One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Petrodollar Wars.

On the day in which British news sources weill be leading on the arrest of a suspect for the murder of five women, it would be all too easy to overlook a piece of news that is bound to have major implications over the forthcoming weeks and months.

Iran is to start calculating its budget in Euros. I'll repeat that: Iran is to start calculating its budget in Euros. This is massive! Why? Wellll...for years, the oil market has been conducted in US dollars. Indeed, some 70% of all currency reserves worldwide are held in dollars. What this means is that promissary notes are in circulation which far exceed the capacity of the Federal Reserve. If the holders of those notes were to all ask for payback, the US economy would be in freefall. Hence, the US is keen to ensure that the current convention remains in force in a large part of the world economy, ie the oil market.

Now, in 2003, Iraq announced that it would heneceforth like to receive payments from the UN for its 'Oil for Food' programme in Euros. This piqued the interest of Iran and Venezuela, both of whom made similar overtures. The ongoing result has been described by in Rob Newman video as "The biggest punishment beating in history".

Now, we all know that America and Iran (ahem) 'have history'. Following the 1953 US/British overthrow of Mossadegh and the instalalation of the brutal Pahlavi regime, the overthrow of that regime, and the ignominious failure of the military adventure to free US embassy hostages held by a Islamic Republican factions, believed to have included amongst them one Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Then there was US use of Saddam Hussein as a proxy to contain Iran during the high casualty Iran/Iraq war. However, there have been attempts to thaw relations. It is widely rumoured that Iran made approaches through diplomatic back channels along the lines of "Look...we reckon we can sort out Hamas and Hizbollah*, but for god's sake please have a word with Israel." [Decent citation desperately sought for this story. Any ideas?] When these overtures were batted back by the Bush regime, the theocracy pulled the rug from the reformist Rafsanjani and put in the hawkish Ahmadinejad. Lately the focus has been on Iran's nuclear programme, and on proposals (presumably tested out via back channels) for seeking Iran's help in containing the Iraqi civil war.

One has to ask "What's going on with this latest move?" My guess is that the US has shown its weakness over Iraq. They've been trying to use their economic muscle to make it difficult to move dollars in or out of Iran from overseas accounts. The Iranians have seen their chance to break free. Most of their buisiness is with Europe anyway, plus they have another powerful trading partner who would be more than happy to trade with them in Euros...China. And China is also keen to trade in Euros with Venezuela.

Fascinating blighter, geopolitics, no? So...what happens next...?

* Contrary to some media opinion, Hizbollah is not a straightforward puppet of either Iran or Syria. In an Alice In Wonderland, both are sometimes held to be true, ignoring the likely differences in aims and objectives between Iran's Islamist theocracy and Syria's secularist regime. Hizbollah is a broadly-based federation, although admittedly some Hizbollah factions are closely associated with Iran...including that founded by current Iraqi PM, Nouria al-Maliki.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Brighten up your home this festive season with these

Thursday, December 07, 2006

We Are Devo...

Scottish Independence has never really been a touchstone issue for me. I coukd live with it. I can live without it. Recently, though, I've come round to the idea that it would be 'A Good Thing'. Moreover - I think there's a good chance it's going to come about in the not too distant future.

Scotland is traditionally egalitarian and communitarian - and hence the Labour vote has been pretty much guaranteed. But various things have changed:

  • Iraq, sleaze, general Westminster Labour incompetence and a lack of public faith in their stewardship of health and education.
  • New Labour's lukewarm support of the devolved parliament.
  • The parliament's qualified success. Yes, there was the building scandal, yes it's largely toothless - but on various issues it's shown a 'JFDI'* attitude which contrasts with Westmister. As one trivial example - smoking.
  • The West Lothian which the obvious answer is 'Don't worry...we'll sort it out for you.'
  • An incipient English backlash against uppity Scots (cf a similar attitude of "It's one rule for all these Muslims..."). This is illustrated by The Gordon Factor - English voters are openly pondering whether a Scottish MP should be the 'English' prime minister.
  • An increasing cultural gulf between (broadly) welcoming Scotland** (see this heartwarming example) and petty Little Englishness.
  • Accession to the EU of various small but viable countries. Plus the presence of new Polish neighbours amongst us has reminded Scots that they've been migrating for years themselves.
  • A continuing Westminster focus on the economic development of the South East of England alone. In comparison...don't things like the Scottish proposal for a Glasgow/London high-speed rail link seem A Good Idea?
  • Trident. Gordon Brown plans to keep Faslane at ground zero for the forseable future. Jobs at Faslane notwithstanding, this will not be popular.

So the next Holyrood election (May '07) is likely to be interesting. The consenus on Jack McConnel seems to have been that he's done pretty well (And whod' have imagined? We thought he was just a time serving party man who'd got lucky!)...but on the whole, Labour*** has lost much of its shine. In England, the Tories are bound to pick up votes from those easily conned or with short memories. That could never happen in Scotland. The Lib Dems may pick up a few votes, but they as coalition partners they have a certain guilt by association. It is likely then that there will be a considerable swing towards the SNP. They've come on in recent years. Alex Salmond is popular and highly regarded. They've been consistently anti-war - none of the Lib Dem shilly-shallying of opposing until the war actually started. They've thrown off their Tartan Tories past and are to the left of New Labour, who are obviously shit scared of them (John Reid has even been so desperate as to use the terrorism angle)'s my predictions on how the independence snowball will roll:

  • SNP/Green/SSP coalition (they'll probably be able to tell the LibDems to fuck off).
  • Constitutional crisis in England. The backlash will intensify.
  • Gordon loses the General election, spring '08 (or only narrowly wins if he goes for a snap one in October '07)
  • Salmond holds a referendum, against Westminster opposition (This opposition will be the deciding factor).
  • Independence by '12.

It will be a painful process - for England. The negotiations over Oil and military bases will be tough (Scotland will want a small, defensive military; England won't want nuclear submarines in Devonport). And then...somehow we'll make it work. Or, at least, not fail too drastically.

Vive la république!

Speaking of Polish migrants...Over the last few years, employes have increasingly used migrant labour to undecut pay and conditions. But Poles know a thing or two about trade unions. Such things truly gladden the heart!

* Just fuckin' do it.
** But let's not be entirely conned by the cosy myth that "There's no racism in Scotland - only bigotry."
***Note to English readers: The Scottish Labour Party doesn't use the word 'New'.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Curly Locks

Excuse this diversion. In general, I'm intending to keep this blog a celeb-free zone. In fact, I only have a vaque idea who this Gail Porter woman is, although I understand she has alopecia.

I came across this quote in The Grauniad:

...a taxi driver will say, "Oh, you used to be so pretty."

I mean...FUUUUCK! Gorgeous or what?

(This image comes from You probably don't want to go there)

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Ethics of Kitten Strangling.

or It's just God's way of punishing them for being dumb, Part 3.

Agesandages ago, I had a pop at 'Animal Rights'. Then I rambled a bit about what might be a more sensible basis for ethics. This second part was inevitably disjointed. I don't think it's straightforward answer. There's no answer 'out there' and whatever we struggle towards is bound to be as complicated as we are human.'s the long awaited (?!) Part 3, dealing with why we might conclude that it's acceptable to use primates for medical research but look upon kitten-strangling with revulsion. I've said pretty much what I want to say in a posting on Dan's Samovar, which I'd like to repeat here:

In Catholic superstition, life begins at the moment of conception. It thus follows that abortion, stem-cell research, certain forms of contraception (eg IUDs - but not, surely condoms?) are immoral. An atheist argument (or, at least, a non-Catholic one) against this is that small clumps of cells donot have a consciousness - but see the arguments above concerning neurones and thermostats.

However, isn't there a hint of vestigial superstition in affording special consideration on the basis of consciousness? Consider that consciousness does not appear to have a special place in the universe. There is no grand scheme in which stars may explode, but conscious entities are not be wiped out by tsunamis. Indeed, the very idea of consciousness may be 'Explained Away' as simply the combined effect of neurological pathways that give certain organisms the control mechanisms that maximise the probability of certain biochemical processes occuring. So let's remember our place.

On the other hand...we do tacitly acknowledge an ethical hierarchy which seems to correlate with consiousness. At the higher end, we (mostly) agree that (avoidably) killing people is (usually) wrong. (and, by the way, this might include humans who are as yet 'merely' collections of cells incapable of unsupported cells: any potential parent would regard the involuntary abortion of a wanted foetus as an outrage). At the lower end, we're happy to disassemble thermostats without qualm. Somewhere in between there's a continuum, and there are individual disagreements about whether it's reasonable to kill fish, chickens, cows, dogs, bonobos. There are endless arguments along the lines of 'Can lobsters feel pain?' and I recently discovered that the rules for halal slaughter include that animals must be transported kindly, fed beforehand and not killed in the presence of other animals (presumably so as not to worry them).

But is this really an argument about Consciousness? I suggest that really it's about our own empathy. We regard as ethical that which we feel broadly comfortable with. We don't think we'll feel comfortable in a society in which human slaughter is tolerated (especially if we're the ones up for slaughter). We don't much care about lobsters, fish or thermostats - but as one gets higher up the mammalian hierarchy, animals get cuter and cuter.

So let's be honest Atheist Fundamentalists here. A 'scientific' basis for morality is just as superstitious as a religious one - it's making a god of new discoveries in the philosophy of neuroscience. All we actually know about morality is what we will or will not collectively tolerate. Which - alarmingly - seems to be 'quite a lot'.

So clearly there is a certain degree of (biologically natural) sentimentality in our attitude towards non-human animals - and that's OK. That's why we're mostly happy to step on earthworms but less comfortable with kitten-strangling. But that's not to say that human ethics must be determined by the most nauseatingly sweet common denominator. Ethics is a continuing conversation. Some people are OK with killing chickens for food, others are not. Some people are uncomfortable with animal experimentation - and they might ethically be opposed by those who see the benefits to humans and can handle the necessary detachment. (How many of us could handle cutting open a human skull?). Others may feel more distress about the disposal of a collection of human cells than the woman in whose body they are growing - but that's their problem, not hers. There are no fixed answers.

I leave you with two quotes. One from a friend:
"Ethics is a bit like free doesn't really exist, but it's useful
to behave as though it did."

The other from Mark Vonnegut, quoted by his father Kurt in his 'A Man Without A Country':
"We're here to help each other to get throug this thing, whatever it