Friday, June 30, 2006

Thought for today

Just because something is inevitable, that doesn't mean it's desirable.

Those who disagree tend to be those who think a 'fact is what's nasty', as Moses Herzog said to Sandor.

Or have I drunk too much already? Have a good weekend, folks.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Neo-Puritans

Rubbish, aren't they? Call themselves censorious? Hmph! Mary Whitehouse would have been ashamed of them.

Meanwhile, Will has a couple of examples of how the other end of the spectrum can result in some serious damn mind loss. (Not work-safe - unless you work in a bordello - or perhaps a library.)

Young people today - I just don't know. Flabby and degraded the lot of them. I propose a national discipline strategy based on press-ups and cold showers.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for Guantanamo:
"Mr Bush said last week that he would like to close the camp, but was waiting for direction from the supreme court. "I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with," he said after meeting European leaders in Vienna last Wednesday."
Now you've got it - so close it.

4 out of 10 doctors

Believe health care should be rationed according to moral merit rather than clinical need.

And who should decide whether a patient is morally deserving? Why doctors of course. Didn't you know that having the technical knowledge about how our bodies work gives you the status of a priest? Where have you been?

Eve Garrard has more here.

Theories of history

Chris Dillow argues that Blair is operating with an essentially Marxist theory of history and concludes that, "in policy terms, there's more evidence that Blair is a Marxist than that he's a Christian."

Not only do I think Chris is on to something here, I'd argue that it is not just in policy terms - his rhetoric at times seems to explicitly identify morality as a function of being on the right side of history, rather than the New Testament. I'm thinking of his "Forces of conservatism" speech a few years ago. You know, the one that said the conservatives - they - had shot Martin Luther King, killed Bambi's mum and stuff. A vaguely chilling speech, I thought at the time.

Often he gives the impression that ethical living consists of recognising that everything is 'new' and that helping in the 'renewal' process is the duty of right-thinking people. In contrast, loving your neighbour seems to have slipped down the list of priorities somewhat.

Speaking of history, is it just me that is concerned at the refusal to defend not only works of history on the basis of free speech but the activity of being a historian itself? Is this, this and this indicative of the Marxist tendency to insist that history is a science rather than an art? Or are they drawing on an older heretic-hunting tradition? Could be both but they amount to much the same thing anyway - the refusal to see histiography as part of the general conversation of mankind. More on this later...

Teachers think size matters

From the Scotsman:
"The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the largest teaching union, will hold a ballot on industrial action in the autumn after ministers said they could make no further commitments on the issue before the Holyrood elections next May.

The coalition agreement struck between Labour and the Liberal Democrats after the last election committed the Executive to reducing primary one class sizes to 25 and maths and English classes in the first two years of secondary school to 20."
Pah! I'm not in the EiS anyway but I wouldn't vote for that. Apart from anything else, why would I want to go on strike to defend the idea that smaller class sizes are a Good Thing in English and maths - along with the 'practical' subjects that already have them - but not in history?

Don't get me wrong - all other things being equal, smaller classes are a Good Thing and I doubt there's a single teacher who wouldn't prefer to have them. But would smaller classes across the board 'raise attainment'? By nothing like as much as everyone seems to think it would. I've had plenty of classes of twenty or less. They're more manageable, and generally less smelly but if they have behavioural problems, are bone idle, or truant half the time, I'm not sure class size makes much difference. Primary schools, probably but Secondaries? Nah.

Classes reach a sort of critical mass where the size determines the sort of teaching you do. If you get around 25, any 'individualised learning' technique is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, so with brighter, better behaved classes, you might as well have 30+ for all the difference it makes. And if you wanted proper 'individualised learning' with differentiation for every kid, you'd need classes more like 12 or 15 rather than twenty. The implications of this for staffing would be enormous and that would be money wasted on an educational idea that is a load of hippy crap, if you ask me.

Streaming would be better. Smaller classes for those who for a variety of reasons need more teacher attention and bigger ones for the brighter kids and no need for any extra teachers. Sorted.

Oh and press-ups. We need a national discipline strategy based on press-ups, dammit.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sing if you're glad to be (born) gay?

Peter Tatchell is, rightly in my view, dismissive of the recent various attempts to prove people are 'born gay' - although perhaps for the wrong reasons. For instance, he says:
"The presumption seems to be that straightness is normal and therefore does not need explanation; whereas queerdom is a deviation from the norm and this requires investigation and answers."
I'm not sure he's right about that; the search for the 'gay gene' or whatever to prove that people are 'born gay' is more frequently cited by people sympathetic to the cause of gay rights and is used to demonstrate that this particular orientation is as natural as being born left-handed or ginger-haired or whatever.

While I'm sure Tatchell is right to reject deterministic explanations, it is in any event irrelevant if someone is born gay or not. In this sense, he's right that the attempts to uncover the biological determining factors behind homosexuality concedes far too much to those who believe it is something that requires justification. Even if it could be demonstrated that, for example, that psychopathic mass-murders were 'born that way', no sensible person would conclude therefore that mass-murder is ok. But obviously homosexuality is not like that and those of us that take the 'harm principle' stance believe it is for those who say homosexuality is wrong to make arguments and provide evidence for their view. In this context, whether it is a 'lifestyle-choice', or determined behaviour or a mixture of both is entirely irrelevant, surely?

The town that said no to Tesco

The Gruan has a story about the Suffolk Saxmundham, which resisted having a giant Tesco built. Today local producers and retailers in a glorious display of localism provide delicious, locally-produced organic food, diversity flourishes, everyone knows their neighbours and leave their doors unlocked and they lived happily ever after.

Or maybe not, I don't know - I couldn't be bothered reading the rest of it because here's a thing: another town that has apparently 'said no to Tesco' is Glasgow. Scotland's largest city and there's only two. One wee one right in the centre of town - which isn't much use and another in Maryhill. Everywhere else is bloody Morrisons - and I hate Morrisons, it's complete shite. I mean, what's the point in two for bloody one bin-liners if you have to use two of them to hold anything heavier than an empty crisp poke? I could go on but I'm feeling this is rather sad already.

But it's part of a wider hippy-crap attitude that annoys me. Goddam leisured Guardian-readers with so little to do that they apparently have time to do things like wash terri-toweling nappies, make their own feckin' bread, and trail round about a million shops buying their bleeding groceries. Then they've got time to write to newspapers exhorting the rest of us to do the same? Pah - I don't have time for that shit. Tesco can come and invade Glasgow as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More from the Department for the Bleeding Obvious

The Scottish Survey of Achievement has looked into educational standards in schools, and found that they aren't very good. Now there's a surprise. Specifically it found that a quarter of Primary seven kids are performing below the appropriate standards in English and maths and by the second year of Secondary school, this had risen to a half.

There's a number of reasons for this but most of them flow from the fact that education in this country is run by people who don't believe aims and values ever collide, that no trade-offs ever have to be made.

They are wrong. Take one problem which will affect the delivery of education at all levels. There may well be social integration benefits from having kids whose reading ages can vary from seven to fifteen in the one class, but the educational benefits are less obvious, to put it mildly.

For mixed-ability to work, you need smaller classes. Clearly the government is unwilling to pay for them, so classes need to be streamed. But the idea that schools can serve both the social integration and educational function the government wants them to is an illusion that stems from the belief that compromises never have to be made.

It's the same with discipline. There may well be benefits from more socially-liberal schools but people should stop pretending that there has been no cost to this. Take uniform. It's simply a mechanism of social control and a means by which the teacher can present him or herself as an administer of the rules. It's not the be all and end all, there are other mechanisms but if all of them are to be de-legitimized, people shouldn't be surprised if the medicalisation of social problems and the presence of police officers on school campuses becomes an even more prevalent feature of our educational landscape than it is already.

My own view is that a liberal education properly understood should deliver the pupil from the tyranny of the here and now and has nothing much to do with allowing them to 'do their own thing'. This stands in contrast to the socially-liberal model, which sees schools more as rights-vindication centres and which eschews attempts to impose order as 'oppressive'. But those well-meaning lefties who have advocated this for so long and who dominate teacher-training colleges have to understand what they have wrought. We now have fewer schools with uniforms but many more with metal-detectors. If people think this is an improvement on the past they should say so. But they should stop deluding themselves that the two have nothing to do with each other.

Update: Just had a text from a friend and former colleague who is very upset because her eleven-year-old nephew has been assaulted by some older boys when he was at a Secondary school in Ayrshire visiting from the local Primary.

It was a nice induction day - he was kicked unconscious.

The boys, despite having been previously disciplined for bullying, were only suspended for three days. Three days suspension during the fag-end of a summer term!

This would be an example of the policy known as "social inclusion".

Monday, June 26, 2006

On matters of life and death

There's an interesting contribution to the abortion debate from Roy Hattersley over at comment is free. Unsatisfied with the contributions made by a couple of Catholic clerics to the argument, he argues for a humanist reworking of the terms of the Abortion debate based around an understanding of when the unborn child is capable of independent life:
"Humanists should fill the moral vacuum. We put respect for human life at the heart of our creed and we pride ourselves in pursuing that central tenet of belief with uncompromising logic rather than reliance on mysticism or magic. The rules that should govern an ethically acceptable policy on abortion are not difficult to define. Metaphysics aside, it is reasonable to conclude that the new human being begins when the foetus is capable of independent life. Before that, an abortion is undesirable but tolerable. After that, it is only acceptable in the most extreme cases. They do not include the psychological trauma of the expectant mother. A civilised society does not kill one person in order to alleviate the distress of another, no matter how traumatic it may be."
While those opposed to abortion on any grounds would no doubt accuse Roy Hattersley of compromising the sanctity of life by allowing his argument to shift into shades of grey, it is actually a fairly uncompromising position he takes and one that is probably still relatively unusual amongst those who would identify themselves as being 'liberal-left'.

It's significant that those taking what has traditionally been seen as a more conservative position on abortion feel the need to address even in a limited way the charge that such a stance is either reactionary or misogynistic. Mr Grumpy, for example, commenting on a previous post of mine, describes his growing unease with the typical liberal-left position and goes on to add:
"I am quite certain there are people who know me who, if they read this post, would take it as conclusive proof that I have become a reactionary, misogynistic turncoat. But there's a bit too much at stake to be influenced by the fear of losing friends."
I was brought up in the broad-church of the centre-left and while I still consider myself a member, I'm well past caring if people don't agree. And in particular, should my rejection of the traditional liberal position on this issue be taken as evidence of my apostasy, I couldn't care less because it has never made sense to me.

For instance, and as you can see if you read the comments below Hattersley's piece, a common criticism of the 'rightwing' position is that it is contradictory, since religious conservatives in particular tend to oppose abortion yet support the death penalty. I've never been able to understand how people can possibly consider this a killer argument. Some religious people - Catholics in particular - believe all human life is sacrosanct. But my impression is they tend to be reasonably consistent about this if that's their view and often oppose executions and wars as well as abortions.

And those who don't and support the death penalty, for example - why is this seen as a contradiction? They would argue that a refusal to countenance the use of the death penalty is evidence that human life is not regarded highly enough, since the severity of the punishment is usually held to reflect the gravity of the offence. It's not that I agree with it but it has the virtue of making some sense - which is more than can be said for the notion that the life of the mass-murderer is sacrosanct but that of the unborn child is not.

Anyway, why is consistency held to be such a great virtue? Is this why liberals loved Clinton so much? Because he supported the right to use military intervention if necessary, the right to an abortion and in the necessity of the death penalty, especially during election time. Which is nothing if not consistent.

I used the expression 'abortion debate' although in some senses there hasn't been one. Fred mentions his discomfort at the way in which "the 'woman's right to choose' slogan is chanted at full volume to drown out discussion of the ethical assumptions it rests on." Then there's the "pro-Life" crowd who picket abortion clinics because they love humanity in the abstract but not in particular. There hasn't been a debate between these two entreched camps because theirs is a rights-based position and since rights must be at base absolute, they have been essentially engaged in a screeching competition.

Mr Grumpy is, despite his name, obviously a thoughtful and sensitive sort - more so than me, I reckon. I wouldn't care what people called me or even if I lost their friendship for taking the position I do. Because anyone who believes misogyny is the root of all opposition or misgivings about abortion is an utter fool.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

People losing their damn minds #17

Our illustrious leader Tony Blair without a doubt. Or maybe it's me - I was driving and listening to Radio Four at the same time and could swear I heard comments attributed to the Chosen One that had something to do with the 'political establishment' being too favourable towards the victim rather than the criminal. Then there was something about the need for a 're-balancing' of 'rights'.

Taken at face-value, who could disagree with the sentiment? But it's the detail I'm having a problem with. Who, for example, does this 'political establishment' consist of in this government that has accumulated executive powers to a degree completely unprecedented in this blogger's lifetime; that apparently exists side by side with a Prime Minister who has exercised his powers of patronage to an extent hitherto unseen in postwar British political history; and who chooses to announce new legislation, not in Parliament but from the sofa of day-time TV? Who, in other words, does he imagine has been 'governing' this country since 1997?

And did he really conflate the concepts of a suspect and a criminal? If so, and considering he's trained as a barrister, he has quite clearly lost his damn mind. Because they are two different things. The accused and the criminal, that is. While for someone to have been found to be the latter, they must always have been the former, the former is not necessarily the latter. Or am I missing something? Maybe - after all, I haven't the benefit of a Fettes education.

What is this crap about 'balancing rights'? The innocent are entitled to have their liberties protected. This is why it would be nice if this regime could actually enforce the laws we have already, rather than 'new initiatives' and 'crackdowns' and fucking get-to-bed-early education programmes.

As it would be if innocence could be continued to be imputed to the accused, as has been the custom under English law. How can there be any 'balancing adjustment' in favour of the innocent if the threshold by which the state can deny this status to a British subject is diminished, thereby making it more likely that miscarriages of justice occur?

And why is the concept of 'tough laws' and punishment seen as necessitating a reduction in what the government understands as 'civil liberties'? I just don't get it. They should go Kantian, then they wouldn't have these problems. The innocent are entitled to protection from crime; the victim to restitution; the accused are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise; and the guilty have a right to be punished, this being their entitlement as human beings and as citizens.

It would be a rights-maximising plan, then, if this lot would actually do some governing. Instead they say in effect, "I know we haven't been too good with the powers we already have but if you give us some more, we promise to do better". No, sorry - that's what they would say if they were honest.

But they are not, so they don't. Instead they act as if we are somehow failing our moral duty if we fail to approve of the surrendering of further liberties, despite the fact that they have been demonstrably incompetent at preserving the ones we already possess.

I suppose the damn mind losing syndrome can afflict anyone who has been in power for too long but it extends further than this. I recall a contributor to one of Britain's most widely-read blogs suggesting at election time that people should be ashamed of not voting for a government that has gathered more powers to the executive than either Major, Thatcher, Callaghan, Heath or Wilson.

Curiously, the self-designation of those agreeing with this bizarre notion is 'liberal-left'.

Lost their damn minds, no mistake.

Anthony "God calls me Tone" Blair: a 'Liberal' firmly situated in the force-feeding Suffragettes kinda tradition.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Workplace annoyances

This place is crap. It's boooooooooooring! I certainly don't come here for the banter - because there isn't any. And it's full of orange teenagers with braces (there's a strong correlation between the two, I've found) asking you for fags. Plus it's miles away from anything resembling civilisation.

But top of the annoyance list today is the toilets in this stupid place. There's a solitary male staff 'convenience' that you have to climb about a million stairs to get to and everytime I make the journey, it's either occupied with someone taking a dump, or they have very obviously just left. Every goddam day. This is decidedly inconvenient.

What's wrong with these people - haven't they got toilets at home or something? The only time I ever take a workplace No. 2 is if there's something wrong with me. If I ever stank up the joint in this abominable way, I think I'd have the grace to resign. Or consult my doctor at the very least. They should be ashamed of themselves. How they've got the cheek to emerge from the bog and say hello as if they've done nothing wrong is beyond me.

Roll on unemployment - roll on Thursday. Suggestions of alternative careers would be welcome, although at the moment I'd settle for a job where there's more than one goddam toilet on the premises.

Update: Plus I've got a whole load of 2nd year projects to mark, which I just can't face doing because 95% of them look completely shit. And that's just the front-covers.

The Great Divide: initial impressions

The Guardian has published details of the Pew Global Attitudes Project's poll of Muslim and non-Muslims attitudes to each other in thirteen countries.

It requires careful reading so I'll restrict myself to a couple of early impressions from this rather depressing picture of mutual suspicion and mistrust.

First is the point raised by the Guardian piece, which shows that in their attitudes to 'Westerners', British Muslims are much more in line with their co-religionists in the Middle East, compared to elsewhere in Europe.

One symptom of this is the extent to which conspiracy theories find a receptive audience. In Britain, for example, only 17% of Muslims believe that Arabs were involved in the 9/11 atrocity - a similar level to that found in Indonesia, Jordan and Pakistan and significantly lower than in Egypt.

While this contrasts quite sharply with beliefs in France and Germany, it's worth noting that nowhere did the Pew survey find a majority of Muslims who were prepared to believe that Arabs were involved in 9/11.

The second point has to do with ideas of public toleration of religious expression and identity. There are a number of ways in which Britain differs from some of the other countries in the survey. In contrast to the United States, Germany, France and Turkey, Britain has no codified constitution that stipulates a formal separation of religion from the state, with the accompanying implications this has, for example, for public education. In addition, Britain was alone amongst the European countries in the survey that did not publish the Mo-Toons.

We can be sure that the usual suspects will use this survey as evidence that Britain's multicultural approach does not work and the assimilationist models of countries like France are better.

This judgment might be a little hasty. One would, presumably, have to factor in Britain's high-profile participation in the War on Terror along with other possible significant variables, such as differing attitudes in the donor countries from which Muslim populations can trace their origin.

Nevertheless, one's initial impression is that these alone are unlikely to account for the widely-differing attitudes in Britain from the rest of the Western countries in the survey. It does not, for example, explain why the picture in Britain is not only different to the rest of Europe but to that of the United States as well.

And there's one observation we can make about what might be termed 'public multiculturalism' without equivocation: perhaps there is evidence that our 'fuzzy' distinction between religion and the state is better for community relations than the formal and legalistic separation practiced in the United States, France, Germany and Turkey - but it certainly cannot be found in this report.

Furthermore, even if one were to accept the 'Bunting interpretation' of this type of constitutional arrangement as representing a form of 'secular triumphalism', people taking this position should now accept that there is scant evidence that this is a particularly significant variable.

Amongst the more positive findings were that support for suicide-murders amongst Muslims is declining significantly across the board, as is 'satisfaction' with Bin Laden. Also, amongst those who responded in the affirmative to the question of whether they saw a struggle between 'moderates' and 'fundamentalists' in Islam - majorities everywhere declined to express their support for the the latter.

However, these fall distinctly into a 'silver-lining' category in an overwhelmingly dark and depressing set of findings. In terms of the original observation made by the Guardian, that 'Westerners' in Britain are more favourably-disposed to Muslims than the other way around, I'm not sure what to make of that. But I'm fairly sure that how various commentators are going to interpret this is going to be depressing in the extreme.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Brown goes nuclear

From the beeb:
"Gordon Brown has signalled that he wants to keep and renew Britain's independent nuclear deterrent."
The piece goes on to say Gordon Brown's intervention has "enraged critics" by which is meant leftwing Labour MPs who were opposed to Trident in the first place.

Don't they ever learn? By this I mean that one could be forgiven for thinking the sole function of the left in the Labour party is for the leadership to distinguish themselves from them, so as to appeal to right-of-centre voters and Fleet Street.

The Labour left are often silly and oppositionist for its own sake, although on this issue and others such as education I think they happen to be right. But in the case of nukes, there's not a lot of point making a fuss about it. After all, they've already accepted by default the notion that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent and if you're going to have one, it's going to need upgrading from time to time.

Their real opposition to this announcement stems from their opposition to nuclear weapons as such. It's a position I happen to share but think any effort to sell this to the leadership is pretty futile. Gordon Brown represents a constitutional innovation for both the Labour party and the country - a Prime Minister designate. And doesn't it show? It's like the Kinnock years all over again. Only less so.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Progress and orange people

There's a crap article in the New Statesman by John Gray knocking the notion of progress. Here's a link, if you must, but it's behind a subcription wall and frankly you'd have to be insane to pay to read a John Gray article. I digress - but having accepted John Gray's general crapness, he has a point: the whole human progress thing is a bit of a mixed bag.

Take the issue of orange people. There are two kinds: the politico-religious sort that wear sashes, and march about in bowler hats and then there is the vast army of literally orange people that have emerged on our Island in recent years.

Of the first kind, one could say that 'progress' - in the form of secularism and the provision of other distractions such as drug-abuse - has diminished their power and there are fewer of them than there used to be. Which is good, because they are generally noisy, bigoted, hold up traffic and are usually pretty damn ugly.

On the other hand, there are (this struck me today) a band of orange people who appear to be multiplying at an alarming rate. To give you the picture of what I'm talking about, some well-known orange people include Dale Winton, Kilroy-Silk and (occasionally) Tommy Sheridan.

Now, what possessed such a large section of the populace, on seeing the examples of orangeness on the telly, to think, "Hey, that looks good - I'm getting myself under a sunbed quick-style"? It's very strange - progress giveth and progress taketh away, and in the case of orange people the net result has been that there are now more of them than at any time in history. This is not good.

Now, you may say, "But perma-tanned may look ridiculous but they do no harm". I beg to differ. Orangemen of the lodge variety may be obnoxious bigots but generally you only have to put up with them for one day in July and I personally have never been accosted by one in the street asking me for a fag in my entire life.

Not so with the literally orange people. In conjunction with the smoking ban, which forces me to pop out during the day I can't relax. For usually during the course of one smoke break one encounters at least one (literally) orange teenager who will shout, "Hoi sur - gonnae geis a fag?". No matter how many times this happens, it is invariably a disconcerting experience. This represents the dark side of the Enlightenment. I say this because it is only advances in science that allows people to be orange at all.

It doesn't do to be dogmatic about these things - a more even-handed assessment of progress is required. Polio vaccinations, good; net increase in orange people, bad.

Policeman employers

Ah for the calm that is Stumbling and Mumbling - a place where strong words are softly spoken.

Here Chris argues that employers prefer a man with children to one with a ukelele and that the implications of this are profoundly illiberal.

Sounds silly. But it really isn't.

Free thinking and slavery

There are grounds on which liberalism can be criticised and the same goes for the invasion of Iraq but Peregrine Worsthorne's combination of the two must be one of the most bizarre arguments I have ever seen.

Getting older, more conservative and bad-tempered as I am, it seemed to begin reasonably enough. Shrieking me-first rightism is damaging the social structure on which our liberties depend? A commonplace conservative argument that I have a growing sympathy for. Fetishising meritocracy? Preaching to the choir, as far as I'm concerned; I never liked the idea of equal rights to pass by on the other side. But then he came to the invasion of Iraq...

[The rest is here]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

US Democrats: the state they're in

Isn't good, obviously.

There are a number of reasons why this should be so but this explanation, which you can gauge for yourselves, has some merit.

A cause if not the cause, surely?

Sakchai Makao

I haven't written about this story before, although Norm has been following the case with some diligence. It concerns Sakchai Makao - a young Thai man who has been living in the Shetlands since he was ten years-old. He is facing deportation following the knee-jerk response to the Home Office's recent 'foreign prisoner' debacle.

While most people probably would agree that Home Office could do with tightening up their procedures to say the least, I think they would also concede that the case of Sakchai Makao hardly falls into the same category as the thousand-plus released prisoners that were so carelessly misplaced earlier this year.

That Sakchai Makao does not have British citizenship is a mere technicality. Not only has he spent most of his life in Lerwick, he has represented Scotland at various athletic events.

It has been heartening to see the response in the Shetlands - a place I already held in affection from childhood holidays there: a third of the population of Shetland have signed a petition calling for his release and 800 people turned up to a demonstration in his support. With regards the latter, if you apply the principle of the widow's mite, this is proportionately and morally more impressive than many of those we have become accustomed to witnessing in recent years.

I trust his release on bail is the beginning of a little official reasonableness being applied to this case. If you're of a letter-writing disposition, you could do worse than to drop a line to John Reid - as this is a matter reserved to the Westminster Parliament.

Because as Burke said, 'For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely'.

Fighting Iraq’s new Taliban

One of the casualties of the inter-ethnic and tribal conflict in Iraq has unquestionably been women's rights. In openDemocracy, Rosemary Bechler talks to Hanaa Edwar Busha of the Iraqi Women's Network who accuses both the UN and the US of appeasing tribal and religious groups in relation to the position of women in Iraqi society:
"The conflict between women's human rights and political participation and appeasing the religious and tribal groups in a violent conflict is a familiar excuse. Appeasement continues in the new government and has been institutionalised under the US- and UN-led governance structure. Last year, even the UN Representative in Iraq cited reluctance to interfere in the "internal problems" of tribal and religious communities when the constitution was being drafted. "We had to put him right on this. We said: 'In Iraqi society, women have always played a very active role and this has been recognised and valued. How can we talk about equality in public life, if at home women find their rights subsumed by those of their husbands and fathers, or the children and the brother?' Now we are reviewing the constitution and argue that it should accord with international treaties on human rights and other treaties signed by Iraq. In the most recent draft, they have omitted this." Women's rights are being used as political currency."
She argues this is incredibly short-sighted:
"Hanaa sees women's political involvement as crucial to the reintegration of the men who have been fighting. "We want to emphasise how important it is that women sit there in the political leadership in these reconciliation initiatives. Otherwise all the talk about [UN Resolution] 1325 is just empty words. Women make up more than fifty percent of the population, more than fifty percent of public servants in Iraq. We have a long list of qualified women who are far better at resisting corruption than their male counterparts. But where are they at this critical point?" She hopes that the participants in the Wilton Park conference will put pressure on leaders to act, with concrete projects and programmes, so that their "fine words of sympathy" don't melt into thin air."
If you're in London, there's a vigil on 23 June for Iraqi Widows on International Widows' Day, at 3pm, at St Martins in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London (from Gender Action for Peace and Security).

British soldiers claim Taliban used children as shields

From the Times:
"The Taleban’s use of human shields happened during a six-hour battle that began when British troops arrived in a remote area to flush out a suspected Taleban hideout.

They came under attack seven times and fired 2,000 rounds as the rebels set ambushes and opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades. About 21 Taleban were killed.

"It happened twice where they pushed women and children in front of them. The first time they ran into a compound and pushed them out the front to stop the assault," said Corporal Quintin Poll, 29, from Norfolk.

"The second time they were firing through a building with women and children inside. My guys had to go around the left and right to get them."
Such are the tactics in "holy war".

Labour slides to 20-year poll low

The latest Guardian-ICM poll shows Labour at 32% - five points behind the Tories.

This is the third one showing Labour at this level, which is bound to make the party uneasy.

However, although the polls also show Cameron's lead solidifying, at 37% it isn't enough to win an election, as Mike Smithson points out.

I don't understand why Blair and his like-minded colleagues think 'public sector reform' is going to resolve Labour's problems. Even if you assume they need marketization, which I don't, any changes to the delivery of service wouldn't be felt in time for the General Election. But the disorientation and confusion that always follows the government's 'reforms' surely will be? As will the political fallout that accompanies Blair's confrontations with his own party.

Anyone got a wager on a hung Parliament?

Monday, June 19, 2006

The devolution dynamic

Catalonia has voted 'yes' for more devolution, prompting fears that it might lead to the break-up of Spain.

We have our own dynamic here of course - north and south of the border.

Both have to do with the instability of the devolution settlement. Bit rushed here - I intend to do this in more detail later but just a quick thought: given that Spain was one of the models that the Constitutional Convention looked to, is the de facto break-up of the Union inevitable?

And if so, do we have to give Tam Dalyell prophet status? Depressing thought.

U-turn on Glasgow pub glass ban

From the beeb:
"Councillor Gordon Macdiarmid, convener of the licensing board, said the decision to amend the policy had been a result of its "listening" role."
"Listening role" indeed. What he means is the chorus of voices screaming "Whatthefuckareyoutryingtobankruptusorsomething?" eventually got through.

Smoking ban update

We're about six weeks into it and the pubs are starting to stink. It's a mixture of BO, Guiness and dry-roasted peanut-induced flatulence, stale beer and public toilet aromas. It's not good, people.

All you who think this is a good idea and supported it - you're very evil people who have no idea the forces you have unleashed.

May the fleas from a thousand camels infest your armpits.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Chastity rings banned

From the Observer we learn that Millais School in Sussex have banned 'purity rings' that are worn to demonstrate a commitment to pre-marital chastity.

Since those who defended Shabina Begum's right to wear whatever she wanted claimed they were doing so on the grounds that a 'woman has the right to control her own appearance', should we expect a couple of posts from the hard lefties doing the same for Lydia Playfoot?

I won't be holding my breath either.

Meanwhile I'll stick to my original position that no such right exists. Shabina Begum didn't have the right to wear whatever she wants and neither does Lydia Playfoot. One should show due consideration to religious traditions but I don't see why schools should feel obliged to recognise ones that have been patently made-up.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Probation plan for poor teachers

From the beeb:
"Incompetent teachers could be given a year to improve or face being sacked, it has emerged.

Poor or struggling teachers face being placed on probation for a year, although support would be provided to help bring them up to standard.

Failure to do so could see them being dismissed under a scheme which has been approved by Education Minister Peter Peacock."
And if Peter Peacock is in charge, teachers up and down the country will be trembling in anticipation because everyone knows he is himself the very acme of competence.

I better speed up my career change plans and move into something where my incompetence will go unnoticed.

Better start applying for jobs working for the Executive.

Or perhaps headteachers posts.

Or I could always become an MSP.

Vote Labour, by the way.

Peter Peacock MSP: the incarnation of ruthless professional efficiency

Friday, June 16, 2006

On prejudice (briefly): rationality and religion

Here's an interesting thought from Cyrus on Johann Hari's attitude to religion - prompted by the same article I referred to here.

His point is if you, like Hari, have an irrational loathing of religion, provided your hostility is an equal opportunities affair, this will be considered 'progressive'.

If, however, you should express your irrational preferences in the form of not even hating but simply preferring one religion to another, this makes you a reactionary bigot.

He doesn't think this makes much sense - and neither do I.

Good point.

Cyrus 1, Hari 0.

Totalitarianism and the annihilation of the present

Two good, one not so good, concepts are outlined by Paul Berman in this interview with Alan Johnson for the latest edition of Democratiya.

First, on the nature of totalitarianism:
Alan Johnson: And what did you find in common between the Muslim totalitarianism of today and the European totalitarianism of yesterday?

Paul Berman: First, an underlying mythology: people of good who are oppressed by a cosmic conspiracy which is external and internal at the same time; an all-exterminating war of annihilation; and after, the arrival of a grand utopia that is going to be a leap forward into the sci-fi future, and, at the same time, a leap back into a lost golden age. This kind of mythology underlies all the totalitarian movements, in one fashion or another.
This is exactly right. There is the idealised past - but it is the distant, mythical past. In this sense, it might not even be strong enough to describe such movements as reactionary since the latter generally want to turn the clock back to a more recent time, like the 1950s or the 19th century - pasts that are at least historically recognisable.

Then there is the looking forward to a utopian future, which is understood as a recreation of this mythical past. It is to be returned to because the present is understood as being irredeemably degraded, which brings us to the third element. Utopia requires the annihilation of the present. This is why all totalitarian movimentos are violent. Evolution is impossible; newness only comes from the destruction of the present order. Totalitarian movements are always and everywhere violent re-birth cults.

The second has to do with the nature of religion. Responding to the criticism that his treatment of Islam is completely without nuance:
Paul Berman: I don't write about Islam at all. I only write about Islamism. I assume that Islam, like the other great religions, is a huge piano keyboard on which one could play this tune or that. Islam isn't the cause of the problem. Islam is the setting of the problem. Islam has offered a language for the totalitarian movements but an anti-totalitarian language could just as easily be drawn out of Islam, and is by some people.
This too seems to me to be exactly right and a counter to those who assume terrorism is the natural outflow from religion as such. Because books like the Bible and the Koran have so much material, along with ages of religious tradition and interpretation layered over them - it is not only possible that numerous interpretations can spring from them, it is inevitable. Therefore the simplistic approach to religion, whereby the most sexist, homophobic and/or violent texts are sought out and used as a stick with which to beat the religious is fairly pointless because it misunderstands the way religious traditions function.

Less convincing, however, was Paul Berman's treatment of the power of ideas. It's one thing to counter the notion that ideas have absolutely no life of their own independently from their social and economic context but quite another to turn the power of ideology into a kind of monism, which I thought Paul Berman came close to doing. For instance, drawing from the Soviet experience...
"The rise of Communism, then the collapse of Communism is something that took place, above all, in the history of ideas. Communist ideas arose because they were very powerful and appeared to be very convincing. And they were defeated intellectually, not militarily. The Eastern bloc did not collapse out of material poverty. It collapsed out of intellectual poverty."
But they weren't defeated intellectually in abstraction from the framework of economic history. The intellectual challenge to the ideas behind the Soviet model was effective precisely because it could be demonstrated quite clearly that it failed to achieve in practice what it promised in theory. Communism lacked the mechanisms to effectively harness technological innovation to the business of production and this is why Kruschev's boast that the Soveit Union would 'bury' the West proved to be a false prophecy. With Islamism it is the same - the defeat of the ideas requires them to be seen to fail in practice.

Livingstone in talking (some) sense shock

In relation to the assumption that Gordon Brown will become Prime Minister:
"Gordon Brown should call a snap general election if he becomes prime minister, says London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Mr Livingstone says Mr Brown would face claims that he did not have a mandate for his plans unless he went to the polls soon after succeeding Tony Blair."
The obvious comparison is with John Major, who hung around for two years before submitting to a General Election. It's often seen as a drawback of PR systems that they can, by allowing the re-making of coalitions without a vote being cast, facilitate changes of government without consulting the electorate. But it happens under our system too, as the Major experience showed. Gordon Brown might be wise to take Ken Livingstone's advice.

I doubt he will, though.

But Livingstone's idea that Brown should be elected unopposed isn't such a good one. This is the Labour party, dammit - they don't do coronations. And they shouldn't start now. Ken is right to say winning a competitive election would give a Brown administration more legitimacy - so why not within the party as well?

Pootergeek's educational services

Read this - it's goooooood. The Geek has reduced an obnoxious adolescent to tears, and all through the power of UNIX.

Combating racism and giving the little turd's teachers a break from him for a day at least.

I'm sure I speak for them in passing on a note of thanks - excellent work.

Via: Norm

Young keen teachers

Are a wonder to behold. I was never a young keen teacher. Dr Sewell would be proud of this young man presently in my room humphing desks around to illustrate trench warfare to his next class.

Supply them with weaponry and he's onto a winner, I reckon. Recreating the battle of the Somme until the end of term - with the teachers playing the role of the Generals keeping themselves out of harm's way, naturally. Sounds like a plan.

History students: lions led by donkeys

Glasgow City Council to be bankrupted

Well, if the Executive's plan to pay councils and quangos by results goes ahead, it soon will be.

Terrorists in crisis, says Zarqawi document

From the Scotsman:
"AL-QAEDA is being weakened by United States military attacks and propaganda, according to a document allegedly found on a computer belonging to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the organisation's late leader.

The document expressed concern at the failure to attract recruits and proposed a change of tactics to create a new impetus.

One suggestion was that conflict should be fostered between the US and another country, such as Shiite Iran, and by stirring up US-Shiite tension in Iraq. Another was that al-Qaeda should infiltrate Iraq's armed forces, recruit new members and manufacture more weapons.

The writer states that a review of tactics is especially important because forces of the Iraqi National Guard "have succeeded in forming an enormous shield protecting the American forces and have reduced substantially the losses that were solely suffered by the American forces".

The main suggestion is that the US should be diverted by drawing it into another conflict.

"In general and despite the current bleak situation, we think that the best suggestions in order to get out of this crisis is to entangle the American forces into another war against another country," it said.

"Hence, it is necessary first to exaggerate the Iranian danger and to convince America and the west in general, of the real danger coming from Iran.
""
Ha! Failure to attract new recruits? Well, the Al-Qaeda retirement package sucks, for one thing.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Contortions and translations

Jonathan Steele has a piece in comment is free regarding the remarks Ahmedinejad made regarding Israel. The 'dovish' interpretation, apparently, is not that Israel should be 'wiped from the map' but 'eliminated from the pages of history'. He elaborates:
"I accept that "eliminated" is almost the same, indeed some might argue it is more sinister than "wiped", though it is a bit more of a mouthful if you are trying to find four catchy and easily memorable words with which to incite anger against Iran."
The intellectual dishonesty and mendacity Mr Steele displays here is truly breath-taking - so much so I confess words fail me. Fortunately not everyone suffers from this disability. I'm delighted to see Norm has reproduced one of Soru's comments because they are so often worth repeating. Here it is in full:
"This is the most bad faith piece of work I've read in the Guardian for a long long time

Absolutely. With the best of intentions, Steele decided to lie, and when called on it he resorts to obfuscation.

If the intent of the statement was radically different from the translation, Iran could easily have issued a clarification once it became a big issue. They didn't, because the use of a slightly different idiom is not something that changes the intent of the message in any way.

Lies like his are really dangerous to peace, because it makes it seem as if the only good reason he can think of to not attack Iran is to make up stuff. He should be ashamed."
Yes, yes he should be. Should we expect a 'dovish' take on Ahmedinejad's remarks about the Holocaust next? Then Jonathan Steele's intellectual degradation would be complete.

Most leading journalists went to private schools

A report(pdf) into the educational backgrounds of leading journalists finds that only 14% of them attended comprehensives.

From what I can gather most of them don't send their children to them either.

Yet despite this disadvantage, most of them are experts on the subject of education - a fact widely-acknowledged amongst teachers.

If this isn't testimony to the superiority of the private system, I don't know what is.

Plus not all of them went private. David Aaronovitch, for example, spent some of his youth in a comp. That's why his views on education are just so damn sharp. Generally anything he writes on the subject is taken very seriously in staffrooms up and down the country. We only wish he would write more.

Vote meritocracy - vote Labour.

(Via)

People losing their damn minds #16

There's a housing shortage down south so the sensible thing to do, one would think, would be to build some more. Now I don't know anything about construction but slightly less sensible, I'd have thought, would be to propose building 150 000 houses on the Thames.

Because the Thames is a river, right? And you tend to think a river wouldn't be an ideal spot to do a bit of house-building, being rather on the wet side. But this is, apparently, what John Redwood has proposed:
"Multi-billion-pound plans for two "cities in the sea" are being proposed by one of David Cameron's advisers as an answer to housing shortages and global warming."
In fairness, he doesn't want to build the houses directly on the water - because that would be really silly. Instead, he "invoked centuries-old land reclamation techniques in Holland".

Uh huh. Now, I remember learning this in primary school. Someone stuck a finger in a dyke at one point and I seem to recall, albeit vaguely, that this had something to do with the fact that the Netherlands was below sea level. Whereas Britain's still above sea level, isn't it? Wouldn't it be simpler to build some new houses on some, um, dry bits and maybe add a few transport links?

I liked the last paragraph in the Telegraph article:
"However, Mr Redwood's ambitious idea appeared to take people by surprise yesterday, with neither the Government nor the Environment Agency able to comment."
Not unwilling but unable. Speechless they were, probably thinking to themselves, "Man's done gone lost his damn mind."


John Redwood: Finds building houses on dry bits of land to be illogical, captain.

Heart of Midlothian

From the beeb:
"A football fan based in Iraq has delighted fellow Hearts supporters by convincing dozens of locals to back the Edinburgh team.

Neil Young, 26, a shipping contractor who was born in Edinburgh, said he had converted Iraqi workers into loyal Hearts fans who now never miss a game."
I was born very near the heart of Midlothian. But I supported Hibs. For no particularly good reason.

Then I came to Glasgow and when people asked me what team I supported and I told them Hibernian, they called me a Fenian bastard. I had no idea what it meant but got the impression they didn't think it was a good thing.

I gave up following football after that.

Kids always ask you what team you support. Best line was from a Catholic Celtic supporter in Lanarkshire who said, "Hibs? That's for Tims who can't afford the bus fare".

And if I'd known that, I probably would never have been a Hibs supporter. But Edinburgh isn't like that, for the most part. Thank goodness.

World Cup dilemma

There's the necessity to avoid hearing England football songs for the rest of your life, hence desire not to see England winning the World Cup.

On the other hand, Gary Younge is supporting Trinidad and Tobago in his latest wanky article.

England could beat Trinidad and Tobago yet still lose the World Cup.

Verdict: Gary Younge is a tit so go England!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Schools too damn girly

That's what Dr Tony Sewell reckons:
"Boys are being failed by schools because lessons have become too "feminised" in recent years, an academic is warning.
Dr Tony Sewell is calling for more nurturing of traditional "male" traits."
A traditional "male trait" adolescent boys show is attempting to light their farts - should this be on the curriculum? Well, almost:
"Dr Sewell is calling for science lessons to include more practical experiments to interest male pupils.

He said:" The girls seem more able to adapt to more theory-only learning, while boys want more action. They want to blow things up and see science in action."
They do indeed want to blow things up. This should be accommodated? Verging on a damn mind losing incident this one although I think it can be redeemed with the Mill 'harm principle'. I'm a liberal guy so I have no objection if boys want to blow themselves and perhaps their consenting friends up. But schools are not the places to do this. Compromise: give this task to them as homework.


Lloyds launches Islamic portfolio

From the Guardian:
"Lloyds TSB is bidding for Britain's 2 million Muslims by making sharia-compliant current accounts and mortgages available from any branch nationwide.

Today's announcement came the day after Gordon Brown addressed the Islamic finance and trade conference to promote Britain as a centre for Islamic finance.

The chancellor said that British banks were "pioneering" Islamic banking. "London now has more banks supplying services under Islamic principles than any other Western financial centre," Mr Brown said."
Which reminded me of this.

Scots invented beautiful game

From the Scotsman:
"SCOTLAND may not be at the World Cup, but the country can at least lay claim to having invented football, following the translation of a book written almost 400 years ago.

In 1633, more than 200 years before the Football Association was formed in England, David Wedderburn, a poet and teacher at Aberdeen Grammar School, described a match in his pocket-sized tome Vocabula.

While there are older descriptions of ball games involving kicking, historians say the Scottish manuscript, written in Latin, is the first to report on players passing the ball forward and attempting to score past a goalkeeper. A section of the book marks the kick-off: "Let's pick sides. Those who are on the outside, come over here. Kick off, so that we can begin the match ... Pass it here.""
So there. We may have invented a game only to be routinely humped by other countries that take it up - but if you're English, you'll be able to empathise with this problem.

A vice I'm truly ashamed of

The sloth that makes me buy ready meals.

I have no excuse for this; I have the time, resources and skills required to make myself a decent meal. But just occasionally I just can't be arsed. Too lazy even to go through the hassle of ordering and picking up a carry out. So I end up selecting something from Tesco's Lazy Bastard selection.

Not so often because it's usually a dispiriting experience and I always vow never to buy this sub-airline muck ever again.

Until the next time.

Afterwards, I invariably feel like a cheap slut.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Women's Rights Activists Beaten in Tehran

Bit rushed - sorry. There's details here, here, and here. Photos here.

World cup recantation

I retract the 'anyone but England' line in favour of anyone except who Gary Younge supports. For just when I thought the Gruaniad couldn't get any more wanky and self-important, I discover Gazza has a column that tells the ethical football supporter whom they should cheer for. Today he guides the perplexed through the moral minefield of South Korea vs Togo:
"South Korea is in Iraq; Togo is in a mess. Last year security forces and militia there murdered hundreds and injured thousands in the run-up to the sham presidential election. The choice between a rich nation that goes abroad to kill foreigners and a poor one that does its dirty work at home is not much of one. True, South Korea recently appointed its first female prime minister. But she will still be complicit in far more civilian deaths than Togo's hypermasculine elite ever could be."
Can you even imagine taking this seriously? Would you ever adjust your football preferences after reading this? Then kill yourself. Now.

(Hat tip: Norm)

Ethical shopping?

Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley from Amicus and the T&GWU respectively argue that Peugeot should be boycotted because of the closure of its Ryton plant in Coventry. They're advocating this 'consumer power' against the background of the usual arguments about the government doing nothing to arrest the decline in manufacturing in Britain:
"Ethical shopping is an established idea. Unlike the chancellor in his recent speech to the CBI, we do not find the notion of "economic patriotism" ludicrous."
It's "buy British" all over again - the problem being there is no British car industry. But the phrase that stood out was this one about ethical shopping being an 'established idea'. Indeed it is, but I've often wondered how much sense it makes. Obviously consumers can easily boycott goods from one country, as people did during the apartheid years in the RSA but is it really realistic to expect consumers to make all of their purchases on the basis of often dubious moral/economic arguments rather than on price and quality? One of the reasons for markets to function less efficiently than they could is that often consumers don't have anything approaching 'perfect knowledge' about the price of alternative suppliers of homogeneous goods.

Is it really sensible to expect consumers to have in-depth knowledge about the ethics of firms they buy goods from? Is Heinz an 'ethical' company? Or do they pillage the environment and exploit their workers? I've no idea - but I do know my son likes baked beans with Bob the Builder on the tin.

I could investigate this company - then do the same with every other company I make purchases from. This would be incredibly time-consuming and at the end, what purpose would it serve? My own pattern of consumption is unlikely to influence the behaviour of any company.

The other problem I have with 'ethical shopping' is it imputes morality to actions that either have practically no cost or worse, make a virtue out of necessity. I won't be buying a Peugeot - because I can't afford a new car. Ok, if I had the money I hereby pledge to spend it on something other than a Peugeot. Big deal.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Firm cancels Scots event after World Cup snub to England

The Scotsman reports on an English company that's decided to take its ball home:
"JACK McConnell, the First Minister, was accused last night of damaging the Scottish economy after it emerged that a company had cancelled a conference in Scotland in response to his "anti-English" approach to the World Cup.

The Scotsman has learned that the English company's managers reacted angrily to Mr McConnell support for Trinidad and Tobago, one of England's World Cup opponents, and wrote to the Scottish Tourism Forum (STF) saying it had decided to pull out of the event planned for a hotel north of the Border."
I notice HP has picked up the story. Scroll down the comments: racism is a rather eccentric way of demonstrating your opposition to the perception of anti-English racism, I think you'll agree. I particularly liked this one:
"[The Scots] love anyone who opposes the English for no better reason than that they oppose the people who dragged them out of the Pictish mud and let them achieve things they never could on their own."
Charming. As well as a certain benevolence towards their genetic inferiors, the English can count amongst their qualities a certain ingenuity - which this World Cup season demonstrates very well. Think about it: they tell people from other countries what team they should cheer for and if anyone should disagree, they are accused of racism.

Genius - I bet no other country on the face of the planet thought of doing that.

This kind of thinking built an Empire, don't you know.

Go Trinidad and Tobago.

"Don't moan, take action, it's your street too"

The above was mooted as a possible slogan for the government's latest 'initiative' or 'crackdown' thingy on anti-social behaviour. The Lib Dem's Nick Clegg said:
"The suggestion that people should do more for their own safety is frankly a bit rich, coming from a government that has let criminals walk freely on our streets."
True. The thing is, I'm occasionally up for a little light vigilante action myself - nothing too dangerous - but appreciate my fellow citizens might be less keen. John Reid, in contrast, strikes me a somebody who would find that difficult to understand.


John Reid: "Noisy neighbours? Wit's the problem? Just stick the heid on the bastards."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Defeat and disgust

Posted over here.

Football hooligans

Here's a report of some English ones.

But in the interests of editorial balance, I should point out that Scotland has its own hooligan element amongst its supporters - as the profile of this blogger shows.

The glory of summer

I have a love-hate relationship with this piece of sodden earth one calls home. The older you get, the more this fluctates with the weather.

When you get the cold, hard horizontal rain, this place could fall into the sea for all I care.

But when it's like this even the shitty view at the end of my street looks glorious.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Amnesty and "full spectrum rights"

I liked Amnesty International so much I bought the T-shirt. Their particular strengths, I always thought, were that they focused on rights that could be properly described as 'human' and not social and economic - and also their willingness to criticise governments consistently, whether democracies or not.

Since 2005, Amnesty has been having a 'rethink' - which seems to entail a broadening of Amnesty's concerns to include so-called 'soft' social and economic rights - such as access to medical treatment, housing and so forth.

This re-working of their position has included a shift towards a more politicized position - seen, for example, in their position regarding Guantanamo Bay.

While I thought Amnesty's description of Gitmo as the 'gulag of our time' was completely absurd, this in itself didn't cause me to reconsider my membership because exaggeration notwithstanding, Amnesty's position in relation to Guantanamo is the correct one.

But not so with the general shift in their position. My own view is that while 'social' rights such as access to housing and medical treatment are highly desirable, you simply cannot say these are rights that one has purely by virtue of one's humanity because social rights of these kind presuppose the existence of a certain kind of society.

The shift towards an advocacy of these types of 'human rights' pushes Amnesty into the fold of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the framers of which somehow managed to convince themselves that a nomadic tribesman had the right to join a trade union and have paid leave of absence from work.

I believe this to be a ridiculous position - an inflation of the concept of human rights that damages the principle. Amnesty's controversial adoption of the right to an abortion under the banner of human rights is an example of this. Abortion is not a human but a civil right, since it requires the existence of medical personnel able and willing to carry out such a procedure. Indeed, abortion on demand would presuppose an obligation by such medical personnel.

And there's a more melancholy reason for wondering where Amnesty are going with all this. 'Human rights' are being inflated beyond the point where even 'rights-based' people might reasonably be expected to agree. As for myself, I'm being asked to accept that economic, social, and civil rights have miraculously become 'human'. This, a position I find difficult to accept at the best of times, becomes impossible when it also requires me to believe that the ever-expanding scope of 'human rights' does not apply to the unborn child. According to Amnesty, these have no rights - not even the right to life. The only conclusion one can draw is that Amnesty International's official position now is that the unborn child is not human. It is for this reason I'm having a 'rethink' of my own.

Biggest US counterterrorism success since 9/11?

Thomas Hegghammer believes so, arguing those who viewed al-Zarqawi as insignificant are wrong:
"A number of online statements by militants have confirmed al-Zarqawi’s death and played down its operational significance, saying the jihadist movement does not depend on individuals. They are wrong. Charismatic individuals play a very important motivational role in militant Islamist groups. The Internet has facilitated the spread of audiovisual propaganda, thus making iconography crucial to global jihadist recruitment efforts. Al-Zarqawi’s death will dent the morale of al-Qaida sympathisers worldwide and may also contribute to a reduction in the flow of foreign mujahidin to Iraq."
Read the rest here.

Minister's wife takes over Ofsted

From the beeb:
"An education department spokesman said: "Christine [Gilbert] was appointed on merit following a rigorous open competition conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments."
Because we live in a meritocracy. To suggest otherwise would be an example of the corrosive cynicism that has infected public discourse.

Vote Labour - things can only get better.

MSP milks the system

This emerges from the publication of all MSP's expenses. We learn one MSP was keen to do all he could to fulfill the national stereotype:
"Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, was generous enough to buy a 42p pint of milk for his secretary on several occasions - but then he claimed it back from the taxpayer.

Mr Stone also demanded that the parliament reimburse him £4.62 for a pack of toilet rolls. But he only did this once, presumably because he thought this would last his constituency staff for the whole six months."

From Aberdeen, is he?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The death of Zarqawi: celebrating too soon?

Brian Whitaker thinks so, comparing it to the capture of Saddam Hussein:
"The jubilations when Saddam Hussein was captured, and the hopes that Iraqi would quieten down as a result, also turned out to be misplaced.

Zarqawi has been built up by the US and sections of the media into the main bogeyman but the war, or civil war as it is increasingly regarded, has a momentum of its own. Dozens of ordinary people are being killed daily for all sorts of reasons, or no reason at all."
If he means that celebration was solely related to belief that 'Iraq will quieten down', he has a point - but it's worth remembering that this was scarcely the only reason people were so jubilant at the capture of Saddam Hussein. The belief it would usher in a better future, certainly - but also sheer joy at the knowledge Saddam Hussein would never return to power but instead face justice for his crimes. As was the case when Uday and Qusay were killed: Iraqi celebrations were in part over a version of the future they now knew they would not have to face - a return to the Republic of Fear.

It's worth remembering this context when we consider the response to the slaying of Zarqawi. There's just a bit too much haste to attach the epithet 'bogeyman' to him. For to the relatives of the people he tortured, maimed and slaughtered, Zarqawi was no child's nightmare and the simple reason he's gone is enough in itself for them to celebrate.

Religion, theocracy and the left

Posted over here.

Zarqawi killed in Iraq air raid

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: don't rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Livingstone: London 'subsidising Scots lifestyle'

From the Scotsman:
"The outspoken Labour mayor made the remark at a reception on Monday night as he tried to explain why the city needed a new £10 billion rail link.

He told politicians: "We need Crossrail to keep London's economy ticking over so that we can continue to pay for the Scottish to live the lifestyle to which they are accustomed."
Predictably, Alex Salmond of the SNP responded by saying the subsidy was all the other way:
"'When you include all Scotland's resources, we subsidise the rest of the UK by £3,000 a year for the average Scottish family.'

This '£200 billion raid' on Scottish resources over 30 years was 'the greatest act of international larceny since the Spanish stole the Inca gold', he said."
I wouldn't be so churlish. There you are, sweating away on the tube for unfeasibly long and over-priced commutes, working long hours in a city where you seem to need several kidneys to sell before you can afford a house - and all to 'subsidise my lifestyle'. The least I can do is raise a glass of Buckfast to you all.

Pupils spurn healthier school meals

From the Scotsman:
"THE number of pupils taking school meals has fallen to the lowest recorded level, despite attempts by the Scottish Executive to encourage youngsters to eat more healthily.

Figures released yesterday also showed the proportion of pupils eating a school lunch has fallen for three consecutive years since ministers launched their Hungry for Success initiative.

A total of £135 million has been spent on the scheme since November 2002, with the aim of providing pupils with healthier options at lunchtime."
Well, what do you expect? Personally I haven't been back to the school canteen since deep-fried Mars bar was taken off the menu.

Now, there's been a number of comments from various politicians up here along the lines of "you can't change a nation's eating habits overnight" and so on. Having just watched 'sports day', with the next generation of the sickest nation in Europe wheezing and vomiting their way to the finish line, I can only agree. But in all seriousness, I think they're all overlooking a key problem with school meals, which is they are a grievous assault on both stomach and palate - unquestionably the worst culinary experience you can have outside of prison. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton doesn't quite get it:
"Many will now ask whether the money spent on promoting school meals might have been better invested in more PE teachers or elsewhere in the education system."
Just about every penny spent in education could have been 'better invested' but if he thinks we need more teachers in tracksuits, he's lost his damn mind. I have an alternative suggestion: couldn't they use some of the money to make the meals nicer? Radical, I know.

A short note on tolerance

Norm links to a letter in the Times, making the point that the concept of tolerance is often misunderstood as acceptance:
"The traditional dictionary definition of tolerance is "the ability to endure"; that is, the ability to endure someone else's expression of an opinion, even if we find it insulting, demeaning or offensive. This does not preclude criticism of their beliefs but it should preclude censorship of them."
Absolutely - and I'd state it more strongly than that. When people talk about 'tolerance', often they mean nothing of the kind. For there is no need for tolerance if you approve of something. When it comes to the matter of individual beliefs, tolerance is the most anyone can reasonably expect. To go beyond that, to insist that beliefs should be respected simply because they are beliefs is, um, intolerable.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's hot!

Damn hot. Too hot for blogging. Back later.

Muslims seek safe haven in Israel

From the Times:
"Technically the Sudanese are citizens of what Israel deems an enemy state and cannot stay. But their cause has been taken up by Holocaust campaigners and civil rights groups, who argue that Israel, of all countries, should give refuge to people fleeing genocide. "We cannot ignore refugees of the Darfur genocide when they knock on our door," Avner Shalev, the director of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, said. He has written to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, comparing their plight to Jews who in vain sought sanctuary from European countries during the Second World War."
In their petitions to the High Court, civil rights cite on their letterheads the Mosaic injunction from Exodus:
"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Liberal airhead

Is what I am, according to the 'F Scale'.

Ok, so you knew that already.

(Via: Norm)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lost in Ikea

Paul Evans has been. He has my sympathy - just entering the building has the effect of making you feel like a laboratory rat.

He ponders the question as to whether Sweden's high suicide rate is related to the collective national guilt they surely must feel for having invented such an evil place.

Well, I think we can all agree that it should be but I reckon it's not so much guilt as despair at the futility of it all. I mean, they have political stability with a fully-functioning democracy, clean streets, low levels of crime and public services that are the envy of the world. And what do they do with this 'freedom from necessity'? Produce Volvos, really boring tennis players and bloody Ikea that has pieces of furniture called 'Dave' or 'Hergen-Slergen'.

That and the fact the sun comes out for only 20 minutes in the winter would be enough to make you think, what's the point of it all? You can't even have a drink without taking out a second mortgage. I'm astonished their suicide rate isn't higher than it is.

Swedes in happier days. More difficult to have as neighbours but much less boring.

Scotland's crime capital

Is, apparently, Edinburgh:
"The area between Princes Street and the New Town tops the league table for offences committed last year.

Almost 5,000 crimes were reported in the area, which includes Rose Street and George Street, two of the city's most popular nightlife locations.

Most were crimes of dishonesty, such as shoplifting. But the city centre also had the country's third-highest rates for murder and violence, plus high levels of public disorder and drug offences."
Glasgow wasn't even number one in anti-social behaviour:
"Motherwell South, in Jack McConnell's constituency, recorded the country's second highest level of anti-social behaviour, behind the centre of Aberdeen."
More murders, attempted murders, serious assaults and robberies were committed in the centre of Glasgow than anywhere else but still, pretty shabby performance from the second city of the Empire.

Earlier today, Slasher McGraw, spokesperson for the Glasgow Federation of Gangsters said, "Obviously we're very disappointed and to fall behind the sheep-shaggers Aberdeen South is frankly an embarrassment. On murder and serious assault we're still performing well but more work is needed from our criminal community to put in a more rounded performance."

Charles accused of wasting police time

Story in the Scotsman. Quite boring really, it's the picture that got my attention.

It's the aesthetic argument for republicanism: ditch the monarchy and we'll no longer have to put up with ugly royals dressed like shortbread tins.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Blairites for Dave?

'Dave' Cameron, that is. Stephen Pollard has come out as one - so no surprises there:
"Mr Blair himself may well have been the real deal, but we will never know. Even had his Government not been brought to near-collapse by serial incompetence, he has been stymied by his party from his first day in government. Yet the reform ideas, which many of us once looked to Tony Blair to implement, are more important than ever. So we have to turn instead to the only other possible champion: David Cameron. Call him the centre, call him the radical centre, call him right of centre; call him whatever you want. All that matters is that we must have a government both committed to and capable of implementing reforms."
Being the "real deal" and "championing reform" means, of course, being really neoliberal - which Cameron obviously is. This, or 'Thatcherite', is how I would respond to Pollard's invitation to call him what I will. It's surely more accurate than the nonsensical "radical centre"? Anyway, I think Pollard is more or less right when he says, "The only thing that now separates Blairites from the Conservative Party is a label." This is why I think, contrary to what I presume is the received wisdom amongst his opponents in the Labour party, the loss of Blair will make victory for Cameron at the next election more likely.

"Blairites for Dave" will do for the Labour party. They are a constituency that was always essentially Tory, whether they admit this to themselves or not, that only voted Labour because they believed Tony Blair was one of them. They may no longer believe this or they might think he still is but has been hamstrung by the Labour party. But in any event, Blair's going and most of NuLabour's conservative supporters will go with him. The return to their natural political home will be much easier now that dangerous Dave has given the 'nasty party' the Mandelson makeover.

That this is likely can be seen, not only with neocons like Pollard and old cons like Max Hastings, but in other 'natural' Tory constituences. The support that Cameron appears to be picking up from amongst female voters has a significance that should worry Labour because it would tend to indicate that party preference is returning to the historical pattern where Labour has always had less support from among women than men, except under Blair.

While I would sympathise with those who might say - who wants a bunch of Tories in the Labour party anyway? - there a problem: Blair's critics who yearn for a return to 'traditional Labour values' are rather forgetting that before 1997, it was a fairly well-established Labour tradition to lose elections on a regular basis.

Other than not paying any attention to people like Glenda Jackson and Frank Dobson, I've no constructive advice to offer because I'd have thought "Blairites for Dave" should serve as a good reason not to vote Conservative. But I suspect the constituency that disagrees with me will prove to be more significant in the next General Election.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

On insincerity and other duties

Chris Dillow* has been busy making a silk purse out of the sow's ear that is Big Brother. On the contemporary superstition that social interaction must 'involve the revelation of character':
"[T]his is a relatively modern development, perhaps to be blamed upon the Romantics. For centuries, social life consisted in role-play, in the adoption of personae. As Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

The loss of this tradition is costly. It's potentially gravely illiberal, as the rules that control of social life now impinge upon our deepest, intimate character, rather than upon our roles. Personae and masks were forms of protection. These are lost."
So true, it makes me want to cry. The Romantics, certainly - but reinforced perhaps in our time with Freudian psychology and various forms of existentialism? The crime of the age is to fail to be perceived as being authentic. "To thine own self be true" has replaced the notion of being but a player on the world's stage as the favoured Shakespearian allusion for an age where, as Eric Hobsbawm said, there is no longer "the done thing - only one's own thing."

Is this perhaps another way of saying we have forgotten the concept of duty, along with an understanding that this is essential for the maintenance of the social order? It has been given a bad press, what with its historical connotations of hierarchy and deference. But it was never entirely thus and it overlooks the reality that so many of our rights exist in the obligations of others, as it is our duty to vindicate the rights of others. The idea that one can execute this latter obligation by playing a role that has some independence from one's own duty to thyself has almost entirely been lost. This I believe was demonstrated in the recent demands that Ruth Kelly surrender her post solely on the grounds of her religious confession and affiliation.

This burden of faux authenticity lies in the pressure it puts upon notions of a private life. It is the curse of the politics of personality and celebrity that the premium it places on the qualities of the individual leader, over and above his or her conduct as a statesman in the Weberian sense, by extension inevitably delegitimises the concept of privacy. Herein lies an idea that might sound paradoxical to many: the very concept of duty - to one's little platoon, to one's vocation, along with its customs, constraints and frustrations - seen by so many liberals as the antithesis of liberty may yet prove to have been its guarantor.

* Who shouldn't in any way be implicated in any conclusions I have drawn from his piece linked above.

Swapping fishing for blogging?

Catherine Bennett argues in comment is free that blogging, being essentially a male preserve, has replaced activities such as fishing where men traditionally come together and behave like macho-dickheads. For example, the reason why someone might want to show their solidarity with the Danes by posting a picture of Helena Christensen wearing a pair of socks (?) is because we are operating with this kind of logic:
"How can you defend the freedom to offend people, if you don't go round offending them yourself?"
Hadn't thought about it like this before but it's a good point. So fuck off.

Anecodotes from the trenches

Covering a French class as we speak I write. Third year, slightly delinquent. Asked one boy why he wasn't doing the work that had been left for him. He said, and I swear this is true, "But it's in French - I don't understand it." Even his classmates (this is unequivocally not a top section) wept at his stupidity.
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