Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Who'd a thought it?

H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N is immortalised in Leo Rosten's work.

I was shocked to find a legal firm of that name.


Mandarin Pensions

Kevin White, Head of Human Resources at the DWP, has written a memo in which he repeats an accepted wisdom
It is vital we are able to continue to attract these scarce skills from a small but significant group of high earners, and retain those we have.
It may, indeed, be "vital" to attract, and retain, "scarce skills" but has it really been proven that only "high earners" have those skills? Are the "skills" scarce or are they just scarce among high earners. If they are scarce among high earners has a search been done to see if, perhaps, they are common among low to middle earners?

Is there any grounds to the accepted wisdom that high earning people must have loads of skills, loads of scarce skills otherwise why would they be high earners? It is time to crash that shibboleth. Many "high earners" became so because of luck, being in the right place, cultivating a personal network and not because of any important "scarce skills", (those skills described may be "scarce" but are they worth paying a premium for?).

Being a "high earner" does not mean you have "scarce skills" (after all a skill can be taught). You could rise through an organisation through "favouritism" and be seen as a successfull achiever through the efforts and talents of other people. Now that would make you a "high earner" with no skill.

Is someone earning over three times the national average wage really contributing three times more than someone on the national average wage? Are they working three times harder? Three times longer? Three times smarter? If they are not making three times the contribution is not their remuneration just theft from the company owners?

White's suggestion of "separate pension schemes for ... executives" is just saying that the Civil Service needs bigger thieves.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Outwitting History

This book looks worth a gander. It's called "Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of A Man Who Rescued A Million Yiddish Books" and it's by Aaron Lansky. To quote the publisher's blurb
Lansky was a 23-year-old graduate student in 1980 when he came up with an idea that would take over his life and change the face of Jewish literary culture: He wanted to save Yiddish books. With few resources save his passion and ironlike determination, Lansky and his fellow dreamers traveled from house to house, Dumpster to Dumpster saving Yiddish books wherever they could find them—eventually gathering an improbable 1.5 million volumes, from famous writers like Sholem Aleichem and I.B. Singer to one-of-a-kind Soviet prints. In his first book, Lansky charmingly describes his adventures as president and founder of the National Yiddish Book Center, which now has new headquarters at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. To Lansky, Yiddish literature represented an important piece of Jewish cultural history, a link to the past and a memory of a generation lost to the Holocaust. Lansky's account of salvaging books is both hilarious and moving, filled with Jewish humor, conversations with elderly Jewish immigrants for whom the books evoke memories of a faraway past, stories of desperate midnight rescues from rain-soaked Dumpsters, and touching accounts of Lansky's trips to what were once thriving Jewish communities in Europe. The book is a testimony to his love of Judaism and literature and his desire to make a difference in the world.
Worth going on your wishlist?

The Ministry of Irony

Gary Younge, in yesterday's Grauniad, enters the world of "warped reality" where "embracing the irrelevant and ignoring the inconvenient has become the only viable strategy left".

There is a full discussion of his piece by Gary Hirsh at Labour Friends of Iraq. Here's a taster.
Gary Younge’s side is the ‘anti-imperialist’ side. He writes as though the world is divided into two camps – the imperialist camp and the anti-imperialist camp. The only important struggle in the world, according to this bizarre framework, is the universal struggle of masses everywhere against imperialism. Anyone who claims to be against imperialism, anyone who says ‘Death to America’ is on Gary Younge’s side. Anyone who opposes these ‘anti-imperialists’, for whatever reason, is not on Gary Younge’s side.

Some forces that oppose American imperialism: Saddam Hussein; Hizbollah; Hamas; the government of the People’s Republic of North Korea; the Iraqi ‘resistance’; the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.'

Some forces that Younge thinks are on the same side as American imperialism: pro democracy campaigners in Iraq, in Iran, in North Korea, anywhere, in fact, where the government is ‘anti-imperialist’; trade unionists where the government is ‘anti-imperialist’; feminists where the government is ‘anti-imperialist’; lesbian and gay activists where the government is ‘anti-imperialist’; Kurdish nationalists in Iraq and in Iran but not in Turkey;demonstrators for democracy and independence in Lebanon (particularly if they show too much cleavage).

Well, I can hear Gary Younge saying, which side are you on? I do not think that we can understand every struggle in the world, Gary, in the framework of some global struggle against America. I do not think that the defeat of America is the most important thing in every place and in every struggle. I am for democracy movements, trade union movements, women’s and lesbian and gay movements, wherever they are and even if George Bush says that he is in favour of them too.
Harry's Place also critique Younge's piece. Younge mentions
On March 8 2005, 500,000 pro-Syrian protesters took to the streets of Beirut to oppose US and European interference. The demonstration was backed by Hizbullah, which the US has branded a terrorist organisation. People carried banners saying "Death to America". It was several times bigger than the first anti-Syrian protest.
but fails to mention the pro-democracy demo on March 14 2005 when
Hundreds of thousands of anti-Syrian demonstrators flooded the capital Monday in the biggest protest ever in Lebanon, surpassing the turnout for an earlier pro-Damascus rally organized by the Islamic militant Hezbollah. In a show of national unity, Sunnis, Druse and Christians packed Martyrs' Square as brass bands played and balloons soared skyward.

The rally, perhaps the biggest anti-government demonstration ever staged in the Arab world, was the opposition's bid to regain momentum after two serious blows: the reinstatement of the pro-Syrian prime minister and a huge rally last week by the Shiite group Hezbollah.
To quote David Hirsh again
I am for democracy movements, trade union movements, women’s and lesbian and gay movements, wherever they are and even if George Bush says that he is in favour of them too.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Andrew Murray

Where to start with Andrew Murray's egregious piece in yesterday's Grauniad? Today's paper gives a brief response from Alan Johnson of Labour Friends of Iraq
Andrew Murray (Comment, March 16) wants "full sovereignty restored to the Iraqi people", but rubbishes the election in which 8.5 million Iraqis defied the bombers. It was right to oppose the invasion, but wrong for the anti-war movement to ignore solidarity with the new and independent labour movement, women's groups and democratic political parties that desperately need our support.
In his piece Murray puts forward 4 points why the Iraq war should be at the top of the election agenda:

  1. the 2 million people who demonstrated against aggression on February 15 2003 have been shown to be correct, while those making the case for the war have been proved disastrously mistaken at best, reckless liars at worst.
    Did not the war lead to the overthrow of a brutal fascistic regime? Is Murray really arguing that Iraq would now be better off under the Saddamm Hussein run Ba'ath party?

  2. we must demand that the occupation is brought to a speedy end, our troops brought home, and full sovereignty restored to the Iraqi people.
    Would that be "sovereignty" to those who voted in the recent elections?

  3. the "war on terror" is cutting closer to home than ever, with centuries-old civil rights being scrapped on grounds which closely resemble those used to promote the war against Iraq.
    It is justified to campaign against the threat to civil liberties in the recent bills before parliament. But does this really relate to the war in Iraq?

  4. the threat of new wars, including an extension of conflict in the Middle East to Syria or Iran has to be taken extremely seriously. The Washington neo-conservatives are brutally frank about their objectives and we must assume they will try to attain as many as possible, by force if necessary, over the next four years.
    So a Marxist like Murray who says
    Many of our organisers are of the left, and defend its traditions against those who would prostitute them in the service of US power.
    is arguing for the support of brutal tyrannical unpopular regimes that survive by the use of authoritarian police methods? Is that really a a tradition of the left? If Murray thinks it is then is this a Left that anyone would want to support?
Murray ends with
The anti-war movement has spoken the truth on behalf of millions of citizens - there should not be a single parliamentary candidate in the forthcoming election able to hide from it.
That's it. The anti-war movement brings "the truth", in all its revealed glory. As the man said "Trust those who seek after truth. Run away from those who profess to have found it."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Farzad Bazoft

Today, 15th March 1990, the Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft was executed in Iraq.

Is there a mention in the Grauniad, the Observer's sister paper, today.


Some comment would have been nice.

Appeal for Nozad Ismail

Hak Mao links to the Nozad Ismail appeal at Labour Friends of Iraq.
Nozad Ismail, the President of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Kirkuk has twice survived assassination attempts by the so-called resistance and is subject to daily death threats. We call upon the international labour movement to extend solidarity to Nozad in the hope that these acts of solidarity and resulting publicity may make the cost of murdering him too high.
Sign it today.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Not So Strange Death of Tory England

Todays' Grauniad gives an extract from Geoffrey Wheatcroft's "The Strange Death of Tory England".
Douglas Hurd for a moment seemed the likely successor, but he was much flustered about his origins, as the son of a lord, educated at Eton and Cambridge. He resorted to poor-mouthing, as the Irish say, insisting that his father had only farmed 500 "not particularly good" acres. When pressed, he lost his composure completely: "This is inverted snobbery. I thought I was running for leader of the Conservative party, not some demented Marxist sect."
That's Douglas Hurd, ex Foreign Secretary, who
as chairman of NatWest, .. was involved, on behalf of NatWest Markets, in assisting the privatisation of the Serbian telecoms industry. Actually, some Serbian newspapers are speculating that, if it weren't for the millions of pounds that this generated for Serbia's equivalent of Britain's Treasury, it would have been impossible for Milosevic to have waged his war in Kosovo.
How easy it is to leap from running for leader of the Conservative Party to supporting a Genocidal conflict.

How easy it is to mistake the Conservative Party for a "demented Marxist sect."

Is it possible to third an emotion?

Siaw find a splendid quote.
Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses, and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.
Go and read the whole piece and follow the link to the source document. Go on. You know you want to.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Melys, Persil and Misty's Big Adventure.

Last night braved the night air and went out with Rullsenberg to see three bands. A splendid night it was too.

The first band was Misty's Big Adventure. I say band, more a performance art event (and I mean that in a good way). Drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, saxophone, trumpet, singer (imagine Steven Wright mixed with Alan Ginsberg) and a man in a red sheet covered in blue industrial gloves, dancing. Bands with dancers. Bands with pointless dancers. Bands with Bez. Whatever happened to dancers in bands? Anyway, MBA have cracking songs. What more could you want?

Then the sound system went. Where did it go? We don't know but when it came back the monitors weren't working. The next two bands had to cope.

Then came Persil, a Dutch duo. Like Stereolab.

Then after much plugging in, plugging out, plugging in and plugging out and then plugging in came Melys. Cracking.

For further detailed gossip and reviews have a look at Rullsenberg's splendid review.

All told a cracking night out.

More on Slavery

Further to this the scheduled release went pear-shaped. The Economist reports
Facing jail, a chieftain in western Niger offered to free the 7,000 slaves held by him and his clansmen in a public ceremony, due to take place on Saturday March 5th. But in the week leading up to the event, Niger’s government came to fear that a massive release of slaves would draw unwelcome attention to slavery’s existence in the country. The government declared that slavery does not exist in Niger, the ceremony was cancelled and the slaves left as slaves. Far from avoiding a public embarrassment, Niger has multiplied its worldwide shame.
Ant-Slavery International says (in a non-permanent link)
Following the positive moves by the Government on 5 March when it held an historic ceremony to end slavery throughout the country, officials are now sending out confused messages over the slavery situation in Niger.

Anti-Slavery International has had reports that the Government is saying slavery no longer exists in Niger and that senior government officials are warning slave masters not to release their slaves officially stating that if they do, they will be subject to 30 years in prison.

Timidria, Niger's pioneering anti-slavery organisation, and others also report government intimidation prevented slaves in In Atès from attending the 5 March ceremony.

It is very worrying to hear the Niger Government is now declaring that slavery does not exist and of its intimidation of the population. The enactment of legislation that criminalises and penalises slavery does not automatically mean it has been eliminated. It is vital the Niger Government acknowledges that slavery is a serious problem throughout the country and ensures that those in slavery are made fully aware of the new law and released.

The shift in position by the authorities is striking as Anti-Slavery International has seen letters from the Prime Minister and from the former Minister of the Interior clearly stating that they feel slavery in Niger is a problem.

At least 43,000 people are in slavery across Niger. They are born into an established slave class and are made to do all labour required by their masters without pay, including herding, cleaning, moving their master's tent to ensure he and his family are always in shade. The masters do nothing. Slaves are inherited, given as gifts and babies may be taken away from their mothers once weaned. They are denied all rights and choice.

It is crucial the Government of Niger acknowledges the reality of slavery in the country and that elimination requires a long-term approach. The Government must work with local and international NGOs in the development of assistance and support programmes for former slaves as well as in the creation of a monitoring body to ensure freed slaves are not exploited.

In May 2004 a new law came into effect making practising slavery punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The Government's move was in response to the publication of the first national survey of slavery, which was jointly carried out by Niger's pioneering anti-slavery organisation Timidria and Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organisation. The report established the extent and countrywide existence of slavery, having interviewed over 11,000 people, most of whom were found to be in slavery.
So the message to slave holders is (paraphrased as) "slavery in Niger does not exist but were you to release your (non-existent) slaves you will be jailed for upto thirty years".

So it goes. So goes the world. The first time as tragedy the second as farce (if farce was a word strong enough to encompass the horrors of slavery).

Monday, March 07, 2005

An End to Slavery

Yes. It's 2005 and slavery is being ended in Niger. Anti-Slavery International reports
On 5 March, the Niger Government is holding a ceremony that will mark an end to slavery throughout the country.

At the ceremony, hosted by the National Human Rights Commission, being held near the Mali border in In Atès in Tillaberi, the chief of In Atès will announce that all of the slaves in his area will be free. This will free over 7,000 people, equal to 95 per cent of the area's population who are currently slaves; 5 per cent are masters.

At least 43,000 people are in slavery across Niger. They are born into an established slave class and are made to do all labour required by their masters without pay, including herding, cleaning, moving their master's tent to ensure he and his family are always in shade. The masters do nothing. Slaves are inherited, given as gifts and their babies are taken away from their mothers once weaned. They are denied all rights and choice.

"This is an historic step forward for Niger, but many challenges remain. The Government needs to ensure not only that the law is implemented but that there are the means of support available for former slaves and their children to live their lives in freedom and independence," Romana Cacchioli of Anti-Slavery International said.

The ceremony marks a first step in making the nomadic population -- slaves and masters -- aware of the recent criminalisation of slavery.

In May 2004 a new law came into effect making practising slavery punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The Government's move was in response to the publication of the first national survey of slavery, which was jointly carried out by Niger's pioneering anti-slavery organisation Timidria and Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organisation. The report established the extent and countrywide existence of slavery, having interviewed over 11,000 people, most of whom were found to be in slavery.

Participants of the ceremony will include: Niger's President of the National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties Lompo Garba; Ilguilas Weila President of Timidria; members from each of the 19 groups led by the chief of In Atès, including slaves and masters; representatives from government ministries; and international organisations.
But slavery continues elsewhere. It carries on as bonded labour, as early and forced marriage, as forced labour, as slavery by descent, as trafficking and as child labour. This has to stop.

Link to Anti-Slavery International.

Complacency Kills

Last week's Grauniad weekend ran a graphic journal1, by the excellent Joe Sacco, of life in Iraq with a US army troupe. Very good it was too. Drawing on the choices made by Iraqi civilians and US troops. This week's magazine published a critical letter
While welcoming Joe Sacco's innovative approach to reporting (Complacency Kills, February 26), he uses the form to develop a hackneyed narrative that draws on the sentimental, one-sided stories America tells itself about Vietnam; this is almost inevitable from the perspective of "embedded" journalists. US casualties are not innocent victims of Iraqi "enemies". They are an occupying force.
Andy Crump
London NW6
Sacco did not portray US troops as "innocent victims". He managed to portray Iraqis and US troops equally humanely. To accuse Sacco of being "sentimental" is not justified by anything in the journal. Let's generalise here. Some "occupying forces" are good like the Allied occupation forces in Germany post WWII. Some "occupying forces" are bad, like Syrian occupation forces in Lebanon. Is Crump saying that all "occupying force[s]" are bad and a justifiable target for anyone who wants to attack them? So it's justifiable to attack UN peace keepers in say Darfur? It's important to ask "who benefits from the occupation" before assessing the good or bad nature of an occupation.

1 I cannot get this link to work. You might have better luck.

Legally and Otherwise

David Aaronovitch wrote a splendid piece in yesterday's Observer subtitled We should not ask whether the Iraq invasion was 'legal' - we should ask whether it was 'good'. He goes on to say

we may become reliant on legal processes to settle for us the question of what is right and what is wrong when, in reality, morality can neither begin nor end with the law.

Just as we talk more than we used to about law at home, so we also increasingly discuss international law. Thus it was with some fanfare that, also last week, Penguin published an important book by Professor Philippe Sands, a brilliant international lawyer. In Lawless World, Sands's central proposition is that the war on terror and the war on Iraq, as prosecuted by America and supported by Britain, pose a unique threat to a valuable system of international justice.

There is much that I can agree with in the book. In particular, I accept that the arbitrary procedures for dealing with 'terror' suspects at Guantanamo and Bagram have been a disaster, enhancing the likelihood of abuse, violating basic principles, discrediting those who laid most claim to be upholding human rights and strengthening opposition.

And yet I have some problems with other aspects of his approach. One is that, at important moments in his arguments about the law, I find that I have ceased to care as much as he wants me to about whether this or that action is, strictly speaking, legal. Instead, I find myself more concerned about whether the action is right. I'm not alone; many of those who routinely use the word 'illegal' about the war don't do so because of a detailed appreciation of Sands's judgment on UN Resolution 1,441 versus that of, say, Professor Greenwood of the LSE, but merely as meaning 'very bad'.

Aaronovitch ends by arguing
if the law prevents good actions and objectively protects bad ones, it needs to be changed. Any non-lawyer could tell you that.
If rules (laws) are set up and experience shows those rules (laws) not to be working do you follow those rules (laws) or do you do things that do work? Or do you make new rules (laws)? I'm on the side of those who do things that work and then make new rules. Which side are you on?

(Also see Norm).

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Lenin in Zurich

Following on from this post here's another one.
The Soviet Union, near the end of its existence, at last determines to commemorate Lenin's time in Zurich. For those not acquainted with Soviet thought, this holds significance roughly approaching Moses' ordeal at Sinai.

The principal attraction of the exhibit is to be a painting, to be called "Lenin in Zurich," and a young painter is commissioned. Some older members of the party are troubled by the fact that the painter has not been proven to adhere closely to the ideals they themselves espouse, but they are reassured by younger colleagues who note, after all, that times have changed and fresh ideas are sometimes useful.

The commission is given a year in advance, and for the entire time the painter labors secretly. Finally comes the inaugural of the new holiday, and the painting is mounted, appropriately covered in imposing cloth, at its appointed spot in the Kremlin.

The Red Army Band plays, the Red Army Chorus sings, party officials speak, and at last the cloth is removed.

In stunned silence the spectators gaze upon the work, in which are to be seen Krupskaya (Mrs. Lenin) and Trotsky, together in bed, between them wearing no more than Trotsky's pince-nez.

Cries ring out, a rumble is heard, and nothing is clearer than the question:

"Where is Lenin?"

The painter steps forward and replies:

"In this painting, Lenin is in Zurich."

Iraq and Side Effects

Harry and Norm post on Jonathan Freedland's article in yesterday's Grauniad. I would like to quote this piece
The big prize - the one the prime minister was so keen to show off at his London conference yesterday - is progress in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. After four years of stalemate and worse, the Palestinians are now led by a man who describes those who murder Israeli civilians as "terrorists" and who seems serious about putting the Palestinian house in order. Meanwhile, the Israelis are led by a man who, whatever his past, is now ready to risk his life to pull out of Palestinian land. The combination of Abu Mazen's embrace of the reform agenda demanded of him yesterday and Ariel Sharon's iron determination to pull out of Gaza - even in the face of a growing and credible threat of assassination - has made the prospects for their two peoples brighter than in years.
Interestingly the Grauniad chose to picture the Middle East Conference by showing orange placards of those nice people, Hizb-ut Tahrir. Orange placards saying that "Only the Khalifah will liberate Palestine". Orange placards saying Abu Mazen is a "U.S. puppet". All helpful imagery. Thanks for that.

In today's Grauniad there's a letter from June Purvis
Jonathan Freedland has at last got the measure of Tony Blair. Too many opponents of the Iraq war were guided by their hatred of George Bush and all things capitalist rather than by any wish of the Iraqi people to end the brutalities they suffered under that monster Saddam Hussein. Always insistent about their right to protest in our democratic society, they ignored the plight of men and women in the Middle East struggling for their own right to be heard and to be represented in any governing body. I shall be voting Labour - and for Blair.
June Purvis
Not so sure about "voting Labour", but that will be for other issues like Student Fees, PFI, corporatisation of government etc.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Is Torture a Good Idea?

Last night channel 4 had a programme with the title "Is Torture a Good Idea?".

The only valid answer is "No".

Torture is never ever justified. Witness the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ratified 10th December 1984.

Eretz with a Gimmel

Currently reading Jokes: Philosphical Thoughts on Joking Matters by Ted Cohen. Here's an example
"Why should 'eretz' be spelled with a gimmel?"
"A gimmel? It isn't."
"Why shouldn't 'eretz' be spelled with a gimmel?"
"Why should 'eretz' be spelled with a gimmel?"
"That's what I'm asking you - Why should 'eretz' be spelled with a gimmel?"
Stanley Cavell has seen important philosophers transfixed by the exchange.

For those whose Hebrew is rusty (and/or non-existent) eretz means land e.g. Eretz Israel is the 'Land of Israel'. And gimmel is the name of the Hebrew symbol for the letter 'g'.