Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Sacking of David Nutt…

Check out THIS LINK to Scanner E-Zine for the first proper "The Jail Where Terrorists Make The Rules" column I've written in about six years - thoughts on the sacking of Professor David Nutt, UK drugs policy in general, why I support legalization of all drugs, despite being straightedge, and why the sacking of David Nutt points to a much deeper problem in government (that has life or death ramifications) as time after time agenda-driven policy is put ahead of science and empirical fact when making legislation...

 The Jail Where Terrorists Make the Rules was my long-running political column that I wrote, first for Smokin’ Troll online ‘zine, and then for the print fanzine, Scanner, between 1997 and 2003.  I’m now glad to announce that it is back as a regular, bi-monthly feature, over at Scanner’s online home.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

If you liked Agent Orange…you’ll LOVE this…

Here’s some of the real legacy of our illegal and unjustified war in Iraq. 

It turns out: “Doctors in Iraq's war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting.”

According to the Guardian’s excellent (and tragic) piece, published on Saturday - Huge rise in birth defects in Falluja | World news | - “The rise in frequency is stark – from two admissions a fortnight a year ago to two a day now. ‘Most are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs,’ [Falluja general hospital's director and senior specialist, Dr Ayman Qais] said. ‘There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of less than two years [old] with brain tumours. This is now a focus area of multiple tumours.’”

Oh, and don’t forget about the “baby born with two heads”…

Where are the poppies for the “flipper babies”?

Monday, 16 November 2009

David Cameron’s (Empty) Pledges

So I received a hilarious (and glossy) newsletter the other day from my local Conservative councillors here in Birmingham, and on the back of this dull piece of dross about 20mph zones and anti-social behaviour orders was the most hilarious political “filler” I have ever seen.

Entitled “David Cameron’s Pledges”, this third of a page is, I assume, meant to be the early yawning-signs of an ambitious party coming to life before a general election, but all it really is, once they are actually thought about, is a collection of empty platitudes that are as hollow as they are meaningless.

If you save money your whole life, …you will be rewarded” goes the first one.  Well, great.  But that’s not really David Cameron’s pledge is it?  That’s the pledge of basic economics.  If you save money your whole life, the reward is all that money you saved.  End of story.

If you are frightened, …we will protect you”

Well…I hope so.  That’s kind of the government’s job.  The State provides police, armies, social services…you know, all the things that we use to protect ourselves against the things that we fear, and these same protective social institutions have existed under twelve years of a Labour government too.  Last I heard, I don’t recall Gordon Brown saying that a re-elected Labour government were not going to protect us in the future?  Do you?

If you want to raise a family, …we will support you.”

Yeah, because for twelve years the Labour Party have been doing their level best to dissuade us from raising our families.  Since 1997, prospective mothers and fathers have become social pariahs all across the country, spat at for wanting children, reviled for keeping a pet…  And all those various tax credits and benefits that Labour have implemented for working families (and that the Tories want to take away come 2010), they have been designed specifically not to support families under a Labour government. 

Meanwhile, let us not forget, it was eighteen years of a neo-liberal Conservative government between 1979 and 1997 that brought us to our current situation, where it now requires two wages per family to bring home the same amount of real-term money that just one wage would have brought in during the 1970s.  Ah progress, don’t it taste sour? 

If you risk your safety to stop a crime, …we will stand by you.”

Because the running theme of the past twelve years has been the Labour government jailing and condemning those who risk safety to stop a crime?  Under David Cameron’s new government, I can only assume that this means he is condoning carte blanche for Watchmen-style vigilantism. 

“I injured my arm hitting a cricket bat into the hoodie’s skull after he terrified our neighbourhood by…gasp…riding his bike!”

“We will stand by you!  No jail!  More cricket bats!”

If you start your own business, …we will be right behind you.”

Ignoring how sinister that sounds (right behind you…lurking; right behind you…ready to skim off our 10%), again, we have the false impression that somehow the Labour government are not right behind small businesses.

Every government in living memory has paid lip service to the idea of being “behind” small businesses whilst, in reality, helping to finance the mega-corporations that crush them.  The Tories did just this from ‘79 to ‘97, and Labour have continued from ‘97 to the present. 

The stuff about high taxation, etc is all a misleading red herring – the real reason small businesses often fail is not because of the overheads they couldn’t afford, but because of the monolithic competition they have no feasible means to defeat!

If you risk your life to fight for your country, …we will honour you.”

Great.  Because Labour have spent the eight years of the war on terror publically spitting on soldier’s graves, haven’t they?

Any idiot can honour the dead (Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, and John Major all did it last week – callously placing poppies in “honour” of the innocent people they knowingly sent off to die in unnecessary wars to protect the economic interests of a small minority of powerful elites); the trick is keeping these people alive, not unnecessarily sending them into harm’s way.    

Yes – the war on terror transpired under Labour’s watch.  But let’s not forget, it was with the full, unwavering support of the Tories.  And as for Iraq – we would not have been there in the first place had it not been for the Tories’ original invasion back in ‘91.  A war which, technically, never ended until the 2003 invasion.

A lot of dead soldiers have been “honoured” by Conservative and Labour governments alike over the years…few have been spared their unnecessary sacrifice in the first place, and that’s the real missing pledge.

We will reward those who take responsibility, …and care for those who can’t.”

If you’re interested in how this pledge pans out, see UK History, circa 1979 – 1997.  At its heart, the guiding Conservative philosophy is simply incapable of achieving this goal.  A more likely scenario, therefore, is: “we will reward those who take responsibility, …and demonize those who can’t.”

Remember kids: those who don’t remember their past are condemned to repeat it.  And those who are taken in by David Cameron and his empty, meaningless pledges, will be condemned to experience a brand new, 21st Century version, of one of the 20th Century’s last great living hells.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Close…but no Cigar…

I’m still struggling to see how the American people can be happy with a lousy and complicated (not to mention entirely retrograde, vis-a-vis abortions) healthcare bill that will extend coverage to only 96% of the population, when covering 100% through a simple, government-run, universal healthcare system, akin to the British NHS, is not only possible, but the demonstrable norm is most of the developed world?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Evolution is a Mystery

As evolution gains another victory for sense and reason against the superstitious forces of ignorance and religion, with the announcement that the theory will soon be added to the primary school curriculum here in the UK, I feel it’s finally time to dispel a ludicrous myth that has been doing the rounds under the guise of "journalism” over the past few weeks.

"Teach both evolution and creationism say 54% of Britons" ran a headline in the Guardian on Monday, October 26th, followed by the worrying first paragraph: “More than half of British adults think that intelligent design and creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons – a proportion higher than in the US”, and for the next 24 hours, you couldn’t move online without seeing a link somewhere to this report, citing it as some kind of evidence of our intellectual downfall as a nation.

54% of people in favour of teaching creationism?  What are we – America?

Well, what people didn’t seem too keen on exploring was the actual details behind this misleading headline.  Namely, that the question within the Ipsos Mori survey which led to this supposed conclusion did not actually ask British adults whether or not they thought that creationism should be taught in schools alongside the theory of evolution.  Rather, it asked if participants agreed or disagreed with the statement: "Evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism."

Of the 973 people polled, about 54% said that they “agreed”.

So really, the headline is that the majority of people polled believed that evolution, not creationism, should be taught in schools, alongside theories such as “intelligent” design and creationism, which the wording of the question makes it appear are already being taught there, with evolution pitched as the interloper.

Maybe as well as adding evolution to the primary school curriculum, we might do well to add a little critical thinking and philosophy in there too, to prevent any further misunderstandings of relatively simple poll data?

Sunday, 8 November 2009


Today is Remembrance Sunday, and for the first year ever, I have – intentionally – not bought a poppy.

For those who do not know, the “poppy” which I am talking about is the red, black and green, paper and plastic representation of the flower, sold each year in the UK by the British Legion, in commemoration of those killed in war.  Started in 1921, following the end of the First World War, the British Legion is a charity dedicated to providing financial, social and emotional support to current or former servicemen and women, and their dependants, in the British Armed Forces.  The remembrance poppy takes its symbolism from the poem of Canadian soldier and physician, John McCrae, In Flanders Field:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


The idea is simple: by wearing a poppy in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day on November 11th each year, we honour the memory of those who have died in war.  Further still: by buying our poppies exclusively from the British Legion, this exercise acts as a great fundraising opportunity to collect money and look after those soldiers injured, or otherwise in financial need, after the multiple horrors of war.

In previous years, I have grudgingly worn the poppy because, although I oppose all unnecessary wars, the idea of remembering how many people have died in war seemed as good a way as any to remind people that war is a murderous and unconscionable evil that is far too often invoked by our leaders to sort out petty power squabbles and economic battles, at great and unforgiveable human cost.  If wearing a stupid symbol on my jacket made a few people remember that war actually kills real people, and the couple of quid I threw into the donation bucket helped out some poor amputee soldier recover from their heinous exploitation at the hands of an uncaring government, then why the hell not?

But as eight long years of the unjustified war on terror have repeatedly shown me the same despicable spectacle each November – the very same leaders who knowingly send these manipulated and unquestioning young men and women off to needless and unnecessary wars, feigning grief and sorrow as they disingenuously lay poppy-wreaths at Cenotaphs for the fallen – I have finally decided that there are plenty of reasons why not.

“Remembering” our war dead means nothing if that remembrance does not also mean learning.  Learning that war is the single most terrible thing that the state can involve its citizens in; that it must only be used as a last resort, and even then, with as much protection for non-combatants and the innocent as is possible under kill-or-be-killed conditions. 

Every time I see killers in government, hypocritically wearing a poppy in remembrance of those soldiers they have essentially murdered by sending them into harm’s way for no good reason – or for all those soldier-deaths still to come, as long as our troops remain in Afghanistan – it makes me sick, and tells me that any meaning the poppy might once have had, is now gone. 

Like a serial-killer who still attends church on Sunday and kneels before the cross, these empty symbols become meaningless in the absence of meaningful action.

What does “remembrance” even mean these days?  For those who have friends or family who have died performing military service, the answer is obvious.  But then, these people no doubt grieve and mourn for their loved ones each and every day, and do not need to be told that their tears and sorrow are somehow more appropriate on November 11th than they are on any other day of the year.  For the rest of us, “remembrance” must mean learning, or else it is simply a mawkish and pointless exercise in group depression.

After the first world war, why did we remember?  Well, we remembered because there was something there to learn: by remembering those who died defending our lives, we honoured the sacrifice these soldiers had made.  Hopefully, we learned that our lives were precious; that their lives had been precious, and that no generation of people should ever have to go through that kind of death and destruction again.

Even then, however, the lessons – the poppies – were ignored.  Twenty years later, we had the second world war and yet more precious lives were lost again.

Of course, there have arguably been no more “world wars” since WWII, and certainly none with as great a death toll, both of soldiers and civilians, so perhaps we finally did learn that lesson?  On the other hand though, what has transpired in the interim decades has, perhaps, been even worse: a normalization of small-scale wars to the point that their political use is now barely even questioned anymore.

As I’ve said a hundred times: to go to war with Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks on the United States was not simply the “strategic mistake” it is acknowledged to be today, it was an unjustified and immoral attack on an innocent country which had not – as a nation – committed an act of aggression against the countries which now invade it.  It was the moral equivalent of, say, Russia going to war against Italy after a group of nineteen French, British and Spanish extremists flew planes into the Kremlin under orders from a lone lunatic who once took a holiday to Venice!

But even without all the faulty arguments which led us to war with Afghanistan, what was important was that, following the 9/11 attacks, the question wasn’t: “oh my god, why would somebody do this to us; how can we stop it from happening in the future?”, it was: “who are we going to kill for this; where are we going to war?” 

The reason for this, is because war, in the twenty-first century, is simply what you do when some foreign country is giving you trouble: you invade (or you pay others to invade for you).  So we invaded Afghanistan in 2001 the way we’d done in Iraq back in ‘91, the way we’d done in Kosovo back in ‘99; the way we’d done in the Falklands back in ‘82, and the way that America has been doing since 1945 in Korea, Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Haiti, Vietnam, Ecuador, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama…to name but a few!

Year after year, following that second world war (the lapsed sequel to that infamous “war to end all wars”) our governments continue to treat the lives and limbs of our soldiers as their personal geo-political playthings, and here, in Britain, every November 11th, they put on their poppies, bow their heads in silence, and they claim to “remember”.

So this year I have decided to opt out of the empty charade. 

I honoured the fallen soldiers when I marched on London back in 2001 in opposition to the proposed war in Afghanistan; I honoured them again in 2003 when I marched with millions of other real patriots to oppose the proposed war in Iraq; I have honoured them for the full eight years of the hateful war on terror by continuing to spread the truth about our unnecessary and unjustified occupation of a country that bore no responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and I honour them still today, all these years later, as I continue to fight against these illegal and unjust wars and do my best to bring these soldiers home

And I do all of this without a poppy.  Because putting a pound into a charity box and pinning an empty gesture onto your lapel isn’t doing anything to help our soldiers.  Nor is standing silently for two minutes at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month every goddamn year; such “remembrance” is futile so long as we continue to treat our living soldier’s lives with contempt and disregard.

Importantly, until we also have a day of remembrance for the true victims of war – the non-combatants; the innocent corpses of “collateral damage” our governments refuse even to acknowledge, let alone record the numbers of – then our remembrance remains incomplete.  Because when soldiers aren’t truly fighting to defend us – when they are simply being used as tools by our government to carve up the world and its resources into profitable fodder for power and profit-hungry corporations – can we really call these people “heroes”?  Do they not then just become killers, or, at best, misguided and manipulated manslaughterers, with innocent blood on their hands?

Where are the poppies for the hundred thousand Iraqi civilians killed since 2003?  Why do the families killed in Afghanistan, for no bigger crime than having an unfortunate country-of-residence, not deserve to be honoured too?

I shall not be wearing a poppy this year, and I shall not be wearing a poppy in the future either, until this supposed day of remembrance becomes more than a photo opportunity for politicians, absolving their shame and culpability in the glow of blood-red flowers, and becomes a truly meaningful day of learning: no life should be murdered by the actions of a rapacious and blood-thirsty state; not a citizen’s, not a soldier’s, and not a civilian.  War is hell.  War is always hell.  There is rarely any justification for this grotesque act of human hatred, and there are never any heroes; war leaves us only ever victims.