Monday, December 20, 2004


For those for whom the holiday season/Christmas/Hanukkah is not the holiday season/Christmas/Hanukkah without a puzzle, here's one from ssshhh (a place that until relatively recently was not mentioned and therefore officially did not exist).

Happy codebreaking.

Yes, but-ism

  • PooterGeek has a splendid, must-read piece on that conversational trope the "Yes, but".

  • SIAW sum up the year in Iraq
    The basic point really is very simple - nothing that has happened since April 2003 alters it; it’s worth repeating as many times as it takes to go on pissing these idiots off; and peace and goodwill to all just doesn’t apply: those who opposed the liberation of Iraq effectively supported the continuation of the Ba’ath dictatorship indefinitely, into a future in which even 100,000 deaths would have been a mere fraction of the total killed - off camera, off screen, and therefore below the radars of people whose chief concern throughout has been, not the fate of Iraqis, but their own continuing membership of their shitty little mutual admiration societies, in which nobody ever admits mistakes, nobody ever shuts up and tries listening for once, and nobody notices how utterly out of touch they all are. Fuck the lot of them.
  • What more needs to be said?

    Friday, December 17, 2004

    Snack Foods and Tourism

    This is just class tourism. As the man said "Everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh".
    Forcefeeding guests retro party snacks is de rigueur this Christmas, with party organisers reporting a surge in demand for fondue sets, cheese and pineapple chunks, sausages on sticks, and, for a dash of sophisticated suburban cool, vol au vents.

    "It is quite kitschy and you can theme your whole party," said one party organiser, Helene Martin Gee.
    For some of us "cheese and pineapple chunks, sausages on sticks, and ... vol au vents" have always been the party food of choice. Does that make us "cool" even though we are definitely not "suburban"?

    Thursday, December 16, 2004

    Piffle on Religion

    In today's Grauniad Seamus Milne comes out with a "we are all religious now" piece of specious piffle. I'll leave the exegesis to Harry's Place. As has been mentioned elsewhere just because you are opposed to Capitalism does not mean you are Progressive. It's what you are for that marks you out as Progressive or Reactionary.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2004

    Hellenistic Philosophy

    I have proof. Proof of what you may ask. Proof that I am a sceptic. Here it is.
    You are a Sceptic.
    You are a Sceptic.
    Philosophical skepticism originated in ancient
    Greek philosophy. One of its first proponents
    was Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-275 B.C.), who
    travelled and studied as far as India, and
    propounded the adoption of 'practical'
    skepticism. Subsequently, in the 'New Academy'
    Arcesilaos (c. 315-241 B.C.) and Carneades (c.
    213-129 B.C.) developed more theoretical
    perspectives, whereby conceptions of absolute
    truth and falsity were refuted. Carneades
    criticised the views of the Dogmatists,
    especially supporters of Stoicism, asserting
    that absolute certainty of knowledge is
    impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c. A.D. 200), the
    main authority for Greek skepticism, developed
    the position further, incorporating aspects of
    empiricism into the basis for asserting

    Greek skeptics criticised the Stoics, accusing them
    of dogmatism. For the skeptics, the logical
    mode of argument was untenable, as it relied on
    propositions which could not be said to be
    either true or false without relying on further
    propositions. This was the argument of infinite
    regress, whereby every proposition must rely on
    other propositions in order to maintain its
    validity. In addition, the skeptics argued that
    two propositions could not rely on each other,
    as this would create a circular argument (as p
    implies q and q implies p). For the skeptics
    logic was thus an inadequate measure of truth
    which could create as many problems as it
    claimed to have solved. Truth was not, however,
    necessarily unobtainable, but rather an idea
    which did not yet exist in a pure form.
    Although skepticism was accused of denying the
    possibility of truth, in actual fact it appears
    to have mainly been a critical school which
    merely claimed that logicians had not
    discovered truth.

    Which Hellenistic School of Philosophy Would You Belong To?
    brought to you by Quizilla

    Unfortunately I don't believe it. (As Father Ted Crilly said to Richard Wilson in The Mainland (episode # 3.4) 3 April 1998. But that is just too sad.)

    Iraqi Bloggers and their critics

    Eric has a splendid post on ill-informed academic criticism of Iraqi bloggers. He ends with
    Of course Iraq the Model should be popular with those who think democratic freedoms are important, not just right-wingers. However, these days it seems that the left have to be miserable doommongers who have lost hope in the idea that all peoples of the world are capable of, or even desirous of, progressive and democratic political systems.

    The left, and the intellectuals who feed them their sugary doggie treats, are so far up their own anti-imperialist arses bleating about George Bush, that those they should naturally be supporting are forgotten as minor inconveniences in their increasingly desperate efforts to be proved right on Iraq.
    He also quotes from some Iraqi bloggers. Go read it.

    Monday, December 13, 2004

    Criticize Religion - Freely

    There is a long list of blogs supporting Nick Cohen's Observer article so go read them:
  • Mick Hartley
  • Norm
  • SIAW

  • As SIAW ask
    How about this for a radical new approach: why not leave religion to the religious (and the kind of blinkered liberals who get more upset about symbol than substance), and focus once again on the sources and forms of social division that can’t be chosen, from “race”, gender and sexual orientation to what used to be the chief concern of the left: class?
    Why not, indeed.

    Thursday, December 09, 2004


    Norm reports on the International Labour Organisation's latest report.
    The International Labour Organisation's World Employment report said about 2.8 billion people were employed globally in 2003. But nearly 1.4 billion, the highest number ever, are living on less than $2 a day, while 550 million are living under the $1 poverty line. On current growth projections, this could halve in some areas of the world by 2015.
    One of the main goals is to halve the number people living on $1 a day by 2015. About 185.9 million people worldwide were unemployed in 2003. This is just the "tip of iceberg", the report says, since more than seven times that number are employed but still live in poverty.

    To achieve high employment rates and a greater reduction in poverty, there needs to be a focus on improving productivity. Gains in productivity can benefit workers in the form of higher earnings and reduced working time.
    So the solution to our problems is "improve[d] productivity". If workers are not paid piece-rate but a fixed wage is not "improve[d] productivity" just going to mean the wage stays the same; the time at work stays the same; and all that happens is that more stuff gets made for more potential profit surplus value for the owners? Not that this is an argument for the abomination of piece-rate pay, just a statement that "improve[d] productivity" does not, necessarily, lead to better working conditions (pay and time at work).

    This level of daily income is a stain on the, collective, human ethic. The World Development Movement has a Trade Justice Campaign that is worth supporting. The main points are
  • The EU should unilaterally end agricultural export subsidies now

  • The EU should support changes to trade rules to enshrine the right of developing countries to protect their domestic agricultural sectors on the grounds of food security, livelihood security and sustainable rural development. As a first step at the WTO, the EU should ensure developing countries are able to self-select products on these grounds to be exempt from any further liberalisation

  • The UK Government to demand that the IMF and World Bank stop imposing trade conditions on poor countries

  • The EU to withdraw its demand that water is included in GATS

  • The UK Government (and EU) should oppose any restrictions on the ability of governments to regulate foreign investment in accordance with their development and environmental needs

  • The EU to ensure that global trade policies and practices do not undercut internationally agreed social and environmental standards, in particular core labour standards and as a first step to ensure that the ILO is granted full observer status at the WTO

  • The UK Government (and EU) to enact legislation to ensure that companies are held accountable for their social and environmental impacts at home and abroad

  • The EU to withdraw the following demands from its Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiating mandate:
    - reciprocal trade liberalisation
    - negotiations on competition policy, investment and public procurement
  • Do something. And do it now.

    State Jester

    I jest not but England has a State Jester (brought to you by English Heritage), not to be confused with the National Guild of Jesters' own national jester. The jester was appointed amidst allegations of shenanigans. Why not invite the two jesters to have a duel - custard pies and goats bladders at dawn? This must be taken seriously. Something must be done.

    Monday, December 06, 2004

    Happy Birthday to SIAW

    Belated anniversary greetings to SIAW. To quote from today's guest blogger, Hak Mao,
    the commitment to the principles of universal, indivisible human rights and freedom of thought [must be] proclaimed. To fail to do this is to prolong the Age of Waiting.
    Lenin once again, at the third Congress of the Comintern [**]:
    The Party must go to the masses! Yes, the masses! And not turn into a sect!
    That is what it's all about. (Can't help thinking that's a bit of the Roots creeping in there, but it works). There may be room for some discussion over "masses" or "classes" in the Negri and Hardt sense, but I'm in agreement with the sentiment.

    Questions to the President

    Found this interesting article (okay, I found it interesting, it's interesting to me, and may be interesting to you), by Dan Froomkin. It's about the infrequently held, and the not very informative questions and answers at those that are, press conferences by the President.
    Bush has held only 16 during his first term -- a far cry from the 43 Bill Clinton had at this point in his first term, and the 84 by Bush's father.

    It seems unlikely that Bush, in his second term, will adopt John Kerry's pledge to hold one press conference a month if elected. In fact, it's entirely possible that Bush will try to hold even fewer than he did during his first term. It's not as if there was a voter backlash for avoiding the media's questions -- so why should he subject himself to more than he absolutely has to? There was a hint of this in Bush's obligatory post-election news conference on Nov. 4, when he only half-jokingly suggested that the "will of the people" now entitled him to establish more restrictive rules with the press corps.
    they should also bring it up every time they get in earshot of the president. ("Mr. President, why won't you meet with us once a month?") Correspondents are sometimes loath to appear too activist or hectoring. But there is nothing inappropriate about the press demanding accountability from the president of the United States.

    And they should ask better questions.

    It doesn't happen under CJ Cregg (well, not much).

    For a dissection of Froomkin's piece try on Dec 03. It made me smile.


    Norm blogs on Martin Jacques's article in the Grauniad. Interesting it is too. Martin Jacques goes on, and on, about how the media is obsessed with the personal over the political. Wasn't there a magazine, Marxism Today, in the 1980's that promoted the "personal is political" line? Wasn't that magazine edited by someone called Martin Jacques? Is the editor of Marxism Today related to the sometime Grauniad columnist?

    Delving deeper I have found an interesting piece by Decca Aitkenhead on MT in 1998.
    The ones I read contained some brilliant analysis by Stuart Hall, which I poached for my essays, so I was well-disposed towards the magazine. Being a lazy student, I read no further, and carelessly assumed that Marxism Today was actually written by Marxists.
    It was only afterwards that I paid proper attention, and looked into what Marxism Today had actually had to say for itself in the 80s. Marxism Today, I discovered, spent much of the Thatcher decade arguing that the left should take lessons from Thatcherism, embrace modernity, and 'have history on its side'. This much was uncontroversial. From there, however, the magazine moved towards a more surprising position, one which fetishised and feted the core essentials of Thatcherism - individualism, the market, private ownership, consumer culture.

    As the issues progressed, the magazine moved on from flirtation with Thatcherism to a preparation of the ground for Blairism. Almost every fundamental of new Labour can be found in the pages of Marxism Today's back issues. Rights and responsibilities, community and citizenship, love of modernisation, they were all there, dressed up rather unconvincingly as a 'progressive' take on Marxism. So it is odd that on the cover of the issue published this week should be a big picture of Blair and the one-word headline, 'Wrong'. How does Marxism Today account for this contradiction?

    'We have no qualms about Blair's embrace of modernity,' writes Martin Jacques in the editorial. 'On the contrary, it was what we ourselves advocated over many years.'
    There it is. Marxism Today as pre-thinkers of the Blairite project.

    Thursday, December 02, 2004


    There. An important title for an important piece. Norm links to this splendid piece by three Arab journalists on attitudes to democracy in Arab countries.
    In 'Democratic Occupation?' columnist Salama Ni'mat, the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat wrote:
    "It is well and good for the Arabs to demand the right of political representation for the Sunni Arabs out of concern for them in the face of the tyranny of the other Iraqi groups and out of concern for national unity and the ideal relative representation. But we do not understand why this concern does not apply to the many Arab countries that do not permit their minorities to announce their existence, let alone their right to [political] representation.
    In a similar vein, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and now director-general of Al-Arabiyya TV, wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
    "The current regime in Baghdad was given legitimacy by a unanimous vote of the members of the U.N. Security Council, and became legal according to international law. On the regional level, the legitimacy of the new Iraqi regime was emanated from a unanimous Arab League vote. Locally, this regime made huge strides when it established the National Council – a parliament that represents all the different populations in Iraq, including the opposition – and the [regime] will reach its goal when it holds the upcoming elections.

    "If we view these three levels [i.e. the U.N. Security Council, the Arab League, and the Iraqi National Council] as a criterion, the Iraqi regime is more legitimate than most [regimes] in the countries of the region – some of which emerged as a result of coups or internal conspiracies, when no one asked the people what it thought.

    "If the doubt regarding the Iraqi regime stems from its ties with Washington - do you know of any [Arab] government that does not have any special ties with Washington or other [Western] countries? If the justification for the doubt in the Iraqi regime is the presence of American forces [in Iraq], we must remember that Iraq is not the only country hosting American forces. Moreover, most of the voices criticizing the [present] regime in Iraq come from countries with even more American forces on their land…"
    Read the whole piece. Now deny the legitimacy of the forthcoming Iraqi elections. Go on. Try.
    Hak Mao posts on the harassment and detention of bloggers in Iran. The general reason was "publishing false information with the aim of disrupting public order". Isn't that the reason given by repressive, and downright nasty, regimes everywhere? Is there some campaign to link to or letters to write?

    The link on Harry's Place gives further details:
    Here are their names and sites.

    Mojtaba Saminejad (who was arrested at the beginning of November for speaking out against the arrest of his three colleagues in his blog); and
    Farid Modaressi
    The Iranian Embassy in London is at 16 PRINCE`S GATE LONDON SW7 1PT
    The telephone number is (+44) 2072253000
    The fax number is: ( +44)2075894440

    Something for you to do today. Write and protest.

    Ukrainski vistupi

    A splendid piece in today's Grauniad by Timothy Garton Ash on
    Why are so many west Europeans being such lemons about Ukraine's orange revolution? Every day brings a new example of some feeble, back-handed or downright hostile reaction.
    He goes on to ask, and answer, six questions. There's further comment at Harry's Place.

    While you're reading the article listen to The Ukrainians.