All entries for November 2008

November 28, 2008

The balance of power

Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green arrested

I don't know the details of his contract and obligations, but, if the combined response of the Tories, Lib Dems and some Labour backbenchers is anything to go by, the mark has definitely been overstepped. It also brings to light the conflict between duties - if, as a minister, he comes by information which he truly does believe is in the public interest which has not been released, which is the greater duty, that to his contract or that to his constituents? Look at the leaks mentioned:

  • The November 2007 revelation that the home secretary knew the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it.
  • The February 2008 news that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons.
  • A whips' list of potential Labour rebels in the vote on plans to increase the pre-charge terror detention limit to 42 days.
  • A letter from the home secretary warning that a recession could lead to a rise in crime

The middle 2 are perhaps spiteful and risky manoeuvres, but the first and last are most definitely in the sphere of knowledge of public interest. Though it also raises the question of whether he would wish to die by the sword as well - by uncovering information this government wishes to keep secret, he (and Cameron through his endorsement) loses any right to the moral high ground should the same thing happen under a Tory government.

Regardless, it seems an extremely excessive and heavy-handed way to deal with the situation. The obvious overreacting comparison is 1984, and we're not there yet,  but it is a step on the way...

November 13, 2008

We're all gonna die…

Love handles raise death risk.

Well shit!

November 10, 2008

Today's rant is brought to you by disgust…

Beyonce wants to play Wonder Woman!

Get over yourself, woman. As if there weren't already enough documented stories of you being a total bitch, you're now trying to extend your dubious career where it doesn't belong. Austin Powers proved you can't act. Nor are you anywhere near as attractive as everyone makes out that you are, or I might forgive it. But, especially when a decent or new actress could take the role, and try to meet the high bar set by superhero films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, the prospect of more screen time for the new J-Lo pains me.

November 08, 2008

Retaining the moral high ground

I just watched the film The Kingdom. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. But it got me thinking, not least about the very visceral reactions it caused in me. It's possible this blog will totally undermine me if someone digs it up in the future, or open me up as a target for future attacks, much as if I blogged on my feelings about internet criminals and terrorists and fraudsters (like this story of opportunist cunts, for example). So if you can't bear to see me jeopardise my career, or don't want to lose respect for me due to some unintended offence (unless you're a suicide bomber, in which case fuck you!) then stop reading now. The fact is that the issues are important, and the discussion open and current. In The Kingdom, the chief Saudi investigating officer for a particularly deadly terrorist attack talks about how he is past the point of reason - he simply wishes to kill those responsible. I think this had special resonance for me on the back of rewatching Full Metal Jacket, particularly the scene where Joker executes the sniper to save her from further suffering, despite the fact that she took out three of his friends. I always find myself criticising him for it. The bitch should bleed to death, I think every time, slowly and painfully bleed out. It is a deep betrayal of my Christianity, as it is a step further than an eye for an eye, but if you start shit, you get everything that's coming to you. Or at least, that's the gut response, and that's certainly how I've handled fights (physical ones) in the past.

Putting aside the extreme fucking cowardice of terrorism, I find myself at a hypocrisy, one which is highlighted at the end of The Kingdom (spoilers coming). The final lines are two variations on "Don't worry, we'll kill them all" delivered from either side of the conflict, poignantly undermining much of what appeared to be the ethos of the film whilst pointing out that violence begets more violence. And yet I found myself agreeing entirely with the Saudi officer. The fuckers should die. But why do I feel like that? Watching the terrorists make bombs (as in physically construct them), I wondered how anyone could be a party to something that is an indiscriminate instrument of death, something which cannot be aimed like a gun. A gun can be awful in the wrong hands, but arguably has its place in keeping peace in the world, not least because now that they have been invented and proliferated, I cannot see any path that could lead us back to a time without them. But a bomb full of marbles and nails intended for any passing 'infidel'? It's literally obscene. Their violence is predicated on a version of God who encourages the wholesale slaughter of children and the innocent (though arguably they forsake their innocence by not being Muslim?). That is no worthwhile God. I wholly denounce that God. I know I'm saying nothing new here, that this has been reiterated countless times by countless people since 9/11 etc., but that God has no business in the world. I do not believe that is Allah's wish, nor do most Muslims, or there would doubtless be far more of what we currently label extremists. You can even believe in the eventual global caliphate without recourse to the barbarism and genocide that characterise Islamic, or for that matter any form of religious or political extremism.

But it's the reaction that I want to examine. Because mine is, like the characters of the film, to say "Fuck 'em, kill 'em all!" And why? Because they want to kill me for a God they've twisted beyond all perception. But, as a Christian - granted a deist who doesn't really believe in the Bible is not the best standard bearer for common Christianity, but the basic tenets still hold - surely my desire for retribution makes me no better than them, and worse, a hypocrite! They want to kill me because I believe in a different God (or different version of God). I want to kill them because they're cowardly fucks who will kill innocent people to achieve unjustified aims, and out of anger and pre-emptive self-defence. But since all their reasons for such actions stem from the difference in our Gods, does it not logically follow that I basically want to kill them because they have a different God to me? Not only does that make our basic reasoning identical, it is as more a contradiction of my faith than it is of theirs - God, in my eyes, allows no room for killing, and I do not have the veil of ignorance, or idiotic or misguided misinterpretation to excuse or explain my reactions.

Eventually, any rational system is based on certain basic unprovable assumptions, premises and beliefs. I do not know how they came to their idea of God (though I might hazard a guess). I criticise them, and any extremists, not so much for holding their beliefs but forcing those beliefs on others, but the problem there is that a) that is the natural extension of their particular beliefs, and b) I have as little rational basis for my belief that it is wrong to infringe on personal freedom in such a way as they have for their belief that it is not wrong. There is no recourse to the fact that most people (I almost wrote civilised people there, how fucking colonial of me) don't believe in terrorism, as inter- or universally valid subjectivity does not bring one any closer to objectivity. Populism is not a justification, a million people can be just as wrong as a hundred. Illegality is not a concern either, as their personal moralities, religiously induced as they are, are such that they transcend legal obligation. Mine probably would too - if tomorrow a law was brought in saying there were too many people on the planet and we each needed to go out and kill one person, I'm pretty sure my personal morality would override the law. And since that morality is based on those fundamental subjectivitr principles, we're no closer to an answer. I suppose if there were an obvious answer, or even an unobvious one, it would have been made apparent, publicised and used in dialogue and treatise. If you have any ideas, I'm all ears.

Of course, there is the fact that the reaction is just that, a visceral, animalistic, knee-jerk response to what we perceive of as atrocities and threatening, non-socially acceptable behaviour. We can rise above it to the point where we don't want to kill everyone. Obviously, if in any measure it can be said to be a desire, it's not one I'm actively pursuing. I'm not joining the military, or hunting down terrorists. But if I were given the opportunity to kill a suicide bomber, I'm not sure I wouldn't. Vengeance is an ugly, but powerful thing. I always thought Joker (in Full Metal Jacket) should have shot or cut off each of the bitch's toes and fingers one by one, make her fucking scream in agony like she made 8 Ball, Cowboy and Doc Jay suffer. Not sure I could do it myself, but then, I've never seen my friends shot in front of me. I might feel differently, especially in the heat of the moment. But similar arguments apply for FMJ, except you replace infidels and Islamic extremists with capitalists and communists. Again, those systems, whilst almost entirely rational, are based on the same sorts of unprovable premises and assumptions as religion, like whether we have a duty to help our fellow man, and in what way etc. Perhaps because of their more obvious rational basis, we can come a little closer to objectivity, but it's still fundamentally an exercise in futility, a battle of opinions that can never be solved by logic alone. Is it acceptable to be utlititarian here? I have often said that one of the greatest problems with any great change in a political system, even if it is a perfect system, is that transition. To bring about Plato's republic, for example, one would pretty much require a revolution, probably a bloody one. But, assuming for the moment that it is a perfect system (it's not), could it not be worth it? If one can bring about a perfect system, whereby there is the chance for potentially limitless happiness or contentment from the point at which the system is fully functional, is it not worth a few deaths? A little evil for a greater good? A finite loss for an infinite gain? If that sounds at all familiar, the words Third Reich might jog your memory. Hitler thought he had a perfect system, and was willing to sacrifice to get there. But logically, aren't we obliged to?

Perhaps it depends on the strength of one's convictions - most of us retain some sense of humility, realism or doubt regarding our beliefs, that doubt acting as an inherent check on us forcing those beliefs onto others. But if we were entirely convinced and certain, if we had indisputable knowledge, is it not a moral duty to act on that knowledge if it will benefit others? What separates 'us', then, from 'them' is not so much the type, but the strength of belief. If we all believed the things we do with full conviction, we would all be extremists. Is it arrogance that permits us the high ground, the arrogance we lack that they display? For there is simply no possibility whereby one could gain objective knowledge (except the cogito), even of God. Even a religious experience gives one certainty only for so long as one is having it - as soon as it fades, you're forced to rely on memory, which, as Russell's 5 Minute Universe Hypothesis shows, is wholly unreliable. Could they possibly live their entire lives in a state of religious experience? It seems unlikely, but it is not disprovable. Why God would choose them specifically and not others, and why he would encourage activity most of the world finds reprehensible is nigh on impossible for us to understand, but that could well be just an aspect of God's ineffability, of we as finite, imperfect beings trying to understand an infinite perfection.

So we're not exactly back where we started. We have narrowed it down to one logical possibility which would explain how they might be objectively right or justified in their actions, even if a) that possibility is entirely unprovable, and b) it gives us no definitive answer on whether we can retain the high ground, or even whether there is a high ground to maintain.

And if you read all of that and still don't want to kill me (I'm thinking of you, dad :P), you truly are a friend.

November 07, 2008

ID ID ID hi, ID ID ID ho

People "can't wait for ID cards".

Jacqui Smith:

I believe there is a demand, now, for cards - and as I go round the country I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don't want to wait that long.

Sorry, but I'm just going to have to call that a bare-faced fucking lie. I have never met anyone, not a single person who thinks these are anything remotely like a good idea, and believe me I have discussed the situation a fair few times. Not only do most of the security experts say they are unworkable in anything like the capacity the government intends, they actually make identity theft easier by localising and collating sensitive data; they are shockingly reminiscent of 1984; and they are an exceedingly fucking unnecessary expense at a time when we need to be cutting back spending. I would gladly rip any cretin who has actually approached Jacqui Smith a new arsehole in a debate, or just knock out the ones too thick to debate. Honestly, either she's flat out lying or there are some fucking idiots about!

November 06, 2008

Yes We Can

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

A little bit earlier this evening I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.

I congratulate him, I congratulate Governor Palin, for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the vice-president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

And I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House.

And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure. To my sister Maya, my sister Auma, all my other brothers and sisters - thank you so much for all the support you have given me. I am grateful to them.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best political campaign in the history of the United States of America. My chief strategist David Axelrod, who has been a partner with me every step of the way, and to the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics - you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington - it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give $5 and $10 and $20 to the cause.

It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; it grew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organised, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from the Earth.

This is your victory.

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.

There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for their child's college education. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.

And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for 221 years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity.

Those are values that we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours: "We are not enemies, but friends… though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those who would tear the world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you.

And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the colour of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes, we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes, we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbour and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes, we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "we shall overcome". Yes, we can.

A man touched down on the Moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes, we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: yes, we can.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

First political speech I can remember in my lifetime that made me cry.

November 03, 2008

Et tu, Brute?

Councils 'ban' use of latin

Any reasonable grounds are totally undermined in that last sentence.

A Campaign spokesman said the ban might stop people confusing the Latin abbreviation e.g. with the word "egg"

I despair for this world sometimes, I really do.

November 2008

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