Thursday, February 24, 2005

Iraq and "getting it".

Harry Barnes MP is tabling a commons motion today to
deplor[e] the latest murder of .. Iraqi trade union leader .. Ali Hassan Abd, a leading member of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Union's (IFTU) Oil and Gas Union, who led the way in rebuilding independent unions after the fall of Saddam Hussein and who was assassinated on Friday 18th February 2005 by terrorist extremists while returning with his children to his home in close to the Al Dorah Oil Refinery in Baghdad; .. and strongly supports the IFTU's call for the
international labour movement to condemn this atrocity against a brave
trade unionist, which once again confirms that the so-called resistance is deliberately targeting leaders of the Iraqi labour movement in order to prevent the growth of a new civil society in Iraq, after the brave defiance shown by millions of Iraqis in the last elections.
Email your MP to support this motion.

Iraq, the Grauniad and the Law

This week the Grauniad has been running pieces debating the legality of the Iraqi war: here, here and here.

Norm successfully rebuts the Grauniad's argument. Read the whole piece but here's an extract:
There's an implication in the Guardian's presentation that is more worrying still. It is that the attorney general, or indeed any legal expert, should not advise in situations where there are divisions of legal opinion. Only where there are no such divisions could advice be completely certain as to how the courts would decide. And how often are matters of legality ambiguous or disputed in the domain of international law? [Often - Ed.]

If you didn't take our view, you should apologise. Unless you agree with our side about what's legal, it must be illegal. Gotta love that kind of liberalism.
Go and read the whole piece.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Thanks to Hak Mao I've just found Gush Shalom, an organisation that is worth supporting. I'll leave a description of their aims up to them.
GUSH SHALOM is the hard core of the Israeli peace
movement. It is known for its unwavering stand in times of crisis, such as the
al-Aqsa intifada. For years, GUSH SHALOM has played a leading role in determining
the moral and political agenda of the Israeli peace movement.

The primary aim of GUSH SHALOM is to win over Israeli public opinion for these principles:
  • an end to the occupation.

  • acceptance of the natural right of the Palestinian people to an independent and sovereign state.

  • the pre-1967 Green Line as the border of peace between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.

  • Jerusalem as the capital of the two states, East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A city open for all, not cut into pieces by walls and roadblocks.

  • just and agreed solution to the refugee problem, that will include repatriation to the State of Palestine, return of an agreed number to Israeli territory, payment of compensation and settling in other countries.

  • evacuation of all the settlements in Palestinian territory.
As the article says
GUSH SHALOM is an independent extraparliamentary organization. Being free of any obligations to parties and lobbies, the movement can advance its principles clearly, completely and resolutely. Not seeking any fleeting popularity, the Gush can act as a vanguard – advocating ideas years, and sometimes decades, before they are generally accepted.
A vanguard organisation worth supporting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Free Mojtaba and Arash Day

This is is a campaign to free two Iranian bloggers who have been jailed for blogging. Their names are Mojtaba Saminejad and Arash Sigarchi.

For further info go to here. It's worth supporting.

Most of the information comes from the admirable organisation Reporters Without Borders.

(Via SIAW and Hak Mao)

Monday, February 21, 2005

What is political?

Splendid post by SIAW on the poe-faced seriousness of some blogging people.

SIAW paraphrase CLR James "what do they know of politics who only politics know?" and ask Who are they to lay down rules about what is serious, appropriate, acceptable or, indeed, “political”? Indeed.

They also post some splendid poetry.

After reading this I'm off to watch some parking meters. And while I'm at it I'll be standing on the pavement thinking about the government. After that I might well learn to dance.

And I'll definitely be having a damn fine cup of coffee.

Morning Conundrum

Is it going to be a mug of coffee, served in one of these? Or a cup of tea (maybe a mug of tea also served in one of these)? Decisions. Decisions.

Perhaps I need to go on a decison making under uncertainty course?

(The tea link came via Normblog and Michael Totten)


On Saturday went with Rullsenberg to Sheffield to see Blue/Orange. An excellent three-hander about (what is it about, again?) madness, the NHS, 'normality, stereotyping, politics and the "arrogant assurance of professionalism" as the Grauniad put it in its review of the original production in 2000. The Sheffield production had three excellent performers in Roger Lloyd Pack, Shaun Evans and Jimmy Akingbola. There's a splendid review in the Indie.
In Kathy Burke's fleet production, Penhall's dialogue generates red-hot tension as the three characters tread through a minefield of arguments and issues: the underwhelming response of the National Health Service to those with mental health problems; doctors playing off professional ethics against career prospects; and the uncomfortable conflict between racial prejudice and acquired political correctness.

The thrust stage of the Sheffield Crucible lends itself well to this semantic competition as the three characters dodge around one another's verbal lobs. What takes place on the minimalist set, clinically grey apart from a bowl of Day-Glo oranges and a blue strip edging the stage, is far from drably monochrome. It's like watching a boxing match, only less blatantly bloody.
Roger Lloyd Pack is ... [p]retentious and careerist, he's perhaps most truly in character when, trying to provide a plausible reason for Christopher's apparent fruit-colour blindness, he misquotes Paul Eluard's poem "La terre est bleue comme une orange" with all the familiar authority of a man who thinks he knows everything.
Well worth going to see.

Friday, February 18, 2005

I Am Curious Blue Orange

There's a play on at the Sheffield Crucible about race, mental health and the National Health Service.
[It's] a new production of Joe Penhall’s acclaimed play.
In a London psychiatric hospital, Christopher claims he’s the son of the late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin and that oranges are blue. This baffling young man becomes a human punchbag in the battle between two psychiatrists. Set against the backdrop of a crumbling National Health Service, Joe Penhall’s edgy comedy examines the unspoken politics of institutions, challenges assumptions about ‘normality’ and questions whether ‘sanity’ is dependent on the colour of your skin.
This is a must go see. Especially because the director is the splendid Kathy Burke.
Tossing into conversation expletives with the same ease and wanton abandon that Jamie Oliver uses olive oil, Kathy Burke says she is loving the experience of directing the highly regarded three-hander Blue/Orange, in its first revival since it set the stage alight down at the National.
The general consensus is that Burke is a good sort. Roger Lloyd Pack, one of the cast members of Blue/Orange, loves working with her. The people who work at Sheffield Theatre think that she's wonderful.
It is perhaps the complete lack of pretentiousness that Burke carries around that makes one warm to her.
When asked about her directorial style – which has already been described by Lloyd Pack as very sympathetic towards her actors – she tells you that she understands what it is like to work with bad directors, something which she strives not to be, because "I used to be an actor", as if you might not be aware of her previous work. Plenty of actors would take great and immediate offence if you were unable to list every role they have ever performed, but not Burke.
Now, about the play:
Blue/Orange tells the story of a young man, Christopher, who claims to be the son of an exiled African dictator.
He also believes that oranges are blue, hence the title of the play. Two doctors, played by Roger Lloyd Pack and Shaun Evans, clash over their ideas of how the young man should be treated.
"Really, the play is all about status and power. I've worked with lots of people who are power trippy and this play is all about that," says Burke.
"I'm really interested in human nature, how we communicate and how we don't communicate."
Burke, seemingly realising that she is drifting into intellectual territory changes tack, reverts to type and adds: "It's about psychology and the brain and the sort of thing that can mess it up."

Doesn't that description make you want to go see the play?


Have a look at these cracking images (scroll down) of Anti-Fascists in Germany.

Wither the ANL?

To understand the background it's probably also best to read Anti-German for Beginners and the comments at Harry's Place.

(Via Harry's Place)

Mr Livingstone I Presume?

Last night I picked up a copy of London Reviews - A selection from the London Review of Books 1983 -19851. In it I found a review by Neal Ascherson of Citizen Ken by John Carvel2. Parts of it read as though the last twenty years had not happened.

Surprisingly Livingstone believes in hunter-gatherer State of Nature socialism with the Fall being the introduction of agriculture (which brought with it wealth, surplus, hierarchies and technology and modern society with its medicines, increased life expectancy and horible things like that).
[Hunter-gatherers] were 'a very together, well-organised and sophisticated proto-culture'. Everything that we are today has emerged from the hunter-gatherer tradition. 'All of our ability, the development of our intellect, all of our early culture grows out of those kinship groups operating overwhelmingly in a co-operative way ... The hunter-gatherer is what humanity is'.

So far, so Fourier, or Rousseau or St-Simon. The most interesting questions about state-of-nature utopian thinkers is where they insert the Fall and what they consider to have played the serpent. Ken Livingstone has no doubts. It was the introduction of agriculture, the Neolithic revolution 'twenty thousand years ago' which ruined everything. For a start, it accelerated the growth of population until the ecological balance collapsed. 'Hunter-gatherers have a basic diet which means you can't wean children easily. It's all hard, scrunchy stuff. There's no animals' milk or mushy foods.' And with the junk food of planted crops came the creation of wealth, surpluses, hierarchies, technology.
'If you look at the way the City of London works, it is operating in exactly the same way as the most primitive of those societies based on agriculture ... The basic motive force is greed and exploitation, which is there from the start once you move away from that co-operative group. We haven't learned to cope with surpluses and distribute them without greed becoming the major motive factor and the desire for power over others. I do not think that is a natural state for humankind to be in.'
This is all fearful heresy to those - like myself - reared on the work of V. Gordon Childe, whose Marxist version of the natural state was located precisely in the world of Neolithic agriculture, perceived as a non-competitive, co-operative and equal society bonded together by kinship and by the need to give and receive food surpluses to relieve crop failure. For Gordon Childe, the 'origins of inequality' were to be found in the invention of metallurgy, creating, out of the families who possessed the secret, hereditary castes which would eventually develop into a primitive bourgeoisie with all its attendant vices of greed, privilege and war.

But then Gordon Childe, as a Communist, took a basically optimistic view of history. His metallurgical Fall might have wrecked the 'undifferentiated substantive' of primitive farmers. It was, however, the first 'contradiction' in a dialectic which would in the end create equality and co-operation at a higher synthesis - the victory of the industrial world proletariat. What is fascinating about 'Red Ken', so much a child of the Seventies, is his pessimism. A man who does not see history as in at least some sense a progress will never make a recognisable Communist, whether Stalinist or Trot. Talking, or rambling on, to Carvel, Livingstone derides the whole idea of progressive evolution, biological or social. 'It's there in the thinking of a lot of people around Stalin - that man is getting better, that we are part of this inevitable upward progress. We're not really ... We're still trying to adjust to changes that came over us twenty thousand years ago.' Well, it was there in the thinking of a lot of people around Karl Marx as well. But Ken Livingstone, a man for compassionate issues rather than ideologies who was brought up in South London suburbs rather than among proletarian terraces, simply points to the city around him as evidence of negative evolution. People now live on their own, surrounded by other isolated people. They do not gather tubers with their comrades, neither do they enjoy that 'music, dancing, relating to each other, the constant flow of conversation' which is proper to the species. 'The isolation you get in society, particularly urban society, where people are frightened and embarrassed to turn to other people for support, means that we are living in a way which is completely at odds with the best part of fifteen million years of evolution which turned us into what we are.'
So according to John Carvel Livingstone does not believe in "progress". I think that seeing progress as some ineluctable force is wrong. What we do have is the opportunity to make things better. Indeed this may be through"a dialectic which would in the end create equality and co-operation at a higher synthesis - the victory of the industrial world proletariat" or it may be through some other means but the opportunity is there.

Asherson then discusses that 80's staple Ken's lizards and salamanders.
And at this point Citizen Ken brings on the reptiles. Everyone who can read a paper knows that he keeps lizards and salamanders; given the sort of press he gets, millions probably think he uses them to enrich the cauldrons of lesbian separatist covens dancing on Peckham Rye. In fact, he uses them not for food but for thought. Some lizards, he explained to Carvel in the second part of this immortal conversation, reproduce by parthenogenesis - females reproducing themselves without male involvement. (First the Russians discovered such a lizard. The Americans dismissed it as fraud until they discovered one of their own. 'So it's now established that the superpower blocs have parthenogenic lizard parity,' says Livingstone.)

He sees an analogy here with his view of human development. The lizards who developed parthenogenesis at once collected an enormous short-term advantage: by avoiding all the dangers and uncertainties of sexual reproduction, they solved the problem of keeping the species going. But in the long term, the solution must lead to extinction. The gene pool is not mixed, healthy mutation and adaptation cease, and a population of identical, mindless little creatures without an original idea or physical variation among them will be easily wiped out by some catastrophe.
Ascherson then pulls out a section describing Livingstone's politics:
Ken Livingstone is a utopian socialist, a man who does not fit most of the categories crammed around his neck by the media. He is anything but a Trotskyist, although he will gladly use small Trot groups for support when it suits his tactics. He is not a working-class politician formed by poverty, but neither - as Carvel points out - is he a 'paperback Marxist' from a 'lumpen polytechnic'. He had no real higher education, and his grasp of theory, as the hunter-gatherer parthenogenesis hypothesis shows, is wonderfully sketchy and personal. In most ways, he is more of a classical anarchist than a Marxist. His style is to work through a constantly changing series of caucuses, cabals and temporary alliances; one of the reasons the Parliamentary Labour Party hates him so fervently is Livingstone dislikes the discipline of permanent political structures, even though he still seems anxious to enter the House of Commons. If there is anyone in European politics whom he resembles, it is Erhard Eppler, the veteran Social Democrat in West Germany, an infinitely graver and more consistent thinker who nonetheless commands a similar coalition of leftists, life-stylers, Green-minded socialists and nuclear disarmers, whose outlook is also pessimistic and who was the first in his party to welcome the 'end of growth' and put forward a sweeping reform programme which did not amount to the mere redistribution of capitalist surplus in years of expansion.

Ken Livingstone complains that the society he lives in has almost killed off the capacity for social 'mutation'. But, as a matter of fact, he himself is a mutation. Citizen Ken is one of the first known examples of a new strain of politician entirely resistant to all known forms of media poison. The last ten years have brought campaigns against the personal and public lives of selected left-wing politicians of a viciousness scarcely seen in Britain since the Victorian period, but none of these campaigns - not even that against Arthur Scargill - acquired the intensity of the hounding of Livingstone. Scargill and Benn, of an older generation, have acquired signs of paranoia under this treatment; Tatchell was nearly destroyed by it. But Livingstone actually feeds on pesticide. The more hysterical the abuse, the more provocative he becomes. The quotes about the IRA, the Royal Wedding, gay rights and black pride continue to flow; his wretched Labour group on the GLC have often paid the price, pockmarked by the shower of missiles aimed at their leader and obliged to watch many of their most 'popular' measures obliterated from view by the latest scandal over 'Red Ken' and his big mouth. Meanwhile, Livingstone himself was turning the publicity steadily to his own advantage, emerging as a skilled, unflappable and charming radio and television panellist and interviewee. Increasingly, his case has been heard, and Londoners have developed for him both affection and some respect. Carvel observes that 'Livingstone's crucifixion in the media formed the basis of his subsequent political strength and popularity.'
He is no administrator and , really, no hero. He has a cheerful super-rat gift for dodging upwards through chinks in situations. He is a shameless carpet-bagger and opportunist with a gift for bringing together coalitions of people who all slightly suspect him for different reasons but find his flair irresistible (in this, he has something in common with Lech Walesa, whom he probably regards as a clerical fascist). As a schoolboy, taught at Tulse Hill Comprehensive by the expansive Philip Hobsbaum, he became, in his own words, what he was to remain: 'an argumentative, cheeky little brat'. John Carvel, who obviously admires him, often seems in this book to shake his head with exasperation over the chances Ken takes with his reputation.
So there we have a twenty-year old description of Ken Livingstone, the 'pessimistic', 'argumentative, cheeky little brat' whose 'crucifixion in the media formed the basis of his subsequent political strength and popularity'. That puts Livingstone's recent contretemps with the Evening Standard into perspective. His relationship to the media can be summed up with a quote from Goethe "that which does not kill me makes me stronger". Has anything changed over the past twenty years?

1Spice, Nicholas, ed. "London Reviews - A selection from the London Review of Books 1983 - 1985". London: Chatto & Windus. 1985. p71-77.
2Carvel, John. "Citizen Ken". London: Chatto & Windus. 1984.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Mark Thomas and Immigration

In last week's New Statesman Mark Thomas "Imagines a UK Without Migrants". (I've just found a link to it but the Staggers is notorious for it's up, it's down online presence so go to your library and read it, or even buy it).

It's an amusing piece but I feel Mark Thomas is confusing "immigrant" and "people of visible minority ethnic origin" (isn't terminology awful?).
That immigration and asylum should be such important topics in the run-up to a general election campaign shows a huge failure on Labour's part. Many Britons believe the proportion of immigrants in this country to be between 22 and 24 per cent. In fact, the figure is roughly 4-5 per cent. So either immigrants are all doing the work of five people, creating the impression that there are more of them, or most white British people are hallucinating and walk around shopping centres thinking, "Zulus! Thousands of 'em!" Or it means that Britain is still a petty little xenophobic nation, where people's vision of reality is warped with bigotry.
Surely this "belief" comes down to a general lack of knowledge of statistical sampling. If you are making your way down Coldharbour Lane and a pollster stops you and asks you about the proportion of "people of visible minority ethnic origin" in "the country" is not your answer going to be different to someone asked that same question in Ludlow? Most people draw their concept of "country" from where they are, and everywhere is like "here".

However, much as this is a credible theory, I have a feeling it's poll results from "hideously white" areas that over-estimate the proportion of "people of visible minority ethnic origin" in "the country" and support Mark Thomas's idea of "Britain [a]s still a petty little xenophobic nation, where people's vision of reality is warped with bigotry".

If you over-estimated the proportion but added "And a good thing too" would that make you non-racist?

Shocking Events in Italy

Norm blogs on an Italian conference Laughter and Comedy in Ancient Christianity.

There's something else going on in Italy that's shocking I tell you. Shocking. Bud Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) has come out as a candidate for Berlusconi's Forza Italia in the Rome region.

Bud. Bud. How could you? That's Bud Spencer the star of such unforgettable spaghetti western masterpieces as Lo chaimavano Trinita (They Call Me Trinity) and ...continuavano a chiamarlo Trinita (They Still Call Me Trinity).

But then "They Call Me Trinity" did have the tagline "He's the right hand of the Devil".

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

On Iraqi Nationalism

David Hirsh responds for Labour Friends of Iraq to a letter in today's Grauniad.
Marcia Saunders*writes in a letter in today's Guardian that the current situation in Iraq can be understood as a conflict between a foreign army of occupation fighting a national insurgency. If it were all as simple as this, then of course solidarity with Iraq would simply involve solidarity with the national insurgency.
His response is in two parts: a general and standard Left response to "Nationalism" - that it sees a "nation" as homogeneous instead of heterogeneous and overlooks class and other identity issues; followed by a specific discussion of the Iraqi situation. Fair enough. He goes on to say
the project of progressive movements in Iraq is to fight for a politics that breaks out of simple religious, ethnic and national identifications. The resistance is supported by a small minority of Iraqis. It is not a national liberation movement, but consists of a number of different militias, some based on the politics of Sunni supremacism, some are religious movements that claim that the only way to be a real Muslim is to seek state power for a version of Islam, some are based on a nostalgia for the Saddam regime, some are based on an idea of anti-imperialism most are mixtures of the above.

The world in general, and Iraq in particular, are more complicated than the simple schemas of good (oppressed) nations and bad (oppressor) nations, imperialist and anti-imperialist forces. We have to abandon these simple old formulae and we have to think instead.

What is the best way forward, today, for those fighting for a democratic Iraq, for those fighting for a kind of democracy that transcends the rhetoric of the American Republicans?What is the best way forward for the embryonic Iraqi women's movement? How can Iraqis for whom Sunni, Shia and Kurd do not define their entire political identity have their voices heard? These are real and complex questions, being addressed by people who risk their lives to address them. They need solidarity from people in other countries, not tired old certainties. They do not need the kind of thoughtless and self-satisfied solidarity that gives political support and legitimacy to those who are trying to kill them the resistance.
Go read the piece. Let's have less "thoughtless and self-satisfied solidarity".

* Oops! Guardian online gets it wrong - according to the paper paper it's Neil Faulkner (I may have spelt that wrong) from the Institute of Archaeology at UCL.

The Fahrenheit 9/11 Effect

The Carlyle Group has just reported its "best ever" year. The Grauniad says
Carlyle's London managing director, Robert Easton, said Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 had had no effect on the day-to-day running of the company.

"In defence we have less than 1% of our funds deployed, but it is the defence sector that gets most noise from the likes of Michael Moore," he said. "Defence is now such a small part of our business because we have grown massively in other sectors."

Within a few months of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Carlyle bought out the investment in some of its funds of a half-brother of Osama bin Laden. The group says it now has no investments in Saudi Arabia.
How did anyone expect Michael Moore's film to impact on the activities of "the premier global private equity firm"? It's not as if the public could organise a boycott or encourage the company to change its activities on the basis of the film.
Compare this to the success Morgan Spurlock had with Super Size Me in getting a response from Mcdonalds. Much as they deny it Spurlock can be credited with the changed menu.

Last time I ate in Mcdonalds was 1984 so I have no personal experience of the new menu but it is getting its own criticism:
Global hamburger giant McDonald's latest line in healthy looking salads may contain more fat than its hamburgers, according to the company's Web site ...
For example, on the new menu to be launched at the end of this month, a "Caesar salad with Chicken Premiere" contains 18.4 grams of fat compared with 11.5 grams of fat in a standard cheeseburger.
I suppose it's all in the dressing (oh, and the croutons).

Friday, February 11, 2005


I took this test and got this result
According to our analysis, you are a Virgo, Aug 23 to Sep 22. But you are certainly not a Cancer, June 22 to July 22.
You claim to be a Libra, but you are simply in error. Please consult your parents as to your actual birth date.
Well, I confounded the, ahem,wisdom of astrologers but it's all a tad embarrassing. Embarrassing that I bothered with the test. Embarrassing all round. But at least I did not get found out.

Oenophilia and a road movie

Last night went with Rullsenberg to see Sideways. A minor but excellent film about male bonding, wine, sex, relationships, oh, and wine. It's also funny.

Paul Giamatti is excellent as Miles, a depressive wine obsessive sometime novelist. Thomas Haden Church is also good as Jack, a mid-life tv actor whose best roles are behind him looking for a weekend of fun and sex before he weds. They get involved with Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen who are also excellent.

Go see.

Miles has the opinion that Pinot Noir is good and Merlot bad. (I can't understand Miles's detestation for Merlot but that's because I'm a oenophile who drinks what he likes and likes what he drinks).

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Everyday life in Cambridge

Pooter Geek headlines his piece Class War but it's probably just Cambridge.
[Last friday] tattooed comprehensive-educated locals went knuckle-to-head with Cambridge students whose school fees were bigger than their opponents’ take-home pay.

The venue was much smaller than the place where they normally have the equivalent Oxford event and there was no doubt that the townies were on foreign territory in their own city. I suspect that there are few occasions in serious professional boxing when you hear a watching crowd chant the name “Hugh” over and over again as their favourite jogs out into the arena. It was like being trapped in an oak panelled cage full of baboons with trust funds.
Is this really England in the twenty-first century?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Law & Order: Criminal Intent

It's wednesday and that means Law & Order: Criminal Intent on telly.

As police procedurals go few go better. To paraphrase a comment in last weekend's Grauniad Guide (which I can't find online) to picture Detective Robert Goren imagine "Colombo played by Christopher Walken". Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays Goren says
“Bobby Goren takes you through a different story every week,” says D’Onofrio. “Sometimes it’s a ‘who-dunnit’ or sometimes a ‘why-dunnit.’ The fun and interesting thing about our show is that the audience knows things my character doesn’t and, as the story moves along, will realize that I know things that they don’t. The whole story is a game and we all get to play.”
The amazing weird thing about the internet is that you can soon find all you ever wanted needed to know about a fictional character: witness this. There are also sites devoted to those with other interests in Vincent D'Onofrio but I'll leave discussion of that to Rullsenberg.


The solution to this has just been published.

Over Christmas Rullsenberg and I managed to get every pairing, from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman to Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

But then came the challenge of the grid. Films in chronological order? Meshegas. I did make a guess at a Humphrey Bogart quote but could not justify it.

"Here's looking at you kid".

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Let's begin with a proverb, "to the obscure everything is obscure".

To call something obscure is to say “I’m intelligent and I haven’t heard of it/them/him/her therefore it must be obscure”. This is incorrect reasoning. The correct conclusion is that you’re just not that well informed. It’s lazy, hubristic and not in the good way of Perl.

Monday, February 07, 2005

China and Martin Jacques

What is it about Martin Jacques’s Grauniad pieces that makes me think of the future is bright, the future is pro-soviet writings in the west in the 1920s and 1930s? His tone and style remind me of the hagiographic writings of Sidney and Beatrice Webb in “Soviet Communism: a New Civilisation?” Note that all-important question mark in the 1935 edition that was removed for the 1937 edition.
Like the Webbs Jacques ignores the innumerable cases of human rights abuses, like the case of Hada,
detained in 1995, reportedly because of his involvement in an
organization called the Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance, which aimed to
promote human rights, Mongolian culture and greater autonomy for China’s
minority nationalities
and like the case of
Dr Yang, originally a mathematician, is a permanent US resident who was detained during a visit to China in April 2002, having entering the country illegally (using a friend’s passport). He reportedly suffered a stroke in late July 2004 in Beijing No. 2 Prison, where he is serving a five-year sentence. Dr Yang has reportedly applied to prison authorities for medical parole - a measure available to prisoners in China whose illness is sufficiently serious as to benefit from conditional release to allow for recovery outside the prison. However, as Dr Yang’s case has been marked by a series of procedural failures and irregularities on the part of the Chinese judiciary, leading to extended delays in proceedings, there are serious concerns his application will not be processed promptly, leading to possible additional risks to his health.

Or the case of Li Guozhu, a farmers' rights advocate who was detained in early November after he investigated deadly ethnic clashes in Henan province.

It's not like this information is difficult to find. It is easily available from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

A damn fine cup of coffee

If you love the smell of a damn fine cup of coffee in the morning (or any time of day or night) drink it in one of these.

(via HakMao)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Suicide bombing and istishhad

Eric the Unred writes on the Iraqi insurgents.

I came across this extract from David Storobin's The Birth of Suicide Bombings as a Popular Weapon.
The 15-year-old Iranian boy was crying as he was captured by Iraqi troops during the Iran-Iraq war. Presuming that the child-fighter was crying because he was bleeding, the Iraqi officer told him not to worry because the wounds were not serious. Hearing those words, the teenager began to cry harder. “I didn’t die,” complained the boy. “God does not want me.” [3]

Iranian children as young as nine were recruited for the most dangerous roles in breaking battle lines during the Iran-Iraq war. The children, known as baseeji, led the way, running over mine fields to clear the ground for regular soldiers and shielding adults with their little bodies. “Their numbers were never disclosed,” wrote Robin Wright. “But a walk through the residential suburbs of Iranian cities provided a clue. Window after window, block after block, displayed black-bordered photographs of teenage and pre-teen youths.”

A Western official remarked, “As we are learning, these are not odd men out … They truly live in a different world, their thinking totally alien and incomprehensible to the Western mind. We keep thinking they will come to their senses and realize this foolhardiness will cost them their one and only life. What is hard for us to fathom is that this is what life is all about to them, a gateway to heaven that must be earned.” [4]

The Koran does not forbid suicide. An often-cited passage of the Koran says, “And do not kill anfasakum” – the word “anfasakum” is interpreted in classical commentaries as “one another” and not “yourself,” despite proclamations by many in the West that the quote forbids suicide. [5] The hadiths (reports from Muhammad’s life) make it clear that the Prophet did not approve of suicide and that one who kills himself will not reach heaven. However, the suicide that is forbidden is “intihar”, traditional suicide. “Istishhad”, or self-sacrifice, is not forbidden.
There's another piece I found interesting on the origins of suicidal terrorism. This puts Milton's Samson as a proto-suicide warrior
This suicide-warrior rises to the top of Western literature in Samson Agonistes. Milton is here smarting from the horror and shame of the Restoration. Once again, England is under the idolatrous law of king and bishops, a kind of jahiliyya, and Cromwell’s city of glass has been shattered. His poem, then, is autobiographical: Samson is a true hero, humiliated, blinded by an unjust king, kept captive in the world of the dark Other. Like the refugee-camp inmate he is

To daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong,
Within doors, or without, still as a fool,
In power of others, never in my own.

His duty, confronted by a hypocritical War on Terror, is to take effective revenge by any means necessary. His father, recognising this grim necessity, makes the usual statement of fathers of suicide bombers everywhere:

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail,
Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair.
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.

The theme continues, through Handel, to reach Saint-Saens. In the latter’s opera Samson and Delilah the Samson legend, far from falling by the wayside of progress and fraternité, seems the perfect icon for France’s contemporary humiliation before Prussian technology. The guns of Krupp have frustrated France’s destiny in her mission civilatrice, and the chosen people must be avenged. The story seems perfectly modern: there is the theme of the tragic power of sex - Delilah becomes a second Carmen - and we witness the inevitability of total destruction in a grand, cast-iron Götterdammerung. Ernst Jünger, Stalingrad, and the suicidal B-52 captain in Doctor Strangelove are not far behind.
Now I believe that suicide bombing is an obscenity as is bombing. Isn't there something wrong in a life when to quote Terry Eagleton:
Blowing himself to pieces in a packed marketplace is likely to prove by far the most historic event of the bomber's life. Nothing in his life, to quote Macbeth, becomes him like the leaving of it. This is both his triumph and his defeat.
No No No. There is no triumph in blowing yourself and others up. There is no triumph in destroying the life of others not engaged in conflict. There is no triumph in blowing up a bus and its passengers. There is no triumph in walking into a bar and blowing it up. There is just defeat. Defeat of humanism. Defeat of what it means to be human. Defeat of everything that is good. Defeat of life.

Chelm and "the left".

At Labour Friends of Iraq Alan Johnson writes about "The Right Spot" a parable of Chelm (of which there are many) in relation to "the left".

(Hat Tip: NormBlog)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Nimbyism to the nth

This campaign needs your support. Imagine the noise. Imagine the increased traffic. Imagine the constant loud whirring noise. And for what?

(Hat Tip: A.E. Brain)

Irving Howe and the New Left

Jonathan Derbyshire picks up on a piece in the Dec/Jan BookForum on Irving Howe. Derbyshire ends by quoting Howes's introduction to a 1970 collection entitled Beyond the New Left.
The first [phase of the New Left was one] of populist fraternity, stressing an idealistic desire to make real the egalitarian claims of the American tradition.... The main slogan of that moment -appealing but vague- was "participatory democracy." For those of us committed to democratic socialism, this first phase of the New Left was, despite occasional tactical blunders, a profoundly welcome and promising reinvigoration of American political life....

The second phase of the New Left signifies a sharp turn away: away from fraternal sentiment and back to ill-absorbed dogma, away from the shapelessness of "participatory democracy" and back to the rigidity of vanguard elites, away from the loving spirit of nonviolence and back to a quasi-Leninist fascination with violence....
We need a new new left (or a return to a left) that believes in participatory democracy; a left that believes in democratic, egalitarian and humane values; a left that refuses to support fascist militia groups; a left that believes in common ownership and universalism; a left that, above all, believes in democratic, egalitarian and humane values.

Iraq: elections and onwards

Labour Friends of Iraq do a trawl through the media coverage ("so you don't have to").
David Aaronovitch warns against pro-war or anti-war groupthink, “attempting to minimise every negative and emphasise every positive, until you are in danger of losing all sight of the truth,” takes a swipe at Menzies Campbell’s “sophistry” and urges us to back Iraqi democracy.
They also pick up on a piece in the Pink 'Un on the Iraqi Communist Party.
The party has attempted to mount a secular challenge to the Islamists who dominate the main coalition appealing to the Shia vote in the south. In doing so they have rekindled a struggle for the minds of Iraq's historically marginalised Shia majority that stretches back to the middle of the last century
A senior British diplomat returning from the province of Dhi Qar, north of Basra last week, said it would not surprise him if the ICP picked up 20 per cent of the vote there. "Everywhere I went there seemed to be someone quoting Marx or George Bernard Shaw."

In Basra, Abbas al-Fayed, an ICP candidate, outlined the party's priorities. These include equal rights for women, a strong civil society and a decentralised state, (the latter designed to appeal to the strong leftist following in Kurdish areas of Iraq).

There were brief mutterings from one member about being "pro-business", before the campaign manager, Ahmed Khodeiya said firmly that in Communist Iraq income would be redistributed with a "tax on the rich".

Beyond that the ICP is appealing to secular Iraqis' very real fears of an emerging theocratic state where personal liberties would be restricted.

It's been a long time since GBS was quoted anywhere on the left but, hey, everyone has their foibles.