Monthly Archive for June, 2008

Zimbabwe reflections

A recent debate at Larvatus Prodeo brought to mind the exposure of Lemingist sects in The Life of Brian: “What did the Romans ever do for us?” The enlarging mirror at LP took the form of a well mannered pseudo-leftist, articulately holding to a consistently reactionary position with regard to Zimbabwe. Basically this fellow (John Tracey) supports Mugabe. The LP bloggers took him to task. But did they actually see their own features in that mirror?

‘No Mark, the developed nations standard of living is obscene and the root cause of African poverty.’ Oh dear.

When John Tracey didn’t stun people into silence he often forced them into distorting his position because much of what he bases his views on is what they themselves have argued for on LP. ( ie support for ‘small is beautiful’ right-wing green policies such as Perma-culture, rather than modern industrialized farming; defence of reactionary sovereignty rather than a developing internationalism; promoting ‘cultural exceptional-ism’ rather than being unequivocally in favour of universal human rights)

But on the issue of Zimbabwe, the regular bloggers at LP cannot stoop so low as to abandon the people of Zimbabwe and their struggle for democracy (nothing more than bourgeois democracy). In the crystallized situation that we see in Zimbabwe, LP regulars have chosen the correct side. They want the tyranny there to be brought to an end.Theoretically, John Tracey must also oppose tyranny, however his blinkered incapacity to see any progressive features in the bourgeois revolution that is required at this time and place puts him objectively on the side of a tyrant. Continue reading ‘Zimbabwe reflections’

Urban sprawl isn’t that scary

We rarely hear a good word for urban sprawl. Apparently it is “unsustainable” because it robs land from farming and nature conservation and has a big carbon “footprint”.

However if all 9 billion of us mid century were living at the density of a leafy suburb, say 3000 per square kilometre, that would require 3 million square kilometres. This would constitute an area considerably less than half that of the contiguous US – or a bit more than the eastern states of Australia. I must say I don’t find that especially scary.

We certainly would not want to encroach too much on farm land, at least not unless we had made the big shift to vertical farming where food is produced using hydroponics in high rise buildings. Nature conservation would also make us want to rule out habitation in some areas. In others, it may be that we would decide to keep down density by having various special arrangements in place. This would include retaining a lot of the original vegetation and controlling threats from exotic flora and fauna. Keeping the cat in at night would be essential.

And, there are lots of deserts to sprawl into. This is popular in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and The Arab Gulf. You can’t grow anything there and nature would not mind too much.

A detached house with some land is more important for some people than others. Young families want it and so do older people with a garden. (And if your daughter has a horse you will need a nearby paddock…) Other people would be happy to sprawl upwards. This often happens where a location has a special attraction such as a view, lots of night life or requires less travelling. I am not talking “public housing” here. I have in mind a balcony, three bedrooms, study, large kitchen, lounge and dining room. I also envisage all the extras eg parking, gym and pool on the premises.

Floating cities are another possibility. These would allow us to sprawl out into the world’s oceans and experience constantly changing locations.

There is some dispute over whether living in the suburbs is more energy intensive, and hence more carbon intensive, than living in higher density inner areas. Either way I don’t think I can get too worried about carbon footprints. I’m not a climate alarmist, and besides we will undoubtedly move away from carbon based energy sometime later this century.

My hunch is that the urge to sprawl will increase as advances in transport technologies make travel cheaper and less painful. Personal Rapid Transit is one option. Driverless cars is another. These would involve far less death and injury, give us greater ability to avoid congestion and leave us free to read, teleconference, watch a movie, sleep or whatever.

Mass transit is definitely not the answer to current problems. Our transport needs are dispersed in both time and space, and so we need a system that moves individuals not masses.

Returning to the present, some cities have legal walls around them to prevent sprawl (“smart growth” it’s called). Often this is combined with a total failure to allow sufficient housing development within existing areas. House prices then go through the roof. The ratio of average house prices to average income is two to four times higher in “smart growth” cities than in places such as Germany, and the more freewheeling parts of the USA.

Melbourne (Australia), where I live, is surrounded by “green wedges” where building is not permitted. Given that there are no breaks between adjoining wedges, it is more like a noose strangling the city. A city under siege you might say.

In the long term however there will be no end to our sprawl as we spread out into the rest of the solar system and beyond.


Some extra links:

Demographia a pro-sprawl web site.

The Institute of Public Affairs’ page on Australian housing

Here is a Green link on Personal Rapid Transport

The Euston Manifesto and all that

I didn’t sign the Euston Manifesto mainly because it avoided any mention of capitalism’s inherent limitations. The Eustonite advocacy of the need for bourgeois  revolution was fine, as far as it went.  I agree that this is the most pressing task in the world today.   However,  for all its talk of extending human freedom, it failed to face the issue of wage slavery.  Once the bourgeois revolution has been completed this will be the main restriction on human freedom.  The Euston position remained wedded to the idea of social reform: kinder bosses,  rather than no bosses.   Were it not for this, I would probably have seen it as worth signing.

Nevertheless, I did still think it was positive that there was a group prepared to come out and say that:

[it] reject[s] fear of modernity, fear of freedom, irrationalism, the subordination of women, .. reaffirm[s] the ideas that inspired the great rallying calls of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century: liberty, equality and solidarity; human rights; the pursuit of happiness … But we are not zealots. For we embrace also the values of free enquiry, open dialogue and creative doubt, of care in judgement and a sense of the intractabilities of the world. We stand against all claims to a total — unquestionable or unquestioning — truth.”

And then to go on to maintain that a new alignment of forces is necessary, possibly crossing traditional left-right lines, and defined by “unambiguous democratic commitment”:

“It is vitally important for the future of progressive politics that people of liberal, egalitarian and internationalist outlook should now speak clearly. We must define ourselves against those for whom the entire progressive-democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic “anti-imperialism” and/or hostility to the current US administration. The values and goals which properly make up that agenda—the values of democracy, human rights, the continuing battle against unjustified privilege and power, solidarity with peoples fighting against tyranny and oppression—are what most enduringly define the shape of any Left worth belonging to.”

These things do need to be said. However I see the task of Strange Times as being to go further than just restating fundamental principles. In fact, the principles cited in the first quote above are not even especially controversial, very few people would oppose them. The problem is more complex than that. Continue reading ‘The Euston Manifesto and all that’

Let them talk about the weather….

climate demo

‘Anti-capitalist’ sentiment is almost in the air we breath these days. At every turn we are reminded that capitalism and the life styles it makes possible threatens to destroy everything dear to our hearts and in particular that it is trashing the environment beyond repair. Strangely enough, the rich and powerful who are accused of wreaking this havoc, don’t seem particularly concerned about this message.

Despite claims to the contrary, “Big Oil”, “Big Mining” and “Big Retailing” just aren’t throwing big buckets of money into the battle to refute Big Green and Big “Left”. On the contrary, they have done very little to try to stem this tide. In some cases they actually fund it through various philanthropic foundations and by media advertising which feeds into it. Indeed there are many individual capitalists who have actively embraced it. Others seem to be just going along with it because such a tidal wave is difficult to resist. Why isn’t the capitalist class fighting back?

A small rearguard of classical liberals in “right wing think tanks” along with the Murdoch press are putting up some resistance. (Here‘s my favorite.) Associated with them are conservative stragglers who prefer the old time religion to the new green one. However, this is a beleaguered fringe effort which has little impact on the media mainstream.

The last time those in charge supported a fake “anti-capitalist” movement was in the 1930s. That one was called fascism. Of course the present movement is not remotely as toxic and we should be very grateful for that.  However let’s hope their tolerance of the new weltanschauung backfires as badly as it did the last time.

Many people are beginning to feel that it has all gone too far. There is increasing opposition to oppressive demands that we restrict our “luxurious” lifestyle.  Petty things like having plastic bags taken away to more serious matters like the government refusing to build sufficient power stations or to open up new land for housing are generating some resistance.  And the fashionable nonsense which dominates increasing parts of the school and university curriculum has become more of a hot topic.

If a genuine revolutionary left were to emerge phoenix like and soar above this miasmic fog it would have the advantage of dominating the high ground because it would be the only serious and uncompromised defender of science and human progress against reactionary neo-romantic nonsense.  At the same time it would be capable of demonstrating that the progress still being engendered by capitalism is providing the very conditions which will enable us to advance beyond it. Now that would give Big Capitalism something it would have to worry about.

Meanwhile those in charge are happy to let us all talk about the weather.

being green

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If only Hitler had not been fought….

This weekend people may be interested in taking a look at the debate stimulated by Pat Buchanan’s new book: Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World .

In this book Buchanan, who is an arch paleoconservative and strongly opposed to the Iraq war , claims that  both world war2 and the holocaust can be blamed on Churchill. Hitler should have been left alone, Britain should have minded its own business. Lovely stuff!

Buchanan’s response to Hitchens’ attack on his book has been reprinted in full at .

“”” does not see itself as in any sense a “left-wing” site – in fact, if you read its description of itself, you will see that it takes a firmly libertarian position. However it’s a species of libertarianism that is sharply at odds with the dynamist position taken by people such as Virginia Postrel. Buchanan and are examples of the classic “old fashioned” conservative right – terrified of modernity. calls for a united front of all “anti-imperialists” from “left” to right:

This site is devoted to the cause of non-interventionism and is read by libertarians, pacifists, leftists, “greens”, and independents alike , as well as many on the Right who agree with our opposition to imperialism…… Today, we are seeking to challenge the traditional politics of “Left” and “Right…… has become the Internet newspaper of record for a growing international movement, the central locus of opposition to a new imperialism that masks its ambitions in the rhetoric of “human rights,” “humanitarianism,” “freedom from terror,” and “global democracy.”

Strange times indeed.

“Obama on your shoulder”

Just for fun…..

“So, how goes the war for Greater Israel?”

It seems clear that Bush and Rice are serious about trying to get an end to the war for greater Israel this year, but weakness on the part of Olmert and the Israeli Government is slowing the process up. It’s against the Israeli interest, as identified by Olmert, to not make a peace agreement with the Palestinians and he is now pushing forward with Syria and the ‘minor’ issues with Lebanon.

So what if anything is delaying things?Given how little I know about the inner workings of the Israeli ruling elite, I don’t know. However I would venture that the numbers in the Knesset, rather than the corruption scandal around Olmert, is the problem.  In short the Israelis are having real problems getting the deal done.

Rice is arriving this weekend to have separate meetings with Barak, Livni and Olmert so the pressure is still right on, but with the weakened state of the U.S. as the lastsuperpower, there is no certainty they will get their way this year, Nevertheless there is still a chance.

An interesting development at the moment is Olmert’s attitude to releasing Barghouti amid the increasing loudness of demands to do just that.  He commented publicly that he didn’t think it was a good idea at this stage:

“Imagine that Barghouti is released tomorrow. Is there a way for him to prove that he’s not a collaborator with the Israelis? There’s only one way: to be more extreme than the present leadership.”

So what are the issues that are unfolding? Continue reading ‘“So, how goes the war for Greater Israel?”’

Bonjour étrangers

This blog is called “Strange Times” for two reasons.

1. Politically the times are especially strange. The old ways of thinking have become formulaic and no longer help us make sense of world events. “Left” is now Right – how’s that for a start?

2. I think that “strangeness” is in some sense an intrinsic characteristic of life, the universe and everything. The times will always be strange. Let’s beware of the warm glow of “understanding”.

This is a group blog. Although we share a common stance, each blogger here writes for him/herself.

We are a bunch of people who all have communist backgrounds and are still committed to the overthrow of capitalism. We want the working people to take over, which means that the means of production will be socially owned and wage slavery (the final form of human slavery) will become a thing of the past. When this occurs it will be a truly revolutionary change, a leap into the future, qualitatively more dramatic and far-reaching than the democratic revolution which has been (slowly) transforming the way of life of people on this planet since the 17th century. Continue reading ‘Bonjour étrangers’