Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Fat Of The Land - Future Shocks - Part 8

You do not have to look very far into the news reports these days without finding out about the "time bomb" that is the obesity problem that is facing this country. Statistics are bandied about with wanton abandon including: that obesity costs £7.4 billion to the NHS, that diabetes will rise by 54% over the next few years whilst heart disease will rise by 20%, whilst 20% is also the number of Scottish children who are now in the obese category. People talk about 'fat-tax' and that the 'fatties' should get off their backsides and stop eating so much as if people are on some form of voluntary self-destruction course.

A worrying report has emerged recently about the East Suffolk Primary Healthcare Trust who in an effort to save money have been denying 10 clinically obese patients the hip and knee replacement operations that they require. The patients have been told that they must first lose weight before they will receive their surgery. There is no information as to what steps the trust may have taken to assist the 10 patients to lose weight.

This is another example of the thin end of the wedge, since it assumes that it is acceptable to deny people surgery if they deviate from a required norm. This started with the call for smokers to be denied treatment for any smoking related illness unless they gave up. The same interestingly has not been true of drinking and the late George Best, despite medical problems caused by chronic alcoholism, was still the recipient of a new liver and given the best medical care money could buy in the Cromwell hospital in West London, it didn't stop the alcohol eventually doing for him in the end.

The denial of treatment to people for any reason is alarming, it is even more so when no connection is made with the fact that modern life is increasingly consumption based in all forms. I do not know the hippocratic oath in its entirety but I do not recall any part of it including the caveats that doctors need only treat certain types of people if they can prove that any ailment is not somehow self-inflicted.

Notice that such a move not to treat certain types of people will always start with groups who do not have a great deal of sympathy, it is acceptable to be anti-fat and the ill-informed assumption that fat people just shouldn't eat so much is seldom rebutted. I am fat myself, I freely admit it, I am no longer in the dangerously obese section, a section which is surprisingly easy to fall into, you might assume that I was the size of a house but no, well, small cavaran perhaps! My weight problem could be caused by a variety of factors but in my case lethargy is partially if not mainly to blame. However studies have shown that our diet directly affects our energy levels and this means that there can be something of a vicious circle- eat shit food (which is often cheap and readily available), have no energy or inclination to then do any exercise. Is it our fault, well, yes it is but the trap is easy to fall into and difficult to get out of just as it is with any addictive lifestyle and our prediliction for fast food does nothing to alleviate this, quite the contrary.

Intrinsically I agree with a fat tax but it is only fair if obesity is treated properly as an addiction and dealt with the same as any addiction should be, think of fatty foods as heroin. OK, that sounds bizarre but you wouldn't say that other people who are not heroin addicts could dabble in a bit of smack from time to time so why should it be the same with fast food of no nutritional value. Of course this cannot happen using bans and legislation it has to be considerably more proactive. A tax needs to be levvied on foods that are high particularly in saturated fat. Some of the revenue from this needs to be channeled into subsidies for certain foods which are beneficial alternatives because if you make the healthy option affordable and the fatty option less so then you automatically entice towards good food rather than the current trend for poor food. For example most people will these days buy vegetable oil for their cooking because it is cheap, furthermore one of the worst proponents in fast food outlets is hydrogenated vegetable oil which is packed with saturated fat. If extra virgin olive oil were even only double the price you would have a far greater number of people using it instead, it is considerably tastier for food as well as it being far less high in saturated fats and higher in polyunsaturates. Likewise if companies had financial incentives to reduce the amount of high-salt, high-sugar processed foods in favour of fresher lower calorie, lower-carbohydrate options it might change their business plans somewhat.

The same can be said of exercise. It is all very well for the middle classes to have the options of gym membership at £25-£50 per month but that is an exorbidant amount of money for the majority of people in this country, whilst you may at the same time point out that a great many would spend the same amount on Sky TV and the National Lottery these are all part of the social sleeping drugs of the working classes. If exercise is to be made part of the modern routine it has to be engendered at a young age and that means both in school and at home. For this to happen there must be the facilities for all sorts of varieties of activity, after all playing football is not everyone's cup of tea. At the moment we are woefully short of facilities and in recent times that trend has worsened considerably with the state school playing fields being sold off left, right and centre. Youth clubs are often non-existent in deprived inner-city areas whilst under-funded and manned by volunteers in the marginally more cohesive suburbs and rural communities.

You cannot demonise one section of the population when it is clear that societal constructs mean that this section is on the increase beyond any reasonable control. However it is unsurprising that obesity is very much a social class issue, the lower income brackets, ie people without access to good quality fresh food or often the time to cook properly are most vulnerable to fast food and low quality, cheap ingredients. Our throwaway culture has led to throwaway attitude to food, most families barely if ever sit down to a proper meal together, contrast this with Italy where a family meal tends to be an event and savoured with antipasti, wine, main course, pudding etc. etc. There are undoubtedly fat Italians but the meditteranean diet is far lower in fat and cholesterol and hence the rates of obesity and the corresponding heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes rates etc. are appreciably lower.

The school run in my day used to involve walking or getting the bus, only a handful of people at my primary school were picked up in the car the rest of us didn't even contemplate it and neither did our parents. Nowadays it is de rigeur for little Johnny or Sharon as well as little Portia or Toby to be carted in en voiture be it a 4x4 off road vehicle or MPV. The roads around schools are gridlocked at 9am whilst the pavements remain empty. External activities take planning and cost money whilst watching the TV or buying the kids a Playstation 2 are considered low maintenance activities. "Anything for a quiet life." Can we really be surprised that our children are accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle when it is us that have taught it to them by everything they see around them at home and in school. Of course active children are less maleable and can be a handful, that's because they are children, it's what they do, the pushing of boundaries against their parents is designed to test limits on people who are not supposed to knock seven shades of shite out of them before they get into the real world.

So the question is, do we as a society wish to continue to sit back and watch our children die whilst the fast-food companies reap huge profits or start to change things fundamentally and accept finally that the freedom to choose is a hollow one when you don't actually have any genuine choices.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Murder The Murderers - Future Shocks - Part 7

If you believe sources up to and including 2003 anything up to 77% of Britons would support the re-introduction of the death penalty which was abolished here in 1965. I leave 2003 as a qualifier because whilst one might think that in the onslaught on human rights perpetrated by the New Labour government over the last few years many people might be thinking twice about such a policy, in fact I suspect with so many being hoodwinked about the War on Terror and so eager to allow the death sentences on soldiers thousands of miles away the number now may be even higher.

The arguments in favour of capital punishment are fairly unchanging, usually that the person is a monster and those responsible for severe crimes such as serial murder mutilation, sexual assault, killing children can have no mercy shown to them as they have not shown mercy to their victims. There is the beleif that people who commit crimes of a certain nature deserve to have the ultimate sentence passed on them because they can have no part in society. It is said that the death penalty is a deterrent to show strength of resolve to those who may contemplate the most grievous of crimes.

Whilst the arguements for may be presented most often the rebuttals or a full examination of these arguments to determine whether they hold any weight is not given as much airtime.

The issue of prevention is certainly not proven, there are still many more murders in US than many countries w/out death penalty, this is not due simply to the high percentage of gun ownership in the US because proportionally Canada has a similar ratio per capita and yet the murder rate is negligible by comparison in spite of there being no capital punishment. Those who see this as a cure to the evils of a section of society are deluding themselves it is yet another example of the modern abdication of responsibility which is becoming so synonymous with our Western society to make it almost indistinguishable from the norm now. Whose right is it to call time on the prospects for rehabilitation of an individual? Are we really therefore bound into acceptance of the moral premise that people can be intrinsically evil? I'm afraid I simply do not believe this, humans are born with predilictions but their character is not pre-determined and therefore they are a product of their environment because it is this that shapes how behavioural traits which may be inherent manifest themselves in later life.

There is little doubt that the increasing violent nature of stimuli around us has produced more violent crime and less respect for ones fellow human, no doubting that poverty coupled with avarice increases muggings and burglary. I think it is pretty obvious that the over-sexualisation of children reduces the desire to nurture. So if it is a series of societal forces that often shape the path we take does society not have to take some responsibility if the direction appears to be going seriosly awry?

The biggest question of all which I have never heard satisfactorily resolved or even cogently argued against is who passes judgement on the state if the state gets it wrong? And it will get it wrong, there is an inevitabilty about that, in this country alone we have seen many high-profile cases of rectifiction of miscarriages of justice decades after sentencing. In the case of the Birmingham 6 who were wrongly imprisoned in the 1970s the judge said in his summing up that it was a pity the death sentence had been repealed for he would have had no hesitation in passing it upon them. How lucky for the judge that he did not have that on his conscience 20 odd years later when the full nature of the cover up and flimsyness of evidence waqs revealed. Guiseppe Conlan died in jail and the others were robbed of the most productive years of their lives, that is bad enough, had they been executed there would have been no possibility for the state to begin to atone. It is rare that I agree wholeheartedly with the Vatican but Cardinal Renato Martino, Vatican Justice and Peace Department sums it up succinctly: "This is terrible because you know the death penalty is a penalty where there is no alternative, there is no possibility for the human being who happens to be a criminal - to be corrected, to reform, to become a good citizen. With the death penalty you don't give that alternative and that is not taking into account the many, many mistakes and errors, judicial errors that we discover from time to time were committed and innocent people were executed."

There are plenty of examples where we know full well that this has been the case and others where there is sufficient doubt such as in the case of Derek Bentley who was hanged in Britain in 1953 despite even at his trial there being serious doubts as to the semantic inference of words he uttered at the scene of the crime. Bentley was not the man who pulled the trigger, but there was the school of thought that his words "Let him have it Chris" to his co-conspirator were incitement to murder and not in response to the policeman's request to the 2 men that the gun be handed over. One has to remember that in 1953 gun crime was comparitively rare in this country and the killing of a "friendly bobby" was regarded as one of the big taboos. The actual killer of PC, Chris Craig was a minor and therefore unable to stand trial for murder full-scale, Bentley however was 19 and provided a useful scapegoat for the public outcry and police anger at the death of one of their own. It is widely acknowledged now that the case against Derek Bentley had serious flaws and his execution was a serious miscarriage of justice. Furthermore Bentley would have been regarded now as potentially mentally unfit for the death penalty. On the 30th July 1998 the British Court of Appeal quashed Derek Bentley's original conviction and 1 year later the Home Office agreed to compensate the Bentley family some 46 years after his death. For the family of course compensation is something of a hollow gesture in response to the loss of life.

In the recent case of Stanley 'Tookie' Williams a dangerous precedent has been set by the US authorities, the Los Angeles district attorney's office has said of Williams: "There can be no redemption... and there should be no mercy." Their statement being because Williams has not admitted responsibility for the murders. Governator of California Schwarzenegger adds "Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologise or otherwise atone for the murders of the four victims in this case. Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption." Surely it would be somewhat cynical if a person who did not commit a crime confessed to said crime merely in the hope of achieving some clemency by being seen by the authorities as taking responsibility for his actions? As Jesse Jackson says "I'm disappointed that Mr Schwarzenegger has chosen death over life, he's chosen revenge over redemption."

For the rest of this entry I will work under the presumption of WIlliams being guilty because if he is not it is yet another example of an innocent black man being killed because of US society's ambivalence. If however Williams did indeed carry out the murders then the case has a degree more moral ambiguity and that makes it interesting to study.

There is no doubting the Williams was involved in the early days of the South Central LA gangland violence in the 1970s that is now rife across the US, he was indeed the founder of the largest gang in the US the Cripps. Undoubtedly this means he is likely to have been involved in some violent crimes, whether perpetrating or orchestrating them himself. This is perhaps more severe than the formative years of most people who even if they go off the rails a little do not start arming themselves against others, but most people do not grow up as a black man in 1960s/1970s America an environment that is unquestionably one of extreme detrimental prejudice. This is of course no excuse, not all who grew up in that environment chose the path that Williams did, and yet there were many others that did so and it would be a foolish person that would assert that all those involved at that stage are still violent and dangerous members of society whilst now largely in their 50s.

Stanley Williams was found guilty of murder in 1981 and for his first 12 years in prison was violent and uncooperative. In 1993 he appears to have undergone something of a turnaround, renouncing his gang membership and apologising for the founding of the Crips. He became an anti-gang activist and wrote extensively to that effect including a number of childrens books. Williams was nominated 4 times for the Nobel Peace Prize from 2001 to 2005 and it is quite clear that his work has had some effect in areas where gang membership and activity may have been hitherto seen as glamorous. Does this mean Williams has exonerated himself for the murders it is alleged he committed, no, but is it not more useful to have a man once synonymous with gangland violence working on the other side trying to dissuede the next generation from falling into the same trap? As it is a dead Williams is of no use to those killed or their families, neither is he any use to those fighting against the culture of gang violence. Is he any use to the state now, obviously not but there are many who will deem it fitting that he is no longer a drain on tax dollars. The fact that whilst the gangland violence continues apace the tax dollars spent on policing will steadily increase will be lost on these people as most rational arguments are. Their's is the politics of knee-jerk and retribution, justice doesn't really get a look in.

Perhaps the final irony in the case of Tookie Williams is that a man, famed for his 'Hasta la Vista' approach to legislation in his films, a man forever toting more and more technologically-advanced and futuristic weaponry and a man who typifies the whole US macho culture, should be the one to refuse the final appeal for clemency.

The phrase 'you reap what you sow' springs to mind... yet again.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Crime & Punishment - Future Shocks - Part 6

At present the draconian laws in this country discriminate against people if they don't like your face, or what you're saying or what you're thinking. Even the threat of certain crimes is enough to have you banged up without charge or shipped off somewhere. There is little emphasis on crime prevention as this doesn't provide lots of nice statistics, the police are toothless and spend most of their time alienating the motorist by concentrating on speeding rather than dangerous driving, and alienating the young by dishing out ASBOs rather than attempt to address the cause of the problem. Again as in the case of health we go back to the age old argument of prevention rather than cure. If we look at the actual causes of the crimes and attempt to tackle them at source rather than concentrating on meaningless targets regarding the cleaning-up of vote-losing crime we might actually get somewhere.

When it comes to violent crime I thought initially that I had little truc and people that commit it must, undoubtedly, be removed from society, however upon closer reflection this is something that needs considerable further study and qualification. Violence against other human beings or animals is not to be tolerated and the message from society must be to this effect. However a clear difference needs to be established between types and reasons for crimes especially in a society such as our current one. Those who rob wealthy people when they themselves are poor are committing a crime that has a strong background of desperation, this does not make it right but it goes a long way to explain their actions and clearly suggests that such people are not intrinsically evil but at the end of their tether. Any incarceration should not be lengthy but emphasis should be placed on ensuring they are not planted back into the same position when they are released. What does anyone gain if a parent steals to feed his/her family, is then removed from that family to serve a prison sentence and then on release is placed straight back into the depravation whence he/she came? Many of those that commit very serious violent crimes such as serial murder or serial rape are criminally insane and must be treated as such. This means treatment and studying of their mental states and it is unlikely that they will be able to be released. However it should be possible to put more resources toward their treatment if less money is being used to pay for the imprisoning of people needlessly.

Those who commit crimes that are not violent in nature are less danger to society and therefore do not need to be removed from it. For example to have people put in jail whilst on remand for non-violent crimes or to have people jailed for parking or minor driving offences is ridiculous and an unecessary drain on taxpayer resources whilst in turn giving no tangible benefits back to society. It is plainly stupid that at the moment the penalties for crimes against property or corporations are vastly disproportionate to those against the person. Clearly the perpetrator of fraud or larceny and the like cannot be allowed to escape unpunished, but these sorts of crimes are often committed when there is a clear detachment to the area or people against whom they are committed. Most of us feel that it would be hard to con trusting people because we might like these people and it would prick our consciences to abuse the trust, this is especially prevalent with those we know. People have understandably less quarms if it were to involve people they are never likely to meet again, thus it is that the criminal has no moral code in this instance but that they have a slightly different degree of involvement to the rest of us. To my mind community service is a much more rewarding task for those committed of non-violent offences. Punishments can fit the crimes quite easily in an effort to re-educate, for example a convicted con-man might be sent to work in an old people's home for some months and thus see thing more from the side of the victims. By the same token serious driving convictions should be met by sentences involving working at RTAs or with victims of accidents and the like. This may sound like liberal-minded claptrap but to be honest I think that is incorrect and punishments can be considerably stronger in impact whilst having at the same time a degree of balance redressing. I do not see how the victim of a con-artist gains a great deal from that person being locked up for 12 years.

Violence may be something that is inherent in all of us as potential and therefore the possibilities of violence may be greater for some than others but the manifestation and what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable are generally things that are learnt and not something we are born with. For example in certain circumstances such as fear of safety it may be a natural instinct to behave violently to see off the threat, this is however very different from choosing violent means in order to exorcise frustration. The latter suggests either a lack of being able to express oneself enough to alleviate the frustration or a singular lack of respect for those around one. In both cases the answer of simple imprisonment does not seem to offer any solution, whilst education at source to prevent and education subsequent to crimes being committed would to my mind be potentially far more plausible.

If you take paedophilia as another very emotive example, the easy answer is lock these people up and throw away the keys. Whilst this is an understandable reaction for any people who may be directly affected it is in fact missing the crucial point that may help us at least embark on the journey of understanding this phenomenon. I don't not know enough about paedophilia to make expert judgement so I go on purely layman's terms, but from what I have seen and heard it is a common mantra from paedophiles that they claim not to intend to hurt children because they claim to care about them. Now, one could be cynical and say that this is a ruse and an attempt to justify but it seems to be at the root of all of these people's arguments and I think requires much closer scrutiny. If it is true it strikes at the heart of what appears to be a mental imbalance and the resulting skewed logic. It is natural, an in-built part of human nature to protect children, and the closer the children are to one the greater the instinct, thus a parent's instincts should be the strongest. We acknowledge in the case of post-natal depression that there are mental factors which can cause this natural mechanism to break down and it would be a foolish person to believe that there are not many other forms of mental illness that can do the same. Although I am sure paedophilia has always been going on, there is no question that it is now more prominent in people's minds, or at the least the media. Is it possible that the very nature of our society and the sexualisation of children is having an effect under the surface of the psyches of many people?

Let us not forget that the age boundary beyond which sex is permissible is an arbitrary one and changes from country to country. Physionomically it is equally arbitrary because from a purely biological perspective the variance in anatomical readiness for reproductive sex varies from person to person and the emotional readiness can offten bear no relation to the physical. As a society we have deemed it unpalatable for people to be sexually active before 16 and the line indeed has to be drawn somewhere, and I think it would be difficult to justify the limit being any lower, many would in fact campaign for it being higher but I think this would be difficult and damaging to enforce due to the nature of human hormones. For most of us there is a degree of unease when the age difference gets above a certain level and yet it is not uncommon for girls of 16 or 17 to be dating men of mid to late 20s and likewise men or women later in life may still have considerable attraction to people far younger. This is not paedophilia of course but it does suggest that there can be relationships outside one's generational peers that can be constructive in part whilst not being agreed on by everyone. It is a moral dilemma but one most of us can cope with broadly-speaking because someone who is physically and emotionally immature generally does not invoke feelings of attraction amongst those of us who purport to be mature in both departments.

Contrary to popular belief sexual assault in very young children is more often carried out by other under-age children or women rather than men. Our media obsession with paedophiles has portrayed a hackneyed stereotype of a middle-aged man in a raincoat who hangs around playgrounds. Whilst this perception continues the public will fail to understand the full nature of the problem and consequently movements toward any form of understanding and potential solution will be hampered. Of course as this carries on capitalist industry continues to make money out of children through sweatshops, advertising and promotions and as such erodes the sense of childhood and this has to be studied carefully to determine how damaging this may be in terms of passing on a perception of children to society at large.

There is no question that the paedophiles must be incarcerated, they are a danger to one of the most vulnerable sections of society and as such cannot be allowed to harm them. However it is vital that they are given considerable counselling in order for the medical world to attempt to understand this disorder with a view to seeing if there is any way of preventing it from happening or perhaps gaining insight to provide some form of early-warning system. To lock these people up and throw away the key would be to deny us the chance of stopping what is one of the most fundamental of taboos. I cite the example of paedophilia not to be an apologist of any sort but to attempt to show that we, as a society gain nothing from simple imprisonment of a criminal section of people if we are not going to learn how to prevent in the future.

To imprison people without any form of integrated strategy is yet another example of an abdication of responsibility. We are all born with a degree of moral understanding but this can with social factors be eroded if not nurtured properly. It is all very well to teach people that you cannot steal from others but if the very structure of our society is so hell-bent on judging people by what they have and not who they are it is small wonder that many will seek whatever means necessary to improve their standing. Not everyone will choose this route it is true but not everyone shares the same upbringing and therefore status and image is not as important to some as others. Similarly it is obvious that in schools we should be taught that violence is wrong and yet the macho culture does nothing to reinforce this message, likewise the sexualisation and early adultisation of children for use by those who would make money from them has the rather obvious side-effect of eroding the respect that many have for children especially of certain ages. It is all about cause and effect and it is a serious dereliction of duty for all of us not to ensure that the link between the two remains clear and not divorced from each other for financial or political expediency.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iraq - Future Shocks - Part 5

It would be a surprise to most, if not all, the people who know me to hear me agree with George W. Bush but in one instance it is indeed true, however let me qualify that statement before you all pack up in disgust. Bush's famous "You're either with us or against us" was something of a defining moment of a president who attempts to make up in sound-bites what he lacks in intellect. Bush attempts with his use of the word 'us' to galvanise the Western World into an alliance against those 'he' defines as the enemy. The actuality of the 'us' he is using is the US corporate political establishment and when one realises this it becomes a lot easier to see how the polarisation that Bush almost prophesied has in fact come true. The Iraq war has had a practically unprecedented unifying effect on people across the world as normally disparate groups are united in their condemnation of US involvement in Iraq.

It has also unified the violent insurrection against the US aggressor in a way that was not the case when they invaded Iraq in the first place. More and more the US has put itself up as a target to be shot at, Blair as Bush's faithful poodle has been happy to lead Britain down the same path and there are increasing signs in Basra that the attempts to project a harmonious relationship in the British sector are far from the truth.

According to former US diplomat Peter Galbraith - in Jan 2003 Bush invited 3 members of Iraqi resistance to watch Superbowl with him. During this meeting these 3 realised that Bush was not aware at this point that there was a difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Whilst this is unsurprising that Bush himself is so ill-informed it seems staggering that none of his advisors had sought to rectify the fact. Galbraith goes on that since most people do not consider themselves Iraqi before they consider themselves Sunni or Shia or Kurd the idea of forming a united Iraq is Mission Impossible. We must not forget that Iraq is a modern construct of territories in Mesopotamia and Kurdistan, their is no sense of long handed-down national identity like we know in Europe. Suffice to say it was a mess the British made last time they buggered about with it. Much the same can of course be said for Palestine and Ireland!

In March 2003 US war planners met to discuss the practicalities of the ousting of Saddam - Phase 4c for reconstruction of Iraq had not nearly as much depth as Phase 3 which was combat, which is curious when you think that the vastly superior US military should have had little problem overcoming the Iraqi resistance in the initial phases of a rebellion, and certainly if the propaganda was true and the Iraqis would be welcoming the US with open arms then there would be little insurgency thereafter.

However it would be wrong to assume that it was only in the US that such idiocy was going on. On the eve of the invasion Toby Dodge of London University gave a likely case scenario to the Labour government which in fact detailed almost exactly what did indeed happen based on the historical precedent as well as the prospected operations. George Joffe of Cambridge University had similar meeting, whilst Joffe tried to explain the potential problems of such an attempt to follow the Americans in their crusade against Saddam, Blair responded “...but he’s evil isn’t he?” And this appeared to be enough justification for him.

Whether simply ridiculous naivety or a calculated facade, US expectation was that they would be met by rejoicing in the streets of Baghdad and Basra according to Cheney. I have already documented a quote that was reported by journalists at the time the US forces moved into Iraq where one Iraqi man in response to the journalist's question "Are you pleased to see the Americans come to liberate Iraq" stated "Americans, Saddam, we don't care who as long as you bring peace." This tempers the euphoria somewhat. It also goes some way to explain the situation now.

The reality in Iraq is not exactly what the US and UK administration flanked by their 'embedded' media acolytes would have us believe. It is, even now still difficult for non-embedded Western reporters to get around in order to report what is genuinely going on in Iraq, embedded journalists whilst having a greater degree of security by virtue of their military escorts get a state department view of events from Washington and London and not Iraq. Journalists like Robert Fisk who are not embedded illustrate that this state department view is either hopelessly out of touch or criminally negligent to the point of being no better than right-wing state-sponsored agit-prop.

Elections and constitutions are “theatrical events staged for US media consumption disregarding everyday state of Iraq for Iraqis” in response to mass civilian casualties one US source stated "Such tragedies only happen because Zarkawi and his thugs are driving around using car bombs." This staggeringly insensitive and ill-conceived notion serves only to elucidate the real feeling of US officials as to the state of Iraq.

The news mentions less the situation currently in Sadr City, as if it has all gone rather quiet. The reality is that the US have left Shia militia in charge, Iraqi police and the US army have “reached agreements” with the Mahdi army the group of Moqtada Al Sadr but they claim these are agreements with local representatives as civilians and not as a massed group. The British have done the same in Basra. The result of this has been to allow fundamentalist Shia leaders to create a political theocracy the like of which has not existed in the region in such a way before. The same situation exists with the Peshmurga in Kurdistan. The US is even trying to negotiate with the Ba’athist militia in areas that are still showing signs of resistance in Baghdad and Fallujah, the same insurgents who, according to US military sources in the media are, working with Al Queda. So much for helping bring democracy to Iraq the US is intent on a quick sell-out. The second part really of what has been a simple ram-raid operation for the oil in the shop window. .

For many Iraqi women the current era marks for the first time them being forced to wear veils etc. and be subjected to a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law the like of which in Iran has been the subject of much condemnation by the US and UK establishments. Women are being executed for “prostitution” when this could mean nothing more than suspected adultery. These executions are not of course the result of any recognised judicial proceedings but the rough justice that fundamentalists of any variant are likely to favour.

Peter Oborne, political editor of The Spectator, concluded in a problem for the Channel 4 series Dispatches that the invasion of Iraq has failed. I believe this is far from the case because one has to evaluate what the actual goal of the invasion was.

If one believed, like I suspect Oborne does, that the goal was to remove a dangerous dictator and bring about a Western style democracy in Iraq then yes, it is clear this will not be the end result for Iraq. This seems a rather simplistic and establishment viewpoint on the matter though. Contrastingly if one believed, as I do, that US has no desire to have full functioning democracy in Iraq as this would bring about a stable secular country which would unquestionably constitute far more of a threat to the access to oil for the US and its companies involved in Iraq and beyond. Interestingly the US army operatives in Iraq are not permitted to arrest Al-Sadr despite him being wanted for murder. Al-Sadr, is the perfect young pretender to Saddam, left in place just in case the US army should need a bad guy if the whole Al-Zarkawi story ever falls apart.

This sort of conflict is likely to become ever more likely and ever more desperate as it is clear that the US domestic and foreign policy would far rather cling to the old order based on their dominance and control of oil. This means any country that has oil production or is integral to the stability of an oil producing region is going to have to watch itself for a while lest they find Uncle Sam on the borders. However US power is not what it is and it has already over-reached itself by attempting to fight battles on too many simultaneous fronts hence the debacle in Iraq. It would certainly be foolish to attempt any operations against countries such as Venezuela.

Finally one must not forget that the US never signed up to the International War Times Tribunal nor the International Criminal Court. This gives US operatives whether open or covert carte blanche to commit any acts of atrocity necessary to achieve the military objective whilst undermining the legitimacy and efficacy of the 2 supra-national judicial institutions. That is not to say that the US will not use them to moot out its brand of victor's justice of course as we have seen in the case of Slobodan Milosevic. The US is quite happy to manipulate all sorts of laws to its own ends, for example Rumsfeld was quick to condemn the footage of US captives in Iraq as being contrary to the Geneva Convention. Al Jazeera were quick to point out of course that Guantanamo Bay and the detention of prisoners of war without due process or rights of any kind, the abuses in Abu Gharaib and Baghram, the invasion of a country against the UN security council, if not all directly in contravention of the Geneva Convention they are certainly fundamentally against the very principle.

US operations since the declaration of war on terror have become increasingly more worrying and outside the law. One only needs think of the aforementioned incarceration in Guantanamo Bay, the systematic abuse of prisoners of war in American custody both in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond and I will be covering the strategy of 'extraordinary rendition' later. The CIA operations across the world and the failure of the US to hold any of its active personnel responsible for any conduct is an international scandal. I'm afraid as the US's grip on power rescinds proportional to the oil reserves left in the world we can expect to see more of the US's failure to conform to any standards of decency and humanity. The question only remains, which country will be next on their list?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Health Of Nations - Future Shocks - Part 4

Yes, another of these thorny issues that we have had under constant scrutiny in the media and government is that of healthcare provision. Whether it be the current Labour government seeking to make Messers Atlee and Bevan turn in their grave by the slow dismantling of the National Health Service the 1946 Labour Government established, or the Conservatives who would in their dreams do away with the NHS entirely and seek an insurance system to ensure that their supporters got the best provision available and those that didn't support them were slowly killed off, a sort of Tory political darwinism!

One way we can see that governments completely misunderstand what the public want has been graphically illustrated by Tony Blair responding to questions at the House of Commons liaison committee, (which is made up of the chairmen of all its select committees - rather like the Politburo!) Blair recognises that principle voter concern is that there has been systematic under-investment in public services spanning countless administrations, however he makes a serious misjudgement when he continues, "At the same time, the public is saying: 'If you put more money into these services, we want them to be more responsive to us as consumers'. We should respond to that as a government and do it fairly." This is not people's primary concern about public services, responsiveness and accountabilty are all very important but the most important is that public services provide functioning services and that these should be of the highest calibre only after they have suceeded in that endeavour does it become important for the behind the scenes operations to run smoothly. Blair thinks otherwise, his emphasis is made clear by the statement "The idea is to get to the situation where people see that the money we have put into public services is matched by change and reform," Again this is not the most critical thing in most people's lives. The fact that there is still a postcode lottery and their hospital does not have an A&E department or the specialists it needs will not be assauged for most people even if the Customer Complaints department is second to none. The same is true of services such as libraries, public transport and the like, it is no consolation if you have a shit bus service if the company running it is accountable and responsive.

Now I'll grant you what Blair may be referring to is responsiveness etc. to deal with the provision of a service etc. etc. at least I hope that's what he means beneath that mountain of spin, one can't really know for sure. But herein lies the problem, what the public want more than anything else is not to have to put up with the political bullshit anymore.

I have never quite understood why the focus for healthcare appears to be with far greater weighting on cure rather than prevention. For all the negative aspects of what people perceive as a nanny state one of the areas that could be most easily justified would be a strong attitude on prevention of disease and malaise. If we take the various notions of drug abuse as a prime example one has to be very careful to draw a line between an individual's right to choose how they live their life and the potential drain on the resources of healthcare that this person may be. This line is already drawn in society with the outlawing of certain narcotics and the licensing and taxation of others. At the moment though the individual's right to choose seems more like a euphemism for an abdication of responsibility by the state.

For example, in the case of smoking the government would stand to lose a substantial amount of money were they to genuinely wage war on smoking and treat smokers as proper drug addicts who need to be given rehabilitation. Thus they play a game of cat and mouse whereby tobacco is readily available whilst the areas in which it is permissable to smoke it are whittled down. This is simply unacceptable as it hands initiative to the freedom of choice lobby whilst not offering any defence as to the government acting in the population's best interests.

Rather like the pensions, education and energy issues we are told that there are tough choices to be made and yet it always seems outlined that there is no actual choice and it wouldn't be for us to make it if there were. Hospitals and their departments are still being closed and/or moved. Despite huge opposition there appears to be no way of halting the steady progress to foundation hospitals and an even greater postcode lottery than there is now. Foundation hospitals appear to be a way for governments again to avoid the big issue which is that all the NHS needs funding, not just the shiny fashionable parts of it. Whether or not this is intentionally the precursor to the privatisation of the NHS is not important because the end result is likely to be this anyway especially if after the end of this or the next Parliament the Tories were to get in. The Tories are only of the opinion that the NHS should remain free for as long as they feel they cannot get away with dismantling it. Ideologically they do not stand for free public utilities and therefore to make an exception for the NHS is nothing more than temporary political expediency.

What appears no longer to be en vogue is for every person in the country to have local access to all essential healthcare free at the point of use and this should encompass all everyday forms such as access to General Practice Doctors, Dentists, medicines, homecare for the elderly, paedeatric care for children and accident and emergency services. More specialist care should be provided within at least a regional level, it is perhaps optimistic initially to assume that every hospital in the country would have the specialist cardiac units and orthapedics and the like though this should without question be the goal of a state healthcare system. This is most certainly not the case at present. Access to good general practice is often sketchy with patients having to ring up at a particular time of day along with everyone else that wants to book an appointment with their doctor on that day, it is a first come first served basis there is no dispensation for the type of patient or the seriousness of the complaint. Dental care is so prohibitively expensive that it is impossible for most people to even consider all but the very basic of checkups. Prescription charges are such that I have on many occasions decided that I'll whether the storm of an infection or such like reather than pay £12.50 for 2 sets of tablets. How a parent on low income may cope if more than one child over age 16 comes down with something I don't know.

Again, though what I have just outlined as a 'blue sky' scenario is very much all tailored around a strategy of curing ills rather than stopping them occuring in the first place. Therefore these measures should be in place as a final safety net when all else fails and not an everyday occurance to mop up for the failures in other areas of general health and well-being. It is well known that poverty is a major cause of many very curable diseases, furthermore poor dental hygiene leads to many other problems and general malaise. If poverty is too great a cause for the government to tackle (though heaven knows if the government won't who's job is it?) then why not look at some of the other root causes of problems in order to try to stop them before they start. Smoking, obesity, TB, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, addiction-related illnesses and some forms of cancer are far better treated by addressing the causes than having to try to address the symptoms.

So why is this not being done? Tobacco companies make large amounts of money and cigarette sales account for a lot of tax revenue. Fast food companies are also creaming large profits at the expense of the taxpayer as the demands of modern life force people to concentrate less on good food and more on the time it takes for them to eat meals before getting back to work. Big business has a knack of being able to ensure they have enough lobbying pressure not to be legislated against so that sorts out why the first two remain a problem. STDs, heart disease and addiction-related illnesses all require effort to ensure that lifestyles are conducive to health rather than problems and this is clearly not being done. Furthermore the sort of screening programs and equipment that would be required to catch many of these diseases in their infacy are high-cost in the initial stages without yielding profit or often tangible results in the short-term. This is exactly why it is paramount that such things stay in public hands without the introduction of the nature of profit which cannnot have any positive bearing on increasing the likelihood of the prevention of disease.

If the nature of the prevention of disease is taken seriously and invested accordingly over time more and more of the budget will be available into medical and scientific research into diseases for which we currently have no cure. At the moment people are dying all over the world both developed and developing of diseases that are perfectly curable and indeed preventable if only the medication and environment existed to do so. Whilst this travesty persists we will be doomed to be fighting the battle from 3 steps behind and never even making it to the front line.

Friday, November 25, 2005

No Exploitation Without Education - Future Shocks - Part 3

No looking to the future series would be complete without a look at the real future, namely the generations to come, our children and their children. The perils that are facing them across the world are magnified by virtue of the fact that even before they have to clean up our mess they must first navigate the education system, and this is for those that have that as an option let alone the millions without adequate food and water.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation has just published a report saying that the 1996 targets of halving the number of the starving by 2015 will not be met. At present 6 million children die every year from malnutrition or starvation, many deaths are actually caused by diseases like diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia, but victims would survive if they were not already weakened by a lack of food. At the present rate of development only South America and the Caribbean are on course to meet Millennium Development Goal targets. The FAO reports estimate that 852 million people were undernourished during 2000-2002. In fact the proportion of those in sub-saharan Africa has risen from 170.4 million around 1990 to 203.5 million, which makes something of a mockery of the gesturing of the G8 leaders at the summit in Edinburgh last summer.

In Uganda in 1997 primary education was made free and the primary school population rose from just under 3 million to over 7 million almost overnight. However secondary school is not free and costs around 60,000 Shillings (around £20) per term. This is around 6 weeks wages for the average Ugandan, which is more than enough for earning parents let alone parents who are ill with HIV/AIDS or TB and that doesn't begin to cover the orphans. The fees cannot be waived because if they are the schools do not have the money to pay the teachers who generally are paid months in arrears.

Children not educated in secondary school are likely to become domestic servants. Female "housegirls" are like as not to be used for sex. Ugandan schools therefore witness a sight alien to those of us in the west, where students are trying to break into school rather than out. Hardly surprising when it is considered that school fees not only comprise the access to education and a future but also include a meal at lunchtime, in a country where 23% of the population are malnourished.

To see some of these children talk about how important school and education is for them one cannot help but feel that for every one who is unable to go a spark of hope is snuffed out. It's not as if children in Uganda don't have enough to worry about 100,000 children in Uganda alone die of malaria every year. In Africa as a whole a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. Malaria has killed more people throughout history than all the other causes of human death put together. There may not be a quick fix for such a disease because simple antibiotics and the like will only be effective for a certain period of time before the disease mutates and develops resistance.

It is easy to think that it is just in the developing world where this burgeoning education system requires investment to allow it to benefit the whole population in time and over the generations. This would be a false assumption and either a naive or an arrogant one were one to properly examine our education system in the West. Here the social and financial apartheid of the state and private school systems creates division almost as soon as it is possible to do so. Some local authorities have good nursery education but free nurseries do not start in Britain until age 3. Well-off parents of course have the option of sending children to often facility-rich private nurseries which are often the only institutions pre-secondary school to offer a modern language. At primary school level the postcode lottery comes to the fore again. Offsted reports are scrutinised for every primary school in an area and the good ones affect house prices of the catchment area drastically, once again favouring the more affluent.

Of course results in primary school are seen as the best indication of progress and potential for future direction. Britain's schools do not respond well to non-conformity of any kind, most of the state schools do not have the resources to, and the private schools can choose children that don't exhibit it in order to keep the results high and overhead costs low. Of course the better the school the greater the likelihood of a broader range of subjects and sporting facilities etc. The broader the range of subjects on offer the increase in chances that a pupil be given the opportunity to find ones that s/he excels in. Aptitude generally leads easily to success in schools whilst students offered a narrow selection are far more likely to respond with ambivalence.

I have raised the question many times before of who benefits if all children get the best quality of education? It is not just the child nor even the parents but the whole of society, the more children whose aptitude can be assessed the greater the possibilities that they can find a direction that is of interest and benfit to them in later life and this will invariably lead to them feeling more part of society and society gaining the more for such. The inequitous state of education in this country and others like it is a national and international disgrace. That in the 21st century we are unable to adequately guarantee a good and consistent level of education to every child in the land should be something that shames every government that leaves office with the situation unresolved.

In the West currently there is ever more disenfranchisement from society as the education system fails more and more people within it. If one is not of academic normality and this can mean too compentent as not gifted in this area, the education system has little option. To add insult to injury we have been taught over many generations to prize academic excellence above all other and thus for those who fulfill it the possibilities are far greater than for those who do not. One could be the best mechanic in the country but would receive less plaudits from most than a mediocre Dr. On account of the postcode lottery even the academically gifted have no guarantee of receiving the education that will bring out their talents if their parents are not wealthy. The well-off have rather more options, the academic children can be sent to good private or "public" schools to receive a far better level of education than most state schools can offer, whilst the less academically-able child of rich parents can be sent to the sort of institution thaat will look after its own in order that alumnii can rely on a degree of old school tie support to see them right in later years. Private schools are not bounded by the same curriculum restrictions as state schools and therefore have a far greater degree of autonomy to be able to offer that broader range of subjects that can mean so much. Thus even the less well-able can prosper if they are born of the well-off and hedge their bets so as not to come across as 'unacademic'.

So, as we have seen in both Africa and Britain the differences are not so great, if you are schooled academically you are perceived as being of greater value than if you are not. This must change across the world, there can be no real progress without it. The weighting of the bookish above the dextrous is holding back the progress of human society. Every child without exception must be provided with the best education possible to provide and the broadest range of experiences, only this way can we tackle ignorance and apathy and create people with both social awareness and social responsibility.

In the light of this, to see hundreds of billions chucked on warfare is tantamount to seeing governments dismantle schools that haven't been built yet. it is our responsibility to reverse that trend.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Energy Matters - Future Shocks - Part 2

It is November and the weather is getting colder much quicker than anticipated after a fairly mild October by comparison. The cold winter has been forcast for some time so it is not a sudden freak snap.

In spite of this the price of gas per unit has nearly doubled in the last week from 43p to 80p per therm. This is having an obvious knock-on effect to energy companies who will of course pass on these rises to consumers, it is also a potential problem for businesses that rely on gas for production. The chemical industry have already spoken about the possible ramifications of a cold winter meaning jobs will be threatened as production costs rise. Perfect for workers in that industry in the run up to the festive season, there will doubtless be a few parents hoping that their children's wishes for a white Christmas do not come true, at least not this year.

The reason that this is a particular problem here is that where once Britain had a degree of energy self-sufficiency from the North Sea gas an oil pipelines the reserves have been nearly exhausted enforcing the importation of gas from continental Europe. Britain is now considered a net importer of gas. This situation is not one that is likely to recede it is to increase more and more and prolonged periods of cold weather will only serve to exacerbate the problem. We only need look at the US to see what happens in the case of a country with an energy deficit, were there to be any interruptions in the gas pipeline from Europe for any reason it is difficult to see what course Britain would attempt to take in order to preserve the current energy consumption.

There are of course alternatives to gas as a fuel medium, one set of methods has been on the agenda for some time but it would take time, effort and a lot of research money with initially low chance of return and this is why the cause of renewable energy has been lagging behind for decades. There has been far too much pussy-footing around when it comes to the construction of wind farms and the like due to allegedly "aethesthetic considerations". This argument I'm afraid is a non-starter, to be honest the same people complaining about the proposed effects of a wind farm on their environment should be given the option of either having said wind farm or being responsible for generating their own power. New homes should all have modern solar panel fitted as standard and that should be a statutory requirement the same way the type of glass in windows is enshrined in legislation. Modern solar panels work best in bright sunshine but not exclusively they also generate energy from light in general.

We are told that there isn't time to put all the necessary research and development into renewable energies and it has been reinforced by reports this week that in the mind of Tony Blair only nuclear power can best fit the bill in terms of both reducing reliance on fossil fuels and reducing carbon emmissions as per the Kyoto treaty, this is not a very good run-in to the announced review of policy by the government to be completed next year. (The last review was only concluded 2 years ago and had reported that renewable energy and improving efficiency were the best ways to ensure future energy provision was met.) The option of nuclear power seems ridiculous if being discussed for a short-term measure because the costs of building the power stations and obtaining the raw materials are high, it would cost £9 billion to upgrade to retain the current 20% power coming from nuclear rather than ramping down and obviously far more if the percentage is to be increased to lessen the impact of Britain being a net importer of gas. One cannot debate nuclear power without mentioning that the costs both financially and environmentally of the disposal of nuclear waste are astronomical. However the nuclear option does not make sense in the long term either because it too is a power based on the use of a certain material of finite global quantity. Have we learnt nothing from the fossil fuel situation? For us to change from one non-renewable source to another would be a serious policy based on the principle of fingers in the ears and la-la-la I can't hear you!

According to Labour’s Minister for Energy Malcolm Wicks who claims to be ‘Nuclear Neutral’, renewable energy also has a role to play in New Labour's vision, in 2020 20% of energy could be provided by renewable sources. This means that in light of the gradual, becoming ever increasingly steeper, decline of fossil fuels we are, like as not, to end up in the situation of France where nuclear makes up 80% of the electricity production.

Why the change of heart from the Labour party? Let's have a look at some figures and see if we might be able to fathom it: power stations account for 29.7% of the UKs carbon emission (a quarter of this is nuclear) This is only 1/3 of the country's total emission and whilst it is the biggest single contributor there are others that provide cause for concern such as transport at 22% and there hasn't been such a furore about reducing the emissions from this source as there is from power stations. Which is interesting because you cannot break the link between transport and fuel. Whilst we may not have oil power stations and coal buses, I cannot see even this ostrich-like government suggesting we embark on nuclear buses. Government carbon emissions targets for 2010 and 2020 will not be met by renewable alone, so purely in order to meet these targets, which are above those required for Kyoto and not for long-term environmental considerations is nuclear being considered. In fact doubling nuclear power provision would only reduce carbon emissions by 8% and so clearly it's long-term consideration.

Of course Sir Digby Jones and the CBI and Business community support nuclear, let's bear it very much in the forefront of any study that it is a commodity based form of power production, money can be made in all the forms of the process, the supply and distribution of the raw materials to the disposal of the waste. You cannot sell the wind or the sea or the sun and perhaps this is the true reason why renewables have never really been at the top of the political or economical agenda.

It is all very well to chide and look on the fact that we should have acted decades ago to prevent this from becoming the crisis that it unquestionably now will but that does not remove the responsibility to pressurise those in control to change now to lessen the impact of such a catastrophe. It is also important to tackle the issue of targets. Some may say how could I be against targets that are in excess of those required under the Kyoto treaty? To be honest it is all very well to set targets but this has to be based on sustainable solutions, to be using a form of power that is still heavy on emissions albeit slightly less so than the ones we are currently using but where the flip side is that the half-life of the waste has to be safeguarded for generations to come seems not to be a panacea to me. I would far rather an integrated system where we look at the way we live our lives and acknowledge that regardless of how we might like to dress it up we are going to have to radically alter the way we do things. Yes there may be a country like Iraq to be invaded for the oil reserves, even perhaps Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan for the same, or Russia for the gas reserves but at the end of the day IT IS GOING TO RUN OUT IN THE END. That is irrefutable, I haven't even heard the trained chimp disputing that one. Surely then the best solution is the one whereby we generate our electricity by renewable sources and run our transportation systems accordingly to bring them into line. This way we drastically reduce both carbon footprint and dependence on finite resource fuel.

As for nuclear, well, I have to leave that debate with the words of Roger Higman of Friends Of The Earth “Until we’re happy to see Iran doing it, we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Crisis What Crisis? Future Shocks - Part 1

So there is a pensions crisis over here, there probably is where you are too that is if you are in a country that still has such socially-progressive things and has not some Dickensian workhouse ethic.

It has been reported for some time that things could not continue the way they have been and the options given were simply a) either raise the retirement age, or b) save more money over a longer period of time. Both companies and people are being blamed for not saving enough money, and additionally at fault is the fact that we are supposedly living comparitively longer (as if this is somehow a bad thing) and therefore are more of a drain on the financial resources. Companies are being told to contribute more or the government will be forced to bring in legislation and individuals are being told that they must start saving much more of their income much sooner. It is interesting that the legislative process will clearly be brought into place over the individual before it will be considered for the companies.

OK when it comes to money I have always been kind of short-termist, but then I have never really had the sort of money that would allow me to be otherwise. At the moment I earn what would be classified as a reasonable sum of money for the first time in my life, I am in a job that would be classified as graduate and white collar, it isn't in a higher tax bracket or anything close but most people would think you'd be alright with that as your salary. Now whilst my situation is a little out of the ordinary in so far as I have both children and ostensibly 2 houses to support accordingly not to mention large debts as a result of tertiary education, it is not so unheard of that I am somehow a special case, in fact as time goes on and the cost of University education increses my position will be seen evermore as moderate. And yet paying 6% of my monthly salary into a pension is almost more money than I can afford to be without. So what about those who have similar outgoings to me and only fractionally less money, it must tip them over the edge. And those who have similar outgoings but substantially less income how the hell are they going to manage to be without more of their money?

As for business, well to my mind not agreeing with private industry myself I can to an extent hold my hands up and say well that is always going to be what happens, companies will siphon off what they can to keep the board of directors and investors happy before employees get anything However clearly in the short-term one must look at provision for those who are going to be retiring from such positions within such companies. Of course there are some who's pensions are more than ample. Take the former bosses of the MG Rover group who managed to award themselves pension plans in the multi-millions shortly before the company went bust due to lack of funds. John Towers, the Phoenix chairman, deputy chairman Nick Stephenson, Kevin Howe, its chief executive and directors John Edwards and Peter Beale received salaries totalling £9.7m since they bought Rover. They also set up a pension fund for themselves and their families estimated at between £16.5 and £40 million whilst they controlled the company. It hardly takes an economist to work out why the company didn't have any funds when you look at the salaries of the directors and their pension plans. The workers at MG Rover are in a slightly different state - instead of being offered a share of the assets of £50 million (the pension plan ended £470 million in deficit) they have been offered an ex gratia settlement by the former directors of £5000, however this is not £5000 each which would be precious little enough it is £5000 between them, working out to 82p each. To be honest such a derisory sum is an absolute insult and taken in comparison with the relief package by the taxpayers which is expected to be around £50m one cannot help but think there is something very rotten in the system that this should be allowed to happen.

As I have mentioned in my last post the top 400 company directors in the UK paid themselves £1 billion in pensions last year alone, which illustrates that the Rover example is by no means the exception but the rule. It seems staggering that as the gap between the richest and the poorest continues to grow in the "developed" world the issue of the redressing of the balance by taxation means is not tackled. The same solution exists for the pensions crisis if only the political will did. Ultimately the problem can be broken up as follows: You have a population most of whom will require some form of state pension once they get to retirement age. If as a hypothetical figure we say that of the 75 million in the country 10 million are past the retirement age. If we take as a fair sum to live off in the modern world as £20,000 this would mean one would need £200 thousand million to pay for it. It's a lot of money and yet this is not money that would have to be found instantly if it were planned for properly. A contribution system which most countries in the West employ would be able to cope with this sort of requirement with some ease. Furthermore it is not as if this sort of money isn't pissed down the drain into wars and newer nuclear deterrents and yes, religious institutions if you press me. There's no question the money IS available because if you were to take a simple figure of a working population of 40 million earning an average wage of £10,000 and taxed at 30% this brings in well over £1 billion and therefore more than 5 times the amount needed for pension provision which naturally is just as well for the provision of healthcare and welfare benefits. It is true this is very basic economics using simplified figures for my own understanding rather than any desire to patronise my readership who, I am sure have a greater comprehension of economics than I.

Working longer should not be necessary, even this is an area which fundamentally favours the well-off. Firstly the rich are more likely to have been to university and thus not starting work until their early 20s whilst their life expenctancy is approximately 18 years after the age of retirement whilst in stark contrast the less well-off are more likely to have left school at 16 or 18 and their life expectancy is only approximately 13 years of age after the age of retirement. This means a disparity of anything up to 11 years between the classes. Are we saying in the 21st century that if you are more or not of academic bent that you must work for 50 years until you can rest?

This is not to say that there should not be provision for those that would like to work beyond the age of retirement, it has always struck me as a little ludicrous that I know of many forced to retire against their will whilst the government and financial institutions bash on about us having to work longer in the future. But, sadly in this society we do not see the old as the wizened, experienced mages, holders of our history and what we are indeed to become, instead they are a drain on resources such as the NHS and council housing and national insurance.

It is time now to face up to stark choices. Those in power currently represent the old order, funding fossil fuels, wars to prop up the dominance of the capitalist economic cycle, big businesses and the industrial era. This era will soon be the past the question is will we be ready for it or plunged into chaos due to the inactivity in this area from governments. Whether it be our pensions or energy policy the Western governments have made an error of catacylismic proportions not making any funding or research to safeguard the future. What they seem incapable of grasping is that this is not simply a problem that can be circumvented, the future is going to happen, the question is will we have any idea how to cope with it?

Friday, July 08, 2005

G8 - Summation By The Master

Whilst I collate my thoughts and pictures from my week in Edinburgh, I didn't take my laptop so I had to write everything down and then transcribe it when I got back. I wrote quite a bit so I'm something of a victim of my own success, it's taking bloody ages to write it all up! What I will do is on Thursday I will attempt to renact the week that I had by uploading day by day the writings I made on each day I was away. I'm sure that level of chronology is of little interest to anyone else but it is useful for me. I'm quite chuffed with some of the photos and they took me bloody ages to upload. I had also written a conclusion piece before I read John Pilger's account which I include below. Naturally he says much of what I do but so much better and so much more powerfully it may render my attempt pointless. Pilger doesn't pull his punches, he never has done and thank Christ someone is prepared to stand up and say what is actually going on and slice through the forest of bullshit that that governments and media have built up to stop us seeing inside. Please read it and if you feel inclined disseminate it to as many people as you can, this was the best way I could think of for me to do so.

"The ghost at Gleneagles In the orgy of summit coverage something has been overlooked: the two men at the heart of it, telling us how the world should be run, are the men responsible for Fallujah and Abu Ghraib.

Over the past two weeks, the contrast between two related "global" events has been salutary. The first was the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul; the second the G8 meeting in Scotland and the Make Poverty History campaign. Reading the papers and watching television in Britain, you would know nothing about the Istanbul meetings, which produced the most searing evidence to date of the greatest political scandal of modern times: the attack on a defenceless Iraq by America and Britain. The tribunal is a serious international public inquiry into the invasion and occupation, the kind governments dare not hold. "We are here," said the author Arundhati Roy in Istanbul, "to examine a vast spectrum of evidence [about the war] that has been deliberately marginalised and suppressed - its legality, the role of international institutions and major corporations in the occupation; the role of the media, the impact of weapons such as depleted-uranium munitions, napalm and cluster bombs, the use and legitimation of torture . . . This tribunal is an attempt to correct the record: to document the history of the war not from the point of view of the victors but of the temporarily vanquished." "Temporarily vanquished" implies that, even faced with such rampant power, the Iraqi people will recover. You certainly need this sense of hope when reading the eyewitness testimonies, which demonstrate, as Roy pointed out, "that even those of us who have tried to follow the war closely are not aware of a fraction of the horrors that have been unleashed in Iraq".

The most shocking was given by Dahr Jamail. Unless you read the internet, you will not know who Dahr Jamail is. He is not an amusing Baghdad blogger. For me, he is the finest reporter working in Iraq. Together with Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and a few others, mostly freelancers, he shames the flak-jacketed, cliche-crunching camp followers known as "embeds". A Lebanese with US citizenship, Jamail has been almost everywhere the camp followers have not. He has reported from the besieged city of Fallujah, whose destruction and atrocities have been suppressed, notably by the BBC.

In Istanbul, Jamail bore his independent reporter's witness to the thousands of Iraqis tortured in Abu Ghraib and other US-run prisons. His account of what had happened to a civil servant in Baghdad was typical. This man, Ali Abbas, had gone to a US base to inquire about his missing neighbours. On his fourth visit, he was arrested without charge, stripped naked, hooded and forced to simulate sex with other prisoners. This was standard procedure. He was beaten on his genitals, electrocuted in the anus, denied water and forced to watch as his food was thrown away. A loaded gun was held to his head to prevent him from screaming in pain as his wrists were bound so tightly that the blood drained from his hands. He was doused in cold water while a fan was held to his body. "They put on a loudspeaker," he told Jamail, "put the speakers on my ears and said, 'Shut up, fuck, fuck, fuck!'" He was refused sleep. Excrement was wiped on him and dogs were used on him. "Sometimes at night when he would read his Koran," said Jamail, "[he] had to hold it in the hallway for light. 'Soldiers would walk by and kick the Holy Koran, and sometimes they would try to piss on it or wipe shit on it,' [Abbas] said." A female soldier told him, "Our aim is to put you in hell . . . These are the orders we have from our superiors, to turn your lives into hell." Jamail described how Fallujah's hospitals have been subjected to an American tactic of collective punishment, with US marines assaulting staff and stopping the wounded entering, and American snipers firing at the doors and windows, and medicines and emergency blood prevented from reaching the hospitals. Children were shot dead in front of their families, in cold blood. The two men ultimately responsible for this, George W Bush and Tony Blair, attended the G8 meeting at Gleneagles.Unlike for the Iraq tribunal, there was saturation coverage, yet no one in the "mainstream" - from the embedded media to the Make Poverty History organisers and the accredited, acceptable celebrities - made the obvious connection with Bush's and Blair's enduring crime in Iraq. No one stood and said that Blair's smoke-and-mirrors "debt cancellation" at best amounted to less than the money the government spent in a week on brutalising Iraq, where British and American violence was the cause of the doubling of child poverty and malnutrition since Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

In Edinburgh, a shameless invitation-only meeting of Christian Aid supporters and church leaders was addressed by Gordon Brown, a paymaster of this carnage. Only one person asked him, "When will you stop the rape of the poor's resources? Why are there so many conditions on aid?" This lone protester was not referring specifically to Iraq, but to most of the world. He was thrown out, to cheers from among the assembled Christians. That set the theme for the G8 week: the silencing and pacifying and co-option of real dissent and truth. It was Frantz Fanon, the great pan-Africanist intellectual/activist, who exposed colonial greed and violence dressed up as polite do-goodery, and nothing has changed, in Africa as in Iraq. The mawkish images on giant screens behind the pop stars in Hyde Park beckoned a wilful, self-satisfied ignorance. There were none of the images that television refuses to show: of murdered Iraqi doctors with the blood streaming from their heads, cut down by Bush's snipers. On the front page of the Guardian, the Age of Irony was celebrated as real life became more satirical than satire could ever be. There was Bob Geldof, resting his smiling face on smiling Blair's shoulder, the war criminal and his jester. Elsewhere, there was a heroically silhouetted Bono, who celebrates men like Jeffrey Sachs as saviours of the world's poor while lauding "compassionate" Bush's "war on terror" as one of his generation's greatest achievements; and there again was Brown, the enforcer of unfair rules of trade, saying incredibly that "unfair rules of trade shackle poor people"; and Paul Wolfowitz, beaming next to the Archbishop of Canterbury: this is the man who, before he was handed control of the World Bank, devised much of Bush's so-called neoconservative putsch, the mendacious justification for the bloodfest in Iraq and the notion of "endless war".

And if you missed all that, there is a downloadable PDF kit from a "ONE Campaign" e-mail to "help you organise your very own ongoing Live 8 party". The suppression of African singers and bands, parked where Geldof decreed, in an environmental theme park in Cornwall far from the vaunted global audience, was described correctly by Andy Kershaw as "musical apartheid". Has there ever been a censorship as complete and insidious and ingenious as this? Even when Stalin airbrushed his purged comrades from the annual photograph on top of Lenin's mausoleum, the Russian people could fill in the gaps. Media and cultural hype provide infinitely more powerful propaganda weapons in the age of Blair. With Diana, there was grief by media. With Iraq, there was war by media. Now there is mass distraction by media, a normalising of the unmentionable that "the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people", as Arthur Miller wrote, "and so the evidence has to be internally denied".

Deploying the unction of Bono, Madonna, Paul McCartney, a pop-up Andrew Marr and of course Geldof, whose Live Aid 20 years ago achieved nothing for the people of Africa, the contemporary plunderers and pawnbrokers of that continent have pulled off an unprecedented scam: the antithesis of 15 February 2003, when two million people brought both hearts and brains to the streets of London. "[Ours] is not a march in the sense of a demonstration, but more of a walk, " said Bruce Whitehead of Make Poverty History. "The emphasis is on fun in the sun. The intention is to welcome the G8 leaders to Scotland and ask them to deliver trade justice, debt cancellation and increased aid to developing countries."

Really? In Lewis Carroll's classic, Alice asked the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter to show her the way out of wonderland. They did, over and again, this way, that way, until she lost her temper and brought down her dream-world, waking her up. The people killed and maimed in Iraq and the people wilfully impoverished in Africa by our governments and our institutions, in our name, demand that we wake up."

This paints the sort of picture that I think my ramblings of my G8 week will paint too, but it does so in such a powerful and yet succinct way. this is why John Pilger is one of the finest investigative journalists this country has seen. So, having read his passage now tell me another world isn't possible.

Song Of The Day ~ Edwin Starr - War

Thursday, July 07, 2005

G8 Summit - Final Grade - F

It was hardly a surprise, even before the London bombings and before the protests our expectations were low as to the tangible conclusions of the G8 summit at Gleneagles. It seemed likely that due to the pressure of the protesters and the many celebrities that jumped on the bandwagon of the campaign the G8 leaders would at least have their pledge books out. That is of course not to say they are going to do anything but they will make it look as if they had intention to. The same tactic was applied for the aid supposed to be on its way for the victims of the asian tsunami. Billlions were pledged but less than 20% actually materialised, however it looked good for the cameras to be so generous even if there were no intention of delivering the promises.

The greatest problem with the bombings, leaving aside the obvious one in the loss of innocent lives, was that it allowed the G8 leaders to unite behind a common cause, a common foe - terrorism...again. Now the trouble with terrorism as an enemy is as Chomsky put it that it isn't tangible, it isn't as if you are going to have eradicated it if you do certain things. It's a war that has no end, it can be used time and time again to suit various political purposes at will.

If we look at the legislation now being proposed even with Parliament currently in recess it is clear that the government are planning to use the London bombings as a smokescreen for all the stuff that they would previously have found impossible. There is going to be a big push for ID cards and the like, we are about to see deportations for religious (=islamic) extremism. So far I have not heard one critique of the hard-line orthodox Jewish extremists nor the very reactionary Catholics and I'm sure in every single denomination and faith there are some who would come under the extremist category. But that is not who they are looking for make no mistake this is purely a rod to beat muslims back... at the moment remember Pastor Niemueller?

And what of the world's poor, as if by magic another famine appears and yet my hopes for the people of Niger are not appreciably higher than they would have been before the Make Poverty History campaign now. I'm sure some "friendly" countries may receive some assistance but you can bet that those deemed extremist will not. Men like Robert Mugabe supported initially by the West will be cited as the reason why Zimbabwe is not getting any aid, this after mass criticism that he is starving his people, and yet now we are helping him to do so.

I'm afraid I disagree with Bono that this is the beginning of the end of poverty. This is simply the beginning of what may well be a long struggle to end poverty. We have taken the first step to show the world that enough is enough, the powers that be will attempt many things to put us off track including making it look as if they are our staunchest supporters it is a hoodwink tactic and must be seen as such. If they wanted to end world poverty they could do so almost overnight. The status quo, the TNCs the MNCs the NSA, the CIA, the G8 leaders will not give up the world without a fight, they are making far too much money for that. But remember "Who's world?"


Song Of The Day ~ Hall & Oates - Out Of Touch

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

G8 Edinburgh Day 7 - This Is What Democracy Looks Like!

This was always going to be the one that could go either way. Initially in the light of the weekends events one might have thought that the foundations had been laid for peaceful protest. Monday changed all that.

Nick and I went down to Waterloo Place to pick up the coach at 9am. the tickets had said 10 but the lady I bought them off told me they'd have to leave at 9 because there were so many of us. Over 30 coaches left in good time and set off for Auchterarder. Having negociated the Edinburgh rush hour we were then pulled over en masse at the Forth Road Bridge and the police did spot checks etc. There was no reason given, it slowed us down it got people edgy it laid down the law so to speak from their perspective. In comparison with what we had expected it was pretty mild and we crossed the Forth Bridge in fairly buoyant mood.

Nearly an hour later as we got to the junction of the A9 we were all pulled over again and the police presence was much greater. At this point we started to find out a little more of what had been going on around us whilst we journeyed North oblivious. The people left behind in Edinburgh, including a friend of mine that I was due to meet on the march, who were expecting to catch buses at 10am had not been able to leave because the police had stopped the buses from going to pick them up. They were staging a protest in Princes St. in defence of their right to march.

The media disinformation appeared to be a particular tactic. The police had initially issued a statement first thing in the morning asserting that the march organisers had called it off, they were forced to retract that so the next statement was that they (the police) had cancelled the march, which under the Human Rights Act they have no powers to do. Whilst this did not affect those of us who had just gone straight to the coaches, it undoubtedly had an effect on many people who may have been listening to the radio and such like as they got ready in the morning. In addition to this police were stopping cars and minibuses on the route from Edinburgh and telling people that it had been cancelled. One group we spoke to said that they informed the police that on the radio it had said it was not cancelled and the police retracted the statement saying oh yes oh yes we were just saying that it had been cancelled but it isn't any more.

The reason, apparently, we had all been stopped was that there were anarchist roadblocks on the A9. Which was interesting since they were obviously conveniently positioned near enough this area where the police were able to keep 40 coaches without blocking the road. We were debating what we should do if the police didn't let us go thru' and whether we should all occupy the roundabout when I got the call from my mate on Princes St. to inform me that they were all being accused of inciting a riot! I later spoke to a mate of mine back at home who told me that he'd seen some pictures on the news and the "roadblocks" were the odd branch across the carriageway. From the news items I saw later there were some proper type roadblocks too but I did not see any on the dual carriageway at all they were all on country roads.

Some while later the coach drivers were told to start their engines and that we would be going, thiis turned out to be a false alarm. We were then told that were were waiting for another unit of plod to come down who were going to escort us to Auchterarder, this seemed rather ironic as for me out of a police escort or a cavalcade of anti G8 protesters I know which the anarchists would take more umbrage to. Perhaps in fact the truth was that we were to be escorting the police to Auchterarder! When the escort arrived and we set off after our more than 2 hour delay the escort proceeded to marshall us along the dual carriageway at 10-15mph. There was nothing at all on the road in either direction.

We arrived at Auchterarder after a total of 4hrs 30mins for a journey that should have taken just over an hour. The police had done their best to stop us but we'd made it in spite of them and the mood on the town common/village green was bouyant. After some speeches and some music we set off to march. The route had already been publisised in so far as we knew we were to walk up the main st. and get to the gates of the Gleneagles estate at which point we were expected to turn right and head round back parallel to end up where we came from. This seemed logistically naive from the outset, and I remember remarking to Nick days before that there was going to be a bottle neck at the gates and there was going to be trouble and that's what the police were looking for because they'd just hem us in at the back and the top and employ the same tactic as Monday. I do not claim to be a prophet nor particularly in tune with police strategy I merely make mention of this here to illustrate how obvious it seemed beforehand.

Our man in Princes St. told me that he had been issued a Section 60 and told that the police had video evidence of him doing all sorts of shit, and yet they wanted him simply to leave the area or be arrested. I know the guy and to be frank the notion of him doing anything violent or damaging is laughable, besides which if they had video evidence of him I have no doubt he would have been arrested there and then. He told me the only scuffle he'd got into was when he'd pulled a guy off a car and said "don't give them an excuse mate." As he was on his own and not in a group of people he understandably left the area.

The first 45 mins or so of the march at Auchterarder was good-natured and loud with singing and chanting and general pleasure that we had all got there. It was as if there was an enormous sense of relief that we had all got there and were now safe in our numbers, what was going to happen would happen but we were all there regardless. Nick and I had already discussed that we were not going to do any damage, that wasn't what either of us were here for, but if there was a fence breach and people started into the estate we would follow suit to try to ensure the safety in numbers. If 5 people were arrested within the compound they would have the book thrown at them, if 100 were arrested it would be more difficult, 1000 and the police position would be less tenable still.

Everything ground to a halt, there was no moving for a while and people started wondering what was going on. In typical chinese whispers fasion rumours were getting back to us that there was a crush against the gates, or there had been a sit down protest or these had been a breach of the fence. The police were principally responsible for this, they were telling us to move back which we did. Still nothing went forward, then the chinook helicopters started arriving whirring around the compund and the march area clearly as a show of force, they buzzed around us and did low fly-bys and banked in our vicinity. It was all rather petty to be honest and once again it became clear that the police had set out their stall long before we arrived. In conjunction with this riot vans had been appearing at stretches along the march and groups of police were forming lines to separate the marchers into smaller groups.

It must have been over an hour before people started to walk back to the common, first a handful then a lot more. We stayed put, it seemed like hours, there seemed no information from the stewards and the police were still claiming there was a crush. At one stage the march was moving forward and I was being told to move back by a plod. I simply stood where I was and he berated me I answered that if there was a crush up the front and everyone was going forward then standing my ground was a valid tactic and if everyone currently did it then there would be no crush. He responded angrily that if I spent my time doing as I was told and stopped being so difficult it would be wise. I stood my ground.

That was the last time I saw the march move forward. From that point on people continued to drift backwards, it was already long after our buses were supposed to have left so clearly they would have to wait for us wouldn't they? I don't know what time it was but eventually the stewards started telling us that the police were not letting people through at the front and that the advice from the chief steward was that we were to go back to the village green. It was stated in no uncertain terms that the buses would only wait a certain amount of time. The inference of this was pretty clear and Nick and I were left with little practical choice but to join the backward line.

We encountered a rather bizarre stand-off at this point where the stewards were telling us to go back and leave the area and yet we were still prevented from doing so by a large group of police in a line. This seemed rather ironic and I would have loved to have said that we all turned round and said 'well ok if you insist officers' and marched back towards the estate! The order was slow in coming but obviously it did get through in the end and we were allowed to walk back. Just shy of the village green we were crossing the road and a parked Greater Manchester police van revved its engine just as I walked in front of it. I'm afraid I got the red mist and gave him the finger straight away and yelled at him to fuck off and stop trying to intimidate pedestrians who had the right of way. The driver of the van did not look pleased at all but at that stage I simply didn't care, I was tired and hungry and very pissed off that we had not been allowed to make our point to those in their ivory towers.

Back at the green Nick and I found a queue for some thick vegetable stew that was being ladeled out and given with a slab of fresh brown bread. What was even better was that it was free. I have no idea how it was orchestrated or who paid for it but I could have kissed the girl serving it, it was hot and filling and good, I was so hungry I even ate the cabbage! It gave us some more energy and we could have marched back again given the chance. There was a sort of debrief, pats on the back for us all getting there and such like.

On the return coach journey the mood was cheerful but not as bubbly and vocal as before. there was a communal sense of disappointment, tinged with anger and perhaps a little relief that we few had managed to come out unscathed but without shying away from what had to be done.

Song Of The Day ~ Led Zeppelin - No Quarter

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

G8 Edinburgh Day 6 - A Meal & A Place To Stay II

Something about today makes it feel that I am not to be here much longer, yesterday it still felt like I'd be here a little while. I would like to be here a few more days. The atmosphere is a little surreal in so far as the group of people I'm hanging out with here are here for the longer term save for myself and Nick. Me, I return whence I came back to my life on Thursday, house, children, work etc. Don't get me wrong in so many ways I appreciate what I have, I've worked hard enough for it after all. When I didn't have security it was something I craved, I've been looking for a chance to find somewhere to put down roots for ages, I guess when you wait for something for a long time and then you kind of achieve it you wonder what it is you ought to do next. I try to make up for this with meaningless possessions and gadgets, nothing more than playthings to prevent me getting bored. It doesn't work. This is the only thing that prevents me getting bored. Writing and politics is all there is really when it's broken down below the surface.

I guess it's the lack of adventure really, the uneventful security now of a job and a house. I could see trying to stabilise my finances as a challenge, an adventure but it bores me, money bores me, I need enough of it to survive, I don't like the struggle but anything else is overkill. I was talking to Warren about life and his plans and things. He's only a little older than me and he is currently working for a catering agency getting work on a sporadic basis and as a result he is forced to live on a shoestring. He is thinking of being a pedicab driver but what he really wants is to be a writer. He might just do it, he certainly has the potential, but then so many of us do. (I presumptuously lump myself into the 'us' here based on other people's views on my writing rather than my own.) Warren is prepared to take the risks which may just stand him in good stead, ultimately he needs to succeed to give everyone else hope, I wish him luck for it.

As for James, as time goes on he seems more and more the Peter Pan figure, slightly tragicomically I sense he doesn't have the inner peace he wants but then how hypocritical it would be of me to regard that from a distance. I have no idea how James actually makes any money, but he is responsible for the nightly dope intake, I think mainly because his dealer's just come out of chokey so he might have had to abstain for a while! Most of the evenings in the hostel has been spent sitting in a group of around 6 people getting caned and laughing for hours. It is easy to release such emotion when the next day is not beset with the notion of needing to find a job by the end of the week so you can pay for your bed for the next 7 days.

When I look at this situation I have to be thankful for the lifestyle I have, but I envy my friends here the sense of communal living and camaraderie that they have. They have to have it it's what gets you thru' the night I guess, not everyone gets involved, some keep themselves to themselves but to me it's infectious, in the short time I have been here already I have become concerned about people's welfare, Renata's job, Elias getting bleach poisoning or something (!) John and Warren and their lack of a decent job.

There are some who are eminently capable and just seem to have the fortitude or just the confidence to get thru' it and sort their lives out quite adequately. Elaine from Winnepeg is like this, she is quite assured, she has obviously been around long enough to have got a pretty good idea who she is, she has grown up, it, and the fact that she's a bit of a fox, make her really quite alluring. Her problem now is wondering whether to go back home where she'll be a big fish in a small pond to a degree, someone who has grown up and spent the necessary time doing so but as a result will be seen by many of those around her at home as someone 4-5 years behind everyone else because she hasn't settled down with a job or family yet, or should she stay away and see how things go and take that step into the unknown. It's a quandry I remember, whether I made the right choice...?

I am not really that concerned about Elias' welfare either, he's a very intelligent bloke, he is also mad as a fish but he's savvy and has a good dose of realism. A chemistry graduate who smokes the same pipe tobacco in his roll-ups as my Dad does in his pipe, l will not forget encountering him in the morning when he's in full toilet blitz mode and I haven't quite woken up yet. Every now and again in the evening when we're all horsing around he'll mutter some spanish phrase which for some reason I alway found hilarious. He is here for the Summer learning English, he doesn't actually seem to ever sleep it's up early do the bogs then off to classes then back home, bit of study, stay up till at least after the rest of us have gone to bed. the place wouldn't be the same without him.

There are also a hell of a lot of Poles here too. Some travelling, some looking to stay around a while. There's Krystof who busks on Calton Hill, he's a pleasant affable chap, and again I really hope that he is able to make a living playing his flute because I like to think there is still a chance to be Bohemian. Besides he is a courageous and proud man and I respect him for the principled way he lives his life. I saw him on Calton Hill on Monday, he had obviously been there a while and had collected around £5, it's slim pickings really because he plays very well. Adam and his girlfriend/sister I never did find out which were around most nights, I tired to keep Adam in decent beer, he seemed to enjoy it, the both of them are very friendly and they were practically the first people I met here. They don't speak a huge amount of English but more than I do Polish so conversations tended to involve sign language and bits, but it's nice to make the effort to talk to people that you wouldn't otherwise get the chance to.

Song Of The Day ~ The Libertines - Can't Stand Me Now