The stamp of authenticity

November 30, 2017

I’ve occasionally wondered why I don’t have a tattoo. You’d think that, being an amiable idiot, I would be a perfect candidate. But I’ve never seriously entertained the idea. I think it’s because I love the idea of being able to change my mind too much to be able to commit to anything that permanent (and they’re pretty ugly too). Over the years, I might well have had ink that celebrated Van Halen, marijuana leafs, the Om sign, Fender Stratocasters and Fulham Football Club. But nothing’s set in stone.

Every now and then, I consider getting one with a Gibson Les Paul being eaten by a flaming skull-shaped Cadillac, with lightning bolts. But not that much.

Occupying the hinterland between permanence and impermanence, for me, are rubber stamps. I once got over the border from Kenya to Tanzania by getting a geezer to fake a stamp to say I’d had a yellow fever vaccination. A great pal of mine was asked, on his first day in the territory, for a chop, by a postman in Hong Kong, and proceeded to karate chop the pile of mail. Oh, how we laughed.

But last week, I was walking past a stall that sold rubber stamps, and I decided to get one made. For a quid. The message I wanted immortalised was one that has held me in good stead since forever. I originally had it made as a badge with my last 50 pence at Reading Rock Festival in 1983, and it’s always worked for me as a motto

So I shelled out £1, and had the stamp made, and the next day I got this back:

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Unless there is a spate of articles about immigrant birds into the UK, which is always a possibility with the Daily Mail, then that’s a quid down the drain. But you’ve gotta laugh. I certainly did. Anyone with a grievance against large grassland birds, I can do you a discount…

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Democracy dies in Cambodia

November 20, 2017

Even though I don’t live in Cambodia any more, I still take a keen interest in what goes on there. I loved the precious little country, and am still amused, from a distance, by its cheerful venality and corruption.

Recent stories in what’s left of the English-language press in Cambodia have included these gems: ‘A Siem Reap deputy provincial prosecutor was released without charges last week after killing another motorist while allegedly driving under the influence and then trying to flee the scene. Deputy Prosecutor Samrith Sokhon drove his Lexus into a motorbike shortly after midnight … [dragging] the motorbike and driver almost 1,000 metres while trying to flee … Sokhon had been drinking. Despite all this, Sokhon was released, for reasons … influenced by his position. “After he crashed into the motorbike we arrested him and released him, because there was an understanding. Because we know him clearly; he works in the prosecutor’s institution.”’

And: ‘Police in Battambang province arrested an opposition CNRP official and sent him to the provincial court on accusations of illegal weapons possession, despite one officer admitting that they have not actually found the weapon he is accused of owning.’

But last week’s news that the Supreme Court of Cambodia has ordered the dissolution of the country’s main opposition party is, for me, practically the final nail in Cambodia’s coffin.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, often described as “pugnacious and dictatorial” is, in fact, one of the most evil men on the planet. In charge of the country since 1985, he is the world’s longest-serving prime minister, and one of the most corrupt, conscience-free, vicious, amoral, money-grubbing, self-serving tyrants ever to walk the earth.

The ruling effectively disenfranchises more than three million Cambodians who voted for the CNRP at local elections earlier this year, and clears the way for the ruling CPP to run unopposed at next year’s general election. In a televised address shortly after the ruling, Hun Sen said the court’s decision was based solely on the law, and promised that Cambodia would continue to “strongly adhere to democracy at the national level.” Cue the sound of hollow laughter.

This year Hun Sen has already arrested the head of the opposition, shut down one of the leading newspapers, kicked out American democracy-promotion groups, caused more than half the opposition politicians to flee the country and ranted, harassed and defamed the opposition. It would be inaccurate to call his party ‘the government’; it is, by any standard, a patronage network, and one from which he has cheerfully milked billions of dollars for himself and his family over the years.

Amnesty International called last week’s decision “a blatant act of political repression.” The International Commission of Jurists also attacked the ruling, noting that the president of the Supreme Court occupies a seat on Hun Sen’s party’s highest decision-making body, and is a close personal friend of the prime minister.

The international community has, since the early 1990s, spent tens of billions of dollars trying to make Cambodia a democracy. They might as well have gone out and just bought themselves a new hat, for all the good it’s done. Now, in response, the US says it will withdraw its funding from the Cambodian National Election Committee. Which will clearly have Phnom Penh quaking in its boots. Otherwise, nothing from the international community. Rather confusingly everybody’s favourite American, Donald Trump, has been cosying up to Hun Sen, who has clearly drawn inspiration from Trump’s playbook when it comes to his attitudes to the press, and to the truth.

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China, on the other hand, has been supportive of the court’s decision. Over the past 15 years, Chinese cash has bankrolled bridges, highways, hydropower dams and property developments (although rarely schools or hospitals), entirely decoupled from demands for human rights or good governance. In exchange, Cambodia has been happy to be China’s poodle, and support China’s positions on a range of issues, from Taiwan and Xinjiang separatism to the South China Sea.

It’s like Eisenhower’s Domino Theory has come true: there now isn’t a genuine democracy anywhere in mainland Southeast Asia: Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos; now Hun Sen has extinguished the final beacon of democratic light in the region. It’s 2017, but things are getting increasingly dark in my favourite part of the world.

It hurts my very heart.

A Foggy Day (In Delhi Town)

November 14, 2017

Good God, but the air pollution here in Delhi is bad. Quite startlingly bad. I thought Hong Kong was pretty smoggy, but it’s got nothing on this place.

Commuters make their way amidst the heavy smog in New Delhi

The government has declared the toxic air pollution an ‘emergency situation’ and have temporarily shut construction sites and a coal-fired power station, closed schools and planned to introduce traffic rationing.

The concentrations of harmful particles so apparently high they cannot be measured by most air quality instruments. The level of so-called PM2.5 pollutants, which can breach the blood-brain barrier, have reached at least 999 in parts of the city, as high as the measuring machines go, and more than 16 times the safe limit of 60.

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The government had planned to introduce a scheme to only allow cars to drive on odd or even days depending on the last digit of their registration numbers. However they scrapped this at the last minute because some green government council objected to exemptions for women, or something.  Planes and trains have been cancelled, but, as usual, the government is busy arguing with other regional governments; currently about dealing with the ‘menace’ of crop stubble burning, rather than actually doing anything concrete. A politician asked who was asked about what the government was doing for farmers, apparently said, “We have been doing more than we can.” Which is sweet, if clueless.

And a plan to use helicopters to fight the air pollution, by sprinkling water on it, has been grounded, because the choppers can’t operate in such thick smog. You really couldn’t make it up.

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Apparently the problem gets worse at the start of the winter, with the celebration of Diwali, where people let off lots of fireworks. So this year the Delhi authorities banned fireworks. Which made not a whit of difference to anyone: our fairly quiet street was like the Somme until 0300hrs, and visibility was down to five metres the next morning. The suddenly cold weather traps the particulates and they don’t get blown away.

Blossom, who is a delicate little flower, has already gone down with a chest infection, and doctors are saying that going out for a walk is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes. That would at least make life considerably cheaper.