Categories
Power Dynamics

New Labour’s Legacy

Results from recent regional and local elections should bring a few cheers to those, like me, who have long distrusted New Labour. While the letters in Tony Blair nearly form an anagram for Tory Plan B (if we replace i with p), David Cameron certainly follows in the deceptive footsteps of our Tone, as the gutter press once affectionately referred to the current prime minister. In Scotland the SNP has done surprisingly well, but thanks to last minute scaremongering by the terrible twins of the Scottish tabloid press, the Daily Record and Scottish Sun (both fervently anti-independence and ultra-Blairite) and possibly a wee bit of election rigging here and there, New Labour have just one fewer MSPs than the minority SNP administration. In Wales Plaid Cymru have made impressive gains outside their traditional heartland, but once again New Labour has hung on with the prospect of a coalition with the LibDems. So basically despite New Labour getting just 27% of the vote nationally, it's business as usual for the Blairite agenda. However, one thing is certain New Labour's lead actor is moving on to pastures new as a keynote speaker on the US conference circuit. More important New Labour under Gordon Gold-dumping Brown may well not win the next election, paving the way for Mr Cameron's entry into the world of international theatrics.

To understand New Labour's legacy we need not look so much at the legislation they did pass, some mildly positive such as devolution for Scotland and Wales or the introduction of the minimum wage and some negative such as greater surveillance of private citizens, but at their role in enabling the underlying socio-economic and governmental trends that have transformed our society. All these trends trace their roots to changes that took place long before Tony Blair had even become leader of the Labour Party, the unrestrained consumerism of the late 1980s, which in turn had been a reaction to the pessimistic realism of the late 70s and early 80s. The early Thatcher government preached "back to the basics†at school, better housekeeping with large reductions in social welfare spending, privatisation and high interest rates forcing thousands of traditional manufacturers into liquidation. For a few short years some on the left saw this as a sign of the final collapse of British capitalism. Gone were the days of jobs for life handed down from father to son, tight-knit communities built around single industrial activities like car manufacturing or coal mining. We saw the birth of a new service-oriented economy centred around the naked accumulation of capital and the shameless promotion of a consumerist lifestyle. Of course, the welfare state of the 60s and 70s did not disappear, it simply adapted to a new era and to meet new challenges. Indeed after the initial Thatcherite shock therapy, the Tory establishment began to sing a more reconciliatory tune. Despite the worst fears of some pundits state education and the beloved National Health Service survived the Thatcher and Major years albeit with a steady drift towards private provision, but few doubted where the Tories' true allegiances lay.

So what are the greatest achievements of Tony Blair's junta:

  • Transfer of interest rate varying powers from a nominally elected Chancellor of the Exchequer to a bunch of unaccountable bankers at the Bank of England. How anyone could spin this as mildly progressive is beyond me, yet Blairites and Brownites alike frequently cite this as the foundation stone of the period of unprecedented consumer growth that followed.
  • Introduction of tuition fees for higher education, while simultaneously encouraging corporate and state entities to require degrees from everyone from hairdressers to environmental safety officers (read refuse disposal workers) and promoting absurd Mickey Mouse degrees.
  • Selling half of the UK gold reserveswhen the yellow metal was at an inflation-adjusted historic low, leading to a temporary boost for the US dollar,weakening the Euro and losing over £2 billion in 5 years .
  • Deregulating TV advertising and allowing the merger of major commercial networks.
  • Granting planning permission to large supermarkets to open more and large superstores, further eroding the dwindling market share of independent family-run stores.
  • Deregulating gambling and booze.
  • Deliberately subverting EU attempts to regulate adult pornography, gambling and violent video gaming, both multi-billion pound industries linked to UK businesses though often officially based abroad.
  • Regulating the culturally ingrained habits of millions of private citizens such as smoking.
  • Increasing surveillance of private citizens.
  • Overseeing a huge rise in the prescription of psychoactive drugs for mood disorders, while co-financing the promotion of new personality disorders.

Austere back-to-basics Thatcherism transitioned seamlessly to Cool Britannia Blairism, a non-entity as Anthony Blair himself has no real convictions other than his career, through the medium of MTV-style culture. Millions had been conditioned to associate homophobic, Tory-voting, church-going besuited businessmen with the old guard, and thus positively welcomed the new guard of casually dressed supercool metrosexual advertising execs. People see these products of the nouveau riche as somehow progressive, reminiscent of rebelliously philanthropic movie stars re-enacting the cultural revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. If there is any remnant correlation between conservative values and tastes and class, then we'll find much more old-fashioned mores among the provincial working classes and lower echelons of the traditional managerial classes, than among the emerging globalised ruling elite, stretching from Glibraltar-based gambling tycoons to CEOs of funky new media companies. The money is in fun culture, not in what we tend, disparagingly, to call Victorian values. Apparently it is easier to manipulate the masses if they are lulled into a false sense of joy and diverted from critical analysis of the doctrinal system. For some progress is measured in terms of the effective presentation of abstract rights and outlawing outmoded nasty habits and pursuits. So if progress means gay marriage, smoke-free pubs and an end to fox hunting, you'll be superficially pleased with New Labour's record. Instead we have dysfunctional family units with kids increasingly isolated, over five million adults on psychoactive drugs with side effects far worse than cigarettes and nearly one billion animals slain every year to meet our voracious demand. In this context New Labour's progressive achievements are very minor indeed and pale in comparison to their services to the US-centred corporate and military establishment, especially their friends at GSK, Tesco, BA Systems and KPMG to name but a few.

Categories
All in the Mind War Crimes

On The Nature of Violence

Consuming re-enactments of violence in various forms has long brought considerable pleasure to large number of people, especially but by no means exclusively, males. Quite clearly many residents of middle class suburbs in towns and cities across the prosperous world are relatively shielded from the real-world physical violence that millions experience on a daily basis in much of the world, but with extraordinary levels of intensity in regions where wars of resistance and internecine conflict rage. David Edwards of Medialens quite correctly contrasted the almost daily massacres in Iraq with the occasional school and office shoot-outs in the US and Europe. 36 dead i the Virgina Tech massacre is a tragedy, sure, but hundreds slain day in day out is an affront against humanity. However, many who have moved from some of the world's worst conflict zones to the obsessively consumerist dystopia of the wider American empire feel ironically under greater threat.

Violence means much more than the simple exertion of physical force with the intent to maim or kill others, it means the exertion of physical, sensory, mental or economic force to deny others of their livelihood, whose definition varies according to cultural expectations. To make a simple example, the only difference between machine-gunning a family of African subsistence farmers and evicting the same family from their land while failing to provide them with alternative means of sustenance is immediacy. In the former scenario they die instantly, in the second they starve slowly. So is society as it has evolved recently in the UK become more or less violent?

Nominally, it may have actually become less violent. Parents seem much less willing to resort to physical force to rein in their offspring, mindful of the consequences if their sheer frustration leads them to overstep the mark. As noted elsewhere crime statistics rely heavily on classification and reporting, but based purely on calls to national helplines there has been a huge rise in parents falling victim to physical abuse by their sons and daughters. The mass media, including the liberal establishment's BBC, also seems preoccupied with the spectre of child abuse, especially when attributable to outmoded institutions such as the Church and where the blame can be placed clearly with sad sexually deprived individuals who unleash their fantasies on the innocent. As usual such a narrow focus misses the details of a much bigger picture. Child abuse is an abstract concept. Certainly extreme deprivation leading to severe malnutrition, life-threatening disease and violence leaving permanent physical and psychological scars affect a person's long-term potential.

However, to the surprise of many wishful thinking do-gooders, back in the 70s school kids often preferred a quick dose of corporal punishment to the prospect of several hours detention or humiliation in front of their parents. This doesn't mean corporal punishment is good, but may often in the real world be viewed as the lesser of two evils. Seriously, how many children ever ended up in hospital as a result of excessive corporal punishment? Now compare this with the number hospitalised as a result of school or street fights. If teenagers are drawn into a subculture of pervasive recreational drugs, having to resort to theft or prostitution to feed their habit, who should we blame? The parents, society or some alleged genetic weakness in the kids themselves? Increasingly social workers and health professionals turn to the third explanation, but often blame controlling or traditionally strict parents. To compete in today's superficial social rat race, parents need to act and look as cool as the media role models their kids aspire to. To win your teenage daughter's trust, you may need to undergo cosmetic surgery or simply let her have her way when friends invite her for a night out on the town. In a community where most children respected their parents and were not under media-induced peer pressure to participate actively in a deceptively named fun culture of all night raves, life was easy for sensible parents whose only wish was to steer their children away from danger. But Blair's Britain is not like that. Open your eyes and ears in any shopping centre, remove yourself temporarily from your early 21st century bubble and you'll soon realise you're surrounded by technicolor, high-fidelity bullies unleashing incessant doses of none-too-subtle psychological torture. “Heh, you, you're not as cool as these dudes!â€ÂÂ. If you dare to complain about the unbearable rap beat in a clothes store or, as I did once, in a book store, expect to be either ignored or if you insist to receive a mildly reassuring talk from some lowly shop manager about marketing. In any case be in no doubt, that your aversion to a non-stop blur is your problem, not theirs.

Violence may be defined, at least according to the free dictionary bundled with my computer:

  • Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.
  • Strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force : the violence of her own feelings.
  • The unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.

Based on the latter two definitions, provocative imagery and noise intimidate as much or even more than physical force. The media like to remind us of the importance of mental health, but fail to examine their own role in adversely destabilising our sense of self. The media frequently practices another intimidatory form of violence, humiliation by association. Over the last week the media has successfully whipped up hysteria against the alleged abductor of a three year old girl on holiday in Portugal with her well-to-do parents. In the recent past we've seen masses of Sun-readers engage in animated protests, sometimes resorting to violence, against real and alleged paedophiles. Thus anyone unknown to the community at large and whose behaviour may at times seem suspect may fall victim to a paedo witch hunt. That's an awful lot of people in our atomised island state, where close-knit communities are largely a distant memory. Only a few months ago the media lynched a lonesome resident of Ipswich falsely accusing him of the murder of five prostitutes and publishing details of his MySpace activities. Should we arrest the remaining millions of alienated adults whose social life has been reduced to virtual tomfoolery. Why not arrest all those idiots on person.com who broadcast masturbation live from their Webcams? All this socially divisive fear-mongering generates intimidatory violence against anyone who fails to meet societal expectations and withdraws into an alienated existence. Violence is anything that harms people mentally or physically. No society is devoid of violence, but where conflict is minimised, so to is violence in all its forms. Otherwise psychological intimidation and alienation can soon manifest themselves physically either through self-harm, drug abuse or direct attacks against the person.

Categories
All in the Mind

In Association with Pfizer

Someone queried the other day whether any evidence linked Stanley Feldman, co-author of Panic Nation, with Spiked Online. A quick Web search reveals a number of his articles and references in the infamous GMO-promoting, pro-Nuclear, pro-Drug and pseudo-libertarian Web site. But then something caught my attention, right on the front page. Spiked Online are running a What Inspired You? event, purportedly to raise awareness of scientific innovators, but conspicuously sponsored by Pfizer, manufacturer of Viagra, Zoloft and numerous other recreational and mind-altering drugs. Some of us may recall that back in the early 1980s Frank Furedi's gang posed on the extreme left in the Revolutionary Communist Party, frequently intervening at public meetings of the somewhat larger neo-Trotskyite group the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), but focusing its recruitment drive on ambitious students. They've certainly taken some controversial stances, often geared to attract dissidents from the thinking left. Around 1987-88 they regrouped around their glossy Living Marxism magazine and simply became the Living Marxism group, later rebranded as LM Mag. However, gradually they abandoned all pretence of Marxism, whatever that meant anyway, and began to hone a line of unbridled human potential whose greatest threat was posed by a culture of fear. They jumped on the bandwaggon of activists and journalists seeking to expose media bias over the 1990s' Balkan civil war and more provocatively challenged the orthodox media's Hutu-bashing analysis of the tragic internecine Rwandan slaughter in 1994. Unlike most peace activists, they concentrated their energies not on opposing war per se, but on attacking certain biases prevalent among the wishful thinking left, e.g. UN and NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia was largely welcomed by left-leaning Guardian columnists and much reasoned opposition to the 1999 aerial bombings of Kosovo and Serbia proper swallowed much of the mainstream propaganda over the inherent evil of Serb nationalists.

Only four years later in early 2003, following military intervention in Afghanistan, millions came out on the streets to voice their opposition to the pending invasion, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was an infinitely greater thug than Slobodan Milosevic. Large sections of the thinking public had at last begun to question the emotional rhetoric over humanitarian intervention. More important, the intervention in Kosovo, sold successfully on humanitarian grounds, far from ushering in a new era of interethnic harmony and an end to ethnic cleansing, had put in power a bunch of xenophobic militants who relied on NATO troops to keep the peace and caused the exodus of tens of thousands more of Kosovans of all ethnic groups a fact the subservient British media failed to hide from the public. While NATO Had spent billions on intervention in the former Yugoslavia, it had turned a blind eye to a civil war in the newly renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo inflicting 3-4 million deaths, in the aftermath of Rwandan democide (okay pedantics here, but to call it a genocide assumes one ethnic group sought the elimination of another, while in reality the distinction between Hutus and Tutsis was more of class or caste than ethnicity). Just as the public began to question the benefits of military intervention to tackle conflicts with economic and, dare I say, environmental causes, Frank Furedi's gang seemed more preoccupied with attacking Green Fascists, health fanatics and anyone else who challenges corporate technocracy, but in a deceptively counter-current way. Thus their campaign against smoking bans appeals not only to libertarians and critical thinkers, fed up with the media's obsession with one cause among many of cancer, but also reinforces their key message that technology can always undo the damage caused by other technologies. Worried about lung cancer, well why not wait a while for technocrats to give you a new lung? Worried about the carcinogenic effects of E-numbered food additives, why not wait for the latest and greatest anti-cancer wonder drug? The future is bright, the future is .... shiny happy people consuming pharmaceutical products supported by peer-reviewed research. More disturbingly, based on personal experience in online discussions, ex-RCPers tend to belittle those who cast doubt on technocratic claims (e.g. SSRIs have greater benefits than side effects and safe for long-term use) with accusations like "loser" or words to that effect. In essence, they consider green fascists to have their own agenda, namely to deny the masses of huge technological advances.

Stanley Feldman works at University College London, whose students, a captive audience for big pharma propagandists and mainly from wealthy backgrounds, flock to Planet Organic and tend to avoid most of the junk Mr Feldman claims is relatively harmless. It would seem that the RCP brigade live in a bubble filled with paranoid health freaks, rather than in the much larger British reality where millions of happy shoppers happily fill their supermarket trolleys with TV-advertised junk and visit their GP only to receive a prescription for some of Pfizer's or GSK's most lucrative products. Maybe people are panicking for the right reasons, but thanks to so much corporate disinformation often identify the wrong targets.

Categories
Computing

Implementing an Ajax-like Interface: A Quick How-to

In the Web development world there's been a lot of buzz about an acronym many of us previously associated either with a brand of detergent or a Dutch football team. In a nutshell Asynchronous Javascript And XML means inserting new information into a Web page without reloading the whole page. Traditionally Dynamic HTML would use complex Javascripts to replace parts of a page with data that had already been downloaded or was based on user input. That's fine when managing small amounts of data, but if you needed more records from a large data source you had to make a call to the server and effectively reload the page. One common workaround used frames, but these break the unified concept of a seamlessly integrated Web interface and rely on Javascript to keep the disjointed parts together and prevent casual visitors from viewing only one frame. Whole books have been written on the wonders of Ajax, but given the ongoing state of flux in the evolution of Web browsers and competition from proprietary technologies requiring plug-ins such as Adobe's new Flex framework for Flash or Microsoft's Silverlight, many just think Ajax is more trouble than it's worth.

Surprisingly having read Christian Heilmann's excellent "Beginning JavaScript with DOM Scripting and Ajax†it took just a little experimentation to integrate Ajax into this site, so all internal links effectively load within the same page. Consider a 1000 word article or 6000 characters embedded in HTML. This would be unlikely to occupy more than 12KB the equivalent a small compressed jpeg image. By contrast reloading the whole page with linked header graphics, stylesheets and Javascripts may require way over 100Kb and although modern browsers cache such data, they still need to check for changes on every page reload.

The first challenge in deploying Ajax is capturing the correct variant of the XMLHttpRequest object, effectively XMLHttpRequest for Firefox, Safari, Konqueror, Opera and even IE7 and ActiveX for IE5.5 and IE6 (although the latter will still work with IE7, but is disabled by default due to ActiveX's inherit vulnerabilities on the Windows platform). Only users of IE Mac 5.2 (not updated since 2001), IE 4 and the old Netscape Navigator are left out, but we have a fallback solution for this dwindling pool of users. The second is to provide valid Web links that Search engines and Ajax-incapable browsers can use.

First the Ajax script:

The first module can be applied to many projects. Basically it takes two parameters the id attribute of target element (in quotes) and the URL of the script you wish to call in the background. This may be any script, static or dynamic supported by your server. It then simply replaces the content of the target element with the content returned by the script.

/* 
Adapted from Christian Heilmann's Beginning JavaScript with DOM Scripting and Ajax 
*/
simplexhr = {
doxhr : function( container, url ) {
   if( !document.getElementById || !document.createTextNode) {
      return;
   }
   simplexhr.outputContainer = document.getElementById( container );
   if( !simplexhr.outputContainer ){ return; }
   var request;
   try{
      request = new XMLHttpRequest();
   } catch ( error ) {
      try {
      request = new ActiveXObject( "Microsoft.XMLHTTP" );
      } catch ( error ) {
         return true;
      }
   }
   request.open( 'get', url );
   request.onreadystatechange = function() {
   if( request.readyState == 1 ) {
   simplexhr.outputContainer.innerHTML = '<h3>loading...</h3><hr /><p>Please wait while the server retrieves the requested information.</p>';
   }
   if( request.readyState == 4 ) {
      if ( /200|304/.test( request.status ) ) {
      simplexhr.retrieved(request);
      } else {
      simplexhr.failed(request);
      }
   }
   }
   request.send( null );
   return false;
   },
   
   failed : function( requester ) {
   simplexhr.outputContainer.innerHTML = '<p>Could not retrieve the requested data.</p>';
   return true;
   },
   retrieved : function( requester ) {
   var data = requester.responseText;
   simplexhr.outputContainer.innerHTML = data;
   return false;
   }
}

Strictly speaking we should use DOM scripting for the next bit, but we need workable links within the href attribute and an easily solution we can switch on and off dynamically, e.g. via browser detection to cater for those with non-Ajax-enabled browsers (practically IE5.2 Mac, IE Win < 5 and the old Netscape Navigator < 5. The simplest solution is to call the Ajax function within the onclick attribute. If Javascript is disabled the onclick attribute will be ignored. Moreover, the server can detect problematic browsers and, if the Ajax function is stored as a server-side variable, simply not include it for these browsers. In my PHP script I use a class variable $this->ajaxLink, which is set to ' onclick="ajaxLink();"' for compliant browsers and '' for others (a dwindling minority).

function ajaxLink(el) {
   remSelected();
   if (el.href!='#') {
      var script = el.href;
   }
   else { var script = el.title; }
   el.className='selected';
   var concat='&';
   if (!/?/.test(script)) { concat='?'; }
   script += concat + 'temp=1';
   simplexhr.doxhr('body-text',script);
   window.location='#head';
   return false;
}
function ajaxSearch(type) {
   if (type==2) {
      var f = document.asearch;
   }
   else {
      var f = document.search;
   }
   var w = f.searcht.value;
   var script = 'search.php?temp=1&w=' + escape(w);
   if (type==2) { 
      var sm='all';
      var rb=document.getElementsByName('smode');
      for (var i=0;i

This is called in compliant browsers with the following code:

<a onclick="ajaxLink(this);" href="/article.php?id=4567">Interesting Article</a>

The word this in parentheses refers to the current element and lets us grab and reset its attributes. First we get its href attribute and append the query string '&temp=1' so that the script only returns the article without the header, menu and footer. We also set its class to selected so it can be highlighted appropriately in the menu via the stylesheet. Lastly we set the return value to false.

Removing Inline onclick Event Handlers

We could convert this to a DOM-scripted version by adding a special attribute, ideally by assigning a special value to rel attribute such as "internal" to denote links we wish to load asynchronously in the targeted element.

<a rel="internal" href="/article.php?id=4567">Interesting Article</a>

Next we should replace our $this->ajaxLink (or the equivalent in your server-side language of choice with ' rel="internal' and use this DOM script to rewrite add the onclick event.

function addAjaxLinks() {
   var aTags=document.getElementsByTagName('a');
   for (var i=0;i<aTags.length;i++) {
      var rel=aTags[i].getAttribute('rel');
      if (rel=='internal') {
         aTags[i].onclick=function() {
         ajaxLink(this);
         return false;
      }
   }
}
window.onload=addAjaxLinks();

An additional function handles the search utility and I've yet to implement an Ajax solution for posting messages. Some might argue this solution avoids the X for XML, that would involve slightly more code and only really for long listings rather than simply pulling in data from scripts designed to return HTML.

Lastly the PHP script file would return either just the body text, if Ajax is enabled, or the whole page. Here's my solution:

<?php
include('/inc/blog.inc.php');
// If temp get variable is not set, set to 0
if (!isset($_GET['temp'])) { $_GET['temp']=0; }
// If temp equals 1 set $articleOnly parameter to true and remove
// header, menu and footer from returned script
$articleOnly = intval($_GET['temp'])===1 ? true:false;
// If mode is not set, use 'page' as default
if (!isset($_GET['mode'])) { $_GET['mode']='page'; }
// Cast the id to 0
if (!isset($_GET['id'])) { $_GET['id']=0; }
$_GET['id']=intval($_GET['id']);
// The 'Blog' class  calls all classes required 
// to build the page from a database query.
$page = new Blog($_GET['id'],$_GET['mode'],$articleOnly);
?>
Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Scientific Orthodoxy and Scientific Fact

Open letter to George Monbiot

I just read your recent piece (3 May 2007) on Alexander Cockburn's anthropogenic climate change scepticism and his reliance on one scientist. Let me first state that broadly speaking I'm with you on this one. Irrespective of our exact scientific interpretation, it seems obvious that the exponential rise in humanity's overall impact on our planet's delicate environment (consumption and population) has had some effect whose full impact only future generations will experience.

However, your approach equating climate change deniers with 9/11 truthers worries me for several reasons. The only thing the two groups really have in common is that they challenge the received wisdom as popularised by the mainstream liberal media such as the Independent and the BBC. However, let us be in no doubt the former group enjoys large backing from corporate lobbies and pitifully little support from grass roots activists, while the latter group receives only limited funding from a few isolated entrepreneurs, but much more support from a large grass roots movement including many relatives of those murdered in the 9/11 attacks. Indeed it cannot escape my attention that in another recent piece (Guardian, 6 February 2007) on the purported insanity of 9/11 truthers you favourably quoted a Counterpunch investigation to explain how intense heat caused by burning aircraft fuel could have distributed evenly along 400m long piles causing the towers to collapse vertically from the bottom rather than bend and topple at the point of collision. Indeed please just consider the long list of those who doubt the official conspiracy theory (in which Osama Bin Laden ordered 19 mainly Saudi Arabian hijackers to kamikaze passenger jets into strategic buildings of US military and financial power) includes not only David Ray Griffin, who has extensively dissected the official 9/11 report and answered just about every scientific point you have attempted to make, but also Richard Heinberg, auhor of the Party's Over, Democrat representative Cynthia McKinney, Michael Meacher and Andreas von Bülow, former State Secretary in the German Ministry of Defence. History teaches us that the establishment has never had a monopoly on empirical truth, but your reply to Cockburn's article focuses not on scientific analysis of substantive facts, but on suspect concepts such as “peer-reviewed†research or a “scientific consensusâ€. Peer review merely means that research has been reviewed by someone else in a position of trust employed by corporate or state institutions. Peer-reviewed research has been used to support the safety of genetically modified organisms with terminator genes, deny the side effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or claim that new behavioural categories such as ADHD have genetic or polygenic roots (cf. Jay Joseph, the Missing Gene). The overall bias of peer-reviewed research tends to reflect the vested interests and bias of its funders. Currently biotech and pharmaceutical multinationals represent a huge lobby perfectly prepared to spend billions in funding research and public relations to sustain whatever scientific thesis suits their interests. Pitifully little research money is channelled into investigating the psychosocial causes of childhood behavioural problems or the dangers of genetically modified crops, so dissident researchers are soon lampooned as mavericks or even as conspiracy theorists, whose work has not been peer-reviewed. If you go against the grain in today's world of intermeshed corporate, state and non-governmental entities, your work simply does not get peer-reviewed, little more than an establishment rubber stamp.

Second we should take a quick look at Alexander Cockburn's motivations. Honestly I think he's an old timer who sees progress in terms of extending to millions of the world's poor the same prosperity we take for granted. As a brand of commercialised libertarianism has accompanied this steady rise in material living standards, some mistakenly see progress as evolution towards society in the most enlightened middle class enclaves of the US and Western Europe. Consider the cultural microcosm of the aspiring intellectual elite who congregate in the Starbucks where I sit at the heart of a larger Borders store. Most would almost definitely consider themselves progressives, yet all are indulging in a form of politically correct consumerism, reassured their coffee, or at least some of it, is fair trade and very aware of most of the issues you raise in your regular Guardian columns. Indeed your books are often on prominent display alongside those of Naomi Klein. They have, if you like, been peer-reviewed or rather vetted as safe for public consumption unlikely to rock any boats.

Science does matter and it is surely too important to leave to a technocratic elite in bed with a historically deceitful corporate establishment.

By all means polemicise against climate change deniers, but please do so based on science and do not suggest that only an elite in the pay of big business and big government have a monopoly over scientific analysis. Despite all the rhetoric we hear from very mainstream political and business leaders, I do not see any abatement in orthodox economists' addiction to continuous material growth. The government are forging ahead with plans to expand airports and provide more gambling opportunities with an economy based on abstract financial, marketing and personal services nobody really needs. The same ruling elite who preach a “don't worry, be happy and trust us†philosophy, also invest millions in belittling, subverting and as a last resort criminalising dissident intellectuals. Just because some popular conspiracy theories are plainly wacky, does not mean all unorthodox perspectives should be tarnished with the same brush or are even conspiracy theories at all. Let us not forget in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair described the “war for oil†slur as a mere conspiracy theory circulating on the Internet. On 9/11 it is the establishment, not their naysayers, who entertain the public with a grotesque conspiracy theory defying the laws of physics. The establishment can no longer deny the reality of climate change, because you cannot lie very long about medium-term weather forecasts and the human impact on the environment is undeniable to all but the most hardened followers of Frank Füredi's Spiked Online sect (who incidentally agree with you on 9/11, but never mind). As for motivation, while it may seem superficially plausible that US imperialism in the Middle East may have induced a bunch of extremists to perpetrate atrocities against the civilian American population and some have hypothesised that US has been drawn into a war that it cannot win, copious evidence, which you have yourself quoted, shows that US plans to conquer the world's largest source of cheap and easy fossil fuels in the Middle East and Central Asia predates the first (Persian) Gulf War at a time when the US oil imports accounted for less 50% of domestic consumption. Their actions are entirely consistent both with their high-consumption economic model and with the peak oil scenario (which the likes of Alexander Cockburn and Greg Palast also deny). History is replete with examples of governments instigating and perpetrating atrocities against sections of their citizenry to engender a climate of war and hiding this reality from their own population. Without such levels of government deceit the huge crimes against humanity such as Nazi Holocaust or the largely forgotten forced famines in Belgian Congo, Ukraine or British occupied Bengal in 1943-44 would not have happened.

If we accept that Bush and Blair are not motivated by high humanitarian ideals such as spreading democracy and women's rights, defeating tyrants or ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, then we have to weigh the merits of two explanations for their behaviour: the systematic pursuit of power or inherent contradictions of our current model of development. I submit that the driving force behind the current wave of imperialist conflict is ultimately the latter, but inevitably engenders the former with increased levels of ferocity as supply fails to meet growing demand for limited resources on a finite planet.