Tuesday, December 07, 2004

You cannot be serious!

Fish was on the brain when I got up this morning. Blame Radio 4’s Today. Its lead story was about a new government expert report arguing for ‘no-fishing zones’ off parts of the British (read Scottish) coast to help boost stocks. It would be coupled with a reduction in fishing capacity as well.

The logic behind this idea is that by stopping fishing would not increase fish in those parts but presumably tempt them into other areas where fewer boats would snaffle them.

You can’t really fault it – except for the minor fact of the fishermen themselves. They were on the radio grumbling about what this would mean to fishing communities in Scotland. As if the current situation, whereby annual quotas are decided upon every December, giving rise to the same predictable headlines about destroying communities, etc, etc – and just before Christmas.

Life in a fisherman’s home can’t be fun.

Having spent a couple of years at the helm (pardon the pun) on the subject for the Lib Dems in Parliament, I think it would be great to get a resolution to this crisis. And it would also mean stopping the Lib Dem spokesman, Andrew George, from his ridiculous posturing on the last day of the Parliamentary session and six days before Christmas, two years ago:

“Will the Minister consider the recall of Parliament next week to ensure that we have the chance to discuss… the fishing industry?”

The short answer: no. What odds for the same this year?
It's the hypocrisy I find so hurtful...

'Democracy has never functioned as well in Pakistan as it is now.'
‘President’ Pervez Musharraf, Newsnight, 6 December.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman claimed during a briefing that Pakistan was ‘moving in the right direction… towards full democracy’.

Can it really only be five years ago that Labour was trying to score political points of the Tories when Musharraf seized power in a coup?

'The principle at stake is that it is for the people of Pakistan to make up their own mind, and the place to do that is at the ballot box. There will be many friends of Britain throughout Africa and Asia who are dismayed to learn that the modern Tory party endorses a military coup.'

Robin Cook, 2 November 1999

I wonder what has happened to bring both Musharraf and Blair together at a press conference yesterday…

Ah yes, silly me. The so-called war on terror. In this new world down is the new up, left is right and dictatorship, democracy. Sorry, what were we exactly fighting for again?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Strange mix

The girlfriend came back from Santiago, Chile at the weekend. We won’t go into the saga of her epic journey across two continents, including a change of time from 9am to 5pm, to 10pm and then back to 8pm, the possibility of two separate arrivals, either at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 at 5.15pm or Terminal 1 only 15 minutes later and her eventual arrival at Gatwick…

Iberia, as you might imagine, is not our favourite airline company at the moment.

No, what I wanted to comment on were the two editions of a magazine she brought me back to read, Cosas. She said that she thought I might find them of interest, since they have plenty of interviews with the president, Valparaiso’s mayor and other political luminaries. But they sit oddly with plenty of spreads about the Spanish and British royal families and stories about Chilean celebrities professing their undying love for one another.

It’s rather like a cross between Hello and the Spectator, reaching to two different markets, both him and her.

That could never happen here.

Or could it?
Balancing markets and social justice

Outsourcing – good or bad? That was the angle for a presentation done by two of us this morning. Which side did I get? The pro- side, which meant that I was for the chop, this being an Institute concerned with social justice.

But what’s noticeable is the number of those who are pro-market who recognise its limitations and the problems that the current globalisation process presents, including lost jobs and localised economic recession. Contrary to what the anti-globalisation movement thinks, it’s not a case of ‘them and us’, but ‘how do we resolve it’?

I can see the advantage of the anti-globalisation movement trying to demonise the other side for not caring. But the reality is much more complex than that, with many on the pro-market wanting not ‘free markets’ but ‘fair markets’. Even this report from McKinsey (that bastion of anti-globalisation, I don't think!), which I had to read to prepare for the class, notes the need for effective public policies where jobs are lost.

The problem though, is how to do this? This is of particular concern to social democrats. As a friend put it to me on Friday night, ‘Almost everyone accepts the market now as the best means of allocating resources. But where social democrats fall down – and they need to have a response – is to square the issue of social justice. The challenge for them is to say in what circumstances can social justice trump the market – and in a systematic and thorough way.’


Friday, December 03, 2004

Sex comedy, Peruvian style

I failed to make a single film at the Latin American film festival at the beginning of the month. But luckily for me, there’s a second, which is coming to its end. And this week I managed to make one of the films, along with a group from the Institute.

It was Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (Pantaleon and the Visitors), a Peruvian comedy and based on a book by Mario Vargas Llosa. I knew nothing about it when I sat down, which meant I had no expectations. But it was quite good – as Peruvian comedies go. Perhaps a little heavy in its humour, but a change from the usual Hollywood guff.

The film follows an army captain who is charged with opening a brothel for soldiers. As you can imagine, he approaches his work in a thoroughly disciplined manner; the humour is directed at this contrast between the informality of language among the prostitutes and the military organisation of Pantaleon.

I’m not sure how many others (apart from my Institute colleagues) picked up on it, but I was struck by Vargas Llosa’s sly comment within the film. We looked at the role of the military in class a few weeks ago, and the apparent differences between the Peruvian military government (1968-80) compared to those elsewhere on the continent.

Whereas those in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc were conservative, anti-communist and repressive, the Peruvians gained international attention for taking power away from the oligarchs precisely because of the failure of the state to develop the country. So while other Latin American armies were incarcerating subversives, Peru’s generals were introducing land reform and creating development projects around the country.

References to the army’s creation of a sex industry (with a double-edged meaning there) and Pantaleon’s literacy classes to the Indians (including writing on the board 'Yo amo a mi Peru' – 'I love my Peru') are all pointers in this direction.

But then I’m sure many others will just say I’ve been working too hard and it’s time to take a break! Perhaps. Term ends next week.