Saturday, 27 August 2005

My Fair Lady

Sometimes, I turn on the TV while I’m eating with the intention of switching it off after I’ve finished.

However, occasionally, a film has started - one of those films that you only have to see a bit of to make you want to see the rest of it. We all probably have a list. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be one of your favourite films: there just has to be something compelling about it; something that makes you want to see the end of it even though you’ve seen the ending many times.

Well, that just happened to me with My Fair Lady. It is probably one of my favourite musicals – a genre I’m not too fond of. Grease is another favourite musical.

The films I usually watch through to the end even if I catch them in the middle include: any Star Wars, any Raiders, any Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jean de Florette, Manon de Source and probably loads more that I can’t think of at the moment.

There should be a name for these types of films. For convenience, in future, when I come across more films like these, I’m going to call them Fair Ladies, eg “I came across another Fair Lady the other day. It was …”.

Thursday, 25 August 2005

Country House Montali

The Lakes mentioned the other day wasn’t our first holiday this year. In June, we went to this wonderful vegetarian place in Umbria, Italy.

The owners of Country House Montali have flown the vegetarian flag for about 20 years in a country where there are very few vegetarians.

We got the impression that Country House Montali is not a money-spinner. We are sure that the place would be more profitable if it employed fewer people, catered only for non-vegetarians, and served bland food. It’s our good fortune that they are passionate about vegetarianism and put quality first.

All sorts of people stay there. One couple we met had returned for their second stay – and they weren’t even vegetarians. Incidentally, they did the cookery course and spent four hours preparing an evening meal. They were very tired at the end of it and said that the chefs had started on the meal a few hours before them!

There are about eight people who work at Country House Montali, four of whom are chefs! The chefs spend several hours a day preparing meals. The care and attention put into meals is unparalleled. All the staff have been trained – and it shows. They were helpful, courteous, flexible, and unobtrusive. We always felt relaxed when they were around.

One of us is a vegetarian and the other is a vegan. We did not pay any surcharge for the vegan meals. We have eaten vegetarian and vegan food on six continents. It’s difficult finding vegetarian food in many places; vegan food is almost impossible. Often, we’re relieved when we find something edible. Nonetheless, we have had some great meals, for example, in Vietnam and Sri Lanka. However, the meals at Country House Montali were probably the best we’ve ever had. The flavours were exquisite. The meals were unique: you will not find the recipes anywhere. You could tell that the meals were lovingly prepared by people who had a real passion for food.

If your idea of a great meal is a burger served in a few minutes then Country House Montali is probably not the place for you. The evening meal usually took about two hours. Each course was well paced to allow people time to savour and digest it. You could describe it as gourmet food. However, when we think of gourmet food, we think of well-presented food, in a rather formal setting, that leaves us hungry! This was nothing of the sort. We have large appetites but the portions filled us up – and we were swimming twice a day and sightseeing for six hours a day.

There was a relaxed atmosphere in the dining room too. We frequently talked and joked with the other diners. Some of the diners were not staying at the place but came simply to dine there. We were also pleasantly surprised by the excellent and eclectic music that played in the background. There was something for all tastes.

As if the delicious food was not enough, Country House Montali is located on the top of a plateau. There are picturesque views in all directions. When you add the homely rooms and large swimming pool, you have all the ingredients for an ideal holiday.

We hope you’re beginning to realise what an extraordinary place Country House Montali is. It is, obviously, a labour of love. If you want to eat some of the best food in the world in beautiful surroundings and believe that hotel owners should be passionate about vegetarianism, then Country House Montali is the place for you. We wholeheartedly recommend it!

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Robin Cook

Robin Cook’s early death reminded me of his resignation speech. Some people did not believe him when he said “Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target”.

When politicians make fairly unambiguous statement, it means
  1. they’re telling the truth
  2. they’re lying and they think no one can find out
If Robin Cook had been lying, we would have found out very soon because the US and UK were going into Iraq. This means that he probably had good evidence for saying what he did. He had probably learnt this when he was Foreign Secretary.

It turned out that he knew more than we imagined. In his autobiography, he said that Tony Blair told him, before the war, that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Genesis Aid

Last weekend, we were in the Lake District. We found our ears overcome by a racket. That racket converged to a decipherable sound. Music.

How outrageous that someone should be playing loud music in the Lake District. How uncivilised.

Eventually, we got to the source of the music: Genesis Aid. We thought: that’s all we need, someone trying to help an ageing rock group who are down to their last few millions.

We were wrong. The concert should have been called Genesis-School-in-Kenya-Aid. The house owner had visited a school in Kenya that required help. It had no water or electricity. Therefore, the house owner organised a concert with local bands, a bouncy castle, food, and beer to help raise £15 000.

Here are some pictures of the event:

[to be posted...]

Monday, 22 August 2005

Holy smoke!

Last week, in Archway (London), there was an almighty explosion. Houses shook all around the area. I was in my bedroom. I thought something had hit the window.

It turned out that there was an explosion in someone’s flat. Rumour has it that it was a gas explosion. If this was the impact of a small explosion, imagine what a bomb would be like.

The following morning, I went to have a look. Armed with my camera-phone, I took two photos of the front of the building:

And here's one of the back:

The double glazing windows went flying. You can see one on the left of the flat with the explosion. The flat above the explosion has also been damaged.

I spoke to someone who lived in an adjacent flat. She said that her sitting-room door went flying. If she'd been sitting elsewhere, the door would have hit her. She also said that several men bravely ran into the flat and pulled out the man living there. He had been badly burnt. They hosed him down.

That night, the affected people stayed with neighbours.

Sunday, 21 August 2005

Barak's generous offer

Writing about Gaza reminded me of this old post from October 2001:

Some people claimed that the Palestinians in early 2001 turned down a “generous” offer made by Barak. I was sceptical of this claim because Arafat is not exactly a hard-liner. The Oslo Accords, for many Palestinians went too far. Anyway, this is from an article by Ron Pundak (apparently, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords):
Barak failed to grasp that from Arafat's and the Palestinian point of view, the Palestinians had already made the most important territorial concession. There, the Palestinians accepted for the first time the principle of exercising their self-determination - i.e. a Palestinian state - on only 22% of mandatory Palestine. As a result of misreading the Palestinian perspective, Barak was convinced at the outset that it would be possible to reach an agreement without territorial exchanges, and the inaccurate conclusion that the exchange could be based on less than a clear and equitable 1:1 ratio, as Prime Minister Rabin had agreed to in the Peace Agreement with Jordan in 1994. The Israeli offer at Camp David was based on a map, which included an annexation of approximately 12% without territorial compensation. Towards the end of the talks, the Americans made clear to the Palestinians that the maximal Israeli offer included an annexation of 9% and a compensation of 1%. In Camp David, Barak didn't take the necessary step to reach the desired endpoint, and the version presented in retrospect by Israeli spokespersons, claiming that Barak at Camp David offered 95% and an additional 5% in compensation, or alternatively 97% and another 3% compensation, is a form of rewriting history.

Therefore, whilst under the Oslo Accords and UN resolution 242 (both of which Israel agreed to), the Palestinians expected 100% of the occupied territories they were offered 88% with nothing in return. Robert Malley (special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001) in the New York Times put it like this:
A Palestinian state covering 91 percent of the West Bank and Gaza was more than most Americans or Israelis had thought possible, but how would Mr. Arafat explain the unfavorable 9-to-1 ratio in land swaps to his people?

Gush Shalom (who describe themselves as "the hard core of the Israeli peace movement") said, "This is no generous offer. It is a humiliating demand for surrender!"

Furthermore, Ron Pundak said:
In practice, during Netanyahu's tenure, both sides committed breaches with regard to the Agreement, but the breaches of the Israeli side were both more numerous and more substantive in nature. The Palestinians did not stop the vitriolic propaganda against Israel by radio, the printed press, television and schoolbooks; did not collthe [sic] illegal firearms; did not reach an agreement with Israel on the de facto growth of their Police Force; and did not prove that they were wholeheartedly combating fundamentalist terrorism, including the imprisonment of its activists.

Israel on its part did not implement the three stages of the second redeployment, i.e. did not leave territories which were supposed to be transferred to the Palestinians; completed only one section out of four with regard to the freeing of Palestinian prisoners; did not undertake the implementation of the safe passage which was supposed to connect the West Bank and Gaza; repeatedly delayed the permit to build the airport and maritime port in Gaza; prevented the transfer of monies belonging to the PA for extended periods of time; and continued to establish new settlements, to annex territories for new settlements and to expand existing ones.

The Palestinians were humiliated. The foot-dragging combined with the arrogance of the Israeli Government, and in particular of its Prime Minister, in their relations with the Palestinian public and its leaders, undermined their belief in the process.

And from The Guardian:
A Palestinian this week, spotting for the first time new Jewish houses on the outskirts of Jerusalem, said: 'It is like a magic wand. You go away for a few weeks and then suddenly there is a whole new place.' The Israeli government, supposedly committed to no new settlements, announced this week a further 700 new houses. The Israeli government finds it easy to keep to its commitment to build no new settlements: because there are so many already on the West Bank, all it has to do is just keep expanding existing ones.

It is against this background that Barak's 'generous' deal should be seen. The Israelis portrayed it as the Palestinians receiving 96% of the West Bank. But the figure is misleading. The Israelis did not include parts of the West Bank they had already appropriated.

The Palestine that would have emerged from such a settlement would not have been viable. It would have been in about half-a-dozen chunks, with huge Jewish settlements in between - a Middle East Bantustan. The Israeli army would also have retained the proposed Palestinian state's eastern border, the Jordan valley, for six to 10 years and, more significantly, another strip along the Dead Sea coast for an unspecified period: so much for being an independent state.

Saturday, 20 August 2005


Who would have thought that Ariel Sharon, a supporter of settlements, would be the person to evacuate them in Gaza?

That was a brave move. Mr Sharon must realise that there will be no peace in Israel until the Palestinians have their own land.

The Palestinians once occupied what is now Israel. They lost that land. Some say that they left the land voluntarily. Others say that they fled because they feared death and always intended coming back.

Why would anyone leave their home and all their possessions? Would you? You might do if you feared the alternative was death. Even then you would expect to return home eventually. The Palestinians never got that opportunity. They lost their homes and their land. They’ve never been compensated.

Despite that, during negotiations, they’ve been asking not for 100% of what they believe is theirs. They’ve asked for 22% - and successive Israeli governments quibbled with even that.

I hope Mr Sharon also evacuates the West Bank and lets the Palestinians live in a land that they can call home and govern themselves. Be generous Mr Sharon: the lives of many are in your hands. If you're tempted not to be generous, remember Jesus's words, "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me".

Then, maybe, one day it won’t seem oxymoronic to refer to some people as Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian Jews, and Palestinian Christians – as was the case before 1948.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Microsoft's dilemma

There was once a possibility that Microsoft would be split into two companies: operating system (Windows) and applications. If that had happened, Bill Gate’s would have gone with the Windows company. Windows is a valuable franchise but, more importantly, it’s Bill’s passion.

But what would happen if, to save Microsoft, Microsoft had to sacrifice Windows. How could that happen?

Up till now, games machines have been, well, just games machines. However, the next generation will have more potential. One space waiting to be grabbed is the home server/media centre market.

An affordable media centre that combined TV, DVD, programme recorder, music, browsing, and email would be very attractive. In order to combine these features, you’d need an operating system. Once you have an operating system, you might think, “Why don’t I also provide some other applications, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, video editor and drawing tool?” Very soon, you'd have quite a handy personal computer.

Soon, Playstation 3 (PS3) and Xbox 360 will be slugging it out. Rumour has it that PS3 will support multiple operating systems and might ship with Linux. If it also allows for peripherals to be added, PS3 could become an alternative to a Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) PC.

If PS3 makes a grab for the home server space, Xbox will have to follow. They will both become alternatives to Windows MCE. Microsoft could end up shipping a PC (Xbox) for the first time – a market they’ve always kept out of. With Xbox, Microsoft could also end up competing with all those PC manufacturers - like Dell.

At the moment, Microsoft are trying to have their cake and eat it. They want you to buy both a Windows MCE PC and Xbox - and connect them using Media Center Extender. But if you can do most of both with one device (PS3), why buy two computers?

Therefore, if PS3 makes a grab for the home server space, Xbox will have to follow, which will undermine the Windows franchise.

And that’s Microsoft’s dilemma.