“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Archive for December 2008

Cuba at 50.

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BBC World Service has a tremendous programme, Brand Cuba:

“In Brand Cuba, Allan Little analyses some of the factors that have kept Cuba alive in the public imagination over such a long period.

From the iconic images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and the five decade-long stand-off between Cuba and the United States, to an exploration of Cuba’s military exploits in Southern Africa, and the island’s unique approach to diplomacy through medical aid.”

An MP3 of the programme is here.

Also see Charlie Gillett on Cuban music.

Written by modernityblog

30/12/2008 at 02:40

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Imagine You Are The President of France.

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What would you do if you were President of France and the neighbouring state of Belgium insisted on indiscriminately firing rockets at French civilians?

Would you implore them to stop?
Would you use military measures?
Or ask neighbouring states to intervene on your behalf?

Or would you send the French army and crush any and all those connected to these “Belgium” rockets?

If it had occurred numerous times then I suspect any French President would almost be compelled to take military action, so what would you do in his place?

I imagine you know the answer, if any of the small countries in Europe launched rockets at bigger neighbouring countries what would happen?

They would be flattened and occupied, whatever the cost.

But astute readers will have seen through the parallels, instead of France you have Israel, and instead of Belgium, you have the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, have deliberately provoked this conflict and this can be seen in their research and development efforts.

Hamas’s R&D does not to improve Gazan hospitals or the quality of life for most Gazans rather they have spent the past six months developing improved rockets capable of traveling further into Israel and killing a greater number of Israelis.

We shouldn’t be under any illusion about Hamas’s intent, if they could they would willingly murder every Jew in Israel and beyond.

But for all of that I can’t agree with or support the Israeli military attacks on Gaza.

I don’t believe that they will succeed in stopping the rockets or destroying Hamas.

It is a fool’s errand to suppose that military might will lead to a political solution, which ultimately is the only way that Israel and Palestinians will ever live in peace.

Unless and until there is the desire for a political solution along the lines of the Geneva Accords I can’t see any medium-term peace being achieved.

However, having said all of that, I have no magic solution to the problem of rockets raining down on Israelis, that is within the remit of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they are to blame for the current conflict.

My only suggestion is that a special UN force be stationed within Gaza, with the express purpose of stopping rockets being fired at Israeli civilians.

Nevertheless, given the balance of forces within the UN I would doubt that such a proposal could even get to a vote.

Israel’s incursion into Gaza may provide some short-term relief at the cost of many dead Gazans, but in the long run without a political solution more violence against Israelis is highly probable.

The desire for a military solution is almost overpowering for Israeli leaders, as it would be if China had, hypothetically, been shelled from a neighbouring state, China would have steamed in, militarily, and counted the bodies afterwards.

Thus, the Israeli leaders are not unique but in this instance they are profoundly wrong. This military conflict is wrong on so many different levels and I feel it should be opposed.

Written by modernityblog

29/12/2008 at 04:16

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A Very Merry Sol Invictus.

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The huddled masses at Modernityblog would like to wish all of our readers a pleasant Saturnalia, a merry Sol Invictus and any other peaceful festival that you wish to choose.

Written by modernityblog

24/12/2008 at 18:05

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Shoes for Hamas.

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Edmund Standing’s a thoughtful bloke, but in this particular instance I have to disagree with him.

I liked Muntadhar al-Zaidi improvised human art work, throwing his shoes at George W Bush.

Edmund argues that “Muntadhar al-Zaidi’s ‘protest’ was juvenile and irresponsible and did nothing to further the cause of democracy and stability in Iraq.”

Maybe so, but is that any worse than young students in Britain waving placards, to no effect, outside the Palace of Westminster.

I think shoe throwing is a real improvement on past attitudes, certainly better than suicide bombing and randomly shooting people.

All we have to do is convince the various parties in the Middle East that a bit of shoe throwing is the preferred method of political protest, instead of killing each other.

Imagine how much better things would be, if instead of firing rockets into Israel that Hamas and Islamic Jihad just threw some old shoes?

Hamas wouldn’t have to smuggle in armaments to the Gaza strip, shoes would be better as they could serve a dual role, worn by people and also as a fairly peaceful form of political expression.

Wouldn’t it be good if talking points for Hamas was whether or not to throw a cheap sandal or a Gucci shoe at Israelis, rather than trying to kill them wholesale?

Hamas’s Charter could be improved, less ranting about Jews and more about a bit of friendly show throwing.

There’s a thought?

Written by modernityblog

22/12/2008 at 18:38

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New Engage Blog.

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you remember them ? as they say:

“Engage challenges contemporary antisemitism. Contemporary antisemitism nearly always appears using the language of anti-Zionism. ‘Anti-racist’ anti-Zionism is often reckless about creating an ideological foundation for, and licensing, more openly antisemitic discourses and movements.”

well, they have a new blog


Written by modernityblog

22/12/2008 at 13:51

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Updating Links for Saturnalia.

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As people celebrate Saturnalia by proxy and are getting ready for Sol Invictus I thought I would update my links.

I am a long term reader of Dave Osler’s blog. His posts are good although the discussion in the comments boxes is often like a blast from the past, complete with archaic political language, obvious fallacies and a detachment from reality. Still read him, not the relics in the comments boxes, that includes me.

I wouldn’t count myself as a Green by a long stretch, although the effects of climate change were fairly obvious from the late 1980s and I even started using rolls-ons rather than aerosols on account of the CFCs.

If like Green issues then the Daily (Maybe) is for you. The proprietor, Jim, a Green activist, has a diverse range of political interests and his posts become more and more relevant as the days go on.
[Note to self: post on alternative energy and nuclear power.]

Whilst Charlie McMenamin at Excuse Me Whilst I Step Outside sends his Seasonal Greetings, Party style! Charlie writes thoughtful posts, I enjoyed this one.

Written by modernityblog

21/12/2008 at 20:11

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Spam and Unwanted Comments.

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Anyone with a blog and a published email address will get spam, and occasionally silly comments, that’s what happens when you have a blog.

WordPress tends to handle most of them, but recently the volume of spam has increased several fold, and now I tend just to delete it.

So if you’ve posted a comment that has not appeared then I apologise, email me directly and I’ll manually add the comment.

Additionally, I’d like to make something clear, I don’t get many commenters (there are many better blogs) but recently some rather dim witted and nasty fans of David Duke have found my blog. These would-be Adolf’s are surprised that their poorly written, unintelligent racist comments are spammed by WordPress and deleted.

That’s the way it is.

I shouldn’t have to explain it, but I don’t have any time for mindless neo-Nazis, Aryan Nation creeps, White Power freaks, BNPers or apologists for David Duke’s vile views.

The problem is, that Jew haters and Jew baiters by their very nature are a bit twisted in the head and largely incapable of understanding why no one shares their obnoxious views.

Such comments will be deleted without a moment’s regret. I don’t believe in giving neo-Nazis or their friends any free publicity.

Written by modernityblog

18/12/2008 at 23:04

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Darfur and Slavery.

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I’ll try to comment later on this, but the BBC reports:

“Strong evidence has emerged of children and adults being used as slaves in Sudan’s Darfur region, a study says.

Kidnapped men have been forced to work on farmland controlled by Janjaweed militias, the Darfur Consortium says.

Eyewitnesses also say the Sudanese army has been involved in abducting women and children to be sex slaves and domestic staff for troops in Khartoum.”

Written by modernityblog

17/12/2008 at 04:49

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Free Muntadar al-Zaidi.

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I think that the throwing of shoes at politicians should almost be compulsory, a damn sight better than bombs or bullets.

I laugh when I saw the video of Muntadar al-Zaidi throwing his shoes at George W Bush, and frankly I don’t blame him.

George W Bush will probably go down in history as THE worst American President, and given the state that Dubya has left Iraq in, it is the very least that the Iraqis could do, throwing a shoe or two at him.

I say “Free Muntadar al-Zaidi.”

Update from Oily’s Onions:
Bush finds WMD stash in Iraq

Written by modernityblog

16/12/2008 at 02:28

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News from Moscow

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I had intended to cover the Iraqi National Library and do some technological stuff on browsers and small Linux distros, but they’ll hold for another day.

News in from Moscow:

“A group of racist skinheads who carried out 18 brutal murders in Russia’s capital Moscow have been sentenced to jail terms of between six and 20 years.

The gang of seven targeted non-Slavic migrants in the city between August 2006 and October 2007.

Many of the attackers were minors at the time. Besides killing 18 people, they also tried to murder another 12, the court heard.

The group posted video of some of their crimes on the internet.

The prosecution argued that the defendants had formed an organised group with the aim of murdering migrants from Asian and Caucasian regions of the former Soviet Union.

In other words, they targeted people who did not look white, or Slavic, the BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow said.

Even in a city frequently the scene of racist violence, this gang’s crimes stood out, our correspondent said.

Russia has been plagued by a series of racially motivated attacks, some of them fatal, in recent years.

Between January and October this year 113 people were killed in racist attacks in Russia and 340 were wounded, according to the Moscow Human Rights Bureau.”

The problem goes back more than a few years, as the BBC reported in 2006:

“Reports of racist attacks in Russia have become disturbingly regular in recent years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted that his country was not doing enough to protect foreigners, while Amnesty International, the human rights group, described the situation as “out of control”. “

Written by modernityblog

16/12/2008 at 01:55

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PR and the Taliban.

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We should live in the world immune to PR, immune to spin and thoroughly inoculated against cheap political games. However, the reality is all politicians and political parties use techniques to put over their policies in the best possible light, to modify them, take off the rough edges and hopefully win over gullible voters.

Tony Blair did it, David Cameron is doing it and Mullah Omar is even trying his hand as it, as the Times reports:

“Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban press spokesman, has appeared on the World Service’s Have Your Say programme, answering questions from listeners. … the encounter was arranged through a series of intermediaries – with the apparent approval of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. … Mujahid claims they are the victims of western propaganda and insists: “We have even stopped beheading people.””

That’s the gaffe, the Taliban are admitting that they used to behead people.

Presumably, the Taliban have realized that hacking people’s hands off, beheading them and throwing acid in women’s faces are not terribly good propaganda tools in their desire to become the Afghan government in waiting.

So for the time being the Taliban are utilizing PR, possibly restraining some of their natural authoritarian and murderous tendencies and hoping that they will be seen in a better light in the West.

However, no one should have any illusions about the Taliban, they presided over a regime with THE worst human rights records in the world. Their barbarism and butchery were legend.

So no matter the PR or spin, let’s not be fooled by the Taliban or it will be ordinary Afghans, women and children who will ultimately suffer at the hands of the Taliban and are beheaded for the least infraction.

Written by modernityblog

15/12/2008 at 01:28

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The Shministim.

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Conscientious objection has a long history and is recognised in many countries as a legitimate expression against military service. It would be hard to discuss the Great War without mentioning conscientious objectors and even WW2. Instead of fighting they were often given exceedingly dangerous jobs, such as collecting and caring for the wounded on the battlefield.

And for Israelis there is another battlefield, the occupied territories, the West Bank to the rest of us.

A small group of high-school students, the Shministim, are objecting to serving their military service in the West Bank, they say:

“We, high-school graduate teens, declare that we shall work against the Israeli occupation and oppression policy in the occupied territories and the territories of Israel. Therefore we will refuse to take part of these actions, which are being done under our name as part of the IDF.

Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest on the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the state of Israel in the occupied territories, as we understand that this oppression, killing and routing of hatred will never lead us to peace, and they are all contradictory to the basic values a society that pretends to be democratic should have.

I think they deserve our support.

Their stories are here and at Ynet.

(Hat tip: Janine)

Written by modernityblog

13/12/2008 at 20:55

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Statement From The Family

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The family of Jean Charles de Menezes’ statement on the verdict:

“Today is a very important day for our family and campaign for justice. We have spoken to Jean’s family in Brazil and they like us feel vindicated by the jury’s verdict. The jury’s verdict is a damning indictment of the multiple failures of the police and the lies they told. It is clear from the verdict today that the jury could have gone further had they not been gagged by the Coroner. We maintain that Jean Charles de Menezes was unlawfully killed” – Patricia Armani Da Silva, cousin of Jean Charles on behalf of all of the family.

The family’s legal team argued that evidence heard by the jury provided sufficient grounds for the jury to return unlawful killing (murder) in respect of the two police shooters, C12 and C2 as well unlawful killing (gross negligence manslaughter) in respect of the actions of three of the command team. We also submitted that, in accordance with Article 2 (ECHR) the jury should be permitted to return a meaningful narrative verdict that could identify all the police failings that caused or contributed to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The five legal teams representing supposedly separate interests of the police combined ranks to oppose our submissions, maintain that the evidence only supported a lawful killing or open verdict. The coroner ruled in favour of the police. As a consequence the family sought to challenge the decision, lodging an urgent application at the High Court. Mr Justice Silber considered the challenge in relation to the narrative verdict only but ruled that the coroner had a wide discretion and he would not interfere with his ruling.

The family considered that the coroner had effectively gagged the jury. Any verdict returned by them would have at best limited meaning and would not have the effect of holding the police accountable for any failings. At that stage, having exhausted all legal avenues, the family instructed their legal team to cease participating in the inquest proceedings.

We have lodged grounds to appeal the decision of Mr Justice Silber and our judicial review challenge of the coroner’s decision in respect of unlawful killing remains to be considered.

To date, not one police officer involved has been held personally accountable for failings that led to the death of Jean Charles. In fact the two most senior officers in the command team have been promoted. The law as it stands, effectively provides legal immunity for police officers who shoot innocent people in the cause of protecting the public.

This case raises questions of critical constitutional importance. Should our armed police service be protected from meaningful criticism (let alone criminal sanction) or are the public entitled to go about their day to day business free from the fear that they could be shot dead without warning if mistaken for a suspected terrorist?”

For further information and background information visit:

Written by modernityblog

12/12/2008 at 21:58

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UnionBook, Weizmann Institute and Bolivar

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I should comment more on union affairs, as there is a dire need for greater and stronger trade unionism in the world.

Fortunately for me, Eric Lee never sleeps and his fantastic Labour Start does a marvelous job, so it’s no surprise that Eric is behind a new venture UnionBook, as he explains:

“UnionBook is the social networking site for trade unionists. Unlike other social networks such as MySpace, FaceBook and Bebo, UnionBook is advertising-free, respects your privacy and is specifically designed to serve the trade union movement. Use it to meet up with friends online, post comments to discussion forums, create a blog, upload photos and so on.”

Sign up here.

Also, Shay Cohen reports on Universities ganging up to prevent Weizmann Institute workers organizing.

Finally, whilst on the international theme, BBC Radio Assignment had an interesting programme on Bolivar, along with increasing social and racial tensions in the country.

Written by modernityblog

12/12/2008 at 03:07

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Childcare: Bureaucrats Murderously Covering Their Tracks.

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Devotees of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister will recognise OFSTED’s tactic of destroying the evidence from inspections of child services after three months.

In the television series, civil servants would use the excuse of 1950s/60s floods to explain away why critical documents were missing from files, either on the ground of National Security, pending legal action, implications for those living, etc and of course, these fortuitous floods.

All an excuse not to keep a paper trail which could eventually incriminate the bureaucrats themselves, and so it is with the recent OFSTED statements to the CCommons Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families:

“…it emerged that all the evidence behind the contested 2007 review had been destroyed three months after the report was published.”

Many organisations are required to keep documents for seven to 10 years or have archived facsimiles of them, in the event of some legal dispute, etc. It is a common practise

But not OFSTED, conveniently critical files are destroyed after three months, thus it becomes impossible to determine the exact level of culpability and negligence by either those running Social Work Departments in Britain or those overseeing them.

In other countries the deliberate destruction of critical files would probably constitute a crime, but OFSTED will get off with barely a slapped wrist, and more children will die through the incompetence of Council management, those overseeing Social Work departments and OFSTED’s skulduggery.

I think even Sir Humphrey would blush at the brazen aptitude and criminal incompetence displayed by these bureaucrats.

Chairman of the committee, Mr Sheerman highlighted the issues:

“”…destroying paper records meant it was impossible to track who inspectors had spoken to at Haringey and who had made potentially dangerous decisions.

“You haven’t got any record, this is a great shock to me,” he said. “It is like an academic writing an article and destroying all the research material. That’s horrific isn’t it?”

The select committee was told that more than three children a week – a total of 210 – died in England and Wales as a result of abuse between April 2007 and August 2008.

Of the 21 babies who died from abuse, only two were known to social services.

Baby P died in August last year after suffering more than 50 injuries during eight months of torment at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger.

The figures exceed those quoted by the NSPCC, which claims between one and two children die following cruelty every week in England and Wales.

Mr Sheerman said: “You have brought to us the most horrific figures I’ve ever seen brought into the public domain.”

The extend and nature of these problems show that this is not so much an issue of individual social workers making mistakes, rather more importantly, it is the result of chronically poor management in Councils and the unconscionable failure of OFSTED to competently oversee child care services.

It is a systemic problem, a problem of management and political culture. Therefore, it needs system wide solutions, not the witch hunting of individual social workers.

Written by modernityblog

11/12/2008 at 02:30

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