Monthly archives: July 2010

Diplomacia Suja


My last post did not signal a return to blogging but rather explained why I need a few days’ break. But I have to share with you my joy at the release of the Brazilian edition of Murder in Samarkand, translated from the US edition and entitled Diplomacia Suja.

This is the first foreign language edition and I am childishly excited to hold it in my hands. I was actually jumping up and down a few minutes ago. There seems something magical about seeing your work in a tongue which is mysterious to you. Many thanks to Companhia Das Letras and especially to the translator, Berilo Vargas, whom I am yet to meet.

Good progress is being made on a Turkish translation.

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A Ramsgate Blog

This blog now comes to you from Ramsgate. Sorry about the hiatus. I flew back from Ghana overnight and that day picked up the keys and entered our new home. Since then I have been ankle deep in plaster dust. There is a lot to do.

I share the outrage over the lack of a prosecution for the manslaughter (at least) of Ian Tomlinson. On torture and extraordinary rendition, and on policy in Afghanistan, I feel events have completely vindicated me and my efforts. But there are times in life when you need to step back for a brief while from a public role and concentrate on your family, and this has been (and still will be for a few days) one of those times.

I really like Ramsgate. It reminds me a lot of Sheringham, where I grew up, Jamie and Emily went to prep schools in Broadstairs and Ramsgate respectively. It was a great port, from which many historic journeys started. You can still hop on a ferry over to Ostend. It feels vibrant compared to most of our larger seaside towns.

There is of course another side. Some time in the last 20 years, whether by drift of events or by conscious policy of Kent County Council or the Home Office (maybe someone can enlighten me), Thanet became a prime place to dump people the state viewed as problems. Asylum seekers – many of them genuine – drug addicts, rehabilitating offenders, problem families, all found themselves put into the crumbling and unwanted seaside guest houses of Thanet. Some people cashed in – our house was illegally and horribly converted into bedsits. The despair and seediness of it all were brilliantly chronicled in the film The Last Resort.

Ramsgate, of course, is not Margate. But if you need a policeman in a hurry out of hours they come from Margate, as we discovered when we came across a middle aged drug addict attempting to throttle his similarly afflicted partner – who was bleeding from a blow to the face – in Ramsgate High Street at 6pm.

Only the second time I have had to call 999 in my life, and I had only been in Ramsgate 24 hours!

Into this extraordinary mix you then disgorge from the newly built high speed rail link a crowd of largely young professional London commuters. I am in a sense one, though I won’t commute. The attraction is that 70 minutes from St Pancras you can pick up a perfectly serviceable three bedroom house with a good garden for £160,000. Or if you are crazy like us you can pick up a rambling 1834 villa with 14 major rooms, all in a state of decay, and a very large garden for £295,000.

The High Speed Rail Link is really impressive as far as Ashford, running on the Eurostar lines allegedly at 140mph. After that it continues on not so much at high speed, as not as slow as a stopping train. Until the high speed link, trains in the 2000’s took 15 minutes longer to reach Ramsgate from London than they did in the 1890’s.

With its refurbished marina, swathe of new restaurants and official council attempt to create a “cafe culture”, Ramsgate becomes a still more interesting social mix. The one really functional bit of our house was an expensive and comprehensive alarm system – I am scared to fart unless the police come hurtling round. The security bars on our neighbour’s house remind me of living in Lagos. Plainly there are social tensions, at least in the minds of the owners of larger houses.

I know that I feel resentment at all the “foreigners” (ie non-Shannocks) who swamped Sheringham. As a child if I walked down Sheringham High Street, not only would I know everyone I saw, literally half of them would be related to my mum. God knows who they all are now. And Sheringham does not have the brash yuppie-ism of the Marina area at Ramsgate and its pretence at being Cannes, for young locals to make fun of.

But so far I have found Ramsgate people entirely welcoming, and there is at least some anecdotal evidence that the local economy is benefiting. Both the tree surgeon and plumber have told us that most of their work at the minute is from commuters who have just moved down from London. The last couple of evenings I ate in a Lithuanian/Russian restaurant named CCCP, and in an Indian/Bengali restaurant named Spice Fusion which was opened by lads from London who moved down the same day as me.

Ramsgate. The fashionable place to live. It must be – the Murrays are here 🙂

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Il Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin


Outgrower produced pineapples ready for juicing


Pineapple crowns are replanted. After castration each plant will produce five or six viable suckers which are given to smallholders as initial seed


The factory farm will produce its first commercial pineapple crop in March 2011


A small sample of organic peppers from one outgrower being assessed for quality. It is vital that local farmers do not become over-dependent on a single cash crop.

In my first overseas job I had the agriculrture brief at the British High Commission in Lagos for four years. Being me, I threw myself into it and the enthusiasm has never left me. The passages in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo on African agriculture are among my most passionately felt writings.

I remain immersed in the policy questions of the impact of colonialism on land ownership patterns, and the destruction of African agriculture by first world agricultural protectionism and dumping. But there is still no work that makes me happier than practical involvement with African farming communities. My main work in Ghana is in the energy sector, but I have been helping on a voluntary basis with a number of agricultural projects. This one is led by my old friend Felix Semavor.

How do I help? Well, I help to access development funding – in this case, the US government is helping with a feeder road, and the Dutch and Danish governments have helped provide agro-processing equipment. I spent Monday morning working with outgrowers to finalise their business development plans for startup loan applications. I have been advising on meeting the requirements for fairtrade certification, right down to details like methods of latrine construction.

I have also been able to help a little in dealing with potential UK and European customers.

This particular project involves production of flash frozen coconut, pineapple and mango pieces and of juices – primarily mango and pineapple, but we are also looking at pineapple and papaya and other mixes.

The project is primarily aimed at the export market, and I believe will be very succesful. The factory will ultimately support some 10,000 outgrowers. Once an outgrower cooperative has a total of 100 hectares, the economics comfortably support a communal tractor and pickup.

All is not entirely straightforward. There has been a widespread failure of the mango crop this year. probably because of exceptionally heavy early rains during the flowering period. Growers are establishing large pineapple fields. These have to be sloped, as retained water can quickly lead to Phytophthora infestation – something we have largely eliminated. But the result is of course the danger of soil erosion in the rainy season. There is no sign of a real problem yet, but these are early days and we are looking at bunds and intercropping.

I have tried very hard to affect my country’s foreign policy, both from the inside and the outside of the political establishment, to improve respect for human rights. I have achieved a small amount and been personally hurt by the attempt. I will still keep trying. But nothing is better for the soul than working to help people in poverty improve their lives, and to produce crops from the earth. Voltaire was right. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

I do hope that you will buy and read The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, which I hope is a profound text on the condition of Africa disguised as a series of anecdotal romps. That was what I was trying to do, anyway.

Apart from which, I am moving house on Thursday and am somewhat strapped for cash. If you too are strapped for cash, there is an option to read it free on line. If you have already read it, buy a copy for someone else as a present. If you think its rubbish, buy a copy for someone you don’t like as a present!

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Quick Post

Taking advantage of an internet cafe in Hoehoe quickly to post this picture. Three days on farms and I still look like a Persil advert. There goes my street cred. Hope to do a post on the work this evening. My driver Peter who tool the photo just suggested there’s more money in the wellington boots than the organic chilli peppers we were working on.


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Mango Juice

Stopped for lunch at an agricultural research institute on my way to the east of the Volta Lake. Very excited because I am visiting a large project to produce Fair Trade mango and pineapple juice for export to the UK. I have been advising on it (free) for three years now and for the first time we are moving towards full production. Hope I will get some photos to post.

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This sounds pretentious to me too, but its 12.54 am here and I have just got home after a working day that started at 7.20am – and yes, just meetings all day and then dinner and drinks with business contacts can indeed be work, even if it is enjoyable.

Have to set off in six hours for the North of Volta region, so really no chance to blog for some time. Serves me right for not being back in Ghana for too long.

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The Ethics of Banning Trolls

With genuine reluctance, I find myself obliged to ban Larry from St Louis from commenting on this blog.

I am extremely happy for people to comment on this blog who disagree with my views. It makes it much more interesting for everybody. I wish more people who disagree would comment.

But Larry has a different agenda. His technique is continually to accuse me of holding opinions which I do not in fact hold, and which he thinks will call my judgement into doubt.

Take this comment posted by Larry at 9.35 am today:

I’ve re-read your post on the Russian spies, and once again you’ve proven to be a complete dumbass.

I predicted Russia claiming (in some minor way) those idiots. You didn’t. You thought it was a conspiracy.

You’ve once again self-indicted.

In fact my view on the Russian spies was the exact opposite of what Larry claims it was. As I posted:

I don’t have any difficulty in believing that the FBI really have discovered a colony of Russian sleeper spies in the United States.

This is not Larry being mistaken – remember he claimed he had just re-read my posting. It is rather indicative of a very deliberate technique he has used scores of times, that of claiming I hold an opinion which he believes will devalue my other arguments in the mind of other readers, when I do not in fact hold that opinion.

He most often – indeed daily – does this with reference to 9/11. He tries to divert almost every thread on to the topic of 9/11 and to insinuate that I am among those who believe that 9/11 was “an inside job”. In fact, I am not of that opinion and never have been.

I have put up with this now for months, but Larry’s activities have become so frenetic and are so counter-productive to informed debate, I am not prepared to put up with it any more. I am also deeply sucpicious of the fact that he is able to spend more time on this blog than me, and to post right around the clock (often as with this one at 9.35am – think about it – what time is that in the US?).

Anyway, sorry Larry, your derailing days are over.


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The 4.45pm Link

Conan the Librarian cheers me up a lot. His parodies of The Scotsman are much less rabid than the real thing.

I can best explain how bad the Scotsman now is, by saying that Andrew Neil was but a step in its decline. Those of us who thought it could only get better after Neil left, were proven astonishingly wrong. We should make more use of the phrase “self-hating Scots”.

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At Last A Torture Inquiry

Finally David Cameron has announced that there will be an inquiry into British government complicity in torture. It will not start until a number of civil and criminal proceedings by individuals who claim they have been tortured have been resolved – which David Cameron appears to believe will be later this year, but we can’t know that.

Unlike the Chilcott Inquiry, the personnel of this inquiry are not obviously packed with supporters of the government view. I am somewhat concerned that Sir Peter Gibson, who has been Intelligence Services Commissioner for some years, can be viewed as parti pris. If the intelligence services were seriously misbehaving throughout his time as Commissioner, is he not being asked to judge whether he himself has been negligent?

But Dame Janet Paraskeva, head of the civil service commissioners, and Peter Riddell are genuinely independent minded people. Let us hope Sir Peter Gibson can be too.

But what we don’t have is the terms of reference of the inquiry. These are absolutely crucial. Nothing in David Cameron’s statement precluded the possibility that it will, as the intelligence services wish, simply look at individual cases of victims and assess compensation for them, without considering the existence of an overarching ministerially approved policy to use intelligence from torture.

I remain deeply concerned that individual junior MI5 and MI6 officers will be punished, while Tony Blair and Jack Straw plus the very senior officials like Lord Jay and Sir Richard Dearlove, who were responsible for setting the policy, will get off scot free.

It is still by no means sure that the inquiry will even be permitted to consider this aspect. I remain doubtful that I will be able to give my own evidence of ministerial policy of complicity with torture.

You can see the documents supporting that evidence here:

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Why the NHS Budget Should Be Cut

I just went to see my doctor for a renewal of my omeprazole prescription. For ten years I have been taking 80mg per day, for hiatus hernia. That is two packets of 7 x 40mg per week.

The doctor called up the prescription on her screen and it showed £15.50 per packet charge to her practice. She asked whether I had tried a cheaper alternative. The answer was yes, without success. So I went to collect a month’s supply – eight packets at a cost to the NHS of £124 less my £7.20 contribution.

Yet this is a generic, not a branded, medicine. When in Ghana I buy precisely the same medicine, by precisely the same manufacturer – Dr Reddy of India – in precisely the same packaging, for the equivalent of £2.80 per packet. It is genuine – believe me, with this unpleasant condition you would know very quickly if it was not genuine.

So why is the NHS practice paying £15.50 for a packet of medicine available individually at retail price for £2.80 internationally?

At the international retail price my medicine costs £291.20 per year. The NHS pays £1,612 per year.

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Not Wanted

Apostate, Freeborn and Steelback (who may or may not all be the same person) are not welcome on this site, under these or any other names, for persistent anti-semitism and holocaust denial.

I have deleted the comments which were the last straw. This blog is very tolerant, but not absolutely tolerant.

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Gaza Blockade Update

Many thanks to the anonymous commenter who posted this in response to my plea for information on the current state of the Gaza Blockade. They didn’t post a link, so it is reproduced here in full.

As I suspected, there has been no real change in the Israeli strangulation of Gaza.

By Vittorio Arrigoni, Gaza City, Gaza

July 4, 2010

Ketchup, mayonnaise, thread and needles are the items that were included last week by Israel on the list of those few goods now allowed into Gaza. Farming tools, spare parts for cars, toys and make-up were added to the list on Tuesday, items we watched being carried into the Strip loaded onto 130 trucks.

Taking into account the decision of the Israeli government to “loosen” the siege of Gaza by allowing the entry of more goods, B’Tselem, the Israeli organisation for human rights commented: “This is a first, tiny step towards the right direction, the direction which’ll bring Israeli policy in line with its obligations.”

A veritable microscopic step, considering that before the start of the siege, more than ten thousand trucks a month would drive through the Karni pass alone, and even then, these deliveries were miles away from the 500 truckfuls of goods a day (15,000 trucks a month), the minimum decreed by the United Nations to cover the basic needs of one and a half million people.

According to some Palestinian political analysts, this step might even be counterproductive, because it proposes to attempt to legitimise the siege. This is a siege that is a form of collective punishment against a civilian population. As such, it violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and is considered illegal by all major human rights organisations, whether governmental or otherwise, as Amnesty International and the International Red Cross have recently decreed.

Cement, iron and any other building material continues to be banned from the Strip, so much so that according to the UN, one year after the Cast Lead bombings, 75% of the damaged buildings still gape open among the rubble.

According to Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA (UN Agency for Palestinian refugees), Israel’s new policy is an attempt to throw smoke into the eyes of the international community and hide its blatant violation of international law: “The Israeli strategy is that of getting the world to talk about a random bag of cement being let in on one side, and a sponsored project on another. What we really need is complete and free access through all the passes.”

All eyes are now turned towards the mirage of the opened Israeli passes. Yet, forgetting to take note of the Egyptian border is a mistake. Rafah continues to remain semi-open, or better still… semi-closed. The Egyptian border authorities refuse to let any type of goods through, including tons of food supplies and medicine collected during the last weeks by the union of Cairo chemists. The bullies of the infamous Egyptian Mubarak, renowned for their rough treatment of Palestinian civilians, including women, children and sick people, have sent back hundreds of travellers with regular passports and visas over the past few weeks.

For internationals in Egypt who plan to come and report on what they see, or support the population of Gaza in any way, entering “the Rafah Pass” remains forbidding. John, a freelance journalist who accompanied us from the International Solidarity Movement to report on the daily harrassment that the farmers face from Israeli snipers at the border, eventually came in through the tunnels when he had grown tired of waiting for a pass that never came at Al Arish.

Italian state television is trying to put through the message that the siege has been loosened as an act of generosity on the part of the Israeli government, but the reality is indeed very different. The siege itself needs to be totally lifted, because the people here certainly don’t need potato chips or toothpicks. They need cement, iron, medicine, medical supplies and all the essentials coming in the way they would normally come in… through import and export. Only that means will help boost the economy and make Gaza self-sufficient, besides opening the borders to make it possible for anyone to come into or leave this prison.

All that we have before our eyes these days is the artificial image of a tragic situation, made up to seem like an improvement after the cosmetic surgery of Israeli and Egyptian propaganda. Amid these far-reaching echoes of propaganda, Tony Blair’s congratulations to Israel for the alleged “loosening” of its blockade comes across as a strident contradition. Behind the smile of Blair, one the of puppet masters of the Quartet (USA, EU, Russia and UN) who for years has produced nothing but useless press releases, is all the rot of the stone caryatids jointly holding up the current Iraqi genocide, as well as the political laxity of European governments in the face of the Palestinian tragedy.

I’m keen to remind Tony Blair that if two extra bags of flour enter the besieged Strip, it certainly isn’t thanks to his work within the castrated quartet, or any other institution in charge of resolving the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It’s actually thanks to the sacrifices over many years of thousands of ordinary civilians throughout the world committed to the rights of Palestinians. It’s an effort that has culminated in the murder of nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara, much the same way as before them, Tom Hurndall and Rachel Corrie gave their lives for the good of Gaza.

On the eve of the second Gulf war, the New York Times coined the phrase “second world power”, to define the global pacifist movement that filled thousands of squares around the world. These civilians were protesting against a war “that never before in history had been met with as much blatant hostility.” Well, that second world power has now joined us on the field and is siding with the Palestinians: it is now Israel that’s under siege.

Stay human.

Vittorio Arrigoni from Gaza city

(translated by Daniela Filippin)

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Civil Service Redundancies

I am entirely in favour of civil service redundancies, and even more of local authority redundancies. We have a crazy economy, heavily dependent on vastly over-rewarded people who perform useless financial casino services for much of the world. The taxation this brings in goes to fund many more people who fill in forms all day relating to government targets.

The number of people who actually make anything is miniscule. The entire economy is not sustainable.

I suggested how to cut the foreign office here:

and gave more general views on cuts here:

I support redundancies. But I do not support the attempts – started by New Labour – to cut civil service redundancy terms for existing employees. Civil servants entered into employment with a contract with their employees. New Labour lost two court cases in their efforts to unilaterally revoke the contractual redundancy rights of civil servants. The notion that the government may now pass primary legislation to give itself the right to change redundancy temrs of existing employees is contrary to natural justice. Private sector employers cannot unilaterally change employment contracts of existing staff. Nor should the public sector.

Redundancies are an initial cost which must be found, but lead to long term savings. As I have argued in relation to the FCO in particular, sales of government property should be used to help meet the redundancy costs. The MOD has vast tracts of land and a great many buildings which could be sold. Chevening, Dorneywood, Windsor Castle and Osborne House would bring a few quid. If you can enact primary legislation to cut civil service redundancy pay, you can enact primary legislation to allow you to sell those. I would nationalise the estate of the Duke of Westminster too, then sell it off. That would meet a lot of the redundancy costs.

I have no objection to changing conditions of employment – including on redundancy and pensions – for new employees, within reason. The impact on recruitment and retention must be carefully weighed. But to abrogate existing employees’ contracts is plain wrong.

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Gaza Blockade

I presume that Israel’s “agreement” to ease the Gaza blockade after the murders on the Mavi Marmara was just a ploy to influence the international media until the agenda moved on, which it now well and truly has. Is there any reliable and up to date information on the current state of the blockade, particularly as regards construction materials?

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The 4.45pm Link

Interesting piece from the curmudgeon on welfare reform.

We should not forget the extent to which every possible step was taken to discourage benefit claimants already under New Labour.

A friend of mine who works in what used to be called a Jobs Centre says it is heartbreaking to see the unemployed who have worked all their lives, sometimes in quite senior positions, now being put through the deliberately humiliating and onerous process of claiming benefit. They have to show they have applied every week for numerous often inappropriate jobs and continually provide evidence of their rejection.

She says that there really does exist a class of benefit scrounger who have no intention of working. They are precisely the ones who are not discouraged. They know how to fill the forms, happily send off a quota of hopeless online job applications every week, and don’t mind explaining themselves to a gormless eighteen year old clerk who has the power to send them and their family to starvation. It is the honest people humiliated at having to claim benefits who can’t cope and fall through the net.

That is the problem with making benefits harder to claim – you discourage the wrong people.

The interesting thing is that the staff do know broadly who are real and who are the scroungers – but they are not allowed to use discretion, but have to make decisions according to set procedures and criteria based on form filling and production of meaningless rejection letter paperwork.. Absolutely symptomatic of New Labour’s Britain.

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Westminster Foundation For Torture


This is Linda Duffield’s take on the vexed moral question on whether or not it can be justifiable to boil somebody alive to obtain information from them:

There were difficult ethical and moral issues involved and at times difficult judgements had to be made weighing one clutch of “moral issues” against another. It was not always easy for people in post (embassies) to see and appreciate the broader picture, eg piecing together intelligence material from different sources in the global fight against terrorism.

Linda is now the chief executive of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, an all-party supported organisation, funded by the FCO, to spread democracy abroad. This is their blurb:

Established in 1992, WFD is an independent public body sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, from which it receives an annual grant. Over the years we have grown in strength and diversity, working to achieve sustainable political change in emerging democracies. Working with and through partner organisations, we seek to strengthen the institutions of democracy, principally political parties (through the work of the UK political parties), parliaments and the range of institutions that make up civil society. We believe that, for a democracy to flourish, all of these institutions must be strong and sustainable.

I don’t imagine this includes training in the reasons why it can be OK for a democracy to condone boiling people alive, but who knows? I have worked with WFD in Poland and it used to do very good work, but it was distorted by Blair to focus its work in support of places we were invading, occupying, bombing or selling arms to. See how many of the current case studies on its website fall into that category?

And what an interesting gathering this was in Prague of the proponents of “democracy” by invasion, organised by “”.

The conference brought together Richard Perle, Aznar, the American Enterprise Institute, the exiled Cuban opposition, numerous Israeli representatives and the neo-con funded Amir Abbas Fakhravr of the “Iranian Freedom Institute of the USA”. From Wikipedia about Fakhravr:

In late April 2006, he arrived in the United States from Dubai where he had been greeted by Richard Perle [5] who interrupted his trip to central Asia in order to meet Fakhravar in a hotel. [23] They had been in touch through a contact since 2003. [23] Their meeting in Dubai was recorded and some of it is included in a documentary titled “The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom”. [24][25]

Since his arrival he has called for a unified Iranian opposition to the Islamic government, in order to bring regime change in Iran. [23] He has had several meetings with American officials from the Pentagon to the State Department, as well as with Vice President Dick Cheney.[26]

Some very interesting other delegates included the Las Vegas Sands Corp.. From Wikipedia:

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE: LVS) is a casino resort company based in Paradise, Nevada. It is the world’s leading Casino based company with a market capitalization of $17.3 billion as of April 2010. At one point in 2007, it had a market capitalization of $43.7 billion, making its majority shareholder, Sheldon Adelson, one of the world’s richest men.

Any idea what they were doing there? Oh yes, and Linda Duffield was there too. Doubtless it was relaxing to be in the company of so many who might share her views on the efficacy of torture.

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