Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Stress "may speed up cell ageing"

Found this today on the BBC's website. The University of California is obviously one of those that commissions research into the bleeding obvious.

However, for any skeptics out there, can I furnish you with some conclusive evidence of my own? Before teaching = 17 grey hairs; after seven years teaching = approximately 12 457 and counting (I swear I felt another couple sprouting up after second year this afternoon).

I rest my case...

ID cards

Opposed to ID cards? Then take a look at this...

Monday, November 29, 2004

Ukraine

I've got a horrible feeling that the Ukrainian poll crisis is shaping up to be the next international issue that the various factions in the broad church of the centre-left will tear itself apart over. The most recent arena for this has, of course, been the Iraq war where both antiwar and prowar commentators have been firing the epithet "fascist" at each other across the blogsphere, amongst other places.

The reason, it seems, is revenge for Fallujah - or to be more precise, revenge for the jibes directed at the prowar left from their antiwar comrades for their relative silence during the recent American assault there. Now, the prowar left clearly sees in the Ukrainian crisis an example of what they've been accusing their counterparts of over Iraq : failing to support a democratic movement simply because it is backed by the Americans. At Harry's Place, for example, someone in the comments boxes (sorry, can't provide a link) suggested that we should all wear orange scarves as a show of solidarity - coupled with some jibes about the antiwar left's relative silence over this issue. (I wouldn't be doing this, I explained, because I'm from Glasgow and things like orange scarves tend to be misinterpreted here).

Now, as far as I understand the situation, there isn't much doubt that this election was "pure shady" in the extreme - and even if it wasn't, the fact that about half the country and now a majority of the Ukrainian parliament think it was means that enforcing the result as it stands wouldn't bode well for the future of constitutional democracy in that country. And even if this dispute can be reduced to a simple American vs. Russian imperialism - I know who I'd rather be colonized by.

But despite putting my sympathies largely with the pro-US and pro-EU opposition, I don't think matters are quite so simple, as David Aaronovitch reminds us in Sunday's Observer. For one thing, the Ukraine has had a history of being divided between the Hapsburg Empire and Russia - and this has left a legacy which includes differences in language, religion and, most importantly, allegiance.

In these circumstances, a support for democracy shouldn't blind one to the fact that "winner-takes-all" elections are not really the best model for divided societies (assuming you don't want them to pull apart, that is) and one would hope that out of this, a more "consociational" model might develop.

Also, there is the Russian problem. I'm not suggesting that a fixed election should be ignored simply to placate Russian feelings of insecurity - but on the other hand, break open a history book and then tell me that Russian insecurity - especially when it regards her neighbours - is nothing to worry about.

In short, I'm arguing this should be handled sensitively.

And we can rely on Bush and Putin to do that, can't we?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

British Liberty R.I.P.

If it isn't dead already, British liberty is certainly one sickly patient and in the Queen's speech are proposals to give its injured body another good kicking.

Once upon a time, conservative Home Secretaries had an amusing tendency to become more liberal as they were "mugged by the reality" of working with the British penal system. Then came Michael Howard - shackler of pregnant women; scourge of immigrants fleeing persecution. His "prison works" speech at the Tory Party conference cemented his reputation as the most right-wing Home Secretary in living memory.

That was before the advent of the New Labour Guardians who have brought us charming legal revivals such as the detention of terrorist suspects without charge or trial and have overseen a legal situation where evidence from torture is admissible in a British courtroom - provided the torture isn't done by us, of course.

If this wasn't bad enough, consider what has now been proposed, in the Queen's speech and elsewhere: a defendant's prior convictions are to be heard in court prior to the determination of guilt; drugs tests for those accused of other crimes; a national police force (to combat terrorism, what other reason could there possibly be?); and every British subject is to have a barcode tattooed on their arse before they can buy or sell...

Ok, the last one's a bit of an exaggeration; I mean the proposed introduction of ID cards. That Jack Straw, himself an ex-Home Secretary with impeccable authoritarian credentials, was reported to have civil liberty concerns about the scheme should cause anyone who doesn't use "liberal" as a swear word to pause for thought.

ID cards are not, as some argue, a simple rationalization of our routine need to identify ourselves in various situations with bank cards, driving licenses, birth certificates and the like. All these are context-bound: I show I have the right to drive with my license; to travel abroad with my passport; my right to residency with my tenancy agreement. What is sinister about a national ID card is that it goes beyond any of this; it is to show those in authority that I have the right to be.

While there is not at present any proposal to oblige people to carry it at all times, I can't imagine this government forking out an estimated £3bn without introducing this at later date - to combat terrorism, no doubt we'll be told.

And we all know which sections of our community will be disproportionately required to verify their non-terrorist, non-bogus asylum-seeker status, don't we?

Meanwhile, don't forget to do your bit for National Efficiency: eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day; do at least two-and-a-half hours of healthy exercise a week; don't drink more than twenty-eight units of alcohol per week; and, of course, don't smoke - especially in the presence of food.

Make you live longer?

Dunno - but it'll certainly feel like it.

Update: Found this fun site linked at Dead Men Left - have a looksee...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

China - Websites

Is anyone doing the China topic in International Issues? If so, check out the excellent Fabian's Hammer. (if not, that probably means you're still doing South Africa - why?)

The posts have a wealth of information that you should find useful - particularly in relation to the "Human Rights" section of the course. (Also, I've found the Amnesty site very useful - like this, which would also link in for the brave few that are doing the EU as well.) More specifically, you might want to have a swatch at Democracy Lite: Powell's parting thoughts on China - which includes sections from two interviews with the out-going secretary of state.

Also, there's Simon World - which you can reach through Fabian's side bar or by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Fratricide in the SSP?

It won't have escaped your attention that Tommy Sheridan, the charismatic leader of the SSP, has stepped down as party leader - the ostensible reason being that his wife is expecting their first child.

Now, nothing raises skeptical eye-brows more quickly than when a politician declares that he (almost always he) wants to "spend more time with his family" and in Mr. Sheridan's case, this routine response appears to be justified. Lurid stories concerning Tommy's private life appeared in the vile News of the World (I haven't read them - and I'm not providing a link; you read them if you want to). The SSP were, apparently, not too happy - not about the allegations per se - but with the manner in which Tommy Sheridan dealt with them (yeah, right!)

Exactly what is going on is far from clear: a number of stories are circulating about the other party members being unhappy at the SSP's "one-man band" image, and also about Sheridan's recent emphasis on nationalism, which some feel has compromised the party's uncompromising socialist stance. But it is becoming increasingly obvious that the SSP are not happy campers, as anyone who saw the piece on Newsnight Scotland would testify.

You don't have to be a SSP supporter - or even a socialist - to be rooting for Tommy Sheridan in his legal action against the News of the World, one of the more putrid emmissions from the Rupert Murdoch stable (and it's a strong field in which to compete). Yet the show of solidarity with Tommy from his SSP comrades was distinctly under-whelming. The SSP has opted, for the time being, to have a collective leadership, so the party that had six MSPs and one leader now has five. One of the new leaders, as the Herald reports it, gave this heart-warming support for her embattled comrade:

"Ms Leckie said there was no official party backing behind any legal challenge and when asked whether she personally supported Mr Sheridan, she replied: 'I don't know what it is you are asking me.'"

Ouch!


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Just in: Rice to replace Powell

According to ABC, Condeleezza Rice - Bush's National Security Advisor - is to replace the out-going Colin Powell as secretary of state. The latter's departure, although entirely predictable, has caused concern amongst US foreign policy watchers who still believe in old-fashioned values - like diplomacy.

Anyway, as it relates to Ethnic Minorities in the USA, surely the notion that African-Americans are reluctant to register to vote because of the lack of ethnic minority representation has to be abandoned? Bush has the most ethnically-diverse cabinet in US history, yet - as the piece below outlines - African-American support for the Democrats, already well-established, has actually hardened in this election.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Election 2004 in figures

This is based on CNN's figures, which you can find here.

Gender: Men voted for Bush by a margin of 11 points, whilst women voted for Kerry by a margin of 3 points.

Race: Amongst whites, Bush had a lead of 17%; Kerry had a whopping 77% lead amongst African-Americans, 9 points amongst Hispanics, and 12 points amongst APIs.

Age: Only 18-29 year-olds were more likely to vote Kerry (9 points); anyone over 30 showed, on average, a 6% disposition towards Bush.

Income: Those earning less than $15 000 were almost twice as likely to vote for Kerry; at the top end of the income scale, the picture is almost completely reversed, with those earning more than $200 000 almost twice as likely to have voted for Bush.

Education: Surprisingly, this appears to make no consistent impact on voting behaviour: only those with some post-graduate study and those who haven’t completed high school were more likely to vote for Kerry.

Religion: Protestants were 19 points more likely to vote for Bush. Kerry’s Catholicism doesn’t appear to have helped him much; Catholics were 5% more likely to have voted for Bush – perhaps reflecting the relative popularity of the Bush campaign’s anti-abortion stance.

Within Protestantism, white Evangelicals were 57% more likely to vote Bush; a considerable margin, although not as homogenous as many commentators thought. This picture is reinforced by the stats measuring religious devotion: while those attending church at least once a week were much more likely to vote Bush, the margin is not as high as some of the more lazy commentaries would have you believe. Jews were 49% more likely to support Kerry – in keeping with previous elections, although the Democrats appear to have slipped amongst this constituency by around 9 points.

Marital/Family status: Married people 15% more likely to vote Bush – rising to 19 if they have children as well, although it is perhaps significant that this falls to an 8 point lead if these children are under 18 (perhaps those who have children who have left home are enthusiastic about “family value” as a concept). While Kerry predictably leads amongst gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals, (54 points) a surprising 23% voted for Bush.

Iraq: The statistics here show what a difficult issue this was – for Kerry that is: those who approved of the war have 6 points over those who did not; surprisingly, slightly more people thought Kerry’s attacks on Bush in the campaign were unfair than Bush’s attacks on Kerry; and 55% thought the invasion of Iraq was about the War on Terror as opposed to 42% that did not.

Terrorism: This was also a very difficult issue for Kerry. 71% of the electorate described themselves “worried about terrorism” and on this, Bush had an 18-point lead. This, despite the fact that a majority thought the invasion of Iraq had made terrorism worse.

The economy: Like terrorism and Iraq, this illustrates Kerry’s weaknesses. Despite the fact that 52% thought the economy was “not good or poor”, and despite the fact that 51% had no confidence in Bush’s ability to improve the situation, voters had even less (53%) confidence in Kerry.


Only amongst African-Americans did Kerry solidify and expand his voter base; amongst Hispanics Bush has gained slightly, as he has with Jewish voters. “Moral values” came top of the list of voter priorities, with 22% stating this to be the most important issue – but 20% had the economy/jobs as the most important. When this is combined with the other “bread-and-butter” issues, such as taxes and health care, the scale of the Kerry campaign's failure becomes clearer: despite the fact that the Bush administration has presided over an enormously rapid fiscal deterioration, Kerry hasn’t been able to persuade voters that Bush's tax-cuts for the rich have harmed the economy. Neither, for example, did the Kerry campaign tap into the colossal 93% of voters who were either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the availability and cost of health care.

It’s still the economy, stupid…

Monday, November 08, 2004

Election 2004: Dumb and dumber?

In the aftermath of the Presidential election, much of the analysis has focused, inevitably, on why Kerry couldn’t defeat a President who has brought America into one of the most divisive wars since Vietnam; presided over the biggest haemorrhage of jobs since the 1930s; combined tax cuts for the rich with what the Economist described as the “fastest fiscal deterioration in US economic history” – along with a mangled syntax and delivery which must surely cause even his most ardent supporters to cringe?

Fairly typical was this piece from Simon Schama in the Guardian. The gist for those who understandably feel they have better things to do with their time is that “Godly America” is bigger than “Worldly America” and the former are red-necked, isolationist, homophobic, sexist, gun-toting, Muslim-bating – and, above all – stupid. And it was these, who are so tragically less civilised than himself, Schama thinks, that won the election for Bush.

As someone who wanted Kerry to win, this is a happy and convenient world-view: the reason my preferred candidate didn’t prevail, I have to understand, is simply that the primitive mid-Westerners are all suffering from false-consciousness through watching too much Fox News, and/or have been indoctrinated by Evangelical pastors because they’re too stupid to listen to the likes of Richard - if I were chocolate, I’d eat myself - Dawkins who joined in the Guardian’s understandably deeply unsuccessful attempt to tell American voters what was in their best interests.

But this view is, I would argue, is largely false and if Democrats persist in this self-satisfied “analysis”, they’ll keep losing. The truth of the matter is that Kerry supporters broke one of the central tenets of political combat: never “misunderestimate” your enemy.

One of the fatal assumptions of the Kerry campaign was to believe their own rhetoric about crazed fundamentalist Christians taking over the Republicans and pushing for an extreme anti-abortion position. But fundamentalists only account for 25% of Bush supporters – making them around 12-13% of voters. Moreover, it is simply inaccurate to assume that all fundamentalists want abortion criminalized. (It's pure speculation but I also suspect that even some of the hard-core pro-lifers would flinch at making all abortion illegal, once the implications of this position have sunk in.) In other words, most Americans and most Republicans favour a women’s right to chose, so if the Democrats are so clever why didn’t they realise that this is an issue that they could afford to tackle head-on? It was frustrating watching Kerry failing to do over this issue what you have to do in American politics: emote and personalise. Why didn’t he bang the metaphorical table and challenge Bush by saying something like: "How would you feel if your daughter died in a back-street botched abortion, a**hole?”

Or the economy: some have argued that working class Bush supporters have been brain-washed by evangelicals into supporting economic policies that are to their detriment. Nothing to do with the fact that Kerry wasn’t offering an alternative to neo-liberalism, then? As I mentioned briefly, Bush’s economic policies have been something of a disaster – but what was Kerry offering? Tweaks around the edges; a bit more protectionism here, a mild increase in taxation there. Shouldn’t they consider the possibility that the dumb proles actually know perfectly well that a change in Administration ain’t gonna change their circumstances one iota? Could they not be bothered to harness a critique of the economy to “family values” – perhaps by making the point that rampant, free-markets are bad for family life?

Or the war: what can one say except next time it might be an idea if they pick a candidate who actually has a position on these sorts of issues? And why did any Democrat allow themselves to be associated even a wee bit with Michael Moore’s appalling Fahrenheit 9/11? It comes over like The Hardy Boys Discover Capitalism, and is the most ahistorical documentary I have ever seen. Yet a number of Kerry supporters were drooling over this bilge, which is as stupid and insular as anything that spews out from the Christian Right, even claiming that this would swing the election for Kerry.

I could go on but I’m getting depressed. In some ways, the news of Election 2004 isn’t all bad, in that I don’t believe that America has lurched to the right: over-weening corporate power is treated with suspicion, the majority support a woman’s right to chose, a majority want better access to health-care and so on.

The bad news is that, with this being true, a Bush victory could have been avoided – had the Democrats not run a campaign that was incohate, lazy, patronising, and, above all, stupid.
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