Google’s (unreliable) translation.

The above image comes from a Ladybird book, The Story of Newspapers. Copyright © Ladybird Books Ltd. 1969.

Trolley Troubles

Above, from the New York Public Library’s digital gallery, a postcard of the Mt Lowe Railway in California. Added: a larger image of an almost identical photo at the Beinecke Library.

Below, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Trolley Troubles, from 1927.

Trolley Troubles was the first cartoon to be released featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Oswald is the missing link of animation evolution. Created by Walt Disney and Ubbe Iwerks, he was clearly derived from Felix the Cat, then animation’s biggest star, via Disney’s own Julius the Cat. Oswald featured in 26 silent short cartoons by the Walt Disney Studio before Disney lost control of the character to distributor Charles Mintz one year later. That defeat led Disney to create - with Iwerks - the character Mickey Mouse.

Now what I find curious is that to my eyes Oswald was the better designed character. If survival of the fittest depended purely on design, then Oswald would have reigned supreme, and Mickey would have languished. Mickey is a much more awkward character - an oversized mouse, in his first released cartoon Steamboat Willie he dwarfs a parrot, and later of course the mouse towers over his pet dog. As a rabbit his size would have made a little more sense. And Mickey’s ears are bizarre. Even as artistic standards rose to ever greater heights in the Disney studio in the 30s and 40s it proved impossible to animate those ears in three dimensions. They are flat symbols of ears which must rotate around the horizon of Mickey’s head rather than maintain a fixed placement on its sphere.

But what ensured Mickey’s survival was not physical appearance, but brains - Disney’s brains. Disney was smarter than every other animation producer, and with that brain the mouse, like that odd-looking Homo Sapiens before him, went on to triumph.

Some links:

A few years ago the Disney studio bought back the rights to the original Disney/Iwerks Oswald shorts, and they’ve since been released on DVD.

Jerry Beck of Cartoon Brew has information about Oswald on his Cartoon Research site.

There’s a very good book on pre-Mickey Disney films: Walt in Wonderland.

Eddie Fitzgerald also takes a look at Oswald in relation to the theory of cartoon evolution on his Theory Corner blog. It seems that in the 1930s, despite having possession of a vital Disney creation in Oswald, animation producer Water Lantz ruined the character’s comic potential by aping newer Disney cartoons like the Silly Symphony Funny Little Bunnies.

Here’s a couple of pages on Ub Iwerks, designer of Oswald, Mickey, and Flip the Frog. Ub Iwerks was an amazing animator for the time, and some have tried to portray him at the primary creative force behind the launch of the Disney Studio. But, watching the cartoons he produced away from Disney, I feel there is something vital missing from them.

Michael Sporn has a post on the Toonerville Trolley newspaper cartoon that undoubtedly inspired Oswald’s trolley film, and on the wonderful Van Beuren animated adaptations of Fontaine Fox’s creation. There were also earlier live action Toonerville Trolley shorts, but these I have not seen.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Purple fingers

In the middle of the hullabaloo surrounding the UK coalition negotiations last week, some purple-wearing protesters popped up, campaigning for a change in the voting system. This was the Take Back Parliament campaign for proportional representation.

A curious feature of the campaign is the use of elements from the international fight for democracy: purple-stained fingers from the post-liberation elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the phrase “Where’s my Vote?” from the post-election protests in Iran. While the source of these is obvious, the About this Campaign page on their website doesn’t seem to make a connection with any international fight for democracy. They explain their symbolism in purely British terms:
With a nod to history this is a purple-coloured movement. Purple is the historic colour of democracy and the franchise in this country - the colour used by suffragettes in their campaign for the vote.
The purple index finger in our logo is a symbol of the movement. The simple act of holding up a purple index finger (using ink, marker etc) is an immediate action that people do to show that although they voted, this Parliament doesn't represent them and that they demand a new system.
Of course a campaign like this will want to build as broad a base as possible, and their supporters will not all have the same views on the fight for democracy abroad. Supporting organisations include Avaaz - a Res Publica (US) project,  Ekklesia, and the MCB, though most others are concerned almost exclusively with domestic UK or environmental issues.

The absence of an explanation does leave me wondering what the thinking was behind the use of the purple fingers and the “Where’s my Vote?” slogan. Was it just a desire to hijack strong symbols and words, the standard MO of advertisers everywhere?  Was it a feeling of solidarity with campaigners for democracy worldwide? Do they actually believe that this reform campaign within a functioning democracy is equivalent to the struggle against fraud and violent repression in Iran, or the brave resilience of voters going to the polls in the face of murderous threats in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Will the purple campaigners also be marching in support of democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran?

On Iran

Protest at the British Embassy Washington DC against the UK Border Agency’s deportation of Iranian refugees. Via Bob.

Capital Punishment, Capital Fear, background to the recent executions from Tehran Bureau.

Marg Bar Diktator: General Strike In Iranian Kurdistan, Silence In The West, by Terry Glavin.

More on Farzad Kamangar and the political dissidents executed in Iran, from Flesh is Grass.

Neo-Resistance translates a Statement and Analysis of Kurdish Reformists about Recent Executions. Also, The shocking executions have distracted attention from the following.

On Afghanistan

Keep up with Terry if you can.

Lauryn Oates wraps up a story of pseuds vs schoolgirls at Butterflies and Wheels: Women’s Rights Are Called ‘Cultural Imperialism’.

Akinoluna keeps up with the increasing role of women in the US military effort in Afghanistan, for example here and here and here.

The BBC reports poppy blight. (If you missed it, see the earlier poppy conversation in the comments at Flesh is Grass.)

Railways of Afghanistan has more on current and future railway projects. (Earlier post on this here.)

On Egypt

From the start of the month Christian Fraser on BBC Radio’s From Our Own Correspondent reports that Mohamed ElBaradei could spark political upheaval in Egypt. Audio here.

Uprising in Cairo: A New Labor Movement Takes Shape, from Working In These Times, via ModernityBlog / Labour Start / Nonviolent Conflict.

The New Yorker’s George Packer on Obama a year after Cairo, via Michael J Totten.

From last year on the BBC World Service, Mubarak’s Egypt.

On Voting Reform

A string of commenters disagree with Oliver Kamm, including myself. My contribution to the comment thread refers to this earlier disgruntled post by OK.

Linked to earlier, Shuggy vs Peter Ryley.

Added: update on Iran.

Added: update on Afghanistan.

Added: I’m my personal revolution, an article by Emanuele Toscano at openDemocracy about Italy’s Purple Movement: pro-democracy, pro-constitution, and anti-Berlusconi. Thanks to Bob in the comments.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Pencil frenzy 2

Note the cracker crumbs.

This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the human race

Orson Welles crosses the border.

More in the series here.

Via Oscar.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

More wild and crazy election blogging

Shuggy posts on the (first?) 2010 election, and the heavyweight responds with a post on the 1951 election. Beat that!

Time to post something about Egypt maybe . . . or put up some more pictures.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Five executions

Five people were today reported to have been hanged by the Iranian government: Mehdi Eslamian, Ali Heidarian, Shirin Alam Holi, Farzad Kamangar, Farhad Vakili.

United4Iran: 4 Kurdish Activists, Prisoner of Conscience Executed.

Enduring America: Farzad Kamangar’s Last Letter “Is It Possible to Teach and Be Silent?”

Neo-Resistance: They EXECUTED Her: Shirin Alam Hooli.

Flesh is Grass: Dissident teacher Farzad Kamangar hanged by the Iranian government.

More on other prisoners and death sentences at the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Try Bob’s election guide

Thanks to Bob from Brockley for his Election Quick Links.

My voting intention is like Bob’s, and Oliver Kamm’s, and Norm’s, though my voting history is not as purist as the professor’s.

I will not be tripping lightly to cast my ballot, as in order to support my party of choice, Labour, I have to vote for a local candidate who opposed the policies that brought me to vote for them in the first place. And of course they also have quite enough policies that I loathe, policies that are far more relevant to some people’s lives than the ones I’m choosing to vote on.

The most depressing part of the campaign has been the fearful narrowness of the response to the whole calling a bigot a bigot business. Some very big investments have been made in bigotry over very many years here. Rather than push against, Labour under both Blair and Brown played along, calculating perhaps that this was a fight that couldn’t be won out in the open. Now it seem that it can’t be fought in private either.

Unlike many other EU citizens resident in the UK, as an Irish passport holder I have voting rights in national as well as local and European elections. I miss the Single Transferable Vote as used in Ireland. It gave the most potential possible for personal expression on a ballot paper, short of actually spoiling it. But I don’t miss it enough to do anything this time other than vote Labour. I’ll be walking with feet of lead on Thursday, and if I lived elsewhere my choice might be different.

Monday, 3 May 2010


I’m scanning a load of stuff for the school magazine this weekend. Here are some great monster drawings from Year 2, that is 6 to 7 year olds. And there are so many more of the horrors!

Copyright © the individual artists.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Mad Professor’s Workshop

These images are from The Mad Professor’s Workshop, a set of StoryWorld cards, just published by Templar. The idea of John and Caitlín Matthews’ StoryWorld series is to play storytelling games with the packs of cards. Many of the sets revolve around fairytale themes, but with this new pack they’ve pushed off in a slightly different direction, a mix of magic, science fiction, and W. Heath Robinson.

I was one of four artists contributing to the Mad Professor pack, along with Wayne Anderson, Sandy Nightingale, and Levi Pinfold. Each artist painted seven cards. I’ve posted fragments of some of my other paintings earlier. You can find all the related posts here.

The set is available at Amazon UK.

One of the other artists in the set, Levi Pinfold, has just completed his first picture book, The Django, and it’s a stunning piece of work. A couple of paintings from it are currently on show at The Illustration Cupboard in London, as part of a group show of Templar picture books.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

My phone . . .

 . . . don’t take no pictures, my phone,
my phone don’t take no pictures, my phone,
no, it ain’t got a screen at all,
got a wire goes into the wall,
my phone don’t take no pictures, my phone.

my phone don’t ring at all, my phone,
my phone don’t ring at all, my phone,
but if you should try to call,
well I won’t pick up ’n’ I won’t call back,
my phone don’t ring at all, my phone.

It’s a Kirk 76E, my phone. Thanks to Enda who found it for me.