Thursday, 30 June 2011

Hari McLiary?

Further to yesterday's post on Johann Hari's current troubles: Guy Walters has had another pop at Johann Hari in his blog for the News Statesman, citing further instances of lifting from another's work - in this case John Lee Anderson, writing on Hugo Chavez:
Despite the very slightest of tweaks, it's clearly a straightforward piece of theft from someone else's interview. That's plagiarism. Mr Hari has taken someone else's writing - that of Jon Lee Anderson - and passed it off as his own. Notice how Mr Hari makes it look as though Chavez has actually said this line directly to him - the cheesy pat on the knee, the schlocky looking away. This isn't an 'intellectual portrait', and it is most certainly not exclusive. (1)
For all Mr Walters's fulminations, this doesn't really change very much, because it is just another example of what Hari has already already admitted to: lifting quotes from other interviews and substituting them for interviewee's bungled attempts to say effectively the same thing.

It's unlikely it can be proven that Chavez didn't say pretty much the same thing to Hari 2006 as he did to Anderson in 2001. Famous people probably have their own little favourite suggestive or portentous anecdotes which they've honed and practised over years. I know I tell some stories in virtually the same way every time I recount them, hopefully not to the same people too often.

I think the much more serious charge is the allegation he simply made stuff up to make himself look braver and more daring.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2011/06/that-other-great-voice-of-left-johann.html
2 - "Just before you accept Johann Hari's apology ....," by Guy Walters. Published on the New Statesman blog, 29th of July, 2010. (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/guy-walters/2011/06/chavez-hari-interview-goodbye)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

That other great voice of the left, Johann Hari ...

... may be in a spot of bother (1).

The 'official' charges against him are rather flimsy, IMHO. He's accused of substituting interviewees oral attempt to explain something with their previous, more lucid, written statements, while still presenting them as the words spoken to him.

This isn't plagarism: he isn't claiming the credit for something someone else said; the words are still clearly identified as being those of the interviewee.

His crime, on this count, is simply not identifying that he's replaced something someone said to him with something the same person said or wrote previously, when they phrased it more succinctly or more beautifully.

It's a venal sin, though does create an unsettling feeling when reading his work. Did David Irving really say that when talking to Hari about his disabled daughter? Or did he say it on another occasion when he was just talking about disabled people in general, and Hari interpolated it for effect?

Still, if that was all there was to it, I'd be tempted to dismiss the fuss building up around his pudgy, oleaginous face as predictable rightwing excitement at being able to finally squash the wasp that's been sting them for so long; but it isn't.

It has been claimed - back in 2004, but now being eagerly reheated - that he misrepresented and invented events in at least one of his columns. Writes one Rowan Williams Wilson, appending his own observations to a letter published-or-possibly-not-published in the Independent:
I was the so-called ‘publicist’ mentioned in the article(I work for Continuum, the publishers of ‘Time for Revolution’,and was innvolved in organising the ICA event). A few minor, but incorrectly reported, details that I have personal knowledge of (eg,there was no taxi called, I didn’t say the things ascribed to me, Negri wasn’t behaving arrogantly as suggested, there was no angry confontation with ICA staff, etc) casts serious doubt on the veracity of anything that Hari says. (2)
Williams might say the details are minor, but I think they are actually pretty devastating; he's implying that Hari is changing things to make himself look bolder, braver, and more incisive.

If true, Hari has some very big explaining to do.
1 - "When does licence become invention?," by Guy Walters. Published in the New Statesman blogs, 28th of June, 2011. (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/guy-walters/2011/06/hari-interview-truth-quotes)
2 - The quotation is a footnote to a letter submitted to the Independent, which was either published or not published by that paper, depending on which bit of the interweb you happen to be looking at. The original letter was written by Matteo Mandarini and Alberto Toscano, in 2004, in response to a piece Hari had written on the Italian communist, Toni Negri. (http://www.driftline.org/cgi-bin/archive/archive_msg.cgi?file=spoon-archives/aut-op-sy.archive/aut-op-sy_2004/aut-op-sy.0409&msgnum=232&start=21394)

I'm beginning to get fucked off with Labour

There's something a bit worrying about their continual opportunistic attacks on what's actually good policy:
The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, faces another embarrassing U-turn over his controversial sentencing reforms on Wednesday as the Labour frontbench combines with rightwing Tory MPs to further attack his prison plans.

Tory backbenchers and Labour spokesmen served notice on Tuesday night that they would fight Clarke's plans to limit the use of remand in custody and tackle the explosion in the use of indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs).

Clarke's Commons opponents scent fresh blood after last week's U-turn when Downing Street disowned his plan to introduce a 50% maximum discount for early guilty pleas, although it would have stabilised the growth in the record 85,000 prison population in England and Wales. The move took out 3,400 of the 6,000 prison places Clarke was hoping to save over four years as part of his "rehabilitation revolution" and left him with a £140m hole in his spending plans.

A fresh revolt against his plans to limit the use of remand in custody would lose a further 1,300 saved places and mean he would have to find a further £40m from his justice budget. The IPP reforms would have saved 600 prison places and £10m. (1)
An occasional ambush or purposeful assault - such as Miliband's original attack - is understandable, because it highlighted how weak Cameron actually was. But the mania for forcing U turns seems to be what's driving Labour's tactics, rather than what's best.

They'd do a lot better in the long run, IMHO, if they supported sound policy, and opposed bad policy. As it is, they're going to look pretty fucking stupid if - supposing they get back into government - they start trying to introduce positive policies which they voted down in opposition. Stupid, short termist tactics, based on heaping humiliation on the government, no matter what.

It might be argued this is what opposition parties are meant to do, and the Conservatives have spent 13 years voting against (the occasional) good Labour policy while they were in opposition.

All that means is that the current opposition is as as spineless and unprincipled as the current government. Which is not a good thing. The fact that the Tories do something is no justification for others doing it as well. Quite the opposite. Isn't the whole point of not being the Tories is to not be the Tories?

Labour should pick and choose their targets, so they can score points; shepherd good policy through while simultaneously pissing off the Tory right; and show they can be constructive and coalitionable?

n.b. Coalitionable isn't really a word. Until now.

This blanket policy of oppositing pretty much everything and seeking to exploit any vulnerability is just weak, crappy opportunism, suggesting a massive degree of insecurity and rampant tribalism in Labour.

Looks like the 'Blue Labour' idea is really just the same old NuLabour authoritariamism, more carefully directed at People We Don't Like (prisoners, furriners, people on benefits and so on) instead of just being generally unpleasant to everyone.
1 - "Kenneth Clarke faces twin-track assault on jail reform plans," by Alan Travis and Owen Bowcott. Published in The Guardian, 28th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/28/kenneth-clarke-jail-reform-plans)

Doctors reject NHS plans; where is the Telegraph?

From the BBC:
Doctors have rejected the government's revised NHS plans, urging their union to take a tougher stance.

Delegates at the annual British Medical Association conference voted in favour of calling for the Health and Social Care Bill to be withdrawn by 59%.

Amid mounting criticisms the government put the changes on hold in April. Two weeks ago ministers attempted to appease opponents by watering down certain aspects of the plans.

Dr Jacqueline Applebee, a GP from London, said the overhaul would result in one of the "biggest ever social injustices" as it would lead to charges for services and backdoor privatisation.

"We have a duty to past, present and future generations," she said.

Paddy Glackin, who is also based in London, added: "This is a slippery government that we cannot give any wriggle room to. This is not the time to back off, this is the time to push further and harder." (1)
A while ago, the telegraph ran a front page story about a bunch of Tory affiliated doctors who had written them a letter in support of the government plans. Wonder if they'll be giving this development similar prominence?
1 - "Doctors reject revised NHS plans," by Nick Triggle. Published by the BBC, 28th of June, 2011. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13942819)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2011/05/telegraph-vs-balance-and-integrity.html

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

You couldn't make it up

Michelle Bachmann reveals a bit too much:
In an interview before announcing her bid for the Republican presidential nomination in her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa, Bachmann told a Fox News interviewer:

"John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too."

Except as the conservative Washington Times reported, John Wayne – the star of movies such as True Grit and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – was born in Winterset, Iowa, more than 100 miles away from Waterloo.

The John Wayne of Waterloo was someone entirely different:

Waterloo's John Wayne was not the beloved movie star, but rather John Wayne Gacy, the homophobic serial killer. (1)
Satirists are really going to struggle to surpass this sort of madness.
1 - "Michele Bachmann gets her John Waynes mixed up," by Richard Adams. Published by The Gaurdian, 27th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/richard-adams-blog/2011/jun/27/michele-bachmann-john-wayne)

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Ha ha!!

Just stumbled upon this terrifying image:
And yes, I now have images of Gerry Brownlee stored on my computer. This may be illegal in some jurisdictions.

More amusing than the image itself, is the caption that accompanied it:
National MPs Simon Powell, Katherine Rich, former National leader Don Brash, National MPs Nathan Guy and Gerry Brownlee applaud John Key as he delivers his speech as the New Zealand National Party launch their election campaign at Sky City on October 12, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Now, I don't know what Gerry's hands may be up to, locked in his pits, but I'm fairly sure they aren't clapping (1).
1 - Photograph courtesy of zimbio.com, 12th October, 2008. Photo by Tim Hales/Getty Images AsiaPac. (http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Simon+Powell/Gerry+Brownlee)

Friday, 24 June 2011

Is this irony?

The Guardian, commenting on the British Labour Party's convoluted policy review:
There is also dark talk of a mechanism to address waste in public spending. An inquiry could be set up on the issue. (1)
Wouldn't that be rather a waste of public money?
1 - "Labour's policy review is to scrutinise the party's decline – then bounce back," by Patrick Wintour. Published in The gaurdian, 22nd of June,2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jun/22/labour-policy-review-bounce-back)

Nothing to be proud of

So it's very nice that the Chinese government have decided to release Ai Weiwei. It's even nicer to think that pressure from the west might have had something to do with his realease, though this seems to be wistful thinking. When a regime brags that a newly released prisoner has shown a "good attitude in confessing his crimes," it probably isn't caving in. Ai Weiwei's silence on release speaks volumes, as they say. He's not triumphed over the viciousness of the regime; he's been broken by it and, like Winston Smith in 1984, is drinking at The Chestnut Tree.

Nor is it enough to note, as the Independent does, that Ai Weiwei was just one of over a thousand political prisoners in the PRC, and they remain imprisoned (1). That's better than celebrating a single release; but it's still missing the point. In fact, it seems to me to be a deliberate diversion.

By focusing on this or that celebrity prisoner, we can conveniently excuse our blindness to how we exploit Chinese labour, take advantage of the PRC's totalitarian tendency when it is convenient to us - we like those baubles and trinkets, but we don't like have to pay too much for them. We deliberately ignore the oppression of Tibetans and Uighurs, the arrest of workers who try to form independent trade unions, the thousands killed and injured in Chinese mines where cornoers are cut because of the desperate need to keep costs down, the brutal working conditions imposed by employers who are churning out toys for us to play with. We salve our cosciences by making a token fuss about people like Ai Weiwei, but purposefully ignore our own massive, hypocritical convenient connivance in oppression and state brutality.
1 - "Ai Weiwei is free; another 1,426 are not," unattributed editorial. Published in The Independent, 24th of June, 2011. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-ai-weiwei-is-free-another-1426-are-not-2301849.html)

Has the British government gone mad?

From the Indie:
MPs voted to ban wild animals in circuses last night after David Cameron's attempts to bully Conservative backbenchers into voting against the measure backfired and ended in a humiliating public defeat. In a decision hailed by campaigners as an "historic victory for animal welfare and protection", MPs of all parties unanimously backed a ban and the Government signalled that it would introduce one, ending forever the days of lions, tigers, elephants and other wild animals in the big top.

In an act of desperation, Conservative whips had warned they would impose the most serious parliamentary voting sanction, a three-line whip, to bring recalcitrant backbenchers to heel and get them to support the Government's alternative proposal of a licensing system. (1)
A three line whip? Over a ban on wild animals in circuses?

Clearly, the Conservative part of the government (as distinct from the Conservative Party) has had enough of being forced into U turns. Why the decided to make a stand on this topic is beyond me, and I'm glad to see they're attempt to bully their MPs into voting against their conscience failed.

Note, that this shows how untrue Cameron's claims to be listening and responsive are. He thought he could pull this one off, so suddenly the nice, touchy-feely Dave disappeared, to be replaced by a would-be tyrannical parliamentary autocrat.

A rare day when I'm impressed with the Tories, putting decency ahead of their factional interest.
1 - "Victory in the campaign to ban circus animals," by Martin Hickman,. Published in The Independent, 24th of June, 2011. (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/victory-in-the-campaign-to-ban-circus-animals-2302073.html)

Funny

Paul Krugman discussing books:
I was at that stage, a college sophomore or thereabouts, when you’re searching around, looking for belief systems. I think it’s actually a point when you’re quite vulnerable, because you are looking for someone who is going to offer you all the answers. Some people turn to religious orthodoxy, other people turn to Ayn Rand. One of my favourite lines – and I haven’t been able to find out who came up with it – is that “There’s an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs. (1)
To be honest, I think I've heard that before, possibly referencing someone other than Rand as the purveyor of fantastical delusions. Still, it's worth repeating, endlessly.
1- "Paul Krugman on Inspiration for a Liberal Economist," interviewed by Sophie Roell. Published on The Browser, 19th of June, 2011. (http://m.thebrowser.com/interviews/paul-krugman-on-inspiration-liberal-economist?page=1)

I was, of course, completely right- Brons seeks BNP leadership

Almost exactly two year ago, I predicted the the elevation of Andrew Brons to the top of the BNP's Euro list meant the end of Nick Griffin's leadership. Following a long running civil war and Griffin's 'Do or Die' attempt to win a seat at Westminister in the 2010 election, Brons has finally heeded the call and declared his intention to contest the leadershit [sic] of the BNP.

Make no mistake, Brons is a piece of crap with links to the old National Front. He's - remarkably - a worse human being the Nick Griffin. Fortunately, he will likely lead the party back into crappy obscurity, where it can die a quiet death, starved of funds, publicity and with a membership numbering in the dozens.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2009/06/sympathy-for-little-nicky.html
2 - "Andrew Brons MEP to Stand in BNP Leadership Contest," by Green Arrow. Posted on the British Resistance blog, 10th of June, 2010. (http://www.thebritishresistance.co.uk/pp-news/1006-andrew-brons-mep-to-stand-in-bnp-leadership-contest)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Respect is due: Brian Haw

Veteran anti-war campaigner who mounted a decade long protest vigil outside parliament.
1 - "Brian Haw: A decade-long protest dedicated to peace," unattributed BBC article. Published by the BBC, 19th of June, 2011. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13829433)

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Electric cars blah blah blah

Yet more tiresome environmental twaddle:
The British study, which is the first analysis of the full lifetime emissions of electric cars covering manufacturing, driving and disposal, undermines the case for tackling climate change by the rapid introduction of electric cars.

The Committee on Climate Change, the UK government watchdog, has called for the number of electric cars on Britain's roads to increase from a few hundred now to 1.7 million by 2020.

The study was commissioned by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, which is jointly funded by the British government and the car industry. It found that a mid-size electric car would produce 23.1 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime, compared with 24 tonnes for a similar petrol car. Emissions from manufacturing electric cars are at least 50 per cent higher because batteries are made from materials such as lithium, copper and refined silicon, which require much energy to be processed. (1)
These studies come along every now and again, and they're blown out of all proportion by the dingbats who are trying to defend the status quo, and the dittoheads who don't bother to think about stuff.

Couple of points ....
  • Electric cars aren't just about reducing CO2. They're about reducing oil use because of peak oil. More electric cars means the oil we've got left lasts longer and thus costs less for the things that really, truly need it.
  • Technology may improve and with it, the manufacturing emissions may be reduced.
  • If the problem centres around manufacturing emissions, that's not a problem with the car, but with the manufacturing process. If the energy needed can be sourced from lower CO2 emitting sources, then the manufacturing process will be significant.
  • The difference between the electric car emissions and petrol car emissions is about 5%. That's not insignificant, even if there are no other changes, ever.
The findings are interesting, but not something to get to excited about. remember how far mobile phones have come in the least decade or so.

I despise electric cars, by the way. Horses and airships will be the prime means of transportation when I'm World King. Except for me. I'm going to ride about the place on a gigantic genetically modified Wolverine.
1 - "Electric cars may not be so green after all, says British study," by Ben Webster. Published in The Australian, 10th of June, 2011. (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/electric-cars-may-not-be-so-green-after-all-says-british-study/story-e6frg8y6-1226073103576)

Teske-gate

So, Sven Teske, who was co-lead author on a chapter of the IPCC report on energy, also happens to be affiliated with Greenpeace?

Hardly worth getting excited about:
Last night, the IPCC said it had been made clear that the 77 per cent figure was only one of the estimates made from the models and that Mr Teske was just one of 120 researchers who had worked on the report. (1)
I mean, is that really worth soiling our bedsheets?

He was one of NINE authors who contributed to ONE chapter of the report. His affiliation with Greenpeace was clearly stated, and not revealed, by "the eagle eyes of Steve McIntyre," as Mark Lynas (who really should know better) claims (2).

In addition to his co-authors, there were co-ordinating authors and reviewers. He did not write the Techical Summary or the Summary For Policy Makers.

What is the fuss about? Are the IPCC not supposed to ask experts to contribute because of alleged potential bias? That sets an interesting precedent with regards the likes of Christie and Lindzen.

Still, always good to see how close to the bottom of the barrel the Ostrich Brigade are.
1 - "Climate change panel in hot water again over 'biased' energy report," by Oliver Wright. Published in The Independent, 16th of June, 2011.
2 - "Questions the IPCC must now urgently answer," by Mark Lynas. Posted on his blog, 17th of June, 2011. (http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/questions-the-ipcc-must-now-urgently-answer/)

Random bit of Marxism

From Capital:
Hence there is immanent in capital an inclination and constant tendency, to heighten the productiveness of labour, in order to cheapen commodities, and by such cheapening to cheapen the labourer himself. (1)
That is to say, a capitalist strives to increase the amount of surplus value (profit) he makes.

This surplus value is the excess hours worked beyond the point where a worker has created enough value to maintain himself. The capitalist thrives either by extending the working day, or, if that is not possible, by reducing the cost of living which the worker must recoup before creating surplus value. This is done by driving down the value of the commodities the worker needs to maintain themselves.

Hence, the delight of cheap imports. They reduce the cost of living for those still working in more developed economies, exerting downward pressure on wages.
1 - From Capital, by Karl Marx. The quoted passage occurs in Chapter 12, 'The Concept of Relative Surplus Value.'(http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch12.htm)

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Hillside proposition

Does the announcement that Hillside Engineering will be laying off staff, following the loss of yet another contract overseas, mean it is of it time to consider a New Zealand version of Harman's Law (1)?

Harman's Law was a proposal by the last Labour government in Britain, requiring public bodies to work towards reducing economic inequality (2). It was facetiously dubbed "Socialism in a single clause," which might be going a bit far, but it is hard to see how it is a bad thing that local authorities should be asked to think of more than just the economic bottom line in their decision making.

There are social and environmental considerations as well. Social, because it's a social good to protect workers and jobs - ideas, I admit, that may be a bit strange to John Key - and the communities that they belong to. As a Scot, I know what happened to the working class communities of the Glasgow-Clydeside conurbation, once the shipyards started closing, and the mining communities when the pits were closed. The same things happened in New Zealand in the 80-s and 90s, but it seems John Key thinks enough damage was not done.

And there are surely environmental considerations as well. I don't think it can be possible to make rolling stock in China at less of an environmental cost than in New Zealand. True, shipping manufacturing - and thus emissions - to China is an established way that the West look less environmentally irresponsible than they really are. But environmental pollution is something that catches up with all of us. Our power and our practices must be less polluting than the Chinese alternative. That should be a consideration as well.

There's a moral dimension as well, since the PRC isn't renowned for its regard for human rights. But I don't suppose Phil Goff will have the chutzpah to argue that line, given it was he who signed off the infamous Free Trade Deal with the bastards of Beijing (3).

Finally, I'm not even sure there's an economic case to be made for sending manufacturing work overseas. After all, if we send $500 million of work to China, that's $500 million dollars vanished forever. If we spend it here, even if it is somewhat more expensive, the money is recycled through local businesses and communities. It goes to New Zealanders, and is spent again and again in New Zealand. I'm guessing there won't be much money being spent Hillside way any time soon.

So it is time for The Hillside Proposition? A statutory requirement that public entities and money is spent with a triple - or even quadruple - bottom line, where economic, social, environmental and moral considerations are weighed up?
1 - "Hillside's 'kick in the guts' ," by Matthew Haggart. Published in The Otago Daily Times, 10th of June 2011. (http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/164215/hillsides-kick-guts)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/11/breaking-harmans-law.html
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/02/new-zealand-secures-infamous-first-fta.html

Coalition scorecard - sentencing reform abandoned

-1 ... Wimpish about face on sentencing reform, demonstrating a lack of guts in the face of an opportunistic attacks from Labour, some bad press mutterings from the back benches. And Cameron has the cheek to suggest Miliband isn't "not really in command of the ship"
OVERALL: 0/10. The brief return to positive territory turns out to have been a dead cat bounce. Normal business is resumed, with a strange combination of spinelessness and dimwitted pro-prison folly leading to the scraping of sane policy.
1 - "Cameron denies 'complete mess' in health and justice reforms," by Helene Mulholland. Published in The Guardian, 8th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jun/08/cameron-denies-mess-health-justice-reforms)

Cameron demonstrates worrying spinal defficiency

Couple of bad headlines and Cameron decides to further humiliate one of his more credible ministers, and ditch one of the better ideas that this dreadful administration has belched out:
David Cameron has ditched controversial sentencing plans to introduce a 50% discount for an early guilty plea following a meeting with the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, on Tuesday.

It has not yet been decided whether the change will apply to all cases or only the most serious. Downing Street denied that Clarke had been summoned to a meeting by the prime minister or in any way ordered to conduct a U-turn.

The leak of the meeting after cabinet on Tuesday has also irritated the prime minister, who will be uneasy at suggestions that he is conducting a series of policy switches as he comes under pressure either from the rightwing media or his Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues. (1)
Tony Blair must be looking on, admiring how flexible Mr Cameron's spine is.
1 - "Cameron shelves key parts of Clarke's prison sentencing reforms," by Patrick Wintour, Alan Travis and Hélène Mulholland. Published in The Guardian, 8th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/08/cameron-shelves-clarkes-prison-sentencing-reforms)

John Key's pro slavery rebellion

I'll warrant John Key is not an assiduous reader of Karl Marx.

For all that, he seems to have an instinctive grasp of the wrong end of the Marxist stick. That is to say, he's a anti-Marxist, not in the sense he's opposed to Marx, but that he accepts the Marist model - perhaps unconsciously - but from the capitalist side of the Labour-Capital binary opposition. Even if he hasn't delved into the depths of Capital, Mr Key may be familiar with the opening lines of the Manifesto of the Communist Party:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. (1)
Mr Key would immediately recognize that this is perfectly true; and that he is representative of the first party in each opposition - the freeman, the patrician, the lord and the guildmaster. In a word, the oppressors.

His latest pronouncements, on National's plans to further reduce the power of trade unions, are a typical part of the 'hidden fight' to reconstitute society not as the workers might want it, but as Mr Key and his ilk would rather have it (2).

In Capital, Marx describes how capitalist society is characterised by "a potracted and more or less concealed civil war between the capitalist class and the working class," which takes place in "the arena of modern industry" (3). Elsewhere, Marx referred to efforts to overturn the Acts as "a pro-slavery rebellion in miniature" (4).

Mr Key understands chipping away at worker's rights and trade union powers is very much for their own good. Like the factory owners Marx described, who claimed their workers sought to work long hours because they needed the money to relieve their debt and hardship. I almost expect him to crack his guileless, weak smile, and tell us, with an almost comically straight face, that all these advances in favour of the working man will hurt him more than it hurts us. I'll bet it does, John. I can see that pain etched in your face.

Marx, in 1867, was writing about the campaigns either for or against a limit to the working day of the English working class; a succession of Factory Acts had limited the hours worked by women and children. Mr Key is probably doesn't want to see children working 15 hour days, but he does want the work force to be more "flexible," in the hope of encouraging growth and jobs (5). He does want to see the inconvenient, hard won rights of workers diminished, and workers put firmly in their place, subordinate to capital. His finance minister thinks this would be an advantage to us (6). Well, to him, and his people, perhaps.

And, of course, John Key would love to see wages drop (7).

Is this Victorian attitude towards labour really the sort of person we want leading New Zealand in the 21st century?
1 - "Manifesto of the Communist Party," by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. Published in 1848. From the 1888 translation by Samuel Moore and Engels. The quoted passage occurs at the very start of the very first chapter, 'Bourgeois and Proletarians.' IT is reproduced on Marxists.org. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007)
2 - "Labour law changes a campaign plank, says Key," by Claire Trevett. Published in The New Zealand Herald, 9th of June, 2011. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10731097)
3 - "Capital, volume 1," by Karl Marx, originally published in 1868. The quotation occurs in Chapter 10.7, "The Working Day: The Struggle for the Normal Working-Day. Reaction of the English Factory Acts on Other Countries." This quotation is from my copy of Capital, translated by Ben Fowkes. Marxists.org reproduces a slighly different wording (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch10.htm#S7)
4 - ibid. Marx used the term "pro-slavery rebellion" to describe the American Civil War, and was fond of using it to characterise moves against social reform.
5 - Trevett, op cit.
6 - "Bill English: NZ's low wages an 'advantage'," unattributed article. Published by RadioLIVE / 3 News, 11th of April, 2011. (http://www.3news.co.nz/Bill-English-NZs-low-wages-an-advantage/tabid/419/articleID/206359/Default.aspx)
7 - "Key “would love to see wages drop”," unattributed press release. Published by The New Zealand government, 19th of February, 2008. (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0802/S00304.htm)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Them hoodies, down south

So, some youngsters in Invercargill has set about the time honoured tradition of winding up the olds by wearing hoodies with obscene anti-Christian messages and pornographic images of nuns on them (1).

The olds, of course, have risen to the bait.

Both sides should ponder the words of Karl Marx, writing in a letter to Arnold Ruge in 1842:
... religion in itself is without content, it owes its being not to heaven but to the earth, and with the abolition of distorted reality, of which it is the theory, it will collapse of itself. Finally, I desired that, if there is to be talk about philosophy, there should be less trifling with the label “atheism,” which reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogy man ... (2)
If the yoof of today have to be offensive about something, it would be nice if they were offensive about something more important than ancient superstition. Climate change, our horrible rightwing government, child abuse, whatever. There's a lot more to be fierce about than someone who has been dead for two millennia. Talk about kicking a man when he's down.

And the olds shouldn't get so up tight about it. It's just children showing they're not scared of the bogyman. Christians, in particular, should welcome the attention. If there's one thing worse than being talked about ...
1 - "Profane tops 'horrify' in Invercargill ," by Evan Harding. Published in the Southland Times. reproduced by Stuff, 8th of June, 2011. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/5112236/Profane-tops-horrify-in-Invercargill)
2 - "Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge," by Karl Marx (!). Written November 30 1842 and reproduced on Marxists.org. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1842/letters/42_11_30.htm)

Why British Labour lost the election

Courtesy of The Poverty Site (1):



Whatever else, good or bad it may have done, New Labour failed to do anything substantial to protect the interests of blue collar voters. The number of people living in households on less than 60% of the national average income stagnated. The numbers of those living on less than 40% of that average actually increased somewhat.

The poor, in other words, got poorer, and more people got poorer.

Meanwhile, unemployment remained steady at around 5% of the labour force - the industrial reserve army exerting downward pressure on the wages of those with jobs. From the start of the 80s though to about 1997, British unemployment ran at about or above 10% of the labour force, with an exceptional, short lived trough in the late 80s (2). Labour's term in office saw a drop in the number of people out of work, but no reduction in the numbers living in poverty. People were working to stay poor.

That 22% of the population living on less than 60% of the average wage represents some 14 million people, who didn't benefit from 13 years of Labour being in power. Is it any surprise they didn't turn up to vote in 2010?

One of the classic definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. The British proletariat are not insane.

As for the rich? Well, last year the Telegraph reported that there were some 280,000 millionaires in Britain - 1.1%, of the population - could claim to be millionaires, an increase on the year before. These individuals were 'worth' £1.28 trillion. Admittedly, the figures were down on the pre-crash 2007 high of 489,000, but I suspect the current figure reflects the real level of wealth, as opposed to people who have managed to create the self-gratifying illusion of being millionaires in an inflated market.
1 - "Proportion of people in low income houselholds, 1979-2009," unattributed graph. Posted on The Poverty Site. (http://www.poverty.org.uk/01/index.shtml)
2 - "A Century of change: trends in Britain since 1900," by Joe Hicks & Grahame Allen.Research Paper 99/111, published by The House of Commons Library, 21st of December, 1999.
(http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf)
3 - "Number of millionaires in Britain 'rises to more than 280,000'," by Murray Wardrop. Published in The Telegraph, 30th of September, 2010. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/8033505/Number-of-millionaires-in-Britain-rises-to-more-than-280000.html)

Musical interlude

Bluegrass punk courtesy of the Avett Brothers. These guys are so cool they can wear mustaches and still rock.



Other than the song itself, I love ...

a) the complete lack of any reaction from the industry suits and skirts gathered to view this manifestation of rock'n'roll brilliance, and
b) the way they show you a close of the drum getting twonked, in case you didn't get what the singer was on about, and
c) the banjoist brother's turn ups. Very. Fuck. Off. Cool.
Enjoy.
1 - "Kick Drum Heart," performed by The Avett Brothers. Clip posted on Youtube by kinkradio, 9th of September, 2010. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxIl4zGrFBA&feature=player_embedded)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

1080

Just a passing thought on the debate about the use of 1080. I've heard a lot of people on variou media pronounce that 1080 'hasn't worked' because we still have possums, rats, stoats and so on and they are still eating native birds and animals. Peter Dunne is one, and he really should know better:
However, Dunne said 1080 had been used in New Zealand since the 1950s yet native bird populations remained in serious decline with predatory pests still the major culprits.

"Most people recognise that after 50-odd years of fighting a losing battle it's probably time to rethink your strategy, however not according to the proponents of 1080." (1)
Surely, some one like Peter Dunne doesn't need to have it spelled out to him, that rats and other predatory vermin breed at colossal rates, and it is probably impossible to entirely eradicate them from any area larger than small, isolated islands? That we haven't managed to wipe out the rats and the stoats is beside the point - no strategy exists that will completely eliminate them from the main islands of New Zealand. It's impossible. It's a containment strategy, and there isn't a realistic alternative.

Dunne and the dittoheads who say because 1080 hasn't achieved complete eradication, it isn't working at all, are missing the point. Possibly deliberately.
1 - "1080 report 'kick in the guts' - Dunne," by Kiran Chug and Danya Levy. Published in the Dominion post, reproiduced on stuff, 8th of June, 2011. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/5111974/1080-report-kick-in-the-guts-Dunne)

Toynbee on 'chavs'

The English speaking world can be divided into two categories - those who think that Polly Toynbee is more Hit than Miss, and those who entertain the opposite opinion. I'm probably in the former camp.

Pugnacious Polly set out to make the demarcation even clearer with this forthright piece, considering the subtext behind Britain's current sneering label de jour, 'chav':
That word slips out. This time it was used by a Lib Dem peer on the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Baroness Hussein-Ece tweeted: "Help. Trapped in a queue in chav land. Woman behind me explaining latest EastEnders plot to mate while eating largest bun I've ever seen." When challenged, she said she hadn't meant chav in any derogatory way. Of course not. But take a look at the venomous class-hate site ChavTowns to see what lies beneath.

She would presumably never say nigger or Paki, but chav is acceptable class abuse by people asserting superiority over those they despise. Poisonous class bile is so ordinary that our future king and his brother played at dressing up and talking funny at a chav party mocking their lower class subjects.

Wrapped inside this little word is the quintessence of Britain's great social fracture. Over the last 30 years the public monstering of a huge slice of the population by luckier, better-paid people has become commonplace. This is language from the Edwardian era of unbridled snobbery. When safely reproduced in Downton Abbey, as the lady sneering at the scullery maid or the landowner bullying his workers, we are encouraged to look back smugly as if these shocking class differences were long gone. The form and style may have changed – but the reality of extreme inequality and self-confident class contempt is back. (1)
This has provoked some furious comment, but I think she's got a point.

Chav is a term used by the lumpen-middle class desperate to distinguish themselves from the scum beneath, a category that allows the better groomed part of the hoi-polloi to comfort themselves with the thought that - while they might really be a bit shit, at least they aren't irredeemably sh*t. Wills might marry a bluestocking, so there''s hope for the aspirational middle class, but he wouldn't touch a Chav would he. Not in public, anyway.

Most of the comment misses the essential point of the piece. 'Chav' is just the starting point for her argument, which is really about contempt for the the working class in general, and our mysterious tendency to excuse the far greater rorting and cheating at the other end of the social spectrum.

ere's a massive sneer implicit in branding people chavs. Look at the example Toynbee gives of the Liberal Democrat peer, complaining about someone eating a bun - a BIG BUN! - and talking about television - TELEVISION - in public. Imagine! Eating and talking about something that interests you in public. Thank God none of us have ever done that, we might be branded chavs by some supercilious Liberal Democrat faux aristocrat!

It's the assumptions in the judgment that make it a bit like racism. If you think someone must be a worthless thick beneficiary scrounger with no work effick simply because they wear stupid faux jewelry from Elizabeth Duke, then you're really being a bit of a judgmental twat, really, aren't you?

Calling someone a chav akin to calling someone 'white trash' a few generations ago. It's a nasty, judgmental and small minded way of defining people, which reveals more about the person using it than anything else. Fuckingg Hell, eat a bun in public, get called a chav by a LIB DEM PEER.

I can't say Miss High And Mighty, txting her petty revulsion to the world, comes off more likable than the bun muncher. And isn't txting spite and contempt rather common?
1 - "Chav: the vile word at the heart of fractured Britain," by Polly Toynbee. Published in the Guardian, 31st of May, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/31/chav-vile-word-fractured-britain)

Airlines crack down on fraudulent vegetarians

Unbelievable, the depths some people will stoop to ...
AIR passengers will have their in-flight meal choices stored on a database in a bid to catch fake vegetarians.


Airlines claim they are currently losing millions of pounds a year to bespoke meal fraud by deceitful carnivores.

A US Airlines spokesman said: "Meat eating passengers are ticking the vegetarian meal box when booking their ticket just because it makes them feel a bit special for a while.

"Others simply claim to be vegetarians during a flight so they will get their meal sooner or because, for some reason, they don't like the look of the chicken."

One airborne vegetarian admitted: "On the ground I would eat rare veal but I just don't trust meat once you get it past 30,000 feet.

"And why is all airline meat the same shape? Is a chicken the same shape as a pig? No, it is not.

"Also, a lot of young women are vegetarian these days and I really, really need to have sex."

Under the proposals any 'new' vegetarians boarding planes will be asked to take a 'vegetarian citizenship test' where they must identify various roots and pulses from picture cards as well as demonstrate how to make a black bean and zucchini quesadilla.

The spokesman added: "Coming on our planes, eating all our cous-cous. And as for pretend vegans, we should be allowed to throw them into the ocean." (1)
Encountering the story on a third party site, I actually believed it was a Real Thing until I got to the line, "Also, a lot of young women are vegetarian these days and I really, really need to have sex." Up until then, it seemed almost plausible.
1 - "Airlines crack down on fraudulent vegetarians," unattribuited article. Published by the Daiily Mash, 27th of May, 2011. (http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/business/airlines-crack-down-on-fraudulent-vegetarians-201105273877/)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Save the children!

I'm not quite sure where I stand, with regards David Cameron's latest crusade to save the children of Britain from their feckless parents who might otherwise dress them up in padded bras at age six, and feed them, exclusively, on MacDonalds (1).

Obviously, there's an element of hysteria, 'Dangerous Dogs Act' type Being Seen To Do Something, even if it is a complete over-reaction, and ushering in incompetent legislation that will outlaw pre-teens wearing anything short of a Burqua. Also, I'm uncomfortable with the state telling people what they can and can't dress their children in. Fuck's sake, if it gets own to this level of nanny statism, perhaps parenting licenses and testing is the way to go. Surely that would be more efficient, effective, and logical than trying to legislate competence into the hopelessly useless.

On the otherhand, i am deeply uncomfortable about the way children are being targeted by companies who only see them as a market for product, and have no scruples about exploiting children's intrinsic insecurities, uncertainties, needs and desires. Capitalism isn't interested in children, capitalism isn't interested in innocent children playing with sticks and mud. It's interested in exploitable non-adult consumers.

(Of course, we should be glad that capitalism is only exploiting our children as consumers, and not as producers, as happens in other parts of the world, for our benefit.)

I have no problem with little girls dressing up in mum's high heels and trying on mum's make up. I have no problem with little boys doing it either. I have, however, problems with children being purposefully marketed to with products that are intended to make them appear more adult; carry suggestive slogans; exploit their vulnerabilities and insecurities; that encourage unhealthy habits and and reduce active 'learning' play and imagination; that will make them unhealthy and will accustom them to food loaded with sugar, salt and dubious additives.

While only a fool would ever be happy with their parenting, I'm no more than necessarily distressed with mine. There are lots of kids out there, however, who don't enjoy even the rudimentary level of parenting I strive for, whose parents actually feed them at MacDonalds 5 times a week, dress their six year olds up in tee shirts proclaiming them to be 'Junior Porn Stars' and so on. As I pointed out in my first post in this thread, I'm worried either way, because legislating against shite parenting is about as doubtful a prospect as standing about and doing nothing while big business converts childhood into one massive consumerist trip.
1 - "Cameron-backed report to protect children from commercialisation," by Patrick Wintour. Published in The Guardian, 3rd of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jun/03/cameron-backed-report-commercialisation-childhood)

Theresa May: Going, Going ...

So, Theresa May is in a bit of trouble.  Tories are scheming and plotting - which they do on any day that ends in a 'Y' - and rumour...