Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bohemund, AKA "Mark"

According to Anna Comnena:-

Now [Bohemond] was such as, to put it briefly, had never before been seen in the land of the Romans [that is, Greeks], be he either of the barbarians or of the Greeks (for he was a marvel for the eyes to behold, and his reputation was terrifying). Let me describe the barbarian's appearance more particularly -- he was so tall in stature that he overtopped the tallest by nearly one cubit, narrow in the waist and loins, with broad shoulders and a deep chest and powerful arms. And in the whole build of the body he was neither too slender nor overweighted with flesh, but perfectly proportioned and, one might say, built in conformity with the canon of Polycleitus... His skin all over his body was very white, and in his face the white was tempered with red. His hair was yellowish, but did not hang down to his waist like that of the other barbarians; for the man was not inordinately vain of his hair, but had it cut short to the ears. Whether his beard was reddish, or any other colour I cannot say, for the razor had passed over it very closely and left a surface smoother than chalk... His blue eyes indicated both a high spirit and dignity; and his nose and nostrils breathed in the air freely; his chest corresponded to his nostrils and by his nostrils...the breadth of his chest. For by his nostrils nature had given free passage for the high spirit which bubbled up from his heart. A certain charm hung about this man but was partly marred by a general air of the horrible... He was so made in mind and body that both courage and passion reared their crests within him and both inclined to war. His wit was manifold and crafty and able to find a way of escape in every emergency. In conversation he was well informed, and the answers he gave were quite irrefutable. This man who was of such a size and such a character was inferior to the Emperor alone in fortune and eloquence and in other gifts of nature.

Sounds more like a chancer & psycho to me..

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ladies of the World

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sceptic challenges guru to kill him live on TV

Thanks to Colin Jenkins for this lovely story

From The Times Online

"When a famous tantric guru boasted on television that he could kill another man using only his mystical powers, most viewers either gasped in awe or merely nodded unquestioningly. Sanal Edamaruku’s response was different. “Go on then — kill me,” he said.

Mr Edamaruku had been invited to the same talk show as head of the Indian Rationalists’ Association — the country’s self-appointed sceptic-in-chief. At first the holy man, Pandit Surender Sharma, was reluctant, but eventually he agreed to perform a series of rituals designed to kill Mr Edamaruku live on television. Millions tuned in as the channel cancelled scheduled programming to continue broadcasting the showdown, which can still be viewed on YouTube."

Watch it yourself here:-

Episode 1

Episode 2

episode 3

Friday, March 19, 2010

Buy This

Merantau Warrior is now available to pre-order from Amazon - I insist you buy a copy.

(nothing to do with the fact that my boss's brother made it)

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Fatwa I can agree with

From the BBC:-

An Islamic scholar turned up in London last week to deliver a religious ruling denouncing terrorism in all its forms - but what was it about him that made everyone sit up and listen?

He's a man on a mission - a mission to state the obvious.

But for Dr Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri it is the obvious facts that need stating loudest. Last week the Pakistani-born cleric took to a stage in London to declare his Islamic religious ruling, or fatwa, against terrorism.

There was a man from the other side of the world telling an audience that included Parliamentarians and other government officials what they had been wanting to hear. A clear, concise and quotable denouncement of al-Qaeda's worldview.

Canada-based Dr Qadri spoke for more than an hour on his reasons why the Koran forbids the murder and mayhem of suicide bombings.

If [the child] he has reached the stage where he is a terrorist, the parents are duty bound according to Islamic law to inform the anti-terrorist squad
Dr Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri

"This fatwa is an absolute condemnation of terrorism. Without any excuse, without any pretext, without any exceptions, without creating any ways of justification," he said.

"This condemnation is in its totality, in its comprehensiveness, its absoluteness, a total condemnation of every act of terrorism in every form which is being committed or has been committed wrongly in the name of Islam."

Classically trained

Dr Qadri is a classically-trained Islamic scholar and his organisation, Minhaj ul-Quran International, has spent 30 years building a strong following in Pakistan.

He is also a former Parliamentarian who was very close to Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister assassinated by a suicide bomber in 2007.

Some two years on, Dr Qadri's vast review of what Islam says about terrorism comes down to the very simple idea that there is no theological or moral case for a wronged party being allowed to seek vengeance against the innocent.

His fatwa makes detailed observations of the principles of a just war and rules of engagement. And he goes further than some scholars in stating that bombers who use an ideology to justify their actions have turned away from their faith.

His arrival in the UK was a quite deliberate attempt to shake things up. The youth, he says, need more help to counter the brainwashers. But in saying so, the fatwa became political.

Its launch was notable not just for who was there from the corridors of power, but who wasn't from the Muslim communities.

Supporters from communities close to his own background turned out. But the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, the umbrella body representing 500 groups, sent apologies. Some of the scholars who had signed a fatwa led by the MCB against terrorism after the 7 July attacks, were not there either.

Community fault lines

Dr Qadri's intervention in the UK has exposed complicated fault lines in the Muslim communities that often go unseen. Some people in the MCB are suspicious of his motives. One Muslim campaign group close to the MCB, iEngage, accused Dr Qadri of sectarianism. He denies trying to stir things up.

The dome of a mosque in the UK
Hearts and minds: Communities divided over how to tackle extremists

"I have never been sectarian in my life. Never, ever," he says.

"I have helped Christians to celebrate Christmas. But that liberal point of view is not acceptable to [some Muslim groups in the UK].

"They talk about openness and integration but what do they really believe in? The language of the heart and the language of the mouth are different. "

Dr Qadri goes on to criticise scholars whom he believes are equivocal over violence in Israel or any other situation where they claim there are exceptions that make suicide bombing permissible.

He reserves special ire for scholars who argue that there the West is part of a "sphere of war," calling them "quacks" who have understood neither Islamic history, nor how to interpret the present.

But the real question is whether anyone is listening? Can a son on the edge of turning to al-Qaeda be brought back by his family?

"If he has reached the stage where he is a terrorist, the parents are duty bound according to Islamic law to inform the anti-terrorist squad," he says banging his point home on the table.

"If he is at the stage where he can be reformed, then they should take every possible act to reform him."

Countering extremism

But almost five years on from London's 7/7 attacks, in which 52 people died, there is no settled view on how to do it.

Government has put a lot of effort into backing groups like the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank led by two former members of a legal Islamist movement.

There are separate programmes involving the police and Security Service which deal with people right on the cusp. It uses a variety of methods - but some experts believe the best results come from deploying hardline Saudi-influenced clerics who have the street credibility to mentor a youngster while demolishing al-Qaeda's arguments.

Special programme to turn around people identified as 'potentially vulnerable to violent extremism'
228 referrals April 07 - Dec 08
Youngest seven-years-old
Oldest 50-years-old
Most between 15 and 24
Source: Home Office/Hansard

There is tension between the two camps - because there are a great deal of people who see hardline clerics as part of the conveyor belt that ultimately leads to terrorism.

But both sides at least agree that they need a proper "toolkit" of theological arguments.

"If someone is going to be a suicide bomber, they have to be 100% convinced that they are going to heaven," says Maajid Nawaz, co-director of the Quilliam Foundation. "If you can put just 1% of doubt in their minds, then you could stop them. And you do that that by presenting them with detailed evidences from Islam itself. This fatwa helps."

That's not an argument that washes with everyone.

Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian academic based in London, infamously became a tabloid hate figure by supporting suicide bombing in Israel because it was the only means of self-defence available. He is less well known for the critical role he played in helping the police bring down the now-jailed preacher Abu Hamza.

"People who resort to these bombings do it because they believe it is justified, that it is commendable and rewardable," he says. "Otherwise they would not do it. For every fatwa there is a counter fatwa."

Amid all this fatwa flashing, many Muslims fear divide and rule - and suspect that someone, somewhere will use Dr Tahir ul-Qadri to further that agenda.

The scholar sees this as the signs of paranoia brought on by a weakness - and his answer is to expand his organisation's mission in the UK beyond its 10 mosques and 5,000 members.

So will Dr Qadri's fatwa do some good or end up on the great big pile of similar denouncements?

An hour after he delivered his address, the former leader of al-Muhajiroun, a group recently banned for extremism, turned up at the doorstep of a news channel and asked to go on air to counter Dr Qadri.

Would he have bothered if the scholar was such an irrelevance in the battle for hearts and minds?

Kevin Foster - Son of Ponzi

Will Ponzi schemes ever die out?
Not until stupid people and greed die out.
There seems to be a lot of both in Llanelli.

From The Motley fool :-

Kevin Foster, the man behind KF Concept, is convicted of deception and theft.

Kevin Foster, an ex-cab driver who turned his hand to ambitious investment schemes, has this week been convicted of 14 counts of theft and deception.

Harrow Crown Court heard how Foster, through his 'KF Concept' roadshow, promised investors that he had a foolproof gambling and multi-level marketing system, claiming that for every £1 invested he made £28.50, and that his scheme was sitting on a fortune of over £203m.

It all started back in 2001, when Foster launched a football betting scheme, initially taking bet money from his work colleagues, and promising a five-for-one return in two years.

As the scheme expanded, Foster, in classic Ponzi style, used stake money from newcomers to pay handsome returns to some of the earlier members, while at the same time encouraging them to re-invest their winnings back into the scheme -- a tactic that he was to repeat successfully in the coming years.


Foster soon took his investment scheme public, embarking on a series of flamboyant roadshows held in hotels and conference centres across the UK. Foster would appear on stage, accompanied by loud music (often Abba's "Money, Money, Money"), boasting of his sky-high returns. The highlight of each presentation came when Foster would pick the names of early investors out of a hat, and reward them by paying out their promised returns early, and often doubling them.

Foster deliberately targeted low-income people, many in small communities in South Wales, making his trademark fivefold return promise if they coughed up a minimum of £1,000.

Seeing all the cash being handed out at his roadshows, and early investors winning cars (or the loan of Foster's Ferrari Spyder), assuaged the suspicions of thousands of people, who handed over an average of £4,200 each.

By the time the Financial Services Authority (the FAS) stepped in and halted the scheme in 2004, Foster had taken in around £34m from more than 8,500 victims. Foster was declared bankrupt, and his investors lost everything.

According to a BBC report, one investor in South Wales who, unsurprisingly, didn't want to be identified, mortgaged his house and maxed out his credit cards to raise £180,000 to invest -- and lost the lot.

The extent of the damage

About £12m of the money had gone into an illegal pyramid selling scheme, Planline, reportedly based in the Cayman Islands, but only £1,700 ever came back from it.

The Serious Fraud Office (the SFO) took over the case, and in 2007 Foster was charged. During the trial, it emerged that Foster had been living an extravagant lifestyle, paying himself and his associates very large sums from KF Concept's funds.

He had spent over £600,000 on a farm near Sittingbourne in Kent, which he stocked with all sorts of exotic animals. A sum of £700,000 had also gone on fancy cars, and it is estimated that Foster withdrew a total of around £3m from the scheme in cash.

Following the convictions, the director of the SFO commented "I am very pleased with this verdict. This was a very complex investigation and the SFO was determined to bring justice for the many victims who lost their hard earned savings to this Ponzi scheme. I would like to thank colleagues from Kent Police and the FSA who helped us with our investigation."

Foster has been remanded in custody until April 16 pending pre-sentencing and psychiatric reports, and could be jailed for up to 7 years. Many of his victims will take a lot longer to recover.

Learn the lessons

Despite my having read many tales of investment fraud over the years, two things never fail to surprise me. One is that people continue to believe such promises of fabulous riches. And in the main they're just ordinary folk like you and me -- as the investor who got stung for £180,000 said, "I never thought that I was stupid, but I was convinced by him, and thousands of others were too."

The other is that the perpetrators actually think they can get away with it -- FSA and SFO investigations are necessarily complex and can take quite some time, but as we have seen this week, they eventually get their man.

There will be plenty of new schemes like this in the future, and thousands of perfectly sensible people who are around today -- some perhaps even reading this -- will be conned. Please, don't let it be you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Buena Vista Social Club - Chan Chan

A memory for Kim. El Morro, Havana 2000.
And a testiment to the genius of the late Compay Segundo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Episode 6

That's 6 of 12 according to VBS. I'll post the rest as they are released.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Episode 5

Monday, March 08, 2010

Episode 4

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Episode 3

Thanks to VBS.TV

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Episode 2

Swansea Love Story

or go to VBS.TV here

Friday, March 05, 2010

Episode 1

Swansea Love Story

Thanks to Nick for the heads up on this one. I'll serialise it over the next few days. Poignant stuff.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

OK Go - This Too Shall Pass - RGM version

Young Harcombe is into a vein of solid gold at the mo.
Superb stuff