Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Work makes you free

So, the government is going to put all the useless eaters to work, is it? As I have written before, the Government's rhetoric simply does not make sense. I thought that I would spell it out in simple steps. It runs like this:

1. People on Incapacity Benefit (IB) are living in poverty. Their lives are miserable.

2. As humanitarians, we want to improve their lives, and the best way to do that is get them off IB and into rewarding economic activity.

So far, so good(ish). But...

3. People on IB are disincentivised as work often is materially less advantageous than remaining on IB.

4. Therefore we must cut IB to incentivise them to enter into economic activity.

1 and 2 are consistent. 3 and 4 are consistent. 1, 2, 3 and 4 are utterly inconsistent, as if this reasoning is followed it will result in the former IB claimants entering employment that leaves them in worse straits economically. This runs against 1 and 2, the planks of the case derived from imperatives of welfare cited by Government.

And this is before we ask [a] if the jobs are there, [b] what an influx of low-skilled labour will do to pay and conditions and [c] how work will affect the health of IB claimants.

My suggestion is that 3 and 4 are consistent and are the sum of the genuinely held government position. 1 and 2 are merely well worked moral cover, the ‘humanitarian’ case for the imposition of neo-liberal dogma.

I commented on the post at Lenin’s Tomb, and said that I could not understand why someone has not torn this rhetoric to pieces when interviewing a junior minister live on TV. Which is an example of naivety on my part.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Our 'radicals' are reactionaries

I have heard people talk of the twin vices of ‘benefit dependency’ and poverty. Such rhetoric is used when promoting ‘reform’ [the cutting] of incapacity benefit. Apparently without a trace of humour, politicians and right-wing commentators make the argument that people on incapacity benefit live in poverty AND that they are better off than if they were in work.

To any humane person, this would suggest that incapacity benefit needs to be raised. People should not be bound to live in poverty because they are ill. We can make more sense of the concept of being ‘trapped’ on incapacity benefit if, rather than the language of dis/incentives (for the poor, remember, the ‘incentive’ is the avoidance of utter destitution), we remember that incapacity benefit involves a person who is already ill being cast into a state of material deprivation.

Further, if people who are living in poverty are better off than people in work, then our wages system needs to be examined. Perhaps the minimum wage needs to be raised. Perhaps aspects of the social wage need to be improved. A fair day’s pay ought never to be a poverty wage. If your free market ideology leads you to accepting that a portion of the population must be reduced to a state of deprivation, then you are the follower of a wicked ideology.

The idea that a benefit that leaves people in poverty needs reform is a good one. The idea that it needs to be cut to push people into work that further reduces people’s material conditions is a reactionary notion. The radicals in our politics are those who seek to dismantle the great leaps of the past century; our welfare state, our universal health and education systems, our tolerance, our opposition to imperialism. Reactionaries all.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Deliberate intent

It seems that a US missile strike carried out by an unmanned drone has killed 18 people. I use such cautious language as ‘it seems’ as to state it definitively is controversial, though I recognise that my choice of words might endorse the sort of ambiguity used to defend the murderous policies of the US. Nevertheless, as best we know, 18 people have been killed. None of these people were the target of the missile; Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Some might say that, as the missile was not intended to kill these 18 people, only a different person who, it turned out, was not there, to describe this action as ‘murderous’ is simply wrong. Or more, that I am guilty of ‘moral equivalence’; that denouncing US forces as murderous is somehow a statement to the effect that US forces are morally identical to an al-Qaeda terrorist. This is, plainly, not what I am writing, and such a meaning can only be inferred by a reader with a world view of absolutes, where, as al-Qaeda are utterly bad, no action taken in combating them can possibly be other than good. Such a world view is both relentlessly partisan and totalitarian. And mindlessly stupid. But regardless, explore the blogosphere and you will find it unselfconsciously pumped forth by people who style themselves as defenders of freedom.

The actions of the US are, in this instance, murderous. Just as with the policy used in Iraq, where houses, and homes, are destroyed by overwhelming firepower when a suspected insurgent is suspected of taking refuge inside, this involves a political and military calculation. Please note the two uses of the word suspected in the previous sentence; this is a reflection of the degree of uncertainty that is accepted when committing military force to a path of action that will, almost certainly, result in civilian casualties. The people who made the decision to fire the missile in Pakistan knew, at least as certainly as anything can be known in conflict, that their actions would cause civilian deaths. They knew this to a higher degree of certainty than they knew that they would cause the death of al-Zawahiri. They accepted this and deliberately proceeded down a course of action that resulted in these civilian deaths.

Now, some have argued that the US does not make the killing of civilians the purpose of its military action. As we shall see, some justifications for this action suggest that not all supporters of the US-led War on Terror seem to think this is important. But first, what group does make the killing of civilians the purpose of its military action. The answer to this question is; only serial killers and genocideers. This does not, automatically, include terrorists, even those who target civilians in their attacks. Terrorist actions, like all military(-like) actions, have a political goal. In the case of, say, the IRA, this goal was a united Ireland. Outside of a tiny minority of truly swivel-eyed loons, the killing of British civilians was a means to this end. The US missile strike in Pakistan was an attempt to assassinate a ‘leader’ of al-Qaeda, and the killing of innocent civilians was an integral part of the means chosen to pursue this end. It is not so easy to paint a difference between those who intentionally kill civilians in the pursuit of political goals, and those who deliberately kill civilians in the pursuit of political goals. The US action, quite clearly, falls into the latter camp.

Some have attempted to justify the action by arguing that, given that some people in northern Pakistan have given refuge to al-Qeada members in the past, and that some might be sympathise with the goals of al-Qeada, this strike will work to ensure that people think twice before 'associating' with al-Qeada again. Regardless of a discussion of the morality of providing hospitality to al-Qaeda members in rural Pakistan, this line of reasoning is patently a justification for terrorism, and an argument that dissolves any division between the US deliberately killing civilians as opposed to it intentionally killing civilians. It is the application of military force to terrorise a population into obedience. In fact, this goes some way beyond ‘normal’ terrorism. A bomb delivered by the IRA or al-Qeada requires huge organisational commitment. These cannot be delivered ‘at will’. The terror they impart depends on illusion; in truth they are weak groups that cannot strike anywhere, anytime. A US missile strike, in comparison, is capable of being far more terrifying, as they can be delivered almost anywhere in the world at the organisational commitment of only a tiny fraction of US military resources. Thus, they are repeatable ad terreo, a demonstration of the genuine power by the terrorising forces.

Others arguments have blamed the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, for providing faulty intelligence designed to undermine Musharraf. The tension between Musharraf and the ISI must be known to US military planners, as must the intimacy of the ISI and radical Islamist groups. If, knowing this, these planners proceed to launch missiles into houses on the chance that their unreliable and disreputable allies are feeding them genuine, copper-bottomed intelligence, then their deliberate acceptance of civilian casualties in the pursuit of political ends is not diminished. It grows further. The planners are more murderous, not less.

There are other arguments, some springing from American exceptionalism, some plain old racist, but I have dealt with the most reasonable cases in defence of this action. I will not bother with either of these, if only because a challenge to either of these essentially unreasonable points of view is futile; if brown people are worth less than others, then discussion of paths of action that produce their deaths take on a whole different light, one that it is impossible for even soft-egalitarians to engage with; and if America is exceptional, then its actions are utterly incomparable to those of other nations and groups and thus reasonable discussion of its actions are pointless.

After all that seriousness, now for something completely different; a humorous observation on the storm raging over George Galloway. New Labour is basing much of its Galloway-bashing propaganda on the fact that he was not in Parliament at the time of a debate over the proposed Crossrail link that will, it is suggested, have a negative effect on the lives of his constituents. But; [1] the debate Galloway missed was a select committee debate to which he was never able to be a participant, and [2] the powers that are determining the route of Crossrail are those of a New Labour government.

Over at Lenin’s Tomb, Dylan writes:

“So New Labour says GG is irresponsible because he isn't around to stop them from hurting his constituents... that’s beautiful. It reminds me of Sideshow Bob’s campaign ad on The Simpsons: “Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob – a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor.”

If you are going to smear, smear well. This is something that the opponents of Galloway never seem to manage, though they do try very hard. I mean, forged documents? You have to go back to Arthur Scargill to find the a similarly uniform, and similarly false, media smear campaign. It is interesting to note that, in The Enemy Within by Seamus Milne, Galloway is quoted as saying, as soon as the Scargill smears began, that those would prove to be false. And they did.

A previous post on deliberate killing.

[At the recommendation of TimP in the comments I have tried to correct some typos in this post.]

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


More on electoral legitimacy

Red Deathy, at Harry’s Place*, drags up a little piece of evidence.

1983 - longest suicide note in History - 8,456,934
2005 - Blairite third term triumph - 9,562,122

This illustrates that under our present first-post-the-post system a democratic mandate that, assuming party unity, promises a dictatorship incapable of defeat in the Common’s, is only a wafer thin margin from total defeat. Why ought eight and half million voters have next to no legislative power wielded in their name, while just nine and a half million voters can have near total legislative power?

These figures are also testament to public disengagement with Parliamentary politics which represents a serious threat to democracy, but dangerously, not government. With little chance of Galloway actually achieving anything in the Commons, a fact resulting from its structure rather than his talents, seen in this light his foray into Big Brother can be seen as an experiment in engagement. Which is not to say that it is a clever move; whether or not it is a failure is yet to be seen.

*The writers at Harry’s Place proclaim that they are of the left. Much of their output consists of attacking anti-war figures, especially Galloway, and Muslims. They argue that the left must criticise itself in order to improve. Of course. But if that is all you do, while providing a humanitarian cover for the right-wing all that is actually being performed is an assassination of the left.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Johan Hari teeters on the ledge of deligitimation

In his efforts to smash George Galloway, Johan Hari has overbalanced and it is only a matter of time before he falls from the ledge of deligitimation. He writes; “he was rejected at the ballot box by 64 percent of the people who live here [Bethnal Green and Bow] in May – but nonetheless became our MP because of our ridiculous electoral system.” Fine. Would is be churlish to point out that Saint Oona was rejected by 66 percent of the people of Bethnal Green and Bow, despite sophisticatedly dishonest campaigning?*

Johan Hari puts himself on pretty shaky ground from which to defend the actions of the current government as being democratic, never mind the mandate of any particular MP. Even MPs with a majority in their constituencies are the beneficiaries of our ‘ridiculous electoral system’, as evidence by Labour campaign message; vote for us or you will get a Tory. This keeps left-wing voters within the Labour fold, despite differences on the Iraq War, on civil liberties, on the idolisation of the market and the adoration of capital. When even such left-wingers as Billy Bragg turn up to campaign for Oona King on a ‘keep the Tories out’ justification, the fact that Galloway, a representative of a party outside the two (three?) main parties won the seat at all tells the story of a tremendous political triumph. If he wants to delegitimate Galloway’s mandate, then, in doing so, he delegitimates all MPs and this current government. This is dangerous ground to tread, and the fact that Hari makes no comment on the territory that he has entered speaks volumes of his honesty. This charge is being levelled against Galloway because he is Galloway (or, more importantly, because he is anti-war); it is not a real indictment of the democratic legitimacy of all our elected representatives.

Incidentally, Hari’s column is absolute pap. Comparison with my own writing is not a valid rebuttal, as I am not being paid thousands to produce drivel. It pours forth freely.

*By the way trolls, not even Saint Oona runs with the claim that Galloway won by appealing to racism. And you certainly do not want to even put a tiptoe onto this ledge of deligitimation given that Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems all made opportunistic use of anti-immigrant sentiment.

[10,000 hits passed sometime this weekend]

Friday, January 06, 2006


Is this a pigeon?

Image hosted by
Because it certainly is a right-wing coup.

Charles Kennedy seems to have found himself in an untenable position. He has lost the support of the majority of senior Liberal Democrat MPs. It seems reasonable to suggest that a leader cannot continue when the Parliamentary party is openly against him. However, it is strongly suggested, and little disputed, that Charles Kennedy retains the support of the majority of the Liberal Democrat party as a whole. But Kennedy cannot rely on this to keep him leader. As long as his MPs are in open revolt, he credibility is destroyed, regardless of his support from the largely voiceless membership.

So, we have a situation where the left-leaning liberals – the beard and sandals brigade – who make up the body of the Liberal Democrats are having their chosen leader ousted by a handful of ambitious professional politicians – the Orange Book neo-liberals. Using the party as a vehicle for their ambitions, these plotters of a coup d’partie reduce politics to a game played only by a professionalised political class. The membership is a mere resource to be exploited to boost the career progression of uniformly neo-liberal politicians. This is a distinctly anti-democratic trend in British politics, but, like the Liberal Democrat membership, ‘whatchagonnado?’ They cannot back Charlie Kennedy, not with so many knives still protruding from his spine. They cannot dismiss their MPs, en masse, without killing the Liberal Democrat party. So the party is in their hands. Coup.

This seems to be a familiar pattern, seen before in British politics; the seizure of a party and its infrastructure by a handful of unrepresentative neo-liberal professional politicians. I do not doubt their consummate political skill, I merely point out the democratic deficit that accompanies their rise. Witness New Labour, and the relationship between Parliamentary party and conference, and NEC*. The membership is presented with a simple choice; shut up or ship out. And, like the Labour membership, ship out they will, I predict.

*The relationship between New Labour and their heartland voters is similarly cynical. At the last General Election the New Labour line was that, regardless of voters’ positions on the Iraq War, on PFI or on the erosion of civil liberties, votes had to be cast for New Labour or else the Tories would sneak back into power. Mere days after the election, the [minority of] voters that voted New Labour back into government were being used as an argument that there was a democratic imperative for the Iraq War, for PFI and for the erosion of civil liberties.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


The destruction of Western Civilisation

Anthony Browne believes that civilisation is being destroyed by ‘Political Correctness’. First things first. There has always been political correctness in some form or other; some subjects have always been taboo, some policy prescriptions have been proscribed and debates have been couched in the acceptable language of the time.

Now, as for Browne’s ‘thesis’ (I must confess that, having read a good portion of the pamphlet, I saved the .pdf to my desktop under the title ‘Browne’s thought turd’, it really is that awful), I suggest that you go to The Virtual Stoa, which has eleven short posts dissecting this piece of garbage. I do wish that my thesis could be produced with so little consideration of evidence, or indeed, evidence of consideration.

One of my favourite quotes is; “No country has yet been destroyed by political correctness – although the Netherlands has come close...”

This piece of ridiculous hyperbole, and please remember that Browne couches his argument as a return to reason (he also borrows the mantle of science to legitimate his attack on PC), prompted a wonderful to reply from Alex in the comments boxes:

“…only someone who has very little clue about the conditions under which most people in the world live could imagine that the Netherlands has come "close" to being “destroyed”. War? Terrorism? Not a sausage. Disease? Economic depression? Hyperinflation? Hunger? Infrastructural failure? // To be more accurate, one mad Islamist (presumably not PC, given that they believe women should wear bags on their heads) stabbed a mad film director who specialised in insulting other people's religions (which is hardly PC), and a mad veggie fundamentalist (not very PC either) shot a mad fascist (fascists not being very PC the last time I checked). That's it. That's like saying the United States were “close to being destroyed” by Mark Chapman.”

Presumably, what distresses Browne about ‘political correctness’ is that is associated with liberal societies. Like Melanie Phillips and her counterpart rant-bot Paul Johnson, I suspect that Browne’s major concern is that we now live in what is a permissive and tolerant society. This is the ‘destruction’ that Browne refers to, and why he chose the Netherlands as his example. He wants you, I suggest, to think of the headline grabbing assassinations, and concur. But as Alex points out, only if reason has retreated completely are these the ‘near destruction’ of a society. For a reactionary social conservative, however, the permissive model of Netherlands is in itself the destruction of society. Do not be fooled; he seeks to recruit liberals to social conservatism by presenting an illusion of a world in which their liberal values are under threat. This is a successful tactic, witness, for example, how the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association has bought the ‘racism as defence of liberalism’ line*. Melanie Phillips, another social conservative who likes to present herself as a defender of Western Civilisation, provided that it is not permissive or tolerant, has this to say on Browne’s brain spasm:

“Browne is one of the few who very clearly understands that ‘political correctness’ is not some ludicrous absurdity that can be laughed away, as it is so often depicted. It is instead a terrifying, totalitarian and in Britain wholly successful putsch against truth itself, the weapon of subversion of a moral, political and social order.”

I wish that we could dismiss Phillips (and Browne) as a ‘ludicrous absurdity’. But we cannot. For while there has been, apparently, a ‘wholly successful putsch’ of a ‘terrifying, totalitarian’ belief system (can you see where she is going here; a wine bar putsch anyone?), people holding views like those of Phillips still seem to find work as commentators, columnists, broadcasters. Indeed, I would suggest that they do all this while holding large portions of the wealth and power of this country. This attack on PC – something that Browne almost admits is an invention of the American right wing, at least in so far as it is any sort of coherent entity – is reactionary in its most simple and straightforward sense; it seeks to reverse the social progress, the increase in tolerance and permissiveness that has occurred over the past half century. This is a threat to it far more dangerous than a few violent Islamists. The best they can do is blow up some stuff and kill a few people. Harold Shipman, a middle class white professional, holds the post-War British All-Comers record for this kind of action. When comparatively politically powerful, persuasive actors such as Browne and Phillips get to work, they actually can effect change. There views are no defence of liberal, tolerant civilisation, but an active rejection of it.

*Lenin, who, among with others has been busy publicising Craig Murray’s torture memos, has just posted up a nice little piece on the depressingly predictable response to the new 50 Cent film.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Kong it!

The Phylotopian reports that on the Burger King adverts encouraging us to ‘Kong our Whoppers’ – as I have already done – there is a disclaimer stating that; ‘Actual burger not size shown’. Given that the burger is over 6 foot tall, this ought be assumed. This does, however, raise questions of the content and role of advertising*; those who avoid the consequences of accepting arguments that advertising ‘creates markets and creates desires’ need to fall back on the argument that advertising is information, but to use this defence we must produce advertising that is merely informational. As soon as it contains overtly pursuasive elements beyond that necessarily resulting from the supply of information then we are in the grounds of creating desires. And as soon as we do that, we are responsible for the desires that we create, and when they are efforts to persuade us to eat unhealthily, we can have bigger complaints over the form, content and intent of advertising than merely that a ‘Konged’ Whopper is not, as we might have been led to believe, over 6 foot tall.

However, this blog post then went on to discuss disclaimers in general, leading to the comment from Martin that:

“It's the price of living in a nanny state, where all personal responsibility and common sense are being taken away by health and safety, insurance companies and government bodies. It is the right ... or rather the stupidity of the individual to once again ruin it all for the rest of us!”

And then on people injured at work and resorting to ‘no win, no fee’ compensation lawyers:

“I say if these people are such dyspraxic, incapable F**kwits, perhaps they shouldn't be in the jobs in the first place.”

I had to bite such bait.

If you are injured at work, or any other place, then there needs to be compensation. Now, a decent state (a 'nanny' state?) would have comprehensive health and disability cover, and to receive this blame need not be assigned, merely injury and incapacity demonstrated. In Britain we do not have this; this fact is demonstrated by the arguments FOR incapacity benefit reform. If people on incapacity benefit are suffering from deprivation, as the government argues, then incapacity benefits are plainly too low, and neither can they act as an economic disincentive on any large scale. Unless see the world as a member of the CBI does, and dream of a nation where wage levels motivate by their meagreness with the devil of want always at our backs.

Aside from compensation and material support, there is still the need to improve conditions in unsafe workplaces, and prevent other workplaces falling to the similarly dangerous levels. Now I favour the state support for the injured and criminal corporate law to deal with negligent employers. But, given that we have neither tough, enforceable criminal legislation, nor decent state compensation and support for the sick and incapacitated, we NEED ambulance-chasing lawyers. They act as a necessary band-aid to our sick system. If we consider that the symptoms that are so often complained about are far more extreme in the USA, we note that this culture of litigation has emerged in a country with almost no safety net, no real comprehensive health cover and pathetically weak worker protection. And this we see the choice; we either opt for a proper 'nanny' state or allow a 'sue' state to emerge and all that entails. The pathologies of both are far less serious – as we see from the tabloid press this mostly consisting of the farce of disclaimers and training days rather than serious material effects on the lives of people – than the consequences of rejecting these systems; rejection of both these systems tosses the vast mass of people to the wolves, pack animals that pick off the sick and injured.

*Unrelated advertising story. In the days after the Royal Marine naked initiation ‘ceremony’ news story broke, I could not help but spot a bus carrying a recruitment poster encouraging people to ‘Go Commando’. Persuasive.


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