Friday, April 29, 2005

SIAW blog on journalists on blogging and the general laziness of much journalistic coverage of Iraq and the Attorney general's opinion. Here's a sample

On the issue of Iraq, journalists who, as in this instance, rake up very old news indeed, grossly misrepresent it, and then pretend that they’re doing a service to the public - even though the vast majority of the public have long since become bored by the bleats and screeches of those who would have left Saddam and his henchmen in power - simply reinforce the increasingly widespread view that far too many people in the media, arrogantly imagining themselves to be the official opposition, will do the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ dirty work better than those parties themselves can, and are even less deserving of trust, or respect, than politicians are. Yes, we’re well aware that Tony Blair is a sanctimonious creep who loves the camera rather more than is healthy (we supported the liberation of Iraq despite Blair, not because of him), but look again at Jon Snow, Jeremy Paxman or Kirsty Wark, or glance at the smug mugshots of most newspaper reporters and columnists, and ask yourself: are they any less irritating? Then recall that, while Blair has the support of millions of voters, and is very likely to lead the Labour Party to a third election victory in a row, nobody ever voted for the journalists who claim, nonetheless, to represent the public (how? telepathically? magically?), even as the public increasingly cease to read or watch their self-regarding performances.

Read the whole piece. It's not that long and it's worth it.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

What is a goy?

What is a goy?

A goy is a person who is a girl if examined at any time up to and including t, and a boy if examined at any time after t.

This comes from Ted Cohen's Jokes (Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters).

Cohen attributes it to George Boolos who attributes it to Richard Jeffrey who attributes it to Sidney Morganbesser if you're interested.

Apropos nothing, I am currently reading Boolos's book Logic, Logic and Logic (a gift from Rullsenberg) and I recalled this joke and thought I would contribute to the world stockpile of bad jokes.

Note to self: get out more.

History -it's a mystery to some people

SIAW renew posting with an email from Matewan (named after this, I assume) attacking the SWPs approach to history. The email ends

As Mahdy Ali Lafta, leader of the Iraqi Teachers’ union argued recently in a Morning Star interview, “We are the Resistance”. You can see why he said that. Iraqi Communists and trade unionists built the Iraqi labour movement between 1925 and 1948 around the dual demands of economic and social justice and national independence, they were savagely oppressed by the British-backed monarchy and butchered, Pinochet-style, by the Ba’ath coups of 1963 and 1968, they fought Saddam Hussein’s genocidal generals as guerrillas in the mountains of Kurdistan in the 1980s, and today they are targeted by terrorists and elements of the former regime. They have earned the right to call themselves the resistance and to be spoken of along with Italian anti-Fascist Partisans.

However, the SWP doesn’t call Iraqi trade unionists “the resistance”. The SWP supports Respect, a political party led by a man who calls Iraqi trade unionists “quislings” and “collaborators”. The SWP thinks that armed supporters of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, revanchist Ba’athists and Sunni mediaeval theocratic terrorists constitute “the Iraqi resistance”.

This isn’t history from below, it’s history in the gutter.

And not looking up at the stars.

Go read the whole piece.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

It's the start of the cricket season

It's the start of the cricket season so why not blog on a cricket related topic?

The mathematician Godfrey Harold Hardy(G.H. Hardy) was an atheist, an ardent cricket fan and a regular writer of postcards. Marcus du Sautoy records (page 120) that sometime in the 1920s or 1930s Hardy once wrote a postcard to a friend containing the following New Year's resolutions
  1. To prove the Riemann hypothesis,
  2. To make 211 not out in the fourth innings of the last test match at the Oval,
  3. To find an argument for the non-existence of God which shall convince the general public,
  4. To be the first man atop Mount Everest,
  5. To be proclaimed the first president of the U.S.S.R., Great Britain, and Germany, and
  6. To murder Mussolini.
From such things are heroes made.


Engage, a website campaign has been set up to oppose the AUT decision to boycott Israeli universities.

(Hat tip: Harry's Place)

More Boswelox

In today's Grauniad there is a letter in support of Richard Gott's travesty.

The letter ends
What is not in doubt, however, is the certainty that, as in the 1930s, war has again become a legitimate instrument of foreign policy, thus confounding the established shibboleth that we live in a democracy.
How does war as an instrument of foreign policy confound the idea that we live in a democracy? Surely the overthrow of a fascist regime (which is what the war was) supports the idea that we live in a democracy?

To those who doubt the Iraqi regime was fascist Oliver Kamm says
Saddam Hussein’s regime is properly described as fascist – among other things – because fascism provided the inspiration and model for it. As the historian Walter Laqueur writes in his valuable survey of Fascism: Past, Present, Future (1996, p.162):

The Iraqi political system is [i.e. under Saddam] not just a military dictatorship or a one-party system. It has been striving for totalitarian rule, with a massive use of terror and propaganda, the cult of its leader, unbridled nationalism, and military aggression that have taken it as far on toward full-fledged fascism as most European fascist regimes and movements did in the 1930s.
To argue that the war "confound[s] the established shibboleth that we live in a democracy" is to argue for a government by plebiscite. No decision is taken by government until all the people have been consulted and a vote taken. That is but a form a democracy. And a largely unworkable form. Our present democracy is a representative democracy. Yes it has flaws (for example by only calling for a vote every four years it encourages a lack of engagement among the public) but it can claim to work and is a democracy.

Surely the current "established shibboleth" is that we don't "live in a democracy". This shibboleth is supported by the objectively fascist R*E*S*P*E*C*T.

The fascist nature of R*E*S*P*E*C*T is demonstrated by their support for a "defeat, for the US and British forces". As the forces US and British forces were fighting were Ba'athist and the Ba'athist party is a fascist party then they were calling for a victory for fascism.

Now I think calling for a fascist victory makes you a fascist. Those dedicated to the "non fascist way of life" (and anti-fascist way of life) must oppose fascist and fascist supporting parties.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Richard Gott, in today's Grauniad, comes up with the biggest load of Boswelox this side of a sweetmeat fanciers convention.

He compares Blair with Chamberlain and lays into Blair as a "war criminal".

Now, I thought Chamberlain was an appeaser of an expansionist, genocidal fascism. And Blair has just overthrown a sometime expansionist facist regime. So where is the comparison?

There are those who still cling to the outmoded reactionary belief in "political sovereignty" where a regime can do what it wants to its people within its borders with impunity. "Political sovereignty" should not be used as an excuse for the international community to do nothing in the face of mass torture, deliberate starvation and the lack of freedom to engage in political affairs.

Chamberlain appeased a fascist regime. Blair overthrew a fascist regime.

There is something rotten in the state of international law if that makes Blair a war criminal.

Will, Will where have you been?

Will at a General Theory of Rubbish returns with some choice reasons to vote Labour.
To be brief: vote Labour to ensure that vile Party of reaction is decimated, buried and ruined. I want to do my bit to make it so.
Vote positively!

Vote Labour!

Help destroy the Tory Party!

and errrr forwards not backwards.
Make it so.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Running out Boycott

The Stoa has several posts on why the AUT Israel boycott is a bad idea.

For all the posts just scroll down.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Down down deeper and down

Michael Costello asks
How has it happened that the Left of politics across the world has ended up opposing a foreign policy philosophy of spreading democracy in favour of supporting the traditional conservative agenda of stability, sovereignty and the status quo?
Yes, there is a deep feeling of antipathy to Bush. Partly because of who he is. Partly because of how he came to power in 2000. Partly because of his appalling domestic policies (economic and social).

Costello quotes Bush
in his second inaugural address: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
Costello argues that these words echo those of Kennedy's inaugural address of 1961 which inspired progressive groups. Then came Vietnam.

No one on the progressive side of politics can be agin ending tyranny in our world. But many people see the gap between the rhetoric and the history. The rhetoric "Promoting liberty" can quickly translate into "supporting death squads in Latin America". This feeling of antipathy is not going to go away when people like John Negroponte are still a part of the administration.

However overthrowing regimes that starve, that torture, that summarily execute their citizens is a good thing.

A Left that supports the traditional conservative agenda of stability, sovereignty and the status quo against the overthrow of tyranny is a left that's lost the plot of what being progressive means.

There are many tyrannical regimes that deserve to go. The means to remove them may be military. The means may be economic. But the regimes must go. And that is a good thing.

(Hat tip: Norm)

Limbo or Purgatory

Am I in limbo or purgatory? I always get confused. Are they the same thing or different.

For the past few months I have been between jobs. One fixed term contract finished and the next one had yet to materialise. On April 1 I had an interview and received a phone call to say I had the job.


Coming up to three weeks later it's still with Personnel (or Human Resources or the people who deal with people issues). So some time soon I should have a start date. Slow are the ways of the world of local government.

Thanks to wikipedia I now know I am in Limbo. Limbo is defined as
popularly understood to be a "place where souls go", the term also describes and reflects theological uncertainty. As such, limbo is not part of the Church's official doctrine (compare purgatory, which is). Official Church teaching remains that the status of these souls (who don't seem to deserve hell, yet cannot follow the divinely-revealed path to heaven) is in limbo – in other words, their fate cannot be determined.
Purgatory is a process of purification after the particular judgment and before entry into Heaven.
So now I know. Actually reviewing those definitions I now know that I don't know. I'm saying I am in purgatory, the process ... after the particular judgment and before entry into my new job. But I could well be someone whose fate cannot be determined.

I feel ready to start limbo dancing.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Vladimir Mayakovsky

The Stoa points out that yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the death of Vladimir Mayakovsky - from whom this blog gets its name.

Yesh ananasy, ryabchiki zhui
Dyeh tvoi posledni prikhodit, burzhui!

("Eat pineapples, chew on your grouse
Your last day is coming, you bourgeois louse!")
The phrase "a cloud in trousers started" when Mayakovsky entered a train carriage to find the only other occupant was a young woman. To put her at her ease he introduced himself saying "I am not a man but a cloud in trousers". As the words left his lips he realised what a great and original phrase it was and perfect for a poem. So to ensure the woman forgot it he continued to talk for several hours. He then went and wrote the masterpiece "A Cloud In Trousers".

This story has always tickled me. Mayakovsky, the original overly talkative stranger on public transport.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Rufus Wainwright

Last night went with Rullsenberg to see Rufus Wainwright. What a show! Melancholy songs. Good time songs. And the encore was to die for.

Let's just say that every camera phone in the hall was taking pictures on overtime.

You can see him at the Manchester Lowry tonight - 14th April, or London Shepherd's Bush tomorrow and Saturday (I think London is sold out so get a ticket off those bastions of capitalism - ticket touts*).

DigressionI'm actually undecided on the ethics of touts. If a gig is sold out and you want to go and have the ready money to pay well should you get a ticket from a tout or should you miss out? Economically the artist is missing out on the extra money but they priced their tickets incorrectly - argues the capitalist - so providing space for a re-seller. Enough already. Either buy from a tout or don't. It's a personal thing. Yes the personal is political but it's going to a gig. It's not that big a deal. But big enough for a footnote. A big rambling size 15, doc martens only, footnote.

If you're in London get a ticket. If you're in Manchester get a ticket (from the box office so the previous discussion is like Vienna - it means nothing to you).

You won't be disappointed. That's a promise.

Loathsome racist tactics

It was reported in yesterday's Grauniad that Mal Hussain, the Lancaster shopkeeper and victim of continual vile racist abuse for 14 years has finally sold his shop and moved.
Over the years, Mr Hussain has recorded more than 4,000 separate incidents, including a firebomb and being shot at with live bullets on two occasions.
One bonfire night, a petrol-soaked mattress blocked the shop door. His shop was wrapped in razor wire and barricaded with grilles and steel shutters.
During the 1990s, Craig Wareing, a notorious local racist, was jailed for terrorising Mr Hussain. He was later banned from entering Lancaster for life.

Mr Hussain said: "It has been 14 years of hell for both Linda and I. I have always stated that I would not be driven away from my successful business, built through sheer determination and despite all the attempts by racists to undermine it and force us to leave Ryelands.

"I feel betrayed and failed by the institutions who are supposed to protect those who suffer in the hands of racists.

"I relentlessly campaigned against the attacks I have experienced because racists cannot be allowed to get away with their acts of violence and harassment.

"This is a sad day for us, because we feel we have been pushed into a corner and options removed from us."

Lee Jasper, secretary of the National Assembly Against Racism, said: "In the last year, Mal has been looking for ways of leaving Ryelands, having come to the end of his tether with the constant nature of harassment he has been experiencing.

"However, despite reaching a settlement, Mal has had to sell the Mini Market at a cutdown price.

"This case represents one of the most serious and sustained acts of racist violence in recent history."
The piece goes on to quote a defence solicitor for someone alleged to have racially abused Mal Hussain
"If one is abused occasionally, one can take offence.

"But if one is abused for four to five years, one becomes immune to it. It is like water off a duck's back."
Really. Is that so? Is it not more likely that an occasional case of abuse can be treated as the exception and the abuser condemned as an ignorant exception but regular sustained abuse coming from across a community is even more damaging to any sense of self worth or of belonging to a community? "Immune" to consistent and regular verbal and physical abuse and violence. Really. Is this defence any different to saying "everyone was racially abusing Mal Hussain so my client's abuse was nothing special and my client should therefore be acquitted"? Loathsome in the extreme.

In the current election campaign the Tories and the gutter (in the gutter and definitely not looking up at the stars but possibly in the gutter and looking up stars' dresses) press are going for a xenophobic anti immigrant and anti immigration vote. That's the sort of thing that leads to cases like that of Mal Hussain. That's the sort of thing that must be stopped.

Pooter Geek mentions
a story about Tony Blair during the ultimately victorious 1997 Labour General Election campaign. (Remember, this is when people were still referring to him as “Bambi”.) Perhaps in a bit of a panic about polling figures, the Tories had decided to play the race card as a last gasp measure. One of his aides asked Blair what he was going to do about it. He is supposed to have said, “Nothing. If that’s the kind of government the voters want then fuck ‘em”. So, if Howard’s is the sort of government you want, then fuck you too.

Here endeth this comment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Election 2005 and Hope

What is it about Michael and Lynton's campaign that makes me want to chunder? Is it the nauseous appeal to people's xenophobia and racism? Is it the total glossing over of 18 years of Tory misrule? Is it the appeal to the worst sort of middle class Daily Mail self-interest? Or is it this:
On May the fifth you can let the sunshine of hope break through the clouds of disappointment we all feel!
Pass the sick bucket Alice.

There are many things to criticise in the Labour party programme - privatisation, corporatisation, PFI, the not very ethical arms export programme, etc, etc - but it's a damn sight better than the serious opposition.
Life under a Labour administration is bearable while it gives something to campaign against.
Life under a Tory administration would be so vile that life is despairing for those caught in its binds.

Vote Labour. They're not as depressing as the Tories.

That Fahrenheit 451 thing

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

  • Alasdair Gray's "Lanark" because of, amongst other reasons, the discussion of plagiarism. If there are no books there can be no plagiarism.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Yes. I always wanted to be best mates with Bobby Brewster and Studs Lonigan. And I also loved Sophie from Sophie's Choice.

The last book you bought is: David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

The last book you read: A Grammar of the English Language by William Cobbett.

What are you currently reading?
Mtchell's Cloud Atlas

  • WallaceMarkfield's Teitlebaum's Window
  • Thomas Pynchon's Vineland (again)
  • Simon Singh's The Code Book
  • Walter Benjamin's One Way Street
  • Alexander Solzenhitzyn's The First Circle

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
  • Lanark by Alasdair Gray - humour, despair, hope, and the list from whence was ripped.
  • The Good Soldier Svejk by Jarosalv Hasek - humour against adversity and insubordination by following orders to the letter.
  • Fundamental Algorithms by Donald Knuth - the premier computer science book
  • Collected Works by William Shakespeare - about time I knew more plays
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - I read this as a young teenager and I began to understand the world

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Everyone I know of has already done this quiz so no-one.

      Wednesday, April 06, 2005

      Augie March is dead

      Just found out that Saul Bellow has died.

      I remember reading The Adventures of Augie March on an empty transatlantic flight November 2001. Some books speak to you. And this book spoke to me. A hero with no well defined plan for life. Yup.

      Saul Bellow 1915 - 2005

      Tuesday, April 05, 2005

      It's the Election

      Or, as Rullsenberg describes it, "the worst kept secret ever".

      Yes, Nick Palmer is a good local MP and will get my vote.

      I know there are those who argue "if voting changed anything they'd abolish it", and "no matter who you vote for the government always win" and other calls to abstention, but when the main opposition party is playing the xenophobic racist game it's vital to stand up against them.

      Monday, April 04, 2005

      Kofi Annan and The UN

      In the Observer, again, there's a cracking piece by Kenneth Cain that asks "How many more must die before Kofi quits?"
      Talking about "Rwanda's stunning new genocide museum" Cain describes an
      installation - a reproduction of the infamous fax by the UN Force Commander, General Romeo Dallaire, imploring the then head of UN peacekeeping, Kofi Annan, for authority to defend Rwandan civilians - many of whom had taken refuge in UN compounds under implicit and sometimes explicit promises of protection.

      Here, too, is Annan's faxed response - ordering Dallaire to defend only the UN's image of impartiality, forbidding him to protect desperate civilians waiting to die. Next, it details the withdrawal of UN troops, even while blood flowed and the assassins reigned, leaving 800,000 Rwandans to their fate.

      The museum's silent juxtaposition of personal courage versus Annan's passive capitulation to evil is an effective reminder of what is at stake in the debate over Annan's future: when the UN fails, innocent people die. Under Annan, the UN has failed and people have died.
      Later Cain argues that
      the American neoconservative right has occupied the moral high ground in critique of Annan, outflanking the left, which sits on indefensible territory in his support. But if prevention of genocide and protection of the vulnerable are not core priorities on the left, then what is? If anyone's values have been betrayed, it is those of us on the left who believe most deeply in the organisation's ideals. I am mystified by the reluctance of the left both in the US and the UK (the Guardian 's coverage, for example) to criticise Annan's leadership. The bodies burn today in Darfur - and the women are raped - amid the sound of silence from Annan. How many genocides, the prevention of which is the UN's very raison d'ĂȘtre, will we endure before the left is moved to criticise Annan? Shouldn't we be hearing the left screaming bloody murder about the UN's failure to protect vulnerable Africans? Has it lost its compass so badly that it purports to excuse the rape of Congolese women by UN peacekeepers under Annan's watch? Is stealing money intended for widows and orphans in Iraq merely a forgivable bureaucratic snafu?
      Let's repeat Cain's comment that
      when the UN fails, innocent people die. Under Annan, the UN has failed and people have died.
      It's time to change the structure, the purpose and the actions of the United Nations.
      It's time to have a United Nations that saves lives.
      It's time to have a United Nations that educates.
      It's time to have a United Nations that feeds.

      It's time to have a United Nations that works.


      Sunday's Observer had a splendid piece by David Aaronovitch.

      It's well blogged at Pooter Geek and also at Harry's Place.

      Go and read it.

      Actors Getting It

      Yesterday's Observer had a letter from a group of actors professing support for Labour in the forthcoming General Election.
      We were all opposed to the government's military intervention in Iraq. Though, obviously, we welcome the fall of Saddam, the emergence of democracy in Iraq, alongside other signs of change and progress in the Middle East, we continue to believe military action was the wrong decision.

      We do not question the Prime Minister's integrity: we question the decision he reached. However, we also acknowledge that general elections are not decided on one issue alone, and that the country must take into account many factors in choosing its government.

      On that basis, despite our firmly held views on Iraq, we strongly support the re-election of a Labour government.
      It's good to see the "welcome [given to] the fall of Saddam, the emergence of democracy in Iraq, alongside other signs of change and progress in the Middle East". But they still believe military action was wrong - what other actions were available?

      Last night I watched, with Rullsenberg, The Life of Brian. I can't help feeling the opening of the above letter has the same feel as the "What have the Romans ever done for us" sketch.

      Read it and decide.

      Friday, April 01, 2005

      Billy Bragg

      This blog stands full square with The Bard of Barking. He's been receiving hate emails from Friends of George Galloway after he did a fundraiser for Oona King.
      At the general election expected in May, her 10,057 majority is being challenged by former Labour MP George Galloway, who is standing for the anti-war Respect party. Following the gig at the Spitz club in Spitalfields, Bragg received a series of derogatory emails from opponents of the war.

      He admitted people had been "disappointed in him", but said opposing Labour could split the vote and let the Tories in. "We were misled over weapons of mass destruction. But there was never a Labour government that didn't disappoint me in some way," he said.

      "People are angry because they have been misled. But I don't see how handing Bethnal Green and Bow to the Tories helps the people of Basra. I signed up to fight the Tories and the BNP. That is why I am here."
      Vote R*E*S*P*E*C*T and elect a Tory.

      As the man said Wearing badges is not enough in days like these.

      (Hat Tip: Harry's Place)

      Uncompromising Socialism

      Here’s an account of an uncompromising socialism, that of the Socialist Labour Party.

      George Barnsby notes, on page 368 of Birmingham Working People, that
      “It wanted unity – but only Socialist unity. It was at once the conscience of all Socialists, but opposed to the compromises which all Socialists were forced to face in widening support for the achievement of a Labour government and socialism. Thus the SLP were the most vehement in criticising the ‘opportunist’ and Liberal elements within the Socialist Centre, Labour Church and all the other political parties, but they were also the most vocal in denouncing the welfare measures such as old age pensions and labour exchanges as plots to strengthen capitalist control and the attachment of the working class to the Liberal party.“
      The Socialist Labour Party was formed by, mostly Scottish, dissidents within the Social Democratic Federation. Their monthly paper, The Socialist, first appeared in August 1902, a full year before the formation of the party.

      The dispute with the leadership of the SDF started with the Paris Congress of the Second International in 1900. The SDF sided with those who favoured entry into capitalist governments, the Possibilists, against those who opposed participation, the Impossibilists. Those who formed the SLP sided with the Impossibilists. The general SLP opinion was that the bureaucracies of the ILP and LRC were anti-Marxists opposed to class struggle and revolutionary mass action.

      According to George Barnsby, on page 368 of Birmingham Working People,
      “it was the most uncompromising body in the search for Socialism. It wanted unity – but only Socialist unity. It was at once the conscience of all Socialists, but opposed to the compromises which all Socialists were forced to face in widening support for the achievement of a Labour government and socialism. Thus the SLP were the most vehement in criticising the ‘opportunist’ and Liberal elements within the Socialist Centre, Labour Church and all the other political parties, but they were also the most vocal in denouncing the welfare measures such as old age pensions and labour exchanges as plots to strengthen capitalist control and the attachment of the working class to the Liberal party.“
      The Birmingham branch was founded in December 1903.

      Barnsby, on page 370 of Birmingham Working People, notes that the
      “October issue of The Socialist …printed the results of the efforts of a reporter of the Evening Despatch to track down ‘this new Socialist organisation in Birmingham.’ After failing at the Trades Hall, he eventually went to the Bull Ring and asked about the Birmingham Socialist Centre. Whereupon the following dialogue occurred:

      There is no Socialist centre.
      But I thought it was in Livery Street.
      No, the people who go there are not Socialists but Opportunists.
      The SDF is a Socialist body isn’t it?
      No, the SDFers are Opportunists.
      The ILP then?
      They are weak Opportunists.
      Then who are the Socialists?
      The new Socialist Labour Party.
      Dear me, I never heard of them.
      It is a new organisation and comprises the forward elements of the SDP and the ILP."
      I just love that Dear me.