Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The new Speaker and the Poles: Another bad week for the Tories

Its been on the cards for a bit, but the Tories, and David Cameron, are going to lead a new right-wing fringe group known as the European Conservatives and Reformists, the Guardian reports. (Read on)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It’s not just the message, Gordon.

Michael Ellam, the current spokesman to Gordon Brown, declared the news on Tuesday that he is being replaced by Simon Lewis – the former spokesperson to the Queen. Good communications with the public is the sine qua non for an incumbent whose party’s latest ICM polls show that they are 15% behind the main opposition on the question of cleaning up the political system. (Read on)

Raincoat Optimism

For the record, I keep a political blog called Raincoat Optimism

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu in Israel

Emil Ludwig Fackenheim (1916-2003), the late Jewish philosopher, Holocaust survivor and Reform rabbi created and advocated the concept of the “614th commandment” or “614th mitzvah”, which asserts that people should not act in order to validate Hitler or his beliefs. This “commandment” is Fackenheim’s controversial extension to the 613 commandments compiled by the 12th century Rabbi Maimonides, whose works are viewed by many as the major authority of Jewish history.

In that “commandment” is the recognition that, though the 613 laws cover all aspects of life, it was written too early to anticipate the Holocaust, and thus, the need for one further law was a historical necessity. This included the notion that “to speak or write about Hitler gave him a posthumous life”.

To be seen to dignify Hitler in the act of analysing his personal background or his personal motives is, for Fackenheim, some sort of persistence of the Nazi legacy, and a continued contempt for God, or as he put it “To despair of the God of Israel is to continue Hitler’s work for him”.

It was Fackenheim’s view that the State of Israel be understood in the context of the Holocaust justifying the imperative for the prolongation of the Jewish people. It was by this opinion that Fackenheim emigrated to Israel in 1984.

And Monday (27th April, 2009) was the day that Israeli politics canonised Fackenheim’s legacy and truly credited him for his opinion that words have more than just mere symbolic value, they have real weight too, and that the utilisation of the language we use to describe global tragedy, like the Nazi’s, be considered and reconsidered in the framework of the Talmudic Law (even if unintentional).

I’m speaking of course about Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, of the United Torah Judaism Party, who, on the day that Israel received news of its first suspected case of Swine flu (and its second suspected case soon after that), declared that Israel drop the internationally recognised terminology, and call the global pandemic “Mexican flu” on account of religious Jews not eating pork.

For Litzman, the word swine - pig, which Jewish law forbids from eating - gave the “unclean animal” (a view held by Maimonides himself) a culinary life.

Of course it should be pointed out to him that the reference to the swine in the flu threat has nothing whatsoever to do with dietary habits. In fact, as Lauran Neergaard for Associated Press has said, pork is safe to eat and Swine influenza does not pass through food. The flu is thought to be a mix of pig, human and bird influenza being spread, unlike more typical swine flu, to humans by humans. This is unusual as it is more commonly spread by human contact with animals.

The issue certainly does raise awareness about the possible consequences of words, and their cultural communicability, but we shouldn’t be anticipating a 615th mitzvah too soon for the reason that Maimonides’ commandments were too early to anticipate the Swine flu. Indeed, would Litzman extend his linguistic over-sensitivity to Jews suffering from a gammy leg by virtue of the prevention of gammon in their diets?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Slur on Jack Jones

I just read the Telegraph's Jack Jones obituary. Positive?

The writer of the piece tries to blame Jones' fight against Harold Wilson's legal sanctions on striking workers for Labour's election defeat in 1970:

In 1969, when Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle attempted to subject the unions to legal sanctions, Jones led the opposition against the Labour government. As the debate raged, he organised a strike against the management of Ford, which was bent on introducing penalties for breaking contracts, and on securing “cooling off” periods before strikes.


This made it easy for the Tories to claim that Harold Wilson lacked the will to deal with Britain’s industrial problems. No one did more than Jack Jones to secure Labour’s defeat in the general election of 1970.

This is like suggesting that the labour left have a hand in securing David Cameron's election win next year. Its not like suggesting that Ralph Nader lost Al Gore the 2000 elections by taking the 2.74% of the vote Gore needed to secure an election, but rather saying that Jones' logistical opposition to the labour party at the time secured a Tory win. Its amazing just how much this is entertained as being the truth, and just how worried it makes people to criticise their own party. If the Tories do win the general election in 2010, it certainly won't be the likes of John McDonnell, or the labour anti-war backbenchers I will be looking at.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review of Francis Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future (2002)

Abstract: "For a short while after 1989, Francis Fukuyama was thought to be the leading academic Hegelian when he announced that, since the Soviet Union had collapsed, it was “liberal democracy” that was the end-of-history. Our Posthuman Future, published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and reprinted in 2003 in Britain, is a work that sets out to correct his statement while introducing the case for his concern with the advances of biotechnology and their effects. My review presents the argument that not only did Fukuyama not get it correct in 1989, but he also failed to go far enough in his own refutation. I introduce the case that intervention in biotechnology is a necessary step to make, not because there is a human nature to save but precisely because there is no such nature. Further, the complete autonomy of, for example, pharmaceutical corporations is perilous to the real end-of-history and the freedom of mankind generally." (Continue pp. 317-323)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Where embargo relaxation should not be heading

Stephen Wilkinson, assistant director of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba London Metropolitan University, has written an article in The Guardian explaining that President Obama last week signed the omnibus spending bill that loosens restrictions on American travel to Cuba. The tone of the article is rightly optimistic, detailing the historical necessity of such an event, and also the stubborn thinking behind the persistence of the embargo.

Obviously these events should be welcomed by everyone who continues to condemn the embargo, but it is still an existing worry that the relaxation of restrictions on Cuba will fall directly into the laps of those with less than altruistic plans for Cuba, for example Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute (who I saw speak at my old university, chaired by Stephen Wilkinson). It was his intention that, on relaxation of the embargo, Washington could sweep its way into the fabric of the island, into its ideas and property.

Private business, like the black market taxi industry in Cuba, is proof, so says Peters, that not all aspects of Cuban society can be regulated by the state, and its about time these expressions of free enterprise are authorised. Peters is (obviously) not interested in promoting ties with countries more in touch with Cuba (such as the emerging latin american left) and instigating ways of curbing Cuba's isolation this way, but of seizing cultural hegemony and handing it back to Washington.

Furthermore, despite the progressive turn America under Obama is set to take, there is no evidence to show that the Obama Government will want anything other than this seizure. Obama is a symbol of hope, but his economic advisers (of the Robert Rubin ilk) are covered in scandal.

Sadly, the need to end the embargo has been hijacked by hardcore free marketeers like Philip Peters, and, even if the world was not in the throes of the worst economic crisis we might ever see, this cause would still be as highly dishonest and unethical.

Embargo, after all, should be the mark of a massive apology by the states, not the introduction of the biggest (and most repressed) cultural ambush since the Iraq war.