Friday, January 27, 2006

A reason to be impossible

Holocaust Memorial Day

You can't get me


Sailors and Coal miners both work in extraordinarilly dangerous situations, where discipline and co-operation are essential. Railway engineers must obey safety instructions immediately. Chemical workers must do as they are instructed.

They can all join trade unions.

Apparently, soldiers cannot.

Now, while the idea of soldiers' movements has a certain dangerous history (after all, it was political soldiers in Spain who started the revolt that lead to fascism), it is certainly unarguable that workers in uniform deserve the same democracy and rights as the rest of us - indeed, they need to be as fully integrated with the community at large as popssible - citizens armies - in order to prevent them becoming too much of a danger.

For all its risk (after all, they are calling for a Federation in order to protect themselves from charges of abuse - the Police Federation has a long history of defending the dodgier side of policing) it would represent a break with militarism, and diminish the élite control of the army.


It seems, not only the army wants to be Union Free

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Iran away


Ken Macleod covers that 1914 feeling - that slow elegent slide into seemingly inevitable war: denied by all sides by wanted by all. A sort of deliberate accident.

Of course, the complete encirclement of Iran by American forces (surely a motive for the Afghan war?) makes this a plausible scenario. Equally certainly, the removal of a strong independent threat and the second half of the dfual containment policy (the other being Iraq) means that long-term American strategists must be looking at war - for whatever reason they can find - with Iran. The Iranians may be spoiling for a war.

Some thoughts, on practicality. It took over ten years to subdue Iraq - America didn't invade till sanctions had crippled Iraq's armour and destroyed it's higher tech weaponry. Irans military is still serviced, functional and in posession of Iraq's airforce kindly donated during the first gulf war. All out war with Iran would be a bloody grind, and air strikes aren't so easy when the other bugger can strike back.

OK, that's practicalities - principle. Even some hardcore opponents of war - militant pacifists - have supported warlike movements. Einstein supported America developing its atomic weaponry to prevent the NAzis getting to theirs. Bertrand Russell supported pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Russia, for much the same reason. The position with Iran can hardly be much different.

That aside, the point is that Iran cannot be disarmed by military force without a lot of totally innocent people dying.

It seems clear that it is insufficient to merely oppose war on iran - much less still side with iran as an anti-Imeprialist pole. What is needed is a clear, positive and active proposal we can put as a counter to nullify the Iranian nuclear threat, as well as that of France Britain and America.

Building an international movement would be a start, and it may wean the 'decent left' from their love affair with the military state.

Monday, January 23, 2006

How crises happen

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I'm fond of small examples. I used to give the example of computer programmers as an example of how markets fail.

Now, I can use plumbers (I can't find an interweb link to this story, but I heard it on the radio).

Basically, a shortage of plumbers meant rising wages/costs for that trade - quite serious earnings.

People left city jobs to become plumbers, because the money was so good. Of coruse, so many people moved in, and took up the training, that there was fairly swiftly an abundance of plumbers.

So far, so good. The trick is, information. Market signals move at the speed of the market, i.e. it takes the time for pliumbers to get from training, into the field and onto the market ebfore prices start to fall. People who entered late may well be just finishing training, or in the middle, when teh bottom drops out of the market - of coruse, lets not forget, these are people who will have paid the increasing training fees as plumbing teachers/trainers also become scarce.

These late comers enter the market, and find ther is no work. They are left high and dry because the market told them to go into plumbing (high wages) and now is telling them to get out.

Fair enough, but these people have ploughed savings into training which is no longer any use to them, they have abandonned careers and made holes in the CV which will harm them in returning to their old trade. In short, they have made investments which they expected to turn-over. Likewise, established plumbers may well have engaged spending commitments based on expected (inflated) incomes. Others, more cautious ones, may find themselves being driven out of the market by this glut of new comers.

Chaos all round, and far from being a free-flow of labour to where it is needed, we see the invidious hand of capital, or property, that demands to be turned over, but cannot be. That is the cause of capitalist crisis, and this is just a tiny example, but one worths studying in detail.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Vorsprunging the tech...


Fool that I am, I bought the Sunday Absurder, and read a fascinating gobbet article on E-Ink - basically, paperlike substance that can reproduce digitally stored information without using light emitting technology (like cathode ray tube or liquid crystal display).

The significance of this is, as I argued in this piece of coursework here (no, don't ask, really, don't ask), that CRT and LCD strain the eyes and are uncomfortable and unweildy to use. The main problem being that with reflected light technology (i.e. books) our eyes are adjusted for the level of brightness in our surroundings - meaning a lot more comfort.

Basically, a light, portable, robust technology that can store, retrieve and display a large quantity of information will be a revolution - it will hit publishing the same way downloading hit music (which was conveyed in its user friendly form), and even within capitalism will drop the marginal cost of disseminating information.

It's the iPod coming to books. Keep an eye out. I'm all excited.

Sony Reader
E Ink Corporation

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

No nukes is good nukes

: : .

OK, while nukes are topical, I'll return to the theme.

Thesis: in the cold war the main nuclear protagonists must have had the following premise in mind: if we strike first, quickly and with precision, we may be able to win the war without being hit (or with only taking a survivable hit). So, of course, both sides sought to distribute their retaliatory capacity - as well as sitting down and trying to work out how accurate their opponents tech was.

It's no bloody good having a big fucking nuke if you can't aim the bugger - it's still got to land on target. OK, getting the thing to land in the right ten mile radius may well be relatively accurate, but it doesn't mean you'll guarantee you'll get the installation you're aiming for. The obvious answer to that is don't bother aiming - hence the projection in Threads (below) for a massive 3000 megaton exchange - if you can't be accurate be devastating.

Dark-Wraith fairly neatly does the maths on the way nukes can kill, as does Wikipedia. Essentially, if you aren't vaporised by the heat then you get knacked by the overpressure of the blast or the radiation does for you. Joy, joy, joy.

This site gives a blow by blow account of a 150 kiloton bomb ground burst going off in Manhattan. They project 800,000 fatalities and a further 800,000 injuries (and their scenario assumes it's a lone bomb with teh rest of US infrastructure left intact).

OK, so this site allows you to see similar bomb profils for various payloads and types of bomb compared to aerial photos of a selection of US cities.

Now, this is contemporary because of the current state of tension viz Iran's alleged weapons programme. Now, according to the CIA World Factbook Israel has a total area of 20,770 Sq. Km. Using the Maths from Dark Wraith, this means that it would take about two hundred and thirty 150 kiloton bombs to devastate every swaure inch of that country. Fewer, if we go by the second example above, if airburst delivery systems were used.

However, Iran would not need to go that far - although it seems it could have enough uranium to make that many bombs, since it has its own mines. As the Manhattan example shows, the blast could be extraordinarilly devastating is used selectively. The Manhattan projection was for 800,000 killed (from an extraordinarilly dense population). Tel Aviv, according to this site has a population of 371,000. Even if that is less compact, it means a single groundburst 150 kilton bomb could wipe that city off the map.

Imagine if Iran could deliver that strike, Israel could never deliver enough nukes to completely destroy Iran - I can't see it having that many nukes - it's probably working on a targetted nuclear capacity as well.

If the Iranians did just hit Tel Aviv, and no-where else, Israel would be destroyed - adminsitrative capital gone, infrastructure overwhelmed, Arab neighbours necessarilly called in to provide humanitarian assistance.

If Iran did drop one such bomb, what could the world do? Slaughter twice as Many Iranians in retaliation? Invade at the risk of many millions of lives? If its leaders were prepared to engage in an entirely selfless racist atrocity, backed by nukes, we'd be in a world of trouble.

Update: Just checked Cincinnati has a roughly comparable population to Tel Aviv, and is on the list of aerial makes linked to above. 150 kiloton airburst pretty much does for the city.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Total Knit

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OK, I should have written this post on Wednesday, but I've been too scared to. Tuesday night I watched the most scary arsed film of all time Threads. Quite how IMDB can classify it as Sci-Fi is beyond me. A nastily realistic depiction of the effects of a nuclear war on the UK (well, on Sheffield, basically). Although some license is used in parts, its portayal of crowds of people running pointlessly to take cover from the nuke was heart rending. Its technique of cutting in with a VOG narrator to explain what was going on and the just relay the orthodox understanding of the course and outcome of nuclear war was powerful.

I remember those days well, when we did, as school kids in a town where we'd be just about outside any likely blast radius, work out how to try and get killed in the initial explosion (drive to Middlesbrough seemed a good plan). I don't remember the film, it was from 1984. Clearly, as a BBC production it was controversial, and its credits are overed with Prof. this and Doctor that to give it scientific cover.

Recent documents released under the 30 year rule do show how clsoe to the official plan this story was - and really, I think it did show the official plan for a government that believed it could laucnh a nuclear war. Watching it, I hoped it was wrong, and that mass revolt wqould lead to governmental collapse before it was too late (possibly what each side hoped owuld happen to the other if a real war came).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Love me


Many moons ago, in a country far far away, Daniel De Leon wrote a series of scathing editorials lambasting Victor Berger a reformist socialist elected to the US House of Representatives. Later published as a pamphlet (not online, but I have it at home) called A Socialist in Congress (IIRC).

De Leon's criticism boiled down to this: Berger, as a lone congressman, was not attending meetings of congress, rather, he was touring the country doing lectures and rallies, De Leon thought he ought to be in the chamber challenging the propaganda of the paid lickspittle appologists of capital there. To what extent he was laying down a view on the functions of Socialists in the legislature or whether he was just using Berger as a peg to hang an article on I can't say.

The point is, there wasn't that much difference between the two positions. Neither party saw the socialist in congress as a part of the system, but viewed him as a rebel insurgent in enemy territory.

Lets cut to a new scene, a student digs sometime in the seventies - a kid, enthused by Trotskyism discusses the futility of the parliamentary road to socialism, how we need to organise to smash the state, not seixze it - how only the workers from below can bring real social change. Revolution, not reform. Faintly echoing the glimmering rebels of yesteryear, perhaps with a Phil Ochs album on his record player and a joint in his hand.

Freezeframe, then fastforward. In 2006 John Rees, national secretary of Respect isa appearing on the PM programme (last night) defending his party's MPs decision to enter the Celebrity Big Brother House (no, I won't link there). Does he excoriate parliament? Does he expose the sham of liberal democracy? Does he reject charges of desertion by noting that an MP is not a social worker but a part of a revolutionary movement whose job it is to campaign - as Berger and DeLeon agreed - for the cause and for a new society?

No, he noted that Respect held surgeries every Friday, that his MP wasn't going to miss vital votes and then whinged that he was being censored (not mention of the capitalist nature of Channel Four though).

So much for using Parliament to be Tribune os the oppressed. instead Respect engages in sub-liberal-democrat reformism.

So, all together now:
I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I'd lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I go to civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every colored boy becomes a star
But don't talk about revolution
That's going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
My faith in the system restored
I'm glad the commies were thrown out
Of the A.F.L. C.I.O. board
I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
As long as they don't move next door
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

The people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can't understand how their minds work
What's the matter don't they watch Les Crane?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I read New Republic and Nation
I've learned to take every view
You know, I've memorized Lerner and Golden
I feel like I'm almost a Jew
But when it comes to times like korea
There's no one more red, white and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I vote for the democtratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
I'll send all the money you ask for
But don't ask me to come on along
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Grasping the nettle

On Tuesday, Channel Four News Presenter Jon Snow had an article in the Gruaniad on the fight against Malaria in Africa.
The numbers are impossible to digest. Three million people a year die from the disease, most sufferers contract it two or three times a year and, whenever they do, are so struck down that they can neither work nor tend to their families for several weeks at a time. So if 2005 was the year of Africa, what happened to malaria?
Significantly, the solution appears to be market driven:
Inside the A to Z factory, blue longlife [anti malarial]netting cascades from 50 huge industrial looms. There are about 1,200 African workers working to save the lives of other Africans. But Anuj Shah, who runs the company is no do-gooder. He's in it for profit and is determined that net making in Africa is a seriously commercial activity. Currently producing 3m of these nets a year, he expects his new factory, which is under construction nearby, to start producing 7m a year by April. After that he hopes to expand to 20m - a tenth of Africa's entire need.
Using free technology transfer.

But mark you, this is a project to cut Malaria by 2015 - if the technique described by Snow is so effective, why must we wait until it is profitable to build up capacity to do so? Further, note, the market couldn't have been built without that technology transfer, a non-market transaction.

As Snow indicates, the effective demand - the capacity for people to buy these nets - isn't there, and so a layer of charity is needed to distribute these produced for profit nets.

If this problem were dealt with with the urency of, say, a heart operation on Casualty we wouldn't wait anotehr ten years to build up that capacity, we'd get to 200 million nets by next year and get them out there.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Is this the worst kick in the teeth imaginable?

Twelve miners trapped underground - the world told the happy news they are all found safe - only to find that the opposite is true - only one found safe - the rest, dead.

Of course news outlets latched onto the happy ending of a horror story - Today led with this story story this morning. And continuous news outlets backed up by instant information diffusion by mobile phone and e-mail have pounced.

Instead of simply reporting a horror story the media have become part of the horror.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Cold blooded murder

Well, Russia cuts off Ukraine's heating - according to this website the temperature in the Ukraine has fluctuated between cold and fucking cold.

In the unusually warm (thanks Gulf Stream) UK we have thousands of what are known as seasonally adjusted deaths each winter - some of them are probably inevitable and people just being prompted by the cold snap to succumb to the disease that would get them anyway, but a bit of winter heating can mean the difference between life and death, a few more years (or a couple of monhts, maybe). Simple as that.

Russia's Gazprom says this action is not politically motivated, just trying to get the full market price. Fine, lets take them at their word - they are murdering possibly thousands of of the poor and vulnerable in order to get their money. They are consciously and knowingly risking the deaths of thousands.

Of course, muscular liberals won't be calling for Russia to be invaded for this act of mass murder and torture, hand wringing condemnation all round.