November 2007

Friday Music Competition

What is the connection between this absolutely stunning piece of political propaganda*:


And this pop classic:

??? *No, not an endorsement of the point being made, nor a rejection of it. But you\’ve got to admit it\’s a bloody good way to make the point.

Aiding an Exile

So, err, what was this programme then?

It must have been in the mid seventies, 74-77 ish. There was a kid’s drama, it must have been BBC – we were a beeb house, not an ITV house, oh, yes, there was a big difference – and I think it was a series.

It was set in industrial England, the midlands or Manc or somewhere. And something apocolyptic had happened, but it wasn’t obvious… something to do with the electricity… pylons were heavily featured… something in the same vain as the Triffids where nothing really looked different at first, except for the mad blind people all stumbling around the place and a few big pot plants.

And there was a kid who was trying to get home.

And he/she joined a group of Sikhs (at least the men in the group were eastern, bearded and be-turbanned) who were either also trying to get somewhere or trying to leave somewhere and they walked across England trying to get… there. And that’s all I remember now.

Religious Insults Competition

Media Watch is having a little competition as to who can insult religion the best. So far the winner is their own introduction to the competition:

The religion in question which has so exercised the slow-witted mullahs of Sudan is known as “Islam”, a 7th century personality cult invented by an illiterate camel trader with a penchant for warfare and pre-pubescent girls. Think of L Ron Hubbard in a tent.

Two Questions.

1) Which major industrial country has not endorsed the Kyoto Treaty?

2) Which major industrial country reduced total emissions last year?

Answers here.

Complete the sentence: "The Kyoto Treaty is vital because….."

State Funding of Parties

Lord McAlpine:

As for state funding of political parties, however you frame this the effect will be like pouring petrol in a living room fireplace where the fire is burning merrily. For in politics, the more money that parties have, the more money those parties will need.

That Uranium Seizure

You what?

Tests proved the powder-like substance to be 98.6 per cent uranium 235, a highly fissile isotope, indicating that it was highly processed and intended for use in a bomb.

That\’s a bit of a surprise. I wasn\’t aware that anyone ever processed material up to that isotopic purity. I would guess (and it is very much a guess) that this didn\’t in fact come from a bomb plant at all. 80% HEU is more normal for that. I would think this came from a scientific institute instead, from people actually studying the isotope.

As fo this bit:

Smugglers arrested in Slovakia this week had enough weapons-grade uranium on them to make a "dirty" bomb.

The half-kilo of material taken in raids near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday was a processed form of uranium used in nuclear weapons.

"It was enriched enough to be used in various ways for terrorist attacks," said Michal Kopcik, the vice-head of Slovak police.

Well, yes, but you don\’t actually need enriched uranium to make a dirty bomb. You don\’t need uranium at all in fact, plenty of other more easily available radioactive isotopes would do. But take a few pounds of regular uranium, not even the metal, just yellowcake, blow it up with gunpowder and you\’ll create all of the panic and concern that any other dirty bomb would create. Because that is of course what a dirty bomb would do: create panic, not in fact be directly life threatening other than the explosion itself.

Humans and Harems

News that a close relative of Homo Sapiens had harems, rather like the modern gorilla:

An ancient human relative may have had a love life much like the modern gorilla, with single dominant males keeping “harems” of females, research has suggested.

A study of 35 fossilised specimens of Paranthropus robustus – a hominin that lived between 1.5 million and 2 million years ago – has revealed large differences between male and female growth that shed light on its probable mating habits. Paranthropus males continued growing for much longer than do modern human beings, well into adulthood, and eventually reached sizes that made them very much larger than females, according to the analysis led by British and Italian scientists. Most would still have been growing long after their female contemporaries had started to breed.

Such disparities in size between males and females, known as sexual dimorphism, is usually associated throughout the animal kingdom with mating structures in which a single dominant male secures access to plenty of females, while smaller, subordinate males have few opportunities to breed. The gorilla has just such a sex life, with males growing for many years before they develop into fully mature “silverbacks” that start to dominate and acquire a troop of females.

But, er, no, this is not an excuse for you all to go out and get a harem (which, in our long lived species, also means a multiplicity of mothers in law, a somewhat unfortunate side effect).

Paranthropus robustus was not a direct ancestor of modern Man but lay on a separate branch of the human family tree that is now extinct.

Evolutionary dead end, you see?

Polly Today

It\’s rather unsporting to have ago at her today really. She does get one thing right:

Because without public trust, no one believes a word politicians say.

Quite. Her solution is that Labour should campaign for PR and state funding for political parties (she really does have a tin ear for the public if she thinks that is going to fly with the Great Unwashed) and we should do everything "for the children".

Not really the foundations of a great political comeback if you ask me.

Most Interesting Ms. Klein

As far as I can work through the logic of Naomi Klein\’s piece it is this.

The markets are investing more in security companies than in climate change abatement. This is terrible and shows how the markets have to be regulated by government.

That last, of couse, being the conclusion of any Naomi Klein piece.

The bit she seems to have forgotten is that, well, governments are hired by us precisely to provide us with security. Defence, a criminal justice system, these are the very foundations of the argument for the existence of the State at all. The beginning of the justification for them in fact.

So if we have the markets investing in these very areas we\’re obviously seeing evidence of government failure: people are voting with their money with every dollar to show that government is failing at its most basic task. This doesn\’t strike me as being a supporting argument fo government to be attempting to do other things really.

This is also very cute:

By far the biggest market is the fortressing of Europe and North America – Halliburton\’s contract to build detention centres for an unspecified immigration influx, Boeing\’s "virtual" border fence, biometric ID cards.

Err, biometric ID cards are being forced upon us by government, not private sector companies.

Environmental Justice Foundation

Steve Trent, executive director of this organisation, insists that the use of child labour in growing cotton is such an abuse that we must all refuse to buy cotton grown in such a manner. There should be a labelling system allowing us to identify such as well.

By purchasing cotton clothing that fails to carry a guarantee of no-child-labour, we are part of the problem, and our demand for cheap clothing is among the strongest forces driving it.

Companies have a responsibility to know how the products that reap profits for them are being made. Consumers, equally, should know where the product they are buying and wearing comes from, so they can make more informed choices. We need to consider that if a product cost pennies, someone down the line is paying for it – through forced or child labour, pesticide poisoning or other physical abuse.

Companies can no longer shirk responsibility, or hide behind excuses like the "opacity" of the supply chain. It is entirely possible to track the origin of cotton. If actors in the supply chain do not know about the abuses at the earliest stages of the production of the goods they profit from, it is because they don\’t want to find out.

As consumers, our purchasing power can be worth more than our voting. Labels identifying where our clothing was made aren\’t enough: manufacturers and retailers need to develop a labelling system that identifies the source of the crop – given that cotton, from seed to shirt, passes through many hands – and guarantees the absence of child labour (or other abuses) from all stages of the supply chain.

Stirring stuff and I\’m sure it will turn the heads of the ill informed. I do find it remarkable that someone would write about the global cotton industry without mentioning the greatest imbalance in it, the entirely insane (and, according to the WTO, illegal) American subsidies. But that aside, he seemsnot to have grasped the most basic point about trade and child labour.  I give you the rather left wing Paul Krugman to explain it:

Even when political action doesn\’t backfire, when the movement gets what it wants, the effects are often startlingly malign. For example, could anything be worse than having children work in sweatshops? Alas, yes. In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart, and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets � and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.

Third-world countries desperately need their export industries � they cannot retreat to an imaginary rural Arcadia. They can\’t have those export industries unless they are allowed to sell goods produced under conditions that Westerners find appalling, by workers who receive very low wages. And that\’s a fact the anti- globalization activists refuse to accept.

Well done Mr. Trent. You\’re campaigning to make the poor even poorer. We\’re proud of you. Really.


A Penny a Pound

Sigh. Well meaning liberal do gooder type screams at business for being complete bastards and oppressing the workers. Not, as you might have noted, all that unusual an occurence in this day and age. Via Mark Thoma:

The migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in South Florida have one of the nation’s most backbreaking jobs. For 10 to 12 hours a day, they pick tomatoes by hand, earning a piece-rate of about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket. During a typical day each migrant picks, carries and unloads two tons of tomatoes. For their efforts, this holiday season many of them are about to get a 40 percent pay cut.

See, the capitalist scum!

Telling Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs, that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year. Now Mr. Blankfein should find a way to share some of his company’s good fortune with the workers at the bottom of the food chain.

Oppressing the workers, don\’t you agree?

Well, yes, in fact I do agree that there is oppression here. For what is the actual situation here? Some activist groups have successfully organised (we do believe in freedom of association, don\’t we?) to raise the prices paid by the companies that consume tomatoes. That money then raises the wages of those the activists thought were previously underpaid. Hurrah! trebles all round! The consuming companies are free to join in or not, according to their own evaluations of the pressure exerted upon them by their final consumers. Again, Hurrah! The consumer is King!

An excellent result all round in fact.

But who is the creature in this particular woodpile? Why is it all falling apart?

Now the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has threatened a fine of $100,000 for any grower who accepts an extra penny per pound for migrant wages. …

Umm, who are they? Who is this group that has the power to fine people for honouring a contract freely entered into?

Florida Tomatoes.

Note under their logo "Federal Marketing Order no. 966". Whassat?

Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937


The federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, an offspring of New Deal legislation, gives the secretary of agriculture considerable authority to regulate the nation\’s fruits and vegetables market through so-called market orders.

It\’s a monopoly enforced by the full power of the Federal Government. Guns, tanks, bullets and all.

So what we actually have is the result of the New Deal, of Franklin Delano Roosevelt\’s vision of the liberal utopia, giving the assembled growers the monopoly power to fine any one of their number who might actually sign up, voluntarily, to a contract which improved the incomes of their workers. One which their customers, at least some of them, seem quite happy to sign.

And according to Mr. Eric Schlosser, logician extraordinaire, this is in fact the fault of Goldman Sachs.

It\’s an interesting universe, the liberal one, isn\’t it?