Monday, July 31, 2006

Bush, fundamentalism and the Middle East

Karen Armstrong, in a piece about apocalyptic fundamentalism, asks whether there is, "a connection between a religiously motivated mistrust of science, glaring social injustice and a war in the Middle East?" No, of course she isn't talking about Iran; the only form of 'fundamentalism' she believes to be significant is the one she imputes to George Bush. She argues that a belief in the 'rapture' may be behind the US Administration's position regarding the present situation in Lebanon and that it is this kind of apocalyptic vision that also leads them to be indifferent to social reform and the environment. She suggests, for example, that this is behind the Bush Administration's rejection of the Kyoto treaty:
"It has, for example, persistently ignored scientists' warnings about global warming. Why bother to implement the Kyoto treaty if the world is about to end?"
Why indeed? But then, if the world is about to end, why bother with such this-worldly concerns such as pressing for prayer in schools, restricting abortion, banning stem-cell research and all the other concerns of the Evangelical Right?

I thought this article remarkable for three reasons. Firstly, there is the complete absence of any form of materialistic explanations for what is happening in the present situation. Nothing about states and their economic and strategic regional interests. Nothing about the impact that historical alliances have on these today. And nothing about how decisions are made in a bureaucracy and the various institutional pressures that are brought to bear on them. Rather, Armstrong contends, Bush's theology is the decisive factor here. I appreciate that Ms Armstrong is essentially a theologian with little understanding of politics or history but I think it is significant that these days people who would describe themselves as 'Marxists' repeat arguments very similar to hers.

Secondly, her hypothesis is - as is the custom in CiF - rather lop-sided. Bush's apocalyptic theology, she insists, is driving world events. Given that her view of history, in as far as it is possible to identify her as having one, is essentially idealistic - you'd think the Israel-annihilating eschatology espoused by Nasrallah or Ahmadinejad might also be worth considering as a significant variable. But apparently not.

But the main problem with the article is the complete absence of evidence for her central hypothesis. She has apparently no proof to support her assumptions about Bush's supposed eschatology. But more importantly, she provides no evidence at all that this has any bearing on US policy in relation to the Middle East. Does Paul Wolfowitz believe in the 'rapture'? I don't think so.

In other words, this is a completely evidence-free article. An impressive achievement for someone posing as a defender of rationality and science, I think you'll agree.

The strange world of Tony Blair

"But for heaven's sake, above all else, lead", said Tony Blair in a seriously bizarre self-assessment of his own leadership style that he made in California before a gathering of Newscorp executives. Yet again, Blair shows his usual traits of sometimes amazing ahistoricism - this is what allows him to see 'new things' everywhere - combined with the air of impatient bewilderment that he adopts when confronted with those who, to his moral astonishment, happen to disagree with him:
"Mass migration requires rules. Biometric technology means that countries are increasingly insisting on biometric visas, which in turn mean biometric passports. A biometric ID card is a short step away. It is, to me at least, almost incredible that the proposal to introduce an identity register in the UK should be so extraordinarily controversial - but it is."
No one with any historical knowledge of how internal passports have been used by various regimes in the twentieth century would find it strange that the prospect of such a scheme so alien to the traditions of British liberty should prove so controversial. Neither would anyone who might care to imagine how this might be used by a future government who might be even less scrupulous, but more competent, than our present collection of Pretty Straight Guys.

He went on to say:
"Political leaders have to back their instinct and lead. The media climate will often be harsh. Non-governmental organisations and pressure groups with single causes can be benevolent, but can also exercise a kind of malign tyranny over the public debate.

For a leader - don't let your ego be carried away by the praise or your spirit diminished by the criticism, and look on each with a very searching eye..."
"Searching eye" indeed! How much searching does an eye have to do before it identifies something so obvious as excessive size? It's difficult to know where to begin with Blair's assessment of his own leadership and his treatment of it as a concept. For one, there seems missing the simple understanding that you're only a leader if people are following you. Missing too is the humility it would require to admit the possibility that not only is it not essential that his 'leadership' should continue, it might even be desirable if it didn't.

But there's a more profound problem with what Blair has said here. After nine years as Prime Minister, Tony Blair does not understand the difference between leadership and government, or rather doesn't understand that they are two different things. Blair thinks it's his job to 'lead' everything - the Labour Party, the country, the 'process of reform', the free world, or whatever.

Of these, only the Labour Party is his responsibility. With regards to everything else, he doesn't seem to have understood that what is required of elected politicians is not that they should lead but that they should govern.

Blair seems to be only capable of understanding his role as 'leading change' in the rules, never in administering the set we already have. How can any person do a job properly if they don't know what their duties are?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lebanese proportions

Unusually, I found myself agreeing with Simon Jenkins in the narrow sense that I identify with his doubts as to whether it is even possible to write anything about the Middle East that can do anything but stir emotion and prejudice. Specifically regarding the left, or rather the strange form it has reconstituted itself into since the collapse of the Soviet Union, only Latin America can compete in terms of international issues that will inflame passions beyond reason and even here, and especially today, it comes a poor second.

And despite the fact that some of us think he's got a bit of a cheek, I also found myself agreeing with Putin in his description of the Israeli response to Hizbollah in Lebanon as 'disproportionate'. This has nothing to do with the view of Fisk and his ilk that Israel's enemies are but phantoms, or at best irritants. But rejecting this view does not oblige us to take the other side of the apocalyptic coin at face value. I could not agree, for example, with Harry's comparison of the present situation with Appeasement. It's not that there's any doubt over the true aims of Hizbollah and their sponsors; it's that there is no question of them being able to achieve their goal. A sober assessment of the military situation in the Middle East could not lead one, I believe, to sensibly claim that Israel is to Hizbollah what Czechoslovakia was to Nazi Germany.

Moreover, while the alternatives to the history of Appeasement are clear in narrow military terms, it is by no means so obvious in this case. The destruction of the Nazi airforce, built in violation of the Versailles Treaty, would have been a fairly straightforward matter; most historians, I think, would agree what was was absent was the willingness rather than the ability. Not so with the military infrastructure of Hizbollah, as recent events have shown. Despite the ferocious bombardment of Lebanon, Hizbollah retains the capacity to launch rockets into Israel's territory. This is a function of bad intelligence but more importantly of the fact that the industrial capacity behind Hizbollah's armoury lies outwith Lebanon's borders. This is why I think the Israeli destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure is unjustified. The harm goes beyond the immediacy of the civilian casualties; the ruination of Lebanon's fragile economy that this implies is likely to spread suffering far wider and seriously undermine the capacity of democratic forces within Lebanon to make their voices heard. It isn't only Hizbollah that avail themselves of luxuries such as roads, bridges, airports and milk factories.

This is why I decline Eric Lee's invitation to 'cheer this on'. He invites us to imagine two alternative futures - one where Israel defeats Hizbollah and by extension secularism triumphs over clerical fascism, and one where Israel is overrun by her enemies. But a future I think it's worth imagining is one where neither side wins and the problem is merely reconstituted in a different form. That, after all, is surely the most likely outcome of this? Which leaves the question: what did all these civilians in Beruit and Haifa have to die for?

But this is about as far as I am willing to travel with those currently denouncing the Israeli response in Lebanon as disproportionate because for so many this argument has nothing to do with 'proportion' at all. David Clark wrote that, "No one quibbles with Israel's right to defend itself..." I find it difficult to believe that when he typed these words he didn't know within himself that this is patently untrue. Is he really unaware that there are not a few that deny Israel's right to defend herself on the grounds that they believe she has no right to exist? To them questions of proportion are irrelevant: any response would be 'disproportionate' simply because it exists at all. And any attack would be justified because of the original offence. No, no - not the Israeli occupation of Lebanon; the foundation of the state of Israel itself.

Do you doubt this? Here's Richard Gott reflecting on the disasters that British imperialism has bequeathed the world:
"Top of the list is Palestine, a settler colony that Britain abandoned in 1947 after barely 30 years, having imposed a population of mostly European settlers on the indigenous people - one of the typical characteristics of imperial rule."
Top of the list. Of course. Where else would you expect to find it? According to Gott, during the Mandate years, the British 'imposed' an essentially European population of Jewry on the Middle East whilst simultaneously restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine from 1939. An impressively contradictory and evil imperialistic feat, I think you'll agree. Perhaps one shouldn't mock Richard Gott for being apparently ignorant of the White Paper of 1939; after all, it's not something we like to talk about.

Gott's parody of history is indicative of a wider trend. The psuedo-left has almost completely abandoned any materialistic explanation of this present situation, preferring instead explanations that rest on ideology and psychology. Take this, for example - found linked at a well-known (selectively) antiwar blog, which argues that Zionism from Herzl's day "internalized" European anti-Semitism. That anyone could seriously argue that evidence of this can be more readily found in modern Israel over and above the straightforward cut and paste affair militant jihadis throughout the world have done, down to the details of cartoons from Der Sturmer and the adoption of the Protocols of the Wise Elders of Zion as a genuine historical document, beggars belief. In any event, whereas Zionism was an ideology, Israel is a historical reality - a distinction of no little importance to those of us that try to occupy the real world.

In this context, surely now no-one can doubt the disingenuity of those who made so much of the absence of a UN Security Council Resolution for the invasion of Iraq? Israel's right to exist was recognised by the UN shortly after its inception, with obviously the most significant players of the time being the United States and the Soviet Union. But the UN does not recognise the right of Hizbollah to exist. This should not be understood as championing the role of the UN as some kind of one-world government, as it exists in some people's fevered imaginations; merely a plea for a little consistency.

International law is but another straw that anti-Zionists clutch at in an attempt to demonstrate the essential pathology of the Israeli state. Forget any notions you might have of understanding Israeli actions based on a consideration of their perceived interests; to be a bona fide leftie these days you are required to believe the Israeli state is essentially psychopathic. The rhetoric of Israel as a genocidal state has, as Norman Geras points out, creeped - and I use this term advisedly - steadily towards the mainstream of liberal-left discourse. I suppose it would be too much to expect an answer to the question as to why, given her supposed homicidal nature plus the impressive weaponry it has at its disposal, Israel seems to be so spectacularly inefficient at the 'genocide' it is routinely accused of carrying out? Wouldn't any aspiring 'genocidal state' be embarrassed at what was achieved in Rwanda in a similar time-scale using the humble machete?

The search for the pathology of Israel can be demonstrated in the way the photograph below was used on various 'leftist' sites:

Involving children in the bitterness of conflict is, I would agree, a disgraceful thing.

You'll have noticed the way that photographs are used in the blogosphere. As if words are supposed to fall silent to the superior eloquence of the image. Invariably you are being asked to emote, rather than to think.

But enough of this because those who think one side in all this has a monopoly over bitterness and hatred are but children themselves and are scarcely worth talking to.

Drawing from the Romantic notion of the 'noble savage' uncorrupted by modernity, German volkisch thought idealised the simple peasant farmer who in some mystical sense shaped the landscape and was in turn shaped by it. This married easily with traditional anti-Semitism, for who else could serve as the very incarnation of this ideal's antithesis as the eternal wandering Jew - cosmopolitan, secular, and - perhaps above all - landless? Yet today we are being told that the only problem anyone has with the Jews is that they now have land - because it was taken from another. So different, yet the same. For many, but by no means all, there is an underlying theme that echoes down millennia and not merely centuries: the common denominator is the question of existence itself.

This is what Israel believes itself to be fighting for. I've argued that in this present situation they are mistaken. But if something even vaguely similar happened in a different context? Wouldn't we be invited to understand, my brothers and sisters, now wouldn't we?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Not dead, resting

Sorry for light posting. Going through a bit of a "what's the point of this?" sort of thing.

I'll be back if and when I've worked out what it is.

Update: Ok, I've remembered; having one's own blog reduces my marginal propensity to litter up other people's comments boxes. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

If it keeps on raining...

Lord Levy has been bailed, having been arrested by the Metropolitan Police in the course of their inquiry into the 'cash for honours' allegations.

Although Levy complained that the police had 'over-reacted', I was wondering on what basis could a New Labour believer possibly have for complaining about this? If indeed a crime has been committed, is this not the very government who would insist that we should be tough on it? And further, if the police are somewhat over-enthusiastic in their investigation of it, this is a price worth paying to ensure a wider justice is served. Is this not the sort of thing we are continually being told?

And assuming that even if no criminal charges are brought, this sort of bad-headline generating thing would surely be enough for the government to attempt some bleaching of the stained and jaded garment of their public image? Then we could expect them to be true to their credo and be tough on the causes of crime. This would mean being tough on the Prime Minister's impressively medieval powers of patronage.

'Reforming' the Lords to make it less aristocratic has served to make its plutocratic nature more obvious - and more significantly, the absence of inheritance has made the connection to central government more immediate. Their Lordships always owed their position to Crown patronage; increasingly they are indebted to it as it is exercised by this Prime Minister. You might think they'd consider actually implementing the democratic reform that they promised in opposition but haven't delivered on. Yet after nine years in power, the Leader of the House is seeking to 'build a consensus' around the idea of quite literally doing it by half-measures.

Not that a full-measure would cure all because at base it's about the need for the Labour Party to raise money. In this context, some often attempt to dismiss these present difficulties by raising the spectre of the old relationship between the Labour Party and the trades unions, '70s-style. But it's getting to the point where the old 'beer and sandwiches' axis of corporatism is looking like a positively subtle relationship compared to what we have now.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Historical comparisons

Are often tricky for the simple reason that history never quite repeats itself. Still, it can be a useful technique - but if you want to have a shot at it, it helps if you aren't as completely lazy as Richard Norton-Taylor, in his comparison of Eden and Suez with Blair and Iraq.

Norm refers to what surely is his most serious omission - but the shortcomings in Norton-Taylor's tedious piece don't end with that. There's the question of Britain's allies in both cases, which - as can't have escaped many people's attention - has been absolutely decisive in determining people's attitudes to the invasion of Iraq.

Complaints about the lack of a UN mandate or the case that the Bush and Blair regimes made for the invasion were but window-dressing to the principle objection: it was being led by the United States that had a rightwing Republican as Commander in Chief. Such was and is the antithapy to this, some people even managed to convince themselves that the French opposed the war on a matter of principle, rather than doing so on a calculation of their strategic and economic national interest.

Contrast and compare with Suez. On that occasion Britain and France were united in believing military action in Egypt was in both their interests. Not least amongst their problems was the fact that old Ike was none too impressed with this, and I think most historians would agree that the lack of American support in this Anglo-French adventure was fairly decisive.

These are hardly minor details for a 'left' that literally prefers anything, no matter how corrupt, depraved or reactionary, to American capitalism - this being, in their considered opinion, quite the worst thing that has ever been inflicted on the human race. Pupil: Richard Norton-Taylor; Subject: History; Grade: D; Comment: Must try harder.

ID card scheme in doubt after omission from terror report

From the Scotsman:
"IDENTITY cards have not been included in the government's definitive account of Britain's counter-terrorism strategy, fuelling speculation that Tony Blair's controversial scheme is in serious trouble."
Excellent, excellent. I assume this is related to the leak that alleged even the scaled-down version the government was planning might not be "even remotely feasible".

That ID cards could prove to be an expensive yet unworkable project is a good reason to oppose them.

But a less expensive yet feasible scheme should be opposed more vigorously because that would represent a greater threat to liberty, if not to the public purse.

If politicians want us to respect their privacy, they might have a go at respecting ours. As a first step towards this more liberal state of affairs they could take their ID cards and shove them. From here the possibilities are endless. Have five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, half an hour of healthy exercise, don't smoke and restrict yourself to 28 units of alcohol per week? I've got a better idea. HM Government - why don't you fuck off and mind your own business?

Privacy? What privacy?

Over here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Do miracles happen?

From the Scotsman:
"THE Catholic Church is investigating reports of a miracle at a Scottish hospital amid claims a nun's relic helped a premature baby to live after doctors gave up hope of the infant surviving.

The relic of the Venerable Margaret Sinclair, a former Edinburgh factory worker who died in 1925, was placed in the incubator of the infant, who weighed just 1lb when born."
A nun's relic indeed! Here's 'Dave' Hume:
"That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish...."
In other words, to class this as a 'miracle', you'd have to accept that it was more miraculous that the doctors were wrong in this case.

You do that, if you really must.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hug a hoodie

Husky Dave is getting in touch with his inner-hoodie:
"[H]oodies are more defensive than offensive. They're a way to stay invisible in the street. In a dangerous environment the best thing to do is keep your head down, blend in. For some the hoodie represents all that's wrong about youth culture in Britain today. For me, adult society's response to the hoodie shows how far we are from finding the long-term answers to put things right."
Long-term answers? Press-ups, dammit - and plenty of them. Just don't know where we are these days. There used to be all of these people who I never agreed with but at least you knew where they stood. Ultra-lefties were hostile to all forms of organised religion; Tories were pretty much hostile to all forms of human life - especially those under 45. Now both have gone all gooey in an orgy of empathy and it's not a little confusing. Next thing you know we'll have Al-Qaeda complaining about the stresses of maintaining a healthy life-jihad balance.

The hoodie thing I don't really get 'cos we don't have them in Scotland. Well we do - but hoodie-wearers are generally the goth types who are, like, so bummed-out at how inauthentic everything is and are generally only a danger to themselves. For instance, in my last school several students were either killed or injured in tragic eye-liner application incidents. There is simply no question of hugging any of these. Apart from anything else, one would risk being impaled on all their piercings.

So are the English variety altogether different? Would you 'hug a hoodie'? I'd be inclined to advise against it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

On heretics and schismatics

Karen Armstrong is both right and wrong when she points out the heterodox nature of 'fundamentalism':
"We often use the word "fundamentalist" wrongly, as a synonym for "orthodox". In fact, fundamentalists are unorthodox - even anti-orthodox. They may invoke the past, but these are innovative movements that promote entirely new doctrines."
She's right about fundamentalists claiming antiquity for what are in fact theological innovations but she too uses the term 'fundamentalism' incorrectly. Both in theory and practice, fundamentalism is not the belief that the text of the Holy Book is to be taken literally - it is the believe that it is both inerrant and exhaustive on all matters of human conduct. But no-one should doubt that this allows for allegorical interpretation. I'm afraid it's a very vulgar example but if this doesn't convince you that fundamentalism has the capacity to allow allegory, I can't think what will.

And I think Karen Armstrong is wrong to say, "informed extremists today do not need to be told that their holy war is unorthodox; they already know." No. They know they are schismatics - but this is not the same thing as "knowing you are unorthodox." The process she describes is sociologically correct but a crucial component of this is that sects and cults everywhere break from the orthodox tradition but they do this with the self-perception that they are the carriers of the real identity of the parent body, which they generally regard as corrupt, degenerate and apostate.

She's right to say it's likely to be futile to have a bunch of 'moderate clerics' pointing out their heterodoxy. But on the other hand, it can only be to the good if as many people as possible with any understanding of religion should point this out. Al-Qaeda is a heterodox cult that claims to be the true ecclesia. It is entirely unfair that the majority of Muslims should have to point out that the name of their religion is being abused and defamed. But the freedom to practice traditional religious piety requires it nevertheless. And when apportioning blame for this sorry state of affairs, we could maybe attribute as least as much to those who claim divine sanction and consecration for acts of bestial inhumanity as to 'Islamaphobic' journalists?

The Curled Wup

You thought the World Cup was about football? Oh how wrong you are. It's significance is so much deeper than that. Enter Martin Jacques, who uses China's spectacular performance to illustrate how unzeitgeisty and generally fucked-up Europe is. Well, no he doesn't - because he can't in this case. So he complains about the lack of proportional representation instead:
"Unlike virtually every other human activity - from politics and economics to universities and the military - football has managed to give a growing place in the sun to those who are normally marginalised and unrepresented. The growing importance of Africa and Asia in football are testimony to this.

But, alas, not in this World Cup. In the last sixteen there was only one African side and no Asian. In the last eight, there were six European and two Latin American: the last four was a European monopoly."
The dark shadow of colonialism is not difficult to discern here. The not scoring enough goals thing - a rule that positively reeks of imperialism, I think you'll agree. Here's Norm, who has the ideal solution for people in Mr Jacques' sorry condition:
"Presumably the Martin Jacques World Cup would settle these matters in a way more sensitive to the multi-continental nature of the planet we live on and not so slavishly attuned to the outcome of the actual games. The perfect sporting competition would be one - call it the Curled Wup, involving not football, but curling a wup into its matching thrup - in which the outcome always exactly mirrored the great heterogeneity of nations. Exciting wouldn't be the word."
I think I detect a hint of sarcasm there.

Anyway, who is everyone going for? Vive le France, I reckon.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Demonstrations and drawing the line

"Where do you draw the line?", asks Gene. He means where do you draw the line when the moving and animating force behind a demonstration has aims and objectives that you might find odious but yet you find agreement on the narrow issue around which the 'demo' has been organised - like 'stopping a war'.

Anyway you slice it, the examples he uses are a non-dilemma for me. For instance, even if I had not supported the invasion of Iraq, I certainly wouldn't have joined those stupid demonstrations with their feel-good factor and their extravagant conflation of issues. Same with any future ones of that nature. One would, for example, rather hope that this Administration of all people don't get it into their heads that they're the team that should grasp the North Korean bull by the balls. But why would anyone want to go on a demonstration organised by people who think the 'real' problem here lies not in the fact that Waco has gone nuclear but in any response the Bush Administration might make?

But in general none of this creates any sort of dilemma for me because I never go on them. Is it just me? Maybe it's because I've had a bad experience. Went on CND marches to 'ban the bomb'. The bomb, as won't have escaped your attention, remains distinctly unbanned. Rather the opposite. Same with Maggie. "Out, out, out", we chanted. She declined to oblige. Perhaps this was because she kept getting elected. I'm not saying I feel silly in retrospect; I'm saying I felt silly at the time.

They are not really significant political acts, are they? Be honest. It's all about the heart on the sleeve, the public display of conscience. In a fiesta. They are not really indicative of political engagement - quite the opposite. It is not a co-incidence that while people can be mobilised in ever-increasing numbers around a single-issue or event, membership of just about every civic institution you can think of - religious institutions, charities, clubs, trades unions and political parties - are in decline. 'Tis the triumph of individualism. I've just taken it a stage further. There are only two kinds of demonstrations worth taking part in. Huge, seismic ones that are harbingers of large social eruptions. Or at the other extreme, those you go on in a minority of one - with a placard that says, "The End is Nigh". Figuratively, I mean. All this other stuff in the middle is about kidding yourself on.

7/7 reflections and denials

While nearly a year passing since the 7/7 London bombs there's naturally been some reflection on 'where we are', 'what we have learned' and so on. While one or two appear to either think progress has been made or at least is likely to be made, I found most of them fairly depressing.

That Abdul Wahid of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain should blame UK foreign policy is completely unsurprising but what is dispiriting is the number of well-meaning liberal sorts that appear to agree with this analysis. This post, for example, not from the ultra-left, is fairly typical in the way it re-heats the usual stuff about 'legitimate grievances' and the 'root causes' of terrorism and so on.

The constant refrain behind most of them is that the government is 'in denial' about the invasion of Iraq and the connection this had to 7/7. British involvement in Iraq has probably made the UK one of the top three or four targets in the world for Islamist terrorists of various kinds. I doubt very much the government is unaware of this, although is unlikely to say so for reasons that should be obvious.

Given that 'denial' is being used in a quasi-Freudian way to denote a detachment from obvious reality, I have to say it's not the first time I've thought that those making this diagnosis could do with a little 'therapy' themselves.

Physician, heal thyself. For what is it if not denial to ignore the fact that several countries, including Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt, who did not participate in either the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq have nevertheless been targets for extreme Islamist violence? Should it not be patently obvious that even if one could accept the extraordinary idea that a country's foreign policy should be framed with first priority given to the appeasement of terrorists, the removal of this purported 'root cause' is demonstrably no guarantee that further atrocities would be averted?

And is there not something we could describe as denial in the refusal by some to accept what used to be considered basic principles of moral responsibility? The bombers themselves are transformed into 'victims of alienation' and therefore considered, at best in this analysis, to have diminished responsibility. This is further contextualised by the victims losing something of their status as such, with the sense that at least some commentators are operating with a concept that comes very close to the notion of collective punishment.

I suppose it would be too much to expect people to change their minds because I certainly haven't changed mine. There is something profoundly wrong with a society where quite such a large section of 'liberal' opinion reacts to something like 7/7 by immediately asking the question, "What did we do wrong?" I wouldn't call it appeasement; it's something more akin to self-loathing. You disagree? That's because you're in denial.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The perils of personalismo

Spanking, swinging, threesomes - Tommy Sheridan is my kind of politician. Not so much a champagne as a PVC socialist. Or maybe a PVC and champagne socialist, according to the News of the World's lawyers.

Only his problem is he pretended to be one of those scary hairshirt types. Allegedly.

Anyway, regardless of the outcome of this defamation trial, the SSP will surely split. I think I'd rather join Tommy's wing, along with the 'silent majority' of the pro-spanking rank and file - sounds like more fun. I mean, party discipline meetings? The mind boggles.

Someone once said righteous indignation is 2% righteousness, 3% indignation and 95% envy and this is what will do for Tommy. Not so much a question of hypocrisy, more the suspicion that he's been having too much fun. Allegedly.

There's no point saying it's his private life. I deeply and sincerely wish politicians would tell the tabloids, who operate on the basis that there's no such thing as a private life, where to go. But Tommy's opportunity to do this passed when he chose to say, "It wasnae me", instead of, "Fuck off and mind your own business".

So good luck with the case, comrade Sheridan - from what I've heard, you're certainly going to need it.

Tommy Sheridan: "Sing it with me: The people's glove is deepest red..."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Most boring medical advice ever

Have 'mild sex':
"Experts at Vienna's Sport Medicine Institute say high temperatures boost the desire for sex, but also increase the risk of heart attacks.

Professor Norbert Bachl warned couples to refrain from sex if the thermometer topped 30 degrees Centigrade.

And he appealed to those who could not resist to make love "calmly".

He said: "The high temperatures increase the sex drive, but they also make intercourse quite risky, as the chance of heart-related complications increases.

"Those who can't resist should wait until the evening hours, when the air gets cooler, but even then they should not go wild.""
In a recent survey, 8 out of 10 Viennese doctors, despite reservations, agreed on balance that life was for living. Provided it's done in an orderly fashion.

Problems with the left?

"The Right looks for converts, the Left looks for traitors", is an old saying, apparently - although like Norm I'd never heard it before. But it's true of course - fratricide has always been a strong tradition on the left and I've been wondering whether and to what extent this has to do with the way in which at least a significant proportion of those who would describe themselves as 'left' understand morality.

If it's right to say that this is often still understood by many as a function of being on the 'right side of history', this means in practical terms that a measure of a person is often taken from the 'correctness' of someone's views in relation to big geo-political issues, rather than the more mundane business of how people conduct themselves towards their families, friends, neighbours and work-mates.

Burke wrote that, "To love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections." But certain sections of the left (not all of it, by any means) have not only tended to reverse this but sometimes to act as if love for one's little platoon should be viewed as something that is potentially detrimental to 'public affections', as if the former 'crowds out' the latter, as it were.

It's a problem because - and if I can be permitted to use this suspect phrase - I don't think 'ordinary people' have a lot of sympathy for this. It's a feeling I share.

On "foreign policy adventures"

"We are stuck in Afghanistan", declares Brian Whitaker in CiF. Now I'm fairly dubious about the wisdom of using British troops to try and curtail opium production but Whitaker's description of the invasion of Afghanistan as "Tony Blair's other great foreign policy adventure" is truly objectionable.

For it followed a unanimous vote by the UN Security Council and the fact that it was supported by the leaders of all the major parties in Britain means there's absolutely no reason at all to think it wouldn't have happened if Tony Blair hadn't been prime minister.

So how does it come to be Tony Blair's own personal 'foreign policy adventure' in Brian Whitaker's mind?

Scotland set for first Asian MSP

For the Scottish Nationalist Party, apparently. Since Mr Ahmed's election is being treated as a foregone conclusion by everyone concerned, I'm assuming he's being selected as a list MSP.

The SNP's leader in Holyrood (Alex Salmond loves Scotland so much he has a Westminster seat) Nicola Sturgeon was reported as saying, "I'm over the moon that Bashir Ahmad is on course to be Scotland's first Asian MSP", which makes me think the journalist made this up in the pub. I mean, do you hear people saying they're 'over the moon' when they're happy about something very often? Neither do I. But in journo-land this happens all the time. That and people SLAMMING things - what's that all about?

I digress. The SNP will want to use this to portray themselves as an open, diverse party that believes in civic nationalism. The problem seems to be that the rank and file don't seem to take quite the same attitude.

Not towards Asian Muslims, I hasten to add. Research carried out by Bill Miller and Asifa Hussain of Glasgow University found that while Islamophobia certainly exists, it is not apparently at all sensitive to Scottish nationalism - unlike in England.* Rather, what the research did reveal, and which some of us have been aware of for some time, is that hostility to the English is very sensitive to nationalism:
"[The] anti-English view increased depending on the sense of Scottish nationalism of the respondent. A total of 46 per cent of Scottish nationalists had a negative view of the English and 8 per cent actually said they would be unhappy to have an English relative.

The results were almost as stark when voting patterns were taken into account.

Researchers found Anglophobia was highest among SNP voters and Islamophobia was highest among Conservative voters. Labour voters were in the middle while Liberal Democrats were the most tolerant, with levels of Anglophobia and Islamophobia low among their supporters."
Note this is nationalism, boys and girls - not football. I could point out that I'm not a nationalist and am "over the moon" to have English relatives but I'm sensing y'all are a bit sensitive after Rooney went and kicked the wrong balls and all that. For what it's worth, I too am very disappointed at England's exit from the World Cup. I'd hoped they might stay in long enough to be beaten by Germans in a penalty shoot out.

Self-loathing Scots and insecure English to the comments for some therapy, if you must. All this anxiety about identity - quintessentially British, if you ask me.

*Correction from previous version: I hadn't been comparing like with like, silly me. Amongst the findings of the Miller report was that, "Islamophobia is greater in England than Scotland, and more closely tied to English nationalism in England than to Scottish nationalism in Scotland." Thanks KW.

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