Sunday, 27 April 2008

Shane Warne - On Captaincy

'Frustrated captain' revels in new role

Cricinfo staff

April 26, 2008

Shane Warne: "I don't need a computer, or 15 pages of notes or 25 meetings, which is what I've been used to. I think the boys have been enjoying the more relaxed set-up" © Getty Images

Mike Brearley wrote a book about it, but Shane Warne would argue it's all stored up in his head. The art of captaincy is cricket's holy grail, and Warne has done little in this tournament so far to suggest that he isn't as close to anyone still playing the game to getting his hands on it. The victory in Bangalore was the unfancied Rajasthan Royals' third in a row after losing to Delhi a week ago, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that Warne is at the epicentre of most of the good things his team has done.

At the eve-of-match press conference, Rajasthan's assistant coach Darren Berry explained that his old mucker had only agreed to captain the side if he had sole charge. In other words, Warne - technically the captain/coach - did not want a coach around to complicate matters. "I don't need a computer," he said in Hyderabad the other day in what - like so many of his utterances - was a thinly veiled dig at his former Australian coach John Buchanan.

Berry is here to supervise training and Jeremy Snape, the former England one-day offspinner with a masters degree in psychology, lends a hand. But both men know who is in charge. And tonight Warne repeated his credo in more graphic detail. "I don't need a computer, or 15 pages of notes or 25 meetings, which is what I've been used to," he said. "I think the boys have been enjoying the more relaxed set-up."

They certainly are, and Friday's press conference provided another telling snippet. Dinesh Salunkhe, the unknown legspinner who is playing here only because he was runner-up in a cricket talent show, explained how, when he was nervous about coming on to bowl against Mahela Jayawardene of the Kings XI Punjab on Monday, Warne told him to be a man, stick his chest out and believe in himself. It might sound rudimentary, but Warne instinctively understands the importance of inner strength. Jayawardene was stumped for two.

Tonight, Warne's own inner strength shone through in his first over. Mark Boucher defended his first ball, before missing attempted sweeps at the next two. The first of them brought an lbw shout that was more an enquiry by Warne's standards, but the second elicited a full-on, both-arms-raised scream which was followed just as inevitably by a look of disbelief and hands on hips after Ian Howell made it clear his finger would not be going up any time soon.

Of course, it was all part of the act. The next ball was a googly. Boucher drove at it, got a thick edge onto his pads and watched in horror as the ball ballooned up in the leg side and Mahesh Rawat moved smartly from behind the stumps to take the catch. Two balls later Warne had bowled the IPL's second wicket-maiden, and soon after his figures were 2-1-2-1. Good captains lead by example too. Or, as the Man of the Match Shane Watson put it afterwards: "He's just leading from the front. He's getting the best out of everyone. Everyone knows their roles and they're executing them perfectly."

"He's [Shane Warne] just leading from the front. He's getting the best out of everyone. Everyone knows their roles and they're executing them perfectly"
Shane Watson acknowledges Warne's contribution

One of Warne's other great strengths as a leader is that his enthusiasm is contagious. When Sunil Joshi was awaiting the third umpire's decision following his hopelessly dawdling attempts to regain his ground after trying to pinch a single, Warne - the bowler at the time - was walking around raising his finger and nodding his head. It has been written elsewhere that wickets validate Warne. It seems wickets for a Twenty20 team that did not even exist until recently validate him just as much as the Test-match variety. No one has claimed more than his six in the IPL so far.

It's tempting to see thrifty Rajasthan's success in this competition as some kind of karmic handout from the Twenty20 gods: watch your pennies and ye shall prosper. They alone went under-budget at the first Mumbai auction, and it might just have galvanised them. Warne has been told so many times that he is leading a bunch of underdogs that his side seem doubly determined to nip at the big boys' heels.

The truth is he loves a challenge and the far-from-glittering squad he has been handed here are precisely that. His new team-mate Graeme Smith's jibe two years ago that Warne, playing under the less intuitive Ricky Ponting, was a "frustrated captain" may no longer apply. "Even a long break from the game doesn't seem to faze him," his opposite number Rahul Dravid said after the game, with a resigned smile.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Everything I know about women . . .


 . . . Our correspondent learnt from his two-year-old niece – from not making her cry to the art of gift giving

As a single man in my mid-thirties, I've spent 20 years trying to understand women, with mixed results. It wasn't until six months ago, however, that I was given a clear insight into how the female mind works.
It came in the form of Lou-Lou, my two-year-old niece. I know, as a grown-up, that the onus is on me to teach her useful stuff rather than the other way around, but in this case, the instruction was mutual. I taught her how to wink, blow raspberries, burp and count to 10, sort of. "One, two, three, seven, nine, ten", which is good enough for me, as, personally, I've always thought the numbers four, five, six and eight were overrated.
In return, I learnt more about women in two months than I had gleaned on my own in two decades. This does not mean, by the way, that I think women are like two-year-olds and should be treated as such. I love my niece. I respect my niece. I'd dive on an unexploded grenade for my niece, and not just to amuse her. I would only dive on it if there was real danger of it exploding and hurting her. Women are all individuals and I'm making generalisations, but in the two-year-old Lou-Lou is the undiluted, unaffected essence – the "id" – of womanhood. Here's what I've learnt.
1 Ignore them
1If I come into a room and bounce up to Lou-Lou like a clown, trying to amuse and entertain, she blanks me completely. It's as if I don't exist. If I walk straight past her, however, I guarantee she will call out my name and want to play with me.
2 Bribe them
Gifts work. Preferably something noisy or sparkly. With Lou-Lou, that means stuffed animals that sing or sequined hair grips. With grown women, I suppose that equates to, say, cars and jewellery.
3 Compliment them
I've mistakenly always held that compliments are like diamonds: valuable only for their scarcity. Flood the market and they lose all value. Not so. Lou-Lou poos in her nappy, everyone cheers – as if she just came up with a workable solution to world hunger – and she beams like a lighthouse. The same works with grown women, although, of course, only the general principle applies rather than the specific example given here. (I learnt this one the hard way.)
4 Listen to them
I've spent my life trying to preempt what women want. I needn't have bothered. If I just pay attention, Lou-Lou will tell me exactly what she wants: eat, dance, doll, jump, run, sing, play, read. Then all I have to do is organise it. How much simpler my life would have been if I had listened and acted accordingly.
5 Apologise
It doesn't matter what you've done. It doesn't matter if you don't even know what you've done. I might have slighted Lou-Lou by putting the wrong doll in the pram. What seems to you or me like a minor infraction is, to her, on a par with genocide. The best policy is to throw yourself on her mercy and beg forgiveness. But you must sound sincere. You don't have to be sincere, just sound sincere. This is so elementary, yet how many men ignore this advice?
6 Let them do it
Whatever "it" is. No matter how ridiculous it may seem to you, let her do it. When Lou-Lou gets an idea into her mind, there's no talking her out of it. In fact, be supportive, encourage her even. Then sit back and hope she discovers for herself that it was a stupid idea. The downside is that she might decide it was an excellent idea. One day, I found myself playing dolls' tea party for two whole hours and drank so many cups of imaginary tea, I was imaginary peeing all afternoon.
7 Don't tell them what to do
The best way to guarantee that she doesn't do what I want is by telling her to do it. The clever thing is to make it seem like her idea – and make it seem fun. One of my proudest moments was convincing Lou-Lou that watching the rugby World Cup final would be more fun than playing in the sandpit.
8 Don't complain to them
This is a tricky one. What I mean by this is, don't burden her with your petty problems. When I complain to Lou-Lou about a bad meeting or a sore back, she couldn't care less, but if there's genuinely something wrong, she will instinctively sense it and, with one hug, pick me up more than I thought possible.
9 Don't argue
There's simply no point. You will never win, and if you do win, it will be a hollow victory because of the mood she'll be in for a long time afterwards. Quite frankly, who needs the aggro? This leads to my final and most important point:
10 Don't make them cry
There is nothing more distressing than watching Lou-Lou's enormous, innocent brown eyes overflow with tears, while her mouth becomes a gaping, drooling, mournful air-raid siren that pierces through to the core of my heart. I'm utterly defenceless when she cries. And there's no known antidote. Food? Monkey impressions? A pony? Stabbing myself in the eye with a chopstick? I will agree to anything to stop her crying – and doesn't she.

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Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Now that's an insult! Top 10 political put-downs


Now that's an insult! Top 10 political put-downs

Robert Mugabe describes Gordon Brown as a tiny dot, but he could have chosen something a bit more hurtful - from some of the greatest put-down artists in history

As political insults go, "Gordon Brown is a little tiny dot on this world" was not, frankly, all that imaginative. Already in his short reign, Gordon has faced worse. It lacked the surgical disdain of Vince Cable's "Stalin to Mr Bean", and it wasn't nearly as clever as William Hague's rolling riff about Tony Blair arriving in Downing Street as President of Europe ("... the gritted teeth and bitten nails: the Prime Minister emerges from his door with a smile of intolerable anguish..."). And yet, Robert Mugabe seems pretty pleased with it.
He made the quip on a Monday, and by Friday he was delivering a speech in front of a poster which bore it as a slogan. It could be that political insults have little pedigree in African politics. Perhaps the stakes are too high.
Here in Britain, we have a long and proud history of our elected leaders being perfectly and studiously rude to each other. And yet, I wonder if we are past our best. In the House of Commons these days, wit seems to involve Nicholas Soames still roaring "Mine is a gin and tonic, Giovanni!" at John Prescott (because, oh my sides, he used to be a ship steward) or Dennis Skinner shrieking non- sequiturs about drugs at David Cameron.
Every Wednesday PMQs may contain a couple of lines that make you chuckle, but how many of them do you remember a week later? Ann Treneman, the Times parliamentary sketchwriter, points out that Cameron himself is pretty good at the sneering put-down ("He was the future once", "an analogue prime minister in a digital age"). True enough, but in the great history of British rudeness, these are all pretty blah.
The golden age was probably the Victorian era, when, as any casual student of history will tell you, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli faced each other across the dispatch box for about 100 years. The former was perhaps not unlike a weirder Gordon Brown ("Mr Gladstone addresses me as though I were a public meeting," said Queen Victoria herself) and the latter used to dance rings around him. "He has not a single redeeming defect," said Disraeli, of his rival. And, better still, when asked to distinguish between a misfortune and a calamity: "If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune. If anybody pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a calamity." History does not record many of Gladstone's ripostes, probably because they were rubbish. As I said, not unlike Gordon Brown.
Then we come to Winston Churchill, who seems to have spent every spare waking moment being rude to somebody. ("Winston," said the Conservative statesman F.E. Smith, "had devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches".) Clement Attlee, the man who interrupted his reign as Prime Minister, probably got it worse than most. "A sheep in sheep's clothing," Churchill said of him. And also, "A modest man with much to be modest about."
Not that the great man was fussy. He'd be rude to pretty much anyone. "There but for the grace of God goes God," was his memorable verdict on Sir Stafford Cripps, but his best ever may have been when an aide knocked on his toilet door and told him that the Lord Privy Seal wanted to see him. "Tell the Lord Privy Seal I am sealed in my privy, and can only deal with one shit at a time," said Churchill. He'd probably been waiting to trot that one out for years.
The political insult was also in fine fettle during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, probably because everybody hated each other so much. Interestingly, this wasn't always inter-party - there was a lot of what you might call "blue on blue". Take Alan Clark's beautifully brutal verdict on Douglas Hurd, that he "might as well have a corncob up his arse". Or Sir Edward Heath, on being asked why Mrs Thatcher (as she was) so disliked him: a shrug, and then: "I am not a doctor". Or even Jonathan Aitken on Thatcher's ignorance of the Middle East: "She probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus".
A whole book, in fact, could probably be based on the rude things people have been moved to say about Baroness Thatcher. "When she speaks without thinking," mused Lord St John of Fawsley, "she says what she thinks." Sir Clement Freud dubbed her "Attila the Hen". Denis Healey called her "Pétain in petticoats" and "La Pasionaria of middle-class privilege".
Healey (now a peer) had a flair for this sort of thing. Few could forget his verdict that being criticised by Geoffrey Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep". Howe's retort came years later, when Healey congratulated him on being made Foreign Secretary. Howe told the Commons that this was "like being nuzzled by an old ram". Not nearly so rude, but probably not meant to be.
Lofty disdain, sadly, does appear to be a thing of the past. When Tony Blair left office, Ben Macintyre noted in these pages that "in ten years Tony Blair has not delivered a single one-line public insult worth remembering".
In other countries, too, the bag is mixed. Silvio Berlusconi's own insults tend to be a bit clunky and Fayedesque, but he certainly manages to bring out the best in others. "The Prime Minister clings to data the way a drunkard clings to lampposts," Romano Prodi has said of him, "not for illumination but to keep him standing up." Not bad, but a rarity.
In America, also, one also senses that the best has passed. "An empty suit that goes to funerals and plays golf," was how Ross Perot described Dan Quayle, but that was a while ago.
An honourable mention should also go to Gore Vidal for, among other things, describing Ronald Reagan as "a triumph of the embalmer's art" (before he died). But recently? When Hillary Clinton started pretending to like guns, Barak Obama sneered that she was "talking like she's Annie Oakley". That's about as good as it gets.
In the age of soundbites and speechwriters, how can this be? Has the hate gone? Have focus groups decreed that put-downs are abrasive and elitist, and do not play well? Or are they all, bluntly, just a little bit too dim? For tips, today's politicians are advised to get hold of the marvellous Scorn with Extra Bile (Penguin) by our own Matthew Parris. And, thereafter, to try harder.
Top 10 politicial put-downs
The insulted
"Mr Gladstone addresses me as though I were a public meeting" Queen Victoria on William Gladstone
"Winston had devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches" F. E. Smith on Winston Churchill.
"A sheep in sheep's clothing" Winston Churchill on Clement Attlee.
"There but for the grace of God goes God" Winston Churchill on Sir Stafford Cripps.
"The Prime Minister clings to data the way a drunkard clings to lampposts" Romano Prodi on Silvio Berlusconi.
The insulters
"He has not a single redeeming defect" Benjamin Disraeli on William Gladstone.
"He might as well have a corncob up his arse" Alan Clark on Douglas Hurd.
"She probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus" Jonathan Aitken on Margaret Thatcher.
"It's like being savaged by a dead sheep" Denis Healey on being attacked by Geoffrey Howe.
"When she speaks without thinking, she says what she thinks" Lord St John of Fawsley on Margaret Thatcher.

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Friday, 18 April 2008

Electoral Revolution In Nepal



By Gary Leupp

17 April, 2008

It ought to be the ballot heard 'round the world. It ought to be front page news. But chances are you haven't yet learned that the Maoists of Nepal have apparently swept to power in an election that international monitors acknowledge was free and fair. Having led a People's War from 1996 to 2006, having suspended the armed struggle and making a strategic decision to seek power through electoral means, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has apparently acquired an absolute majority in national elections for a constitutional assembly.

Prime Minister Girija Koirala, representing the Nepali Congress Party, has congratulated CPI(M) leader on the success of his party. The Congress Party, aligned with its Indian counterpart and traditionally supportive of the Nepali monarchy and its Hindu religious trappings, seems to have come in a distant third in the national vote, behind the Communist Party (United Marxist-Leninist). The latter, having spurned Maoist overtures to unite, is in crisis; its leader has resigned and declared it "morally inappropriate" to continue to participate in the current coalition government.

It looks as though Maoist leader Prachanda will emerge as national leader under the presidential system his party advocates. The constitutional assembly will shape a new Nepal as a secular republic. Land reform, laws against debt servitude and child marriage, laws liberating "outcastes" will follow. The Maoists regard Nepal as a pre-capitalist country, which requires a period of capitalist development before it can embark on socialist construction. They say they welcome foreign investment and tourism. They want friendly relations with neighboring China and India. They want to build a railroad conveying Buddhist pilgrims from Tibet to Nepali religious sites. They want, with some help from Jimmy Carter, to persuade the U.S. State Department to remove their name fro the list of "international terrorist organizations."

They also want to plant the Red Flag on Mt. Everest, big enough so it might be seen from the moon, like the Great Wall of China. That's what they've said.

Realism and poetry. A vision for today, and for tomorrow. The Maoists of India (in particular, the Communist Party of India [Maoist]) continue their People's War, creating the red corridor that extends from Andra Pradesh up to the Nepali border. They have expressed doubts about the Nepali comrades' strategy of participation in elections, and emphasized their dedication to Mao's dictum that "political power grows out of the barrel of the gun." But they will take heart in the Nepali Maoists' victory. Unless the Nepali Army (formerly the Nepal Royal Army and still led by pro-monarchist and anti-communist generals), or external forces move to prevent the Maoists' rise to power, Nepal will emerge as the base-area of global revolution. That's something else the Maoists have said.

On October 21, 2002, Counterpunch carried a column of mine on Nepal that ended as follows:

Nepal is the world's only Hindu kingdom, but there is much Buddhist influence as well. The historical Buddha was born on what is now the Nepal-India border. (Both countries claim that Lumimbi, site of the Buddha's birth, was within their present territory. This is an issue of importance to historians, archeologists, and even more so to the tourist industry catering to Japanese Buddhist pilgrims.) Two and a half millennia ago, the Buddhist movement, destined to transform the world, emerged in this region. Buddhism was at its inception not really a religion (as westerners tend to conceptualize religion), rejecting belief in a Supreme Being, immortal souls, and an afterlife. (Some Indian Marxist scholars have suggested that Buddhism was initially a kind of philosophical materialism, with a progressive social content.) The fundamental problem, for the Buddhist, was and is that of suffering. (Recall how, many centuries later, Marx identified religion as "the expression of real suffering and at the same time the protest against real suffering.") Buddhism offered no pie-in-the-sky solutions to human suffering, but a way of life that steered between sensual indulgence and asceticism.

While focusing on the individual's path to enlightenment, Buddhism did not ignore social reality. The early order of monks and nuns applied itself to charitable work, such as the establishment of hospitals and shelters for the homeless. In an extraordinary break with the social order, Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a Buddha) rejected the caste system, declared that those of any background could be enlightened, and insisted on delivering his sermons in the local dialects wherever he traveled. He was in that sense a revolutionary. And a world-conqueror: the Buddha directed his followers to spread the word throughout the world, and thus Buddhism gradually spread from the Himalayan foothills to Sri Lanka, to northeastern Iran, to China and Japan, to southeast Asia.

The Maoists' vision, like that of the Buddhist missionaries of old, is a global one. "We insist," Prachanda told an American interviewer in 2000, "that the Nepalese revolution is part of the world revolution and the Nepalese people's army is a detachment of the whole international proletarian army." BBC correspondent Daniel Lak, visiting Rolpa, in western Nepal, last month, sat talking with one Comrade Bijaya, district committee member and political instructor, who overlooking the rice-paddies stated matter-of-factly, "We will win, not just in Nepal, but around the world" (World Tribune, Sept 24). That requires a stretch of the imagination, maybe, but world history is filled with twists and turns and surprises. Sometimes, in humankind's endless quest to overcome suffering, wildly ambitious enterprises actually succeed.

Five years later, no stretch of the imagination is necessary. It's happening. A communist revolution, led by a party charting a new path combining armed struggle and electoral politics, is sweeping the Himalayas. World journalists, as though dizzied by the altitude, seem unable to take up pen and report what they see. Maybe their editors are withholding their copy, concerned lest they depict a designated "terrorist" group in a positive or merely rational objective light.

But this moment may in the not distant future be seen as another 1917, another 1949. I think of that Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth," written by Stephen Stills and released in 1967:

"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down."

Yes. Everybody look what's going down. The revolution will not be televised, but it's accessible online.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at:

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Is changing our diet the key to resolving the global food crisis?

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Why are we asking this now?

People are dying because of the global food shortage, which has sparked a sudden surge in food prices. The global food bill has risen 57 per cent in the last year, the price of rice is up by three quarters, and wheat has more than doubled. The head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, warned this week that riots in Egypt, Cameroon, Haiti and Burkina Faso over soaring prices could spread.

World grain stocks have fallen to a 25-year low of 5 million tons, enough for two to three months, and World Food Programme officials say 33 countries in Asia and Africa face political instability as the urban poor struggle to feed their families. "The world food situation is very serious," Mr Diouf said.

Are we growing too little food to feed the world?

Bizarrely, no. There was a record global grain harvest last year. It topped 2.1 billion tons, up 5 per cent on the previous year. The problem is that a diminishing proportion of it is being turned into food. This year less than half the total grown – 1.01 billion tons – will find its way on to people's plates, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. And this crisis is hitting before world food supplies are further damaged by climate change.

So where is the grain going?

There are two reasons why the record amount of grain is proving insufficient to feed the world. First, a large amount is being diverted to make biofuels. From yesterday, all transport fuel sold in the UK must be mixed with at least 2.5 per cent biofuel made from crops. As our front page explained yesterday, the Government's idea is that this will make Britain's 33 million cars greener.

But the consequence is that there is less grain available for food. This year global production of biofuels will consume almost 100 million tons of grain – grain that could have been used to feed the starving. According to the UN, it takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol – enough to feed a child for a year. The UN last week predicted "massacres" unless the biofuel policy is halted. Jean Ziegler, the UN's special rapporteur on the right to food, said biofuels were "a crime against humanity", and called for a five-year moratorium.

Would cutting car use solve the food crisis?

Not on its own. Of course we should be reducing our reliance on the car, and on jet travel and other profligate uses of energy, for environmental reasons. Cutting car use, and reducing energy demands overall, would cut demand for biofuels, leaving more grain available for food. But while 100 million tons of grain are being diverted to make fuel this year, over seven times as much (760 million tons) will be used to feed animals. The world's passion for meat is a much bigger cause of global hunger than its passion for the car.

How does eating meat cause hunger?

Because it is a very inefficient way of producing food. It takes 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef, and large tracts of forest have been cleared for grazing land that might have been used to grow crops. Chicken is more efficient to produce – it takes 2kg of feed to produce 1kg of meat. To maximise food production it is best to be vegan. According to Simon Fairlie, in his magazine The Land, it would take just 3 million hectares of arable land to meet Britain's food needs, half the current total, if the population were vegan.

Isn't it completely unrealistic for Britain to go vegan?

Of course. Vegans number 0.4 per cent of the population, vegetarians 3 per cent, and most people will not take readily to a diet of green leaves, pulses, fruit and nuts. This is about the direction we should be moving in, not the ultimate destination. We should be aiming to reduce our meat and dairy consumption, and increase consumption of fruit and vegetables.

We are eating 50 per cent more meat than in the 1960s, and global consumption is forecast to double by 2050. More of the extra is chicken, and we eat less red meat than in the past (and a lot less than the Americans). But in terms of overall meat consumption, we are not even going in the right direction.

What about the rest of the world?

China, India and other parts of the developing world are behind the soaring demand for meat. Eating meat is a mark of affluence, and as societies in the east grow wealthier they are demanding the same benefits of a diet that the west has enjoyed for more than a century. In China meat consumption has risen from 20kg a head in 1980 to 50kg a head today. As meat consumption rises there is less grain for (human) food, adding to the pressure on grain prices

Food export controls have been imposed by Russia, China, India, Vietnam, Argentina and Serbia in response to the crisis. Last week the Philippines had to hunt for grain supplies after China withheld shipments, prompting the US to step in to guarantee grain supplies. Tensions are growing not only over energy, but now over food.

Are there other reasons for cutting back on meat-eating?

Yes. The largest study of the link between diet and health published by the World Cancer Research Fund last November concluded that animal flesh occupies too big a place in the western diet, contributing to high rates of cancer and heart disease. There are also environmental benefits from cutting down on meat. Each of Britain's 10 million cows produces more greenhouse gases in the form of methane per day than the average 4x4 on a 33-mile drive. Giving up meat could have a comparable impact on climate change to giving up flying.

Finally, there could be animal welfare benefits. The less meat we eat, the more we can afford to pay – and farmers selling fewer animals at higher prices should be able to provide them with better conditions.

So what diet should we be aiming for?

One that does not eschew meat altogether – if that seems too difficult – but that puts more emphasis on the vegetarian elements. In many countries meat is regarded as a relish, with the bulk of the meal coming from carbohydrates – corn, rice, pasta or potatoes – and vegetables.

We should get used to thinking of meat as a treat – it could help to save the world's poor from starvation.

Should we be trying to cut out meat to help save the world's poor from starvation?


* Producing meat is less efficient than growing grain – it takes 8kg of corn to produce 1kg of beef

* Growing crops to feed animals means there is less land on which to grow crops for humans

* There is a shortage of grain for human consumption, and global food prices have leapt by 57 per cent in a year


* It is not realistic to expect people to switch to a vegan diet of vegetables, pulses, fruit and nuts

* China and India should not be denied the same diet that we have enjoyed as they grow wealthier

* An alternative way of tackling the food crisis would be to reverse the policy of diverting grain to make biofuels

Thursday, 17 April 2008

How come Zimbabwe and Tibet get all the attention?

If a government wants to abuse human rights and rig elections, it needs to have the support of - or be - the western powers

Seumas Milne The Guardian, Thursday April 17 2008 Article historyAbout this articleClose This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday April 17 2008 on p31 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 00:08 on April 17 2008. There is no question that the struggle over land and power in Zimbabwe has brought the country to a grim pass. Nearly a decade after the takeover of white-owned farms and the rupture with the west, economic breakdown, hyperinflation, sanctions and Aids have taken a heavy toll. With the expectation now that a second round of elections, mired in claims of fraud, may after all keep President Mugabe in power, the prospect must be of continued economic punishment and crisis.

On a different scale, there's also no doubt that in Tibet - the other central international focus of western concern in the past month - deep-seated popular discontent fuelled last month's anti-government protests and attacks on Han Chinese, which were met with a violent crackdown by the Chinese authorities. Certainly, given the intensity of the US and European response, from chancellors and foreign ministers to Hollywood stars and blanket media coverage, you'd be left in little doubt that these two confrontations were the most serious facing their continents, if not the world.

The US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said as much this week when he declared Zimbabwe the "most important and urgent issue" in Africa. Gordon Brown and George Bush both denounced the delay in releasing election results, the prime minister declaring that the "international community's patience with the regime is wearing thin". The British media have long since largely abandoned any attempt at impartiality in its reporting of Zimbabwe, the common assumption being that Mugabe is a murderous dictator at the head of a uniquely wicked regime.

China's growing economic muscle means western leaders prefer to tread more carefully around its human rights record, but Angela Merkel and the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, were not shy about steaming in, along with the US presidential candidates and the House of Representatives, which demanded unconditional talks with the exiled Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, any official restraint was more than made up for by a string of Dalai Lama-dazzled celebs from Richard Gere to Ab Fab's Joanna Lumley, who proudly recalled that her father had once helped Tibet against China on behalf of the British Raj.

But, on the basis of the scale of violence, repression and election rigging alone, you would be hard put to explain why these conflicts have been singled out for such special attention. In the violence surrounding Zimbabwe's elections, two people are currently reported to have died; in Tibet, numbers estimated to have been killed by protesters and Chinese forces range from 22 to 140. By contrast, in Somalia, where US-backed Ethiopian and Somali troops are fighting forces loyal to the ousted government, several thousand have been killed since the beginning of the year and half the population of the capital, Mogadishu, has been forced to flee the city in what UN officials describe as Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.

When it comes to rigging elections, countries like Jordan and Egypt have been happy to oblige in recent months - in the Egyptian case, jailing hundreds of opposition activists into the bargain - and almost nobody in the west has batted an eyelid. In Saudi Arabia there are no national elections at all, let alone the opposition MPs and newspapers that exist in Zimbabwe. In Africa, Togo has been a more flagrant rigger, while in Cameroon last week the president was given the job for life. And when it comes to separatist and independence movements, the Turkish Kurds have faced far more violence and a tighter cultural clampdown than the Tibetans.

The crucial difference, of course, and the reason why these conflicts and violations don't get the deluxe media and political treatment offered to the Zimbabwean opposition or Tibetan separatists is that the governments involved are all backed by the west, compounded in the Zimbabwean case by a transparently racist agenda. But it's not just an issue of hypocrisy and double standards, egregious though they are. It's also that British and US involvement and interference have been crucial to both the Zimbabwean and Tibetan conflicts.

That's most obviously true in Zimbabwe, which was not just a British colony, but where Britain refused to act against a white racist coup, triggering a bloody 15-year liberation war, and then imposed racial parliamentary quotas and a 10-year moratorium on land reform at independence. The subsequent failure by Britain and the US to finance land buyouts as expected, along with the impact of IMF programmes, laid the ground for the current impasse.

As for Tibet, Britain's role in the former serf-based system (helpfully recalled by Lumley) was assumed after the communist takeover by the CIA, which bankrolled the Dalai Lama's operations for many years. Such arrangements have in recent years passed to other US agencies and western NGOs, as with the Zimbabwean opposition. And even if there is no prospect of Tibetan independence, for a US administration that has designated China as the main threat to its global dominance, its minorities are still a stick that can be used to poke the dragon.

What has made human rights edicts by the US and Britain since the launch of the "war on terror" even more preposterous is that not only are they themselves supporting governments with similar or worse records, but they are directly responsible for these outrages themselves: from illegal invasions and occupations to large-scale killing and torture - along with phoney elections - in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UN estimates that more than 700 people were killed in the recent US and British-backed attacks on the Mahdi army in Iraq - a central motive for which was to stop them taking part in elections.

The current focus on China is of course linked to the Olympics, and Britain must face the likelihood of large-scale protests over its own record in 2012. Meanwhile, the best chance both of settling the Zimbabwean crisis and of meeting Tibetan aspirations is without the interference of western powers, which would do better improving the human rights records of their allies and themselves. The days of colonial dictat are over and where attempts are made to revive them, they will be resisted. China is now an emerging global power - and, as the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UN said yesterday, Zimbabwe "is no longer a British colony".

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Credit crunch? The real crisis is global hunger


And if you care, eat less meat

A food recession is under way. Biofuels are a crime against humanity, but - take it from a flesh eater - flesh eating is worse


Never mind the economic crisis. Focus for a moment on a more urgent threat: the great food recession that is sweeping the world faster than the credit crunch. You have probably seen the figures by now: the price of rice has risen by three-quarters over the past year, that of wheat by 130%. There are food crises in 37 countries. One hundred million people, according to the World Bank, could be pushed into deeper poverty by the high prices.

But I bet that you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1bn tonnes, the global grain harvest broke all records last year - it beat the previous year's by almost 5%. The crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change. If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?
There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13bn tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01bn, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation, will feed people.
I am sorely tempted to write another column about biofuels. From this morning all sellers of transport fuel in the United Kingdom will be obliged to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops. The World Bank points out that "the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol ... could feed one person for a year". This year global stockpiles of cereals will decline by around 53m tonnes; this gives you a rough idea of the size of the hunger gap. The production of biofuels will consume almost 100m tonnes, which suggests that they are directly responsible for the current crisis.
On these pages yesterday Ruth Kelly, the secretary of state for transport, promised that "if we need to adjust policy in the light of new evidence, we will". What new evidence does she require? In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, we have just become legally obliged to use food as fuel. It is a crime against humanity, in which every driver in this country has been forced to participate.
But I have been saying this for four years, and I am boring myself. Of course we must demand that our governments scrap the rules that turn grain into the fastest food of all. But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100m tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760m tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals - which could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat.
While meat consumption is booming in Asia and Latin America, in the UK it has scarcely changed since the government started gathering data in 1974. At just over 1kg per person per week, it's still about 40% above the global average, though less than half the amount consumed in the United States. We eat less beef and more chicken than we did 30 years ago, which means a smaller total impact. Beef cattle eat about 8kg of grain or meal for every kilogram of flesh they produce; a kilogram of chicken needs just 2kg of feed. Even so, our consumption rate is plainly unsustainable.
In his magazine The Land, Simon Fairlie has updated the figures produced 30 years ago in Kenneth Mellanby's book Can Britain Feed Itself? Fairlie found that a vegan diet produced by means of conventional agriculture would require only 3m hectares of arable land (around half Britain's current total). Even if we reduced our consumption of meat by half, a mixed farming system would need 4.4m hectares of arable fields and 6.4 million hectares of pasture. A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.
But I cannot advocate a diet that I am incapable of following. I tried it for about 18 months, lost two stone, went as white as bone and felt that I was losing my mind. I know a few healthy-looking vegans, and I admire them immensely. But after almost every talk that I give, I am pestered by swarms of vegans demanding that I adopt their lifestyle. I cannot help noticing that in most cases their skin has turned a fascinating pearl grey.
What level of meat-eating would be sustainable? One approach is to work out how great a cut would be needed to accommodate the growth in human numbers. The UN expects the population to rise to 9 billion by 2050. These extra people will require another 325m tonnes of grain. Let us assume, perhaps generously, that politicians such as Ruth Kelly are able to "adjust policy in the light of new evidence" and stop turning food into fuel. Let us pretend that improvements in plant breeding can keep pace with the deficits caused by climate change. We would need to find an extra 225m tonnes of grain. This leaves 531m tonnes for livestock production, which suggests a sustainable consumption level for meat and milk some 30% below the current world rate. This means 420g of meat per person per week, or about 40% of the UK's average consumption.
This estimate is complicated by several factors. If we eat less meat we must eat more plant protein, which means taking more land away from animals. On the other hand, some livestock is raised on pasture, so it doesn't contribute to the grain deficit. Simon Fairlie estimates that if animals were kept only on land that is unsuitable for arable farming, and given scraps and waste from food processing, the world could produce between a third and two-thirds of its current milk and meat supply. But this system then runs into a different problem. The Food and Agriculture Organisation calculates that animal keeping is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental impacts are especially grave in places where livestock graze freely. The only reasonable answer to the question of how much meat we should eat is as little as possible. Let's reserve it - as most societies have done until recently - for special occasions.
For both environmental and humanitarian reasons, beef is out. Pigs and chickens feed more efficiently, but unless they are free range you encounter another ethical issue: the monstrous conditions in which they are kept. I would like to encourage people to start eating tilapia instead of meat. This is a freshwater fish that can be raised entirely on vegetable matter and has the best conversion efficiency - about 1.6kg of feed for 1kg of meat - of any farmed animal. Until meat can be grown in flasks, this is about as close as we are likely to come to sustainable flesh-eating.
Re-reading this article, I see that there is something surreal about it. While half the world wonders whether it will eat at all, I am pondering which of our endless choices we should take. Here the price of food barely registers. Our shops are better stocked than ever before. We perceive the global food crisis dimly, if at all. It is hard to understand how two such different food economies could occupy the same planet, until you realise that they feed off each other.

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Monday, 14 April 2008

A reminder of the real cost of living


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Friends in India who work with rural women say that lentils are no longer affordable

Monday, 14 April 2008

Suddenly you notice the costs have really shot up. For me the wake-up call came with the last few supermarket bills, which were already too high because we now need so many more fancy foods. The hairdresser costs a third more than this time last year, petrol too, and on Saturday the Chinese restaurant in the West End charged punitive prices, perhaps to pay for the Olympics back home. So, there will have to be longer gaps between getting the roots done, more trips to Shepherd's Bush market for fruit, meat and veg, and obviously less dining out.

The man of the house is fretting about the bigger things – the value of our ISAs and the mortgage. So, yes, we are, like most middle-class people, feeling less flush. Hardly what you could call privation, a necessary adjustment perhaps to a life of too much already (16 pairs of shoes, for example, when I last counted mine, some though 10 years old, is still excessive).
We have been content enough to stay put in the same property for 30 years and so are spared the current credit-crunch panic. For many others, by contrast, the present and future feel unnaturally bleak and the thought of cutting back is an affront. After years of growth, people feel entitled to more and more. Owning two or three homes was almost a norm for the successful until now, when such expectations are having to shrivel. Thrift feels to them like shame and induces self-pity that should be put on stage by Mike Leigh.
It is time to remind the blubbing and snivelling middle classes to be thankful and grateful for what they have, that babies are perishing in the poorest countries of the world, partly because we are so greedy and needy. These innocents and their families are not suffering the effects of the Northern Rock fiasco, having precious homes repossessed, losing jobs and enduring tumbling share prices. They walk about in the lands of no hope, through the valleys of death, try to keep their own alive for a little while longer.
I recently overheard two mums with humongous cars, chatting outside my daughter's old primary school, moaning as if there was no tomorrow. They had to cut down the skiing to only five days, said one, and her hubby was really upset about that sacrifice. Another confessed that they had reluctantly decided to stay put in their five-bedroom house and extend it, rather than move. Then the clincher: "Really nobody cares about people like us do they? How much more do they think we can take? Who do you vote for?"
Perhaps when next in the Maldives, they can ask the hotel staff about families and incomes, about powerlessness and sacrifices and how much more can they take. Britons travel to more "unspoilt" places than ever before and are only more indifferent to the people in those destinations. And now, suddenly, inequality threatens universal commotion, rebels against the established order.
The spreading unrest disturbs three cold, resolute masters of the universe. Our Chancellor, Alistair Darling, warns that international ethanol programmes to meet growing demands for biofuel are creating catastrophic food shortages and provoking riots the world over – in Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, parts of India.
These will spread as the poor no longer have anything to lose. The price of wheat has risen by 130 per cent this year and rice by 74 per cent. Friends in India who work to improve the lives of rural women say that dhal lentils are no longer affordable. Grain for food production has been slashed. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, fears that "hundreds of thousands of people will be starving.
Children will be suffering from malnutrition with consequences for all their lives". Sensitive to sub-prime US and UK gloom, M Strauss-Kahn tailors his message, saying "it is not only a humanitarian question" but one of western self-interest. Trade imbalances could affect economic advantage. Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, this weekend described the situation for the poor as "catastrophic".
If you want to understand why illegal migration is growing so out of control, here is one reason – a reason which anti-immigration campaigners do not examine or acknowledge. It is our fault that so many desperate people come to our doors. Well, wouldn't you do the same? The poorest cannot travel but the next social layer up fears it will be them next, once savings are gone, and so they flee to places of plenty.
So is globalisation then, just a re-branding of exploitative, naked capitalism? Not really. Market liberalisation has brought about some, possibly considerable, generation of wealth. There are more stupendously rich people in developing countries than ever before. The middle classes are growing in number. Quickly and inevitably these winners turn into sinners, unconcerned about the poor in their midst.
The system also, says Arundhati Roy, "allows the unrestricted entry and exit of massive amounts of speculative, capital-hot money – into and out of Third World countries and then dictates their economic policy. Using the threat of capital flight as a lever, international capital insinuates itself deeper and deeper into those economies".
Britain is held to this ransom too – remember the threats by non-doms when they were asked to pay a pitifully small amount of extra tax?
But in poor countries, the might of the capitalists and institutions like the IMF and World Bank is deadly. Says Roy: "With a combination of arrogance and ruthlessness, they take their sledgehammers to fragile, interdependent, historically complex societies and devastate them." To the point of death through starvation, as now.
International development agencies have discouraged agricultural sectors in the Third World, pushed cash-crop production and multinational industrialisation. And, meanwhile, there is the demented search for alternatives to oil to free the West from dependency on the Middle East. Biofuel was our salvation, even though we knew what the abominable price would be.
Mr Zoellick brings up the uncomfortable truth, saying: "While many in the US and Europe worry about filling their [vehicle] tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it is getting more and more difficult everyday."
Things must be very bad indeed for the G7, the IMF and World Bank to speak out more ominously than aid agencies, which frequently have to use apocalyptic tones to arouse concern for disaster victims. In 1968, the children of the rich nations protested against the established order. Maybe 2008 will be the year the poor finally had enough. Perhaps the powerful are smelling revolution in the air and are scared.

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Saturday, 12 April 2008

How to do business like the Mafia

 The letters of jailed Cosa Nostra boss Bernardo Provenzano are full of insights into his leadership style. The result could be a how-to manual for company directors. Clare Longrigg opens the mafiosi's management handbook  
They're violent, they're ruthless, they have caused misery to many, but you can't fault their business sense: mafia bosses know how to make a profit. Its practices may be largely illegal, but Cosa Nostra is not as retrograde, or conservative, as it has often been portrayed. Its raison d'etre is profit. Like any business, it is pragmatic and constantly changing to exploit new opportunities.
Big business has learned how to sell itself to the public, with television shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons' Den granting us a view of harsh but compellingly competitive environments. Businessmen such as Sir Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones have become unlikely media personalities. But the mafia has been using these methods for years.
When Bernardo Provenzano took over the organisation in the mid-90s, he inherited a depleted and demoralised workforce, who had scuppered their own access to politics and industry. The bombs that killed anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino had created a PR disaster and a law enforcement backlash. Hundreds of mafiosi were in prison, and many of them were so disillusioned with the organisation that they were telling the authorities everything they knew.
Magistrates and mafiosi agree: Provenzano was the charismatic force who revived the fortunes of Cosa Nostra. It has been said of Provenzano, as of so many mafia entrepreneurs, that had he turned his talents and resources to legitimate business, he would have been extremely successful. Fortunately, the mafia's particular modus operandi - the use or threat of violence to create monopolies and price-fixing cartels - is not part of general business practice. But his "System" turned around a failing organisation with far-sighted tactics worthy of any business impresario. The fact that he wrote his reforms by letter means that we have what amounts to seven rules for running a successful business.
Rule 1: Submersion
When a company is failing, the first step is to take it below the radar. You want to lose that cursed epithet "troubled" as quickly as possible, even if it means disappearing from the business pages."It's the sensible thing to do - you bury your mistakes and get on with it," says Peter Wallis (known as Peter York in his other guise, as a social commentator), management consultant at SRU Ltd. You also want to buy shareholders' patience and convince them to hold their nerve and trust you.
"Our aim was to make Cosa Nostra invisible, giving us time to regroup," recalled Provenzano's lieutenant, Nino Giuffrè, who collaborated shortly after his arrest in 2002. After a series of power struggles that had left many dead, businessmen were understandably reluctant to return calls. Mafiosi were instructed to avoid any activity that would attract publicity. If a factory owner refused to pay protection, no one was to set fire to the machinery or blow up the trucks. Peaceful persuasion was the only way.
By contrast with the old-style system of shoot first and ask questions later, any hostile action would have to be thoroughly assessed for potential PR damage. "It was essential to weigh up whether a person could do more damage dead or alive," revealed Giuffrè.
Announcing his system, Provenzano warned that recovery would take time: members might have to wait between five and seven years before they were making profits again. Rebuilding links with business and politicians could only be done out of the glare of publicity. In relative obscurity, Cosa Nostra would be repositioned to shake off its parasitic image and become part of the industrial and political institutions.
Rule 2: Mediation
"Be calm, clear, correct and consistent, turn any negative experiences to account, don't dismiss everything people tell you, or believe everything you're told. Always try to discover the truth before you speak, and remember that, to make your judgment, it's never enough to have just one source of information."
This letter has been described as "a manifesto of Cosa Nostra under Bernardo Provenzano". After a decade of unspeakable violence under the previous leader, Totò Riina, Provenzano changed the culture of Cosa Nostra by instructing his men in the art of negotiation and the importance of dialogue.
Provenzano was decisive, and on occasion demanded swift and direct answers to his questions, but he could be a ditherer when it suited him. Playing for time, he encouraged his men to negotiate agreements between them. If that failed, Provenzano was at his typewriter night and day, offering his wisdom and experience (and just occasionally, a little double-dealing) to resolve disputes.
Like any company director, who carefully crafts his or her media persona, Provenzano didn't want to come across as a tyrant, he wanted to be a "kindly dictator". He coordinated the activities of different and competing groups, without imposing his will. He was the uncontested boss, but he gave the impression that his decisions were reached after long consultation.
Rule 3: Consensus
Provenzano answered letters from every level of society about job vacancies, exam results, local health and hospital administration. Like the charity work carried out by major corporations today, Provenzano was clear: the mafia must present itself as a positive element of society. The boss had to appear as a beneficent figure, an uncle whose advice and consent was sought on all matters - business and personal. He understood that persuading the people they need you is a far more effective way of promoting your business than imposition and violence.
"Let me know whatever [the people] need," he wrote to his adviser, "they must expect nothing but good from us."
One key step in the organisation's recovery was recapturing the popular consensus. The mafia has always relied on the obedience (goodwill might be putting it too strongly) of the community. In the business of selling protection, social control is essential: if your "clients" unite and rebel, you're in trouble.
Rule 4: Keep God on your side
Part of Provenzano's bid to reclaim the people's trust and rehabilitate Cosa Nostra with its traditional followers was to assume a mantle of piety. He presented himself in pastoral role - trustworthy and authoritative. His letters read like the parish priest's homily, and he would send his men tracts copied from the Bible.
Investigators tried hard to discover a hidden code beneath all the underlined passages in his Bible. In fact, it seems, he found them genuinely useful as leadership tools.
Provenzano's choice of tracts revealed, according to investigators, "a certain attention to rules, to punishments, guilt and vengeance, as though he were searching for some inspiration and authority to support him in his responsibilities and the decisions that were a necessary part of being the head of an organisation".
In an approach adopted by politicians including Tony Blair, Provenzano's letters contain the strong implication that God is exercising his will through him ("May the Lord bless you and keep you ... know that where I can be of use to you, with the will of God, I am completely at your disposal ... ").
The status as homespun churchgoer also worked for George Bush in his pursuit of popular consensus. "Bush's religion is very variable," comments Wallis. "He courts rightwing evangelicals but he doesn't buy the whole package; he merely wants to relate to them."
Rule 5: Be politically flexible
Businessmen from all walks of life and political persuasion usually find themselves co-opted on to a government advisory board eventually. The East End boy made good is not your traditional Labour supporter, but Sir Alan Sugar has reportedly been advising Gordon Brown on enterprise. "This government's not Labour, it's old-fashioned Tory," he says. "I prefer Gordon to Tony. Blair was refreshing but Brown is more like me. He has a strong work ethic."
Provenzano took this further, changing his political allegiance whenever it suited him. He looked for politicians who were prepared to pursue his self-serving demands for lighter sentences against convicted mafiosi, as well as the end of protection for collaborators. "Links were to be forged behind the scenes with politicians who had no trace of connection to scandal or sleaze," recalled Giuffrè. "If a politician was seen to be supported by men of honour of a certain rank, within 24 hours he'd be destroyed by the opposition."
Rule 6: Reinvention
In case of a political scandal, or a business failure, it is vital for the new boss to be able to distance himself from the whole affair. Indeed, he may find it useful to take on a new persona altogether. When Stuart Rose returned to Arcadia after three years to rescue it, he said: "What is interesting is that people here think I haven't changed, but I have been gone three years. I am not the same Stuart Rose, I have changed a lot."
With Provenzano's new directives, not only did the negative headlines cease, but he managed to dissociate himself from the scandals that had gone before. Like everyone else, he had emerged from Cosa Nostra's most violent decade with his reputation in tatters; his advisers helped him to "get his virginity back", in Giuffrè's interesting phrase. With the help of his PR-savvy advisers, he made sure no one associated him with the violent years, and created his image as the peacemaker.
"When I got out of prison," Giuffrè recalled, "I found Provenzano a changed man; from the hitman he once was, now he showed signs of saintliness."
Rule 7: Modesty
During his career, Provenzano transformed himself from a hired thug, to business investor, political mastermind and, ultimately, strategist and leader. Part of his mystique was that no one really knew whether he was a genius or an illiterate chancer. To emphasise his humble character and present himself as a simple man of the people he would write letters full of spelling and grammatical mistakes, and always signed off with the same humble apology: "I beg your forgiveness for the errors in my writing ..."
Every letter ends with the same saintly and affectionate benediction and an apology for grammatical errors. The bad spelling and schoolboy mistakes detracted nothing from the authority of its writer. For a man who moved easily in the worlds of business and politics, it was apparently part of a carefully constructed image. Investigators maintain his semi-literacy was a deliberate ruse.
It's a strategy that political and business leaders have used to good effect. "George Bush's family is as upper-class as you're going to get in the United States," says Wallis. "He is not a real Texan. To what extent he talks like that out of incompetence, to what extent it is crowd- pleasing, we don't know - but we know it works."
Similarly, Justin King, multimillionaire saviour of Sainsbury's, says: "I'm not a book reader ... I'm just a normal bloke." Sugar has never disavowed his East End roots, his upbringing in a Hackney council house. He doesn't give himself airs, but the point is still made: he grew up with no privileges, but he is the one with the power.
Provenzano took false modesty a step further, suggesting (almost entirely untruthfully) that he would rather have someone else in charge. "They want me to tell them what to do," he wrote, "but who am I to tell them how to conduct themselves? I can't give orders to anyone, indeed I look for someone who can give orders to me."
Unfortunately for him, since his arrest in 2006, his wishes have been fulfilled.
· Boss of Bosses: How Bernardo Provenzano Saved the Mafia is published by John Murray (rrp £20). To order a copy for £18 with free UK p&p go to or call 0870 836 0875.

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Pushy parents: the naked truth

If you decide to hothouse your child, don't be surprised if they turn out to act rather wildly
Carol Midgley
A few days ago I stood, notebook poised hopefully, outside the new-build Salford flat where Sufiah Yusof, child maths prodigy-turned-prostitute, now twiddles her nipples for clients at £130 an hour.

Sufiah, who won a place at Oxford at age 13 after being pressured mercilessly by her father, is now 23 and has just been exposed by the News of the World as being a “Genius on the Game”. It is here, on a bed made up in the lounge, that she gets her kit off for punters who book via her online escort agency.

Apart from asking the obvious - whether this new lifestyle direction is purely to punish her parents - I wanted her take on the theory that overbearing parents risk making anarchists or even dropouts of their children. Alas, she had already done an exclusive newspaper deal and duly told her story dressed in a leopardskin bra and brandishing a riding crop - predictable, perhaps, since hookers don't tend to perform for free. “I have studied so intensely for so many years I wanted to have fun,” she said.

Whether pleasuring businessmen en route home to their wives is much fun is debatable. But every pushy parent in the land would be advised to cut out the picture of the beautiful Sufiah gyrating naked (and get this - looking absolutely delighted to be doing so) and consult it each time they are tempted to strong-arm their child into yet another “improving” activity or extra Mandarin lesson. Sufiah was taught by her father under the Accelerated Learning Technique and apparently made to study alone for hours in freezing rooms to keep her brain alert. As a further discipline, he pushed her so hard at tennis that she was seeded No 8 in the country for under-21s.

Obviously Sufiah's case is extreme - most overachieving kids do not run away from university, as she did at 15, describing her childhood as a “living hell”, and later make a living turning tricks. But it does serve as a warning that if you push children too hard to “win” they might defiantly set out to “lose”. As one reader of her story writes on a website: “You can't treat children like lab rats and expect them not to bite you.”

The phrase coined by psychologists is “helicopter” parents - hovering busily over every aspect of their kids' lives, doing their homework, lying to get into faith schools and absorbing their every achievement as their own. But perhaps the abbreviation “hell” would do just as well. This seems to be dawning on the nation's grandparents.

A report this week claimed that grandmothers see their grown-up (middle-class) children as competitive obsessives who approach parenthood in exactly the same way as their careers - with targets, checklists and ruthless ambition. Professor Rachel Thomson, of the Open University and co-director of The Making of Modern Motherhood report, said grandmothers were horrified by the “modern pressure and compulsion on parents to be constantly busy and sociable, taking their child to every class available, being up to date on endless independent research into everything from developmental goals to nutrition”.

Why are so many parents obsessed with their offspring being conspicuous overachievers that they are willing to sacrifice their childhoods for it? Do they now regard the word “average” (regarded as quite good, ie normal, in my day) as now equal to “shameful”? Maybe they truly do believe that the formula of right school/right hobbies/right university automatically equals wonderful, happy life. Ask the parents of child prodigies and many will tell them to be careful what they wish for.

Child Genius, a Channel 4 documentary series that will be broadcast next Wednesday, will show the other side of being superbright; the lack of friends, the family tensions, the struggle to find a school able to cope, and in one case a moody “genius” boy of 13 being threatened with expulsion for taking a replica gun in to his private school. In any case many “genius” children go on to become fairly mediocre in adult life: their dazzling light cannot be sustained indefinitely. One parent in the C4 programme says that, if not handled properly, her daughter's gift could turn out to be a curse. Another says: “It's fine having a brain but if you can't mix in society there's no point.”

Well, quite. And in the same way, if pushy parents focus exclusively on ripening their child's intellect, they must accept that their emotional development will be stunted. There was something needily childlike about Sufiah saying “My clients treat me like a princess”, as if they provide the affection she was denied as a girl. As long ago as 1978 the psychologist Peter Congdon wrote a guide for parents of gifted children in which he said: “Accelerating mental development is sometimes bought at the expense of slowing down the pace of social and emotional growth. The result can be a lopsided and maladjusted individual.”

This applies in other ways too. The pitiful decline of Britney Spears, hothoused within the showbiz industry from a tender age, may be seen as a modern parable of what can happen when teenagers are denied a normal adolescence (as, of course, is Michael “Neverland” Jackson). Spears was not allowed youthful high jinks. Her job was to peddle the clean-living, God-fearing, virginal ideal to the masses while, strangely, dancing provocatively on video. So she had her drugs and alcohol backlash years later when she was a mother. Now, aged 26, with two children and two marriages behind her, she was recently carted off to a psychiatric unit. Doesn't that make you feel better about your teenagers getting drunk?

We cannot ask Sufiah's father, Farooq, whether he regrets the albatross that he placed around his daughter's neck because he has just started an 18-month prison sentence for sexually assaulting two 15-year-old girls that he was tutoring in maths. But her mother says: “Part of me is haunted by the notion we had driven her to that.” You don't say.

What would haunt me more is that in the newspaper “glamour” pictures and video that you can view online Sufiah looks genuinely happy, relieved almost. It comes to something when a child's spirit has been so crushed by her family's ambition that she considers prostitution a lucky escape.

But since her father treated her as little more than an object it is hardly surprising that, with paying punters in her Salford flat, she continues to behave like one.

Jesus Knows a Camel When He Sees One

We Are NOT Passing Through The Eye Of That Needle, America….

By Jason Miller

10 April, 2008

Dedicated to Bobbie L.

In the sermon just minutes before his death, Archbishop Oscar Romero (a man who truly practiced the teachings of Christ) reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grains of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us. I am bound, as a pastor, by divine command to give my life for those whom I love, and that is all Salvadoreans, even those who are going to kill me.”

—These words appeared in a newspaper just two weeks before Archbishop Romero was shot (by a filthy Right Wing Death Squad supported by the US) while celebrating Holy Communion in the hospital which had been his home since his enthronement in 1977.

“You could piss off Jesus Christ himself!”

—Russ Miller

In 1947 Harry Truman wrote to Pope Pius XII that the United States “is a Christian nation.” This proclamation came from the man responsible for the “Christian act” of annihilating over 200,000 Japanese civilians by unleashing nuclear hell.

George W. Bush, who has perpetrated war crimes for which he should be hanged and whose entire being is drenched with the blood of over a million Iraqis and 4,000 US soldiers, has often spoken openly about his “Christian faith.” Imagine that. Our “Christian nation” is led by a craven, mean-spirited, remorseless, conscienceless mass murderer.

Unfortunately for those who truly embrace Christ’s undeniably moral teachings and yearn to identify the United States as collectively Christian, as a nation we have much more in common with imperial Rome, an empire that persecuted its Christian populace to varying degrees for about 300 years (until Constantine I made it legal to practice Christianity in 313).

How could it be otherwise? The United States is the chief apologist and defender for the global cancer known as the “American Way,” which includes American capitalism, industrial civilization, imperialism, cultural genocide, consumerism, and the myriad ills plaguing our planet and its inhabitants thanks to these grotesqueries. In fact, as exploitative and brutal as they were, Pontius Pilate and the empire he served paled in comparison to the Unites States. Like the Romans, we dominate the world and siphon off its riches so we can wallow in hedonistic delights and creature comforts. Yet the American Empire has added a whole new dimension to lordship of the planet. With our technology run amok, we are simultaneously exploiting and destroying the planet.

The “American Way of Life,” which George H.W. Bush proclaimed to be “non-negotiable,” is a system based on greed, narcissism, selfishness, mean-spiritedness, economic subjugation, belligerence, and militarism. How could a person in their right mind truly believe that the Christian God, and Christ in particular, would embrace, condone, or bless a means of existence premised on such contemptible elements?

Romans 13:8 reads, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

We US Americans loved our neighbors in Vietnam so much that we slaughtered 3 million of them. And surely the millions of Iraqis we have murdered through our slow motion genocide (beginning with the Gulf War, progressing by way of the draconian economic sanctions under Clinton that resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children, and continuing to this very day via the war crimes of the Bush Regime) recognized our deep adoration as they died. Throughout our history, we have committed a multitude of “loving acts” that have resulted in torment, suffering and death for millions upon millions of people. (For a detailed analysis of the history of our deeply malevolent foreign policy, visit

Matthew 6:24 reminds us that, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Sorry, God. You can’t have our souls. We owe them to the company store. Under our glorious free market system, which is nominally constrained by a government infested with crony capitalists, wage and debt slavery are virtually inevitable for a majority of the population. A tiny percentage of the population in the US owns and controls nearly all the wealth and means of production, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs and to bend to their powerful economic will (though one can successfully argue that we can defy them by choosing to exercise our “God-given” right to sleep under a bridge). So devout is our faith in mammon and so strong is our desire for wealth that many of us actually continue to believe the idiotic myth (which our opulent masters love to perpetuate) that we live in a meritocracy where “anyone can get rich if they just work hard enough.”

Luke 14:33 delivers the message that, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

Forsaketh all that we hath? Are you kidding? We are the most avaricious creatures the world has ever known. Comprising only 5% of the world’s population, we greedily consume over a fourth of the world’s resources. Gluttony be thy name, America. And to ensure that our repulsive parasitism isn’t interrupted, we feed the military industrial complex ( around 700 billion of our tax dollars each year to maintain our imperial killing machine. We spend nearly as much on war as the rest of the world combined. Bearing in mind that only five out of a hundred human beings on the Earth are US Americans, think how absurd it is to argue that we need that much firepower to “defend ourselves.” The truth is that we hath far more than our share and we are not planning on forsaking that which we hath anytime soon.

Matthew 6:20 cautions people to, “….store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;”

Perhaps we need to worry more about the worms devouring our rotting souls than the moths and rust attacking the multitude of worldly treasures that have become our raison de’etre. Acquiring more, more and still more is the American obsession. When is enough enough, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Pete Coors, Richard Mellon-Scaife, Michael Dell, Helen Walton and the rest of your despicable ilk?

And many of the rest of us pursue the American Dream of fame and fortune with the ferocity of a pack of starving wolves devouring a fresh kill. Television, which rivals mammon for dominance in the pantheon of the perverse gods many US Americans truly worship, is rife with programs (they don’t call it “programming” for nothing) which glorify our sick fascination with the status, power, and (at least temporary) satiation of greed that comes with material prosperity. Yes indeed, The Apprentice, Deal or No Deal, The Moment of Truth, and a veritable smorgasbord of similarly inane, shallow and narcissistic vulgarities are essential building blocks for those who are determined to achieve the spiritual perversion so characteristic of the quintessential “American.”

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.”

–Matthew 21:12

Few decent human beings (save those still suffering the mental disease of allegiance to capitalism–which is inculcated into us from birth and constantly perpetuated by the filthy whores of the corporate media) could imagine Jesus Christ walking onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange without a whip in hand to drive out our rotten-to-the-core modern day money changers.

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

”I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me….”

”Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

—Matthew 25: 37-43

Given the above, as a rational and moral person, dear reader, what do you suppose Christ would think of a feculent, cynical system such as ours that values wealth and fame over people, pours buckets of money into wars that generate buckets of blood, maintains a “justice” system used to maintain the deep class divisions (in our allegedly “classless society”) by coddling and protecting privileged contemptible criminals (i.e. Bush and Cheney) while condemning many non-violent impoverished offenders to the hell of the prison industrial complex (, and rains money upon the opulent when they are “needy” while offering tooth and nail resistance to nearly any attempt to aid the poor (witness the rapid-fire $30 billion bailout of Bear Stearns and the criminally slow and inadequate response to the Katrina crisis in New Orleans)?

The day we empty our prisons of non-violent petty criminals and fill them with the likes of Clinton, O’Reilly, Scalia, Koch, and Condi Rice (the power elite and their enablers), bring our imperial legions home, down-size our military to a modest defensive-sized force, cut all “aid” to the murderous state of Israel, utilize our nation’s wealth to eliminate homelessness and hunger AND to provide universal healthcare and higher education, eliminate corporate person-hood, nationalize industries vital to human survival (i.e. health care, oil, utilities, food), criminalize factory farming, permanently shut down Wall Street and Madison Avenue, and sweep away the last vestiges of the virulent planetary affliction known as consumerism….that will be the day that we will begin to even resemble a nation that wouldn’t leave Christ retching in disgust.

Meanwhile, as a nation premised on savage capitalism, we are the antithesis of a Christian nation. Collectively we are an abomination. May God and the rest of the world have mercy on us all as our precious empire crumbles.

Jason Miller is a recovering US American middle class suburbanite who strives to remain intellectually free. He is Cyrano’s Journal Online’s associate editor ( and publishes Thomas Paine’s Corner within Cyrano’s at You can reach him at

Friday, 11 April 2008

An Analysis of Obama-mania

Super Tuesday II, as Fox dubbed it, took some steam out of the Obama bandwagon, but he's still the likely Democratic nominee, and therefore the likely president- to-be. Which is remarkable, really-a nonparticipant can only stand slack jawed in awe of Obamamania. Previously rational people whom LBO admires, like Barbara Ehrenreich and Christopher Hayes, have fallen in love with the Senator's brand of change we can believe in, a slogan that has to be one of the emptiest since Sandburg's 'The people, yes!,' that the New Party used in New York in the early 1990s. Obama has become the Tokio Hotel of politics.

On what is this mania based? Obama is inspiring the young, lifting the alienated off their couches, and catalyzing a new movement for ... change, presumably one we can believe in. The content of this change is hard to specify. Some serious leftists we know and love point to Obama's roots as a community organizer in Chicago, though many people in a position to know say he didn't rock many boats in those days. He was embraced by foundation liberals, however, who greased his way into the Harvard Law School via a lakefront condo.

All of which doesn't make Obama uniquely bad: he's just another mainstream Democrat with a sleazy real estate guy in his past. Though he's being touted as an early opponent of the Iraq war, he told the Chicago Tribune in 2004: 'There's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position ...' He voted to renew the PATRIOT Act, campaigned for happy warrior Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in 2006, and wants to increase the size of the U.S. military. He supports Israel's continuing torture of the Palestinians penned into the Gaza Strip. A Congressional Quarterly study found his Senate voting record was virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton's; the only major difference in their votes is a surprising one: a move to limit class actions suits against corporations, which Clinton voted against, and Obama for. Obama's vote was against the preferences of a Dem financial base, trial lawyers, but pleasing to the Fortune 500 and Wall Street.

In this binary world, when you criticize Obama, people immediately include you're a Hillary Clinton fan. Uh, no. Her politics are bellicose and neoliberal. Her 'experience' consists largely of having watched her husband be president for eight years, though it's likely they were sleeping in separate bedrooms for much of the time. A plague on all their houses.


Some more thoughtful victims of Obama Disease point to detailed position papers on the candidate's website. These must always be taken with a grain of salt, especially during primary season. Candidate Bill Clinton promised to 'invest in people' and ended up being the president of 'a bunch of fucking bond traders,' as Hillary's husband memorably put it. LBJ campaigned as the peace candidate in 1964, and ended up killing a million Indochinese.

Obamians also point to his rejection of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC); they put him on their list of rising stars, and he asked to be removed. Encouraging-except for the fact that his chief economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, the fellow who told the Canadians not to take the anti-NAFTA rhetoric seriously, is the DLC's chief economist. Goolsbee has written gushingly about Milton Friedman and denounced the idea of a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures. That hire is more significant than asking to be struck from a list.

Big capital would have no problem with an Obama presidency. Top hedge fund honcho Paul Tudor Jones threw a fundraiser for him at his Greenwich house last spring, 'The whole of Greenwich is backing Obama,' one source said of the posh headquarters of the hedge fund industry. They like him because they're socially liberal, up to a point, and probably eager for a little less war, and think he's the man to do their work. They're also confident he wouldn't undertake any renovations to the distribution of wealth. You could say the same about Clinton-but you know those hedge fund guys. They like a contrary bet. A share of Obama stock on the Iowa Electronic Market was 30 on May 19, 2007, the day of Jones's Obama bash; it peaked at 86 on March 1, a gain of 187% (in a year where triple digits are rare). It's since settled back into the low 70s, which is still quite a gain.

The phantasmic

LBO would be the last to argue that politics is all about rationality. Fantasy matters. But fantasy can have some relationship to policy. Take the example of Ronald Reagan, a man for whom Obama professed some admiration for having rolled back the 'excesses of the 1960s and 1970s' and bringing back 'a sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.' Reagan promised to make America 'stand tall again' and 'to get government off the backs of the people.' Certainly these phrases didn't appeal to the rational faculties of the electorate, but they did correspond with a military buildup, a greater willingness to go to war, and an economic agenda of deregulation and reverence for private wealth. And Reagan had real political forces behind him-first, his cabal of right-wing Southern California businessmen, later supplemented by the corporate and financial establishment, and operating with a playbook written by movement conservatives and the Heritage Foundation.

What does Obama have? A lot of slogans that connect with nothing in the real world; in fact, their very emptiness may be the source of their appeal, because it allows people to project whatever they want to onto him, without getting bogged down in specifics, as Reagan liked to say. (Under attack from Clinton and McCain, he did get specific in his long Wisconsin victory speech. This brought attacks from Karl Rove and others, placing him on the 'far left'; it's not likely we'll see much more of this irresponsible stuff from Obama as November approaches.) And despite the grand claims of enthusiasts, he doesn't really have a movement behind him-he's got a fan club. How does a fan club hold a candidate accountable? It's not like he'll take the phone calls of all those 27-year-olds who gave him $100 on the web as quickly as he'd answer a summons from Paul Tudor Jones.

Obama's appeal is a strange thing. Though he's added to it as his political momentum builds, his original base consisted of blacks and upper-status whites. The black support is out of racial pride, but the initial white support was driven by his post-partisan, post-racial appeal. Well-off whites love to hear a black man say that racism has largely receded as a toxic force, though it's really hard to figure out what the hell he's talking about in a world where black households earn about 60% as much as whites, and where black men are incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white men. And what of this post-partisan business? Politics is about conflicts over resources and priorities, and over the state's power to coerce; how ever could comity prevail in a world where interests and preferences diverge so widely?

As Adolph Reed told LBO, an Obama presidency

"could give us the worst of all possible of worlds: one in which race is completely repackaged as a discourse of celebration and, to the extent that that had already become the only metaphor through which American politics could accommodate critical discussion of inequality, the language of ‘disparity,' it will no longer be possible for critiques of inequality to be heard as an appropriate topic for political discussion. Obama already when he talks 'black' (e.g., with his 'Cousin Pookie' riffs, which are the exact equivalent of Shelby Steele's rantings about underclass, shiftless 'Sam') opts for the Bookerite/Cosbyite metaphor of victim-blaming in the phony first-person plural, and he has always played the Immigrant Success Story Up From Slavery Ain't America Great and Don't I Show It angle. And, moreover, what many of his white supporters like about him is that he doesn't have the ‘chip on the shoulder' that so many indigenous blacks do. Add all this to his commitment to appealing to the right and to the investor class, and the upshot is that inequality could lose whatever vestigial connotations it has as a species of injustice and be fully consolidated as the marker, on the bottom end that is, of those losers who failed to do what the market requires of them or a sign of their essential inferiority."

Turn to cheer

Enough critique; the dialectic demands something constructive to induce some forward motion. There's no doubt that Obamalust does embody some phantasmic longing for a better world-more peaceful, egalitarian, and humane. He'll deliver little of that-but there's evidence of some admirable popular desires behind the crush. And they will inevitably be disappointed.

As this newsletter has argued for years, there's great political potential in popular disillusionment with Democrats. The phenomenon was first diagnosed by Garry Wills in Nixon Agonistes. As Wills explained it, throughout the 1950s, left-liberals intellectuals thought that the national malaise was the fault of Eisenhower, and a Democrat would cure it. Well, they got JFK and everything still pretty much sucked, which is what gave rise to the rebellions of the 1960s (and all that excess that Obama wants to junk any remnant of). You could argue that the movements of the 1990s that culminated in Seattle were a minor rerun of this. The sense of malaise and alienation is probably stronger now than it was 50 years ago, and includes a lot more of the working class, whom Stanley Greenberg's focus groups find to be really pissed off about the cost of living and the way the rich are lording it over the rest of us.

Never did the possibility of disappointment offer so much hope. That's not what the candidate means by that word, but history can be a great ironist.

India: Disappearing The Poor

By Jeremy Seabrook

10 April, 2008
The Guardian

As if to demonstrate that poverty is now a residual issue in the world, the poor are being slowly eliminated from the imagery of the busy global media. “Nowhere in Bollywood films do you see a poor person,” says Pandurang Hegde, activist in the forests of northern Karnataka. “There is no place in the iconography of the new India for anything that suggests impoverishment and loss.”

Nor on the majority of TV stations which have flooded India with their unblinking radiance. The poor have become peripheral figures, with scarcely walk-on parts in the great drama of liberalisation. All that is known is that those living below the fanciful economic latitudes designated by “the poverty line” are being reduced. Poverty is clearly a mop-up operation, and will eventually be abolished by the rising tide which, as everyone knows, lifts all boats. This is an automatic consequence of economic growth. If the poor scarcely appear in the media, is this because their destiny is to become, if not rich, at least no-longer-poor?

If they have not yet been completely eclipsed, at least their wellbeing is now entrusted to NGOs, charities and international institutions, far more dependable custodians of their welfare than any self-help, or organisation on their own behalf. “The poor” have become an object of piety in a secular world. Who does not strive to raise them out of their misery? Is that after all not the purpose of wealth-creation?

Window-dressing is perhaps the highest art in the culture of globalism. In spite of appearances, poverty exhibits a disagreeable tenacity in the world. Since its removal would be an arduous process, it is, perhaps, easier to obliterate the representation of the poor in the world’s media than to wipe out poverty.

It may also be that the media vanishing trick prefigures something far more sinister, preparatory, perhaps, to more material disappearances. For their persistent presence remains a spectre at the global feast. What an agreeable place the world is - or would be - without them: nothing to mar the smiling imagery of plenty, the abundance of the display window and the publicity machine, the shopping mall and the showroom, the wall-to-wall entertainment and TV channels of endless music and laughter.

There are daily intimations of a more brutal dematerialisation of the poor. Wholesale clearances of city slums intensify whenever some spectacular event is to be staged - Beijing has unceremoniously removed its urban poor for the Olympics. Delhi has been cleansing its slums in readiness for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Bengaluru is to become “slum-less” as a result of its “slum clearance with a mission” programme. On almost every map of the world’s major cities, the areas occupied by the urban poor appear as blank spaces, emblem of their future erasure.

Their embarrassing presence evokes an archaic world, in which humanity creates its own shelter out of industrial debris, scrapes a living off the garbage heaps of abundance, recycles the discarded goods of others, lives a pinched and frugal existence. In other words, the poor offer a ghastly example of meagre resource-use and compulsory austerity in a context where excess and extravagance are now the norm. No wonder they are increasingly intrusive: they embody our worst nightmare - this could also be our fate when the oil is exhausted, the taps run dry, the world overheats, the seas rise and the deserts encroach …

Some poor people have also internalised a sense of their own redundancy; and, only too eager to comply with this assessment of their worth, have obligingly rid the world of their presence. At least 140,000 farmers in India committed suicide between 1997 and 2007, almost certainly an underestimate, because the social shame of this cause of death impels many families to conceal it. These suicides are generally attributed to indebtedness: that people can be made to take responsibility for what are clearly socially-induced traumas suggests that the poor have become less capable of resisting personal culpability for the effects of economic forces over which they have no control.

Dr Sanjeev Jain is a psychiatrist at the Nimhans hospital in Bengaluru. He says every night the city hospitals deal with two or three dozen cases of suicide or attempted suicide. These he calls “accidents of modernity”, people for whom nothing has replaced decaying structures of meaning. Even the lowest castes - the sweepers and cleaners, removers of waste, tenders of animals and conservers of the environment - have seen many of their functions vanish, as much of their labour has been replaced by machines.

And where the poor do resist, how easy it is to label them outlaws, dacoits, criminals, Naxalites, terrorists. The prime minister of India has said that “the single largest internal security threat comes from Maoists”. This, too, is a form of fundamentalism, an ideology of radical nostalgia, a reaction of despair. How simple for the state to shoot them down, and write off their no-account lives as an “encounter” with militants, ultras, extremists, and all the other inventive taxonomies devised to justify the elimination of those they have impoverished to the point of hopelessness.

Arundhati Roy sees preparations for a “genocide” against the poor; although the word is not quite right in the context, since the poor are not a race. Povericide is an inelegant but more accurate word for what Arundhati Roy sees as a corollary of “the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India - the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own”.

As if to support this grim scenario, the ghost of hunger is presently being invoked by the global information machines. The cost of staple foods continues to rise - thanks, we are told, to changing appetites of (some of) the people of India and China, the diversion of agricultural land to jatropha, soya or sugar-cane for biofuel, the using up of fertile farmland for infrastructural projects (India lost over a million hectares of agricultural land between 1990 and 2005), erratic harvests which may or may not be an early symptom of climate change. The Malthusian insight, that no place is set at nature’s banquet for the poor, has been revised: no longer nature’s banquet, it is now a feast crafted by a global food manufacturing industry.

The poor are scattered and divided. While some will doubtless obligingly efface themselves by consuming pesticide, jumping on to the railway track or hanging themselves from a ceiling fan, others will join the doomed ranks of armed resistance, while yet others will almost certainly be drawn into spectacular acts of violence and terror.

In the perpetual artificial sunshine of the technosphere, within the global gated community in which all the inhabitants are rich, the poor have already ceased to exist. But it is one thing to banish them from the enchanted islands of plenty, that virtual reality of the fantasists of wealth, but quite another to erase them from a material world in which they remain an obdurate majority. Their refusal to go quietly into the oblivion for which they are apparently destined is likely to take unpredictable and malignant forms; since they are the footsoldiers of the militias, Maoists, mafiosi and militants who have flooded the spaces evacuated by governments for whom the poor no longer count.

Jeremy Seabrook is the author of over forty books.