Schott’s Almanac 2006–2007 · Extracts

A Few Words of the Year

Yo, Blair!: George W. Bush’s off-mic greeting of Tony Blair. | Brownsploitation: cashing in on the success of Dan Brown’s books. | James Bland: Nickname for Daniel Craig’s James Bond. | Muffin Top: Roll of abdominal fat spilling from the top of tight jeans.| Frenemy: A friend/enemy. | The Long War: The  Pentagon’s bizarre replacement for the ‘War on Terror’. | Pimpfants: Kids dressed like pimps. | Cameroonians: David Cameron’s supporters. Also Notting Hill Set. | Billanthrophy: the spectacular philanthropy practised by Bill Gates, &c. | IEDs: Improvised Explosive Devices, like roadside bombs, that have proved so devastating to Allied forces in Iraq. To check for IEDs, US soldiers perform ‘5s and 25s’ when leaving their vehicles: walking 5 metres, and visually scanning a 25 metre perimeter. Also VBED· Vehicle-Born (Improvised) Explosive Device. | Anomaly: Tony Blair’s description of Guantánamo Bay. | Anti-Anti-Americans· the people against the people against America. | Smirting: Flirting between those who have been banished outside to smoke. | Toff Roader: A posh off-road 4×4. Also Prole’s Royce: Nickname for stretched limousines that are filled with drunken teenage girls. | Vertical Drinking: Bars designed with few or no seats that encourage people to drink more, faster. | Rate Tart: One who moves savings or debts to get the best interest rates. | Fauxhunt: A fox hunt that follows (or claims to follow) a scent [legal] rather than a fox [illegal].

Schott’s Annual Astrometer

Schematic of Notable World Events

Person of the Year
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD

Since becoming President of Iran in August 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has adopted a provocative stance. He has questioned the Nazi Holocaust, demanded the elimination of Israel and the resettlement of all Israelis,insinuated a US conspiracy over 9/11, fomented the crisis between Israel and Hezbollah,insisted that Iran has the right to a peaceful programme for nuclear power, and threatened that this programme may not remain peaceful if Iran is attacked.

Yet, his speeches and interviews (and his personal letter to George W. Bush) are embellished with exhortations to harmony, peace, justice, spirituality, equality, compassion, and tranquility. In 2006, this (calculatedly?) mercurial mix of firebrand and philosopher fortified his position on the world stage.

Ahmadinejad was born in 1956, in a small village near Garmsar, the fourth son of a blacksmith and one of seven children. He moved with his family to Tehran, where he attended school. In 1975 he was admitted to study civil engineering at Tehran’s Science and Technology University (where he obtained a PhD in traffic and transportation in 1997).

Uncertainty surrounds Ahmadinejad’s activities during the 1979 Revolution and the 1980–88 Iran-Iraq War. His official biography states he engaged in ‘political activities’ and ‘was actively present as a member of the [Revolutionary Guard] in different parts and divisions of the battlefronts’. Other accounts allege involvement in covert operations in Iraq, assassinations of dissidents, and executions in Tehran’s bloody Evin prison. (The US claims he led the seizing of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979.)

After serving regional governorships in the 1980s, Ahmadinejad was appointed Mayor of Tehran in 2003, where he reversed many earlier reforms, closing fast-food restaurants, requiring women to use separate elevators, ordering male city employees to wear beards, &c. (In 2005, Ahmadinejad was a finalist in the World Mayor contest, alongside London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone.)

Ahmadinejad’s deliberately modest 2005 Presidential bid focused on Islam, social justice, poverty, and corruption. But he also used the campaign to attack the US and challenge the UN, which he said was ‘stacked against the Islamic world’. To the surprise of many, he beat ex-President Rafsanjani, 62% to 36%. At his inauguration, Ahmadinejad demonstrated his loyalty (and subjugation?) to Iran’s Supreme Leader by kissing Ayatollah Khamenei’s hand – an unusual public gesture of respect.

Ahmadinejad’s domestic policy has combined reaction (banning Western music) with reform (allowing women to watch sports), and he continues to struggle with Iran’s economic inequalities and poverty. But it is internationally that Ahmadinejad has made his mark, strengthening relations with Islamic neighbours, fixing deals with China and Russia, and challenging the West by pursuing a nuclear fuel cycle.

Time will tell whether Ahmadinejad’s defiance of the IAEA is designed to extract concessions and credibility from the West, or to give Iran time to weaponise its research. If the latter, the US commitment to neutralise the threat may be circumscribed by overstretch in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the ability of a weakened President to persuade the world that this time wmd exist. Israel, however, will be unlikely to feel any such constraints. 

Object of the Year
THE ST GEORGE’S FLAG

It was estimated that by the end of World Cup 2006 well over 1½ million St George’s flags had been bought: sold mainly by petrol stations and supermarkets, adorned mainly on cars and vans, and made mainly in China and Eastern Europe.

The use of the flag of St George by English sports fans is relatively novel. When England won the World Cup in 1966, streets and stadia were awash with the red, white, and blue of the Union Jack. The adoption of the flag of St George seems to have come about during Euro ’96, when England played Scotland in the shadow of likely devolution. From then on, the English flag has increasingly been flown for English teams in a range of sports.

Inevitably, the profusion of St George’s flags in 2006 prompted a flurry of news items: Tyne & Wear Fire Brigade suggested flags in pubs might be hazardous; the Chief Inspector of Prisons banned St George’s tie-pins; the Deputy Chief Constable of N. Wales warned that ‘incessant’ flag waving might cause violence; Nike courted controversy with an advert that showed a bare-chested Rooney ‘crucified’ with red paint; and a host of companies tried to prevent their staff from flying the flag. Outraged by such ‘madness’, the Sun went ‘into battle to defend the right of all English men and women to fly our national flag’.

Little is known about St George (?c3–4th), the patron saint of soldiers (and syphilitics). It seems likely that the red cross of St George was first adopted for English soldiers by Richard I, and was further popularised by Edward III, who made St George the Patron of the Knights of the Garter in 1348, and later proclaimed him to be Patron Saint of England.

In recent years, the flag of St George has been associated with racial violence, football hooliganism, and the darker side of right-wing English nationalism. Prior to the World Cup, concerns about the flag were heightened by the relative success of the British National Party (BNP) in the 2006 local elections. (Actually, the BNP worries that the flag of St George is part of a plan to divide the nation. Instead, the BNP advocates the flying of the ‘White Dragon of Wessex’ as the flag of the ‘ethnic-English community within England’.)

World Cup 2006 helped to rehabilitate the flag of St George politically. Tony Blair ordered it to be flown above No. 10 for England games, the Minister for Culture attached it to her car, and Tory leader David Cameron flew it from his bike. Such political gestures were reinforced by a barrage of St George-related advertising by Official England sponsors.

Interestingly, the World Cup had a similar effect on the national flag of Germany, where ‘das Car Flag’ proved almost as popular as in England. The black, red, and gold of Germany’s Bundesflagge had been associated with democracy since its adoption in 1848, and for that reason was never used by the Nazis. Yet a post-War reticence towards patriotism meant that the Bundesflagge was flown only modestly at sporting encounters.

Its popularity in 2006 signalled for Germany a confident step away from its past. Echoing what some said about the flag of St George, German President Horst Köhler called the revival of the Bundesflagge ‘a sign that the country is increasingly returning to normal, that one can show uninhibited pride in your national flag and drape yourself in it’.

Substance of the Year
POLONIUM-210

Tamiflu is the proprietary name for oseltamivir phosphate – an oral antiviral treatment for influenza, designed to prevent flu viruses from replicating within the body (it is neither a vaccine nor a substitute for one). A neuraminidase inhibitor (NAI), Tamiflu targets neuraminidase – the enzyme found on the surface of flu viruses – and hinders the virus from travelling cell to cell to spread the infection.

The drug can be used both for the prevention and treatment of flu, though for full efficacy, Tamiflu should be taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. The adult dose is one 75mg capsule taken orally twice a day for 5 days.

Tamiflu is one of two main drugs thought to be effective against avian flu H5N1 – the other drug, zanamivir, less conveniently, has to be inhaled. The drug company Roche acquired the rights to manufacture and distribute Tamiflu from Gilead Sciences in 1996, and the drug’s patent expires in 2016.

As the threat of an H5N1 pandemic grew, demand for Tamiflu threatened to outstrip supply. Real and counterfeit supplies of the drug flooded the web (Tamiflu-related spam became rife), and in December 2005 eBay halted a British auction where a 10-capsule course had reached >£100.

Under political pressure from governments worldwide (and market pressure to maximise profits), Roche took steps to increase production. One of the issues affecting Tamiflu’s supply is the complexity of its manufacture: the 10-step process takes 6–8 months, and currently starts with the extraction of shikimic acid from star anise pods grown in the Guanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou mountain provinces of SW China.

In March 2006, Roche pledged to manufacture c.400m treatments annually by the end of the year, using 15 external contractors in 9 countries. According to Roche, they have fulfilled Tamiflu ‘pandemic orders’ from >65 countries, with some governments stockpiling treatments for 20–40% of their population. Roche has also donated 5·125m courses of Tamiflu to the WHO for rapid response in flu-hit areas.

While some reports have questioned the effectiveness of oseltamivir for bird flu, Tamiflu remains the drug of choice. As a result, Roche announced a 22% growth in sales during the first 3 months of 2006, to 7·7bn Swiss Francs ($6bn; £3·4bn).

[† New drug patents allow the creators a 20-year monopoly of supply. However, international law permits governments to break patents, and ‘compulsorily licence’ generic versions in the event of severe national health emergencies.]