Sunday, 31 January 2010

Howard Zinn, 1922 - 2010

Zinn, right, being arrested at an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in the 1960s

Howard Zinn, who died on January 27 aged 87, was an American political activist lionised by the Left; his book A People's History of the United States became a bestselling revisionist alternative to conventional history books and was endorsed by celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen and Ben Affleck.

Published: 6:43PM GMT 31 Jan 2010 - SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first print run of only 5,000, A People's History became a million-seller in America, attracting a wide audience mainly through word of mouth. At a time when few politicians dared even to call themselves liberal, A People's History wove an openly Left wing narrative. Zinn accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of genocide, rubbished the reputation of presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin Roosevelt, and glorified workers, feminists and anti-war protesters.

One hostile critic, reading Zinn's account of Columbus's landfall in 1492 (told from the point of view of the indigenous Arawak Indians), assailed "the deranged quality of his fairy tale". Even liberal historians were uneasy with Zinn, some regarding him as a polemicist rather than a historian.

Bruce Springsteen to play after Barack Obama?s convention speech in DenverOvertly biased, Zinn himself acknowledged that he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter – not the last – of a new kind of history. "The orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times," he noted.

His famous admirers included his friends, the actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both of whom grew up near Zinn in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They repeatedly plugged the book in their Academy Award-winning screenplay for the film Good Will Hunting (1997). As well as Springsteen, film director Oliver Stone was also a fan.

Howard Zinn was born on August 24 1922 in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants. His father struggled to support the family by washing windows, hawking men's ties from a pushcart and working as a waiter. As a child Howard lived in a rundown area in Brooklyn and was strongly influenced by the novels of Charles Dickens, of which – thanks to the promotion of a cheap edition in the New York Post – he owned a complete set by the age of 10.

When he was 17, urged on by some local young communists, he attended a political rally in Times Square. "Suddenly, I heard the sirens sound, and I looked around and saw the policemen on horses galloping into the crowd and beating people," he recalled. "And then I was hit. I woke up sometime later in a doorway, with Times Square quiet again, dreamlike, as if nothing had transpired. I was ferociously indignant."

During the Second World War, Zinn joined the US Army Air Corps and from 1943 flew missions throughout Europe on a B-17 bomber named "Belle of the Brawl". Although decorated with an Air Medal, he found himself questioning his actions. On his return home, he gathered his medals and papers, put them in a folder and wrote on top: "Never again."

He attended New York and Columbia Universities, where he received a doctorate in History. In 1956, he accepted the chairmanship of the history and social sciences department at Spelman College, an all-black women's school in Atlanta, a city which was then racially segregated.

During the flowering of the civil rights movement, Zinn encouraged his black students to request books from the whites-only public libraries and helped co-ordinate sit-ins. He also published several articles, including an attack – rare in its day – on the Kennedy administration for being too slow to protect black people.

He was loved by students – among them a young Alice Walker, who later wrote The Color Purple – but not by administrators. In 1963 Spelman College sacked him for "insubordination." (Zinn was a critic of the school's non-participation in the civil rights movement.) The following year he accepted a post at Boston University, where, despite similar feuds with its administration, he was to remain until his retirement in 1988.

Typically, Zinn spent his last day of class on the picket line with students in support of an on-campus nurses' strike. Afterwards he continued to lecture at schools and to appear at rallies and on picket lines.

As well as A People's History, Zinn wrote several other books, including the memoir, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1995), which became the title of a 2004 documentary about his career. He also wrote three plays, including his musical drama Emma (1976) about the Russian-born American anarchist Emma Goldman.

Zinn updated A People's History to include chapters on the presidencies of George HW Bush and Bill Clinton. One of his last public writings was a brief essay, published last month in the Left wing American journal The Nation, about the first year of the Obama administration: "I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president – which means, in our time, a dangerous president – unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction."

Howard Zinn's wife, Roslyn Shecter, died in 2008. They had two children.

Friday, 29 January 2010

'Capitalism is evil … you have to eliminate it' - Michael Moore

Michael Moore says of Capitalism: A Love Story, ‘I want audiences to get off the bench and become active.’ Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/AP/PA Photos

After guns and the Iraq war, Michael Moore is now taking on an entire political and economic system in his latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. So what message does the man who once planned to become a priest have?

Chris McGreal The Guardian, Saturday 30 January 2010

Michael Moore has been accused of many things. Mendacity. Manipulation. Rampant egotism. Bullying a frail old man with Alzheimer's. And that is by people who generally agree with his views. His latest film Capitalism: A Love Story is already out in the US when we meet. He comes storming down the hotel corridor, predictably unkempt in ragged jeans that have the unusual quality of appearing both too large and too small at the same time.

I wasn't sure what to expect. Arrogance, perhaps. Cynicism. But he begins to schmooze while he's still some distance away, shouting he feels he knows me. A few months ago one of Moore's producers interviewed me for the film. I was cut from the finished version but Moore says he watched my every word.

Settled on a couch I ask why he hasn't managed to persuade the downtrodden, uninsured, exploited masses to revolt. "My films don't have instant impact because they're dense with ideas that people have not thought about," he says. "It takes a while for the American public to wrap its head around some of the things I'm saying. Twenty years ago I told them that General Motors was going to collapse and take a lot of towns down with them. I was ridiculed, and GM sent around this packet of information about me, my past writings – pinko! With Bowling for Columbine, I told people that these shootings are going to continue, we've got too many guns, too easy access to the guns. [In Fahrenheit 9/11] I'm telling people that we're not going to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we've been lied to."

Capitalism: A Love Story seems the natural culmination of all his others, an overarching look at the insidious control of Wall Street and corporate interests over politics and lives. Its timing is exquisite, coming in the wake of the biggest financial collapse in living memory. And once again Moore is bracing himself: as the film drew to a close at its premiere in Los Angeles, he posted a message on Twitter: "The packed house gets up to grab their torches and pitchforks …"

The film is certainly shocking. Early on, Moore sets out the meaning of "Dead Peasants" insurance. It turns out that Wal-Mart, a company with a revenue larger than any other in the world, bets on its workers dying, taking out life insurance policies on its 350,000 shop-floor workers without their knowledge or approval. When one of them dies, Wal-Mart claims on the policy. Not a cent of the payout, which sometimes runs to a $1m (£620,000) or more, goes to the family of the dead worker, often struggling with expensive funeral bills. Wal-Mart keeps the lot. If a worker dies, the company profits.

Wal-Mart is not alone. Moore talks to a woman whose husband died of brain cancer in 2008. He worked at a bank until it fired him because he was sick. But the bank retained a life insurance policy on the unfortunate man and cashed it in for $4.7m (£2.9m) when he died. There were gasps from the audience in a Washington cinema at that.

They came again as Moore focused on the eviction of the foreclosed. The Hacker family of Peoria filmed themselves being chucked out of their home because of skyrocketing mortgage payments. Randy Hacker, gun owner, observes that he can understand why someone might want to shoot up a bank. In a final twist, the eviction squad offers the Hackers cash to clear out their yard.

The Hackers are Republicans. So was the widow of the bank worker. It is the gap, between the ordinary American – Democrat or Republican, middle-class or dirt-poor – and predatory banks and mammoth corporations that Moore has made his target ever since Roger and Me, his first film, set out to expose the damage wreaked by General Motors on his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

"One movie maybe can't make a difference," Moore says. "I'll say, what's the point of this? What do I want [my audiences] to do? Obviously I want them to be engaged in their democracy. I want them to get off the bench and become active."

Last summer something happened that renewed Moore's conviction that his film-making was politically worthwhile. "I'm in the edit room and there's Bill Moyers on the TV interviewing the vice-president of Sigma health insurance. Massive, billion-dollar company. He's sitting there, telling the country that he's quit his job and he wants to come clean. That he and the other health insurance companies got together and pooled their resources to smear me and the film Sicko to try and stop people from going to see it because, as he said, everything Michael Moore said in Sicko was true, and we were afraid this film would be a tipping point.

"I came away from that, with 'Wow, they're afraid of this movie, they believe it can actually create a revolution.' The idea that cinema can be dangerous is a great idea."

Moore's critics would argue this is his ego speaking. The idea that his film about the failings of the US healthcare system was on the brink of prompting a revolution of any kind looks all the more far-fetched given how the political fight over the issue has panned out. But if Moore's primary intention is to send up a warning flare, to alert Americans to what is going on in their country but not usually reported, he's been pretty successful.

At the end of Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore makes a pronouncement: "Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is democracy." Michael Moore once planned to be a priest. In his youth he was drawn to the Berrigan brothers, a pair of radical priests who pulled anti-Vietnam war stunts such as pouring blood on military service records. In an instructive moment for Moore, the brothers made clear they weren't just protesting against the war, but against religious organisations that kept silent about it.

These days he disagrees with Catholic orthodoxy exactly where you would expect him to – he supports abortion rights and gay marriage – but he credits his Catholic upbringing with instilling in him a sense of social justice, and an activism tinged with theatre that lives on his films.

But what does it mean, to replace capitalism with democracy? He sighs and tries to explain. In the old Soviet bloc, he says, communism was the political system and socialism the economic. But with capitalism, he complains, you get political and economic rolled in to one. Big business buys votes in Congress. Lobbyists write laws. The result is that the US political system is awash in capitalist money that has stripped the system of much of its democratic accountability.

"What I'm asking for is a new economic order," he says. "I don't know how to construct that. I'm not an economist. All I ask is that it have two organising principles. Number one, that the economy is run democratically. In other words, the people have a say in how its run, not just the 1%. And number two, that it has an ethical and moral core to it. That nothing is done without considering the ethical nature, no business decision is made without first asking the question, is this for the common good?"

These days Moore, the son of a Flint car worker, lives in the smalltown surrounds of Traverse City with his wife Kathleen Glynn and stepdaughter Natalie, a four-hour drive and a world away from where he came from. But Traverse City, which is on Lake Michigan, has endured its own decline. Walking along the restored foreshore, a sign says that the city was once a major lumber exporter. Now it is known as the "Cherry Capital" of America.

"When I first got here the theatre was boarded up," says Moore. "It was a mess. I said, look, let me reopen this theatre, I'll create a non-profit. It has brought, like, half a million people downtown in the first two years. If they're downtown they go out to dinner, they go to the bookstore. It livens everything up. Stores open. Now there's no plywood on any windows." This, says Moore, has made him something of a local hero even in a town that votes Republican.

"The county voted for McCain and for Bush twice. But not a day goes by when a Republican here doesn't stop me on the street and shake my hand and thank me. Me, the pariah!"

There are conservatives who get Moore's message, particularly families such as the Hackers who have been betrayed by the system they thought was working for them. But identifying their suffering, and even the cause of their problems, is very different from persuading them that capitalism is evil, although they might just buy in to what Moore says is the core message of his latest film – "that Wall Street and the banks are truly the enemy, and we need to tie that beast down and quick".

His enemies in the rightwing media will be doing everything they can to ensure this doesn't happen, portraying him as a propagandist. And even some of his supporters say he is too willing to leave out inconvenient facts. But there's no denying some very powerful truths in Capitalism, one of which is that it didn't need to be this way in America.

Moore has dug out of a South Carolina archive a piece of film buried away 66 years ago because it threatened to rock the foundations of the capitalist system as Americans now know it.

President Franklin D Roosevelt was ailing. Too ill to make his 1944 state of the nation address to Congress, he instead broadcast it by radio. But at one point he called in the cameras, and set out his vision of a new America he knew he would not live to see.

Roosevelt proposed a second bill of rights to guarantee every American a job with a living wage, a decent home, medical care, protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness and unemployment, and, perhaps most dangerously for big business, freedom from unfair monopolies. He said that "true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence".

The film was quickly locked away.

"The next week on the newsreels – and we've gone back and researched this – they didn't run that," said Moore. "They talked about other parts of his speech, the war. Nothing about this. The footage became lost. When we called the Roosevelt presidential library and asked them about it they said it wasn't filmed. His own family told us it wasn't filmed." Moore's team scoured the country without luck until they were given a tip about a collector connected to the university of South Carolina.

The university didn't have anything archived under FDR's speeches that fitted, but there were a couple of boxes from that week in 1944.

"We pop it in. It was all there. We had tears in our eyes watching it. For 65 years not a single American saw that speech, not one. I decided right then that we're going to fulfil Roosevelt's wishes that the American people see him saying this. Of all the things in the film, probably I feel most privileged that I get to share this. I get to give him his stage." It's a powerful moment not only because it offers an alternative view of American values rarely spoken of today – almost all of which would be condemned as rampant socialism – but also an interesting reference point with which to compare the more restrained ambitions of the Obama administration.

It is hard to imagine any circumstances in which Obama could put forward such an agenda, I suggest. Moore disagrees.

"He could make that speech."

And survive politically?

"He has told people he's going to operate these four years not with an eye on getting re-elected but on getting things done. I have been very happy for the last year. We came out of eight dark years and his election was – what's the word? – the relief I felt that night, I've been filled with hope since then. Now my patience is running a bit thin. He hasn't taken the reins and said: I'm in charge here, this is what we're doing. Do it. I can understand he's afraid but he's gotta do it."

Dude, where's my country? Michael Moore's America
"A thief-in-chief … a drunk, a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter and a crybaby"

On George Bush, 2001

"I say stupid white men are always the problem. That's never going to change"

After 9/11, in response to his publisher's pleas that he go easy on Bush

"It was pretty much like any other morning in America. The farmer did his chores. The milkman made his deliveries. The president bombed another country whose name we couldn't pronounce"

In Bowling for Columbine, 2002

"Back home we call it fuck-you money, OK? What that means is, the distributor of the film can't ever say to me, 'Don't you dare say this in the interview' or 'You better change that in the movie because if you don't, you're not going to get another movie deal.' Because I already have my home and my family taken care of, and enough money from this film and book to make the next film, I'm able to say, 'Fuck you.' No one in authority can hold money over me to get me to conform." 2002

"There is a country I would like to tell you about. It is a country like no other on the planet. Many of you, I am certain, would love to live there. It is a very, very liberal, liberated, and free-thinking country. Its people hate the thought of going to war. The vast majority of its men have never served in any kind of military and they aren't rushing to sign up now … The majority of its residents strongly believe in equal rights for women and oppose any attempt by the government or religious groups who would seek to control their reproductive organs ..." 2003

"There's a gullible side to the American people. Religion is the best device used to mislead them … and we have disastrous media." 2003

"I would like to apologise for referring to George W Bush as a 'deserter'. What I meant to say is that George W Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk-driver, a WMD liar and a functional illiterate. And he poops his pants." 2004

"Halliburton is not a 'company' doing business in Iraq. It is a war profiteer, bilking millions from the pockets of average Americans. In past wars they would have been arrested – or worse." 2004

Research by Isabelle Chevallot

Capitalism: A Love Story is released on 26 February

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Unequal Britain: richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest

• 1980s income gap still not plugged, say analysts

Amelia Gentleman The Guardian, Wednesday 27 January 2010

A detailed and startling analysis of how unequal Britain has become offers a snapshot of an increasingly divided nation where the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society.

Gordon Brown described the paper, published today, as "sobering", saying: "The report illustrates starkly that despite a levelling-off of inequality in the last decade we still have much further to go."

The report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, scrutinises the degree to which the country has become more unequal over the past 30 years. Much of it will make uncomfortable reading for the Labour government, although the paper indicates that considerable responsibility lies with the Tories, who presided over the dramatic divisions of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Researchers analyse inequality according to a number of measures; one indicates that by 2007-8 Britain had reached the highest level of income inequality since soon after the second world war.

The new findings show that the household wealth of the top 10% of the population stands at £853,000 and more – over 100 times higher than the wealth of the poorest 10%, which is £8,800 or below (a sum including cars and other possessions).

When the highest-paid workers, such as bankers and chief executives, are put into the equation, the division in wealth is even more stark, with individuals in the top 1% of the population each possessing total household wealth of £2.6m or more.

Commissioned by Harriet Harman, minister for women and equality, the National Equality Panel has been working on the 460-page document for 16 months, led by Prof John Hills, of the London School of Economics.

The report is more ambitious in scope than any other state-of-the-nation wealth assessment project ever undertaken.

It concludes that the government has failed to plug the gulf that existed between the poorest and richest in society in the 1980s. "Over the most recent decade, earnings inequality has narrowed a little and income inequality has stabilised on some measures, but the large inequality growth of the 1980s has not been reversed," it states.

Hills said: "These are very challenging issues for any government because the problems are so deep-seated."

"But we hope that by doing this work, policy makers have now got information they never had before, to try and get at the roots of some of those problems."

The panel found "systematic ­differences in equality panel economic ­outcomes" remained between social groups, and said many would find the "sheer scale of inequalities" in outcomes "shocking".

Inequality in earnings and income is high in Britain compared with other industrialised countries, the report states.

A central theme of the report is the profound, lifelong negative impact that being born poor, and into a disadvantaged social class, has on a child. These inequalities accumulate over the life cycle, the report concludes. Social class has a big impact on children's school readiness at the age of three, but continues to drag children back through school and beyond.

"The evidence we have looked at shows the long arm of people's origins in shaping their life chances, stretching through life stages, literally from cradle to grave. Differences in wealth in particular are associated with opportunities such as the ability to buy houses in the catchment areas of the best schools or to afford private education, with advantages for children that continue through and beyond education. At the other end of life, wealth levels are associated with stark differences in life expectancy after 50," the report states.

It echoes other recent research suggesting that social mobility has stagnated, and concludes that "people's occupational and economic destinations in early adulthood depend to an important degree on their origins". Achieving the "equality of opportunity" that all political parties aspire to is very hard when there are such wide differences between the resources that people have to help them fulfil their diverse potentials, the panel notes.

Researchers analysed the total wealth accrued by households over a lifetime. The top 10%, led by higher professionals, had amassed wealth of £2.2m, including property and pension assets, by the time they drew close to retirement (aged 55-64), while the bottom 10% of households, led by routine manual workers, had amassed less than £8,000.

Harman acknowledged in the report that the "persistent inequality of social class" was a large factor in perpetuating disadvantage, adding that the government would begin to address this with the new legal duty placed on public bodies to address socio-economic inequality, included in the equality bill.

The report follows research published by Save the Children which revealed that 13% of the UK's children were now living in severe poverty, and that efforts to reduce child poverty had been stalling even before the recession began in 2008.

The Hills report also found that:

• Divisions between social groups are no longer as significant as the inequalities between individuals from the same ­social group; inequality growth of the last 40 years is mostly attributable to gaps within groups rather than between them.

• White British pupils with GCSE results around or below the national median are less likely to go on to higher education than those from minority ethnic groups. Pakistani, Black African and Black Caribbean boys have results at the age of 16 well below the median in England.

• Compared with a white British Christian man with similar qualifications, age and occupation, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim men and Black African Christian men have an income that is 13-21% lower. Nearly half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households are in poverty.

• Girls have better educational outcomes than boys at school and are more likely to ­enter higher education and achieve good ­degrees, but women's median hourly pay is 21% less than men's.

The significance of where you live is another theme. The panel says the government is a "very long way" from fulfilling its vision, set out in 2001, that "within 10 to 20 years no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live". The paper notes "profound and startling differences" between areas. Median hourly wages in the most deprived 10th of areas are 40% lower than in the least deprived.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Charges after clashes at English Defence League demonstration

Demonstrators from the English Defence League take to the streets in Stoke-on-Trent

Police will study CCTV footage today of violent scenes involving far-right protesters after clashes broke out at an anti-Islamic protest.

The violence flared after members of the English Defence League (EDL) descended on Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire for the latest in a series of demonstrations. Seventeen arrests were made at the rally on Saturday and six police officers were hurt.

Demonstrators battled with officers as they tried to push their way past cordons separating them from anti-fascist protesters. One member of the public was injured and five police vehicles were damaged.

Supporters congregated at the Reginald Mitchell pub before heading on to the streets. The protesters, many in balaclavas, carried placards that read “Patriotism is not racism” and “Terrorists off our streets”. They sang Rule Britannia and the national anthem, waved St George flags and shouted chants abusing Muslims.

“Our officers will now be reviewing CCTV, video and other evidence,” said Superintendent Dave Mellor.

A YouTube video of the rally showed EDL supporters breaking into a police van and stealing riot shields. The EDL criticised police for positioning anti-fascist protesters opposite the main demonstration.

Ian Dalziel, 53, a joiner from Stoke, was not part of the march but showed his support for the EDL at the protest. “These demonstrations are helpful because at some stage the Government has got to turn around and listen,” he said.

Staffordshire Police said that those arrested were aged between 17 and 49 and linked to the EDL protest. Five men, from Cheshire and Yorkshire, have been charged with racial and public order offences. Seven have been bailed pending further inquiries. Four men were in custody yesterday.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Indian Maoists develop tech to clone AK series rifles

Vishwa Mohan, TNN, 18 January 2010,

NEW DELHI: Maoists may have been dependent on weapons looted from armouries but now they have developed the expertise to clone sophisticated

weapons, including assault rifles of AK series, in a development that should worry security agencies as they brace for the offensive against the ultras.

Security agencies came across the Maoists’ innovative skills last week when a CRPF team busted an arms manufacturing unit in forests close to Gobardaha village in Chatra district in Jharkhand and recovered a number of ‘duplicate’ AK-47 and AK-57 rifles of “high standard”.

The CRPF also seized as many as 59 different types of instruments, which were used to manufacture and assemble these rifles and various types of pistols. An official said, “Around 100 personnel of the CRPF’s 190th Battalion conducted the operation and arrested one Maoist. Though the rest of the ultras fled away, they left behind the instruments used in making not only duplicate AK series rifles but also pistols of different makes.”

The preliminary examination of weapons seized from the arms manufacturing unit showed that the quality of the rifles was as good as original AK series rifles. Five improvised explosive devices (IEDs) weighing 15 kg each were also seized during the operation, launched on the basis of specific intelligence input.

The official said, “Though security forces have busted other arms manufacturing units of the Maoists in
Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh in the past, they have for the first time come across such sophisticated weapons of high standard, manufactured by the ultras.”

The first big arms manufacturing unit of the Maoists was busted by Andhra Pradesh in 2006 when they recovered a huge stock of rocket shells and launchers in the state. Probe later revealed that the Maoists’ technical wing designed the launchers and initially made them at a foundry in Chennai.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

How teenage access to pornography is killing intimacy in sex

The television drama Skins reflects the increasingly casual attitude of teenagers towards sex

Teenagers have such easy access to hardcore porn that a skewed view of sex is becoming the norm in society and the idea of intimacy is dying

Natasha Walter
January 17, 2010
Sunday Times

One day I found myself ringing on the doorbell in a suburban street in Essex to talk to a self-confessed pornography addict. Jim, a quiet man in his early forties, was embarrassed by what we discussed over the following couple of hours but also eager to tell a story that he feels is probably less unusual than one might think.

“I know I’m not the only guy who’s like this,” he kept saying. Nor is he: there is a great leviathan of obscenity on the internet that anyone can access at any time with a couple of clicks of a mouse.

Jim first became aware of pornography long before the internet era. “My dad was really into pornography. I was five when I found a copy of his Mayfair. I found it quite captivating, to be honest.”

When he was about seven, Jim discovered hardcore European pornography in his father’s wardrobe, and he can remember some of those first images he saw. “I found them quite disturbing. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, of course, because the whole point is that it’s hidden. You know that you’re not supposed to know about it.”

From then on he would get up before his parents woke, before six in the morning, to look through his father’s briefcase and find the porn magazines. “Then my dad got a Super 8 projector, when I was about 11 or 12, and he would hire porn films. He would lock himself in the dining room to watch them. But the real change came when he got a video, and I persevered till I found the films. I was about 14 and I would find them and watch them when I was alone in the house. Constantly.”

At this age, Jim did not have any relationships to set against this obsession. He was going to a boys’ school and never met girls socially. “I was obsessed with pornography, I wanted to be pornography, I wanted to live pornography,” he said. “It wasn’t good for me, I can see that now. I knew that even then, I think, but it was an addiction from the start. It had such a powerful hold on me. It had a huge effect on my behaviour with women.

“I was unable to think of women except as potential pornography. I looked at them in a purely sexual way. I remember one day I was walking to school, I was about 15, and I got talking to a girl who must have been about 18. I immediately said I wanted to grope her breasts. I had no idea how to interact with women as people.”

Even though Jim began to have girlfriends from the age of 19, he never managed to shrug off the power of the fantasy world. “The power of pornography has continued throughout my adult life. Nothing has really measured up to the world of porn, for me. I’ve seen thousands of strangers having sex. So when I have sex, I am watching myself having sex.”

In his thirties, he started a relationship with Ali, a direct-talking, well-read woman. He told her about his interest in porn and they used to watch videos together. At first she could see the “high” but when she became uncomfortable, he agreed to try to abstain. Once the internet was part of their lives, he could no longer control himself and began to use pornography again. The relationship broke down after seven years. “Pornography has made him only able to see sex one way,” Ali said. “He has always seen sex as something that has to be performed, not felt.”

She would like to see a public debate about the effects of pornography. “Porn has been so normalised that anyone objecting to it now is just going to be laughed at. I think we need to hear again about how pornography threatens intimacy.”

For Jim, pornography “has destroyed my ability to have intimate relationships”. One might think that someone who has seen as much as he has would not be unsettled by anything, but he is shocked by the way that the growing acceptability of pornography is putting into the mainstream a dehumanising view of women.

He finds the internet — with its images of rape, incest and abuse — “quite disturbing”. He said: “The stuff I saw as a kid was what we called hardcore, but the idea in the text alongside was that it was based on mutual consent — mutual pleasure — but what I see now is more male domination.”

Jim believes that very young men are beginning to see as normal images that would once have been seen as far beyond the pale. “It’s like bravado, they want to look at worse and worse stuff. When I was a kid what you saw was limited by what you could physically buy on paper. Now it all flashes around so quickly and the taboos have just fallen.”

Jim feels that, even for young men who don’t seek it out, the exposure to these images simply changes their attitudes to sex. “I think that kind of violence associated with sex lodges in your mind and you never forget it, however much you want to. It’s always there.”

Not only is the tone of pornography so often reliant on real or imaginary abuse of women, it is consumed in increasing numbers by young people who have little real experience to set against it.

Ali worries that what happened with Jim could be repeated with her own son. “I was first aware that he was looking at pornography when he was 14. But how can boys not see it? Unless they make a concerted decision not to look at it, to delete it from their mobiles when it’s sent to them, or from their emails. You’d be making a singular, probably a unique decision.

“Once someone like Jim was unusual, now every boy has seen all of that. I know what it does to young minds, and now it is more and more prevalent. God knows how we can begin to challenge this. Once upon a time, kids could experiment, you know, privately, but now all the innocence is lost.”

For a long time I was sceptical about the claim that the internet had really changed people’s access and attitudes to pornography. Those who want it have surely always been able to find it, whether they were living in 5th-century Athens or the 1950s. But the evidence has convinced me that the internet has driven a real change for many people, especially younger people.

Once upon a time, someone who was truly fascinated by pornography might have found, with some difficulty, 10, or 20, or 100 images to satisfy themselves. Now anyone can click on a single website and find 20, 100, 1,000 choices of videos and images, with the most specialist and violent next to the most gentle and consensual.

Statistics tell a story that is hard to ignore. A survey carried out in 2006 found that one in four men aged 25-49 had viewed hardcore online pornography in the previous month and that nearly 40% of men had viewed pornographic websites in the previous year.

It is the prevalence of pornography consumption among children that is most striking. In a study in 2000, 25% of children aged 10-17 had seen unwanted online pornography in the form of pop-ups or spam. By 2005 the figure was 34% — and 42% of children aged 10-17 had seen pornography, whether wanted or unwanted. In another study in Canada, 90% of boys aged 13 and 14 and 70% of girls the same age had viewed pornography. Most of this porn use had been over the internet. More than one-third of the boys reported viewing pornographic DVDs or videos “too many times to count”.

While once someone could live their whole lives without ever seeing anyone but themselves and their own partners having sex, now the voyeur’s view of sex has been normalised, even for children.

For an increasing number of young people, pornography is no longer something that goes alongside sex but something that precedes sex. Before they have touched another person sexually or entered into any kind of sexual relationship, many children have seen hundreds of adult strangers having sex.

When I spoke to one teenager who is studying for his A-levels and quoted statistics to him that said that the majority of young teenagers have looked at pornography, he laughed.

“More like 100%,” he said. “It’s when you’re 13 and 14 that everyone starts looking and talking about it at school — before you’re having sex, you’re watching it.

“I think that those lads’ mags are only read by certain kinds of boys. My friends wouldn’t read them, to be honest, just like they wouldn’t buy The Sun. But pornography — it crosses every social class, every cultural background.

“Everyone watches porn. And I think that’s entirely down to the internet; not just your home computer, but everything that can connect — your phone, your BlackBerry, whatever you’ve got — everyone’s watching porn.

“Adults have got to know what teenagers are doing, and if you’re caught, you get told off. But I never had a serious discussion with a teacher or anyone about it.”

I heard from teenagers that they want more chance to discuss seriously what they are seeing, since they seem to find that this world of pornography is absolutely open to them and yet is rarely referred to openly.

Now that the classic feminist critique of pornography — that it necessarily involves or encourages abuse of women — has disappeared from view, there are few places that young people are likely to hear much criticism or even discussion about its effects.

Many women who would call themselves feminists have come to accept that they are growing up in a world where pornography is ubiquitous and will be part of almost everyone’s sexual experiences. I can see why some are arguing that the way forward really rests on creating more opportunities for women in pornography, yet I think it is worth looking at why some of us still feel such unease with the situation as it is now.

I do not believe that all pornography inevitably degrades women, and I do see that the classic feminist critique of pornography is too simplistic to embrace the great range of explicit sexual materials and people’s reactions to them. Yet let’s be honest. The overuse of pornography does threaten many erotic relationships, and this is a growing problem. What’s more, too much pornography does still rely on or promote the exploitation or abuse of women. Even if you can find porn for women and couples on the internet, nevertheless a vein of real contempt for women characterises so much pornography.

The massive colonisation of teenagers’ erotic life by commercial pornographic materials is something that it is hard to feel sanguine about. By expanding so much in a world that is still so unequal, pornography has often reinforced and reflected the inequalities around us.

This means that men are still encouraged, through most pornographic materials, to see women as objects, and women are still encouraged much of the time to concentrate on their sexual allure rather than their imagination or pleasure. No wonder we have seen the rise of the idea that erotic experience will necessarily involve, for women, a performance in which they will be judged visually.

When I interviewed young women about their attitudes to sexuality, I was struck by one apparently trivial fact: that all of them agreed that they would never want to have sex if they hadn’t depilated their pubic hair.

“I would never want a man to see me if I hadn’t been waxed recently,” said one young woman from Cambridge University, and her friends nodded in agreement. “I don’t need to have all the hair removed, but it has to be neat,” said another.

“That is definitely tied into porn,” said another. “We know what men will have seen and what they will expect.”

Where the rise of expectations from pornography result just in depilation, that is one thing, but the rise of interest in surgery to change the appearance of the labia is another, far more worrying development. The number of operations carried out in the UK to cut women’s labia to a preconceived norm is currently rising steeply.

This development has been covered extensively in magazines and television programmes, often in a way calculated to increase anxiety among female viewers. In an episode of Embarrassing Teenage Bodies, screened on Channel 4 in 2008, a young woman consulted a doctor about the fact that her labia minora extended slightly beyond her labia majora and that this caused her embarrassment. Instead of reassuring her that this was entirely normal, the doctor recommended, and carried out, surgery on her labia.

The comments left on the programme’s website showed how this decision to carry out plastic surgery to fit a young woman’s body to a so-called norm made other young women feel intensely anxious.

“I’m 15 and I thought I was fine, but since I’ve watched the programme I’ve become worried, as mine seem larger than the girl who had hers made surgically smaller! It doesn’t make any difference to my life, but I worry now that when I’m older and start having sex I might have problems!” one girl said.

This idea that there is one correct way for female genitals to look is undoubtedly tied into the rise of pornography. One website for a doctor who specialises in this form of plastic surgery makes this explicit: “Laser reduction labioplasty can sculpture the elongated or unequal labial minora (small inner lips) according to one’s specification ... Many women bring us Playboy and say that they want to look like this. With laser reduction labioplasty, we work with women to try to accomplish their desires.”

If the rise of pornography was really tied up with women’s liberation and empowerment, it would not be increasing women’s anxiety about fitting into a narrow physical ideal.

The tide of pornography is so huge, and so easily accessible, that it often seems impossible to think about turning it back. Yet I don’t think we have to slip into despair. There is this idea that “innocence”, once lost, is lost for ever, that, as Jim put it, once pornography is viewed, “You never forget it, however much you want to.”

It is true that we cannot turn back the clock and wipe pornography out of our individual experience or the memories of our society. Yet there are still ways to move forward and to create places where the influence of pornography will be resisted. This will entail giving more support to people who are struggling with its dehumanising effects on their own relationships.

The starting point is public debate. A woman I’ll call Lara, who has been trying for several years to persuade her husband to give up pornography, wrote to me: “From some discussions I’ve had online I can see that many wives are struggling with their husband’s porn use. If the mainstream media began talking about porn addiction in the same way as they talk freely about drug abuse, gambling or alcoholism, then maybe my husband would see that he’s not the only man in the world who has this problem and would see that he should deal with it.”

Women scarred by the myth that selling sex is a positive career choice

Ellie is an articulate, well-educated woman who went to private school and a good university and was brought up to believe she could do anything in any profession — law, medicine, politics.

She decided she wanted to be an actress, but when jobs were hard to find and she found herself financially desperate, she took a sideways step in her twenties by going for an audition at a lap-dancing club in London.

“You just had to stand there and hold the pole and take your clothes off,” Ellie remembered. “I don’t think I’d thought it through. I was surprised when I saw what the other girls were wearing. I was just in a skirt and T-shirt and when they asked me to take my clothes off I was like, uh-oh, I’m wearing really bad pants. But they said, shave your pubes, get a fake tan, sort out your nails, dye your hair, pluck your eyebrows, come back next week. So I said okay, and I went and made myself orange. I did it for about six months, every night.”

For her it didn’t feel like a big step at first to go into the sex industry, because of the way that lap-dancing clubs have become an unremarkable part of British urban life in an incredibly short space of time. From only a few in the 1990s, there were an estimated 300 by 2008.

Ellie told me she had picked up the message that lap dancing was pretty straightforward and even empowering for the women who do it. “People say that, don’t they? There’s this myth that women are expressing their sexuality freely in this way, and that as they can make lots of money out of it, it gives them power over the men who are paying.”

She was shocked by quite how demeaning and dehumanising the work actually was. “There’s something about the club — the lights, the make-up, the clothes you wear, those huge platform heels, the way that so many women have fake boobs. You look like cartoons. You give yourself a fake girlie name, like a doll. You’re encouraged to look like dolls. No wonder the men don’t see you as people.”

Stripping in various styles is not the only element of the sex industry that has become far more acceptable. Prostitution has also moved from the margins to the mainstream of our culture in a development that one can track in the popularity of bestselling memoirs of prostitutes such as Belle de Jour. They have a matter-of-fact tone, and tend to emphasise how very normal the occupation is and how close to any liberated woman’s sex life.

Rather than being seen as shameful, prostitution can now be seen as an aspirational occupation for a woman. “My body is a big deal,” ran the advertising caption for the television series based on Belle de Jour’s book over huge images of the actress Billie Piper in underwear.

It would be naive to assume that the promotion of such a view of prostitution in the mainstream media does not have an effect on the real-life behaviour of men and women. A woman I’ll call Angela, who has been working as a prostitute for four years, explained to me how she had come to this point.

Although in some ways Angela was quite formal, and uneasy about sharing the details of her life, from time to time her rage would burst out in a torrent of words. In the sitting room of her chilly, scrupulously clean flat in Middlesex, where there were no comfortable chairs, but where there was a metal pole running floor to ceiling with a pair of patent high heels next to it, she told me how she had become involved in prostitution.

She first began to think about charging for sex when her marriage broke down. As a woman in her thirties who had not dated for a long time, she was eager to look for new experiences. Her friends said to her that she should go out, have a good time, find a man and have sex, and she began to use internet chat rooms to meet men. When she met them, she found “they would expect me to just get on with it, in the name of sexual liberation and fun”.

These experiences in the new world of unemotional sex surprised Angela, as things had changed so much since before her marriage. “When I had had relationships with men in the past, I have to say that they were usually equal and pleasurable experiences. There wasn’t the surround sound, the cultural imperative that it was all about sex, only about sex. What men expect you to do has really changed — anal sex, threesomes, even when you’ve just met them.”

At first she did not question what she was experiencing. “I believed what everyone said, that all this promiscuous sex was so empowering.” But as she went on having sex with men without much emotional engagement, Angela thought it would not be a huge step to begin charging. Since none of the men she met wanted a relationship, she felt they could give her something in exchange. She needed the money.

“I was pretty desperate to find a way to survive, to be honest. It dawned on me that I could get paid for this. I thought that it would be fun — I remember seeing a documentary on television about kids of rich Hollywood stars and there was one girl who said sometimes she went down to the Sunset Strip and got paid for sex as a bit of fun. I thought, okay, there’s no harm in it.

“When I went into it, I thought it would be easy. That’s what you’re asked to believe, isn’t it? I thought, okay, if this is empowering, let’s suck it and see.”

Angela was shocked by what she discovered about both the physical and the psychological impact of the work. “I saw it’s not empowering; it’s very disempowering. It’s harmful. It narrows how you value yourself, how you define yourself. It’s very dangerous to define yourself through the eyes of these men who are buying your body. I see that now — I wish I could get other women to see it. I feel as though this hypersexualisation of society — everyone’s falling for it, and more and more young girls think that prostitution is about being Billie Piper, being Belle de Jour, and it just isn’t. It really isn’t like that.

“There are a lot of clients who are respectful but it’s all over the spectrum. Really young ones want to experiment: they’ve seen stuff on the internet — violence and rape. What was extreme five years ago is commonplace now. I get inquiries about being tied up, being gagged. They want to tie you up; they want threesomes. I get the feeling that some of the men get off on the fact that the woman doesn’t want it. Basically you’ve consented to being raped sometimes for money.”

The matter-of-fact way that some women enter prostitution is also connected to the way that many men are now much more open about buying sex. The internet has been particularly useful in allowing men to believe they need not feel ashamed about buying sex from prostitutes. There are places on the internet where reviewing sex for sale is taken as naturally as reviewing books on Amazon. Men can discuss without hesitation how to satisfy their various tastes for larger, or older, or younger, or smaller women.

© Natasha Walter 2010 Extracted from Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, to be published by Virago on February 4 at £12.99. Copies can be ordered for £11.69, including postage, from The Sunday Times BooksFirst on 0845 271 2135

Friday, 15 January 2010

Beyond the catastrophe: How imperialism undermined Haiti

FIST statement

Published Jan 14, 2010 5:18 PM

A grave tragedy has befallen the people of Haiti. Fight Imperialism Stand Together extends its solidarity to the island nation, its people and the peoples’ movements.

The 7.3 earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 left many around the world waiting, shocked, hoping for the best but anticipating the worst. As night came and communications with the island remained tenuous, there was nothing left to do but wait for news of the damage and the toll of human suffering.

A 7.3 earthquake is a major catastrophe anywhere, but in a nation like Haiti -- the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with little infrastructure capable of withstanding such an occurrence -- it was bound to lead to major loss of life. It is expected that tens of thousands have been killed. The conditions of Haiti, where there are few hospitals, little medical personnel, barely passable national highways and no emergency response teams, will lead to the needless deaths of thousands more.

Haiti is a highly-exploited, poor nation. Eighty percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day and more than 50 percent on less than $1 a day. Unemployment exceeds 70 percent. Many people survive by subsistence farming, and within the last couple of years poverty and hunger has increased because of four consecutive tropical cyclones--Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike--in August and September.

Natural occurrences have indeed caused a great harm, but they are not the chief cause of the misery that faces Haitian people.

Haiti has to be put in a context that best illuminates why the small nation is in a precarious situation.

Haiti was the western hemisphere’s first Black republic. It was the only slave colony to win freedom through armed struggle when the Haitian people defeated a military power that was the scourge of Europe -- the military of Napoleon Bonaparte.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson gave the first foreign aid from the United States to the French slave owners, for fear that a successful revolution would lead to uprisings of enslaved Africans in North America.

At the time of the Haitian revolution, Saint Domingue, as Haiti was then known, was one the richest colony of the French, known as the “pearl of the Antilles.”

Because of the overthrow of the colonial slave masters, France sent an armada of 14 ships to extort 150 million francs from the country in payment for the loss of property (the people of Haiti, their free labor and the fruits of their labor).

That 1825 extortion began a series of western world attempts to assert its will on the free people of Haiti.

The U.S. occupation of 1915-1934 destroyed the Haitian constitution and established the armed forces that would later be dismantled by the first democratically elected president of Haiti in 1990, President Aristide, because of its ties to the Haitian ruling elite. The ruling elite, for most of Haiti’s history, has been mainly white or light-skinned due to the long legacy of colonialism.

Thousands were massacred by the invading U.S. forces.

The U.S. supported the brutal regimes of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Tens of thousands were killed under the twin repressive regimes, mostly by the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes.

When the people of Haiti were able to force out Baby Doc through a mass struggle, another repressive military regime took over from 1987 until the election, by two-thirds of the electorate, of preacher and mass leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Aristide was overthrown in September 1991, seven months after having been sworn in, by military and police officers.

Though Aristide returned in 1994, he was forced into accepting neoliberal austerity measures. The country was forced to import staples and rely more heavily on loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, turning it from a nation that was in some respects able to produce its own food to one that now relies on the importation of more than 50 percent of its food.

Aristide was elected again in 2000 with 92 percent of the vote. He was kidnapped in 2004 by private security forces and the U.S. military and flown out of the country. Some of the same military leaders who started the coup were also leaders of the Tonton Macoutes death squad.

The U.S., France and Canada all occupied Haiti until a U.N. mission, named MINUSTAH, took over. MINUSTAH has been accused of carrying out massacres against the popular movement to restore President Aristide, leading to the killing of peoples’ leader Dred Wilme.

The peculiar history of slavery and genocide, colonization and support of brutal dictatorships by the U.S. and France has led to Haiti being in the condition it is in today.

Not only is there a meager infrastructure, but the country has been deforested. The deforestation leads to floods during the rainy season, mudslides and more severe hurricanes.

The U.S. has mobilized the Coast Guard to intercept Haitians trying to make it to the U.S. and the administration is deploying 2,000 Marines. Haiti does not need more occupying troops.

Already 9,000 U.N. troops are on the ground, have been there for more than five years and have not contributed to developing the country but in containing the people’s struggle and assuring a government that has denied the largest party, Fanmi Lavalas, from running in this year’s elections.

FIST calls for: the removal of all U.N. combat troops; reparations to be paid to the Haitian people for the years of slavery by the French, the U.S. occupations and support for rightist regimes; removal of all deportation orders that currently hang over the heads of the more than 30,000 Haitians in the U.S.; amnesty for any Haitians attempting to make it to U.S. shores; all bonuses from executives of financial institutions that received bailout money to be donated to Haiti; the creation of work brigades of U.S. workers and students to go to Haiti and help rebuild the country at U.S. union-scale wages; and cancellation of all of Haiti’s debt.

If the U.S were even remotely serious about assisting Haiti and acknowledging its part in the systemic underdevelopment and destabilization of Haiti, the government could easily call for the implementation of all the above measures.

Return President Aristide! Reparations Now for the Haitian People!

Fight Imperialism Stand Together

Jan. 14, 2010

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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Growing up with the UDA

The loyalist paramilitary group’s historic arms move may have been overshadowed by events elsewhere but, as Brian Rowan reports, it is a significant milestone on the road to peace

Monday, 11 January 2010

I can still remember the men in bush hats and green jackets standing in the hall — a memory that dates back into east Belfast in the early 1970s.

At the time, I was a very young teenager. Minutes earlier the windows of our home had been smashed and the men who arrived had come to assure my parents it had nothing to do with them.

Back then we were one of those many families in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, after several more attacks, we were forced to leave our home.

In the fear and tension of that time the UDA emerged from the different vigilante groups and defence associations.

It took a place on a war stage that stretched across decades, and is linked to scores of murders and statements the vast bulk of which were issued under the cover name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

I think it was the commentator and former politician Brian Feeney who first described the UDA and the UFF as the same men in different balaclavas.

Yet, remarkably, the Ulster Defence Association was not proscribed until 1992, by which time the Shankill loyalist Johnny Adair had climbed to a senior rank in the organisation.

Why it took so long to outlaw the UDA is just one of the unanswered questions of the war.

In my reporting of that conflict, the first of its leaders I had contact with were the so-called supreme commander Andy Tyrie, and John McMichael.

The latter was killed in an IRA under-car booby-trap explosion in 1987 and was replaced at the UDA’s top table, on its inner council, by Jackie McDonald.

And there you have the link to the present day UDA leadership. More than two decades later, he has become the most prominent and public of the current paramilitary brigadiers.

In that period the UDA has caused turmoil and has been through turmoil. It is remembered in what it would term the spectacular attacks — the murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, Michael Stone’s gun and grenade attack on mourners at a republican funeral, the Greysteel pub shootings.

But there have been scores of other killings — people targeted, triggers pulled, and victims labelled as republican in an attempt to justify random sectarian murder.

The most violent surge in UDA activity I reported on was in the early 1990s when the loyalist organisation used the Hume-Adams talks process as an excuse to target the entire nationalist community.

Anyone Catholic was considered a legitimate target with the UDA claiming a new threat to Ulster from a Pan-Nationalist Front.

In their communications with the media, I took scores of statements from the loyalist organisation, statements dictated after killings and delivered with codewords to prove their authenticity. Some of the codewords used were The Ulster Troubles, The Crucible, and Titanic, just some of the secret words used by the UDA in its war.

By the early nineties during that violent surge there was a new leadership — including Johnny Adair, Alex Kerr, Gary Matthews, Jim Spence, Joe English and Billy McFarland. In this period McDonald was in jail. Ray Smallwoods, later killed by the IRA, was the political thinker who sat in on those leadership meetings.

The ceasefires came in 1994, then the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement. But as the peace process evolved the story of loyalism has been dominated by infighting and feuding, much of it sparked by Adair as part of a play for power.

Big names in the paramilitary leaderships fell — some of them murdered and others exiled. The list includes Adair, his associate John White, Jim Gray, Andre Shoukri and John Gregg.

And it is out of this mess that the UDA has struggled to find its place in the peace and taken so much time to complete the decommissioning process.

There is another leadership now — McDonald, Matt Kincaid, Jimmy Birch, John Bunting and Billy McFarland. They are today’s inner council; the men who madelast week’s major arms move possible.

But decommissioning will not be the end of the UDA. The challenge now is to march its men off that war stage and into the peace.

“I believe the UDA has already stepped off the stage,” Frankie Gallagher of the aligned Ulster Political Research Group told the Belfast Telegraph. That is something much easier said than done.

You only have to look at the pages of the most recent report of the Independent Monitoring Commission to read an assessment linking the UDA to continuing criminality including drugs, robbery and extortion. And we know from experience that there is no magic wand that makes these organisations disappear.

“You cannot be a loyalist and a criminal,” Gallagher said yesterday. And so it is up to the UDA to now take those next steps — steps that create distance between those who want to be part of the peace and those who continue to operate in that criminal world.

Not every UDA gun and bullet and ounce of explosive will have been given to the decommissioning process. These organisations do not leave themselves without weapons, and that includes the IRA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando.

That is not to downplay the significance of what has happened. Decommissioning is important in terms of confidence building and in saying that wars are over.

General de Chastelain and his team would not have called what the UDA did in recent days major unless there were the arms to justify that description. Arms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices were destroyed and that is good news for the peace process.

Republicans know the significance of what happened. Gerry Kelly, a man of the IRA’s war and now a junior minister at Stormont, called it “a substantial move forward”.

He is right. Guns that did a lot of damage have been silenced and destroyed.

It means this UDA leadership accepts the war is over and the challenge now is to find a place in the peace.

Read more:

UK government slashes funding for astronomy and physics

World Socialist Web Site
By Robert Stevens
13 January 2010

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has announced significant cuts in the funding of science in the UK. The STFC funds science projects, including the allocation of university research grants.

Space missions and projects across astronomy, nuclear and particle physics will all face the brunt of a cut of £115 million. The inroads into physics and astronomy research are particularly wide-ranging.

Space projects are to be slashed by £42 million and astronomy projects by £39 million. A cut of £32 million is being made to particle physics projects, and nuclear physics projects will face a cut of £12 million. The STFC plans to implement a further £11 million in internal cost-cutting.

The STFC said the measures were necessary because of a £40 million deficit in its current budget. The cuts are to be imposed as part of the STFC’s five-year £2.4 billion investment programme, which is based on a projection for the next Comprehensive Spending Review period. Further cuts are likely to be on the agenda, as the five-year plan does not take into account the Labour government’s December 9 pre-budget announcement that education and science budgets are to be slashed by £600 million in 2011-2013.

In its announcement, the STFC listed 24 projects from which it will withdraw funding over the next five years. Michael Sterling, the STFC chairman, said of the cuts, “This has involved tough choices affecting the entire programme, including a managed withdrawal from some areas.”

Among the high-profile projects affected are:

* The ALICE collaboration, which is devoted to building a dedicated heavy-ion detector to exploit the physics potential of nucleus-nucleus interactions at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Geneva.

* The Cassini Huygens mission studying Saturn and its moons—a joint mission between the European Space Agency and NASA.

Other space missions involved are the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (which studies the Sun), the Venus Express (a satellite orbiting the planet), the Cluster mission (an unmanned space mission that studies the Earth’s magnetosphere), and XMM-Newton (an orbiting X-ray observatory).

The UK will also end its participation in the European X-Ray Laser Project, based in Hamburg, and the twin Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. Combined, the Gemini telescopes provide almost complete coverage of both the northern and southern skies. UK funding for the latter will end in 2012, according to the STFC.

According to one estimate, the cuts being made to nuclear physics equate to 52 percent.

A number of prestigious physics projects from which British scientists will be withdrawn include:

* AGATA—a European project to build a powerful spectrometer to study the structure of atomic nuclei.

* PANDA—a project linked to the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR), a particle accelerator in Germany. PANDA is to be the most advanced facility of its kind in the world and will look into key areas such as the confinement of quarks in hadrons. PANDA involves the collaboration of 400 scientists from 55 institutions in 17 countries. The UK was a founding member of PANDA.

Other projects from which British scientists are withdrawing include the European X-ray laser project (XFEL), the Photon Science Institute, and the New Light Source (NLS).

From next year, fellowships and studentships for PhD projects will be cut by 25 percent. Grants are also to be cut by 10 percent next year.

Professor Andy Fabian, the president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said, “With these cuts, UK-based researchers will struggle to retain their leading position in astronomy and space science.”

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, president of the UK Institute of Physics, said, “The greatest shame about today’s announcement is the reduced investment in people. With all of the challenges we face, from climate change and energy security to a rapidly aging population, we urgently need individuals well-trained in physics. Today’s announcement...runs counter to this need.”

Burnell contrasted the cuts being made in physics funding to the hundreds of billions of pounds of public money handed over to the banking system over the past year. “The amount needed to avoid this unfortunate cut is minor in comparison to the huge sums of money spent saving the financial sector. Surely, money can be found to avoid it,” she said.

Paddy Regan, a physics professor at the University of Surrey, also spoke in opposition to the cuts. “The community has basically been ‘done in’ by the STFC, which seems intent on killing off nuclear physics as an academic pursuit in the UK. These acts of scientific vandalism must be challenged and overturned.”

Another major project affected is the United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope (UKIRT) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is owned by the STFC and operated by the Hawaii Joint Astronomy Centre, along with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT). UKIRT is 30 years old and, with its 12.4-foot-diameter primary mirror, is the world’s largest infrared telescope. It has been at the forefront in its field for decades.

It is currently undertaking the UKIRT Infra-red Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) of the northern sky. Involving some 100 astronomers, it will be the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken. In particular, it will look for the coolest and nearest “brown dwarf” objects, high redshift dusty starburst galaxies, elliptical galaxies, galaxy clusters at various redshifts, and the highest redshift quasars. UKIDSS also “aims to discover the nearest object to the Sun (outside the solar system) as well as some of the farthest known objects in the Universe.”

The future of funding for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope is also in doubt. The James Clerk Maxwell is a 49-foot radio reflector and is the world’s largest single-dish sub-millimeter telescope. The UK funds 55 percent of its operations, with Canada and the Netherlands funding the remainder.

The charge of “scientific vandalism” is entirely valid. Both the UKIRT and James Clerk Maxwell Telescopes are carrying out cutting-edge research on space and the universe.

In April of last year, the Joint Astronomy Centre reported on a joint study of the Great Nebula of Orion (one of the most famous objects in space). It was carried out by UKIRT, the IRAM Millimetre-wave Telescope in Spain, and the Spitzer Space Telescope in orbit above the Earth. The research team included more than a dozen astronomers from the US, the UK and a number of other European countries.

The press release stated, “They have found this stellar nursery to be a lively and somewhat overcrowded place, with young stars emitting gas jets in all directions, creating quite a chaotic picture. There is much more going on in Orion than previously thought.”

The Joint Astronomy Centre explained that the Orion nebula “is really just a blister on the surface” of the molecular cloud, and “gives an indication of what is really happening within.”

The report added, “To see through the cloud, we need to observe at wavelengths beyond the reach of the human eye. The longer (or ‘redder’) the wavelength, the better! Thus, the team have used UKIRT on Mauna Kea, the Spitzer Space Telescope, which works at even longer “mid-infrared” wavelengths, and the IRAM radio telescope, which operates beyond the infrared at short radio wavelengths.”

Commenting on the importance of the discovery, Dr. Chris Davis said, “Using UKIRT’s wide field camera (WFCAM), we now know of more than 110 individual jets from this one region of the Milky Way. Each jet is travelling at tens or even hundreds of miles per second; the jets extend across many trillions of miles of interstellar space. Even so, we have been able to pinpoint the young stars that drive most of them.”


As with the cuts recently announcing in the funding of higher and further education, the reductions in science are rooted in the crisis of the existing economic and political system. The ruling elite is demanding the severest cuts in all forms of public spending that will have the most retrogressive impact now and in the future.

The full list of projects facing cuts is as follows:

* Astronomy

Auger, Inverse Square Law, ROSA, ALMA regional centre, JIVE, Liverpool Telescope, UKIRT. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £16m. Savings of £29m over 5 years.

* Particle Physics

Boulby, CDF, D0, eEDM, Low Mass, MINOS, Particle Calorimeter, Spider, UK Neutrino Factory. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £25m. Savings of £32m over 5 years.

* Nuclear Physics

AGATA, ALICE at CERN, PANDA. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £2m. Savings of £12m over 5 years.

* Space missions

Cassini, Cluster, SOHO, Venus Express, XMM. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £28m. Savings of £42m over 5 years.

The author also recommends:

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[8 January 2008[

Britain: Science cuts threaten Jodrell Bank radio telescope
[17 April 2008]

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Islam4UK to be banned, says Alan Johnson

Membership of Islamist group Islam4UK and al-Muhajiroun to become criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years' jail

Alan Travis, home affairs editor,
Tuesday 12 January 2010 08.55 GMT

The Islamist group Islam4UK, which planned a march through Wootton Bassett, and its "parent" organisation, al-Muhajiroun, will be banned under new legislation outlawing the "glorification" of terrorism, Alan Johnson announced today.

The order, which will come into effect on Thursday, will make it a criminal offence to be a member of either of the groups, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

"I have today laid an order which will proscribe al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, and a number of the other names the organisation goes by," Johnson said. Other names are Call to Submission, Islamic Path and London School of Sharia. The group is already proscribed under two other names – al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect or the Saviour Sect.

Johnson said that proscription was "a tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism", adding that it was "not a course we take lightly".

The decision, based on months of monitoring the output of websites and comments by senior figures, will have to be endorsed by parliament. Al-Muhajiroun was founded by Omar Bakri Muhammad and Anjem Choudary, and has been operating in Britain since the mid-1980s.

The group became notorious for praising the September 11 attacks in 2001. Bakri was banned from Britain by the former home secretary Charles Clarke in August 2005, on the grounds that his presence in the country was "not conducive to the public good".

At the same time, the Home Office announced its intention to ban the group but it disappeared from view before relaunching itself in June last year.

The Saviour sect and al-Ghurabaa were proscribed under the 2000 Terrorism Act.

Islam4UK has called off its planned march through Wootton Bassett, the Wiltshire market town that has come to symbolise the fatalities sustained by British forces in Afghanistan.

It said it had "successfully highlighted the plight of Muslims in Afghanistan globally".

The group said that if their organisation and al-Muhajiroun were banned, "another platform with a new name will arise to continue to fulfil these divine objections until the sharia has been implemented".

Counterterrorism legislation passed in 2006 is designed to automatically ban any "successor" organisations set up by proscribed groups.

Home Office lawyers are drawing up the necessary parliamentary order implementing the ban so it can be debated by MPs within days.

The move came as MPs heard evidence of tensions within government over the direction of the official programme aimed at preventing violent extremism.

Written evidence from the Local Government Association (LGA) for a special Commons select committee held in a Birmingham mosque yesterday, confirmed that tension between the Home Office's office of security and counterterrorism and the Department of Communities and Local Government had been a problem at times.

The LGA said the heart of the disagreements had been the focus of the Prevent programme, with the communities secretary, John Denham, arguing that it should be part of the broader work on community cohesion and equalities. "Police and the security services will necessarily see things in a different perspective," an LGA memo said.

Its evidence said that the security services have moved away from developing a profile of a "typical extremist", to a more rounded analysis of potential risks and interventions.

Evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers to the MPs' inquiry said that so far 228 young adults aged under 25 "who have been inspired by the al-Qaida ideology" have been referred to the Channel Project, which provides support to those believed to be vulnerable to radicalisation.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Bombing at CIA base exposes weakness of U.S. occupation

By John Catalinotto
Published Jan 7, 2010 5:05 PM

A bomb explosion in a Central Intelligence Agency camp in Khost Province of Afghanistan on Dec. 30 resulted in the deaths of seven experienced operatives, including the base commander. The attack struck a heavy blow against the U.S.-led occupation. It has changed the ground rules for the U.S. spy organization and evoked threats from U.S. President Barack Obama and CIA head Leon Panetta.

Despite the CIA and military posturing and threats of revenge, the successful bomb strike at an important U.S. base underlines the basic weaknesses of U.S. imperialism in carrying out the latest war escalation and unpopular occupation of Afghanistan.

On a tactical level, the CIA camp bombing meant the loss of operatives who had knowledge of local customs and languages and decades of experience in Afghanistan. Strategically, it means the U.S. and NATO occupation forces will more than ever treat every Afghan as an enemy. That will bury any possibility of the U.S. “winning hearts and minds” of one part of Afghan society in its attempt to divide and conquer Afghanistan.

“‘Those killed included experienced front-line officers, and their knowledge and expertise will be sorely missed,’ said Henry A. Crumpton, who led the CIA campaign in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002.” (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 2)

CIA won’t know ‘who to trust’

A Jan. 2 Reuters report described the other part of the loss, quoting a former CIA officer: “This is a huge blow to the agency. It’s a close-knit group. They’re not going to know who to trust now.”

U.S. officials and the corporate media often distort the truth, and more so in a war situation. Nevertheless, reports in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post — which involve interviews with current and former CIA officials — indicate that something like the following may have occurred:

The personnel at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province had been focusing on two main tasks: finding targets for the unpiloted “drones” to launch rockets against and investigating that part of the Afghan resistance known as the “Haqqani network,” so that U.S. Special Forces or mercenary “contractors” could hunt them down and kill their members and leaders. FOB Chapman used informants both in Afghanistan and in nearby Pakistan.

Like al-Qaida, the Haqqani network was a U.S. ally in the battle against the Soviet Union, when the Soviet Army was assisting the progressive Afghan government from 1979 to 1989. Now, however, the Haqqani network is a Taliban ally. Using information provided by FOB Chapman, both drones and ground forces killed some of the Haqqani leaders throughout 2009.

The Dec. 30 bombing attack was by someone the CIA operatives knew, someone who was considered an Afghan informant or potential informant. He was able to get through base security and enter a room where at least 13 CIA or “contractors,” that is, mercenaries, were present, having come to hear the informant’s report. When the bomb exploded, the Afghan died along with seven CIA operatives. Six others were wounded.

Resistance forces in Afghanistan and in Pakistan — which the corporate media describe as the Afghan and the Pakistan Taliban, respectively — have claimed credit for the attack. The Afghans see the bombing as a strong blow against U.S. forces. These resistance statements also identify the person who did the bombing as a “double agent.”

The CIA has not revealed the names of those who died. Leaks have provided information that they include, besides CIA officials, a former Navy Seal who was a “contractor” and a former Army reserve major.

Role of ‘contractors’

The CIA has not named the corporation providing the mercenaries. On Dec. 15, however, the Afghan resistance hit a USAID base in Gardez, the capital of Paktia Province in the southeast, killing security staff and a guard working for Development Alternatives Inc. DAI is the major supplier of mercenary forces to the occupation.

According to a report by North American lawyer and investigative writer Eva Golinger, now in Venezuela, DAI is active throughout Latin America. One of their employees is the captured U.S. agent in Cuba who was handing out illegal materials to anti-revolutionary groups. DAI has a $40 million contract to administer the “Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program.”

DAI is running a similar program for USAID in Venezuela. USAID has also been expelled from two cities in Bolivia, accused of intervening. According to Golinger, “A high-level USAID official confirmed two weeks ago that the CIA uses USAID’s name to issue contracts and funding to third parties in order to provide cover for clandestine operations.” (

Washington’s dependence on mercenaries to fight its colonial wars is another sign of weakness. Not only the Pentagon — which has a problem recruiting a mass army needed for an occupation — but the CIA and USAID must also hire soldiers of fortune. Resistance fighters, on the other hand, are ready to blow themselves up in order to free their country from foreign occupation and domination.

Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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Thousands join memorial service for communist leader Rosa Luxemburg

Berlin - Thousands attended a memorial service in Berlin on Sunday to recall Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two revolutionaries who were murdered in 1919. Luxemburg and Liebknecht, founders of the German Communist Party, were killed by rightist soldiers in the early days of the Weimar Republic and are seen by the left as martyrs.

The memorial service was arranged by the Left Party, which has its roots in the former communist East German state party. It was led by Lothar Bisky, the head of the Left Party, and parliamentary leader Gregor Gysi.

Those present laid wreaths and red carnations at the Socialist Monument in Berlin's Friedrichsfelde Cemetery.

Left Party secretary Dietmar Bartsch said Luxemburg and Liebknecht were "very important personalities," who "wanted a peaceful and fair world."

The Left Party said that 40,000 people were present, although police put the number at less than half that. A further 3,000 leftists and trade unionists took part in a demonstration leading up to the cemetery, police said.

Over the years there have been several attempts to locate Luxemburg's remains, since the body buried in 1919 is thought not to have been hers.

Another corpse, found in a Berlin hospital in 2007, was released for burial earlier this year after investigators found no conclusive evidence that it belonged to the murdered revolutionary.

The memorial service, traditionally held on the second Sunday in January, was an important state-led ceremony in former East Germany and was upheld by tens of thousands of people after reunification.

In recent years numbers have declined. Nevertheless, 80,000 people attended last year's 90th anniversary of Luxemburg and Liebknecht's murder, on January 15, 1919.,thousands-join-memorial-service-for-communist-leader-rosa-luxemburg.html

Chavez asks Venezuela TV to make 'socialist soap operas'

(AFP) – 10 hours ago

CARACAS — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday he has asked film producers to make "socialist soap operas," with government help if needed, because there's too much capitalism on television.

"A while ago, I was in Cuba and they broadcast soap operas there, not capitalist soap operas but with a social content, socialist" soap operas, Chavez told a group of filmmakers and scriptwriters guested on his weekly radio and television show, "Alo Presidente."

"I'm going to ask that we make socialist soap operas (in Venezuela), instead of capitalist ones."

The firebrand leftist leader offered government help to producers following his advice.

"We can also make good movies," he added. "Not capitalist movies that are poison and incite our children to take drugs and even push them into crime."

In 2006, Chavez opened Villa del Cine, a filmmaking center outside Caracas that produces full-length and short films and documentaries.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Feminism seen as promiscuity?

January 10, 2010

In a provocative and passionate reassessment of women’s liberation, a highly sexualised new generation of girls is discovered
Natasha Walter

One spring night in the Mayhem nightclub in Southend, young men and women were moving tentatively onto the dance floor through drifts of dry ice, lit amethyst and emerald by flashing lights.

“Five minutes left!” the DJ’s voice rang out over the thumping music. “Five minutes left to enter the Babes on the Bed competition. We’re looking for 10 of the fittest, sauciest birds here today. Remember, it’s not just about tits, it’s about personality too.”

A large bed, looking like a Tracey Emin installation, lay waiting. This was one of 16 nights up and down the country in which hundreds of women would compete for a modelling contract with Nuts magazine.

Tania, wearing a blue lace dress that started low on her breasts and ended just below her knickers, was wished good luck by her friends, Nikki and Katie. Why weren’t they taking part? “I already do modelling,” smiled Nikki, who had the face of a Botticelli madonna, with a pointed chin and wide-apart blue eyes.

Katie joined in. “I’ve been modelling for a couple of years. I’ve got an agent. He found me online.” In this context, modelling means glamour modelling, the coy words for posing almost naked for men’s magazines.

Tania came out of the changing room, her exquisite hourglass body now clothed in red hotpants and crop top with a Nuts logo. She’d already done some modelling, but not yet topless. “I will do,” she said, “when the time is right.”

Men began to crowd around the big bed. A confident girl in high-heeled boots and hotpants took the microphone. “This is Cara Brett!” shouted the DJ. “She’s on the cover of Nuts this week! So buy her, take her home and have a wank.” An animal roar issued from a hundred male throats.

The crush became intense as girls got onto the bed one by one, to the constant thump of music. Cara directed them into more and more suggestive poses. “Come on,” she said fiercely to Tania, who was defiantly keeping her bra on, “if you’re going to be a glamour model, you’ve got to get your boobs out.”

The next girl, revealing huge siliconed breasts perched high on her slender chest, got the loudest roar. The boys pressed around, their mobile phones held high to take pictures.

The girls became more ambitious. One jumped on the bed and bent over, presenting her crotch in stretchy, tight red pants to the cameras, before pumping her rear and slipping off her bra, ending up with the splits.

“Now we’re going to judge your girl-on-girl action,” said the DJ. “Let’s see you get a bit friendly. Come on, how about some kissing? What do you think, boys? Some of the fittest girls in Southend getting it on with each other.”

The girls clambered on top of one another, looking vaguely back at the camera. “Come on,” said Cara impatiently, “let’s show some skin, girls.” She dragged the hotpants off one girl, showing her sequined thong riding precariously on a shaved crotch. The crowd erupted and the girl was judged the winner.

I asked Tania’s friends if they had enjoyed it. “Not really,” said Katie, running long nails through blonde hair, looking uneasy. “It was a bit degrading, to be honest.”

A few weeks later I met Cara again — a diminutive Barbie with long, bleached hair and a gold alice band, a low-cut cream sweater over jeans. She was spending the day with her best friend, Helen Reynolds, who was at university, studying law, in Leeds.

Cara is one of the country’s top glamour models, posing in white stockings or pink thongs for the Nuts Boob Bonanza or Blondes in the Buff special, and Helen approves of her line of work.

“Women are now in much more dominant roles in society,” Helen said, “and they can say, you know what, I’m doing this for myself. It’s something to be proud of.” How does that make other women feel? “Well, if you’re happy with how you look, why shouldn’t you be happy with how other women look? Cara chooses to do this work and it’s in a magazine that people choose to buy — you don’t have to buy it.”

Cara’s nose wrinkled with scorn when she described a feminist group who had picketed a Babes on the Bed night: “To be honest, I think it’s stupid, the feminists coming round, throwing eggs and that, I think they should grow up. The girls that are entering are entering out of choice, they are not being forced, and so let them.”

Other people who have worked to make glamour modelling more acceptable in the mainstream — the magazine editors and television executives who have driven this shift in our culture — told me much the same.

They are, very often, men and women who, like me, came of age in the 1980s when the sniggery British culture of Benny Hill and page 3 seemed to be on the way out — when young women didn’t talk about stripping as a means of empowerment or look to lap dancers for their role models; they went on Reclaim the Night marches and read Andrea Dworkin.

Phil Hilton, the launch editor of Nuts, told me: “You can’t put old-fashioned sexual politics from another era on to this generation of young women; you have to understand how things have changed. This raucous, fun-loving, working-class culture, this take-me-or-leave-me attitude, it’s really taken off. It’s the women who are driving this. It’s all changed. Once glamour modelling might have been about some fat sinister guy with a cigar tricking young girls into taking their clothes off, but now women are queuing up to do it — they’re as drunk and lairy as the guys.

“Honestly, I think that to people of my age it’s bizarre to see young women being so confident sexually at such an early age — the amount they drink and the sexual confidence they seem to have; this incredible hedonism. Basically, these girls see that before marriage and children, these are their golden years — they want to have a whole bunch of adventures. That’s their choice.”

Although for many people this culture may seem quite marginal, it may be more mainstream than we think. In 2006 a survey among teenage girls suggested that more than half would consider being glamour models and a third of them saw Jordan as a role model.

The images and attitudes of soft pornography come flooding in at young women from every side of the media: monthly magazines, weekly magazines, tabloid newspapers, music videos, reality television and almost every aspect of the internet, from social networking sites to individual blogs.

The pressure to become sexualised weighs on younger and younger girls. Rachel Gardner is a youth worker in Harrow, northwest London. An enthusiastic, articulate woman in her twenties, fashionably dressed on the day I met her in a bright tunic top over skinny jeans, she sees herself as a feminist.

“The rise of girl power — I loved all that,” she said. “I thought it was great fun — but then I began to see another, negative side of it. I was running a disco in the local church for kids in the 1990s and one day a nine-year-old girl came in, I remember it vividly, wearing a miniskirt, a tiny boob-tube-type top, high boots and heavy make-up. I was shocked seeing this nine-year-old girl like this, a child in a woman’s outfit; she still had a child’s body.”

When the girl’s mother came to pick her up, Rachel talked to her. “I said, ‘I just want to question what your daughter’s wearing because I think it’s drawn attention from the boys tonight and I don’t think your daughter can handle that’. Her mum said, ‘Look, I wear this kind of stuff’, and I said, ‘Yes, but you’re an adult’. But it hit me: she was totally unaware that her daughter couldn’t deal with it in the same way.”

The change in our culture was all too apparent when I talked to Alevel students at a sixth-form college in London — a dozen teenage girls, a mixture of black and white, middle class and working class, British by birth and immigrants. We discussed their ideals for their sexual lives.

I do not want to exaggerate the changes in our society. Just as in Jane Austen’s time there were women who had sex before marriage and lovers after marriage, so there are women now who hold themselves in readiness for their one true love and seek to remain eternally faithful to him.

But whereas in Austen’s time the promiscuous woman was presented in the dominant culture as marginal and to be condemned, now a girl who has decided to delay sexual activity until she finds a true emotional commitment can be pushed to the margins and silenced.

One of the sixth-form girls told me she felt there was too much pressure to have sex and another chimed in: “Yeah, there is pressure — if you’re a virgin and you’re at a party and the college stud muffin is interested, then there’s pressure to just do it, just do it.”

But they were silenced by the laughter of three slender, well dressed, beautiful white girls whose voices were louder than the others. “Mean girls”, I scribbled in my notebook. Not that they were actually mean, but like the mean girls in the film of the same name they were so confident that the others in the group seemed subdued beside them.

Their sense of certainty clearly arose partly from their sexual self-confidence. When I talked to them afterwards in a cafe, they were easy about telling a stranger how uninhibited they were in their happily promiscuous sex lives. Bella, who had had 22 sexual partners — 13 men and nine women — started telling me how she sometimes has to prove to men that she really is not looking for love and romance.

She told me a male friend had come to see her the previous night and got drunk with her: “Somehow we got on to how much sex I had. He was trying to convince me I had had a traumatic childhood and that was why I had so much sex. I had to keep saying no, I actually am happy. I like having this much sex. I love it.”

Her friend Ruby agreed: “I don’t have boyfriends. I have sex with men, but I wouldn’t call them boyfriends.” Is that just how things are now or is that how she wants to run her life? Ruby looked at me scornfully. “It’s how I want to run my life, basically,” she said, taking another sip of her frappuccino.

Far from feeling isolated by their desire to remain promiscuous, these girls took heart from the way the sexually explicit culture around them reflected and reinforced their behaviour. “It means we can talk about anything we want to when it comes to sex,” said Anna, the third girl, “and no one tries to make us feel ashamed or whatever.”

They talked about the television series and books that reflected this uncommitted lifestyle back to them. Sex and the City was the first television programme they mentioned with approval. “You know that bit when Miranda got an STD and had to ring all the people she had ever slept with and she was totting them up and couldn’t believe how many it was — I thought, that’s me one day,” Bella said, smiling.

When I asked what they thought of the way magazines publish pictures of women purely as objects, Ruby raised her eyebrows and said witheringly: “What do I think? I think, wow, she’s hot. Or not.”

Would they ever think of glamour modelling, pornography or lap dancing if they needed the money? Ruby stepped in again: “Yes, I would. I wouldn’t do it for the money. I don’t need an excuse. I would do it for enjoyment. I’d enjoy it.”

The only impediment in their desire to “run” their sex lives was the unfortunate fact that many of the men they met wanted something more. “Men always go soppy on me,” Ruby said.

Bella agreed: “I met this guy in a pub the other night. We had sex once and ... it’s pathetic. We’re lying there ... and he says, ‘Are you going to sleep with other people?’ I thought: who are you; why are you asking me this? Obviously I’m having sex with other people. He decided he loved me; he was texting me and phoning me for days. After having sex once! What’s that about?”

Wasn’t it possible he might have felt a real connection? The girls looked at me, shaking their heads — that isn’t how sex works.

“You don’t get so heavy with someone after one night,” said Ruby.

“I’m much more attracted to the guys who don’t really give a shit,” said Anna.

“God, yeah, there’s nothing attractive about a guy who gets all emotional on you,” said Bella.

All three had learnt, as they saw it, from the vulnerabilities of women of previous generations. “My father left my mother,” Ruby told me, “and since then she hasn’t really had a relationship. He’s had lots of girlfriends. I never want to be in that position. Never.”

In previous generations many women had to repress their physical needs and experiences in order to fall in with social conventions, and feminism was needed to release them from the cage of chastity. But what I heard from some women is that they feel there is now a new cage holding them back from the liberation they sought, a cage in which repression of emotions takes the place of repression of physical needs. Many young women seem to feel their lives have been impoverished by the devaluation of sex into exchange and performance. This new culture of shags and threesomes, orgies and sex with strangers seems to be replacing the culture in which sex was associated with the flowering of intimacy. Although it is so often associated with liberation, I am not convinced it is what all feminists were seeking. I kept hearing a frustration from the young women I interviewed, all the sadder because it is often hidden.

Carly Whiteley, 17, emailed me after she had read an article in which I criticised lads’ magazines. I visited her home town to meet her. She was slight with a purple streak in her blonde hair and a silver stud in her nose. “It just starts so early,” she told me over an orange juice.

“From when I was 11 or 12 I remember going round with my friend to her boyfriend’s — he was older than us — and he would be watching porn on his computer. And then we always had stuff like FHM [magazine] at home.

“But it’s everywhere. I mean, if you put on the television, every other music video has half-naked women dancing around. It’s just like you don’t have any choice — you feel that as you grow up you have to start dressing that way, acting that way — that there is no other way to behave.”

She is angry that she is growing up in this milieu. “It’s all casual sex now; nobody talks about love,” she said. “I wish I could have a real connection with a man. But there’s no courtship any more. That’s all dead. It’s just immediate. There’s no getting to know someone; you’re expected just to look someone up and down and make the decision just like that: are you going to have sex or not?

“There’s no time to build up a connection. The idea is that you have sex first, but how are you meant to create the kind of excitement, the emotional connection, after that? I want to have an emotional connection with a man. I want it to be there with the feeling that I am equal to him. I do think I’m as good as a man. But I don’t want just this no-strings sex stuff.”

A woman I’ll call Esther, who is 24 and works in sex education, also feels it is time to challenge this culture. Her desire for something different makes her feel very isolated.

“The group of girls I was friends with at school were all sexually active from a very young age,” she said. “I remember when a friend of mine lost her virginity. It was on a park bench. She was 14. There was huge pressure on me to join in with that kind of behaviour, but I didn’t. That wasn’t what I wanted from sex. That kind of casual relationship isn’t right for me, but I was made to feel like a freak right through school and university because of that.”

With the young women that Esther works with now, she feels “there is a total detachment from emotion when they talk about sex. One young girl I was working with told me about how she had lost her virginity in the school field at lunchtime one day. She said she had thought: the bell’s about to go — I may as well do it now or I’ll not do it.

“There was this complete detachment from the act itself and what it means. This isn’t rape or sexual abuse, but it isn’t a positive experience. In some ways I find it quite disturbing. But people have so normalised this kind of sexual activity — it’s totally emotionless. The act itself is no longer about intimacy; it’s no longer about communication.” Esther feels that the culture she sees around her is not a true fulfilment of what feminists fought for in the 1960s: “People say that this kind of behaviour began in the 1960s, but I’m not sure. I get the feeling that the ideal of liberated sex in the 1960s was about really loving and valuing your body and being proud of it. Now there is a toxic mix, for young girls, of feeling they have to be sexually active but also feeling very critical of their bodies. So they will have lots of sex, but without pleasure or pride.”

Esther wants “to be with a man who sees sex as an intense experience, a unity, and people just don’t now — sex has become completely devalued”.

Or as Rachel Gardner, the Harrow youth worker, said to me: “Feminism is now seen as sexual promiscuity, which is such a narrow view of empowerment. Liberation isn’t just about promiscuity. For some women, liberation may be about having a new sexual partner every week, but for a lot of women it will be about finding someone to be with for your whole life, growing together over the years, and you never hear about that any more.

“What liberation means to me is that in any sexual relationship you are cherished and you cherish.”

© Natasha Walter 2010 Extracted from Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, to be published by Virago on February 4 at £12.99. Copies can be ordered for £11.69, including postage, from The Sunday Times BooksFirst on 0845 271 2135