Monday, September 21, 2015

My Log 487 Sept 21 2015: Comment on Rugby World Cup, days 1-3

All Blacks v England
All Blacks v England  in a game before this World Cup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
New Zealand national rugby union team
New Zealand national rugby union team (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joost van der Westhuizen

It is often said that Rugby Union is the greatest game in the world, something I believe, although I don’t often say it myself. Here are three incidents from the first three days of the Rugby World Cup being played in England:
1. The Samoan team stood in their practice jerseys and sang a beautiful hymn to Joost Van der Westhuizen, former great halfback for the South African Springboks, who has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, as he listened from his wheelchair. At last sight, the video of this has been seen by 125,000 people.
2. A reporter has recorded how, as the crowds poured back from Brighton to London, the fans of the Springboks, who were amazingly beaten by 43-to-1 underdog Japan in a thrilling game, formed a guard through which they welcomed the Japanese fans as they got off the train. No signs in Rugby of the hooliganism so common to English fans in the world of soccer, the so-called beautiful game.
3. A reporter has noted that after the All Blacks of New Zealand defeated a gallant challenge from Argentina, in an absorbing and hard-fought game before 90,000 people at Wembley stadium, the home of British soccer, the All Black players formed a double line through which they applauded the Argentine players as they left the field.

If it isn’t the world’s greatest game, how come its players and its fans seem to know the difference between playing a game, something done for enjoyment, and real life? 
A great start towards a peaceful world.

My Log 486 Sept 21 2015: British army generals promise a mutiny against Corbyn --- revealing the real basis of our so-called democracies --- an army to keep the people down

English: The British Land Pattern Musket, comm...
The seat of power: The British  Musket, used from 1722 to 1838, and used by both the British Army and United States Army. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Plaque recording the location of the formation...
Plaque recording the location of the formation of the British Labour Party in 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Distribution of powers between member...
English: Distribution of powers between member states of NATO and Warsaw Pact in 1973  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The news being trumpeted today that generals of the British Army are threatening mutiny if Jeremy Corbyn, the elected leader of the British Labour Party, should ever become Prime Minister, is amazingly revelatory of where the power lies within what are generally called western democracies. I feel outraged by this because, so far as I understand Corbyn’s views, most of them I warmly share. Mind you, I never heard of him until a few months ago, when a young reporter with The Guardian of London, Owen Jones, on a weekly discussion programme of the BBC, Dateline London, welcomed the fact that Corbyn, who he said was a friend of his, had decided, under some pressure, to stand for the Labour leadership. Jones welcomed it because his very presence in the race would enable many of the important issues in British politics that are normally swept under the rug, to be debated seriously for the first time in ages.
I have a warm regard still for the British Labour Party (in spite of its years of Blairite apostasy) because I can honestly say that the only really democratic debate I have ever heard in politics --- that is, a debate, unlike those in Parliament, in which the outcome is not known beforehand --- took place at a Labour Party conference in the 1960s, when they debated, and approved of the idea of nuclear disarmament. In other words, they accepted the ideas of the vigorous Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which organized huge marches every Easter between 1958 and 1963 from Aldermaston, site of the government-owned Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, to London. These were great occasions of leftist politics, organized by a remarkable little woman called Peggy Duff, and I will never forget the passion, pride and excitement they generated for everyone on the Left.  Many brilliant musicians and artists rallied to the call, and they became the occasion for stirring new songs written by the superb Scottish folklorist, dramatist and poet, Ewan MacColl and his wife Peggy Seeger, sister to the redoubtable American singer Pete. Lindsay Anderson, a great Leftist filmmaker and dramatist, weighed in with a documentary film. and, inevitably, when the Labour Party came to power in 1964 under Harold Wilson, they ignored the decision of their annual conference, and kept the useless American-made nuclear weapons that have cost Britain millions  since then that could have been better spent on equalizing the opportunities in Britain’s classically class-organized society.
To write the above seems to me to be not the slightest bit extraordinary: I have always assumed that politics should be only about one thing, which is to improve the lives of citizens, and essentially to equalize opportunities available to them, through education, income distribution, and providing the basic needs of shelter, clothing, food, and a living wage to everyone. Everything else is decoration.
That a politician who has devoted his life to those very ideals should be regarded as such a threat to the basic values of British society as to warrant an Army mutiny really tells me more than I want to know about the realities of British life. The generals are up in arms because at some stage in his life Corbyn has said Britain doesn’t need an army, and should get rid of its nuclear deterrent.
The question of whether Canada needs an army or not is a very open one. We don't appear to be in danger of being attacked by any other country, but our army has been useful in the past because of its peacekeeping operations in various trouble spots around the world. Its more recent use as a minor appendage to United States imperialism has been very much in question, and appears to have caused a serious decline in Canada’s stature around the world.
 I should say that Costa Rica, a small country in a war and revolution-torn part of the world, Central America (an area that, collectively, is very much under the control of the United States) in 1949 became the first country in the world to abolish its army, a decision to which they have stuck ever since, with no deleterious results that are apparent.  The idea that Britain would be in some way weakened if they gave the Americans back their nuclear missiles is ludicrous.  The missiles are housed in submarines that are kept in Scotland.  Many years ago New Zealand, a staunchly British country by origin and outlook, decided that United States ships equipped or powered by nuclear weapons were unwelcome in NZ ports, and so far the sky hasn’t fallen on their heads.
Today, surely, the question of the continuing value of NATO must be lively in the minds of more than just convinced Leftists: NATO was an anti-Soviet alliance that could arguably have been considered necessary during the Cold War. After being refused entry to NATO, the Soviet Union established the Warsaw Pact and allowed East Germany to rearm in response to the rearmament of West Germany… .thus the two sides faced each other across middle Europe until, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded.  Unfortunately, the nations led by the nose by the United States have proven to be more militaristic, and NATO has  not only continued, but been used in many questionable actions such as the invasion of Yugoslavia, the bombing of Libya and so on. The results in both of those actions cited have been disastrous --- widespread ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, societal breakdown in Libya --- and if Jeremy Corbyn is challenging the wisdom of Britain’s continuing membership, one might be excused for thinking it is not before time. Even more relevant would be his questioning the very continued existence of NATO.
None of what I have written is really revolutionary politics: it is just a discussion about the realities of present-day world affairs. And that the army in Britain should be threatening mutiny proves, surely, that that particular army, like most others I guess, is dedicated to the untrammelled continuation of a capitalist economic structure the simple questioning of which can be regarded as treason. This is not news, of course. The ruthlessness with which the established powers of the European Community have demolished the anti-austerity threat posed by the Syriza left-wing government of Greece, surely already reveals that only orthodox capitalism is to be allowed to flourish under the American umbrella, anywhere in the world.
I have one amusing personal anecdote bearing on the British army and mutiny.  By accident, when I was on my way to Britain by steamship in 1960 to take up a post as correspondent in London for The Montreal Star,  I made the acquaintance of a British Lieutenant-General, Sir Michael West, well-known to Canadians for having been the commander of the Commonwealth troops who were engaged in the Korean War in the early 1950s. When I met him he was on his way back from Washington, where he had been Britain’s representative in the NATO military establishment. He came, of course, from the British upper class, was equipped with the customary toff’s education, had the accent and all the attitudes of his class, which, as I discovered through a long friendship with him, included an almost anarchistic, thumb-your-nose attitude towards the attitudes of the Establishment to which he belonged. He made a small flat he owned in London available to me for a year while he went to his new post, as Commander of Britain’s Northern Command. This required him to live in a stone-heap of a dreary castle in the countryside near York. He took one look at it and immediately ordered its interior be revamped and equipped with central heating, and its exterior be painted, top to toe, a dazzling pink. That was Mike West all over.
On one occasion after I had been writing about the possibility of the French army rebelling against the leadership of De Gaulle, I asked him why the British army never threatened such a rebellion.  He thought for a moment and said, “We have talked about it from time to time, but by the second brandy we were all in hoots of laughter. I think it’s just that if I stood up and said, ‘On to Whitehall, chaps,’ nobody would follow.”
If that were  a tradition in the British Army, could it be that the Generals would find themselves marching to Whitehall before  a phantom army, to stage a phantom coup d’├ętat? 
Let’s hope so.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Log 485 Sept 10 2015: Some random thoughts on our personal insignificance in face of what Dorothy Parker in the 1930s called “days of despair, horror and world change”

English: President Barack Obama talks with Ger...
English: President Barack Obama talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron before the start of the working G8 dinner at Le Ciro’s Barriere Restaurant in Deauville, France, May 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
G8 leaders caricatures 20110523
G8 leaders caricatures 20110523 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Logo of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc....
English: Logo of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. Category:Goldman Sachs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: World leaders walk to the first worki...
English: World leaders walk to the first working session at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, May 26, 2011. Pictured, from left are: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso; United States President Barack Obama; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and British Prime Minister David Cameron. May 26, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: US President Barack Obama and British...
English: US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron trade bottles of beer to settle a bet they made on the U.S. vs. England World Cup Soccer game (which ended in a tie), during a bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Canada, Saturday, June 26, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am beginning to feel ashamed of myself. I started this web site, as we called it then, Boyce’s Paper, in 1996, long before blogs had ever been heard of, at a time when it had become obvious to me that anyone I might wish to write for had no money to pay me. Therefore, when since asked am I retired, I answer, “Well, I suppose so. They’ve stopped paying me, so I have stopped writing. You could call it being retired.”
My purpose was simply to have a sounding off place, somewhere to express my opinion without fear or favour, and originally I thought maybe I could do it every day.
Any readers I still have --- you are few, believe me --- will have noticed that I have not written much in the last three months, and will perhaps have been surprised that lots of world-shaking events have been occurring about which I have had not a word to say. I have blamed my lack of mobility following the fracturing of my Achilles tendon. But that is not the real reason.
The real reason is that world events seem so confusing, so tumultuous, and so unfavourable to the ideals for an improved world that I used to hold, that I have begun to wonder whether it is all worth it. I have always known that anything I have to say is insignificant, but I have always previously thought it was worth putting in my two cents worth of opinion and letting the chips fall where they may. Now, like my fifty-ish, sons, I find myself asking, “What’s it all about? What does it all mean? Is it worth the effort?”
I decided from the first that if they wouldn’t pay me to write any more, I could not afford to spend money on my web site, so today I can say I have never spent a penny on it, nor earned a penny from it, thus consigning myself to my own oblivion. Never mind, I still find it therapeutic. In fact, after being at it since at least 1942 --- before I left high school --- I have to admit that writing has become almost like a reflex action for me. I can’t stop doing it, come what may. In fact, writing is certainly number one in the list of professions from which it is impossible to retire. It gets its grip on you, and you are pulled along helplessly by it, kicking and screaming.
But I have only to contemplate the possibility that Stephen Harper might conceivably be re-elected to realize that I am not so indifferent as I have recently begun to feel. Don't ask me about that, you will probably stop a stream of invective: we have to get rid of this guy with his whole coterie of half-witted ministers and backward -thinking acolytes, and their antediluvian ultra-capitalistic ideas.
Part of my feeling of impotence comes from my long recognition that no journalist individually has any significance in the broad spectrum of society, its ideas and its purposes. Although I have always known this, it has become even more clear in recent years as the mainstream press has fallen into the ownership of huge companies whose only interest is to guard the existing economic system in which they have gained their obscene success. The impotence of the North American press in face of the huge economic crisis that was manufactured by the ultra-conservative capitalist class, their supine acquiescence as the Goldman Sachs boys moved into positions of power throughout the Western world and began to issue their marching orders, and their unquestioning acceptance that the State should provide unheard of  welfare payments to the staggering companies and banks that were said to be “too big to fail”, all these blew the pretensions about the freedom of the press into smithereens.
Well, okay: given all that, what follows are some simple thoughts that occurred to me watching from the sidelines as world events have marched across the page in recent months:
1. On the refugee crisis in Europe: Some perspective is needed. Europe was freaking out even when the numbers involved were small, like 6000 or so a month. Europe’s population is hitting the 300 million, right? And they are freaking out at the prospect of absorbing 160,000 incoming people, evidently, most of them people with reasonable educations, well-dressed, and most of whom have had enough money to pay the people smugglers to get them out of their home countries as they burn. By contrast, Canada has 34 million, and for years we have absorbed anything from 160,000 to 250,000 incoming people a year, year after year.  Even given the differences between Canada and Europe, culturally, economically and socially, it has to be admitted surely that the numbers in themselves are not the problem. The people “swarming” in, to use British Prime Minister David Cameron’s scaremongering word, can be successfully absorbed into Europe. All they have to do is to set aside their prejudices, ingrained for generations, against outsiders, against non-white people, against foreign religionists, and against incoming poor people.
That might seem a big demand, but Chancellor Angela Merkel, for one, seems to have got the point. And it is no coincidence that her pronouncements on the many tens, even hundreds of thousands that Germany can absorb coincide with a Guardian Weekly front page of August 28, headlined: “Europe in Need of a Baby Boom; Birthrate fall is a threat to economic prosperity; Immigration could avert population disaster."  
2. The “success” of capitalist economics: Anyone who believes that capitalism is serving the interests of everyone need only look at the link I put on this web site yesterday. Dealing with the United States (and Canada cannot surely be so different) it shows that since 1973, productivity has risen by 72 per cent, but “the typical worker received little if any benefit from their contribution to increased net output.  Said differently, they suffered from wage stagnation despite a growing economy.” The conclusion of this study by the Economic Policy Institute was that “there has been a change in power relations between owners of capital and workers, which has enabled the former to shift the distribution of national income to their favor at the expense of the latter. In other words, corporations are now keeping a larger share of national income for their own use, increasingly to fund mergers, stock buy-backs, and dividend payments.”
Nuff sed!
3. The hidden factor: insane population increases:  here it is time for me to trot out a story I have told many times, about Bangladesh. In 1975, when I was living back in New Zealand, I attended an international conference of the Human Ecology movement, and I heard an expert from Bangladesh say that by the end of the century his country would have a population of 125 million, if birthrates continued at their present level.  I began to think what this could have meant in social terms: I discovered Bangladesh’s area (143,000 square kilometres) was roughly comparable to the South Island of New Zealand (151,000 sq kms), where I was born. So I tried to project 125 million people over the South Island, and discovered that every settlement of 1,000 or more would have to have a million people. In other words it was unimaginable. By the end of the century, the population of Bangladesh was already outstripping the projected 125 million, and today it is estimated at 160 million. In other words, it is unthinkable; but yet, it exists. Similar figures can be shown for African countries. Kenya now has 45 million; 100 years ago it had 2.9 million. Nigeria, which in 1932 had 30 million people, now has 178 million. To get back to the European immigration crisis, an evident conclusion from these rates of growth is that people are going to have to be more equally shared around the world. Such crises are inevitable.
Okay, that’ll do for the day.
In the next month my attention --- I am a dedicated watcher of world events, remember --- is going to be entirely concentrated on the Rugby World Cup, opening in London next week, and ending at the end of October.
With, inevitably, a victory by the All Blacks of New Zealand….
Bread and circuses!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Link of the day, Sept 8 2015:  This article has the kind of information that makes one wonder why the North American workers are not in a state of revolt. It shows conclusively that since 1973, the owners of capital have snaffled the overwhelming percentage of the profits earned by the harder work of their employees, while the take of the employees who have created this additional wealth, has stayed more or less static.  Read this online Report from the Economic Front by Marty Hart-Landsberg here, and weep.