Tuesday 31 October 2006

Stern Report.

I'm doing a distance-learning course in pre-history and am just getting used to thinking about massive environmental change happening over Milena.

Now it looks like mankind could screw the whole thing up within a generation. Here's the gist of the Stern Report:

· Temperatures could rise by 5C from pre-industrial levels.
· Warming of 2C could leave 15-40% species facing extinction.
· Warming of 3 or 4C will result in millions of people being flooded-by 2050, 200 million may be permanently displaced.
· Warming of 4C or more will seriously affect global food production.
· All countries will be affected by climate change, but the poorest countries will suffer worst and soonest.

But from what I understand of the report's proposals, I can't see that education and taxation is any more than a band-aid.

It is multinational businesses who control and exploit the world's natural resources and in the developing world they are often far more powerful than national governments. Infrastructure needs to be developed for transport and energy, on the basis of planning for need not profits.

To put it simply: Socialism.

But not too many of the green ghurus seem to have the balls for that kind of joined-up thinking.

Friday 27 October 2006

Not-So Wild Ones

A late night taxi ride last night, and we passed a group of HOG riders. (HOG - Harley Owners' Group - a kind of loyalty club run by Harley through their dealer network).

There were some pretty nice, and very expensive looking Harleys, although they do seem suspiciously clean as if probably haven't ever seen rain. So does the gear that the riders are wearing; very much a sanitised version of the outlaw MC look, complete with their version of a backpatch / colours.

This in particular makes me cringe. To Joe Public I suppose all bikers look pretty much alike. But these guys are about as far removed from real outlaws as an IT- company paint-balling team is from the SAS. And for them to wear a backpatch is as inappropriate/offensive as the paintballers affecting a green beret or para's wings.

I don't say this as some wannabe outlaw.

But I do respect outlaw MC's total 24/7 committment to the lifestyle, their sense of brotherhood, and their genuine ability to live on the edge of conventional society. Although the bottom line is that I could no more accept their code of loyalty that puts the club first, right or wrong - than I could support my country right or wrong. In any case, for me, part of the freedom of riding a bike is that it is a solitary pleasure not a social one.

Although I am a member of an independent Harley club.
It is older and in some respects more traditional and hardcore than HOG. The guys tend to be more likely to ride all week rather than just the weekends, and to do more of the spanner work themeselves or through indie/custom shops rather than official dealers.

But there is also a clause somewhere in the club rules that forbids the wearing of any club insignia as a backpatch.

Monday 23 October 2006

Campbell's depression.

Alastair Campbell has revealed that he suffered from depression.

Apparently this came about as part of a charity campaign last week to de-stigmatise mental health issues. Fair enough and I suppose it is commendable that several other celebrities have also stepped forward to speak out about their problems.

BUT - Alastair Campbell ! Surely some people just deserve to be depressed.

It would be nice to think that he had a moment of self-doubt at his part in 'sexing up' the case for taking the country into war. Or maybe a pang of guilt at his part in the suicide of Dr Kelly.

In the Roman Republic disgraced figures in public life would fall on their swords.

In Blair's Britain they seem to get a few weeks off for therapy and recuperation in Tuscany.Then they are rehabilitated in some other cushy adviser's role.

Thursday 19 October 2006

Zero Tolerance

Eldest daughter brought home a letter from the school's Attendance Supervision Manager yesterday (is that actually a real job with a business card etc ?). We were informed that she is to have half an hour's detention because she was recorded as being one minute late last week. (Yes - it is in bold on the letter too). I remember the day - there was a burst water main, traffic was gridlocked and I suspect half the school will be in detention.

The letter goes on to ask for our support for a policy of zero tolerance and refers us to the school handbook with its schedule of sanctions. The whole thing has an Orwellian ring to it - a mixture of pomposity, political correctness and brutal authoritarianism.

It is a metaphor for New Labour's Britain. And also very bad management. I think every text book will tell you that discipline has to be seen to be fair and to be proportionate. Otherwise you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Or according to the schedule of sanctions you might as well do something far more enjoyable for your half hour's detention like swearing or fighting. I'd know which I'd choose.

Anyway, daughter has learnt some valuable lessons. People in authority can behave unfairly, often talk absolute bollocks, and are then smug about it.

Monday 16 October 2006

Fresh Ink

There's a sign at the tattoo shop that says ' the only risk from tattooing is addiction'.

There is definitely truth in this - one week after the London Convention I find myself in the chair having some fresh ink done.

I am a bit of a late starter in all this. I'd been thinking about having something done for years and then just as I had decided to go for it, the whole world and his dog seem to be getting tattooed. Everyone was suddenly sporting 'Wayne and Sharon' in authentic ancient Tibetan script, and so I put the idea off. Then I thought 'if not now, when ?' So I first took the plunge a couple of years ago.

I have now started trying to work my way up over time to a Celtic half-sleeve. Being something of a history geek though the Celtic bit has to be authentic, so I am taking the designs from the shapes on actual artefacts.

So, as an authenticity snob, I have to say that most of what passes as Celtic tattoos are really nothing of the sort. All the fancy knotwork that you usually see may look good; but it actually dates from a much later period, by which time the Celts ( actually Britons is a better term) would probably have stopped tattooing. The designs show Saxon and Norse influences, and come largely from monks' illustrations in the Book of Kells.

And ironically it was the early Christians who made tattooing disreputable in the West with Pope Hadrian banning the practice in AD 787.

Friday 13 October 2006

Backward Christian Soldiers

When I first heard that Gen Richard Dannat the head of the British army had spoken out against the occupation of Iraq as unsustainable, I welcomed an unlikely ally to the anti-war movement.

Then I read what he actually said:

“When I see the Islamist threat in this country I hope it doesn’t make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country. Our society has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind. There is an element of the moral compass spinning. I think it is up to society to realise that is the situation we are in. We can’t wish the Islamist challenge to our society away and I believe that the army both in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably wherever we go next, is fighting the foreign dimension of the challenge to our accepted way of life. We need to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it. It is said that we live in a post Christian society. I think that is a great shame. The broader Judaic-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British army.”

The implication is that the army shouldn't be fighting a crusade abroad when there is a more pressing need to fight a crusade at home.

In otherwords, that the front line should be Bradford not Basra.

Thursday 12 October 2006

Blunkett & the liberati

Martin Narey, the head of the Prison Service has said that at the time of the riot at Lincoln Prison in 2002, David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, suggested calling in the army, saying he didn't care if machine guns were turned on the rioters.

Meanwhile, Blunkett's memoirs are now out and serialised in the Daily Mail.

He blames his (twice) downfall on a conspiracy of the 'liberati' or 'Hampstead liberals' who apparently drove him to the verge of some sort of breakdown.

I seem to remember his downfall(s) as being rather more self-induced:

In 2004 when Home Secretary, he was found to have fiddled a visa for his ex-lover's nanny. And in 2005, after his miraculous restoration to office at the DWP, he was found not to have declared his outside business interests.

His main legacy though under New Labour was as the architect of their assault on civil liberties. He reduced the rights of assylum seekers to appeal and increased the use of detention centres. He increased police powers with the Investigatory Powers Act. He took away the right to trial by jury and the protection of double jeopardy that had existed since Anglo-Saxon times. And he was the principle advocate of introducing ID cards.

Ironically though whilst New Labour spits out 'liberal' with contempt, they are happy to accommodate to neo-liberalism with its emphasis on market deregulation. Maybe it's time to reclaim the term 'liberal'. It is a humane and rational tradition that includes Thomas Paine as much as it includes Adam Smith.

Blunkett likes to see himself as a straight talking man of the people, more in touch with the real world than airy-fairy intellectuals. As has every reactionary who wears a cloak of populism, from Mussolini to Stalin. But let's not forget that he was once the council leader of the 'Socialist Republic of Sheffield. Of course this was another age when being on the 'loony left' was a smart career move in the Labour Party.

Wednesday 11 October 2006

The tao of work

Annoyed about a couple of cock-ups at work this week. It's not about carelessness or the cost of putting them right. It's just that nothing pisses me off more than people not taking a pride in what they do.

That's not just an attitude that I have acquired since I went into management. I have always felt that way and so, I am happy to say, do most of the people I work with. Maybe it's a consequence of working in what is still more or less a craft industry.

And I don't see any contradiction with this and being a socialist. It's an issue of self -respect; we are wage slaves largely because we allow ourselves to be. It's no accident that throughout history independent craftsmen have generally been more radical than down-trodden sweatshop workers.

I'm also a martial artist and it is natural for me to feel that striving for excellence in anything is good for your well-being. 'Kung-Fu' can be translated simply as 'well done' and 'sifu' simply as teacher / master craftsman.

I love the idea of the Zen monk who seeks perfection by spending the day raking intricate patterns in the sand, only to then smooth them out and start all over again tomorrow.

Monday 9 October 2006

London Tattoo Convention.

This weekend was the London Tattoo Convention. The venue; three floors in the beautiful restored 18th century Truman Brewery building in Brick Lane at the heart of London's Bengali Community.

I can't imagine anywhere else where so many disparate types would rub shoulders: Old asian guys going about their business, Hoxton-ite media-fashion victims, fetishists, skinheads, butch gays, new-age crusties, fifties revivalists, bikers, and otherwise straight-looking types with glimpses of full bodysuit tattoos peeking out from under their clothing.

It was very crowded and pretty hot, but I was struck by how good-natured and laid back the whole thing was. At the trade shows I have to attend for work I am constantly barged and jostled by aggressive sales and execu-types. The Hells Angels provided the security for the show, but despite some 10,000 people attending there didn't seem much for them to do.

I had the same feeling my first time at the Kent HA's Custom Show over twenty years ago and ponder how the further removed from mainstream society the more tolerance and mutual respect there seems to be.

Friday 6 October 2006

Jack Straw's intolerance

Jack Straw wants female Muslim constituents to remove their veils when attending surgery meetings in his constituency. Apparently he finds the veil intimidating and repressive.

I'm not mad about veils either - to be fair all religion seem repressive to me, particularly the fundamentalist varieties . But then I am not an MP elected to represent all communities in a diverse constituency .

In fact, I'm a biker with a shaved head, a goatee, an earring and tattoos. Jack Straw might even think that I look a bit intimidating. But I would find it pretty offensive if he asked me to change my appearance just because I was going to meet him. Especially if he were my MP and I was asking him to take up some issue on my behalf. So would a Sikh asked to remove his turban, a Rasta to cut off his locks, or a Catholic nun to change out of her habit.

Of course there is a larger debate about multiculturalism or assimilation, but Jack Straw's insensitivity just looks like bad manners and intolerance.

Wednesday 4 October 2006

The War On Terror ?

This week is the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Nowadays the BNP tries to position itself as a respectable electoral party with leader Nick Griffin as the concerned voice of Middle England. Their street fighting past is downplayed and the neo-nazis amongst them dismissed as embarrassing but harmless cranks.

But violence has never been taken off the Far Right agenda: The RedWatch site is an on-line picture library of activists who it calls upon to be identified and attacked as 'bolshevists and race traitors'.

I take this personally because, amongst the hundreds of photo's on the site, I can
find pictures of friends of mine, and somewhere in a background, even of myself . As always with the Far Right there is an element of farce in this: Most of the people on the site are actually harmless peace-activists not dangerous subversives.

The government is ignoring the campaign to take any action against RedWatch- looks like the war on terror may apply to 'Islamo-fascists' but not to traditional plain-old fascists.

Tuesday 3 October 2006

Scottish Socialist Sleeze

The wounds of the Tommy Sheridan affair were re-opened this week. Police are beginning a perjury investigation, and George McNeilage has leaked to the News Of The World a tape of a supposed confession by Tommy .

It seems at this point that the objective truth is unlikely to emerge, assuming that any kind of objectively can ever be expected in a media that is hardly neutral when it comes to its reporting of Left organisations.

As a member of one of these organisations since the early '80s, I obviously have a vested interest. But I long ago lost my taste for factional polemics or 'party patriotism'.

So here goes with what seem like the only certainties from the case:

1. Tommy Sheridan is one of the best agitational speakers on the Left today. He also appears to have an ego that is as striking as his perma-tan.

2. The News Of The World is a reactionary rag. It hyprocritically mixes sexual puritanism with titillation and is openly hostile to the Left and the labour movement in general.

3. There are political differences between Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish Socialist Party leadership on the question of independence for Scotland and on femminism. These differences make less interesting copy for the N.O.W. than Tommy's bedroom antics.

4. NOBODY has come out of this affair with much dignity or integrity. Former comrades have stabbed each other in the back and broken with all labour movement traditions by using the courts and a hostile press for their own purposes.

Everything else seems open to doubt.

But the final certainty is that Scotland needs a Left party to challenge Labour. The SSP has self-destructed in the course of this fiasco and so at the moment Tommy Sheridan and the new Solidarity Party looks like the best option.

Monday 2 October 2006

David Cameron & The 18th Century

Tory party conference this week, and there is some debate about David Cameron's background and his inner circle of fellow Old Etonians. One commentator dares to suggest that his obvious poshness might be a liability with the electorate at large, and that given the lack of any tangible policies from the Tories, opponents might latch on to this.

I am afraid that there is little mileage on this last point. Sadly, a century on from Kier Hardie the Labour Party has drifted so far from its origins that it cannot now play the class card.

But to those who would deny that class can or should be a part of modern politics, I would suggest trying a favourite pass-time of Lenin: During his period of exile in London, he would take long bus rides across the city observing the conditions of the different areas and suburbs, and the boundaries and nuances between shades of affluence and poverty.

Today exactly the same spectrum can be traced journeying through London's concentric circles of class. The city centre metro-liberal middle class , the inner city ghettos, the lower-middle class suburbs, the 'white flight' working class over-spill and the leafy commuter belt. And now as then, the largest part of this spectrum is unrepresented and disenfranchised watching the political process from the sidelines.

We have in effect a return to eighteenth century patrician politics. An arena where different factions of the political class fight it out (Court v County has been replaced with Blairite Islington v Cameronite Notting Hill). And where patronage is used to create a power base - peerages for sale anyone ? These modern day Whigs and Tories dare not mention the c-word, and whilst they may court our support at the hustings, neither can claim to represent us.