fredag den 27. februar 2009

Wendy Richard (1943-2009)




Wendy was my first kiddie crush, when I saw her in the BBC sitcom "Are You Being Served."

torsdag den 26. februar 2009

When Football Is Fun

Aalborg (AaB) won their first leg UEFA Cup game 3-0 versus Deportivo La Coruña. They are at half-time in the second leg match in Spain, right now. Oh my...!

The La Liga team went 1-0 up with 7 minutes left. If the Riazor faithful thought they were in with a shout, they were quickly disabused. AaB slotted home three times in 5 minutes.

As the 2nd half approaches: a) will AaB score even more; b) will there be only 80 people in the stands - the number of AaB supporters who made the trip?

UPDATE
The 2nd half is underway. The winners of this match will face either Manchester City or FC Copenhagen in the next round. I bet I know who AaB want!

Before last week's game, history was very much against an AaB success. If you like your footie stats, Danish sides have played Spanish sides 57 times, with only 9 wins and 9 draws. (Don't even mention the "Spanish curse" at the national team level.) One of those results, from 1993, was when Brazilian Bebeto and Deportivo put 5 past AaB.

A truly memorable result was OB-Real Madrid in the 94/95 UEFA Cup. Real won 3-2 in Odense - not a good score to take to Spain! Yet OB managed to win 2-0, with Morten Bisgård scoring in stoppage time.

At the highest level, one of my favourite memories of the Gills was when they scored 3 in 2 or so minutes versus Walsall, in 1986-7 season.

UPDATE #2
A rather nothing second half but not that surprising. City beat Copenhagen 2-1. So will it be third time lucky for the Danes, since Man C. beat FC Midtjylland too?

Happy, happy Denmark

I am going to rant a bit because the latest news is so frustrating:

- Hells Angels and gangs (composed of middle-eastern youths) have been involved in what is approaching a war for a while now. Just about every week there is a shooting in Copenhagen. The fighting is no doubt over drugs.

- I live in one of the less attractive areas of Aarhus. (It's basically a sink estate.) It is notorious for a gang problem and associated troubles. Just this morning, some kids threw Molotov Cocktails at the Petrol Station only down the road. Thankfully, this is one of those that isn't open 24/7. It is unlikely "OK" will reopen their station now. When something similar happened in another trouble spot, Shell closed that particular station.

Some of the sink estate areas don't have a bus service after 6pm because the staff have been attacked or things have been thrown at the buses. The emergency services even get stones thrown at them.

WTF is going on, one says. Something is going badly wrong and there are no easy, obvious, solutions in sight.

lørdag den 21. februar 2009

mandag den 16. februar 2009

COP 15

Tropical forests may dry out and become vulnerable to devastating wildfires as global warming accelerates over the coming decades, a senior scientist has warned.

Soaring greenhouse gas emissions, driven by a surge in coal use in countries such as China and India, are threatening temperature rises that will turn damp and humid forests into parched tinderboxes, said Dr Chris Field, co-chair of the UN's Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Higher temperatures could see wildfires raging through the tropics and a large scale melting of the Arctic tundra, releasing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere that will accelerate warming even further, he said.
the Guardian


It doesn't look too good for the sea either

Global warming is changing the distribution, abundance and diversity of marine life in the polar seas with "profound" implications for creatures further up the food chain, according to scientists involved in the most comprehensive study of life in the oceans ever conducted.
the Guardian


These are but two of a plethora of threats to the environment which presumably will inform the UN conference - COP 15 - in Copenhagen this December. The conference will be looking at a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

I'll be giving a socialist perspective on issues and stories all year, so watch this space!

søndag den 15. februar 2009

Sporting Downs

Shambolic England lose to Spain....

The Gills will want to forget the recent February form. And I was so optimistic a few weeks ago....

Poor discipline proved costly for England in the Six Nations' clash in Cardiff....

At least I am not that big a fan of cricket, otherwise I would be carping about the 51 all out and the sandbox of a pitch farce on the England tour of the West Indies.

I am going to spend Sunday sulking, though.

The Cybermen... just science fiction, right?





The Cybermen (from the story "The Moonbase")

The Cybermen are just pipped to the post by the Daleks when it comes to monster appeal in Doctor Who. They first appeared in William Hartnell's last story "the Tenth Planet" and were the creation of Gerry Davis (who was script editor) and Dr.Kit Pedler (the scientific advisor on the show). As an aside, both men were intrigued by the idea of how technology could threaten life. (See Derek Wall.)

The Cybermen are basically hominids who replaced their ageing and decaying bodies with plastic and metal limbs, leaving only the brain, but a brain where "weak" features such as the emotions had been removed. Apart from gaining power, their other aim is to turn humans into Cybermen too.

Rather surprisingly, some have viewed this to mean the Cybermen are "communists" - what they mean by that are the varieties of Leninism which pervert notions of equality to such an extent that everyone should be the same. I have never bought that idea; the Daleks, on the other hand, are quite obviously based on the Nazis. No, the Cybermen are a nice bit of body horror; and the thing is, they are not too far-fetched either.

No-one gives a second thought to a pacemaker or artificial limbs these days; these inventions have helped numerous people to lead fulfilling lives all over the world. In fact, these days artificial limbs are at the meeting point of neuroscience, technology and medicine as there is research to develop artificial arms and legs that move and react like the real thing. It only takes a bit of imagination before you get to the Cyberman!

But what of the brain?

There is actually a concept called cybernetic immortality. And if the idea of computers storing our consciousness and creating a social superorganism raises an eyebrow, the idea of the human brain/computer interface is discussed at some length on sciam.com.

For the time being, the Cybermen are only to be found in Doctor Who (or the paler Star Trek version, the Borg). They are suprisingly closer to fact than any other monster in the show.

P.S.
I just remembered the name - there is also something called "transhumanism". An example of this is here. Since my previous post on death, quoting Bladerunner, keeps popping up in Sitemeter info on hits to the blog, another quote comes to mind, in regard to all this: "I want more life, fucker!"

The Name of the Rose, Salman Rushdie and all that

William of Baskerville: My venerable brother, there are many books that speak of comedy. Why does this one fill you with such fear?

Jorge de Burgos: Because it's by Aristotle.

William of Baskerville: But what is so alarming about laughter?

Jorge de Burgos: Laughter kills fear, and without fear there can be no faith because without fear of the Devil, there is no more need of God.

William of Baskerville: But you will not eliminate laughter by eliminating that book.

Jorge de Burgos: No, to be sure, laughter will remain the common man's recreation. But what will happen if, because of this book, learned men were to pronounce it admissable to laugh at everything? Can we laugh at God? The world would relapse into chaos! Therefore, I seal that which was not to be said.


One of many memorable quotes from the (palimpsest) film version of The Name of the Rose. by Umberto Eco. (Now that is a book which I want to re-read soon!)

The anniversary of the fatwa which was placed on Salman Rushdie, by Ayatollah Khomeini on 14 February 1989, has reminded me of one of my favourite films and books. There is an obvious temptation to draw parallels.

The Socialist Standard had this to say 20 years ago:

The Religious Mentality
"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people." (Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law)

These are embarrassing times for the religious opium addicts who want to uphold their ideas in the company of rational people. Last year saw thousands of religious Americans ranting and raving because cinemas showed The Last Temptation of Christ. Christ on the cross is shown fantasising about having sex with Mary. The Christians screamed blasphemy: our Lord would descend to no such vulgar antics in the course of crucifixion: he was human, but he wasn't that human. The Bishop of Durham shuffled around hoping that his nutcase followers would get off the TV screens and back on their knees where they belonged. Leave the intellectualising to Bishops who know how to square circles. But the self-appointed censors were the real Christians; they knew that in the New Testament Christ says that anyone who doubts him will face eternal damnation. Still, at least the crazy Christians did not want to kill the film's director - just making him mute would have suited their Christian consciences.

Crazy Muslim consciences are not so easily satisfied. The Ayatollah Khomeini has called upon all good Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, a novel with a dream sequence in which the prophet Mohammed indulges in a few last temptations of his own. Copies of the work have been publically burned by Muslims in Bradford.

Let us not beat about any religious bushes on these book burnings: they are the acts of modern Nazis who think that ideas can be destroyed by fire. Max Madden, the Labour MP for Bradford, motivated both by a cynical quest for the local Asian vote as well as some sincere but half-baked anti--racist sentiments, has called for an extension of the blasphemy law to include Islam. In short, it would be illegal (punishable by fines and imprisonment) to speak or write in ways which give offence to Muslim irrationalists, just as it currently is in relation to Christian irrationalists. In this wholly undemocratic enterprise Madden has been supported by other Labour MPS, including Bernie Grant. Madden even went so far as to state on BBC Radio Two that any book likely to cause offense to Muslims should be published only if they were granted by the publishers a right of reply. One can only speculate as to which particular guardians of the absolute Truth of Islam would be granted this right for, as Madden must surely know, there are several factions of the religion, each bitterly opposed to the others.

The Rushdie matter has highlighted the basic issue in relation to religion. It is not, as secularists have rather tiresomely contended for decades, about whether god exists. Scientific thinkers are hardly likely to waste time arguing about an invisible entity which demands faith as the proof of its existence. Does god exist? Do fairies live at the bottom of my garden? Is Elvis Presley alive? Let those who can define these supernatural phenomena offer proof. Religious thinkers have not tended to be bothered with scientific investigations to establish proof; faith will do nicely. The issue is not what they believe, but that they believe. Believing is what you do when you don't know, and religious belief is certainly based on ignorance of what there is to be known. The religious mentality is one which substitutes what is believable for what is scientifically knowable.

With his or her pack of beliefs, the religious individual looks at the world, embracing that which reinforces the beliefs, retreating from experience which conflicts with them. New knowledge, untried feelings, novel perspectives must be first mistrusted, then banned. Nothing must interfere with the dogma. If Christians really believe that Christ lived and was a pure and wonderful person, then they would have the confidence to withstand a film which says otherwise. But dogmatism is fragile. It is upheld by denying all other images than those which reinforce it. The Ayatollah's assassination call, as well as being a cynical political tactic to distract his war-weary subjects (some of whom might just be thinking about assassinating him and others in the theocratic mullah elite), is also a sign of a lack of confidence. It is the uncertainty which all dogmatists always feel and always will feel: it was lack of assurance which led Christ to state that all doubters would go to Hell and Lenin, at the Tenth Bolshevik Congress in 1921, to say that those who did not follow the leadership were state enemies.

When Muslims in Britain petitioned the Ayatollah about Rushdie they were testifying that their beliefs were under threat by truths they could not handle. Polite and embarrassed liberal Muslims have said that the Ayatollah does not represent real Islam. Maybe he does not (on the basis of Sura 42 verse 35 of the Koran, governments established by coups are said to be sinful); but whether one old Iranian tyrant is a good Muslim is not the point. To be a good Muslim is to possess a religious outlook; to be religious is to offend against the most elementary requirements of reasonable thought. And a society inhabited by unreasonable workers is one which is safe for the minority who prey on ignorance.

Marx, as well as referring to religion as "the opium of the people", called it "The self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again". The religious mentality exists in those workers who have not yet discovered the essential, exhilirating fact that we are the gods. We must make the future out of the material conditions which surround us: gods, prophets, bishops and mullahs are the illusory masters who people in vent to tower over them. The socialist transformation of society will banish the capitalists from the earth and the gods from the skies - or to be accurate from the minds of men and women, where they have exercised their pernicious fantasies for too long. Those who choose to believe in powers beyond will be free to do so in a socialist society. Indeed, without the state to adopt this or that religious dogma as the official one, religious believers will be freer than they are now. Freer, but never free to tell others what to do. It will take more than a divine injunction from a white-bearded guru to tell socialists what we can think, say or write.

SC. Socialist Standard, March 1989

onsdag den 11. februar 2009

Another Reason Not to Trust Wikipedia

I have to admit, I prefer to look up something in a book, such as Encyclopædia Britannica, rather than do a quick "wiki search". I just have a certain distrust for the articles posted on Wikipedia.

Today's PMQs gave a good reason for such an approach!

The Tories have admitted a member of staff altered a Wikipedia entry on the artist Titian after a row between Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

During exchanges at prime minister's questions, the Tory leader mocked Mr Brown for talking of Titian at 90, when he said in fact he had died age 86.

Shortly afterwards a Wikipedia user registered at Tory HQ moved Titian's birth date forward by four years.

The party admitted an "over-eager" member of staff had been responsible.


(BBC News.)

Oh, the guffaws at Tory HQ at that little trick.

the Islamic Republic of Iran - 30 Years On


The change of rulers in Iran

There is a story said to have circulated in Tehran recently about a meeting between the Shah and the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1963 after the riots which Khomeini had played a prominent part in stirring up. “I’ll pay you $25 million if you leave the country”, said the Shah. To which Khomeini is supposed to have replied, “I’ll give you $50 million if you leave”. In the event Khomeini was forced into exile for nothing. This time it’s the Shah who has left, though no doubt with a lot more than $50 million in his pockets. Of course no such conversation ever took place but the story does neatly illustrate that the social conflict in Iran was essentially between two sections of the propertied class there.


The Shah is the son of a jumped-up army officer who seized power in 1921 and had himself proclaimed Shah, or Emperor, a few years later. He came to the throne in 1941 when his father was deposed by the Allies for his pro-Axis sympathies but only acquired dictatorial powers in 1953 in a coup d’Etat which overthrew the nationalist Prime Minister, Mossadek, who in his day was the bugbear of the British press for having dared to nationalise the British-owned Persian oil industry.


Oil is of course the source of the immense wealth of the Shah and the section of the propertied class he represented. The payments which oil companies pay to the States where oil is produced are a form of ground-rent. The Iranian State receives this rent purely and simply because it happens to monopolise a part of the globe where oil is found. The Shah used this windfall, first, to build up the Iranian armed forces and, secondly, to introduce industrial capitalism into Iran. In doing so brought into being a new class of rich entrepreneurs independent on his State for the capital they invest.


But there already existed in Iran a class of wealthy people, the bazari, the merchants and traders of the bazaars which exist in all the big towns. The bazari existed long before oil was discovered and long before industrial capitalism was introduced. Their economic role in pre-capitalist Persia was to keep the towns supplied with food and other essentials, and this role still survives to a certain extent today although it has been severely reduced by the alternative commercial and banking network that has accompanied the coming of industrial capitalism.


The bazari have always been closely linked to the mullahs and ayatollahs, the priests of the Shi’ite sect of Islam to which most Persians formally belong. The mosque is generally situated in the bazaar area but, more important, the Shi’ite priests are financed by the various payments the merchants are required to make to them under Islamic law:


“The Shi’ite hierarchy, from the simple mullah to the ayatollah also collects a substantial tax, the khoms or ‘fifth’ which consists of taking one fifth of all commercial profits and, generally, on any capital gain as well as on the sale of lands belonging to Muslims to a person of another religion . . . The amount of the ‘fifth’ is in principle divided in two, one part is normally reserved for the destitute, on condition that they are sayyeds, that is descendants of the prophet. The other part is distributed amongst the mullahs and ayatollahs. These also have the right to a hidden tax, the zahat, which consists in asking every believer to dispose of any ‘wheat, barley, dates, raisins’ but also of any ‘gold, silver, camels, sheep and cattle’ which he does not really need. This zahat is what now permits the church to help a large number of strikers.


“But the Iranian Shi’ite hierarchy has access above all to the immense wealth of the bazari of all the main towns of the country. For centuries, it has forged close links with this little business world, has given the blessing of Allah to certain transactions and has thrown all its weight against the secular power. When this latter became too demanding or when its desire to modernise the country became too restricting, the bazari knew that Shi’itism was behind them and were prepared to do anything for it” (Républicain Lorrain, 14/1/79).


Two Iranian economists writing in the December issue of the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique describe how the Shah’s policy of developing an industrial capitalism in Iran adversely affected the bazari :


“After the 1953 coup d’etat, the re-integration of the Iranian oil economy into the world market and the ‘open doors’ policy led to a change in the pattern of trade, exceeding more and more widely the organisational capabilities of the bazaar. The beginnings of an import-substitution industry afterwards aggravated the difficulties of the bazaar, which was excluded from the new circuit of exchange set up to serve the needs of the new industries. The traditional importing of consumer goods gave way to the importing of capital goods, and the quotas or duties adopted to protect the nascent industries heavily penalised the traditional activities of the bazaar.”


They go on to note how this also hit the finances of the Shi’ite priesthood :


“This economic marginalisation of the bazaar is directly connected with the simultaneous weakening of the network for financing the ‘clerical funds’; these, under the control of the religious leaders known for their moral integrity, receive and distribute various forms of Islamic taxes and alms . . . Today, the inflow of money into these funds controlled by the progressive or combative ayatollahs bears witness to the extent of the struggle of the traditional bourgeoisie against a new class linked to the interest of the multi-national firms. But, in the first phase of industrialisation, the weakening of the bazaar which has historically lived in symbiosis with the religious institutions (financing of clerical funds, legal-religious framework for contracts) considerably reduced the socio-economic effects of the redistribution which the latter assured.”


The Ayatollah Khomeini first came into prominence in 1963 as the instigator of riots centred on the bazaars in Tehran and some other cities, riots which were ruthlessly crushed by the Shah's armed forces.


It can thus be seen that the conflict in Iran is not, as it is often pictured, between a Westernising ruler and a reactionary priesthood defending old-fashioned values. That particular conflict is only an ideological reflection of the more basic conflict of sectional interest within the Iranian propertied class, between the bazari and the new bourgeoisie brought into being by the Shah. Behind the condemnations on religious grounds of beer and mini-skirts (indeed of any kind of skirts) lies an earthly material interest.


For the time being, against the logic of history, the bazari seem to have come out on top. Through their links with the mullahs and ayatollahs they have been able to control the urban poor, including large sections of the working class, and to use their discontent as a battering ram to overthrow the Shah and his regime. The urban poor of course had plenty to be discontented about. Frequently recent migrants from the countryside, they have been forced to live in disgusting housing conditions, only finding employment, if at all, at starvation wages. Independent trade union activity has been banned and strikes crushed sometimes with loss of life. The notorious secret police, the SAVAK, with its omnipresent system of spies and its torture chambers, has been there to root out all opposition to the Shah’s dictatorship.


It is sad that this discontent should have been directed by the mullahs to defend the sectional class interest of the bazari and towards the chimera of an “Islamic Republic”. But there is a reason for this. The only opposition to the Shah that was able to survive the onslaughts of SAVAK was the bazaar, with its independent economic base, and the Shi’ite priesthood it financed. The mosques thus became the focus of opposition to the Shah, especially as the bulk of the urban poor are first-generation migrants from the countryside where religious sentiments are always stronger.


It now looks as if the people of Iran are to have an “Islamic Republic” inflicted on them. But whatever happens industrial capitalism has come to stay in Iran, whether or not the mullahs like it or what comes with it (consumption of alcohol, a certain freedom for women). The Koran, which originated in a pre-capitalist agricultural and trading society, may lay down rules as to how such a society should work – indeed its rules are merely the reflection of the way such a society did work – but capitalism cannot be run according to them.


What will probably happen is that after an initial attempt to put the clock back for the benefit of the bazari, religious thinkers will be found within the “Islamic Republic” to declare that industrial capitalism is not after all contrary to the Koran. This happened in Tunisia a few years after it got its independence from France, as reported by the old News Chronicle at the time (5/3/1960):


“Up to now, as in the rest of the Moslem world, Tunisia's life came almost to a standstill during Ramadan because of the dawn to dusk fast. In some cases production dropped 70 per cent. Bourguiba has not banned the fast outright. But he has stated firmly that fasting will not be accepted as an excuse for less work” (quoted in the Socialist Standard, April 1960)


As for the workers and peasants of Iran, they will rapidly find that they have just changed one set of rulers for another.


(Socialist Standard, March 1979).

Doom

Rick Rolling has long since passed being a novelty. Still, I came across this wad for the classic PC game Doom, which is a bit of fun.

tirsdag den 10. februar 2009

The worst recession in 100 years

This is the forecast from Ed Balls. The Independent writes

Britain is facing its worst financial crisis for more than a century, surpassing even the Great Depression of the 1930s, one of Gordon Brown's most senior ministers and confidants has admitted.

In an extraordinary admission about the severity of the economic downturn, Ed Balls even predicted that its effects would still be felt 15 years from now. The Schools Secretary's comments carry added weight because he is a former chief economic adviser to the Treasury and regarded as one of the Prime Ministers's closest allies.

Mr Balls said yesterday: "The reality is that this is becoming the most serious global recession for, I'm sure, over 100 years, as it will turn out."

He warned that events worldwide were moving at a "speed, pace and ferocity which none of us have seen before" and banks were losing cash on a "scale that nobody believed possible".

The minister stunned his audience at a Labour conference in Yorkshire by forecasting that times could be tougher than in the depression of the 1930s, when male unemployment in some cities reached 70 per cent. He also appeared to hint that the recession could play into the hands of the far right.

"The economy is going to define our politics in this region and in Britain in the next year, the next five years, the next 10 and even the next 15 years," Mr Balls said. "These are seismic events that are going to change the political landscape. I think this is a financial crisis more extreme and more serious than that of the 1930s, and we all remember how the politics of that era were shaped by the economy."

Philip Hammond, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said Mr Balls's predictions were "a staggering and very worrying admission from a cabinet minister and Gordon Brown's closest ally in the Treasury over the past 10 years". He added: "We are being told that not only are we facing the worst recession in 100 years, but that it will last for over a decade – far longer than Treasury forecasts predict."


It should be remarked that the forecast is just that. It certainly is a plain admission that the politicians do not control the capitalist system; the "no return to boom and bust" of Labour must sound like a bad joke to everyone now.

What is worrying is the political perspective: a rise in the far-right in tact with worsening conditions for the working class. (For it is the latter, as always, who face the privations of unemployment and poverty.) This mechanistic rise in far-right support need not be the outcome, this could lead to a rediscovery of socialist ideas by the working class, although we as socialists would be burying our heads in the sand if we didn't pay attention to the electoral succeses of organisations like the BNP.

Balls words certainly leave the reader with a feeling: a storm is brewing.

mandag den 9. februar 2009

Marx and Darwin

An interesting little snippet from the Guardian

Once the shy academic in the rambling house on the edge of the village published his big book, the flood gates opened: there are accounts of the Downe village postman staggering under the sacks of mail he carried every day to the home of Charles Darwin.

In June 1873 the postman was bringing something special: a gift – on public display for the first time this week – from a fellow author of a book arguably as ­infamous and influential as On The Origin of Species. The copy of Das Kapital, Kritik der Politischen Oekonomie, was inscribed to Darwin from "his sincere admirer, Karl Marx".

It took Darwin over three months to compose a suitable response. He finally wrote in October: "Though our studies have been so different I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of knowledge and that this in the long run is sure to add to the happiness of mankind."

The book in its original paper cover, on loan from a Darwin descendant, is part of a £1m exhibition which English Heritage has created at the scientist's home to celebrate the bicentenary this Thursday of his birth, and the 150th anniversary of publication of his theory of natural selection.

Sharp-eyed visitors may spot what Darwin didn't admit to Marx. The ivory paper knife which he used to cut the pages of new books is also on display: the uncut pages prove conclusively that he got less than a third of the way through Das ­Kapital.


There is an old story that Marx wished to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, but it turns out to be a myth. Edward Aveling wished to dedicate his The Students' Darwin and was declined by Darwin. The details are provided by "The Friends of Charles Darwin" here.