Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Suicide Bombers

The NY Times has cast doubt on whether the London bombers of 07/07 were suicide bombers or duped into thinking they were leaving the bombs - they bought return tickets for example.

Mr Tony Blair has made an issue of "suicide bombing". In his speech yesterday, he was keen to make the point that "nothing, including Iraq, can justify suicide bombing." Surely the point about this bombing was that it was indiscriminate and killed civilians not combatants.

For some reason Mr Blair did not want his soundbite for the day to be a condemnation of civilian bombing. Why would that be?

Moral High Ground on music downloading

Democracy Now! reports today:
"Sony-BMG Settles Payola Lawsuit
One of the world's largest record companies -- Sony/BMG -- has agreed to pay a $10 million settlement in a major payola case. New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the company for illegally paying radio stations thousands of dollars to play certain artists including Jennifer Lopez and Franz Ferdinand. Spitzer said "Contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees." Spitzer also criticized the radio stations for accepting the payment. He said the Federal Communications Commission should consider stripping the licenses of the stations. On Monday FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called for an immediate federal investigation of payola practices."

This is very interesting given the decisions of big business to prosecute teenagers for downloading music and their contention that a teenager who downloads music is robbing them of much needed cash....cash needed to pay fines for illegal activities presumably.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Ninety days" law

My brother was imprisoned in South Africa and spent a period in hospital immediately afterwards as a consequence.

In South Africa at that time they had the Suppression of Communism Act known as the "Ninety Day Law" this enabled the Security Services to imprison people for ninety days without charge or trial. In practice they could imprison people indefinitely because they could rearrest them for a further ninety days.

Today Tony Blair, using the terrorist attacks in London as a pretext, held meetings with the chiefs of the police and they have raised the spectre of a "Ninety Day Law" in England.

The claim has been made that this will only be for terrorist suspects. I do not believe that imprisoning people like myself or my children who are anti-war and anti-capitalist activists will help prevent further terrorist outrages.

I wait to see how that hypocrite Peter Hain will respond to this. He was famous as an opponent of the Apartheid regime but he has kowtowed to every erosion of democratic rights in the UK using the figleaf of the war on terror. (If it is possible to kowtow using a figleaf!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The name's Campbell, Alistair Campbell

It really is tough on James Bond. I think we all know that he could
sort the masterminds of the Al Qaeda out within two and a half hours. He could obtain the secret plans, possibly delving beneath the burhkas of a couple of improbably sexy and statuesque Al Qaeda agents in the process. He would find the evil Osama Bin Laden in his cave provocatively stroking a milk-white pussy (cat). A spectacular
set-piece confrontation would blow, shoot and karate him and his cohorts to kingdom come.

IRL James would obtain the information only to be told that it was the wrong information:

"007, this report is excellent. A first class piece of work and really first rate information. Just a couple of things: could you just change the words 'Saudi Arabia' to 'Iraq' and 'Pakistan' to 'Afghanistan'. And all this evidence that the war helped Al Qaeda recruitment: just lose it will you. I want a revised report on my desk tomorrow morning.

"Oh and just one other thing 007, when I say I want your reports sexed
up I don't expect you to turn them into soft pornography."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Oh my God - religion in education revisited

The issue of religion in education rages on in the TES.

So far we have been offered:
"religious belief underpins morality" - I notice there is no attempt to explain the moral behaviour of people who are atheists: an apparent impossibility if we accept the premise.

"religion is the underpinning of society" - which suggests the need for a study of history or sociology rather than the teaching of religious belief. The underpinning of the conflict in Sri Lanka or Kashmir or Northern Ireland would be an interesting object of study would it not? If "those are really geopolitical disputes" then that does not make much of a case for the need to study religion.

The fake idea that the moral behaviour of atheists "stems originally from Christianity" has already been refuted but to reiterate the obvious: if atheists do not require Christianity in order to behave in a moral way then religious values have no place in school.

You could just as easily stand the argument on its head. If Christians agree with many of the moral values of atheists they might as well acknowledge their debt to atheism.

The Christianity of Bush and Blair has not saved them from grievous errors has it?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

USA promoting democracy worldwide?

Well, look here at these recipients of US Military Aid, then click on the link for the human rights records.

A tad mixed vis a vis promoting democracy and freedom, is it not?

Then a little further probing reveals such bastions of democracy as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan as doing rather nicely in receiving the means to oppress their own peoples.

And one of the first things Condoleeza Rice did as Sec of State was to certify Indonesia for IMET military training. I quote G.W.Bush, on the aid to Indonesia:

"We're really pushing for normalisation of full military ties."

Saudi Arabia $1,169,436,000
Egypt $1,046,709,000
Israel $845,562,000
Taiwan $646,775,000
Turkey $523,488,000
Singapore $169,014,000
Kuwait $153,236,000
Thailand $139,576,000
United Arab Emirates $110,130,000
Bahrain $97,052,000
Jordan $70,556,000
Venezuela $34,819,000
Uzbekistan $33,971,000
Philippines $26,416,000
India $26,158,000
Mexico $24,676,000
Colombia* $22,378,000
Brazil $18,925,000
Afghanistan $17,143,000
Malaysia $13,509,000
Dominican Republic $11,813,000
Morocco $10,717,000
Oman $8,102,000
Nepal $6,697,000
Nigeria $4,690,000

http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/WatWTable1.html

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Contribution to the debate on the TES website

I come from a part of the world where we have the politest anarchists. Their slogan is not "kill the police" or "smash the state" - it is "question authority". As a teacher and therefore a figure of authority whether I like it or not, I go along with that. I do not mean that any pupil can question inappropriately or rudely. What it does mean is that any authority worth its salt can withstand questioning and can match reason with reason.

Religion is not about reason, it is about faith. Teaching pupils *about* religion is fine (and arguably part of history or literature), teaching belief is not. Belief is a private matter and cannot be questioned in the same way that any other item on the curriculum can be.

A child can argue with me about what "The Wasteland" is all about but it does not constitute blasphemy on his part if he does not go along with my opinion. It is within the realm of reasoned discourse.

Having been in teaching for 26 years and having four children who have been educated in religion - mainly by RE teachers in holy orders - I can assure you that there is very little reason involved. Fine for a voluntary Sunday School perhaps but not suitable for an educational institution.

Much of the teaching "about other faiths" including the *one lesson* on Sufism is patronising and worthless. The beliefs of the majority of people who do not attend Church, meeting, mosque or synagogue are ignored or treated as an error to be corrected.

The debate is currently online at
http://www.tes.co.uk/section/staffroom/thread.aspx?messagePage=1&path=%2fsummer+debates%2f&story_id=2115258
which is a very long URL.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Netanyahu warned in advance?

According to Al Jazeera "It's been reported that Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to attend an economic conference in London after the Israeli embassy received a pre-attack warning."

"A top Israel foreign ministry official said that the British police informed the Israeli embassy in London of possible attacks minutes before Thursday's attacks. "

This is too close to the false rumour that all Israelis had been warned to stay away from the twin towers on 9/11 to be comfortable but the original source seems to be the Israeli embassy itself.

-----

I received an email from Bernard Regan confirming that none of the NUT Headquarters staff had been injured by the bombs and confirming the safety of various other NUT members, it continued as follows:

"For many of us in London this has come as a shock but not a surprise - as
someone who regularly travels through Liverpool Street, Edgeware Road and
Kings Cross I am acutely conscious of what has happened. It is vital to
be clear however that these events are a direct consequence of actions such
as the war on Iraq - the murdering of innocent people is no more excusable
because those who deliver the bombs do so from planes rather than
detonating them in public places.

The likelihood is that Blair and Bush who are the principal terrorists in
the world will seek to use this situation to strengthen their attacks
abroad and also to launch attacks on civil liberties at home - stepping up the
drive for identity cards and other such measures. We, in the trade union
movement must recognise that these kinds of attacks invariably are used to
attack our liberties and have little or no affect on those they claim to
target.

The climate of reaction stoked up by this government on issues
like ASBOs and anti-terrorism measures could breed a real carnival of
reaction. It is worth recalling that when the Prevention of Terrorism Act
(PTA) was introduced allegedly to prevent IRA activity - thousands of
Irish were hounded but next to no one got prosecuted.

It is also possible that we will see a racist anti-muslim response from
some - once again it is vital that we respond and challenge any such
responses - wherever they come from. At a time when Blair and Bush will evoke a
nationalistic siege mentality response what is needed on the contrary is a
more internationalist, more anti-racist response. Immediately ending the
occupation of Iraq will do more to stop acts of terrorism than any
so-called security measures that are likely to be put forward.

There is a need for socialists to be prepared to respond. In particular
we must not retreat on the demand for the immediate withdrawal of troops
from Iraq.

On a personal note it is telling that one of the first inquiries about
peoples' well being came from Palestinian friends.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terrorist attack in London

This is appalling whoever turns out to be responsible. Describing Al Qaeda (if they turn out to be the culprits) as muslims is ignorant and insulting. It is like calling Dr Paisley a catholic.

By calling these attacks barbaric, Tony Blair is saying that attacking the transport infrastructure of a country is barbaric. I agree with him.

No doubt some shady politician will seek to curtail the liberty of the citizens using this attack as a pretext. In fact the police are so busy attacking anti-war and anti-capitalist protestors using anti-terrorist legislation as a blunt instrument that they take their eyes off the terrorists most of the time. Bush and Blair define anyone who opposes their policies as a terrorist "anyone who is not with us is against us" (only a Sith Lord could be so arrogant!) so they have the police keeping tabs on half the population.

Does anyone believe that ID cards would help stop terrorist attacks like this one? Does anyone believe that people who have been in Guantanamo for years are providing useful intelligence under torture which could have stopped this attack - if so why didn't it?

Going for Gold?

I think it is a great thing that athletes from around
the world will be coming here (well it's not exactly
"my manor" I was born in Croydon) and I will remember
the unprotected optimism of the young (school age)
athletes talking on the TV about how much it would
mean for them and how devastating if it didn't happen.

I think most of us outgrow that unprotected optimism
after a hundred disappointments but perhaps the ones who are
going to succeed, the future gold medallists, never do
- it remains all or nothing for them.

Behind the scenes the construction companies are
looking to profiteer from the Olympics. When the
prestige of the London Olympics are at stake and the
deadlines are getting closer they can jack up the
prices as high as they like. Contrast their attitude
with those keen youngsters.

One represents the future and one represents the past.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Political argument at the National Education Conference

Day One of the National Education Conference in Nottingham included some very good sessions.

One was "on making groupwork work" in the session taken by Dr Robert Slavin who had a number of practical examples of how to implement co-operative learning in the classroom.

Another was given by Rajeeb Dey the founder of the English Secondary Students Association. At the moment the ESSA seems to be too tightly entwined with the bureaucracy of various state agencies and the Secondary Heads Association. They even quote OFSTED favourably! However, what it does show is the potential for a mass school students movement in the UK - a mass movement which will go far beyond the modest ambitions of the present leadership.

Inevitably the proceedings were dominated by the Make Poverty History campaign which the NUT supports. This is confined to putting pressure on the G8 at present and there is a confused perception that the debt relief on offer to third world countries is a good start. In reality it is "debt relief" tied to privatisation which will cost the recipients of this gift dear.

One very interesting session was a blistering attack on New Labour's sell-out of comprehensive education by Fiona Millar the articulate Guardian journalist and (amazingly) former New Labour apparatchic. This rapidly developed into a debate on what on earth can be done about New Labour. Fiona placed her faith in influencing the new leader, Gordon Brown. Many delegates, including former Labour members, thought this absurd and there is the beginning of a realisation that a new party is needed. The issue of a separate political fund and a political voice for trade unions received a hearing at the last NUT conference and it looks as though it will not go away.

Brown may foster a few short-term illusions. In that sense alone it is a good thing if he becomes leader soon. The sooner he does, the sooner people will see their hopes for radical change are ill-founded.

A missed opportunity

The National Education Conference of the NUT is being held at the National College of School Leadership. A chance to see how the other half lives as this is normally a venue for heads and bureacucrats.

Every one of the luxuriously appointed rooms has a computer terminal connected to the internet. So what a disappointment to see that they have the standard Micros**t garbage installed.

Just imagine if the nation's head teachers were exposed to Open Source software for a week or a weekend on any course they attended.

Example Question: Headteacher -his is MS Office and this is Open Office. This costs 200 pounds a throw and this is free to download and free to upgrade. What are the significant differences between the programs? How much would your school save?

They could "terminate with extreme prejudice" all those expensive software licenses and spend the money on paying teachers more. Dream on.