Opinion

The Great Firewall of China

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The Guardian has been running a series investigating the extent to which our lives are recorded and analysed (see www.guardian.co.uk/bigbrother/privacy).

Of particular interest is the capabilities of governments and companies to view and read e-mails, and to log websites visited. Several e-mails have asked about the hushmail e-mail account I use for this column. Well, www.hushmail.com offers a free e-mail service with the ability to encrypt and protect your e-mails so that they can't be read.

Public Money, Private Grief

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Will the last privatisation fiasco please turn off the lights?

For how much longer, one wonders, can New Labour cling to its fixation with privatisation? In the last year alone we have had two really spectacular disasters--with Railtrack steaming off into oblivion and the part-privatisation of National Air Traffic Services taking a nosedive within weeks of taking off. But we have also watched incredulously a whole procession of PFI calamities, of which a Capita-inspired cock-up over the vetting of teachers and a complete balls-up over A-level results are but two examples in the past few weeks.

Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game

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Watching the world cup was a game of two halves.

As I watched the England-Denmark game, my daughter asked me why I was so 'anti-English'. Another friend looked at me in that 'you miserable killjoy' sort of way, and reminded me that it was just a game, and the whole thing was pretty harmless. And I have watched the games, and enjoyed them. But I don't think it's quite that simple.

Down and Out in Havana

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Is Cuba free from capitalism? Chris Harman looks at the novels of a writer who does not think so.

Sometimes a novel can engross and repel you at the same time. Certainly that's what happened to me with Pedro Juan Gutiérrez's 'Anclado en Tierra de Nada' ('Anchored to the Land of Nothing')--the first part of his 'Dirty Havana' trilogy.

It repelled me because it belongs to the genre of what might be called 'lower depths' fiction. This wallows in the dirt, squalor, drunkenness and mechanical, dehumanised sexuality of those who live on the margins of society, where the artistic petty bourgeois merges with the lumpenproletariat.

Blair's Paranoid Androids

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New Labour stooges appear to be incapable of winning a trade union election.

Something of a pattern appears to have been emerging in recent elections for the top positions in key unions. For an organisation which feigns indifference to anything which might be going on in such supposedly obsolescent realms, New Labour has developed a fixation with the outcome of these votes bordering on the paranoid. In the process, it has resorted to a degree of trickery worthy of old Uncle Joe.

Jackson's Hole

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New Labour's favourite union leader is facing problems in the forthcoming election.

A remarkable transformation appears to have overtaken Sir Ken Jackson in recent weeks--morphing from his customary incarnation as great lummox into the D'Artagnan of the TUC. Presumably this is not entirely unrelated to the fact that Sir Ken finds himself up for election again, an experience he had not entirely bargained for and one which he has not undergone since 1995.

To Vote or Not to Vote?

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It was wrong to call for a vote for Chirac against Le Pen in the recent French elections.

One of the fascinating things about the present period is how it brings up old issues in a new form. Take the debate which erupted last month among the French revolutionary left about how to react after Le Pen came second in the first round of the presidential election, and knocked out the Socialist Party prime minister Jospin. It was very much a rerun of the arguments over the Popular Front between revolutionaries, Communist Party supporters and social democrats back in the 1930s.

A Race into the Gutter

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There's nothing respectable about appeasing the Nazis.

Many years ago I wrote in this column about a judge who had admonished a victim of rape for being provocatively dressed which, in his view, meant that she had contributed to her own downfall. Rape, I argued, seemed to stand alone as the crime where the victim was seen to share responsibility.

However, I was wrong--for it is increasingly clear that victims of racism, victims of tyrannical governments, those who take desperate flight from their homelands, are also being blamed for their own predicament.

Silence is Golden

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Thatcher has at last agreed to shut up, although Tony Blair has now continued her legacy.

It was not the foot of Beckham, the last breath of some old royal or even Kylie's bottom that was the cause of most interest in trivia corner over the last month. No, it was the Trappist vow of silence that we are being assured Margaret Thatcher will keep from now on that caught this columnist's imagination.

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