Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Where anything goes

I saw Last King of Scotland last week, and saw Babel last night. I now know that I'm fed up of doom and gloom. The next time I go out, I want to watch a chick flick, maybe something with Lindsay Lohan. I'd like to leave my brain at the door, because it seems that when I don't, I watch these films with great unease. So much for slice of reality, I'd like an unreal Hollywood ending, a good chuckle.

The problem with watching a film like Last King of Scotland, is that you know how it ends. Just as when watching Shooting Dogs or Hotel Rwanda, we all know what eventually happens. We all know that the cheers and exhilaration that greeted the charismatic Idi Amin's rise to power will soon be severely tempered by the babarous side of Amin's persona. Without knowing anyting about post-colonial Ugandan history, it's always been that way in Africa. Africans ove the next regime more than the last. So as the characters all crack jokes, full of jovial asides, patting each other on the back in revolutionary solidarity, I sit as an audience member, tense, waiting for the inevitable to happen.

No more. I had nightmares after watching Last King of Scotland, thinking that militias were coming after me. That kind of thing just isn't good for my constitution. One reviewer on the radio call Africa's place in films "the place where anything goes". You have government brutality, government corruption, corporate corruption writ large (Constant Gardener), lawlessness. There is no redemption for the African. And to add insult to injury, Africa is still the white man's burden. Be it Constant Gardener, Blood Diamond (Dicaprio's a Rhodie though), Last King of Scotland: only the white man wants to save Africa.

Go to Africa, and you can shoot a film with everything in it. I think I've reached saturation point. I want to watch a comedy set in Africa, a romance set in Africa. Enough of the brutal dictators, genocides, corrupt governments, corrupt people, let's see a human story. Let's see a lightening of the dark continent.

Last King of Scotland is still a good story. Forest Whitaker should win an Oscar for it. His protrayal of Amin as a charming, yet brutal man is earth shattering. You can feel him lovingly clasping you in his bossom, yet you could still be crushed in that same clasp. It's a frightening place to be. The director, Kevin MacDonald captures 70s Africa with a beauty I haven't seen before. This was a continent full of hope. The decrepit thieving postcolonial presidents had been replaced by idealistic military regimes - so everyone thought. Only for the yoke of military rule to crush the spirit of a continent even more forcefully. The music is before my time, but still nostalgic. Buy it!

Babel. Babel. Babel. Alejandro González Iñárritu's last film in the "death trilogy" (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, the first two), is a painful film. There are moments of touching poignance, such as the wedding scene in Mexico (they were spraying money!), the peeing scene (watch to see what I mean), even the knickerless terrorism (no spoilers here). But none of these detract from the pain of miscommunication. How often have you travelled somewhere and you have trouble explaining to the waiter that you'd like the beef well done, not slightly mooing? Now think of a life and death situation, think of preconceived prejudices, and you have Babel. We all spoke the same language, we tried to build a tower to the heavens, God scattered us for our audacity, and now we miscommunicate in a variety of ways.

The doom and gloom is enough to almost make me want to watch a Nollywood home video, but not quite.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Happy Birthdays

A few weeks ago, I had an argument with a Nigerian friend of mine about extravagance. One of the things she loves about Nigerians, is that, "if a Nigerian has money, you will know they have money". Basically, she likes the fact that Nigerians are one of the most showy, opulent people in the world. I don't. There's never any need to show the whole world what your bank balance is. It's not what civilised people do. Yes, terribly British, I know.

I've thought about what she said, and I guess I'm more Nigerian than I think. I'm known for wearing African shirts - in a European country. This would be seen as extravagant by any tiny stretch of the imagination, yet I cringe at thinking that I'm extravagant. What the shirts attempt to betray though, is a certain flamboyance, rather than extravagance. There is a difference, and this is where I part ways with money shower offers. The shirts I wear are quite cheap when you compare them the badge of honour TM Lewin, and Thomas Browne. Or should that be Thomas Pink?

It is the idea that what I'm wearing is somehow indicative of how much money I have which sticks in the throat. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that I can be sussed out as loaded from the shirt on my back. I do agree that Nigerians are flamboyant, but this doesn't always have to mean show offy. There's a distinct difference, and that's the crux of my argument. I can hear all my friends bellowing that I'm only carping because I don't exactly have Oprah's bank balance.

Which brings me finely onto the topic of the post - kids' birthdays in Nigeria. When I was growing up, there was always a feeling of one upmanship with regard to birthday parties. Did you go to Uche's tenth birthday party? They had Ken and Barbie dolls in the party pack, they must have spent so much money. Wole, from now until your birthday party, we'll eat just two meals a day. I refuse to be disgraced as the only mother who couldn't put Transformers robots in the party pack. Every gathering becomes an ode to "mine's bigger than yours", a kind of penis envy for parents.

Naturally, the greatest cardinal sin of all is the first birthday party. All the bambinos sleep through the whole thing, sucking on dummies, or dazed wondering what all the fuss is about. Meanwhile, the parents are dancing the night away, spraying (abusing) naira like it's 1999. It's supposed to be a day dedicated to the children, but instead becomes an ode to parental extravagance. Why? We couldn't possibly let the Adeyemis, Okonkwos, or the Abdulahis get one up on us.

Whenever children's birthday parties are planned, the people furthest from the parents minds are the children themselves. How will this make me look. Imagine my shock, and I suppose, slightl elation at finding out that this disease isn't exclusvely Nigerian. Americans are also afflicted. (Then again, it is America, land of the bigger is better). Listening to this item on the Today programme made me wonder about my Nigerian prejudices. I wondered if I judged Nigeria too harshly for sins that are universal, and not particularly unique to Nigeria, but which I sometimes insist is a thoroughly Nigerian ailment. I thought, " I should lay off Nigeria for a while, we're not the worst people in the world". And then I thought, nah...
Image from Anne Karinglass.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Blood and oil in the creeks

The new issue (February) of Vanity Fair has a monumental article on militants in the Niger Delta. Dammie, thanks for the heads up. Sebastian Junger paints a picture filled with colour, light, shade, pain, and anger:

On June 23, 2005, a group of high-ranking government officials were convened in a ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., to respond to a simulated crisis in the global oil supply. The event was called "Oil ShockWave," and it was organized by public-interest groups concerned with energy policy and national security. Among those seated beneath a wall-size map of the world were two former heads of the C.I.A., the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The scenario they were handed was this:

Civil conflict breaks out in northern Nigeria—an area rife with Islamic militancy and religious violence—and the Nigerian Army is forced to intervene. The situation deteriorates, and international oil companies decide to end operations in the oil-rich Niger River delta, resulting in a loss of 800,000 barrels a day on the world market. Since Nigerian oil is classified as "light sweet crude," meaning that it requires very little refining, this makes it a particularly painful loss to the American market. Concurrently, in this scenario, a cold wave sweeping across the Northern Hemisphere boosts global demand by 800,000 barrels a day. Because global oil production is already functioning at close to maximum capacity (around 84 million barrels a day), small disruptions in supply shudder through the system very quickly. A net deficit of almost two million barrels a day is a significant shock to the market, and the price of a barrel of oil rapidly goes to more than $80. Read more...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bigot Brother coverage

The best understanding of the Big Brother racism furore - that I've seen - is from This Week, last night. Apparently, there'll be no eviction crowd tonight. Watch:

Question Time debate last night:

Newsnight debate from Wednesday:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bigot Brother

For that's what the media in India are calling Celebrity Big Brother, after Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty, (pictured, right) faced off with Jade Goody and the goons (2bit pop star, Jo O'Meara, and WAG, Danielle Lloyd). The only excuse for not knowing anything about the race row caused by Celebrity Big Brother is that you're stuck on Mars without internet, radio or tv signal. More than 20,000 complaints have been lodged with Channel 4 and Ofcom, most newspapers lead on it today, the issue was raised at Prime Minister's Questions, effigies of Channel 4 producers were burnt in India (quite how they know what C4 execs look like, I don't know), Gordon Brown has had his economic growth trip to India overshadowed by questions about Jade Goody's exemplary manners. It's been extraordinary.

I was always reluctant to get into this debate for the simple reason that charges of racism are difficult to prove. There's a very thin line between outright rudeness, hatred and racism; but quite often they are two sides to the same coin. It never seems as if feeling racially victimised is enough to cry racism, I tend to need something overt. "Black bastard", "nig-nog", these are blatantly racist, and you'd be applauded for headbutting anyone who addressed you in those terms. But we live in different times where that kind of racism isn't acceptable anymore.

Basically, the feelings of racism remain, but the methods of expressing the racist feelings change. Instead of "black bastard", you just say "bitch", with the same vitriol and intention of wanting to say "black bastard". Like I said, I wasn't sure what to make of it, whether it was racism. However watch the footage or read the transcript, and you're left in little doubt that racism is indeed an element.

Do you know what many people are saying? That what's happening in the Big Brother House just shows Britain what we've always known - that racism is alive and well in Britain. The subplot, though, is probably a class thing. Germaine Greer tried to make that point in the Guardian earlier this week. Class is definitely still an issue in Britain, throw in race into the mix, and you have a powder keg ready to go off.

Something worse than Jade Goody's braying, however, is the reaction of C4's chairman, Luke Johnson. Listen to him being questioned on the Today programme.

Monday, January 15, 2007

In an ideal world

In an ideal world, every pregnancy would be planned, and no foetuses would be aborted. Seventeen year old girls wouldn't hesistate to tell their mothers that they're not the virgins their mothers think they are, and that in fact, they're carrying a living being within them. All men who get women pregnant would accept responsibility and do what it takes to raise a child. They wouldn't threaten to deny paternity, and they wouldn't abandon their pregnant young partners.

In an ideal world, sexually active couple who don't want children will use contraception. The pill, condoms, IUDs, diaphragms, would all be used. In an ideal world, every pregnancy would be wanted. In an ideal world, there wouldn't be any need for abortions.

In an ideal world butterflies would skip the caterpillar phase, and tadpoles would remain cute, and not transform into frogs. But this isn't an ideal world, is it?

On last week's Crossing Continents, Rosie Goldsmith goes to Ghana to hear harrowing stories of women who've had back street abortions. The first girl she talks to is Gloria, bright and articulate. There is no reason in the world why someone like that should have a back street abortion. I don't think anyone in this world "believes" in abortion. It's just that some of these stories make the mind boggle. Please listen.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


It wasn't really ever going to happen, was it?

My sex post

Coming soon... Being written...

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Excuse me while I slit my wrist - Berti Vogts is going to be Nigeria's manager. This is not a rumour, this is real. Vogts is the worst kind of football manager, a German one (with the exception of Klinsmann), which means boring dour football. I'd rather play beautiful football and lose, than play soporific football and win. Damn you NFA!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Secularism, fundamentalism, religion

The Guardian is ostensibly a secular non-religious newspaper. In the past week though, it has given voice to people decrying the loss of a moral compass on the Left, and an article championing the cause of religion. Neal Lawson writes from the perspective of an atheist, while Tobias Jones expounds on the view that the secularists are the new extremists. As someone who believes in God, but also wishes that Western liberal democracy need not clash with religion, these are lucid supportive articles.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Do unto others

It's understandable that one of OBJ's former rottweilers (also known as the Elite Spokespersons Brigade), Femi Fani-Kayode, is looking out for his people. He took over from Babalola Borishade after the ADC crash which killed the Sultan of Sokoto in October. Since then, he's set about clearing the dirty filthy stable that is the Nigerian aviation ministry. But his latest diatribe is a bit of a shot in the dark.

Mr Fani-Kayode wants British airlines to stop being rude to Nigerian customers! Are you kidding me? We always complain that we're being treated like dirt by the airlines. There was a time I was convinced that we didn't just get the worst service, but also the worst aircraft. But you know what? If we behave like cattle, we can only expect to be treated like cattle. Nigerians deserve every electric prod, every scolding, every mistreatment they receive at airports.

No doubt, the enlightened ones will carp on about how they're civilised and they shouldn't be treated badly simply because their compatriots are acting like prats. Anyone who's ever travelled to Nigeria knows the drill. Passengers don't wait until Nigeria to "behave like Nigerians", they flip mode at Heathrow Terminal 3. The simple matter of weighing luggage becomes akin to buying £10 worth of cow leg - put a bit more, take off some, shave a bit on the side. Because you're going to Nigeria, people suddenly start claiming that you're related to them, and could you please take this to my grandfather in Adamwa. They meet you at the airport with a small fridge stuffed with Primark clothes and Tesco plastic bags.

Then you go to counter and start pleading with them to allow you carry two pieces of luggage weighing 38kg each for free, when the allowance is and has always been 32kg. You're one person. The heavily made up woman behind the till smiles through the ordeal. Then she realises she has to deal with nearly 300 people with similarly outrageous claims. There are people arguing about who arrived first and, "madam, lemme just pass through this side". Which Nigerian in the UK calls another Nigerian "madam"?

If the plane - by some miracle - is exactly on time, the air stewards have to contend with a babelic cacophony of loud languages. And then there is the fisticuffs. I remember a fight nearly breaking once on a transit flight at the airport in Accra, shortly before taking off for Lagos. "I will beat you here, this is not Europe oh!" The passengers land at their final destination, and before the planes stops taxiing, before the lights saying "keep seat belts fastened" are switched off, people are up and about and getting their luggage out. And Mr Fani-Kayode wants BA and Virgin to be polite to this lot?

People who work in airlines tend to be the most patient of people. It takes a lot to push an airline employee to the limit. If you rub someone up the wrong way at 30,000ft, the consequences could be dire. It's good that our minister of aviation is finally taking an interest in passenger welfare, even though I have this silly idea that keeping them alive is slightly more important.

These BA and Virgin employees are a product of Nigerian influence. They probably now have the ability to "flip mode" when in a Nigerian environment. Believe me, they don't treat other African airlines as badly as they do Nigeria. We should do unto Virgin and British Airways, as we would have them do unto us.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Thank you, Oprah?

No doubt you guys have heard of Oprah Winfrey's "philanthropy" - her building and supervision of a £20m school in Cape Town. I'm not quite sure what to make of this news. I should be happy that someone is investing in education on the African continent, which has the lowest literacy rates in the world. But it's also a shame that whenever someone makes what seems like a generous gesture, one has to search for the pinches of salt that inevitably come with it.

I'm very keen on African Americans rediscovering Africa. It is, after all, the only place on the planet where they won't be minorities. A place they can call their own. Home. A country like Nigeria should be the Mecca, the Medina, and the Jerusalem for people who want to dig into their past. If you look at where most of the slaves originated, they came from the western and central coast of Africa - from Senegal down to Angola. A small number were taken from south-east coast of the continent, where modern day Mozambique is.

African Americans who want to bond with the land of their ancestors should go to these areas. But they all seem to gravitate towards South Africa, hence Oprah starting a school just outside Joburg. I seem to remember that Will Smith was house-hunting in South Africa, not too long ago. When Dave Chappelle had his troubles, he ran away to South Africa. Even those leftist militant rappers, Dead Prez, who one might have thought more egalitarian, went to SA first.

What is this obsession with SA, which they have very few ties to? There are two reasons. The civil rights movement in the US has parallels with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. People of African origin were fighting for fair treatment in both places, one was as a minority population, and the other as a majority population. This kinship is understandable, the blood, sweat, and tears of wrestling for freedom is enough to bind these two peoples together. I hope this is where it ends, and it isn't a case of brotherhood in being victms. A "both our lives are crap" mentality.

The second reason is more grating than the first. These people choose SA because it is convenient. This a country that visitors describe as Europe in Africa, another continent, developed country. African Americans who choose South Africa can eat their cake and have it too. They can do they whole "back to the Motherland" thing, but still live in New York city and Hamptons luxury. They don't have to deal with the reality of Africa as it is today - full of war, poverty, starvation, disease, flood, desertification, deforestation, corruption. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse live in Africa, they just visit the other places.

Why would African Americans want to experience all this in foreign climes when they can just go to any number of their neighbourhoods. Many of you will remember a scene in Farenheit 9/11, where Michael Moore goes to his hometown of Flint in Michigan and speaks to some young people. One of them says something along the lines of, "many of these places (in Iraq) look like our neighbourhoods, and there isn't even a war here." SA gives its African American visitors a tolerable sense of what Africa is like.

South Africa has one of the highest levels of literacy in Africa, it isn't the country most desperately in need of Oprah's charity. This year, the South African government spent £6bn on education, and spends a higher percentage of its GDP on education than China and India. £20m for just one school is admirable, but seems to be excessive. It appears even more excessive when one consider's that such a budget would educate huge swathes of the continent. I agree that the price is probably a weak argument, but it still sits uncomfortably with me.

After all is said and done, Oprah is helping her Africa, but her methods and motives stick in the throat.

Interview with Gavin Esler on Newsnight:

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Brooms and Yards

PDP presidential nominee, and possibly president elect, Umaru Yar'Adua, has declared that should he become president, his administration will continue the war on corruption in Nigeria. All well and good. He might want to start sweeping his own yard, with Goodluck Jonathan's wife being investigated for money laundering. I have an mp3 of the interview, but I can't find any youtube or google video type resources to embed it on the page.

Thanks Nilla, but webjay and upload people were all convoluted and annoying. So, I've slapped his picture on a video track and then put the interview on a soundtrack.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Years later

I was tagged ages ago by Naijablog, and I'm only just getting round to doing it. Yes, I am a slacker...


  • Door-to-door salesman: My first job was trying to convince people in the north of England to switch their electricity and gas supplier to N-Power. This was in the middle of summer. It was commission only, needless to say I failed. Miserably. Quit after one week.
  • Concierge: This was the first job where I earned money, and did it up until early this year in between freelancing. Basically sitting at the lobby of luxury apartments around London. Famous people whose residences I’ve worked in – Lorraine Kelly, Rod Stewart, the boy wonder - Ruth Kelly, Eddie Jordan, to name a few. Addresses available for the right price. My most remarkable incident as a concierge though, was when I had someone sectioned. Yes, sectioned under the Mental Health Act. One to blog about someday.
  • Sales assistant: Pilot clothes store, where oddly enough I modelled the clothes… Debenhams, in the home department. And you wonder why I know what a “ramekin” is.
  • Journalist: For what felt like a long time, I was an aspiring journalist. But I think that’s changed now. Twas the blog what done it…


  • actor: I’m actually a fallen actor. After A-levels, I had my mind set on drama school. My mum said to get a fall back, after all 90% of actors are out of work at any given time. My dad said to get a basic level of education, which for a Nigerian father, is apparently a university degree. While at university, I got distracted by journalism. I might still venture that way.
  • producer/rapper: Maybe not rapping so much as before. I used to refer to myself as an international rapper, after all I had performed in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, and Derby. Producer. You hear a track, and you wish you had produced it. If you want inspiration, go to itunes and download a track called “Warrant” by Bubba Sparxxx, produced by Timbaland.
  • mariachi: I have this vision in my head of being kidnapped while reporting a story. I ask my captors for a guitar, and we proceed to have Bob Marley jamming session, smoke weed, make love not war, and they let me go on my merry way. Think Michael Franti in “I know I’m not alone”.
  • Astronaut: I was obsessed with space as a kid, still am. Wanted to become an astronaut until I was about fifteen.
This is a difficult one, cos I tend to think of actors rather than films.
  • Schindler’s List: Liam Neeson and Spielberg, an unmatchable pair.
  • The Caine Mutiny: There’s something about films set at sea, the vastness of the water, the claustrophobia of the vessel.
  • Citizen Kane: Anything with Orson Welles, but this is the pick of the bunch.
  • Brighton Rock: About my beloved Brighton, and starring my former chancellor, Richard Attenborough (who I gave a bear hug at graduation)

Much like Jeremy who tagged me, I’ve lived in several L cities
  • Lagos
  • Lomé
  • Lancaster
  • London

With Brighton and Sunderland thrown in. I mention these last because apart from London, they’re all by the sea. I’d always lived less than half an hour from the sea until I moved to London.


  • Frasier: I laugh at their snobbery, and then shudder when I seem to see myself in some of their snobbery.
  • Scrubs: madcap, well directed, well acted.
  • My Family: first series was dynamite, has struggled to recover.
  • Spooks: not afraid to ask the important questions of our time. Brave writing for a spy television drama series

Honourable mentions: Hustle I have to do a special politics/current affairs section:


  • India - Madras, now Chennai: Pastries and fruit markets in unbelievable abundance, a feast for the stomach and eyes.
  • Zaire, now DR Congo – Kinshasa: The Congo divides two potentially stunning cities, Brazzaville and Kinshasa. All I remember is that I’d never seen so many flies in my life.
  • France – Nantes: where I used to go on summer camp as a young ‘un. My first proper encounter with English girls, I’ll say no more.
  • US - San Francisco: the only city in the US I’d consider living in. Haven’t been called San Francisco flower child for nothing. Even ran away to San Fran (a blog for another day).



  • plantain, with rice
  • plantain, with beans
  • plantain, with stew
  • plantain, with egg
When it comes to food, my mum calls me a bush man, and rightly so.
  • I don’t eat combinations of fruit and dairy eg: yoghurt with bits in it
    or fruit and pastry, eg: bread and jam, or pastry and dairy, eg chocolate fingers.
  • Onions: I can deal with them, provided I don’t see them. Must be blended.
  • Mushrooms: Why would anyone eat fungi?
  • Cheese: tolerable on pizza, but it is after all rotten milk…


  • Copella Apple Juice: I’ve run out.
  • Plantain: too lazy to make some.
  • Afang soup with pounded yam: It’s always waiting for me when I get back to Nigeria.
  • Chocolate sponge with custard: pure indulgence .


  • DAB digital radio
  • African shirts: as you would expect – I think more than half my wardrobe is now African shirts…
  • Poster that came with the flat: says, “Théatre du Chat Noir” – Theatre of the Black Cat
  • Disposable camera: with undeveloped film from two years ago. They don’t call me king of procrastination for nothing.


  • Lubricant: for those times when one’s desperate; to fix creaking doors :-)
  • Climate control: as opposed to cook or freeze radiator.
  • Surround sound system: to listen to The Roots and The Police.
  • Blinds which actually keep the lights out: for those days spent sleeping after night shifts.


  • Marksy and Sparksy boxers.
  • Some facial hair.
  • Lots of proper hair on head.
  • And a bit of body hair.


  • For some weird reason, I’d like to be in Iceland. I wish I knew why.


  • Fraggle Rock.


  • Jesus Christ: Where's your arm Lord? On my plate? The pastor did say it was your body, but I didn't think it would literally be...
  • Scarlett Johansson: I’m only having dinner with you for your “mind”. Don’t get any ideas missy.
  • Yar’Adua and Goodluck: So, how many people did you bribe?
  • Osama bin Laden: Mr bin Laden, I brought you a peace pipe, wanna smoke?


  • I really should get to bed, it’s 6am
  • Did it really take me two months to do this?
  • I could do with some cereal
  • I hope people don’t read this and think I’m delirious. But I am. Except, I’m trying to hide it. And failing.


  • My mama: I’m a mama’s boy, unashamedly.
  • Lip balm: Can’t live without it.
  • Rooney: not that Rooney, the other one.
  • Plantain: has always been there for me.


Who says romance is dead?

I've been off work since Thursday, for what feel like an eternity. And I suppose it is, when I consider how much I've worked over the past couple of months. It's given me a chance to catch up on my reading, as I can read for pleasure rather than for work. I've been indulging myself with magzines, books, and with Saddam Hussein's execution I've been going through three newspapers a day.

David Aaronovitch started the new year with a sublime column on the Saddam's death. The juxtaposition with a Japanese prisoner is a masterstroke. And the column becomes even more poignant if you know that he supported the US/UK invasion of Iraq. He has since become mollified in his views about the war, and this article seems to be his most contrite. Read and bleed...

Yesterday's Guardian had several stories which tug at the heart strings. For me, one in particular stood out, that of Carl Carter. When I started reading it, I needed to do a number one desperately, but I clutched my bladder and read till the very end. I admire his guts. I'd like to think I was capable of doing what he did, but I'm lazy, and my liver would fail me. Read and weep...

Monday, January 01, 2007

No monsters, only men

When Saddam Hussein was executed, people were quick to look at his last moments as a sign of a broken man. It was too quick a judgement. When the video filmed on a mobile phone was released, it showed that despite attempts to send him to the gallows in disgrace, he died with dignity. His big gob rattled on until the very end. Some translations have him saying, "Do you consider this bravery?" and other translations, "Do you consider this manly behaviour?" He was asking his tormentors whether they were being macho in their behaviour by kicking a man as he was about to literally fall through the trapdoor.

Saddam Hussein was a brute, in every sense of the word. A man who could never be forgiven for his actions. He was a butcher, a butcher of men, hands stained with the blood of millions. But he was a man no less. The Observer's Peter Beaumont has written a painfully balanced take on his life. Was Saddam a monster? No, he was a man. He was capable of compassion, capable of empathy.

The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch has an interview with Robert Ellis who looked after Saddam for two years while the former dictator was in US custody. In his last years, he watered weeds, members of the plant kingdom that everyone hates. He saved his own food to feed birds. And when Ellis was leaving, he called him "brother". These are not the things we automatically associate with madmen - rather this was a man devoid of the burden of plotting wars, or plotting genocidal campaigns. This was a farm boy from Al-Awja, Tikrit, unsulllied by some of the apocalyptic horsemen who torment the city. Here was a simple man.

But whenever a state executes a man, he's stripped of redeeming features. For if heaven forbid, he's portrayed as a man, it might a bit more difficult to kill him. Such people have to be dehumanised. He has got to be the only person in the world who isn't refered to as Mister. Perhaps it's because he wasn't a military man like Pinochet, but the reasons appear to be long and complicated.

On the night he was executed, a group of us had a debate about capital punishment. I am against it. Not because I believe the worst of humankind should be spared the indignity of state execution, but for our own dignity. We, the judge, jury, and executioner. We are the ones who need to preserve our own nobility by not killing people. What has killing Saddam gained the world? One less mouth to feed maybe, but other than that - nothing. Is it ever possible for capital punishment to be seen as anything loftier than state sanctioned revenge? I think not. When we were growing up, most of our parents told us not to hit back. Turn the other cheek. Revenge is for the Lord. But even one of the mot theocratic governments in the world, the US government, is in favour of the death penalty.

It's 2007, but it might as well be Middle Ages. Firing Squad, Hanging, Lethal Injection, Electric Chair, Guillotine. What's the difference?

Bonne Année

Happy New Year!