Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On Scottish nationalism and the collapse of the Irish economy

Liking this post from Johann Hari where he points out that Cameronomics has already been tried out to destruction on the Emerald Isle:
"Throughout the nineties and the noughties, Ireland was held up as a poster child by the right. People like John Redwood and (yes) David Cameron said its model of low taxes and almost-total deregulation showed the way forward for Britain. In fact it produced the most corrupt and over-extended banking sector outside Iceland. Just one bank – Anglo Irish – is now on course to receive a €30bn extended bailout, equivalent to every penny of tax collected in the country in 2009. The Celtic Tiger had its claws ripped out, and it's shaking at the back of its cage."
To be honest, I hadn't been particularly aware that the neo-Thatcherites had done this because if you live in Scotland, the politician one most associates with cant about the 'Celtic Tiger' is, of course, Alex Salmond. Take the following (please) from the Hootsmon around this time last year:
"What is the way forward for Scotland? What should be our inspiration? And what examples should we follow? First Minister Alex Salmond is in no doubt: Ireland."
That he should have gone quiet about this now is understandable - what is frustrating is how few journos or politicians have been able to nail him down on this point. The 'arc of insolvency' quip coined by the Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy went some way to wiping the smirk from Salmond's face - but even the best soundbites by definition lack specifics, and it's these that Salmond and the SNP should be made to answer.

Johann's points about Cameron don't apply to Salmond in the sense that the latter does not advocate deflationary budget cutting - but still, his advocacy of the Irish model should be exposed for what it was - a shallow appropriation of a seemingly successful economic model that has little or no relevance to Scotland.

For example, Salmond made much of - indeed made explicit in election campaigns - the Irish experience of attracting footloose capital by competitive rates of corporation tax. It was part of the reason that the excruciating Braveheart was filmed largely in Ireland. Salmond has never, to my knowledge, been made to address the fundamental problem with this sort of policy - namely it assumes the neighbour that you're freshly independent from is happy to oblige by keeping its corporation taxes at a helpfully uncompetitive level. And don't mention the potential erosion of national tax bases by such competition; Salmond, despite being a nationalist, doesn't care to consider such inconvenient questions.

Then there's membership of the EU. Good for Ireland because their relatively large agricultural sector meant they received considerable transfer payments courtesy of the CAP. Also, membership of the Euro meant until recently lower borrowing rates than Britain. Now, Ireland was always going to gain more than Scotland given the size of its agricultural sector - but after the enlargement that took in the ten Eastern European states, neither Ireland nor Scotland can expect to receive the level of subsidy that they had hitherto become accustomed to. The question of the Euro can be, I think, largely ignored as an entirely superficial and opportunistic attempt by the SNP to base the future of a country's constitution on ephemeral economic conditions.

Finally, there is the more fundamental secular trend in Ireland's economic development to consider. Their growth rates in the last two decades of the twentieth century can be attributed in part simply to the fact that they were experiencing classic catch-up from relative backwardness. You had a fairly young and well-educated population ready to move from the land into modern industries in a way that most European states had experienced some decades earlier. At the risk of being offensive with such a summary: once Ireland realised there was more to life than Catholicism and Kerrygold butter, they were bound to grow - but this is not an experience that is relevant to the rain-soaked workshop of the world's first industrial superpower.

It's not that these details are important to the nationalists. They are - or I should say were - happy to use the example of Iceland, which isn't even a member of the EU, still less the Eurozone, if they thought it suited their argument. Because despite their leader being an economist, the SNP represents the politics of pure identity - all the rest of this is window-dressing. It's naive of me, I dare say - but if they were pressed on one or two of these points, this would become increasingly obvious.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tories and teaching

When it comes to education, the Tories are Maoists - believing as they do in permanent revolution. The latest wheeze from the people who have spent my entire adult life pouring scorn on anyone working for the public sector in general - and teachers in particular - is to make teaching the 'noble profession'. How are they going to do this? Well, one way is to make sure every teacher has a Desmond:
"So we will end the current system where people with third class degrees can get taxpayers’ money to enter postgraduate teacher training. With our plans, if you want to become a teacher – and get funding for it – you need a 2:2 or higher."
Both Chris Dillow and Tom Freeman are sceptical. They're right to be. Allow me to throw in my own experience. I know I hide it well but I actually have an excellent degree - but I'm not an excellent teacher. One of the reasons for this is I hate people - and teenagers especially. This, rather than poor academic qualifications, is what's holding me back in this gig. That and various substance abuse problems...

The ability to acquire knowledge yourself and the kind needed to help others to do so are not the same. No scheme designed to bring the flip-chart generation into teaching is going to alter this fact. I mean, what are they going to do when they realise that their excruciating management-speak is actually incomprehensible to humans? As if to make my point, Cameron's speech itself is laden with a smattering of 'blue skies' bullshit. For example:
"There is no limit to what a child can achieve with the strong and confident teachers, so there can be no delay to the reforms we have set out."
No, there is. Even with the best teachers, I think pupils are still going to find things like alchemy a little beyond their reach. Cameron then finishes his speech with this kind of vapid cack:
"The best and the brightest talent. Fair reward."
Hits head on keyboard, pours another vodka and prepares for a bright future with no fucking verbs!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lazy-ass blogging

Introducing Karen Armstrong's Charter for Nausea...



"If you're not on your knees after that, praying to your God for the cleansing hellfire to engulf all the simpering cretins in that advert, you're spiritually dead inside. One can only wonder at the mentality of people who think that showing this stuff to Ahmed the Infidel Smiter will cause him to re-evaluate his life choices. More likely he'd behead every actor in that clip, and in a fundamental sense I'd be cheering him on."
Choice quote from Mr E's fisk of Tisdall's latest appalling shite.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Glasgow = 1920s Chicago?

Even by the standards of this relatively violent city, this was pretty hardcore:
"A GANGSTER dubbed Scotland's "public enemy No1" has been shot dead in a supermarket car park.

Kevin Carroll appeared to be the victim of a classic gangland hit outside an Asda store in the Glasgow suburb of Robroyston at 1:25pm yesterday. The 29-year-old career criminal – who went by the underworld nickname "Gerbil" – died at the scene.

A key figure in the Daniels crime family, his death sparked fears of a new turf war for control of north Glasgow's drugs market.

Mr Carroll, also known as Kevin McCabe, is understood to have been shot five times as he sat in his black Audi S4, while shocked lunchtime shoppers watched."
It was a Glasgow Councillor's historical reference that struck me:
"Billy McAllister, a Glasgow councillor who is trying to organise a summit on fighting organised crime, said: "How many deaths does it take until we are going to get tough on criminals in this city?

"It is like Chicago in the 1920s.""
Hyperbolic? I think so. The drugs trade doesn't produce as much gangsterism as Prohibition did in interwar America for the simple reason that alcohol was and is much more popular than any of the illegal drugs sold on the streets of Glasgow. Still, the analogy has some relevance - it's just a pity that the Councillor didn't follow through the logic of his position: the Americans decided that at least one of the problems with Prohibition is that the people selling the product that was made illegal on account of the supposed harm it causes were more dangerous than the product itself - so they adjusted their legal order accordingly. It would be refreshing if a few of our politicians would even consider the possibility that this historical experience might just have some lessons for us today.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

People losing their damn minds #27

I had to watch this clip I found via Polaris a couple of times before I could believe my ears.

Guiliani: "We had no domestic attaks under Bush - we've had one under Obama..."
Um, the thing with the planes and the tall buildings? I think you'll find that would count as a 'domestic attack' by most people's definition. You remember saying at the time that you were glad that George Bush was President?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

On the evil that was the Eighties #1

I was born in the sixties, which meant I was a teenager becoming a man in the eighties. If I believed in God, I would rage against Him for this. The eighties were horrible for so many reasons, I'm thinking a new series is called for - starting with music. I like music. I listen to music. I play musical instruments. I have plebian tastes and this pleb fucking hated eighties music. The Flying Rodent once made the (ridiculous) suggestion that the nineties were uniquely shite for music. Now Paulie has topped this nonsense by arguing (I think) that not only were the 'noughties' in some way especially shite, also that in comparison eighties' music was actually good.

While it is a strong field in which to compete, I think this must be one of the most absurd propositions I have seen on the blogosphere ever seen written down anywhere. Eighties' music was utter, utter shite. Even people who were good were shit in the eighties. I have found it impossible to put the musical pile of excrement into some kind of hierarchy of shiteness so I've opted for alphabetical order instead. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive. The average human memory simply does not have the capacity to contain the sheer volume of shite that was produced during this ungodly decade. Anyway...

Adam Ant

Don't want to mock the mentally ill too much but... Prince Charming, Prince Charming... What the fuck were you thinking about?

Almond, Marc

I can't...

Boy George

"Do you really want to hurt me?" Yes. But not in the fun way you're thinking...

Bronski Beat

Jimmy Sommerville comes from Ruchill in Glasgow and is gay. This makes him the hands-down winner of the hardest man in showbusiness - without a shadow of a fucking doubt. I tip my hat to him for this. Music's still shite tho...

Bros

If you haven't caught on already, you'll be beginning to see the point I'm making? I don't want to overplay my hand by mentioning Bucks Fizz...

The Cure

When people used to say, "I really like the Cure", it's not so much a question of disagreeing with them but failing even to recognise members of your own species...

Duran Duran

Frankly these two words should be enough to settle the argument - although from bitter experience I have found this isn't enough. Haven't even mentioned Depeche Mode...

Echo and The Bunnymen

People who were too cool to like Duran Duran liked these sub-Doors poseurs. Sad, but there it is.

Flock of Seagulls

Sight and sound - combining to make an aesthetic catastrophe.

Human League

One side of hair cut short, the other unfeasibly long. This counted as a fashion statement in this wretched decade.

Kajagoogoo

Comment superfluous...

Kraftwerk

Fucking Nazis...

Limal

There isn't anything good under L - but if there was, this surely would overwhelm them?

Morrissey

There's quite a few under M but this will do. Amazingly even to this day people confess to liking him and yet are unashamed. If this isn't an indicator of the utter degradation of this decade, I don't know what is.

I'm not doing N. It's too depressing...

OMD

Excruciating...

Pet Shop Boys

Please...

There's a reason why Q gets so many points in Scrabble...

Spandau Ballet

Bit like Duran Duran in that here's two words that really should settle the matter...

Thompson Twins

But there was three of them...

Now can I jump to V and give you Van Halen? Because I need to jump back to U for my piece de resistance...

U2

You-fucking-too. Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and comrades - the eighties were the decade that brought the horror that is Bono to the world. "How long must I sing this song?" Well you can shut the fuck up with your pretentious political posturing right now as far as I'm concerned. And tell that guitarist of yours to give that jingle-jangle shite played through an echo chamber a rest - it's getting on my nerves...

The prosecution rests, m'lud. The defence? The Jam? You trying to take the piss? That fake angry young man Paul Weller? One commentator remarked that he'd turned into Van Morrison, only with a better haircut. Don't agree about the haircut.

Note: I think Haloscan has passed away. Apologies if your comment was scoffed.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Labour leadership challenge: too lame, too late

Y'all will have heard Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt have called for a leadership contest:
"In a dramatic move that could see Labour plunged into a leadership contest just months before a general election, Geoff Hoon, the former chief whip, and Patricia Hewitt, the former Health Secretary, have called for a secret ballot on Mr Brown’s leadership. They have written to all Labour MPs, asking that the leadership question be resolved "once and for all".
I suppose it counts as drama in the post-festive season when fuck all is happening but I'll make an early New Year's prediction and suggest that this will come to nothing. They're calling for an election now? When Blair stood down, they could have had an election, but decided on a coronation instead. Then, when King Gordon turned out to be merely grumpy and Scottish, rather than more competent, more socialist, more...whatever people like Polly Toynbee expected him to be - the odd tantrum apart, they did nothing. Nobody in the party had the balls on either of these occasions - so why are we expected to see them emerge now?

Hoon and Hewitt have been described in various places as 'unloved' in the Labour party. This is because they are unlovely. Not very nice politics and too late. Oh how late they are. People have been rightly critical of New Labour and their triangulation 'Project'. But they had one virtue that 'Old Labour', or whatever you want to call the self-proclaimed keepers of the social democratic flame, do not possess: they thought government was better than opposition. It's the wing of the party that takes the opposite view, the wing that prefers the purity of opposition, that is in control of the party now - despite how much they may complain about it, despite their protestations that this isn't the case. This is why I'm confident that Brown will keep his job - and will subsequently lead his party to electoral oblivion. And this in the face of such an unworthy enemy!

This is perhaps an overconfident prediction for which I'll be made to look foolish for making. I hope so. But I'm looking at the sort of people who have been rushing to Brown's defence, and I despair. Take former IRA supporter Dave Osler, for example:
"As a zealous young Bennite in the early 1980s, I got used to being told that my brand of politics was disloyal, divisive and factionalist."
Really? Was there no-one on hand to tell you that your brand of politics was merely stupid, being both electorally and economically illiterate? It would seem not - and there's the problem Labour has to this day. Bennites preaching about loyalty and demanding it for a man who showed none to the Prime Minister under whom he was supposed to be serving? This is why we're all fucked.

Update - It's 10.27 and I'm liveblogging this gripping drama: Oh, there's fuck all happening. I'm going to watch Newsnight and run a bath...

11.05: Drama! My sponge has gone all squiggy in the middle!!!! You know that way it goes with overuse? This piece of information is more interesting than the 'coup' attempt, which even by the standards of recent putsch attempts in the PLP is some boring-ass shit. Someone once said that one of the most overused phrases in the English language is, "Things can't go on like this". Ah, but they can.

Nite. x

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A short note on terrorism

It's 2010 and global jihad is still on with volleyball players and elderly cartoonists finding themselves in the frontline. I am not suggesting that anyone on the left has been making excuses for either of these outrages. But if I might make a prediction for the new year, incidents like this will do absolutely nothing to cure the ambivalence towards terrorism that one finds in certain leftist circles. The intention is not to strike a Jeremiah-like pose and denounce the moral degradation of these. This is not only futile, it gives credence to the notion that this is somehow a new aberration. I'd like to suggest instead that this ambivalence is as old as the left itself and that perhaps part of the reason for this can be found in the way in which the historical narrative has been drawn.

Terrorism, if understood to be the pursuit of political objectives by acts of extreme and indiscriminate violence that have an intimidatory purpose, is an ancient practice. But it is customary in most historical commentaries to note the fact that the epithet 'terrorist' as a form of abuse became commonplace after the Jacobin Terror. It may be an unrepresentative sample I've been reading but most jump from this to the example of the anarchists in Tsarist Russia.

I was wondering if this is how the idea that terrorism, while indefensible in itself, has been understood to be an understandable - in some cases, essential - response to oppression and injustice?

Only those who have dropped their moral compass into the murky well of historicism seriously argue that the Jacobin Terror was necessary or justified. But the cleavage to the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity in European political culture is deep and profound. Today even those calling themselves conservatives feel the need to define themselves in these terms, usually arguing that liberty justifies the inequality they defend and advocate.

In the same way, while those prepared to justify Stalinist terror are thankfully an endangered species, I don't think many serious students of history would argue that the survival of the Romanov dynasty was a realistic option for Russia in the 20th century.

Is it possible that this essentially Euro-centric reading has coloured perceptions of the political use of terror ever since? The example that is often used to demonstrate the absurdity of finding the roots of terror always in injustice is the Baader-Meinhof gang. That it is also a European example tends to reinforce the impression. While I wouldn't disagree with the way in which this example is used, there's an older tradition of terrorism that illustrates the point and it is that which is found in the United States of America.

In 1870, a federal grand jury designated the Ku Klux Klan as a 'terrorist organisation'. In 1999, the city council of Charleston came to the same conclusion. There are good reason for this. From its foundation in 1865 to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, the KKK were the most prolific terrorist movement in the United States, responsible for numerous acts of intimidation, violence, arson and murder. Prior to 9/11, up to and including the Oklahoma City bombing, practically all acts of terrorism in America had been committed by angry white males. Now, their 'grievances' were, I think, illustrative of the point I'm struggling to make. Defeat in the Civil War, Abolition and later the dismantling of Jim Crow were racist repositories for their rage at a loss of status. The response was typical of extreme reactionary and fascist movements everywhere in that it was near nihilistic towards the present and dreamed of the resurrection of a mythical lost age. What is always characteristic of these imagined histories is that they are places where everyone knows their place.

It's a pattern into which Al-Qaeda and Islamist revolutionaries fit. The annihilation of the present is held to be a necessary step towards recreating the past. What the American example shows us is what Howard Jacobson once argued should have been clear from Othello and the character of Iago: hatred doesn't have to have a cause, still less a just cause. Moreover, even if it could be argued that it does, the mythical past these want us to return to is not a place where any civilised person would want to go - and certainly not agree with the means by which they've decided to get there.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Scottish school league tables - a brief analysis

The Herald has them here...

What they show is that factors held to be important, like uniforms, 'ethos' and religion, aren't. You'll find religious schools with uniforms in the top fifty but you'll also find some bumping along the bottom too.

This is because the factors that we are told aren't important clearly are. One religious school in Glasgow, for example, had precisely zero percent of S5 pupils passing more than five Highers. It could be their 'ethos' isn't up to scratch but I would have thought the fact that it is in one of Scotland's poorest constituencies, with around a third of pupils in receipt of free school meals, might just have something to do with it.

I'll look forward to the usual commentary arguing that it's the other way around.

This leaves the question: why do private schools do so well?

It's because not everyone goes to them.

No, it is that simple.
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