What's in Paisley's Pants? Political ramblings about things that catch my attention... (rather than some smutty double entendre...)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Heard a rumour

Apparently Richard Whitely isn't actually dead. I've heard that he's gone off to hook up with Tupac, and will feature in the rapper's next 'posthumous' album.

Elvis on backing vocals. As opposed to Elves.

Where have all the ladybirds gone?

Has anyone else noticed a lack of ladybirds? I have only seen two this year, and they were both on their last legs, and that was before it started snowing in the spring... And not only have I not seen many ladybirds, but I've seen hundreds on greenfly, suggesting a shortage of aphid-munchers.

There's something for Bill Oddie to get working on.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Chinese protests

There have been a few whisperings here and there of a revival of left wing movements, and it seems there is a fair bit of evidence to support this. From the uprising in Bolivia, the protests in Ethiopia, to the success of Respect in May, and the prospect of success for Oskar Fontaine in the forthcoming German elections.

To be added to this list, I think, are the growing protests of Chinese workers and the poor in the west of the country, protesting against the rapidly expanding powers of big businesses in the country. The event that triggered interest in the protests was the tactics employed by Hebei Guohua Power, who wanted to build a power plant in an area where 13 villages would have to be demolished. While 12 of the villages accepted compensation, 1 did not, and the company hired hundreds of thugs, bussed them in, and ordered them to beat villagers and destroy the village. 10 people are thought to have been killed in the attack.

A government report has estimated that 3.1 million people took part in protests in just one month last year. These are presumably made up of smaller protests, like the 50,000-strong riot in Wangzhou city, after people were forcibly cleared from their land to make way for the planet's largest construction project, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

The protests appear to be disparate and unconnected at the moment. If some sort of national movement could be formed, then a hugely powerful organisation would be able to get the voices of 140 million migrant workers heard in Beijing. How far the Chinese government would allow this to happen is unclear, but it is unlikely that it would allow any such group to become too powerful. However, there are clear indications that there is desire for change amongst the Chinese poor, and they are willing to take to the streets in an effort to make themselves heard. Let’s just hope that some sort of organisation can come from these disparate bases.

Monday, June 13, 2005

There's making someone confess, and there's torture...

but this is taking it too far:
A top al-Qa'ida suspect in Guantanamo Bay was stripped, forced to bark like a
dog, and subjected to the music of Christina Aguilera, it
emerged as debate intensified in the US capital over the future of the detention
camp in Cuba.

Over the next couple of days I'll be discussing the implications of this - does MTV have a future? Is Christina Aguilera worse than having your fingernails pulled out? Have people poured Britney Spears' piss over a Qu'ran? All this and more...

Friday, June 10, 2005

The problem with caring

It’s not easy caring about something. Anyone unfortunate enough to support a football team (a real one, not Chelsea or Arsenal or Man Utd) will confirm that it brings the best and the worst of times. When they lose, the sky is falling, and the ground can’t swallow you quick enough. Success on the other hand is sweet. Living on such a rollercoaster is hell. For the length of the season, your attitude towards life is entirely dependent on how successfully 11 men kick a ball around. It is entirely irrational, and to none-football fans, it is not understandable. It would of course be so much easier if one simply didn’t care so much.

Politics is rather like this. People are generally on one side or the other (or glory supporters straight down the middle: they want the best of all worlds, but never have the same feeling about success and failure - rather like centrist politics, the feeling is completely bland), they celebrate successes and failures, there is a feeling of belonging, that we are all in this together – success for one is success for all, and failure is felt across the board.

Of course, this is too simplistic. In reality, politics is like two teams squaring up, left vs. right, red vs. blue, but in each team, the 11 players are bickering with each other, and supporters choose to back a particular player rather than the entire team. However, I think in broad terms, the team analogy works.

Sometimes, it feels like we’re running straight up against a brick wall. We’re fighting powers that are beyond us, swinging lame punches way above our weight, and ultimately, the cause is hopeless. Politicians will not listen to us, no matter how loudly we shout. They will line the pockets of a few, exploiting everyone else for their gain. Take the Africa situation for example. 20 years ago, Live Aid thrust Africa into the spotlight. Hundreds of millions of pounds were raised for the continent. Not only this, but awareness about the situation was raised. Demand for change grew, people called for change, and for the West to stop the unfair practices that didn’t allow the African people to get themselves out of the poverty that the west thrusts upon them. What happened then? Debt grew, poverty grew, trade tariffs grew. Any voices of protest were resolutely ignored. Any movement for change was left impotent. And how will Live8 be any different? There is absolutely no desire among the world leaders to bring genuine change about – only to throw symbolic figures of money at the continent. Just look at the figures in The Independent yesterday - $1 trillion on arms, $78 billion on aid. America promises $5 billion in aid. What the fuck will $5 billion achieve? Absolutely nothing. It is a paltry sum designed to be just big enough so they cannot be blamed of doing nothing, but small enough not to make a noticeable dent in the pockets of ordinary Americans, who quite simply couldn’t care about Africa: Africa isn’t a vote winner, so nobody gives it any serious thought. We will be holding another concert for Africa 20 years from now, and asking ourselves the very same questions. It is disheartening to consider how powerless we seem to be. Geldof can muster as many pop bands as he likes, the entire population could march to Edinburgh, people could start a fucking riot at Gleneagles, and it would make fuck all difference.

Of course, it would be so much easier if one simply didn’t care so much. But how can we not care when the price of apathy is the lives of millions? We have a duty to protest. To not try is a heinous crime, to try but fail is largely forgivable. Similar principles apply to politics in general. On the left, people care because they react to the injustice they perceive in the capitalist system, and they cannot live with a system that perpetuates such an injustice. On the right, the fight is for an individual’s freedom to strive to realise his own worth, and personally benefit from his own work. Somewhere along the line, everyone has looked at each side and made a decision, conscious or not, as to which ethos suits them. When something is so important to you, it is impossible to simply not care.

Following a football team will have its positives eventually (unless it’s a team like Shrewsbury), and similarly, we gain from the successes of our political side. The left at the moment are basking in success. From Galloway’s victory in May, to the success of the German Work and Social Justice party in the state elections, to the defeat in the European Constitution referenda, to the uprising of the poor in Bolivia, all over the world, to the rule of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, it seems like people are finally standing up once more. The name of socialism, tarnished by the Soviet Union, rubbished by the neo-liberals that came in with Thatcher and Reagan, is being shouted out again proudly. The socialist banner is held high again after years of quiet and triangulation and centralisation. That era finally seems to be over, and the left seems ready to stand up and shout once more.

We care because we have a duty to. It would be easier not to care, but if we did that then we would be committing a grave injustice to our own principles. Unfortunately, with care comes an attachment that can be the both the best and worst thing. When things go well, we have the power to change the world; when they go badly, we are running into brick walls. The results come when we carry on believing things can change even when everything is going against us.

For more on the Bolivia situation, see Apostate Windbag's excellent summary of events.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Live8 Critics missing the critical criticism

OK, so Live8 has a few problems:

1) There are no black performers in the Hyde Park concert. Not even the seemingly ever present Jamelia is on there.

2) There are no African performers. Well, there is Youssou N'Dour in the Paris concert, but he's the only one. According to the organisers, African performers simply do not have the 'superstar status' of the acts featured. Does this strike anyone else as absolute rubbish? And what better time to showcase acts from the continent.

3) The concert won't change anything/ we've thrown enough money at them all ready/ those dictators will just buy more wives with it. (delete as appropriate). This criticism doesn't really hold up: the difference between this concert and Live Aid is that Live8 is about raising political awareness, rather than raising money. It aims to raise grassroots support for the campaign for trade justice and debt relief.

None of these criticisms really pick up on the major flaw in the Live8 plan: Mariah Carey is down to host and headline the London concert. What the fuck? Not only is she a diabolically awful performance artist, musically the equivalent of a dripping wet turd being poured into one's ears, but she has a reputation for being a fussy, demanding, spoilt brat. Is someone who requires an entourage the size of a football crowd to massage her ego and tell her how wonderful she really the right image the organisers want to project to the world? Rather I would suggest she should be placed in a vat of her own melted down bargain basement singles, so she can wallow and boil in her own musical-vomit.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Catholic Archbishop in Sense of Humour Shock

Archbishop Faustino Munoz, the newly appointed Papal Nuncio in the UK caused a bit of a stir at a party in the Italian embassy yesterday.

When asked if he was going to appoint a new bishop in the diocese of Paisley, he replied 'Aah, Paisley. The very important and charismatic politician in Ireland. I never knew he had a diocese as well.'

I'm sure the Reverand Doctor loves having Catholics take the mickey out of him.

Son of Star Wars facing Russian opposition

(Mr Majuka will like this one, although it's pretty badly written - brain not quite clicking into place)

The Star Wars project is beginning to get up people's noses. Not (yet) in a mega serious, lets start a nuclear war sort of way, but it certainly could produce quite a stand off between the two countries. This was after Bush revived the plans to build the space-based missile defence system.

Sergei Ivanov, Russia's defence minister has said that Russia will not tolerate any country putting weapons into space. He also said, somwhat ominously, that any country that did so would face Russian retaliation to their actions. Athough he did not mention the US or the Star Wars project, he did say that Russia was 'categorically against the miltarisation of space'.

The whole Star Wars project is absolutely a bad idea. It is expensive: in the past 30 years, $122 billion has been thrown at the project, with no results. The presence of such a system will only increase military tension in the world. And, how likely is it that America will need such a defence against ICBM missiles? They went out with the cold war. Terrorists don't need missiles, just a couple of planes, or bombs taken on board trains, or a small vial of chemicals. And is there any country that will seriously attack the US? With the current leadership especially, any attack against what could be perceived as 'US interests' would be close to suicide for the responsible country.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Middle Class Crises of Confidence #1

"Am I a racist/homophobe/snob for not liking any of the Big Brother contestants?"

Africa - everyone else is writing about it, I thought I should too

Richard Dowden, President of the Royal Africa Society, wrote in the Independent today offering up 5 things that need to be done:

Firstly, we can fight to end the agricultural subsidies for farmers in Europe, America and Japan that keep world prices low and squeeze African commodities out the market. And end the export subsidies that allow cheap food to be dumped in Africa destroying African markets. High tariffs keeping out African goods need to be cut, but African countries need a bit of time before reciprocating the removal of trade barriers, as they have no safety nets to protect workers who lose their jobs.

Secondly, we could look closely at the outside dimension to corruption in Africa. Britain has resisted signing up to the UN Convention on Corruption and British companies are fighting regulations that would make them responsible for corrupt practices by their agents as well as their own staff. London looks to be the laundry of choice when it comes to laundering African corruption money - and although the reporting regulations have been tightened up, few reports from banks about suspicious funds are followed up by the Financial Services Authority unless they are related to drugs or terrorism.

Thirdly, we have to stop encouraging the brain-drain from Africa. There are said to be more Malawian nurses in Birmingham than in Malawi, a country ravaged by Aids. It is not about a ban, but maybe finding ways of turning the ebb and flow of skills into a win-win rather than a win-lose, as it is at the moment.

Fourthly, the arms and mines that kill in Africa's wars are mostly made in the former Soviet Union, but the dealers are mostly in London and the deals are made in the City. They are not licensed or regulated in any way.

Fifthly, Britain has got to do something about its immigration policy. Thousands of Africans living in Britain - or trying to come here for study or to visit relatives - are left with an impression of Britain somewhat at odds with Tony Blair's passion for Africa. I spent a day and half trying to get a visa for a well-known Ugandan MP, who was scheduled to speak at a meeting I was organising. Not even the intervention by our new Minister for Africa, Lord Treisman, could move the Home Office to deliver it in time.

If I could add two of my own points here. Firstly, 100% of all debt must be cancelled - it is all well and good giving aid to a country, but it is meaningless when most of it has to go back out in debt repayments. Secondly, aid aid should be channelled into education, starting with free primary schooling, and working upwards. The only way for a country to develop and progress is through the education of its workforce. What is more, an educated workforce will demand rights and democracy, something which the UN has declared to be crucial in changing the corrupt ways of so many African governments.