Shorter working day = happier, healthier workers

May 20, 2016

An experiment in Sweden seems to indicate that a reduction of 2 hours to the working day leaves workers “brimming with energy” and has “sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health”.

Nurses at the Svartedalens retirement home have worked six-hour days on an eight-hour salary. They’re part of an experiment funded by the Swedish government to see if a shorter workday can increase productivity. The conclusion? It does.

Arturo Perez, a caregiver at the retirement home, used to come home frazzled from work.  His eight-hour stretches of tending to residents with senility or Alzheimer’s would leave him sapped with little time to spend with his three children.  But life changed when Svartedalens was selected for a Swedish experiment about the future of work. In a bid to improve well-being, employees were switched to a six-hour workday last year with no pay cut. Within a week, Mr. Perez was brimming with energy, and residents said the standard of care was higher.

“What’s good is that we’re happy,” said Mr. Perez, a single father. “And a happy worker is a better worker.”

The experiment at Svartedalens mandating a 30-hour week seems to have worked wonders. An audit published in mid-April concluded that the program in its first year had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health.  Daniel Bernmar, leader of the Left party on Gothenburg’s City Council, which is running the trial and hopes to make it the standard, said:

““We’ve had 40 years of a 40-hour workweek, and now we’re looking at a society with higher sick leaves and early retirement.  We want a new discussion in Sweden about how work life should be to maintain a good welfare state for the next 40 years.”

But not everyone in Gothenburg sees it as a success.  If Gothenburg, let alone Sweden, were to adopt a six-hour workday, opponents say, the economy would suffer from reduced competitiveness and strained finances.

Maria Rydén, Gothenburg’s deputy mayor and a member of the opposition Moderates party, says bluntly: ““We can’t pay people to not work.”  Which, on first glance, seems obvious.  But think about it: why can’t we people not to work?  Because companies else where would undercut us?  Well, no, if they also adopted this freer, healthier way of doing things.

The world is so in love with Capitalism, and with the idea of buying workers’ labour as cheaply as possible, it dare not imagine alternatives.  Because Capitalism has been the system for so long, it must continue, say its advocates.  That same way of thinking would ultimately claim that feudalism and slavery are the right way to run the economy as they survived for many hundreds of years.

We need a radical rethink about these matters.  Or we will continue to be slaves to the Capitalist economy that sees individuals as units of work-hours to be exploited as efficiently as possible.  Why don’t we live in the long-heralded science fiction utopia where increasing mechanisation frees us up to enjoy ourselves?  The robots exist.  But it is easier to hire, exploit and fire human workers who have few employment rights.

Maybe it would be good if Skynet took over.  At least they don’t pretend that we are equal to them.  Our managers like to make out that we’re all in it together.  What a joke.


HAPPY 2016 DAMN YOUR EYES!

December 31, 2015

disconekt2015 has been a wonderful/horrific/insane/peaceful/war-ridden year.  In other words, just another average year in the wondrous 21st century.  Many thousands of people have been murdered by armies, national and terrorist.  Most of the victims have been black and brown.  But some were white, which has, as usual, caused the most outrage in the “developed” world.

2016 is probably going to be the first year of a protracted war in Syria and Iraq, ISIL vs “The Good Guys” (or ISIL vs “The Bad Guys”, depending on where you shit).  Kick-started to a large degree by the murder of hundreds of white people in France, not so much by the murder of thousands of brown people elsewhere.  Not surprising, of course.  It’s just how war works nowadays.

Anyway, screw negativity.  For some people, 2016 will be a good year.  In that spirit, please raise a glass of champagne or toxic sludge and make a toast:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  WHOOOOH!!!

 

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World War One Commemoration: Atrocities, by Siegfried Sassoon, uncensored version

August 4, 2014

As everyone is commemorating the start of World War One (“The Great War”, “The war to end all wars”) today, I thought I’d do my bit. The famous war poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a poem “Atrocities”, one of the many he wrote concerning the first world war. When it was published in 1919, it was censored to hide any anti-war sentiment it might contain. It was republished in uncensored format in July 2014. You can hear actor Samuel West reading it here. And here’s the text.

You bragged how once in savage mood
Your men butchered some Saxon prisoners; that was good.
I trust you felt no pity as they stood
Patient and cowed and scared as prisoners should.
How did you kill them? speak now, don’t be shy,
You know I love to hear how Germans die
Downstairs in dug-outs, ‘Camerad!” they cry;
And squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.
I’m proud of you; perhaps you’ll feel as brave
Alone in no-man’s land when no one can shield you from the horror of the night.
There’s blood upon your hands
Now go out and fight.
I hope those Huns will haunt you with their screams
And make you gulp their blood in ghoulish dreams.
You’re great at murder; tell me, can you fight?

Never forget.

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UN votes to recognize Palestine as an “independent state”… and?

December 1, 2012

So, the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as an “independent state”. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the motion. As the Guardian says:

The 193-member assembly voted 138 in favour of the plan, with only nine against and 41 abstentions. The scale of the defeat represented a strong and public repudiation for Israel and the US, who find themselves out of step with the rest of the world

But this is very much just a symbolic gesture. Palestine still isn’t a full member state of the UN with voting privileges. It is now a “non-member observer state”, on a par with the Vatican; but its new status gives Palestine more rights, such as acceding to the International Criminal Court. And the word “state” means a lot to the Palestinians, who see this as support from all round the world for its ambitions to become a fully independent nation.

Of course, the vote has not led to any changes on the ground. Israel is still right in the face of the Palestinian authority, and authorising the illegal building of settlements in occupied territory. In fact, Israel just authorised the building of new housing for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem, where Europe and the US have long called on Israel not to build, and where Israel wants to diminish the Palestinian percentage of population. “New housing for Jews”… that phrase makes my blood run cold. This is bare-faced apartheid, for which most of the world shunned South Africa for many years. How can anyone support such a fascist Israel? Yes, Israel has genuine security issues – but so does the rest of the world. That can’t be used as a just reason for such belligerence.

And it gets worse. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, told the BBC that the Palestinian move was a “massive violation” of the Oslo peace accords, and that if the Palestinian Authority attempted to use the new status to declare an independent state then Israel would have to act and may go so far as “annexing territory” – ie invasion and waging war. It’s obvious that Israel has no wish to make peace with the Palestinian people; it wants to wipe them out, like a gardener might destroy a troublesome ants nest. When will the US stop supporting this belligerent, fascistic Israel?

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“Killer robots should be banned…” But I want one!

November 20, 2012

Image

The Terminator – coming to a war zone near you!

 Human Rights Watch has released a 50-page report on the subject of “fully autonomous weapons” that could kill without any human interaction required – in other words, killer robots, like Arnie in The Terminator.  And surprise surprise, the report (catchily entitled Losing Humanity: the Case Against Killer Robots) says that they should be banned – now, before anyone pours too much money into such a project.

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, the HRW arms division director. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimising civilian deaths and injuries.”  The robot would have to make ethical judgements as well as tactical and strategic decisions: for instance, are some civilian casualties acceptable weighed against the battle outcome.  At the moment these kind of decisions are made by human officers on the battle ground.  But can a computer be fully capable?

And then there’s the scenario of a malfunctioning robot soldier.  Do we really want to risk having a heavily armed killer robot running amok?

There are already basic semi-automous weapons systems already in use – for instance the drone aircraft that are famous for firing hellfire missiles at innocent Afghan wedding parties, and the Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapons System) that is used to protect ships from missiles. And in December 2010, the South Korean firm DoDAAM unveiled the Super aEgis II  an automated turret-based weapon platform that uses thermal imaging to lock onto human-sized targets up to 3km away. It is able to function during nighttime and regardless of weather conditions . No one has yet created a robot soldier, but several countries are actively looking into the subject, such as the US, China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain.  The HRW report claims that experts believe operative machines could be ready in 20 years if not sooner.  And who knows what is going on in top secret defence projects?  They’re not called “top secret” for nothing.

So the report recommends that international treaties banning these kinds of weapons should be banned now, before any country gets too involved in such a project – no government wants to scrap a project that it’s already invested billions of dollars into.

“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals,” Steve Goose said. “As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up.”

But it’s hard to see this idea stay unexplored.  Automation is invading everyday life – why shouldn’t it be used on the battlefield?  I can certainly imagine the robot soldier being sold to the public as a way to avoid seeing our boys coming home in body bags.  But what will it be like for the people who are on the front line: not just soldiers, but the people who actually live in the war zone?  Mistakes are made by human soldiers – what could a fritzed Terminator be capable of?

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Oi you! Think yer hard, eh? Think yer hard, you effing muppet?!

April 30, 2012

There’s a lot of so-called “hard men” around who actually are just bigger and stronger than average, and who like to throw their weight around to “impress” their so-called “mates”. Well in my book, beating on smaller, weaker people doesn’t make you hard – it makes you a bully, trying to make up for your teeny dick by hitting people you know ain’t gonna do you over.

Ad it ain’t just me who thinks this. Read what an OSE officer wrote on the subject – that’s a guy who parachuted into Nazi-controlled Europe during the Second World War, to kill Nazis and organize resistance. That’s right: let’s see what a truly brave man has to say about you beefy bully-boys.

I am a good enough shot. But when it comes to physical violence I am repelled. I wish it were still an age when a man could carry a sword or a rapier without attracting attention. I am no true-blue Britisher. I believe that fists are the most uncouth, the most unsatisfactory, and the most cowardly of weapons. A Corsican whom I had known and admired in Lyons, had shown me a foreigner’s viewpoint regarding the absurd British or Anglo-Saxon boast that we are the cleanest fighters because we use our fists.

“Two men are enemies,” the Corsican said. “They decide to kill each other. One is big. The other is small. They fight with fists. The small man cannot get near the big man. The small man is the most nimble. But the big man chases him. Eventually, he should catch him, and kill him. Now give to each man a knife. The small man is still at a disadvantage. The big man has more reach. It’s difficult to penetrate his wide guard. But the small man is the more nimble. His thrusts are the quicker. And knife-fighting is a question of courage. Perhaps the big one feels faint when he thinks he may die. Or when he sees blood. The battle is more even. It is more dirty to fight with fists than with knives. To attack another man with fists is a dirty trick, requiring little courage, but only bestial strength.” This Corsican was biased, being an expert with the knife he carried and ate and shaved with. It was a long curving blade, with a delicately curved, black bone handle, I recall. But I thoroughly agreed, and agree with his sentiments. To hell with adventure novelists who decry every man who draws a knife and lionise honest John who fights with his fists.

~from Maquis, by George Millar

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting we should all go round tooled up with blades, ready to stab each other at a moment’s notice. I’m using Millar’s words here because Millar was a truly brave man. He volunteered to parachute into Nazi-controlled France and who accepted the fact that each day might be his last. But the bully… he’s less than nothing. The kind of stuff I wipe off my shoe before going indoors. “Hard men”? I shit ’em.

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Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Funnily enough: no.

March 31, 2010

My recent post on the documentary film “Children of Gaza” has provoked a couple of comments from someone calling him/herself “Facts First” (both to the post referred to above and an earlier one also about the Israel-Palestine conflict). While “Facts First” is most eloquent in his/her support for Israel and dismissal of Hamas, he/she has basically restated the US and Israeli position that Hamas is a terrorist organization and has no legitimacy as a government. This has persuaded me that I need to state the truth about Hamas’ legitimacy both in the Palestinian territories and the wider world.

In 2006, Hamas beat its opposition party Fatah in a free and fair election. This resulted in Hamas forming a government with Fatah. Unfortunately, supporters of both parties continued to fight each other.

As well as this factional conflict, Hamas’ position as a legitimate government partner was undermined by the USA and EU’s refusal to recognize a government that contained Hamas – their view is that Hamas is a terrorist organization and therefore unqualified to govern.

Matters came to a head when Fatah seized control of the West Bank territory and Hamas did the same in the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt, with US and EU support, then imposed a political, economic and humanitarian blockade on the Gaza Strip, again because Hamas is a terrorist organization.

Many critics of Hamas, including the US, the EU and “Facts First” make much of Hamas’ terrorist status. They tend to claim that Hamas’ status as a terrorist organization is a fact.

They are wrong. It is simply their opinion that Hamas are terrorists. There is an equal argument that Hamas is a legitimate political party qualified to govern the Palestinian territories.

For instance the Council on Foreign Relations says of Hamas:

Is Hamas only a terrorist group?

No. In addition to its military wing, the so-called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas devotes much of its estimated $70-million annual budget to an extensive social services network. Indeed, the extensive social and political work done by Hamas – and its reputation among Palestinians as averse to corruption – partly explain its defeat of the Fatah old guard in the 2006 legislative vote. Hamas funds schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. “Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. The Palestinian Authority often fails to provide such services, and Hamas’s efforts in this area—as well as a reputation for honesty, in contrast to the many Fatah officials accused of corruption—help to explain the broad popularity it summoned to defeat Fatah in the PA’s recent elections.

Although the USA, the EU, Israel, Canada, Japan and others call Hamas a terrorist organization, there is not an international consensus on this matter. The United Kingdom and Australia consider Hamas’ independent military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to be terroristic, but accept that Hamas does have legitimacy. Norway is resolute in its position of recognizing Hamas as a legitimate party, and Russia also refuse to regard Hamas as terroristic because Hamas was elected democratically.

Considering the above facts, one has to wonder what exactly Israel was trying to achieve when it attacked Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, and with its ongoing blockade on the region. Israel claims its goal is to remove Hamas’ ability to operate as a terrorist organization. But this has involved the destruction of civil infrastructure in Gaza, including police stations, prisons, power and water supplies, roads, communications, commerce – and hospitals, schools and residential buildings have also been attacked. This all looks like an attempt to destroy Hamas’ ability to provide the services mentioned by the Council on Foreign Relations in the passage quoted earlier – and as no one else can provide those services, this means Israel is trying to destroy Gaza as a functional territory. Exactly who are the terrorists in this scenario?

“Facts First” has criticized my use of Wikipedia as a source of information on this subject. And I’m well aware of Wikipedia’s problems. But I think the article on Hamas is well researched, with a large and diverse number of references, and is very balanced in its presentation of the facts. In fact, I believe it is the article’s thoroughness and neutrality that makes “Facts First” dislike it so much – he/she would prefer to use US or even Israeli sources of information instead as they are more likely to present the “facts” the way he/she likes to see them. But don’t take my word on the Wikipedia’s Hamas article’s balance and thoroughness – read it and decide for yourself. And please, feel free to comment here on what has been said (and also what has not been said). All I ask is that you take “Facts First’s” pseudonym as advice: let’s stick to the facts rather than deal in opinion. And I contend that one simple fact is: Hamas is not a terrorist organization just because some governments think that’s so.


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