Archive for September, 2009

Search of the Century

September 29, 2009

For a good while, Splintered Sunrise used to do an entertaining regular feature called Search of the Week (a good example can be found here). I would like to have done it myself, but I never had anything approaching the number of entertaining or weird searches to do so. However, I feel that the following search more than makes up for it:

“can muslims produce cum”

How can you respond to that? Except marvel that someone with such a low IQ can actually work a computer.

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Class, Community and Starbucks

September 29, 2009

The Telegraph reports the work of Professor Bryan Simon which argues that Starbucks has had an extremely detrimental effect on community life. The report comes ahead of the launch of Simon’s book on Starbucks, Everything But the Coffee. Based on research in nine countries, Simon argues that although Starbucks supposedly offers a communal experience, in reality most of its shops represent a conglomeration of individuals.

“People immediately create their own little private, gated communities. You come in, set up your laptop and put on your headphones,” he said yesterday. “You couldn’t be more alone in public if you wanted to be.”

Simon compares the coffee shops of today to the coffeeshops of the past, and their role in providing a forum for debating issues of political importance.

He said the rise of Starbucks and its rivals was a far cry from the British coffee houses of the 18th and 19th centuries “which were the cornerstone of democracy with a small ‘d’”.

The most interesting part of the article though is that which discusses the class aspect of Starbucks, and its relationship to the aspirational consumerist lifestyle. By opening up in expensive areas, and charging high prices, Starbucks creates a feeling among its clientele that they are successful, sophisticated, and fashionable. This is a reflection of how modern consumer capitalism seeks to provide atomised consumers with the illusion that they are part of a broader community. Whether it is the self-congratulatory recognition of a fellow owner or an iPhone or whatever the gadget du jour is, or online fora to discuss ownership of a pricey item, it provides people with a sense of being part of something bigger and yet exclusive, while in reality hindering the development of genuine community feeling. As Simon points out, sitting in a room with like-minded people is not the same as engaging with them.

In this sense, Starbucks is representative of a broader issue within society. Capitalism has succeeded as never before in driving out a sense of the collective, and the organisations capable of collective action. Whether it is non-union workplaces or the fetishisation of the small business by Maggie Thatcher, the impulse is the same. To wage an ideological war against the solidarity necessary for class politics. Starbucks stands for many things. But it is perhaps as a representative of the fall in solidarity that it is most significant.

Worth a Thousand Words

September 26, 2009

INGLORIOUS1

Trickle Down Economics No Answer

September 21, 2009

The Irish Left Review has a short article by the Research Section of The Workers’ Party analysing the failure of trickle down economics in Northern Ireland, in light of Peter Robinson’s declared faith in trickle down economics. Here is its conclusion, pointing to the twin failures of the current set up:

Just as the current Stormont regime has sectarianism built into its DNA, it seems as if any social democratic policy urges will be severely constrained by the privatising agenda of the UK Treasury. And nothing will trickle down to the working class.

Muslim Scare Story Spreads to Africa

September 21, 2009

I can just imagine the joy at the Daily Telegraph when they saw the recent statements from the new head of the Anglican church in Nigeria. He claims that Muslims are applying industrial techniques to procreation to vanquish Anglicanism.

That is the type of evangelism they are doing: mass-production, so if you have four wives, four children, sixteen children, very soon you will be a village.

This man should be embarassed. Especially when one of the criticisms of his church from pro-gay Anglicans was that they allowed polygamy. Oops.

The Poor will always be with you. Just not in your schools

September 20, 2009

Yesterday’s Irish News has details of the transfer test that will be used by the Catholic grammar schools in the north. A link to the story is here, although it will work only for a week without subscription. The Post-Primary Transfer Consortium, 34 overwhelmingly Catholic schools, is organising this test. There is of course a separate test for the state grammar schools, which are attended overwhelmingly by protestants. This “catholic” test unlike the previous test is completely multiple choice, and does not include science. So we are seeing a return to something along the lines of the old Eleven Plus that the likes of me sat, based on maths and English. The introduction of science reflected a desire to broaden the curriculum and prepare children better for secondary education, and give them a greater appreciation of the world around them. So this represents a narrowing of things tested.

That’s not the only narrrowing that will happen as a result of this private transfer test.

Parents have been provided sample mathematics and English papers and encouraged to help their children prepare.

Now, how do parents help their children prepare? Well they can do it themselves, by sitting and helping them. The new-old type of test will prove more parent-friendly than that being replaced. Or, more likely, they can hire someone to do it for £20 an hour or more. Around a third of a single person’s weekly job seeker’s allowance, to put that in perspective. So again we return to the importance of class in the transfer system. Those who can afford private tuition will pay for it, and their children are as a result much more likely to do well. This is on top of the unquantifiable educational and cultural advantages that middle-class children tend to have over their working class counterparts.

I’ve been following the debacle over academic selection since I started this blog about a year ago. Each post seems to anger me more than the last. The naked aggression of bourgeois parents seeking to protect their own dominance at the expense of working-class children doesn’t surprise me. The abject failure of those responsible to stop this happening infuriates me. Only political representatives dedicated unambiguously to the interests of the working class can offer any real alternative to the injustice of capitalist society in education or anywhere else.

US abandons Bush’s missile shield: real change in US foreign policy?

September 17, 2009

Good news announced by the Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer that the US is dropping its provocative Bush-era plans for a European missile shield. The plans had caused a great deal of anger and tension in Russia, and fear among populations in central Europe. The BBC report, citing the Wall Street Journal, says that the logic being given by the US regime is an acceptance that Iran might not actually be planning to build a nuclear weapon at all. I suspect that the cost factor may also have been an important one. The US is talking about moving more towards regional anti-missile technology using existing technology such as ship-based interceptor missiles. Added to the fact that the US seems to be set for direct talks with the DPRK, and the easing of sanctions on Cuba, it could just be that President Obama is delivering the real change he promised. It does certainly look like Obama is radically altering the direction of US foreign policy in some areas.

However, we must bear in mind the expansion of the US military presence in Colombia, a move clearly aimed at intimidation of the populations electing progressive governments in the region. And also perhaps to force states like Venezuela to spend money that could be better spent elsewhere on weapons, with the lessons of the collapse of the USSR in mind. A great deal of the restrictions on Cuba remain, and in fact Obama signed the embargo into effect for another year, to justified Cuban criticism. Proof of a real change in US intentions could be given by Hilary Clinton striking down Condaleeza Rice’s extradition warrant for Seán Garland which was done primarily to frustrate moves towards better understanding on the Korean peninsula. Justice demands that the extradition request be dropped. Let’s hope that the Obama regime does so.

New Scare Story: Daily Telegraph Delighted

September 16, 2009

Just came across the headline “Mohammed now top name for boys” under editor’s choice on the Telegraph website. Except of course, it isn’t. Mohammed – in its variant spellings – is in fact the number one name for baby boys in four parts of England: London, West Midlands, North West and Yorkshire/Humberside. So is Britain set for a Muslim majority in these areas? Of course not. This statistic simply reflects the massive dominance that Mohammed has as a name for boys among those from a Muslim background. This is also why it is the third most popular name in England as a whole. Muslims as a whole remain a very very small minority in the UK. But you know, the Home Counties don’t want to hear that – they need something to be shocked and appalled by. Their own bigotry and prejudice might be a good place to start.

Oi! Heaney! NO!

September 13, 2009

I’ve just put this up over on Cedar Lounge Revolution, but I’m that annoyed that I’m putting it up here too.

Today’s Observer has a story reporting Seamus Heaney’s conviction that a no vote in the Lisbon Treaty would mean that the people of the Republic will have “lost ourselves in the modern world”. Now I’m not really sure what that is actually supposed to mean, so back to Heaney.

Heaney said the loss for Ireland from a “no” vote was “inestimable”. He said: “I was in Italy when the first referendum came in, and I was distressed for Ireland in Europe because of the kind of refusal of commitment after decades of benefit. It is inestimable, the loss of influence, status and trust that occurred with a ‘no’ vote: it is palpable and real.

Ah. So the fact that the Republic has benefited from membership of the EU in terms of structural funds and the like means that it should forever do whatever the people in Brussels want. Now, we may think that there is a democratic deficit in the EU, that important decisions about our futures are being made by unelected and appointed officials (many of whom are running from their incompetence or corruption at home), that the choices open to us have been circumscribed by undemocratic EU rules designed to benefit capitalism, and that the citizens of the states of the EU were with one exception denied an opportunity to vote on the Treaty by the political and bureaucratic elite of the EU. But that would be because we lack the necessary poetic vision to understand what is really at stake.

Europe was “more than a bureaucracy, it’s an ideal,” he said. “The word ‘Europe’ is one of the first cultural underpinnings to our lives in this part of the globe. It’s for Greece, Italy, Rome, England, France that I feel it.” He also dismissed claims that the Lisbon Treaty would end Irish sovereignty and see the republic absorbed into a European super-state.
Asked if Europe was as important for him culturally as it was economically, Heaney said: “I think it’s slightly more important, not only in terms of culture but in terms of credit, in terms of meaning.

So apparently European civilisation – thousands of years of philosophy, political thought, law, science, art, literature, technology, religion, and the rest – has been reduced to a proposed new set of rules on how to govern an amalgam of states in a mere part of Europe. If we reject it, then we reject our cultural inheritance. Nonsense. As I’m sure the greatest of the Russian poets Pushkin and others from that part of Europe would agree. Clearly our Nobel-winning poet needs refresher courses in basic geography and history.

A lesson in the basic principles of democracy – perhaps Europe’s greatest gift to the world – might also prove useful.

“The reasons for voting ‘no’ are manufactured, on the whole. And if it’s ‘no’ again, I think we have lost ourselves in the modern world.”

Did the No campaign manufacture the fact that those proposing this Treaty have openly admitted that their aim in doing so was to avoid having referenda that might cause them trouble in countries like France and Denmark? Did the No campaign make the decision to deny the citizens of Europe a free vote, a chance to decide for themselves? Whatever about the issues of this Treaty for the Republic of Ireland, is there a better reason for voting ‘NO’ than the fact that the people have been denied a say? If Heaney is so concerned about the peoples of Europe, perhaps he might have taken this into account when considering the whole topic. And spared us his sentimental, apolitical, not to say ignorant nonsense.

Cowardly Attacks on Families

September 11, 2009

A new and even more cowardly trend has emerged in the activities of dissident terrorists against both the police and those they claim are guilty of anti-social behaviour. This is targeting the families of those who have been deemed suitable targets. First they shot in the legs the brother of a young man responsible for an horrific rape and warned they would shoot him and another brother. Now they have extended this logic to the families of policemen in Derry, with simultaneous bombings of the houses of the parents and sister of a police officer. This is terrorism, pure and simple. There can be no justification for it in the slightest. More proof, if it were needed, that these people have nothing to contribute to politics in this island. And certainly have no strategy to unite the people of Ireland.