Sunday, July 23, 2006

Decline and Fall of a Book Store

This is so so last, last month but I've just found it so here's the sad tale of the end of an independent bookstore. Here's the thing that made the shop good: enthusiastic and informed staff and a hands off owner.
The owner came by once a month to pick up the money and to sign the checks. Angela handled the finances, wrote the checks, and made sure the (financial) books were in order. Angela wasn't as big of a book person as Aaron and me, but she knew what books sold, what the neighborhood kids would be interested in, and she was a hell of a saleswoman. Aaron completely knew zines and the alternative press, and had a firm command of history texts and non-canonical literature (specifically, revolutionary writers and non-Western writers from the islands, Africa and India). Aaron also brought the store 'street cred' because of his writings and punk recordings. I knew books; I knew how to sell; and I knew what sold. We added shelves; reorganized the store, and turned it into a quirky place for political writings, zines, expensive graffiti books, and all things fringe (before us, the owner's boyfriend turned the store around; he started it on the path we followed). It worked.
And here's why it failed: the owner didn't didn't pay any bills. Owed money to small presses run by friends. Owed money to the Zapatistas. Finally lawyers and bailiffs caught up.

Here's the final web page of the shop. (Probably not safe for work but that depends where you work!)

Good independent bookshops are important to the intellectual and cultural life of any city. Good independent bookshops are going out of business at an ever increasing rate. What's that say about the cultural and intellectual life of cities?


Ever have one of those days when you get all set up to do things and it all goes pear shaped?

I wanted to check my emails.
  • my personal emails via yahoo are inaccessible: a delightful sight of "page cannot be displayed/cannot find server". Pish.

  • my work email (super duper user friendly inotes) keeps asking me to click ok as I am "about to view data over a secure connection". I know. So I click ok. The window is a persistent little fellow and refuses to disappear. So I am unable to access my work emails. Does it make me a sad anorak accessing work emails on a sunday afternoon? Yes.
So I am totally unable to read any incoming messages. Pish.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Munro Blog

Here's an excellent new blog with loads of pictures of Munros, and their shorter neighbours.

These Munros are not to be confused with the Monroe Doctrine.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Rethinking Marxism 2006

I was always intrigued how the RCP always had their week of fun filled intellectual revolutionary frolics adjacent in the calendar to the equally fun filled revolutionary frolics of the SWP.

"Get down all those posters".

"Put up our posters".

Anyway, I've found this conference in October 2006. The plenary session is headed "Imperialism and the Fantasies of Democracy". Because it's such a spiffing read here's the abstract.
Many of today's left analyses of imperialism make note of the neoconservative turn to democracy. At the same time, such analyses are often too quick to discard this reference to democracy as empty rhetoric, as a mere cover for the real imperial economic interests (generally centered on oil). Parting ways with such simple critiques of imperialism, this plenary recognizes the constitutive role democratic discourse plays in structuring today's imperial vision and poses the following questions: How does taking the rhetoric of democracy seriously (and conceiving of it as fantasy) aid us to understand what is new and different in contemporary imperialism as well as to grasp the ways in which neoconservative hegemony elicits popular consent? The reason we use the term "fantasies" is to introduce a deliberately ironic and also a disputed term in making the connection between imperialism and democracy. That is, we think that "fantasies" could be read, alternatively, as connoting a source of desire/pleasure, an ideological formation, a possible "illusion," and much else. What kinds of economic, political, legal orders are formed and imposed through imperial fantasies of democracy? What kind of new and unique contradictions are spawned by them that disrupt their smooth functioning? What are the material practices by and through which determinate democratic movements have been able to articulate their projects in the midst of, in spite of, or in conjunction with the forms of imperialism that are currently in play? Does the contemporary turn toward religious and ethnic ideals and movements attest to the failure of these particular democratic fantasies? Or are they conditioned by the inherent limits to the democratic promise?

Alternatively, to the extent that democracy exceeds its articulation to imperialism, it also becomes a potential to mobilize the growing reactions to imperialism in the form of diverse anti-globalization and peace movements. The question then becomes: How can the left critiques of imperialism rethink the promise of democracy that animates the desires of many who wish for economic and political justice, drawing, partly, from rich traditions and current new thinking stemming from Marxism?
At least it doesn't take the, all too common, approach of rejecting democracy as it is used for purposes we do not agree with. If there are "inherent limits to the democratic promise" what do Laclau, Shohat and Callari, propose to do about them? What is the alternative to democracy? Are "religious and ethnic ideals and movements" considered a valid progressive alternative to democratic movements?

Or is it just

"a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing"?

Economists and Immigration

Like most right thinking people I've always thought that immigrants to a country increase the labour supply but in needing goods and services they also create an increased demand for labour.

Today I have discovered the technical term for this is that the "demand curve also shifts out" [registration required after first read], or so says labour economist David Card. Back in 2005 Card produced this research to ask "Is the New Immigration Really So Bad? In his abstract he says
This paper reviews the recent evidence on U.S. immigration, focusing on two key questions:
  1. Does immigration reduce the labor market opportunities of less-skilled natives?
  2. Have immigrants who arrived after the 1965 Immigration Reform Act successfully assimilated?
In his conclusion he finds that the relationship between the wages of American born high school dropouts and American born high school graduates has remained fairly constant since 1980. This suggests there is no negative impact of immigration on wages.

He also concludes that while the 40% of U.S.A. immigrants having no High School diploma will find it difficult to catch up with the average wage of native-born Americans, their children find it increasingly easier to earn similar sums to the children of those same native-born Americans.

Card's final sentence is worth quoting: "The relatively strong educational progress of second generation immigrants, together with the limited evidence of adverse effects on less skilled natives, suggest that the new immigration may not be so bad after all."

There's an interesting article, by Roger Lowenstein The Immigration Equation, [registration required after first read] discussing these issues, the work of David Card and the conflicting work of George Borjas. Borjas asserts, contrary to Card, that President Bush's proposed guestworker programme will lead to more foreign born workers.
The typical rationale provided for the guestworker program is that the country "needs" immigrants to keep many of its industries running. After all, many immigrants "do jobs that natives do not want to do."

These assertions are among the most persistent and hard-to-shake myths regarding the labor market impact of immigration. Supporters of the guestworker program argue that entire industries would vanish if American employers did not have access to cheap foreign labor. The vast majority of cab drivers in New York City are foreign-born (82 percent in the 2000 Census). Would all those yellow cars be piled up in some junkyard if those immigrants had not been admitted? Of course not. Fewer than 10 percent of the cab drivers in Cincinnati and Detroit are foreign-born. Nevertheless, the cab industry in those cities manages to survive and provide services to the local communities. It may cost a little more to ride those cabs, but the jobs get done.

What past immigration has done — and what the temporary worker program will continue to do on a potentially larger scale — is to depress wages and increase the profits of the firms that employ the immigrants. The labor market effects documented in this paper suggest that the proposed temporary worker program will expose many more Americans to competition from foreign workers, will generate higher earnings losses for workers, and will lead to an even greater redistribution of wealth from labor to those who buy and use immigrant services.
Even though Borjas's work is well researched and sourced, his examples of cabbies in Cincinnatti and Detroit may not serve his purpose. If people previously employed as cabbies can get better paid, less stressful employment with other benefits elsewhere they may well take it. It is sometimes the lack of decent other options that keep people in a type of work. Are there better opportunities for people with the typical background of an American born cabbie in cities such as Detroit and Cincinnatti? If those other opportunities existed would the jobs still be taken by American born workers? I think the answer is probably not, which would lead to a readjustment in the local cabbie industry.

I think Borjas's work falls down on his belief in labour mobility. Is, as Borjas argues, a building company in Michigan really going to relocate to California because of the availability of cheaper, immigrant labour? Some may do. But the majority won't. And that's because many companies are run by people who have ties to an area. People who don't want to move. People who would only move for substantial advantages and a substantially better life. If you owned a reasonably profitable construction company in Michigan would you move, for slightly more profit, to California? Who would do the construction in Michigan?

If Borjas is right, and immigration adversely affects the wages and employment prospects of the already low waged should immigration be reduced? Is it just my own liberal prejudice saying that immigration is a G-O-O-D thing and should continue? Is my support for immigration screwing over the already low paid?

Fundamentally I believe that mobility of labour is a good thing. Diversity of communities is a good thing. Any change disproportionately affects the low paid. Isn't it better to campaign for the better treatment of immigrants ***and*** an end to seeing labour as just another cost to be lowered as much as possible?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Lake Tekapo

A picture of Lake Tekapo taken a couple of days ago.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Practical Action

There's a small charity (NGO) called Practical Action who do a lot of good work in providing appropriate technology for developing nations.
Practical Action – with the strapline, Technology Challenging Poverty – sums up what we do, making a practical difference in the lives of poor people. We recognise the importance of technology and hands on work. We share knowledge and work together with communities. In policy debate, our work focuses on delivering practical changes that positively impact on the lives of poor people.
They're well worth supporting.

... Practical Action takes on the following challenges:
  • To work with women and men living in poverty on the management of technical change for sustainable livelihoods, while the economic and technological forces around them are affecting those livelihoods with bewildering speed;
  • To research, test and analyze the impacts of new technologies on the lives of people in developing countries, suggesting ways to use them ‘appropriately’, or proposing alternatives
  • To demonstrate to others the potential of appropriate technology as a key element in an alternative, sustainable model of development
  • To demonstrate the continuing role of direct, practical answers to poverty in local partnerships with women and men living in poverty
  • To link the lives of its local partners to the remote policy frameworks which condition their livelihoods and environment, and to change those frameworks in their favour.
Practical Action's Vision

A world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used to the benefit of all.

Practical Action's Mission

Practical Action aims to eradicate poverty in developing countries through the development and use of technology, by demonstrating results, sharing knowledge and influencing others.
Go on. Make a donation. You'll sleep better.

Death to Van Gogh's Ear!

Via Scribbles I have found this quiz. Very simple. Very cool. Well, it's definitely cool in my case. Some people chase cool while others just have it.

Neil --


A beat poet working the streets

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

Beat poet working the streets says to me Ferlinghetti, Corso, Ginsberg but to you it may say ranting person with mental health issues. Whatever.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Amnesty International on Gilad Shalit

Amnesty has issued a statement on the abduction of Gilad Shalit:
Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted in the early morning of 25 June by Palestinian gunmen in an attack on an army base on the Israeli side of the fence which separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed and a third wounded in the attack.

Hostage taking, that is threatening to harm or continue to detain a detained person in order to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing something as a condition for their release, is expressly prohibited under international law. Such practice threatens the fundamental right to life, personal integrity and liberty, and is expressly prohibited by international humanitarian law. Under no circumstances is the taking of hostages justifiable.

Armed groups have an international legal obligation to respect the principles of international humanitarian law, including Article 3 common to the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which reflects customary international law, and which prohibits the taking of hostages, murder and cruel treatment and torture. Amnesty International calls on the armed groups holding Corporal Gilad Shalit to comply with these principles.
Indeed. All governments and extra-governmental bodies should respect the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949. That would be a G-O-O-D thing.

Bombing of civilian facilities

The Israeli Humna Rights group B'Tselem has raised concerns over Israeli attacks on civilian facilities in Gaza.
B'Tselem today [28th June 2006] sent an urgent request to Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz to instruct Israeli forces to refrain from bombing or deliberately damaging in any way facilities that supply indispensable services to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

B'Tselem added that Israel has the right to all legal measures to free the abducted soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit. However, Israel must refrain from using measures which contravene International Humanitarian Law, which categorically prohibits all sides to a conflict from attacking "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population".
The article specifically mentioned the bombing of the central electricity relay station to the south of Gaza City. When the Israeli government engages in such actvities against the civilian population of Gaza it is in danger of being accused of war crimes. It is also in danger of losing support from supporters outside Israel. And it is danger of pissing off any possible support it may have in Gaza or the West Bank.

Amnesty International USA says:
Israel must now take urgent measures to remedy the long-term damage it has caused and immediately restore the supply -- at its own cost -- of electricity and water to the Palestinian population in the affected areas," urged the organization. "As the occupying power, Israel is bound under international law to protect and safeguard the basic human rights of the Palestinian population."

The deliberate destruction of the Gaza Strip’s only electricity power station, water networks, bridges, roads and other infrastructure is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and has major and long-term humanitarian consequences for the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip.

Almost half of Gaza’s inhabitants are now without electricity and water supplies have also been cut in several areas both by the lack of electricity, necessary to operate the water pumps used to extract and deliver water, and by the destruction of water mains as a result of the bombings of bridges and roads.

The extensive damage caused by Israeli artillery and air strikes against these facilities in recent days is estimated at several millions of US dollars and will require months of work to repair. Unless alternative emergency measures are promptly put in place to restore electricity and water supply the consequences could be dire for the health of the Palestinian population.

In a statement the Israeli army said that it had: “…carried out an aerial attack on an electricity transformer station south of Gaza city….” and that “ The IDF will continue to employ all means at its disposal against Palestinian terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip in order to ensure the quick and safe return home of Corporal Gilad Shalit.”
Amnesty go on to argue that "destructon .. of .. bridges and roads is slowing down, but not preventing movement" across the Gaza Strip but it does not stop armed groups moving across the region. Stopping armed groups was a stated ojective of the Israeli military, an objective that is not being met.

Amnesty continue
As the tension between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and armed groups continues to mount, there is growing concern for the safety of the civilian population. High numbers of Palestinian bystanders, including women and children, have been killed and injured by Israeli artillery shelling and air strikes in recent weeks and months. This situation looks set to worsen in light of the end of the unilateral cease-fire which the armed wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups had been observing since last year.

"The hostage-taking of Corporal Gilad Shalit, and the killing of Eliyahu Asheri, the 18 year old settler, by Palestinian armed groups violate fundamental principles of international law. Corporal Gilad Shalit should be released immediately and unharmed."

"Both sides to this current stand-off should refrain from taking actions which violate international law and should take steps to provide redress for the abuses they have committed. The international community, also has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions, to act," said Amnesty International
Such is international opinion.

Four more years of disappointment

The excellent Hak pointed me to this excellent post of George Szirtes.
So then
Farewell Sven
and the occasional ibroglio
with or without Nancy dell'Olio

Farewell the vast forehead
with acres of space for looking thoughtful yet worried.

Farewell the noble belief in Beckham
despite tabloid oiks bellowing, 'Sack'im!'

The tidy suit, the buddhist calm,
one showing faint cracks, the other minus an arm,

The caution, the mild words, the golden boys dumped
Gerrard exhausted, Beckham weeping and even Hargreaves slumped.

And as these lines grow ever longer and ever more barren
Hail the dead lions. Hail penalty shootouts. Hail dull old Steve McLaren
Pomes. Penyeach!

Saturday, July 01, 2006


A sudden flush of blood to the wallet led me last night to a shed of a computer store. Three quarters of an hour later I walked out with a laptop and a wireless router.

Now, on possibly the hottest day of the year, I'm thinking through my next actions.

The intention is to allow Rullsenberg to work upstairs, on this machine, while I work elsewhere on my new laptop. Now setting up the network involves disconnecting cables and jiggery schmiggery pokery. I don't do that.

Regular expressions, Perl, SQL, database administration and *nixie administration is what I do. And I do it with no qualms. Just get on and do it. Unplugging physical stuff that works, changing its state, and plugging it back in puts the fear of figgy pudding into me. What if it stops working? Have a Plan B. What if that doesn't work? Go and have a damn fine cup of coffee.

Neologism alert: As an aside I've just googled "fear of figgy pudding" and got the message "Your search - "fear of figgy pudding" - did not match any documents." End of neologism alert. Let's hope that's not like you tube maury pickles.

So here I am putting off doing the deed. Drinking coffee. Eating figs. Listening to Orishas "A Lo Cubana".

Once it's done I've promised myself a cool glass of Ricard.

Now all I've got to do is do it.

*** I think this post has been dreadfully self indulgent. But that's just the kind of self indulgent crap people like Simon Hoggart get paid shedloads of money to produce. ***

Private reasons great or small

Mark Thomas hits the nail on the head.
"Is it tolerable that we have this many weapons out there? Is it tolerable that there are people who live on a dollar a day? Is it tolerable that we have this society where people at the bottom, the working class - in fact, the people below the working class - that class of people who were just written off at school and stayed written off and stuck there, who are now fucking Asbo fodder, and are treated like scum by comics like Jimmy Carr, who fuckin'...?" He stops to catch his breath. "Is it tolerable that that exists? No. Those facts have never changed. And my belief that we should change them has never changed. It's the approach to how we change it that has changed it. Sometimes, I think you have to be on the outside of all of it, and sometimes you need to be on the inside, and sometimes I just haven't got a clue. There's a lot more ambiguity in my life, and I like that."

Good interview by Simon Hattenstone.