Monthly Archives: April 2013

Ding! Dong! The Witch has Gone!

Thatcher

Those people who are against the Thatcher protestors and the public outcry about spending 10 million of public money on her funeral might want to consider the following points:-

The typical justification coming from the right for spending around ten million pounds of public money on Thatcher’s funeral is that whatever you think of her politics she was still a very strong leader who fought for her country, changed so many things, and had the courage and conviction to stand up for what she believed in.

Well Hitler was all those things as well. He possessed a determination for making his country great, he stood up for what he believed in, and was certainly a game changer, and in some respects even a remarkable person (I mean this in a pejorative sense of course). I am not directly comparing Margaret Thatcher to Hitler (not quite anyway) but just making the point that these qualities in themselves can’t be used to justify spending so much on Thatcher’s funeral. None of these things change the fact that she was a hugely divisive figure who caused a considerable amount of suffering in Britain during her reign as prime minister, and succeeded in destroying entire communities, many of whom have never fully recovered since. And for those who are complaining that some of the protesters are too young to remember Thatcher, so therefore are unable to form a valid opinion on the matter – well I was not even around during the period of apartheid, and Hitler died before I was even born. But my opinion of him is still valid, as is my opinion of apartheid.

It is very easy to use the above kind of reasoning if you have no problems with what she did. But if you or your family are amongst those who suffered so much at the hands of her barbaric policies, or even if you like me, simply have a strong sense of social justice, then the justification used above for spending so much on her funeral somehow falls well short of the mark.

Before I go on let me tell you a bit about myself and my family background. My father left school and went straight into an apprenticeship, thereafter securing a rewarding career in engineering up until the mid-eighties, where partly as a result of Thatcher’s policies he was made redundant from the engineering company where he then worked. After a relatively short period of time of going from one menial job to another he decided to invest most of his redundancy pay in setting up a business. This led to him establishing a successful business within a year or two of his redundancy, where he carried on working well into his sixties until he was forced to retire because of my mother’s failing health. Thankfully he fared somewhat better than some of his former colleagues at the engineering firm, some of whom ended up taking their own lives as a result of not being able to find work after being made redundant.

As for me, I have done pretty ok myself. While still being a few pounds shy of making my first million I have nonetheless managed to get by ok financially. I didn’t do so great at school, but moved to Plymouth at 18 and shortly thereafter became a student, starting off doing a National Diploma in Electrical & Electronic Engineering at the Plymouth College of Further Education and then going on to university to do a degree or two, one of which was in Computer Engineering. And I did all this concurrently with working around 30 hours a week, doing a combination of early morning cleaning, working evenings in a restaurant, and eventually building up my own window cleaning round as well (I was so knackered as a result I ended up sleeping through most of my lectures, and had a reputation for disturbing other students with my frequent snores). I now earn a living doing a combination of part time work in restaurants and software design on a freelance basis (primarily by using project4hire and similar online resources).

The point I am basically making is that I am a hard-working and reasonably ambitious individual who comes from a similarly hard working family background. But the problem is this. I do, despite all this, have a strong sense of social justice. And this is where I start to have a problem with Margaret Thatcher and her politics.

Even many people on the right concede to the fact she got some things wrong, but frankly it is hard to see what she got right. Many benefitted from her ‘right to buy policy’ where they were able to buy their own council houses. From a personal point of view the people who benefitted from this policy are perhaps justified in feeling a degree of gratitude for what Thatcher did for them. But this policy had an ideological underpinning. She did not believe in the principle of social housing. And from a long term pragmatic point of view this policy has not ended up working for the benefit of wider society. As a result of selling off council houses at knockdown prices many properties eventually ended up in the hands of private investors. Ultimately the welfare bill has gone up as a result because many poorer people have been forced into the private housing sector where they are now claim housing benefit for extortionate amounts of rent.

What else did she do? Ah yes, she privatized all the utility companies, which is why we in the UK are now being fleeced by German and French utility companies, and can no longer afford to heat our homes and eat properly as well. Many are forced between one or the other, including many elderly people!

Also don’t forget it was the politics of Reagan and Thatcher that resulted in so much deregulation of the financial institutions, something that has only recently been exposed for what it truly was – extremely misguided policy making!

Barack Obama has just praised Thatcher for being “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty.” I was somewhat shocked to hear a politician I respect so much make such a statement. Perhaps his knowledge is somewhat sketchy on the amount of suffering she caused in the UK during her reign of prime minister. I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this one since I still believe his heart is ideologically in the right place. I am not confused however as to why Thatcher is so popular in America per se, a country that is traditionally quite conservative (although thankfully that is all starting to shift now with the demographic changes that are currently taking place across America). It is interesting how American’s frequently use terms such as ‘freedom’ in such a euphemistic fashion, basically to disguise the true sponsoring thought behind this term – a ‘survival of the fittest each man for himself’ mode of politics. By extending their logic further we could conclude that if we want even more freedom then we could also do away with law and order, and hence save the taxpayer even more money. Indeed why have legislation at all? Isn’t having all those pesky laws about not being able to just do as we please at someone else’s expense encroaching on people’s personal freedom?

Margaret Thatcher was overtly bedazzled by the free market model of economics and laissez-faire politics. A staunch believer in Adam Smith’s invisible hand (invisible because it doesn’t exist) she naturally believed in the trickledown theory. And most of her policies reflected this mindset. And the trickledown theory is probably one of the most discredited theories of all time.

Margaret Thatcher basically destroyed manufacturing in this country, ruined entire communities, and inflated and deregulated the financial sector, encouraging a era of greed and an ‘every man for himself’ culture. This is the legacy of Thatcher. And we still live with it today.

At the time of me writing this post the music track ‘Ding Dong! The witch is dead!’ has just reached the midweek top ten, sparking outcries that the record should be banned on radio and music TV stations. Even more outrageous is the talk of police now potentially having the powers to pre-emptively arrest people ahead of Thatcher’s funeral for things they have not actually done! (Remind anyone of a certain Hollywood film starring Tom Cruise?)

We are about to spend in the tune of ten million pounds of tax payers money on her funeral! This for many people is just rubbing their faces in it. At the very least let these people have their protests. And at the very very least do not pre-emptively arrest these people for things they haven’t actually done yet on the basis that they might do something at some point in the future. At least give people that much respect!

Anyway I have to go now in order to download ‘Ding! Dong! The witch is Dead!”

It’s a great tune isn’t it?

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My Review of the New Sci-fi Movie: Oblivion

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I rushed out to see the premier showing of this movie as a result of being impressed with the promising looking trailers for the film. My initial fears of a somewhat hollow movie (remember Tron Legacy from the same director a few years ago) fortunately turned out to be completely unfounded.

Kosinski’s directorial debut – Tron Legacy – was somewhat of a disappointment, particularly considering the acting behemoth at his disposal by the name of Jeff Bridges, the ample budget to thrift away on visual wizardry, and the most exhilarating of musical scores by Daft Punk. But alas, it turned out to be a classic case of style and aesthetics over substance. In Kosiniski’s defence however he did not write the script for Tron Legacy, one of the key elements which let the movie down so much (along with the piss poor dialogue). He did however co-write the screenplay for this movie. And it was not found wanting by any stretch of the imagination.

Before watching this movie I checked out a few online reviews as I normally do before watching these kinds of films. The first one I stumbled across was a review written by a journalist from the Guardian broadsheet. It reads: “A bafflingly solemn, lugubrious and fantastically derivative sci-fi…..with little snippets of Top Gun.” What!!! What is this guy on? Did he actually watch the right movie? Perhaps he accidentally saw GI Joe or something by mistake. I would have expected such a comment from someone who writes for a right wing newspaper, but the Guardian is actually a left wing paper (I know – I double checked just to be sure.)

It is near impossible nowadays to make any sci-fi movie that bears absolutely zero resemblance, visually or with respect to plot references, to any sci-fi movie that went before it. However a good sci-fi movie will have enough of its own ideas and original plot line to bring genuine surprise and suspense to an audience. And this movie meets this criteria with flying colours. In addition to the suspenseful plot line, solid lead role by Tom Cruise, and incredible visuals, there is plenty of atmosphere too. And not only are the visuals very impressive but they are also very innovative, as one might expect from a former visionary architect.

And the fact that Joseph Kosinski is a former architect really shines through in the gorgeous aesthetic design of this film (as it did in some respects with Tron Legacy too). Aside from the amazing computer generated effects there is lots of stunning cinematography (I’m pretty sure of Iceland) that has clearly been computer enhanced (courtesy of Photoshop I think).

From the trailers I was already expecting the film to be quite spectacular on a visual level, and in that respect it certainly didn’t disappoint. But in terms of quality of plot this film far exceeded my expectations. In no way does this film resemble a typical summer blockbuster pop corn movie. Whilst the film admittedly does not demand huge amounts of grey matter to comprehend what is going on, it does nonetheless have a lot of soul to it. And there are some great plot twists to boot. I certainly don’t see how anyone could legitimately complain this film is too predictable.

Without question the best movie of the year so far (for what that is worth). I would have loved to see this in IMAX (or even 3-D wouldn’t have been bad). But even on a plain old fashioned 2-D screen this movie impacts hugely on a visual level.

This is my favourite genre of film – a sci-fi with soul!

The Crisis in North Korea

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America has wisely delayed testing a nuclear missile in response to the growing tensions in North Korea. This has been criticized by some people who are concerned this gesture is showing ambiguity to North Korea, potentially causing confusion about how strong America’s resolve is to respond to future acts of aggression from Kim Jong-Un and his political regime. The people who criticize this attempt by America to de-escalate the growing tensions in North Korea are mostly the same people who glibly point out the dire consequences to North Korea should such an act of aggression take place, making comments such as: “If North Korea launch any attack on US bases or South Korea, within minutes there will be a massive crater where North Korea used to be.”

I seriously doubt however whether anyone, including the leadership of North Korea, is under any illusion that a pre-emptive strike against American bases or South Korea would effectively be an act of suicide. It is virtually certain that Kim Jong-Un is not genuinely trying to provoke a full blown conflict. But he might nonetheless be capable of acts of irrationality if he is backed into a corner. Or he mistakenly backs himself into a corner. If his credibility as leader of North Korea is seriously compromised in any way his own life will potentially be in jeopardy, as his generals are liable to turn against him. Also the survival of the leading political regime in North Korea depends in part on keeping up the charade of standing up to the foreign imperialist powers who want nothing more than to invade North Korea at a moment’s notice and exploit it for commercial gain.

So acts of apparent irrationality are entirely possible should the situation continue to escalate much further. With nothing left to lose their natural instinct will be to take as many people down as they possibly can before they go down themselves. And they are well capable of doing this. They do after all have weapons of mass destruction (albeit with a limited range of delivery) which would potentially inflict massive damage to South Korea, local US bases and possibly neighbouring countries.

The political regime in North Korea sustains power by perpetuating the myth that the North Korean people’s own suffering is inextricably linked to the oppressive outside imperialist powers, and these powers present an ongoing threat to North Korea as an independent state. Without doubt the North Korean government is well capable of using propaganda tactics to perpetuate the greatly exaggerated perception of an almost continually ongoing threat of invasion by foreign imperialist powers. But their job has unquestionably been made easier by the aggressive foreign policies of America. Still fresh in the mind of many is the fact that 80% of the infrastructure of their country was destroyed by American bombing during the 1950-53 Korean war. Saturation bombing flattened 18 of 22 major cities in North Korea and resulted in over one and a half million civilian casualties (something like 20% of the population of the country). The memory of this is still fresh in the minds of many North Korean people, and has the effect of adding credibility to the propaganda spouted by the North Korean political regime that imperialist powers want to invade their country, and therefore North Korea need to take steps to avert this.

They have also in recent times witnessed America invading countries such as Iraq, ostensibly to protect themselves from the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but in reality for very different reasons. After 9/11 the Bush administration began to suggest that Saddam Hussein was in leagues with al-Qaeda, and was likely to try and supply them with weapons of mass destruction to attack America with. The reality however was that Saddam was a secular Arab nationalist who dealt harshly with Islamists in Iraq. So this allegation was never particularly likely. And the intelligence supporting the claim that Saddam had WMDs was hardly worth the paper it was written on. Much of this intelligence was compiled under considerable pressure and duress from warmongering politicians who had already formed the firm intention to invade Iraq anyway, a country of considerable strategic importance to America. It may appear that the mess left behind after the war, and all the internal conflicts that ensued, were not at all anticipated by the Bush administration prior to invading the country. But upon reflection it is not altogether clear how this could have been the case. Iraq was a somewhat artificial country created by the British at the end of the Second World War out of part of the Ottoman Empire. There were Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the centre and Shiites in the south, an uneasy cohabitation Saddam held together by ruthless oppression. This of course does not justify that ruthless oppression, but it is highly implausible these facts were not factored in by the analysts who were advising the Bush administration during the period of preparation to invade Iraq. The welfare of Iraq after the conflict however was unlikely a high priority of the Bush administration.

Not only this but America propped up and supported brutal dictators in several South American countries during the years of the cold war, many of whom oppressed and tortured their own people. America also helped to displace democratically elected leaders, leading in some cases to brutal dictators taking their place. In 1950 the people of Iran elected a secular democrat as prime minister. He instantly nationalized British and American oil companies, therefore returning Iran’s oil to its people. As a direct consequence of this in 1953 the British and American governments organized a military coup which resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected government and reinstalled a Shah (unelected dictator) as leader of Iran. This led to years of ruthless oppression, poverty and torture.

But why does this division of the Korean peninsula exist in the first place? When the Second World War ended the Russians occupied the North and Americans the South. It was essentially like the history of Germany all over again. And of course the same situation occurred in Vietnam. The Russians set up a Communist government in their zone and in the South the Americans set up an anti-communist government. Then both the Russians and Americans cleared out and left them to it. What happened next? Each government naturally had the instinct of reuniting the country under their own political systems, constantly regarding the other side with great suspicion. When the North eventually invaded the South in June 1950 there was a general perception by Washington policy makers that this represented a much wider threat. They completely failed to see it for what it was. The reality was that this was a localized civil war created from the divisions caused by the allied countries occupying the Korean peninsula at the end of the Second World War. Washington policy makers however interpreted this event as communist expansion directed by the Kremlin, so embarked on a long term policy of ‘containment’ (a somewhat euphemistic term). It is this very thinking that also caused the Americans to intervene in Vietnam about ten years on from this, with correspondingly horrific consequences.

It is perhaps unfair to categorize America as being an aggressive imperialist power in the same sense that historically world powers have tended to be imperialist. This is undoubtedly an exaggerated view. But nonetheless there has unquestionably been imperialist elements to American foreign policy from time to time. The current policy of trying to diffuse the North Korean crisis by postponing nuclear missile tests is refreshing to see, and indicates that Washington policy makers may have cottoned on to the fact that sending nuclear capable stealth and B2 bombers to take part in South Korean training exercises has made the situation worse and resulted in increased tensions in North Korea.

It may be true that if North Korea launched a pre-emptive strike against South Korea and US bases there will be “a massive crater where North Korea used to be”, but this is not an outcome that anyone wants. The North Korean people are innocent victims in this crisis as well. They do not deserve to be vaporized simply because they believe the propaganda being fed to them by their ruling elite. And it should be remembered the colossal damage North Korea would likely inflict before they are themselves destroyed.

Some people feel that appeasing North Korea will not produce a desirable outcome. However backing North Korea into a corner will not produce a desirable outcome either. Let’s hope Washington policy makers continue their current trend of trying to diffuse the situation. And let us all be thankful the Bush administration is no longer in power in America!