Saturday, 17 August 2013

Amnesty International Letter - Belarus

Youth activist Zmistser Dashkevich was sentenced to two years in a labour colony in March 2011 for alleged assault, just before the presidential elections. He was due to be released in December 2012, but his sentence was extended by a further year for ‘violating prison rules’. Zmitser was offered a pardon if he admitted fault, which he refused to do, maintaining his sentence is politically inspired. He is now in the notorious Hrodna prison, where conditions are especially harsh. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of Conscience.

Please copy, paste and adapt the template below and send two letters: One to the President of Belarus (which will costs 87p when sending from the UK), and one to the Belarus Embassy. Please visit your local Amnesty International website to lend your support more worthwhile actions. Thank you for your support.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka                                                    19 August 2013
ul. Karla Marxa 38
220016 Minsk

Dear President Lukashenka

Zmitser Dashkevich and Others

There are continuing reports in the UK of obstruction and harassment of your citizens who are critical of your government. Belarus is rated by 'Reporters Without Borders' 157th in the press freedom index, the lowest place of any European country.

It is also reported that the authorities in Belarus regularly deny people the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression. This prevents people from speaking out in public, holding demonstrations or setting up civil organisations, rights that are recognised as an essential part of European politics.

I hope you will take prompt action to restore freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression enjoyed in other European countries.

One such step would be to release, immediately and unconditionally, Zmitser Dashkevich and all others imprisoned in connection with the December 2010 election demonstrations and ensure that none of your citizens are obstructed, harassed or intimidated for exercising their rights peacefully.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Robert Maher

cc. Mr Valery Dougan, Charge d'Affaires, Embassy of the Republic of Belarus, 6 Kensington Court, London, W8 5DL


Thursday, 8 August 2013


Written when I was an astrophysics undergraduate, in a lecture, from memory, having been out all night, home, showered, and into 9am lecture. This may be the reason why I didn't graduate.

Toby or not Toby, that is my Friesian:- Whether ‘tis nobly in my shorts, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune tellers; Or to take balms against a sea of treacle, and by addressing, send them? To dye, - to sleep, -

Norman; - and, by a sleep to say that we end the heartburn, and the thousand natural yoghurts that Jo Guest is heir to -, ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be dished. To fry;- to beep; - to beep perchance to stream; - ay, where’s my sub?

For in my sub of death what streams may come, when we have shuffled off this slinky coil, must give us gauze. There’s the President Elect, that bakes a fleck to so long Fife;

For who would suffer the whips and scorns of lime, the oppressors thong, the cloud gran’s Countdown, the fangs of despised glove, the store’s soufflĂ©, the insolvent of Grimsby, and the ferns that the perky mandrake of the unhealthy steaks, when bees themselves might their queen bee make with a bare bottom? Who would Frank Butchers bare, to grunt and sweat under an ugly wife; But that the Fred of something after Wilma, - the undiscovered country bumpkin, from whose barn no traveller returns, - jigsaws his head; And makes us rather cook those cats we have, than fry other that we know not of? Thus colanders doth make housewives of us all; And thus the native Hugh and Laurie, off the tele, is sicklied o’er with the pale projectile vomit; And Starship Enterprises of great pith and rind, With this retard their curries are cooked too hot, and lose the name of Allan.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Alt Take

A General, All Purpose, Omni-Directional, Jazz-Rant, Expressing My Dissatisfaction On a Number of Matters of Current Importance

[Alternate Take]

Any idea, however brilliant, epoch making, or profound, has a half life, a period over which it becomes less relevant.

Any idea, however brilliant or epoch making, can become irrelevant over millennia or milliseconds, but so long as the arrow of time points forwards, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics must be obeyed.

An idea may be brilliant, but ideas get old.

Or they evolve. Look at imaginary numbers. The square root of minus 1. An impossible number. A mathematical curiosity, nothing more. Then the dawning of the digital age and it turns out that this seemingly redundant branch of mathematics is the key to the kinds of data compression needed to download data at the speeds we've been experiencing in recent years. So, every time you download a podcast or stream a TV show online, you're using imaginary numbers, ironically, to simplify the types of calculation your computer is required to perform. It's a healthy advert in favour of research for research's sake.

Fifteen years ago, when I was an astrophysics undergraduate, theories about superstrings and hyper dimensional space were at the fringes of scientific thought and broadly ridiculed by the mainstream. Today, superstring and hyper dimensional space are the mainstream, and Michio Kaku, author of 'Hyperspace', the book I was reading as I started university, is a household name.

Newer, more relevant information becomes available. What we take to be true today turns out to be nonsense tomorrow. Yet what remains entrenched in our psyche and our cultural identity can seem like a marvel. Some ideas are spellbinding. They seem to be doing most good usually when doing most harm.

A few weeks ago I was watching something on television. I forget what it was, but the chairman of RBS was being interviewed. During the interview, he uttered the immortal line that I have heard repeated at regular intervals throughout my life:

Capitalism may not be perfect, but it's the best system we have.

Surely 'the best system that we have' would demonstrate a little better common sense than we've seen in recent years?

In the last twelve months, I've seen something of the top of society and something of the bottom. Working PPI claims for a bank, I got to see how a bank can mishandle the mishandling of its PPI mis-selling. I've blogged about this in the past (here). However, I recently heard that the Financial Ombudsman's Service upheld 86% of all complaints they've received about the bank I worked for, so it really is worth taking matters all the way. It also costs them money.

(incidentally, does it strike anyone else as a coincidence that the government is talking about re-privatising  RBS and Lloyds TSB, right as their PPI projects are coming to an end? - I wonder how much that has cost the public purse, the government said it wouldn't cost us a penny, so I'm guessing £billions. It's something to think about.)

There are people, mostly in the north of England, who take the piss out of George Orwell for moving to more squalid lodgings when he was writing 'The Road to Wigan Pier'. Yet what else was he supposed to do? He was writing a book about poverty, what writer worth the name wouldn't want to see life lived at its most extreme? Of course Orwell did that, it's why he's remembered today and why it's gone three in the afternoon and you're still sitting in your pants.

Also, this is to ignore the tradition out of which Orwell was writing. Orwell's great influence was 'The People of the Abyss', Jack London's report on the conditions in the East End slums at the beginning of the 20th century. London had come to the English capital that shares his name to report on a conference. The conference was subsequently cancelled and London found himself wandering among the East End and moving into the area to write his great work of anthropology. Both Orwell's 'The Road to Wigan Pier' and 'Down and Out in Paris in London' were written with that same dedication to research.

I've always liked to kid myself that I'm the Jack London of office work (if Jack London had mainly worked in the North West of England). I always take mental notes on my surroundings, whatever sector I end up working in, for recall and use later. Six years ago I could get a phone call on Friday and be in a job Monday for anything from a day to three years and always be sure of finding something else. Since the recession, the public sector has shrunk and what few jobs there are now involve going through tortuously tedious competency based interviews, which are designed to ensure middle of the road types, less likely to go walkabout to another job, costing the organisation further recruiting costs.

So I'm struggling to find a job, but since I'm in the area, I've been taking notes. For a start, trying to get housing benefit has been a Kafkaesque journey through the halls of bureaucracy. Four months to process a claim that should have taken two weeks. Always requesting more information about the tenancy agreement, but not actually writing to tell me that, so back to stand in the queue at the council offices for another half hour, waiting to find out what they need this time. At time of writing, the council still owe me three weeks back rent and have cost me a couple of hundred pounds in late fees and fees for being over my overdraft limit.

In the meantime, I had my benefits stopped for a month, because I failed to attend an appointment. The encroaching changes to the benefit system worry me. If you want to see what a society really is, take a look at the way it treats its most vulnerable people. The nature of the work I've done over the years has meant that I've signed on from time to time, a fortnight here, couple of months there. So I've seen some of the ways benefits have changed over the years. Since the current government came to power, they've barely stopped changing.

There was a time when you had to see an advisor every three months. Then it was every six weeks, once a month, now it's every two weeks. Often the advisor can't see you on the same day that you sign and so you have to come back. When it is on the same day, it's usually scheduled for first thing. I sign on in the afternoons. So it's easy to get confused. In the past, they'd let you rebook and it was fine. To be honest, my interview is usually a waste of time. I usually spend longer waiting for the interview to begin than in the actual interview.

This time I was due to sign on Bank Holiday Monday and so the adviser was saying over and over, you don't need to come Bank Holiday Monday, you're excused signing, like it was some kind of special treat. Then she scheduled an appointment for the next day, which hasn't happened before. Bank Holiday Monday used to mean no signing day and no interview.

Not this time though and the rules have now been changed and tightened and all failures to attend, rather than being dealt with sensibly, as in the past, have to go to an adjudicator. When the government say they want to cut the benefit bill, what they really mean is that they want to redirect it. I understand that the people who adjudicate on such issues are private, third party companies, who presumably are in it to make a profit for themselves and their shareholders. I've never really understood how a profit making organisation is better for the public purse than a non-profit making government department. I'm no economist, but even I can see that this makes no financial sense. It's not that we want to cut the benefit bill, but that we want to keep as much of it away from the poor as possible.

I remembered on the Wednesday that I'd missed the appointment and went up to the benefits office and spent a long time sat down with the guy there (and they are generally very helpful people at the place I go) and he wrote out quite a long declaration on my behalf to make sure I wouldn't be sanctioned (an Orwellian word, meaning penalised) for an honest mistake.

When the decision arrived in the post, instead of making reference to my detailed explanation, the letter merely said that when asked why I had failed to attend, I said, 'I did not attend the appointment'. It then goes on to say that 'the law says' this is not a valid reason for failing to attend and my benefits were to be stopped for a month. If I did it again, they could be stopped for three months. So apparently not only did I fail to turn up to one my many appointments, but I'd also broken the law. Unemployed now equates to criminal. I waited in all weekend, but the police failed to arrive and arrest me.

In the end, they paid me four weeks benefits two weeks later. I'd been sanctioned, but not penalised. Well, apart from that day I had so little money that all I had to eat was a bowl of tomato soup and the two bits of bread that hadn't gone mould in the breadbin. 

Why does a bully bully? Same reason a dog licks its bollocks. Because it can. For the same reason, the lives of the poor, the unemployed, the disabled are continuously fucked with by people who evidently didn't get enough hugs when they were young.

What this government amply demonstrate is that all the money, education and privilege in the world can't buy one any class. Cameron, Gideon and 'Gradgrind' Grove ('Now what I want are facts. Facts are what's important') and the rest are the last people on Earth who should be running things. Education should be in the hands of teachers, the NHS run by ex nurses and GPs. Not this current crops of chinless wonders, few of whom have ever had to live in the real world and so are ill-equipped to manage things.

"While money doesn't talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony."
Bob Dylan

In the end, I've had to move back home for a bit. Now, don't worry about me, I'll be fine. This isn't about me (although even by saying that, you should know that it's a little bit about me). I'll soon find a job and get back on my feet and the bills will be up to date in no time. I'm quite stay at home anyway. I spend most of my money rescuing secondhand books from charity shops.

The people I worry about are the ones that are left behind. Not just the unemployed, but the disabled too. The ones who are going to have to navigate the new universal payment system. I was told the other day that eventually you won't even have to sign on to get paid, but you will still have to attend an appointment, presumably now every week. Being on benefits is like being on probation. Tagging of the disabled to follow shortly.

Tagging the disabled my sound melodramatic, but then we have already seen the unemployed working as indentured servants for Aldi and Poundland and the like. In America, the richest country in the world, the most powerful in a system where accumulated wealth is the only consideration that counts for anything, nearly 2% of the population, 10% of the African-American population, is in prison. Capitalism there has led to the bottom fifth of the population being rendered as surplus to industrial requirements and locked up for the crime of being poor. Of doing the kinds of things that poor people do to try and relieve the monotony. Slavery had been effectively reinvented and used to provide cheap labour for the commercial sector. It's not something I want to see ending up happening in this country.

Wouldn't our best system, having once abolished slavery, feel no need to reinvent it? Hasn't something gone terribly, terribly wrong?

If you were to ask me, I'd say I'm a misanthropic socialist. I don't know what you take socialism to mean, it's one of those curious words, like communism or anarchism or feminist, which were named by their enemies. Using ism and ist makes the supporters of such movements sound like fanatics, lowering their credibility. 

I take Bertrand Russell's definition of Socialism, as modified by George Orwell. To be a Socialist, Russell said, one needs only believe in three things:

Social Justice

Actually, I would modify the definition once again:

Freedom of choice
Equality of choice
Social Justice

And that's it. If you believe in those three things then you are a socialist. Moreover, if you don't believe in these three principles of society, what do you believe in and why am I even sharing a society with you? Socialism is much maligned, largely because its ethos is in sharp contrast to the corrupt brand of capitalism that we've inherited. Yet when you break it down, when all the rhetoric is wiped away, socialism is simply the process of being part of a society. Pick up your neighbour's shopping or let someone cross ahead of you at an intersection and you are engaging in socialism. Yet because the market wishes to rob us of even our sense of community, the co-operative spirit is called being a lefty, or a red, and maligned and discouraged. If you don't want to be socialist then get like Robinson Crusoe and maroon yourself on an island.

I say to hell with it all. I've got social networking and my own blog. Governments are terrified of new media. It means they can't manage the way that news comes out, like they were once able. Twenty years ago, we'd be hearing about the Syrian conflict about now. New media makes news available almost as soon as it happens. How long did it take before the News of the World folded? Two weeks of sustained pressure on the advertisers maybe. This is where the capitalist bear (why not?) can be hurt. Stock is only as good as its image. If its image becomes toxic, the stock becomes worthless and it ceases to have power. Why bother to hack a company and cause it some mild discomfort, when enough dissatisfied customers can make a company do things it doesn't want to do, just to protect its image?

Hey, did you know that the US Constitution was based on Native American principles? The different states on the east coast initially lived in opposition to one another, like a mini version of Europe, but that wasn't working out so they took their cue from The Iroquois Great Law of Peace. Just a good example of how a fresh approach can be the making of a country.

I mention this partly as free advice, but mainly as an example of how a fresh approach to old problems can encourage growth. For some capitalism has been a godsend. For many others it has been a plague and the plague is only intensifying. Ideas evolve or they decay. When I hear people talk about tradition or the way things have always been done, it tells me that no one has had a new thought in quite a while.

Ultimately I hate the idea that capitalism is the best system we have because it's a statement of ownership. A message to ordinary person to say, we own you, and don't you ever do anything to try and change that. Mostly what it makes me want to do is to try and change the system to a more fair and equitable system.

Besides, in a properly functioning Capitalist state, wouldn't there be no poor people? Isn't that it's one measure of success or failure? So what the hell is this?

Isn't it time for some new ideas?

Or make the ones that we have finally work for us?

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Banking as Usual

A General, All Purpose, Omni-Directional, Jazz-Rant, Expressing My Dissatisfaction On a Number of Matters of Current Importance

Any idea, however brilliant, epoch making, or profound, has a half life, a period over which it becomes less relevant.

Any idea, however brilliant or epoch making, can become irrelevant over millennia or milliseconds, but so long as the arrow of time points forwards, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics must be obeyed.

An idea may be brilliant, but ideas decay.

Or they evolve. Look at the Theory of Gravitation. Formulated by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687 in one equation and good for explaining 90% of the universe. It stood for 228 years, only to be superseded in 1915 by Albert Einstein's theory of gravitation, also summarised in a single equation, and good for explaining 99% of the known universe. One hopes that three centuries or so from now, we may have figured out 99.9% of the known universe. And quite a bit about the unknown as well.

Newer, more relevant information becomes available. What we take to be true today turns out to be nonsense tomorrow. Yet what remains entrenched in our psyche and our cultural identity can seem like a marvel. Some ideas are spellbinding. They seem to be doing most good, usually when doing most harm.

A couple of months ago I was watching something on television. I forget what it was, but the CEO of RBS was being interviewed. During the interview, he uttered the immortal line that I have heard repeated at regular intervals throughout my life:

Capitalism may not be perfect, but it's the best system we have.

I think Churchill made the phrase popular, but I've heard many politicians chant the mantra, especially Tony Blair.

It tells you a lot about capitalism, and about politics in general, because the phrase itself is a deceit on any number of levels. For a start, if something is imperfect, then by that very nature, it can be improved. The last two centuries of industrial and technological advance amply attest to that. It's kind of what capitalism is built upon. I have to upgrade my phone every two years, so why am I stuck with the same economic and political model that I was born with?

More than that though, it's a self-serving statement. I've seen a lot of TV reports from the slums of the world, but I don't remember a single one where a slum dweller sang the praises of capitalist ideology. Of course Blair, Churchill and the head of RBS think capitalism is great, all have done well from the system. It would be like being told a member of the Polit-Bureau thought Communism was the best system we have. I would be surprised if he didn't think that.

Beyond even that though, I just can't get my head around this notion that greed and the acquisition of wealth are what's best for society. Society is supposed to be an aggregation of people, an attempt to accommodate everyone's needs as best we can. How is that meant to be achieved when everyone is fighting everyone else for scraps? Competition tends to kill co-operation dead.

If I think back, these kinds of ideas have always been fermenting at the back of my mind. As kids, mum would take us to church, which wasn't especially puritanical, but they would say things that jarred in my head. I tend to obsess over things and the concept of hell blew my mind, not because of its horror, but because I couldn't see how such a place could exist and fulfil its primary purpose. Even then I understood the subjective nature of pain and I couldn't understand how it would be possible to keep someone in torment forever. Didn't all sensations become commonplace after a time, even pain?

It's what I would later come to realise was called a logical fallacy. By the time I'd turned teenager, I had ascribed heaven and hell to the same origin as Santa Claus. God and the rest of religion soon followed.

Yet imaginary or not, heaven and hell were intangible, invisible places. It was the tangible world that was more confusing to me. I heard about the EU wine lake and the butter mountain and then I saw the pictures from the famine in Ethiopia and couldn't understand why we didn't just give them the food they needed. Didn't we have enough to go around? Wasn't it just going off in a warehouse somewhere? Weren't we supposed to be the good guys?

If you grew up in the 80s, that was the line you were always being fed. We were the good guys; we who saw off Hitler single-handed, we who kept Europe from becoming rife with Communism. Communism, that was a terrorist octopus (no, they really called it that), spawned in Moscow, its tentacles everywhere.

Then I grew up and came to hear about Guatemala and Chile and Brazil and Argentina and El Salvador and East Timor and Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos and Iran and Iraq and the First World War and the Philippines and the Kurds and the Opium Wars and the Slave Trade and the eradication of the Native Americans and the Highland Clearances and the Harrying of the North and on and on, back beyond recorded time, and this was how good guys behaved.

I also heard about the twenty million dead Russians soldiers, how the Russians had lost more troops in the Battle of Stalingrad than the British and Americans lost during the entire war. How the Russians had defeated three quarters of the German Army singlehanded and might had marched on beyond Berlin if not for America's two shows of force at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Over time I stopped differentiating between this conflict or that, with their wide-ranging, but always dissembling reasons. Instead, I reduced them to a series of punishment beatings visited upon the poor, whether they be British Tommies or British Miners or Liverpool Dockers or Laotian Peasants. I was reminded the other day that the pre-industrial country of Laos had more tonnage of munitions dropped upon it by the USA between 1964 and 1973 than was dropped during the whole of World War Two. The cluster bomb was first tested on Laotian peasants (as napalm had been tested on French peasants at the end of World War Two). It remains littered with more unexploded munitions that any other country.

When asked why the north of Laos was being bombed, which had nothing to do with what was happening in Vietnam or Cambodia, one official let slip that there was a lessening of hostilities in North Vietnam, the air force had a load of B52s sitting around doing nothing, so why not give them something to do? Empty our silos of the old stock and send the bill for the next consignment to the folks back home. And the only people that get hurt are some peasants, who don't count for very much in a culture built around wealth and worthiness.

"Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor - at least no one worth speaking of." The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Of course, America's economy is practically built upon its arms industry. Selling weapons to the British during the Second World War was the main event that finally brought America out of the Great Depression that followed the 1929 Wall Street Crash. With the onset of the Cold War, most US research and development money went into applications of war, unlike, say, Japan, which was banned from having a military force, and so put all its R & D money into home applications. Japan ended up with Sony: America got Lockheed Martin.

Some ideas are spellbinding. I have friends who were barely alive when the Berlin Wall fell and yet the American military budget is now larger than ever. Shouldn't we have disarmed by now? Or at least re-aimed our missiles at the stars?

No. Instead we invent a new enemy that must be battled, so as to justify the ever expanding defence budget. The Evil Empire, as Chomsky so aptly named it, the Emmanuel Goldstein of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the scapegoat on to which we pour all of our hatred, to ensure that it is never focused on anyone or anything actually responsible for the current state of our society.

Islam it had to be. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Islam was the only game left in town big enough to scare the American public. The conceit, for the most part, has been about as accurate as it was during the Cold War. Most of Russia's alleged terrorist activities were black propaganda inventions of the C.I.A. Equally, the name Al Qaeda was largely an invention of the F.B.I. following the US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dari Salaam in 1998. An attempt to create the image of a global Islamic terrorist network bent on destroying the west, despite the so-called Al Qaeda network at the time consisting of as little as twelve people. The name Al Qaeda was only used by Osama Bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks.

Yet as soon as the Soviet Union fell, the west's focus turned to the Middle East. From one Iraq War to another, through insinuations about the Oklahoma bomber, to the artificially inflated significance of the 1994 World Trade Centre bombing, to the threats and insinuations against Afghanistan, which might actually have led to the 9/11 attacks being launched as pre-emptive strike (a date for the US invasion of Afghanistan was announced and reported upon in May 2001). A self fulfilling prophecy, if ever there was one.

If you look at the west's involvement in wars throughout the 1990s, they can mostly be linked to attempts to prevent the curtailing of America's military budget. The first Gulf War, indeed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait irself, could have easily been prevented with a little diplomacy. Likewise, the bombing of Serbia had little to do with ending the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In fact, it triggered the vast majority of the violence against Muslims in retaliation for the aerial bombardment, exactly as the evidence indicated would happen at the time.  Every time the questions, Do we need so large a military?, Is N.A.T.O. really relevant in a post Cold War environment? were being asked, boom, another war breaks out.

With the 9/11 attacks, the US has been able to throw off its childish attempts to set itself up as a World Policeman, because now its military has carte blanche to spend however much of the gross national product on however many weapons it takes to destroy the people who want to destroy its 'way of life'.

Except, now that enemy is whoever we say it is. In Pakistan, in Afghanistan, the drones are taking down anyone of military age, ensuring the next generation of Jihadi fighters, ensuring the growth of western military and defence sectors for generations to come.

And so you get what we had in Woolwich. Which is the way they want it. Don't you think that if we were really serious about defeating fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, we'd have done all we could to play down the horrific events in Woolwich? Wouldn't we describe those two men as insane, like the media did when a British woman was beheaded in Tenerife earlier in the year? Or just not report it all, like weeks before, when a Muslim man was stabbed to death on the street by a racist gang in Birmingham? Wouldn't we do all we could to stress that those two man do not represent Islam, rather than focusing heavily on the fact of their religion, so as to avoid dealing with any political point they might have been making? Wouldn't we want to understand every facet of this barbaric act, to ensure that it never happens to anyone ever again?

Yet this doesn't fit our current narrative of scary Muslims, so we fall back on lazy stereotypes, which require no original thought. Clearly, hacking someone to death on the street in so causal a manner is the act of someone with mental health problems, whatever their stated cause. I mean, how many abortion doctors have been killed by fundamentalist Christians? These aren't labelled terrorist attacks. They're called what they are, extremist misunderstandings of vague and ancient texts. It doesn't mean Christians should be expected to apologise for the actions of a few random dickheads. Neither should Muslims.

Nor can we be entirely surprised that events like this happen. The national reaction actually said a lot about our collective sense of guilt. Scapegoats were called scapegoats, because they used to be exactly that: goats that people touched with their hands, in order to transfer the guilt of the person to the animal. A entire drove of goats would be used, sometimes slaughtered, sometimes released into the wild, depending on the local tradition. However, this idea of animals or individuals personifying the sins of society is as old as civilisation itself.

We blame Muslims and it absolves us of our guilt for twelve years of apathy towards the occupation of Afghanistan; our failure to bring anyone to account for the invasion of Iraq (the findings of the Iraq Inquiry will almost certainly not be published during the lifetime of this parliament); our grief at the number of our young men that have come home dead or disabled (and for what gain?); our shame at the thousands of lives that have been destroyed around the world; but most of all, it is our fear. Fear at the retaliation that awaits us. Fear that all of this death and destruction will have to be answered for someday. I may not believe in God, but I do believe in Karma. After all, Karma is nothing but a restating of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy increases, things even themselves out over the course of a season.

We evolve or we decay. Our economy is built upon industries that are toxic to modern society: oil, arms, banking and the like. Each has its tendrils deep in the minds of governments around the world and yet each is an anachronism, a throwback to a previous age, like the appendix or that ridge at the roof of your mouth that your reptilian ancestors used as a sensory pit. We have Google, Amazon and Starbucks to contend with now, so why are BAe, BP and Barclays still calling the shots?

To borrow from an astrophysics analogy, the only difference between the old Communist east and the Capitalist west is that the west is larger and so has other resources to draw upon, to stay-off its imminent collapse, but collapse it must. The east imploded, crushed by the differences in pressure between the image Russia portrayed of itself, and the reality of its situation. The west will go the same way, only with a bang, like another Rome falling. We seem to be ignoring this with the same casual regard that we ignore the evidence that global warming is occurring. I mean, we admit that it is probably happening, but no one seems to be doing very much about it. In both cases the signs are becoming less and less ignorable, yet day by day we do nothing. After 500 years of unfettered growth, the sun is finally beginning to set on the west. China, India and Brazil are where the future lie. These are the places where evolution is taking place. All thanks to the western expansion of globalisation. Thanks. And, you're fired.

Welcome to your capitalist utopia. Please brace for impact.

Even that they're calling it Capitalism again should be an indication of how bold they've become. There was a time, about twenty years ago, when the word capitalism was rarely heard. It was a dirty word. Then it got a rebrand: Consumerism. See, 'capitalism' suggests toffs in dinner jackets, top hats and bulging stomachs, lighting cigars off of £50 notes. Whereas, 'consumerism' focuses the mind back on sleepy shoppers shuffling around Tesco. Capitalists are heartless bastards, but consumers are lovely. What's more, the customer is always right. And if the customer is always right, then by extension, capitalism must always be right.

With political language, you should always be mindful of where your attention is being drawn and where it's being directed away from.

It's the same when we portray our soldiers as heroes. Now, I don't have anything against the military really. In an ideal world we wouldn't need an army, but we don't live in an ideal world, so an armed presence is sometimes required. I exist because my parents met on a naval base, so I've also seen how the country treats its heroes, once they've served their useful purpose. Bit of a pension and that's your lot. Don't even get special dispensation when you're long term unemployed. My mum was working, so he lost his benefit, died some months later. This is what you get for defending your country. Sorry, I may be a little bitter about the whole thing.

Wars are unpopular, especially the ones Britain has become embroiled in since the millennium, so we borrow from Capitalism's trick and shift focus. Rebrand. War is bad, but soldiers are heroes, fit young men in uniforms, defending our country from terror, even as they are invading someone else's country. A bit of sleight of hand and, Abracadabra, we pull attention away from the actual event, the invasion of a sovereign state (described in the Nuremburg Laws as the supreme international crime), and no one ever has to take responsibility for anything. At least, no one worth speaking of.

None of us like going to war, but you like soldiers don't you? You support our troops don't you? You are patriotic, aren't you?

I'm fairly indifferent to the country in which I live, as you'll know if you've read my essay on PJ Harvey. And while I'm not indifferent to the plight of British soldiers, the truth is that I don't see why they deserve my special attention over any other group that serves interests outside of mine. I don't want them being hacked down in the street, but neither do I want that for Muslims, doctors, or gay men either. Society is an aggregation of people, an aggregation of types, fitting within the agreed boundaries of society. Boundaries that change, as the evolution of our understanding leads us to expand the boundaries of what our society will allow. It fails when it blames one of us for the sins of us all, whether they be soldiers, Muslims, immigrants or the disabled. And if it fails one of us, it fails us all.

We should be very careful about the language that we use. I don't like the word hero, because it suggests a perfect state, which doesn't require any input from us. Heroes don't need help. I've met a few squaddies and some were sound and some were pricks, most were ok. I don't support the actions they are asked to carry out, but I don't blame them for them either. They're following orders and I just assume that the vast majority of serving personnel act, believing that their orders are given to them in good faith. So I prefer to think of them as victims of the same lies and distortions of which we are all victims. All to keep alive an economic model forged in the death throes of the Second World War.

'So our young men hit with guns in the dirt, and in the dark places'  (as PJ Harvey so hauntingly sings it), let us treat them better than heaping meaningless plaudits onto them, which make us feel better, but do nothing for them. If we instead thought of them as victims of the same global forces that swirl around us all, we might start to treat them a little better and, moreover, come to a better understanding about the people representing the Evil Empire of the moment. We might forge some kind of peace through negotiation and empathy and understanding for a change, instead of more boom, boom, boom. And in doing so, finally defeat our one true common enemy: the person pointing out all our enemies.

In the Victorian Age, the richest men built schools and hospitals and the country grew as a result. Today the same sections of the community are building PFI hospitals and prisons and pocketing the change. Instead of building people up, we've realised we've lifted them up far too far and are now trying to knock them back down again. In these days of Disaster Capitalism, making people miserable is the key, because profit can be made from human misery. Human misery is the great untapped well. Have you ever seen a list of the companies that Dick Cheney is involved with? It's a litany to human suffering, all monetised and extracted for most profit. America has the largest prison population in history, the bottom strata of American society having been criminalised and locked away, making cheap goods, in conditions fairly indistinguishable from slavery.

Shouldn't the best system that we know of be able to do a little better than this? Wouldn't our best system, having once abolished slavery, feel no need to reinvent it? Hasn't something gone terribly, terribly wrong?

Ultimately I hate the idea that capitalism is the best system we have because it's a statement of ownership. A message to ordinary people to say, we own you, and don't you ever do anything to try and change that, 'cause that shit's written in stone.

Mostly what it makes me want to do is try and change the system to a fairer and more equitable one: More like the one we were promised, once we got rid of the commies.

Isn't it time for some better ideas?

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"It's a round world, last time I checked." Bill Hicks