Monday, May 28, 2012

wealth, what it is, how to get it.

It is important to ask the question: where does wealth come from? In my mind there are two main sources of wealth, there is generative wealth, where money is gained from techniques and products that simply create new value, without taking any wealth away from the pre-existing supply. Then there is parasitic wealth, that which relies on taking value from other things.

     In a classical sense generative wealth is that which involves new inventions, mechanisation, new techniques, any form really of creative wealth. Parasitic wealth is that which takes money, so it would be things such as charging rent on land or outsourcing factories to other parts of the world. The modern system we live under has both sources of wealth, though capitalism seems to encourage more of the parasitic form of wealth, as is epitomised best in the stock market. Because although wealth can be generated through investment in new companies much of the gubbins of stock trading involves buying and selling stocks and shares, which means while one trader will gain a profit, automatically someone else will lose out. This zero sum way of gaining wealth is innately destructive, in the same way as asset stripping of companies, downsizing and outsourcing factories is. This however is the wealth system we have increasingly got ourselves in the west locked into, and it is largely what is leading to our gradual decline as nations.

    The most important question that can be asked in any of this is where exactly where are we heading as a nation. Are we still capable of generating wealth that will sustain our standard of living? Does it really matter where we are on the league tables of wealth? Are we undermining their foundations of our own wealth by outsourcing to other countries?

  It is obvious that the UK is in decline in terms of relative wealth and power in the world. Just by looking over the last century it can be seen that in 1900 Britain was the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, and now we are barely in the top ten. It is inevitable that this will decline further, just as the USA is seeing the last days of its role as world superpower. But does it really matter whether we are number one or number one hundred in terms of wealth? While it may matter in terms of national pride as to whether we are bigger and richer than others, does it make a difference to the majority of people?

  When you look at the UK a hundred years ago the majority of its citizens lived in poverty, while the wealth it had remained in the hands of relatively few people. Britain may have been the wealthiest nation in the world, but that wealth was restricted to those at the top. The majority in Britain never experienced a decent share of that wealth, so to all intents and purpose Britain may have been the richest country in the world, but its people certainly were not. It was only after world war two and the creation of the welfare state that wealth began to be redistributed, and to be born poor in the UK wasn't an effective death sentence. It was also a change not just of wealth but potential to gain wealth, so that you could be born poor, work hard at school and gain a position of respect in the world. So it can be argued that in terms of individuals it doesn't really matter how rich a country is, what matters is how that wealth is distributed. The USA now is the worlds richest nation, yet it has millions of its citizens living in poverty. That is fine for those at the top, but hardly fair for the rest.

  So in future thinking terms the problem is that currently Britain's wealth is not very equally distributed, and the gap between rich and poor is growing rapidly. We are not getting much richer as a nation, but the rich are, and the poor are getting poorer, relatively speaking. Now some on the right may argue that this does not matter, because nobody is getting absolutely poorer. While we were a more equal society in the 1970's than today (in that our wealth was spread more equally and fairly, and social mobility was higher) we are objectively wealthier than we were forty years ago. We have material goods in abundance, nobody need starve and the welfare state still provides the necessary basics. So it would seem that it doesn't really matter how wealth is shared, so long as we have enough so that the poorest are getting a half decent standard of living.

  But the question is, will we always have enough to ensure this basic standard of living? This is a more long term concern, and it is worth looking at the decline of other societies, and here we look at the problem of outsourcing and the rise of other nations. Now Britain's wealth did not come about purely because our businesses were better than others and we were more innovative than other nations (although that was a factor, and here equality of opportunity is always useful, but that is for another essay). We became rich because we were more powerful and ruthless than other countries. The colonies we gained and drained were fought for, not just from the people who lived there but from other nations who wanted them. Our government supported British business not just in a cheerleading way but by destroying native industries. In India it was British policy to effectively destroy the Indian weaving industry so as to boost the cotton industry in Lancashire. And while the machines of Lancashire may have represented generative wealth (industry that came about because of innovation) the British empire used it as a form of parasitic wealth, so that even in Indian British made cotton goods were cheaper than their Indian rivals.

    Exactly this attitude prevails today, the US government through the WTO and many other institutions makes sure that it is able to dominate world trade, and certainly does not rely on the vagarious of the market to dictate the success or failure of American companies. China too is beginning to use its growing weight to support its economic system, though much like the British it is using its economic strength first and then will no doubt bring in military strength afterwards. And this is where outsourcing comes in, because we have done the opposite in china as what we once did in India. We have given all the factories to china, because they can make things cheaply, and we keep all the head offices and brand names in the UK, and supposedly reap the profits. Now this works for a while, because it reduces company costs and never mind the British worker thrown out of work, because they can go into the service sector (more on that later). We can buy cheap goods from china, which we can afford with our high wages, supported because we can still dictate the rules of the world. The problem then becomes that our wealth is reliant on the rules being bent in our favour, and that will not always be so.

  The main problem of outsourcing is that you outsource knowledge and talent. While initially Asian factories were meant to only produce goods designed by the west and that did not take much skill. But it did not take long for those trained to assemble, such as car parts or electronics goods to realise that they could manufacture and design them all themselves. This is largely what Japan and Korea did four decades ago, and what China and India are doing now. Where once it was IBM that got Chinese workers to make PC's, it is now a Chinese company that makes PC's for IBM. This puts all the power in the hands of China, though IBM has yet to realise that. By being in charge of both production and the companies themselves it means that China only really needs the west as a market for its goods, and that is not a massive incentive for cooperation, nor one where china will happily accept being told what to do by the west. It is interesting to see in this what happens if you lose control of the brand, as we see in the UK our manufacturing plants scramble desperately to get production to stay in the UK. France and Germany tend not to have this problem, because they have made sure they keep control of the brands. If a French car company was going bankrupt as Rover did in the UK they will give it money to keep it afloat, because then when times are good the company cannot then relocated to another country and stuff your workers.

  As Britain and the USA thus become less powerful they will have less say in world affairs, and while that might be something of a relief there is no guarantee that anyone wiser will be in charge. The fact is countries act the ways they do is for power and power alone. Every country will try and bend the world system in their favour, and to ensure that other nations are kept as weak as possible.

  This is the major danger then to the continuing prosperity of the UK, that if we are unable to hold our weight in the world other countries will get us to sign up to precisely the same sort of unfair treaties that we in the west used to make them sign. Business is never fair, and there is no reason for any of the rising nations of Asia or south America to give us any favours, especially with the memory of colonialism hanging over us.

  Therefore while Britain's world decline is not harmful in itself, and entirely inevitable, the threat to our standards of living is that there may be a finite amount of wealth that it is possible to generate. While generally there has been an upwards curve in the technological development and our standard of living this curve is not inevitable. There are many more unpredictable things on the horizon, our economy have to make the transition to being able to generate energy without relying on scarce fossil fuels, and as has been pointed out to support a western standard of living for all we would need the wealth of several other earths.

   Thus while we may try and maintain our standard of living there might not be enough wealth to support it for everyone. We have no greater moral claim to our wealth than anyone else, and it is almost impossible to justify why we should be so much richer than other parts of the world. Plus while it might be nice to think that we could all share the resources of the world equally there is little evidence to support this. We in the west hardly have a glowing track record when it comes to sharing our wealth with others, indeed as pointed out before much of Britain's wealth has been parasitic, in that we stole much of it from other nations.

  While there may be room for manoeuvre in that perhaps technology will improve and resources will become less scarce it is better to assume that things will largely follow the same pattern they always have. We must assume that just as Britain and Europe happily colonised other nations and created a world system that impoverished many other nations, thus the new rising nations will most likely do the same. While they may not be quite as brazen as European nations were they are more likely to act as the USA did, economically colonising other nations and slaving their economies to its own.

  We thus face the choice between carrying on as we have done before and inevitably declining. There are many parallels with past nations and empires that have collapsed without being destroyed in war. The example of Venice is a good one, as it was an Empire based on trade with a very advanced governmental system, that gradually declined over years, giving the impression of strength before inevitably crumbling. It was able to maintain a generally good standard of living throughout most of its years but once the decline set in then poverty for the majority was what happened.

  Which brings us to the nature of our decline, the emphasis on restructuring our economies along service sector and luxury jobs means that we are very poorly placed if the world system is changed. We no longer produce anything that can be sold overseas. We can work in call centres and work in shops, but this focus on the consumer economy relies on us being able to spend our money in shops. This bubble has already burst, as we have seen in the last recession. The money we think we have is just debt leant to us by various banks, and all those banks rely on the fact that the people of china save more than they spend. We have impoverished ourselves and placed the power again in the hands of other nations, and they will not be slow in exploiting that. Therefore the wealth of most British people relies on the service sector, and by working in the head office (admin etc) of various large companies, or in public sector jobs that are likewise reliant on others generating income. As has been pointed out both of these are very weak, as again we are finding now that when demand slumps there is almost nothing we can do about it. We can have short term stimuli such a when Labour dropped VAT in 2009, but that simply doesn't last. The current government’s policy of austerity in addition has made things horribly worse, as one of the few ways to get the economy moving again would have been for the government to invest in growing the public sector in a Keynesian sense, because then at least it stimulates some spending. That is of course only short solution, as the government can’t just keep making money from nowhere unless it learns to innovate.

The way ahead for our economies in the post-industrial era  is thus to be more protective of the wealth we generate, to focus on creating jobs and wealth that is genuinely sustainable. We need an economy that focuses on generative wealth, not parasitic or service sector wealth (which is usually reliant on other peoples income). In order to be able to genuinely prosper we need to be able to control the sources of our incomes. At the moment we are at the mercy of foreign corporations whose loyalty is elsewhere, and to home grown corporations whose only loyalty is to money and how they can get more of it. As ever the nations that seem to able to get this right are the ones who have been able generate wealth without having to resort to the parasitic mode employed by the UK and USA. A good example of this is Germany, a nation that has been able to become the richest in Europe without a colonial legacy and by utilising only the skills of its people in the last half century. While obviously Germany has more than a dodgy past, to say the least, it had been able to redevelop itself from next to nothing after WW2. It did this, admittedly with US money, largely due to its strong social organisation and a very rationally thought out sense of mission. The German economy has been focused on industry, of high quality goods that have remained competitive despite many years of changing markets. This is partially a legacy of the time before the wars, when the German economy was second only to Britain and was the world leader in electrics and chemicals. The fact was that it was able to reach this position by focusing on innovation and development. Partly because Germany had no colonies it was forced to behave differently to other European nations, it could not, as Belgium did, steal large amounts of wealth from Africa.

  Germany thus had to concentrate on stimulating domestic demand, by focusing on skills that people needed to succeed and to place innovation at the heart of economic policy. This is how to build a successful economy and one that ensure wealth is generated successfully.

  The worst thing is that Britain used to do this, not in the Victorian age so much but in the age before. The reason why Britain became the wealthiest country in Europe was not its empire, in fact it was the other way around. It gained an empire because it was successful at generating wealth, and it is instructive to look closer at how it did this.

   Firstly Britain opened itself to new ideas. By getting rid of the catholic church in the 16th century and the monarchy for a bit in the 17th century there was less of an incentive towards doing things in the old way. Innovation was held back in Europe because new ideas threatened those at the top and were thus outlawed. In the UK however we had a royal society that had ideas about science before the 1700’s, and Newton was also put in charge of dealing with the national debt. Britain was a place that was forward thinking, and where new ideas meant that those beyond the narrow aristocracy actually had an incentive to get ahead. In the late 18th century the men who put England into the industrial age were not from wealthy backgrounds. They were the middling sort, educated and with the belief that with hard work and innovation they could get ahead. Luckily they lived in a society that thrived on innovation, or at least one that tolerated change in some form. Men like Arkwright and Wedgewood who spent their lives innovating in what they made, how they made it and how they sold it. of course these men weren’t very nice, Arkwright made himself incredibly rich often at the expense of others, and his free market ways would eventually lead England into its current difficultires, but the principle remains.

   In order for the UK to be successful again it does not need to focus on manufacturing, as various people like Dyson would have us believe. The age of manufacturing in its current state is probably over, but to innovate in terms of ideas. We need to follow the principles that we live in a society that is open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Those industries at which Britain currently excels are ones that rely on us inventing stuff, which we are quite at. What we lack is investment in those things we invent and long term strategy for holding onto their benefits. Britain invented everything from the jet engine to the world wide web, but we are fairly rubbish at exploiting them. What we need is a system that from the start encourages people to innovate, to be creative and to be sure that success can happen regardless of what part of society you are born into. This of course means concentrating on schools and culture as much as anything else, because the subjects we teach at schools are not really aimed at creating the kind of adult who is meant to be economically useful. Much as I like the idea of education for its own sake, if we are considering that the future prosperity of our society is at stake then we have to be rational about how we intend to keep it.

    Again Germany is the example, while traditionally trades were looked down upon in Britain (and vocational training is still seen as the poor cousin of university education) Germany excelled in technical education. Britain still can’t even come up with a decent vocational training course that people will accept as being academically rigorous and useful to building the economy. What we need is to focus on creating things, not in a narrow Daily Mail fashion of focusing on old fashioned science and maths, but on the new industries where people actually make good money. The high tech research of people in Cambridge, for instance. It has been called for before but the idea that kids in school should be taught coding is one that is simple but vital. Britain is good at writing software, and software pretty much runs the world. If we can innovate in new industries then we might have a chance at keeping up our much prized standard of living.

   The down side is of course we need to be open to new ideas, and our society is class bound, with those at the top jealous to hold on to their riches that they will never willingly invest in such ideas. It would be too much of a challenge to current market orthodoxy to abandon the consumer society and accept that the service sector is not the way forward. Thus we find ourselves floating to obscurity, like a good few ex great nations before us.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mmm, thoughtcrimes

Interesting to see that some psychologist has come up with a questionnaire to weed out potential terrorists out from the rest of merely pissed off mulsim citizens angry at the war in iraq and the erosion of civil liberties. Not that this could be abused, oh no. I’m sure the security services and the hysterical press won’t call for it to be made mandatory for all muslims. Never mind that its meant to pick up anyone with terrorist tendencies, because white people can’t of course be terrorists anymore. It will be interesting to see how the majority of the population would give answers that make them supposedly ‘vulnerable to terrorist indoctrination’ I think that includes anyone who mindlessly follows any ideology be it political, nationalism or football teams and would commit acts of violence because someone else tells them to.

This combined with social services saying they can tell whether people are likely to be criminals from an early age we can nicely pigeonhole everyone in concentration camps who don’t fit the criteria of the cheery and prosperous new Britain. Can’t help but feel the camps might be quite full…

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gun fun

I can’t honestly believe Brown has backed teaching shooting and military training at school. Surely it must be a joke? Do I even need to show how shit an idea it is? is the fact its supported by Norman Tebbit relevent? is irony dead again, so very quickly?

The idea that if you teach a kid from a disadvantaged area how to shoot, put them around guns and tell them gun are ok, and this will stop the youth crime in urban areas is madder than voting for Boris Johnson if your not already a lord or baron. Does it even need saying that this will glorify guns more than any number of gangsta rappers? That teaching kids how to shoot each other more accurately is a good thing? Have we learned fuck all from American school killings?

Need I add as well the associated problems that come from the military lifestyle? The domestic violence, the culture of abuse at barracks and the related substance abuse? Do we really want to inculcate kids with a message that was stopped in the fifties with the end of national service?

By treating kids like they do in the army do we expect to gain their respect? By treating them scum, ordering them about, taking away their identity and expecting them to all act the same and think the same do we really expect a healthier society?

This will help nothing, it panders only to the worst of the knee jerk old right who believe that violence and punishment are the only way to deal with anything they don’t like and are thus the worst kind of example to set to any young people. I hope that just because Brown backs it the scheme will wither and die like all his other plans.

Thankfully at least a few people have seen sanity, even some of the ‘broken britain’ brigade have said that giving kids guns will not exactly help the situation where their loved ones were killed and have spoken out.

The only reasons i can think they are doing this is the same reason they play classical music outside shops. It makes it son uncool that kids don’t want to be around there. Maybe getting authority figures to say its ok to shoot guns and order people about then the kids will turn against it…

The new nationalism

So Brown is trying to resuscitate the idea of Britain, good luck to him because there isn’t one. There are a hundred different ideas of Britain, the nature of how we live our lives means that we filter out everything we don’t find relevant or are uncomfortable with, we create our own communities by our own choices. By the papers we read and the films we see and the people we associate with, taking nation to mean race or common identity is a misnomer.

The fact is the modern world allows people to hermetically seal themselves off from the rest of their countrymen who might disagree with their perception of the world. Cars for instance allow the driver and passengers to take their environemtn with them, from music to smell to design and make. There are reallyb only a few palces left where people of all walks of lifea are force to merge, we can choose our pubs and our schools and our neighbourhoods, and even in these shared places people do not actually mix that much.

You can see this on those rare geographical expressions of shared identity, such as train stations or airports. The one I observe the most is the Tube, which is a greater leveler than any other kind of public transport.

There for the first and only time will you see city gents actually share space with those who clean their toilets, students stand too close to bricklayers and nurses to civil servants. Of course its not a perfect melting pot of every British person, some can afford to cruise by taxi everywhere, and the rest of britain outside London doesn’t really get a look in unless in comes to the city for a show and a chance to gawp at how rude we all are.

The main thing to notice is that nobody really shares anything beyond physical space, everyone sticks their head in a book or listens to music, all of them reinforcing cultural markers. But you can at least observe those ambassadors of the other nations, you can listen to them talk about posh things or poor things or arty things or lowbrow things. There at least you get to see the nature of Britain but the idea that we must absolutely have shared values as something of a nonsense. Just let us all have our own Britains, let us pick and choose what applies to us rather than just labeling us and restricting what is or is not britain to a popular vote or worse the decisions of politicians.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The curse of Gordon

I fear for the fate of anything endorsed by Gordon brown, the man has failure and compromise written all over him. When faced with a decision he makes a compromise that satisfies no one and fails to solve the problem at hand. Whoever he endorses in anything will be tainted with its association, I fear then for Ken who’s got Brown’s backing, for the MDC in Zimbabwe and for anyone who thinks that Brown will win an election for labour. Much as he may be a competent leader in many ways, he can get things done and he has results to back him up he is just fucked by a combination of fate, inertia and his own lack of decisive charisma to be being a john major figure.

Take the credit crisis, not his fault, in as much as he oversaw the treasury for a decade and failed to prepare for a event he must have known was coming one day. As PM he gets to oversee a recession and inevitably have to bail out the city whenever they squeel for it. Which brings us to northern rock, which brown managed to fuck on his own. He did the right (Ish) thing in the end by nationalizing the fucker but ummed and ahhed for ages, looked indecisive, failed to set the agenda or defend the principle of nationalization. He also let the bank fuck off with all the good accounts and let the british taxpayer pick up the tab for the shitty debts they’d accrued.

Before that of course was the election that never happened, where for whatever reasons he lost his bottle. Fair enough if brown had seen a genuine killer crisis to come he would have battened down the hatches but it was a matter of style. He let them talk up an election then seemed to loose his nerve, a thing a PM must never do. Fact was he could have called the election and would have won fairly easily, if he waits another year or more then it gets ever likely that Cameron will ooze his way into power. He should realise by now when you are the incumbent of a long running government all that will happen during your reign no matter how good you may be is that there will always be a string of corruption scandals and sleaze that will drown out any new policies or agendas you set. Ken Livingstone has found this and he is twice the savvy politician that Brown is. For all his power play brown is just a slightly insecure control freak, like good old Blair but without the nous and pretending to be a regular guy.

Another obvious pointer to Brown’s inherent indecisive nature in power is the Olympic flame nonsense. His behaviour showed up in stark contract to Australia’s new PM Kevin Rudd who made it clear he will take no part in the flame’s journey across Australia and that he will keep on at the Chinese about their human rights record. This is more remarkable considering that Australia’s economic growth over the last few years has been funded largely by china and that Rudd has always put china at the centre of his international policies. Plus he speaks mandarin which always helps, one wonders if he does so in an aussie accent. Compare this with Brown who meekly posed for the photo op while outside there were hundreds of protesters shouting angrily and the whole farce was unfolding (helped in a small way by yours truly, in that I waved a small Tibetan flag). He somehow though that by not holding the flame itself he would not be implicated in the whole furore, which again incapsulates his whole flawed attitude. Brown always tries to find a compromise that suits everyone, to be all things to all people, to not offend the Chinese Government or the pro Tibetan protesters. The fact is he does nether, he comes across as weak, as Rudd has shown you can tell the Olympic flame to piss off and still keep favourable trade with china.

Points go to Ken Livingstone for staying the fuck away from the whole thing, if it had been any other country he would have been grinning like a lizard and reminding everyone how he’d got the Olympics for London. The fact he didn’t take that gamble so close to an election shows how savvy he was. A lesser politician would have dived in there straight away, especially if they were facing knife edge reelection and would have burnt his fingers accordingly.

There is in fact no one in the current labour party who even looks like they could lead the country, the sad thing is that though Cameron is clearly a cunt he at least looks electable. I fear the inevitability of an eventual Tory majority and a time for labour in the wilderness again; sadly now though what with Brown’s shiteness and the whole new labour plan of driving of the unions they won’t actually have a base from which to come back from. Another Brown gaff is related to exactly that, the control of the party that is so essential to the running of the governments elections. The fact that there is no general secretary for the party and that the man Brown wanted in the job can’t take it up means that it will roll rudderless for the next year or so. Perhaps in brown wasn’t so keen on central control of the party he might have let the popular choice through, but then that guy was an ex amicus man and it would never do to that sort at the controls of the party. It is that combination of blair like control freakery with an inherent indecisiveness that will be brown’s undoing, that and the fact fate is not on his side. Jimmy Callaghan and Johnny Major would sadly nod in agreement.

whiting up brixton

When they first started playing classical music in tube stations and outside shops to drive off young people I was amused. I thought it a master stroke of psychology, that by accepting that classical music was inherently uncool they had found the perfect tool to bring young people into line.
"kids, pay attention at school or we get out the Debussy"
"hand in that homework or its the bach for you"
oh the hilarity that would ensue, either that or i was hoping that kids would co opt the classical music scene and hip hop groups would start adopting the mannerisms of middle class Prom lovers.
the dissonance started to hit though when they were playing Beethoven as i went down into Brixton tube, the same composer who the characters of a clockwork orange liked to fight to. This was meant to calm people? Stop them intimidating people?
Because much as i accept that kids won't hang about when you play them dead white dude music enforced listening will not make them suddenly into the ideal Daily Mail citizen (thank fuck). That was when the rationale became slightly sinister, because its all about asserting middle class white identity into areas that frighten the selfsame voters.
It has little to do with actually changing anything other than the perception of crime, which is the new big thing for the Labour government once it realised that crime rates were falling but the voters were still shit scared of each other. That is what all the anti hoodie bollocks and getting part time coppers on the beat is all about, making people feel safe. Never mind that a lot of people aren’t really encouraged by more coppers hanging about looking for an excuse to hastle anyone young looking. frankly i'm more scared of constant CCTV surveilance and the thought that the Met could get away with shooting me for no reason than by a bunch of pimply 14 year olds in hoods. who only wear them to be honest in order to hide from the world because that’s what you want to do for the most part as a 14 year old boy. Adolescence has a lot to answer for.

It is also part of the ongoing war on young people, who are assumed to be root evil of everything because they don’t respect their elders anymore. Notwithstanding the fact their elders are the worst examples of materially obsessed, broken down wankers who live in a culture where capitalist individualism is the only religion and where young people are shown no respect in any way. Respect has to be earned, as the right likes to say, and that goes double for adults. No wonder most kids hate their parents, they aren’t stupid and they question things.
So the playing of classical music in Brixton tube especially has that nasty undercurrent of racial assumption, that it will somehow better the people who live there, that the non white, non European origins of most of the people using the station are not culturally allowed. That we all must go to work under the banner of dead white men's music, to assert should we ever forget it that this country is a white, middle class homogenous daily mail reading flag saluting nation. Which of course it is not, but we have to pander to that minority who think it is because they shout the loudest.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Eurovision is a funny old thing, viewed by most intellectual people as camp fest of horrible pop music it exerts a fascination for innumerable reasons. Not least the chance to get to look into the weird psyche of Europe, to see the pop culture melange that come from countries most people haven’t heard of. Although usually the songs follow pretty much the same mould, ballards with hint of native folk, power pop with native folk via some Wagnarian vision of Hollywood, power camp and music so utterly odd it deserves its own genre, just because there is nothing quite so weird as seeing Danish undertakers rapping about house prices or former eastern block countries getting transvestites to dance about as snowmen.
Which brings me to the real reason for writing about eurovision, namely the dominance of eastern Europe and specifically the fragmented pieces of the old Yugoslavia. What makes it incredibly interesting is that last nights winner Serbia, the most hated nation in Europe for the last fifteen years picked up most of its votes from its neighbours, the very same people who were the victims (and in some cases fellow perpetrators of) ethnic cleansing during the civil wars of the 1990’s. Why should it be that these countries vote for their neighbours regardless of the fact they clearly still hate each other, most Balkan music is still intensely nationalistic, sebia itself is more nationalistic than ever, though that is obviously more due to the fact the west is still happy to chip bits of Serbia and to routinely hold it in contempt. Germany in the 1920’s shows what happens when you do that.
The only reason I can think of why the Balkans would vote so heavily for each other against the grain of recent history is simply the context of the tournament. While it would be tempting to say its because no one takes Eurovision seriously they clearly do, in Britain you see whole groups of people shouting themselves hoarse at the TV in a manner similar to world cup behaviour.
In fact the football metaphor is the best way to explain it, the whole supporters dynamic whereby people support their home side against the illusory ever changing other. The strange change you get when one moment a Chelsea fan will hate an arsenal fan but when it is England against Germany they will sit together and shout the team on, even though it has players drawn from both clubs. They see no dissonance in this, and the same is true of eurovision. The Balkan counties see the context as being not Serbia against Croatia but the balkans against the rest of Europe, where the loyalty to each other suddenly trumps the historic neighbourly hate. Were the competition a Balkans only event with each nation pitted against each other then there would be bloodshed.
Also interesting to note is the nostalgia many feel for the old Yugoslavia, akin to much of the old eastern block yearning for old school Communism. Though perhaps more understandable in the Balkans as things were perceptively better then, in that there was no internicine bloodletting and there was an economic safety net. The fact most of the Balkans is dominated by various forms of organised crime and poorly regarded by the rest of the world would have anyone harkening back to the times of Tito.
This has an added frission as in the wider context of eastern Europe they see themselves as looked down on and dictated to by the west. For sure they all want to be part of the EU and NATO and the other fruits of western cooperation but no country wants to be treated like a junior partner and the truth is western Europe treats the east like a backwards child. The east itself is also enjoying a renaissance, both in terms of economics and in of self confidence that makes it chafe against this.
Interesting to note is that the top fifteen in Eurovision were all ex eastern block apart from turkey who is likewise treated in the same supercilious way by the west, as if its somehow not good enough and that its just a young country in need of care, regardless of its thousand odd year history of culture and civilisation.
Therefore it is perhaps the best method of national reconciliation is, rather than having an expensive commission and getting politicians involed I think when the American leave iraq the best way to get peace is to have a middle eastern eurovision, where iraq enters a single candidate from each warring group against egypt, Saudi and the rest.
Voila, instant campy pop peace. Maybe.

Friday, December 15, 2006

that crap master plan in full

On Israel again

I think I see what is happening in Palestine now, other than obviously it all going to some new level of hell along with Iraq. The Israelies clearly have a strategy, the same one thee have always had of weakening the Palestinian nation as much as possible, hoping in essence to destroy it as an idea as much as a reality. In fact they used to just deny it ever existence and they were just another group of Arabs with no distinct identity. Now as they have to contend with the obvious facts of Palestinian existence they move to the age old act of divide and rule by trying to forment a civil war.

They along with Saudi are trying to get a war between Hamas and Fatah, because although saudi is on the same fundementalist level as Al Qaida Hamas leans towards hizbullah/iran, and there is much tension between them and saudi, it’s a battle to take control of the middle east between Saudi Arabia and Iran with various proxy battlegrounds. The so called cedar revolution and the continuing battles in Lebanon are between the hariri supporters backed by Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states and iran. Syria although not ruled by shia or sunni has obvious geopolitical alliances that go very well with iran’s.
But israeli action, such as cutting off money from customs revenue ($60 million a month, to a country in dire poverty, surely illegal if not obviously immoral) and generally along with the west trying to undermine the democratically elected government of Palestine will have the opposite effect. The obvious irony in this is the west who have said democracy will solve all the ills of the Arab world boycotting the only genuinely democratically elected government and doing all they can to replace it because it holds the opinion that Israel should not exist. Its not as if Hamas can actually erase Israel, what with all those nukes and tanks and everything. To make matters more hypocritical the Israelis cabinet is stuffed with men who think the Palestinian nation should not exist, and they actually are attempting to wipe it off the map.
Anyway all these actions are doing is making Hamas more popular the eyes of the people for standing up to Israel and the west, making fatah look like israel’s soldiers on the grund (which is what thy have been many times before, indeed the whole reason for israel wanting Arafat in the 90’s, is that he’d restrain the natives much better than anyone else). It also means that the only people who can get actual money through into Palestine are Iranian sources. Give it six months and you’ve created the situation in Lebanon in Gaza, if the country isn’t torn apart first by civil war, which as with Iraq will just suck in other nations.
Well done Isreal and the west, your plan is utter shite. Much like Iraq and in Somalia you make things much worse, by backing any old bastard so long as they’re against Islamic fundamentalism, not realising that just makes them more popular.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Difficult to be surprised by Isreal actions but I still am. How can they get away with such brazen disregard for the rights of others? How can they get away with completely ignoring international law. From the horse’s mouth himself –

Mr Olmert said the destruction of Gaza's only power station and three of its bridges was meant to pressure, not punish, ordinary Palestinians. "Our aim is not to mete out punishment, but to apply pressure so the soldier will be freed. We want to create a new equation - freeing the abducted soldier in return for lessening the pressure on the Palestinians."

That’s utterly and completely against all the rules of engagement, international law and the Geneva convention. You can’t collectively punish civilians, you can’t go around blowing up civilian infrastructure. Especially you can’t just cut off water supplies. Although America did similar things in Vietnam the last group pf people to happily commit such brazen acts were the third reich and stalin’s boys. Not good company to be in.
Although I suspect their justification would be that by voting for Hamas they were all complicit in the abduction, which is the kind of logic I bet US right wing pundits will use, not realising the same logic could be applied to them. In that the whole of the US could be held responsible for America’s actions abroad, which was the justification used by Al qaida on September 11th. Again, not good company to be in. Perhaps bin laden sought to pressure, not punish Americans.

The whole situation stinks, plus it will not work. Think of the blitz, did that make Londoners think they should welcome Hitler? Did 9/11 make most Americans want to join alqaida, or even pressure their leaders to be more lenient in the middle east? This will only make support for Hamas grow, and will raise the tide of fury in the middle east.

Interesting little coda to the Guardian article –

Gazans have not begun to think how they are going to get through the coming weeks and months without electricity. The wrecked plant was only fully on line for three years and it will cost about £8m to buy and install new transformers.
There may be an interim solution. Israel provides about 40% of electricity in the Gaza Strip. It used to supply it all and may do so again, meaning that Israel's electricity company could make a handsome profit from the army's destruction.
Nice to see they’re learning from the Americans.

Oh and they’ve just arrested the Palestinian cabinet. Tell me now how Hamas recognising Israel would help things? Israel wants to destroy the idea of Palestine, it wants at most a captive prison population of cheap migrant workers, at worst it would settle for Genocide and forced deportation. It has not and never will recognise a Palestinian state, though you’ll hear fuck all about that on the BBC.