Saturday, 26 September 2009

Something Needs Saying.

The BNP are racist fascists and if you vote for them you are a racist fascist.
It's not said often enough and it's not said loud enough, so here it is again:
The BNP are racist fascists and if you vote for them you are a racist fascist.
I guess most politicians can't say it as it's not a great tactic to insult the electorate, and the media, if they still have any pride (so not the mail) want to keep at least a veneer of neutrality, so they won't say it.

The facts are simple, the BNP is a party that believes it is not possible to be non-white and British, who encourage the use of the term "racial foreigner" for British citizens, who support "repatriation" and senior members of whom were once filmed saying they wanted to machine gun Muslims. Talk to any BNP member or supporter and you are only one pint of (ironically foreign) larger away from hearing the words "of course Hitler was right about some things.

The BNP is not a protest vote. The Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern party was a protest vote, Martin Bell was a protest vote, the BNP are an organised fascist party with racist policies. Of course in a democracy they have the right to talk their bullshit, but to vote for them is to support their policies, in short to be one of them.

Did I mention this?

The BNP are racist fascists and if you vote for them you are a racist fascist!

A Good Week for the World.

Every so often the mire of conflicting self interest that is the international community resolves itself into a cohesive unit. For a short time there will be a run of good news stories that move us all in a positive direction. The last week or so has been one of those. Of course it will all run back to shit in the blink of an eye, but let's have a look at the hope while it's still there.

The UN General Assembly meeting, usually an Irish Parliament of pointless rhetoric, and the G20 summit, with a not much better track record, has seen a couple of good announcements.

First the world seemed to unite at last (and all too briefly) around a nuclear non-proliferation/disarmament theme. Russia indicated that she might give support to, or at least not block, further sanctions against Iran on the nuclear issue. With Russia on board, rather than the old position of lending tacit support to Iran, then it may be possible finally to bring enough pressure to bear that Tehran could be coaxed into following Libya's lead and abandoning their weapons programme.

The old, "great" powers of the nuclear world have been taking action too to at least reduce the hypocrisy where we declare to the world that nukes are bad while stockpiling our own. Gordon Brown announced a unilateral 25% cut in at least Britain's delivery system. There are strategic implications and flotilla logistical problems that make the anchor faced matelot in me shudder, but those deserve their own post. Perhaps if we are serious about Britain leading a new wave of disarmament then the best method would be to follow the lead of South Africa or Ukraine and unilaterally disarm, but at least it is a move in the right direction. And it is clearly a part of a general trend, as US-Russia disarmament talks enter a second week, perhaps the two largest nuclear powers might be headed for a further step down.

In something of a surprise the week also brought encouraging signs of action on climate change, with China announcing moves finally to reduce emissions, with similar noises coming from the Indian sub-continent. If these laggards on the environmental stage can be brought up to speed then maybe we can at least eliminate the schoolyard "but china isn't doing it" objections to carbon limits.

And in a no-doubt happy but painful sounding story, a woman in Indonesia has given birth to a 19lb baby!

That' the good news, the normal shitstorm of selfishness international political system will now be resumed.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Many mans doubleplusungood know newspeak.

Many persons malreport ungood used oldspeak words as newspeak. Doubleplususualwise these crimethinkers unknow meaning of newspeak unhaving read Big Brother's seminal 1984 (which sabateurs untruthwise claim Orwell wrote). Samewise persons have plusungood knowledge of Big Brother, Thinkpol, crimethink and Room 101. These duckspeaking oldthinkers are doubleplusun-notannoying.

Ok that's (more than) enough newspeak. I had had the idea of starting a new blog written entirely according to the principles of newspeak, as set out in the appendix to 1984, but it took me far too much effort and made my brain hurt just to write that much. Incidentally I couldn't have got that far without cribbing off the Newspeak Dictionary and I will be forever in the debt of the fabulous Mitchell and Webb for coining the newspeak word "doubleplusunnotannoying" .

The point, if you only know oldspeak is this:

So often on the internet people* decry a statement, usually by a politician but often a social worker, reporter or charity spokesman as "newspeak". The thing is that if they had properly read and understood 1984, and particularly the appendix on the nature and development of newspeak then they would know that the uses they rail against are the opposite of newspeak.

To twist and distort the meaning of words is an horrible thing, and it damages the political debate, but it is not automatically newspeak. Newspeak is not language abusing the existing definitions of words, but a language that eradicates all but the desired definition. It is not the use of new words, almost the opposite, it relies on the removal of words from the lexicon. Newspeak is not the language used by your political opponents, rather its purpose is to deny language to your political opponents (so that it is impossible even to think a heretical thought as thought relies on words).

These same offenders pull the same trick with Big Brother, Thought Police and Doublespeak, and it's just fucking irritating. I haven't read Brideshead Revisited, and so I steer clear of references to Sebastian or Brideshead, however apt what I think that they mean would be. Is it too much to ask that others do the same with Orwell?

Take this as a warning, from now on when I see such a reference to 1984 I shall hunt down its author and beat them to death with a shovel.

*Well I say people, really I mean a certain type of person. Well I say person, more a viciously right wing, half educated wingnut with opinions far in excess of their intellectual capacity. This wingnut hangs around the comments section of the Daily Mail, or the Have Your Say section of the BBC News site, spewing forth hate on pretty much anyone different from them in appearance or opinion.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Upheaval in China.

There appears to have been a rather large-scale massacre in China. I say appears because as seems to be their standard response to civil unrest, internet and mobile phone service have been cut of to the area, leaving the reports rather thin.

It appears that at least 140 people are dead and over 800 injured, largely in inter-ethnic violence. That is not a short violent riot, that is massive civil unrest. Until the world's media is allowed access to eyewitnesses we have only the official version to say what happened, and you'll forgive me I hope for not just taking the word of a dictatorial, authoritarian post-maoist government at face value.

The part that really starts to get tedious is that old response that totalitarian governments always bring out when faced with dissent:
"The Xinjiang government blamed separatist Uighurs based abroad for orchestrating attacks on ethnic Han Chinese."
It's never actually the people being angry, you see, after all everything is paradise within the nirvana that is China, Iran, Burma/yanmar or wherever. And so the government casts around and finds that the CIA, the BBC, the Russians, the Jews, or as in this case the exiles. And that's just lazy. Nobody believes it really: the people accused know they didn't do it; the people involved in the dissent know the real reason they are involved; spectators, journalists and other leaders around the world are unconvinced; and the Gorvernment sure as hell knows they made it up. So wouldn't it be nice, just for a change if dictators could start being honest?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

I understand she also thought about taking some post-its home.

Iain Dale's blog mentions a Torygraph story of a sacking in the Civil Service. Apparently if you work for the British government it is now a sacking offence to criticise your boss. Especially if said boss has been doing something massively unethical.

This is the kind of thing that gets a government a reputation as illiberal and authoritarian. Well this and wanting ID cards. Well this, wanting ID cards and wanting detention without trial. Well this, Id cards, the detention thing, trying to scrap jury tria...I'll start again.

This government is illiberal and authoritarian.

La Belle Label.

In my other blog (over here) I got into a discussion with a couple of guys and the thorny issue of labels came ups. I favoured the classic Oreos label and they prefer the modern and groovy Snickers label. Or perhaps it wasn't that sort of label. Yeah, on second thoughts maybe it was political labels. I say they have almost no usefulness, others think they serve a purpose.

The problem I have with them is complex. For starters there is the lack of flexibility. If I define myself as a realist, I am seen to think within a certain box, the way I interpret the world around me is coloured by a certain system. And this is not just the way others view me; having told the world I am a realist I begin to train myself to think like a realist. And this is all very well, except that, untrammelled, it becomes a runaway train. I know (at least online “know”) many neo-cons who feel compelled to support a Cheney style attitude that torture is ok if it protects the USA from attack. At least one of these I know to have been an active Amnesty member before 9/11, who abhors torture. Having announced loudly and often that he is a neo-con, however, he now feels that he cannot stray from the fold without somehow being treacherous.

As most people soon realise (and I worked out a few weeks after I rushed into my first-week-as-an-undergrad declaration of realism, for most people no one paradigm will cover all of their thoughts, rather they fall into the grey areas that form the borderlands of differing worldviews. The way that we combat this is to start adding prefixes and suffixes, and so certain Republicans beacame no longer conservative but neo-conservative and I become a neo-realist, adopting a very slightly different position than previously. Of course this can end with ridiculous tags as people vary the already-varied paradigms and add a new prefix.

All of this works fine if we're just sticking within a single field, one international relations geek says to another what he thinks about Iran, the reply starts with “Well I'm a neo-liberal, so...” and being a part of the clique the geek knows what the rest of the sentence is. But then the world isn't that simple I also have opinions on domestic politics , economics, philosophy, in fact all sorts, and if I want to be in with the, well I was going to say cool kids but lets face it all these interests land me squarely in the nerd camp, then I need to identify myself. Of course it could be simple, we could use the terms to mean at least roughly the same thing. We could, but we don't. I am a liberal in domestic politics, which is not the same thing as a liberal in international relations.

And right there's another problem, the labels don't even mean the same thing in the two most prominent English speaking nations (that's right the Falkland Islands and St Helena). I have received all of my education in the UK, liberalism is still the term used here to define the dominant political paradigm of the developed world, a centrist, multi-party democratic, broadly market led society with individual freedom. A more committed liberal like me might wish for more individual freedom, less state intervention and a greater use of utilitarianism, but generally western society is liberal. To get the same meaning in the USA I would have to describe myself as libertarian; the term liberal is hurled as an insult at, and increasingly chosen by, socialists. The things that the American right attributes to liberals would make any liberal foam at the mouth.

Which brings us on to the other big flaw, labels are self chosen and self described on one level; I am a liberal, I am trying to make an impression on the USA so I call myself a libertarian, I know what this means and I tell you what it means; on another level the labels are externally chosen, you oppose me and so you shout all over the US press that I am a self described liberal; if that doesn't work then you look at my small government preferences and where I say libertarian you say anarchist; suddenly I'm a lot more scary.

So Labels are both too broad and too narrow, over-flexible and not flexible enough, self-chosen an externally imposed. How can something that contradictory be useful? I would say that it can't.

But what would I know? I'm just a neo-realist-quasi-capitalist-liberal-free-market-monetarist-utilitarian-running-dog.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Those pesky places far away...

It seems the news is filled at the moment with the old perennials of international relations; trouble with and upheaval in Iran; a coup in a central American country; Korea (LGM has a good analysis of Etizoni's arrant tosh on the subject); and Burma (or Myanmar if you prefer).

The military dictatorship is back in the news today with the visit of the UN Sec Gen to the state. As this visit takes place the "trial" of Aung San Suu Kyi rolls on, now with another week's adjournment. When oh when will this woman finally get punished for the heinous crime of someone effectively breaking into her house? The answer is of course that it doesn't matter, she may even be found not guilty, so long as the process lasts till after the election. Suu Kyi's house arrest you see, while itself of dubious legality, was due to expire in time for her to run in the sham that is Burma's general elections. Now we can't have that can we?

The problem is that this will not stop the problem. Ban can talk at the generals all he likes and it will do noting to achieve any more than a temporary respite in the litany of human rights and other abuses that is Burma's recent history. What is kind of depressing is that none of the other solutions offer a magic bullet either. Long history from Vietnam to Iraq tell of the inadvisability of military intervention for a nations "own good". However well intentioned, it is wide open to misinterpretation by the citizens of the now-occupied country, as well as by rabble-rousers. Sanctions don't work either, somehow there always seems to be a way for those at the top to keep at the top, while the people still suffer.

Ultimately the only way for effective and lasting change in any country is for the people of that country to make it and this is true of Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe and all the rest. As for the rest of the world community, all we can do is offer support, and be ready to recognise democracy when it does arise, even if we don't like the democratic leaders it throws up.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Excuse me officer, my car has been extra-legally removed.

There seems, at least in the UK to have been very little news coverage of the recent coup in Honduras. In fact I mentioned it at work today and no-one knew what I was talking about; not their fault, about the only news story in the last week has been the fact that a man who died last Thursday is still dead and that people who liked him are upset he is dead.

The blogging community does seem to have noticed it, and opinion seems mixed, some people are suggesting that it's not a coup at all, simply on the grounds that a civilian government is in place and the Honduran court has ruled that all is above board. Steven Taylor has coined a nice phrase to address this idea
"just because a institution of the state declares an act legal does not make it so."
This seems especially apt in a situation where the various institutions of state make up the parties of the coup. Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, which I have just begun to follow, there is, as seems to be usual over there, a lively debate in the comments. A disturbingly common opinion seems to be that the proposing of a referendum is a dangerous and, somehow, undemocratic act (the concept of forcibly holding a vote has been brought up), and that this of itself justifies a coup.

Meanwhile some bloggers seem to be needing cushions to ease the pain of fence-sitting. Increasingly I am reading language lie "Extralegal" to describe the transfer of power. This is the kind of language that wikipedia refers to as weasel words. They are an attempt to get around a very basic disapproval of coups and support for democracy by redefining what has happened. This isn't a coup d'etat you see, those are undemocratic, they are illegal, this is just a case of having to use extralegal means.

But Extralegal only has one meaning, outside of the law. And we have another word for that. Illegal.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Run for the hills! Run for the hills!

The UK is currently in phase six of the swine flu pandemic, is likely to reach level three of a heat wave and the terror threat is "severe".

That comforting information was given me by the BBC this morning at the beginning of one of Today's great little ten-to-nine discussions (specifically this one). The topic, whilst obviously covering the heatwave and swine flu was whether or not warning levels are worth a rat's arse.

The principle problem is of course that by and large we have no understanding of what the levels mean, most often they are presented to us, as above, in the abstract, it sometimes takes considerable leg work to divine that the heatwave warning is 3 out of a maximum of four; that phase six of a pandemic, whilst the most severe level of human-to-human infection is the last before the post-pandemic phase begins and infection lessens; and that a severe terror threat level means that a terrorist attack is "highly likely" (and even more to find that the panic threat level has not been changed since it was dropped after the 7 July 2005 bombings).

As Today's discussion brought up there is the fact that even given our poorly informed state we just don't know what to do with this kind of information. We might talk in shades of grey but we think in binary. It will either rain or it won't there's so much danger we should hide in the basement or there's nothing to worry about, it's safe or it's dangerous. It takes a great deal of training to break ourselves of this deeply ingrained (some psychologists say hard-wired) instinct, and even then one catches experienced academics doing this occasionally. Dan Gardner's excellent book Risk: the Science and Politics of Fear (excellently written, heavy on the science, light on the politics but understandable to the lay person) covers this situation in depth, including our tendency to fear the worst despite all the evidence, putting this down to the fact that ultimately we are negotiating the information age with stone age brains.

So if we are incapable of processing the information, what use is it? It merely forms a part of our hunger for classification. From school league tables to government performance to mortgage interest rates, we want a number, and preferably a ranking. What we have to come to grips with is the one simple fact that life is not digital, and is not a football game. Rarely is it all as simple as win-loss, and almost never as starkly easy as good vs evil. Left vs Right is a straw man fallacy, reductio ad absurdum. Maybe, just maybe we should all be adult about things.

Or we could just PANIC!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Great idea, but is it even possible?

The IPPR has published a paper stating that it is time for Britain to stop "punching above its weight".

This is a good idea. It could save us millions, billions if one also includes unilateral nuclear disarmament. On top of that we could bring to an end the statistic that at least one British serviceman has died on active service in every "peacetime" year except one since 1945. Without trying to exercise a global reach that is the legacy of our former empire we could safely scrap all plans for our new aircraft carriers without impacting on operations. Untrammelled by the need to wheel and deal in the world of global alliances we would be free to sort out a society in which liberty and justice are key and the harm principle and utiulity guide our thoughts and actions.

The problem is that I'm not sure it can be done. In the school playground that is international relations might is right. We are one of the bullies and I'm not sure it has ever been done to step down from that group without taking a pasting in war. This is a world where, right or wrong, having nuclear weapons gives one enhanced rights and not having them leaves one vulnerable.

In the more peaceful spheres one judges a nation by its international actions, by its aid, by its relief organisations, by its peacekeeping efforts. I am proud to live in a country that ranks highly in these fields, mostly as a result of our economic status. And there it is, we can only step down from the lead nations if we are ready to take the blow. If we do it, not only does it mean we cannot aggressively pursue oil our own interests around Iraq the world, it would also mean that our ability to pursue the common good around the world would be drastically reduced. Our opinion on Burma's human rights would be so much spit in an ocean. I'm not sure we're ready for this, nor that it would be a good thing.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Almost Right

Stanley Fish has written an interesting blog on the NY Times website, concerning neo-liberalism, not so much in defence of it as in exploration, having had the tag thrown at him as a term of (albeit academic) abuse. He provides quite a neat example of the ideology in practice:

"In a neoliberal world, for example, tort questions — questions of negligence law — are thought of not as ethical questions of blame and restitution (who did the injury and how can the injured party be made whole?), but as economic questions about the value to someone of an injury-producing action relative to the cost to someone else adversely affected by that same action. It may be the case that run-off from my factory kills the fish in your stream; but rather than asking the government to stop my polluting activity (which would involve the loss of jobs and the diminishing of the number of market transactions), why don’t you and I sit down and figure out if more wealth is created by my factory’s operations than is lost as a consequence of their effects?"

This strikes me as a good system, with one modification, or perhaps clarification. A Millsian reading of liberalism, with its strong utilitarian roots, would admit of a non-cash meaning of value. This is the tricky point where political theory proves itself not to be a science, but rather a philosophy. The pure science of economics, in which neo-liberalism is rooted, considers in this example only the economic (i.e cash) value of the fish and the factory, however our human experience tells us that there is more to both life and value than cost. The idea of solving the dispute with reference to cost-benefit analysis is sound, but we must find some way to weigh up the aesthetic and cultural value of the fish and the stream and the leisure and enjoyment they provide to individuals and society, againstnot only the financial but the social benefits of the factory.

There is a problem with any aim to create a society based on this model, and that is the gap in education, we are not teaching our young people (in pretty much any country) to think in terms of general value, and so people's idea of value rests on the arithmetic which they are taught. Until we can separate the ideas of value and cost, then we are stuck in a position of greed, where money will drive us all.

Power sharing in crisis...

The tragic news today is of an attack on an army base in Northern Ireland, the first in around a decade of hard won peace. All loss of human life is tragic and this is possibly more so for its potential to spiral into a return to the low-grade civil war that ate at British and Irish society for three decades. The thing that has been getting at me all day however is the insistence of leaders on all sides that this will not derail the peace process. The sad truth is that the peace process has been stagnant for several years, and one of the main planks of the process is to blame--Power sharing.

Power sharing is not in itself the problem, indeed it has been an invaluable tool in Northern Ireland and could provide the vital bridge towards progress in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. The problem is that it has become seen as an end-state. Power sharing ought not to be the target end-state for the main reason that it is not democracy. A situation where an election is held and the losing side take up powerful positions within the government is in fact almost the reverse of democracy. True democracy is a position where the minority accept that they are a minority and will be governed by the majority, whilst (and this is important) the majority accept that being in the majority does not give them the right to demonize, terrorize, discriminate against or impose personal morality and religion upon, the minority.

It is this state that must be the target of any peace process, and the events in Northern Ireland are perhaps a sign of what happens when the flow is allowed to stagnate. If the peace process was moving forewards properly, then the extremist dissidents on both sides would not be able so easily to find solid ground and support. We as people on all sides need to redouble our efforts.