Friday, September 30, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Ed Miliband did what the professional speechwriters always say you should do. He presented an argument, rather than a laundry list. He did not dole out random policy nuggets, with a bit on foreign policy thrown in, in order to touch every base. Instead he made a case, arguing that the values cherished by British society are not reflected in the ethics that underpin our economy.
He even framed that idea in a pithy way, pitching "producers" against "predators", insisting that too often we reward the latter over the former. The speech deserved credit, too, for trying to rise to the moment of current crisis, advocating not mere tinkering at the edges but a recasting of our entire economic model. And yet I worry it will do precisely nothing to improve the prospects of either Miliband or Labour.
That's not because I want more detail on how his ideas will translate into action or how, exactly, governments will distinguish predators from producers. Nor is mine the familiar concern that no one listens to conference speeches any more. The anxiety I have is both more superficial and deeper than that – and it is a worry that goes beyond Labour, touching on the state of politics itself.
Put simply, my fear is that you can make all the speeches and policy statements you like – carefully devising a strategy on this and crafting a narrative on that – but what matters more are shallow considerations of looks, demeanour, speech patterns and biography. That, in short, it is personality, not policy, that counts.
How else to explain today's Comres poll, which had the Conservatives one point ahead of Labour. This despite rising unemployment, an enfeebled economy and a series of cock-ups and U-turns that should have the Tories gasping for air. Some of that can be explained by the Conservatives' success in persuading voters that they are stoically engaged in the hard work of clearing up a mess not of their making. But polls show that the Tories' numbers are boosted by the voters' high regard for David Cameron, while Labour's are dragged down by their lukewarm view of Ed Miliband. Comres found just 24% regard Miliband as a credible prime minister-in-waiting – compared to 57% who do not.
There was similarly depressing reading to be found in a voluminous survey commissioned, admittedly, by the former Tory party treasurer Lord Ashcroft, but whose reliability has not been doubted. He found a Cameron premium, with the PM more popular than his party, as well as a Miliband deficit, with more than one in three voters less favourable to Miliband than they are to Labour. The words focus groups used to describe Cameron were "determined", "competent" and "ruthless" – while the one volunteered for Miliband was "weird".
Was he deemed weird because of his stance on the 50p tax rate or on climate change? No. Those surveyed cited his fighting his brother for the leadership (which they called "creepy"), his failure to get married until recently, and his way of speaking ("geeky").
Politicians and those around them – including those of us who spill gallons of ink each week discussing the smallest policy shifts, trying to calculate their impact on the electorate's preferences – recoil from contemplating the implications of all this. It pains them – us – to think elections could be settled by matters so trivial. I remember long conversations with the Gordon Brown camp, in which they would speak of dividing lines and the like, confident that a clever strategic move on, say, the economy could transform his fortunes – when the unpalatable truth was that voters had simply taken a long, hard look at him and decided that they did not want him as their prime minister. The same fate dispatched William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.
Something similar is afoot in London, where Labour is currently 20 points ahead of the Tories – and where, despite that, Ken Livingstone is trailing far behind Boris Johnson. Why? According to YouGov's Peter Kellner: "It's an instinctive judgment, it's about character." Boris has out-Kenned Ken, stealing his predecessor's clothes as the cheeky, rebel politician. "Ken reinvented himself as a personality politician and he's now up against someone who does personality politics better than him," says Kellner.
It's not always been this way. Clement Attlee could be elected without having the obvious leadership look we'd identify today. Nor would Edward Heath, or even Harold Wilson, meet the modern definition of charisma. John Major was famously grey, yet he won in 1992 – but that was partly because he was up against Neil Kinnock, against whom many voters took a strong dislike. Ed Miliband's problem is that he is competing in Cameron against a man who has long looked the part, who even in a 10-second appearance on television has that mysterious, chemical quality that suggests a leader. Whatever that is, Miliband does not have it – yet.
Many will bristle at this kind of talk, insisting that such things should not matter, that, as Tony Benn always used to say, it's the issues that count. But Benn – no slouch as a personality politician himself – was always hopelessly idealistic on that score. Personalities do count. As I've written before, quoting an old teacher of mine: people don't believe in ideas, they believe in people who believe in ideas.
So this is the problem for Ed Miliband. He is a decent, clever man but he does not look the part. He looks too young; he looks more like the speechwriter than the speechgiver, an adviser to the leader rather than the leader. That could change; he might grow into the role over the next three-and-a-half years. One aide suggests that Miliband has challenged every other bit of conventional political wisdom – running against his brother, being unmarried, taking on Rupert Murdoch – and that maybe he will defy this one too.
"He's not an identikit politician," that aide admits, seeing strength in that fact. At this moment when everything is in flux and when the Labour leader is seeking to break a 30-year consensus on the economy, perhaps it is right to think that the old, admittedly shallow rules on what a prime minister must look like are ready to be broken too.
But it has unfortunate echoes of the Brownite refrain circa 2007, that people were ready for a non-celebrity leader for more sober times. It sounds principled, it sounds laudable. But right now the Tories are much safer than they should be, insulated by a leader with charisma and a touch of the X-factor. Labour desperately needs some of that too.
Monday, September 26, 2011
When you heard that a gunman had slaughtered scores of Norwegian teenagers on a holiday island earlier this summer, did you think that here was another symptom of our sick and violent world? So did I, until I read Steven Pinker's brilliant, mind-altering book about the decline of violence. Pinker does not deny that individual human beings are capable of the most appalling acts of savagery. But the test of our propensity for violence is how the rest of us respond. Once it would have been basic human instinct to react to violence on this scale with more violence. But where were the reprisals, the mob rampages, the demands for the torture and killing of the perpetrator? Instead, the Norwegian people responded with remarkable compassion and restraint: love-bombing instead of real bombing. What happened in Norway this summer showed just how peace-loving we have become.
Pinker thinks that most of what we believe about violence is wrong. To convince us he sets himself two tasks. First, to demonstrate that the past was a far nastier place than we might have imagined. Second, that the present is far nicer than we might have noticed. So to start with we get a litany of horrors from ancient and not-so-ancient history: a catalogue of the unspeakable things that human beings have traditionally been willing to do to each other. This is slightly overdone, since anyone who thinks that, say, medieval Europe was a friendly, peaceable place can't have thought about it very much. Still, it is hard not to be occasionally struck dumb by just how horrible people used to be. The image I can't get out of my head is of a hollow brass cow used for roasting people alive. Its mouth was left open so that their screams would sound like the cow was mooing, adding to the amusement of onlookers.
The real fascination of this book is how we got from being a species that enjoyed the spectacle of roasting each other alive to one that believes child-killers have the same rights as everyone else. As Pinker shows, it is both a long story and a relatively recent one. The first thing that had to happen was the move from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence (where your chances of meeting a violent end could be as high as 50:50) to settled communities. The trouble was that early governments showed themselves at least as capable of cruelty as anyone else: most of the truly horrific instruments of torture Pinker describes were designed and employed by servants of the state. As the 17th-century philosopher John Locke remarked of the escape from the state of nature to so-called civilisation: why run away from polecats only to be devoured by lions?
So the next thing that had to happen was the state had to be properly civilised. This took place over the course of what we have come to call the enlightenment, thanks in part to philosophers such as Locke. In both private and public life – covering everything from table manners to bills of rights – the means were found to restrain our worst instincts. Slowly, painfully, but ultimately successfully torture was outlawed, slavery was abolished, democracy became established and people discovered that they could rely on the state to protect them.
Yet the enlightenment has acquired something of a bad name. Why? The answer is simply put: the 20th century, surely the most appallingly violent of them all, scarred by total war, genocide and other mass killings on an almost unimaginable scale. All those table manners and bills of rights didn't prevent the Holocaust, did they? At the heart of this book is Pinker's careful, compelling account of why the 20th century does not invalidate his thesis that violence is in a long decline. He makes his case in three ways. First, with a multitude of tables and charts he shows that our view of the century is coloured by presentism: we think it's the worst simply because it's the most recent and we know more about it. If we had equivalent coverage of the whole of human history (how many books have been published about the second world war compared to, say, the Mongol conquests of the 13th century?) we would see that all of it has been scarred by mass slaughters, some of them proportionately even worse than the horrors of the past hundred years.
Second, Pinker argues that the violence of the 20th century is best understood as a series of random spasms rather than part of a trend. The two world wars were essentially freak events, driven by contingency and in some cases lunacy: a bit like the killings on Utøya magnified a millionfold. They do not reflect the default condition of mankind. The evidence for this is the third part of Pinker's case: look at what has happened since 1945, as the world has become immeasurably more peaceful on almost every count. Of course, there have been horrors (Mao, Pol Pot) but no one can doubt that the arrow has been pointing away from the violence of the first half of the 20th century, not back towards more of it.
Pinker calls the post-1945 period "the long peace". But the real surprise is what he calls "the short peace", which corresponds to the 20 years since the end of the cold war. I am one of those who like to believe that the idea of 1989 as some fundamental turning point in human history is absurd: the world is just as dangerous as it has always been. But Pinker shows that for most people in most ways it has become much less dangerous. There have not just been fewer wars, but in the wars there have been many fewer people have died. Terrorism is down, not up. All sorts of disadvantaged groups – women, children, ethnic minorities, even animals – are much less likely to be victims of violence across many parts of the world, and the trend is spreading. Part of the reason we fail to notice this picture is that it is so pervasive: we are more aware of violence simply because we have become so unused to it.
At the outset Pinker calls the story he has to tell "maybe the most important thing that has ever happened in human history". That depends. If you told a medieval peasant that all the horsemen of the apocalypse that blighted his (and even more so her) life would be vanquished by the 21st century – famine and disease as well as war and violence – it might be the first two that seemed the real miracles (as well as being responsible for saving many more lives). Some peasants (though here perhaps more the hims than the hers) might also feel a little ambivalent about the decline of violence. Human aggression, unlike famine and disease, is not just some capricious act of God. It is part of who we are. Giving it up might leave even a victimised peasant feeling a little diminished.
Pinker accepts we have not abolished violence in the way that we have abolished smallpox. In the final section of the book he moves from history to evolutionary psychology to show that human beings are always torn between their inner demons and their better angels. What decides us between them is not virtue or vice but strategic calculation. We resort to violence when violence seems the better bet. We resist it when it seems riskier than the alternative. That's why violence can be self-reinforcing – as in the tit-for-tat world of the hunter-gatherers – but it's also why peace can be self-reinforcing – as in the love-bomb world we inhabit now. Pinker is adamant that we should not be complacent about the decline of violence: the inner demons are still there. But neither should we be fatalistic: as things stand, our better angels are a truer reflection of who we are.
What might change that? As I was reading this book I was repeatedly reminded of two novels. One is Lord of the Flies, an earlier generation's definitive allegory of the violence lurking in us all. Pinker's book makes Golding's vision look dated: there is no state of nature bubbling away beneath the surface of civilised man, notwithstanding all the hysterical nonsense that has been uttered about the recent riots (which were, for riots, remarkably unviolent). The other novel is Cormac McCarthy's The Road, this generation's definitive allegory of how it could all go wrong. McCarthy pictures a world in which some random future spasm (perhaps an environmental catastrophe) leaves us all unhinged and lets the inner demons loose. Does our gradual move away from violence towards civility leave us better or worse equipped to deal with the next great calamity when it comes? No one can know, and Pinker does not pretend to provide an answer. But in the meantime, everyone should read this astonishing book.
The tales science tells about the universe star one steadfast hero: the velocity of light. With Einstein, the space and time of Newton's day lost their uniformity, even the solid idea of matter melted into air. But the steady speed of electromagnetic radiation (the c in E = mc2) proved a sturdy enough foundation stone for the old genius to be able to reconstruct physics, and thereby rescue basic notions of cause and effect. Now Professor Antonio Ereditato, a man with singularly apt initials, is reporting that the tiny neutrinos that his team have been blasting under the Alps have clocked up a superluminal pace. A mistake? Very likely, which is why Ereditato and co are releasing their data in the expectation that someone out there will find a flaw, and restore the conceptual order. But what if the finding, which is based on 15,000 observations and has passed all the ordinary statistical tests, is instead confirmed? That would be insensible, which is to say profs would be muttering "does not compute"; but the history of science cautions against branding it unthinkable. That was once the verdict passed on heretical talk of the Earth spinning round the sun, as opposed to the other way round. Recall, too, that it was the then inexplicable Michelson-Morley experiment which encouraged the spread of Einstein's early ideas, and the baffling perihelion precession of Mercury which lent support to his general theory. The first thing in science is to face the facts; making sense of them has to come second.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
By now, you'll have heard all about Kweku Adoboli, the City trader charged with hiding $2.3bn (£1.46bn) of losses from his bank. You'll have seen the moody black and white photos he posted on Facebook, along with those made-for-tabloid confessional updates such as "Need a miracle". And you'll have read how UBS managers didn't have a clue about the 31-year-old's rogue trading right up until last week.
In the olden, golden days, the most effective way of taking loads of money off a bank was to rob it. Nowadays, if you really want to hit a bank where it hurts, you go and work for it. The Brinks-MAT heist of the early 80s was worth £68m in today's money. The robbery of the Northern Bank headquarters in Belfast in Christmas 2004 netted the equivalent of £31m. Not bad for a day's work, but pocket shrapnel compared with the £4.3bn that Jérôme Kerviel's rogue trading cost Société Générale in 2008, or the £1.2bn of damage (roughly adjusted for inflation) that Nick Leeson did to Barings in the 90s. Besides, rogue trading is a much lower-impact activity than bank robbery, requiring neither balaclavas nor a cosh, but merely some smart slacks and a plausible manner.
The downsides are obvious: get caught and you'll probably get banged up, and never again be allowed within 10 feet of a cash register. On the other hand, your life might become the subject of a film, preferably starring Ewan McGregor trying out his gassy-lager cockney.
Those, briskly rattled off, are the caveats. So, on the strict understanding that you are not actually going to do anything illegal or even vaguely naughty with this information, let me present a five-point guide to rogue trading – or how to lose $2.3bn without your bosses noticing.
First, understand that you don't need to be especially roguish to be a rogue trader. Anyone can do it. Senior bankers don't want to let on, of course, which is why the then-chief executive of France's giant SocGen referred to Kerviel as both an "evil genius" and a "financial terrorist". He was nothing of the sort – just a lowly employee who made a series of big and wrong bets and then covered them up by forging trades, faking emails and making up clients.
Second, come from the wrong background. Stars in a blue-chip finance firm such as SocGen often come with either the right postgraduate degree from the right university – they land in the right departments and stay there, landing the best promotions. They know one patch of one part of their banks – and are blank about the rest, which makes them useless white-collar criminals.
Yet neither Kerviel nor Leeson started out as traders – but in admin positions that taught them how their banks' compliance and other systems worked. It was that knowledge that enabled the two men to go rogue.
Third, read Codes of Finance by Vincent Lepinay. The first in-depth anthropological study of how banks invent new financial products (such as the newfangled derivatives that helped cause the credit crisis), it's really aimed at academics. But would-be rogue traders will find this new book invaluable, as it lays out all the chinks in the modern investment bank. Lepinay spent nearly two years in a huge French bank that he refers to as General Bank, and his study is both highly revealing and slightly farcical.
The press often talks about investment bankers as if they are all one tribe; but as the MIT researcher describes it, there are instead lots of different factions – who have a hard time even understanding each other. The creators of these new derivatives often have top MBAs and look down upon the quant nerds, who deal with prices and have physics degrees. The quants feel superior to the traders, who rely upon them like a tour party relies on its translator. And then there are the salespeople – who just want to flog the things, be they CDOs, CLOs or just plain CRAP. Then there are the risk controllers, who approach the banks' stars with rightful trepidation, and the senior management, who only pop in once a week. What this means for a would-be rogue trader is that there are more gaps in an investment bank's organisation than in the dentistry of the Wife of Bath.
Fourth, work on the most newfangled products, because hardly anyone else will understand what you're up to. Adoboli (who, let me stress, has yet to enter a plea) was in exchange traded funds – which used to look like unit trusts, but have got increasingly complicated. One of the top market regulators, Mario Draghi, recently described ETFs as "reminiscent of what happened in the securitisation market before the crisis". Read that quote again: he's comparing them to sub-prime mortgages. Most of us should get very worried; rogue traders should go steaming in.
Finally, applaud the calls to separate investment wizardy from high-street banking. In finance, the fashionable thing to say is that the UBS scandal proves the Vickers Commission right to call for a ringfence. True, it might protect taxpayers from banking losses, but rogue trading is a product of dysfunctional institutions and the finance sector's love of innovation as a way of skimming off more profits. To have a chance of stopping it, we'll need to make all finance a lot simpler.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Friday, September 09, 2011
Thursday, September 08, 2011
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in with you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
THE UN estimates that 12m people across the Horn of Africa may still be at risk of starvation. Over 30,000 old people and children may already have died. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya hosts 400,000 Somalis and could receive another 100,000 by the end of the year. In response the continent’s overseeing body, the African Union (AU), recently held a pledging conference.
The idea was for African heads of state to come to the AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and make a bold 21st-century statement of African brotherhood. After several postponements, the conference took place on August 25th—but only 20 representatives of the AU’s 54 countries turned up, plus a handful of heads of state, notably those of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Equatorial Guinea, whose president holds the AU’s annual chair.
Together they pledged just $50m; the UN says another $1.1 billion is urgently needed. It is not clear when this offering will be deposited with the AU for distribution to humanitarian agencies. Jean Ping, a Gabonese former foreign minister who runs the AU’s permanent commission, talked up the conference by adding in $300m in funds reshuffled from the African Development Bank. He noted that AU employees had given two days’ salary towards famine relief.
By contrast, the Turkish public alone has raised $200m in the past month. And Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited Mogadishu, Somalia’s wrecked and dangerous capital, along with members of his family and cabinet, to show—in his words—“common humanity”. South Africa’s government, by contrast, pledged just $1m.
The AU’s main contribution to Somalia has been a military force, drawn mainly from Uganda and Burundi, which has prevented an extreme Islamist group known as the Shabab from taking over the capital. This force also protected Mr Erdogan during his visit.
Whereas the AU and its richest members showed little interest in tackling the famine, it has been left to ordinary Africans to campaign on social networks and by texting money via mobile phones. An organisation called Africans Act 4 Africa says that Kenyans alone have texted $2m. Some African businesses have been generous too, pledging a lot more than South Africa’s government. And smaller fry have also made their mark. Abdirashid Duale, the owner of Dahabshiil, a money-transfer company based in Somaliland, has given $100,000. “Just the beginning,” he says.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Now and then it happens
that somebody shouts for help
and somebody else jumps in at once
and absolutely gratis.
Here in the thick of the grossest capitalism
round the corner comes the shining fire brigade
and extinguishes, or suddenly
there's silver in the beggar's hat.
Mornings the streets are full
of people hurrying here and there without
daggers in their hands, quite equably
after milk or radishes.
As though in a time of deepest peace.
A splendid sight.
by Hans Magnus Enzesberger
IF THERE was any consolation to be had from the recent English riots, it was that they did not pit one racial community against the police (as in Brixton and elsewhere in the 1980s), or one such community against another (as in Bradford and elsewhere in 2001). Yet the density of black people among the rioters suggests that race played some part, even if few politicians are keen to contemplate it. Just what that role was is a matter of great concern to thoughtful black Britons.
Black people make up slightly less than 3% of the British population. But in the CCTV snaps of rioters that the police in London, Birmingham and Manchester have put on the internet, slightly more than half seem to be black. Many of the areas in which rioting took place, such as Tottenham, Hackney and Brixton, are largely black. In Scotland, Wales and north-east England, which have small black populations, there was no rioting.
Poverty can only be part of the explanation for this pattern. While blacks are, by and large, poorer than whites, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are poorer still. There was no disorder in areas with large Asian populations, including in London; CCTV pictures suggest there were few Asian looters. (The fact that the trouble coincided with Ramadan might—or might not—be a factor in this quiescence.)
The black community suffers other, older and perhaps related problems, too. Black children are disproportionately likely to be excluded from school, and black adults to go to prison (see chart). African-Caribbean males are a special worry. African-Caribbean boys do much worse in school than African-Caribbean girls or African boys. The most recent available analysis of GCSE results by race and sex, which was done in 2009, shows that 56% of African-Caribbean boys got five A-C grades at GCSE, compared with 65% of African boys and 70% of African-Caribbean girls (for all pupils, the figure was 74%).
This is sensitive stuff. Many of the black leaders who are prepared to talk about it do not want to be quoted. They tend to home in on three issues, two of which affect white people too.
The first is family breakdown. David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham in north London, where the first riots broke out, and whose father left when he was 11, has spoken movingly on the subject. He points out that, while family breakdown is increasingly prevalent in white society, it is far more common among blacks: 65% of black Caribbean children in Britain grow up in a single-parent family; nine out of ten of those households are headed by women. Children brought up in one-parent families are more likely to take drugs, drop out of school and end up in prison.
A second concern is culture. Tony Sewell, whose charity, Generating Genius, promotes maths and science among black boys, fingers the rap and hip-hop music that MTV popularised from the 1980s: “Black popular culture used to be based on spirituality and social justice…Now we have a music that glorifies violence, materialism and sex.” Lindsay Johns, a writer who mentors young black people in Peckham, south London, adds another bugbear: “achingly PC educationalists, who call ghetto-speak ‘culturally rich’ and ‘empowering’. Rubbish. It’s a mashed-up, debased language that spectacularly disables our young people, because nobody will give them a job if they talk like that.”
The shortage of other role models and templates of success in the black community makes its youngsters especially susceptible to these influences. Yet they reach others too. “Black male culture is powerful stuff,” says Mr Sewell. Firms use black street culture to sell fashionable goods such as trainers. As a result, he says, it has far more sway among other ethnic groups than it did 20 years ago. “Youngsters in other communities want to be part of it; so if it is a problem for the black community, it becomes a problem for everybody.”
The third issue, which is particular to ethnic minorities and perhaps black people above all, is racism, or the perception of it. The unrest in Tottenham began at a protest against the killing of an armed black man by police; some blame police racism for the ensuing violence. At the Samuel Lithgow Youth Centre in Camden, north London, Jessica, a black 13-year-old girl, says her brother was searched twice on a recent shopping outing: “It doesn’t look as though they’re going for any other race.” Stephanie, a 17-year-old girl of Bulgarian origin, concurs. When she hung out with a mixed-race bunch, the police used to search the black boys and nobody else, she says. Official figures lend some credence to these anecdotes: in instances unrelated to terrorism, blacks are five times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites by London’s Metropolitan Police.
Even if the police are more likely to pick on black boys, both the police and society as a whole are far less racist than in the past. Yet history lingers. A teacher says, “Everybody in the black community is told constantly that they’re victims. Parents think the police are racist, the teachers are racist and the establishment is racist. And they tell that to their kids.” If people believe the law to be racist, some may not regard breaking it as morally wrong.
These problems may be entrenched, but they are superable. Mr Sewell’s outfit has helped 40 black boys from tough schools to get into top universities. Leaders of Tomorrow, the mentoring scheme with which Mr Johns volunteers, has helped students get scholarships to some of the country’s best independent schools. Katharine Birbalsingh, an outspoken teacher, is trying to start a new “free school” to combat underachievement in Lambeth, one of London’s poorest boroughs. And, as Mr Lammy points out, “Tottenham has just had its best exam results ever. Most kids in Tottenham weren’t rioting. They were getting good GCSEs.”
Saturday, September 03, 2011
In a Reflection published on August 25, 2010 under the title of “The Opinion of an Expert”, I mentioned a really unusual activity of the United States and its allies which, in my opinion, underlines the risk of a nuclear conflict with Iran. I was referring to a long article by the well-known journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, published in the US journal The Atlantic in September of that year, entitled “The Point of No Return”.
Goldberg was not anti-Israeli, quite the opposite; he is an admirer of Israel and holds double citizenship with the US and also did his military service in that country.
At the start of his article he wrote: “It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way”
The parentheses in the paragraph are also his.
After mentioning the enigmatic phrase, I carried on with the analysis of that Gordian knot of international politics that could lead to the war which was so feared by Einstein. What would he say if he had learned about the “frustration operations” destined to make the most capable nuclear scientists disappear?
Maybe because it was so absurd and incredible, I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but months later, upon reading the recent accusations by the Iranian government, as well as news and opinions of well-informed people, the memory of that paragraph returned to my mind with a vengeance.
Four weeks before the end of 2010, an AFP agency dispatch informed:
“An Iranian nuclear scientist has been killed.
“Teheran accuses the United States and Israel of being behind a double assassination.
“AFP. November 30, 2010
“‘The hand of western governments and the Zionist regime is behind the assassination attempts’. Mahmud Ahmadineyad had no doubts when it came to look for the people guilty of the double attack on the nuclear experts that took place early yesterday in Teheran. Majid Shariari, professor at the Shahid Beheshti University of Teheran and member of the Nuclear Society of Iran lost his life and his wife was injured in an explosion reported a few metres from their home. His colleague Fereydoon Abbasi, a laser physicist at the same university and his wife were also injured after a similar attack. Even though some newspapers announced Abbasi’s death, it was finally the Mehr agency that confirmed that he had managed to save his life. According to the Fars agency, ‘unknown terrorists’ on motorcycles drove closet o the vehicles to plant the lapa bombs.”
“Members of the Ahmadineyad Executive and the Minister of the Interior, Mostafa Mohamad Najjar, directly accused the CIA and Mossad – the intelligence services of the US and Israel, respectively – of being behind these actions that presume a new blow for the country’s nuclear race at the doors of a possible new round of talks with the 5+1 members...”
“With yesterday’s attempt there are now three Iranian scientists who have been killed since 2007. Dr. Masoud Alí Mohamadi lost his life in Teheran last January after the explosion of a bomb as he was leaving his home, a death that has not yet been cleared up by the authorities who also accused the western intelligence agencies of trying to abort what they considered to be a right, the nuclear race for civilian purposes. The first victim in the heart of the scientific community was Ardeshir Hosseinpour, killed under strange circumstances in 2007 at the nuclear centre of Isfahan.”
I don’t remember any other moment in history when the assassination of scientists has been transformed into official policy on the part of a group of powers armed with nuclear weapons. The worst is that, in the case of Iran, it is being applied on an Islamic nation, with which, even if they are able to compete and surpass it in technology, they could never do it in a field where, for cultural and religious questions, it could surpass them many times in the willingness of its citizens to die at any moment if Iran should decide to apply the same absurd and criminal formula on the professionals of their adversaries.
There are other serious events related to the carnage of scientists, organized by Israel, the US, Great Britain and other powers against the Iranian scientists, something about which the mass media does not inform world opinion.
An article by Christian Elia published on the Rebelión website on August 25, 2010, reports that:
An explosion has killed the father of the “drones” (unmanned planes) – of Iran – but he is just the last of the scientists who have lost their lives in the country.
“To find a photo of Reza Baruni on the Internet is a mission impossible. However, in the last few days, his name was at the centre of a mystery that has many international aspects...”
The only thing certain is that Reza Baruni, the Iranian aeronautical engineer, is dead. An air of absolute mystery hangs over everything else. All the industry analysts consider Baruni to be the father of the [...] UAVs (unmanned vehicles) of the Islamic Republic [...]. On August 1st, 2010, his house was blown up.”
“On August 17, 2010, Debka (very close to Israeli intelligence) publishes news of Baruni’s death and reveals its conclusions: the Iranian engineer’s home blew up because of the explosion of three very powerful explosive devices. Baruni was murdered.”
“But the murkiest episode in contrast is the death of Massud Ali-Mohammadi, professor of nuclear physics at Teheran University, murdered on January 11, 2010 in the Iranian capital. Professor Ali-Mohammadi died in the explosion of a motorcycle-bomb detonated from a distance at the time the professor was leaving his home to go to work…”
An article published on the CubaDebate website informs:
“Israel acknowledges that it has murdered an Iranian scientist last week.”
“Mossad, the Israeli secret service, acknowledged that last week it murdered Majid Shahriari and wounded another physicist in Iran, according to Mossad sources, in an operation carried out in Teheran. ‘It is the latest operation by the head of the Mossad’, the people heading Israeli secret services state with satisfaction at a meeting in their Gelilot headquarters to the north of Tel Aviv.”
“Gordon Thomas, a British expert in the Mossad, confirmed in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that Israel is responsible for this double murder destined to obstruct the Iranian nuclear program.”
“Thomas states that all the Israeli assassination attempts in the last few years against personalities associated with the Iranian nuclear project have been committed by the Kidon (bayonet) unit. According to the Jewish newspaper Yediot Ahronot this unit is made up of 38 agents. Five of them are women. They are all between 20 and 30 years old and they speak several languages – including Persian – and they are able to come and go from Iran with ease. They are based in the Negev Desert.”
In the days of the Diaspora, the left wing in the world united in solidarity with the people of Israel. Persecuted for their race and religion, many of them fought in the ranks of the revolutionary parties. The peoples condemned the concentration camps that the European and world bourgeoisie wanted to ignore.
Today the leaders of the State of Israel practice genocide and are associating themselves with the most reactionary forces on the planet.
The alliance between the leaders of that State and the South Africa of the hateful apartheid regime is still to be cleared up; in complicity with the United States they supplied the technology to develop the nuclear weapons directed towards striking at the Cuban troops which, in 1975, were confronting the invasion of racist South Africa, whose disdain and hatred of the African peoples was no different from the Nazi ideology which murdered millions of Jews, Russians, gypsies and other European nationalities in the concentration camps of Europe.
If it hadn’t been for the Iranian revolution – stripped of weapons it swept over the best-equipped ally of the United States on the flank of the Soviet super-power – today it would be the Shah of Iran, supplied with nuclear weapons, and not Israel, who would be the principal bulwark of the Yankee and NATO empire in that region that is so strategic and immensely rich in oil and gas for the sure supply of the most developed countries on the planet.
It is an almost inexhaustible subject.
Fidel Castro Ruz
January 6, 2011
We are learning in numerous ways how hard it is, in a digital age, to keep control of information. Voice messages, emails, corporate documents, medical records, DNA, government secrets – all are vulnerable to hacking, snooping and simple spillage. From the moment a hacker (or, possibly, a whistleblower) passed a vast store of US government and military records to WikiLeaks it was always on the cards that this data would eventually spill out indiscriminately into the open. This week most of it has – accelerated by WikiLeaks itself, which chose to publish the state department cables in unredacted form.
This paper, and the four other news organisations involved in publishing heavily edited selections from the war logs and cables last year, are united in condemning this act. From the start of our collaboration, it was clear to the newspapers – and apparently accepted, if reluctantly, by WikiLeaks's founder, Julian Assange – that it was necessary to redact the material in order to minimise the potential risk to vulnerable people who might be placed in harm's way by publication. That joint exercise, which ended last December, has never been shown to have placed an individual's life at risk.
But, with the well-documented rifts in the original WikiLeaks team last year, the data was not secured. One copy was obtained by Heather Brooke, the freedom of information campaigner. It now appears that last December another WikiLeaks employee was responsible for a further leak when he placed the unredacted cables on a peer-to-peer site with an old password – motivated, it seems, by the arrest of Assange on allegations concerning his private life. It is not clear that even Assange – distracted by his legal actions over the Swedish sex allegations – knew of this act. This, to be clear, was not the original file accessed by the Guardian last year, which was, as agreed with WikiLeaks, removed from a secure file server after we had obtained a copy and never compromised.
A handful of people knew of the existence of this republished file and, realising its potential for harm, they did not publish any clues as to how it might be accessed. WikiLeaks, by contrast, tried to blame others for the leak, hinted at how it could be accessed, and then finally decided to publish it all to the world in an unredacted form.
Some WikiLeaks devotees and extreme freedom of information advocates will applaud this act. We don't. We join the New York Times, Der Speigel, Le Monde and El País in condemning it. Many of our newspapers' reporters and editors worked hard to publish material based on the cables in a responsible, comprehensible and contextualised form. We continue to believe in the validity and benefits of this collaboration in transparency. But we don't count ourselves in that tiny fringe of people who would regard themselves as information absolutists – people who believe it is right in all circumstances to make all information free to all. The public interest in all acts of disclosure has to be weighed against the potential harm that can result.
It had never been entirely clear whether Assange thought he had a consistent position on this issue. At various times he has scorned those who urged redaction; at others he has portrayed himself as an advocate of responsible redaction. He shows little or no understanding of the legal constraints facing less free souls than himself, often voicing contempt for publishers constrained by the laws of particular jurisdictions. At its best Wikileaks seemed to offer the hope of frustrating the most repressive and restrictive. But the organisation has dwindled to being the vehicle of one flawed individual – occasionally brilliant, but increasingly volatile and erratic. There was no compelling need, even with the recent disclosures of the internal leak, for WikiLeaks to publish all the material in the form in which it did. Julian Assange took a clear decision this week: he must take the responsibility for that.
Editorial of The Guardian