THOUGHTFUL bureaucrats at the United Nations ensured that nothing would embarrass US Secretary of State Colin Powell last week. While Powell was giving his speech UN officials covered up a tapestry of one of the most famous murals in the world-Picasso's Guernica - because it shows the reality of war.
The painting is a tribute to the people of the town of Guernica, who were blasted by fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. UN officials were worried that Powell would arrive for his warmongering speech against a backdrop which showed women and children shrieking in horror. The painting was donated to the UN building by billionaire Nelson Rockefeller. He knew a thing or two about covering up works of art.
He had a mural by revolutionary artist Diego Rivera sandblasted in 1933 because it included a portrait of Lenin.
JUST WHEN you thought New Labour MP and broadcasting minister Kim Howells couldn't move any further to the right, he comes up with this. Howells told MPs last week that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation was to be applauded for contributing to diversity in the media.
He said, 'News Corp has realised that the British people do not want to be served by one political viewpoint. It has also realised that it can have all kinds of editorial themes running through its news coverage-if we read the newspapers every day we can see evidence of that.'
Really? Murdoch's daily rags in Britain are the Sun and the Times. On the day Howell's comements were reported the big news story was the cobbled together British dossier on Iraq. That story did not even get a mention in the Sun. In the interests of diversity, it did make the Times-buried away on page 22.
WHEN the firefighters went on strike, the government said it would give them less every time they did so. Computer corporation Fujitsu was given the main slice of a PFI contract to upgrade systems in magistrates' courts. Fujitsu twice threatened to pull out unless it was given more dosh.
The government coughed up. The cost of the contract has more than doubled from £146 million to £390 million.
Thanks to Martin Empson for this story.
THE US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has refused the Palestinian entry, Divine Intervention, for the Oscar nomination of Best Foreign Film. The reason? The academy doesn't recognise Palestine as a nation. Each nation is allowed to submit one film to represent its country.
Even the Bush administration was able to communicate with the Palestinian Authority, so recognising its existence. And if Palestine does not exist in the movie world, why was the same Divine Intervention selected as a Palestinian entry at the Cannes Film Festival this year?
The academy does manage to accept that the film exists. It describes its nationality as Israeli. Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government has not put forward the film, which deals with the intifada, as its official entry.
Stitch-up? A load of balls, says Labour
THE NEW Labour hierarchy is denying a stitch-up over the selection of its candidate to replace the outgoing Labour MP in Burnley. Local activist Shahid Malik was tipped to get the nomination. But then he spoke out against David Blunkett's attack on asylum seekers.
Malik was booted off Labour's National Executive Committee and now the party has imposed an all-women shortlist in Burnley. There are too few women MPs, says Labour HQ. Quite right. But hang on a minute. There are a number of other safe Labour seats where all-women lists are not being imposed.
One of them is Normanton, a former mining area in Yorkshire. Another is in neighbouring Pontefract, where the MP is junior minister Yvette Cooper. By an amazing coincidence her husband, Gordon Brown's adviser Ed Balls, happens to be very interested in getting the Normanton nomination.
Switching off democracy
THE PEOPLE who run the students' union at Aston University, Birmingham, don't seem to have cottoned on that this war is supposedly about democracy. The anti-war society there planned to plug into the live video link-up with leading academic Edward Said this week.
The guild executive (students' union) have decided to ban it on the grounds that it may be offensive. Edward Said is one of the most famous academics in the world. His books are available in any library. He is also Palestinian, and opposed to Israel's occupation. Does the Aston guild think defending Palestinian rights is offensive?
The student executive at nearby Birmingham University does-it's banned the Socialist Worker Student Society for supporting the Palestinians.
ANOTHER triumph for the government's PFI schemes. The Croydon Tram Link's accounts state, 'At the time of preparation of these accounts, the company did not have sufficient funds to continue trading beyond 25 March.'
The tram system is run under PFI in a joint venture between an offshore company and Amey, the troubled construction giant.
Things they say
'WE think it is dreadful that Donald Rumsfeld is out there pushing for a war against Iraq. We are embarrassed to be related to him.'
KARIN CECERE, one of US secretary of defence Rumsfeld's German relations, who have disowned him for his warmongering
'WE'RE not making big profits at the pumps. Margins are extremely tight.'
Spokesperson for the Shell oil giant that is making £214 a second
'IF YOU have free markets you are always going to get booms and busts. That has always been the case. People don't like it, but they have to live with it.'
Former Tory chancellor NIGEL LAWSON
'FOR 25 years I've felt the need for a school with more spirituality. The reason God created us was to earn heaven. My goal is to help more people go to heaven.'
Right wing owner of Domino pizzas TOM MONAGHAN, who is to create a new Catholic university to promote conservatism in the US. Gay groups will be banned and men's and women's living quarters strictly segregated
'£1 MILLION is a lot of money maybe to a lot of people in this room, but not to us.'
Actor CATHERINE ZETA-JONES who with her husband Michael Douglas is suing Hello magazine
'OF course Saddam is an evil man, but American imperialism will not solve the problem.'
'IF BLAIR goes to war without a second UN resolution it's 'bye-bye Tony'.'
'TONY BLAIR was elected saying he had 24 hours to save the NHS. He's got 72 hours to save his job.'
IAN GIBSON, Labour MP, on the crisis for Blair