"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Sunday, April 30, 2006

JK Galbraith

Hayek's old sparring partner the grand old man of Keynesianism JK Galbraith has died in the United States at the age of 97.

Too much information

All this Prescott nonsense. I wish they would stop - it's putting images in my mind that are frankly a little unsettling. The press keep describing the affair as 'lurid'. We can only pray that this doesn't mean they made videos of their activities. Whatsherface claims it had nothing to do with power:
"She said she had kept the affair going because she enjoyed the attention, but was not attracted to power. 'It wasn't like I went home thinking: "Oh my God, I'm sleeping with the Deputy Prime Minister.""
So this relationship could just as easily happened if our John was the deputy manager of B & Q rather than deputy Prime Minister? Pull the other one. Leg, that is, leg.

Call to end testing 'obsession'

From the beeb:
"The government must give up its 'continuing obsession' with testing England's schoolchildren, a head teachers' leader has said."
Dr Hamilton might as well talk to a plank, for all the good this will do. They're going to turn your schools into supermarkets, ok? They're not interested. This should be obvious by now.

It should also now be obvious that they are incapable of drawing any conclusions from the fact that the UK has amongst the highest class-sizes in Europe and one of the shittiest education systems. It's the one feature of the 'best practice' found in the private sector that the government is inexplicably averse to. Let's focus on the uniforms instead.

Having said that, I don't care much for Dr Hamilton's age-class size formula:
"Dr Hamilton suggested the best way to organise classes would be to multiply a child's age by two, so a five-year-old would be in a class of 10 pupils."
At the other end of the scale surely health and safety regulations would outlaw a class of thirty-four seventeen year-olds in an enclosed space? The average classroom isn't that well-ventilated.

The new doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility

Is something of a constitutional innovation - completely reversing, as it seems to do, the old one whereby a minister was responsible to Parliament for the conduct of his or her department. And when some major failure of administration was within the reserve of a given department, it was understood that it was the duty of the minister to take responsibility for any such failings rather than civil servants who are not similarly accountable to Members of Parliament.

Generally this meant the bigger the fuck-up, the greater the likelihood of resignation. Today, apparently, it means the opposite: the more fucked-up the situation is, the greater qualification to remain in the job the present incumbent has. The special insight that comes from being the minister responsible for the initial fuck-up only serves to underline how well-suited they are to 'clean-up the mess' they are responsible for having overseen in the first place.

Charles Clarke believes in the new doctrine.

This is why "Mr Clarke has dismissed calls from opposition MPs for him to quit."

My own view is the new doctrine has one or two fairly basic flaws, but this may be because I'm not progressive enough.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Keith Richards 'tree fall' injury

From the beeb:
"Media reports in Australia and New Zealand said Richards had hurt his head when he fell from a coconut tree."
There is, in fact, a strong correlation between hurting of the head and falling out of coconut trees. As to what Keith Richards was doing in a coconut tree in the first place? We may never know.


Keith Richards: "Has written some of the most famous guitar riffs in the world" and more recently, fallen out of a coconut tree.

Italy's Berlusconi set to resign

He has admitted, finally - after losing the election MORE THAN THREE WEEKS AGO! - that Prodi had "won the consensus".

Translation: We lost the election, but the words stick in my throat:
"We comply because we are democratic, but inside ourselves we remain convinced that the majority prize has been wrongly assigned."
Make of that what you will.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Fisk fisks himself

Sad but true. That must involve some contortions on his part, I hear you cry?

It surely does - as you can see here.

Oh dear, oh dear.

(Via Norm)

Euston: a broad platform

Shalom Lappin, in response to some of the negative criticism it has attracted, has a four-point defence of the Euston Manifesto that's worth reading.

High point: In 1) he illustrates by example that you don't have to have supported the invasion of Iraq to sign it. A point well-made.

Low point: In 3) he illustrates by example that you don't have to know any economic history to sign it. A point, um - well I'm sorry, but really!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"This is how Tories must have felt at end"

From the Scotsman:
"One minister said there was now a feeling of desperation within the government. "There's just a really miserable atmosphere at the moment - people are walking around with these grim, grim faces," he said. "No-one believes the polls - we feel like we're miles behind and nothing goes right. This must be how the Tories felt towards the end."
And it'll come as no surprise you that it's Charlie Two Lunches that is the greatest source of the back-bench blues:
"Mr Clarke...appeared to be in the worst and most immediate danger last night... When Labour officials yesterday called around MPs asking them to defend the Home Secretary on television and radio, more than one refused to "defend the indefensible".
You mean there were some that actually agreed? Lost their damn minds, no mistake.

Charles Clarke: Incapable of embarrassment, clearly. And this on top of the damn mind losing incident.

More relaxed

And a significant breakthrough: the boy actually requested carrots with his dinner.

He hasn't actually eaten them or anything, but still...

Harassed

So I am - due to the fact that my employers and I are going through a divorce. Due to irreconcilable differences. They think they're not responsible for running lunatic asylums and then trying to pass them off as schools. I can't even bring myself to pretend this is anything other than a damnable lie.

Anyway, this is why time is pressing but this from Danny Finkelstein on the Euston Manifesto is worth reading. Didn't really agree with it but don't have time to explain why. However, this treatment of it from Chris Dillow is most excellent. Chris is also not a signatory to the Manifesto and of all the reasons for not signing, this is the best so far:
"Now, I write as a non-signatory to the Manifesto. But this is because I think the (futile) goods of excellence, of expressing a left-liberal tradition, are best pursued by ignoring village idiots, not by engaging with them."
It takes a special kind of skill to word a rejection in such a way as to make your heart glad. If he applies this technique to his personal relationships, I say the man's a genius.

Must get back to the matter in hand; seeking out an alternative career that would give more job satisfaction and is more highly regarded in society. Does anyone know if MacDonald's are recruiting?

Minister denies Labour 'meltdown'

From the beeb:
"Tony Blair's government is not in "meltdown" despite the triple whammy of controversies facing his Cabinet, minister John Hutton has said."

One would hope not; can you imagine the clean-up job if Johnny Two Jags and Charlie Two Lunches melted? Yeeeeuuuuch!

Update: Mr Hutton responding to the news that there's more embarrassment for Two Lunches regarding the handling of foreign prisoners:

"He is doing a brilliant job as home secretary, and he is on the public's side trying to sort this problem out."
Ah, but where to begin?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Clarke refuses to resign over missing offenders

From the Scotsman - Chuck in his own words:
"This is a failure of the Home Office and its agencies, which I do take full responsibility for," he said. But Mr Clarke insisted it was "not a resignation issue"...
Ah, but where to begin?
"The concern, possibly anger, that people will feel, I think, is entirely understandable," the Home Secretary said. But rather than resign, he had decided it was his job to "put the situation right".
Ah, but where to begin?


Charles Clarke: Another damn mind losing incident.


Prescott admits to having affair

From the beeb:
"Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has confessed to having had an affair with one of his secretaries."
I have no particular interest in this beyond concern for the secretary in question: does anyone know if she's ok? We all trust she'll make a full recovery.

It's official

What we all knew in our hearts for as long as any of us can remember has now been established in a more literal way than most of us thought possible - Kevin Costner is a wanker.

New Labour: notably authoritarian

David T. of Harry's Place notes the growing tendency of government ministers, particularly those from the Home Office, to use the epithet "liberal" as a term of abuse in the way it is customarily used by the Republican right in the United States. He argues this is 'ironic' because New Labour are really on balance a fairly liberal bunch of guys:
"Although minimal statists are skeptical of the value of identity cards, and are outraged by bans on smoking and killing foxes for fun, and so on, these are trivial matters. They are balanced out by socially liberal reforms: notably the ending of the discrimination against homosexuals enshrined in the unequal age of consent, section 28 and the lack of legal recognition for partnership rights. To take another example, this is a government that enacted this country's first comprehensive piece of Freedom of Information legislation. Theirs is not a markedly authoritarian platform."
It may be simple-mindedness on my part but I prefer a more mundane explanation: this government has shown an increasing tendency to use the word '"liberal" as a term of abuse because it doesn't like liberals. This is because theirs is a markedly authoritarian programme.

On one hand, New Labour's authoritarian criminal justice legislation is acknowledged as such but is then dismissed on the grounds of some majoritarian principle I don't understand: "My guess is that about 10% of the population worries about civil liberties issues like these." The examples in the piece of this government's illiberal reforms to the Criminal Justice system fall some way short of being an exhaustive list, to say no more than that. But in any event, it is a strange majoritarian-liberal argument that imagines civil partnerships, equalising the age of consent and the repeal of clause 28 somehow off-set all this, given these measures by definition do not benefit and are of little interest to a majority of the population.

The only one left from the four liberal measures mentioned is the Freedom of Information Act. A significant piece of legislation, I'd agree - and no less significant because it is presently a minority, mainly journalists, that benefit from it. Add to that the re-classification of cannabis, another law no-one apart from the Daily Mail gives a shit about, and that seems to be the sum total of New Labour's 'liberalism'. Space and the patience of the reader forbids enumerating the examples of this government's dismantling of liberal England's legal structure to be put on the other side of the scales, but surely no reasonable person could deny that this authoritarian end is heavier than it used to be?

This government often argues that liberals, whether they live in Hampstead or not, need to 'get real' about the world in which we live - citing the 'threat we face' or the reality experienced by victims of crime. I'm all in favour of 'getting real' about this, which is why I rather wish they expended at least some of the energy they put in to confronting their own party in Parliament with illiberal legislative programmes towards actually enforcing the laws we currently have, rather than concocting new ways to monitor and hector the general public.

The implied notion of liberals as having an unrealistic notion of human behaviour in society may be true of certain individuals who are rightly derided for making absurd comparisons with our present situation and the worst tyrannies of the modern age. But this is not so with a proper liberal conception of the state. It merely extends the obvious insight into the human condition implicit in the strand of conservative thinking that makes order the first virtue of a state. Human beings, having a capacity for violence and cruelty need to be restrained. Absolutely, who could disagree? Therefore, when these same human beings have authority and all the mechanisms of power at their disposal, how much more do they need restraint?

For it is beyond our experience that those who rule over us are morally superior or significantly more competent than we are. We have no evidence that they are any more inured to the temptations to vanity, hubris, excess and greed than we are. So more care should be taken when we entrust them with our liberties, and in particular a more sober assessment should be made of their record and ability in this area. Or to be more specific, how much faith can we have in a Home Secretary who assures us the erosion of our freedoms is essential to protect the greater liberty of life and safety - only to then to discover that on his watch 1,023 foreign prisoners, including murderers, rapists and child-abusers, have been freed without being considered for deportation?

A few shrieking psuedo-left libertarians making absurd comparisons between Britain today and the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century does not obviate the fact that while we are still a relatively liberal country, it is less liberal than it used to be. While I understand and agree with the point Nick Cohen once made about inward-looking lefties having a liberalism that "ends at Heathrow", there seems to be a tendency sometimes for some of us to have a liberalism that doesn't start until Heathrow.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Unsolved mysteries of our age

You do a washing, you lose a sock. Not a pair - just one. The process replicates itself over weeks and months and you end up, well I do anyway, with only about four pairs of socks and about seventeen odd ones.

I've tried everything. Bought socks that are all the same colour (black) to overcome the problem but it doesn't work: they shrink and fade at different rates and plus it doesn't seem to do anything to stem the flow of sock sacrifice to the voracious textile-eating monster that lives in your washing machine.

Having a child only exacerbates the problem: on average, the malevolent sock-eating god needs roughly seven children's socks per one adult sock.

While they're extremely cheap these days, the sheer scale of sock-haemorrhage is a financial burden as I have purchased several thousand socks in the last four years or so. Does anyone know of anything else that appeases the sock-consuming deity that lives behind your washing machine?

The 9/11 conspirator and the death penalty

The defence in the trial of the 9/11 conspirator have been pleading with the jurors not to give Moussaoui what he wants - a marytr's death:
"Gerald Zerkin, defending, said Moussaoui's contempt for the victims and the trial "is proof that he wants you to sentence him to death". He went on: "He is baiting you into it. He came to America to die in jihad and you are his last chance."

Mr Zerkin said the jury can instead "confine him to a miserable existence until he dies and give him not the death of a jihadist ... but the long, slow death of a common criminal"."
I don't believe in the death penalty but I wish those who shared this view would not make such poor arguments for this position. Moussaoui will never be a martyr because even if he is executed, he would not die because of his faith but because he is implicated in mass murder. The sick fantasy that this has anything to do with 'martyrdom', while certainly a delusion held by the ranks of Al-Qaeda and their imitators, should not be considered as a factor in criminal justice even for a second.

Neither should the idea that executing Moussaoui will inflame the rage of Al-Qaeda. The prosecution responded to this by saying:
"He wants you to think Osama bin Laden will be mad at us," Mr Raskin said. "Do you think Osama bin Laden gives a damn about what happens here? That is a joke."
Indeed. And one could add that even if he did, this should not be something that decides the sentence in a case like this. In any event, and despite his latest meglomaniac rantings, one doubts Bin Laden is in a position to do anything much these days.

The utilitarian theory of criminal justice has at its core the idea of a pleasure-pain calculus. It is problematic at the best of times and surely it can be agreed that what ever its merits might be under normal circumstances, it is not much use when dealing with people for whom pleasure is something to be rejected in favour of death?

Blair defends 'cash for peerages'

From the Scotsman:
"At a Downing Street press conference, Mr Blair said he was perfectly comfortable for people to believe that those who helped finance his city academies scheme were rewarded by the government through the honours system."
In rewarding those who have 'helped the country' the Christian Blair has clearly forgotten all about the widow's mite. He uses a telling phrase to justify this:
"Giving money to a government scheme, the Prime Minister said, was like donating money to support an art gallery."
Forking out cash to support city academies is most unlike donating money to an art gallery, one would have thought. Are there many art galleries in the country carrying exhibits that are considered national treasures only by Blairites? And one wonders if nearly thirty percent of art gallery donors already have peerages, as is the case with those who have supported city academies?

Unsurprisingly, the latest ICM poll indicates that the electorate isn't particularly impressed with this; it shows support for the Labour Party at an 18-year low and two points behind the Conservatives, who in turn appear to be flatlining at around 34% - dangerous Dave with the huskies notwithstanding.

And I'm happy to report that the poll shows a huge majority of those surveyed - 77% to 20% - are antipathetic towards the notion that it is somehow their responsibility to help political parties overcome their corruption problem by supporting them from the public purse.

Monday, April 24, 2006

People losing their damn minds #13

Polly Toynbee suggests we should respect our politicians more:
"It certainly behoves those of us who write about them to pause for a moment now and then, adopt a little humility and remember they are the ones out there trying to get things done, while we just shoot them down and carp at them from our extremely secure, non-risk-taking perches in the comfortable press gallery of life."
On this evidence, Chris Dillow speculates that she may have lost her damn mind. We know this because he asks, "Has she lost her mind?"

It is perhaps too early to tell but given that such a possibility is suggested by someone normally disposed to assuming people behave rationally, it is a real cause for concern.


Ms Toynbee: Lost her damn mind? We'll keep you posted.

People losing their damn minds #12

David Aaronovitch has just completed a marathon. He informs us that he "can hardly move". He should consider himself lucky - the first guy to do it dropped dead immediately after. He had the excuse of a) having no historical example of a guy running twenty-six miles and then dropping dead immediately after to work with as a reference point, b) having an urgent message to deliver.

Today, the justifications appear altogether less convincing. It usually has something to do with proving something to yourself and raising money for charity. I think the two should be separated: with regards the latter, just explain what it's for, and I'll consider searching behind the sofa; the former, on the other hand, is not behaviour I feel I should be seen to endorse. For running marathons is unbridled lunacy.

David Aaronovitch: Looking every part the mean and moody, yet amused in an existentialist sort of way, long-distance runner. May have lost his damn mind.

Update: Further confirmation of the connection between marathon-running and losing of the damn mind.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

You know when you're getting old when...

...you start agreeing with ol' Clappers. From the Times magazine (sorry, no link):
"From just listening, I can't tell the difference between Coldplay and U2. The one in Coldplay even dances like Bono. What worries me about what's going on now is that people don't know where it's all come from, and I don't suppose they're that interested. I heard that guy from Coldplay saying that Richard Aschcroft was the greatest singer that had ever lived... He probably meant it..."
If you think old Slowhand is ill-fitted to judge, I might accept this if you were comparing his judgement to that of Jimi Hendrix, maybe JJ Cale, or if you could get him to string a coherent sentence together, perhaps Peter Green, or John Martyn, maybe. Or perhaps Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Lightening Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf, or Robert Johnson, if you had access to a medium.

But if you are unfamiliar with any of these and persist in the opinion that U2 and/or Coldplay are "really good", I regret to inform you that you may have lost your damn mind.

And if you are familiar with these, yet persist in the above opinion, there's no "may" about it, I'm afraid.

Challenge to Cameron over BNP

Who is to blame for the spectre that is represented in the possibility that the Belligerent to untermesch National Party (BNP) may fare well in the forthcoming local government elections?

For everyone's favourite pimp to the dictators, it is because the Labour Party is not left-wing enough.

For some Blood-and-Soil enthusiasts, it is because the Tory Party doesn't resemble the BNP quite as much as it used to:
"A Tory MP has presented David Cameron with the first real test of his pledge to create a more tolerant Conservative party. Philip Davies claimed voters were turning to the BNP because political correctness had left white Britons afraid of being 'sacked or locked up' for expressing their feelings on race."
I wouldn't want to spell out any conclusions concerning the motives of these two gentlemen - you'll do that for yourselves, especially when you consider the context.

When you consider the political scene in Scotland, there's little that causes the heart to swell with pride. And to be realistic, this is no bad thing - for we all know what pride comes before. But you do tend to take the opportunity to believe the best (the quintessential familial disposition) of this land that chose you on those occasions when it makes this easy - as it does when its national legislature, for all its faults, proves incapable of sustaining any representation for neofascist political movements.

But it extends national boundaries because it is also the case that the Westminster Parliament - with the exception of Germany, which for understandable historical reasons has laws against this sort of thing - is the only national legislature in Western Europe not to contain representatives from formally neofascist political movements.

This is the context in which the BNP poses a 'threat', reason enough to think it less significant that some would clearly like to think. But in as far as it exists and even if it were greater than it actually is, what is everyone's problem with recognising the BNP for what it is - a criminal conspiracy of a political movement that no-one should think of making excuses for and who has supporters, real or 'potential', that no-one should be making any excuses for?

Build some houses? Absolutely - but not because anyone should imagine that this should be in response to 'legitimate grievances' raised by the BNP and its supporters. For they have no legitimate grievances because all these are based on an impotent rage that the world has failed to recognise their claim to superiority; fundamentally it has nothing to do with housing. Contra-St Paul, here's a verdict with which I am only too glad to be conformed to the pattern of this world.

Houses should have been built, not because of the BNP, but because this is what people expected of a Labour government. So they should be built now, not as a response to any hyped political threat from the Neanderthal Right but because this, over and above any improvements to health and education, would do more to improve the lives of working class people in this country than anything else. Not because of the BNP. Fuck the BNP.

In this spirit, one could answer the challenge as to what the 'main parties' should do to 're-engage with the electorate' specifically by returning to the subject of this post's title: David Cameron should tell Phillip Davies MP to go fuck himself.

Arguing over a corpse?

Martin Kettle, like a number who have declined to sign the Euston Manifesto nevertheless finds much he can agree with:
"It is right about the core things - democracy, liberty, universality. But it is also right about the immoral excuses sometimes offered on behalf of reactionary terrorist actions under the "my enemy's enemy must be my friend" rubric; right too about the disproportionate indignation about unjustifiable acts on the western side as compared with similar acts on the anti-western side; about the susceptibility towards anti-semitism in some discussion of Middle-Eastern issues; about the numbskull dishonesty of the left about its own crimes and failures; and about the need to champion, not scorn, the principle of international humanitarian intervention."
Although he is aware that the Manifesto is not, as it has falsely been represented elsewhere, a 'prowar' document, he takes issue with the perceived failure to "properly acknowledge the historic rupture represented by Bush."

But, arguing as he does from a centrist position, his principal objection is simply one of irrelevance:
"(T)he focus is all on reclaiming a British left which is obsessed with the past, has nothing important to say about the future, and for which only a small minority are ever likely to vote. But what precisely is the point of that?"
Why is attempting to predict the future the one habit that lefties and former lefties find the hardest to give up? Prophecy: the nicotine of the commentariat. Leaving that aside, I have to confess the general point has occurred to me more than once: in the great scheme of things I don't matter, the people I conduct arguments with don't matter, still less the people insane enough to run blogs that watch other blogs* - so why bother?

I put this to a learned friend and erstwhile colleague of mine. He suggested two reasons: a) Utilitarian: it can be fun b) because somehow it all filters into the mainstream.

Too limited for some but that'll do me. Because often it is - and somehow it does.

Update: Dunno how, exactly - but it does.

*Filed under, "Damn minds, losing thereof".

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Let boys start school later, if at all

Presently five, this is too damn early, according to Alan McLean, an educational psychologist for Glasgow City Council:
"Mr McLean, who studied the performance of 1,400 pupils in the course of his research, also found that immature boys who start school at the age of four-and-a-half are at a disadvantage and often never catch up with their female peers.

He said there was a convincing case for allowing boys to start school later than girls, thereby giving them a chance to mature before they enter the classroom."
If we're going to wait until boys mature, we'd have to raise the school starting age to at least thirty although Mr McLean was thinking of six. Interesting idea, which will be impossible to sell but it's based on the commonplace, and correct, observation that in this country we start formal education too damn early:
"He said: "Five-year-old boys are built to play - they are like dogs. Putting them in a seat and asking them to sit all day is incompatible with their brains."
Yup - got a sproglet due to start school in August; will be amazed if my comrades in sand-pits can get him to sit still for more than thirty seconds - and if they do, I'm concerned that some fundamental dislocation in his DNA will be the result.

Alan McLean went on to say that what is difficult for five-year-olds is practically impossible when they're four-and-a-half. Yes and amen, is all I can say and add that it really sucks at the other end of the educational chain-gang too when you've got the barely house-trained variety that are a wee bit too immature for their peer group. What with their hormones giving them grief combined with an inability to conduct proper conversations with the opposite sex, they're reduced to making weird and quite unsettling mating noises and stapling themselves to the furniture and stuff in order to attract attention. It's not good, people.

Prodi confirmed as Italy winner

Yet again:
"Romano Prodi's narrow victory in the upper house of parliament in Italy has been confirmed by an appeals court.

The certification of overseas ballots was the final check needed to confirm Mr Prodi had won the closest election in the history of the Italian Republic.

A court had already confirmed that Mr Prodi's coalition had won a majority in the lower Chamber of Deputies."
And yes, yet again Berlusconi refuses to concede:
"Speaking to supporters in the northern city of Trieste, he said he had no intention of making any formal telephone call to Mr Prodi conceding defeat, as he believes the new centre left coalition will quickly become unglued."
And having no intention of being found wanting adhesives himself, he then began glueing himself to the furniture.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hu Jintao goes to Washington

You couldn't have failed to notice. One commentator had this to say about US-Chinese relations:
"The United States needs to think long, how it is going to live alongside a steadily growing power, not on the basis that it is going to be able to tell [China] 'Oh, you've got to be democratic, you've got to join our campaign, our war against terrorism, our campaign for democracy'. That kind of talk will get nowhere. [The US must think] coolly, like the Chinese think, about how they are going to live alongside a growing power in tolerable coexistence'."
Oh, not bloody Martin Jacques again, I hear you cry? No, actually it was Douglas Hurd - but easy mistake to make.

English law may adopt Scots 'not proven' verdict

From the Scotsman:
"The 'not proven' verdict unique to Scots law could be introduced into the English legal system, the government signalled yesterday.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, announced that officials in London will study the possibility of incorporating the principle of a third verdict to some English legal proceedings."
Allow me to explain how this works: the Not Proven verdict is a legal facility that allows the court to say, in effect,
"We think you did it. In fact we fucking know you did it. We cannae prove it but you better watch your step, ya wee bastard."
This is why Sir Walter Scot - of the Edinburgh monument, Rob Roy fame - described it as "that bastard verdict".

No it isn't - but you can see why the whole guilty by suspicion thing would appeal to Charles Clarke and, by extension, why it may not be such a good idea.

And if that isn't reason enough, there's the unnecessary expense-saving justification (see Jack Straw, trial by jury, economic arguments for the abolition of, circa 1997-2001) that should trigger a few alarm bells:
"(T)he Home Secretary made his suggestion as part of a wider overhaul of the criminal appeal system in England and Wales, which will attempt to reduce the money paid in compensation to people who suffer miscarriages of justice."
In this context, the attractions of the Not Proven verdict should be obvious:

"We think you did it. In fact we fucking know you did it. We cannae prove it - we thought we could but now we cannae - but we still know you did it, ya wee bastard. Compensation? Here's ten-bob, now fuck off."

Chuckles hopes to save five million quid with this cunning plan.

Westminster and Holyrood split on extradition to the US

From the Scotsman:
"(T)he Justice 2 committee of the Scottish Parliament has taken the extraordinary step of writing to the UK government to lodge a formal complaint against the provisions of the key extradition treaty signed with the US in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks.

The MSPs, who took the decision in a private session, believe it is wrong for Scots to be taken to the US to stand trial for offences without any prima facie evidence against them and do not agree with the terms of the treaty, which allow suspects to be extradited for one offence and charged with another."
How to respond when politicians take the correct position on an international issue such as this for parochial reasons? With irritation, I reckon. While I too disagree with the treaty, and not only on the grounds of the lack of reciprocity, I have no power over these decisions - but neither does the Scottish Parliament. Yet their actions would suggest either that they think they have - or that they should. If this is what they think, they should say so. And while they are at it, they could clarify for me whether they're operating with some notion of human rights that exhausts itself at Carlisle, or something. If it is wrong for Scots, why not the English and Welsh too?

Where's this nationalist vibe going, I wonder sometimes - what with the SNP and the Lib Dems fluttering their eyelashes at each other and all? Not to independence anytime soon, despite what the nationalists would have you believe. More likely many years of constitutional tension and regional wrangling, Spanish or Canadian style. Which is boring, so can we lance the boil please? What are you for? Independence? Fiscal autonomy? Federalism?

I'd favour a multi-option referendum, myself. Seriously. I'd go for the, "Do what you want but enough of the posturing already" option.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Move to store 'ID card' details for children

"Cradle to grave" surveillance - what a charming idea.

When the writer uses "has been recommended by officials" as if that means it is automatically going to happen, do you think she's jumping the gun or is she a student of this government's previous behaviour?

Pet annoyances

Nursery deposits one of their periodic newsletters announcing they have - for best reasons known to themselves - acquired a goddam hamster.

Parents are invited to take said hamster in as lodger for short periods on rotation.

There was a proforma attached.

I ticked the, "Are you asking me to have a noctural rodent in my house because you think I'm mental, or something?" option.

Italian elections

It's Florida all over again.

Update: Ha ha.

Update #2: Oh for goodness sake! Transplant boy and his groupies still haven't managed to concede defeat:
"Romano Prodi had to wait nine days for confirmation of his victory Italy's supreme court has ruled Romano Prodi the country's election winner, after the result was challenged by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi has not reacted, but some members of his centre-right coalition are still refusing to concede."

Had Max Weber been alive to witness the graceless Mr Berlusconi in action, he would have surely used the expression "limpet", rather than "clinger" to describe the unstatesmanlike practices of those who put their own interests and embetterment before those of a nation - clinging to office beyond the point of shame?

Berlusconi: Lost his damn mind.

Fears of spiked drinks under ban

From the beeb:
"A mother is calling for pubs to issue smokers with plastic cups and lids in a bid to prevent their drinks from being spiked while leaving a bar to smoke.

Gillian Taylor, 37, from Livingston, is "angry" that bars are forcing smokers to leave their drink glasses unattended while they go outside for a cigarette."
Excellent idea. How about ones like this?


Observations so far: no-smoking pubs, while obviously having a healthier air-quality, stink. Smelly people, smelly toilets. Order food with that whiff floating around your nostrils? I'd rather not.

Are you a secular supremacist?

According to Peter Franklin you are if you think state-sponsored religious education in general, and the quackery of selling creationism in particular, is a bit off. In his juxta-position, kindly find yourself on the polar extreme to "pluralism" - which everyone agrees is a Good Thing.

Desist from your supremacist contortions, he exhorts us. He understands all and can assure us that it's ok. One of the key reasons for his confidence is that he Knows A Lot Of Stuff:
"As it happens, I'm a biological sciences graduate, and in gaining my degree I specialised in, er, evolutionary biology. This included a well-received dissertation, which went under the snappy title of The Adaptive Significance of Sexual Reproduction to Females in Polygynous Species of Low Fecundity. My great work weighed in at 35,000 words, not one of which deviated from neo-Darwinian orthodoxy."
Sounds a real page-turner; I must get round to reading that. Perhaps I could get a signed copy? In the meantime, I have to inform Mr Franklin that while I don't doubt his qualification in science, he knows sweet fuck all about education, which is slightly more than he understands about secularism and religion. Take this, for example:
"Supremacism, in the context of education system, means a belief that, whatever the diversity of world-views held by the citizens of a state, the resources of that state should only promote one of those world-views to the deliberate exclusion of all of the others."
Very well. The world-view in question is that the world was created in six days. Where should this world-view be accommodated? In a science curriculum? But unless you want to turn your science lab into a theology department, at some point you're going to have to acknowledge that there's no empirical evidence for this particular world-view. Wouldn't describing such a world-view as science, therefore, fall foul of the Trades Description Act or something? Schools should be aware of this shit - they are to be businesses, after all. Mr Franklin's obvious non-acquaintance with any education system that operates in this country leads him to be altogether too sanguine about all this:
"I also tentatively ventured the opinion that literate, numerate students are perfectly capable of weighing up the evidence for themselves."
And why did you do this? Did you hallucinate a surplus of these "literate, numerate students", or something? But more seriously, Mr Franklin has confused segregation with pluralism. Diversity in religion and world-view exists already in society; how does it make for a greater "plurality" if these are institutionalised by the education system? What's wrong with having this plurality in the same school? Done this - it's cool. White people, brown people, black people, Christians (both West of Scotland varieties), Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, atheists and agnostics all turning up to the same place learning stuff without losing their identity, believe it or not.

Done the religious school thing too. Not so cool. Way too white. I mean, white's ok - I'm a whitey myself. But wall-to-wall white Christians, and exclusively of one particular confessional division? Scotland's working with a small gene pool as it is. Bad national strategy - ask anyone. Visit North Lanarkshire - it's an argument-silencing sort of place.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

All things to all men

The growth in Euston Manifesto signatories means it would probably be quite difficult to get to the bar - might even be able to fill a couple of pubs.

And its more sensitive critics - incensed at what they saw as energy wasted criticising them rather than capitalism - have taken an extended break from their heroic struggle against imperialism and invested an enormous amount of industry in, um, criticising the Manifesto, whilst simultaneously claiming it doesn't matter. This effort would be better directed towards the business of running several pubs, in my view. Smoking ones, please.

Anyway, here's a reasonable summary of the arguments so far - although it does miss a couple of gems: on one hand, the Geek has been dissed by some lunatic describing himself as a 'socialist' because he's unemployed; elsewhere the 'Decents' are castigated "like the privileged assimilated conformists they are."

Substitute "assimilated" for "house-trained" and I'll plead guilty. As for "privileged", still waiting for that one to kick in, I'm afraid. Would they have any idea of a time-scale here? I could do with some new socks.

It's all part of an attempt to discover the pathology of the E-Team, y'see. In various commenty places, you'll discover long speculations as to how people like Nick Cohen could possibly take the position he does. Having children is frequently cited as a major culprit. Breeding indeed - how painfully bourgeois.

If you've lurked around the blogosphere for any length of time, it won't have escaped your attention that the plea for consistency is a frequently made one by all sides, including myself on occasion. And now there's a new one and it's this "prolier-than-thou" thang. I want to know the rules. Does everyone get a shot? It would be a novelty for me. Normally the sociology of Glasgow means I would expect to lose in the aggregate. But in the world of the ultra-left? A piece of piss. There's more than a few out there who clearly have had the working class they claim to speak for, and whose vanguard they believe themselves to embody, described to them.

Believe me, it really shows.

Ok, I won't do it if you don't.

Petty annoyances

The automated messages you get after you've phoned the bank/insurance company/credit card call centre and worked through about fifty different bleedin' touchtone options:
"Thank you for holding. Your call is important to us and we appreciate your patience."
Yes, well - it would be easier to believe that my call is important to you if you could find your way to getting a goddam living, breathing human being to speak to me instead of playing Mozart on a continual loop! Is that supposed to be relaxing? Because it isn't!

Tough on Onanism

Tough on the causes of Onanism.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Profound educational annoyances

Calling all business-persons presently funding the new flagship City Academies: Her Majesty's Government needs the sort of wisdom and expertise previously witnessed in the management of such noble enterprises as Railtrack and teaching creationism in schools to serve in the House of Lords. No, really. Our unelected branch of the legislature needs you!
"Downing Street changed tack in the "cash for honours" controversy yesterday by openly asserting it had always wanted business sponsors of city academy schools to join the House of Lords, arguing that their personal knowledge of the government's education programme would add to the debate in the upper house."
That'll be why 30% of City Academy funders already have some sort of Honour already. It's clearly not enough. Lord Adonis needs you. Dammit, your country needs you.

For any overseas readers, this is what's known as an "Honours system".

Annoyances (slightly less trivial)

Oh, for goodness sake! Martin "I've been to Singapore and I've seen the light" Jacques is at it again with his "Western democracy as imperialism" line.

Norm reminds us again of the questions Mr Jacques and his ilk have never answered - simple ones like, what exactly do you mean by "Western-style" democracy?

Also one never gets an answer to the question: if democracy is such a culturally-specific product like jeans and coca-cola, why do some of the most brutal dictatorships invariably feel the need to arrange some kind of charade of democracy to provide their regime with a cloak of legitimacy?

Scroll down from the Jacques' piece and you'll find some shrewd comments. Soru's was particularly good.

Annoyances (trivial)

Vegetarians who "sometimes eat fish".

A fish is not a goddam vegetable!!!!!

Annoyances

Silvio Berlusconi and his inability to admit defeat gracefully. Seems he's getting on everyone's nerves now:
"The first cracks appeared yesterday in the alliance that sustained Silvio Berlusconi's five-year premiership, as former allies vented frustration at his refusal to concede defeat in Italy's election.

Signs that members of his centre-Right coalition are beginning to desert him emerged as Mr Berlusconi, 69, retreated to his villa in Sardinia to tend his cactuses and lick his political wounds - still continuing to insist that all was not lost.

Leading the attack from the Right, Roberto Castelli, who was Mr Berlusconi's justice minister and is a member of the Northern League - the smallest party in the alliance - brusquely dismissed the prime minister's latest demand for a power-sharing coalition with the victor, Romano Prodi, 66.

Such proposals, said Mr Castelli, "can be smelt a mile away as palace manoeuvres of power, which frankly don't interest us"."
"All is not lost" indeed! It is, because you did. Lose, that is.

Which serves you right, you corrupt, useless tosser.

Holiday books

I'm sure other people have a similar experience - you have to go all the way to another goddam country to settle down and read a book properly, away from other distractions such as, erm, blogging.

Anyway, read - at last - Ian McEwan's Saturday. Definitely worth reading buuuuuut - there's a couple of problems with it.

Here's some reviews. Most have complimentary things to say; one or two think it was pretty poor.

None of them, though, have made reference to the problems I had with it. Did anyone else think Henry's kids were unrealistically precocious? One, possibly - but two? And at things like poetry and music? And we're told that Daisy didn't really have an interest in politics until the Iraq war and all of a sudden she's coming out with arguments more sophisticated than you get from the average antiwar activist? Hmmm.

And another thing, what I presume was a simple mistake, was really annoying - which was: what the hell happened to Nigel, eh? Henry and the boy can't rush Baxter because Nigel is there too. Baxter tells Nigel to watch the rest of the family ("they're all dangerous") while he and Henry go up the stairs, only to be tossed down said stairs by Henry and his implausibly-advanced-in-the-blues-playing-department son. That's the last you hear about Nigel, after that his character simply evaporates from the pages. I'm sorry but that's pretty shabby workmanship - unless I missed something? Answers on a postcard please.

Jarhead, on the other hand, is a must-read. Someone described the film to me and it doesn't sound true to the book, really. Book's good.

The Euston Manifesto

If you read this, I assume that you read the other blogs that travel in the same orbit as this so this is old news to you. But in case anyone is unaware, the full text of the Manifesto is here.

I've opted to sign. While there are one or two points I disagree with and others that are so vague it is impossible to say whether one disagrees or not, there is much more that resembles what I believe. And I understand that one is not signing to a finished work, neither is it one that demands complete adherence on every detail.

In particular, I welcomed the central importance given to political democracy. This is not based on the belief that our present examples of representative democracy represent some completed work of human progress; only that this form of governance has proved itself historically to be more congenial to the human condition than the alternatives - and that further, that the differences between the two are not insignificant and should not be trivialised.

Moreover, it expresses my belief that a significant proportion of the left made a historic mistake in backing the anti-democratic models of socialism as represented by the experiments in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China and that further, a similarly significant proportion of the left is making the same mistake in aligning itself today with the forces of clerical absolutism. In relation to this, the Manifesto's rejection of any totalising ideology is also particularly welcome.

Some of the responses to the Manifesto is the blogosphere have been predictable as they are intemperate and most are scarcely worth the courtesy of rational disagreement. But a couple of points raised by calmer critics are worth dealing with. First amongst these are those raised by Mike Marquesse in the Guardian's 'comment is free'. Mr Marquesse, whilst agreeing with much of the document, takes issue with what he interprets as an unjustified side-swipe at the anti-war left:
"In the first place, there's the dishonesty of treating the Socialist Workers' party and Respect as the totality of the left or the anti-war movement. One of the problems with the "line" they wish to draw is that it obliterates the existence of much of the actual left: which is diverse and predominantly anti-authoritarian. Huge numbers of people found no difficulty in opposing the war and the regime of Saddam Hussein...

While I have no doubt that this may represent in all honesty the position that Mr Marquesse took, my own experience was and is that those "huge numbers" capable of sustaining these positions simultaneously were conspicuous by their absence but in any event, my understanding of the Manifesto is that it does not exclude those who honestly took this position but rather those who find something 'progressive' in the actions of clerical-fascist movimentos.

Dave Osler criticises the Manifesto from a different perspective. He is uncomfortable with the notion of reaching beyond the socialist church to those of a liberal disposition:
"But the Euston Manifesto crowd have equally lost sight of what makes socialism different from liberalism with knobs on. So they style themselves ‘democrats and progressive’ seeking to ‘reach out beyond the socialist left to egalitarian liberal’ and even to the democratic right.

There are plenty of historical examples of others who have tried similar tactics, and the outcomes haven't been good ones, either. This is not the place to rehearse the standard Trotskyist critique of popular frontism."
He goes on to use the example of support for the Soviet Union, which hardly fits the criterion set in the previous sentences. I rather wish he had rehearsed the "standard Trotskyist critique of popular frontism" and enumerated the historical examples he is alluding to. And I'm left wondering if he finds nothing progressive in the co-operation of British socialists in the Labour Party and trades union movement that have in the 20th century co-operated on various occasions with liberals such as Manyard Keynes and Beveridge to create the welfare state and with the liberal FDR and the conservative Winston Churchill to defeat fascism in Europe.

In contrast, and contra-Dave Osler, the achievements of those who have sought to retain the purity of the socialist faith in perpetual opposition have been insignificant historically with regards to the welfare of ordinary working people.

The pursuit of doctrinal purity has at its base the belief in the possibility of cognitive infallibility and this is another fallacy the Manifesto rejects and if it were for no other reason, this alone would be enough for me to commend the Euston document to you.

As for the charge of pomposity, self-importance and irrelevance - this is a pointless criticism that could be levelled at anyone who has sat behind a computer and presumed to inflict their opinions on all and sundry. This is what the blogosphere is for, is it not?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Going off air

And will be back in a week or so.

Welcome to smoke-free Scotland

It's fabulous. Just been to Cottiers - it's a sort of trendy pub in Glasgow's West End where people who are reasonably groovy but are too lazy to travel into town go. If you follow the link, you'll see that Jane from Partick (just down the road) describes it thus:
"Great atmosphere, loads of seats!"
She also described the prices as 'fairly cheap', which leads me to believe she's just back from London, but never mind. I know it's Monday night but being a frequent visitor to said establishment, I think it is fair to say that the balance has shifted noticeably and decisively towards the latter - but rather at the expense of the former...


Quick! Grab those seats...



Oh, it's ok - there's plenty more over there...

Can you see yonder barman? "Are you lonesome tonight?"

Usually, the bar is a struggle; tonight, one barman takes your money and gives you your change while the other one pours. Now that's what I call service.

The barman smokes. Me and my companion, the only other people in the bar half an hour before closing time, also smoke. Yet in Scotland today, had he shared a cigarette with us, his employer would receive a fine of two and a half thousand pounds and we would have got a fifty quid fixed penalty each.

If we'd stepped outside and smoked a joint, we'd get a caution.

It's called 'progress', apparently.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Back shortly

Bit busy here getting ready for me hols later in the week but I'll pop in before I go.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for something amusing to read Lenin has a fun piece where HP, Norm and myself are burning witches, going on 'Viking Jihads' and all sorts of stuff for taking issue with you know who.

Since he's done me the courtesy of treating the offending piece more seriously than intended, I should return the compliment and attempt to treat his more seriously than perhaps is either wise or possible. Really have to get on just now, though....


Update: Hmmm, nope - on reflection, it still isn't possible to take Lenin's piece any more seriously than one could before. The charge of misogyny has to be discarded due to lack of anything resembling evidence, my brother.

The rest seems to be as a result of a complete collapse of his once evident sense of humour and an extraordinary blindness regarding his own emotional state. Pointless engaging with the actual substance of his post - in as far as it is possible to identify any: Lenin doesn't bother to actually read and understand what those he disagrees with have written, so there's no reason to think this occasion should be any different. And despite what he may think, one lacks the animosity that travels through his blood-stream like adrenalin, so I'll conserve precious energy and refrain from any attempt at Enlightenment. This only upsets.

This leaves us only with his humourless and vain-glorious attempt to present himself as the voice of objective reason. It's the same spirit of rationality that can be seen in this charming piece where he refers to a lovely passage coined in an earlier post, celebrating the election of George Galloway in the most heart-warming fashion:

"Anyway. For a while, I shall be rubbing the faces of Nick Cohen, Johann Hari, David "I give them a year" Aaronovitch and Harry's Place in the shit. Smell it, you fuckers, and feel this hate."
The prompting is unnecessary of course - in Lenin's writing, hatred oozes out of every space in the syntax, the vocabulary expanding in cubic proportions whenever insults are being dispensed. One senses that his lexicon of adjectives would almost completely collapse if he had to search for words to describe what he found good, lovely and beautiful in this world of ours.

We shall leave the second-last word to him:
"I am not a flat, humourless oaf."
Ah, for the confidence of youth; exhilarating yet so often leads to embarrassment in retrospect. You can minimise this if you learn to say: Physican - heal thyself. For you imagine yourself to be some master surgeon cutting away the dead-weight of deception from people's souls. But Father Time has told me that herein lies the road to heart-break.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Maddy and the 'rise of raunch'

Undettered by some of the responses she has received to her previous questions, Maddy has another for us:
"Can you provide the best orgasms ever?"
Phew! A little different from her usual, I think you'll agree. I now feel under pressure... which is the point she is trying to make:
"(T)he compulsion to compete and excel is now as true of the bed as the office or the housing market. We've deregulated the market in intimacy over the last 30 or so years; as the taboos and inhibitions have been dismantled, so the pressure to sexually perform has emerged."
Housing market, office, bedroom? Don't really recognise any of this - must be a London thing, I suppose? Lack of recognition is a common experience on reading Our Madds, like this for example:
"(M)en no longer need to seduce women - they've outsourced that role to a media culture."
Is this another London thing? Y'all have the media pulling your women for you with no need for pursuit, charm, chat-up lines and all that? Goodness me - I feel I'm missing out.

Or rather I might if I didn't know, and as the beeb noted recently, that reports about the death of traditional sexual mores have been greatly exaggerated. Which is not to say that Maddy hasn't on this occasion identified a couple of genuine social issues but I'd suggest that her nightmare world where sexual freedom always means slavery is, ironically, rather a product of the very same media she claims is making us all drunken slags.

Maddy, you're turning into a sort of anti-war Melanie Phillips - you do realise that, don't you?
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