the Disillusioned kid: January 2006
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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hundreds and Thousands

It must be disheartening for the families of the 61st or 72nd British soldiers to die in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 to compare the coverage afforded to their loved ones against that lavished on the 100th. The commentariat and our political leaders are already competing to outdo each other with their appropriately solemn cliches, while the Dickhead in Chief has chimed in with the requisite chest-beating.

Turns out the poor sod hadn't wanted to go back to Iraq after spending Christmas at home in Aberdeen. The anti-war movement will no doubt pick this up and run with it, but to do so avoids a troubling question: Why inspite of his concerns did Pritchard return to the conflict which would barely a month later claim his life? I don't pretend to have the answer, but if we're serious about ending the occupation of Iraq it behoves us to ask the question.

Those of you wondering just how serious you are about ending the aforementioned occupation would do well to consider the "conservative" estimate of 98,000 excess Iraqi deaths following the invasion in March 2003. An estimate which could be a massive understament of the reality, and which in any case is based on data collected over fifteen months ago.

The Stop the War Coalition have called for protests across the country tomorrow evening as a response to the 100th death. I doubt much'll go down here, but if you're fortunate enough to live somewhere stuff actually happens you might consider showing your face. Alternatively, of course there's the biannual Stop the War national ramble on March 18. Doubtless the war machine is trembling at the very prospect.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

MSNBC (via):
Iraqi and U.N. health officials said Monday a 15-year-old girl who died this month was a victim of the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus, the first confirmed case of the disease in the Middle East.
If it isn't one thing, it's another...

Break it down now!

Yesterday, I pontificated on an article in the Sunday Times, about activist groups deflating the tyres of 4x4s, using the opportunity for a little bit of SUV-bashing of my own. Inexplicably missing from my otherwise masterful critique of the text was any comment on the actual words attributed to the representative voice of British environmentalism. Quoth Sian Berry of the Alliance Against 4x4s on the plan concocted by those crazy continentals:
Our initial reaction was that it’s quite amusing, and clever to have established that they aren’t breaking the law. But if just one person needs to go to hospital in a hurry and their 4x4 has a flat tyre, the joke won’t seem so funny. The campaign will be finished.
Notice what Berry's done there? While ostensibly an opponent of 4x4s, Berry has managed to transform them from an unneccessary, environmentally-destructive, narcissistic, offensive luxury into a neccesity, if only in case of emergency. In the real world an individual faced by the situation Berry sets out has a number of options available to them. They could call an ambulance, which in many areas would arrive with them in minutes, or - horrors! - approach a neighbour for assistance. Berry seems to have bought into the individualist myth - which the producers of 4x4s frequently tap into - that we are all atomised individuals, concerned with nothing but our own narrow self-interest and that we can rely on nobody but ourselves to survive the rough and tumble of the modern world. (In fact, not only are 4x4s not your only safeguard against an untimely death, they may well increase the likelihood of such an eventuality, as Alex explains over at his place.)

This is broadly analagous to those who argue against the depradations of wars while accepting the fundamental right of western governments to dictate the political systems of third world countries. If we buy into the ideology of those we claim to be opposing we've already lost half the battle. In a game where they get to set the rules they have a huge advantage even before we kick-off. This is, I suggest, a widespread problem, and perhaps one I've been guilty of myself and it is probably unfair to pick on the Alliance Against 4x4s, particulalry after yesterday's slagging off. I'm sure they're very nice people and I have no problem with any of their objectives, but grist for the mill is grist for the mill...

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Being the well-trained blogger I am, when Michael linked to this, I dutifully wandered over to see what he was going on about. Being the well-trainned bloggers you all are, I'm sure you'll all do the same, so I won't waste your time with an inconsequential and unneccesary précis. What I do want to point to, however, is the fact that the name of the victim may be familiar to those of you with good memories. Rosemarie Jackowski suffered the indignity of being fisked by myself on this very site, barely a month ago. Presumably this wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience for the poor girl so it seems only fair that I encourage you to go and show your support.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hummer Time

It looks like the pixies at Earth First! might be as handy with the English language as they are with a monkey-wrench:
If the CEOs of all the most conniving corporations got together with the generals of all the least reputable armies and the most devious advertising executives, all for the purpose of creating the biggest, boldest, mile-high-letters-of-fire insult to all of their green, leftist, anarchist, or just plain humanitarian critics, they would give up through disappointment at being unable to match the sheer brazen fuck-offness of the SUV.
(For those of you not so hot on your Americanisms, SUV is what our brothers and sisters on the other side of the pond calll 4x4s.) "No other target," EF! suggest is "as unneccesary, as bound up with capitalist notions of status and superiority, as aggresively individualist in its manners, as dishonest in its marketing, as military in its provenance." Which sounds about right to me. Despite this bare-faced offensiveness, EF! still find themselves in a situation where they consider it neccesary to bemoan the paucity of militant direct action targetted against SUVs and everything they represent, at least in the UK. Which brings me to this article in today's Sunday Times.

Apparently, activists on the Continent have come up with a novel way of taking the fight to the SUVs and as an added bonus, it's probably legal. Having studied the law, activists have concluded that letting the air out of the vehicles' tyre isn't prohibited, so long as you don't cause any damage. Some activists (who and where we are not told) claim to have done so in front of police officers. If we can take the Times as fact, the movement began in Paris last year and has rapidly spread across much of western Europe.

Groups apparently compete to see who can let down the most tyres in one night, with Belgians managing to deflate 137 on December 14. The most difficult part of the task is to let out the air without setting off the car's alarm. In order to make sure nobody gets hurt as a result of driving off with flat tyres, activists leave documents on the wondows explaining what they've done.

Despite the apparent legality of the activity, it isn't entirely wothout risk for activists. Some have had the misfortune of running into the boys in blue and spent a few hours festering in a police cell. The one case cited in the article, however, those arrested hadn't been content with simply letting the tryes down, but had decided to smear the car with mud to emphasise its ostensibly rural raison d'etre.

As intriguing as this whole idea seems, what really interests me about the Times article is the contrast it presents between activists from the UK and other parts of Europe. While those crazy continentals are running round letting down tyres left, right and centre, "British activists" we are told prefer a "gentler approach." This seems to involve the use of "spoof parking tickets" which "contain information about the vehicle’s demerits, written in a gently teasing way."

The problem with the split the Times is trying to present between European and British environmentalists is that if you read the article carefully it quickly becomes apparent that they've only contacted one British organisation, the Alliance Against 4x4s. I have to confess I've never heard of them before, but a quick perusal of the site suggests they're a fairly standard liberal environmental group. This is all well and good, but who gave them the right to speak as a representative of the wider movement against 4x4s?

This is a perrenial problem within activist movements. Recall how in the build-up to the G8 Summit in Gleneagles last year, the meanistream media were falling over themselves to say nice things about Make Poverty History and its numerous celebrity supporters. This was accompanied by the usual demonising of anarchists and other radical elements, which the self-appointed leadership of the movement seemed happy to play along with. The media were thus able to construct a largely artificial dichotomy between "good" and "bad" protesters, underminging solidarity and thus effectiveness. (Clearly I am simplifying somewhat here, but I think the basic thrust of my argument is accurate.)

I don't claim to have any great solutions to this problem, although I'm sure in the case at hand, a few deflated tyres would go a long way towards undermining the article's ostensibly authoritative claims. For my own part, I claim to speak for nobody but myself. I encourage others to do the same. What you chose to do with this advice is up to you.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Dubya is infamous for his linguistic faux pas, but this time he's outdone himself, "I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." (via)

In which the author opines on the results of the Palestinian election

A comparison of elite reactions to the electoral successes of Islamic fundamentalists in elections in Iraq and Palestine is telling. In Iraq the recent election, which saw the vote for Shia Islamists dwarf that acheived by their secular counterparts, was heralded as a testament to Bush and Blair's selfless crusade for human rights and freedom. In Palestine the emergence of Hamas, not only as a major player in Palestinian electoral politics, but as the dominant force has been greeted by an onslaught of opprobrium.

This contrast highlights the fact that our leaders' supposed opposition to Islamic fundamentalism has less to do with their ostensible concern for women's rights and homophobia than it does with the interests of western imperialism. While the election in Iraq is their latest effort to salvage the occupation which they are desperate to see suceed, Hamas' victory represent's a serious challenge to imperialism's designs for the Middle East.

Don't get me wrong. I have no illusions about the vicious combination of religious obscurantism, misogyny, homophobia, communalism, conspiracism and anti-Semitism peddled by Hamas. There certainly not the sort of people I'd want to be trapped in a lift with. But this election wasn't about what I wanted anymore than it was about what George Bush or Ariel Sharon wanted.

The bases of Hamas' success are several-fold. Firstly and most obviously there is the question of the ongoing Israeli occupation, with all the brutality, humiliation and discomforts that entails. While the Palestinian Authority (PA) has moved away from armed struggle in preference for negotiation, Hamas has continued its military campaign, with numerous succesful "martyrdom operations" to show for it. No doubt, amongst Palestinians who wish to strike back against Israel for the killing/detention/torture of their husband/wife/son/brother that counts for a lot.

There is also the thorny question of corruption amongst the PA. Fatah has dominated Palestinian politics for longer than most Palestinians probably care to remember. Those who have risen through the ranks of the party have done well for themselves, carving out their own fiefdoms and siphoning off money into foreign accounts. Hamas by contrast is made up of deeply committed religious believers. Sure, they may be crazy, but the constant fear that Allah is looking over your shoulder will keep you on your toes. While the PA has been pissing away money for years, Hamas has built up an extensive social welfare network providing schools, hospitals and mosques. Again, much of this may come wrapped up in propagandist paper, but when nobody else is providing these sort of things it isn't going to harm your popularity.

It remains to be seen how the influence of power will affect Hamas. Hitherto they've avoided getting their hands dirty in its murky pools, with only a few municipalities to their name. From now on, however, they can and no doubt will be held responsible for what happens throughout Palestine and, more to the point, for everything which goes wrong. Furthermore, the pressures towards compromise which accompany the move from the radical fringes to the mainstream and the effect this can have on support should not be underestimated. My guess is that sooner or later Israel and Hamas will get around a table for a chat. It'd be better for all concerned that this happened sooner rather than later, but only time will tell.

For what it's worth I think the role of those of us fighting the good fight in the west is straight-forward: (1) Continue to oppose the Israeli occupation, the expansion of settlements and the construction of the "security wall". These things are as wrong today as they have ever been; (2) Do what we can to support progressive elements amongst the Palestinians such as trade unionists who may well find the political space within which they operate contract over the coming months and years. None of this carries any guarantees, but then when have we ever let that stop us before?

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Deja Vu

At Mayday celebrations in Nottingham way back when in 2003 somebody made the mistake of allowing me on a platform as a speaker. This was, as you may recall, around the time when large chunks of our glorious free press were heralding Bush and Blair's crusade as a life-affirming success, with conveniently toppled statues setting the intellectual scene. Given the context I spoke of the anti-war movement's need to ensure that Iraq did not fall from the public consciousness as the west's previous engagement in Afghanistan had done. I opined that if we hoped to prevent something similar happening again it behoved us to demonstrate that invasions were not the clean, easy, surgical operations which they were so often presented as, at least when conducted by the "good guys." History, of course, was to render my concerns irrelevant.

While the levels of violence in Afghanistan had remained sufficiently low for the nation's plight to be pushed towards the bottom of the news agenda, if not off it completely, the comparatively sudden emergence of widespread and effective armed resistance in Iraq meant that the cost to the occupiers prohibited similar whitewashing. The emergence of armed groups prepared to enage in "spectacular" attacks claiming many lives in a single strike was a further guarantee of media coverage, even if much of it could be easily manipulated to serve the interest of the occupiers. It would be a mistake to suggest that this unhealthy and arguably undue focus is entirely the fault of the mainstream media. Bloggers, all to often reliant on the media for material, have also paid much more attention to events in Iraq than in Afghanistan. Even I must plead guilty here.

While we've all been looking the other way, however, the armed groups in Afghanistan have been becoming increasingly effective (perhaps learning from their Iraqi counterparts). This is the context in which today's announcement (via) that British deployment in the country is too be increased, reaching a peak (albeit "briefly" if we can take the government at it's word) of 5,700 should be viewed. The deployment - part of a Nato mission - was bigger than expected and justified by Minister for War John Reid on the basis that it was neccesary to curb the booming narcotics trade (centred around opium) and provide security (the classic imperialist catch-all).

Anybody hoping that the "reinvigorated" Tory Party might be able to muster sufficient spine and/or principle to oppose or even seriously criticise any of this will be sorely disappointed. Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox claimed that the proposed deployment and the Nato mission of which it was part, embraced "noble ideas," but warned the government that his party would hold the government to account for any failures in policy, which sounds suspiciously like the hedging of bets to me.

Imperialism's mask is slipping. In Iraq the reality of the Emperor's nakedness is there for all to see and Afghanistan looks to be on a similarly dark course. If the anti-war movement gets its act sorted this could be a turning point. As it is, I fear this is little more than another landmark on a highway to hell. It'd be jolly nice if somebody could prove me wrong, though.

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Mummy and daddy must be proud...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Not a lot of NaCl

Regular readers will be familiar with the saga of the Chagossians who have been - not to put too fine a point on it - royally shafted by the British Government for the best part of forty-years. Evicted from their island homes in the Indian Ocean (right) to make way for an American military base they have been prevented from returning by the unending machinations of the British state. The islanders are not even allowed to return to the Chagos Archipelago to visit their ancestors' graves.

To be unduly fair to the British government, they have been promising for sometime that islanders would be allowed to visit these graves. The only problem is that these promises have hitherto amounted to diddly-squat. The idea has been bounced around by the British government for longer than I care to look-up, with periodical announcements promising that it will happen. Soon. Honest. While in the real world the Chagossians inch towards their own graves, still unable to pay their respects to their ancestors.

In November 2004, Bill Rammell (left) then the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of something or other who's remit covered the so-called "British Indian Ocean Territories," claimed that islanders would be allowed to make such a visit, even that some would be allowed onto Diego Garcia, the site of the aforementioned US base. In January 2005, however, he announced that the visit would have to be cancelled, ostensibly because of Mauritian interference. In February he insisted that a visit was still on the books. Those of you with a sound head for dates will be cogniscent of the fact that this was almost a year ago. Needless to say the visit still hasn't taken place.

You'll excuse me then if I greet the news (which materialises in my inbox courtesy of the Chagos Discussion List) that plans are afoot for a visit to finally take place with a not inconsiderable pinch of sodium chloride. Apparently, the Chairperson of the Ilois Welfare Board in the Social Services. (Ilois is patois for "islander" and is commonly used as an alternative appellation for the Chagossians) has received the following from the Prime Minister of Mauritius' office:

The proposed visit of members of the Chagossian community to the Chagos Archipelago is being, in principle, scheduled for end of March -beginning of April 2006.

The number of passengers from the community to be accommodated on the trip is one hundred, and it has been decided that the group will be constituted as follows:
i. 85 persons from the Chagos Refugee group and
ii 15 persons from the Seychelles Chagossian Community.

In this connection, I am directed to request you to submit to this Office, the list of Chagossian passengers from Mauritius and Seychelles who would undertake the trip.
Note in particular the weasle-words "in principle," which might be bureaucrat-speak for "we hope" or "all being well (as long as those shady Brits don't fuck us around again)." Of course, I hope that this time things actually work out and the visit takes place, perhaps even becoming the fist of many such trips. What I hope for and what I expect, don't always correlate, however.

It is worth mentioning in passing, because its easy to lose perspective, that even if the visit does go ahead it will hardly begin to put right the multitude injustices done to the Chagossians. Nor for that matter will it make life any more confortable for the "detainees" reported to be incacerated on Diego Garcia at The Presidency's Pleasure. The imense difficulties which have been faced by the Chagossians and there supporters in securing even one measly visit do not bode well for the chances of challenging the fundamental issue of the base's existence, but in order to continue in the spirit of hope outlined above, let's not dwell on that.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Did You Know?

Ten Top Trivia Tips about The Disillusioned kid!

  1. The Disillusioned kid cannot jump.
  2. The Disillusioned kid once came third in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest!
  3. Devoid of his cells and proteins, the Disillusioned kid has the same chemical makeup as sea water.
  4. Only fifty-five percent of men wash their hands after using the Disillusioned kid.
  5. In Japan it is considered rude to talk with the Disillusioned kid in your mouth!
  6. The liquid inside the Disillusioned kid can be used as a substitute for blood plasma.
  7. The Disillusioned kid can't sweat!
  8. During World War II, Americans tried to train the Disillusioned kid to drop bombs.
  9. The Disillusioned kid has only one weakness - the colour yellow.
  10. The Disillusioned kid is picked, sorted and packed entirely in the field.
I am interested in - do tell me about
(Hat-tip: Edjog.)
If somebody asked you to sum up the CIA in one word, how far down the list would "cuddly" be? Probably just above "nymphomaniac", in which case, this might come as something of a surprise. (via)

And now for something completely different...

Imagine the scene…

You slowly return to consciousness. Struggling the whole time. Where are you? How did you get here? More to the point, what is that smell?

Slowly, painfully slowly, you become aware of your surroundings. You’re in a room. The walls are white, reflecting the harsh light. It takes sometime, how long is hard to tell, before you realise somebody is standing over you. You look up, squinting in the light to which your unconsciousness-afflicted eyes are struggling to adjust. As your vision finally returns, it dawns on you that the smiling face looking back at you is me. Things are obviously worse than you’d realised.

"How are you feeling?" I ask innocently.

"Muh," you mumble, not even sure yourself what you are trying to communicate.

"Good, good," I respond, still smiling. "I was worried you might be feeling a little iffy after the operation."

"Operation?!" you cough, suddenly very awake. Your mind begins to race. What happened? When? How? Who’s responsible? Can I sue? For my part, I’m barely peturbed by your concerns and raise my right arm to point. Your eyes follow my gesture and settle on the figure of a man lying face down on the other side of the room.

The man is a dishevelled figure, his hair long and unkempt, his chin punctuated by several days of stubble. His clothes are stained with various substances it’s probably best not to think about and the ensemble is finished off by the puddle, of what you take to be his own vomit, which he is lying in. As yucky as he looks, nothing strikes you quite as strongly as the tubes running his various orifices, across the floor and into your butt.

"Wha- wh- what…?!" you stutter.

"Him?" I ask nonchalantly. "That’s Fred. He's a famous violinist"

"He doesn't look much like a famous violinist," you retort.

"What do you expect? A flashing neon sign? A tattoo on his forehead?" You decide not to dignify that with a response, turning instead to the real subject of your concern. "What about these... Tubes?"

"Oh, don't worry about that," I reassure you. "Fred had a few too many last night - you knwo what it's like - and we needed somebody to help clean the shit out of his system. Don’t worry it won't take all that long."

"How long is 'not all that long,'" you ask, the anger welling up inside you only held back by sheer confusion.

"Oh, I don't know… Eight… Nine months…"

"Nine months!" you expectorate. "Your telling me I've gotta be wired up to that deadbeat for nine months?!"

"I s’pose."

"Let me out!" you command. "Unplug me from him!" By now, 'angry' doesn't really describe the way your feeling. Incandescent would be closer, but is far too pretty a word to convey the way your feeling. This state of mind is not assisted by my response.

"I can’t do that."

"Why not?"

I look at you quizzically and respond like a parent trying to explain to an uncomprehending child why he can’t play football on a motorway, "Because that would kill him." For a moment you’re lost for words. You just stare at me. Silent. After a while you compose yourself and ask, "Don’t I get a say in this? Some choice?"

"Why?" I respond. "You 'choose' and Fred here'll be six-feet under pushing up the daisies when he should be in Carnegie Hall performing to a crowd of millions. Far better for all concerned, and music lovers around the world, that you just lie back and think of Poland."

"Fuck Poland!" you spit, "And fuck you! I don’t want to be part of your fucking experiment and I don’t care about your friend over there." You gesture dismissively in Fred’s gesture in case there’s any confusion about whom you’re referring to.

"That isn't very friendly," I protest. "I'm sure he wouldn't be so cruel about you and I'm told Poland's lovely at this time of year."

"I don't care," you retort. "I don't want to be stuck in this shit-hole for the next nine months, wired up to some supposedly famous violinist who can't handle his drinks."

"Your not neccesarily stuck here," I suggest. "I'm sure we could find a wheelbarrow somewhere and..." You cut me off with a stare. "Don't worry," I assure you. "It'll be fine. It'll all be over before you know it." You just keep staring. You don't look convinced.

(This analogy is brought to you as part of Blog for Choice Day, with apologies to Judith Jarvis Thomson, Poland and violinists.)

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Nobody controls my uterus

Today (January 22nd) marks the 33rd anniversary of Roe v Wade. This saw the Supreme Court in the United States rule that most laws against abortion breached a constitutional right to privacy. As such it is considered a key point of reference in the struggle for and against abortion which continues to rage ferociously in the infamously religious superpower. To mark this anniversary, feminist-bloggers are participating in "Blog for Choice Day" which involves, as you might expect, blogging in support of the right to choose.

The prevalence of large, organised movements of religious wingnuts in the States is not news to any of you, I'm sure. Nor their campaigns against the right to a legal, safe sabortion. With the nomination of Samuel Alito - a right-wing "pro-lifer" - to the Supreme Court, the possibility that Roe might be overturned is looking increasingly likely. That would be a bad thing and not just for American women. A victory for American anti-abortionists would also constitute a shot in the arm for increasingly prevalent Christian reactionaries in the UK. Christian Voice and the like remain a peripheral voice, but the Jerry Springer fracas demonstrates that these groups already have the ability to punch above their weight.

In other, not unrelated, anniversary-type news, this week marks the fifth anniversary of Bush's reinstatement of the Reaganite "Global Gag Rule." This prevents NGOs which receive US funding from carrying out abortions, lobbying for their legalisation or even counseling their patients on the matter. Christian fundamentalists no doubt view this policy as a wonderful expression of their boundless love of life, but insofar as it restricts the available of safe abortions it inevitably forces women to turn to unsafe methods which kill 200 women every single day.

Those of you interested in such things can find the British Abortion Rights Campaign here and may find this site informative.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

To blog or not to blog:
I never bought into the whole blog-as-grassroots-democratic medium hype and that notion never played a factor in the creation of this blog. I'm still amazed that people take that shit seriously. I've been using the internet since 1994 and I'm pretty sure they said the same thing about, well...the internet and e-mail and the web and so on and so on. The "blogosphere", both its readers and its "content producers", are a small segment of the American public who generally come from a larger small segement of the American public which constitutes what's left of the American middle class. Sure, the occassonal poor person will get themselves a blog and maybe complain about the man if they're the thoughtful type, but generally speaking the political "blogosphere" is mostly white, mostly middle class, mostly professional, mostly under 40--same old stuff, same old intensive internet user demographics that have been consistent since the internet boom. What's perverse about the blogging phenomenon is that now, the media can pluck some middle class white suburban shmoe with too much time his hands who has managed to build a following of other privileged nerds and throw him in front of a camera and present him as the voice of the people. I mean who needs democracy when you've got the "blogosphere", right? It's just too easy. Take a minute to flatter the bland, timid soul of the middle class suburbanite or the self-absorbed urban hipster (the same creature really only at different stages of development over time) and you can go right back to the important business of ruling the world with no muss or fuss. It's the political equivalent of shutting up a child by giving him a few bucks and sending him to the candy store. If you really think that any kind of truly serious change is going to come from blogging, you must be a Daily Kos reader.
Harsh but true. Substitute "American" for "British" and hey presto! That's where I come in. The rest isn't quite so harsh, but it's well worth a gander.

You can't smash the state with an ID card

Apparently the Lord Chancellor not only thinks that ID cards are a nifty idea, but is of the opinion that anyone who has the temerity to refuse one should be given a slap across the wrist by the long-arm of the law:
Lord Falconer told BBC Radio Four's Any Questions: "The question is should you require - and I think ultimately, unless there is compulsion, you won't get the benefits of an ID card system - is it right to compel those that don't have a passport also to get an ID card?

"I think it is, I think it will become inevitable that you need reliable means of identification, both to stop people stealing your identity, and also making it much, much easier for you to deal with the state."
Like Nosemonkey, I'm not really sure I want have all that much to do with the state. Why would I want to deal with an institution engaged in the slaughter of Iraqis while pissing-away my civil liberties? The state can go and fuck itself for all I care and it can take it's stupid ID card scheme and Lord Falconer with it.
Don't fuck with the Noamster:
Bostonian MIT anarchist Noam Chomsky lashed out last night at the Irish government for allowing him into the country to fulfill a number of speaking engagements even though his passport was out of date. "This is typical of the craven attitude adopted by the Irish government since the war in Iraq began," he said. "There seems to be nothing the Taoiseach and his ass-licking cronies aren't prepared to do to make it easier for U.S. economic and cultural domination of the planet..."
More here (via).

Friday, January 20, 2006

Casting stones in no particular order

Which rather raises the question, as the photographer suggests, of what we are to make of anybody sodomising racists... (via)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sell your children; it's the New Labour way

Is it just me, or does the government's latest plan for "reforming" the Child Support Agency (CSA) sound suspiciously like the first step towards privatisation of child benefits? Private debt collectors (almost certainly large corporations) are going to be used to collect money from absent parents who fail to pay child support. The important bit is that these companies will be able to keep a "proportion" of the debts which apparently total around £3 billion. Something tells me they'll do very nicely out of the deal, thank you very much, regardless of how much or little of that debt they manage to recover.

Following only a few weeks after work and pensions secretary John Hutton floated the idea that non-compliant absent parents might be tagged it's beginning to look rather like government policy in this area is being made on the run. That said, both ideas are consistent with the recurring themes of Blairite governance: authoritarianism and corporate involvement; the shitty stick and the GM carrot.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Alex just might have stumbled upon the greatest blond joke in the history of histories of blond jokes.


Please help us to find this man!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Blair "Man of the People"

The world's full of strange coincidences. Whod've thought the weekend I decided to go back to Nottingham would be the same one our Glorious Leader (i.e. Tony Blair) chose to grace the city with his presence? You'd almost think I planned it that way.

There was a lively and numerous demonstration - attracting perhaps 100 participants - which was particularly impressive given that the whole thing had been organised with only 24 hours notice. Many of the protesters were there to express their opposition to the occupation of Iraq (the guys from Nottingham Stop the War had been key organisers along with students and the ever reliable Lenton Anarchist Forum), but anger was also expressed about Blair's proposals for the expansion of nuclear power which we understood, from the Independent, was the reason for his visit, although subsequent reports suggest that the focus of the event (a Labour Party "National Policy Forum") was education and the White Paper.

The bulk of the demonstrators managed to position themselves just outside the East Midlands Conference Centre on the University of Nottingham's campus where the demonstrationwas taking place, forcing Blair to go in by the back route. I, unfortunately, ended up in the "designated protest area," placed somewhat further back in order that we didn't get close enough to actually influence anything. As such I missed most of the action. Fortunately, Indymedia (whence the picture above originates) has the craic and I'm sure Dan who also turned up (and was kind enough to put me up for the duration of my stay) might have a thing or two to say about the day. I've got a few photos of my own which I may post over the coming days if any of them are any good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Celebrity Big Bollocks

George Galloway is infamous for courting controversy and his decision to appear on Celebrity Big Brother is merely the latest example. Unfortunately of the voluminous verbiage committed to the blogosphere on the matter by those on both sides, the vast majority is inane, predictable and frankly uninteresting. Surprisingly, the most incisive response I have seen, is something I found linked from the website of Galloway's Respect Coalition (not to be confused with Tony's new Respect Action Plan). Zoe Williams, writing in the Grauniad, claims, "It's rare to come across a TV programme, indeed a cultural experience of any sort, that manages to bring together two points of view you absolutely hate, and pit them against each other":
The first is this: that young people, in order to be "engaged" with politics, need to be spoken to in language they understand, via media they have a track record of taking an interest in. Post-internet, post-PlayStation, post-reality telly, traditional campaigning simply won't reach them. This has become orthodoxy. More young people vote in Big Brother than in elections, ergo, politicians must appear on Big Brother. It's daft. I've been to Sainsbury's more often than I've been on a protest march; it doesn't follow that I will only turn up to a march if someone along the route will sell me tomatoes on a two-for-one offer.
There's nothing more embarassing than old people trying to appear "down" with the "yoof" as anyone who's had the misfortune to witness my father discussing pop music will atest. When this cringeworthiness is presented as serious politics you have to wonder if you should laugh or cry.

(Those of you curious as to the specifics of the second of Williams' hated point of view can go read it for yourself. I'm done here.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

A family with the wrong members in control

Way back when on November 25, I wrote a post to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in which I remarked,
Unlike many of the examples of oppression which this blog gets exercised about, [violence against women] is not something taking place in some far-off country (although it happens in many of those places as well) this is much closer to home. In fact, for many women it is at home.
Although I think this is an important point, it wasn't something I dealt with at length, although Nel clearly felt it worthy of further comment. If I was a better writer I might have tried to pen something like this. As it is, however, your going to have to make do with everyone's favourite dairy product's (actually quite brilliant) interpretation:
A few years ago, my partner worked in a number of women's refuges across the country, helping women escape domestic violence. It is without a word of exaggeration to say that some of the stories she occasionally brought home could sit uncomfortably alongside the tales of torture and depravity related by Craig Murray of late.

Should Eliza Manningham-Buller ever get the itch for a gulag of her own, she could do worse than infiltrate a refuge and attempt to locate and recruit the women's erstwhile partners. Terrifying creativity worthy of Karimov is not beyond some of these men.

And like ambassadors with consciences, refuge workers tend to wear our quite quickly. I've seen the intelligence and if you'd seen what I'd seen, you'd be terrified. On average, two women are killed every week by their current or former partners. By grim coincidence, that's exactly double the number of people killed in the July 7 bombings.

That's two entirely preventable 7/7s taking place every year. So where's The War On Spousal Abuse?
Where indeed? Anything I could say would only look insipid and superfluous in comparison, so you're better off toddling over to Justin's place and reading the original.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sometime ago, Alex suggested a compile a "Best of..." as an introduction for newcomers to this site. At the time I filed the idea away at the back of my mind to return to in the future. Well, the future is today and I'm now offering you a once in a lifetime chance to nominate those posts which you think are not quite as bad as most of the material published here. I'd be particularly interested to hear what you think if you tend to lurk in my lair, reading what I write without passing comment. Voting will be reviewed by an Independent Monitoring Commission consisting of myself, so vote early and vote often.

Sharon "Man of Peace"

Watching the mainstream coverage of Ariel Sharon's stroke and subsequent medical treatment you'd be mistaken for thinking that the man was the reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi himself. The reality, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with Sharon's history is aware, doesn't present him in such a flattering light.

Former Knesset member and Israeli peace activist Uri Averny argues that Sharon has remained true to "true to his fundamental approach, only adapting his slogans to changing times and circumstances." Averny suggests that Sharon's "simplistic" world view finds its roots in "19th century style nationalism, which says: our people stands above all others, other people are inferior. The rights of our nation are sacred, other nations have no rights at all. The rules of morality apply only to relations within the nation, not to relations between nations."

Our first reference point for Sharon's career is his founding and leaderhip of Unit 101 in 1953. This Unit was responsible for an attack in October 1953 against the village of Qibya in the West Bank then under Jordanian control. This was ostensibly a reprisal for Arab attacks against the Israeli town of Yahud, but ended with the killing of 60 Palestinians and the demolition of nearly every house in the village. At the time the US State Department denounced the raid, demanding that those responsible be brought to account and temporarily suspending economic aid to Israel while the UN Security Council passed a condemnatory resolution in November.

Sharon's career in the military continued until 1973 when he retired and shortly thereafter joined the right-wing Likup party. By 1982 he had risen to the position of Israeli Defence Minister in Menachem Begin's cabinet. In this position he was in charge of the Israeli war against Lebanon, a brutal affair which may have killed as amny as 20,000 people, most of them Lebanese civillians.

As horrific as the war itself was, Sharon's name became infamous for his connection with the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The massacre takes its name from the two refugee camps where it took place. These were surrounded by Israeli soldiers who sent Lebanese Phalangist militias into the camps ostensibly to track down Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) fighters and hand them over to the Israeli defence Force (IDF). There was, however, no fighting and no PLO guerillas handed over to the IDF. Instead the militias proceeded to slaughter the inhabitants - women as well as men - resulting in the deaths of anything between 300-3,500 people. Throughout the IDF did nothing to intervene and indeed prevented refugees from fleeing the camps and providing illumination.

The responsibilty of the IDF for the massacre is, like so much surrounding the Israel-Palestine issue, hotly contested, but the order to send the militias into the camps was given by Sharon. In 1983 the Israeli Kahan Commission concluded:
We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense [Ariel Sharon] bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office - and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority under Section 21-A(a) of the Basic Law: the Government, according to which "the Prime Minister may, after informing the Cabinet of his intention to do so, remove a minister from office.
Sharon was indeed subsequently removed, but his political career was far from over. He remained in subsequent governments holding various positions. In 1999 he became the leader of Likud and in 2001 he was elected Israeli Prime Minister.

Robert Fisk points out that one of the lesser-known facts about Sharon's career during this period was his opposition to the NATO war against Serbia. As you might expect given the foregoing, this was not motivated by an opposition to western aggression. On the contrary, as Israeli Foreign Minister he inveighed against "Islamic terror" in Kosovo warning, "The moment that Israel expresses's likely to be the next victim. Imagine that one day Arabs in Galilee demand that the region in which they live be recognised as an autonomous area, connected to the Palestinian Authority..." In fact, Sharon's sympathies with Milosevic go back some way and in an interview in a Belgrade newspaper he stated "We stand together with you against the Islamic terror." Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions about the methods adopted by the two leaders to fight "Islamic terror".

Prior to his election as Prime Minister, Sharon decided to visit the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Accompanied by armed guards, this visit, to what is considered the third holiest site in Islam, was seen as an incitement by many Palestinians and trigggered the Second (or Al-Aqsa) Intifada. During the Intifada, Sharon oversaw the brutal Israeli response which witnessed the reoccupation of extensive areas of Palestinian territory, the bulldzong of homes and the use of jet fighters and attack helicopters against targets in civillian areas.

Sharon also took the decision to build the controversial wall around large parts of the West bank. This was unpopular not just because of the symbolism of such a structure, but because of the route which it follows which places stretches of Palestinian territory on the Israeli side and carves some Palestinian communities in two, further problematising the day-to-day lives of residents.

That somebody responsible for all this could go on to become the darling of the liberal Israeli peace movement seems unlikely, but that's exactly what's happened. The reason for this is Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan which saw settlers withdrawn from tiny Gaza Strip. This was heralded by much of the mainstream media as a glorious, brave step towards peace, but as Sharon's top adviser Dov Weisglass openly admits, "The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." Giving up Gaza was part of a wider strategy to ensure Israeli control over the much larger and more significant West bank.

Even in Gaza the withdrawal is not quite everything it's been presented as. Israel remains the occupying power and still believes it has the authority to declare an area in the north a no-go buffer zone. In fact withdrawing the Israeli presence on the ground actually seems to have freed the IDF's hand somewhat. Air raids in october saw the introduction of sonic booms, caused by low-flying F16 jets travelling at supersonic speeds, as a tactic for instilling terror in the populace.

Given how relentlessly depressing the Israel-Palestine situation is, it shouldn't be surprising that people will grab for any and every straw which is waved in their general direction, but we shouldn't let our hope for a solution cloud our judgement of reality. It is possible that Sharon was moving towards a position which would have seen him endorse a genuinely sustainable, just solution to the conflict, but the evidence seems scant at best.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Jesus Fucking H. Christ! I just turned on the telly only to discover that George Galloway is taking part in the new series of Big Brother! Has the world gone stark raving insaner than ever?!
What's this? A link to Sixth Annual Weblog Awards? A shameless piece of self-promotion? Surely not! *coughs*

Homophobes Suck Redux

Apparently February is Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) History Month. Presumably taking inspiration from the more well known Black History Month (which takes place in October), this is a month of activities seeking to raise awareness of the role of gay and lesbian figures have played in British history and to counter homophobia. The Daily Mail is already getting worked up at the prospect and in particular about recommendations sent to schools about possible issues to focus on and figures to discuss. As Jess over at The F-Word notes, the report is characterised by a thinly-veiled distaste for homosexuality which should hardly be surprising to anybody familiar with the Mail's inglorious record hitherto. In fact, the Mail's homophobia is so predictably obvious that I'm tempted to consign this post to the dustbin of unfinished postings and would do if it weren't for the comments section which includes a titbit I can't not reprint: "Pushing homosexuality down people’s throats does gay and lesbian people no favours." You couldn't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

No Borders, No Nations, No Immigration Officials

OK. Consider this a warning. If you make me get out of a coach at three o' clock in the morning and stand in a queue to be called forward and have my passport checked so I can get back into this shithole of a country you can expect me to slag you off in a blog post. If you also happen to have been accused of participating in a "sex for visas" scam that just makes it much easier for me to write something. Even if those allegations originate in a bastion of top-quality investigative journalism like the Sun.

I have to confess I don't understand what would drive somebody to become a immigration official. No doubt most of the people who join the police do so out of some misguided conception of public service and to help others. Similarly many soliders end up in the army because they can see no other option or because of a misplaced sense of patriotism. But who wakes up one day and says, "I know I want to protect the UK's frontiers from hordes of eevil forners"?! The same kind of person who gives out visas to women with impressive mammaries or who amuses themselves with the passport photos of "ugly" applicants before having them deported, apparently.

Everything to do with the issue of immigration is contaminated by a distasteful concoction of racism and classism. Tossing a hefty dose of sexism into the mix isn't going to improve things. Let us hope - for once - that this is another one of those stories that Murdoch has pulled out of his butt.
Dan is running a vaguely festive quiz encouraging readers to guess which of his "many wonderful acquaintances" various seasonal messages he's received originated from. Can you guess which is mine?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

May I be the first to welcome you to the New Year. Sure, others may have wished you a happy one, but has anybody actually welcomed you yet? I'm currently in Belgium, so I've had that much longer than most of you to get settled in and I think you're gonna like it. It's a lot like last year's model, but with added sixage. Of course, if you don't like it you've only gotta wait 363-or-so-days until the next one becomes available.

Seriously though, it's at this point when we're supposed to look back over the year that's gone by and look forward to the year to come. My attempts to co-ordinate an collective review of 2004 were not entirely succesful, so I'll leave the looking back to your own recollections. As for the looking forward your guess is as good as mine as to what'll happen and I don't want to stick my neck out quite yet (maybe tomorrow). In lieu of my own take on things check out Jeff Vail's collection of possibile happenings in 2006 which is very interesting, if a little worrying.

In entirely unrelated news, I now have a Flickr account (whence the photo originates) which will -eventually I'm sure - host the photographic evidence of my existence. Or maybe some pictures I like. One way or another, those of you interested in what I look like (your mistake) can now satisfy that curiosity. In case there's any confusion, I'm not the snowman.

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