For a man whose economic policies had once again been stolen by the government, George Osborne looked unusually cheery as he delivered the opposition response to the pre-Budget report on Tuesday. Alistair Darling had brazenly claimed as his own the Tories’ new ideas: raising the inheritance tax threshold, an airline levy and taxing foreign financiers. But to the shadow chancellor, this theft represented victory.
BasraNo one’s elected him, he flourished as an army officer under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and by the strict standards set by Washington’s neoconservative ideologues for turning Iraq into a beacon of Western democracy, General Mohan al-Furayji, the Iraqi commander in charge of Basra, should have no role to play in the country’s reconstruction after decades of misrule.Yet talk to anyone in Basra, whether Shia militiamen, Sunni tradesmen or British infantrymen, and all you hear is praise for the uncompromising way in which the new strongman of Basra has managed to impose something approaching order on a city that until recently was a byword for inter-factional Shia strife.
The author’s arrest while investigating Chinese prisonsA crowd of faeces-stained, starving figures with haunted eyes stared at us from behind the bars. Some looked cold and wet, as if they had been hosed down with water. Most of them were old, and some handicapped. They began wailing and pleading with us. ‘Let us out!’ they sobbed. ‘This is a prison!’ They showed us one ragged woman. ‘Look at this.
Archaeology in north-eastern Syria was once a poor relation to the great sites that lie to the south and over the Iraqi border. Southern Mesopotamia is long established as the area that shows the urban roots of advanced civilisation. Ur may or may not be Abraham’s birthplace but by the 3rd millennium bc it was certainly the centre of a sophisticated court society. Nineveh, lying adjacent to modern Mosul, rivals — and may surpass — Ur in antiquity and was an Assyrian centre by the end of the 2nd millennium bc.
RangoonThe first few rows were taken up by the more ostentatiously pious of the congregation, elderly women mostly and a few schoolgirls wearing last year’s Holy Communion dresses. To their left, sitting in front of a statue of the Virgin, was a phalanx of nuns wearing the starched and forbidding habits long ago abandoned by their trendier sisters in the Western world. Behind them sat middle-aged husbands and wives, the latecomers and the doubters, and your correspondent, sweaty and portly and dressed unbecomingly in T-shirt and shorts, the necessary uniform of the foreign reporter posing as a tourist in totalitarian Burma.
The great thing about the Intelligence2 debates is their vitality, pace and compression. A week-long seminar couldn’t have covered as much ground as we traversed in 100 minutes on Tuesday night. The motion ‘We should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of Western values’ was proposed by the author Ibn Warraq. He contrasted the West’s openness and flexibility with the ossified ‘closed book’ culture of Islam.
Last week Prince Albert II, ruler of the tiny Mediterranean state of Monaco since his father’s death in 2005, came to London to unveil his vision for the principality. The playboy of the gossip columns was nowhere to be seen: on display at a press conference at the Ritz hotel was a softly spoken, Amherst-educated, 49-year-old man with a plan. Using words such as ‘turnover’ rather than ‘GDP’, the Prince made it quite clear that the oldest luxury brand in Europe is under new ownership, and that its new CEO plans to develop it with all the skill and science of the private equity generation.
There was a strange non sequitur in Jack Straw’s latest policy announcement. The Justice Secretary revealed that inciting hatred of homosexuals would soon be a crime punishable by seven years in prison. And justifying the legislation, he said this: ‘It is a measure of how far we have come as a society in the last ten years that we are now appalled by hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality.