Time for a little amusement, I think. Chris Hitchens tells the following story in his autobigraphy, ‘Hitch-22′. It’s from one Ian Watt, a friend and colleague of Edward Said’s at Stanford University and the world’s leading expert on Joseph Conrad. During WW2 Watt had been a prisoner of war and survived the Bridge on The River Kwia, the Burma Railroad, and the Changi Jail in in Singapore at the hands of Hirohito. He told Hitch the “following tale (in his) memorably laconic tone of voice.” To appreciate the tale, you need to know that “Tonbridge” was, and still is, a British public school:
“Well, we were in a cell that was probably built for six but was holding about sixteen of us. There wasn’t much food and we hadn’t been given any water for quite a while. The heat was absolutely ferocious. Dysentry had begun to take its toll, which was distinctly disagreeable at such close quarters…
“Added to this unpleasantness, we could hear one of our number being rather badly beaten by the Japanese guards, with rifle-butts it seemed, in their guardroom down the corridor. At this rather trying moment one of my young subalterns, who’d managed to fall asleep, started screaming and flailing and yelling. He was shouting: ‘No, no – please don’t…not any more, not again, Oh God please.’ Hideous noises like that. I had to take a snap decision to prevent panic, so I ordered the sargeant to slap him and wake him up. When he came to, he apologised for being a bore but brokenly confessed that he’d dreamed he was back at Tonbridge.”
Alec Guinness: excellent!
Petshop Boys: crap…sorry about the soundtrack.
Still, this’ll do you a power of good after the nauseating events of today.
Submitted on 29 April, 2011 – 11:37 on the Workers Liberty website
Sacha Ismail and Esther Townsend report:
12.50pm, Friday 29 April: This morning about ten anti-monarchy protesters, students and young workers who are mostly socialists and anarchists, were stopped by the police outside Charing Cross station, searched and handcuffed. When we left to write this report, they had been held outside the station for about an hour.
Trafalgar Square was tightly controlled, with the help of the police, and it was not actually possible to protest. The group of comrades were preparing to leave to attend the Republic street party in Holborn when the police stopped and searched them. Another thirty police were then called in, arriving in four vans, and surrounded them.
This paranoid, over the top action by the police is part of a wider assault on civil liberties in the run up to the royal wedding.
Updates as we have them. For more information ring Sacha Ismail on 07796 690 874. Please reprint this report widely.
Update, 5.30pm: The comrades were arrested for ‘breach of the peace’, even though there was no possible way this could be justified. They were then taken to Sutton police station, in deep south London, where they were eventually released – of course – without charge. This was essentially an act of kidnapping by the state to prevent a protest.
Thanks to everyone who got in touch to express solidarity or offer support.
The Duke of Ellington, b Washington DC, 29 April 1899, d 24 May 1974
The following brilliant analysis of the West’s attitude to Libya has just come to my attention. As it was penned by that leading Guardian columnist and SWP member, Lennie “Seymour” Tombstone, I thought it should have a wider readership:
Analysis: Richard Seymour
The West’s fear of Qaddafi’s fall
February 24, 2011
The revolt in Libya has liberated almost the entire eastern half of the country, but Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi continues to insist he will die rather than surrender his grip on power. As defections in the military and air force continue, Qaddafi is relying on personal security forces and mercenaries to defend his base in Tripoli.
A car burns in the middle of the street as Libyans continue their mass protests against dictatorship
THE QADAFFI regime is prepared to fight to the last drop of blood to crush the revolution. This isn’t new. He and his Free Officer allies have always hammered opposition with ruthless efficiency–the public execution has been a centerpiece of the regime’s repertoire since serious challenges first emerged in the 1980s.
What is new is the level of escalation demanded of the dictatorship. When they couldn’t rely on the police and army to crush the protesters, they turned to mercenaries to butcher them in their hundreds. The massacres have continued, just enough to keep the regime entrenched in the capital, even as large swathes of Libya are declared liberated. To deal with those liberated and nearly-liberated populations, the regime ordered the army to carry out air strikes.
The divisions in the state have been sufficient to send soldiers and police to the protesters’ side, and a number of soldiers who refused to carry out air strikes have taken their planes to Malta and sought refuge. The army has abandoned the border, leaving it to the control of People’s Committees.
Benghazi, where the regime had been totally defeated and sent packing, was set to be the target of vengeful air strikes on February 21–except that two of the planes ordered to attack reportedly landed in the city, the pilots refusing to drop their payload. The city has been declared safe for now. Even at the Libyan embassy in London, staff joined anti-Qadaffi protests.
The surreal atmosphere in the presidential palace is communicated in dispatches from defecting officers. “I am the one who created Libya,” Qadaffi reportedly said, “and I will be the one to destroy it.” On February 20, one of Qadaffi’s thuggish sons–an alumnus of the London School of Economics, as well as a close friend of Prince Andrew and Lord Mandelson–threatened civil war if people didn’t go home and stop protesting.
They’ve cut off the Internet and the landlines–and banned foreign journalists–in order to be able to carry out massacres under the cover of secrecy. This is a catastrophic lashing out by a regime in mortal freefall. It is seeking, in effect, a blood tribute in compensation for its lost authority.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
EVEN AT this late hour, it would be foolish to underestimate Qadaffi’s ability to just hang on, to clench Libya in a rigor mortis grip. As crazed as he manifestly is, he has demonstrated considerable shrewdness in his time.
For example, as soon as the Islamist opposition started to become a real threat to his regime in the late 1990s, he started to look for ways to be accepted by the U.S.-led caste of “good guys.” The collapse of the USSR as a supplier of military hardware, trade, and ideological and moral leadership for Third Worldist states would also have had something to do with this.
The transition was made easier after 2001, and completed in 2004, partially at the behest of Anglo-American oil. Qadaffi went so far in his attempts to win over his erstwhile opponents as to participate in anti-Islamist counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines with international support, lavish intelligence on U.S. agencies and even compensate the victims of Lockerbie for a crime that Libya had not committed.
The Bush administration might still have resisted such serenading were it not for the eager rush of European capital into Tripoli. So, Bush and Blair turned it into a story of Qadaffi seeing the light and giving up his non-existent WMD programs, which charade Qadaffi duly participated in.
This whole sequence of events was bizarre and improbable, but it worked: the subsequent oil contracts, amid a global oil price spike produced by Bush’s wars, made him and his regime very wealthy. He was also able to hang opponents in public under the pretext of a fight against ‘radical Islamists’. Joining the camp of American client dictatorships enabled Qadaffi to survive until this moment.
It has also ensured that the big guns are on his side now that he faces this potentially fatal challenge to his regime. Because the trouble for the U.S. and UK governments in this revolt is that they really, really don’t want Qadaffi to fall. Qadaffi is someone with whom they can do business.
By contrast, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, long a leading element in the resistance, is less likely to be so pliable. The U.S. and UK invested too much in Qadaffi to lose him now, not least the military hardware they’ve given him, the very weapons of repression which they knew full well would be used for the primary goal of keeping him in power.
That is why the phrases on the lips of U.S. and European ambassadors and statespersons are so mealy-mouthed. Hillary Clinton’s berating of Libya’s government for “unacceptable” levels of violence has approximately the same passion and conviction as a school marm telling off a child for running with scissors.
These people–the caretakers, intellectuals, politicos and lackeys of empire–have spent more than two decades telling us that they were outraged by every drop of blood spilled by dictatorships, that they were if anything overly eager in their solicitations for democracy and human rights, messianic to a fault. This never had a moment’s plausibility, but it has never looked as vile and sinister as it does now, amid a genuinely heroic revolutionary democratic struggle.
Stupid Wanker, organ of the Stupid Wankers Party comments:
“A new group of anti-Royalist fundamentalists has grown up in the run-up to the marriage of King William and Ms Middleton.
“This crude, one-sided hostility to the monarchy fails to take into account the fact that many working class people, many of them black, have illusions in the monarchy. Of course, we do not: but by crudely denouncing the monarchy the sectarians repeat the anti-Caribbean and anti-black Christianophobic propaganda put about by the Tories and the BNP. Most black people are Christians and love the Queen, so those secular republican fundamentalists who denounce religion and the monarchy are racists.”
Prof Alex Callinicont contributes a learned comment:”There is nothing in Marx calling for the abolition of the monarchy: therefore those who do are racists.” Mr Lennie Seymour agrees and submits an article into the Guardian ‘Comment Is Free’ to that effect.
Above: an example of crude, racist Republicanism.
**********************************(end of satirical bit)*******************************************
N.B: Many apparently quite intelligent people are members of the Stupid Wankers Party. Therefore, being fairly intelligent, clearly, is no obstacle to being a complete fucking idiot – C.C.
“Closer to home the energy secretary Chris Huhne is mulling over the collapse of the ‘couldn’t happen here’ argument. It may have washed with Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine but will not survive if the worst-case scenario plays out in high-tech Japan. That may still not happen, and if even the mix of an 9.0 magnitude earthquake, an accompanying tsunami and a hydrogen explosion does not cause lethal melt-down, then the balance of the rational argument could conceivably be more in favour of nuclear in a month’s time than it is today.” – Guardian editorial 15/03/2011
“All over the world, from China to Germany, governments are halting their nuclear power station programmes because of Fukushima.. But what is that supposed to ‘put right’? Whatever went wrong in Japan must have something to do with laying a chain of obsolete reactors precisely along a famous tectonic fault. But the German reactors at Unterweser or Neckarwestheim are nowhere near an earthquake zone, so why has chancellor Merkel shut them down for three months? It’s about as rational as the grand Chinese salt panic: hoarders have snatched it off every shelf in China, after a rumour that Fukushima had turned the salt of all the oceans radioactive.” – Neal Ascherson in The Observer 20/03/2011
Today may not seem an auspicious date upon which to suggest a favourable re-assessment of nuclear power. Twenty five years ago the world’s worst ever civil nuclear accident happened, and the people of Chernobyl are still suffering the effects. Children are still being born with genetic abnormalities and dying of thyroid cancer due to exposure to radioactive iodine contained in contaminated milk. As we discuss nuclear power, we must never forget this: it’s the single strongest argument against.
And now, of course, there’s Fukushima, which appears to have given the Greens and other anti-nuclear power campaigners another powerful argument. But has it? Just as the obsolete Soviet-era design and lax (to the point of non-existent) safety factors at Chernobyl make that disaster something that simply could not happen in an advanced capitalist democracy, so the poor design and siting (in an earthquake zone) of the TEPCO Fukushima plant is n ot something that would happen in Western Europe.
As the Guardian editorial (above) speculated a month ago, “if even the mix of an 9.0 magnitude earthquake, an accompanying tsunami and a hydrogen explosion does not cause lethal melt-down“…then maybe the Japanese earthquake, far from destroying the case for nuclear power, has actually vindicated it.
Certainly, a number of environmentalists and green-leftists seem to be coming round to that viewpoint, including George Monbiot, in a brave article that enraged a number of his erstwhile friends in the green movement. And Les Hearn, in a recent edition of the AWL’s newspaper Solidarity argued that we should…
Get nuclear power’s risks in perspective
The terrible events recently in Japan have resulted in at least 15,000 deaths, of which those attributable to the overheating cores and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant amount to… zero.
However, the situation at the power plant is potentially more serious if it is not controlled. What has been happening?
Some time ago, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) decided to build nuclear power plants in an earthquake zone. They judged that their design was robust enough to withstand a powerful earthquake. They judged that safety measures were adequate in the case of interruption of the electricity supply to the coolant pumps. They hadn’t considered the possibility of a large tsunami.
The plants are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) — sort of giant nuclear kettles. The core contains fuel rods of uranium-235 (235U) and plutonium-239 (239Pu) which undergo fission (atom-splitting) reactions, releasing neutrons, radiation, heat and fission products. The neutrons are fed back into the fuel rods in carefully controlled amounts to sustain a chain reaction, releasing heat which is continuously removed by superheated water under 70 times atmospheric pressure. This is allowed to boil, high pressure steam being used to drive electricity generators.
The radiation is absorbed by the core and cannot escape. It eventually contributes to the heat of the core.
The fission products are smaller atoms, usually radioactive. Most dangerous are caesium-137 (137Cs) and iodine-131 (131I). They are contained within the fuel rods, paradoxically making these more radioactive for a while than the original U or Pu.
So what are the safety features of the Japanese BWRs? If the electricity to the pumps cuts out, the chain reaction must be stopped to prevent the release of more heat. This is done by inserting boron control rods into the core. These absorb neutrons so that new fissions cannot occur. Then residual heat must be removed from the rods. The fact that the coolant water is at about 300 ºC shows that the core heat is considerable. If current is cut to the electric pumps, back-up diesel pumps come into operation. If these fail, batteries operate the pumps electrically. Before these run out, TEPCO assumes the main or diesel pumps will be working again.
What actually happened on 11 March and after was as follows. The buildings withstood one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history and the control rods were automatically inserted into the core. However, the electrically powered pumps were disabled when the earthquake felled power lines. Diesel pumps kicked in but were then swamped by an unexpectedly large tsunami. Then the shed-load of batteries took over for a few hours but, when they ran down, neither had the electricity had been restored nor the diesel pumps restarted. The core started to overheat.
This risked damage to the fuel rods, resulting in emission of caesium-137 and iodine-131. The risk of damage was increased as the heat of the core made it difficult to cool it with the seawater that the plant workers and emergency services were trying to dump on the reactors. The water was instantly boiling and being driven off as steam. The danger of the fuel rods melting and emitting even more radioactive substances was growing. It is not clear that this would lead to a more catastrophic breach of the steel containment: this would require temperatures exceeding 1500 ºC. But it would increase the danger to the workers of excessive radiation, and risk spreading radioactive caesium and iodine in the surroundings.
The problem of these substances is two-fold. Caesium compounds are very soluble and chemically similar to compounds of sodium and potassium. Caesium rapidly spreads through the environment and is absorbed by plants and animals which may be part of the human diet. Its half-life is about 30 years, meaning that it takes about 100 years to decay to 10% of its original level. However, except locally, it is unlikely to be particularly hazardous. Iodine is more problematic. It is absorbed easily and passed on to humans in food. The body then concentrates it in the thyroid gland, converting a low general dose of radiation to a much higher specific dose to one tissue. It has a half-life of eight days, making it more radioactive atom for atom than caesium-137 but dropping to less than 1% in two months. Preventative measures can easily be taken, minimising the risks.
It is not clear whether the reactors will be brought under control without substantial emission of radiation. It is clear that TEPCO should have sited the back-up pumps higher to avoid inundation by tsunamis. It is less clear but arguable that an earthquake zone was not a wise choice.
Nevertheless, the minimal injuries and absence of deaths compared with the effect of the earthquake and tsunami should help to put nuclear power’s risks in perspective. And we’re not talking about another Chernobyl.
… also supported by the nazis of ‘Stormfront.’ To denounce “Zionism,” of course.
A comrade informs me:
“Been made aware of this event today.