Sunday, September 27, 2009

On motes and beams

It's a strong field in which to compete but I think Andrew Brown's argument here that the 'New Atheists' are a bunch of snobs has to win the prize for the most inconsistent and absurd attempt to claim the class card for one's position that I have ever seen.

He begins by acknowledging that adherence to religion has no class element in this country, unlike the US (this in itself a dubious proposition). Not a particularly strong basis on which to argue that atheists are really just social elitists in drag, one would have thought? To compound his difficulties, he then goes on to describe the motivation behind working class atheism with a truly breath-taking condescension:
"But in this country, unlike the US, the poor are not devout. They're hardly atheist on principle; they just reckon that "it's all rubbish", along with every other system of organised thought. This means that not going to church does not function in itself as a class marker here in the way that it works in the US."
I appreciate this will be difficult to believe but he then moves from here to claim the solidarity with the poor card for his particular brand of patrician Anglicanism*:
"Obviously, it is no longer done to sneer at the working classes for being idle, brutish, smelly, and breeding too much. But it's perfectly OK to sneer at "faith heads" for all these things: that shows you're enlightened. It's pure coincidence that the despicable believers are for the most part lower class as well."
Amazing, isn't it? One can form an argument based on a contradiction of what you yourself have already said in the previous paragraphs of your own goddamn article and still pick up a pay-check from Guardian.co.uk.

But lurking in the shadows of this truly dismal piece is a half-formed argument that we've seen previously on this space from the likes of the excruciating Karen Armstrong, which is - and I hope that they'll forgive me for summarising it crudely, but accurately, as: religion isn't about what you believe but what you do. 'Performative' is a word beloved of - what shall we call them? - the New Guardianista Theists For Obfuscation?

But this won't do. What the believer does is informed and motivated by what they believe. I dare say the rituals and customs of 'performative' piety give consolation, sense of belonging and all that but one could be forgiven for thinking that Brown, Armstrong et al are engaged in an exercise that is attempting to delegitimize any questioning of the beliefs that motivate these acts of piety.

Why they should do this when history is replete with examples of how organized religion has used the claim to cognitive infallibility to such lethal effect is a question for them to answer but I'd like to ask them something else as well: doesn't the often threadbare utilitarian defences they give for their varying brands of conservative catholicism rather undermine the basis of the belief system they claim to defend? For no man ever forsook his father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter and took up his cross in order to support the nuclear family, preserve the work ethic, reduce crime in the neighbourhood or foster charitable giving as an important ingredient in civil society. Rather it was for the salvation of his own soul. An inconvenient truth for the soft theists of Comment is Free but if they were concerned with truth, they would realise they're simply engaged in an exercise that has to do with imposing a liberal narrative on salvation religions that don't have one. Then they'd be out of a job. Sorry, what was that you were saying about social hierarchy?

*Correction: from the comments below, I learn that Brown isn't an Anglican - just one of those high-church atheist types - 'Atheism is ok - just don't discuss it in front of the servants' .

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The 'Facebook Generation'

I found a link to this dropped in my comments boxes, in what I can only assume was an act of pure malevolence designed to depress me even further:
"The "Facebook Generation" of young teachers should be appointed to top school posts to help pupils switch back on to learning, a former senior government adviser has said.

Twenty-somethings who have just started teaching represent the best chance of engaging today's pupils with school, said Professor David Hargreaves, a researcher with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and former head of the Government's exams watchdog.

Schools had to recognise that older heads and senior management had little understanding of "Generation Y" – people in their teens and twenties who were brought up with the internet. "The central problem of our time is not standards. It is actually about getting kids to engage with learning."
Uh huh? i have a question: if generation y are so gr8 and techno-savvy, then how cum they cant find the goddamn upper-lowercase key on a fucking keyboard?

Smeato: from hero to zero

Introducing John Smeaton, the candidate for Glasgow North East, promising to bring a completely new brand of utterly incoherent populism to Parliament. One of the 'concerns of ordinary voters' that he's going to take up is immigration. Given that he aspires to represent a Scottish seat, perhaps he intends to argue that there just isn't enough of it - especially not into the depressing post-industrial desert with windows that is Glasgow North East? We just don't know - and neither does John Smeaton:
"Smeaton: "I think immigrants have done a fantastic job in this country. Immigrants have made this country a lot better. There just needs to be a fairer system."

Question: What's unfair about it at the moment?

Smeaton: "I just think it needs to be fairer across the board?"

Question: Why?

Smeaton: "I just think it has to be fairer. You hear so many differential things happening I just think we need a clearer picture on immigration."

Question: What's wrong with it?

Smeaton: "I don't know. It's a thing I put down to my constituents and what my constituents want and I'll go on that."
Bloody hell! Anyway, here he is being introduced as the candidate for the distinctly dodgy 'Jury Team' by Alan Wallace who goes from the Declaration of Arbroath (1320!) to the frankly bat-shit crazy idea of government by perpetual referenda in one sentence.



Now look here Smeato: we liked the whole punching burning terrorists thing but you're making a complete twat of yourself now. Wallace in the clip above says something about people getting the politicians they deserve. For myself I don't doubt that the people of Glasgow North East deserve better than this crypto-fascist bullshit.



Smeato: piss off - we don't like you anymore.

Smeaton fact of the day: he was born in Bishopton and later lived in Erskine until he fucked off to America. For those unfamiliar with the local geography, both of these places are in Renfewshire and not in Glasgow. So how well does he know Glasgow East? He tells us that his mammy used to work in a chemist on Saracen Street when he was a boy. That makes him a fucking expert on the problems of the area today apparently!

Another thing: Perhaps those of us who know the area rather better than the Erskine boy should remind him that the constituency takes in Sighthill where many asylum seekers have been housed over the years. We would like to remind him further that cheap anti-immigration rhetoric there has come with a heavy cost. On reflection, 'remind' is a poor choice of words, assuming as it does prior knowledge that has been forgotten. But Smeato, as we can see, hasn't forgotten anything - he never had a clue in the first place.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the Curriculum for Excellence

The consensus seems to be that it is in serious trouble:
"The Scottish Government's flagship education policy was under fire last night as teachers, academics, business leaders and politicians lined up to criticise the Curriculum for Excellence.
The policy – a massive overhaul of education in Scotland's schools – is due to be up and running by August next year.

But in a major challenge to education secretary Fiona Hyslop, Lindsay Paterson, one of Scotland's most distinguished educational policy academics, said the new curriculum was "vague", "confused" and likely to turn schools "upside down"."
Hmmm, so wot do the Scottish Government saith?
"A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The fundamental principle of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is to trust teachers. Our guidance supports them to develop the learning experience of their children in and beyond the classroom.

"CfE is being developed with very close involvement and leadership alongside key Scottish education agencies and trade unions to ensure CfE will provide the change needed within Scotland's education. We have received long and continued support from these bodies.

"In April this year, the Scottish Government issued a coherent set of experiences and outcomes which demonstrate how the skills of children from three to 18 years will develop and standards will be raised.

"This was completed with unparalleled involvement of hundreds of teachers, colleges and early years' providers.""
Uh huh? I'm all in favour of trusting teacher and all that - but notwithstanding their alleged consultation with unions and 'education agencies', I have to say if anyone's going to place their trust in me, it might be an idea if someone - at some point - explained what this shit is all about. Because at present I haven't even a ghost of an idea; not a Scooby-Doo; no fucking idea; not even the faintest glimmer of an idea. At all. And they're going to introduce this next year?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fresh protests in Iran

The Gadgie reminds us that it isn't over in Iran. The OpenDemocracy piece he links makes the following observation:
"The leadership's immediate concern is the state-sponsored "Qods [Jerusalem] day" demonstrations on 18 September 2009, an annual event held since 1981 when Ayatollah Khomeini designated the last Friday of the month of Ramadan as an occasion to express solidarity with the Palestinians. This time, members of the opposition "green movement" - named after the colour adopted by supporters of the reformist presidential candidate, Mir-Hossein Moussavi - are planning to use the march as an opportunity to fill the streets and voice their protests. The regime is desperate to ensure that there is no repeat of the great mobilisations in Tehran in the tumultuous post-election weeks."
Regimes in trouble always look for external enemies to distract from internal problems - which is presumably why he has cranked up the anti-Zionist rhetoric with a more explicit denial of the Holocaust:
The Iranian president has dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth" before, but this time he was more explicit than ever. "The pretext (Holocaust) for the creation of the Zionist regime (Israel) is false," he said in a Friday prayers sermon at Tehran University. "It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim. Confronting the Zionist regime is a national and religious duty," Ahmadinejad thundered as his audience replied in well-drilled unison with cries of "Death to Israel, Death to the United States."
Because there is now surely no doubt that the regime is in trouble?
"Tens OF thousands of Iranians chanted "Death to the dictator" as opposition protestors transformed an annual pro-Palestine rally yesterday into the biggest demonstration against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his military-backed regime for two months.
The protest – in defiance of warnings of draconian retribution by the authorities – was a potent declaration that the opposition is alive and kicking despite a ferocious crackdown since June's "stolen" presidential elections.
[...]
As [the President] spoke, demonstrators nearby chanted, "Down with Ahmadinejad" and "Torture and rape are not effective any more". They shouted in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who millions of Iranians believe was the true winner of June's elections."
When violent crackdowns are seen by a regime's opponents as a sign of weakness, that regime is in serious trouble. Ahmedinejad said,"This regime will not last long. Do not tie your fate to it." He was actually warning Western-backed Arab states about dealing with Israel but I'd imagine these will have already drawn the conclusion that the zeitgeist may have already decided that the 'Zionist entity' will outlive the rule of this vile little fascist.

Haven't trawled all the MSM as yet - the Hootsmon is the only outlet I can carrying it so far...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"I ken't yer faither"

It's an expression used here to denote the Scots' tendency to knock those few from our rain-sodden part of the world who actually manage to achieve some success in this life. Short-hand for a Calvinistic squelching of any aspiration - particularly when it relates to the arts. Jack Vettriano clearly feels he's been a victim of this:
"The artist is off to Milan next, after he spotted subject matter which he is keeping under wraps, except to say "it has to be painted".

He sees the city as a place where he can be judged on his work alone, not hampered by the "baggage" he has to shoulder in his home country.

Vettriano is referring in part to the controversy surrounding the National Galleries of Scotland's decision not to display the self-taught artist's work, which resulted in accusations of snobbery.

He says: "In Scotland I've got the baggage hanging over me of people saying 'he's a miner from Fife' and all the arguments about the National Galleries.

"In Italy they say he's the grandson of a peasant who left here 100 years ago, his work is very sexy and we love it."
My own view is that while I have no doubt the National Galleries crew are capable of snobbery, in Vettriano's case they made the right decision for the simple reason that he's completely shit. Furthermore, if the evidence included in the link above is anything to go by, he's actually getting worse.



It's not even good porn, is it? I didn't even know he was a miner from Fife - I just knew him as a shit Scottish painter. Let's reverse the whole thing, can we? Just because you're a miner from Fife (apparently), this doesn't mean you're not a shit painter. You are. But you're also fucking wadded because a whole load of rich people who have had their aesthetic sense shot off in the war buy your paintings. So stop complaining.

See the Tuiga Gallery - then weep...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hello, Prime Minister Brown?

It's Barack here - Barack Obama. I'd just like to express my disappointment at the decision by the Scottish Government to release Al-Megrahi.

Hi Barack - thanks for calling. Um, y'see the thing is, the decision to release Al-Megrahi rests with the Scottish Government. In a way, this would have been the case even prior to devolution: since the Lockerbie case was tried under Scots Law, the decision would have - or at least should have - rested with the Lord Advocate. As it is, it now is the responsibility of the Justice Minister in Holyrood. I can't say that we're happy with this, but there it is. I don't mean to be rude or anything but you'd think that someone who is the President of a country with a federal constitution would be able to grasp this whole division of jurisdiction thing?

If Brown said anything that even resembled this, I for one would be quite pleased...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Community Property

If you're familiar with the genre, you might find this amusing...

Car scrappage scheme

Does anyone know if I could use this to trade my car in for an amphibious landing craft?

I ask because here it has been raining for forty days and forty nights.

Prior to this, it rained for forty days and forty nights.

Don't tell me what the weather's like where you are because my sanity is hanging by a thread at the moment.



For Christmas - would like.

Lament from the trenches

There's an interesting post from Chris Dillow here about the effect that growing up during times of recession can have. I would agree with the finding of one of the research papers he links, which says:
"Individuals growing up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions."
Uh huh. I'd have to take issue with the idea that to make a distinction between 'socially-useful' and 'socially-useless' jobs is a function of prosperity, though. On this, Chris generalises from his own experience:
"My generation was shaped by the mass unemployment and industrial decline of the 70s and 80s. So we felt we had no such choice. For us, any job would do. And many of us still feel this way."
Well, I'm about the same age as Mr Dillow and all I can say is, speak for yourself, boyo. I drew the distinction but it had nothing to do with the times I was brought up with and everything to do with the ethos I inherited from my protestant atheist* parents.

So I went into teaching.

You should find it heartbreaking at just how wrong a person can be. Because what I've been thinking - for ages - is: is teaching really 'socially-useful'? I mean, while I'm teaching, my charges are not breaking into your house - so in that sense it is socially-useful. But this falls rather short of what most of us had in mind when we entered the profession.

I can't help making comparisons with people who do jobs that actually involve doing things that people want. For example, my washing machine broke down recently and I thought, "Oh fuck - that'll be three hundred quid for a new one". But instead I got an extremely helpful chap out who charged me a tenth of that to pull out the magnetic numbers and various other crap that my son had obviously been chucking into the machine for years and had now blocked the filter. (Had wondered where all these had gone - hitherto, I'd assumed he had eaten them.)

So you find yourself handing over thirty quid and doing so smiling. This is the sort of job I want - where people hand over dosh smiling because you've fixed some shit that they don't understand. Now that's socially-useful. But this never, ever, happens in teaching.

Or... if it has to be something socially-useless, let it be something that when you say what you do, people stare blankly and go, "Oh" - in a 'that's the end of that conversation' kind of way.

Like when people tell you that they are a project manager for an IT firm or something. What the fuck does that mean?

Sorry - just ranting. I'll go now....

*You think this a paradox? You know notheeng!

Monday, September 07, 2009

On the earth being round - and other unnecessary restatments of known truths

This has to do with the BBC's invitation to allow representatives of the BNP to appear on Question Time.

Both Chris Dillow and Paul Sagar base their objection to this on the grounds that while rational refutation of their obnoxious views might be the best way to oppose the BNP, Question Time hardly qualifies as a forum where rational argument is given pride of place.

They're right, although I'd make my own objection on a completely different basis. The presence of the BNP on a discussion programme is objectionable per se - but is objectionable in direct proportion to which said programme could be considered to be rational. In this context, entering into discussion at all involves giving up something of what we claim - which is that the BNP's politics have nothing to do with rationality and everything to do with hatred and prejudice. Here discussion gives form to the lie that there is a case to answer - because there isn't.

I'd like here to question the liberal assumptions under which the contrary argument is made. For instance, Paul Sagar, following Mill, says the following:
"[T]he best way to tackle the BNP is to debate them: putting them on a platform makes them easier to shoot at. On this point, I’m convinced of the classic liberal arguments espoused by Mill in On Liberty: the best way to destroy a pernicious opinion is to publicly expose it; the most counterproductive way of tackling such an opinion is to try and stifle it."
I'm not clear why he is persuaded of this classical liberal argument. Mill was often rather light on evidence to support his arguments - a significant failing for a self-proclaimed utilitarian - and this section of On Liberty proved to be no exception. Add to this that of course Mill couldn't have anticipated a world where despite the scientific discoveries of the last one hundred and fifty years or so, people would seriously be arguing that Creationism be taught alongside evolution - as if the matter were undecided. He couldn't have anticipated it because he imagined rational argument alone would triumph.

Those who insist the world is flat are not invited onto the BBC's science programmes on the pretext that the best way to counter such irrationality is to engage them in rational debate. These are rightly seen rather as candidates for remedial education and possibly medical attention. So why are those who are not only irrational but stupid and vicious with it considered suitable candidates for an appearance on a supposedly grown-up discussion about politics?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

On Newspeak

Johann, in the Indy, is arguing for a little linguistic cleansing:
"The English language needs periodically to be given a spring-clean, where we scrape off the phrases that have become stuck to the floor and toss out the rotting metaphors that have fallen down the back of the settee."
He then goes on to use as examples commonplace phrases and expressions that aren't metaphors at all - but are objectionable to him because they fail, in his view, to convey the proper emotion. Because like most journalists, Johann feels more deeply than thou. So, for example, he finds the easily understood phrase 'infant mortality' fairly offensive because it is too colourless and unemotional:
"If they are dead babies, call them dead babies."
Well, to be pedantic, infant mortality measures the rate at which children between 0-1 die per thousand. But 'infant mortality' is a less cumbersome phrase.

I wouldn't want to make too much of this. Columnists are paid to go all prophetic on us and wax lyrical like one of the minor prophets of the Torah - and I guess on a good day Johann does this as well as anyone else. But there was one of his examples that annoyed me and it was this:
"Climate change." This phrase was invented by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, when he discovered that focus groups found the phrase "global warming" too scary. Climate change sounds nice and gentle, and evokes our latent awareness that the climate has changed naturally throughout history. Even "global warming" is problematic, since it makes us picture putting our feet up in the sun. The more accurate phrase would be "the unravelling of the ecosystem", "climate chaos", or "catastrophic man-made global warming." They're a mouthful, but they are honest."
This would be easier to take this seriously as a candidate on his list for phrases to be expunged from the English language if he didn't use it himself - in the context of 'climate change deniers'. Now, I understand next to nothing about the science behind global warming but I know enough about history to recognise that this form of words is borrowed directly from those used to describe those who deny that the Holocaust took place. Which brings me to my point: my candidates for being expunged from the English language are those expressions that compare people to Nazis where it is not justified. I repeat, I don't know anything about the science of climate change but with this expression, people who dispute the evidence pertaining to global warming - while they may be obscurantist, and/or defending various economic interests - are being compared to those who are morally, intellectually and politically offensive enough to deny the Holocaust. This is a linguistic symptom of the trivialisation of the twentieth century's most heinous crime. I'll repeat what I said in a previous post: physician - heal thyself.
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