"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Friday, October 28, 2005

UN accuses Glasgow wide-boys

Well actually Galloway comes from Dundee but he's integrated into the culture very well since he came to Glasgow. From the Scotsman:
"THE controversial MP George Galloway and one of Scotland's leading companies were last night facing the threat of prosecution after they were named in a devastating United Nations report into the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

The report identified Mr Galloway as a political beneficiary of the oil-for-food programme and concluded that thousands of pounds from companies involved in oil deals with Saddam Hussein's regime were paid into the Mariam Appeal which Mr Galloway chaired and which funded his anti-sanctions campaigning."
So far, Galloway's hardly original defence has been to use the Scottish pupil's favourite plaintive cry, "it wasnae me". I will as mentioned before, despite increasing reasons to be skeptical, reserve judgment. Perhaps Mossad, or the people who covered-up the alien autopsy at Roswell, have infiltrated the UN?

Overcoming constipation


Also mentioned in the UN's report was the Glasgow-based engineering firm the Weir Group:
'It accused the Glasgow-based engineering company Weir Group of paying $4.5 million in kickbacks to Saddam's regime in return for contracts, and of refusing to co-operate with the inquiry.
(...)
The 630-page report also provided evidence that Weir Group made $4.5 million of secret payments to Saddam's regime.

Copies of contracts signed by Weir employee Andrew Macleod were produced in response to the firm's claims that secret payments were made via an agent.

The report said: "Despite Weir's insistence that its agent was to blame and there was no agreement by its own employees, documents obtained ... from Iraq reveal Mr Macleod signed several agreements to pay kickbacks on Weir's behalf."

The committee also interviewed the agent used by the Weir Group, who said the company was aware of the "illegal nature of the payments it made".

Mr Macleod told the committee: "I did as I was told ... I did what was required in Baghdad".

Mark Selway, chief executive of the Weir Group International, said the naming of his company was "not new news".

He said: "We tightened controls. The problem has been cleared up."'
Well that's reassuring. They are, after all, a company who have as part of their 'visions and values' a commitment to "Integrity: Consistency, openness and honesty applied across all our relationships, always meeting our promises." As above, I'll reserve judgment: I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why a firm committed to "openness and honesty" refused to cooperate with the UN's inquiry.

Ahmadinejad unrepentant

For his remarks that Israel should be wiped off the face of the planet. From the Guardian:
"The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, refused today to retract his call for Israel to be wiped off the map, while the Iranian embassy in Moscow attempted to calm the growing diplomatic crisis.
Mr Ahmadinejad appeared at an anti-Israeli rally attended by thousands of Iranians in Tehran and rejected the international condemnation of his comments as "invalid".

"My words were the Iranian nation's words. Westerners are free to comment, but their reactions are invalid," he said."
So intemperate were his remarks that even Kofi Annan, normally not one for strong words, rebuked Iran and reminded them these remarks were inconsistent with membership of the UN.

This was the rally to celebrate the last Friday of Ramadan. The Herald reports that the Iranian foreign ministry later said that the blame for the Middle East's complex problems lay with the West's support of Israel, a rather simple-minded analysis shared by a depressingly large number of well-meaning western liberals.

There seems little doubt that Ahmadinejad's remarks were deliberate and that he spoke for the regime. From the Scotsman:

'While there was no official response to international criticism from the Iranian government last night, groups close to the leadership in Tehran were unrepentant.

The Revolutionary Guard, a powerful military body to which Mr Ahmadinejad once belonged, last night described Israel as a "cancerous tumour".

"We have no doubts that at the end of the road, the victory of Muslims and the defeat of Israel is inevitable," a guard spokesman told an Iranian news agency, adding that the West should be "afraid".'
The US has tried to avoid being publicly drawn into the dispute, saying in rather uncharacteristically understated language only that this situation "underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear intentions". The Scotsman reports Blair as being furious, not least because Britain, along with France and Germany, have been working hard at a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Could someone - perhaps a representative of CND - drop me a line and explain again with some clever relativist argument why Iran going nuclear is nothing to worry about? I'm a simple soul and so far I just don't get it. But please don't try and tell me this wouldn't be happening if Senator Kerry had won the Presidential election - I'm not that simple.

Update - Missed this from Simon Tisdall in the Guardian:
'Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's greenhorn president, sent a shiver of alarm across Europe and the Middle East with his demand that Israel be "wiped off the face of the Earth". But even if the remark was more than mere rhetoric, Mr Ahmadinejad's ability to pursue a confrontational policy is severely circumscribed.'
Ok but it does seem, as mentioned above, that Ahmadinejad is not purely speaking for himself, which I would have thought gives us reason to think the description of his comments as a 'gaffe' is a little complacent. Tisdall is nearer the mark though when he says:
'Mr Ahmadinejad's electoral honeymoon has also been brief. He is under fire for failing to share out oil income and create jobs. There have been rows over cabinet appointments and control of the oil ministry. And there are insidious suggestions that he is out of his depth. All this may explain his apparent need to adopt "bold" leadership postures.'
Indeed this seems highly likely but at the risk of boring with repetition, "bold" postures plus nukes are not something that I personally feel particularly relaxed about...

Self-loathing liberals

This is funny, (from Normblog).

When I was at university, one distinguished social history professor's theme was that the death of the community has been greatly exaggerated.

I don't know about Dylan Evans but in the past I've usually found that the people who announce the death of 'community' in Jeremiah-like fashion almost always live in London.

We feel badly for you living down there in the big smoke, but don't take it out on the rest of us.

And you shouldn't knock the anonymity of the fractured community so much. Up here, community is alive and well - and it can be a real drag sometimes...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

After the rain

Boring in the extreme to blog about the weather I know but it's been so weird. Dunno what it's been like where you're at but for the last five days at least it's been absolutely pissing with rain here Bladerunner style and f***ing freezing as well. If there's such a thing as this Seasonally Affected Disorder, I suffer from it and just when I'd reached the point where self-slaughter seemed an attractive idea, here comes this glorious day out of nowhere. Yellow thing appeared in the sky and it was actually warm. Felt like I was on holiday.

These are a couple of snaps of a bit of Glasgow that I can't afford to live in.

Few people can; this area competes with London for insane prices...

It really is a wonderful place when it isn't pissing with rain...

This was formerly the building of the Bible Training Institute, set up in the late nineteenth century by DL Moody, the American evangelist. These days, all manner of institutions such as churches, social work facilities and universities can no longer afford the opportunity cost of maintaining properties in the west end. Not always a good thing but in this case, the BTI is now a rather groovy pub. Call me a pagan but I think it's an improvement on the previous occupants so I went inside to celebrate the day.

It's called the Oran Mor. They hosted some SNP gig a while back but I won't hold that against them because it's really quite funky.

Sorry - enough of this estate agent shit. How was your day?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth"

From the Guardian:
"He said: "Anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury, [while] any [Islamic leader] who recognises the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world." He was addressing a conference titled The World Without Zionism.

His speech was immediately condemned by the US, Britain, France, Germany and Israel. The Foreign Office could not recall a similar statement from a senior Iranian leader since the former president Hashemi Rafsanjani five years ago called for a Muslim state to annihilate Israel with a nuclear strike. Since then, there has been a mild thaw in relations between Muslim states, including Arab ones, and Israel.

But Mr Ahmadinejad rejected compromise: "There is no doubt that the new wave [of attacks] in Palestine will wipe off this stigma [Israel] from the face of the Islamic world." Recalling the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's Islamic revolution, he said: "As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."
Charming. I wonder if CND still think Iran's nuclear ambitions are nothing to worry about? Probably, given their new partisan position. If Israel disappeared under a mushroom cloud, no doubt we'll be told they 'had it coming'. It's now more likely than ever that Israel will launch a strike against Iran's nuclear installations, as the article suggests:
"Israel has issued thinly veiled threats against Iran's nuclear programme if diplomatic efforts fail and is buying 500 "bunker-buster" bombs from the US that could be used to destroy the facilities. The Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, raised the question of the nuclear programme with the visiting Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Jerusalem yesterday. Russia is selling nuclear fuel for the reactors to Iran, despite Israel's objections."
If they do, expect the usual outcry at 'Israeli aggression'. They'll probably be censured by the UN as well. Remember everyone banging on about how many outstanding Security Council Resolutions Israel had against it in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq? One of these was for the strike against the Osiric nuclear facility in the 1980s; the Security Council presumably thinking in it's wisdom that Saddam should have been allowed to go nuclear.

I really hope it doesn't come to that though. These remarks are, I think, a sign that the regime is rather desperate to distract attention from the fact that the revolution in Iran succumbed to the inevitable forces of routinization some time ago and is moribund; that all they have really is capitalism plus men in frocks with the accompanying corruption and lack of liberty that is intrinsic to such anti-democratic regimes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Galloway denies oil for food allegations

Hardly news, I'd agree. I'll reserve judgment on the matter for now except for a couple of points. The first is, one is inclined to agree with Nick Cohen who asks the question: is it really less embarrassing for him if he is exonerated, given that this means he fawned over Saddam Hussein as a matter of principle? The other was the remarks he made regarding the evidence given to the Americans by Tariq Aziz:
"Mr. Galloway said: 'They have introduced another man of the former Iraqi regime who the US has told us for years was made up of genocidal killers. Tariq Aziz now agrees with the US. He is a genocidal murderer one day then a reputable witness the next.'"
Is he saying, in effect, that you can't take the word of such a person? This in and of itself is surely correct? And we should say that it shouldn't be - and one trusts it won't be - taken at face value without documentary evidence. But there's already a problem with Galloway's argument because he himself did not, and does not, share this assessment of Tariq Aziz: he has never described him in such terms; he met cordially with him on a number of occasions, including during a Christmas dinner together; and he is on record as describing him as an 'intellectual'. So Mr. Galloway has given us no reason of his own as to why we should disregard Aziz's testimony - unless he too is shifting position and is now saying we should share the American view of the Ba'ath regime's members.

Hmmm, bit confused now but I trust Mr. Galloway will soon clarify the matter in his next rhetorical performance* - coming to a theatre near you. Until such times as he is vindicated of all allegations, I'll stick with the judgment I made about him about a decade before anyone outside Scotland had ever heard of him: don't buy a used car from this man - not even if he gives you a receipt.

*In the unlikely event anyone reading this hasn't seen the show, it's lacking subtlety, historical veracity, and has lots of hammy Biblical-style lines but is quite entertaining nevertheless.

Update - There's more from the Scotsman:
'Despite Mr Galloway's suggestions that the Senate investigators had not contacted him about the new allegations, Mr MacKay confirmed that Mr Coleman had offered to send staff to London to interview the MP.

Mr Galloway rejected that offer, demanding to "talk to the organ-grinder, not monkeys".'
For the amusing story of what happened to Mr. McKay's ATV project, the outfit that brought you Tony Benn's interview with Saddam Hussein, read down to the bottom of the article.

Also, according to the Herald, the Charity Commission is considering re-opening the investigation into the Miriam Appeal.

Iraqis vote for politics

Which is excellent news, everyone will agree? Well, of course they don't. On one site (in the comments boxes, I should say) which shall remain nameless, the result was absurdly and grotesquely compared to the results Saddam Hussein used to get in his 'elections'. Don't let it bother you; by now it should be clear that some people are absolutely impervious to history. But it seems that some 78% of voters backed the charter and 21% opposed it, in a vote the UN observers described as being as free and fair as one could reasonably expect under the circumstances. (This was a slightly higher proportion than said yes in the referendum for the Scottish Parliament, if anyone's interested, albeit on a slightly lower turnout.)

I was never in any doubt that Iraqis prefer political solutions to their problems rather than the alternative and this represents significant progress. However, the old number-crunching side of my pol sci training just won't leave me and there is, despite the encouraging result, reasons to be cautious for the following reasons:
1) There is no question that a majority of Iraqis welcomed the ouster of Saddam Hussein but it does not follow from this that a majority of Iraqis support the occupation and a large number of voters, whilst welcoming the opportunity to vote, did so because they understood this as a mechanism for ending the occupation.

2) The regional disparities are a cause for concern: just by taking the first two provinces in alphabetical order, in Anbar an overwhelming 96.9% of the population rejected the constitution, whereas in Babil, the picture is almost a complete mirror-image, with 94.56% voting in favour. One doesn't have to be an elections and voters anorak to discern that this indicates profound divisions in Iraqi society. Nevertheless an encouraging, and to me surprising, indicator of support for the political process is found in the Baghdad result, which had 77.7% in favour of the new constitution. This is almost exactly the proportion that voted for the Scottish Parliament so I'm looking forward to those politicians in Scotland who were opposed to the invasion of Iraq now declaring that this is incontrovertible evidence of the 'settled will of the Iraqi people' as they did in the Scottish case.
Oil, federalism and consociational democracy

The other aspect of my training that just won't leave me is in economic history and I had to laugh when anti-war critics declared in the run-up to the invasion that it was "all about oil", as if there was much that has happened in the Middle East over the last sixty years or so that didn't have to do with oil. Why did they think that Saddam Hussein was sustained in power in the first place? Wasn't that 'blood for oil'?

And in the present situation, are we being asked to believe that the present rage and fury of the former Sunni elite has nothing to do with the fact that the oil-rich regions in Iraq are located in the Kurdish and Shia regions? Of course it does - and this brings us to the question of federalism.

This, along with other mechanisms like strong local government and proportional representation, are commonly used in what political scientists refer to as 'consociational democracies' generally considered to be appropriate to divided societies such as South Africa, Northern Ireland, Belgium and Holland. Federalism in the Iraqi context makes perfect sense, given its ethnic and confessional diversity. It is probably essential in order to keep the Shias and certainly the Kurds on board but it is a difficult balancing act because for regions such as Babil and Salahuddin, it is essential that federalism should not be perceived as a stepping stone to the break-up of the Iraqi central state.

It's one of the many problems that the possession of oil-reserves can cause. If you doubt this economistic interpretation, think where Scottish nationalism was before the discovery of North Sea oil.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Smoking ban plans 'in disarray'

Another one from the beeb:
"Plans for a smoking ban in England appear to be in disarray after Cabinet ministers failed to agree on whether there should be exemptions."
Silly boys and girls. The issue isn't whether ther should be exemptions - there will be. It is whether these exemptions should be legal or not...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bronx school inspires McConnell

From the beeb:
"Teachers, pupils and parents could be asked to sign a "contract" under ideas being considered by Jack McConnell.

During a visit to a school in New York's Bronx area, the first minister expressed interest in its 'Knowledge is Power Programme'.

Mr McConnell said written agreements, which involved making commitments to school life, would help engage parents and motivate pupils.

He said he was eager for Scottish schools to learn more about the system."
Hmmm - I'm always a bit worried when they let Jack go abroad; he always comes back with crap ideas - like the time he went to Ireland and decided the thing to do was to ban smoking in public places. I don't want to prejudge but with news items like this, there's usually an earlier indicator within the piece itself that shows they've missed the point already, and this case is no exception. Here it is:
"The so-called contract signed by the 250 pupils, their parents and 17 teachers at the KIPP Academy in the Bronx, commits them to work to their full potential and attend school every day."
250 pupils, Jack. And how many do we have in the average Glasgow Secondary? More than four times that many at least, would you say? What would the Executive in Scotland do to a school that had only 250 pupils, Jack? That's right; you'd close it down, wouldn't you? In fact, you've closed down a few that had three times that many, haven't you Jack? Care to explain why an area the size of Maryhill has no non-denominational school at all but the West End of Glasgow has three? Because these 'successful' schools can absorb the populations of the closing schools, thereby raising attainment and combating social exclusion? Care to have a chat with a few comrades who work at the chalk-face who would take issue with that? Or if you don't want to take our word for it, perhaps you could explain why these schools are plummeting down the league tables? No? Ok then - we don't want to talk to you anyway...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The slide into barbarism: against utilitarianism

This is prompted by a stimulating discussion going on at the Sharpener on the subject of torture. As with debates on the death penalty and corporal punishment, I'm always struck by the extent to which utilitarianism has gripped the Western liberal mind because well-meaning liberals often make the argument that torture is simply irrational, given that the information obtained under extreme duress is extremely unreliable.

That this is the case can be fairly easily demonstrated historically but I have no interest in doing so because I firmly believe that one's opposition to the use of torture should not depend on any such utilitarian arguments, for these can lead one up a very dark path indeed. For students of political theory, the arguments will be well-worn and familiar. What possible utilitarian argument could one make against punishing the innocent for a crime that had particularly grieved a community? And do we really have to demonstrate that this has been the case in the past? The Guilford Four, the Birmingham Six - did we not feel an injustice had been done here? We did - but not on utilitarian grounds.

I'm not the least bit interested in 'mind experiments' that posit the possibility that torture could extract vital information that could result in the location of a nuclear device and thus save innumerable civilian lives for there was never a time in history where some 'greater good' rationalization was not used to justify torture.

Eric Hobsbawm in his excellent essay, "Barbarism: a user's guide" (from On History) traces the history of torture from the French and American Revolutions. Both these outlawed torture and even the collapse of the first French Republic did not see it reinstated. Instead, its use and practice in the industrial world was largely confined to the fascist and communist states. But one of the depressing aspects of the postwar world is the extent to which it has re-emerged in the West. The French in Algeria, the British in Northern Ireland serve as two examples, not to mention the gruesome revelations that emerged from the experience in Latin America in the 1970s. And now one could add the disgrace of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. This depressing turn of events cannot, Hobsbawm argues, ever be explained by the official rationalization of the practice:
"(A)s stated in the British Compton Committee, which reported rather ambiguously on Northern Ireland in 1972. It talked about 'information which it was operationally necessary to obtain as necessarily as possible'. But this was no explanation. It was just another way of saying that governments had given way to barbarism, that is that they no longer accepted the convention that prisoners of war are not obliged to tell their captors more than name, rank and number, and that more information would not be tortured out of them, however urgent the operational necessity."
Instead a rather more historical explanation is required and if one reads the essay mentioned above and also the Age of Extremes there are some salutary lessons, not only for those willing to rationalize torture, but for those apologists for suicide-murderers. Hobsbawm's thesis is that the twentieth century, the 'best and worst of centuries', brutalized an entire generation beginning with the first spate of 'mega-deaths' during the Great War, through to the second and then with the lunacy of the Cold War:
"(T)he worst of it is that we have got used to the inhuman. We have learned to tolerate the intolerable. Total war and cold war have brainwashed us into accepting barbarity."
Can you think of a better explanation of why that old revolutionary Engels was before the outbreak of the Great War horrified to learn that an IRA bomb had killed a handful of civilians in London whereas today our pampered armchair revolutionaries who despise the system that makes their lives possible not only rationalize the deliberate targetting of civilians by suicide bombers but actually support them in doing so? How else can we explain the fact that so many people can't tell the moral difference to those who seek to minimize civilian casualties, and those for whom such a distinction is meaningless if the civilians in question are unbelievers or heretics?

Hobsbawm, accurately in my view - and surprisingly, considering his political disposition - describes the cold war as a religious war. These are always the bloodiest: the great Isaiah Berlin pointed out that no idea in the history of mankind had produced a higher mountain of corpses than the notion that there is a final solution, that there is a harmonious pattern into which all human beings can fit. It is something that those of us who accept the necessity of fighting and opposing the present day religious fascists should take on board: when it comes to a contest that depends on the use of violence, Hobsbawm makes the historical point that states usually end up winning, for fairly obvious reasons.

But at what cost, my friends? Hobsbawm argues that the experience of the 1970s permanently weakened the defences of the Enlightenment because the lesson of that era was that barbarism was more effective than civility. Can we not see the shadow of this in the present time? Those who rationalize suicide bombing disgust me - so much so I want to distance myself from that trap completely. Do you make excuses for torture because you believe, as Tony Blair does, that the "rules of the game have changed"?

Change your mind - or as the Greek word for this is usually translated in English versions of the New Testament: repent.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Restraining pupils

From the Guardian:
"Teachers will be given the clear legal right to discipline unruly pupils and restrain them through the use of "reasonable force", ministers announced today."
Well that's nice of them. I think the law's different up here and we already have this. On one occasion I had to intervene in a racist assault. Got the perpetrator in a head-lock and dragged him up to the school office. I don't think he thought this was 'reasonable' but fortunately for me, no-one else agreed with him. Or perhaps if it were just an ordinary assault, I would have got my ass sued.

On the way to the office, I was sorely tempted to open the various swing doors with his head. I do accept that would have been a tad unreasonable.

I shouldn't joke because it was actually a fairly horrible experience and I really didn't appreciate being put in the position in the first place. A clarification of the law would be enormously welcome because at the moment a lot of kids are like this one, who was under the impression that I wasn't allowed to physically intervene in any way. As if I'm going to watch someone getting their head kicked in while I stand around pathetically and say, "Now come along - settle down".

This proposal is part of a wider package designed to tackle the general problem of indiscipline in schools. About time, but this next bit from the article shows there's good reason to be skeptical:
"The taskforce rejects a code of rules for pupils, but recommends a national charter of rights and responsibilities for youngsters, parents and teachers, to be included in home-school agreements."
Can anyone get their head around the first nine words of this? I certainly can't...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Speaking of inflation

I'm sure it's similar elsewhere in the country: people up here (usually after they've just been to the bar to get a round) tend to remark on inflation by saying things like, "A tenner's nothing nowadays, is it?"

And it isn't - as anyone who's put petrol in their car recently will testify. But there's a version of this I don't understand. I'm going to be forty next year and when I bemoan this dreadful reality, people often try and make me feel better by saying things like, "Ach away - forty's nothing nowadays" in the same way they talk about money.

It's not that I don't appreciate the thought - it's just that it doesn't really help, what with it being complete bollocks and all. Age isn't like currency. Years haven't declined in value. The last time I looked, they were each still 365 days long, which in turn are still 24 hours long and soon I'll have notched up forty of them - and this is Not Good.

And before you say, "You're as young as you feel" - that doesn't work either.

Because you're not...

More Tory stuff

I said here that I wasn't a betting man and if you read the last paragraph, I think you'll agree that this is just as well because it appears that Dr. Fox is slipping fast, leaving it most likely that Davis and Cameron will be the two to slug it out in the final round.

It also appears the smear gun has fired a few rounds of sludge across his bows, according to the Guardian:
"Just before polling began the Evening Standard published an interview with Dr Fox in which he dismissed as "smears" rumours that he had a gay past. He refused to directly deny the rumours but insisted his forthcoming marriage was an answer."
Well, congratulations - but how what a man in his forties plans to do in the future serves as an answer to what he did in the past is beyond me. I'd like to be able to credit him with saying to the Evening Standard that it was none of their damn business but by mentioning his wedding he has effectively legitimised the Standard's grubby little article. And Dr. Fox managed to be graceless enough to take a side-swipe at Cameron at the same time:
"If someone accused me of doing something against the law I might feel bound to answer it. Otherwise I would have no comment to make.

If you start getting into that, all sorts of areas open up and I think you are entitled to a private life."
Seems a bit of a creep to me. And if that wasn't enough, we learn from here that he comes from East Kilbride. There is no excuse for this.

I'm being frivilous - and offensive - but I checked my site meter and I don't get any readers from East Kilbride so who cares? Anyway, the thing that got up my nose about Fox was his "we've got to stop apologising" line. No, I mean why would you apologise for a suicidal monetary policy that crucified British industry and put thousands out of work, particularly in Lanarkshire where Dr. Fox is from? Why would you apologise for the fact that the guru of monetarism Milton Friedman himself appeared before the Commons Select Committee and criticised the Thatcher government's handling of said monetary policy? (I think he said the government's dependence on interest rates alone was like playing a round of golf with only one club or something.) And why indeed would anyone feel the need to apologise for the sneering contempt so many Tories had - telling the unemployed that the destruction of their livelihoods was a 'price well worth paying' in order to get inflation down? (Difficult to believe but in fairness to Lamont, his remarks represented an improvement in Tory rhetoric on the subject - at least he didn't blame the unemployed themselves, which had been the previous custom.) The inflation was caused by the Lawson boom; and the subsequent pain caused by the then Chancellor John Major's decision to enter into the ERM at the rate of 2.95 D-marks to the pound. Anyone in Europe could have told him this was lunacy, but he didn't even bother to consult them.

A price worth paying, eh? I remember wishing at the time that someone would quote Friedman's monetarist maxim back at them (slight paraphrase): "People tend to take rather less care when it is other people's money they are spending". Quite.

Lest we forget - the bastards!

Why is Scotland Europe's murder capital?

Irvine Welsh doesn't know either.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Iran's nuclear ambitions and CND

This is prompted by news of the invitation by CND to the Iranian ambassador Dr Seyed Mohammed Hossein Adeli to address their annual conference where, according to the Scotsman, he delivered the reassuring news that Iran's nuclear ambitions are entirely motivated by the search for renewable sources of energy, showing impressive foresight for a country floating on a sea of oil and natural gas.

The list of issues on which I have never changed my mind has grown shorter with age but one of the cluster that remain is a belief in unilateral nuclear disarmament. I won't bore you with detailing the argument that no one can win a nuclear war but I will add that central to my belief is the understanding that it is absolutely impossible to use nuclear weapons in intra-state warfare without committing a war crime and a crime against humanity. I do not, therefore, accept the retention of an independent nuclear deterrent as a 'bargaining tool' because it's value derives from the willingness of its owner and controller to use it and this is what I believe is morally impossible.

To those who argued at the time that we did not appreciate the malevolent intent of the Soviet Union we responded that while we understood the expansionary impulse of this by now post-totalitarian self-interested and shabby dictatorship, we believed that they were in the final analysis rational self-interested actors on the world stage. Or to put it more plainly, even if you accepted the worst possible estimate of the USSR's territorial ambitions, this regime which had shown itself time and time again to have an interest in the long game had no discernible interest in inheriting a nuclear wasteland.

So far, so nineteen-eighties. I liked and supported CND for the same reason I liked and still support Amnesty International: they took a principle and applied it consistently to every country, and in my simple-minded fashion this rather appealed to me. So it is not for the first time in the last five or ten years where I've asked the question, what has happened to my former comrades? Though we thought all the nations in possession of nuclear weapons were fundamentally self-interested in the manner described above, we feared the caprice and the malevolence of the human condition too much to believe that inviting global catastrophe was beyond the imagination.

I thought this understanding was shared but apparently not for those with whom I marched with in the 1980s who are now seriously trying to tell me that the nuclear ambitions of states like Iraq, North Korea and Iran are something I should be relaxed about. They either did not share this notion of nuclear states being rationally self-interested or they think these regimes fit the criteria. Either way, I think they are completely wrong. To answer the question, what about Israeli and Pakistani nukes is to answer in the affirmative that I worry about these too; not quite as much as one would be concerned about the three states mentioned above but more than the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

Which brings me to the point where I defend what probably for most is now indefensible: WMD was a legitimate reason for regime-change in Iraq. The case that the Bush administration and the Blair government put at the UN was, as most people now agree, a complete disaster. As well as de facto accepting that the burden of proof fell on them rather than the Ba'athist regime to provide evidence of disarmament, which legally was not the case - one of the features of the protean arguments they made for the invasion of Iraq was the expansion of the concept of WMD to take in chemical and biological weapons.

What we did know about the regime's pursuit of WMDs - properly understood as nuclear weapons - should have sufficed. Saddam Hussein - no doubt similarly concerned about renewable sources of energy - almost went nuclear twice. It was interrupted the first time when the Israelis bombed the Osiric nuclear facility in the 1980s; the second time after the first Gulf War where subsequent inspections revealed the regime to have been within a few months of going nuclear.

But CND wanted me to believe that a nuclear-powered homicidal tyrant who had demented fantasies of being a Stalin-Saladin saviour to the Arab world, who would rid the region of the stain of international Jewery, was nothing much to get exercised about.

It's all about oil? Well, it's flammable, you see. Does this mean I want the Americans to invade North Korea and Iran? No, I'm not saying that at all - just don't tell me in some smart-assed complacent relativist way that these regimes going nuclear is nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

KC down and out

From the Guardian:
"Ken Clarke was tonight kicked out of the Conservative leadership contest, beaten into fourth place by a late surge for the rightwing candidate Liam Fox."
Hardly surprising - Ken was always yesterday's man.

Cameron will hope to pick up Clarke's vote but I'm wondering if the description of him as 'the bookies' favourite' isn't the kiss of death? Michael Brown, the former Tory MP and now Independent columnist, predicted Portillo's defeat in favour of IDS before practically anyone else. His reasoning was that the history of Tory leadership battles showed the Tory party don't really like electing the frontrunner - the strange case of Michael Howard's accession excepted.

I'm not a betting man and I wouldn't offer a prediction but maybe those who got good odds on Liam Fox might be thinking their tenner is better placed for a return now than when they first put it on?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Scottish Parliament wins prize

From the beeb:
"The Scottish Parliament building, which opened three years late and at £431m cost 10 times over budget, has won the Stirling Prize for architecture."






Here's some snaps of my own from my first visit a couple of weeks ago. (The bit that sticks out gives you vertigo).




Thought is was rather good myself. Lots of glass and marble to use natural light wherever possible, giving it a sort of cathedral feel...






It's the people in it that I have more of a problem with...








Yes, it certainly could've been made for less - but that was a problem with the people in it too.

P.S. Passed the SSP office, which is on the ground floor. They've gone for the student flat, circa 1970s look. Thought I had a photo but apparently not. Take my word for it - bit naff...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Prospect/FP Global public intellectuals poll

Do these polls really tell us anything?

In a showbiz world, there really is no such thing as bad publicity, immediately springs to mind...

'Nuff said - surely?

More Cameron stuff

From the Observer:
"Former cabinet minister Michael Portillo yesterday backed David Cameron's refusal to address questions over whether or not he has taken drugs, saying his own experience in politics had convinced him this was the only way of preventing a media 'witch-hunt'."
Yup - just like wot I said earlier. The 'media mogul' Michael Green, Cameron's former employer also lent his support:
"'I think David is right to react as he has... The Mail is demanding an answer to a question he correctly won't answer.' If he did, Green said, 'where would it stop?'

He said he was convinced that Cameron, who headed Carlton's corporate communications department, was not using drugs. 'The idea that he is some kind of druggie is absolutely bizarre,' he said."
I don't need to know Cameron to recognise that this is indeed a bizarre accusation - 'druggies' generally aren't as successful as Cameron has been at his age, largely on account of the amount of energy they devote to getting wasted. If on the other hand, he's done all that, and cared for a handicapped child whilst on a skinfull of drugs, he's obviously an extraordinarily talented and resilient individual and the Tories would be foolish to let him go.

One instinctively feels drawn to the cause of anyone harangued by the Daily Mail. But maybe one shouldn't; after all, if the Tories listen to the Mail, they'll be out of power for another eight years at least.

On the other hand, there is some evidence from the west coast of Scotland that might suggest that this is not an unalloyed Good Thing, to say no more than that...

The significance of the Iraqi constitution vote

Lies in the statement by one disgruntled Sunni voter who said, "I'm voting no to end the occupation"*. Something there for everyone to agree with, surely? For opponents of the war, a desire to see the end of the occupation; for those of us that supported it, this and the fact that they are voting at all.

If anyone imagined a pristine democracy would magically sprout in Iraq after decades of such depravity, they were surely naive? When in history did any new democracy pass the standards now being set for this one, and under these conditions?

It is so very far from being a functioning democracy as we would understand it - but what you do have nevertheless is the first signs of the routinisation of politics in Iraq in living memory. Break open a couple of political histories before you dismiss this as insignificant...

N.B. Liked this bit from the Observer:
"'People are scared to say they voted Yes,' said a woman with a Glaswegian accent, who asked to be identified only as 'Mrs Mohammed'. A naturalised resident of Iraq for over 25 years, she had originally planned to vote No but, like her husband, changed her mind when the Islamic party swapped horses."
Wegies, ya bass! We get everywhere; there's no escape...


*It was on the beeb - but I can't find it now.

Drugs row: reassessing Cameron

According to the Times, David Cameron, the youthful contender for the Tory leadership is not a fan of the Daily Mail:
"At strategy meetings before the General Election, Cameron would shudder at the mention of the newspaper's columnist, such as Melanie Phillips."
Heh - I'm suddenly warming to him. He is also, apparently...
"...the only leadership candidate not to have supported calls for the law on cannabis to be tightened again."
Sensible chap - because it was a sensible move. Also sensible is the following:
"While remaining an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, he believes that there are limits to the application of the free market..."
He's somewhat to the left of Blair then, since TB gives the impression of someone who sees no such limits. Interesting...

N.B. The line about shuddering at the mention of Daily Mail journalists appears only in the print version of the paper.

Further: Hague intervenes in the argument saying, "(I)f everyone who had ever taken drugs was denied a top post there would be some pretty big gaps in the higher ranks of most professions. " Quite.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

What I have learned

When drinking vodka never, ever, try and keep pace with someone with 'ski' at the end of their name - even if they were born here. A friend of mine returned from a trip to Poland seeing relatives. We celebrated by enthusiastically knocking back copious amounts of the local product.

Oh dear, oh dear. Hangover this morning?

Everything to do with my head was sore - my hair was sore...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Chomsky on the Presidential Election

Oliver Kamm has a piece here on Noam Chomsky's assertion that, contrary to popular perception, the election that returned Bush for a second term did not actually take place at all. (Mr. Kamm does not take comments but Eric invites you do so over at Drink-Soaked Trots.)

This is of course the Marxist notion of 'false consciousness'. Among the interesting things I've learned from my year on the blogsphere is that because Marx didn't actually use the phrase, it has become fashionable amongst some on the hard-left to deny that it's a Marxist concept at all.

I've neither the time nor the inclination to outline in great detail the reasons why I think this is wrong. Suffice to say that for Marx if one had (has) an understanding of themselves primarily as a Christian, an Englishman, an artisan in the aristocracy of labour - rather than a member of the international proletariat who has no country and only a class - this 'consciousness' is inaccurate and I don't really understand why it is in some way objectionable to describe this as a 'false consciousness' since this is clearly what he meant.

The other point which I think should be accepted is that the concept is routinely used by Chomsky and his ilk to explain why the oppressed masses they profess to care about seem surprisingly (to them) indifferent to their political ideas. You know the sort of stuff: dumb Texan rednecks have been so brainwashed by the media that they choose culture wars over class war and that's how Bush won.

Apart from the fact that this isn't entirely accurate (reports about the death of class-based voting have been greatly exaggerated) this is entirely patronising. Why, for example, is it assumed that poor white Republicans are capable of seeing what those on the American left have been arguing for years - that who's the President and which party is in power makes precious little difference to the dominance of politics by corporate interests? They know, for example - and I've been specifically told this by real Republican-voting Texans - that while they would favour a more British style health care system, it doesn't alter the way they vote because they understand perfectly well that there's not the least chance of this happening.

Which brings us to Chomsky's extraordinary assertion about the last election. In the run-up to November, Chomsky broke from his usual line and conceded that who's President did matter after all and instructed everyone (of course) to vote for Senator Kerry. Perhaps this time, what with the Oscar-winning Moore on hand to help in the election, Chomsky knew the brain-washing line wouldn't, um, wash.

So to announce the election didn't happen is, I'm sure you'll agree, a rather ingenious escape from the intellectual corner he's painted himself into.

Monday, October 10, 2005

It's tag time again

This one was passed to me by Paul Evans, with the following instructions:
Directions:
1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
Duly done - and the fifth sentence of the twenty-third post is: "Richard Dawkins uses the disaster to question the validity of religious thinking in this context"...

Coincidently topical in the wake of the terrible earthquake in Pakistan and India, he was referring to the Tsunami. While I agreed, of course, that it is ridiculous, crass and hard-hearted to interpret these as the wrath of God for sinful living or whatever, I went on to argue that the thing about religion that people like Dawkins doesn't get is while the theodicy question is a difficult to answer in the wake of such terrible event, the paradox of religion is that one of its key functions is to give meaning to suffering and that it behooves those who live comfortable lives not to sneer.

I was curious to see if I still agreed with what I had written - and in this case, I find that I do. I remember hearing an Auschwitz survivor talking about his religious faith when I was at teacher training college. While I found it difficult to comprehend, it surely would have been grotesque to present him with the theodicy question in a "Here's something you haven't thought of" sort of way? As grotesque as evangelising a Holocaust survivor who'd found their faith incinerated in the furnaces.

Best thing to do when confronted with human suffering on this magnitude is to shut your mouth and not dabble in the stuff of people's souls.

That's why I believe in the separation between church and state so much: it's nothing to do with hostility to religion as such, nor is it to do with 'respecting' people's religious beliefs as such. It's not their doctrinal systems that require respect; only a recognition that faith is a much more strange and subtle phenomenon than is often thought by atheists and agnostics - and the place in the human soul where it resides goes very deep indeed...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Jus' messing around

Despite hiatus, I can't stop messing around with this blog. Changed the format 'cos the previous template had been messed around with so much, it bore no relation to the original one. If you check it over and are thinking, "Hey - reprobate boy has deleted me from his side-bar, the ignorant swine", I can assure you this was an accident: while attempting to put them in alphabetical order, they were all over the bloody place and there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth as I managed to lose several of them in the process.

Anyway, continuing on this almost completely trivial note, I see the Cabinet has decided to follow the pattern up here and ban smoking completely:
"Smoking is set to be banned completely in pubs and restaurants in England after cabinet ministers united to demand a U-turn on plans for a partial ban...

Blair has let it be known that if the cabinet, which meets shortly to consider Hewitt's proposals, can agree on an outright ban, he will not stand in the way. Hewitt has now won the backing of cabinet big hitters - including the Chancellor Gordon Brown, Tessa Jowell, whose Culture Department oversees the pub industry, and Trade Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who once opposed the ban, has also indicated he will not block a majority of colleagues. This leaves opposition only from John Reid, who as Health Secretary drew up the original plans for a limited ban."
So it's Gordy's fault, is it? Typical Calvinist attitude: don't think he's worried about your health; he's concerned that people might be enjoying themselves. It's not entirely insignificant that opposition came from the two genuinely working-class members of the Cabinet - although I see John Prescott has now caved-in.

Now, if they'd be wise - they would have left it until they see how it goes up here and watched the results carefully. After all, the last time anything was introduced in Scotland before England was the poll tax and Maggie could have avoided a lot of grief if she'd paid more attention to this experiment and how it was going down with the public.

Despite opposing it, I'm looking forward to see how it goes. And it may not be all bad: someone told me research has shown smokers tend to get more sex in places where there are smoking bans because it provides a forum where people meet and immediately have something in common over which they can strike up a conversation.

Or is that just wishful-thinking on my part?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hiatus

Is a word I learned from Rullensberg Rules' side-bar. It means a blog is not dead but will unconscious for a while. Need to take a break because as long-suffering readers will testify, I haven't been able to produce much more recently than bad-tempered rants about education.

This reflects the reality: I'm working in an asylum where my comrade I talked about here is off sick with migraine headaches. After a few aspirin breakfasts, he eventually consulted his doctor. I don't know what the diagnosis was but you don't have to have a medical background to think that there's maybe just a faint possibility that the doctor might have suggested the experience of being assaulted on the job, and the fact that he works in an environment where this offence doesn't merit even one day's suspension, may not be helping?

Contrary to the tabloid myth - in this situation, as in all others, "bloshie teacher's unions" are conspicuous by their absence.

That's why I'm taking a break. I can't think about much else at the moment - but people don't want to hear this shit.

I'll be back when I've got something less boring to say.

Oh, and if you've been directed to this site on the pretext that you'll find something amusing about education to read - can I suggest you track down some of Roy Hattersley's articles about education - they're always good for a laugh...

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