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Thursday, June 29, 2006


Blair urges open debate

No, not really. Any contrary suggestions are merely rhetorical flourishes.

The world has changed, he says. We are buffeted by forces beyond democratic control. That this changes and forces seem to benefit those who have is entirely coincidental. On opposition to globalization – or, more accurately, the usurping of democracy by transnational capital – Blair has written:

“There are, I notice, no such debates in China.”

All too often Blair demonstrates his frustration with law, with democracy, with opposition. Was there ever a quote that better summed up the tragic masquerade that is Blair’s ‘democrat’ costume?

Thanks go to ChrisD at The Sharpener for pointing out this quote.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Fan Freundschaft!

On a World Cup morning after the reporting of England fans being involved in trouble, and on the morning before the next World Cup game involving England, I think it is time to write a little on my experience of Germany 2006.

And the theme is; Fan Freundschaft! Which translated means; fan friendship.

I spent a week travelling across Germany with a couple of friends; a trip centred on the Brazil v. Australia match in Munich. This journey was a perfect antidote to the miserable antagonism that accompanies so much football. The bright sunshine on seas of yellow shirted fans provided the perfect lighting for a football party, with Brazilians mixing with Americans mixing with Italians mixing with Dutch mixing with Australians. Oh, and one Ghanaian-Zimbabwean-American who, alone, converted a whole Bier Garten of mixed nationalities, a big Bier Garten at that, into a united Ghanaians crowd, at least for the duration of a famous victory over the Czechs. And perhaps for the rest of Ghana’s World Cup run. Ghana! Ghana! Ghana! It might have been Dutchmen who carried the Ghanaian around the Munich square for a shoulder-high lap of cheer around the Munich square. Perhaps his bearers were Australian, or even a couple of elusive Germans. In Munich there were surprisingly few German fans, in what seemed to have become an international city of football.

Later that night we were outraged in sympathy with the Americans. Their team had an upset of similar proportions as the one achieved by Ghana stolen from them by a referee with a keen sense of balance, who evened up the game to ensure that the Italians were not disadvantaged for their violent play or their relative lack of drive. Shouting “Fix!” at a television screen might have been fuelled by Augustiner, and might have been a little aggressive, but where else but in an atmosphere of fan friendship would have I have been found cheering on a team from the United States? I even nearly began to chant U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A. Nearly.

All this football, all the beer, all those schnitzels, all that wurst and all this Freundschaft did not come cheap. Sleeping in a tent, we paid with our health. A six o’clock return to a tent affords little sleep when the sun bakes you out of your polyfibre dome by nine. But the campsite itself was a centre of Fan Freundschaft, with tents pitched on neighbouring plots housing fans of nations in and outside of the World Cup.

The night of the Brazil-Australia game the streets were packed with fans from all nations. And Steve McManaman. Having been out all day, spending the time between matches with a kickabout in the Englischer Garten we were carrying a cheap football. Once one person had asked to borrow it to demonstrate their keepy-uppy skills there was no way that the ball would see Ramsgate again. Inside half an hour the street had become a thousand person game of keepy-uppy. The police smiled as they looked on and the policeman who caught the ball to a chorus of boos received the biggest cheers of the night when he used the ball to demonstrate his own keepy-uppy skills before giving the ball back to the crowd.

The World Cup slogan is A Time To Make Friends. And from what I saw this principle is being put into action with well-organised enthusiasm. Forget the news, feeding you an unrepresentative picture of the events and atmosphere of Germany 2006. Fan Freundschaft!

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Computer sez sorry

As I travelled by train today it was pointed out to me that the announcements of delays were computer-composed from a series of pre-recorded words. Nothing startling there, you say? And certainly not, this is a perfectly adequate system when announcing the next arrival on platform ten. But when there is a delay the voice says; “I am sorry for the delay…” I am sorry? There is no I here. This is a mindless computer-generated arrangement of sounds. There is no person that is sorry, that can apologise.

So what is my problem? It is that these announcements, like so many corporate communications, are utterly dishonest. They are a perfect example of the lie of the modern corporation; that they have feelings, that they care, that they are a person. That they are a person that you ought to like, to have loyalty towards, that you ought behave towards in the manner of interpersonal interaction, rather than as a rational market actor. For a democratic socialist, they are a lie in the service of profit, disguising exploitative relationships. For a market fundamentalist, these lies act to reduce the efficiency of the market by confusing consumers, misrepresenting their market position and reducing the rationality of their market actions.

And more than that, worse than the lie, is that when a computer says sorry it demeans and degrades all the human-made apologies of genuinely felt regret.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Empire and away

Preparing for the long road trip from Cardiff to Munich, and back again, I will restrict myself to a post built from links. If I paraphrased the content of these links then I could describe them as references and this as some form of scholarly activity, not merely an appropriation of the work of others. Especially Lenin, whose recent excellent form I have neglected to comment on or link to.

Lets concentrate on ‘Empire’, back in the discourse of the commentariat thanks to Ken Loach, Niall ‘I don’t like the blacks, except when they were my servants’ Ferguson, and The Continuing Adventures Of Bush and Blair. The first two are both attempts to use the past to comment on the present.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley, the Palme D’Or winner from Ken Loach, presents us with a view of the Irish War of Independence, draws, apparently, unashamed analogies with the current War in Iraq and the perils of imperialism. I have not seen the film. Neither, as George Monbiot points out, had many of the film’s most vicious critics before they found themselves able to comment on the film. That did not stop their pompous condemnations, likening to, among other things, Mein Kampf.

While Loach does his best to remind us that Empire is a morally bankrupt arrangement of human affairs, Niall Ferguson does his unlevel best to legitimate Empire, to convince the influential middle of the US and UK populations that Empire is not only a positive, laudable feature of British history, but that, in the 21st Century, we should support American imperialism as a necessary replacement. Ferguson’s experience of Empire is a ‘magical’ childhood in Kenya. Magic, of course, is always a trick, often involving the willing ignorance of the audience. The magic of Ferguson’s childhood was built on the backs of black servants, governed by white supremacist tyranny. Ferguson recalls the magic, collaborating in the trick, the sleight of hand that justifies the servitude of the majority for the pleasures of a ruling caste. And he is not in the slightest way a reconstructed imperialist. Though he may some reassuring make noises with regard to the American Empire’s democratic rhetoric, at heart he is a racial supremacist. If he believes his justification for past and future imperialism, that; “Human beings do seem predisposed to trust members of their own race as traditionally defined”, and that it is the ethnicity in itself, rather than as an artefact of imperialism, ideology or economics, that is the driving force behind the tragedies and troubles of the past century, then his new American Empire will not be the spreading of an inclusive American democracy, but a Empire of shadow democracies, of vassal states, bound to the domination of a ruling white caste of Americans.

Men like Niall Ferguson are far, far more dangerous than Osama bin Laden, or whichever other terrorist bogeyman are threatening ‘Civilisation’, ‘The West’, or whatever we are today. Bin Laden can kill many people, that is for sure, when those deaths are measured as the work of one man. But he will never rule the world. He will never be a global power. He is not an Empire. He is merely a fulcrum, on which men like Niall Ferguson, or men like Douglas Murray, will attempt to force a system that will kill millions and destroy democratic hopes.

I will post on my experience of the world cup when I return. In the meantime, I have left a deposit here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Pay rises

I think that it is worth mentioning a few things that are always missed, or misrepresented, when the media, of all stripes, covers pay disputes.

First. A 5% a year pay rise is not the same as a 15% pay rise over three years. If I am paid £100, then a 15% over three years settlement will result in me being paid £115 at the end of that three year period. If, over those three years, I had received a 5% per year pay rise then, after the first year I would be paid £105, after the second £110.25, and after the third £115.76. This might seem small, but then the figures of £100 and 5% was chosen for its simplicity, not for their correspondence with that which is actually existing.

Second. We must remember that when an employer is describing the offered pay settlement they will use a linguistic formulation that makes this settlement appear as generous as possible. Sometimes this will be bald lies. Sometimes this will be sleight of tongue, encouraging a belief in the equivalence between, say, 5% a year and 15% over three years. This sleight of tongue can be seen when the employer describes a deal as taking place over ‘over X years’. In these cases, the employer appears most generous when it manages to make X as small as possible. But a deal over three years is a deal over three years, is it not? Well, both the number, size and the timing of the instalments of the pay increase can be varied. Let us, for the sake of argument, agree that there will be three pay increases, of less than 5% remember, in the pay settlement in question. The workers would be best served by an immediate instalment, a second after twelve months and a third after a further twelve months. This is three annual instalments. But if it were so, do you not think that the employers would describe it as being ‘over two years’, as there is only twenty four months between the first instalment and the last? So, what does ‘three years’ mean to an employer when settling a pay dispute? Most likely it means something close to 3 years and 364 days before the full 15% is settled.

Third. A 15% pay rise is not a 15% pay rise. At least, what I mean to say is that ‘equal’ pay rises lead to increasing inequality. If I earn £1000 and you earn £100 – and a ten-fold difference in wages in the same organisation is hardly unknown – then I am paid £900 more than you when measured in the fluid absolute that is called money. If we both receive a 15% pay rise, and what can be more egalitarian than that, then I will be paid £1150 and you will be paid £115, which is a difference of £1035. There is still a ten-fold difference, true, but if this is a real wage increase, i.e. unless price inflation is also 15%, then the inequality of these two positions has grown. In as that gap increases from £900 to £1035 the gap in spending power, owning power, and in a capitalist society, social, cultural and political power, increases. This, of course, is not a description of the way that wage increases actually happen. No, because in a great number of cases the wage/income increases enjoyed by the wealthiest are far greater, in terms of yearly percentages, than those won by the poorest. This needs to be reversed; we need to see more ‘income freezing’ of chief executives and more massive wage increases for the poorest. For a democracy to be worthy of the name, the political actors need to be as equal as possible, else it is simply a masquerade behind which the powerful can hide their operations.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Work ethics

My first post at The Sharpener is now up, entitled Work ethics: efficiency.


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