Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nationalism and the goddam press

There's a lot of things not exactly helping the unionist cause. Prior to the election it was Scottish Labour doing what they do best - which is talking shite and trying to scare people into thinking if Scotland became independent... Scrub that: prior to the election, it was Scottish Labour - period.

Now what's concerning me is that there doesn't seem to be any Scot - or even anyone who writes about Scottish politics - who isn't a) a nationalist, b) a shit-talker.

Take this pile of nonsense from Andrew O'Hagan, which I found via Martin Kelly. For example:
"Yet the Britishness of Glasgow secedes, as it always has, to a very workerist mentality: it's culture of local patter and home-grown sport and socialist politics has always made it feel very Scottish and quite defiant."
"Home-grown sport"? Can't think what that might mean. Not the SPL, surely - since it's dominated by two teams that owe their allegiance to Britain and Ireland, rather than Scotland. The article has a particularly bad example of the false idea that identities and allegiances necessarily compete:
"The next day, I travelled into Glasgow's East End to spend the morning at E________ A_______, a clean, optimistic, comprehensive school in the Shettleston area."
In the interests of avoiding surveillance, you'll have to turn to the Telegraph article to find the name of the school. Suffice to say I nearly choked on my lunch...
"In the class, there were 13 children aged around 12. I gave out a piece of paper and asked them to write their names under the column they felt best described their nationality - British or Scottish. One by one they wrote their names in the "Scottish" column, except for Stacy Saunders, who wrote her name in both columns, and one lone Britisher, Taylor Reid."
Why he was allowed to do this, I can't imagine - he'd do this in one of my classes over my dead body. The point about this sort of question - recycled in various ways in numerous opinion polls - is that it makes about as much sense as asking them whether they felt more Glasgwegian than Scottish.

Speaking of opinion polls, the latest one showing support for independence at 40% is, apparently, a sign that the 'pendulum has swung', according to Christopher Harvie. Seems it has - back from 44% in 2006.

The argument for the union may be lost, for all I know - but it doesn't help when the debate in the press seems to be monopolised by a) nationalists b) people who are always finding 'seismic shifts' in the latest opinion poll c) tourists and 'professional Scotsmen' of various kinds.


Can't work out if the council's stopped blocking blogger or if it's because I'm getting into it via Google reader. Anyway, it's allowed me to put up a wee post at Educational Conscription.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Edukashun: a quick question

To all those who favour vouchers/bringing back grammars/privatising the education system/shooting anyone so genetically-inferior they work for the public sector:

Here's some facts, provided by the Telegraph - although I'm sure they didn't intend do.

Here's two more: Finland has a comprehensive system; Sweden has a voucher system.

Why isn't Sweden doing better? Could it be that structure doesn't matter that much?

Or it does matter. This means you're still wrong.

Have to go now so please feel free to admit this in the comments below and I'll read them later.


Friday, November 30, 2007

St Andrew's Day

The Scotsman has invited a number of people, many of whom you have probably never heard of (for good reason), to say what it is about Scotland that is worth celebrating.

Personally, one of the things about Scotland that I used to think was worth celebrating is that we didn't go in for the ghastly kitsch that is St Patrick's Day.

I'm concerned that this isn't going to be the case for much longer.

Also, I'm concerned that we're talking more shite than at any point in recorded history.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Free speech and fascists

There have been a number of post written to give guidance to the confused who imagine the right of free speech somehow creates an obligation to provide fascists with a venue but this one is the most beautiful.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lost: two discs and one mojo

I normally eschew the business of attempting to predict the future - except when it suits me. Or to put it another way, except when I think I'm right. And I think I've been right about Gordon Brown. It's just this feeling I get about him: the Force is not with him; his Ying is all out of kilter with his Yang; his mojo definitely ain't working. Had to laugh at Matthew Parris's column on Saturday because he was saying the same sort of thing.

Anyone want to argue that it was such a bad idea to call a snap election now? But I think there's a rational explanation behind this sense that Gordy's Feng Shui's all fucked up.

One is that people are discovering what those of us from the North have understood all along: being grumpy and Scottish doesn't make you left-wing. One gets the sense that people have begun to realise that Brownism is just Blairism without the smiles.

Being grumpy and Scottish doesn't make you more competent either - and this is the core of the issue. What happens when you play the politics of personality, only to discover that the personality in question isn't a) anything like as attractive as you thought it would be and b) irrelevant anyway? No, not irrelevant - rather it has the opposite effect than the one suggested for it. Brown's been able to get away with this son o' the manse crap for quite a long time. Why it should have lasted this long is beyond me. He's a gloomy presbyterian, so he's careful with money? With his own, I dare say - but that this is not so with public money has been obvious to everyone who has being paying attention.

Gordon Brown's government has lost your money - and, if you're a child benefit claimant, lost your information - because in his desire for control he has set tasks for his government that it is simply not capable of achieving. Johann Hari was way off mark in suggesting that our Gordon's present difficulties represent a crisis for "small government conservatism". Conservative he is, what with his 'British jobs for British workers' crap and his regressive fiscal policies - but the problem is that he's trying to do too much. I dare say he's trying to do it on the cheap, but that's a secondary point - it's the scale of his ambition that's the problem because he's setting his government tasks that it is intrinsically incapable of achieving. I'm reluctant to provide a list of the things Gordon wants you to do for fear of being accused of being a 'bloggertarian'. Suffice to say that when any government talks about 'changing the culture', understand that they have a) replaced moral socialism for social moralism b) set for themselves a goal that they are necessarily incompetent to achieve.

Which brings me to the unfortunate business of Gordon slipping his discs. I'm not enough of an anorak to follow the ins and outs of this story and I may be wrong but I would have thought that even without civil service cuts, something like this would have happened anyway. Can you really centralise all this information in this way that requires thousands of people to be able to get access to it in order for them to do their jobs and simultaneously guarantee that something like this can never happen? I doubt it. How much more, then, is this government doomed to fail if it continues to assume control over decisions that should never be considered the preserve of central government in the first place?

Add to this the personality problem in relation to the Cabinet. Brown didn't control the economy for the simple reasons that Chancellors can't control the economy. But with the fiction they can, he would have taken the flak if the Blair government had experience a Black Wednesday-type senario because no-one doubted that he ran the Treasury almost completely independently of Blair. Not so with Prime Minister Brown because what is Alistair Darling but a creature of the former Chancellor? Gordon Brown is discovering that one of the problems with having no 'heavy hitters' in your Cabinet is that there's no-one around to take the hits for you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Watching Football Annoyances

Not so much the usual triumph of hope over experience thing - some of us remember this, and haven't really recovered.

No, it's the spectators shouting out advice. It's not so much that the advice isn't any good - although I think most people would agree it's rather obvious and/or pretty goddam vague. ("Get in amongst them!", for example. Yes, I'm sure they never thought of that.) It's just that the game's in Hampden - and we're in a pub in Partick watching it on the telly. They can't hear you, ok? So shut the fuck up.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fantastic teachers - Ed Balls wants YOU!

Who could disagree that to hear Sir Cyril Taylor speak is to hear the sound of a nail being hit on the head? He has identified the key problem in education today - sub-standard teachers who are not fantastic. The obvious thing to do is to get rid of them and draw from the deep well of latent fantasticness out there. Recruiting the less than fantastic ones was, in hindsight, something of a mistake.

These sub-standard wretches are a rash on the scrotum of our education system - only working in the comprehensive system, as every well-informed reader of the blogosphere knows, because they were unable to get jobs in grammars or private schools. They are harming your children. They are making them fatter and more stupid than they were already!

Our new uber-heads will be given powers to wipe this stain from the copybook of educational history. There are competent to do this because there are no sub-standard heads. Well, there are but don't worry, we'll take care of them. We know what's best. We know what's best for your children too - even when they aren't really children anymore. This is why one of our spokesmen was pleased to announce today that the school leaving age is being raised to 25.

We are confident that this, combined with a raft of other measures - including ecologically-sound faith-based academies with no playgrounds and lots of glass - will raise the hoodied delinquent that is our education system from being only marginally better than your average third world country to Quite Good Really status.

Friday, November 09, 2007

If you believe this...

cash advance

You'll believe anything.

Because there's a fine line between genius and insanity.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Too damn busy

Actually working, would you believe? Amongst other things. Back later.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The IMF, shock therapy and Apartheid

Comment is premature, perhaps, because unlike Johann Hari, I haven't read Naomi Klien's "The Shock Doctrine" yet so I can't tell whether this following paragraph from his review is an accurate reflection of what she has written or if it is his elaboration of a thesis he is in fundamental agreement with. Regardless of which, the analysis of the 'shock doctrine' in relation to post-Apartheid South Africa was, well, pretty shocking:
"As the people of South Africa were fighting the last battles against Apartheid, the successor ANC was forced to haggle with the IMF and World Bank for their loans. The conditions? Ditch all the social protections included in your Freedom Charter, and leave the economic structures of Apartheid in place."
It was this last expression that annoyed me because I think it's intended to sound vaguely Marxist but it's anything but, as far as one can tell from the analysis put forth here. For instance, by the 'economic structures of Apartheid' do Klein/Hari mean simply capitalism? If so, there's two points here:

1) South Africa was certainly capitalist - and it also practiced Apartheid. But not only can the two not be fused together in this lazy-assed way, describing a basically capitalist system in this fashion ignores the manner in which Apartheid radically circumscribed two basic elements essential to the operation of any properly-functioning capitalist economy - trade and the free movement of labour. Any analysis of the collapse of apartheid should take surely take account of this? At least it should if it is an analysis that has any roots in Marxism.

2) A reading of the section of the Freedom Charter that deals with economics reveals an essentially Old Labourish, Clause Four sort of doctrine. The Soviet model, in other words. Post-apartheid it was obvious to anyone who had been paying attention that this was never going to serve as an economic model for the new South Africa. This, as anyone with any sense of economic history understands, was due to the (then very recent) collapse of the Soviet model.

It is certainly not my purpose to defend the IMF. The policy of 'shock therapy' fails to take account of an elementary fact of economic history, which is that the Western powers, whilst able to withstand the pressures of international competition as matured industrial economies, enjoyed a period of protection whilst they were still developing. But if neither Klein or Hari can rise above this lazy stuff about how sinister the IMF is with this vague yet all-inclusive condemnation of 'neo-liberalism', I was left wondering if Chris Dillow might have a point when he argued that this is the state the left gets itself into when it abandons Marxism. No alternatives, no understanding of capitalism as a system that governs the lives of both workers and bosses and politicians - just a vague lament that the reason Bad Things happen is because Bad People are in charge.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The trouble with King Gordon

I've been thinking that Gordon Brown's Scottishness is a problem - in a way that has nothing to do with the 'West Lothian Question'*. And before some nationalist accuses me of having the 'Scottish cultural cringe' allow me to qualify this: it has to do with him being Scottish Labour. This doesn't make him politically left, as his illiberalism, along with his apparent commitment to make our tax system even more regressive than it already is, demonstrate; it just makes him culturally Labour in a way Blair could never be. I'd argue that a number of his problems flow from this. Polly Toynbee, Jackie Ashley and the rest may love him for this but I don't think the electorate will.

For amongst the maladies of the political soul that commonly afflict the Scottish Labour beast are two that are potentially dangerous to the point of destruction for someone who aspires (although obviously not yet for bottle-boy) to win a General Election. These are: tribal partisanship and the assumption of something akin to the divine right of Kings - the working class serving as a secular proxy for God here.

I think most Scottish readers will recognise what I'm saying here. These two fuse together: demands for tribal loyalty are made on the assumption that only Labour serves the interests of the working class. Despite all the evidence that demonstrates that the Labour party do not, in fact, represent the interests of the working class, I really think the average Scottish Labour beast truly believes this because it has been repeated like a mantra for so long, passed down the generations, treated as an article of faith and has been woven into the collective psyche of the party.

So, for example, when a significant proportion of the real rather than imagined working class would rather have anyone but Labour running Scotland, even though a majority oppose independence, the Labour establishment are left adrift, confused, unable to form a decent response because they are still trying to work out what the hell went wrong.

This is the culture that Brown comes from and I think this forms part of the reason why he called-off the election and why he performed so badly against Cameron at the dispatch box. Despite knowing he would have won an election, his bottle still crashed. The reasons for this were obvious but what so few people have remarked upon is part of his nervousness would have been based on his inexperience with close elections. Where has he been confronted with this before personally? In Fife? Don't make me laugh. In a leadership contest? They had a coronation instead. It was no wonder Brown looked so pleased - it brought to the rest of the country the Scottish Labour way where the selectorate are the electorate in most places, most of the time.

When confronted with Cameron's jibes, Blair - who probably wouldn't have got himself in this situation in the first place - would have pretended to be enjoying himself and cracked a couple of jokes. Now, humour has a variety of social functions but one of them is simply to get others to like us. That Blair felt this need, I don't think many people doubt. Brown, on the other hand, can't do jokes. While being brought up in Kirkcaldy is enough to rob anyone of a sense of humour I don't think we can just blame his presbyterian background here: Brown gives the impression of someone who doesn't do jokes because he feels no need to ingratiate himself to others - and he feels no need to do this because he assumes he has inherited the right to rule. But he hasn't and if he doesn't get this soon, he's in serious trouble.

I'm not sure about his diagnosis, but I fear Anatole Kaletsky's prognosis might have been nearer the mark when he said this week's Autumn statement signals the beginning of the end of Gordon Brown's government. Political soothsaying is usually a mistake but there's just this vibe Brown gives off; an intangible, no doubt irrational, yet to me unmistakable feeling that the Force is not with this one.

*Why is it always raining in Harthill?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Phobia annoyances

Arachnophobes, understand this: it isn't we non-sufferers don't sympathise with your problem (it's the scuttling - we know). Our hostility to your problem has nothing to do with its essential irrationality.

Rather it's the idea that it falls upon us to take on board sole responsibility for spider-removing duties. We object to this because while we don't leap onto chairs and shriek hysterically on the sight of one of our eight-legged friends, we don't exactly enjoy handling the little blighters, you know.

It's the scuttling, y'see.

Would it be sexist to point out that it tends to be women who are disproportionately represented in the arachnophobe community?

Although to universalise this generalisation would obviously be a mistake.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In touch with my female side

In my previous life, apparently. In fact I was female - most likely employed as "monk (nun), bee-keeper or lone gunman."

This seems highly likely.

Via: Will

Monday, October 08, 2007

Religious exemptions

From the Times:
"Sainsbury’s is permitting Muslim checkout operators to refuse to handle customers’ alcohol purchases on religious grounds. It means other members of staff have to be called over to scan in wine and beer for them at the till."
One can only be impressed with people who refuse to do their job yet still get paid for it. If anyone's aware of a religion that proscribes dealing with obnoxious adolescents could they let me know and I'll sign up.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Stuff about education

Here's some good stuff.

Whereas this movie, which I saw on duh-vuh-duh at the weekend, really isn't.

Based on a True Story (yeah, right) where idealistic teacher wins over disaffected class with her unorthodox methods and saint-like dedication. Gets resistance from cynics in bureaucracy who feel threatened - blah, blah.

Now I've ranted about these goddam Rambo movies for the Guardian reader before but there's a couple of other things I failed to rant about at the time:

1) Why are these inspirational types always bloody English teachers? The 'inspirational' method not suitable for trigonometry then?

2) Why do they only ever have one fucking class? Some of us have to work for a living, y'know?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Democracy, elections and the constitution

This title might lead you to expect something more coherent and comprehensive than you're going to get. It's more just a few thoughts prompted by all the speculation over whether Brown will call an early election - and whether he should. Those who argue he shouldn't usually include the point that in our parliamentary system there is no requirement to do so.

While this is constitutionally correct, I don't think a reference to the constitution can settle the matter for two reasons:

1) There is also no constitutional reason why there shouldn't be an election, since calling one lies within the prerogative of the Prime Minister.

2) There is no constitutional requirement for a couple of conventions that have developed since Blair came to power. One is the idea that the legislature should be consulted in the event of Britain going to war. The other is that the electorate should be consulted by plebiscite on political changes that are considered fundamental constitutional changes, such as regional devolution.

It isn't only opponents of the war or devolution that could complain the manner in which both of these 'democratic consultations' were carried out was far from ideal. But the point is that our constitution is flexible enough to accommodate the development of conventions that appear to conform to democratic protocol - and at the same time it doesn't have the rigidity that allows it to be the final word on whether calling an election is appropriate.

Making a rare excursion into domestic electoral politics, Norm argues it wouldn't be - not so much on the basis of constitutional convention but rather on the grounds that there simply is no democratic need to do so. (I'm assuming everyone reading this understands that while the two may and do overlap, they are not the same thing.) And given this is the case, he argues an 'unnecessary' election would be seen as opportunistic by voters:
"The Labour Government has a mandate to govern that extends until the spring of 2010! Under the rules of this parliamentary democracy Gordon Brown needs no personal mandate of his own; the mandate belongs to his party. So the only conceivable reason for calling an election is to gain an electoral advantage - on the basis of polling predictions. This will be transparent to voters. What credible public justification could be offered for so unnecessarily premature a move?

If Brown does go ahead and call an election and it doesn't pay off, then he and his party will look - deservedly - sick. If it pays off, then it pays off. But it will do no credit to Brown, the Labour Party or British parliamentary democracy."
I think most people agree that the idea of governments having a mandate to carry out a raft of policies is a myth that doesn't bear too careful examination. But it shouldn't be dismissed completely, I think, for a couple of reasons.

One is that while it isn't credible to claim that every action a government takes has the wind of the electorate's prior approval behind it, provided it was in the manifesto, I don't think voters perceive themselves as giving parties a 'doctor's mandate' to govern in any manner they see fit. The electorate would see abrupt reversals in major policy areas as something for which they didn't give their approval and could justifiably complain they weren't consulted.

Moreover, even if this were not so - surely a change in the doctor who has the mandate is something they might reasonably expect to be asked their opinion about sooner or later? I'm not sure it's good enough to say that it's the same party in government so the change of personnel at the top doesn't matter, still less that 'people knew it was going to happen anyway'.

Secondly, even if you found all this unconvincing, surely you would have to agree that politicians use the myth of the mandate regularly to justify their own actions, or to undermine the legitimacy of others when they're in opposition? You could argue then that a 'public justification' might be required of them for not holding an election sooner or later, since the logic they've used in the past would suggest they should. I seem to remember, for example, some opposition MPs claiming that Major had no 'mandate from the people'.

So I can't agree with Norm that the "only conceivable reason for calling an election is to gain an electoral advantage" but in any event, surely every government that has the scope to do so calls elections at a time when it is most advantageous to them? So where's the evidence that the electorate punish them for doing this? Whatever the reason, do people really resent being asked who they want to govern them because it's 'too early'? "How dare you ask us this - the mandate we gave you hasn't expired yet." Come off it. They didn't punish Margaret Thatcher for this; would they perceive a November election as more calculating of advantage than 1983?

Conclusion: why not have an election? I don't find any of the arguments against it very convincing. It's all academic anyway because the only one Brown and his crew will have been taking seriously is the "because you might not win it" one.

Monday, September 24, 2007

For secular schooling

Those fond of claiming minority rights in the interests of maintaining state-sponsored religious schools often give the impression of being unaware that technically there are no non-religious schools, either in the Scottish system or in England and Wales. This is a legal reality that leaves the majority of us feeling rather uncatered for - uncared for, even - in this warm age of 'personal' public services, as Dr Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton High School in Tyneside found out recently:
"He...wanted to change the way that religious education was taught, introducing tuition about a number of world views, some that involved faith and some that did not. He intended to follow a 'third way' that neither banished religion from the classroom completely nor had children attending daily worship.

'We wanted a fundamental change in the relationship with the school and the established religion of the country,' said Kelley, talking about the proposals he put forward towards the end of Tony Blair's premiership. 'They accepted it would be popular but said it was politically impossible.'"
Such imprecision in the use of these terms; I blame their teachers. Since, as the DofE admit, it would be popular, I would have thought such a change to religious education in our schools would, in a democracy, be politically highly feasible. What at present it would be is illegal, as this case demonstrates. Something those currently finding themselves 'oppressed' by the rise of 'militant atheism' might want to bear in mind the next time they have a spare mo' to get reacquainted with reality.

Via: Norm

Prog rock and representative democracy

I fear folk purist Chris Dillow's disdain for managerialism and representative democracy has taken him too far this time, for he compares party politics with prog rock:
"Both are pompous self-referential masturbatory activities undertaken by mostly middle-class white boys, which are meaningless and irrelevant to most people.

Though its fans and practitioners believe what they're doing is important and look down upon those who fail to appreciate this, the truth is that anyone with genuine intellect or taste is wholly alienated from the process."
Now, this is all very amusing - but it strikes me as being a little unfair. To our politicians, that is. For those mercifully too young to remember 'prog rock', here's Yes:

And here's Genesis:

Some pretty deep evil going on there, I think you'll agree. But there's rather more wrong with Chris's analogy than he cares to admit.

For one thing - if you don't like something, it's always difficult to distinguish between people who offer it. But it doesn't follow that your judgment is correct. I find a lot of folk music difficult to distinguish, for example. These warbling folkies with their goddam woolly jumpers, their fake traditions, and their 'acoustic' guitars that they always have wired up, nonetheless; can't tell them apart, me. But this is probably just prejudice against folk music fans and the phoney sense of authenticity they exude, rather than anything to do with the music itself.

But there's something more fundamental. The reality is that traditional party politics is popular with more people, in a more enduring way, than prog rock. A couple of points flow from this:

The benefit of having big differences between the parties is over-rated. Whenever you get some fringe outfit offering a 'real alternative', the 'customers' tends to deliver a fairly brutal verdict at the ballot box. Some of our Marxist friends are still inclined to attribute this to some form of 'false consciousness' - but could it be the more mundane, and for them uncomfortable, truth is that the parties are so similar largely because that's the way many people like it?

Focusing on the lack of choice shouldn't distract you from the benefit of having a choice in the first place. States where this happens are always more liberal and usually more equal than those where it doesn't. Chris's analogy can be used accurately to illustrate this point: prog rock is shit but states that ban prog rock in favour of traditional music are immeasurably less liberal than states that do not. The same's true of political parties.

Genesis: unquestionably a down-side of the Open Society

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Management wasting my goddam time

In response to this half-assed study on the productivity lost by workers wasting time farting about on Facebook and other 'networking sites', Chris Dillow commented:
"And what's so special about wasting time on networking sites? How much time gets wasted in pointless meetings, or because the IT is crap, or because the air-conditioning doesn't work, or because people get delayed by lousy transport etc etc? Bad management is surely a vaster source of wasted time that Facebook."
Indeed - how could anyone who isn't management working today disagree? Seems there's no escape: everyone, as well as actually doing the goddam job they're paid to do, has to spend further pointless hours filling in bloody forms saying what they're going to do, and then recording what they've actually done. Then you get a 'professional review' where the reviewer reviews these pointless forms and duly records this fact on other forms. Then they get reviewed...

Then there's the training days, at the end of which there are other goddam forms to fill in. "What did you learn?" Fuck knows - that talking complete shite is a surefire path to promotion into some non-job that has 'development' and/or 'co-ordinator' in the title?

Anyway, Glasgow City Council - time and money-wasters par excellence - have decided in their infinite wisdom to put all Typepad and Blogger sites behind a firewall.

I am most displeased.

This has the disadvantage that as well as not being able to read my own waste of space, I can't even peruse my favourite blogs during the day. (Perhaps they could be persuaded to switch to Wordpress? GCC haven't spotted that one.)

But it does have the advantage that I can now say exactly what I think about the stupid killjoy bastards. Harsh? Well, how else would you describe a council that allows access to every moonbat jihadi site you can think of but screens historical sites about the rise of Hitler under the category 'racism/hate' and who won't even give you a sachet of salt to put on the insipid food they serve in their evil canteens because of some vaunted concern for the nation's health?

I mean, if they're so concerned about my health, I have a few suggestions about how they might take steps to stop deliberately raising my blood-pressure.

Whoever was responsible for the invention and proliferation of the expression 'journey to excellence' could be taken out and shot, for example.

This would make me feel much better.

And if re-branding janitors as 'facilities management co-ordinators' was designed to cheer them up, I have to say there's precious little evidence of it having worked.

But it's made me more depressed.

As does the fact that Glasgow City Council apparently employs an 'acronym tsar' to put stupid signs up in corridors throughout the city's schools.

Ok, they don't really.

Oh and by the way: if you really want the kids to eat school dinners, have you ever considered making them nicer? This would involve not using sawdust and old socks as your key ingredients. Just a thought.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Car annoyances

My girlfriend unkindly - but accurately - describes vehicles of this type as 'wank-mobiles'. If you drive one of these, you are indeed a complete wank. The reasons for this are four-fold:

1) Your aesthetic sense - where is it? What's wrong with you?

2) You screech about in residential areas, pull over, play your goddam stereo at an unfeasible volume whilst other wanks gather on the pavement to admire your wank-mobile. What's going on there? Read a book or something, for fuck sake.

3) You've bought a convertible. And you live in Glasgow. It takes a special kind of asshole to do that.

4) Concerns about the environment: now nobody likes you.

Update: Actually, there's more: there's the small matter of the way you drive the things, for example. The street's too narrow, so I pull over to let you past. Would it kill you to acknowledge this with a wee wave? Or has excessive Onanism deprived you of the use of your hands?

Chip and pin annoyances

Like when the machines in the supermarket don't accept your card. You temporarily freak out, thinking you've went and maxed out your account. Then they swipe it, as they did in the olden days, it works, you sign it - and they've got the cheek to examine your freakin' signature.

Now listen cashier-boy: if I was going to commit credit card fraud, don't you think I'd do it for something more substantial than a box of Shreddies, a pint of milk, and some goddam Bic razors? Anyway, while I'm sure Morrison's training programme has left you with many useful skills, I somehow doubt that an expertise in handwriting analysis is amongst them.

What stupid teachers with way too much time on their hands do

Well, as you already know, they blog sometimes. On other occasions they've apparently got time to waste on this kind of shit. Background: the MoD has produced a lesson plan about Iraq entitled "Promoting peace and security in Iraq", which says ":
"Invasion was also allow the opportunity to remove Saddam Hussein, an oppressive dictator, from power, and to bring democracy to Iraq." Our troops "continue to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq, training Iraqi security forces, rehabilitating schools and hospitals, and initiating immunisation programmes".
Now boys and girls, regardless of the position you took on the invasion of Iraq - or the conduct of the occupation - what would you say to a teacher that used a lesson plan from the MoD uncritically and without making amendments? I think what you should say is something like, "You're something of a lazy arsehole, are you not?"

Not Nick Grant, National Union of Teachers branch secretary in Ealing, though. He thinks the lesson breaks the 1996 Education Act, which bans "the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school" and is, one is to take it, pursuing legal action to get it banned from schools.

Now, this depends on what you mean by 'partisan'. It doesn't push the cause of a particular party but I suppose he'll argue it one-sidedly represents a cause or an idea. It's biased, in other words. Thing is if Mr Grant is to take issue with all teaching materials that are 'partisan' in this sense, while he obviously has way too much time on his hands already, he'll need a whole lot more. This is because teachers, text-books, and curriculae are unbiased in the way the BBC is unbiased - which is to say, not very.

Here's a better idea: why not teach students to do their own thinking and allow teachers to exercise their professional judgment as to what materials they use for this? But that would defeat the purpose of a posturing exercise like this, wouldn't it?

Via: Norm

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What's wrong with the liberal-left?

The latest person to ask the question is Anthony Andrew, and his answer has prompted much battering of the keyboards. Being of a Eustonian disposition, I agree with much of the analysis offered by people like Norm, Oliver Kamm and others - but there's a couple of other reasons that I think are worth considering too.

One is that the liberal-left is a victim of its own success. It's hardly an original observation but I was reminded of this when I came across Michael Ancram's insipid alternative manifesto (pdf) for the Conservative party. Consider the context: Ancram's complaining about Cameron supposedly 'trashing Thatcher's legacy' and calling for a return to conservative fundamentals. But these 'conservative fundamentals' turn out to be rather liberal ones, if the language of rights, freedom, limited government and promotion by merit is to be taken seriously in Michael Ancram's hands.

It's a disagreement, in other words, between two different liberal visions of the Tory party. Think of the way conservatives routinely justify inequality in terms of a price worth paying for liberty; hardly any conservative these days is prepared to argue against both liberty and equality in a Scrutonesque fashion.

This isn't a new development: British conservatives since Burke have absorbed much of the liberal tradition in a way that their continental counterparts never did. Neither is there anything new about the left retreating from the primacy of liberal and democratic principles in favour of what they perceive to be the cause of equality. Leftists didn't begin making excuses for authoritarianism and outright tyranny in the 1990s: the division between those who think the causes of liberty and democracy sometimes collide with the goal of greater equality and those who insist on the primacy of the former has been in evidence on the left at least since the Bolshevik revolution.

Perhaps it's just something that just has to be replayed for each generation, following the pattern of that old cliche: those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat its mistakes. Here's a few of them that we've seen before:

1) It was the liberal left that originally made the case for limited government and democracy in the face of opposition from those who preferred the preservation of rank, patronage and deference. Having won the argument, it seems absurd for the left to retreat from these and dismiss them as 'bougeois' simply because the right launched a fallacious, but apparently successful, attempt to claim these as their own.

2) The Soviet model doesn't work, end of. So why do some leftists continue to effectively support it, as the Chavez groupies clearly do? I suppose if you lived in the 1930s and were either ignorant of, or chose to ignore, Stalin's tyranny you could just about make the argument that central planning would prove to be more efficient than the then creaking capitalist model. But the idea that this case can be made, still is being made, post-1989 in face of all the contrary evidence beggars belief. Central planning and the problem of knowledge: Hayek was right - get over it.

3) This point serves as an answer to the previous one. The reason why people make preposterous ahistorical defences of the USSR and the caves in this world where its shadow can still be seen can only do because they think any opposition to capitalism is worth supporting. And they can, surely, only think this is worth doing because capitalism is the worst thing in the world. The problem is, in terms of the material standard of living that capitalist states deliver, this has been rather difficult to do for some time - something Dave Osler has talked about here. Certainly in terms of the 'immiseration' of the worker, the Soviet model has to be dismissed as an alternative. And it has to be dismissed with regards to liberty too, which brings us to the final point:

4) No-one could suggest that the American worker was less free than the Soviet worker and expect to be taken seriously. And although I've come across a number of people prepared to put themselves through mental contortions to argue the opposite, most on the left chose to focus on something else instead: foreign policy. This focus is a perennial problem for the left. Consider the way that morality is understood as a function of the position one takes on big geo-political issues - the accusations and condemnations that are made, the anathemas that are dispensed. It is because it is felt by many on the left that it is in this areas that the struggles of the age are played out in primary colours. For the self-styled 'anti-imperialist' left it is in the capricious realpolitik of the Western powers that the iniquity of the 'system' is made flesh.

I believe this is a function of the fact that they are still trying, against all the evidence, to insist that liberal capitalism is the worst thing on earth. That's their problem. But I'm thinking, and not for the first time, that it's our problem too because whilst engaging with it, we're speaking the same language of primary colours. And it's an odd thing to do, if you think about it, because where else but in the area of states and their foreign policies can the human stain be more clearly seen?

You might respond, how can anyone who supports fanatical and homicidal religious movements consider themselves part of the left? Of course I agree. But then again, how can anyone who does this consider themselves humane or even sane - never mind placing themselves somewhere pleasing to their own self-image on the political spectrum? I mean this sort of thing: Conor Foley, arguing against the Anthony Andrews case linked above, attempts to show that the left has not shifted from its core values in 25 years. I think it's indicative of the problem that in doing so, he talks exclusively about foreign policy and has nothing much to say about liberty and equality.

All of which brings me back to the original point: what's wrong with the liberal left? It might have something to do with the fact that we keep allowing the Right to nick our best ideas, partly because we've been too busy having a conversation with ourselves. A conversation, moreover, that is of little interest to the sane majority who are fortunate enough not to have been afflicted with what Eric Hobsbawm called the political disease.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back later

Life too chaotic for blogging at the mo'. Limited access to internet-based email just now also (work firewall blocks them) so apologies for any unanswered mail. Back later when circumstances allow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Scottish Labour to be 'Wendied'

Being 'Wendied' is the term used to describe receiving a verbal doing from Jack McConnell's likely successor Wendy Alexander, according to the Scotsman.

Her likely elevation has received mixed reviews. Unexpectedly, Mr Eugenides is wildly - indecently, you could even say - excited by this prospect, the rush of blood pushing him to lyrical heights seldom seen in the blogosphere:
"One sight of that diminutive figure is enough to send me into raptures of delight that I blush to describe on a family blog such as this. How shall I count the ways? Eyes, wide and bright like saucers of champagne, yet also dark and passionate as goblets of ruby Buckfast. A neck, slender and playful like a faun’s, framed by hair delicate yet supple, like silken ropes of song..."
Read on, if you think you can stand before such burnished prose: the thin veneer of irony used here can't conceal true love, methinks.

The leader of the People's Front of Judea, on the other hand, finds Ms Alexander somewhat less lovely:
"One critical response to her likely elevation came from Tommy Sheridan, the Solidarity leader. He said Ms Alexander would be "disastrous" for Labour, adding: "Socialists who are left in the Labour Party must be in despair that they can't even find a left candidate to stand.""
Mr Sheridan's authority on the subject of leaders being disastrous for political parties is without rival, I think you'll agree.

I have no strong opinions myself, only a question: will she be able to give wee Eck the verbal doing he so richly deserves?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Against referenda (again)

Sorry for repeating myself but one of the annoying arguments used against those of us that are at best sceptical about the use of plebiscites is that we 'don't trust the people'. I've argued that it is governments we don't trust - and there's been two recent stories that illustrate the point that politicians only favour referenda when they think they'll get the answer they want.

Alex Salmond wants to have a referendum on Scottish independence but not yet - because he doesn't think it'll yield the result he wants. The 'tectonic plates' have shifted in Scottish politics, he claims, but not quite enough so meanwhile we've to have lots of state-sponsored propaganda a 'national debate' first.

The unionist parties, on the other hand, are opposed to a referendum because while they suspect Salmond is right to think he would lose a referendum, they can't be that confident.

Meanwhile in London, Gordon Brown - while he feels obliged to give little hints that he might - doesn't really want a referendum on the new EU treaty because he thinks he'll lose. The Tories agree - which is why they support one.

What's annoying about all this for me is that journalists never seem to ask more basic questions. Instead of asking politicians if they favour a referendum in this or that issue, why don't they ask them about their attitude to referenda in general? Do they favour them at all, and if so under what circumstances? What kind of issues should be submitted to plebiscites and, importantly, who should generate them? For example, if we are to have them at all, why is it only the prerogative of the executive to call them? Why not Parliament? Or why not the people? You could have a referendum asking the people if they favoured being consulted by referenda on a regular basis. Bit silly, maybe. Or maybe not - but no politician would ever advocate this because the answer would, of course, be yes.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Iraqi translators asylum campaign

I've been a bit late with this blog-based campaign, which Dan Hardie alerted me to:
"Since British troops occupied Southern Iraq in the spring of 2003, thousands of Iraqi citizens have worked for the British Army, the Coalition Provisional Authority (South) and for contractors serving UK forces. There is now considerable evidence that their lives, and the lives of their families, are at risk: some former workers for the British have been murdered, and many others have fled to neighbouring countries or gone into hiding in Basra. The British Government, for whom they were ultimately working, has not offered them the right of asylum in the UK. This is morally unacceptable.

The most detailed recent report, by Jonathan Miller of Channel Four news, notes the murder of 17 translators in one single incident in Basra. It cites the cases of hundreds of others who have fled to a refugee existence in nearby Middle Eastern countries or are in hiding in Iraq. The British Government response has come from the Home Office, which has suggested that Iraqis put at risk by their work for British troops ‘register with the UN refugee agency’. Other reports provide supporting detail: Iraqis are being targeted for murder because they have worked for British forces.

Marie Colvin’s report for the Times of April 8 speaks of desperate former workers for the British Army being turned away from the British embassy in Syria by staff who had orders not to admit any Iraqis. These brave men and women have testimonials written by British officers stating that they are at risk from jihadi violence: and yet we are still refusing to admit them to the United Kingdom."
If you think this is unacceptable, you might want to consider writing to your MP. This site is handy for this.

If, on the other hand, you do think this is acceptable, your name is Neil Clark and you might want to consider killing yourself because you're a disgusting piece of shit who probably can't identify the point when you lost touch with your humanity because it was so long ago.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Liberty - not what it was

So says Roy Hattersley. Well, it certainly isn't in his hands:
"The right to do something that circumstances prevent us from doing is not a right worth having. Liberty, we have learned since Mill's day, is the practical ability to enjoy the choices of a free society, not the theoretical chance to take advantage of opportunities which we cannot afford."
"We have learned"? Speak for yourself. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing new about the conflation of ideas here. The routine should be familiar by now: writer doesn't really believe in individual liberty but rather than actually admitting this, stretches the concept to suit his purposes instead.

Fairly annoying. Liberals do not deny that formal liberties aren't much use without the ability to enjoy them - we just insist that a freedom and an ability are two different things. Which they are.

Fairly annoying too is that Hattersely, like so many critics of JS Mill, doesn't seem to have done him the courtesy of a careful reading. The harm principle: amazing the number of people who just don't get this. Hattersely certainly doesn't, a fact that can be demonstrated by the examples he uses. Mill didn't know the carcinogenic effects of tobacco smoke, Hattersley says, as if this formed part of some slam-dunk argument. So what? If he had, no doubt he would not have considered smoking in public places a self-regarding action. It is also difficult to see how failing to strap your children into the back-seat of your car could possibly be classed as a self-regarding action by Mill's definition. Enough to give straw men arguments a bad name.

The final annoyance is Hattersley appears to make the same assumption that authoritarians usually do: people need restraint, and the people in need of restraint are other people:
"The first principle asserts that "all errors which (a man) is likely to commit against advice and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good". Only cranks believe that now. If it were a generally held view, we would not prohibit the use of recreational drugs or require passengers in the back seats of motor cars to wear safety belts."
Guess I'm a crank then. This is partly a difference of opinion about what motivates people. I tend to take the view that the reason most people don't drive about with their children unrestrained in the back of their car whilst smoking crack is they think it's a stupid and dangerous thing to do; Roy Hattersley clearly thinks it's fear of the law that is the deciding factor here.

Thing is, I doubt he thinks it decisive in his own case. I assume if we asked him why he hasn't cultivated an intravenous heroin habit, he'd give some reason other than because heroin is illegal. But others are different, and that's why they need restraint. Funny how those who compromise the concept of liberty in the interests of what they understand to be equality so often turn out not to be coming from an egalitarian position in the first place.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Light posting

As you'll have noticed. Sorry about this - bit pre-occupied with various things. Haven't even had time to do a meme thing that Mr Rodent passed on to me some time ago where I was to divulge ten facts that you didn't know about me - and not just because I doubt anyone would find them remotely interesting.

Here's one, though, that might serve as a partial explanation for the lack of activity here: it occurred to me that I've spent my entire adult life living in tenements - and I've been flooded in every goddam one I've ever lived in. When this place is fixed up, I'm getting a fucking bungalow, I tell you.

Did manage a scrawl about Hari's latest call to the baptismal waters over at DSTPFW, onwhere I'll probably post anything else I manage to write for the next wee while.

Update: See this on secular self-criticism and its religious precedents.

Monday, July 23, 2007

God is not great - (not really) a review

It's difficult for me to say what I think of this book because I found it hugely enjoyable and annoying at the same time.

While Hitchens distills his opposition to religion into a sort of four-point thesis at the beginning of the book, really he has two main targets: the idea that religion is the sole source of morality, and the notion that a claim to be custodians of divine revelation should serve as a justification for the exercise of political power of any kind. These are two ideas that should be questioned, argued with, opposed. And there are few people - no, there isn't anyone - who can do this with the skill and panache of Christopher Hitchens.

Which is why the book annoyed me. Because while he hits his target alright, he does so using a blunderbuss. I have the American version, which is subtitled, "How religion poisons everything". This involves, as becomes clear throughout the book, attempting to show that religion poisons everything because religion is uniquely poisonous. The book runs into problems here for reasons that have been outlined by a number of reviewers. I don't think I've got anything particularly original to say, so I'll confine myself to restating it in a slightly different form.

When certain types of Christians are confronted with evidence of various crimes, wars and genocide that have been committed in the name of their religion, they have been known to respond, "Ah but they weren't real Christians". An answer that is as convenient as it is complacent - as well as being for the historian completely useless - I hope you'll agree. The problem with Hitchens' argument is that he does the same thing, only the other way around. When Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King behave well, this they do despite their religion. And when a dictator who closed churches and turns them into museums of atheism behaves badly, this is understood as an essentially religious phenomenon.

Hitchens' argument here is more subtle than it is usually given credit for, but it still doesn't quite work. Bonhoeffer was indeed what you might describe as a Christian humanist, and a liberal theologian. But for us to accept that religion poisons everything, you'd have to show that Bonhoeffer's religion poisoned his humanism in some way. I suppose you could attempt this, but it would require a moral self-confidence that I simply don't possess, not to mention historical sources that I have hitherto been unaware of.

In the same way, I think Hitchens is right to identify the essentially religious nature of totalitarianism - with its claims to cognitive infallibility, its recourse to holy books, its martyrs and prophets, its icons, rituals and confessionals, it's eschatology and it's insistence that the ordinary populace live their lives standing to a state-endorsed moral attention. Very like religion - but the point is, it isn't the form of 'religion' that Hitchens addresses himself in most of the rest of the book. No permission claimed from an invisible deity, and without the creation myths or ideas of original sin that he takes issue with in the previous chapters of the book.

In this way the concept of 'religion' becomes stretched when it is applied to Stalin, or Mao - but narrowed in a way that few people would recognise in the case of Martin Luther King. Religion poisons everything because it is uniquely poisonous: after the century of Hitler, Stalin and Mao, I think this is a difficult claim to sustain.

It's this over-reach that is annoying because it spoils for me a book that is otherwise lucid, entertaining, and even on occasion life-affirming. Because it isn't only in the discussion around totalitarianism that Hitchens does this. Take the scandal of paedophile priests, which Hitchens does to challenge the hypocrisy of the church's claim to monopolise morality. It is right to do so, and in this sensitive age of ours it should be noted that few have the gumption to throw this reality back in the faces of those who intone 'family values'.

But the sickening truth is there has never been a human institution, whether religious or not, that is supposed to care for children but has not at some point abused them instead, and then subsequently attempted to conceal it. Therefore, to use this to support his case, Hitchens really needs to provide some evidence that religious institutions are the worst offenders here. But we don't get any, which doesn't sit very well with the tone of the rest of the book. He surely wouldn't want us to take it on faith?

There's another problem raised by this, which has to do with his understanding of what motivates people, which touches upon scriptural literalism or 'fundamentalism'. Religious people do evil because their various bibles give them permission to do so. This is the fact that Hitchens wants people to confront, which is fine. However, when the bible in question doesn't give them permission to do so and they do it anyway, they are nevertheless being motivated by religion. Again I'd argue that Hitchens' argument here, while not entirely satisfactory, is more subtle than it's given credit for. But the concept-stretching goes too far when it is argued further - that if a religious person does do good, and the good they do is apparently inspired by some scriptural injunction or other, this has nevertheless been done despite their religion.

This won't do. "Pagan self-assertion is as good as Christian denial", as JS Mill said. This can and should be argued morally or aesthetically, but Mill's meaning is political. This is the idea that liberty requires this credo to be adopted by the state, which can and must remain neutral on matters of religion; it must make a distinction between a crime and a sin, if it to take a proper role in preserving human freedom. This is what Hitchens believes. As do I - so I would have liked him to make this case with more precision. Instead we got, "Not only is pagan self-assertion as good as Christian self-denial, it is always better because the latter is always bad" - a book that was enjoyable and annoying at the same time.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Home secretary: I smoked cannabis

And as is the ministerial protocol these days, stresses she didn't particularly enjoy it.

No, heaven forfend.

Ms Smith is now to review whether the re-classification of cannabis - enacted under that crazy hippy David Blunkett - should be reversed in the light of research into links between cannabis use and mental health problems, and with crime.

On the mental health aspect, and the liberal argument in general, Tim's good here.

I'd depend solely on the crime aspect to support my own position: most of the crime, particularly the most serious crimes, associated with drugs use have to do with their production, distribution and sale. I'm repeating myself but it's not that drugs aren't dangerous, just not as much as the people who sell them.

The chemical generation has come to power. Is it really unrealistically 'libertarian' to expect people, specifically some of those in the media, to be a bit more grown-up about this sort of thing?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Galloway facing 18-day Commons suspension

From the Scotsman:
"GEORGE Galloway, the Respect MP, faces suspension from parliament for 18 days after an inquiry by its standards watchdog chronicled his charity's links to Saddam Hussein's regime."
Galloway seems unhappy about this.

When when you consider his record of attendance at the House of Commons, it isn't obvious why. It's a bit like when some hardcore truant gets suspended from school for something they did on one of the rare occasions they actually turned up. You think: what's the point of that? Will they even notice they've been supposedly punished? However, like I said - he does seem a little displeased. Miffed, you could even say.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lightminded provocation

As part of his response to a post by Mick Hartley, Norm writes the following:
"I'm aware I've been writing a fair bit on religion lately, and it isn't for the first time. How come? Well, as everyone's noticed, there's a certain amount of fanatical religion around today, some of it of murderous inclination. It is important to combat this, to argue for the values of tolerance and secularism and a pluralist democratic society. I hope the overall political alignment of this blog has been such as to emphasize those priorities. But I do not think they are well served, and neither is the argument against fanatical religion, by a stance of mockery towards the religious, whether fanatical or not, of denial that religious doctrine and teachings could have any value whatsover, and of the temptation to deny also - what is patently true - that countless people have been brought by their religious beliefs to act well towards others and to try to lessen some of the miseries of human existence. As a confirmed atheist, I find it dismaying when those on the same side as I am, loosely speaking, discredit our case by the addition to it of lightminded provocation."
I reproduce this with the observation that the best writing is often that which says what you already think, only better than you could yourself.

I'd intended to include the following in a post I'm doing about Hitchens's, "God is not great", but I feel the need to get it off my chest now.

When I was studying for my PGCE, I took an elective module on Holocaust Studies. Our tutor arranged for us a speaker who was a rabbi and Holocaust survivor. During the course of his talk, he referred to his understanding of God, how the experience of Auschwitz had changed it but how he still believed. Our tutor, a strongly atheist Jew, didn't agree with this but said nothing. Because what can one say? Introduce him to the theodicy problem in a here's something you haven't thought of sort of way? Can there be any serious doubt that the only appropriate response here is to shut your mouth and show some respect? Because when we talk about respect, it isn't about respecting what people believe - just the people themselves and the space in their souls that is common to all mankind where we do our best to make sense of things. What goes on in this space, one could add, is often governed - not by what is or isn't true - but what we can and cannot bear.

Monday, July 16, 2007

On modern superstitions

Dr Andrew Wakefield and two of his colleagues are facing disciplinary action over their conduct related to the study that purported to show a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. From what is alleged, this seems entirely appropriate.

One thing I'm not sure about, though, is the way the MMR scare was used by various commentators as an example of a modern anti-science superstition. It may well be that for many this was indeed the case - I wouldn't know. But doesn't it show a mistrust in government, rather than science - and post-BSE, was this entirely irrational?

I had my son vaccinated for the following reasons:

1) The weight of scientific evidence disagreed with Dr Wakefield.

2) I was swayed by the argument that autism was detectable around the time infants get vaccinated so many people were confusing causation with correlation.

3) I knew a friend of the family had not had her daughter vaccinated, yet she still developed autism.

I'm not sure my reasons were impeccably rational. On point 1), I didn't actually read any of the research, on the grounds that I probably wouldn't have been able to understand it even if I had. Point 2) shouldn't be decisive, I wouldn't have thought - and point 3) was irrelevant - yet it had an impact on my decision-making.

Thing is, I was like most Scots - who showed themselves more likely than either the English or the Welsh to have their children vaccinated. It may be - but I doubt the difference here has anything to do with Scots being more 'pro-science' or rational than our friends south of the border.

Another example of modern irrationality that's sometimes used is people playing the National Lottery. Not convinced by this either. I'd agree it's irrational to think you're likely to win, or that the numbers you've chosen have some kind of magical properties. But playing it, in and of itself, isn't that irrational, is it? The odds are extremely high, obviously - but then the stake is extremely low. It's more a lack of imagination that's the problem, I reckon. People purchase a ticket and enjoy fantasizing for a short while about what they would do with all the dosh if they won. I just take it a stage further and imagine I've bought a lottery ticket.

Global broadband prices

Unsurprisingly vary from country to country, according to a report by the OECD:
"JupiterResearch telecoms analyst Ian Fogg said: "It's very hard to draw comparisons across 30 countries globally because there are different trends happening in each of them."
These different trends, I'd venture to suggest, are at least partly a function of confusion. I think it was Scott Adams who coined the term 'confusopolies' to describe the way that firms compete these days - not so much by competitive pricing, or even by attempting to differentiate products that are essentially the same, but by confusing the consumer as to the actual price of the product they're bloody well buying.

This is certainly my experience, anyway. Tariffs, bundles that include digital TV, or mobile phones, or phone lines that are free - provided you use them on Wednesdays when it's raining or when everyone who isn't a student or unemployed is asleep... Can't make much sense of them. "You innumerate fool", you might say. Yes but there's a lot of us out there. We're probably being ripped off on a regular basis but since we are too confused to know for certain we're being ripped off, we tend not to do much in the way of uniting and losing our chains and stuff.

Anyway, assuming my theory has anything to it - which would probably be unwise - Sweden is the least confused country in the OECD. Why is it always bloody Sweden?

Breaking news: Pope is Catholic shock

It's a now oldish story, in reality. It refers to Ratzinger's declaration that Orthodox and Protestant churches aren't 'proper' ones:
"The document said that the Orthodox church suffered from a "wound" because it did not recognise the primacy of the Pope. The wound was "still more profound" in Protestant denominations, it added.

It was "difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to them", said the statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Roman Catholicism was 'the one true Church of Christ'."
I refer to this only to note the way that people get all shocked when the representatives of various branches of Christianity drop the obfuscation essential to ecumenism and state what is for them simply orthodox doctrine.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More intermission

Sorry, recovered now but still nothing substantial to say.

So no change there.

On T in the park: if you get a chance to camp there - don't. And if you need the toilet - hold it in. In fact, if you're of a delicate disposition, don't go at all. Someone described it as Glasgow neds day out - which from experience strikes me as being fairly accurate. Glastonbury it ain't.

Reading this at the mo'. I'll do a thing on it when I'm done.

Other news: vegetarian girlfriend is now eating fish. This is excellent - give me another year or so and she'll be doing the sirloin steak in brandy sauce. My own view is that there's very little excuse for herbivorism but in her defence I'd have to say that at least she's aware that a fish is not a goddam vegetable - which is more than can be said for many supposed 'vegetarians'.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere: HP have already linked it, but it's worth doing again. Money quote from Mr E:
"I must say that it takes a special kind of moron to be outwitted by Richard fucking Littlejohn."
I can only concur. Find out why here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Went here at weekend - and as a result completely fucked.

Back later after dignified recovery period.

Meanwhile, here's a voice of righteousness.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

On direct democracy and participation

There's a potentially interesting expansion in direct democracy to be unveiled today, apparently:
"Voters will be given powers to decide how ten of millions of pounds should be spent in their neighbourhood under radical plans being unveiled today.

In a potentially dramatic extension of direct democracy, councils will have to hold ballots before deciding where money should be targeted. It would mean that, for the first time, people could direct cash to areas that concern them most, such as parks, curbing antisocial behaviour, targeting drug trouble spots or cleaning up litter."
I'd expect Chris Dillow to both welcome this and suggest it doesn't go far enough.

Personally I'm sceptical about this whole wisdom of crowds thing but the other question that occurred to me was this: is there's any reason to think the crowd is fair? If you look how the 'crowd' that donates to charity [pdf] behave, for example, we find that they feel health charities are much more important than ones to do with housing. This would reflect voting patterns, which continually show health care in the top five of voter concerns. Social housing, on the other hand, doesn't even register. The reason, I'd suggest, is that while a majority of people fear illness - particularly cancer - a majority are comfortable enough to be unconcerned about the prospect of homelessness.

You could argue that this is a fairly rational result, since the average person is indeed more likely to contract cancer than become homeless, but the point is the marginal concerns seem to get squeezed here - unless the marginal concern happens to be private schooling, of course.

The analogy arguably doesn't quite fit, since with charity donations some people obviously have more 'votes' than others. But still, is there any reason to think that equal votes would overcome the problem of minority needs being neglected?

Another problem I have with Chris's advocacy of direct democracy is that it is seen almost exclusively* as an antidote to 'managerialist' politics. For example, in response to the idea that falling voter turnout shows a lack of appreciation of the democratic process and the need for active citizenship, he responds:
"No, it doesn't. It shows their lack of confidence in (managerialist?) politicians. I suspect many of these non-voters are protesters against the Iraq war, or committed greens, or are active citizens in other ways.
In what other activity would a near-halving of demand be seen as a reason to insult one's customers, rather than as a sign of one's own incompetence?"
But how do we know this particular 'fall in demand' can be explained in this way? Because the 'demand' for participation in representative democracy has coincided with a fall in demand for membership of all sorts of civic institutions - political parties, charities, friendly societies, clubs, trade unions and churches. I suppose you could argue that all of these have become more 'managerialist' and incompetent in equal measure over the years, but it seems unlikely. Could it not be that this declining willingness to participate, to join anything, reflects a more general and profound change in the 'customer' - indicated, perhaps, by the fact that we even use these terms to describe civic participation?

Nearer the truth, I suspect, is that the 'customer' is much more individualistic than he or she used to be. This explains the examples of participation Chris uses - going on demonstrations, environmentalist activity and so on. These are activities that, because of their 'single-issue' nature, people can involve themselves in without compromising their sense of individuality. People can identify with one cause - opposition to war, for example - and by-pass almost completely any sense of discomfort at being associated publicly with other policies they don't really agree with. These are also, frankly, for most people a low cost, low commitment expression of political concern.

I'm not suggesting that politicians have no share of the blame for the apathetic citizen, nor even that the rise of individualism is entirely a bad thing. But I'm afraid I do think there's a problem with the 'customer base'. Is low civic participation always the fault of the 'managerialists' and never the 'consumer'? There's a declining willingness to turn out to vote - but there's also a declining willingness to turn up for jury duty. Here, I'd argue, the customer - while they might have legitimate criticisms of both elections and trials in this country - is simply wrong to do this.

Because whatever their shortcomings, competitive elections are better than those that are not, and trials that have a jury present are better than those that don't. The crowd may disagree - in which case the crowd is mistaken. Thing is, I don't really think they do. Probably down to a more mundane truth about the 'crowd': bit damn lazy, sometimes.

*On reflection, this isn't quite right - Chris also suggests participation in direct democracy has 'procedural utility', a benefit that is, to me, more likely than it producing wise decisions.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Joy and the predictable

Heard enough about John Smeaton yet? I know Will hasn't. Neither have I, and here's why. Everyone involved, and who has subsequently commented on, the Glasgow airport attack behaved as you might have predicted:

The terrorists themselves, it should be stressed, picked the first day of the Scottish school holidays, so as to maximise the potential mayhem.

As you might expect.

While Muslims and even former Islamists are telling anyone who cares to listen that terrorism can't be reduced to 'grievances about foreign policy', the usual suspects, whom I won't link to, are appearing - fingers firmly in ears - in comment boxes, on their own blogs, or the radio, or whatever, coming out with the usual crap about 'blow-back' and who the 'real terrorists are'.

As you might expect.

Meanwhile mealy-mouthed reactionaries 'of course' condemn terrorism - and then go on to say, in effect, that when Islamists go on about how debauched and degraded we are, they do have a point and we could do with drinking less and covering up our women a bit. So as not to offend, you understand.

As you might expect.

Simon Jenkins, being a more liberal Tory, suggests - as ever - that the real problem is that too much is being done, and that the solution - as ever - is to follow his advice. Which invariably consists of doing nothing much, really - because you'll just make matters worse.

As you might expect.

When I'm talking about joy and the predictable, I don't mean these, of course. It's rather the response of my compatriots and fellow Glaswegians who have behaved exactly as you might expect.

Or hoped, would be more accurate. Good and bad things about the Glaswegian in your face, 'come ahead' attitude, obviously - but when imagining a scenario like this, I've often liked to think it would at least come in a bit handy.

And it seems to have done, right enough. This city is for the terrorist somewhere where they'll find more people inclined to kick them in the gonads to the point of self-injury than they will people inclined to wring their hands and bleat, "What did we do to invite this?"

Which you might have expected - and which is, for me, a source of joy. You might think this is wrong, or in poor taste, or something - but it really is.

Or maybe you think this is bravado? Well, quite possibly - but I'm from Glasgow so what the fuck did you expect?

Hat tips: Norm, Will, Flying Rodent.

War against bullshit - on-going

I saw this from Tom Hamilton briefly but didn't follow the link. I thought it was made up but apparently this is a real speech given by Dr Desmond Hamilton, president of the NAHT. Frankly I still can't believe it's real but here's the link (pdf) and here's a sample from where Tom left off:
"The new world we live in TODAY is FLAT! Colleagues: If I haven’t got your attention up to this point, I certainly have it NOW! When I was a boy, if I said the world was FLAT, teachers would have looked at me. Today, as a teacher, I am saying the new world we live in TODAY is FLAT!

FLAT in terms of economic, business and entrepreneurial opportunity. FLAT in terms of out-sourcing, down-loading and accessing information. FLAT in terms of globalisation. As for the FUTURE, think BRICK: Brazil, Russia, India, China and Korea. Therein lies a challenge for the FUTURE.

Colleagues: The current generation of children, and young people, with their mobile phones, laptops, I-Pods, PDAs, Blackberries and personal organizers, is not willing to leave their virtual lives at the classroom door. What we are seeing NOW, is but the beginning of new opportunities in Transformation and Shaping Futures. TODAY, we have to teach our pupils, and our young people, to navigate that exciting new world safely."
Dr Hamilton: Think the Greater Good and Kill Yourself NOW. No, REALLY.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Glasgow disnae accept this, d'ye know what I mean?"

Message to would be terrorists: "This is Glasgow, y'know? So, we'll set about you".

If I knew how to, I'd have this filed under civic pride and Weegies, ya bass.

Via Will.

School motto

Norm recalls his.

Since I ended up teaching - for a mercifully short time - in the school I attended as a pupil, I don't have to cast my mind too far back. It was, "Non Mea Culpa" - which can be rendered in Glaswegian roughly as, "It wasnae me".

I think it would be fair to say that this was one of those rare occasions where a school motto was embraced by pupils and senior management with equal vigour; between them they conspired to make it a living reality.

We didn't have a school song but the staff at the chalk-face adopted the theme tune from the Great Escape.

More on Glasgow airport attack

Bit busy sorting the aftermath of a flood in my flat so I'll direct you to other people's stuff, if I may.

Hitchens makes the point that the London bombs were possibly designed to kill women in particular:
"Only at the tail end of the coverage was it admitted that a car bomb might have been parked outside a club in Piccadilly because it was "ladies night" and that this explosion might have been designed to lure people into to the street, the better to be burned and shredded by the succeeding explosion from the second car-borne cargo of gasoline and nails."
With regards to Glasgow, Jamie K is one of the few outside Scotland to have noted that the attacks were designed to coincide with the start of the school holidays here:
"[A]n airport terminal attacked during the first day of the school holidays. Mass casualty systems attack: al Qaeda classic. Ramming a VBIED into the target before exploding it is an Iraq insurgency classic, too."
Personally I'd also be inclined to agree that the situation has been improved slightly by the fact that John Reid is no longer Home Secretary.

Another hallmark of Al-Qaeda and their imitators we see here is that the perpetrators were not a) the dispossessed and the poor, b) their behaviour prior to the attacks was characterised by quiet piety, and c) their actions have astonished their families to the point of disbelief.

This last point is sometimes greeted with incredulity but while I can't say for sure, I don't think in general it should be. These appear to be disciplined revolutionaries prepared to do the unspeakable in the pursuit of the unattainable - concealing their true aims and beliefs from their peers and their families.

The blogosphere being what it is, there's some strong competition but I think the prize for the most paranoid and stupid post on the subject should surely go to this blogger who finds something fishy in a burning Reichstag sort of way about the whole thing:
"Similarly, the Glasgow driver gets it all wrong, catches fire, runs his jeep against the Airport entrance doors, abandons his vehicle and scarpers. So did he chicken out? Why didn't he ram the doors in order to drive into the main thoroughfare inside to cause maximum havoc? And if he couldn't manoeuvre outside so as to ram the doors at high speed, how come he or his handlers hadn't researched that beforehand?

Which suggests, in both cases, that the drivers had certainly not intended to suicide themselves in a blaze of glory. On the contrary, the behaviour of both suggests they were far too concerned to save their own lives."
Yes, dousing yourself with petrol and then lighting it just screams self-preservation, doesn't it?

Finally, here's something via Will, as ever in the best possible taste:

Update: Nearly missed this, which would never do. Freens notes the "[g]eneral astonishment that a doctor might be involved in the planning and carrying out of these attempted massacres of innocent passers-by.":
"You mean you've forgotten Harold Shipman this soon?"
Read the rest: it's a splendid riposte to those inclined to treat doctors as priests - a distressingly common tendency - as well as those inclined to treat clerics with more respect than they deserve, which is also a distressingly common tendency.

Update #2: Ooh, more on the idea that anyone should be surprised that doctors were apparently involved in these conspiracies, from Norm and Adam LeBor.

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