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‘I’ Article on ‘Bardcore’ – Postmodern Fusion of Medieval Music and Modern Pop

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 8:20pm in

I’m a fan of early music, which is the name that’s been given to music from the ancient period through medieval to baroque. It partly comes from having studied medieval history at ‘A’ level, and then being in a medieval re-enactment group for several years. Bardcore is, as this article explains, a strange fusion of modern pop and rock with medieval music, played on medieval instruments and with a medieval vocal arrangement. I’ve been finding a good deal of it on my YouTube page at the moment, which means that there are a good many people out there listening to it. On Monday the I’s Gillian Fisher published a piece about this strange new genre of pop music, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1199’, with the subtitle ‘Bardcare reimagines modern pop with a medieval slant. Hark, says Gillian Fisher’. The article ran

“Hadst thou need to stoop so low? To send a wagon for thy minstrel and refuse my letters, I need no longer write them though. Now thou art somebody whom I used to know.”

If you can’t quite place this verse, let me help – it’s the chorus from the 2011 number one Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye. It might seem different to how you remember it, which is no surprise – this is the 2020 Bardcore version. Sometimes known as Tavernwave, Bardcore gives modern hits a medieval makeover with crumhorns a plenty and lashings of lute. Sometimes lyrics are also rejigged as per Hildegard von Blingin’s offering above.

Algal (41-year-old Alvaro Galan) has been creating medieval covers since 2016, a notable example being his 2017 version of System of a Down’s Toxicity. Largely overlooked at the time, the video now boasts over 4.4 million views. Full-time musician Alvaro explains that “making the right song at the right moment” is key, and believes that Bardcore offers absolute escapism.

Alvaro says: “What I enjoy most about Bardcore is that I can close my eyes and imagine being in a medieval tavern playing for a drunk public waiting to dance! But from a more realistic perspective , I love to investigate the sounds of the past.”

In these precarious times, switching off Zoom calls and apocalyptic headlines to kick back with a flagon of mead offers a break from the shambles of 2020. Looking back on simpler times during periods of unrest is a common coping mechanism, as Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at New York’ Le Moyne College explained in her paper on nostalgia: “Nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation can also elicit nostalgia.”

The fact that Bardcore is also pretty funny also offers light relief. The juxtaposition of ancient sound with 21st-century sentiment is epitomised in Stantough’s medieval oeuvre, such as his cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Originally from Singapore, Stantough (Stanley Yong), 35 says: “I really like the fact we don’t really take it very seriously. We’re all aware what we’re making isn’t really medieval but the idea of modern songs being “medievalised” is just too funny.”

One of Bardcore’s greatest hits, is Astronomia by Cornelius Link, which features trilling flutes and archaic vocal by Hildegard. It’s a tune that has been enjoyed by 5.3 million listeners. Silver-tongued Hildegard presides over the Bardcore realm, with her cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance clocking up 5 million views. Canadian illustrator Hildegard, 28, fits Bardcore around work and describes herself as “an absolute beginner” with the Celtic harp and “enthusiastically mediocre” with the recorder. Her lyric adaptations have produced some humdingers such as “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots which she sings in rich, resonant tones.

HIldegard, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the Bardcore boom can be “chalked up to luck, boredom and a collective desire to connect and laugh.”

In three months, the Bardcore trend has evolved with some minstrels covering Disney anthems, while others croon Nirvana hits in classical Latin. While slightly absurd, this fusion genre has ostensibly provided a sense of unity and catharsis.

The humming harps and rhythmic tabor beats evoke a sense of connection with our feudal ancestors and their own grim experience of battening down the hatches against the latest outbreak. Alongside appealing to the global sense of pandemic ennui, connecting to our forbears through music is predicated upon the fact that they survived their darkest hours. And so shall we.

While Bardcore’s a recent phenomenon, I think it’s been drawing on trends in pop music that have happening for quite long time. For example, I noticed in the 1990s when I went to a performance of the early music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, when they performed at Brandon Hill in Bristol that the audience also included a number of Goths. And long-haired hippy types also formed part of the audience for Benjamin Bagley when he gave his performance of what the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf probably sounded like on Anglo-Saxon lyre at the Barbican centre in the same decade.

Bardcore also seems connected to other forms of postmodern music. There’s the group the Postmodern Jukebox, whose tunes can also be found on YouTube, who specialise in different 20th century arrangements of modern pop songs. Like doing a rock anthem as a piece of New Orleans Jazz, for example. And then there’s Orkestra Obsolete, who’ve arranged New Order’s Blue Monday using the instruments of the early 20th century, including musical saws and Theremin. There’s definitely a sense of fun with all these musical experiments, and behind the postmodern laughter it is good music. An as this article points out, we need this in these grim times.

Here’s an example of the type of music we’re talking about: It’s Samuel Kim’s medieval arrangement of Star Wars’ Imperial March from his channel on YouTube.

And here’s Orkestra Obsolete’s Blue Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Financial Times’ Review of Book on Real, Modern Slavery

This is another old clipping I’ve kept in my scrapbooks from the Financial Times, from May 29/30th 1999. It’s a review by their columnist, Ben Rogers, ‘Forced into human bondage’, of Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global  Economy. This is another book that the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol had in its library. It’s an excellent book, but obviously very, very grim reading in its truly harrowing accounts of the brutality meted out to real, enslaved people across the world. I’m posting the review here because, while Britain and America are re-evaluating the legacy of slavery following the Black Lives Matter protests, real slavery and its horrors still exist around the world and I am afraid that this is being overshadowed by the debates over historic European slavery.

Rogers begins his review with the subtitled ‘Slavery today may be illegal, but it is still rife’. The review then goes on

It is tempting to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Its legacy lives on, disfiguring relations between Black and Whites everywhere, but surely the practice itself has gone?

This sober, well-researched, pioneering study shows that this, alas, is far from the case. Bales, an American social scientist who teaches in London at the Roehampton Institute, is careful to distinguish slavery from other forms of exploitation: the Pakistani child labourer, the Burmese agricultural worker, although paid a subsistence wage, are not necessarily slaves. Nevertheless, he argues that there are still, on a conservative estimate, perhaps 27m slaves in the world today – a population greater than that of Canada.

Most are located in the Indian subcontinent where they work as bonded labourers, but they exist in almost every country in the world. Paris harbours as many as 3,000 household slaves, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states many more. In the Dominican Republic, enslaved Haitians harvest the sugar that we eat. In Brazil, child prostitutes are forced to service the miners of the metals we use.

Of course, modern slavery is different from the old variety practised in ancient Athens or the American South. But in certain respects, Bales persuasively argues, the new variety is worse. In the traditional version, slave holders owned their slaves, who were almost always of a different race or religion from their masters; slaves were relatively expensive “capital” goods and usually kept up for life. Nowadays legal ownership is outlawed in every country of the world (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”), so modern slavery is disguised and “ownership” is replaced by manipulative debt bondage or fictive long-term “contracts”. Modern slaves tend to be taken from the same ethnic group as their holders and, because they are cheap, they are often used for only months or a few years before being discarded. Another difference is the size of the profit slaves produce. Agricultural bonded labourers in India generate not 5 per cent, as did slaves in the American South, but over 50 per cent profit per year for the slave holder; a Thai brothel owner can make 800 per cent on a new teenage girl.

To illustrate the nature of the new slavery, Bales has travelled around the world to investigate five cases in detail (often at some risk to himself): that of an enslaved prostitute in Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand; a water carrier in Mauritania; charcoal burners in the camps in Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil; brickmakers in the Punjab, Pakistan; and bonded agricultural labourers in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cases varied in significant ways. Ironically the one that most resembles old-style slavery – that of the water carrier from Mauritania – proves perhaps to be the least vicious. Slavery in Mauritania represents a lightly disguised continuation of a centuries-old practice; there slaves are kept for life and many slave families have been working for the same masters for generations. The cruellest example, by contrast, is provided by “Siri” the Thai prostitute, who was sold into slavery by her parents aged 14. Her debts to her owners are manipulate to ensure that she will continue to work until she is too tired or ill to be profitable.

Despite the differences, however, two continuities run through all the cases Bales so  graphically describes. In every case the worker is tricked or forced into bondage; in every case he or she is provided with the barest means of subsistence and sometimes not even that. In the charcoal camps of Brazil the men are often denied medication and left to die – on the principle that it is cheaper to acquire a new worker than repair an old one.

The western world has been slow to recognise the problem of the new slavery – in part because it is carefully disguised. The slave holders hide it from their government, governments hide it from the international community. The result is that, unlike, say, torture or censorship, slavery has yet to become a major human rights issue. The main international organisation dedicated to the abolition of slavery, Anti-Slavery International, has only 6,000 members. And without grass roots pressure, the World Bank, IMF and national governments are not inclined to show much concern.

“What country,” as Bales asks, “has been sanctioned by the UN for slavery? Where are the UN inspection teams charged with searching out slave labour? Who speaks for the slaves in the International Court of Justice? Governments and business are more likely to suffer international penalties today for counterfeiting a Michael Jackson CD than for using slaves.”

Modern slaves face the same conditions as the poor of the third world – they are the victims of industrialisation, population explosion and government corruption. Where labour is abundant, wages low, bribery rife, workers often face a stark choice between enslavement and starvation. Slavery, however, calls for its own particular solutions. Bales shows how strict enforcement of existing laws combined with programmes aimed at enabling slaves to set up on their own, have had some effect in diminishing debt bondage in northern India – although, as he reminds us, unless steps are taken slavery is set to grow.

Incredibly, Bales’ study is about the first to explore slavery in its modern international guise. The picture it offers remains patchy, given the limited resources at Bales’ disposal. He makes much of the west’s role in aiding and abetting slavery, yet most of the cases he studies belongs to local economies. This remains, however, a convincing and moving book. One can only hope that it will draw some attention to the terrible phenomenon it describes.

Although this was written 21 years ago, I’ve no doubt that it’s still acutely relevant and the situation has got worse. Since then there have been a series of scandals involving the enslavement of migrant workers in Britain and eastern European women trafficked into sex slavery. And, as the book Falling Off the Edge, shows very clearly, poverty around the world and the consequent exploitation of the poor has got much worse due to neoliberalism and globalisation. One of the programmes due to be shown on the Beeb – but I can’t remember whether it’s on TV or radio – is an examination of global terrorism. One of the groups looked at are Maoist terrorists in India. They’re a horrifically violent outfit, but they’re the result, according to Falling Off the Edge, of the horrific poverty and exploitation foisted upon the agricultural workers of central India.

And then there’s the increasing poverty and mounting debts of the British poor, thanks to Thatcherite welfare cuts, wage freezes and the replacement of loans for welfare payments and services. I wonder how long before this morphs into something very much like debt bondage over here.

Edmonton’s New Parking Rule Is an Urban Planner’s Dream

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 3:13am in

Tags 

Canada, cars, cities

The non-profit Niginan Housing Ventures manages Ambrose Place, one of Edmonton, Alberta’s best-known affordable housing developments for people transitioning out of homelessness. But what most Edmontonians don’t know about Ambrose Place is that, right underneath it, is a $1 million subterranean parking garage that sits empty and unused. 

“Existing parking regulations required that Ambrose be constructed with roughly 50 parking stalls, despite the fact that virtually none of the 42 residents of Ambrose were anticipated to own vehicles” Anne Stevenson from the Right at Home Housing Society told Edmonton’s City Council at a hearing on Edmonton’s parking regulations. Stevenson described the nonsensical nature of the city’s current parking requirements. “Instead of being able to reduce rents or hire additional staff to support residents, these tens of thousands of dollars are being spent paying for a parkade that sits vacant for the majority of the time.” 

Like almost every municipality in North America for the past fifty years, Edmonton has told businesses, developers and landowners how much parking they must provide on their property.  Want to build a neighborhood café? You’ll need one parking space per 50 square feet. How about a housing development for seniors? That’ll be one space per unit. A go-kart track?  Two spaces per cart. A bowling alley may require up to five spaces per lane. Parking minimums, as these policies are called, are premised on a seemingly rational theory: if businesses and residences don’t give people somewhere to put their cars, parking chaos will surely ensue.  

Last month, however, Edmonton implemented a radical rule change: going forward, other than mandatory accessible spaces, no property would be required to provide any parking whatsoever.

edmontonEdmonton is home to Canada’s largest shopping mall and the biggest parking lot in the world. Little lots like this are everywhere. Credit: Mack Male / Flickr

The rule change made Edmonton the first major Canadian city to eliminate off-street parking minimums citywide. As an urban planning tweak, the move may seem arcane. But Edmonton’s policy change is a very big deal — a radical rejoinder to the notion that cities need ample parking.  Its results will be closely watched by officials across the continent. 

“We are leading the way in passing a policy that contributes to changing the way our city will grow from here and what long-term sustainability looks like here in Edmonton” Mayor Don Iveson said at a press conference. “This policy removes barriers for new homes, and for businesses, and improves choice and flexibility in how businesses and homeowners meet their future parking needs.”

An unlikely pioneer

At first glance, Edmonton doesn’t seem like the type of city that would champion progressive urban planning. It’s the gateway to northern Alberta’s oil sands industry, a major source of fossil fuels. It is also home to Canada’s largest shopping mall and the biggest parking lot in the world. The city boomed at a time when car-oriented urbanism was ascendant, and developed accordingly, with vast stretches of asphalt parking lots. The result is that today, Edmonton has 50 percent more parking than it needs. Even at peak hours, on the busiest days of the week, half of the parking the city has forced landowners to build over the years is empty of cars. 

edmontonAreas in red show space allocated to parking in different locations in Edmonton. Credit: Ashley Salvador

This oversupply is not unique to Edmonton. Across North America, cities suffer from too much parking. Sacramento, California has an average oversupply of 65 percent. Seattle has a 23 percent oversupply at peak utilization. A 2014 study of 27 mixed-use districts across the United States found that, on average, parking is oversupplied by 65 percent. 

This is because, in general, parking minimums do a poor job of estimating parking demand. They’re a top-down policy tool that doesn’t accurately account for individual circumstances. Does the camping gear retailer whose customers mostly arrive on mountain bikes need as many parking spaces as the furniture store? According to parking minimum rules, it very well might. Rather than letting property owners decide how much or how little parking they need based on their context, location, or target market, parking minimums forcibly decide for them. This type of inefficiency comes at a significant cost

How much? The cost of a single parking space can range from $7,000 to $60,000. Using Edmonton’s 50 percent oversupply and a conservative cost per space of $10,000, this represents close to $200 million in pavement that, at any given time, nobody’s using. If you’re a new business operating on tight profit margins, having to provide numerous parking spaces can make or break your project. And if you do manage to meet minimum parking requirements, the cost of parking doesn’t just disappear. It gets passed down to consumers in the form of higher rents, groceries, gym memberships and lattes.

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From a land use perspective, the more parking we build, the more spread out our cities become. The more spread out our cities become, the more dependent we are on cars. This means higher emissions, declining health, costly spending on new roads, schools, sewer lines and services at the fringes, higher taxes, more traffic and less investment in public and active forms of transportation. 

With such a long list of negative externalities, the casual observer may wonder why every city hasn’t done away with parking minimums by now. Some have, but to varying degrees. More cities than ever are making moves to eliminate them, but in most cases, the hold up can be summed up by two words: car culture.

Car culture is the implicit deference to personal automobiles above all other modes of transportation. It’s a hidden force in our society at the root of policies like parking minimums. It’s the reason your dentist may offer to validate your parking fee, but not offer you a bus ticket. Life without cars is unimaginable because we’ve made it so, but our reliance on cars is not inevitable, as places like the Netherlands, Copenhagen and Paris have shown.  

The road to livability

Edmonton’s journey from car-oriented city to forward-thinking urban planning pioneer didn’t happen by accident. A number of players and factors converged to get us here.

Credit is due to Edmonton’s city planners, who have been de-prioritizing parking for the last ten years. A series of incremental changes saw parking requirements for single-family homes reduced from two spaces to one. Reductions for properties located close to transit and LRT lines were expanded, and parking requirements were lifted for restaurants along key main streets. 

edmontonAlthough it’s been less than a month since parking minimums have been removed in Edmonton, keen developers are already planning parking-free housing projects. Credit: Mack Male / Flickr

In conjunction with other policy changes, such as eliminating single-family-only zoning, Edmonton’s forward-thinking leadership and administration cultivated a culture of progress that sees urban evolution as foundational to building a more competitive city. “During our City Plan and Connect Edmonton engagement, they [Edmontonians] told us, you told us, that you want a vibrant and walkable and compact city, and policies like this help deliver just that, over time,” said Mayor Iveson. 

Nevertheless, City administration recognized that parking is a hot-button topic, and, anticipating the potential for pushback, performed numerous studies and launched a highly effective engagement campaign. The messaging was consistent and clear: removing parking minimums is about choice — the city wasn’t taking away parking, it was stepping aside so property owners could decide for themselves how much parking they need. Removing minimums was framed not only as a progressive urban planning innovation, but as a pragmatic, data-driven decision that would eliminate waste and costly oversupply. 

In the end, developers, community members, local businesses and activists all aligned. City council voted unanimously to enact the proposal on June 23. The effects of the policy will take time to bear fruit, but other cities that have eliminated parking minimums may offer a glimpse into Edmonton’s future. Starting in 2012, Seattle began reducing or eliminating parking minimums in most of its central neighborhoods. Afterward, developers built 40 percent less parking than had previously been required of them. The result? Some 18,000 fewer parking spaces, saving an estimated $537 million. 

Some Covid-19 interventions have given us insight into what a post-parking world might look like as parking spaces are being reclaimed for public spaces, patios and mobility lanes. Although it’s been less than a month since parking minimums have been removed in Edmonton, keen developers are already planning parking-free housing projects.

For future businesses, residents and developments like Ambrose Place, Edmonton’s decision to remove parking minimums means more space for people rather than personal automobiles. Despite its history of auto-dependence, Edmonton is proving to be an incubator of progressive urban planning policies, (un)paving the way for municipalities across the county.

The post Edmonton’s New Parking Rule Is an Urban Planner’s Dream appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Trudeau government should spend more on affordable housing and homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 7:15am in

On July 21, the Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan was released. The document aims to provide public policy direction to Canada’s federal government, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I was author of the Recovery Plan’s chapter on affordable housing and homelessness, which can be accessed here.

Trudeau government should spend more on affordable housing and homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 7:15am in

On July 21, the Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan was released. The document aims to provide public policy direction to Canada’s federal government, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I was author of the Recovery Plan’s chapter on affordable housing and homelessness, which can be accessed here.

If You Support Black Lives Matter, Condemn China’s Genocide of the Uighurs

In case you’ve missed the news over the last couple of days, relations between China and Britain are strained due to mainland China’s insistence in suppressing democracy in Hong Kong, and the genocide of Uighur people of Xinjiang. Their only crime is to be a separate people, whose native language is related to Turkish and their traditional religion is Islam. Xinjiang is a region rich in natural resources, such as coal and iron. According to the Financial Times back in the 1990s, it was always a border region with a high degree of independence, if not actually a separate state, under the Chinese Empire. Then came the Chinese revolution and the mass influx of majority Han Chinese to exploit and develop these resources for the benefit of China. The Uighurs were and are becoming a minority in their own region. The result was increasing demands for separatism.

The War on Terror

The Chinese started to crack down on these demands in the early parts of this century, spuriously claiming they were part of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’. For nearly two decades now newspapers and news reports have been telling anyone who will listen about how far this persecution has moved into full on genocide. The Uighurs are formally forbidden from speaking their own language and practising their traditional culture. Their homes are monitored. If they break these laws, they are interned and brutalised in concentration camps. The I reported last week that the regime had engaged in the mass sterilization of Uighur women.

The UN Law on Genocide

This is real Nazism. I believe the UN resolution against genocide also includes forcible attempts to deprive a people of their culture and heritage. As for the sterilisation, this was the Nazi policy towards recidivist criminals, the insane and chronic alcoholics, who were also interned in camps. This preceded the extermination of the disabled, Jews and Gypsies by gassing, the disabled as part of the Aktion T4 programme. The Chinese haven’t moved on to that. Yet.

China’s Uighur Policy and European Extermination of Indigenous Peoples

These policies are also extremely similar to those the European powers adopted to the indigenous peoples of their expanding empires. It began with the extermination of the Amerindian peoples of the Caribbean and the dispossession of the indigenous peoples of the New World. In America and Canada indigenous Americans were placed in boarding schools to deprive them of their own culture in order to mould them into modern American and Canadian citizens. There is also bitterness and controversy surrounding the Spanish missions in the American west, which did the same in order to convert them to Christianity. Many of the children and people thus incarcerated died of starvation, brutal maltreatment and disease. Over in the Pacific, there was the genocide of the Aboriginal peoples and the scandal of the lost generation, in which mixed race children were removed from their Aboriginal families and placed with Whites. And again, indigenous children were also placed in boarding schools to stop them speaking their complex native languages and deprive them of their culture. All in the name of progress.

During the Mao Mao rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s, tens of thousands of innocent Black Kenyans were killed, imprisoned, tortured and mutilated in what has been described by a book of that name as ‘Africa’s Secret Gulags’. Aaron Bastani said in his piece attacking David Starkey’s views on race and the Empire with Michael Walker, posted on YouTube, that the White colonists were also considering and demanding their outright extermination. I think he’s speaking from experience, family if not personal as he’s too young to have experienced it himself.

And before all this started, we imposed similar laws in Ireland in the 16th century in order to eradicate that country’s Gaelic culture. Similar laws came into effect after the defeat of the 1745 rebellion, despite the fact that many Scottish clans actually joined the British in fighting the Young Pretender. And Welsh Nationalists keenly remember how the speaking of Welsh was punished in schools, with wooden notices saying ‘Welsh Not’ hung about the necks of children who persisted in using the oldest written language of the British Isles.

History of Chinese racism

There’s been a nasty strain of racism in Chinese culture for a long time. The Middle Kingdom was isolated from the rest of the world, and dominated the other nations in its region. It led the world for so long, that its defeat in the Opium Wars and then occupation by the European empires during the Boxer rebellion was a severe psychological shock, and has produced feeling of humiliation and resentment that have not dissipated to the present day. Europeans, initially confined to mercantile ghettos in a limited number of ports trading with the West, were viewed as almost alien beings. There’s a Chinese drawing from the 19th century of a western sailor, who is drawn as some kind of hairy anthropoid with a huge beak of a nose, wreathed in tobacco fumes like the smoke from some hellish demon. It’s the counterpart of western caricatures of other non-western races. The ‘Yellow Peril’ scares that spread through Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which claimed the Chinese wanted to invade the West and conquer the world actually had some basis in reality. They came ultimately from a small number of anti-western texts, although their significance was wildly and grotesquely exaggerated by racists, thus laying the foundations for the Fascist and imperialist horrors of the 20th century. I also understand that there are ideologies of Chinese racial uniqueness based on the ancient fossil finds of pre-human hominid races, like Peking Man. Chairman Mao, a man who did his best to wreck his nation’s people, history and traditional culture, was carefully anti-racist. He saw the Chinese as part of the global community of non-White races, referring to them as ‘we Coloureds’. But nearly a decade after his death, there was an anti-Black riot in one of the Chinese cities, which was reported in the Observer c. 1984/5.

19th Century Chinese Drawing of European Sailor

And with the emergence of the Coronavirus has come other forms of anti-Black prejudice and discrimination in China. The extreme Right-wing blogger, Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, put up a video about this on his vlog. It told how Black native English speakers are refused jobs teaching the language in China, because they prefer Whites. Blacks have also been refused entry to restaurants on the wholly mistaken grounds that they are more vulnerable to Coronavirus than those with paler skin. If they are admitted, they may be isolated from other guests and the area specially cleaned afterwards. Sargon wondered why no ‘SJWs’ were campaigning against this racism. Part of the answer, as Emma Maltby wrote in the I last Thursday/Friday, is that they don’t want to be deliberately distracted against their goal of combating western racism. But it is a very good question, as China is now fully integrated into the global capitalist economy. Hope Not Hate has compiled a petition, which they are asking people to sign, against buying goods from multinational companies, like Adidas, Puma, Fila, BMW and Jaguar, made from Uighur slave labour. I have absolutely no problem signing it, because the industrial use of slave labour was exactly what Stalin and the Nazis did. Under the purges, industrial combines gave the KGB lists of the type of workers they needed, and the KGB dutifully arrested them as capitalist spies and saboteurs, to work as slaves in the Gulags. The SS had a subsidiary company, staffed with Jewish artisans and craftsmen, producing luxury goods for the Nazi elite. They even brought out a catalogue. And it is notorious that America continued trading with Nazi Germany, with the banks lending them credit, even after their persecution of the Jews was well known. If we continue buying Chinese goods made using forced Uighur slave labour, we are doing exactly the same.

I am not remotely trying to demonise the Chinese as a people. I know some really great Chinese people here in Bristol and the West Country, who are vital members of the community running some of our local stores. I knew one lady who was an opera signer, or at least opera trained. I am merely stating that China, like very many nations, also has its racism and that in the case of the Uighurs it has become little short of Nazism.

Mencius – Ancient Chinese Anti-Racist/ anti-Nationalist

Way back in Chinese history there were a number of competing philosophical schools. Confucianism is the best known as it was ultimately victorious, becoming the ideology of the Chinese empire. The worst of these was Legalism, an ideology that has been compared to modern fascism in that it did believe that might was right and the rulers should have absolute power. But there was also Mencianism. Mencius, or to give him his real, Chinese name, Meng-tse, was an altogether gentler, more idealistic soul. While Confucius believed that one’s primary love should be for the country of one’s birth, Mencius argued that one should love all the world’s people’s equally. You could imagine the great sage mixing easily as a respected figure among the hippies of the ’60s.

Now as the Uighurs are being ground down and exterminated by the Chinese authorities, we need less Legalism, less racism, less totalitarianism and far more Mencianism.

And Nazism needs to be fought wherever it is, whether in Europe, America or China.

Hope Not Hate, the anti-racism organisation, has an entire section devoted to the genocide of the Uighurs, including videos of the concentration camps. It’s at:

What’s happening in Xinjiang?

It has this section on the western brands exploiting Uighur slave labour.

Brands of shame

FT Review from 2000 of Three History Books on the British Empire

Another clipping I’ve kept is a review by the Financial Time’s David Gilmour, ‘World in the Pink’, of three history books on the British Empire. The books reviewed were The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century, edited by Andrew Porter, The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Twentieth Century, edited by Judith M. Brown and Wm Roger Louis; and the Oxford History of the British Empire: Historiography, edited by Robin W. Winks. The review was in the FT’s weekend edition for February 19/20 2000. I’m putting it up here as some readers might find it useful, as after the Black Lives Matter protests the history of the British empire is going to come under debate once again. The review runs

Once upon a time the British Empire was an easy subject to teach. Pupils stood in front of the schoolroom map, identified two red dots in the middle, and were encouraged to gaze with wonder at the vast expanse of similarly coloured spaces stretching from Canada at the top left to New Zealand at the bottom right. If suitably awestruck, they could then learn about these places (and how they came to be red) in the novels of Henty and Rider Haggard and in the poems of Tennyson, Kipling and Newbold.

Stout histories were also available for serious pupils to study the process of conquest and dominion, the spread of civilisation and prosperity, and, in some cases, the splendid bestowal of certain freedoms. From them students would learn that “the British Empire existed for the welfare of the world”, a belief held by many but expressed in these particularly terms by Gandhi. Guided by Providence and Queen Victoria, Britain had assumed a grandmaternal role, the mother of Dominion daughters, the “mother of parliaments” and, even more stirringly, “mother of the Free”.

The uniformity of the vision – red is red whether in Canada or Ceylon – may have been useful for the schoolteacher and the recruiting officer. But the men sent out to administer different systems all over the globe understood its limitations. The appearance of theses impressive books, the last in the five volume Oxford History of the British Empire, demonstrates that historians, after a long time-lag in the first half of the 20th century, have caught up with them.

The previous attempt at a comprehensive survey, the Cambridge History of the British Empire (published in nine volumes between 1929 and 1959), retained the anglocentric approach of earlier works, as well as their assumptions of a noble imperial purpose. Without entirely demolishing those assumptions (indeed the editor-in-chief, Roger Louis, specifically endorses some of them), the Oxford History offers more cautious and rataher more sophisticated assessments of the imperial experience. As Louis points out, these volumes do not depict it as “one of purposeful progress” nor concentrate narrowly on “metropolitan authority and rule”; nor do they see its demise as “steady decline and fall”. Their emphasis is on diversity, on a “constantly changing territorial empire and ever-shifting patterns of social and economic relations”.

The chief inspiration behind this approach is the work of the late historian Jack Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, who compared the empire to an iceberg, the visible section being the red-painted colonies and the submerged bulk representing the “imperialism of free trade”, a vast “informal empire” based on naval supremacy and economic power which extended into places such as China, Latin America and the Middle East.

Many of the contributors to the Oxford volumes apply this view to their own areas. In south-east Asia, stresses A.J. Stockwell, the demarcation between Britain’s formal empire and its neighbours was indistinct: “‘British pink’ seeped over the whole region: nearly indelible in some areas, it merely tinged other parts and elsewhere faded fast.”

The scope of these books is so large that there were bound to be gaps: Malta and Gibraltar are barely mentioned, sport and the “games ethic” are ignored, and almost nothing is said about training administrators to do their job. Yet the overall achievement is undeniably impressive. Under the magisterial guidance of Louis (a distinguished American academic whose appointment as editor raised predictable insular howls in the UK), a vast array of of historians has produced a solid monument of contemporary scholarship. Some of the contributions, such as those by E.H.H. Green on political economy and David Fitzpatrick on Ireland’s ambivalence towards the empire are brilliants – subjects that would justify individual volumes distilled into concise and lucid essays.

Naturally there can be neither a common view nor a uniformity of tone among the hundred contributors to these volumes. The assembled historians are certainly not apologists for imperialism but nor, in general, are they too apologetic about it. Several remind us of its humanitarian dimension, and Louis may have confounded his fogeyish detractors with his view that Kipling was “perhaps the greatest poet of the age”. In addition, while appropriate genuflections are made to all those contemporary “studies” (area, gender, cultural and so on), the faddish preoccupation with “discourse” (in its postmodernist and post-colonial contexts) is restricted.

Yet the work has some of the defects as well as most of the merits of current historical writing: too much drab prose, too heavy a reliance on tables and statistics, a sense (especially in Historiography) of colleagues complimenting each other while disparaging their predecessors. Few contributions show real historical imagination: several leave an aroma of seminars and obscure historical quarterlies.

The great historian Richard Cobb used to say that a good deal of French history could be walked, seen and above all heard in cafes or buses or on park benches in Paris and Lyon. But most of the academics in these volumes do not seem to share his view that history is a cultural and creative subject as well as an academic one. However diligent their research may have been, they do not write as if they have ever sat in a Delhi rickshaw or a cafe in Calcutta. Robin J. Moore directs readers to all his own books, but neither he nor any of his colleagues cite a work published in an Indian language.

Yet if these volumes have little feel for the imperial setting and its personal impact, they manage to convey the sheer scope of the enterprise, the scale of the endeavour, the means by which those little dots reddened a quarter of the map. More importantly, they demonstrate the need to study the empire’s history, not in order to glorify or denigrate, but in order to understand the centuries of interaction between the dots and their formal and informal empires.

Perhaps this history, the first to be written since the territorial dismantlement, will mark a new stage not just of reassessment but of acceptance of the empire’s importance, for good and for bad, in the history of our planet. The topic is unfashionable in Britain today – Bristol’s excellent British Empire and Commonwealth Museum has not received a penny of public money – but it might now, thanks to Louis and his collaborators, emerge as something more than a sterile debate between those who regard it as a cause for sniggering and those who see it as a reason to swagger.

Bristol’s Empire and Commonwealth Museum is no more, unfortunately. It packed up and left Bristol for new premises at the Commonwealth Institute in London, where it died the death. I believe its former collection is now housed in the Bristol’s M Shed museum. The Empire is going to be acutely relevant now with the debate over racism, social justice and what history should be taught in schools. There are parts of British imperial history that are indefensible – the conquest of the Caribbean, slavery, the extermination of indigenous Australians, the concentration camps of the Boer War, the Bengal Famine and the massacres in Kenya. Niall Ferguson in a discussion about the British empire on a programme on Radio 4 a few years ago admitted its dark side, but said that it was a benevolent institution, although he qualified this. I think he said something to the effect of ‘just about’. For a short history of the negative side of the British empire – its domination, exploitation and massacre, see John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried. But it was also responsible for bring modern, western science, education and medicine to distant parts of the globe.

And it did try to stamp out slavery worldwide, not only where it had established and exploited it, but also indigenous slavery and forms of servitude around the world. That shouldn’t be forgotten either.

From 1997: Financial Times Article on Free Market Creating Global Poverty

This is another piece I found combing through my scrapbooks. It’s by the Financial Times’ columnist, Joe Rogaly. Titled ‘Market Victims Who Are Free to Be Poor’, and with the subtitle ‘One set of figures shows the capitalist road leading to paradise; a better set shows it leading to misery for many’ it compares and contrasts two reports on global poverty, one by the UN and another by a group of free market think tanks led by the Fraser Institute. And Rogaly comes down firmly on the side of the UN. The article, published in the Weekend edition for 14/15 June 1997, runs

When pictures of skeletal children or abandoned babies appear on the TV news do you (a) lean forward to catch the commentary (b) change channels (c) switch off and head for the kitchen? Some of us have seen about as many images of third-world distress as we can bear. Our assumption is that we know the cure for deprivation: unshackle the free market and the globalised capitalist wealth-producing machine will do the rest.

No it won’t. The 1997 Human Development report, published this week by Oxford University Press for the United Nations, demolishes the idea that the bounty created by the genius of market economics will trickle down. You have to spend tax -payers’ money to help the worst-off, or they will be dead before they are rescued.

Not everyone accepts this. It is contrary to the spirit of the 1997 Economic Freedom of the World report. Right-thinking and therefore expressive of familiar sentiments, it was published last month by the Fraser Institute, Vancouver, in association with 46 other pro-market think-tanks dotted around the planet.

This clutch of capitalist theologians, which includes London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, has invented an index of economic freedom. Its 17 components include growth and inflation rates, government spending, top marginal tax rates, restraints on trade, and so on. These are expressed in hard numbers and therefore “objective”. Hong Kong tops a list of 115 countries thus appraised. The US comes 4th, Britain 7th and France 36th.

You can guess what follows. A few clicks on the mouse-button tell you that between 1985 and 1996 the economies near the top of the economic freedom index grew fastes, while those at the bottom – the “least free” fifth – got poorer. That unhappy quintile includes Russia, Ukraine, and the well-known African disaster areas. The lesson is obvious. Impede the market, and you pay, perhaps with your life. The unobstructed capitalist road is the highway to  paradise.

Wrong again. The UN’s Human Development Index is closer to the truth. it does not measure progress by the rules of conventional economics alone. To be sure, it factors in real gross domestic product per head, as do the freedom-theorists. But GDP is only one of three ingredients. The other two are life expectancy and educational attainment. The resulting list puts countries in a different order from the free marketeers’ league table.

On the latter, remember, Hong Kong comes first. On the development index it falls to 22nd. France, which believes in government expenditure, moves up from 36th on the economic freedom ladder to second place on human development. The United Kingdom falls from 7th to 15th. It’s not just the wealth you generate. It’s how you spend it.

The Human Development report introduces another index this year – for “human poverty”. It counts the people who are expected to die before turning 40, the number of illiterates, those without health services and clean water, and underweight toddlers. Once again you get changes in the rank order, particularly among developing countries.

Cuba, China, Kenya and Peru have all done relatively well at alleviating human poverty. Egypt, Guatemala and Pakistan score less on poverty relief than on human development. It is not only how you spend it, but who you spend it on.

The obvious message is aspirational. If the rich countries would put their hands in their pockets, poverty could be eliminated. We know this will not happen, in spite of the determination to give a lead expressed by Britain’s new Labour administration. Government to government aid is no longer fashionable. The money does not always reach its destination, as the worst case story, that of Zaire, teaches us. The US poured in the dollars, and they went straight into former president Mobutu’s Swiss bank accounts.

Tied assistance is better. Big donors usually demand that markets by set free. This is not quite enough to meet the needs of Human Development or the alleviation of poverty. Happily, contracts tying aid to certain actions are getting more sophisticated – although so are the means by which recipients contravene them. Anyhow, aid is but a part of what is needed.

The true value of the Human Development report lies in its implicit challenge to narrow-focused concentration on the market mechanism. Compiled by a team of economists and others directed by Richard Joly, it has evolved within the broad discipline of economics. It would be better still if someone could come up with an acceptable index of political freedom, to measure both economic and human development and democratic practices. That would require judgments that could not be quantified. How would you have treated 99 per cent votes in communist countries?

The outlook is not all so dolorous. Poverty is declining overall, largely thanks to the improvement in China, which has moved up the economic freedom tables and reduced destitution. Not many countries can make that boast. There are still 800m people who do not have enough to eat. We have some clever indices, but so far no great help to the misery on our TV screens. Only a change in the way we think can achieve that.

That was published nearly a quarter of a century ago. I don’t doubt that with time and the progress of neoliberalist, free market economics, things have become much, much worse. The book Falling off the Edge, which I’ve reviewed on this blog, is a full-scale attack on such globalisation, showing how it not only has created worse poverty and exploitation, but has also led to political instability and global terrorism. And as more British children go hungry, as more people fall into poverty due to the Tories’ privatisations and destruction of the welfare state, I wonder how long it will be before conditions very like those of the Developing World appear here.

This was published when the Financial Times’ weekend edition was still worth reading. It had good reviews and insightful columnists. It declined in quality around the turn of the millennium when it became much more lightweight. It has also switched its political allegiance from liberal to Conservative in an unsuccessful attempt to gain readers.

This article shows that neoliberal free market economics, of the type pushed by the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs, has always been a fraud, and known to be a fraud.

But our mendacious, vicious press and political establishment are still pushing it, at a massive cost in human lives and wellbeing. Even in Britain.

“Build the Wall”

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Canada

“Build the Wall”

Moving To New Steady State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/07/2020 - 11:00pm in

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Canada

 Selected Canadian Provincial Unemployment RatesMy argument has been that economies would return to a steady state path, with certain industries crippled (e.g., mass tourism), but other industries able to operate. My guess was that Canadian provinces would show some dispersion based on how they handled the containment of the virus. That guess so far was incorrect, as Canadians actual behaviour seems relatively uniform, and the virus appears relatively well contained. Instead, the American states are more likely to show deep divergences (which appears to be a consensus view).

The chart above shows non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for Quebec and Manitoba. Although the choice of provinces reflects my background (I grew up in Manitoba, and live in Quebec), they roughly capture the two extremes of the virus experience in Canada: Quebec was hit the hardest, while Manitoba had few cases. Meanwhile, the advantage of Manitoba versus the other prairie provinces is that it is less exposed to the resource industry. (For example, weak oil prices are likely to cause grief for Alberta no matter what happens with the virus.)

In both provinces, the unemployment rate has ticked back to around 10%. (My rounded-off guess for the unemployment rate is that it would end up around 10%.) It seems likely that it could grind slightly lower, but I expect progress to be slow.

The Canadian experience is that the lockdown worked, and measures to eliminate super-spreading incidents were largely successful. Cautious behaviour has kept transmission to low levels. At present, the worry in Quebec is community spread among youngsters who are flocking back to bars and house parties. Other than a fairly likely re-closing of bars, it seems likely that pandemic containment will mainly be an issue of tolerance by citizens. Other industries that can be safely re-opened were re-opened, and the ability to open closed ones seems limited -- unless provinces can get to the eradication level seen in (for example) New Zealand. Some provinces are close to eradication, but that seems unlikely in Quebec. Meanwhile, although the U.S.-Canada border is closed for non-essential travel (as is inter-provincial travel, to a certain extent), no province can feel as secure as New Zealand in its ability to stop infections from visitors.

The issue Canada faces now is that it is unclear what the strategy is. In my view, the only clear option is eradication, as it presents an obvious endpoint. However, the situation south of the border is worrisome, and it cannot be sealed forever. We are stuck in the position of hoping for a vaccine, or medical treatments that can greatly reduce the effects of the disease. I am not a fan of relying on hope as a strategy.

As for the economic strategy, it will be necessary to decide what to do with industries that cannot safely operate. I do not see any options that are politically palatable. It may be that I have been spending too much time writing about MMT recently, but putting workers in shuttered industries into a Job Guarantee programme seems like the fairest option. As for the firms, I lean towards fairly harsh national interest considerations. For example, a national airline is important for internal communications, and even for back-up troop transport. Canadian National Railways was created out of the wreckage of failed private railways. Conversely, given the ease of setting up a new bar, I see no strategic need to keep drinking establishments afloat. The premise of capitalism is that owners take risks in face of fundamental uncertainty; they get the upside if things work out, but should they not face the downside?

(c) Brian Romanchuk 2020

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