"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
However, I'm not sure if it is accurate to see the constitution as somehow introducing the principle of neo-liberal competition.
Rather, what the constitution did was to codify those elements which were drawn from the previous treaties and there are a couple of reasons why people tend not to notice how market-based the European Union always was. One is the CAP, the biggest exception to free-trade in the EU and, probably more importantly, the most noticed.
The other is the behaviour of member states towards EU competition rules. It is, as lenin says, "remarkable that the market and competition should be raised to the status of constitutional precepts" - but going by the previous form of member states, it didn't seem likely that these rules would have been given the status of constitutional precepts in practice.
For instance, one of the neo-liberal EU rules drawn from a previous treaty (Maastricht) was the so-called "stability pact" which decreed that member states that are members of the European Monetary Union should not be able to run budget deficits beyond 5 percent of GDP (or thereabouts; can't remember). The Germans (I think) insisted this rather silly rule was included in the constitution while they were - along with the French (and us, although the stability pact doesn't apply to Britain) - busy breaking it.
What was new in the constitution was not the rules as such but their likely impact in the wake of enlargement - with the French understandably apprehensive about competing with countries with much lower labour costs and a much lower take in corporation tax.
Having said that, I'm still broadly in favour of the EU for a couple of reasons. Lenin correctly points to the woeful lack of democratic principles which one would normally hope to find in any constitution worth the name but it is a paradox of the undemocratic EU that it is, to some extent, a force for democracy in the world, simply because aspiring members have to be democratic to join (witness Turkish reforms, motivated by the prospect of accession). And although its role has been overstated in this, the EU acts as a check on inward-looking, flag-waving nationalism.
I won't even attempt to speculate where the EU goes from here, but in the time-being I hope we'll hear a little less of a few Guardian-liberal myths and misconceptions about it:
- The ludicrous Polly Toynbee liberal self-loathing take on the EU where anyone who suggests it might not be in our interests to join the Euro or whatever is dismissed as a xenophobic little-Englander. As if you have to advocate the surrender of monetary and fiscal policy to Brussels to prove you're cosmopolitan, or something. Drives me mad that one; I trust we're done with that now?
- In the same vein, can we dispense with the equally silly idea that it's only the British who pursue their self-interest in the EU? (To read the Guardian sometimes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all the other member-states do everything out of the goodness of their hearts).
- The idea that only right-wing loons are opposed to the EU.
- That the single currency was a good idea. Surely it now has to be accepted that at best it was premature; at worst a fiscal and monetary straight-jacket entirely inappropriate for such a diverse range of economic situations?
The key problem with the EU is that it has been a project driven by elites who haven't really bothered to explain what it is for. That'll have to stop now, surely? I would also hope that one of my own big problems with the EU will now be addressed, which is that we are never given any idea when the project can be considered to have been accomplished. Without that, it's obviously not just me that is very suspicious of the idea of perpetual integration as an end in itself. A United States of Europe is neither feasible or desirable and given this fact, Europe's leaders have to be much clearer about the limits of its competence.
Friday, May 27, 2005
I do share the criticism of the American policy vis-a-vis detainees at Guantanamo - as well as those being held in Iraq and Afghanistan and I absolutely refuse to rationalise any acts of torture: they are - if you believe in human rights - always and everywhere unjustified and my own view is that Guantanamo should be closed as a matter of urgency.
However, SIAW is surely right to describe the comparison as completely lacking any sense of proportion - and Amnesty's use of it is part of a wider trend of trivialising historical horrors by applying them to contemporary cases that simply don't match the original events either quantitatively or qualitatively.
Practically any case in the world that involves widespread killing is today described by someone as "genocide", or a "holocaust"; any infraction of civil liberty, regardless of how trivial, is taken as proof of a "police state"; and everyone knows about the long and ignoble history on the left of using "fascist" or "Nazi" as epithets to discredit ideological opponents.
In the case of this use of gulag, quantitatively it is, of course, a wild exaggeration: the Gulags were set up in 1919 as a system of forced labour camps. By around 1934, these Gulags had several million members. The regime was brutal in the extreme with death from disease and exhaustion commonplace. There is no doubt in my mind that the inmates of Guantanamo Bay have had their human rights violated, which is disgraceful - but it is not a forced labour camp and there are around 500 inmates.
I'm aware of how tempting it is to use historical comparisons to win arguments; I confess - and this as someone who really should know better - that I've done it before and I think I may even have used this one before - but I'm going to make a special effort not to because it represents a very serious degradation of the historical language. This must be resisted because apart from anything else, it allows states to deflect perfectly valid criticisms of their conduct as wild and irrational.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
"THE WORLD'S BIGGEST sperm bank may soon run dry if a tax on donors becomes law.I'll resist the obviously cheap joke about the favourite pastimes of students...
Men visiting the Danish Croyos International Sperm Bank may soon have to pay tax on the £46.21 they receive for a donation.
The bank wrote to the government saying, 'It is a special kind of work and therefore the fee cannot be compared to normal working income.'
It added it risked losing donors, most of whom are students."
At the same time, American liberals who treat conservatives who want a constitution amendment banning flag-burning as reactionary fools are the same people who are dismayed by the insensitivity to what others consider holy, oblivious to the fact that it is exactly the same principle at work; both groups want what they consider sacred to be protected by law - or by force of arms if necessary.
That Hitchens has to point this out at all is rather depressing. If one wants to live in a free society, there is simply no way in which the state can protect what everyone holds to be sacred from being profaned - not least because in multi-faith societies, these clash. From an orthodox Muslim point of view, the Christian claim that Jesus was Very God incarnate is surely blasphemous? From the Christian perspective, Mohammed must be a false prophet because the traditional position of the church was that God has spoken His last word through His Son - the succession of prophets having ended with John the Baptist.
A liberal polity can protect people's right to consider days, objects, rituals sacred but cannot insist that others share this reverence without ceasing to become free. I think it was Oakeshott who said that unless the state makes a distinction between a crime and a sin - there can be no freedom.
Or to put it more mundanely, it's one thing not to eat a ham-sandwich because of your religious faith; it's quite another to insist that ham-sandwiches should be, therefore, banned.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
SIAW and Hak take the opportunity to point out a couple of mistakes they think I've made. Embarrassingly for a teacher, it seems I've made a grammatical error by using "amount" when I should have used "number" in this post. I've corrected it now and will be performing a self-criticism before killing myself later on today, if that's any consolation.
However, I'm not correcting (sic) "referenda" here because it is actually the plural of referendum - not "referendums" (it's the Latin, dear boys, the Latin). The reference to the German constitution banning referenda because of Hitler's use of them is historically accurate. I do agree with the German assessment that "referenda are the devices of dictators and demagogues" but I'm not going to labour the point 'cos I don't care about it that much.
I have no satisfactory explanation as to why I call myself "Shuggy". It's not my real name, I just thought of the silliest name I could think of the first time I ever left a comment on someone's blog (Shuggy McGlumpher) and I wish I'd though of something else because it's too late to change it now (as with the title of this blog: bloody stupid - and boring). The "modies" in the URL does have a rational explanation but unfortunately, I have to disappoint; it isn't anything obscene : originally, I intended this to be a blog for my fellow professionals and "modies" is what the kids call "Modern Studies", the other subject I teach along with history.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
1) Bald men (I suspect they resent me for still having all my own hair and a couple of baldies I know have actually been honest enough to admit this. It just recently occurred to me that I have no close friends that are bald).
2) Bald women (unless 1 and 2 have alopecia or are getting chemotherapy - I'm prejudiced, not evil).
3) Men with pony tails. I think folk say to themselves, "Hey - I can look cool and save money on haircuts". No, you look like a complete berk - get your bloody haircut, or at least take the tie-back off.
4) Young men with beards - especially if this involves a) goatees b) overly neatly-trimmed facial hair c) excessively large side-burns. I mean, I can't bring myself to read this blog that I've linked to because of the ever-present face of the author with a beard that is too damn neat.
5) Skinheads. I know they originated with white boys imitating the rude-boy haircuts but latterly, it was the hair-do of choice for members of the NF.
6) Sort of skinheads but with a wee fringe bit left long at the front. It doesn't look so threatening - just absolutely ridiculous. Someone needs to tell them that this look originated with the female skinhead.
7) Mullets. You don't see many of them thankfully, but they keep threatening to make a come-back. See, the problem with eighties nostalgia is that it's people that are about my age that run advertising agencies now and there's an evil conspiracy afoot to re-inflict the putrid fashions of that era. The eighties sucked - and not just because of Thatcher and Reagan. They were also very evil on the musical, artistic and fashion front - my deranged thoughts about which can and will fill an entirely new post coming soon.
8) Men with long hair but it doesn't have any layers in it and it's the same length all the way round. You look like a girl - get your haircut!
9) Men with too much body-hair.
10) Women with too much body-hair.
Sorry - I'm actually going insane. Please interpret this as a cry for help. I'm off to the pub now.
Myth #1: Parental involvement in schools is a good thing. No - it's a very bad thing. Don't get me wrong - we could do with more parental involvement in their children's upbringing, I'm all for that : if the average parent could teach their brats some bloody manners; teach them to speak, rather than grunt; and try and impress upon their little darlings that the world doesn't revolve around their needs and wants, ("because I don't want to" is today considered a perfectly reasonable excuse for being completely inert) I'd be enormously grateful.
However, once through the school gates, they need to: leave the rest to the professionals; try to refrain from elaborating on their wildly inaccurate - and usually fairly idiotic - assessments of their children's educational needs; and relax a bit - I get stressed just watching them getting worked up about how much freakin' homework their kids are doing. Which brings me to the next point.
Myth #2: 15-16 year olds should be doing 2 hours of homework a night. This was a government guideline a few years ago. I can't remember the details except if anything it recommended more than two hours. Parents are absolutely obsessed with homework and I'm always being told by some uber-stressed parent that their spotty-offspring "never seems to have any homework". I want to say, "Madam - that the indolent and aesthetically displeasing boy-child you have sired can muster up enough energy to dress himself is a minor miracle in itself; I would be absolutely astonished to discover he did any homework because he does bugger-all in here". That's not allowed, of course - but since I'm being made surplus, I might go for it before I leave. What are they going to do - sack me?
Myth #3: The state-sector is full of "trendy-teachers". I've said it before and I'll say it again - they don't exist, they're a tabloid myth much like the "looney left" running around in pink tutus promoting homosexuality in LEA schools in the 1980s. You may get one or two but the rest of us throw stuff at them as soon as words like "proactive" dribble out of their mouths.
Myth #4: Schools are failing "brighter kids". Schools - or rather our political masters who run them - are failing everyone but no-one more than the less able and those from poorer backgrounds. The one's at the top do okay. So what if the bloody Scandinavians do it better? Who wants to compete with the most boring people on the face of the planet? The problem with our school system is one of inequality. I can almost hear you saying "trendy-teachers who want all to win prizes...holding back the most able blah-de-blah". Cease your internal wittering, disagreeable cretin - you're wrong, wrong, wrong! And if you've been reading Melanie Phillips on this subject, therein lies the path of complete and utter madness.
Myth #5: Schools should enable every child to reach their potential. Not if they're potential murderers and rapists, they shouldn't. "Oh, I don't mean that of course", people always say -"but don't you think schools should encourage kids to go for their dreams and be all they can be?" Oh, sod off! They've already got wildly unrealistic expectations about what they want to be. The number that say they want to be lawyers, footballers, actresses, surgeons etc. - I think I'd be doing them a great disservice to encourage them in their near-pathological delusions about themselves. Which brings me to the last point...
Myth #6: Children perform badly/misbehave/get involved in criminal conspiracies because they're suffering from "low self-esteem". Or so social workers/guidance...sorry, pastoral care teachers keep telling me. Well, I'm sorry but rather a lot of them seem to have rather too much self-esteem. Apart from their ludicrously unrealistic careers ambitions, occasionally a pupil will complain I'm "picking on them" - completely oblivious to the fact that I have neither the time, inclination or interest to involve myself in such a self-evidently pointless activity.
A MAN ACCUSED of stealing another man's penis through sorcery has been beaten to death in the West African country of Gambia, police say.
A police spokesman said that Baba Jallow, aged 28, was lynched by about 10 people in the town of Serekunda, some nine miles from the capital Banjul.
Reports of penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, with purported victims claiming that alleged sorcerers simply touched them to make their genitals shrink or disappear in order to extort cash in the promise of a cure.
The police spokesman said many men in Serekunda were now afraid to shake hands, and he urged people not to believe reports of 'vanishing' genitals.
Belief in sorcery is widespread in West Africa. Seven alleged penis snatchers were beaten to death by angry mobs in Ghana in 1997.
Monday, May 23, 2005
In the interregnum, the advanced economies failed to cave in under the weight of their internal contradictions, although Hobsbawm argues persuasively that they came very close. Two Western European states did fall to plebian revolutionary movements - but these were of the extreme right, not the left.
Some argue the prophets of the right have been more prescient. After all, Edmund Burke had predicted with uncanny accuracy the Terror and the Napoleonic expansion that followed the 1789 revolution. However, he failed to foresee that it would be those states that were subsequently the most exposed to the ideas of the French Revolution (and the Enlightenment in general) that would prove to be the most stable. (This he shared with Marx - neither anticipated the relative stability of the emerging bourgeois state.)
Nick Cohen is right to argue that the normal function of political prediction is to silence debate, although his accompanying statement - that "if the prophet is proved wrong...his authority vanishes" - requires some qualification: the prophet's loss of authority requires people to notice and to remember that he got it wrong.
And history - as well as recording man as an incompetent fortune-teller - is littered with examples of prophets and millennial movements that have survived prophetic failure. For instance, two heterodox Christian sects - the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah's witnesses - remain to this day, despite having in their past been foolish enough to give a precise date and time to the coming apocalypse.
These strange phenomena are possible because of the way in which the soothsaying business is so closely tied to what people want to believe; wearing the prophet's mantle always and everywhere represents a desire for moral vindication.
This can, I think, be clearly seen with Iraq. During his Senate Committee hearing, George Galloway spoke for probably most of the anti-war movement when he claimed that he had been "proved right" about "everything" he had said about (the invasion of) Iraq. Yet true to historical form, to agree with this wildly inaccurate statement requires the selective amnesia that is so characteristic of the millennial believer.
One could enumerate the anti-war left's clanging false prophecies (I'm particularly fond of reminding people of Galloway's expression of surprise that Saddam's Arab neighbours didn't pitch in to defend the tyrant who - George assured us - would be the "last man standing in the bunker" in the second battle of Stalingrad) but they were mostly variants of the mistaken belief that Iraq was brimming with people who were prepared to die in order to preserve Saddam Hussein's regime.
As failures to read situations go - surely this should be classed as something of a whopper?
The pro-war left's predictions were a bit out too: Christopher Hitchens wrongly anticipated that "weapons of poison and disease" would be discovered under mosques in post-invasion Iraq. He correctly predicted the discovery of mass-grave, secret prisons and "maniac palaces" but was wrong to think that this revelation would "astonish the world"; most people just shrugged.
Nick Cohen's use of the term "Cassandras" to describe the posturing of the anti-war soothsayers captures perfectly their spirit - but doesn't completely fit on the details: Cassandra was fated to foresee future calamity and be ignored; the anti-war prophets were consistently wrong about almost everything - yet today they are feted as seers.
Because we can't know the future, perhaps the political heirs of the Jehovah's Witnesses will eventually be "proved right" in their dark warnings about the future prospects for democracy in Iraq.
But this will not vindicate them - and not just because they can only ever be right in the way a stopped-watch is right twice a day: it should have been obvious from the outset that catastrophe in Iraq is something they earnestly wish for - and it's this that should have been given more attention.
Does every car-bomb that explodes in Baghdad fill you with a secret sense of satisfaction because you take each one as further evidence that you were "right all along"? I'm so glad I'm not you.
Friday, May 20, 2005
So is this.
Nearly forgot this.
Finally - in this collection which was gathered in under five minutes and represents the tip of a particularly bloated ice-berg, Paul Anderson writes that "This Show Will Run and Run".
Neither he nor anyone else is giving any indication of how long this pantomime will last, which is unfortunate because if anyone had any idea, I'd plan my holiday around it.
As well as agreeing with the basic analysis of Galloway's position that we've all read about a million times (the idea that if one's position is to oppose the US regardless, you end up becoming as unprincipled as Washington etc.), I've been a fully paid-up member of the George-is-a-complete-tosser club sometime before he was caught on camera kissing Saddam's arse and before most of the London-based bloggers even knew who he was.
But this madness has to stop, dammit - for the following controversial reasons:
1) Galloway goes to Washington, does the verbal equivalent of kicking Christopher Hitchens in the nuts - walking into the Senate hearing, grabbing one of them by the lapels and splaying his nose over his face with a well-timed headbutt. The other Senator gets smacked in the chin with an empty bottle of Buckfast before he can say "indefatigability".
Despite intellectually holding him in contempt, I felt a very strange primordial sense of national pride. Say what you like - and I have said it - the man's got balls, and they were made in Scotland.
Apart from anything else, all this scrutiny he's been under has spectacularly back-fired: for the moment at least, Galloway must be the most famous Scotsman in the US, apart from Sean Connery.
The next two are more serious - and controversial.
2) I'm really not sure that Galloway will be found to have done anything criminal; we've been down this road before up North (War on Want) and nothing came of it. But even if he has been personally enriching himself, this is still out of proportion. The Oil for Palaces scheme stank of corruption and a number of American and British capitalists - not forgetting Kofi's boy, of course - have been implicated. They haven't been convicted of anything yet - but then again, neither has George Galloway.
3) This is a contentious point. It'll be misunderstood but that's too bad; I genuinely believe it needs to be said by one of Galloway's political opponents : what if it emerges that Galloway's dealings with the Miriam Appeal were all above board and nothing comes of this latest story about vote-fixing in Bethnal Green? Without any evidence of criminal activity on Galloway's part - it will be impossible to avoid the conclusion that he has been persecuted for his beliefs, and that ain't a good place to be folks.
Yes I know, I know : he's odious, a complete phoney, and has by effectively backing Saddam - and now the "resistance" - achieved the negation of nearly everything he once professed to believe in.
But that's not in and of itself a crime, is it? And if one believes in liberty, one should defend his right to say it.
You find this offensive? Tough shit - because liberty, if it means anything at all, means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.
Update: seems I forgot to put the irony tags around reason #1. As lenin might say, do I have to wear a sign?
Update #2 - Apologies to readers; this is obviously one of my more incoherent posts because it's been somewhat misunderstood and I'll try and rectify that now.
Particularly in the blogsphere, it seems one either has to think Galloway's an anti-imperialist hero who is entirely innocent of everything he's ever been accused of or you think he's a fascist and a criminal.
My own view is that while I agree with much of the criticism made of his position vis-a-vis the Ba'athist regime in Iraq (but I eschew the long and ignoble tradition on the left of calling people you disagree with a fascist), it is a mistake to assume that he must therefore be guilty of what he has been accused of.
For what it's worth, I personally think it is very unlikely that he will be found guilty of any criminal offence. I was trying to do a sort of, "I hate what you're saying but I'll defend to the death your right to say it" riff; I've obviously failed miserably...
Update #3 - Which is not to say I'm going soft on him or anything. Anon writes in the comments: "His beliefs should not render him immune from investigation." No, no - of course not. And if he has done something dodgy, he should be strung up by his gonads and be pelted to death with Quality Street.Update #4: Hitchens on Galloway - via Will.
"A prison guard has been suspended after he disguised himself as a convict to steal drugs from a jail medic.It was the next line in the article that got me:
Adrian McCallum, 22, stunned bosses at Kilmarnock Prison when he tried to pull off the bizarre stunt in front of hundreds of cons.
The guard was so desperate for drugs he sneaked into a prisoner's cell and stole his uniform.
He then joined a queue of drug-addicted convicts waiting to be given heroin substitute methadone.
Tattooed McCallum, of Cumnock, Ayrshire, shuffled along in the queue in disguise hoping to be handed a supply of the drug.
But he was spotted - and shocked cons watched in amazement as McCallum was hauled out the queue and frog-marched away by furious guards.
Red-faced prison bosses last night confirmed the guard had been suspended.
An insider said: 'Everyone has been stunned by the guy's stupidity.
'He stole a prison uniform and then joined the queue at the methadone counter. If they don't have it, convicts who are used to taking drugs will just go crazy.
'McCallum was shuffling along in the queue with his head down wearing the uniform and had got to the front of the line.
'But at the last minute, he was spotted by other guards who yanked him out. He kept on trying to say it had been a joke, but I don't think anyone believed him.
'All the prisoners were going wild when they realised what was happening.
'It makes it difficult for the guards to retain any authority after something like this happens. I can't see McCallum escaping with his job after this.'"
The bizarre incident happened on Wednesday afternoon at house block two of the Ayrshire jail.
"It is not known whether McCallum is a drug addict."Um, I think that would be a reasonable assumption - either that or the guy's head is completely full of day-light.
For those of us who aren't big fans of PFI, the added bonus in this story is the revelation that the Kilmarnock prison is run by some outfit called "Premier Prisons" and has been under scrutiny before for lax security, under-staffing and prisoner abuse.
1) The news that science does not vindicate the assumption of moral superiority by middle-class wendys who have nothing better to do with their time than wash nappies.
The last time I felt a similar sense of a just Creator with an excellent sense of humour was when I heard that the guy who invented jogging dropped dead of a heart-attack before his three score years and ten were up.
2) The news that some pile of excrement called "I'm a Celebrity Island, Please Tempt Me" or something has proved to be a ratings failure.
I'm not very well-acquainted with "reality TV". I shouldn't pretend the reason for this is because I'm too busy with more cultural pursuits. My telly gets amazingly crap reception: channel 5 is something I've only read about and the availability of the other four depends very much on the weather.
Anyway, one of the few times I've seen it was when some piece of public-school detritus called "Nasty Nick" was foiled in his dastardly scheme to achieve something, the precise details of which are completely lost to my long-term memory, I'm glad to say.
The subsequent confrontation with the other Big Brother house guest people was so tedious, I went off and rearranged my sock drawer. Could not believe the tabloids the next day; this was the highlight of the series, it turns out.
These trendy, post-modern cultural critics who seriously want us to believe that this sort of brainless cack is indicative of a democratic cultural sensibility, and anyone who disagrees with this pap are terrible elitist snobs, really could do with being killed.
It's low-risk, low-rent programme-making motivated by the concerns of advertising companies and the God of Bill Hicks will take his vengeance, you mark my words.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
"Britain should not have a referendum on the EU constitution if the French vote no to it, Sir Menzies Campbell said."Um, is it just me or is this one of those "Pope a Catholic" sort of stories? Like all EU treaties, this one to facilitate enlargement has to be ratified by all members and if France votes "non", it's dead in the water and they'll have to go back to the drawing board so it would be fairly pointless people voting on something that's not going to happen.
I must say, I share Third Avenue's attitude to referenda - but when you say that, you tend to get a sort of inverted snobbery with people getting defensive, thinking you're accusing the masses of being dense or something.
This is bollocks: the "people" aren't the least bit interested in wading through the mangled prose of the EU constitution - and this is not a sign of stupidity but their good sense and indicative of them having better things to do, I'm glad to say.
The only reason I know anything about this sort of thing is because I had to for a paper on European integration when I was at university. I can't say the experience left me with the feeling that everyone should learn this stuff. Rather, I would say to anyone that, should they get the opportunity to read half a dozen books on monetary union, don't! These are hours of my life I'll never get back, dammit!
Anyway, people only advocate referenda when they think they're going to get the result they want - hence the tendency for Euro-phobe Tories to insist on one every 10 minutes; they're confident the Daily Mail/Sun axis of xenophobia will win the day.
The thing is, I wouldn't be so confident if I were them. Opposition to the EU is fairly soft and if the French vote "oui" and we have to have one, cue lots of mainstream politicians and celebs in a marketing blitz trying to persuade everyone that they'll die if they don't vote "yes" and people like John Redwood and Tony Benn on hand, serving as useful illustrations for the government's line that anti-Europeans are all loonies (conveniently forgetting that the EEC used to be a Tory policy while Labour was committed to withdrawal - although you can trust Tony Benn to remind them).
Anyway, if the French say "non", I reckon we should use the intervening time to have German-style legislation banning referenda.
Now, why do the Germans have this constitutional provision? Something to do with the fact that the diminutive Austrian corporal that ran the place from 1933 was rather keen on plebiscites, wasn't it?
Monday, May 16, 2005
Norm, meanwhile, thinks she's talking crap.
John B. thinks Norm has missed the point.
I'm not sure Norm's missed the point at all, although I wanted to make a couple of different points: when it comes to historical precedents, it's time for the rationalizers to face the fact that there really isn't much to go on. You can mention the kamikaze pilots of WWII (as if they were a model of rational behaviour); and everyone likes to mention the Tamil Tigers. Less plausible is Bunting's mention of Soviets carrying out suicide missions against the Nazis.
Other meagre historical sources can be scraped together but the sheer difficulty in finding any proper historical precedent is telling: the routinization and normalization of suicide-bombing/missions or whatever you choose to call them is historically unprecedented, a brute fact that is going to have to be accepted sooner or later (please don't leave comments in the boxes repeating the same examples; I stress "routinization").
The other point is over the use of martyr. It is, of course, a feature of all the monotheistic faiths to have heroes who have died for the faith, as Bunting says:
"Interestingly, it prompted exactly the same sorts of criticism among pagan Romans as today's Islamist militants do in the west: the Christian martyrs were accused of dementia and irrationality."Indeed they were - but there the comparison ends: the primitive church was something of a puzzle to the ancient Romans. Their version of paganism was fairly elastic and it was considered good manners to be inclusive in a "I'll worship your god, if you worship mine" sort of way.
The Christian insistence that there was only one God and that it was the duty of the believer to refuse to bow down to idols was considered downright rude and uncivilised by the Romans - as well as very irreligious, so when they were being thrown to the lions, the crowd would cry, "Death to the Atheists!"
Which brings me to a bugbear: the implication is that we decadent Westeners don't understand honour and this ancient concept of martyrdom. But martyrdom is, as the above example shows, about dying for one's faith - not about killing yourself and as many Jewish pizza parlour patrons as you possibly can.
This - along with so many features of contemporary political Islam - is a distinctly modern phenomenon, and those ignorant of both history and theology should really stop wittering on about supposedly ancient traditions that have never existed.
The distinction is, for instance, one of the reasons why Dietrich Bonhoeffer is not considered by some in the church to be a martyr because, they argue, he didn't die for his faith but due to his courageous involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler.
Others disagree, arguing (correctly) that this grew directly from his Christian faith - as his letters clearly show. The point to hammer home is that on both sides of this rather arcane theological dispute is an agreement about what martyrdom actually is. It is the same in Judaism and in Islam - it always has been and Bunting's semantics are simply an obfuscation (whether deliberate or, more likely, due to ignorance) of the historical reality.
"The suicidal recklessness of a large number of early Christians, aimed precisely at bringing about their martyrdom, bewildered and horrified contemporary commentators. But martyrdom was an astonishingly effective propaganda tool designed to inspire awe - and converts."And why were they reckless? Because they believed that martyrs had a special place in the afterlife, as the Book of Revelation teaches. It was particularly deeply felt because of the belief that this present world was passing away. Unless one understands the eschatalogical urgency of the Gospels and the earlier epistles, one cannot understand the New Testament or the behaviour of the primitive church.
Islamicist suicide-bombers are also motivated by belief. It has no theological precedent in Islam but it suits the proponents of the ideology to give it legitimacy by cloaking it in a spurious antiquity - just like another movement of the twentieth century that can always be explained by reference to economic, social and historical circumstances but no matter how plausible the explanation, one has to understand that once it takes hold, it takes on a life of its own.
We used to call it fascism.
Ever teacher likes to bitch and moan about the kids and particularly when they get older (I should say "we" but unbelievably I count as a younger teacher) - but this drivel is really too much.
It's not that I don't sympathise on aesthetic grounds; the sight of 30 track-suited, acne-ridden teenagers with their zero-carat jewelry is a fairly unsettling sight first thing on a Monday morning with a hang-over but really, when did teenagers ever look anything other than threatening?
I friend of mine from school was a punk. He looked fairly threatening at the time - a bit like a diseased toilet-brush with safety-pins but he turned out ok.
I have a fairly pessimistic view of human nature and let's face it, adolescence is not when homo sapiens are exactly at their best - what with the raging hormones, parts of them growing at different speeds, and the onset of existential angst.
But doesn't the government understand that this wears off?
Don't give them the vote; therein lies the path to insanity.
But cut them some slack, for god's sake; there's no need to put them in chain-gangs either.
And I can set my child's bedtime myself thank you very much, you preachy bunch of patronising New Labour turds.
Bad news is that it's the school I went to as a pupil! And the answer to the question everyone asks is, yes - there are still teachers there from when I was a pupil.
Ask not why, out of all the schools in Scotland's biggest city that I could have ended up in, I end up working in an institution in which I've received corporal punishment; the bureaucracy does this sort of thing for dark, comic reasons of its own.
I went for a wee visit on Friday, during which I met one of the staff who unfortunately remembered me. She said she recalled me being an ok pupil but with a "mild attitude problem".
I was most taken aback - I'd always been under the impression that my attitude problem was more impressive than that!
The War On Liberty continues with proposals in the Queen's speech to introduce ID cards while the Tories "are in disarray". The religious incitement bill is also to be re-introduced. The government has expressed its intention to use the Parliament Act (Blair had, by the end of his first term, already used the Parliament Act more times than Thatcher in her entire tenure in office) to overcome opposition in the Lords.
This has been a government that has been hyper-active legislatively - although if bills associated with criminal justice were excluded, the hyper-activity would evaporate and perhaps people would then see that New Labour has spent a comparatively little time doing the sorts of things one associates with a Labour administration.
Given that Blair's reduced majority now means it would take only around 30 MPs to rebel, do you think the Parliamentary Labour Party will take this opportunity to show they are no longer willing to be pushed around?
I'm not holding my breath.
Friday, May 13, 2005
"The president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), Alan McKenzie, said many staff covered up problems to protect school reputations."Some may, although I don't: this place is crap and I don't care who knows it.
"He said that teachers did not have the tools to control classroom behaviour."As I said before - weapons, my man, we need weapons!
"Mr McKenzie wants ministers to take a lead by stating what is acceptable behaviour"Hmmm, not sure Scottish ministers are that well-acquainted with the concept of acceptable behaviour Alan.
"He added: "In the front line there are no real tools that work. There are a whole series of paper chases, referral systems and punishment exercises. All of which compound upon themselves to create more problems because if you give a punishment exercise the chances are that it will not be done. You therefore have to chase it up again, double it and refer it on to somebody else."My ingenious solution is simply not to give out punishment exercises (actually, that was my ingenious solution to all paperwork - but I got into trouble for that). Seriously, he's right - they're a complete waste of time and I can't be bothered issuing them.
I was thinking, though - listening to some guff on Question Time about hooded-tops (they're adolescants, for god's sake; they look repulsive - get over it) and Blair's getting tough on loutishness and disrespect for teachers and nurses - that you can't blame them too much because politicians and journalists have been setting them a very bad example over the years.
I've ranted about politicians before on this topic, but what about journalists?
I think Melanie Phillips, for example, should apologise for incubating delinquency and disrespect amongst the young with her near-hysterical attacks on "trendy-teachers" (don't exist) and "modern teaching methods" (lasted for about a week in the 1970s) and the like.
Now, I had intended to respond with a thoughtful, balanced piece (or at least, I was going to try) using lots of groovy pol sci/sociology of religion concepts and talk about charisma, broad churches, sects and sh1t like that but I can't be bothered 'cos this is just getting ridiculous.
A sense of proportion is called for, methinks - and one area in which it's needed most is this business of "communal" politics.
Now, I dare say Galloway won Bethnal Green in street-brawling fashion with dirty tricks and a stoop to the politics of identity - although I shouldn't say so, because I wasn't there - but those of you who seem to think that this is in some way unprecedented don't seem to have asked yourselves: where, exactly, do you imagine that Galloway learned the street-fighting methods he used to such devastating effect in the election? Some people really need to get out more. Or, I should say, out of London more because the answer to the preceding question is...the Scottish Labour Party of course, where the hell do you think?
Galloway was the youngest ever chairman-thingy of the Scottish party - and you simply cannot get on in the Labour Party up here if you don't do a bit of communal politics. Here we have corruption, dodgy accounting, dirty tricks and the politics of the tribe that would put Tony Soprano to shame.
And there's some of you going on as if you're supposed to commit suicide or something if you didn't vote Labour. I mean, really!
He's behiiiiiiiiind yooooooooou!
Ruth Kelly wants less of this kind of thing.
So do I but it doesn't help when you get into school (late, I'm afraid) and there's a dirty great advertisment for a well-known mobile phone company in the foyer!
Thursday, May 12, 2005
"Tony Blair today signalled that a crackdown on antisocial behaviour would be the centrepiece of Labour's third term, alongside plans for rapid reform of the NHS and education over the summer."So, more Maoism for teachers and nurses and yet another crackdown on the track-suited fraternity?
Personally, I'd like to see a crackdown on the number of crackdowns - they've got to unmanageable proportions...
Well, we haven't - and here's why. We've had years of relentless tax increases on fags. Not content with that, they're going to ban it in public places. Now they're started picking on fatties, hectoring them for not taking enough exercise and eating too many chips.
Up in Scotland, we get all this crap with bells on: I get e-mails from the Council asking me what I'm going to do for no smoking day (have a fag, whaddya think?) and fatties get lectured even more than they do in England, on account of the Scottish cuisine (deep-fried sugar lump).
Now, it's annoying but I suppose they mean well and want us all to be healthy and live longer.
So why do we get all these lurid statements about the "pensions time-bomb" and complaints about the working population being too small to fund the growing army of crumblies?
I really don't think they've thought this one through.
Update: See, I'd just posted this - popped over to the Grauniad for a quick swatch and this is shuffling its way across that wee bit they have for breaking news.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Although not as important as detention without trial and the various other restriction on liberty introduced by this government, Blair's re-starting of the Thatcherite war on the teaching profession was one of the reasons why I felt unable to vote Labour this time. Just when the Thatcherite/Maoist rampage through our educational system seemed to be petering out under Major, Blair on being elected in 1997 started it up again - signaling his intention to do so by re-appointing the appropriately named Chris Woodhead as Chief Inquisitor of teachers (or whatever his job description said).
Since then, my English comrades (thankfully, up here us "unreconstructed wankers" - Blair said it, not me - only get watered-down versions of all the garbage they have to put up with) have been inflicted with all sorts of soul-destroying targets, and the bureaucracy that goes with it; changes in the examination system; changes in the structure of the schooling system itself - along with a hefty dose of sneering contempt from oleaginous Blairite ministers who spout crap about "bolshie teachers' unions" (I wish), and "trendy teachers" (if that isn't an oxymoron, I don't know what it), and so on.
Then, to add insult to injury, the slight change of tack - after the astonishing discovery that people were becoming disinclined to do this job - came in the form of that pathetic advert, where various celebs appear on a pukey advert under the stirring slogan "everyone remembers a good teacher" - like that's going to make up for all the sh1t we've had poured over us all these years!
Now, with the appointment of Adonis, the English system is about to experience the extension of choice in the system, with more "specialist" schools and more parent power.
Hmmm, Adonis's academic CV would suggest he isnae daft - but I think one crucial point has escaped him and others who advocate "choice for all" in education: it doesn't exist and can't exist.
So much of the guff one hears about education stems from the fact that people have a strange reluctance to accept that it is compulsory. What I mean really is that alot of people today - no doubt having had their minds befuddled with the lazy but insistent cry of "consumer sovereignty" one hears everywhere - don't seem to want to accept the implications of this, because to modern ears it sounds uncomfortably illiberal.
Compulsory education is illiberal, if one uses the term in its traditional sense. It goes beyond the notion that 5-16 year-olds don't know their own good; implicit in the legal structure of compulsory education is the notion that parents don't know their children's own good, should they think that education is something they can opt out of.
Sometimes I think this fact is just too much for people and it seems that there's an incredible amount of energy spent on maintaining the illusion that this state of affairs is somehow consistent with notions of consumer choice, hence the modern trend to the marketisation of the system we all know and hate.
Another fact - this time about free-markets - has to be taken on board; they produce waste because implicit in the concept of choice is the possibility that some items will be left un-chosen because no one wants them. Now, if this is just, say, Marks and Sparks Y-fronts, this doesn't matter much - they can put them in a bargain bin to get rid of them.
But for education, this is a different matter: the best "products" in the educational market are the schools that perform the best academically and in the education market, these are the one's that everyone will want; the poorest "products" are the schools like the one's I end up teaching in all the time.
If it were a really free-market in education, the limited stocks of places at the best schools would be rationed out by the price-mechanism. Fortunately, we don't have this a present so on what basis will they be distributed? At present, there's a mixture of mechanisms but the most significant is the possession of a desirable postcode - and these, as anyone who's experienced the housing market in the last few years will testify, don't come cheap.
What I'm suggesting in other words is that, in this context, it's the schools that have the choice, not the parents. How that's supposed to help inequality in education (and that is the problem - this is where we fall down compared to the rest of the OECD, not at the university end) is beyond me because no-one with even a passing acquaintance with the education system thinks that schools - working in an environment where the crude obsession with league tables dominates - will use their choice to select those with behavioural and learning difficulties.
And it'll be enormously difficult to challenge because anyone doing so will immediately be accused of being anti-choice, which everyone knows is a Good Thing In And Of Itself.
It's not good - and I really do worry about my English friends because y'all seem to have got yourselves into a fairly extreme state of neurosis about what schools to send your little treasures to already - god knows what effect the next stage of the Thatcher revolution is going to have.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Scottish nationalism grew in the 1970s but became particularly strong after 1979, with the election of Margaret Thatcher. Her monetarist strictures were felt particularly acutely here: the decimation of manufacturing was a colossal blow particularly for towns where one large employer dominated - as was the case in Motherwell, for example, when the Dalziel steel works closed.
Add to that Thatcher's war on local government, which deprived councils of the ability to obviate central government's spending restraints (and her unwillingness to countenance devolution) - combined with Thatcher's gratingly English abrasiveness, and the poll tax (introduced a year earlier here) - it's not difficult to understand why nationalism grew in this period.
One of the key arguments that nationalists (and those supporting devolution) used was that all of this was imposed by a Tory government elected on the votes of those in the South of England.
Given that this sort of argument is now being used to justify demands for an English Parliament, it might be worth looking at this from the perspective of someone familiar with the arguments, but not persuaded by them.
In a nutshell, I don't buy it. For one thing, it's too neat and convenient. One doesn't have to examine the data too hard before it clearly shows that the pattern for Scotland was much the same for the North of England as well: this part of Britain also suffered disproportionately from the monetarist-accelerated decline in manufacturing and like Scotland, the Northern part of England (and Wales, for that matter) consistently returned a majority of Labour MPs to Westminster.
I was going to make similar points for all the issues raised by nationalists, Scottish and English with regards to representation, funding, taxation etc. but they would all basically be re-iterating the same one: you either believe the purpose of Westminster elections are to elect a government for the whole of Britain or you don't.
If the former position is held, it should not matter greatly what the ethnic and/or national make-up of the cabinet is.
At present, there is much talk about a "Scottish Raj" running Britain - which ignores the fact that this is simply due to the solid Labour voting bloc in Scotland on which people like John Reid, Helen Liddell, Robin Cook, Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown built their careers while the South of England was voting Tory.
The same goes for the Barnett formula: the point about this is that it pre-dates devolution and is still with us now - so the question as to whether it is justified should be treated separately from whether devolution leaves the West Lothian Question unanswered or whatever.
The conflation of issues can be seen in the argument that because Labour didn't win a majority of the popular vote in England, it has no mandate to govern.
This is, to put it bluntly, complete bollocks. For one thing, as any Higher Modern Studies student should be able to tell you (I stress "should") - who governs in our Parliamentary system requires a majority of seats, not votes. The other point (which should be obvious but apparently isn't) is that parties do not enter Westminster elections seeking a mandate to run bits of Britain - for even if this were desirable, the constitution has no such provision.
The way in which nationalism becomes a repository for all sorts of grievances is one of its great weaknesses and its dangers. One might resent Labour's victory on such a small share of the vote and complain it's the fault of those bloody Scots. So why not work for a better voting system instead? Or if it's the tax burden that exercises you, instead of complaining that this results from "subsidising" other parts of the country, why not vote for some slash-and-burn outfit (there's an eccentric bunch called the "Tories" who are into that apparently) that'll reduce your taxes?
Perhaps some nationalist of one stripe or another could pop in and explain this to me: if a policy is good for Scotland (or England) because it's good for business/overcomes poverty/resolves some injustice/produces more efficient public services, why is said policy not good for the rest of the country too?
Went on a bit. I think I feel more strongly about this than I thought. I got (get) heartly sick of nationalists viewing every single feckin' social problem through the lens of the Scottish/English divide. They've piped down a bit in recent years, what with a Labour government and devolution - the marvellous benefit of two layers of Labour controlled bureaucracy. (Nationalist readers: before you get your knickers in a twist, that last bit's supposed to be ironic). So, dear English voter - please don't you start now. It's very tedious.
Update: Very funny post from Steg where he essentially repeats the idiotic notion that if one is opposed to Scottish independence, one is not comfortable with your own identity. Even by his own high standards of self-deception, Steg excels himself with this line:
"His wounded, defensive, vulnerable tone contrasts starkly with the happy, optimistic and positive approach of commentators who are far more comfortable with their own, and their communities', identities."I'm beginning to wonder if Steg's blog is a spoof and he hasn't actually met any real nationalists because as everyone knows, they are strong contenders for the touchiest, most insecure people on the face of the planet.
It's easy to wind up Stuart - but that doesn't mean it isn't worth doing.
But has to be done, just when the warm yellow thing's made another appearance as well...
Shocking, considering how teachers - and especially Art teachers - are usually so utterly scrupulous when it comes to pupils' internal assessment.
Monday, May 09, 2005
The reduced majority means that he will no longer be able to indulge in his favourite pastime, which - one could be forgiven for thinking - was confronting his own party with legislation they find unpalatable. One would hope that Nick Cohen is right in thinking Blair will no longer be able to press ahead with his pet projects - ID cards, the religious incitement legislation and more marketization of public services.
At the same time, one would imagine that those Labour MPs who are left would want to press for a more social democratic agenda.
The result was good up north too: Scotland rejected nationalism, with the SNP being pushed into third place. Scottish parties are often quite amusing on the subject of proportional representation; witness Alec Salmond getting all moist because the SNP gained two seats - neglecting to mention that if we had PR, their representation would have fallen. (Reminds me of the position of the Tories: only devolution and PR - both of which the Tories opposed - has saved them from utter oblivion).
Some are complaining that we only have a Labour government due to Scottish votes.
Yeah well - it worked the other way around for us for 18 years; let's see how you lot like it (not a lot, if early comments are anything to go by).
I'm a bit skeptical about PR (although I supported it for the Scottish Parliament) - but I have to confess, election 2005's figures make a compelling case, what with Labour forming a government on the lowest share of the vote since 1945 and with a huge 63-4% not voting Labour (this last figure being roughly the share of the vote that the average coalition is based on in European systems (all of whom us some form of PR).
Update: The fear factor
From Brownie at Harry's Place
"And if, comrades, in an act of treacherous self-indulgence, you risked all this with a protest vote yesterday, then shame on you."Risking New Labour's fabulous achievements, he means. Well, I'm sorry but I deeply resented the way you played the fear card: as well as insulting the intelligence of voters who have proved to be more adept at reading the polls than the fear-mongers, we were to ignore Blair riding roughshod over Britain's ancient liberties in exchange for the (not very impressive) achievements of the minimum wage etc. and the only reason we were given for doing so was the fear that this might let the Tories in.
How about instead an acknowledgment that all of you who played this card were very wrong; it turned out to be the Tories who should have been using the "don't vote Lib Dem and let Labour in again" argument.
This notion that New Labour's authoritarianism is obviated by their social-democracy lite is, as I've said before, merely Leninism-lite and that is a paltry, illiberal, and mean-spirited argument to use.
And by the way, assuming that Blair goes, you might want to take the opportunity to drop the sanctimonious tone; most voters, I reckon, are pretty much like me: we don't like being told what to do, we don't like being patronised, and some of us don't need lectures about poverty, having had - one would guess - rather more recent experience of it than "the many" who have been banging away on their keyboards, hectoring us to vote Labour.
Friday, May 06, 2005
For Labour, to have won a third successive election with a working majority is obviously unprecendented - yet paradoxically, they look pretty gloomy about it because compared to their showing in 1997 and 2001, they're obviously well-down.
For the Tories, better than expected and they seem to have - in the short run at least - ensured their survival as Labour's main challengers. The down side is that they remain at Michael Foot's Labour Party levels of popularity - more unified and disciplined than in the last two elections but still unable to reach beyond their natural constituency.
For the Lib Dems an impressive showing, with their share of votes and seats increasing more than the other two. They did well in Scotland and, as a unionist, I welcome the fact that they've pushed the SNP into third place.
Yet paradoxically, I think it's the Libs that have the most to worry about: it's probably too early to say but it looked to me like they were suffering from their usual problem of lacking a coherent left or right identity. They picked up votes from Labour due to their stance on civil liberties, tax-and-spend, as well as the war. Yet the picture from their battles with the Tories is that this may have put right-of-centre voters off because it seemed that former Labour voters in some parts of the country went straight over to the Tories in larger numbers than expected. In other words, the Liberals will be getting mixed messages concerning who they are trying to replace.
Moreover, I'd have thought that Blair is more likely to go sooner rather than later - which leaves the possibility that this could have a "Major-effect" in that a leadership change would deal with one of the major centre-left, middle-class stumbling blocks - Blair's leadership, and that may cost the Liberals these hard-fought for seats at the next election.
This was the most fragmented electorate I've ever seen: it'll surely increase demands for a proportional voting system yet again this election is paradoxical because it seems quite clear that a multi-party system is flourishing despite the first past the post voting system.
It also seems, taking turnout into account, that this government has been elected on the smallest share of the popular vote since 1945.
All in all - interesting and depressing at the same time: this was without question the nastiest, mean-spirited election that I've ever seen.
Back later when some of the numbers have soaked in properly.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
And to add to the joy, the warm yellow thing's made an appearance in the sky for more than two days now! In a row!
And as we head off to the polls, remember this: it's not the size of your cross that matters, it's where you put it.
Unless you've got a postal vote in which case that doesn't matter either - along with your name, address, age, gender...
After a Scots voter described him as a loose cannon, GG responds:
"We are not standing in Scotland, so why have you got a voter on from Scotland? I will tell you why . . . because you couldn't find a voter in the constituency I am standing in that would come on to attack me."Quite so, we should expect a 100% vote in Bethnal Green for RESPECT then? I'll need to stay up for that one.
One way or another, the voters of Glasgow Kelvin will have to bid farewell to our MP who has represented...something - although I'm not sure that would be the interests of his own constituents - for 22 long years.
Voters of Bethnal Green and Bow: I'm not going to waste my time explaining why you shouldn't vote for GG; if it isn't obvious already, well - hell mend you.
Goodbye George Galloway - and good riddance!
On the face of it, this is welcome: one of the problems for me as a Scottish voter is that there is no unionist alternative to Labour.
On the other hand, given their performance in the Scottish Parliament, one wonders if the Liberal Democrats can really claim to be an alternative to Labour.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Looking at the stats - and my prospective MP's voting record, two points occur to me. One is that while elsewhere in the country, this election is between Labour and Conservative - in this constituency it certainly isn't, what with it being 233 on the Tories' hitlist. The other is that while voters elsewhere in the country maybe using this election as a referendum on Iraq, for me - even if I thought it desirable - this isn't possible: reversing what seems to be a national trend, I'm the only person I know who is more likely to vote Labour because of Iraq but according to my prospective MP's voting record, he abstained on three Iraq votes in Parliament and on the fourth occasion, he voted with the rebels - leaving me as a supporter of the war (if I were inclined to vote on a single-issue basis, which I'm not) effectively disenfranchised, given the position of the other parties on this issue.
One other thing I noticed was that the Tory candidate, on his flyer, vows to "keep Accident and Emergency at Gartnavel Hospital". Hmmm, problem with that is there's never been A & E at Gartnavel (or at least, not since I moved to the city and that was 25 years ago); how does he propose to keep something that's never been there?
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