the Disillusioned kid: December 2007
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Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto RIP

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is clearly a very big deal. I worry that we may look back on this attack as the moment Pakistan became a failed state. Many Pakistan People's Party supporters are asking questions about the Musharraff's failure to protect Bhutto, perhaps even holding him personally responsible. This can only compound widespread anger at the regime. Attempts to remove chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from office in March drew hundreds of lawyers onto the streets, indicating that resentment had reached well into the middle-classes.

Bhutto's assassination is hardly an unusual occurence in modern-day Pakistan. Islamist fundamentalists are engaged in a bloody, and apparently growing insurgency, particularly in the regions bordering Afghanistan and Musharraff himself has been the target of attacks on a number of occasions. Such groups can only be empowered by Bhutto's death, although they will likely have to weather some kind of military response. One only has to look across the border to Afghanistan to see how difficult it is to beat such groups in territory they are intimately familiar with.

There's nothing inevitable about state failure, but the country is surely standing on the precipice and it's a hell of a long way down. The consequences for the people of Pakistan of an upsurge in conflict are obvious enough, but the ramifications for the wider world of a nuclear-armed state in disarray ought to be troubling.

Perhaps predictably, this atrocity has encouraged the more dimwitted islamophobes who hold that Bhutto's murder demonstrates the fundamental brutality and inhumanity of Islam. The reality, of course, is more complex. What this shows is rather that the real conflict is not between Islam and the West (Christianity?), but rather within Islam. This is more complicated than the simplistic conflict between secularists and fundamentalists envisaged by many liberals, encompassing a wide range of interpretations, traditions and movements, but will shape in very important ways the world we live in over the coming years and decades. Provided, of course, we manage to survive that long.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2007

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Polar Express

Don't you just love this country sometimes?
Rail companies will be closing their networks until Thursday morning from about 8pm tonight after rejecting demands for at least a basic service on Boxing Day.

Britain is the only major European country that will be without a rail service on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, despite huge growth in demand. The quarter of British households without access to a car will struggle to get to Boxing Day sports fixtures. The sales will be under way – but only those with cars are likely to benefit: trains do not resume until after 6am on the 27th.
I'm not particularly interested in sports fixtures, don't give a flying sleigh about the sales and plan to spend Christmas and Boxing day at home with the family, nevertheless as one of those without a car (I don't own one and can't drive anyway) I can empathise with those who will find themselves unable to get where they want to be because of this arrangement.

The excuse offered by Association of Train Operating Companies for this, frankly pathetic, state of affairs is that they're just not getting enough pocket money from the government. The association insisted that members would run services only if they received extra subsidy. A spokesman whined, “Train companies are not in the business of running services they know will lose money. Undoubtedly there would be some demand, but not enough to justify a commercial service.” A senior rail industry source told the Times: “We will run trains if the Government funds them. They already subsidise the railway for 363 days a year so why not the remaining two?”

A cross-party group of 28 MPs has signed an Early Day Motion expressing their "deep disappointment" with the rail companies and calling for them to get themselves on track to provide a proper service next year. What with the record of EDM's this isn't exactly encouraging, but it's a start and you might want to consider writing to your MP encouraging them to add their names. The lazy sods will probably be on holiday until mid-January, though.

This all points, of course, to the sheer lunacy of a privatised public transport system. It's overpriced, not very good and still requires a gargantuan amount of taxpayers money. Predictably, the Times article from which most of this post is derived doesn't draw the obvious conclusion, but polls show majority support for renationalisation of the railways and frankly even a government as incompetent as the current one ought to be able to do a better job than the money-grabbing fat cats currently holding the keys.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Episode IV: The New Seasonal Message

It's that time of year again. The tree's up, the tinsel's out and Shane MacGowan's been dethawed for his annual outing. Winterval is well and truly upon us. The annual celebration of Cliff Richard's birth is a time closely associated with tradition: the giving of gifts; overconsumption; the singing of carol; the Docto Who christmas special; and, of course, the Disillusioned kid seasonal message. Now in its fourth year (honestly, count 'em) this seasonal event is hotly anticipated by nobody in particular, but might go someway to making up for my generally piss-poor efforts at blogging over the previous year.

Normally my seasonal ramblings consist primarily of various musings on the "War on Christmas" which assorted right-wing nutjobs insist is being waged by a conspiracy of secular-lefty-liberal-PC-islamist-thugs. Invented by American "conservatives" as a stick to beat their political opponents with the concept has been hinted at by some of the nuttier elements of the British right, but has yet to exert any real influence on British political culture. The fact that there isn't and never has been such a conflict outside the paranoid delusions and well-honed persecution complexes of Rebekah Wade and Stephen Green is probably a crucial factor in this absence.

This year I've been fortunate enough to avoid any mention of the War. The tabloids are obviously more interested in writing about a photogenic blond, white girl while the soi-disant "true defenders of the faith" in the BNP are too busy fighting amongst themselves to put up much of a defence. Even their "patriotic Christian" front-group the Christian Council of Britain seems to have nothing to say on the matter. If there were a war it looks like they'd be losing. Which ought to be a comfort.

For what it's worth I enjoy the festive season as much as anybody despite, or perhaps because of, my complete lack of faith. As I've suggested in the past, Christians have no monopoly over winter festivities. Indeed, they are a recurring theme in various cultures. This is hardly surprising. What better cure for the winter blues than a big party? Indeed winter festivities pre-date Christianity's emergence by some way. In fact, th Romans actually held a festival on December 25 which they called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." (Note the parallels with Christianity's birth of the son of God.) Christianity settled on the date largely arbitrarily, although the available evidence (much of it derived directly from biblical accounts) suggests that Christ was most likely born in the autumn. Holding the festival in winter served as a sweetener to putative converts who wouldn't have to give up their traditional parties. This also helps to explain the co-option of pre-Christian symbols such as holly.

To cut a long story short, I have no problem at all with stripping Christmas of its religious content. I don't believe that this inevitably reduces the holiday to a celebration of consumer capitalism. In a post written last year, Jason Godesky argued that gift giving is in a sense a hangover from tribal societies and noted that it offers an alternative to market economics, one operating according to an inherently incompatible logic. On this basis, he concluded, that a society in which Roy Wood got his wish and Christmas was celebrated everyday would be a gift-economy and hence something to be striven for. I know it's hard to believe as you do battle with crowds of angry shoppers to get that last copy of Delia Smith's latest cookbook, but Christmas is, in a small way, a glimpse of a post-revolutionary society. Just with Cliff Richard on the soundtrack.

In my experience, radicals never turn up the opportunity for a party so why should this one be any different? I'll be tucking into my nut roast on Tuesday, supping the odd alcoholic beverage and foreshadowing the coming gift economy as I'm sure will most of you. Enjoy it.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holidays, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

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Something (via) for you to enjoy before you go off and hunt your Christmas turkey in the wilds of suburbia.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

"I am the law!"

This is pretty shocking, even for a bitter, old anarchist like me. What was it N.W.A. used to say?

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nottinghamshire Police shots somebody with 50,000 volts last week. Bizarrely this doesn't seem to have been a particularly controversial move with anybody other than myself. And all I did was write an Indymedia article about it. I bet the Chief Superintendent is quaking in his boots.

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