Saturday, 29 September 2007


Thai police have seized copies of the August issue of Cute magazine, branding its glamour photographs 'obscene'. The magazine specialises in erotic photography, though it is careful to avoid frontal nudity. The police ban doesn't appear to have been very successful, though, because the magazine is still available at Media Network (Robinson Ratchada) and Squeeze (Siam Paragon) in Bangkok.


Friday, 28 September 2007

Graphic Design

Graphic Design: A New History
Join Your Country's Army!
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?
Graphic Design: A New History, by Stephen J Eskilson, is perhaps the only serious rival to Philip Meggs's A History Of Graphic Design. Eskilson is the only author, apart from Meggs, to produce a comprehensive history of graphic design from the earliest printing presses to the present day. The book's publisher, Laurence King, has previously published a number of definitive histories of various artistic fields: A History Of Interior Design, Photography: A Cultural History, History Of Modern Design, A World History Of Architecture, and A World History Of Art.

Eskilson's scope is slightly narrower than Meggs's, though arguably this is to Eskilson's advantage, as he is able to discuss case-studies in more detail. For instance, he devotes several pages to the tactics utilised by recruitment posters during World War I, including the classic Herbert Kitchener poster by Alfred Leete, and Savile Lumley's "most famous picture of emasculation ever made... Lumley's poster, especially the shamefaced visage of the emasculated patriarch, is a masterpiece of bullying propaganda".

Meggs is less engaging than Eskilson, though his bibliography is more extensive. Both books are lavishly illustrated, though Eskilson's photographs benefit from their larger reproductions.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


Arifur Rahman, a Bangladeshi cartoonist, has been jailed following publication of a cartoon in which a boy calls his cat "Mohammed cat". Rahman's cartoon appeared yesterday in Aalpin, a supplement of the newspaper Prothom Alo.

Hunden I Konsten

Lars Vilks has portrayed Mohammed as a 'rondellhund' ('roundabout dog', a stylised canine sculpture which appears on Swedish roundabouts) in a series of drawings. They were removed from the Hunden I Konsten exhibition in Tallberg, Sweden, on the opening day. The reason given was that the drawings, like the Danish cartoon caricatures of Mohammed, were too provocative.


Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Thaksin, Where Are You?

Thaksin, Where Are You?
Sunisa Lertpakawat's book Thaksin, Where Are You? has been an instant best-seller in Thailand, and demonstrates how popular Thaksin remains following last year's coup. Sunisa apparently travelled to London (where Thaksin is currently living) of her own volition, without knowing where Thaksin was or how to contact him. Then, while riding on a London bus, she saw Thaksin's son Panthongtae on the street, and he took her to their house.

If that seems like too much of a coincidence, it probably is. It's more likely that Thaksin organised Sunisa's trip and granted her a pre-arranged interview. The book itself is essentially a Thaksin fanzine, and doesn't add anything to the post-coup political discussion.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Lady Diana

Lady Diana
Princess Diana
Lady Diana: L'Enquete Criminelle, by Jean-Michel Caradec'h, is an analysis of the French police investigation into the death of Princess Diana. What has made the book infamous is its twenty-page insert, featuring photocopies of the police dossier itself. The insert includes a photograph of Diana receiving first aid at the scene of the crash.

The photo has also been published by the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera (12th July 2006), the German newspaper Bild (15th July 2006), the Spanish magazine Interviu, and, most famously, the Italian magazine Chi ("L'ULTIMA FOTO", 19th July 2006). The image was first seen by the public on 21st April 2004, when it was included in a 48 Hours CBS documentary (Diana's Secrets) on American television. It was then reprinted by Ici Paris magazine on 27th May 2004.

On 31st August this year, the UK satellite TV channel Sky News broadcast a report about the crash taken from CBS News, which included the crash photograph. The CBS report - titled Could Diana Have Been Saved? - was originally broadcast on 30th August. The Sky broadcast represents the only uncensored availability of the image in the UK.

Monday, 3 September 2007

The Blair Years

The Blair Years
Alastair Campbell was Tony Blair's press secretary when Blair was leader of the opposition. When Blair became UK Prime Minister in 1997, Campbell became his official spokesman. When Blair won a second term in 2001, Campbell was given the unique role of Director of Communications & Strategy. He resigned in 2003, and Blair stepped down earlier this year. Campbell, who was one of the key architects of New Labour, kept a daily diary which ran to over 2,000,000 words, and a single-volume concise edition has been published now that Blair is no longer Prime Minister.

Campbell freely admits that there is much material missing from The Blair Years. (Or The TB Years, as it should be called: everyone is referred to by their initials, and the shorthand prose style is not easy to read in long stretches.) The most obvious omission is Gordon Brown: there are occasional references to his uncommunicative grumpiness, but not to the repeated blazing rows we know he had with Blair. Presumably Campbell wants to spare Brown any embarrassment, now that Brown himself is Prime Minister.

Andrew Rawnsley's excellent Servants Of The People, by contrast, offers much more on the Blair/Brown conflict, though his sources are mostly off-the-record and he only covers the first three years of Blair's premiership. Nevertheless, it's probably the most authoritative account of the Blair government yet published. Famously, it includes the anonymous observation that Brown is "psychologically flawed", a statement widely attributed to Campbell. I hope he's planning an updated edition.

Alastair Campbell was Blair's 'spin doctor', though he was often in the headlines himself. His diaries cannot be a definitive record of the period, because it's impossible for someone who was simultaneously managing and making the news to be impartial. They are also incomplete: not only has Brown been toned down, but Blair and the Cabinet Office were permitted to delete especially sensitive passages.

Notably, much of Blair's swearing has been removed, including his four-letter description of veteran Labour MP Roy Hattersley. Plenty of profanities remain, however, most of them Campbell's own comments on other people. In this respect, The Blair Years shares the frankness of Alan Clark's Diaries. Conservative MP Clark's account of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's downfall was astonishingly candid, and, indeed, Clark and Campbell were friends, with Clark making occasional appearances in The Blair Years.

The Blair Years offers a behind-the-scenes look at all the major UK political stories of the past decade, with anecdotal details of Blair's private feelings and actions. Arguably the most fascinating section, though, is that devoted to Campbell's conflict with the BBC over shortcomings in government dossiers published before the Iraq war.

The government commissioned a dossier on Iraq's military capabilities, which was written by the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2002. The dossier claimed that Iraq possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which were capable of being deployed within forty-five minutes at any time. In 2003, another dossier was also published, this time prepared within the government, though it was later revealed that much of it had been plagiarised from existing online sources.

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme in 2003, correspondent Andrew Gilligan alleged that the 2002 dossier had been "sexed up" with more forceful language: an un-named source told him that the JIC's language had been altered after suggestions from within the government. Specifically, Gilligan claimed that the "forty-five minutes" detail was added at the request of the government. In a subsequent newspaper article, again quoting his un-named source, Gilligan identified Campbell as the person who added the "forty-five minutes" detail to the dossier.

Campbell denied sexing up the dossier, but the BBC refused to retract the allegation. Gilligan's source, WMD expert David Kelly, committed suicide after his name was made public. It was suspected that Campbell had learned of Kelly's identity and leaked it himself. A public enquiry into Kelly's death by Brian Hutton exonerated Campbell and the government while criticising the BBC's editorial judgements. Consequently, the BBC's Chairman and Director-General both resigned.

In The Blair Years, Campbell denies leaking Kelly's name and suggesting "forty-five minutes". He writes extensively about his bitter confrontations with the BBC in the immediate aftermath of Gilligan's allegations, and his submission of evidence to the Hutton enquiry. It is this information which makes Campbell's diaries so valuable, rather than its interesting though hardly earth-shattering day-to-day Blair anecdotes.