Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Must be Santa

This, from the man who brought you, "even the President of the United States/Sometimes must have/To stand naked", is a seasonal jape.

A polka filled sack of seasonal merriment.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No Pasaran

Remembrance is one of those human actions that we do in quiet moments. Remembering friends and family who are no longer with us. Remembering those who sacrificed themselves to a cause that hoped to change the world. Remembrance for what may have been if they had not volunteered.

Memorials should be there as a motivation to remember. Sometimes remembrance is provoked by seeing something you see everyday in a fresh light. Last year some friends and I parked at County Hall Nottingham to watch a cricket match at nearby Trent Bridge.

On the way back we noticed a memorial to International Brigade volunteers from Nottinghamshire:

In honour of the volunteers who left Nottinghamshire to fight in the International Brigade Spain 1936 - 1939.

They fought alongside the Spanish people to stop Fascism and save Liberty and Peace for all

They went because their open eyes could see no other way.

International Brigade
Volunteers from Nottinghamshire
Five Rest in the soil of Spain

R Goodman, Nottingham
Killed Jarama February 1937

R Grant, Nottingham
Killed Calaceitte March 1938

F Turnhill, Worksop
Killed Teruel January 1938

Eric Whalley, Mansfield
Killed Fuentes de Ebro October 1937

Bernard Whinfield, Nottingham
Killed Teruel January 1937
Thirteen Returned TO Continue The Struggle

G Alcock Nottingham
Robert Brown, Bircotes
Frank Ellis, Linby
James Feeney, Nottingham
Walter Gregory, Nottingham
J Hardy, Sutton Bonnington
Lionel Jacobs, Nottingham
Anthony McClean, Nottingham
G Richards, Nottingham
William Rowe, Nottingham
AS Sheppard, Hucknall
RA Soar, Nottingham
SR Stevenson, Nottingham

Memorial plaques at Notts County Hall to Nottinghamshire International Brigade Volunteers

To the right of these three plaques is a sculpture by the artist Michael Johnson, unveiled by the Spanish Ambassador on the 4th of September 1993 in front of nearly fifty surviving International Brigade volunteers.

The sculpture "depicts bombarded buildings similar to the ones that still remain in the Spanish town of Belchite".

The artist Michael Johnson describes the installation as "1992 International Brigade Memorial, County Hall Nottingham. A 3m x 1.5m bronze panel With two cast brass balconies to either side".

Sculpted relief of village of Belchite - International Brigade Memorial at Notts County Hall

The International Brigades Memorial trust describes the Nottingham, County Hall memorial as "Nottingham. Sculpted relief and 3 plaques in County Hall, West Bridgeford (sic), Nottingham. Erected by Nottinghamshire County Hall, 24 September 1993".

The UK National Inventory of War Memorials also lists the County Hall memorial to the Nottinghamshire International Brigade volunteers.

This monument is now under threat from ideological vandalism. Spoiling the view of the International Brigade memorial is a new brass plaque proclaiming "In proud and grateful memory of the men and women of this county who have sacrificed their lives for others and for freedom. We will remember them."

Brass Plaque at Nottinghamshire Couny Hall

On first reading that's fine. On second reading the use of "freedom" seems to be there as a deliberate counterpoint to the "liberty and peace" of the International Brigade volunteer memorial. "Freedom" is a term laden with meaning. Everyone "knows" what it means. Few people are prepared to unpack what it stands for.

We could discuss the Isaiah Berlin positive and negative freedoms, or the anarchist concept of freedom but that's for another post. Here on the brass plaque it is being used as a Tory would use it: to stand for the freedom to exploit; to stand for the freedom to abuse; to stand for the freedom to kill in the call of capitalism.

Today's local rag has a feature on the Memorial and the brass plaque
A spokesman for Notts County Council said: "We're not removing the Spanish Civil War Memorial. It's a beautiful piece of artwork at the front of County Hall.

"We are replacing the information board, which replicates the text on one of the plaques, with a brass memorial plaque which will remember all of the people from Notts who lost their lives in service of their country.
Just a couple of points. The "information board" gave background information on the Spanish Civil War and I find it helpful when I see a sculpture memorializing an event to have some historical information. By providing historical context the information board prevents the memorial becoming just another piece of street furniture.

And there is nothing on the brass plaque about "in service of their country". As the text stands it could be in honour of anyone from Nottinghamshire who believed they sacrificed their life in the cause of "freedom". It could honour anyone from Nottinghamshire who died for a cause, whatever the cause. Because it is such a generic, broad and bland statement that covers everyone who has died for a cause it detracts from the specific anti-Fascist sacrifice of the Nottinghamshire International Brigade volunteers.

No Pasaran.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Business Clean Up

Capitalism at work.
This is what the nice, caring capitalists at Trafigura did:
dozens of damning internal Trafigura emails which have now come to light reveal how traders were told in advance that their planned chemical operation, a cheap and dirty process called "caustic washing", generated such dangerous wastes that it was widely outlawed in the west.

The documents reveal that the London-based traders hoped to make profits of $7m a time by buying up what they called "bloody cheap" cargoes of sulphur-contaminated Mexican gasoline. They decided to try to process the fuel on board a tanker anchored offshore, creating toxic waste they called "slops".

One trader wrote on 10 March 2006: "I don't know how we dispose of the slops and I don't imply we would dump them, but for sure, there must be some way to pay someone to take them." The resulting black, stinking, slurry was eventually dumped around landfills in Abidjan, after Trafigura paid an unqualified local man to take it away in tanker trucks at a cheap rate.

The UN human rights special rapporteur, Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, criticised Trafigura ...

He wrote: "According to official estimates, there were 15 deaths, 69 persons hospitalised and more than 108,000 medical consultations … there seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping."
And that is life under capitalism for too many in this world.
As the man sang
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Foreigners and what they do

What do foreigners do? Oh, foreigners support David Thomas.

Foreigner had a 1970's rock band.

And foreigners are responsible for poverty in Russia.

Statistics are collected and analyzed at a sedate rate and Russian statistics for the first quarter of 2009 are just in. Almost 25 million Russians were living in poverty (defined as "an adult income of less than 5,497 roubles, or £110, a month") in the first quarter of 2009 compared with 18.5 million at the end of 2008.
According to Natalia Zubarevich, a professor of economic geography at Moscow's state university, Russians are adept at dealing with crises; many grow vegetables in small kitchen gardens to survive, and others rely on a network of close relatives. Most willingly accept unpaid time off work, or reduced salaries, she added.

The rise in poverty levels did not pose a serious political challenge to the Kremlin, she said. "The (state-controlled) Russian media is quite clear who is responsible for the crisis. Foreigners are responsible, enemies are responsible and big business, especially, is responsible. But not Putin."
Ah, how easy politics would be if all problems could be blamed on foreigners. Ah, to fall into a Daily Express world where all problems are down to foreigners. If it weren't for those pesky foreigners...

It would never happen here. It's difficult to imagine an England with a newspaper and political party with an agenda of blaming everything on foreigners; seeing foreigners as responsible for every problem and never responsible for a solution. The liberal, xenophilic, anti-racist people of England would rise up and decry such a paper and party for being the small minded, xenophobic, nasty, curtain twitchers that they are. It would never happen here.

Oh, just had a phone call, it already has happened here. Thanks for treading on my dreams.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vampires and Mathematics

Vampires have no shadow but they leave impressions everywhere.

Kpunk lay a stake into the hearts of vampires
Remember that you have to invite a vampire over your threshold - and grey vampires, like trolls, lose all their power once you cease to pay them attention or think about them. That is why, when they feel that your attention is gone, GVs will try any trick to regain it - the appeal to 'democratic' values is a particularly scurrilous tactic ('you must give me your attention! It's your duty').
at some people are getting ahead of themselves, that there is rather too much unseemly excitement about X or Y.... As if what was required in intellectual life is more bent heads, more bitterness, less enthusiasm.... Some teachers and lecturers do think that way, see it as their role duty to pass on the arid petrification which calcified their spirit usually sometime during their postgraduate career ... Remember: all vampires are victims of vampirism...

But I see motivating students, passing on enthusiasm, as the first and most important task of a teacher. (Which isn't to say that one has to blindly encourage everyting a student says or writes; far from it.)
The job of a teacher is N*O*T to produce more gray vampires but to inspire people with a near reckless enthusiasm for inquiry.

More Richard Feynmans' than Bourbaki (mathematical grey vampires formalising the intuitive; formalising reason and taking away the joy of mathematics).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Amendment And Idiots

Here's the glorious Barney Frank in full flow berating an idiot.

Can someone explain why a universal health service, free at the point of delivery is seen as a Nazi policy?

[ Thanks to Hocemo Li Na Kafu? ]

Summer Sundae 09

Had a great time over in Leicester at the Summer Sundae Weekender.

Highlights were Mum the Band, David Thomas Broughton and the "gloriously untethered" Monotonix.

More over at Rullsenberg's place. And here and here and also here.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

My profile

A week ago I was kindly asked to contribute a profile to Norm's blog.

It's here at Norm's.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Onwards from Gutenberg

Ever since Gutenberg, Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde changed the world with movable type there has been no excuse to avoid print.

Pamphlets, books, brochures, fanzines all owe a debt to the makers of the printing press.

And here's a site telling you all about letter press printing.

Here's a good link to pictures and descriptions of printing presses. I am always amazed at how something so functional can also be so beautiful, but that may just be me.

Without the printing press there would be no easy access to literature or science.

Three cheers for the printing press.

Gutenberg and Caxton had their part to play but for furthering the art of printing the plaudit must go to the printer Wynkyn de Worde.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

More Spooky Men's Chorale

Back in 2007 the Spooky Men's Chorale had a solution to Australia's political, economic and social problems. Their solution was to Vote the Bastards Out.

Spooky Men's Chorale

A mate introduced me to the Spooky Men's Chorale:

And here they are singing about men and tools:

Innuendo never made me smile so much!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Life, Zizek and Kung Fu Panda

Sometimes when you have things to do, places to go, cricket matches to watch, books to read, films to see work rears its ugly head and you have to put the important things on hold.

Today, over breakfast, reading the LRB, I caught Zizek's latest piece on Iran, Ahmadinejad, Berlusconi and Kung Fu Panda.
But whatever the outcome, it is vital to keep in mind that we have witnessed a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit within the frame of a struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If we don’t see this, if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.

Is there a link between Ahmadinejad and Berlusconi? Isn’t it preposterous even to compare Ahmadinejad with a democratically elected Western leader? Unfortunately, it isn’t: the two are part of the same global process. If there is one person to whom monuments will be built a hundred years from now, Peter Sloterdijk once remarked, it is Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean leader who thought up and put into practice a ‘capitalism with Asian values’. The virus of authoritarian capitalism is slowly but surely spreading around the globe. Deng Xiaoping praised Singapore as the model that all of China should follow. Until now, capitalism has always seemed to be inextricably linked with democracy; it’s true there were, from time to time, episodes of direct dictatorship, but, after a decade or two, democracy again imposed itself (in South Korea, for example, or Chile). Now, however, the link between democracy and capitalism has been broken.
And then comes the punchline:
Berlusconi is our own Kung Fu Panda. As the Marx Brothers might have put it, ‘this man may look like a corrupt idiot and act like a corrupt idiot, but don’t let that deceive you – he is a corrupt idiot.’
So how do you deal with idiocracy?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Full Picture

Not a partial picture. Not a bit of the picture. But a whole picture.

An ancient advert for the Guardian.
An event seen from one point of view gives one impression.
Seen from another point of view it gives a quite different impression.
But it’s only when you get the full picture you can fully understand what’s going on!
They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Trains and the Delights of Heavy Engineering

In yesterday's glorious sunshine I went with Rullsenberg on a reconnaissance mission to the Midland Railway Centre near Ripley in Derbyshire.

Yesterday they were running an English Electric event with, you've guessed it, electric trains.

It's also got shiny steam trains, shiny diesel trains and shiny electric trains. Nostalgia is in the air sending you back to the day when heavy engineering was about making things that worked and looked good, or to put it another way, making things that combined form and function to make a perfect whole.

English Electric train at Midland Railway Centre, Ripley, 28th June 2009

If you do go, make time to go on the Golden Valley Light Railway, and visit the workshop to see the brilliant restoration work.

Golden Valley Light Valley engine under restoration at the Midland Railway Centre, Ripley on 28th June 2009

Also find time to go on the Butterley Park Miniature Railway, hold on for a fun ride.

Butterley Park Miniature Railway at the Midland Railway Centre, Ripley on 28th June 2009

The Midland railway Centre is full of enthusiastic, friendly people, willing to help you have a fun day out. Now some of you will go trains, how dull. It's not like that. Honest. You may even get the chance to drive a train, be it electric, diesel or steam.

And here's a signal box.

Signal Box at Midland Railway Centre, Ripley, 28th June 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tax Dodgers Plead for Sympathy

Yes that's U2, the notorious tax dodgers.

U2 drummer Larry Mullen believes rich and successful people are being unnecessarily humiliated when coming in and out of Ireland, describing this as “part of a new resentment of rich people in this country”.

“We have experienced [a situation] where coming in and out of the country at certain times is made more difficult than it should be — not only for us, but for a lot of wealthy people,” he said. “So it wasn’t personal. It was to do with the better-off being sort of humiliated.”
It's great that Bono advocates revoking the debt of developing nations. It would be even greater if he paid some tax.

[ Thanks to Will Rubbish ]

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Deals and False Promises

In the 1930's Roosevelt put into place the New Deal, which put in place much of America's public infrastructure and gave work to Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster and Joseph Cotten in the Federal Theatre Project. Not a bad thing.

In the first decade of the 21st century in the UK we have a scabby programme where private providers are paid to give support to unemployed people. Sometimes that support involves help with writing a CV and a covering letter. Sometimes people turn up with a perfectly good CV, indeed people turn up with several CVs adapted for the jobs they apply for. Sometimes those perfectly good CVs get passed off as the work of the private provider so the private provider can be paid by the Department for Work and Pensions. Here's a site with peoples' negative experiences of New Deal programmes.

The site has some powerful accounts of how New Deal is not working, but they don't like anyone quoting, being advocates of copyright and not for copylefting, or Creative Commons or the GPL.

When the private sector gets involved in the public realm, purely because of the money to be made, you just know the service will be crap, the people on the programme will be patronised, and they will get a crap service. It does not work.

[Via the comments at Dave Spart]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back to My Roots

For those who don't talk proper here's a guide.

And here's the alphabet for those who want to talk proper.

Will Kaufman and Billy Bragg at Big Session 2009

On Saturday I scooted (actually by bus and train) over to Leicester for a day of the Big Session. It was lucky I got my ticket well in advance as the day was sold out.

After getting my bearings and seeing some performance poetry and the charming Delta Maid (the delta being that of the Mersey) I bumped into my friends. After beer and conversation we went to the see the amazing Will Kaufman do his brilliant Woody Guthrie show. He covers parts of the Great depression , the Dustbowl, Tin Pan Alley, and Fascism all through the songs and life story of Woody Guthrie. If you haven't seen his show I recommend you make an effort when he comes to a place near you.

All together "This land is our land ... it was made for you and me".
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
Saying this land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
The night ended with another cracking peformance from the Milkman of Human Kindness. And here's a url if you can't recall the song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Goxm0x4dTw.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The End of Our Elaborate Plans

There's a cracking discussion of the late 1970s and Andy Beckett's cracking book When the Lights Went Out. Here the article contrasts Callaghan and Brown.
If Callaghan could invariably, even in the most stressful moments of his immensely stressful premiership, come across as 'Sunny Jim', it was because he was never under many illusions. He was built for (and from) compromise. He accepted disappointment from the start - rather like the Freud who thought the point of psychoanalysis was to deliver patients from excruciating mental agony to 'ordinary misery', Callaghan believed that in politics there were only bad and worse decisions. Yet what counted as 'realism' for Callaghan was partly conditioned by forces outside the parliamentary machine and the financial system [.]
And the grandfatherly Callaghan, chirpy and self-possessed, rarely depressed, even amidst the Winter of Discontent that would bring him down, could not strike a greater contrast with the morose Brown, a resentful Richard who carries a wintry discontent with him always, on his heavy brows. For Callaghan stood only at what he thought would be a moment of painful transition for the Labour party, whereas Brown looks like the mortfied personification of the final death of the labour movement itself.
It is time to leave behind stale, decaying, dying representational democracy with its minimum engagement to a system of participatory democracy where people make real decisions that affect their lives.

That's not a call for the will of the noisiest. That's a call for real participatory democracy where people come together to make decsions about the places they live. Real decisions made by local people should encourage more people to take part in the political process instead of leaving it to the political classes.

[ Thanks to Will Rubbish in the comments over there. ]

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Stupid Party.

It's time for a quote from John Stuart Mill.
I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.
Letter to the Conservative MP, Sir John Pakington (March 1866)
And so say I.

I hardly think any sentient being would deny it.

Depths of Despond

With fascists winning two seats in England in the 2009 Euro elections has English politics reached a nadir or are there further depths to plummet?

Nazi Andrew Brons got 9.8 percent in Yorkshire.

Nazi Nick Griffin got 8 per cent in the North West.

The fascist party got 8.9 per cent in the North East; and 8.6 percent in the East and West Midlands.

A large section of the public has spoken and revealed itself as nasty, vicious, self obsessed, supporting a bullying fascist party revelling in jackboots smashing a human face forever.

And here's a picture:
Nazi jackboot

Here's that quote in full from Frederick Douglass:

* If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.
o An address on West India Emancipation (1857-08-04)
Hope Not Hate.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Censure me in your wisdom

Yesterday went to see a splendid production of Julius Caesar at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford.

It was gory. The blood flew about the stage. And the politics proved contemporary enough.

RSC Julius Caesar flyer

These are the speeches that impressed:

From Act 2 scene 1
Never fear that. If he be so resolved,
I can o'ersway him. For he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betrayed with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes,
Lions with toils, and men with flatterers.
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flatterèd.
Let me work.
For I can give his humor the true bent,
And I will bring him to the Capitol.

Then from Act III scene 1

CASCA and the other conspirators stab CAESAR. BRUTUS stabs him last.
Et tu, Bruté?—Then fall, Caesar.

And you too, Brutus? In that case, die, Caesar.
(he dies)
Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!
Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets.

Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! Run and proclaim it in the streets.
Some to the common pulpits, and cry out,
“Liberty, freedom, and enfranchisement!”

And again from Act III Scene 1
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever livèd in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy—
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue—
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men.
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy.
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quartered with the hands of war,
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds,
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
Given the current parliamentary political circumstances I could not help imagining the heroic Regicides and the current, less than heroic, cabinet.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Money Swears

Over at the Brooklyn Rail Paul Mattick argues for the end of money:
if the whole financial system fell away, and money ceased to be the power source turning the wheels of production, the whole productive apparatus of society—machines, raw materials, and above all working people—would still be there, along with the human needs it can be made to serve. The fewer years of suffering and confusion it takes for people to figure this out, the better.
If you can't spend it money just becomes paper and metal. You can't eat it. You can't drink it. What is the point of it? Okay, you could set fire to it to keep yourself warm. But how long would that last.

Thanks to the ever perspicacious Will Rubbish.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Social Command

Several years ago I blogged on some old notes I'd made on Mayakovsky's method.

Notes on Mayakovsky's poetry method 1

Well, I've just found the second page:

Notes on Mayakovsky's poetry method 2As you were.

Random Opinions

More years ago than I care to remember I was browsing in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye and found a book called Dissenting Opinions. At the time I was on the dole and just had the cash in my pocket to buy it. It's the musings of a liberal historian called Page Smith.

Tardy as ever, I have only just discovered anything about the man. Page was born in 1917 and died in 1995, spending a long fulfilled life in academia even after almost failing his BA.
More generally he absorbed Jamesian values and attitudes - respect for human individuality, service to society, disdain for the merely respectable, abiding sympathy for the eccentric. This blended with a predisposition toward a Calvinist view of human nature, a combination often puzzling to his contemporaries and collaborators. But contrarieties and contradictions, the mysteries of human conduct, did not disturb him, and he responded feelingly to words of Walt Whitman's which conveyed this unfathomable complexity.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
I contain certain multitudes.
I particularly liked Page's Rules for Historians where he disdains the objective:
7. Never write about anything that you do not find of consuming interest, ideally, that you have not fallen in love with. It was once thought that objectivity (often interpreted as not caring) was essential to the writing of good history. The reverse is true; in Hegel's words: "Nothing great is accomplished without passion;" or, as Nietzsche put: "One is only creative in the shadow of love and love's illusions." Controlled and disciplined passion is the only proper mode for the historian.
I also liked
15. Professional historians often behave (and teach) as though they thought history was something embalmed in monographs; that it had a tapeworm-like structure made up of successive monographic increments; that it is cumulative, constructed of facts and units of facts (monographs) which in time will add up to TRUTH. The fact is that history, both past and present, is almost frighteningly "open". That is to say, the past exists only in some kind of relationship to the future and, in a real sense, vice versa, i.e., it is only possible to conceive of the future in terms of the past.

16. The historians passion for explanation and for constructing casual sequences in history is a dangerous delusion. It is the product of a world view in which manipulation and control are the dominant values. It obscures the fact that the unexpected is the only certainty in history and thus leaves people unprepared to cope with that same ultimate certainty - the unexpected. The teaching of history must reflect the openness of history. This means a new way of thinking about and teaching history. Indeed, it may mean not teaching history at all - simply studying history. History, while it has been written and read since the ancient Hebrews, has only lately been taught in colleges and universities. Some would argue that its decline as a humane study can be dated from the time when it was organized into part of the academic curriculum.
This I take to mean disdain a belief in progress, and moreover a belief in the inevitability of progress. Some things get better, such as the eradication of diseases like smallpox make life now better than in the medium term past. Some things get worse, such as the immiseration of working class communities, caused by capitalism's deskilling of swathes of the workforce, in the rich Northern countries. Other things get worse like Coca-Cola's ravages in the global South.

What we need is passionate accounts of the past to guide us into the future.

March of Greed

If you don't hand over some meat and gold you'll be thrown out on your big ass in a few hours.

The Past is a Foreign Country

I have always been a great believer in nurture having the upper hand over nature in human behaviour, after all you only have to watch Trading Places to see nurture beating nature. That's just a trite pop culture example but sometimes one discovers things about oneself that only strengthen one's beliefs.

Way back when there was an organisation called the Croydon Association for Moral Welfare. Here's proof of its existence for whose who doubt the joining of the words Croydon and Moral and Welfare.

Croydon Association for Moral WelfareSometimes I think it was more to do with the welfare of Morals than the welfare of the people it "helped".

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Coffee In the Morning, Coffee in the Evening

Coffee any time just as long as it ain't Starbucks. Starbucks is a determined anti-union shop, as detailed at drink soaked trots and stopstarbucks.com.

Here's a question: what's the difference between Starbucks and Walmart? The answer is that they both spend a fortune on union busting lawyers rather than concentrate on what they do, in Starbucks case, making and selling coffee.

Here's a link to the Starbucks Union which is affiliated to the IWW - Industrial Workers of the World.

This links to loads of other accounts of Starbuck's union busting activities.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Levellers' Day 2009

Tomorrow I am going to Levellers' day in Burford, Oxfordshire.

Levellers' day commemorates the day
17 May 1649, three soldiers were executed on Oliver Cromwell’s orders in Burford churchyard, Oxfordshire. They belonged to a movement popularly known as the Levellers, with beliefs in civil rights and religious tolerance.

During the Civil War, the Levellers fought on Parliament’s side, they had at first seen Cromwell as a liberator, but now saw him as a dictator. They were prepared to fight against him for their ideals and he was determined to crush them. Over 300 of them were captured by Cromwell’s troops and locked up in Burford church. Three were led out into the churchyard to be shot as ringleaders.
A good day of traditional marching and chanting and changing the world.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Castro on OAS

Here's Fidel Castro Ruz's criticism of the statement from the Organisation of American States on Cuba's Human Rights record.

In this hemisphere, the poor never had freedom of expression because they never received quality education and knowledge was reserved solely for the privileged and bourgeois elite. Don’t blame Venezuela now, which has done so much for education since the Bolivarian revolution, or the Republic of Haiti, crushed by poverty, diseases and natural catastrophes, as if any of these were ideal conditions for the freedom of expression proclaimed by the OAS. Do what Cuba is doing: first help to massively train quality healthcare personnel and send revolutionary doctors to the most remote corners of the country so that they may contribute to the saving of lives, and transmit to them educational programs and experiences; insist that the financial institutions of the developed and rich world send resources to build schools, train teachers, produce medicines, develop their agriculture and industries, and then talk about the rights of Man.
The right of freedom of expression means nothing when most of the people with that right have no means of asserting that right. That's not to say that Freedom of Expression will automatically fall, fully formed, out of a certain stage of development but it is an important part of all stages of development.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Meniningitis in Africa Ignored

West Africa has had over 2,000 people die this year from meningitis.

Has anyone read anything about this in newspapers? Has anyone read anything about this in blogs? Has anyone seen anything about this in television news? Well I haven't. It was only listening to the World Service on digital radio that I heard about this pandemic.

Doctors without borders (MSF) say
More than 1,900 people affected by meningitis have died since January in the “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan Africa, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. In Nigeria, Niger, and Chad alone, more than 56,000 cases of meningitis have been recorded in the areas where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams, working alongside Ministry of Health staff, are treating sick patents. They are also vaccinating more than seven million people, making this the largest vaccination MSF has ever carried out.

Currently, dozens of MSF teams together with health authorities are performing vaccination campaigns throughout these countries to reduce the impact of the epidemic. Meanwhile, other MSF teams are travelling to urban and remote health centers to collect data, review and treat patients, and donate medicines.
The increasingly maligned and neo-liberal Europeam Community has
allocated 4.7 million Euros to eradicate meningitis in Nigeria and Niger as well as support the Economic Community of West African States in preventing conflict and enhancing good governance.
So what is the split between money for vaccines for meningitis and money for preventing conflict and enhancing good governance?

Friday, May 08, 2009

May Day in Caracas

I wasn't there but there's a good report at Venezuela Analysis.

The National Front of Bolivarian Workers march, supported by the National Union of Workers (Unete, which split from the CTV after it supported the coup against Chávez in April 2002), the Socialist Confederation of Workers (CST) and the Cruz Villegas current of the Confederation of United Venezuelan Workers (CUTV), began at three different points in Caracas then converged on Avenue Urdaneta, extending a kilometer and half as participants listened to a range of speakers and bands.

Marchers interviewed by national channel VTV expressed repeatedly that they were out marching in order to support the revolutionary process and the Chávez government.

President Hugo Chávez, addressing the large crowd said, "There's no socialism without the working class... solid, conscientious, and committed to what is being born in Venezuela, which is Socialism."

"The happiness and passion in the streets of Caracas [today] and the excellent transmission by [community and government run media] VTV, TeleSur, TVes, Radio Nacional, YVKE Mundial...affected me so much that although it wasn't planned that I would speak today, the enthusiasm motivated me."
That's like Fidel Castro announcing "unaccustomed as I am to public speaking I'll be brief".

The attempts of the Bolivarian Revolution to overcome Venezuela's problems by reducing poverty, increasing education resources, and increasing the rights of the poorest Venzuelans are to be applauded.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Secular Arguers, Befrienders, Controversialists, Debaters and Jokers

The National Secular Society has recently exposed the cost to the taxpayer of hospital chaplains being between £32 millions and £40 million.

The NSS says they should be paid for by churches (that's churches as in
"advocates for religions and for faith—i.e. the total surrender of rational autonomy, the submission to unreason and illegitimate authority. A G_d that cares, judges, and lays down taboos, customs, rules, rewards, punishments, traditions and social hierarchies is a monstrous deceit and a vile, sick, inanity. An evil ideology in sum".)
And that's right unless the role was changed to a secular one of wandering around the hospital and talking to patients, friends, family and visitors.

Imagine being a patient stuck in a ward for a week or two. Would you like someone to have an intelligent debate about the expulsion of the anarchists from the First International? A debate about whether Alex Cox's Repo Man is a classic depiction of Los Angeles Suburban Punks and early 1980s capitalism or just a cracking film with a cool soundtrack? A debate about why Slavoj Zizek in his book The Parallax View does not discuss the film The Parallax View?

And talking of The Parallax View, here's the montage scene.

But I digress, some people would welcome someone to share an intelligent conversation; or even to have a heated debate while they have to stay in hospital.
It may even aid people's mental health to have a good conversation or debate. And at least it will stop patients dying of boredom.

Such a service should be delivered by the staff, with no responsibility but to engage patients, and others, in conversation, debate and maybe even tell a few jokes. Intelligent conversation, debate and reasoned argument should be as much a right during a stay in hospital as good medical treatment. And to guarantee that right you need full time staff to deliver the service.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bankers not to Blame

Here's an essay from Krisis arguing bankers are not to blame for the financial crisis, it's an endemic problem inherent to capitalism.

Crash Course
Erstellt von Achim

Why the collapsing of the financial bubble is not the fault of “greedy bankers” and why there can be no going back to a social welfare capitalism.

A new version of the “stab in the back” legend of the 1920s and ‘30s is making the rounds: “our” economy has supposedly fallen victim to the limitless greed of a handful of bankers and speculators. Gorged on the cheap money of the U.S. Federal Reserve and backed up by irresponsible politicians, these greedy bankers have–so the legend goes–brought the world to the edge of the abyss, while honest people are made to play the fools.

Nothing could be more contrary to fact nor, given its demagogic and even anti-Semitic propensity, as dangerously irrational as this notion–now being broadcast across the entire spectrum of public opinion. It stands things on their heads. The cause for the current misery is not to be sought in the huge over-valuation of financial markets; the latter was itself not a cause but an effect, a mechanism aimed at avoiding the real, underlying crisis with which capitalist society has been confronted ever since the 1970s. That was when the post-WWII boom, and the long and self-sustaining period of growth made possible by the generalization of industrial production methods and their expansion into new sectors such as auto-making, came to an end. Mass production of commodities in the 1950s and 1960s required additional masses of labor-power–labor-power thereby in a position to attract the flow of wages and means of subsistence that in turn enabled it to go on mass-producing such commodities. Since then, however, widespread rationalization of the core, world market-oriented sectors of production has displaced ever greater quantities of labor-power through processes of automation, thus destroying the basis for this “Fordist” mechanism and with it the precondition for any renewed tendency towards prosperity in the real economy. Capitalist crisis in its classical form gives way to an even more fundamental crisis in which the viability of labor itself comes to the fore.

De-valorized labor power –“superfluous” human beings?
The real insanity of the capitalist mode of production is expressed in the contradiction between the enormous advance in productivity brought about by the “microelectronic revolution” and the fact that that advance has not even come close to guaranteeing the possibility of a good life for all. On the contrary: work itself has been intensified, its tempo accelerated and the pressure to produce ramped up even more. Across the world, more and more people must sell their labor-power under the worst possible conditions because, as measured against the standard set by the current level of productivity worldwide, that labor-power is increasingly de-valorized.

But it is also a contradiction of capitalism that, in the process of becoming ‘too productive,’ it wrenches its own foundations out from under its feet. For a society that rests on the exploitation of human labor-power collides with its own structural limits as it renders this labor-power, to an ever-greater degree, superfluous. For over thirty years, the dynamic of the world economy has only been sustained thanks to the inflation of a speculative and credit bubble – what Marx termed “fictional capital.” Capital is diverted into the financial markets because the real economy no longer offers adequate investment possibilities. States go into debt to maintain their budgets and more and more people finance their own consumption, directly or indirectly, at the credit pump. In this way finance turned into the “basic industry” of the world market and the motor of capitalist growth. The “real economy” now so suddenly prized is not forced into submission by finance. On the contrary: it could only flourish as the latter’s appendage. The “Chinese economic miracle” and Germany’s so-called world-class export economy would never have been possible except for the gigantic, global recycling of debt that has been going on for more than twenty years, with the USA at the center of it all.

Crisis management and stagflation
Such methods of postponing an eventual collapse have now reached their limit. There is no reason to be overjoyed about this. The effects will be dramatic in the extreme. For the combined potential for economic crisis and de-valorization that has been building up over the last thirty years is now exploding violently into the here and now. Politics in the accepted sense may be able to influence the tempo and the trajectory of this process. But it is inherently incapable of stopping what has, in truth, become unstoppable. Either the rescue packages themselves, already topping the trillions, will go up in smoke, and the crisis will break through into the “real economy” with catastrophic results. Or they will catch hold of the runaway train one more time with the result being an exorbitant increase in national debt, followed by another, still more gigantic collapse in the near future. The return of “stagflation”—galloping inflation combined with a simultaneous recession—is already looming, and at much higher levels than in the 1970s.

The last decades have already seen massive downward pressure on wages, a descent into ever more precarious working conditions and the privatization of large parts of the public sector. The present crisis means that, to a degree previously undreamt of, ever-greater numbers of human beings will simply be declared “superfluous.” The much-invoked “new role of the state” has not the slightest chance of recreating a 1960s style social welfare capitalism, with full employment and a rising standard of living. What it portends, rather, is the organization and administering of racist and nationalist policies of social exclusion. The return of “regulation” and “state capitalism” is at this point conceivable only as an authoritarian and repressive form of crisis management.

The world is too wealthy for capitalism
The present financial crisis marks a turning point in the epoch of fictional capital and with it a new stage in the underlying crisis of capitalism already discernable in the 1970s. This is not just the crisis of a specifically “Anglo-Saxon system” of “neoliberalism,” as is widely affirmed amidst the current emotional outburst of European anti-Americanism–an outburst in which, however faint as yet, the echoes of anti-Semitism are unmistakable. What is clearly apparent now, rather, is that the world is and has long been too rich in relation to the stinginess of the capitalist mode of production—and that society will break apart, unravel and sink into a morass of poverty, violence and irrationalism if we do not succeed in overcoming that mode of production.

It is not the “speculators” and the financial markets that are the problem, but the utter absurdity of a society that produces wealth only as a waste product of the valorization of capital, whether as a real or a fictional process. The return to a seemingly stable capitalism, kept standing by the onslaught of massive armies of labor, is neither possible nor anything worth striving for.

Whatever sacrifices now being demanded of us in order to perpetuate the (self)destructive dynamic of this senseless mode of production and the capitalist way of life count only as an obscene mockery of the good and decent existence long since within reach in a society beyond commodity production, beyond money and beyond the state. With the present crisis the question of the system itself is finally being posed. It is time that we answered it.

Please distribute this text as widely as possible. Downloadable as a .PDF file at: www.krisis.org

Printed by: Förderverein Krisis e.V.
Postfach 81 02 69, 90247 Nürnberg

If you like this, you'll also like this essay by Norbert Trenkle, "Fictitious Capital and the Structural Crisis of Capitalist Reproduction".

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Deference and the Elder Statesman

There is a tradition in the European Parliament that the eldest member becomes "the father of the chamber" and delivers the keynote opening address after the election. That's a gesture of deference to the wisdom of age. Just because you have lived through a greater number of years than any one else it does not automatically mean you are wiser. It just means you have blown out more candles on your birthday cake. With time some juvenile arseholes mature and become wiser people. Others just become older, wrinklier arseholes.

After the election the oldest member of the chamber could be a fascist, specifically, Jean Marie Le Pen. So the European Parliament, set up in the wake of the horrors of fascism, will give a platform to a fascist. Such is the way of history, and democracy, to repeat, like a bad gherkin, the first time as tragedy ... .

Stop Le Pen getting to the parliament.

In a further warning about the activities of fascists, the MEP for South-West England and Gibraltar warns of a BNP surge in the forhcoming election.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On the Sanctity of Contracts

There's a piece in the Guardian about tax fiddling banks.

A comment there points to this Huffington Post piece on how to stop bankers and insurers getting their bonus, contracts be damned.
"Sanctity of contracts" has for some time been TARP's equivalent of Harry Potter's magic wand, the thing you waved to make difficulties disappear (for financiers, of course; if you are an ordinary worker with a pension contract, by contrast, the magic doesn't work for you).
Those who want bonuses can have their jobs transferred to a new unit with all the toxic debt. If they refuse to waive their bonus then that new unit will be made bankrupt and has no money to pay any bonues. Problem solved.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The magical realist army

Reasons to be Impossible discusses the Borgean army.

Barmy Army
Though commanded by a real Lieutenant General, headquartered in Padua, Italy's so-called Terzo corpo designato d'Armata was a fiction - a giant cold-war bluff. It was dreamed up in the early 50s to convince Moscow that Nato's frontline was altogether more solid than was the case.

Successive commanders and their minuscule staffs generated mountains of paperwork to show that any commie troops breaching the Yugoslav border would have to reckon with an entire army corps, up to 300,000-strong, on the flat Venetian hinterland. Troops - most of them imaginary - were recruited and promoted, fuel was notionally stored, and ammunition supposedly distributed in perhaps the most elaborate exercise ever in Italian fantasia.

The army was disbanded in 1972 but archives and barracks the length of Italy have remained clogged with what La Stampa said was "tonnes" of paper. And none of it can be destroyed. Under Italian law, officially secret documents can only be pulped once they have been declassified. And they can only be declassified by the office or unit that created them. And, of course, this no longer exists ...
In your dreams you are a four star general. Some dreams.

If all that is solid melts into air what does that stuff that was in the air to begin with melt into?

Friday, March 13, 2009

I am Curious

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but sometimes it means something else. Sometimes people like a band because they like the music and the lyrics, and it all reminds them of important times. Great. That's part of what music should do.

Sometimes someone writes about their love and affection for a band and it comes across as being all about that person wanting to be associated with the message and the reputation of the band. That can be good as well.

Working in an office, and in an IT office at that, there are people who like to show how wacky they are by wearing a comedy tie. Or rather they think a comedy tie shows how wacky they are, when really everyone else thinks "what a tosser". It's even worse when they wear a comedy tie in an office where most people don't wear ties anyway.

Now in these days of social networking sites and revealing your interests a declaration of love for some bands can be the same as wearing a comedy tie shouting out "what a tosser". To be specific there are some managers, of a certain age, who proclaim themselves fans of Mark E Smith and The Fall. They may well be ardent fans. Too often they appear as too self-consciously giving off a message of "I am a maverick" when everyone else reads it as "tosser".

The Fall are, and were, a good band. But they don't half attract a lot of tossers as fans.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Caldonia - that's her name

There's a letter in todays' Grauniad by the actor Bill Paterson about Caledonian integrity.
While wee Sir Fred was a Paisley school boy in 1973, we toured the country with John McGrath's great polemic The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil. Towards the end of the play, we let rip with the statement: "Nationalism is not enough. The enemy of the Scottish people is Scottish capital as much as the foreign exploiter."
Isn't that true of all nationalisms? They aim to unite a people against "the foreign" while ignoring the class divisions and the power basis of the local society. Nationalism's rallying cry "kick out the foreign exploiters and replace them by a local exploiter" isn't going to get a lot of support when put like that.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lincoln Cathedral

Last saturday Rullsenberg and I took the train to Lincoln.

Here's a shot of Lincoln cathedral.

Lincoln cathedral taken on 21st February 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Colour of Fair Trade

I can remember reading someone saying that the colour of Africa is terracotta, a lush gorgeous reddy terracotta.

Here's a picture that mixes terracotta with a forest green and the bluest African skies.

That's all an introduction to a good post on fair trade by the Black Country Bloke.

Many nations of the South have had to agree to Structural adjustment programmes are an evil where nations are encouraged to sell off resources like water to global multi-nationals so they can get loans, reduced interest rates on loans and support from the rich North organisations like the World Bank. They privilege the rich over the poor and they are an evil of international trade. Nick Matthews writes:
Ghana would have been far better off without structural adjustment programmes and we still need real trade justice but in the meantime Divine chocolate is just that. It can be found in Oxfam shops and as the source it means that the Co-op sells more fair-trade chocolate than all the other supermarkets put together.

More important however is the relationship that has been built between the producers and the consumers based on the principle that the producers should be paid what they need rather than the market rate.

This is just one small step but it is a beginning as Marx said in the Critique of the Gotha Programme “after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”


What is a number? You could go on about set theory, Zermelo-Fraenkel, Russell, predecessor and successor functions. Or you could go here to find out about numbers, in a Terry Gilliam kind of way.

[ Via Will ]

Sack The Bosses Updated

Will informs me that Nestle have backed down in the dispute in Hong Kong. The union president, Chan Pong Yin, has been reinstated. The struggle continues for full union recognition at bthe company.
In Geneva IUF general secretary Ron Oswald commented, "It's good to see that Nestlé has seen sense in this case and we congratulate our members for their determined and courageous action in defence of their union". Oswald added, "Now we look to Nestlé to end its constant harassment of these workers and our members' effort to build a strong independent union. We demand the company fully recognizes their union with all the associated rights our members have every reason to expect.
Unions must be recognised by all employers. That's a universal truth.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Underarm Tactics

Here's footage of a moment of sporting perfidy.

It was 1st February 1981. Australia against New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Last over. All to play for. Trevor Chappell bowling.

[ Via Virtual Stoa. ]

How to Talk Proper

Here are some hints on how to talk proper, like people do in the Black Country.

Sack the Bosses!

Nestle make crap coffee and are bastards to work for. It's crap coffee because it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth from all their ethical violations. They are bastards to work for because, as this report from the IUF shows, they treat their workers worse than a cat treats a mouse.
The company launched an aggressive assault on the union by suspending the union president, Chan Pong Yin, indefinitely. In doing so the message from management is clear: Nestle wants to return to the 17-hour workdays, wage increases of one percent in 12 years, and a system of insecurity maintained by having a third of the workforce on revolving casual contracts.

It was precisely these conditions that led to the strike in July 2008 that not only brought production to a standstill during peak season, but shocked the Hong Kong public by exposing such outrageous working conditions in the world's largest food manufacturing company. In the months following the strike the company has tried to repair its public image, while making a series of commitments to improve working conditions without actually implementing them.

The extreme hypocrisy of Nestle management was soon revealed when it followed up on the promise to grant permanent employment to casual workers (many of whom had worked there for 10 years) by firing them one by one before their contracts expired.

The same hypocrisy underpinned management’s response to union recognition - a fundamental trade union right that Nestle repeatedly claims it respects globally, but which management consistently violates.
Boycott Nestle. There are better coffees and chocolates out there.

See here for more information on the IUF.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Canteens are Everywhere

Even on the Death Star.

Or see here.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Broon's Vague, Vacuous Speeches

Back in 2007 Gordon Brown harked on about "British jobs for British workers". That probably made every BNP blackshirt smile.

On a charitable interpretation Broon may have been saying that workers in Britain need education and training so they can compete for the jobs of the future. Only thing is, most people took it at face value. And at face value it reads like a BNP slogan.

Now that employers are laying off workers and construction sites have contracts with European companies there's a clamour to give those jobs to Broon's "British workers". This is now becoming a campaign, and recruiting, point for the BNP.

Now I read an SWP article, and stand back in amazement, I almost agree with it.
But these strikes are based around the wrong slogans and target the wrong people

It’s right to fight for jobs and against wage-cutting. It’s right to take on the poisonous system of sub-contracting that is used to make workers compete against each other.

It’s right to demand that everyone is paid the proper rate for the job and that there’s no undercutting of national agreements. And we need militant action, including unofficial action, to win these demands.

But these strikes are not doing that – whatever some of those involved believe.

The slogan accepted by many of the strikers is “British jobs for British workers”. That comes directly from Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference in 2007. And it has been encouraged by many in the higher levels of the Unite union. Derek Simpson and others at the top of Unite have done nothing to encourage resistance to job losses, or a fightback against repossessions or against the anti-union laws. Instead they go along with a campaign that can divide workers.

But it lets the bosses off the hook and it threatens murderous division at a time when we need unity in action to fight back.

It’s not Italians or Poles or Portuguese workers who are to blame for the attacks on British workers’ conditions.

Construction workers have always been forced to move far from home for jobs, whether inside a country or between countries. How many British workers (or their fathers or brothers) have been forced to work abroad from Dubai to Dusseldorf?

When workers are divided it’s the bosses who gain. Total Oil, who manage the Immingham refinery, make £5 billion every three months! Jacobs, the main contractor which has then sub-contracted to an Italian firm, made £250 million in 2007.

These are the people workers should be hitting, not turning on one another.

Those who urge on these strikes are playing with fire. Once the argument is raised it can open the door to racism against individuals. Already in some supermarket warehouses the racists are calling for action against workers from abroad.

We all know what will happen if the idea spreads that it’s foreigners, or immigrants or black or Asian people who are to blame for the crisis. It will be a disaster for the whole working class, will encourage every racist and fascist and make it easier for the bosses to ram through pay and job cuts. Already the BNP are pumping out racist propaganda supporting the strikes.

Everyone should ask themselves why Tory papers like the Express and the Sun and Mail – which hate union power and urge on privatisation – are sympathetic to the strikes

Right wing ideas gain a hold among workers when they see their lives being torn apart and the unions offer no lead. No doubt some in Unite think it’s easier to get a fight around a slogan like “British jobs for British workers” which sets people apart than one that brings people together like “Workers should not pay for the bosses’ crisis”. That’s a doomed strategy.
Do people really stand back and wait for a lead from unions? But that's not the point. The point is to change the strategy of the strikes to an inclusive one of attacking the employers and the practices of sub-contracting and low-wages.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Democracy and its Application

Israel has decided to ban two Arab political parties from standing in the forthcoming elections.
Members of the the new Meretz alignment reacted angrily to the decision.

"Labor and Kadima's position is a declaration of war on Israel's Arab citizens," a party member said. "Do Barak and Livni really prefer blocking Israel's Arabs' right to parliamentary activity and driving them to street demonstrations?"

"Every time a clear statement to ensure basic civil rights of the Arab minority is required, Labor and Kadima choose to side with the radical right wing for populist motives, to deprive the Arabs of their fundamental democratic rights," party chairman Haim Oron said.

Arab lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Zahalka, political rivals who head the two Arab blocs in the Knesset, joined together in condemning yesterday's decision.

"It was a political trial led by a group of fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs," said Tibi.
Isn't one of the marks of a democracy allowing any qualified person freedom to stand for election? Banning political parties that claim to represent a vital demographic of the country is anti-democratic and verges on the authoritarian. It's just a wrong thing to do.

*** UPDATE ***

The ban has now been overturned. There is more information here. But there will probably be appeals and counter appeals at least until the election.And that should be the end of the matter.

Thanks to Will.


Thanks to the commenter formerly SIAW.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gaza Blog

There is a new blog concentrating on the recent conflict in Gaza. It is produced by Israeli Human Rights Groups including B'Tselem. It is also available in Hebrew at gazaheb.blogspot.com.

Update for 18 January '09, morning (GMT+2)
Gaza: at least 1,205 killed, of them at least 410 children and 98 women. More than half those killed since the ground incursion began (580) are women and children. Over 3,520 injured, of them over 350 severely (Palestinian Ministry of Health figures).
Israel: 13 killed, of them 1 woman and 10 soldiers. Over 82 civilians injured, of them 4 severely injured, not including those treated for shock , and 113 soldiers injured, of them one in critical condition and 20 suffer moderate or severe injuries.
And so it goes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bankers will be Bankers

It seems that banks and building societies are ignoring bonuses when assessing mortgage applications.
Melanie Bien of broker Savills Private Finance says: "It's basic salary only. We had a client who works for one of the big investment banks, who earns £140,000 per year in basic salary plus a bonus of £1.3m a year for the past three years. But Woolwich would only take the basic into account."
So this banker has had £3.9m over the last three years *AND* still wants a mortgage. Where did the money go? Can you drink almost £4 million in three years? Can you snort almost £4 million in three years?

The only thing I can assume is that this banker donated almost £4 million to orphanages for children in Uganda and kept it quiet. Is that likely? Maybe.

What would you have done with almost £4 million over three years? I can be damn sure even with my level of financial illiteracy I would not now be applying for a mortgage.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Late news

B'Tselem report on Gaza on New Year's Eve 2008.
Since the beginning of the military operation in the Gaza Strip, on 27 December 2008, the army has bombed dozens of houses, public buildings, and other structures throughout the Gaza Strip.

The principle of distinction, one of the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, states that all parties engaged in combat must distinguish between civilian objects and military targets, and are forbidden to intentionally attack civilians and civilian objects. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions establishes two conditions that must be met for an object to be considered a legitimate military target: it must effectively contribute to military action and its total destruction or partial neutralization offers a clear military advantage.

Despite this, other statements made by Israeli officials in recent days raise the suspicion that the army is not maintaining the requisite distinction in its attacks in Gaza. Prime Minster Ehud Olmert stated that, “Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people but with Hamas, which has dedicated itself to acting against residents of Israel. Accordingly, the objects attacked today were selected with the emphasis on the imperative to prevent harm to innocent persons.” In an article published in yesterday’s Washington Post, a senior military official was quoted as follows: "There are many aspects to Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel." Major Avital Liebowitz, of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, told the correspondent that the army had indeed widened its target list in comparison to previous operations, saying Hamas has used ostensibly civilian actions as a cover for military activities. "Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target," she said.

These comments suggest that the operation in Gaza is aimed against every person and entity tied in some way to Hamas, even if they are not engaged in military action against Israel. An examination of the sites that were bombed in recent days raises questions regarding the legality of targeting many of them.

For example, the military bombed the main police building in Gaza and killed, according to reports, forty-two Palestinians who were in a training course and were standing in formation at the time of the bombing. Participants in the course study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth. Following the course, the police officers are assigned to various arms of the police force in Gaza responsible for maintaining public order.

Another example is yesterday’s bombing of the government offices. These offices included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labor, Construction and Housing. An announcement made by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office regarding this attack stated that, “the attack was carried out in response to the ongoing rocket and mortar-shell fire carried out by Hamas over Israeli territory, and in the framework of IDF operations to strike at Hamas governmental infrastructure and members active in the organization.”

These are just examples of what appear to be clear civilian objects attacked by the army. On the face of it, the activity carried out in these places is not military activity aimed against Israel, and the IDF spokesperson does not even make this claim. Clearly, then, they cannot be considered military objects in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law – they do not make an effective contribution to the military activity against Israel and the attack provides Israel with no militaryadvantage whatsoever, and certainly not a clear militaryadvantage.

Hamas is certainly responsible for missile fire at Israeli civilians, which constitutes a war crime. However, as the entity effectively governing the Gaza Strip, it is also responsible for maintaining daily life. As such, it supervises the activity of all civilian frameworks in Gaza – among them the welfare, health, housing, and legal systems. Hamas must also ensure public order and safety by means of a police force. Therefore, even if Hamas is a “hostile entity” whose principle objective is to undermine the existence of the State of Israel, this does not lead to the conclusion that every act it carries out is intended to harm Israel and that every government ministry is a legitimate target.

The argument that striking at objects of this kind is consistent with international humanitarian law is untenable. Such an interpretation, which relates to these bodies as military objects, stretches the provisions of international humanitarian law in a way that is inconsistent with the articles cited above, and contravenes the principle of distinction that lies at the foundation of international humanitarian law. An intentional attack on a civilian target is a war crime.


As you may have gathered I have been away visitng family over in New Zealand.

I have now returned with bad jetlag. I do not know when to sleep or when to go to work or when to just be.

Onwards. It will pass.

If you're in the vicinity of the Otago Peninsula I can recommend Penguin Place as an opportunity to see some endangered, anti-social, yellow-eyed penguins. These yellow-eyed penguins are cute but they evolved before other species of penguin and have a trait of not flocking for protection or warmth, preferring their own family for comfort. I think that makes them proto-Thatcherite (no such thing as society) penguins. If he knew I think Steve Bell would be annoyed.