Thursday, June 30, 2005

New Labour complicity in torture of suspects

The UN's special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, called on the Bush administration to hand over a list of where prisoners are being held. Nowak said the charges of secret detention camps were very serious, amounting to enforced disappearances.

The British New Labour Government cannot deny complicity in torture just because they "outsource" it to the US. According to the Observer in January two prisoners "were both questioned by an MI5 officer who gave his name as 'Andrew', while they were being abused by Americans both in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. According to the letter, 'he was the one who told Mr Begg that the more Mr Begg (falsely) said he was guilty of something, the quicker he would get home. Andrew was also the one who said that he would not comply with both of my clients' requests for consular notification, as well as Mr Begg's requests to learn whether his pregnant wife, Sally, and their three children were safe in Pakistan."

According to my local MEP, Pete Skinner, even the European Parliament has condemned Guantanamo and the Labour members voted for that condemnation. No such condemnation has been forthcoming from HMG.

(A apologise for the wording of the European Parliament resolution - never use one word whereas a hundred will do!)

The text is on my website

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Child called 'It'

"A Child called 'It'" was recommended to me as a book teachers ought to read. It is an account of the abuse of a child written from the child's viewpoint. It is autobiography. It sounde the most unpromising thing to read, something you might read out of duty.

In truth it is "unputdownable" and you might read it in one go, reluctantly putting it down to eat or go to work etc. What makes it so is the 'strength of the weak' - the sheer will to survive of a child who was being treated so badly.

The only thing I can compare it with is the Russian writer Solzhenitsyn who writes about the prison camps. You would expect that to be pretty bloody grim - yet "A Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch" is about the triumph of the human spirit - Solzhenitsin would say the soul - over awful conditions. It makes compelling reading.

As a reader I felt as the child felt, it is really powerful writing. When he was bad he was punished by missing meals. Then he was a "bad boy" because he stole food, so he was punished by not being fed and the punishments escalated. Some of the punishments (and I do not doubt the story) seem beyond belief.

Extraordinarily, he believes his teachers "risked their jobs" by arranging for the police to investigate and take him away from his abusive mother. There must be some differences between American and British custom and practice in child abuse cases. The immediate involvement of the police rather than social services would be one difference but the idea that teachers feel their job is on the line if they take action is a considerable difference. This also reflects the time of the story, the author is now an adult.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The other "Big Brother"

The phrase "Big Brother" has been hijacked as a title for an increasingly tacky piece of exploitation TV but the original meaning of the term is still alive.

The music corporations are boasting about finding a teenage girl who has been downloading music so that the corporations can now prosecute her mother. The media report with a straight face the idea that downloading will ruin the business. (Just as video recorders ruined the business or taping music off the wireless ruined the business presumably.) There has not been a peep of protest about the invasion of the teenager's privacy by the corporations. It is OK for the corporations to know the contents of everyone's computer "for their own good" so to speak.

At least they have dropped the laughable - "if you download a tune you are funding terrorism" line which was greeted with sceptical derision whenever they broadcast it.

On the TV there are a series of public service adverts threatening people without licences for watching TV and threatening people who work while signing for benefit. In both the message is the same "we know all about you, we are coming to get you." This is New Labour's image of a caring society.

The BBC dismisses anyone who opposes these measures as "civil libertarians" to create the impression that ordinary people are uninterested in liberty or privacy and such interests are just the province of some special interest group of "civil libertarians".

The corporations openly boast about their infringements of our liberty and the government joins in the chorus.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Michael Moore on teachers

My daughter gave me "Idiot Nation" for Fathers' Day. Michael Moore writes:
"You would think society's attitude would be something like this:
Teachers, thank you so much for devoting your life to my child. Is there ANYTHING I can do to help you? Is there ANYTHING you need? I am here for you? Why? Because you are helping my child - MY BABY - learn and grow. Not only will you be largely responsible for her ability to make a living, but your influence will greatly affect how she views the world, what she knows about other people in this world and how she will feel about herself. I want her to believe she can attempt anything - that no doors are closed and that no dreams are too distant. I am entrusting the most valuable person in my life to you for seven hours each day. You are, thus, one of the most important people in my life. Thank you."

He then goes on to list a series of quotes about what teachers actually read about themselves in the press - it seems the late Chris Woodhead has nothing on the Republican pundits, for whom teachers are on a par with terrorists.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Synthetic phonics and voodoo

The debate on synthetic phonics rages on.
The argument is not about whether phonics should be used but whether, as some of the phanatics insist, all other methods should be banned because they are "damaging children". So I was interested in this confession:
"The Reading Reform Foundation has never said that there must be prescription for teachers - only that there should be proper information to enable teachers to make informed choices."
If this is true it means they have conceded the very point being debated! Other advocates are more intransigent. One for example told me that although I learned to read by a different method, it does not count because I must have used "synthetic phonics" unconsciously. Another poster insisting I must know nothing about reading whatsoever.

So I rather liked one cheeky post:

I understand nobody but a synthetic phonics advocate is allowed to have an opinion on this, so I will talk about Voodoo. A lot of ppl are critical of Voodoo but only those of us who know all about it have a right to talk about it and we think it is wonderful and just the stuff for the kids :)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Posada - new CIA documents

The US government is refusing to extradite Posada to stand trial for terrorist charges. According to Bush "anyone who harbours a terrorist is a terrorist", so will Bush be locked up in Guantanamo? Or is he just a two-faced liar?

According to newly released CIA documents:

--Posada was trained in Guatemala in 1961 by the CIA to participate in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. That training included explosives and weapons. He was in the U.S. Army from March 1963 to March 1964 in Fort Benning, Ga., rising to the rank of second lieutenant and commanding a Ranger weapons platoon.

--Posada was used as a CIA source on Cuban exile activities and worked in 1965 with a Miami-based group attempting to overthrow the Guatemalan government. He was “formally terminated” as a CIA operative in July 1967, then moved to Caracas and became a Venezuelan security official. He attempted to get a U.S. visa for himself and his wife in July 1976 but was denied.

--Posada saved about $40,000 from his pay as part of the Iran-Contra project. His job at an airfield in El Salvador in 1985 was mainly to “take care of all the needs of the resupply personnel” including “food and beer.” But he also flew periodically on the resupply flights, mainly because his fluency in Spanish was needed to communicate on the radio.


It is a pity it took Jamie Oliver to highlight the state of school dinners.
It took Geldof to highlight poverty.
It took Galloway to draw attention to the war.

The TV just likes celebrities and cannot deal with issues in a grown up way.

They use the word "celebrity" to sell exploitation shows of the kind British audiences ridiculed when they were shown on Japanese TV.

For all their talk about poverty and making poverty history, they have ignored the mass movement in Bolivia, poor people who are trying to make poverty history by reclaiming the natural resources of the country are not as interesting as Geldof.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Making poverty history - New Labour hypocrisy

The government's Department for International Development (DfID) gave £1.65 million to Adam Smith International to promote neo-liberal policies in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Between 1999 and 2004 farmers there were persuaded to abandon subsistence farming, eg rice production, and switch to cash crops such as cotton and sugar cane. Subsidies for fertilisers and tools and cheap government loans were slashed, forcing the farmers to obtain high-interest loans.

The value of these cash crops then became virtually worthless, leaving the farmers with unpayable debts. The result has been a wave of suicides by ruined poor farmers.

"Make Poverty History" is a rather vague commitment but I would rather have pupils wearing "Make Poverty History" on their wristbands than "F*** poverty, get me an X-box!"

If it causes them to investigate and find out more about the way these things happen that will all be to the good.

Naturally the far right in the UK counterpose the corruption of third word regimes to the rapacity of the corporations - but by and large they go hand in hand. Western governments provide loans to tin-pot dictators to buy guns from Western corporations. At the same time the loans are conditional on cuts in public provision for essential services in favour of privatisation: so the corporations win again.

When American independent journalist Amy Goodman took on the Indonesian army armed only with a microphone she thought that it was only because the Indonesian military carry guns made by the country she came from that she survived!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Princess Leia and Princess Padme

I pity Natalie Portman for the inevitable comparisons between her and Princess Leia. Leia had a much more active role and her relationship with Han Solo provided most of the laughs in the original Star Wars trilogy. Apparently Harrison Ford got on her tits (metaphor) and that was why they worked together so well on screen.

Princess Padme was pregnant and passive through most of episode three and her main function was to hear terrible things about Anakin Skywalker, give birth and die. With the best will in the world she could not be sexy and witty in that role.

She didn't appear in a golden bikini in chains either so there are swings and roundabouts!

Ewan McGregor could have taken on a Han Solo role but as a Jedi, even a stroppy Jedi, he was restricted in what he could do. The plot called for him to be doomed to failure anyway.

Ian McDiarmid was brilliant despite struggling with some pretty weedy lines and he had to carry the film a lot of the time. He really is a first class actor but George Lucas is obviously out of touch with the fact that nobody can do an evil laugh these days....ever since Austin Powers they no longer work!