Sunday, 31 October 2010

Priceless it Ain't

For paying off Labour's Spads after 2010 General Election? ..... £1.8m

Hat-tip: Yorkshire Ranter

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Sleight of Mind

Is it democracy or populism? Decentralisation or a postcode lottery? That all depends on whether the person deploying the words likes or dislikes what they see and wants to evoke cheering or booing. The Countryman is one of many who thinks that Dave’s Big Society is actually more likely to translate into a Big Business Society, down on the cold hard ground:

“[A]nyone who has dealt with local politics and town councils, especially where planning and development is concerned, already knows that there can be wheels working within wheels. I’m not necessarily talking of anything illegal here, but about strings being pulled through an active ‘who you know’ network … ”

And just look at the poor old Tea Party foot soldiers over the Pond, so easily bamboozled, “mostly … passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, and who are unaware that they’ve been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting” as George Monbiot put it, ever apt.
Here in inherently surreal England we might naturally associate the phrase “tea party” with Mad Hatters, but the Yanks have got their own fairy story about how they, The People, nobly stood up to an evil despot who wanted to tax without giving them a say.

Only that isn’t what actually happened. What actually happened was that a small group of wealthy Boston merchants had been taking advantage, smuggling tea into America and making a tidy profit for themselves. Then when the East India Company started shipping tea in at a lower price, even with a bit of added tax added on by the government, of course the Boston Brahmins saw their nice little earner under threat, but acted cunningly to hide their self interest under the guise of principle, by tricking ordinary people into seeing only The Tax and rendering invisible the benefit of cheaper tea.

And now in 2010 a small group of wealthy merchants is again laughing up its sleeve and playing on the prejudices of ordinary Americans to make believe that they would lose out from healthcare or banking reforms, when in fact it is the wealthy few who would lose and the poorer majority who would gain. In with generous lashings of (superficially) high-minded rhetoric, here from Edward Cline:

“It is time for Americans to understand that it is not merely a political fight they have on their hands, but a moral one. They must reject the moral code, altruism, that asks them to live for the sake of other men … Americans must proudly, loudly proclaim the selfish virtue of individual rights, which has been the source of all the wealth and prosperity that we enjoy but which Obama and Congress seek to destroy through socialist redistribution.”

But before we English get too smug that we would never fall for this line, back here in the UK we’re not so different. Many times I’ve spoken to people on quite low incomes or on benefits and raised the issue of the super-rich getting away with vast “remuneration” and very little tax, only to find that what really gets up their noses is not the super-rich, who might as well be in another universe, but the thought that some man or woman they know round the corner is getting a few quid more than them because of one dodge or another!

That sort of petty envy along with the fatalistic idea that “there’s nothing we can do anyway, it’s always been like this” are what make me suspect that the Coalition may well have a relatively easy ride from the mainstream British public.

Astroturf Wars

Monday, 25 October 2010

Freedom is ...?

In Iran  Italy "police will be checking women's hemlines to see if they can spot knickers, and imposing fines of up to €500 ...” Oh really?

We’re talking serious decorum now, so no more mini-skirts, low-cut jeans, kissing in cars, smoking on the beach, or sandcastles, thank-you.

And who is imposing these bans? Why, the "People of Freedom Party", of course. 

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Youth Clamour for Cuts

From otter-haters in Kant, to real-life-you-couldn't-make it-up Gloucestershire. Matty in Cinderford apparently can't wait for government cuts to force the sell-off of public forests in the Dean. He's hoping that developers will buy the lot and cover it in concrete:

"This is great news - hope they build lots of industrial buildings so there will be more work in the area. There will still be enough trees there & sheep at the side of the road for tourists & those locals that like that sort of thing ..."

Saturday, 23 October 2010

County Celebrates Otter-Free Status

Residents of Kant expressed their relief at hearing themselves officially declared the only English county without otters.

Councillor Mrs Jean Control-Freke said “We’ve got a nice ordered environment here, within easy reach of London thanks to the M25 and high-speed rail link. Everywhere is buzzing with traffic and lots of new housing going up. The last thing we need is a load of wild animals coming here and making a mess."

Just a few minutes drive away, local developer Dennis Tidysum fully backs the Council’s stance, saying, “Jean’s absolutely right. Beasts like these can cause havoc with planning, because they seem to think they have some sort of right to live here for nothing. Why, they don’t even use shops and businesses, let alone pay council tax."

Local parents are also very worried about the threat that otters could pose to children. “We’ve already seen how foxes can attack babies. Otters are at least as dangerous because they can operate on both land and water, meaning that our children will not even be safe in the swimming pool or the bath."

And in the youth club we find a surprising consensus from young people concerned about their jobs and prospects; “Yeah, they stink of fish innit” is the unanimous verdict.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Hunger: The Future is Obvious

Whoever heard of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food? Well me neither, but he exists, he's called Olivier de Schutter and he has the website to prove it.

Yesterday M. de Schutter was at the United Nations in New York delivering his latest report "Access to Land and the Right to Food" (PDF).

There's some stuff in there that ought to worry us, for example he says that: "... up to 30 million hectares of farmland is lost annually due to environmental degradation, conversion to industrial use or urbanization. A trend exacerbated by the expansion of agrofuels and the speculation on farmland."

But there's also some interesting and useful data in the report that further supports all those of us who believe that small proprietorships, small farmers and growers, are the best and most effective way forward for everyone to have that most basic human requirement: Food.

The Rapporteur points to the necessity for reform of the currrent land-ownership systems: 
"Agrarian reform leading to owner-operated family farms is desirable for a number of reasons. As land is transferred to family farms, idle lands of large estates are brought into production, thus increasing productivity levels. A 2003 World Bank analysis of land policies in 73 countries between 1960 and 2000 shows that countries in which the distribution of land was initially more equitable achieved growth rates two to three times higher than those in which land distribution was initially less equitable."

"The poverty-reducing potential of more equitable land distribution is further illustrated by statistical analyses showing that “a decrease of one third in the land distribution inequality index results in a reduction in the poverty level of one half in about 12-14 years. The same level of poverty reduction may be obtained in 60 years by agricultural growth sustained at an annual average of 3 per cent and without changing land distribution inequality”. Land reforms in Asia following the Second World War resulted in a 30 per cent increase in the incomes of the bottom 80 per cent of households, while leading to an 80 per cent decline in the incomes of the top 4 per cent."

"In addition to its economic functions of stimulating growth and reducing rural poverty, more equitable access to land for the rural poor contributes to social inclusion and economic empowerment. Access to land also improves food security, since it makes food more easily and cheaply available, providing a buffer against external shocks. Evidence resulting from land redistribution in China suggests that “even though access to land insures household income only moderately against shocks, it provides almost complete insurance against malnutrition”. More equitable land distribution and the development of owneroperated family farms are thus desirable on both efficiency and equity grounds. Small family-owned farms can use the land in more sustainable ways, since sustainable farming is often more labour-intensive and requires the linking of
farmers to the land. Moreover, where rural areas face high unemployment and underemployment and relative scarcity of land, it is more sensible, from both an economic perspective and a social justice perspective, to raise land productivity than to try to increase labour productivity."

So what's the hold-up? The same old dog-in-the-manger vested interests that always intervened in Jesse Collings' day is the shameful fact. As George Monbiot put it in his article "Small is Bountiful":

"Though the rich world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen, and has since been confirmed by dozens of further studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield."

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Yes Food Does Grow on Trees

A few weeks ago, on a beautiful September day, the nascent North Devon Permaculture Network shared cars and went 'down South' to Dartington, a surprisingly noisy place after the peace up here.

Behind Schumacher College you'll find the renowned Agroforestry Research Trust, originated around fifteen years ago by the fertile mind of Martin Crawford who, incidentally, once worked at North Devon's own Yarner Trust, over Hartland way. I was quite surprised to find how quickly a lot of the trees and bushes have grown in temperate UK, given the impressive size of many of them. Wonderful to discover also how few days Martin has to work in order to cultivate what is about two acres: only eight days per year!

Some twenty people, we ate our way round the plot over an absorbing couple of hours. We discovered just how fast some bamboos will grow - providing practically instant meals - as you can literally hear them growing - it's that quick! We heard the 'shocking' tale of shiitake mushrooms and how to get a continuous supply using nothing more than freshly cut oak boughs. And some of us learned, unforgettably, never again to put raw Szechuan Pepper into our mouths.

Full plant list here

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Agribusiness: Environmental Destruction and Slavery

"It is no accident that globalisation has seen the reemergence of slavery …" writes Felicity Lawrence:

"In Brazil, investigating the explosion in soya production  in the Amazon region for my book 'Eat Your Heart Out', I heard of the slaves found on farms being cleared in the rainforest. A Dominican priest, Xavier Plassat, who campaigns to free them told me how he had just returned with government swat squads from a farm 60km off the road where 200 workers were being kept in slavery, labouring without pay, deprived of freedom of movement and controlled by debt bondage. They had no clean water and little food and were living 30 to a room. Plassat believed slavery and agribusiness were inextricably linked. Monoculture for export, the large-scale intensive farming dominated by transnational corporations (TNC), and favoured by trade rules and international financial institutions, had created the conditions for slavery by eliminating the traditional small scale farming that provided food for 60% of the Brazilian population. He is not alone. Kevin Bales, the great expert on modern slavery, has shown how driving peasant farmers off the land has created a new supply of dispossessed workers who can be pressed into this condition."

And although people were already being driven off the land before, NGOs like GRAIN are now showing that this process has been even further intensified since the Banker-induced Crisis. The ramifications of the appropriation of poor peoples' land by rich nations are huge. In Madagascar a plan by South Korea to buy up around a third of the country's arable land caused the fall of President Ravalomanana. Thankfully that deal was cancelled, but many other people's land is still under the hammer. Even the World Bank has been reluctantly forced to admit there is a problem, despite shamefully being implicated in it themselves:

"[T]here is an enormous farmland grab going on around the world ever since the 2008 food and financial crises and it shows no signs of abating. The Bank says that the 463 projects it tallied from between October 2008 and June 2009 cover at least 46.6 million hectares of land …"

"… investors are taking advantage of "weak governance" and the "absence of legal protection" for local communities to push people off their lands. Additionally, it finds that the investments are giving almost zero back to affected communities in terms of jobs or compensation, to say nothing of food security. The message we get is that virtually nowhere, among the countries and cases the Bank examined, is there much to celebrate."

"Many investments (...) failed to live up to expectations and, instead of generating sustainable benefits, contributed to asset loss and left local people worse off than they would have been without the investment."

The reality of modern industrialised agriculture is plain, and again succinctly expressed by Felicity Lawrence:

"Expansionist agriculture and empires have always depended on slave labour, as Latin authors of the Roman empire complained centuries ago. Today, we live in an era when the dominant powers don't officially "do" empire, so economic control takes a new privatised form in the TNC. Modern slavery has evolved to match. The straightforward ownership of chattel slavery is gone, replaced instead by an outsourced, subcontracted kind of control over people, which can be terminated when they have served their purpose. The transnationals universally abhor any idea of slavery or forced labour and yet it is found in their supply chains. Slaves and exploited migrants, often driven into migration by the squeeze on family agriculture, are what make the economics of today's agribusiness work."

There is currently a Sustainable Livestock Bill (PDF) going through Parliament, which should go a little way to addressing some of the iniquities of globalised agriculture, by ensuring that subsidies are re-oriented towards more local and small-scale farming, for example. It is due to receive its second reading on Friday 12th November. Has your MP signed the EDM? It is important to get as many MPs to be in the House and vote for the Bill as possible. More information here and here (dumbed down version).

More on the Global Land Grab

Upstanding for Canute

In reply to Barkingside21, a Smart-arse writes:

Canards, don’t you hate ‘em? A perceived exception does not prove anything except maybe you're paying too much in lawyers' fees; the sixth commandment is not against killing per se, but against unlawful killing (ie murder); Vince Cable did indeed, unbelievably even by himself, end up in government; and, furthermore, King Cnut did not ever dream that he could stop the tide’s advance.

See what Canute was really up to

"Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God, whom heaven, earth and sea obey".

Zabaleen: Environmental Entrepreneurs

Here’s why some in the “Third World” are several steps ahead of us. Despite official indifference and sometimes downright hostility, some communities just keep on with dogged ingenuity and common sense.

SolarCities Blog

Monday, 18 October 2010

Best = Worst

“… [O]ne blogger decided to do a poll for the Top 100 Worst UK Political Blogs. I don’t know whether he actually published the results but a quick glance at the comments indicate that the worst blogs are the same ones as the best blogs. I would guess that this is because all the Dale faithfuls will vote for the opposition and vice versa. So it seems that traffic levels are not really that good an indicator of popularity. People may just be dropping by to see what garbage you are pouring out today and have a good laugh.” B21.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Strategic Incompetence

Top tips for bureaucrats, from the Yorkshire Ranter:

"Incompetence is as effective a barrier to freedom of information as secrecy - in fact, it's arguably better. There are no legal bounds to incompetence."


Strange people, doing strange things, on Eugene Byrne's blog.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Pixie Led Fun

Well today started out quite a normal sort of day until a multicoloured lady stopped and asked where I got my hat. “I made it” says me. Next thing I know I’m partaking of caffeinaceous liquor nearby, trying my hand at colouring in pencil drawings and swapping munchhausnissen.

Now anyone who has followed a few of my somewhat erratic online peregrinations over the last four or more years - and you know who you are - may intuit that I have a penchant for the eccentric and off-the-wall, so....

Coming away with several conte crayons and some pictures as well as an annotated biography of Gaudier Brzeska and a further invitation to one of the more magical parts of North Devon, life looks still more intensely multi-hued than before …

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Revolutionary Fire

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When Blake rhymed his metaphorical Tyger, it was early days of plutonomic revolution. Now the "choice is between who will be destroyed the banks, or labor" says Michael Hudson a trifle apocalyptically, perhaps.

“From Brussels to Latvia ... The aim is to roll back wage levels by 30 percent or more, to depression levels, on the pretense that this will “leave more surplus” available to pay in debt service. It will do no such thing, of course. It is a purely vicious attempt to reverse Europe’s Progressive Era social democratic reforms achieved over the past century. Europe is to be turned into a banana republic by taxing labor – not finance, insurance or real estate (FIRE).”

“'Join the fight against labor, or we will destroy you,' the EC is telling governments. This requires dictatorship, and the European Central Bank (ECB) has taken over this power from elected government. Its “independence” from political control is celebrated as the “hallmark of democracy” by today’s new financial oligarchy. This deceptive newspeak evokes Plato’s view that oligarchy is simply the political stage following democracy. The new power elite’s next step in this eternal political triangle is to make itself hereditary – by abolishing estate taxes, for starters – so as to turn itself into an aristocracy.”

“... Europe is ushering in an era of totalitarian neoliberal rule.”

Read full post here.

The FIRE economy pretty much works on thin air, thaumaturgically creating what we now call money, out of nothing more tangible than pixels, paper and debt. Here in the West we've almost entirely given up making anything real, and have tied our future, such as it is, to Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. Nice clean office jobs with no nasty iron-pumping testosterone or sweat or anything horrid like that. Just what Mother would approve.

Unfortunately for us though,  a "collapsing FIRE Economy is accompanied by debt deflation, falling demand, debt defaults, business failures, and rising unemployment. The Great Depression in the US in the 1930s is a famous example of a debt deflation that followed the collapse of a FIRE Economy. That debt deflation ended with WWII …" according to

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Irrational Actors: What Moves Us?

Mind is the key to change. Good piece from the Moonbat - and what better in the Dark than to see bats catching moths under the Moon - on the psychology of destruction versus the psychology of wholeness:

"Our social identity is shaped by values that psychologists classify as extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with a strong set of extrinsic values fixate on how others see them. They cherish financial success, image and fame. Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance. Those who have a strong set of intrinsic values are not dependent on praise or rewards from other people. They have beliefs that transcend their self-interest …"

“Advertisers, who employ plenty of psychologists, are well aware of this. Crompton quotes Guy Murphy, global planning director for JWT: marketers "should see themselves as trying to manipulate culture; being social engineers, not brand managers; manipulating cultural forces, not brand impressions". The more they foster extrinsic values, the easier it is to sell products. Rightwing politicians have also, instinctively, understood the importance of values in changing the political map. Margaret Thatcher famously remarked that 'economics is the method, the objective is to change the heart and soul' ..."

Full article here.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

More Please!

Walking by Woolacombe one sunny day, what should I see but the new allotments on National Trust land in the lee of prevailing winds.