Thursday, December 31, 2009


A short history:
"It may not be widely known but Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and virtually banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century to the 1950s. The reason for this has its roots in the Protestant Reformation when the Kirk portrayed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast and therefore had to be banned. Many Scots had to work over Christmas and their winter solstice holiday was therefore at New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and exchange presents, especially for the children, which came to be called hogmanay."
Although our Calvinist friends weren't too keen on Hogmanay either...
"It is ordinary among some Plebians in the South of Scotland, to go about from door to door upon New Year's Eve, crying Hagmane."
Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, 1693.
It goes on to talk about first-footing and stuff...
"An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers, with warm hospitality and of course a kiss to wish everyone a Guid New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.

"First footing" (that is, the "first foot" in the house after midnight) is still common in Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky. These days, however, whisky and perhaps shortbread are the only items still prevalent (and available)."
I'd suggest that the tradition has become a little more straightforward in recent years. Now what you do is get even drunker than usual in a very busy place that you then can't get home from because it's after three in the morning and half of Glasgow is looking for a taxi.

Aura best for 2010! x

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Raisin' boys

Had to laugh at this. It's about a mother trying to make her son in her own image:
"By the time he started attending day care at 14 months, I'd given up on gender neutrality in his toys, but I still clung to the belief that I would be able to raise a nonviolent child by banning toy weapons and even cartoon violence in videos. Picking him up one afternoon, about a month after he started at day care, I was informed that he and his buddy, Zach, had been in trouble that day for inappropriate play. It seems they'd been using their thumbs and forefingers as pretend guns, pointing at the girls and yelling, "Bang! Bang!" I was gobsmacked."
I laughed because it mirrors almost exactly the version my mother recalls about me and my sister. Our parents had the same notion - PC before anyone had heard of PC - so they bought us gender-neutral toys. But I made guns out of Lego and my sister put the train-set to bed.

You don't get a blank slate. Not with individuals, families, societies or nations. One of the things that has struck me since I started blogging is the number of people who think this isn't so, wish it wasn't so, fervently believe it ain't so - without realising there's a whole bunch of people who have been there before them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Not particularly Christmassy Christmas miscellany

Busy old time, isn't it? Kept meaning to write something about the whole Copenhagen/hacked emails thing. Can't help being impressed with the way a debate about science seems to depend so heavily on ad hominem arguments. Unfortunately these don't help me much since I find most of the protagonists on both sides of the 'debate' fairly nauseating so I'll have to shelve this one the noo... (Read a post by 'Unity' of LC vs root canal? If you've never read one, you might consider this an easy call. But it isn't.)

Chris Dillow's having a larf at irrationalities in song lyrics, which reminded me of something: ever had an otherwise reasonable song completely ruined because the lyrics make so little sense, you just can't listen to it?

Take one-hit wonders Train, for example...

Quite like this wee tune but there's a couplet in it that ruins it for me:
"Tell me: did you fall from a shooting star,

One without a permanent scar...?"
Leaving aside the implausibility of surviving a fall like this...without a permanent scar? As opposed to those other shooting stars with permanent scars? These would be Glaswegian shooting stars who looked at someone's girlfriend in a club for more than twenty seconds and got themselves chibbed as a result, presumably.

This next item from the world of education is, apparently, absolutely true. The SMT minutes in an unnamed school (say, the one I work in, for example) suggested that bullies should no longer be called bullies but should instead be described as 'pupils displaying bullying-type behaviour'. I presume the idea is that the person shouldn't be defined by aspects of their behaviour. In the same way, it is unfair to describe a murderer as a murderer. Instead they should be a person displaying 'murdering-type behaviour'. Symptoms include blood-stained clothes, piles of corpses in the basement...

Merry Christmas and aura best for 2010 if I don't see you before then. x

Monday, December 14, 2009

Theocracy today

As you get older, you get more sceptical. About some things. Others become more certain. One thing I'm increasingly convinced about is that religion, when politicised, is always and everywhere about reinforcing the status quo. It does this by attempting to sanctify it and thus putting it beyond criticism. Reminded of this after reading the latest from inside Iran:
"Iran's Supreme Leader has accused the opposition of breaking the law by insulting the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged opposition leaders to identify "those behind the insult to Imam Khomeini".

The remarks centre on an alleged incident last Monday during which a poster of Imam Khomeini was torn up.

Opposition leaders say the alleged incident - shown on state television - has been doctored."
Those who enjoin us to respect belief might want to ask themselves what kind of belief is this that is flexible enough to legally proscribe idolatry, if it serves its purpose? That Mir Hossein Mousavi is an unworthy respository of liberal hopes, both in Iran and abroad, is demonstrated in his response:
""I am sure the students have never gone over such boundaries, because we all know they love the imam and are prepared to sacrifice their lives for his goals," Mr Mousavi said, according to newspaper Jomhouri Eslami."
If, heaven forfend, they had gone over these boundaries...

Friday, December 04, 2009

Wheels falling off Salmond's bandwagon

This is a) happening, b) I appreciate not everyone agrees but this qualifies as good news for me.

It's happening in a number of different ways but the sacking of poor old Fiona Hyslop seems to have put matters into focus.

It's all very well complaning she didn't master her brief, didn't present the Scottish Government's position very well and was generally a bit shit - as a number of commentators have done. All true - but in fairness I would have thought even the slickest communicator would struggle to put a positive gloss on the Scottish government's position here.

The flagship policy of reducing class-sizes has sunk into the Leith, along with most of the SNP manifesto.

The Scottish government declared smaller class sizes, which means more teachers.

But teacher numbers are falling.

Recruiting teachers is the responsibility of councils, not central government.

But the SNP have carved up a deal with COSLA to freeze council taxes.

I know the idea was that the shortfall would be made up by central government but in the final analysis the complaint is that Fiona Hyslop failed to acquire to the centre powers that properly belong to local government. This is, presumably, what was behind her frustrated threat to wrest control of education away from local government.

Anyway, you'll have noticed everyone is a bit skint these days. Hardly Fiona Hyslop's fault really. 'Scapegoat' is the expression used in the peice linked above - 'lightening rod' was another used elsewhere. Sounds about right.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

After Monday and Tuesday...

...even you calendar says WTF?

Notes and Queries

Guardian readers will be aware that this is a regular feature in the paper that is designed to answer questions for people too lazy to do their own research. I like this and have decided to branch out on my own in this vein. The first question, prompted by a comment left by Paul Evans under the post below is: demand-revealing referendums - what the fuck are they all about, then?

Actually, I have a more specific question, which I'll come to in due course... Having trawled the tinternet and read the infuriatingly other-worldly explanations of various economists, I've decided that Mr Dillow's advocacy of this idea has at least the benefit of using real world examples - such as Trident, the EU, and the most recent case of Swiss minarets.

I get the basic concept - that people would be obliged to attach a price to their preferences, which in turn would require them to consider more carefully the whole cost-benefits thing. Now, while I'm sure this has been dealt with in some opening paragraph in some gripping text on this issue, in everything I've read on the subject so far, there isn't an answer to this question: why should people have to attach a price, and indeed run the risk of paying a tax, for a policy that is either free or carries a per capita cost that is completely insignificant? This, surely, creates a situation where there is absolutely no connection between what people pay in tax and what the policy they voted for costs in the real world? How is this more 'rational' than the present situation where there is at least a vague link between what they vote for and what they pay? I can't see it in the most recent example Chris uses:
"If people had to stake their own money - even though the risk of loss is actually small - they would be less ready to vote to reduce others’ liberty. They’d figure: a minaret does me no harm, so why should I pay to stop them being built?
But stopping them being built probably won't cost anything at all in the real world. There's a theoretical possibility that a group might try to throw up a minaret in defiance of the law, in which case there would be a cost in terms of policing. But this is unlikely in the extreme, which leaves me repeating the question: how can a mechanism that invites - nay, compels - people to attach a price to something that costs precisely nothing more 'rational' than the present reality?

Monday, November 30, 2009

On liberty, democracy, history and minarets

Liberty and democracy are closely related both historically and philosophically - but they are nevertheless distinguishable. The various attempts in the blogosphere to pretend this isn't so would be amusing - if they weren't so depressing.

Amongst the recent converts to the sort of democracy that forbids people to wash their clothes after ten o'clock include these no crash-helmet wearing 'libertarians' who are so ubiquitous in the blogosphere. What to do when a democracy passes an illiberal measure that you happen to approve of? You pretend it's really liberal, of course. Here's someone, for example, who takes his moniker from a brand of rolling tobacco:
"The people told the Government, not the other way round."
Despite the government's attempts to argue that the firstborn should live, the people stood their ground and said NO! and subsequently approved the Slaughter of the Firstborn Proposition. This qualifies it as a liberal measure. This is the argument that is being made in all seriousness. Welcome to the fucked-up world of the internet libertarian.

But what to do if you're a democrat and you disapprove of the tough on minarets, tough on the causes of minarets line recently validated by our Swiss friends? Similar strategy, different tactic: rather than stretch the concept beyond its conventional usage, narrow it instead to exclude things that you don't approve of:
"We on the Left know very well that this measure, far from being a triumph for democracy – except in the formal sense – serves only to divide the people of Switzerland one from another. If democracy is merely about the relationship of individuals to authority then I’m wrong, but if democracy is about associative relationships and how we collectively relate to authority, then the Swiss have weakened that associative relationship and its collective relationship with the Swiss state."
This is neither as offensive nor as philosophically convoluted as the previous 'libertarian' argument but it still isn't good enough. Democracy is concerned with the source of power, liberty with its scope. Is it really too difficult to acknowledge that these two are a) distinct b) can collide - both in theory and in practice?

Chris Dillow, being a clever sort of chap, understands this 'trade-off' perfectly well. Unfortunately he's spent too much time reading econometrics and other sundry ahistorical stuff, hence his cavalier dismissal of the historical compromise that civil society has come to in what we like to call liberal democracy. For example, one tool for balancing power and freedom that has proved quite popular through the ages is the notion that individual rights should be entrenched in law. Mr Dillow finds this unsatisfactory, arguing, "[A] bill of rights would not solve this problem at all, as it merely prioritizes liberty over democracy.".

But is this as simple as he suggests? Bills of Rights are not static things but evolve and are mediated through democratically-controlled institutions. These decide what these mean in a contemporary setting. Who has decided, for example, that a constitutionally-protected freedom of religion does not include the right to burn witches or sacrifice goats in the town square? Parliaments, Congresses, Constituent Assemblies of various kinds.

Moreover, even if this were not so - what, exactly, is the problem with prioritizing liberty over democracy? You either believe in human rights or you don't. If you do then these are rights that no power should override, regardless of how impeccably democratic the origins of its authority. Imperfect, certainly - but I'm unconvinced by the historically untested alternatives Chris suggests:
"One possibility which I favour is to use demand-revealing referenda. If people had to stake their own money - even though the risk of loss is actually small - they would be less ready to vote to reduce others’ liberty. They’d figure: a minaret does me no harm, so why should I pay to stop them being built?"
I don't really get this demand-revealing referanda thing. Is it able to overcome the free-rider problem? More specifically, how does it overcome the sort of problem thrown up by this particular case? Let's try this formulation: "If people had to stake their own money - even though the risk of loss is actually small - they would be less ready to vote to increase others’ liberty. They'd figure: a pogrom against Muslims does me no harm, so why should I pay for their rescue?" I'm sure I'm missing something but until someone explains to me why I'm wrong, I prefer the wisdom of ages and of nations to that found on the blogosphere.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Faith in faith schools

David Cameron, being badly briefed, made a bit of a tit of himself by claiming in Parliament that a Slough school run by some extremist Islamist outfit had received government money. Turns out, though, that one of the school's trustees is in fact a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir but any wider point about the poor monitoring of faith schools was lost because of Cameron's mistake.

But a wider point has been lost in the details of the case, which is that a political consensus between the major parties that supports 'faith schools' is bound to produce instances where extremists of various confessional divisions slip under Ofsted's radar and have influence on the running of schools. It doesn't help that any inspections system has to operate in a political culture where the content of religion is unimportant - what seems to matter is only that it is held.

Shiraz Socialist argues that the Tories are incapable of making this point since it is they who have, even more than Labour, faith in faith schools - which is why they've indicated that if they come to power, England will see many more of them.

Couple of point here. I'll be brief because I'm repeating myself but I'm always struck by the way believers make utilitarian arguments for religion in schools. The results are better, they promote cohesion, their discipline is better because of something they usually call 'ethos'. They never say faith schools are better because they set aside space in the timetable for religious instruction and don't expose their children to the evils of teaching about contraception and abortion. Why so coy?

The utilitarian arguments are repeated so often, even non-believers have come to believe them - yet there is precious little evidence to support them. Having taught in eight different 'faith schools' in Glasgow and Lanarkshire, I'll dismiss as absurd the idea that they promote social cohesion.

But what of the better results argument? The league tables - at least those in Scotland - provide precious little evidence for this, showing instead that the most prosperous councils, such as East Renfrewshire and Edinburgh, have the best performing schools. The poorest - Glasgow - makes no appearance in the top fifty.

It could be argued - it has in the thread below this post, for example - that all other things being equal, religious schools perform slightly better.

Firstly, I'd like to see some evidence for this - in particular exactly how all other variables have been held constant because from experience, I can't see how this can be done. Even in the shittiest areas of Glasgow, the religious schools have a more genuinely comprehensive intake simply because their catchment is wider.

In Glasgow's peripheral and impoverished housing estates, absolutely no-one who doesn't live in the schemes sends their children to the schools that serve them. In my experience, this never happens in Catholic schools but where it comes close, the results and discipline are just as poor as the non-denominational comps.

But there's no need to labour the point because even if it could be shown that the religious nature of a school had a positive influence on results, the evidence from the league tables is absolutely unequivocal: compared to the impact class has on educational outcomes, the effect 'ethos' has is so marginal that it is almost completely insignificant. But none of this will have the slightest impact: regardless of evidence, people will continue to have faith in faith schools. It is only to be expected from people of a religious disposition but I really wish the non-religious would stop making evidence-free arguments in favour of religious schooling.

On a related point, while the council has no schools in the top fifty, it is in fact a Glasgow school that comes first in the entire country. It is the only one that operates independently of the city council. Since it is also the only state school in the entire country that is outside local government control, it's obviously impossible to detect a pattern but it seems unlikely that its position in the league tables has nothing to do with this. Been in this gig for ten years and have listened to people going on about the incompetence of the council. And I've done a fair amount of this myself. But I'm increasingly of the view that the reason the education department is such a shambles is simply because it has acquired too many functions. Even if you got rid of the deeply-entrenched culture of nepotism, you'd still be left with this problem: no-one could run it competently because the task it sets for itself is just too big and complex to be managed from the centre.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Christmas traditions

Yes it's that time of year again - stress, shopping, spending time with people you either don't know or don't like or both. And there's the usual story involving 'Winterval' and the 'abolition of Christmas':
"Christmas could be cancelled by a bill being put forward by the Labour government, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have said.

In a letter to MPs, Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said that Harriet Harmon's Equality Bill will have a "chilling effect" on local councils, town halls and other organizations clamping down on Christmas festivities for fear of offending people of other religions."
Garbage in the way these stories always are. There comes a point when these become so routine that they acquire the status of tradition.

I'm too far behind to claim to have skewered this one in time but I'd like to be the first - hope I am - to pre-empt another tiresome seasonal tradition, and that would be Christopher Hitchens banging on about how Christmas is awful and terribly authoritarian, nay totalitarian. Art Buchwald? Check. North Korea? Check.
"As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda is inescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor's office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass-produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined "themes" have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader's birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring. Time that is supposed to be devoted to education is devoted instead to the celebration of mythical events."
Getting ready to cut and paste this shit for Slate this year, Mr Hitchens? It may be simply jealousy on my part - over the fact that people actually give you money for recycling the same self-regarding twaddle every year. But I'd like to invite him to keep his frankly adolescent musings about Christmas being like living in a one-party state to himself and fuck right off instead. This is a pre-emptive request, you understand...

Via: Paulie

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jesus wept

I can barely form sentences after reading about this case:
"A SCOTTISH schoolgirl was behind bars at Yarls Wood detention centre in England last night after a last-minute reprieve from deportation. Along with her mother, the ten-year-old was removed from a Kenyan Airways flight heading for Malawi as it sat on the runway at Heathrow airport in London.

Precious Mhango and her mother Florence, 32, from Glasgow, who have lived in the UK for almost seven years, were taken from Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire and sent to Yarls Wood Immigration Centre in Bedfordshire at the weekend under a Home Office deportation order."
Here's an account of her experience:
"Thursday 30 July: We went to sign and we never came back home. After signing we were told to wait because someone wanted to speak to us. My heart started racing.

We were taken to a room, where I saw 5 or 6 giant men officers in blue jackets, black trousers and white shirts. They were so scary and they were staring at us. It was like we were in the court and had been found guilty of killing someone and now we were being handed over to prison guards.

We were locked into the room, my whole body was numb. A woman came in reading a pile of papers.

"Your case has been dismissed, today you're being detained," she said.

Blah blah blah, as she continued talking, I couldn't even listen to her. I started screaming "please, I don't want to go".

My mum too was screaming. The woman carried on reading, I kept screaming. She offered me some tissues and a drink. I said "no thanks".

The others were just watching us.

Shortly we were locked in the van going to Dungavel detention centre.

I was very upset. I couldn't stop thinking about my best friend ever, Maria.

I started thinking about school. I was so excited to go back and start Primary 6 as the summer holiday was about to finish.

After about one hour and a half, we were in Dungavel. It's a horrible place. No friends, no good fun and no smiles from my mum."
The Scotsman reports that a letter from Mr Woolas stated that he "saw no compelling reason to help the family". I don't know what to say to that - just refer you to the title of the post. There's a Facebook campaign you can join, should you feel so inclined.

H/T: The blogger formerly known as Will.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Parents' nights vs marking

Can't decide which of these is more evil. They're both fairly excruciating. What they have in common is a) pulverizing tedium, b) they provide frequent occasions where you're confronted with evidence of your professional irrelevance.

What parents' nights have going for them is that they happen less often.

What they have against them is that, unlike marking, you can't execute your responsibilities with the aid of good things like fags, coffee, and central heating.

I can't decide. All I know is it's parents' night tomorrow and I would be extremely grateful if someone could write me a note saying I don't have to go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Music nostalgia

This is deep music nostalgia - positively subterranean. I'd completely forgotten about this band until I heard them on the radio recently. They're a hard rock outfit called UFO. In retrospect it's an unfortunate name for them because today on Google and YouTube rankings they have to compete with people looking for shit about alien autopsies.

Quite a few bloggers who are around the same age as me talk about how they used to like punk - saying it as if this was cool or something. It really isn't. You do realise you're keeping company with Michael Gove, don't you?
"But the righteous anger she displayed, denouncing McLaren for his cynicism in ripping off young record-buyers, ripping into the Pistols for their lack of musicianship, only reminded me what it was that I liked about punk."
The ripping off record-buyers and the lack of musicianship? Well he is a Tory... I used to like punk - until I was about thirteen. Then I realised it was a big pile of cack - at least as commercial and pretentious as anything it imagined it was reacting against. So I made a backward progression that ended up in the blues - but stopped off with a little hard rock. Forgotten how good this crew were. Saw them live in 1981, I think - at the Glasgow Apollo.

This song in particular has more of a punky edge than I realised at the time. How the Clash might have sounded if they'd ever learned to play their instruments properly. "Ah but punk wasn't about musicianship", says the ex-punk. I know. That's why it was shit. A triumph of style over substance every bit as much as the Flock of Seagulls.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Edookashun news

From the Queen's speech we learn that children in England are to be given legal rights to a good education. Blair may be gone but the Project lives, its essence distilled in this proposal: why actually do something when you can pass a law that says something must be done, instead?

You'd think that after twelve years of government, they might ponder that perhaps the whole central control thing hasn't been an unalloyed success - but you could only think this if you haven't been paying much attention during the last decade or so. They have, it should go without saying, concluded that there is not nearly enough central control. For example:
"New curriculum guidance says the well-being of "mini-beasts", including bees, ants and worms, should be taught in classes as part of primary school's "animals and us" section of the citizenship curriculum.

By the age of seven, pupils will have learnt that "not stamping on insects" is appropriate behaviour "in areas where animals live"."
Fair enough - but my own view is that pupils should be taught to extend this courtesy to their fellow humans first, and then work their way down the food chain.

Anyway, the government is also including the right to more press-ups in their educational Magna Carta. No, really:
"[P]upils will have guaranteed access to five hours PE or sport a week in and out of school."
I'm not sure this is enough though. Today our youth have more PE and possess more tracksuits than at any time since the dawn of civilisation - yet they are also increasingly large. Discuss...

Our English friends are also going to be released from the tiresome burden of teaching discrete subjects:
"The bill will legislate for a new primary curriculum, starting in September 2012, to reorganise traditional subject areas such as history and science into thematic areas of learning, such as "historical, geographical and social" lessons, to try to ease the pressures of the cumbersome curriculum on schools and give them the freedom to do cross-subject thematic lessons."
You could take an Italian theme, for example - with a couple of lessons on the Risorgimento, followed by The Merchant of Venice, pop off to home economics to make a pizza - then during their copious PE time, pupils could learn to make a huge drama out of a barely perceptable foul on the football park. Inspiring isn't the word.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Technology and religious criticism

Marina Hyde argues that the internet has done a great job in exposing the dark heart of Scientology but regrets that this fire isn't brought to bear on other belief systems too:
"Clearly, Scientologists should be forced to justify their doctrinal lunacies – the only sadness is that other religions are apparently exempt from having to do the same. Imagine for a moment a Bashir-type interviewing some senior cardinal. "So," he might inquire, "you're saying that by some magic the communion wafer actually becomes the flesh of a man who died 2,000 years ago, a man who – and I don't want to put words into your mouth here – we might categorise as an imaginary friend who can hear the things you're thinking in your head? And when you've done that, do you mind going over the birth control stuff?""
Yes, why is there this disproportionate energy devoted to debunking this particular cult rather than other religions? Perhaps for the same reason that when discussing 'other religions', Marina Hyde picked Catholicism and the doctrine of transubstantiation rather than, say, Islam and the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Koran: because it's easier that way?

Probably a bit unfair. At least part of the reason why people are interested in Scientology is because while it doesn't have many followers, they count a disproportionate number of celebrities amongst their ranks. Celebs seem vulnerable to all manner of eccentric religious beliefs. I was wondering if this isn't a strain of man's social being determining his consciousness: celebrities by the very nature of their existence are going to find it much easier to believe that the cosmos has been arranged for their benefit than those of us who tend to collide with reality on a more regular basis?

The drugs debate: all a bit Nutt's

Like most people who have commented on this, the sacking of Professor David Nutt from the government's drugs advisory council has left me wondering what the point of soliciting independent scientific advice is, if you're just going to ignore it? Add to this the political ineptitude of the walnut with sledge hammer approach that Alan Johnson has taken here. Whenever drugs are discussed in the media, there's always some journo who recycles the line about how the biggest danger posed by drugs is that it makes the user a crashing bore. Hmmm, but not as boring as some hack striking a libertarian, yet world-weary, pose. The 'drugs debate' is boring - so most people are understandably uninterested in it. If Alan Johnson's goal was to shake people out of this relative indifference, he could have scarcely done a better job.

But there my agreement with those journalists and bloggers who seem to have adopted Professor Nutt as some kind of rationalist liberal hero/victim ends. Because while some appear to think the case represents the primacy of science and something called 'evidence-based policy-making', I was rather under the impression that Professor Nutt was making a case for the primacy of scientists:
"Professor Nutt said that the council was no longer tenable as a functioning advisory group. 'I can’t believe any self-respecting scientist would serve on it,' he declared. Writing in The Times today, he calls for the creation of a truly independent advisory council on drugs modelled on the way that interest rates are set by an expert committee."(Emphasis mine)
Hmph! The setting of short-term interest rates is something that has since 1997 been put beyond ministerial control. Is he seriously suggesting this should be the case with drugs policy too? And if so, why stop there? Why not have a government of experts in health, education, defence? Because as well as having grave implications for anything resembling democratic government, there's every reason to question the notion that just because someone may have expertise in one area - in this case, science - they'll be any good at something quite different - in this case, policy-making. I would have thought this was obviously the case with Professor Nutt. He takes as given the business whereby drug use is arranged into a hierarchy of harm, to which is then attached an appropriate level of disincentive and punishment. He says, for example, that, "The reason for making drugs illegal is to let society reduce harms by punishing their sale and use", without offering much in the way of any opinion as to whether this approach actually works or, even if it did, whether prohibition can be justified in these terms. In other words, there is no evidence as yet that Professor Nutt is particularly interested in politics - which tends to reinforce the impression that he has indeed strayed into areas that are beyond his competence.

On Calvinism

Why the hatred for Calvin, asks Andrew Brown? Well, he wasn't a very nice man and the blood of Michael Servetus bears witness against him - but since this isn't enough for Andrew Brown, thought I might take a moment to take issue with his argument.

Calvin's cosmology was remorseless, depressing and anti-human - can anyone who has actually read him take issue with this? Brown's point is that since a number of secular philosphers take an equally bleak view of the human condition, why is Calvin given such a hard time for it?

Methinks the answer is pretty goddamn straightforward: no matter how bleak an atheist philospher's view of the world is, at least they don't invite us to worship a deity that created it this way.

Weber had Calvin's measure when he said that Calvinism overcomes the theodicy problem by utterly obliterating the goodness of God. Was there ever an artist that hated his own work quite as much as Calvin's god? I don't think so. This is why theists and atheists alike despise Calvin. They are right to do so, in my view.

Anyway, here's a question that, in my experience, believers find more difficult to answer than the theodicy question. It's this: why does god want us to worship him? Believers usually respond with reasons why they want to worship him and why He is worthy of it and so on. But that isn't what I asked. The prize for a winning answer to this question is a copy of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tips on going vegetarian

Laura Barton has a few tips here.

I have three of my own:

1) Don't go anywhere near tofu. 'Tis the cock-cheese of the devil and humans have no business consuming it.

2) Quorn is made from the scrotal tissue of elves and is also to be avoided.

3) Either do it or don't. But spare us this, "I'm a vegetarian but I sometimes eat fish" shit. Because a fish is not a vegetable! This shouldn't need pointing out - but it does. Frequently.

BNP meets Glasgow

'Ra beeb:
"BNP leader Nick Griffin was also campaigning in Glasgow. The party has said it would would turn back asylum seekers trying to enter the UK country if they had passed other "safe countries" on their way to Britain."
OH no he wasn't. I have amusing update:
"BRITISH National Party leader Nick Griffin faced angry protests today as he appeared on a local radio phone-in.

A group of around 40 demonstrators heckled the politician and threw eggs as he arrived at the headquarters of L107 in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, station bosses said.

Mr Griffin was taking part in a morning phone-in on the commercial station less than a week after his controversial appearance on the BBC's Question Time.

He later dropped plans to campaign in the Glasgow North-East by election, instead choosing to visit the FEBA Veterans' Centre in Hamilton."
He was planning to visit Springburn shopping centre, apparently - but thought better of it. Because he had heard that the people of Springburn have no dairy products to throw, only bottles and stuff.


No hats. Because there's been an outbreak of vicious hat-wearing in our place recently. Woolly hats, baseball hats, top hats, bowler hats, fedoras... Unless you nip these things in the bud, you'll have Lord of the Flies with hats on before you know it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Eighties revivals that are a bad idea #1

There's been a lot of rather distressing developments in the world of fashion and popular culture that have to do with evil people trying to inflict - reinflict - some of the most revolting trends from the eighties.

The Killers, for example, having produced a rock classic in the form of When You Were Young are now inflicting this shite on us. "And I'm on my knees looking for the answer - are we human, or are we dancers?" Why pray when you can realise these aren't mutually exclusive? But the nonsensical nature of the lyrics shouldn't distract us from the fact that this little ditty has been set to a distinctly evil eighties-sounding tune.

More on this later but for now surely we should treat the return of one of the eightes most egregious fashion-statements - the mullet - with a mixture of incomprehension, rage and disgust? I couldn't find an appropriate photo but not only can I confirm that growing numbers of adolescent boys are choosing this absurd hair-styling option - in some cases they have compounded the outrage by dyeing it a different colour!

When I rule the world, the body-count will be significantly higher than it is now - but it will be a more aesthetically pleasing place in which to live.

Homework annoyances

One of the many facets of this job that I hate is the evil that are parents' nights. You rarely see the ones you need to see. Instead all you get is a smattering of extremely tense parents who are in a perpetual state of panic whenever the barrage of pointless tasks that we like to call homework lets up for a couple of days. Tis time for the silent majority - those of us, parents and teachers alike, who think the whole enterprise is a goddamn waste of human energy - to make a stand and demand an end to the sending home of crappy worksheets that have to be completed under duress.

If that isn't bad enough, parents are sent homework too. For instance, I got a sheet about the school development plan and was to provide feedback on various topics and suggest what the school might do about them. The first on the list was the Curriculum for Excellence programme. One can resist anything but temptation: I suggested someone might set to work on an English translation.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mainstreaming extremism #2

You all must be more or less Griffined-out by now so I'll be brief.

The BBC claimed it was their commitment to balance and impartiality that was behind their invitation to Griffin on Question Time - but since the format of the show clearly demonstrated that this isn't a commitment that they take very seriously, one was left wondering what the point of inviting him in the first place was?

I have to say I'm surprised at the number of commentators saying that Thursday's Question Time either allayed their worst fears or even changed their minds from a position of opposition to his appearance. This isn't a feeling I share. Richard Seymour makes two arguments I agree with very neatly here; Dai is even more succinct and to the point here. I've just a couple of things to add:

1) Everyone's going on about how uncomfortable Griffin looked. I don't agree. How uncomfortable did he really look? Uncomfortable the way a leader of a racist criminal gang should look? I don't think so. People have remarked, for example, that the issue of his Holocaust denial was 'raised'. Not good enough. Paxman received plaudits for pressing a question on the then Home Secretary Michael Howard something like eighteen times. But something eminently more serious and malevolent than whether a Minister of the Crown threatened to overrule a civil servant doesn't justify a similar persistence?

2) He looked shifty, uncomfortable and evasive, according to most accounts. So he did. So what? Why are people effectively arguing that making a tit of yourself on national television is in some way politically decisive? I saw the then Governor of Texas George W Bush being interviewed and making a fool of himself because he couldn't name the ruler of Pakistan. You'll recall he then went on to become President of the United States. Making a tit of yourself on the television is a fairly routine experience for politicians. That Griffin also did isn't particularly significant; it doesn't do anything much to 'expose the BNP for what they are' - in the long-run it serves only to normalise them.

Some of us argued this from the outset. While we might well be proved wrong about this, the most recent evidence would suggest that our concerns were not misplaced.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SNP stuff

Nicola Sturgeon announced that the 'right to buy' policy has 'had its day'.

Have to say I'm broadly supportive. The problem with this policy, introduced under Thatcher, is that it was one example amongst many under her reign where local government powers were emasculated. It doesn't matter if you think it was a good idea or not - the point is under this scheme local government was compelled to offer its housing stock up for sale by central government and this can't be supported by anyone that believes in decentralisation.

Alex Salmond reveals his evil plan:
"Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, Mr Salmond said his preferred option would be for a straight "yes or no" question on Scottish independence.

But he added: "I have also indicated that if it was necessary to obtain the parliamentary majority in the Scottish parliament to have a third defined option on the ballot paper, which could be done by a couple of questions or by preference voting, then I would be prepared to discuss that and probably be prepared to concede it, so long as independence for Scotland is on the ballot paper."
I'm in a minority of one on this, as far as I know but - and I'm repeating myself - I reckon this, far from being something Salmond is reluctant to concede, is what he actively wants: being not entirely stupid he knows perfectly well that actual independence, with a separate border, foreign policy, army and currency, is never going to happen. But he's happy to have that presented on a 'multi-option' referendum, knowing full well that people will recoil from this but find in contrast option three (whatever that might be - fiscal autonomy etc.) more palatable. The opposition could and should call his bluff but they're too dim and too timid to do so, I reckon.

The SNP have also been arguing about the Euro, apparently. Swinney was arguing with a certain MEP who is living in the past and seems to think that the UK Bank Rate is higher than the ECB rate. But the question was over whether to have a referendum over Scotland's membership of a European monetary policy. On this, MEP Alyn Smith had the following to say:
"Making the argument to remove the referendum proviso, Mr Smith said: "I think we can be too conditional about what we want an independent Scotland to look like, too conditional about public opinion, too conditional about what sort of orientated economy we want to see."

"We are a Nordic, European country, currently part of a debt-laden sub-prime toxic assent currency we don't want to be part of and which is not serving our interests well.""
Nordic country? We'll park that one for now. It's the thing about being part of a "debt-laden sub-prime toxic assent currency" that got me. Four words: Royal Bank of Scotland. Anyone needing any argument beyond that simply hasn't been paying attention.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Postmodern theology"

In my experience Christians pretend to be opposed to postmodernism but really they love it because it gives them a) a convoluted form of prose much to their liking, b) the epistemological relativism gives them shadows in which to hide. Enter the queen of obfuscation, Karen Armstrong:
"The earliest Christian theology was apophatic. Apophatic theology -- the theology of the original, Greek-speaking Christian church -- was "naysaying" theology, a kind of religious language whose difficult task it was to acknowledge in human language the very inadequacy of human language. Whatever it said, apophatic theology immediately took back, and then it took back the taking back. Ordinary language -- the language of evidence and inference, of instance and generalization -- was fine for ordinary matters. But to confess the universal human experience of a final failure in this language is to take back the confession. It is to lose the game before it begins."
This is her position being described by someone else, one should say. One should also say it is complete bollocks. "Apophatic" theology has to do with the process of defining God in terms of what cannot be said about Him. We needn't detain you too long with the details of this essentially mystical branch of theology because it is simply false to pretend that the early church thought or spoke in this way. Here's St Paul, whose claim to be a theologian of original Christianity is at least as good as anyone's, one would have thought:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
That was Paul having a day off from the apophatic style of theologising. He had quite a few of these, as his letters show. I've said it before but I think Karen Armstrong knows this perfectly well and is trying it on with an audience that is not postmodern but simply post-Christian and who don't, therefore, have the resources to call her out on this sort of thing. The thing is, Dietrich Bonhoeffer identified - and dismissed - the type of argument that Karen Armstrong is trying to pretend is a discovery of the old. He said if you try to preserve a space for God in what cannot be explained - or as Armstrong would have it here, even described - you're left with the problem that the spirit of scientific discovery is making this space increasingly small. Bonhoeffer's solution was ethical engagement with the world, which is why he was executed by the Nazis; Armstrong's is to retreat into mysticism. Her fate will surely involve having her books favourably reviewed by liberal journals dismayed by the stridency of the 'New Atheists'. Poor thing.

Via: Norm

Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Tories, new danger: the mainstreaming of extremism

People can be incredibly stupid about the stupid party. Here's someone, for example, going on about the 'pinks turning blue' and asking: what has changed about the Tories? I think we're seriously being invited to believe that the apparent phenomenon of gay voters switching to Cameron's New Model Conservatives is evidence that they really are quite nice now.

This is just idiotic. What's changed about the Tories? Absolutely nothing. Everyone with any understanding of the history of British Conservatism knows that one of the ingredients of their electoral success in the 20th century was a hunger for power combined with enough pragmatism to adjust to contemporary reality - when contemporary reality absolutely insisted on it. For instance, the view amongst most social historians is that the 'postwar consensus' was a bit of a myth - with the Tories only accepting the existence of the NHS, for example, when they were confronted with the fact that it was actually quite popular and politically impossible to dismantle. The Cameronian acceptance of homosexuality is merely an example of this.

It's also a fairly trivial example since it doesn't fundamentally touch on the Tory view of economy and society, which remains really rather, um, conservative. This shouldn't be that surprising - the name of the party is a bit of a give away here. But if that isn't enough, there's two positions they've taken - both fundamentally related - that rather give the game away.

One is their position on Europe. I don't really want to get into the ding-dong about the nature of Cameron's unsavoury allies in Europe, partly because I don't know enough about them but also because it can distract from the wider point: even if there was no firm evidence of the Tories' new friends being homophobes and/or anti-Semites, the position he has taken with regards to the EPP is itself something that puts him and his party out of the mainstream of European democratic political parties. I appreciate this is a contestable point and I would acknowledge that it is intellectually feasible to be a reasonable centrist and also be Eurosceptic or even be in favour of complete withrawl. But the reality of the situation is that the overwhelming majority of those who take this position belong to either the hard left or the hard right. Put simply, the former think the EU is too 'neoliberal'; for the latter it isn't nearly neoliberal enough, as well as being by definition not nationalist enough.

And after the Tory conference, no-one can be in any doubt anymore that this is where Cameron is coming from. Martin Kettle is right to describe the Cameron speech as a 'revelatory moment' because his remarks about the role of government in relation to the bank crisis were absolutely astonishing:
""It is more government that got us into this mess," Cameron said. "Why is our economy broken? Not just because Labour wrongly thought they'd abolished boom and bust. But because government got too big, did too much and doubled the national debt." When Britain was in recovery, he said in his peroration, it would not be because of government or ministers, but because "you made it happen"."
The piece goes on to question whether there's anyone else in the economically developed world that believes the credit crunch was caused by government that was too big, too involved? It's rhetorical, obviously - one would hope not because it is so patently absurd. I'm a little surprised that more hasn't been made of this. I'm also a bit worried. There's been a few to choose from but with this remark alone, Cameron vacated the centre ground and reality simultaneously. Yet apart from in the pages of the Guardian, there's been little made of it in the MSM. Plus the aforementioned well-known serious leftwing paper carries this sort of comment - but alongside the unserious musings of a political ignoramus who thinks the Tories have changed simply because they've realised it isn't electorally expedient to be quite so mean to gays and single-parents. Kettle adds:
"Cameron and Osborne seem to think they are confronted with another 1979 when they should be more concerned with a repeat of 1929."
He's right although I'll be a little pedantic with the dates: the Wall Street Crash was in 1929 but after this, the US economy recovered for a while; most (all?) economic historians would date the Great Depression proper from 1931. I doubt we would see anything on this scale but I have absolutely no doubt that a rush to slash public spending would turn a 'double-dip' recession from a possibility to a probability. Osbourne deserves absolutely no credit at all for being 'honest about the public finances'. It's not just that honesty is of limited value in politics when you're completely wrong, it's that I doubt this is honesty at all: assuming he isn't a complete ignoramus (debatable, I realise), he must know perfectly well that the measures he has already announced are really just tinkering at the margins. What I'm concerned about is that they are the tip of an iceberg that reveals underlying determination to embark on a Nozickean vandalisation of public services, using the state of the public finances as an excuse to do so.

I've argued on this space more than once that Cameron's skills as a political strategist have been consistently underestimated. Now I'm worried I was more right than I knew. He has positioned his party on ground that the original Thatcherites feared to tread - and has done so with hardly anyone noticing.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

People losing their damn minds #26

This could go to anyone involved in this horrible idea to have a US style pre-election TV debate amongst the UK party leaders. Why Brown would agree to such nonsense is beyond me. My objection to these are two-fold:

1) We don't live in a goddamn presidential system. When I cast my vote, I'm not voting for a Prime Minister but an MP. Parliament elects the Prime Minister.

2) Even in a presidential system, they're pretty awful. I can't remember seeing an American one that didn't make me feel like retching. There was Clinton feeling people's pain, which was fairly nauseating. But the outstanding one for me was the Bush vs Gore one. Hanging chads and accusations of corruption in Florida notwithstanding, I think I could make a case for this losing Gore the election. I read somewhere that Naomi Wolf advised him to get in touch with his 'inner sexual panther' or something equally bizarre. Dunno if this is true but the net result of whatever advice he received was that he looked completely barking. Democracy is not well served by these puke-fests, in my view.

Anyway, the damn mind certificate in this case is to be awarded to Alex Salmond. Given that he spends most of his time looking like a malevolent host on some really fucked up colosseum TV game show, I find it completely unsurprising that he's apparently miffed about being left out of this latest televisual foray into the darker regions of plebian populism:
"[T]he SNP has threatened to seek to block the screening in Scotland of any debate which did not include Scottish First Minister Mr Salmond.

Mr Swinney told BBC Scotland's Politics show the SNP was the party of government at Holyrood, adding that the UK debates would discuss issues of importance to Scotland, such as the future of nuclear submarines on the Clyde.

Mr Swinney said the SNP was prepared to be flexible, saying of the current arrangements: "It deprives the voters in Scotland of hearing the breadth of political choice that quite clearly exists here in Scotland about the input of Scotland into the UK General Election."

Um, Alex Salmond doesn't lead a British party and doesn't aspire to be the Prime Minister of Britain so the basis on which he should be invited on this frightening 'debate' would be fairly non-existent, I would have thought. Yet we are told the SNP are seriously considering legal action? Lunatics. The notion that we are here in Scotland deprived of some information we didn't already know is absurd. The SNP's preferred choice for Prime Minister is David Cameron. Everyone knows this. Actually, scrub the previous objection: if this horrible debate has to go ahead, I'd quite like to watch Salmond come on and try to pretend this isn't so.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On motes and beams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The 'Facebook Generation'

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

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

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

Smeato: from hero to zero

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

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

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

Question: Why?

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

Question: What's wrong with it?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the Curriculum for Excellence

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fresh protests in Iran

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

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

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"I ken't yer faither"

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the Tuiga Gallery - then weep...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hello, Prime Minister Brown?

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Community Property

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

Car scrappage scheme

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

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

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

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

For Christmas - would like.

Lament from the trenches

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

So I went into teaching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*You think this a paradox? You know notheeng!

Monday, September 07, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 03, 2009

On Newspeak

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

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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More on Megrahi

Sorry if you're suffering Lockerbie fatigue - it's just that this piece from Martin Bright got on my nerves. Amongst the arguments he mobilises in his sonorous warnings about our moral degradation is this breathtaking insight into the Libyan regime:
"The Libyan regime funded IRA terrorism, pursued and murdered its dissidents on the streets of European cities and is the only foreign government I know that is responsible for the killing of a British policewoman."
Let's be clear here; he's using this as part of an argument in favour of letting Megrahi die in prison. But Megrahi was not in jail for funding the IRA nor for the murder of Yvonne Fletcher - so it's my turn to accuse Martin Bright of moral degradation: his logic is exactly the same as those who shrugged after 9/11 because of America's misdeeds in various places - the Middle East, Latin America. I have to say I was baffled when people mentioned as an example the assassination of Allende in this context - which they did. Were Al-Qaeda operating on some intelligence that Kissinger was in the Twin Towers? Of course not. So Chile is irrelevant. And so is the murder of Yvonne Fletcher and Libya's support for the IRA.

Anyway, it can't have escaped Martin Bright's attention that there's been quite a few IRA, along with UDA, murderers released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. Has he been thundering about this? It's a genuine question - I wouldn't know. Somehow I doubt it, though. But Megrahi has to remain as some sort of lightening rod for surplus moral outrage? If you have this - Aaronovitch take note - might it not be better directed at the British Government under the stewardship of Tony Blair who decided that the Colonel would benefit, along with BP, from this rehabilitation of international offenders policy?

I'm getting a little fed up with these Jeremiahs, journos making the long march to the right by stealth, striking a pose as master physicians cutting the dead weight of deception away from men's souls. Physician, heal thyself.

Blog Archive