Friday, September 30, 2005

New Bill, New Ego

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OK - I am cogitating on an answer to Stuart's question in comments below, I'll leave it toill tomorrow when I can work on it more fully.

For today, all I want to flag up is that the Wikipedia article I have contributed most to, has been flagged as the featured article of the day.

I can't claim the distinction for making it achieve that regcognition - but I can say I'm contributed significantly, even if my words are now archaeologically buried beneath subsequent amendments, I can still see the veins of my foundations running through.

Go here on 30th September 2005 and here to see the article itself directly Single Transferable Vote.

It's amazing how many dingbats have vandalised the article since it made the featured slot.

I'm proud of the article, in as much as I think it stands, despite a few split hairs that are a sign of strong intellectual input - and consider it to almost be authortative on the subject. Do read.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


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People are always calling me a utopian - someone who will always reject any actually existing movement as too impure for my own vision, etc. etc. put him in the box, file him neatly away under starry eyed dreamer (harmless variety). Yackety yackety.

Now, I was reminded about this listening to a radio adaptation of Huxley's Brave New World - I remember reading that dystopia, and thinking, well, it doesn't sound too bad. Compared to the nightmare of 1984 Huxley's dystopia is relatively benign, it doesn't rely on torture or brute force, just ultra tech social control. I mean, not that I would want to live tehre, but I recognised were I born in that dystopia, I doubt I would object - obviously, because the whole point of it is that it is designed for cohesion andthe internalised accetance of the caste system by the population.

Dystopia works on the simple premise, not like now. Not me. Negating key aspects of our identity so we are repelled by the mere thought of having to live under it. Unlike disaster stories, or what have you, the flaw is that you or I never would, we'd never enter those situations. Unless you posit some human core that rubs against the dystopian constructions. In which case, you immediately render the dystopia impossible.

Obviously, one persons utopia is another persons dystopia. Utopia ityself is built around not me, unlike me. A rejection, in this instance, of the bits I don't like about I. Utopia is nowhere, and I cannot be in nowhere.

Put another way, unless you can look about you, at you NOW and can see those bits of the world in your schemes for political change, for you in the future, then you are being utopian. Or dystopian, to taste.

I consider that I can see my world around me, the streets of London in socialism. I can see methods and practices here and now that I want to emphasise to build socialism. Socialism, though, isn't an abstraction, a template to which I aspire and to which I judge the world and find wanting. I don't reject the Russian revolution because it was impure, nor Venezuela or America or Cuba. What I do, though, is have a set of positive things I want to see happen, and life in Venezuela, America and Cuba are different from those ideas I want to see put into action. Equally different.

The concrete proposal to abolish the wages system as a direct and conscious goal is not utopian.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Learning Curve


OK, Ken Macleod's Learning the World - the second of my scheduled book reviews.

This strikes me as a departure form Ken's usual territory of future-present stories. Although he keeps his utopian-ethnographic slant, this is a much more conventional science fiction yarn, harking back to the very cornerstone of the genre: confrontation with the alien Other.

Somehow, I have the sneaking suspicion the entire plot was built around one chapter title: Alien Space Bats! (I kid not). The story describes the Humans of Ground, evolutionary descendants of some octoped species now evolved into giant bat-people -What else could we expect from a trained zoologist - as the humans of Earth - who for millenia have settled the galaxy believing themselves alone - head toward them. We are the aliens in this encounter.

We in this instance could be described as Fabians in Space! Since humanity still has property, capital, futures markets, but a guiding principle of being peaceful and ensuring that no-one has nothing and no everyone has everything. Under tremendous population pressure, these humans are expanding and colonising the stars at a fierce rate.

I wouldn't want to give the twist away, but the arrival of the superior alien (our, Fabian) civilisation does not go the way it has traditionally done in science fiction. What is achieved, unusually is not the confirmation of power, leadership or authority that has occurred at the end of some of Macleod's other novels, nor of material interest, but a kind of affirmation of morality - a victory for it, even. That seems to be the theme that runs throughout, if you will, the essential difference from our own time.

Do read it, do, dear reader. Watch out for the ditzy nuking. Made me laugh.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Well, last night I went to see Cinderella Man. I'm not proud, all I can say is thanks to the Evilling STandards it was free. OK. So, in place of my scheduled book review, here is a film review.

My mate I was with had a quick potted review - Russell Crowe is fit. Fair do's. Here's my potted review "...and that was a Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Republican Party."

Don't believe me? Well, look at it this way. A gadgee, down on his luck, suffering in the Great Depression just wants to keep his familly together. He works hard, and get a shot at doing what he does professionally, and makes a break that gets him out. His drunken bum of a friend who - unless I misheard - is, significantly, an ex-stockbroker (i.e. not echte prole) now working on the docks gets killed in a riot in the Hooverville Shantytown after trying to organise the unemployed. Interestingly, the riot happens off camera, and although we see some police brutality in teh camp, the description of events is from a police officer, so we don't get the rioters side of events.

Russel Crowe - as James J. Braddock the boxer - isn't interested in organisation - you can't fight greed, corruption and incompetence (quoth he). He can fight in the ring. He chides his son for stealing food for the familly, he even returns his dole money after winning a few bouts. The archetypical all American bootstrap boy, supported all the way by his poor wifey who's job it is to stand behind him and ineffectually try occaisionally to protect him from his own boxing.

As he makes his come back, otehr hard-up people see his story as offering hope for their own rejuvenation, and his whole community rallies to his cause.

Of course, it may well be a true story, but it's a true story chosen for a purpose - if you're down, think of the kids, pull yourself together, and drag yourself up.

Fundamentally this is an imobilising story, told through every conceivable cliché of the boxing movie. In the words of Parker and Stone.

Montage, you've gotta have a montage, even Rocky had a montage.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Book Review

OK, Charles Stross' Iron Sunrise.

Not the deapest of novels, but solid nano-future fun.

It begins with a superb depiction of a solar system dying in a sudden explosion of a its sun. A chilling read. Most disaster scenarios rely on the aftermath for their horror - the survivors are the emotional hook. We just cannot comprehend millions and billions of deaths. The explosion of a sun, that awesome fire god our attavistic nature is so attuned to, is the annihilation of everything. A disaster without consequence, in a very real sense, the end of a universe.

That's how it begins - the story then develops to look at the aftermath. In a galaxy like our own times, with weapons of mass destruction, petty politics and mutually assured destruction. The intrepid heroes set off to prevent a futile retaliation - and on the way encounter luxury passenger class, killer clowns and space Nazis.

The story is redolent with suitably post-modern moral ambiguities, with a neatly twisty ending. The plot is reasonably paced, and allows us to take in a universe that is essentailly our world today scattered across the galaxy (In this novel, and Singularity Sky, its predecessor, the premise is that a hard take-off sigularity has scattered humanity across the stars by means unknown - sneidng them, effectively, backwards in time, so that moments (Earthtime) after the event civilisations hunded of years old spring up complete with the extrapolatoion of ethnic tensions between Serbs, Germans and Californians).

The only weakness, I found, was Wednesday. To give as little of the plot away as I can, all I'll say is that her reaction to devastating and overwhelming personal tragedy didn't convince - it read more like a convenient plot device than a study in human emotion. Considering this reaction is central to the plot but not the centre of the story may account for this. It's only a small weakness that we can, if we enjoy the book, forgive.

I'm looking forward to the next one recently out Accelerando (different setting it appears).

Monday, September 19, 2005

Election Fever

Later this week, book reviews.

First, though, Elections, elections Elections.

New Zealand - a narrow scrape, it seems for the Labour Party out there, looking to remain in office after they cobble together a coalition. The election was held at the back end of last week, but no word quite yet on the final shape of the government. New Zealand uses teh aditional member system of PR. The main schism reported by the Beeb appears to be over the ban on Nuclear vessels - which is code for American Aircraft Carriers and Subs. The relations with the US seem to be a big thing for the national party.

Afghanistan well, we're not likely to hear the results for some time - and it looks like there wasn't much by way of national parties, so presumably local polics and social structures layed a major part. Violence played a part, and turnout is down.

And, ah, Germany - How has Schroeder done it? He really is one slick slippery customer, he's till in with a fighting chance despite polls that previously fave the Conservatives tehre a clear ten point or more lead. The huge numbers of don't knows seem to have come down SPD. Where this takes Germany - for all the talk of being stalled still a rich and powerful nation - is unclear. Unemployment is huge, as appears to be regional divides. Refusing to even talk to the Left Party may be a mistake, since that would turn them into the real poll of opposition - especially if a grand coalition is chosen over dealing with them (SPD-Green-Left would be a majority). Perhaps Schroeder will conveniently change his mind on that score.

Maybe we'll see German governments flip-flopping for the next few years with swing parties making hay. What's clear is that all the talk of stagmation and reform is just code for how best to attack and discipline the German working class.

Friday, September 16, 2005


OK, blogroll has been updated again, always keep it fresh - big welcome to IITWTS - click on the link to find out what that means.

Also Border fever - revolution in Cumbria - beautiful part of the world, used to be able to see it across the bay when I lived in Lancaster - Carlisle was a bit odd though - stopped off there once on the train back to Redcar (don't ask) and had a discussion about patty n' chips with the nice chippy lady.

News from nowhere is another election blog - this time for our campaign in Livingston by-election - check out the by-election blog of old (Promoted for the duration).

Seeing as how the Whiskey bar appears to be fully functional again, it returns to pride of place.

The various watches had become dull, so they have been relegated to the bloggers yard.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Questions, M'lud

The hunting of the snark continues.

Greg Palast, he of uncovering serious polling Fraud in Florida back in 2000, has laid into George Galloway.

Now, I personally would not accuse Galloway of personal corruption - as some interesting gents noted t'other day in conversation, our ruling class doesn't understand any sort of corruption other than the sort that lines one's pockets handsomely. They don't understand being politically corrupt: engaging in debased and corupting political relationships for genuine reasons (however mistaken) or merely for personal glory.

The workers movement has always struggled to keep sticky fingers from the till, and to make its accounts clearer and more available and accountable than the really corrupt capitalist class.

It's peturbing, then, that when I have raised the fact that neither Respect nor the Scottish Socialist Party have managed to submit their annual audited accounts for 2004 to the Electoral Commission - even after being granted an extended deadline - the membership of those organisations, including the SSP's official press spokesperson, Eddie Truman, have appeared unconcerned.

This is not about petty regulation compliance, this is about asking a good question: why cannot Respect or the SSP put together something as simple as a workable annual account 9 months into the following year? How can such an organisation be held to account?

Now, we do know from the public record, that george Galloway is named as donating substantial sums to Respect. £ 5,029.17 back in 2004, alongside £6,000 value for a battle bus from a company he has a stake in.

This story is developing, I'll be keeping a beady eye out.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Catching up

Well, I was going to write about the Loyalist riots, suggesting that perhaps they are a sign that the Republican strategy was working - first get the British and Irish governments on side, then see if you can split the unionist bloc - so far the Unionists have resisted and instead rallied to Paisley's mob. Perhaps the turn to violene will bring in the British state on the republican side? Events dear boy. Events.

Anyway, I don't wanna talk about that., In the tradition of CLR James I want to talk about Cricket. England won the Ashes. I know, I know, puritanical leftists should despise sport as an organised distraction, a carnival of patriotism and false consciousness, a tool for instilling discipline and workplace ethos in the working class. Yes, I know I should ironically talk of revolutionary defeatism (as I practised when the England football team got stuffed by Northern Ireland).

But I can't. I loved the series, I loved the aching intensity and uncertainty, the pure theatricality of the matches. I took time off work on Monday to be able to concentrate on the final day, to appreciate - as it turned out - Pietersen's spawny century (dropped twice!). All sport is theatre, and cricket even more so, as the game is never decided until the very end, every can, and often does, change.

I don't want to sound like Simon Jenkins in the Guardian but cricket does embody a set of values, is a recuperation of something. Its basically dialectic structure - it's a team game of individual attainment, the crucial movments are played out one on one batsman against bowler - and yet the bowler is nothing without a team of fielders and the batsman nothing without their running partner (I must, at this point, remind my gentle readers that the England Women's cricket team also won the ashes - I hope this does women's cricket a power of good).

The crowd can sit in passive silence, to let out a roar of pure passion for the dismissal, the dropped catch, the gorgeous hit for six; and can - and will - roar, applaud and cheer for acts of grace, power and beauty from the opposing side.

I'd suggest that it is a truly aesthetic game, encompassing the whole person - passion, pleasure, intellect, values - and that is the secret of its enduring success. It's as near as many people get to theatre, and it's enough.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Counter-intuitive capitalism

Now, finally got started on McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. Even the first chapter, general US history, has something very important snuck in it.

One of the reasosn for massive US growth given, is that skilled labour was relatively short - i.e. that the costs of labour drove the demands for capital's innovation.

Obviously, the population was growing, and much of this shortage would be due to the fact that a good many people preferred to work their own land than suffer the ignomany of being a wage-slave (another point McPherson covers).

Even still, it is a good counter-intuitive example of the way in which it has been the working class that made capitalism - contrary to some of the passive models of some anarchist and leftist flavours which see the active agent of history as the ruling class.

Now, it also illustrates some of the problems faced by developing countries - they have plentiful surplus population - along with infrastructure built up on labour intensive colonial industries due to cheaply available labour. The only developmental answer to that situation so far has been dictatorship - a route Western countries could face going downas their relatively surplus poulations increase (although at the minute government policy is directed at aiding tech development/advancement, sometimes through disguised military spending - even then, all the western powers are at it, and the cultural capital of technical expertise is rapidly being globalised as well).

Perhaps in this historical lesson there is a case for a revision of capitalist decadence theory - without a vibrant and advancing working class capitalism is nothing.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More Canada

Now, to resume. The Canadian system strikes me very much as the one the Federalists in the early United States wanted to build. Premised on a merely consultative democracy.

In Canada, political parties were actively banned in the early nineteenth century - Bumsted actually describes a legal opinion that declared a body to be illegal because it was organising to co-ordinate votes and control of an assembly.

Truth was not a defence against the charge of criminal libel. Add this to the dispersed nature of the electorate, and you can see how the idea was to have a minimum of co-ordination or discussion among them.

Other examples I can drag from history are Rome, where the Comitia Curiata would vote on laws (IIRC) but was not allowed to debate them first - the Senate debated, the people decided.

In modern trade unions this relationship also applies, members are disperate, cannot communicate and co-ordinate (save through leftist parties) and have little information readilly available to them.

Arguably, in a situation where there is no class conflict, as the American Federalists assumed, this situation could be permissible - especially if we rely on the good conduct of office holders to remove bad eggs. However, politics is not about unity, it is about resolving disputes, and of course, any system that shuts down the possibility of dispute is laying itself open to violent challenge later - as happened in Canada in1 1837.

Again, it all goes to show that democracy is more than mere voting, it comes with a scaffold without which we're left hanging.