Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The noose tightens

Two, down, one to go. The Lib Dems are having to re-select their candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow ahead of the General Election. Apparently our previous candidate resigned last November, although I missed it all as I wasn't at the AGM.

So on Sunday night I was called by one of the prospective candidates; that was followed by a second just before I left the house for class today. I'm waiting to see whether I get a call from the third before the papers go out.

I always liken these conversations to a fencing session. You know they are calling you to ask for your support, but they don't want to be too obvious. You, meanwhile, want to keep your options open and avoid committing yourself. The caller moves forward for the ask; you step back and dodge. They try again; this time you parry. If you want to be particularly cruel, keep them on the phone and avoid answering their questions. Better yet, ask them the really tricky question: after all, if they can't answer well to party members, what hope at the election.

Eventually though you have to make a decision. Which I did. Now I'm waiting for the ballot paper to arrive.

I may be a little quiet for the next few days. I've got some essays to get through, including one for funding purposes later this year. But I've got some material up at Brazzil, for anyone who might be interested (with the usual readers' rants...).

I may still be working on my dissertation topic (I've got the general theme in mind); I just need to get the specific case studies and policy areas to analyse.

It's tough: juggling readings for class, essays for the three course instructors, reading and putting together a PhD proposal and squeezing in time to write a fourth essay for this summer's research grant.

It makes for full time attention, but I'm not complaining: I wouldn't have it any other way. How many people get to do what they really want?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Unsettling viewing

Two good pieces of separate viewing yesterday which come together: first, how did I miss The Power of Nightmares the first time around? Second, some dubious points about George Galloway on last night’s Newsnight which raise questions.

The Power of Nightmares is a three-part series shown last year (transcript of first part is here). It looks at the way fear has been hyped up in America and in the Middle East and the need to exploit it to deliver the change demanded by both neo-conservatives and Islamic extremists. Fascinating stuff, with both sides drawing on the failure and consequences of liberal values and practices and the unquestioning belief that they are right.

Comparing them to each other recalls the comments often made of the Nazis and Stalinists: they might have hated each other, but they have more in common than they realise. So to with the neo-cons and Islamic extremists: both believe their values are right and any action is justified, whether it be killing non-Muslims or claiming that a lack of evidence means something far more nefarious is happening.

As a side observation, the only troubling aspect was the relative portrayal of Kissinger as a moderate. Being a pragmatist the narrator seemed to suggest that one of America’s most dubious foreign secretaries was seeking accommodation with the Soviets in the 1970s.

Right, that includes turning a blind eye to the Chilean coup, the illegal bombing of Cambodia, the ratcheting up of the Vietnam War as a prelude to disengagement.


Regarding the Newsnight piece, I don’t know who he was, but a disaffected Labour voter was searching for someone to vote. I’m afraid when he interviewed the Lib Dems they were portrayed as political opportunists: Lembit Opik playing it simply, seeking to entice him by spewing out Focus headlines and Mark Oaten revealing the inner thinking of the party over the public-private sector.

As for Galloway, he left the interviewer uneasy. He argued that the Iraqi resistance was justified because it was fighting an occupying power (the Americans), which he saw as morally equivalent to the Nazis. It’s a shame the logic of his argument wasn’t pursued further. When asked he said that all British people would have joined the resistance against Hitler had the country been invaded in 1940; he didn’t say whether that resistance would have been justified in attacking its own citizens who might have opted to work for the police, schools, hospitals, etc.

Even if it was hypothetical the interviewer failed to press him on whether it was acceptable for the French resistance to attack not only Vichy leaders but also those who worked for the Germans during the occupation. OK, it wasn’t entirely relevant to whether or not to vote for Galloway, but it would be interesting to have heard his argument.

Gorgeous George is supposed to be in my neck of the woods next week: as a Parliamentary candidate, he's going to be sppeaking about saving our fire engine (I think) in Bethnal Green - perhaps I might get a chance to say a few words?

Ultimately though, what I was left with by both programmes was why I’m always wary of people who claim they have the answer – whether they are religious or political (and that includes Galloway as well as Bush). All this certainty and lack of fuzziness probably shows why I’m a sceptic by nature.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Not to be repeated

They were asking for it, weren’t they? Two of the three judges on ITV’s Pop Idol-format show, Vote for Me, John Sergeant and Lorraine Kelly, should have known better. Identifying which candidate they didn’t like only meant he or she would win. And sure enough, I’ve found out (after the event of course – much in keeping with other things in my life!) that Rodney Hylton-Potts won.

Rodney, if you remember, is for castrating paedophiles, bringing an end to immigration, reducing the UK’s population by a third and spent time at Her Majesty’s pleasure for mortgage fraud. Given the closeness of his views and experience of the penal system which some in UKIP share, I’m surprised he’s an independent.

Last week I penned a few posts of the show. Already you could see the path it was going down, with only two of the final being liberal. And while I would have been interested to follow the final show (if only to shout abuse at the screen) frankly I had a social life to leave.

I was therefore spared the image of Rodney beating the single issue candidate, Eileen, who is running a one-woman crusade to bring down phones masts (and likely to be snapped up by some Lib Dems somewhere; she does have that slightly bossy middle-aged woman manner which I’ve come across on the stump).

The show’s presented, Jonathan Maitland, told the Sunday Times that “The winner is a comedy fascist nutter and a cross between Lord Brocket and Mussolini. It’s not embarrassing that he won because we’ll now respect our real politicians more.”

I don’t know about you, but that is spin worthy of the new Labour machine when it was running at its finest.

But what while all the media attention is on the loathsome Rodney and his views, what does it say about the people who voted for him? Or maybe it’s the particular demographic which watches ITV? Would the result have been different had it been on the BBC?

I doubt the show’s producers will be running this show again for quite some time – well, at least for another four years.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Why bother?

It's a bummer, isn't it? All that hard work preparing for your tax cut proposals, only to have one of your supposed chums cross the floor to the other side.

What surprises me is that it hasn't happened before now. Since Howard took on the job the Tories have barely made an impression (and no, grasping at the European elections is just sounding desperate).

All it means is that post-election it's going to be fun and games at Central Office as the blood gets spilled once again.

Does seem a bit of a shame after last weeks' interview with him perched on the desk of that gleaming white open-desk set-up they have in Victoria Street (did you notice the younger workers had been strategically placed behind him to suggest a fresher air?).

I came across this yesterday. Always nice to find there's financial advantage to the one who wins - although it'll probably mean more entrants than might otherwise be the case.

Nonetheless, might be worth a flutter, if only because it's political writing - which is the kind of thing I'm more inclined to do. Of course I won't win, but if I do give it a pop, at least I'll have something to post here!

They don't say anything about nationality. Do you think I can get away with a Latin American bio?
Back to the future?

All the material on the apparel sector in Mexico and Central America points to one positive outcome: you can draw in TNCs to kickstart the industry and then as it develops perhaps it will generate not only greater production but demand for the creation of domestic firms. Those firms can then (hopefully) compete against the big boys both in the domestic and export markets.

But is it evident that will happen? Even assuming the supposed 'upgrading' occurs, will the domestic economy benefit? Not without a government firmly committed to national development and with a clear industrial policy, like those in East Asia. Without that chances are TNCs will take charge of the process.

But how do we go about creating such measures in Latin America? Not only does the region still suffer from the legacy of the collapsed state-led model of the 1960s and 1970s, how can the business community and relevant political actors be encouraged to develop their domestic sectors? It's going to be hard, not least because of the tendency for Latin America's elite to look towards Miami as a place to put their money in, rather than in local firms.

I'm hugely simplifying, of course, but it is a poser.

I do wonder about some people.

Last week's post at Brazzil has generated a long (by most posts' standards) thread - although not much about the actual content of the post. From what I can tell there's been some observations of political views (including about the US presidential election - sorry where did I make any reference to it?) before it degenerated into a slanging match between suitably anonymous 'guests'.

As for comment about my post, two stand out:

1. 'who the Fuck is this Gay Burton, is it Guy? gee I missed. Anyways your
article is full of shit.'

2. 'AND HERE IS THE MORONIC CONCLUSION'... Nevertheless, don't be too
surprised if something is worked out which will satisfy all
sides. WHAT A PUTZ'

For these two 'guests', who conveniently withheld their names, the following responses might be made:

1. Besides the point about my name (which I think alludes to the
prejudices of the person in question), it's not entirely clear why they
have that opinion of the article.

2. The poster feels free to make his own conclusion without offering an
alternative. Furthermore, it completely overlooks the concept of the
jeito, which is the way by which resolution of competing interests might be brought about (da Matta is particular good on this)

There are those who may feel that I shouldn't have bothered to respond given that they have nothing to offer than waste the electricity bill by posting abuse.

In fact I did give some thought to whether it was worth the time efforts. But it reminded me of a post made by Bloggerheads which criticised the blocking up of debate and dialogue on MPs' and PPCs' blogs.

It's extremely regrettable since I'm sure Rodney (who manages Brazzil) was keen to expand debate on issues and introduced the comment option. But a small minority seem determined to indulge in abuse and unjustified attacks without offering any useful contribution, giving the wider blogging community a bad name.

Friday, January 14, 2005

End of the week thoughts

After the first week back at classes, just a couple of observations which I’ve made from the readings and discussions:

On democracy

If procedural notions of democracy (i.e. elections, parties, free media, civil rights) take precedence over more substantive issues like social rights (health care, education, etc), how can public support be secured? Failure to deliver on the latter in Latin America serves to discredit democracy. Indeed, it’s unsurprising that last year’s Latinobarometer showed that a sizeable proportion of people would prefer any other form of government, including authoritarian, if it will deliver social benefits.

Then there’s the difficulty of defining what democracy actually is. This is so difficult that scholars tend to focus on the former rather than the latter. This has implications for democratic practice, since governments find it easier to implement that form rather than provide the more comprehensive approach (e.g. Washington’s preference in Afghanistan and Iraq).

On poverty

The study of social policy in Latin America takes the starting point that universal provision has never been available, unlike other regions of the world. There’s also the problem that what is spent is both never enough nor spent efficiently.

What’s interesting is the distinct social policy discourse by Latin America area specialists on one hand and those dealing with (usually) North America on the other. The former argues for more comprehensive social policy provision to support the poor while the latter maintains the neo-liberal argument that welfare creates dependency. Yet in much of the Latin American literature that argument never seems to be made.

Is this the danger of area studies? By focusing on one region we overlook the arguments made about other societies and parts of the world?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

It can't be right, can it?

It’s a depressing state of affairs when someone can be sacked for blogging. And given that it’s someone who by his own account does it in his own time and failed to be approached for a quiet word before disciplinary action being taken is troubling.

Of course I don’t know all the details, having only his side of the story on his blog. But given that work only forms a small part of his blog it does seem excessive. It also bothers me that it was one of my favourite bookstores which did this, Waterstone’s, where the blogger worked for 11 years. That’s shame because the store in Malet Street has a really good selection and it would be a shame to boycott it.

Then again, when was the last time I bought a book?! Usually I get review copies.

Ah – but what do I do with my Waterstone’s book tokens I got for Christmas? Hmm, I may have to forego them for CDs and DVDs down at HMV…
One down...

...so now they are six. And thank God the two liberals are still left standing, with the woman, Amanda, who ‘felt safer under Thatcher’ being sent packing. But there’s still that ghastly anti-immigrant chap, who I now know is called Rodney, who was advocating the castration of paedophiles. It was even too much for Kelvin McKenzie. But I suspect that he will probably make it down to the last three, with the judges all united against him and noisy (although isolated) support in the studio.

Julie, the single mother who makes a virtue of being single class, did well again, while Eileen, the single-issue campaigner against phone masts continued to do her stuff. The young Asian candidate, Irfan, did well and showed McKenzie up by going into detail about the problems facing the NHS, in particular bed blocking.

And wheelchair-bound Kevin sounded surprisingly like a Lib Dem when he advocated a local income tax – surely the party hasn’t got to him? His only setback was when he was asked to set out how it would be done in detail – not something easy to do in 30 seconds or less. While I doubt he has any worked out details, I know that based on Lib Dem figures it’s erroneous to suggest that everyone would pay less; some will pay more, as I discovered to my cost last year when a voter said he wouldn’t vote for me on that basis.

After canvassing the night before, last night they were taken to the studio for radio interviews and a meeting with former Independent MP Martin Bell and current one, Richard Taylor. It was quite entertaining to see Amanda struggling to explain her ideas on air – I can just imagine her being on the other side, giving the professional politicians a hard time. Now she had to take it!

Finally, it’s still troubling me that almost all of them seem to adopt what they think is typical politicians pose during their presentations and question answering sessions. It’s as if they can’t be entirely natural. The only one who doesn’t is Julie – but I can’t decide whether her easy-going manner is natural or put on.

Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A mark against them

So far I’ve caught both programmes of the pseudo-Pop Idol Vote for Me TV show, where contestants put themselves forward to the general public to be selected as a candidate in this year’s General Election. Normally I wouldn’t watch these things, but as it’s about politics and touches on something I did last year (running as an unsuccessful candidate, remember?), I felt honour bound to make an effort.

And deeply troubling it is too. Of the seven contestants to choose from only two can be classed as liberal; the rest are all tough, hang ‘em and flog ‘em types. If this is a reflection of Britain today, I’m worried.

One, Rodney (about the only one whose name I can remember), has some truly repellent views. He wants to stop all immigration. Now. No more. He’s against Turkey entering the EU and for making Britain ‘great’ again. On top of that he’s a convicted fraudster – and then he had the sheer gall to compare himself to Nelson Mandela!

Sounds to me if he gets booted off the show UKIP will be beating a rush to his door. I’m slightly worried though that given two of the judges – John Sergeant and Lorraine Kelly – have both set themselves against him, he might actually win support from the public.

One woman also talked about asylum seekers and was clearly confused. She argued that we should only take asylum seekers who make a request to come to this country before they leave their own. Sorry? Excuse me? That’s precisely why they’re leaving: to seek asylum. As if that was enough asylum seekers should only be allowed here if they can be shown to contribute to the economy. If nothing else, her confused logic just shows the influence that the Daily Mail has had on a whole generation of people.

There’s another woman who is quite clearly a single-issue candidate, railing about phone masts. When challenged about the lack of evidence to support her belief that phone masts caused her breast cancer, she did little to respond. In other words, having an infirmity or suffering an illness means you can’t question her beliefs.

Then there’s the tokenism that I find a little worrying: a wheelchair bound lecturer, a young Asian doctor (both of them the most liberal of the bunch), and a working class single mum…

To be fair, of the three, I think the last has what it takes. They were shown canvassing on the doorstep last night and she was the most natural. Unlike the others she didn’t enter into an argument with the punters and simply asked them what their concerns were, tailoring her response accordingly. She’s also got a good central idea: ensuring that one or two civil servants are directed responsible for an estate so the buck stops with them. In some respects it’s rather like the neighbourhood idea which some Lib Dem councils pioneered in the 1980s, including Tower Hamlets. I suspect she might be a good community campaigner.

As for the judges, as much as I find Kelvin McKenzie the most offensive of the lot, at least he calls things as he seems them. I disagree with most of what he says, but I suspect that many viewers will probably agree with him.

As they probably do with the more illiberal candidates.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

New program

I see the Latin American Centre at Oxford has introduced a new program: the MSc in Public Policy of Latin America. Candidates will be able to specialise on Brazil according to the Centre for Brazilian Studies, one of the research centres at the university.

I haven’t checked the syllabus yet (it’s a pdf which always seems to crash on my home computer), but it does show a keenness by the teaching section at Oxford to be more practical. While the MPhil in Latin American Politics is useful for those using it as a stepping stone to further research, this new MSc looks like a good bet for practitioners. It should mean a better profile for the centre in the region as well.

But does it mean that Oxford is able to compete on a level playing field with American schools? Probably not, since there are simply dozens of centres devoted to Latin America there, compared to the handful here. But what handful we do have tends to be pretty good if I do so say myself! (do I have to register an interest as a postgrad student at ISA?)
Staing the obvious

Down at the Brazil reunion down in Wimbledon yesterday. Every six months or so there’s always a gathering of former British expats who lived in Rio down at a pub near the Common. I don’t know how long it’s been going on for, but I suspect my mother and two of her friends were the prime instigators. Every time it takes place yet more people show up; at the rate it’s going soon the whole pub will be taken over.

Usually it’s the older generations who go. Although my siblings and I come along, I think it’s more for moral support than the prospect that our friends for nursery school will be there. I think we’re usually the only family to come out en masse. Apart from the excellent sausages and mash they do in the pub, I’m not sure how many more times I can endure people I don’t know saying to me, “I remember when you were so high”, while lowering their hand to knee height.

Despite being closer to 30 than I am to 20, I would have thought the comment needn’t be said.

Friday, January 07, 2005

New year, new exercise regime

So watched Jump Britain on C4 last night, the follow up to the one in London nearly two years ago.

There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to do what they do. But it has motivated me to do something that’s not been done for awhile: capoeira.

So there I was, out on the nearby park this morning, putting my body through the motions. I’m trying to make sure I haven’t forgotten the moves while trying to build up strength and stamina – all gone to seed after three months off (ostensibly because I had nada dinero). OK, I still need to watch the pennies, but what the hell; you only live once.

So Simon, Erico, Heidi and the rest: watch out. I’m coming back (at the Space in Hoxton if anyone’s interested).

Just as long as I can sit and watch most of the first session…
101 uses for Gordon Taylor #67

I’ve suddenly realised another use for Gordon Taylor, when he finally hangs his boots up as chair of the Professional Footballers Association. Having listened to him on Today this morning justifying Roy Carroll’s failure to ‘fess up that the ball crossed in the line in the Man U-Spurs game, Sinn Fein might consider offering him a job.

Earlier in the programme Martin McGuinness was denying any alleged link between the IRA and last month’s bank robbery in Belfast. As he does whenever the IRA is under suspicion (Colombia, anyone?).

Can you imagine it? Taylor and Sinn Fein – a match made in heaven (or is that hell, where black is white and 2 + 2 = 5?).

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A bit of a mismatch?

Happy New Year! A bit of a late start I will admit – and it must have looked like I nodded off at Christmas. But nothing could be further from the truth. Up until the holiday period I was busy putting together the first draft of a doctoral proposal (still to be completed before the end of this week…); afterwards I felt entitled to a bit of a break!

That included watching Uncle Adolf on ITV last night – a drama based on Hitler’s relationship with his niece. But was it just me or did the actor playing him not sound uncannily like Charles Kennedy? It was most unnerving…