Friday, August 12, 2005

"They're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key..."

And as the man said, so long ago, "we're all normal when we want our freedom". In an attempt to pose the unstated question as to what normality is, our good friend, Mr Tony Blair, is reviving that most dangerous of false dichotomies - security or freedom. So some lunatic Islamist has been banned from the country. So what? Well, is nobody else concerned that a man who has, whilst admittedly expressing views that any sane person would hold as obnoxious, committed no crime, has been banned from entering the country? Have we really reached a point at which expressing opinions has become a criminal act? Who's next? Do we really trust the current government to say, "Oh, but they're bad people - you have your opinions, which we disagree with, but you're OK"?
And the move to revive the treason laws. According to my dictionary, treason is a "violation or betrayal of the allegiance that a person owes his sovereign or his country". So my supporting of the removal of the royal family would count as treason under this definition. Assuming I owe my sovereign any allegiance (which I would maintain I don't - why should I? I didn't vote for her...)
We live in dangerous times. Making it easier for the government to lock up people who disagree with them isn't going to make them any less dangerous, no matter what the idiotic-populist right wing press may claim. It just means there is a greater risk for the rest of us - we have to worry about being locked up by our own country as well as being blown to bits by insane religious nutters.

Robin Cook

A bit of shock, the death of Robin Cook. A man who has since been described, by people who should really know better, as "the intellectual conscience of the Labour Party". And such-like guff. OK, so it all gets wheeled out for the dead, and yes he did quit his cabinet post over the Gulf War (although how much of that was an attempt to position himself as the most likely rallying point for any "left opposition" should Blair get it in the neck is debatable). But let's talk about a far more pertinent political input, which probably says more about his character. Way back in the mists of time, when the UK was still governed by the Conservative Party (that's the other Conservative Party...), Cook proudly boasted of Labour's "Ethical Foreign Policy" commitments. No more arms sales to repressive regimes. No more turning a blind eye to torture and human rights abuses committed by "our allies". Marvellous. Something we could all support. Skip forward to Robin Cook, first Foreign Secretary of the New Labour Regime. First test of the Ethical Foreign Policy - should we allow Scorpion tanks to be sold to President Suharto's murderous Indonesian government? Hmmm, let's think about that one, shall we? Obviously, that nice General Suharto wouldn't do anything bad with them - OK, he may have been responsible for genocide in East Timor, but that was the bad old days. In the end, Cook cowardly allowed the tanks to be shipped, claiming the government could be sued if he didn't. Erm, who by? Alvis, the tank's manufacturers? Here's an interesting thought. We all agree that some form of defence is necessary. Sad, but true. But why does the manufacture of the requisite weaponry have to be in private hands? No one in their right mind is thinking of privatising the army, so why should arms manufacturers be out to make a profit? Nationalise them, use them purely for national defence purposes, and this sort of thing can be avoided. And whilst we're at it, nationalising the leading drugs companies would prevent them from screwing the NHS, and allow further government medical research spending to be more efficiently planned and used, rather than huge swathes of profit going into the back pockets of shareholders.
Anyway, I digress. Robin Cook - not quite the saint he was made out. On the other hand, it seems Mr Tony has snubbed his funeral, so he must have done something right...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Pangur Ban

I liked this. Read it in Trinity College, when doing touristy things (looking at the Book of Kels exhibition, specifically...) Written by a 9th Century Irish monk in St Gallen, Switzerland, it's a poem called "Pangur Ban". And I have no particular reason for setting it down, either. Apart from, "Why not?"
Anyway, Pangur Ban:

I and Pangur Ban my cat
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than the praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will
He too plies his simple skill

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
Into hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light
I presume it wasn't written in English, but I've no idea who translated it.