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The Voice Of 40-Something Cynical Optimism!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

web links

Now I know what that symbol which looks like a paper clip on top of a grape is for, I will get all the websites which I refer to on this blog linked, so you can jump around in cyberspace like there's no tomorrow!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Some Larry G

I can't go without an article from Mr Gambone. Well worth repeating if someone collars you in the pub with the words "Being beaten as a boy did me no harm..."

Monday, September 05, 2005
CRIME AND THE SOCIAL REACTIONARIES posted by Larry Gambone at 9:21 AM

Cultural reactionaries (1) claim social liberalism results in increased crime rates. "Permissiveness", feminism, "the feminization of society" are all blamed. (Note the misogyny.) At the same time they want harsher punishment for criminals, shrieking, "our jails are hotels." (2) All this is pure demagogy. When making such statements proof should be given, yet it never is. The reason? There is no proof. If social liberalism caused crime, then countries where it predominated would have higher incidents of serious criminality than countries with a more conservative bent. If this were true, our reactionaries would shout the information from the rooftops!

The evidence is clearly the opposite. Denmark and Holland have lower crime rates than the UK and USA, the two lands where the hang 'em and flog em gang have the ear of the state.

Another comparison. If liberalism is the cause of crime then social liberals as individuals should have a higher rate of serious crimes than social conservatives. Once again, this is not the case, Serial or mass killers and sex criminals come almost entirely out of a socially conservative environment. This type of criminal is well noted for obsessions about the military, police or authoritarian religions. In fact, I cannot think of a single social liberal serial killer-serial rapist.

Social reactionaries are right in claiming societal break down and the resulting nihilism as factors contributing to criminality. Trouble is, they place the blame for this condition on the wrong people. Narcissists and nihilists don't come popping out of social liberalism, but are a manifestation of social conservatism in decadence. Social conservatives faced with the stresses of contemporary society tend to go in a nihilist direction as their ideology disintegrates. Proof you ask? Once again, where do criminals come from? Are hoards of left-wing college professors and social workers being carted off to prison for white collar crime? Nope, but capitalism's true believer, blue blazer, corporate whiz kids sure are. The children of the counter-culture out pillaging, raping and murdering? Boys raised by gay couples and feminists on the street stealing purses? Nope, just the kids of the socially conservative lower classes. (3)

Social liberalism is based on social democracy, moderate Protestantism, liberal Catholicism, Reform Judaism, and Humanism. As an ideology, it has also had its share of problems. However, as radicals abandoned social liberalism, rather than jettisoning ethics, they created a new ethic, one that in many respects, grew out of the old.(4) This post-modern ethic, staunchly opposed to war, global poverty, imperialism, gender inequality, sexual repression and religious intolerance, is in fact, today's anti-nihilist force par excellence.

Nihilism is also rooted in the ideology of the social reactionaries. Their religious cults regard the world as evil and they wait anxiously for its destruction. This is nihilism at its very worst, even those arch-nihilists, the Nazis, only wanted to kill some of the people, not all of them. These reactionary cultists have committed the ultimate sin and blasphemy by splitting the divine from creation in such a radical and extreme manner. (According to the *Zohar* sin IS separation.) And what kind of divinity would wish to inflict such suffering on his creation? It's not hard to figure out who the god of the social reactionaries really is... "Pleased ta meet you, hope you guessed mah name..."

Narcissists and psychopaths lack empathy, and this is mirrored in the reactionaries lack of empathy for humanity, fetuses excepted, and the world of nature. Their lack of empathy is especially obvious toward the poor, Blacks, Native People and the environment. Empathy is reserved for white males and obedient women and children. Nature is something to exploit and pave over.

No group is more obsessed with vengeance than cultural reactionaries. These are the people eager to kill, er, pardon me, eager to have OTHER people kill, Arabs or string up Karla Homolka. Their sick lust for revenge barbarizes society, creating an environment for the crimes they get so excited about. What happens in society is best described as garbage-in, garbage-out, yet these folks aren't swift enough to understand that. Serial killers seek to revenge themselves on society or women. Now where do you think that idea came from, out of the air? Once again, the proof is there for all to see. Countries that take a less vindictive approach to justice, have a lower incidence of violent crime than the USA where revenge is the more the mode.

Central to societal breakdown is the destruction of community. Political and economic centralization, globalism, suburban sprawl, Walmart, MacDonalds, all of these help destroy community. Yet, when do reactionaries criticize any of this? Rather, they are the foremost apologists for these attacks.

Responsibility is a favorite word for these folks. The poor it seems must always be responsible, but not corporations. In order to be responsible people have to practice being responsible. How can they do that, if as the reactionaries wish, they are confined in authoritarian families and schools - the very essence of which is not to think and act for yourself, but do what you are told? People indoctrinated with an authoritarian mentality cannot show responsibility, for that you need mental freedom. Is this so hard to figure out? Then, the 8 hours a day, five days a week we are trapped in powerlessness in our work places. How can people learn to be responsible if the best hours of the day they are treated like cattle?

Family breakdown is another factor we can see eye to eye with the reactionaries. But they scapegoat feminists and our easier divorce laws. The difference between the past and the last 35 years is honesty. All marital problems were once swept under the rug and families were full of suppressed hostility and bitterness. Is having a divorce any worse than this? In reality, what causes family breakdown is complex, including decline of community and the extended family, unemployment, sexual repression, poor education, obsessive materialism, inflated housing costs, an immature concept of marriage and an infantile concept of manhood. Our reactionaries are the last folks on the planet to tackle these problems.

Reactionaries claim liberals and libertarians are wimps because they don't buy into the revenge cult and the over-exaggerated sense of individual responsibility. Reactionaries, on the other hand, are hypocrites and cowards, hiding behind demonizing verbiage, so as to ignore the major part their ideologies and practices play in fostering social break down and crime.

1. I chose the term "social reactionary" to separate out the sort of social conservatives who do look at the world in genuine ethical terms. Though a minority of right-wingers, such people share a concern about war, the loss of liberty, the increasing power of the state and corporations with the libertarian left. For example, or
2. If I ever have any say in the matter, the idiots who think jails are a soft touch will spend a few years locked up in a 6 by 8 cell with a couple of four hundred pound, HIV-infected, psychopathic, homosexual bikers.
3. The typical criminal is young, male, poor, badly educated and comes from an abusive family. Their values, such as they are, tend toward social conservatism.
4. A major reason for the abandonment of liberalism was its inconsistency. Liberals were for peace, but in practice supported war. Liberals promoted democracy, yet supported centralization, the destroyer of democracy. Liberals claimed to believe in individual liberty, but urged the state to interfere in our lives. (Both drug and alcohol prohibition were largely the work of liberals.)

EU critical stuff, part 2

Alteratively, the territories Oceania & Eurasia come to mind., 12th August 2005
[Comment] Freedom of the press fundamental for democracy, by Hans-Martin Tillack

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - It was some weeks after the Belgian
Police had raided my home and office in Brussels on 19 March

I had to visit the Belgian Police investigators
headquarters, as they wanted to decide which material they
would return to me - and what they would like to keep, out
of the 17 boxes with documents, basically my complete
archives, they had carried away.

During this meeting, I had a conversation with the
responsible police detective, a Walloon named Philippe
Charlier. "Why do you go through all of this ordeal?" he
asked me. "Why did you not simply reveal to us the name of
your source in the EU Anti-Fraud Office [Olaf]?"

"Because, if I had done so my career as a journalist would
have been finished," I explained. "My sources would have
dried up. Nobody would have given me any confidential
information any more."

"Why?", Charlier asked. "Okay, you would have burned one
source. But that would not have hindered your access to all
possible official channels of information."

"What?," I replied. "What kind of a journalism would that be
where you could only base your reporting on official press
releases and the words of those who govern us?" Mr Charlier
was smiling again.

I was not sure whether he got my point. It is not always
easy to explain why protection of sources is essential for
the work of journalists.

++ Who controls the flow of information?

Some people still seem to believe that journalists are
looking for undue privileges when they shield their sources
and refuse to reveal the name of informers, even in the face
of prosecutors or policemen.

The fight for the protection of sources is directly linked
to a question fundamental to the survival of an open
democracy: Who controls the flow of information?

Should governments, bureaucracies or big companies
themselves decide what information is made public and what
not? Or should there be a chance for citizens to receive
information through other channels?

Free and democratic societies can only benefit from a free
flow of information and therefore from the protection of the
sources. Secrecy, on the other hand, is only beneficial to
those in power - and who have something important to hide.

That is why those in power, be it in Washington, Brussels or
Berlin will often do their utmost to find out who
transmitted embarrassing information.

++ The case of Judith Miller

Who controls the flow of information? The case of the New
York Times journalist Judith Miller touches on this question
in two ways.

On 6 July, she was sent to prison because she refused to say
who told her that Valery Plame was a covert CIA agent.
Apparently people in the Bush administration had an interest
in leaking this information in order to undermine the
credibility of Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, an outspoken
critic of the Iraq war.

He had revealed the fact that reports about Iraqi
preparations for a nuclear bomb had been cooked. He had
spread unwanted information and was therefore persona non
grata for the US government.

Judith Miller certainly did the right thing when she refused
to reveal her source. This is true although some attacked
her for having acted like an "embedded journalist" by often
making the case for an invasion of Iraq - and often basing
her stories on anonymous sources in the Bush administration.

What is very particular about this case is the wide
attention it received around the globe. There has been an
outcry in the public and a wide debate, of which we
Europeans can only be envious.

After all, in Europe in recent years we have seen attacks on
journalists' rights which were no less dangerous. Take the
case of the Belgian journalist, Martine Ernst from the TV
station RTBF, and of three of her colleagues. 160 Policemen
were sent out on 23 June 1995 to search the offices of RTBF
and the private flats of the journalists.

They had reported extensively about the inquiries into the
1991 murder of the Belgian politician André Cools - and
about the links between his case and the bribes which
Belgian political parties apparently received from two big
weapon makers.

In October 1998, it was the turn of the Luxembourger
journalist, Rob Roehmen, then editor of the "Lëtzebuerger
Journal". His house and office were turned upside down by
police after he disclosed a story that was embarrassing for
the then interior minister of the country, Michel Wolter.

In both cases the reporters concerned had exposed facts that
were embarrassing for the authorities. And these European
cases have something else in common: they received much less
public attention - even in Europe itself - than Judith
Miller's story.

++ Learning the lesson

On 19 March 2004, it was my turn to receive an early morning
visit from six Belgian police men in plain clothes. To date,
they still have nearly 1000 pages of documents, copies of my
computer hard drives, address books and diary.

I have filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights
in Strasbourg, against Belgium - and against the EU
Commission, at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

But that will not undo the damage. Just by going through my
address book and my files the Belgian Police and Olaf can
see with whom I was in contact.

But at least countries like Belgium and Luxembourg have
learned their lesson. Both countries have introduced new
press laws, which ban similar violations of the protection
of sources.

Those who have not yet learned the lesson are the officials
who run the EU institutions. Those mainly responsible for
the raid in the Brussels office of my publication were not
Belgians, but a circle of EU officials.

This story shows in a nutshell how strong the hostility to
independent journalism still is in Brussels.

The EU institutions seem to be largely unused to critical
coverage in the media. It is perhaps a logical consequence
of the fact that there is no opposition in parliament and
very little day-to-day pressure from the media.

++ Fraud and the EU

For my part, it all started in February and March 2002 when
I published two articles based on internal Olaf documents.

They not only allowed me to reveal for the first time that
there were several fraud investigations running into
Eurostat - investigations which though had remained purely
on paper until we revealed their existence.

The documents also suggested that the Commission was hardly
showing the "zero tolerance" attitude towards fraud that
President Romano Prodi had promised.

Then on 27 March 2002 Olaf spokesman Alessandro Butticé
published a press release according to which "a journalist"
might have paid an official. In an internal e-mail to all
Olaf staff, Mr Butticé told a different story: There he
admitted that there were only "rumours" to back up the
bribery claim.

Unfortunately for Olaf and the Commission, my sources did
not dry out. In the following two years I was able to sign
quite a couple of additional stories about suspected
Commission fraud and about Olaf's striking failure to combat

Olaf boss Franz-Hermann Bruner decided to step up his
activities - not against fraud, but against my reporting.

In February 2004, he had criminal complaints filed against
me with the Belgian and German authorities. The Belgian
Police came to my place and this was immediately followed by
an Olaf statement that they had nothing to do with the
search. It took them a whole weekend to admit that this was

In July 2004, President Romano Prodi and Commissioner
Schreyer even decided to turn down a proposal from the
President of the Court of First Instance, Bo Vesterdorf.

He had proposed that the Commission declare "that it will
not address itself to the Belgian authorities in order to
get access to all documents relating" to my case as long as
it is pending before the EU Court.

Mr Vesterdorf's proposal would have protected my sources
from scrutiny by Commission officials. Prodi and Schreyer
decided to act against this protection and to reject the

Subsequently the Court of First Instance and the European
Court of Justice turned my requests for interim measures
down. They not only allowed the Commission to seek access to
my files but did not even mention the principle of
protection of sources in their rulings.

Look at what happened to the intervention of the European
Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros. In May 2005 he issued a
Special Report to the European Parliament that accused Olaf
of having repeatedly presented misleading and wrong
information about my case.

Mr Diamandouros had found evidence against two men: Olaf
chief Bruner and his colleague Nick Ilett. What did the
Parliament's leaders do? In a meeting on 7 July 2005, they
decided to ditch a draft parliament report on that matter
and cancelled a hearing which was already scheduled.

++ I'll scratch your back...

It all seems to follow the same old principle: I'll scratch
your back, if you scratch mine. In fact, Mr Bruner had
spared not only the Commission, but also the Parliament from
embarrassing revelations about fraud in their own houses.

What Olaf had conducted in the Parliament's administration
were mere "fake investigations", experts of the Olaf
Supervisory Committee wrote in an internal note in March

During a hearing in July 2005, almost all of the mainstream
MEPs praised Olaf's work. That was surprising given that the
European Court of Auditors had confronted them with a
damning report about Mr Bruner's work.

The Commission continues to stand by Mr Bruner

Commissioner Siim Kallas has repeated several times, that Mr
Bruner has "good chances" to be reappointed. Just before the
summer break the Commission put his name on a shortlist of
five candidates - the new director will be chosen in autumn.

++ Attacks on press freedom

Some people tend to think that the recent attacks on press
freedom in the US are typical of the ruthlessness of the
current Bush administration.

I tend to think that abuses always occur when governments or
any other organisations are not sufficiently accountable to

That was certainly true for the US government after the
terror attacks of 9/11 where it was deemed unpatriotic to
question the president's activities in the so-called war
against terror.

There were few voices in the US congress that were critical
of the invasion of Iraq. And there were only some
journalists who dared to question the case for a war against
Saddam Hussein. If someone such as Joseph Wilson spoke out,
his reputation had to be undermined in order to restore the
carefully assembled picture.

Unlike Washington, the Brussels institutions have little
military firepower at their disposal.

Unlike President George Bush, Commission President José
Manuel Barroso cannot launch a war against the most tiny
middle east sheikdom.

But as in Washington after 9/11, there is a conformist
tendency in Brussels from which many have suffered in past
years: Whistleblowers like Paul van Buitenen or Marta
Andreasen where both painted as mad by the Commission and
also by many journalists.

When there is no opposition, there is also no one to
question the official spin. Therefore, many journalists find
it easier to simply spread the message the executive wants
to have spread.

In the political culture of the EU capital there seems to be
too many people - commissioners, officials, deputies,
perhaps even judges - who have something to hide and who are
therefore eager to make sure that information is not leaked
to the press.

This is bad news for journalists in Brussels - but also for
the credibility of the EU institutions.

The author is former Brussels editor of German weekly
magazine Stern and now reports for the publication from

EU critical stuff, part 1

To choose between the USA & EU is like asking someone in Middle Earth to choose between Mordor & Isengard...


Letter: Blair challenged to resist EU criminal sanctions
14th September 2005

In response to today's news that the EU has been given
sweeping powers to demand member countries impose criminal
sanctions in relation to EU rules, DM campaign director Marc
Glendening has written to Tony Blair asking for an
undertaking that the government will refuse to impose any
criminal sanctions the EU orders, given that the government
opposed the EU being given this power.

See the full text of the letter below. Please feel free to
use it in whole or part as a basis for a letter to the local
media. The DM has also written to the national media on the

best regards,

Stuart Coster
Campaign manager

The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

14th September 2005

Dear Mr Blair,

I am writing following the European Court of Justice's
momentous ruling on September 13th in relation to criminal
sanctions to ask if it is still your government's official
position that the EU has no intention whatsoever of
transforming itself into a system of government?

The ECJ ruling states that the EU, following a qualified
majority vote, can compel member states to impose criminal
sanctions, including prison sentences, on their citizens in
relation to EU directives. This clearly confirms the
transition of the EU into a criminal jurisdiction, one of
the key characteristics of a state.

If you now accept the self-evident, empirical reality that
the EU is acquiring the key characteristics of a state, will
this have any bearing on your belief in the desirability of
EU membership? If, on the other hand, you are still
maintaining that there is no project to build a
Brussels-based government, it would be interesting to know
what is your working definition of a 'state' and how this
differs from the current structure and powers of the
European Union, especially in view of the ECJ criminality

Given that your administration claims to oppose the ECJ's
new ruling, can you now give a categorical, public
undertaking that so long as you are prime minister the UK
government will refuse, on principle, to impose criminal
penalties that have been ordered by the EU?

Given that there is no existing article in the current
treaty granting Brussels this extraordinary power, it would
appear that your elected government would be in a very
strong position, morally and legally speaking, in
undertaking the commitment I am suggesting. It would also be
a very popular position with the electorate.

If you refuse to give this commitment, will it be because
you believe the UK has no legal option but to accept all
instructions that emanate from the decision-making processes
of the EU, or for some other reason?

Yours sincerely,
Marc Glendening

Campaign director
Democracy Movement

7/7 article

This should get the conspiracy theorists going...

Comment: Britain now faces its own blowback
Intelligence interests may thwart the July bombings investigation
Michael Meacher, The Guardian, Saturday September 10, 2005

The videotape of the suicide bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan has switched the focus of the London bombings away from the establishment view of brainwashed, murderous individuals and highlighted a starker political reality. While there can be no justification for horrific killings of this kind, they need to be understood against the ferment of the last decade radicalising Muslim youth of Pakistani origin living in Europe.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the US funded large numbers of jihadists through Pakistan's secret intelligence service, the ISI. Later the US wanted to raise another jihadi corps, again using proxies, to help Bosnian Muslims fight to weaken the Serb government's hold on Yugoslavia. Those they turned to included Pakistanis in Britain.

According to a recent report by the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, a contingent was also sent by the Pakistani government, then led by Benazir Bhutto, at the request of the Clinton administration. This contingent was formed from the Harkat-ul- Ansar (HUA) terrorist group and trained by the ISI. The report estimates that about 200 Pakistani Muslims living in the UK went to Pakistan, trained in HUA camps and joined the HUA's contingent in Bosnia. Most significantly, this was "with the full knowledge and complicity of the British and American intelligence agencies".
As the 2002 Dutch government report on Bosnia makes clear, the US provided a green light to groups on the state department list of terrorist organisations, including the Lebanese-based Hizbullah, to operate in Bosnia - an episode that calls into question the credibility of the subsequent "war on terror".

For nearly a decade the US helped Islamist insurgents linked to Chechnya, Iran and Saudi Arabia destabilise the former Yugoslavia. The insurgents were also allowed to move further east to Kosovo. By the end of the fighting in Bosnia there were tens of thousands of Islamist insurgents in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo; many then moved west to Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Less well known is evidence of the British government's relationship with a wider Islamist terrorist network. During an interview on Fox TV this summer, the former US federal prosecutor John Loftus reported that British intelligence had used the al-Muhajiroun group in London to recruit Islamist militants with British passports for the war against the Serbs in Kosovo. Since July Scotland Yard has been interested in an alleged member of al-Muhajiroun, Haroon Rashid Aswat, who some sources have suggested could have been behind the London bombings.

According to Loftus, Aswat was detained in Pakistan after leaving Britain, but was released after 24 hours. He was subsequently returned to Britain from Zambia, but has been detained solely for extradition to the US, not for questioning about the London bombings. Loftus claimed that Aswat is a British-backed double agent, pursued by the police but protected by MI6.

One British Muslim of Pakistani origin radicalised by the civil war in Yugoslavia was LSE-educated Omar Saeed Sheikh. He is now in jail in Pakistan under sentence of death for the killing of the US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 - although many (including Pearl's widow and the US authorities) doubt that he committed the murder. However, reports from Pakistan suggest that Sheikh continues to be active from jail, keeping in touch with friends and followers in Britain.

Sheikh was recruited as a student by Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Muhammad), which operates a network in Britain. It has actively recruited Britons from universities and colleges since the early 1990s, and has boasted of its numerous British Muslim volunteers. Investigations in Pakistan have suggested that on his visits there Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London suicide bombers, contacted members of two outlawed local groups and trained at two camps in Karachi and near Lahore. Indeed the network of groups now being uncovered in Pakistan may point to senior al-Qaida operatives having played a part in selecting members of the bombers' cell. The Observer Research Foundation has argued that there are even "grounds to suspect that the [London] blasts were orchestrated by Omar Sheikh from his jail in Pakistan".

Why then is Omar Sheikh not being dealt with when he is already under sentence of death? Astonishingly his appeal to a higher court against the sentence was adjourned in July for the 32nd time and has since been adjourned indefinitely. This is all the more remarkable when this is the same Omar Sheikh who, at the behest of General Mahmood Ahmed, head of the ISI, wired $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, the leading 9/11 hijacker, before the New York attacks, as confirmed by Dennis Lormel, director of FBI's financial crimes unit.

Yet neither Ahmed nor Omar appears to have been sought for questioning by the US about 9/11. Indeed, the official 9/11 Commission Report of July 2004 sought to downplay the role of Pakistan with the comment: "To date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately the question is of little practical significance" - a statement of breathtaking disingenuousness.

All this highlights the resistance to getting at the truth about the 9/11 attacks and to an effective crackdown on the forces fomenting terrorist bombings in the west, including Britain. The extraordinary US forbearance towards Omar Sheikh, its restraint towards the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, Dr AQ Khan, selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, the huge US military assistance to Pakistan and the US decision last year to designate Pakistan as a major non-Nato ally in south Asia all betoken a deeper strategic set of goals as the real priority in its relationship with Pakistan. These might be surmised as Pakistan providing sizeable military contingents for Iraq to replace US troops, or Pakistani troops replacing Nato forces in Afghanistan. Or it could involve the use of Pakistani military bases for US intervention in Iran, or strengthening Pakistan as a base in relation to India and China.

Whether the hunt for those behind the London bombers can prevail against these powerful political forces remains to be seen. Indeed it may depend on whether Scotland Yard, in its attempts to uncover the truth, can prevail over MI6, which is trying to cover its tracks and in practice has every opportunity to operate beyond the law under the cover of national security.

Michael Meacher is the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton; he was environment minister from 1997 to 2003.

How to burn in hell, part 3

This is from the website of the Independent Working Class Association ( If, to quote Orwell, "hope lies with the proles", the IWCA are one of the few bodies left keeping that hope alive in England. This is a good a comment on the Reverend Blair's plans to give the god botherers a field day as any in recent weeks.

Integration or disintegration , 10 August 2005

The chair of the Commons education select committee, Labour M.P. Barry Sheerman, has attacked his own government's drive to create more faith schools and city academies, according to a report in The Observer.
Sheerman is quoted as saying that the government runs the risk of creating "divided, ghettoised communities" adding, "we have to be very careful of this enthusiasm that some in the Department for Education have for faith schools… and we have got to be very careful about the growth of very religious minorities getting a hold on academies."

The government's apparent devotion to faith schools has been a concern of genuine anti-racists for some time now, but in the wake of the horrific bombings in London and the wider acknowledgement in society of a failure of “multi-culturalist” theory and practice, it may seem something of a surprise that New Labour should remain so wedded to the idea of creating schools which have the potential to “divide and ghettoise”.

But perhaps not so much of a shock really, when you consider Labour's (not forgetting the role of the liberal left for a moment) track record in supporting ideologically-driven multiculturalist strategies since the early 1980's.

When taken literally, as it should be, 'promoting diversity' is all about setting out to consciously deepen each and every existing division be they racial, cultural, or religious, and where none exists, inventing them. When over time this strategy results in weakening working class communities, by pitting one against the other, who can be surprised?

Thus Blair's support for religious minorities, many of whose reactionary beliefs actively prevent social integration, is, if nothing else, consistent.

Since coming to power in 1997 Labour, under his leadership, has been an avid supporter of faith schools, and has stepped up the pace of change more recently, even in the face of mounting concern from its own MPs.

An article from 2004 on the BBC News website states:
“A report by a committee of MPs, prompted by race riots in the north of England in 2001, said giving parents more choice about their children's school had led to the development of racially segregated schools in some cities. It said the growth of faith schools could worsen the divide between racial groups, with children being sent to schools with the same racial background because of cultural "ignorance and fear".

Pause for thought? Not a bit of it. Less than a week after the failed bombings of July 21st 2005, Tony Blair was leaping to the defence of faith schools, saying “it was "perfectly consistent" in a multi-racial, multi-religious society for people to want their children educated in their own faith” (source: BBC news website).

Meanwhile, a relatively new opportunity has arisen for faith groups to reach a young, captive audience: City Academies.

As reported on here and elsewhere, Labour's flagship education scheme allows private financiers to “sponsor” new schools to the tune of £2 million, allowing them control of ethos, intake and curriculum.

As the Observer article points out “Originally blue chip businesses were expected to back them, but in fact over 40 per cent of the sponsors for the Academies due to open over the next two years are either faith-based charities, Church of England figures or well-known evangelicals”.

As if it wasn't bad enough getting privatised education through the front door we have faith schools by the back door as the working alternative.

For the reasons outlined the IWCA is solidly opposed to the growth in faith schools and the state funding of schools that are designed to divide working class communities along racial or religious lines.

So, while some on what still passes itself off as progressive left embrace whichever religious groups they can to win votes, we believe that the best and only way to foster social cohesion in working class communities, and in wider society, is to educate children of whatever religious background (or none) together, not separately.

Such a measure will not be a remedy for everything that has gone wrong but it would at least represent a recognition that the situation cannot be left to fester, and active steps must be taken to prevent things getting worse. For if it wasn't entirely obvious hitherto there is indeed an alternative to integration. Disintegration.

How to burn in hell, part 2

The following article was written a few years ago by Rosemary Radford Ruether for the magazine Conscience, published by "Catholics for a Free Choice" ( I'm sure it is not reading matter of choice in the Vatican, and would be as welcome to a member of the Taliban as winning a lifetime's supply of Guinness & pork scratchings...

The War on Women
Winter 2001/2002
by Rosemary Radford Ruether

Several years ago, Martin Marty and others edited a prestigious series of important studies, published by Chicago University Press, on the rise of fundamentalisms across world religions. These books saw striking resemblances between the wave of fundamentalisms that were appearing in the Catholic and Protestant Rights in the West, in various Muslim fundamentalisms, in right-wing Judaism--particularly in Israel--and rightist forms of Hinduism, Confucianism and other Asian religions. All these movements seemed to have in common a rejection of modernity and efforts to reestablish the public role of religion, if not religious states, to counter what was seen as evil secularity, with its lack of established public values.

What the Marty books overlooked was perhaps the most striking similarity of all between these fundamentalist movements: namely their efforts to reestablish rigid patriarchal control over women and their hostility to women's equality, autonomous agency and right to control their own sexuality and fertility. This hostility to feminism or women's autonomous agency, particularly in sexuality and reproduction, links all these right-wing groups together. One can cite the extraordinary diatribe of Pat Robertson, who in a 1990 fundraising letter for a campaign to oppose a state ERA bill, opined that "feminism makes women leave their husbands, kill their children, destroy capitalism, practice witchcraft and become lesbians." Even the current Bush administration responded less-than-favorably when Jerry Falwell, backed up by Pat Robertson, suggested that the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon represented God's punishment of America for allowing the existence of such evils in this country as feminism, gays, abortion providers and the ACLU.

The Vatican is hardly less obsessed with women's equality and reproductive rights as the epitome of evil modern secularity and the cause of civilization's demise. At the 1994 UN conference on Population and Development at Cairo, the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women at Beijing and the five-year follow up meetings to these two conferences, the Vatican distinguished itself by tireless efforts to oppose any language that would declare that women's rights are human rights and that women's autonomous decision-making about their own sexuality and reproduction were integral elements of such rights.

The Muslim fundamentalism that has swept not only Afghanistan with the Taliban, but has major influence in Islamic states from Algeria and Egypt to Iran and Pakistan, has made war on women the major center of their campaign against modernity and what they regard as irreligion. In Afghanistan under the Taliban, women were banned from even primary school education, paid work and virtually any public presence. Even the windows of their houses had to be blacked out lest they be viewed going about their housework by men looking in from outside.

Why this war on women in the name of true religion? Women seem to have become the scapegoats for male fears of loss of control in society. In a world where anonymous global forces control and decide the economies of nations, control over women seems to become the place where men can imagine that they are reclaiming order against chaos, their dignity, honor and security in a world where there is little available on the macro level. With life out of control for many men, rigid control of the women in their homes becomes the place where they can imagine that they are still in charge.

But such a war on women is totally counterproductive from the point of view of any real emergence from poverty and underdevelopment for those impoverished societies most prone to such fundamentalist takeovers. Studies have long shown that women's development is absolutely key to betterment of society as a whole. The education of women is statistically closely linked with smaller families, better health and education of children, and emergence from poverty. An Egyptian study found that if women with no education had finished primary school, poverty would have been reduced by one-third. UN agencies have duplicated this study in several other countries.

Economic stability, political moderation and democratic order are closely linked with the higher education and public participation of women. The attack on women has every likelihood of increasing the gap between poverty and wealth, between the underdeveloped and the developed worlds, that fuels the anger of the fundamentalist backlash but is misguidedly channeled into attacks on women, not to mention attacks on public buildings such as the World Trade Center.

For me, one of the areas of particular concern is the potential for alliances between right-wing religious movements, one might say "ecumenical deals" of convenience between Christians--Protestant and Catholic--Jews, Muslims and others, all of whom make fallacious connections between criticisms of modern injustices and anxieties over loss of values with an effort to turn back the clock on women's emergence as equal human beings in society.

One can cite various efforts to make such alliances. In the United States, some right-wing Focus on the Family-type Protestants have long hoped for an alliance with conservative Catholics. Such an alliance has been impeded by the very different authority structure of the two religious groups and the not-too-distant memory among Catholics of the anti-Catholicism of fundamentalist Protestantism. Before September 11, George Bush clearly saw the placating of conservative Catholic demands against birth control, abortion, fetal tissue use and other such sex- and gender-related issues as the way to cement support for his next presidential election bid, having won the last time with a razor-thin majority in key states and by dubious tactics. The Bush administration courted and was photographed surrounded by smiling Catholic prelates.

Another such ecumenical deal was sought by the Vatican with conservative Muslims at the Cairo Population and Development conference in 1994. Hoping to create a common Catholic-Muslim front against birth control, abortion, women's equality and recognition of diverse forms of the family, the Vatican adopted rhetoric that pilloried Western feminists as assaulting the cultural traditions of the third world. In this effort, the Vatican posed as a defendant of cultural pluralism against Western cultural hegemony, an unlikely role given its own history as the epitome of Catholic or universalist religio-cultural hegemony.

This alliance partly fizzled because Muslims had reason to doubt the Vatican's sudden support of cultural pluralism, and also due to the somewhat different agendas of Muslims in population and development issues. Although some Muslims share a desire to subordinate women to an authoritarian male-dominated family and curb what they see as Wstern sexual promiscuity among women and youth, they are not against birth control either in principle or in terms of contraceptive methods. Although generally against abortion, they adhere to a medieval Aristotelian view that the fetus is not ensouled until the 120th day of gestation and thus early abortion is not murder. Oddly enough, this is a position that was shared by medieval Catholics and was changed only in modern times in favor of the strangely disincarnate view of the fertilized egg as a full human being.

But such right-wing Christian and Muslim alliances against women's development and reproductive rights are still possible. Despite the horrendous treatment of women by the Taliban, George Bush recently suggested that the "Alliance against Terrorism" should not make women's rights a central issue since this would "offend Muslims."

Right-wing "ecumenical deals" between Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims often employ rhetoric that draws on a post-modern critique of liberalism, modernity and universalism in order to serve a reactionary, pre-modern agenda. One finds an appeal to cultural relativism or pluralism to assault efforts to establish a standard of universal human rights, particularly when these explicitly include women. Post-colonial resistance to Western colonialism, which historically denigrated the traditional cultures of colonized regions such as the Middle East, Africa and Asia, is evoked to suggest that any principles of universal human rights are cultural colonialism and Western hegemonic dominance. Feminism is billed as a purely Western, and of course culturally decadent, movement that is foreign to the cultural traditions of Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

Western liberals, who themselves invented and support such post-modern critique of Western cultural hegemony, are often at a loss to respond when such principles are used against them to support pre-modern social patterns that subordinate women. As I have mentioned, the Vatican made an appeal to exactly this kind of anti-Western rhetoric in its bid for a Catholic-Muslim alliance at Cairo. Such right-wing ecumenical deals typically feature males of both religious cultures shaking hands with each other, excluding women of either group from speaking for themselves. Western feminists are demonized, while women of the non-western culture are pictured as vulnerable innocents liable to corruption from said evil western feminists.

I had an experience of such an appeal to the myth of sacrosanct traditional culture to reject feminism ten years ago when I was teaching and lecturing on feminist theology in South Africa. At one of the Bantustan universities, an African Anglican priest in elegant cleric dress and speaking the Queen's English rose to declare that feminism could not be accepted in Africa "because it is against our culture." "And culture cannot be challenged," he declared in ringing tones. Earlier one of the African women had warned me against such an argument and given me a good response. I repeated her words, saying to the African priest, "Well, white racism is a part of white culture. Does that mean it can't be challenged or changed?"

This demonization of feminism as Western totally ignores the fact that for more than two decades women of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East have been creating their own contextualized forms of feminism and speaking about their rights and demands in their own voices. This globalization of feminisms was evident at the Beijing world conference on women, where representatives of women's movements from every nation gathered and networked with each other. This kind of networking across women's movements in every country and culture could well represent the alternative to the kinds of ecumenical deals of men against women that are being hatched by the Vatican and right-wing Protestants and Catholics.

Religion Counts is an initiative that aims at a progressive ecumenical alliance between Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists that supports women's equality and reproductive rights. It met in Rome in January 1999 and issued the "Rome Statement on the International Conference on Population and Development," which sought to explore common principles on women, sexuality and reproductive rights across the world's major religions.

The United Nations and international media too often pay attention only to right-wing or fundamentalist religion. The media typically assumes that feminist Christians or feminists in other religions are marginal and don't really represent their own religious traditions. It is right- wing men in leadership positions who are treated as the authentic spokespersons for the religious tradition. Thus religion is unwittingly portrayed only in its conservative or fundamentalist expressions against secularism, thus reinforcing the right-wing religious polarity of religious values versus secular lack of values. Religion Counts seeks to mobilize and ally the progressive voices across the religious traditions and to make these progressive voices players in public culture and decision-making. This has remained a very small initiative, but I think represents an important alternative that needs to be cultivated.

Secularity is being portrayed as a failed modern experiment that has resulted only in valueless anomie. I think this is far too simple. There was and is in secular liberalism valuable principles that need to be vindicated, but that is the subject for another time. For the moment a key way to combat the claim that religiousness is authentically represented only by patriarchal, misogynist religious traditions is to vindicate the progressive, egalitarian principles within religious traditions themselves. This is essentially what Christian and Jewish feminisms have been doing for the last thirty years. Christian and Jewish feminists have mined their own traditions to show their potential for an egalitarian reading. Muslim feminists today are also developing a similar strategy of pro-women, pro-egalitarian rereading of the core religious values. For

Muslim feminists, such as Riffat Hassan, a Pakistani leader of Muslim feminism, the Koran is essentially an egalitarian scripture. Hassan and other Muslim feminists do close readings of the Koran to show that mistreatment of women, their segregation, imposition of the veil, and denial of education, political and business involvement is nowhere found in the Koran. Rather these traditions come from the incorporation of Arab or other local customs. In some cases the arguments for women's inferiority were actually imported from Christianity.

Hassan, for example, has done her major work on the texts for the creation of humanity, male and female, in the Koran. She has shown that the Koran lacks the tradition of Eve's creation from Adam's rib and her sin as the cause of the Fall. These concepts do not exist in the Koran, which contains only the story of Genesis I of the creation of the human, male and female, equally and at the same time. The stories of Adams rib and the apple were imported into later Islamic commentaries from neighboring Christianity and, as in Christianity, used to argue for women's inferiority and punishment. In a tradition that sees the Koran as the norm for what is truly Islamic, such arguments carry weight.

These more progressive and feminist voices of Islam need to be supported. These are the movements that not only can allow Western anti-Muslim bigotry to see a different, more progressive face of Islam, but also, even more important, can allow Muslim cultures themselves to embrace democratic, equal-rights agendas as compatible with Islam, rather than as humiliating Western cultural impositions. Interestingly enough, the current anti-terrorist campaign, with all its gross errors, and I count our bombing war against Afghanistan as a major error, has done one thing right. It has realized that if it is to build a Western-Muslim alliance, it cannot simply demonize Islam. It needs to publicize the positive, progressive voices of Islam. Thus most Americans have probably read and heard more about the diversity of the Muslim world in the last 75 days than all their previous lives.

The very existence of Muslim feminist movements and their strategies for a progressive, egalitarian reading of Islam have been well-kept secrets from most Western Christians. There has now been some discussion of such movements as Women Living Under Muslim Laws and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, but there needs to be much more. Progressive Muslim women's movements need to be given space to speak and develop. In the process it is important that the distortion that has happened in Western feminism, partly due to feminists themselves, but mostly through hostile interpretation by Western media, needs to be corrected.

It needs to be made clear again and again that equal rights for women is the best way for the whole society to emerge from poverty and authoritarianism. Feminism is not about women against men and children. Feminism is about men and women becoming real partners in a way that can develop their fuller humanity for both of them and will allow children the best chance to flourish. It is male domination that impoverishes us all.

Rosemary Radford Ruether is the Georgia Harkness professor of applied theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and the Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. She is on the board of directors of Catholics for a Free Choice and is editorial advisor to Conscience.

© 2002 Conscience, Catholics for a Free Choice

How to burn in hell, part 1

Fool as he is to support the war in Iraq, Nick Cohen is on the ball when it comes to opposing the rise of religious nutterism in this country. This was in the New Statesman a few weeks back. I love the snappy title.

The state should stop playing God
Nick Cohen, New Statesman, Monday 19th September 2005

Our pious government wants faith-based bodies to run our schools and provide our welfare services, and justifies this by pretending Britain is a religious country. But it isn't, writes Nick Cohen

In March, evangelicals gathered under the banner of the Christian Congress for Traditional Values outside Broadcasting House to insist that the BBC celebrate and reinforce the sanctity of marriage and family life in its dramas, documentaries and news broadcasts. Their leader had the unbeatable name for an Essex PR man: Garry Selfridge. His trade had taught him the political value of statistics, and he decided to use them to make the BBC feel small. If its governors refused to stop broadcasting blasphemous programmes and failed to return to the old standards of taste and decency, he said, "we will carry out a programme of high-profile events designed to put the corporation under intense media pressure to listen to the voice of the majority, the 42 million who registered as Christian in the 2001 census".

Forty-two million? That sounded on the high side. But he was quoting the census and normally there is an incontrovertible precision to figures from Britain's most comprehensive and respected exercise in social research. Sure enough, the 2001 census clearly states that in England and Wales, a hefty 71.1 per cent of the population regarded themselves as Christian. The other major religions - Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and the rest - claimed the allegiance of 5.6 per cent of the population, and there were a few Satanists, New Age crackpots and Jedi knights. About four million people refused to answer the religion question on the census form - concluding, quite rightly in my view, that their faith, like their race, was no business of a democratic government. In their number must have been many religious people who would have pushed the number of the faithful higher if they had been prepared to speak out. Only 14.8 per cent - 7.7 million - said that they had no religion.

The census, compiled by the Office of National Statistics, underpins British social policy. It determines where resources are sent for schools and hospitals and the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies. The 2001 census was the first to ask people about their religion, and for the government the results were extraordinarily welcome. The Blair administration is the most pious since the 19th century, and, by God, it shows. The Prime Minister is an Anglo-Catholic, Gordon Brown is a son of the manse, Paul Boateng is a Methodist lay preacher, Hilary Armstrong is a former vice-president of the Christian Socialist Movement, Paul Murphy is a Catholic, Jack Straw is Anglican, Lord Falconer describes himself as a non-practising Christian and Tessa Jowell found religion in the early 1990s. It is tempting to speculate that, as the power of the socialist faith faded, the party leadership turned to old-time religion to find a sense of purpose. Against this background, the government's dangerously sectarian plans for faith-based charities and schools, and for laws to ban the incitement of religious hatred, make a kind of sense. Unfortunately for ministers, however, and for Garry Selfridge, those census findings are not the godsend they appeared, and they are now coming under convincing intellectual assault.

The figures hardly accord with our everyday experience. No one can doubt that Britain is a Christian country or, more specifically, a Protestant one - even the Catholics have Protestant attitudes. But that Protestant tradition is normally expressed in national attitudes and prejudices - respect for the individual, for example, and sexual prurience - rather than in the sort of religious commitment implied in the census.

Now look at the findings of another important piece of official research, the British Social Attitudes Survey. It reported that 41 per cent of the population had no religion in 2001, as against the 14.8 per cent who told the census takers they weren't religious. This is a fantastically large discrepancy. They both can't be right, however creatively you play about with the margins of error; and the evidence suggests that the Office of National Statistics blundered. Another study from the same year, by the Home Office, found that religion came ninth on a list of what mattered to the public. (Only 20 per cent said it was important as against 71 per cent who said their family was their first priority.) And the Swedish-based World Values Survey reported in 2000 that 55 per cent of people in Britain said they "never" or "practically never" attended church. Only France was more irreligious.

I could go on, but a simple question makes the point: if the 2001 census is right, why are so many churches closing and so many sober Anglicans warning that the Church of England faces catastrophic decline?

At the root of the problem with the census is the question that was presented to households: "What is your religion?" As Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society said, it was "imprecise to the point of being unprofessional". What did the census want to discover about the British: whether they had a religious upbringing or a vaguely religious culture based on going to the odd wedding and funeral? Neither constitutes a true faith lived by word and deeds. The census in Scotland was more intellectually rigorous. It asked two questions: "What religion do you belong to?" and "What religion were you brought up in?" Because the Scots thought more carefully about their answers, only 67 per cent of them were recorded as religious compared to 77 per cent in England and Wales. Yet church attendance in Scotland is far higher.

The Scots also took great care to keep questions about race and ethnicity far away from questions about religion. In England and Wales, they followed on from each other. In a critical account of the census that amounts to a demolition, Professor Steve Bruce and Dr David Voas from Aberdeen and Manchester universities respectively point out that, in 2001, militant Islam was on the march and anger about asylum-seekers at its highest. The public was then presented with a form that invited them to tick boxes from a list that included Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh. There must have been a temptation to tick "Christian" simply as a way of announcing that "we're white and not Muslim".

Bruce and Voas pointed out that the Scottish census insisted that people couldn't just say they were Christian, but had to declare what type of Christian they were - Catholic, Presbyterian or what have you.

Another problem with the census was that forms were completed by heads of households, and it's easy to imagine that in some households, be they Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or Jewish, patriarchs insisted that their wives and children believed what they were told to believe.

I sense that religious leaders know the census is full of howlers. The protesters outside Broadcasting House were the exception. But very few bishops have been trumpeting its findings. They see too many empty pews to be exultant. These census failings should now be hammered into the heads of ministers.

The London bombings have brought Britain to a decisive point where it can choose between two incompatible versions of liberalism. The first path is the one new Labour has been stumbling along for so long. In the name of tolerating diversity, it wants faith schools that will deliver sectarian education, faith-based charities that will deliver sectarian welfare, and a universal blasphemy law to inhibit faith's many critics. Respecting difference sounds and often is admirable, but it will lead to a liberal apartheid that separates Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs. How any British government can contemplate segregated schools after 30 years of an Irish conflict in which you could guarantee that every IRA bomber had been to a Catholic school and every UVF sniper had been to a Protestant one is beyond me, but there you are, this one is. The addled census findings reinforce its foolishness by allowing ministers to pretend that we are a religious country that requires the state to create religious institutions.

The alternative is to follow the liberal principle of equality. Great events, and the rise of militant Islam is certainly one of those, should force us to confront problems that laziness and inertia kept off the agenda. The overwhelmingly Christian and Jewish state schools should be abolished because they offend against equality of access. As there are hardly any Muslim schools, no one will be able to shout about Islamophobia. If we don't abolish them, then we'll have a country where whites go to Christian and Jewish schools and browns go to Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools.

In short, the state should stop playing God. It should say to people of all faiths and to the large number of us with none that it is neutral and will treat us equally.

News from Nowhere?

I could copy the whole of Mr K's website, but that would be cheating! The blurb on his homepage is a much better summary of his website as anything I could cobble together.

Welcome to

This site archives most of my writing from the last seven years. It's now also home to an interactive blog, which is open to all. Please come and join the conversation.

From torture in the highlands of New Guinea to tree-sitting in Hampshire; from street protest in Italy to alternative economics in the Himalayas; from armed rebellion in Mexico to the decline of the English pub, I try to write about the links between people and places, the political and the personal, in a way that might make them matter to you as much as they do to me. I hope you find something here to engage you.

Here's one more taster from the site...

The Citizens of Nowhere

A new, rootless, placeless ruling class is emerging over the world.

New Statesman, 1st September 2003

I could have stayed in the press centre all day. The sun was beaming through the tall windows on to the starched white tablecloths. On top of them were laid out all manner of goodies: coffee, fruit from all over the world, iced croissants, cheese. Behind the tables stood smiling, impeccably polite, bow-tied waiters. Everything was free. In the next room, also for free, were rows of computer terminals. A wide-screen TV was beaming out CNN, and official press releases were fed to me at intervals. I stuffed them into my free shoulder bag, which also contained a complimentary CD, glossy book plugging the occasion and a sheaf of specially produced propaganda newspapers. It hardly passed for journalism, but it did pass the time.

This scene could be taken from any of the hundreds of international get-togethers held by politicians, business people and multinational organisations every year. The food bland and international, the press releases multilingual, the buildings all steel and glass and security guards, the delegates with their different coloured faces wearing the same coloured suits. On this occasion, I was at a G8 summit in Genoa, but it could just as easily have been a World Bank meeting in Prague, a World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, a World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, an International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington or a gathering of the international NGO-cracy in New York. Places, nations, cultures: they were all outside the window, outside the rings of steel. Inside, the globocrats inhabited their own enclosed, placeless universe. I was a guest of the citizens of nowhere.

Whether they are scurrying through summit venues, storming the business class gates in airport terminals, lunching at restaurants with high ceilings and unobtrusive waiters, or drinking bottled water in air-conditioned boardrooms, the citizens of nowhere are our new ruling class. Politicians, corporate top dogs, media stars, "opinion formers" and bureaucrats, they occupy a prism of halogen-lit elitism, the same from Brussels to Bangkok, Sao Paulo to San Diego. Rootless, technocratic, unburdened by the baggage of locality or the complications of history, they exist in every nation but feel attached to none.

For longer than a century, sections of the idealistic left have dreamt of a world made up not of petty patriots, superstitious reactionaries or backward-looking conservatives, but of "global citizens" casting off the chains of geography and nationality to embrace a global future. "Modern-minded" people, wrote H G Wells, an early left-wing globaliser, in 1933, are "waking up to the indignity and absurdity of being endangered, restrained, and impoverished by a mere uncritical adhesion to traditional governments, traditional ideas of economic life, and traditional forms of behaviour". Those people, he believed, would come together to "make over the world into a great world civilisation". There are still those on the left who share this dream. What they don't seem to have noticed is that their ideal of the "unrestrained" global citizen is already a reality. Take a look around you the next time you are hurried through the business class section on a plane. Welcome to the future.

Writing in the NS in June, Bill Emmott, editor of the Economist, house journal of the citizens of nowhere, lauded the achievements of global capitalism. Not only is everything dandy, he wrote, but there is "no backlash against globalisation" and no "growing movement for global justice". We have been imagining the whole thing. We know this because a recent survey from the US says so. How can Emmott believe this? Tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of people are rising up around the world against the impact of globalisation. You can track much of their activity on the internet without even leaving your office. In January, 100,000 people turned up at the World Social Forum in Brazil to discuss how to replace the globalisation model. Had they all just got on the wrong bus?

The answer is that Emmott, like his fellow globocrats, is simply unable to believe it. He's read the stories, seen the websites, perhaps caught glimpses of the tear-gas plumes from his summit hotel room; but it can't really be happening. For in the world of the citizens of nowhere, everything is fine.

"At a global level . . . a huge middle class is emerging," wrote Emmott. And here, in an imported nutshell, is progress as defined by the citizens of nowhere; a vision of "development" posited on turning everyone on earth into a Wap-wielding, choice-chasing consumer, drifting through a global pleasure garden in which each place is much like every other and everything is for sale.

Stalking a trackless waste of glass hotels and air-conditioned offices, first class lounges and business class seats, Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney, the citizens of nowhere are the fastest-growing class on earth. But it is not just the Economist-reading right who swell their ranks. It is more complex than that. While the neoliberal citizens of nowhere celebrate the birth of a global market, based on global tastes and global values, another group, the liberal citizens of nowhere, help them along.

Think of those "international NGO leaders", flying from conference to conference, writing reports about "sustainability" and "the environment", without knowing what season it is outside the conference room. Think of certain sections of the left who believe, as they always have, that talking about culture or community is at best embarrassingly reactionary and at worst tantamount to fascism; that talking about place is the same thing as talking about race, a sure sign that the speaker is an anti-immigration bigot. These new Wellsians believe that the only way to bring about international solidarity is to cast off the chains of locality once and for all.

In other words, what the citizens of nowhere have in common, as a global class, is stronger than what divides them. And what they have in common is a shared world-view. Cosmopolitan, ambitious, Americanised, urban, materialistic, they are the product of a very specific value system, in which certain shibboleths - the importance of "growth", the necessity of "development", a boundless faith in technology, an assumption that they represent the apogee of progress - are never questioned. It is these values that, whether they know it or not, bind them together. And it is these values that increasingly cut them off from those whom they claim to represent, be they peasants from Bangladesh or butchers from Barking.

If you want an example of a leading citizen of nowhere, look no further than our own Prime Minister. Embarrassed by his truculent nation of backward-looking unions, rural grumblers and lawyers in tights, Tony Blair will always feel more at home in a wine bar than an English pub, and would always choose Umbria over Cumbria, Seattle over Settle. For him, community is something that belongs in speeches to the Fabian Society, and local colour something that belongs in paintings, not awkwardly standing in the way of GM test sites and new airport runways.

Why does this matter? It matters because what lies at the root of it is something rarely discussed in modern politics but which, through its presence or absence, defines life for all of us: place. It has long been a touchstone of "progress" that place, and attachment to it, is an anachronism. Our communities are no longer geographical but communities of interest. Barriers are broken down by the mass media, technology and trade laws. Rootless, we gain freedom. Placeless, we belong everywhere.

Yet placelessness and rootlessness create not contentment but despair. Ask an unwilling refugee; ask an alienated twentysomething working in a bank in any of the world's megacities; ask a postmodern novelist. Capitalist globalisation is building a planetary monoculture of malls, asphalt, brushed aluminium and sliding doors. The rising tide of this global progress, we are told, will lift all boats. The trouble is that some of our boats are anchored; anchored by place, tradition, identity, a sense of belonging. Anchored boats are not lifted by rising tides; they are overwhelmed, and sunk with all hands.

But the citizens of nowhere ultimately inhabit an empty world. They can sample the food of every nation, but they will never know how it is grown. They can stay in eco-lodges in Brunei, but they will never be able to identify the birds that sing in their own country's hedges. They drink the finest bottled water from their minibars, but they have never drunk from a mountain stream. Never staying in one place long enough to understand it, they take the best of everything but never truly care about any of it. Disconnected from reality, they can make decisions that destroy real places, to which people are connected, at the stroke of a pen.

Like the Victorians who shouldered the white man's burden, the citizens of nowhere are utterly unable to grasp why anybody would not want to be like them. Yet there is a choice.

The rest of us can join the citizens of nowhere in their empire of the placeless, or we can build new relationships with our own landscapes and our own communities. We can build on our pasts or dismiss them; bleach the human rainbow or loudly defend awkward, stubborn, unprofitable diversity.

Somewhere or nowhere. The choice is ours.

Know where you are

A bit more from Mr K.

Know your place

Our landscape is becoming a shrine to global capital. Restoring a sense of place and locality is the best way to fight back; it is the only form of 'patriotism' that matters.

New Statesman, 5th September 2005

And so, it is agreed: we are all patriots now. From the New Statesman to the Daily Telegraph, we all concur - a renewed sense of national pride is the best response to an attack on our national fabric from a new Enemy Within. The London bombings have lent patriotism a new, cross-political lease of life that would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago.

What do we have to be proud of? Take your pick. For Michael Howard, it is about 'our democracy, monarchy, rule of law, history.' For Tony Blair, on the other hands, it is about 'values, not institutions' - splendidly British values like 'fair play, creativity, tolerance and an outward-looking approach to the world.' For the right, this is a chance to show us that they were correct all along: that a defence of traditional 'British values' and institutions is our best defence against moral and social anarchy. For the left, it is a chance to redefine those values, and remould those institutions, but to agree, nevertheless, that in national unity there is strength.

Meanwhile, out in the streets and the fields of the nation we are all now supposed to be so proud of, changes are taking place that make a mockery of this whole esoteric debate. While we sit in front of our laptops churning out drivel about tolerance, fairness, multi-culturalism and our unique ability to stand in queues politely, the land we are all so newly attached to is being rapidly remoulded in the interests of global capital. The irony is writ large right outside our front doors.

The word 'patriotism' is rooted in the Greek 'patris' - 'land of one's fathers' - and it is the land, not the fathers, that we should be focussing on. For the debate about patriotism is really a debate about belonging, and amongst all the guff about 'values and institutions', not one writer, politician, commentator or rent-a-quoter seems to have mentioned the blindingly-obvious component of belonging: the place to which we are supposed to belong. The landscape itself.

Look around you, at the land of your fathers, mothers or simply friends, and tell me what you see. Tell me what there is to feel proud of. Increasingly, the landscape that most of us live in is a soulless miasma of ring-roads, superstores, 'drive-thrus', 'malls', identical redbrick housing estates, new motorways, luxury gated apartment communities and fast food restaurants. This is not the Britain of our imagination. Increasingly, it is only the officially protected bits - what Philip Larkin drily called 'the tourist parts' - which remain green and pleasant. Even the Dark Satanic Mills have been exported to China.

Instead, the landscape that is supposed to be the root of this new, inclusive patriotism is an increasingly placeless canvas onto which the short-term needs of a global consumer economy are painted; a palimpsest of capital, smeared across layers of history and locality. Whether we feel we belong here becomes an academic question if 'here' is identical to everywhere else.
It's not hard to see what's happening. Take a short walk around your neighbourhood, and the signs will be clear enough. I did so just the other day, and saw a dozen of them in less than a mile.

I saw the last working canal boatyard in the city, around the corner from my house, under threat of being bulldozed despite local objections and replaced by luxury flats and a luxury restaurant. I saw my local pub - undistinguished, homely, meaningful - closed down, stripped out and re-opened as a theme bar with a silly name and a drinks list to match. I saw the brewery which once served it, making distinctive local beer with local water to a local recipe since 1782, also gone, its ancient town centre site now the Lion Brewery development, whose apartments start at £330,000. I saw a once-public square in the city centre, now a 'mall', complete with security guards paid to stop you sitting down near the shopfronts.

All small things, each of them alone perhaps going unnoticed or unremarked, but taken together with hundreds of thousands of similar cases from elsewhere in the country, adding up to something. A pattern. A trend. A change - fast, on a national scale and not for the better.
What these changes have in common is this: in each case, something distinctive is replaced by something bland; something organic by something manufactured; something definably local with something emptily placeless; something human-scale with something impersonal.

The things that make our towns, villages, cities and landscapes different, distinctive or special are being eroded, and replaced by things which would be familiar anywhere. It is happening all over the country - you can probably see at least one example of it from where you're sitting right now. The same chains in every high street; the same bricks in every new housing estate; the same signs on every road; the same menu in every pub.

It seems almost as if battle has been declared on diversity, distinctiveness, integrity and authenticity, by all the armies of the plastic, the nebulous, the corporate and the sham. The result is stark: everywhere is becoming the same as everywhere else.

We are not alone in this, and it is no coincidence. What is happening all over this country is part of an international trend. The expanding, seemingly unchallengeable global market requires uniformity of taste - we all have to want the same things, feel the same things, like and dislike the same things. Only that way can markets cross cultural boundaries; only that way can the neoliberal project succeed. At the same time, an advanced industrial economy requires economies of scale - which means mass production, the smoothing-out of edges, uniform development; the standardised manufacture of entire landscapes.

This is a political project, on a global scale, which affects all of us at a very local level. In order for the consumer economy to progress, we must cease to be people who belong to neighbourhoods, communities, localities. We must cease to value the distinctiveness of where we are. We must become consumers, bargain-hunters, dealers on an international trading floor. We must belong everywhere and nowhere.

If some of this language sounds familiar to New Statesman readers, it is perhaps because of another irony, which it might be worth acknowledging. 'National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto,' wrote Mark and Engels, nearly 160 years ago in The Communist Manifesto. 'The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.'

Thus far, the global supremacy of the proletariat has failed to materialise, but the global supremacy of the market rolls on. As it does, parts of the traditional left, their loathing of 'national differences' as sharp as Marx's ever was, are helping those differences - good and bad - to vanish beneath the one-size-fits all global economy. In their fixation with 'internationalism', their suspicion of anything that reeks of what Marx liked to call 'reaction' and their consequent refusal to stand with those who frame their resistance in terms of place, identity or locality, they do the neoliberals' job for them. The global market does it work, helping national differences to vanish beneath a blanket of skyscrapers, steel, asphalt, share prices and corporate logos.

In this context, who are the heroes? Who are the minute-men of what we might call a place-based resistance to this homogenising economic fundamentalism? They are those on the margins of political debate and economic influence. They are the people dismissed by Marx as 'rural idiots' and Tory politicians as 'nimbies'. They are people in communities all over the country who refuse to lie down before the juggernaut of a spurious progress, or to sacrifice the landscapes and cultures that matter to them for the benefit of a global economy which itself is built on sand.
They are, at the same time, ordinary and extraordinary, and they can be found everywhere.

They are the village community somewhere in rural England which sees its only local pub closed down by the asset-stripping pub corporation that owns it, and instead of allowing it to be sold for housing, gangs together to raise enough cash to buy it. They are the itinerant communities who live on narrowboats all over the inland waterways of Britain, who are conducting very local and very fierce battles to save working boatyards and canalside facilities from the avalanche of luxury housing headed their way.

They are the residents of London's Chinatown trying to save their streets from predatory developers, and the urban communities in Birmingham, Manchester, London and Bristol working to prevent their street markets from disappearing beneath office blocks. They are those who fight the selling-off of playing fields, the privatisation of urban parks and the raping of rural landscapes. They are farmers and orchard workers, fishermen and road protesters, council workers and the owners of independent record shops.

They are all those who stand in the way of economic and political processes which squeeze history, character and meaning from our landscape, and leave only money in its place. You probably know one. Maybe you are one. There are a lot of us about. Perhaps it's time we started talking to each other.

Perhaps, too, this is 'patriotism' - in the truest, most fiery and most radical sense of that misused word. Institutions and values can divide us: the place we live in can unite us, wherever we initially came from, whatever our politics, our class or our religion. Urban, rural, suburban - the landscape we inhabit is the one thing that can bind us together, the one thing in which we all have an interest: it is the real source of belonging, and anyone who feels part of it can be.

This is a form of 'patriotism' that is surely worth engaging in. It is one which should be able to unite left and right. It is one which will annoy politicians of all stripes, and get right up the nose of a global money machine which wants us all to stop moaning, give up and go shopping. In an age of global consumerism, corporate power and the dominance of a homogenising, placeless, economic ideology, the one truly radical thing to do is to belong.

You want a patriotic duty? How about this one: don't let them take your place away from you. Stand in their way, get under their feet, frustrate their knavish tricks. The irony is delicious but no less true for it: the way to fight back is by knowing your place.

Calling all tourists to England

From what I've been told, a lot of people when they visit the British Isles want to visit a "traditional English pub". When I sometimes ponder this (sometimes in a boozer) I come to the conclusion that, if I was showing some people from abroad a bit of English history and culture, it would take me a good deal of planning & forethought to prevent my guests being disappointed by the blandness of too many English ale houses.

The following article is by Paul Kingsnorth, who has an extremely interesting & well written website( I'm about to put a few of his pieces up on my blog, and this one is as good as any to start...

Calling Time

The traditional English pub is being eaten alive by corporate consolidation

Guardian Weekend, 23 July 2005

Behind the bar counter, eighty-four year old Mary Wright pours me a pint of Otter Head beer. Mary is the landlady of the Luppitt Inn, in the tiny Devon village of Luppitt. She is also the last steward of a time capsule.

Half a century ago, the country was dotted with pubs like the Luppitt, which is little more than the front room of Mary's old stone farmhouse. It has a tiny wooden counter, one battered table and two small casks of beer brewed in a microbrewery at the top of the valley. The walls are decorated with cobwebbed photographs of old village life. There's no till, price list or handpumps, and the room can hold perhaps ten people at a push. The toilet is across the farmyard, in a shed with no electricity. The pub has been in Mary's family for a century and when she goes, it will probably go with her.

Tonight it's packed with red-faced dairy farmers who have come from a meeting in the village hall. The talk is of fertiliser, the stupidity of the Cornish and a local dog which may or may not be part-wolf. Fifty years ago, maybe even 100, you could have walked through the half-door of the Luppitt and been greeted with much the same sight.

'It's changed, of course,' says Mary, as she pours the beer. 'There used to be dairy farms all round here. Not any more. A lot of new people moved into the village and they don't come in here. There's no living in this now. It's more like an old car. You put in more than you get out. But I do it for the regulars. '

Waiting for my beer, I am keenly aware that I'm bearing witness to a way of life that, in most other parts of the country, is already long-dead. Somehow, the Luppitt Inn has remained unchanged as the rest of the world has moved on. It is a portrait of how things used to be in an institution which, for centuries, has been one of our cultural keystones: the pub.

A hundred and thirty miles away, up a narrow lane on the edge of an Oxfordshire village, James Clarke stands looking up at the yellow stone and dark wood of his Victorian tower brewery as it belches clouds of beery steam across the fields. The Hook Norton brewery is the only steam-powered brewery left in the country. Clarke, who inherited it from his father last year, is the man charged with steering a path for his 150-year old business, with its horse-drawn drays, steam-driven brewing engine, mash tuns, spurging pipes, fermenting rooms, grist mill and malt loft, through the new and ruthless world of the modern drinks industry.

'If we'd have sat here ten years ago', he tells me later as we sit in Hook Norton's in-house bar, 'and you'd said that when we next sat down, now, Morrells brewery wouldn't be here, and Brakspear's wouldn't be here and Morland wouldn't be here, I'd have laughed. And they've all gone.' He recites the names of his three former regional competitors with regret rather than relish.

'There's been a lot of change', he says, understatedly.

Clarke knows he is one of the lucky ones. Thanks to good management, good beer and probably a degree of luck, Hook Norton survives in a world very different to the one it was born into in 1849. But it is one of just 38 regional breweries that do. Hook Norton, like the Luppitt Inn, is a remnant of the past in a world where the future looks very uncertain.

In 1900, there were more than 6000 breweries in the UK. Today there are just over 500. Thirty three have closed since 1990, taking over 130 regional and national beer brands with them. The last decade has seen the end of, among others, Morrells of Oxford (founded 1782), Brakspear of Henley (1799), Castle Eden of Hartlepool (1826), Morland of Abingdon (1711), Ruddles of Rutland (1857), Courage of Bristol (1702) and Mitchells of Lancaster (1871) - names that were sources of national heritage, regional pride and local employment sold off, shut down or taken over. In 2005 we will say farewell to Strangeways of Manchester (brewers of Boddingtons) and Newcastle's Tyne Brewery (home to Newcastle Brown). They are unlikely to be the last.

Then there are the pubs which the breweries serve. Twenty of them close every month - converted into housing, theme bars or luxury flats. Half of those that remain are in the hands of ambitious and rapidly-expanding pub corporations which have set about remaking them with the help of loans from Japanese banks and marketing techniques developed in pizza and sandwich chains.

Rural pubs are disappearing with unprecedented speed, leaving many villages 'dry' - bereft not just of a place to drink but of the community focus that went with it. In towns and cities, giant high street drinking sheds - known in the trade as 'high volume vertical drinking establishments' - open in their place, selling alcopops to teenagers and fuelling the 'binge drinking' phenomenon. The last ten years have witnessed an explosion of identikit chains - O'Neill's, All Bar One, the Slug and Lettuce, Wetherspoons - in what critics call a whirlwind 'McDonaldisation' of the traditional pub.

To put this in context, imagine that it's happening in France. Imagine that classic grape varieties - Pinot Noir, Riesling, pink Muscat - are no longer being grown; that the chateaus which produced them are being converted into luxury flats for wealthy Parisians. Imagine that you can no longer buy Veuve Clicquot, Mouton Rothschild or Sancerre. Imagine that instead people are drinking a few heavily-marketed varieties of imported Australian or Californian wine distributed by a handful of drinks corporations. Imagine the riots on the streets of France, and the outrage in the diningrooms of middle class houses all over Britain.

Substitute 'beer' for 'wine' and you get some idea of the significance of what is happening here. There was a time, not so long ago, when the country was a tapestry of tastes woven from its national drink; the dark, hoppy beer known originally as 'ale.' Its tastes, flavours, ingredients and history vary as much as the atmosphere and interiors of the pubs which sell it. In English beer and the English pub we have, whether we know it or not, something unique. And it is being lost.

If you think this is an exaggeration, then hear it from a Frenchman. Hilaire Belloc, the poet who made England his home in the early 20th century spent much of his time here quaffing flagons of ale in various taverns. Amongst all the guff about Empire, cricket and the playing fields of Eton, Belloc thought he had pinned down where the heart of his adopted nation really lay. 'When you have lost your inns', he said, 'drown your empty selves. For you will have lost the last of England.'

To Belloc, the pub - the institution of the ordinary people - was closer to the nation's pulse than the monarchy, the Church of England or the 'Mother of Parliaments' would ever be. He was not alone in singing its praises. Samuel Johnson famously delivered himself of the opinion that 'there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.' Belloc and Johnson weren't just talking about the beer (Johnson, in any case, preferred wine - and plenty of it). They were talking about the atmosphere that made the pub what it was. The debates, the discussions, the games, the drunkenness, the foibles of the landlord, the conviviality, the unpredictable gathering of diverse people; the indefinable something which made every pub different to every other.

The pub has an ancient history. The Romans imported its predecessor, the tabernae, in the 1st century AD. By the 10th century, beer-drinking was such a popular national pastime that King Edgar initiated the first government campaign against binge drinking, issuing a law limiting the number of alehouses in each village to one, and decreeing that only half a pint could be drunk at any one sitting. It failed miserably, and over the ensuing centuries taverns, alehouses and inns - originally developed as watering holes for medieval pilgrims - multiplied with an unstoppable momentum.

But the pub and the 20th century were set for a collision. After World War Two, the biggest brewers became more ambitious, and by the 1980s, the six largest national brewers owned over half of the country's pubs and produced 75% of its beer. Over the same period brewers began to turn their backs on traditional ale, focusing instead on newly-developed 'nitro-keg' beers - pasteurised versions which were cheaper to brew, travelled better and lasted longer - and heavily-promoted lagers. They began, too, to brand their pubs, ripping out historic interiors and putting in 'themed' replacements.

But the big brewers had pushed things too far and Margaret Thatcher, who hated both monopolies and brewers (whom she regarded as part of the Old Establishment) swooped. In 1989, acting on a recommendation from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, the Tory government introduced sweeping legislation to end the brewers' dominance. The 1989 'Beer Orders', as the legislation became known, decreed that no brewer could own more than 2000 pubs. Furthermore, they would now have to give their landlords the option of selling at least one 'guest beer' produced by a rival.

The idea was simple: the smashing of the monopoly would see a flowering of smaller brewers, more varied pubs and more choice for drinkers. Everyone - except the big brewers - would win.

Roger Protz grins sheepishly when I ask him what happened next. Protz, probably the best-known beer writer in Britain, is a leading light in the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which was founded in the 1970s to fight the corner of traditional beer and pubs. He sits on a swivel chair in CAMRA's head office in St Albans and considers what went wrong.

'Basically, I think we were tremendously naïve' he says. 'We were very optimistic. The Beer Orders said that the big brewers couldn't own more than 2000 pubs, and we thought "they'll be happy with that." They weren't happy, because they weren't prepared to open their pubs up to other brewers' beers.'

The Beer Orders did not, after all, break up the monopoly of pub ownership and beer-brewing: all they did was to shift it sideways. Rather than sell off some of their pubs and keep the rest, the big brewers created something new - pub companies - to which they sold all their pubs. Because they didn't brew beer themselves, the companies - known as PubCos - were exempt from the legislation.

'There were a lot of sweetheart deals' explains Protz. 'The brewers would say to some of their management team "here's a golden handshake, go off and start a pub company. Buy a tranche of pubs and in return, only take our beers." And that was what happened.'

Today it is the PubCos, not the brewers, who call the shots. In 1989, the six biggest brewers owned around 30,000 pubs - half of the country's total. Today the ten biggest PubCos own around the same number. The two biggest own a quarter of all pubs between them. Meanwhile the six biggest brewers - now multinational companies - own no pubs at all, but produce a higher proportion of beer than they did in the 1980s - eight out of every ten pints drunk.

'My own personal feeling is that the situation is worse', says Protz. 'The national brewers saw pubs as places they could sell their beer. Modern pub companies see pubs as real estate, and if they can sell them all and make money that way, they'll do it … Customers are quite blatantly referred to as "traffic". You don't want old Charlie going in and sitting all night over a pint of mild and bitter. You want people coming in, having a few drinks and going, and being replaced by somebody else.' He looks frustrated.

'Everything is about profit now', he says. 'Of course the old brewers were there to make money too. But they understood that pubs had a community role. The modern pub companies just couldn't give a stuff about that.' He shakes his head.

'The corporatisation of pubs', he says. '… I really have no idea what to do about it.'

Tony Jenkins knows what he'd like to do about it, but he thinks it may be unprintable. In the dark depths of a January evening he is standing in an alley in central Leeds outside the local branch of Mook, a national chain of bars aimed at hip young dudes. Tony is not a hip young dude. He is the chairman of the Leeds branch of CAMRA; a large, jovial man wearing a fleece with the words 'Tetley Bittermen' emblazoned on it. He shivers in the cold and sticks his hands into his pockets.
'I'm not going in there', he says. 'It's a matter of principle.'

Mook, until recently, was a traditional backstreet local called The Whip. Then it was bought by the Spirit Group, one of the country's youngest and most ambitious PubCos. 'It was really quite sad' says Tony, 'because there were people who'd been there every week for 50 years, you know. And Spirit came along and just trashed it. Where did those people go? It's not that I object to bars like this, but Leeds is full of them. We didn't need another' - he wrinkles his nose and spits out the word - 'Mook.'

A few hundred yards away, down another alley off a shopping street, lies what Jenkins calls 'the last real city centre pub in Leeds.' Whitelock's is something of an institution. The 300-year old tavern has been hymned by the likes of John Betjeman, Peter O'Toole and Keith Waterhouse for its atmosphere, its beer and its regional cuisine. Its Yorkshire Puddings and jam roly-polies are particularly praised.

Or they used to be. That was before the Spirit Group got hold of Whitelock's too. You won't find jam roly-polies or Yorkshire Pudding on its menu now. You'll find nachos, penne pasta and Kashmiri chicken. You'll find, in fact, the sort of food sold in all the other Spirit Group pubs around the country.

Tony and I squeeze into the long, narrow bar and order a couple of pints. The 1880s interior is a riot of carved wood, old tiles, brass, decorated mirrors and very low beams. Tonight's customers range from a white-haired old man slowly rolling cigarettes in a corner, to a pair of twenty-something lovebirds gazing into each others' eyes over pints of Staropramen.

The cloning of the Whitelock's menu caused fury in Leeds last summer. In August 2004, a journalist on the Yorkshire Evening Post got hold of an internal memo that had been sent to the pub's staff. It described two imaginary customers who represented the sort of clientele that the PubCo now wanted Whitelock's to attract.

'Mick and Ruth' were two work colleagues: he was a manager who drove a BMW and drank beer; she was an office worker who ate pasta and drank pinot grigio wine. They were both busy, modern, business-minded people and neither of them, apparently, was interested in Yorkshire Pudding. Soon after the memo went round, the menu and wine list were changed by head office. Fearing that the Spirit Group wanted to do to Whitelock's what it had already done to The Whip, over 1400 people signed a petition urging the PubCo not to touch "this gem of the north." But many people, Tony Jenkins included, are still nervous.

'If you dredge through the Spirit Group website', he says, conspiratorially, 'you discover that they have chains within chains. They have "Spirit locals", "city day pubs" - all these "concepts." I think they decide what to do with their pubs by using postcodes. Whitelock's is in LS1, and somewhere in the Spirit Group manual it will say "a pub in the city centre has to be an alcopop bar for 14 year olds." What they wanted to do was make Whitelock's fit their brand.' He downs the remains of his pint.

'But', he says with satisfaction, 'they got caught.'

'I've got a huge dislike of things corporate,' says Karen Jones.

This seems a curious statement from the Chief Executive of a £500 million company. But Jones, CEO of the Spirit Group, is one of the new breed of dressed-down, tousle-haired, Branson-esque corporate bosses. Jones, the woman who founded the Café Rouge and Dome chains, now directs operations in her 2400 pubs from Spirit's giant, call-centre-style HQ in Burton-on-Trent.

'Look, this Whitelock's story', she says. 'The truth of the matter is that in July last year we painted it and put new curtains in it, and changed the menu. That's all. I think people were very worried that we were going to change it in some way that was deleterious. Nothing could be further from the truth.'

The Spirit Group is a centrally-controlled operation. That, says Jones, is the way to 'make standards as good as we can make them, all the time.' Spirit has done away with landlords - who rent their pubs and then run them largely on their own terms - and replaced them with managers, who take their orders directly from head office.

That way, says Jones, 'all our customers are our customers. We have a direct relationship with them … everything's based on great relationships with the customer. If you don't get that right you might as well pack up and go home … We need to motivate our managers - the people who actually give you a pint of Carlsberg or bring a burger to your table - to do the job that we want them to do.' She denies, though, that this means imposing the same model on every pub.

'I'm firmly against this march of cookie-cutter brands', she insists. 'Part of our job as a pub company is to avoid being in any way bland or corporate.' It's important to understand, she says, that pubs, like any other part of society, change with the times. 'The number of people visiting pubs is increasingly overall', she says - but only because companies like hers are changing them to meet new demands - less beer, more wine and, most of all, more food - 'the growth part of the market.' This is what people want, and this is what the Spirit Group are going to provide - but in a way, insists Karen Jones, which makes all her customers 'feel like individuals.'

How this desire to help people 'feel like individuals' squares with the company's modus operandi, is unclear. For the Spirit Group is very big on demographics. It divides its pubs into what Tony Jenkins calls 'chains within chains' and Karen Jones prefers to call 'groups of pubs that trade to particular groups of customers.' There are 800 'Spirit Locals', which themselves are divided into smaller groups with names like 'great locals' ('big-hearted community pubs'), 'young and classics' ('where the community live'), and 'sports'. There are 600 'City Spirits', which include 'Bars and Clubs' ('the place to be seen') and 'City Night' ('the best night out in town'), and 500 'Spirit Foods' with brands like 'Chef and Brewer' and 'Two For One'. Each grouping targets different markets - and every time it is head office which decides.

'We won't have an individual menu for every single pub', confirms Jones. 'That would be unworkable with 2000 pubs. And also it's not the way to keep pushing quality up. As I know from rolling out 150 Café Rouge, trying to do fresh food on a mass scale - the pitfalls are many.'

This, in a nutshell, explains what happened to Whitelock's and Mook. They didn't fit the blueprint. The Spirit Group, like other big PubCos, is making the stock market very happy by applying the operating techniques of chains like Pizza Express and Café Rouge to the traditional pub. In the process of doing so, they are replacing the very things that make each individual pub distinctive - from the menus to the bar furniture to the atmosphere - with manufactured environments, imposed from above. From where Karen Jones is sitting this is the way to 'ensure consistency'. From the alley outside Mook, or the dining room of Whitelock's, consistency looks more like the problem than the solution.

Meanwhile, out in the country, rural pubs are facing their own problems. The village pub, while it has less chance of being turned into a branch of Mook, is probably under even greater threat than its urban counterpart - and since the country pub seems to be burned into the psyche of the English nation, its rapid decline is perhaps even more of an issue.

The Countryside Agency laid out the scale of the problem in 2001, when it reported that, for the first time since the Norman Conquest, more than half of the villages in England were without a pub. The 7000 rural pubs that remain are closing at the frightening rate of six a week.
It's not hard to see why. The decline in rural pubs mirrors an equivalent decline in village shops, post offices and other services. As more villages become dormitories for commuters or collections of holiday homes, community pubs fall with rural communities.

But this is not the whole story. A closer look reveals a tale of profiteering at the expense of rural pubs. A rural local, run well, can usually make a decent living for its tenants. But for PubCos, answerable to shareholders looking for quick returns, decent livings are not enough.

Mike Bell's pub, the Portobello Gold, is in Notting Hill, London; but he takes a keen interest in the fate of the rural pub too. Bell is the founder of Freedom For Pubs, a pressure group he set up last year to tackle the 'injustices' imposed on landlords by PubCos and market pressure.

'In the case of rural pubs,' says Bell, 'it's simple: with today's property prices, a pub is never going be worth as much as a private house. So PubCos, brewers and some private individuals look to turn them into homes. Their problem is that they have to apply to the council for "change of use" permission - and they have to show that the pub is unviable before it will be granted. So what do they do? They run the pub into the ground; deliberately employ the wrong tenant, or raise his rents so high that he can't make a go of it. Then they turn round and say "sorry, we can't make it work".'

The result has been a wave of rural pub closures, as local drinking holes make way for luxury homes. Those that survive often do so by joining the new wave of 'gastro pubs' - essentially rural restaurants with bars attached which, while often popular in themselves, are as far away in atmosphere and purpose from the rural community pub as a supermarket is from a village shop.

According to Mike Bell, landlords from both town and country are united in facing a common enemy: the market-driven greed of the PubCos. Theme pubs and cloned menus are a concern, he says, but the issue for most landlords today is a starker one: basic survival.

'I've got toe-curling, stomach-churning stories about what PubCos are doing to pubs', he says. Since Bell set up Freedom For Pubs he's received testimonies from hundreds of unhappy landlords, many of them sent anonymously for fear of reprisals.

'The problem is what's called the "beer tie"' he explains. 'I pay rent to Enterprise Inns, the PubCo which owns my pub, but I also have to buy all my beer from them. The PubCos are actually uncompetitive wholesalers, and they're driving pubs into the ground.'

Francis Patton, though, is having none of it. Patton is customer services director of Punch Taverns, the country's second-biggest PubCo, which owns 8400 pubs, and he says Mike Bell has got it wrong.

'It's not in our interests to make life difficult for our tenants', he insists. 'We're only as successful as the people we have running our pubs. You've got to understand the way the model works … if you want to own and run your own pub, as a Free House, it will cost you about £450,000. If you take a lease with us, the deal is that you pay a lower than market price rent on your property, and you buy all your beer from us. Therefore, we take part of the risk.' It is, he says, a bargain.

Tell that to Andrew Hall, who has run the Rose and Crown pub in Oxford for 22 years. Hall looks like a traditional landlord might be expected to look: he's round and bearded, smokes cigarettes and enforces a 'no dogs or politicians' rule on his premises at all times. He is also, since Punch took over his pub, in financial trouble.

'I'm not singling out Punch', he says. 'My criticism is of PubCos in general. The basic problem is simple. When pubs were run by brewers they charged us very low rents and we had to buy all our beer from them. Now they're run by PubCos who are charging high rents, and we still have to buy all our beer from them, at very high prices. As a result, this is now a business where you can't make money.'

'My rent', he explains 'has doubled since the late 1980s. I'm presently paying a rent of about £26,000 a year, and it's about to be raised again by another five thousand or so. Punch says - all the PubCos will say this - that this is a low rent to pay for a business. This may be true but it's beside the point, because in no other business will you have to buy all your products at cripplingly high prices from the person who rents you the premises. Punch will sell me 18 gallons of Adnams bitter for £145. The market price is £60, but I'm not allowed to buy it elsewhere. When my wife and I started as tenants here we were doing very well. Now we're heading towards bankruptcy. We're earning a third less now, in real terms, than we were twenty years ago, even though our business is doing as well, if not better. In what other trade could you say that?' He sighs. 'The PubCos have got us up against the wall.'

On the table between us, in the pub's low, wooden front room, sits a folder of documents. From it, Andrew Hall pulls a newspaper clipping from early 2004, detailing how Punch's 37-year old chief executive, Giles Thorley, has pocketed £3.6 million from selling some of his shares. In total, says the article, Thorley is estimated to be worth around £20 million.

'Look at this', says Hall, gesturing with his cigarette. 'Giles Thorley. The man's a great entrepreneur. I don't want to discourage great entrepreneurs in our society. But he's made his money by taking my living away from me. And that I find hard.'

Whether the Rose and Crown will survive remains to be seen. In the meantime though, the corporatisation of pubs - and the cultural loss it represents - marches on. PubCos, when challenged, will say that change is inevitable; they are simply responding to it. The issue, though, is not whether pubs change - they always have and always will. The issue is how they change - and who changes them.

There was a time when the state of the English pub could be said to define the state of England. Today the state of the English pub is increasingly defined by the stock market. And when the rough edges, the variety of character and the sheer bloody-minded localness of the traditional pub meet the brands, images, chains and concepts of modern corporate culture, it's not hard to work out which will triumph.