Galloway humour

BBC Radio4 brought the news this morning that George Galloway has won the Bradford West bi-election in the UK.  He did so by shamelessly pandering to the local Muslim community, prompting some to say this is a foretaste of coming Islamization as Muslim minorities grow towards majorities 1. Others reckon it was his celebrity Big Brother appearance, but I doubt it 2.

Meanwhile his fellow left-wing radical,  Ken Livingston, is well analysed in a leader in The Times today 3:

Ken Livingstone is many things, but he is not a stupid person. Nor is he a stranger to political calculation….So adroit is he that he has sought to make an asset out of a weakness that has sunk lesser men: his inability to control his tongue. Through most of his career he has managed to retail this laxness as a charming refusal to dissemble. And his occasional gaffe or inappropriate act he has relabelled as an independent streak.

It is precisely this skill that makes his clash with London’s Jewish community so concerning. His relationship with Jews, never good even in the years before he was Mayor, has deteriorated to such an extent that a number of members of that community are withholding their support, even though they routinely vote Labour.

…There are two explanations for Mr Livingstone allowing himself to become embroiled in what seems an odd fight to pick. The first is that he genuinely has a problem with Jews and just cannot help himself.

…Yet awkward lack of familiarity with the sensitivities of others is hard to associate with Mr Livingstone. So a more troubling explanation presents itself. He is doing it on purpose. There are more than four times as many Muslims in London as there are Jews. Mr Livingstone may believe that he can divide and rule. He may have seen the impact that George Galloway has made with a similar strategy.

The beginnings of Mr Livingstone’s split with the Jewish community might lie in his long-held convictions, but his refusal to heal the division might be calculation of the sort that, to put it at its most gentle, he is certainly capable of. And his otherwise puzzling comments about homosexuality — that the Tory party is “riddled” with it — make more sense if viewed as part of a strategy to woo more religious Muslims.

This turns what would otherwise be a nasty squabble into an issue of importance to all London citizens and, indeed, beyond. A divisive politics that seeks to exploit tensions between religious groups for electoral gain would be a disaster, not just for the city but for the country. And it is to be hoped that Mr Livingstone will find it a disaster for him as well. Muslims value a united London, too.

You are rumbled Ken. The Galloway Gambit has worked very well in Bradford West, one of the most densely Muslim areas in Britain, but it will not work in London.

[Update: Must post these comments from The Times]

First up, this brilliant Leader from The Times:

It is probably only right, after his remarkable victory in the Bradford West by-election, to salute George Galloway’s indefatigability. This was an unexpected return to Parliament for the man who won Bethnal Green & Bow for his own Respect party in 2005, but who was thought to have ruined his political career by posing as a cat and lapping milk from the hands of the actress Rula Lenska in Celebrity Big Brother.

If only cat impersonations were the extent of Mr Galloway’s unfitness for office it might be possible to gloss over his victory in Bradford West. Unfortunately, the one thing that Mr Galloway is not is a pussy cat. His praise of Saddam Hussein in 2002, for the supposed dictatorial virtues of courage, strength and indefatigability, is notorious. He described the July 7 bombs in London as “not unpredictable”. President Assad of Syria was, in Mr Galloway’s estimation, “a breath of fresh air”.

So it is as someone with no understanding of irony that Mr Galloway described his by-election victory as “the Bradford Spring”. The electors of Bradford West ought to prepare themselves for representation of a fairly idle kind, if Mr Galloway’s record is anything to go by. The last time he was an MP, Mr Galloway managed to attend a full 8 per cent of votes in the House of Commons.

Worse than that, they have elected someone who has deliberately and dangerously exploited divisions between communities. Mr Galloway’s support for the tyrannous regimes in Iraq and Syria implies that he is prepared to avert his gaze from murder, torture and the systematic violation of the rights of citizens. They have also elected a man whose opposition to the conflict in Afghanistan seems to extend to an ambivalence even about armed attacks on British soldiers.

Beyond Mr Galloway himself, what are the wider implications at the end of a tumultuous week in British politics? Mr Galloway is a cat who prowls alone, a lone orator who attracts disciples, but he is not a man with the prowess to build a political movement. It is emphatically not true, as Mr Galloway claims, that “the people of Bradford have spoken this evening for people in inner cities everywhere”. There are few seats, if any at all, in which the politics of the far Left can combine with still sore grievances over the Iraq war.

Mr Galloway’s targeting of the Asian community, especially through its postal votes, was his tactic in Bradford, as it has been before in London. It appears to have inspired an unusually large turnout of 50 per cent. These are rare circumstances, so it would be wrong to leap to the conclusion that Bradford West was a thorough indictment of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. That said, a swing against Labour of 36 per cent is hardly a vote of confidence. It is no great commendation to preside over the first loss of a by-election by the official Opposition since 2000. The greater worry for Mr Miliband, however, is that when the Conservative vote collapses, as it did by 22 per cent, the malcontents are not going straight over to Labour. This appears, on a national scale, to be the lesson of the political movements of the week gone by.

In the longer run, Mr Galloway’s victory may illustrate a trend away from the two main political tribes. In 2010 Labour and the Conservatives gained 66 per cent of the vote, the lowest proportion since 1922. The Liberal Democrat vote has halved since 2010 but its vote is more concentrated than ever before. The stranglehold of the big parties is slipping and “other parties” are growing.

Mr Galloway will now begin another of his political lives. If his victory acts as an alarm bell to the mainstream parties, perhaps something will have been salvaged from this week. However, the discussion about kitchen supper, pasties and jerry cans has been put into proper perspective by the election to Parliament in Bradford West of a thoroughly undesirable Member.

Next, a wonderful opinion piece from David Aaronovitch:

In the small hours of yesterday morning George Galloway took to the stage in West Yorkshire and declared the “Bradford Spring” — an “uprising” of the ordinary people against the political establishment.

As ever with Mr Galloway, those who knew anything about him were impressed mostly by his shamelessness. This was the man who, as the Arab Spring got under way in Syria, continued to express his admiration for the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad as a man of “reforming zeal” possessed of “a vision of Syria as a genuinely independent Arab country”.

None of that had mattered to a majority of those who voted in the Bradford West by-election. If solidarity with oppressed Muslims abroad was part of the Galloway appeal, such fellow feeling clearly did not extend to the people of Homs. As it did not to those taking such risks for democracy in Iran — a country for whose state propaganda outfit, Press TV, Mr Galloway has in his time done much service.

So what did matter? Why have Bradfordians wound up with the slate-voiced pussy of the Big Brother house as their Member of Parliament? Asked about his victory and her party’s defeat on the radio yesterday morning, Harriet Harman referred several times to the “particular problems” of the constituency but declined to specify what these were. It seems to me, however, that such circumspection is unnecessary.

Mr Galloway would not have stood in Bradford West had it not contained a very substantial Muslim population. In the general election of 2005 he fought and won the seat of Bethnal Green & Bow. The Muslim population there was about 40 per cent and he won with 36 per cent of the vote. In 2010 he stood in Poplar, East London, where the Muslim community represents something above 33 per cent. There was no collapse in the Tory vote and Mr Galloway came third with 17 per cent.

He passed on all the previous by-elections in this parliament, standing only for the Scottish Parliament last May, where his party achieved a vote share of 3 per cent (the Muslim population of Glasgow is about 3 per cent, but most will have voted for other parties). Then along comes Bradford West, where the census of 2001 showed a Muslim community of about 38 per cent.

So Mr Galloway is a specialist targeter of British Muslim votes. The idea spread around by his Respect colleagues that his principal attraction was his anti-austerity stance doesn’t bear even cursory examination. And indeed in Bradford some of his appeal to the voters was couched in sectional and religious language unprecedented in the past 60 years of British politics. One of his leaflets began thus: “God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for.”

Further down Mr Galloway laid claim to leading the decent, pious life: “I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if you believe the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully.”

While readers pick themselves up off the floor, I should add that those who have followed Mr Galloway for years will smile at the omission of adultery from the list of vices he abjures. I should just add that almost no Galloway event or pronouncement is now complete without several invocations of “Allah” in one form or another.

To get an idea of the strangeness of this, try to imagine a campaign in Hendon South where the winning candidate addresses voters with the sentiment “G-d knows who is a Jew and who is not”, boasts to the electorate that he keeps kosher and then implies that his opponent has been spotted mixing milk and meat. Such religiosity is rarely seen in British politics, thank the Eternal One, the Lord of Hosts.

But why would Mr Galloway think such an approach would work? John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, wrote yesterday about campaigning in Toller ward in Bradford. “The 5 per cent of our target Labour promises who are white were rock solid,” he found, “but the 95 per cent of promises that were Asian names were rather different … probably not a Labour vote.”

Mr Mann analysed part of the failure. “What was particularly disconcerting was having no Muslim doorknockers, no Urdu speaker, no hijab-wearing woman talking to Muslim women voters. Indeed that abiding memory was of a terribly deprived area where Galloway supporters, often in traditional dress codes, rallied their voters.”

But the Labour candidate was also a Muslim — from Toller. What he couldn’t do, however, was what Mr Galloway is so good at — rousing popular anger at the Establishment (of which Labour is inevitably part) and playing on a sense of grievance and victimhood that is particular to some Muslim communities. The reason why Iraq, for instance, evokes a response but Mr Galloway’s backing for the killers of Muslims in Syria does not, is because it fits a narrative of Muslims being oppressed by outsiders. In a sense it creates an internal community solidarity that would otherwise be eroded by the modern condition of Britain.

Some of this may explain why Ken Livingstone has managed to have a run-in with some of London’s Jews. Not only has he been oddly insensitive to the Jewish community but at the same time he has courted Muslim opinion with a creepy assiduity. This culminated in his speech to the Finsbury Park mosque two weeks ago in which Ken promised to “educate the mass of Londoners” in the teachings of Islam. Speaking about Muhammad’s last sermon, he told the audience: “I want to spend the next four years making sure that every non-Muslim in London knows and understands [its] words and message.”

It may be that Ken has, unnoticed, made similar promises to Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Methodists, Mormons, Scientologists and everyone else about their prophets and gurus. But we doubts it, my Precious, don’t we, because we knows that there are no voteses in it.

Mr Galloway’s victory shows something else too that has nothing to do with communalism. As Ed Miliband pointed out, only 4 in 10 Bradford voters opted for the three main parties. When something else plausible and exciting comes along (even if it is only a dictator-loving retread demagogue), many, many voters would like to flirt with it.

And that’s why we have back in Parliament a man whose first tweet after the election read: “Long live Iraq. Long live Palestine, free, Arab, dignified.” Uninterested in domestic concerns, George Galloway is probably the first Arab Nationalist to be elected to the British Parliament. He is far too flawed and too unusual to be a harbinger of mass gallowayism. He is the florid symptom of a problem — the pustule, but not the disease.


  3. Behind a paywall –

Habituate yourself

I am really looking forward to reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. Its on my kindle, slowly making its way up the list. Here is an extract from an interview with Neurotribes:

In his provocative and brilliantly written new book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg — a reporter for the New York Times — pries open the box with the help of recent research and finds surprising good news: Even the most thoughtless and self-destructive cycles of behavior can be changed, if you understand how habits are formed and stored in memory.

Duhigg breaks down the sequence of ritualized behavior (which he calls the habit loop ) into three component parts: the cue, the routine , and the reward . The cue is the trigger that sets the sequence in motion. Perhaps it’s a certain time of day when you tell yourself it’s time for your daily chocolate-chip cookie (that was Duhigg’s particular jones). Perhaps it’s email from your boss that makes you want to dash out for another smoke. Perhaps it’s the chiming bells and flashing lights of a crowded casino, designed to make a room full of incremental losers look like winners who are hitting jackpots all the time. The routine is the behavior itself, which can be positive (like a daily running habit) or harmful (like gambling away the family savings). And the third part is the reward — the goal of the behavioral loop, which your brain’s pleasure centers gauge to determine if a sequence of behavior is worth repeating and storing in a lockbox of habit.

A pint of butterfat and sugar with a Ben and Jerry’s label, a spurt of oxytocin when you see that @jayrosen_nyu or @ebertchicago has retweeted you, that tingling in your legs after a strenuous workout, the numbing rush of a fix, the first puffs of an American Spirit… it’s all the same to the basal ganglia, four lumps of gray matter in the forebrain that encode highly rewarding behavior for easy repetition.

Though routinized behavior is often framed in terms of the problems it can cause, Duhigg points out that habit formation is an evolutionarily keen strategy for managing the limited throughput of our conscious awareness. If we couldn’t even brush our teeth or drive without having to ponder the nuances of every action, our brains would require more real estate in decision-making areas like the prefrontal cortex. One advantage of “chunking” behavior into automatic sequences stored in memory — Duhigg tells us in a typically enlightening aside — is that our skulls can be smaller, ensuring that more mothers survive giving birth. Darwin FTW.

But when you become a slave of your most destructive habit loops — blowing through the last of the family credit at Harrah’s, or watching yourself down another half-dozen martinis like a hipster robot, though you know it’s wrecking your marriage — it’s time to make a change. Duhigg explains why our usual way of tackling the problem — telling ourselves “I’ve got to quit doing this, now! ” and berating ourselves when we don’t — is often doomed to failure. Then he maps out a more effective path toward enduring habit change that focuses not on trying to scrap the routine all at once, but on becoming aware of the cues and manipulating the rewards. The encouraging news is that success in making modest alterations in behavior (which Duhigg calls “small wins”) creates a ripple effect into other areas of your life. Sometimes the most effective way to quit smoking might be to start walking the ten blocks to the office every other day instead of taking the subway. Small wins beget larger ones.


The brute is dead

I am seldom happy to hear about someone being dead, but I am happy to hear that Mohamed Merah, terrorist , traitor and child murderer, is dead.

Just look at that ugly face. The grinning thug, now dead, attacked children. To purposefully murder children in cold blood is the worst of all crimes, although I would wish him dead for the killing of the soldiers too.

He shot a wounded little boy as he crawled away wounded from his dead father and brother.

This is one of the dead victims, 8 year old Miriam Monsonego:

The  held her by her hair to shoot her in the head:

Eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego clutched her satchel as the killer chased her through the school gates and into the courtyard. He pulled her towards him by her hair and raised a gun to shoot her.

The video footage appears to show that, at that moment, his gun jammed.

But determined to carry out his killing spree, he kept hold of the girl, changed weapons from what police identified as a 9-mm pistol to a .45 calibre weapon, and delivered a shot to her temple at point blank range. (Daily Telegraph)

I am glad he is dead, desperately sorry for the families and friends of the murdered, the latest victims of the despicable Islamist way of war.

I cannot image the pain of that mother. her husband and sons murdered, alone with her 10 month old baby.

Now round up  Merah’s accomplices and let them face justice now that the brute is dead.

Civilization building kit

Sci-Fi author David Brin links to a great project – Open Source Ecology  :

Following the DIY “maker” trend, one ad-hoc group is producing open source modular plans to the 50 different industrial machines necessary to build a civilization — or at least provide a self-sustaining village with basic comforts. The basic fifty include: backhoe, bulldozer, baler, wind turbine, cement mixer, electric motor, steam engine, dairy milker, baker oven, aluminum extractor from clay, and bioplastic extruder, among others. The more complicated ones build upon the simpler ones. In northern Missouri, they have used their compressed brick press and tractor to build a manufacturing facility to construct more models.

The founder, Marchin Jabukowski (TED Senior Fellow) is a Physics Ph.D., who dropped out to work on this project. His orientation is post-scarcity society rather than disaster, but if one were wanting to create a generalized resiliency rather than prepare for specific movie scenario plots, it would be a good place to start. See his TED talk: Open Sourced Blueprints for Civilization .

And now, Open Source Ecology is teaming with WikiSpeed to build an open source, modular, configurable car with high fuel efficiency that meets U.S. safety standards.

The 2012 hippies are making everyone jumpy about societal collapse and the collapsitarian movement is still growing. Just yesterday I got a memo from Neil “The Game” Strauss with 13 hacks to survive a disaster.

I am not immune. I track this stuff….


Imagining Life Without Oil, and Being Ready – NY Times

Apocalypse Ciao: Let the End Times Roll – Mother Jones

Debt and the story of civilisation

Last Autumn, whilst rumbling across Belgrade on one of the city’s ancient trams, I listened to an interview on Tech Nation  with Anthropologist David Graeber , about his book “Debt: The First 5,000 Years“.

It is undoubtedly of of the best podcasts I heard last year.

The type of debt and financial structures that a civilisation adopts will dictate its fate.

Listen to the podcast for a quick but thorough introduction to the ideas in the book.

Here is an interview with the author on Naked Capitalism.

Bookforum also has fine review.

Neuroanthropology blog has a very details and brilliant overview.An excerpt, addressing one of the most interesting parts of Graeber’s thesis:

Graeber suggests that the ‘language of debt’ is a ‘moral’ one, not just an economic one. I would also add that we are told that debt default is an apocalyptic scenario, more dangerous than gutting social programs, disinvesting in infrastructure, making health care inaccessible, and bringing about all the slow moving catastrophes that often accompany austerity programs designed to increase states’ ability to pay their debts.

What makes Graeber’s analysis so interesting is that, because of his extensive historical research, he can actually trace how the current economic cosmology of debt arose, and point to periods when debt threatened to cause similar crises.  Specifically, he argues that the fluctuation historically back and forth between debt-backed or credit money (as we’ve essentially had since 1971) and bullion or commodity-backed money, is accompanied by larger shifts in patterns of warfare, slavery and debt bondage. Specifically, Graeber suggests that the expansion of debt is part and parcel of a virtual money system, one that has been dealt with before in human history. – Neuroanthropology blog

For another round up of links and videos, see  Book of the year: Debt (2011) by David Graeber

Coincidentally, David Brin recently blogged about Robert Wright’s new book “Nonzero” . In it he completely agrees with Graeber that the super rich are at war with the rest of us (also a view shared by Essential Intelligence ).

Go read one of the most important books in the past twenty years, Robert Wright’s Nonzero . Our entire Enlightenment Experiment has been about positive sum games. Open-competitive Economic Markets, Science, Democracy… these are all examples of systems set up to harness competition and produce positive sum results for all.
Alas, there are forces in human nature that always trend toward ruination of such systems. Winners tend not to want to compete as hard, next time, so they use their wealth and power to cheat! It is called oligarchy; the very thing that wrecked markets and democracy and science in all past cultures. Every single last one of them.

Except ours… but not without a struggle in every generation. Today, capitalism isn’t the enemy; it is the #1 victim of an ongoing attempted coup by oligarchs – who are only doing what humans are programmed to do, when tempted by feudal privilege.  If liberals would only read the “First Liberal” — Adam Smith — and realize this, they might drop both the left and right and stand up for the balanced market that emphasizes small business, startups and brash-competitive creativity, instead of monopoly, corporatism, state-paternalism and aristocracy.

Heck, if our ancestors could stand up and save the Enlightenment during their crises… so can we.



“Whether the “bad guy” was the United States or one of its allies, the attack was causing…”

“Whether the “bad guy” was the United States or one of its allies, the attack was causing collateral damage to thousands of systems, and Symantec felt no patriotic duty to preserve its activity. “We’re not beholden to a nation,” Chien said. “We’re a multinational, private company protecting customers.””

Eric Chien, Technical director of Symantec Security Response

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