Tuesday, 30 December 2008

What is a life worth?

The answer apparently depends on whose life is being taken. Before I move on to more recent events, remember the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a month ago. This was one of the biggest news stories of the year and was described as if it were the worst terrorist incident in Indian history. The death toll from those attacks is now reckoned to be 173 people; in contrast the violence in Gujarat in 2002 claimed around 2000 lives. So why so much emphasis on the recent Mumbai attacks? Is it because the targets this time were 5-star hotels used extensively by westerners, including the media, i.e. an attack on people like us? Whereas the victims of the Gujarat violence in 2002 were overwhelmingly Muslims, slaughtered in reprisal for an Muslim attack on pilgrims on a train.

Fast forward to the last few days. Israeli jets killed more people in a day than the Mumbai terrorists in total. The leaders of the USA and its allies struggled to find words strong enough to condemn the killers in Mumbai, but when it comes to Israeli aggression, what do you hear? Nothing stronger than ‘urging both sides to show restraint’, or worse putting the blame on Hamas, as per Condoleeza Rice here .

The double-standards which are applied throughout this massacre are breathtaking. For example, Israel condemns Hamas for having put their police stations in civilian areas. I checked out the location of the main Tel Aviv police station and it is of course in a densely populated area, on Dizengoff Street, (noted for its designer shops apparently, I bet there aren’t many of those in Gaza).

So, in terms of loss of life in this conflict what’s the score? As I write it is something like 362-4 ; so if we take it that both sides are equally at fault, pace the BBC and others, then that makes an Israeli life worth about 90 Palestinians. That’s extreme even by the usual western media rating, where American and British lives are worth most, and at the other extreme are Africans in places like the Congo, which has seen the deadliest war worldwide since 1945 over the past 10 years and it’s barely been noticed.

The media then go on to explain that only about 62 of those Palestinian deaths are civilians; this seems quite a low proportion until one reads the small print and finds that all adult males are excluded just in case they include uniformed personnel (as reported in today’s ‘Independent’). I was at a vigil for Palestine yesterday in Manchester, and it’s strange to think that had an Israeli bomber wiped us all out, only half of us would have been deemed to be civilians.

As to what will happen next, I can only see the cycle of violence continuing. Those who pin their hopes on Obama to solve the crisis may be sadly disappointed. Even though he takes office in less than a month, he has been noticeably silent on the current events. With Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, and a hardline pro-Israel chief of staff, I think we can expect more of the same.

I think the Israelis are hoping that ordinary Palestinians will turn against Hamas as a result of this bombardment; that may actually happen but not in the way they hope. If I were a Palestinian in Gaza forced to live under permanent siege and seeing friends and relatives destroyed by Israeli jets I might well turn away from Hamas – but to a more extreme group that would never waste time on ceasefires with such an implacable foe.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Ain't no Midnight Train

To quote Buddy Guy and Johnny Lang
Indeed no trains at any time for a period of 58 hours, a unique achievement in Europe for the country that invented the railways. Incredible.
Maybe it’s a strange time to blog about public transport on a day when it barely exists, but if it’s hard to travel anywhere it means more time at the computer.

Actually its bus rather than train travel I’m talking about today. As you will all be aware, dear readers, transport has been a hot topic in Manchester recently, and a feature of the barrage of letters in the press is what can only be described as a fear and loathing of public transport, particularly bus travel. As a regular, indeed almost daily bus user, I find this very strange; I must inhabit a parallel universe.

Apparently, merely stepping on a bus exposes one to risk of violence from the antisocial members of the lower orders, blasting out their atrocious taste in music. I can honestly say that over the years I have travelled on the omnibuses of our conurbation I have never felt really threatened. Yes, the buses are often crowded and slow and the musical tastes of other passengers can be irritating, but on the plus side I can relax and read the paper on the way into work (and read the Manchester Evening News on the way home, although that only lasts me a couple of stops). Not only can I read the paper I can save money too. A weekly ticket costs me £10, colleagues coming in by car can pay that every couple of days for parking alone. It’s not that I only travel in the rush hour either. I often travel in the evenings, I also occasionally venture to other parts of the city outside the City Centre - Chorlton route.

So what is going on? Have I got used to a low quality of life? Am I just dead lucky? Or have I escaped the selfish air-conditioned bubble mentality of the average regular motorist?.

Having said all that there is a lot which could be improved in the buses which ply our conurbation, some of which would hopefully have been addressed had the TiF bid gone ahead. Of course all that has been kicked into touch now, by the sort of people who write the letters I referred to above. Any such improvements are now likely to be a long time coming.

So why the train reference at the start of the blog? Well, I'm experimenting with combining sound and text, and I couldn't think of a good song about buses. That's the problem I suppose, people really see the bus as the Cinderella of transport modes.
Incidentally there was one bus service running in Manchester on Christmas Day, and guess where it was running to?

Was it to the Cathedral, for people going to the Christmas service?

... No

Was it to the Trafford Centre for people to worship Mammon?

... No, not even there

It was of, course, to the &8$%^&*& Airport.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

'One Away....'

The title refers to the doomsday words of a British Trident submarine operator reporting the release of its first nuclear weapon, as revealed on BBC Radio 4 earlier today. In the absence of the cold war it is easy to forget that as I write this a British submarine is out in the Atlantic with weaponry on board that is more powerful than all the explosives used in world war 2 put together.

For me the programme was topical in a sense, as I was reminded recently that opposition to nuclear weapons was probably the single thing which tipped me into joining the Green Party in the early 80s. The reminder was last Friday when I met up with the group of people who were the backbone of Stockport Green Party (which is where I joined) in those days. It was the first time I had seen them in over 20 years! - so it was a really nostalgic evening.

In those days of course we Greens were competing with the Labour Party for the anti-nuclear weapons vote. Manchester's Labour council proudly proclaimed a 'Nuclear Free City', and indeed started a movement of Nuclear free Cities (we like to be first to do anything in Manchester). How times change, now Labour seem to regard genocide as legitimate, even to the point of committing billions of pounds to Trident replacement. And what are our local 'Nuclear Free City' Labour MPs and councillors doing to fight it??

TiF Bid Referendum - last few days:

Only a few days to go now on the referendum on the topic which has dominated Manchester politics for the past few months, namely the bid for £3 billion in transport funding, or 'the vote on the congestion charge' as the media, and its opponents always call it. I have commented on it before of course, and recently have hardened my 'Yes' position. This is not because I see the proposals as any less flawed than before, but because defeat will be interpreted as a victory for the motoring lobby, and will undermine any other (probably better) schemes around the country (and beyond) for years to come.

In addition, while I have been unimpressed by much of the 'Yes' campaign, the disingenuity of the 'No' campaign has been remarkable. To listen to them one would imagine that everyone will be paying a £1200 tax from December 12 onwards (including the large number of Mancunians without access to a car!). To get the facts straight, this is what you would need to do to achieve payment of £1200 in one year:
- wait until 2013, and fail to find any alternative travel plans in those five years.
- drive the worst possible combination of journeys at the worst possible times every working day, except for a few days annual holiday.
- never share your car with another car-user to spread the cost (both financial and environmental).

Monday, 1 December 2008

The beautiful game?

'Oil Rich Abu Dhabians - nil, American food millionaire one' as yesterday's Manchester 'derby' result may have been described. When you say you are from Manchester the one thing people these days know about the City is 'Manchester United'. This was a match between the richest club in the world and probably the most famous club in the world, and although both teams have Manchester in their titles, I gather that there was not a Mancunian player on the pitch.

It's a far cry from the days of the footballer's maximum wage. These days top players earn about as much in a week as a qualified nurse earns in 3 years, all for kicking a piece of inflated leather around a green field (the footballer not the nurse that is).

People who rage against the fat cats of the large corporations seem perfectly tolerant of these obscene amounts of money; maybe the reason is the hold that the 'beautiful game' has on the psyche of a large proportion of the male population.
Support for a football team is akin to 'imprinting' in baby geese; once you have pinned your allegience to a club it is almost impossible to change; they say it is easier to change your spouse than your bank - I would say it is far easier to change your bank than to change your support for a football club. (I speak from experience - for my sins I am a supporter of Newcastle United, and therefore lumbered with a team whose playing staff include a violent criminal - can I break free? - it hasn't happened yet. It does mean I am neutral from the point of view of this article though).

Assuming one can start from a neutral position, which team should a Green support? The Ethical Consumer magazine analysed the premership clubs for their ethical performance and surprise surprise, none came out that well. Of the 2 big Manchester teams City deserve some credit for a range of measures to reduce their environmental footprint; these included a large on-site wind turbine, although that plan has now been stopped over safety fears. United have no history of note in this area, (although today's Manchester Evening News includes an intervention in favour of the TiF proposals ( here)by Sir Alex Ferguson, albeit not for particularly green reasons).

Regarding the names which the teams proudly display on their shirts, City's 'Thomas Cook' will not go down too well with Greens concerned with the expansion of air travel, but United's 'AIG' the big US insurance company, have been major donors to the US Republican Party. AIG's loyalty to the US agenda was shown recently by the refusal of a UK subsidiary to provide travel insurance to visitors to Cuba on the grounds that it was one of the world's most dangerous countries along with Afghanistan and Sudan! (reported in the Independent).

So ranking on Green issues puts City above United in the table on top in my book, although that could change when the new oil sheikh owners get into their stride.