Friday, November 25, 2005

The truth will out

Always read the small print - that is - the stuff in the dull section at the back of Private Eye (articles not on-line).

In the article on the case of Barbar Ahman they note that US prosecuters have widened the interpretation of "material support" to include statements supporting terrorism" - Ahmad is being extradited for allegedly running pro-jihadist websites. Apparently Juries have not been willing to wear this widening.

Anyway, this is all very interesting, and reminded me of the fact that it was the US Supreme Court which first inaugurated the famous Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theatre analogy for constraining free speech while jailing an anti-draft socialist.

Now, I contend the analogy is fallacious, and in effect limits freedom of speech to freedom to speak the truth, which moves the terrain of debate to the question of who should judge the veracity of comments (notoriously, dictatorial regimes usually have laws forbidding journalists to spread untruths, etc.).

The reality is, is that we should have a right to shout fire in a crowded theatre, if we have free speech. I have the right so to do, because there may be a fire. If there is a fire, I must do so. By extension, if I beleive there is a fire, I must do so - and how can the law be brought in to judge whether I truly believed I was right in shouting fire?

Certainly, I ought not to shout fire unless I actually believe there is one - but that is that I have free speech and with it comes the burdensome responsibility of freedom. The example does not constitute an example of the just and rational restriction of free speech, but of the way free speech works.

Through such redefinitions of free speech, the US court has systematically restricted it and undermined it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

More truth

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I read this report yesterday.
Nearly six million children die from hunger or malnutrition every year, the Food and Agriculture Organisation says.
Six million is an evocative number - the usually rounded figure for Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. The number of Jews rounded up and mechanically put to death in the greatest atrocity the world has ever known. 6 million. 6 Million.

The main Wikipedia article on The Holocaust takes a decidedly intentionalist view of the matter (see here for the Wikipedia discussion of intentionalism versus functionalism).

Now, I'm not really well informed enough to join this debate - but by inclination I'd lean towards functionalism since that fits with my general understanding of government and history.

Actually, I find functionalism much more frightening - the idea of petty low level bureaucrats just coming to find extermination to be a quick and easy solution to difficulties is hair raising. Imagine, boring, routine committee meetings: Item 5: body disposal. Evil masterminds are more reassuring, by far.

And here is the link - more than simple numerological coincidence. 6 Million. Will future generations look back and heap the same approbrium on us as was heaped on the Germans - collectively - for our functionalist holocaust by malnutrition. Entirely preventable malnutrition during which officials routinely sit down at meetings and discuss how many millions are going to die because they won't, can't will not consider the courses of action necessary; because they raise the nation state, private property or even God above the lives of 6 million children (and Bob alone knows how many adults - 850 million per year are malnurished).

The autogenocide of the human race.

Now - my question - why is this figure, greater than the Tsunami, than the Asian Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, Asian Bird Flu, SARS, the Iraq war - combined - why is it not top of the news every fucking day?

Anyway, here, in the spirit of Howard Zinn below is your chance to do your bit - I don't know how many readers I have, a handful. I know that much. And most of those readers have a handful of readers. Blog about this subject, see if we can pass a worthwhile meme along, eh?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Da Truth

I know I love to obsess over the minutiae of constiutions and politics - its a fun game.

Howard Zinn, though, has da truth.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

C'est inutile...

OK, Kevin of Mutualist blog has this to say in comments below:
I would argue that labor is unique as a source of value because of its disutility to the laborer; that's why labor-power is the one thing that, in a true free market, whose value would NOT be determined by production cost. The determination of labor-power's value by the cost of reproducing it, in the present system, reflects state-enforced unequal exchange.
Now - I can heartily agree the value of labour - i.e. of work done - is the labour time invested in it. I can further happily agree that one basis for this is the disutility to the worker of performing the labour.

The question arises though - does this vary according to the nature of the work, or is it in fact a generalised disutility common to all workers. Is it a scalar or binary matter. If the latter, then Marx is right, we cannot discern the value of a type of labour performed through the market value of the goods.

Let's try a thought experiment, a LTV myth. Imagine:
A village - small - an homogenous populaton where everyone shares a common set of core skills and everyone can basically do everyone elses job.

Thus, everyone could do the work, but for a variety of reasons they don't - they specialise. Some might be good at certain tasks. Some might not like certain tasks. Some might have a favoured location. It might be heriditory tradition. When they exchange, though, they know they could have made the product themselves. They know roughly how long it would have taken them; and how long it is generally taken to perform that task. They can then exchange goods to what they consider to be an equal value - if only after haggling.
Now, if this model holds, then people would consider the disulity but in a general way - the specific pleasantness of the task not withstanding, if they needed to they could do it themselves. I'd suggest labour time would resolve down to an equal general equivilent between economic actors.

Disutility would be binary rather than scalar factor in the determination.

I'd suggest.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Live free or die

So, anyway - I got roped into this silly discussion regarding the Terror Law and the 90 day disappearance clause it has.

Now, I was reminded of some reading I did for my contribution to this Wikipedia article on Speakers' Corner - when I read the Parliamentary debates on the 1872 Royal Parks and Garden's Act.

Apart from the amazing fact that Gladstone -as Prime Minister - led the charge on the debate (on a Parks bill!) was how MPs got all hot and botehred about giving Parkies powers of arrest for infringement of bye-laws. Nowadays I reckon MPs would queue up to demand that parkies be armed with sub machine guns and land-mines be used to keep people off the grass.

I'm working on some comments about decadence that may arrive shortly - before then I'll have a book review - stay tuned to this bat-channel.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Collective bargaining by riot

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The title of this piece comes from the term used by some left sociologists following various inner city riots in the late twentieth century.

I've noted before the implicit gift relationship modelled in some liberal democratic discourses (we have given you X through our policies, please give us your vote, etc.).

The rioters in France seem to be engaged in a different gift relationship. Presumably they either cannot vote or do not feel it is sufficiently powerful to shift the policy of the government.

So, they riot. And what seems to be mindless destruction does have a rational core. You give use something we want (jobs, less repressive policing, etc. etc.) in return we will give you social peace. We will respect your authority. Even in areas in which your writ dos not run, we will maintain the appearance of governance. Further saying - we have the power to defy you to be unpoliceable.

The usual aftermath of riots is government spending - projects, policies, changes. It is a very effective way to negotiate with government. Governments, however, still have to bargain with voters as well as rioters, and so they will talk tough about the riot as it happens, march some police around until it blows over, and then get into the position of paying off the rioters. Remember - riots cost votes.

Now, the political upshot of this is very nasty. The rioters are not emancipating themselves (compare with Argentina or Bolivia, for recent examples) they are explicitly saying you are in charge you deal with us - it is lumpen plebeian politics. The politics of saying we are the little people treat us well, o giant. So the rioters get bought off, the government grows more authoritarian to appease the voting public and a cycle of dependence and repression follows.

To be clear - rioting is a rational response (that doesn't mean a good response) and is not a natural or instinctive act. Think - why would you go onto the streets and burn schools, cars, buses? Why would you do it night, after night, after night? These people are cut from the same cloth as you. Remember that.

Update: Wikpedia has the facts.

Friday, November 04, 2005

More Israel, not less

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Last week's New Spartsman contained a series of articles on Israel - rightly pointing out that for some reason that particular state attracts more than its fair share of adulation/opprobrium.

I've explained my own theory several times at Harry's Place that at least part of the opprobrium stems not from anti-semitism but almost its opposite - viewing the Israelis as European - self rather than other - westerners holding Israel to standards they would not apply to an unconditional Other. This may well be aggravated by the fact that Israel is a formal liberal democracy - with some very democratic traits - for Jewish citizens (at least, so the accusation goes).

The failings of Israel are thus also the failings of democracy - much as some intellectuals lost faith in democracy when democratic nations walked off to World War One, it's promise of bringing peace forever shattered.

Add to that colonial guilt and you've got a potent mix for left-wing hostility to Israel.

The mistake opponents, like Looney make is to essentialise the problem - asserting Israel is at heart a racist state and always will be so. Rather than stating the problem in terms of specific practises or policies they attribute everything to Israel itself as a concept - much like opponents of the EU. In British politics, for instance, we don't blame Britain esentially for poor rail infrastructure - no one calls for the break up of the Union in order to fix the trains.

The best peice in the Spartsmen described how Israel has achieved remarkable democratic institutions that don't go far enough (much as the vaunted Athenian dmeocracy had a few nasty limits). The point is, surely to further and cement those institutions, in terms of universal human rights rather than contesting where a particular boundary should be drawn.