Friday, June 29, 2007


Last day of term.





Teaching: like sandpapering your scrotum; really good when you stop. I'd imagine.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Arguments up in smoke

Smoking bans: like so many things in life, the anticipation of it is worse than the actuality. This was certainly my experience and I sense this will prove to be the case with many of you Englanders. Because some of you are getting so worked up, and using so much hyperbole, it's almost enough to make me defend the damn thing. And I wouldn't want to do that. Here's Neil Clark, for example:
"The death of liberal England has been predicted many times over the past decade. But on Sunday, England, for long regarded (rightly) as one of the freest countries in the world, will finally mark the end of its long history as a liberal country as the government's draconian smoking ban comes into force."
Nothing less than the death of liberal England - wrought not by the erosion of habeas corpus or the right to silence, or restrictions on free speech, but the smoking ban. Clark's reasoning?
"There is no liberal case whatsoever for the ban; if you support it you may be many things, but please, don't have the audacity to call yourself a liberal. The argument for restricting smoking in public on account of the possible health risks caused by passive smoking is an argument for having separate smoking areas in pubs, cafes and restaurants and not for a blanket ban, which will encompass even private clubs where members have assented to a pro-smoking policy."
This is an impeccable liberal argument indeed. No, seriously. Because while smoking in public places might be considered to violate the harm principle, there is indeed no liberal case whatsoever that can be made for disallowing smoking in public places where only consenting adults may be affected, so I entirely agree. But why then doesn't Neil Clark mark the death of liberal England from 1971, when a whole lot of other self-regarding actions were banned? Or from the point where we were obliged to wear car seat-belts?

Clearly feeling a surplus of hot air, Clark then goes on to evoke, yes, the Nazis:
"Comparisons to Nazi Germany are often tedious, but in this instance it speaks volumes that the first country to introduce bans on smoking in public was the Third Reich.

Isn't it sad that 60 years after playing a decisive role in the defeat of the Nazis and their loathsome, intolerant ideology, Britain, in its illiberal attitude towards smoking and smokers, is now aping them?"
When the Scottish Executive did their wanky 'consultation' on the smoking ban, I made the point that while Hitler hated smoking, Martin Luther King was, apparently, a secret smoker. Thing is, I was only being silly, something I often like to do to pass the time when I'm supposed to be working. If I'd been serious, I'd have been committing the genetic fallacy.

I'll stop now because I'm starting to sound like Paul Evans or something. All I'm saying really is relax - it isn't that bad, and I say this as a hardcore smoker.

However, in the interests of balance, I do feel bound to say that the smoking ban sucks a big one - and all of you who support it are complete bastards.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"World public opinion"

Lenin argues that the "World Public Opinion Survey [pdf]" has only managed to arrive at the conclusion that "support for globalization is remarkably strong throughout the world" because the questions are 'loaded'.

I'd suggest - since his argument is that 'globalisation' is used in a reductionist way here - that the problem for him is that the questions are unloaded, in the sense that simple questions of this nature can't do justice to the complexity, ambiguity and contestability of concepts like this.

But opinion polls can do no other: quantitative measures like this are achievable only by a simplification of certain concepts. This can always create problems. At university one example cited by my tutor was that if you asked people if they favoured 'nationalisation', a majority responded in the negative. Ask them if they believed in 'public ownership', on the other hand, and a majority answered affirmatively - the latter term not so 'loaded', as it were, with associations drawn from the experience of the stagflation and strikes of the seventies.

You can try and correct for it but ultimately when conducting a survey, the pollster cannot control for the myriad of connotations a term like 'globalisation' might hold in the mind of respondent. Thing is, given the bad PR 'globalisation' seems to have had, I'm astonished the results were so positive. Lenin asks:
"And what must the pollsters think of those substantial minorities in places like Russia and Mexico who actually think that it's a bad idea? Retrograde, superstitious peasants, surely?"
We don't know what the pollsters think, so we have no evidence that they imputed ignorance to the Russians or the Mexicans. Russia was one of the few countries that didn't show a majority for the 'mostly good' assessment of 'globalisation'. Frankly, I'm astonished that more didn't give a 'mostly bad' response to the question because you might have thought the drastic contraction of the Russian economy in the nineties would have yielded an even less positive response.

Other than Russia, another part of the world where I think it is most difficult to argue that globalisation has been an unalloyed success is Africa. We don't know how Africans would have responded to these questions because on this occasion no-one has bothered to ask any of them. Therefore, instead of trying unsuccessfully to demonstrate that the questions were particularly 'loaded', simply because you didn't like the answers people gave, a more straightforward criticism of this survey of world public opinion would have been that it is not a survey of world public opinion at all.

"The healthy debate over Cuba's medical care"

It's a title of a piece in the Scotsman - prompted, I assume, by Michael Moore's forthcoming film Sicko. While I am likely to agree with many of Moore's criticisms of America's bloated and fantastically unequal health care provision, I'm not sure if much of the 'debate' over Cuba's health care system is healthy at all. I've got a couple of problems with it:

1) The over-emphasis on longevity and infant mortality as indicators of how good a health care system is. Apart from mass vaccination programmes, historically medical advances and the expansion of health care has been much less important for life-expectancy than more basic aspects of public health, such as the provision of a clean water supply, efficient sewerage, and improvements in diet. It is the last of these, for example, that is the most likely explanation as to why Americans - despite spending something in the region of 26 times more on health care than Cubans - have only a marginally higher life-expectancy.

2) Those using the Cuban example aren't making a narrow point about the superiority of socialised medical care; it is being used to make a wider point about the deficiencies of liberal capitalism and in some way to rehabilitate a one-party dictatorship. I get the sense that people trying to nail this down are failing slightly because they're making the wrong point. It may well be, I wouldn't know, if Cuba's health care system isn't all it's cracked-up to be - but that isn't the point. As no fan of America's private insurance model, I have no problem at all believing that the Cuba system works better and gives a more equal provision. But so what? It certainly cannot be taken to vindicate more widely the Soviet model, as economic history has shown - still less that living under a Brezhnevian regime in the sun is preferable to liberal democracy.

If people disagree, they should say so; if not, they should really stop using Cuba as an example. For what is it an example of, exactly - if not what some people imagine to be a benign dictatorship? Showing that it isn't benign in any respect is almost certainly inaccurate and misses the point anyway. It should be sufficient to point out that it is a dictatorship.

Journalists for Jihad

A new low, this time from Tony Parsons:
"Lest we forget - The Satanic Verses inflamed the Muslim world for mocking all it holds sacred. Millions were spent protecting Rushdie. This was not some academic debate about freedom of speech. People died. More may yet die. Others, like William Nygaard, have injuries they will carry to the grave.

In the clash of civilisations that resulted in 9/11 and 7/7, The Satanic Verses was the opening shot, a gratuitous insult of Islam by a big-mouthed luvvie who despised the country that gave him a home."
The opening shot! Have you ever? Was 9/11 return fire for the Satanic Verses in Parson's palsied imagination? Where I would agree with him is when he says this isn't just an academic debate about free speech. You either think it is reasonable for people to be killed for writing books or you don't. That Parsons thinks it is can be the only conclusion one can draw from his ludicrous and viciously stupid piece. One of the boasting philistines without a doubt.


Monday, June 25, 2007

New 'theme-based' education

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have unveiled their latest idea, which they have called the 'Blind-Leading-Blind Educational Initiative'. Ok, they didn't really call it that:
"Instead of separate teaching in geography, history, citizenship, ICT and drama, a third of the week will be devoted to cross-curricular lessons of up to three periods. Teachers will work together in teams of three to plan the lessons, some of which would involve four class groups beginning their work together in the assembly hall.

Other innovations among the seven QCA case study schools include two which have suggested Year 11 pupils could help with teaching: one school even suggesting they could be paid for it."
The article's entitled, "Thinking outside the box".

Well, it's certainly out the box...

Who was it that said, "There are two kinds of fool: one says, 'It is old, therefore it is good'; another says, 'It is new, therefore it is better'."?


The burden of proof...

Will soon lie with the kilt wearer, apparently:
"Kilt wearers could face prosecution if they do not have a licence for their sporran under new legislation which has been introduced in Scotland.
The maximum penalties for breaking the law are a fine of £5,000 and six months in prison."
A mere six months? How is this going to deter these heinous criminals?

Menace 2 Badgers

Via, via.

New physics exam

This is funny.


Friday, June 22, 2007


Time for.

Pleasant weekend, people.

Chastity rings, human rights, and people being silly

The case of Lydia Playfoot, a Christian forbidden from wearing a chastity ring in school, is to be heard in the High Court. She claims the ban breeches the Human Rights Act, which guarantees freedom of religious expression. Amongst the complaints is that the school permits hijabs and turbans, so the banning of the ring is discrimination.

Martin has a good point about this complete waste of time:
"The worst thing about cases like these is that they fuel a sense of victimhood among religious groups and feed their delusions about creeping secularism."
This is true, as anyone who has paid any attention to the rantings of American fundamentalists over the years. Been to America. You can't move for Christians in America. People praising the Lord all over the place and no-one thinks this is strange. The social support and the constitutional protection should mean there isn't anywhere else on earth where a Christian fundamentalist would feel more comfortable. But lots of them don't; a surprisingly high proportion of them imagine they are being persecuted because they can't have prayer, religious symbolism or ceremonies in state schools.

He's probably right also to suggest the school shouldn't have bothered wasting their time with this but now it's gone this far, I hope they win. The school - and the law, if people persist - should be allowed to distinguish between genuine religious traditions and ones like this, which have patently been made up. There can't be a 'human right' to express your religion by wearing whatever you please when everyone else has to comply with some sort of dress-code. Otherwise you could get some disturbing results. If I were a Wiccan, for example, I could claim I'm expressing my faith by turning up to work in the buff. Which wouldn't be good because like most men my age, I look better with the clothes on.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On inspirational teaching

I hated the film Dead Poet's Society, and not just because it had the inexpressibly ghastly Robin Williams in it. If you haven't seen it, lucky you - but you know the script anyway: charismatic unconventional teacher defies stuffy, stultifying tradition to inspire pupils, who find their inner-selves and blossom like flowers, threatened bureaucracy then closes him down - you know the sort of thing. Most teacher dramas aren't quite as awful as this but at base they're all much the same: Rambo movies for Guardian readers, is what they are.

I'm not saying Blair bought into this exactly, but he did seem to bring a belief in charismatic leadership into his education policies. Leadership from business is what's needed - as if 'leadership' or 'management' was a single skill that can be transferred to any activity. And we saw this too, I think, with the education department's toe-curling "Everyone Remembers a Good Teacher" recruitment adverts.

If his cliche-ridden Mansion house speech is anything to go by, Brown intends to continue the same sorts of policies and perpetuate the same kind of myths. He said, for example, that the government would try and attract more "inspirational graduates" into teaching. I disagree that more inspiring teachers is what's needed. We could always use more of them, of course, but it's no kind of solution. There's a few problems with this "charismatic teacher myth":

1) In relation to discipline, it re-enforces the belief that order should depend on the teacher's qualities. It shouldn't. A teacher should be able to control a class because they are seen as a representative of an institution with a set of rules, not because they are perceived as possessing certain skills or qualities or a certain type of personality.

2) In relation to learning it re-enforces the lie that education can be made perpetually entertaining. It can't be. Some stuff is just plain boring and can't be made to provide immediate gratification. But like your Bran Flakes, once you've got it down you, you'll eventually realise it's doing you some good.

3) Charisma is a quality that is, as well as being by definition unusual, rather difficult to quantify - so how are they going to go about recruiting these inspirational graduates?

4) A lot of the movie-type inspirational teachers are parasitic on a system of rules that others have established and enforced. "Hey, he's unorthodox, he bends the rules - cool!" But what happens when there are no rules left to bend? Not so cool then.

I'm not at all sure if this is what Brown meant but I've found the myth of the charismatic teacher is surprisingly widespread, even amongst people who should know better. What I'm saying is we need a system where teachers, whether they are inspiring, rather dull, or something in-between, aren't confronted on a daily basis with behaviour that is slightly above the criminal but some way below what should be acceptable. After all, no-one goes on about the need to find more "inspirational" police officers, doctors, or social workers.

In fairness he did also talk about discipline - saying Ofsted might be asked to "raise the bar" on what is considered acceptable. Which is welcome because at present you'd have to be a virtuoso limbo-dancer to get under the bar at its current level.

Robin Williams: A most deserving candidate for a fatwa, in my view.

Rushdie knighthood (again)

Ophelia fisks some sinister crap.

Here's a fairly lame defence of Rusdies' knighthood:
"British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has defended the knighthood given to author Salman Rushdie, but says Britain is "sorry" if the award has caused offense."
Britain is sorry? The whole country? Speak for yourself.

Thankfully Benazir Bhutto isn't so mealy-mouthed:
"Bhutto said Haq had justified suicide attacks on a British citizen.

"The minister ... son of a previous military dictator who had patronised extremist groups, had done a great disservice both to the image of Islam and the standing of Pakistan by calling for the murder of foreign citizens," Bhutto said in a statement.

Haq is the son of military president Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, whose policies of Islamisation in the 1980s are often blamed for sowing the seeds of Islamist militancy.

Zia overthrew Bhutto's father, then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1977. Bhutto was executed two years later.

Benazir called on the government to dismiss Haq."
Which is refreshing.

Update: See also this on the soft racism of denying agency.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The biggest evil

Because giving Salman Rushdie a knighthood is self-evidently so much more fucked-up than this latest work by the 'resistance' in Iraq.

We'll be invited to 'understand'. I don't understand. I'll never understand. I refuse to understand. I rejoice in the fact that I don't understand. Got that? Good.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

People losing their damn minds #21

Adam Rutherford's probably right - it really is time for those of us who are atheists and agnostics to stand up for what we don't believe. Here's a rather frivolous example of faith in action and the damn mind loss that can ensue as a result of this. There is, apparently - coming to a cinema near you - a movie that suggests Rasputin was murdered on the orders of Lloyd George:
"Grigori Rasputin, the infamous Siberian mystic, was murdered as part of a British Government plot to depose Tsar Nicholas II and replace him with a malleable Anglophile bisexual, a major new Russian book and film are to claim.

In a country that loves a good conspiracy theory, especially if a western power is the conspirator, both are likely to have a significant impact at a time when Britain is once again accused of scheming to weaken and discredit Russia."
I wouldn't know if Russians love a good conspiracy theory, although I do know it was where the prototype conspiracy theory emerged from. The disposition to believe conspiracy theories is closely related to the religious mindset and indeed often, if not always, coincides with it - the lack of evidence thing being the common denominator here. But the damn mind loss referred rather to the comments from Ivan Okhlobystin, an Orthodox priest who has been given a special dispensation to play the Rasputin role in the film. He said, apparently:
"He was a highly gifted person, selfless, undoubtedly a talented healer, undoubtedly with a gift to see the future - but at the same time ordinary man."
Gifted certainly - given the way this debauched religious charlatan was able to manipulate the proud and the powerful in the Romanov court. His talent as a healer, on the other hand, is very far from being 'undoubted' - at least by anyone who isn't completely credulous. Rather suspect too, you might think, would be his gift for seeing the future - what with this 'gift' having been proven rather useless when it came to the whole avoiding fatal dinner parties thing. As for 'selfless', this would require a rather elastic definition of the term to be used, to say no more than that. But it was the last bit in the Torygraph piece that cracked me up:
"He said that Rasputin saved his life while he was making the film in the Spring. "I was crossing the street and nearly walked in front of a tram that I hadn't seen," he said. "But then I heard a baritone voice crying 'Ivan, look out!' It must have been him.""
It must have been him? Nah, I think we can confidently say that in all probability it almost certainly wasn't him, what with him being dead and all. The other more rational explanation that Mr Okhlobystin might want to consider is that he may just have lost his goddam mind - the whole hearing of voices thing being something of a giveaway here.

ID cards 'to be UK institution'

From the beeb:
"The identity card scheme will become a "great British institution" on a par with the railways in the 19th Century, Home Office minister Liam Byrne says."
Did he, did he really? Why the fuck would he say that? Lemme think: lots of good things came from the railways. They created a huge number of jobs. They allowed fresh produce from the countryside to be brought into the towns, thereby improving the diets of working families. Cheap transport meant people no longer had to live within walking distance from their place of work. This also allowed working class families to escape the towns and see the goddam sea.

I'm failing to see the similarity with the whole ID cards thing here. But they will protect us from terrorists.

"Are you a terrorist?"

"Damn, foiled again. Yes, you'll see under 'occupation' that blowing up stuff is indeed what I do for a living".

Stephenson's Rocket: most unlike an ID card, when you really think about it.

Cameron on Brown

His critique is, apparently, that Brown is too much of a 'top-down' sort of dude:
"We ask what people can do, what society can do.

That's the big difference between us and Gordon Brown.

His answer to crime, his answer to education, his answer to everything - is a top-down government scheme."
David Cameron, we are to understand, is into bottom-up, de-centralising, 'government doesn't always know best' goodness. Then he announces that if he gets the No. 10 gig, he's going to dictate how schools organise themselves with some crap about a 'grammar stream':
"In an apparent olive branch to his critics in the party who have opposed his stance on selective education, Mr Cameron promised more setting and streaming in secondary schools, with a "grammar stream" in every subject to ensure bright pupils are stretched and all youngsters are taught at the correct level for them.
But during a question and answer session, Mr Cameron was challenged on how he intended to reconcile an earlier call for greater parental choice over their child's education with plans to impose streaming in schools.

Mr Cameron insisted that "pressure for setting" within comprehensive schools was coming from parents themselves."
In education policy, at least, the 'big difference' here falls somewhere between pretty microscopic and completely invisible, if you ask me.

The other thing I wondered is if all these parents who are apparently importuning our Dave with demands for setting know the difference between this and streaming. Because it's by no means clear that David Cameron does.

Liked the idea of 'stretching pupils' though. Discipline's all but collapsed since they banned the rack in schools.

Head bans hugs and handshakes

From the Guardian:
"[H]eadteacher Deborah Hernandez was accused of being out of touch, literally and scholastically, after banning physical contact between her 1,100 pupils.

Hugs, cuddles and handshakes are especially taboo."
Typical example of American puritanism, no doubt you're saying to yourself? But only a liberal who has failed to understand the need for self-discipline and press-ups in our nation's schools could think such a thing.

Personally I think we could learn a lot from this Virginia headteacher.

Because it starts with the high-fives, then it's the hugs - next thing you know they're bonking in the toilets.

Which can lead to breeding.

And the average high school pupil has no business breeding, let me tell you.

Woman jailed for testicle attack

From the beeb:
"A woman who ripped off her ex-boyfriend's testicle with her bare hands has been sent to prison.

Amanda Monti, 24, flew into a rage when Geoffrey Jones, 37, rejected her advances at the end of a house party, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

She pulled off his left testicle and tried to swallow it, before spitting it out. A friend handed it back to Mr Jones saying: "That's yours.""
If you didn't cross your legs after you read that, this'll be because you have no testicles. This bit killed me:
"In a letter to the court, Monti said she was sorry for what she had done.

She said: "It was never my intention to cause harm to Geoff and the fact that I have caused him injury will live with me forever. I am in no way a violent person.""
Not a violent person? You ripped his feckin' gonad off, for goodness sake! That's an act of violence by most people's definition.

Radical literary criticism

From the Times:
"Today, Pakistan's religious affairs minister suggested that the [Rushdie] knighthood was so grave an offence that any Muslim anywhere in the world would be justified in taking violent action.

"If somebody has to attack by strapping bombs to his body to protect the honour of the Prophet then it is justified," Mr ul-Haq told the National Assembly.

The minister, the son of Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator who died in a plane crash in 1988, later retracted his statement in parliament, then told the AFP news agency that he meant to say that knighting Rushdie would foster extremism.

"If someone blows himself up he will consider himself justified. How can we fight terrorism when those who commit blasphemy are rewarded by the West?" he said."
We've been here before: the problem is not people advocating murder for the crime of writing a book, the problem is blasphemy. I'd have thought it'll be a little difficult to combat extremism when there's apparently so many people who seem to think blowing yourself up is a reasonable way of expressing your disapproval of a book.

See also this.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rushdie knighthood

The Iranian government didn't react very well to this news:
"Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the decision to grant Britain's highest honor to Rushdie, who wrote the controversial novel The Satanic Verses, was an insult to the Muslim world.

"Awarding a person who is among the most detested characters in the Islamic society is obvious proof of anti-Islamism by ranking British officials," said Hosseini during his weekly press conference."
Ophelia Benson has a good point about the way so many of our journalists seem to accept uncritically people like Mohammad Ali Hosseini's claims to speak for the 'whole Muslim world', or 'Islamic society' in general:
"It's terribly misleading to say that Rushdie's novel 'offended Muslims worldwide' without qualification. There's an enormous amount wrong with that offhand statement. One, many and probably most people who were 'offended' by Rushdie's novel never read it, so the simple and active phrasing there - his book offended Muslims - is just inaccurate. An accurate version would be something more like 'some Muslims were offended by what they heard or were told about Rushdie's novel and by the fact that he had written it.'"
Quite - and there's always the possibility that some Muslims who read the book quite liked it. Or alternatively read it and were only slightly miffed. Because there does seem to be a correlation - or at least something of an overlap - between books exciting strong passions and getting themselves filed under 'divine' and 'diabolical' and the books in question not actually getting read all the way through.

Update: Seems the Pakistani parliament and some members of the government has pitched in too:
"Sher Afgan Khan Niazi, the Pakistani minister for Parliamentary Affairs who proposed today's resolution, called Rushdie a "blasphemer" and said that the title would cause offence to the religious sentiments of Muslims. "Every religion should be respected," he told Pakistan’s National Assembly, "I demand the British government immediately withdraw the title as it is creating religious hatred," Mr Niazi added."
Respecting religion is mandatory and the manner in which this respect is to be demonstrated prescribed. Oh, and by the way - this is a demand that knows no national boundaries. Since those of us who believe it would be desirable for free-speech to be universally recognised are these days routinely denounced as espousing some kind of cultural imperialism, I trust these demands of the Pakistani parliament will be criticised in similar terms.

Abbas wins US backing

From the Independent:
"The United States made clear yesterday it would give aid to the new emergency Palestinian government as hundreds of Fatah activists conducted reprisal raids against Hamas officials and offices in the West Bank.

The US Consul General in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, told the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, that his new government will be granted a lifting of the boycott imposed 15 months ago after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections last year."
I don't understand people who think this emerging 'three-state' situation can be anything but a disaster. Like Johann Hari, I hate Hamas. I'm not sure about his suggestions towards a solution but would tend to agree with much of what he says about the present course now being pursued by the Bush administration. We should be clear about what is happening here: they are backing gangsters because they are secular gangsters in the belief that they will prevent something worse coming to power. It sounds rather familiar and since this is a policy that has demonstrably failed all over the Middle East, what makes them think it will work now?

Seeing the signs

Will has a road -signage question, prompted by this.

Which reminded me of a question that forms in my mind whenever I see this one:

What am I supposed to do with this information, exactly?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Anti-bigotry plan for nurseries

From the beeb:
"A programme to tackle sectarian behaviour in children as young as three could be launched in Scotland.
The programme would be aimed at steering young children away from bullying, racism and sectarianism.

It would use cartoons and puppets to encourage children to respect people's racial, cultural and physical differences."
It's not that this isn't a fabulous idea - although to be honest it probably isn't - it's just that it might help matters just a tad if we didn't herd the nation's youth into two different kinds of schools after they're done with nursery, as I see Mr Eugenides has already pointed out. As I've said before, we're working with a small gene pool up here as it is.

Putting the 'mental' into fundamentalism

The estimable Mr Rodent's take on the Hamas takeover in Gaza.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Down with this sort of thing

From the beeb:
"A mayor in the US state of Louisiana says he will sign into law a proposal to make wearing saggy trousers an act of indecent exposure.

Delcambre town council unanimously passed the ordinance earlier this week making it a crime to wear trousers that show underwear."
This is because having solved all their other social problems, they have time to devote to this one.

So this sort of thing would be unacceptable:

But this would be ok?

It's a legal minefield, I tell you. Best just go for this to be on the safe side:

A superficial and frankly crass excuse to post pictures of Kate Moss not wearing very much? Uh huh - your problem with this being what, exactly? (It's a rhetorical question, ok? If you really have one, frankly I don't give a shit.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Just because it's Blair that's saying something...

That doesn't mean it isn't true. Like when he talked about the corrosive influence of the meeja. The response has been pretty much of the, "Well he would say that, wouldn't he?" variety - nicely illustrated by Steve Bell's cartoon below:

Fair enough, except for one thing; I'm afraid Blair has a point here. Jamie K writes that it is:
"Interesting that when Blair attacks the meeja generally he only mentions by name the smallest and weakest paper, and the one least likely to serialise his memoirs when they appear."
Yes, yes - but let's not overlook the fact that it is a good example simply because the Independent is objectively, unbelievably, shit these days. Have you seen their front pages? The stupidity of them literally makes me want to vomit. As someone who used to buy it, who bought the first ever goddam copy and remained a loyal reader for several years, it is seriously painful to watch the tabloid degradation of this once fine liberal paper.

The refusal to consider even for a moment the faint possibility that this might just possibly form even a tiny part of Blair's reasons for criticising this particular example of modern journalism rather makes his point for him, I reckon. Paulie, who should really get down to the business of writing a post rather than depositing them in other people's comment boxes, makes the point rather well:
"To offer 'clear coherent arguments' of the kind you suggest would be a way of condemning yourself to obscurity. And this would leave journalists no option (!) but to spend all of their time with those that are prepared to play the game and give them some decent copy.

You say that the conventional media may be less important today, but it is responding to it's falling importance with desperation. Your journalistic colleagues are more groupthinky and more desperate to make an impact now than they were twenty years ago. They are even bigger gits than they used to be, and that is saying something."
There's a number of different examples I thought of to reinforce this point; I decided to settle on this: Paxman when interviewing politicians with his trademark act of horsey incredulity is, we are told, always asking himself the question, "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?" Let's be conservative in our estimation - and I use this expression advisedly - that 99% of the time the lying bastard in the studio is indeed lying his ass off. Do you think Paxo allows for the possibility that just maybe he's being confronted with one of the 1% that isn't lying? Or even the more circumspect possibility that they are only lying some of the time? No - because he refuses as a default position to allow even for the existence of this. And that's the problem that Blair has identified.

Teachers call for school Army ban

From the beeb:
"Members of Scotland's largest teaching union have called for Army recruitment teams to be banned from visiting schools and colleges."
Have to say I've got a lot of misgivings about the way the Armed Forces do their advertising - most of them to do with the way they seem to skirt round the whole fighting and going to war bit. However, Edinburgh branch representative Colin MacKay's reasoning seems downright weird to me. He said:
"The truth is that most teachers are pacifists and we really are giving double standards by letting people come into schools who are going to encourage these youngsters to join the armed forces."
I very much doubt that most teachers are pacifists. Those of us who are history teachers find the whole pacifism thing breaks down a bit when you're covering Appeasement, WWII, stuff like that. But the most important objection is that even if we were, it isn't our job to make the pupils replicas of ourselves.

Critics fear exploding 'no entry' signs

Sorry, that should say, "Critics fear explosion of 'no entry' signs", although if Ann Gloag were to have her way, no doubt they would be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

For Rock

Went to my first rock gig in about twenty years on Sunday to see this lot. Ludicrous behaviour at my age, I freely confess. My excuse is my girlfriend made me go.

It was loud, brash, vulgar, unsubtle - and absolutely brilliant. It reminded me why I used to like rock in the first place and why Chris Dillow was so wrong when he attempted to answer the question, "Why are rock fans so stupid?"

It wasn't just that the question itself may not be justified in the first place. Or his strange idea that Coldplay has something to do with rock. Or the underestimation of rock musicianship. Or the overestimation of the average folk musician's skills, for that matter.

No, it's the failure to understand why people enjoy some kinds of live music in the first place, which I think is illustrated in the following sentence:
"Rock music gains much of its power from the communal experience. It needs a crowd."
But what's wrong with the communal experience? And how does he imagine it came to be a communal experience in the first place? Because it's fun - in a way folk music or jazz can't be. It's difficult to put into words but it's the difference between going to the cinema and going to the opera. With the opera you have to sit with a bunch of phoneys who self-consciously laugh at the jokes - even though they can't possibly be enjoying them at a spontaneous level. Who wouldn't rather go to the flicks? It's so much more relaxing.

Folk music can be a bit like this, I think. I quite like some folk music but I really can't be doing with sharing a room with quite so many people who you just know are inwardly congratulating themselves on how authentic the experience is. (Authenticity measured here in the traditional sense - by how few people actually enjoy the art form in question.) But it isn't really. Chris Dillow says unlike rock musicians, most folk musicians didn't go to private school. To which I respond, who gives a shit? The truth is, the educational background of its practitioners notwithstanding, most folk don't like folk because folk, despite its pretensions to the contrary, isn't really for the folk at all.

I'm struggling to put this into words, like I said, but I think I'm a bit closer. Rock concerts: where everyone is too busy having a good time to give a fuck where anybody went to school. Yeah, I think that's it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

BAE and the Saudi Prince

From the Guardian:
"The arms company BAE secretly paid Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia more than £1bn in connection with Britain's biggest ever weapons contract, it is alleged today."
You'll recall that an investigation into this contract by the SFO was dropped, using the extraordinary justification that it was necessary to "balance the need to observe the rule of law against the national interest", as if what the latter entails outside the confines of the former was an easy to discern. Oliver Kamm makes the same point rather more eloquently here:
"The public interest beyond upholding the rule of law is hard to pin down; but you would have to be very trusting indeed to equate it with the transfer of vast sums to the strictly private interests of a member of the Saudi Royal Family."
Along with the 'national interest' justification, Lord Goldsmith argued that the SFO case should be dropped because it was unlikely to lead to convictions. The first is, as has already been argued, at least questionable. The second is tautologically true: the very definition of the 'national interest' in this case makes it in fact impossible for any convictions to be made. Which rather serves to illustrate the problems that arise when those who govern us imagine our interests are best served outside the rule of law.

People with too little time

Paulie's one of these:
"If I wasn't flat out at the moment, you'd be reading a fantastic post here challenging the general assumption on almost every blog I read (including the ones that I like) that people always know what is good for them better than the government do, and that it is 'illiberal' to disagree with this view (like that's a bad thing)."
It's too bad; that would have been interesting. And if I had time I'd challenge his assumption about other people's assumptions.

Can't speak for the people who call themselves libertarians but the liberal case for limited government does not rest on the assumption that people always know their own good. Rather they tend to follow JS Mill's assertion that while people often clearly don't know their own good, when it comes to 'self-regarding actions' government intervention tends to do more 'mischief' than the behaviour it attempts to control in the first place.

Drugs would be an obvious example here. Obvious, that is, to anyone who knows anything about them. I'd say more but like Paulie I just ain't got the time.

Work ethic chic

Bel has a good post about the government's fairly toe-curling suggestion that it is the role of teachers to instil into pupils the notion that hard work is 'trendy':
"Children should be encouraged to reach out for the tray of goodies that life can offer. However, with all this 'trendiness' talk, what the Department of Education is doing is kneeling at the feet of children and offering them the world on their (the children’s) own terms. Instead of encouraging them to aim high, and reach for a world outside their own, the Department is reshaping the valuable things in life so that they accord with the fleeting values of children?"
Amen. Plus, what makes them think pupils are going to listen to what teachers think is or isn't trendy? What's trendy at any given time is precisely what pisses off parents, teachers, police officers and politicians. It's like these permission slips GCC uses if a pupil needs out of school during the day that say on them, "It's cool to go to school". "Hey dude - come to school, it's cool". What an embarrassing waste of time. Better to devote the energy into pointing out that while it may not be cool, it certainly is compulsory.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Roundheads are in charge

First they came for the smokers. Then they gave fatties a bit of a roasting. And now this:
"Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said he wanted to change the view it was "acceptable to drink to get drunk".

As well as binge-drinkers, it will also target older people who drink at home."
This is because they have no concept of the distinction between self-regarding actions and those that harm others. More specifically, this has something to do with the apparent view of this government that your liver is in someway public property.

You'll notice the typical NuLabour formulation: having failed to enforce the laws that already exist against anti-social drunken behaviour, the target becomes more ambitious and seeks to change our views. Bit late in my case - mine having been formed by a) excessive drinking b) reading JS Mill who said:
"No person ought to be punished simply for being drunk; but a soldier or a policeman should be punished for being drunk on duty. Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law."
Vernon Coaker, you'll remember, is the minister who confessed to smoking marijuana but got a pass because he insisted he didn't enjoy it.

Is it just me or are our lives increasingly governed by people terrified at the prospect of us having fun?

Britain Day #1

I'll look forward to the proposals for a 'national Britain day' that are to be published in a Fabian pamphlet, according to the Guardian:
"Volunteering will be at the heart of a "citizenship revolution", the communities secretary, Ruth Kelly, said today as she fleshed out plans to introduce a national British day.

Ms Kelly said the move would reinforce citizenship and bring communities together by creating a "local focus" on people's contribution to society."
A number of possible dates have been suggested. In the lead so far is the signing of the Magna Carta, according to some silly opinion poll.

One would have thought that a rather obvious problem with this is that the Magna Carta is English and was signed before Britain actually existed. This thought occurred to me so you can imagine the fuss the SNP would make about it. Or indeed about the concept of a Britain day at all.

My problem's a little different: it is that the whole idea doesn't sound very, well, British to me.

But if they're determined to proceed with this, I'd like to suggest Wednesday. Every Wednesday, that is. Starting tomorrow. Wednesday strikes me as being about as British as any other day - and I could do with a day off. Thanks.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday blues

Worse than usual - and the usual is pretty bad to begin with. And it's not just me. Everyone I know has been reduced to communicating with vague grunting noises. Weather, time of year, behaviour at weekend by people who are old enough to know better, what? My own view is that in the teaching calender, June should be cancelled due to lack of interest. I understand that in English schools the term runs into July. Why would you do that to yourselves?

Friday, June 01, 2007

From the Department of the (perhaps not quite so) Bleedingly Obvious

This one's via Will.

Gentlemen: it's not that size doesn't matter, exactly - it's just that on average, the average man worries too much that his is below average. On average it isn't, according to the average female respondent.

This from the august journal one expects to routinely get the very best scientific scoops.

The stress of motherhood

Advice to pregnant women:

Don't drink alcohol. At all. It's not based on sound medical evidence but don't do it anyway; you can't be too careful.

Smoke while you're pregnant? What, are you Myra Hindley?

Read stories to your unborn child - otherwise your baby will grow up to be an illiterate wretch.

Don't argue with your partner. Your baby will hear it in the womb, be traumatised and may grow up to be a serial killer. Don't have a partner? There's no 'may' about it, then.

Eat healthily. Do what everyone seems to do these days: treat food as medicine, only more so. Otherwise babies' development will suffer and before you know it, they'll be involved in drive-by shootings and stuff.

Play music to your baby in the womb. But none of that gansta-rap - otherwise before you know it, they'll be involved in drive-by shootings...

And since "stress experienced by a woman during pregnancy may affect her unborn baby as early as 17 weeks after conception, with potentially harmful effects on brain and development" like lowered IQ, a disposition to criminality and cannibalism, stuff like that - FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T WORRY!

What do you mean I'm not exactly helping?

Via: Tom Hamilton

Why don't you...

Turn off your television and do something more interesting instead? This was the title of a kids TV programme in the 70s made by people who didn't have a particularly well-developed sense of irony.

Anyway, Chavez has clearly decided closing down the odd TV station is what he'd rather be doing.

People will try to point out to Chavez groupies over here that he's a wee bit too much like Castro for anyone on the left who is serious about democracy and liberty to support but I reckon this is pretty pointless for two reasons:

1) Chavez isn't quite like Castro in that he's sufficiently less authoritarian to leave plenty of wriggle-room for fans of macho ego-driven populist politics.

2) Even if he was like Castro, I'm not sure that would do his reputation much harm amongst a significant proportion of the 'left', as you can see from a number of the comments below Castro's recent 'I'm not dead' contribution to CiF.

Pocketbook devolution

Simon Jenkins asks:
"Where is the heart of the new "nationalism" sweeping Britain's Celtic fringe?"
I think it's questionable that there is a new nationalism sweeping Britain's 'Celtic fringe', but we'll park that one for now and take a look at Jenkins' argument, which suggests it is really 'pocketbook devolution':
"So far it has seemed little more than a bid to spend British subsidies more generously than the English can. The Scots revel in freeing their students and elderly of fees. The Welsh give away prescriptions. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams refuse to speak to each other until their mouths are stuffed with English gold."
Revel? Who revels? I don't do any revelling when it comes to free care for the elderly or goddam student tuition fees - and I don't know anyone who does. There's a distinct lack of revelling going on here.

Conclusion: Jenkins may have a point - but on the other hand he might want to consider the possibility that the growth of 'nationalism' on the 'Celtic fringes' is being fuelled by irritation with patronising Tory tossers like Simon Jenkins? Just a thought.

The archives of the Department of the Bleeding Obvious

I think I missed this one from January this year:
"There are wide variations in the quality of education in English primary schools, a major study has found.

Teaching and behaviour was worse in schools with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, researchers said."
No shit? Thank fuck they did a major study; a minor one might have missed this particular breathtaking revelation.

Meanwhile your host has learned that the Department of the Bleeding Obvious's next paper intends to argue that if you go out when it's raining, you get wet.

I want to go home, goddamit.

Searching pupils

Francis Gilbert has an article in the Times today about giving teachers the powers to search pupils. He doesn't think this is nearly enough:
"Simply giving teachers the legal right to search pupils for weapons isn’t enough. We need to break up our larger schools into smaller, more manageable units. Above all, we must tighten the law even further so that teachers know they won’t be sued or sacked if they physically stop fights or challenge misbehaviour that blights Britain’s secondary schools."
Agreed - but I don't think this goes far enough either. The power to search pupils for weapons is something I'm not too fussed about; I feel the contents of the average teenage boy's pockets isn't something I want to see on a regular basis. Imagine how much minging detritus you'd be confronted with before you actually found a weapon?

Instead - as I've said before - I want weapons of my own, goddamit. Tear gas, batons, guns that fire plastic bullets - that kind of shit. Maybe some marshal arts training too.

And I like the idea of breaking up larger schools, although I hope this is being taken literally. The last one I was in, for example, should be taken out with a bunker-busting bomb. One with depleted uranium, naturally.

I want to go home.

More from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious

From the Scotsman:
"Teachers should not ask pupils to put their hands up if they can answer a question in class, in case quiet children fall behind, the government has said.

Research identified a group of youngsters who struggle to keep up with their classmates between the ages of seven and 11, despite doing well in previous years."
I really want a job doing this kind of research. Make a few obvious observations, then pop off to the pub. Does it pay well, does anyone know?

'Cos we already know this. I've taken it a stage further: as well as not asking them to put up their hands, I reckon it's best not to ask them questions. In fact best to avoid talking to them at all.

Only kidding.

I want to go home.

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