Sunday, January 25, 2009

Layer 116 The Bad Dad Blogger, Green Shoots, Cogs in the Machine and Going Bankrupt.

This should have been posted last Monday, 19th January.

Springwatch 1

Some hapless and dopey junior minister in our hapless and dopey government last week fell into the trap set for her by a radio interviewer and said, yes indeed, she thought she could see a few green shoots of recovery in the midst of this recession - which as we all know is just beginning to pick up speed, prior to plunging our economy into deflation and the first great depression of the 21st Century.

I thought about this as I walked to the shops this morning, and saw the green shoots of the crocuses and daffodils that are starting to appear. I thought about it some more when I saw the newspaper headlines about our banks needing more billions to bale them out, and the possibility that Britain could soon be effectively bankrupt.

It’s a useless metaphor to begin with, the idea of green shoots. Our economy is nothing like a garden in which green shoots appear, after which flowers grow, then blossom, and then die back again. The economy is in reality like a machine, an enormous vehicle perhaps, like a bus or a train, on which ride children with their carers, plus retired people, who depend on the effective working of the machinery in order to travel comfortably and safely on their journey.

The adult working population are the components of the machine - the nuts and bolts, the cogs, the axles, the springs, the cables, the pulleys, the tubes, the washers, the injectors, the valves, the connecting rods, the pistons, the cylinder liners, the switches, the sensors, the hoses, the tyres and the various fluids and liquids that flow within it.

If any of those components fails or gets damaged then the machine doesn’t work properly, or breaks down. Our machine has broken down, and is slowing to a standstill. It’s barely ticking over. Whoever programmed the software in the engine management system - in the microprocessors that govern the engine’s operations - was a fuckwit.

You can extend the metaphor to the entire world economy, whose management software was written by the fuckwits of the Chicago School of economics and their acolytes. And now we’re all fucked.

Oh well - maybe lessons have been learnt, and maybe we now have a chance to start from scratch, and completely rethink what we want to machine to do, and re-programme it so that it functions effectively and sustainably for the benefit of the entire planet.

It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be big money, the fat cats and the tax havens versus We the People, the Disunited Nations and our efforts to re-regulate capitalism.

Today is Obama’s inauguration day.


Bad Dad

I’m a bad dad. I’ve finally left my son to take care of himself. After weeks of fetching and carrying, of waiting on him hand and foot, particularly the foot that has several broken bones in it, I’ve run away to see my mum and to see what I can do for her.

Quite a bit, as it happens. She had nothing substantial in her fridge or freezer, and her house insurance had expired two years ago, it transpires. She needs a lot of care - now that her mental faculties are so diminished. Thank goodness these days she’s no longer depressed, and she can laugh a little at her foibles and infirmities.

But how come the agencies that are supposed to take care of her, who are paid to take care of her, have been taking so little care? How come no-one has a little checklist and says to these elderly, infirm individuals - ‘Have you renewed your property insurance? Why haven’t you got fresh food in the house? Don’t you think it’s not a good idea to live entirely on meals on wheels and their paltry offerings? Have you forgotten how to use the electronic bath seat? Has anyone bothered to show you how to use the handset on your new digital television? Do you really want the volume to be on maximum the whole time? Have you checked the battery on the smoke alarm recently? Don’t you think this worn-out crackling telephone needs replacing.’

I guess I also have some questions to ask my sister.


In many ways I’ve always been a bad dad. I’ve never managed to find the time and energy to give my children all the attention they needed, and still need. Like most parents, maybe, but that’s no excuse.

Any parent that works full-time in a profession, a business, or any organisation, is like a cog in a machine. You work because you have to work. You turn because you’re attached to a spindle or an axle, which turns because another cog is making it turn, and you in turn, in the act of turning, force other spindles and other cogs to turn. We’re all part of some vast clockwork world. We’re all doing what we do because the machine is set up in order to make us do it. And if we crack up or disintegrate then we just get replaced. And the world, and all of its little cogs and spindles, just carries on spinning.

It’s a huge challenge for anyone to take real control of their own lives, and live according to their real needs and the needs of their dependents. It’s an even bigger challenge if you’ve painstakingly built your own organisation or business, and you feel responsible for the wellbeing and professional development of large numbers of people, plus their families, plus those who benefit from the work you do and the services you provide. There’s a very powerful incentive to stick around and continue to direct and develop the organisation and its members, regardless of its costs and its wear and tear on you personally.


Salam Pax

I read last week that the Baghdad Blogger, aka Salam Pax, is returning to his home city, to resume his life there. He’s now a fully-fledged journalist, and I look forward with interest to his despatches.


Plus Ça Change . . .

Consider these paragraphs from an article in the Guardian, and stick with them to the end, even if, at first sight, they don’t seem to be saying anything that you don’t already know or agree with:

It is impossible to doubt that genuine anti-semitism - racial antipathy towards Jews - is resurgent in Europe and even, in some circles, becoming respectable.

Many of the remarks that Jewish critics denounce as anti-semitic are, in reality, criticisms of Israel or its government.

In this country, only the Guardian and Independent deal thoroughly with what is taking place, and display real sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. Elsewhere a lot of space is given to apologias for Israeli conduct, some of which reveal a contempt for Palestinian human rights that invites the most baleful of historical comparisons.

It is a tribute to Israeli propaganda success that many commentators seem happy to regard as just a possible peace deal that would leave Israel in control of settlements and strategic roads in a Palestinian state. It is a measure of how far matters have gone that when Ariel Sharon announced the closure of some settlements in Gaza, it was hailed as a historic breakthrough.

In the eyes of some of us, even the Oslo accords promised no realistic prospect of a viable Palestinian society. They represented the outer limit of what Israeli liberals believed they could sell to their own nation, but they offered the Palestinians no chance of economic, social or political lift-off because the terms denied any hope of self-respect.

I reply to every reader's letter accusing me of anti-semitism because the issue seems so important. They make the cardinal error of identifying the Jewish people with the Israeli government, wilfully confusing anti-semitism and anti-Zionism. Often, they seem to demand that the behaviour of Israel should be judged by a special standard, that allowed the likes of Sharon and Netanyahu a special quota of excesses, in compensation for past sufferings.

For many years, Israelis in debating difficulties have played a decisive trump: "You have no right to criticise our actions, because of the Holocaust." Ruthless exploitation of the Holocaust card has been successful in deflecting much international criticism, especially from European democracies.

Charges of anti-semitism are not infrequently levelled against the growing number of Jews who express dismay about the behaviour of the Israeli government; they are "self-hating Jews", who betray their own kin. Yet surely it is those who make such cruel allegations who bring shame upon themselves.

Jewish genius through the centuries has been reflected in the highest intellectual standards. Attempts to equate anti-Zionism, or even criticism of Israeli policy, with anti-semitism reflect a pitiful intellectual sloth, an abandonment of reasoned attempts to justify Israeli actions in favour of moral blackmail. In the short run, such intimidation is not unsuccessful, especially in America. Yet in the long term, grave consequences may ensue. In much of the world, including Europe, a huge head of steam is building against Israeli behaviour.

More than a few governments are cooperating less than wholeheartedly with America's war on terror because they are unwilling to be associated with what they see as an unholy alliance of the [Israeli and American] governments. One of Germany's most distinguished postwar leaders expressed to me a few months ago his frustration that, as a German, he is unable to vent his feelings about the wickedness of what is being done in Israel's name.

I feel a commitment to the Jewish people, founded on awareness partly of their history, partly of their genius. Yet I see no reason why this should prevent me from asserting that the policies [of their government] bring shame upon Israel.

It is ironic that Israel's domestic critics - former intelligence chiefs and serving fighter pilots - have shown themselves much braver than overseas Jews. If Israel persists with its current policies, and Jewish lobbies around the world continue to express solidarity with repression of the Palestinians, then genuine anti-semitism is bound to increase. Herein lies the lobbyists' recklessness. By insisting that those who denounce the Israeli state's behaviour are enemies of the Jewish people, they seek to impose a grotesque choice.

The Israeli government's behaviour to the Palestinians breeds a despair that finds its only outlet in terrorism. No one can ever criticise the Jewish diaspora for asserting Israel's right to exist. But the most important service the world's Jews can render to Israel today is to persuade its people that the only plausible result of their government's behaviour is a terrible loneliness in the world.

I came across this article whilst browsing through Oxzen’s extensive library of newspaper cuttings this week. It was written by Max Hastings on March 11th, 2004, under the strapline, “Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people is fuelling a resurgence of anti-semitism.”

That’s right - nearly 5 years ago. I re-read it yesterday, shortly after seeing TV pictures showing parts of Gaza where Israeli armoured bulldozers had systematically flattened huge areas of houses and flats that hadn’t already been flattened by Israeli missiles and shells.

Children were sitting on concrete blocks and on piles of rubble amongst the wreckage of what used to be their homes, prior to this latest assault. No wonder some of them had tears rolling down their cheeks. It’s enough to make anyone weep.

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