Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Weed Wars

It's unbelievably cruel that some people actually smoke skunks. Added to which I suspect the pungent aroma from lighting up one of these little furry creatures must be rather strong - no wonder it's sending everyone barking hatstand.

I notice on Reuters there is a study saying that one joint is as bad for the lungs as up to five fags. It's an odd piece because whilst I'm sure many people smoke twenty a day it's only the very hardened smoker that would light up four joints a day, everyday, although naturally these people do exist.

The piece includes this weird quote from the British Lung Foundation "Smoking a joint is more harmful to the lungs than smoking a cigarette and we have just banned people from doing that in public places because of the health risks." Um... and? Smoking a joint is, like, illegal and is covered by the smoking ban to boot. Perhaps the spokesperson went on to say "Murder is much worse than stealing cars and we put thieves in prison."

I'm sure you'll have noticed we are in a new round of discussions on the evils of marijuana kicked off by government warnings over weed not being as good as in the old days. Personally I'm in favour of legalising the lot - from E's to skunk to heroin - although I should add that I've wrestled with this question for years. Whilst the criminal fraternity monopolise the recreational drugs industry quality control is always going to be lacking, supply uneven and the chances of getting a fair trade toke are absolutely zero.

All these neo-liberals may be keen on keeping the drugs trade completely unregulated but the social damage that is the inevitable by product of the industry is difficult to offset whilst we criminalise the victims of addictive substances and refuse to meaningfully differentiate between the smoking of cannabis and jacking up the dragon.

I'm just not cool enough to take illegal drugs, and I'm willing to confess that I'm utterly opposed to the use of some of these medications as a recreational activity. I don't think taking heroin is a good idea, in fact I think it's an exceptionally bad one - but seeing as criminalisation has not exactly led to the eradication of the practice I think it's time to try a more human friendly, rational attitude, which I think would lead to a massive reduction in drugs related crime and misery.

One difficulty we have when discussing drugs in this country is the reactionary tripe that passes for drugs education in schools. It was not helpful to pretend to my class that all drug takers are anti-social, spotty, misfits that die the first time they try to blow brown sugar over a tab of Lady Snow. Once that lie was told all the other information was more tainted than an eighth of shoe leather heavily wrapped in cellophane.

We knew it wasn't true so the whole exercise just became part of the po-faced injunction against having fun, getting drunk, and staying up on a school night. If they'd said "taking drugs is fun and that's why people do them" we might have actually listened to the rest of the lesson and been prepared for some of the more heavy duty experiences some of us would meet in later life.

If we had drugs education that was honest (ie was actually education rather than nonsense) I firmly believe lives would have been saved and a number of people with irreparable psychological damage would be fully functioning members of society today. But it's more important for us to appear respectable than actually think about the problems we face in society rationally and try to solve them.

Clinton may want us to believe he did not inhale (which would make him a spineless twit who can't even say no when someone hands him something to smoke, rather than a liar) and our new Home Secretary may try to lead us to believe that she never liked smoking that much but what would be wrong with saying "It's something I used to enjoy but I grew out of it."

Obviously I'm being hopelessly Utopian believing that politicians, newspapers and schools should tell the truth. I mean that would be the end of civilisation as we know it, wouldn't it?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Protest to survive

According to the Independent "On Monday, BAA served an injunction on four protest leaders: Joss Garman from Camp for Climate Action and Plane Stupid; Leo Murray, of Plane Stupid; Geraldine Nicholson, of the Heathrow campaign group No Third Runway Action Group; and John Stewart, of Hacan and AirportWatch, an umbrella group of 10 environmental groups such as the RSPB, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the National Trust, whose members total more than five million people. Members of all the groups would be banned from setting up a camp at or in the vicinity of Heathrow and from carrying items including spades, saws, ropes, cables, aerosol cans, balloons, whistles and loudhailers."

Jenny Jones, Green London Assembly Member, is meeting with the police today in an attempt to prevent this blanket ban on environmentalists approaching Heathrow, a ban that has no time limit. Local protest groups who oppose airport expansion have issued a statement which lists some of the areas covered where even local residents will be forced to avoid or risk arrest;

· Platforms 6 and 7 of the railway station known as Paddington Station, London W2;
· All railway trains and carriages known as and/or operating under the names “The Heathrow Express” and “Heathrow Connect”;
· All railway trains and carriages travelling to and from Heathrow Airport;
· All railway trains and carriages operating upon the Piccadilly line of the London Underground System (‘the Piccadilly Line’);
· The M4 Motorway and all service stations between and including junctions 3 and 6;
· The M25 Motorway and all service stations between and including junctions 13 and 15”.

"Christine Shilling, NoTRAG Press Secretary says ‘it’s time BAA got it straight – we need protecting from them – they intend to bulldoze our homes, our schools, destroy our communities, erase our history and ruin our lives. But somehow we are now the threat and not them! It’s an Alice in Wonderland logic.’ "

Siân Berry, Green Party Principal Speaker said of the injunction "The floods this week have shown us that climate change is already taking place - protests like this are crucial. This injunction is not just unworkable, but is also immoral. It is a blatant and heavy handed attempt to intimidate people who care about the environment and prevent them from expressing their concerns."

Hilariously the Greenpeace blog has noticed something odd here "Even more bizarrely, the injunction covers many of BAA's own staff. Their 2006 Corporate Responsibility report (pdf) tells us that BAA sent its airport staff to the RSPB nature reserve at Lochwinnoch "where they spent the day building nest boxes for the native bird population". Which seems to me to fit the description of "persons acting as members, participants or supporters"."

It was already a given that the police will be using anti-terror legislation against legitimate and necessary protest. Whilst the police ask for unlimitted powers to fight terrorism they are simultaneously using these powers against anyone they like.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "Speech and peaceful protest, the lifeblood of democracy, were recklessly curtailed over the last decade by one of the most authoritarian prime ministers in living memory. If our new Prime Minister wishes to turn this around, we urge a swift start."


Camp for Climate Action, HACAN, Clearskies, Plane Stupid, No Third Runway Action Group, Airport Watch, Aviation Environment Federation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, CPRE, Transport 2000, The Woodland Trust, World Development Movement, National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection, National Trust and the RSPB.

Communists the lot of them. My advise is to avoid the camp for climate action at all costs.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

In defence of Onan

Warning: this post deals with religious themes of a highly repressive nature.

Onan has had a bad press over the years. Associated with lonely masturbation and sin his tale of woe has been used down the centuries as evidence of Biblical opposition to little hands that wander in the night.

But I'd like to stand up in defence of Onan for a moment, whose seedy reputation, it seems to me, has rested on an erroneous interpretation of the Good Book. Let's turn to Genisis 38:6-10 and take a look;

"And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also. "

God's strong arm tactics in regards those who displease him are not in doubt here. Er was struck down for some unspecified sin and then Onan is sent in his brother's place to fertilise the lucky bride chosen by Judah to begat future generations of little Ers.

So was Onan's sin masturbation?Well, even if a little chicken choking was involved it's clearly not the sin he's been charged with by God. Not getting his brother's wife up the duff is the charge. Of course I might be wrong on this, but I doubt there have been many pulpit speeches railing against a refusal to impregnate your dead brother's wife in the last couple of hundred years.

All this wanking business is just a distraction from the edict in hand. I'm sure you all remember Deuteronomy 25:5, but here's a reminder for those who missed this day at Sunday school.

"If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her."

This is Onan's "sin", clear as crystal for all to see.

Added to this it takes some sort of obsessive pervert to think that spilled it on the ground *has* to mean Onan was a player of the Pink Oboe. What about premature ejaculation... is that a sin? Or the rhythm method? I thought that was actually *advocated* by some sections of the Church. There are a whole number of alternative explanations far more probable than this dubious jerk off story, many of which I'm far too delicate to mention here.

Was Onan a bad lot though? Did he deserve to be struck down?

I don't think so. Although he is disobeying some weird misogynist tradition connected with women, children and property rights, what he's doing is obeying his own moral imperatives. He *knew* it was wrong to have sex with the woman either out of loyalty for his brother or distaste for having intercourse forced upon this woman he barely knew.

Either way he was trying to do the right thing and was brave enough not only to disobey the stultifying conventions of his backward nomadic society but the murderous God who'd killed his brother and he was commanded to Love. No, Onan was not a cheap villain skulking in his bedroom with a box of Kleenex and a Littlewood's catalogue, but a man trying to obey his own moral principles in the teeth of a vindictive and conservative society.

But the ancient scholars weren't looking for the real meaning of this story. They wanted something to represent the digusting practice that was fixated in their minds. The sin of enjoying your own body and they were using these verses to justify their own self hating, flesh loathing tendencies. They were bedevilled by a horror of sex. A terror of it even which led them to search for any textual evidence that God agreed with them. So they could say "God thinks touching yourself was wicked", and then used their rank and status to shove these creepy obsessions down the throats of the rest of us.

Onan's name came to hand and it was a case of any stick to beat a dog. Sadly these Bishop's are no longer alive to take a good bashing for their calumnies against Onan, these monkey's certainly deserve to be be spanked for their cheek but they're long gone. But as we toss the neurotic guilts that dogged previous generations into the dustbin of history it's worth just tipping your hat to a man whose one good deed led not just to his fatal smiting but also to two thousand years of slander.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wet enough for you?

You can donate to the Red Cross appeal here

In joke

courtesy of F-Minus

Monday, July 23, 2007

No more spin?

Well Brown says there'll be no more spin under his premiership - but I'm going to beg to differ. I've just recieved a Labour leaflet through my door and to say it is disengenuous would be... well... factual.

It starts like this "The political landscape in Cambridge is changing. This year's local elections saw the Liberal Democrats continuing to fragment with Labour making significant inroads gaining a key seat back from the Lib Dems..."

Then there's some guff about Cambridge people once again putting their trust in Labour.

"The results in Cambridge show people are tired of Lib Dem protest politics."

And again on the next page "overall in Cambridge we saw a swing back towards Labour and we regained a seat."

Now to the facts. Both parties started the evening with the same number of seats they ended it with. The two parties did swap one seat. The Lib Dems gained King's Hedges and Labour gained Petersfield.

Now perhaps King's Hedges is a "key seat" and Peterfield is a bit of old rubbish someone found on their shoe, but I don't think so.

How does the result Lib Dem 28 seats (+/- 0) Labour 13 seats (+/- 0) indicate a great Labour revival? Do the "results in Cambridge show people are tired of Lib Dem protest politics" or that "The political landscape in Cambridge is changing"? They don't. It's spin.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Questions I'm asking myself today

Will fish benefit from climate change?

Even if it does stop raining are we now royally boned?

Did Ruth Kelly*really* smoke dope - or is she just trying to look cool?

How quickly will Blair lose his new job as Middle East Poodle?

Now the Peruvian strikes are off, have the government really backed down like they say? (Rethinking the education bill and lowering seed prices)

I wonder if it's possible for me to care less about the new Harry Potter book?

I think the answers might be no, yes, no, quickly, looks dodgy and no.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Australian Greens give protester the boot

Last Friday 30 activists turned up at Australian Science Minister Julie Bishop's office to deliver a letter calling for a halt to plans to turn an aboriginal community in the Northern Territories into a nuclear dumping ground.

After delivering the letter the Minister's office seemed like a new and interesting place to sing a few songs. Where's the harm in that you might ask. Bishop did not see the funny side though and the police were called.

It was at this point that things went a touch sour. In the shape of batons, the confiscation of cameras and five arrests, including one for assaulting a police officer - which all seems a bit of an over the top response to the fluffy Students of Sustainability who've just had a conference full of drum wrkshops, NVDA and Tai Chi.

Toby Lee said that "As I was leaving, I was directly sprayed with capsicum spray into my eyes 10 centimeters from my face without warning" and Natalie Wasley, another protester, denied the group had had any violent intentions saying "We didn't get a chance to leave peacefully. The police just started pepper spraying people, hitting them with batons and throwing them to the floor. It was absolutely shameful."

One of those arrested (but not charged) was one Nicola Paris a feisty young staffer for Green Senator Rachel Siewert. Now, when Siewert heard that Paris had been arrested you might imagine she immediately sent a message of support to her jail cell supporting her fight for aboriginal rights and against nuclear toxicity. Indeed part of her official response did read "I hope to speak with the Minister to personally convey my concern at the earliest possible opportunity."

But alas this was not to condemn Nicola's arrest dear readers. No, in fact Nicola was asked to resign her position because "Greens do not condone violence of any kind", even though she was a peaceful protester at a peaceful protest. Well, peaceful until the cops showed up and started hitting people with sticks.

The rumours are that Green Party leader Bob Brown put pressure on Siewert to turn her back on Nicola and issue this mealy mouthed statement to the press. After all Siewert actually spoke at the Students of Sustainability conference the week before on the subject of... wait for it... wait for it... silencing dissent! Presumably a how-to guide.

You can email Senator Rachel Siewert here if you want a little word in her ear. Message of support can be sent here.

Let them eat lies

During the BSE crisis and Edwina's egg scare there were a lot of column inches devoted to restoring "consumer confidence" but comparatively few that asked "is our food safe to eat?" so when the BBC start going on about restoring the public's "trust" in the brand I am immediately reminded of these past reactions to PR disasters / health hazards.

Whilst for some it might be a dilemma to decide whether it is better to be trusted or be trustworthy for me I'd rather be someone principled and straight forward than simply thought to be so. I wonder whether the board of Trustees will be focusing on restoring trust or ensuring the organisation is worthy of our trust.

It's not just semantics - what will they do if they discover more wrongdoing? Expose it, investigate it, try to purge the BBC of problematic people or sweep it under the carpet, knowing that further revelations could damage the brand irrevocably. Or perhaps they'll weigh up their chances first and see what they can get away with.

Right now there are BBC staff who know of mendacity and are keeping it to themselves, possibly worried for their jobs, or their co-workers. Possibly just frightened of adding to the crisis. None of them are helping the media become a more transparent and reliable source of information. It's completely understandable to be afraid for your job or of the reaction of your colleagues but it's also true that sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing.

When it was thought to be the case of one lie I had some sympathy. Blue Peter had technical problems and at the last minute made a silly mistake rather than take the harder path, but when it turns out to be systematic lies on flagship programmes then that's another matter and cannot be put down to bad apples but a managerial culture..

PinocioThe mud slide started with the revelation that the BBC had tried to stitch up the Queen. Now, it's one thing swapping round footage of striking miners to make it look like they attacked the police when they had defended themselves, it is quite another to try to sensationalise a story against the Queen's interest. They may realise now that she is not someone to cross, did Paul Burrell teach them nothing?

You can lie about Chavez but not about our own elites. For them it's all about what kind of lies you tell, and about whom. For me I'd like us to strive to be as honest as we can be. Self critical and willing to give our "opponents" their due. After all even the BBC's director general has said that casualisation and poor management has put lower ranking staff in an impossible position when they are out of their depth or witness to unethical behaviour.

As an aside it's hilarious to see papers like the Daily Telegraph holding their hands up in mock outrage when just yesterday they were being investigated for elections offenses in regards to the Ealing Southall by-election - on top of a long history of poor acquaintance with the truth.

The unexpected side effect of these phone in quizzes that have been polluting the air waves for so many years now is that any media lie that can be brought out into the open is going to be taken one hundred times more seriously. It's something we should use to our best advantage whilst we can. I know it's a long shot - but surely it's worth a try.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Caroline for Brighton Pavillion

I reported some time ago that there was to be a contest to see who would be the Green General Election candidate for Brighton Pavilion and potentially the Green Party's very first Green MP. Indeed it would have been odd if there was no contest for such an important role. The contest was between last year's Green Principal Speakers Keith Taylor and Caroline Lucas (pictured).

Tonight the result is in and can I be among the first to congratulate Caroline on her victory. The Brighton and Hove website carries this statement from Lucas; “I am proud to have been selected by party members to contest Brighton Pavilion at the next General Election for the Green Party. Our recent local election success in the city, coupled with the unprecedented 22% share gained in the 2005 General Election, places the Green Party in pole position to secure a truly historic victory.

“I would particularly like to pay tribute to Keith Taylor, who also sought to be the candidate in Pavilion. He is an outstanding politician who has worked tirelessly for the city, and is an excellent convener of the Green Group on the Council.”

Lucas is easily one of the most recognisable figures in the Party and as a siting MEP is someone who can carry the momentum to win this seat for the Greens. Of course this is only possible because of the long, hard work of people like Keith who is not only a strong local figure, but also a very capable radical politician.

The contest was a close 55/45 which reflects the difficult decision local members had to make contrasting the Keith who has stood many times before for the seat and built up the Green presence locally, to Lucas who is seen by many as having the vote winning appeal to ensure the seat is finally won.

Hopefully Keith will continue to be a great asset to the Party, he might even possibly consider standing for the European Parliament seat that Caroline will be vacating. The party could do far worse. Although it must be difficult to lose the nomination for a seat you've previously contested so capably it must be a consolation to Keith that his place is to be taken by someone who may well be able to turn the long awaited dream of the first Green MP into a reality.

Peru: general strike and repression

The sea of protests against President Garcia continues into its twelfth day. Garcia, who won the election last year on an anti-Chavez platform has ordered a wave of repression to put down the protesters.

Police are conducting mass arrests and at least four activists have been killed including a local peasant leader who was shot dead by police on Monday. Protesters are angry that whilst the economy is growing the poorest half of the population have seen no benefit, still putting up with dirty water and food and electricity shortages. Ernesto Velit, a political analyst told Reuters "What we have in Peru is economic growth without social development".

The protests began as a strike by teachers union Sutep against an upcoming education bill which, they claimed, would be a charter for the arbitrary sacking of teachers. Negotiations failed when the President insulted the union and denounced teachers as "left wing radicals".

The teachers were quickly joined by workers from other industries including miners, transportation workers, farmers and construction workers. Every town and city of Peru has seen large scale protests and battles with the police over the last two weeks.

As things stand at the moment the authorities have locked up over a hundred and fifty union officials (the Interior Ministry claims a total of 298 arrests so far). Francisco Soberón, President of a Peruvian human rights association, APRODEH, condemned the detention of trade unionists without charges and on no evidence.

Leading opposition politicans have joined the street protests and some groups have offered the government a 48 hour truce although how much sway these groups have and whether the government will take them up on the offer it's to early to tell.

Pictures from Peruvian Indymedia

Monday, July 16, 2007

Chastity rings

The High Court has ruled that a girl who was forbidden from wearing her "Chastity Ring" at school was not discriminated against (see BBC report for more info).

Lydia Playfoot rather melodramatically said the decision will "mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith". The school argued that she was not obliged by her religion to wear the ring and thus it contravened school uniform. Her lawyers argued that "Secular authorities cannot rule on religious truth" despite the fact that they brought the case to court themselves (presumably for a ruling).

Apparently Lydia is one of eleven girls at her school to join up to the "Silver Ring Thing" (SRT) and her parents help run the UK branch from their church. If you've not heard of this before it's where young people pretend they are not going to have sex before marriage and wear a ring inscribed with Bible verses to symbolise the current teenage phase they are going through.

I'm torn about the judgement to be honest. I think she should be allowed to wear any religious item, no matter how stupid. It's counter productive to tell people what they can and cannot believe spiritually and I think it's healthy for people to shape their own religious views as far as possible, rather than have them mediated through, for example, the Catholic Church. From Spinoza onwards the idea that someone can have a personal relationship with God has been a progressive one at odds with the entrenched elites of society.

But that doesn't mean she isn't full of shit mind you. It's hardly progressive to make out that people should be ashamed of themselves, live their lives in a nuclear family governed by an iron law of sin for all those who deviate from their prescribed "norm" that is far from typical. This article from the Washington Post takes an interesting look at the sexual behaviour of those who take the pledge, and it suggests that although the SRT may delay the onset of premarital sexual encounters they don't actually prevent them.

Many of SRT adherents try to cope with their feelings by engaging in sexual practices that they believe allow them to "technically" retain their virginity whilst also relieving the pressure. Which means they are more likely than their class mates to engage in oral and/or anal sex. These symbols are beginning to look more like attempts to pretend that they're immune from their own human desires, and almost inevitably this is going to lead into dismal failure or hypocrisy.

Some studies suggest that those who wear the ring are more at risk from STDs than their sin seeking contemporaries. Of course they are. SRT avoids all discussion of sex, opposes sexual education and simply does not prepare teenagers for the torrent of hormones they'll be experiencing for the next hundred years or so.

Johann Hari quotes one SRT video saying "Will this condom protect your reputation? Go ahead and use a condom. You'll still be known as a slut." Charming. Better to just get infected or pregnant instead. Monbiot is cutting in his assertion that, ironically, "abstinence training increases the rate of teenage pregnancy". Pretending something doesn't exist rarely makes it go away - and that goes for desires twice.

Similarly, studies suggest that SRT wearers may also be more likely to have an abortion - which is kind of counter intuitive until you realise that these kids have studiously avoided all understanding of contraception, so when they do have sex (as they surely will) they are more likely to get pregnant - and more likely to be ashamed of it. That baby would be the proof of their sin. Not only would the teen be subject to social stigma in their peer group it would also symbolise the failure of their pledge to God, and we know that God is an angry God.

Perhaps at this point I should point out something obvious. Sex is not a *bad* *thing*, although teenage pregnancies, whilst not being the end of the world, are probably best avoided where possible.

The upside is if you join the "movement" after you've become a sinner you can acquire a second virginity, which is handy.

Shame is at the heart of the Silver Ring Thing, shame about your body, your feelings, your loves, and your fallibilities. Needless to say they are not big fans of homosexuality either, although I'm not sure what they think of masturbation as they are explicitly opposed to discussing sex in any detail - ignorance is their weapon, their cause and their master.

If this young woman wants to wait until she's married to have sex then fine, good luck, but that ring she's so desperate to wear can only do her harm. It will make it all the more difficult to tell her parents that she made a mistake and got an STD or an unwanted pregnancy. It'll make it all the more difficult for her to deal with any feelings not prescribed by the church (like finding any of her female friends attractive, or wanting to take a thick church candle to bed with her). It will also make it so much harder for her to get educated about the facts of life, or learn how to fuck properly, because she's publicly declared that she just doesn't want to know.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The new Black

My favourite bit of the Lord Black verdict is the roll that the 'little people' have played in it.

Black refused to testify in the trial and had issued fire and brimstone statements against those who had made accusations against him. This may well have been a crucial factor in his conviction of the most serious offence, obstruction of justice.

Black had been ordered not to remove any papers from his Torono office yet the next day he was caught on CCTV loading up his luxury car, assisted by his chauffeur, with containers packed full of paperwork. This caught the eye of the security guard who had never seen Black carry a box before. Classic. It was obviously dodgy because the boss was actually working.

It reminds me of when I was working for the NHS and staff realised that an inspection of the hospital's cleanliness was due because a manager was spotted carrying a mop. There was only one possible explanation, and low and behold the next day the inspectors turned up.

Of course in the NHS the crucial star rating inspections usually cause far more disruption. The last one I remember was for an A and E department where nurses were moved from other wards and for a few days the hopsital had a fully functioning emergency ward (at the expense of the other deptartments), if anything it was over staffed. Once the inspectors had gone it all reverted back to normal.

Unfortunately this kind of dishonesty never gets punished - but still - one down, one hundred thousand to go.

Galloway to be suspended from Commons over Iraq?

According to the Sunday Times today Respect MP George Galloway is to be suspended from the Commons this Tuesday. They state;

"The parliamentary standards watchdog will rule this week that Galloway failed properly to declare his links to a charitable appeal partially funded from money made by selling Iraqi oil under Saddam Hussein, according to a source close to the inquiry. The one-month suspension for Galloway, often referred to as “Gorgeous George”, is one of the most severe given to an MP...

"In 1998 Galloway founded the Mariam Appeal, which campaigned for the lifting of sanctions on Iraq. The appeal, which paid Galloway’s wife and funded international travel for the MP, received almost £450,000 from Fawaz Zureikat, a Jordanian businessman who was also a trustee of the appeal. It subsequently emerged that more than half of this money came from the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales. An investigation by the American Senate alleged that the Mariam Appeal was used by the Iraqi regime to finance Galloway.

"However, the MP strenuously denies that he was complicit in any such arrangement and claims he is the victim of a smear campaign. He says he had no idea that the money donated had come from Iraqi oil sales.

"The Mariam Appeal, which raised more than £1.4m, has never filed any accounts and the parliamentary authorities have been unable to account for some of the expenditure."

Respect have issued this statement in response;

"The Sunday Times this morning ran a front page story claiming on the basis of an ‘authoritative’ source that George Galloway is to be suspended from the House of Commons for a month. If this is so, and we won’t know definitively until the Parliamentary Standards Committee meets on Tuesday, it will be the culmination of a four year campaign against George over the Mariam Appeal, the campaign he set up to end the sanctions against Iraq which cost on most estimates the lives of a million people.

"We know the committee has cleared George of any allegation of personal gain from the Appeal, just as the Charity Commission did, once again, a few weeks ago. The committee judging George, however, is composed of MPs almost all of whom voted for the war and includes two prominent members of the Labour Friends of Israel. In the context of even stalwart Republicans losing faith in the US/UK occupation of Iraq and the complete vindication of everything that George, as one of the most prominent anti-war leaders, predicted, it is hardly surprising that this kangaroo court will seek to impose some penalty on George.

"We will provide you with a briefing on the Committee’s report as soon as we are able."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Green bloggers

As most of you will remember last year was the first ever "best green bloggers" competition (announcement and results list), inspired by both Iain Dale's good work in the field and his remiss attitude towards political blogs outside the three main Parliamentary Parties.

Well, it's that time of year again - only with modifications. The best green bloggers will be a section of Iain's new anthology although compiled by myself, with your assistance (hopefully).

We're going for the top *twenty* green blogs - so I'd like your nominations for the awards. Feel free to nominate blogs that have already been nominated, but, for forms sake, not your own blog please. You're welcome to mention green blogs that you've come across that you like even if you suspect they don't fall into the top twenty category.

I'll also be writing a thousand words on the 'state of green blogging' so comments and contributions on the theme will also be more than welcome. As you know I take 'green' to be a fairly broad category and although I'm a self identifying socialist it doesn't mean that I wont recognise the qualities of any green blog on the right of the political spectrum - probably.

You may like to know that fellow Cambridge blogger Ellee Seymour is writing on the subject of women and blogging - so if you have comments this post is the place to leave them, where the discussion is ticking over nicely.

I'm looking forward to coming across new and interesting blogs I've not seen before and becoming re-acquainted with old favourites too.

What would be on your curriculum?

I've been rather puzzled by the new suggestions for the national curriculum in schools. Whilst, of course, it's funny to see the Daily Mail get in a lather about Churchill supposedly being consigned to the dustbin of history some of the changes are certainly a little odd.

Take this business of teaching kids how to set up a bank account and take out a mortgage. Now these things can be complicated it's true, but you're unlikely to open an account more than a couple of times in your life and it's the kind of thing you can learn as you do it, and as for mortgages if we take a look back at the endowment mortgage scandal, for example, the idea that teachers will be in a position to give out decent financial advise that will stand kids in good stead through out their lives just seems, well, unlikely.

The fact is that the best time to think about these issues is when they mean something tangible to you and you have the latest, current information to hand - not what you learned sixteen years ago. It would be helpful if the government provided unbiased information on these topics *for adults* but considering the fiasco of the Home Inofrmation Packs we can but dream. Personally I think there are practical skills that kids should be learning in schools, but these aren't them.

I'd like to see kids learning lifting and handling techniques and first aid. I'd like to see kids learn how to think critically about the news, understand the role and responsibilities of the various tiers of government, and to discuss the various ways we can engage in and promote democracy. What about how to join and build a union or coping with mental health problems? What about bicycle maintenance or making polyamory work?

I'm not surprised that a pro-business government thinks mortgages are suitable additions to the school timetable, particularly when the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is chaired by Sir Anthony Greener who was the deputy chairman of BT and managing director of Alfred Dunhill (the cigarette company) and the HR director of Tescos, Clare Chapman, is another member.

If nothing else these decisions show what the government thinks are and are not practical and relevant skills. I'd like to suppose that *thinking* is one of those skills, but it seems that's going out of fashion only to be replaced by how to get into debt and live a two up, two down life.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A few Latin American bites


Blatter and MoralesA little while ago you may recall I mentioned that Fifa were intent on making a ruling to say international soccer matches could not be played above a certain altitude. Obviously this incensed many in Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador and elsewhere as large parts of those countries were above the supposed limit, including the capital cities.

Well, I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that the authorities are backing down. The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, said he was responding to a direct request from Bolivian President Evo Morales (both seen playing football together, right). This is good news indeed as the smaller and poorer nations have a hard enough time making the grade in international football without having to emigrate to even take part.


Christian Federico von Wernich (seen here in a bullet proof vest), a former police chaplain is up on trial for complicity in a number of murders and 41 cases of kidnapping and torture. He is said to have given the police information obtained in confession that led to the killing of prisoners and was present during the torture of left wing activists.

Trial watch says "It is alleged that he often visited the relatives of the seven students asking for money and telling them that their children were going to be released soon if they cooperated...

"An argentinian official, for instance, who had taken part in the killing of a member of the opposition in the presence of Von Wernich later testified: “Father Von Wernich saw that what had happened had shocked me, and spoke to me telling me that what we had done was necessary; it was a patriotic act and God knew it was for the good of the country.“"


There is a hilarious story on the BBC about Afghan police going to Colombia to learn how to combat drug trafficking. It looks like the blind leading the blind to me.

What next Blair to become a peace envoy to the Middle East? A Negroponte in charge of helping the world's poor?


A restaurant in Lima has been shut down and fined £32,000 "for repeatedly turning away dark-skinned people" to the delight of anti-racist campaigners who have always had an uphill battle to fight in Peru.

Whilst anti-discrimination laws were introduced in 2004 they've been rarely used. Partly because the legal establishment has not always been willing to follow through with the legislation and partly because many people in Peru don't believe there is any point in reporting racist behaviour.

Activists insist that the laws can be effective if only people are willing to ensure incidents are reported. The Congress has recently reinforce the new laws, making racial discrimination something potentially punishable with imprisonment.

This new mood to tackle racism may be partly due to the regime of President Alan Garcia, who has sometimes been described as the "Kennedy of Latin America" but i have my doubts as he did win the election in 2006 as the right wing anti-Chavez candidate, but in fairness to him he has taken a strong stance against the *unfettered* neo-liberal policies of his predecessors.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Open Sewer Earth: five arguments against

There seems to have been little discussion of Live Earth on the Green blogosphere for some reason. Which is a shame because I'd been rather hoping to get a feel for what people feel about the eco-extravaganza.

On a gut level this kind of thing appalls me - like the way they confuse the world's "best" bands with the world's "biggest". As concerts go I'd rather vomit up my own rib cage than sit through the thing - but as propaganda and part of a wider movement to mobilise public consciousness I'm far more sympathetic.

I've taken a look at what seem to be the top five "arguments against" Live Earth and don't find any of them particularly convincing.

Live Earth's Carbon footprint

Top pop stars taking private jets to the events, the lights, the mess, even the fact that people will drink water at the events are all arguments I've heard put forward in the media as evidence of the hypocrisy of LE.

But the thing is actually they've taken the top stars who are on tour in the country they'll perform in anyway, so they don't have to travel far (some are even coming to Wembly by tube), and the lighting and effects of the concert are cutting edge eco-technology using maximum recycled materials and low energy lighting.

Person for person this event has an extra-ordinarily low carbon footprint. But let's face it - we live in the real world. It's not the case that rather than attend the event most of the audiences would have been knitting their own shoes out of mung beans - the event is part of an argument for people to reduce their carbon footprint - not eradicate it altogether otherwise every leaflet, every piece of material we produce to help convice others of our arguments would be impossible - because this concert is reaching a lot of people it's just on a bigger scale.

Just another rock concert

Yes and no. It is a rock concert with real music - but it has a political significance well beyond ACDC's last tour.

The fact that these events are taking place in China and the US at all for instance is a real step forwards, signaling that the governments of these countries are at least aware that people are concerned.

Whilst Live Eight tried to be such a big tent that it dumbed down its message so that even those complicit in global social injustice could take part without changing their behaviour, in order to get on board with Live Earth people are expected to take their own behaviour (whether personal or political) more seriously and will be held to account.

I'm not trying to over egg the pudding - I'm not arguing this concert is the solution. Only that it isn't part of the problem, in the way that perhaps Live Eight was.

Egos on parade - pompous, preachy parasites.

We're all slightly fed up with being told to take action by people who's main qualification for being on stage is that they appeared in Emmerdale, or sang a song about dancing dirty. But to be honest unless we're arguing that famous people can't have opinions (which they are blatantly going to have) who are we to complain if they are for doing something about climate change.

It's better that stars becoming climate change deniers, like David Bellamy is it? (Although he is spectacularly poor at putting across his argument and I'm for inviting him to all climate change events on that basis.)

Whilst we do need actions over good intentions - it's difficult to see how we get actions *without* those intentions being in place first. If Madonna wants to help - let her.

Not radical enough

This is the opposite argument I suppose. That the events aren't preachy enough. We should be demonstrating not enjoying ourselves.

Now I'm not opposed to demonstrating against climate change but social forces are not just made up of the left wing equivalent of the Ramblers' Association. Popular movements need to energise all those who've been ranting at their friends for years who wear T-shirts with stupid slogans, who've been religiously recycling but feel troubled about how much difference their own little contribution can make.

Polemics, shouted slogans and waving placards are all fine and noble things to do of a Saturday - but that doesn't mean events that get one hundred times the turn out on a less confrontational basis are problematic - rather they can pull in and win an audience that otherwise could not be reached.

They show that normal people can be politically engaged as well as those strange folk who trudge through the streets of far away towns come rain or deluge.

We all know about climate change already.

Well, we don't actually. Whilst everyone has heard the phrase climate change, or global warming, far less people have a decent acquaintance with the facts and the urgency of the matter.

I actually doubt that this event will do much in terms of educational depth - but what it will do is show that there are millions of people all around you that also care about the future of the planet and are at least committed to doing something in their lives to improve the situation.

It will help combat pessimism and possibly mobilise some of that enthusiasm for a more sustainable society. It adds pressure to governments and business world wide to at least appear to be cleaning up their act - and if it helps shape a public consciousness where it becomes socially unacceptable (in a wider way) to drive a four by four or refuse to recycle or whatever, then I think that can only be a good thing.

Pete Townsend said that "Festivals are energy consuming, but at least they involve gatherings of large numbers of real people coming together in a common cause, with joy, humour and optimism."

That's the real key to why I support this event despite some of the more Simon Pure parts of my brain. We live in ambiguity and contradiction but where you have millions of people looking towards shaping a sustainable future it shows we aren't beaten yet as a species, that there is still hope.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

By election women

Currently there are two interesting by-elections coming up in the UK. One in Sedgefield, caused by the happy occasion of Blair's departure and one cause by the rather sadder news that the sitting MP, Piara Khabra, had died.

Out of fifteen candidates for the posts only one is a woman. One. Out of fifteen. Hmmm.

I know there's been a lot of hoo and ha about whether the Ealing Southall candidate should be Asian, to reflect 47% of the constituency (five out of seven candidates are Asian, or of Asian descent), but more than 50% of the constituency are women - or is that fact not politically significant?

I'm not someone who's particularly hell bent on seeing positive discrimination, I like seeing talent rewarded not accidents of biology and I always give a shudder when an appointment seems tokenistic - but one out of fifteen... come on lads, give the little ladies some elbow room!

Hopefully, Sarah Edwards (Green Party) can make some headway among the bullish crowd of testosterone soaked apparatchiks that are currently polluting the field - and the 22% she received at the last council election certainly shows she has *some* base to work with. Good luck.

More Cambridge bombers

As I was walking to work this morning I passed the Mosque, as I always do, and was surprised to see a load of TV cameras outside. Later I saw the headlines in the local press. At least two of the bombers that have been arrested recently worked at Addenbrokes and attended Mosque round the corner from me.

In addition to that Dr Kafeel Ahmed, the bomber who was wrestled to the ground in Glasgow and is probably the most recognisable, if charred, face of the recent plot, studied at Anglia Ruskin University. He's supposed to have had links to Hizb ut-Tahir whilst in the city, who appear to be (or have been) very organised in the area.

It's believed that Cambridge is where the bombers met, as friends, and began a relationship that ended in attempted mass murder of air travellers and "slags". One former friend described Bilal from their meetings in Cambridge like this;

"Bilal had grown up in Baghdad. He told me how he hated Saddam Hussein, how even after the American invasion his extended family stayed there. All were of the same ideological persuasion. All believed in Wahhabi ideology. He didn't see himself as being radical: he saw himself as following Islam. He developed a vitriolic hatred for the Shias after one of his closest friends at university in Iraq was killed by a Shia militiaman. He would say they needed to be massacred. He called them kafirs, disbelievers who insulted the Prophet...

"He refused to frequent the local halal takeaway in Cambridge because the Turkish guys there didn't attend mosque. He used to say to me: "We should have soft hearts for the believers and hard hearts for the non-believers." He epitomised this. He was very humble and polite and had an endearing and distinctive belly laugh."

It's a chilling but all too believable portrait of someone who has allowed their passion and commitment to what they see as a better world to lead them into dark and horrifying acts. These men may have been determined opponents of the war on Iraq and Afghanistan but it's clear they share little common ground with progressive politics.

I was surprised to read what appears to be a new approach in the latest Socialist Worker that "Attacks on civilians in Britain are unjustifiable – just as are the killing of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere" by editor Chris Bambery (who is a great admirer of the pro-terrorist film Battle of Algiers). I hope this means a more nuanced approach from Socialist Worker and Respect towards the Iraqi resistance in future.

These attacks were not only an unjustifiable reaction to the Iraq war, a small secret cell carrying out unaccountable and poorly planned actions that could benefit no one (especially foreign workers in the NHS), their heads were also bound up in the baggage of a reactionary and backward form of Islam that didn't simply oppose "Imperialism" but went against many of the progressive advances, like a women's role in society, that have been made in the last thirty years.

My enemy's enemy is not always my friend - and whilst we should keep up the dialogue with those with whom we disagree, if we beginning to duck important issues - like what kind of society we would like to see and what kinds of political actions are effective then, I think, we'll be doing ourselves a great disservice.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Who's this Brown anyway

Well, for one thing he's someone who's in favour of ID cards. He clashed with Cameron in the House today (BBC report) where he argued in favour of the things, calling for "unity in the face of terror".

I thought we'd left the idea that ID cards would do anything to prevent terrorism long behind. Brown's not playing to the fears of the gallery in the wake of the recent attacks is he? Tut. Double tut.

As No2ID argue "International evidence shows [ID cards] have little to no effect, and to claim otherwise at this time is opportunist at best." To date there is no terrorist outrage that ID cards would have come close to preventing.

A little while ago there was a very well attended No2ID meeting in Cambridge where MPs from the three Parliamentary parties spoke against these proposals. The meeting was excellent and contained wonderful entertainment in the form of three UKIP loons whose weird little Englander psychosis was pretty difficult to conceal - please note, the EU is not at the root of everything my friends.

One guy simply resorted to spluttering. "I'm from this country, but, but, I find it so hard to be English these days!" So presumably he comes over all French every now and then. Poor thing.

A lot of the speeches and comments from the floor concentrated on the consequences for the "law abiding citizen" which is all well and good and makes for good rhetorical points, but had I been called to speak I'd intended to say "but what about the consequences for those that do break the law?" - I'll come back to this in a second.

Our would-be Labour MP Daniel Zeichner really disappointed me with his pro-ID card speeches. Not because I disagree with him, he seems an honest and likable chap, but because of the arguments he choose to deploy. Namely immigration. The core argument he had for the cards was about monitoring and controlling foreigners. Not cool mate, not cool at all.

The other thing he said is that if a paramedic came to treat you he/she might need to know if you have a violent history. So let's get this straight shall we? Daniel thinks that ambulance crews should have a look at my criminal record before they treat me, even if I'm lying in a pool of blood in desperate need of medical attention. In fact all they need to know is are you dangerous, to them, right now and a card does nothing but confuse the issue.

The idea that everyone has the right to know what criminal convictions you have makes the reintegration of offenders back into society far more difficult. At the moment the courts supposedly pass sentences that are proportionate to the crime you've been convicted of. If we add to this sentence the idea that this information is going to be widely disclosed for years, or possibly forever, then we may as well brand people's faces like in the old days and be done with it.

The whole idea behind the demonisation of offenders, and categorising them in this existential sense as "criminals" is one designed to keep those at the fringes of society firmly out of the centre, and makes being caught for an offence all the more unpalatable.

This is important because, firstly, as a society we're idiots if we let petty offenders become desperate, poverty stricken outcasts. Secondly, just because someone was once convicted of a crime does not define them forever more. Thirdly, if the consequences of being caught for a crime are well beyond the reasonable then people will do anything to stop themselves being caught - which may involve murder.

The harder we make it to pull yourself up out of your current situation the more dangerous, divided and unpleasant society becomes. Yes, ID cards are problematic for the law abiding but add on to this that the current proposals will reinforce the current tendency of creating non-persons with little to look forward to and shunned where ever they go.

That might be what some want but it is not a recipe for a healthy society. If we allow the creation of one central database with vast amounts of information on it we have to be prepared for this information to be disclosed, distorted and destroyed - and the social repercussions of any of these could be catastrophic.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Aid is not always helpful.

Quite often you'll see headlines instructing us that the US has upped its level of aid to the developing world by some extraordinary sum of money. Of course, you then discover that half of that is to tell people to stop having sex and half the rest is for torture equipment for the autocrats we are disposed towards this week.

But even when development agencies mean well they can sometimes but less than helpful. Take this story of how the one laptop per child programme (the brain child of visionary Nicholas Negroponte, pictured) has bestowed upon one Nigerian school three hundred brand spanking new laptops. Pretty cool eh? I know when I went to school (in the very developed Essex, UK) we only had a handful of computers between a couple of thousand kids. They are so lucky, no?

But then, unlike Galadima Primary School, Abuja, we did have electricity at our school. Something that often comes in handy if you want to charge a laptop.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Potato protest

Yesterday we had the latest demonstration against the introduction of GM potato trials just outside of Cambridge (see previous posts for background). Much to my surprise not only were there enough people to march, despite being heavily outnumbered by the police, the protest itself wasn't an entirely futile and dispiriting affair (additional pics here).

By taking an impromptu detour through a hedge we were able to get right up to the perimeter fence of the trial, picnic and Frisbee under the watchful eyes of the law and one gallant soul even attempted a heroic leap over the fence - which promptly got him arrested (one of two on the day). I was manhandled at one point, which does irk a little (none of like to be manhandled after all) but in general the cops only got rough the once - with our would be high jumper.

"Gary", a charming member of Niab's security team, informed us that if we didn't leave we'd all be arrested. Alas we were rather outnumbered and it would have been an impossible feat to breach the fence under those conditions so we chose caution as the better part of valour and left at that point - after the last dozen or so openly discussed the options and took a collective decision to vacate the field.

Whilst playing absolutely no role in the organisation of this event (something both myself and others have now pointed out on a number of occasions to Chief Inspector Melanie Barrett), by piecing together evidence gathered later on it appears that in fact there were a number of different "affinity groups" (as we hardened anti-capitalists call them) on the day. My group marched on the potato field directly with the express purpose of menacing it - almost convincingly, whilst others went to the Niab HQ, and did other assorted activities of which I am genuinely unaware in the most real sense.

The chief difficulty of the day was incompetence. Incompetence and anarchism. The two chief difficulties of the day were Incompet... [pulls self together]. Incompetence in the sense that the way it was organised was pretty weak, having been called by "outside agitators" (no, really) with no links on the ground and seemingly designed to incur the maximum turn out from the police and the minimum turn out from the media.

Added to that it was an anarchist only event in all but name. Although I doubt this was a deliberate tactic, the top down nature of the organising group (who ever they were) coupled with their secrecy meant that unless you knew them personally you were debarred from helping shape the event, and knowing them would be no guarentee. So instead of being part of a social movement against corporate control of the food chain the protest became a fun day out for one faction of that movement, albeit an informally organised one, which led directly into the single key factor that meant we were turned away at the fence - lack of numbers.

That's not to say the event was not worth doing - it's just other, locally organised, actions were called off in its favour and we've actually taken a step away from having a broad anti-GM group and towards clandestine organising by a gang who's identity and politics are completely unchallengeable by even the most sympathetic campaigner.

It's a real shame and, to be honest, the demo marks the beginning of a far less worthwhile stage in the campaign against GM crops in Cambridge. Unless that is those outside of this self appointed circle pull their finger out and create a much more interesting and engaging alternative, that actually allows people to own their own campaign, rather than simply follow someone else's.

Self criticism over.

Update: I've added some photos to my flikr account - tagged them as Spud Day.