Opinion

Inside the Sunshine Gulag

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Allegations of corruption and murder are rocking California‘s penal system.

Khem Singh was little more than a shrivelled skeleton when he died of starvation in early February while on hunger strike in California‘s notorious Corcoran State Prison. The 72 year old Sikh priest, who spoke almost no English, had been given a draconian 23-year sentence in 2001 for ’inappropriately touching a young girl‘.

Although he had been on hunger strike for weeks, and had shrunken to less than 80 pounds, prison staff failed to monitor Singh‘s decline or move him into intensive care. Guards told a reporter that they ’didn‘t notice that the prisoner was wasting away‘.

Developing Neoliberals

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My enemy‘s enemy is not always my friend.

Many activists at the World Social Forum in Mumbai were quite rightly celebrating the blow to the plans of the US and the EU at the Cancun meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). For once, the world‘s most powerful capitalist states suffered a setback in their schemes to write the agenda for the rest of the system.

My Kingdom on a Horse

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Four centuries later, Mike Gonzalez finds Don Quixote a strangely modern tragicomic hero.

’Tilting at windmills‘ - it‘s a phrase you often hear whenever people launch ferocious assaults at imaginary enemies. But perhaps not everyone remembers that the first man to charge at slowly turning sails was an elderly Spaniard wearing a pudding bowl on his head. Don Quixote was his name - and the only witness to this particular attack of lunacy was a plump peasant riding a donkey who found it impossible to convince the old man that these were not giants with flailing arms who needed to be brought down a peg or two. The reluctant witness was his squire, one Sancho Panza.

The Whites of their Lies

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A whitewash has rarely been so misjudged as Hutton‘s.

I find there are few things quite as enjoyable as watching a smug, arrogant bully having the smile wiped from his or her face. Imagine then the pleasure I‘ve had seeing a collection of smug, arrogant bullies watch in amazement as their apparent hour of vindication was greeted with indignation, disbelief and downright hostility by all but their most ardent supporters.

For that has been the tale of the shower of New Labour cabinet ministers and spin doctors, ever since the establishment lackey Hutton produced his repo... er, whitewash.

Speak Like a Blog

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The phenomenon of internet web diaries (blogs) recently hit the news through the activities of the 'Baghdad Blogger'.

Blogs are personal websites which allow a user to put regular comments, news items or stories online - rather like a public diary.

It's predicted that there will be over 5 million such sites by the time you read this.

A quick internet search puts you at the centre of the blogging community. Blogs attract readers through search engines and links from other blogs. So each blog sits at the heart of a spider's web of links to others of similar tastes or interests - forming an 'online community'.

Mind the (Imaginary) Gap

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Gordon Brown revives a Tory idea about regional pay

One of New Labour's more baffling preoccupations over the past few months has been its apparent fixation with the idea of regional pay. Exactly where the impetus for this is coming from seems a bit of a mystery, since none of the major unions have been campaigning in this direction and there hasn't really been any significant business lobby for regional pay variations either.

The Pied Piper of Vermont

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US Democrats want to use anti-war feelings to boost their ratings.

The rapidly growing list of US casualties from the invasion of Iraq now includes the names John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and Wesley Clark. Not ordinary 'grunts' but official Democratic frontrunners, they were severely wounded, if not outright killed in action, on 9 December in Harlem when Al Gore endorsed the candidacy of Howard Dean, the anti-war insurgent from Vermont.

Gore's embrace of Dean, which seemingly caught the other Democrats by complete surprise, was remarkable in at least two respects.

Music, Dreams and Desire

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Mike Gonzalez commemorates the extraordinary music of the Buena Vista Social Club.

The last time I saw Rubén González play piano he finished one tune with a visual joke: running his fingers up the keyboard, he continued beyond the edge of the piano, playing in the air. It was as if his extraordinary dexterity and skill had conquered what was there and needed some new challenges. Bumping into him a little later in a bar near the theatre, I realized how tiny he was, and how bent and arthritic his hands were. It made his artistry even more astonishing.

Oscar Wild

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Pat Stack stakes out the films likely to impress the Academy.

Usually my Xmas combines the following: overeating, which usually involves half a turkey, a whole Christmas pudding, and god knows how many mince pies; wild drinking sessions involving huge amounts of Guinness and crates of Irish whiskey; or romantic interludes (well, drunken lunges) under the mistletoe. This year, though, the new reformed me spent much time in the cinema looking for likely Oscar nominees. Here are my tips:

Count the Cost

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As the number of Iraqi casualties increases on an almost daily basis, mainstream news coverage on the web seems to be restricted to fairly simplistic reports, barely covering the real events of the war.

So it's interesting that recently Yahoo! news has included in its related links a number of surprising websites.

First, the beautifully simple www.iraqometer.com - a site with a few graphics and some startling facts, including the number of bombs dropped on Iraq (39,600), the number of Iraqi soldiers killed (11,000) and the number of billions of dollars spent (98). Of course those figures increase regularly, but one statistic doesn't change - the number of sites of WMDs (0).

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