Our desperate quest for immortality in a culture of fear

July 29, 2007 at 11:24 pm (Civil liberties, libertarianism, rcp, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAm I turning into an RCP’er? I’ve been getting seriously concerned about the above point lately, because of my increasing agreement with uncle Frank and company about a particular political point. There’s an article this week in the New Statesman by one Lois Rogers (who I should make clear is not an RCP’er to the best of my knowledge), called “The End of Risk”.  Without going into too much detail, it describes a very real malaise that nowadays seems to infest our political culture in the UK – that of having become driven to legislate the risk out of our everyday lives. It’s an imperative that seems to hide an underlying wish to become immortal on the part of a populace fattened on affluence, lack of war and a general decline in want, coupled with an increase in material aspirations on the part of those who do not have that affluence in all its fullness.

Now how does this all relate to the contrarians so beloved of the theory of the lizard fart which provoketh global warming more than the car? Obviously I’m not someone who is inclined to agree with everything they’ve ever said; the gross lies that they told (and were sued for) over Srebrenica being an obvious example of where they and I parted company. However, where they do have a point is when it comes to the extraordinary willingness of people within today’s society to unquestioningly accept a certain bounded consensus. Funnily enough, both sides of the debate on the Iraq War accuse each other of being the representatives of that consensus, whereas in fact it’s perfectly possible to get either a pro- or anti-war opinion into the national press, as even a cursory examination of the national press shows quite clearly. But when it comes to minmisation of risk to ourselves, it touches something more primal. What could possibly mitigate against lifestyle choices that make us less “at risk” than we otherwise would be? Why not have a salad instead of an egg sandwich? Why not have a J2O instead of a beer? Isn’t it just common sense?

There’ve been several articles by people in the RCP’s online journal “Spiked” around this subject, many of which I’ve been very surprised to find myself in agreement with. But the most recent of these is by Emily Hill, on the subject of sanitising celebrities. There’s one quote in it (concerning the percieved foibles of artists such as Amy Winehouse) which I found particularly poignant and true:

“Nowadays, no one is allowed to be miserable. Or very thin. Or very fat. Or very different. They should all be balanced, happy, nourished by Omega-3 supplements. Rage, drunkenness, crying, screaming, feelings of misery, tears of longing – all are now pathologised, to the extent that even creativity (which often springs from all of these things) has come to be seen as a disease.” 

Hence, for instance, we get a massive popular upsurge in relief (fuelled of course by a media panic about passive smoking) which can be heard in general conversation, at the introduction of a smoking ban in public places. After all, if we can just sanitise our immediate personal environment a little more, we can perhaps convince ourselves just that little bit further that maybe our bodies can stave off their natural decline and death for a few years more. Maybe if we sterilised the ground at every step we took, shot dogs that crapped on street corners and shut down every greasy spoon takeaway in the country that didn’t obey an asparagus quota, we’d be able to force even more people to take sensible lifestyle choices which don’t “impact on the rest of us”. God forbid that we should be in a smelly room, or confronted with fat or inebriated people on the streets – they might become sick, and the one thing that we enlightened liberals cannot cope with is to be reminded of our own vulnerabilities. Far better to sanitise them out, slap conditions on their health care (or deny it to them, you know it’s coming), but however we do it, remove them from sight. After all it’s their fault, they could drink acai berry smoothies and shop at farmers’ markets like we do, right? And they could afford it too, if they didn’t insist on spending their benefits money on nights in the pub rather than on organic duck eggs…

It seems to me that all of the usual civil libertarian versus authoritarian/statist arguments around these issues rather miss the point. Isn’t the simple reality that we’re averse to understanding a universal truth, which is that I, you, gentle reader, and everyone else in the world will die, and that the great likelihood is that it will be of something deeply unpleasant, whether that something is neurological, physical, psychological, whether it’s genetic, accidental or self-inflicted? It won’t be nice, no matter whether you live off beansprouts or fried bacon. So move on, and stop asking governments to make laws to keep you alive forever. Pay some taxes and maybe the NHS will take care of you when you get ill. That’s what you get to ask for. 

It’s time to pull yourselves together. And for God’s sake have that kebab if you want it. You might get run over by a bus on the way home anyway.

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The Seumas Milne Trophy for Relativist Crap

July 29, 2007 at 7:16 pm (Jim D, perversity, politics, truth)

Regular readers will be aware that ol’ uncle Jim periodically gets himself all worked up over the relativist, soft-on-terrorism, soft-on-religious-fundamentalism, anti-enlightenment garbage that has appeared over several years in the “Comment & Debate” pages of the Guardian. In fact, the preponderance of this sort of reactionary filth-posing-as-liberalism more or less co-incided with the tenure of ex-public school Stalinist Seumas Milne  as Comment editor of the Graun. Under this privileged toff, the likes of Andrew Murray, George Galloway, Lindsay German and Osama bin Laden (I kid you not), were all given space in the “Comment & Debate” pages of the Graun. In fairness, Osama’s column, though genuine in the sense that it used his own words, was probably Milne’s idea of a joke. But we can’t be absolutely sure about that. Still, no-one can accuse Osama of being a relativist.

The outstanding champions of relativism in the pages of the Graun, under Milne, were the Catholic “feminist”, pro-islamist  Madeleine Bunting and the born-again-Catholic ex-Marxist  academic Terry Eagleton.

Milne has been gone for a couple of months. And Bunting has written a few articles of late that verge upon sanity. But now, under the Graun‘s  new Comment editor Toby Manhire, a new contender for the title of Stupidist Purvayor of Relativist Crap (the Seumas Milne Trophy) emerges: one Jenni Russell – until recently, believe it or not, an editor at BBC  Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’.

Life is too short to go into – here – the myriad stupidities and inanities of Ms Russell’s piece. But try this, as a taster:

“The mistake here is that the modern liberal belief – all men are equal – has been transmuted into the false idea that all people think the same”… eh, what, Jenni?

This rubbish is well answered by the fifth commentator (‘HandsomeDan’) in the CIF section under Russell’s article. Norm and George (scroll down to 27/07/07) also take Ms Russell to task, noting that in the past she hasn’t always taken such an understanding attitude towards criminals and anti-social elements. But then the sort of swine who nick your mobile phone are not comparable with poor, misunderstood suicide bombers, are they?

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Farewell to an old friend and comrade

July 28, 2007 at 8:40 pm (AWL, Jim D, labour party, left, politics, religion, socialism, unions)

I went to a funeral yesterday. I seem to be going to a lot of them these days. This one was a bit different, though: it was for a comrade who I hadn’t seen for over twenty years, but whose recent work as a T&G full-time official in the North West, organising migrant workers and other low-paid and vulnerable groups, had come to my attention so that I was planning to get back in touch when the news of his sudden death reached me. He died (aged just 48) with his boots on, so to speak: he was negotiating on behalf of the Salford refuse strikers when he collapsed.

I first met Mick Cashman in the late 1970’s when he was a leading light of the Wallasey Labour Party Young Socialists and a member of the International-Communist League (forerunner of the AWL). Like most of the young Wallasey comrades, Mick had a wicked sense of humour and enjoyed a drink. He wasn’t, perhaps, that interested in the finer points of socialist theory, but his commitment to the cause of working class emancipation and his hatred of injustice were unmistakeable.

Sometime in the 1980’s he dropped out of organised revolutionary politics and began to devote himself more to work within the T&G, where he was a well-respected activist and eventually became a full-time officer. But he never went over to the right, the soft-left, or that peculiar brand of semi-Stalinist careerism that infects the bureaucracy of so many unions.

Like many leading figures in the labour movement of the North West, Mick came from a Catholic family, and his funeral service was in a (packed) Catholic church, presided over by a priest, complete with incense and all the usual religious mumbo-jumbo. But the service was given some dignity by Mick’s brother Peter (himself an ASLEF activist) who, on the verge of breaking down in tears, delivered one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard, starting with “This is the saddest and the proudest day of my life”, and going on to outline Mick’s achievents as a socialist and a trade unionist. We left the church to the strains of the ‘Internationale’.

But it was the wake afterwards that was the true memorial to Mick. The great and the good of the T&G (up to and including Woodley and Dromey) were, quite properly, there. More important, though, were the dozens of rank and file activists come to pay their respects, and a significant number of political comrades, past and present. That’s when it really came home to me that Mick’s life was worth far more than the religious mumbo-jumbo in the church: he’d been part of a great and noble movement that doesn’t need superstition or the false comfort of belief in an after-life, to vindicate itself. The comrades, some laughing, some crying, some doing both, were testimony to that. There were only two short speeches: elder brother Tom (a T&G exec member) told a rather good joke, describing his brother as “a worker-militant on a bureaucrat’s wage”; and Mick’s son read James Connolly’s poem “We Only Want the Earth”. There was nowhere in the world I would rather have been, and no people in the world I would rather have been with, at that moment.

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Bring Back Blair?

July 28, 2007 at 5:16 pm (insanity, internet, Tony Blair, voltairespriest)

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, because it really tickled Jim and I. No further comments other than a big hat-tip to Marty at The Pink Windmill.

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Bizarre Comparisons of Our Time # 1

July 26, 2007 at 5:52 pm (Galloway, voltairespriest)

Anyone who can see the validity of the comparison Galloway’s making here, or how it in any way relates to his own suspension from Parliament, please enlighten me. Either way, watching him working himself into a frenzy is tremendously funny.

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Short-lived joy in Iraq

July 26, 2007 at 2:44 pm (insanity, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, kurdistan, sectarianism)

Iraq’s football victory over South Korea (4-3 on penalties), brought cheering crowds onto the streets. Just as the team was made up of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, so the celebrations brought members of all those communities together.

“Iraq’s victory with this harmonious team represents the way we should all live together” football fan Nuri Najjar told Reuters in Basra.

Which is, presumably, why the heroic “resistance” did this.

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Johnny Hodges: what’s not to like?

July 24, 2007 at 11:44 pm (jazz, Jim D)

Johnny Hodges. Alto and soprano saxes, composer. b: Cambridge Massachusetts, 25 July 1907; d: New York, 11 May 1970.

OK: some of us will never agree about Trane (see below). But even Trane recognised that Rabbit was the greatest saxophonist of all time.

A reporter once asked Rabbit,  sitting in the corner of the Ellington bandroom, gazing into a glass of gin, more than a little tired after two long sets and a bus journey of hundreds of miles:”Mr Hodges, why do you never play a wrong note?” Rabbit’s sphinx-like face contracted a little; he put down the gin and pondered the question solemnly, swinging gently his saxophone lanyard from side to side. Finally he looked up and said simply: “But why should I?” (adapted from Vic Bellerby’s notes to “Johnny Hodges: Jeep’s Blues” , ASV CD AJA 5180).

He had a truly beautiful sound, often described as “sensual” (or “sensuous”) : what’s not to like?

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Turkey: Erdoğan’s Summer, Kurdish Dawn

July 23, 2007 at 7:34 am (AK Party, chp, dtp, elections, Free Speech, Human rights, kurdistan, national liberation, pkk, politics, turkey, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe people have spoken. Yesterday’s general elections in Turkey were nothing if not decisive. Not only did Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s mildly Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi increase its vote by almost 13% on the previous general election, taking more than 46% – a margin unheard of since the days of iconic 1980s Turkish leader Turgut Ozal. More significant than that, the new parliament will contain over 20 representatives from the Demokratik Toplum Partisi, the left-nationalist Kurdish grouping that dominates politics in the south-east of the country. The former leader of the leftist Özgürlük ve Dayanısma Partisi, Ufuk Uras, was also elected on the DTP slate. The ability of Ahmet Türk’s party to beat off its previous excluded status (due to Turkey’s electoral system, which requires all parties to gain 10% of the vote to enter parliament even if they dominate a particular region, as the DTP does) came from its tactical decision to run all of its candidates as independents, and have them coalesce under a partisan banner only when they physically enter parliament. What is remarkable about the thawing of Turkish politics under the AKP, is that this appears at this stage to have been more or less universally accepted in political circles.

The fascist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi re-entered parliament on the back of a coalescing of the hard nationalist vote, but was held to third place and in reality saw its vote increase by less than 9%. After running a campaign overly focussed on Erdogan’s (and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s) wife’s choice of headwear, the main opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi took slightly below 20% of the vote, and will enter parliament in second place. Its useless, burned out and right-wing leader, Deniz Baykal, seems safe for now.

These elections marked a rejection of the ultra-nationalist surge which has recently enveloped the country, manifesting in its most extreme forms as the arrest of liberals such as Orhan Pamuk and the politically-motivated murder of figures such as Hrant Dink. Whilst the MHP did re-enter parliament, there was no tidal wave for the “Grey Wolves”, who could not even surpass the lacklustre CHP to become the main opposition. The new parliament will contain more leftish voices than any in decades, and will be dominated by the force that has liberalised relations within the Kurdish regions.

The result also also marks a rejection of the army as a force in politics, particularly given the bellicose noises made in recent months by Chief of General Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt. This can only be a good thing from the perspective of any democrat.

It is to be hoped that this will be a wake-up call to progressives and people on the left outside of Turkey, who now have in the DTP a genuinely liberationist force in national politics to which they can relate, as well as one which has a significant left wing of its own. In Turkey the usual choice posed by so many western “anti-imperialists”, whether to side with “pro-Western” governments or reactionary oppositions, does not apply. There is a political choice to be made here, and I hope for once that the left steps up to the plate.

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Blairites versus honest cop

July 22, 2007 at 5:16 pm (Jim D, labour party, politics)

I didn’t intend to comment on the outcome of the cash-for-peerages investigation, given that Osler has already said pretty much what I wanted to say on the matter.

But now we have the disgusting spectacle of various members of the Blair court (notably Mandelson and the preposterous Benjamin Wegg Prosser), bleating about the “disgraceful treatment” their friends received at the hands of the police and attempting to cast aspersions upon the cop who led the investigation, John Yates. These people consider themselves to be above the law – the rules that apply to the plebs simply don’t apply to them. Their arrogance after seizing control of the Labour Party in 1993 developed into something approaching a contempt for bourgeois democracy after the 1997 election.

But the bleatings of Mandelson and Wegg-Prosser (not to mention the self-righteousness of Lord Levy, whose friends have stooped to suggesting that “anti-semitism” has been a significant factor in the equation), are as nothing to the demented ravings of Sarah Helm, wife of Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell. In an extraordinary article in today’s Observer, Ms Helm writes:

“Yate’s officers had recently turned up at some unearthly hour at the home of Jonathan’s colleague, Ruth Turner. As if she were some street criminal, ready to scarper, Ruth’s home was swooped upon by Yates’s men and she was forced to dress in the presence of a female police officer. Her house was searched from top to bottom and she was driven off to a police station. And then there was a tip-off to the press.

“I know one shouldn’t make these comparisons, but I was writing about Nazi Germany right then, and I couldn’t help think: Gestapo tactics!”

Ms Helm’s stupidity, arrogance and insensitivity are simply breathtaking, aren’t they? Never mind the exquisite irony of a member of the Blair court complaining about leaks to the press: what really strikes the reader of that self-righteous tirade, is how Ms Helm seems to think that her friends shouldn’t be treated by the police in the some way that other folk (‘street criminals’) suspected of major crime, would be. Her invocation of Nazi Germany and the Gestapo is simply beneath contempt and too distateful to warrant further comment here.  

Let’s just remind ourselves of a few facts:

1/ Levy, Turner, Blair and their associates  have not been “exonerated” or “vindicated”, despite what their courtiers (like Martin KettleSteve Richards and Mandelson) say: there was simply insufficient evidence for the CPS to consider that a prosecution had a 51% prospect of success;

2/ The link between donations / loans to the Labour Party and the receipt of peerages is universally acknowledged: it’s just that (in the words of the CPS), “If one person makes an offer in the hope or expectation of being granted an honour, or in the belief that it might put him/her in a more favourable position when nominations are subsequently being considered, that does not in itself constitute an offence. Conversely, if one person grants an honour to another in recognition of (in effect, as a reward for) the fact that the other has made a gift, that does not of itself constitute an offence”.

3/ It is nowhere denied that Blair’s people asked would-be donors to make loans, rather than donations (which they had offered), in order to circumvent a law that New Labour itself had brought in with the avowed aim of making party funding transparent.

4/ Sir Christopher Evans, who offered New Labour a big donation and was asked to turn it into a loan, has stated that he and Lord Levy discussed a “K or a P” : “knighthood or a peerage”.

5/ Blair knew exactly what was going on, but would have been quite willing to let Levy take the rap if the worst had come to the worst: the Guardian (July 21) quotes a “Labour source”: “Ever since 1995 Tony had been determined not to lose for lack of money. No one else wanted to raise the money. Tony hated doing it, and somone (ie Levy – JD) had to do it”.

It’s not often that this blog expresses any sympathy for the cops: but in this case, we’ll make an exception. Assistant Commissioner John Yates is an honest cop who attempted to do his duty without fear or favour. In doing so, he has sent a shot across the bows of the corrupt Blair court, and – hopefully – helped clean up British politics. The self-righteous bleatings of the Blairites should be ignored. As should the self-interested cries of those (like the Blairites, the Lib Dems and quite a few Tories) who hope to use this business to further their long-term aim of state funding for political parties.

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And lest I be misinterpreted…

July 21, 2007 at 8:13 pm (environment, green, truth, voltairespriest)

Just in case there are any anti-scientific climate change “sceptics” who have read my last two posts and think they’ve got a convert, let me assure them that I know it’s happening.

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