Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Boondoggle Economy

I’ve just discovered a new word. It’s “boondoggle”.

Well it’s not a new word actually. The spell check on my word processor recognises it. But it’s new to me.

It comes from America. A boondoggle was a piece of braided leather which boy scouts used to hang their whistles on. It may have had a nautical purpose at one time. It’s basically a useless but decorative item.

Later on it appeared in a headline in the New York Times, on 4 April 1935. “$3,187,000 Relief is Spent to Teach Jobless to Play ... Boon Doggles Made”.

It was referring to one aspect of the New Deal programme during the depression when unemployed people were put to work doing useless jobs.

As a word it became famous overnight and came to represent government funded work with no intrinsic purpose used as a way of gaining political patronage.

I first came across the word in an article from Rolling Stone magazine called The Great Iraq Swindle.

In the article the writer is referring to the privatisation of services in the US armed forces. The American army no longer washes its own smalls. It gets a private company in to do that. The private company is on a cost-plus contract. This means that whatever it spends it earns, plus three percent.

It’s the way the American army has been run since the Balkans, which means that Blair must have been aware of it.

Stop and think about it for a second. Cost-plus. You get three percent on whatever you spend. It’s a recipe for spending as much money as you possibly can. Everything you spend earns you an extra three percent.

This is what they call “free enterprise”.

So American soldiers’ underwear is being washed on a cost-plus basis. So too are all their social needs being met. Cost-plus means that every soldier who uses the privatised R’n’R facilities gets charged to the American government, which encourages the people who estimate the numbers to exaggerate. The people who estimate the numbers are also the people who take home the profit.

Cost-plus is also the method being used to rebuild Iraq: that traumatised, wounded, war-torn, and shattered country. Cost-plus to build privatised hospitals. Cost-plus to build roads, police training academies, schools, to run airports, to build sewerage plants, to generate electricity, the lot.

It’s the reason why nothing in Iraq works very well, why they still have power cuts even to this day. They blame it on terrorists, but it’s mainly just substandard workmanship.

Profits go straight back home to America, to American private investors, leaving the poor Iraqis with nothing but wreckage to contend with. Even their services aren’t their own.

Everything that the Americans knock down in that grand on-going Turkey-shoot we call “The War on Terror” is being rebuilt at the American taxpayers expense by private companies on a cost-plus basis, making this the biggest public spending bonanza in World history.

This is called "Military Keynsianism". Keynsianism is the theory - first suggested by the British Economist John Maynard Keynes - that a capitalist economy needs a constant supply of public money to "prime the pump", as it were, to keep the economy rolling. In the post-war years in Europe public spending was - to a large extent - spent upon the public, on hospitals and schools. This was called "the welfare state". Military Keynsianism is another form of the welfare state: the welfare state for the rich, a way of funnelling public money into private hands via the Military-Industrial Complex.

So next time you hear about operations against al-Qaeda targets on the outskirts of Baghdad, remember who will do the rebuilding.

Remember, too, who made the bombs and who built the planes; who supplies the equipment; who made the uniforms and who rakes in the cash.

War: the biggest boondoggle of all time.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pistis Sophia

The following is a column I submitted to an astrology magazine. Regular readers of this blog will recognise it as based on something I wrote in these pages about two years ago. Unfortunately the editors didn't feel it was suitable and it was rejected. This is only the second time a story of mine has been turned down by this particular publication. Interestingly enough, the first time it was a story about Christianity too: about Pro-Life Christians.

Here's a copy of the e-mail exchange between me and the editor just after it was rejected:

Chris: "What's the reasoning for this, just out of interest? No-go on Christianity?"

Editor: "Yeah bang on, we have to give religion a wide berth."

Which is odd, don't you think? Why would an astrology magazine feel that it has to give a wide berth to religious questions?

But as I pointed out to a Christian friend of mine these texts have been suppressed for nearly 2,000 years now, so it's not surprising that they should continue to be. I expect they would get a lot of noisy hate mail if they published. Christians just seem to find the idea of a feminine aspect to the divinity too difficult to contemplate it seems....

On my birthday I typed the words “The Hypostasis of the Archons” into my mobile phone and sent it as a text to my ex-wife, the mother of my son.

The funny thing is, of course, that using predictive text, my mobile phone did not recognise the words at all. Well it recognised some of the words, but not others. The others I had to spell out. Hypostasis. Archons. Letter by letter. Therefore my mobile phone now contains the title of an early Christian Gnostic text in its memory.

The Hypostasis of the Archons. It means, “The Reality of the Rulers”. It is one of the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. They are a collection of early Christian writings which had been buried in the desert to hide them from destruction by the Orthodox elites at the time. They date from between the first century to the fourth century AD and show what a very different force Christianity was in these early years.

When I found the text on the Internet is was like a thrill of instant electric recognition passing through my whole body.

I’d never read anything quite like this before, and yet is was oddly familiar. Christianity, and yet not-quite Christianity. Something else.

The reason I typed the title into my mobile phone to send to my ex was that she had asked me about Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code.

I’d said that Dan Brown was sort of onto a half-truth in his book. Not that Jesus ever married Mary Magdalene, but that the feminine has been systematically exorcised from Christianity over the centuries and that certain forgotten forms of the religion were much more sympathetic to the notion of a female side to the deity.

This is clear in The Hypostasis of the Archons, where the feminine part of the deity is given a name: Pistis Sophia.

“Sophia” means “Wisdom”, “Pistis” means “Faith”.

Her name therefore means “the Wisdom of Faith”, or, perhaps, “the Faith of the Wise”.

This is how she is described in the book:

“As incorruptibility looked down into the region of the waters, her image appeared in the waters; and the authorities of the darkness became enamoured of her. But they could not lay hold of that image, which had appeared to them in the waters, because of their weakness - since beings that merely possess a soul cannot lay hold of those that possess a spirit - for they were from below, while it was from above. This is the reason why ‘incorruptibility looked down into the region (etc.)’: so that, by the father's will, she might bring the entirety into union with the light.”

It was the image of the goddess reflected in the waters that caused a resonance in me. The goddess as “incorruptibility”. The idea of the “authorities of the darkness” becoming enamoured of her, but being unable to lay hold of her. They fail to lay hold of her firstly because they are looking in the wrong place. (What they are looking at is merely a reflection.) But secondly, because she is the image of incorruptibility and cannot, therefore be “laid hold of”. She is beyond objectification. She is beyond property. She is beyond measure.

As I read the words it conjured up an image in my mind.

This image sent a message to me about the true nature of our world, as a reflection of another world. Sometimes, even, I can sense that other world - not so far away - as a world of immense, intense almost unbearable beauty; as a world of true kindness; as a world of friends, not strangers; as a world where exploitation and violence have ceased to exist; as a world which glows with its own inner light, where the works of art and nature are forever intertwined in an elaborately playful dance of sheer delight. The naturalising of the human. The humanising of nature.

The rebirth of the goddess.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


This is Sohail Qureshi, the dentist who was jailed for four and a half years last week on terrorism charges.

The picture is the one used in the Sun newspaper in its coverage of the trial on January the 9th.

In other pictures he appears without a beard, or with a small goatee.

Have you noticed how unreal that beard looks? It looks like it has been scribbled on the photograph with a felt tip pen. Look at it more closely and it appears to be the product of some cack-handed manipulations in Photoshop. The question is why? Why bother to put up a fake photograph when there are real photographs available? We can only wonder. Maybe the real photographs weren't intimidating enough.

Qureshi was arrested at Heathrow airport in 2006 as he was getting ready to board a flight to Pakistan.

He had several thousand pounds in cash taped about his person. In his baggage were night-vision lenses, sleeping bags and rucksacks, plus a removable hard-drive containing copies of US combat manuals.

According to security sources – as reported in the Sun - he was intending to go on to Afghanistan where he was planning to take part in actions against British and American troops.

You see this is what I find absurd. How seriously are we supposed to take this? The threat from jokers like Quereshi is about as real as that beard of his, and as effective as that Kalashnikov would be against an F16 fighter or a B1 bomber.

This is not to say that he didn’t intend harm, or that he shouldn’t be punished.

Who knows what was going on in his mind or what he intended? It's just that, on a relative scale this man is decidedly small-fry. A nothing. A nobody. A jumped-up idiot with delusions of grandeur.

The threat of terrorism is now a world-wide phenomenon. But the majority of victims of terrorism are not people in the relatively safe West; they are Muslims in the conflagration of fear and terror that is the Middle East.

Over a million people have died violently in Iraq as a direct consequence of the actions of the British and American governments. When violence happens in an occupied territory it is always the occupiers who are to blame.

It is no less a terrorist act to be killed by an American warplane armed with Mk 82 general purpose bombs in a raid against al-Qaeda positions in a civilian area on the outskirts of Baghdad, as it is to be killed by terrorist bombs in London or Madrid; the difference being the sheer frequency of the attacks.

Two attempts in the last five years in London.

One a week in Baghdad.

The trouble is, when I say something like that I can already feel people’s hackles rising.

Nothing justifies attacks on civilians.


And that goes as much in Iraq – where attacks on civilians are an everyday occurrence – as it does in London.

There is no such thing as “collateral damage”.

There are people dying, that’s all. And mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters grieving. And families and friends driven literally insane with grief.

And one grief does not compensate for another, it only adds to the store of grief.

This is a grieving, sad, hopeless, desperate world right now and I don’t know what the answer might be.

Grief on grief. Never ending grief.

But what I suspect - what I very strongly suspect - is that the routine response of enraged Muslims like Qureshi to these horrors is expected, and that the customary noise of newspapers like the Sun - their manufactured outrage - is merely a ploy, a front, a slight of hand in a game of masks and appearances covering far more devious plans.

The vultures are feeding on the blood of war.

It’s rich pickings amongst the carnage.

In the midst of a collapsing economy war is the one sure-fire way to increasing profits.

And just as I celebrate the capture and punishment of one would-be terrorist like Sohail Qureshi, so I would be even more pleased to see the real war criminals brought to justice; to see the likes of Bush and Blair hauled before a jury and tried in a properly constituted court of law.

You see, I believe in Justice.

Which is more than you can say for them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Armageddon Factory

Maybe I’m too cynical at times. I read the newspapers, or watch the TV news, and my first instinct is to wonder how I am being manipulated.

Take that story about the dentist-turned-terrorist Sohail Qureshi who was jailed for four and a half years last week. Most of the newspapers were suggesting that his sentence was too mild, adding that he was likely to be free in a year.

But what actual threat was he?

He was caught boarding a flight with several thousand pounds in cash strapped about his body, with optical night-vision lenses and police batons in his bag, along with two sleeping bags, two rucksacks, some medical supplies and a removable hard drive containing US army combat manuals.

He pleaded guilty to possessing articles for terrorist purposes and to possessing a record of information likely to be useful to terrorists.

So it’s obvious, by his own admission, that he was bent upon some violent act. No doubt he deserved to go to prison.

He had also been in contact with Samina Malik, the so-called “lyrical terrorist”.

Several of the news programmes referred to him as “an al-Qaida operative”. Apparently he had been on a training camp once. One newspaper described him as “a hate-filled fanatic”, while another said that he planned “to fight against British and American troops in Afghanistan”.

It was at this point that I spluttered into my tea.

He’s a dentist. What’s he going to do: pull their teeth out? Even assuming he has actually had some training, how, exactly, is he going to fight British and American troops using police batons, sleeping bags and rucksacks?

I’m trying to imagine what sort of action he might have been planning. I have a picture of him charging down a hill spinning a sleeping bag over his head while wielding his trusty baton. He would have been able to do this at night, of course, being equipped with the night-vision lenses.

OK. He had money. Maybe he was going to buy weapons. He could probably get one or two Kalashnikovs for that money, plus maybe some grenades and a pistol. Perhaps there was even a brigade of Taliban troops waiting to meet him somewhere on the Afghan border.

You have to ask, however: what use would a dentist from Forest Gate be to the Taliban, those battle-hardened mountain-men, many of whom have known nothing but war all their lives? He wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

But it’s the comparison of resources that clarifies the real truth behind this story.

The day after Sohail Qureshi was sentenced the Americans were in action on the outskirts of Baghdad, attacking so-called al-Qaida targets.

They dropped 40,000 lbs of explosives in a forty minute blitz using F16 fighters and B1 bombers.

A B1 bomber costs $283.1 million. The US Air Force has 100 of them. Each 500lb bomb costs $283.50, making the cost of one forty minute operation, in ordinance alone, nearly $23,000.

There are currently 1,055,734 American soldiers on active duty around the world. US arms spending amounts to 48% of the world total. US soldiers are the best equipped in the world, each one having large quantities of deadly, sophisticated weaponry at their disposal….. probably including night sights and sleeping bags.

The idea that a crazed dentist from Forest Gate, an addled poetess from Southall and a few other nutters can be considered a threat to world peace compared to the Armageddon factory that is the United States is, of course, a fantasy.

Please click on the following link for a mind-boggling article from Rolling Stone magazine on the economic reasons behind the war in Iraq. Has the American state finally gone completely crazy? Here is the evidence...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Three Short Pieces: 1. Save the Fish!

There's a line where righteous behaviour can spill over into self-righteousness. It's a very fine line. Everyone knows it: the point where a matter of principle can become a matter of absurdity. Take what happened to my friend John. He was on a weekend camping trip in mid-Wales with his five year old daughter. This was the first time John had seen Rhiannon for weeks. And he's crouching by a little silvery stream with a child's fishing net, chasing the trout around, the girl hanging onto his leg and chattering, both of them more intent upon their conversation than with catching a fish, when they're approached by a couple.

"What do you think you're doing?" the woman says. The man just stands in the background with his arms folded, looking displeased. She has long hair and a woolly jumper, and he has sandals and a beard. John looks at them bemused. "You're not allowed to catch fish in here, you know," she adds, indignantly.

John stands up. "Catch fish?" he says. "With this?" And he holds up the flimsy stick with its little plastic net.

"Well, you look Green," the woman says.

It took a second or two for that one to sink in. John thought she was referring to his fishing abilities. And then it struck him. She was referring to his politics. She considered herself a conservationist. She was trying to Save The Fish.

It's a common problem on the Righteous Left. People become so caught up in what they like to think is the Big Picture, that they stop noticing the details. The mind is so set in a righteous groove that it can longer distinguish a threat from a plaything. Of course the real threats to the future of the Planet - the international corporations, the military-industrial complex - are so unassailable and, at the same time, so ubiquitous, that it is beyond the scope of the average person to challenge them in any but the most peripheral of ways.

So what's a good Eco-activist to do? He has to do something. This is the point, maybe, where the sense of a personal mission can fall into pomposity - where righteous purpose becomes self-righteous posturing - and can end in the absurd spectacle of a couple of middle-class hippies defending these swift, muscular trout from a child's plastic toy.

Rhiannon said: "I think that Woman's mad!"

2. Angry Hair

People have different ways of dealing with anger. Some people get drunk. Others kick a football about. Some people meditate. Raji drives.

He had this beautiful sport's car. And one day he was so angry he just jumped into it and put his foot down. He didn't tell me what he was angry about. So he was hurtling down the road at 60mph. There was an S-bend at the end of the road. He skidded round the first turn and then banked into the second. There were a couple of workmen nearby, digging up the road. He could see their faces. They were looking at him as if he was some kind of idiot. This made him even more angry. He just slammed his foot on the accelerator and...

Well you can guess the rest. His beautiful new sport car, slick and shiny and humming with power, wrapped around a lamp post: a write-off.

Anger makes you do stupid things. He was lucky he wasn't hurt. But he knew the workmen were still watching him. He leapt out of the door, slammed the door shut and, without looking back, went on his way. He was going to the hairdresser's.

Anger compounds anger. If he was pretty pissed off in the first place, he was quadrupley pissed-off now. The hairdresser had to calm him down. "Have you rung the AA?" the hairdresser asked. So Raji did. And with his car hissing and steaming around a lamp post, and this wild anger tearing at his nerves, he had his hair done.

Afterwards he went back to the car. The AA were already there, ready to tow the thing away. He gave them instructions on where to take it and got on with the rest of his day. He was due to at the airport in 4 hours. He didn't have time to think about what had happened till he sat down on the plane.

"And did you learn any lessons from it Raji?" someone asked.

"I learned not to drive when you're angry," he said.

"Why’s that?”

“You end up with a bad haircut.”

3. The Price of Food

"What's the most expensive food you've ever eaten?" says Pete.

There are a number of them sitting at the bar, sipping on the various drinks ranged in front of them. The barman is polishing a glass nonchalantly. They all look at each other, mildly bemused.

"Dunno," one of them volunteers. "Lobster, maybe. That's expensive."

"I had Caviar once," another one says, "only it wasn't worth it. Tasted like salty axle grease to me."

"Me and the Missus went to an upmarket Indian Restaurant in London, and they put gold leaf on the food. I don't know if it was expensive or not, but it was certainly tasteless, in more ways than one."

Pete is, by his own admission, mad. He's pumped full of all those drugs they give to psychotic patients, which makes his eyes watery, and his walk stiff and awkward, like a puppet from a Gerry Anderson TV serial. He holds his arms clumsily at his sides, curling the fingers, as he wanders from pub to pub looking for company. He's also the victim of an unhappy divorce, and these days he's been looking even worse. His clothes seem more battered and stained, he always seems to have tears in his eyes, and sometimes he looks as if he's about to fall over. I asked him if he was all right.

"It's these new drugs," he told me, "they make me depressed."

"Don't you resent being made a specimen in a psychiatrist's drug-experiment?" I asked.

"I'd rather take the drugs than not," he said. "Not taking the drugs is much worse."

So anyway: back at the pub. Eventually they'd all run out of expensive foods to discuss. They'd been through all of the obvious examples, and anyway, it was beginning to seem like a pointless question. It wasn't as if he was asking them what meals they had enjoyed, which would have got a much better response. One of them turns to Pete.

"So what's the most expensive food you've ever eaten then Pete?"

It was what he'd been waiting for.

"Wedding Cake," he said, and walked out.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Personally I don’t like the idea of fate. When we talk of fate it makes it sound as if everything is predestined, predetermined, laid out like a train on its tracks, taking us on a journey from here to there without us having a say in the matter.

That’s the meaning of the word “destiny”. It means destination: the place where we are going.

Read more here

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Happy New Year

A Happy New Year.

Or is it?

It depends on which calendar you are using. For instance, the 1st of January 2008 in the Gregorian calendar is actually the 23rd of Tevet 5768 in the Jewish calendar, and the new year is not due for another 273 days, on the 29th of Elul, which is the 29th of September.

According to the Southern Buddhists, New Year is the first three days of the full moon in April and the year is 2551.

According to Muslims, New Year is on the 10th of January, and the year is 1429.

According to the Chinese, the New Year is in February, and the year is the Year of the Rat.

According to the Julian calendar New Year is on the 14th of January. The Julian calendar was the calendar used in the West until 1582, when it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar. Some Eastern Orthodox churches still celebrate New Year on the 14th of January and some stubborn traditionalists still use the Julian calendar for all of their dates.

In fact it is possible to celebrate New Year in almost every month of the year. It depends on what part of the world you come from and which belief-system you ascribe to.

According to Robert Anton Wilson, the great anarchist humourist and writer, the year is now 6008, his personal count beginning with the birth of Hung Mung, a mythological ancient Chinese philosopher who supposedly answered all questions by shouting loudly, "I don't know! I don't know!"

Thus Robert Anton Wilson’s satirical version of a calendar system begins with an uncertainty.

Later he revised his views, saying that ALL calendar systems, including his own, were attempts to impose a single vision on a complex world, and he started using a variety of different systems at the same time. So a Robert Anton Wilson article might be dated in any one of about twenty different ways.

What most of these different calendar systems have in common is a starting date. That is, they are linear and progressive and whoever devised the system had to choose a day on which to start calculating the progression of days and months and years that lead us up to today‘s date.

Thus time is perceived as a straight line leading from somewhere to somewhere else. So it seems to go from the past to the future, from something that is fixed and known to something that is as yet unrealised, from young to old, from youth to maturity, from ignorance to wisdom.

And as it does so it degenerates: it goes from strength to weakness, from vigour to decrepitude, shifting from imagination into habit, from creativity into decay, in a process which can never be reversed.

But time might not be like this at all. It might not go in a line. It might go in circles.

One particular Celtic version of the New Year came in the form of a story. The young Oak King challenges the old Holly King for the love of the goddess, and kills him. This story is commemorated in a garbled form in the ancient carol, the Holly and the Ivy, and is repeated, in reverse order, in the summer, when the Holly King defeats the Oak King.

Thus the cycle of the year is seen as a story of death and rebirth, endlessly echoed through time.

Which, of course, is exactly what it is: death and decay giving way to growth and rebirth, and all of us spinning in a merry dance through the cycles of seasons.

And it is this notion of time which we celebrate in our modern version of the New Year. We celebrate the idea that the year can become new again. We celebrate the renewal and the rebirth of the year.

So a Happy New Year to you once more, whenever you think that might be.