Thursday, June 29, 2006

So, Whaddya Reckon Then?

It's the eve of the quaterfinals stage, and I'm quite excited about it. I'm looking forward to the Germany - Argentina match tomorrow, although I fear that I won't be able to catch the first half of the match. I'll probably watch the the Ukraine-Italy game, too, although the prospect of watching those two rather ponderous teams grind and grimace away at each other for 90 minutes or more doesn't greatly appeal to me. I've got a sneaking feeling that the England Portugal game might be rather lively, though, and Brazil-France should be worth staying in for.

I'm surprised to see that Brazil are the favourites. Surely, Argentina look like a much stronger team? I usually have quite a soft spot for France, but I thought Spain deserved to win the game a couple of days ago and, apart from Zidane, the French team seem to me, almost as brain achingly, teeth grindingly dull, plodding and unimaginative as the English. And, anyway, that Henry's a cheating git.

I must admit that I'm starting to waver about over England. I know. Yes, I know. If they beat Portugal on Sunday (which is by no means a foregone conclusion as some of those banging on about the Portugal team's red card induced problems seem to suggest) I don't know what I shall do. I just have to keep reminding myself about the various horrors that are sure to materialise should England win the cup. For one thing, if England win, nobody will bloody well shut up about it for at least 40 years and we shall be force-fed endless replays of the winning goal (no doubt, complete with witless commentary voice-over from Motty) until Kingdom Come. For another thing, we're sure to be subjected to a number of state celebrations of the great occasion which are sure to drive me mad. I can see it now - the sea of flag waving, gawd bless yer ma'am, patriots all turned out to see Becks and the boys receive some sort of commemorative tat from the Queen outside Buck Palace while a skeletal Posh and other fooballers' wives totter around somewhere in the background amongst the Establishment big wigs and chinless wonders. Ah, so proud to be English. Worst of all, just think about Tony Blair's big fucking grin.

Still, that Joe Cole's quite good, isn't he.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Saw a very good documentary on BBC2 last night about the anti-war GI movement during the Vietnam conflict. I really didn't know that the extent of anti-war organisation amongst American soldiers was so impressive. They were some really brave men and women - many of them faced stiff jail sentences, hard labour even the death sentence! The documentary, Sir! No Sir! - has its own website, here. My one gripe about it was that it was somewhat spoiled by hyper-active editing - you know, where the camera contiually zooms in and out and where each shot lasts for no more than 4 seconds before we have to jump to something new.

There's a really good flash mini-movie here, at the 'Not Your Soldier' counter-recruitment site, which makes use of extracts from Sir! No Sir! and draws some links between the Vietnam war and Iraq. Well worth a look.

Couldn't help noticing recently that Gene at Harry's Place seems to be advocating some sort of draft for the war. As we all know, Gene is deeply egalitarian and left wing and everything, and so he recognises that it's unjust that most of the kids doing the killing and dying in this dirty little rich man's war come from poor backgrounds. Gene's blood, it seems, absolutely boils at the sight of privileged, young, upper class Americans living it up at some society event (photo provided) while poor, mostly black kids, get sent to Iraq. These rich kids should shoulder some of the burden, Gene, the left wing egalitarian, remarks. Now, I don't know about you, but isn't there something disgusting about an ex-pat, middle aged, war supporting American like Gene pontificating about the injustice of a situation in which wealthy American civilians live it up while the poor have to fight their wars for them? It seems a teensy tiny bit hypocritical. I could be wrong, though, maybe Gene thinks that well-to-do, middle aged, American ex-pat bloggers should be drafted too, so that they can do their bit. Yes, that's probably it. Gene probably curses his luck every day - 'Goddam it, if only I was of fighting age, I'd be out there like a shot, you know! God, I wish I could go! Damn this military age limit thing!' he must say, wistfully, to everyone he can button-hole down at the club bar.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Neoclassical Cult

They're advertising a book called A Guide to What's Wrong With Economics on the Post Autistic Economics Network. Looks quite good - they've put the full introduction up on the site here. Here's a bit:

From the 1960s onward, neoclassical economists have increasingly managed to block the employment of non-neoclassical economists in university economics departments and to deny them opportunities to publish in professional journals. They also have narrowed the economics curriculum that universities offer students. At the same time they have increasingly formalized their theory, making it progressively irrelevant to understanding economic reality. And now they are even banishing economic history and the history of economic thought from the curriculum, these being places where the student might be exposed to non-neoclassical ideas. Why has this tragedy happened?

Many factors have contributed; I will mention only three. First, neoclassical economists have as a group deluded themselves into believing that all you need for an exact science is mathematics, and never mind about whether the symbols used refer quantitatively to the real world. What began as an indulgence became an addiction, leading to a collective fantasy of scientific achievement where in most cases none exists. To preserve their illusions, neoclassical economists have found it increasingly necessary to isolate themselves from non-believers.

Second, as Joseph Stiglitz has observed, economics has suffered “a triumph of ideology over science”. Instead of regarding their theory as a tool in the pursuit of knowledge, neoclassical economists have made it the required viewpoint from which, at all times and in all places, to look at all economic phenomena. This is the position of neoliberalism.

Third, today’s economies, including the societies in which they are embedded, are very different from those of the 19th century for which neoclassical economics was invented to describe. These differences become more pronounced every decade as new aspects of economic reality emerge, for example, consumer societies, corporate globalization, economic induced environmental disasters and impending ecological ones, the accelerating gap between the rich and poor, and the movement for equal-opportunity economies. Consequently neoclassical economics sheds light on an ever-smaller proportion of economic reality, leaving more and more of it in the dark for students permitted only the neoclassical viewpoint. This makes the neoclassical monopoly more outrageous and costly every year, requiring of it ever more desperate measures of defense, like eliminating economic history and history of economics from the curriculum.

It's aimed at economics undergraduates and the authors say the book aims to provide 3 things:

First, it offers you some protection against the indoctrination process to which you are likely to be subjected as an economics student. There are many things that your teachers should tell you about the brand of economics they are teaching you, but, in most cases, will not. This book will make you aware of some of the many worldly and logical gaps in neoclassical economics, and also its hidden ideological agendas, its disregard for the environment and inability to consider economic issues in an ecological context, its habitual misuse of mathematics and statistics, its inability to address the major issues of economic globalization, its ethical cynicism concerning poverty, racism and sexism, and its misrepresentation of economic history.

Second, if you are brave you may want to bring up some of the points raised in this book in your classes. It is sure to make them more interesting. It may even provoke lively discussion and, for a while at least, convert the indoctrination process into an educational one. If it does you will be doing a good thing: we live in a time when bad economics probably kills more people and causes more suffering than armaments.

Third, this book is intended to appeal to your imagination and humanity by showing you how interesting and relevant, even exciting, economics can be when it is pursued, not as the defense of an antiquated and close-minded system of belief, but as a no-holds-barred inquiry looking for real-world truths.

What's the betting this book won't get itself onto many economics dept. reading lists?

In fact, on re-reading these extracts it struck me that there is perhaps a problem with this book from the very start. Most economics undergraduates have probably never heard the term 'neoclassical economics'. The Introduction, however, starts off with the assumption that undergraduates are at least dimly aware that there is more than one way to study economics. In my experience this isn't necessarily the case. For many, it seems, neoclassical economics is economics and the students don't require any specific term for it. Things have gone that far. The high priests of econometrics have created a self-policing, hermetically sealed discourse - a totalising ideology that denies and conceals that it is, in fact, a totalising ideology. Most socialists in the world of academia have probably been confidently informed by an economics student at one time or another that we 'clearly don't understand economics' - because 'economics', of course, is completely synonymous with that neo-classical pseudo science, that theological system, into which they have been indoctrinated.

A group of Argentinians from a factory under workers' control (Fanon) held a little question and answer session, here, not long ago. They explained how their factory was democratically managed and run along lines other than those of the profit motive. I well remember a couple of students at the back of the room trying to explain to these workers that what they were doing was not, in fact, possible since it ran counter to the tenets of 'economics'. The fact that these workers were actually running a factory along proto-socialist lines seemed to make little difference. If concrete reality and neoclassical theory conflict, it seems, well then, so much the worse for the former. Concrete reality must be wrong.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jean Jaures

Great man. Great socialist. Great beard.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Wealth of Nations

I saw a documentary called 'Dawin's Nightmare' on TV the other night. The title of the documentary is not a good one, in my opinion - but the documentary itself is excellent. It is also extremely depressing. It should be required viewing for anyone minded to mouth the usual liberal platitudes about the benefits of free trade and 'globalisation'.

It's an effective documentary because it's not explicitly didactic. What really struck me about it was the way in which the film-maker leaves you, the viewer, to piece together the evidence he presents - there's no voice-over, no ready-made narrative. The documentary invites the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions from the images and interviews in the film. This is not to say, that there is no message, of course - it's clear what the film-maker (saupert) is trying to say. But the message, or the moral, emerges gradually - you need to work on it. One of the most effective techniques that the film-maker uses is one of simple juxtaposition - film footage of EU trade reps in negotiations shown next to footage of starving children sniffing toxic fumes to relieve their hunger.

The documentary focuses on fishing communities in Tanzania. The local communities around Lake Victoria used to be able to feed themselves quite easily - fish was the staple diet of the region. Now the fishing catches are bought up by European multinationals and exported daily in huge air freighters. The local people starve. In several jarring episodes, European air-freighters fly over the heads of very poor fishermen on the lake (some of them don't even have boats - they dive for fish, risking crocodile attack and mutilation) drawing in the fish catch that will later be loaded onto similar planes and flown straight out of the country. The fishermen don't earn enough to feed themselves properly, even though they hawl in easily enough fish to feed the whole population in the surrounding area. The lunacy is compounded by footage of UN planes flying in Aid relief to the country - there would be no need for this stuff, if Tanzania wasn't already being pillaged by the West.

As the documentary proceeds, we learn that many of the Russian airplanes that fly in to collect the fish are not empty when they arrive. It appears that many are loaded with arms bound for Africa's civil wars in Angola and the Congo. Some of the airfreight managers and Russian pilots are interviewed. The managers are fucking amoral shits, completely unconcerned when confronted with the evidence of what their trade (in fish and in arms) does to Tanzania and beyond. Some of the pilots are more sympathetic. One Russian pilot seems to be wracked by guilt at what he does - sometimes he lies awake at night thinking about it: he says 'the European children get food while the African children get guns'. But what can he do - he has a family to support himself. He can't get other work.

A local man - he used to be a teacher, I think, before his impoverishment - now works as an armed guard at one of the food depots. He got the job because the previous guard was murdered by raiders. He sits in the compound every night with a bow and poison-tipped arrows waiting to kill intruders looking for food (and waiting to be killed himself). He earns a dollar a day. He tells the film-maker that the people pray for war - because war, at least, brings soldiers' salaries.

We see a number of prostitutes at a bar in one of the towns. It turns out that one of them shortly after her interview for the documentary, was murdered by an Australian pilot client. Life is cheap.

On the shores of the lake, homeless children collect the discarded packing boxes from outside the depot where the fish are loaded onto the planes. They put them on bonfires so that they can sniff the toxic fumes.

This isn't simply a local or a Tanzanian problem. As Saupert says "I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil."

Saupert explains what he intends the documentary to show:

"Most of us I guess, know about the destructive mechanisms of our time, but we cannot fully picture them. We are unable to "get it", unable to actually believe what we know. It is, for example, incredible that wherever prime raw material is discovered, the locals die in misery, their sons become soldiers, and their daughters are turned into servants and whores. Hearing and seeing the same stories over and over makes me feel sick. After hundreds of years of slavery and colonisation of Africa, globalisation of african markets is the third and deadliest humiliation for the people of this continent. The arrogance of rich countries towards the third world (that's three quarters of humanity) is creating immeasurable future dangers for all peoples."

Saturday, June 17, 2006


This is simply the best website in the world. I don't know why I haven't seen it before.

Have a play. You can make the robots dance and everything.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I'm going to stick my neck out, here, and say that England are almost certainly not going to win the World Cup. Call me crazy - I know they've been playing with flair and single minded determination so far.

My metaphorical money's on Spain at the moment for the highly scientific, rigorous and considered reason that they played very well in the one match that they've played so far and beat their opponents four nil. The Czechs, too, looked good in their game against the US.

I wonder, also, if (gasp)... Germany might not turn out to be the dark horse of this competition, after having been written off in advance by just about everyone. I think they might just do it.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ooh Look, Shiny Things.

You can design your own footie t-shirts at the Guardian. You can choose between several naff designs, or create your own. I've been arsing around with it for a little while and have designed my very own retro France t-shirt with Platini's name on the back. Of course, I'm not going to order it because it looks a bit shit. I toyed with the idea of a shirt with 'Poulantzas' on the back and some witty aphorism of his on the front - a bit like those 'Philosophy Football' t-shirts. Unfortunately Poulantzas never came up, as far as I know, with any witty aphorisms. In any case, I don't have any money for frivolities at the moment.

However, I would quite like to order a t-shirt with 'Clarkson must die' on the front and with a picture of his huge annoying face on the back, ringed and with a cross through it ( like the Ghostbusters logo).

Monday, June 12, 2006

Death Machines

Just seen this press release - some academics 'calling on the government to adopt a bold new strategy to reduce deaths and serious injuries on British roads to zero'. I have a bit of an allergic reaction to anything which utilises the phrase 'zero tolerance' - but I'll make an allowance in this case, because I think the recommendations are absolutely right.

They've been studying the Swedish "Vision Zero" road safety programme and make a number of recommendations, based on the Swedish experience, for British road policy including:

Seems a good idea to me - though I'd like to see the speed limit enforced more strictly and perhaps reduced in non urban areas too. About 3,500 people a year die on British roads - many of them killed by speeding drivers. This is not acceptable. As the report suggests, we don't expect people to die at work or while on a plane (nor on trains), but somehow, this very large death toll seems to be taken as an inevitable 'fact of life'.

I don't have a car at the moment, but when I did, I have to admit that I didn't always keep to the speed limit. It's pretty usual actually, for drivers in 30 mph zones to drive at around 35-40 mph. In fact there's a huge amount of peer pressure on people not to stick to the 30 limit - try it and you'll soon find yourself at the front of a large tail back. We need a new social consciousness amongst the general population - similar to that which has been built up over the past 15-20 years or so about the social unacceptability of drink driving. It shouldn't be the norm that people habitually break speed limits except for when they're driving on stretches of roads dotted with speed cameras. In order to create this new norm we need to see public campaigns taken out of the anti-drink driving book, coupled with, I'm afraid, stiffer sentences for speeding. These needn't necessarily be prison sentences.

I've often wondered, too, whether car manufacturers can be encouraged/made to develop cars which don't allow the driver to break the speed limit. Surely we have the technology now to make sure that cars can't go over 30mph in urban areas and 60-70 in other areas? It's certainly the case that there is absolutely no good reason why cars capable of huge speeds should be produced for the mass consumer market (indeed many of them are sold on this basis).

Nobody should be allowed to drive their cars at break neck speed (with the exception of ambulance drivers and so on). Your dad is right when he says about the guy who's just overtaken you at speed - 'he'll only get there about 30 seconds faster'. These idiots are gambling with other people's lives for no good reason at all. It should be a serious crime.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Green Left

FYI - been forwarded details of a new organised socialist current within the Green Party.

A new initiative was launched on the 4th June by members of the Green Party, when 36 members including Green Party of England and Wales Executive members and councilors came together to agree the launch statement of Green Left, a socialist current within the Green Party. The declaration... states that ‘Green Left’ hopes 'to raise Green Party politics to meet the demands of its radical policies. Green politics needs to be based on dynamic campaigning and hard intellectual groundwork to create workable alternatives.'


Since the activism of William Morris in the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League in the late nineteenth century, there has been an ecosocialist tradition in Britain. Green Left believes that ecosocialism provides an alternative to a society based on alienation, economic exploitation, corporate rule, ecological destruction and wars. Our analysis demands that in the best tradition of the historic left we 'agitate, educate and organise' to build such an alternative

Further info and full founding statement at Socialist Unity Network.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Arm the Traffic Wardens!

Fuck you Clarkson.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The World Cup

I'm starting to feel the onset of the first symptoms of world cup fever. It's something in the air - the sunshine, the smell of cut grass and... oh yes, of course, the relentless media hype, advertising tie-ins and world cup history programmes on the tele probably have something to do with it too. I' m quite excited. It's difficult to explain what it feels like - difficult to describe why I feel like this. When I think of the World Cup I think of glorious colours - Brazilian Yellow, Italian blue, Argentian white and sky blue stripes and, of course, the deep, lush (and wholly unnatural) green of the pitches. I think of certain goals and certain games I've enjoyed in the past - Cameroon's defeat of Argentina in the opening game of Italia '90, when Platini missed his penalty kick against Brazil in 1986, England vs Argentina in 98 which, despite certain players' temper tantrums was a really fantastic match (remember Owen's goal?), Brazil vs Holland in 94, and Bergkamp's thumping goal against I forget who in 98. There's a certain heightened reality about world cup time - a 'hyperreality' if we're going to get all Baudrillardian about it (and why not?) - that torrent of colours, those famous players from around the world, the names (which sound so exotic to the English ear) - Ronaldo, Branco, Papin, Caniggia, Batistuta, Milla, Baggio, Raul - and the sheer pleasure of most of it overload the brain. It's the fantastical made (hyper-)real for 3 or 4 weeks. I'm getting carried away aren't I! Sorry.

The term 'hyperreality' is especially apt, though, because Baudrillard uses it to describe something which is, although more real than real, in some sense utterly false, too. Hyperreality is driven by simulacra - simulations of the real - often almost entirely concocted or fabricated by the media. The World Cup, of course, doesn't really exist in the form that you and I know it. We see the relentless media hype, the endless replays, the interminable 'analysis' and the gale force hype pumped into our heads 24 hours a day for weeks and weeks before and during the competition. The World Cup is, at root, a series of instances of 22 men running around on grass for 90 minutes - but this isn't the World Cup as we know it. The World Cup we experience is amplified, airbrushed, edited, distorted, inflated and so on by several layers of broadcast media, corporate propaganda and advertising. Even though I know this - I still love it.

I'm holding firm to my not-supporting England decision, however. Not decided yet, who else to support, if anyone in particular. There was a good article in the Observer (there's a first for everything) yesterday by Michael Henderson on this very subject of anti-patriotic feeling. Henderson goes for the jugular in his description of those overpaid, infantile wankers known as 'the England Team'. After laying into Ferdinand, Rooney and Beckham, Henderson continues:

Then there are the other players who must remain unnamed: the one who casually handed a cabbie £1,000 for a journey back to Manchester after a night's carousing in London; the one who halted his 4x4 in a Soho street, blocking the traffic, wandered into a record shop and threw the CD's wrapping out of the window as motorists hooted; the one who told a police officer who was warning him about his drunken behaviour: 'The youth of today look up to people like me.'

They make a lovely bunch.But their immaturity should not be so surprising when the game is infested by small armies of mediocrities and few men of substance. Surely no other human pastime attracts so many nest-featherers and show-offs

Then there are the fans:

The English football fan, when surrounded by hundreds of his kin, remains a national embarrassment. Why else would the German police feel it necessary to announce that they will not tolerate Nazi salutes or offensive songs during the World Cup? Because they know that English fans cannot get through a game, or an afternoon on the pop, without offering the locals insults, obscenities and cracked heads.


Four summers ago, I watched the World Cup final between Germany and Brazil in my favourite bar, a mile from the Olympic Stadium that will stage this year's grand contest. No Berliner present that day wore a replica shirt, shouted abuse at the other team or got drunk, though strong drink was certainly taken.

Finally, it's the moronic punditry's turn for a pasting:

As we approach the tournament, all those illiterate telly pundits will bump up England's chances and brush up their German cliches. 'Teutonic efficiency' they will tell us - yawn - as if that lazy phrase could account for Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Wagner and all those painters, writers, scientists and philosophers. In football, it is a good list, too. Even if we start in 1966, which brought our day in the sun, the Germans have had Beckenbauer, Maier, Breitner, Muller, Vogts, Overath, Grabowski, Netzer, Bonhof, Schuster, Rummenigge, Klinsmann, Matthaus and Sammer. Rather better than our lot, wouldn't you agree?

Exactly. I still haven't seen any reference to 'the hun' or the war, or Hitler in anything I've seen so far - I don't doubt they've already started. It's embarrassing - the way the English hold on so desperately to the 1940s. 'Two world wars and one world cup' - we'll hear a lot of that 'amusing' little chant from the 'fans'. I hope the Germans don't stand for it. Perhaps I shouldn't say this - and of course, I'm not normally one for police brutality - but I always get a slight, perverse thrill when I see those drunken, bald headed, bare chested thugs throwing beer glasses and chairs in some foreign street get what they deserve from watercanon and cops in riot gear.

Incidentally, I don't quite agree with everything Henderson says in that article, but the general sentiment, and certainly the quoted paragraphs above, seem absolutely spot on to me.

There's more on Ingerland supportery at the Red Pepper site, where Mike Marquesee debates the issue with Mark Perryman. Somehow, it doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter - a little frustrating - but it's worth a read nevertheless.

This post, by the way, is dedicated to Stroppyblog.


I think I might support Japan (in addition to all underdogs on a match-to-match basis) - they're a fairly skilful team from what I remember and it would be nice to see an East Asian team do well in world football since every other continent has its world class team(s). Plus their fans are wonderful (no pun intended).

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