Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Nations Without States

There is a magnificent blog article by Sean Thomas about the Yezidi people of Iraq at the Telegraph and their plight at the hands of the hateful bigot of ISIS.

The current plight of religious minorities in the Middle East* isn't restricted to the Yezidi, Christians have suffered terrible persecution too partly as a result of the Iraq War. If those peoples had a nation that could defend them and provide a refuge they wouldn't be looking at annihilation. Which is one reason Israel will do it's utmost to remain a Jewish state that is strong enough to defend itself against all its neighbours.

* While the Middle East is the current heartland of violent bigotry almost every region on Earth has periods where belonging to a stateless minority has been very dangerous.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

100 Years On

The centenary commemorations for World War One are a chilling reminder of how quickly a continent can slip from a long peace to industrial slaughter. I'm inclined to agree with the current orthodoxy on the causes of the war- that it was a result of German military expansionism.

Whether the UK should have entered the war is harder to say- if the Asquith government had stayed out, Germany would likely have won and an unrestrained aggressive nation could well have threatened Britain- with no France or the Low Countries between Germany and the UK. Yet it's hard to imagine any greater damage would have been inflicted than hundreds of thousands dead that were inflicted.

An awful even but one that offers no easy lessons.

Darling You Were Wonderful!

Alistair Darling seems to have come out on top in the Scottish independence debate against Alec Salmond. Back in 2010 during the Labour leadership contest I wrote:

Who should have stood: Alastair Darling, he is a much more substantive figure than any of the candidates. The economic woes were largely the result of his predecessor as Chancellor and he appears to be an honourable individual (resisted pressure from Brown & Balls to cook the books according to Mandleson's memoirs) apart from a bit of flipping. 

Now, as well as his existing strengths he would be able to portray himself as the saviour of the Union. I suspect that if he were the Labour leader they'd currently be heading for government. Labour supporters must be pulling their hair out when they see how effective Darling can be compared to Ed Miliband.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I've updated my bloglist for the first time in years- there were blogs there that hadn't been updated in half a decade. There's more to do though.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Better Than You

With so many people obsessed by money, it's good to see that there are still saintly individuals who simply don't care about little things like that.

Take Chelsea Clinton for example:

“I was curious if I could care about (money) on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t,” she told Fast Company in an interview that ran in the magazine's May edition, explaining why she gave up lucrative gigs to join her family’s philanthropic foundation.

The Clinton name likely opened doors for the political heiress, including an eye-popping $600,000 annual salary for an irregular stint as an NBC special correspondent, but Chelsea insists her work speaks for itself.

“I will just always work harder (than anybody else) and hopefully perform better,” said Clinton, who along with former banker husband Marc Mezvinsky, purchased a $10.5-million Gramercy Park apartment in 2013. “And hopefully, over time, I preempt and erase whatever expectations people have of me not having a good work ethic, or not being smart, or not being motivated.”

Truly a modern saint.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Moscow's Wikiwar

An obscure Wikipedia article about a type of fighter jet has been the subject of an edit war today. Why? Because it is about a "Sukhoi Su-25", and Russia's latest propaganda claim is that a Ukrainian SU-25 was detected near the downed Malaysian flight MH17.

The problem is that the Su-25 can only fly up to 23000 feet- which is far too low to have been intercepting the passenger plane that was flying at 33000 feet. So once the physical impossibility of the Kremlin's claim was pointed out, the Putinbots began to frantically edit Wikipedia like an army of Johann Haris.

If it weren't about the slaughter of 300 civilians the amateurishness of Putin's lies would be comical.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The World Game

Football is supposedly the world game, but it's questionable just how global it really is. For all the internationalism of the World Cup it's pretty obvious that based on the quality of the teams Asia and Africa are significantly overrepresented compared to Europe and South America. The game has always had two centres of gravity from which 75% of the best players and 100% of the best coaches come from-  the Western Europe and the cone of South America.

So far eight different teams have won the tournament- all from those core zones- and an additional  four teams have reached finals but never won- all European although in the case of Czechoslovakia and Hungary a little bit outside the core.

Of the top ten most populous nations on the planet, only 5 are at the World Cup, only 6 have been at a World Cup in the last 50 years. Most don't have sustainable professional leagues either, whatever passion they have for the game doesn't seem to extend to playing it.

Football is not yet a genuine world game even if it is closer to being so than any other sport.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Guess The Country

Over at The View From Cullingworth, Simon Cooke has a quote from a 17th Century English sailor:

"The men that are married are given much to jealousy, and will not permit any stranger to come where their wives are, much less to see them, but will keep them out of sight as much as they possibly can...all their women, both married and unmarried, go with a black veil over their heads and reaching down to their legs, all being covered except their eyes."
Can you guess where the sailor was visiting? If not, have a guess at the predominant religion in the country.

He wasn't at some port in the Ottoman Empire or on the Barbary Coast but was instead visiting Catholic Portugal. It might reflect the Moorish influence in Portugal although it must have been a few centuries since Islam held sway in the country.

It does show that while the burqa is now an Islamic garb in the past, other cultures have been equally repressive. It also shows that even in the 17th century the English regarded it as primitive and evidence of the failings of the menfolk that enforce it.

Also 17th century sailors are more insightful about the motives behind face covering garments than most modern politicians, academics and pundits- it is due to extreme sexual jealousy on the part of the menfolk.

What causes some cultures to foster such extreme sexual jealousy is the next obvious question- I don't know the answer but suspect it has something to do with clannishness and marriage structure.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Right To Nothing

Does anyone else not really understand this:

Every employee now has the right to request flexible working hours after the government extended the right previously reserved for carers and those looking after children.
As part of the right, employees can expect their request to be considered "in a reasonable manner" by employers.

In what sense do people not currently have the right to request flexible working hours? If it doesn't put any obligation on the employer other than to have to consider a request it looks a bit like a gimmick.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chimps, War And Serfdom

I've been thinking about Chimpanzees- our (joint) closest relatives and all round evil bastards. They are far stronger than humans and when they attack are brutal- with genitals and fingers being pulled out first before they bite your face off. I'd rather be locked in a room with a tiger or a crocodile than a chimp.

They also practice warfare among themselves, in which the aim is to commit genocide of neighbouring chimp populations. They patrol their own territory and kill any rival males who encroach upon it while also making opportunistic raids into rivals' lands to kill any outnumbered males they find there.

If all this sounds familiar it's because it is what humans have done to each other all too frequently- and continue to do today in many tribal societies- which suggests it is a form of behaviour that has deep routes in our shared evolutionary past.

However in most of recorded history, simply wiping out a vanquished opponent is rare*- a lot of killing occurs but the Anglo Saxons didn't wipe out the Celts, the Normans didn't annihilate the Saxons, the fall of the Roman Empire doesn't seem to have involved genocide of the Romans. Instead elite replacement occurs.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the tendency of civilised agricultural based societies to form complex and exploitative hierarchies- in which a self serving elite forms to control the surpluses produced and dominate society may not have been such a bad thing after all compared to the alternative.

An elite that exploits the rest of society will have very little interest in wiping out a defeated population in the way an egalitarian hunter gatherer society does- because it makes little difference whose work they are exploiting.

None of which should is an argument for the perpetuation of social elites today of course, this is just speculation about how we came to be where we are as a species.

* Wars between civilised countries are bloodier overall but not on a per capita basis.

The World Cup Is Anti Feminist Apparently

Oh no, what to do now?

In one of the passages explaining the anti-feminist nature of football Sylvia Murray Young writes:

Paul Gascoigne led a generation of males to sport the "Gazza" haircut, yet his popularity was only mildy dented by the sight of his partner Sheryl skulking past the paparazzi with a face swollen and bruised by his fists. Ched Evans was convicted for raping a drunk teenager, but incredulous fans started the #freeched hashtag and outed the victim. Football fans themselves create a demand for the trafficking of women and girls into prostitution.
The stories of a surge in trafficking of prostitutes is a factoid of dubious provenance, but it is true that some prominent footballers have treated women appallingly. However it is surely a bit of a double standard to condemn the whole of football for the actions of a handful of individuals.

When Lord Saatchi grabbed his wife round the throat did it prove that the art world is hostile to women, when the Socialist Workers Party covered up a series of rape allegations against their senior members did it prove that left wing politics is inherently misogynistic?

It seems to me that football is being singled out like this because it is largely played by working class men who are unlikely to be in the target demographic for listening to professional grievance mongers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Decline And Fall Of The Liberal Democrats

One way or another Nick Clegg won't be Lib Dem leader for much longer, either they get rid of him now or wait until the election when he will lose his seat along with dozens of other Liberal Democrats. I do feel a little bit sorry for him because entering a coalition with the Conservatives was a brave thing to do and right for the country at the time.

However then I read things like this and stop pitying him:

"If I thought any of our real dilemmas would be addressed by changing leadership, changing strategy, changing approaches, bailing out now, changing direction, then I wouldn't hesitate advocating it,"
Listening to the interview it is clear that "our" refers to the Lib Dems, so he is saying that his approach to being a part of the government is dictated by the perceived benefit to the yellow peril, not to the country.

Opportunist maneuvering for short term gain is the major cause of Clegg's unpopularity in the first place.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Right To Be Misremembered

Suppose someone was the victim of vicious and false rumours that they were a convicted paedophile or a notorious fraudster. They could at least discredit the rumour by demanding proof- and use the absence of news reports about them as evidence that the story was false.

Except this option might not be possible anymore because of European Court ruling that people have a right to demand that search engines remove embarrassing search results about their past.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We The Undersigned...

Is there anything more smug and off putting than group letters of the self appointed great and good to a newspaper? Take the letter criticising the Prime Minister's declaration that Britain is a Christian country, regardless of the merits of his claim is there any way that a letter signed by Polly Toynbee, Antony Grayling, Nick Ross and CJ from Eggheads* can have any effect other than boosting the PM's cause?

What is the mindset of people who sign these letters? Presumably someone like Tim Minchin has thought to himself that because he can make amusing comic routines about religion and blow up dolls, that adding his signature to a letter will somehow add weight and merit to the cause he believes in. It doesn't, it just makes him look pompous and egotistical and would do regardless of the merit of the argument being put forward. The same applies to the rest of the figures who signed the letter.

* On the subject of CJ De Mooi from Eggheads, judging by the wikipedia entry on him, he is every bit as smug as he appears on television:
He adopted the name de Mooi when modelling; he translates it as Dutch for "handsome man", though a more literal translation would be "the beautiful".
Bell end.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Majority Of Parents Want More Expensive Off-Peak Holidays.

I thought we'd heard the last of this story a few weeks ago but it turns out that some people are still very angry that holiday companies charge less when demand is lower. The actual outrage is over charging more during the school holidays when demand is sky high, but it amounts to the same thing:

Majority of parents back holiday price caps - new ITV poll
More than half of parents say inflated holiday prices should be capped so they are not forced to take their children out of school for cheaper getaways, a new survey for ITV reveals.
More than half of parents surveyed (53 per cent) believed travel companies should be forced to cap their holiday prices.
 Presumably the hotels and airline operators will charge the holiday companies less during peak demand too. This does demonstrate why political debates over the economy are so inane- even the most basic economic concept, the kind which are learned in the very first lesson of an economics course, are considered to be akin to magic by a large proportion of the population.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Women And Children First

In the New Republic an ethnic Russian writes about Putin's pledge to protect them:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has interesting ideas about what it means to protect people. On March 4th, he articulated a doctrine of hiding Russian forces, future invaders of more of Ukraine, behind women and children: “Listen carefully. I want you to understand me clearly: if we make that decision it will only be to protect Ukrainian citizens. And let’s see those troops try to shoot their own people, with us behind them – not in the front, but behind. Let them just try to shoot at women and children! I would like to see those who would give that order in Ukraine.”

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise given what we know about Putin's character- the German intelligence agencies knew that he was a drunken wife beater back in his KGB days, he doesn't do fair fights- but that is low even for a thieving, murdering dictator like Putin.

Via Harry's Place

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Selling The Big Issues The Brits Won't Sell.

Apparently one third of Big Issue sellers are from Romania originally. Near where I work, one of those Romanian vendors got into a fight this week with someone collecting money for teenage cancer who had "stolen" her patch. This same woman has been selling the Big Issue for at least three years and tells people in the shops nearby that she makes about £40.00 a day- not bad for untaxed income for doing fuck all. Oh and she also begs aggressively and sometimes has a shit behind the shops.

All in all a charming woman. It does raise the question about why the Big Issue- which is supposed to be helping homeless people get by- is effectively enabling beggars coming over to this country to ply their wares. It makes a mockery of the idea of charity.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tony Benn- National Treasure

There were a lot of good things to be said of Tony Benn, but because he was a "national treasure", when he behaved appalling it gets passed on as loveable character foibles. Take this anecdote for example:

That was a more fortunate experience than a [journalist] colleague. An interview he conducted did not go to the liking of Mr Benn. So much not to his liking that he suddenly drew from a cupboard a magnetic device and waved it over the reporter's machine, erasing the tape.
This seems in character for an unrepentant admirer of Chairman Mao.