Campaign for an investigation into the Iraq War

as a rule, I find online petitions a problematic area – are they ever recognised by anyone? Are petitions in general trustworthy enough for them to carry any clout?

In this instance, the issues at stake are too great for any faffing over such triflings – the Stop The War Coalition, in a campaign fronted by the wonderful Tony Benn, are calling for an investigation into breaches of The Nuremberg Charter and Geneva and Hague Conventions during the Iraq War and occupation.

read about it over on Jyoti’s lovely blog of cleverness.

The legal smokescreen assembled around the Iraq affair is despicable – I understand the argument that when troops are committed we need to rally behind them. Yes, I understand, I just think it doesn’t hold any water when there’s a distinct possibility/probability/certainty that those very same troops are being shot and blown up on a false pretext, or conversely those troops are implicated in the convention breaches. The endless stream of news stories and first hand accounts of the fucked-up-ness of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, civilians and those labeled as ‘enemy combatants’ (you’ve got to love the ability of the US government to invent euphemisms to undermine the critique of their behaviour) is damning in the extreme, but thus far none of the legal challenges have come to fruition. there’s a cross party campaign by MPs to have Blair tried for his part in instigating the illegal attack, which so far hasn’t come to anything. Hopefully this application to the UN for a proper investigation will get taken seriously.

Antiwar march on Saturday

Saturday’s anti-war march was a fab event – met up with Jyoti, which was a delight, always nice to put a face to a blog. The march itself seemed rather upbeat, pretty huge (biggest one I’ve been on since the BIG ONE three years ago – organisers estimated 100,000, the police laughably suggested 10-15,000. Using the patented ma lawson method of doubling the police figure, halving the organisers and splitting the difference brings it to 40,000, but I’d say that was on the low side.)

The issues were a bit simpler than for the last few – people get very tetchy about protesting about military situations where there are British soldiers committed, as though it’s somehow treason to complain once they are there. Not much thought given to how little they want to be there, and the legality of them being there in the first place… This one was easier because of the dual themes – troops out of Iraq, and don’t attack Iran. The threat of a military strike on Iran is just nuts. Sure, the Iranian president is a crack-pot, but if anything is likely to bring together the myriad disparate factions in Iranian politics, it’s an attack by the US/UK Team America-stylee crack commando team. A damn fool thing to do, for sure.

So, I got to protest the lunacy of our jumped up nobhead of a prime minister, and hang out with lovely peoples all day.

And now I’m breaking my own rule and am using TSP’s laptop to access the net, as my desktop has bizarrely decided not to connect to the web. It’ll access email, chat, ftp, just nothing with an http in front of it. There are no proxies set up, and I can’t find any changes to the firewall settings (and switching it off doesn’t seem to change anything either) – any suggestions, lovely blogling geeks?

Here’s me on the march, from Jyoti’s photos –

Jyoti on downloading and the majors…

more great stuff from Jyoti Mishra on downloading. If the BPI starts getting trigger-happy with legal action against people for downloading music, we could end up in a v. bad place.

What they don’t seem to get at all is that more people will pay for music by artists they feel some connection with. Faceless corporate no-marks who happen to make nice music don’t engender any fan loyalty, so people will happily download their stuff. Why not, they’re rich enough already goes the argument. Whereas a band like Nizlopi allow free access to their video of The JCB Song for months, and instead of people just downloading it and then ignoring the record, they get a number one record out of it, totally outside of the music industry machine. It was a glorious success, not to mention a fabulous song, and shows what happens if enough effort is made to connect with an audience, to give them something of value.

The same thing has happened with a host of indie bands that launched this year- Jyoti talks about them with far more insight than I have, cos everything I’ve heard by the Arctic Monkeys sounds like shite, so I’ve not really taken much notice of them musically, but the story is one that fills me with hope, and the quotes I’ve heard from their fans suggest that they engender fierce loyalty.

And there are corporate rock monoliths that still do it. Iron Maiden, Queen and a few others have fans that will buy multiple copies of every single, on as many formats get released, even after they are well out of fashion. Marillion managed to raise the cost of making an album from their fan-base in advanced sales, for a record that wasn’t even written. Loyalty, trust, value. If people feel positively disposed towards an act, they are happy to part with cash. And those who never part with cash for music are going to get hold of it anyway – if you cripple software copying of music, people will just write software that records the audio – it means the copying will be slightly slower, but it’ll still happen, and the file-sharers will have the added buzz of getting one over on the wankers who want to fill their computers with spy-ware to stop them copying CDs to their iPods.

Meanwhile the indies keep providing MP3s, writing blogs to stay in touch with their audience, answering emails, playing gigs and selling merch, and it’s rolling along quite nicely thanks. Balls to the Sony share-holders.

SoundtrackMichael Manring, ‘Soliloquy’ (Michael has spent 20 years on various record labels, putting out great music. This time he makes the album of his life, puts it out himself, and is no doubt doing better from it than any previous album. It’s better packaged than any of his other albums, it’s beautifully recorded and is almost without doubt the most complete musical statement I’ve ever heard from a solo bass guitarist.)

Religion…

The problem of religion.

Jyoti’s ever marvellous and provocative blog has a huge rant on it about the place of religion in politics. His contention is that religion is irrational and bad things are done in the name of God, and has no place being used to define political life…

The weird thing is that, as a believer, I at least partly agree. Not that all spiritual belief is irrational (clearly, that would be a weird thought for someone who aligns them self with the christian faith), but that the use of one’s faith to solely define one’s view of the world can end up in a very totalitarian view of the world.

This paragraph of Jyoti’s is interesting –

I’m an atheist. More than that, I’m a radical, materialist, proselytising atheist. That means that not only am I opposed to Christianity as an irrational pile of poop, I’m also against Hinduism, Buddhism, paganism, Judaism, Scientology, spiritualism, astrology and, of course, Islam. (I’m obviously not anti-religious people. Some of my best friends are believers, honest guv! Love the believer, abhor the belief, I say.)

Now, the last sentence is clearly an irony, but the strength of opinion expressed in the first half is very close to what I hear from devout thinking people of faith. It’s clearly not raving madness, but it is dogmatic to a slightly scary level.

One of the wonders of post-modernity is that we are now wrestling with the definitions of truth can something be ‘factual’ by untrue, or vice versa? Can two seemingly contradictory accounts of The Way Things Are both be true. We’re now able to wrestle with the concept of abstracting truth from its linguistic strictures, from it’s cultural contexts and examine things for what they point to as much as what they state. We can embrace the concepts of ‘finite’ and ‘infinite’ truth, with infinite truth being essentially unknowable but anything that points to or describes in any way the infinite truth is ‘finite’ truth.

The deconstructionists told us that all language is a metaphor, that words resonate with other words, and within the context of the semantic buildings in which we bring them to life – so the word ‘dad’, on the surface means ‘the guy who impregnated your mother to cause you to be born’ but is on a deeper level going to mean so many different things to different people based on their experiences of father-figures.

However, we still have the tools of history, or literary criticism, of science and biology that can act as boundaries and sign-posts for our discussions, as bridges between our experience and the posited notions of the various religious traditions. So, when Jyoti says,

I don’t believe the stories about Jesus, Thor, Isis, Satan, Apollo, Vishnu, Allah, Buddha, Spiderman or The Great Pumpkin. They’re all lovely stories, and I appreciate the wit and wisdom of the writers but are they true? No. They’re mostly stories written by men to help shape their societies and keep the majority of ordinary people, especially women, oppressed. Apart from Spiderman, of course, that’s very egalitarian.

there’s some pulling apart that needs to take place – which of those stories collapse under scrutiny, and how? What is being brought to bear to cause them to collapse, and is what’s driving that motivation itself substantial

Would you want to live in a country under Scientological Law? Or Odin’s Law? Does either proposition sound like a reasonable way to frame a civilised country’s legal and social system? No? So why does it make sense to run a country according to Christian or Muslim myths? They’re no less ridiculous, random and invented.

Let’s me spell this out: the problem isn’t with fundamentalist Islam or right-wing US Christians or huge churches run by ex-Hitler Youth members.

It’s with religion itself

Enshrining irrationality at the heart of our societies, validating myths and letting them define our human rights is an act of supreme idiocy. We all have the right to live, to love and pursue our dreams and no-one should be able to deprive us of those rights by waving a crumbling sheaf of lies in our faces.

He then goes on to present two stories of people be tortured and killed in the name of religion, and comments –

That news story is from June 2005. That’s what happens when people believe 2000-year-old superstitions to be literal truth.

Look at the Muslim terrorist attacks on Britain and America. Look at the God-steered response by Bush. That’s what happens when old men hear their God’s whispering in their ears.

If religion had its way, we’d all still be cowering in caves, blinking fearfully at the ghosts and goblins in the darkness.

We need to step forward into the light of reason, to embrace the hard truths of our mortality and unimportance rather than the comforting bedtime stories about gods and everlasting life.

That means we must oppose the irrational whoever promotes it and whatever colour their skin happens to be.

The Future of the music biz…

I’ve gone on about this enough times that you don’t need me to say it all again… however, it’s really nice when other people say it in a slightly different way with better graphics – step forward, Jyoti Mishra – surely you’ve read things on Jyoti’s lovely blog before? If not, you’ve not been following the links from here very carefully – his is a fab blog. Anyway, his is also the only blog I read by someone who recorded a number one single in his bedroom. He’s in a good position to offer an analysis of the industry.

As a spoiler, he comes to the same conclusions as me – that artist to end user is the model of the future, with no intermediaries. You buying music direct from us (or us buying direct from you if you’re musicians as well!), us charging less but making more, you feeling some level of investment in the process and ongoing loveliness of the music, and us being vocally grateful for your patronage.

Have a read of his post – it’s pretty succinct (then go and have a listen to his last album ‘Peek and Poke’ – a marvellous slice of low-fi tune-heavy electro-pop. Retro in all the right ways.)

Right, now I’ve got a million and one jobs to do, so less blogging, more hoovering…

A picture speaks a thousand words…

Picture nabbed from Jyoti’s blog.

Yup, that’s an old bloke – Walter Wolfgang, 82 years old, who came to England as a Jew persecuted under the Nazis. At the Labour Party conference, he was bodily thrown out for shouting ‘nonsense’ during Jack Straw’s (Jack Boot?) speech on Iraq.

So not only are the Govt still trying to defend the disaster in Iraq, they are throwing out old men for disagreeing – he wasn’t being threatening or rowdy, or winding up ready throw a fresh dog turd at Straw (oh, that he had!), he just disagreed. But no, under New Labour such things are not allowed. And what’s more, he was prevented from re-entering the hall under the new Anti-Terror Laws!! WTF?? Since when was ‘nonsense’ hate-speech, or incitement to blow shit up, or whatever?

Blair’s half-arsed apology this morning was an embarrassment – a pathetic attempt to shrug off common assault taking place in the name of his party stifling dissent.

This quote from the Guardian sums up the government’s response

Returning to the scene today, Mr Wolfgang received a round of applause from both the conference floor and from party members standing outside. However, the two cabinet ministers on stage at the time, Lord Falconer and David Miliband, refused to join in.

Of course they refused – how could they applaud the exposing of a deeply flawed spin-machine-decision? They’d probably get thrown out of the cabinet.

in contrast, “Later, in his closing speech to conference, the defence secretary, John Reid, apologised to Mr Wolfgang with the prime minister applauding from the stage.” – that’s right, applaud the controlled written apology, worded to try and make light of the whole thing. But don’t join in with the rank and file plebs as they show support for an old man assaulted by hired goons.

How long are the labour party members going to put up with this?? The general public in Britain are on the whole way too apathetic to do anything about it on a national level, but those inside the Labour party who’ve seen their beloved institution stolen out from under them and replaced with some kind off hybrid ‘psuedo-compassionate Thatcherism’. It’s hideous, it’s tragic and it’s wrong.

The berk who man-handled Walter should be tried for assault, as should whoever decided on that as a policy. Wouldn’t it be great to have seen a mass walkout in protest? You bet your arse if it had happened in France that’s what they’d have done.

A Blogger's Favourite Blogs blog-meme

OK, here’s a meme for all y’all who blog out there –

If you were stuck on a desert island with an internet connection to only one blog, whose would it be?
Which is the blog that makes you laugh the most?
Which blog is most likely to make you cry?
Which blog is most likely to inspire you to part with cash for a CD/DVD?
Which blog is most likely to cause you to change your mind about an issue?
Which blog do you read first in the morning?
Of the blogs you read by people you don’t know, who would you most like to meet?

And here’s my answers –

1) – assuming that www.howtobuildboatsoutofsand.blogspot.com doesn’t exist, It’d probably be Liz’s – I’m sure if there was a decent curry house on the island, she’ll blog about it at some point, as well as somewhere to purchase stylish footwear should the opportunity arise.
2) – either Liz’s or Going Jesus.
3) – er, probably Sleepless In Sudan – which could also fit into the above category – equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.
4) – Most likely Sid’s blog.
5) – Hugo’s blog – either him or his comments. Lots of great brain food there. There are a couple of others that teach me a lot – George Monbiot and Jyoti but I don’t often change my mind on an issue because of them, just discover an issue I wasn’t previously aware of.
6) assuming all the blogs I read have got new posts listed, it’s normally Gareth’s, knowing that we’ll be chatting about whatever we’ve both blogged about within about 5 minutes of me switching my computer on. Though, it may actually be the Shark, as she lives in NYC and thus blogs later than anyone else I read, so is more likely to have posted after I went to bed… And this was in no way influenced by her offence at not being mentioned in the rest of the list. Not at all.
7) Either Sara, Hugo or Jyoti – all very interesting peoples.

Right, there you go – now go answer them on your own blogs!

Soundtrack – Duke Ellington, ‘The Classic Tracks Of The 40s’ (featuring the legendary Jimmy Blanton on bass).

Are we living in a police state??

I just read this article in the guardian, thanks to a post on Jyoti’s Blog – it’s the story of a guy that was arrested on the tube under the ‘prevention of terrorism act’, had his flat searched, DNA and fingerprints taken and has now been landed with what looks like it may be a permanent police record despite being found innocent, just because he was carrying a rucksack and wearing a coat.

This is some seriously fucked up stuff. Really really scary – if it had gone another way he might have ended up with a bullet in his head like that poor Brazillian lad. He’s done nothing, is entirely innocent, and yet is now ‘on file’.

Why is London turning into some crap version of a Judge Dread cartoon? This doesn’t make us safer from terrorism. It makes all of us more distrustful of the police – surely that’s a really bad policy at this time, when trust in the police is already pretty damned low. It’s not going to put terrorists off, just make them more determined to beat the system that has presented them with this challenge.

If they need to stop people, surely the least they can do is wipe records clean when a person is proven to be utterly innocent, to treat them and their possessions with respect. Instead, he’s treated with suspicion all along, has his privacy violated in a number of ways, his girlfriend is terrified, and his chances of ever getting a work visa in the US are now utterly buggered.

It’s nice to know that the people that are supposed to be looking after us are doing such a damn fine job of breeding fear.

Once again, I feel sorry for those police officers who entered the force to actually protect and help people. They are going to be labeled along with the muppets that arrested David Mery as some kind of Miliitia.

Very scary stuff. Way way scarier than the threat of a terrorist attack, seriously.

Soundtrack – my last.fm ‘neighbours’ radio station. (no, that doesn’t mean I spend all day listening to tracks by Kylie Jason and Stefan Dennis)

A tale of two hurricanes

jyoti just blogged about an article referencing the category 5 hurricane (Ivan) that hit Cuba last year, destroying 20,000 homes but killing no-one.

I don’t know anywhere near enough about the situation surrounding hurricane Ivan to comment on it too far, but it makes for pretty amazing reading in the light of the carnage in the US.

The reports from the Southern States keep pouring in – blogs, news, video feeds – painting a picture of almost unimaginable levels of degredation and disaster in what is supposedly the most advanced nation on earth. The heartbreak of it is overwhelming, and almost as overwhelming is the disbelief at how the events of the last week have unfolded; the government response (or lack of), the looting, the way the looting was reported along such seemingly stark racial lines, the tragic delay in security and rescue services arriving. It beggars belief, and the end result whatever the excuses is that thousands of people have been killed, many of them needlessly.

The future for New Orleans as a city looks impossibly bleak – even after the water drains away, it’s going to be many months, maybe years before the rebuilding process can being in earnest.

On a more positive note, my friend Stew has been found, thank God. I don’t know the full story yet, but he’s safe, alive and no doubt has one hell of a story to tell.

Soundtrack – The The, ’45 RPM – the best of’; juliet Turner, ‘Season Of The Hurricane’.

Telling us what anyone with half a brain already knew

A report today by Chatham House and the Economic and Social Research Council has reported that Britains involvement in Iraq has put us more at risk from terrorist attacks. It’s what those of us in the anti-war camp have been saying since before the war happened, and it’s been proved time and time again by the terror alerts, and now by the terrible bombing in London on July 7th.

But do the government come clean? Are you kidding? This is the new Labour spin machine at work here. So here’s John Reid to peddle the moronic party line,

“And the idea that somehow by running away from the school bully, then the bully will not come after you is a thesis that is known to be completely untrue by every kid in the playground and it is also refuted by every piece of historical evidence that we have.”

OK, what are the similarities between acts of terror and bullying. Are we talking about big kids attacking small kids for no reason? Er, no. Are we talking about people who want to take the equivalent of our dinner money, or assert their place in some kind of playground heirarchy? Er, no. So the bully analogy means nothing.

You can’t describe a group of people retaliating for a war waged on Arabs as bullies. Their methods are horrific – this isn’t any justification of bombings, suicidal or otherwise – but their motivation is not to grab the UK’s dinner money. It’s the actions of the voiceless. Those who feel for whatever reason, their point is not being heard. Mix that in with a load of crazy exteme fundementalist ranting that gives moral credence to the attacks, and you’ve got a potent cocktail. The answer is not to wage war, but to remove the reasons for war. Bully metaphors are just bollocks.

As usual, Jyoti got there before me, with another fine blog on the same story.

Also a must-read is this week’s cover story in The New Statesman, about the islamic tradition that has spawned the extremists – it’s on the cover story page, but I’ll try and find a more permanent link.

and if you want to read the whole report here’s a link to a PDF of it.

Soundtrack – Edgar Meyer/Bela Fleck, ‘Music For Two’.