Tuesday, June 21, 2005

make the poor pay more

I do try to think the best of people, but going into a situation with good intentions isn't enough.

European ecologists extrapolating plans for tropical savannah based on experience of temperate grasslands had disastrous results. Good honest Catholics sending their little boys for 'personal tuiton' from the padre didn't end up giving their child the solid moral grounding they'd hoped for.

And as before Bono, even if he does really mean it, should know better.

As it is, he makes a series of sycophantic slurpings at the political groins of powerful Western figures, giving them cred and oversimplifying issues so the most half-arsed spin gesture can look like doing good.

Gordon Brown, he of the IMF, saying that he supports Make Poverty History! The best support he could give MPH on 2nd July is the support of his bodyweight strung up by his scrotum from a lampost in Edinburgh.

Bono says 'I salute Gerhard Schroeder for the deal on debt relief at the G7', implying the G7 are dropping the debt. They are not. The deal is using the debt as a tool to force freemarket capitalism on debtor countries and allow Western corporations to cherry-pick the most profitable industries.

This means charging for things that had previously been free. This in turn means the poorest can't afford those things.

So, for example, when water was privatised in South Africa, the poor drank from streams. The resulting cholera outbreak infected thousands and killed hundreds.

If education charges are brought in the poor stay uneducated. The not-quite-so-poor can only educate one child which, as we've seen from Uganda to Vietnam, has tended to be the boy, so women grow up illiterate.

These are the effects - so obvious and predictable that they can only be seen as deliberate - of the strings attached to the supposed dropping of the debt.

A couple of reliable cultural commentators have cut through the crap and give us stark facts and clear reminders to keep our wits about us in this spintastic run-up to the G8.

To qualify for debt relief, developing countries must "tackle corruption, boost private sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign."

...Attaching conditions like these to aid is bad enough: it amounts to saying "we will give you a trickle of money if you give us the Crown Jewels." Attaching them to debt relief is in a different moral league: "we will stop punching you in the face if you give us the Crown Jewels." The G8’s plan for saving Africa is little better than an extortion racket.

- George Monbiot, Spin, Lies and Corruption

This is what keeps Africa poor: not a lack of political will but the tremendous profitability of the current arrangement. Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on earth, is also its most profitable investment destination: It offers, according to the World Bank's 2003 Global Development Finance report, "the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world." Africa is poor because its investors and its creditors are so unspeakably rich.

- Naomi Klein, A Noose Not A Bracelet

Monday, June 20, 2005

too late

From the BBC:

Baroness Thatcher is under doctors' orders not to speak publicly.

Where the hell were those doctors in the 70s and 80s when we really needed them?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

brief hiatus

Although I feel like I've been blogging forever, this is actually my first summer of it. Summers go mental in my life, so I may not be able to keep up the frequency of posts that you've become accustomed to. In the coming weeks I'll be gallivanting off around the nation far away from the reach of computers for an assortment of reasons.

Coming up there's Glastonbury, the Big Green Gathering, the G8, and for the next couple of weeks I'll be cycling around several Scottish Islands.

Jura beckons; about the size of Leeds with a population smaller than my street. And my street only has houses on one side. It also has thousands of deer, the distillery making fine whisky, and the house where Orwell wrote 1984. Recent googling has revealed you can actually stay there. I'm already daydreaming that holiday.

Before then there's Islay, rich in standing stones and the like but perhaps more alluring because my three favourite whiskies are made in the same two mile stretch of the island's south coast.

The trip starts with Arran, where there's the distillery (do you notice a theme emerging at all?), astonishing megalithic sites, and of course the Arran sweater.

Here is a picture taken by my friend Iain showing the early stages of manufacture.

May get chance to do a post before Glastonbury. If not, you'll find me down the front for Tori Amos, flat on my back toking in the sunshine for Van Morrison and Brian Wilson, dancing my legs off all night in the Lost Vagueness Diner, feeling fragile but glowing in Lunched Out Lizards cafe, and cheering in the sunrise from the stone circle.

Going to this one will mean I've been to most Glastonburies now, and wouldn't miss it for anything. As Tony Benn says;

It always amazes me that this huge city [Glastonbury] without many policemen can organise itself in a way that almost confirms one's view that there may be something in Anarchism.

Monday, June 06, 2005

confused on drugs

Not for the first time, I'm baffled by the government's inconsistent drugs policy. The new Drugs Act 2005 is an incredible mess.

Any time anyone points out that the government are banning harmless things in areas of drug policy, their set response is that to allow anything to do with drugs to be seen in a positive light would 'send mixed messages'.

The messages on drugs could hardly be more mixed than the Drugs Act. It repeals Section 38 of the Police and Criminal Justice Act 2001, which made it an offence to allow your premises to be used for the consumption, production or distribution of illegal drugs. But they're leaving in place Section 8(d) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which obliges people to prevent cannabis or opium from being used on their premises.

The new Act extends treatment availability for addicts, which is unarguably a good thing. This would seem to extend the healthy attitude of a government that's been quietly rolling out heroin prescription for addicts with predictably positive effects.

However, the same hastily shoved-through law moves in against psychedelic mushrooms.

Magic mushrooms have always existed in a legal grey area, primarily because they grow wild all over the place. You can hardly outlaw possession and prosecute those who effectively cultivate them if they're going to be growing on your gran's lawn, the local cricket pitch and the grass verges outside church.

So they banned 'preparing' mushrooms, drying them out or making a brew. Some prosecutors have argued that as soon as mushrooms are picked they're drying out, and so are being 'prepared'.

Generally, though, people picking them have been left alone, and indeed I know someone who had their house raided for drugs and the mushrooms taken away but not mentioned in the prosecution. (I'm guessing that's to do with the legal ambiguity rather than the cops pocketing them).

In the last few years there's been an upsurge in mushroom availability as places have sold grow-kits which, like selling home-brew alcohol gear to under 18s or cannabis seeds, is not illegal in itself. Others have grown the mushrooms then put them in plastic boxes to be sold, where they are not drying out so are not being 'prepared'.

Despite there being no evidence for magic mushrooms doing any harm to people at all, the law is being tightened and now mere possession will be a criminal offence. They are a Class A drug, the same as smack and coke. This, then, means that Leeds Quakers need to watch their backs; the lawn out the front of their Meeting House, which they clearly possess, is a great mushroom ground.

Of course, the larger the landowner the larger the quantity of mushrooms they'll possess. We can be certain that the Ministry of Defence and the Queen grow millions of magic mushrooms every year on their land. Once raw mushrooms are illegal, these are the first people who should expect their front door booted in and get carted off to chokey.

The same Act will introduce stated amounts for 'presumption of intent to supply' for all controlled drugs. If you've given yourself an economy of scale by buying a big stash, or if you're just an intensive user, you're look at a dealer's sentence. The government is holding back on saying what the amounts will be, and so that section of the Act won't become law until 2006. But, again, there can be little doubt that the Queen and other large landowners will cross that threshold by orders of magnitude.

So they're wrestling with a precise wording to get landowners off the hook, but still get pickers without incriminating those who accidentally mow them.

It is not only astonishing that they would want to classify natural plants with no record of harm alongside some of the most addictive substances known to humanity; it's equally astonishing that the whole thing was rushed through in the last days before parliament was dissolved for the general election.

It was scarcely debated, it has been harshly criticised by the Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee; thousands of people criminalised for no good reason, no questions asked.

Alan Duncan, a scary far-right bastard and one of the outside-chances for Tory leader, argued for the repeal of drug laws on libertarian grounds in his book Saturn's Children: How the State Devours Liberty and Prosperity. At least, he did in the hardback edition.

After he got a front bench position in the Tories and had to join calls for harsher drug laws there was an, ahem, 'updated' paperback edition of his book that mysteriously omitted the drugs bit.

When the new Drugs Bill came up, he voted for his party line.

Mushrooms grow naturally on the planet yet they're against the law, marijuana grows naturally on the planet, it's against the law. Doesn't the idea of making nature against the law seem a bit... unnatural?

Bill Hicks

Saturday, June 04, 2005

nepalese paper & whoopee cushions

Inverie is a tiny village on the west coast of Scotland. It's as remote as you can get on the British mainland. It's a two day walk from the nearest road across the Knoydart peninsula to Inverie. Those who don't do the trek over land come from the west come by boat from Mallaig.

Once in Inverie you'll find The Old Forge, the remotest pub in Britain.

There is one shop in the village. It's a Post Office and general store. Want to see the view from the Inverie shop window? Click here to see the latest webcam image.

Despite being the only retail outlet for many many miles around, it only opens four hours a day, three days a week. There isn't the demand for more (though if you knock at other times they'll usually let you in).

As is to be expected for a shop serving a very small and very remote community, it only sells the bare essentials, as the sign outside shows.