Friday, 27 January 2012

What’s up Prof?

This painting of mine, from the StoryWorld card set The Mad Professor’s Workshop, is for sale as part an upcoming show at The Illustration Cupboard gallery, London.

The show is titled Celebrating Asylum and is a benefit support of the St Mary Magdalene Centre for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. There will be over fifty pictures, including art by Charlotte Voake, Chris Riddell, Catherine Anholt, Korky Paul, Jessica Ahlberg, John Lawrence, Dana Kubick, and Axel Scheffler.

You can see more StoryWorld paintings by scrolling down my portfolio page.

Celebrating Asylum, 2nd - 14th February 2012 at The Illustration Cupboard, 22 Bury St, St James's, London SW1.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

IQ light

The IQ light is a modular lampshade that my father, Holger Strøm, designed in the early 1970s when he was working at the Kilkenny Design Workshops in Ireland.

You wouldn’t be wrong in guessing that he has a fondness for Buckminster Fuller, not just in relation to geometry, but also the pleasure in designing an object that achieves much with little. There’s an element of play in this pleasure, and I think he would enjoy the playing card sphere below.

Poker Cards Sphere by Nick Sayers. 270 poker playing cards slotted together (exactly five packs of cards including the jokers). Inspired by Holger Strøm’s IQ light system. See more of Nick’s spherical sculptures on Flickr.

IQlight® copyright © 1973 and 2000 Holger Strøm.
Poker Cards Sphere copyright © 2011 all rights reserved by Nick Sayers.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Missing Sadie paintings update: two found

Ian Logan Design Shop London
Ian Logan Design London
Back in 2008, three paintings of mine went missing from the Ian Logan Design Shop, London, when it closed down. All three were illustrations for my picture book, Sadie the Air Mail Pilot. Yesterday two of the paintings, shown above, were recovered, thanks be the internet! One painting, the one below of Sadie getting dressed, is still missing.

Thanks to Ruth in East London, who saw these two paintings at a car boot sale in Epping some three years ago, and had the good taste to buy them for her young son, and thanks to her sharp eyed friend who recently recognised them as being from the book. Ruth’s lad now has two framed digital prints of the images in his room to replace the paintings, as well as a signed first edition of Sadie the Air Mail Pilot. He’s lived with the images for a long time, but never read the book before. I hope the story lives up to any he may have daydreamed for himself!

You can download a wanted poster here showing the one painting still missing.

Ian Logan Design Company London

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Checking my prejudices - 2

In the earlier post, I spent some time on a single paragraph of a recent Simon Jenkins column from The Guardian on the subject of Afghanistan. The column was titled Vanity, machismo and greed have blinded us to the folly of Afghanistan, and the first paragraph was as follows:
Ten years of western occupation of Afghanistan led the UN this week to plead that half the country's drought-ridden provinces face winter starvation. The World Food Programme calls for £92m to be urgently dispatched. This is incredible. Afghanistan is the world's greatest recipient of aid, some $20bn in the past decade, plus a hundred times more in military spending. So much cash pours through its doors that $3m a day is said to leave Kabul airport corruptly to buy property in Dubai.
I spent some effort looking at the issue of hunger in Afghanistan. You can read the full post here, but the short of it is that directly contrary to Simon Jenkins’s claim that “western occupation of Afghanistan” has led to starvation, wheat production (the central issue in Afghanistan’s food shortages) has never been as low since the 2001 defeat of the Taliban as it was before. This is despite drought, primitive agricultural practices, the absence of a viable milling industry, and the underfunding of the WFP. I hadn’t originally intended to spend so much effort on that one claim, but the subject is a serious one.

That earlier post also includes a passage from Terry Glavin’s excellent new book, Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan, to demonstrate why Simon Jenkins’s phrase “western occupation of Afghanistan” is the exact opposite of truth.

Now I’d like to go through the rest of the column. A lot of it is just abuse, which is pointless to argue with, but as well as looking for clear falsehoods like the ‘western occupation causes hunger’ claim, I’d like to clarify the argument behind the abuse and lies.

Here’s another lie to make clear that my use of the word isn’t just rhetoric: he writes of “the decade-long punishment of Afghanistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden.” To believe that the US or NATO has been punishing Afghanistan is to disbelieve the opinion of the majority of Afghans. The graph below is taken from the December 2010 ABC/BBC/ARD/Washington Post poll, Afghanistan: Where Things Stand (ABC story here and full PDF here) and it shows support for the presence of US forces amongst Afghans surveyed ranged between 78% and 62% in the years from 2006 to 2010.

The graph also shows satisfaction with US efforts dropping faster than support for their presence, suggesting that while the majority of Afghans want the US military presence, they also want them to do a better job. But for all the dissatisfaction, this is clearly not a nation that believes it is undergoing “punishment” by the US as Simon Jenkins claims.

Another Jenkins quote: “The demand that [Afghanistan] also abandons the habits of history and adopt democracy, capitalism and gender equality was imperial arrogance.” On capitalism, a 1999 article, The Life of a 102 year-old Afghan Entrepreneur: An Economic Perspective, by Mir Hekmatullah Sadat, gives an interesting view of 20th century developments in Afghan capitalism. On gender equality, the struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan didn’t begin with the fall of the Taliban; here’s a short chronology. As for democracy, in every democratic country, the struggle for democracy has been a struggle against the habits of history.

And this, his opposition to democracy’s struggle against the habits of history, can be the key to unwrapping Simon Jenkins’s argument, and showing how perverse it is that he has become a resident favourite in the pages of The Guardian, supposedly a paper of the liberal left.

Simon Jenkins is on the side of of tradition against change, Tory against Whig, Lords against Commons, feudalism against democracy.

His anti-war argument is not the same as that of the anti-West anti-imperialist kitsch left, though it sounds it at times. His stand against British imperialism is rooted in nationalist isolationism rather than second-campism. He claims that the West’s Afghanistan policy will likely benefit “those who lost the cold war, Russia and China”. Similarly in a more recent column, Why is Britain ramping up sanctions against Iran? he writes that it seems as if “every utterance from Washington and London at present is scripted to bolster the Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his insecure throne,” and laments that:
The attempt to set up pro-west regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan led the west to upset the balance of power established by the Iran-Iraq war and the Taliban-Pakistan regime in Kabul. Now the Iraq occupation has secured for Tehran unprecedented influence in Baghdad. Its influence also penetrates deep into western Afghanistan, and its support for resistance movements in the Gulf sheikhdoms is said to be growing by the year.
Be very clear about what he’s saying in the quote above. He laments the loss of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and of Pakistan’s domination of Afghanistan via the Taliban, because these regimes helped contain Iran, a greater enemy in his view. This is the brutal talk of a right wing ‘Realist’ rather than a second campist hoping for the overthrow of Western hegemony. I don’t like the latter any more than the former, but I do find it extraordinary that The Guardian gives regular space to the kind of reactionary views I remember seeing in The Sunday Telegraph in the 1990s.

I’ll have mercy and stop there. If I can suppress the nausea, I might do a third post on the bigotry of Mr Jenkins, but I’m not promising.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Refugee drawings by Ronald Searle

These drawings are from a series made in European refugee camps. They were published as a 17 page feature in Punch in 1959, and then as a book by Penguin, titled Refugees 1960: A Report in Words and Drawings by Kaye Webb and Ronald Searle.

See selections from the book at Graphic Witness, and more from both the book and the Punch article at Perpetua, a Ronald Searle tribute blog, part one here and part two here.

The above image, a pencil drawing of Isrecko Dimitriyevich, San Antonio Camp, Salerno, dated 16 Nov 1959, comes from the Chris Beetles Gallery site. The Punch page below is from Matt Jones’s Perpetua blog.

Matt Jones has gathered together links to some of today’s obituaries for Ronald Searle. See also Charley Parker’s Lines and Colors blog.

Added: more on Searle and Kaye Webb - the Gentle Author on Ronald Searle in Spitalfields. Stephen Kroninger shares some Ronald Searle book jackets from his shelves, and Brad Holland on why Searle was an inspiration:
“It wasn’t his style that I wanted. I got over that quickly. It was the witness he bore to the times we lived in.”

Monday, 2 January 2012

Checking my prejudices

It was some years ago that I stopped spending money on The Guardian. I still read bits of it online, and regularly skim through other people’s copies, but I don’t really try to keep up with it as much as some.

I’m aware the paper has been responsible for excellent work on the news reporting side. It’s the comment and lifestyle stuff that grates, even more if it leaks into the news coverage. Leafing through now, in a peeping through my fingers sort of way, I still find all that as irritating as when I stopped buying, and I usually choose not to seek out the irritation, at least not too often.

Still, I have to keep checking, in case my prejudice is overdone. So when over Christmas a friend, a subscriber to the paper, said she liked reading Simon Jenkins, particularly mentioning his writing on Iraq and Afghanistan, I found I wasn’t clear in my memory as to who he was or what kind of stand he took, and thought I’d better have a look.

I decided first of all to see what he’d written on Afghanistan. His most recent piece on Afghanistan was titled Vanity, machismo and greed have blinded us to the folly of Afghanistan, which begins:
Ten years of western occupation of Afghanistan led the UN this week to plead that half the country's drought-ridden provinces face winter starvation. The World Food Programme calls for £92m to be urgently dispatched.
So, here Simon Jenkins is implying a causal link between Western military intervention and hunger in Afghanistan. Firstly, the direct cause of the WFP call for aid is drought, which is obviously not caused by military action. If we try to interpret or improve his argument, we could take it as implying Western action has lowered resilience to drought in Afghanistan. If the WFP or anyone else has ever made such an argument, Mr Jenkins provides no evidence for it.

This 2007 WFP report show Afghanistan domestic wheat production as follows:

1,469,000 Metric Tons in 2000
1,597,000 MT in 2001 (the year that began the West’s direct military intervention)
2,686,000 MT in 2002
4,362,000 MT in 2003
2,293,000 MT in 2004
4,266,000 MT in 2005
3,363,000 MT in 2006

This 2011 Reuters story quotes an estimate of around 4,500,000 MT for 2009 and 2010. This September 2011 USAID report predicts a 28 percent decrease to 3,250,000 MT for 2011 This 2011 WFP report gives more detail on drought impact, suggesting drastic effects in many areas.

Note that the worst figures above are from the Taliban period. There is nothing in them to suggest that Western military intervention has “led” to the need for food aid. The need however is real, and is great.

According to the 2007 WFP report cited above, “though more than half of the total wheat area is irrigated, Afghanistan’s drought-prone climate results in staggering annual variations in wheat production.” Problems listed include primitive agricultural practices, lack of improved seed and fertilizers, storage problems, as well as harsh conditions and limited irrigation. “Most wheat is consumed on-farm [...] less than 10 percent of production reaches the markets.” Because of this, “major portions of the expanding urban population are increasingly reliant on imported flour [...] due to limited marketable supplies of wheat and the non-existence of a viable milling industry. Also, the on-going major road building projects are causing fundamental changes in the local wheat markets.” Pakistan is the main source of imports as its industry is subsidised, estimated at 600,0000 MT out of a total of 1 million MT imports for 2007/08. “Bread accounts for 50 to 70 percent of the calories in the diet.”

On the WFP budget needed for Afghanistan, this VOA story from July 13 2011 explains that the WFP annual budget for Afghanistan is $400 million, but at the time the story was written, the WFP had received only half the amount for the year. The US is the WFP’s biggest donor, but contributions fell significantly because of the budget impasse between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

Back to Simon Jenkins - he goes on:
Afghanistan is the world's greatest recipient of aid, some $20bn in the past decade, plus a hundred times more in military spending. So much cash pours through its doors that $3m a day is said to leave Kabul airport corruptly to buy property in Dubai.
It’s hard to pin down the argument here. Should less aid be spent on Afghanistan? He doesn’t say. What aid would he cut? He doesn’t say. Or does he think more would be spent in aid if less went on military spending? He doesn’t say. All he seems to want to communicate is hopelessness and expense, without any substantive analysis. This is not an argument for doing things better; if anything it’s an argument for doing nothing.

Here’s a more informed starting point for a productive critique of Afghanistan aid.

This seems enough for one post, and I’ve barely dealt with one paragraph of one piece by Simon Jenkins. I want to write more about the rest of the column, and about other articles of his, but will save that for a further post. Before I leave this paragraph, however, I want to look at Mr Jenkins’s phrase “ten years of western occupation”.

To show why this phrase is grossly misleading, here are a few paragraphs from Terry Glavin’s new book, Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan:
It isn’t true, in any conventional meaning of the term, that the United States or its NATO partners “invaded” Afghanistan. By September 11, there was no sovereign country left to invade. At the time, while the multinational jihadist joint venture known as the Taliban did control most of Afghanistan, Pakistan was the only country that formally recognized the regime. The only other countries that had ever recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government were the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, but they’d bailed long before September 11. Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations was occupied by the Islamic State of Afghanistan, led by the Northern Alliance chief Berhanuddin Rabbani and the charismatic Ahmad Shah Massoud. They’d been pleading for military help for years. Immediately after September 11, even Pakistan was scrambling to give the appearance of disowning its Taliban progeny, and Rabbani’s government was loudly reiterating its long-standing invitation to the Americans to help chase the Taliban out.

Strictly speaking, it isn’t even true that the Taliban were overthrown by the United States, or by the United States and its NATO allies. The Northern Alliance would have remained dug in up in the mountains had it not been for a US bombing campaign, American arms and supplies drops and all the Special Forces soldiers skulking around. But the Taliban, al-Qaida and their sundry jihadist brothers-in-arms had been driven out of Kabul by a ragtag assemblage of Afghans before any regular American troops arrived. The Taliban were even chased out of their legendary heartland of Kandahar by the locals before any US combat troops showed up.

[...] As late as 2005, the United States was still only lukewarm to the idea of an expansion of the international military and reconstruction effort in the country.

[...] At least fourteen major national opinion polls and focus group surveys were undertaken by various independent agencies across Afghanistan in the decade following 2001. All the available data show unambiguous Afghan support for the so-called US occupation of their country and for the military intervention overseen by the UN’s poorly resourced, forty-three nation NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The polls do show Afghans to be impatient about the paucity and ineffectiveness of American and NATO troops, however. The United States deployed a mere 7,000 troops to Afghanistan during the first two years after September 11 - this was before the White House could use Iraq as an excuse - and almost all the US troops in Afghanistan were dispatched in a ‘war on terror’ exercise known as Operation Enduring Freedom, mostly in the country’s remote southeastern borderlands. As late as the autumn of 2005, ISAF had extended its reach to only half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and there were only about 40,000 ISAF troops in the whole country. It took until 2009 for the combined ISAF troop strength to reach roughly 150,000.
You can find links to the above-mentioned polls and surveys about Afghanistan on the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee resources page.

Earlier in his book, Terry Glavin writes, “Having spent fifteen years of my life working for daily newspapers, I’m well acquainted with the distance that can exist between the way the world really is and the way accounts of that world enliven the public imagination. But between the real Afghanistan and the imaginary one, there is a chasm.”