Archive for December, 2009


Christmas

And so to time of festive cheer
sherry trifles, too much beer
party hats and smell of pine
brussel sprouts and pudding wine

presents, mountain of wrapping paper
broken baubles (feline caper)
Alastair Sim, A Christmas Carol
and down the pub for half (a barrel)

frosted windows open fire
all your stomach can desire
turkey sandwich, brandy butter
visit from the family nutter

the expectations, children frisky
daddy drinking santa’s whiskey
brand new socks, a knitted sweater
the face that hoped for something better

but think of the yuletide underbelly
as you sit swearing at the telly
the many who would gladly swap
their lot for scraps on your table top

two office parties and an in-laws visit
the worst you have to deal with is it?
their Christmas all the more laconic
the odd free soup not gin and tonic

in cold apartments, figures slumping
their pain not caused by joyous jumping
their friends who’d never had an inkling
that into the house was into the sinking

the elderly who’ve no son or daughter
and wait for paisley-patterned slaughter
their memories of long-gone years
can but elicit nostalgic tears

for homeless child in temporary shelter
Christmas is a different helter skelter
resource exhausted come January second
and back out to the streets they’re beckoned

walls closing in on mental cell
the tinsel-bedecked personal hells
for those who live their life in dark
the contrast today is ne’er more stark

so as you sit suffused with drink
perhaps you’d like to stop and think
of the many for whom this time of year
embodies solitude and/or fear

it’s not designed to deflate your mood
or put you off your Christmas food
but let’s try ensuring those on the street
get more than just a bite to eat.

Song Of The Day ~ Morning Runner – Gone Up In Flames

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I am not an apologist for the current Russian regime any more than I am for the previous Soviet regime, nor am I a holocaust denier or a anti-semite.  It is a pity that I should even have to preface any of my writing with that rather than people judge on content itself but there we go that’s the world and perhaps by me doing so I serve only to perpetuate it.

I saw John Sweeney’s ‘exposé’ on the BBC about the changes in Russian education that are softening the historical message on the Stalin era in schools.  I am not altogether a fan of the Putin regime, at the very least the ideology on which the Soviet Union was founded was theoretically sound, if never properly put into practice.  Putin’s agenda is a great deal shadier though he lacks none of the qualities his Soviet and KGB education and training would have prepared him for.  By the same token though in a Russia that is having to contend with a great many economic problems at a time when its economy is neither really state-nationalised nor free-market driven it is unsurprising that a Putin figure should be seen as necessary by a Russia that has always welcomed strong inwardly nationalistic leadership.  It is the very reason many still have secret admiration for Stalin, just as in other countries Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc. are seen as having at least brought order to the chaos even if their methods might have been questionable.

Sweeney first approached the historian Igor Dolutsky whose book has been dropped from the syllabus, making him a subjective witness on one side of the story, and then bullied and berated Aleksandr Filippov, the historian responsible for the more revisionist view of history that seeks to downplay the attrocities of Stalin’s tenure and herald him more as a great leader from Russia’s past.  Filippov explains “It is wrong to write a textbook that will fill the children who learn from it with horror and disgust about their past and their people. A generally positive tone for the teaching of history will build optimism and self-assurance in the growing young generation and make them feel as if they are part of their country’s bright future. A history in which there is good and bad, things to be proud of and things that are regrettable. But the general tone for a school textbook should still be positive.” which will make a great many ears prick up as being an area that needed to be handled very carefully indeed, but would I have no doubt raise far fewer eyebrows were it either to be taken as applying to a book in the West about colonialism, slavery or a book about Christianity.

When looking at the Great Famine of 1933 where effectively the direct policies of Stalin led to deaths that are still unquantifiable but run without doubt into multiple millions, Sweeney describes how  the 2009 “positive history” textbook dedicates 83 pages to Stalin’s industrialisation whilst only one paragraph details the famine.  I wonder if Sweeney has read many general English history books since his schooldays where the Irish famine, also very much the result of central government policy, receives little more than a footnote within pages and pages of irrelevant English royalist pomp and ceremony.  This is not to excuse the lack of detail of the Soviet famine, the young must be educated in how something happened so as to see the dangers of things in the present and future but it is also quite easy to see how it might be argued that Stalin’s industrialisation and collectivisation has much more relevance now because it continues to exercise an influence on Russian infrastructure, especially agriculture where an event that happened over seventy years ago is more detached.  I wonder also whether Sweeney applied the same critical eye over Russian Tsarist history and the revisionism that has taken place there in the post-Soviet world.  If one takes the example of famines for direct comparison how much attention is paid to the 1899 famine in which over half a million died, at the same time as which Tsar Nicolas II was commissioning Fabergé eggs in a display of opulence emblematic of the Marie Antoinette school of regal diplomacy.

One must be careful not to criticise Sweeney’s documentary solely on the basis that he lacks the charisma of many hard-nosed investigative journalists.  Sweeney has built himself something of a reputation by virtue of his irascible temper as shown by the many links to his interviews with the Scientologists in which he is seen getting very angry indeed.  Whilst making for good television this does not necessarily constitute a style conducive to finding out things that people do not want to tell you.  He is highly adversarial in style and comes across, at least in this program and the clips I have seen of him as dogmatic.  This is not a crime, nor at times even a bad thing as a presenter, but it is something that needs to be labelled very carefully as comment and not necessarily as objective news.

Sweeney offers a number of what are supposed to be ‘startling facts’ for example that Stalin was voted 3rd in an all-time list of greatest Russians in a recent poll, but one has to consider that Churchill remains top of a corresponding British list and whilst I would not like to draw direct parallels between the two there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Churchill was capable of a number of seriously questionable decisions, such as his home office white paper in 1911 calling for the sterilisation of the mentally ill.  Let us not forget also that Isambard Kingdom Brunel came second on the British all-time list in no small part to Jeremy Clarkson’s erudite and amusing portrayal of the engineer.  Such polls are frequently about entertainment, and often choose the cuddly or popular image of a person rather than the less palatable things that might have been going on behind the facade.

The trouble is that each country sees its leaders differently from those countries where this leader may have exercised malign influence, the internal association will often be for mundane daily things that people may seen as having been better than the present whilst externally that person is synonymous only with the most headline-grabbing events.  You cannot choose who you decide to hold responsible for war crimes, Stalin committed a great many, as many as Hitler and the Nazi regime and was in many ways personally responsible for more even than the Nazi machine due to his own paranoia and cult of personality.  However after the Second World War the allies chose the sides they were on and after the major known Nazis were put on trial at Nuremburg a huge number of war criminals simply faded into the background, as they were not seen as the enemy any more.  Since then Augusto Pinochet, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Francisco Franco, Tacho Somoza, Kim Jong-Il, the Interhamwe, George W Bush amongst a great many others have all carried out operations that should answer the charges of war crimes and/or genocide and all have had no censure and no trial, despite many attempts to bring them to justice.  Some, such as Robert Mugabe have been reprimanded as if treating them like an eight year old pupil might have an effect on a small-time megalomaniac, others such as Saddam Hussein have just pissed off the wrong people and ironically been handed over for trial by war criminals far worse than themselves.  Victor’s justice is everywhere in the present and the past, if one looks at the Bosnian War as an example, it cannot be denied that genocide took place however if one were to look through the standard media sources you would be hard pressed to see anyone other than the Serbs as responsible and this is by no means the whole story.  That is not to absolve the blame from the Serbs or any party in any way merely to point out that a justice system that functions on this premise makes it not about a prosecution for the actual crimes committed but a prosecution based on whose side you happened to be on at any given time.

Had this been a broad-reaching survey of many countries and condemnation of the Orwellian practice of changing history to shape the future it would have had a great deal more legitimacy, as it was it become an individual tirade against one country for a practice that has been widespread across the world for generations, that of airbrushing the less palatable actions of the past from the history books so as to give an undue preponderance to the events portraying the nation as a great, munificent and benign one.  Of course that may be because Sweeney himself has been educated in a nation that has become something of the master of this practice, how else could one explain swathes of people still hankering after the days of the “We rule it map of the world” of the ‘civilising British Empire’?

Song Of The Day ~ The Beatles – Back In The USSR

Now that grabbed your attention didn’t it?! I’m sure no-one would expect me to be a believer in the right-wing theory that it’s all bollocks and just a trojan horse for the environmentalist lobby. Bear with me, I have not suddenly had a Road to Damascus (Texas) conversion!
What is quite clear is that there are those from a scientific perspective who say that climate change is a real threat and is either caused by, or exacerbated by the emissions and profligacy of humans. There are also those who claim that climate change either does not exist or is merely a cyclical meteorological pattern that has existed for as long as the Earth has and will continue to change the base climate regardless of the actions of the beasts living on the planet. What I do not understand is how this can have been the prevailing argument for so long when it could be rendered easily redundant. What this has in fact done is given the neo-liberals and neo-capitalists a chance to fudge the issue and spend endless years comparing the science and statistics of various positions, which the politicians have then picked up on and postulated at the relevant summits in order to not actually do anything about it.

What remains an issue without contention is the fact that we are running out of the substances that currently form the backbone of our energy provision. There is no science to suggest that this has been a hoax, the debate is merely over just how long each substance will last until it is exhausted. For some of us it will be within our lifetime, for others it may be in the lifetime of our children.

There are many potential reasons for this obfuscation of the real problem. Firstly for the corporations that have a vested interest in the energy industries their agenda is to maximise their profit for as long as possible whilst at the same time allowing themselves time to put the feelers out into other markets that they may be able to control to the same extent as they do at present. If one believes in a capitalist system of business, profit and market economics one can hardly blame them for this, to do anything else would be not to be fulfilling their mandate to maximise the companies profits.

[Some might say that this is an over-simplification and that companies have a vested interest in making research and development key in order to continue their dominance of the market but this is, in my opinion, not to take account of the very basic facts that the heart of capitalist ethic is to take more out than you put in, this is profit. The less you can put in and the more correspondingly you can take out the better the profit and the higher the sense of success. In times when money and industry abound inward investment may be seen as a good idea but in times of economic downturn the demands of the shareholders do not decrease as their purses are stretched but the company’s access to money will diminish. The pressures therefore to take higher risks are dramatically increased, as again can be seen from the example of the banks.]

In addition to the corporational involvement one must consider the governmental angle in this. For the United States the demise of oil will be something of an economic catastrophe and not simply because they run larger and less fuel-efficient cars than anyone else. The US economy is propped up by the very fact that oil is generally traded in dollars, this trade is one of the principle reasons why confidence has remained in the US economy and the US is more than a little keen to preserve this as can be seen by the measures they will go to in order to protect this trade. Already the US has declared oil fields legitimate military targets, it has engaged in war on Afghanistan on dubious premises in order to protect the Caspian oil and gas pipeline and then shored up control of the Iraqi oilfields by illegal regime change and the installation of a puppet state. It has declared as an ‘axis of evil’ those states that have attempted to switch their oil trading currency to Euros. It is true that much of the reason for the change in these countries policies is to be specifically antagonistic to the US but that in itself is not a crime, and neither is their choice of currency. However without the trade in oil there will be less investment in dollars, without that investment the US economy will no longer have sufficient confidence to hold the debts it is currently allowed to hold and loans will be called in. It is on a larger scale again the same situation as has happened to many of the banks over the last twelve months.

The cost of not changing the methods by which we power our economies is that we will enter a period of drastic inflation of energy prices without the wherewithal for most ordinary people to be able to source their energy from elsewhere. This means that the energy shortage will hit the poorest the worst. As the debates continue so the time within which to do something about it diminishes and therefore the costs to actually make a wholescale change in time rise substantially. It is worth remembering that it is not merely individuals that will suffer from massively higher energy prices, so too the small business will become less and less viable as their smaller profits will be eaten up by larger overheads. We are likely to be left with the larger conglomerates that have, at least in the short-term, the profit margins to absorb some of these increases. Of course the conglomerates will have more of a monopoly at this point and will be able to pass on price rises to the customers, the lesser choice coupled with the likely rationing of fuel will make customers far more hamstrung than they are used to being now.

One of the critical things that illustrates graphically that people in power have not grasped the true nature of the problem is that the main governmental force for an energy replacement is nuclear power. It may well be that nuclear power is a lower-carbon method of power generation but this reduction comes at an extremely high price. The dangers of nuclear waste and potential for nuclear meltdown are well-known and in their worst case scenario quite catastrophic, one must add to this the security risks of nuclear weapons and also the fact that if using Uranium there is a finite resource, if Plutonium then the resource is less finite but the risks higher.

Why is it therefore that each new house is not being built with solar panels on its roof? Why are the larger rivers and estuaries not being looked at for tidal, and why critically are schemes such as large scale solar panel development in the Mediterranean or Atlantic which could power much of Europe not being given cross-national funding in order to be online as soon as possible. Instead people are being asked if they like windfarms and many communities have responded that they do not and do not wish such ‘eyesores’ to be in their vicinity. One does wonder how many of said communities would prefer a nuclear reactor blocking the skyline? Furthermore it is quite clear that these communities are being allowed to take a purely selfish view, or the smaller picture of the view through their window rather than looking at the bigger picture of whether a country’s economy survives and all the comforts they are used to alongside it. In my view communities that wish to ensure they are not in the target areas for sources of renewable energy should be allowed to remove themselves from the national grid and be responsible for sourcing their own power. If they produce a net surplus then they may choose to sell this back to the national grid thus not only creating a disincentive for disassociation but perhaps an incentive for very small areas that do wish to be progressive. Areas such as these would remove further pressures on the national grid itself and give impetus to communities looking at being ahead of the game. A community that is self-sufficinet in power terms is far more likely to be able to withstand the further pressures (should there be any) of global warming.

For industrial purposes it is not feasible solely for each community to generate power for its inhabitants and there needs to be a greater range of solutions to cater for the larger users. These should be looked at where possible in offshore solutions. Companies that pay money to research and development of renewable sources of energy provision should be given subsidised energy prices for any of such energy that is generated. Companies that do not can pay tax on the fossil fuel generated energy that can and should solely be used for further development and construction of renewable sources of energy.

In the case of transport infrastructure must be replaced and set up to ensure that those who do not wish to use cars should have a viable alternative both financially and logistically. Those using cars where such an alternative exists can be taxed and this revenue ring-fenced for transport spending to increase and improve the network. Transport must however come under the umbrella of local government, it must have as its primary function the service provision and not that of making a profit. Each town must have a railway station and each village at the very least a regular bus service to the nearest amenities including hospital, schools, shopping, railway station and industrial parks.

In the case of foodstuffs it is ridiculous for farmers in Africa to be growing cash crops that are transported by air to western countries whilst millions on the continent go hungry. this must be seen as a supra-national problem and not an “I’m all right jack” situation. The West must look after its own food needs and we should all get more used to eating the food that is seasonal and can be transported short distances easily. There are many methods by which such food can be saved throughout the year so as to vary diet.

You may be under the impression that renewable energy cannot sustain large economies and is therefore only feasible as a part of the solution, but this is information generally fed by an ill-informed media and those with an agenda, whether hidden or otherwise. Scientists have in fact calculated that a large solar panel development in the Western Med/Atlantic could generate most of the power for the whole of Europe. of course politically this would necessitate an interesting set of compromises but nevertheless it proves that such methods can be employed were the will and then the finance there to support them.

It is likely that at present we still have another fossil fuels left that we have the ability to make up the shortfall whilst we increase renewable energy to take over full capacity, there will however be a tipping point at which there will not be enough left to do this. I am at present at a loss to see just how a move to a renewable economy is in any way a bad idea, it completely transcends the climate change argument because it makes long-term social and economic sense, if therefore it could be implemented we would see the results of the climate change argument from the position of already having safeguarded our economies and development. Where is this not a win-win?

Song Of The Day ~ Nubla – Nada Se Olvida