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Tag Archives: Review

By Babak Moussavi

5 Days in MayThe tense, uncertain days that followed the British general election in May 2010 seem like a while ago now. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, quite a novelty at first, has become so entrenched in our minds that the previous Labour administration seems to represent a different zeitgeist entirely, where the word ‘austerity’ was not even part of the political lexicon. Gordon Brown seems like ancient history, despite remaining as an MP.

One common refrain on the part of the leaders of the Coalition, in particular the Chancellor, George Osborne, is that the policies enacted have been necessary and inevitable. Indeed, the TINA argument – “there is no alternative” – is the foundation to the government’s ‘deficit-cutting’ programme. This is highly disingenuous.

But with time, it is not just the policies of the coalition, but the coalition itself that has been made to seem inevitable. With hindsight, it has been made to seem as though the only governing coalition possible was between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, given that this combination was the only grouping that could command a majority in the House of Commons, let alone ‘rescue’ Britain.

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By Babak Moussavi

Probably not a place to build your holiday home.

Probably not a place to build your holiday home.

North Korea’s autarkic regime is sabre-rattling once again, with many observers genuinely worried about an outbreak of fighting. But while the tension in the Korean peninsular continues, another dispute has been rumbling, which is equally likely to build up to a dangerous clash in the near future. While nobody really knows what exactly Kim Jong-Un’s latest bout of frothing anger is all about, the other long-brewing conflict, between regional superpowers, China and Japan, is over some small, uninhabited rocks in the sea.

International Crisis Group’s recent report on the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is worth reading. Based on a large number of interviews with prominent and relevant individuals from both Japan and China, the ICG report, entitled Dangerous Waters: China-Japan Relations on the Rocks, provides the context for this dispute, and explains why tension that suddenly increased late last year has not subsided. It is a worrying tale, and the report does not rule out the possibility that violence could break out – out of the blue, as it were. This article briefly summarises the ICG report.

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9/11 Wars coverBy Babak Moussavi

It is a cliché to point out that the events of September 11th 2001 changed the world. Indeed, they did. The dust of the collapsing towers of the World Trade Centre may have settled long ago, but the aftermath is still felt acutely. Nearly 12 years after the invasion of Afghanistan, principally to root out and destroy the leadership of the al-Qaeda terrorist group that was harboured there by the Taliban regime, NATO troops are still in the country, and are still fighting the Taliban. Huge numbers of mostly innocent people have died, mainly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of the Middle East and southern and central Asia, but also in Western capitals. What happened?

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by Sam Bright

jealMark Twain, a man who knew a thing or two about recognising a great tale of adventure, said in 1878, “Stanley is almost the only man alive today whose name and work will be familiar one hundred years hence”. Ironic, that. Mr Twain evidently underestimated his own import. Even in Little Old England, I would happily bet that more people would be able to link Mark Twain with his most famous creations, than can link Henry Morton Stanley with the navigation of the Congo, or the Emin Pasha relief expedition.

Reality contrives to be crueller still. Before picking up Tim Jeal’s stupendous biography of one the greatest Welshmen, I knew perhaps three things about the explorer: (obviously) that his name was Henry Morton Stanley; he uttered the immortal phrase “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”; and his adventures inspired Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Having now put down that biography, I realise: I was wrong on all counts.

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By Babak Moussavi

The-New-Few“We’re all in this together” was without doubt the most horrible slogan at the last election, given how disingenuous it sounded when uttered by George Osborne and other frontbench Conservatives. It was, according to one author, “grotesquely implausible”. It suggests that the costs of the “necessary” austerity measures would be borne by all, and that everyone would pay their fair share. One would imagine that this means those responsible for the financial crisis itself – that is, those who got rich and benefited disproportionately in the bubble years – would bear the brunt of what would euphemistically be called “structural reform”. We now know that was not the case.

The Resolution Foundation recently found that inequality in the UK has increased over the past 15 years, just as it grew in the 1980s. The top 1% of earners now absorbs 10p in every pound of income, while the bottom half take home just 18p.

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By Sam Tomlin

richer-than-godModern football is a complex beast. The constant acclamation of achievement and triumph at the construction of a world-wide brand, bringing entertainment and happiness to millions (billions?) is commonplace among proponents of the system. While at the same time, others, observing the same phenomenon, cry betrayal and failure for an experiment which has sold its soul for self-importance and corruption. Like any political system it promotes the game of ‘6s’ and ‘9s’ where some will say it’s a ‘6’, others a ‘9’ and some a ‘a badly drawn 8’.

David Conn is an investigative sports journalist. Growing up in Manchester in the 1970’s, like many young boys he fell in love with his local team, Manchester City. Ultimately the book, Richer than God, is about this love affair with his club and coming to terms with the reality that something he felt he had ‘ownership’ of was actually little more than a commodity to be bought or sold. Weaving constantly between joyful (and painful) memories growing up as a child in the Kippax stand in Maine Road, and the modern day acquisition of the club by billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Conn reaches into the depths of the philosophy not only of football but community, loyalty and belonging. Read More

By Babak Moussavi

Descent Into Chaos Image 2“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality”.

The question to be asked, over 11 years after the war in Afghanistan began, was whether the unnamed, neoconservative Bush adviser who uttered the foolish comment above was deluding himself about US power, or was dreaming up a nightmare. For the Afghan people, as well as those of surrounding countries, the question is not merely abstract: the reality that was “created” was chaos.

Ahmed Rashid’s explanation for the chain of events since 9/11 (up until 2008, which was when Descent Into Chaos was published) is that it was a toxic combination of massive incompetence and dangerous ideology. Most of us, with the benefit of hindsight, would surely agree. Mr Rashid, a well-respected Pakistani journalist and author of an authoritative text on the Taliban, was usually close to where the action was taking place during the dark years of the “war on terror”, however, and has provided a meticulously detailed account of the seven years that followed for Afghanistan, Pakistan and their central Asian neighbours.

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Fresh, ripe… ready to be wasted.

By Babak Moussavi

Every year, Americans waste between 30-40% of their food. The conservative estimate equates to $48.3 billion. Britons aren’t any better. In 2007, UK consumers threw away 6.7 million tonnes of food: one third of the total purchased, equivalent to £10.2 billion. That’s almost as much as the GDP of the Republic of Congo.

These figures come from an article in the latest Fabian Society Policy Report, Revaluing Food. The report is based largely on the results of a quantitative survey conducted by the Fabian Society into food habits and waste, with further commentary by academics, policy-makers and NGO workers. It makes for some uncomfortable reading about a neglected problem.

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By Babak Moussavi

The effects of the financial crisis that blew up with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 are still with us. Many Western governments pursue harsh austerity policies in a vain attempt to shift the huge overhang of debt that they took on by propping up economies in freefall. But few have had the courage or political imagination to reshape their economies in ways that will place them on a more sustainable, and equitable footing, in order to ensure a similar crisis does not strike again. Certainly, the world economy has not been reformed sufficiently.

This is a pressing concern, argues Philippe Legrain in his excellent book, Aftershock. A return of the status quo ante will lead to another almighty catastrophe, with effects far worse than what we have experienced already, as governments will be less equipped to step in. Bubbles will grow, laissez-faire economic policies will do nothing about them, and financial crises will recur. Governments need to enact major reforms if we are to prevent this from happening.

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By Babak Moussavi

The USA has always appeared to suffer from high rates of violence, at least in the eyes of Europeans. The recent murder of peaceful Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin again affirms this perception. Some have attributed this to the culture of gun-ownership, or to the Wild West mentality of harsh individualism. Others (notably, those of a conservative bent) have suggested that it is because the innocents have been discouraged from using force to protect themselves.

The rates of violent death (including both suicides and homicide, which often correspond) have not been held at a constant level since 1900, however. Although they have always been high by the ‘developed’ world’s standards, they have fluctuated wildly. James Gilligan, an epidemiologist at NYU and formerly of Harvard, inquired into this curious pattern in order to seek an explanation for why people were changing their killing habits. As a doctor, his main aim was the prevention of a disease: in this case, the social disease of violent death. And yet, in doing so, he stumbled into politics. His findings, presented in the book Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others, are shocking.

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