Monday, 31 January 2011

Are we being groomed for something?

Just some odd coincidences of late ...
  • Matt McCarten, former president of the Alliance, more recently strategist for the Maori Party, makes a modestly successful run in the Mana by-election on a leftwing ticket.
  • Chris Trotter, hirsute voice of the trade unionist left, and occasional addresser of Alliance party conferences, writes a column telling we, the left, how much we love Hone Harawira. And follows it up with a scornful column targetting Phil Goff for political timidity and centre-chasing (1).
  • Sue Bradford, recently retired leftwing Green MP, suggests that a new leftwing party might provide a home for the disgruntled Maori MP, Hone Harawira (2) - or, more realistically, Hone might provide an electoral rock for a new leftwing party to cling to.
Now, I can't begin to imagine what such a combination might look like, but it doesn't strike one as immediately appetising. Trotter, I suspect, is not 'in' on whatever deal is being brokered. He's probably got wind of it, and is jumping up and down trying desperately to make it look like he is on the inside, all the time desperately hoping someone will ask him if he want to be part of the gang. Whatever constituency he might be said to represent, it isn't at one with the more logical Bradford-Harawira axis.

Bradford-Harawira-McCarten seems workable, but probably a hard sell to the electorate. Of the three, only Matt McCarten won't isn't immediately alienating to one or other constituency; but he's also never been elected, and doesn't have the name recognition that you could hang a party on.

If the new combination tries to hang itself around Hone Harawira's hold on Te Tai Tokerau, it risks being marginalised as being an ex-Maori Party troublemaker, plus whatever riff raff he can drag in with him. Which would an accurate enough description.

So while I'm cautiously welcoming to the possibility of a new leftwing party, the emphasis is very much on the caution. It will need to establish itself quickly, and clearly identify itself as not just the disaffected off-cuts of other parties.
1 - "The Left's Favourite Warrior," by Chris Trotter. Posted on Bowalley Road, 21st of January, 2011.(http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/2011/01/lefts-favourite-warrior.html) and, "Who Doesn't Dare - Loses," by Chris Trotter. Posted on Bowalley Road, 28th of January, 2011 (http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/2011/01/who-doesnt-dare-loses.html)2 - "Bradford confirms Leftist party talk," by Martin Kay and Tracey Watkins. Published on stuff.co.nz, 31st of January, 2010. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/4598641/Bradford-confirms-Leftist-party-talk)

Tactical advice for Hosni

I'd have thought Mubarak would have rolled the tanks over the pesky demonstrators by now. Hopefully, his reluctance to resort to type means he might not be able to rely on the army to obey.

Still, he has one card (1) left to play ...



Play that at the revolting plebs, Hosni. It'll disperse any non-German crowd within minutes.

There are - presumably unironic - comments on youtube dedicating this tosh to the Egyptian demonstrators. The thought that some high pitched, poodle haired, Germanic, soft-rock guitar wankers might compose some ditty with sparklers and whistling would be enough to stock me in my revolutionary tracks. I'd sooner the Berlin Wall stayed up, than allow Scorpions to unleash that horror on the world. Freedom of speech can be taken too far.

More seriously, the persistance of the demonstrators is impressive, and my earlier forecast that it would all be over in a couple of days may well have been ... absolutely wrong (2). Mubarak may well be on the way out, and no bad thing if he is - though I think people are a bit too quick in writing the merciless old bastard off. He knows that he's got the backing of the USA - because they regard him as essential to the security of Israel.

The US probably can't see past his regime (with or without him) and dread the prospect of a genuinely democratic Egypt - because that would probably deliver a moderately Islamic government and that - to the myopic apparthiks of US foreign policy - can't be countenanced. Hell, they didn't engage in this whole War on Terror thing to encourage more Islamist regimes to establish themselves. hence Hillary Clinton's cowardly refusal to tell Mubarak to get his arse out of the presidential palace (3).

(The likelihood of Muhammed El Baradi taking over may also be a factor. He's hardly a face the USA like seeing; US petulance and spite knows no bounds.)

So, good luck to the demonstrators. Whatever happens, I hope not many of you are killed, though I think there is still a lot of blood to be shed. But, tragic though that will be, the greater tragedy will be if it comes to naught - if the west refuses to support any new government and tries to bring it down, or force it to 'open up' Egypt to foreigners. That's never succeeded, and if it fails again in Egypt, the consequences will likely be dire for the Egyptians, and possibly Israelis and Palestinians as well.
1 - "Wind of Change," by Scorpions. Video clip posted on youtube by ScorpionsVEVO, 1st of November, 2009. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4RjJKxsamQ)
2 - As described previosuly on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2011/01/egypt.html
3 - "Hillary Clinton says U.S. not pushing for ouster of Egyptian President Mubarak," by Paul Ritcher. Published by the Los Angeles Times, 30th of January, 2011. (
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-clinton-egypt-20110131,0,6713553.story)

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Nelson Mandela

Look, I'm as glad as the rest of you that Nelson Mandela isn't dead yet. There are only a very few people whom I actively wish dead, and Mandela, for all his failings, isn't one of them. He's a nice old chap, but he basically sold out the black underclass - deliberately or through naivety - allowing the white minority to retain all the land and wealth they'd accrued.

I'm sure there are more black people with money in South Africa than there were twenty years ago - but the overall situation of the black population hasn't improved significantly. If anything, they may well have become poorer, with their household incomes falling as those of the rest of the country rise (1).

So what's happening is the creation of a small black economic and political elite, with wealth and privilege comparable to the upper echelons of white South Africans; but no overall improvements in the lives of the vast majority.

I suppose you could argue he deserves recognition not for his positive contribution but for the fact he didn't contribute more negaitvely - South Africa, for all its faults, could have become a far worse place than it is. But that reveals more about the miserable plight of that continent than it does about Mandela's worthiness.

It can't be long, however - he's in his 90s and looking very frail. Expect a full Diannafication when he goes, though.
1 - "Voice of the unpeople" by Mark Curtiss. Published in The Guardian, 3rd of June 2006. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/jun/03/highereducation.news)

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Musings on violence, terrorism and hatred

It's been a bad few days for reason and decency. A suicide bombing in Moscow (1) is followed by the savage murder of a gay rights activist in Uganda (2). It looks like the strength of the forces of bigotry, unreason and savagery is waxing, not waning.

And if we look around just a little buit further, we don't lack for examples of unreasoned visceral wrath directed at The Other. You want to build a mosque where???

Of course, it's partly prespective. The ferocious and hatefilled invective printed in Ugandan newspapers, calling for the murder of David Kato - duly carried out by vigilantes convinced they are about 'God's work' - is a consequence of the courage of gays in Uganda in actually standing up for themselves. Human affairs aren't governed by the laws of physics, of course. For every action, there isn't always and equal and opposite reaction. Sometimes the forces of sanity and reason make a bit of progress, push back the barking batshit hordes of barbarians of all sorts and shades. And sometimes they do it to us. As happened in Uganda.

It's a strange perversion of the idea of community; as a western raised on the idea of individualism and individual responsibility, the idea that allowing gay people to live as they see fit might somehow taint the wider community is hard to comprehend. But it's a very simple, atavistic notion, and not at all alien to our own supposedly civilised western world. hell, som of us still have trouble coming to term with inter racial couples, let alone gays. There have been plenty of vicious acts carried out against gays in places closer to hand than Uganda.

Hatred, homophobia, racism, religion, may once have their roots in economic or material factors. It's important to regard your black slave as something less than a human, since otherwise it raises all sorts of awkward questions. A man who does not produce children is a long term liabilty to the community. And any excuse for hating the people in the next valley, will do, as it legitimises stealing their crops and cattle. But the persistance of these ideas is interesting. I think Marx said, somewhere, that an idea can actually be as crucial an imperative as material factors in shaping and determining character and action. This, of course, is generally overlooked by his critics in their efforts to paint him as a dull reductive materialist - an irony that might be amusing if it wasn't so tiresome.

There are strong nationalist movements in the North Caucuses, and religion is often tangled up in it. Dagestan is predominantly Muslim, but resisted an invasion by Chechen extremists in 1999, because they didn't want outsiders imposing their version of Islam. It may have been carried out by a Muslim but with nationalism / anti-Russian sentiment as its prime motive. It may well be Chechen militants are behind it, or some other religious organisation from the region, or it may be a solo nutjob, or it may be something else again. Whatever it is, it will probably provide the Russian authorities with an excuse to launch some military campaign against someone.

Religion can be a motivating factor in people's actions. It is not, however, the only or even the major factor for most people. The whole history of human hypocrisy is hereby submitted in evidence in support of this. All Muslims do not act in the same way. Some blow themselves up in order to kill infidels. Others live quite crap lives like the rest of us. Some write thoughtful articles that get published in The Independent (3). Point is, while they share - loosely - a religion (they'd probably dispute that, heatedly), the degree to which it motivates them, and what it motivates them to do, is dependent on other factors. But so many of the 'noises off' crowd of bloggers and commentators and rightwing ideologues are locked in this pitiful reductive world where everything boils down to the fact that they are Muslims and thus must act accordingly.

Some claim "Islam means XYZ and that you shouldn't be surprised if a muslim behaves in a way that corresponds to that" is simplistic, because 'meaning' isn't a given. Witness the different responses to the sixth commandment (fifth if you're a Catholic), about killing and/or murder. And even if we ever managed to agree what was covered by it, the fact that Christians have merrily killed and/or murdered for two about thousand years suggests that what is in a religious text is only important when it is convenient. Ditto the commandment around adultery - what is meant by that has varied a lot over time, from any sexual activity outside marriage, to the more limited definition of seducing another man's wife.

What the immutable word of God means varies in time and place, I mean.

It might be argued an attempt to examine the edicts of the Koran is just an effort to the deny the inherent militancy and creulty it contains. I disagree, in that I don't think that is a valid description of the book. It is, I would say, trying to put limits on human behaviours - as the road safety adverts say, it's a limit, not a target. It isn't a collection of reductive slogans, but a very complicated set of exemplars. The infamous surah 9:5, for example, does license killing of pagans - but only those who have broken treaties and attacked Muslims, who have ignored a period of grace to mend their ways or clear out. You can't muggle that into a general exhortation to slaughter non-Muslims, as some try to do.

Ah, respond the anti-Islam zealots, but what about abrogation - the doctrine by which the later revelations supercede older ones where there is a conflict. So exhortations to slay and force convertions cancel out the earlier protections given to Jews and Christians. Not so, I suggest. Abrogation but a mthod for resolving the contradictions within the Koran. But I don't think abrogating verses compeltely cancel out the older instruction; they simply outline an exception to the over-arching rule - special circumstances where the previous instruction is waived.

It's not at all uncommon for people attacking Islam and Muslims to draw a distinction between the old and new testaments in Christianity, claiming that the latter represented a new coventant, and a rescinding of all the nasty bits of the old testamnet that people would rather forget. But, again, the gamut of history shows that this is a specious distinction, as Christians have always sought justification in the bellicose parts of the old testament when it suits them, and have been happy to ignore all the fluffy stuff about loving and forgiving. "Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live" and "An Eye for an Eye" have proved to have enduring popularity down the centuries. As recent tragic events in Uganda suggest, the urge to commit violence against those pervceived as trespassing some arcane moral code isn't limited to Muslims. Jesus Christ was an admirable person; his followers aren't always. Mohammed, from my perspective, was a rather more ambivalent figure. His followers, on the whole, seem no better or worse than the followers of other skygods, or the worshippers of trees and strangely shaped rocks.

What I'm saying is, we've happily abrogated and de-abrogated parts of the Christian bible when it suits. Who is closer to Christ's teaching? The Caliph Umar, extending protection to the Jews and Christians of Jerusalem, or Simon de Montfort, ordering the mass slaughter of Cathars, men, women and children?

People have always been angry, hateful and violent. They'll find almost any cause for it, but it is usually rooted in some religious notion that some act is sinful and wicked, and it's occurance is so very wrong that allowing it to happen is tainting to others beyond those who indulge in it. We see that all over the world and it's dishonest to hyperbolise examples of Muslims behaving like this, claim it is because of their religion, and ignore massively relevant factors that also influence peoples actions because they weaken the thesis that there is something unique in essence about violence carried out by Muslims.
1 - "Russians name Muslim convert as prime suspect for airport bombing," by Shaun Walker. Published in The Independent, 28th of January, 2011. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russians-name-muslim-convert-as-prime-suspect-for-airport-bombing-2196704.html)
2 - "Fights at funeral of murdered gay activist in Uganda," unattributed Reuters article. Reproduced in The Independent, 29th of January, 2011. (
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/fights-at-funeral-of-murdered-gay-activist-in-uganda-2197798.html)
3 - "Arabs, Christians, and the lessons of history," by Dr Mohammed Abdel Haq. Published in The Independent Blogs, 25th of January 2011. (
http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/01/25/arabs-christians-and-the-lessons-of-history/)

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Egypt

It will be interesting to see what happens if the current popular unrest continues. While I don't think Hosni Mubarak is in imminent danger of being ousted, that could change quickly. I'm occasionally wrong about stuff and Mr Mubarak certainly shouldn't take too much comfort in my opinion. I don't think quoting lefthandpalm at the demonstrators will discourage them, shall we say. And, anyway, I wish them all the best in their efforts. If enough of them get out on the street, and stay out, things might change. Or - perhaps more likely - a lot of decent young idealistic Egyptians will end up dead, hurt or imprisoned. So I certainly won't be blaming them if they do stay at home and the tide of unrest ebbs.

But - playing lets pretend - what if the demonstrations do continue, inspite of police or military repression, what if the army and police decide the tide is running too strongly and Mr Mubarak is told to pack his bags and scurry off to some other place? What fate awaits Egypt then?

Unfortunately, I don't have see much reason to be optimistic. What will probably happen is the bourgeoisie will try to institute a fairly sane, moderately Islamic government, which will seek to pursue a relatively rational policy of state control of major assets, only for them to be bullied into 'embracing' radical Freidmanite freemarket voodoo economics by the IMF, resulting in mass impoverishment and declining standards of living for the majority, the rise of really scarily mad radical Islamists.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

More foulness

Courtesy of The Guardian:
A former Vietnamese Communist Party official was sentenced to eight years in jail Wednesday for posting articles on the Internet calling for a multiparty system and democracy, his lawyer said.

Vi Duc Hoi, 54, was convicted of spreading anti-government propaganda, defense lawyer Tran Lam said. The court in northern Lang Son province also sentenced Hoi to five years of house arrest after he finishes his jail term.

Hoi was accused of violating Vietnam's national security laws by using the Internet to promote a multiparty system and democracy.

"The sentence was too harsh," Lam said by telephone. "Many people who did the same should also have been arrested and imprisoned."

Hoi joined the Communist Party in 1980 and quickly rose to a high-ranking position that involved overseeing the education of upcoming local party leaders. But he started calling for democratic reforms in 2006 and was expelled from the party a year later. (1)
Clearly, the policy of 'engagement' with these totalitarian crackpots is bearing fruit. Still, who cares about Veitnamese democracy when we need cheap trainers? Hell, if the Veitnamese really wanted democracy, they'd take it! They must love working in sweatshops, that's what they do ...

Veitnam has plenty of form for totalitarian repression acting against critics and workers trying to improve their conditions (2). But it's in our economic interest to pretend this isn't happening, or is totally unconnected with our economic involvement in the country, or is 'improving.'

Because other wise, we'd have to face up to the reality of our involvement in repression, totalitarianism and brutal exploitation that would have made ante-bellum slaveowners queasy. They had an economic stake in their property, after all.
1 - "Vietnamese dissident sentenced to 8 years in jail," unattributed article. Published by AP Foreign. Reproduced in The Guardian, 26th of January, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9469266)
2 - "Clinton arriving, Vietnam arrests bloggers, sentences activists," by John Pomfret. Published in The Washington Post, 29th of October, 2010. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/28/AR2010102806797.html)

13 year old faces life in prison

From the Guardian, which means it probably isn't a hoax, unfortunately:
Lawyers for a child in Pennsylvania who was 11 when he allegedly shot and killed his father's pregnant fiancee attempted today to persuade an appeals court not to try him as an adult under America's harsh system of juvenile justice.

Unless the lawyers for Jordan Brown who is now aged 13, can convince the judges to change tack, he will be tried in adult court and if convicted will serve an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole. He would become the youngest child in US history to be sentenced to be incarcerated forever.

The US is the only country where juveniles are serving life imprisonment without parole under the so-called "life means life" policy. Only the US and Somalia have refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which rules out life sentences with no chance of release for crimes committed before the age of 18. (1)
Read that last sentence again. "Only the US and Somalia ..."

That's how demented US 'justice' is. It's matched only by a war ravaged, poverty stricken basket case country, full of religious extremists.

Comedians may reverse the order of the countries in the paragraph immediately above.

But, it gets better. The article continues:
Brown allegedly carried out the killing using his own hunting rifle, a shotgun designed specifically for children. The prosecution alleges that the killing was premeditated and they found residue from the gun on Brown's shoulder.
Savour those words - "a shotgun designed specifically for children."

What insane society has such things?
1 - "US child appeals against being tried for murder as an adult," by Ed Pilkington. Published in The guardian, 25th of January, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/25/us-boy-accused-murder-appeals)

Monday, 24 January 2011

Lurgee's Paradigm: "Sunspot cycle length corrolates ..."

I've just had this lovely little graph (1) brought to my attention:



She's beautiful, isn't she? How could we have missed it all these years? How could so much money have been wasted on pursuing CO2 and pointing the finger at our harmless burning of coal and oil when, in fact, it was just a natural effect resulting from variations in the length of the sunspot cycle.

Well, because it is bullshit, of course.

It's actually old bullshit, finding its source in a 1991 paper, which contained some dubious methodology that was compounded with poor arithmetic when the authors tried to update their study. I'm not even going to bother with that bit, it has already been done by better minds than mine. And because I am also afflicted by poor arithmetic, I'm inclined to excuse Eigil Friis-Christensen and Knud Lassen. Isn't that what peer review is supposed to filter out?

Those who have continued to use their data, however, can not excused, especially those who persist in displaying the graph above. It's a sure sign you're confronted with a hard core denier, who is either too dim, or too dishonest, to see reason.

First of all, it should be clear the graph is fatally out of date. It runs up to the mid 90s, we're now in 2011. But there's a good reason why the deniers prefer the original version of the graph - because once more recent data is included (2) the suggestive correlation falls apart:


Note, blue carries on upwards, while red shoots downwards. Bang goes that lousy theory.

(Obviously, data has been treated slightly differently in the second graph. But no so much as to change the fact that there's a dramatic and fatal divergence in the mid 90s.)

But the problem is actually deeper than that. The correlation between the sunspot cycle and temperature is actually too good to be true. It excludes any other cliamte factors - most importantly, it leave no room for the impact of particulate emissions in the middle of the 20th century - the thirty years between 1940 and 1970 when temperatures were trending downwards.

Your solar fanatic might say we don't need them any more, but they were, none-the-less, a reality, something that happened that had a significant impact on global temperatures. After all, those lost decades have been brought up enough in attempts to attack the role of CO2 as a climate forcer.

But to preserve the correlation, you have to assume those emissions had NO EFFECT - whereas we know they do. Witness Pinatubo blasting off in 1991. So the sun spot cycle 'correlation' relies on excluding not one, but two massive climate influences - particulate emissions and increasing CO2 concentrations - that have affected global temperature over decades.

So, nonsense, really. When something looks too good to be true ...
1 - The graph originates in the work of Egil Friis-Christensen and Knud Lassen, originally published in "Length of the Solar Cycle: An Indicator of Solar Activity Closely Associated with Climate," in Science, issue 254, in 1991. I can not say who has since added the pretty colours and the CO2 levels to the original work. I found the version reproduced above here, "10 Questions for Climate Fascists," posted by Jack Lacton, on Kerplunk - Common sense from Down Under, 14th of March, 2007. (http://ker-plunk.blogspot.com/2007/03/kerplunk-list-of-climate-fascists.html)
2 - The updated version of the graph was borrowed from "Sun Activity Does Correlate with Temperature," unattributed work posted on Friends of Science, (
http://members.shaw.ca/sch25/FOS/Climate_Change_Science.html#Sun_Activity). While I don't know the state of the arthmetic underpinning this version, given the generally sceptical slant of the website, I'm willing to run with it for now.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

All change

So, it's been established beyond doubt that the Nu Tories are a bunch of spin obssessed, vacuous sinecure grabbers who associate with immoral bipedal weasels (1) to make it look like there's more purpose to their activities than creating new opportunities for their private sector mates to 'contract' vital social services, and demolish worker's rights and inconvenient social institutions like the BBC and NHS; meanwhile Labour ditched an ineffective old duffer and elevated their smartest and most consistently ferocious performer to where he'll be most effective (2).

Good week, really.
1 - "Phone-hacking scandal could dog the government for months," by David Batty. Published in The Guardian, 22nd of January, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jan/22/phone-hacking-scandal-could-dog-government)
2 - "Alan Johnson resigns as shadow chancellor," by Nicholas Watt, Patrick Wintour and Vikram Dodd. Published in The Guardian, 21st of January, 2011. (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jan/20/alan-johnson-quits-labour-balls)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

First Foxconn suicide of 2011

I checked on a whim and, sadly, it seems the 'rightswash' carried out by Foxconn last year, following a spate of suicides, was just that - a phony exercise to quieten down media interest, so business as usual could carry on.

Certainly, it doesn't seem to have stopped workers killing themselves through desperation:
The unnamed employee, who had worked for Foxconn since 2005, had "been on sick leave" at the time of her death after factory officials rebuked her for an unknown reason and told her she would lose her job. Taiwan media further reported that the worker was mentally troubled. (1)
Of course, it's in all our interests, as Westerners, that business as usual carries on. Imagine having to pay a fair price for an Ipad?
1 - "New Foxconn employee commits suicide in Shenzhen," unattributed article. Published in The Global Times, 15th of January, 2011. (http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2011-01/612970.html)

Saturday, 8 January 2011

More on Niggergate

According to Wikipedia, "In 1955, CBS tried to avoid controversial material in a televised version of the book, by deleting all mention of slavery and having a white actor play Jim." So the controversy is not new, nor are attempts to reconcile it. Turning 'nigger' into 'slave' seems a bit less drastic than turning Jim into a white man (1).

I've been trying to remember my own first encounters with the yarn. I think it was an audio tape version of the story - we had one of Tom Sawyer and one of Huckleberry Finn. I don't think either of these could have been more than forty minutes or an hour long, so a Hell of a lot of condensation and editing must have taken place.

As far as I can recall of that version of Huck Finn essentially consisted of Huck running away from Pap, living on an island for a bit, meeting Jim and embarking on a raft. I don't remember the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, or the Duke and the Dolphin. And when Huck meets the Phelps, I don't seem to remember it is because Jim is now their slave, and locked in a shed. he just wasn't mentioned until Tom Sawyer appeared to announce he was free.

Even at the time, I recall feeling the conclusion of the story a bit odd, but it was always the idea of running away to live on an island that interested me more, so I was willing to let that pass.

I do recall, however, on reading the book later on, being startled not just at how much of the plot had been redacted in my childhood version, but also at the frequent appearance of the word nigger. While I can't be sure, this suggests that it had also been cut from the taped version I grew up with; though I do remember the beastly Injun Joe in the accompanying adaptation of Tom Sawyer, in all his politically incorrect glory.

According to the Daily Mail (2) (hardly the best source, but the one I have conveniently to hand), the use of 'nigger' in the text has lead to the novel being the "the fourth most banned book in U.S. schools." How many schools have actually banned it is less clear; though the lack of any number to materialize may indicate it is not great. I suspect the problem is more that it simply fades into the background, left untaught and unmentioned.

As for the actual process of substitution itself, I've been wondering if slave isn't more suggestive of the 19th century context than nigger is. The word probably seems worse, more demeaning and more insulting to us than it did to Twain and his contemporaries. So in that sense, we all know a slave is a possession, not a full person. Nigger, it seems, is something far worse now. So in that sense, Gribben may be retaining Twain's sense, if not his actual words.

It isn't being suggested that this should be the only edition available - the original and the expurgated version will exist side by side. The difference will be that students will be exposed to it. I doubt a great number of people who haven't encountered the tale as children feel a sudden urge to read it as adults; some, perhaps, but not a lot. Whereas those that have some familiarity with the book from childhood are more likely to revisit it, as I did.
1 - "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: controversy," wikipedia article relating to the novel by Mark Twain. Viewed 8th of January, 2010. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventures_of_Huckleberry_Finn#Controversy)
2 - "Political correctness takes on a great American novel: Huckleberry Finn removes N-word," by Tom Leonard. Published in the Daily Mail, 5th of January, 2010. (
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1344192/Huckleberry-Finn-removes-N-word-Political-correctness-takes-Mark-Twains-classic.html)

Friday, 7 January 2011

Warts, niggers and all

I've been embroiled in a few arguments about the excision of the word nigger from a new edition of Huckleberry Finn. As detailed yesterday (1), I'm wavering between cautious support and simply being unsure about where I stand. My indecision is final, and all that.

Most of the counter arguments are based on the idea of the idea of the integrity of the author's work. That's a very valid concern, and one that I'm sure Gribben is alert to. It's what you might call the idealist position - we have to accept Huckleberry Finn, warts, niggers and all.

But, as I said, I think it misses the point. People are getting outraged over the symptom, rather than the disease. As Gribben pointed out, the book often isn't available in school libraries, and it isn't been taught; one of the absolute classics of American literature is being memory holed because schools are too scared - or too battle weary - to have anything to do with it.

Gribben is trying to reverse that, providing them with something that will retain 99.99% of the original, including the element of dehumanisation of Jim. This is what I'd call the pragmatist position.

The battle battle the Idealists want to fight has already been lost, because the book is gone from classrooms and school libraries. Gribben is trying to get it back there, salvage something from the rout of sanity in the culture wars.

Faced with the fact of the refusal of schools to stock an unexpurgated version, the pragmatist seeks a solution. The idealist sticks to some lofty principle of free speech and moral right; and loses by default.

If we get too hoity-toity and precious about it, take our niggers and go home, the status quo remains - and that's a victory for the barbarians, Flat Earthers, PC goons and identity politics junkies, unless we compel schools to stock certain books, which has similarly worrying overtones. With out resort to that extreme, the book will still be missing from school libraries and not being taught. Gribben's efforts, at least, mean the existence of Huckleberry Finn will be acknowledged.

I'm quite aware of the 'slippery slope' argument, and sympathetic to it (Wait until you see my edited version of Joseph Conrad's 'African of the Arcissus'). But I see this more as an effort to climb a bit of the way back up the slope, not helter-skelter further down it. A bigger battle is being lost than the excision of a single word from 'Huckleberry Finn' - the (hem) battle for good books in general.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

With regards the use of the word nigger in Huckleberry Finn

I'm not sure where I stand on this, to be honest (1).

Part of me rejects the idea entirely, as another symptom of the creeping crapification of everything, where our culture and history slowly blurs into a horribly banal MacDonalds vision of how things should be.

The other part of me - the part that occasionally labours as an English teacher - would quite like to be able to read a yarn like Huckleberry Finn without having to worry about it provoking violence every third page. If you want to discuss issues about racism with your students, and how perceptions have changed, that's one thing. If you're wanting to introduce them to a good story, that's another.

Given that some schools have banned the original book altogether, I think a lot of the opprobrium aimed at Dr Gribben is unwarranted. He''s trying to get the tale back into schools, who are the real culprits.

We already 'classic' texts extensively (Huckleberry Finn is actually quite a long and in places tedious book), this is just another stage in the process of blandification and and reduction that has been ongoing for decades. Compare any modern fairytale with its source in the Brothers Grimm and you'll see what I mean.

Of course, because it involves RACE and FREE SPEECH, liberals everywhere get to jump up and down and be excited about the deletion of a world they'd never use ... but I suppose if it gives them their little fix of danger and excitement, and makes their insulated, solar powered Ivory Towers seem a bit more edgy and street ...

Oh, the Daily Mail made itself look more than usually fantastically silly, reporting the story with a lot of frumping and huffing, but without the cojones to use the word itself:
New editions of Mark Twain’s classic novels about Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer have triggered a row by removing all uses of the word ‘n*****’.
The title to the article also refers only to the 'N-word.'

If they won't print it, why get tetchy about someone else's decision to do the same?
1 - "Political correctness takes on a great American novel: Huckleberry Finn removes N-word," by Tom Leonard. Published in the Daily Mail, 5th of January, 2010. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1344192/Huckleberry-Finn-removes-N-word-Political-correctness-takes-Mark-Twains-classic.html)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Squealer silences the Met

From the Mail:
The Met Office warned ministers to expect an ‘exceptionally cold winter’ but then kept the prediction secret from the public.

The forecaster decided not to reveal the information because it was embarrassed after wrongly predicting a ‘barbecue summer’ in 2009, BBC analyst Roger Harrabin said.

Instead of a seasonal forecast, it offered only monthly snapshots. (1)
Inspite of the Met's contrary claims (2), I can't help but see this as a consequence of the climate change denier hysteria - they went to town on the infamous (but rather insubstantial) 'barbeque summer' forecast and the Met decided as a consequence not to do seasonal forecasts any more.

So while they might have had the information, they weren't willing to release it, because they were nervous about being wrong again.

Recent rumblings from the BBC about whether to dump the Met Office didn't help, probably.

It's a bit symptomatic of what we'll see happening in the media in general, I think. The main media conglomerates (naming no names) and their organs are so savagely anti-climate change, scientific bodies such as the Met are being grunted into silence by an unseemly chorus of Squealers oinking. People are vilified, organisations ridiculed, and if people end up believing even 1% of the crap, it's dangerous, because there's so much of it.

And nothing sticks to crap like crap, of course.
1 - "Met Office knew big freeze was coming but hushed it up," by Rachel Quigley. Published in The Daily Mail, 4th of January, 2010. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1343863/Met-Office-knew-Decembers-big-freeze-coming-hushed-up.html)
2 - ibid.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New year, new nonsense

It looks like the climate change deniers are getting their retaliation in early, before 2010 is confirmed as the hottest year on record.

With 'Global Warming stopped in 1995' wearing a bit thin and probably no longer tenable in the face of 2005, 2009 and (very probably) 2010, the deniers have gone to the opposite extreme. Instead of trying to confuse things by obsessively focusing on short periods of time, they're now claiming recent warming is not at all unusual, if you look at the amount of variation over the last 10000 years:
So where do the 1934/1998/2010 warm years rank in the long-term list of warm years? Of the past 10,500 years, 9,100 were warmer than 1934/1998/2010. Thus, regardless of which year ( 1934, 1998, or 2010) turns out to be the warmest of the past century, that year will rank number 9,099 in the long-term list. (1)
The above is accompanied by this graph (2), which appears to bear out its claims:


However, the claim is spurious. The reconstruction of the last 10,000 years temperature is based on a SINGLE ICE CORE. That's like basing a represnetation of current temperature on a single thermometer.

A single ice core can only provide a very general picture of past temperature, and different ice cores on serve to confound attempts at precision. Look at the differences between the isotopic content of the Vostok, GRIP and EPICA ice cores (3):


Note how the big spikes present in the recent Vostok record are lacking in the EPICA core - particularly the big spike in Vostok about 8000 years ago. EPICA records a slight fall, and GRIP goes through the floor - all at virtually the same time. And sometimes one is going up when the other is going down. It isn't possible to base too much on them, and especially not on a single core.

So, lets stop this silliness now. Claims that 2010 will "rank number 9,099 in the long-term list" are spurious,k anti-scientific nonsense, based on misuse of painfully gathered data, and henceforth included in Lurgee's Paradigm as evidence of a hardcore denier who can be dismissed.
1 - "2010 – where does it fit in the warmest year list?," by Don J. Easterbrook. Published on Watts Up With That?, 28th of December, 2010. (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/28/2010%E2%80%94where-does-it-fit-in-the-warmest-year-list/)
2 - Temperatures over the past 10,000 years recorded in the GISP2 Greenland ice core, published in the article linked above.
3 - "Epica-vostok-grip-40kyr-HCO, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by William M. Connolley, 11th of March, 2005. (
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Epica-vostok-grip-40kyr-HCO.png)

Hopey-changey stuff

First of all, people are talking about a 'vote for change' based on the combination of Labour, Greens and New Zealand First. ‘Chan...