October 26, 2008 at 3:05 pm (Uncategorized)

Just because…

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

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It’s only rock n roll

October 25, 2008 at 8:35 pm (Uncategorized)

Last week I posted a brief piece about Ray Lowry’s passing, noting he had published two books. While sorting through some old boxes, I came across one of them this week. You may have to click on the image to read the caption.

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Quote (s) of the Day

October 24, 2008 at 10:41 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s nice to see not only is the asylum still being run by lunatics, but apparently clueless ones.

From “the former maestro of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board” Alan Greenspan:

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms…

“Something which looked to be a very solid edifice and, indeed, a critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down…

“And I think that…shocked me. I still do not fully understand why it happened.”

What would Greenspan’s Former High Priestess Ayn Rand say?

And then there’s this from the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney:

 “Growth could be higher, growth could be lower.”

Gee, thanks for clearing that up.

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Suicide Note (Reprint)

October 22, 2008 at 12:26 am (Uncategorized)

This article is reprinted from the Internationalist Perspective blog

Recently, there was an uproar in Germany about the death of Bettina Schardt. It was not the fact that she died which provoked strong feelings, but the way in which she died. The 79 year old woman, a retired X-ray technician from the Bavarian city of Würzburg, chose to end her life through assisted suicide. She was neither sick nor dying, but she was old and worn out; she needed help. She had no alternative but to sell her home and move to a nursing home. No alternative but death. Death seemed far preferable to Bettina than to be institutionalized in a warehouse for the dying.

How many millions of people in the world are in exactly the same situation as Bettina? How fast are their numbers growing? All around the world, governments are cutting budgets for social programs. Everywhere, the wages of the nursing home personnel are being squeezed. Everywhere, they are forced to take care of more patients with fewer people. There are surely many dedicated people amongst those caregivers, but they are powerless to resist the squeeze, the urge of capital to get rid of unproductive costs to protect the nation’s profitability, which translates in the life of nursing home patients to more misery.

Meanwhile, the world has close to 2 billion unemployed people. Could it be that amongst them, there are many who would gladly spend their days making the lives of old people happier? When I visited a nursing home in Belgium a couple of years ago, I met several refugees who worked there and were much beloved by the patients. While waiting for their cases to be handled, they were not allowed to work for money. Rather than watching daytime TV, they worked for free in the nursing home. Doing nothing is not what most unemployed prefer to do. Most of them would like to do something useful and creative, and it just so happens that there is so much useful and creative work to do: So many needs which could be met; so much pain which could be avoided or erased. If only we stop letting value and profit dictate what we do and what we don’t. If only we understand the obvious: that we should employ our resources directly to meet human needs. We may think that we do so already but the means – production for profit, the market, the accumulation of capital- has become its own end which employs humans as its means. If you are of no use for the accumulation of capital, you have no job, you are nothing.

What unites all forms of bourgeois thought is the idea that capitalism is a given. That it is part of the unmovable forces that condition our lives, like the forces of nature which we must accept and make the best of it. That is the essence of their message. Capitalism must be accepted. Whether they are from the left or the right, their disagreements are minor compared to this common point of departure.

The reactions of the right and the left to Bettina’s suicide illustrate this point. Predictably, Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel condemned all forms of assisted suicide as “inhumane,” and the rest of the right agreed, all in the name of “the sanctity of life”, which in no way prevents them from imposing austerity measures which make life unbearable for so many, nor from waging war in Afghanistan or selling weapons around the world. Roger Kusch, the promoter of assisted suicide who helped Bettina to kill herself, received praise from the left side of the political spectrum. They defended his practice in the name of “the right to die in dignity”.

What about the right to live in dignity? The implicit assumption of Kusch’s defenders is that people like Bettina don’t have such a right; that the loneliness, alienation and poverty that is increasingly the fate of people who are unproductive for capital is unavoidable, so that the best that can be done for them is to assist them in making themselves disappear.
‘Assisted suicide’ is an apt metaphor for the role of the left as a whole at a moment in which global capitalism, compelled by its contradictions becomes increasingly destructive. There is too much capital that cannot be profitably invested and that includes ‘variable capital’, people. From the point of view of the needs of the accumulation process, it needs to be discarded. Capital needs the superfluous to commit suicide and the left stands ready to assist them so that they can destroy themselves “with dignity”. Capitalism’s crisis provokes massive unemployment which the bourgeois left accepts as unavoidable, but it wants the layoffs to occur “with dignity”. It accepts wars as unavoidable, but it wants them to be waged “with dignity”. And so on. The left is the proletariat’s suicide assistant.


Post-script: Two days after the article that inspired the lines above, The New York Times had more ‘suicide news’ on its front page: “Despair Drives Suicide Attacks By Iraq Women” (July 5). To say that in this case too the suicides are assisted, is an understatement. Here the role is carried out by Islamists, who promise Heaven to an exhausted depressed woman who means nothing to them. She is just one more cheap commodity to be consumed in the struggle for Islamic power. That is a struggle of a capital to make room for itself in a world already crowded with capitals and whose inner dynamic leads to an ever greater concentration of capital. The more the system’s tendency to breakdown becomes pronounced, the more cracks appear in the global order and the more sensible an investment violence becomes. While chasing only their narrow capitalistic power dream, the Islamic suicide assistants are loyal agents of capital as a whole which is bent on destruction to make room for itself.

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Ray Lowry

October 18, 2008 at 1:58 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s a bad week. Ray Lowry passed away on October 10 of a heart attack. He was 64. Lowry used to publish cartoons in the New Musical Express, and is probably best known for the sleeve illustrations to the Clash’s London Calling. (The NME ran a US tour diary at around the same time).

I have two books of his cartoons, It’s only Rock n’ Roll and This Space for let. Both very funny. Not sure if either is in print, but worth tracking down. Anyone who insists they were inspired by Leon Trotsky and Duane Eddy is OK with me.

You can see some of his work at his web site

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Gimme Some Teenage Head: RIP Frankie Venom

October 18, 2008 at 12:46 pm (Uncategorized)

I moved to Canada in 1981, and immediately felt cut off from music. I used to buy The New Musical Express and Sounds every week, and listened to John Peel every night. A good amount of my wages from my after-school and weekend job was spent on records: Punk and associated sounds. The move cut that out. I remember listening to the radio, and time after time thinking “oh, this song sounds,” for about thirty seconds, then the song rapidly became crap. These were the days when the big Canadian bands were Rush, Headpins, Toronto, Rough Trade  and worse. (I’m not saying the music on the radio in the UK was all great, only that alternatives existed – alternatives I later discovered also existed here)

I was listening to CHUM FM one day and a song came on – Great guitar, punky vocals, instantly catchy, Ramones like but clearly not the Ramones. Dumb but in a good way. What was the song? Probably Picture my Face, Top Down, Kissing the Carpet or something. The band? Teenage Head.

Like many great bands, they were never the success they should have been. The ill-advised name change to Teenage Heads to get US airplay didn’t pay off, but they still toured and preformed great live shows. Dave Rave replaced singer Frankie Venom in the mid-eighties for a while. If you never saw them, there’s plenty of clips on You Tube including a grainy clip from the cheesy film Class of 1984 let’s Shake

I was saddened to hear Frank Kerr, AKA Frankie Venom the lead singer died on October 15, 2008 of throat cancer aged 51. There’s a good appreciation at the Last Pogo site as well as the official Teenage Head site.

Thanks for making my adjustment to Canada a little easier.

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Tireless Self Promotion – Letter to Radical Anthropology

October 17, 2008 at 2:42 am (Uncategorized)

The current issue of Radical Anthropology has a short letter I wrote. Here’s the longer version.  

September 10, 2008
Dear Comrades
Thanks for sending the issues of Radical Anthropology. I did a table at the Montreal anarchist bookfair in May and another in Hamilton in June, and Radical Anthropology was easily the most thumbed through thing on my table (I sold all of the copies you sent, and probably could have done with a few more). It seems likely to me, and this was borne out in several conversations I had at the bookfairs, that the idea of a radical anthropology was for many people a novelty: “What could be radical about anthropology?” Yet, the absolutely necessity of such a project is only made more urgent by current attempts to shroud an understanding of where we are from, and where we might be going in supernatural mystery and magic.
I recently read Edward Humes’ Monkey Girl, an excellent account of attempts in Dover, Pennsylvania to introduce the renamed version of Creationism, Intelligent Design, into the Grade 10 science curriculum. While the supporters of Intelligent Design clearly held a creationist worldview, it was terrifying how dogmatic their literal interpretations of their religious convictions were. Yet, as Richard Dawkins points out in his otherwise deliciously spiteful but overall disappointing book The God Delusion, any seemingly crazy idea can granted a large degree of respectability if preceded by the phrase “In my religion…”  Readers would be well advised to look at Camilla Power’s article in your first issue noting the social role that religion also played, which in part accounts for its longevity. 
In this context a radical anthropology truly is a revolutionary practice. Congratulations of a great journal. It’s my current favourite along with Aufheben, Communicating Vessels and Internationalist Perspective.

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Canadian Election Shocker: Government wins!

October 15, 2008 at 10:28 am (Uncategorized)

In a stunning outcome in today’s Federal Election in Canada, a government was elected. No, it’s too much. I can’t write satire when life is this sad. But why write about something which I think is a waste of time? It’s a sickness.

My wife voted. So the family went down to the polls. My son asked me who was running. I told him Batman, Green Lantern, Spider-Man and maybe Superman. He told me he was voting for “Batman.” Not a bad choice, and probably better than most of them, even if he is a somewhat psychopathic vigilante (I love the guy but still…)  

As we left, one of the workers said “Bye, thanks.”

“See you in four years” I replied.

And that’s it. Every four years or so, a bare majority of those on the electoral roles, trudges down to the local school or community centre and marks an ‘X.’  Thanks for playing. Democratic mystification, I think we used to call it.

Final score: Conservative 143; Liberal 76, Bloc Quebecois 49, NDP 37 and 2 independents. The Greens lost the only seat they had. Two independents.

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The God Business

October 15, 2008 at 12:25 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t believe in God. I can’t be certain of course that there is no God. The rational intellectual choice is agnosticism, but for me, I’m certain enough, or arrogant enough not to believe. I haven’t believed in God for over thirty years. Not since I was about 11 or 12. Even then, I wasn’t exactly a good Christian.

My parents were nominally Church of England (Anglican), and I still have my Christening (Baptismal) certificate. I can’t remember a time when my parents took me to Church. We had prayer in school and I said my prayers every night (a speed ritual where I asked for blessing for my family and friends, although this was eventually extended to include my toys and comics), but I was never gripped with any sort of fervor. 

It’s hard to be religious growing up in England. It’s a fairly secular culture to begin with, and then you start to learn about English history.  After Martin Luther began the course which woulds lead to the split in the Christian Church, the Tudor monarch Henry VIII wrote a document criticizing Luther. For his efforts, Henry received a citation from the Pope as defender of the faith. Several years later however, Henry needed a favour from the Pope. His marriage to Catharine of Arragon had produced no son, and Henry sought to annul his marriage and marry again. (Catherine had been married to Henry’s brother, and Henry sought refuge in a Biblical injunction that if a man married his brother’s wife, the couple would be childless). The Pope however was unsympathetic. Part of the problem for Henry was that Catherine’s nephew, Charles V of Spain was the Pope’s protector, and an annulment would have meant dishonour for his aunt, not to mention that her daughter Mary, the eventual Queen, would have been considered illegitimate.

And then a miracleoccurred. Henry had a dream. God had spoken to him,  and said he should found his own church, the Church of England. Consequently, Henry was able to get an annulment, marry Anne Boleyn, Catherine’s hand-maiden who Henry had been, ahem, courting, and also seize the Church’s land for redistribution to his friends. How could anyone not be cynical?

When I moved to Canada, I was quite shocked just how religious people were. Almost no one I knew as a kid was religious. In Canada, it seems almost everyone was. And in the States even more. I saw a survey in the US where people listed the one thing that would prevent them from voting fro a candidate. As you might expect some people cited skin colour, gender, liberal politics,  Judaism, Islam as obstacles, etc. But the number one thing that prevented endorsement was atheism!  

The current “atheism chic” does provide a little merriment. It’s somewhat amusing to see the various Churches, Mosques etc, proclaim they are the victims of hatred by grubby atheists, since for most of their existence, they have condemned their enemies to hell and damnation, and quite often helped them on the way there.

Still, as deliciously spiteful as Dawkins, Hitchens and all the rest have been, I can’t help but feel they miss the point. If religion is simply false consciousness on a grand scale, wilful blindness, or a meme, shouldn’t it have died out by now? The thing is, there is also a social component to religion which cannot be dismissed as superstition.

I’ve been reading A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically . Jacobs sets out to live by the Bible’s rules (yes all of them) for a year. At the start of the book Jacobs makes a list of all the rules he can find: the list is 72 pages long.

My favourite one is from Deuteronomy 25:11-12

When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall have on pity.

A Rabbi later explains this as metaphor. Uh huh.

It reminds me of arguments I’ve had with believers who challenge me to explain every single piece of evidence for evolution, and when I simply lack the knowledge, dismiss me and the theory; yet, when I ask them about a piece of the Bible (who was Cain’s wife by the way?), I’m told it’s part of God’s mystery. 

A picture of the Biblical society emerges as one overwhelmingly concerned with following the rules. Not such a bad idea if you are trying to establish a society and produce order out of a nomadic tribe, but not so sensible several thousand years later (or at least not those same rules).  However, if you attend mass, you also get a different picture. Towards the end, everybody turns and shakes hands with their neighbour and says “peace be with you.” I like that part. Strip away the burning bushes, talking snakes and all the rest of the nonsense, and you have a good idea at heart.

While everyone knows Marx’s famous quotation, “Religion is the opium of the people,” the larger quotation is important too:  

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

When the social need for religion and supernatural answers disappears, so will religion.

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Couldn’t Have Put it Better…

October 13, 2008 at 1:25 pm (Uncategorized)

No jokes about the SPGB now. I have my differences with their notions, but this is pretty clever.   

From the fine people ar From Despair to Where

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