30 April 2006

J.K. Galbraith

Everyone's politics comes from multiple sources, I imagine. I know mine does. I synthesise a fair number of influences in my vision of how the world ought to be run, how humans should relate to each other, and how we should exercise the power of government. One of those sources is the work of John Kenneth Galbraith, the Canadian economist who played a major role in American politics across the middle of the twentieth century. Galbraith's popularisations were among the first books I read, even before I opened an economics textbook (Lipsey, as I recall), and they provided a great deal of clarity about how the economy works. Now, Galbraith has died, and a writer who, among other things, made clear how the US misunderstood the countries to its south, will write no more. I just wanted to express my gratitude for his work, and acknowledge that it had been an influence on me.

29 April 2006

Oil and Survival

Oil and Survival

John Maxwell

Eight months ago when Cindy Sheehan put George Bush into check in Crawford, Texas, the US public generally were about equally divided on the performance and virtues of the American President. They had been that way for several months before the great non-confrontation.

Since then it’s been downhill all the way for the President. I thought , correctly that Sheehan’s initiative was going to break the public opinion logjam and produce a flood of negatives for Mr Bush. Although most other commentators may disagree about Sheehan’s responsibility I have no doubt that her action touched a deep chord in the American psyche, recalling people to consciousness and waking them from a PR induced trance. Somehow, I believe, Cindy Sheehan’s camping out on the President’s doorstep and his refusal to meet her challenged American values at a very deep level. I sense that the American sense of propriety, of genteel obligation, received a severe blow from the President’s unchivalrous behaviour. Whatever people said about his lying, his capacity for self-deception, his oilman separation from the ordinary folks, his bad manners broke a last connecting link between Bush and people who wanted to beliueve in his essential goodness and sense of honour.

The military death rate has resumed its climb and the White House is racked by the scandal of the Plame leak and the Abramoff connection and the DeLay scandal and a host of other large and small crimes and misdemeanours which seem somehow, to be connected to the White house and the Republican Party.

Along came Jones

I keep remembering the chorus of a song from the fifties, mocking the American B-movie cliff-hanger heroics in which some unfortunate damsel was foully betrayed and in danger of unspeakable death or other horror only to be rescued in the nick of time and the final reel by Our Hero. In the song, the heroine is captured by the mustachioed, patent-haired villain, tied up and left on the railway tracks to be deconstructed by the next train

“Salty Sam was a tryin' to stuff Sweet Sue in a burlap sack

He said if you don't give me the deed to your ranch

I'm gonna throw you on the railroad track

And then he grabbed her …and then… he tied her up … and then…

A train started coming …and then and then …He! He! … and then, AND THEN, AND THEN… along came Jones tall, thin Jones, slow-walkin' Jones, slow-talkin' Jones, Along came long-legged, lanky Jones…” who in the nick of time, would cut the grateful heroine loose and all would suddenly be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Mr Bush’s version of “The perils of Pauline” could do with a Jones right now. In fact it could do with two or three Joneses, but there are alas, none in sight and none hiding anywhere. Bush is, as they say, up the crick withouten a paddle’ and even some of his stoutest defenders have adopted a discreet, if uncomfortable silence. Others, like Francis Fukuyama (“The End of History”) are in full headlong, retreat.

Meanwhile, critics who Republicans believe should be preserving a decent reticence, senior military officers among them Generals, have been calling for the head of Generalissimo Donald ”Stuff Happens” Rumsfeld.

Mr Bush’s own favourite ‘turd-blossom’, Karl Rove, is like Peril-prone Pauline, clinging by his fingernails to the White House cliffs, widely expected to be indicted – like his former associate “Scooter Libby”– for lying to a grand jury.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the US is building a stadium-sized so-called Embassy, from which it is intended that the future of the Middle East shall in the future be directed.

The alleged Ahmad al Zarqawi, has finally shown a face, threatening dire consequences to the Americans while Osama bin Laden has been content with an audio tape “mocking the Americans”.

Because the situation in Iraq and elsewhere is so dire, it is not too crazy to imagine that instead of Rumsfeld’s head on a platter, the refrigerated remains of bin Laden and ‘Zarqawi” may turn up in the nick of time to provide Mr Bush with his Jones. But even if that happened, I cannot imagine that it will cause anything but another small dead-cat bounce in a presidency from which all inspiration, all honour and all life has departed.

The CIA has just fired a senior manager ostensibly for leaking classified information about the agency’s international law-breaking in the extraordinary rendition,torture and illegal imprisonment and murder of an unknown number of people, many of them citizens of other countries. There is a nice legal point here. If the fired CIA officer had in fact leaked the news she would in fact be doing her duty, in exposing high crimes and misdemeanours. To be fired for that exposes the depths of amorality to which the Bush administration has descended.

Three days ago the European Union’s special inquiry revealed that the CIA had carried out at least one thousand illegal flights into and out of Europe, transporting the nameless victims of its world-wide policy of ‘scraping-up’ suspects and then torturing them until they confessed to something.Some are undoubtedly guilty of something but others are equally, clearly innocent of any wrongdoing. It appears to me that the CIA cannot release many of these people because their mental condition would reveal instantly, the corruption, violence and wickedness of the system which entrapped them.

The Bush presidency is the first US administration in my memory which it is possible to imagine bumbling into war by accident. They seem to have no sense of proportion; they start any argument by brandishing the big stick, leaving their opponents no choice but to put on the full armour and panoply of war. The North Koreans and now the Iranians have sussed out these tactics and have turned to their own version of brinkmanship. When Mr Dulles was employing his brinksmanship, he could proceed, knowing that his opponents were rational men and unwilling to risk everything on the throw of the nuclear dice. The Iranians do not have this assurance, and their posturing, however justified, has the potential to bring the world closer to war than any crisis since the Berlin airlift.

Global warming, Hot Air and Gasolene

A petard is a small bomb, and to be hoist by your own petard is to blow yourself up like some of the Nihilists in Imperial Russia who had the unfortunate tendency to blow themselves up in their attempts to bring down the government. Mr Bush is an oilman, or at least, a pretend oilman; he talks like an oilman, walks like an oilman and selected another oilman to be his Vice President.

It is my opinion that the notorious and still secret Energy policy consultations held by Mr Cheney at the start of the Bush presidency were in fact, all about the coming Iraq war which would have, he thought, secured energy sufficiency for the United States for the next century or so.

Unfortunately, Messrs Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld and Company reckoned without the possibility of Iraqi resistance, but even more crucially, they forgot about China and her voraciously growing appetite for oil.

Most countries – outside of the oil-producers, have been calculating for several years, that there will come a time, sooner rather than later, when there will either be no oil available, or that it will be so expensive that they needed to find alternative sources of energy.

Even countries like Norway, the world’s largest gas exporter and Iran, the number three exporter of petorleum, have been planning for the day when ‘water more than flour’. That is the motive behind Iran’s nuclear research. The US has however chosen to treat Iran as it treated Iraq – as a totally untrustworthy, dishonorable entity,, incapable of telling the truth and with a mindless, implacable hatred for Israel. The hatred is a fact, but there do seem to be rational leaders in Iran who have no intention of destroying their world by attempting to destroy Israel.

The problem with Israel is that the United States, its patron, has siigned on to the Israeli belief that nothing short of unconditional surrender by the Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world – will satisfy Irael’s demand for lebensraum. At no point since Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem thirty years ago, have the “west’ and Israel been willing to deal with the Palestinians as if they had any rights worth noticing. In such a scenario, a reasonable onlooker would be hard-pressed to decide that the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim recalcitrance is totally unjustified. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the United States and possibly, Israel, are the only countries which still have the capacity and the will to try to make their rhetoric into reality.

In the meantime, as we were forcibly reminded 30 years ago, the Arabs and other oil producers have, in the ground, a potent answer to aggression. The petroleum situation is becoming less and less fluid – as the economists say. China is busy signing supply contracts with Nigeria and any other oil producer in sight. Saudi Arabia, once a reliable bastion of US support, is a shaky kingdom, almost entirely dependent on American military force to guarantee the regime in power. Iraq, once ruled by the pragmatist Saddam, is about to become an intellectual protectorate of Iran; and Iran, whose people tend to admire the United States, also tend to value their independence more. Venezuela is busy signing gas distribution agreements with Brazil and Argentina and the world market in oil, if there ever was such a thing, is becoming even more restricted.

This controlled market explains why Exxon (Esso) has been able to make a profit of more than $8 billion in the first quarter of this year and is well on the way to exceeding its record profits of last year. Exxon’s profit last year exceeded the Gross National Income of Nigeria, one of the world’s largest oil producers.

This year, like last year, the oil companies will probably make as high profts in the first nine months of the year as they made in the whole of the previous year.Last October the New York Times reported the outrage of US politicians at the prospects of higher prices. The Republican leader of the senate, Dr Bill Frist said:"If there are those who abuse the free enterprise system to advantage themselves and their businesses at the expense of all Americans," he said, "they ought to be exposed, and they ought to be ashamed."

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, was even more heated: "Big Oil behemoths are making out like bandits, while the average American family is getting killed by high gas prices, and soon-to-be-record heating oil prices."

What they feared then has happened. The head bandit, Mr Leee Raymond of Exxon, has got a retirement benefit of $400 million. Dr Frist is very quiet, having just signed off on a budget granting the oil companies $7 billion in ‘incentives’.

Meanwhile, television is showing Americans pawning precious possessions to buy gas. Their country was built by General Motors and Ford and depends on cars as no other in the world. Even the unemployed need cars. With gas at over $3 per gallon, life is getting more interesting for those who thought this time last year, that they would be voting for Republicans this year.

Here in jamaica we are clearly immune to such t6hings as petroleum prices. Those of us who said, five years ago, that the Milennium Highway would never be able to pay its way because of the rising cost of petroleum get little sastisfaction out of saying we told you so. What is more painful is that fifty years from now when the idiots and bandits responsible for our Doosmday Highway are long dead, our grandchildren and their grandchildren will still be paying for this misbegotten monstrosity.

Meanwhile, Mr Paulwell speaks of selling off our remaining publicly-owned assets, which were accumulated by good sense and conservative economics employed mainly by people who called themselves socialists. Like the man pawning his watch to drive his Jaguar we are on the road to bankruptcy.

We do have the means to avoid total wreck. If we get out of sugar and turn the factories over to the production of ethanol, we can use sugar cane, elephant grass and all kinds of otgher biomass which grows wild in jamaica to rescue ourselves from the Lee Raymonds of this world. We can develop wind-power to supplement and eventually supplant all the thermally generated power we consume. We can set up any number of industries to exploit solar energy and the skills of small producers.

We can actually make Jamaica work again by abandoning the stupid, heavy metal policies of the recent past and by understanding that we can develop fastest by developing our people. “Infrastructure” produces nothing; It is people who produce.

.Copyright©2006 John Maxwell


My religious viewpoint

You are an Atheist

When it comes to religion, you're a non-believer (simple as that).
You prefer to think about what's known and proven.
You don't need religion to solve life's problems.
Instead, you tend to work things out with logic and philosophy.

Silvio goes, at last

Silvio Berlusconi, finally, announces he will step down. Unfortunately, he's not retiring from politics, so Italy may, in the not-too-distant future, have him back as prime minister. That will make some sections of the electorate happy.

More evidence that W is on the wrong path

I find myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan. Hell freezes over.

28 April 2006

Dolphin die-off

More than 200 dolphins have turned up dead on the beaches of Zanzibar. Nobody has any idea why, but it could very well have to do with pollution.

Magna est Veritas

Magna est Veritas

HERE, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
For want of me the world’s course will not fail;
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.
-- Coventry Patmore (1823-1896

27 April 2006

Gary Younge in the Guardian has a very good piece on the problems facing gay Jamaicans. He does a good job of setting Jamaican homophobia in context:

A lot of people die violent deaths in Jamaica. Last year there were 1,674 murders. That is more than double the UK murder rate in a population less than one-third the size of London. The sources for this violence are many. Both the US and the Eastern bloc armed rival political parties during the cold war with guns that then went to enforce the drugs trade and gang control. Meanwhile Jamaica spends far more servicing debt - much of it foreign - than it does on health, education or policing. Unemployment stands at around 15%; inflation at 12%. In global poverty rankings, Jamaica sits between Syria and Kazakhstan but also has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the world. And if the trade subsidies for sugar and bananas are removed, as the World Trade Organisation threatens, the economic situation will rapidly deteriorate.

"In a community without a safety net, the gun represents the safety net," says Sobers. "The gun is power, money and manhood."

Homophobic attacks have to be viewed within that general context. "The victimisation of homosexuals is part of a continuum of violence in Jamaican culture in much the same way that predial larceny (stealing crops) is often punished illegally by angry mobs who take the law into their own hands and lynch the apparently guilty," argues [Carolyn] Cooper in her book Sound Clash, Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large. "Homosexual behaviours, or even the suspicion of intent, do put the individual at risk." So while large numbers of people are vulnerable regardless of their sexual orientation, gays are particularly at risk because of it.

But ignore the economic and historical roots of this violence, say some, and you just find one more way to pathologise Jamaica as a land of yardies, drug mules and bigots. The country certainly gets a bad press. Over the past year articles in the British press that mentioned Jamaica included the word "crime" 240 times and "drugs" 204 times, as opposed to "economy" and "employment", which appeared in just 39 and 16 articles. What we know in the UK about Jamaica stems primarily from what we are told; if we are told only bad things, then inevitably we will gain a bad impression. "Xenophobia is no less a phobia than homophobia. But all phobias are not created equal," writes Cooper.

The photo? That's Peter King, who was murdered in Kingston recently for being gay.

Amandla. Twelve years.

It sometimes seems like only yesterday, but today is the 12th anniversary of the establishment of democracy in South Africa. In the midst of problems, such as high crime, there are, as Benjamin Pogrund writes, some successes:

On the one hand, there are many successes in overcoming the heritage of discrimination and deprivation left by apartheid. A third more households have sanitation and the number of people with cellphones or landlines has risen 2.8 million to 6.7 million, says the South African Institute of Race Relations. It notes that GDP per head will reach its highest level to date this year. That tells a revealing story: the best year so far was 1981, when GDP reached R23,972 (in constant 2000 prices). By 1993, the year before democracy began, it had plunged to R1,996. The progress made since then is expected to take GDP to R24,233 this year.

Public spending on education is nearly double that of Germany and Brazil but the problems are immense. Classes for many thousands of children, it is said, are held under trees. Examination results in schools and universities especially in mathematics, are extremely poor for blacks, leading the Institute of Race Relations to say that the "figures suggest that our education system is still failing African pupils and students to an alarming, even horrifying, extent".

This is not the great leap forward in education that helped to drive countries like Korea and Singapore into thriving modern economies. But a newspaper story gives hope of what can be: it's about matriculation pupils at the Moses Mnisi high school in a remote rural area in the north-east, near the Kruger national park. When the pupils receive a phone call at 2am they know it can only be their teacher, Vivian Makhubele, reports the Sunday Times. She phones to exhort her pupils to burn the midnight oil. "Pupils have become so conditioned to her pre-dawn wake-up call that they now often phone Makhubele first to assure her that they are studying."

The teacher's passion, and the school's commitment to help its pupils succeed, are resulting in dramatic results: 18 university passes in 2003, 53 in 2004 and 90 last year.

It is being achieved against the odds: there is no library or laboratory; 1,590 pupils pack into 16 classrooms; set books are in short supply; two pit toilets serve 745 boys. Yet teachers put in unpaid hours in the afternoons, on Saturdays and holidays to give extra coaching. As Vivian Makhubele tells her pupils: "The roots of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet. When you need a friend to support you in time of trouble, I am here for you 24 hours."

If only there was more of that spirit.

It is an uphill struggle, no doubt about that. But the spirit of that teacher is one of the most encouraging signs of hope in all of Africa.

25 April 2006

People's petition to protect science

In Britain people are fighting back against the 'animal rights' terrorists who value rats above humans, and who want people to suffer. This is a good thing.


A Dutch government commission says that Islam is not incompatible with Dutch values. That sounds like a great step forward for said Dutch values -- inclusion and tolerance in particular. Unfortunately, some Muslims are not happy with some German, ahem, values

24 April 2006

More on the MPSA

My paper at the Midwest Political Science Association had the title 'Activist Theorists: Norman Manley, Eric Williams and West Indian Decolonisation' and was a version of an article I've written which should see the light of day in an edited volume in the not-too-distant future. Let me quote from the concluding sections:

Discussion: The Politician as Foundational Theorist

Modern political theory in the West begins with a concern for the creation of nation-states. This is the problematic of Machiavelli’s Prince and Discourses on Livy, and it is unavoidable in considering the establishment of post-colonial states. Colonial rule created polities that were large workshops, producing goods for the markets of the imperial power, rather than being nations or states in embryo. As late as World War II most colonies were not considered capable of governing themselves.

At the same time, colonial rulers justified their rule by arguing that it provided benefits for both colonizer and colonized. It was not exploitative, but, rather, a means of civilizing the world and appropriating its unused resources for the benefit of humanity. As a British scholar noted in the 1940s:

Although colonial relations arise out of the search for material advantage, men like to justify their activities on moral grounds and colour them with the warm glow of humanitarianism.[i]

The imperial powers provided their colonial subjects with the education necessary to supply a lower middle class of clerks, police constables, and schoolteachers, whose status and social mobility were linked to the state. These people came from the subject races, and their experience administering the lower levels of the state, and, over generations, rising in the bureaucracy, gradually gave them a sense that they could run as well as serve the state. Local intelligentsias, fostered by the colonial authorities, were, as Benedict Anderson puts it “central to the rise of nationalism in the colonial territories.”[ii]

The British tried to inculcate their values and beliefs in their colonials to keep the subject populations docile and encourage loyalty to the metropole. To do this, they needed a class of educated people to act as the transmission belt for imperial values. Some of these colonial subjects could aspire to some degree of status as a result of education in the metropole. It is no accident that such figures as Trinidad and Tobago Island Scholar Eric Williams and Rhodes Scholar Norman Manley were scholarship boys who won the glittering prize of an Oxford education.

In exposing young colonials to the values of British high culture, and then expecting them to return to middle class status in their homelands, the British miscalculated. Men like Williams and Manley – talented, sensitive, and intelligent – could not long accept subordinate status. They had received the same, or better, preparation as the leadership of Britain, and could not long be satisfied with the role of colonial middleman.

Jamaica and Trinidad at the beginning of World War II were polities in which only a few could vote. A bureaucratic elite independent from the local ruling class held real power, because it represented the imperial government, but allied to it. Middle class political aspirants could hope to hold elected or appointed office under the supervision of metropolitan officials who were unlikely to be their intellectual equals but who possessed ultimate power.

In the late 1930s, under the impact of the Great Depression, the working people of the British West Indies emerged as a political force in their own right, one that could be used by middle class activists to gain their own ends, and that would accept these activists as leaders in order to gain improved wages, working conditions, and social mobility. The worker revolts of the late 1930s provided emergent political leaderships with a demos on whose backs they could ride to power, but which they also had to serve. Before the labour rebellion, the mass of West Indians had been subjects; their actions earned them the right to become citizens.

Educated activists who possessed a vision of a transformed society wanted more than mere office. They wanted to create nations. Beyond their immediate, or long-term, advantage, they sought sovereignty and national independence for a sophisticated political community whose citizens could control their lives individually and collectively. They took the political awakening of the West Indian masses in the way that Machiavelli had urged Cesare Borgia and Lorenzo de’ Medici to liberate their homeland:

This opportunity, then, must not be allowed to pass by, in order that Italy, after so long a time, may behold its redeemer… This barbarian domination stinks to everyone.[iii]

Their approach could not be that of simply overthrowing the barbaro dominio of the British. British colonial rule was authoritarian. It was also the rule of law, a constitutional government in which subjects of the Crown possessed defined rights and liberties. In spite of this, the fact that the majority of colonial subjects were excluded from political life made it possible for Williams and Manley to act as “redeemers” in Machiavelli’s sense of the word.

But not only, or merely, as that. Other leaders – Bustamante in Jamaica, Bradshaw in St Kitts, Bird in Antigua, to name a few – also promised redemption. Manley and Williams took on the task of founding these states in the sense used by Machiavelli in the Discourses on Livy.[iv] For both men this meant constructing liberal democratic states on the British model.

It is difficult to untangle to what extent this was a product of their educations and humanist world-view, and to what extent they were taking Machiavelli’s advice that those who seek to change the form of government must “retain the shadow of its ancient customs.”[v] In the West Indian case, this meant not the prevailing customs of colonial administration, but those which were normative even though not applied: the British rules of parliamentary democracy.

The Machiavellian caution employed by Manley and Williams stands in stark contrast to the radicalism of Cheddi Jagan, leader of the People’s Progressive Party in British Guiana, who directly challenged the colonial authorities. Jagan was twice deposed by the British, and sidelined for three decades until the first free and fair elections in independent Guyana brought him to office.

The role of Manley and Williams was to bring together the needs of the West Indian middle and lower classes with the norms of Western parliamentary democracy and the ideals of the post-Enlightenment West. This meant constructing theories of politics that did not challenge the assumptions of the West, but did stress the importance of middle and lower class West Indians, and gave them a sense of history, significance, and value. Williams’s concern with West Indian history, and the impact of colonialism on the West Indian peoples, and Manley’s vision of an exemplary people, a light unto the nations, are the means whereby this was achieved.

They did this, furthermore, not as patriarchal dictators dispensing wisdom from above, but as activists in the democratic arena. The competed with men such as Bustamante in Jamaica, or Albert Gomes and Tubal Uriah Butler in Trinidad, who, while they lacked the particular humanist vision of Manley or Williams, could speak to the people in terms they understood and offer themselves to the masses as the people who would best handle their public business.

What Manley and Williams achieved was the routinization of liberal democracy – and its values – in the space of a generation. They succeeded in imparting meaning to abstractions of political thought and convincing their peoples that they were citizens who could govern themselves. We tend to forget, absent the context of colonial rule, how radical an ideal this was at the beginning, and how significant it has been.


In any discourse there must be speakers and hearers, and discourse only works if those who are in the position of hearers are willing to listen. People respond to a message when it has engaged their thought. The message of Williams and Manley that West Indians could act creatively, manage themselves wisely, and stand up on their own feet is one that resonated with large sections of their peoples. Their vision of a self-governing homeland had meaning for their listeners because they could recognize themselves, in what their leaders said, as actors in rather than victims of history. Manley and Williams engaged the masses of their countries, and in that engagement the masses were transformed, and transformed themselves, into nations. Thus Williams and Manley could lay the foundation for nation-states, and regard that construction as the mission for their generation of leaders.

In recognizing their limitations as political chieftains, we should not forget what they have achieved: in Jamaica and Trinidad over the four decades that have elapsed since independence, governments have changed only at the ballot box. When we look at the records of former colonies in Africa, or at the West Indies’ Latin American neighbours we realize how unusual, and how inspiring, that achievement is.

[i] J.S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1948, 6.

[ii] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition. London: Verso, 1991, 116.

[iii] Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince: A Bilingual Edition. Tr. & ed., Mark Musa. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964, 223.

[iv] Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy. Tr. Leslie J. Walker, S.J., ed. Bernard Crick. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970, 266.

[v] Ibid., 175.

The Vatican advances into the twentieth century.

In what may be a major step for common sense, the Vatican is considering allowing persons with HIV to use condoms. Perhaps they might consider going a step further, and allowing Catholics to take control of their own fertility. Of course, the Pope and the Devil both wear Prada.

23 April 2006


Today is St George's Day, and in honour of my native land, I give you Blake's Jerusalem:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Racism and Bird Flu

Racism and Bird Flu
Common Sense
John Maxwell
Sunday, April 23, 2006

The US Press is in the throes of two of its annual rituals: first, the celebration of the latest crop of Pulitzer prizes for journalistic excellence; second: the selection of a suitable candidate for the year's high profile public lynching.

In past years they have sacrificed O J Simpson, Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant, to name only the most prominent.

Candidates for lynching are not always obvious; since September last and Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West, Harry Belafonte and New Orleans Mayor Roy Nagin were all considered and discarded. Belafonte was too smart, Kanye West was too popular and Roy Nagin was right about the Bush administration and its failures in the disaster. The Mexican illegal immigrants are too diffuse for a really impressive auto da fé. A simpler, more easily stereotyped candidate is needed.

This month, two relatively new candidates presented themselves: Barry Bonds, the home run hitter accused of lying about steroid use, and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who punched a Congressional security guard she accused of an inappropriate attempt to restrain her as she rushed into the Congress without passing through the metal detectors.

At the same time, two of three suspects in the violent rape of a young black woman by members of an almost all white university sports team are getting the benefit of a 'full court press' to provide character evidence for them before they have even entered the courtroom. Their alleged victim is meanwhile traduced as drunk and delusional.

Clearly, high-class young white men could not possibly have raped a black woman, a university student herself - from a black university - who is not only a single mother but was working her way through college by moonlighting as a stripper.
While the rich, young white athletes are having their sterling praises sung by the media, Cynthia McKinney is being investigated by a Washington, D C Grand Jury.

Hamas and Palestine

HEBRON, West Bank - A Palestinian driver places items to be searched in front of an Israeli army explosives robot at a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Hebron last Friday. (Photo: AP)

Hamas and Palestine are getting the Haiti Democracy treatment. Having had the temerity to vote for the people they thought might best represent them, the Palestinians are to be blackmailed into good behaviour.

In response to US and Israeli pressure "Several EU nations, including Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands have already frozen their aid to the new government and more may follow. Aid from the EU and its 25 member nations averages $615 million per year, about half of which has been suspended. The EU decision to freeze payments affects an immediate instalment of $36.5 million, compounding an already dire financial situation for the Palestinian government. Canada, Norway and other non-EU member nations have also cancelled funding."

The US secretary of state explained why: "Because the new Hamas-led Palestinian government has failed to accept the Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and respect for previous agreements between the parties, the US is suspending assistance to the Palestinian government's Cabinet and ministries."

No similar pressure has been put on the Israelis, whose attitude to the Palestinians is reflected faithfully in the Hamas attitude to Israel. And while Israel is commended for not blasting the Palestinians in revenge for the latest suicide bombing, no one has remarked that the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv was preceded by the Israelis killing 15 Palestinians and wounding dozens more the previous weekend.

In a commentary printed in Cairo's Al Ahram, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Ismail Haniyeh, outlines what he says is the basis for comprehensive peace. It is worth quoting at some length:

"From time immemorial, Palestine was the peaceful homeland of native Muslims, Christians and Jews who lived together in peace and harmony, sharing a common history and heritage. In fact, it was only after Palestine was placed under the British mandate following World War I, and when the British colonialist authorities subsequently decided to illegally give Palestine, our ancestral homeland, to Zionism, that inter-communal and inter-religious harmony was disturbed.

"As result of that wanton injustice, we find ourselves today as prisoners in our own homeland, enslaved and tormented by an illegal and immoral occupier who is treating our people as children of a lesser God, or even as if we were animals.

"In fact, the criminal nature of this occupation transcends reality. The ugly scenes of murder, home demolitions, and humiliation to which our people are subjected on a daily basis and which people outside Palestine watch on their TV screens, are but a small part of what is really happening on the ground.

"Needless to say, the Israeli occupiers wouldn't be perpetrating their crimes against a helpless people whose only "crime" is its enduring yearning for freedom and justice were it not for the disgraceful apathy of the international community towards my people's plight.
"Hence, I call on the international community to pressure the Israeli state to stop its systematic oppression and institutionalised persecution of my people."

Haniyeh says his people want peace and they believe peace is possible; but, "for a just peace to materialise in Palestine, the world community must adopt an honest approach to this conflict. We say so because we are tired of the international community's hypocrisy and double standards in dealing with both parties to the conflict.

"Indeed, we would like to know why the UN has allowed Israel to repeatedly fly in the face of more than 100 UN resolutions aimed at ending the illegal occupation of my country? Are there two sets of international law, one for the weak and another for the strong?

"Is Israel above international law? Is Israel entitled to a special treatment by the international community whereby it can kill our children with impunity, steal our land with impunity, and expel us to the four corners of the world with impunity?"

Prime Minister Haniyeh concludes with a simple appeal for justice:
"It is time that all men and women of conscience and rectitude speak up in support of justice for the Palestinians. We have suffered too much, and it is time that we are allowed to reclaim our usurped freedom and dignity.
"We are not demanding the impossible. We only challenge the world community to be faithful to the UN Charter and international conventions that prohibit the acquisition of land by force."

In a world whose agenda is set by an increasingly corrupt and self-serving media, public opinion on the side of justice will never be able to have any effect if it continues to be systematically denied the truth. If the world does not know of the injustices of Palestine or Haiti, we can never be moved to do anything to redress the prevailing wickedness. We cannot oppose evil if we do not know that it exists.

Bird Flu

Egypt is in the throes of a bird flu epidemic. Apparently, the Egyptian poultry industry has been destroyed but backyard rearing of chickens is making the pandemic impossible to control. Galal Nassar, writing in Al Ahram, says an unpublished study suggests that "the avian flu virus is now endemic in Egypt and will remain so for years because of the bungling of health authorities at every step of the way".

It is suspected that the virus entered Egypt by the illegal importation of infected birds, which implies, according to Nassar "on top of gross negligence, gross corruption motivated by a greed so voracious that it had no compunction at letting the interest of immediate gain override the dangers to which it was exposing society".

Nassar points out that the Egyptian pandemic has occurred despite sensible precautions taken early on; a state of emergency had been declared, there was wholesale slaughter of industrial poultry, but little attention was paid to backyard poultry rearing or to the possibility that unscrupulous people might import infected poultry into the country. So, despite enormous early sacrifice, Egypt is again threatened by a pandemic to which the government's response is to blame the backyard chicken rearers.

It appears that Egypt is increasingly likely to be gripped by panic and confusion unless the government begins to take serious, organised action to find and destroy the sources of infection, because the longer the virus is allowed to survive and spread is the more likely that the disease will mutate, make the jump and begin to spread from human to human, instead of from birds to humans. At that point, there will not be much that anyone can do.

In Jamaica, we need to realise that if bird flu becomes endemic here, as it has in Egypt, despite the fact that only a few people have died, it will mean the end of the tourism industry and wholesale unemployment. At that point we will have not only a public health emergency but a public security emergency. Before we are very much older we need to begin, and urgently, to devise a food security programme, diverting some of the millions we are spending on highways to nowhere to importing and planting food.

We really need to begin turning some of our sugar land over to peas and beans, to begin programmes to promote backyard gardening and to develop new strategies to guarantee reliable supplies of protein foods for the population. I believe it would make sense for us to begin to convert some of the enormous craters left by bauxite mining into fish ponds. It may make sense right now to forbid bauxite companies to mine out all the bauxite and instead to leave a lining of bauxite clay in the ground so that we can seal the ponds without too much expense.

It may also make sense to begin developing cottage industries around these ponds for the salting/pickling of freshwater fish, because if the pandemic really gets a grip even our electricity supplies will be in danger. We may not be able to import the oil to drive the generators to provide power for refrigerators and freezers. We need to begin a completely new look at our survival techniques and a completely new understanding of what it means to be civilised.

We can be certain of only one thing: we have no idea how desperate our situation may become.
But even if it does not become desperate we need to begin to understand the meaning of sustainable development and to prepare for future threats.
The lives we save may be our own.

Copyright© john maxwell

Il Purgatorio

On Wednesday, Gail and I departed Atlanta to attend the Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago (business for me, we thought, and a few days off for Gail). We planned the trip carefully. Everything was in place. We parked the car at Brookhaven, and jumped on a MARTA train.

Just as we passed Garnet station, the operator announced that 'no trains, buses or passengers' were being allowed into the airport, so all passengers would have to get off at College Park. So, off we got. A Delta employee told us that there had been a bomb scare at the airport and the terminal had been cleared. A few minutes later we heard a plane take off. Shortly thereafter a northbound train arrived at the station, and then we jumped on the next southbound train for the last couple of miles to Hartsfield-Jackson.

The ticketing area was a mass of people going in several different directions. It took determination on my part (and making my presence as intimidating as possible) to bull our way through to the Air Tran counter. Once we had upgraded our tickets, we went to the ticket counter and were told that the flight, scheduled for 6:56 was not going to leave till 9:47. Oh, well, between the closure of the airport and the weather that wasn't unexpected. The counter agent told us that she had just got back to her station after the airport reopened.

So, I bulled my way back through the crowd to get to the security line. I was hoping Gail was behind me, but she couldn't keep up. She told me later that some men, seeing my progress, had called out 'follow that guy!' and set off in my wake. When I got to the open space between the ticketing area and the start of the security line, however, Gail wasn't behind me, and it took her a few more minutes to emerge from the ruck.

We joined one of the two security lines. Almost immediately, an airport employee came up to us and asked if we needed wheelchairs. We must have looked particularly decrepit. The security line, to my surprise, moved fairly quickly. It only took about 20 minutes till we got to the checkpoint. So, shoes off, pockets emptied, through the metal detector. No problem.

When we got to the departure area (Concourse C), we had dinner at Paschal's, which took some time as it was understaffed. Still, a good dinner, and an hour spent pleasantly. Then, off to the departure gate. After finding no seats there, we sat at a nearby gate. Then, when one plane had departed we moved to the assigned gate. Ten minutes after sitting down, over the tannoy came a voice announcing that our flight had been relocated to another gate. Fortunately, one only a short distance away. So we go there.

Gail had been playing with the PDA for a while, and I'd been reading. When she got tired of playing, I took the PDA and connected to the airport WiFi. That showed that the flight had been advanced, and would be departing in half an hour. Two minutes later they began boarding.

While we'd been waiting, an earlier flight to Chicago had boarded, and both of us had thoughts about being on that plane. Envy, we were about to learn, isn't a good thing.

When we arrived at Chicago Midway we walked straight to the baggage area. No bags, of course, but a sign at one carrousel indicating that our flight was in. After half an hour we learned, not from an announcement but from other passengers that our luggage had been delayed. We were to learn, again not from any Air Tran employee since none of them seemed capable of making an announcement or explaining anything, that the earlier flight had returned to Atlanta because its landing gear didn't retract. The passengers and baggage were put on another plane, that took off, and promptly returned to Hartsfield-Jackson because its engine had overheated.

We overheard one Air Tran employee -- there were two there, C.J. and Tiki -- say that they weren't going to be around when the luggage finally arrived at half-past two. We all had to fill out claim forms. However, we were only allowed to do this one at a time, and we were told that the bags would be delivered the next day. After waiting in line for over an hour and a half after hearing that, we were finally able to leave the airport and head for the hotel.

So, the next day, we had only the clothes we'd arrived in. We were able to wash our underwear, at least, but I was a discussant on a panel, and had to turn up looking less than 'conference professional'. Fortunately, our bag did arrive (Gail texted me when it did, I was in the meeting, but could, at least text back the word 'Hooray!') The panel, fortunately, was interesting.

My own paper wasn't given till Saturday afternoon, and we had to check out earlier (we spent Saturday night at a hotel near the airport). It was, thankfully, well received. Earlier, we'd had lunch with Phil Howe whom I hadn't seen since I left San Diego in 1994. We were up at 2:30 for a 5:30 flight. We got to the airport at 3:15, but the Air Tran counter didn't open until 3:30, and then the security line didn't open until 4:30. Our flight boarded at 5:05. Fortunately, we made it through, onto the plane, and into Atlanta early. Our bag turned up pretty promptly and we made it home (and Gail on to work) in time.

19 April 2006

Iran crisis, cui bono?

The war drums that have been beaten about Iran's developing the capability to make glow-in-the-dark watches has produced one interesting result. The fact that the president and vice president are oilmen is, surely, no coincidence. Actual war would drive the price of oil, and the profits, even higher.

18 April 2006

Iran 'crisis'

Chimpy, rather coyly, continues to beat the war drum. It's hard to believe that he can think that, after Iraq has turned out to be a quagmire, anyone is going to take seriously his claims about Iran's deadly capacity to make glow-in-the-dark Mickey Mouse watches. But then, this is a Mickey Mouse president.

question for the old bill

question for the old bill

testing the image
how do they feel
when they kill the wrong man?
margin of knowledge
how do they feel
when they kill the wrong man?
fielding the question
how do they feel
when they kill the wrong man?
seeing the darkness
how do they feel
when they kill the wrong man?
assessing the features
how do they feel
when they kill the wrong man?
facing the microphones
how do they feel
when they kill the wrong man?

neither sonnet nor sennet

here in this house we are content
to rule ourselves no government
of inauspicious tyrants nor of thieves
will treat us like their subjugated beeves
to herd us into some dark abbatoir
our blood to fill a ghastly reservoir
for george the vampire king of all this land
to gorge himself while leading his vile band
to cover all our earth with that red fire
which marks the coming of a new empire
where dullness, ignorance, and hate
suppress all speech and silence all debate
still in our private space we can withdraw
from tyranny that comes in cloak of law

and is phlogiston somehow real?

in space the words vanish
sent nowhere distributed electronically
into entropic emptiness
yet they were made of energy
which cannot be made
or unmade by anything human
so are there gods
in the æther?

17 April 2006



I that in heill wes and gladnes,
Am trublit now with gret seiknes,
And feblit with infermite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance heir is all vane glory,
This fals warld is bot transitory,
The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

The stait of man dois change and vary,
Now sound, now seik, now blith, now sary,
Now dansand mery, now like to dee;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

No stait in erd heir standis sickir;
As with the wynd wavis the wickir,
Wavis this warldis vanite.
Timor mortis conturbat me.

On to the ded gois all estatis,
Princis, prelotis, and potestatis,
Baith riche and pur of al degre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He takis the knychtis in to feild,
Anarmit under helme and scheild;
Victour he is at all mellie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

That strang unmercifull tyrand
Takis, on the moderis breist sowkand,
The bab full of benignite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He takis the campion in the stour,
The capitane closit in the tour,
The lady in bour full of bewte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He sparis no lord for his piscence,
Na clerk for his intelligence;
His awfull strak may no man fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Art-magicianis, and astrologgis,
Rethoris, logicianis, and theologgis,
Thame helpis no conclusionis sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

In medicyne the most practicianis,
Lechis, surrigianis, and phisicianis,
Thame self fra ded may not supple;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

I se that makaris amang the laif
Playis heir ther pageant, syne gois to graif;
Sparit is nocht ther faculte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes done petuously devour,
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bery, and Gower, all thre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

The gude Syr Hew of Eglintoun,
And eik Heryot, and Wyntoun,
He hes tane out of this cuntre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

That scorpion fell hes done infek
Maister Johne Clerk, and Jame Afflek,
Fra balat making and tragidie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Holland and Barbour he hes berevit;
Allace! that he nocht with us levit
Schir Mungo Lokert of the Le;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes Blind Hary and Sandy Traill
Slaine with his schour of mortall haill,
Quhilk Patrik Johnestoun myght nocht fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes reft Merseir his endite,
That did in luf so lifly write,
So schort, so quyk, of sentence hie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes tane Roull of Aberdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphin;
Two bettir fallowis did no man se;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

In Dumfermelyne he hes done roune
With Maister Robert Henrisoun;
Schir Johne the Ros enbrast hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

And he hes now tane, last of aw,
Gud gentill Stobo and Quintyne Schaw,
Of quham all wichtis hes pete:
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Gud Maister Walter Kennedy
In poynt of dede lyis veraly,
Gret reuth it wer that so suld be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Sen he hes all my brether tane,
He will nocht lat me lif alane,
On forse I man his nyxt pray be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Sen for the deid remeid is none,
Best is that we for dede dispone,
Eftir our deid that lif may we;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

-- William Dunbar (1460-1520)