Sunday, 18 May 2008

Wishful Thinking?

In a blog I posted in January I predicted - wished? - that Gordon Brown would implode, and that there would be a General Election by May.

I was wrong. Things didn't move as fast as I'd have liked. He looks beat, but he's going to hang on for a while. Instead, May will see the Crewe and Nantwich bye-election, which is in turn seen as a test of his viability to continue. Tens of ministers and Labour MPs are being bussed in to get their vote out, which is a sign that Labour is going to lose. And - as if the party hasn't sunk far enough this past few years - the local Labour Party literature says that 'the Tories want to stop foreign nationals being given Identity Cards'; so here we have Labour finally, desperately and despicably, playing the race card, exploiting base fears - as they well know, the Tories want to stop everybody having an ID card - in a bid to retain power.

I can't understand how anybody with an ounce of decency would vote for a party that endorses this sort of low politics, especially as many Labour voters have, over the years, rightly hated the Tories for pulling similar stunts. But some have said to me 'Labour is all we can vote for - you don't want the Tories in, do you?'. And it's a fair point. I hate the Tories.

But here's a thought. Those of us vague lefties, who like to think we support progressive, enlightened politics, supported New Labour because we thought 'they' were vaguely on 'our' side. In turn, they have managed to

* prosecute an illegal, unjust war, and kill hundreds of thousands of people.
* finance NHS, education and housing services by enabling private companies to run them, thus piling up crippling public debt for the future.
* brought in ID cards, and are now using subterfuge and disgraceful underhand means to implement it (see the No2ID link on the left for the full story).
* Legislate to bring in extended incarceration for 'suspected terrorists', a move that takes our legal system back to the Dark Ages.
* Garnered the cheapest of tabloid headlines by reclassifying cannabis - against all of the expert advice, and regardless of the criminal, social and financial costs of doing so.
* Brought in a punitive legal structure - , hundreds more laws, ASBOs, 'tougher sentencing' and the like - which means we lock up more of our population than any other European nation.
* And now, as I mention, are whipping up scare stories about foreigners.

So my question is: would us 'progressives' - indeed, would the UK population - have allowed the Tories to have achieved the above, were they in power? Could they have got away with this litany of horrors? Or, more pertinently, could they get away with it if returned to power?

My tentative answer is 'no', and this is based on the fact they they never achieved any of them when in power; Thatcher mooted ID cards, but couldn't even get it past her own backbenchers; Major started PFI, but faced too much opposition from the unions and the general public to push it through to the extent that Labour has done; Thatcher did, yes, prosecute a war, but it was arguably justified, and she would certainly never have had the backing to invade a country and attempt to impose democracy on it; Michael Howard proclaimed 'prison works', and was widely derided for it, but was not in actualite as 'tough' as he claimed to be; they tried playing the race card, and all right-thinking people moved away from them in their droves, to the point where they have now moved 'to the left' on this issue.

And so on; my point is that, if the Tories are in power, the wilder elements of their thinking are reined in, and a great coalition of interest bodies, unions, think tanks, and a majority of the population are able to check, and to an extent manage, their policies. When Labour are in, the closeness to power of some of these bodies, alongside the split in the 'progressives' as to whether we should focus on the 'bigger picture' - 'at least it's not the Tories' - and not split over individual policies, means that ever more right wing policies are followed.

So, am I saying that, if we want a more 'left' society, that we should hope that the Tories get in; indeed, that we should vote for them, knowing that if they get in there are enough of us - on the 'progressive side' - to ensure that they can't move too far right; or at least not as far right as new Labour is? Maybe, I am. Sticks in my craw to say it though...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Smoking Gun?

As I mention in a previous blog, I distrust the type of people who want to ban smoking in any 'public place', but have never really examined the claims about the dangers posed by 'passive smoking'. Luckily, someone has; the musician Joe Jackson spent years looking into the claims made against tobacco - the supposed harm that derives from smoking (active and passive), the role of the pharmaceutical companies and governments, and the zealotry of anti-smoking campaigners - and has published his findings on his website (see the link on the left).

Suffice to say, I can't make the case better than he can. Please read his findings; I find them unarguable, but feel free to start an argument with me about them. But please read them, it's important - socially, politically, economically, and for our own health - that we know the risks (or lack of them) of the drive to ban smoking.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The poor get poorer...

I have to get something for my blood pressure...

The Institute for Fiscal studies has produced a report that shows child poverty and inequality are rising (in spite of the Government's commitment to halving child poverty by 2010). It's also estimated that Gordon Brown's decision last year to abolish the 10p lower rate of income tax will hit 5.3 million low paid families the hardest. Gordon says that 'no one' will be worse off.

The Office of National Statistics has also produced a report demonstrating that, despite all new Labour's intentions, the gap between the top 10 per cent of earners and the bottom 10 per cent has not closed. The same organisation also publishes the yearly national poverty statistics, normally in March; however this year the Department of Work and Pensions is delaying the publication of the statistics until the 2nd May, the day after the local and mayoral elections, citing a need for 'additional validation and quality assurance'.

Now, one would hate to accuse them of wanting to 'bury bad news' - the very phrase conjures up the crudest political machination of our time, Jo Moore's e-mail the day after 9/11 - but it does seem suspicious that they will be released on a Friday, when all of the news coverage will be on the elections. I may be a tad cynical but I cannot believe, were the figures positive, that the Government wouldn't publish them in time for the elections; or that - if there is a genuine delay, and the news was good - they're not holding the publication until the following Monday; surely they'd want all of us to know of their success?. No, they know what's coming all right; Friday 2nd May it is, and another nail in the coffin for those who hope for a semblance of open, honest government.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

A cultural High Five

'The second-rate mind is in command of the ponderously spoken platitude. In the liberal rhetoric, raised to principle' (C. Wright Mills, 'The Power Elite')

A couple of weeks ago the Government announced the 'Cultural Offer', which aims to 'give young people the chance to discover and develop their talents with the intention, ultimately, to offer children five hours of arts and culture a week, in and outside of the school day. This will include the chance to:
* perform on stage and attend top quality performances, exhibitions at museums and galleries, and heritage sites;
* get hands-on experience of the creative industries including film making, radio and TV;
* learn a musical instrument, and take part in a musical performance in front of an audience;
* produce creative writing and appreciate authors and how they work;
* learn about - and practise – new media and digital art; and
* develop art and craft skills.'

Having worked in the arts for nearly 20 years I think I understand the a) apparent scale of the ambition, b) absolutely zero chance it has of being effected in reality and c) the flimsiness of the supposed benefits - and the fallacy of the 'creative learning agenda'. Let's have a look at them one by one...

a) Look at the bullet points again. They all seem very laudable. But wait! Should there be an 'and' or an 'or' between each of them?; do they really mean that every child has to take part in all of these activities, totalling five hours per week - in which case, those young people who have no artistic inclination are going to have a really rotten time, considering for one that they're going to have to 'take part in a musical performance in front of an audience' - or is it actually that some young people might take part in some of the activities; a much more prosaic aim. So, one young person's English lesson will go towards the 'produce creative writing' element, whilst their attendance in art will enable them to 'develop art and craft skills'. And those that are in a band outside school, and/or go to a gig, that will count towards their 'five hours' (and you can bet your bottom dollar that when the reality behind the linguistic soft-soaping is exposed, this is eventually how it will be counted, and justified).

And what is meant by, and who defines, 'top quality performances'? I'll wager my judgement is different from yours. Is every young person in the country going to be taken to the opera (and where's everybody else going to sit)? Or the X-Factor? Can they go local to am-dram, or is the Royal National Theatre the one that 'counts'? Does one two hour average play 'count' more than one one hour very good one?

And then there's the five hours of sport that is already part of the Government's 'commitment to young people'? Presumably that stays, so we now have ten hours of directed time per week - with the implication that a large part of this total should take place in addition to the school day (after all, if it took place within, the school day would be about 15 hours long).

Many people I know that work in the arts see the 'Cultural Offer' as a vaguely good thing, if a little cumbersome; after years of the Tories - when the 'fight' for arts education was at its most strident - the New Labour approach to the arts enabled everybody to jump on board. Once those in power started to talk about the Creative Learning Agenda, and ploughing money into Creative Partnerships, the arts community rolled over and had its belly tickled. The claims were grandiose; a whole new approach to the curriculum - with creativity at the core - was going to transform young peoples' learning, develop their self-esteem (although developing self respect would have been much more useful, and might have resulted in a few less youngsters shouting, showing their knickers and throwing up on a Saturday night) and offer a whole sector of new career opportunities.

Now, I've looked through the Government and Creative Partnership's website - you can too, on the left - and I can't find, after six years or so, one concrete example of any wide-ranging positive impact on the lives of young people. And I look around, and at other statistics, and see (as I mention below) that literacy and numeracy standards - the basic building blocks of a child's 'opportunity' - have plummeted disastrously, and violence among young people is on the increase, with catastrophic results (maybe somebody should be commissioned to establish a causal link between engagement in the arts and subsequent propensity to violence?).

So (phew), we get to the nub of it; New Labour knew that, to get the liberals onside, they had to adopt the language - 'empowerment', 'opportunity', 'creativity', 'cultural offer'- used by the arts community; as Hywel Williams argues very persuasively ('Britain's Power Elites - The Rebirth of a Ruling Class'), all elites need to construct their own 'meaning', to the exclusion of others, and can then retain and exploit power for its own sake. Those of us who have worked with young people know the positive effect that arts activity can have on some of them (and, indeed, that access to the arts is a complex but genuine concern); but we should also know the limits of that impact, and that it is certainly not appropriate for all (I hated biology, metalwork and chemistry at school, and if forced to do five hours a week in and outside of school, no matter how it was taught, I would've run a mile; others didn't, and that's called a diverse, pluralist, multi-skilled society).

But the arts community will jump at the money - the closeness to power and the 'validity of purpose' such closeness engenders will ensure that they do - the language will become more feelgood but opaque, the benefits even more so, and the kids will wonder if they'll ever have time to just fucking relax.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The 'Transformational Government Programme'

There really is such a programme, and its title is intentionally, and scarily, accurate; its aim is to transform the relationship between the Government and the people. The whole population is to be logged, followed, managed, and 'transformed', once again demonstrating that - if not in the matter of slaughter, but certainly in terms of state ambition and control-freakery - New Labour has no rival other than Stalin.

An example is the National Pupil Database (NPD). This is a staging post on the road to a national ID card, with children and young people being used as a form of 'mission creep' - as you can see in the report on the No2ID link on the left. The NPD tags all children with 40 pieces of information - from behaviour to ethnicity - without consent, and in perpetuity, and a similar database does the same for teenagers. The Government's Every Child Matters programme also logs everyone until the age of 18, with children 'at risk' being 'tagged' for further intervention.

Meanwhile the Education Secretary Ed Balls - that maniacal, evangelical stare can only belong to somebody attempting to attone for a lifetime of surname-related abuse (and his wife Yvette Cooper's refusal to take his surname is either an admirable symbol of feminist independence, or for some other reason that must cut him to the quick...) - has denied, despite overwhelming published research, that Government interference and mismanagement in primary and secondary education over the past decade has irretrievably damaged the numeracy and literacy of a generation of schoolchildren.

So, a child aged 5 in 1997 has been subject to countless initiatives, tested to distraction, taught by ever-more-stressed teachers desperate to achieve marks rather than education, and now emerges at 16 liable to be less numerate and literate than a teenager from the generation before. And, if their lack of development has contributed to some 'behavioural problems', they're marked for the rest of their lives. As a letter-writer in today's Independent remarked, in terms of damage to Britain this could - really - be the worst Government ever.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The State We're In

It's been a busy week in the news, what with Rowan Williams' ill-advised comments about Sharia law, the Man. United commemorations, and changes in the interest rate - and yet two not-so-newsworthy items have underlined the State, and the state, we're in.

The consortium of banks that have been funding Metronet, the now-bankrupt private operator that was responsible for modernising the London Underground, is being paid off by the Government. It is an admission that the Private Public Partnership, devised by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, has failed. The justification for PPP was that it would transfer the risk of the project to the private sector, and that it would be more efficient, yet it has now been shown that it would have been much cheaper to fund the whole thing through the public sector - and it has cost £1.7 billion to buy the banks out. £1.7 billion.

It has been announced by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that coroners are to be abolished in certain cases - once again in the name of fighting terrorism. The coroner system has been in operation for around 800 years - surviving wars, revolutions, even attacks on the House of Commons by the prescient Guido Fawkes - but Jacqui Smith obviously knows more than everyone who has lived in these islands over that time. She has reassured us that the new powers will be used only sparingly; but who really believes her? (And we have to remember that the Government told the coroner into the death of Dr David Kelly that he'd not be needed, and that everything would be dealt with by the Hutton Enquiry into his death; truly, their mendacity knows no bounds.)

Monday, 4 February 2008

New Labour's Buddies on The Observer

Nick Davies has recently thrown the whole New Labour-'liberal' - worth apostrophising that word, as the government and the paper concerned are anything but - press hegemony open with the publication of his Flat Earth News. Amongst many startling and not so startling revelations about how journalism works, the genuinely shocking one is the complicity that existed between The Observer's Editor and Political Editor - respectively Roger Alton and Kamal Ahmed - and the Government in the run-up to the Iraq war. Davies says that not only was The Observer broadly supportive of the Government's line - Saddam was a danger, WMD etc - but that it suppressed - seven times - reports from its American correspondent stating that a CIA report had found that Saddam had no WMD, that Ahmed had a sneak preview of the 'dodgy dossier' courtesy of Alistair Campbell, and that Alton lifted parts of Campbell's e-mails to incorporate into The Observer's leader columns (Campbell having identified the paper as 'key', in order to get the lefty-liberals onside, and an ally in softening up opinion). Davies suggests that the Observer effectively became a Government mouthpiece.

The Guardian - The Observer's sister paper - have dropped plans to serialise the book - although Private Eye haved picked up the mantle - and one can only speculate the high dudgeon that that paper would effect were similar claims made against, say, The Sun and John Major's government. (It should be said that The Observer - now under new editorship - has published a review of the book by somebody who was on its editorial board at the time refuting some of Davies' assertions, but she specifically fails to deal with the allegations outlined above.)

As the commentator Stephen Glover says, 'there is no greater disgrace for a newspaper than to collaborate with a government in the propagation of a lie that leads to the deaths of many people'. Quite right, and I'd add that 'many people' should actually read 'tens of thousands of people and the destruction of a country', and that The Guardian should be ashamed of itself for failing to report such an important story, particularly as it has always haughtily railed against the invidiousness of cross-media ownership; seems like it's only a bad thing if used by the Right.

Friday, 1 February 2008

A Hat-Trick!

Today we discover...

1) The Government has refused the All-Party Parliamentary Group request for minutes of the UK's discussions with the US concerning the 'rendition' - that is, illegal kidnapping and torture - of people using the British island dependency of Diego Garcia. They have said that to do so 'would prejudice the defence' of territory by 'exposing plans to counter possible terrorist attacks' and that it could damage diplomatic relations between Britain and America. How disgusting. How shameful. How evil.

2) For ten years we've heard 'no more boom and bust' from Gordon Brown; now the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research forecast that the Government will need to raise taxes by at least £8bn over the next year to balance the books. Practically no forecaster agrees with the Government's forecast for growth over the next two years, yet Brown and Darling insist that - in the director of the NIESR's words - 'something will turn up at the end of the rainbow'. Anyone who reads Tom Bower's biography of Brown will know that this follows his pattern of denying expert advice, and hiding dreadful economic news - as all the analysts say, he should have been saving when the boom was in swing, and now it's going down there's nothing in the pot - in ever more labyrinthine rules, measurements and forecasts. It's looking really grim, and we're not being told the truth by those in power.

3) The Lisbon Treaty is being rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny. Now this might not mean much to most people - which is what the Government is hoping. Having promised 'line by line scrutiny', important areas such as asylum and immigration and delegated powers away from Parliament to Europe are not being debated, but whipped through. Whether one believes in closer ties with Europe or not, surely no-one disagrees that the consequences of major change should be fully disclosed to the people, whose representatives should have a chance to properly scrutinise such important shifts of power.

So we have torture, lies about torture, lies about the economy and taxes, and lies about the future of our democracy. All around a good day then.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

The Post Office - a New Labour mess

Isn't visiting the Post Office a joy these days? Whilst one is standing in the always-lengthy queue, you are assailed by at least one TV screen showing irritating clips of the chubby barman from Early Doors, and a range of other slebs - Westlife, Joan Collins, and soon Bill Oddie! - encouraging us all to use the 'People's Post Office' (we're already doing it! We're in the queue!!); on looking away ones eyes settle on boxes full of cheap dvds, tacky cards and derivative calendars.

Down here in the south, a number of post offices have recently been shut, in yet a further rationalisation in the drive to make the Post Office profitable. Each closure means that the remaining outlets have greater queues, and yet despite a seeming surfeit of customers, they still can't make a profit.

This is because it can't; the range of services it offers - car tax, postage, passports etc - surely place the Post Office into 'public service' category. Indeed, this is what it was when Labour came to power; the Tories had mooted privatisation, but hadn't got anywhere. Labour attacked it with glee. Rather than make the case for taxation to support the institution - and including within this analysis that a post office in, say, a remote village is an important social contact for many isolated people - the Government constantly pushed it to make itself more profitable, and meanwhile hived off the profitable elements to competition; that phrase, once used of Thatcher, of 'knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing' is, appallingly, one that sums up this government.
(photo Dominics pics on Flickr)

Sunday, 20 January 2008

'New' - what does it now mean?

Even though I didn't like it much at the time, I can see why Labour rebranded itself as 'New' in the 1990s. But when do they - or anything - cease to become 'new'? Can they ever change back?

I think not; saying 'we're just going to be 'Labour'' would be seen as a retrograde step; renaming as something newer than 'new' is semantically ridiculous - which means that the party has been permanently rebranded.

I have to confess that I stupidly didn't appreciate the enormity, permanence and implication of a simple linguistic change; it places us under a Government that has to, by virtue of its name, be forever new - meaning constant change, new initiatives (that often directly contradict earlier ones, viz internal health markets, national curriculum changes etc) and thereby new legislation - and which, with a missionary zeal, has to find ever more ingenious ways to impose itself in every social realm.

And, as a population, we acquiese in this - so it's our fault really. We give up the power to think and act responsibly without recourse to law and lawmaking - the 'cradle to the grave' stretches far beyond healthcare for many of us - and they happily step into the vacuum, and exert ever more power - an unvirtuous circle!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Curtailing people's liberties - why do people do it?

Here's the scene: an antiquarian bookshop in Brighton. The owner has run it for decades, he's the only employee. I saw him a few days back, standing outside his own shop, cold, in order to have a fag. If he stepped inside his own shop, he could be liable to arrest.

Here's another: some old ladies used to meet downstairs in a local greasy spoon near the bookshop, to have a cup of tea, a fag and a gossip. Since last July, I've not seen them. Where are they? Where do they go now?

Most people I know might be reasonable enough to say 'that's a shame', and mildly lament the fact that the law penalises people who are merely enjoying themselves, and not forcibly hurting anybody else (nobody has to shop in that bookshop, and there are about 30 other cafes in the same area). But the same people were all for the law in the first place, adopting a haughty 'I don't want my health damaged by these people' attitude, without stopping to think; 'Do we need legislation?'; 'Can't we have a law whereby some establishments - one in ten pubs for example? - could apply for a smoking license, thus allowing some people the right to enjoy their vice?'; 'Wouldn't that be the sign of a civilised, decent society'.

No, the self-righteous got their way, and in the process managed to divest more power to the executive, whilst eschewing the virtues of tolerance and accommodation that one might hope decent people would favour. It's a small but indicative example of how New Labour has got away with so much legislation; rather than deal with the diversity and complexity of human relations, too many people just want a law, and to feel looked after and 'governed'.

A shame on all of them. I was all for banning cigarettes in most pubs, and all public places where people might gather - gig venues, theatres etc - where a decent smoking area couldn't be provided; people do have a right to avoid secondhand smoke. But why are people so keen to go further, and ban others, anywhere, from congregating and doing what they like, in full awareness of the danger to their own health? The generous answer might be that they didn't think the implications of the legislation through - which makes them stupid. The less generous answer is that there is a - possibly subconscious - fascistic urge in an awful lot of people - which scares me just a tad.
(photo by superfantastic on Flickr)

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Gordon Brown

I've just been reading Gordon Brown's biography, by Tom Bower. Bower is chiefly known for his biographies of the likes of Tiny Rowlands and Robert Maxwell, which were very scholarly and well-researched. This one doesn't quite match those standards - his sources aren't noted, and his own (fairly right wing) opinions often peer out from behind his supposedly objective veil. That said, he convincingly demonstrates that Brown is, at best, a conniving, power-hungry, mendacious dissembler - and at worst an unstable megolamaniac liar.

To take one example: Brown's commitment - as opposed to his achievement - to eradicating poverty has always endeared him to those who wanted to 'vote Blair, get Brown', imagining that there was going to be some sort of quasi-socialist state slipped in by the back door. Unfortunately, the book - and a number of others - have shown that a) Brown was as deeply important to, and as much an architect of, New Labour as much as Tony Blair ever was, and that b) although he was in theory committed to reducing poverty as an almost personal crusade, his methods - working families tax credits, stealth taxes etc - resulted in confusion amongst those supposed to administer and receive the benefits, increased expenditure - overall tax rates rose for all - and most importantly signally failed in their main purpose (two authorative recent studies showed that the gap between rich and poor had widened in the past 10 years, and that those in poverty have a lower reading/writing attainment than 10 years ago, meaning that their chances of escaping poverty are greatly lessened).

One of the chief reasons for his failure was his inability to listen to the advice of senior civil servants - who, because they disagreed with him, had to go - and to continue ploughing ahead when in practise, e.g with tax credits, his schemes were obviously failing him. Alastair Campbell is generally thought to be the one who labelled Brown as having 'psychological flaws'. As more people look at his history, and how it's now coming home to roost - the credit crisis that results from a deliberate policy instigated in order to finance his changes to the economy, the criminal pensions changes which have left many working class people financially bereft, to name but two - and how he responds to crises - that hurt scowl, appearing to not comprehend how somebody can possibly disagree with him and, even worse, challenge him - we can begin to agree with Campbell; and, as more of us do, the less his chances of survival.

So, here's a prediction; a General Election by May, and a hung parliament.
(Photo by didby graham on Flickr)

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Prostitution - Yet more criminalisation

Harriet Harman's latest foray into the area is a proposal to identify where women are being trafficked, and criminalise men who pay for sex in those places (I can't help falling back on that old canard that people like Harriet would really rather men just didn't pay for sex -which they have always done, for a variety of sexual, social and political reasons - rather than actually try to create a safe environment for it to occur, but that's another argument). A number of flaws in her plan, and solutions to the actual problem identified, spring easily to mind:

1) If they know where there are trafficked women, they should give them money to either get a taxi and air fare home, or to set themselves up in the UK independent of the sex trade.

2) If they know the women have been trafficked, they must have some idea who the traffickers are. In which case, arrest them. It is already a crime.

3) DON'T MAKE ANY MORE LAWS! Everything that should be already is a crime; Labour have introduced more laws in ten years than were passed in the previous 100. Why do they feel the need to be 'doing something'? And, in spite of these new laws, does anybody feel any safer? Even further 'and', our prisons are absolutely full to bursting, with more being built. Are we really more evil than ten years ago (and if we are, the implications for the Government are pretty dire, as it's been on their watch) or is it just a case of 'create more crimes, create more criminals'; as I've mentioned elsewhere, this is so far to the right of where they started that it's amazing they're not voted out of power, and kicked around the streets for their craven-ness....

(photo: didbygraham at Flickr)

Organic humbug

No, it's not a new foodstuff, but a description of many people's attitude to food, particularly here in Brighton - a city which has a sizeable Green Party presence, and in which it's difficult to walk into a shop and avoid 5 million bars of organic chocolate.

Put very simply, organic food needs more land than non-organic food (which was pioneered during the last century in order to maximise land use; very successfully, since the system managed adequately to feed an unprecedented rise in human population). We have limited land, and a growing population, yet the pro-organic lobby insist that organic farming is 'the future'; the very economics of it mean that poorer people will, in such a future, be less able to afford vegetables, but that doesn't discourage them. Far better to messianically promote a system that will ensure fewer and more expensive basic foodstuffs than to accept that there are many of us who are very happy to eat food treated with pesticide - as with drinking water, the key measurement is not whether, but how much, 'poison' is in what we eat/drink - and, more importantly, are keen that other people can afford it too.

Many people atavistically, almost automatically, accept that organic food is better for us and the environment. I used to too - I voted Green in the 1989 Euro elections. But the more I look at the issue, it becomes absolutely and utterly unarguable that, at the very best, organic food is a lifestyle choice for those who are financially secure and politically undemanding, and at the worst will result - if it isn't already in other parts of the world - in the deaths of many of the less well-off.

For some further reading, check out Dick Taverne's book 'The March of Unreason - Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalists'.
(Photo credit: 'Tiny Knitted Vegetables' by 'WordRidden' on Flickr)

Here I go again...

...getting excited about Barack Obama; telegenic, young, dynamic, promising 'change', not being too specific about policies and what he believes in, highly intelligent, the opposite of the Old Order, etc etc etc.

Now, where have I heard all this before? Oh yes, ten years ago in Britain. My almost total hatred of everything that our Government has subsequently done has caused me to rethink my, and indeed 'our', belief in Utopian politics. Why do we believe career politicians who promise to change everything and make the world better for all - that's right, absolutely everybody - as if that were ever possible? What is it in our nature that compels us to fall for this, again and again? It seems to be a particular malaise of us 'liberals' - funny term that, must write a whole blog about it - that we want to believe in a saviour, as long as s/he isn't a religious one. John Gray writes that humanists, far from being non-religious, have a religious faith in the idea of progress and human development, and that (ahem) 'Things can only get better'. We keep on hoping that this is the case, despite all our disappointments and all the evidence to the contrary.
I still say 'Good Luck Barack', although I really have no idea why...
(photo by seiu_international on Flickr)