Thursday, January 8, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and the long vanished freedom of the press

Sanctimoniousness is not one of the weak points of the Western press. In a rare moment, and off the corpses of more victims of the West's war of Terror, the West's leaders wax copiously on the Freedom of the Press. "The pen is mightier than the sword!", "we'll defend the free press to the last!" It would be commendable if their resolve lasted longer than a soundbite and wasnt meant to defend the freedom to churn out racist caricatures of muslims.

But the Free Western Press vanished long ago, somewhere in the 80s when the media bosses were smashing printers & journalists unions. From the embedded press in the 1st Gulf War, obediently churning out censored military dispatches, to the studied ignorance of the victims of the West's proxy war in the Donbass, the Western press is thoroughly corrupt.

An exemplar is of course the personal media empire of Rupert Murdoch whose sole purpose is to reflect the twisted imaginings of his conservative brain & to promote whatever political party has managed to bribe him.

But nonetheless, shouldnt Charlie Hebdo have the right to churn out insulting cartoons aimed at whoever they like? Superficially, yes, of course. Journalists have certainly the right to work without being gunned down in their workplaces. But all mass media must have social responsibility. It is supposed to expose corruption and strive to advance society.

Given the savagery of colonial (and present day) France in the muslim world, from Algeria to Syria, is it really the same thing to ridicule the Prophet as it is to ridicule pedophile priests?


Racism in France is a reality. It is a social phenomenon reflected in poverty and poorer job opportunities. Racism in France is directed against muslims, not white christians. This is a fact that allows far right, racist parties like the National Front, or Pegida in Germany, or UKIP in the UK to grow.

Charlie Hebdo purports to be of the Left. Is it really in the Left's mandate to add to the racist chorus? Secularism has become a fetish in France, and like democracy it has become a weapon to be used to keep the downtrodden in their place. There is no excuse for the Left to be involved in banning the hijab for instance. What then can they say to the president when he claims the latest French military barbarity in Libya, Mali or Syria is to defend the light of reason?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dead Ambassadors - US launches Operation Blowback

The recent protests in Benghazi and Egypt against the anti-islamic film "Innocence of Muslims", throws into the spotlight the shortcomings of the "War on Terror". The West's bombing campaign in Libya desperately sought to intervene and subvert the Arab Spring which has overthrown several US backed dictators. Yet the obtainment of freedom and democracy such as that in Tunisia and Egypt must be the sole act of the people alone. It seems fairly clear that Western bombs in Libya, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, do little more than kill people, spread chaos and create opposition. Additionally the West, in ideological justification for their War against a largely Muslim world, has engendered the spread of crude, racist propaganda. There is a case of artistic freedom to be made for instance in the prosecution of Polish artist Krzysztof Kuszej who depicted child abuse carried out by the Catholic church. In contrast, caricatures of the Prophet originating from the West and designed to do no more than provoke outrage and embolden racist bigots, bear much more resemblance to the caricature of Jews that proliferated in the West in the 1930s. It serves the purposes of war and  distracts ones own population from endless economic crises. That is why the Western states engaged in permanent war against a permanently imagined enemy do nothing about them, beyond paying lip service.

The West has its apologists though. Ed Husain, writing in the London Evening Standard Sep 13, rails against the backwardness of angry muslims in the middle east/north africa and contrasts that with the happy peace-loving sort in the UK that are lucky enough to be stopped and searched twice as often as white people. Violence is to be abhored, it corrupts the perpetrator as much as it demeans the victim, which must be part of the reason why the suicide rate amongst serving US soldiers in Afghanistan is so high. Imagine, if you are able to as a "lucky" Western person, what it must be like to live under a Western-backed regime that tortures you and your relatives for decades, then have your life bombed upside down by Western warplanes to have a new set of besuited market-friendly autocrats installed whom proceed to do pretty much the same thing as before. And to witness the not-so-distant "enlightened" Europeans treatment of the Jews on one hand and the ongoing, imperialist backed Zionist mission to dispossess Arabs on the other? If the orientalist West wants to suffuse muslims with the light generated by their good selves, then perhaps they should bring the troops home from Afghanistan, cease the murder-by-drone meted out on a daily basis and stop threatening to bomb Iran back to the Stone Age.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Chauvinist Games - Alternative medal table

The throat-swelling, gagging, puking spectacle that is the Olympic Games has us in its mind numbing grasp yet again. As usual, the inequalities that exist in the world end up being reflected in the games in myriad ways that could be written about at length. For instance, that Chinese swimmers, badminton players and cyclists (not to mention Algerian 800m runners) seem to get the rough end of the stick, whereas home nation cycling teams seem to be able to take advantage of a liberal interpretation of the rules. "When they do it, its cheating. When we do it, its tactics", as one British newspaper article put it recently.

But here I submit a simple visual aid - The Alternative Medal table.

My premise is very simple, that the wealth of a country (or relative lack thereof) measured by its GDP per capita, should be used to weight the medal tally. In some simple way this is a measure of the amount of funding available to train an athlete, even given the inequities that exist within nations. In any case It should be a better measure of the performance of a country than a simple "flat" medal table. I make a further subversive leap in taking the total medal tally rather than weighting gold as more valuable than silver etc. This is partly because I hate the "winner-takes -all, second-placers-can-expect-to-have-their-countries-invaded" ethos that infects the proceedings.

Anyway for what its worth, here is my alternative list current of 7th August, and I endeavour to keep it updated until we can all get back to the usual round of economic crisis, war and hopefully revolution.

UPDATE: I noticed since I put this around 24 hours or so ago, that the Guardian now have statistical material amounting to Alternative Medal tables on their website. However none of their combinations amount to this table here, which is now updated for today's events 

The Olympics 2012 Alternative Medal Table - 7 Aug.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NATO intervention in Libya

I, like most people I imagine, have willed on the people power rebellions that have swept the Arab world over the past two months and which show no sign of abating. In country after country, protestors have shed their fear, come out on the streets and bravely stood up to the weaponry of the Army and secret Police which by and large were supplied by the West for the very purpose of suppressing dissent. This is the reason why the West was initially hostile to this protest movement, defending Mubarak for instance as "one of the family". When this stance became quickly and obviously untenable, Western politicians have cast around for a way to get a foot back in the door in an attempt to steer the movement into a new dependency on the West.

The Libyan bombing campaign is the excuse for the West to attempt to regain lost ground. That this is obvious is seen in the sheer hypocrisy of tut tutting about the massacres in Bahrain and Yemen whilst letting fly 100s of cruise missiles at anything that moves in Libya. Mission creep was written in before the first bombs fell and for all the claims of legality, the powers that be dont even seem sure whether they have the right to murder Gaddafi without even a hint of due process. The imperialists are seeking to rehabilitate themselves in the wake of the disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan where 100s of thousands have died and millions suffer under corrupt torturing regimes installed once again at the behest of the West.

The West has been the cause of many of the Arab world's problems and this Libyan "intervention" is designed to poision the current revolutions. The revolutionary upsurge in North Africa and the Middle East is manifestly pan-arab with implications much further afield. By inspiring and deepening a movement from below in country after country new regional trans-national possibilities based on real democracy, social justice and peace arise. Revolutionary Egypt had already begun arming Libyan rebels and a vast sea of solidarity from the Arab masses was evident. It was only a matter of time before the tide turned in Libya and Gaddafi became history. A million times better for that to happen at the hands of the people and not by the missiles of the imperialist masters.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The enemies of Democracy

Just to be clear why there is such a massive movement for democracy on the streets of Egypt. 60% unemployment, 34% live below the poverty line. There is 20% malnutrition. People work in factories 12 hours a day for 40p. You get arrested and tortured if you complain. And presiding over this is a US backed dictator that collaborates in every atrocity committed against Palestinians whilst committing the same against his own people. Finally the people have had enough and are prepared to face US made tear gas, bullets, tanks and jets, in order to have some sort of decent life. All of a sudden Clinton and Obama are scrambling to pretend they have always been for democracy in Egypt. Even the lie of it is too much for Israel:
According to the Israeli parper Ha'aretz. "The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren't considering their genuine interests," one senior Israeli official told the paper. "Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they're not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications." A columnist in the Jerusalem Post describes the unrest in Egypt as "worst disaster since Iran's revolution"
Not even a pretence at support for democracy. Instead lets remind the US of its "genuine interests" - it is necessary in order to ensure control of the Middle East and the flow of oil, that the rights of the population be interminably suppressed. After all, allow Egyptians a better life and all of a sudden the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in Israel, 4.2 million who live in the Occupied Territories and the 10 million that live in refugees camps will want it too.

But we already knew of Israel/US's aversion to democracy. They hate the idea that the duly elected Hezb'allah may actually have any influence in the Lebanese parliament. And we saw what happened when Hamas was elected by the Palestinians in 2006. The people's choice was rejected out of hand by the imperial overlords. Plans were drawn up by the British MI6 for the massacre of Gaza that was carried out with the foreknowledge of collaborators in the Palestinian Authority in Dec 2008/Jan 2009. There hasn't been an election allowed since.

The problem is that Israel/US through their barbaric repression have constructed a leaky dyke against the now apparent tsunami of arab resentment. You can't order the tide out forever, and now it appears that 60 years of oppression are now going to blow back in their faces.

One of the popular slogans of the protest movement in Egypt (and also one of the oldest is)
"Mubarak traitor, agent of Americans."
The Egyptian people are standing steadfast against every dirty trick in the book. They have formed their own militias to defend against police-led attacks. Tahrir square is fast becoming an enormous university of the revolution with discussions, speeches, free food distribution, spontaneous organisation and a heightened political awareness.

One can not but be wholeheartedly for such a movement, and urge it on to victory. May one of its first actions, once taking power, be the repudiation of the oppression of Palestinians and the lifting of the siege of Gaza.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Ahh summer – those long lazy days on holiday by the sea…with the peace… and quiet.. and… well boredom, which can be relieved by finding a good read in the local library. Now call me weird, but when I drop into the library in those sleepy far off towns I usually pass by the physics shelf in the science section for a bit of a squiz. The shelf’s contents are almost always desultory and mercifully I’m usually forced to pass those long afternoons with some pulp fiction.

In contrast, imagine my excitement to discover how absolutely well stocked with fabulous physics books is the DESY library. And those long shelves full of (actually not) dusty old journals like Soviet Physics JETP (journal of experimental and theoretical physics). Now to come across even such a journal title, as I did when I was an undergraduate in the still cold war world of the 80’s, was exciting enough. It seemed like a little bit of a communist 5th column in our bourgeois decadent science library. And that journal is jammed pack full of very intelligent theoretical work – no doubt drummed out of proletarian scientists as they were forced to think away in some Siberian institute that was bound to be a state secret.

I based a lot of my research on papers from that journal – in the 80’s it felt like I was the only person in the West who even knew of their existence! Not true of course. They had obviously been translated into english quite sometime before and I was being naieve – but its nice to daydream sometimes. In any case during the process of my research I ran into a mathematical problem (see my previous blog entry) and I found, tucked away in a little corner of one of those JETP papers, a delicious reference to a soviet maths book – that hadn’t been translated and in fact wasn’t in our library’s catalogue. Or indeed in any library catalogue in the country. Eventually my brave inter-library loans librarian established that it could be obtained from the Leningrad library itself!

Obtained? Obtained!?? Would such a thing be possible? Even if the Apparatchiks allowed it out of the country, could it make it past the Iron Curtain? Even then, wouldn’t some US blockade (like the one around Cuba) stop my precious Leningrad maths book in its tracks? Somehow my intrepid book found its way into my eager hands some satisfyingly long 6 weeks later. And it was satisfyingly jammed pack full of mathematical identities, none of which, sadly, helped me to solve my maths problem. So I sent my brave little book back from whence it came.

To its doom. Horrifyingly, just a few months later the Leningrad National Academy of Sciences library burnt to the ground – destroying some 400,000 precious books and damaging millions of others. As this was really before the whole OCR, electronic library thing, perhaps many were lost forever – a veritable chernobyl of the soviet library world. The only thin silver lining was that it wasn’t the gorgeous Kunstkammer – built by Peter the Great to house the science collection and the original home of the Science Library – that was destroyed, but a faceless brown cubish building, which cant have been as nice to work in in any case.

These days the internet has brought us the means to better preserve our collective science knowledge. Many physics text books are now available online and the academic papers likewise – though more work needs to be done to digitize the older papers in journals like the JETP. And its still the case that this information has to be made free. I mean it not now in an iron curtain sense but a financial one. Subscription rates to academic journals are prohibitively high meaning that you have to be an employee of a large university or laboratory to get access to it. The international science community however thrives on the free exchange of information and to that end set up the freely accessible preprint server ArXiv. Here you will find academic papers in electronic form before they get locked away in the journals. There are high hopes for ArXiv

“Its existence was one of the precipitating factors that led to the current revolution in scientific publishing, known as the open access movement, with the possibility of the eventual disappearance of traditional scientific journals.”

One advantage of the journals are that the work that appears in them is peer (or if you like) quality reviewed. However mechanisms exist for the endorsement of ArXiv material – in general the quality of the work is very high, and its a great resource.

To finish with an adage then, information wants to be free and Science thrives on openness, cooperativeness and the absence of a profit motive!

Physics and Mathematics

When I was an undergraduate I enjoyed both my mathematics and physics subjects. Pure maths was an exercise in precision, when in proving a simple enough looking theorem, you should be concerned about the minutest detail. Physics I enjoyed because it was mysterious, it was about the world and it involved maths. That seemed like a compelling combination – that a whole class of physical phenomena could be encapsulated in a single mathematical expression. However, there is always the question lurking in the background, what exactly is the relationship of physics to maths?

There are of course many different attitudes and indeed deeply philosophical attitudes. A mathematician might think something like this:
In mathematics, the pure notions of numbers and other structures do not need physics to exist or explain or even justify them. But the surprising thing is that often some newly discovered abstract formulation in mathematics turns out, years later, to describe physical phenomena which we hadn’t known about earlier. The only conclusion I can bring myself to is that mathematics is not just a tool of physics; it must be much, much more.
Conversely, mathematics alone is not enough to determine a physical system. For instance in studying magnetism historically, the English physicist Michael Faraday invisioned lines of forces in an invisible medium stretching between, say, your fridge magnet and your fridge as you bring the former towards the latter. Continental physicsts like Laplace and Poisson envisaged centres of force acting over a distance across empty space. James Maxwell showed that the two different visions were identical mathematically. However physically they were completely different systems giving rise to long debates and experiments about the existence of a universal aether which may transmit Faraday’s lines of force

One concept which occurs often in physics – and which gives rise to interesting mathematical expressions is that of symmetry. For instance the image above is caused by focusing light onto a circular hole and resulting in a centrally symmetric diffraction pattern. The mathematical function which describes how the brightness of the pattern varies is called after its creator – the Airy function.

These Airy functions (written Ai(z)) occur whenever we try to describe any physical system with the same type of symmetry. And indeed I have an ulterior purpose in making such a long-winded introduction – I study a particular physical system with such a symmetry – in fact an interaction between particles embedded in a strong centrally symmetric field. So naturally in my study I obtain Airy’s functions – and not just one or two, but an awkward combination of Airy’s and other functions.

To be frank this “awkward combination” has been driving me nuts for quite sometime – with me wishing that my undergraduate maths lectures hadn’t occurred so long ago. You didn’t think I was going to spare you the gory details did you?

There are two ways of simplifying this little bit of maths. Firstly, the squiggly, almost vertical line on the left – the integration – can be done analytically. That is we can perhaps find an algebraic expression exa
ctly equivalent to the above, but without the integration. This is usually the preferred result – to be able to see a physical system described in assimple mathematics as possible is not only asthetically pleasing, but leads to deep insights about the physical system in question. For instance the formula describing the entropy S (or amount of disorder) of a gas, developed by physicist Lugwig Boltzmann, was considered so important that it is engraved on his grave.

In the second method of simplification, my problem integration could be done numerically by using a computer to plot the functions to the right of the integration sign and then calculating the area under the plot. This is the “brute force” method and not very satisfactory if you expect a physical system to be written simply in the language of mathematics. On the other hand, since all simple functions like the Airy function are themselves written in terms of integrations over other functions, then it may be the case that I’m dealing with a new type of function that deserves to be “fundamental” in some sense.

This goes to a deeper question – what is more important, the abstract formulae that describe a physical system, or a the real numbers that arise from calculating such formulae and which are compared with real experiments on the system in question? I suspect the answer is that both are equally important and it is the interplay between the numbers and the formulae – the experiment and the theory – that leads to a deeper understanding.