vrijdag, augustus 17, 2007

More Enlightenmentmonging from Romana’s hubby

An analogy [one you’ll probably not find on this year’s SATs]:

The Enlightenment is to Richard Dawkins and his transatlantic conceited coterie of atheo-fundamentalist cocks [I do mean that in the sense of ‘being proud as a’ and not in the sense of ‘as rigid as a’ – although now that I think about it, that could just about work too], Hitchens, Harris, Amis and McEwan, as a plunger handle is to a racist frat-boy marine at Abu Ghraib: used the wrong way round and up the bums of Muslims. In other words, for a purpose entirely in opposition to that for which it was originally intended.

[Furthering the phallic allusion here for just one tendentious and possibly thoroughly supererogatory second longer – It is remarkable is it not, that once upon a time, middle-aged left-wing men with diminishing little-general capacities just bought lavishly redundantly fast Italian roadsters and a mistress younger than their daughter, but these days, it’s always the luckless Enlightenment that seems to get the blood coursing through the old soixant-huitard schlong. I say, a shot of that Robespierre must work monstrously better than those diamond-shaped blue pills.]

In the unwitting or witting service of imperialism and Islamophobia normally is the ill-fitting purpose for which he and others wield the Enlightenment. But he’s at it again, and this time that smug, expensively coiffed salt-and-pepper bouffant of an evolutionary biologist is using his Manichean ill-read caricature of the Enlightenment and reason for more – oh and I do hate this word, but there’s nothing else for it – classist motivations.

In his new two-part series, Enemies of Reason, in perhaps what is a correction to an oversight from his last series, The Root of All Evil, he is attacking new-age flim-flammery, not merely established religion. He aims to show how silly, silly, silly people are who believe in dowsing, alternative medicine, spiritualism, mediums, crystal balls, tarot cards, astrology and the rest of the panorama of such ‘free-thinking’ applesauce.

I say correction, as his last series had only aimed at converting everyone to atheism, while it is, sadly, more than entirely plausible, if irrational, to be both an atheist, or, more precisely, someone who puts down ‘secular’ or ‘no religion’ on census forms, and simultaneously believe that the planet Mercury has some passing influence on whether you’ll finally get that promotion to second-assistant fartcatcher to your department’s under-manager of company stationary monitoring, or that an ascending Venus means that you and everyone else born in the same month as you will find true, ineffably soul-nourishing love before week’s end. There is not a small number of people who don’t go to church these days, but an unhappily large percentage of them still believe in palm reading, Echinacea and homeopathy, hang tacky first-nations dreamcatchers off their porches, and would rather step out into a street full of traffic than walk under a ladder that mid-pavement was leant against a building. One might here repetitively reflect that it is not, as G.K. Chesterton apparently never did say, that when people leave the church they will believe in nothing, it is that they will believe in anything.

I have little quarrel with Dawkins’ understandable impatience with people’s belief in this bricolage of infantillist nonsense per se. I have no time for any of this bullshit myself when I encounter it amongst people I know. On Free Tibet marches I used to attend years ago, whatever the injustice of the Maoist occupation, I always cringed when the crowd launched into chants of ‘Long live the Dalai Lama’. Rather, the concern I have is the class frame that this inheritor of the Earldom of Lincoln uses to scaffold his prosecution.

It is quite striking how the accent of almost every single one of the objects of his scorn in the documentary, including even the rather bumbling astrologer for the Observer (I know! It passed me by too. I’d never even noticed that the Observer had an astrology column. That and the constipated Nick Cohen! That’s it, I’m switching to, er, wait, the Indy has one too, I’ll bet, doesn’t it?), are so very far from Dawkie’s studiously deathless yet chipmunkish RP. From the scouse aura-photographer and the pink-cardiganed psychic energy tutor to poor swishy Simon the mancunian tarot hustler who, to be honest, got rather rumbled by Dick, to Craig the spiritualist minister, to Ken the dousing Cornishman who refuses to admit his dousing skill doesn’t work when it’s disproven before his eyes. Isn’t he simple? Poor, deluded, unsophisticated Ken.

Yet the sceptic magician, Derren Brown, who, like Houdini once did, debunks spiritualists and is on Dawkins’ side, has only the lightest hint of regulation-meeja-personality Estuary, and only by his forward-mouthed U’s can you tell that Dawkins' other fellow rationalist in the film, the psychologist dousing-demystifier, Chris French, must have spent some time oop north before university. It’s been a long time since one could definitively tell a person’s class from her accent, but yet, there’s something there. Dawkins is schoolmaster, not academic here.

Dawkins, far from even having any empathy for these people, holds them in the utmost dersision. Worse still, he offers no explanation for this latter-day growth in superstition and belief in the supernatural. It simply is. ‘Reason has a battle on its hands.’ ‘Science is under attack.’ ‘[There is] an epidemic of irrational superstitious thinking.’

Rather than recognising the foolishness of their thinking but understanding and explaining where it might have come from, he all but calls them fools to their faces with his own sneering, taunting visage.

The closest he comes to a reason for this contagion of the cockamamie is his unsupported assertion that there is ‘a prejudice against science in schools’ and that university science departments are closing around the country. He also gives ‘postmodern relativism’ a bit of a short and ungratifying poking. However lamentable the state of science education may be, and however much postmodernism in its sundry flavours deserves a good, sharp wedgie, I’d like to offer a more quotidian explanation.

Karl Marx, perhaps the most noted of all noted atheists, gave a generation of American anti-communists a gift with which to beat domestic left-wingers – with his epigram describing ‘religion [a]s the opiate of the masses’. Throughout the cold war, this, from his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, was considered the most arrogant of phrases and perhaps more of a reason to condemn socialism than any conclusions or prescriptions in the rest of his egalitarian philosophy. The emphasis was always on the ‘godless’ part of the ‘godless commie bastard’ felicitation. But in fact, the rarely printed complete quotation, far from arrogant, is full of empathy and at the same time offers a clear, obvious explanation as to why people believe in religion, or in this case, new-age mumbo-jumbo:

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.

It is the wretched condition of the world that gives rise to these uninflatable spiritual life-preservers that people cling to.

People have believed and continue to believe in superstition, whether of the established religious or new-age category not simply as Dawkins imagines because it offers an (incorrect) explanation of where the universe comes from and gives hope that we live on after we die, but also because life as a peasant, or industrial worker in earlier times, and in latter days a shelf-stacker at Wal-Mart or an at-any-moment-outsourced call-centre worker, is so fraught with hardness, with precarity, with loss, unfairness and poverty, that religion offers a meaning, a structure, a reassurance that things will be better after we die, that no matter what, someone loves me. However lonely I may be, there’s always somebody on my side. That if I believe hard enough, and pray enough, maybe I will get that job promotion. The false hope that comes from today’s Mystic Megs is no different.

I don’t know if anyone’s done any studies of this sort of thing, but it would be interesting to find out how many prayers or questions of tarot readers, ask not about healing or romance, but about personal economic matters – jobs, bills, credit cards, debt, mortgage payments, car loans, will there be enough money to pay for the kids’ Christmas presents? When despairing people go to these charlatans, it is more in search for hope in a world that offers none than anything.

Richard Dawkins’ father was a colonial officer in Malawi, at the time Nyasaland. The family is listed in Burke’s Landed Gentry as the ‘Dawkins of Over Norton’. He is married to the Honourable Sarah Ward, daughter of the Seventh Viscount Bangor, George Plantagenet, descendant of the 1st Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV [and, yes, spods, also the second Romana on Doctor Who]. How very clever he was to have been born into and married into such families who could deliver the likes of him unto Oxford, and not some undereducated line of Cornish tin miners.

I should say here that it is not I who is saying that superstition is the province of the working classes, and atheism the realm of the well-off and educated, but Dawkins himself.

In 2002, Dawkins gave a talk, ‘An Atheist’s Call to Arms’ at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, which describes itself onanistically as ‘an invitation-only event where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration’. Another World Economic Forum-style circle jerk, in non-PR-speak, in other words. Some of the sort of people who attend TED may well be galacticos of the academy (who won’t be so poorly compensated in any case), but for the most part they are the unforgivably rich.

The talk was much of the usual, unobjectionable bigging up of atheism Dawkins is good at, although unknowingly, his shirt collar was caught underneath his blazer lapel the whole time. Oh the shame of such a boner in such august company. At one point, he asked:

Is there any correlation positive or negative between intelligence and tendency to be religious? … A recent article by Paul G. Bell in the Mensa magazine…[shows that from] 43 studies carried out since 1927 on the relationship between religious belief and one’s intelligence or educational level, all but four found an inverse connection. That is, the higher one’s intelligence or educational level, the less one is likely to be religious…There are people in this audience easily capable of financing a massive research survey to settle the question.

A couple of times he hinted to his bloatedly moneyed audience that the battle against religion would be financially costly, and then he came out and just said it. He begged for money from them:

This is an elite audience…I suspect a fair number of [you] despise religion as much as I do… And if you’re one of them, I’m asking you to stop being polite and come out and say so. And if you happen to be rich, give some thought about ways in which you might make a difference. The religious lobby in this country is massively financed by foundations such as the Templeton Foundation and the Discovery Institute. We need an anti-Templeton.

In a world in which there was less imperialism, less poverty, less competition, more social solidarity – in a more just world – there would be less need for religious fundamentalism and new age mumbo-jumbo.

Yet ironically, it is these captains of industry to whom Dawkins attends, fellates, cap in hand, begging them to fund his ‘militant atheism’ movement, the very commanding heights whose capitalist methods are responsible for the poverty, social dislocation, and imperial drive for war that incubate the despair that produces the wounds to which religion and new-age obscurantism are salve and balm.

In a further irony, as literary critic Terry Eagleton noted in the London Review of Books, that when Dawkins in his writing is not thoroughly ignorant of moderate theologians who see no conflict between faith and reason, is so baffled by them that he simply dismisses them, unable to fathom what he could utter to gainsay a word of their perspectives. For Dawkins, there is only athieism on the one hand and theism that is by definition fundamentalism on the other. There is no middle ground.

Yet it is these very non-fundamentalist religionists, those liberation theologians, liberal Anglicans, Catholic Workers, the architects of Jubilee 2000, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Tariq Ramadan, the Unitarians, the Quakers, the United Church of Canada, the Jesuit Sandinista ministers who chose the revolution over the church whose faith inspires or inspired them to fight poverty, oppression, war and colonialism, whose work actually helps build the world without injustice, without despair that builds the hope in the hearts of men and women that actually diminishes the need for superstition.

Indeed, if we follow this logic, then the Sermon on the Mount, of all things, or rather an adherence to its prescriptions of solidarity, is more likely to deliver the rationalist culture that Dawkins hopes for than a legion of Dawkinses.

Dawkins’ explanation for superstition is all opiate of the masses and no heart in a heartless world.

dinsdag, februari 27, 2007

The exploding package of EU Postal Privatisation

Article I did on spec for a publication. They didn't want it in the end, but here you go (I warn you - it's a little dull).

When I was a little boy, every month I would go to the local Canada Post office and get a special envelope with the new commemorative stamps that had recently been issued. My grandparents in England too would send me British commemorative stamps at Christmas, sometimes at other times, falsely saluting Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone or raising the ire of the anti-secularists for printing lickable, perforated squares of snowmen instead of magi or mangers.

As I grew older, philately diminished considerably in my estimation. However, when I was in Madrid recently, I wandered down an alley just off the Plaza Mayor, where there is a minor gaggle of stamp shops. I wandered past and saw in a couple of windows not a few stamps and brittle old envelopes with stamps from the era of the Spanish Republic. Though 2006 is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, this was one of the only remembrances I could find in the city of the period. Stamp-collecting has more or less gone the way of the dodo (the extinction of which was, I should note, had been commemorated on one of the stamps I had had as a child) in this age of Playstations and Nickelodeon, and I thought what a shame it was. The socialist thirty-one-year old I am momentarily was a stamp-fanatic eleven-year-old and thought what beautiful little bits of history are held within and taught by these funny sticky squares.

Technology and the proposed new EU postal services directive will soon put paid to stamps and stamp-collecting entirely. The EU FAQ on the directive on the Commission website mentions that after full liberalization it is unlikely that new service providers will retain the anachronism that is the stamp. One can’t mourn the passing of out-dated technologies, I suppose. But the directive will kill off more than the soppy philatelic memories of this nostalgic author. The full privatization of post across Europe will produce services that are deeply uneven and unequal. It will produce a grossly unfair two-tiered postal system, with one set of quality services for the large corporations and urban middle class, and another set of poorly provisioned services for rural areas, the urban poor, small businesses and the outermost territories of member states – if they even have access to such services at all. Though the Commission portrays postal privatization as one more aspect of the grand drive to bring Europeans together, it will in fact diminish the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the Union. The death of public postal services after more than three hundred years of their existence is indeed something to mourn. Or rather, as Wobbly Joe Hill reminded his fellow trade unionists as he was dying: not to mourn, but to organize – against.

The EU internal market Commissioner, Irishman Charlie McGreevy, recently confirmed that all European postal services are to be opened to competition by 2009, in keeping with the last postal directive of 2002. Full, or near-full marketisation of post has already occurred in Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. With the new directive, the commissioner wants to fast-track liberalization in the remaining 22 member states.

Postal services in the Union are covered by a 1997 directive that opened up the sector to competition for mail weighing more than 350 grams – essentially large packages – easily the most profitable sector of the postal market. Items under 350 grams were designated ‘reserved areas’. In 2002, the reserved area was amended down to 100 grams, and as of January, 2006, no mail delivery of items over 50 grams could be monopolized by a national provider. The Commission has this month confirmed that by no later than 2009 are all member states to eliminate this last reserved area.

McGreevy is quick to counter opponents of the measure by saying that we are not to worry, universal service provision – comprising the ‘affordable’ provision of at least one delivery and collection five days a week to all citizens - is ‘copper-fastened’ into the directive.

In fact, upon the briefest of investigations, one finds that universal service provision is not so much ‘copper-fastened’ into the directive as it is lathered in soap and butter ready to slip through its hands and bounce right out the door into a jungle of free-market rapaciousness.

The language used by the commissioner gives the game away immediately. On the liberalizing side, actions ‘should’ and ‘must’ happen. Member states are ‘required’ to take them. But on the consumer side, language ‘provides for the retention of uniform tariffs’ (i.e., the same price for a similar item, regardless of address); it ‘allow[s] a flexible choice of means to finance universal service provision or the possibility to share out the universal service obligation between operators.

But we need not look to the weasel legal language of the directive to see what will happen. We can see the effects of postal privatization in those member states where liberalization has already been completely or nearly completely realized. Closure of rural post offices, mass lay-offs and a flexibilisation of the workforce is the norm in every jurisdiction.

In January this year, Austria’s conservative coalition government agreed to sell of 49 per cent of its shares in Österreichische Post, but the process of privatization has been underway for about a decade. In 1996, the state-owned Austrian Postal Authorities (Österreichische Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung) was refigured as Post und Telekom Austria AGan enterprise based on private company law. It sold off its telecoms and post bus transport services, while simultaneously acquiring a majority stake in Feibra AG, a private distributor of adverts, and has expanded into Slovenia and Slovakia. Over this ten-year pre-privatisation period, thousands of workers have been laid off. Between 2001 and 2005, the workforce was cut by 22 per cent, or 6600 employees. The share of part-time hires has doubled and the number of workers coming from temp agencies has skyrocketed. Whereas previously, the company used temp agency workers only at peak times such as Christmas, such practices have been institutionalized. Finally, more than 1000 local post offices (out of a total of 2300) have been closed across Austria.

In Ireland, An Post sold off its SDS Courier service – its most profitable department – as part of a government-directed opening of the market favouring the big courier services such as DHL and Federal Express. The management is softening up the workforce for privatization by withholding pay-rises and understaffing sorting offices. An Post workers feel that this is part of a strategy of weakening employee morale so that there is less internal resistance to the inevitable full privatization.

In the UK, where postal privatization is quite advanced, there has been thousands of post office closures, almost entirely in rural areas. Only some 1,500 of 8000 rural post offices are profitable, but the principle behind postal services in the UK for some 350 years has been that the profitable regions subsidise outlying and naturally unprofitable areas, ensuring equal access to services across the country. With the liberalization of the Post Office’s most profitable division, is it any wonder that rural post offices are scheduled for market demolition? As of 1999, the UK had some 18000 post offices. It now has 14000, and this week is set to announce an expected further 2500-3000.

In Sweden the postal workforce declined by ten per cent over the period 1995 to 1999 – from 46,000 to 42,000. In Germany, it dropped a whopping 37 per cent – from 380,000 to 240,000 – over the period 1990 to 1999.

The privateers argue that technological change is behind most of this, and this is at least partially true. Some 80 per cent of mail worldwide is now sent via computer. In the UK that figure is 90 per cent. However, at the same time, parcel post has grown by leaps and bounds. Federal Express is the second largest airline in the world, if measured by size of the fleet. The closure of thousands of rural post offices across the Union is a political decision. A neo-liberal fundamentalist decision. It is not driven by technological change.

In the Commission’s own FAQ on what will happen after full liberalization, it states that ‘as a matter of principle, competition creates jobs’. This is true only in a perverse way. In the wake of telecoms liberalization – which is the model to which postal privatization is regularly compared - cost savings to consumers was achieved on the backs of mass lay-offs and outsourcing to temp agencies and developing world call centres. Jobs were created, but poorly paid, ununionised, temporary and part-time ones. Similarly, the private telcos are incredibly reluctant to introduce new technologies to rural and poor areas where they feel the cost of an upgrade of the lines is not worth the revenues they expect from such regions. The cost of a line rental may have dropped across the board, but broadband remains beyond the reach of many in rural areas. Even in urban areas, some telcos have been taken to court for refusing to upgrade lines in apartment complexes that mostly house the elderly or poor, for the same reason. With public service provision, the cost is spread across all regions and levels of income.

The Commission believes that liberalization will result in cost-savings for the consumer. However, the area where money is to be made is in the high-population-density areas where post can be moved in bulk easily. Further, again, in the Commission’s own FAQ, it states that while it is likely that more postal operators will offer services in an open postal market, ‘most operators will be found in the area of business originated mail, which represents close to 90 per cent of total mail volumes. Private consumers are less likely to be able to choose between different postal operators, at least in the short to medium term.’ Elsewhere, in the same document, it states that while the universal service obligation guarantees the affordability of postal services (so it’s gonna be about the same price, but don’t expect any reductions, honey). At the same time, huzzah, ‘prices for business mail are likely to fall very soon after market opening, as most postal companies will focus on this area to begin with.’ Here, they are all but admitting that consumers will not benefit from postal privatization. If postal companies are making their money from business mail, what incentive is there for private service providers to subsidise consumer mail? Any cost-savings they find they will pass on to their most valued customers, not some grandmother in a village in Lapland.

Indeed, the most likely scenario is that private providers will focus on the business and urban mail sectors and leave the rest to the rump incumbent providers.

So if the directive supposedly guarantees universal service provision, how exactly will the market provide?

The answer is it won’t, as, again, the Commission admits. In order to ensure universal service provision member states ‘may choose’ from a range of different options: state aid (subsidizing private businesses), public procurement, compensation funds or cost-sharing. In other words, recognizing that private providers will be extremely reluctant to provide loss-making services, the Commission has concluded that to continue to ensure universal service provision, governments will still have to pay for it.

Essentially, we are selling the goose that lays the golden egg. While still having to fund universal provision of service, governments will no longer have the subsidy for this service that business-originated and parcel post previously provided.

One might as well ask why move forward with privatization at all, if it is not just a big gift to business, wrapped up in string…

…but of course without stamps, and don’t even try to send it from your village post office.

donderdag, augustus 10, 2006

'Murder on an unimaginable scale'

'The deputy commissioner at Scotland Yard, Paul Stephenson, went even further, saying that the plans amounted to "mass murder on an unimaginable scale."'

Murder on an unimaginable scale? Let's assume for a moment that there was in fact a dastardly terror plot here (I know, I know - that's Tooth Fairy, Father Christmas talk) and not another grand production from Number 10's Acme Distract-O-Matic , is the number of deaths really so unimaginable?

The average number of passengers on an aircraft leaving Stansted is 124; the average number of passengers on an aircraft leaving Gatwick is 129; the average number of passengers on an aircraft leaving Heathrow is around 150. The average of these three averages is 134 (.333333333...., etc., but there's no such thing as a third of a person - other than under rubble in Qana - ha! Ba-dum-cha!). 134 x 9 - the number of planes supposed to be explodeded - and we get 1206 (please excuse the ropey math here, but you get the point) .

As of an hour ago, the body count in (the) Lebanon was 1002. Okay, so it's a smidge under 1206, but it's still on a perfectly imaginable scale. In fact it's so imaginable it's actually real. Really real live dead people! Can you imagine that?!

You know, I imagine we'll get to a number pretty close to 1206 in a day or three, and I imagine it'll probably go above that too.

What an imagination I have.

zondag, februari 12, 2006


Am in the middle of moving to Amsterdam for a new job that for once is actually interesting and pay a salary that is above the minimum wage. Will be sans internet for about a month while I look for an apartment, so still nothing to report, really, other than more apologies for my continued radio silence.

But just quickly and retroactively:

a) Yah boo sucks to the Tories for winning the Canadian election, but remember, kids, the left also advanced, despite Layton’s pathetic rightward frolics (strategically stupid as well – retreat back to the Anglophone left’s traditional anti-Quebec chauvinism and you wreck any chances of advancing in that province, which must be engaged if one is to ever win a federal election. Doug has more along these lines.);

b) Obviously I’m not in favour of burning down Danish embassies over some ropily executed cartoon blasphemy (although burning down American embassies over their various imperial exertions is an entirely different kettle of fisken, and, heck, while we’re at it, Haitians: fill your boots ransacking the local Canadian chancellery), but has any one actually had a look at these drawings? Whatever we may say about freedom of speech and blasphemy, the cartoons are manifestly racist, with caricatures of Muslims not radically distinct from the doodles of buck-toothed, thick-specs-wearing Japs or hook-nosed Shylocks of yore (Lenny, as always, has been note-perfect on this one);

c) My friend Justin of Different Day has decided to have a go at this whole podcasting lark, with ‘The Thousand Beer Show – Pop, politics and pintage’, (so titled for the renowned abundance of the substance in Belgium) and your correspondent was the first invited guest. You can have a listen to my wretched, stumbling pretensions at rock knowledge and an atrociously over-simplified account of the recent Canadian general election here;


d) Husky Rescue, Two Gallants [which I saw opening for the Decemberists long before the NME got their inky little paws on the duo], and The Kooks.

dinsdag, januari 24, 2006

Ten items or less

Sorry for the writer's block, comrades. Will be back in form soonish, hopefully. In the meantime, here's something I did today instead of doing other things I should have been doing. (Click on image for larger version)

Visit here for info on the NUJ's Low Pay Campaign.

vrijdag, december 09, 2005

White Stripes plot with Coca-Cola execs to murder Colombian trade unionists

(Well, apart from the libellous hyperbole, that post-heading's essentially true)

Now, it may be nigh on a decade since I held Oasis in any esteem whatever, but I'm afraid I have to tip my hat to Noel this week, who in an interview in the latest NME has quite aptly described Jack White, of the well-overrated White Stripes, as looking 'like Zorro on doughnuts' and criticised him for writing a song for a Coca-Cola commercial:

'He's supposed to be the poster boy for the alternative way of thinking. Coca-Cola man, fucking hell! And all right, you wanna spread your message of peace and love, but do us all a favour. I'm not having that, that's wrong. Particularly Coca-Cola, it's like doing a gig for McDonalds.'

Zorro on doughnuts

According the (very smelly*) NME, Jack White did it for luuurve:

'White Stripes singer Jack White has finally confirmed he's done a coke ad - and said he's done it to get a message of love out to the world…"I've been offered the opportunity to write a song in a way which interests me as a songwriter. I certainly wouldn't want a song that I'd already written to be used on a commercial. That seems strange. But to be asked to write something particular along one theme of love in a worldwide form that I'm not really used to appealed to me. I've written a song and I wrote it really quickly and it's an interesting commercial that's been made. I was inspired by the commercial."'

Yes, that's right. Coca-cola, always teaching the world to sing, in per-fect har-mon-ieeee (The updated 'Teach the world to sing' ad for Coca-Cola Zero now includes a 'rap' bit and Hootie-and-the-Blowfish-style non-threateningly dressed minorities who look like they go to a good university). What a promoter of peace and love. And isn't what the world needs now, love, sweet love? What a paragon of compassionate capitalism. A very model of corporate responsibility. Except in Colombia, where union leaders and organisers are regularly assassinated at Coke bottling plants while the anti-union parent company turns a blind eye to collusion between paramilitaries and the plant managers. But still, you know, apart from that, they're a regular bunch of hippie peace-freaks, Coke.

In fact, Colombia happens to be the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. In the last ten years, 1,535 trade unionists have been murdered for their activities - more than the rest of the world combined. For more info on Coke's crimes in Colombia and how you can kick Coke off your campus (if you're a student, natch), visit the homepage of the Campaign to Boycott Killer Coke, or the Colombia Action Network. The latter link also has a broad range of information on Colombia, as do the UK-based Colombia Solidarity Campaign and War on Want.

So stop drinking that Coke. Tastes like gouch sweat anyway. And White Stripes fans - get your ever-lovin' motor-city asses in gear and contact Zorro, c/o manager Ian Montone, at 323 308 1818, and tell him How Wrong He Is.

* Has anyone else noticed this, how much the NME smells? I'm serious here - maybe it's just the batch that gets sent to the Brussels Waterstone's - but the NME just reeks. I mean literally pongy, I'm not just talking about the uncritical UK-scene boosterism, shit writing and sticking Gwen Stefani on the cover.

PS. Apparently Blur are heading back to the studio this month to record a new album sans the sexiest man alive, Graham Coxon. I guess this means his sacking is permanent. This is a crime almost on the level of writing songs for Coke commercials.

dinsdag, december 06, 2005

The blanching panic of the eunuch poltroons in the Democratic Party, and other bagatelles

Right. Am out of bed and have drained throat of a lemon-curd-jar's worth of phlegm. Enough with the chicken soup and dubbed-into-French re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210: There are hypocrisies of social democrats and liberals to expose! Still have a bit of a sticky cough, mind, but think that's more to do with half-choking on a be-pestoed tortellini (tortellino?) last night than any remnants of bird flu or tuberculosis. (Lower lip protruberating, head cocked, sympathetic brows a-tilt, The Reader says 'Awww. Didums.')

Quick tour of the interweb before I stick the knife into the SPD once more:

First off, if you haven’t read it yet: Sy Hersh's latest New Yorker piece, on where the war is headed next: 'Up In The Air' (republished here at Truthout). Absolutely vital.

The veteran New Yorker journo predicts that under ever-increasing domestic pressure over the war (not least coming from within a Republican party on course to be decimated in next year's congressional elections), but unable to end it without embolding his enemies, Bush will deliver a sizeable and genuine return of troops some time next year while the war continues by other, more destructive means. The on-the-ground troops will be replaced with a massively expanded bombing campaign, such as has not been seen since Vietnam.

Bush is to have his cake and eat it too. As the US public is unable to stomach many more deaths of their doughty, skookum tumtum boys and girls (although as ever remain fairly sanguine about a limitless number of Iraqi deaths), Junior will mount another 'Mission Accomplished' style pronouncement, declaring that the war is over (chintzy, garlanded ceremonies have already been scripted of the lowering of Old Glory and the raising of the Iraqi standard over military bases [Whatever did happen to that variation on the Israeli flag some clever State Department graphic design intern dreamt up as a new Iraqi drapeau last year, by the way?]), aiming to bequiet the more squishy sympathisers of the anti-war movement and the fretters in his own party, all the while in fact escalating the war by using almost exclusively air power to crush the resistance.

The generals, however, are worried this might just make things worse, given that even the most crackerjack sagacious of smart bombs tend to kill many more civilians than trigger-happy, raised-on-X-Box-and-Eminem 17-year-old ground troops, and, like the worm that turned into three worms when you cut it up with your plastic-but-sharp Lion-O Thundercat sword as a cruel pre-pubescent, for every dead civilian at least three new insurgents seem to be created. (Did you catch the subtle 'my-1980's-adolescent-pop-cultural-experience-was-superior-to-your-
-overly-kinetic-1990's-version' disdain embedded there within the commentary? Sigh. What happy days they were when Lego came in six colours and Transformers came in metal.)

Nota bene: Bush's 'Victory Through Air Power' plans look an awful lot like the humble 'we-can't-just-cut-and-run-so-let's-turn-it-over-to-the-bombardiers' suggestion of the otherwise very good Juan Cole, doesn't it? (The good professor responds that he 'argued that the US should only make this airstrike capability available for defensive operations.' Okay, but isn't the point of the disingenuous 'Pottery Barn' position that the States can't pull out its forces lest civil war break out? How does one defensively prevent civil war? It seems a pretty offensive, or at least pro-active process. Sy's got you here, Cole-y. [The other point that Cole misses, as he idealises the Afghan campaign's air power strategy he recommends returning to, is that the decisive stratagem in that theatre there was not the air power support of local forces, but the winning over of warlords and sections of the Taliban with wadges of cash. There's nobody on the ground to bribe in Mesopotamia. Oh, and dude, what's with the forgetting about, like, the minimum 3,000 - 4,000 civilian deaths from aerial bombardment in Afghanistan anyway?])


A good bookend piece to Hersh's feature is Alexander Cockburn's 'Revolt of the Generals', over at Counterpunch, which details the rapidly declining fortunes of Bush and the Republicans ('One has to go back to the early 1970's when a scandal-stained Nixon was on the verge of resignation, to find numbers lower than Bush's,' says he), but also the blanching panic of those eunuch poltroons in the Democratic Party (including that skinny, empty-vessel darling of the 'Democratic wing of the Democratic Party', Barak Obama, and even the anti-war-esque former boy-mayor of Cleveland, Dennis Kucinich) in the wake of John Murtha's call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. However grim the Republicans' fortunes, the jellyfish Dems are entirely incapable of capitalising on the situation.


Hitchens fans, and God knows I'm one, ha ha, will adore my internautical comrade Lenin's superb exegesis of the 'genocidal imagination' of dear Chris H. over at MRZine, writing under his slightly more pedestrian real name.


I emerged from my sweaty bed the other day to discover to my surprise that my native land (that would be Canada, comrades, despite the regularity with which I am partially mistakenly categorised as a Britischer in various nationally dichotomised blogrolls) is having another election. I was so off the ball that I missed the entire first week's campaign. See, this is what happens when the Globe and Mail starts charging for content. De toute façon, it seems the pro-war, pro-imperialism-lite Michael 'I-say-"we"-when-I-talk-about-Americans-but-am-actually-Canadian' Ignatieff has been parachuted into a Toronto riding (trans: 'constituency') with the aim of stirring up such a wave of Trudeaumaniacal sentimentalist desire for an intellectual leader of the Liberal Party that he will be able to surf straight into the PMO. Unluckily for him, the sizeable local Ukrainian community is a little humpty about the riding association's semi-non-democratic shenanigans that produced the candidacy of the former Harvard academic and (continuing) apologist for war crimes, somewhat diminishing his prime ministerial and possibly even MP prospects. Rick Salutin has a piquant little biography of the man at Rabble.ca. Michael Neumann's 2003 piece on Iggy in Counterpunch is also worth a butcher's.


For my Canadian readers, let me just mention briefly for the record that I never did like Buzz Hargrove.


Meanwhile, my pathetically perpetually approval-seeking homeland is also very excited that Jon Stewart mentioned the country briefly on the Daily Show.

I am occasionally homesick, but not at times like this.


Oh, and Backword Dave has Doctor Who filming by his house. Dude. How awesome is that?!