Thursday, November 30, 2006

House of Lards

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Well, it is the great shame of Blairism, the shame that dare not pspeak its name - when they had the power and capacity to completely rewrite the consitution, the Labour government - you know, the one that takes pride in rolling across its own members, against public sector workers, of riding roughshod over public opinion - timidly decided to make Houe of Lords reform peicemeal.

Officially this was, they said, because necessary though constituional change was, they had more important legislation they needed to pass and couldn't waste time on a fight in Parliament. this was, of course, an entirely bogus and specious argument.

With that majority they could have launched a new House within weeks, rammed it through at the begining and then got on with progress with a gleaming new upper chamber - had they so wished. ALternatively, they could have pulled the Lloyd George Manoeuvre and just created a couple of Hundred more peers to ensure the passage of legislation.

They chose the quiet route because radical reform wasn't really an option. They want the power of patronage - that they used to great effect with the ever corrupt Lord David Sainsbury (Millions given to the Party, and only a seat in the Lords and a ministerial post in a sector his family business is connected to, nice). An illegitimate House of Lords can be brow-beaten by the government of the day, while stillbeing a place of patronage and sinecure.

Bottom line iswe don't need a second chamber, the concept is inherently undemocratic, and only ever exists as a means of curbing the popular will. And now Labour plan's to just let the current situation drag on for the rest of their political life-times - even the dreaded hereditary peers will remain.

First and foremost they are concerned with managerialism - as with their local government reforms - democracy is a poor looser under New Labour.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Information wants to be free

Last night walking home I heard one of those free paper puishers, don't know which paper it was for, singing It's free, it's free - somewhat despondantly, it has to be said. Of course, those papers aren't free, that's teh genius - it costs me my time to walk round the paper-pushers (who really do walk into your path and stick a bloody paper under your nose), it takes me time to politely decline their offer - it would take me time to accept the damn thing, read it, and put it in the bin when finished with (f only people would put them in the bin...sigh).

The factsn are, these sheets are largely advertising, with some celeb news and a toucxh of real news segued in. Their real consumer is the advertiser, followed by the owners who hope to gain political influence through their paper. The reading public are put upon, the product sold to the adertisers.

This is true of all commercial media, the little bit behind the free market fluff - the viewers are not the consumers, the viewing figures are a means to the end of selling airtime to the advertisers - our consciousness, our consciences and our sentience is being sold day in day out by Murdoch et al to their fellow capitalists.

Other papers, like the ever splendid CNJ which at least waits for you to come to it in stands on a street corner, you go to because you want to consult them as a reference source (hopefully my letter this week) - voluntarilly investing the effort of reading. The so-called free papers spread like a virus under a lie of their freeness.

Milton Friedman may not have coined it, but he was right - there is no such thing as a free newspaper.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sign the petition?

Well, the BBC tells us that Downing Street has an e-petition web page.

I thought, in the interest of experiment I'd take a look - and I found one worth giving ten seconds to support:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to champion the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, by not replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Submitted by Dr. Benedict Young of Individual – Deadline to sign up by:17 February 2007 – Signatures: 83

Which states:
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the greatest defense humanity has against a world in which many countries seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and in which the probability of nuclear accidents and even nuclear terrorism is unacceptably high.

However, this treaty is greatly under threat. Kofi Annan has said: "If we want to avoid a cascade of nuclear proliferation, we need a major international effort to strengthen the regime before it is too late."

The UK could lead this international effort. To do so, we would have to renounce our nuclear weapons system, Trident.

This would be an historic decision; it would rank among the few truly moral actions ever carried out by a nation-state; and it would give the UK the moral standing needed to champion the Treaty and help turn the world back from possible catastrophe.

This petition therefore calls on the Prime Minister not to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system, and so to champion the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
So, here's the deal - why not sign it? If you're a UK citizen, it doesn't hurt - put it on your blog - just this once, to see if e-democracy can begin to have any sort of impact. I know that politicians wipe their arses on petitions, but hey, it's an experiment - what if it got to a couple of hundred thousand?

Put the link on your webnsite and ask around Trident Petition

Monday, November 13, 2006

The scourge of terrorism

I'll link to this via Harry's Place on the MI5 leader's speech assessing the strength of Islamistic terrorism in the UK. Let's just extract the figures, shall we?

  • 200 terror cells/networks
  • 1,600 terrorists - give or take.

    The question is, where are they, and what are they doing?

    Why should I ask? Well, let's look at the IRA, shall we? According to Wikipedia PIRA had 300 or so active terrorists and a full membership/netwoirk of around 750, in the early 1980's with the troubles and terrorist activity at its height. Less than half the numbers of alleged Al Qaeda members in the UK now - and they were concentrated in a tiny area in the North East of Ireland. These 300 people fought the British state to a standstill, were held back by some 18,000 British troops stationed in the Province - and were able to routinely murder opponents, and set off bombs.

    Obviously, they had a hinterland to work in. We can roughly guage the size of that through the Sinn Fein - an explicit vote for the IRA. In 1983 Sinn Fein got 102,701 - that's soft support, but it ranges to such things as turning up for demonstrations, refusing to co-operate with police, giving money, giving shelter, etc. etc.

    Given that 1 in 20 Muslims are alleged to be in support of terror, that gives Islamistic terrorists something like a hinterland of 82,000 - but with scope to increase into the wider 1.6 million strong Muslim community generally.

    Now, where are the Islamic neighbourhoods controlled by terrorirsts? The IRA managed that much? OK, so Al Qaeda isn't the same kind of insurgency, but still, you'd think their aim would be to birfurcate and draw the wider Muslim community into the war on their side, and to establish themselves as the leadership of that community (as Sinn Fein have succesfully done).

    I know, I know, Tony's loyal accolytes will tell us that Islamofascists are different from the PIRA, they're not rational, they're nihilists, they have no real strategy beyond hating us and our freedoms and our values.

    Perhaps, though, perhaps they aren't, and we should examine them as we would any insurgency. In which case we have to ask, why haven't they achieved more, given they have roughly the same resources as PIRA had at it's terroristic height? Well, two answers spring to mind -

  • They're crap.
  • They're not quite the threat they're cracked up to be.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they don't exist and are just a government conspiracy to fighten us into submission - but we do have to ask, why when the PIRA could do it can't AQ?

  • Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Potlatch of death

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    Biologists have always separated spite and altruism as two different traits – either you are nasty to non-relatives or nice to your relatives – but they are actually the same. If you take a sample of adults and one family does well, somebody else has to do badly. If you help your relatives eat more quickly, it leaves less food for the competition. For example, bacteria on a piece of food have a limited food supply, so they produce toxins that are poisonous to other bacterial strains. Although this strategy is costly in terms of the energy expenditure required, it will be favoured because it increases the relative abundance of the poisonous strain by eliminating competing bacteria.

    A gene that causes an individual to spend their time being nasty to others means less time reproducing – so it doesn’t make sense that a spiteful gene should spread.
    The scientist sayeth.

    So maybe an account of the potlatch competetive altruism. Being highly altruistic is in fact an acquired and useful evolutionary trait - kindness kills, etc. Mayhap we could look at how co-operative productive altruistic behaviour could drive out agressive military social strategies, or maybe I'm just over-egging the agalmic pudding again.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    The Dems win


    Well - the mid-terms in the US, eh?

    Democrats have taken over the house, by, it seems, putting forward conservative candidates. So the rightwards consensus in the US is still not shattered, and appears unlikely to be so. The 30-40% vote Bush till doomsday hardcore Republican vote is holding up - and of course, with a dedicated minority in a situation where turnouts are frequently low (I'd seen reports suggesting that only 47% would turnout for this election) you can see how you can cling on to supreme power quite easily.

    This is a big test for the thin peice of paper theory, as espoused by Chomsky et. al - i.e. that only a thin peice of paper separates the two parties, but the width of that peice of paper makes for important differences, magnifed by power.

    Will the new Democratic House (and possible senate) reverse the newly passed Torture provisions (unlikely, but will they try?). Will it put a stop to Bush's cunning memos of understanding - i.e. publishing a document stating what he understands and interperates by a law, effectivley enacting his own legislation and acting in the role properly assigned to the Supreme Court?

    All in all, very little indeed will change, maybe an increase in the Federal minimum wage, maybe a chance to block the darker recesses of Bush's policies, who knows.

    The real point is, that the democratic game is largely an illusion, the manoeuvrings between parties are an epiphenomenon on the stage of real social changes and movements, until peopel in the US change the way they see themselves and act, there isn't likely to be any great shifts in Washinton, neither. Glacial hegemonic change may occur, and ten years down the line you'd be able to look and see the differences made.

    Democracy is a conservative old beast. In the meantime, the choice for radicals appears to be all about a cigarrette paper.