Thursday, 26 February 2009

Ever felt you are being watched?


That, my friends, is 'The Eye of God,' a cloud of space dust 2.5 light years across (1).

If that is God's eye, imagine how big the rest of it is.

Makes me feel delightfully puny and unimportant. I whimper like a baby when I get a bit of dirt in my eye. God, it seems, has whole galaxies in its.
1 - 'Eye of God pictured in space,' unattributed report published in The Telegraph, 26th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/space/4805889/Eye-of-God-pictured-in-space.html)

Wheels coming off the PRC

Some of the headlines and stories from one of the most despicable and totalitarian regimes on the planet our esteemed trading partner:

Production of China's home appliance industry shrunk in the second half of 2008 as export demand fell, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said (1). The figures still show growth for the year overall 13.3% - but this was less half the figure for 2007. The second half of the year must have been disasterous to pull them down so low.

2008 was a very bad year for the steel industry as the aggregate net profit of 71 medium and large steel producers fell 43 percent ... as weak demand drove down prices according to the China Iron and Steel Association (2). Regional demand for steel is drying up and Chinese spot steel prices fell 5.3 percent in a third consecutive weekly fall, on rising inventory after a much-anticipated demand recovery failed to materialise:
Japan's steel imports dropped for the third straight month, falling 31.5 precent in January from a year ago, as automakers reduced output and reported a 28-percent drop in sales last month. Steel production from South Korea tumbled 26 percent in January from a year ago and Japan saw a 38 percent drop to 6.4 million tons, the lowest level in 40 years. (3)
while the Chinese steel production is actually increasing, possibly to cover up the collapse in other sectors of the economy:

Brazilian miner Vale, the world's biggest iron ore producer, said late last week it expected to ship a record 30 million tons of ore to China in the first quarter.

"Demand (for iron ore) in China is coming back beyond previous levels...China is helping cover a lot of weakness in other markets," said Vale's director of ferrous minerals, Jose Carlos Martins.

China raised steel output by 10 percent in January from the previous month on top of a 7 percent gain in December, expecting a surge in demand in a post-Chinese New Year holiday in February, which failed to appear. (4)

This recklessness could trash the Chinese steel industry, because the already depressed price will only carry on down. The demand is just not there for the steel. People are not buying cars in the West. So car makers are not buying. Even flooding the market with cheap steel will not entice them to manufacture more cars, because they won't be able to sell them.

Over a thousand publicly traded firms that had released their full-year or preliminary earnings reports as of yesterday, have posted a 43.61 percent drop in profits, at 173.6 billion yuan, for 2008. In contrast, these 1,009 companies had posted a 32.18 percent year-on-year increase in profits last year, a report by TX Investment Consulting showed (5). Again, still showing a profit - but the rate is slowing drastically and thiswill be terrifying investors. What the linked report highlights as perticularly interesting is thatt the 1000-odd companies that have already reported only about a third of the total profit piled up in 2007. Another 500 companies made up the other two thirds. Those big companies are yet to report. If they do badly, then things could get very ugly.

Which is the big worry. If the Chinese economy falls apart, the country will probably fall apart as well. Historically, China has always been a seething mess of internal strife and warlords vying for power. Those days could well return if central control breaks down. Only this time the warlords will have nuclear weapons.

1 - 'China's home appliance industry slows in 2008,' by Yu Hongyan, published on chinadaily.com.cn, 26th of February, 2009. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2009-02/26/content_7516133.htm)
2 - 'Major Chinese steel makers' net profit down 43% in 2008,' unattributed article, publsihed on chinadaily.com.cn, 26th of February, 2009. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2009-02/23/content_7503555.htm)
3 - 'China spot prices fall again on inventory build-up,' unattributed press report, published on china.co.cn, 26th of February, 2009. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2009-02/26/content_7516046.htm)
4 - ibid.
5 - 'Mainland firms bleed heavily in 2008,' by Zhou Yan, published on chinadaily.com.cn, 26th of February, 2009. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2009-02/26/content_7513943.htm)

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Just bloody sad

Just been announced:

British Conservative Leader David Cameron's disabled six-year-old son Ivan has died after being taken ill overnight, a party spokeswoman said on Wednesday

Ivan, who suffered from cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy and needed constant care, died in the early morning at St Mary'sHospital, Paddington in west London.Cameron and his wife Samantha have two other children,Nancy, 5, and Arthur, 3."David and Samantha would ask that their privacy is respected at this terribly difficult time," they said in a statement. (1)

There's a very poigniant little Australian film directed by Adam Elliot, called Brother. It describes the short and not very happy life of a disabled child, the narrator's elder brother:



Memories of you I will always keep. God saw you were tired, and put you to sleep.
That almost always makes me cry.
1 - 'David Cameron's disabled son Ivan dies,' unattributed newsflash published by Israel News, 25th of February, 2009. (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3677328,00.html)
2 - 'Brother,' directed by Adam Elliot, 1999. Courtesy of You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LdzgOrhfGA)

Welcome to 1984

It seems that privacy may become a luxury the British can no longer afford:

Citizens will have to sacrifice their right to privacy in the fight against terrorism, a former senior security official warned today.

Sir David Omand, the Cabinet Office's former security and intelligence co-ordinator, said in future the security services would need access to a wide range of personal data, including phone records, emails and travel information.

In a research paper on national security strategy, Sir David wrote: "Finding out other people's secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules."

The document for the Institute for Public Policy think tank outlines plans to track terrorist groups through a state database which would also contain the details of innocent people.

He wrote: "Modern intelligence access will often involve intrusive methods of surveillance and investigation, accepting that, in some respects this may have to be at the expense of some aspects of privacy rights." (1)

The parallels with 1984 are pretty hard to mis. The telescreens, the constant snooping, and the expectation that traitorous elements will be denounced:

‘What are you in for?’ said Winston.

‘Thoughtcrime!’ said Parsons, almost blubbering. The tone of his voice implied at once a complete admission of his guilt and a sort of incredulous horror that such a word could be applied to himself. He paused opposite Winston and began eagerly appealing to him: ‘You don’t think they’ll shoot me, do you, old chap? They don’t shoot you if you haven’t actually done anything—only thoughts, which you can’t help? I know they give you a fair hearing. Oh, I trust them for that! They’ll know my record, won’t they? YOU know what kind of chap I was. Not a bad chap in my way. Not brainy, of course, but keen. I tried to do my best for the Party, didn’t I? I’ll get off with five years, don’t you think? Or even ten years? A chap like me could make himself pretty useful in a labour-camp. They wouldn’t shoot me for going off the rails just once?’

‘Are you guilty?’ said Winston.

‘Of course I’m guilty!’ cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. ‘You don’t think the Party would arrest an innocent man, do you?’ His frog-like face grew calmer, and even took on a slightly sanctimonious expression. ‘Thoughtcrime is a dreadful thing, old man,’ he said sententiously. ‘It’s insidious. It can get hold of you without your even knowing it. Do you know how it got hold of me? In my sleep! Yes, that’s a fact. There I was, working away, trying to do my bit—never knew I had any bad stuff in my mind at all. And then I started talking in my sleep. Do you know what they heard me saying?’

He sank his voice, like someone who is obliged for medical reasons to utter an obscenity.

‘“Down with Big Brother!” Yes, I said that! Said it over and over again, it seems. Between you and me, old man, I’m glad they got me before it went any further. Do you know what I’m going to say to them when I go up before the tribunal? “Thank you,” I’m going to say, “thank you for saving me before it was too late.”’

‘Who denounced you?’ said Winston.

‘It was my little daughter,’ said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. ‘She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don’t bear her any grudge for it. In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.’ (2)

If we continue on this road, will it be worth 'winning' - if it will ever be won, as we have ALWAYS been at war with Eurasia EastAsia? If some one is smashing a jackboot into your face forever, does it matter much if they pray to Allah or they stop to sing God Save The Queen between bouts of stomping?

1 - "Anti-terror fight 'will need privacy sacrifice' by Rosemary Hutt, published in The Independent, 25th of February, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/antiterror-fight-will-need-privacy-sacrifice-1631507.html)
2 - From 1984, by George Orwell, Part Three, Chapter 1. Full text available online: (http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/o/orwell/george/o79n/)

Britain vetos elease of Iraq war minutes

From The Independent:

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, had ordered the release of the minutes, arguing that their publication was in the public interest. His decision was supported by an independent tribunal last month.

But for the first time, the Government has decided to make use of "Section 53" of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, allowing it to veto the release of the documents. The clause was added to the Act as a way of placating ministers who wanted final control over the release of sensitive documents.

Using the power, rather than challenging the tribunal's decision at the High Court, makes it almost impossible for campaigners to overturn the veto. They can now only challenge it by seeking a judicial review.

The Government decided to issue the veto during Monday's cabinet meeting in Southampton. The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, said releasing the minutes risked doing "serious damage" to the frank discussions that take place around the cabinet table. (1)

As Ming Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats commented in response to this, Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell said: "This is a Government which, when introducing measures to limit personal freedom, says that those that have nothing to hide should have nothing to fear." (2)

So what do the people that blundered their way into the iraq war have to hide? And how long will we have to wait before they can bear to be honest with the people that voted them into power?

When Labour were elected, back in 1997, one of their manifesto pledges was to bring about ""the democratic renewal of our country through decentralisation and the elimination of excessive government secrecy." (3)

1 - ' Release of Iraq war minutes vetoed,' by Michael Savage, published in The Independent, 25th of February, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/release-of-iraq-war-minutes-vetoed-1631365.html)
2 - ibid.
3 -'New Labour: because Britain deserves better
,' the manifesto of the Labour Party for the 1997 general election, reproduced on labour-party.org.uk. Viewed 25th of February, 2009. (http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1997/1997-labour-manifesto.shtml)

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Obama's Guantanamo

Inspite of campaigning on a slogan of 'Change we need,' it doesn't look like barak Obama is really interested in changing very much.

Four detainees at the Bagram Military base in Afghanistan have been trying to get the same access to the US legal system as was finally granted to the Guantanamo Bayt detainees. The Bush administration, naturally, resisted.

Then Bush was booted and Obama became the Commander-in-Chief. Result? As far as Bagram went, nothing changed:
Two days into his presidency, Mr Obama promised to shut Guantanamo within a year ... the judge in the Bagram case said that the order “indicated significant changes to the government’s approach to the detention, and review of detention, of individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay” and that “a different approach could impact the court’s analysis of certain issues central to the resolution” of the Bagram cases as well. Judge John Bates asked the new administration if it wanted to “refine” its stance.

The response, filed by the Department of Justice late on Friday, came as a crushing blow to human rights campaigners. “Having considered the matter, the government adheres to its previously articulated position,” it said. (1)

As Binyam Mohamed's lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith pointed out,

“Guantanamo Bay was a diversionary tactic in the ‘War on Terror’ ... Totting up the prisoners around the world – held by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, the prison ships and Diego Garcia, or held by US proxies in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco – the numbers dwarf Guantanamo. There are still perhaps as many as 18,000 people in legal black holes. Mr Obama should perhaps be offered more than a month to get the American house in order. However, this early sally from the administration underlines another message: it is far too early for human rights advocates to stand on the USS Abraham Lincoln and announce, ‘Mission Accomplished’.” (2)
Obama won the election by promising to change things. Stafford Smith might suggest be too early for him to have done much more than he has. I disagree. Stafford SMith is in a position where he has to be diplomatic. I don't, so I'll say what I feel. People have been abused, tortured and lost years of their lives. I don't think it is wrong to regard any delay as what it is - cowardly vacillation.
1 - " Obama denies terror suspects right to trial," by Stephen Foley, published in The Independent, 22nd of February, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/obama-denies-terror-suspects-right-to-trial-1628958.html)
2 - ibid.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

How the Daily Mail counts the cost

Let me make one thing clear - I do not like New Labour. They are a bunch of witless, clueless, ammoral, power hungy swine-at-the-trough. Their last and current leaders are, to my mind, responsible for war crimes.

That said, here's a piece of arrant dishonesty from the Daily Mail that might make Alastair Campbell blush:

The staggering total of Britain's national debt was laid bare yesterday - at least £2trillion.

That represents £33,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Bank bailouts will send debt 'off the Richter scale' at a staggering 147 per cent of national income, the worst figure since 1954 and one of the highest in the developed world.

The figures came from the independent Office of National Statistics, which said it was adding giant liabilities from two part-nationalised banks - estimated at between £1trillion and £1.5trillion - to existing debts. (1)
All pretty straightforward, you'd think. But buried further down the article is an admission that the journalists propogandists hoped to bury where no-one would bother looking:
Net debt as a proportion of national income, supposed to stay below 40 per cent under the Government's now-abandoned 'golden rules', reached 47.8 per cent last month.

The International Monetary Fund put America's net government debt at 46 per cent of GDP in 2008. Germany's was 56 per cent, France's 55 per cent and Canada's 22.5 per cent.

Those figures do not include the impact of their own bank bailouts, however. (2)

Get that? The claim that Britain's debt is "one of the highest in the developed world" depends on missing out a huge chunk of debt. It is breath-taking in its audacity.

The reason I mention this is because it is so bloody infuriating that the press is so nakedly partisan and cynical. Obviously, all news papers are somewhat biased, one way or another. That is acceptable. But a good journalist will report facts clearly and without trying to conceal information. This story is an example of what the rightwing press in Britain does. It lies, it distorts and it agitates single-mindedly in the interests of the right. And they obviously have so much contempt for their readers that they make little effort to disguise their behaviour, other than shoving the awkward truth half way down the page on the assumption that most readers won't bother reading that far.

1 - "£2trillion - the terrifying total of our national debt... that's £33,000 for every man, woman and child in Britain," by James Chapman and Sam Fleming, published in The Daily Mail, 20th of February, 2009. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1150666/2trillion--terrifying-total-national-debt--thats-33-000-man-woman-child-Britain.html)
2 - ibid.

Muslim schools ban chess and Harry Potter?

According to The Daily Express, fundamentalist Muslim religious schools in Britain are banning Harry Potter novels, chess, cricket and anything else deemed sinful. Under the headline MUSLIM SCHOOLS BAN OUR CULTURE, the Express reports
Youngsters are discouraged from playing cricket and board games, listening to western music and even reading Shakespeare plays or Harry Potter books by fanatics targeting classrooms, the research says.

Some children are even being told to shun “the evil system of western culture” and encouraged to live in “ghettos”.

The vile diktats to Muslim pupils, some of primary school age, appear on school websites or on other internet sites linked directly to school sites and operated by fund amentalist groups. Critics last night called for strict vetting of Muslim education to root out extremist influence. Moderate Muslim groups welcomed the findings and called for the attempts by extremists to target children to be stamped out.

The propaganda is highlighted in a report called Music, Chess and Other Sins from the Westminster-based think tank Civitas. (1)
The report referred to is published by the rightwing thinktank, Civitas (they've got form). It is titled Music, Chess And Other Sins [pdf] (2).

First of all, let's establish one thing. The number of students involved here is tiny. The authors try to make it sound like a growing danger, implying that the problem is growing:
This has a frightening logic: as more Muslim children attend Muslim schools (especially schools of an anti‐integrationist character), each new generation will demand greater and greater exclusion from mainstream society. (3)
They don't put forward any evidence to support this suggestion, however, that I have found in the report so far. There is no good evidence that the number of children being educated at exclusive muslim schools is growing. The authors try to get around this by referencing a poll that indicated a substantial number of Muslim parents expressed a wish to send their children to exclusively Muslim schools - 45% in favour, opposed to 45% against (4) - but finally have to admit the numbers who actually attend these schools in miniscule:
In 2005, a census of schools revealed that only 1,770 of these children attended maintained Muslims schools. The vast majority—about 96 per cent—were and are in non‐religious state schools. (5)
So that is less than 200o students, across the whole of Britain. The difference between the 45% who would like to and the 4% who do suggests the wish was only an ideal, not something they would take practical steps to realise. I suspect that a similar number of people with any strain of religious faith would ideally like to see their children educated at a school that held the same convictions, but I also suspect the number actually attending such schools would be equally low.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of differnet religious groups attended schools specific to their faith. Is 4% a high or low number, comparatively? Are Muslims, in fact, less likely to attend faith schools than - say -Roman Catholics or Jews?

The main failing of the report isn't statistical, however, but methodological. Its evidence is entirely based on online research. The authors visited websites - school websites and websites accessible through them. They did not try to visit schools, interview students or teachers or get a feel for what is actually being taught. In fact, they admit some of the websites may not have been not directly connected, or even accessible through the schools at all:
School websites were, as often as not, our starting‐points, alongside the websites of the mosques by which or in which schools were run, or the trusts who ran them. (11)
Get that - the material they present was, 'as often as not,' not connected with the school, might be a dusty link on the discussion forum of a local mosque. But it is all piled up, with minimal descrimination, as evidence of an agenda to promote isolationism and intolerance.

Why is this methodology shoddy? Here's why. I've put a link to Kiwiblog on this site, among others. Follow that link, and you'll find all manner of rightwingery and nonsense - particularly if you fail to distingush between what Farrar posts and the comments added by others. Just because I've got a link to that website doesn't mean I agree with it, just that I think it might be of interest.

There is no attempt at balance in the report. Links to websites that appear to promote Islamic fundamentalism and narrow-minded dogmatism are given, but no mention of links to other websites, Islamic or non-Islamic. This might mean, I suppose, that they found no such links what-so-ever, but this seems unlikely. And given that they are reported the allegedly promote cultural isolation, anything promoting or encouraging engagement with the outside world, be it just a link to the BBC website, should have been noted. Their failure to do this suggests that the authors had decided, beforehand, that the problem they describe existed, and focused on finding evidence to support this.

As for the evidence itself, it is pretty flimsy stuff. The claim that the schools are banning cricket and Harry Potter - the 'vile Diktats' the Express described - these are backed up with just one example of each (here and here (6)). The websites they draw these examples from aren't school websites, but external websites associated with a crackpot mufti in South Africa (This chap, to be precise (7)). The decree that chess is unIslamic (8) is, once again, a single item on a linked website. It isn't shown that the school is teaching this nonsense, or that students are accessing it through the school, or even that the websites are accessible through the schools - remember, 'as often as not,' the authors made use of 'the websites of the mosques by which or in which schools were run, or the trusts who ran them.'
1 - "Muslim Schools Ban Our Culture,' by Macer Hall, published in The Daily Express, 20th of February, 2009. (http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/85553/Muslim-schools-ban-our-culture)
2 - 'Music, Chess And Other Sins,' by Denis MacEoin, with the assistance of
Dominic Whiteman, published by Civitas, February, 2009. (http://www.civicsociety.co.uk/MusicChessandOtherSins17Feb09.pdf)
3 -
ibid, summary, page xiii.
4 - ibid, summary, page xii.
5 -
ibid, page 6.
6 - The banning of cricket is a response given on an external website, posed by an unidentified questioner. The report includes screenshots, and the one regards cricket can be viewed here: http://www.civicsociety.co.uk/schools/73b.html. Nate that the term 'Cricket' is highlighted, suggesting it was found through a googleblast - way to research. The one relating to Harry Potter - again, posed by an anonymous questioner from an undisclosed location - can be viewed here: http://www.civicsociety.co.uk/schools/73c.html.
7 - Wikipedia biography of Mufti Ebrahim Desai, viwed on the 20th of February, 2009: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mufti_Ebrahim_Desai
8 - MacEoin,
op. cit., page 31.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Great Rightwing Media Implosion

Some articles from different British newspapers. First of all, a story from The Daily Mail, about Peter Sutcliffe, the so-called Yorkshire Ripper:
Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe has been signed off as low-risk and could be released from Broadmoor, it was revealed today.

Doctors at the top security hospital have told lawyers for the killer - who murdered 13 women and tried to kill seven others in the 1970s and 80s - that he was no longer dangerous.

If Justice Secretary Jack Straw agrees with the classification, it could see him moved to a medium-security facility and eventually released, according to the Sun newspaper. (1)
And this absurd story, from the Telegraph, about calls for religious books in library to be shelved high up as a mark of respect:
Librarians have been told to move the Bible to the top shelves in a move designed to appease anger in the Islamic community.

Robert Whelan of the Civitas think-tank told The Daily Mail: "Libraries and museums are not places of worship. They should not be run in accordance with particular religious beliefs. (2)
Incidentally, the headline of that piece is "Bible moved to library top shelf over inequality fears," whereas the URL title is http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/4687077/Libraries-must-put-Bible-on-top-shelf-in-move-to-appease-Muslims.html. Note the difference in wording. By there URLs shall ye know them.

And finally, another piece from The Telegraph, describing the sexual humilition of a suspect in custody under terrorism laws:

Fahim Ansari is accused of helping to plan the attacks in which 173 people were killed in November.

His lawyer, Ejaz Naqvi, has filed legal papers with Mumbai magistrate's court, claiming the "white woman" removed all his clothes and showed him pornographic films.

In the papers, he claims that three foreigners, including the woman, sexually abused him, causing him "severe itching and wounds" on his body, including his genitals.

Mr Ansari, a devout Muslim, claims this amounts to torture because it is against his religion, The Sun newspaper has reported. (3)

Note the commonality - all three are sourcing stories from each other.

I don't know if this is something that has been going on for ages and I've only just noticed it (I have been drinking a lot of coffee, lately, and am a bit more alert than usual), but it seems very weird.

THe papers involved are all rightwing. The Sun is brazenly populaist and geezery. The main is more restrained, preferring to try to reflect petite bourgeois prejudices. The Telegraph likes to present itself a a dignified old duffer, maybe not as collected these days as of yore, but still holding true to the real British values of empire, navy and the flag.

Finding the three of them borrowing from each other is like stumbling upon some sordid tryst in the woods, involving a loudmouth bit of rough trade (I've always suspected The Sun's loudly proclaimed heterosexuality to be a front), a repressed accountant with a secret likeing for the BNP and a doddery old colonel.

While I couldn't give a flying fuck about the journalistic standards at The Mail - you can't care for something that doesn't exist - it is sad to see how the Telegraph has fall apart. After Conrad Black was revealed to be a typical Tory crook, the Telegraph was bought by Barclay Brothers, and since then it has been becoming more and more Mailesque. Unsurprisingly, it turns out Barclay Bros hired an ex-Mail man to run the show for them (4), and Simon Heffer, ex of the Mail, is assistant editor (5).

Can we expect to see more of this sort of thing as the credit crunch bites and papers scrimp and save. It must be pretty bad already, if The Telegraph can't afford to hire a meeja studies graduate to make a few phone calls and spare the poor old fellow the shame of having to acknowledge a tabloid as a source.

What is the place of The Sun in all this? It is owned by Murdoch, and while it could be an example of the Demonic Solidarity of the Oligarchs, I'd have thought they would have been more interested in smiting each other's circulation than combining. That said, The Telegraph's editor, Will Lewis (6), worked as Business editor of The Sunday Times for three years before switching to his job at The Telegraph. Murdoch does own The Sunday Times, so maybe the Demonic Solidartiy of the Oligarchs is the right one.

This combination does raise an intruiging possibility, however. It seems The Sun is becoming an ever more significant arbiter of rightwing views and opinion in Britain. Having ruled the gutter for years, is it now creeping out into respectable society, tainting the pages of The Mail and The Telegraph with its lurid tittle-tattle? If so, how will it affect the readership of the papers it is colonising.

It is a shame that when we really need a diversity of opinion we're getting less and less. Even rightwingers deserve a decent press - how else will they ever learn the error of their ways?

People need to find challenging ideas and new point sof view in newspapers, stuff that will make them think and question their assumptions and prejudices, not comfortable pander to them. We're getting less and less of it however, as the business of selling adverts to consumers strangles journalism.
1 - "Yorkshire Ripper 'fit to be released from Broadmoor'," unattributed Daily Mail article, 18th of February, 2009. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1148522/Yorkshire-Ripper-fit-released-Broadmoor.html)
2 - "Bible moved to library top shelf over inequality fears," by Lucy Cockcroft, published in The Telegraph, 18th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/4687077/Libraries-must-put-Bible-on-top-shelf-in-move-to-appease-Muslims.html)
3 - "Female FBI officer 'tortured Mumbai terror attacks suspect with sex'," by Ben Leach, published in The Telegraph, 12th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/4587941/Female-FBI-officer-tortured-Mumbai-terror-attacks-suspect-with-sex.html)
4 - "Memo to Gavin O'Reilly - why have you deleted Glover's Telegraph column?," posted by Roy Greenslade on Greenslade Blog, 19th of January, 2009. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2009/jan/19/theindependent-dailytelegraph)
5 - Wikipedia entry for The Daily Telegraph, sub-section 'Recent History.' Viewed as of 19th February, 2009: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Daily_Telegraph#Recent_history.
6 - Wikipedia entry for William Lewis (journalist). Viewed 19th of February, 2009: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lewis_(journalist)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Comrade Duch on trial

Of course it's a good thing that the murderous villans of the Khmer Rouge are to face justice. Kaing Guek Eav, aka Comrade Duch, ran a top secret torture prison for the Khmer Rouge. He can be implicated in about 14,000 - that is FOURTEEN THOUSAND - deaths (1). Hardly anyone escaped Tuol Sleng prison. The innocent would be tortured into confession. The irredeemable innocent had to be irradicated to preserve the operation's secrecy.

Kaing Guek Eav has since converted to Christianity, and - unlike most 'deathchamber' conversions, his new faith seems real. He has co-operated fully with the investigation and has not tried to deny his guilt. He is relying, it seems, on the 'Nuremburg defence,' claiming that he was just following orders. That didn't work then, nor will it work now:
The tribunal, operated jointly by the UN and the Cambodian authorities, has said such claims will not constitute a defence. (2)
It is unlikely he will offer anything more to exculpate himself.

While the trial of Khmer Rouge murderers is welcome, we - the westernised, supposedly civilised world - have to face up to our own crimes in Cambodia.

The effect of Kissinger's carpet-bombing - a MINIMUM of 2,756,941 tonnes of high explosive was dropped on a country the USA was not at war with (3). Is that not a crime that demmands investigation and accoutability?

As Owen and Keirnan suggest, we haven't learned from the lesson of history here . Bombing Cambodia strengthened the Khmer Rouge, alienating the peasants and turning them against the pro-Western Lon Nol.

We are repeating this blundering, bloody 'strategy' in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, as then, there will be turmiol and murder for years as it runs its course. Now, as then, we'll be repsonsible for it. Now, as then, we'll deny it.

UPDATE - A paragraph of the above has been edited, as it was phrased in language that would - perhaps - have made Chris Trotter blush (4).
1 - "Old and frail, Comrade Duch faces his victims 34 years on," by Andrew Buncombe, published in The Independent, 17th of February, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/old-and-frail-comrade-duch-faces-his-victims-34-years-on-1624671.html)
2 - ibid.

3 - "The Lesson from Cambodia that Policymakers Are Ignoring,"By Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, published on George Mason University's History News Network, 14th of May, 2007. (http://hnn.us/articles/38826.html)
4 - Perhaps it is something to do with trying to put across horror, outrage or shock, but describing atrocity seems to bring out the worst in writers. The thing about Pompous Chris is, he would use up all the purple in his paint set just describing a stroll to the local dairy. For the historical record, the excised part of the original post read "While the trial of Khmer Rouge murderers is welcome, as Kaing Guek Eav and the other defendants awaiting trial, there is another dock waiting to be filled by another set of defendants. It is empty, and has been empty for as long as the one that waited for Kaing Guek Eav. And it will continue to remain empty. For who will call us to account?
"

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Socialism for the rich

Gotta love this NACTional government. On the one hand, they'll 'trim' (chainsaw style) 'around' 10% off ministerial and department budgets.

(A spokesperson for Bill English denied there is a set target for reductions (2), but ACT's Heather Roy, who put the figure out there, only said the goal was "around 10 percent" (3) - join the dots here, people!)

Meanwhile, as soon as an 'iconic' company gets into trouble, John Key 's first impulse is to rally to its aid (4).

So business - BIG BUSINESS - will get help. Meanwhile the government departments - the people we charge with looking after stuff on our behave - is to be eviserated. It seems there will always be plenty of money available to bail out big business - never mind that they are menat to make their own - but that will be found by gutting the offices of state that we depend on to tend to the commonweal. Because business - as F&P, an iconic' demonstrated (5) - owe no loyalty to us.

I think it is equally clear where NACTional's loyalties lie.
1 - "Govt looks to slice 10pc from spending: ACT," unattributed NZPA atricle, reproduced on stuff.co.nz, 16th of February, 2009. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4849631a6160.html)
2 -
ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - "Key to look at bailout for F&P," by Tracey Watkins and Jim Kay, published in The Dominion Post, 17th of February, 2009. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4849731a11.html)
5 - "Fisher & Paykel Factory Relocation to Thailand
," press release issued by Fisher & Paykel, 27th of April, 2007. Reproduced on scoop.co.nz. (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU0704/S00396.htm)

TWOT's baleful influence condemned

Stella Rimington, ex-head of MI5, has condemned "certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy" (1). Her job put her in charge of Britian's internal security, and thus she might be expected to have a more understanding attitude towards the changes 'necessitated' by the War on Terror. But not so:

“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state.

“The US has gone too far with Guantánamo and the tortures. MI5 does not do that. Furthermore it has achieved the opposite effect: there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.” (2)
Rimmington also spoke out agaisnt the deeply dim ID cards scheme and the extention of detention-without-charge to 42 days (3).

Seperately, a report [PDF] from an International Commission of Jurists deplored how western social-democratic states
... have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses, introducing an array of measures which undermine cherished values as well as the international legal framework carefully developed since the Second World War. ese measures have resulted in human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances, secret and arbitrary detentions, and unfair trials. ere has been little accountability for these abuses or justice for their victims (4).
The panel found
... many current counter-terrorist measures are illegal and even counterproductive ... the framework of international law is being actively undermined, and many States are reneging on their treaty or customary law obligations. The failure of States to comply with their legal duties is creating a dangerous situation wherein terrorism, and the fear of terrorism, are undermining basic principles of international human rights law ... the erosion of international law principles is being led by some of those liberal democratic States that in the past have loudly proclaimed the importance ofhuman rights. (5)
Not comfortable readng for Bush, Blair, Brown et al. I think, however, they'll pay as much notice to Ms Rimmington and the International Panel of Jurists as they do - or did - to their electorates. That means a bit of lip service, a few words and a smile that might be a smirk revealing the contempt they feel for us.
1 - "Spy chief: We risk a police state," by Tom Whitehead, published in The Telegraph, 17th of Februatry, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/lawandorder/4643415/Spy-chief-We-risk-a-police-state.html)
2 - ibid, edited lightly.
3 - ibid.
4 - The report,
"Assessing Damage, Urging Action: An initiative of the International Commission of Jurists Report of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights," the Executive Summary and the accompanying press release are avaialble online: http://www.icj.org/news.php3?id_article=4453&lang=en
5 - "Assessing Damage, Urging Action: An initiative of the International Commission of Jurists Report of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights" (http://www.icj.org/IMG/EJPExecutiveSummary.pdf) from the premable to the Executive summary.
6 - ibid, page 3.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Cameron Direct

David Cameron, the leader of the British Conservative Party and the husband of the seventeenth most important conservative in Britain (1), wants to get in touch with the people of Britain.

He is holding regular public meetings in local communities, where people can ask him questions:
I sometimes get frustrated that everything in this job is done through the media, rather than directly with people. So this week I launched 'Cameron Direct', which is like the old-fashioned town hall meetings, where anyone can come and ask their question - regardless of which party they support. (2)
It remains to be seen if he'll roll up his sleeves and exchange fisticuffs with any gobby Trots that try to heckle. Here's hoping ... The meetings are broadcast over the interweb (3).

This is all very laudable, and I wouldn't mind asking Mr Cameron a question, except, of course, I'm in New Zealand. So it is unlikely I'll even be awake to watch it.

But for this week, here's what I'd have liked to ask him:
"Dave, according to theyworkforyou.com, you were very strongly in favour of the invasion of Iraq, and now you are strongly in favour of an investigation into that war. Does that mean you were suckered into believing false evidence, or are you merely cynically trying to exploit the issue to discomfit the government?

"And, whichever answer you provide, how does this qualify you to lead our country?

"And, if you want to be so in touch with the feelings of the people, how did you fail to notice the million+ who took part in the Stop the War demonstration?"
Chances of getting an answer that wasn't political business as usual? Very low.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2009/02/ridiculous.html
2 - David Cameron, explaining the reasons he launched Cameron Direct, text and video available at the following website, as of the 13th of February, 2009: http://www.conservatives.com/Video/Webcameron.aspx?id=275ba5c6-b388-4fe8-ab57-bb0906c70e6e
3 - Cameron Direct can be viewed live, and previous meetings are archived at this website, as of 13th of February, 2009: http://www.conservatives.com/Get_involved/Cameron_Direct.aspx

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Is there no evil lesson we failed to learn from Saddam?

First of all, we lied (more than once) (more than twice) and used our lies to justifiy a premptive attack on a sovereign nation (1). Just like Saddam (2). Of course, our war criminals are still at large - feted, even - whereas Saddam and his cohorts have met some sort of justice.

We used barbaric weapons that killed civilians (even unborn children) and combatants indiscriminately (3). Just like Saddam (4). And our wonder weapons have the added bonus of poisoning children not even conceived at the time of the war, through radioactive poisoning.

We kidnap and imprison people we suspected of being our enemies (5). Just like Saddam (6). We use torture. And more torture. And more torture (7). And we - allegedly, mind - resorted to the sexual humiliation and degradation of suspects break their spirit (8). Saddam Hussien had rooms where female prisoners were raped by guards and regime thugs (9). And we do that to (10).

More and more, I am struggling to see the difference between us and them.
1 - 'Report: No WMD stockpiles in Iraq,' unattributed report published on CNN.com, on the 7th of October, 2004. (http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/10/06/iraq.wmd.report/). And not forgetting the Nigerian Yellowcake fiasco, "White House Admits WMD Error," by Lauren Johnson, published by CBS News on the 8th of July, 2005. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/09/iraq/main562312.shtml). ANd, of course, the 'Dodgy dossier', as described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/02/draft-dodgy-dossier-online.html
2 -
'The Oilfield Lying Below the Iraq-Kuwait Disput,' by Thomas C. Hayes, published in the New York Times, 3rd of September, 1990. (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE3D7173CF930A3575AC0A966958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print)
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/08/birth-defects-real-surge-in-iraq.html
4 - '1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack,' unattributed BBC report, date of original publication uncertain. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/16/newsid_4304000/4304853.stm)
5 - 'Terror Suspect Alleges Torture,' by Dana Priest and Dan Eggen, published in The Washington Post on the 6th of January, 2005. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A51726-2005Jan5.html)
6 - Courtesy of zfacts.com, viewed on 13th of February, 2009. (http://zfacts.com/p/571.html)
7 - 'CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described,' by Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, published by ABC News, 18th of November, 2005. (http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/Investigation/story?id=1322866). Second link is to 'Waiting for the Guards,' a short film made as part of Amnesty International's 'Unsubscribe Me' campaign, showing a real (i.e. unfaked, real pain) recreation of an actor holding a stress position. Linked 13th February, 2009. (http://www.unsubscribe-me.org/waitingfortheguards.php?)Third link relates to Binyam Mohamed, described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/08/this-is-why-we-are-hated-and-this-is.html
8 - 'Female FBI officer 'tortured Mumbai terror attacks suspect with sex',' by Ben Leach, published in The Telegraph, 12th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/4587941/Female-FBI-officer-tortured-Mumbai-terror-attacks-suspect-with-sex.html)
9 - 'This dictator will continue to haunt Iraq' by Robert Fisk, published in The Independent, 16th of December, 2003. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-this-dictator-will-continue-to-haunt-iraq-576749.html)
10 - 'The Other Prisoners,' by Luke Harding, published in The Guardian, 20th of May, 2004. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/may/20/iraq.gender)

Monbiot mauls Blears

Following a few preliminary skirmishes, having drawn his enemy out, Mobiot launches a full assault on Hazel Blears, Britain's Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. And quite right, to:
You are temporarily protected by the fact that the United Kingdom, unlike other states, has not yet incorporated the Nuremberg principles into national law. If a future government does so, you and all those who remained in the cabinet on 20 March 2003 will be at risk of prosecution for what the Nuremberg tribunal called "the supreme international crime". This is defined as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". Robin Cook, a man of genuine political courage, put his conscience ahead of his career and resigned. What did you do?

It seems to me that someone of your principles would fit comfortably into almost any government. All regimes require people like you, who seem to be prepared to obey orders without question. Unwavering obedience guarantees success in any administration. It also guarantees collaboration in every atrocity in which a government might engage. The greatest thing we have to fear in politics is the cowardice of politicians. (1)

Great stuff, though he shies away from the final truth - we put her and her ilk there. We're the ones responsible, as voters, for the little Eichmanns we call to account too late, if at all. So Monbiot's ire should be directed not just at the hypocritical, Blears and her croonies, but at the lethargic, unthinking voters who return them, and whose refusal to really bother too much about all that Westminister stuff has left us with the horrible possibility that Blears et al might be the best of the options available. As Monbiot says at the end of his piece, our only choice is "whether to laugh through our tears or weep through our laughter" (2).

Vote for Tory scum or Labour scum. To vote for principles is an oxymoron.
1 - "Just what exactly do you stand for, Hazel Blears - except election?," an open letter to Hazel Blears, written by George Monbiot and published in The Guardian, 10th of February, 2009. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/10/hazel-blears-george-monbiot)
2 - ibid.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Ridiculous, but at least consistently ridiculous

After ranking Samantha Cameron the 17th most signifigant conservative in Britian, the Telegraph has ranked Michelle Obama as the 4th most imporant person in the Obama white house. Only Biden, Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel are judged more importnat than Mrs Obama.

Clearly, her ability to whisper "to whisper sweet nothings" was judged more potent than Mrs Cameron's.

It looks like The Telegraph is a hopeless case, unaware that we live in the 21st century, where professional politicians are ... um ... professional politicians, not inbred aristocrats whose opinion can be swayed by their helpmeet's wheedling.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2009/02/ridiculous.html
2 - "The 20 most influential people in Barack Obama's White House," unattributed article published in The Telegraph, 9th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/4537027/The-20-most-influential-people-in-Barack-Obamas-White-House.html?image=16)

Telegraphism

In an article describing Hamas's tentative moves towards a truce, the Telegraph demonstrates the peculiar logic only it is capable of:
Hamas has been in the ascendant in Palestinian politics since it won assembly elections three years ago and then drove supporters of the Western-backed Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, out of Gaza in 2007. Throughout, the exiled leadership headed by Khaled Meshaal and Mr Marzouk has maintained a hardline defence of the organisation's founding dream of wiping out Israel. "History has shown that you have to take by force your rights from Israel," said Mr Marzouk. "You can't make peace unless you make Israel pay the price of occupation. It's the only strategy." (1)
Spot it? In one sentence, we're told that the organisations founding dream is "wiping out Israel." In the next two sentences, Mr Marzouk is quoted making a bellicose statement - but one that contradicts the Telegraph's claim - you can not make peace with something you've destroyed. You can't make peace with something you're Hellbent on wiping out.

Hamas are a bunch of ruthless terrorist thugs, and their talk of peace might well be phoney. But the Telegraph needs to raise its standard. At best, that is an example of sloppy journalism. More sinisterly, it might be clumsy attempt to reinfoce the idea that Hamas are intransigent fanatics inent on - to borrow from the misquoted comment of Mr Amadinejad - wiping Israel off the map. One can't help but wonder if the choice of verb was deliberate, to remind the reader of that fiasco (2).
1 - "Hamas leader ready for truce with Israel," by Damien McElroy, published in The Telegraph, 9th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/palestinianauthority/4570633/Hamas-leader-ready-for-truce-with-Israel.html)
2 - "Wipe Israel 'off the map' Iranian says,
" by Nazili Fathi, published in the International Herald-Tribune, 27th of October, 2005. (http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/10/26/news/iran.php)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Ridiculous

Only in the archaic, slightly misogynistic world of the Telegraph could Samantha Cameron, the wife of the leader of the Conservative party, be ranked the 17th most important conservative in Britain.

This puts her ahead of the likes of Oliver Letwin at 19, who is writing the COnservative's election manifesto, Charles Moore, who heads right wing think tank Policy Exchange (2), former leader like Iain Duncan Smith at 23, and former leadership contenders like David Davies at 31, John Redwood at 48 and Ken Clarke at 58 . Big Beasts of the right like Chris Patten (45), Douglas Hurd (35). These people represent one or other wing of the Conservative PArty, embody years of its history and its traditions.

Apparently, however, this doesn't count for much. Samantha Cameron's ability "to whisper sweet nothings into the Leader of the Opposition each night by definition makes her a person of influence," more so than members of the shadow cabinet, sitting M.P.s, members of the House of Lords, newspaper editors, potential sources of funds and grandees.

What century do the pople who compiled this list live in?
1 - "Top 100 right wingers: 25-1," by By Iain Dale and Brian Brivati, published in the Telegrapgh, 1st of October, 2008. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/3088666/Top-100-right-wingers-25-1.html). Entries for 50-26 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/3088142/Top-100-right-wingers-50-26.html and 75-51 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/3087404/Top-100-right-wingers-75-51.html. Beyond that I did not dare look, as the standards that put Mrs Cameron in the Top 20 would probably have meant the rump of the list consisted of everyone else's wives, girfriends and mistresses.
2 - Website of the Policy Exchange think tank: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/

I thought ...

... that British Muslims were meant to be harbouring terrorists in their midst, and all conspiring to wage a global jihad, through active or passive support of terrorism.

Not so, it would appear:
Intelligence briefings for Mr Obama have detailed a dramatic escalation in American espionage in Britain, where the CIA has recruited record numbers of informants in the Pakistani community to monitor the 2,000 terrorist suspects identified by MI5, the British security service. (1)
Obviously, the "record numbers of informants" haven't realised that they are meant to be part of the global Jihad. Or could the global jihad be a just fantasy shared by sad people like Osama Bin Laden and the knuckle-dragging quasi-racists who gibber about the evils of Muslims?
1 - "CIA warns Barack Obama that British terrorists are the biggest threat to the US," by Tim Shipman, published in The Telegraph, 7th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/4550144/CIA-warns-Barack-Obama-that-British-terrorists-are-the-biggest-threat-to-the-US.html)

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Oh, please!

Nothing would make the Tories more unelectable than the return of Michael Howard (1). So it is something to be wished for, fervently.

This is the man who supported the Section 28, which forbade the discussion promotion of homosexuality, backed the Poll Tax, bleated the tired lie the "Prison works," limited the right to silence (2) and wanted to manacle pregnant prisoners in labour (3).

Oh, and he was absolutely crushed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight (4). He didn't manage to win the leadership in 1997 and failed to win them an election in 2005. Nothing like a repeat loser to bolsteryour election chances.

At the same time, if Labour could drag back Tony Blair, and make themselves similarly unelectable, perhaps some one else - someone not so corrupt, venal and hypocritical (The Liberal Democrats, perhaps) might actually win.
1 - "Michael Howard set for Cabinet return?," by Andrew Grice, published in THe Independent, 6th of Fenruary, 2009. (http://todayinpolitics.independentminds.livejournal.com/12361.html)
2 - All from the Wikipedia description of his political career as a cabint minister, retreived on the 7th of February, 2009: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Howard#In_government
3 - "Howard unchains pregnant prisoners," by Heather Mills in The Independent, 19th of January, 1996. Reproduced on encyclopedia.com. (http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1P2-4774726.html)
4 - Howard's infamous interview iwith Paxman took place on the 13th of May, 1997 and Howard refused to answer a question twelve times. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwlsd8RAoqI)

An excellent article by Johann Hari

From The nightmare of Netanyahu returns:

Over the past few months, I keep returning to an extraordinary essay written by the great Israel novelist Amos Oz in 1982. The Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin had compared the Palestinian leadership to Adolf Hitler, so Oz wrote: "You display an urge to resurrect Hitler from the dead so you may kill him over and over again each day... Like many Jews, I feel sorry I didn't kill Hitler with my bare hands. But there is not, and there never will be, any healing for the open wound. Tens of thousands of dead Arabs will not heal that wound. Because, Mr Begin, Adolf Hitler is dead. He is not hiding in Nabatiyah, in Sidon, or in Beirut. He is dead and burned to ashes."

Israeli society consists, Oz says, of "a bunch of half-hysterical refugees and survivors". The 2,000-year trauma of the blood libel, the Inquisition, the pogroms, Auschwitz and Chelmno and the Gulag Archipelago, have produced a distorted vision, where every shriek of pain directed at Israel can sound like the rumble beginning in the massed crowds at Nuremberg.

This means that Israel is missing opportunities for peace. Even much of Hamas – an Islamist party I passionately oppose – is amenable to a long ceasefire along the 1967 borders. That isn't my opinion; it is the view of Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet. He told the Israeli Cabinet before the bombing of Gaza that Hamas would restore the ceasefire if Israel would only end the blockade of the Strip and declare a ceasefire on the West Bank. Instead, they bombed, and the offer died.

1 - "The Nightmare of Netanyahu Returns," by Johann Hari, published in The Independent, 6th of February, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-the-nightmare-of-netanyahu-returns-1547608.html)

Jackass

Tony Blair has told America - and by extension the rest of us - that we need to rediscover religion:

Tony Blair gave an extraordinary speech about the global importance of religion yesterday, telling an audience which included the newly-inaugurated President, Barack Obama, that faith should be restored "to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future."

The former prime minister also said he believed the 21st century would be "poorer in spirit" and "meaner in ambition" if it was not "under the guardianship of faith in God." He had been invited by President Obama to lead the prestigious US National Prayer Breakfast, a spectacular event in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel.

Mr Blair also managed to rain on Gordon Brown's parade, meeting the President before any European leader. He dashed ahead of the Prime Minister and other political heavyweights, including Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin, to lay on the hands and tell the President: "It is fitting at this extraordinary moment in your country's history that we hear that call to action; and we pray that in acting we do God's work and follow God's will." (1)

But he is wrong, of course. Religion, with out the underlying values of humanism and compassion, is just a tool for dividing people and an excuse for suspicion and prejudice. Pretty much the whole history of the world is evidence of this. And if you have humanity and compassion, you don't need religion to reinforce it.

Also, Blair's sudden volubility on this topic raises some interesting questions. He didn't make it a big issue while he was Prime Minister, and certainly didn't demonstrate the values of compassion, honesty, integrity or humanity.

Did he find his faith on the steps of Nukber 10 as he left for the last time? Or did he just forget about it for a while, while it was more convenient for him to play the hard nosed realist? If so, he might be getting himself into a lot of trouble with his God, who isn't known for tolerating hypocrites and those who deny their faith.

He'd better hope he is wrong about this religion thing, and that there is no god. Fortunately for him, he has a tendency to be wrong about important things.
1 - "At last, Blair is free to 'do God' – and America loves it" by Leonard Doyle, published in The Independent, 6th of Febbruary, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/at-last-blair-is-free-to-do-god-ndash-and-america-loves-it-1547656.html)

Friday, 6 February 2009

Immigration: then, there, here, now, nothing much changes

The book I am currently reading is America in the Twenties by Geoffrey Perrett (1). I bought it last year at the Palmerston North library book sale, along with a pile of other tiltes. This was before the Credit Crunch. As the world banking system fell apart in the final months of 2008, I was decided to look back on the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s, so I could knowledgeably hold forth on the similarities and differences between then and now, even if becoming wise after the even is rather futile.

So far, what has struck me most is not the economic culture, but the social side of the twenties. Perrett suggests, in his introduction, that the twenties seem familiar to us because they are, essentially, the first decade of the Twentieth century (the book was written in 1982) and the years up to 1918 had been a long - and very literal , given the Great War and the 1918 influenza epidemic - death rattle for the Nineteenth century.

The USA, after the war, was a nation absorbing a million immigrants a year, many of which were looked on as alien and dangerous by the 'native born' Americans - that is to say, of course, the White, Anglo-Saxons. These immigrants were racially different, being central Europeans and Slavs, practiced different religions and held to sinister political beliefs. This generated xenophobia and hostility in the host communitiy - the twenties saw the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan, whose membership peaked at 4 million in the first half of the decade. It also resulted in a clannish, isolationist attitude in the immigrant communities, which in turn fed the suspicions of the 'native' population. Perret is worth quoting at length here:
Soem immigrant leaders began to resist, telling the Americanizers what they could do with their unsolicited and parochial opinions. There were immigrant communities that became more, not less, chauvanistic. They boldly flaunted their native costumes, food, dress and speech. The Americanization drive at this juncture turned ugly. It merged with the deportations delirium and the Red Scare.

The hatred of all things foreign reached a pitch of viciousness hard at this distance to credit. But in the coalfields of "Egypt" [the coal mining area of Southern Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky], on the night of August 5, 1920, and all the next day, "hundreds of people laden with clothing and household goods filled the roads leading out of West Frankfort ... Back in town their homes were burning. Mobs bent on driving out every foreigner surged through the streets ... The Italian population was the chief objective." Italians were dragged from their homes, beaten with fists and clubs, stoned and kicked, while their homes were set on fire. The mob raged for three days. Two children were missing and were later found dead. A rumour went around that the Italians had kidnapped them for some sinister, foreign purpose. (2)
Several things are striking about this. First of all,fast forward a few years and transpose the action to Germany and substitute Jews for Italians, and you have Kristalnacht. And, as an aside isn't it startling to see the old anti-Semetic myths about children being sacrificed in hideous rituals being repeated, aimed at Italians, in the 1920s? Viciousness and xenophobia are everywhere. The British novellist, William Golding, remarked:
I know why the thing rose in Germany. I know it could happen in any country. It could happen here ... these elements, some horrible, some merely funny, but all significant ... they are a failure of human sympathy, ignorance of facts, the objectivizing of our own inadequacies to make a scapegoat. (3)
America in the 1920s, like Britain in the 1920s and every other country in the 1920s, wasn't very different from Germany in the 1920s. Perhaps we were a little luckier than the Germans, in that we hadn't the misery of a humiliating defeat to add to the dislocation and unemployment that defined the decade, and that no demagogue arose to direct the disatisfaction and resentment. But, as Golding said, it could easily have been different.

The other point is somewhat more hopeful. Perrett remarks that the xenophobia "reached a pitch of viciousness hard at this distance to credit." Well, perhaps in the 1980s, but after the 11th of September, 2001, it isn't hard to see other similarities, particularly in Britain, where Muslim enclaves and non-integration are an increasing obssession. Perhaps things will get worse, but perhaps the American example offers some grounds for hope.

In the 1920s, the Italian immigrants were hated and feared, representatives of an alien culture, a threat to stability, American values and (perhaps most importantly) American jobs. Now Italians are simply another distinctive sub-culture in the USA, having given their new home pizza, Joe DiMaggio, Rudi Gulliani and Martin Scorcese. The paranoia of the 1920s is forgotten and Perrett is right when he says it is hard to imagine it being levelled against Italians, only a few decades ago. It was, however, virulent and real. Perrett describes it thus:
There was, for example, another rumour that went back to the Know Nothings of the 1850s, according to which the the birth of a Catholic baby was celebrated by burying a gun and fifty rounds of ammunition beneath the local Catholic Church. When the time was ripe and all the little Catholics had grown up and learned to shoot straight, the guns would be dug up. Catholic revolutionaries would seize power and give the United States up to the Pope.

Robert Coughlan, a Catholic teenager growning up in Kokomo, Indiana, took an interest in the Klan propoganda circulating around town. "The Borgias were an endless mine of material, and their exploits came to be as familiar to readers of the Klan press as the lives of soap opera characters are to modern housewives. Constant readers must have begun to think of them as the Typical Catholic Family of the Renaissance." Half of Kokomo seemed convinced that at any moment the Pope would arrive to claim the United States. And then it happened. Word suddenly spread that "the Pope was finally pulling into town on the south-bound from Chicago to take over. A mob formed and stoned the train." (4)
That's one of Golding's "merely funny" elements, but it pathetic stupidity arise out of nothing. people have to be made that dumb, suspicious and hate-filled.

We don't need to look far to see this sort of thinking manifesting itself, with Muslims substituted for Italians. The paranoid and xenophobic are worried about the high birth rate of Muslims. They are breeding, it seems, ten times faster than the British population (5). There is, supposedly, a Muslim population timebomb about to go off, with This has lead to feverish speculation about Britain being taken over by a '21st Century Moor invasion' (6). While Perrett does not mention it, it seems likely that the Catholic propensity for large families caused similar concerns in America in the 1920s. According to the report described in The Times, "the biggest Christian population is among over-70s bracket, for Muslims it is the under-4s" (7). The implication being that in a few years time, these little Mohammeds and Iqbals will be working and voting, where-as the Matthrew, Marks, Lukes and Johns will be long gone.

Perhaps, but to me the fact that so many of the Muslim immigrants are so young is a cause for optimism. As they grow up, western practices and mores will form a part of their character. Their birth rate will be lower than that of their parents, as they perceive the advantages of delaying having children, just as westerners have. Yes, their presence will change British and EUropean culture, just as the presence of Italian immigrants changed American culture, and the presence of Asian immigrants is changing New Zealand's culture, but it doesn't follow that this change has to be dramatic or destructive.
1 - America in the Twenties by Geoffrey Perrett, published by Simon & Schuster, New York, 1982. Unless otherwise stated, statistics and points of fact are drawn from this book.
2 - ibid, page 81.
3 - From the essay "Fable," which can be found in the collection of Golding's writing called The Hot Gates, published by Faber& Faber, 1965.
4 - Perrett, op. cit., page 77. The embedded quotations are from The Aspirin Age, edited by Ishbel Leighton, published by Garden City, New York, 1949, pages 113-114.
5 - "Muslim population 'rising 10 times faster than rest of society'," by (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/article5621482.ece)
6 - "
Report: UK Muslim population grows 10 TIMES FASTER," discussion topic started on the 2nd of February, 2009, by a poster calling himself Charles Martel, on the News General discussion forum. (http://newsgeneral.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=news&action=display&thread=684)
7 - Kerbaj, op. cit.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Mr Irving's problem with evidence

A memory was stirred last night. Some time ago, Mr Irving visited Poland and kept a diary of the trip (1). When he published it, I wrote a critique, trying, in my own poor way, to expose his inaccuracies, misrepresentations and evasions (here, here and here (2)).

On his travels, he mentioned emails he received from his admirerers around the world, and occasional questions put to him by doubters. One of those concerned the fate of Martin Boormann, Hitler's private secretary, who fled the Fuhrerbunker following Hitler's suicide. He was reported dead, though as this was not confirmed. He was tried in absentia at Nurenberg and sentenced to death, and sightings of him have continued to be reported since (3).

The question was posed by one George E. Scott, who maintained that Boormann did not die in Berlin in the last days of the war at all, and all evidence that he had was phoney. Here is the text from Irving's diary, in full:

AN email has come from George E. Scott still insisting that Martin Bormann's remains were never found. Oh yes they were. I told him last night: "Bormann's body was found next to that of Ludwig Stumpfegger in Berlin in the 1970s; read the work by Reidar Soggnaes - see Google perhaps? - who identified the dental work."

Scott replies this morning: "Thank you for you reply, but Manning's research explains in detail how the dental work was faked by [Gestapo chief Heinrich] Müller prior to end of war. But again, thanks."

I reply: "I should have added that Bormann's body was found lying next to Ludwig Stumpfegger's, who broke out [of the Führer bunker] with him. Stumpfegger was wearing a ring with a date engraved inside, which his brother identified to me as the date of Stumpfegger's wedding. Satisfied?" There is no reply. (4)

This is all very straight forwards and Irving is in agreement with the evidence here. There was a reliable eyewitness account that Boormann and Stumfegger died trying to make their escape from Berlin, and the corpses subsequently buried. In 1972 skeletons was located close to where it was claimed the bodies had been buried. Dental records, physical data and finally a DNA test using a sample from Boormann's son all pointed to Boormann having commited suicide while trying to escape Berlin - detail here or here (5).

This is interesting not because there Irving says anything revelatory about the fate of Boormann - it is settled histry that he died in Berlin in 1945, and only cranks suggest otherwise. What makes it isnteresting is what it shows us about Irving's mind. Here is a man who rejects the overwhelming evidence of the Holocaust - the eyewitness accounts, the testimony of the perpetrators, the documentary and forensic evidence. And here he s doing the opposite. It requires an impressive ability - or a lack of any sembleance of intellectual honesty - to accept the evidence that describes the fate of Boormann as valid and reject the much greater evidence describing the Holocaust.

I suppose Irving would argue that the evidence pointing to the remains being those of Boormann is incontrovertible. But that is not so. It is quite possible to construct a scenario based on inaccurate testimonies, outright lies, false evidence and conspiracy, aimed at concealling the truth about Boormann's fate. And this is precisely what Irving and his fellow deniers revisionists do when it comes to the Holocaust.
1 - "A Radical's Diary," by David Irving, entries for 2nd of March, 2007, through to March 8th, at which point Mr Irving left Poland for Hungary. (http://www.fpp.co.uk/docs/Irving/RadDi/2007/020307.html)
2 - As described previosuly on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/05/david-irvings-trip-to-poland.html, http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/05/david-irvings-trip-to-poland-ii.html and http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/05/david-irvings-trip-to-poland-iii.html
3 - All from the Wikipedia biography of Boormann, retreived 4th of February, 2009. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Bormann)
4 - From "A Radical's Diary," by David Irving, entry of 4th of March, 2007. (http://www.fpp.co.uk/docs/Irving/RadDi/2007/040307.html)
5 - Again, this is all available on Boormann's wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Bormann) or from history.net (http://www.historynet.com/world-war-ii-november-1998-from-the-editor.htm/2#hide)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

This is why Section 59 was repealed ...

John Harry Lagataua of Timaru, has been jailed for nine months after a string of five assaults on his partner and children (1).

The defence counsel argued that he was using 'old fashioned discipline' to correct bad behaviour from a 'challenging' child. Previously, this defence might have worked. Thankfully this is no longer the case.

Obviously, it is not the defence lawyers job to ponder questions such as, if Mr Lagataua endured corporal punishment himself as a child, what can we surmise about its effectiveness by looking at what he has become? Or what has made the 'challenging' child so difficult, if not the parenting and discipline of Mr Lagataua?

This is a tragedy for the whole family. A woman and children have endured years of physical intimidation and violence. A man has lost his children and his partner because he was raised to think that violence was an acceptable means of dealing with problems. The self satisfied behind the Family Party (2), Family First (3), Family Integrity (4) and the other pressure groups that are trying to allow people like Mr Lagataua continue to use subjective 'reasonable force' when they beat their children.
1 - "Dad jailed for 'old fashioned discipline' on child," unattributed article from The Timaru Herald, reproduced on stuff.co.nz, 3rd of February, 2009. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4836081a11.html)
2 - Website of The Family Party, outlining their intention to "Fix the smacking law" by reinstating Section 59 of the Crimes Act, as of 3rd of February, 2009. (http://www.familyparty.org.nz/policy/the-family-policy)
3 - Website of Family First, outlining the groups desire to decriminalise "parents who use light smacking for correction of children," as of 3rd of February, 2009. (http://www.familyfirst.org.nz/index.cfm/Policy_Watch_08)
4 - Website of Family Integrity, a group which states the "organisation’s focus at present is the bill to repeal Section 59, Sue Bradford’s Crimes Amendment Bill," which is either indicative of a lapse in interest or a truly unswerving mania. (http://familyintegrity.org.nz/about-us/)

Prediction

There's nothing stupider on the internet than putting down your thoughts in an indisputable form.  So that, of course is what I am going...