Archive for July, 2006

Conversation with a secret policeman

Limassol port is security cordoned, you can’t get near the disembarkation area.

I’m a freelance writer, here at this time by accident; I don’t have a press pass.

I’ve taken some photographs with my new Benq digital: some Cypriot troops guarding the port; military vehicles; a BBC TV crew, nothing outstanding; I’m a little disappointed but I knew it would be like this.

I know some journalists who drink in the bar of the Metropole Hotel, so I decide to go there, have a beer or two with them and see if I can get a feel of what’s going on.

Another disappointment: they’ve obviously decided to drink somewhere else this evening.

I’m just about ready to leave when a tall, bald headed guy with a distinctive scar across his chin nods to me and strikes up what becomes a strange and one sided conversation.

“You are a journalist?” he asks.

I tell him I’m on holiday with my family, that we’re living on the other side of the island but, as I’m a freelance writer, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do some fishing around Limassol and see what I could catch.

“You know who is the most powerful person in Israel at the moment, if you are a journalist?” he asks. “I’ll tell you. She is an officer in the Israeli army called Sima Vaknin. Her powers are extraordinary, she can do almost anything – shut down newspapers, pull the plug on radio stations, throw journalists into jail without trial… she is the chief military censor.”

“I’m glad we’re not in Israel,” I say.

“Maybe not physically,” he replies, “but as I said, this woman is very powerful.”

He goes on to tell me that to operate in Israel media organisations must abide by the rules and conditions laid down by Colonel Vaknin.

These rules and conditions preclude the filing of real time reports locating missile hits; reporting of hits on army bases or strategic targets; reports of missiles landing in the sea; reports indicating when citizens are permitted to leave the bunkers for supplies; reports on the movements of senior officials; reports on the availability of shelters in particular ares where public defence is weak…

In short, any reports of any real significance at all.

So far in the current conflict about one Hezbollah rocket in every hundred has killed an Israeli.

They’re fired blind and most of them land in empty fields, abandoned streets, the sea; the danger to Israeli citizens is a purely random one and Israel obviousy wants to retain that condition.

“Report immediately that a missile has splashed, for example, into the mediterranean,” he says, “and any Hezbollah guerrilla with an internet connection knows to aim left. Report that an oil refinery in Haifa went up in flames, he’ll reload. Report that a senior official is going up north and it will be raining rockets there in no time.

“It’s the logic of censorship, my friend, you as a journalist should know this.”

“But I told you,” I say, “I am not a journalist.”

He doesn’t reply, just smiles and lights a cigarette.

I sense a certain hostility so I decide to go to the washroom before saying goodbye and starting off home.

When I return he’s gone.

Later that night I decide to check out the photographs I took that day with my new Benq digital – it’s empty, the memory card has been completely wiped.


From Lebanon with tears.


It’s the start of my second week in Cyprus.

Last week the island started to strain under the weight of the exodus from Lebanon.

By Friday over 12000 evacuees had already arrived and the authorities said that as many as 70000 were expected to pass through Cypriot seaports.

As refugee numbers have been added to by hundreds of journalists and TV crews, accomodation in Larnaca and Limassol is scarce, and humanitarian agencies have begun spreading people out to other parts of the island such as Pafos.

In Nicosia the US Embassy has rented 2000 square feet of empty exhibition space at the State Fair grounds and has established a makeshift transit camp there to process thousands of Americans who have fled the bombing.

There are many heartbreaking stories circulating about what is happening just 140 kms across the med. in Southern Lebanon.

Nathakie Malhame was brought up in Cyprus and now lives in Beirut.

She sent an email to the Cyprus Weekly newspaper.

“Here in Lebanon, the atmosphere is grim and sad. The airport has been bombed many times, there is a sea and air blockade, the Syrian border has been bombed, we cannot leave the country easily, if at all.

Bridges, oil stations, the airport, entire villages (Haret, hreik, Chtaura, Saida, Tyre, Dahiye, Kfarshima…) and most of our infrastructure has been targeted and destroyed.

We can rebuild our infrastructure. We have done it before and we can do it again… But what about the innocent lives that have been lost? The eight Lebanese Canadians, the twelve members of a family trying to leave their village, the four Brazilians, and the other hundreds (and still counting) of lives that have been taken.

Their lives cannot be rebuilt… lives taken without a second thought. So far only innocent lives have been taken. Children have not been spared. Friends frleeing through the Syrian borders had to see the bodies of children and babies being pushed away in a trolley. These images will stay with them for life.

Bombs fall and rockets hit one after the other. We are afraid to sleep. We have no shelters, only the garages of our buildings. How safe are they? You tell me.

Is my friend stuck in Saida safe? Those supposed flyers that fall out of the Israeli planes to warn villagers to flee their villages fall at most, 60 minutes before these villages are wiped away. How much time does that give people to run away? What about the people who cannot read or the tourists or second or third generation returnees who cannot read Arabic?

And how can they run away if all the roads and bridges have been destroyed? You tell me.

No… Hezbollah should not have kidnapped those two Israeli soldiers. They did that without the Lebanese population’s or the government’s knowledge.

But that does not give the Israeli Army the right to destroy entire villages and take away innocent lives… They did not even try to negotiate.

This conflict has gone beyond the capture of the soldiers. It has spilled over, way over into the danger zone.

Do we really want to see the start of World War III?

Tell me, is that what you want?

Do we really want to ignore the value of human life?

Day by day more tears and blood are spilt, on all sides. In Haifa, in Gaza, in Beirut, in Palestine, Israel and Lebanon and let’s not forget Iraq.

What for? What for? Please tell me what for.

I stand up and calmly cry out with dignity and love for humanity: No. No more violence. No more violence. Please people of all nations… Stand up and say no.

Tell me that you will not stanf idly by, tell me that you will not close your eyes. Tell me you will raise your voice of peace… now, before more human lives are lost.

Thank you for listening, from Lebanon with tears.”

Greetings from Cyprus

It’s been a few days since last I posted.

Arrived in Cyprus Sunday and it’s taken a few days to find a decent net facility; there is a portal at the hotel where I’m staying but it’s cluncky and slow and incredibly expensive to use: you get about 6 mins for 50 cents.

Anyway found this internet cafe today where they charge about 1 Cyprus pound an hour so I’ll be posting from here on a fairly regular basis.

Staying in the north west tip of the Island about an hour’s drive from Paphos between two small towns called Polis and Latchi.

It’s pretty rural and unspoiled here with just enough tourists to keep the Cypriots happy income-wise.

Although I’ve ony been here 3 days now there’s a lot to write about.

Went to Limasol yesterday where a couple of hundered of european nationals landed after being evacuated from Lebanon; I’ll be writing something about that.

On a lighter note I’ve come across a few ex-pats around here with some interesting stories.

More about all of it soon.

It’s white hot right now, as it seems to be in the rest of the world at the moment, but at least here they’re geared up for it with air-con etc.

Syd Barrett: the final post

Crazy Diamond

Kids with guns

AK47s are banned for civilian use in the UK and are not in general use by the British military.

Strange then that 250,000 automatic weapons, including 100,000 Avtomat Kalashnikova 47s, were imported into this country last year, under licences granted by the Department of Trade and Industry. 

Where did they all go?

Amnesty International claims that the US Defence Department has used chains of arms brokers, including at least three UK firms, to channel the weapons to allies and military groups worldwide.

There are also suggestions that small batches of AKs are “skimmed-off” larger consignments, eventually finding their way into the hands of underworld armourers.

On Googling AK47 today I found two coded sites advertising Russian-made Kalashnikovs for around £2,500 a piece, and there are countless others selling “accessories”: efectively AK47 and variant components, from which, with the proper tooling and engineering skills, I have no doubt one could produce one’s own weapon.

General Mikhail Kalashnikov (retired), the inventor of what has become known as the world’s favourite killing machine, is now 86.

Here are some facts about his baby.

There are an estimated 100 million AK47s in the world today.

The rifle fires 600 rounds a minute, is accurate to 300 metres and lethal at up to 1,500 metres.

It is on general issue in 55 armies, and manufactured in 11 countries.

It’s appears on Hezbollah and Mozambique flags.

There have been 1 billion variants produced based on its design.

A Kalashnikov or variant kills 1,300 people each day.

It is the weapon of choice for criminals, terrorists and child soldiers.

Russia’s largest carmaker recently announced plans to manufacture an armoured military jeep version of the Lada – to be called the Kalashnikov.

Click here to watch a little video.

Interstellar overdriven

So that’s it, the Madcap has laughed his last and the crazy, flawed diamond sparkles no more.

That Syd Barrett’s mental illness was the result of hallucinogenic drug abuse is a matter for speculation; those who were closest to him are of the opinion that had the substance never existed things would have happened in just the same way.

Of one thing, however, there can be no doubt: his influence on pop music and culture has been immense.

Like the Velvets, he did little in the way of record sales, but almost everybody who bought his albums went on to form bands.

His quintessentially English pop sensibility and love of a good tune inspired David Bowie, The Who, Ray Davies, Brian Eno, The Cure and Madness, Pulp, Blur, Primal Scream and countless others.

And, for all we know it is still doing just that; perhaps there are kids rehearsing in garages and bedrooms as I write, kids reared on their parents’ copies of PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, THE MADCAP LAUGHS, ARNOLD LAYNE and SEE EMILY PLAY.

Shine on Syd.

Yer mutha

That Marco Materazzi may have insulted Zinedine’s mother seems to some to be sufficient justification for the ensuing head-butt.

In 2004, when David Beckham was shown the red card for calling a Spanish linesman a “hijo de puta” (son of a whore), the Sun newspaper (??) put together a list of other mother curses from various cultures.

“Tu madre tiene un bigote!” (Your mother has a moustache).

“Anda la puta que te pari!” (go back to the prostitute who gave birth to you).

“Me cago en la leche que mamaste!” (I shit in the milk that you suckled from your mother’s breast).

Now I’m into the logic of opposites in a big way, so I thought, well, if the worst insults are those which are denigrating to mothers it follows that the most effective compliments might work in a similar way.

“Estoy seguro que su madre no es una puta!” (Your mother is not a whore at all).

“Estoy seguro que su madre es una mujer muy respectable en su comunidad!” (I am sure that your mother is, in fact, a respected figure within her community).

But the insults are the best. I like this one from Finland: “Aitisi nai poroja!” (Your mother copulates with reindeer).

Nice, huh?

Crazy Diamond shines no more

Have just read about Syd Barrett’s death. It apparently happened last Friday.

Syd was a co-founder of Pink Floyd and wrote most of the early material, before drugs

and mental illness forced him into relative obscurity.

Expect I’ll have a lot more to write about him in due course.

Zidane head butt


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Materazzi: “It is absolutely not true, I did not call him a terrorist… I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what the word means.”

According to an Italian lip-reader: “I wish an ugly death to you and all your family. Go f*** yourself!”
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stephen colbert talks about scientology


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