Friday, November 29, 2002


I have been looking for the (free) full version of Christopher Hitchens' interview in Salon magazine which I was told was one of the clearest explanations of his critique of the US left. I have finally found it - "The Left's Odd Man Out - well, well worth a read indeed.

I have to say Hitchens hits the mark pretty much throughout. I am no expert on the US left but frankly his points apply just as much to the UK Left who showed a total lack of interest in mass murder in the Balkans, clerical fascism in Afghanistan and human rights in Iraq or Kurdistan because they were afraid to maybe find themselves on the same side as people who they disagree with about other issues.

After 9-11 some like the appalling Socialist Workers Party , who are the biggest group on the so-called radical left in the UK, even refused to condemn the terror attacks. "That is what the imperialists want us to do," they said. Presumably they wouldn't stop someone mugging an old woman in the street because "that is what the police want us to do"?

The attitude of some on the left to that atrocity at first angered me and then embarassed me. I remember sat in a traffic jam in Italy on September 13 listening to a phone-in show on the left-wing Radio Populare as a series of listeners began their calls with "Of course it was terrible what happened with the World Trade Centre, but look at American foreign policy". It reminded me of people who say "I am not a racist but..." you hear those first words and you know what is coming.

Thankfully an old woman rang in and put these loons to rights - "the fascists opposed US foreign policy did we call for no action against them?"

In fact it has got worse in Britain. The SWP lead the Stop The War Coalition, originally set up to oppose any attempt to take out the Taliban and al-Quada but now it seems a permanent committee against any attempt to deal with dictatorship and reaction. Their last 'anti-war' march saw them team-up with the Muslim Association of Britain, which openly declares itself as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamic-fundamentalist party in the Arab world.

There has been the pathetic sight of Islamic clerics leading the call to prayer while sharing platforms with various left speakers. Islamic fundamentalists, who have no qualms about supporting those who have murdered and tortured socialists and communists around the world, have turned out to hurl anti-semitism and crude anti-Americanism with barely a whimper of protest from the left. Are these people really against war? Is blowing up schoolkids on a bus not an act of war?

Can you imagine if a Christian Fundamentalists Against the War turned out yelling anti-jewish and anti-Islamic slogans in the centre of London? To a secular socialist there shouldn't be the slightest difference - both are utterly reactionary and stand against everything socialists should believe in.

And now we have the Iraq situation. I really am not sure what these ultra-left groups are protesting about at the moment. Are they seriously against sending UN weapons inspectors to see what arsenal this scumbag has developed? That is all that has happened so far and with the support of the world.

Of course no-one on the left would support carpet bombing Baghdad and no-one would want to see Saddam replaced with another military dictator. But as believers in human rights, justice and social progress I would assume all socialists would like to see the bastard out and replaced with a popularly elected government. I can't see how any socialist could oppose that?

If the Iraqi opposition can be given a hand in liberating their country then great. If it has a destablising effect on other countries, like Saudia Arabia then even better - socialists want the transformation of societies, we like destablising things - those who are against destablising or regime change are called conservatives even if they are waving red flags.

If the left wants to make a difference, if the left really cares about Iraqi people, it should be urging their governments to work as closely as possible with the Iraqi and Kurdish opposition and seek to give real practical support to them. That is the real way to avoid a 'cowboy solution' in Iraq.


posted by BA on 2:11 PM

I came across this article, Bloggers of the Left Unite! copied from the New Statesman (which doesn't put its stories free online) which seems to back up my earlier thoughts and has much more detail on how the right have gained the upper-hand in Blogland and how we on the left have yet to respond in kind.

It is written by James Crabtree runs two blogs: and

I have also started some links to some newspaper commentators who I enjoy reading. Lefty visitors from Sectarian Worker should not assume that this means I support all their views - I just think they have interesting things to say.

posted by BA on 6:33 AM link

The Indendent's Robert Fisk is one of those journalists that the anti-Israeli left in the UK and US like - his stories are always popping up on anti-war and 'anti-zionist' lists and websites - so his view of al-Qaida's latest atrocity and their overall strategy is particularly interesting.

"The suicide bombers surely hoped for a far greater death toll: 28 November was intended to be Israel's 11 September, with a list of 300 or 400 dead.....Do not believe for a moment that al-Qa'ida strategists haven't looked at targets in Britain"

Robert Fisk: Elusive Bin Laden still has the global reach to strike terror at will

posted by BA on 2:33 AM link

Andrew Murray's fine writing is usually restricted to the Morning Star but he is given a platform today in the Guardian where he takes full advantage with an excellent summing up of the firefighters strike.

"After five years of a Labour government, the firefighters speak for millions tired of waiting for social justice. Between them and the axis of privilege that controls Britain today, Blair has made his choice. He no longer floats above classes and competing interests as a national arbiter. That myth has been this class war's first casualty."

posted by BA on 2:17 AM link

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


I do like a good political stunt, even when carried out by silly middle class people who are into 'street theatre' (you know the kind you scurry past as quick as you can during the Edinburgh festival?).

Let's face it, throwing eggs and splattering fake blood is just so passe these days and so fair do's to this group of pacifists for at least finding an original way to make their point.

posted by BA on 5:37 PM link

I had a good chuckle at this story in the Guardian this morning on the new slogan of the North West Regional Development Agency -- It's Grim Down South!.

(Having moaned about not getting the jokes on American sites, I should point out to the Stateside visitors that the phrase "It's Grim Up North" has long been used by southerners as a derogatory way to describe the industrial regions of Lancashire and Yorkshire. So this new slogan is irony, OK?! )

Being a good-humoured bunch, Northerners have long since 'reclaimed' the phrase Its Grim Up North of course - take a look at what the strange pop group The Justified Ancients of Mumu did a few years ago - and the reaction of a Northern politician.

Apart from the rather dodgy "selling point" of lower labour costs in the North-West, the list of benefits to businesses in relocating to the region, pointed out by the NWRDA to the Confederation of British Industry conference in Manchester, is pretty impressive - cheaper rent, cheaper child care, less transport hassle etc - and I can think of another that might make more of a real impact on the decision-makers - better beer.

Just an idea for Tony - if he is so keen on cutting, sorry modernising, public services why not move the government up North?

Fat chance though, as apparently the PM, who pretends to be a Northerner occassionaly, recently described our great tourist resort Blackpool, venue for Labour Party conferences for decades, as "not very New Labour" - and people wonder why it is still so popular?

posted by BA on 2:13 AM link

Tuesday, November 26, 2002


I've added three more food links over on the right and just a brief word about why. First of all Gambero Rosso is the definitive source on modern Italian cooking and also has an excellent guide on where to eat when you are in Italy - they produce a magazine, a restaurant guide and a television channel in Italian but the website has an ample English language section.

Secondly there is the official Gary Rhodes website - now I know some people will raise eyebrows at promoting the site of a TV celebrity chef but one thing I do like about Rhodes is that he has a very unpretentious attitude to food and above all he values the importance of local produce and champions the renewal of British cuisine. There is a big difference between renewing British food and abandoning it all together for the latest international fads. Rhodes's approach is basically how to make the old favourites healthier, tastier and better-looking.

In contrast to that I have added a link to June Meyer's Authentic Hungarian Heirloom Recipe book. For family reasons I eat a lot of Hungarian food and am trying in vain to introduce the Rhodes approach to Magyar cuisine. June, however, is from the old school and presents the recipes to all the good old Hungarian heartstoppers - where else could you find a recipe for Jellied Pigs Feet?

posted by BA on 7:39 AM link

It seems the world of blogs is rather like the early Internet – made by Americans for Americans.

Searching for political blogs, certainly, leads you to all manner of well-produced, highly-opinionated US blogs and you have to quickly remind yourself that left means liberal and liberal means left not soggy centre as in Britain.

Some of the US blogs though are great and the link to the Lefty Directory in my Republic of Blogs section on the right will take you to some of the best US lefty blogs.

While I am interested in US politics and media, the blog experience just isn’t the same for the outside reader. It is not that Americans can’t be funny (some of my best friends are funny Americans) but reading the blog we don’t really get the joke most of the time. We don’t share the same points of reference, we don’t know who the hated right-wing talk show host is.

It is a matter of time but I think that as with the net in general, Europe and the UK will catch up with the US in blogland – but we should get cracking.

Alister Black produces a good weblog from Scotland called Perspective . Alister is a member of Tommy Sheridan’s Scottish Socialist Party and whatever you think of the politics, the SSP are at least the only party in the British Isles to have a party news weblog, (another Alister project). I don’t see why campaign groups and others can’t follow suit – it is a great way to communicate directly with people.

From the other end of the political spectrum Conservative Commentary is another example of how the medium can be used by a political individual. A simple design, ample links to all manner of conservative stuff on the web and a regularly updated main blog make this a lively site for British conservatives. The key to it though is well-written and well-argued opinion from the blogger himself. Surely others could follow suit and I can't believe that no-one from the Labour Party, the Lib Dems or fringe parties can manage to put together a blog.

Political debate via mailing lists and discussion boards has become a disaster - dominated by dogmatic extremists of the left and right - surely blogging is a way to create a more sane political debate on the net?

Of course if you spot any decent political or current affairs sites from the UK or Europe then click here and send me a mail.

posted by BA on 2:35 AM


In the Guardian today George Monboit presents quite a bizarre view on the Iraq situation. He says that a US-UK war against Baghdad would be unjust but then says he would support military action by others "without imperial ambitions” to topple Saddam. Hmmm.

At least Monboit suggests, unlike many on the left, that toppling Saddam is a good idea but I think he has unconsciously revealed the main motive of many in the ‘anti-war’ camp – simplistic anti-Americanism.

He does make one good point – whether the war will be just or not depends on whether the US administration is interested in supporting democracy after Saddam or whether they would back another military dictator. That is the crux of the matter.

Actually the recent record of post military-intervention government’s is pretty good. Bosnia and Serbia both have democratically elected government’s and Kosovo has not been handed over to KLA thugs as some suggested it would – even Afghanistan has gone relatively smoothly.

Monboit’s view reminds me of the position many on the left took about the Yugoslav conflicts – yes to an EU military intervention, yes to a UN military intervention but no, no to the only people who were ever going to actually carry out a serious campaign to stop Milosevic. But he is right that it would be good to get a clearer indication about the post-Saddam game-plan.

Article here

posted by BA on 2:31 AM link

Monday, November 25, 2002


Medialens is an interesting site which claims to be about "correcting the distorted vision of the corporate media".

That sounds fair enough but a quick browse reveals that it is closely linked to Znet and anyone who has read Z Magazine will know they therefore only want to correct certain distortions that don't fit into their world view. I used to like a lot of the stuff on Znet but it has taken some appalling positions in the wake of September 11 and at times veers towards conspiracy theory. It produces the kind of condescending, know-it-all, liberal-left orthodoxy that I think needs to be challenged if we are to reconstruct something useful out of the left.

At Medialens then the likes of Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk and John Pilger, who of course have all produced some outstanding journalism, but certainly have an agenda especially in the Middle East, are not subjected to correction or scrutiny of any distortions that may appear in their writings -- these journalists are untouchable. Why is that?

I am all for accuracy in the media and for debate. But Medialens, who try to operate as a self-styled media watchdog for a particular part of the left, seem to me to discourage debate and encourage the adoption of a single world view.

For example, 'heretics' on the left such as Nick Cohen of the Observer, who has had the temerity to suggest Iraqis might be better off without Saddam Hussein, are roundly denounced and readers encouraged to complain to the bosses of individual journalists - which I find a bit snitchy.

I find myself agreeing with the comments of Andrew Marr, political editor of the BBC who when solicited for his views on the site said "I'm afraid I think it is just pernicious and anti-journalistic. I note that you advertise an organisation called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting so I guess at least you have a sense of humour. But I don't think I will bother with 'MediaLens' next time, if you don't mind."

Make up your own mind:


posted by BA on 2:01 AM

Ever since I moved to Italy I have been developing an interest in cooking, taking advantage of the fantastic fresh ingredients avaliable here. Initially I wanted to try out Italian cooking but I have since tried to apply the same principles (and many of the same ingredients) to British favourites. There are no shortage of recipe sites on the web and a good place to start is Hub UK which has a lot of its own material as well as a great collection of links. It is more of a food portal than a simple site. Via Hub UK I came across the excellent Italian Cooking Forever which has recipes for all the Italian standards and a few you might not know.

posted by BA on 1:00 AM link

Sunday, November 24, 2002


There are obviously plenty of stories in the media about the firefighters strike but you can't get better than the horse's mouth and so the FBU site is well worth a regular look and they have a mailing list strike bulletin to keep you informed of their side of the story.

It is a sorry sight to see a former trade unionist like Deputy PM John Prescott in the position he is in now and clearly there are a lot of ordinary Labour Party members who are not at all impressed by the way the government has handled the dispute so far. Personally I think it is time for an across the board public service pay review to deal with the gross income inequalities which exist between the public and private sector.

Mark Seddon the editor of Tribune wrote a good piece in Saturday's Guardian on what the handling of the strike says about New Labour: "New Labour promised "partnership in power". Yet the partnership between the unions, which still fund it, and the shrinking and ageing party that watches impotently from the sidelines, has been thrown into stark relief by the threat to break picket lines by force, and by recent policy pronouncements that are antithetical to established Labour principles."

I have a firefighter in my family and wish him and all his collegues the best of luck with their strike -- the firefighters deserve much better than this from a Labour government.


posted by BA on 4:35 PM

There are some interesting debates in the US at the moment on the left about the attitude to military action against Iraq and about the war on terror. I have been reading quite a lot of Christopher Hitchens' articles of late and find them very thought-provoking. Hitchens recently quit his longstanding Minority Report column at The Nation - a move which prompted a lot of snide comments from his critics. He has also been involved in some heated but very revealing exchanges with Noam Chomsky and these discussions along with some good interviews with this Englishman in the States can be found at the (unofficial) Hitchens Website.

What do you think?

posted by BA on 2:59 PM

The Observer today publishes the full text of Osama Bin Laden's "Letter to the American people". The letter first appeared on the internet in Arabic and has since been translated and circulated by Bin Laden's allies in Britain. What is most interesting about the letter is that whatever Bin Laden's location he has clearly got people keeping an eye on the media for him and despite all the Quranic references the letter is clearly written with a western audience and agenda in mind. He seems to be quite keen to reinforce the view of those who argue that Islamic terrorism is a response to the unjust actions of the west but he has a few lines for conservatives as well as liberals. But of course he is not quite clever enough to keep the anti-semitism and homophobia out of sight and makes no attempt to deny that his aim is to convert us infidels under one giant Islamofascist new world order. It is a fascinating read though - especially if you want to know your enemy.


posted by BA on 2:04 PM

Thanks for popping in. So what is this all about then?

Well, weblogs are an excellent way of pointing people in the direction of interesting items on the web and that is all this site aims to do. Mostly the links will be to articles dealing with contemporary politics but the whole point is that a weblog can be as eclectic as you want it to be. The US has a thriving weblog scene, Europe, where I happen to live at the moment, has a more modest collection but I reckon that will change in time.

A lot of people like their politics in neat packages and there will be some of you who I am sure would like to know what my poltical outlook is? Well as a student I trained in Marxism and I am glad I did. I still happen to think that a materialist view of the world offers the best way of trying to grapple with the word is certainly preferable to any of the alternatives - especially religion. So this a left weblog.

But I have a lot of problems with what remains of the old socialist left - it has become a largely conservative force and many elements of it have now become essentially reactionary, lacking in any sense of progressive morality, any vision of a better world. On the other hand the Blairites have rejected even the most basic of social democratic principles.

Finding a new course for progressive democratic socialist politics is not easy and like many others I am involved in the search for ideas and like anyone who is serious about political thinking, my outlook is still under construction....

Comments or suggestions?

posted by BA on 1:08 PM

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