Bombing the messenger

Fuck it. Everyone else is pledging to break the law, so why not me?

The problem being: Al-Jazeera were (allegedly) threatened with bombing because they undermined the US-led war effort with their bad news. But now, the Blogger engine is running the Don’t Bomb Us website. Perhaps, at the very moment you read this, President Bush is planning to bomb Google too?

(Thanks Rachel for the tip off).

Tips for the neo-con project

At last, says Clive Davis, someone has written a fair article on the Neo-conservative ideology. What a shame then, that this fairness does not extend to the other side of the debate.

In The Times, Stephen Pollard of the Centre for the New Europe, discusses how a person’s Left-or-Right political leanings no longer has a bearing on what their stance on British foreign policy will be. As Clive says, its important to point out the humanitarian aspect to neo-con policy… but Pollard comits a dirty sleight-of-hand:

It might, after all, be thought reasonable to identify democracy, freedom and human rights as key components of a left-wing approach. And yet the reaction to the Iraq war shows that this no longer applies

Innocuous, but actually very naughty. The implication, throughout the article, is that only one side of the argument has human rights at heart. The implication is that by questioning the wisdom of war, those on The Left were reverting to an anti-americanism factory default, with support for the Islamo-facists an unwitting side-effect. It also ignores the worry held by many worldwide, that there were other, less noble reasons for war.

The mistake that Stephen Pollard makes, along with countless others on both sides of the debate, is to misunderstand the nature of the argument. It is not a debate about where the concept of human rights falls in our list of global priorities. Mine is an unpopular belief: that there are people in both the pro-war and anti-war camps who had the best interests of the Iraqis, their fellow human beings, at heart when they took their stance.

For me, the debate about the Iraq war was not ideological, but practical. Dictators should be stopped, no question, but my objections were over the best way to achieve that aim. Telling lies over WMD and ignoring our blood-stained hand in the history of the region was not a good footing for a military campaign. If the intervention had been managed more honestly, I may have had a different view… but pencilling a war into your diary for six months hence, then constructing a forty-five minute justification afterwards, is not a viable strategy. Although confident that we would defeat the Saddam regime itself, I was never confident that we would ‘win’ the war in the sense of acheiving our human rights objectives. Indeed, as a piece The Times published earlier this year shows, the soul searching by war hawks who have had second thoughts is almost entirely based on practical considerations. It is not the morality of toppling a dictator that figures, but the manner in which we did it. Suggesting that we could have chosen a different way is libellously painted by the hawks as against human rights.

Pollard also mocks the idea that there is some kind of project for “American global dominion” of which the Iraq war was a part. But I would suggest that it is actually those in the pro-war camp, our own leaders no less, who allow this accusation to flourish. Their pitiful attempts to wish away the WMD transgressions merely fuel the theory of American Imperialism. Certainly it distracts from the humanitarian case for intervention. Despite their reputation for being slick spin-doctors, the neo-conservatives have presented their argument appallingly, in no small part due to the inarticulacy of their chief spokesperson, President Bush. If the neo-cons wish to invoke the name of Henry Jackson and his ideas of principled intervention, they had better damn well demonstrate those principles before they start trying to convince the rest of us. An honest account of how we came to war, and why we previously supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, would be a fine start. Until then, they cannot take the moral high-ground that Stephen Pollard claims for them.

Heisenblogged

Many sites out there have rightly mentioned Tim Worstall’s 2005: Blogged, especially those who have had one of their articles included in the anthology. I notice Chris at qwghlm is pleased to be included for his article on ID Cards, as are the folk at Pickled Politics regarding the fantastic Apu essay.

I wonder if the book may provoke some kind of Heisenberg effect? By this, I mean – what if the very act of observing something, changes that thing you are observing? Now 2005: Blogged has been published, eager bloggers will begin beavering away, planning seminal posts that will make it into 2006: Blogged. Some kind of annual blogging awards may be just around the corner too! All of this will change the way people write. No longer will they fire off an angry yet unwittingly eloquent rant at 4am, instead they will be working and re-working their articles in the hope of winning an inclusion. I know I will.

Seen Sign

Sign spotted at a friend’s house, in the smallest room in the house, no less. Made me think of blogging.

I know that you believe
you understood
what you think I said,

but

I am not sure
you realise that
what you heard is
not what I meant.

Stoking the multicultural fire

The Times today carries an interview with the new Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, complimented by a leading article. He criticises the concept of ‘multiculturalism’, suggesting that it means a trumpeting of other cultures at the expense of Englishness.

The problem I have with his views, and the way they are reported in The Times, is one of language. The words used to describe the concept of culture are past tense. For example:

… the essential part that Christianity has played in the formation of modern British culture.

and

England is the culture I have lived in, I have loved…. My teachers were English. As a boy growing up, that is the culture I knew

I don’t think this is a minor quibble. The implication is that English culture (indeed, any culture) is fixed and homogenous for a given set of people, and that by being in and around those people, you become 100% part of it too. In reality, cultures are fluid, changing things. Worrying that a particular culture is being marginalised is a pointless exercise. They are all evolving, and the better parts of what he considers ‘Englishness’, such as parliamentary democracy are hardly on the wane.

What is odd is that Dr Sentamu seems to be the very proof of this positive cultural evolution. He was brought up in Uganda, and has done well bringing his African roots and Ugandan Missionary Christianity to the UK, and to London in particular, where he advised the MacPherson enquiry. It is precisely his dynamic, ‘fire-stoking’ approach, borne out of his alternative background, which has allowed him to contribute so successfully to public life. Dr Sentamu’s very existence corrupts ‘Englishness’, and the English are the better for it.

I am in agreement with him on ‘tolerance’:

It seems to me the word tolerance is bad, because it just means “putting up with it” … I was raised in the spirit of magnanimity. That is a better word than tolerance. If you are magnanimous in your judgements on other people, there is a chance that I will recognise that you will help me in my struggle.

Moving on from simple ‘tolerance’ is at the heart of the multicultural debate. It is not enough that we simply live grumpily side-by-side. If this is what multiculturalism has become (both Trevor Phillips of the CRE and The Times seem to believe this is the case) then Dr Sentamu is right to be critical. But a multiculturalism that runs deeper, and sees the constituent cultures merge into something greater than the sum of their parts, is worth supporting. Christian morality may be a part of what we become, but everyone needs to accept that other parts of their culture will be left behind. Talking of Englishness as something fixed and tangible will not help this come about.

Second Class

Never mind the controversy over Hindus on stamps, it seems the Royal Mail have made an even bigger faux pas.

At Famous For Fifteen Megapixels, Stef points out that there is a notable worrying difference between the people on the first class and second class stamps. I don’t for one minute think this is intentional or even some kind of corporate Freudian slip, but as Stef points out, the results of thoughtless tokenism can be counter productive.

Watching a TV show or ad where a Black actor has obviously been drafted in to play the token ethnic friend in a group of middle class white people is truly cringe-inducing.

However, I think there is a difference between the kind of crow-barring that Stef refers to (yoghurt adverts, sitcoms etcetera), and creative projects that have diversity as a central message. The Christmas stamps fall into this latter category, along with the aborted British Airways ‘world colours’ livery, which apparently I was the only person in the country to like.

Israeli Spring Clean

On the surface, the political overhaul in Israel looks like a positive development for the Palestinians. The split between Sharon and his Likud over his ordering a withdrawl from Gaza, means the creation of a new centrist party. Coupled with an emboldened Labour Party under its new leader Amir Peretz, perhaps the snap elections will yield a better political climate for the Palestinians.

But in the West Bank, the new developments are hardly a cause for celebration. A contact in Ramallah says I am being naive: “Sharon’s approach to the conflict with Palestinians is that of unilateralism. By its very nature, this approach cannot work for conflict resolution.”

He is in two minds about the effectiveness of Peretz too, and its difficult to predict whether he will be a friend or foe of the Palestinians. Although Peretz has said that the occupation is a moral and economic burden for Israel, and wants to resume negotiations with the PLO, he said recently he supports a ‘united’ Jerusalem, meaning he would maintain the occupation of East Jerusalem. Nor does the new Labour leader support the refugees right of return, to their homes in Israel.

“At this point, the situation is so stark, that Palestinians get excited by any Israeli politician announcing publicly that he is even willing to talk to us,” says my friend, cynically. A new government may bring a freshness to the Knesset, but it seems less likely that spring elections will clean up the mess of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The ethics of Tetley Tea Bags

a packet of teabagsEthical consumerism begins at home, and what could be more homely than a nice cup of tea? If we are to hold governments and big buisness to government, It’s important we question those every day things too. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of hypocrites.

Dear Sir/Madam,

In a moment of idleness as I waited for my cup of Tetley tea to perculate, I pondered the shape of your tea bags. If my memory serves me correctly, Tetley pioneered the round tea-bag, with a memorable animated advert based on a Beach Boys classic “I Get Around”. However, it occurred to me that circles cannot tesselate, and therefore the cutting of the bags must create some waste, where a square tea-bag would not.

While considering waste, I noticed that a whole new “50% extra” packet of 40 tea-bags was taped to the standard 80 tea-bag packet, rather than a new packet that would have used less packaging. Finally, I noted on the packet that Tetley tea is grown in India, Sri Lanka and Africa, but no ‘fair trade’ or environmental sysmbols are present on the pack.

By the time my tea was brewed, I had compiled a list of several questions for your team:

  1. How much paper waste is produced by Tetley in the manufacture of round tea-bags?
  2. Do you have a recycling policy?
  3. Do you have a strategy for reducing waste in your packaging? Do you think the excess packaging caused by your 50% offers are appropriate?
  4. What is your ethical policy towards growers in India, Sri Lanka and Africa? How do the wages they earn, and the prices they are paid for their tea, compare to the UK retail price?
  5. As an obvious market leader, why do you not have any Fair Trade or environmental accreditations?

I would be very grateful if you could provide answers to these questions. Your product is of a very high standard, but I believe your brand could be enhanced further by addressing the issues raised above.

Yours sincerley, etcetera.

I hope they reply. I should point out that Tetley do produce an organic range of tea-bags, but the method of growing is not relevant to the environmental impact of the packaging, nor to the way a company treats its employees and suppliers in developing countries.

PG Tips will be getting a letter soon too, but I don’t really trust those monkeys not to eat it or something.

The Blog Bubble

As Open Source Media launches as a huge aggregate of blogs, bloggers and journalists, and Tim Worstall’s book hits the shelves, the blogosphere is itself under the spotlight again. We are always told that the media likes nothing better than a story about itself. Perhaps the debates about the future and nature of blogging are a signal of a growing maturity of the medium.

In a three line post, Cynical Bastard suggests that one day the blog bubble might burst. I wonder what he means by that?

When the dot-com bubble apparently burst, it wasn’t the concept of web-pages that was discredited, or the concept of having a company web-page… or even the concept of doing business on-line. It was merely the idea that money could be made faster and easier online, without the constraints that business traditionally had to deal with. When it became apparent that the same rules of business applied to online services as to the other industries, people stopped over-inflating the value of these companies, and investments were made in a less frivolous manner.

Despite protests to the contrary, blogs can survive without huge financial resources. While many blogs have the ambition to be hugely influential nodes in the network, I suggest that part of the point of blogging is actually being one very small link in that chain. That there are so many bloggers out there can be a strength, not a weakness, because (just like the internet in itself) there is no central point that can be targeted, no bubble to burst and disrupt the system. To continue the analogy: the blogoshere is not a bubble – its a gigantic pile of foam, rising high over the bath-tub.

What might not be sustainable are the larger blog sites. If their size and influence grows, so they become more like the traditional media. The key bloggers (and their researchers) need a salary, and get some office space to manage the expansion, which costs money, which means adverts, marketing campaigns, subscription-only content and copy deadlines. There’s nothing wrong with any of this per se, but the difference between the pigs and the humans will become harder to discern. How long before we hear complaints: “Open Source Media didn’t publish my article, they’re control freaks!” or “Samizdata have smeared me!”. From there, it is a short step to ‘watch’ sites set up just to fisk these blogs… at which point we ask how much of an ‘alternative’ they really are. Perhaps it was better when everyone was alone, and in pajamas.

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