Saturday, September 30, 2006

For fox's sake, Kate, give it up ...

Malcolm cannot remember in which year Harold Wilson was chairman of the Labour Party (in those days the chair rotated round the members of the National Executive), but it probably was 1959. That year, on some obscure premise, James Connolly's Starry Plough flag was paraded through the Conference arena.

Then, as now, there were occasional rumblings about the Labour Party organising in Northern Ireland. It was not something to be taken too seriously then or now.

In those days, it was argued that there was a Labour Party in Northern Ireland (NILP). NILP never made any great shift outside of Belfast, but it had its moments. It actually elected an MP to Westminster in 1943, when its long-term leader, Jack Beattie, was returned for West Belfast. Harry Midgley, the Stormont Minister of Education in the 1950s, on his long march from Marxist-Leninism to the Ulster Unionism, had been in and out of NILP. In Malcolm's Dublin days, the Leader of NILP was Tom Boyd.

Today, the argument is that the SDLP is a fellow with the Labour Party in the Socialist International, so has bragging rights in the Six Counties. A rump of NILP campaigned for the Union in the 1973 Referendum, and self-evidently did not assimilate into the SDLP. Out of this came a group calling itself Labour '87, pushing for the British Party to organise in the North. The name of NILP is, apparently, still registered with the Electoral Commission. The last known sigh was in 2003, after Andy McGivern threatened to use the Human Rights Act, and the British Labour Party quietly dropped its ban on membership in the Six Counties. All searches for the Labour Party in Northern Ireland seem to bring one back to Athol Books (which operates from post boxes) and the Irish Political Review.

Which brings us back to Kate Hoey, for Catharine Letitia remains one of the few boosters for the daft idea of British Labour Party organisation in Northern Ireland. She is as out-of-order on this as she is on killing-foxes-for-kicks.

First, there are the sheer pragmatics to be considered. Politics in the six counties are riven on sectarian lines: something that will long outlast Malcolm and his generation. To put the issue bluntly, does Labour in the UK (or, hypothetically, in the UK & NI) accept the border as immutable? If so, it would stand in the North as a Unionist Party. If not, it is in competition with the SDLP and Sinn Fein. The Alliance Party (i.e. middle-class Lib Dems in green-and-orange drag) tried to find space between the two sides: on recent outings, it has taken 4-5% of the vote.

Second, who finances this quixotic gesture? Malcolm expects a quick shuffling of feet, but not of wallets, on that one. With no organisation on the ground, the money would need to come in from London: fat chance, says Malcolm. And, to be credible, Labour would have to fight all 18 constituencies, which means vote-splitting and lost deposits.

Third, what is the use of such a move? If any future Parliamentary majority (for any UK party) depends on support from Northern Irish members, that way madness lies. Without exception, the 18 MPs elected from the six counties are there to extract factional concessions and pork from Westminster: ideology and loyalty are a long way behind. And the more desperate the Parliamentary arithmetic, the higher the price.

Electoral calculations apart, let's allow principle in for a moment. And let's admit the inadmissible: that the "new" Unionists are OK-ish on social policy (provided the book of Leviticus is kept out of the equation). That is understandable. The "old" Unionist Party was based on deference: landowners ran the policy and sat in Parliament, while the Orange ranks provided uncomplaining voting fodder. When that cracked, the Democratic and Progressive Unionists (and other pale imitations) emerged. The PUP, of and for the urban working class, though now apparently on the way out, was explicitly left-wing. The DUP, more rural and small-business, is pretty right-wing on most issues, but supports investment in health and education. The policy statements of Reg Empey's Unionists are encouraging and cohere with those of Labour: free pre-school, "a new, fairer method of academic selection", action to reduce the brain-drain (and that needs decoding), free personal care for the elderly, an "anti-poverty strategy", investment in health.

Of course, it could be argued that the forthcoming General Election in the Republic (due before next July) could, just could achieve some tectonic shift. The last poll Malcolm saw (in the Sunday Tribune for 10th September) had Fianna Fail at 37 % (just about comfortable and rising, provided -- oops! Mr Taoiseach! -- no great fall out), Fine Gael at 26% (coming back from the great melt-down), Labour at 15% (and seemingly going nowhere) and Sinn Fein at just 8% (isn't it marvellous what a period of peace-and-quiet can do?). If that pattern persists, it's going to be fun putting a coalition together. However, sweet reason says that, one way or another, Fianna Fail should keep some sort of control. Hard luck, then, Mr Adams: close but no cigar.

So, all in all, a Northern Ireland strategy for Labour is a no-brainer. Don't. And tell Kate it's a load of hooey. Sphere: Related Content
Even Hiaasen couldn't make it up!

Malcolm waits expectantly for each new instalment of Carl Hiaasen, either on line from the Miami Herald or in the bookshops. In another dimension, the on-going collapse from hubris to nemesis of the Floridan Republicans is worthy of a Socrates.

While Malcolm has been able to laugh with Hiaasen as he depicts a hardly-credible and comic-strip version of squalid shenanigans in southern Florida, it now all seems to be coming to an awful, fascinating reality. First we had the ludicrous senatorial ambition of Katherine Harris (for which see previous bloggings from Malcolm), now we have (former) Representative Mark Foley.

Foley has been in the House of Representatives, for the solid-Republican sixteenth district, since 1994. This district bisects Florida coast-to-coast, from the better end of Palm Beach to the Costa Geriatrica of Port Charlotte (where Foley has his office and nearly a third of the households are 65 or older). It is a district which is traditionally (in more ways than one) Republican (voting 55-45 for Bush in 2004). It is also the archetypal example of over-development and resource-depletion.

Now for Foley. The Boston Phoenix has one of those editorials that Malcolm salivates over, if only for the spleen and venom. It is moderately entitled:
Being gay in the GOP
Congressman Mark Foley: A model of political hypocrisy and personal cowardice.
It continues:
It’s one of those open secrets that’s more open than secret. It first came up during his initial run for Congress in 1994. A right-wing opponent in the GOP primary sent out a mailing saying that Foley was gay. Foley answered the accusation — and in this context, it was an accusation — by telling the media: "I like women."
This editorial outlines the on-going attempt to "out" Foley, starting a while back by Bob Norman in the New Times, a Broward-Palm Beech alternative weekly. This was picked up by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. It became national news only in the last day or so, when, eventually, republican bosses acted on "explicit" emails sent by Foley to a sixteen-year-old page in the Capitol. And then Foley did a quick, quiet runner, doubtless never to be seen in polite society again. It seems that, behind the scenes, moves have been afoot (from Karl Rove, indeed) to stymie Foley (who also had ambitions for the Senate seat now being sought by Harris).

Which raises two big problems:
  1. What is it with the reactionary Right that they cannot face the obvious on sexuality?
  2. What happens next in the November elections?
The first of these issues goes to the heart of the double-standards of conventional politics: "It's all right so long as you get away with it. You're doomed when it becomes public. And then we bury you deep". This is essentially a "better than thou" attitude. It is not just American. It is not merely the Right. It is not unBritish, even. Malcolm remembers being at the London Labour Party do for the October 1974 General Election. The assembled throng were addressed by Bob Mellish, and Malcolm found himself standing close to Ron Brown, George Brown's brother and Shoreditch MP. Ron Brown's running de haut en bas commentary on Mellish amounted to "give the plebs what is needed to keep them happy". At the time, Malcolm admits, he was innocent enough to be shocked.

As for the November elections, the Foley affair has some serious implications for the Republicans. The Democrats need 15 seats to regain control of the House. That has seemed quite a long shot (and one which Malcolm has not considered in depth). It is too late to get Foley off the ballot. At the very best, the Republicans will need to run an alternate, a candidate to receive Foley's "proxy" votes. Along with all the other scandals which have lapped at (mainly) Republican doors: this could be one too many. Hooray! says Malcolm.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Democrats looking fine?

Malcolm's US election watch continues. He notes, with some degree of chuffiness, today's New York Times piece by Robin Toner. Toner, it needs recognising, has been consistently chipper about the Democratic Party's changes in November.

Six weeks out, he believes that Senator Allen of Virginia looks "newly vulnerable". In view of Allen being repeatedly wrong-footed in recent weeks (notably on race issues, now also over whether he is prepared to acknowledge his Jewish ancestry), and his Democratic challenger getting the better of the exchanges, that's recognising the increasingly-obvious. That all is significant because it represents the sixth State on the Democrat's possible shopping list: the one that might give them a majority in the Senate. Democrats are ahead or challenging in Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, according to Toner as well as other columnists. The grit in the sandwich is New Jersey, a traditional Democratic banker looking vulnerable. And, as usual, the Republicans have long pockets, and no qualms about "casting nasturtiums".

Meanwhile, Chris Cillizza, whose Washington Post politics blog Malcolm has hailed previously (see August 24th), has been getting down and dirty in an Ohio River Ramble. Incidently, the Washington Post has one of the most irritating ads popping up in the margin. Cillizza is due for another summing-up of the national picture, and it'll be worth the waiting.

Rasmussen is still going 49 Republican to 48 Democrats, with three "toss-ups". He still has Democratic Bill Nelson at 56-33 over "road-kill" Katherine Harris in Florida (Ho, ho!, says Malcolm). Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Celebrations have been muted ...

Judith Keene, Malcolm notices, is reminding us that today is the 70th (not the 60th as her story on the BBC website says) anniversary of the ending of the siege of the Alcazar. This was the decisive defeat of the Republicans in stifling Franco's revolt. Colonel Jose Moscardo Ituarte's Falangist rebels, holed up in the ancient fort of Toledo, were relieved after seventy-one days. The Time Magazine accounts are on line, and illustrate just how "unbiased" that organ was.

Keene then proceeds to puff her account of the international volunteers who went to Spain to support Franco. While Keene's book is useful, it is really little more than a sequence of lectures she has delivered on the topic. It tends to be biographical rather than a full-blown analysis of an extraordinary phenomenon.

Maurice Manning dealt with a smaller aspect, specifically the Irish context, of the nationalist volunteers in a better book, The Blueshirts. This originally appeared as an academic tome by the University of Toronto, some 35 years back, and has been recently re-issued, updated, as a paperback. Manning is swomething of a sympathetic critic of the Blueshirts: he was a Fine Gael TD and a member of Seanad Éireann, and his book deals in some detail with the curious relationship between Fine Gael, Eoin O'Duffy and the National Guard. On the other hand, we may respect Manning's credentials as a liberal, which are justified by his Presidency of the Irish Human Right Commission.

All of which brings up Malcolm's bile about O'Duffy. This is the man about whom stories are legion, and are almost-wholly unpleasant. The recent biography by Fearghal McGarry is a "warts-and-all" enlightenment, and is (for the moment at least) the last word. And O'Duffy, puffed, opinionated, vicious, was no Cromwell. Any one not up for McGarry can have a two-minute summary of some of O'Duffy's follies (though omitting O'Duffy's sexual proclivities) in a piece by Niall Cunningham on Ciaran Crossey's site.

O'Duffy, in retrospect, was unpleasant and contemptible, but largely pig-ignorant. There were others around him who could not be excused on that ground. The tendency to fascism and the blatant anti-semitism of Thirties Ireland can never be excused. There were a very sinister clique of political-academics (Michael Tierney and James Hogan, Ernest Blythe, Yeats indeed) and members of the Catholic hierarchy who were deeply stained. If O'Duffy saw himself as Ireland's Mussolini, others would have welcomed a Salazar. Malcolm would rarely defend Kevin O'Higgins, one of "the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution", but at least he opposed this tendency in Cumann na nGaedhael. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Running for Congress?

The Democrat candidate for the Illinois 6th District is Tammy Duckworth. Her Republican opponent is Peter Roskam. Roskam has characterised Duckworth's position on the Iraq mess as "cut and run". This, of course, is the usual read-out from the Karl Rove songsheet.

Except ...

Tammy Duckworth was a helicopter pilot in Iraq. She lost both her legs there.

Laugh? Malcolm nearly cried. Sphere: Related Content

The last noble cause?

W.H. Auden famously celebrated September 1, 1939, sitting:
… in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade.
About the same time, another (and more consistent) old Bolshie was finishing off Malcolm’s favourite novel. Howard Spring’s Fame is the Spur is the story of John Hamer Shawcross, born in the back-streets of Ancoats, and rising through the Labour Movement to become a Labour MP, and Cabinet Minister. The story ends with (the now Lord) Shawcross contemplating his new-born grandchild. Shawcross has lived to rue his lifetime’s achievement: his only son estranged and dead, fighting for the Spanish Republic, while the world sinks into the greater conflict of a World War.

Malcolm usually has watering eyes by that point.

The foreshadowing is implicit in the novel’s title, taken from Milton’s Lycidas:
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of Noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious dayes;
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th' abhorred shears,
And slits the thin spun life.
Spring subtly starts Shawcross’s story in the streets of back-to-backs that Engels described in 1844. It ends, predictably, in Mayfair. The book is usually seen as a fictional version of the life of Ramsay MacDonald, whose illegitimacy, loss of a loved wife, and indulgence in high society Shawcross shares. It also borrows from the life of Philip Snowden (a Yorkshire constituency, the suffragette connection and the Chancellorship).

And, at this point, many readers (“I wish, I wish,” mutters Malcolm) might expect a standard denunciation of the class-traitors and betrayers of 1931. Nowadays, Malcolm is more generous of spirit. He does without the vitriol and the formulas of pre-processed pseudo-Marxism. These, he feels, were decent men, doing their best, taking the wrong advice, under enormous pressure. In any case, the successes of the Attlee Government were sown in the aftermath of the 1931 catastrophe.

But, back to the plot.

Auden went, briefly, to Spain, in 1937. He made a few broadcasts. He wrote a poem:
They clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch
Through the unjust lands, through the night, through the alpine tunnel;
They floated over the oceans;
They walked the passes. They came to present their lives.

On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot
Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe;
On that tableland scored by rivers…
Later Auden would turn apostate, and delete the poem from his life’s work. But in those lines he had captured the moment, the momentum. When Malcolm was forming his own ideologies, Spain was the legend. International Brigaders were titanic figures who still (in the early 1960s) walked among us. So Malcom read Orwell, and Hemingway, that fat newly-published history by Hugh Thomas, Gerald Brenan and Koestler (naturally, in a dusty Left Book Club edition). That led to John dos Passos, and to The Wall (Sartre’s magnificent short-story) and that led to … and so on. And Malcolm recognised in the Brigaders, like Hamer Shawcross’s son, those well-meaning middle-class lads, like himself, with heavy dialectical chips on their shoulders.

When Malcolm was recently in Dublin, he learned of the death of Mick O’Riordan. It was encountering Mick, Johnny Nolan and (just the once) Peadar O’Donnell that made Malcolm see that Spain was not just effete (if admirable) bourgeois and edgy writers getting their rocks off. These were truly working-class heroes. And Malcolm’s entrée was through his class-mate Séan Edwards, the son of another Brigader, Frank Edwards. The Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War is being celebrated by Ciaran Crossey's fine site.

One of the focuses of Malcolm’s world, even more than the lecture-room or the library, was New Books in Pearse Street. This was where Johnny Nolan presided. Or in his absence it could be the formidable Mick. Here Malcolm could get his regular fix of Tribune or International Socialism or New Left Review. New Books would sell the political list of Penguin Books, or nationalist song books, or the blue-bound, gold-blocked Moscow Printing House copies of Capital and Lenin, indiscriminately. It always amused Malcolm that such subversion existed cheek-by-jowl with the Special Branch in Pearse Street Gardai station.

And the point of all this? One of the books that Malcolm brought back from Dublin was Bob Doyle’s Brigadista, an Irishman’s Fight against Fascism. Bob is the last Irish Brigadista. His fight was not only in Spain: he had already practised on O’Duffy’s Blueshirts, and went on to tussle with Robert Maxwell. His description of his attempts to get to Spain are worth the entry-fee alone, and lend weight to Auden’s summary. Then, on page 44, out of nowhere dropped a name:
At the beginning of 1937 I was with Alec Digges and others who were working for Spain ..
When Malcolm removed to north London, in the mid-1970s, Malcolm found himself sharing a pub with another Dubliner, Alec Digges. Alec had served with the International Brigade in Spain and then lost a leg on the Normandy beach-head with the Grenadiers. To the end Alec had the ram-rod posture and the bristle moustache of the Guardsman.

And so Malcolm raises a glass to those who had a noble cause: Mick and Johnny; Frank and Alec. These were Milton’s clear spirits who were not seduced by personal fame or glory. In the hostile environment of Ireland of the Bishops, they certainly had to scorn delights, and live laborious dayes, before, during and long after their Spanish excursion. Even so, their tales have been preserved, and are deserving of the telling. We shall not see their like again. Sphere: Related Content
Stamineus homo

Malcolm is aware that BBC bias is a favourite sport among the blogista. Most of this seeming partiality is little more than carelessness or the result of the pressure of "rolling news". Provided both sides are bashing the beeb for bias, it must be doing something right.

Today was a case in point. The Cherie Blair "That's a lie!" theme was being rehearsed as the only balance to Gordon Brown's deliberate and effective oration. Someone had to spoil the occasion. That was, on the morning shift, delegated to Jon Sopel.

Here's the scenario: a young lady going by the name "Carolin Lotter", so prominent that, apparently, she does not merit a single hit on google, is variously a "producer" or a "reporter" with Bloomberg. She seems, on this occasion, to be in the highly-responsible rôle of minding a display stand while the more important players were committed to the main event. She claims to have overheard a chance remark. Ms Lotter (who is not even allowed sole credit for her story on the Bloomberg site) is backed up by "a telephone interview" with an Essex University academic. Which begs the question: was this "lecturer in government" also present or was he called in at long distance to give verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative?

Anyway, back to Sopel (who should know better). He asks an interviewee why should Lotter not be telling the truth? Note the implications of that:
  • someone must be fibbing, but it cannot possibly be a fellow journo;
  • an unknown on the make, trying to carve a career in the trade of news-chatter, has no motive for "puffing" a story;
  • Bloomberg are rock-solid reputable, because they are involved in "finance" ("Whoopy-doo!", says Malcolm);
  • all this has some great, world-shattering significance;
  • that this is part of a binary, antinomial world where there can be no half-way between "truth" and "lie". Where does an honest "mistake" or "mishearing" fit in such a world?
Malcolm would have just two comments to make to Sopel and his editor:
  • bollocks;
  • get a grip.
O, and Malcolm would like you to know that the latin headline means "man of straw". Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not so gay

Here's The Age of Australia:

HE IS silver-haired, handsome and hugely popular. And Klaus Wowereit may well be on his way to becoming the world's first gay leader.

Wowi, as his supporters know him, has been voted in for a second term as the left-wing Mayor of Berlin. He is also being groomed by his Social Democratic Party as its nomination for the chancellorship at the next general election in less than four years.

"First gay leader": Malcolm is wondering how they excluded William Rufus, Edward II, and James VI & I (and that's just the British cohort).

By the way, try googling "homosexual kings" and see how obsessed The Age is about the topic. Sphere: Related Content
The class ceiling

Malcolm hears the CBI's fretting about the minimum wage. Heaven help us: it's going up to £5.35 an hour next week! Begging to be let off the hook of future increases,
the CBI said that the minimum wage would have risen by 27% since 2002 - faster than average wage growth of 18%.

Rising energy costs, lower 2007 growth forecasts and the cost of employment regulation meant firms could not cope with further heavy minimum wage rises, it added.

Malcolm notices one illogicality there: the cost of heating, cooking and lighting do not impact on the lower wage-earners, only on business.

The rest of the CBI's statement scarcely transcends this level of self-serving special-pleading. Their bleats include:
  1. lower-waged competition overseas;
  2. being undercut by a minority of unscrupulous employers who take workers on the black market to avoid paying the minimum wage; and
  3. uncertain global economic outlook.
Ho hum. Let's take those one at a time.
1. Most of the low-paid jobs are in service industries (retail, catering and cleaning, for example). Nice to see how they could be outsourced to the Philippines.
2. The CBI is the UK's leading business organisation, speaking for some 240,00 businesses that together employ around a third of the private sector workforce.
If its members are so omnipresent, they must know who is doing the dirty. So, why does the CBI not shop the rogue employers?
3. The CBI does not read its own research. A week ago, the CBI demolished its own thesis about uncertain global economic outlook with a news-release:
GDP growth is expected to return to a near-trend 2.5 per cent rate next year, as world economic growth slows and the impact of higher interest rates takes effect. Consequently, inflation is projected to ease back over the course of 2007, following an above-target peak this winter caused by rising food and energy costs.
Malcolm, as usual, has a pragmatic suggestion: let's index-link the minimum wage to something with which the CBI definitely agrees. Say, board-room pay and bonuses. Sorry, there's an error in that: the boardroom do not endure anything as menial as "pay" -- it is "executive compensation". And here's Income Data Services on just that topic:
Top pay in the FTSE 100 reached a landmark this year with the average total earnings of lead executives breaching the £2 million ceiling. Never in the 15 years since we started monitoring directors’ remuneration have we found so many earning so much. Based on data drawn from our wider FTSE 350 survey, the Directors’ Pay Report 2005, we found that more than eight out of ten FTSE 100 lead executives earned over £1 million, with eight of these receiving total packages grossing more than £4 million.
The Labour Research Department is nothing like as sensationalist as that:
Chief executives of FTSE 100 companies received an average 10.8% pay rise last year - twice the rate of increase in average earnings for the whole economy.
And 10.8% on £5.35 takes the minimum wage to about £5.93: which is a bit better than the 25p added this year. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nixon and Satchelmouth's stash:

The previous blog entry on Willie Nelson's bust reminded Malcolm of a twice-heard tale. Humphrey Lyttelton, in his BBC radio programme, The Best of Jazz, some years ago, may have been its first audition. The pianist, Tommy Flanagan, is often cited as the source of the story, sometimes "as told to Miles Davis". It has the smack of an urban folk-myth, but it's worth the re-telling. Since all parties are now safely defunct, no great harm is done.

In July 1959, Vice-President Richard Nixon went to Moscow. This was during one of the "thaws" in the Cold War, when an American National Exhibit was in Moscow. During this event the famous "kitchen debate" occurred between Nixon and Khrushchev.

On the stop-over in Paris, Nixon and his entourage encountered Louis Armstrong and his Band in the V.I.P. lounge at Orly. Armstrong's European tour had wound up at l'Olympia; and he was now on a US State Department-sponsored Mission to Moscow. Nixon, allegedly, went somewhat giggly in the presence of the great Louis, and begged to be allowed to help. Armstrong graciously handed Nixon his instrument case, which Nixon proudly carried off the aircraft, and through the Soviet customs. Thus was Satchmo's stash safely delivered under diplomatic cover. Sphere: Related Content

Pavo cristatus and a crusty pavement:

Malcolm, as the header says, was begat in M.J. O'Neill's, Suffolk Street, Dublin: just off College Green, and one of the finest lemonade dispensaries and closest to Trinity College's Front Gate. When Malcolm frequented this hostelry, the founding father was still to be seen presiding: it should not be confused with the Mitchells & Butlers use of a similar name to provide ersatz-craic for the English high street. All of which has a passing bearing on the next paragraph.

The difference between Oxbridge and TCD, between O'Neill's and O'Neills, then and now, is cultural, linguistic, attitudinal and £25 single on Aer Lingus. The change in attitude is that between limestone (smooth, polished and flakey) and Dublin mountains granite (rough around the edges, and hard as nails). About 40-odd years ago, some bright sparks thought the grassy Squares of Trinity would be upgraded and up-classed by adding peacocks. This briefly meant a larding of peafowl crap on the already-greasy cobbles. The night was rent by spine-chilling screams (and not only from the birds). Furthermore, peacocks' trailing feathers are not improved by persistent Dublin drizzle (which in those days was well grimed with coal smoke). The peafowl problem solved itself: one by one they escaped into College Green or Nassau Street, and were dispatched under the wheels of Dublin's green double-deckers. As far as Malcolm knows, the experiment was never repeated.

Yesterday's peacockery was on the letters page of The Guardian. A correspondent managed to make connections between possession of drugs, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Greg Dyke, bans on smoking, old age, global warming, Parisians ... outside the Deux Maggots, and all of this -- phew! -- in just over 500 words. Malcolm, who has something of an ability to force abstruse connections, is definitely impressed. He is even more impressed, deeply envious indeed, that such a diatribe (fuelled by something stronger than tea, he assumes) was awarded a prime position across the core of the page. And the author? "David Hockney, London".

Hockney's hat was hung on the peg of Willie Nelson's being charged, on 18th September, for having a pound and a half of hash and a couple of ounces of magic mushrooms on his tour bus (which, at least, makes one passing link with the second paragraph above). Now, ladeez and gennelmen, you may have heard that Queen Anne is dead! And the cover of Nelson's 2005 album Countryman might have been a clue. So this bust came as no great surprise. The surprise might have been that the bus was searched and found totally, absolutely, squeaky clean.

In their different ways, people like Hockney (and let's add Jon Snow, of the sock-it-to'em "And now over to Kylie Minogue in Bangkok", last Tuesday) occupy rôles as human peacocks: they exist mainly to brighten up our less-talented and less-colourful lives, as they display or call in the night. Malcolm reserves more sympathy for Nelson. He is not only the endless and untiring country singer. Since December 2004, he also is one of five partners and the "face" of -- wait for it -- Biowillie fuel. This is a replacement for diesel made from vegetable oils (and allows Nelson to make a political point about the Iraq war), and sold across seven state from South Carolina to California. There is a NYTimes article which a relevance here:
How far does [Nelson] think biodiesel can go?

"It could get as big as we can grow fuel or find different things to make fuel from, such as chicken fat, beef fat, add that along to soybeans, vegetable oils, peanuts, safflower, sunflower," Mr. Nelson said.

O.K.. What about hemp?

"Hemp is a very good one," he replied, not missing a beat. "In fact, several years ago, a friend of mine named Gatewood Galbraith was running for governor of Kentucky and we campaigned all over the state of Kentucky in a Cadillac operating on hemp oil. He was trying to get it legalized in the state of Kentucky and, of course, he lost, but the cannabis thing in fuel is a very real thing."
The biodiesel is an obvious and practical application of what Nelson has preached since he founded Farm Aid back in 1985. He was also to-the-fore in promoting assistance for the victims of Katrina last year: which adds irony to injury in this possession case.

The peacock, it should be remembered, is also a butterfly. Nelson is no peacock or butterfly: the wheel that is used to break him may yet discover he is solid granite. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 22, 2006

Lucky in our enemies

No amount of spin can disguise the relative merits of a well-argued and honest brief. And, the same applies to personalities.

Yesterday's press (and the previous evening's television) presented us with Mr Abu Izzadeen. It was not a pretty sight.

Malcolm's attention was caught by (as they say) two significant details, which add up to one big thought.

Here is one paragraph from Alan Hamilton's (curiously attributed to Nicola Woolcock on the website) atmospheric piece in the Times:
[John Reid's] audience had been rounded up by the local council at short notice, and comprised community leaders, councillors and a surprising number of Muslim women. Theym huddled together in the back rows of plastic chairs, paying the Home Secretary polite attention.
And here is Alan Travis in the Guardian:
Abu Izzadeen, in white flowing robes, interrupted him: "How dare you come to a Muslim area when over 1,000 Muslims have been arrested?" Mr Reid was a tyrant and an enemy of Islam. When Muslim women told him it was a "time for dialogue" he told them to "be quiet" before being ushered out by stewards and police.
There are several Asian (and possibly, but irrelevantly, Muslim) women in the media and prominent places. The BBC seems to be able to find another one, slick and sophisticated, at the drop of a hat. They are intelligent, vocal and at-ease with their personalities and self-presentation. Meanwhile, back in the schools and universities Asian (and possibly, but irrelevantly, Muslim) girls are outperforming their male counterparts. The London banks could not cope without them.

And yet, thinks Malcolm, where are these women when it comes to a confabulation of "community leaders"? This band of worthies is trolled out repeatedly, and without explanation or apology is, to a man, of one gender. Very occasionally, a token women, typically clutching a portfolio of essential documents, trips along in the view of the tv-camera but is never allowed to speak. Sinn Féin were rightly ridiculed by their opponents for the same penchant, until they rose to the challenge.

Ah, but it's "cultural" the apologists say. Cut the crap: it's chauvinist. Or it's something even more sinister. Half the "moslem" population are female; but silent.

Here's Malcolm's formula: bluster and a beard make a bigot. Perhaps John Reid's voice of reason may, one day, be answered by something quieter and with more sense and more real feeling. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Apologia per metered sewer

Public apologies come in different forms, but mainly fall into one of two categories:

The non-apologetic apology, which involves gritted teeth and an expression of regret that one’s accuser is a prat. The recent Papal apology is very much characteristic of this first type:
At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.
These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.
Yesterday, the Cardinal Secretary of State published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words.
And for the second type, consider the gush of turgid emotion, very common in ‘celebrity’ tiffs and divorcers. By no accident, today brings an A* example :
It's all over between Chris Tarrant and his wife, Ingrid.
The TV presenter has told reporters that he only has himself to blame for the marriage collapse.
"I am deeply sorry for the hurt I have caused to my loyal wife and wonderful children, all of whom I adore.
"I have only myself to blame for the breakdown of my marriage.
"While the liaison which has led to all of this was not significant in my life, I will always regret the hurt and pain that I have caused to those whom I love.
"I now appeal to the media to leave us all alone to allow us to deal in private with what are intensely personal and private matters.
Malcolm begs to persist with considering this second type a moment more.

In passing (ahem: let that be a warning of what is to ensue), a short while back, Malcolm was pleased to read of a project to teach the Norfolk dialect in local schools. Even so, he doubts that “Heb yer got the squits, bor?” will feature in the vocabulary taught. Anyone with a delicate constitution should look away now: the question is whether one’s digestive tract is severely over-active.

The verbal equivalent of the ‘squits’ is logorrhoeia. Think of it as the dia- version, but from the other end.

It persists in an acute form among elderly, decent, benign clerics, particularly those of the Anglican persuasion. Last February, the Church of England Synod received a motion (“Sarry ‘bowt thet un, mawtha”) to apologise for slavery. The motion needed to be stronger, so:
An amendment "recognising the damage done" to those enslaved was backed overwhelmingly by the General Synod…
The amendment was supported by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu.

Dr Williams said the apology was "necessary".

He said: "The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant 'them'."
Malcolm is sure that makes sense in the original Episcopal, because it passes him by like the idle wind (Malcolm wonders if anyone expected that to be attributed to Spinal Tap: oh well, by popular request).

Such apologetics took concrete form when the late, and somewhat lamented Bernie Grant, as MP for Tottenham, suggested that the Crown Jewels be flogged off, and their value – somehow – be returned to the exploited from whom they had been alienated. Now, Malcolm had a nodding acquaintance with Bernie, and Bernie enjoyed “stirring it”. However, had Bernie’s suggestion been acted upon, the first customer in the queue might have someone like the late and unlamented Emperor Bokassa I (and, thankfully, only), wishing to share such baubles with his grateful subjects and a Swiss bank-vault.

The Reverend – sorry, too much Private Eye, the Right Honourable Tony Blair has been a serial apologist: to the Guildford Four (for false convictions which occurred years before he even entered Parliament), for recent intra-party mouthings (which were not from him, but aimed at him), to an elderly heckler at Conference (who was evicted from his seat by private-enterprise marshals, not under Blair’s direct control), to the President of Brazil (for a shooting in which neither of them had any direct responsibility), and all the rest. will find you two and a quarter million references to “blair+apology” (though by no means all of them refer to our Tone).

Malcolm was about to finger 1st June 1997 as said Anthony’s most cringe-worthy apology:
Tony Blair has issued a statement on the Irish Potato Famine 150 years ago which amounts to the first apology expressed by the British authorities.

At a weekend festival in [Millstreet,] County Cork to commemorate the famine, which claimed one million lives, a letter was read out from the Prime Minister in which he blamed "those who governed in London" at the time for the disaster. The statement was read to an audience of 15,000 at a concert by the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne. In it, Mr Blair said he was pleased to join in remembering those who had died and suffered during "the great Irish famine".

He went on: "The famine was a defining event in the history of Ireland and Britain. It has left deep scars. That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today. Those who governed in London at the time failed their people."
On second reading, though, this is clearly and definitively a class 1 non-apology. Dontcha just love the damning of "those who governed in London at the time"? It clearly points the finger at Lord John Russell's Whig Government, and lets Peel's Tories off the hook. Possibly, just possibly, one might whiff the odour of sanctity from the history-teaching of Seafield Convent Grammar School, Crosby, herein.

Hmm, a public health warning here: Malcolm feels a creative urge coming on that, at some later juncture, he may need to put the world straight about the "Great Famine" and the "Irish Diaspora".

For the moment, though, Malcolm maintains we might usefully return to more robust times. Like all the best blogs, he resolves that he will "never explain, never apologise":
It is a good rule in life never to apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 18, 2006

… it's the way you tell them

1. From Sky News:
Orbital Prices
An Iranian-born businesswoman has set off for outer space in a Russian rocket bound for the International Space Station.The flight made Anousheh Ansari the first paying female space tourist, the first female Muslim in space and the first Iranian in space.
2. From RTÉ News:
Space tour for Texan multi-millionairess
A multi-millionairess from Texas has become the first woman to pay for a trip into space.
3. From
Lift-off for woman space tourist
The first woman space tourist has blasted off on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
The mission is carrying Iranian-born businesswoman, Anousheh Ansari, along with a fresh crew for the International Space Station (ISS).
Sphere: Related Content
Coming clean

Here's fellow-blogsmith Andrew Sullivan, of the Sunday Times News Review, on his way out of the closet:
In my first year in America, as a budding young conservative ...
Despite the year-on-year, repetitive recitals of every canard against the Clintons, every bit of Bush-clearing in the Washington shrubbery, Andy, who could ever have guessed! But the ST still do not allow you to escape from below the fold.

Sullivan' s piece (which substantially retreads the premises of Tim Read's Times article from last Friday) is on 'the reawakening of the traditional conservative perspective'. This is in contrast to
an ideology based in born-again religious faith, immune to empirical* reality and dedicated to the relentless expansion of presidential clout. It sanctions wiretapping without court warrants, indefinite detention without trial and the use of torture.
Sullivan rightly hails the stand made by Senators McCain (Rep, AZ), Warner (Rep, VA), Graham (Rep, SC) and Collins (Rep, ME), and supported by Colin Powell, not to permit the White House to push illegal military tribunals, and all the accoutrements that would go with them, through on the Senate's nod.

Lindsey Graham, the old-gargoyle Strom Thurmond's political heir, is consistently conservative in his Senate votes, with the singular exception of issues over Guantanamo. He is also something of a bag-carrier for would-be 'President' McCain. Now McCain, who inherited Barry Goldwater's seat in the Senate, represents a bit of an enigma. He has been Limbaughed by the right as a "liberal", yet was hard-nosed about US foreign policy and Iraq long before the Bushies got their hands on the levers of power. He has taken moderate, even radical postures on some green issues, on the Federal Marriage Amendment, reforming campaign finance, collaborated with Teddy Kennedy on legalising the satus of illegal immigrants, and gone for the pork. Equally he is pro-life, supports the teaching of "intelligent design" and a ban on gay marriage. He voted for impeaching Clinton; and was paid-up in the "Contract with America". Malcolm fully appreciates The Nation's befuddlement over McCain last year.

Warner, the former Mr Elizabeth Taylor, five terms a Senator, and -- surely -- now calm of mind, all passion spent, is equally unpredictable: pro-life but in favour of stem cell research, he has voted for gun-control and for outlawing anti-gay hate-crime (neither popular stands among the Republican ranks). He came close to pulling the temple down around him by opposing Ollie North's run for the Senate. His position as unbiddable Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces' Committee makes him Bush's likely nemesis, and a shoo-in for Virginia as long as he maintains the inflow of defence money.

Susan Collins, now in her second term, crosses the radar mainly when she too breaks from the Republican line to vote for liberal issues. Although a Roman Catholic, she is a Republican for Choice, and backs stem-cell research. She is talked-of as a natural for a future Cabinet seat (under a President of either party) running the gargantuan Homeland Security franchise ($40B and loose change!).

After celebrating these unlikely heroes of decency and honour, Malcolm's mind turned to wider consideration. How will this play in Peoria for November's mid-terms? (Actually, it does not matter as far as this blog is concerned: there's no Senate election in Illinois this time round.) Non-nerds might need guidance here. The present Senate is 55 Rep to 44+1 Democrat (the +1 is Jim Jeffords, the Independent ex-Republican retiring in Vermont). This year there are 18 Democrat and 15 Republican Senate seats for election. Provided the Democrats keep hold on Minnesota and New Jersey (neither of which is anywhere near in the bag), the Dems need five+ seats to take the Senate.

As he has mentioned before, Malcolm watches Chris Cillizza's The Fix. At the moment Cillizza is rating Pennsylvania, Montana and Ohio as potential Democrat gains. Parallel to this, Malcolm keeps an eye on the Cook Political Report (subscription, but dig out the .pdfs available for free). Charlie Cook reckons that the Republican seats in at least six States are up for grabs: Pennsylvania, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Chris Byers is currently reckoning on Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana and Ohio being reasonable prospects for a Democrat pick-up. So Byers has the next Senate still 51-49 Republican-control, while Cook would seem to go 52-48. Number freaks can get up-to-date, without subscription, on summaries at Zogby confirms much of this, but seems to be currently seeing the Republican support hardening (for which, see also Donald Lambro in the Washington Times). The Rasmussen Report is now favouring the Dems, reckoning Montana, Rhode Island and Ohio as 'leaning Democrat'. This confirms the other authorities, and would make the next Senate 49 Republican to 48 Democrat.

To stick with Rasmussen, the three states where Rasmussen has yet to call are Tennessee, New Jersey and Missouri. In Tennessee, recent polling has continued the trend towards the Democrat candidate, Representative Harold Ford, who now trails by just one percentage point (or, alternatively, is 3% up in a SurveyUSA poll). Tom Kean (Rep) has gained a recent 44-39 edge on Democrat Menendes, in a natural Democrat State and where the New Jersey mud is being slung quite aggressively. In Missouri, back in July, Claire McCaskill was 45-42 ahead of sitting Republican Senator Jim Talent: McCaskill seemed to have the surge, too.

Malcolm enjoyed the brief, bright and very-unbrotherly dissection of the campaign ads for Tennessee (and elesewhere) on

And as for Malcolm's previous target, the egregious Katherine Harris of Florida: she's pulling 60%! Yeah, but that's 60% of Republican votes: the other 30% are presently supporting her Democrat opposition.
* Footnote: Malcolm can never pass over the term empirical without recalling Smiling Gerry Healey addressing, nay harranguing his SLL clones on the vexed issue of Cuba: "Comrades, this is a conflict between dialectics on the one hand, and empiricism on the other. Let's not cloud the issue with facts!"

And an accusatory apology: reviewing a couple of recent postings, Malcolm wishes his little cyber-elf to brush up on HTML, or prepare himself for a good kicking. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sooner or later it all clicks together.

Malcolm was doubly surprised by the recent Papal kerfuffle.

His first surprise was to find he could now make connections. He had barely a nodding acquaintance with the now much-quoted Manuel II Palaeologus. Said Manuel has a walk-on part in chapter 64 of Gibbon's Decline and Fall. He also appears in the final part of John Julius Norwich's Byzantium (which, in Malcolm's mind, is magnificently fine, but falls readably short of Lord Norwich's exquisite Venice). In neither account does Manuel come across as a heroic figure, being, in part, responsible for extinguishing the last Asian possession of Byzantium.

Manuel, as Gibbon and Norwich establish, was a part-time client, a vassal of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezit. The Emperor's view of Islam might, just might, have been coloured by his dealings with the Ottomans. He escaped being part of a systematic massacre of Bayezit's Christian vassals (at Serres in the winter of 1593-4), but only because the Sultan changed his mind at the last moment.

And why does Malcolm remember Bayezit? Because he appears as "Bajazeth, Emperor of the Turks" in Marlowe's Tamburlaine:
Now shalt thou feel the force of Turkish arms,
Which lately made all Europe quake for fear.
I have of Turks, Arabians, Moors, and Jews,
Enough to cover all Bithynia:
Let thousands die; their slaughter'd carcasses
Shall serve for walls and bulwarks to the rest;
And as the heads of Hydra, so my power,
Subdu'd, shall stand as mighty as before:
If they should yield their necks unto the sword,
Thy soldiers' arms could not endure to strike.
Bajazeth's next appearance, it should be remembered, is as Tamburlaine's foot-stool, and he ends by braining himself against the bars of his own cage.

And demanding an apology from the Pope for a scholarly reference to the 14th-century reminds Malcolm that Marlowe himself came close to being sub-poenaed for his "communism"
by the US House of Representatives.

Such are the simple pleasures of scholarship.

Meanwhile, back to the main point, and to Malcolm's second surprise.

The BBC's monitoring of the Islamic media is highly instructive:
  • the Pope was more offensive than the Danish cartoons;
  • his statement is a warning of serious danger in the future;
  • the Catholic church will be subject to upheavals that it has never seen before;
  • and must make a prompt apology in order to resolve a hot issue;
  • it all goes back to the Crusades, the main reason for [which] was not necessarily holy motives but the greed of Italian tradesmen and merchants;
  • it's all because of Westerners are converting, en masse, to Islam.
  • etc., etc.
In this respect, Malcolm was astounded to realise how outstanding the language-teaching must be in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, even in every shanty-town and madrassa. Here are all these worthy and pious citizens protesting their shock, horror, detestation, and outrage. About a speech made in German. Of which there does not yet seem to be an authorised translation into English, let alone into Arabic, Turkish or whatever. So Malcolm was forced into believing that all these worthy and pious citizens had heard the speech in full, in German, and had comprehended in it meanings that certainly do not seem implicit in the summaries that Malcolm has had to rely upon.

After all, any other possibility, that these worthy
and pious citizens were relying on partial or distorted reports, is unthinkable:
There is no expiation for false witness apart from repentance and restoring people’s rights, if that false testimony resulted in depriving others of what was rightfully theirs.
The judge or qaadi has the right to impose whatever ta’zeer punishment he sees fit for the one who bore false witness.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What use is Clare Short?

Malcolm felt today's grey dawn brightened with the news that Clare Short intends to step down as Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood at the next General Election. Or does she? For, as usual, little is straightforward and coherent from this proudly plain-spoken and direct lady.

She made her announcement with an 800-word opinion piece in today's Independent, where it features as the prime "editor's choice" (the BBC website, more realistically, relegated it to the regional news). Typically, she manages a baker's dozen of subjective personal pronouns before the end of the first paragraph. And, taking her at her own reading, Malcolm realises how she has bestrode this narrow world like a Colossus. She has:
  • given [her] adult life to the Labour Party as the best way [she] could see of increasing social justice at home and abroad.
  • resist[ed] the destructive policies of the Thatcher years, which hurt so many people.
  • work[ed] with Neil Kinnock and then John Smith, to ready the party for power.
  • as the Secretary of State for International Development ... demonstrate[d] how extra money, clarity of purpose and high morale can lead to excellence in public service.
  • establish[ed] the new Department for International Development.
In other words: Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound --- 'Look, up in the sky,' 'It's a bird,' 'It's a plane,' 'It's ...' Clare Short. Serial resigner. Rewriter of personal history. Media darling (as long as she keeps to the 'Kill Tony' song-sheet). Hard-done-by posture. Quasimodo gait from carrying a chip of log-like proportions.

But, are we to be rid of her tedious, self-serving trivialities? Is she to be safely reduced to occasional appearances on Any Questions? Err, not really:

She told the BBC she wanted to campaign for electoral reform. She did not rule out standing to be an independent MP.

Malcolm assumes that the latter of these statements is a covert declaration that she aims to split the vote in Ladywood. Birmingham-Ladywood is the fifth most Moslem constituency in the UK, and Short's majority suffered accordingly at the last General Election. So, does Short's idea of going 'independent' disguise a link with the Gorgeous George Respect-posse? Malcolm was dubious about that himself, until he noticed that the second item on the Respect website was a direct link to the Independent article. Many of Short's statements in this article and elsewhere seem increasingly to rub up along with the Respect agenda. Watch this space, perhaps.

As for the notion of a "campaign for electoral reform", we now enter the realms of utter fantasy. The electoral reform is to be achieved via a "hung parliament", a situation wherein neither major party has a majority. Bill Deedes came close to forecasting such a result for the 2005 general Election (and Deedes is a wily old bird). Here is Short:
we need is a hung parliament which will bring in electoral reform. Then we would have a second election. Labour - with existing levels of support - would have one-third of the seats in the Commons, the Tories something similar, and we would be likely to see some Greens and others added, creating a plurality of voices and power centres in the Commons.
Again, Malcolm notes that little give-away phrase and others added.

Short's assumption seems to be that one or other of the major parties would make a deal with the LibDems et alii to introduce proportional representation as a way of buying some kind of short-term working majority. Such an argument is blown away on its own gossamer threads:
  1. If a deal is possible on PR, why not on other policy matters? That, dear Clare, is called a "coalition".
  2. Which major party would readily write off any future chance of achieving a majority? Think the Parliaments of 1964-6 and February-October 1974 and 1992-7: why did it not happen in any of those cases?
  3. As the cost of General Elections constantly rises (£40M in 2001; £50M in 2005?), which party (major or minor) can afford a 'short Parliament'?
  4. Has anyone noticed the LibDems being quite so loud about PR lately? Does anyone wish to wager that LibDems, grasping at a halfshare in a coalition (as would be essential in the Short thesis), would happily dilute it with admixtures of other parties in some 'rainbow coalition'?
  5. Does anyone seriously believe that a Parliament Bill, for introducing PR, could pass in weeks or even months? Meanwhile, some working arrangement would be necessary for other parliamentary business, which takes us back to [1] above.
Short is no ideologue. Her refrain, as here, is "power", and her deprivation of any sense of power and control:
Cabinet government has gone, the House of Commons - with guillotines on all business - is weak and ineffective ... The Prime Minister's powers of patronage turn too many MPs into obedient ciphers who await the call to ministerial office or quiet elders who await the House of Lords.
There is, in Malcolm's mind, nothing greatly wrong with aspiring to -- and using -- political power for proper purposes: else, being a parliamentarian (or even a local councillor) is little more than being an unqualified, amateur citizens' advice bureau. What matters is what we want the power for, and how we use it to benefit our fellows. Wilfully to surrender that power, by sharing it with capitalists (and Tories and Liberals and non-Socialist Labourites are all capitalist), is to be a class-traitor, an enemy of the real cause of the class we seek to represent. Certainly, that way is no way to achieve Short's ideal of the Scandinavian model. Anyway, Short might well have taken the time to consider last week's Economist article on just that. The problem is not that Parliamentary means have failed, it is that Labour Parliamentarians, particularly those like Short who had access to the highest circles of power, have been so impotent, failing to use the power. It ill-behoves a long-term member of the Labour Cabinet to say "Cabinet Government has gone": who else let it go? The "imperial Presidency" should not, could not, does not exist in the British system, except in the "beloved leader'' Thatcher context:
Thatcher sits in a restaurant with the rest of her cabinet (Howe, Tebbit, etc.). The waiter comes over and asks: "Would you like to order meat, ma'am?" Thatcher: "Yes. Rare." Waiter: "Vegetables?" Thatcher, making a broad arm movement to the boys: "Oh, they'll have the same".
[Admittedly, the same joke is told in Ireland about Charlie Haughey, and is doubtless international.]

On 29th January 1964, Malcolm paid half-price (10/6) for a copy of Aneurin Bevan's essays, In Place of Fear. That text originally appeared in 1952. So much of it remains relevant:
Parliament does not 'keep the ring'. Parliament is one of the contestants in the ring. It is not above the battle. It is a weapon, and the most formidable weapon of all, in the struggle. People have no use for an institution which pretends to supreme power and then does not use it.
Michael Foot's biography has Nye Bevan telling a story about 'power' [see also Hansard, vol. 395]:
'Very important man. That's Councillor Jackson,' his father had said to him. 'What's the Council?' I asked. 'Very important place indeed and they are very powerful men,' his father had replied. 'When I get older I said to myself: "The place to get to is the Council. That's where the power is." So I worked very hard, and, in association with my fellows, when I was about twenty years of age, I got on the Council. I discovered when I got therethat the power had been there, but it had just gone. So I made some enquiries, being an earnest student of social affairs, and I learned that the power had slipped down to the County Council. That was where it was and where it had gone to. So I worked very hard again and I got there and it had gone from there too.
To which we can append Short's little (and unoriginal) lament about 'power' being lost from the Commons. Malcolm suggests that Short recall two often-quoted maxims. One is George Santayana:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The other from the opening sentence of Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
Bevan followed by Short? That really is tragedy into farce.


Footnote: Malcolm tried to build a hyperlink from "beloved leader" to Kim Jong-Il. He met with a 403 error-message that was new to him, but appropriately sinister:
Error 403: Forbidden!

The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it. Authorization will not help and the request SHOULD NOT be repeated.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Doubts, credence and bloody certainty

A young woman of Malcolm's acquaintance spent the summer of 2001 working on a seconded project. She was based in downtown Manhattan, just across the street from what was then the World Trade Centre. Anyone reading this (Anyone reading this?) already knows where we are going: but, wait!

So, on the morning of that fateful Tuesday, she was preparing to leave her young child into daycare, and catch the train from her New Jersey hometown into Manhattan. Her husband was out of town on business. She was running late. At the last moment, the baby needed its nappy changed. She was even later.

She missed not only her regular train, but the next two. As a result, she travelled into Hoboken, where she could change onto the PATH to take her across the river. It was now some time after nine o'clock. The commuters were all held at the barrier. They were told that all services into New York were suspended: they should all return home. By that time, both buildings in the WTC were burning.

This young woman has other recollections of that day. One was the impossibility of telephoning her husband: in the end messages were passed through her parents in London and his sister in California. Another was her growing concern for her team in Manhattan: what had happened to them? And then there was the memory of the two children, still uncollected from the daycare center at the end of the day. Such things are hard to trivialise. Even so, ...

Every media-outlet has had to do its bit reprising that day. This has involved some desperate efforts to find new angles. The New Statesman, continuing to masquerade as a
political, cultural and current affairs magazine, in Malcolm's view surpassed its usual irrelevance with an article by Brendan O'Neill: They believe there weren't any planes on 9/11, just missiles wrapped in holograms ... Meet the No Planers. And O'Neill then proceeds to parade the post-adolescent fantasies of ... David Shayler.

It is one of the few things to be said in favour of The Sunday Times that it gave Shayler short-shrift six months after employing him. It merely confirms Malcolm's opinion of "military intelligence" that MI5 didn't. And interviewing Shayler allows O'Neill to recycle the usual conspiracist twaddle about 9/11 and 7/7, including, inevitably, "the New World Order". O'Neill then opines:
The thought of behind-the-scenes suits being cajoled by their evil paymasters to create an image of four rucksack-wearing terroristsm in order to cover up their own bombing of London is just too ludicrous. These 9/11 truth campaigners merely add a supposedly scientific gloss to already existing conspiracy theories, trying to make the ridiculous seem respectable. In the process, they actually do a disservice to "historical truth". History gets reduced to a mysterious force beyond our control, and politics - real politics - is imagined to be the preserve of unknown, faceless puppet-masters whom we can never hope to influence.
Such profundity ... though from which fundament Malcolm hesitates to suggest.

Away from such drivel and dross, Malcolm found enlightenment in the 12,000 word essay, The Age of Horrorism, by Martin Amis in Sunday's Observer. Amis is not Malcolm's favourite novelist, but he found this work is worth the effort. It is a major piece.

Malcolm feels it is unfair to dissect Amis's arguments, but they seem to derive from premises:
  1. The tensions between Islam and Islamism: "And Islamism won ...".
  2. The gynophobia and phallocracy of Islam.
  3. Donald Rumsfeld's cryptic language: "knowns ... known unknowns ... unknown unknowns".
  4. Amis's own attempt to develop a novella about a terrorist plot.
  5. The life of Sayyib Qutb, author of "Milestones, the Mein Kampf of Islamism" and, quoting Sam Harris, "Osama bin Laden's favourite philosopher"
Along the way, Amis takes time to aim for many butts as possible, from the significant (example: the ineptitude of US plans for occupied Iraq) to the nugatory (yet another unfortunate pensée by the Mayor of London). Amis's boot, to Malcolm's mind, does make contact with real bums:
  1. Islam is totalist ... means 'submission' - the surrender of independence of mind. That surrender now bears the weight of well over 60 generations and 14 centuries.
  2. Islam, in the end, proved responsive to European influence; the influence of Hitler and Stalin.
  3. ... the past five years ... is a death agony: the death agony of imperial Islam. Islamism is the last wave - the last convulsion. But there are some sound reasons for thinking that the confrontation with Islamism will be testingly prolonged.
The second of those points should not go unremarked. Why should we deny the debt that, in particular, the Ba'athists owe to the inspiration and model of Nazism? The Ba'athist model for a political party is closely based on that of the NSDAP.

Amis next takes time out
to trace what went wrong, psychologically, with the Iraq War:
  • It was not the issue of weapons of mass destruction: the intelligence agencies of every country on earth, Iraq included, believed [Saddam] had them. An obvious point, perhaps, but one that needs repetition: the WMD-issue was not, as so frequently claimed, a "lie".
  • It was the American President's all too palpable submission to the intoxicant of power. And, yes, this was an event where the "checks-and-balances" of politics failed to click into place, because - in a unique moment - the religious Right had captured all branches of the American government.
Then Amis identifies "three intrinsic historical realities":
First the Middle East is clearly unable, for now, to sustain democratic rule - for the simple reason its people will vote against it...
Second, Iraq is not a real country ... it consists of three separate (Ottoman) provinces, Sunni, Shia, Kurd - a disposition which looks set to resume...
Third, only the sack of Mecca or Medina would have caused more pain to the Islamic heart than the taking, and befouling, of the Iraqi capital, the seat of the Caliphate.
And he concludes with two main thrusts:
  • the Islamic states lag behind the West, and the Far East, in every index of industrial and manufacturing output, job creation, technology, literacy, life-expectancy, human development and intellectual vitality ... Then, too, there is the matter of tyranny, corruption, and the absence of civil rights and civil societies ... The connection between manifest failure and the suppression of women is unignorable...
  • All religions are violent; and all ideologies are violent ... Millenial Islamism is an ideology superimposed upon a religion - illusion upon illusion.
Malcolm recommends all and sundry to take the time to read, digest and applaud the essential humanity and liberalism that Amis expounds. Above all, it is a stylish and elegant piece, far removed in quality of content and presentation from most of the prevalent clap-trap.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the young woman of whom Malcolm first thought continues with her life. Her children will grow up capable of thinking for themselves. She has the right to drive her own car, succeed in her own career, and form her own opinions independent of her husband's views.
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Thursday, September 7, 2006

Malcolm and the cult of personality.

All MPs of all parties suffer from two delusions: their own inordinate importance to the world, and that the preservation of their seat is more important than any principle. Hence, the illuminating spectacle of the recent 'rats-in-a-sack' flesh-tearing of recent days. Thanks to Alex Glasgow, we have a song to celebrate such dedication to the one true cause:
The Socialist ABC

When that I was a little tiny boy,
Me daddy said to me,
'The time has come, me bonny bonny bairn
To learn your ABC'.
Now daddy was a Lodge Chairman
In the coalfields of the Tyne,
And that ABC was different
From the Enid Blyton kind.

He sang:

A is for Alienation that made me the man that I am
and B's for the Boss, who's a bastard, a bourgeois who don't give a damn.
C is for Capitalism, the boss's reactionary creed;
and D's for Dictatorship, laddie, but the best proletarian breed.
E is for Exploitation, that the workers have suffered so long;
and F is for old Ludwig Feuerbach, the first one to see it was wrong.
G is for all Gerrymanderers, like Lord Muck and Sir Whatsisname,
and H is the Hell that they'll go to, when the workers have kindled the flame.
I is for Imperialism, and America's kind is the worst,
and J is for sweet Jingoism, that the Tories all think of first.
K is for good old Keir Hardie, who fought out the working class fight
and L is for Vladimir Lenin, who showed him the Left was all right.
M is of course for Karl Marx, the daddy and the mammy of them all,
and N is for Nationalisation, without it we'd crumble and fall.
O is for Overproduction that capitalist economy brings,
and P is for Private Property, the greatest of all of the sins.
Q is for the Quid pro quo, that we'll deal out so well and so soon,
when R for Revolution is shouted and the Red Flag becomes the top tune.
S is for sad Stalinism, that gave us all such a bad name,
and T is for Trotsky the hero, who had to take all of the blame.
U's for the Union of workers, the Union will stand to the end,
and V is for Vodka, yes, Vodka, the one drink that don't bring the bends.
W is for all Willing workers, and that's where the memory fades,
for X, Y and Z, me dear daddy said, will be written on the street barricades.

But now that I'm not a little tiny boy,
Me daddy says to me,
'Please try to forget the things I said,
Especially the ABC.'
For daddy's no longer a Union man,
And he's had to change his plea.
His alphabet is different now,
Since they made him a Labour MP.
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