Saturday, 3 October 2009

"I love Jesus!"

It was real moment seeing Vitor Belfort, an excellent Brazilian Jui Jitsu practioner, fighting once again in the UFC recently. So memories of young Vitor throwing his ferouciously-fast fists in the caged octagan flooded back. I'm pleased to see that Vitor has evidently matured and calmed with age. Following his resounding victory over prized former middleweight champion Rich Franklin, Vitor shouted into the microphone held by interviewer Joe Rogan that he "loves Jesus!". It is a treat having Vitor back in mainstream MMA looking as good as ever. I suspect a fight with one of the Silva's (Wanderlei or Anderson) is in the works. Let's hope we get to see some Brazilian Jui Jitsu in all its glory!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Helio Gracie, co-founder of Brazilian Jui Jitsu, passes away

I'm saddened to write that I have just learned that Helio Grace, who co-developed Brazilian Jui Jitsu with his brother Carlos, has passed away in Rio de Janeiro aged 95.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Democracy is alive in Iraq, now ethnic and religious polarisation need to be seriously reconsidered

Six years ago Iraq was ruled by a dictator. There were no elections, no organised opposition parties and no internal dissent or criticism of the autocratic regime. The country is now about to undergo historic elections, in which approximately 15,000 candidates representing a cross section of rival ethnic and religious groups are standing for just 440 seats. The country, which featured just one political party under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, now has over 400 political parties that appear to publish a seemlessly unending amount of propaganda and campaign leaflets. Participatory representative democracy is indeed alive in Iraq, but the problem remains that "Iraq" is just lines on a map to many of its inhabitants.

What people don't seem to realise or at least don't want to accept is that in addition to the inter-islamic polarisation that exists between Shia muslims and Shitte muslims, the nation is also ruptured by ethnic diversion. These divisions are deep and long-established. They cannot be eroded overnight or conveniently swept under a pile of progressive-sounding propaganda. In may senses Iraq suffers from similar aliements as a number of African "nations" which were carved onto maps by European colonisers. This is just as eveident in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and recently Kenya. This isn't a post about how nation-states are made and what constitututes a nation, but they are fundamental questions to bear in mind as we watch the Iraqi elections.

Democracy is indeed present in Iraq, but until the religious and ethnic divisions that polarise and indeed haunt the nation, it is flimsy and open to corrution of the most severe and horrific sort. If Iraq is to progress, no, survive, there needs to be an overhaul of the nation's governance. Perhaps unitary devolution with a fully representative but weak central authority would just do it.

Statistical sources:

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Americas round-up

Barack Obama has dominated sufficient media time in recent month so I won't spend time writing about his presidential inauguration and concurrent events in the United States, other than saying that we have lived through an historic moment and a promising one too.

Further south, in the tiny haven of democracy and stability in the Central American isthamus called Costa Rica, earthquakes have caused devastation. Over 20 people have been killed and almost 500 homes have been ruined by the natural disasters. The Costa Rican government is rightly concerned about the effects on the nation's tourist industry, an integral part of the nation's economy and a significant source of foreign exchange.

South of the Panama Canal things are quite busy. President Jagdeo of Guyana has had his dirty laundry aired publically and Bolivan President Evo Morales is attempting to modify the Bolivian Constitution in a controversial move which will likely further polarise that land-locked South American republic. Morales, not unlike his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, is revered by many and scorned by an equity. But unlike Chavez, Morales' core support is, and will remain unflinching due to the fact that he is the first indigenous president of a nation first which is primarily indigenous in composition. Bolovia has threatened to split into two nations in the past and has teetered on the edge of civil war. That isn't improbable if unrest continues and is exaserbated by the pro and anti Morales groups. The struggle of course is about more that a single man, rather it is about what he represents and what he is attempting to do. In my estimation, the biggest mistake Evo can make is allowing himself to become too influenced by Chavez's blinding anti-Americanism and increasing despotism. It pays to remember that constitutions and dictatorships are not mutually exclusive. Indeed Chavez's revered predecessor "The Libarator" Simon Bolivar wrote constitutions like they were notes, but was ultimately a dictator. Such activity has a long and storied history in Hispanic American history. Morales' proposals will invariably add fuel to the flames that burn in Bolivia.

Eastward across the Parecis mountains into Brazil 5 South American presidents (Morales, Chavez, Rafael Correra of Ecuador, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and were joined by Brazil's Lula da Silva) were cheered by over 100,000 activists who had descended on the Amazonian city of Belem for the annual World Social Forum. South across the pantanal wetlands and over the Rio Plata into Argentina and skeletons of livestock are piling up in the scorching sun of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer as the worst drought in a generation turns much of Argentina’s breadbasket into a dust bowl.The nation faces losing billions of dollars in agricultural exports as a result. Argentines may receive some relief followinf President Cristina Fernandez's renogotiation of foreign debt repayments.

The Americas

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The European media finally recognises that events continue elsewhere in the world

It has taken some time, but the Euro media has finally began reporting news about other international regions other than Gaza. Even Al Jazeera English has limited its Gazacentric news schedule and has resumed reporting on events in Congo, Somalia and elsewhere. France 24 too has cut back on its Gaza reporting. Events elsewhere in the world evidently stopped sometime in late December and just resumed sometime in late January. It is refreshing, and I must say, reassuring.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Finally the BBC does something I agree with

It's a rare occassion when I find cause to defend the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC), but today is such an instance.

The corporation has received considerable criticism in the UK and is under intense, and unwarranted, pressure from British politicians (MPs) for following its own code of conduct and deciding against broadcasting a Gaza humanitarian appeal. The publically-funded corporation, who's principle purpose is to provide impartial news, is absolutley correct to refuse airing the appeal. Other (rival) broadcasters have jumped at the opportunity to criticise the UK's principle broadcaster in an attempt to boost their own credibility, but, thus far, the BBC has maintained its position. It now appears that the Sky network will follow the BBCs example.

It would be entirley improper for the BBC to broadcast the appeal and would certainly compromise its apparent impartiality. Likewise, it is entirley improper for MPs to exert parliamentary pressure on the organisation to change its position.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Has the U.S. Revolution reached its climax?

Following the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the United States' first MIXED-RACE president, which was the climax of months, no sorry, centuries of struggle and progress in that nation, I find myself asking: "has the U.S. Revolution finally reached its final stage?" That we are living through a moment of international history cannot be denied, and for that alone I am grateful.

The U.S. revolutiony era began in 1763 following the Seven Years' War and typical historiography tells us that it culminated with the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776 which militarily ignited the American War of Independence. By 1783 the British offered recognition of an independent United States of America. For many the "American Revolution" ended their, with the end of the War of Independence. Not so. The campaign for political independence was only one element of a much broader revolution. I don't believe that the American War of Independence should be compared to the French Revolution which began in 1789, and it certainly shouldn't be compared with the Haitian Revolution which was interwoven with the aforementioned French Revolution. The U.S. Revolution is something far more discreet. It has lasted for almost 250 years, and now we are witnessing its conclusion.

The Jeffersonian ear lasted broadly until the early 1820s, when it was superseded by the Jacksonian ear. Despite popular belief, the two eras shared more than they didn't. However, less than fifty years after its establishment, the United States became disunited and a drawn-out process began to create two nations out of one. The first shots were fired in 1860 in the revolution of 1860 in South Carolina. The counterrevolution of 1861 ensured war. The War Between the States or U.S. Civil War lasted for 5 years and resulted in the death of 620,000 Americans. They were killed by their compatriots on their own soil. American killing American, at places with haunting names such as "Shiloh" and "Antietam." Two issues domintated political thought in the South: Southern states rights and property rights and slavery. In the North one issue predominated: the preservation of the Union. Those issues are just as relevant today, albeit in a modernised context. Should the Federal Government be as big and powerful as it is? Should the Federal Government have the authority to get the United States over ten trillion of dollars of debt? Are the states united or disunited? Slavery of course is no longer an issue, but race is, and I'm not speaking about the simple black-white dichotomy which dominated typrical debate. The U.S. has a larger hispanic/Latino population that black population. In fact, in statistical terms the U.S. is the forth largest Latino country in the world after Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. The elction of Brack Obama represents a shift in U.S. politics. A represents a reaction not a revolution.

That so many people are investing so much hope in a single individual is foolish and ignorant and can only lead to disappointment. I think what people should be hopeful about is what Barack Obama's election and current popularity represents, and I'm not speaking about race here, but rather a notion that government is back in the hands of the regular people. There is a hint of Jeffersonian deomocracy in the election of Obama. One is reminded of that U.S. dictum: "government of the people by the people for the people." There is something modernly Jeffersonian about Barack Obama. That he is a great orator cannot be denied by even his most ardent critics, but speech and charisma alone do not make the man. Americans of colour may rightly consider Barack Obama a founding father, for in a sense he is.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Tu or Voce?

Ever since I began learning Brazilian Portuguese I've been intrigued by the connotations of the use of the word "voce" ("you" in English) both formally and informally. In Portugal, "voce" is reserved for formal affairs and "tu" (also "you" in English) is used informally. In Brazil the use of "tu" is uncommon. I wonder if Brazil's universal use of the "voce" is indicative of something more significant than a mere linguistic break. The use of the word is most probably the legacy of colonialism - slaves and poor immigrants who became the first generations of Brazilians would have had to have addressed their masters and overseers using "voce". But I wonder if the subsequent univeral use of the term Brazil has some foundation in those famous French words: "liberty, equality, fraternity." Brazil did free itself (somewhat bloodlessly) from Portuguese rule in 1822 and there is no doubt that the Brazilian patriots were heavily influenced by events in France and the United States, both of which had undergone revolution only decades earlier. So next time you use or hear a Brazilian use the simple word "voce", spare a second to appreciate what it represents: a break from the past and an embracement of equality and fraternity in a truly multiracial society.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The propaganda war begins to shift

It has taken almost three weeks, but the propaganda war is finally beginning to tilt marginally in favour of Israel. As I previously noted, the BBC has reported the pro-Israeli demonstration held in London this past weekend, and now I see, more shockingly, that Al Jazeera English has given air time to an Israeli official to outline Israel's position. France 24 too is reporting the diplomatic obstacles Israel is facing in ending its offensive.

Hezbollah claims no responsibility for the rocket attacks launched against Israel from Lebanon. It's unlikely that any such attacks would occur without at least their knowledge and consent. The Egyptian ceasefire proposal is fair enough. Let us remember that it is Hamas that is failing to meet the criteria. The group is opposed to an open-ended truce and to the presence of a multi-national monitoring force on the Gaza-Egyptian border. These points should illustrate well Hamas's own responsibility for prolonging the offensive against Gaza. This of course is in Israel's ideological interest - Hamas now clearly has Gazan blood on its hands. If the organisation was sincere, one should imagine that it would jubilantly welcome a multi-national monitoring force. More so, reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the party led by Yasser Arafat's successor and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas seems improbable.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Muslim councillor's unlawful protest

A councillor in South Shields, Tyne and Wear (David Miliband's parliamentary constituency) has organised an unlawful protest against the Israel-Hamas conflict. Councillor Ahmed Khan, who represents the town's Beacon and Brent wards, arranged for 250 school children to take an unauthorised day off school Monday, in protest against Israel's offensive in Gaza. The Education Act of 1996 requires local authorities to enforce school attendance, not encourage unauthorised absence. Lets not forget that the same law actively prosecutes parents who fail to ensure the school attendance of their children. Given Councillor Khan's position as a councillor, in which is he is legally required to enforce school attendance, he has technically broken the law. One wonders if South Tyneside's decision-making board will investigate Mr Khan's involvement in this protest. Highly unlikely I imagine. Perhaps Mr Miliband will. No, of course not. Maybe Ed Balls would take an interest. Doubtful. I note that the BBC was quick to emphasis that "the demonstration was a peaceful one." Khan is very likely the anonymous South Tyneside councillor who filed a foney complaint against a South Shields council resident late last year for "excessively" displaying Christmas lights outside her flat at the objection of local Muslim residents.

Monday, 12 January 2009

There are some Israeli supporters in Britain after all

I was surprised to turn my television on sometime over the weekend to find the BBC actually reporting a pro-Israel demonstration at Trafalgar Square. The corporation even showed live pictures of the assembled demonstrators. Surely one can imagine my surprise!

The Metropolitan Police estimated around 4,000 individuals attended the Trafalgar area to show their support for Israel. Based on the scenes BBC kindly screened, and given my knowledge of the area I'd say that the number was at least 4,000.

It was refreshing to see such a sight and it pleases me to know that there are ordinary people in this country who are actually prepared to show there support for democracy and security.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Cameron's whistlestop tour

I recently attended one of David Cameron's Q & A events at a local community centre. I often intend to go to such events, but usually when the time arrives I find an excuse to avoid leaving the house. However, since the Cameron event was billed as informal and community-led (perhaps even Jeffersonian!), I set my mind on attending.

All in all the event was a success. I live in a marginal constituency surrounded by red. My local council has a Tory majority, but the MP who represents the constituency in Westminster is a Blairite. Cameron was welcomed cordially by the crowd and he answered all questions thrown at him. The nature of most of the questions demonstrated that the Tories hadn't planted them, so I applaud Cameron for that. I do however have a couple of complaints: that the leader of the opposition attended such an intimate event and answered as many questions as he could is admirable, but Cameron ultimately failed to really engage with the assembled audience. He arrived, answered questions and left. That's fine, but I think it would have helped his cause if he had have hung around afterwards for a short period. Frustratingly I was sat at the back of the hall in amongst the Tory leader's gofers and a huddle of photographers and cameramen. That ultimately ruined any image I had before I arrived of the event being an intimate and informal display of Jeffersonian democracy. I felt in a sense that Cameron was there but wasn't. He was there in person and he did what he said he would do - openly answer questions, but he did so surrounded by a virtually invisible film of political and PR nonsense. That is regrettable, and reminded me why I usually find a last minute reason not to attend such events.

It's only by attending such events that one can get an understanding of the dynamics and superficiality of modern politics. Cameron's gofers were standing behind me discussing where they had to be next, how the earlier engagement had gone, how the leader looked on the stage. Any whimsical feeling of informal prairie democracy I held before arrived vanished. While I was pleased with Cameron's frankness and responsiveness, I felt in a sense that I knew less of the man after the event than I did before it (I've never seen Mr Cameron speak before). Cameron regrettably has a couple of assistants and gofers who are of the Westminster pretentious variety, which is always a negative in my opinion, and makes me wonder what kind of shield of spin doctors he'll employ should he become PM. The photographers were equally infuriating, and reminded me that I was ultimately at a PR event. Unfortunate and regrettable. Perhaps if I had have arrived earlier and managed to get a seat closer to the front of the hall I would feel quite differently.

I also met members of my local Tory association and a few Tory councillors and the constituency's Tory parliamentary candidate. I get the impression that there's a fair bit of internal politics in my association. What one could call "politics of politics", something I really dislike. Politics of politics only weaken an organisation from within and allow competitors to exploit its weaknesses. The central party may well have made an error by bringing an "outsider" to represent it in the coming general election, but perhaps it felt there was no alternative.

For the pragmatic individual such as myself, attending the event was informative. Based on the gofers and the obvious PR, I'm not sure if Cameron is the kind of PM I'd like to lead the country (it was too Blairite for my liking). And I'm not sure I'd want a Tory MP to represent my constituency in parliament if doing so serves to fundamentally weaken the local association. Not what I intended to get out of the event at all!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Ending Britain's dependency on OPEC

I find it rather absurd that we humans have allowed ourselves to become dependent upon a resource which will inevitably one day end. Britain's own oil reserves are all but finished and we, like many other modern nations, have effectively become a hostage of the oil-producing countries and specifically the OPEC cartel. Investigating and investing in alternative sources of fuel should now become a priority for us all.

Brazil has led the way in this area. In fact that South Amerian giant is way ahead of the rest of us in demonstrating that moving to an ethanol-powered transport system is not only possible, but desireable. It makes sense to me that if we can we ought to produce our own fuel using a renewable and sustainable agricultural source. This would not only end our dependency on the OPEC cartel but would also increase employment in our domestic agricultural and plant-processing sectors and provide better value and stability for consumers and the wider economy.

In Brazil a large proportion of vehicles are hybrids that can take either petrol or ethanol (or "alcool" as the Brazilians call it) or any combination of the two. Personal experience has demonstrated to me that there is no difference between the two in terms of performance, but there is a significant economic difference: alcool is about half the price and provides better mileage. In Brazil alcool production has bolstered employment and car sales (as more people can afford to run vehicles) and fostered a feeling of nation pride and patriotism, neither of which are bad things in my estimation. Most importantly, Brazil's fuel is renewable and sustainable. It will effectively never be depleted, unlike oil. The Brazilians are even beginning to fuel airplanes with alcool. The environmental advantages are palpable.

Brazil has demonstarted the benefits of ethanol production and use and has freed itself from the woes of uncertainly that dependence upon OPEC creates. Brazil has freed itself from oil dependency while helping its own eceonomy and people. Isn't it time that we in Britain at least investigated how we might benefit from such a programme?