Friday, July 31, 2009

Bobby Robson RIP

A sad day for football- Sir Bobby Robson, the hugely respected former England manager, has died at the age of 76 after a long battle with cancer.

Robson's death, coming as it does just two weeks before the start of the new Premier League season, should make us pause for thought as to how the magic and romance our sport once possessed has been destroyed by money power.

In the 1960s and 70s, it was perfectly possible for a talented ambitious manager, like Bobby Robson or Brian Clough, to take a relatively small, provincial club such as Ipswich Town or Nottingham Forest, up into the top flight of English football and win the game's top trophies, in England and in Europe too.

Today, due to the influence of money power, such a feat is impossible.

And we are all the poorer for it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vote for your Top Ten UK Blogs

Over at Total Politics. The rules are at their website- all you have to do is to list your Top Ten UK Blogs, (your favourite blog at Number 1) and then email them to the address at their site.

Any support for this blog and for the Campaign 4 Public Ownership blog would be greatly appreciated. As for the other eight blogs, well, the organisers request that bloggers don't publish lists of other blogs to vote for- but if you want some ideas, then there are links to some excellent blogs in the links section on the right.

Voting closes at midnight on 31st July, UK time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Hugo Chavez Test

Hugo Chavez, the leader of Venezuela is 55 today. Over the last decade or so, Chavez has not only radically transformed his country, adopting economic policies which benefit the majority- not the minority, but he has also played an important role in international affairs, unequivocally denouncing neo-con aggression and imperialism.
He opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq, the Israeli assaults on Lebanon and Gaza, the Georgian aggression against the people of South Ossetia and the current menacing of Iran.

Chavez also provides a fool-proof litmus test- by which we can differentiate genuine socialists and true progressives from faux-left Mike Blogger types. The latter can't stand Chavez because he pursues proper socialist economic policies (nationalisation not privatisation) and opposes the neo-con war agenda. They routinely describe Chavez as a 'populist' or a 'demagogue'.

But for the former, Chavez is a hero, one of the few world leaders who genuinely deserves the epithet 'great'.

Where do you stand on the Hugo Chavez test?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Aldous Huxley: Britain's Neglected Genius

Writer, philosopher, social critic, and all round genius, Aldous Huxley was born 115 years ago today, on 26th July 1894.

Above you can see a wonderful interview with the great man on the Mike Wallace show in which he stresses his core belief that intelligence and kindness are inextricably linked. Huxley also believed that modern marketing techniques, advertising and other forms of brainwashing used by the ruling elite to maintain their control would pose a far greater threat to human freedom- and humanity in general than the ‘old-style’ dictatorships that relied on terror. His Brave New World was a far more accurate portrayal of the future than George Orwell’s 1984.

We haven’t produced too many world class intellectuals in Britain, but Huxley was undoubtedly one. And how do we commemorate him?
In 2002, a list of the '100 Greatest Britons' was compiled. While David Beckham got to number 33, Boy George got to number 46, Tony Blair to Number 67 and Richard Branson to 86, the author of Brave New World, Point Counterpoint, Eyeless in Gaza, Island and many other great works didn’t even make the top 100.

If he’d have been French, Huxley would have had an underground station named after him, and statues in various towns and cities.

In Britain he gets nothing.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How Labour could still win the 2010 General Election

Even after the disastrous by-election result at Norwich North, Labour could still win the next General Election. IF they make a clean break with neoliberalism and adopt unashamedly populist, anti-globalist left-wing policies.

Here's 10 things they'd have to do:

1. Renationalise the railways, public transport and public utilities.
2. Double old-age pensions and introduce free care for the elderly.
3. Reintroduce a staunchly progressive taxation system with a new top rate of 80%- not 50%- on people earning over £200,000.
4. Pursue a full employment economic policy.
5. Announce a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU and NATO.
6. Listen to genuine public concern over large-scale immigration.
7. Use British troops purely for the 'Defence of the Realm' and jettison the catastrophic policy of 'liberal interventionism'.
8. Reverse the disastrous ban on smoking in public places which has destroyed social life and seen thousands of pubs, bingo halls and social clubs close.
9. Announce the end to the creeping privatisation of the NHS, and bring back dentistry into the NHS fold.
10. Appoint a brilliant anti-war left-wing blogger to be the new leader of the party. (No, I'm not being big-headed, I'm referring to the likes of Anna, Charlie, Ken , Olching and the others in the links section on the right). They'd surely do a better job in getting support for Labour than Gordon Brown.

Of course, there's not a cat in hell's chance of any of the above policies being adopted by Labour, a party which, despite its name, is in hock to Kapital. Which means that the only thing the party can look forward to is its total destruction.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

David Cameron: Anti-democratic democrat

Always beware of people who say that they are 'all in favour of free speech' BUT...
And people who say that they are 'all for demonstrations', BUT.......

Here's Dave on his plans to remove the anti-war camp in front of Parliament if he gets into power.

"I am all in favour of free speech and the right to demonstrate and the right to protest. But I think there are moments when our Parliament Square does look like a pretty poor place, with shanty town tents and the rest of it.
I am all for demonstrations, but my argument is 'enough is enough'.

What a load of Castor and Pollux. Dave is not against the anti-war camp because it makes Parliament Square look like a 'pretty poor place', but because he's in hock to the neo-cons.

Neocons love demonstrations and protests. So long as they are in Iran. Or Belarus.
Or in Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia.

Back home, they're not so keen.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Return of The Exile

Feeling gutted after the gallant Tom Watson failed so narrowly to win the British Open at the age of 59?

Me too.

But don’t worry- I’ve got some very good news.

The Exile is back.

The brilliant anti-war blogger has been in hospital for a large part of this year, but he’s now back in front of his keyboard and ready to expose the lies of the neocon warmongers and the ’liberal’ interventionist ‘warkblogs’- (or at least I think that’s the expression he uses). And of course, have a few laughs along the way.

If you’re a blog that links to The Exile, then please note that his blog’s url has changed to:

Welcome back Ken, the blogosphere has been a much duller place without you.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tom Watson leads the Open: Greetings from 1975!

Something strange seems to have happened. It seems that I've slipped down some sort of Time Tunnel and have arrived back in 1975.

I've been watching the tv and Tom Watson is leading the British Open Golf Championship by two strokes.

I'll be posting regular updates about life in 1975- it seems too as if QPR could be preparing to make a title challenge for the forthcoming football season and that Prime Minister Harold Wilson is beginning to get inflation under control. It's also great to see pubs where people can smoke to their hearts content and a complete absence of Starbucks and Pizza Express in the High Streets. And boy, a £5 note really goes a long way on a night out!

Seriously though- wouldn't it be great if Watson could roll back the years and win the Open at the age of 59? We've already seen public ownership put back on the agenda, all we want now is Watson to win the Open and It Ain't Half Hot Mum back on our tv screens and we'll be half-way back to the greatest decade of them all.

UPDATE: What a pity. We came oh, so close to witnessing one of the greatest sporting stories of all time. If only Tom Watson had chipped his third shot at the 18th and not used his putter......Had Watson won I agree with the BBC commentator Ken Brown- it would have been the greatest sporting achievement by anyone in the history of sport. To win an Open at the age of 59- 34 years after your first Open victory- and 26 years after your last? It would have been too fantastic for words. And it so very nearly happened.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Trotsky Lives!

Thought the former Bolshevik revolutionary had been murdered by an NKVD agent in Mexico in 1940?

Then think again.

It’s an internet exclusive, but I can reveal that Leon is alive and in the rudest of health- and still chasing leaders.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Derail this Great Train Robbery

This piece of mine appears in the Sunday Express.

It’s also cross-posted at the Campaign For Public Ownership website.

If you’re of like mind and would like to see Britain's railways- and our bus transport and public utilities- renationalised, please get involved in the campaign.

If the government can take the East Coast line into public ownership, why not the entire network?

Nationalise the ­losses, privatise the gains. That’s the Government’s policy when it comes to the banks and now, it seems, it ­applies to the railways, too.

Transport Minister Lord ­Adonis last week announced that the Government would take back the East Coast line, the busiest inter-city route in the country, from private operator National Express, which had warned it was likely to default on a franchise payment. Adonis says public ownership will only be temporary and the Government will tender for a new operator from the end of 2010.

So why should the taxpayer be expected to pick up a £700million bill now and another private operator be allowed to come along and cream off the profits later? Why should National Express, which made more than £80million profit last year, be allowed to keep its other two rail franchises?

Franchising has meant that the private firms have effectively struck a no-lose bet. If business goes well, they make huge profits. If it doesn’t, they walk away and the taxpayer picks up the tab.

Rather than being a temporary, emergency measure, the Government’s decision to take this line into public ownership should be the first step in the re-establishment of a publicly owned railway. Such a policy would not only be popular, it would save a fortune.

Britain’s privatised train companies have been milking the public purse for years. The totals involved make the amount that Ronnie Biggs and his Great Train Robbers stole pale into insignificance but while Biggs remains behind bars, Britain’s 21st- ­century train robbers continue to fleece the public. Fares have consistently risen above the rate of inflation and, earlier this year, some went up by as much as 11 per cent. In May, fares for railcard users rose by up to 50 per cent. It really doesn’t have to be like this.

For an example of how a unitary publicly-owned railway can deliver enormous benefits to ­users, we don’t need to look far. In Belgium, fares are up to 20 times cheaper than in Britain, while the ticketing system is simpler. In Britain, there can be up to 200 different fares for the same journey. In Belgium, the price of a ticket is determined by distance: a system that used to operate in Britain, too, before “market-­pricing”. Prices don’t go up in the rush hour: Belgian Railways simply puts on more trains, which it can do because, unlike Britain’s privatised rail operators, it owns its own rolling stock. Moreover, Belgian fares actually drop by 50 per cent at weekends to make it easier for people to get out and about. The fundamental difference between the railways in Belgium and the rest of mainland Europe, and those in Britain, is that there, railways are publicly owned and run as a public service.

In Britain, since privatisation, the need to maximise profits has come before all other considerations, often with disastrous consequen­­­ces for passengers. Because hiring extra carriages from the leasing companies is deemed too expensive, Britain’s rail firms try to ration existing capacity by pricing people off trains. The result is frequent overcrowding.

Restoring the railways to public ownership could bring relief to Britain’s long-suffering passengers and usher in a new golden age. The reopening of stations closed by the misguided Dr Beeching in the Sixties, the introduction of extra services and the reduction in fares to the Euro­pean average would help persuade millions of Britons to leave their cars and take the train.

This summer, many of us will experience the delights of rail travel in Belgium and other European countries.

The question we need to be asking Lord Adonis is: why, if other countries can have affordable, reliable, publicly-owned railways with easy to understand ticket pricing, do we in Britain have to put up with such a ludicrously ­expensive, fragmented and user-unfriendly system?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Masters of the Universe- at our expense

Worried about whether you can afford a proper holiday this summer?
Or that your factory/office is about to close down due to the recession?
Well, there’s a group of people who are doing just fine.

Here’s an extract from Alex Brummer’s excellent article in today’s Daily Mail on how the taxpayer has helped pay for these lavish bonuses:

Surviving investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, the Barclays offshoot BarCap and Morgan Stanley have been able to become so profitable so quickly because many of their competitors (including Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns) have collapsed.
Others such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citigroup are incapacitated.

What is not being recognised, however, is that were it not for the enormous amounts of public money poured into the global monetary system by national governments, those surviving banks would also be in dire trouble.

The figures are mind-boggling. Estimates compiled by leading economists suggest that the aid provided so far by our government to the banking system is as much as £1,269billion.
In the U.S., the total has reached £6,415billion, while in Europe, where governments have still to fully confront the losses, the figure is £1,007 billion.

Without these enormous bailouts, which may not be recouped by the taxpayer for at least a decade, financial groups such as broker-dealer Goldman Sachs might never have been able to have stayed afloat.

In other words: Socialism for the Rich, Capitalism for the poor.
Nationalise the Losses, Privatise the Gains.

And there won't be any change in the situation until the vast majority start to show a little bit more anger at the way the 'Masters of the Universe' are continuing to enrich themselves at our expense.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Iran: Our ally in the war on terror

This article of mine appears in the First Post.

No Western leaders have yet congratulated President Ahmadinejad on his controversial election victory in Iran. But among the list of leaders who have done so is a name that many will find surprising: President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

Karzai telephoned Ahmadinejad to congratulate him on his victory, saying that relations between Afghanistan and its Western neighbour had "expanded" during Ahmadinejad's time in office and that he hoped ties would continue to strengthen.

You won't read too much about it in the mainstream Western media, but the truth is that in a battle which the US President and British Prime Minister repeatedly tell us is fundamental to our own security - Iran is on 'our' side.

Shia Iran's opposition to the Sunni fundamentalists of the Taliban is longstanding - in fact, over the past 20 years or so, it's fair to say that Iran has been more consistently and firmly opposed to the Taliban than the United States.

After the Taliban took power in 1996, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, denounced the group as an affront to Islam, and the killing of 11 Iranian diplomats and truck drivers in 1998 almost led to an Iranian invasion of Afghanistan, which was averted by the intervention of the US and UN.

After 9/11, Iran played a key role in the toppling of the Taliban and participated with the US and other Western countries on post-war planning for Afghanistan. Iran's contribution to the anti-Taliban struggle was acknowledged by US officials: James Dobbins, who worked with diplomats from Iran and other neigbours of Afghanistan to create the first post-Taliban government, said that the Iranians were the "most active" of the foreign backers of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, while Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that two days before the fall of Kabul, there were places in Afghanistan "where there are some Iranian liaison people, as well as some American liaison people" working with the same Afghan forces.

But in May 2003, under pressure from the neocons, President Bush cancelled co-operation with Iran.

Since then, US officials have claimed that Iran is actually working against Western interests in Afghanistan and has been aiding the Taliban. But hard evidence to support these claims has proved as elusive as Iraqi WMD. The allegations of US officials have been refuted by those closest to the action - like General Dan McNeill, the former top US commander in Afghanistan, who said there was "no information to support" the assertion that Iran had provided weapons to the Taliban.

In fact, Iran's line on the Taliban remains as uncompromising as ever. Only last October, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned the West not to hold talks with the Taliban: "We advise them to think about the consequences of the talks... which are taking place in the region and in Europe and avoid being bitten in the same spot twice."

So why if Iran is on 'our side' in the war against the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, does the West remain so hostile to Tehran? The answer, of course, is the enduring influence of the neocons, who see the world through a pro-Israeli prism.

Iran is opposed to the Taliban and it is certainly no friend of al-Qaeda. But because of its sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah, it is deemed by the 'Israel-firstists' to be public enemy number one. The neocons have successfully managed to conflate Israel's perceived enemies with those of the West: Iran is seen as a threat to Israeli hegemony in the Middle East, therefore it's a threat to the US and Britain. They've also managed to spin the myth of a coherent and unified Islamic network of terror, which includes Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, the Taliban and al-Qaeda - and before 2003, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, too. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims: "These terrorist states and terror organisations together form a terror network, whose constituent parts support each other operationally as well as politically."

Bowing to neocon and Zionist pressure to isolate Iran is undoubtedly hampering Western efforts in Afghanistan. Enlisting the Islamic Republic's support in the battle against the Taliban is no guarantee of success - but it would certainly increase the chances.

Last weekend, we heard that Iran was preparing a new package of "political, security and international" issues to put to the West. It's highly likely that Afghanistan will be among the issues covered in that package and that there will an offer of Iranian co-operation in return for concessions on the country's nuclear energy programme.

The pro-Israeli lobby will do all it can to get the proposals rejected; but if, as Obama, Brown et al state, it is really true that the war against the Taliban is fundamental to our national security, and that it is a conflict that must be won, then Western leaders would be wise to give them the most serious consideration.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wallies of the Week: Boris Johnson and Daniel Hannan

Boris Johnson is a worried man. He thinks that new planned EU regulations on hedge funds and other vulture capitalists will be a disaster for Britain.

Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP who went on Fox TV in America to attack the NHS as a sixty year 'mistake', agrees:

The City is staring into the abyss. If the proposed EU directive on hedge funds goes through, London will go the way of Bruges, Venice and Amsterdam: a once dominant financial entrepĂ´t sidelined by more virile cities.

What a load of Castor and Pollux.

Johnson and Hannan and other fanatical neoliberals would like us to believe that without vulture capitalists, London, and indeed the rest of Britain, would hit the buffers.

How is it then that during the period when Britain and Europe experienced their fastest growth in living standards- the thirty years following World War Two- capitalism was strictly regulated and hedge funds and other vulture capitalist vehicles did not exist?

The truth is that we survived perfectly well without hedge funds, 'private equity' companies and venture capitalists in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and we'd survive perfectly well without them again.

For a corrective to the neoliberal nonsense of Johnson and Hannan, there's a great article in today's Observer by Will Hutton on the sort of institutions the Mayor of London should be celebrating- eg The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the institutions he shouldn't.

I am sick of hedge funds. Sick of their special pleading that they should not suffer the regulation proposed by Brussels and will flee the country, supposedly taking billions in tax revenue with them. Sick of politicians - Johnson on the right and Paul Myners on the left - feeling that they have to speak up for them as an allegedly key part of our financial service industry, so hitting back at the delusions of mainland Europeans that hedge funds represent all that is bad about Anglo-Saxon capitalism.

... hedge funds do represent the unlovely priorities of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. They were an important factor behind today's financial crisis. Brutally, it would matter scarcely a jot if the hedge-fund industry shrank to the size it was a decade ago. It might even promote a less casino-oriented financial system

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Why should a smug politician dictate what we're allowed to say?

This article of mine on the New McCarthyism, appears in the First Post.

It all started with Glenn Hoddle.

When historians of the future debate when it was that Britain went from being one of the freest countries in the world, a place where people were able to express their honestly-held views and opinions without fear of comeback, to one where they could not, they're likely to fix on the date of 2nd February 1999.

For it was then that Hoddle, the England football manager, was dismissed, not because of poor results, or flagging team morale, but because of the views he had expressed on reincarnation and disabled people in an interview with a national newspaper. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair felt it would be a good move to jump on the anti-Hoddle bandwagon. He described the England manager's comments as "very offensive" and argued that it would be "very difficult" for him to stay in his position.

The sacking of Hoddle set a highly dangerous precedent for hounding someone out of their job for expressing the 'wrong' opinions on matters quite unrelated to their work.

The procedure is usually works like this: a public figure expresses opinions to which the New McCarthyites take exception. The public figure, fearing his livelihood will be threatened by the whipped-up hysteria his comments have generated, is pressurised into making an embarrassing - and completely unwarranted - apology for what they have said.

Ten years on, the latest recipient of the 'Hoddle treatment' is Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. Speaking on Channel 4 News, the sanctimonious Labour MP Denis MacShane (above) called for pressure to be exerted to get Ecclestone to stand down after he had criticised democracy and cited Adolf Hitler for his ability to "get things done". (It is actually rather difficult to deny this. After all, the big problem with Adolf Hitler was that he did manage to 'get things done' - more is the pity.)

MacShane's demands for Ecclestone to go were echoed by pressure groups from outside the UK: there were calls for his resignation from the president of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder. And a senior German Jewish official called for him to be boycotted by Formula One teams. Dieter Graumann, a vice-president of the Central Council of Jews, said: "No team should work with him any more."

But although many people would take issue with the tastelessness of Ecclestone's assertions, we might ask what on earth do his views on Hitler, Saddam and the Taliban and the merits of different political systems, have to do with his stewardship of Formula One?

Ecclestone caved into the pressure and issued toe-curling apologies to the Times newspaper and the Jewish Chronicle, where, despite having expressed no support for Hitler's persecution of Jews in his original interview, he nevertheless felt obliged to state: "Most of my mates are Jewish people, I spoke to two or three very prominent people today, Jewish people. One of them said to me, 'Bernie, you're more Jewish than all of my friends'."

In 2007, it was pop star and former art student Bryan Ferry's fate to experience the wrath of the new McCarthyites for praising the iconography of the Third Reich, in an interview with a German newspaper.

In the furore which followed, Ferry was pressurised, like Ecclestone, into issuing an apology, in which he made it clear that he, like every "right-minded individual" regarded the Nazi regime "evil and abhorrent". "I trust that he will never make the same mistake again", said the former Labour MP Lord Janner, ominously.

Since the Hoddle affair, it has become increasingly common for people to have their livelihoods threatened for expressing opinions which are at variance with the officially approved positions.

Last December, PC Graham Cogman, despite fifteen years of service, was sacked for his opposition to gay sex. An NHS nurse, Caroline Petrie, was suspended for two months because she offered to pray for a elderly patient.

David Booker, a charity worker in Southampton, was suspended under 'diversity' rules after telling a colleague, during an informal night-shift discussion, that although he was not homophobic, he did not agree with same-sex partnerships. And Treasury civil servant Azad Ali was suspended for views he had expressed on Middle Eastern conflicts on his blog - though he has since been reinstated.

It could reasonably be said that at no point in Britain's recent history has expressing honestly-held opinions been such a high risk activity as it is today.

Due to the pervasive influence of political correctness, the efforts of vociferous single-issue lobbies and pressure groups and the passing of illiberal laws which infringe freedom of speech - such as the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, we are fast approaching the stage when only views within the officially approved parameters can be voiced without fear of comeback. And the parameters are getting smaller and smaller.

In the Britain of 2009, don't express disapproval of gay partnerships or you may be labelled a homophobe - or, in the case of David Booker, be suspended from your job. Don't criticise Israel too strongly or you run the risk of being labelled an anti-semite. Don't express a belief in reincarnation and the concept of karma. Don't say that you disapprove of contemporary 'democracy' and admire some dictators. And whatever you do, don't appear to offer a sliver of even grudging respect for any aspect of Nazi Germany, even the art-work.

Democracy should mean encouraging people to voice opinions freely and without fear. And it certainly shouldn't mean only being allowed to express opinions which the political elite or certain lobbies and pressure groups deem to be 'acceptable'.

Although the interventions of clowns like Tony Blair and Denis MacShane make the whole thing seem ridiculous and amusing, the sight of politicians coming on to our television screens to call for the heads of sporting figures for expressing their honestly-held opinions/the 'wrong' views, constitutes a threat to our freedoms which is in fact extremely serious.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Goodbye, Michael Jackson

Well, how was it for you? I thought Michael Jackson's memorial service was a very moving event, and the perfect send-off to a great performer. The highlights for me were a great speech by the Rev Al Sharpton on the way Jackson broke down barriers, a very moving eulogy by Brooke Shields, in which she quoted that wonderful line from Antoine de Saint Exupery's The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye”, and a superb rendition of Jackson's favourite song, the Charlie Chaplin classic 'Smile', by his brother Jermaine.

To mark the day that Jackson is laid to rest, I thought I'd post a video of him singing his favourite song (video by bramblebramble).

RIP Michael Jackson. You achieved rather more in your life- and gave rather more pleasure to people than the bitter individuals who have attacked you in the last few days.

IAEA chief: no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Anti-War.Com reports:

New International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano may have been the candidate of choice for Western nations, and in particular Israel, but he sought to assure the world today that he would remain independent and would seek to de-politicize the office.

In particular, Amano noted that going through the IAEA’s documents he didn’t see any evidence that Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA had repeatedly certified that Iran was not diverting any of its civilian program’s enriched uranium to any other purpose, but outgoing chief Mohamed ElBaradei claimed to have a “gut feeling” that Iran secretly wanted the technology.

Amano seems less inclined, at least so far, to rely on his gut and is looking for hard evidence to back up the allegations by Western nations in general and Israel in particular, that the Iranians have a covert program.

More on this story here. But don't expect to read about it on any neocon websites.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Wired for Sound: The Walkman Turns 30

It's hard to believe, but the Walkman has been with us for 30 years. Here's my article from the Daily Express on the invention that revolutionised the way we listen to music, while above you can watch Cliff getting into the new technology in the early 1980s. (Video by wehavejoy)

FOR today’s iPod-generation the ability to listen to music while on the move is taken for granted. The sight of people walking, jogging, sitting on trains or buses with headphones on has become commonplace. But in 1979 it was something very new. The launch of the Sony Walkman, the world’s first portable personal cassette player to go on sale to the public exactly 30 years ago this week, not only revolutionised the way we listen to music but what we do in public spaces.

"This is the product that will satisfy those young people who want to listen to music all day. They’ll take it everywhere with them. It’ll be a hit,” predicted Sony’s chairman Akio Morita shortly before the launch. How right he was.

Within two years of its first appearance in Japan more than 1.5million units had been sold worldwide, in its first 10 years 50million were sold.

The Walkman was devised on the instructions of the Sony chairman who wanted a portable machine that would enable him to listen to opera while he was on transatlantic plane trips. Its forerunner was the “Pressman”, a miniature tape recorder for journalists, which was adapted into a stereo tape player by Sony engineer Kozo Ohsone. The idea of adding the headphones came from the company’s honorary chairman Masura Ibuka.

At the press launch of the invention journalists were escorted on to a bus and each given a Walkman. They were driven off to Yoyogi, a major park in Tokyo, and after disembarking were told to put on the headphones and push the play button. Sony also hired young people to walk along Tokyo’s busiest streets, offering their headphones to passers-by to listen to the high-quality stereo sound.

At the end of 1979 Sony introduced their product in the US as the “Soundabout” and in February 1980 it made its debut here as the “Stowaway”. But tourists who had bought the machines in Japan brought the original name with them so Sony decided to use the Walkman brand name worldwide. In Britain the machine was an overnight success with more than 100,000 sold in the first year. So quickly did the craze catch on that in 1986 the word Walkman appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time.

But the invention was not to every­one’s taste. “For those of us who liked getting on a bus or a train and overhearing or even taking part in conversations, there is something a bit bleak about the dozens of private solitudes which nowadays clamber aboard,” wrote critic A N Wilson, who has suggested that the Walkman, with its “infuriating tsst tsst, tsst, tsst noise”, may be “one of the biggest blights of urban life”.

In 1984 the CD Walkman, or Discman, was introduced. Five years later the video Walkman was launched followed by the Minidisc Walkman in 1992.

But it was not all plain sailing for Sony. The company faced a legal challenge from the German-Brazilian inventor Andreas Pavel, who had invented the first portable personal stereo tape player in 1972. Pavel’s machine never went into production – the companies he approached did not believe in his “Stereobelt” – but by 1978 he had patented the device in several countries. After years of court battles Sony signed a deal with Pavel in 2004, reportedly agreeing to pay him more than $10million and royalties from the sales of several Walkman models.

Although the Walkman has been challenged in recent years by iPods and mobile phones which also play music the brand name is still going strong. To mark the 30th anniversary Sony launched the X-series Walkman, which has a touch-screen, 60 hours’ worth of music and a radio.

Perhaps the reason why the Walkman has been so successful is that its 1979 launch coincided with the advent of Thatcherism. We were moving away from the collective, towards the individual. Up to the late Seventies our pleasures were mainly shared: we all watched the same TV, went on the same sort of holidays. From the Eighties leisure became tailored to the individual.

The Walkman, which enabled you to listen to the music you wanted wherever and whenever you wanted, was in tune with the new individualistic spirit of the times – the perfect accessory for the “Me” generation. Today it’s hard to imagine a world where we can’t take our music with us wherever we go.

Serena Williams and Andy Roddick: A Tale of Two Americans

This week’s Wally(ess) of the Week is the graceless Serena Williams (pictured above), who marked her success at Wimbledon not by praising opponents, but by big-headedly making fun of the world rankings system which make the Russian Dinara Safina world number one.

What a contrast to the sporting behaviour of another American tennis player- defeated mens’ finalist Andy Roddick.
After playing his heart out in yesterday’s epic four-hour 16 minute mens’ final- Roddick said: “I just want to say congratulations to Roger. He’s a true champion and he deserves everything he gets”.

Roddick didn't complain about the sun in his eyes, poor line calls, or anything else-he simply paid a warm tribute to the tennis legend who had beaten him.

As the Daily Mail reports, Roddick’s pluck and humility won over the Wimbledon crowd.

And although Roddick didn’t win the trophy, I think this gallant performer- and great sportsman- has come out of Wimbledon with much more credit than Serena Williams.

Friday, July 03, 2009

How Belarus fought the fascists

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis. Here’s my Morning Star article on the massive contribution Belarus made to the anti-fascist struggle.

Question: Which currently existing nation lost the largest percentage of its population in World War II - a higher percentage than that of France, Britain and the US combined?

The answer is Belarus, which lost a staggering one-third of its people in The Great Patriotic War - a total of 2.5 million citizens.

As Stewart Parker states in his excellent book The Last Soviet Republic, "the destruction wrought on Belarus was immense in terms of human life and of infrastructure." Thousands of towns and villages were destroyed, many, like Katyn, burnt to the ground with all their villagers.

This week marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the nazi occupation and the event will be commemorated across the country and in Russia too.

To find out more about the sacrifices that Belarus made during World War II in the struggle against the nazis - and the way that its experiences during the war has helped shape the country's foreign policy today - I met up in London recently with the country's ambassador to Britain Aleksandr Mikhnevich.

"Not a single country involved in the hostilities was faced with such appalling atrocities and destruction," Mikhnevich told me. "The war left a deep mark in history and in the minds of the Belarus people."

I asked him for some examples of heroism in his country's anti-nazi struggle.
"One can talk for hours about the heroism of the Belarussian people and all the peoples of the USSR during the war. I will give one example. A small garrison deployed in the Brest Fortress was fighting with invaders for a month. The German troops were already near Smolensk but battles in Brest - 600km from the front line - were still underway. Even Hitler arrived by plane to Brest in July 1941 as he couldn't understand why his powerful army could not capture this small islet on Belarussian soil."

By the end of 1941, six months after the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the whole of Belarus was under nazi occupation. But the people refused to lie down and lick the jackboots of the illegal invaders. The resistance movement was strong and determined.

By 1943, there were 75,000 partisans active in the country. Overall, a total of 370,000 partisans fought in Belarus, with fighters coming from other Soviet republics and from western European countries too.

"The scale of the partisan movement was self-evident as single partisan zones sprang up in 1943 - two and half years before the hostilities were over," says Mikhnevich. "Around 60 per cent of the occupied territory was recaptured by the partisans. Government was restored in those areas, bringing the life of civilians back to normal. Belarussians took part even in the French Resistance."

Arguably no other country invaded by the nazis did more to protect its Jewish population than Belarus. In July 1941, the nazis established a Jewish ghetto in the capital Minsk with over 100,000 inmates.

Parker relates how the head of the ghetto, Yefim Stolerovitch, recounted after the war that though the Germans did find individual collaborators, "they were the exception and not the rule. The dominant characteristic of the Belarussian population was one of friendship and sympathy towards the Jews."

An example of this took place on July 21 1941, when the nazis roped a group of 45 Jews into a pit and then ordered 30 Belarussian PoWs to bury them alive. The PoWs refused and subsequently the Germans shot all 75.

Such acts of solidarity in Belarus were, as Parker notes, "in stark contrast to the overt anti-semitism that was reported by Germans in Polish, Baltic and Ukrainian territories."

The role that Belarussians played in protecting Jews in World War II has been acknowledged by the Israeli authorities. The Righteous Among the Nations is a secular award given by Israel to gentiles who risked their lives in the Holocaust to save Jews. There are no fewer than 587 recipients of the award in Belarus.
One of the Belarussians so honoured is Galina Imshenik who, together with her husband, rescued a little Jewish toddler named Yelena Dolgov. Sixty-five years later, Yelena and her husband care for Galina, who is now 96, round the clock. It's a wonderful story of human kindness being repaid.

Eventually, the combined might of the Red Army and the partisans evicted the nazi invaders from Belarus. Due to the worldwide recognition of the role that it had played in defeating fascism, Belarus, despite not being a sovereign state at the time, was made a founding member of the United Nations. And at the very first session of the UN general assembly a resolution proposed by Belarus was passed on the extradition and punishment of war criminals.

The enormous losses the country incurred during World War II continues to shape the foreign policy of Belarus today.

"Belarussian people as nobody else value peace, prosperity and universal values," Mikhnevich told me. "Our foreign policy is aimed exactly at the creation of a zone of neighbourliness. We will never forget the price of our freedom."

Since becoming a sovereign state in 1991, Belarus has taken a consistently pro-peace and anti-war line, opposing both the illegal NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 and the equally unlawful aggression against Iraq in 2003.

The country that was at the forefront of the anti-fascist resistance 65 years ago is still standing up for the rights of free, independent nations today.

Neo-con George 'Flipper' Osborne to face investigation

In my First Post article on the influential neo-con faction in the Conservative Party I wrote:

Just as significant has been the way Cameron has protected his neocon allies during the expenses scandal - although they were arguably among the worst offenders. Gove, the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who was described by the Daily Mail's political commentator Peter Oborne as "one of the most notorious milkers of the expenses system", for spending thousands furnishing his London home before 'flipping' to a new property and claiming £13,000 in moving costs, came under no pressure from Cameron to stand down. He is likely to play a major role in the next Conservative government.
So too will fellow flipper George Osborne and Ed Vaizey, who claimed for over £2,000 in antique furniture bought from a business owned by David Cameron's mother-in-law.

Well, when it comes to protecting George ’Flipper’ Osborne, it seems that Dave will have a very hard job on his hands after this news.

The Mail reports:
If he (the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner) launches a full-blown inquiry it would mean a cloud hanging over Mr Osborne's career for months, until a verdict is reached. It will also fuel discontent on the Tory backbenches over the harsh treatment meted out to MPs outside Mr Cameron's inner circle over their expenses claims. Though several members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Mr Osborne, have repaid money to the Commons fees office, senior MPs complain that they have got off lightly compared to others.

The 'senior MPs' are quite right to be incensed about the double standards on show here.

UPDATE: Guido Fawkes has more on Osborne here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

It Ain't Half Hot Mum- Ticket to Blighty

It's something of a tradition on this blog to post a classic clip from 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum' when the temperature in Blighty tops 30 degrees. So, on what is likely to be the hottest day for several years, sit back and enjoy some really 'hot' comedy. Gunner Beaumont (aka 'Gloria'), is desperate to get discharged and get his 'Ticket to Blighty'. And desperate situations require desperate remedies.....

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Why it's time to bring back British Rail

The government has refused to re-negotiate its contract with privateer transport company National Express and is to take the East Coast railway line into public ownership.

But rather than making this move the first step in the renationalisation of the entire network, Transport Minister Lord Adonis says that it is the Government's intention to tender for a new East Coast franchise operator from the end of 2010.

Why? What Adonis seems to want is a system where losses are nationalised and profits are privatised. Get the East Coast line back in profit and then flog it to Richard Branson or another privateer, seems to be the government's intention.

As taxpayers- and railway users- we shouldn't put up with this nonsense.

It's time to call an end to Britain's Great Train Robbery and pressurise the government to renationalise the entire railway network. If Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the rest of Europe can have publicly-owned railways why can't we?

If you are in agreement, then here's the pressure group for you.