Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back later

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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Scottish Labour to be 'Wendied'

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Against referenda (again)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Iraqi translators asylum campaign

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 06, 2007

Liberty - not what it was

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Light posting

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

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

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

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

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