Schott’s Almanac 2005–2006 · Extracts

A Few Words of the Year

Happy Slapping: Capturing acts of random violence on video phones. | Turkey Twizzler: curious turkey-themed snack ‘popularised’ by Jamie Oliver. | Santo Subito: ‘Immediate sainthood’ – chanted by crowds in St Peter’s Square after the death of Pope John Paul II. | Rendition: (Illegal) international transfer of prisoners, often to facilitate torture. | Deshopping: Buying, using, then returning goods. | Crackberry: The addictive nature of PDAs. | Cleanskins Lillywhites: Individuals without prior criminal or terrorist associations. | Chugger:  Charity street ‘muggers’. | Intextification: Texting drunk. | Man Date: A platonic date between two heterosexual men. Also Mandals: Male sandals. Also Murse: A male purse. | Israelisation: [1] The pervasive influence of the Arab-Israeli conflict on world politics; [2] The fact that post-9/11, Madrid, and 7/7, Western states now also live with the reality of suicide attacks; [3] The adoption of Israeli tactics for tackling terrorism. | Pajamahideen: a pun on Mujahideen, used to deride a class of political Bloggers who comment on the world from the comfort of their homes, presumably in the comfort of their pyjamas. (Adopted by some activists as a badge of honour.) | Bariatric: The medical treatment of obese patients; derived from ‘baros’, the Greek for weight (as in geriatric). | Body Spam: undesirable physical contact by strangers, such as that suffered by waitresses, or commuters. | Vlog: A blog containing video.

Schott’s Annual Astrometer

Schematic of Notable World Events

Person of the Year

In 2005, President (for life) Niyazov of Turkmenistan extended his personality cult by ordering the construction of a vast zoo to hold 300 species of birds and animals (including penguins) in the Kara Kum desert. This is not Niyazov’s first major project. In 2000, he announced that a 2,000 km2 artificial lake was to be built in the desert, and in mid-2004 he demanded a giant ice-palace be erected in the mountains, despite average temperatures of 30ºc.

Turkmenistan is a landlocked republic (independent from Russia since 1991), about twice the size of the UK, with a population of c.5m. It shares borders with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and Afghanistan, and adjoins the Caspian Sea. Much of the country is arid (c.80% desert) and, apart from cotton, the country’s most important resources are oil and gas.

In 1990, Saparmurat Niyazov was elected President, and in 1999 he declared himself President for life. Since then, Niyazov has ruled with an unusual ruthlessness. A number of human rights groups have condemned the exercise of imprisonment, exile, and a capricious use of authority. In 2000, for example, the fine for smoking in state buildings equalled a month’s wages, and in 2002 the army was placed in charge of the traffic police. (In 2003, unpaid traffic fines doubled every 12 hours, and after 3 days men were sent to collect the money in person.) Religious tolerance is non-existent, opposition parties are illegal, and the media are strictly controlled – to the point of re-censoring official Russian broadcasts.

Although his official biography claims Niyazov is ‘a lover of poetry, philosophy, history and music’, in 2001 he banned opera and ballet calling them ‘unnecessary’, and prohibited theatre stating that it had ‘exhausted its creative life’. He has similarly banned car radios, outlawed gold fillings, forbidden young men from having long hair or beards, and limited ownership of cats and dogs.

In 2001, he published the Ruhnama – a moral and spiritual guide – ‘written with the help of inspiration sent to my heart by God’. The Ruhnama is afforded respect equal to the Koran, and is required reading for all those taking the driving test.

In 2002, Niyazov renamed the days of the week and the months of year, naming January after himself, and April after his mother. The President also redefined the stages of life, decreeing, for example, that adolescence ends at 25. The cities of Turkmenistan are awash with portraits and statues of the President (and his mother), including the 12-metre Arch of Neutrality, and a giant gold-leaf statue of Niyazov that revolves through 360 degrees every 24 hours.

In 2004, 15,000 medical staff were replaced with army conscripts, and in 2005 Niyazov closed all hospitals outside the capital. A few months later, he banned recorded music from being played on television and at all public events, including weddings.

Niyazov has regularly hinted that Presidential elections might be held in 2008 (or in 2010, when he turns 70), stating ‘one man cannot remain President forever’.

Object of the Year

On 20 January 2005, as George W. Bush was sworn in, Colin Powell used his mobile to take souvenir snaps of the President. In April, thousands of mourners took photos of John Paul ii’s coffin with camera phones held high above their heads. In the same month Prince Charles banned all mobile phones from his wedding, and Saudi Arabia proposed 1,000 lashes, 12 years in jail and a fine of sr100,000 for those who use camera phones for ‘immoral’ acts. Just hours after the London 7/7 bombings, grainy camera phone footage emerged of commuters escaping down smoke-filled tunnels.

The rise of the camera phone has been rapid and stealthy. In 2002, 4% of mobiles sold had cameras; by 2004 it was 38%. Strategy Analytics predicts that by 2010 the figure will be 78%; already in Japan 97% of mobiles have cameras. When camera phones were introduced, many claimed they had no need of such a facility. Yet it seems that easy access to a technology can sometimes simply create a demand. Increasingly, mobiles are being sold as dual-purpose alternatives to digital cameras.

Already, camera phones have revolutionised news photography. Nearly all of the iconic news photos of the c20th were taken by professional photographers using professional equipment: from the liberation of Buchenwald, to the lone protester in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Towards the end of the c20th, other image sources entered the news: from the amateur video footage of Rodney King’s assault, to the haunting cctv images of Jamie Bulger being led to his death.

However, the news photographs that have already defined the early years of the c21st have nearly all been taken by amateurs using digital cameras and camera phones: the outrages in Abhu Ghraib prison; Prince Harry in Nazi regalia; Saddam Hussein in his underwear; the horror of the London bombings, and so on. Camera phones are the ultimate tool of photojournalism – combining a compact and discreet means of taking pictures with a simple method of immediately transmitting them anywhere in the world.

It is only a matter of time before the remaining issues of picture quality and image size are solved by improvements in lens and software design.

The ubiquity of camera phones is not without its problems. Schools, health clubs, swimming pools and strip joints have all joined Prince Charles in banning the devices fearing breaches of privacy. A more disturbing trend is the use of camera phones to record footage of bullying, violent assaults (so-called ‘happy slapping’), and even (in at least one case to date) rape. The victims of such attacks suffer the added violence of knowing that their abuse can be texted or emailed as ‘entertainment’.

And, as demonstrated by the execution of Ken Bigley and others in Iraq, it seems inevitable that more terrorists, kidnappers and other criminals will seek to exploit new imaging technology like camera phones – either posting images of their acts on the net, or blackmailing the media into broadcasting their pictures.

Just as internet Blogs are increasingly blurring the distinction between amateur and professional journalism, it seems inevitable that camera phones will ‘democratise’ the news images the world sees – for good as well as ill.

Substance of the Year

Sudan 1 is a red dye used to colour solvents, oils, waxes, petrol, and floor polishes.

Because Sudan i is linked with cancer, EU regulations prevent it from being used in food.

Yet, it was discovered in 2005 that Sudan i had contaminated a chilli powder used in a brand of Worcestershire sauce.

Hundreds of products were swiftly withdrawn from sale. Further concerns were raised in April 2005 after the discovery that another carcinogenic dye, Para Red (C16H11N3O3), had contaminated some foodstuffs.

[Sudan 1 was featured before the Almanacs began properly to document a “Substance of the Year”.]